Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Last Light Keeper

Eleven year old, Rachel Halmrast, has published her debut novel with our three-month-old publishing department, University Book Store Press. The Last Light Keeper swarms with dragons, pixies, clever young witches, and a notorious Black Sorcerer. There is a Crystal of Light that must be preserved at all costs, and a gifted young witch, Melissa, who has to do the job whether she likes it or not.

"She walked up to the front door and looked up at the huge knocker on it. It was shaped like a pine tree with the trunk for a handle. She fidgeted for a moment, twisting her necklace around her finger. Her mother had given it to her, right before she had disappeared. It was a small piece of crystal, which seemed always to have light in it, even now in the rain. It had wire wrapped around the middle, connecting it to the string. Melissa loved it. It made her feel like she always had a bit of her mother with her."

Congratulations to Rachel for publishing her first novel way ahead of the curve, and stay tuned for more publishing projects from Homer, our Espresso Book Machine.

Preschoolers -- The Wave of the Future

One of our latest publishing jobs on the Espresso Book Machine is a school project commemorating a special year at the Alki Co-op Preschool, continuing our trend of debuting young writers and illustrators (just wait till you hear about 11 year old Rachel!). But if you flip open to the dedication page of "To School, To School To Have Lots of Fun" by the Alki 4s, you'll find something cutting edge:

A color interior! How did that happen? Well it took some extra work from the woman who put it all together, Jennifer S. When she came in I duly informed her that none of the 25 Espresso Book Machines across the world (China, Egypt, North Dakota) could print anything but black and white interiors. However...

We can bind preprinted pages. We were able to put together a full color book dedicated to "Teacher Sara" when Jennifer brought in color pages ready to be glued and bound with a Homer-generated cover. We'd like to get the process streamlined in the future--but for now if you want a splashy illustrated work, shoot us an email at ubs_publish@earthlink.net and we'll see what we can do for you.

- Tera

Monday, June 28, 2010

Meet the Bloggers!

Today kicks off the first installation of our 'Meet the Bloggers' series, a string of blog posts designed to help you know a bit more about us. You've seen our signature at the bottom of most posts, you've recognized the difference in voice between a post on kids books and a post on, say, Japanese translated books. But who are we really? Who is the person behind all those crazy-fun Espresso Book Machine experiments? And who collects photographs of bookstores big and small? For each 'Meet the Bloggers' post, you'll be introduced to a new contributor to this fun and fabulous blog. Once you've made their acquaintance, we'll hook you up with all the posts they've ever written. And that link we'll be on our sidebar from here on out.

To start things off, please meet Anna Minard.
Anna is a children's bookseller, an avid reader, and a literacy enthusiast. Here's a short Q&A with her:

What are 3 books that will always be on your bookshelf and why?
The Joy of Cooking, Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia, and my dictionary. My parents gave them to me around high school graduation (one of them may have been a birthday present). Other things are replaceable, but I think I would feel book-naked without those.

What book blogs or websites do you frequently check in on?
I check Bookshelves of Doom and the Slog every day, and I also browse around other book blogs (once I'm finished shelving, of course!), usually ones that are specific to children's and young adult books, like Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Some I go to for specific things: I use Common Sense Media a lot to see about the age appropriateness of a book I haven't read, I check American Indians in Children's Literature to get her perspective on things, and Guys Lit Wire is all about books that are good picks for teen boys (who can be hard to choose for!). I like reading author blogs too- John Green, Libba Bray, Maureen Johnson.

Every reader has their favorite spot, where do you read and what do you need to have around you when you read?
When I really get into a book, there is nowhere I wouldn't read. I read while I walk, at the dinner table, at the book desk (busted) and I have to stop myself from picking the book up at stoplights when I'm driving. When I get the chance I'm a reclining reader- curled up on a couch or in bed is best. But I love reading on the bus, particularly. I love getting lost in it and then looking up and being in a completely different place. And I have to read while I eat, if I'm alone. I'll grab anything, cereal box or Dostoevsky, but I cannot just sit there and chew.

Who are  your favorite YA characters? Kids book characters?
Francie Nolan, from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Hassan Harbish, from John Green's An Abundance of Katherines. Scout Finch is a given, right? And Pippi trumps them all. Pippi Longstocking is the best character in the world.

You can see all her posts here

Friday, June 25, 2010

What Books Do You Buy? (Part Two)

A little while ago I posted about the question of what books booksellers buy. More specifically, what books our staff can't help but own, books that are truly worth our precious, finite, at-home shelf space. You can read the first installment here, and the series continues below.

Interview #2 – Pam (Manager, New & Used Books)
A: [After pitching this whole blog post idea] So, what books do you have to buy?
P: Books that are going out of print.
A: So if you know you won't have another chance...
P: Exactly. And art books.
A: Books about artists, or books about making art?
P: Making art. Books I can take home and use. Actually, I do buy books about art. What I'm buying today are all books that are just so beautiful I can't say no. They're full of beautiful, beautiful art. I like to have books around that inspire me.

#3 – Jason (Used Books Buyer)
A: All right, so what books can you not help yourself around?
J: Roman History! That's my weak spot. Even new, even in hardcover, if I see something on Roman History I have to buy it.
A: Anything?
J: Actually, literally, pretty much anything.
A: That's really specific. Dude, how do I not know that about you? Is there anything else?
J: Well, I work at the used desk, so I buy a LOT of used books. I do get first look at a lot of what comes through here.

#4 – Natalie (New & Used Books)
N: You know, when I see a book that's just perfect for someone I know, that's when I just have to get it. Like that old used book we found about becoming a man? I saw it and I just thought of my friend Robert, who's not less of a man but could use some tips. I buy a lot of books for my dad- he knows what he likes, but he doesn't actually get them for himself. I buy tons of books for him.
A: That's sweet. All right, thanks.
N: Oh! And older children's books, for the illustrations.
A: Ha, that's actually what I said. All right, great.
N: [Walks away, then comes running back.] Wait! And used art books. 'Cause you know art books are so expensive? I shouldn't say that maybe, but they are. I just got a book for like $15 that would've been $50 or $75 new.
A: Whose art books have you gotten lately?
N: Richard Larter and Helmut Newton.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Hey Seija...

I'm reading Sophie's Choice. THANK YOU. That is all.
-Anna, kids books
P.S. Anyone else reading Styron because of that post?

In Love With Reading!

So you know how sometimes you get busy, and you don't read quite so much? And maybe you get out of the habit, and you start doing other stuff for fun? Or life is just so, so full right now. You start to read only in a piecemeal way, one chapter before bed, or while you're in a waiting room, or at the table while dinner's cooking. Maybe you watch a little more TV, or some other quick, easier-on-the-brain form of entertainment. It happens to the best of us. Then something happens: you get out of school for the summer, or you finally move in to the new place, or you go on a vacation and you bring a grocery bag full of books. And you remember what it feels like to fall, Alice-like, down the rabbit hole of a great book. Perhaps not everyone can relate, but I hear about this syndrome from coworkers on occasion, and it's just happened to me.

I got out of classes for the summer a few weeks ago, and while I do read while school is in session, I don't read with the same hedonistic abandon. I read an article in the NYT sometime this year (I can't find it by searching- anyone remember it and can send me a link?) by a mom ruefully admiring how her daughters could read books in one sitting, lying upside down on their bed, or draped over the couch for hours at a time, whereas she never had time to really dive in. She seemed to think this was an affliction of all adults, which scares me a little. While I may not have full grown-up status yet (I'm waiting for the ceremony- it comes with an instruction manual, right?) I call myself an adult, and I haven't lost the ability to, when my schedule allows, drape myself over a sofa and read most of a book in one sitting. I just read a whole stack of novels since summer began, only coming up for air to show up here at work, and I'm relishing the sensation. I hope I never completely lose the time or ability to, as Ramona Quimby's teacher said, Drop Everything And Read. It's just so gosh darn delicious.

-Anna, Kids Books

Friday, June 18, 2010

Post-SIFF Reading List

This past Sunday, the 36th edition of the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) came to a close. Our city’s celebration of all things cinematic provides movie lovers with the chance to engorge themselves on 25 days of films from around the world. A number of SIFF passholders take full advantage of the event by seeing well over 50 films, with a few even breaking the 100 film barrier. However, most patrons see only a carefully selected handful from the genres that most appeal to them—comedies, historical dramas, crime-thrillers. In many ways, selecting a SIFF film for the evening is very similar to selecting your next book: read the description, take a few recommendations, or something about the title just grabs you. And although the world of film and books may seem somewhat removed from each other, there is a vital interdependence between the two. 
Take, for example, The Hedgehog, this year’s Golden Space Needle Award for Best Picture at SIFF (as voted by the audience), based on the bestselling novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. To hear SIFF Artistic Director Carl Spence’s account of how he serendipitously discovered the film at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival parallels many readers’ personal discovery of the novel after it appeared on American shelves. Of course, without the original novel the film would not exist, but now that the film has enchanted hundreds of SIFF patrons, many of them will now seek out the novel in order to enrich their viewing experience. The reverse is true as well: devotees of the novel will seek out the film version to see how wonderfully the film had been adapted to the screen.

It is this symbiosis between books and films that often draws filmmakers into making adaptations of preexisting literary works. This year, a number of high profile SIFF films had literary origins. The feature-film version of Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone won the Golden Space Needle Award for Best Actress for Jennifer Lawrence. Local musical artists The Maldives provided accompaniment to the 1925 silent-film version of Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage, and Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields—along with Daniel Handler, a.k.a. Lemony Snicket—created a whimsical new score for the newly restored 1916 version of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (which also incorporates a hefty dose of The Mysterious Island).

It’s not just literary works that find themselves being given the cinematic treatment, but also two authors as well. Howl, stars James Franco portraying Allen Ginsberg, the poet laureate of the Beat Generation, while the documentary William S. Burroughs: A Man Within examined the eponymous writer’s fascinating yet troubled life. Both films are certain to renew interest in their respective subject’s work.
Of course, most of the films at SIFF weren’t literary adaptations or writer biopics, but even films made purely to entertain can pique interests in a variety of topics. My own personal favorite SIFF film, Neil Marshall’s Centurion, sent me scouring the history section where I found Legionary: The Roman Soldier’s Manual (Unofficial).

Finally, if SIFF has inspired any of you to broaden your general knowledge of film, I’d recommend starting with 101 Things I Learned in Film School by Neil Landau (who recently made an in-store appearance), which is a primer covering basic terminology, film theory, and movie business insights. Edward Jay Epsteins’s The Hollywood Economist further explores the rather Byzantine, but no less fascinating, economic principles under which Hollywood studios finance, market, and sell their films and stars in search of a profit. And, finally, film critic David Thomson has authored a trio of books that are essential reading for film neophytes—The Whole Equation: A History of Hollywood is a concise history of the film industry and it’s cultural impact on America. Both The New Biographical Dictionary of Film (with a new edition out in October) and Have You Seen…?: A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films are insightful, at times irreverent, look at the iconic personalities and films, from the past and present, which constitute the cinematic mythos.

--Dan, Events

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Antlion!!!

Did anyone else out there read and love the zaniest children's series of all (I know there's some competition there, so I won't say it's the undisputed champion)- Tove Jansson's Moomintroll books? If you never did, you should. My favorite, I think, is Finn Family Moomintroll. The character names hint at just how wack (and awesome!) the stories are: the Moomin family, Moomintroll's love interest Snork Maiden, Thingumy and Bob... ahh, the intense weirdness of children's literature (see full, hilarious character list here).

But the character that made a big impression on me, especially due to Jansson's illustration of it (which I can't find a free image of, but you can see here), was the Antlion. I hope you can forgive me for assuming that he was an entirely made up character, since the rest of it was so fanciful. But much to my surprise, I have just discovered that antlions are totally real (my spellcheck doesn't know that, either). They are real things that dig sand pits and wait for prey to fall into their open jaws. Creeeeepy! I found this information out doing a completely different search, when I stumbled upon a website devoted entirely to antlions- antlion science, antlion stories in legend and popular culture, etc. It's called the Antlion Pit. Apparently, antlions show up with some frequency in literature. Tom Sawyer, Steinbeck's The Pearl, and The Silence of the Lambs all have antlion references.

So, I know this is weird, I just had to share. There's a connection to books, right? I'm not just blogging about weird insects, right? But wow. It's like finding out that the Grinch is real, and he actually does occasionally steal Christmas. Watch out for sand pits!

--Anna, kids books

The Danger of a Single Story

Hello fiction lovers! Here's a little media for your mid-afternoon break.
Right now I'm reading Chimamanda Mgozi Adichie's The Thing Around Your Neck, which is a strong collection of short stories about men and women from Nigeria and America. Adichie is part of The New Yorker's 20 Under 40 Summer Fiction series and answers some questions here. Also, last year Adichie gave a TED talk called The Danger of a Single Story. A lot of the themes in the speech come up in her stories. Intersting to think about the stories around us...

Anna, events

Monday, June 14, 2010

It looks like an invitation...

Listen. Can you hear them? It sounds like bells... could it be? Wedding season has begun...

Now, you might be a wedding fanatic that can't wait to boogie on the dance floor. Or, maybe you're someone that's beginning to feel a bit of dread for the 5 weddings that you have to attend this year. Either way, one of the most challenging aspects of this season can be picking out a gift. Bridal showers, bachelorette parties, the wedding itself. Each event calls for the appropriate present. Even with the help of gift registries, sometimes you just want to give something a little more personal than a blender they've already picked out.

Here are a few of my favorite wedding-related books I'm considering this year:

77 Love Sonnets by Garrison Keillor
Keillor's poems cover the spectrum from sweet and sentimental to silly and fun.

A notebook with prompts for the couple to complete and laugh over together.

PG- rated humor books that are perfect bachelorette party gifts!

National Geographic's Photo Anthology: Love 
A collection of photographs crossing decades and international boundaries, with each photo conveying a love story of regular people.

A helpful guide for couples beginning their lives of cooking and eating together.

 See you on the dance floor!

Friday, June 11, 2010

It's That Time of Year...

...for Vegetable Gardening! I've got my gloves and trowel out of the old bucket in the garage. The soil is tilled, the seeds are sprouting, the starts have been bought. I'm slowly nurturing my tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants to get used to this Seattle summer. Everything in my garden is going as planned. Of course, I couldn't have done it alone.

Each year, I add something new to my edible gardening repertoire and so, each year I pull out handy gardening books to keep my green thumb active. Here's the books I'll be referencing this year:

Edible Heirlooms by Bill Thorness is the must-have book for gardeners looking for tips on how to grow and find unique edible plants. Bill is a great writer and his book is a call for variety and diversity.

 Mcgee & Stuckey's The Bountiful Container A Container Garden Of Vegetables, Herbs, Fruits, And Edible Flowers 
is my go-to book for all container related information I may need. Whether you have a small apartment or a big deck, this book will tell  you how to make it work. It's an encyclopedia.

 Growing Your Own Vegetables by Carla Emery & Lorene Forkner is a great introductory book to grab when you have a nagging questions about a certain plant. It is easy to flip through and has basic information on how to grow most vegetables.

For us in the Northwest, Steve Solomon's Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades is a beautiful and resourceful guidebook to organic gardening at home. This 6th edition is up to date on the latest gardening trends and best practices.

Whether you are a seasoned gardener or new to the dirt, there is always a multitude of gardening books that can help you help your plants grow. Any favorites you have?

--Anna, events

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Ink Blot

Possessed of an artistic soul, Homer turned this book cover:

Into this:

while printing yesterday. Another beautiful error from our Book Machine...

Monday, June 07, 2010

So... What Kinds of Books do Booksellers Buy?

In honor of our Employee Shopping Day, I though I'd finally put this post up. A while ago, I interviewed a bunch of coworkers because of a question that I get from customers all the time: You obviously love books if you work at a bookstore– how do you not spend your whole paycheck right here? How can you hold yourself back?

I know, however, that we don't spend our whole paycheck on books. As Jason reminded me, “Yeah, for the first few weeks, when you realize you've got an employee discount, you just buy stacks and stacks. And then you realize: oh, right. Bills.” But more than that, I think booksellers are particularly picky about what books we buy. We're around books all the time, and browse a lot, and are usually pretty devoted library patrons. It seems like only the cream of the crop make the cut to come all the way home and sit on the shelf, permanently. There's only so much shelf space in a book lover's home, although I actually know of some great workarounds fellow booksellers use– storing books in a never-used oven, for example, or making piles of books into bedside or coffee tables.

So I asked people what books they absolutely have to buy. What kinds of books can you not help yourself around? What takes a book from a library list to the employee hold shelf? Is it genre, emotional attachment, physical beauty? There were a lot of answers, some that popped up repeatedly, some very unique ones. When I tried to pull them all together in one cohesive post, it was impossible. So instead, I'm going to spread 'em out over a few posts.

#1 – Self interview (Anna, in Kids)

I love to buy autographed books. Some people couldn't care less, but I love to see that mark–or inscription, even better–and know that the author held the book, touched it. In the time I've worked here I've gotten signed copies from (among many others) John Green, Lois Lowry, Jon Scieszka, and Judy Blume. (I got Forever, okay? Life-changer.) The other place where I have no self-control is with beautiful old used children's books. If it's from the 1950s or earlier, if it has line drawing illustrations, or color plates, or deckle edges, or a leather cover, or some funny outdated language in the title, it's only a matter of time before it comes home with me.

More to come...

My Spring Break (Belated Post)

I just had the honor and the pleasure to visit the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art , and I have to say, if you're ever in Amherst, Massachusetts you should stop by. It is, as it says, dedicated to Eric Carle's work (author of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, if you're not immediately familiar) and there is also a rotating exhibit on other artists or publishers. We just missed the Golden Books exhibit (dang!), but stumbled into a gallery full of Antonio Frasconi's beautiful woodcuts. I now have to hunt down all of his out-of-print picture books, because his work was amazing. Anyway, I just wanted to give a shout out to a lovely museum dedicated to a medium I find really spectacular. I only wish they had an even larger collection. I'd like to see the original Curious George pages (he was first called Fifi, since the Reys were living in France when they created it), and some unpublished Seuss sketches, and whatever else the world of picture books has to show off. Thanks, Carle Museum. You're adorable.

Oh, and I also stopped by Louisa May Alcott's house in Concord. We got to ogle the Alcott sisters' dress up box, complete with the boots Louisa wore to play Rodrigo, the desk where she wrote Little Women (so tiny! so ambidextrous!), and a house full of bookshelves and art. I might have to go reread Little Women.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Styron: so good it hurts.

The time has come, blog readers, for me to sing the praises of my favorite author. The task is daunting, to put it mildly, since the discovery of this literary powerhouse marks one of those profound occasions that shape the lives of book fanatics like myself. If also, like myself, you were inspired (foolish? idealistic?) enough to study writing, you will surely understand the bitter paradox inherent in such discovery: the knowledge that your own writing will never be as good becomes more and more acute as you desperately seek out all the author's published work, devouring it, never really satisfied because you know each book must come to an end.
My first exposure to William Styron was listening to the audiobook of Sophie's Choice in the car while driving from Seattle to Bellingham. A few days and 26 CDs later, I knew I was doomed. On the page, Sophie's Choice is already a rich, incredibly layered story, but read aloud by a narrator with a gift for accents (Southern, New York, Polish, German) it transcends its own form. Like many novels that have been made into films and entered the pop culture lexicon, Sophie's Choice has become synonymous with the Holocaust. Little did I know that crippling topic makes up only about a third of the plot, and that Sophie isn't even the main character. Instead, we are introduced to Stingo, a charming, if somewhat bewildered 20 year-old Virginian living in Brooklyn in 1947. He moves into a boarding house to write his first novel and soon meets his upstairs neighbors, Sophie and Nathan. I'm not going to give anything else away, because there are so many surprises within, including descriptions of some of the most hilarious, disastrous sexual trysts I've ever read.
I despaired at the possibility that I had begun with Styron's best (much like how I feel about Paul Auster and The New York Trilogy), but when next I read Set this House on Fire and then The Confessions of Nat Turner, I was relieved to find that both were satisfying in different ways.
Styron's memoir of his experience with depression, Darkness Visible, helped me understand how he writes with such uncanny compassion for his characters, especially when they're in the cruel grasp of mental illness themselves.
Recently I was vehemently defending Styron in a conversation about The Confessions of Nat Turner, which has inspired much criticism both before and since its Pulitzer Prize win in 1968. I see it as an amazingly rich character study, not a “slavery” novel (in the same way I don't see Sophie's Choice as a “holocaust” novel), and it is made all the more fascinating when you learn that Styron was a liberal atheist descended from slave-owning grandparents.
I decided to write this post because I just finished Havanas in Camelot, Styron's posthumously released collection of essays. The title essay refers to Styron's experience smoking cigars with JFK at a party for authors at the White House (Obama, take note).
He writes with gleeful outrage about his stint in the VD ward in a military hospital at the end of WWII, and with reverence about one of his literary heroes and contemporaries, Truman Capote. While reading his essays, I kept thinking, damn, we really would've gotten along. And isn't that the best, if bittersweet, kind of thought to have while reading? Are there any other Styron fans out there? I don't run into many, but maybe you'll pick up one of his books and become one.

tell all your friends!