Friday, July 22, 2011

Hey You Readers...

The publication booksellers turn to for news on the book industry is now publishing a version for book lovers! Shelf Awareness: Enlightenment for Readers is a FREE emailed newsletter with reviews on the 25 best books publishing each week along with author interviews, book excerpts, giveaways and more. Right now they’re running a contest for new subscribers. Check out the widget on our website to sign up for the new publication and to be entered for a chance to win a great book!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Test You Don't Want to Pass

Last night I was watching the movie “Being John Malkovitch” for maybe the 3rd time in my life, and found that my interpretation of it had been completely altered by a book I'm reading. If you have somehow missed this black gem of 1999, that's OK. It's not really a movie that one can spoil. In it, a character played by John Cusack discovers a portal in his office that grants access to the consciousness of John Malkovitch. Cusack teams up with a coworker, played by Catherine Keener, and they devise a scheme to sell tickets to Malkovitch. The last few times I've watched this film, I've experienced it as a dark comedy populated by pale characters who either ignore or screw up all the wonderful things around them (see: John Cusack and Cameron Diaz hoarding an apartment full of sad animals) This time, I was struck by a realization: Catherine Keener's character, Maxine, is a psychopath!

Let me just backtrack a little and say that if you read The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson, you will recognize psychopaths all over the place. It can be fun! But it also can be a little horrifying. Like Ronson, I'm beginning to notice items from the Bob Hare Checklist (the list used in prisons and psychiatric hospitals to diagnose inmates and patients), and movies are a rather harmless thing to practice on. For example, I've bolded the characteristics which Maxine demonstrates throughout the film:

1.Glibness/superficial charm
2.Grandiose sense of self-worth
3.Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
4.Pathological lying
6.Lack of remorse or guilt
7.Shallow affect
8.Callous/lack of empathy
9.Parasitic lifestyle
10.Poor behavioral controls
11.Promiscuous sexual behavior
12.Early behavior problems
13.Lack of realistic long-term goals
16.Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
17.Many short-term marital relationships
18.Juvenile delinquency
19.Revocation of conditional release
20.Criminal versatility

Needless to say, Maxine scores quite high.

I've been trying to think of an apt comparison to the relatively short history of psychopathology that Ronson investigates in his book. The best thing I can come up with is autism, in the sense that the two conditions share a unique cultural retroactivity. We often hear neuroscientists and psychologists speculate that with our current knowledge of the autism spectrum, famous people like Mozart, Newton and Jefferson likely place somewhere on it. And it's interesting to us because specialness is interesting, whether it results in extraordinary intellectualism or cold ruthlessness. I make the comparison because Ronson (The Men Who Stare at Goats; Them) is exactly the kind of author to launch such an intriguing concept into the pop culture lexicon. I suspect that the next trend to take off will be the labeling of various notorious figures as psychopaths. After all, the checklist is available for any armchair psychologist to find on the internet.

Psychopathy is not a diagnosis you want to receive, and as Ronson points out, if you are anxious that you might be a psychopath, you probably aren't one. The only sure way to find out about someone is to interview them at length, and then analyze not only their answers but their mannerisms and appearance. It's subjective until it isn't; recidivism rates among diagnosed and incarcerated psychopaths are much higher than non-psychopaths. The data suggests an ominous, Minority Report-esque course of action: longer sentences for high-scoring criminals.
The book is filled with Ronson's own nervous speculation, a sort of feedback loop of reacting to psychopaths and then assessing his reactions. His writing is self-effacing, but it is the sort of self-effacement that can only be achieved after one has become more confident and self-aware than one lets on, therefore undermining any real awkwardness. Do you see what he's done to me? All his bashful posturing about how he could never be a psychopath makes me suspicious...
To conclude this blog post that wants to turn into a research paper, I will just say that this is a great book for people who don't read much nonfiction, and for those interested in the history of psychology. It may not be a great, however, for those prone to paranoia.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Thackeray Celebration!

As seen at last night's reading of "A Little Dinner at the Timmins's", featuring the bookstore's own Pam Cady and Brad Craft.  Though the actual anniversary doesn't come 'round until Monday, July 18th, we nevertheless wish a most Happy Two Hundredth Birthday, to the memory of the great author of Vanity Fair, etc., William Makepeace Thackeray!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

For a Special Occasion

And here we have the special edition of a Google Book, The Sense and Sentiment of Thackeray, reprinted, with new covers, on the bookstore's own EBM.  The occasion is, of course our upcoming celebration of the great man's 200th birthday.  Our reading of "A Little Dinner at the Timmins's" will be the centerpiece of the festivities, but we thought it worth doing to offer something in the way of a take-away as well.  So, this little book, from 1909, offers quotes and brief selections from all the novelist's major and minor work.  Charming little book.  

Our own Anna -- Queen of the EBM -- designed the reissues cover, and our host for the reading, Usedbuyer2.0, aka Brad, did the pencil sketch of Thackeray on the front cover.

We're rather proud of the little thing, which is available now, for nine bucks, at the bookstore and of course, at the reading July 14th, at 7PM.  Do come and try a bit of William Makepeace Thackeray.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

You will WOLF this one down!

Big news! I just read a book about werewolves, and loved it! Not just werewolves, the LAST werewolf, which also happens to be the title. Glen Duncan (author of I, Lucifer) has a fresh, exciting writing style that kept me pleased and engaged sentence-by-sentence, no matter what was going on with the plot.

Whenever there's a character who by some supernatural phenomenon or another has become immortal (or is enduring a 400-year lifespan, as is the case here), I often find the personality of that character to be quite unbelievable. I never knew why until I read Duncan's book. His protagonist, Jake the werewolf, has lived 200 years and is utterly sick of life. He's painfully aware of the mundane and relentless cycle of cause and effect, punctuated by his monthly transformation. Even in the most nail-biting moments, he is just kind of done with all of it, and it made me realize that yes, that's exactly how one would feel after a life sustained by mandatory cannibalism. Jake is believable and likable because of his humanity; without the “curse,” he would just be another sex-crazed existentialist writing in a journal. Werewolfism turns out to be like a steroid and a depressant: both the best and the worst thing that could ever happen to anyone.

At its core, this novel explores familiar territory. How do we ever really connect with others, especially if we feel different from the rest of the world? I finished the book thankful, however, that Duncan decided to explore a very old and sometimes cliché subject with a very honest sense of the philosophical and the visceral. Never before have such highbrow and lowbrow references shared the same page so gracefully. Give this one a try if you are looking for something refreshing, frank, and scary. I know I'll be recommending it left and right.


Mo' Thackeray, mo' Thackeray, and yet more Thackeray!


On the Superiority of the Fairer Sex

And, yet another selection from the great Thack.


Thackeray's Dinner

More Thackeray, in anticipation of our upcoming celebration of his 200th Birthday!  Please join us July 14th, 7PM, at the University Book Store !

-- Usedbuyer2.0

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Summer Reading Rocks!

Summer reading programs are awesome, because reading is already awesome, and getting prizes for doing something that is already awesome is awesome squared. Is that too many awesomes? NO! Impossible. That is how awesome summer reading programs are.

Why should you care? Because we have one this year! Finally! Yay! Here's how our summer reading program works:

1. Come in, sign up (just give a name and e-mail, no money or long questionnaire-answering or microchipping of your children required) and you'll get a reading log to keep track of the books your child reads, a lanyard on which to keep said reading log, a button that says some variation of "Summer Reading Rock Star," and a coupon for 20% off an entire book purchase. Then y'all set about filling that reading log up. You do not have to only write down books you've bought from us. Library books and books you have at home are a-okay. We just want to make it easier to stock up on new lit with those coupons.

2. When the kids have read five whole books (read-alouds are okay, especially for the Pre-K set) come back in and show us the reading log, and they can choose from a bin of prizes scientifically designed to drive elementary schoolers wild—silly bandz, erasers shaped like sushi, tiny slinkies, those giant pink bouncy balls (and honestly, we could all use a giant bouncy ball). They also get another button, and y'all get another coupon.

3. After ten books, kids get a big button that says "I Rocked Summer Reading at University Book Store," and they get to pick out a FREE book from our selection behind the Kids Desk. And hey, what's this, another coupon? These things'll be saving you money till September.

4. If any industrious readers want to go on from there, they can get another reading log and start over, and keep getting those fabulous prizes. At the end of the summer, we'll have a drawing for all the folks who've signed up, and someone from each participating branch will win a backpack full of school supplies! (All the school supply-loving children like me say, Yeeeeeaah! All the other kids'll groan, I know. How can you not love the smell of fresh binders and pencils, huh? It's the best.)

5. We're also encouraging readers to write and turn in Young Reader's Review cards, because we put those up on the shelf to help recommend books that you liked to other kids. And also because it's really fun to talk and write about the books you love. (And also because we do a monthly drawing of those cards and the winner gets a gift card to the store.)

And that's it. You're welcome. We are loving this program. So many people have signed up already we can hardly believe it. It's super exciting. And if you want some book recommendations from our professional book recommenders in the Kids Department, head over to the Summer Reading page on our website. Three cheers!

--Anna,  Kids

tell all your friends!