I’m sure very few people, if any, care much that I blog any more, and fewer still probably care if I blog about what I’ve been reading, but I enjoy blogging, so I’m going to do it anyway.
I went over to the soon-to-be-defunct Joseph Beth the other night with my buddy Jacalyn, and we roamed around look at sale books. I had my iPod out and my PBS Wish List open, and that way I was able to try to find books I had been wanting.
I’ve ready one serious book and one silly book this week, and considering that only puts my total on the year up to 15, 2 books is a significant amount of reading for one week. That they were both excellent reads was even better.
What do Tori Spelling, the Church of Scientology, and Donald Rumsfeld all have in common?: They -- and many others -- have answered letters from "Little Billy", a grown man with a cache of stamps and far too much time on his hands. Funny, touching, and delightfully quirky, Billy's letters cover a broad range of subject matter:
- Operation Drop-Out: Considering dropping out of elementary school, Billy writes to serial killers and celebrities seeking their wise counsel.
- Billy's Law: Which Supreme Court Justice prefers the Big Mac to the Whopper? Who is Janet Reno's favorite crime fighter? What does Robert Shapiro say is the best defense for being framed for murder? Billy finds out.
- The Making of the Class President: Billy runs for class president and collects "endorsements" from Nancy Reagan, Dick Cheney, George HW Bush, Gerald Ford, Bob Dole, Ken Starr, and Colin Powell.
- Choosing My Religion: Billy asks representatives from the Catholic, Presbyterian, Mormon, Raelian, Satanic, Scientologist, Hare Krishna and Unification Church (Moonies) what is "cool" or "easy" about their religion.
Presidents, Supreme Court Justices, Celebrities, Heads of Corporations, Serial Killers, Robot Makers, and the NesQuick Bunny have all replied to "Little Billy's" scrawled questions.
This book was absolutely hilarious, riveting, clever, and fascinating. I started reading it while standing at the humor shelf in the store, and couldn’t put it down. Jacalyn and I were dying laughing over the letter to and from Charles Manson (Jacalyn, if you’re reading, there’s a second letter from Manson that’s even crazier than the first one!), and I absolutely loved that so many of these people took the time to respond to these letters in so many different ways—some just sent a picture, some actually wrote whole letters, you name it, it was done. The letter from Mr. Rogers will make you cry, unless you have a heart of stone.
An added bonus is that this book counts towards the What's In a Name? reading challenge, as a book with a size in the title! Woo hoo!
The second book I read this week was Ann Patchett’s The Magician’s Assistant. I had previously read 2 books by Ann Patchett, The Patron Saint of Liars and Bel Canto, both of which I consumed and adored. I have had The Magician’s Assistant on the shelf for a while now, and I tell you why: it’s Ann’s books. I need to take serious breaks in between reading them. Whenever I think of my favorite authors, I never really remember Ann Patchett, but as soon as I read one of her books, I’m reminded again of how fantastic a writer she really is and I remind myself that I need to include her in my top 10 list of authors I love. Every book is a beautiful story, so densely packed with characters you love even if you hate them a little bit, a story line that literally has me biting off my nails even if it’s not a taut thriller, and I’m pleased to say The Magician’s Assistant was no different.
I’ve had this book so long, I honestly can’t remember where I got it. It strikes me that I got it from the library book sale, because I can sort of remember saying to myself, “Oh, Ann Patchett, I think I’ll pick this up.” This past week with all the nuttiness happening, I’ve been in the mood to just read an excellent story, and I had a feeling this book would deliver. And somehow, after putting TomTom to sleep last week (SOB!), seeing the rabbit on the front cover of this book was an absolute comfort to me.
The story revolves around Sabine, who has been magician Parsifal’s assistant for more than 20 years and wife for just a few years. When Parsifal dies suddenly and unexpectedly, Sabine’s attorney finds mention of a family in Parsifal’s will that Sabine never knew existed. She had lived with the assumption that Parsifal was an orphan with no relatives, but in fact, his mother, sisters, and nephews are alive and well in Nebraska. She chooses to meet them and learns much about the man she thought she knew, and about herself in the process.
The minute I dove into it, I knew I was in trouble. I did not put the book down much, I can honestly say. But Monday, as I got to the bombshell I never saw coming, I literally had to put the book down and walk away. Just reading the middle section of the book exhausted me. And yet, within hours, I was ordering Run off PaperBackSwap, and I’m hoping it comes soon.
Where Patchett shines in The Magician’s Assistant is in not bashing the idea of Sabine’s grief into your head. The story really is focused on Parsifal’s family, and on Sabine’s discovery of that family, on what she assumed and thought and what they assumed and thought, and how the truth was in that grey area in between. Exploring all that underbelly stuff could get complicated, but Patchett manages to never let it get messy. When I began weeping 100 pages before the book was done, I knew good and well I was in deep. Typically I can’t stand neat and tidy endings, but in this case, I was cheering for Sabine to make certain decisions, and while she did make them, we are left to make up our own mind about how those decisions will play out in the future.
I felt so deeply for Sabine and for Parsifal’s family, that to close the cover on this book was nearly devastating in itself. I’ll be adding Ann Patchett to my “must read” lists in the future, and while I may take another lengthy break before investing in her again, I am very pleased to see that she’ll be appearing in DC on June 8th and have every intention of going to meet her and get some books signed… That is my neat and tidy little ending, and one I’m very excited about!
I gave Little Billy’s Letters 4 stars on GoodReads and The Magician’s Assistant 5 stars. I highly recommend both of them!