Monday, October 25, 2010

Rough Drafts for Elephants in the Ape House

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

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

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

Whew.  Finally made it around to that title.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

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

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

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

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

-Kids Desk

Friday, October 15, 2010

Two Weeks to Get a Great Idea

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

October Kids Book Sale

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Banned Books Week: Friday

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

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

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

-Anna, Kids Books

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

Monday, October 04, 2010

Banned Books Week: Thursday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Anna, Kids Books

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Creeeeeeepy Tales!

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

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

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

-Anna, Kids Books

Banned Books Week: We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Program

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

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

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

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

-Anna, Kids Books

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