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Wednesday World of Books

What I've Just Finished Reading

Wendy Werris' memoir An Alphabetical Life: Living it Up in the World of Books picks up somewhat after Werris moves into her dream job as a publisher's representative, selling books to bookstores in the Southwest US. She meets people, makes friends, does her job well or poorly depending on circumstances, has a few personal crises, and enjoys herself for the most part. There's a funny, if a little forced, series of anecdotes about the early days of the Microsoft-Macintosh rivalry, and Werris' multiple faux pas dealing with Microsoft as a publisher's rep, and there are the beginnings or the ends of about forty good memoirs scattered throughout a jumbled chronology. It's probably a good starting point for learning about book sales in the late 20th century, but it felt like a first draft. Werris is a fluent writer, but not an attentive one. She leans a lot on familiar images and conventional phrases. There are some awkward moments in her descriptions of other people, especially when they are strangers who are "other" to her in some way (an anorectic book buyer, a Vietnamese immigrant family), but also sometimes in how she describes close friends, if they are fat or gay or otherwise "interesting." The book was published in 2006 and touches very lightly on changes in the bookselling world during the 90s and 2000s, but does not discuss them at length or in any depth.

Topics of this memoir include: Werris' parents and their relationship, Werris' first job at Pickwick Books in LA, famous people Werris has met and/or befriended, sexism in the sales industry, Werris buys her first company car, non-famous people Werris has met and/or befriended, occasional panic attacks, interpersonal conflict between salespeople, a cocaine addiction that is mentioned once and never discussed again, Werris' experiences trying to track her rapist with the LAPD, the death of her parents, a Pickwick Books reunion, and the value of psychotherapy. There is also a Buddhist monk who turns up in the epilogue for no good reason.

I spent most of the book feeling mildly frustrated with its lack of focus, but by the end I liked it better. It isn't a bad book, just an unsystematic record (the title is misleading) of a generally good life.

Note: This book contains a direct description of a rape, including some disturbing later interactions with the rapist. This storyline is mentioned on the back cover and is not a surprise.

What I'm Reading Now
Just started Life Mask by Emma Donaghue, a Water Damage Club selection. It's extremely infodumpy, but reasonably enjoyable. Apparently there is going to be a sculptor with "Sapphic tendencies"? It's the eighteenth century! Actresses are going to parties! Characters have internal monologues about current social mores and fashion! We'll see.

Also started: The Secret Country by Pamela Dean -- a book I've been meaning to read for a while that turned up by chance at the used bookstore a few days ago. Some kids have a secret worldbuilding game, a little like the Brontes, that grows every year. One summer they're stuck staying with some cousins who don't know about the Secret. They don't feel like they can talk about it in front of the cousins, and maybe as a result of their creative frustration, the Secret begins to be real. The trouble is, it's dangerous -- there's a war on, and they don't know how to get home. This is an excellent premise and the stumble-into-fairyland process is really well done -- subtle and thoughtful. I'm looking forward to whatever happens next.

Lud-in-the-Mist JUST arrived, but it has a great beginning.

What I Plan to Read Next

I am going to read all the books above, get some more of Finnegans Wake behind me, and maybe finish this book of poetry I've been halfway through for the past six months. Maybe.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 6th, 2015 08:23 pm (UTC)
I've been meaning to read The Secret Country. I've been waiting till I find the second & third books in the trilogy in editions I like, but I am beginning to think this may be a fools errand. Perhaps I should read the first one & interlibrary loan the second and third.

Also, as we're talking Pamela Dean, I have to proselytize for Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary. It's one of the best and most complicated depictions of female friendship I've ever read - the heroine is in a group with five friends, and you can really tell that Dean thought through the different relationships all of them would have with each other. Plus, there are discussions about literature and feminism and religion and pretty much everything, really.
May. 6th, 2015 08:38 pm (UTC)
You've written about Juniper, Gentian and Rosemary before, and it sounds great! I am terrible about keeping track of all the things I should be reading, even with the help of the WRM, so I appreciate an occasional knock on the door and reminder that there is Good News In Store For Me.

Interlibrary loan is a beautiful thing. I sometimes complain about it taking eight weeks for books to reach me, but it has made my life a lot easier (and slightly less spendthrifty).
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


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