Friday, July 30, 2010

What We Talk About When We Talk About Blogs

I thought it would be nice to offer a small roundup of the blog posts and online articles that had us all talking this week. We are pretty much blogosphere addicts here in the Kids Department, and with good reason. Why, it was just this time last year that we were all wrapped up in the Justine Larbalestier Liar cover controversy. Not to be missed (and an example of the power of the book blog community). But what was it this week?

1) Matthew and Laurie Amster-Burton alerted us to this hilarious and also sad (or angry-making?) post by Dan Gutman, author of a whole slew of beginning reader chapter books, on his personal experiences with angry letters. Don't miss the "Hit List" at the bottom, which shows the most frequently challenged books last year and why they were challenged.

2) Checking in on Debbie Reese's blog, I found her post with links to first Ellen Wittlinger's piece in the Horn Book and then Arthur A. Levine's post about her article. Wittlinger writes about the Lambda Literary Foundation's decision to change the parameters of their literary award so that it can only be won by GLBT-identified authors, as opposed to anyone who writes books that the committee feels reflect the GLBT experience (Wittlinger, a straight author who writes lots of books with gay characters, isn't happy). I have to say, reading the comments section of Arthur Levine's post is a fascinating way to spend 15 minutes.

3) And has everyone heard by now (thanks for that link in the last post, Kitri) about the class-action lawsuit against Apple's iPad? Because, to quote the lawsuit:
Indeed, according to the website, "[r]eading on iPad is just like reading a book." However, contrary to this promise, using the iPad is not "just like reading a book" at all since books do not close when the reader is enjoying them in the sunlight or in other normal environmental environments. This promise, like other portions of APPLE's marketing material for the iPad, is false.

Please leave your article/post of the week in comments. We won't read them when we're supposed to be shelving, we promise.

-Anna, Kids Books

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Bookstore Evangelism?

Pam's post about Amazon got me thinking (and all of us talking, again) about a delicate issue: how can we praise and promote the unique and treasured thing that is the indie bookstore without taking a jab at our competitors? It's not always an easy conversation to have- we never want to hurt feelings, and I have no interest in trash talking. Even so, it's a conversation that comes up with some frequency. Whether it's someone asking what, exactly, “indie” means, or an offhand comment about the difference between shopping here and shopping elsewhere, I do want to talk about it. I believe, strongly, in what we do. And I don't mind telling people why.

This particular bookstore has been around for 110 years, and the collective knowledge floating inside this one building astounds me. I'm constantly impressed by the vastness and depth of information packed into the gray matter of my colleagues- when I'm looking for something obscure or vaguely defined, and someone says, “Go ask so-and-so, she's the gardening (or literary fiction, or history, or eastern religion, etc) expert,” I'm rarely disappointed and often delighted. The physicality is also important to me. Yes, I like the smell of books, and even more I like the walls of books, the surrounded feeling of being “in the stacks.” I like the lines of spines and artful covers faced out. I like to walk over to a shelf to put a book away, or find another one, and have coworkers find me, fifteen minutes later, sitting on the floor grinning silly like a kid. “You guys! Did you know that...” I like that a good bookstore is like a church of books- you can feel the reverence with which thousands of hungry eyes have passed over these shelves. People find salvation in books, and they do it here, all the time. I see it; I talk to them. The book love is palpable, and it makes it feel like a place not only book lovers, but books want to be. Like if you saw a stray book on the street, this is what a Good Home would look like to them, and if you brought them inside, they would wag their tail, find their place in the alphabet, and curl up to wait for just the right person.

There are political and ethical reasons for shopping with local businesses (which the previous post eloquently enumerated), and that's important to me, especially when it comes to the accessibility and diversity of art and information, which is what books are. But in the ideal indies-are-great conversation, I'd like to think we can emphasize what is truly singular about our store (and great independent bookstores in general) without landing too ungracefully on the implied corollary that those things are missing elsewhere. Regardless of what other options are out there, I have a lot to say about us. Because we have something special. Something I hope is irreplaceable, because a world without indie bookstores isn't the one I want for myself, or my future kids (which are a really long way off, so relax, Mom). So I guess I'm just going to have to keep talking about it.

--Anna, Kids Books

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ivan Doig

A classic came into our store the other day. No, it wasn't published by Penguin and it wasn't an beloved used copy of Great Expectations. It was Ivan Doig
There is no better reminder of the heart & soul of fiction writing than a man who writes his novels in longhand, reads them aloud with passion and character, builds relationships with the bookstores who sell his book and continues to draw captivated crowds and dedicated fans.

Thanks for a great event, Ivan!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Y'all know how much I love picture book art, right? Well, since you probably can't make it to Massachusetts to go to that picture book museum this weekend, we're going to bring a picture book art gallery right here to the store! This Saturday & Sunday, July 24th & 25th, the U District store is hosting a gallery event with Picture Book Originals. We'll have original artwork and giclee prints available to purchase from some of the top-of-the-heap children's book artists: Rosemary Wells, Jez Alborough, Peter Reynolds, and more. We'll have the artists' books in stock as well, so stop by the second floor to check out their work and pick up a print to match your favorite book. We cannot wait to welcome you to our mini-gallery for the weekend.

P.S. Stop by the Kids Desk anytime this week to see a big print of Rosemary Wells's Yoko- adorable!

-Anna, Kids Books

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Reading Outside the Comfort Zone

I almost exclusively read books that are in my department. If only because of the piles and piles of new things that come in every season, and the zillions of books that came before them, I feel like I have to read that way to keep up with the section. I do feel a responsibility to be well-versed in the area in which customers and coworkers rely on my expertise. And because reading for work is pretty much the same as reading for pleasure, and I long ago stopped reading things just to impress other people (oh the liberation that brought!), I'm perfectly happy to be well-read in just one area.

But because I work in the Kids Department, that means I pretty much don't read what we affectionately refer to as “Grown-Up Books.” I'm okay with it; as I said I even consider myself fairly well-read. Until I have an embarrassing interaction: I tell someone I work in a bookstore, and they ask what I think of the hip new book that everyone and their mother is reading. I have never, ever read that book. I haven't read Steig Larsson's Dragon Tattoo trilogy, or The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, or Let the Great World Spin. I mean, that's okay, right? I've read most of the hip new books that every twelve-year-old is reading, and most of the big children's book award-winners of the last five years. I do read a lot, and within the realm of children's books I read across genre- biography, history, science , fantasy, romance, mystery, literary fiction, coming of age. And as I've written here before, you can learn an awful lot from children's books. But sometimes, that doesn't feel like enough.

Due to Seija's hearty recommendation of William Styron and especially Sophie's Choice, I decided to break free of the under-18 crowd and read a big kid book for once. Seija politely reminded me that if you read a lot of young adult fiction, you might forget how much effort you as a reader are expected to expend to get into the characters and situations in a novel like this. I laughed and said I would be just fine, thank you very much. But it was quite a different experience, and she was right in a big way. Not to say that young adult novels do not require emotional heavy lifting; I would even say some can be more taxing. But after a week of diving into SC, I felt like I had extra roommates. I was taking Sophie, Nathan, and Stingo's opinions of things into account in my daily life, as if they were hanging around and might be offering up a comment on my lunch menu or musical choices any minute. Finishing it took me probably two weeks, whereas I can plow through an average middle grade novel in a lunch break plus a good evening on the couch.

The whole thing got me thinking about what I like and don't about the two respective kinds of fiction: books specifically aimed at young folks, and books aimed at the general reading public. I've read books for kids on a wide variety of intense topics- being an immigrant kid while surviving abuse at home, surviving a self-inflicted gunshot wound and the resulting recovery process, day-to-day life in a concentration camp, a community of runaway slaves in Canada, stories of losing important people in a myriad of ways. The language in kids and young adult fiction, both descriptively and emotionally, is often quite a bit more direct. There's less worming around trying to figure out how to feel, trying to weigh every option all the time, less constant analysis. It's a story about something, always moving forward. Sometimes when I read adult novels I actually find myself annoyed by their Hamlet-y indecisiveness. Just decide whether to be or not be, and quit whining already. Okay, so you had an affair/someone died/she doesn't love you back. Deal with it! Sometimes my angsty teenagers seem more emotionally mature than older protagonists.

But this is all just to say that it can be an interesting exercise to read outside your comfort zone. I highly recommend it. Whether it expands your horizons or just reinforces why you love what you love, it can't be a waste to push it every once in awhile.

-Anna, Kids Books

Friday, July 16, 2010

We Couldn't Have Said It Better

We don't usually talk about Amazon to our customers, and that won't change. But every now and then, when a thoughtful, well written article catches our eye, we will reprint it here.

In a column for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Nancy Ettenheim wrote:

"I remember when first burst onto the book scene. I am a book junkie, and there is no fix like a huge bookstore for someone like me. Amazon is the mother of them all. Meanwhile, back in Milwaukee, it very soon became apparent that every dollar I spent at Amazon was a dollar that Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops would never get. After one or two purchases at Amazon, I quit, went cold turkey. But we all know the results of everyone's collective love affair with Amazon: Schwartz is now out of business, one of the truly great losses to our community.

"It is clear that online buying does not just pose a hypothetical threat to our local businesses--the casualties are already out there. We owe it to ourselves, our community and our local business owners who bust their butts to stay in business to carefully consider the ramifications of our online buying. If each of us changes his or her purchasing habits even part of the time, we will have assisted in the reinvestment in our own community."

From "Dissecting Amazon" in Shelf Awareness

Pam, Shelf Life

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Poetry Break

So, you heard that W.S. Merwin was named the U.S. poet laureate, right? I'm pretty excited about this because it is so very well deserved. Every time I pick up his Pulitzer Prize winner, The Shadow of Sirius, while I'm hanging around the poetry section I read a different poem and with every poem, I am floored. I am not a poetry person. I love the idea of it, I love pretending I know who is who in poetry and what they are all about. But poetry is hard for me. It takes a lot of concentration and focus. It requires me to think real hard, outside of the box, and imagine.

All of this is to say that I connect with Merwin's poems and that surprises me and makes me happy. I think that you might be able to, as well.

Can we just sit and read one together?

Remember how the naked soul
comes to language and at once knows
loss and distance and believing

then for a time it will not
run with its old freedom
like a light innocent of measure
but will hearken to how
one story becomes another
and will try to tell where
they have emerged from
and where they are heading
as though they were its own legend
running before the words and beyond them
naked and never looking back

through the noise of questions

--W.S. Merwin, Shadow of Sirius

Any interpretations of this poem are welcome in the comments.

--Anna, Events

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

UBS Bellevue remodel news

“And visqueen shall rain from the sky”, or so it seems at the Bellevue branch of the University Book Store. Construction has begun on the illuminating remodel at our eastside store, bringing two skylight platforms, and a redesigned fa├žade with high placed windows, for a flow of natural light. So with the heavy white protective barrier of visqueen in place in the front of the store, and draped like a Christo installation in two places in the middle of the store, we try to maintain a “business as usual” flair of bookselling. So far, we are succeeding.
With construction brings noise and cacophony, and people in orange vests with hard hats, and deep tans from the solar assault of working on top of the bookstore. Now that summer has finally arrived, “hydrate” has become their mantra. The sales staff is ready to assist in the navigation of the floor as it continues to morph to accommodate the construction traffic.
Large openings in the ceiling bring about the dares of playing chicken with the weather gods. This time, the gods were laughing. A large tarp covering the newly cut openings blew off in a downpour late one night, thus dousing the middle portion of the sales floor with water. This catastrophe was not evident until the morning crews arrived and discovered some cases of books and clothing racks were quite moist, and that the carpet was now ready to house sea life. Extra members of the construction crew were brought in to assist with the cleanup, while bookstore staff began to pull the soaked and the dampened off the floor. Everyone pitched in with a “we can do it” attitude and we had the store opened with only an hour of delay. Just when we thought no one would want to patronize the store under such disheveled conditions, our customers proved us wrong and came out to shop. The resulting damage was minimal to the merchandise, and the crew was able to resume construction with only one day of delay.
As I write this, one entire book information counter is now draped with plastic, as crews work above to redirect a drain pipe. And the familiar beepings of loaders and hydraulic lifts greet the morning store staff. There is excitement in the air as the remodel progresses, and staff and customers alike are sharing in the joy that once the visqueen is folded, and the scaffolding has been put away, that it was all worth it.

--David, Bellevue branch

Friday, July 09, 2010

Is it 2011 yet?...a conversation with Calendar girl.


You may have been glued to your seats as each and every 2010 calendar found a home in the last episode of 'Days of our Calendars.' (Or not.) And although not quite the cliff-hanger, we were left with a number of folks who wanted to know if we had held onto any stragglers for purchase throughout the year. Sadly, we had not.

But this year marks a new beginning for the bookstore calendar collection as Kathy---our very own beloved calendar diva---has decided to keep some of the local offerings around for stock throughout much of the 2011 season. A marvelous idea.

You will be pleased to note that many of your favorites will be coming our way again this year: the surprise hit of 2010, 'Goats in Trees'; the ever popular Inuit art collection; and many, many more.

Consider purchasing the new-to-stock calendar featuring Abraham Lincoln, or perhaps revisit your childrens' fictional pal the 'Whimpy Kid,' and don't forget about all those hilarious 'Cake Wrecks!' Further it is no surprise that Zombies have also found their way into stock in the title 'Fold your own Zombie' ... and as such we are currently mopping up the copious amounts of red dye number 2 that was used ... so much fake blood is needed for the shocking effects to shine.

One title has me curious, and that is the 'How to Live in Flip Flops' offering. I imagine that we will find a good part of the university district populace wants to know the answer to that question. lol.

So, don't be surprised that many folks will be putting in their orders early this year to secure their calendar of choice. Please know that Kathy, Jan (aka calendar girl), and the entire bookstore family are poised and ready to assist you with your order(s).

Be seeing you soon!
Calendar Girl

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Meet the Bloggers

We are back again with our Meet the Bloggers series. Today I want to introduce you to Griffin Taylor.
Griffin is a jack of all trades in the bookstore world. He's worked at our Bellevue branch, in our events department and he currently is the master of shelving and information for most of our general non-fiction books. A proud English major, avid video gamer and enthusiast for Japanese culture, Griffin is super smart and funny. I'd recommend jumping at a chance to pick his brain.

What are 3 books that will always be on your bookshelf and why?
The Great Gatsby, because I was an English major, Breakfast of Champions, because it was my first taste of Vonnegut, and A Jello Horse, because it's an important reminder to chase after that dream.

What book blogs or websites do you frequently check in on?
Since I'm kind of a video game nerd, I'm frequently perusing IGN and Kotaku, sometimes Destructoid to keep up to date. In terms of more literary stuff, I used to check HTMLGiant rather obsessively (like, every 20 minutes, maybe), as well as the Stranger's book column.
Every reader has their favorite spot, where do you read and what do you need to have around you when you read?
You know, I'm not much of a ritualized reader. This is something that surprises me about myself, but it's true. Being a commuter of the bus riding variety, I find that I get a lot of my reading done in transit on one of those beasts. My personal favorite is the 540 to the U-District. Especially in the morning. It's usually pretty quiet, and quite empty if you ride at the right time.

If you could play one video game with one literary fiction author, who would it be and what game?
This is a difficult question for me, and I think you knew that it would be when you came up with it. I'm kind of split, and so I'll just share both answers. Tom Bissell is an awesome author, though I am only familiar with his personal essays about video games. Needless to say, as a fellow gamer, he's a prime candidate. As far as games go, I'm thinking something with implications and underlying themes that I wouldn't necessarily be aware of. I think I'd want to hear his take on Ico. So, with that said, the other scenario would involve Joshua Ferris. I know, I know, the guy's just blowin' up now that he's on the Top 20 Under 40 list The New Yorker put out, but he's one of my favorite literary figures. Why? The guy is an amazing speaker in addition to an amazing writer. The speaking part really blew me away at the author event we had with him last year. I'd want to play Red Dead Redemption with him. I wonder what he'd have to say about life and morality in the old west. Insightful and hilarious, this guy can do it all. Truly the sun and the moon existing as one!

What is your favorite section to shelve? 
My favorite section for shelving is history. Any kind of history. I think part of it is because I like all of the numbers (639, 678, 636.1), but it's also just a particularly interesting area in terms of what you can glean from covers. Such as the book Young Stalin. What did I learn from the cover? Young Stalin rocked the bohemian look, and seemed like kind of a pretty boy. I didn't see that comin'. 

You can see all of Griffin's posts here.

Friday, July 02, 2010

!Viva Poetry!

Five or six months ago a UW committee dreamed up the idea of an anthology of poems for their annual Common Book for incoming freshman—and they started with this poem: Philip Levine's What Work is.

"You know what work is—if you're old
enough to read this, you know what
work is, although you may not do it."

It's the perfect 'gateway poem' for non-poetry-readers, not to mention the anxious future job-seekers of America, which today's college students have become. The unriddling process of reading the poem allows us to experience the extra punch of the last line (I won't tell you, but, yes, it has to do with work).

This isn't the only way to write a good poem, as the other selections do their utmost to show. There's the dreamy romance and brutality of Mahmoud Darwish's Rita & the Gun, which begins and ends with:

"Between Rita & my eyes is a gun."
In this poem you can't exit with some life-changing insight--you're trapped in a fluid, circular universe saturated with an almost unworldly emotion. Darwish is a favorite of mine, a Palestinian who bore witness to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict until his death in 2008. He vacillates between rabble-rousing political poems in his earlier years to the wistful soul-searching of the last decade.

Lynn Emanuel's The Politics of Narrative : Why I am a Poet is another provocative alternative, wavering between prose poem and manifesto.
"And I write for people, like myself, who are just tired of the trickle-down theory where somebody spends pages and pages on some fat book where everything including the draperies, which happened to be burnt orange, are described, and further, are some metaphor for something. And this whole boggy waste trickles down to the reader in the form of a little burp of feeling. God, I hate prose. I think the average reader likes ideas."
Whoa. What I like about this grotesque, funny diatribe is it reminds us to ask what we actually want out of a story, movie, poem, book: the conventional sameness with beginning, middle, and end or a visceral, instantaneous thrill or the pure, bald ideas themselves? It also manages to put some pressure on those who dismiss poetry over and over again before they read it, while giving a nod to those who do. Emanuel describes poetry readers this way:
"They pull their own weight."
In fact the whole collection is a solid defense of the genre.
The perfect summation comes from UW Professor/Poet Richard Kenney, quoted in the introduction:
"People like poetry like people like music: nobody doesn't. If some think they don't, they just haven't listened to the right thing."
Touche. Yes, I'm happy all the freshman will be reading this, and their families and some other curious folk. It's not just about poetry, but about refusing to be cowed by what is challenging, unusual and smart.

- Tera

Meet the Bloggers

Hey blog readers! Today is Day 2 of our Meet the Bloggers series and we have the pleasure of hanging out with Tera Kelley...

Tera is our Esspresso Book Machine aficionado. She tinkers with tools, aligns pages, warms the glue pot, waits, and then starts all over again. Also, if you have any poetry questions, go to Tera.

What are 3 books that will always be on your bookshelf and why? 
Walden by Henry David Thoreau : a decade-long love affair with the New England gnome-man.
Arcades Project by Walter Benjamin : I'll never finish it.
Middlemarch by George Eliot : I have a soft spot for all things Eliot, especially Dorothea stumbling through the antiquities of Rome.
What are some creative ways the EBM could be used to self-publish?         I just figured out we can bind pre-printed pages—which means if you bring in color copies you can have a full color book!
What out of print book have you been really excited about the ability to print? 
I just found a Bicycling for Ladies book from 1896 with chapters on “Women and Tools” and “The Art of Wheeling.” The writer is truly sympathetic to the nervous ladies about to try out “an unaccustomed exercise.”
If you were stranded on a desert island with one book of poems, which would it be? 
Elizabeth Bishop's Complete Poems.

You can see all of Tera's posts here.

tell all your friends!