Santa Barbara Book Banter
D.J. Palladino and Joe Medjuck Sound Off on Their Favorite Reads
By Leslie Dinaberg | July 14, 2022
Oh the joy of being a fly on the wall when two bibliophiles banter about books! Longtime friends D.J. Palladino (writer, teacher, bookstore owner) and Joe Medjuck (movie producer and former college professor who reads and hangs out at bookstores whenever possible) recently let me into the inner sanctum of their favorite hangout to talk about some of their favorite books and authors.
Working at Mesa Bookstore — D.J. and his wife, Diane Arnold, are the owners, and Joe happily “helps out” when they need him to, and he’s not producing films like Ghostbusters, Old School, Kindergarten Cop, and Up in the Air — you get to recommend a lot of books to people. What are some of your favorites?
Joe Medjuck: I like to recommend things that are not as well known. City of Thieves by David Benioff, who later became the showrunner on Game of Thrones, is really good. A guy in a bookstore recommended it to me. I think it was the poet Noah benShea. Interestingly, City of Thieves’ structure bears similarity to Michael Chabon’s last novel Moonglow, which I also really like. They’re both about the authors using their real names and life writing a story about, I believe, their fictional grandfathers.
Coincidentally in City of Thieves is a book within the book called The Courtyard Hound, which inspired the name of a side project band for some of the members of the (Dixie) Chicks, called The Courtyard Hounds. I always think it’s interesting when musicians take the names of books for their group. For example, The Swell Season band from the movie Once is based on a book of short stories by my friend Josef Škvorecký.
Another book that was recommended to me by a guy who works for Kirkus Reviews (they have a Favorite Book spot listed on their business cards) is Body and Soul by Frank Conroy. D.J. has a belief that you just need to read the first line of a book to know if you want to keep reading. I think you might need the first paragraph.
D.J. Palladino: (reading from Body and Soul) “His first view of the outside was through the small, fan-shaped window of the basement apartment.”
JM: That one’s okay. The first line of City of Thieves is great. “My grandfather, the knife fighter, killed two Germans before he was eighteen.”
DJP: It has become one of the most recommended books in the store.
What are the others?
JM: I think Marathon Man by William Goldman is probably the best thriller ever written. And of course The Princess Bride is the Great American Novel.
DJP: I always recommend Ender’s Game for science fiction. We both always recommend Raymond Chandler books to people and are willing to argue that The Big Sleep is actually the greatest American novel. … I love to recommend Pride and Prejudice.
I would recommend Sally Rooney books. I know Joe doesn’t isn’t crazy about them. But I just think they’re transformative. They’re so compelling and they’re so smart and sexy. She does sex in a way that I’ve never seen anybody else do it. It’s not corny. It’s not euphemistic, and it has something to do with the plot.
What about young adult fiction?
DJP: I love The Hunger Games but we have a problem with YA books in that they’re very trendy. It’s hard to keep them in a used book store. I like to go classic. It’s surprising how few young adult readers have read The Golden Compass. I like to go with those and Tolkien.
I love Harry Potter. I’m really thrilled when some kid comes in and says, “My father was reading it to me and now I’m reading it.”
Any other favorite authors you would recommend?
JM: I read everything by Michael Ondaatje, I read everything by Alice Munro — they’re my Canadian writers. A classic book I would recommend is Fifth Business by Robertson Davies.
What are the most popular books in the store?
DJP: Dune, way before the movie Dune was something we couldn’t keep enough copies of, we have to buy new ones because there aren’t enough used. Also The Four Agreements. A Gentleman from Moscow is really popular. Kristin Hannah books are really popular.
JM: Of course we both like Ross MacDonald.
DJP: We have all of his books. And I like Ross MacDonald’s spouse, Margaret Millar, more than I like Ross MacDonald, but I can’t convince anybody.
And is there anything you would recommend especially for summer?
DJP: When I think about summer reading I think about when I was a kid and I read Tom Sawyer and To Kill a Mockingbird, and I couldn’t put it down — and I didn’t have to. Those were great. I was like out of my body. Making this happen is the best and that’s something you can really do in the summer.