Wednesday, November 26, 2014

National Book Awards

So, this might be a little late. It's been a long week. Anyway...

A couple of years ago I didn't pay much attention to who was winning what awards (aside from the Chime/Shine debacle which caused a stir in the blogging world). I would take a minor note of the winners, probably months after they announced it and continue on with my life.

It was when a book I really loved, Where Things Come Back, won both the Printz and the Morris awards and Maggie Stiefvater's Scorpio Races was also nominated for the Printz that I started to take note. It was also that year that I started working in a bookstore so as my enthusiasm about these awards grew so did the number people around me who were also excited.

Which is how I found myself obsessively following the @NationalBook twitter feed last Wednesday night as the winners were announced. WTCB's author John Corey Whaley was shortlisted for his new book Noggin and I needed to know if he won.

I do wish I could have live streamed it, but the twitter feed did a wonderful job of highlighting the important parts of each speech.

Now think what you want about Daniel Handler as a presenter, that wasn't what I took away from what I've seen and read from the awards. There will always be a controversy, as sad as that is.

What stuck with me the most from the awards was the amazing overall love for literature as an art. I feel like so many of the big stories that are published now highlight the publishing world as a business. I'm not saying it's not a business, or that some authors don't write to make money.

The thing is, no one chooses writing as a career unless it is something they love doing. It's not exactly a well paying, get rich quick job. It's something that you have to care about to do well and I think when people get all wrapped up in the business of it, when they do nothing but talk about how this book didn't sell as well as that book so it must not be as good, that they lose sight of the fact that writing is a labor of love.

Wednesday night's ceremony was such a reminder of the importance of story and not sales. That books are an art, no matter what genre they're in.

Plenty of people walked away talking about scandal but what I saw most commented on, and rightfully, was Ursula Le Guin's speech after she was presented with the medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Her speech was everything that I wanted and everything I feel whenever someone talks about the worth of a book being in the sales alone. If you haven't had the chance to watch it see it below.

But even Ursula Le Guin was introduced by Neil Gaiman who practically gushed on stage over her. He talked about starting to write how much her writing meant to him;
 "Other writers I would copy. I would copy their style. I loved C.S. Lewis. I loved G,K, Chesterton. I would look at how they did it and try to copy it. Ursula, I couldn't figure out how she did it because her style was so clean, her words so precise and well chosen."

And it came down to how her writing impacted him, not how well she sold. In his speech she is never called a bestseller. Instead she is a "giant of literature" because of how much her writing impacted other writers.

If you haven't already watched their speeches watch them now!

Neil Gaiman presents lifetime achievement award to Ursula K. Le Guin at 2014 National Book Awards from National Book Foundation on Vimeo.

Most of the books aren't these mega blockbuster books. If I didn't work in a bookstore I might not even have known some of the titles or the authors but it's not the sales that are driving the awards it's the writing and that's what I think we need.

Who cares what the bestsellers are! Look for the books with medals. Look for the books that a friend gushed about because it made them feel something really spectacular. Ask someone who works in the store what the last book that they read that really mattered to them was.

I am not saying buying books doesn't matter (please, please buy books) but also please please remember that there is so much more to a book than whether it was on the New York Times Bestseller list. If you love every book on the bestseller list great but step out of that comfort zone and that guide and try something else.

There is so much to read in the world and so many different things and what matters about all of them is the writing and how much blood, sweat, and tears went into them and whether they can find one person to make an impact on.

So check out one of the NBA winners (John Corey Whaley didn't win but Woodson's book is stunning) and, of course, congratulations to those who did win!

Young People's Literature: Jacqueline Woodson for Brown Girl Dreaming
Poetry: Louise Glück for Faithful and Virtuous Night
Nonfiction: Evan Osnos for Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China
Fiction: Phil Klay for Redeployment

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Today I'm reading BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson, which just won the National Book Award and deserved it a dozen times over. Every perfectly chosen word carries its weight in this book. You feel like you are stepping right into how she sees her own life. It's poetic, it's inspired, you will cry. I promise.

And if after that you still want to feel strongly emotional, try these...


Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi -- A striking two volume graphic novel autobiography of a girl growing up in Iran amidst political unrest. 12+

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz -- Aristotle and Dante are best friends, but there's always a distance between them, coming from Ari's side. This is a novel about friendship, love, and fear of yourself. It's about secrets, heroism, identity, and opening up. It's wonderful. 13+

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan -- Precocious Willow Chance only feels at home with her loving parents and her impressive garden. But an accident takes those things away. Willow is left to learn in her achingly precise and perfect language how to find love and understanding among different people, and how to build a new life from what she's lost. 11+

Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin -- Rose Howard has a hard time fitting in with people because of her Asperger's syndrome, but her dog Rain understands her perfectly. When she loses Rain in a hurricane, Rose searches everywhere for her. When Rain does come back, Rose learns something about her dog that she doesn't want to know. Suddenly the happy reunion is a hard choice. [Disclaimer: NO DOG DIES IN THIS BOOK.] 9+

Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie -- Junior is a disabled kid from the reservation. He wants to be a cartoonist, but that probably won't ever happen as long as he stays put. So he does the worst thing a rez kid can do, and goes to the white school in the next town. Alexie knows about humor, anger, loss, and the impossibly choice between loyalty to the people you love and wanting something better. 13+

Enjoy the extremely fulfilling tears you will cry as you read these perfect books.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Jeff Kinney at Brookline Booksmith!

Last sunday, if you have been walking through Coolidge Corner, you no doubt would have noticed the gargantuan Enterprise truck that was parked outside of our store, and the large cardboard cutouts that sufficiently bundled gentlemen were hastening to unload from it.

This would have been for our event with Jeff Kinney, author of popular "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" series. This, however, was no usual event. This was a Jeff Kinney experience, complete with stations, games, photo ops, and finally, a signed copy of your favorite Wimpy Kid books and a handshake with Jeff Kinney himself. It was like nothing Booksmith has ever done before, and frankly, after seeing how sucessful it was, I think we should probably start holding such events for adult books, too!

Another day at the book store, complete with large fake pig

We were really worried you didn't have all the Wimpy Kid books....

In no time at all, folks started lining up and moving through the store. They visited all the booths, got to play 'Plinko', got a chance to guess the weight of a large paper mache pig. There was even a booth I didn't get to see in action, but consisted of a large table filled with old shoes. Curiosities were abundant! After interacting with, and having their picture taken by, numerous book store workers and event staff alike (some dressed up in top hats, coats and tails), event attendees found themselves outside Card and Gift, at the front of aisle 4. There, they got their books signed by Jeff Kinney, who was warm, welcoming, and engaging.

Clarissa and Zoe mug by one of the photo backdrops
This event was a great success! We are looking forward to what other crazy events the kids book world can send our way! Old shoes, fake pigs, and lake backdrops, oh my!!

You can follow our events series by checking out our events website,  which is kept painstakingly up to date. You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook for updates on our upcoming events. Special thanks to Jeff Kinney and his team for making this incredible evening in our very own book store!

Monday, November 10, 2014


Hi! I'm Alex. Nice to meet you. I've been working in the kids section for a couple months and now I am going to blog to you, with book lists, and approximate age recommendations that you can totally disregard.

Today I am reading THE HERO'S GUIDE TO SAVING YOUR KINGDOM by Christopher Healy *Kylie Recommends*. This is a funny book. No, it is: it's about a bunch of hapless fairy tale Prince Charmings wandering around the countryside trying to accomplish things but mostly just getting in trouble. It is also about fairy tale princesses having strong opinions. I am a big fan of ALL these princesses, including the mean one. There are polite giants, punk kid Bandit Kings, genius little sisters, and dragons. This book is great. (It is also good for ages 9+ and as of this writing you can find it in our intermediate fiction section.)

In keeping with this awesome book I am reading and enjoying greatly, here are a few more books you might like if you like...


The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch -- Was this the first book about a princess that does what she wants? It's definitely one of the best. Girl meets dragon, girl beats dragon, girl ignores a disappointed prince to run off into the sunset an independent hero. We usually have this as a board book and in our spinner rack. 2+

Beauty and the Beast and other fairy tale picture books by Ursula Jones and Sarah Gibb *Clarissa Recommends* -- Absolutely stunning illustrations over excellent, traditional fairy tale retellings. Check our folk lore/mythology section for these--they're often on display! 3+

The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale, Dean Hale, and LeUyen Pham *Alex Recommends* -- GO NOW AND READ THIS BOOK. Princess Magnolia is a dainty pink-wearing hostess with perfect manners...but she becomes the heroic PRINCESS IN BLACK to fight monsters and rescue sheep herders! You can find it in young chapterbooks--recommended ages 5+. Good for young independent readers.

Dealing With Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede *Alex Recommends* -- Princess Cimorene doesn't want to embroider or get married to a boring prince. Or any other prince. So she runs away from home to work for dragon Kazul, fights a lot of wizards, and learns to make a mean cherries jubilee. 10+

Twice Upon A Time series by Wendy Mass -- Retold fairy tales by the author of The Candymakers. 8+

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine *Alex Recommends* -- Absolutely my favorite fairytale retelling ever. This Cinderella is "blessed" by a fairy as a obey every single direct order that's given to her for her entire life. Ella is brilliant. You will read this book over and over. 9+

Summer and Bird by Katherine Catmull *Alex Recommends* -- This is a weird, beautiful book. Two girls find their parents missing--their mother is the swan princess and their father took her feathered skin. They travel into a world of only birds, where a vicious, terrifying false queen is asserting her power--a queen Bird falls for like Edmund and the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. 10+

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones *Amy Recommends* -- Everyone buys into the fairy tale stereotypes in Sophie's town, and it's clear she's going to be a docile hatmaking third sister forever. WAIT, NO SHE'S NOT. She's going to be cursed by a witch to look like an old woman and run off on an adventure in the moving magical house of the dread wizard Howl, who as it turns out is the most obnoxious wizard ever. Stop here for sentient scarecrows, fire demons, and wizards obsessed with their hair. 10+

Ever After High series by Shannon Hale -- Shannon Hale writes the best fairy tale retellings. This series is good for 10+.

Ash by Malinda Lo *Anna Recommends* -- A YA Cinderella story with POC main characters, beguiling fairies, personal strength, and a Cinderella who falls in love, not with a prince, but his Huntress. 13+

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge *Clarissa Recommends* -- A sharp, fierce, beguiling Beauty and the Beast story about a demon prince and one angry beauty. 14+

Poisoned Apples by Christine Hepperman *Alex Recommends* -- This poetry collection uses the language of fairy tales to take on the pressures and pains of being a teenage girl. Watch out--there's some dark and personal stuff in this little book--but its intensity is full of truth and Hepperman has a excellent grip on her language. 14+

Cinder by Marissa Meyer *Kylie Recommends* -- Welcome to cyborg Cinderella. This is a very cool scifi take on the story, and the first of a series. 13+

 Happy reading!

Monday, November 3, 2014

They're All Kind of a Blur, Aren't They?

On the bright side, it was snowing when I did this so it felt like winter. Also, I got to put out Llama Llama Holiday Drama and that is a great favorite of mine.