Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Earnest Readers at the Boston Book Festival

Booksmith was back at the fourth annual Boston Book Festival this past weekend. Luckily the hurricane held off so we didn't have to fight the winds and rains, and instead enjoyed a crisp, sunny autumn day. For those of you who didn't make it to Copley Square to wander among the publisher, bookseller, and all-things-book-related booths or to attend one of the author panels, we were parked just outside of Trinity Church, sharing the  main circus tent with Information and WBUR. We had the privilege of selling books for the authors speaking at Trinity's two venues. Those of you who stopped by to say hello or browse our tables would have seen stacks upon stacks of--among others--Junot Diaz's latest This is How You Lose Her, Brookline's own Edith Pearlman's Binocular Vision, Madeline Miller's Song of Achilles, and a pile of books resembling bricks of gold (and weighing almost as much)--that was Eric Kandel's Age of Insight, a beautiful hardcover with Klimt's "Golden Phase" on the cover, which sold out after his event.

In fact, we sold out of many of our books in the charged atmosphere of the festival, as readers met their author idols and shared their favorite reads. It's this particular atmosphere that makes me excited to work the book festival each year. I love wandering among the booths and seeing all of the organizations that make up my writing and reading life in Boston. Everyone around me is, in some form or another, a reader. Don't get me wrong, Booksmith is full of book-loving customers, but at the book festival, there's a particular eagerness to the readers that come by our booth. They're excited about the ideas they just heard, the free book bag they just won, or the prospect of getting a copy of their book signed in person. It's more than eager--there's something earnest about these readers, which instantly endears me to them.

That's why I was so sorry to disappoint one young man who came out of Junot Diaz's event looking for Diaz's novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I had to tell him we had just sold our last copy. He looked at me, stunned. "Are there any bookstores in the area?" he cried desperately. I couldn't think of any close by. "How long will Diaz be signing?" he asked. We both looked at the long line of readers, stretching out of the tent as far as we could see. "I think he'll be here for awhile,"  I guessed.

Not more than thirty minutes later, Diaz was still signing, and the customer was back. "I made it!" he cried, dripping with sweat, completely out of breath, and triumphantly holding up a rather worn copy of Oscar Wao. He told me he had run home three miles to get his copy of the book so Diaz could sign it. I watched him proudly join the end of the now-dwindling line, and when, a few minutes later, I looked up, I saw Diaz congratulate the runner with a hug before signing his book.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Cloud Atlas Shrugged

This Monday evening I took advantage of a bookseller perk and saw the film Cloud Atlas as a preview before its wide release. I was looking forward to it. From the trailer I could tell it would be visually stunning even if whoever puts together the trailer ruined the point of the book in 30 seconds flat. But I really enjoyed reading the book and I like adaptations, so. Excitement.

I enjoyed the film in many respects, but found myself really bothered afterward by the use of yellowface in the film. I know the internet is blowing up with backing-and-forthing on account of it, and I'll let the critics speak for themselves. There is a really lucid argument by Mike Le over at the blog Racebending, and the Wachowskis speak for themselves in this NYT write-up.

In the world of cinema, I believe it is unforgivable for producers to ascribe roles meant for people of color to white people, agreeing with Le as he says, "we see that white creators and performers are permitted to determine what it means to be Asian." It takes power from a race to tell its own story. From the other side of the argument, the Wachowskis seem to intend a universalizing image of humanity that transcends race. Avoiding the intentional fallacy, all we're left with is what this film portrays. In Cloud Atlas, different actors of different races and genders portray many races (and other genders) throughout. Regardless of intent, novelist David Mitchell got across the theme of human connectivity using motifs of music and symbols purely, and not by addressing race in such blatant terms. The filmmakers could have employed these methods, and they did, but took the theme of connection and transcendence of time and place a step further by altering the race of actors.

Was race-altering necessary to tell this story? Or was it a lazy way of filmmaking that allowed for an ensemble cast without giving the audience any credit for the ability to follow multiple related plot-lines at once? In (perhaps) defense of the filmmakers, it wasn't just yellowface that they employed: as I mentioned above actors of many races were made up to portray characters of many more races. So perhaps, since the effect is not racially one-sided, it is clear to see that there is more below the surface. I definitely think the film is the sort of thing that people should see for themselves and open up to conversation about.

But all this makes me wonder: what experience is off limits to filmmakers and authors? Can a white author write another racial experience? Male and female authors can write the other gender with deftness at times (Jeffrey Eugenides and Virginia Woolf come to mind), but what about race? Can art be a vehicle for inhabiting another's skin, truly? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Once Upon a Time...

A scene from The Fairy-Tale Princess: seven Classic Stories from the Enchanted Forest by Su Blackwell.

I have a bit of an embarrassing confession. When I was a kid, I was a fairy-princess for Halloween...multiple times. I still don't quite know what a fairy-princess is...a princess from a fairy tale? Or a princess with wings? All I know is that a fairy-princess costume included a combination of tiara, wand, and satin.

Turns out that fairies - or faeries - are actually related to the earliest Halloween tradition. The Celtics believed that faeries dressed up as beggars on Samhain (what we call Halloween) and went door-to-door asking for food. Those who gave them food were given a reward and those who didn't were punished. Which turned into...trick or treat.

The origins of Halloween are steeped in tradition, in superstition and storytelling and magic. It seems natural that dressing up as characters from fairy tales, one of our oldest types of stories, became part of of how we celebrate the holiday. In the Halloween spirit, here are my recs for some great books about fairy tales.

The bicentennial edition of The Annotated Brothers Grimm was just released, with an introduction by A.S. Byatt and edited by Maria Tatar (who will also be at the Boston Book Festival this weekend, along with the Booksmith). Along with the classics, like Cinderella and Rapunzel, Tatar includes a handful of stories that the Grimms felt were not for children. You could get lost for hours in this book.

A modern take on classic fairy tales, My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me is edited by founder of Fairy Tale Review, Kate Bernheimer, and includes forty short retellings of fairy tales from contemporary writers, such as Kelly Link, Joyce Carol Oates, Michael Cunningham, and Neil Gaiman. The seven dwarfs stuck living together in an apartment in NYC? Yup.

And for a cool bedtime book, I love The Fairy-Tale Princess: Seven Classic Stories from the Enchanted Forest by Su Blackwell. Each story is illustrated with paper cut sculptures of the scenes, with some sculpture even emerging from the pages of books. Paper cut art always blows my mind - just the amount of patience, the detail - and the work in this book is incredible. Recognize the scene above?

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 22, 2012

How to Fold a Map

We’ve all been there, in the passenger seat, in the airport, or on a crowded bus, struggling to re-fold a map. I’m constantly ducking out of customers’ way as they wheel around our travel aisle with a street map spread wide, trying to wrestle it back into its neat, compact rectangular shape. More often than not, I have to take over, or I risk finding the map stuffed back onto the shelf, inside out, dog-earred, or re-creased in ways it was never meant to be. That’s why I was thrilled when we decided to carry Crumpled City Maps.
These maps are, as they sound, crumpled. There are no creases, no one right way to fold them. They are
meant to be wadded up, smashed, and thrown into a backpack, crammed into a pocket, or carried in the little pouch provided. Crumpled City Maps are made of soft, light weight paper, and at only 20 grams, they won’t weigh you down.
In addition to their travel-ease, Crumple City Maps are simple to use with clearly printed street names, an index of important places, and specially featured “soul sites,” such as the “Victorian Walk” in London and the “temple of the spirit” in Tokyo.
The instructions are easy: 1. Stop into Brookline Booksmith’s Globe Corner Travel Annex. 2. Buy the Crumpled City map to your destination. 3. Crumple 4. Toss it in your pack 5. Go travel the world!

New section alert!

Young adult books are awesome. We know this. Whether you like your stories close to home or from a whole 'nother world, there's something for you in the YA section (and that's as true for young-at-heart adults as it is for actual "young adults"). But by the time you hit middle school or high school, you may also be interested in checking out books written for a mainstream adult audience. There are great choices all over the  store, but what kind of booksellers would we be if we just said, "Adult books are that way" and pointed?

That's why we've created a new section of great adult reads for teens, gift-wrapped just for you. (Yes, the shelves are actually gift-wrapped to make them easier to find. No, it is not easy to gift-wrap a bookshelf.) The suggestions we've placed there are books we loved ourselves as teens, books that local schools have recommended for teens' summer reading, or in many cases, winners of the Alex Awards. Yes, the American Library Association has an award dedicated to books that make great adult-to-teen crossovers. Why should  adults who love The Hunger Games have all the crossover fun?

So what's actually in this crazy new section of ours? Classics. Science fiction. Historical fiction. Graphica. Fantasy. Realistic fiction. Lots of other things, most of which fit more than one category.

Come argue with our choices. Come make more suggestions. Come look at our ideas and be inspired to check out other sections.

Just please, please don't tear the wrapping paper.

Saturday, October 20, 2012


I was just sitting on the couch in the break room with all the lights off listening to This American Life, as I am want to do on my breaks, and the current episode is a 24-hour interview experiment done at a diner in Chicago called The Golden Apple. A staff of interviewers took shifts interviewing standard patrons at the diner around the clock, and the show develops a nice flow to it as the type of crowd changes and evolves: early morning construction workers give way to the self employed or the unemployed, who in turn relinquish their Pledge-wiped booths to be filled by the unwavering nudging and shifting of little bodies as families with small children file in, and so on and so forth. 

The thing about this episode that caught my interest, besides its naturally unique content, was the interviews with the regulars. Here's an excerpt from the transcript:

Ira Glass: In the middle of the day, a muted light streams through the windows through a pale haze of cigarette smoke. At certain hours, it feels like everybody is smoking at The Golden Apple, three industrial smoke eaters on nonstop. At lunch, some customers come in, eat quickly, and head back to work after just a half hour, but they're in the minority. Probably 3/4 of the customers are regulars. Many of them stay for hours. Nick the owner says, some come two or three times a day.
Nick: I mean, they go home and sleep, of course. But this is their base. We've got Charlie right now in the restaurant that comes twice, three times a day. Floyd, which is right next to him. Mitch, Mitch with his son on the counter. He's a counter man. Mr. Harlen there with Steven, they come twice a day. Ross comes about three, four times a day. Al, two, three times a day.

There's a certain quality to being a "regular". Maybe it's the routine of it all; being a regular somewhere suggests you live by the same time table every day, that you are just another workaday schmoe trying to cobble together enough money to feed a family. Perhaps this - watery black coffee, or tearful, soft eggs, or the oversweet dregs of a vanilla frappe - is your respite after a long-suffering day of selfless virtue. That's what I imagine when I think of a regular; it's a term that goes hand-in-hand with sanctuary. A noble soldier, seeking some small reprieve from the mundane storm of their lives. This affords them a certain moral status that...may or may not be befitting of them. Conceptually, anyway.

And as a concept, and a trite version of a one-dimensional character, that's all well and good.

The reality of the regular is a much darker, gently nuanced human being. The term 'regular' in this particular sphere can be used for good, and evil. There are good regulars and there are bad regulars, and even within these poles there are hybrids; one man's torment is anothers interesting and casual conversation. Everybody has a customer they'd rather avoid and one they don't mind taking time out of their day to help on a personal level. Some regulars, like in the diner, just want someone to talk to. Some regulars are locals, some are scholars, some have been sent to this planet specifically to make you close 5 minutes late on the same weeknight, every week.

I, myself, am I regular. Or at least I am known, I suppose being a regular and being "known" by the staff are different things. The bartenders and waitstaff at the bar down the road all call me by my name, (super impressive on dates, if I ever went on dates. Or maybe just proof of alcoholism? Hard to say, good thing it never came into play) but I wouldn't consider myself a regular because I'm not "regularly" there. I think they remember who I am because one night I wore a shoulderless black frock complete with ornate brooch to grab drinks with coworkers, because I am a fancy debutante sometimes.

No, I am not a regular. Not yet, anyway.

There is something noble about the regular, I suppose, but there is also something haunted. They keep coming back, even though they're not paid to be there. They roam the same aisles or sit on the same stools for years, watching seasons change. In another sense, they are the details that color the world of retail or the food industry, or what have you. A rotating audience of customers is part and parcel of the job, no matter the job, but the regulars are the ones whose names you know. They are generally the characters of our stories, both horrifying and triumphant. Even staff come and go, but regulars? Some are permanent fixtures, simply put.

Booksmith fans, this is the last blog post I'll be writing for you, unless the store wants to outsource my thoughts and feelings from across the country. In less than two weeks I am packing up a van and heading west with a close friend - possibly to our complete and total ruin, but maybe not. If there are any owners of independent book stores in the Los Angeles area that read this blog post, I am fully trained in Wordstock and have over 6 years of book store experience, in the event you want to hire me. Working for Brookline Booksmith has been one of the greatest experiences in my life, and there have been many, many times when this store was more a home than any apartment I've lived in. It pains me to have to leave it when there are so many wonderful people working here, such bright and talented and funny booksellers, and when the niche I have carved for myself is so well-defined and so much fun all the time. I can't explain myself to you, readers, besides to say that in this life we do a lot of waiting around, waiting on jobs, on degrees, on lovers. We do a lot of thumb twiddling and crossword puzzling, which is inescapable and natural, but in the monumental event that they, the faceless powers that be, actually call your number to change your life and maybe do something amazing, you have to have the good sense to muster up enough chutzpah and go.

And if they don't?

I'll let you know on the other end, I guess.

I'm leaving the book store to you, reader. Please take care of her. Keep the staff silly and the money good. I will be back to check up on you, and until then? Stay weird, Brookline.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Hobbitual Chaos

Everyone's getting all "excited" and "worked up" and "anxious" for the first installment of Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy, hitting theaters in December. Well. I'm here to tell you that we recently acquired a book in the UBC that forewarns of the trouble wrought by fantasy novels and thematically similar role-playing games. Before you start reading The Hobbit, or taking home a volume of the below-mentioned Dungeons & Dragons guidebooks we have in used, please be aware of the chaos wrought by the Dark Lord when you play and have fun with EVIL.

In Satanism and Occult-Related Violence: What You Should Know ($6.50 used), authors Michael D. Langone, Ph.D. (Psychology) and Linda O. Blood, BFA (Fashion Design) warn of what can happen when teenagers get too worked up by fantasy worlds and role-playing games: "[...] players lose sight of the fact that it is only a game [and] report that the action in D&D is often described so vividly that they can visualize it as if they were watching it actually happen. [evidence is cited] indicating that 'fantasy role-playing games have been a significant factor in at least 125 deaths,'" when gamers take the game too far and start thinking they can cast spells away from the tabletop. So be warned, kids. D&D is no laughing matter.

And if you want to learn why yourself, a wise customer sold off his collection of game guides, so the UBC currently has the Dungeonmaster's Guide (Core Rulebook II, $15) and the Forgotten Realms Campaign book ($20). And I challenge you, reader, to come try and play a game with me and some booksellers. Things might be crazy but this is the only way to get to the bottom of this Satanic menace. Also you should probably read The Hobbit before the movie comes out. Just to know what to expect when the kids are all dressin' like dragons and ringwraiths and skippin' about in the streets.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Destination of the Month: Prague

As autumn breaks over us in rain showers and shivery weather, we’ve been transitioning from back to school to scary Halloween reads at Booksmith. Aside from seasonal changes, you might notice a few other shifts in our store: we’ve brought cookbooks up front and moved the cozy Writer’s Corner to a new nook. We’ve organized our art books into beautiful displays I can barely walk past without pausing to browse. And in the travel section, we’ve dedicated a shelf to a new Destination of the Month. This October at the Globe Corner Travel Annex, we’re traveling to Prague. Read more about the guidebooks and Czech literature we are featuring on our blog at

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Stay Your Safety Scissors, Gentles!

It is not an uncommon occurrence here at the book store that, as a member of the staff, will be called upon to wrap a present for a customer. Different people feeling varying degrees of discomfort performing these feat, but for me it poses no threat, and since I started work here the quality of my wrapping has increased exponentially. Few are the moments of horror when I'm inspired to gape at a customer when they present me with something awkwardly shaped, all angles and sharp corners. When once I thought, "they expect me to wrap this? How does one even wrap a paralellogram? It defies all the qualities necessary for wrapping", I can now view these uncomfortable moments as a challenge, and have been working in retail long enough to accrue enough chutzpah to confidently hand someone a gift that looks like it has been bobbing in the surf of a fortnight and still bid them "have a great evening". I say it with a twinkle in my eye and a bright, strong smile because I'm just that good. 

There is, however, one last interaction that happens at the wrapping...cave (hidden off the right hand side of the UBC, shielded from the discriminating eye of the public) that gives me pause and inspires a cringe. It's when, having bought something as a gift, my charge decides (or has been instructed) to engage the age-old rule of removing the price tag before one delivers the present to its new owner, as a matter of polite modesty, and asks me to cut the price out of their brand new book. "Would you rather I cut it out, or just sharpie over it?" I usually offer immediately. Perhaps they haven't considered that some kind of mark or sticker could be applied, saving me from having to cut into the dust jacket that houses the hardcover book they just shelled out $30.00 to buy. Usually, however, the answer is no - please, they are saying. Please take a scissor to my new book.

It's such an odd request to me. People can obsess over the quality of their books - if a dust jacket is a little bent, or torn, or a page accidentally folded over, discerning customers will go to great lengths to secure another one. I once offered up a copy of a fairly expensive, fairly large art book to a man who rejected it, citing that he wanted to give it as a gift and found this copy too dinged up to be appropriate. I could see no immediate damage; the book had no dust jacket as part of its design, and the inside corners of the hardback cover where bent towards each other slightly. The man had special ordered the rejected book, and post-rejection, then proceeded to call all over town trying to track down another copy.

I'm not telling you this story to suggest he was wrong - just because I didn't see any damage doesn't mean a thing, I'm predominantly trash, I only own 2 bras and last night I drank Sam Adams out of a re-purposed glass sugar dispenser - but only to illustrate that, even in a tight spot, people feel very strongly about the quality of their books, and are unwilling to settle for less, and I can sympathize. Recently, a phenomena in TMZ-style celebrity reporting has occurred, and the interwebs is referring to it as "Imaginary Bruce Willis". Allegedly, Bruce Willis tried to sue Apple after becoming indignant that Apple's copyright laws prohibited him from leaving his music collection to his children when he dies. None of it was true, it turned out, and just some sensationalized hokum, but it was hokum that did prompt James Grimmelmann to publish this article about ownership on Publishers Weekly. In the article, Grimmelmann paraphrases Margaret Jane Radin:

"Radin’s point is that ownership matters. It matter for human reasons, for humane reasons. When your guests browse your bookshelves, that, too, is socializing, along with the cocktails and conversation. Making a mixtape is an intimate act. Having a thing sitting in your home, a heavy inconvenient thing made of dead trees or polymerized petrochemicals, is a kind of exclusion: it ensures that no one can take that piece of art away. But it is also offers a kind of inclusion: to lend a book is to invite a friend to the delights it contains."

So you can see why, in this vein, some of us might hesitate before accepting a volume battered and dog-eared into our collection (unless that quality will add to the overall aesthetic of the book). If ownership matters, if the books and movies and art I collect and display are an external representation of not only how I want to be interpreted, but simultaneously how I interpret the world, I don't want no scummy paperbacks jammin' up the works of my otherwise diverse and interesting bookshelves. But let me be the judge; when I receive a book that's had the price cut out of its dust jacket, I am immediately overcome by a feeling of having been had, somehow. The book in my hands feels used, but not in a friendly way - it has been defaced against its will, against my will, against our will, for no earthly purpose other than an arcane version of manners. I would rather thumb-bent pages, a broken spine, highlighting and notes in the margins; these are all the markings of progress, of proof of impassioned use.

But a missing square of dust jacket, less than an inch long? The volume and I, together, we mourn.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Unlikely Pairs

rad pic by ubc guru carl
New things in the UBC this week! A grip of books, vintage and new that you must get your mitts on: Game of Thrones themed erotica! Agatha Christie paperbacks from the 60s! Essays by Robert Anasi!

And a pretty Halloween-themed window up front courtesy of your fearless author.

A propos of the patterns I mentioned in last week's post, it's easy to see patterns in the names of authors who come across the UBC desk. How different can two authors who share the same last name be?

Lee Child and Julia Child

Ted Hughes and Langston Hughes

Mary McCarthy and Cormac McCarthy

Flann O'Brien and Tim O'Brien

Gertrude Stein and Garth Stein

Pagan Kennedy and John F. Kennedy

Zoe Heller and Joseph Heller

Gillian Flynn and Vince Flynn

Jim Davis and Lydia Davis

Jim Morrison and Toni Morrison

Tony Kushner and Harold Kushner

Gary Larson and Erik Larson

More importantly, who would win in a fight between these pairs? We've got books by all of 'em and more in the UBC! Collect 'em all.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Journey Home

I spent the end of September in the San Francisco Bay Area, there on self-imposed assignment, to cover the Fremont Hindu Temple’s Ganesha Chaturthi festival. Ganesha Chaturthi is an annual ten-day celebration around the Hindu god Ganesha’s birthday. During the festival, Hindus believe that Ganesha comes down to earth to bestow his presence upon his devotees. People buy an idol of Ganesha specifically for his birthday to keep in their home during the festival, and after a pran prathista (a prayer ceremony that infuses the god’s presence in the statue) the idol is seen as a form of Ganesha himself. He is prayed to nightly, offered sweets, a guest in his devotee’s home, and at the end he is immersed in a body of water and sent back to his home on Mount Kailash. The temple in Fremont, a city near the Mission Hills about sixty miles from San Francisco where I spent most of my childhood, hosts one of the largest celebrations of the festival in the US.

I went to cover the festival partly as research for my novel. The myth of how Ganesha got his elephant head is part of the family curse that plagues my protagonist. I wanted to hear about this festival from those But also because I've been drawn to the Bay Area for some time. Mostly the landscape - the sandy hills, the bridges that connect the east bay to the coast. I went there with my camera in hopes of turning the experience into a photo essay...

Read the rest of this post over at our blog on the

Monday, October 8, 2012

NEIBA: A Lively Experiment

I’d been to Providence before. Once on a class assignment to interview author Rosemary Mahoney—who spends her time between Providence and Greece, and twice for the annual Waterfire festival, during which enormous torches in the midst of the river are lit while gondolas cruise the sparkling waters and spectators roam the river walk, enjoying good food, live music, performances, and dancing. But no matter what my purpose in Providence is, the arrival is always the same. Upon stepping out of the train station the first thing I see is the bone white dome of the Capital, looming over the quaint town. And, engraved beneath the dome, the words that always seem to capture the spirit of Providence: To hold forth a lively experiment…
On this particular afternoon, Providence was not exactly the picture of liveliness; the sky was overcast and a mist hung over the quiet streets. To find sparks of life, I had to make my way downtown to the convention center, where the annual conference of the New England Independent Booksellers was already underway.
I arrived in time for a panel discussion on selling maps in bookstores. Booksmith’s general manager Dana Brigham starred on the panel, along with National Geographic’s Mike Dyer, Eileen Osteen from Michelin Maps, and James Leniart, the creative talent behind stylish Red Maps, soon to be carried by Booksmith. The audience was mostly composed of booksellers from around New England, curious about what you might call Booksmith’s newest “lively experiment”: over the summer we increased our travel section by over 2,000 new titles, including a wide selection of both folded and wall maps.
One of the best parts about NEIBA is the camaraderie, encouragement, and affirmation gained from a gathering of booksellers all trying to stay afloat in an industry that is constantly competing with the newest e-reader or corporate monster in online book sales. In such a setting, it might be easy to become discouraged by all the challenges bookstores face in today’s economy. So it was a relief to hear from experts in the travel industry that in fact, map sales are up.
“Can this really be true?” an incredulous bookseller asked the panel, “that despite GPS and all the mapping applications available, people are still buying paper maps?” The answer was an overwhelming affirmative. No one wants to be caught out hiking or on a lonely country road with only an electronic device that may fail them. Everyone likes an atlas in the car, and the comfort of a folded map in their pocket.
“People coming into bookstores are generally print people,” Dana offered, “So they are also going to be interested in the aesthetic of paper maps.” One particular aesthetic on display was James Leniart’s Red Maps, beautifully designed specialty maps which unfold in the handy accordion-style to reveal a colorful array of streets and sites printed across durable and wonderfully textured paper. Art for the urban explorer.
For those of us still worried about print book sales, there was the encouragement of the speakers at the Author Breakfast the next day: James Dashner, Dennis Lehane, Lisa Genova, and Junot Diaz. Each writer spoke to their particular process of becoming a writer, and all ended up affirming the role of booksellers in that process.
Lehane and Diaz both came from working class immigrant families where reading literature was an anomaly. Diaz described finding an advertisement for “Free Books” in the classified section of a paper he was delivering when he was ten years old. He called up the elderly woman across town, scouted the route, and coerced his older brother into helping him swipe a few shopping carts to schlepp the books home.
It was the first time he could remember everything working out for him, Diaz told the room full of booksellers. He then deftly turned the touching story into a metaphor for the long and arduous process of getting a book from its composition stage through the publishing industry, into bookstores, and finally, into the hands of a reader.
After breakfast, it was onto the trade show floor, for a day of more rewarding exchanges between booksellers, writers, and publishers about the newest titles and the best ways to get them into the world. For me, the trade show began with a conversation with our map distributor about our new destination of the month at Booksmith, and ended with consuming free pink frosted cupcakes with events director Jamie, at the Scholastic table in honor of Clifford’s birthday.
After day one of NEIBA, my husband joined me in Providence for dinner. We were crossing the river, heading toward Brown’s student district, when we ran into Eileen and James, participants on the map panel. “I’m trying to find a taxi,” James told us. “I need to get to the train station to get back to New York.” We wished him luck, only to realize a few blocks later that the station was, as most things are in Providence, within walking distance. “Why didn’t he walk?” my husband wondered.
“I don’t know,” I replied, “Maybe he needed a map.”

Find out more about the maps we carry at

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Banquet on Which We Feed

A big part of the fun, adventure and excitement that comes from buying used books from the general public is finding patterns. When a person brings in a bag, box or dresser drawer full of books, you can see a lot about a person: her life, her interests, the fads she's casting off. Or even more interesting, you can see a portrait of a couple, or a mother-daughter pair, or whatever configuration of people run errands together. Concurrently, over the course of a busy week of buying, strange patterns can emerge on a grander scale. Some weeks it will seem like a lot of people unloaded books on Buddhism, or classical liberalism, or like last week, a lot of cool finds relating to Patti Smith, one of the most IMPORTANT ARTISTS OF OUR TIME.

Hyperbole is annoying, and with Ms. Smith in particular, the titles are a bit silly. At first she was the mother of punk rock, and as she grows older she becomes the great grandmother of punk (as she quipped on The Colbert Report). But it is undeniable what a great musician she continues to be, and through reading both her memoir and her volumes of poetry, what a gifted, crystal clear and heartbreakingly beautiful observer and writer she is as well.

from Woolgathering
So what did we haul in the UBC? There's a copy of Just Kids, the memoir of her days with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in the New York of the 70s, which reads like a scrappy künstlerroman and touchstone for an important time in the history of modern and post-modern American art. Photography, poetry, music. Poverty. Makin' it. Losing. Loving. It's all here. Johnny Depp loved it. Critics loved it. Booksellers loved it. Your book club will love it.

Furthermore, in the wake of her successful memoir, New Directions published an earlier book of Smith's, Woolgathering a sort of memoir written in vignettes. Beautiful little scraps of memories from her childhood and reflections on growing up accompanied by beautiful, fascinating photographs.

And finally, we acquired a copy of Seventh Heaven, collecting Smith's fan fiction of the hit WB family drama. Or, perhaps on further inspection it's a rare collection of her poetry printed in the 70s, as raw and real and punchy as her best lyrics. Snatch it up, it's a collector's item.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Baedeker's Back

THEY'RE BACK. Find out more at Booksmith's other blog,