The embarrassing & true story of how The Giant’s House came into my life

The Giant’s House is one of the books I’m re-reading as part of my Re-evaluating Personal Artifacts project. This is Part I of two or three. I don’t know yet how much I have to say about this book.

It was the summer of 1996. Six months out of college, I was living with my parents and working at a gas station across the street from their house. I drove a beat-up 1979 Chrysler Newport which was nearing the 300,000 mile mark. All my college friends were somewhere else, I was lonely and adrift, getting all my cultural input from City Pages, Rev-105, Spin, and late-night, long-distance phone calls from my friends.

This was pre-Internet and cellphone ubiquity. It was lonely as fuck.

Since I was raking in a cool $5.55 an hour at the gas station, I thought I was loaded and proceeded to spend all my money on books and CDs. Musically, I was on a good path. Rev-105 was probably the most influential entity in the development of my musical taste, with Jim Walsh coming in a close second.

But literarily? I was on my own and it was a scary time. My early reading years were mostly self-directed and consisted for trashy grocery-store lit and Sweet Valley High. College reading was mostly dictated by professors, and the few books I read for pleasure were either recommendations gleaned from music magazines or books I’d heard of.

So there I was in 1996 with ample free time (working third shift in a small, not particularly busy gas station left a lot of time for sitting behind the counter and reading), lots of expendable income, and only my instinct to guide me. It was during this time I set out to read all the novels that had won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. About twelve or thirteen novels into that daunting task I ran into A Summons to Memphis and abandoned the project. I think ‘Summons’ has the distinct honor of being the very first book I ever quit, oh wait, no, that distinction goes to Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire.

Directionless once again, I’d haunt the stacks of the Barnes & Noble in Burnsville, back when it was across the street from where it is now in a strip mall sandwiched between Office Max and Toys R Us. I confess I spent a lot of money on really crappy chicklit before it was called chicklit and Oprah’s Bookclub Books. But I also read everything Jeanette Winterson had published up to that point, all of John Irving’s catalog, and even some John Updike (because I thought he was John Irving).

I’d go to Barnes & Noble every week after I got paid and load up on books — three, four, sometimes five at a time. It really were halcyon days. It was during one of these weekly trips that I stumbled upon Elizabeth McCracken’s The Giant’s House.

The bright red cover with the library pocket caught my eye, so did the word giant. Having finally reached my full height of 6’5″ at 23 I was pretty sure I qualified as a giant. But that’s not what even sealed the deal for me on this book. No, what sealed the deal, which I will reveal in the next sentence, is the most ridiculous and shallow reason to probably ever read a book.

I plucked The Giant’s House off that Barnes & Noble shelf because Elizabeth McCracken’s author photo reminded me of Janeane Garofalo. Yes, that’s the embarrassing and true story of how this book, the one I recommend to every single person who asks me for a good book to read, the book that is easily one of my top-five favorite books of all time, came into my life. Janeane Garofalo.

This should tell you two things about me. I really was utterly directionless in 1996 and I loved the shit out of Janeane.

Later I will tell you why The Giant’s House is such an important book and how it holds up to the Re-evaluation of Personal Artifacts.

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  1. M-----l 30.Nov.11 at 7:43 pm

    I finished reading The Giant’s House over the weekend and look forward to hearing your re-evaluation thoughts while the book is still fresh in my mind.

    1. Jodi 30.Nov.11 at 8:03 pm

      @M—–l, I read that you gave it 7 out of 10 stars. I can’t decide if that’s very good or shockingly bad. I hate the subtlety of seven.

      1. M-----l 30.Nov.11 at 8:12 pm

        @Jodi, I think that’s the first time I’ve ever given a number rating to a book. I was goofing around with that and don’t even know if I stand by that subtle 7. I was just tired of typing.

        1. Jodi 30.Nov.11 at 8:14 pm

          @M—–l, It’s the first time I remember you using a number rating system for books, which is why I can’t figure out what it means.

  2. Smoo 11.Dec.11 at 1:52 am

    You recommended this one to me and it was awesome. Except (if I remember correctly) for a little part about the the “giants” dad which was disturbing. Great book.

  3. Hotrod 13.May.13 at 9:48 am

    I thought that you would want to know that I was in a used book store on Saturday and my wife bought a second copy of The Giant’s House because she liked the design better than the one we already had. The new one is the red design you’ve shown above, which – I have to admit – is awesome. So now we have two copies, and I have been informed (again) that it is essential reading.

    So it’s on my list as soon as I finish Sterling’s Gold which I had to buy because before Saturday I didn’t know it is an actual think that exists.

    1. Jodi 13.May.13 at 9:51 am

      Wow, your wife has really good taste in books. I can’t say the same for her taste in men. Really, The Giant’s House is one of my top five all-time favorite books. It holds up and holds up and holds up, even after nearly 20 years.

      I actually have a copy of Sterling’s Gold floating around here somewhere. I’m going to find it and read it!

      1. Hotrod 13.May.13 at 10:20 am

        She has great taste in everything. I have no idea how she ended up with me.

      2. Hotrod 13.May.13 at 10:24 am

        Also – I read somewhere that the guy who plays Harry Crane used to have a blog on Vox. I wish (a) I’d known that at the time and (b) I’d started watching Mad Men earlier.

        1. Jodi 13.May.13 at 10:28 am

          Are you a recent Mad Men convert? This is one of the rare TV shows where I hopped on the bandwagon pretty early, but only because a friend of mine was all “you have to watch this new show. You’ll love it.”

          I kind of wish I’d known that at the time too, even though I am totally anti-Harry this season. He’s being a total ass.

  4. Hotrod 13.May.13 at 12:29 pm

    This season and the last one (which is probably the best single season of television I’ve ever seen) are the only ones I’ve watched in real time. I crammed to get caught up in about a month before season 5. This is another example of my wife’s great taste steering me right. I’m pretty sure Mad Men was on the now-defunct spite list.

    I love the development of Harry’s character. But then, I like Pete Campbell too. They are both asses, but I can relate.


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