August 2009

The Write Direction

The key to breaking free of familiar plots lies right on your bookshelf  by KAREN MACK and JENNIFER KAUFMAN

“All the best stories in the world are but one story in reality—the story of escape. It is the only thing which interests us all and at all times, how to escape.”
—Arthur Christopher Benson

Lonely Hearts Book Club Picks

Reading a good book is like a really great kiss. The sheer pleasure and intimacy of the act itself can be transcendent, even spiritual. Our philosophy is, whatever the problem, reading a book can help. And we don’t mean just subject-specific self-help tomes. No matter what you’re facing, there are countless books that can put the situation into perspective.

Books can teach you how other people think, what they’re feeling and how they are able to change from ordinary beings into extraordinary ones. Often, books are so appealing and intelligent, you’d rather spend time reading than doing anything else. Passages resonate in your head long after you’ve put down the story. And you yearn to get back to it as if it were a secret lover.

With that in mind, welcome to our Lonely Hearts Book Club, wherein we tackle an issue brought to us by a reader and suggest remedies that can be found in the written word. And the really great part: The books we recommend can be enjoyed by everyone—problems or not.

So, without further ado, we bring to order the first meeting...

I’m old enough to know better—heck, I’ve been married five times. I’m tired of the same old thrillers with the same old plots. I like sexy, smart books I can talk about with my friends. And I don’t like sarcastic women. Any suggestions?
—Jack S., Beverly Hills

I guess that leaves us out. But seriously, Jack, five times? Here are some books our sexy, smart men friends love:

The Savage Detectives, by Roberto Bolaño

This Chilean author was posthumously awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction for his novel 2666, which was also a Los Angeles Times Favorite Book of the Year and made the New York Times' 10 Best Books of 2007. Called the Gabriel García Márquez of his generation, Bolaño here centers on two guys and a whore on a road trip searching for an elusive poet. A tough read but worth it.

The Inner Circle, by T.C. Boyle

It’s a fictional biography of Kinsey—yes, that Kinsey—with Boyle’s great writing. Plus, if you really want to see the author at his peak, get any of his remarkable short-story collections, which are chock-full of razor-sharp, often comic observations about love, death, sex, obsessions and the kitchen sink. Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes The first great classic novel. Instead of chasing after wife number six, just dream of Dulcinea.

A Man in Full, by Tom Wolfe

Smart as they come. Charles Croker, middle-aged former football star turned business tycoon married to a very expensive second wife. You remember Wolfe wrote some of your favorite novels—The Right Stuff, The Bonfire of the Vanities. Timely, sexy, unrepentant—and very, very funny.

Our Story Begins, by Tobias Wolff

Brilliant, honest, spare short stories by a master of fiction. Not a lot of sex, Jack, but trust us, you’ll like it. Start with “Flyboys.”

Uncommon Carriers, by John McPhee

The Princeton professor and New Yorker writer delves into every schoolboy’s dream (the other one)—to ride with truckers, ship’s captains and engineers. Insightful, funny stories of uncommon carriers and the people who operate them. No sex, though some would call riding shotgun in a sapphire 18-wheeler about as close as it can get.

And psst, just short enough of pornography to still be considered literature, here’s one for your bedside drawer: Vox, by Nicholson Baker. Phone sex was never like this.

Have a problem that needs solving? Send your questions to lonelyheartsbookclub@latimes.com.