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Friday, March 27, 2015

Indulgence, Thrift, and Generosity

Working at a bookstore for as long as I have, there are certain rules I enforce upon myself. Without these rules I might not have enough money for food or shelter, but would have a truly spectacular library. So, for the most part I only allow myself to buy used books. And even then, those purchases are typically made using store credit. It's one of the serious benefits of working at a new and used bookstore.

Occasionally, a favorite author will have a new book out, or there's some awesome NYRB title that I HAVE to have, and I just cannot track down a used copy. That's when I really have to up my trade-in game. But there's something beautiful and satisfying about that too. My inner simple-living-master revels in trading in five old books for one, beautiful, new, truly desired book.

But then there are other times. Times when a new book by a first-time author or someone I've never read before arrives in the store. And I am inexplicably, magnetically drawn to it. Sometimes, it's the cover that grabs me, a review in the paper, or perhaps an errant remark made by someone who has read it. Oddly, it's usually only big, fat, brand new hardcovers. Whatever it is, I need to have that book. Immediately. So I buy it. With money.

This happens to me about once a year, maybe twice. The first time was in 2001, I was working at a bookstore in Tucson, Arizona, and A.L Kennedy's book Everything You Need appeared. And I NEEDED it. So, I splurged, and now she's one of my favorite authors. It just happened again yesterday with Hanya Yanagihara's new novel, A Little Life. And yes, I bought it.

I never feel guilty when I splurge like this and I always enjoy these books, even if they don't turn out to be favorites. It's something about the small kindness I have paid myself that gives me a feeling of warmth every time I pick it up.

Perhaps the success of that very first lapse in will power is what let's me continue with this small indulgence. Or maybe it's something a little deeper. When this very phenomenon happened with Lev Grossman's first book in the Magicians series, I was trying to explain it to a friend. And she remarked that sometimes, constantly being thrifty can make a person feel shriveled, and that maybe it is these occasional moments of generosity toward ourselves that allow us to be generous toward others. As much as that sounds like convenient justification, I think I believe it.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Goodnight Moon: A Critique

Believe it or not, I just read Goodnight Moon for the first time the other day. I was babysitting, and it was the book that the kid picked out. Why I had never read it, I can't say. I know it's a classic, but it has never appealed to me, same with Runaway Bunny. I'm pretty sure it's the art. It just does not do it for me. Which is too bad really, because the words are lovely. The sentiment, the cadence- that I can really get behind. But the art...it just looks weirdly diabolical.

Well, I am pleased to report that I clearly am not the only person who feels this way. There is a hilarious, genius of a blogger over at The Ugly Volvo who has really taken Goodnight Moon to task. Give it a read. I promise it will brighten your day.

All of My Issues With the Goodnight Moon Bedroom by The Ugly Volvo

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Read This Book

One of the greatest perks of bookselling has to be the advance reader copies (ARC); bound galleys of books that come from the publishers, meant to be read by reviewers, booksellers, and so on. But one of the of the worst things about ARCs is that they haven't been reviewed yet, and there are just so many coming into the store everyday. Most of the time it's not even possible to keep track of every ARC that comes in, let alone read them all. 

And sadly, I am the absolute worst at just picking up an unknown book/author. I have so many other books that I know I want to read, I just can't justify picking up a book by an author I've never heard of. I can't handle that kind of risk. I need someone to tell me to read it. I need to know that it's good. Well, luckily for me, and new authors, and ultimately you (to whom I recommend all the great new books I read), I have a boss with excellent taste in books. And he shares that good taste with his less adventurous booksellers.

So the other day, when our boss told me that he thought I would really love Barefoot Dogs, a new book of short stories by Antonio Ruiz-Camacho, I put everything else down and read it. Keep in mind, this is the same boss who recommended Stoner to me, which is now on my Super-Awesome, Mega-Elite, Best Books Ever List. The funny thing is, I had the ARC of Barefoot Dogs just sitting at home-- like for months. But because I had never heard of the author, and no one had told me to read it, I never picked it up.

I really, really need to resist this urge in the future, because this book is AMAZING. And I could have been gushing about it months ago. I would have looked so cool for being the first one to like it. And I really love looking cool. Oh well. Read this book anyways, even if I'm not cool.

Barefoot Dogs : Stories by Antonio Ruiz-Camacho
This is my new favorite book. I very nearly read it entirely in one sitting-- I was just propelled forward by these amazing characters, and beautiful language. It's a collection of stories, but they are all linked so it reads much more like a novel. The head of a wealthy Mexican family is kidnapped; and in fear for their safety, his adult children and their families flee to places all over the world. It's funny, edgy, sexy, terrifying, and bold. Really, it's just all the good adjectives. READ IT!  -Erin B
An unforgettable debut of linked stories that follow the members and retinue of a wealthy Mexican family forced into exile after the patriarch is kidnapped.

On an unremarkable night, Jose Victoriano Arteaga--the head of a thriving Mexico City family--vanishes on his way home from work. The Arteagas find few answers; the full truth of what happened to Arteaga is lost to the shadows of Mexico's vast and desperate underworld, a place of rampant violence and kidnappings, and government corruption. But soon packages arrive to the family house, offering horrifying clues.

Fear, guilt, and the prospect of financial ruination fracture the once-proud family and scatter them across the globe, yet delicate threads still hold them together: in a swimming pool in Palo Alto, Arteaga's young grandson struggles to make sense of the grief that has hobbled his family; in Mexico City, Arteaga's mistress alternates between rage and heartbreak as she waits, in growing panic, for her lover's return; in Austin, the Arteagas' housekeeper tries to piece together a second life in an alienating and demeaning new land; in Madrid, Arteaga's son takes his ailing dog through the hot and unforgiving streets, in search of his father's ghost.

Multiple award-winning author Antonio Ruiz-Camacho offers an exquisite and intimate evocation of the loneliness, love, hope, and fear that can bind a family even as unspeakable violence tears it apart. Barefoot Dogs is a heartfelt elegy to the stolen innocence of every family struck by tragedy. This is urgent and vital fiction.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

This One's for the Ladies

So, a few months ago I stumbled on a 50 Coolest Books of All Time list. The list comes from Shortlist which I admit, is something I've never heard of, so their expertise is maybe a little questionable. But, of the list of 50 books, there are only four books by women. And two of those books are by Ayn Rand (blech). Am I really supposed to believe that of the 50 coolest books of all time, 92% were written by men? Hmmmm. I may not be very good at math, (you know, because I'm a woman) but that seems a little off. I will say, that Shortlist also has a list of the 50 Coolest Authors of All Time. This one isn't quite as bad, they were able to list ten women. But that still means 80% of the list is men. I guess it was a nice try.

Flavorwire is another source of these top 50 lists, and they have several women centered lists:
And that's nice, but I wonder when did books by or about women become a genre. Chick lit, women's fiction, 50 Shades of Grey...it all makes me a little hysterical. Especially considering that readers are more likely to be women, and women read more than men. So, I made my own list. It's a mashup of cool authors, and cool books. Enjoy. It's longer than 50, and it's not at all comprehensive. Think of it more as proof that it is possible to name more than four cool books by women. Happy International Women's Day!
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • Octavia Butler
  • Kate Chopin
  • Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  • Chalice and the Blade by Riane Eisler
  • Bluets by Maggie Nelson
  • I Love Dick by Chris Kraus
  • Iris Murdoch
  • Virgina Woolf
  • Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg
  • Kyung-sook Shin
  • Catherine Mansfeild
  • Virginia Lee Burton
  • Cunt by Inga Muscio
  • A.M. Holmes
  • Angela Davis
  • Rebecca Solnit
  • Joan Didion
  • Lydia Davis
  • Amor and Psycho by Carolyn Cooke
  • Lorrie Moore
  • Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
  • Margaret Atwood
  • Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston 
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
  • Beverly Cleary
  • Alison Bechdel
  • Susan Sontag
  • J.K. Rowling
  • The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton
  • Sylvia Plath
  • The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy
  • Tove Jansson
  • Annie Dillard
  • bell hooks
  • Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
  • Ursula Leguin
  • An Unquiet Mind by Kaye Redfield Jamison
  • A.L. Kennedy
  • The American Way of Death by Jessica Mitford
  • Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
  • Mama Day by Gloria Naylor
  • How Should a Person Be by Shelia Heti
  • Unmastered by Katherine Angel
  • Shirley Jackson
  • Daphne Dumaurie
  • The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
  • Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown
  • Two Serious Ladies by Jane Bowles
  • Just Kids by Patti Smith
  • Dorothy Parker
  • The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
  • Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer
  • Audre Lorde
  • I Rigoberto Menchu by Rigoberto Menchu
  • Roxane Gay
  • Xialu Guo
  • Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein
  • Willa Cather
  • Patricia Highsmith
  • Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson
  • Speedboat by Renata Adler
  • Donna Tartt
  • Alice Walker
  • Mary Renault
I really could go on and on and on.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Super Hot Authors!

I was looking at a copy of How to Cook a Wolf, and I couldn't get over how attractive M.F.K. Fisher was. I'm talking super hot. It's not as if I expect all authors to be bookish and odd looking, but hotness isn't something I really think of when I think of literary genius. Not that literary genius isn't hot all by itself... well, you know what I mean. Anyways, I think I burnt out my Google image search looking at author photos. So here's a partial list of what I found. These authors make reading look really good.

MFK Fisher: Do you see what I'm talking about? Gorgeous!

Ishmael Beah: I suggest sunglasses if you ever meet
Ishmael. That smile will knock you out.

Jhumpa Lahiri: Stunning.

F. Scott Fitzgerald: You must be a hottie if 
Tom Hiddleston plays you in a movie.

Gillian Flynn: Super hot book, made into a super hot 
movie, written by a super hot author.

Colson Whitehead: He must have given up a career as a 
model in order to write books. I'm glad he did... for the most part.

Jessica Mitford: Look at that! She's practically a pinup!

Tao Lin: It might just be the leather jacket talking but, WOW!

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: I just finished Americanah
and it's just as beautiful as its author.

Karl Ove Knausgard: Here's the bad boy of the bunch!

So, this objectifying of authors is totally subjective. Who did I miss? Who's your author crush? Let me know and I'll post them!