Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Unabashedly Enthusiastic

Last Friday, I went on an “educational foray” (a.k.a. grad school field trip, sans juice box). It was cold, I had my supposed arctic conditions jacket on, and I was grumpy.  For all the books I’m exposed to on a daily basis and all the books I have on my ‘to-read’ list or are precariously piled on my desk, I had nothing I wanted to read.  I really hate it when this happens.  I’m a bookseller.  My entire job is recommending books to other people, and when I can’t recommend a book to myself?  Existential despair. 

As I was leaving, I stopped at the UBC and told Natasha and Carl of my plight.  Natasha sprinted off and came back holding a copy of Everything Matters! by Ron Currie, Jr. I examined it like I do every book.  I judged the cover, flipped through the pages a bit and finally I decided it was long enough to tide me over through a train ride to Quincy and back. 

I got on the train at Coolidge Corner, and by the time I was at Kent Street I was hooked.  Yes, Natasha told me it was good, but I didn’t think it would be the kind where I was rapturously reading for nearly an hour, forcefully flying through the Park Street station (sorry, Boston) so I could lean against a wall and read some more before getting on another train.  I didn’t even change seats after a man quietly fell asleep on me and other seats opened up.  The book was too good to move—I simply propped my elbows up, leaned to the side a bit, and kept on reading. 

When I got back to the Booksmith, I went on a mad rampage to find out who had the galley of his next book, Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles.  Coming up empty-handed, I downloaded an ebook galley and read it on one of our new Kobo Glo eReaders.  I’m generally suspicious of eReaders (I’m a bookseller, forgive me, I love paper and as a child, I doubt I would have ever exercised if not to carry books from point A to point B) but to read the next Ron Currie, Jr. title?  There was no question, and I spent a sunny Saturday morning comfortably (e)reading in bed.

Now here’s the hard part.  How do I adequately describe these two books that made me abandon my Saturday morning plans and allow a man to fall asleep on me on a half-empty train?  I want to say Everything Matters! is really conceptual, with flavors of Cloud Atlas in addition to a terrible, world-destroying meteor and voices that don't augur insanity, but inevitable doom. Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles asks you to examine the character Ron Currie, Jr.—his flaws, his conscience, his loves—while separating or confusing him with the author Ron Currie, Jr.  Perhaps you should watch the book trailer.

To be honest, I don’t want to describe these books for you.  I don’t want to describe characters, plot points, or Currie’s writing style, all of which I was crazy about.  I want to give you what Natasha gave me—an excited, unfettered, unabashedly enthusiastic recommendation that she knew I would love reading, and I did.

If you’re intrigued, Ron Currie, Jr. will be here with Nicholas Montemarano (The Book of Why—another magnificent book) on February 13th

Monday, January 28, 2013

This post contains eyeballs.

In the world of children's and YA lit, all eyes...

...are on Seattle, where the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting is taking place. All weekend, committees of really knowledgeable people have held their final discussions about the stacks upon stacks upon I-always-say-I-have-too-many-stacks-and-I-can't-even-fathom-these-stacks of books they've read throughout the year, and at 8 a.m. Pacific Standard Time (in other words, not yet) they'll announce the winners of lots of awards, including the Caldecott, Newbery, and Printz.

If we're really lucky, lots of the winners and honor books will be books we're already well aware of and have in stock in copious amounts. We'll all have already read them, and we'll all be ready to display them prominently and to rattle off explanations of why they're so amazing.

But if we're lucky another way, the awards will bring books to our attention that we don't know much about. We already know of a lot of great books from this year, award winners or not, so winners we've never or barely heard of will just expand our repertoires. And if past performance is any indication, publishers are good at getting copies of the winners to us quickly.

Either way, we're excited. Enjoy your Superbowl this weekend, folks. Ours is today.

Edited to add: We have winners! The list includes quite a few of our favorites, so we're super-excited to sell them to you. Some of the titles are on hand already (including quite a few copies of Caldecott winner This is Not My Hat and Printz honoree Code Name Verity), and we should have the vast majority of the winners in the next few days. In the meantime, you'll find me doing my "Yay for The One and Only Ivan" dance, which looks a lot like frantically changing displays.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The answer you seek is 42

Carl and I (your faithful used book buyers and keepers of the mysteries of the basement) get a small handful of questions pretty regularly. Like, um, maybe the same three questions about 100 times a day, minimum. So for your enlightenment and edification, here is a handy dandy Best of UBC FAQ.

1) Where is the bathroom?
We don't have one. The staff is contractually obligated to "hold it." But we've partnered with Peet's and Starbucks to offer you the finest in public restroom technology.

2) How does it work?
Buying books is a fairly painless process. You bring in books you want to sell between Wednesday and Saturday, 10 AM - 4 PM. We look through the books and choose the ones we think we can resell. Based on things like condition, what our customers ask for, how rare it is to see a book come across our counter, and in general whether a book is interesting or timely. If we aren't interested in it, you have to take it with you, the way you came. It still belongs to you. We did not buy it.

3) How do you know which books?
This doesn't sound like a complete sentence but it is quite literally the exact sentence I hear more often than "How are you?" or "Have a nice day!" or "Have you read all these books?" Carl and I work here a cumulative 80 hours a week. I've done so for nearly 2 years, Carl's been at it off and on for 11 years since the Used Book Cellar even opened. That is a lot of hours seeing books come in, pricing each book, shelving each book and seeing which ones leave. It's our full time job. It's just about the only thing we do. We just know. Of course we mess up (dollar cart, much?) But on the whole we "know which books" because we have a lot of practice at our jobs. Just like bakers know how to make bread rise, or surgeons know how to slice ya.

4) Do you make house calls?
Carl: "So right after I became the assistant used buyer, maybe like the first week of buying, this guy with a very pleasant voice and, I assume, demeanor, calls and asks us if we would be so kind as to come to his house and look at his books. This was, I think, the first time we've ever received this request so the other book buyer and I sort of looked at each other, shrugged, and drew straws to see who would go. Obviously I drew the wrong straw because the next thing I know I'm knocking on the door of someone's basement dungeon lair. A rather sweet looking elderly gent opens the door in something akin to a chiffon robe for elderly gents. A little creepy but whatever. I've seen some things in my lifetime. So I walk in and he shows me his book collection. Really awesome stuff. I ask if these are the ones he's looking to unload and says "Good heavens, no." and then he proceeds to walk me down this hallway that opens up to a typical basement setting: furnace, metal shelves of tools and such, a fading bulb of light. In the middle of the room are three rows of Trader Joe's bags (ten to a row) lined up perfectly and filled with books. He says something about an urgent call and backs out of the room slowly. A little too slowly. I remember wondering if he dead-bolted the door from the outside. I begin seeking escape routes. There are none. So I shrug (a common occurrence) and get down to business. I breeze through the three rows in record time. Looking over my shoulder for any errant chloroform rags. After about 20 minutes I rustle together enough books that I hope will get me out alive. I slink over to the door and jiggle the handle and lo and behold its unlocked. I walk down the hall saying "hello?" like an idiot and I find him sitting in the kitchen drinking a glass of wine. I say I'm all set and hold up the bags and he dismisses me with a flick of his hand. I let myself out. I trek back to work, tally everything up, call his number, and get his machine. That was like six years ago; never heard from him again. Somewhere, maybe on the internet, there is a video of me looking through books while alternating between sweating and trying to unlock a window. So the answer is no, we do not make house calls."

If you have any more questions, post them in the comments and we'll get back to you!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Strange Objects

As I was walking around today holding a host of candles in my arms, two of my fellow booksellers looked at me oddly and asked what I was doing.

"It's for the event on Saturday." I said, thinking it was enough of an explanation.

Blank faces looked back at me.  I tried again. "Ian Svenonius, of Chain and the Gang?  DJ?  Seance?  Saturday night?"

"Ohhhhhh." they replied, and went on with their lives.


It's funny how many times I'm seen with the strangest items in my arms.  Sunday night, I had a feather in my hair and rolls of "Signed Copy" stickers in my bag as I went to our Bawdy Boston event over at the Regal Beagle.  On Monday, I was crouched in a corner in the UBC, murmuring into a microphone to another bookseller who was in our Card and Gift Room so I could test what the sound was like upstairs.  Oftentimes, I'm carrying a giant foamcore poster for an upcoming author event, or a box of tickets we're about to sell for one of our Coolidge events, or a stack of events flyers, or a boxcutter.  Our events series requires a lot of ingenuity and an assortment of strange objects.

The best strange object, though?

Meet Godfather, the events horse, bestowed upon me by former Booksmith Zoe.  Godfather watches over the galleys on my desk and is supported by an old Brookline Booksmith ruler.  We've talked about Godfather doing an introduction one day, but I don't think any of us are ready for an event of that caliber.

In addition to loving events, Godfather also loves America. 
You might think it's strange that one has an events horse head puppet, but I think he embodies what our events series is: something lovingly given and really cool that can only be held by Brookline Booksmith.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The content of kids' character

In the kids' section, we overhear a lot of spinner books. We hear parents valiantly making their way through Barbie's latest adventure; we hear parents who are learning English carefully read names like Obi-Wan Kenobi. We overhear kids reading on their own for the first time; Elephant and Piggie is a popular choice for these readers. We hear parents testing new books on their kids to make purchasing decisions; we hear parents eagerly sharing their childhood favorites for the first or tenth or hundredth time.

For the past few days, there's been a new addition to the reading playlist in the kids' section. One child pulled his mother toward the Martin Luther King, Jr. display and said, "Do you want to know something really interesting? I've seen that book (the gorgeous Kadir Nelson-illustrated I Have a Dream) and that book (Martin's Big Words, by Doreen Rappaport) at school." Another sat at the table and read Martin's Big Words aloud. It was jarring to hear someone at the kids' table read the words, "A few threatened to kill him and his family. His house was bombed." But it was a bit inspiring, too.


These kids may very well read Barbie or Star Wars or Elephant and Piggie books at other times. But from what I gathered, they've learned at school about Martin Luther King Jr.'s life - and his death - and they want to share and talk about what they've learned. I suspect, or maybe I remember, that when grownups talk with you in an age-appropriate way about serious, important topics, it feels like they trust you. It's not easy to figure out what "age-appropriate" means given the news these days, but I do trust that when kids say they're ready to talk or share a book about a serious topic, they're probably right. If you need help finding the right book, come talk to us.

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops: Brookline Edition (Part 1?)

Jen Campbell's Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops addresses a topic that's pretty near and dear to my heart. It ain't a bad book. But we can do better. This post is a highlights reel (and possible recurring feature?) of all the wacky verbal gems our booksellers have collected over the years. Not gonna lie - you guys say some weird stuff.

Customer: "Is this a women's book?"
Bookseller: "Pardon?"
Customer: "This book. Is it for women to read?"
Bookseller: "I... don't see why not?"
Customer: "Oh. Well that's no good. I need a men's book. Do you have any books for men?"
~ ~ ~
Two customers perusing audiobooks:
1: "I'm surprised there aren't more of these."
2: "Yeah, some people still like to read books."
~ ~ ~
Customer: "Who wrote Charles Dickens?"
Bookseller: "..."
Customer: "Sorry - who wrote A Christmas Carol?"
~ ~ ~
Bookseller: "We can order that book in for you, but it's only available in hardcover."
Customer: "How hard is it?"
~ ~ ~
Customer: "I'm looking for the book about dinosaurs in space."
Bookseller: "I'm not familiar with that one. Do you know the title?"
Customer: "Something like Star T-Rex."
Bookseller: "...could it be Star Trek?" 
Customer: "Oh. I guess. That's not nearly as cool, is it?"
~ ~ ~
Customer: "Do you give discounts for good looks?"
Bookseller: "You're not my type."
Customer: "That line always works at the library."
~ ~ ~
Customer: "I'm looking for that new hippopotamus book."
Bookseller: "Is that... Elegance of the Hedgehog?"
Customer: "Yup."
~ ~ ~
Customer: "I'm looking for a book but I don't have the title or the author and all I know is it's VERY erotic."
~ ~ ~
Customer: "Where are the books on illiteracy?"
~ ~ ~
Customer: "What kind of books are these?"
Bookseller: "All the ones in this section are fiction."
Customer: "Like, pretend?"
~ ~ ~
Customer: "Please tell me you have a book on domesticating chickens."
Bookseller: "I can't believe it but yes."
~ ~ ~
Customer: "Where are your adult pop-up books?"
Bookseller: "Adult pop-up?"
Customer: "Yeah. You know. The sexy ones."
~ ~ ~
And one final gem from the pen-testing paper on our art supplies table:

Stay classy, Brookline. We heart you.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Go With the Flow

To help you navigate your way through the coolest new arrivals in the UBC, I've made you this handy flow chart:

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Next Best Thing

This morning, I woke up to see everything covered in white, followed by the quick realization that my heater wasn't working. Usually, my snowy days involve a lot of groaning and a loud refusal to leave the warmth of my blanket, but today?  I was on board with leaving and going to work.

As I side-stepped the lovely snow-now-water puddles that formed curbside, I realized that all I really wanted to do was read.  I wanted to get a giant, tottering pile of books and read while occasionally looking over at the spines of books I had yet to crack into.  I wanted to be surrounded by these books, marveling over how warm, welcoming and dry the pages were, contrasted against the snow/slush accumulation outside.

Rather than playing hooky in my freezing apartment, I did the next best thing.  I went into my (obvious) place of work, Brookline Booksmith, and was sated enough by the proximity of books, the shelves, the aisles filled to bursting with new pages and tomes for me to consume, and most beautifully?  The fully functional heater.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Out of the Waiting Room, Into the World

I usually reserve light reading for the waiting room of my dentist's office. Maybe that's why I always get a bad taste in my mouth when flipping through a magazine. Or a headache from the perfume samples. I can never seem to focus on anything between the flimsy covers, registering only advertisements that make me feel bad about how I look. When I finally do get drawn into an article, just when it's getting good, I turn the page and am lost in another sea of ads.

But a recent screening of our magazine selection at Booksmith has made me feel otherwise. I was curious about the new slew of travel magazines circulating, each with its own unique perspective on place. What I found, among many more commercial-oriented travel publications, were a few magazines that seemed to be skipping down new, unbeaten paths, whether they were honing in on little-known local places, or blowing my mind to new global proportions.

The photographs contained between the stylish covers of Trunk magazine did the latter. Photographer Jason Florio spent 15 years in Gambia to achieve a level of intimacy with the culture that shows in each stunning portrait. Faces look out from the page with an openness and authenticity that could only have been cultivated through trust built over time. Anders Overgaard has captured our destination of the month, Myanmar (Burma) in another series of stunning photographs. And Ayman Oghanna, an Iraqi-British journalist,  takes us directly into the action in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past few years.

In addition to these photographers, the most recent issue of Trunk contains fascinating interviews with artists who use maps as a medium and stories from correspondents from around the world: Athens, Chile, Swaziland, and even our own Massachusetts. By the time I reached the back cover (a rare thing in my magazine reading life) I was whole-heartedly agreeing with Trunk's byline: "the world is a fine place." And that's not always an easy thing to say.

From global I went local, with the inaugural issue of Local Magazine: A Quarterly of People and Places. If you want an excellent preview to this new project, watch their video that inspired their Kickstarter contributors to, well, kick-start this worthy cause. The magazine--the brainchild of editor-in-chief Daniel Webster Jr.--is based on the belief that, as he writes, "the whistle-stop or post-industrial city has microcosmic importance to the complicated tale of America."

Webster and his group of entrepreneurial artists and writers select one small-town destination per issue and tell its story. This issue they traveled to Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania where they went to work for Reptileland to better understand local sources of entertainment, talked to the displaced residents of the Riverdale Mobile Home Park, and of course, reviewed the local tavern. Stop in and travel with them to more overlooked destinations, sampling the local color of small-town America.

And finally I turned to The Common, a recent literary journal out of Amherst College that seeks to deliver to the reader a "modern sense of place" through engaging essays, short stories, poetry, and photographs. In this issue, I dabbled in a collection of South African poetry, looked out of editor Jennifer Acker's high-rise apartment onto Abu Dhabi, in "From the 17th Floor," and drove to Vegas with Jennifer Haigh's character, Sandy, and as "the Strip unrolled before them, a throbbing assault of shimmering, bubbling neon," I saw it, too.

"We live in an increasingly digital world," Acker, the journal's founder, writes,  "but place is not dead…Far from erasing the importance of our surroundings, our mobile modernity creates a hunger for place-based ruminations. Literature provides the vehicle for these travels." Enjoy the ride.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Where Barbie spins with Spiderman

Just about in the geographic center of the children's section, it stands immovable. (We know. We've tried.) It takes up barely a square foot, but it's so magnetic, I'm surprised the Magnatabs have never spontaneously flown into its orbit.

The spinner.

Brookline Booksmith holds many spinners (Card & Gift people, I don't know how you do it), but this particular spinner bears an amazing number of movie and TV tie-in books per vertical square foot. There's the odd eight-by-eight reformat of a "real" picture book - Robert Munsch's work comes to mind - but the vast majority of these "picturebacks" consist of a probably quickly written text illustrated with images from the movie or show. 

The spinner can be a source of grumbling. When we loaded its contents onto two carts this week to correct its inventory, the other booksellers in the back were treated to more than a little snark.

But as I try to remind myself often, the spinner is there for some good reasons. For one thing, the books are easily affordable. They give parents a chance to say, "We're here for Uncle Horatio's birthday gift, but if you're good, you can pick out a book for yourself." For another, books with familiar characters send kids a message that I'm constantly saying is important: that reading can be about anything, even things you think are really cool, even Lego Star Wars.

Would I like to find fewer of these books on the floor? Of course, and that's partly for safety's sake. They're a bit like banana peels; they're slippery and, well, I'll leave it at that.

But I love all our sections.

Really. I do.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A journal of a thousand words begins with a single schlep - to our Writer's Corner!

It's a brand new year! The race is on to see who can stop writing 2012 on their rent checks first.

In the spirit of fresh starts, here's a small selection of the many many journals we sell:

Our pages await your delicious thoughts!
JOURNALS: combining the spiritual renewal of a gym membership/juice cleanse with the heady indulgence of eating ice cream sans pants. Resolutions are all well and good but now that the crazy gift-giving holidays are behind us, things get to be all about you again. Take a moment to let that sink in. What better way to take advantage of this intoxicating new-found freedom than by giving your brain somewhere to really take root? Trust me, you deserve it.

But maybe you lack the intestinal fortitude to be left all alone with your muse. Maybe the thought of blank white paper makes your palms sweat and your blood run cold. Maybe the symbolic stain of those first few inked thoughts is just a little too much to bear. I feel you, bro.

For the hesitant, here are a few unconventional journaling techniques to help you face down writer's block and blossom into that incandescent word-machine you burn to be:

Write outside - or on the train, or at Starbucks on your lunch break. There's nothing sacred about a desk.

Record your dreams - even the most vivid nocturnal phantasms fade from memory in the harsh light of day. Keep a pen and paper handy on the nightstand to assure that Fabio's marriage proposal stays fresh in your mind.

Catalogue day-to-day inspiration - you know what we had before Pinterest? Paper.

Keep a running tally of all who have wronged you - then, stew in your own resentment. Then burn the journal. Wait, don't do that, it's too pretty. Meditate on forgiveness (or vengeance, which might make for better reading).

- Bring your journal to a séance (AHEM) and let otherworldly spirits take possession of your motor abilities. This is a bona fide method for finding out where Great-Grandpa hid the family fortune. Or getting Abraham Lincoln's autograph.

Make a yearbook - not just for high school anymore! Collect inscriptions from all your friends and co-workers. I recommend a multi-pack of neon gel pens to really amp up the nostalgia.

Live-tweet your journaling experience:
        "Day 1. Wow I can't wait to unleash my inner Samuel Pepys!"
        "Day 2. Have unleashed inner James Frey. @booksmithtweets I blame you for this"
        "Day 3. S'all good - unleashing inner Joan Didion. My words are brutal beauty. Owe it all to Booksmith."

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Life in Books

Last week a man came down with about 8 boxes of books. As my colleague and I pored over them, the boxes quickly began to tell a story. All of the books, boxes and boxes of books were clearly one person's collection. There were classics of world literature and gobs and gobs of politics, history and cultural studies, mostly leftist, with copious amounts of highlighting inside. Every book had been read all the way through: possibly twice as there were two colors of highlighting in many of them. We don't buy books with highlighting so we unfortunately passed on many of them. But it was fascinating to see a whole life through someone's books, someone who obviously cared deeply about reading to be bothered to actually read this many, and on top of that to put together a picture of the person behind the highlighter through the bookmarks therein. A "progressive book-of-the-month club" membership receipt, a residuals invoice from NBC from acting in two episodes of a television show, and all the Booksmith bookmarks. Booksmith bookmarks going back decades. A devoted and loyal shopper, I only found one bookmark from another book store, Harvard in the 90s, another independent.

The man who brought the books in brought them in haphazard boxes, falling apart. He didn't seem to care too much about the money he got for them. A quick Google search revealed that the original owner of the books had passed away. In the last box of books, I found a Dover Thrift Edition of Brothers Karamazov. It was highlighted until about a third of the way through and then it stopped. Had he read it before? Was it the last book he started? Did he give up, opting for some non-fiction instead? This guy read more than I did and it is basically my job. It was heartbreaking and fascinating to see so laid bare the life of a reader. This few hours of work in my week led me to hope his friends and family are recovering from their grief. I'm sure they all miss long, deep conversations about books and politics. And it made me grateful for all of our lifelong, super-loyal, white-hot-bright customers. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


My fellow booksellers are used to the sight of me popping into a room, sometimes brandishing a book and sometimes not, asking the following in quick succession: “Have you heard of (author x)?  Do you like him/her?  Would you go to this event?”

Sometimes, I’m greeted with silence or a shrug.  Other times, there’s the enthusiastic head nod accompanied by a historical overview of the author’s previous visits (Confidential to Jill McCorkle: The staff of Brookline Booksmith remembers you fondly), the “Squee” (Confidential to Ron Currie, Jr.: Yeah man, you got a squee), the “To the Internet!” (Confidential to Simon Tofield of Simon's Cat: Your videos are giggle-inducing and still pack a punch when shared amongst two or three booksellers huddled near a screen), or the slow dawning name recognition held within an “Oh yeeaaaah” (Confidential to Author X: We’re still tentative for this event, but when we get confirmed…). 

While a lot of events for this upcoming year are still in the air, a lot of them are nailed down and ready to go.  For you events fanatics (of which I hope there are droves), here’s a picture that might elicit a squee of your very own. 

These aren’t randomly chosen books, they’re an assortment of galleys and finished books that have only one thing in common: these authors are coming to Brookline Booksmith within the next few months.  I haven’t even started publicizing most of these people yet, but … Confidential to you: We have a super-public google calendar ( that is full of our confirmed events.  Look at it, salivate, and know that you’re going to be near some pretty fantastic authors.  While you’re at it, subscribe to our B-Mail newsletter so you’ll be updated with everything that’s happening here.

If you must must know more, ask in the comments field!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Destination of the Month: Myanmar (Burma)

I know where you're going. Throughout these long winter months I've watched the travel shelves closely. It's not hard to discern, from the ruffled maps of South America, from the gaping holes in the Cambodia and Costa Rica shelves, where you are. Not surprisingly, this winter everyone in Boston is heading for warmer climes. You're going to the beach.

And some of you, like my parents, are headed for the quieter beaches of lesser known destinations. In their last report from the beaches of Burma, (or Myanmar--my choice in this case was purely alliterative), I received a photo of my nephew, who has spent two-thirds of his 9-month life in the country, proudly displaying his first sand castle on an almost-deserted beautiful beach. Looking at that photo, I don't blame you for going. In fact, I envy you.

That's why we're celebrating Myanmar as January's destination of the month. Of course, there are many other reasons to celebrate this country other than its beaches. To better understand the remarkable changes taking place in this developing nation, pick up some of the fascinating literature we have at Booksmith, books meant to guide you into a deeper engagement with your new surroundings.

The Lady and The Peacockthe latest biography on Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi may not be the best beach read, but it is sure to prepare you for the people you meet and give you an appreciation for the country's struggle toward democracy over the past decade. Explore deeper into the country's past, into the age of British Imperialism, with Amitav Ghosh's novel The Glass Palace and Burmese Days from George Orwell. Emma Larkin's Finding George Orwell in Burma is a great companion to his novel, as Larkin follows in the footsteps of the writer, revealing the political situation of today.

Not going to the beach this winter? You, too, can travel to Myanmar through Naomi Duguid's gorgeous cookbook Burma: Rivers of Flavor. This is much more than a cookbook. Duguid traveled extensively in Burma over the past decades, culling recipes, stories, and photographs that lead her readers into a direct engagement with this unique people and land. Interwoven with the recipes are tastefully told anecdotes of Burma's history, culture, people, and, of course, food. Filled with gorgeous color photographs, this book allows you to immerse yourself in the warm sites, stories, and sensations of Burma without even leaving your kitchen.

For those of you headed to Myanmar, a customer picking up Lonely Planet's guide to Myanmar just informed me that the Irrawaddy Literary Festival--the country's first ever English language literary festival--will be taking place this Feb 1-3, 2013 at the Inya Lake Hotel in Yangon. The festival's patron, Aung San Suu Kyi herself, will be speaking. Beaches and books, what more could you want?

Monday, January 7, 2013

January, you start the year off fine...

The Holidays are over, and slowly, we sink into the wintry abyss, crouching over clipboards as we correct our inventory and surfacing only occasionally to greet the odd snow-booted customer whose best friend has a January birthday.


For one thing, though January is traditionally a quieter month, the store's been pretty busy. You people are die-hards, and we love you. A lot of you are using gift cards you got over the holidays, and helping kids shop for themselves may spoil the guessing game of gift-giving, but it makes up for it with lots of great conversations.

For another, January and February are actually pretty eventful months. We spent about two seconds wondering what we would do with the space freed up by the Christmas and Hanukkah books before we answered ourselves: Martin Luther King Day, Presidents' Day, African-American History Month, Valentine's Day, Groundhog Day, plain old winter books, and the top 25 from 2012. And once they're announced on January 28th, winners of the Caldecott, Newbery, and other American Library Association awards. And probably some stuff I'm forgetting, because there's a lot of stuff.

January is also going to include some new ventures. On Monday, January 14 at 5pm, we'll hold our first YA Book Club for teens ages 12-18. The first meeting will focus on the works of John Green; be there if you think it's even a little adorable that a young customer asked me this week, "Are you by any chance a Nerdfighter?" (There was context, I swear.) The YA Book Club will meet on the second Monday of every month unless otherwise noted.

Not quite ready for books with words like "abundance" in the title? Perhaps our new (or revived) Children's Story Time is for you. Members of our children's team will read picture books aloud on the third Saturday of every month, starting on January 19 at 10:30 am.

December, you know you're jealous.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Worst Story Ever

Do you guys wanna hear the worst story ever? After a whirlwind tour of NYC, in which I stopped in to the SoHo indie McNally Jackson and loaded up on crazy awesome books, I got stuck on a Chinatown bus in the blizzard with NO LIGHTS WITH WHICH TO READ. Couldn't use my phone because it was dying after hours stuck on the bus. Man. The Worst. But I made it home safely so count your blessings, right?

But seriously, being stuck somewhere for hours with great, new books and no way to read them is really the worst thing I can think of (#firstworldproblems). But other people have it worse. Check out this worst-case-scenario roundup from our used book treasures:

No Exit by Sartre. For some, hell is other people. But being stuck in this room for eternity with the feeling of being unable to escape was a lot like being on that bus!

The Plague by Camus. Bad enough you can't leave the Algerian town of Oran, worse still if the reason is because the bubonic plague has broken out.

Agamemnon by Aeschylus. You go to war for 20 some-odd years and come home to find your wife M-A-D. Man, ain't that just the way.

Atonement by Ian McEwan. Wow what if flirting with someone led to this series of unfortunate events? Harsh.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It could be worse, though. There could always be nuclear winter followed by cannibals.

Any holiday travel horror stories? Lay 'em on me. Can you think of WORSE books? Let's hear it in the comments! Thanks for reading folks!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Ridiculously, Ridiculously Good

Each person here is ridiculously, ridiculously good at something. We each have our own speciality, possessing an encyclopedic knowledge about nearly every topic or format in the store including but not limited to: small press releases, penguins, math, Finnish authors, travel, dramatic YA books, elephants, French flaps.  Because of this knowledge, we can make some really, really good recommendations.

This is really all an excuse for me to tell you about my specialty, which is events.  Straight-up events.  If you're interested in something, anything! I can conjure up an event you might like.

Do you work during the weekday and wish you could go to a weekend story time with your kids? 
On Saturday, January 19th at 10:30, the vocally brilliant and vibrant Tess will be hosting our monthly children's story time right underneath the tree in our kids section.  If you want more stories (who doesn't want more stories?), come back on Sunday, January 20th at 2pm when local publisher Pinwheel Books brings by a few of their picture book authors for their 2nd annual story showcase.

Do you wish you could go to a Saturday night séance held by Ian Svenonius while a DJ is playing?
Follow-up question, are you free January 26?
Your answer has to be yes, otherwise I'm going to have to do the Charlie Brown walk across Coolidge Corner traffic.  Please say yes. 

Do you like books, history, and alcohol, in addition to being old enough to legally enter a bar?
We're having a Prohibition-themed party the night of January 20th at the Regal Beagle for Stephanie Schorow's book, Drinking Boston.  For a $35 ticket, you'll get a signed copy of the book, hors d'oeuvres, and two complimentary beverages.  It's in conjunction with Union Park Press and Bully Boy Distillery, so you know it'll be a good time.

Are you a teen who likes John Green?
No, he's not coming to sign books (YET.  It's one of my life missions to get him to read here, which would be an interesting sight due to my slightly feverish fangirl crush on him which would probably lead to an episode involving hyperventilating, no biggie, I'M COOL).  I am, however, starting a Young Adult Book Club for teens ages 12-18.  Instead of choosing just one book, we're going to talk about any of John Green's works.  Love Looking for Alaska?  Did you cry at The Fault in Our Stars? Come by, we'll talk about our favorite John Green books and choose what we'll read for next month. This starts Monday, January 14 at 5pm.

I could go on for hours about upcoming events, but I'll pause here.  We have so many great authors coming in this month, so take a look at our calendar or ask me for a recommendation in the comments field.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Imagined Cities

In the winter, I read to escape. Whether it is from the stress of holiday retail to a silent, open landscape or to a sunny beach from the bleak cold of January, I rely on books to take me to better places, imagined places. This month, I’m reading Lonely Planet’s newly released anthology of travel writing, Better Than Fiction, and it really is as entertaining as a novel if simply for the fact that the inviting landscapes described are places I could actually travel to.

Except for one. In "The Way to Hav," renowned travel writer Jan Morris introduced me to a city I had never heard of. Morris has written two books about the imagined metropolis of Hav, causing some confusion among her readers. In this brief essay, Morris describes the letters she received asking for directions to Hav, and does her best to explain the way. It is, of course, through the imagination, but Hav is not all fancy. Morris traces the very real roots of her city to events, experiences, and encounters with the cities of our world.

Reading about Hav immediately brought to mind Italo Calvino’s whimsically wrought Invisible Cities, which my co-worker Lydia recommended just before the holidays. A perfect gift for this season, especially for those of us low on funds for real travels. Calvino takes the reader to cities so intricately imagined, from topography to culture, that closing this book is like coming home after a long journey to distant lands.

In the spirit of Calvino and Borges comes Dung Kai-Cheung’s recent Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City. The novel is set in a fictional city, Victoria, which has parallels to the Hong Kong of our world. Archaeologists struggle to reconstruct the imagined history of Victoria through maps and historical artifacts, weaving together the narrative of a place through both real and imagined anecdotes.

Given the appeal of imagined lands, it is no surprise that someone should start mapping them. Over the holidays more than one imagined map has shown up at Booksmith. You may have seen The Lands of Ice and Fire on our gift table, a set of maps drawn by cartographer Jonathan Roberts, rendering the fantastical lands of George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones series as real as those around us. Even more recently, we’ve begun to carry The Infinite Map, inspired by David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. Wallace spent three years writing his masterpiece which is set mainly in Boston and the Northeast. Major placed events in the book have been carefully mapped by William Beutler the team at Infinite Atlas, and, of course, the map is heavily footnoted. My favorite part is the Legend, which reads: RealFictionalFictionalized, and Approxomite.