Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Story of a Very Rapscallion Cat

“Slinky Malinki
Was blacker than black,
A stalking and lurking
Adventurous cat.
He had bright yellow eyes,
A warbling wail
And a kink at the end
Of his very long tail.”

This is the first page of one of the most brilliant children’s books written outside of the U.S. The name of this book is Slinky Malinki, written by Lynley Dodd, who resides in New Zealand.

Usually rhyming picturebooks are a huge no no. Why you ask? Because rhyme often gets forced and is too repetitive, which buries the story (if the so-called author was actually able to wedge one in there), creating a very murky text to wade through. However, Dodd is able to engage lively characters through anapestic verse, rhyme, and alliteration, revealing their antics and quirks. Slinky Malinki is a mischievous cat after night falls and he raises quite a ruckus beneath the moon. Now, if you’re not a cat person, then there’s also Hairy Maclary, a cat-chasing but friendly shaggy black dog, from Donaldson’s Dairy.

“He crept along fences, / he leaped over walls, / he poked into corners / and sneaked into halls / What was he up to? […]” Well, are you hooked yet? You want to finish reading this Slinky Malinki book, don’t you?

Literature knows no bounds in this world – and I consider that a good thing! I really wish more international books, such as these, did better over here in the states. There are so many great titles abroad. What if you never read British literature such as Michael Bond's A Bear Called Paddington or A.A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh? Or how about no Book Thief, which originated in Australia? Astrid Lindgren's Pippi Longstocking is a steady seller here at Booksmith. This red-headed heroine originated in Sweden. The troublesome puppet Pinocchio was originally Italian and Heidi is classic Swiss lit. Plus, there's all those old folk and fairy tales (complete rabbit trail: Did you know Mother Goose's -- whose real name was Mary Goose -- grave is in downtown Boston?) My point? Don't limit yourself to new titles. Read classics. Read old favorites. Read books that began in another culture and see how similar we all really are.

Armchair travel to places around the world...there's no passport required.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

All my best, Booksmith!

This will be my last blog post. On Friday, one month shy of two years, I'm leaving the Brookline Booksmith. In mid-July, I'll start working at the Boston Phoenix as their newest staff writer.

I'm so, so grateful to have worked for such a wonderful place. When I started here in 2008, newly relocated from Chicago, nothing in my experience could have prepared me for the dedication of the staff or our customers. Seeing Dana in action is like nothing else. To spend five minutes with her is to understand how the Booksmith thrives when so many other independents have shut their doors. This is to say nothing of the rest of the staff. I've never worked anywhere else where everyone cared so much about what they were doing. I'm very proud to call my coworkers friends.

When my boyfriend came to pick me up for the first time, his jaw literally dropped open. "I've never seen so many people lining up to buy books," he said. Come think of it, neither had I.

With any luck, I'll see you all around. I intend to be an extremely regular customer. I would like everyone to know how happy getting to know you has made me and what a wonderful introduction to Boston this has been.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Norman Lock's Grim Tales

I don't have much in the way of interesting blogging today other than to say that i've been reading, re-reading, going to sleep, waking up, and re-re-reading Norman Lock's Grim Tales

    The steamer appeared in the harbor at dusk, black smoke from its stacks losing itself in the coming darkness. As the boat drew closer to the wharf, men leaning against the bollards to smoke heard band music on the water: "The Mountains of the Moon," a tune none had heard until then, which seemed to dissolve in the suddenly chill air. Night fell; the ship's lights trembled against the black river. Here and there, passengers could be seen standing in the light that splashed down onto the decks. The men on the pier had never seen such a ship. It came to rest, gangplanks were let down, and now the passengers began their slow disembarkation. They wore clothes the men thought peculiar -- clothes that had been fashionable in 1912 when the Titanic is believed to have gone down. But the name of this ship was H.M.S. Titanic; and later, when the passengers were questioned, they laughed at the idea their ship had sunk! Didn't we know it is "unsinkable"? There had been ice in the sea lanes and thick fog -- they remembered the fog; but they had slept soundly that night and long -- dreaming, in first class or steerage, of ballrooms or barrooms, polo or bocce. The best sleep of our lives! they said while they waited with letters in their hands for those who had promised to meet them."

You can read the whole piece over at the elimae website | H E R E

Some Are Reading

With the advent of Summer come numerous lists of suggested titles for boat, beach, camp, school, cabin, cottage, travel of all sorts. Late June and early July are very busy here in the store with all of that. Every newspaper (yes, they still exist), magazine (yes, they also still exist), NPR station, literary social medium and school department offers up such lists. They run the gamut from light, frothy fare to brain exercising rigor. We dutifully print up all the lists we can get our hands on, order and stock books from them, and throw in some gifty items to spice up the mix. Get your ice cream cone-shaped battery-operated fan here. Beach bags and sunhats, oh yeah. Notepads in the shape of flip flops we have. Sponge sets shaped like ravioli make great weekend host/ess gifts.

Back to the lists, my thought is that the summer reading lists concept is a cool one. It's great fun to see what's on them and match the listmakers' tastes and sensibilities to ours. Many, if not most, titles are already on our radar and placed in alluring spots to catch the browser's eye. My take is that our store is one big recommended reading list all year long. So, I guess I'm making yet another shameless plug for this closing-in-on-50 year old bookstore. It's just such a great place.

One more thing - I think our bloggers are really terrific. Both Paul's and Kate's latest posts are food for much thought. Is there anything you'd love to know about the underpinnings of the book biz? Let me know and we'll address it!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

audio books, stepmothers, Pennsylvania

I'm about to go on a rather long car ride to somewhere in Pennsylvania. I am doing this because I have grown fond of a fella, and that is where his family lives...I'm looking forward to 3 days of careful self- censorship as I try and remember not to swear, burp or make any crass religious jokes.
I tend to get very nauseous whilst driving, so I think we are going to try an audio book---which I haven't experienced since I was 12 in the backseat of my 3rd stepmother's van, being carted off to her home in ALABAMA where I was paid $50 to pack up her things and move her to Rhode Island. The book we listened to was Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver
I loved the book and it really was quite successful in helping me dissociate from the saccharine drawl of a woman who put many wonderful books in my hand, and ulcers in my stomach.I think I'll probably go with one of our many language books and try and learn Italian...that way I can continue to swear --mostly undetected.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Twesigye Jackson Kaguri

On Wednesday, Twesigye Jackson Kaguri stopped by to sign copies of his book, The Price of Stones. While I folded the jacket flap into the title page on each of the copies, I read the summary and then went on to read the first few pages of his story. This man is amazing. His ancestral village in Uganda had, while he was studying in America, been absolutely ravaged by AIDS, and especially hard hit were the children. Seeing the hopeless plight of the youngest generation in his village, he decided on the spot that they needed a place to grow, to learn, and to get the opportunity to turn the raw deal they had been handed into something meaningful and as lasting as possible.
He built a free school for children with AIDS, stone by stone, over five years, with the help of his family and friends. Faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles and pressures to give this unlikely dream up, he nevertheless followed through on his promise, and there in the village of Nyakagyezi, Uganda, stands a fully accredited primary school filled with children who would not have been accepted in any other classroom.

So, Mr Kaguri comes in and introduces himself, and starts signing books and talking to me, my coworker Zoe, and the customers in line. He sold two books to the first two women in line, and told us we needed to get some more people in line before he finished the pile, as he could sell all of them given the chance. And I have no doubt he could.

It was a beautiful thing to behold: here was a man who saw the opportunity not to gain, but to give. For so many the goal is retirement, release from labor. But for others, the true release comes with the undertaking of great tasks, and the realization that as long as there is life there is work to be done. The key is finding out what that work is.

I don't ever want to retire. Thanks for stopping in my store, Twesigye Kaguri.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Summer Reading

Summer reading for the Brookline schools is well under way! This year we have more titles than ever, for grades pre-kindergarten through high school. Even if you don't have a child in a Brookline school, these books are all wonderful reads. (We will be carrying selected summer reading titles for other schools as well.) If I had all the time in the world, I would read this entire list. Really! Both the required for grades 3 and up, plus the hundreds of recommended titles. The librarians, teachers, and staff really picked out some fabulous titles -- new and old -- this year!

Our summer reading section is separated out by grades, so browsing should be no problem. Need a picturebook? Come look through our K-2 picturebook shelf. Need a non-fiction book for a ten year old, come flip through our 5-6 nonfiction section. Want to read a great young adult novel or adult fiction, but don't know where to start? Come look at our wall of 7th, 8th, and high school recommends. This year's high school theme is "Finding My Voice", stories of immigration.

And if you're still overwhelmed on what to read first, close your eyes, reach for a book, pull it out, and start reading (with your eyes back open of course!).

Read the summer heat away. By the way, did we ever we mention our store has great air conditioning?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Makings of a Bestseller

Justin Cronin came to our store this morning. He had a photo shoot for The Improper Bostonian at eleven, he signed well over 100 books here, then he headed to Harvard Bookstore and beyond to sign yet more books. He's giving a reading here at the Booksmith in about two hours, before which he'll be interviewed by Robin Young of Here and Now.

The Passage, Cronin's book, weighs in at over 750 pages. It had a ginormous first printing and an unheard-of marketing budget. The story is old hat by now: Cronin submitted the manuscript pseudonymously, got a $3.5m advance and shortly thereafter, the book was optioned by none other than Ridley Scott.

Moreover, people are freaking out because Justin Cronin used to write works of literary fiction, but now he's making money. We've all heard that literary fiction and money don't mix (ask Oprah). Perhaps it's because of that weird construct that Cronin is getting so much attention, or maybe it's because he writes about vampires.

Whatever the case, Cronin has been the subject of countless articles in the Globe, the NYT -- every major publication in the whole country, for that matter. What's going on? Has he captured the zeitgeist or is it something else?

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Thrill of The Hunt

I used to be a collector. Be it baseball cards, jazz LPs, matchboxes, comic books, rare books, oil cans, I, at one time or another, had a collection. College and two cross-country moves obliterated my somewhat prized possessions. The purge felt great. It was a weight lifted off my checklist notebooks.

Lately i've been feeling the urge to collect again. Or pick up an old collection. More specifically, i've been looking around for old City Light Pocket Series books. Right now I have about 1/3rd of the entire catalog. Quite impressive, to me at least. It's taken me close to 10 years to find what I have. When i tell people this, they say "Why don't you just buy 'em online?".

Fair enough. I could do that. But where's the fun in that? Buying stuff online isn't collecting, its hoarding. It too easy. No getting dirty or going on road trips or seeking out used book stores or antique shops or flea markets. When I look at my collection, there's a story behind how I found each title. One I found in a dollar bin somewhere in West Virginia. One I found in Gloucester buried in a box of newspapers. It was my birthday. It was a cold early winter afternoon. I was hungry. It was either the book or food (Ended up with both, but for dramatic effect...). For me, its the thrill of the hunt, the chase. Its bartering with dealers and working my mojo. Walking the line between fairness and being ripped off. In most cases, the cost is merely an after-thought (I'm married without children. I can do this).

I suppose the gist of this post is to encourage folks to not be lazy. Don't simply cop out and scour ebay on your off-nights looking for that Frenchman's poetry book. You'll probably end up finding it under a heap of dirty linen in some old grand-ma-ma's basement shop or next to a box of spark plugs at a flea market in west central Ohio.

If you care to, leave a list of what you collect in the comments field! If its book related i'll check our shelves. here be mine:

    City Light Pocket Books
    Rubber Stamps
    Dell Comic Digests from 60's and 70's
    Old comics (western themed or involving radioactive insects)
    Type (both metal and wood)


A little known fact about Booksmith is that we incubate literary and artistic talent.  I'm reminded of that again as two of our own leave us for a big step forward in their careers.  One is going to a created-for-her position at Scholastic Publishing in New York.  The other is to be a staff writer at the Boston Phoenix, also a job created for her.  They are far from the first to do so.  Through nearly 50 years of existence, Booksmith has counted among its booksellers numerous future authors and people who've gone on to all aspects of the publishing and writing worlds.  

Besides those who leave, often for New York or San Francisco or Chicago,   we nurture those who make bookstore life a career. Whether the stellar book buyer, author event director, newsletter writer, store designer, children's book expert - to name a few - some find their venue for growth in knowledge and expertise right here with us.   There is great dedication and passion in that.

Bookstores do tend to attract such talented, bookish people.  At an indpendently owned and operated store such as ours, everything is done on site.  And stores like ours are complicated places to keep afloat.  There are hundreds of pieces to our jigsaw puzzle, if you will.  It can feel almost impossibly intense at times.  The image of a sleepy place where there is much reading and discussion of literature all day long is quite the myth.

All of this to say, there is opportunity to discover what you like best about the business here.    There is room to learn about yourself - your talents, your dreams, your ambitions.   It is quite amazing to watch this unfold time and time again.  That's not to say I don't grumble about having to find yet another replacement for the departing one.  And maybe some of those folks feel they've succeeded in spite of the more mundane aspects of bookstore life.  But I know, without a doubt, that we have sent dozens of young people in the direction of their lives.   I really love that.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Ice cream and beets with Donald Hall at Bennington

I was lucky and squirrelled myself next to Donald Hall during dinner. I leaned in close as he told me about Raymond Carver, Gertrude Stein, Hart Crane, Liam Rector and Wendall Berry. I listened as he told me that he couldn't be away from Jane Kenyon when she was dying, so he left Bennington early that year. I had a hard time hearing him over the roar of utensils in the dining room. He ate beets and chicken. He laughed at my weird joke about maple ice cream and peppermint stick ice cream --which i nervously blurted out to fill the space between stories. It was the only thing I could give a man who writes like awkward aside about ice cream flavors. Some of my favorite quotes from that meal and his lecture...
-"Old age is a series of diminishments"
-"executed by the injection of 100 martinis"
-(of poetry read aloud) "Poetry is oral sex, a pleasure of the mouth"
- (of his writing relationship with Jane Kenyon) " We worked hard to be uncompetitive, which in itself is competitive"
-"One is never sure if they are any good or not"
Well life, it has been weird and delicious.

check please.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Handselling. Not for the hesitant or unassuming.

Intro to Advanced Bookselling, Sec. 1
Instructor: Paul

A customer asks for Kate or Lisa, hoping that they can recommend some books for her.
She wants something piercing but quiet. Thoughtful and...well...something that Kate or Lisa would want her to read. But...

Kate and Lisa aren't here today.

Your objective is to assume their reading tastes (without giving the impression that you might be stepping outside of your own comfort zone), recommend books to her that they would recommend, were they here (but not books that they already have recommended to her), and, in order to make this challenging, get her to buy two books that you love, but that they would not recommend (making it seem as though the books are completely in line with what they themselves would choose, in context of the other books).

In summary:
Without a moment's notice, get inside the head of a stranger and two co-workers. Give her what she's asking for (what your co-workers would give her), and what you think she should be asking for, (books that will surprise her and push her outside of her expectations).


Memories of Summer in NYC

About three years ago, I decided, like many young and industrious folks, that New York City was the place for me. I was still in college at the time, and I thought there would be no better way to spend my summer than to get an internship in the Big Apple and live right there, in the heart of it all.

I applied to publisher after publisher and heard nothing. Finally, I found someone receptive. For about a month, we corresponded by email. "Call me when you get to New York," he said, "we'll sort it out then." So I paid NYU to live in their dorms. I scheduled a flight and packed my bags full of books and new clothes with sharp collars and matching ties.

And when I arrived in New York City, I gave the internship coordinator a call. "How about we meet up next week?" he said, and I set about seeing the city. I passed the week slowly, wandering up and down the streets of Manhattan. I rode the subway up to Harlem and then walked back to the Village, getting lost in Central Park again and again. I found the library and marveled at its stone lions (in Arizona, most libraries, like most buildings, have been around since the 70's, and they are ugly and blocky and grey). And then, I went to go meet with the coordinator.

"Yeah, uhm, it looks like we just don't have the space. Maybe you could do something for the research department." I went up to the research department, and the woman there seemed baffled. Was I supposed to be doing something for research? There was nothing to do. She pointed me to the exit. And like that, New York started to turn sour for me.

The dorm in which I was living was populated by four other guys with no walls separating us. They knew each other. They were business majors with close-shorn haircuts and internships at financial firms that have, by now, gone belly up and been set to swimming again by massive government aid. I felt nothing in common with them. I was a writer with a pony tail and no reason to be there. At one point they flipped the dresser to make a beer-pong table. I once found one of them drunk and lying in the hallway, grinding with a girl who was in just as bad a state. When I approached, my roommate said, "Shh, shh, someone's here," and they froze as though I were the T-Rex from Jurassic Park and would not notice them so long as they stayed still. One of my roommates fell asleep every night with his television blaring, and I'd wait to hear Girls Gone Wild commercials before I flicked it off to get some rest myself. I became nocturnal. I stayed out of my room when I could. But really, I had nowhere to go.

I walked a lot. I tried to explore. I became weary of New Yorkers, how they rarely speak to you without wanting something, the way they have cultivated of ignoring everyone to avoid being pulled in by scams and street vendors, beggars and sharks. I went entire days without speaking a word, and I found myself buying things just to have someone say hello. I spent hours in the basement lounge of the dorms, writing and talking out plots to myself, looking sheepish and bashful and trying to pretend I wasn't going mad when someone else came in.

In many ways, it was the worst summer of my life. I have never felt so alone, so close to crossing the line between eccentric writer-type and certifiably insane. Recently I went back there on a trip with my girlfriend, and though by the end of the day we were having fun, when the bus first crossed into Manhattan, I felt an overwhelming sadness, like I was suddenly useless and aimless and small.

But thinking about that summer, I'm also filled with a sense of gratitude, a very specific and focused one. I was lucky enough to be near the Strand, and I went weaving through its shelves again and again, picking through staff recommendations and piles of fiction remainders. I discovered Rushdie there. I read Lolita for the first time.

When it was open and I was awake, I went to the library and I studied literary magazines, reading story after story, making scrawls in my notebook. I broke everything down into lines, into words. I digested names and titles. I gathered a manic energy about me. Every word I read had to be a part of a key, a code to how I could do this, how I could write. I became arrogant and scornful of stories that I felt were jerking me around or delaying too long.

I am one of those people, I have realized, who keeps books around him as a safety net, as a security blanket, and in times of loneliness, as friends. I'm one of those people who will turn to a book when there's no one to talk to, when human beings become ghostly images, passing without touch, without turning an eye.

I do not know who I would be now if I were not a reader. I don't know what I would do, where I would work, who my friends would be. But I know that what was the worst summer of my life could have been worse still, that so many dark times could have been darker. And I am so grateful that I don't even know how to say.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Double Scoop Rec

I have many new obsessions on a few of our new arrivals this week. Here are two of them.

The first one is an upper middle grade novel (for ages 10-14) titled Rocky Road. I’ve actually been waiting for a couple of months for this title to be released!

Tess is sick and tired of going along with her mother’s business plans because she never seems to finish the job right – literally! Plus, who would want to move in the dead of winter to a no-name New York town with no money? Not Tess; even though, they will be opening an ice cream store. Unfortunately, her mother is driving full speed ahead to upstate New York from Texas and, “as it turned out, Ma’s wisest comment today was her warning Schenectady that the Dobsons were coming.”

It’s hard to find a terrific, well written novel where the character is on the outlook for the needs of others. Rocky Road is definitely a 5 star quality scoop. I couldn’t put it down the whole time I was reading it. It was one of those books where, no matter how tired you are, you keep on pressing through to find out what happens. And, when you're not reading, it replays like a great movie in your head.

I’m also hoping Rocky Road will win the Schneider Award for 2011, as it encompasses the realities of living with a deaf younger brother so well, as well as another disability....


“Pete the cat was walking down the street in his brand new white shoes…” This jazzy, blues loving cat does not let the world get him down, no matter what he steps in. It’s rare that a song becomes a successful picturebook. But Pete the Cat is purely the exception. Take a look at a live reading from the author-illustrator team:

Because it’s all good.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Best Books I've Never Read

A few days ago, after I finished yet another so-so novel, I complained to my English professor boyfriend about the mediocrity of most fiction. "Read Portrait of the Artist!" he advised for the ten thousandth time. I suspect that if I don't read it soon, he'll start thwocking me over the head with it any time I complain about anything I'm reading. He bought me a copy and knows where it is at all times so he can foist it on me.

I've never read Joyce (except the parts of Dubliners I had to read as an undergrad). But that's not all I haven't read! Here's a short list of all the stuff of which I'm wholly ignorant:

Here are ten books I'm proud of having read (whatever helps me sleep at night, right?):
The Great Gatsby (at least ten times)
Infinite Jest (twice, thanks for asking)

I'm not reading anything at all at the moment, but there's a new season of True Blood!

Monday, June 14, 2010

What I Am Reading.

Wolf Among Wolves
by Hans Fallada
Melville House | $18.95 |Buy

From the publisher: "This sweeping saga of love in dangerous times – the 1923 collapse of the German economy, when food and money shortages led to rioting in the streets and unemployed soldiers marauding through the countryside – is deemed by many to be Hans Fallada’s greatest work. Yet its 1938 publication made his publisher so fearful of Nazi retribution that he told Fallada, “If this book destroys us, then at least we’ll be destroyed for something that’s worth it.”"

Wolf... is a dangerous read. Its engrossing enough to zone you out so that you end up two T stops past work. The physical act of reading this book is not all dissimilar to drinking a few beers at the carnival before hitting the Pirate Ship. You get nauseous with both anticipation and experience. Along the way there are barkers begging you, men and women in the shadows, grime, and above all various forms of wetness (sweat, rain, drool, etc). So good you'd think the Dalkey Archive published it.


Bird Any Damn Kind
by Lucas Farrell
Caketrain | $8.00 |

I'll just leave you with this sample rather than ramble on about how immensely terrific this book of poetry is. That was a really poor sentence. Whatever. Its late. Enjoy.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Anti Blog

My total post this June Sunday will be this link to James Parker's hilarious piece in today's Boston Globe. James is a wonderful writer and great customer of our store. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Getting your MFA from the Brookline Booksmith

I'm away at school in Bennington Vermont starting my second semester of an MFA program in poetry. Needless to say, my mother is thrilled with the practicality of this life decision...but it is what it is and I'm here.

Being surrounded by writers is electrifying, terrifying and exhausting....everyone here is always "on"....and yet I love it...

It got me thinking as I read the roster of all the authors who would be coming in to read...that most of them I have already heard read, at the Booksmith. Don't get me wrong, the Smith is not an accredited higher learning institution, ...but shouldn't it be? My lord; walking the aisles everyday - talking to customers- authors- fellow booksellers has given me about %67 of what one would get from an MFA program...and so I feel silly being here...the difference is when I'm here I'm able to think about what I've read, and be accountable for my motives in what I write...

It is great that I get to hear Wells Tower read, and Amy Hempel, and Lyndall Gordon (,) Amy Gerstler, Susan Cheever, ...the list goes on and on...but I've seen most of them at the store! I'm saying this not to disparage my program, because this is the perfect place for someone to be who really wants to focus acutely and honestly on what the hell they are writing. I'm saying this because everyday that I am here, I realize what an amazing events series we have at the store. I'm not ready to pack up and climb back on the register....but I know that most of what I need to become a better writer and reader is all right there; in the place that gives me a living.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Learning to Read...

Guess what? We’ve expanded our Learning to Read section. More than doubled the selection actually.

So, whether you are looking for some quick new reads, some familiar classics, or you know a young one who is learning to read, stop on by. I’ve also heard of parents using early readers to read to their kids at night because level 1, 2, and 3 books look longer. But, reading one of these beginning-to-read-books is actually shorter than the average picturebook. So, you do the math. :)

Our selection goes beyond Dick and Jane and “Cat sat on the rat. Rat went tap.” Blech! No wonder there are kids who aren’t interested in reading.

Let’s peruse some of our new arrivals:

Being sick is one thing. Being sick on the day of the class play…just terrible! (Iris and Walter: The School Play)

What good can come out of a cat who only chases kittens and lives in an old barrel? (Fire Cat)

Two cows dress up like chickens to crack the case! (Minnie and Moo: The Case of the Missing Jelly Donut)

You’ve never been to a slumber party you say? You can read about that, too. (Iris and Walter: The Sleepover and Pajama Party

Enjoy the excitement of a loose tooth all over again or for the first time. (Loose Tooth)

Remember that classic Wacky Wednesday? Yes, it’s still around as are many Dr. Seuss books (Wacky Wednesday was written under one of Seuss’s other pen names of Theo LeSeig).

Sounds and traditions of going to bed does not mean that a certain little boy is asleep. (Jack Prelutsky’s My Parents Think I’m Sleeping)?

The time has come, the time is now, the time has come to go read something now! (Sound familiar? Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now?)

"seen it all sittin' sideways with my townmates"

riding in the 66 for more than a decade now.
it's an illuminating stretch of my commute. the 39 is all students,
or nurses, going down towards the center of town.
but the 66, from Dudley to Harvard, is another thing entirely.
Dudley Square, Harvard Square, Coolidge Corner; for these names we all have some image in our mind. And the 66 is most often where they meet,
and where we can all compare our image with what we experience.

Willingness to pay attention and step aside when someone needs to depart
How much space do you take in a seat meant for two
Charitableness of spirit

color is last on the list, because i put it there a while ago.
i came to the city from a not terribly prosperous and predominantly white Connecticut town. city life quickly exposed to me that i had some preconceptions about race. they were of the charitable but naive variety, and as i started to understand the people around me the question of skin color slid down to the bottom of the list of things that i needed to worry about.

the 66 gives me a fresh lesson 4 days a week.
sit on the bus for ten minutes and, if i'm paying attention and thinking about the people that i see getting on and off, i can review and revise my assumptions about race, age, wealth, homelessness, poverty, child-rearing, health, local government, national government, crime, policing, public life, private life,

you know, all the stuff that we need to figure out in America.

if you don't take the 66, at least come and take a look out the real time virtual window to Dudley Square on the street outside our store. the idea has potential, but the fulfillment depends on you.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Dear Arizona,

Get well soon!


The Rest of the Country

I know this is our store blog and we're supposed to talk about books and things related to books. But I just wanted to take a sec and talk about the reactions to the lunacy running rampant in Arizona.

The picture above is of one of my favorite bands of all time, Hall and Oates. Little did I know that, in addition to being in possession of the world's most serious mustache and making the best music video of all time, the smooth duo are real American patriots. Yesterday, they cancelled their concert in Arizona, proving that participation in American Idol does not preclude political responsibility. If I were in charge of these things, I would declare June 7th Hall and Oates Day. Hats off to you, John and Darryl. You're making Mama proud.

On a more serious note, reading Roger Ebert's reaction to the mural incident marked the first time a blog post has ever moved me to tears. In his beautiful essay, he imagines what it must be like for the children depicted in the painting whose skin was lightened after people yelled racial slurs while driving by their school AT THE BEHEST OF AN ELECTED OFFICIAL. Ebert then reflects on the way his understanding of different people grew and changed throughout the years. If I were in charge of these things, I would give Ebert a humanitarian award for awesomeness.

Ebert sums up my understanding of the situation at the end of his essay: "They simply hate. Why would they do that?"

Monday, June 7, 2010

Matter of Trust

Also just came across this organization which collects pet fur and uses it to help clean up the oil spill. They come highly recommended. A full rundown of the procedure and other ways to help in the clean up can be had on their website. No amount is too small.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sue Grafton's Z is for ZZZZZZZ or How Mystery Books Put Me To Sleep

I Hate mystery books. There, I said it. Maybe hate is too strong a word. how about completely loath. Yes. I completely loath mystery books.

To clarify, I completely loath the modern mystery novel. On a whim, just the other day, I thought i'd man up and see what the buzz was about and bought a used copy of "__________" which has been all the rage lately. This is the fifth or sixth time i've done this this year with each time ending in exactly the same way: me dying of boredom 100 pages in, the anger rising up my throat before finally I just leave the blasted thing on the commuter rail train. I didn't even bring it back to work to sell back. That shows you the level of my disgust. So my question to ya'll is, why do people read, buy, and hype up this stuff? How many times can people read and re-read the same basic plot line? A terrorist attempts to disrupt the life of a placid small town where a local cop, looking to make good on his promise to his ailing mother-in-law to keep the town safe, falls in love with a corrupt DA? A small town sheriff nearing retirement stumbles upon some DNA shenanigans at a local chem-lab only to find that his old man who happens to be the president of the United States is the owner of said chem-lab? Danny Glover Is one day away from retirement and then has to tag-team with Mel Gibson to fight drug dealers? Wasn't that Lethal Weapon? Yes! Or how about an L.A. cop who blurs the line between civic duty and being a downtrodden renegade? That was great when Chandler did it sixty years ago.

OK, I sort of get it. Reading is a form of escapism and I completely understand the need sometimes to read something that doesn't require a lot of thinking (I myself read comic books). But what is it about the writing that warrants all the hype? Did Dick Francis descend from a mountaintop disheveled with a beard and clothes torn to rags with his latest manuscript in tow? Did the white smoke turn gray when Stuart Woods pressed the save button on his latest Stone Barrington thriller? Did Sue Grafton jump through publishing hoops and undergo massive re-writes and endure grueling editorial assessments? Beats me. But boy, does this stuff sell like hotcakes. Have you seen the best seller list? It is positively Jaw-dropping.

I'm torn, baby. I'm torn between being excited that people are reading books and are passionate and devoted to certain authors, and seeing that passion and devotion turned into something disposable. You can pick up a Grisham at any grocery store as though it were a magazine or the TV Guide.

So I want to hear from you, Who are the mystery writers worth reading that nobody is talking about? Who's doing something different? Innovative? My sweeping generalities re: this genre can not continue! I'm here to learn.

On the failures of genre.

We have this section in the bookstore. It's kind of a problem. First we called it cultural studies. Now it's "Modern Inquiry." The fact is, we don't really know what it is. To encompass the whole of the books on that shelf requires a vague, somewhat mysterious name. How, after all, do you sum up a shelf that includes both Malcolm Gladwell and Joan Didion, William Vollman and Bill Watterson?

Every once in a while, I want to run through the store mixing up the shelves. I want to get rid of all the signs and mix photography with fiction with business with humor. I want you to stumble across Camus when searching for George Carlin and to have to figure out which one is meant to be funny. Maybe I'd tear off the covers too so that everything was equal--last names written in sharpies so that you'd have no concept of what had been a New York Times Bestseller, and you couldn't even read blurbs on the back: Alice Munro assuring you that this is literary fiction or Gary Vaynerchuck telling you that this is an in-your-face viral marketing book.

But aside from the fact that such actions would cause thousands of dollars worth of damage and assuredly lose me my job, I understand why it's not allowed. It's helpful, when you need a medical book, not to have to paw through page after page that turns out to be about psychology or finance or zombies. Sections, genres, can be helpful. But I have to wonder if they don't cut off some of the options available to writers, to publishers.

In writing classes, one doesn't deal with, "genre fiction." But "genre fiction" which is supposed to outlaw robots and dragons doesn't include Kafka, who wrote about transforming into a bug or Marquez who writes about an angel landing during a crab storm.

When I interned for a publishing house, one of the first things we had to judge a manuscript on was where we could see it fitting in a bookstore. Would it be sci-fi or literary, young adult or general?

I often wonder what would happen to Frankenstein if it were written now. Would it be written off as a "horror" book, or would it, like Vonnegut, shake off the stigma of its themes and get shelved under "Shelley?"

I don't know. I don't know any more what genres I want, what genre means. But there is a way through it all. Walk into sections you don't know about, the ones even we can't describe. Take a look at Modern Inquiry and see what you happen to find.

Weed It and Reap

Is this going to be about our Gardening book section?  Yes, indeed, it is.  In fact, I'm contemplating changing the name of that section to  the title of this blog post.  Is it a generational thing to know the phrase, Read it and weep?  I think its origin is in poker lingo, but I've always linked it to a book good enough to move one to tears.  And I'm probably not the first one to use, Weed it and reap, either, but for the moment I feel a tad clever.   

Anyway, it's the time of year for gardeners to be doing their thing.   Most of them consult books or magazines or seed catalogs or all of the above.   With the the last few years' resurgence of interest in growing food and best practices for doing so, the variety of books has exploded.   There are terrific ones now on growing is tiny spaces,  lush container gardening,  worms (the good kind) and non-toxic pest control,  compost, lots of books on compost.  For the time-challenged, there are advice guides.  I like that many of the offerings are aimed at the novice.  Just about anyone can get in on this worthy pastime.   A couple of fave titles of mine at the moment are "Alluring Lettuces"  and  "Talking About Dirt".

If you don't think you're ready to try the real thing, armchair gardening is a good activity.  There's a genre of memoir devoted to that pursuit.  With Michael Pollan, Mark Kurlansky or Wendell Berry, you can delve into the social commentary and history of growing food. And the magazines!  There are many gorgeous, idea-filled choices.  A great free local  one is "Edible Boston".  You'll be scurrying to a local farmers' market when you read it.   The Edibles magazines are available for other cities and regions, as well.  

Lucky for us, the last working farm in Boston is a few miles from the store.  Allandale Farm sits on the border of Brookline and Boston.  It's a farm stand and plant nursery and also offers educational programming.   The water lilies in the pond are spectacular at the moment.  Close as it is, if you can't get over there, the Brookline Farmers' Market opens June 17 and runs into Oct.   

A skillful blogger would have provided links to everything mentioned here.  I think I promised, in an earlier post, to provide that service soon.  I'm still planning to but for now, Google to your heart's content.  Or come to the store for your copy of Edible Boston and a tour of the gardening  section.  You'll know you've arrived when you see the fantastic flower boxes out in front of the store.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Virtual Corners

You may have noticed the large black screen in our window...pretty soon it will be a magic portal to Dudley will be able to communicate in real time with the people at the other end of the 66. This is a really thoughtful and brilliant installation which calls into question the bifurcation between our two communities, which are only separated by 2 miles. The socioeconomic stratification that plays out on the epic 66 journey from Harvard to Dudley is a microcosm of larger self reflexives...

Why is the exchange between the communities so minimal? If you haven't looked at the website please do...its amazing

John Ewing is the brain behind this operation,
and there is another great PBS article about the project

I'm exited to watch as people again nervously approach the is awkward enough talking to strangers as it is, but add a mic and an audience and the exchange is charged. Teens on both sides running by, testing out their latest newly acquired swear...people arguing about politics, guys checking out the goods on the other end...people singing , the occasional flasher- it's mesmerizing. I'm so excited our store is part of this!

What are we missing by choosing to ignore each other? That's a huge question...and I'm glad John is asking it.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The book that I can't stand to have open in front of me.

The blank kind. The sort in which I was told, all through my years as an art student, that I should be filling with sketches, ideas, images that may or may not develop.
Can't open the things without wanting to run away. I made an effort recently to give it a real go, to be a man about it and keep a damn sketchbook, but that one, too, lies collecting dust in a corner of the studio, the pictures on its first twenty or so pages nothing more than brittle exoskeletons, destined never to expand, never to be a painting on my wall.
I float through life. My mind is rarely where I am; my hands count out change for you but they do it in rhythm with the music that was playing the last time they held a brush. How can I set them to work on a sketch, a plan? They only work on the real thing. How can I expect myself to grab a wave from the river and put it on paper and close the book? Will it not dry and darken; what is left when I open it up again?
I paint in the moment. It gives me comfort (when I'm not worrying about it) that I can only feel like I know what I'm doing at the exact moment that I am doing it. Sketching isn't doing it, for me. Sketch books weigh hundreds of pounds in my hands. Maybe I'll make a sculpture out of all of my abandoned sketchbooks someday.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Seeds of a Reader

One of the great things about working in the kids’ section is hearing so many picturebooks being read out loud. I often find myself straightening near the tree (which is our children’s reading area) to hear people read and take mental notes on how kids interact with it – where they laugh, where they ask very interesting questions about the characters, what books they want read again and again, what books they have no interest in whatsoever…). There have been instances where a parent (who only came with one child) suddenly has an audience of five kids. It’s wonderful that adults are raising readers right here in the store!

One of the best books to hear? The classic, The Little Mouse, The Red-Ripe Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear by Don and Audrey Wood. Little Mouse will do anything to save his strawberry from the big hungry bear. But, he can’t hide it, or disguise it, or guard it. There’s only one thing he can do with his red, ripe strawberry…

Why is this one of my top picturebook recs? For one, the text really works with the illustrations to tell a beautiful story of bravery and sharing (without even slightly whacking the reader over the head). Also, I think it’s because this is one of the books I learned to read from. And, it’s so wonderful to hear kids learning to read with this same book.

People think reading begins with phonics, the alphabet, and early readers (the level 1, level 2, level 3 books). But, they really begin with being read to and when the child has the opportunity to interact with the story and the reader. I’ve seen parents get discouraged because their child asks too many questions about one page of a book (Where is the mouse going with that ladder? Why is the strawberry red? Why is he scarred? What's behind that door?). They automatically assume the child is not interested because they aren’t listening to the story. But they are! They are learning to analyze what’s happening and trying to understand the world. They are learning to pay attention to the small details. They’ll eventually want to finish the book, but they are taking their time – something us adults often take for granted.

Learning to read is really an amazing thing. Thousands upon thousands of years, humans have associated sounds with words, and with those words come emotion, and insight, and connection, and…so many other valuable things. Literature, whether it be through one title of a wordless picturebook or through a novel as thick as one volume of the OED, is a powerful thing. I say thing here because literature accomplishes so much – opens minds to new worlds and concepts, asks what would happen if?, let’s you know you aren’t alone in a situation, or presents the realization that someone is actually just like you…

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

My Hero, Lee Child

Green Line, outbound to Cleveland Circle. The woman sits in one of those seats near the doors. She likes sitting alone, avoiding the elbows and thighs of her fellow passengers. She always chose a seat in the front car, better for leaping out and avoiding slow walkers when she arrives at work.

Slow walkers are the worst, followed by people with strollers. When she gets to her stop, she needs to be the first out of the train. She weaves around the crowds of people in Coolidge Corner. Getting out first helps her avoid being stalled behind a slow walker or a stroller. When she has to say "Excuse me," she calls this collateral damage. As an ethical vigilante, she avoids punishing the innocent as much as possible, and getting out first causes the least collateral damage.

The woman sipped a Dunkin Donuts coffee, two creams, two sugars. She always got Dunkin Donuts, sized medium. It was good coffee -- not too strong, not too weak. Size medium: not too big, not too small. Just enough caffeine to get her through the morning, even after a sleepless night.

She holds the coffee in one hand. In the other, a small, thick paperback. The author: Lee Child. The woman has noticed that when she reads Lee Child on public trans, people are likely to approach her and talk about how much they like him, too. The woman is a loner. She meets their approval with a nod and a steel-eyed stare. They always look away, except the ones who don't. And those are the ones who are trouble.

So like, if you want to read actual Jack Reacher fan fiction, you can read it here. I, for one, cannot believe LEE CHILD will be here on Thursday. He's my favorite mystery writer in the whole world! I've read all of his books!

When his publicist called to deliver the news that Random House was sending him here, I jumped out of my chair. "I could tell from your event proposal that you're a real Reacher Creature," she purred. And how! For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, just head down to our Used Book Cellar and pick up any of Lee Child's mysteries for $3.50. You'll have Reacher-itis too, I swear.