Welcome to the official blog of Third Place Books

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Hey, I've Read That

In which I review a book everyone else read five years ago.

I have never been known for my ability to keep abreast of all things pop culture-y. I still have my VCR. Which you might think is silly, but I get the cheapest movies at Value Village. Cheaper than Blockbuster even.

This inability to keep up (with the Kardashians) extends to my reading life. I spend a lot of time reading books published outside the current decade, so when I do read a "new book" most everyone else has already read it... five years ago.

But since I'm in charge of the blog, I can post whatever review I want, no matter how irrelevant it is. So here you go.

I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley

This book is guaranteed to make you feel better about yourself. Almost every other essay, I found myself saying, "well, at least I've never done that."

Crosley pulls no punches in relating the miseries and embarrassments of her early adulthood. Failed relationships, and terrible jobs feature prominently. Her piece on being the reluctant maid of honor for her not-so-close friend is particularly hilarious.

Here you find the best friend, you're not quite sure you want. She's crass and selfish, sometimes mean, and will almost certainly get you into trouble. But she does it all with such wit and humor, it's difficult not to be charmed.

Sloane Crosley's new book The Clasp, her first novel, comes out October 6th.

HA! Tricked you! This post was relevant!


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Reading as a Contact Sport, or how to read a 700 page novel told in multiple voices (many with a thick Jamaican dialect)

Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings (Riverhead) is a complex beast of a novel. It is angry, rough and bloody but also nimble, playful and kind. It is a little intimidating to approach, but once you are engaged with it, it is an incredibly rewarding experience.

I was a little apprehensive about attempting this novel at first. I actually managed to successfully avoid reading it for almost a full year. But it kept popping up wherever I looked : amazing reviews, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, more amazing reviews, a shortlist finalist for the Man Booker Prize and even an appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers (if that guy could make time for this book, so could I).

So I dove in, but decided to give myself some help along the way. What resulted was a fully immersive experience of this novel, an adventure everyone might not have the time or inclination for, but I highly recommend (I’m looking at you Man Booker Prize jury members).
When you’ve decided you’re going to tackle a 700 page novel, you have to carve out time every day to get to it. It’s a bit of a task at first, especially after work, meetings, and helping coach your daughter’s soccer practice, but it soon becomes addictive. My first week I read about 200 pages of the book (I’m pretty sure there were already more than seven killings by then, but I wasn’t expecting anything simple or straightforward from this “brief” novel).

It was then that I remembered a friend of mine had mentioned that he had listened to the audio version of this book on a road trip earlier this year. I got the audio and started alternating between the two experiences of the book, listening to the audio on my morning walk to work and reading the book itself at night. I usually don’t listen to fiction as I don’t want an actor’s interpretation of the author’s voice to muddy my experience of that voice. But this novel, told exclusively in first person voices, seemed extremely well suited to the audio-book experience. With an immensely talented eight person cast, this novel, especially the Jamaican characters, began living in my head in a way that sort of super-sized what was already a healthy meal of a book.

I then discovered Marlon James’ Spotify playlist for the book. Soon making dinner at home was accompanied by Bob Marley’s Natty Dread (the 1976 assassination attempt on Marley is the central planet around which the voices in this novel orbit) and the sounds of Ina Kamoze and Damien Marley. But, as the novel moves its way into the eighties and into the US, we also were listening to Andy Gibb’s Shadow Dancing and Herbie Hancock’s Rockit (I don’t think I have heard Rockit since my brother and I were laying down cardboard in our garage and practicing how to do a windmill in 1983 – it was fun to hear it again, but around the third time it came on my wife began asking how much longer until I was done with the book).

When you start listening to reggae in your kitchen, you start looking around for the conch and the jerk seasoning (at least I do). I clearly wasn’t going to find conch in Seattle, but I was willing to improvise. Digging through my cookbooks I came across a number of amazing recipes by Chef NormanVan Aken that clearly were going to satisfy the cravings that this book had conjured up in my belly. The family and I spend the next week enjoying Conch Fritters (cod for conch), Conch Salad (prawns for conch) and Jerk Pork Chops with Golden Pineapple Chutney.

It was a perfect way to end my summer. I’m sure I won’t read a better novel this year and it will certainly be a long time before another novel consumes my life and inspires me to immerse myself its world the way Marlon James’ masterpiece did.

I've heard this book compared to many others. Some have compared it to being like a Tarantino film, the works of Faulkner and Robert Bolano’s Savage Detectives. I kept thinking about Peter Matthiessen’s Shadow Country in that it also had multiple voices around a single violent incident, as well as the works of William Gaddis who also has kinetically charged monologues that propel his narratives along (I discovered afterwards an interview with Marlon James from a number of years ago where he mentioned reading Gaddis – probably during the time he was working on this novel). In the end however, A Brief History of Seven Killings is one of those unique books that really defies comparison. It is a book that will become an intimidating measuring stick against which to judge other bold, ambitious and gloriously reckless novels in years to come.


Monday, September 14, 2015

Read This Book: Current Events Edition

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

This book is everywhere, with good reason. Many of us here at Third Place Books have read it. Here are two of our booksellers on why you should read it too:


You are unlikely to read a more important book about race this year. Coates' letter to his 15-year-old son is provocative, upsetting, inspiring, and, like any passionate argument, an emotional roller coaster ride. It is the beginning, not the end of a much needed conversation.


We all bring a lifetime of experiences to whatever book we read. I read Between the World and Me, keeping in mind that I am the father of a black son. My wife is also black. Being a white father, I cannot pass on the experiences of being a black man in America. As a member of white society, I can walk blithely through life unaware of the biases and profiling that affects my own family.

Between the World and Me is a memoir, written in the form of a letter to the writer’s fifteen-year-old son. Ta-Nehisi Coates is a black father, and in this book he relates his own experiences of growing up black in America. Sometimes he is quite angry – rightfully so – and his narrative is always personal and emotionally powerful. He’s not just talking about slavery and the subjugation of the African-American people, but the fact that America’s success was built on the backs of these people.

He uses direct quotes to dispute dangerous ideas, such as the Civil War not being fought over slavery. Coates covers institutional racism, and how most of us are deluded by this idea of whiteness, also known as “the American Dream”. There is a lot to digest in just over one-hundred and fifty pages, especially for those of us only familiar with the winner’s interpretation of history.

Every once in a while, a book deserves the exalted status it’s being given, and Between the World and Me is one of those books.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Operation Library Creation

About a month ago another local author, DP Denman, reached out to me about a fundraiser that she was spearheading and as a young adult author and an independent bookseller, the subject was near and dear to my heart.

She wanted help building a library and raising awareness for YouthCare, a non-profit organization that works with local homeless youth. YouthCare helps kids and teens with the basic needs we tend to take for granted (shelter, food, etc.). They also help prepare teens for the workforce, get their GEDs or get into college, and teach the skills necessary to live on their own. They are doing all they can to not only prepare these kids for adulthood, but to break the cycle of homelessness.

Specifically, DP was asking for my help with raising money for YouthCare's lending library.

Books are transformative. They provide shelter, escape and connection. Books teach us that we're not alone, that there are other ways of being--they open our minds and hearts. I told DP to sign me up!

Since the fundraiser wasn't for another month, I asked her if YouthCare would be interested in some donated books. I reached out to other bookstores via Twitter and instantly heard back from Elliott Bay Book Company and University Bookstore--they wanted to help too. And I already knew Third Place Books would help--we, like many local bookshops, donate to schools and non-profits all the time.

Once I gathered up all the donations I had five tote bags and four full boxes of books! I can't tell you how great it felt to drop them off at YouthCare. They said that they don't often get new/newer books and the teens would be so happy.

We donated a lot of books, but keep in mind that they have several locations, and several lending libraries that they're building. DP and I  are hoping we can fill their shelves with so many books that they'll need to build more!

If you are interested in making a donation to YouthCare click for more details on their current and year-round needs. If you're interested in making a monetary donation, click here

Check out DP's blogpost on the campaign here.

Thanks again to Elliot Bay Book company, University Bookstore, and Third Place Books for their generous donations!


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A New Orleans Reading Atlas

Summer travel means summer travel reading. And a trip to New Orleans means a feast of literary options. I've been reading novels, manifestos, atlases, and histories. I'm learning about levees, and funeral parades, and beignets, and bayous, and faubourgs. I have immersed myself in so much New Orleans reading, that I feel like a local... or at least a reasonably well-oriented tourist.

I try to read up on any new place I go, but New Orleans offers a richer experience than most. Its sense of place is so strong it's incapable of being confined to the page, and seems to conjure itself into being with a breath of heavy humid air, and a mournful brass note. Literary New Orleans is astounding not only in its variety but in its quality, innovation, and lyricism.

Here's my reading list.

Unfathomable City by Rebecca Solnit and Rebecca Snedecker

This book is a brilliant reinvention of the traditional atlas, one that provides a vivid, complex look at the multi-faceted nature of New Orleans, a city replete with contradictions. More than twenty essays assemble a chorus of vibrant voices, including geographers, scholars of sugar and bananas, the city's remarkable musicians, prison activists, environmentalists, Arab and Native voices, and local experts, as well as the coauthors compelling contributions. Featuring 22 full-color two-page-spread maps, Unfathomable City plumbs the depths of this major tourist destination, pivotal scene of American history and culture and, most recently, site of monumental disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill.

The innovative maps precision and specificity shift our notions of the Mississippi, the Caribbean, Mardi Gras, jazz, soils and trees, generational roots, and many other subjects, and expand our ideas of how any city is imagined and experienced. Together with the inspired texts, they show New Orleans as both an imperiled city by erosion, crime, corruption, and sea level rise and an ageless city that lives in music as a form of cultural resistance. Compact, lively, and completely original, Unfathomable City takes readers on a tour that will forever change the way they think about place.

The Moviegoer by Walker Percy

The Moviegoer is Binx Bolling, a young New Orleans stockbroker who surveys the world with the detached gaze of a Bourbon Street dandy even as he yearns for a spiritual redemption he cannot bring himself to believe in. On the eve of his thirtieth birthday, he occupies himself dallying with his secretaries and going to movies, which provide him with the "treasurable moments" absent from his real life. But one fateful Mardi Gras, Binx embarks on a hare-brained quest that outrages his family, endangers his fragile cousin Kate, and sends him reeling through the chaos of New Orleans' French Quarter. Wry and wrenching, rich in irony and romance, The Moviegoer is a genuine American classic.

Katrina: After the Flood by Gary Rivlin

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina made landfall in southeast Louisiana--on August 29, 2005--journalist Gary Rivlin traces the storm's immediate damage, the city of New Orleans's efforts to rebuild itself, and the storm's lasting affects not just on the city's geography and infrastructure--but on the psychic, racial, and social fabric of one of this nation's great cities.

Much of New Orleans still sat under water the first time Gary Rivlin glimpsed the city after Hurricane Katrina. Then a staff reporter for "The New York Times," he was heading into the city to survey the damage. The Interstate was eerily empty. Soldiers in uniform and armed with assault rifles stopped him. Water reached the eaves of houses for as far as the eye could see. Four out of every five houses--eighty percent of the city's housing stock--had been flooded. Around that same proportion of schools and businesses were wrecked. The weight of all that water on the streets cracked gas and water and sewer pipes all around town and the deluge had drowned almost every power substation and rendered unusable most of the city's water and sewer system.

People living in flooded areas of the city could not be expected to pay their property taxes for the foreseeable future. Nor would all those boarded-up businesses--21,000 of the city's 22,000 businesses were still shuttered six months after the storm--be contributing their share of sales taxes and other fees to the city's coffers. Six weeks after the storm, the city laid off half its workforce--precisely when so many people were turning to its government for help. Meanwhile, cynics both in and out of the Beltway were questioning the use of taxpayer dollars to rebuild a city that sat mostly below sea level. How could the city possibly come back? 

This book traces the stories of New Orleanians of all stripes--politicians and business owners, teachers and bus drivers, poor and wealthy, black and white--as they confront the aftermath of one of the great tragedies of our age and reconstruct, change, and in some cases abandon a city that's the soul of this nation.

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

First published in 1899, this beautiful, brief novel so disturbed critics and the public that it was banished for decades afterward. Now widely read and admired, The Awakening has been hailed as an early vision of woman's emancipation. This sensuous book tells of a woman's abandonment of her family, her seduction, and her awakening to desires and passions that threaten to consume her. Originally entitled "A Solitary Soul," this portrait of 28 year-old Edna Pontellier is a landmark in American fiction, rooted firmly in the romantic tradition of Herman Melville and Emily Dickinson.

Why New Orleans Matters by Tom Piazza

In the aftermath of Katrina and the disaster that followed, promises were made, forgotten, and renewed. Now what will become of New Orleans in the years ahead? What do this proud, battered city and its people mean to America and the world?

Award-winning author and longtime New Orleans resident Tom Piazza illuminates the storied culture and uncertain future of this great and neglected American metropolis by evoking the sensuous rapture of the city that gave us jazz music and Creole cooking; examining its deep undercurrents of corruption, racism, and injustice; and explaining how its people endure and transcend those conditions. And, perhaps most important, he asks us all to consider the spirit of this place and all the things it has shared with the world: its grace and beauty, resilience and soul.