Wednesday, December 29, 2010

It's That Strangest of Weeks

It's between Christmas and New Year's, that peculiar time which doesn't exactly fit anywhere.  School is still on vacation, people are still traveling, and no one wants even one more piece of chocolate.  Well, maybe just one.  I'm sure you got everything you wanted for the holiday season, but if not, we can still help you out.  Maybe you didn't get The Autobiography of Mark Twain; we've got it in stock, like we did all through the shopping season.  Perhaps you heard good things about Decoded by Jay-Z, and were thinking you should check it out, only Santa didn't put it under the tree.  Don't worry.  We've got that one, too.

On the other hand, maybe you did get what you wanted, and what you wanted was a gift card or the always festive cash.  Perhaps even now you're wondering what to do with that.  Here's a few suggestions that might have gone under the radar: Tartine Bread, a beautiful bread baking book that will make your house smell lovely all through the chilly winter months; the other Bill Bryson book of the season, Seeing Further (he edited it, and it's kind of connected to his Short History of Nearly Everything).  Or the delightful It's A Book, about a donkey presented with a strange new thing.  Seattle, Then and Now has a new revised edition showing all the ways in which this city has changed over the years; and then there's a favorite of mine for the season, How To Live, or, A Life of Montaigne, a truly charming volume about the world's first essayist and his wondrous, delightful life.

And if nothing here has tickled your fancy, you can just wait a couple of more days until it's 2011, and come in for our calendar sale.  50% off almost all of our wall, engagement and page a day calendars.  It begins January 1, when we're open 12-5 because of the holiday, and then continues from there.  The widest selection is at the start, so come early to get something lovely.  Or several somethings, and make a collage?

Happy New Year, everyone.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Our Favorite Arty Comics

If you're still looking for that perfectly unique gift this holiday season, let us guide you into what may seem like uncharted territory: the ever-expanding shelves of the Arty Comics/Graphic Novel section. What was once a niche market is quickly becoming the place for breakout authors and illustrators exploring every subject and genre. There are adaptations of well-known works (Allen Ginsberg's Howl, a graphic biography of Anne Frank, R. Crumb's Book of Genesis), and a multitude of intriguing new books. It seems like every week I see a fresh batch of graphic novels with covers so curious and beautiful I have to pause in my shelving to take a look. Here are some recent favorites:

Laurie Sandell
Laurie Sandell grew up worshiping her charismatic but mercurial father. However, a startling revelation forces Sandell to confront the ugly truths about both her father and herself. Strongly recommended for fans of Alison Bechtel's Fun Home.

Robert Kirkman
If the only reason you can think of not to browse though this book is that you aren't really into zombies, then you're in luck. Robert Kirkman has crafted a book with zombies that ultimately has little to do with zombies. Think of George Romero's films. The director once said that zombies were just a prop used for social commentary. Kirkman takes a similar posture, as the real problems during the zombie apocalypse are those that arise between the living. Distrust, extra-marital affairs, questions of social responsibility, they're all here. Give the gift of zombies this year.

Kolbeinn Karlsson
Weird, psychedelic, dark and totally original, this lovely book is truly beyond compare. Swedish author Kolbeinn Karlsson deftly walks the line between cute and grotesque with his amazing artwork and creates an abstract, delightfully absurd narrative. A great gift for the eccentric art lover in your life, or for yourself when you feel the urge to get lost in a postmodern fairy tale.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Christmas Magic

I have to say I don't exactly love most children's Christmas books. As I've already mentioned, my go-to Christmas book is by Dylan Thomas, and while it has humor and good cheer, it's not exactly about bounding reindeer and unique snowflakes and the power of hugs and all that. Mostly, kids Christmas books are just too... gooey. I don't want golden-hued colored pencil drawings, or computer-illustrated, weirdly-shaped people. It needs to be juuuust right- not too cute, not didactic, the art has to be good, the story has to be unique enough that I would want to read it aloud over and over. Perhaps I'm being too picky, but I can pass by table after table of red and green books and not feel one inkling of Christmas spirit. I'm not Grinchy, either. So every year, I keep a lookout for something that has that Goldilocks just-right feeling. And every once in awhile, I find a keeper. My most recent favorite is from last year, and I want you to come look at it.

The Christmas Magic, as a title, sounds bad. Like, suuuper cheesy. I wouldn't have picked it up if it weren't by Lauren Thompson and illustrated by total watercolor superhero Jon Muth (I would wallpaper my house with that man's illustrations). It's about Santa getting ready for the big day, and it just contains so much charm and small detail (reindeer eating parsnips, Santa's whiskers tingling) that it sets itself apart from all the faux-jolliness. He trims his whiskers, darns his socks, polishes the sleigh. It's the kind of this-is-how-we-go-about-our-day story that kids from two or three on up (and me) just loooove. And then he waits for the magic that apparently comes every year, and when it's time, and he's standing in his sleigh looking up at the stars, "the night begins to thrum with magic, the kind of magic that makes reindeer fly." THANK YOU FOR THRUM. What a superb word. Something about this particular Santa's elfin stature (he's a "jolly old elf," remember?), his pointy mustache that's wider than his face, his little reindeer's goofy smile. It all makes me feel a little, well, Christmas-y.

-Anna, Kids Books

P.S. Apparently, Scholastic has a book trailer for it, but I don't really have time to check it out (there's so much to do around here this time of year I feel like our previously mentioned elf friend) so you'll have to let me know if it makes the book seem lame. I promise it's lovely. Book trailer here.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The EBM on Writing it Real

It has been quite some time since we've updated you about our Espresso Book Machine. Despite our silence, you can rest easy knowing that Tera, Queen of all things Print-On-Demand, has been busy busy these past few months keeping up with our growing publishing capabilities. She's been designing book covers for authors publishing through the EBM, educating customers about our new printing technology, and hunting down out-of-print books to bring back to life.

She has also taken the time to interview with Sheila Bender's Writing it Real. Sheila interviewed Tera about the Espresso Book Machine in much detail. I just spent the past few minutes reading it, and I can tell you that I have much more in-depth knowledge of publishing, options for self-published authors, and the future of small publishing.

Click over to the interview, it will be a few minutes well spent.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Sleepwalk with Mike Birbiglia

Attention: free book lovers!
We have three (3) signed copies of Mike Birbiglia's new book, Sleepwalk With Me, in hardcover, ready to give away! Birbiglia is a comedian and frequent contributor to The Moth and This American Life. If you haven't heard his (titular) story about jumping out the window of a La Quinta Inn in Walla Walla, Washington, you can read it for the first time here. If you have, you know what's in store: a rare kind of hilarity that manages to be both outrageous and poignant.
The first three people to leave their e-mail address in the comments will get a copy! Ready...GO!


Capote, Colette, and the Art of Gift Giving

On Tuesday, December 7th, at 7pm, our Used Books Buyer Brad Craft will be reading Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory,” at the U-District Store. This will be Brad’s fifth year favoring us with his rendition of Capote’s bittersweet holiday story. If you’ve never attended one of his live readings before, then I whole-heartedly recommend you swing by for this seasonal treat. I will be in attendance, and hope to see many of you there as well.

But ever since I began working at University Book Store, it is another of Capote’s pieces that comes to my mind, particularly during the Holiday season when shoppers flood the store in search of gift recommendations. It is his short essay “The White Rose,” wherein Capote recounts his visit with the legendary French author Colette, shortly after the publication of his first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms. Upon entering Colette’s bedroom, “as my hostess was an elderly partial invalid who rarely left her bed,” the usually brash Capote found himself timorous, tongue-tied, and unable to look directly at Colette. Instead, he found his attention drawn to her collection of antique, crystal paperweights. “There was perhaps a hundred of them covering two tables situated on either side of the bed….” Noticing his interest, she is able to draw him into conversation by explaining her fascination with these “snowflakes,” as she calls them.

She ultimately gives him one, the eponymous white rose, as a present: “By so doing she arranged for a financially ruinous destiny, for from that moment I became a ‘collector’….” Capote then goes on to relate his own passion for these objets d’arts, before ending the essay with the revelation that he originally tried to refuse Colette’s gift. “…[W]hen I protested that I couldn’t accept as a present something she so clearly adored, [she replied] ‘My dear, really there is no point in giving a gift unless one also treasures it oneself.’

Since first reading those words, I have tried to employ this advice whenever possible, and found it to be most rewarding. So, if this Holiday season you wish to go beyond the various lists submitted to you by loved ones, then, once more, I whole-heartedly recommend following Madame Colette’s example. 

--Dan, Events

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