What We Talk About When We Talk About What We’re Reading: Volume 1

Article by mark

In which Keaton Patterson (Buyer) and Mark Haber (Floor Manager) discuss books—what they’ve already read, what they’re currently reading, and what they’re excited about reading in the future.

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Keaton: Mark, why do you love books?

Mark: Really? That’s how we’re starting? That’s like asking who your favorite child is! Recently I can say I’ve really come to love Mercé Rodoreda. She’s one of those I’ve read and, like—

Keaton: You’ve read, what, three or four of her books now? 

Mark: Two books now. I would’ve read more if I didn’t have other responsibilities! You’ve read her too, so you know—when you read WAR, SO MUCH WAR, you just feel like it’s a classic. And it’s very contemporary, even though it was written decades ago. If they gave posthumous Nobel Prizes, I think she should be in the running. So, I’m loving her a lot.

Keaton: Yeah. I mean, I remember when I read WAR, SO MUCH WAR [from Open Letter]—on your recommendation, of course. It was not only obviously a master at work...it just seemed effortless.

Mark: It seems very effortless. And then, after that, I went on and found time to read THE TIME OF THE DOVES, and that was equally good, heartbreaking, beautiful. You know, you don’t see a lot of García Marquez blurbs on books. So when you see one on hers, you’re like, Okay, he knows what he’s talking about. So, when I think about something that I’ve read recently, I think about her and her body of work, and I’m excited because there’s more to discover.

Keaton: So, for you, is she an oeuvre writer? Are you gonna try to read everything?

Mark: I think I will. I think she’s one of those writers that, you know, you just put ‘em in your pocket. It could be whoever—Javier Marías, Cormac McCarthy—where you read one or two of their books, and you’re compelled to read their entire body of work. And she’s one of those. I haven’t discovered a writer like that in a long time, so I’m excited.

Keaton: Very cool, very cool.

Mark: And how ‘bout you? What have you read maybe recently, or something that’s coming up, that you’re looking forward to?

Keaton: Well, a book that’s right around the corner that I was just really, really taken with, just really could not put down, is a book by a Korean author named Han Kang, called THE VEGETARIAN.

Mark: Yes! I’ve heard about this.

Keaton: It’s a very creepy, psychological, literary thriller, revolving around a simple premise, really: a Korean woman—married, probably mid-twenties—decides one day, after having a dream, that she’s not gonna eat meat anymore. And with Korea being a very meat-centric culinary culture, this is taken as an act of subversion on her part. You know, the book is about insanity and the unreachable distance between people, how we can never really know what people are thinking or what their real motivations are. And there’s just so much good fiction coming out of Asiatic countries right now. You know, translation is such a big part of what we love about books here at Brazos. As a bookseller, you learn that there’s just so much out there that’s just inaccessible to English-language readers right now.

Mark: Yeah, absolutely. It’s endless.

Keaton: So, you know, there’s always gonna be something good to look forward to, which I think is also one of the reasons that I really love books. A real reader, I think, wants to read everything, but we all know it’s impossible.

Mark: It’s impossible, but it’s the attempt, it’s the striving to.

Keaton: Any other big books you’re looking forward to this year?

Mark: Well, this is way out in the future, but I’m really looking forward to the new Javier Marías book. I think it’s called THUS BAD BEGINS, another title borrowed from Shakespeare, as Marías is wont to do—this particular line from HAMLET. I mean, to me, any book he releases is an event because he’s one of my favorite living writers. I think everything he does is really smart, elegant, philosophical—it really speaks to me. So I’m excited about that. I have Spanish-speaking friends who’ve already read it, so they’ve told me how good it is.

Keaton: Yeah, now I guess another book farther off that I’m also interested in is the new Joy Williams book, 99 STORIES OF GOD—just jaw-droppingly awesome talent, she is. The book is ninety-nine short stories, anywhere from a sentence to maybe a couple pages—flash fiction, so to speak. Just mind-bending, strange things, odd, sometimes creepy, macabre. Very funny at times.

Mark: I really only discovered her name last year. It’s funny how you can be around books and things kinda pass you by, and you don’t even know because there’s just so much good stuff. Yeah, but she’s someone I really want to read a lot of. 

Keaton: Speaking of books that kinda pass you by, sometimes this can also point out the value of picking a book at random, so to speak. You know, I love that when you go to a bookstore or a thrift store or something—when you pick something up that you have no idea what it is.

Mark: I picked up THE DOOR at random. It was a slow Sunday, and I picked it up, flipped through a page or two, thought, I’ll read this. So, what you just said: you cannot overstate the importance of the serendipity of a bookstore, the magic.

Keaton: This is kinda why getting closer to Valentine’s Day, we’re going to one of our projects I love here. Blind Date with a Book. This is the third, fourth year we’ve done it? It’s always a big hit. Basically a customer chooses a book, sight unseen. There’s a different book chosen by each employee.

Mark: Yes, the book is wrapped in paper with a brief description. Very much like a blind date, the book is putting its best foot forward.

Keaton: So, anybody who’s willing to take a chance, a little leap of faith with Brazos, simply reads the description of the book and go for it. I’m sure they’ll come away satisfied

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