Author: Katie

Tim O’Brien tells it like it was about the Vietnam War

Here at Lemuria we have really been getting into the Vietnam War lately. Our owner, John, absolutely loves Mark Bowden’s new book Hue 1968, and Lisa and I have been indulging ourselves in the works of the beats, Tim O’Brien, and various other counter-culture books written or made popular during the time of the Vietnam War. If you know me, this will come as no surprise, but I sometimes have the feeling that I “missed the bus.” The sixties are a really interesting time to me, because there was so much happening here in the U.S. and around the world that both brought people together and tore them apart. The Vietnam War has such questionable motivations, ones that many people did not support or even understand.

Tim O'Brien during the Vietnam War. Courtesy of the Harry Ransom Center

Tim O’Brien during the Vietnam War. Courtesy of the Harry Ransom Center

One man whose voice, I think, is an extremely essential part to the understanding of the Vietnam War, what so many soldiers were dealing with at that time, and why so many people opposed it, is Tim O’Brien.

If I Die in a Combat Zone Box Me Up and Ship Me Home is a book by Tim O’Brien that tells of his time before and during the Vietnam War. O’Brien, like many young men in our country at that time, was drafted into the war. A good part of the beginning of this book tells of O’Brien’s confusion, discontent, and utter lack of support for the war. He contemplates running away to Canada because he so badly does not want to fight in a war that he does not understand nor see as necessary.

combat zoneThis book is tough; it has a way of making the reader feel many, sometimes awful, feelings. This book is told in stories, through characters, and simply with O’Brien’s very own thoughts and opinions. He encountered some truly horrible people and situations and he does not hold back at all, immersing the reader as much as he can in the horrors and realities of war.

Having read both If I Die in a Combat Zone Box Me Up and Ship Me Home and The Things They Carried, I believe Tim O’Brien truly has a gift for writing about his experience serving in the Vietnam War. O’Brien has showed me a part of the sixties I did not know much about, one that was an ocean away, but still affected so many people. I think both of these books are a vital part of Vietnam literature and show the terrible side of war and what war can do to man. And, of course, who better to write about it than someone who was there and experienced what life was like both before and after the war?

Hannah Barbarians: Katie shares her love of Barry Hannah’s ‘Airships’

airshipsWhen I was a junior in high school, one of my teachers handed me a copy of Barry Hannah’s Airships and said, “Read it. Just a warning, it’s pretty messed up.” Although, he didn’t say “messed.” He said another word that ended in -ed, but started with an f. To this day, I still thank him for letting me borrow his copy of that book. There are not many books that I have bought more than once, but I have probably bought this book close to seven or eight times, simply because I cannot keep it to myself. I pass it off to friends, people from the South, people in the South, people who need a little Barry Hannah in their lives.

“Love Too Long,” which is probably my favorite story in the book, is about a man whose wife has left him for the last time. This story is full of clever, twisted, beautifully dark sentences. I remember reading the last paragraph of it and immediately searching my room for a pen because I just had to circle the entire thing. Here it is:

Nothing in the world matters but you and your woman. Friendship and politics go to hell. My friend Dan three doors down, who’s also unemployed, comes over when he can make the price of a six-pack.

It’s not the same.

I’m going to die from love.

This is, and will probably remain to be for a while, my favorite ending to a short story.

“Eating Wife and Friends,” another favorite of mine, is a sort of dystopian story about an America where food is scarce. A landlady, Mrs. Neap, has tenants in her home and she gets tired of them. They make too much noise, they contribute nothing, and they constantly break her rules. There are rumors going around that people are starting to eat humans and Mrs. Neap is not at all taken aback by the idea, nor are the tenants.

“Coming Close to Donna” is, in my opinion, the most disturbingly beautiful story in the book. At the very beginning, Hannah outlines a scene for us in which two boys are fighting over Donna in a cemetery while she and a seemingly uninterested boy watch from a Lincoln convertible. This story has more twists and turns in three pages than I have ever read in a short story before.

If you like grit lit or a good ol’ southern story, you should definitely read Airships. Barry Hannah has a way of creating a whole world in a story, a world where you probably would not want to live, but you would love to read about forever. Hannah was a southern man, a man whose life, today, is lived through stories told by his past students, past writing buddies, and people he ticked off. He had such a wonderful voice that shows through in every single sentence he formed.

All That We Are: ‘Human Acts’ by Han Kang

human actsHuman Acts by Han Kang absolutely broke me and put the pieces right back together, just like one of her previous books I readThe Vegetarian, had. Human Acts is about the Gwangju Uprising which took place in South Korea in 1980. This Uprising lasted for a little over a week, resulting in nearly 600 deaths.

This book is the story of a boy, Dong-ho, who loses his life in the Uprising. Dong-ho is a middle-schooler who works in the Provincial Office during the uprising. His job is to take care of the corpses that are brought there, help families and friends identify their missing loved ones, and try to keep a log of the corpses that are brought in.

Each chapter of this story has a different narrator, all of whom have in common some type of connection to Dong-Ho. Each narrator is also directly or indirectly involved with the Uprising and many of them pass away during it just like Dong-Ho.

Han Kang was born in Gwangju and spent a good bit of her childhood there. She grew up in the aftermath of the Uprising, still witnessing its consequences and how it affected people in that area. Han Kang does a wonderful job of telling this tragic story in a beautiful way, refusing to water down anything and loading it with raw emotion.

“Is it true that human beings are fundamentally cruel? Is the experience of cruelty the only thing we share as a species? Is the dignity that we cling to nothing but self-delusion, masking from ourselves the single truth: that each one of us is capable of being reduced to an insect, a ravening beast, a lump of meat? To be degraded, slaughtered–is this the essential of humankind, one which history has confirmed as inevitable?” –Han Kang, Human Acts

Gifting the Perfect Book: For Outsiders and Oddballs

Back in October, Nell Zink came to the store to sign and read from her new novel, Nicotine. If you know me, even though I’m eighteen, you know that I look like I am stuck inside the body of a twelve-year-old. So, Nell was about to read an tense, explicit scene from the beginning of Nicotine (which includes an “almost” rape scene) when she hesitated because “some people around look[ed] pretty young.” Knowing that she was obviously referring to me, I said, “I’ve already read it.” Kelly, one of the managers here at Lemuria, assured her that I am older than I look. Let’s just say my face got pretty red, I began to sweat a little, and I thought about that moment for the next week… or maybe two.


A lot like the main character in Nicotine, Penny, I felt a bit alienated. Penny has a hippie father, Norm, who has a cult-like following and a mother, Amalia, who was born into an Amazonian tribe. Penny recently graduated from business school and cannot help but feel like an outsider in her own far-out family. When Norm dies, Penny inherits his childhood home. Upon visiting the house, which has now been christened “Nicotine,” Penny discovers it has been taken over by a group of anarchist squatters who advocate for smokers’ rights.

The members of Nicotine welcome Penny as one of their own and she has absolutely no problem letting them remain in the house that is now technically hers. Feeling a bit like her spontaneous father, Penny decides to try out the lifestyle her father lived and loved for so long. Fulfilling her need to belong, Penny finds a community among the residents of Nicotine and other squatter-occupied houses in the neighborhood. Everything goes pretty well until the day Penny’s money-hungry brother, Matt, decides to try and seize the house for himself.

This house brings Penny’s family together, but also threatens to tear them apart. Penny gets stuck in between her old family and her new one, wanting to defend the residents of Nicotine as well as try to please the people who loved and supported her father for so long.

Nell has a beautiful way of throwing contrasting elements and feelings into a book and having them work out perfectly. Nicotine is a story about self-acceptance and materialism, about love and hate, about heartbreak and happiness. Nicotine is packed with family drama and surprising romantic relationships. It is a book full of lost souls trying to find their way in the world they live in.

Mystery Without Meat: ‘The Vegetarian’ by Han Kang

So, back in July, Maggie Smith put this book on the counter with a note on it that said, “Katie, I think you would like this. Read it and let me know what you think.” Well, it got lost in the books that get shuffled along Lemuria’s counter daily, but I found it about two weeks later in another stack. But, she was right.

vegetarianA story told through three different viewpoints, The Vegetarian by Han Kang is an eerie tale of a family member gone astray, starting when she spontaneously decides to become a vegetarian. In Yeong-hye’s South Korean family, meat is the staple in most meals, so when she decides to stop eating it, chaos breaks out. As she grows skinnier, her family grows worried. Part one of this book is told from the point-of-view of Yeong-hye’s husband, who is most directly affected by his wife’s vegetarianism, because she will not even allow meat in the house. Part two is narrated by Yeong-hye’s brother-in-law, a videographer, who wants Yeong-hye to be in his next piece starring two naked people painted in flowers, with an emphasis on Yeong-hye’s Mongolian mark. In part three, we hear of Yeong-hye’s downward spiral through the only remaining family member who will still talk to her, her sister.

This is a story of social isolation–simply because of one’s beliefs, of one’s eating habits. Not many books have touched me the way this one has, have made me question my own life and my surroundings. Throughout the story, one gets the idea that Yeong-hye wants to stray as far away from humanity as possible. She is fed up with the conventional ways of living one’s life, so she decides to pave her own way. Few people try to understand why she is doing this, leading to her isolation and loneliness, two things Yeong-hye does not seem too distraught by. As her brother-in-law says, “Or perhaps it was simply that things were happening insider her, terrible things, which no one else could even guess at, and thus it was impossible for her to engage with everyday life at the same time.”

Intrigued by Yeong-hye’s mysterious yet simplistic and controversial ways of living, I could not stop wanting to learn more about her, and still wish I knew more. Thanks, Maggie, for helping inspire my wonder.

“She was Lo, plain Lo” – musings on the controversial classic ‘Lolita’

Tuesday evening, while vacuuming the store’s forest green carpets after closing time, I began thinking about what reading means to me. “Of course, reading novels was just another form of escape. As soon as he closed their pages he had to come back to the real world,” writes Haruki Marukami in his novel 1Q84. Way to go Marukami, you just said it all. For me reading is an escape. I enjoy reading things I simply cannot relate to, thus creating a beautiful escape from my everyday life…just a thought.

JacketOne escape I have thoroughly enjoyed recently is Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. This novel tells the story of a middle-aged man, Humbert Humbert, who goes to live with a widow, Charlotte, and her twelve-year-old daughter, Lolita, in a sleepy New England town. From the moment Humbert lays eyes on Lolita, he is immediately infatuated. Eventually marrying Charlotte in order to get closer to Lolita, Humbert proves his determination for an extremely racy relationship with a girl three quarters his age. Humbert will stop at nothing to have the relationship he wants with Lolita and seems conflicted about it throughout the entire book. Lolita, however, makes the first advance towards Humbert. As their relationship proceeds, it is hard to tell who is leading the way and who, if anyone, is really in the wrong.

Upon telling one of my friends (who absolutely LOVES this book) that I was reading it, she mentioned that it is very hard to trust anything the narrator, Humbert, says. This book does a remarkable job of challenging the reader to read between the lines and find the real truth. The entire book is a question, but one of the main questions surrounding it is whether Humbert truly loved Lolita. Before reading the book, most people would assume that he does not and could not honestly love her in a sincere, romantic way. I suppose this question is for each reader to ponder in his or her own way and maybe come to a conclusion… or maybe not.

This is a story of murder and kidnap, a story of betrayal and love. Humbert’s soul is poured out on every page, thus touching our very own. A love story of a very unique kind, Lolita will have you in an emotional labyrinth… and the prose is beautiful.

“She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.”

Get to Know Katie

IMG_1900How long have you worked at Lemuria? About 5 months.

What do you do at Lemuria?  Whale, I am part time so I usually come in during the afternoon and do some shelving and annoy my co-workers at the front desk who are ready to leave for the day 🙂 I just finished high school and will graduate in July, so I will be around a lot more now and will really experience the everyday flow of the store.

Talk to us what you’re reading right now.  I recently dove into Murakami’s 1Q84 and am enjoying my swim around in it a whole lot. It’s the first Marukami I’ve ever read, and I can’t really seem to put it down or stop thinking about the characters. I am also reading my first graphic novel, Watchmen by Alan Moore, and am looking into becoming a superhero.

What’s currently on your bedside table (book purgatory)?  Stephen King’s Doctor SleepBrave New World Revisited by Aldous Huxley, Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh, and Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut

How many books do you usually read at a time?  Always 2, sometimes 3. There are definitely exceptions to this. If I start reading a book and know it needs my full and undivided attention, I won’t cheat on it.

I know it’s difficult, but give us your current top five books.  We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver, The Shining by Stephen King, Searching for the Sound by Phil Lesh, 1984 by George Orwell, and Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Favorite authors?  George Orwell, J.D. Salinger, and Chuck Palahniuk

Any particular genre that you’re especially in love with?  Fiction. I love fiction.

What did you do before you worked at Lemuria?  My first job was as a hostess at a restaurant and Lemuria is my second job.

If you could share lasagna with any author, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you ask them?  I’d eat some lasagna with J.D. Salinger. He was a pretty reserved guy while he was alive and wrote some really great stuff. All of his works have a TON of underlying meanings, and I’d love for him to explain those to me. I know I’ll never figure all of them out.

Why do you like working at Lemuria?  Man, I learn so much. Whether it’s from the books or my coworkers or the customers or the visiting authors, I am always learning something.

If we could have any living author visit the store and do a reading, who would you want to come?  Stephen King. The man has got fear figured out. To have him read part of a chilling story in the dimly lit DotCom building… amazing.

If Lemuria could have ANY pet (mythical or real), what do you think it should be?  We do have a jar for bear money… or it may be beer… but either way it has like $7 in it so I think we should get a bear. Abbie had the great idea of naming it Bear-y Hannah, and he could reach all the high shelves for me since I can only comfortably reach the fifth.

If you had the ability to teleport, where would you go first?  I would love to go camping on an uninhabited (but safe) island in the middle of the ocean.

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