Friday, February 27, 2015

Marc Solomon and "Winning Marriage: The Inside Story of How Same-Sex Couples Took on the Politicians and Pundits—and Won".

When I meet Marc Solomon, I'm coming out from the back of Brookline Booksmith, and I catch him, sheepishly loitering close to - but not too close too - the "Employee's Only" door of the Used Book Cellar. He's got a bag on his shoulder and makes meaningful eye contact with me when I emerge from the back, the telltale "I'm supposed to be here but I don't know exactly where" eyes of an author preparing for an event.

He's tall; quite tall. He towers above me, and I have the unusual experience of having to look upwards at him as I speak to him. This is novel for me, being that I'm 5'10. Marc has a boyish face, and very blue eyes. He's dressed simply in a black suit and button down shirt - no tie, this is a casual affair - and a small, discrete rainbow-colored rubber bracelet around his wrist, peeking out from beneath his suit cuff. As we near the beginning of 7:00, I tell him I have a small introduction for him, and then after that, he can basically do what he likes up there. "Most people tend to read for about 30 minutes, then take questions and answers, but its really totally up to you." I tell him. He pauses. "I might sing a bit." he adds, smiling. That would be great, we don't really get a lot of that here, I tell him.

The event is on the smaller side; only a few couples scattered across the readers and writers room. Mark doesn't flinch; he takes the lectern and launches into his presentation of "Winning Marriage" in the same easy tone and gentleness that Solomon no doubt applies to his whole life.

He reads a bit from the book, but the real strength of the event is the question and answer portion. Almost all of the guests have a question or comment, and we easily fill the remaining 20 minutes with discussion, a feat that is not so easily achieved, let me tell you. There's a man in the back who talks about Arkansas, asks, will it ever truly accept the gay community? There is a couple of married women that ask Marc if he feels his work will ever be done. His answer is full of so many emotions; hopefulness, dedication, skepticism and patience. Above all, Marc seems patient. It rolls off him in waves and drops as he holds onto the lectern, his tall frame slightly bent, his feet visible at each side. Marc talks about his work and about the struggle to make gay marriage a reality with a kind of quiet deference; it does make you wonder, what would Marc be doing, if not this? He is easy to talk to, and speaks from the lectern with a clear capacity to handle questions and queries while at the same time being accessibly human.

Marc warns us against adopting the attitude that gay marriage across all states is an inevitability, and all one has to do is wait. He recalls many critics of the movement asking, 'why are you putting so much into this if its going to happen eventually? Why push so hard? Why be so vocal?' This is the kind of convenient attitude that allows people to be lazy, to throw away the work that is so crucial to this and any movement.

"You just have to put one foot in front of the other." Marc tells us. He uses sports and game terms like, 'put small wins on the board', and 'don't spike the ball at the 10 yard line'. Every sports metaphor I come across are almost exclusively lost on me, but I think anyone can understand his basic, "don't count your chickens before they hatch" sentiment (I guess I'm more comfortable talking about chickens then I am sports, but I'm no more a farmer then I am a sportsmen. In my defense, I would rather watch a bunch of chickens roam around a field than I would a sports game. No joke).

One of the women in the audience reminds us of one of the rallies in Boston during 2004, during the supreme court debates on whether or not it was unconstitutional to allow only same-sex couples to marry. I was at many of those protests; I was about 16; just as precious as you please, I felt every injustice and emotion with so much more volume and clarity than I do now, as all 16 year old humans are want to do. We've had gay marriage, and enjoyed a slew of unpopular civil rights, here in Massachusetts for so long now that I had forgotten that a time in which we did not have those rights is still relatively recent in our states history. I remembered showing up in the cold, chanting, holding signs; the whole protest bit. At one of the final protests and final court hearings, after the ruling was announced, the protesters and several groups of media people ran into the state house and congregated around and along a long staircase. This whole memory is somewhat skewed for me, since I was delirious with JUSTICE and from screaming myself hoarse outside for hours, but it is at this moment that some state legislators appeared, as if from nowhere, and began speaking about the trials that were to come, and about the great win we had witness there that day. After the applause died down, a chant started from somewhere across the room - "thank you, Massachusetts", and it spread in that way that those victory chants spread, like a trickle of water along a slanted counter top, until we were all saying it. Shortly we were yelling it, a whole hallway of sweaty, clammy protesters, and besuited lawpeople, and naive high school students alike were all filling the vaulted ceilings with "thank you, Massachusetts", rounding out the staccato of the four syllables in the long name of our state. I was grateful for the opportunity to experience those feelings again, to remind myself of the struggle that equal rights, across all sorts of different vistas, is up against everyday in this country.

All in all, this was an example of an incredible small event. Brookline Booksmith was honored to have Marc Solomon visit us, he was a pleasure to meet and I wish him the very best in all his endeavors. I would urge anyone with an interest in civil rights, or possibly those of us with foggy memories of the events of the 2004 Goodridge v. Department of Public Health ruling to read Marc Solomon's book. It is every bit as funny and entertaining as he is, with the added benefit of detailing an important part of global history (Massachusetts was the 6th district in the world to legalize gay marriage, after the Netherlands, Belgium, Ontario, British Columbia, and Quebec). We are small, special, loud, brutish, and occasionally excellent. Thank you, Massachusetts!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Monday, February 16, 2015


A Helpful List of Post-Apocalyptic/Dystopian Books You May Not Have Read Yet

1. The Wind Singer (Book 1 of the Wind on Fire Trilogy) by William Nicholson, currently available in the children's section of the Used Book Cellar. An other-world fantasy which starts with a dystopian plot in book one and moves on to bigger and better (and equally fascinating) things in books two and three.

2. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, available in our Young Adult section. Also a trilogy. The language is unique and gripping, the story is ferocious, and it's unforgettably atmospheric.

3. The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer, a story about a boy raised in a country called Opium who discovers the horrific reality of what he is: a clone of the country's drug lord, created as potential spare parts for the original. It'll be in Young Adult.

4. Starglass by Phoebe North, a subtle, beautiful book that takes place on a city-sized spaceship seeking a new future for humanity on a far-away planet. Carefully intertwines personal and political loyalties and turns dystopia and romantic tropes on their heads. And then there's the ending, which gut-punches the entire story so far and makes all those big problems look suddenly small. Also worth noting--this ship is culturally Jewish. Find it in Young Adult.

5. We by Yevgeny Zamyatin lives over in adult fiction, and it's the precursor to every single dystopian novel you've ever heard of--before Brave New World, before 1984, before Fahrenheit 451, before The Hunger Games, before Divergent, there was this little Russian novel. It's also fantastic.

6. The City of Ember by Jeanne du Prau may not be my very favorite kids' dystopia, but there's a good graphic novel adaptation of this story of a long-underground human civilization in our kids graphica section.

7. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson is over in adult Science Fiction (good for teen readers), and it's a classic mind trip about a pizza delivery guy named Hiro Protagonist, virtual reality, and post-disaster America.

8. The Prince Who Fell from the Sky by John Claude Bemis is a convincing and satisfying futuristic animal fantasy, about the animals living on post-apocalypse Earth when a single human child--survivor of a spaceship crash--lands among them. You can order this one through our website. Intermediate.

9. The Last Book in the Universe by Rodman Philbrick is about a kid who's charged with, essentially, protecting the last records of human knowledge in a world that's fallen apart. Also available online. Intermediate.

10. Feed by M.T. Anderson (to be found in Young Adult) is where I started reading dystopian fiction. So, it's America's future, and the weather is all screwy and people are getting weird diseases, but your extremely portable technology always knows just what you want to shop for! That's good, right? Hint: it's not good. It's totally not good. It's totally, extremely not good. (But it is a good book.)

With these books and others in hand, may you have a snug continued snowpocalypse. Happy chilly reading!

Monday, February 9, 2015

It's Important to Hold on to Your Imagination...or Delusions, either works.

CLICK! I may have made this one too long...
And if you haven't been reading the blog in the last week you should go back. We celebrating Children's Author and Illustrator week by posting something kids section related every week!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Children's Author and Illustrator Week: Imagination

Like most adults who refuse to grow up, I have an incurable case of Imagination. On any given day I consider applying to Hogwarts to teach Muggle Studies or wonder if today will finally be the day my closet exposes a secret entrance to Narnia. A side effect of this chronic affliction is that I have an unusual fascination with fairy tales and all things mythical, strange, and/or imaginary.
So it should not come as a surprise to anyone that books about fairy tales, adaptations of fairy tales, or anything remotely whimsical hold a special place in my heart. One moment I can be a princess knight successfully battling a fire-breathing dragon with insufficient weapons and the other, a down-on-her-luck maid who just inherited the nicest fairy godmother. I can learn more about the adventurous lives of unicorns or I can read about a kindhearted gorgon who is just misunderstood by everyone else in the village. Books that make us think in unique or magical ways are necessary for those of us with Imagination to survive.
Do not fear, dear reader, if you too suffer from Imagination you can live a happy and normal life. Below, I have listed my favorite fairytale/mythical/imagination creature books that you should take a look at: 
  • Sleeping Cinderella and Other Princess Mix-Ups by Stephanie Clarkson, illustrated by Brigette Barrager: This book explores the ramifications of taking beloved fairytale characters out of the world they know and transporting them into a completely new fairytale. Snow White is tired of cleaning up after dwarfs. Cinderella has no interest in going to the ball. Sleeping Beauty has too much energy to sleep. Rapunzel has been locked away too long and seeks freedom. What happens when the fairy tale heroines you know break free of the confines of their stories and venture into uncharted territory? A mess. That's what happens. 
  • Uni the Unicorn by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Brigette Barrager: This book if for anyone who ever had a dragon as a pen pal or had a griffin living in your backyard. You believed when everyone else told you they didn't exist. The main character of this book is a unicorn who believes wholeheartedly that little girls exist somewhere out there in the world and though everyone tells her little girls are mythical, this unicorn knows that one day she will prove them all wrong.
  • Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen: "How did a book about two boys digging a hole end up on this list?" you ask. Good question. It is partially because I (and my fellow kidsmith booksellers) LOVE Mac Barnett and partially because this book is strange and wonderful and if you pay close attention you will see that this book is, in fact, one that begs you to use your imagination. It's possible this book ends in different dimension than the one it started in. It's possible something else strange and wonderful happens. The ending is dependent on your imagination and is likely different for everyone.
  • Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon: Dory, given the silly moniker Rascal by her family, has the imagination of ten people. Her entire story is fancied. She has a best friend named Mary who is her accomplice in everything she does. Mary is a monster. Her fairy godmother, Mr. Nuggy pops in when needed to assist Rascal when she decides that she no longer wants to be a little girl but a puppy instead. Ms. Gobble Gracker who gets her start as a prank by Rascal's siblings quickly evolves into quite the fearsome foe for Rascal but with the help of Mary and Mr. Nuggy, Ms. Gobble Gracker is no match for her!
  • The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy: This book takes fairy tales as you know them and completely flips them on their heads. It follows four princes charming from familiar fairy tales as they embark on an adventure together. Cinderella's prince, Frederick, is afraid to leave the castle and when she goes off in search of an adventure, he reluctantly goes after her and meets Rapunzel's prince, Gustav, whose pride is wounded because Rapunzel saved him. More brawn than brains, Gustav ends up on traveling with Fredrick where they run into Sleeping Beauty's prince, Liam, who is the ideal "Prince Charming" though, come to find out, his reputation is built on a lie and Snow White's prince, Duncan, who is a little dimwitted and has a fascination with naming any woodland creature he spots...even in the middle of a battle with a dragon.
I could go on. There are a million and five fantastic books for those of us with Imagination. Stop in the store and find me. I can recommend plenty more. For now I have to go. I've just spotted a white rabbit disappearing down a rabbit hole shouting about being late and I must follow him.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Children's Author and Illustrator Week: Exciting New 2015 Books

Note: I was so excited about the contents of this post that I posted it to the wrong blog. Sometimes my excitement gets the best of me. My apologies for the lateness.

There are a lot of really exciting books coming out this year. I did a post at the end of 2013 about books I was excited about coming out in 2014. I didn't do that for this year. I'm going to do it now and I'm going to do ones that are still coming out.

So, ten books I am so thrilled are still to come in 2015!

In no particular order:

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo -- Fall
Companion to her wonderful Grisha trilogy. I am so, so, so excited. She described it as Game of Thrones meets Ocean's Eleven.

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater -- Fall
The only problems with the release of this one is that once it's out the series is over and that's devastating.

Seen Not Heard by Katie May Green -- Summer
I love this book! It's so much fun!

The Copper Gauntlet by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare -- Fall
The sequel to The Iron Trial. You know it's going to be brilliant!

Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray -- Summer
EEEEEE! We've been waiting forever!

The Great War ill. by Jim Kay -- March
So beautiful. So so beautiful!

Pip Bartlett's Guide to Magical Creatures by Jackson Pearce and Maggie Stiefvater -- Spring
It's so good! So funny! 

The Marvels by Brian Selznick -- Fall
It's Brian Selznick. We know it's going to be AMAZING.

Percy Jackson's Greek Heroes by Rick Riordan -- Summer

Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman -- March
Finally! So excited!

The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan -- Fall
I say again !!!!

This is nowhere near all of them. Here's a couple. Just a couple. A couple of really exciting ones. THERE ARE SO MANY TO BE EXCITED ABOUT!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Children's Author and Illustrator Week: Alex Is Reading Megan Whalen Turner


So these books, up here in this fuzzy picture, are my copies of Megan Whalen Turner's Queen's Thief series: The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia, and A Conspiracy of Kings. They're four books of a proposed six-book YA series that are less fantasy and more...alternate Greco-Roman past world with a slight chance of interfering gods. The central character is a deeply obnoxious, incredibly talented thief who lies to everyone--including you, the reader--CONSTANTLY, and his ideas WORK but always have AWFUL CONSEQUENCES. The other main characters include a) the best and scariest and b) the best and most relatable queens ever in books, ever ever ever. OH, THEY ARE GREAT.

The books are really subtle, and funny and UPSETTING and incredibly smart. And patient. Like, I don't think I've read hardly any other books that sit on their plot twists as comfortably as these do, only to throw them at you at the perfect moment and leave you going, WHAT WHAT WHAT WHAT WHY HOW DID YOU, NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO, YES!!!! YES!!!! NOOOOOOOOOOO BOOOOOOOOOK and so on until your mom comes and finds you and gives you funny looks.

So as books, the Queen's Thief series taught me a heck of a lot about how far you can push characters, how many lies your story can tell and still come together at the end, and how to balance stuff in a book that seems like it should never, ever work. But that's not the best thing about these books, for me. Even my deep, abiding, undying, fire-like love for the characters is not the best thing about these books--for me.

The best thing about these books is people.

See, everywhere I have gone, these books have brought me people. When I read The Thief in seventh grade, I passed it around to my friends. We talked about it at lunch, my pal got a juice stain on Queen of Attolia and I was REALLY mad, we got closer as friends, because of books. When I was in college and King of Attolia came out, I read them all out loud to my roommates--there was no escape for them, not even a small chance of escape--and we've had built-in in-jokes ever since.

And I found people online, people who loved these books as much as I do. I've met a bunch of them in person. (Ask Your Adult.) We've exchanged stuff through the mail: card, books, socks, art, candy.  We sent books like chain letters, leaving notes in the margins for the next reader. I met Megan a couple of times. Ten years later I'm still in contact with fans in Australia, England, and the U.S. I still have my friends, friends I have because these books brought us together. In fact, I'm reading Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta along with one of those friends right now, even though she's in Alabama. There are threads of these relationships running through my life all over the place in unexpected ways.

But there's one friend in particular that I'm grateful for. She died a couple of years ago. We were friends for eight years, and during that time, she went from a friendly name online to one of dearest people to me in the whole world. I could fill a book with just my memories of that friendship, filled with love, family, and books, and all the uncomfortable ups and downs of being alive. She made me a better writer and a happier person. Every time I read a book, I think of what she'd think about it, and every time I write, I try to write well enough for her. I try to write as well as the book she wrote and left behind.

So I got that from these books, family, friendship, excellent reading recs, pride in my writing, wild enjoyment of obnoxious protagonists, undisclosed shenanigans in the name of Queen's Thieves, and buckets and buckets of memories I would never want to let go of and people I would never want to un-know. You probably will not have this exact experience if you read these books (which you should, because they're great), but you will probably have experiences like this because of some book, some time, because that is what books can do for you. Books can give you life.