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Friday, February 19, 2016

Hey, I've Read That: we review books everyone else read (fifty) five years ago

Indie Next, that flyer we have at the front of the store, all about new books, has started what they are calling Revisit and Rediscover, which looks suspiciously like this very, (sometimes) recurring, blog feature. Regardless, I am happy to see Revisit and Rediscover. I'm a big backlist reader, and feel there is still much to celebrate in old books.

By weird coincidence, I recently read one of the February Revisit and Rediscover titles, The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. Somehow I escaped this book in school. I've become increasingly concerned about the quality of my education considering the unforgivable number of classics my teachers didn't make me read. My dismal curriculum aside, I wanted to read The Fire Next Time after picking  up Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me. There's a quote on the back from Toni Morrison. Among her praise of Coates. she says, "I've been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died." 

I decided to read The Fire Next Time first, given all the comparisons between it and Between the World and Me. And I have a strange affinity for James Baldwin. It's an admittedly recent love affair for me. I only read my first Baldwin a few years go, Giovanni's Room, which I could not get over. That book lead me on a rather intense foray into LGBTQ literature that has defined my reading for the last two years. I feel a sort of debt--an immense gratitude to Baldwin for this, and I was happy to increase the depth of my acquaintance with him.

The Fire Next Time is made up of two essays, the first being a letter to his nephew on the centennial of the signing of The Emancipation Proclamation, the other, an exploration of racism in Harlem, and the roles of Christianity and Islam in race relations. It is a slim volume, and so the amount of fury and anguish and fear and hurt and redemption and hope that tumble off its pages is surprising, as if from a much longer book.

Baldwin's descriptions of being stopped and frisked by police and left lying on a Harlem street as a teenager are eerily familiar. His agony over the unfairness of his nephew's place in life determined only by the color of his skin all too recognizable. "The limits of your ambition were, thus, to be set forever. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity, and in as many ways as possible, that you were a worthless human being."

For a country where one in three Black men can expect to be incarcerated, his words are sadly prophetic. And then the heartbreaking realization--those two letters were never meant to be a prophecy, that's just how little has changed since he wrote them in the early 1960's.  The overt racism of James Baldwin's United States has merely hidden itself behind our insidious institutional racism and the false promises of a "color blind" society, too proud of its ability to finally elect a Black man as president.

Beyond the sad timeliness of his subject, Baldwin's writing is hypnotic. "For here you were, Big James, named for me...here you were: to be loved. To be loved, baby, hard, at once, and forever, to strengthen you against the loveless world." The tone and cadence of his words seems to mimic the beat of his heart and with it, the obvious love he has for his nephew. The richness of his writing is matched only by the clarity of his thoughts:
Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in the order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death--ought to decide, indeed, to earn one's death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life.
The Fire Next Time is a powerful and provoking manifesto, and a hopeful exploration of what we all must find within ourselves. It is indispensable--and a compelling companion for Between the World and Me. Read it. Read them both. Join the conversation.


Sunday, February 14, 2016

Book News and Other Miscellany

Volume 3, Issue 1
Various links to cool videos, websites, articles, and news about books.

No. Way. A new Harry Potter book is coming! The book will be released on Sunday, July 31st (Harry's birthday, obvi). It will be the eighth book, and it's actually a "special rehearsal edition" script of a new play, based on an original story by J.K. Rowling. Sounds confusing, but who really cares? Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is about the harried(ha) life of an overworked Ministry of Magic employee, father of three little wizards, and former savior of the wizarding world. So you know, normal everyday stuff. I wonder if Harry and Ginny have a minivan.

And speaking of Harry Potter, here's the trailer to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them In case you're like me and completly missed it.

We think our Instagram account is pretty spectacular. Find us @thirdplacebooks, if you aren't a current follower. But there are tons of other great book related Instagram accounts.

Bustle.com put together a list of 10 Accounts Every Book-Lover Should Be Following Right Now. It's a pretty good list. They seem to cover the gamut of what the book Instagram world consists of; that being, cats, coffee, young adult readers, and bookstores. 

Check out this Seattle Times feature on our 
new, soon to be open, Seward Park Store!
Managing Partner, Robert Sindelar, overseeing construction

Here's a random new staff pick from one of our lovely employees. Christina at Ravenna thinks you should read...

This beautiful book, the story of an impoverished, naive young artist in 1930s London, totally took me by surprise. At first the mishaps of newly-married Sophia and her husband Charles are funny and awkward--everything Sophia cooks tastes like soap; they paint all of their furniture sea-green; they live in terror of Charles' forbidding relatives; and they're always hard up for money. But through a masterful technique of Comyns, Sophia's wondering attitude slowly reveals as much about her (and her unconscious attempts to deflect the emotional impact of constant disappointments) as it does those around her, who benefit from exploiting her optimism and self-doubt. Some moments of the book approach psychological horror, and the happy ones (they exist!) come as a great relief. 

In honor of Valentine's Day, find out what literary couple you and your significant other are. Take the quiz here.

And ... a book and a cat.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A Graphic Enlightenment

Growing up my father kept a shelf of Calvin and Hobbes collections on a high bookshelf in the back corner of a room we never went into. To get to these books you had to climb onto the back of an old green leather chair, push past dusty office ping pong tournament trophies, avoid the mini darts sitting next to a dartboard, and grab whatever thin Watterson book you could before sliding down the back of the chair into a pile of afghans. 

This was my knowledge of graphica.

About a year ago, a good friend of mine suggested I read Watchmen, the classic Alan Moore superhero send up. Coming from a friend with Criterion Collection taste, I borrowed the graphic novel and skeptically sat down to read it. I scoffed at the idea of reading a comic. I was a novel reader. A poetry reader. I didn’t need pictures in my books like some child. 

Two days later I was done. 

The art enchanted me, the combination of graphics and narrative astounded and confused me; this was a completely new method of storytelling that blew the door wide open on the art of writing as far as I was concerned. 

And so with Calvin, Hobbes, and Alan Moore whispering in my head I venture into the confusing, and at times seemingly-impenetrable, world of graphic novels. I knew right from the start that the serialized superhero comic was not for me, despite my good friend Andy’s insistence at a deeper mythology. It's just not for me. But Andy is a persistent man.

He finally found something on his bookshelf that felt right; that combined my love of slapdash plot with pure insanity in the form of Manhattan Projects. Written by Jonathan Hickman and illustrated by Nick Pitarra, Manhattan Projects follows an alternative history starting at the end of World War II in which the end of the war and the development of the atomic bomb leads to, to put it simply, high concept sci-fi rigmarole. 

Without giving too much away, you have the main players in the real-life Manhattan Project: Oppenheimer, Feynman, Fermi, and Einstein, but they are all surreal versions of themselves. The opening of the book posits this question: What if Oppenheimer had an evil twin that destroyed the “real” Oppenheimer? And what if that twin had control of the atomic bomb? 

What I found so completely absorbing about MP was its total disregard for, yet amazing respect for, the truth. Hiding underneath the insanity, death, drug-use, and smashing of idols is a tightly written, historically-semi-accurate subplot. The events that unfurl throughout the first couple of books in the series read like a Lewis Carrol’s Wonderland version of United States history. 

I devoured these books. I started borrowing them one at a time and then just emptied his collection into my backpack and ran away. Reflecting on my journey into the graphic medium it is easy to see why these grabbed me as firmly as they did. The absurdity of Calvin mixed with the philosophic nature of Hobbes with the sci-fi bent of Watchmen all wrapped in an Adult Swim feel. This was tailor made for me and placed me firmly in the graphic novel fan camp. 

So now I enter into the dark woods of graphic novels with a few key guides at my side. Andy hands me superhero comics to see if they stick along with more high-concept sci-fi (see:Black Science). Coworkers of mine who come at graphica from an artists viewpoint hand me David Clowes, Eleanor Davis, and Chris Ware. Another coworker places in my hands Batman Arkham Asylum, which completely destroyed my view on the “super hero” graphic novel, along with Y The Last Man, which I will probably talk about at a later time. 

The graphic novel is not simply a book with pictures, nor is it art with words. It is the perfect merging of those two forms; the culmination of visual and textual storytelling. This descent into graphica and comics feels equally like a descent into madness and a step into a very new and beautiful world.