Sunday, February 28, 2010

So was the Turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston

Are you humming with me and James Taylor yet?  And yes, the Berkshires looked dreamlike on account of that frosting (may have just mangled lyrics a bit - if so, sorry).  How does that relate to life at Booksmith, you might ask.  My daughter, who is 26 and was born during the time I've been working at the store, is marrying a great fellow who grew up  and whose family all still lives in the Stockbridge area.   There was a big party for them out there last eve to pre-celebrate their Sept. wedding.  Lots of fun was had by all complete with slide show of the couple from birth to now.  Okay, so you're still wondering - books??

This a.m. we went to a crafts show at which I stumbled upon a woman who makes purses out of old hardcover books.  I've seen birdhouses and other things made of  books but never something as clever as this.  It's really the covers and spine of the book with pages removed and beautiful fabric lining installed.  Add imaginative materials for straps/handles, some antique buttons and findings and you have a real conversation piece that is perfectly functional, as well.  The designs range from fun and  humorous to very elegant.  She had an assortment of "titles" on display -  a slim blue and yellow edition of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe,  a chunky, rust-colored volume of Roberts Rules of Order, and a Louisa May Alcott title I've already forgotten - to name a few.  And, she welcomes special orders.  Find an old copy of a book you love or create a gift for someone of a special title.   I'm sure the artist could do something for a guy, too.

Somehow this little art form resonated with me as the buzz about the fate of the physical book continues as does the necessity to reuse and repurpose.   I'm not advocating for the destruction of cherished volumes,  mind you, but if you are cleaning out Grandma's attic or flea marketing, keep this idea in mind.

Here is the website for the artist:

Saturday, February 27, 2010

a book chooses you, and wow...our poetry section sure is looking foxy.

I believe if a book is brought to your attention, more than 3 times- that the book is choosing you...and you have a moral responsibility to at least pick it up.
(I'm not talking about heavily advertised mass markets, or best sellers. I'm talking about that 7 year old book that you've never heard of, and all of a sudden a friend is raving about trip over it in a used book store, or the author is referenced by another author on Oprah...that sort of thing.)

This philosophy extends to every other area of my alarmingly humble opinion.

So I'm going to start that process- for anyone who may read this.

Dorianne Laux is a poet. She wrote "What We Carry"...the color of my life changed after I read this book.

Gary Lutz is a writer. He wrote "Stories in the Worst Way" concept of what flash fiction can do was broken open. I posit,(again in my alarmingly humble opinion), that he has created a new genre.

Kim Addonizio is a poet. She wrote "Tell Me". I see her collection of poetry as an act of permission-giving to anyone who thought "you can't write about that, that's not poetry"....and that sort of thing makes for the most entertaining and accessible art.

Now if you hear of these authors 3 more times, you are bound to buy their work...but I can save you the time...

Dorianne Laux
Dorianne Laux
Dorianne Laux
Gary Lutz
Gary Lutz
Gary Lutz
Kim Addonizio
Kim Addonizio
Kim Addonizio

I know it is cheating, but I'm serious. I'll take that ethical risk.

As another point before I get back to shelving...I chose poets. For those of you who think that you don't like poetry...let me give you this. If you have a short attention span, if you like short stories, or the lace of a novel...If you love stand-up comedy...

Poetry offers more talent and diversity than any other medium...(I'm gonna get slapped for that)

If you don't believe me...check out our poetry is swollen with funny, disturbing, fractured, amorous, academic, experimental, feminist, and humanist poets.

And if you are a poetry poetry.

And if you write poetry, buy poetry.

It is affordable...

especially our used poetry.

how poetic.

Friday, February 26, 2010

blobs of sweet pink grapefruit spit leaping from my jabbing spoon,
and the page's surface puckers at its acid touch.
this breakfast has just bought this book,
once borrowed from the bookstore.

the new coffee-maker purrs, mark says, or it sounds like the sea.
it's the sea, i say,
but it's in the near distance.
against the breakers' soft background
we are sitting on a covered cottage porch
on a rainy day, the eaves plop,
plop plop,
plop plop,
each in their tiny puddle in the mud.

break room escape...maybe hawaii, maybe vermont, yes hawaii.
warm, wet, high on a mountain.

back up to the registers,
back up to rain through the windows,
back to books.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Lace Up kids

I'm here to comment on the interesting things that come up in the children’s section here at the Booksmith. This week’s selection is Lace Up! put out by DK publishing.

Okay, so it’s not a great work of literature, but it is pretty cool! Every other lacing card sets and books, on learning how to tie a shoe, are quite boring. If I wanted to connect the dots, I’d get an activity book, thank you. But this book has a pop up shoe! Don’t worry, this fake Converse shoe is actually pretty durable. Lace Up! also has other lacing games in it, as well as teaching you how to properly thread a button.

Come in and check it out!

We don’t just sell children’s literature, we sell…life skills.


Your local children’s book expert (come bug me for recommendations any time!)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Girl Power

It's your friendly Events Director here with her first-ever Blogsmith post. Howdy doo?

I'm thrilled to pieces about tomorrow night's event with Marisa Meltzer. She's coming to talk about her new book, Girl Power: The Nineties Revolution in Music.

For those too young or old to remember, the soundtrack to third wave feminism in the 90s looked and sounded something like this:

And by the end of the decade, it had somehow changed into this:

Meltzer -- a NYC-based journalist and coauthor of the phenomenal How Sassy Changed My Life -- explains what the heck happened, tracking how the phrase "girl power" went from a counterculture rallying cry to a way to sell stuff. Although the decade ended with Britney Spears imploring someone to hit her, baby (one more time), the 90s changed the world of girls for the better, influencing the current generation to rock in record numbers.

This book is great (and I'm not just saying that because I was a teenager in the 90s, though that helps). It's great because it's a thoughtful cultural analysis sprinkled with interviews of awesome ladies. Anyone with an interest in music and/or feminism should drop by and hear what Meltzer has to say.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Monday Afternoon Wake Up Call

    [ 116 ]

To write is to forget. Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life. Music soothes, the visual arts exhilarate, and the performing arts (such as acting and dance) entertain. Literature, however, retreats from life by turning it into a slumber. The other arts make no such retreat - some because they use visible and hence vital formulas, others because they live from human life itself. This isn't the case with literature. Literature simulates life. A novel is a story of what never was, and a play is a novel without narration. A poem is the expression of ideas or feelings in a language no one uses, because no one talks in verse.
    - Fernando Pessoa
    The Book of Disquiet

This week, Pessoa & I were reunited. I have read this book. I have memorized certain passages. I have bought during good times and sold it during my bouts of poverty. I have left it on trains. I've brought it to airports and greyhound stations. I've waterlogged several copies. I have loved and hated this book at various stages and at varying intervals. Welcome home, you rascal.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Babies and Books

This is my first ever blog post (is that what it's called?).  As the senior member of our blogging team at age 61 with 29 years at Booksmith, I'm reflecting this morning on all the wonderful folks who've worked here with me over the years.  As it is stated on our bookmarks, 9 couples have met here and gone on to marry.  Bookstores can be very romantic places, you know.  Many of those couples now have kids.  Just last evening, one of our assistant managers and her husband and son welcomed a new baby boy into the world.  And, mind you, she was at work on Friday morning.  Such is her passion for and dedication to her bookselling life.  She's the third person within the year among our crew to have her second child.   I love that our work environment includes a big family element.   I'm convinced the world of physical bookstores will go on so we need this next generation of booksellers in the wings.

Besides the parents in our midst, the group of about 30 of us includes artists, musicians, poets, authors, dog raisers, gardeners, woodworkers, handmade book makers, comedians, social workers, film critics, athletes, naturalists, librarians, animal activists,  and environmentalists.  The store has always been known for its personality and humor.  Well, there you go!

Going back to the physical bookstore concept, I'm mindful of what an experience it is to know our ever-interesting  cast of players.  To my mind, there will never be a substitute for mixing, in person, customers and booksellers and books.   For all the buzz about ebooks and devices for reading them, I aim to keep this live, tangible place thriving for all who know and love it.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Bookselling on a Saturday, meditations on weekend labor in a grammatically suspect, run-on-sentency- postmodern- meanderation

Most people, when prompted to comment on my line of work, and the hours that I generally keep, tend to squirm when they hear that I work on the weekends. I understand why they think that this is a travesty, but I want to take a moment to draw a sketch of why book selling on a Saturday in Brookline is the best time to work.

((If you've ever worked in a coffee shop, or cookie shop, deli, or the like...there are most likely certain smells which cause you to be throttled back in time to that particular job. Olfactory triggers are fantastic for time travel. Sometimes it makes it hard for baristas to go to cafes without being triggered...(this is a phenomena I like to think of as the labor- trigger)))...

I just came back from NYC, where I went to St Mark's bookstore in the lower East Side...and what an amazing bookstore they have. ..seriously, funky and the 9's...anyway....while I was browsing it dawned on me that I still love being around books during my free it possible that the "labor-trigger" doesn't apply to booksellers?

(don't worry I'm getting to my point soon)...

Today is my first day back to work, and it also happens to be a Saturday. I spent a good portion of my shift at the register. Helping people enjoy their one solid chore-free, work- free day off. The people who work come and see me on stay for a while, you ask about the music we're playing...(Angus&Julia Stone right now) ask us for book recommendations...(Jason Lasdun's It's Beginning to Hurt) and you are smiling when you get to me at the register. The shift is full of exchanges, and time takes on a lithe- acrobatic quality; and before I know it...I'm walking home. Saturdays are my Monday...

I wish I could return the favor, show up at your office on a Monday...walk around and be the cool stranger who informs the rest of your day with my appreciation for your line of work. But I won't, because that might be creepy...and I do have some boundaries...

For sure for sure for independent bookstore is more than a market, it is a cultural theatre, an actual agora,...not an ambient assemblage of pointing and clicking on a pixilated purchase...when you are here... you are a participant in a cultural moment, a shared space...the blue light of your Internet Explorer puts the world at your fingertips, there is no denying that...but you can't put your fingertips back on the world...

I work on Sundays too.
Bring your dog.
I'll be at the register.

Friday, February 19, 2010

tyranny of knowing

"'s as if they become tyrannized by what they learn..."

This from a customer at the front register just now, near the end of our conversation about Gary Wills' newest, Bomb Power, in which he examines how the birth and evolution of the nuclear bomb has changed our government, and the office of the Presidency in particular, forever. The discussion began when he asked me enthusiastically whether I had read The Politician, which examines the train-wreck of John Edwards' life (and the lives of all those close to him).

I had high hopes for Edwards. I've kept that book at well more than arm's length, not just because of my basic distaste for tell-alls, but because he was the politician who stood up and stated repeatedly that poverty is the greatest threat to America, a belief that I too have held for most of my life. Since moving to Boston as an undergrad I've felt a mounting swell of disgust at the casual dismissal that most city-dwellers display to the homeless.

And I'm not sure that, despite everything we now know, despite every last sordid and spectacular detail, he wouldn't still have made a good President, even with all of this hidden in his closet. The question of "why do we want to know?", indeed demand to know, these awful things is moot. We will always want to know.

"The only thing I really learned from the book is that people are really complex." That's the other thing this astute customer said to me. People are really complex. People are really complex, and then we get them ironed flat for election day, and then we outrage ourselves over their surprise! humanity.

Not knowing is a blessing, or a curse. The truth might set you free if your aim is to better understand reality, but for those whose worldview is already fixed, the truth is a tyrant destined for the guillotine. Hence the agonizing over an America that "just isn't the same one I grew up in", over gay marriage, over Don't Ask/Don't Tell, chastity pledges, global warming, on and on and on.

John Edwards' laundry list of betrayals to those closest to him, I don't need to open those pages. The nuclear bomb, though...there's a book we all need to read.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Presidents + Books = ?

Roosevelt wrote eighteen books in his lifetime. Jimbo Carter penned quite a few works of non-fiction, a collection of poetry, and even a few novels. George W. Bush is currently hammering out his memoirs on an underwood five typewriter (presumably). Clinton, Ulysses Grant, Reagan, Eisenhower, and Obama are just a few of the other First Dudes to have written autobiographies. Lincoln wrote his own speeches and was considered by many talented enough to have been a successful author. William Taft curated a killer vegan recipe anthology and William Henry Harrison, well, lets just say he didn't get very far into his romantic novel.

Aside from Lincoln and Roosevelt, it's interesting how very few presidents have used books to create a sense of transparency during their terms. Even in my lifetime (i'm 31), where seemingly anyone with the means to do so can get anything published at any time, quickly, we get a lot of before and after books but nothing DURING. Kennedy's Profiles In Courage was published five years before he was elected... Obama's books were conceived while still in the "getting to know you" stage with voters... Et al. Why is this? Is it a national security issue? Is it political strategy? How come the White House doesn't have its own publishing house? There could be a Chief of Literature Affairs, or Secretary of Books. In this age of sifted-through information and cable news, it would be great to have something straight from the source for once. Something I can read and quote from that isn't a blog post or a tweet. Granted I know being a president is a rather time consuming gig but I could really use a book that explains this whole health care situation.

Enjoy the last few hours of your long weekend everybody! We're open regular hours tonight! Stop by and buy a book. It doesn't have to be about a president.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Thoughts on Barbie, Intertextuality and the E-reader

Yesterday I was watching the Tyra Banks show (I know I know...don't judge) where she had Eve Ensler on to push her new book "I am an Emotional Creature". Tyra asked her her usual mind-bogglingly poignant questions...but once we got through that and Eve was allowed to speak I learned that Barbie was originally designed as a sex toy for men, and that up until 12 years ago one could not use the word "vagina" on television.

Then Eve went on to discuss her "free Barbie" project...a story she wrote where all the Barbies of the world can broadcast the thoughts of one forward-thinking little girl, who then mobilizes the troops towards a new feminism. I stopped what I was doing when I heard this, (because surprisingly enough I can do several other things while watching Tyra...) and had a little deja vu

Last week I finished reading Denise Duhamel's collection of poetry entitled "Kinky". It's a collection of poems about Barbie. This book is incredible in that it manages to be funny, historically accurate, engaging, challenging and magnetic.It also has a mental shelf life, because I have still been processing some of the poems. Yet, I cannot emphasize enough just how similar what Eve had to say about the doll was to what many of Denise's poems were saying about the doll. Now herein lies the itch I have...Eve Ensler is a well educated feminist...and I guess I am wondering If she was aware of Denise Duhamel's work...
What responsibility do artists and editors have to the great "conversation" of intertextuality?

One exciting thing that the e-reading offers, is the opportunity to hyperlink, within the text , to other texts. (Some authors link to the dictionary which is helpful when reading D.F. Wallace for example) I posture, that it could open the doors to a more fluid referential reading community, one wherein everyone is invited to the party, everyone is in on the joke....and if you see no hypertext...that too can signify a certain something...

Joe Amato, writes poetry that hyperlinks to other parts of his own poems -making his work fluid and mobile. I think we are going to see a lot more artists using this tool in their prosody.

For now, and until then, I'll hold authors responsible to do their homework. While watching Tyra.

Friday, February 12, 2010

And then a customer comes along and makes me want to read, desperately. If you want to turn a bookseller like me on, catch me as I'm passing throught the Used Book Cellar and say this:
"If you have the time, can you tell me what I should read next? It's been long years since I've read books, and I just started up again with Middlesex, and I'm nearing the end and feeling a bit desperate from the thought of not having a new book to pick up when I'm done, but also from not having any idea of what the book should be. If you have a minute." Scanned the shelves for two minutes and sat down next to him and gave him one minute each on Martin Amis, Jim Crace, Henry Miller, Annie Proulx, Jonathan Coe, Gary Shteyngart, John Steinbeck.

That's the kind of thing that makes me want to put away my sketchbook and pick up a novel for the midnight bus ride home.
Lobbing scissors at my office-mate Katie a moment ago, the thought crossed my mind that I don't read as much as I once did. I remember as a kid, staying up for twelve hours straight to speed-read David Copperfield. Because I had been reading The Lord of the Rings for the twelfth time, in bed, on the bus, in homeroom, even on my lap, hidden under my desk in the very English class in which David Copperfield had been assigned.

Has my reading habit slowed because of two young children in my charge? Because of late nights up in my studio, because of this full time job? How has it been squeezed out of my routine over the past years?

Can you ever read enough?
Working at the registers in the Booksmith for a decade, countless customers have scrolled before me, most of them repeats, many of them self-described book "addicts." And I would have described myself the same way, years past...
but maybe I've read enough? For now?

I've always thought experiences are tools. I'm a self-taught painter, and I think of all of those brush strokes as leading to the next, across paintings, across the gaps between paintings, and when you make enough mistakes and successes, they eventually work themselves out until you have a tool. Something that you can pull out of the kit and use appropriately, without thought.

Maybe that's what reading is for me, an accumulation of ideas,
stories, advice, cautions, that have worked themselves out.
Maybe right now I am just making use of them,
maybe accumulating more wouldn't help.

Someday that appetite will return, and when it does there's a list of recommendations a week long that I'd love to dig into.
In the meantime, tell my kids to stay asleep at night.
Tell the store to give me a month or two off.
Tell my hand to put down the brushes.

Katie blocked the scissors with a plywood shield. I don't want you to worry, or to think that I lob scissors at just anybody.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


Lately i've been devouring books by Jim Thompson and Kobo Abe (again) and in doing so, got thinking about how I never find, neither here in the UBC or elsewhere, certain authors (like the two above) used. Authors like Murakami, Raymond Chandler, Raymond Carver, Flannery O'Connor will every once in a blue moon trickle in but for the most part, seem to never come in. Even an author like Steig Larsson, who's books are selling at a phenomenal clip upstairs, are never seen downstairs, used. People just don't bring them in. Why is this? Do people buy certain books but never read them? Do people read books, fall in love, and then refuse to part ways? Are certain books traded amongst friends? Can we base the greatness of an author on whether or not you can find their books used? We have a lot of Charles Frazier and Jonathan Franzen used. Are they more awesome then, say, George Saunders (well...)?

The Flannery O'Connor one really astounds me as she's still taught in every English class and still sells well new upstairs...

I am thinking about doing some investigative work on this. I might make up a list of authors and then go around to various used book stores and see what I can find. Just a thought. Who's in?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Nom nom nom nom

Snatched up a copy of Vegan Planet in the Used Book Cellar. The spine is severely bent in one place and there's a little splattering on those pages (that is part of the charm I THINK.) I am doing some amateur forensics, trying to determine which recipe it is. Little orangey... so surveying the ingredients, I believe it's the Butternut Squash & Wild Mushroom Lasagna. All those hours watching CSI paid off at last.

And many pages are dog-eared. That's another cool thing about used books - these marks might lead you to the best parts of the book right away. Or not. One of the dog-eared recipes is cilantro heavy and I am one of those people that thinks cilantro tastes like soap. So maybe I will avoid those dog-eared pages. Or you can pass judgment on the previous owner which is fulfilling for about a minute.

Speaking of cookbooks, here are some shoddy pictures of the best and most perfect chocolate chip cookies from The Joy of Vegan Baking (1 of my 2 current staff recs).

Don't ya just feel the diabetes settling in?

Underbake them by a minute or two and throw them in the freezer and, bam, you in vegan valhalla. I also recently made the Blueberry Orange Bundt cake and my boyfriend and I ate it in under two hours. I am not sure if that's a testament to how indulgent we are or how tasty the recipe is. The texture was great - so fluffy and moist - something I've missed when I've attempted baking before.

You might be like, but how do you do that with no eggs? Oh, but did you know that when food was rationed during WWII that bakers had to get creative with binders, so a lot of subs are not just blindly chosen by some tasteless hippie wizard? That is a great fact you will find in The Joy of Vegan Baking.

Plus, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau also clears up the best applications of non-animal-based moisture-givers and binders. Which is useful when you are way more of an, uh, artistic cook. Baking requires so much precision that I had been bad at. Now I think I get it.

Hooray cookbooks!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Commuting, and E-reading

I try to walk to work when I can, but sometimes it's too cold and I'm too lazy. Sometimes I just like to people watch...I like to see what everyone is reading. I'm on the green line so usually the people have a Brookline Booksmith boomark...which always cheers me up in the morning.

I've seen a handful of people reading from the Kindle, or the Sony e-reader. I can never tell what they are reading, so they can hide their romance novels, but the downside is they can't show off that they are reading Joyce.

Isn't there an unspoken romance in seeing that a stranger is reading a book you love? Isn't there that moment where you think there may be a psychic connection? Or maybe you look to see how far along they are, and guess what part they are at by their facial expressions?

I think of what I would lose if I switched my library to the kindle...

-feeling comfortable taking a bath with a book
-taking the book to the beach
-leaving the book in the freezing cold, or scorching heat and knowing it will still work when I get to it
-dog- earring pages
-writing in the margins
-watching as the book blooms in thickness from handling
-the mosaic of fonts on my bookshelves
-my bookshelves
-knowing no one can ever go into the book and take out the words for some copyright problem

What else would you miss?

leave a comment or email me...this might make a cool t shirt. Check out our new black tote bags with the quote "books with pages since 1961" If I wasn't such a Luddite I'd post a picture...maybe one of my colleagues will... hint hint....