Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Kids' Department Drops Some Knowledge

Working in the Kids Department has a major benefit that I never expected: my knowledge of small (sometimes quite useless) facts has increased exponentially, because of the efficiency of picture books as knowledge distributors and my near-inability to hold a book without opening it. If you want to know a small but good amount about nearly any subject, flipping through a well-written kids' nonfiction book is a great way to get just that. I once aced a pop quiz in an American History course because I had just read a concise definition of "social darwinism" in the preface to a reprinted edition of Little Black Sambo.

To demonstrate, here are some things I learned while browsing today (when I should have been shelving faster), which I will now use to be more interesting at parties:

1. What a shark's heart and "gill filaments" look like. The heart is tiny; the gill filaments are freaky and lobed. (See Uncover a Shark, by David George Gordon)

2. That bubble gum is pink simply because that's the only dye the inventor had around at the time. (See Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum, by Meghan McCarthy)

3. What analogous colors are- colors next to each other on the color wheel. They supposedly look good together. (See A Book About Color: A Clear and Simple Guide for Young Artists by Mark Gonyea)

4. That you can communicate effectively with your dog with just your eyes. I'm not a dog owner, so I couldn't figure that out for myself. (See How to Talk to Your Dog, by Jean Craighead George, illustrated by Sue Truesdell)

5. The first woman to hold a Cabinet position got it in 1933. She was Frances Perkins, FDR's Labor Secretary. (See Ladies First: 40 Daring American Women Who Were Second to None, by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel)

Now someone tell me something they learned from a kid's book this week. If you don't have anything, I think it's time to come over to our section and browse. Go!

-Anna in Kids

P.S. I have already learned something new today just by telling a coworker I was posting this. Did you know that mama sharks have TWO UTERI? And that the plural of uterus is uteri? Thanks go to Insiders: Sharks, by Beverly McMillan and John A. Musick, and to Caitlin, who knows a lot about sharks and shark books.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Visual Interlude

I have to admit, a big reason I love books so much is for their aesthetic appeal. Even before I worked in a bookstore, I was obsessed with the way spines lined up together, jagged and worn and colorful and pristine. Most trips I take to new cities include stops at the local bookstores to walk around and explore. At each stop I pick up a unique book, a personal souvenir to mark the memory or smell or emotion that each particular store gave me. It has turned into a very special collection.

Working day in and day out surrounded by books has only heightened my appreciation and love for the book as art. I love walking through the stacks and observing colors and fonts. I love shelving books and feeling the spine slip cozily into its right spot. I love setting up displays, piling books on top of each other. I love the distinctly different look of new books and used books. Here are some of my favorite images that celebrate all this beauty.

Bookstore, by Xavier Encinas

paperbacks, by payneandfranklin
  my favorite bookshop, by lochaven

book nook, by misterbisson

three books, by staceyds

browsing, by sweet potato anna (me)

SCIENCE, by dorkasaurus_rex

--Anna M.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

"Translation as Detour"

Being that Japanese Literature is one of my major predilections, I was thrilled to receive an invitation to the May 10th lecture given by Harvard University Professor of Japanese Literature Emeritus, and former Dawg (Husky), Jay Rubin.

If you read Haruki Murakami, you have likely read some of his translation work. He is essentially Haruki Murakami's go-to translator. If he's busy with another project, the work will go to someone else, but he's the first one to receive an offer. The English editions of Norwegian Wood, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman were all translated, masterfully, by him.

He also translates the works of Modernist classics such as Natsume Soseki and Ryunosuke Akutagawa. Now, I don't want to deviate too much with fanboy-ish endorsements, but I have things to say. First, if you're looking for beautiful prose and stories with feeling, look no further than the work of Natsume Soseki. Second, if you're a fan of short stories, you simply must give Ryunosuke Akutagawa a whirl. Have you seen the Akira Kurosawa film Rashomon? It's based on one of Akutagawa's stories (it's adapted from his adaptation of an ancient Japanese tale), and I would highly recommend checking out the collection of the same name (Rashomon: And Seventeen Other Stories).

Back on track with Professor Rubin, his lecture was titled "Translation as Detour: from Genji to 1Q84," and it was a great opportunity to nerd out. Professor Rubin focused much of his lecture on different translations of The Tale of Genji (which is a tome as historically important as it is interesting) and his own work translating the works of Murakami.

If I were to recount to you exactly what was said, it would be the superiority of the Royall Tyler translation of The Tale of Genji, and the interesting difficulties inherent in translating from Japanese to English.

Professor Rubin shared one anecdote that involved his current project translating the first two volumes of 1Q84 for Haruki Murakami. He assured us that this isn't a spoiler, but some of the characters see two moons in the sky. These folks are in the minority, as everyone else sees a single moon. But in Japanese, there is no distinction between plural and singular nouns. So the struggle, for him, has become sorting out how many moons each character sees. It occurs to me that only a certain kind of person will think that's funny, or even remotely interesting, but I'm absolutely of that variety.

At any rate, it was a wonderful lecture, and Professor Rubin effortlessly established himself as both intelligent and funny. Meanwhile, those of us in attendance ate it up, and gleaned what we could about his future projects.

So, for those of you interested in the process of translation, exploring the worlds of Japanese language or literature, I would recommend perusing his catalog. I'm currently thumbing through Making Sense of Japanese: What the Textbooks Don't Tell You, and hoping it manages to live up to its bold claim.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

And now, from the land of the midnight sun...

I've just finished reading Purge, a novel by Finnish-Estonian author Sofi Oksanen, winner of the 2008 Finlandia prize (Finland's top literary honor), and featured at this year's PEN World Voices Festival (she was supposed to appear at Elliot Bay with Sherman Alexie, but was held up by the Icelandic volcano eruption.)

Despite my Finnish heritage, this is only my second foray into that country's fiction (though Purge is set in Estonia, it was written in Finnish). Norway and Sweden seem to hold a monopoly on chilly, violent thrillers (just browse the mystery section for proof) and many past winners of the Finlandia prize have yet to be translated to English. Oksanen's Purge may stand out because of its emotional and historic scope: how the fifty-year Soviet occupation of Estonia warps one family; how the devastating similarities of sexual slavery and political oppression affect women; how abandonment can ruin human beings and whole countries alike.

In the summer of 2007, I traveled to Estonia for 24 hours. I was on a post-college trip to Finland to discover my roots; actually, the language and culture program I was enrolled in turned out to be part of a recruitment campaign. Since Finland's population is declining, people of Finnish descent are in high demand. Return to your glorious motherland in the summer! Experience 20 hours of sunlight in a day! Try not to think of what that will mean in winter! Now move here and procreate! After several weeks of incomprehensible language classes, a few friends and I were ready for an unchaperoned adventure, so we bought tickets to travel to Tallinn, Estonia by ferry. Only 2 hours from Helsinki harbor, Tallinn boasts an intact, walled Medieval town. Combine that with the draw of low, non-Euro prices, and this tiny Baltic capital turns out to be quite the tourist attraction. I was traveling with two friends, one a Finnish-Egyptian and the other a Finnish-Canadian.

We spent the day wandering the labyrinthine passageways of the old town, taking pictures of the crumbling walls and the restored churches. Near the entrance to the old town there is a new shopping mall with a bookstore on the top level; between that and the waterfront, dirty alleys separate abandoned buildings, all broken glass and graffiti.
I wish I could've read Purge before that trip. It would've helped me understand the strange atmosphere created between the disparate parts of the city; the very old and the very new, with those abandoned buildings in between.
If you like authors with unique writing styles, or enjoy historical fiction that's a little more obscure, I highly recommend Purge. Oksanen is obsessed with the minutiae of her characters; everyone has a smell, tiny sounds are amplified, and physical sensations are made painfully real. See what you think. Maybe, like me, you'll be curious to read more.


Here's what's next on my Baltic reading list:

The Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna

Troll: A Love Story by Johanna Sinisalo

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

Friday, May 14, 2010

Youngest Customer Yet!!

Nine year old Tate heard about our Book Machine on the radio one morning while getting ready for school. He immediately jumped on the internet, surfed our website till he found an EBM book he wanted, and a day or two later came in to watch it print.

The best part is that Tate wanted this 468 page book: a prose version of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. Most of us didn't start reading this stuff until at least our senior year of high school. Congratulations to an advanced young reader and an adventurous book collector.

And thanks Tate for providing us with the chance to print Homer on Homer. Our Book Machine is nicknamed (if you didn't know) after Homer Price, the mischievous boy inventor (with his Uncle Ulysses) of a doughnut-making machine reminiscent of our very own Espresso Book Machine. If you're not quite up to reading Homer, the bard, check out Robert McCloskey's kids classic.

"Homer got down from the chair and pushed a button on the machine marked, "Start." Rings of batter started dropping into the hot fat. After a ring of batter was cooked on one side an automatic gadget gave the doughnut a little push and it rolled neatly down a little chute, all ready to eat.

"That's a simply fascinating machine," said the lady as she waited for the first doughnut to roll out."

- Tera, Bookmaker

Thursday, May 13, 2010


The days are getting longer, the weather is warming up, and the sun is now a regular visitor. What does this mean? I'm just itching to take a trip on my motorcycle. 
Last year, two of us plotted our week long trip, south-bound along the coast on 101 and then through the valleys of Oregon until we reached our destination at Crater Lake. Unlike car camping, the enjoyment came from the twisting roads and unrestricted views that led us to each campsite. We rode through thousands of butterflies during their afternoon flight. We regularly pulled over on the side of the highway to take a plunge into rivers and cool down from the sweltering weather. We created our own adventure.

Today, while considering the possibilities for this summer's next moto trip, I keep thinking about The Long Way Round and The Long Way Down, two books by Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor. The Long Way Round details their motorcycle journey as they rode their GS BMWs from London to New York, traveling through countries like Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Mongolia. The Long Way Down covers their adventures during their second trip from Scotland to South Africa. Going through their stories, I kept picturing myself on my own (but certainly not as swanky) BMW F650, visiting each of these countries. They got me anxious for the road and my own adventure, even if it meant sticking to just one country and plain-ordinary paved roads.

The books are perfect for any motorcycle rider that's curious about taking a jump into that first big trip. To those riders who have put more miles on their bikes than Boorman and McGregor together, you'll still get a kick out of their blunders and mishaps. And to anyone who might be curious about their friends' obsessions with their own motorcycles, these books will give you a perfect glimpse of what makes us ride.

See you out there.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Now That's a Review

Paul Constant wants you to read (and authors to write) science fiction as a political act. He calls authors prophets. He crushes on Cory Doctorow. Please, please, please read his awesome review of Doctorow's new book, For the Win, here. And then come to our event with both of those two lovely dudes at the Sunset Tavern on Friday. It will rock, I pretty much guarantee. Info here (scroll down to May 14th for the listing).

-Anna (Kids' Dept.)

PS. Feel free to comment: what science fiction novel are we living in right now? I think I'd say a Philip K. Dick mashup.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The Baby-Sitters Club is Back, Y'all!

I was very glad when I started bookselling to find out that I'm not the only one who was obsessed with the Baby-Sitters Club, and that still remembering all the members of the BSC (along with their hair color and basic personality profile) is nothing to be ashamed of. Four out of five of the just-the-right-age ladies I meet will give me a knowing smile when I mention the BSC, and I can't tell you how many horror-struck faces I've seen when I have to break the news that unfortunately, the Baby-Sitters Club books are out of print, and no you cannot get them for your babysitting charge/niece/boyfriend's sister/whomever. People are attached to their BSC memories, and when we fanatics run into each other, we will often indulge in a long trip down memory lane as we talk about Stacey's long blonde hair and struggle with diabetes, the awesomeness of Claudia Kishi's outfits ("lavender plaid overalls" come to mind), and the grand old world of Stoneybrook.

Well, hold on to your overalls, ladies and gentleman, and your white lace bodysuits and your plastic fruit earrings, because Scholastic is reissuing the series, and we just got in the first one- you know what it's called already, right? (Correct answer: Kristy's Great Idea.) Also hot off the presses is Ms. Martin's newly-written prequel, The Summer Before. All I can say is that I'm ridiculously excited to finally be able to go to the shelves and hand #1 to the next person who comes in looking for the good ol' BSC.

A tangent:
Certain people sometimes question the "literary merit" of childrens' series like this. They think Nancy Drew is shallow and Goosebumps is worse. They would prefer that in about fourth grade all children be handed copies of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, and their favorite Shakespeare comedy, and not be let out of elementary school until they read, understand, and love them. It seems like a big part of our job in the Kids Department is to encourage parents and teachers to let kids discover and connect to books they choose and love, regardless of their place in The Canon. Not to the exclusion of the above-mentioned books, all of which are almost universally beloved and should be gifted and taught and treasured. But telling kids that the other books they like are dumb serves nobody.

My fourth grade teacher told us we were too old to be reading what she called "formula novels," which was a long list of her literary pet peeves and included the Baby-Sitters Club. I raised my nine-year-old hand and gave an impassioned defense of my favorite series, and she responded by saying, "All right class: raise your hand if you agree with Anna that the Baby-Sitters Club are not formula novels" (italics indicating extra venom). I raised my hand in that stretchy, high-as-it-can-go way, and my poor best friend, loyal to the end, looked over at me, sighed, and put her hand up as well. We were not the only girls in the room who read and loved the books, but we were the only ones willing to face the disdain of a grownup by admitting it. It was the first time a grownup didn't validate that it was cool to read and love books, who said instead that there were some books you should be embarrassed about, and it was humiliating. Was I technically a little wrong, in that they can get kind of formulaic? Yeah, but I was standing up for my principles. And you know what? I learned how to look up books in the library by myself because I wanted to find more BSC. And I babysat and nannied my way all through middle school and high school, following all the rules I learned when I was nine, and making my own money while learning a heck of a lot about responsibility and independence. And I read books she would have approved of anyway, because I liked to read, and now I work in a bookstore. So pooh on people who turn their nose up at "those" books, and thanks Kristy, Mary Ann, Stacey, Claudia, and Ann M. Martin. It was really a lot of fun.

(Kids Books)

tell all your friends!