Friday, March 30, 2012

Imagin-eer it!

So I don't know if you know this yet, but ETGAR KERET is coming to the Booksmith. There are only three acceptable responses to this information:

1) DUH, It's on my calendar!
2) OMG where do I sign up?
3) Who's Etgar Keret?

I shall respond thusly:

2) Just show up at the store by 7PM April 28 and enjoy the sagacity and laughter for FREE.
3) This is acceptable only because it will soon be REVERSED.

Etgar Keret. Brilliantly funny, completely singular imaginative and perceptive Israeli writer of hilarious short stories. He's got a few books out already that come and go from the UBC, and his newest just arrived upstairs and I've already taken it home and cracked it open. Suddenly a Knock on the Door is chock full of quick and dirty short stories that will make you wonder, laugh and punch you in the sternum with their potent wisdom. But without being pretentious. They're so magic. Keret is magical.

My favorite story so far is the second in the collection, "Lieland," in which all the lies everyone tells actually happen in a parallel world. Such a mindbender, and so "I've had that thought! Why hasn't someone written this already?" Even if they had, Keret does it the BEST. So GOOOOOD. Come to the reading. It's free.You'll laugh. What more interesting thing could you do?

But, reading "Lieland" had me thinking. Mostly about people's imaginations, and telling stories about our most basic thoughts. What are the effects of lies? The little stories we tell all the time? What happens when we die? And how exciting it is to read a book written by a gifted author who explores these thoughts. Like in Gabrielle Zevin's YA Elsewhere which starts of so cool and atmospheric following a girl on a boat on her way to the underworld. Or Kevin Brockheimer's Brief History of the Dead which starts off with meeting characters who have come to an untimely end, including one girl whose only memory of her death is simply that she "began to snow." so chilling.

We just got Zevin's book in used, come pick it up. And we also just got in a book called Amberville, by Tim Davys in which a teddy bear is a noir detective. All the noir tropes are there, but the protagonist is a teddy bear, and his wife is a stuffed rabbit. It's like the author was looking at his toys from childhood and imagining what they did when he left for his day job, and boom, author's imagination takes flight. Great story. Fun had by all. Stop by the UBC and escape into these wacky novels! And come see Etgar Keret!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

I Shot the Serif

Dear readers, you may not know this, but I wasn't always a gift/book seller.

Nay, many moons ago I was but a student, earning my BFA in Digital Media. When I tell people this, I usually get a look that's a combination of interest and confusion: "Oh, that's interesting! So... what is that, exactly?" Basically, I learned a little bit of everything artsy that you can do with computers. Photoshop, of course, and graphic design; but also a bit of animation (2D with Flash, and 3D with Autodesk Maya), print design, virtual reality design, web design and HTML/CSS, and interactive interfaces of various natures. I am now what you may call a geek-of-all-trades.
I also learned how to draw adorable robots.

As a requirement for my major, I had to take three courses of typography. That meant that not only did I have to learn how to animate a convincing walk cycle, but also the nuances of various typefaces. When I heard of this, my response was both dread and incredulity. Three semesters to learn how to make pretty letters? Who even cares about that stuff?

But, over the course of Typography I, II and III, my relationship with type changed from loathing it with all my being to sorta kinda loving it in spite of myself. It's the sort of thing you don't think about until you're forced to. Typography is all around us--in our books, yes; but also our posters, signs, web sites, TV advertisements, iPhones, journal covers... everywhere! And most of us are blissfully unaware of its presence in our lives.

Thinking with Type was required reading for my typography classes, and I keep coming back to it no matter what type-oriented situation in which I may find myself. It was this book that made me start seeing the printed word as a living, breathing being. It has personality (bold or soft, elegant or funky), and fonts even have families like we do.  Letters have arms, spines, shoulders, and ears, as do human beings

Albeit, their body parts look a little different from ours.

The history of typography is equally dynamic, and the origin of many fonts can be (at least, to me) fascinating. Take Comic Sans for example--the font of choice for all pre-teen girls and family-friendly event posters. This highly-ridiculed font was never really supposed to exist. It was designed by an programmer who wanted a particular Microsoft software program (MS Bob, which failed spectacularly) to seem more approachable to younger audiences. The font didn't make it into this ill-fated program, but it was dug up by later programmers and now holds a sacred place in the palace of of every personal computer's Default Fonts folder.

Consider, also, Helvetica: the anti-font. Helvetica (which can be found most famously in the NYC public transit system) is a typefaces so ubiquitous that it is almost invisible. How did this rather plain and unimpressive typeface become the default font for practically everything? Simon Garfield's fairly recent book Just My Type explains this and many other facts and stories about typography that most people just don't know, but in reality are actually pretty cool.

But Mr. Garfield is not the first person to write about our friend the printed word. Designers and typographic theorists (yeah, they exist) have been thinking about typography for decades--nay, centuries, since Gutenberg invented the printing press. In 1955, Beatrice Warde asserted in her famous essay "The Crystal Goblet, or Printing Should Be Invisible" that all typographers should aspire to create their own Helvetica. Print should not be loud or call attention to itself; instead, it should be as a clear crystal goblet, only displaying the message of the words.

Warde's words are considered sacred by many traditional typographers. But in the present day, typography has taken on a different role in our society. Gone are the days when typography was as simple as creating an elegant layout for a book. In this day and age of pop-ups and tweets and instant everything, type has to catch people's eye, else it be ignored.

Take Quotable Cards, for instance. The cards made by this company (and its magnets and mugs) are hugely popular here at Booksmith. But there are no pictures, no pretty artwork here; what makes these products so popular is simply the typography. Yes, the quotations are important, but no one would buy a magnet or mug with Ghandi's "Be the Change" quotation set in 12-point Times New Roman. It's the designer's choice in typography that really make these images great. Not only the typeface itself, but the color, layout, kerning (space in between the letters), leading (space between lines of type), and a multitude of other factors that make up just a few words on a square white or black background. This typography is not invisible, it is loud and proud. Instead of just displaying the words on the page, it is enhancing them: it is the ornate throne for the king, the flashy case for your iPod, the cute print on your purse. In a world where image is everything, Quotable Cards has gotten the hint and caught up with the times.

Many designers of greeting cards and book covers have gotten the hint, too. Notice how many book covers out there are composed of simply typographic imagery. Take this Zadie Smith book cover: there are no images to hint at the subject of the book, but the typography (clean, thin, uniform lines, no serifs but swirls extending from the letters) can already give you a hint of its theme and mood. I, personally, have never read this book and don't know anything about it. But something about the typography makes me want to do so, even without a picture to entice me.

The next time you're in Booksmith, or anywhere at all, take a look at the words around you. How does typography impact how you see things? If something was set in a different font, would the meaning itself change? When you start actually seeing the printed word as its own living art form, your perception of the words they convey might just change.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Time to Plan Your Summer Destination

Spring has sprung early this year. Last week the uncannily warm weather had many of us out and about, working off that bit of fat that accumlated during months of hibernation, exposing our pale skin to the sun's rays, stretching unused limbs, planting our gardens, and booking tickets. Summer is well on its way, which means it is time to start making your travel plans.

We've been expanding our travel section, anticipating your every destination. With the help and expertise of the delightful Pat and Harriet Carrier of Globe Corner Books, we're working to make our selection of guide books, maps, and travel literature the best in the region. Our rolled wall maps are now conveniently displayed in a map browser, and you can find folded maps for almost every place you could dream up. Whether you plan to hike the White Mountains or soak in the sun in Costa Rica, make Booksmith the first place you travel.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Hot or Not?

Enjoying our early summer? I sure am. Here are some ice paintings by artist Masashi Harada from a rare book we got in the UBC this week. Enjoy! The book is hardcover, bilinugal Japanese/English and $30.

Now go outside and curl up under a tree with a book and some wily Boston Common squirrels.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Sigh No More, Ladies

One of the most enjoyable parts of working the card and gift area of this here Brookline Booksmith is opening up all the boxes of new merchandise we carry in the store. Sure, it is coupled with the time-consuming and sometimes tedious task of putting the little price stickers on each item--but it's also sort of like Christmas every time we get something especially cool. And just two days ago, ladies and gentlemen, we got some especially awesome new merchandise.

We warmly welcome the fabulous bath and beauty products from fantastic company Blithe and Bonny. These hand-crafted and amazingly scented products include goat's milk soap bars, bath salts, dish soaps, bubble bath, candles, body lotions, soaps shaped like bees, soaps shaped like roses... and they all smell AMAZING. With fragrances like Jasmine, Rose, Honey Almond, Lavender, Eucalyptus Mint (!) and more, there's pretty much something for everyone. Also, dish towels.

I'm one of those wimpy people who is sensitive to strong fragrances, but these lovely bath and beauty products, while still quite pleasant, are not overly strong; even after several hours handling boxes of soaps and candles, I hadn't sneezed once. Instead I 'm pretty sure my brain became encased in happy smells that may have made me a bit more giddy at the whole situation than is considered normal...

On top of the glorious scents, Blithe and Bonny uses awesomely innovative, eco-friendly packaging. Dish soaps and bubble baths are packaged in repurposed wine bottles; the dish towels are wrapped in what appears to be cardboard tubes from paper products. And if you hadn't noticed already, each label is made from the page of an old book. How perfect is that?

While admiring all this awesome merchandise, I inspected one of the designs of the lovely flour sack dish towels we carry: a mermaid with a poem from Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing." It reads as follows:

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh nor more;
    Men were deceivers ever;
One foot in sea and one on shore,
    To one thing constant never;
        Then sigh not so,
        But let them go,
    And be you blithe and bonny;
Converting all your sounds of woe
    Into. Hey nonny, nonny.
In the play, the poem goes on:

Sing no more ditties, sing no mo,
    Or dumps so dull and heavy;
The fraud of men was ever so,
    Since summer first was leavy.
        Then sigh not so,
        But let them go,
    And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
    Into. Hey, nonny, nonny.

Now, if you've ever seen this particular Shakespeare play, you know that the plot involves some sullen jerk who decides to mess with everybody's happiness by tricking the lovestruck Claudio into believing his fiancee has been unfaithful. The trick works, and the enraged Claudio abandons the heartbroken (and confused) Hero on the alter, accusing her of lechery. Now, when you consider the plot in relation to this little poem here, something doesn't quite make sense. Basically, the song (as song by some unimportant page at a garden party or something) basically says this: Men are unfaithful jerks, but there's nothing you can do about it, so stop complaining and accept it--replace those sad songs with "hey, nonny nonny" (Shakespeare-tongue for "what the heck").

Wait a second. So men can go around and do whatever they want and women are supposed to just deal? A bit of a double standard, considering what poor Hero went through just because her fiancee suspected that she wasn't being true (without giving her a chance to defend herself, of course). Unfortunately, this is something to which ladies today can still relate. Christina Aguilera has a song that basically says the same thing, although a little less eloquently than old Will Shakespeare. While great strides have, indeed, been made towards women's equality, this is one area that seems all too unchanged since Much Ado About Nothing premiered back in circa 1598. Not to say that this isn't an awesome play (I enjoy it thoroughly), but it is something that does make us ladies sigh.

So, I propose an alternative translation to Shakespeare's poem: Men can be jerks (and should be held accountable when they are), so instead of just accepting it and/or sitting in your room singing "Unbreak My Heart," screw 'em; brush it off and take a nice bubble bath, accompanied by some amazing Blithe and Bonny bath products. Hopefully now, you'll be sighing not in frustration but in sweet, fragrant relaxation.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Destination: Where???

You may have notice the books on our shelves traveling over the past week. We have been making some exciting changes, all to benefit our browsers. If you can't find your favorite section, we'll be happy to show you its new home.

Destination Literature has found a new--well, destination--and is now integrated with our travel guides in aisle two. We'll be bringing our wall maps upstairs and keeping everything you need to plan your next trip in one place, so the only traveling you do is the travel you planned. Think of it as a one stop shop.

So, if you're looking for a guide to Venice, you can find Rick Steve's Venice 2012 next to Joseph Brodsky's meditations on the city in his elegant travelogue Watermark.

If you're traveling to Australia we have Fodor's Australia in full color sharing a shelf with Bill Bryson's classic In a Sunburned Country and Gail Jones' new novel Five Bells.

Going to London? You can pick up Emerson's English Traits, Craig Taylor's new Londoners, and Fodor's 25 Best London, and a Streetwise London map all in one trip!

We love to hear where you're going and to help you find the books that will guide you there. Last weekend a customer traveling to Thailand to visit her grandchildren stopped by to pick up a Thai phrasebook. "I'm going to visit friends in Nebraska before Thailand," she told me, wondering what could prepare her for the open skies and home-baked culture of the Midwest. She left the store well prepared for foreign lands, with Lonely Planet's Thai Phrasebook and Willa Cather's My Antonia tucked under arm. Let us know your travel plans and we'll help you find the literature--both practical and imaginative--you need to prepare for your next trip.

Happy Travels!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Good Question

Trying to figure out something to say about this book, I scrolled through the customer reviews on Website-That-Will-Not-Be-Named, and I was surprised to find the biggest complaint people had about the memoir was it's disjointed, nebulous nature. A few people who gave the book only one or two stars said they enjoyed Didion's other work, but felt perhaps she was too close to the reality of this story to really tell it correctly and succinctly.
For those of you that don't know, Joan Didion's newest book, Blue Nights, is the disjointed, nebulous autobiographical narrative about her daughter, Quintana Roo, who died unexpectedly at the age of 39. The book is at once easy to read and extraordinarily difficult; for me, reading Didion's prose is not so much reading as it is listening to a cool voice speak inside my head. I see her thoughts so clearly, through whatever magic it is she wields; maybe we are just cosmic brethren, I'm not sure, but I am certainly stricken by it. However, it is this same cool voice that can also reach inside your heart and crush the dust out of it. In talking about the memories and death of her daughter (and husband, for that matter), one can visualize with crystalline detail her pain and confusion, her resolution in being the last remaining member of her family.

So what I would have to ask those people on WTWNBN, is, how else does one tell a story about that? What memories can you consult that will not lead you down a meandering path of recollection? I know it is an author's job to wrangle time and space into a consumable a form, but how can you when the nature of your despair is almost unnameable? Didion peppers her book with details; specific names of flowers, playmates, luxurious vacation spots and the layout of each house stayed in. These names and experiences jump around in time; Quintana is occasionally in her 20's, but it's not long before she is wearing a plaid school girl jumper and disappearing down a hill on her own. 

Memory is not stored in sequence. Could Didion have written this book any other way, and should she have? This book might not be about the shared experience of losing the person of Quintana Roo, but about Didion's experience of losing her daughter, and the process by which she continues to exist on earth without being crippled by woe. Didion discusses her own frailty, her owning aging as well, citing several doctors she visits and ailments she collects after she turns 75. This is also a story about her, about entropy. I suppose what my real question is, how do you detail a life, and then how do you detail the experience of mourning that life?

I don't know. It's a good question.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Sole Collector

Used bookshops are the coolest places on the planet. Where else can you find:
  • $20 in a Dean Koontz book
  • Photos of dog psychologists inside books
  • A past-edition of Perfume by Patrick Süskind that doesn't have a chick-lit cover
  • The lone, rare copy of Cubisme to complete your Les Maitres set of French art books?
Only in used book shops! Where people bring their rare, cool, out-of-print books and we sell them to you dirt cheap.

It's a cool place to start up collections, too, of things you didn't know you needed. I personally am a Penguin fangirl, and this job keeps me stocked in all kinds of great volumes. I like the old ones with the orange and white horizontal belts, but maybe you should start up a collection of the Penguin Modern Classics mass markets  printed in the 60s in the UK. Observe yesterday's acquisition:
 And we usually get a couple every other week or so. Steady supply for a collector's demand.

Or how about the rough and edgy illustrated Vintage mass markets designed by Edward Gorey? There are a ton and even a few imitators, this would be a great collection to start up, and would really impress both friends and professors when you host brunches in your spare Allston digs.
Or how about another personal favorite of mine, that we seem to get in pretty regularly: 1960s-ish Signet Classic mass markets, with the coolest illustrated covers on the planet:

Any of these individual volumes will run you $2.50-4 a pop, not a bad amount to drop every once in a while, and definitely worth it to feed the thrill of the hunt!
We even have things to satisfy the collector who likes to collect in huge swaths. Just yesterday we acquired 10 volumes of the tiny 1950 French art books Les Maitres, as well as a cool non-fiction series of middle school social studies books printed in the 70s.

Stop on in and see what collection awaits you!

How to Have a Rockin' Dinner Party

If you're reading this blog, it most likely means that you are some sort of musical and/or culinary wizard who holds the stout belief in infusing everything around you with the power of ROCK. Sure, you can paper your walls with posters and make intricately cut city silihouette clocks out of your old records...but you know what's way cooler? Cooking with guitars. Yeah, that's right. Think it's impossible? THINK AGAIN.

 BAM. That's right, we have not one, but three types of guitar-shaped spatulas for you to use for your various culinary endeavors. For pancakes, omelettes, or musical-themed cookies, use the Flipper; whip up batter for the most metal of cakes with the Guitar Baking Spatula. Each of these food-safe silicone spatulas come in three rockin' colors: Cool Blue, Hellfire Red and Blacker than the Blackest Black Times Inifinity. Then we have the BBQ Guitar Spatula, which you can use over the fiery pits of your grill to make the most metal of steaks, hot dogs, and veggie-burgers.

While your bandmates and other rockstar buddies are waiting for you to compose your epic meal, serve them their favorite beverages with some rockin' ice cubes, shaped like guitars and music notes. Got your goth-rock friends over too? Keep their drinks dead-cold with Bone Chillers ice cubes. Or maybe you're more of a hip-hop type of person? Try some ice-cold boombox cubes for your drink. Don't forget to use your record coasters; everyone knows water stains are simply not metal.

While cooking with the power of rock, make sure you can take the heat; use these silicone record pot-holders to protect your hands from hot pots and pans. And don't think the seemingly dull task of mixing can stop the rock: no, with these Mix Stix, you can keep practicing your sweet drum solo when you're not using them for that sweet meal you're making. Making a pizza? Shred that cheese with The Shredder cheese grater, and slice it up in style with the Fresh Slice record player pizza-cutter.

Now on to dinnertime! Serve your deliciously musical meal on these record-shaped placemats; when you're not eating off them, use them to practice your DJ skills! I'm sure that you probably already have plenty of ornate knives and other brutal utensils to cut into that juicy steak (I've substituted our kids' Constructive Eating cutlery; but if you went the route of Vegan Black Metal Chef and made some metal Pad Thai, consider using a pair of Beat It! drum/chopsticks for your rockin' meal.

By now, you're probably wondering if this is all the rock-themed items we offer for your most musical of dinner parties. The answer: Never! After dinner, even the task of washing the dishes can rock when you wear the Tuff Dish dishwashing gloves, which keep your hands dry and your black nailpolish unchipped, while still making you look like a badass. Your bandmates can keep busy by playing a game of cards with the Mixed Deck retro playing card deck, while sipping some coffee (black, of course) from this brutal Fisticup brass-knuckles mug. If you or your friends brought their rockstar-in-the-making kids, keep them busy with this adorable little drum. It'll amuse them for hours AND keep them in practice for their next gig.

 If anyone had ever doubted what a culinary rockstar you are, they will doubt no longer; for you are clearly the Rockin' King or Queen of the Kitchen.
Maybe not as intense as this guy, but still.
All of our music-themed kitchenwares and other goodies can be found the Card and Gift Room's kitchenwares section, or with the gift items in Aisle 4 near our cookbooks. Come and get 'em!

Edit: Speaking of culinary genius, our event with Ree Drummond  (of Pioneer Woman fame) was a smashing success! Even after a signing line lasting nearly 3 hours, she was still awesome enough to sign quite a few of her cookbook Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food from My Frontier for our store. If you missed out on meeting Ms. Drummond, come on by for a signed copy before they're all gone!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Destination: Paradise

I recently received a gift in the mail, a slim volume about the size of an envelope, with a red cloth cover. In plain white letters across the top it read: The Portable Paradise, and, below the title, was a quote from E.M. Forester's A Room with a View" "'Tut, tut, Miss Lucy! I hope we shall soon emancipate you from Baedeker.'"

The author, Jonathan Keates, introduces himself in the beginning pages as a collector of old travel guidebooks. The guidebook, Keates claims, is as valid a genre of literature as Fiction, Poetry, or the Essay. Through an old Baedeker, one might read the world. In the anonymous voices of the guides, as they observe local customs, advise you where to stay, and even in their silence about particular topics, the contemporary reader is offered a vivid glimpse of the history, culture, literature, and mannerisms of the time period in which the guidebook was written.

Delighted as I was by this concept, I was even more thrilled to find, in a recent arrival to the shelves of Destination Literature, an even more comprehensive history of travel--or, if Keates' theory is right--a history of the world through travel.

In Peter Whitfield's Travel: A Literary History is one of the first full surveys of travel literature through history, roving from Marco Polo to Henry James. Beginning with the pre-history of the genre and moving through the Age of Discovery to the Grand Tours of the eighteenth century and the taming of America's wilds in the nineteenth century, Whitfield takes us all the way up to the boom of travel writing over the last century, comparing the works of Forester, Durrell, Waugh, Fermor, Bowles, and Lawrence.

The Baedeker guidebooks, both Keates and Whitfield could tell you, were some of the first replacements of the cicerone, or chaperone, of young people's travels to the continent in the eighteenth century. With a guidebook in your pack, you were free to travel the world on your own. Today we are guided not only by the descendants of the Baedeker, such as Lonely Planet and Rick Steve's, but also have access to innumerable literary guides, as outlined by Whitfield. Comb his survey for writers who have written on your favorite destinations, or simply browse our shelves.

I'm always surprised to find some of my favorite fiction writers not only traveled the world, but wrote about their travels. We have Goethe on Italy and Hemingway on Paris. We have Emerson's English Traits and James' English Hours. Even E.E. Cummings wrote a book on his travels to Soviet Russia. We have the travel writing of Lawrence Durrell, Robert Lewis Stevenson, and Somerset Maugham. Let's hope we are never emancipated from such Baedekers.

Friday, March 9, 2012

A Curated Selection for the Time-Traveller

Basically my job is to buy books from people when they come in to the shop to sell them. It is a fun job. Though my exciting job of mostly repetition (Steig Larsson, Jodi Picoult, Tracy Kidder, Steig Larsson, Jodi Picoult, lather, rinse, repeat) eventually yields delicious discovery! Like last Saturday, man-oh-man I'll tell you what. I've been at this job for a year now (where was my petting zoo and pizza party?!) and days like last Saturday are few and far between. Nearly everybody who came in had rad stuff, things we were looking for, things we can always use, things I've never seen before that are magical and strange. Basically, it was a good day for buyin'. But my favorite thing about days like that, as you may be able to tell from reading the blog, is finding neat patterns in the seemingly random collections people bring in.

Like this sequence of relics from the past, titles in present tense and speculative fiction of the future:

For just $5.50, you can own a piece of Massachusetts history. The North Shore of Massachusetts Bay: An Illustrated Guide and History comes with cool, out-of-date maps, awesome engravings, and is a complete reissue of an 1881 text, so even the typeface used is old-timey. Slip into this slim volume and be transported to a time when there was no CVS in downtown Salem and tooth extraction was a mere .25, add some ether or gas for $1.00!

But nowadays, you're pathologized for living in the past; nostalgia is a sickness, those times were no good, you gotta live in the NOW. Well, right NOW is all about poetry, cool illustrations and strange superheroes. Only because I love the title of this book and when co-bookseller Jamie saw it, she oohed and aahed over it, confessing it was a personal favorite. And really, good poetry is best read as a clean slate: completely in the present, without reference to past or concern for the future.

Unrelated Individuals Forming a Group Waiting to Cross by Mark Yakich is a confluence of many great things, to appreciate here and now. The jacket copy is a handy map to the contents, "If you like poems about the sea, turn to page 49," also, "And then, there's everyone's greatest joy and incense: 'Love Poems,' which you will find, like the French, everywhere and nowhere at once, but especially on p. 64 with 'A Little Morning After Poem.'"

But, if you're like me: certifiably ADD, a terminal daydreamer, and with all but a diagnosis in-hand for restless leg, mind and eye syndrome, perhaps travelling to the future might excite your emotions. And not just any future-story, but one in which a believable, empathetic underdog is the protagonist.

I submit to you, for $6.50, The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars. When we pack up our earthly possessions and head to Mars for some light terraforming and condo-building, this is the novel you will need in your space-rucksack, as it offers all kinds of helpful suggestions for peaceful coexistence with our appliance friends who will obviously already be living there after their uselessness on Earth compels them to found a new civilization on the Crimson Planet. Maybe they'll teach us how to grow Mars Bars. Mmmmm.

Until next time, friends! Unless I'm living on Mars! In which case: bring kittens!

Ladies Night, and the Feeling's Right

So generally, as a rule, I've no interest in listening to  people talk about themselves when I could have the opportunity to be talking about myself instead. As you all know by now, I'm not a great reader; I'm slow, picky, easily distracted and will abandon a book half-read. Finishing a book holds next to no special satisfaction for me, unfortunately, and I rank that in my extremely abbreviated list of shortcomings. I realize it makes for an awkward situation, me being an English major that works in a book store and all, (although, I hesitate to mention, when I started this scholastic adventure I was a film major that worked in a video store, which also was not my speed. Someday I will be a TV-and-artisan-cheese major and I will work in my living room, and maybe then, finally, I will have something important to say about content that might mean something, but probably not) however, to clarify, it's not that I don't read; I read all the time. I just can't stick to any one thing.

That was why I was excited to discover essays. Essays are perfect! They're like the original blogs! Shorter versions of nonfiction books, a good essayist can jam a bevy of informative materials into 10 or 20 pages and never have you checking your watch to see if you've spent enough time Reading This Book to have your roommate take you seriously as a human being. Essays are the best if you have trouble focusing because you are a child of the internet and you don't have ADHD you just can't shake the fact that, somewhere in the back of your mind, you always feel like there is something else you need to be doing.

So I love essays, we get it, it's cool. 

However, a couple weeks ago I inherited the Biography section of our store. I would like to kick off what I imagine will be a most deep and meaningful relationship with biography by mentioning my favorite biographies, auto or otherwise, that I have managed to read all the way through. These four are all written by women, we're going to pretend that's because it's International Woman's Day, but really it's because sisters are doin' it for themselves, standing on their own two feet, ringing all their own bells.

I read Pamela Druckerman's "Bringing Up Bebe" for no reason other than I picked it up, flipped to a random page in a random chapter that mentioned the menu in a French creche, and was intrigued by what I read there. It does not make a whole lot of sense for me to read Druckerman's book otherwise; I do not have a baby, and I do not have a French baby, and there is most certainly no plan for me to be involved with either any time soon. However, I read "Bringing Up Bebe", and while some aspects of the memoir I found hard to relate to, I found Druckerman's style easy to read and compelling. She manages to toe the line of sympathy, neither chastising America for its poor child and maternal care, or becoming so Eurocentric that I can't read her narrative without pausing to gratuitously roll my eyes.

Not to, like, dramatically switch gears on you, but Mary Karr is not only my favourite poet right now, but she also has written what may be my favourite memoir of addiction. I hate the term "beach read" because that sounds so totally boring and like a grandiose waste of my precious Earth-time, so I read "Lit" this summer, occasionally poolside, and it was the best thing I could have done for myself. Karr's slow descent into alcoholism and motherhood is as heartbreaking as it is terrifying. I think the part closest to my heart is Karr's description of her rotting relationship with her husband; as it begins to turn sour, everyone involved sees it starting to decay, but nobody can bring themselves to make the first actual move towards ending it. That methodical, almost gentle, bubbling over of one's life is so realistically immobilizing, and I loved every second I spent with this book.

But maybe you're not into American mothers bringing up French babies, or you don't feel the same way I do about "seasonal reading", and can't enjoy a book about hardcore struggles with alcohol while at your annual family reunion. Never fear, gentle flowers, I've got you covered as well! I read "West with the Night" many years ago, and remember it most distinctly from Beryl Markham's descriptions of Africa, often, uniquely, situation from the air. Markham has a way of painting such an impressive picture of the African bush, and the quaint prose of this autobiography is very enjoyable. This would be a much better read for a sensitive reader looking for a good escape in something well written, but not quite so disturbing or tear-provoking.

Finally, the mother of all memoirs, "A Stolen Life" by Jaycee Dugard. This book is unbelievable, because Dugard's story is unbelievable. The book came out shortly after "Room", but because "Room" was such a brilliant success, I think it overshadowed Dugard's memoir slightly, even though it is the real-life version of "Room", except so much more horrible, and not only due to the fact that it is true. Dugard is captured when she is 11 years old and kept captive until she is finally rescued by police, 18 years later. When she finally walks free, Dugard is 29 years old and has bore two daughters by her captor, Phillip Garrido. This book is her incredible story, told both through the eyes of her 11 year old self as she experiences these atrocities, and from her current-day perspective as she reflects on the events of her life. If you want to know more about Jaycee Dugard, definitely buy this book, but you can also watch this clip of her interview with Diane Sawyer.

You should definitely come hang around our biography section, especially in honor of these awesome women who have written their amazing life stories down. These books are four fantastic memoirs of many fantastic memoirs, and each bookseller has their own favourites I haven't even mentioned. Come check it out!