Tuesday, August 30, 2011

An Ode to Tom Perrotta, my favorite author

Bad Haircut: Stories of the SeventiesThe WishbonesJoe College: A NovelLittle Children : A NovelThe Leftovers

My History with Tom Perrotta
For years, I've claimed a difference between favorite authors and favorite books. I've loved Tom Perrotta since 1999. I was an undergraduate working at an independent bookstore in Atlanta, and one of my co-workers told me to read The Wishbones because it reminded her of her boyfriend. I read it; I loved it. I moved on to Election with some hesitation because I really didn't care for the film. I adored Election and am still livid at how the film turned out. I finished his then collection with Bad Haircut: Stories of the Seventies, a set of interconnected stories. I loved them too, even though my distaste of short stories was pretty strong in those days.

When news broke that Tom Perrotta had a new book coming out, the staff of our little indie was ecstatic. We eagerly opened each new shipment hoping for a copy. When they finally arrived only the day before publication day, we all promptly borrowed a copy and created a display. On publication day, I was busy shelving when I was called to the front of the store. Standing there was Joe Perrotta, Tom's brother, who was pretty excited to hear he'd wandered into a bookstore where his brother, then still very little known outside of Election, was a literary rock star. Joe immediately offered to send copies of Joe College to Tom for him to sign.

On picking a favorite
I read Joe College while I was in college, and it remains one of my favorite books. Still, I'm hard-pressed to claim a favorite Tom Perrotta book. The reason my favorite authors and favorite books list rarely overlap is because I can't separate Tom's books from one another emotionally. Sure, I can tell you the plots of all of them and extol their virtues, but when I love an author's work like I love Tom's, the emotional and the intellectual connections become so enmeshed I simply cannot assign value to parts of what I see as a whole. (In college, I became fascinated with communication theory on celebrity identity. Our perceptions of actors and actresses is typically a combination of both the characters they've played and the way the appear in interviews and the media.) I subscribe to this theory for literature too. In this age of connection, when I'm able to converse with so many authors I admire via email and Twitter, as I read their blogs and glean information about them through their book reviews, there are so many things that go into my perceptions of them and their work.

On the anticipation of reading The Leftovers
I knew reading The Leftovers would cause me to reassess not only Tom, but all of his other novels too. It's part of the picture. It's also his first novel since I've been reading so publicly. I'll be reviewing The Leftovers here soon, but any review would be incomplete without this back story. I've spent a lot of time with Tom's books before this blog, and I hope he keeps writing and astounding me for years.

I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy of The Leftovers a few months ago. I started it, and I was absolutely loving it, but I had to stop reading it. Faced with a paper copy, I was growing tired of furiously copying passages down to think of later and leaving notes to myself. I've professed my love for my Kindle before, but I've never been so dissatisfied reading a book in print before. Faced with a print copy of the newest book by my favorite author or waiting for today, its publication day, to read it, I opted to wait and buy it for my Kindle. I'll be reading as much as I can this week, but I'll also be reading it differently. I want to savor it. I don't need to rush through it to get to other things on my reading list. I'm giving it the time, contemplation and Kindle-highlighting and note-taking it deserves. Many of bookish friends may cry fowl, but I have never entertained the idea of liking the feel or smell of a book. I like the ideas in books. I like the way books transport me and make me think; these capabilities are outside of its physical form for me. I like the look of language. I'm still happy to read books in print sometimes, and I use my library frequently. I often receive advance copies of books in print and enjoy them regardless of format. Still, if I could afford to be only an e-reader, I would be. With The Leftovers, I decided it was worth waiting for an electronic copy so I can enjoy my favorite author in my favorite format.

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  1. Though I have only read one Perrotta book, I consider it one of my favorites and think that as an author he has an amazing amount of talent. I have been just drooling over The Leftovers and have been super excited about it's release day because I am so eager to read it. It sounds like you are really eager too, and I can't wait to hear your final thoughts on it. I actually really loved this little ode to Tom, and think he would too!

  2. I have only read The Abstinence Teacher, and I would like to fix that problem stat! I do have Little Children so maybe I will pick that one up soon.

  3. I'm not sure I can express to you how much I loved this post -- your enthusiasm for Perrotta, your comments on how you read, your reminiscence about working at the bookstore -- just fabulous, all of it. Thank you for sharing your passion and glee -- I've shamefully never read a Perrotta novel but will immediately add him to my TBR. (I had no idea Election was based on a book, his no less!)

    And, I have to say, as a devoted e-reader, I can appreciate how useful the e-reader is for making notes and annotations -- much easier than marking up a text copy!

  4. What a great tribute to your favorite writer - your enthusiasm is infectious. I was excited for The Leftovers before, but I'm positively ecstatic now.

    My own experience with Perrotta is vastly different - I've only read his The Abstinence Teacher, and wasn't a fan. But so many folks said that was just a one-book slump for him, that I've always meant to read more of his novels. He's the exact type of novelist I usually love. (And I loved the movie version of Little Children.)

    Thanks for spreading your Perrotta love - really enjoyed reading this.

  5. Great post! I read Little Children and LOVED and have been meaning to read another Perotta since - I think I will try Joe College.

  6. Great post! I have enjoyed all his books that I've read. I never read Election mainly because I saw the movie before I knew it was a book and didn't care for it all too much. I'll have to reconsider. You are probably the first person I can think of who says they prefer e-books!

  7. It still amazes me how one author can have such a profound effect on us. I just love it. I've read The Abstinence Teacher and Little Children, but not the rest... yet. I have The Leftovers at home and I'm dying to get to it.

  8. You are a true fan! I went once to hear him give a speech at the JFK Library, but that doesn't seem like much now...

  9. I agree with you on the e-reader. I love the highlighting and note-taking aspects, as well as the search functions. And I love the portability of e-readers!

    I've been hearing great things about Perrotta--I'm #119 on my library's hold list!

  10. I love TP too. Really looking forward to The Leftovers. I got it at BEA and it is sitting on my shelf!


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