Deb on Book Addiction, Jerky Love, Publishing, and much more: Further Reading
Three Love Books (for The National Book Foundation and The Los Angeles Review of Books)
On The World According to Garp:
I began reading The World According to Garp while riding in the backseat on a cross-state trip to visit my college boyfriend. The friend of his who I snagged a ride with must have thought I was weirdly quiet and uncommunicative, but there was another explanation. I had been caught up into the deft hands of John Irving and he was not letting go.
It was a restless weekend. Sure, the boyfriend was dark and alluring and commanded my attention, but I wanted to get back to that book. It was that edgy impatience you feel when you’ve lost something and feel the need to keep looking for it until you’ve found it again, or, in this case, when you’ve found something you’ve been looking for for a long time.
I snuck pages. Jenny Fields and Garp and Helen and Duncan and Walt were like every family and no family. The book was funny and horrifying and filled with characters that were at first glance shocking and alien, and on second glance, as recognizable and familiar as the good, struggling hearts you saw everywhere in your own life. No one, no one will ever forget THAT SCENE. But The World According to Garp was more than single, memorable moments. It was unforgettable as a whole for a simple reason – it was epic. It was what a Great American Novel needs to be: all of life between covers.
I finished the book between streetlights on the dark ride home on Sunday night. That copy is one of those treasured books you keep always, on your Best Shelf and packed and unpacked carefully with each move. It is missing its front copper cover and the back is nearly illegible from wear. Lasting love. Call it one of the best weekends ever spent.
Deb Caletti was a National Book Award finalist in Young People’s Literature in 2004, for her novel, Honey, Baby, Sweetheart. Her most recent book is The Secret Life of Prince Charming (Simon Pulse, 2009).
On Flannery O’Connor’s “Complete Stories”
Although I have a greedy abundance of books in nearly every corner of my house, I keep only three or four on my desk. They’re the special few that you secretly hope will bring their magic to your work just by being nearby, same as you keep something lucky in your pocket. The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor is one of those books.
I fell in love with Flannery’s stories while I was in college. It was less the religious themes that got me and more the so-right voice and characters you hear breathing right in the room with you as you read. The first thing I wrote that received any sort of acclaim (in the roomiest sense of the word) was a story I wrote in her style. Several years later, through circumstances that seemed both serendipitous and fated, I was signed by Flannery’s forever literary agency, my books taken on by the man who handles her estate, now my own longtime friend and agent.
I reread the stories periodically (and, further, her delightful letters in The Habit of Being), and am continually blown away by how fresh, brilliant, and even contemporary they remain. First, those Quentin Tarantino moments—the Bible salesman who steals the girl’s artificial leg, the family shot by the side of the road by The Misfit, who apologizes to the ladies for not having a shirt on just before he does the deed—but more than that, the perfect snippets of character and the small moments of the human condition and the large life lessons so rightly set into those careful, neat lines. She captured a time and place, but also something timeless and universal.
The Complete Stories deserves accolades thick and substantial as the book itself. The work is beautiful and harsh and true and endlessly masterful. It’s unjust to even try to describe it in a few paragraphs. Impossible. So, for now, the simplest thing: genius lasts.
Deb Caletti was a National Book Award finalist for her novel, Honey, Baby, Sweetheart, and is also the author of numerous other books for young adults.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Golden Ticket. Just those words, and you know what I’m talking about, I’m sure. You can even see it, can’t you? The slow, peeling back of paper from chocolate bar, the thrilling, triumphant glimpse of the winning message…
Ahh. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Oh, how I love that book. I still have it, the retro-copy I read when I was nine. As a child, it told you the thing you needed to hear: that being small and having a good heart could get you through. Of course that book stays with you forever. How can it not, with all that hope? Hope for some life-changing event; hope that bad people might actually get what’s coming to them. Hope for the most delicious, mouth-watering revenge. And hope for the best, most impossible idea of all – that the nice guy really will win in the end.
Well, it has stayed with me. Even now, I search for chocolate around the mouth of every bratty child. I wish for short, creepy men who might take away the nasty folks and bad nuts while singing smug, perfect Take-that! words. For the selfish, I imagine miserable and swelling blueberry retribution, banishment to forever back rooms. I still want to believe that kindness rewards you, and magic awaits you, and that an elevator might fly through every kind of glass ceiling.
And every now and then I still do it. I thank Roald Dahl for it, too, because how is it even possible in this life to retain such a pure, passing thought filled with such simple optimism? I peel back the paper of a chocolate bar. I look. I wish for a glimpse of gold.