Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Twenty-four Hours with Proust

A few years ago, as my friend Tera and I were wandering around the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris, I wondered aloud if Proust’s manuscripts were there, either on display or hidden away in some dusty archive. So when we inadvertently befriended a bored security guard, we asked. Unfortunately, neither of us spoke much French. But the guard seemed to understand, became animated, and sent us off down a long hallway with directions to turn at the end. We eagerly complied, only to end up at an exhibit of Louis the Something’s Globes.

Proust’s coveted hand-written drafts of his 3,000 page novel, In Search of Lost Time, have never been on display outside of Paris. When I left the city I thought I had left my chances of ever viewing the spidery scrawl and crowded margins of my favorite author. But now, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the publication of Swann’s Way, Proust’s papers have made their way outside of the confines of the Bibliothèque national, and are on display at the Morgan Library in New York City.

In conjunction with these celebrations, 192 Books in Chelsea decided to host “Proust in 24 hours” a 24-hour reading of Swann’s Way. And they decided to hold this event last Tuesday, February 19, in other words: on my 30th birthday. As could think of no better way to celebrate, reflect on, and downright ponder the passing of time, I decided to go.

I spent the afternoon at the Morgan with Proust. At least, that was what it felt like, as I enclosed myself in the small, cubicle exhibit and poured over his manuscripts. Never mind that his handwriting was illegible and that, while my French has improved somewhat since my miscommunication with the library guard, my continuing education French classes haven’t quite got me up to the speed of, well, Proust’s vocabulary. I remembered that Proust translated his favorite author, Ruskin, without learning English, and I stared at those pages until I began to recognize the passages I had committed to heart.

On the opening page to Swann’s Way, Proust had drawn a bold line through an entire first paragraph. Then, near the bottom, he had penciled in a line so tenuous and faint it was difficult to discern: “Longtemps, je me suis couche de bonne heure.” In another draft on display the famous madeleine was referred to as a “biscotte”—it originally had its source in a commonplace slice of toast. This toast to madeleine transubstantiation will forever stand in my mind as the quintessential transformation of life into art.

Sufficiently immersed in Proust, I dropped my bags at The Jane Hotel and headed up 10th Ave to 192 Books. The small, one-room carefully curated bookshop was cozily packed with people crowded around a small table where Adam Gopnik and Anka Muhlstein would introduce the 24-hour reading. Champagne was poured and madeleines nibbled as we listened to Gopnik read an exchange of letters between Proust and André Gide, who declined to publish Proust. Muhlstein talked about her new book Monsieur Proust’s Library, which chronicles the literature Proust both references and draws from throughout his novel. There are over 200 characters in In Search of Lost Time, and a good many of them are readers.

We had quite a few readers that night at 192 books. I felt privileged to be among them as I took my turn at the mike. And while I did not make it through the entire 24 hours, I did stay long enough to hear the madeleine dipped into tea, and of how its taste conjured up a past believed to be lost, the narrator’s panacea, and one for us all, against the forward turning of the years.

I thought that was the end of my Proustian pilgrimage to New York City, but I was wrong. The following day, as I was walking down 5th Avenue, I glanced in the window of Bergdorf Goodman. The luxury department store had decided to go literary, giving five window displays over to great moments in literature, among them, In Search of Lost Time.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Seuss Seuss Seuss Seuss Seuss!

The bookshelves of Booksmith have many a use.
Since March is approaching, they're now sporting Seuss.
The bard who penned many a rollicking line
is turning, March second, a hundred and nine.
The heart books are down now, and what could be sweeter
than filling the shelves with impeccable meter?
Come visit the back of the store, and your eyes'll
be ambushed by creatures created by Geisel:
a pop who's been hopped on, a Sam who loves green,
the Sneetches, Sylvester McMonkey McBean,
a Lorax who doggedly speaks for the trees,
and many more friends just as silly as these.
In search of a classic? Come on, make a beeline
for everyone's favorite, the hat-bearing feline.
For here are some things that I'm certain are true -
two things, and I call them Thing 1 and Thing 2:
Thing 1 is that reading is better than not,
so you're far better off the more books that you've got.
Thing 2's an addendum to good old Thing 1:
that reading is better whenever it's fun.
So come into Booksmith! Get off your caboose!
Go home with an armload of everything Seuss!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Sell us your used books!

Hey kids! As you devotees of the store may know, we buy used books Wednesdays through Saturdays, 10 AM - 4 PM. However, this week we've decided to mix things up. If you want to sell books back at a different time or on a different day, drop us an e-mail or call the store at 617-566-6660 and we will now make an appointment to buy your books on our off days.

Check out our buying guidelines here and get in touch!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Where All the Promotional Materials Go to Die

I love promotional materials. I really do. I love posters, pins, stickers, mugs, informational pamphlets, cardboard cutouts, bags, the works. My work space is slowly being overtaken--nay, decorated--by promotional materials.  My coaster is from our Drinking Boston event last month, my mug came from the Main Street Rag Publishing Company, and my walls are plastered with posters from events past. I can be counted on to acquire stickers and pins and then distribute them joyfully throughout the store, very similar to a flower girl tossing petals. If you see a cat sticker or a Snowy Day tattoo on a bookseller, a teacher with an armful of bookmarks, or a child with a full sheet of stickers that seem to have fallen from the heavens, I may have had something to do with it.

One of my favorite posters is from Melville House. After putting this up (and then acquiring a few more for co-workers who wanted one too), I've suffered from the extreme desire to collect them all and recreate this poster in real life. It's more than just a pretty poster, it's a handy way to describe colors ("Yeah, I'm imagining the south-facing wall the color of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia, you know? But The Duel is an option too.").

I've been threatened repeatedly for The Hobbit bag, which currently houses about forty uninflated balloons, streamers, and rolls of tickets (working events=unintentionally collecting a wide assortment of objects). Please do not jump me for this bag. Where else would the balloons go? How would we hold raffles?

Sometimes you need a cat butt in your life.

My absolute favorite?  This sticker from Simon Tofield's upcoming Simon's Cat in Kitten Chaos which I have placed in a strategic surprise location. Answering the phone has become 100x more exciting than normal!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Surprise Picture Books With Ninjas! (and other exciting stuff)

Yes, I admit it, I don't know every book on our shelves. It was a terrible shock to me, too. When we did a section overhaul early in January and I had to go through every single picture book we have (which is a lot!), I discovered some absolute gems that, I'm embarrassed to say, I'd never seen before.

But! I've seen them now and have been dying to share them.

Three Ninja Pigs by Corey Rosen Schwartz, ill. by Dan Santat

This cover. I mean, really?? ... and then I actually opened and read the book. I'm not gonna lie, I was sitting on the floor by the picture books rocking with laughter and alarming people. I admit that there is a bit of the Kung Fu Panda going on with fighting animals. But because illustrator Santat holds a black belt in Shotokan and because author Schwartz did her research, there are a lot of clever details in the illustrations and creative tweaks to the traditional Three Little Pigs storyline that make Ninja Pigs a truly unique and worthwhile read, both for kids and for parents.

The Queen of France by Tim Wadham, ill. by Kady MacDonald Denton

No, it's not Marie Antoinette. It's a little girl named Rose who "woke up one morning [and] felt royal." Another of my beloved anti-princesses (up there with Olivia and the Paper Bag Princess), Rose has a active imagination, drawing her parents into her realm. Denton's illustrations are lots of fun, too, taking the theme of pink princesses and skewing them to properly dress the character in too much jewelry and layers of dress-up clothes that everyone wishes they had in their closet.

City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems, ill. by Jon J. Muth

Bet you haven't seen this Mo Willems masterpiece! Neither had I. It's unheard-of for Willems to forgo doing his illustrations but, in giving up the honors, he could do no better than Jon J. Muth (author/illustrator of Zen Shorts and The Three Questions). This touching and humorous story of two friends from very different homes who meets four times during the year is a great read for spring - or, really, any time of year!

Follow Follow, A Book of Reverso Poems by Marilyn Singer, ill. by Josée Masse

I was thrilled when this companion to Singer and Masse's Mirror Mirror turned up on the receiving shelf last week! Reverso poems are poems that can be read in two ways - when the order of the lines is reversed, a new poem emerges. Singer has taken classic tales like "Thumbelina" and "The Little Mermaid" and retold them through reverso poetry. Sometimes, the two poems act as conversations between two characters (as in "The Tortoise and the Hare") and sometimes, they explore two sides of the same character (as in the poem based on "The Princess and the Pea," in which the princess debates with herself about the luxuries and consequences of being a real princess). Masse's illustrations, vibrant and with the same duality as the poems, add humor and engaging visuals to Singer's poems. This is a fantastic read-aloud and a great introduction to poetry.

and then it's spring by Julie Fogliano, ill. by Erin E. Stead

Now that a proper New England winter has finally settled in, the first thing on my mind is warmer weather. Fogliano's story documents the transition from the bare brown of winter into the slow growth and bloom of spring, accompanied by Caldecott medalist Stead's gentle watercolor illustrations. The story illuminates all the anticipation, doubt, impatience, and hope inherent in the changing of seasons through the planting of a garden. With the help of his dog, his rabbit, and possibly some birds and bears (and a turtle and some ants and a couple of mice), the narrator patiently awaits a time when "the brown isn't around and now you have green, all around you have green." Another engaging read-aloud with beautiful poetry.

These are a few of my favorite recent discoveries. I think everyone who loves books and bookstores has walked unsuspectingly in one day and walked out with a book that made their whole week a bit better. What are some of your favorite surprise finds in bookstores (specifically, this one!)?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

CraigsLit: Missed Connections

Caught you eyeing the goods last week - m4w (Pemberley)
Girl, you didn't need to run off like you did. With a brain that fine, mi casa es su casa. Care to join me for a stroll round the estate? Let's ditch your sister though. Her new hubby harshes my vibe.

Still waiting... - m4G (near a tree I think?)
Yo Godot, this is getting ridiculous. I've never been stood up before and I don't plan on starting now so I'm here for the foreseeable future; the least you could do is text to say you're on your way. Show a little hustle, please; the suspense is killing me.

I asked for amour not a moor - m4w (your place, Yorkshire) 
Babe we could have had it all and then you had to go and die. I gotta say, that really grinds my gears. Now I'm stuck at the back end of nowhere, bored as all get-out and brooding like there's no tomorrow. BTW your family is insufferable. Wish you'd swing by; ghost lovin' beats nothing at all. I'll leave the window open.

At the altar, eons ago - w4m (Satis House)
More like Saddest House, am I right? Our wedding cake gathers dust on the table and some scruffy orphan keeps hitting on my daughter. Still can't get you out of my head. Even now the unquenchable thirst for vengeance surges through my body like a bilious tide... oh but I can't stay mad at you. Let's start over. I'm already in my dress + veil and good to go. This time, buddy, you sign the pre-nup. 

Sea captain seeks his one and only - m4wh (Melville, USA)
Me: tyrannical, hard-bitten, one peg leg.
You: white, aquatic, and kind of a Dick.
Can I buy you a drink? The Harpoon IPA is quite good...

(Cheat sheet: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5)

Friday, February 15, 2013

Gorey Details

My last day of Brookline Adult Ed bookbinding class was Wednesday and as we were all heavily gluing our bookcloth to bookboards we got on the subject of Edward Gorey. The teacher had had an Edward Gorey themed party once (genius!) One classmate didn't recognize the name and I realized that while I'm obsessed with the late great illustrator (whose house is now a museum in Yarmouthport) he's definitely the sort of artist that you might recognize less by name but more by his idiosyncratic style.

He had a rich life, drawing cute cats and illustrating the Eliot poem that would become the Broadway hit Cats:

Tons of great covers for Vintage Anchor paperbacks:

And of course his own work, like the Gashlycrumb Tinies:

He even designed his own renditions of Gothic classics. As I mentioned last week the UBC started listing some special books online only, and I just listed this amazingly awesome collection of Gorey's set and costume designs for a Broadway version of Dracula SIGNED BY GOREY HIMSELF. Gorey's birthday is a week from today, February 22nd, and what better way to celebrate than to give this treasure a forever home?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Drinking with Booksellers

A few weeks ago, I had an after-work drink with some booksellers.  We had just spent eight hours in the same space, and by the time we got to the bar we were aimlessly chatting about inclement weather.  To distract ourselves from obsessively staring at the kitchen doors while waiting for our fries and beverages, I asked a question. "If you had to enter into a relationship with a literary character, who would it be?"

We paused, looked at each other for a bit, and jumped in. (Answers: Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice, George Emerson from A Room With A View, Behemoth from The Master and Margarita)

"If you had to choose two literary characters or authors to be your parents, who would they be?" (Answers: Atticus Finch  + the ever glorious Ric, closing manager and poet extraordinaire, Mr. Bennet and Mrs. Weasley, Moominmamma and Kurt Vonnegut)

"If you had to have an unhappy marriage with a literary character and had to stay together for the kids, the dog and because your mother really liked him, who would it be?" (Answers: Lord Byron, Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre, Ivan Karamazov from The Brothers Karamazov, Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice)

"If you had to get a character's name tattooed on your body, who would it be?" (Answers: Bartleby, Mr.---, Seymour Glass's name surrounded by a piece of broken glass cutting a bananafish)

This is how we solve our problems. Not really.
"Stick with me here, okay?  Remember the literary character you wanted to have a relationship with?  Imagine you looked at their bedside table, and there was a well-worn book on it that you hated so much that it would make you break up with them.  What book would it be?" (Answers: The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Eat Pray Love, Modelland, Anthem I've been corrected: Atlas Shrugged)

"If you had go on an Arctic exploration with one author and one literary character, and one of you had to be killed in a bout of hypothermia-induced insanity, who would you go with and who would kill whom?" (Answers: I refuse to reveal the answers to this question, but the best one invoked the Star Wars tauntaun/Bear Grylls and a deer situation, if you catch my drift)

First of all, we found out that we know an awful lot about books. There are some books that people virulently, virulently hate, and some characters we obsessively, obsessively love.  There were arguments, the construction of parameters, literary allusions, answers we swore we would never repeat, and a glove was thrown to the ground.  It got really intense, but it was fantastic.

In a little less than two weeks, Rosie Schaap will be here for her new book, Drinking With Men.  After the traditional author event at the Booksmith, we're having a Literary Epilogue, where you grab a drink after an event and hang out with the author. We'll head over to Hops 'N' Scotch to have a drink.  Each purchase of the book comes with a drink ticket, and you'll have the opportunity to hang out with people who like the same book you do. Maybe you'll get into a literary argument over how you and your friend like/dislike An Unbearable Lightness of Being and are suddenly unsure if you are supposed to be friends even though you are really really good friends but what does it mean that they love it and you hate it, or maybe you'll have a good time. I sincerely hope it will be the latter.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

From Blizzards to Tropics

Today was the first day I ventured out to work after the blizzard. The first customer I found in the travel aisle was shivering in front of our wide selection of Caribbean guidebooks. I asked if she needed any help. She peered up at me from beneath a wooly hat and pleaded, "I want to go somewhere warm!"

Don't we all? That's why we're celebrating the sunny Caribbean as our Destination of the Month of February. After puzzling over how to get to Cuba for awhile, my customer determined she would go swim with the migrating whales off the coast of Belize. If, like me, your February will be spent trudging between work and home through ice and snow and sludge, our destination shelf is brimming with titles ready to transport you to the blazing heat of a sun-baked beach.

Travel alongside the erudite classic travel writer, Patrick Leigh Fermor, as he wanders among the old colonial capitals of several Caribbean Islands, including Guadeloupe, Martinique, Barbados, Trinidad, and Haiti. Fermor's first published travel narrative, Traveller's Tree, describes the culture and people inhabiting the paradisaical landscape, from steel drum bands to Voodoo practices.

Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean is an engaging history book to supplement your knowledge of the Caribbean Islands and the surrounding waters, which, just after the Spanish Inquisition, were often populated with Jewish Pirates. Edward Kritzler describes the adventures of such ships as the Prophet Samuel and Queen Esther and the prospects of their fascinating crews.

Tropic Death is a collection of short stories set in Barbados, Panama, and other Caribbean landscapes that filled the childhood memories of author Eric Walrond. Although fictional, these vivid depictions of life in the tropics transport the reader into the lives of island residents living in the aftermath of colonialism.  If the Dominican Republic is your destination, Junot Diaz's short story collection, Drown, reveals the lives of residents of the villages and barrios of the DR. Both of these short story collections would make a great read for a flight to the Caribbean. And of course, for a sultry romp through Puerto Rico, all you have to do is pick up Hunter S. Thompson's The Rum Diary and you're off to 1950s San Juan.

If you are looking not only to escape the cold, but also the city, pick up Jamaica Kincaid's A Small Place, and let her take you to a ten-by-twelve mile island, her home of Anitgua. Watch the changes that came with colonialism and tourism, and learn about the lives lived out in this small place in the Caribbean.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Spelled with an E

My passion for all things Anne of Green Gables is well-documented. I've read the books ragged. I'm reliving them in audio form now. When a recent edition of some of the books made middle-grade kindred spirit Anne look like a YA heroine in need of a plot beyond a love interest (and also blond, rendering impossible the meet-cute in which Anne's own future love interest calls her "Carrots" and she breaks a slate on his head), I couldn't stop showing it to other booksellers, prefacing it with, "Wanna see something horrible?"

So when I say I like Emily of New Moon at least as much as I like Anne of Green Gables, I don't say it lightly.

Emily, the star of another series by Anne author (and my secret best friend, though she didn't live long enough to know it) L.M. Montgomery, is similar to Anne in a lot of ways. Both are orphans raised by well-meaning guardians who just need a little help in the imagination department, and both are exactly the right people to deliver that help.

But pretty much everything Anne is, Emily is more so. Anne is imaginative and dabbles in writing; Emily writes obsessively and has a psychic incident once per otherwise-realistic book. Anne has a "bosom friend" in Diana; Emily has an impassioned friendship with Ilse, complete with raging quarrels. Anne has red hair and freckles; Emily has elf's ears, for cryin' out loud.

Um, I'll be curled up in the corner rereading this if anyone needs me.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Introducing Booksmith Private Reserve

Introducing, for your fine book needs:
Brookline Booksmith's Private Reserve

an eBay store of antiquarian, rare, fancy, interesting books 
open 24 hours a day from our Used Book Cellar. 

New things added daily!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Why I Don't Drink Coffee Immediately Before Events Anymore

A few hours ago, I met an author whose work I've loved since 2005.  For all of you counting, that's eight years of devotion, where I've transformed from unfocused poetry neophyte to a person obsessed with ghazals.  I love finding books and authors that stay with you during all of your (and their) iterations.  Their work becomes more than bound pages with text, it becomes a reassuring presence on your bookshelf, one you can easily return to whenever you need it. 

A few days ago, I learned that this author would be stopping by to sign stock.  I made sure to bring in my well-worn copy of this author's second book and picked up a cup of coffee before cheerily showing up to work. 

You may be wondering why I haven't revealed the author's name.  It's because I ultra-fangirled, and if he ever reads this, I might die. I had just imbibed half of a medium-sized coffee and was, to put it mildly, extremely caffeinated.  On a bad day I'm fairly energetic, but when I've injected all that caffeine into my system? My natural excitement over meeting this author, combined with caffeine, left me feeling like this could possibly be THE BEST MOMENT IN MY LIFE and EVERYONE NEEDED TO KNOW THIS and I was REALLY HAPPY TO MEET AUTHOR X. I was a hurricane, plucking his books from the shelf and having the author sign them while maintaining a slightly nervous conversation about how much I've loved the author's work.  The entire time, I couldn't think--what do you say to someone whose work you've loved for years, in such a short amount of time?  What words could you string together that would affect them as much as they affected you?

To this author's credit, he was so friendly and accommodating, and put me at ease in the middle of my full-fledged, caffeinated fangirl moment.  My adoration for his work continues, especially when coupled with his genuine friendliness and the fact he stayed right where he was and didn't back away slowly.  

Guys, Ann Leary will be here tonight, and Peter Hook will be here tomorrow.  I may have had my fan moment this morning, but several of you might be having your moment tonight or tomorrow.  You'll be in line, holding your book while nervously wondering what you might say or do, or how to even stand in front of someone whose work you've genuinely loved for years, decades even.  I know how you feel, and will give you one piece of advice before entering the signing line:

Lay off the coffee, you'll be great. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Hipsters, Bookstores, & a Ferris Wheel

I had just left the wood floors of Elliot Bay Bookstore and was walking down a rain-sparkled street to one of my favorite cafes, Bauhaus, already anticipating the dim corners and foggy windows that give Bauhaus its romantic and edgy feel--the perfect blend of stimulation and hibernation needed to write the night away. Across the street on the puddled pavement of an empty court of Cal Anderson Park, a game of bike hockey commenced. I passed a drag queen in an elaborate pink evening dress. There was no doubt where I was: the hipster of Seattle's neighborhoods, Capitol Hill.

While I spent most of my week-long stay in Seattle in the University District, where I used to live and work, I visited almost every neighborhood in the immediate area. Perhaps because of the city's unique topography--houses and businesses are built up into the hills that rise from the surrounding waters of the Puget Sound, Lake Union, and Lake Washington--Seattle's neighborhoods are distinct, each with its own atmosphere, its own sub-culture and its own particular breed of residents populating its streets and cafes.

If you are in the U District, the dominate atmosphere is of course, the student population. A walk around the campus in spring time, particularly in the "quad," is essential--cherry blossoms are everywhere. Be sure to stop in my old stompin' grounds, the University Bookstore, an independent with a great selection of new and used books. Want more? Head down the back alley to Magus Bookstore, full of used books, and grab a coffee at the hole-in-the-wall cafe, Allegro.  Along University Way are the typical student eateries, with a diverse smattering of Asian cuisine.

I spent a full day in Ballard, where I was amazed to see whole streets full of new, hip cafes and shops that had sprung up in the past few years. Among them were the more familiar bars that still give the neighborhood its old fishing village feel--Coner Byrne a particular favorite of mine. This neighborhood hosts a small independent bookstore that specializes in children's books, The Secret Garden.

I lived in Queen Anne for a few years, at the bottom of the hill. When I hiked to the top I found small shops and cafes, pricier than other parts of the city, but delightful to spend a day browsing. Among them, Queen Anne Books, set to re-open under new ownership in February. Just across the ship canal and the shockingly blue Freemont Bridge, is Freemont. If Capitol Hill is the "hippest" of Seattle's neighborhoods, Freemont is the "hippiest" neighborhood in Seattle, defined by its slow pace, its Sunday Market, and of course, more bookshops and cafes. It is all Jamaica Plain aspires to be, and never will be. (I love you JP, I live in you, and I have faith that you will find yourself someday).

I haven't even touched Wallingford, Belltown, Green Lake, the International District, Magnolia, Maple Leaf, Ravenna, West Seattle or Downtown (where I rode the new Ferris Wheel near Pike Place Market to stunning views of Mount Rainer, the Puget Sound, the Olympic Mountains), but I have to leave something for you to discover on your own. We've got a large selection of guidebooks covering the Pacific Northwest to help you on your way.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Backbone of a Book is its Spine

My first-ever blog post for Blogsmith. I'm very excited and intimidated to be here!

I'll start with a confession. I'm afraid I do, in fact, still judge books by their covers. Worse than that, I judge books by their spines.

To be fair, the world of children's literature grows exponentially on a weekly basis. There is so much out there and even for those of us lucky enough to spend our days buried away in the Booksmith's magnificent children's department, it's daunting to be asked for a book for an advanced ten-year-old who likes model cars, ponies, Saturday morning cartoons, and cooking. My hunt for the perfect book for this reader is likely to begin with a spine, which is likely the first part of the book that I will see.

It's worth noting that book jacket design is a huge and critical part of the publishing process. Whether the art belongs to the author/illustrator, the illustrator, or a graphic designer contracted by the publisher, it's critical that a book's spine be as eye-catching as its cover because even if a book gets some face-out time on the shelf, chances are it will spend the bulk of its time flashing its spine and hoping to be noticed by wandering eyes.

I should just mention that I wanted to do this post because it came to my attention recently that there are quite a few seriously cool book jacket designs kicking around our bookshelves right now with some really eye-catching spines. I've pulled a few of my favorites from different parts of the department to try and figure out what about them that stands out. Why did I pull these off the shelf (and why might you)?

Tess's Guide to Awesome Spinage 
Seriously cool book jacket designs with eye-catching spines
Imagery If you have a thick spine, use it! If you're lucky enough to be Caldecott medalist Brian Selznick, you got to design your own cover using your own artwork. His most recent novel, Wonderstruck, looks fantastic next to his debut novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, because they both literally stare at you from the bookshelf. Wonderstruck really stands out, though, because of the vivid color Selznick uses in his cover art (though the interior is black and white). Another important feature of imagery used in the jacket design is how active it looks, as though the spine is brimming over with action from the cover art. In the case of YA novels, some jacket designers make really good use of action imagery in their book spines. Ally Condie's Crossed (jacket design by Theresa M. Evangelista) simply recycles the photo and gargantuan title letters from the cover art. The combination of active imagery, large font, and reversal of a single letter, added to the Matched trilogy's coordinating designs for Matched and Reached, make this series' spines eye-catching ones. Chris Beam's I Am J doesn't have the advantage of belonging to a series but it does the job of being eye-catching by using an image that looks both like it's moving and like you could reach out and touch it (which you probably will, thereby choosing it over its competitors and making its parents very proud). 

Color One of the most challenging jackets to design is that of a picture book. While you often have twice or three times the cover space, you also have a long, narrow spine that is crammed it next to fifty other long, narrow spines. An effective means of drawing attention is to use bright (or even jarring) colors on the spine. Take, for instance, Matthew Luckhurst's Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. Luckhurst worked with Chad W. Beckerman in the book's design and they could have done much worse in their choice of bright, pastel yellow. Likewise, the text on the spine is glaringly bright pastel blue, red, and green so it's easy to spot beside other books. Though not often found mixed in with picture books, Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaires' classic, D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Mythology goes with a violently yellow spine and simple, bold black text. You're never ever going to lose track of this one on the shelves. And in Mo Willems' newest gem, Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs, jacket designer Martha Rago makes use of block lettering filled with several bright colors against pastel green so that Willems' name and the title pop.

Artwork If you're designing a jacket for a tremendously gifted illustrator, why not slap their artwork on the spine? Inga Moore illustrated Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic The Secret Garden and the elegance of the spine, with its straightforward color scheme and lettering, is enhanced by one of Moore's images of Mary Lennox peering down a garden path. The image is small but gives a taste of the clarity of the illustrations (also indicating that they're in color, which is a big draw in intermediate fiction right now. For another great taste of full-color chapter books, check out Roald Dahl's classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or E.B. White's Charlotte's Web).

Contrast It's important for the spine to stand out so another effective method of drawing the eye is by designing spines with contrasting colors and patterns. Instead of relying on a brightly colored spine to draw the eye, the contrast on the spine itself does the job for you. Take, for example, Tad Hill's How Rocket Learned to Read and Rocket Writes a Story.     

Cleverness When in doubt, do something clever. Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo's Asterix comic strips now appear in omnibus form. If you fit the spines of the omnibus editions together, they form a complete image from one of Uderzo's illustrations. Since even the omnibus editions don't actually have large spines, it's a smart move to make the series itself eye-catching by making sure that even a single copy of each volume draws attention on the shelf.

My judgment of a book's worth certainly doesn't end with its spine. But it's definitely a place to start. What book spines have caught your eye recently?

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Superbowl Sunday: Literary Showdown

Superbowl Sunday! Either you've waited for it all year or you're just in this for the snacks and funny beer commercials. Unless you're me, in which case you completely forgot that football existed until Carl proposed a literary showdown between writers from this year's rival cities (Baltimore and San Francisco, if you've been living under the same rock I was).

Let's see the line-up!


Lawrence Ferlinghetti - The patron saint of indie bookstores and the heart & soul of this ragtag team of miscreants. If they win this thing, he's taking a gatorade shower.
Tobias Wolff - Crowd favorite. Makes short work of the opposition.
Charles Schulz - insists the Charlie Brown football schtick was not a self-portrait. We'll see.
Shirley Jackson - assumes the ceremonial coin flip augurs darker things to come. Doubts anyone will be "going to Disneyworld."
Jack London - thinks Shirley Jackson is optimistic.
Lemony Snicket - thinks Jack London is cheerful.
Allen Ginsberg - will probably streak at half-time.

Aaaaaand east coast! From BALTIMORE:

Edgar Allen Poe - With a team name like the Ravens, this guy's the clear MVP. Has big-name draw but isn't exactly known for his happy endings.
Gertrude Stein - renowned for dizzying duck-and-weave tactics and elaborate touch-down victory dances.
Upton Sinclair - or "Jungle Fever," as his teammates call him. This is a dirty business and he's in it to win.
Emily Post - will tackle you with her pinky out.
Ogden Nash - endears himself to the cheerleaders by improving their rhyme schemes.
John Barth - is all about the mind games. He'll sneak off the field and into the media box to give voice-over commentary. Says Baltimore is winning but we have no way of knowing that's true. Or even that this game is real.
Tom Clancy - his strategy involves a CIA mole, international espionage and the Goodyear blimp.

Holy cow, folks. It's anyone's game. We'll be pulling for Frisco, if only because we've got a huge crush on City Lights.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Ain't that a hoot and a holler

Buying hours wrapped up a few minutes ago as I'm writing this, and I'm tidying up the last few books we brought in and I notice that Carl bought The Fall by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. Not totally out of the blue, mind you, it's a good book and it sells well when we get it in and we get it fairly regularly, maybe every other week or so. BUT. It's weird because just. this. morning. We got copies of the two subsequent volumes of the trilogy. They're harder to come by and it was really random that throughout the course of just one buying day, through different sellers, we managed to complete a series.

It happens sometimes that Carl and I will separately buy a book that we haven't seen before, or is pretty rare, and we get super jazzed and we go to shelve it only to find that the other just bought the same strange book and now our not-so-rare finds sit next to each other on the shelf.

SOMETIMES a customer will walk up to the counter, "Do you have a copy of Le Malentendu by Camus?" We'll double check the shelf but alas no mama-drama from France. The customer will leave, soldiering on to the next shop and pass a customer bearing a dresser drawer full of books. We'll flip through them and lo, there's Caligula, with Le Malentendu in its entirety on pg 36. Happens. all. the. time. Give us your name and number next time. We have a decent success rate in finding what you're after.

It's super rare (happened twice in my tenure) but sometimes there's money in books. I of course have never had the pleasure of such a discovery. It's been Carl BOTH times and it's been a $20 bill BOTH times and it was in a Dean Koontz novel BOTH times. And don't BOTHER flipping through all the books we currently have in stock. You won't find ANYTHING. Not that I'm bitter or anything.