Bedside Manner

So I'm trying this new thing …

I'm kind of a control freak, not to mention a real stickler for narrative logic, which means I find my dream life maddening. So I thought I'd try something new to steer my dreams in the right direction.

Lula defends my bedside shelf from any book marauders.

Incidentally, the phrase "I'm trying this new thing" flies out of my mouth at least once a week, the preamble to some new elaborate plan I've hatched: As in, I'm trying this new thing where I dance my ass off to Nineties jams first thing when I wake up – eff calisthenics. Or: I'm trying this new thing where I don't email ex-boyfriends or pen manifestos after that third glass of vino. Also: I'm trying this new thing where I don't live my life like it's the first act of a shitty rom-com.

Invariably, plans fail, but this new one at least is less self-punishing: I'm trying this new thing where I spend a couple pages before lights out with Hollywood Movie Stills: Art and Technique in the Golden Age of the Studios (Titan Books) by former London Time Out film critic Joel Finler. I haven't even touched the text yet; right now, I'm just reveling in the pictures. There's Carole Lombard, all soft-focus-glam in Twentieth Century promo stills. Fred MacMurray biding his time in the "death chamber" that marked Double Indemnity's original ending. Rita Hayworth, impossibly girlish, leaping over a supine Fred Astaire on the set of 1942's You Were Never Lovelier. One-time roommates – or is that "roommates"? – Cary Grant and Randolph Scott party prepping with a blender and celery stalks. I'm hoping a little nighttime immersion in these gorgeous old black & whites might spill over into my REM cycle. Because, really, how divine does Bloody Marys with the boys sound?

I do also enjoy words, not just pictures, and to that end I'm enjoying the hell out of Elizabeth Crane's debut novel We Only Know So Much (Harper Perennial). Crane's been situated in Austin for some time (she was behind the Awesome! And Great! reading series, chronicled here). Apparently she's abandoning us for New York, but not before she reads at BookPeople July 19. Cover blurbs don't usually sway me, but this one, from Jessica Anya Blau, proclaimed "Not since The Royal Tenenbaums have I loved a family so much." (Sold!) Crane's the Copeland family is not as extravagantly talented as the Tenenbaums or their spiritual familias, the Glasses, but certainly the Copelands rival their forebearers' talent for secret keeping and the quiet crack-up. I'm only halfway through, but I can't wait to see where the family goes next, and if the delightfully catty (mostly-)omniscient narrator –  who introduces the Copeland first-born thusly: "First of all, Priscilla is a bitch" – ever reveals herself.

I have a soft spot for fucked-up-family stories, which is what got me interested in Karen Thompson Walker's The Age of Miracles (Random House) – well, that and an unhealthy obsession with all things apocalyptic. I pretty much adored this book. It's incredibly unnerving, but surprisingly even-keeled for an end-times story, and the meaning behind its title lands like a sucker punch when you get to it. I'll have more to say about the book in our summer reading issue, out this Thursday.

I'm also reading, in concentrated but sporadic stretches, Sugarhouse: Turning the Neighborhood Crack House Into Our Home Sweet Home (Mariner House), Matthew Batt's memoir about renovating a dilapidated house in Salt Lake City on a grad student's salary. I was drawn to the book because I bought my first house almost two years ago, and I empathize with anyone who has a home that's uncomfortably close to being a problem child. I adore my house, but it always feels like it's on the verge of open revolt against me – I imagine the fence, the deck, and the gutter-less draining system huddled together, plotting a three-pronged assault – and I suppose I'm taking some twisted comfort, too, from Batt's description of a house ghosted by cat piss and crack pipes. Really puts a leaning fence in perspective.

The rest of the books here are in the haven't-cracked-the-spine pile: The Yellow Birds (Little, Brown and Company) roared out of last week's BookExpo America as the book on the tip of everyone's tongue. It's the first novel from Iraq War vet Kevin Powers, who just graduated from UT's Michener Center for Writers; it comes out in September, so, y'know, watch this space. And Significant Objects: 100 Extraordinary Stories About Ordinary Things (Fantagraphics Books) arrived today; it's a spinoff from the website, which commissioned original stories about flotsam and jetsam found on eBay ("kitty saucer," "crumb sweeper"); contributors include Jonathan Lethem, Bruce Sterling, Heidi Julavits, and Doug Dorst. Bonus: Pictures! Maybe those kitty saucers and crumb sweepers will have to leg-wrestle Cary Grant for space in tomorrow night's REM picture show.

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Bedside Manner, Hollywood Movie Stills: Art and Technique in the Golden Age of the Studios, Elizabeth Crane, We Only Know So Much, The Age of Miracles, Sugarhouse: Turning the Neighborhood Crack House Into Our Home Sweet Home, The Yellow Birds, Kevin Powers, Significant Objects

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