Top Ten Favorite Pieces of Contemporary Literature (Part 1)

I was too late applying for a job today.  The posting was still on the company’s website, but the deadline at the bottom was August 12th.  I sent an email anyway, asking if the position had already been filled.  And if not, if I could send my application and begin dedicating various lucky charms toward the cause.  Sarah, who responded to my email, said in the friendliest way that the position had been filled, but that I should check back later.

I will certainly do so.

But what made me want the position badly enough to send that email in the first place was that applicants were asked to include–along with cover letter, resume, writing sample (the usual)–a list of their ten favorite pieces of contemporary literature.

Let me tell you.  I’ve applied for many a publishing job.  At larger and more prominent publishing houses.  But not one has asked me for such a list.

This is strange, because it seems to me that for one to work in publishing, one must be first and foremost a reader.  A crazed, midnight oil burning, Half Price Books residing, I can’t sleep until I know this character will be all right reader.  Able to recite the red wheelbarrow poem on demand.  Able to explain the origins of Samuel Clemens’ pseudonym without pause.  Unable to use the term “Harry Potter English Major,” because, Good Lord, all readers are wonderful and miraculous and welcome.  And we all have guilty secrets.

The entire Twilight Saga is on my bookshelf right now.  In hardback.  I am not ashamed.

But mostly, readers delight in such lists.  That’s why, if I might be so brash, I’d like to make my list now.  And to make it even thought August 12th is long past.

Don’t think of this as my desperate plea for that job that got away.  Think of it as the kind of opportunity I wait all year for.

Holly’s Ten Favorite Pieces of Contemporary Literature (in no particular order, because I couldn’t possibly):

1. Into the Wild.  This book served as my introduction to creative nonfiction.  It showed me that true stories could be told in literary prose.  Jon Krakauer told us about Chris McCandless without presuming to know him.  And more importantly, without presuming to criticize him.  I like an author humble enough to give you the facts, set the scene, and then back off.

2. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.  Tell me how overdone Hamlet plots are and I’ll smirk and hand you this book.  I haven’t yet been able to describe the plot without making it sound silly (it’s not) and as if it’s for young people (it’s not).  The prose in Edgar Sawtelle is breathtaking.  The story is set in the Chequamegon National Forest in Northern Wisconsin (my childhood stomping grounds).  And I’ve never wanted to bring a character to life more than I’ve wanted Almondine to be real.  Almondine is a Sawtelle dog.  You’ll know what I mean when you read the book.

3. Never Let Me Go.  I am not a professional reviewer.  My adjective pool is somewhat shallow.  The word flawless comes to mind, however.  Heartbreaking.  Eerie.  Masterfully layered.  I read this book when I need a lesson on how to reveal a world slowly, subtly.

Expect the next three on my list in the next post.  You didn’t think I wouldn’t prolong this delight, did you?  Whew double negative.  I’ll just leave that there.

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Author Plug: Markus Zusak

Dear Friends,

Short one tonight, because I have to wake up in four hours for work, but I just want to tell you that if you haven’t read anything by Markus Zusak, you should get on that immediately.  Although his books are marketed for young adults, do not be fooled.  They are poignant, they are powerful, they are for everyone.  I suggest reading I Am the Messenger first, and then The Book Thief.  The latter, especially, is one of the best books I’ve ever ever read.  If I could have written any book in the wide world of literary history, I would choose that one.  I actually ache inside because his writing is so beautiful.

I know you’ll love it.  I know you’ll love them both.

Best, Holly

Thursday in Two Parts

You’ll hear me talk about this a lot, but I’ve always known Thursdays to be spectacular.  There’s just something about them.

Maybe today’s general splendor had to do with the fact that yesterday, a compadre of mine posted on Facebook that he was at the Sherman Alexie meetngreet.  I immediately commented, practically offering him my soul in exchange for an autograph.  And you know what?  I found out today that he got it.  I have yet to see the dear thing, but rest assured, it will soon hang (framed, probably) above my bed.  This is meant to read as inspirational, not creepy, by the way.  I admire him as a writer, you guys.  Yes, I may want to marry him.  But only a little.

Continuing with the spectacular theme (albeit a different kind of spectacular), and for those of you who seem to like my Clumsy Barista sagas a little too much, here’s an incident that happened today:

Someone asked for a Mint Cooler, except they didn’t want coffee in it.  Okay.  White chocolate powder and a few pumps liquid white chocolate into the blender.  Stir with spoon until mixture resembles thick icing.  Then decide to let machine do the work; press ‘blend.’  Machine coughs twice and then comes to a sludgy-sounding stop.  The sticky white chocolate mass has jammed up the blade.  What now?  Clearly we need some liquid in this thing, or it won’t work.  Dump out goo.  Try again with more liquid white chocolate, less powder.  Feel nauseated by the amount of sugar in this drink.  It doesn’t work anyway;  dump into sink, spilling a little.  Girl who ordered this disaster, who is waiting good-naturedly, trying not to laugh, tips me off that when other baristas make this drink for her, they usually just use milk instead of coffee.  Oh.  Milk, white chocolate powder, white chocolate liquid.  Blend.  Perfect.  I give her a few extra Andes Mints on top to make up for her ten minute wait.  Consider eating one myself, but it’s Lent, and some bozo decided to give up sweets.  A rush starts up then, and I am kept busy until my replacement arrives and laughs at my mess: one gummy blender, one counter streaked with white chocolate powder, four Andes wrappers, several dirty spoons, a puddle of whipped cream and a half empty gallon of skim.  I tell her I’ll clean it up.  She looks relieved.