Friday, December 30, 2011

December Reading Wrap-Up

The month is almost out. I feel like December actually moved at a normal pace until Christmas Eve, at which point time flew by. Which is preferably to the entire month flying by. I also spread the book love this month and got Boyfriend a copy of The Art of Fielding for Christmas since he a) loooooooves baseball b) doesn't read all that often but expressed interest in this book and c) I (kinda) want to read it too. Boyfriend returned the book love by getting me the Great Gatsby Postertext. Granted I pointed him in that direction. And many thanks to Brenna's Book Fetish posts at BookRiot for telling me about these.

Number of books read
6 (more than 1/2 due to the readathon)
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Transformations by Anne Sexton
11/22/63: A Novel by Stephen King
The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror by Christopher Moore
Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian by Avi Steinberg

Total pages read

Percentage of fiction read

Percentage of female authors

Percentage of white authors

Percentage of US authors

Percentage of ebooks

Percentage of re-reads

Books written by decade
1880s - 17%
1970s - 17%
1980s - 17%
2000s - 17%
2010s - 33%

Alright, not too bad. A little more diversity in US authors would be nice. Something to work on next year. But at least I got a couple female authors in there AND every book wasn't written in the last 20 years. Progress.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The boy has found a gold key/and he is looking for what it will open

The final book I read for the readathon was Anne Sexton's Transformations, a collection of poems that transform/re-tell/subvert traditional Grimm's fairy tales. I love fairy tales, be it a straightforward collection of them, an annotated collection of them, a series of essays about what they mean and even a couple fairy tale re-tellings. So when I read Sexton's poem "Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty)" in a college writing class, I was hooked. I had to read more. And when I found out that there's a forward by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. well, that just sealed the deal.

Now I'm not the biggest poetry fan. I would like to be, but I have a hard time reading poetry. Especially outside of a classroom where someone walks me through it. It seems when I study poetry, I find lots to love. When I try to just read a book of poetry myself I get distracted. Not that it's difficult to distract me, but still. Stories can hold my attention in a way that poetry just cannot. I still can't focus on these poems like I can with a traditional story, but the fact that these start with the familiar (a fairy tale) it means that it's easier for me to follow.

Some of the poems are close to a straight re-telling of the tale (like "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs") with some added humor ("The stepmother had a mirror to which she referred --/something like the weather forecast") or some commentary ("Snow White, the dumb bunny"). Other poems ("Rapunzel") shine a new light on the story ("A woman/who loves a woman/is forever young"). And then some of the poems ("Briar Rose") bring out a more disturbing subtext ("He [the prince] kissed Briar Rose/and she woke up crying:/ Daddy! Daddy!")

This is one of the only collection of poems I've completed* because it's short (only 112 pages, plus illustrations!) and because it's familiar. The poems are funny and though-provoking. These are not necessarily my favorite poems. They don't have a lyrical quality to them and I don't find myself reciting them, like I would a song that's stuck in my head. But the fact that they're about fairy tales really makes up for that.

*Other than Shakespeare's sonnets. Technically I read all of them for a class but, I know there were big sections that my eyes passed over, and I can't recall for the life of me. Appreciating poetry because I read it for a class is lost a bit when I have to read ALL the poetry at once. Besides those 2 I have other poetry books that I've read some (or even many) of the poems in, but never all of them.

Title quote from page 2

Sexton, Anne. Transformations. First Mariner Books, 2001. Originally published 1979.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Oh Celie, unbelief is a terrible thing

You're going to read this a few more times, but I am so behind with my reviews. I blame the readathon (which was awesome but gave me extra books to review) as well as Christmas for getting in the way. Not in a bad way because I heart Xmas but the whole family time thing really cuts into my computer time. So with my typical list of excuses, onto a review.

I first read The Color Purple by Alice Walker back in college, for one of those survey of American Lit classes. I read it and Beloved back to back and I always think of this as the easy book, when compared to Morrison's masterpiece. And relative to Beloved this is an easy book, at least in terms of readability and linear story telling. In terms of content however, The Color Purple deals with many difficult topics. The book starts with the main character, Celie, being repeatedly raped AND having her kids (with an "s", multiple) taken away from her. And she's only 14. So as you can tell, this is a barrel of laughs, some good light reading for the readathon.

This is a heart-breaking story as Celie writes letters, first to God then later her sister Nettie.. She goes from an abusive home life to an abusive arranged marriage. Her husband Mr.____ didn't actually want her, he wanted her sister Nettie but Celie's step-father refused to agree to that arrangement and so he settled for Celie. Life just seems to be getting worse and worse for Celie as Mr.____'s children are cruel to her and Mr.____ treats her as an object, regularly beating and talking down to her. But there is a ray of hope in a "woman of lose morals" Shug Avery.

Shug is the first person who seems to actually see Celie, who acts like a mother and friend to Celie. Shug is the person who encourages Celie to break her silence and to stand up for herself. Celie also gets a strong female role model, albeit in a more indirect way, in the form of Mr.___'s daughter-in-law, Sofia. Sofia is strong-willed, never allowing Mr.___'s son Harpo to treat her the way Mr.___ treats Celie. It's really because of her strength that some of the most tragic scenes dealt with her.

There's some eye dialectwhich I normally hate, but it's done well. And by "done well", I mean done sparingly so I don't have to read it out loud in order to understand what's going on and feel like an awful racist person. It's perhaps not the best choice to read all in one sitting, but overall it's a beautiful and tragic and uplifting story.

Title quote from page 169

Walker, Alice. The Color Purple. Washington Square Press Publications, 1982.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Happy Holidays! and reviews to come

Hope everyone had a lovely Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanza/Festivus/etc. I spent lots of time visiting family, both mine and Boyfriend's, which is fun. Plus I got to see Wicked on Broadway so you guys are lucky you're not actually around me while I listen to the soundtrack on repeat. I'm pretty sure Boyfriend is just making up work he has to do this week to get away from it.

I haven't spent too much time online over the last few days which means I am getting even more behind on reviews. To keep myself accountable, here are the reviews I need to get to

The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Transformations by Anne Sexton
11/22/63 by Stephen King
The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror by Christopher Moore

And now, I don't have adorable pet pictures to distract you from my procrastinations. However, I do have this AWESOME HAT Boyfriend got me for Xmas and I need your opinion: Owl or Cat?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Google analytics, thanks for the laughs

I'm watching you Google
I love Google Analytics. I can see what posts get the most traffic, I know which states are ignoring my blog (what's up North and South Dakota? not good enough for you?) and I know what phrases people Googled to find my blog. A lot of the phrases make sense and I hope those people were happy with where they ended up (though judging by their bounce rate, nooooope). However there are some that I want to be like "How did you ever end up over here? You are so lost. I'm sorry, I can't help you, but thanks for the laughs." And instead of just enjoying those myself, I thought I'd share it with you guys. Also, this is bound to mess with those keyword search results even more so that's fun.

"silhouette of a lady birthday cake" - I'm intrigued. I'd say it's one of those sweet'n'nasty cakes but silhouette makes it sound classy. Can I come to your classy-but-maybe-not party?

"3 beach chairs" - That's specific. What if I can offer you 2? Can you share? 2 and a towel? That's my last offer.

"adult coping skills" - Oh, you are so in the wrong place.

"beast fucking beauty fantasy 3..." - I only have versions 1 & 2.

"excuse me club 6" - you're excused

Variations on "how did the plague start on The Walking Dead" - I know why you're ending up here and I'm sorry, but I have no idea.

"it's/its my birthday bitch/lady birthday" - Happy birthday! What exactly where you looking for?

"mrs frisby and the rats of nimh diorama" - I can't help you wit that but I hope it turned out awesome. Please post pictures

"shame full girls no underwe" - I didn't cut that off, they did. They were too excited they couldn't even finish the word

"walking dead gives me nightmares" - Me too man.

"where have you been?" - Waiting for you! A call would have been nice

"why+was+it+important+that+ed+fletcher+be+at+work+early%3f" - He'd been late a lot recently. Little Susie hasn't been doing well at school and doesn't like the look of Ben's new group of friends and all the worry is keeping him up at night. But if he wants to keep his job (the kids' private schools as well as the mortgage payments) he needs to complete all the work for the Stevenson account.

Monday, December 19, 2011

It wasn't like a man; it was like some damned Juggernaut

I had big plans for the weekend to get some reviews written. Big plans I say. Then I got distracted by things like Christmas shopping and college basketball games (which I don't especially care about but nontheless attend because I'm a good girlfriend and also we went to a bar afterwards so win) and eating way too much food and seeing the Jesse Eisenberg play Asuncion because I have a real case of geek love. What I'm saying is, no reviews were written.

Back on December 3rd I took part in a last minute readathon and I've decided to be all ambitious and write up separate reviews for each of the books I read that day. There's only 3 of them so this shouldn't take me too long but that would assume less procrastination on my part. So I'm just now getting to the first review, that of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.

I've had this book forever and I've never read it. I assume it was on a sales table (that's how I make my impulse buys) and I figured this was something I would like and then I never read it. Whoops. It's always in interesting experience, to read a book with a story you know so well. And this isn't like Frankenstein, where the movie has created a Frankenstein character so different from the literary original. Stevenson's Jekyll and Hyde is pretty much the story you're already familiar with: a doctor (Jekyll) has found a way to separate out all of his evil and dark impulses into a different creation (Mr. Hyde). Here's the problem with a story that's so well know. That whole Jekyll and Hyde are actually the same person thing is the twist. Kinda messes with the story build up when you already know the twist. Especially if you don't know going into the story that that's the twist.

So knowing that little twist does take something away from the original story, but there's plenty to keep it interesting. Once you get into the swing of the language, it's a creepy story. In what I assume is a Victorian thing (but really I have no idea), the story is told from an outsider's point of view. Here it's Dr. Jekyll's friend and lawyer Gabriel Utterson who hears about Hyde causing some mayhem and then paying for the expenses with a check from Jekyll. Curious, he starts investigating the connection between the two men, and you the reader could investigate this with him except for the whole knowing they're the same guy thing. Given I already knew this, I would have preferred the story to be from Jekyll's/Hyde's POV. Hard to fault Stevenson for this of course but still. It just means the story doesn't stand up quite as well as Dracula or Frankenstein.

There are "other stories" included in my book but I didn't read them because I wanted to move on during the readathon. Maybe some day. Given my past track record with the book, I'd say it'll be another 10 or so years. Or maybe next time I do a readathon.

Title quote from page 8

Stevenson, Robert Louis. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Stories. Barnes & Noble Books, 2005. Originally published 1886.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The financial success of an author is inversely proportional to the literary worth of the book

I don't know why I waited to so long to read this. Both Brenna at Literary Musings and Greg at The New Dork Review talked about the awesomeness of this book, but I just put off reading it. I don't know why. It's not an intimidating book. It's not a particularly difficult book. It is funny and snarky and cynical and exactly the type of book I usually jump at. I assume I was just being stubborn. Needless to say, I'm very happy I finally picked up How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely.

After finishing up Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil over Thanksgiving I knew I'd need another book for my flights home and this seemed like the perfect time to quit procrastinating. This was the perfect airplane read, except for the whole laughing-out-loud part. Pete Tarslaw just wants to make a lot of money and impress his ex-girlfriend at her wedding and after watching an interview with a NYTimes best-selling author realizes the whole writing thing is a con game and he wants in. He goes through checklists of rules (Rule 9: At dull points include descriptions of delicious meals) or details to include (Woman who says stuff that turns out to have extra meaning when it's revealed she's in a wheelchair). He comes up with every cliche from literary bestsellers and throws them all into his book.

Surprisingly (or not, if you just look at the title of the book) his con works and he does become a famous novelist. Sure, it's panned by critics (he has some funny moments bitching about book reviewers, especially book bloggers) but it's loved by his readers. That isn't what's important though. The money and the whole rubbing his good fortune in his ex's face are the driving forces here. He's quite the noble character.

The NYTimes best seller list doesn't contain any actual authors, but it's not a far stretch to see who he's really referring to. Hely shines when he's describing Pete's writing or when he's mocking these authors. Once he reaches success the book is still funny but I laughed aloud less often. There are parts that are downright painful to read. The wedding scene was particularly wonderful, even if I tried to read it between my fingers.

This is a hilarious and quick read. And if you have any sort of interest in the publishing world, you'll enjoy this one.

Update: Alice at Reading Rambo also recommended this to me and I want to make it clear I ignored all of them equally.

Title quote from page 47, location 376

Hely, Steve. How I Became a Famous Novelist. Grove Press, 2009. Kindle edition

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Smooth Criminals reading selection

It has taken me forever to pick out some books and sign up for Ben's Smooth Criminal reading challenge because a) challenges are scary and I already signed up for one and b) I was waiting for other people to pick out their books for this challenge so I could mooch off of their choices.

This is my tentative list, subject to change as my whims demand.

Hardboiled Classic

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammet

Noir Classic
Double Indemnity by James M. Cain

Prison Book
The Green Mile by Stephen King

Book written by a writer who did time
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

Book with psychopath as protagonist
The Collector by John Fowles

Gothic novel
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Classic where plot revolves around a crime

I'm still working on this one...

The "why the hell am I doing this to myself" book

This is the only book for this challenge I knew right away: Franzen's The Corrections. It intimidates me and has been sitting on my shelf for over a year now, mocking me. I will win.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Savannah was invariably gracious to strangers, but it was immune to their charms

I didn't know what I was getting into when I picked up Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. I didn't know much about the book other than 1) it takes place in Savannah, 2) there was a murder, 3) it is a true story, 4) my dad really liked the book and he has pretty good taste. I assumed this was sort of a horror story, like In Cold Blood. I mean there's a murder. And just look at that title. And that cover. I even planned on reading it in October until I decided I had spent too much on books that month and put it off. I ended up reading it over Thanksgiving since I was at my dad's and he happens to have a copy. Like I said, he likes the book. He even has a statue similar to the one on the cover.

As I said, I thought this was a horror story or at least a thriller. Imagine my surprise when I was totally wrong about that. This is not a horror story. It's a travelogue that focuses more on the characters John Berendt met during his time in Savannah than any particular museums or landmarks. And it's hilarious. That murder, the one that shows up at the start of every summary I've seen, shows up about half-way into the book. This isn't to say these summaries are misleading by describing this event since in actuality it is the only real action that happens. And I should say possible murder/possible self-defense. To summarize the rest of the book you get: "John decided to move part time to Savannah and while there he meets a lot of people." Other than the killing, that's all that happens.

The action isn't important though. It's the characters that I fell in love with. It's hard to believe this is nonfiction because the characters are so colorful. I love all of them. Of course there's Jim Williams, the antique dealer who lives in a glorious house and throws the Christmas party of the year. And Danny Hansford, a hot headed youth that has a strange run of the Williams home. A man that walks an invisible dog, a woman that sings all over the county and if she's ever caught driving drunk the cops are to immediately take her home (and are punished by superiors if they try to arrest her). But my favorite characters are the lovable con-man Joe, who makes constant comments to John about who will play him in the movie that will be made of the little book he's writing, and The Lady Chablis, a pre-op transsexual and drag performer who has my favorite scene at the local African-American debutante ball. I want to watch the movie now primarily because The Lady Chablis plays herself in the movie. (Please, if you've seen the movie, let me know if it's any good!)

This was such a great book. I'm sad I waited so long to read it. I'm thinking I'm going to have to pick up my own copy of it eventually, because this is a book I'm going to want to read again and again.

Title quote from page 230 (I think. Around there anyway. I borrowed the book from my Dad and the book is currently sitting in South Carolina rather than with me so I can't double check these things. I remembered to record a quote but forgot to mark down the page number.)

Berendt, John. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Random House, 1994.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

If you don't [have your tools with you], you're apt to find something you didn't expect and get discouraged

Normally I like to write my reviews immediately (within a day or so at most) of finishing a book. However, Thanksgiving gave me a chance to read a lot without getting much writing done. And then I participated in the readathon last Saturday, so I have a bit of a backlog of reviews to get through. On the one hand, the books now have a chance to simmer and any immediate reaction (what crap! OMG that was the best thing everrrrrr!) have passed and I can give a more mature and well-thought out review. On the other hand, mature and well-thought out reviews. Don't worry, I'll try to keep them as childish as possible.

I've wanted to read Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft ever since I found out my favorite short story, 1408, was originally written as an example of how a story changes from one draft to another. I also happen to think that King is a better writer than he is normally given credit for so I liked the idea of seeing his thoughts on the process.

This was a much better read than I thought it would be. Not that I went into it thinking it would be a drag (why would I have bothered with it if I thought that?) but it was surprisingly good. The first part is a memoir of King's life, told in 38 short events. King focuses on the events that he believes shaped him as a writer: his many rejections (and eventual acceptances) to literary magazines, his time moving around while his mother looked for work, his time working at an industrial laundry mat and then as a professor, to the point that he's at now. Or at least where he was at when he wrote this.

But the focus isn't on King's life, it's on writing. One thing you learn for sure from this, if you learn nothing else, is that King loves writing. He clearly was doing it for many years before it was making him money. He never makes the claim that if you follow steps A, B and C, you're going to become a FAMOUS NOVELIST*. He just says "Here's what I do. I believe these things are going to help you at least be a competent writer." There's no magic here. It's just advice that seems kind of obvious once he tells you. He talks about "the toolbox". The things that you need to write: vocabulary, grammar (don't worry about grammar lessons, you just need to be able to write legibly), form and style the basic stuff. He especially hates adverbs and the passive voice, which again is nothing new, but I like hearing his diatribe against them. Especially because I know I'm guilty of both.

I especially liked the comparison between a first draft and a second draft of a story, in this case the story that eventually became 1408. He ends up going through most of the things he talks about in the rest of the book, but you can see it in a real-life scenario.

I can see myself re-reading this a lot. Or even just references bits and pieces of it, whether I start writing or not.

*Those steps will come from another book I read and need to write a review for, How I Became A Famous Novelist. And by the way, some of the tips from here are mentioned in Hely's book. It was funny to finish this book just to see the stuff mentioned elsewhere. Even if it is sarcastically.

Title quote from page 114

King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Scribner, 2010.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Readathon Time!

First I sign up for a reading challenge, next I agree to a readathon. I don't even know who I am anymore. But last readathon everyone seemed to be having such a good time and I wanted in on the fun. So here we go

Amanda from Dead White Guys is hosting this readerly shindig, so thank you! I have a very tentative list for the day. I pretty much went around and pulled books off of my bookshelves that were short and I hadn't read them before or at least not in awhile. I also won a copy of King's new book 11/22/63 from Audra at Unabridged Chick which is super awesome except for one tiny detail. It's an ecopy that works in pretty much every ereader except the Kindle. It's a hipster copy (Kindle's too mainstream) so I'll have to read it on my computer. But spending too much time staring at a computer makes my eyes angry so I'll just start 11/22/63 before moving onto the other books.
One other quick note. In case you haven't followed my whining on Twitter, I'm sick so much of this reading and posting is going to be under the influence of cold medicine. Keep that in mind when I start to ramble more than normal.

Update 1: I figure I'll keep all of the updates in a single post, for reasons that made a lot of sense to me when I made that decision, but which I've forgotten now.

I ended up spending almost 30 min looking for the file for the King book, because I'm super organized like that. I was just about to give up when the file turned up. So that's fun. I've got about 77 pages read and I'm going to stick with King, at least until I finished Part 1: Watershed Moment. But first I need some coffee.

Update 2: It's 11:20ish and I have been coffee'd. Also Cheerio'd. I'm low on interesting snacks because I failed to do any prep for this readathon whatsoever. The rest of you should have super delicious snacks, so I can live vicariously through you. Also so I can stock up for next time. Also I finished up Part 1 of 11/22/63 and I've moved onto Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde because I've been toting this book around since at least high school and I should probably read it so I look less like a phony.

Update 3: It's 12:40 and now it's time for a reading break so I can have some lunch. I'm having another China bowl (leftover Chinese food all mixed together). Also I just finished up Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde so I am le winner. Now I have to decide what to read next.

Update 4: 3:44. China bowl was delicious. I'm thinking I should probably put some real clothes on at some point and now seems as good a time as any. I ended up going back to 11/22/63 and reading Part 2: The Janitor's Father. Now I can't decide if I should read 1984 or The Color Purple.

Update 5: 6:30. Damn, time flies. I decided that now that I'm feeling marginally human again, I should wear real clothes. You know, since I didn't bother with them yesterday. I decided to go with The Color Purple because it is 16 pages shorter. That's how you make readathon selections, right? I made some hot cocoa but I'm out of milk, so I supplemented by added extra marshmallows.

Update 6: 9:35 and I finished another book! I am super winner! Granted, I've already read The Color Purple before, but that doesn't taint the win. I'm running out snacks and I'm now up to the 4th Indian Jones movie (by the way, I've had the Indian Jones movies on in the background cos they're on TV and I can't turn them down) so this means I might almost be done with the reading. Maybe one more quick read but then I'm done.

Update 7: 10:51 and I'm done. I ended with Transformations by Anne Sexton, which is a collection of poems about fairy tales. It's not super long and there are pictures. And an introduction by Vonnegut, so a good time all around.

Books Reads
Parts 1 & 2 from 11/22/63 by Stephen King
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Transformations by Anne Sexton
Total pages

Good luck to everyone else continuing on with the reading. And Amanda, good times! Great belated readathon.

Friday, December 2, 2011

November Reading Wrap Up

November is over and now I can finally agree to all of the Christmas music, commercials, specials that have been on the air since for a couple months anyway, because no one consults me on these matters. November being over also means it's time for my reading wrap-up.

So you know how the last couple wrap ups I was all "oh man you guys, I didn't do any reading cos the DVR was really filling up"?* I owned this month! Even with Zone One taking up lots of time, I still managed to outdo myself the last few months. Thanksgiving can take a lot of credit for this since I had a decent amount of travel time (planes & trains) in which to read, plus I had lots of time to read while visiting my dad. In between playing with the cats and dogs that is. I win. Well I win in terms of sheer volume. You can continue your disappointment in my lack of female authors read. 

Number of books read
On Writing by Stephen King
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely

Total pages read

Percentage of fiction read

Percentage of female authors
0%  whoops

Percentage of white authors

Percentage of US authors

Percentage of ebooks

Percentage of re-reads

Books written by decade
1990s - 29%
2000s - 43%
2010s - 29%

I should probably read some more variety of books. OK, I know I should. And I'll work on that. Probably in 2012.

*It's cool if your answer is "No, I skip these posts." They're super navel-gazey so I understand. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Literary books for the non-literary reader

Literary blog hop time! The Blue Bookcase hosts a monthly blog hop for the literary-type blogs and I like to think highly of myself, so I'm joining in again. This month's question:
What work of literature would you recommend to someone who doesn't like like literature?

 I want to focus my answer on those who like to read but just avoid "literature". Cos people who just say they don't like to read at all, well that's a different battle.* I think the problem people actually have isn't with "literature" but with bad memories of high school English reading lists. I was lucky that I had some great English teachers growing up and they certainly can take credit for my love of reading. They might like to read but they've been turned off of lit.

In this case, I'm talking about my mom. She's a voracious reader and always has been, but for the most part she stays away from lit. She's often told me how much she disliked her English classes in high school. The teachers would say: "This is what you were supposed to take from that reading, and if you thought of anything else, you're wrong." I know one of her favorite reads was David Copperfield (she used to recite the opening lines) but that's pretty much the start and end of her lit reading.

She got a Kindle about a year ago and I convinced her to read Pride and Prejudice because, hey, free. And you know what? She liked it. Now a big help here was she was already familiar with the story but she liked it. Heads up mom, I might start downloading some other (free) classics to your Kindle for you.

It's difficult to say "this is something non-literary readers should read" because people are different and some literary books are going to be a homerun for some people and a foul for others. For example, Slaughterhouse Five is, in general, a book I would recommend to the non-literary to read. However, I can't imagine that would have been a popular choice for my mom. It's not her style.

That said, here are some literary reads that will probably work for even the "lit is scary" readers. I don't know that this is going to be a super original list, but sometimes the standards are standards for a reason:
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

*The people who don't like to read at all confuse me. I'm not going to say (to their face) that they're wrong because it's their free time to spend however they'd like. But reading makes me so happy and being unable to share that with people confuses me.