Friday, August 27, 2010

Comfort Reading

Recently I've had a few disasters with books or authors it turns out just aren't "my jam." And by that, I mean I've made use of the Nancy Pearl rule (where you subtract your age from 100 to determine how many pages you must read before you can give up) twice and had to just give up sans rule on a collection of stories where not-a-one was of interest. Nothing was "bad" or "poorly written." Just not my flavor of fiction.

At any rate, this left me in kind of a funk. I picked up and put down a few books from my "to read" stack(s) before finally coming across the one I would start. Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s Slapstick, or Lonesome No More! was, for me, the one that broke me out of this funk and fear. I picked it up, and upon reading the first paragraph of his little introduction, I was back in it. I was back in the beautiful words, sentences, paragraphs, and ultimately stories that Vonnegut was so capable of constructing.

As an aside, something I love about Vonnegut was the fact that he gave himself a report card for all of his works. If you haven't read this obituary or Palm Sunday, you may not know this, but it's true. Slapstick was one of only two works that received a D, and that's just an odd detail sticking in the back of my mind. Thus far, I'm enjoying it. I suppose Vonnegut's D work, in my processing core, still surpasses many well-reviewed efforts by others.

Getting back on track... Basically, I realized that Kurt Vonnegut Jr. will always be an author that I'll be fully capable of reading and there will always be something there for me to enjoy. Up to this point, and I'm through the bulk of his catalog, I've never once felt like I was just slogging my way through. This makes him my ultimate comfort read. His work is the safety net that will always keep me from falling into the abyss.

To those of you out here in the blogosphere: who do you find you will always be able to read? Who reminds you how truly wonderful reading can be when you're feeling like a rudderless boat on the high seas?

R.I.P. you kind, common decency-infused man.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Thank you, Mockingjay fans

Monday night's Mockingjay midnight release party was boatloads of fun! And it could only have been so with the help of the hordes of superfans who showed up to play our survival game, help their fellow fans figure it all out, answer trivia questions (and debate the answers), and generally keep each other company while we all waited for midnight. A big high five goes out to those of you who were in costume, partly because your costumes ruled, and also because we didn't want to be the only ones dressed up. Enjoy a few of our favorite pictures below, or see the whole album on our Facebook page. We've hung the district posters up in the Kids/Teens area, and we still have some Mockingjay tattoos and bookmarks to give away. And we haven't sold out of the book yet, if you're still looking for your copy.

Now get back to reading, and under direct orders from Suzanne Collins, no spoilers!

Some ladies from the Capitol decided to join us for the evening.

Jessi A Tribute poses near District 4

Nice shirt, tribute. And thumbs up, Effie Trinket!

See more photos here

P.S. Anyone who has pictures of the event that they want to share can feel free to send them to us at and we'll be happy to post a few on this blog.

--Anna, Kids Books

Monday, August 23, 2010


Hey y'all... the release date of the third book in the Hunger Games trilogy is nearly upon us. So are you ready for the book release party of the season? Because it's happening tonight at the U District branch, and it's going to be rad. Doors open at 11pm and the book goes on sale at midnight. There will be a Hunger Games-style survive-at-your-own-peril game arena on the second floor of the books department (no actual physical peril involved, sorry/you're welcome). There will be Hunger Games trivia (it's really hard!). You can enter to win actually awesome prizes (not like, a sticker- really good stuff). Some of us will be so excited that we will be dystopian-futuristically-costumed (um, anyone have any Matrix-y looking tunics I can borrow?). And best of all, at midnight, you can take home your very own copy of Mockingjay. The event itself is free, and Mockingjay is 20% off the cover price. Anyway, we really hope you come, because the only thing that makes waiting for the next book in your favorite series to come out easier is waiting for it while playing games with other fans (in costume is even better). Okay, gotta go dig my boots out of storage and frantically re-read the first two books so I can be fully prepared. Feel free to call us with questions at (206) 634-3400 (ask for the Kids Department). Woohooooo!

P.S. Both the Bellevue and Mill Creek stores will have their own versions of this game at their release parties tomorrow, when the book goes on sale for normal non-midnight-release folks. See the events listings here (scroll down a little).

Friday, August 20, 2010

Zoe: Dog of the Week

This is Zoe.(She was named after a character in the Firefly series). She lives in the University District with with her companion Josh Nahun. She was adopted from the Seattle Humane Society when she was two months old. She enjoys bicycle books (she recently ate the first chapter of one), and is multi-ethnic; she is half Shar-pei and half Australian Shepard.


Friday, August 13, 2010

Of Movie Tie-ins and Novelizations

Earlier this week, while I was perusing the internet over my morning cup of tea, I came across the trailer for the newest adaptation for Gulliver's Travels, starring Jack Black Now, I'm not going to pass judgment on either the trailer or the perspective quality of the film, but the very existence of the project introduced an interesting line of thought into my head.

If you've read my previous post, you'll know my thoughts on how film and books often have a symbiotic relationship. Books inspire movies, which lead the book's devoted readers to see the adaptation; while on the other hand a film-goer who discovers a new favorite will often go back and read the book, whether they are original works or, in the case of some summer blockbusters, novelizations.
 As a thirteen, fourteen year old boy, I loved film novelizations. If I couldn't get one of my parents to take me to see the latest R-rated movie (and, often, I couldn't), then at the very least I could buy the novelization, no ID required, and read Aliens, Predator, or RoboCop. Later, when I did see these movies, on video tape or cable, I was a little disappointed as the films never quite measured up to my own imaginings.
But regardless of whether a book is the original source material or a novelization, publishers are always quick to release tie-in editions — books bearing covers and/or artwork from the film. It was this little tidbit that made me pause in regards to the newest, cinematic version of Gulliver's Travels. For anyone whose ever read the source material, it is pretty evident that this version is a fairly loose adaptation of the original novel — it would probably be more accurate to say “inspired” rather than “based” or “adapted.” Unless there's a considerable amount of scenes missing from the trailer, the filmmakers have chosen not only to modernize the story, but also to focus on the Gulliver's first, and most famous, voyage to Lilliput, ignoring his adventures in Brobdingnag, Laputa, and the Country of the Houyhnhnms. And yet, come the holiday season, when the film will be released, I'm willing to bet that at least one publisher will release a tie-in version of the novel, complete with movie poster cover. To further complicate matters, the same publisher might release a novelization of the film with similar cover art. I remember this happening when Bram Stoker's Dracula, the Francis Ford Coppola version, was released; I was in a bookstore and on the shelf, right next to each other, was the tie-in edition of the original novel and the film novelization. Both had full color inserts with scenes from the movie and both had cover art based on the movie poster. Regardless, of which version you wanted to read, due diligence needed to be exercised to make sure you purchased the right one.
Now, I regress myself to my 14-year-old self, let's say I'm a huge Jack Black fan who loves such movies as School of Rock, Nacho Libre, Tropic Thunder just to name a few, and I watch these films over & over, bits, if not whole tracts, of my everyday conversation are made up of Jack Black quotes. I'm in a bookstore a week or two before Gulliver's Travels (the movie) opens, and I come across the film novelization. After much cajoling, I convince my parent into buying it, I run back to the section, quickly grab the book with the tethered Jack Black cover, and slip it to my mom or dad just as they're making the afternoon purchases. Once home, I crack open the book, only to discover prose of a decidedly seventeenth-century nature and much Swiftian satire. Oops.

Another example is the video game Dante's Inferno, obviously based on the first canticle of The Divine Comedy. Again, liberties have been taken on the part of the game designers to increase the action quotient: Dante is now a crusader returned home, instead of an exiled poet, who must venture through the nine circles of Hell to reclaim the soul of his beloved Beatrice from the hands of Lucifer. The video game has inspired a direct-to-DVD animate film as well as a tie-in edition of the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow translation of Dante's original text, wrapped in the video game's cover art and includes “sixteen pages of stunning art, [about] how the monsters and characters—from King Minos and Cerberus to Lucifer himself—evolved from their classic images to the darkest creatures in damnation, and witness how the environments fashioned by the game's creators bring the tortured netherworld of absolute evil to hideous life.” The game's chief designer writes an introduction for the edition, in which he asks, “Is Dante rolling over in his grave?”

Bait and switch? I wouldn't argue that. After all, tie-ins and novelizations are often pretty clearly marked, if you're paying attention (something my 14-year-old self wasn't always too good at). And, quite honestly, there's much in Swift's original novel that would tickle a 14-year-old, such as when the scene in which Gulliver extinguishes a fire in the Lilliputian Royal Palace. Though I fear, the more likely case would be the book would be returned to the store and exchanged for the novelization, so my 14-year-old self could read what, in a week or two later, will almost exactly be portrayed on the big screen — although probably not quite as good as I had imagined it. While my contemporary self, the one who has read and loved Swift's brilliant novel, can only be disappointed by a Hollywood dilution. It may very well be enjoyable, but I fear I'll miss the depth and humanism of the original for a few moments of mirthful diversion.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Getting to Know You: Matthew Simmons

Local author Matthew Simmons was kind enough to agree to be bombarded with a variety of questions. Here is a concise version of the words that went flying back and forth.
Who are you, and what do you do? Why should I be asking you questions?
I’m Matthew. I work at the bookstore. I write copy for ads, signs, and newsletters.
You say you’re Matthew and you work at a bookstore, but isn’t it also true you’re a writer of fiction? Who is Matthew Simmons: local author?
Umm. I suppose I am a writer of fiction, too. Beyond that, who knows.
Zombie virus attacks the planet. Not only are the recently dead infected, but the classically dead as well. Both Ovid and Horace are in your apartment. Who do you take down first?
Horace. It would be hard to convince myself to take out the author of Metamorphoses.
Do you go to the zoo often? I think you live near there.
Not as often now that the Nocturnal House is gone. One of the first short stories I ever finished involved that place. I think I managed to spot all the animals—even the rabbit-y thing. (Can’t remember what it was called.)
I was very sad to hear of the passing of the Pallas’s Cat. I used to go to the zoo weekly and every time I would walk by the Pallas’s Cat enclosure, the animal would be hiding or asleep. One rainy Sunday, though, I walked by, leaned on the railing and up popped its head. And then it walked out into the open, stared in my direction for a couple of minutes, and left.
How long have you had your cat, Emmett?
Seven or eight years? He’s from a kill shelter in Everett. Got there in time. Of all the cats in the shelter, he was the least interested in my arrival. I thought, well this cat isn’t into me at all. I think I'll take him home.
Scientists and politicians are asking James Cameron for advice, so now it’s your turn: how would you plug the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico?
There’s another writer named Matthew Simmons who is an oil industry guy. Apparently if you ask him, he’ll tell you to nuke the well closed.
Me, no clue.
Who is your favorite superhero and why?
Matter-Eater Lad. Because after his career as a superhero, he became a public servant, and served the planet Bismoll in some sort of planetary senate.
What was your experience like at Warren Wilson? A Jello Horse seems to be inspired, at least partially, by your time spent there. But which instructor would you say, generally speaking, influenced or inspired you the most?
My favorite advisor at Warren Wilson was Mike McNally. On his book covers, he goes by T.M. McNally. Fantastic writer, fantastic teacher.
I liked Warren Wilson. I have quipped that when I wrote A Jello Horse, I was doing all the things I was told not to do, but I’ve mostly been kidding about that. It’s not so much what I was told “can’t work in fiction,” as it was simply I was warned that there are significant tonal or structural effects of using, say, present tense or second person. Choices have consequences. And a writer needs to compensate for what is lost when a constraint is placed on a piece of writing.
What music, movies, or non-literary arts have influenced your writing the most?
Some of my earliest attempts at creating fiction were when I was in college and making music with my friends. I spent time creating an elaborate fake history for a “band” I started. I stole this idea from Negativland.
When you feel kind of lost in your work, what do you do? How do you find your way again?
Start something else, usually. Which is, I’ve come to realize, a terrible idea.
I understand you and Ryan Boudinot go way back. Where does the story of your friendship begin?
Ryan and I did a reading together a number of years ago. It was me, Ryan, and David Drury (a writer and musician—check out his band Tennis Pro). We were asked to do a Monkeybicycle reading, they,
because both had been in the very first Best Nonrequired Reading, me I think because they were desperate. My buddy Shya Scanlon set the reading up. Ryan and David were pretty amazing. I was embarrassed by my material and my performance (it was, I think, the second time I had read something I wrote in front of a crowd), and I left quickly without talking to anyone.
Ryan asked Shya how to contact me, and he and David were kind enough to include me in a three-person writer’s group. It was the first time I had been in such a thing. During that time, Ryan explained the MFA system to me and encouraged me to consider looking into low residency programs.
Ryan’s early encouragement—and continuing encouragement—has meant the world to me.
What books would you suggest someone read to be reminded of the transformative power of fiction? Or maybe just five books you view as essential? Books that you would feel naked without.
I can read the story “Strays” by Mark Richard over and over without ever getting tired of it. It’s in a really good collection called The Ice at the Bottom of the World. Same goes for “The Ceiling” by Kevin Brockmeier.
It took me years to finally get up the nerve to read Moby-Dick. It bothers me that no one ever even suggested to me that that book can be very funny.
The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien? 60 Stories by Donald Barthelme? David Foster Wallace’s nonfiction or “The Suffering Channel”?
Here’s a book I love: You’re An Animal Viskovitz by Alessandro Boffa. Modern-day Ovid.
And Meet Me in the Moon Room by Ray Vukcevich. I love that book so very much.
Matthew Simmons is the author of the novella A Jello Horse, contributor to The Pacific Northwest Reader and Best of the Web 2010, regular contributor over at HTMLGiant, author of two forthcoming short story collections, and Seattle’s reigning Literary Deathmatch Champion (as well as The Man Who Couldn’t Blog).

Interviewed by Griffin

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Summer Reading

Being a bookseller, in the kids' section especially, can feel really important. When a teacher comes in and says that a book you recommended actually got a kid who was never into reading to sit down, read the whole book, and ask for a new one, it feels pretty validating. Or when someone's learning English, and they come in feeling shy and not knowing exactly how to ask for what they need, but they leave with a bunch of books they're actually interested in and can read by themselves, it feels good. Then some days you just spend a few hours shelving and straightening and showing people where the biography section is and cleaning up the Lego table and then wow, it's time to go home. Those days we need a little extra high-five from the world.

Right now, we're in that in-between time: most summer reading piles have been purchased, and kids across the city are draped across tree branches, pool decks, and duck-poopy lakeshores reading The Phantom Tollbooth or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn for the first time (well, that's how I imagine it). Teachers, who make up a big part of the Kids Department regulars, are not quite ready to do all the back-to-school prep. So while there are birthday parties and road trips and visiting relatives all summer long, it won't be for another week or two that the real crush starts. Which makes it all the more fun that it was last week that I stumbled upon an article about what is probably my favorite scientific study ever.

The New York Times reports, on their Well blog (their blog on health), that letting kids pick a bunch of free books, whichever ones they want, before summer starts, massively improves their reading test scores. Even better, this study was done with kids from lower-income families, who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. These kids have way bigger backslides in test scores and school readiness every summer than kids whose families have more money, and that contributes to the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income students.

Okay, so maybe it seems obvious to you that giving kids a ton of books improves their reading scores, but this study makes me smile for a few key reasons: number one, the kids were allowed to pick whatever books they wanted. One of the most popular was a biography of Britney Spears. Now, I know how much we as adults want to find a way to make kids read really good books, the stuff we love and loved and what we think is Most Literary. But think back- didn't you just love the crap your parents didn't want you to read? Book lovers become that way because books have something to offer them personally, not because of homework books. When a teacher or parent presents us with a reluctant reader challenge (how can I get her/him love to read?) the first thing we do is figure out what the kid already likes. Have they ever read a book they did like, and if so, what was it? Any subjects they're particularly interested in? And I've seen that work over and over. Diary of A Wimpy Kid. Sports biographies. Beginning reader series about fairies. Graphic novels. So it's good to see that play out well in this study.

The other thing I love about this study is that they tracked kids over the course of three years, instead of just one summer or school year. And their test score improvement at the end was the equivalent of having gone to three years of summer school. Reading whatever books you want all summer long makes you as smart as actually going to summer school? Thanks, science. I needed that.

Anna, in kids

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Meet the Bloggers

Remember our Meet the Bloggers series? Today we are going to spend some "getting-to-know-you" time with Seija Emerson.
Seija encourages all of us to write recommendations for our favorite books and she is the one displaying them and keeping the whole section tidy. She also makes the art and architecture section shine. Besides being a whiz on the sales floor, Seija has a certain knack for skepticism and well-chosen adjectives.

What are 3 books that will always be on your bookshelf and why?
1984 by George Orwell, because when I read it at age 14 it was the first book that disturbed me on a deep, psychological level.  At the end of the novel, when O'Brien tortures Winston into betraying Julia, I started to realize that novels can help us understand human nature.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, because it's just a great story perfectly told.  Also it made me confront my feelings about feminism and Christianity in an unexpected way.  To balance it out, though, I have to put Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea next to it so that I don't get too carried away in all the naive romance.

Sophie's Choice by William Styron.  I think I've already said enough about that one.

How do you choose your books? Recommendations? Reading Reviews? A long running list of titles that stand out?
I don't read a lot of new fiction.  I'm stuck in the first half of the 20th century.  Although I'm really getting into fiction from the 70's.  I like to alternate between books that are plot-driven and books that are idea-driven.  In other words, quick reads and slow reads.  I love getting YA recommendations from Anna, Kitri and Caitlin in Kids Books!  

Every reader has their favorite spot, where do you read and what do you need to have around you when you read?
Ideally, in bed with my cat, but more likely in a cafe.  The dangerous thing about reading in public is that I can't help but listen to other people's conversations, so the book has to be able to hold its own with those kinds of distractions.

What makes good fiction really good?
It's the same with music and food: you have to try everything to see what works for you.  I want to be challenged in some way by fiction.  I hate it when novels have no internal logic, or when an author's voice comes across as affected.  I like fiction that is unsentimental; I want to be shown original characters, narratives and philosophies.  Also I think good fiction has to make you feel a little uncomfortable.

Who is the creepiest character you've ever read?
Muldrow, the main character in James Dickey's To the White Sea.  From the very beginning, you're rooting for him and hoping he survives, and then as the novel progresses, you start to understand that you're not on the right side.  He's a xenophobic, ruthless murderer and you kind of like him.
Also, Jerzy Kosinski writes some truly creepy characters.

You can see all of Seija's posts here.

Monday, August 02, 2010

That Teenage Feeling

August has arrived! If you're like me, you're deep into a summer reading groove. This time of year is perfect for indulging my imagination-- unlike fall or winter, when I have more patience and fewer distractions, and feel a certain propensity towards weightier tomes. Classic “hard” books that are perpetually on my shelf sometimes get their spines cracked in summer, but they usually end up back on the shelf with a bookmark placed around page 28.
My go-to genre for summer reading is Young Adult. I'm nowhere near the level of expertise as our awesome Kids Books staff, but I have definitely dabbled in my share of YA. When I was a teenager, just about the only age-appropriate books I read were by Christopher Pike. I liked them because they were a break from my usual fare (all Stephen King, all the time!) but also because their pulpy covers disguised some surprisingly heavy material; teenagers were always murdering each other and having angsty trysts with aliens and time travelers and such. It's too bad most of those mid-nineties books are out of print; they could serve as a fun throwback for the Twilight set. 
Two great YA trilogies are wrapping up in the next few months. Suzanne Collins' addictive Hunger Games trilogy comes to a close with Mockingjay, and we bookstore folks will be celebrating with a midnight release party on August 23rd. If you haven't yet jumped into the nightmarish, action-packed world of Katniss, Peeta and Gale, do it! These books are so engrossing, they're like Steig Larsson lite.
In September, the third book in Patrick Ness' Chaos Walking trilogy, Monsters of Men, will be released. In the first book, The Knife of Never Letting Go, we meet Todd, a 12 year-old boy who was born on a recently colonized planet. Todd lives in a town where women are mysteriously absent, and weirder still, it is immediately revealed that men can hear each other's thoughts. Todd doesn't see anything strange in all this. He's used to the lack of privacy, and used to the reign of the tyrannical mayor and the zealous preacher who run the town. We the reader know that the other shoe is about to drop; Todd will begin to question everything when he meets a girl for the first time. Patrick Ness has done some magic here with his writing. He plays with font size and style and invents new word spellings and dialects to create a totally original voice for Todd and his talking dog (not annoying, I promise!).
If you're desperate for more, may I suggest a return to the ultimate YA trilogy, His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman. The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass tap into what I think is one of the most ubiquitous questions raised throughout YA lit; what would you do if you realized that your parents, your teachers, your culture, your world was oppressive and corrupt? Would you be brave enough to challenge the status quo, even if it meant sacrificing everything? Phillip Pullman's books are pure brain candy; he takes our instinctive emotional reaction to injustice and grounds it with real-world references and a pervasive, positive message of humanism, critical thinking and scientific inquiry.
This genre has become a cultural force. Popular YA novels are transformed into movies, TV shows and graphic novels, and they thrive online. The majority of these books are so visual that they are easily branded and marketed, and it's difficult, when recalling your first read-through, to distinguish your own imagining of these fictional worlds from the inevitable celluloid versions. But I think there is another factor at work here: we just love these characters. They are hyper-real, beyond relatable, and they live in worlds where emotions are boiled down to their most pure and powerful essence.
What is your favorite YA book or series? Why do you think they're so affecting and addictive? Discuss!

tell all your friends!