Literary

Laurie Notaro: Toss the Book You Have in Your Purse and Read These Instead

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While I am not a fan of this "adult" genre, I am always happy when people are reading a book, although I do wish it wasn't simply the script of a bad porn movie set to somewhat complete sentences.

Reading is becoming a lost art, and the book industry is suffering awfully. So if a truly terrible book, or, as it seems to happen, a series of them, is able to stop the crumbling of the institution with gigantic sales, so be it. Let the trash reign. But in the meantime, before more portly women leave their bewildered husbands and lace themselves into Lane Bryant corsets, shall we stop the madness for a moment? Let's remember propriety, ladies. A little bit of modesty, I promise, goes a long way.

Fifty Shades of whatever are the hottest books on the bestseller lists right now, so hot that they've become the norm. Which is bland. And bland is boring. Who is more interesting, the person at the coffee shop reading the same book as everyone else at the coffee shop, or the person who pulls a beaten, weathered hardback out of their satchel and reads something that you've never heard of?

History, used bookstores, and of course, the Internet are teeming with incredible old books begging to be read again. Below is a list of current book club favorites and top sellers that everyone is reading, and their aged counterparts, which are not only better written, more interesting reads, but will let you actually answer--with dignity--the next time someone asks you what you are reading.

Instead of reading The Help, read Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks. Brooks was the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Annie Allen, a book of poetry, in 1949. Brooks used the basis of her Annie Allen poems to write Maud Martha, a semi-autobiographical novel about the hopes, dreams and ultimate reality of the life a black woman in that time frame. Brooks saw Maud Martha as her "Old Man and the Sea," and hoped to duplicate Hemingway's success, if not just to earn enough money to buy a house. While her hopes were not realized at the time, Maud Martha lives on, still a strikingly written testament to all women of color in during the mid-century and pre-Civil Rights era. One of the best books you'll ever read, I promise.

To find: You probably won't find this in a bookstore, since the publishing house Brooks left her rights to is a very small one. Best bets would be to get it on special order at Changing Hands, on half.com, alibris.com, or abebooks.com.

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Laurie Notaro