Somewhere between classic cookbooks from the fifties and thick volumes of Irish folklore lies the perfect book—as long as you can find it. This is the challenge of the used book shop, where readers are often beckoned by the colorfully stacked shelves and then baffled by the apparent lack of organization. So how does one find the perfect book if all the titles aren’t arranged in precise alphabetical order of the author’s last name? By looking.
Most used book shops are organized by genres, which can range from the standard Mystery to the more unconventional, like Pirates or Spiritual Biographies. Once you pick a section that interests you, scan the shelves for titles that catch your eye. Searching used book shops without specific titles in mind is a great way to discover new reads and chance upon different authors.
From the “Paperback Fiction” section is Jane Mendelsohn’s I Was Amelia Earhart, a lyrical exploration of the possibilities following the aviatrix’s 1937 crash in the Pacific Ocean. Mendelsohn’s piercing, imaginative, and elegant novel draws its power from the ethereal nature of flight, which Amelia, “who plays hide-and-seek with the clouds,” knows all too well.
Earhart’s Lockheed Electra frees the insecure starlet from her demanding husband, the obsessive media, and a choking mass of fans. But after a crash landing on a remote atoll in the Pacific forces Amelia and her drunken navigator, Fred Noonan, to abandon their journey around the world, Earhart becomes a prisoner to her own plane. Even as she and Noonan struggle to survive on the island under “the fruit-punch colors of the sun,” the “once magnificent Electra” consumes Earhart’s every thought.
Mendelsohn’s liberal play with actual fact makes it difficult to distinguish the historical truth from creative imaginings. The Amelia Earhart of this novel, who dubs herself “a practical escapist,” is stubborn and angry, but with a voice that is very real and incredibly insightful. “Each digression from dream to reality and back again, is a faithful expression of… [Earhart’s] character.” The pull of the prose is as strong as Earhart’s charisma, and will leave the reader floating and dreaming in his own “sudden shocks of blue” sky.
From the “Don’t Judge a Book by its Movie” section is H.G. Bissinger’s Friday Night Lights, the true story of one West Texas town and its football dreams. Under the hot heat of the Odessa, Texas sun, the 1988 Permian Panthers don their practice jerseys for summer two-a-days with the hopes that come December they’ll be vying for a state championship title. A stunning piece of journalism that hits hard at every point, Friday Night Lights combines bits of West Texas history with the personal stories of the Permian players, chronicling “an America of factory towns and farm towns and steel towns… all trying to survive.”
Life in Odessa revolves around the Panthers and the Permian battle cry of “Mojo!” The meaning of Mojo is different for everyone; football is a pastime, an escape, a family, a religion, a way of life “in a land so vast, so relentless, that…you feel powerless and insignificant.”
For the Permian players, nothing else matters on
Friday night except the gridiron, where the “lights become an addiction.” But ripped away from the field, the boys are plagued with their own nightmares: Quarterback Mike Winchell struggles with the death of his father; Captain Ivory Christian can’t seem to shake his uncertainty; Running back Boobie Miles fights an uphill battle against racism and a knee injury. All the boys battle with thoughts about the end of the season, when their “emotional high” will come to an end.
For anyone who has ever stepped onto a field and found himself “dreaming of heroes,” Friday Night Lights will “[burn] with…intensity.”
Poetry: Cures Include Travel by Susan Rich
Entertainment: Who Wants to be Me? by Regis Philbin and Bill Zehme
Art: Norman Rockwell: 332 Magazine Covers edited by Christopher Finch
Fiction: Life Isn’t All Ha Ha Hee Hee by Meera Syal