Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Nonfiction: It's Real!

The History section is one of the most interesting sections in the bookstore from which I have read hardly anything. I used to shelve back there, and although hundreds of titles caught my eye, I'm just not a nonfiction reader. Fortunately, we have some well-versed staff who are here to help recommend great new nonfiction books. For an idea of how much fascinating, scholarly writing is being produced right now, come into the store and take a look at our New Nonfiction display, right by bestsellers.
Here we have three books that illustrate the necessity of follow-up questions when we get asked for recommendations. "I was wondering if you could recommend an American History book? It's for my uncle and he's read everything."

"Well, there's this awesome new illustrated Constitution, and since everyone seems to be talking about it, maybe it's time to re-read it!"

Sam Fink
Elegant yet playful illustrations turn the United States Constitution into something suitable for your coffee table, and accessible to anyone of any age.

"...and then there's this book about art in America during the Great Depression. Just think of all the incredible music, film, photography and literature that was produced during such an impoverished time. It's hard to believe that this is the first book to bring it all together."

Morris Dickstein
Dickstein concentrates on the dynamic energy of the arts and the resulting lift they gave the nation's morale during the Great Depression. Food for thought for the times we're living in and may inspire you to get up and dance!

"If neither of those sound right, how about this new book by Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Powers?"

Thomas Powers
Powers takes us into the heart of the Plains wars of the late 1800s with an intimate history of Crazy Horse and those who supported him, fought him, schemed against him, and betrayed him. Rich in history and character, this is a terrific read.

Up next: graphic novels, anyone?

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Holiday/Snow Day Pick

From my favorite winter/Christmas story of all time, A Child's Christmas in Wales, by Dylan Thomas, which should speak for itself:
...it snowed and it snowed. But here a small boy says: "It snowed last year, too. I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea."
"But that was not the same snow," I say. "Our snow was not only shaken from whitewash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely white-ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening the gate, like a dumb, numb thunderstorm of white, torn Christmas cards."
"Were there postmen then, too?"
"With sprinkling eyes and wind-cherried noses, on spread, frozen feet they crunched up to the doors and mittened on them manfully. But all that the children could hear was a ringing of bells."
"You mean that the postman went rat-a-tat-tat and the doors rang?"
"I mean that the bells that the children could hear were inside them."
"I only hear thunder sometimes, never bells."
And so on and so forth. Happy snow day, Seattle. And thanks to my Babbo, a great actor and read-alouder, for reading that story to my mother every Christmas of her life, and mine too (due to the incredible coincidence/foresight of someone having a tape recorder the Christmas before a stroke left him unable to speak).

-Anna, Kids Books

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Our Cookbook Section Can Help With Your Thanksgiving!

Still gathering your last minute thanksgiving recipes? Looking for something traditional, but just a bit different this year? Not to worry, here are some of the best recipes from our favorite cookbooks to help you decide what to make  for the holiday.

Kim O'Donnel's Dino Mash from The Meat Lover's Meatless Cookbook. I made this over the weekend and I won't make any other mash again. It's a wonderful mixture of roasted garlic, creamy potatoes and kale. That's right, kale! Sure, mashed potatoes are near perfect on their own, but trust me, the deep green of kale weaving through an otherwise clumpy white mess is just stunning. It adds the perfect visual oompf and the kale provides a wonderful chewy and hearty texture to the potatoes. (Hey! Check out Kim talking about these potatoes in the Huff Po's Meatless Monday Thanksgiving Project)

The Apple Galette from In My Green Kitchen. This rustic tart is perfect for a small Thanksgiving gathering. It calls for less apples than a pie, so you can forget spending hours chopping and peeling, but it is absolutely beautiful. You lay out the apples in a concentric circle on a buttery pie dough, then fold the dough over the edge of the fruit. Voila! Always a show stopper.
Ina Garten's Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Warm Cider Vinaigrette from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics. I always think a starter salad on Thanksgiving is a wonderful way to begin the big, heavy meal and this salad keeps to theme with squash, cranberries, walnuts and maple syrup. This squashy dish would also be a great stand in for the sweet potatoes, but if you are a sweet potato lover, you should try the Sweet Potato Lover's Cookbook.

Hope these suggestions help fill in some of your Thanksgiving day recipe blanks. Enjoy! (And be careful out there in the snow.)

--Anna, Events

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Irresistable Fiction

For this week's staff favorite update, here is a subject near and dear to my heart, that great romancer of aspiring writers and lifelong readers: literary fiction. Here are some great picks; a classic and two new novels. (Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson is out in paperback next week!)

Betty Smith
There's a lot of talk these days about how “these are the hard times” and we're all “struggling to get by.” I always think of Francie and her beautiful, flawed, complicated family, and what their version of a tough time was. And then I want the fellow on the TV to hush up. A triumph and a tragedy, this novel will be on my top ten list for the rest of my life, and now is a perfect time to re-read it.

Samantha Harvey
Set in the moors of Northern England, this story of an endearing Jewish architect diagnosed with Alzheimer's is one of the loveliest novels I've read in a long while. The author's imagining of Jake Jameson's mind as his grasp of reality gradually slips away is extraordinarily told. And through her masterful interweaving of the threads of Jake's persistent long-term memories and brief flashes of clarity, we come to understand and love Jake and the remarkable people who shaped and shared his life. These pages offer up a beautiful and deeply felt reading experience.


Helen Simonson
An unlikely romance is blossoming between stodgy widower Major Pettigrew and Mrs Ali, an elegant Pakistani widow who reluctantly tends her family’s general store in a small British village. Both families are MOST unhappy with developments, and their chagrin, along with much of the town, is hilariously portrayed in this delightfully wry, witty and moving novel. (The Major’s son and prospective daughter-in-law are particularly amusing horrors!) While the setting is contemporary, there’s a lingering old-fashioned charm throughout the story. Everyone I’ve given this to has been thrilled.

Now I would just like to add a little anecdote about my very own favorite staff favorite.
Sometimes I am amazed by this common phenomenon: people are reading the books we recommend! Strangers (but some friends and family, too) read our tiny blurbs and make the magnificent decision to trust our judgment, to open their wallets, and to devote at least a few hours to reading a book that one of us loved. Every time someone buys a book I've recommended, I get overly excited, but I usually try to keep it to myself. I look up the sales history and think, there's X number of people out there in Seattle and beyond who have this book! Maybe they hated it, maybe they got through ten pages and then left it on an airplane, but of course I imagine it has provided a life-changing experience.
An example: when I first started working at the bookstore, I wrote a card for James Dickey's Deliverance. It sat and sat on the shelf, collecting dust, until one day it was pulled. I said a quiet eulogy and swore vengeance, feeling not unlike one of Dickey's hillbilly villains. When the Staff Favorites section came under my jurisdiction, I decided to gamble on another Dickey title: his third and last novel, To The White Sea. There were no copies in stock when I first ordered it earlier this year, but now I'm happy to report that it's selling well. This makes me feel like a proud, encouraging parent. My love of James Dickey only further stereotypes me as a “dude novel” enthusiast (thanks Anna!) as his novels are about men confronting nature and the unknown in manly ways. But if you've never read his writing, it's a stealthy concoction of action-poetry, and obviously, I recommend it.

--Seija, Staff Favorites

Monday, November 15, 2010

In Which We Discuss Books Written Quickly And Well

We're now at the half way point of National Novel Writing Month.  Here in Seattle, there was an event for it hosted at Richard Hugo House in which masses of tables were set up and hordes of writers, most of them young and all equipped with laptops, set to working on their word counts.  I glanced in only briefly, and was struck by the resemblance to a college library in the days before finals: everyone working on their own computer, everyone intent, everyone silent.

I could have been one of those people, except for two slight hitches.  One, I don't actually own a laptop, and two, I'm done with my novel.  It's 175 pages, almost 54000 words, and it took 10 days to write.  I think, also, that it might actually be pretty good.  There's not much of a case to be made for a book written in such a short time to be any good, only...well, maybe there is.

We'll begin by looking at a very good but very short novel, Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde, which was written in no more than 6 days.  On vacation.  It's a great read, and has turned into a veritable classic in fiction, known and read around the world.  So there's that one to start.

The brilliant magazine Mental Floss brings us a list of others, most of which I didn't know were written in anything like that short a time.  But really, look at them:  A Study in Scarlet (hello, most famous detective in the world, how nice to meet you); On The Road (almost required reading for young men of a certain age); The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (also a charming movie with Dame Maggie Smith).

There are certainly others.  A few authors assuredly had monthly outputs greater than 50000 words.  Both Dickens and Dumas were paid, in many cases, by the word, and so their output was prodigious.  Good stuff from both of them, though, so the possibility of speed and quality meeting is certainly there.

And one more story, about Simenon, a rather prolific French mystery writer of the first half of the 20th Century.  For a while he was dating Josephine Baker, who was the loveliest and most talked about woman of Paris, and maybe the world.  Only he broke up with her after a year, because she was too much of a distraction.  You see, he'd only written a dozen books in the time they went out, and that sort of output (a book a month) just wasn't up to snuff for him.

I don't think anyone's going to be breaking up with a modern Josephine Baker because they're writing NaNoWriMo novels every month.  But maybe...


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Excerpts from the Diaries of Adam & Eve!

Madame, I'm Adam.  Actually, I'm going to be reading Eve.  What was I thinking?  Matthew will be our Adam.  If you were to look closely at this slightly altered version of one of the original illustrations for Mark Twain's Diaries of Adam & Eve, you might recognize who's who.  (Guess that makes Brad the Serpent.)

Anyway, come to our Mark Twain Reading!


Tuesday, November 09, 2010

No Benevolences: Get a Free Copy of Twain's Autobiography!

"We do no benevolences whose first benefit is not for ourselves."
 -- Mark Twain, From the Autobiography

We're giving away a copy of a beautiful, brand-new book! 

We are.  We want you to have it, we do.  It's a fabulous book.  He's right, you know, Mark Twain.  We have another motive.  We want you to come to our Mark Twain event.  That's all you have to do to be the winner and get the book we're giving away.  And you'll enjoy yourself, even if you don't win the book, we promise.

Come Tuesday, November 16th, at 7PM, we will be marking the one hundredth anniversary of Mark Twain's death, and celebrating the publication of the first volume of his fully restored Autobiography, with a reading!  Extracts from the Diaries of Adam and Eve will be the main attraction.  Anyone unfamiliar with this little gem, should check it out.  (There are various versions in print, including a handsome and inexpensive Dover paperback.)  Funny, and touching, this is one of Twain's gentler spoofs of matters Biblical and the War Between the Sexes.  I'll be Eve.  Our own Matthew Simmons will be Adam.  And Brad Craft will provide the introduction for the evening, and some thoughts on Twain, and the significance of finally having his Autobiography exactly as he intended it.

Brad's been writing a bit already about the new publication, on his blog.  Check it out.  He's also posted a few pictures from our first rehearsal.  Trust me, a good time will be had by all.  It's a night of Mark Twain!  How great is that?  And remember, you might win a free book! 

To enter to win a copy of Autobiography of Mark Twain, just leave a comment on this blog post. We'll draw the winner at the event, you must be present to win. 


Monday, November 08, 2010

For the Music Lover in Your Life:

Here are three outstanding staff picks for the music lover in your life.

Rob Sheffield
Embarrassingly funny and endearing, this book charts Rob's awkward teenage years to adulthood track by track. Spliced with his intrinsic love of music, Rob's casual style makes it easy for kids of the 80's to commiserate with his stories of summer jobs, school dances, and just what constitutes “new wave.”

Andrew Zuckerman
A must-have for any music lover. Fifty musicians from all genres explain in their own words what music means to them. Features awesome photographs and an access link to Zuckerman's “The Music Film.”

Leiber, Jerry
In the early 1950s a couple of Jewish teenagers with a shared love of the blues start writing songs together and become one of the most successful songwriting teams in music history. From their first record with the Robins (who later became the Coasters) to a smash Broadway musical based on their songs, here is their story in their own words.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Don't Miss Bilocal!

This year we are participating in a brand-new series called Bilocal, the first presentation of Essential Arts, a new arts organization founded by one of Seattle's literary arts greats, Bob Redmond. Essential Arts's mission is to develop creative work for the common good, with an eye on social impact.

Sitting here at my desk, going over our participation in the event, looking at the list of writers and drooling over the top notch chefs, I can already tell that Bilocal will fulfill Essential Art's mission perfectly. Every aspect of the evening, from the list of musicians to the graphic design gallery touches upon aspects of what "art" and "community" mean, and what those ideas mean to a diverse group of people.

Bilocal is two consecutive evenings (this fall in Seattle and next April in New Orleans) that draw together writers, filmmakers, chefs, musicians and visual artists from Seattle and New Orleans to celebrate and discuss the idea of community. Some of the writers on the line up include Jonathan Evison, Molly Wizenberg, David Rutledge, Dedra Johnson and Megan Kelso. Look for us there, representing the authors with their books.

Bilocal will be a unique and vibrant event, an important moment in Seattle's arts scene and an important "geographical mashup" with New Orleans. Proceeds from the event will benefit The Lens, promoting investigative journalism in the Gulf.

Come join us November 12th or 13th at Town Hall Seattle! (tickets here).

--Anna, Events

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Wave after Wave of Staff Faves!

It's November, and that means all of us in General Books are choosing our Holiday Staff Picks! And even though books are gifts that just never! stop! giving! picking our holiday favorites is not just about gift-giving. It's about that cozy feeling; that increased inclination to hunker down and bundle up in your favorite chaise lounge/cave/tree house and get some solid reading done.

But what will you choose? We here at the bookstore have approximately 50 recommendations for you, your dad, your grandmother, and your dog (seriously, your dog will directly benefit from some of these picks). Name a section in the bookstore and we will pull a winner off the shelf. We will be featuring lots of great selections over the next two months, starting today!

Here's a pick from Pam:

Maira Kalman, artist extraordinaire, has hit the equivalent of a grand slam in the book publishing world. This fall, she has not one, not two, but three new books out. (Okay, one of them came out this past May--so sue me). I am perhaps one of her greatest fans and, although I am not a stalker and have never written her a letter, she is one of my imaginary best friends.

Which brings me to And the Pursuit of Happiness, a book based on a blog she penned for the New York Times. (If you were lucky, you read her first blog-to-book, Principles of Uncertainty, but if you somehow missed it, you can get it in paperback which is just as lovely and not as heavy as it was in hardcover).

In And the Pursuit of Happiness, Maira Kalman writes and paints about her visit to our capital during Barack Obama's inauguration where she encounters the history, art, architecture, and fashion of the White House. She later meets Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and promptly drops Jane Austen as her imaginary best friend in favor of Ruth, whose favorite artist is Matisse.

She becomes fascinated by our founding fathers (Benjamin Franklin is the dapper man on the cover of the book) and sets the record straight about their accomplishments. For instance, Thomas Jefferson invented triple sash windows, and Benjamin Franklin invented the lightning rod and swim fins. The breadth of her curiosity is astounding and enlightening and takes you into completely unexpected places; she presents us with a non-linear riff on what is good and hopeful about America's past, present and future.

Her goofy, wonderful, witty and joyful gouache paintings make you want to get up right now off your sofa to get a set of brushes and some good non-toxic paint to try and reproduce the happiness you feel just by looking at her colorful "do try this at home" art.

13 Words, written by Lemony Snicket (yes! he wrote a Series of Unfortunate Events) and illustrated by (you guessed it) Maira Kalman, is a hilarious picture book for anyone with a pulse. Take a look at the book trailer:

And last, Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World) would be my favorite if I had one. It is an exhibition catalog of Maira's work, including drawings, paintings, and embroideries. Please pick it up--you will not be disappointed.


tell all your friends!