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Monday, July 24, 2017

I Think You Forgot Something : William Giraldi

In 2012 the New York Times Sunday Book Review published a very negative (and very hilarious) front-page evisceration of two works by a young, largely unknown fiction writer. The review sparked much debate and launched a thousand tweets about what a book review can or should do. Condemned for being "mean", a descriptor that I personally feel criticism should never pay heed nor extend an ounce of patience, William Giraldi's scathing summation of a novel and collection of stories by Alix Ohlin ruffled many feathers, albeit almost entirely of the twee, "lives in Brooklyn" variety.

Whether you agree with the review or not, it is inarguably the epitome of modern criticism: it entertains, it informs, and it ultimately saves the savvy reader time, effort, and money. In lambasting Ohlin with dazzling verbosity and originality, he accidentally adds insult to injury with prose that upstages his subject's. In just a handful of columns, he manages to wield his own talents in a way that destroys Ohlin's chances of enduring while cementing his own.

What is most powerful in the review is the obvious chasm in capabilities between reviewer and reviewed - when passages of the examined works are framed by Giraldi's crackling and lacerating wit, they become all the more washed out and painfully flat.  
“Nobody could look their best when lying in a hospital bed after a car accident.”
"When self pity colludes with self-loathing and solipsism backfires into idealism, the only outcome is insufferable schmaltz."
Nice? Not really. More accomplished? Clearly. What bothered me most about the ensuing debate was not the lack of authenticity from the angry villagers demand for artificial, folded-hands pleasantry in a book review (which certainly rankles) but, selfish bookseller that I am, that the backlash overshadowed Giraldi's utterly brilliant debut novel, published in hardcover the year prior.

The kind of first novel both reader and writer dream about, Busy Monsters is an intelligent, entertaining yarn whose premise nods to the familiar mythologies of fiction we know, love and yearn to experience again. It is a hero's journey narrated by a broken-hearted narcissist in search of the giant squid that is the heart's desire of his heart's desire.  With a protagonist that reads like an Odysseus raised on Mad Magazine and Gawker, it is a novel that proudly recognizes it is slapstick while achieving what high comedy rarely does in in fiction: generates chuckles without feeling broad or dopey. Even when Bigfoot makes a cameo.

With seemingly no interest in the theory of lightning striking twice, his sophomore effort, Hold the Dark, is as enormous a departure as Giraldi could take. The ribaldry and humor of Busy Monsters is replaced by a violent moodiness and sense of dread more in line with Cormac McCarthy than A Confederacy of Dunces. Murder, revenge and a feral landscape all feature prominently but never bog the book down into any genre tropes. In an interview around the time of Hold the Dark's publication, Giraldi said that all worthwhile literature strives to be religion, that it intends to outlive its creator and endure all trends and fads that rear their heads in its wake and it was that soundbite that informed my reading of Hold the Dark. I felt beholden to the book and its holy trinity of atmosphere, plot and tone, each so engrossing I was held in what can only be described as reverence. 

Giraldi's third book, published this past year by W.W. Norton, sees him reaching even further. On paper, a coming-of-age memoir about bodybuilding and motorcycles interests me only slightly more than a 200-page history of the socks you're wearing. Knowing Giraldi and his otherworldly rapturous prose, though, there was really no choice but to give The Hero's Body at least ninety pages of my time. Lo and behold, while the muscle and motor are the narrative's tent poles it is far more than this: it is a moving examination of a soul's evolution, one that searches for a balance and reason. Not just in a flat, presumptuous summary of gender division but by subjectively exploring the fallacies and many stripes of masculinity outside textbook definition:
The psychodynamics are not hard to untie: the vauntingly masculine and competitive are always trying to silence that inner whisper saying You're not man enough. It didn't occur to them, as it never occurred to my adolescent self, that a ranting masculinity is often the inverse of what it purports to be... The male bodybuilder and the female anorexic are equal through opposite manifestations of steady social arm-twisting. Women will be thin, men will be muscular, or both will be nobody.
What I find most striking is his ability to take such a seemingly surreal, typically caricatural world and translate it into one of pragmatic contemplation. 

Much of my life I have been (all in good jest, I'm sure) given a hard time for my concentration on art that concerns itself with the interior lives of women; rarely finding myself drawn to work that focuses on the traditional male perspective. Plots or writers that emphasize overt boyishness or even remotely imply machismo tend to make me roll my eyes so hard my mother's voice rings in my ears: "One day they're going to get stuck like that." 

My matronly tastes is in direct opposition of all this bombastic masculinity Giraldi's jacket copy implies and what, quite honestly, on paper looks like plain old white maleness more synonymous with Kurt Vonnegut or Tom Robbins than I can usually stomach. But maybe it is just that: Giraldi's prose, an award-worthy mixture of punch and good old-fashioned lyricism, illuminates some strange corner of my psyche that when lit, like the protagonist of Busy Monsters, I find myself attracted to something that repulses me and discover it actually provides comfort in a surprising, unexpected way. 

The books vacillate wildly in tone and provide that comfort I seek in a book. Boiled down to the simplest of meanings, they are each about the things for which we all search: love, justice, meaning itself. And great literature.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Read Your Feelings

How are you feeling these days? Tired, maybe? Frustrated? Anxious? Yeah, we get that! 2017 has been the Voldemort to 2016's Dolores Umbridge. Or the Milo Minderbinder to 2016's Captain Black, if you prefer. Not to put too dramatic a spin on it, but the effects of political turmoil can be felt on every level, and we are right there with you.

Whether you're feeling confused, exasperated, determined, or in need of solace and hope, it's clear that people continue to turn to books for answers and inspiration, and remind us of the value of compassion and resilience. Booksellers at all of our stores can attest that we've been getting a much higher number of book recommendation requests for books that might conceivably answer big questions like "how?" and "why?" and "how can we fix this?".

More specifically, we've also heard questions like:

"Do you have any books on community or grassroots organizing?"
"I feel like there's so much that's been going on and I want to catch up. What should I read?"
"I'm looking for a book about how to get involved in local politics."
"The news cycle is exhausting. Do you have suggestions on how to pay attention and not get worn out?"

These are important questions, and we will always do our best to put books in your hands that will address them. (Psst: have you seen Phinney Books' Resist List?) Some books have been leaping off our shelves and onto our bestseller lists already, from Michelle's Alexander's powerful The New Jim Crow to Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale to Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation. Below is a list of titles that we've been recommending lately.

Human Acts by Han Kang
This wasn't an easy book to stomach, but an absolutely necessary read, especially given these times when history seems insistent on repeating itself. -Avery

A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara
Start 'em young. - Lish

Communist Manifesto - Marx & Engels
Advocacy for social justice without consideration of class dynamics is hollow! Just as it would be without consideration of race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, etc. An obvious point of introduction to leftist cultural theory and very much still relevant today.  - James

Trauma Stewardship by Laura van Deernoot Lipsky with Connie Burk
Getting out into communities where things are happening is important to understanding and building movements... and things like crises, oppression and fear can be traumatizing. If someone is going to place themselves out there and interact with others' "pain, crises and suffering" it is important to have smart emotional boundaries and know what personal trauma looks like. This book helps someone recognize effects of internalized trauma and move towards healthy behaviors so that the work (their work!) can continue on.  - Garrett

This IS a really crucial book if you experience secondhand trauma because of your work (with a vulnerable population, with a volatile one, with straight up human misery, WHATEVER). I've been able to hear Laura speak twice now because of my old job, and she is amazing. I second Garrett's recommendation. - Anje

Women, Race, and Class by Angela Davis
 This book is an excellent crash course for anyone who hasn't felt the need to get involved in activism, until now. Angela Davis has a way of explaining the history, and significance of civil rights and social justice movements in a way that makes it crystal clear how these things intersect, and how and why to get involved in the ongoing struggle for freedom. - Haiden

When We Rise by Cleve Jones
 [This book] is super great! It's about Jones' experience with the gay rights movement starting right before the AIDS crisis up to now. Has a lot of information on how he got involved, what he did to help, and Harvey Milk's strategies for protesting. - Courtney

Illuminations - Walter Benjamin
Benjamin was a Jewish cultural critic who died very young while attempting to escape the Nazi regime. His essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Its Mechanical Reproduction" is worth the price of admission alone-- it assesses the ways in which technological advancement expedited the rise of fascism in culture. Benjamin argues that fascism is a cultural phenomenon as much as a political one, and proposes a radical shift in the consciousness of art-makers as one condition for a Communist challenge of a fascist culture. Also, his notes on the philosophy of history are important for conceptualizing the experience of long-term oppression from the perspective of the marginalized. - James

I read this book years ago and was struck by Mr. Horton's respect for the communities he was active with and his understanding of anger as a source of energy that can cause destruction, be diluted to ineffectiveness, or used as powerful fuel for social change. He understood social change as something to be engaged in for the long haul, a point of view I find comforting. Per Wikipedia, Myles Horton was an American educator, socialist and co-founder of the Highlander Folk School, famous for its role in the Civil Rights Movement. Horton taught and heavily influenced most of the era's leaders.- Dana

This anthology of essays (gathered from writing across 2005 - 2012) destroyed some of my knee-jerk preconceptions about how safe, accountable communities are built. Some of the included essays dive into how state-reliant justice systems and laws intended to protect the vulnerable entrench criminality and retribution (often for profit) instead of restoration; others examine how many of the big-name civil rights victories for LGBT communities in the last half-century are centered around inclusion in organizations that have historically existed to control and destroy those same communities. This is a book that helps identify some of the contemporary mechanisms working to maintain oppression in our supposedly more liberal, learned 21st century.- Christina

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
 Hope and change start with stepping outside of ourselves and being open to the experiences of others. Brown Girl Dreaming is a collection of memories from Jacqueline Woodson's childhood in the south during the sixties. Written in verse, these small but powerful snap shots have stayed with me and have had a powerful effect. This important book is not just for kids! - Patti H.

But we're naturally circumscribed by our own experiences, learning, and access, and there's a lot we don't know! So when we meet a recommendation request for such a broad and complex issue, the best thing we can do is share knowledge and ask for the same. Tell us in the comments: what have YOU been reading lately to situate yourself in America in 2017? What has inspired, consoled, or taught you something valuable lately?


Friday, May 12, 2017

Books for Mom!

It's the Friday before Mother's Day and wait, you haven't gotten a gift for Mom yet? Have no fear, for Third Place Books is here with a book for every kind of Mom*. 

The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking

It's pretty, it's small, and basically a guidebook to making life feel like an Ikea catalog. Yes, I know they're Swedish, not Danish, but you gotta admit, they've got very similar aesthetics.

A memoir of steadfast friendship, motherhood, creativity, and memory told in short, witty vignettes. For the Moms who are looking for empathetic companionship on page.

Weed: The User's Guide by David Schmader

Don't let your Mom be like my Mom-in-law. (She was convinced to spend $800 on pot and pot-related equipment that she most certainly did not need.)

Beartown by Fredrik Backman

The newest book by the author of A Man Called Ove, Britt-Marie Was Here, and My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry. If your Mom liked any of those, this is a no-brainer. And don't forget, you can meet Fredrik Backman at our Lake Forest Park store on June 12th. Click here for more information.

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins 

For the Moms who loved Girl on the Train. A psychological thriller that'll pull her away from re-watching those episodes of Law & Order: SVU because ohgodisn'tthereanythingbettertowatchonNetflix???

A humorous graphic-memoir about the absurdities of old age, dealing with parents during their absurd years of old age, and the relationship between parent and child throughout it all by The New Yorker Roz Chast.

Blue Horses: Poems by Mary Oliver 

C'mon. It's Mary Oliver. You can't go wrong.

In the Company of Women by Grace Bonney

An empowering collection of encouragement and wisdom from successful and influential women across the globe. For the ambitious Mom.

Yes, I had to include a coloring book in this list, but this isn't your average-Joan coloring book - Jenny Lawson's includes short stories and words of inspiration coupled with intricate illustrations and her usual sharp wit, all based off of Jenny's own anxieties.

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir by Jennifer Ryan

A community of women band together to keep life going through the troubles of WWII, including the reformation of the local choir with only women. A charming historical novel best served with breakfast-in-bed and a steaming cup of tea.

*Not guaranteed, husband speculation only. I've been told I'm spot on with gift giving, though.


Thursday, May 4, 2017

A Man Called Fredrick Has a New Book Called Beartown!

Last week, Fredrick Backman released his latest title, Beartown. It follows his hugely successful A Man Called Ove, Britt-Marie Was Here, and My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She's Sorry

A Man Called Ove has been a book club staple and staff favorite since its release. Emily says this: 
In Ove's ideal world, everyone would follow the rules, act with integrity at all times, and drive a Saab. Unfortunately, the rest of the world has other ideas. Hilarious, heart-wrenching, and a little absurd, this novel won me over on the first page. The short chapters make this the perfect book to keep in your bag for spare moments in the waiting room or on the bus. 
About Beartown she says:
No detail is superfluous in this portrait of a small forest town and the young hockey team that feels the weight of its collective hopes and fears. Love and loyalty to place, friends, and family are tested when a rift opens in the community. Even those who would stay out of the fight unwittingly take sides.

And next month, we are so pleased to welcome Fredrick Backman to Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park. He will be here to read and sign books on Monday, June 20th at 7:00PM. This is a ticketed event. Tickets are available with a purchase of the book. Each copy of Beartown includes entrance for two people. If you would like to attend, you must have a ticket to enter. You can purchase books and tickets from our website, or by calling or visiting any Third Place Books location. Find more information here.


Beartown by Fredrick Backman
People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys. 

Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected. Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

New Arrivals!

Today's staff must-read new book isn't exactly new, but it was a successful debut novel last year and it just came out in paperback last week. The follow up novel, Domina, also comes out in July, so we thought it would be a good time to bring this book to your attention. (It's also been optioned for film, if that's a factor for you.)

Reviewers loved Maestra and Hilton was immediately compared to the likes of Patricia Highsmith, Stieg Larsson, and Gillian Flynn. In fact, it was touted as being a sort of Gone Girl/The Talented Mr. Ripley meets 50 Shades of Grey. Smart, funny, compelling, and fast-paced, this book is compulsively readable. Wes, from our Lake Forest Park location, loved it so much he read parts of it to me while I was trying to eat my lunch. 

Here's what he has to say about Maestra:

Listen. It's flashy. It's a little trashy. It's so gratuitous (and occasionally heartless) you might get a little rashy. But as someone who grew up obsessed with the silly lavishness of Dynasty and Lace these are all selling points. It's getting hot outside and a little decadence never killed anyone (summer isn't exactly the right time for The Decalogue, you know?). The character's slow, tawdry, expensive descent into psychopathy had me blushing, balking and laughing out loud. Maybe not Hilton's intention, but the low-throttle maniac she has created here wouldn't hold it against me. -Wes

Time to pick up this page-turner before Domina comes out in July!


Monday, April 10, 2017

The Art of Independent Bookstore Day

Independent Bookstore Day is just around the corner (Saturday, April 29th!) and we've been busily preparing for all the fun. But Third Place's own in-house graphic designer, Stephen Crowe, has been extra busy with some special Seattle-specific Indie Bookstore Day projects. He's designing this year's Seattle Independent Bookstore Day Challenge Map, and he's also working on a lovely Insignia Print that will feature all of Seattle's favorite bookstores.

And read on for our interview with the artist!

What is your art background?
I graduated in English, but the year after my graduation I started a project to illustrate every page of by Finnegan's Wake James Joyce. Needless to say, I never finished, but I developed a small following of passionate nerds on the Internet, and in 2014 I was commissioned by a (very very very) small press to illustrate a new edition of Dubliners. After that, I started to focus more on comics, especially an ongoing story called The City that I make with my wife, Melanie Amaral.

How did you come to work at Third Place Books and what does your job entail?
After I finished the Dubliners job, I realised that I couldn't make enough money to live on illustration alone. I'd loved Third Place ever since I'd first come to the States from the UK in 2004. After twice missing the opportunity to apply, I began obsessively checking Craigslist for openings until one finally came up. I'm a general bookseller in charge of the poetry, essays, reference and bargains sections, but I've also become the store's unofficial in-house designer, responsible for the website, posters and displays, bookmarks, shelf talkers and whatever else needs to look like something.

What was your inspiration for the look and colors of the 2017 Seattle Bookstore Day passports?
I did the map in a digital "cut-out" style that I like to use. Initially I tried to avoid going green, because last year's map was green. But this is the Emerald City, so there's no getting away from it. The other colours I tried looked like a band-aid, apparently, so it's hard to deny we're better off.

Why do you think Seattle Bookstore Day is important to our community?
There are so many great bookstores in this area, and each plays such an important part in reflecting and maintaining the culture of its community. Customers tell me all the time how much they appreciate our store, and it's wonderful that there's a day to celebrate that appreciation. Especially in These times, an independent bookstore represents so many things that are absolutely vital: a strong local economy, literacy and free expression, and a community gathering together for companionship and the exchange of ideas.

Have you celebrated Seattle Bookstore Day in previous years? If so, what did you experience?
My first Seattle Bookstore Day was last year, and I was at work! It was a really fun, celebratory atmosphere, and the cake was delicious. I'll make sure I'm there for the cake.

What is your favorite book (or a great book you have read recently)?
I find it impossible to choose one favourite book, but maybe the one that I think about the most lately is How To Be Happy, a beautiful and emotionally raw collection of short comics by Eleanor Davis (published by Fantagraphics!).

Other than Third Place Books, what are some of your favorite local bookstores?
Elliott Bay has a very friendly atmosphere, and my son loves to read in the castle. I read a lot of comics, so if I go to south Seattle and don't pop into Fantagraphics, it feels like a wasted journey. I go to the University Bookstore for my art supplies. And the Neverending Bookshop is a really cute little bookstore in Bothell opened by one of our former Third Place co-workers.

Tell me more about your bookstore insignia project for Seattle Bookstore Day.
I was asked to make some kind of commemorative print for the occasion, in the style of the bookstore-intersection illustrations that Kevin Cannon did for Minnesota bookstores. I'm a big fan of Kevin Cannon, so I was more than usually keen to avoid the possibility of comparison! I hit on the "insignia" idea from looking at old national park patches, and it's been a lot of fun to try to represent each store's individuality in patch form.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

New and Upcoming Graphica

2017 has not given me a lot to look forward to. Nonetheless, even as chaos rages all around, books are still being written and published. And that gives me little glimmer of hope for what’s to come. Here are some of my most anticipated adult graphica recently or soon to be released! 

Junji Ito is a Japanese manga artist best known for his dark, disturbing works Uzumaki and Gyo. His newest manga, Dissolving Classroom, follows two cursed siblings, the older brother who is possessed by the devil, and the younger sister, who’s just plain evil. Wherever the two go, trouble seems to follow, as it weaves together stories sure to haunt you.

Lottie Person, aka Snotgirl, is a fashion blogger whose life looks like a dream online, but is pretty much a hot mess. She is surrounded by fake friends, keeps running into her ex, has a flowing river of snot and tears for a face (thanks allergies), and has to live with her own, honestly, terrible personality. To top it all off she seems to be teetering on the edge of a breakdown. Snotgirl is sure to be another great read from Scott Pilgrim creator, Bryan Lee O’Malley. 

Jim Zub won me over hard with his ongoing series, Wayward, and I’ve been waiting for Glitterbomb to come out in trade paperback for what seems like ages. Horror meets Hollywood in this comic, as the dark side of the entertainment industry is personified in this chilling read.

Cass Elliot was the astounding singer who formed The Mamas and the Papas, but is unfortunately known more for her untimely death and the false urban legends surrounding it. Penelope Bagieu explores Mama Cass’ life before hitting it big, giving this talented woman the story she deserves. If you’ve never belted out “Make Your Own Kind of Music” at the top of your lungs, hopefully California Dreamin’ will inspire you to do so. 

Saga volume 7 may be the title I’m anticipating most this coming year. Me and everyone else in the world. If you haven’t picked up this amazing story, you’re missing out. Be sure to catch up before April, because Saga truly lives up to its name.

I have to be honest, I’m not really a fan of superheroes. That being said, I am a fan of
  Jeff Lemire (Sweet Tooth, Descender), as well as narratives about outcasts. I’m pretty pumped to read Black Hammer, the story of a group of superheroes living a rural, farm-town lifestyle after being written out of their own timeline.

Now, more than ever, is a time we need to be non-compliant. In a not-so-distant future, women who do not comply with their roles in life (being mild and submissive wives and daughters to men) are imprisoned and reprogrammed on a lonely piece of rock floating through space dubbed “Bitch Planet”. After hopes have been crushed in the last volume, I think we can all relate to the characters in Bitch Planet Volume 2 who will surely be saying, “no more”. 

Trust No Aunty is Bollywood meets pop art in the best way possible. Maria Qamar’s experiences as a Pakistani-born Canadian are brought to life in her vivid, pointed,  and often hilarious paintings. I can’t wait to sit down and absorb her artwork in book-form.