Wednesday, December 29, 2010

It's That Strangest of Weeks

It's between Christmas and New Year's, that peculiar time which doesn't exactly fit anywhere.  School is still on vacation, people are still traveling, and no one wants even one more piece of chocolate.  Well, maybe just one.  I'm sure you got everything you wanted for the holiday season, but if not, we can still help you out.  Maybe you didn't get The Autobiography of Mark Twain; we've got it in stock, like we did all through the shopping season.  Perhaps you heard good things about Decoded by Jay-Z, and were thinking you should check it out, only Santa didn't put it under the tree.  Don't worry.  We've got that one, too.

On the other hand, maybe you did get what you wanted, and what you wanted was a gift card or the always festive cash.  Perhaps even now you're wondering what to do with that.  Here's a few suggestions that might have gone under the radar: Tartine Bread, a beautiful bread baking book that will make your house smell lovely all through the chilly winter months; the other Bill Bryson book of the season, Seeing Further (he edited it, and it's kind of connected to his Short History of Nearly Everything).  Or the delightful It's A Book, about a donkey presented with a strange new thing.  Seattle, Then and Now has a new revised edition showing all the ways in which this city has changed over the years; and then there's a favorite of mine for the season, How To Live, or, A Life of Montaigne, a truly charming volume about the world's first essayist and his wondrous, delightful life.

And if nothing here has tickled your fancy, you can just wait a couple of more days until it's 2011, and come in for our calendar sale.  50% off almost all of our wall, engagement and page a day calendars.  It begins January 1, when we're open 12-5 because of the holiday, and then continues from there.  The widest selection is at the start, so come early to get something lovely.  Or several somethings, and make a collage?

Happy New Year, everyone.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Our Favorite Arty Comics

If you're still looking for that perfectly unique gift this holiday season, let us guide you into what may seem like uncharted territory: the ever-expanding shelves of the Arty Comics/Graphic Novel section. What was once a niche market is quickly becoming the place for breakout authors and illustrators exploring every subject and genre. There are adaptations of well-known works (Allen Ginsberg's Howl, a graphic biography of Anne Frank, R. Crumb's Book of Genesis), and a multitude of intriguing new books. It seems like every week I see a fresh batch of graphic novels with covers so curious and beautiful I have to pause in my shelving to take a look. Here are some recent favorites:

Laurie Sandell
Laurie Sandell grew up worshiping her charismatic but mercurial father. However, a startling revelation forces Sandell to confront the ugly truths about both her father and herself. Strongly recommended for fans of Alison Bechtel's Fun Home.

Robert Kirkman
If the only reason you can think of not to browse though this book is that you aren't really into zombies, then you're in luck. Robert Kirkman has crafted a book with zombies that ultimately has little to do with zombies. Think of George Romero's films. The director once said that zombies were just a prop used for social commentary. Kirkman takes a similar posture, as the real problems during the zombie apocalypse are those that arise between the living. Distrust, extra-marital affairs, questions of social responsibility, they're all here. Give the gift of zombies this year.

Kolbeinn Karlsson
Weird, psychedelic, dark and totally original, this lovely book is truly beyond compare. Swedish author Kolbeinn Karlsson deftly walks the line between cute and grotesque with his amazing artwork and creates an abstract, delightfully absurd narrative. A great gift for the eccentric art lover in your life, or for yourself when you feel the urge to get lost in a postmodern fairy tale.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Christmas Magic

I have to say I don't exactly love most children's Christmas books. As I've already mentioned, my go-to Christmas book is by Dylan Thomas, and while it has humor and good cheer, it's not exactly about bounding reindeer and unique snowflakes and the power of hugs and all that. Mostly, kids Christmas books are just too... gooey. I don't want golden-hued colored pencil drawings, or computer-illustrated, weirdly-shaped people. It needs to be juuuust right- not too cute, not didactic, the art has to be good, the story has to be unique enough that I would want to read it aloud over and over. Perhaps I'm being too picky, but I can pass by table after table of red and green books and not feel one inkling of Christmas spirit. I'm not Grinchy, either. So every year, I keep a lookout for something that has that Goldilocks just-right feeling. And every once in awhile, I find a keeper. My most recent favorite is from last year, and I want you to come look at it.

The Christmas Magic, as a title, sounds bad. Like, suuuper cheesy. I wouldn't have picked it up if it weren't by Lauren Thompson and illustrated by total watercolor superhero Jon Muth (I would wallpaper my house with that man's illustrations). It's about Santa getting ready for the big day, and it just contains so much charm and small detail (reindeer eating parsnips, Santa's whiskers tingling) that it sets itself apart from all the faux-jolliness. He trims his whiskers, darns his socks, polishes the sleigh. It's the kind of this-is-how-we-go-about-our-day story that kids from two or three on up (and me) just loooove. And then he waits for the magic that apparently comes every year, and when it's time, and he's standing in his sleigh looking up at the stars, "the night begins to thrum with magic, the kind of magic that makes reindeer fly." THANK YOU FOR THRUM. What a superb word. Something about this particular Santa's elfin stature (he's a "jolly old elf," remember?), his pointy mustache that's wider than his face, his little reindeer's goofy smile. It all makes me feel a little, well, Christmas-y.

-Anna, Kids Books

P.S. Apparently, Scholastic has a book trailer for it, but I don't really have time to check it out (there's so much to do around here this time of year I feel like our previously mentioned elf friend) so you'll have to let me know if it makes the book seem lame. I promise it's lovely. Book trailer here.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The EBM on Writing it Real

It has been quite some time since we've updated you about our Espresso Book Machine. Despite our silence, you can rest easy knowing that Tera, Queen of all things Print-On-Demand, has been busy busy these past few months keeping up with our growing publishing capabilities. She's been designing book covers for authors publishing through the EBM, educating customers about our new printing technology, and hunting down out-of-print books to bring back to life.

She has also taken the time to interview with Sheila Bender's Writing it Real. Sheila interviewed Tera about the Espresso Book Machine in much detail. I just spent the past few minutes reading it, and I can tell you that I have much more in-depth knowledge of publishing, options for self-published authors, and the future of small publishing.

Click over to the interview, it will be a few minutes well spent.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Sleepwalk with Mike Birbiglia

Attention: free book lovers!
We have three (3) signed copies of Mike Birbiglia's new book, Sleepwalk With Me, in hardcover, ready to give away! Birbiglia is a comedian and frequent contributor to The Moth and This American Life. If you haven't heard his (titular) story about jumping out the window of a La Quinta Inn in Walla Walla, Washington, you can read it for the first time here. If you have, you know what's in store: a rare kind of hilarity that manages to be both outrageous and poignant.
The first three people to leave their e-mail address in the comments will get a copy! Ready...GO!


Capote, Colette, and the Art of Gift Giving

On Tuesday, December 7th, at 7pm, our Used Books Buyer Brad Craft will be reading Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory,” at the U-District Store. This will be Brad’s fifth year favoring us with his rendition of Capote’s bittersweet holiday story. If you’ve never attended one of his live readings before, then I whole-heartedly recommend you swing by for this seasonal treat. I will be in attendance, and hope to see many of you there as well.

But ever since I began working at University Book Store, it is another of Capote’s pieces that comes to my mind, particularly during the Holiday season when shoppers flood the store in search of gift recommendations. It is his short essay “The White Rose,” wherein Capote recounts his visit with the legendary French author Colette, shortly after the publication of his first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms. Upon entering Colette’s bedroom, “as my hostess was an elderly partial invalid who rarely left her bed,” the usually brash Capote found himself timorous, tongue-tied, and unable to look directly at Colette. Instead, he found his attention drawn to her collection of antique, crystal paperweights. “There was perhaps a hundred of them covering two tables situated on either side of the bed….” Noticing his interest, she is able to draw him into conversation by explaining her fascination with these “snowflakes,” as she calls them.

She ultimately gives him one, the eponymous white rose, as a present: “By so doing she arranged for a financially ruinous destiny, for from that moment I became a ‘collector’….” Capote then goes on to relate his own passion for these objets d’arts, before ending the essay with the revelation that he originally tried to refuse Colette’s gift. “…[W]hen I protested that I couldn’t accept as a present something she so clearly adored, [she replied] ‘My dear, really there is no point in giving a gift unless one also treasures it oneself.’

Since first reading those words, I have tried to employ this advice whenever possible, and found it to be most rewarding. So, if this Holiday season you wish to go beyond the various lists submitted to you by loved ones, then, once more, I whole-heartedly recommend following Madame Colette’s example. 

--Dan, Events

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Nonfiction: It's Real!

The History section is one of the most interesting sections in the bookstore from which I have read hardly anything. I used to shelve back there, and although hundreds of titles caught my eye, I'm just not a nonfiction reader. Fortunately, we have some well-versed staff who are here to help recommend great new nonfiction books. For an idea of how much fascinating, scholarly writing is being produced right now, come into the store and take a look at our New Nonfiction display, right by bestsellers.
Here we have three books that illustrate the necessity of follow-up questions when we get asked for recommendations. "I was wondering if you could recommend an American History book? It's for my uncle and he's read everything."

"Well, there's this awesome new illustrated Constitution, and since everyone seems to be talking about it, maybe it's time to re-read it!"

Sam Fink
Elegant yet playful illustrations turn the United States Constitution into something suitable for your coffee table, and accessible to anyone of any age.

"...and then there's this book about art in America during the Great Depression. Just think of all the incredible music, film, photography and literature that was produced during such an impoverished time. It's hard to believe that this is the first book to bring it all together."

Morris Dickstein
Dickstein concentrates on the dynamic energy of the arts and the resulting lift they gave the nation's morale during the Great Depression. Food for thought for the times we're living in and may inspire you to get up and dance!

"If neither of those sound right, how about this new book by Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Powers?"

Thomas Powers
Powers takes us into the heart of the Plains wars of the late 1800s with an intimate history of Crazy Horse and those who supported him, fought him, schemed against him, and betrayed him. Rich in history and character, this is a terrific read.

Up next: graphic novels, anyone?

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Holiday/Snow Day Pick

From my favorite winter/Christmas story of all time, A Child's Christmas in Wales, by Dylan Thomas, which should speak for itself: snowed and it snowed. But here a small boy says: "It snowed last year, too. I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea."
"But that was not the same snow," I say. "Our snow was not only shaken from whitewash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely white-ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening the gate, like a dumb, numb thunderstorm of white, torn Christmas cards."
"Were there postmen then, too?"
"With sprinkling eyes and wind-cherried noses, on spread, frozen feet they crunched up to the doors and mittened on them manfully. But all that the children could hear was a ringing of bells."
"You mean that the postman went rat-a-tat-tat and the doors rang?"
"I mean that the bells that the children could hear were inside them."
"I only hear thunder sometimes, never bells."
And so on and so forth. Happy snow day, Seattle. And thanks to my Babbo, a great actor and read-alouder, for reading that story to my mother every Christmas of her life, and mine too (due to the incredible coincidence/foresight of someone having a tape recorder the Christmas before a stroke left him unable to speak).

-Anna, Kids Books

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Our Cookbook Section Can Help With Your Thanksgiving!

Still gathering your last minute thanksgiving recipes? Looking for something traditional, but just a bit different this year? Not to worry, here are some of the best recipes from our favorite cookbooks to help you decide what to make  for the holiday.

Kim O'Donnel's Dino Mash from The Meat Lover's Meatless Cookbook. I made this over the weekend and I won't make any other mash again. It's a wonderful mixture of roasted garlic, creamy potatoes and kale. That's right, kale! Sure, mashed potatoes are near perfect on their own, but trust me, the deep green of kale weaving through an otherwise clumpy white mess is just stunning. It adds the perfect visual oompf and the kale provides a wonderful chewy and hearty texture to the potatoes. (Hey! Check out Kim talking about these potatoes in the Huff Po's Meatless Monday Thanksgiving Project)

The Apple Galette from In My Green Kitchen. This rustic tart is perfect for a small Thanksgiving gathering. It calls for less apples than a pie, so you can forget spending hours chopping and peeling, but it is absolutely beautiful. You lay out the apples in a concentric circle on a buttery pie dough, then fold the dough over the edge of the fruit. Voila! Always a show stopper.
Ina Garten's Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Warm Cider Vinaigrette from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics. I always think a starter salad on Thanksgiving is a wonderful way to begin the big, heavy meal and this salad keeps to theme with squash, cranberries, walnuts and maple syrup. This squashy dish would also be a great stand in for the sweet potatoes, but if you are a sweet potato lover, you should try the Sweet Potato Lover's Cookbook.

Hope these suggestions help fill in some of your Thanksgiving day recipe blanks. Enjoy! (And be careful out there in the snow.)

--Anna, Events

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Irresistable Fiction

For this week's staff favorite update, here is a subject near and dear to my heart, that great romancer of aspiring writers and lifelong readers: literary fiction. Here are some great picks; a classic and two new novels. (Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson is out in paperback next week!)

Betty Smith
There's a lot of talk these days about how “these are the hard times” and we're all “struggling to get by.” I always think of Francie and her beautiful, flawed, complicated family, and what their version of a tough time was. And then I want the fellow on the TV to hush up. A triumph and a tragedy, this novel will be on my top ten list for the rest of my life, and now is a perfect time to re-read it.

Samantha Harvey
Set in the moors of Northern England, this story of an endearing Jewish architect diagnosed with Alzheimer's is one of the loveliest novels I've read in a long while. The author's imagining of Jake Jameson's mind as his grasp of reality gradually slips away is extraordinarily told. And through her masterful interweaving of the threads of Jake's persistent long-term memories and brief flashes of clarity, we come to understand and love Jake and the remarkable people who shaped and shared his life. These pages offer up a beautiful and deeply felt reading experience.


Helen Simonson
An unlikely romance is blossoming between stodgy widower Major Pettigrew and Mrs Ali, an elegant Pakistani widow who reluctantly tends her family’s general store in a small British village. Both families are MOST unhappy with developments, and their chagrin, along with much of the town, is hilariously portrayed in this delightfully wry, witty and moving novel. (The Major’s son and prospective daughter-in-law are particularly amusing horrors!) While the setting is contemporary, there’s a lingering old-fashioned charm throughout the story. Everyone I’ve given this to has been thrilled.

Now I would just like to add a little anecdote about my very own favorite staff favorite.
Sometimes I am amazed by this common phenomenon: people are reading the books we recommend! Strangers (but some friends and family, too) read our tiny blurbs and make the magnificent decision to trust our judgment, to open their wallets, and to devote at least a few hours to reading a book that one of us loved. Every time someone buys a book I've recommended, I get overly excited, but I usually try to keep it to myself. I look up the sales history and think, there's X number of people out there in Seattle and beyond who have this book! Maybe they hated it, maybe they got through ten pages and then left it on an airplane, but of course I imagine it has provided a life-changing experience.
An example: when I first started working at the bookstore, I wrote a card for James Dickey's Deliverance. It sat and sat on the shelf, collecting dust, until one day it was pulled. I said a quiet eulogy and swore vengeance, feeling not unlike one of Dickey's hillbilly villains. When the Staff Favorites section came under my jurisdiction, I decided to gamble on another Dickey title: his third and last novel, To The White Sea. There were no copies in stock when I first ordered it earlier this year, but now I'm happy to report that it's selling well. This makes me feel like a proud, encouraging parent. My love of James Dickey only further stereotypes me as a “dude novel” enthusiast (thanks Anna!) as his novels are about men confronting nature and the unknown in manly ways. But if you've never read his writing, it's a stealthy concoction of action-poetry, and obviously, I recommend it.

--Seija, Staff Favorites

Monday, November 15, 2010

In Which We Discuss Books Written Quickly And Well

We're now at the half way point of National Novel Writing Month.  Here in Seattle, there was an event for it hosted at Richard Hugo House in which masses of tables were set up and hordes of writers, most of them young and all equipped with laptops, set to working on their word counts.  I glanced in only briefly, and was struck by the resemblance to a college library in the days before finals: everyone working on their own computer, everyone intent, everyone silent.

I could have been one of those people, except for two slight hitches.  One, I don't actually own a laptop, and two, I'm done with my novel.  It's 175 pages, almost 54000 words, and it took 10 days to write.  I think, also, that it might actually be pretty good.  There's not much of a case to be made for a book written in such a short time to be any good, only...well, maybe there is.

We'll begin by looking at a very good but very short novel, Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde, which was written in no more than 6 days.  On vacation.  It's a great read, and has turned into a veritable classic in fiction, known and read around the world.  So there's that one to start.

The brilliant magazine Mental Floss brings us a list of others, most of which I didn't know were written in anything like that short a time.  But really, look at them:  A Study in Scarlet (hello, most famous detective in the world, how nice to meet you); On The Road (almost required reading for young men of a certain age); The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (also a charming movie with Dame Maggie Smith).

There are certainly others.  A few authors assuredly had monthly outputs greater than 50000 words.  Both Dickens and Dumas were paid, in many cases, by the word, and so their output was prodigious.  Good stuff from both of them, though, so the possibility of speed and quality meeting is certainly there.

And one more story, about Simenon, a rather prolific French mystery writer of the first half of the 20th Century.  For a while he was dating Josephine Baker, who was the loveliest and most talked about woman of Paris, and maybe the world.  Only he broke up with her after a year, because she was too much of a distraction.  You see, he'd only written a dozen books in the time they went out, and that sort of output (a book a month) just wasn't up to snuff for him.

I don't think anyone's going to be breaking up with a modern Josephine Baker because they're writing NaNoWriMo novels every month.  But maybe...


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Excerpts from the Diaries of Adam & Eve!

Madame, I'm Adam.  Actually, I'm going to be reading Eve.  What was I thinking?  Matthew will be our Adam.  If you were to look closely at this slightly altered version of one of the original illustrations for Mark Twain's Diaries of Adam & Eve, you might recognize who's who.  (Guess that makes Brad the Serpent.)

Anyway, come to our Mark Twain Reading!


Tuesday, November 09, 2010

No Benevolences: Get a Free Copy of Twain's Autobiography!

"We do no benevolences whose first benefit is not for ourselves."
 -- Mark Twain, From the Autobiography

We're giving away a copy of a beautiful, brand-new book! 

We are.  We want you to have it, we do.  It's a fabulous book.  He's right, you know, Mark Twain.  We have another motive.  We want you to come to our Mark Twain event.  That's all you have to do to be the winner and get the book we're giving away.  And you'll enjoy yourself, even if you don't win the book, we promise.

Come Tuesday, November 16th, at 7PM, we will be marking the one hundredth anniversary of Mark Twain's death, and celebrating the publication of the first volume of his fully restored Autobiography, with a reading!  Extracts from the Diaries of Adam and Eve will be the main attraction.  Anyone unfamiliar with this little gem, should check it out.  (There are various versions in print, including a handsome and inexpensive Dover paperback.)  Funny, and touching, this is one of Twain's gentler spoofs of matters Biblical and the War Between the Sexes.  I'll be Eve.  Our own Matthew Simmons will be Adam.  And Brad Craft will provide the introduction for the evening, and some thoughts on Twain, and the significance of finally having his Autobiography exactly as he intended it.

Brad's been writing a bit already about the new publication, on his blog.  Check it out.  He's also posted a few pictures from our first rehearsal.  Trust me, a good time will be had by all.  It's a night of Mark Twain!  How great is that?  And remember, you might win a free book! 

To enter to win a copy of Autobiography of Mark Twain, just leave a comment on this blog post. We'll draw the winner at the event, you must be present to win. 


Monday, November 08, 2010

For the Music Lover in Your Life:

Here are three outstanding staff picks for the music lover in your life.

Rob Sheffield
Embarrassingly funny and endearing, this book charts Rob's awkward teenage years to adulthood track by track. Spliced with his intrinsic love of music, Rob's casual style makes it easy for kids of the 80's to commiserate with his stories of summer jobs, school dances, and just what constitutes “new wave.”

Andrew Zuckerman
A must-have for any music lover. Fifty musicians from all genres explain in their own words what music means to them. Features awesome photographs and an access link to Zuckerman's “The Music Film.”

Leiber, Jerry
In the early 1950s a couple of Jewish teenagers with a shared love of the blues start writing songs together and become one of the most successful songwriting teams in music history. From their first record with the Robins (who later became the Coasters) to a smash Broadway musical based on their songs, here is their story in their own words.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Don't Miss Bilocal!

This year we are participating in a brand-new series called Bilocal, the first presentation of Essential Arts, a new arts organization founded by one of Seattle's literary arts greats, Bob Redmond. Essential Arts's mission is to develop creative work for the common good, with an eye on social impact.

Sitting here at my desk, going over our participation in the event, looking at the list of writers and drooling over the top notch chefs, I can already tell that Bilocal will fulfill Essential Art's mission perfectly. Every aspect of the evening, from the list of musicians to the graphic design gallery touches upon aspects of what "art" and "community" mean, and what those ideas mean to a diverse group of people.

Bilocal is two consecutive evenings (this fall in Seattle and next April in New Orleans) that draw together writers, filmmakers, chefs, musicians and visual artists from Seattle and New Orleans to celebrate and discuss the idea of community. Some of the writers on the line up include Jonathan Evison, Molly Wizenberg, David Rutledge, Dedra Johnson and Megan Kelso. Look for us there, representing the authors with their books.

Bilocal will be a unique and vibrant event, an important moment in Seattle's arts scene and an important "geographical mashup" with New Orleans. Proceeds from the event will benefit The Lens, promoting investigative journalism in the Gulf.

Come join us November 12th or 13th at Town Hall Seattle! (tickets here).

--Anna, Events

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Wave after Wave of Staff Faves!

It's November, and that means all of us in General Books are choosing our Holiday Staff Picks! And even though books are gifts that just never! stop! giving! picking our holiday favorites is not just about gift-giving. It's about that cozy feeling; that increased inclination to hunker down and bundle up in your favorite chaise lounge/cave/tree house and get some solid reading done.

But what will you choose? We here at the bookstore have approximately 50 recommendations for you, your dad, your grandmother, and your dog (seriously, your dog will directly benefit from some of these picks). Name a section in the bookstore and we will pull a winner off the shelf. We will be featuring lots of great selections over the next two months, starting today!

Here's a pick from Pam:

Maira Kalman, artist extraordinaire, has hit the equivalent of a grand slam in the book publishing world. This fall, she has not one, not two, but three new books out. (Okay, one of them came out this past May--so sue me). I am perhaps one of her greatest fans and, although I am not a stalker and have never written her a letter, she is one of my imaginary best friends.

Which brings me to And the Pursuit of Happiness, a book based on a blog she penned for the New York Times. (If you were lucky, you read her first blog-to-book, Principles of Uncertainty, but if you somehow missed it, you can get it in paperback which is just as lovely and not as heavy as it was in hardcover).

In And the Pursuit of Happiness, Maira Kalman writes and paints about her visit to our capital during Barack Obama's inauguration where she encounters the history, art, architecture, and fashion of the White House. She later meets Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and promptly drops Jane Austen as her imaginary best friend in favor of Ruth, whose favorite artist is Matisse.

She becomes fascinated by our founding fathers (Benjamin Franklin is the dapper man on the cover of the book) and sets the record straight about their accomplishments. For instance, Thomas Jefferson invented triple sash windows, and Benjamin Franklin invented the lightning rod and swim fins. The breadth of her curiosity is astounding and enlightening and takes you into completely unexpected places; she presents us with a non-linear riff on what is good and hopeful about America's past, present and future.

Her goofy, wonderful, witty and joyful gouache paintings make you want to get up right now off your sofa to get a set of brushes and some good non-toxic paint to try and reproduce the happiness you feel just by looking at her colorful "do try this at home" art.

13 Words, written by Lemony Snicket (yes! he wrote a Series of Unfortunate Events) and illustrated by (you guessed it) Maira Kalman, is a hilarious picture book for anyone with a pulse. Take a look at the book trailer:

And last, Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World) would be my favorite if I had one. It is an exhibition catalog of Maira's work, including drawings, paintings, and embroideries. Please pick it up--you will not be disappointed.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Rough Drafts for Elephants in the Ape House

It's the last few days before the start of National Novel Writing Month.  I'm getting pretty excited; I've been doing my research for this year's novel, which is historical.  Mostly, I've been reading a lot, which is the best way to do your research, I think.  You could spend a lot of time looking things up, and consulting text books, and making index cards, and I'm sure that works well for some people, but for me, it's just sitting down with a good book and letting it wash over me.

Specifically, I've been reading the histories of Juliet Nicolson.  She focuses on the early years of the 20th Century, in Britain, and both The Perfect Summer and The Great Silence are intimate, personal, wonderful slices of history.  And Nicolson has great access to a lot of information; she's the granddaughter of author and gardener Vita Sackville-West and she still lives at the storied Sissinghurst.  I'm also looking at some of the poetry of World War I, things written by soldiers in the trenches.  Grim stuff, mainly, but sometimes quite lovely all the same.  If all goes well, it will lead to a novel about a boy in the war and after, a very strange boy who has great and terrible adventures.  Will it be publishable?  Who can say, but the one I wrote last year is heading toward that path pretty cleanly.

As I've been looking over Nanowrimo some more, it's come to my attention that, while most people just do it for fun, and most of the books written are not meant to be read, there are a few rather notable exceptions.  Sarah Gruen wrote one of the biggest selling books in the last few years as a draft during Nanowrimo.  And then, to go one better, she did the same with her next book, too, which we've got on our Bestsellers right now.  Two bestsellers in five years: not too bad, and both of them historical fiction.  Maybe you can be next.

Whew.  Finally made it around to that title.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

While you wait for it to to get better, how about something to read?

That's a picture of the Kids Desk's display of young adult books with gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning characters. We've all been paying close attention to the It Gets Better Project, and as book people, thought we'd offer teens some good reading as our contribution. The titles are listed below, but is that an exhaustive list of what's on our shelves (or on your local library's shelves)? Nope. There's tons more. Looking for something good? Stop by and ask. The amount of young adult fiction (and picture books, and anthologies, etc.) with queer characters is so much greater than it was a generation ago.

Also, we wanted to say a big thank you to Mr. Savage for starting the ball rolling (read his books!), and to all the folks who've made videos. Including our own beloved Brad, whose video can be found on his wonderful blog here. We love you, Brad.

The books on that table...
New this year (and great): Will Grayson, Will Grayson and Jumpstart the World. Classic and unforgettable: Geography Club and Boy Meets Boy. Award-winning: Ash and Hard Love. Nonfiction: GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Queer and Questioning Teens and Let's Get This Straight: The Ultimate Handbook for Youth with LGBTQ Parents. Already blogged the heck out of it: The Bermudez Triangle. Other titles on there: Rainbow Road, Totally Joe, Hero, From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun, Baby Bebop (that's a used copy), The House You Pass on the Way, Keeping You a Secret, The Mariposa Club. And, a picture book: Just Kidding, which is about bullying.

-Kids Desk

Friday, October 15, 2010

Two Weeks to Get a Great Idea

Only two weeks to go until we arrive at the writingest month of the year, November.  Every year, a few thousand crazy souls work up the courage to attempt to write an entire novel within 30 days as part of a process called National Novel Writing Month.  I've been doing it for 6 years now, with 4 successful years and two that just didn't quite make it.  That's not untypical; there are people who have been doing NaNoWriMo year after year, and people who have completed something like a novel every one of those years.

The process is pretty simple.  You can outline, you can do character backgrounds, you can design a cover and come up with a title and all of that, before November.  But you can't write a single word on your novel until 12 midnight, very early on the morning of November 1st.  And then you have 30 days to get to 50,000 words, which is a very short novel, but there are plenty of books about that length, including this one, that one, and this one as well.  All quality works, I can assure you.

The process can be a maddening one, of course.  You have to write roughly 1667 words per day, which is almost 6 pages.  This is every day, whether you're working or not, sick or well, eating Thanksgiving dinner or on the road.  It's a tough, grueling pace, but a rewarding one.  Looking at those 180 or so pages, at those 50,000 words that you've just produced, is one of the best experiences you can have.  It proves that you could, possibly, maybe, hopefully, be a writer.  It proves that you've got at least one (probably unexpected and amazing) story in you, and maybe more.

I'm doing it again this year, of course.  I'll fit in the hours of work somewhere around the edges of my normal life.   And if you're thinking that maybe it sounds fun, you should check out the website.  Seattle's one of the biggest cities as far as numbers of participants and word count, so that's a big support network.  And then there's No Plot, No Problem, by Chris Baty, the man responsible for NaNoWriMo coming into being, who runs the whole show and still manages to produce a novel every year.  If you decide to give it a try, look me up here, and we can be writing buddies.

And after?  Well, you'll have a finished novel, and you'll want a copy of it, I'm sure.  I always do.  This year, we've got a way to help you with that:  Homer, our fabulous EBM machine.  We can help you with set up and formatting, and we can print out your book for you.  Even if you know (as I have some years) that it should never be read by anyone who doesn't know and love you, you can still have a copy on your shelf to show off to friends.  And if you think it's good?  We've got self-publishing options for you, and we may even stock your book in our stores.

You've got two weeks.  Time to start that outline.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

October Kids Book Sale

I thought about doing a blog post regarding the Kids Book Sale going on downstairs, and then I thought better of it, because maybe it would seem too advertise-y and like I was just a shill. But then I actually looked at the books down there, and WHOAH. I would be remiss as both a (kids) bookseller and a blogger to ignore the awesomeness that is taking place down there. I think it's at about five tables now, and they are jampacked with some of the finest kids and young adult books I can think of. Seriously—from books that have celebrated multiple fanfared anniversaries to books that might still be eligible for certain prizes this year, tiny 1-inch books and giant read-aloud editions, from paperback to hardcover and all the board/bath/touch/flap in between... aaaaugh! It's so intense! I mean immense! Whatever!

I'll tell you up front: you have to actually come into the store to buy them; there's no online version of this sale. But I promise it's worth it, and we validate your parking so that's no excuse. This is possibly the best kids sale ever, and I bet I can convince you in five easy steps:

1) There is a whole Maurice Sendak shelf. It is beautiful. Remember the Nutshell Libary? Four tiny hardcovers in a tiny slipcase, adorable on the outside and slightly insane on the inside? It's $7.98 (instead of $16.95). If you'd rather get the stories separately, they're in (larger) paperbacks for $2.98 apiece. And one of them is Pierre, a story about a boy who won't say anything but "I don't care!" It looks like this inside:

And then it goes like this (after night begins to fall, and a hungry lion pays a call):
"I can eat you,
don't you see?"
"I don't care!"
"And you will be
inside of me."
"I don't care!"
"then you'll never
have to bother—"
"I don't care!"
"With a mother
and a father."
"I don't care!"
The Sendak bargain books include ones that he only illustrated, like the spectacular A Hole Is To Dig: A Book of First Definitions by Ruth Krauss ("The world is so you have something to stand on," "Oo! A rock is when you trip on it you should have watched where you were going" and "Hunh! Rugs are so dogs have napkins" are all definitions it contains).

(This clearly got out of hand, so I've put the rest of the post behind a jump. Click below to read reasons 2-5, which really just ends up being a list of totally awesome kids books. They are on hot hot sale right now, though... Just saying.)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


As the weather starts to get cooler you may find that you are more predisposed to turning on that oven again. I certainly have been: even in my kitchen.* Just recently I found myself chopping almonds and dried fruit to go into the super-easy biscotti recipie that I found in 'Cookie Swap,' by Lauren Chattman. Can you imagine cookies without butter? Just a lot of eggs? Well, I'm sold because they turned out de-lish!

note: this photo was taken before cutting up the biscotti into individual pieces and the second bake.

Another attractive book that just came out is Gourmet Magazine's 'Cookie Book'. [Look at top image to see book cover.] Why not try the Moravian White Christmas Cookie recipie with just a touch of sherry? Yum Yum! They look like you slaved over them, without the actual fuss, and you get to top off your drink in the process.** And how about Irish Coffee Crunchies? I won't tell you which alcoholic beverage goes into them, but I'm sure that you can imagine.

And if you have special diet considerations, you could take a look at the new 'Blackbird Bakery Gluten-Free' cookbook. Check-out the visuals for the chia and poppy seed shortbread with pomegranate glaze on page 65, they have an artist's flair. And if you get a tad bit intimidated when you look at the roster of ingredients, then you might remember that there's no scrimping when it comes to the thoughtful world of alternative diets. In addition, Karen Morgan gives some good background information: for instance, did you know that for thousands of years "chia seeds were prized in Mesoamerica for their stamina-building properties?" It's true. So you'll discover new treats and be able to entertain your friends all at the same time.

Toodles from the *Cookie* clubhouse!
-Jan (in Calendars, Kids, Sci-fi & Fantasy, Cookbooks, Gardening, Pets, Games)

*just ask me about my kitchen...
** don't actually drink sherry, just being humorous... :)

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Banned Books Week: Friday

Yeah, we got off track, day-wise. But this is the final post in the series, so here goes.

What is probably the locally best-selling young adult novel of the last few years (and selling like hotcakes nationally as well), Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian has had its fair share of book challenges since its debut.

It was actually pulled out of classrooms and libraries in Missouri and Oregon. Alexie, charming as ever, has given a bunch of great quotes in the various articles about his books being challenged (a quick online search will uncover other challenges and other articles). But instead of linking to him talking about book banning, I'm just going to link to him talking about one of the "controversial" scenes in the book. Here's Bookshelves of Doom's "If you don't have a crush on Sherman Alexie after watching this, well, we've got a problem" post with the video. Don't worry, BoD. We always did and always will. But y'all should watch that video regardless. (The audio may be, as the kids say, mildly NSFW- not safe for work. But it's really not particularly shocking.)

-Anna, Kids Books

P.S. Remember my first banned book post about Speak? That school district is now taking the book challenge under consideration. All three of those books are great, by the way. And we carry each one, because books need readers and readers need books. In the end, the best anti-book-banning thing we can do is keep reading whatever we want to, and keep pointing it out when someone tries to prevent people from reading what they want. (And maybe to do what authors often do: if you hear that a book gets banned somewhere, send their local public library a few copies so they can keep it in circulation. Couldn't hurt!)

Monday, October 04, 2010

Banned Books Week: Thursday

Yeah, I know. We're a little off on the days of the week. And Banned Books Week is technically over. But it takes work to run the store and we don't always have time to blog. It is worth highlighting good books, though, so we're keeping this going until the end.

Today's book is by an author who is not just a funny writer of young adult novels, but a great blogger as well. I mentioned Maureen Johnson and her blog a little while ago, and I was even talking about this specific book. But in celebration of good books getting challenged, I'll do it again.

The Bermudez Triangle
is a book about three best friends and how their relationship changes when two of the girls start dating each other. It's a sweet story about Figuring Everything Out, and it's had a Staff Favorites card pretty much since it came out. Also, it gets challenged or banned every once in awhile, mostly because there are gay characters. It's actually pretty dang tame for a young adult novel, especially a young adult novel about first love. But that ends up being beside the point.

When Bermudez was pulled from a library in Bartlesville, Oklahoma in 2007, the whole thing got pretty dramatic (librarians lost & quit jobs over it). If you want to get deep into that story, you can follow it on Maureen's blog here (I grabbed the highlights, there's probably much more):

I Am A Very Dangerous Person (April 27, 2007)
Showdown in Bartlesville (May 1, 2007)
Big Bad Bartlesville Update (June 8, 2007)
News Flash: Victory in Bartlesville (Sorta, Kinda) (June 20, 2007)
Totally Righteous (August 14, 2007)

Then again in 2009 it got challenged in Florida, and you can read Ms. Johnson's interview after that with The Kids' Right to Read Project here.

At the Kids Desk we watched the whole thing with a lot of interest, partially because Maureen Johnson made the whole thing funny and entertaining even when it was clearly hard for her to keep talking about it. But also because we try to keep an eye on book challenges, because it seems like bookish people should know when a book is attacked (we feel a disturbance in the Force). And also because it's a great excuse to highlight good books (like this whole blog series is trying to do). So when Bermudez got challenged, we put it on display, and it sold. And we did it again for Banned Books Week, and it sold. And a short time ago when I blogged about it as a used book, that sold. Because the book is good. And funny, and smart (which are my favorite characteristics in both books and people). Yay.

-Anna, Kids Books

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Creeeeeeepy Tales!

That title should sound like whatever creepy narrator you grew up with, whether it was Vincent Price or the Crypt Keeper. Because it's October, and that means it's time to get creepy. Our celebration of all that is hallow this year includes a reading series that begins tonight. It's called Creepy Tales (try saying it in a creepy voice for full effect) and includes our staff reading short stories of all stripes. Some are just weird, some are slightly creepy, some are really genuinely scary. The series will run the the whole month of October, every Saturday night at 6pm in the events area of the Ave store.

Tonight's kickoff reading features our beloved Brad, who you may have heard reading Capote around Christmas last winter or at our 84 Charing Cross Road celebration earlier this year. He'll be reading stories by Saki (real name H. H. Munro) and he assures me that they're excellent. I know I can trust his impeccable taste, so we're all in for a treat.

Come on down!
Saki himself (will not be joining us, unless something really creepy happens)

-Anna, Kids Books

Banned Books Week: We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Program

Just because it's Banned Books Week and we're celebrating the right to read doesn't mean there won't be challenges... like this one. That's a link to one of my favorite book blogs, Bookshelves of Doom, talking about a parent in New Hampshire asking her school to remove The Hunger Games from the curriculum. She says it's too scary and violent for middle schoolers, and that her daughter had nightmares while reading it. She also asks (rhetorically) the question "Where is the moral lesson in this book that’s being shown to our children?" Which I would love to have a conversation about, since it's true that the book is violent and scary and also it is undeniably true that it has a chewy moral lesson in the center of all that action. In fact, I would say the moral lessons in the book are less than subtle.

The Hunger Games is great, and it's one of the most popular books for young people out there right now. I loved it. I think every kid I have ever described its plot to has chosen to bring it home. But I have my own reservations about how young is too young to read a book that intense. And so, as a bookseller, here's what I do: I have a long, careful conversation with the parent who's asking. I say what I think about the violence (that it's pretty low-key compared to lots of other books and movies, but that the author doesn't shy away from it either) and the darkness (that the themes are pretty dark but the tone doesn't drag you down, and it focuses a lot on the protagonist's day-to-day survival in the wilderness), and about the writing and the story (it's great, it's smart, it keeps you turning pages, and it's trying to say something really interesting). And then there's that question: should your kid read this? And that's not my question to answer. That's why we have the conversation. Which brings me to a point I think I would've brought up eventually but this particular book challenge just screams.

I would never presume to know what's best for someone else's kid. I mean, I may think "Boy, I think that one's too young, she's probably not gonna like it," but I'm not going to challenge someone's parenting. And teacher's don't want to do that either. That's why, if a book they pick for their curriculum (after lots of careful consideration—they don't just pick them at random) doesn't work for a particular kid, they are ready with a backup plan. That's why they're teachers. Usually with any book that could be a problem for someone, they'll send a note home for parents to look at and sign before they even crack the spines. And even though I love the idea that anyone should be allowed to read anything anytime, I totally get that kids are growing up and parents are trying their best to fashion for them an environment in which to do that safely. It's okay to say, "My kid isn't ready for this book," or "This book doesn't jibe with my family's values," or any number of things. I can't imagine a teacher having a problem with that, either. But it's when that parent goes to the school or library and says, "Because I don't like this book/think it's too mature/like calling things 'filth'/find it offensive, not only should my kid not read it, but I'd like to make that decision for every other parent as well." That's decidedly not fair. I'll say this directly to book banners/challengers: The fact that you want to be able to decide for your own family what is and isn't appropriate media is exactly the reason you shouldn't ban stuff. Other parents also want to decide what works for them and their kids, and often that includes letting their kids explore ideas that might freak you out but that are foundational values for them. When librarians make additions to their collection, when teachers choose a book for the classroom, those decisions are made for a reason. And if you disagree with that reason for yourself or your family, then you have every right to not open the book. But deciding for other people that they or their family shouldn't be able to open it is just plain strange: you thought the decision that the librarian/teacher made was wrong for you. Why would you impose your decision on someone else?

And now, back to our regularly scheduled Banned Books Week festivities.

-Anna, Kids Books

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Banned Books Week: Wednesday

Okay, so the last post was all dramatic and stuff. This one's mostly just fun. John Green, the author who's the focus of our department's longest-running author crush (no offense to Sherman, Markus, Scott, Cory, etc. etc. etc.) is a video blogger as well as a young adult author. This gave him a great forum in January of 2008, when his first novel—the fantastic, beloved, and award-winning Looking for Alaska—was challenged at Depew High School in New York. He made the following video, and as he is articulate, funny, smart, and the author, I really have nothing to add. Enjoy.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Banned Books Week: Tuesday

So, speaking of books that we love, the book I'm talking about today is my favorite young adult novel. I don't say that lightly- I put a lot of thought into this. I'm not even a fan of the idea of "favorite" books. But after reading it a few times, it's just indisputable to me. It resonated with me just out of high school, and resonates with me as a slightly older young adult, and I don't think I'll stop loving it in five or ten or twenty years. I still qualify its' favorite status as favorite YA, not favorite book of all time, but the title stands. I think it's the best.

I'm talking about Speak. Laurie Halse Anderson's debut novel is a total masterpiece. A girl enters ninth grade completely stripped of any sense of community and recovering from a trauma, and spends the book observing high school from a distance. She almost never speaks (which made the movie adaptation, which was very good, a tricky proposition). When I first read it, my reaction was almost to look over my shoulder- was this woman sitting behind me in high school? Did we attend the same school freshman year or something?

Recently, I caught a blog post on popular feminist blog Jezebel talking about Speak. "Yay!" was my first reaction, thinking they were just chatting about or reviewing the novel. Turns out the author of the post was Anderson herself, trying to get the word out about a fellow in Missouri who had written an op-ed in his local newspaper, saying that certain books in their local school's curriculum, including Speak, were offensive and ought to be removed. She was clearly upset and hoping to get some support from folks online.

Now, the ALA has a clear definition for what it means for a book to be "challenged" or "banned," and this doesn't meet it. But because I love the book, and because the author asked for people to blog about it, I'm doing that here.

Two things about this are particularly important to me: first, I said yesterday that all you need to be convinced of the value of young adult fiction (especially when it is about difficult, controversial, or scary things) is to hear from its readers. Well, Anderson has a video at the end of her post, of her reading a poem she put together out of lines from her fan letters. It's potent stuff, and brings me to my second point: that trying to protect teens from the dangers of fiction only stops them from reading about the real-life dangers they may have already suffered. Making sure no teen ever reads about rape (which is at the center of Speak) does not mean no teen ever experiences (or encounters the concept of) rape. Just ask your local middle or high school librarian what it feels like to offer a student a book about a subject they've asked for in a whisper. It's worth whatever fight it takes to keep good books available to young people.

-Anna, Kids Books

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