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My body, if a surgeon looked inside, would look like a drawerful of old socks and shoes…I’ve always wanted to grow old with someone, but this is not what I had in mind.

This is what Benna says near the end of Anagrams; it’s part of a passage so witty and wrenching I won’t ruin it by posting it all here out of context. Suffice to say this isn’t even the best part, which I know is hard to believe with that amazing made-up word already in there: “drawerful!”

I folded down the page not simply because of how witty/wrenching (the trademark Lorrie Moore combo) the paragraph was, but because it had another layer of resonance for me. It made me glad to be Moore’s reader, someone who will get to grow old with her. It also reminded me that Anagrams was her first novel, and despite its inarguable brilliance, I think she only got better.

But poor Benna, she’s trapped forever inside the endless, sad permutations of Anagrams.

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I swoon when I read Elizabeth Bishop. She’s got perfect timing. I can’t dissect her writing at all. I have no idea how she makes it so effortless, funny, punchy. This essay, a memoir piece about a little trip through remote Brazil, had me exclaiming to myself on the beach today. In particular, this paragraph:

The store had been raided, sacked. Oh, that was its normal state. It was quite large, no color inside or cloud-color perhaps, with holes in the floor, holes in the walls, holes in the roof. A barrel of kerosense stood in a dark stain. There were a coil of blue cotton rope, a few mattock heads, and a bundle of yellow-white handles, fresh cut from hard ipe wood. Lined up on the shelves were many, many bottles of cachaca, all alike: Esperanca, Hope, Hope, Hope. There was a counter where you could drink, if you wanted. A bunch of red-striped lamp wicks hung beside a bunch of rusty frying pans. A glass case offered brown coffees leaking through their papers, and old, old old, sweet buns. Some very large ants were making hay there while the sun shone. Our eyes negotiated the advertisements for Orange Crush and Guarana on the cloud-colored walls, and we had seen everything. That was all.

Weren’t you there? I was there. Surprised by the Orange Crush, but oh, swooning, swooning, swooning.

Food and love–totally my thing.

Not in the kinky-hot-fudge-body-paint kind of way, but in the food-as-metaphor kind of way. A former professor of mine told me he wished I wrote about everything the way I do food; I said, can’t you tell that when I describe that crispy catfish salad I am writing about everything? (He couldn’t.)

Anyway, when I saw the title of Lara Vapnyar’s new collection, I had to buy it. Also, I remembered reading two of her anthologized stories, both of which I liked. But, I did worry that the premise of the book–stories in which food is central to the action, followed by recipes for said food–might be gimmicky.

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I can’t say I didn’t know what I was in for when I lugged Bonfire of the Vanities home from the library. I’m not just talking in terms of plot–it’s pretty common knowledge, I think, that the book revolves around a young, poor black man being hit by a car driven by a wealthy white couple–but also regarding the style. I knew that Wolfe would be there, in his little white suit, dancing through the text and presenting each word, ellipses and exclamation point to the reader on the tip of his shiny little cane.

But did I know how exhausting that would be in a work of this length?

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Yes, Shirley Jackson of “The Lottery” fame, the story everyone reads in 7th grade English class.

I’d never heard of this book, but when it arrived for me under the tree last Christmas, I knew immediately that it was obsession-worthy. That title! A protagonist nicknamed Merricat!

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Talking about books is important. So is writing about them. I have my theoretical reasons for thinking this is true, the things I say to the brilliant creative writing class I teach at a small liberal arts college (in my head): “reading is a collaboration between the reader and the writer, each doing their own share of the work and bringing meaning to the text in equal parts…”

And I have my selfish reasons. Lots of selfish reasons. First, when I’m reading something, especially if I’m confused or outraged or in love with it, I want someone (or a whole internet of a people!) to shout or rhapsodize to, or better yet, with. Second, when I write a book, I certainly want people to write about it all over the internet (in the rhapsodizing kind of way). Third, I want to keep track of what I’ve read. When people ask what I’m reading, if I don’t have it on me, I often blank out. I think this block is born from the response I get sometimes when I say I’m a writer: “That sounds fun!” Since reading is half the work of a writer, I want to prove I’m working hard at it, then, of course, panic and can’t.

Hence this new blog (I wanted to get through this post without that word, but there it is). It’s about books, not rating or reviewing them, but talking about them. Please join in.