I had a hard time keeping my cool when I chatted with Jeremy Patlen, Director of Buying at Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver, Colorado, one of the world’s best bookstores in one of the world’s best cities. Jeremy and I talked about the artist’s life and the cities that sustain it, the joys of opera, and a heartbreaking and beautiful memoir by Patti Smith.
Support the Best Book Ever Podcast on Patreon
Want to be a guest on the Best Book Ever Podcast? Go here!
Do you know a young person who’d like to appear on the 2nd Annual Kids/YA Gift Guide Episode? GO HERE!
Discussed in this episode:
Just Kids by Patti Smith
(Also check out this gorgeous Illustrated Edition)
Intimacies by Katie Kitamura
Whereabouts by Jumpha Lahiri
Comfort Me With Apples by Catherynne M. Valente
Comfort Me With Apples: More Adventures at the Table by Ruth Reichl
Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir by Ruth Reichl
Robert Mapplethorpe: The Photographs
The Chelsea Hotel, Manhattan
My Accidental Visit to the Pandemic’s Party Capital (New York Times)
Woolgathering by Patti Smith
M Train by Patti Smith
Devotions by Patti Smith
My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones
Harlem Shuffle: A Novel by Colson Whitehead
Beautiful Country: A Memoir by Qian Julie Wang
The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina: A Novel by Zoraida Córdova
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez
Fuzz by Mary Roach
Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
The Magician by Cólm Toibín
Brooklyn by Cólm Toibín
Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney
Discussed in our Patreon Segment
Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen
What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton
Becoming by Michelle Obama
(FYI – there is also a version of this book adapted for young readers, as well as a Becoming Guided Journal for Discovering Your Voice – these would make fantastic gifts for the young readers in your life!)
A Promised Land by Barack Obama
(Note: Some of the above links are affiliate links, meaning I get a few bucks off your purchase at no extra expense to you. Anytime you shop for books, you can use my affiliate link on Bookshop, which also supports Indie Bookstores around the country. If you’re shopping for everything else – clothes, office supplies, gluten-free pasta, couches – you can use my affiliate link for Amazon. Thank you for helping to keep the Best Book Ever Podcast in business!)
Hello, Bookworms welcome to the Best Book Ever, the podcast where I get to know interesting people by asking them about their favorite books. I’m your host, Julie Strauss, and today I’m talking to Jeremy Patlen, who is – take a deep breath; maybe you want to have a seat – the Director of Book Buying for Colorado’s world famous Tattered Cover Bookstore. I know! I am still freaking out! Jeremy and I had a great time talking about the bookstore life, the artist’s life, and he even convinced me to listen to opera. All of these topics derived from the tender, sad, and beautiful memoir, Just kids by Patti Smith, which Jeremy chose as his Best Book Ever.
Julie Strauss: Hi, Jeremy, welcome to the Best Book Ever Podcast.
Jeremy Patlen: Good morning. Thanks for having me, Julie.
JS: I’m so excited to talk to you because you work at what I call a destination bookstore. One of my favorite bookstores on the planet. One of my bucket list bookstores, which I have been fortunate to visit multiple times. But before we actually get to that, your bookstore life, I want to ask you about reading in general, in your life. How did you become a reader?
JP: I don’t remember. I always had a book in my hand. I would always rather be reading. I grew up in a family in Northern New Jersey. Only four of us, but we can create some volume. As a kid, I was smaller. I was more reserved. I don’t know. I loved going to school. I didn’t want to play sports. I would always rather be reading. And I remember being a little kid, trying to understand Shakespeare, reading the newspaper at the table. I don’t know. I just always loved it.
JS: So were your parents readers?
JP: Totally. My mom, she had in her bedroom, there was a wall-sized bookshelf, and she was always reading. She still does, all the time. We trade books, as regularly as we can across the country. But my dad always like monster books. Dean Koontz and horror and sci-fi. Well, not quite scifi. My mom was a lot of fiction.
JS: What kind of reader are you in your free time now?
JP: That’s a very good question because with books as my job, it’s never quite free time. But I do really prefer to read good fiction. I love literary fiction. I can read some trashy fiction. Right now I really look for queer authors to try to understand what’s going on in the world. But also with my job, I’ve got to make sure that I’m reading a completely representative arc of books out there so I know what to recommend to our customers and what to bring into the story.
JS: Tell my listeners what your job.
JP: I’m the Director of Buying at the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver, Colorado. How it happened is circuitous and long, and we don’t really need to go into all the details. But I love it. I find myself incredibly fortunate to be in a job that I care passionately about. And, I’ve been working at the bookstore for about six years and in bookstores for 10 years or so in genera. The first job I had in one was managing the coffee shop at McNally Jackson in New York City, where I lived most of my adult life. And then we decided to move to Denver in about 2016. And that’s when I discovered the Tattered Cover and started working there as a bookseller, then managed the coffee shops, and then a buying job opened up and then that’s evolved into my current position.
JS: Your clients, your customers who come in, do they tend to be looky-loos? Or do you get real book lovers? Cause I know it’s considered a destination.
JP: All over the place. We have people that come in, certainly to our Colfax store, just to browse. But we have people that come in, go right to the shelf, pick the two books that they’re looking for and leave. We do see trends with what authors sell better at what stores. What’s fascinating right now is that we have a store at McGregor Square that we opened up back in May, I believe, after we closed our LoDo store back in March, real estate conversation, rent too high, blah, blah, blah. We had a better deal. And we went to a slightly smaller space, but in a brand new building, I mean, the store is gorgeous. And the customer is pretty different than it was four blocks away. And I think it has something to do with being right across the street from Coors Field. And we’re in a new residential complex with a big hotel. So we’re getting a lot more people traveling from all across the country. And there’s a bookstore right downstairs from their hotels. So they’re popping in. When we were a couple blocks away they wouldn’t know we were there. It’s really fascinating. Traditionally, our Aspen Grove store had a more conservative customer, in the southern suburbs, than the big city store of Cherry Creek. But that’s not to say that that customer doesn’t exist within the same spheres. but we do buy differently for all of our different stores. It’s fun. It’s a puzzle. And it’s a conversation that always, always evolves.
JS: That’s the other thing I really like about your stores is, that I have met, your employees are not just sales clerks.
JP: Not at all. Not at all.
JS: Many times I have gone to your employees and said, what was the last great book you read? And their faces light up and they will take you to a back corner and go this one!
JP: I’m continually amazed by the depth and breadth of knowledge by our booksellers, and by the entire staff of the store, actually. We turned 50 this year, so we have a lot of people that still work back of house that have worked at the company for a long time. And the things you learn on a daily basis speaking with the booksellers on the floor, everybody’s got an opinion, everybody reads. For the most part, you don’t choose to work in an independent bookstore, earning the vast sums that we all do, just because it’s an available job. Most people that work in a bookstore do it because we love what we sell. Right? We love reading. We want to be around them. There’s a feeling and an open discourse in bookstores that doesn’t exist in many other lines of work. One of the big projects I’m trying to work on, you know, with all our free time is to really revitalize our Shelf Talker program because that’s where you find out what the staff reads. And when I interview people for a new job, the first question I ask routinely is: when you walk into a new bookstore and you don’t know anything about it, what’s the first section you go to? And for me, it’s the Shelf Talker section. What are the staff recommends? What does the staff read? What does this store believe in? Because that’s where the interest is for the store. And, we’re doing some really fun things. I mean, nothing revolutionary, but we’re really trying to uplift staff recommends. And from the buying side, we’re really trying to choose books as our book of the month and then consequently, our books of the year. Just books that we love for whatever reason, not because the publishers are pushing it or not because they’re bestsellers. The one real caveat that I had when I sent out the request was: did it publish in 2021? And do you love it? And there are some big, big books going on there, you know, som big releases over the year. Intimacies by Katie Kitamura and Jumpha Lahiri’s Whereabouts blew me away this year. Those are big releases with a lot of press. But then there are also some smaller books that came out that we really, really enjoyed. Another one coming out, I think in November, is one called Comfort Me with Apples.
JS: That’s an old one, isn’t it? By Ruth Reichl?
JS: Yes, it was. But I think, I think her first was Comfort Me.
JP: Was it the exact same title? I’m looking it up. You’re absolutely correct. It is the exact same.
JS: I love that.
JP: So I’m a fan of memoirs and what I love, it was either with that one or Save Me the Plums, where in her introduction, where she said, these are my stories and these are my memories. They might not be exactly as they happen, but this is how I remember them. It’s very – I love, I really appreciate that admission when I read that.
JS: So there’s a new one that’s coming out, you said?
JP: Yes. It’s a, I don’t know if it’s considered scifi horror or some kind of a fantasy, but it’s a shorter book.
JS: I love that it has the same title, because it almost makes you think maybe it’s going to be a little bit of a riff, like a jazz riff. I wonder if there is going to be some food talk in this scifi Comfort Me with Apples?
JP: There is a little bit.
JS: Okay. I’m going to read that.
JP: It’s an old, old story with a very new telling.
JS: Is it a Snow White?
JP: It, I, it would be a spoiler. Okay. And that’s the thing because, hold on, I think I have it right here, actually.
JS: Ooh, that looks spooky. What a cover!
JP: One of our team’s favorite things to do is we judge books by their covers. So we get these boxes of arcs that come in and you can sometimes. There are a number of books over the years, where I’m like, Ooh, I want to read that.
JS: Yeah, that’s very intriguing. So Jeremy, tell me, how did you first come across this book that you chose as your Best Book Ever? Just Kids by Patti Smith.
JP: My late great friend Ruth gave it to me one year for either Christmas or my birthday. And, she was magnificent, in a word. I met her, oh, I guess she was in her late sixties. And I was a recent college graduate in my early twenties. And we were introduced by a mutual friend. And I remember the first time we met, she asked me how old I was. And she said, “They still make people that age?” She became my New York city Auntie Mame, in a lot of ways. She had, you know, like most interesting people, three or four different light lifetimes over the course of her life. Again, I met her when she was in her late sixties and, I believe, this was in about 1996 or -97 or 98, somewhere in that timeframe. And she had the Upper East Side apartment that was covered in art. Her career was in art. She knew artists all over the city. She had received her doctorate, I believe from the School of Fine Arts in New York city, after a divorce in the 1980s. And that’s when she made her own money in the art world. And so to hear all of these stories from her over the years was just fascinating. And we became very, very, very good friends for for quite a long time. Sadly, she passed recently. She had a long and really historic life. I mean she lived in London in the 1970s and had a black living room with a red racing stripe that was featured in Architectural Digest. Like she had these stories and met these people. And I had always been an artistic person, but I was working in business at the time. I was working in retail at an off-price retail office job. I mean, spreadsheets, blah, blah, numbers, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And it was such a great outlet for me to go to galleries with her and go to museums with someone who knew about all of these things and taught me. I’m also a photographer have always kind of had a camera in hand and am taking pictures and creating. That’s been my main medium over the years. One year at Christmas, either Christmas or my birthday – they’re both in the winter, my birthday’s in February – she gave me this book and she said, “Something tells me you’re going to love this.” And I just, it blew me away. Not to sound trite, but, I had mentioned, I had worked in business. Numbers, numbers, numbers. And at this point in my life, I was somewhere in my late thirties, and I was miserable. I hated it. I had never questioned it. I went to Middlebury college in rural Vermont, and I was a French Literature major there back in the day. I went from that, and after college, I kind of assumed I was going to go do some kind of grad school and go the academic route. But it never panned out that way. I wound up living in New York all these years. Found a job, found a boy. Life happened in it. And I didn’t really question it until I was in my mid to late thirties and just was miserable in my job and didn’t have a vocabulary to describe it. And then I read this book and within a year of reading it, this was one of the things that gave me the courage to walk away from my corporate life and try something that was going to wake me up.
JS: Wow. That’s quite the effect of a book.
JP: I mean, some people, a lot of people thought I was brave. I was a little bit foolish, but I had had a small side hustle as a photographer. Family, photo shoots, weddings, things like that. And I was doing okay with it. And I was like, okay, I can focus on that now. And you know, not to be tacky. We don’t talk about money, but I got my annual bonus and it was enough for me to live off of for a couple of months without working. I can pay my credit card. I can pay my rent, pay food and not change my life for a couple of months. And then let’s focus on the photography. Thank God I had my wonderful husband’s support. I took a couple of weeks off for the first time as an adult. You know? Like, just didn’t do anything. And then, of course, when your entire life is structured, it’s really hard to create that when you don’t know what you’re doing. After about two months, it was like two months of anxiety, wallowing, working, trying to, not knowing what to do, I was like, Hmm, I need a part-time job. And that’s when, through a connection, I got an interview at McNally Jackson and I started working there, of all places. And then the rest is history.
JS: Why don’t you describe what this book is about for my listeners who perhaps haven’t read it?
JP: This book is about life, love, art and dedication. I don’t know how else to say it. It’s so simplistic. And beauty, how can I forget beauty? Because despite everything that happened to both of these main protagonists, oh, my God, is there a sense of beauty to both of their lives and purpose and almost an innate goodness, in a way, to both of them, that you would never necessarily understand just from their art. But when you look into it, both the people and their art, it makes total sense. From my entire education and upbringing and my own education and art, Robert Mapplethorpe was always one of the most extraordinary figures. I mean, as a queer photographer, when I first saw this stuff back in the day, I was blown away by it on every level. And then, you know, the first time I ever heard Patti Smith’s line, from the opening of Gloria, Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine. It’s like, yes! Yes. And I grew up in a pretty Catholic household in Northern New Jersey. Predominantly Italian-American family. We went to church on Sunday, I went to a Catholic high school and, you know, a super Catholic. And then I never knew until I read this book of their shared connection. I really liked both of their work, but didn’t know much about their personal stories. And then, to hear it, or to read it written with such dignity and grace and beauty, but also that punk, just fuck it! You know, this is what it is that makes us love Patti Smith so much.
JS: She was always a little scary to me. And this book to me is so tender and the title, Just Kids is so perfect. Because reading it at my age, at 52, I kept going, they are just kids.
JP: No, I’m 47. I understand. I think of myself at that age.
JS: As you have re-read this, do you go back and look at their art again and reconsider it after reading this?
JP: Oh, of course I did. I I’ve been rereading it over the past week, for our conversation, and on one side of my desk I have Patti Smith and on the other side I have my Robert Maplethorpe photo book. you know, the big tome called The Photographs.
JS: At one point when she looks at the pictures of her taken by him, by Robert Mapplethorpe, she doesn’t see herself. She sees the two of them. There bond is so fascinating and beautiful, and that’s why this whole book works so well, you know? That they had that bond.
JP: What I keep obsessing over is how little they had, how little they kept. Especially Patti Smith. She clearly, in her most treasured books that she talked about, kept her journals and her diaries. And she kept records of all of these. From a photographer’s point of view, I’ve often said, and I find this is clearly part of his genius: my photographs of people are only as good as my session or my relationship with them. Another thing that I thought about, and I don’t, I don’t remember where I read this, or I doubt I came up with it, but the word photography, the, the Greek, you know, the roots of the word mean writing with light. And so you can’t create a photo in the absence of light. And so especially with still life, it matters greatly what you place, where you place the light, where the shadows are coming from. What’s highlighted. You can draw, you can write with lights.
JS: I did not know that you are a New Yorker, or former new Yorker. So now I really want to ask you this: the book is so evocative of New York.
JP: It’s gotta be one of the reasons why I love it.
JS: Yeah, I’m sure! But given the internet has democratized so much of what we have access to, but do you think it has also destroyed those artistic communities? Do you think there are any places that still have that vibrant, concentrated areas of artists anymore? Or, do you think it’s just all people can live anywhere and be an artist in any suburb?
JP: I’ve never thought about it in that lens, but I would be, it would, no. I don’t know. There’s a part of me that believes that when you’re with your community and when you’re with your people, you have a much freer exchange of information and creative juice flow, so to speaks than you do in your own little bubble, out in the suburbs. You can be connected, but you’re not sitting over a canvas together. You’re not in the same room, taking photographs of each other, smoking weed and taking your shirts off and painting on each other and seeing what happens when you put paper on that. I know Patti Smith moved out to the far Rockaways in New York and had a little beach shack, or like a smaller house out in the Rockaways. And I don’t remember the quote exactly – I might be wrong, so please let’s verify this – but she said a number of years ago, New York is dead for the artist, for young artists. It’s no longer really feasible. Go to Pittsburgh, go to Detroit, go to other cities. Being there in those years, when you have the creative flow and you work at places like, oh, let’s talk about this. And then a coworker says, oh, let, let let’s collaborate on this. And let’s take some photos. And a friend of mine was like, Hey, I need headshots for this play that I’m doing, which leads to other. So you need that concentrated artistic community. It is a symbiotic relationship, and it’s its own kind of atmosphere. What’s the word I’m looking for? An ecosystem. It’s that creative energy that connects people no matter what the media.
JS: I did not flag it, but there is a very specific moment in here where I think she’s talking about Janice Joplin, and she says something and then Patti Smith even makes the comment, so that happened in front of me, but I was 20. I didn’t notice, or something like that. And it boggled my mind! You were sitting there with the giants, and you were also a giant yourself.
JP: But she was so wrapped up in their own thoughts.
JS: Exactly. That’s what she said. She’s thinking about her love life, as we all are when we’re 20, but you’re right. Then she took that conversation and brought it into her own work and it couldn’t have happened if she and Janis Joplin were Facebook messaging each other. It would not be the same work.
JP: I really love the ability for me to work from home from time to time. But I prefer working with my team in the office.
JS: But I really feel like we’re moving away from that. And it’s going to be really interesting to see where the art world goes.
JP: Yeah. And they’ve been talking, you know, in the newspapers they’ve been talking for years, like Berlin was the new city for art, you know, in the early aughts. And now, you know, they’re talking about Kiev of kind of being the new version of Berlin. There was a fascinating piece in the New York Times last weekend about how it’s like the pandemic party capital. And they don’t want to be known as the new Berlin because you know, we’re Kiev, we’re not Berlin! But kind of that art center has always moved around.
JS: Are there any American cities that are open like that, do you think? That are very artistically inclined? I mean Denver has its fair share with.
JP: We do we do. We have lots of galleries. But Denver is not cheap. A couple of years ago, you were able to rent a two, three-bedroom apartment for a thousand dollars, or two bedroom apartment for a thousand a month, and a one bedroom at 500 a month. Then you can have a job at a bookstore and pay your rent and have a decent life. You might not be able to go to Europe every year, but you’d be able to afford life and be happy and be calm. And that’s what I, as an artist, I need is a sense of security. And, ironically enough, that’s one of the things Robert Mapplethorpe wanted, too. He needed that financial security. If I can’t pay my rent, I’m not going to be able to create. Creating art under pressure, that generally doesn’t bode well for me personally.
JS: Were there any particular stories in this that hit you?
JP: Yeah, I mean, there are so many moments of it that it just takes your breath away, either from the beauty of the writing or the devastation of what’s happening. His dying of AIDS. That last paragraph, that makes me … you know, that it’s very difficult for me to read, as a gay man of a certain generation that came out at the tail end of the AIDS crisis in the middle to late, I came out in 1993. It was a very different time than now. I’m that bridge generation just at the very end of it. You know, people were still dying, but new drugs were becoming available, but it was still scary as hell. And it still really bothers me. And it’s, it’s not comfortable for me to read that.
JS: Yeah, it really brings home what we have lost in terms of a generation of artists.
JP: All our entire generation. An entire generation.
JS: What if he were alive and Patti Smith’s age? God only knows what he would have done artistically. And I don’t know that that’s something we’ve reckoned with as a country. We have literally lost a generation of men who are not producing the art that we by rights as a culture, we should have this art.
JP: And of course it was incredibly politicized. It took Reagan how many years just to admit that it was going on? And then it was stigmatized. It still, still is in many quarters. What about you? You mentioned there were a couple of moments?
JS: Well, the fact that she had her last interactions with both Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, literally right before they both died. And they were both such tender and sweet and kind. The one with Jimi Hendrix just brought me to tears. And I’m not a huge Jimi Hendrix fan. But that was another one that just made me go, Godamn it. Why don’t we get these people? Why can’t Jimi Hendrix live to his 90s?
JP: And that aspiration to create a new language based on music and peace, like to have those thoughts. I mean, again, I agree with you; I am not the biggest fan of a lot of music from that age. Just the sound of it, it’s not what I’ve listened to over the years. There’s no doubting his musical genius and what he would have been able to accomplish all these years later. Good God.
JS: When we lose artists, I feel like we really lose a lung, almost, of our culture.
JP: And we did. We lost a generation in the, especially in the art world, in New York City, which at the time was creating most of the newer art. And the country, but it’s devastating to think about.
JS: So have you, you have not read any of her poetry?
JP: Oh, I have. I’ve read some subsequent works of hers as well. Woolgathering. M Train – a devastatingly sad book, reflections on her late husband, and, my understanding of it anyway. And, what’s the other book? Devotions was also a wonderful Patti Smith read.
JS: I have no experience with her poetry at all, but now after reading this, I really do want to read it. And I’m not much of a poetry reader.
JP: So, I loved, in high school, of all things, I remember loving having to read poems for school, but then college kind of destroyed me. I was a French literature major and the French school of studying poetry back in the day, I remember having to write papers and count syllables and sometimes letters and, analyze it to the point of not enjoying it anymore. I just wanted to read it for the beauty of the language. And so, it got me off of it for a while. But I’ve been dipping into some more poetry over the past couple of years. And there’s some fascinating stuff. There’s some really beautiful work coming out. It makes you want to pick up other books and understand how artists draw from each other. And especially musicians, in my mind, because lyrics are a form of poetry. I mean, how do you define poetry? I’ve never thought about that. Like, if you go to the dictionary, what’s the definition for poetry? I don’t know, but it, for me, it’s sort of, you know, using language to tell a story that’s not necessarily in a linear and grammatical form. You have absolute freedom with your words, with how, or where you can put them on a page with the order of your syntax. And you can move everything around and create kind of a new language. And then for songs, you accentuate that with music. And then you get into one of my true loves in life, which is actually opera, of all things.
JS: How’d you get into that?
JP: The same friend that introduced me to my friend Ruth, his name is John introduced me to opera when I was in college, he was a professor. He invited me over for dinner one night. I said, what is this we’re listening to? And he’s like, it’s Aida. I said, okay, tell me more. And, I went to my first performance at the Metropolitan Opera in about 1997. I went over 200 times in the years that I lived there. Oh, yeah. Well, if you sat upstairs, three feet from God, in the really cheap seats – for a while, the seats were 25 bucks a pop. You’re in a 4,000 seat theater. You need binoculars to see the stage, but Jesus Christ, that sound is beautiful up there. And if you’re sitting right in the middle at the top, at Carnegie Hall, as well, it’s like you’re wearing headphones to the stage. There’s this insane thing that happens. And, yeah, to hear those unamplified voices. you know, cresting, sometimes a hundred-piece orchestra, with poetry and stories.
JS: Do you feel that you need to know it well before you go to the opera?
JP: It is an incredibly great question. And my absolute answer is no, you don’t need to do anything before going into it. In depth. It helps to know a little bit of the plot. The more you know about opera, the more you tend to enjoy it because it’s at its base, it’s live theater. We have very few people around the world that can actually sing these roles in a way to be able to sing them on the main stages of the world. There are new pieces that come out, but there is a standard repertory. And so you’ll have the same singer that’s singing Aida here and a different singer singing it in Chicago or New York or Paris or the same singer singing that same role over the course of a 20, 30, 40 year career with different understandings of the role over different parts of their life. And so it’s really fascinating to compare and contrast, and like this person’s voice better. The more you know, the more you tend to enjoy it. And that’s where the obsessive fandom comes into play. But if you were going to go to your first opera and see it, there are, there are certainly operas I would recommend more than others because for me, a five-and-a-half-hour night at the Met of slow plotting, like Don Carlo, I want more. And then a lot of people are like, okay, I’m falling asleep. I’m tired of this. But if you start someone on a shorter, two and a half to three hour a night, La Boheme or Madame Butterfly, with a much more understandable story and the swelling orchestra and all the emotions, that’s how that it would be much more easily palatable and digestible. But then there are like 90-minute shockers, like Richard Strauss. A lot of, a lot of the plots are sex, power, murder. Why do these stories still matter, sometimes hundreds of years after they debuted? I think that the plots sort of speak to a deeper human truth or an emotion that is easily translated across ages and different story frames.
JS: Well, let me ask you, what are you reading these days?
JP: Right now I’m listening to My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones. He’s a local; he lives in Colorado. I don’t know his other work. A lot of my coworkers love it. And I’ve started listening to this and I love it. It’s kind of a slasher flick in a novel.
JS: Yeah, I’ve seen it, but I’m a little scared of it. Is it scary?
JP: It is, but it’s really good. So I’m, I’m one of those insufferable distance runners, and I’m training for a marathon now. And so, when I have two, three hours to run, sometimes I listen to music, which is all over the board, but oftentimes I’m like, Ooh, let me get through a chunk of a novel. And it’s a good one to run to. Um, so I’ve listened to Harlem Shuffle and Beautiful Country, a new memoir that’s out right now. And that’s pretty stunning as well. She tells this story with such a clinical simplicity that it sort of makes the horrors that she lived through even more acute, you know? To be an undocumented Chinese immigrant in New York, in the 1990s – I can’t imagine what that was like. And then these stories, like this is the same city I lived in at the same time? Whoa. Reality check, you know? And then, I’ve got a couple of arcs on my desk for books coming out in the spring that I’m trying to get through.
JS: That must be a fun part of your job.
JP: It really, really is. It feels like Christmas everyday. We get those boxes. In fact, that’s what we call it. Let’s have Christmas morning! But some of the ones I’ve read recently, let’s see. The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina was a really fun one. Zoraida Cordova is the author’s name. She did some YA books, to my understanding, and it was our book of the month last month. So I listened to it and it was a really, really great book. Lots of kind of magical realism. My favorite novel of all time is Love in the Time of Cholera. I am a sucker for big, gooey, romantic stories. And this is in that kind of magical realistic realm. And what else? Fuzz by Mary Roach was a lot of fun.
JS: She’s always so good.
JP: Yeah, that just dropped two weeks ago, I think. And then Emily St. John Mandel’s new book coming out in the spring kind of blew me away. Sea of Tranquility. Post pandemic. It deals with pandemics. And then the other newer book that I loved and I read cover to cover was Cólm Toibín’s new one, The Magician.
JS: He wrote Brooklyn, right?
JS: That was so good. So, The Magician, tell me what that’s about.
JP: Imagined life of the German author Thomas Mann’s experience, from when he was a kid in Northern Germany to when he was in exile at the end of World War II. It’s a pretty thick book. I think it’s one of the 500-page novels, and I read every page of it. It kept me going. Really fascinating. Talks a lot about the intellectual realization of ethics in times of great change, and what it meant for him to be German. And to what extent his homosexuality or bisexuality had anything to do with his family, his writing, his experience. It hit a lot of really interesting points and it was, it was the first book of his that I read and it really got my brain. I can go on. Sally Rooney’s newest one. I loved it. And at the risk of sounding old, it didn’t make me feel, when I read it, oftentimes I tried to read a lot of the novels written by the young, by the 20-somethings and 30-somethings and like, okay, cool. And without wanting to be too much of a dick, I remember feeling that way, too. And then with a little bit of space and a little bit of prioritization or however we want to word it, she’s got a lot of really great insight in this book. And I there’s a lot of thought in this book and a lot of, it felt very real too.
JS: Jeremy, I cannot tell you how much fun this has been. I hope you will come back to the show any time you have a book to talk to me about. Would you please share with my listeners where they can find you online? Besides visiting the best bookstore in the world?
JP: And that’s the Tattered Cover in Denver, Colorado. I have a personal website, that is my photography and my stories over the years. I was trying to continue to do photography as a side hustle and for my own passion. I’ve been told over the years, you have too much on your website. So, enjoy! I have almost every country I’ve ever visited, travels for the past couple of years, series. I keep it up. Those are my stories. That’s how I’ve documented my life over the years. Not necessarily with journals I wish I would’ve kept. So that’s my website. And then I’m instantly find-able on Instagram or Facebook.
JS: I want to thank you for joining me today. It has been so wonderful talking to you and I hope you will come back anytime you want to talk books.
JP: Don’t threaten me with a good time.
If you loved this episode as much as I loved making it, why not leave a revie wherever you’re listening? Each review helps new listeners find my work, and I’m so grateful for your help. Thanks for joining me today. And I will see you at the library.