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Book Cover for The White Album Didion, Joan
The White Album

Joan Didion’s White Album is not unlike the Beatles’ White Album in a number of ways. Some of the similarities are obvious. Both objects are white (the first edition of Didion’s book is white, anyway). The album was originally released in 1968; some of Didion’s pieces in her book were written in 1968. A less obvious and more interesting similarity is that Didion wrote about the 1969 Manson Family murders and Charles Manson was supposedly obsessed with the Beatles’ White Album (the misspelt song title “Healter Skelter” was written in blood at one of the Manson Family murder sites). Paranoia runs through both works, evident in the song “Happiness is a Warm Gun” or in Didion’s account of her struggles with mental illness and irrational fears. They both critique at least some of those in power, in “Piggies” and “In Hollywood”, as well as social movements. Didion’s White Album is harder to swallow, though, since it definitely does not contain any love songs. It’s worth a read, nonetheless, as a smart account of those years. I suggest reading it while listening to the Beatles' White Album for a dose of hope and emotion as counterbalance.
Recommended May 2008

Book Cover for Best American Non-Required Reading Series Eggers, Dave ed.
Best American Non-Required Reading Series

Short Stories
I was sooo excited to discover this series, and also sort of ticked off that no one had told me about it before. But since I’m an unusually and extremely nice person, I will let you in on it. This series is awesome. It’s awesome because each volume has such a wide variety of things to read. It has short stories in it, and non-fiction pieces, and each volume also has a graphic novel excerpt. There’s a great excerpt from Lynda Barry’s One Hundred Demons in the 2003 volume. Lynda Barry is so funny and touching. The fiction is so varied that it never bores. Also from the 2003 volume is a piece by Jonathan Safran Foer called “A Primer for the Punctuation of Heart Disease." In it, he uses a symbol like a square or maybe three periods, to represent a way that his family does or doesn’t communicate. Some silences are peaceful, some silences are heavy and angry. Some questions are really commands. His symbols beautifully illustrate the many things that happen in conversations that are wordless, how big our desire to connect with each other is, and how painful our bumbling attempts at it are. Other writers include David Sedaris, Sherman Alexie, Chuck Klosterman, J.T. Leroy, and Michelle Tea. The series starts in 2002 and a 2007 volume was just published. It’s part of the larger Best American series, and according to Houghton Mifflin, it’s now the most popular of the series. So get to it!
Recommended March 2008