Some have called me opinionated. Some have called me egocentric. Some have called me so full of editorializing that I have to insert witicisms into my witicisms ... side-tracking you from the original thought process so much that you stop to wonder what it is I'm really saying. [Admit it; you've thought this before, haven't you?] Friends/loved ones/family/the boyfriend fiance/random strangers on the street/internet trolls have all called me out on this narcissism.
And they would be correct.
I am opinionated. I believe I have amazing opinions - even when those opinions are only about whether the pizza I'm about to consume is fantastic or merely tasty [see previous articles]. I am one person who isn't usually afraid to voice his opinion and assume that you want to hear it. Even if you don't ... well, you didn't have to read this, did you? [But thank you for doing so, anyway! I luff you!]
It isn't enough that I'm opinionated in general [we went ahead and established this, right?] but I've been constantly consulted and cultivated for my opinion in a particular regard for years: Books.
When I worked at Borders (and ever since), I was regularly asked "Is this a good book?" and "Should I read this?" or "What do you think I need to read?" Is it any wonder I have raging Literary Narcissism? To that end, after Borders closed in 2011 I began posting "Summer Reading Lists" but this year I've decided to kick it up a notch - I'm going to randomly begin posting OPINIONATED STATEMENTS ON WHAT YOU SHOULD HAVE IN YOUR PERSONAL LIBRARY because ... well, you should just read these books already.
Whether you're a reader of light-hearted fare or deep and heavily introspective works, I know some great authors and books that belong in your personal library. They range from the brilliant Stacey Ballis, Caprice Crane, Kelly Barnhill, Brian Farrey, Maggie Stiefvater to the absurdly funny Celia Rivenbark, Freeman Hall, Laurie Notaro and Jen Lancaster. And don't forget classics fromJane Austen and Vergil.
"Off the Menu" and "Out to Lunch" Stacey - aside from being a wonderful, lovely and loving person to know - is one of those brilliant authors who can effortlessly weave a fantastically fun story with depth and characters you can't help but both identify with and fall a little in love with. Each of her hit-novels have been a-can't-put-down read which I may or may not have devoured in the course of an evening each. Stacey writes with such depth and passion that you cannot help but be pulled into her wonderful take on modern life in Chicago nor can you help but be pulled into the entwining lives of her broad cast of characters (after you read a few of her novels, you'll notice cameos! SQUEE!) These two most recent additions to her pantheon of awesome are must-buys! The added bonus recipes at the end of her books? ERMEHLERDD! If you have even the barest hint of good taste, you'll order both of these and then demand another helping!
"Confessions of a Hater" and "Family Affair" Caprice is in a class by herself (whether as a staunch friend or writer) and when it comes to injecting poignancy and hilarity into a story she has no peer; having honed her skills between screenplays, television series scripts and several amazing novels she has a distinct and terrific narrative voice which she is able to blend into a myriad of characters and story-levels (she is at home writing for a young adult audience as she is writing adult fiction). Whether you love them or love to hate them, her characters comprise believable true-to-life (and yet sometimes over-the-top) worlds; a feat which assuredly stems from her own background between NYC and LA. Caprice's ability to deftly tell even a painfully awkward story with wit and poise is a never-lauded-enough talent and one you're sure to enjoy! Take it from me.
"The Mostly True Story of Jack" and "Iron Hearted Violet" Kelly is one of those rare talents that writes not only beautifully dark tales for adults (her catalogue of short stories for Sci-Fi/Fantasy anthologies is impressive to say the least) but pens layered and rich tales for the middle grade set (which, since I'm recommending them, are also easily enjoyed by the ... um ... not-so-middle-grade set). Her work wends its way between believable reality and heightend fairy tale in such compelling ways that when the story involves a cantankerous princess in a world rife with magic arguing with a dragon ... you don't even pause; you're right there with her entrenched and caught up in the tale one hundred percent.
"The Vengekeep Prophecies" and "With or Without You" What is it with Minnesota? The state seems to produce more fantastic authors than you can shake a stick at (Kelly, Brian, Anne Ursu and more!) and each one stands apart with skill and taste. Brian is able to weave tales on a myriad of levels; his innovative middle grade action/adventure/fantasy trilogy which kicked off with "The Vengekeep Prophecies" is both endearing and hilarious; producing just as many "Aww" moments as not-so-quiet chuckles at the easily connectable first-person narrative. "With or Without You" is a stand-alone award-winning piece of art: think "The Outsiders" crossed with "Rainbow Boys". A heart-wrenching and amazing tale which will break your heart and remind you that you have one at the same time.
"Lament" and "Ballad" Maggie is a demi-local NYT bestelling author (whom I was 2 years behind in college and have met a few times after when she'd shop/sign at my bookstore) whose work spans the YA genre gamut. As popular as her Werewolf series and more recent books are, her first two novels are what I first read and loved. Set in a very-similar-to-where-we-went-to-college town, Maggie's Dark Faerie novels are captivating and vastly enjoyable. To say that I've been pining over a possible third novel in the series for the lastREDACTED years is an understatment.
"Rude Bitches Make Me Tired" and "You Don't Sweat Much for a Fat Girl" Celia is one of those suave, sweet and swearin' Southern ladies you have to read to believe. I had the great fortune to meet her while on vacation two summers ago and she is just as funny and sweet in-person as you could hope. Her humor essay collections range from the poignant to the absurdly hilarious as she takes on everything from Bubbas to Da Hubby with wit and pinache reminiscent of Nora Ephron (yet, even funnier - yes, I said it). You'll find amazing (and amazingly funny) advice in her newest collection, "Rude Bitches Make Me Tired" and if you can keep yourself from snorting in laughter ... well, I'm not sure if we should be friends.
"Retail Hell" and "Return to the Big Fancy" Freeman is a fantastic friend (he pushed me to start this website!) and an entertaining writer whose deliciously devilish humor memoirs about work in the retail world (as compared to his hilarious spoof of "Stuff White People Like" entitled "Stuff That Makes a Gay Heart Weep") are a MUST READ for anyone who has ever worked in retail/customer service or had a friend/loved one/passing acquaintance who has. Despite (in my opinion) never-enough publicity for his second memoir the word has gotten out - and that word? Is "HILARIOUS". Freeman's voice is both uniquely singular and, yet, the perfect everyman. Think "The Grapes of Wrath" but with snark, handbag sharks and caustic wit set in the world of retail ... you won't regret adding these to your library.
"The Potty Mouth at the Table" and "I Love Everybody (and other atrocious lies)" Laurie Notaro is practically a household name in humor; her memoirs and novels each garnering NYTbestseller status and these are two fine examples of why. Whether you're the uncomfortable-singing-in-public-type who lip-syncs along with Christmas Carols so as to not appear rude or the type who just isn't comfortable with anyone touching your shower puff [I'm sorry, but just because I'm marrying you does NOT give you the shower puff touching rights - amiright?] or someone who wants to yell at pretentious Yoga Snobs ... Laurie is the right touch. Judging from the hoarse voice I got reading her out-loud on a road trip to entertain my Mum, everyone should love this potty mouth.
"Bright Lights, Big Ass" and "Twisted Sisters" Jen Lancaster is best known for her debut humor memoir, "Bitter is the New Black", however her follow-up, a collection of humor essays, will probably retain position as my favorite laugh-producer ever. Admittedly, this may have something to do with the fact that I was lucky enough to read it in manuscript form [Jen is not only my literary hero, I'm lucky to call her my friend] and would consider it better than even the most popular David Sedaris collection (blasphemy schmasphemy). Her most recent foray into fiction is a deliciously delightful read (although, I all-too swiftly devoured it #FirstWorldProblems). Ooh, and if you pronounce a certain antagonist/hero character's name you MAY notice a (purposeful) similarity to ... well ... you get the idea.