Wednesday, September 17, 2008

New Favorite Authors

I took six library books with me on vacation and read them all so when Lisa wanted to do some shopping at Target, I immediately went to the book department. There were no books there by any tried and true authors that I didn't already have so I had to take a chance on something new. I ended up picking out 1) Dry by Augusten Burroughs and 2) Dearly Devoted Dexter by Jeff Lindsay, neither of whom I'd ever heard of before.

Both were inspired choices. Dry is a bitterly humorous bestselling autobiography, characterizing the author's comeback from raving alcoholism. Calling Burrough's childhood dysfunctional is like calling Mount Everest a hill. His father was an alcoholic; his mother was psychotic. When Augusten was 12, his mother gave him to her psychiatrist who, if anything, was even more of a lunatic than she was herself. Augusten and the doctor's own several offspring were allowed to do as they pleased, it being the father's belief that children should be allowed complete freedom to evolve naturally. For Augusten, this meant never returning to school, which he hated. It meant that being sexual active with his much older boyfriend was tolerantly accepted. It meant drinking and drugs were shrugged off. It would have been more abnormal to grow up to be normal under the circumstances of his youth but Augusten, while succeeding as a public relations copy writer far beyond what might have been expected from an elementary school drop-out, was definitely a product of the cruelties, abandonments and sheer madness he endured. His drinking nearly killed him and even his road to sobriety was rocky. The fact that he could make this memoir, by turns, hilariously funny and heartbreakingly touching is a testament to his superb writing ability.

I fell in love with Augusten Burroughs reading Dry and was thrilled to discover he'd written several other books, including Running with Scissors, Sellavision, Possible Side Effects, A Wolf at the Table and Magical Thinking. I've ordered all of them and have finished reading Running with Scissors and Possible Side Effects, both of which were as good as Dry. If you like your humor dark, your descriptions graphic and your heroes neurotic, I can't recommend it enough.

The second group of books, the Dexter books, by Jeff Lindsay, are about a serial killer, but a good-hearted one, who channels his lust for dealing death into tracking down and eliminating other serial killers. Like Augusten, Dexter is funny in his lunatic way. He is like Clark Kent (by day, Dexter is a mild-mannered forensic scientist for the Miami PD) turning into Superman if Superman got off on cutting bad people into bloody bits rather than being a super-hero.

I gather the Dexter stories have now become a regular show on HBO. I don't get HBO but if I did, I might tune in at least once to see if they manage to capture Dexter's endearing qualities along with his black aptitude for vengeance. It has been my experience that film can't begin to compare to writing for detail and depth of personality but who knows?

In addition to Dearly Devoted Dexter, there are also Dexter in the Dark and Darkly Dreaming Dexter, both of which I've ordered through Amazon.com.

I have always been a book hoarder. While my Mom obsessively stacked cans in the pantry and packages in the freezer, I piled books on the bookshelves. When I lived in the country, I went into the winter with an enormous backlog of books because what if I got snowed in for months? But, of course, I lived in the a-town-every-10-miles civilization of Indiana, not in the back country of Wyoming. The longest I ever remember being isolated was three days during the infamous Blizzard of '78. But we are overtaken by our anxieties. Mom lives six blocks from the grocery store but still lives in terror of a catastrophic event cutting off the food supply even as I am six blocks from the library but continue to live in dread of someday finding myself with nothing to read, or at least, nothing good to read. That is why I've always held in reserve the last book or two by my favorite authors so I had them to look forward to.

Oddly, this phobia has been joined by another, equal and opposite one. Now that I am in my 60's, I worry that if I don't read all the books by the writers I love most, I will die someday having not read them all. I would hate being taken with two Iain Banks', a Declan Hughes, a David Fulmer, a Reginald Hill, an Augusten Burroughs still sitting in the bookcase. I know I'd try to make a bargain with God - "please, please, please, just let me stay long enough to read these last ten books and I promise, I'll go without protest". (Of course, if He agreed, then I'd beg to be allowed to stay long enough to see if Jimmie Johnson wins his third Sprint Cup championship.)

So, to read or not to read? Take a chance on running out or on leaving them behind? It is a quandary for sure and one I've not come to terms with yet.