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Monday, August 29, 2016

When Nobody Loves the Book You Love

Have you ever watched your child perform really poorly? Like you're at the soccer field and your kid can't even drink his Gatorade without spilling it all down his front, let alone run fast or kick the ball with any sort of accuracy? How about a television show you love being cancelled after one season? Or when they stop making your favorite brand of novelty breakfast cereal (you broke my heart Rice Krispies Treats Cereal)? All of those feelings of sadness, disappointment, abandonment, and unfairness...those are the feelings I feel every day when I walk by the book I love and you haven't bought it yet. 

Only I feel all those feelings times one million.

I bet you didn't think bookselling involved such angst and anguish. Well, it does, and it's mostly your fault. You see, I read this book, this book I really loved. I told people about it. I staff picked it. I put it on Instagram. It featured on one of our monthly theme tables. But you didn't care. You ignored it. It's like I'm shouting to an empty room. Or a room filled with angry people trying to read the books they bought instead of the book I'm suggesting.

So here's my last ditch effort, and if a hastily crafted, marginally edited blog post won't convince you to buy it, I guess I'm not very good at my job. Fair warning, I'm not above some pretty dubious tactics. Like pilfering words from this New York Times Book Review by Leonard Pitts Jr.:
 The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter... a narrative that sweeps forward (and then back) between World War II and the first decade of the new millennium, touching on the civil rights movement, AIDS, deaf culture, lynching, love and sexuality, that emotional terrain remains the book’s bedrock.
...what Corthron does best in this book. She blindsides you. She sneaks up from behind. Sometimes, it is with moments of humor, but more often with moments of raw emotional power — moments whose pathos feels hard-earned and true.
The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter is a big book that has a lot — arguably too much — on its mind. But it succeeds admirably in a novel’s first and most difficult task: It makes you give a damn. It also does well by a novel’s second task: It sends you away pondering what it has to say.
What he said. 

And what's a little plagarism compared to the exploitation of a good friend's emotional health and job stability? Because, I haven't been entirely unable to sell this book, in fact I convinced a friend to read it and she loved it. She loved it so much she had to call in sick while she was reading it. She couldn't wait to finish and refused to read at work because she didn't want to cry in front of coworkers. Those are real emotions people.

I will even do the thing I hate most about bookselling: the comparison. Here goes:
If you loved Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life, then you will love The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter even more. They are both super long, super big books. 10 pounds each. Serious. Both have these characters your heart will break for. And both will make you weep. Castle Cross just does it WAY better.
And last but not least... I understand the importance of cover design, so I have updated the original cover with everyone's favorite things in an attempt to appeal to a wider audience.

All joking aside. The Castle Cross The Magnet Carter is a beautiful book. A sprawling, messy, sweeping epic. It gives you the chance to burrow in and really connect with the characters. Weirdly, Kia Corthron does a lot of things I usually hate: child narrators, dialects, switching perspectives, jumping through time. But in her hands they become this perfect conduit for a heartbreaking tale of race, sexuality, disability, familial strife, and the power of brotherhood. These pages deal with a lot of hate, sadness, and confusion but there's also a lot of courage and love here too. I wish this book were 800 more pages, and then 800 more after that.

Please read it. Don't let it be the book on the sidelines with Gatorade all down its front.


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Soon to be a Major Motion Picture

I was recently at the local cinema seeing a great art house piece, Ghostbusters. Perhaps you've heard of it? The movie was fantastic. Obviously. But the previews were pretty great too. And three of them are books!

For a book lover, I'm unusually unfazed by movie adaptations. I'm not the type to say, "the book is always better," because they really are two separate entities. But that doesn't mean an upcoming movie release won't compel me to read the book. Sometimes movie release schedules fairly dictate my to-read pile. Like right now.

Three minutes and forty-three seconds of intense warfare with Iraqi insurgents has transformed the eight surviving men of Bravo Squad into America's most sought-after heroes. Now they're on a media-intensive nationwide tour to reinvigorate support for the war. On this rainy Thanksgiving, the Bravos are guests of the Dallas Cowboys, slated to be part of the halftime show alongside Destiny's Child.

Among the Bravos is Specialist Billy Lynn. Surrounded by patriots sporting flag pins on their lapels and Support Our Troops bumper stickers, he is thrust into the company of the Cowboys' owner and his coterie of wealthy colleagues; a born-again Cowboys cheerleader; a veteran Hollywood producer; and supersized players eager for a vicarious taste of war. Over the course of this day, Billy will drink and brawl, yearn for home and mourn those missing, face a heart-wrenching decision, and discover pure love and a bitter wisdom far beyond his years.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn't the monster Conor's been expecting-- he's been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he's had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments. The monster in his backyard is different. It's ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth. From the final idea of award-winning author Siobhan Dowd-- whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself-- Patrick Ness has spun a haunting and darkly funny novel of mischief, loss, and monsters both real and imagined.

A mysterious island.

An abandoned orphanage.

A strange collection of very curious photographs.

It all waits to be discovered in "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children," an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow impossible though it seems they may still be alive. A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.


Saturday, August 13, 2016

Going for Gold

I don't want to perpetuate any stereotypes and I'm not saying that booksellers can't be athletes, or that we aren't interested in sports or the Olympics, what I am saying is that literary prizes are usually more important to us than say who wins bronze in road biking.** So instead of honoring the greatest athletes in the world and all their feats of strength and agility, we are honoring the greatest writers in the world.

This month at Lake Forest Park we are featuring Literature Nobel Prize winners from all different countries. Because the great thing about the Nobel Prize is that it is awarded across all nations. They even get a medal. Just like the Olympics! Imagine an Author Olympics. Speed Editing! Synchronized Plot Development! Water Outlining! 

Check out our beautiful display all month long. We'll be playing various national anthems over the PA system. Actually, we won't.

**Except pentathlon. That's something I care deeply about

And if you are a bigger sports fan that we are, check out this new history of the Olympics:

The Games : A Global History of the Olympics by David Goldblatt

For millions of people around the world, the Summer and Winter Games are a joy and a treasure, but how did they develop into a global colossus? How have they been buffeted by and, in turn, affected by world events? Why do we care about them so much?

From the reinvention of the Games in Athens in 1896 to Rio in 2016, best-selling sportswriter David Goldblatt brilliantly traces their history through national triumphs and tragedies, individual victories and failures. Here is the story of grand Olympic traditions such as winners medals, the torch relay, and the eternal flame. Here is the story of popular Olympic events such as gymnastics, the marathon, and alpine skiing (as well as discontinued ones like tug-of-war). And here in all their glory are Olympic icons from Jesse Owens to Nadia Comaneci, Abebe Bikila to Bob Beamon, the Dream Team to Usain Bolt.

Hailed in the Wall Street Journal for writing about sports with the expansive eye of a social and cultural critic, Goldblatt goes beyond the medal counts to tell how women fought to be included in the Olympics on equal terms, how the wounded of World War II led to the Paralympics, and how the Olympics reflect changing attitudes to race and ethnicity. He explores the tensions between the Games amateur ideals and professionalization and commercialism in sports, the pitched battles between cities for the right to host the Games, and their often disappointing economic legacy. And in covering such seminal moments as Jesse Owens and Hitler at Berlin in 1936, the Black Power salute at Mexico City in 1968, the massacre of Israeli athletes at Munich in 1972, and the Miracle on Ice at Lake Placid in 1980, Goldblatt shows how prominently the modern Olympics have highlighted profound domestic and international conflicts.

Illuminated with dazzling vignettes from over a century of the Olympics, this stunningly researched and engagingly written history captures the excitement, drama, and kaleidoscopic experience of the Games.

And last but not least, by far my favorite thing to come out of the Rio Olympics:

- Erin

Saturday, July 30, 2016

I Think You Forgot Something : Macdonald Harris

A dik-dik, to save you from googling 
I once worked with a young Harvard graduate, summa cum laude, the whole bit. On paper, she looked like the ideal person with whom to discuss literature: well-educated, great taste, interests best described as widely flung. But in reality, you could have more stimulating conversations about books with a drug-addled dik-dik. The most elaborate praise available from her was “it was good,” or “I liked it.” Sometimes, that little nudge can be enough to sway me; maybe I’m curious about a book or an author but for whatever reason don’t trust myself and the plaudits of another, no matter how mild, can bring my wallet into the light. But not often.

Most booksellers spend forty odd hours on the clock surrounded by unread and unfamiliar books and another 128 off the clock also surrounded by more unread and only slightly more familiar tomes. In our reading, it is the bookseller's curse that we are reading either six months ahead or ten years behind everyone else. Most booksellers find the traditional nightstand replaced by stacks of books, both the old and forgotten as well as the coveted not-yet-released. Over time, it can become difficult to entertain suggestions because those stacks, that daunting, swollen mass just cannot possibly bear another ounce.

Years ago, however, a novel came to my attention through a librarian pal whose recommendation was so fulsome, so bombastically positive, I had no choice but to heed it. Both title and author were unknown to me and the journey to reading it proved to be quite the undertaking. Published in 1964, Mortal Leap by Macdonald Harris went out of print almost immediately and it is impossible to find a decent copy for less than a cool six hundred dollars. It became my personal holy grail, the damn thing’s elusiveness creating an almost feral desire. I suggested it to the New York Review of Books for reprint multiple times, even creating an alias to submit multiple suggestions. I checked used book sites daily for a decent copy under three hundred dollars, the most I can conceive of paying for anything that doesn’t come with a roof or a motor.

Eventually I disavowed myself of the notion I could own a copy and, with a five dollar bill and the willingness of the good librarians of Issaquah, settled in with a brittle, near ruined copy of the book that had felt like nothing but pure myth for years. Lo and behold, it was worth every moment of the hunt, every failed footstep of the pursuit forgotten. Mortal Leap is a book so far beyond “good” that its greatness can only be experienced.

This is fiction writing at its finest: a story in the classical mode, lushly wrought with details that immediately establish a fully realized character and landscape. Harris reawakens a childlike sense of wonder and fascination, a passion for the possible that transports the reader fully. His gift is truly a marvel, an ability to craft stories that are so fantastic and immersive it borders on the terrifying. The relationship between the reader and the physical object is marvelously indescribable and only a true, ethereal talent can to make a pound of paper feel alive in your hands.

If you peruse the synopses of Harris’s other work, you can immediately see no two are alike. It is a motley collection of novels and is only unified by, other than its greatness, man’s elusive inability to know himself. If you’ve read five novels by white men, at least four addressed this moral mission. Yawn, yawn, yawn, right? Not here.

Mortal Leap is a quintessential, exemplary model of what fiction can and should do. In the most reductive terms, it is an adult's adventure tale, a la Jack London: affect-less Mormon boy, disinterested in the life laid out before him, follows his existential malaise to sea. There is a plot outside of little boy lost, but the book is so beautifully written and such a singular experience, I would be doing it an enormous disservice dressing it in the rags of my fumbling fanboydom. But if you need convincing, the book speaks for itself beautifully:
It was a part of myself that was my enemy; I still had a childish illusion that the flesh on my own bones was somehow unique and precious to the universe, in some obscure corner of my mind I wanted the others to love me and make exceptions for me simply because I felt heat and cold, pain and loneliness as they did. Now this was gone once and for all, and I understood there were no exceptions and on one was invulnerable, we all had to share the same conditions and in the end this was simply mortality, the mortality of things as well as ourselves. After that I didn't expect anybody to love me...
And a passage that should make any reader weak-kneed:
 The books were a private part of me that I carried inside and guarded and didn't talk to anybody about; as long as I had the books I could convince myself I was different from the others and my life wasn't quite as stupid and pointless.

Harris's is a body of work I only become more passionate about, both as I explore titles I haven’t read or mull over the handful that I have. Looking at the novels on the whole, comparisons are most easily made to the work of Paul Auster. Harris’s novels carry the same ruminative tone and irreverent sense of adventure and both boldly wear an ambition to stretch their craft and sense of reality. Also like Auster, there’s no impression Harris was hankering for clout or accolades but simply a love of a pure, simple form of storytelling.

None of this is as succinct a recommendation as “it’s good,” I know. But so remarkable is Macdonald Harris, so deserving of full-volume, roof-shaking praise, his work could turn even my plaintively praising former colleague into an ivory tower of babble.


Saturday, July 16, 2016

Let's Talk About Shakespeare Related Things : Act II

Deceptively Delicious

Are you ready for my second attempt at convincing you that you should read every last word written by Shakespeare? Well, get ready.

Yup, I'm still obsessed with Shakespeare. Even if the other day my Herman Melville obsession flared up, my Shakespeare love remains strong. You might think I've got my literary ailments at cross purposes, but you'd be wrong. Turns out there's a whole lot of Shakespeare in Melville. There are those who argue that without Shakespeare, particularly   King Lear  and Macbeth, there would be no Moby Dick. When I say "those," I mean the people who write and edit Wikipedia articles.

In fact "those" same Wikipedia people claim that when Ahab finally shows up, his first long speech to the crew of the Pequod is virtually blank verse:
But look ye, Starbuck, what is said in heat,
That thing unsays itself. There are men
From whom warm words are small indignity.
I mean not to incense thee. Let it go.
Look! see yonder Turkish cheeks of spotted tawn--
Living, breathing pictures painted by the sun.
The pagan leopards--the unrecking and
Unworshipping things, that live; and seek and give
No reason for the torrid life they feel!
I know, I know, blank verse, Moby Dick, I'm not really selling it for you Shakespeare virgins. Well, what if I told you that Shakespeare influenced a whole heck of a lot more than just some dusty, old book about a whale? What if I told you, that without Shakespeare, there'd be no LION KING ???!!?!?!!

Oh, yeah, now you're interested. From West Side Story (Romeo and Juliet) to Ten Things I Hate About You (Taming of the Shrew); Sons of Anarchy (Hamlet) to Breaking Bad (Macbeth...allegedly) odds are you love something Shakespeare-based and don't even know it.

So, I've put together a list with some suggestions for other things Shakespeare-based-- you won't even be able to tell. It's like that cookbook that Jerry Seinfeld's wife put out to trick kids into eating vegetables. Yup, just like that.

by Ryan North
O. M. G. It's a choose your own adventure book for grown ups! This one is based on Othello...kidding. It's based on Titus Andronicus.

by Jane Smiley
True story, King Lear is my favorite Shakespeare. This novel is based on King Lear. I had no idea. That's how non-Shakespeare-y it is. It has nothing to do with how dumb I am.

by Cat Winters
Cat Winters is a PNW author and this YA novel takes place in Oregon, explores US history and racism, and is based on Hamlet. And it's a lady cast as our tortured, young Dane. 

by Leon Garfield, illustrated by Michael Foreman
This one is my favorite of the bunch. A beautifully written collection of Shakespeare plays retold for little ears. It's the perfect introduction to hook them early. And there are pictures!

These titles and several others are on display at out Lake Forest Park store. The display features many of Shakespeare's greatest hits. And there are literally countless other books out there that would not exist if not for the Bard. Come on over to Lake Forest Park and see if any of these titles strike your fancy. The Shakespeare display table will be up through the end of July. My love will live on forever.


Sunday, July 10, 2016

This is Switzerland

The Presidential election is 2016 is slowly but surely killing me. The will to engage in any discourse on the political spectrum has left. Last November I was full to the brim with righteous anger and ready to match, nay, overpower all the sexism and bigotry I witnessed with my feminism and tolerance. Now I'm just resigned to, "If you sexism me, I will feminist you."

Unfortunately, I shelve the Political Science section, and escape is not that easy. 

I watched Ben Carson's book America the Beautiful : Rediscovering What Made This Nation Great slowly rot on my shelves, itching for the moment I could tuck them away in the back where I could forget about their sad existence.

I watched a solid handful of books about why Hillary is a sign of the apocalypse/Satan's spawn, why she is a faux feminist, etc. My favorite is this one with a neon yellow and pink cover called Unlikable by Edward Klein. Mostly because all it does is make me think of the theme song for The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (just substitute Unbreakable for Unlikable and you're all set) which puts more spring in my step than anything in that section these days.

Someone should talk to Hillary's team about adapting that song as her campaign theme. 

We as a bookstore carry books that have all sorts of ideas, political leanings and mantras. We endorse no one. But we do believe in representation and edification. Therefore, when ALL the presidential candidates release books (all 666 of them), we carry them in our store. Each and every one. We had a multitude of copies of A Time for Truth by Ted Cruz for a long time. And I dutifully made room for it on my shelves.

We sold one.

And yet, for weeks on end, whenever I went to Political Science to put out new arrivals, someone had placed Ted Cruz's book on display. And every time, I put it back on the shelf where they belong, readjusting my poor abused David Axelrod political bio. The next week someone retaliated by displaying a copy of Hard Choices in front of my display of Charles Krauthammer's book.

FIRST of all, 65% of the time what is displayed depends on how many copies we receive. If we get ten copies of a Kissinger book, it goes on display, no matter what I feel about it. The other 35% is whatever underdog I'm trying to give a boost to, or what cover is cooler. Marketing, man.

SECOND of all, even if you put a copy of Hard Choices on display in the Political Science area hoping to inspire someone to purchase said book, while I respect your choice of candidate, Hard Choices lives in the biography section. When someone stashes it somewhere it doesn't belong, some poor soul who REALLY wants to read Hillary's bio won't be able to find it.

And when other people start deciding where things go, it makes it difficult, nigh impossible, to locate books. Think of my shelving decisions as a dictatorship.

For the political minded whose minds are being melted by the 2016 Election, or if you can't find the political book you want to read because someone moved it, I give you a recommended reading list:

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Or: How Thomas Cromwell did a bang up job placating Henry Tudor and getting him a different wife and literally everything he wanted until he didn't want it anymore. It's still less confusing than this election.

Or, alternatively, if you've already jumped on the Wolf Hall bandwagon and/or are sick of the fascination with Tudor England, Mantel's book about the French Revolution, A Place of Greater Safety, is equally as good, while slightly more confusing. Though I maintain that the French Revolution is still not as terrible as this election.

The Femicide Machine by Sergio Gonzalez Rodriguez

Short. Brutal. Important. Tragic.
Feminism is important. Women and girls are still being slaughtered all over the world because they are not men. Sexism is not dead. Because it's still killing women.

Smoke by Dan Vyleta

It's Dickensian and Dystopian. And get this--it's not young adult! Vyleta does an admirable job of exploring the nuances of human morality and our "sinful" nature through the premise that the human body literally smokes when it sins.
Lusting after your neighbor's wife? Smoke erupts from your body (it's color coded, by the way).
Greedy for the coins in your friend's hand? Soot stains the armpits of your shirt.
In the theme of this miserable election, just envision Donald Trump smoking every time he lies.

Shrill by Lindy West

By turns enlightening, hilarious and deeply moving, Lindy West is an important voice in the media these days. She came to our store to promote her book, and her first question from the audience was: What do you think we can expect from the 2016 election?
Lindy: Literally, I have no idea, and I don't even want to think about it.
Me neither, Lindy. Me neither.

Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow

Yes, I'm obsessed with the musical. But that's completely beside the point. I was browsing my social media, and this beautiful tumbr post popped up: Alexander Hamilton would have torn Donald Trump to pieces by now and also publicly humiliated him on multiple occasions. Read the book to find out how. Or just listen to the Cabinet Battles tracks on the soundtrack. Either way, it's a nice fantasy to live in.