Friday, December 30, 2011

Why We Read

Brookline customers are a pretty smart bunch. Here are some figures:

This is pulled from Sperling's Best Places. We spend a lot on students. We have a lot of degrees; not just high school, but undergrad AND graduate degrees. With the proximity of BC and BU we have a lot of current students and professors in our midst. So as a result, there are a couple of sections in our store that get hit pretty frequently. Philosophy, for example. We don't get too many books in, but when we do they SELL. And how. So after the holiday rush, our philosophy shelves were looking pretty lean. It happens. Our stock is reliant on what people bring to us, and stuff moves and changes fast. So sometimes, our shelves get thin until magic book fairies (i.e., you) bring us more. But we make sure to only get the good stuff in, so what we do have is CHOICE.

But what to do when the books get all floppy and the shelves get empty? I dunno about those Amazon guys, but I get creative. And I put to use my undergraduate philosophy degree. I cleared off a shelf for a display and thought: what are important books in this section? Who doesn't own a copy of Kant's Groundwork that needs one? The best part of actually reading a book (for me, anyway) are those lines that stick with you forever, or finally make sense of the 120 preceding pages. The quotes we put on our Facebook profiles, in our friend's yearbooks, e-mail signatures, tattooed on arms, the lines that are mini-epiphanies that rock our worlds. In short, it's the words inside books that make us read. Sometimes there are books on a shelf that you haven't read, maybe because you're pressed for time, or you're reading Room With a View for the eightieth time, or maybe it's because book designers don't know what to do with philosophy books and the philosophers sure as heck don't know how to title their books, so they look boring but really they are GENIUS and they will change your life forever if only you knew that those brilliant quotes lived inside their pages.

So in order to jazz up a decent looking philosophy display, I wrote down some salient quotes from the books. Quotes that embody the meaning and importance of the book, or in some cases just haunted me forever. So now, hopefully, casual browsers will know why to pick up a 200 page non-fiction book on how we fall in love written in the 17th centry. Or maybe they'll just struggle at reading my awful handwritten scrawl. Either way!

Aristotle's Poetics

Kant's Groundwork

Sartre's Essays in Existentialism

Stendhal, On Love
Anyway, like I said, we're thin on philosophy. And poetry. And local stuff. Do you have some such books that are rad, have no underlining or highlighting and are just collecting dust on your ever-so-smart shelves? Let me give you money for them! Wednesdays through Saturdays, 10 AM to 4 PM. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, December 29, 2011


I was restocking graphica today when I passed by the Intermediate section and saw this book:

Now, this isn't the original illustration that I'm used to, but that is a mug I would know anywhere. This is the cover (and cross section) of a copy of "Alice in Wonderland", (the information of which I have forgotten to write down, so I will be editing this tomorrow, whoops) and I was very intrigued by the fact that there is no text on the front, yet I instantly knew who this character was. The wayward locks, the fluffy dress, the fact that the character appears to be in a moment of free-falling; this is Alice, no doubt about it. My grandmother read "Alice in Wonderland" and "Through e Looking-glass" when I was a little girl, and ever since then, Alice has been a heroine that has really stayed with me, cropping up in my mind in times of necessity. I was obsessed with the Disney movie when it came out, as well, even dreaming about Alice's adventures and crying out to her in my sleep.

The conclusion I've drawn is, Alice is the type of broad you want on your team.

First of all, she's bored with pageantry. Her school marm/tutor/mistress/nanny, whatever kind of live-in education girls had back in 1865, is forever trying to get her to calm down, settle down, do her lessons, but Alice's imagination is too fantastical and she has trouble sitting still. Today, Alice would have been so plied with adderall and a cocktail of other downers that she'd be unable to wipe the drool from her face, let alone scamper away to a mysterious fantasy world. Thank goodness they did things differently in 1865: Alice is a smart girl, but she's street smart. Upon falling through what she imagines to be the center of the earth, Alice doesn't panic.

Down, down, down. Would the fall never come to an end! `I wonder how many miles I've fallen by this time?' she said aloud. `I must be getting somewhere near the centre of the earth. Let me see: that would be four thousand miles down , I think--' (for, you see, Alice had learnt several things of this sort in her lessons in the schoolroom, and though this was not a very good opportunity for showing off her knowledge, as there was no one to listen to her, still it was good practice to say it over) `--yes, that's about the right distance--but then I wonder what Latitude or Longitude I've got to?' (Alice had no idea what Latitude was, or Longitude either, but thought they were nice grand words to say .)
Presently she began again. `I wonder if I shall fall right through the earth! How funny it'll seem to come out among the people that walk with their heads downward! The Antipathies, I think--' (she was rather glad there was no one listening, this time, as it didn't sound at all the right word) `--but I shall have to ask them what the name of the country is, you know. Please, Ma' am, is this New Zealand or Australia?' (and she tried to curtsey as she spoke-- fancy curtseying as you're falling through the air! Do you think you could manage it?) `And what an ignorant little girl she'll think me for asking! No, it'll never do to ask: perhaps I shall see it written up somewhere.'  (chapter 1)

I mean, no, no I don't think I could manage curtseying while free falling through the air, but that is mostly because I'd be crying and hiccupping and apologizing to my mom for all the horrible things I've done. Instead of doing that, Alice is thinking seriously about what she's going to do when she lands. She's basically planning on assimilating with the locals, hoping that they will leave her alone and that she'll be able to figure things out on her own. I would never ask somebody if this was Austrailia or New Zealand; I would totally just hope that I get lucky and stumble across a road sign. Alice doesn't want anyone's help; she is not depending on the kindness of strangers. In addition to that, I appreciate that Alice doesn't know everything but is smart enough to give things a try. If people know how many words I don't actually know the definition of but just use wherever I think they sound correct, UMB would take away my burgeoning English degree. Alice guesses, and that makes her brave.

Which brings me to the second reason, Alice is tough.

However, she soon made out that she was in the pool of tears which she had wept when she was nine feet high.“I wish I hadn’t cried so much!” said Alice, as she swam about, trying to find her way out. “I shall be punished for it now, I suppose, by being drowned in my own tears! That will be a queer thing, to be sure! However, everything is queer to-day.” (chapter 2)

Not a woman among us can say that she hasn't bawled her eyes out over some kind of misfortune, gotten it all out of her system, then taken a step back, reassessed the situation, and promptly wished she had not cried so much. I make no attempt to claim such a thing. I have wasted whole afternoons pining over idiots who (mistakenly) didn't think I was good enough to make out with, only to realize the next week how deeply and fundamentally wrong they were. Those are hours I'll never get back, where I was metaphorically drowned in my own tears, which I much prefer to the literal interpretation, but still. Alice is such a level headed girl, which is one of the many things I love about her. She approaches these things from a place of analytical sense, and I admire that greatly. No bemoaning idiots for her, no sir.

`Have you guessed the riddle yet?' the Hatter said, turning to Alice again.
`No, I give it up,' Alice replied: `what's the answer?'
`I haven't the slightest idea,' said the Hatter.
`Nor I,' said the March Hare.
Alice sighed wearily. `I think you might do something better with the time,' she said, `than waste it in asking riddles that have no answers.'

Alice doesn't suffer fools and she speaks her mind, two of the greatest qualities a lady can have in any time, in any place. Alice taught me that diplomacy will only take you so far. If you're at the mad tea party, do as the Romans do. Or whatever. You guys know what I mean.

America, you can keep your Miley Cirus' and your Hilary Duffs' and your Demi Lovatos' (is that a thing? That's a thing, right?), because the female role model that had an effect on my young mind was rambunctious, outspoken, bright, and independent, and I can only recommend you get the Alice in Wonderland books for any young lady in your life.

 All the versions of Alice in Wonderland (/looking glass) I have shown in this post are available in our store, by the way. I mean I'm just saying. 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Booksmith Holiday Poem

by Julia; Card and Gift Room rockstar!

'Twas the day before Christmas
      and all through the store,
Through all of the aisles
      the customers pour.

All those young and old
      who waited too long,
Come to buy all their gifts
      Before they are gone.

We Booksmithees scurry
      From here and to there.
Weaving through customers
      All so unaware

Moms, dads, siblings, friends,
      Gather all of their gifts:
No Buttons! iPlunges!
      Whatever they can lift.

The register lines
      seems to go on for miles.
But we carry on,
      Giving everyone smiles.

As customers wait
      For their gifts to be wrapped,
At the gift-wrapping station
      UBC workers are trapped

As we sell, search and restock
      How our bodies strain,
But massages and free food
      Help ward off the pain.

So to all procrastinators
      --I mean customers--here,
We greet you all
      Full of holiday cheer.

For despite the chaos,
      we truly delight
In helping you pick out
      the gift that's just right.

Be it book, toy or jewelry,
      Even Handerpants, too,
We hope what you find here
      Brings fun and joy to you.

So until 8 o'clock
      When we turn out our lights,
And settle at home
      for a calm winter's night,

Booksmith's doors are wide open.
      And we welcome you in,
To do last-minute shopping
      'Ere Christmas begins.

So to you Merry Christmas
      And a Hanukkah so fine,
From us at Booksmith to you-
      Now, may I help the next in line?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Dead Ends

I know he was a controversial guy and everything, but I really got a kick out of reading Christopher Hitchens and I'm sad he's gone. One thing I found really fascinating in reading all the articles and obits printed immediately after his passing was the sheer volume and pace at which he wrote. One obituarian (let's pretend that's a word) said that after she found out he was terminally ill last year, she was so bummed about it for a few days afterward that she didn't really get much work done. Meanwhile, Hitchens himself cranked out something like 8 essays in that time. Apparently he wrote them on the fly, as if he were typing out a lecture he was giving, and rarely edited thereafter. I digress, mostly, from used books (though we occasionally have Hitchens down here) but thinking about a divisive figure like Hitchens dying made me wonder what kind of monument would fit a guy like him. Maybe it would be a nice prefab/modernist writin' shack, or a concave black marble void. Either way it should be, funny, classy, maybe a bit annoying, but definitely a testament to wisdom and work-ethic.

Graves of celebrities can often be tourist destinations, and just last week we aquired a funky book with a cover illustrated by Edward Gorey (an eccentric artist whose monument left to the world was a house-museum left to his cats) entitled Dead Ends: An Irreverent Guide to the Graves of the Famous, which has an alphabetical catalogue of the graves of famous and infamous people. It's definitely irreverent, but morbidly fascinating. And if you're like me, a little weird and still interested in what I'm writing about ... you should check out the most recent issue of The Horn Book, a magazine that writes features about and reviews children's books. Local kid's author Jack Gantos wrote an article (beautifully illustrated by local illustrator José-Luis Olivares) about what he hopes his own mausoleum would look like, and how he imagines a cemetery paying homage to the canon of children's books. Check out a sample of the illustrations here. Maybe this is a lot of what literature is about; how will we be remembered? What mark will we leave? When our lives fade away, all we have to leave behind are our stories and maybe that's what drives people to write them down. Or maybe it's the fat paychecks.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"I Even Dream About Booksmith" - Says Jodie

You guys!

We had no idea you felt this way!
I mean, we kind of did, we had an inkling, you stop in for your books and your sundries every now and then and we get that little glimmer of something in your eye, something that we both know is there, that we don't need to cheapen with unecessary words and phrases. We figured, maybe its for the best, you know? Maybe it's better if this, thing, whatever it is, remains a smile and a flicker. It's nice to feel pretty every now and again, you know?

But these past few days, our relationship has intensified tenfold.

We have added our usual fourth register up front, and have often used it, even during the daylight hours. Business has blossomed; booksellers are sent running around the store, grabbing books and gifts and restocking as if their very lives depended on it. The special orders have grown so numerous that an extra cart hard to be added last night to hold all the titles awaiting their new homes. I don't even know how many times I've restocked plastic bags, and it's still not enough, it's never enough.

Weirdly, despite my usual abhorrence towards labor of any variety, (Dana usually has to hide small candies in my overstock to get me to put anything on the shelves at all) I don't mind the extra work. Okay, the extra register hours are a lot, and every half hour when I look at my suddenly barren and gap-toothed sections my back hurts as I reach for a clipboard to begin a restock. But I must say, I have really been impressed with every one's attitudes this season. Customers and booksellers alike have been, for the most part, what I can only describe as frightfully upbeat. Maybe it's the holiday cheer, maybe its because everybody is cruising around on adrenaline and caffeine and will soon bottom out of their shopping high and probably need a nap and a snack, maybe we're finally pumping in that melatonin gas that I keep writing about in the suggestion box (I mean, that my close friend, Chloe Bookbuyer, keeps...writing about...) but whatever the change or whatever the reason, this Grinch's small heart has grown three times this season.

The best part is when this happens: when a really big line forms at the register, stretching all the way back to planners, all four registers are firing and we are all going as fast as we can to help you check out and be on your way, and a customer will come up to one of us with their purchases and say "You guys are just flying through this line, I can't believe how short that wait was. You're doing an excellent job."

That's happened to me like five or six times now, and I can't even tell you how wonderful it is to hear that. I pride myself on being a fast and efficient check out girl, and having you compliment me on the very thing I strive so desperately to attain is EMBARRASSINGLY satisfying. Maybe even more satisfying than when someone compliments me on anything else, appearance, writing, my totally effortless air of joie de vivre. All of that pails in comparison to the fact that you're impressed I just got you through a 20 person line in under 15 minutes. Excuse me while I go jot this down as a thing to talk about with my therapist later.

The store has taken on a life of its own. Staff is working as a team and a unit like I've only seen during Wolf week on the discovery channel. Every night when we close or I leave I'm certain that we've run out of everything, there's no way we could still have anything left to put on the shelves after all the stuff I just rang up. Customers are predominantly jovial. I have given so many high fives this past week.

Happy Hannukah and Xmas, thank you baby Jesus for being born, sorry about everything pagans, and thank you to my parents for being Santa all the rest of the year. Champagne?

(Image by Bryan Couchman)

Best Christmas Novel Ever

Are you searching the state for the coveted Invention of Hugo Cabret? Unlike other bookstores, we still have it in stock! Give us a call (617-566-6667) or stop on by. Hurry; once they are gone, they're gone.

And now, let me introduce you to the best Christmas book ever.  It's not a picturebook, like many Christmas books are; rather, it is a novel -- great for ages 6 and up.

"The first pageant rehearsal was usually about as much fun as a three-hour ride on the school bus, and just as noisy and crowded. This rehearsal, though, was different. Everybody shut up and settled down right away, for fear of missing something awful that the Herdmans might do."

Recognize this excerpt yet?  It is Barbara Robinson's The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.  A holdiay classic since 1972.

The Herdmans are the bullies of all bullies! So, what are they doing at the first Christmas pageant practice at the local church? (A Christmas pagaent that is always the same play year after year -- same angels, same shepherds, same everything.) And, what will the Herdmans do first? Beat everyone up before the performance, burn the church down, or steal from the offering plate again? Even though this book focuses on the nativity scene (you know, Mary, Joseph, and the newly born Jesus in Bethlehem), it is in no way overly-religious. I'll just say that it was first read to me out loud in second grade at a very public elementary school.  So whether you even think about any "religious" aspects of this holiday or not, this book will help you see the nativity scene in a whole new way.

Not convinced yet?  Read children's literature scholar Anita Silvey's entry in her Children's Book Almanac.  Or, you be the judge and read it for yourself.  (Or, if you can get a hold of the out-of-print audio, it is a great recording as well.)
Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Destination: The Darkest Night of the Year

I have spent the last two Christmases away from family. While I am grateful to be flying home this year, I'm also glad to have experienced a solitary holiday, as so many do every year. Last year I had dinner with a few other "orphans" away from home, but the year before that, it was just me. Just me and a few books.

Because not everyone gets to be with who they'd like to be with over the holidays, I want to recommend a few good winter reads to take you through those dark, cold nights. After all, December 22, the darkest night of the year, is only a few nights away. Winter solstice festivals traditionally fought off the night with bonfires and festivities, and many of us today still light fires, light candles, light up houses and trees to show our holiday cheer. It's the perfect time of year to curl up next to that fire with a good book. For me, the most satisfying reads are those that reflect my surroundings, echo my thoughts, stories that identify what has been a vague and uncomfortable state of being and help me explore and express it—bring it to light.

That's why I'm going to mention a few books you aren't likely to find wrapped up in bright colored paper this year. I've been reading from the Germany shelf in Destination Literature, books that are not exactly filled with holiday cheer. What they do contain is a darkness so deep you'll think the winter night came right out of the page. This isn't a gratuitous or brutal darkness, but rather, a beautiful one. A darkness which, if you look deep and long enough, makes the lights that are around you, and that maybe had grown dim, or that maybe you had stopped seeing altogether, shine just a little brighter.
For anyone anticipating a Blue Christmas, pining for loved ones far away, the new translation of Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther by Stanley Corngold is the perfect tale in which to wallow. Werther's passion poignantly expresses the deepest woes of unrequited love. 
Jenny Erpenbeck's The Visitation is set on one property outside of Berlin. The story is told through the perspectives of various residents who inhabit the property across the decades, painting a fragmented, dark, but rich portrait of German history.
The capricious young narrator of Irmgard Keun's Artificial Silk Girl will keep you company on a lonely night as she attempts to climb the social ladders of the Weimer Republic through a series of love affairs.  In Keun's After Dark the ideals of two young girls come in direct conflict with the reality of a less-than-innocent age, when one night, out a romantic escapade, the girls are stopped by Hitler's motorcade.
I am currently in the middle of the subtle darkness that is Christa Wolf's The Quest for Christa T. Christa T. is a mysterious young woman whose quest for individuality in the midst of the growing uniformity of East Germany is narrated by a friend trying to pick up the pieces after Christa T.'s death. The first image we are given of her character is as a young school girl. Christa T. is in the street, blowing trumpet noises triumphantly through a tube of  rolled up newspaper. That "hooohaahooo" continues to sound throughout the encroaching darkness of the rest of the narrative, a sound that harmonizes nicely in the darkest night with the hark of herald angels, the Yuletide carols being sung by a fire, the silver, the jingling bells.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Pretty Pictures

Not to toot my own horn or nothin' but this week I put up a display of Signet Classic mass markets with cool vintage illustrations on the front, and it looks pretty sweet. Observe:

These covers are so k-rad. Really overlooked, IMHO.

One of my favorite things to come across in the UBC are vintage illustrations. I basically like them as much as fancy paintings or really good writing.

Observe this 1963 children's Spanish wordbook:

Don't you just wanna pet them fuzzy bunnies?

Or check out today's find, a 1961 cookbook:

Come on down and find something funky to give as a gift this holiday. Add to someone's weird collection, or find a seed for a new one. Or grab a copy of a really straight-laced history of math. We have something for everyone!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Really Super Serious Business.

There's a line in the 90's comedy series "Strangers with Candy" that Stephen Colbert delivers to Paul Dinello after heartlessly breaking up with him: "I wasn't pushing you away! I was just pulling me towards myself." With the holidays comes the mass return of your old ghosts to the homestead, possibly along with you. I happen to live in my home town, in the same 3 mile radius of my grade school that I've always lived, because somebody isn't dedicated to academia enough to have gone to school out of state. But I'm not bitter. Okay I'm mildly bitter. I'm like a cheap - wait, affordable - merlot. And I intend to age as such: badly, acidic, a bouquet of failed dreams.

Wait I'm so sorry, what were we talking about, I forgot not everything is about me there for a moment and it was terrifying but I guess I can soldier on.

Some of these old faces are benevolent, some not so much. I am going to have at least two house guests in January alone, and there will be a few other friends that will only be in town for a few days, adamant that I need to see them. Some of them are mad at me for really old reasons. Some of them think I'm a flake, some of them think I stole their thunder/boyfriend/Gameboy Advance, some of them think I'm the best, some of them I've held, drunk, weeping, in a basement bathroom at a party because...okay yeah I don't remember why. Basement party, you know. That's where all the really depraved business happens.

But, ghosts, even if you're not happy to see me, I'm happy to see you. Well, most of you. You, not so much, guy I sat next to in Chem class junior year. Yeah, I see you, eyeing me from the check out line at CVS. Yeah, I did get hot. I know. Thank you for noticing, I'll see you in hell.

 If we can't all come together and shut our g-d mouths at Christmukkah, than when can we? Isn't that what the holidays are all about? Realizing that everyone you know is terrible but loving them for some of the funny things they do that aren't so terrible. January is going to be a great month, and not only because my birthday is going to be in it, but because I get to see all my stupid friends from a thousand years ago that I've screwed over like a thousand times by ignoring them to hang out with whomever I was making out with at the time. Ah, Christmas! Fa la la la la, la la la la! And then the best part is, a few days afterward, I get to start over a whole new leaf at 2012 and make believe that I am capable of keeping new years resolutions, which is just a ridiculous prospect. But nevermind!

Oh, ps. I started the audio book for "The Night Circus", but it's too early to tell what I think about it except that do you think 2012 is going to be the year I get Jim Dale to narrate my whole life? Gosh, I hope so. I'm so tired of doing my own voice. Ugh, can somebody carry me to the register for my shift now please? UGH WHY.

In summation: Jamie loves hugs. Jamie loves you. (from "My Fold Out: I Love You")

N.B. Jamie would have it known that she is "doing a Say Anything thing, okay? Not everyone will get that."
Thank you, Jamie.

Happy Holidays, Brookline. Keep your chin up.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Destination: From Atlantic to Pacific

Traffic terrific or terrible, many of us will be hitting the highways this holiday season, driving home. In doing so we will be joining not just a holiday tradition, but a literary one. Browsing the U.S. shelf of Destination Literature the other day, I noticed that a good part of our national literature takes place, well, On the Road.
The beats weren't the only writers roaming the country. John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley, although recently under criticism for being only partially based on actual events, still stands as a classic exploration of the question "What are American's like today?" Steinbeck's "today" is the year 1960, and the answers he finds as he explores America with his faithful French standard poodle Charley, are not always what you expect.
In 1978, William Least Heat-Moon traveled what he calls the Blue Highways, the lesser-known back roads that crisscross the states, outlined in blue in the old Rand Mcnally guides. Disillusioned with a failed marriage and teaching career, he finds solace in his explorations of the landscapes and small-town culture of the U.S.

Several decades later, Bill Bryson accomplished a similar journey in his The Lost Continent. Avoiding the typical tourist attractions of U.S. travel, Bryson sets out to explore everyday life in lesser known destinations.

Traveling South? Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald made the trip from Connecticut to Alabama in eight days, riding in what Fitzgerald calls the Rolling Junk. The car breaks down several times along the way, but the young couple keep their spirits high. Zelda woke up one morning, homesick for biscuits and peaches. They packed their bags and hit the road. The Cruise of the Rolling Junk was first published serially in Motor magazine but was just published as a book with a foreword by Paul Theroux. Theroux himself has carried the American penchant for documenting road trips into the twenty-first century, proving that cross-country travel continues to be the seed of great American storytelling.

Even those across the pond are joining the tradition. In his recently released Driving Home, Jonathan Raban discovers that, like many of us, his favorite road is the one that takes him home. And mothers driving with a back seat full this season, might find solidarity in Wendy Swart Grossman's Behind the Wheel, a journal of a mother who moved her family from a spacious house in London into a Winnebago, that took them across North America.

If you're planning to spend more time in transit than around the holiday table this season, you aren't alone. All of these books make great traveling companions, perused at rest stops or read out loud from the passenger seat.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Nifty Gifties

We got some holidays coming up, folks! People are really into giving new books as gifts, but what about rare, out-of-print vintage cool things? Below I'm highlighting some of the most special things of all you won't find anywhere else in the WORLD but the Used Book Cellar. These are rad things you should totally give to those people on your list that have everything. 'Cuz they won't have these:

For the budding grand sommelier, an epic-huge hardcover book "Wines of the World" with full-color photographs, endpapers and a SLIPCASE. Nothin' says class like a slipcase. The book is huge and well-bound so it lies flat. It has a bit of the history of wine, and talks about some ideas for ones to look out for, but as this was printed in 1967, the bread and butter of this book (or cheese and crackers?) is the exhaustive guide to regions, and what kinds of wine come from where, what they taste like, why they taste the way they do. A really fascinating, beautiful book. $20 smackers.

For the funny-man, kooky-lady, anglophile or philosophy major who needs a laugh over the winter break, if I were you I would SERIOUSLY consider The Brand New Monty Python Bok [sic]. This book is rated NC-17 guys, but really there's something for everyone (over 17) here. In standard Python fashion nothing is sacred, all things are satirized and there are lots of pictures. Crude humor. Making fun of monarchs. Sex advice. Rat recipes. Fairy tales. Etiquette tips. Rene Descarte detective stories. Basically, you and anyone worth knowing deserves this book. All this can be yours for just $15 bucks. This is a HUGE savings off of the (fake) list price of £142.48½
For the history buff grampa who's always saying you wouldn't have a chance in a fight against Winston Churchill (I'm in therapy now, guys, don't worry) I present to you The New Yorker War Album. This book was printed in 1942 and is full of New Yorker cartoons lampooning the 1st and 2nd World Wars. Full of subtle humor and slices-of-life from the years of the Great War, this would make a rare, cool gift. $14

The UBC is mad-rich in fancy art books. Big ones, small ones, expensive ones, inexpensive ones. Rare, awesome, etc. We're all over the board! Art is the way to go to impress the cultured ones in your life, and why break the bank to impress someone? Everyone is impressed by the guy or gal who can get a $75 art book for $13. Which is possible here.

So show us the goods, you might be saying? Here is but a SAMPLING dear readers:

I'm obsessed with Penguin book covers, and look at this thing we got in that I DID NOT EVEN KNOW EXISTED: A whole MONOGRAPH of the full paintings used on Penguin covers. Some beautiful, strange stuff in here. Color and black and white. A cool old saddle-stitched book of paintings by Ben Shahn. In 1949 it went for three shillings and sixpence at modern art museums EXCLUSIVELY. But YOU can have it for $5.

For $20 we have a monograph of Anish Kapoor (the shiny Chicago bean guy) that is both physically a beautiful book (shiny endpapers! handwritten notes sewn into the center of the binding!) as well as a fascinating exploration into a VERY contemporary sculptor's process, inspirations and oeuvre.

And for $8 (this is a crazy deal) we have this really large trim-size (I'm talking 15" x 11") book of 16 color plates of French Primitives, beautiful paintings of French medieval life and interest beautifully reproduced (sometimes with metallic ink!). The pages are loose, making each leaf ready for framing!

Thanks for reading! If you have any books you want to turn into cash or store credit, we're here Wednesdays through Saturdays, 10 AM-4PM.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Notes on the Eve of a Terribly Stressful Biology Final (or) Uh-oh, Adios Sanity

Oh, good evening, friends. And how does this evening find you? Well, I hope? You look well, I must say; it would appear that Paris does agree with you. My, look at your pallor, ruddy as anything! Most excellent. Well but then I suppose, the city of lights would bring a twinkle to one’s eye, it is in the name after all. How are we on time? Oh wonderful, just enough to have a drink. What quaint, unique little outdoor café shall we frequent today? Oh how about this one, with the green lattice on the windows, look how lovely it is.

Isn't the weather fine here? A bit wet, this time of year, but I don't mind, I quite enjoy the time spent inside. It does give one so much more opportunity to focus on one's leisure, don't you think? Do you draw? I absolutely love it, although my husband can't stand the charcoal. It does make an awful mess, but it's all so satisfying to get dirty once in a while, don't you find? Oh my, but here's the waiter, yes, I believe I'll have a brandy, thank you ever so. Are you hungry? Yes, and bring along some sandwiches, won't you, there's a chap.

My, life has been so much more relaxing since I succeeded from the reality of my Allston-based existence into this Hemingway-fueled fantasy world in which get to walk around wealthy European towns and drink expensive alcohol. Perhaps I'll call in to work later to tell them I couldn't possibly do a thing, not today, not with the weather the way it is, so perfect for a stroll down the pier or a horse-drawn taxi ride around the park. Besides my hands are only just beginning to heal from their arthritic state - all that paper writing and page turning, you understand. Wreaked havoc on my joints, I'll tell you that much! No, no, now I just hang around in my boudoir until a strange Count brings me champagne and forces me to have an expensive dinner with him in return for nothing but the pleasure of my exquisite, youthful company. Or one of my unique-yet-familiar-in-their-wealth friends (or enemies, rather hard to tell) pops round and we get drunk and talk about something terribly masculine like boxing, or women and how complicated they are.

No, of course not all Hemingway stories are like this, but I've just read 'The Sun Also Rises', and in doing so decided that I wanted my life to be one long evening, as well, so I constructed this terribly delightful personal universe in which I am the lady of leisure I've always dreamed of being. A lady who lunches, even! Can you imagine? All of my wide brimmed hats, expensive sunglasses, and bangles? Not that Hemingway would say a word about those, of course not; 4 or 5 sentences about what a taxi cab was passing as it drives into the garage but not a stitch on the splendor of my professionally done fingernails. Never mind. I am excited, I do suspect that as we get deeper and deeper into this collection I shall swiftly retire to the country, perhaps do some game hunting. Oh my I will need a gun, won't I? I imagine there will be some villas, some remote locations. More girls. More guns. I'm so very excited. Oh look! The brandy is here, wonderful, wonderful. A toast, why not? A toast!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

To the Cinema

Few books are better than the movies and only a select others truly measure up to the book.  The Invention of Hugo Cabret definitely fits within the category.

When I first heard Hugo was going to be a movie, I was a bit disappointed.  If you've seen this book, you know that its charm lies within the design.  Part written novel, part wordless picturebook, author and illustrator Brian Selznick shows you what is happening.  The book opens as the moon moves across the Paris night sky, and narrows down to the train station where we follow a boy who lives inside of the station walls.  Text is added when illustration would not be the most effective story telling or if dialogue is needed.  Really, it is one book of its time, rising a great debate of why it won the Caldecott.  Hugo is great for readers 8 and up, or any avid reader of children's books.

I won't give away the differences between the book and the movie, but there are very few.  The mystery and discovery of cinema remains a prominent theme in the movie.  The characters looked and acted the part -- especially Isabelle.

I still advocate to read the book before the movie, but this movie adaptation is well worth it -- especially in 3-d (where the special effects are not overused, but still draw you into the story of young Hugo).

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Destination: Close Your Eyes and Point

Bookstores contain worlds within them, offering readers stories beyond the borders of their experience. The new collection of maps at Booksmith, on display in our events' space downstairs, is, well, "mapping" this natural relationship between a reader and the world.

As I stood in Booksmith's basement, contemplating the impressive 73"x48" National Geographic Executive Wall Map, tracing the contours of countries on the Michelin World Map, admiring the continental color scheme of the World Tyvek Wall Map, I was remembering another map, one that hung in the basement of my childhood home, in what my family called "the ham radio room." Here my dad disappeared for hours on end to pursue his hobby as a ham radio operator, talking to distant countries in a mysterious Morse code that often interrupted our television’s reception, blurring the faces of a sitcom into a rhythm of snowfields and static.

I saw the world for the first time in that room, on the large map that hung on the wall. The multicolored countries, pale pink, mint, and lemon, were pock marked with pin holes, but only two pins remained in my earliest memory, and soon even these were plucked from the map. Their tiny navy blue and red heads indicated, I told my friends proudly whenever they asked to see my father’s mysterious cave, the only two countries in the world my dad had not yet contacted. I recalled this boast recently, when, upon showing a friend my personal library, I replied to a question by saying, with the same satisfaction, that there were only two or three books on the shelves that I had not read.
As I perused the maps in the basement of Booksmith, I wondered about the influence this early knowledge of a wider world had on my sisters and I. Each of us take whatever opportunity we can to see new parts of the world, studying and teaching abroad, or traveling for adventure whenever our budgets allow. A good map can take you to places you never dreamed of going, simply by planting a certain image, an awareness of a whole yet to be seen, a sense that your knowledge of the world is as yet fragmented, incomplete, perhaps even—I thought as I contemplated Booksmith's "Who Said 'North' was 'Up?'" map—upside-down.
 "The life of an individual is in many respects like a child's dissected map," wrote Oliver Wendell Holmes, "Many of these pieces seem fragmentary, but...If I could look back on the whole, as we look at the child's map when it is put together, I feel that I should have my whole life intelligently laid out before me."

This passage is situated as an epigraph to Graham Greene's Journey Without Maps, a travelogue of his journey to the uncharted African coast of Liberia. Greene begins his tale at the consulate, getting his passport stamped for the journey into a plagued and violent land. On the wall he finds "the usual blank map...a few towns along the coast, a few villages along the border."

A few pages later he describes his motivation for his journey as inspired by a particular shape he saw on that map."I thought for some reason even then of Africa, not a particular place, but a shape, a strangeness, a wanting to know. The unconscious mind is often sentimental; I have written 'a shape', and the shape, of course, is roughly that of the human heart."

Greene's journey without a map is only one of many books on the shelves of Destination Literature that speak to the importance of cartography to the way we imagine and perceive the world. Ken Jenning's recently released Maphead is a memoir told through its author's obsession with maps. Andrea Ponsi's delicately illustrated Florence: A Map of Perceptions, takes the reader on a visual tour of Florence's architecture. In the art section you can find Katharine Harmon's gorgeous Map as Art. But it isn't difficult to see how maps operate as art, as mediums through which to conceive of the world anew, inspiring us into new spaces. Simply go to the basement wall, close your eyes, and point.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Some quick cheese.

Try poems.

Dirty little bricks-
so many finger shakers
fertile pace makers.

Turn to the tip
of some forgotten truth-

a sour toothed balm.
Palm again the exhale in the

train's breaks
with line breaks

take another take.
Give someone a scream and a sigh.

unhinge the hamper,
filth up the quaint-

make it shine
a brake-less car on the highway
of your heart.


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Friday, December 2, 2011

In Of Mice and Men, one of the main characters, Lenny, famously has a fondness for "soft things." And whom among us isn't tactile, perhaps not to the intense degree of Lenny himself, but there is something about the feel of tiny, hoppy bunnies--or particularly well-made books--that makes them that much more satisfying to enjoy.

Maybe the most obvious texture that a lot of favorite books have is the deckled edge, the byproduct of an old way of papermaking that leaves the edges of a paper artfully rough (observe photo left). Nowadays, only artisans make paper this way, so when you get a book with these edges it's usually faked by a machine to make the book look real legit. But it does have a certain fancy feel to it, even if it makes it difficult to flip through the pages. Sometimes a book is given a fancy texture in another way. Varnishes, like metallic foil or spot gloss are pressed onto a cover to give the color of the jacket more POP and the result is also a tactile delight. The embossing on some covers, too, gives a subtle look to the jacket but also makes it really pleasant to hold, and also therefore more difficult to put down.

Recent books that employ this technique really well are the Penguin Threads series designed by magically amazing artist Jillian Tamaki. For three recent reprintings of Black Beauty, Emma and The Secret Garden, Tamaki HAND-EMBROIDERED jacket illustrations, and when the books were printed, the texture of the threads was embossed on the cover, making them stunning art objects that are compulsively touchable. Rachel Sumpter is designing the next three covers for Wind in the Willows, Wizard of Oz and Little Women. They are STUNNING.

Of course, sometimes texture and touch are employed in the design of a book in a way that is integral to the text. Firmin by Sam Savage (a recent acquisition in the UBC) is the story of a rat born in a 1960s Boston bookstore (not us!) who devours literature both literally and figuratively. The book is die cut with a huge bite-mark taken out of the right side, all the way through the book. It's a playful way of introducing a central element of the story into the design, and makes it a really fun book to pick up and inspect. It's sort of a grown-up version of classic touch-and-feel books like Pat the Bunny, where images, text and texture combine to help young toddlers in the tactile phase with language acquisition. This phenomenon is timeless, and since the publication of Pat the Bunny in 1940 there have been a plethora of additions to this category of books. A more recent one that I'm particularly fond of is Betsy Snyder's Have You Ever Tickled a Tiger which employs some really creative materials to imitate turtle skin and walrus whiskers in particular.

This completes my little blog-series on senses by-the-book. Thanks for reading! As always, come check us out in the Used Book Cellar! And remember we can even give you money for your already-felt books. Stay in the black this year and exchange your books for store credit, then take care of all your holiday shopping under our roof. We buy Wednesdays through Saturdays from 10 AM to 4PM.