Friday, September 29, 2006

Patrick Somerville: the interview

Tuesday, September 19, University Book Store was pleased to welcome Patrick Somerville to the store for a reading. And we were also pleased to find that, even though he looked at the interview with Andrea Seigel, he agreed to answer our questions, too!

A thing discussed at the reading:

Brad Spakowitz, meteorologist

1) Have you recently read a book that made you angry because someone else wrote it instead of you? If so, what was it?

I think Articles of War by Nick Arvin qualifies for me; it's so clear, with so many strange, amazing little moments built into it that convert war into something far weirder than horror and more moving than a typical story of people blowing other people away. It's just sad, and real, and totally unpretentious. And it's SO far from neurotic little kids running around in suburbia. I hate fiction like that.

2) A literary feud is a great way to get some publicity for a book. Who will you be starting a feud with and why?

Nicole Richie, because she's the mean one and I'm the nice one.

3) You grew up in Green Bay and now live in Chicago. How do you resist the urge—bred into you, one assumes—to punch people in Bears insignia gear in the back of the head?

Luckily, when I was growing up, the Packers completely dominated the Bears, and the pathetic, slumped fans moped around Lambeau Field with their beers and frowns and were too ridiculous to attack. Now the Bears are better and I live in Chicago, but I feel as though they deserve this nice time of winning. I also don't want to get the fuck beat out of me.

4) Say something nice about University Book Store.

Nice coffee, amiable street kids outside, really nice UW MFA students in attendance, and a high-quality microphone. What more could I ask for?

5) Any closing remarks?

Thanks. I had a fantastic time in Seattle, all around. The Alexis hotel? Pike Market? Come on.

Monday, September 25, 2006


Monday • September 25 • 7pm

You probably already know this. You are probably already planning on being here. But, maybe not. So, here's a head's up:

The incomparable Kelly Link, one of the finest contemporary short story writers around, will be here. Tonight. At University Book Store. Reading.

Be here.

This is the first paragraph of her story, "The Great Divorce," (which originally appeared in a fantastic journal called One Story) from her latest book, Magic For Beginners.

There once was a man whose wife was dead. She was dead when he fell in love with her, and she was dead for the twelve years they lived together, during which time she bore him three children, all of them dead as well, and at the time of which I am speaking, the time during which her husband beganto suspect that she was having an affair, she was still dead.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Thursday • September 28 • 7pm

WeKnew, originally uploaded by ubs_blogger.

This is pretty darned exciting. Local author, "One to Watch", humorist, and coffee enthusiast Ryan Boudinot will be here next Thursday to read from his new book, The Littlest Hitler.

I can't wait. I've been reading and enjoying Ryan's work for a while now, and have been looking forward to the publication of his first book.

But, this isn't the first time Ryan has read here. This is, in fact, the fourth time! He read with Dave Eggers, John Moe, and Sean Carman for the publication of Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans, twice with Stephen Elliott for Happy Baby and Looking Forward to It, and with Hobart issue #4, a journal he edited. Ryan's a regular.

Here's proof:

There he is, readers. Ryan Boudinot. In our store. Leaning against a fixture.

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

Wow. That's a grammatically correct sentence!

So. Umm.

"The bookmaker booked to book the bookmaker's bet?" Readers, can you do better than that with the word "book"? I'll bet you can. Give it a try in the comments section.

Here are a couple of Steven Pinker links.

(This link was discovered at Edward Champion's Return of the Reluctant.)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Nick's Pick for October: The Places in Between

Nickspick, originally uploaded by ubs_blogger.

Every month, our own Nick DiMartino chooses his favorite recent title and crafts a more indepth review than our regular staff favorites.

His October pick? The Places in Between by Rory Stewart.

Here's what Nick says about it:

Trusting in Muslim hospitality, Rory Stewart walks across Afghanistan.

Rory Stewart is the smart person’s hero, a brave and well-informed 30-year-old Scotsman determined to complete his walk across all of Asia. Two weeks after the Taliban falls he’s ready to cross Afghanistan. So what if it’s winter?

This is travel writing at its best. As he follows in the footsteps of Babur, the first Emperor of Mughal India, he stops in over 500 village homes, talking with people of all ages, from soldiers to shepherds.

Best of all, in a land where dogs are considered unclean, he adopts a mistreated old war dog, names him Babur, and determines to take the dog with him all the way back to Scotland. Join Rory for a walk worth taking – see Afghanistan in all its complexity in the company of a superb writer and a fine human being.

The Places in Between is on sale now for only $11.20!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

"It's like meeting Santa Claus!"

Here is a great reason why people like me should never meet famous people: we can't handle it. Would you like to hear a story about me being a fool? Of course! Who wouldn't?

Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson just waltzed into our bookstore to sign books. Yes, authors do this all the time. They just walk through the doors like humans, on two legs and everything, and they ask to sign their books. Usually I'm too starstruck to do much more than let inane things dribble out of my mouth, and rarely are they coherent. They resemble the formal greeting "So nice to meet you! We appreciate your time," but land somewhere else entirely, in The Valley of Um. But this time takes the cake. Background first: I grew up reading Dave Barry's books. My parents had them on the shelves, and my little brother and I would snatch them and read them aloud to each other, usually until we lost the power of speech and just lay on the floor, convulsing with spasms of laughter. We would repeat the jokes (usually the inappropriate ones) at parties, and our parents would blush and shush us while other parents tittered. We loved these books so much that my parents actually have a photo on the fridge of us reading Dave Barry's Greatest Hits. My brother still wants to be a stand-up comedian or comedy writer. So Dave Barry was a very important figure in my childhood. Now back to the present: I walked up to a staff desk, where two normal-looking guys with a big stack of books were standing. I opened my mouth to say, "Can I help you?" and instead, I did that fish-mouth thing where you keep opening and closing your mouth while no words come out. Because the normal-looking guys were decidedly un-normal, they were the aforementioned Pearson and Barry. Quick on my feet, I realized I should say some words, something like "I have always loved your books, Mr. Barry." I would regale him with the cute stories about my brother and I, and he would laugh, and we would go out for tea and become lifelong friends. Instead, I literally burst into tears. Trying to be an adult, I walked away, dried my face, and went to stand awkwardly next to the desk, smiling and nodding at the very normal conversation he was having with another bookseller. I tried English again, but it was no use. He cordially gave the books back to us and left, and I regained my voice long enough to say a strangled and whispered "thank you," before bursting into tears for a second time. When a coworker asked why, I said, "It's like meeting Santa Claus." I can't explain it. It just is.

Why on earth am I telling you this? Because I am secretly hoping that you are Dave Barry, and when you read this, you will remember the trembling, pale girl at the desk, and you will have the moment I wanted you to have, which was a moment of basking in the adoration of a lifelong fan.

A Fool

P.S. I realize I should plug my idol's books, right? Those fantastic dudes were here touring for their new children's book Escape from Carnivale, and signed copies of their two other books for children, Peter and the Starcatchers and Peter and the Shadow Thieves, as well as multitudes of their own books for grown ups.

George Saunders, actual genius

Yes, but when will he win the Super-Genius grant?

Patrick Somerville

Tonight University Book Store will be hosting a reading by Patrick Somerville, Chicago writer and teacher. His new book of short stories is called Trouble, and gosh it's good.

The stories are by turns very funny and very sad. What follows is a passage from "Trouble and the Shadowy Death Blow," a story about food science, fatherhood, and depraved indifference to human life:

The evening before the trip I tried to play catch with Eric in the backyard but he insisted on wearing his glove on his head.

"Put the glove on right and field this grounder," I said to him.

Eric is at heart a good boy with a sharp wit. There was a time, even that night, out in the yard, under the stars—Wisconsin can be a wonderful place—when I believed he would grow into a good man. Perhaps a strong man.

I don't believe it anymore. He plays at life with too much of his heart. He'll be eaten alive when he leaves the house. The world's all locusts, and people like Eric are corn. Strike one.

He's thirteen and doesn't know how to tie his shoes properly. Strike two.

But strike three. Strike three is the real trouble. His cheeseman dad is a murderer.

Good stuff! Stop by the U District store at 7pm, and catch the reading.

Further Readings: Darfur and Genocide

Last Saturday, a rally was held in New York to raise awareness of the conflict and genocide in Darfur, a western region of the Sudan. I am, like I assume many of you are, only aware of this tragic current event in the most cursory of ways, so I asked one of our booksellers to create a list of books that might illuminate. Here it is:

Famine That Kills: Darfur, Sudan, Alex De Waal

War In Darfur And The Search For Peace, Alex De Waal

Darfur: The Ambiguous Genocide, Gerard Prunier

A Problem From Hell: America And The Age Of Genocide, Samantha Power

Why Not Kill Them All?: The Logic And Prevention Of Mass Political Murder, Daniel Chirot

Final Solutions: Mass Killing And Genocide In The Twentieth Century, Benjamin Valentino

The Specter Of Genocide: Mass Murder In Historical Perspective, Robert Gellatly

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Know any others? Drop us a comment.

Staff Favorites

MortalEngines, originally uploaded by ubs_blogger.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Staff Favorites

Lost and Found won our 2006 Ubie Award, which our Children's staff gives to its favorite picture book and young adult novel.

Here's what they said about Lost and Found:

"When a sad-looking penguin appears on a young boy’s doorstep, he sets out to help it find its way back home to the South Pole. This sweet story of friendship with its perfectly matched watercolor illustrations put this book on the fast track to our hearts."

Here's the winner in the Young Adult Novel category:

"Our young adult novel winner is The Scarecrow and His Servant by Philip Pullman. This rollicking tale of chivalry, quick-wittedness and limb replacement features a turnip-headed scarecrow and his faithful servant boy, Jack."

Monday, September 11, 2006

Bumbershoot is a total blur

This is the Digital Photography section of University Book Store. Soon, I will request a transfer to this section and become the official shelver in the Digital Photography section.

"Why, Shelver, do you want to transfer to the Digital Photography section?" you may ask.

Because, dear readers, I went to Bumbershoot. I went to Bumbershoot and took this photo:

All right, so here it is. This is our tent at Bumbershoot. This is our author signing table. This photo was taken as 1)Laila Lalami and 2)Gary Shteyngart were signing copies of their books.

And that's when 3) George Saunders and 4) Mary Gaitskill came strolling up to get their books signed.

Laila was heard to yell, "Oh my God! It's George Saunders!"

I grabbed my camera. And took a photo. Blurry. Another. Blurry.

Above you see the third and best attempt to take a photo of four really important contemporary writers standing right next to one another.

One can only assume it was the shear force of literary power—some sort of radiating literary aura—that doomed this photo.

Or, I am a lousy photographer. In case the second is the reason, I hope to soon be transfered to the Digital Photography section. Perhaps spending some time with those books will help.

Advice to a Young Blogger

Here's the advice I got from Gerry Canavan at Backwards City Review. If you don't know his blog and journal, find out. It's half superheroes, half literary heroes. One of my favorites.

"There will be days on the blog, and not only in the beginning, when it seems like you are simply talking to yourself. (You will be.) Keep going. Or don't. Honestly, no one will notice either way."

It's just that kind of infectious optimism that got me into the book blogging game, Gerry! Thanks!

Seriously, though. Check out Backwards City Review. In their first four issues they've published up and coming fiction writers like Cory Doctorow, Chris Bachelder, and Roy Kesey. And they've featured work by poets like Tony Tost, Sarah Manguso, and Joyelle McSweeney*.

(Lest I be accused of not being forthright, I'll mention that yours truly had a story published in issue #3 of Backwards City Review. I'd suggest the blog and journal anyway, though. I was reading them both long before I had a piece accepted by them.)

*McSweeney will be reading at University Book Store on October 20 at 7pm.

The Zero

Janet Maslin at the New York Times has some nice stuff to say about The Zero by Spokane's own Jess Walter.

Walter will be reading at our Tacoma store Thursday, October 5, at 6pm.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

...A Poet On Payday!

Michael Palmer can finally prove to his family that sometimes poetry does pay.

The gods of literature, though, sometimes also make with the takething away.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Andrea Seigel Read at University Book Store and then Answered the Most Important Questions She Will Ever Be Asked

Last Thursday, author Andrea Seigel stopped by University Book Store to read from her new novel To Feel Stuff. After the reading—and the dancing, taking some audience questions, and dancing, Andrea Seigel was kind enough to answer my questions, as well.

Things discussed during the reading:

Dancing at Powell’s books, and the difficulty of doing so because the floors are not carpeted; places to eat on the Brown University campus; the reappearance of 80's hit Strawberry Shortcake; the height of Amy Hempel; writing a novel and finding an agent (natch); the kind of audience who shows up for your reading when it sort of looks like you are naked in your author photo.

Andrea Seigel, the Interview

What’s the last book you read that made you angry because someone other than you wrote it?

Fraud by David Rakoff. It’s
Neurotic Jew at a level I haven’t been able to get to yet. Also, Marley & Me by John Grogan because I've had a lot of pets and wasn't smart enough to use their deaths for financial gain.

Andrea and a bunny. This bunny's status is unknown.

Literary feuds are a good way to get a little publicity for a book. Who would you like to start a literary feud with, and why?

Marisha Pessl. She’s kind of clean-hot, whereas I consider myself more dirty-hot and I don’t think I get the recognition I deserve for it.

You attend the Bennington College MFA program. When you’re there for the twice-yearly residencies, do you see Bennington graduate Donna Tartt hanging around, like Jon Lovitz or Tim Meadows used to long after they left the cast of Saturday Night Live?

No, but I live in L.A., and I see Jon Lovitz all the time. He’s frequently at The Hamburger Hamlet from 4pm on.

To read a review of To Feel Stuff and Marisha Pessl's Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Friend of University Book Store Sean Carman, go here.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Eudora Welty

Lorrie Moore, one of my favorite contemporary authors, discusses Eudora Welty, one of my all time favorites in the New York Review of Books. (Thanks to Maud Newton's blog for the link.)

Below is a photo of Welty signing copies of A Curtain of Green at University Book Store.

We're old.

Coming Up

Check back in the next couple of days for some Bumbershoot memories, a very short interview with author/dancing queen Andrea Seigel, and more Advice to a Young Blogger.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Advice to a Young Blogger

When we decided University Book Store needed a blog, I wrote to some of the established online literary writers to see if they could offer guidance. The first response I got was from Ron Hogan, the creator of, a correspondent for, and the author of The Stewardess Is Flying the Plane! Here's what he had to say:

Well, the fact that you'll be running this blog out of a bookstore pretty much negates my first bit of advice, which would've been to start looking for storage space once the review copies start arriving in the mail. Seriously, we've got six bookcases that are filled to capacity, knee-high stacks of books in front of them, AND I went out and got a closet at one of those converted warehouses when my wife started insisting on being able to see the living room floor again. But there's still so many books coming in for me to choose from--at least you'll just be able to wander the aisles and pick out whatever you need, then put it back into inventory when you're done!

A related bit of advice, and one I probably should've taken for myself: Instead of telling people about books you've read that you loved, try telling people about the books you WANT to read! That way you'll be able to mention a lot more books without actually having to work your way through them all, and the publishers will be happy their book got a positive-sounding write-up--everybody wins!

Also, since you're working, do you get a vision plan included in your health insurance? (Heck, do you get health insurance?) Because if you're not wearing glasses now, after a few months as a steady book reviewer, you're going to need them. I held out as long as I could, but this summer I finally got my first pair. They actually turned out okay—I may have to include them in my next author photo!

Ron Hogan in the glasses he wears because of blogging about books.

Bargain Books

David Laskin's The Children's Blizzard is the story of the 1888 prairie storm that killed five hundred—including over a hundred children who were returning home from school when it struck.

"The American prairie has its indelible epics—the luck-charmed journey of Lewis and Clark, the Oregon Trail tales and travails—and The Children's Blizzard adds to our trove of western lore the nearly lost story of a mighty blow of nature. David Laskin's telling of the immense 1888 blizzard is elegant in its research and eloquent in its recountings of prairie dwellers facing impossible weather. This is a haunting book about the odds stacked against the settlers of the American heartland."

—Ivan Doig, author of This House of Sky and The Whistling Season.

Staff Favorites

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