Friday, May 31, 2013

1,000 Drunken Bunny Rabbits

The Used Book Cellar just recently acquired the Popol Vuh - the ancient book of Mayan origins. In it, you get to learn about Centzon Totochtin, the god of wine and revelry whose physical form takes the shape of 1,000 drunken bunny rabbits! Sunday school would have been so much cooler if we got to learn about him.

And just like Centzon Totochtin, we have thousands of awesome things in the UBC this week:

  • Tons and TONS and TOOONS of science and math books acquired only yesterday. Get here fast to scope 'em out but do NOT drink and derive. 

  • Another person's move is your goldmine, a really nice fella sold off so many super sweet comics (including Promethea by Alan Moore one of my alltime favorites) so come get at 'em before the weekend crowds hit!

  • Randomly we seem to have acquired a really good selection of drama recently. One actor was moving and sold off a bunch of how-to books, and quite a few students have brought in some really great plays in excellent condition. 

We're looking sharp and stocked these days, so beat the gross humidity and ridiculously hot weather and come see us! We're subterranean (like ninja turtles), and we have air conditioning! Also, chairs! You'll love it!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

To Go or Not to Go?

"This is a great moment, when you see, however distant, the goal of your wandering. The thing which has been living in your imagination suddenly becomes a part of the tangible world." --Freya Stark

It's been on my horizon for over three years now. Ever elusive, whimsical, charming, it rises over the peaked roofs of my neighborhood as if out of some other world, a fairy tale perhaps. Up until yesterday it was, in fact, just that: my fairy tower, a mystical white tower topped with a green peaked turret, the kind that Rapunzel let down her long hair from. 

What made it even more magical, more unreal and other-worldly, was the fact that it used to dance enticingly over the horizon, ever-shifting, never-stable. Walking home from work it would appear out of nowhere over the treetops, from a new angle, in some new light; it seemed impossible that it stayed where it was while I moved. I'd think of Marcel Proust, who often wrote of the shifting steeples over a horizon in central France, until they became metaphors for his characters: ever-changing, never who you thought they were. I'd try to guess the purpose of my tower--Minaret? Mosque? Lookout?--but I'd never look it up. I never tried to find its base, half-believing it moved continually in its own reality, and half-content to let it be, evidence of a dream world more compelling than my every day reality.

Yesterday a gentleman approached the register and informed me that I would not have made this sale had not his bus been late. The comment gave our transaction a kind of fated appeal, as if it were meant to be. As I bagged his books, he informed me that he was taking the "66 to the 39" a familiar bus route for me, in fact, my bus route home.

Had I ever heard of the Roxbury Water Tower, the customer wanted to know. I didn't think so. "They're doing some construction on it now, so it doesn't look the same, used to be white." Suddenly I remembered that in recent weeks my fairy tale tower had changed, had been magically transformed into a brown tower. I had imagined some evil spell had been cast; now I knew the spell was scaffolding.

The customer drew a photo-copied map out of his bag, and began to explain his trek to me. As I became more and more certain that this man was on the journey I had never dared to make, on a pilgrimage to my fairy tower, and that this was the treasure map to its elusive base, I grew more and more alarmed. Dared I look at the map? Learn the roots of this tower, the truth of this story? It seemed I had no choice. "Oh," I said weakly, "I always wondered about that tower."

"Yup, it's a water tower," the man confirmed, and informed me that were rehabilitating the tower, that they hoped to open it so that the public could go to the top to enjoy the view.

Would it have been better not to know? I wondered as I watched the man leave the bookstore to continue on his quest. According to Proust, the places we long for are never quite the same in reality; it's the essence of their mystery, the very appeal of desire itself that we crave, and rarely find fulfillment when we journey to their base. His narrator is almost always disappointed in the destinations he has dreamed.

However, in my limited travel experience, I often find that there is joy in the journey itself, and perhaps my imagination is not quite so ardent as Proust's: it rarely over-shoots a destination, allowing me to be quite happy at the end of a quest. It's one thing to hold a destination as sacred, it's another to keep it--untarnished, but un-experienced--at arm's length, in another world. There's something to seeing in reality something you've only imagined. When the Roxbury Water Tower turns white again, perhaps I will set out on a pilgrimage of my own. Who can tell what worlds I'll spy from atop it's turret?

Monday, May 27, 2013

Because history happens to people

As far as I know, Laurie Halse Anderson has plenty of shoes. Boots, even. So what was she doing walking barefoot in the snow? Research, of course. She wanted to get the details of an American Revolution soldier's experience just right.

If you're looking for a Memorial Day read, this is a great one.

If you're learning any bit of history, one of the best ways to make it make sense, to make it meaningful, to make it matter is to read historical fiction. It's one thing to learn that Charles Darwin's theories were controversial. It's another to see Calpurnia Tate try to research these newfangled ideas while her parents think she should focus on learning to cook.

It's one thing to learn about genocide. It's another to catch your breath with Lina as her mother trades her brother's life for a watch.

It's one thing to learn that the 1960s were a time of significant cultural change. It's another to watch Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern make sense of their Black Panther mother's ideals when they're used to their more old-fashioned grandmother's way of thinking. It's yet another thing to watch them fangirl over the Jackson Five in the brand-new sequel.


It's one thing to learn about the Vietnam War. It's another to to sympathize with Hà, who emigrates from Vietnam to Alabama and is so unfamiliar with American customs that she wears a flannel nightgown to school.

It's one thing to be told something. It's another to feel like you've experienced it, or at least been told about it by a good (fictional) friend.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Dude Food Books

Anthony Bourdain has started his own publishing imprint at Ecco, picking a few books a season by some pretty cutting edge (and predictably macho) dude food books. One of them that I'm particularly excited about is Daniel Vaughn’s Prophets of Smoked Meat, which is a full-color photo-rich book that is basically a travel guide to all the best barbecue in Texas. Also, that is a great title. And what better sort of book to give this time of year with graduations and Father's Day abounding, dads and grads alike need 1) books on how to feed the people that like them and 2) summer is around the corner and we have a duty, as friends of people with spatulas, grills or plane tickets to Texas, to perpetuate tasty meat consumption. Also, Franklin Barbecue forever.

Other books to try might be:

 Grilling Vegan Style by Jon Schlimm. Everyone loves a versatile chef!

Beer Lovers New England by Norman Miller. Think local with your gustatory travel ideas. And also think about what hops pair best with grilled meats.

Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare. No recipes here, but plenty of meaty humor.

And if you need more gifty ideas for dads or grads, "pork loin is my jam," says Jes of the Card and Gift Room when asked what meat is best. Or you could just check out our epic table of gifts and books at the front register, or gift-buyer Kerri's amazing display in the Card and Gift room for ideas!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Booksmiths at BEA

Next week, the powers that be are sending me and a few other Booksmiths to New York for Book Expo America, an annual event that brings in book people from all over.  Booksellers, publishers, authors, bloggers, fans, you name it.  They're all there, ready to talk about books and brave the floor show.  I'm really looking forward to it for a lot of reasons:
  • Putting faces to a name. Yes, I've e-mailed you more times than I have my mother within the past few months, but I haven't met you yet!  Also, a lot of you probably think I am a man as "Jamie" is a very gender neutral name, but alas, I am a lady.
  • Getting advanced copies of books and dancing in joy over media mail rates after you realize how much it would cost to ship all those books back home normally.
  • In that same vein, free tote bags.  I love tote bags.  I love putting free books into tote bags.  I love distributing tote bags to other booksellers when I realize I have taken way too many home.
  • Seeing booksellers and publishers I know, my absolute favorite, second only to jumping into those same people's arms after realizing they're less than 100 feet away from you and hoping they won't be so caught off guard that they can catch you.
  • Hearing a lot of really awesome authors talk.  Yes, I'm at an author event nearly every day, but I still love going to talk.  In addition, there are amazing panels about anything and everything related to bookselling which I'm excited to attend.
  • Parties. All the parties. 
I'm really jazzed about this, and if you're heading to BEA next week--hope to see you there!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Movie Adaptations - A Wishlist

As we all know, screenwriters and film producers of the last five or ten years have been ransacking their bookshelves (and the bookshelves of their teenagers and children) to find material for their films and TV series. Though this is certainly happening in the world of adult fiction, it's absolutely a rampant madhouse of adaptations in the world of children's literature. In the last ten years, we've seen everything from Because of Winn-Dixie to Twilight to Speak to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (never mind the monumentally successful Harry Potter series).

Since it's clear that Hollywood is looking frantically for new children's and YA literature to adapt, I thought I'd put forward some of my favorite titles for consideration.

Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

I'm actually kind of shocked this one hasn't at least been optioned as a movie yet because it's exactly what studios seem to want these days: plucky heroine defies family and runs away to live with dragons. It's all very fractured fairy tale and very funny. I would be very happy to have Helen Mirren play the voice of Kazul the dragon and Chloe Grace Moretz as Princess Cimorene ... and maybe Alex Kingston as Moren the witch. This would be a great big-budget movie but only if it was done thoughtfully - don't overdue the special effects!

Knuffle Bunny, Knuffle Bunny Too, and Knuffle Bunny Free by Mo Willems

What I really want is for Mr. Willems to go do some collaboration with Pixar but I'd also love to see Willems, a former award-winning TV animator himself, work his hilarious and touching photograph/cartoon-illustrated trilogy into a short animated film in three acts. The photos themselves could be actual black and white film footage with the cartoons animated over top. Hilarious! I love the idea of Matt Damon narrating, for some reason ...

The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

I spend a lot of time shoving this one into readers' shopping baskets - it's truly fantastic, classic children's literature. Sounds like another Rick Riordan fantasy about mythology but actually, it's about four kids who create their own make-believe ancient Egyptian court in an abandoned lot behind a mysterious antique shop. I think it would be a fantastic movie. April and Melanie, the main characters, are such strong, original, realistic girls and the supporting characters around them are so lively and vibrant. I can see Elle Fanning as April and Amandla Stenberg as Melanie, with Christopher Lee as the mysterious antique store owner. I'd love to see this one as a small-budget movie, maybe led by Joss Whedon ...

Half Magic by Edward Eager

This is one of my favorite read-aloud books, both from my own childhood and as a teacher. Like Roald Dahl, Edward Eager needs only a few words to paint a clear, compelling, and very funny picture: four siblings who find a complicated piece of magic and, predictably, wreak all kinds of havoc trying to use it. I'd want Saoirsa Ronan as Jane, Asa Butterfield as Mark, Rosie Taylor-Ritson as Katherine, and ... I'm honestly not quite sure about Martha, the spunky youngest sister. I see this as a movie, although maybe a BBC miniseries would be cool too.

What are some of your favorite children's and YA lit books that you'd love to see adapted for films, TV shows, or even stage plays?


Friday, May 17, 2013

Super Cheesy Love Story

Maybe it's the advent of spring, maybe it's string of boring non-fiction I've just plowed through but for some reason I got it in my head last week that I really wanted to read an engrossing novel that is just a basic love story. Something cheesy. Something simple. But something well-written. It's a hard balance to strike but here are some recommendations if you're in the mood for love, too:

Old Favorites

A Room With a View. Genteel girl, social outcast boy. Will they, won't they, love triangle, Italy. This book has it all!

The Sky is Everywhere. A heartbreaker of a novel where a girl's sister dies and in the wake while dealing with the grief, the protagonist deals with the seemingly ill-timed first blushes of love.

The Marriage Plot. A love triangle set in the 1980s, with international travel, being in love with someone with bipolar disorder, and unrequited pining. All the good stuff with beautiful writing and super-real characters as only Eugenides can pull off.

And the pile of To-Reads on my nightstand after all my searching:

Delicacy. A French love story in which a young widow finds an unlikely mate in a geeky guy at work.

The Lover. The modernist novella in which a young French teen in Indochina has a saucy affair with a Chinese man.

Justine. Basically a book set in bedrooms. Sold.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Vacation, Please!

A great chunk of my vacations after the age of 18 have originated with conversations like this: 

JAMIE'S DAD: Do you remember when you were four years old and we took you to meet your aunt in Vancouver? 
JAMIE'S DAD: You don't?  We took lots of pictures.
JAMIE: Dad. I was four. 
JAMIE'S DAD: So you do remember!
JAMIE: ...

When I was younger (and even now) my father would gather our family together, tuck us into the car along with snacks, a gigantic camera and a tripod, and take us on a road trip.  Because of this proclivity, I visited a pretty decent chunk of North America before my ninth birthday and seem to remember none of it. My father and I often have arguments over where we've visited over the years, and he's always able to prove it with photographic evidence.  The pictures have yellowed, and I usually spend a few weekends out of the year revisiting places I had visited when I was younger to remember it with older eyes.  

That's the case with this summer--I'm going on a road trip to Montréal in July. My memories of Montréal involve my parents' ancient Mazda MPV and acquiring a dog figurine.  Thanks to Jodie, our lovely travel expert, and Lonely Planet, who graciously sent me (and other booksellers!) free guidebooks, I know the city is more than my wobbly memories. 

I'm really looking forward to renting a bicycle and exploring.  There are so many festivals in the summer, and I really hope I manage to catch the Loto-Quebec International Fireworks Competition.  I'm planning on visiting Chapters Bookstore and Archambault (#1 rule of bookseller vacations, you find the local bookstore and spend hours in it, baffling your travel companions), eating poutine, and soaking it all in. My favorite part (aside from the travelling itself) is actually the planning of it, poring through guidebooks and familiarizing myself with an unfamiliar place. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Vicarious Journeys: The Next Best Thing

My little sister just informed me that she plans to spend three weeks in Istanbul this summer. It's not that I resent the well-deserved vacation she's taking from teaching art to Kindergarten through 6th graders, but I AM  jealous. I've  added her trip to the growing list of the many coveted, vicarious journeys I will be making through my friends this summer. Sometimes it can feel like everyone is leaving the country except me. Whenever I start to feel like this--just a little too home-bound--I know it's time to turn to the next best thing: the bookshelf.

To my sister I recommended Orhan Pamuk's Istanbul. To the rest of you, I'm going to recommend armchair reading from our destination of the month shelf. And this month, we're featuring Spain. I happen to have two friends there right now. While they're traveling through Barcelona, I can read Carlos Luis Zafon's Shadow of the Wind, a mystery set in post-war Barcelona. Zafon's most recent work, Prisoner of Heaven, also set in Barcelona, was just released in paperback. Or I could pick up George Orwell's classic Homage to Cataloniaor Colm Toibin's Homage to Barcelona, which happens to be available for a limited time as a sale book on our remainder tables at Booksmith!

Aside from novels set in the country we've got books that will help you delve into the Spain's culture, past and present, books like Elizabeth Nash's Madrid: A Cultural History and Giles Tremlett's Ghosts of Spain. As Madrid correspondents for The Independent and The Guardian, respectively, Nash and Tremlett share their extensive knowledge of the country, taking their readers deep into the roots of the culture, arts, and politics of Spain. Tremlett in particular explores some of the country's scars, opening up a conversation about Spain's unexplored past.

Speaking of the ghosts of Spain, to see a few for yourself, swing by San Jose Cathedral in Madrid, a favorite spot for ghost hunters in the city, according  legend and to our Secret Madrid guide. While we've got dozens of guidebooks to Spain on our shelves, the most unique are Secret Madrid and Secret Barcelona. These guides invite you explore the cities' off-the-track sites, such as the Spy Shop in Barcelona or the unsavory specimens on display at the Museum of Forensic Anthropology in Madrid.

And finally, when you do get to travel to Spain, don't leave without stuffing our Crumpled City Barcelona map into your back pocket. Check out our new display of these fun, lightweight maps to cities around the world, in our travel aisle at Booksmith!

Monday, May 13, 2013

It's beginning to look a lot like book time

I'm writing this hurriedly on Friday in anticipation of one of the busiest weekends of the year outside of the winter holiday season. Mid-to-late spring is a time for life changes for many people. All around us, new graduates are blooming. People are moving out of dorms or across the country. Others are retiring after many years of hard work. And of course, the weekend that's in the future for me and in the past for you included Mother's Day, and Father's Day is just around the corner.

The amazing thing is, all of those things seem to lead people to buy books. And though many of the occasions commonly celebrated now aren't directly about kids, it's a big time for kids' books. Adults about to move away come in looking for books to give their students, their babysitting clients, their beloved young neighbors. Parents and students come looking for classroom gifts or books for retiring teachers. Families buy books about honoring moms for Mother's Day and dads for Father's Day. And if you know someone who's moving on, chances are you're looking for Oh, The Places You'll Go! (We have it in spades in our graduation display, along with lots of other books about moving up and making your mark.)

Everything comes back to kids' books. Just sayin'. Happy May!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Map Files

You may have noticed some changes in our travel aisle. I thought I'd provide something of a "map" to help you find your way...

First let me introduce you to our map files. Previously, our folded maps were mixed in with our travel guides. Now we've filed them geographically--from New England to New Zealand--in nifty file boxes you will find immediately on your left as you enter our travel aisle. Check them out!

But you won't get even that far before you stop to stare in awe at our lovely new display of travel accessories, from luggage tags to travel journals. Here you can also discover some gorgeous travel gift books as well as world and historical atlases. When you see this:
You'll know: you've arrived.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Bookshelves of Jo March, Neville Longbottom, Edmond Pevency, Claus and Fern Arable

This post was loosely inspired by a lovely post Natasha did a few weeks back about the hypothetical bookshelves of characters in literature. I was thinking about some of my favorite children's and young adult books and then I started thinking, "I wonder what some of my favorite characters like to read ..." And since they're fictional characters themselves, I've chosen to blithely ignore the fact that Jo March was 19th century and therefore couldn't have read Alan Bennett of the 20th/21st century.

Let's begin with Louisa May Alcott's beloved heroine. Jo March's bookshelf is easy because, in Little Women, she is perpetually reading. Her bookshelf, as detailed by Alcott in the novel, would look something like this:
Pilgrim's Progress, The Wide Wide World
and The Pickwick Papers

However, I think if Jo could time travel and read anything ever published, her bookshelf would look more like this:

13 Little Blue Envelopes, On Writing, The Penderwicks,
Self-Reliance and Other Essays,
and The Uncommon Reader
Jo's a writer and grows up with a philosopher/minister father. She's also determined to travel, to escape her small world for a larger one, and ultimately to be a free woman.

I always thought J.K. Rowling's Neville Longbottom, underdog-turned-hero in the Harry Potter series, would have been an avid reader. As a kid who's bullied and bears the brunt of a lot of jokes, even from his friends, he seems the sort to enjoy some escapism. However, he also grows a lot over the course of the series, on a kind of epic saga of his own. Additionally, he's a horticulture-lover, so I think his bookshelf would look like this:

On The Road, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Edible Wild Plantsand Useful Herbs
Everything You Need to Know About SnakesSpud

C.S. Lewis's Edmund Pevencie begins as the family rebel until the morality in the series beats it out of him. It does flare up on occasion, though, post Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and I think with that little bit of rebelliousness kicking around in his system, as well as his royal heritage in Narnia, his bookshelf would probably look something like this:

Tangerine, D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths,
King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table,
Edward III, The Hobbit
E.B. White's Fern Arable has an imagination and creative view of the world that, to me, screams "Reader!!" She's also an animal-lover and very child-like, while at the same time just beginning to approach the age where make believe isn't quite enough anymore. If Fern, like Jo, had run of a literary timeline, I think her bookshelf would look like this:

Because of Winn-Dixie; Are You There, God, It's Me, Margaret?;
Catwings; Mercy Watson to the Rescue; The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Who are some of your favorite book characters and what might their bookshelves look like?

Friday, May 3, 2013

Manifest Destiny

Big changes are afoot in the Valhalla of Books as I just called the UBC just now. We're taking a Westward Expansion into the Events area (hi Jamie!) and filling up large cases with amazing and wonderful books. Our Kids section is now expanding to two cases, and Cookbooks will move making more room for New Arrivals, and our Book Club picks are expanding to include Staff Recommends in the UBC. This all means that we have more room to grow as far as kids books are concerned, so if you have some good children's picture books in nice shape, bring them in during our buying hours: Wednesday through Saturday, 10 AM - 4 PM.

Big Big Big Changes come check em out and load up on books to read outside in this lovely weather!