Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Gods Behaving Badly

We just got in a great new book that was tons of fun to read--Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips. I've been waiting for this to arrive so I can start recommending it, and it's finally here! What I love most about it is that it's a book written for intelligent people but it don't take itself or its readership too seriously--saying this book was enjoyable is not to damn it with faint praise but to note how rare it is to find a book that lightens your mood while giving you a good story.

I'm glad to see that it's a December Book Sense pick, and this is how Barbara Hoagland, from The King's English in Salt Lake City, UT summarized the plot: "The gods of Greek mythology are living together in a shabby house in London: Aphrodite's a phone-sex operator, Apollo is a TV psychic, Artemis is a dog-walker, and Zeus is suffering from dementia. Things have definitely gone downhill for the former inhabitants of Olympus. It takes a couple of mortals to bring the gods back to fighting form in this funny, most unusual novel."

By the way: I think I've mentioned before my love for Percy Jackson novels; I have to admit that more than once while reading Gods Behaving Badly I thought "this is great--it's like Percy Jackson for adults!" So if you've been stealing your kids' Percy Jackson novels, definitely give this a try.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

This One Goes Out To...

I'm back! Hi!

Every Monday I get an email from the folks at Publisher's Marketplace with significant and/or interesting book deals from the week before. I've been behind on my email and only got to my weekly deals today, where I found one that sounds so cool that I wanted to share it with you. It's for a book called Once Again to Zelda by Marlene Wagman-Geller and it "tells the story behind the dedications of classic novels (think Jane Eyre, The Brother's Karamazov and The Thin Man) and reveals who the author dedicated the book to and why, shedding light on the author's psyche as well as his/her historical era."

A couple things that let you know a bit more about me:
  • I read the acknowledgements in a book first, even if they're at the back. (The bummer of galleys is that the dedication and acknowledgements are usually still to come. Sometimes I actually find myself thinking that I should remember to check out the acknowledgements when the finished book arrives...)
  • Sometimes I wonder if part of my wanting to be a research librarian was so that I could be listed in acknowledgements, too.

My current favorite dedication is "To Ayelet, bashert," the simple opening to Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union. If you don't know, bashert is a Yiddish term, one that means fate, or destiny. Your bashert is your soul mate, or the person you were meant to be with. In and of itself this is lovely, but it seems an especially apt introduction to the world Chabon creates in his book. The gravy, however, is knowing that the Ayelet referred to is Mr. Chabon's wife, Ayelet Waldman, who has written about the idea of bashert in her novel Love and Other Impossible Pursuits (not to mention the infamous writing she's done about their relationship, such as this article).

Do you have a favorite dedication or know of an author's acknowledgements that deserve their own chapter?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

New Book by Marilynne Robinson On the Horizon...

Yesterday's PW Daily (the newsletter of Publishers Weekly magazine) reported that Marilynne Robinson's new novel has been sold to FSG (since it's a short article I've posted it in its entirety):

"Marilynne Robinson, whose bestselling second novel, Gilead, took the 2005 Pulitzer Prize in addition to the National Book Critics Circle Award, has signed again with Jonathan Galassi at Farrar, Straus & Giroux for a new novel. Robinson has just completed the book, to be called Home. Ellen Levine at Trident sold U.S. rights only. Home shares its setting with Gilead, and its action is concurrent with that novel’s. Characters from Gilead will also appear in Home. FSG plans a September 2008 publication. Robinson’s first novel, Housekeeping, published in 1980, won the PEN/Hemingway award and was nominated for the Pulitzer."

I'm really pleased to hear that we'll be getting a new novel from Ms. Robinson so soon (it was twenty three years between her first two!), but I was startled when I read that it will take place in the same world as Gilead. I feel a little disappointed and I can't put my finger on why, exactly. But I'm looking forward to being proven wrong!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

David Halberstam and My Favorite Weekend in Boston

It's my favorite weekend in Boston--it's Head of the Charles! There is so much I adore about Head of the Charles--I love that it's a perfect way to spend fall days outside before it gets too cold. You'll find me eating fair food (you have not had a caramel apple until you've had a fresh-dipped caramel apple from the Boy Scout troop that's at HotC every year), petting adorable dogs, and, of course, watching the crews race down the river. It is a sight both absolutely beautiful and incredbily fierce. And, I love when you can hear the coxes swearing like sailors to get their boys or girls to go harder, faster, stronger.

Folks are usually pretty surprised when they find out I'm a crew fan, but I have been for quite a while--ever since college, when I discovered a high school crush rowed for his university. Ah, the early years of internet stalking. (I'll take this moment to remind you that I went to a women's college) In my quest to find pictures of my darling dreamboat I ended up on sites like this one, and I ended up sticking around longer than was probably necessary, but it is how I learned about one of the best books on sports ever--David Halberstam's The Amateurs. It's a classic.

If, after reading The Amateurs, you want more on rowing, my suggestion would be Mind Over Water by Craig Lambert, but you'll probably realize that what you actually want is more of Mr. Halberstam. You could pick up The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War, the book he finished just before his death earlier this year, which has been getting fantastic reviews. But, in keeping with the Boston sports theme, I would suggest either The Education of a Coach, Halberstam's exploration of Patriot's coach Bill Belichick or The Teammates: A Portrait of Friendship , a look at some of the greats of Boston Red Sox baseball. Happy reading!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Book Sense Picks Scent! Yay!

Last week the November Book Sense picks were announced--you can get a peek at them here. I'm excited because one of my nominations got picked--yippee! It's The Scent of Desire: Discovering Our Enigmatic Sense of Smell by Rachel Herz, and it's a great read. Here's what I said:

"Since reading Scent of Desire I've noticed myself inhaling more deeply, wanting to capture the smells around me (at a restaurant or florist -- even on the bus!). This clever examination of the physiology and psychology of scent will wake you up to the world around you."

That blurb is totally true--I really have developed this odd need to inhale really deeply on the bus, which just doesn't always have a happy ending depending on who's sitting next to me (reference chapter six, "The Odor of the Other"). But I can't help it! And once there was the most delicious smell of sausage in the air and it just made me crazy to the point that I had to make a special trip to get myself some sausage to make for dinner (reference chapter seven, "Craving"). I'll just add that this is a totally fun book for fans of psychology, biology, or anyone who's just curious about what makes us the way we are.

Oh, and If you like Scent of Desire, then you must read Diane Ackerman's A Natural History of the Senses. A classic.

By the way -- the number one pick for November is 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill, which I'm bringing up just because I'm pretty excited that he'll be coming to Brookline Booksmith on October 29th (Just before Halloween! Perfect.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

My Favorite Picture Books for Fall

I've been waiting for it to feel like fall so I could write about these two books--both came out last year and have still lingered in my mind as great stories with fantastic illustrations--Brave Bitsy and the Bear by Angela McAllister and Fletcher and the Falling Leaves by Julia Rawlinson. Both are illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke, clearly suggesting that she is queen of capturing the feeling of autumn.

In Brave Bitsy and the Bear, little Bitsy must find her way home when she falls out of her girl's pocket. She meets a big bear, who wants to help her, but is tired and ready to go to sleep for the winter. After bear helps Bitsy find her way home she realizes he may need her help as well and sets off to make sure he has made it safely to his cave.

In Fletcher and the Falling Leaves, Fletcher the fox is very worried his favorite tree is sick--all the leaves are changing colors and falling off its branches. He tries to save the leaves, but soon his favorite tree is bare. Fletcher is upset until he sees the beauty that comes with each season as leaves give way to a wintery surprise.

I love both these books as they work on two levels. Both can provoke discussion about the cycle of seasons and what that means for nature, while also providing lovely portrayals of the meaning of friendship. I promise you'll love them both!

Friday, October 5, 2007

Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History

Last week I read a great article from The Guardian, titled "The Books That Changed Our Lives," in which a number of young feminists write about the books that introduced them to feminism. I was particularly interested to read what Jessica Valenti and Ariel Levy wrote as they are currently the authors of my two favorite books in our women's studies section: Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman's Guide to Why Feminism Matters and Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, respectively.

In case you're not familiar with women's history I highly recommend Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's new book, Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History. In it she uses three historical figures--Christine de Pizan, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Virginia Woolf--as a way to enter into the various roles women have played throughout history. Dr. Ulrich has a great way of making history more than just a straight linear narrative--in this book she breaks patterns and helps the reader see new connections between historical periods, which is something I really admire (and wish was done by historians more often).

There isn't anything really new in Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History, though I think the writing style and book structure makes the book interesting even for someone who is fairly well-read in women's history. If you do fancy yourself an ace at the subject though, then I would recommend instead picking up The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe V. Wade by Ann Fessler. As someone who considers herself well-read, I couldn't believe I had never learned about the experience of unwed mothers (especially those who were white and middle-class), the institutions they were sent to, and the way adoption worked in the mid-20th century. It's an incredibly powerful book.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

On Being a Bookseller

I just finished reading Service Included: Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter by Phoebe Damrosch, a fun memoir about Ms. Damrosch's experiences as a waiter at Per Se, Thomas Keller's restaurant in New York City. It's a bit like the flip side to Debra Ginsberg's memoir Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress, which I highly recommend as another fun read.

Maybe I'm a fan of the food service memoir because I work in a customer service industry as well? Throughout Ms. Damrosch's book are little tips about fine dining, and there is one that I felt especially appropriate to the world of bookselling. She says on page 31 "Please do not ask us what else we do. This implies that (a) we shouldn't aspire to work in the restaurant business even if it makes us happy and financially stable, (b) that we have loads of time on our hands because our is such an easy job, and (c) that we are not succeeding in another field."

It's true that there are a lot of hyphens in bookselling. Here at Brookline Booksmith Paul is both an amazing bookseller and a wonderful artist (check out his stuff here). Mark is in a band that tours all over the U.S. and Europe (find out more about Neptune here). Brian and Carl are published poets. And me? I'm a bookseller. I wish I had other talents, but really, this is it. And it's enough for me.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Alie & Lisa's Lunch at America's Test Kitchen

Alie and Lisa had lunch today at the America's Test Kitchen studios where they got a taste (literally!) of the new books being published this fall by the ATC folks, the ones behind Cooks Illustrated magazine and the Best Recipe cookbook series. Normally I would be very jealous, but they brought me back so many goodies that I am grinning like an idiot.

First was a slice of chocolate cake that did, indeed, take the cake. Alie told me there was a secret ingredient--sauerkraut! The recipe came from their new cookbook America's Best Lost Recipes, which I have been looking forward to since they began their Heirloom Recipe Reservation Project through their Cook's Country magazine. (link takes you to a story about the project from NPR--with the Chocolate Sauerkraut Cake recipe!).

Alie told me they had runzas for lunch (the recipe was a runner-up in the lost recipe contest), which she had never heard of before. I hadn't either until I became best friends with a girl from Nebraska. So I guess it's just as well that I wasn't at lunch--I'm sure the runza recipe in the cookbook is fine, but I'm also sure that it can't compare with my friend Kari's family recipe!

Alie also brought me a galley of a new book in the Best Recipe series--The Best International Recipe, coming out in November. This is one I didn't know about, and after looking at it I am super-psyched! It reminds me of Mark Bittman's The Best Recipes in the World but in Cook's Illustrated style--fewer recipes, but each is accompanied by a fantastic essay on its development, testing, and refinement. Though Bittman is usually my go-to-guy, I have to say the ATC folks take this round. Definitely check it out!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

With Apologies to the Shadow, It's Really the Phantom Who Knows

I have a double dose of yummy news today.

First, the new edition of Phantom Gourmet Guide to Boston's Best Restaurants has arrived! While Zagat's is known as the gold standard in restaurant recommendations, I'll admit that it tends to overwhelm me (and, after a while, all the blurbs start blurring together)--I think the Phantom Gourmet Guide is a fun and easy alternative that I really like.

If you're not familiar with the Phantom Gourmet, well, my second piece of news is that we now have last year's edition here on remainder for only $4.99! I highly recommend checking it out.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

I met Tedy Bruschi!

Saturday will definitely go down as a day I'll remember for a long time. In case you're curious--yes, Tedy Bruschi truly is amazingly kind, humble, considerate, and all-around-awesome. I didn't think it was possible, but I'm even more of a fan now than I was 48 hours ago.

After the official signing yesterday for his book, Never Give Up: My Stroke, My Recovery & My Return to the NFL, while he was in our back room signing some special orders and extra stock, Mr. Bruschi chatted with some of us Brookline Booksmithies about what we had been reading recently and challenged us to come up with some recommendations for him, which was lots of fun for all of us (and hopefully for him as well!).

If you'd like to join the Tedy Bruschi book club, here are the titles we picked out (the first by yours truly) that may find their way into his carry-on luggage this season:

And as if I couldn't be any more impressed, Mr. Bruschi also got guy bonus points for thinking to ask us for a book for his wife as well! I gave him The Myth of You and Me by Leah Stewart, and I hope she enjoys it--it's one of my all-time favorites.

Friday, August 17, 2007

You Can't Stop the Beat

I just recently went to see Hairspray -- the musical-based on a Broadway musical-based on a John Waters film -- and fell in love with it. It reminds me of the best parts of classic musicals--singing and dancing and costumes, yes, but also just the incredible joy of being alive (and a happy ending doesn't hurt). If you haven't seen it yet, go mama go, go, go! (If you have and you got the reference, good for you!)

I actually grew up loving musicals. Near my house was an old-fashioned movie house called The Redford Theater. It showed classics on the big screen with an organ performance and cartoon shorts before the show, an intermission when the organ played again(!), and a ceiling painted to look like the sky with little twinkling lights for stars.

On their website you can actually see a film database with the schedules from the 1970s through today, and if you want to know the movies that shaped me growing up, this is your best way to learn--just pick any year in the mid to late '80s. I was looking at the schedule for 1988, and I have no doubt that I was in the audience for West Side Story and Meet Me In St. Louis and Showboat and Oklahoma.

So, the whole point of this exercise in nostalgia is to let you know how jazzed I am that Rough Guides has come out with a new book in their series of film guides: The Rough Guide to Film Musicals by David Parkinson. It is fan-freaking-tastic for both the beginner and old pro. I learned more about musicals I thought I already knew and am glad to have added some to my needs-to-be-seen list (Love Me Tonight, how have we never met?).

Mr. Parkinson is very informed--this is not a piece of fluff, but neither is it overstuffed with film-school jargon. I also like that he is opinionated (except, of course, for when I disagree...) without being condescending towards the films or his readers.

I should note that this is part of a great series that Rough Guides does on film. I'm quite familiar with The Rough Guide to Chick Flicks by Sam Cook, but there are also books on American Independent Film, Film Noir, Westerns, and others. I'm of the opinion that they are way better than most of the film guides out there.

Speaking of musicals, the store is quite quiet for a Friday night during the summer. Me thinks it is all the kids at home watching High School Musical 2. Darn it, why aren't I?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Best of the Bathroom

Since starting here I have become way too familiar with two very unremarkable books: What Would Jackie Do? and More Word Histories and Mysteries (I'm not even going to bother putting links). Why, if so unremarkable, do I have such familiarity? Well, dear reader, it is because galleys of them have been in our not-for-public-use bathroom since at least New Years, if not last year's Rosh Ha'Shana.

It was time for something new. But you know what? Finding a good quality bathroom read is a lot harder to come by than I thought it would be. And then a couple months ago it was like the clouds parted and the sun shining through with the arrival of a galley of The Book of General Ignorance: Everything You Think You Know Is Wrong by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson, which was just published last week.

It's all you want it to be in bathroom reading: a concise question-and-answer format that provides a quick-yet-satisfying read and allows the reader to open the book to any particular page. The questions are humorous (What was odd about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer? Did cannibals cook their victims whole in large pots? What's the best floor of a building to throw a cat from?) or have unexpected answers (Who is America named after? Not Amerigo Vespucci. Where does chicken tikka masala come from? Glasgow. And, most fittingly, What do we have Thomas Crapper to thank for? Not the flush toilet!).

As a testament to its quality, the galley of The Book of General Ignorance was taken less than a week after I left it in the bathroom. I was really quite peeved (dare I say I was pissed off?) however posting a note requesting the anonymous bookseller to return the galley was unsuccessful. So now we're back to Jackie O. and poorly written etymology. Sigh.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Final Exam

Alie left for her summer vacation last week and won't be back until next Monday. So for the past week and the next I'll be on my own. I've done some distributor orders on my own in the past, occasionally a publisher order, but this is the first time I've been left in charge of the whole thing. Yipes! Labor Day will be my first-year anniversary here at Brookline Booksmith, and I feel like this is my final exam--showing what I've learned about ordering, cancelling, keeping new title inventory at the right levels. Can I handle it all? I think I'm passing so far...

So my apologies for not checking in last week (I'm beginning to think a constant aspect of blogging must be apologizing for NOT blogging...sigh). I think I'll have a bit more time this week, I feel a bit more in control of what's going on and even though Alie is still away other folks are back from their vacations so that I won't be needed on the floor quite so often (though being in this basement office on my own is a bit lonely--I like spending a bit of time on the floor everyday).

Friday, August 3, 2007

Making the Big Times (New York Times, That Is)

So, Dana, our fearless store manager and co-owner was quoted in the New York Times the other day! You can read the article here; it's a look at the phenomenal sales of the diet book Skinny Bitch. What's interesting about the sales at our store is that they all happened pretty much before the Victoria Beckham publicity. In fact, our sales of the book have gone down since May, when the picture of her carrying the book was taken.

(Of course, as I say this I just checked our inventory and we've sold out of the copies we had on hand--all those sales being yesterday and today! Must be a result of the article? Ah well, I'll try to get more on Monday.)

Now, I don't want to offend the 203 customers who have bought the book from us, but I hate it. With a passion. As a buyer I get to have some choice in what we stock; the best part of my job is getting to create an inventory of books that I think are worth my customer's time and money, but this is one of those cases where I just have to turn the other cheek.

I shouldn't really be so judgemental, having only skimmed the book, but I have a hard time just getting past the title. I've never been comfortable using the word 'bitch' casually. We have another great seller at our store called You Say I'm a Bitch Like It's a Bad Thing, another one for which I just can't understand the appeal. I'm glad if it gives you a chuckle, but it just gives me the willies. Ah well, different strokes for different folks.

By the way, if you want a great book on nutrition my recommendation is 10 Habits that Mess Up a Woman's Diet: Simple Strategies to Eat Right, Lose Weight, and Reclaim Your Health by Elizabeth Somer. This is one that actually helped me take a look at how I could change my diet without turning myself into a food-obsessed bore. Another fascinating and fun read is Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More than We Think by Brian Wansink. The book is full of clever experiments done by Mr. Wansink (a university professor with his own lab devoted to how we relate to food) and other scientists and psychologists that explore the hows and whys of eating beyond hunger. It reminds me of Malcom Gladwell's work with its quirky yet revelatory insights, and though its not really a prescriptive book I did find that it made me much more aware of how I eat.

Post-Potter Pick #2

Here's one more that I just loved and devoured. Still in hardcover, but definitely worth a look.

H.I.V.E.: Higher Institute of Villainous Education
By Mark Walden

H.I.V.E is a secret school designed to educate children who are just a little too bright and mischievous in the finer points of evil. Otto, who has unwillingly been enrolled, tries to escape with the help of friends Wing, Laura, and Shelby, each with their own unique ‘talents.’ This is a fun thrill ride that makes you want to get in line for the sequel right away! (approx. grade 4-7)

If evil is your bag, baby (thank you, Austin Powers), another book that came out recently is Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks (approx. grade 6-8). I enjoyed this one, though I have to admit that it didn't fully live up to the expectations I had for it. But I still give it a solid recommendation.

Also, faithful reader Tricia suggested the Percy Jackson series as another fantastic Post-Potter pick. I couldn't agree more! I love, love, love these books (as mentioned here).

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Post-Potter Pick #1

The Secret Country
(Book One in the Eidolon Chronicles)
Jane Johnson

I know you're all wondering what to read next. And everyone is giving suggestions left and right. But, my friends, this is the one you want! I loved this when it came out in hardcover last year and now that it's in paperback there is no excuse for you not to pick it up for your favorite middle-grade reader (or, quite frankly, yourself).

The Secret Country begins when our hero Ben encounters a talking cat in a pet shop. Soon he is finding magical creatures everywhere – unicorns, wood-sprites, and dragons, all kidnapped from the magical world of Eidolon. Will he be able to help them return home?

Parents beware: This is the kind of story that will have your kids staying up late, reading with a flashlight under the covers.

Monday, July 30, 2007


I've been so derelict! American Band is now waiting for you behind the register. I hope you enjoy!


I just wanted to say thank you to all the wonderful folks who decided to join us for Potterpalooza last week. I know that you have so many choices for where to buy your books (especially that one in particular!), and I truly feel honored by those who choose to buy their books from us.

As for me, I finished last night--very bittersweet.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Galley Grab!

Some galleys up for grabs...leave a comment with the title of the book you want and I'll put it on hold for you behind the register. First come, first served!

Grub: A Novel by Elise Blackwell
I know a few folks from Grub Street have visited my blog here so I thought the title might intrigue. Here's the copy from the back:

"A long overdue retelling of New Grub Street--George Gissing's classic satire of the Victorian literary marketplace--Grub chronicles the triumphs and humiliations of a group of young novelists living in and around New York City.

Eddie Renfros, on the brink of failure after his critically acclaimed first book, wants only to publish another novel and hang on to his beautiful wife, Amanda, who has her own literary ambitions and a bit of a roving eye. Among their circle are writers of every stripe--from the Machiavellian Jackson Miller to the 'experimental writer' Henry, who lives in squalor while seeking the perfect sentence. Amid an assortment of scheming agents, editors, and hangers-on, each writer must negotiate the often competing demands of success and integrity, all while grappling with inner demons and the stabs of professional and personal jealousy. The question that nags at them is this: What is it to write a novel in the twenty-first century?

Pointedly funny and compassionate, Grub reveals what the publishing industry does to writers--and what writers do to themselves for the sake of art and to each other in the pursuit of celebrity."

20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill
Joe Hill's Heart Shaped Box has been a big hit here. It got a starred review from Publisher's Weekly and a great review from Chuck Leddy at the Boston Globe (though not so much from Geoff Nicholson at the New York Times). 20th Century Ghosts is a collection of short stories Mr. Hill has written over the past few years. It was originally released by a niche publisher in England in 2005 but never here in the States until now (I assume that now that he's proved himself with the novel HarperCollins is hoping to ride the wave with this collection).

American Band: Music, Dreams, and Coming of Age in the Heartland
by Kristen Laine
Something for all those band geeks out there, this is the story of a year in the life of a high school band in the Midwest. Read more here.

Speaking of bands, I'm a total fan of parades. When I lived in Delaware I actually went to Atlantic City with friends to watch the Miss America "Show Us Your Shoes" Parade. That was a trip. So I'm very excited for Brookline Booksmith's Shortest Parade in History for the winner of the Jasper Fforde raffle. Didn't know Jasper Fforde was coming? Read about it here! We're really hoping to have a baton twirler. If you know a baton twirler, please, could you pass her (or his!) name along? We gotta have a baton twirler.

Friday, July 13, 2007

What Rhymes With Cucumber?

Today was the due date for our nominations for the fall children's list for Booksense. Yipes! Dear lord, I've barely started reading fall titles.

As a result, most of my suggestions were for picture books I saw when my reps visited. I nominated The Apple Pie that Papa Baked, The Magic Rabbit, and Book of 1,000 Days (the non-picture book exception).

I also nominated a book that has just been released but I think actually has more of a fall vibe to it. Since it's already available, though, let me recommend it to you now--

Mucumber McGee and the Half-Eaten Hot Dog
Written and Illustrated by Patrick Loehr

Mucumber McGee has, in his desperate hunger, eaten a hot dog straight from the back of the fridge. His sister has warned him of eminent death. This is much worse than swallowing a watermelon seed! "Cheerful Gothic" may be a curious sounding description, but it perfectly fits this story-in-rhyme and its illustrations.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

On the Frustrations of University Presses Part II

Thanks to the Chronicle of Higher Education, I think more people have viewed my blog in the last 24 hours than the previous three months combined. Thanks to those who have commented here and there! I'm not an expert at anything, least of all business models of publishing houses, so if my little rant annoyed, offended, or caused groans of frustration I do apologize. I'm sure university press folks reading that felt the same way I do every time a customer points out that they can get Book XYZ for 30% off at the Barnes and Noble down the block.

I do understand that the smaller printing and distribution of university press books necessitates higher prices. This leads me to two questions (again, questions that I'm sure won't be new to anybody already out in the trenches) and one title to recommend:

1. Could there be a broader market for some of the books published by university presses, allowing for more books at lower cost? I think of On Bullshit by Harry Frankfurt as an example of so many things done right by Princeton University Press--a great package and a great price for a great writer with a great book.

2. And...a very touchy extensively are the university press resources taken up by publications that just aren't worth it? If you're involved in academic publishing, or ivory walls in general, you're probably aware of Lindsay Waters' Enemies of Promise: Publishing, Perishing, and the Eclipse of Scholarship. If not, take a look as he has some very provocative things to say on the subject, many of which ring very true to me. By the way, Prickly Paradigm Press--the publisher of Enemies of Promise--distributed by the University of Chicago? Another one that, in my opinion, does a lot of things right.

I don't have answers, and I'm sure I'm not the only one asking the questions. But as a trade bookseller to a highly engaged, highly educated, highly literate community, and one who is motivated to develop relationships with university presses, this is what's on my mind. Thanks for listening.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

On the Frustrations of University Presses

And now it's back to the basement. I actually had one of my last few buying appointments today, which means I'll get to be up on the sales floor more often--at least until October, when next buying season rolls around. As much as I love buying, I've been itching to get back to working with customers again and being around actual books, not just the promise of those to come.

Today I was buying from a number of university presses, which is to me incredibly frustrating. I don't have the free reign to buy from these publishers as I do others, and even if I did, the expense of university press books makes it difficult for me to be enthusiastic about the prospect of selling them. I just have a hard time asking people to pay more than $20 for a paperback. I understand the economics behind the high prices of university press books (well, some of the economics--some seem a bit sketchy to me), and that I, the trade bookstore buyer, am not their target customer, but it is frustrating. This may be impolitic, but I'll give a couple examples.

The University Press of Florida is publishing Matecumbe, a manuscript by James Michener that Random House shelved long ago. Sounds interesting, but not $21 for an unpublished novel interesting (and a paperback at that!). Why not make the book $10 and market it to all the fans out there who loved reading his historical sagas and are just curious for something new and different? It makes me think the publishers don't really think Matecumbe is worth reading at all. In that case, why are they publishing it?

A book with photos, lyrics and stories of Kate and Anna McGarrigle written by Dane Lanken, Anna McGarrigle's husband, sounds lovely, doesn't it? Not when it's a 160-page paperback for $45. Thanks for nothing, Michigan State University Press.

I could keep going, but I'm depressing myself. I remember how excited I was when I saw that a friend of mine since grade school and current professor of political science at University of Nebraska had his first book published. I'm afraid I won't be ordering any for the store, but Routledge has it, and it can be yours for $120.

Monday, July 2, 2007


It could not come at a better time. Even people who love their job need some time away, and I've been feeling the need to be out of this basement for a bit. I'll be headed to the Pacific Northwest, spending a few days in Victoria then Seattle and I'm thinking there will be some good time for just reading and relaxing.

I'm an over-packer by nature, which extends to books, so I know I won't get to everything, but I'm bringing myself a nice selection to chose from depending on my mood. When travelling one always needs a good mystery, so I'm bringing two: Interred with Their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carrell (she wrote The Speckled Monster, an Essential Read of Evelyn's) and The Night Climbers by Ivo Stourton. I'm bringing the kids' book The Name of This Book Is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch, and for non-fiction, Daniel Brook's The Trap: Selling Out to Stay Afloat In Winner-Take-All America.

I'll have to take something as a security blanket, too, something I know will be good, so I'll probably take along something by Shannon Hale. I've just finished Book of a Thousand Days, (STUPENDOUS!), so it's put me in a mood for more.

OK, I'm off!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Busy, Busy

Last week, as I mentioned, I had four buying appointments, this week I have another three. I'm sorry if you've felt neglected, but you'll thank me come the fall!

Probably the most fun was buying books from Abrams. As they are primarily dedicated to the arts and photography and, well, gifty-like things, you can imagine that their fall catalog is quite impressive. My biggest buy for the store was for a new Andy Goldsworthy book titled Enclosure, which will, I'm quite sure, live up to his other books.

I was quite pleased to find some good titles for those who don't want to spend more than a $20, my favorite being a collection of watercolors by Mark Chiarello titled Heroes of the Negro Leagues. The book originated with a series of baseball cards done by Chiarello; those are all included as well as a number of new images.

My favorite, no big surprise, is The Golden Age of Couture: Paris and London, 1947-1957 by Claire Wilcox, the catalog accompanying an exhibition of the same name at the Victoria and Albert. The Golden Age of Couture is the cause for a number of books to be either published or reprinted, including a book on Balenciaga by Lesley Ellis Miller titled, well, Balenciaga, ABC of Men's Fashion by Sir Hardy Amies (originally published, I believe, in 1964, which falls somewhat out of the scope of the exhibition, but as it's related to men's fashion, which often gets shorted, we'll let it pass), and two books by Christian Dior-- his autobiography Dior by Dior, and The Little Dictionary of Fashion, fist published in 1954. As I work for Brookline Booksmith and not Lori's Passion for Fashion Books I wasn't able to order them all, but I did get copies of the exhibition catalog and The Little Dictionary of Fashion, which I think is another one of those little books that make an excellent gift for under $20.

A side note to anyone from Abrams or the V&A who might be out there: please, please, please get a new cover image for The Golden Age of Couture! Blech. So staid. The original was much better.

From the sublime to the ridiculous, I'm also super-duper eager for Just Can't Get Enough: Toys, Games, and Other Stuff from the '80s that Rocked by Matthew Robinson and Jensen Karp. Hungry Hippos! Strawberry Shortcake! Care Bears! Rainbow Bright! He-Man! My Little Pony! My Buddy! So many toys I wasn't allowed to own or was too cheap to buy with my allowance! Added coolness? It has a velcro closure a la Trapper Keepers.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A Busy Day of Buying

I had two buying appointments today, at pretty wide ends of the spectrum--Simon and Schuster Children's in the morning, university presses in the afternoon.

My big highlight of the morning was The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World by E. L. Konigsburg. We have in the store a bookcase filled with our staff "Essential Reads"--pretty much our desert island books-- and as Ms. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is one of my essential reads I am super-eager for this new novel (which, like From the Mixed-Up Files.., also involves art and a mystery).

As for the afternoon, Iowa is reprinting a book James Thurber published in 1939 called The Last Flower, which is both beautiful and heart-breaking as it imagines a world destroyed by war. And Reaktion Books (distributed by University of Chicago) is adding to its wonderful series of books on animals with titles dedicated to swans and ducks (I doubt I'm the only one to appreciate that they are coming out at the same time. I wonder which one will discuss The Ugly Duckling?)

Monday, June 18, 2007

Boston Globe Summer Reads

Ellen Steinbaum, who writes a regular column for the Boston Globe, was kind enough to include me in her most recent piece -- a round-up of summer reads by authors native to Boston. You can read the whole article here, but here's my recommendation:

"Laurie Horowitz was raised in the Boston area and her book 'The Family Fortune,' about a Brahmin family, is set in and around the city. Horowitz knows to borrow from the best; her story is based loosely on Jane Austen's 'Persuasion.' I'm not going to pretend that this is a similar classic for the centuries, but it is just right for reading in the shade with a cold raspberry lime rickey.

"It is the story of Jane Fortune, editor of the literary Euphemia Review, who was persuaded when she was young to give up on her love for a promising (now best-selling) author.

"Single and 38, she has lived with her father and older sister in their Beacon Hill home until living beyond their means forces the family to rent it out. As Jane attempts to help her family regain their equilibrium, she is both reunited with her first love and enthralled by a new promising young writer.

"In a blurb I wrote for a staff recommendation I noted that, unlike so many chick-lit (shall we call it popular fiction?) characters who are notable primarily for their shopping skills and dumb luck, it is truly refreshing to find someone like Jane, a character worthy of being called a heroine."
What are you looking forward to reading this summer?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

On Anne Fadiman and Bookishness

This is probably not all that surprising, but I love books about books. And, in my mind, without question, the book-about-books above all others is Anne Fadiman's Ex Libris. If you haven't read this little jewel, you must. It will only take you a few hours, and you'll feel at the end as if you've found a new best friend.

I always enjoy talking with folks who have read Ex Libris and finding out which essay is their favorite. I usually say mine is the first one, "Marrying Libraries," I think because I like to daydream about what kind of joint library will be created when I meet my mate (you can read an excerpt of that essay here). But, well, looking at the table of contents, now I'm finding it hard to say that's true unequivocally.

There's also "Never Do That to a Book," wherein Ms. Fadiman's brother is chastised by a hotel maid for leaving a book lying spreadeagled and face down. I am what the author would call a courtly lover of the book -- I shudder when I see people in the store fold a paperback cover back over the spine. Like her friend Clark, I have bought two copies of a book, one to read and the other to keep pristine. I'm afraid I can appreciate only in theory the passion of the carnal book lover who destroys their books in the name of love.

And I can't forget "Words on a Flyleaf," Ms. Fadiman's examination of the inscriptions we write in the books we give to others. Whenever I ring up a used book, and it has an inscription, I have to read it. I just have to. And then, depending on what it says, I wonder what happened to George, or if Amy and Laura are still good friends, or whether Mark knows that his gift has been sold for 20% of the cover price in store credit. I wonder sometimes what happens to the books I've given as gifts and inscribed. And I think about the books I've kept through various moves and purges not because of the book itself, but because of what a friend had written inside.

[A side note of pure serendipity: Jessica, a bookseller in New York, has a fantastic blog called The Written Nerd. Today she mentions The Book Inscription Project, where you can see (and send in yourself!) the best and/or worst inscriptions found in used books. So cool!]

So all this is to say that I'm really excited for At Large and at Small, Ms. Fadiman's new essay collection which we just got in this week. Though the topics move beyond that of the bookish, I'm so thrilled for more from such a dear-to-me-though-we've-never-met author. NPR did a very nice piece with Ms. Fadiman last week that you can read/listen to here. I love her stumping for the familiar essay, which is such a brilliant genre when it is well done, and hearing her address the very idea with which I started this entry--that to read her is to think you've found a new friend.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

To Hanna...

Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician is waiting for you at the front! Enjoy!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Galley Grab!

Hello all! I thought I would offer up a couple galleys today. First come, first served. Just leave me a comment with the title of the book that interests you; I'll put the book on hold for you to pick up at the store.

Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician by Daniel Wallace
Here's a tip--this is going to be the #1 Book Sense pick for July. Stephen Grutzmacher from Passtimes Books in Sister Bay, WI said this: "Daniel Wallace tells the story of Henry Walker, a magician who disappears as a child and spends the rest of his life trying to make himself reappear. A haunting, beautifully written story where nothing, including the truth, is what it seems."

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
Every year at BEA there is a panel called the "Buzz Forum," where editors from the major houses each give their pick for the upcoming season, and this was Suzanne Porter of Random House's choice. This is a debut novel, a fictional account of Frank Lloyd Wright and his affair with Mamah Cheney.

The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court by Jeffrey Toobin
Toobin gives a recent history of the Supreme Court with great access to the justices and other key players.

Follow the links to read more about each.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

On Shel Silverstein

I feel like I've been focusing on the kids a lot lately, so today I thought I would change it up and talk about a favorite writer/artist for adults--Shel Silverstein.

If you haven't seen the official site for Shel Silverstein, it's, well, AMAZING, super-fun, and you need to check it out. You will find, however, that it is called The Official Site for Kids. And if you know your Shel Silverstein, you'll see it's missing a few titles and that the biography presented is a bit skimpy on the details. (Not surprising really, as the site is run by HarperCollins and the books I'm about to talk about are, in fact, from Simon and Schuster)

Shel Silverstein is, truly, one of the greatest modern poets for children in the English language. He was also a cartoonist for Playboy from the mid 1950s through the 1960s, and often was sent around the world to write back dispatches from his travels to places in Europe, Africa, and the U.S. Fireside has just released Playboy's Silverstein Around the World, which is the complete collection of his travel pieces. Each dispatch was a collection of cartoons, all featuring him and his familiar beard and moustache (you see him get progressively balder through the years) as he encounters the natives of Paris, London, Hollywood, and Nudist Camps. If you were a fan of Mr. Silverstein's when you were younger, you have to take a look at these and gain a new appreciation for him as an adult. Like the best New Yorker cartoonists, his drawings and captions were a fantastic combination of distinctive style and wit.

I have to add that if you are familiar with Uncle Shelby's ABZ Book, then you already knew about the other side of Shel Silverstein (and, frankly, I want to have a drink with you). If you aren't, well, you're just missing out on one of the funniest books ever. EVER. I might have found this primer amongst my parents' books when I was a bit too tender of age, but there isn't anything inappropriate, just fantastic satire. Which bit to share? "B is for baby. See the baby ... Pretty pretty baby. Mommy loves the baby more than she loves you." Or "E is for egg ... E is also for Ernie. Ernie is the genie who lives in the ceiling. Ernie loves eggs. Take a nice fresh egg and throw it as high as you can and yell 'Catch, Ernie! Catch the egg!' And Ernie will reach down and catch the egg." If you do not laugh out loud whilst reading this, well, I wonder if there is hope for you.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Candlewick Lights Up My Life

I saw our Candlewick rep this morning, and they have some beauties coming for the winter.

Easily my top choice is The Magic Rabbit by Annette LeBlanc Cate. A picture book of a magician's bunny assistant who becomes lost in the city, the drawings are wonderful and the story is sigh-inducing sweet (but not at all treacly). Though never mentioned by name, I'm pretty sure Boston was the inspiration for the setting (Ms. Cate graduated from the Art Institute of Boston and lives in Massachusetts), which is the icing on the cake.

I usually don't care much for most Christmas titles, with all the corniness and cheesiness that accompanies them, but Candlewick is publishing the most stunning version of The Night Before Christmas. It is illustrated by Niroot Puttapipat through silhouettes and die-cuts; the detail is tremendously intricate. This is a serious class act--elegant, sophisticated, beautiful.

And Big Nutbrown Hare and Little Nutbrown Hare are back! Yippee! Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram have done two companion board books to Guess How Much I Love You; When I'm Big, and Colors Everywhere. The first takes place in the spring as the Nutbrown Hares see acorns, tadpoles and caterpillars that will all grow and change. The second is in the summer, as Big and Little Nutbrown Hares decide what in nature provides their favorite shades of blue, green, yellow, and (of course!) brown. I'm really, really hoping this means there will be two more--one for fall and one for winter. And then it will be perfect. But I don't want any more after that--I am heartily against too much of a good thing, or stories that are published for no other reason than to have something else for people to buy.

I could keep going and going about other great titles that are coming....
When Alie and I were dividing up who would buy from which publishers she asked me if I had any special requests, and there was just one--Candlewick!

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

How I Spent My Weekend

I think I'm still overwhelmed, but I want to catch you (and myself!) up with what I did over the rest of the weekend. After I finished blogging on Friday I went across the hall for a presentation on a major new study that had been done on customer beliefs and feelings towards Internet, chain, and independent bookstores. The first slides went up and I nearly fell off my chair--Brookline Booksmith was one of the independent bookstores included in the survey! I wasn't sure if I wanted to be there for the results, but we did well. Phew! Thanks to all our customers who participated in the survey. I did actually have to sneak out in the middle of the presentation so I could go meet Jonathan Bean. Yes, I was the crazy one who ran across the entire Javits to get a signed book and then ran all the way back to the presentation.

I only spent a bit more time on the floor before leaving for the hotel in Brooklyn--I had to gussy myself up for a party that night. It was thrown by Grand Central Publishing (nee Time Warner) and held at, where else, Grand Central Station. Amy Sedaris was there, and I complemented her on her fabulous dress. I actually didn't even realize it was her until after I had walked away; by then it was too late to backtrack and gush. That's probably for the best.

Saturday morning I spent speed dating with children's authors--twenty tables were set up, eight booksellers at each, and then there were 20 authors who changed tables every three minutes. Yowza! Some of the authors really fed off the crazy energy that was created, though I'm sure they were all exhausted at the end. I was really glad to meet Christopher Paul Curtis, a fellow Michigander (we gave each other the point-to-where-you're-from-on-the-palm salute); Peter McCarty brought his journal and original watercolors to show us how Fabian Escapes developed; Christopher Myers was absolutely hilarious.

The rest of my time is a blur of meetings, autographs, placing orders, and walking, walking, walking. I made sure to leave time for visiting art publishers and sampling what they have coming up (a picture in a catalog just doesn't do justice to so many of these books) and perusing the small presses for titles that I might otherwise never have known about. I also participated in an experiment by Cornell University's Taste Science Laboratory! You can read about the results of their preliminary research from last year's BEA here. I did get a signed copy of My Mother the Cheerleader (I found out Robert Sharenow, the author, is a local guy!), and of Sophia Nash's A Dangerous Beauty, but wasn't able to get everything on my list. Don't feel too bad for me--I found plenty others I didn't even know I was looking for.

It's time for me to put this year's BEA to bed now--it was quite an unbelievable experience and I am so thankful that I was able to go. Now back to our regularly scheduled program...

Monday, June 4, 2007

Long Live Meg Powers!

I left New York for home about 4:00 yesterday, and I'm still in a daze from last weekend. Really, I'm having trouble walking straight, and I think it's a combination of sore feet and tired brain. I think tomorrow will be a better day for a full recap. But, I had to mention one thing I found at the last minute--

Late yesterday I wandered by the booth for Feiwel and Friends, a new children's book publisher, when out of the corner of my eye I saw propped up a new book by Ellen Emerson White. OH MY GOD! Her books about Meg Powers, daughter of the first female President of the United States (The President's Daughter, White House Autumn, and Long Live the Queen) were my all-time favorites. I read and re-read those to death. And now there's another book in the series! It's been years since I've read the previous, so I'll have to read them again before I get to Long May She Reign. Unfortunately, they're currently out-of-print, but I've been promised by the Feiwel and Friends folks that will be remedied. Yippee! I can't wait to start recommending those again! Now maybe someone will reprint The Rascals from Haskell's Gym by Frank Bonham, another favorite from the same time period.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Heaven and Hell

I'm here posting a quick note to gloat over the fact that I'm here and you're not (unless you're at the computer terminal behind me...). There are more authors than you could ever hope to meet in a weekend and more books than you can ever hope to read in a lifetime.

So far I've been able to accomplish a few of my missions--I got a copy of Plenty (yippee!) and of Silent in the Sanctuary (double yippee! I should say hello to Ms. Raybourn's husband, who has apparently found his way here and warned her I was on the lookout for her...but not in a stalkerish way). I have to thank a good friend for getting me Kathryn Caskie's How to Engage an Earl--I ran to her signing table after my meeting to find that all she had left was her previous title, How to Seduce a Duke. Thanks Kari!

In the unexpected surprise category, Shannon Hale, author of the fabulous Princess Academy, was signing copies of her new book, Book of a Thousand Days, so I got a a chance to meet her and her adorable baby daughter--it was a total thrill. Also, I know all the girls at the store will be jealous as I got to meet John Green, who wrote the staff-recommended An Abundance of Katherines. I now have a signed copy, and I think I'll auction it off to whomever is willing to do my shelving the longest in exchange. My above-mentioned friend did her happy dance when she met him. If you don't know John Green, you need to check out Brotherhood 2.0, the videoblog of him and his brother, Hank.

Ok, there are other folks waiting for computers, so I'd better wrap it up...hopefully more later!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

BEA Today!

I'll be leaving for BEA in about an hour, with one suitcase packed and one empty for all the swag I'm hoping to pick up. My wish list is as follows:

Plenty by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon: This is already available, but the authors will be there signing and I'm eager to meet them. I think this book will be a nice compliment with Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, which as previously mentioned, I fell in love with. This is also a staff pick this month from Bonnie, you can read her recommendation here.

Silent in the Sanctuary by Deanna Raybourn: This follows Ms. Raybourn's first book, Silent in the Grave. I loved that one so much that I wrote a recommendation for it that got picked for BookSense (read it here)! I'm really excited to see this become a series.

Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta: A new book by an author who needs no introduction.

Oh hell, this is just getting too long--I have a train to catch! Others include a biography of Charles Schultz (called, easily enough, Schultz & Peanuts: A Biography), Jonathan Bean's solo picture book At Night, a novel by Brock Clarke with a great title--An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England, a compendium of great food to try called Eat This! (as well as the new book from America's Test Kitchen, America's Best Lost Recipes), and young adult books Undercover by Beth Kephart and My Mother the Cheerleader by Robert Sharenow. My love for trashy romances by Avon will be sated by new books by Kathryn Caskie and Sophia Nash.

I don't know whether I'll have the opportunity to blog during the madness coming up--I'll certainly try! If not, I'll be back with you either Sunday night or Monday. I need to catch you up on my appointment with my Simon & Schuster rep!

Monday, May 28, 2007

State of Massachusetts

This year Publisher's Weekly has been taking weekly in-depth looks at the state of book selling in each state; up recently was the great Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The last bit of the article is a profile of my boss, Marshall Smith. In his honor, we here at Brookline Booksmith love the flagrant use of the suffix -smith. Exhibit A: Our information desk, lovingly referred to as Infosmith. Exhibit B: Brookline Blogsmith.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Cookbook Remainder Alert!

I am so ready to go home, but I saw Bruno currently unpacking some fantastic cookbook remainders and I couldn't not spread the word. I don't know how Alie did it, but we have Ana Sortun's Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean for $14.99. Holy hell, I can't believe it!

Man, I was lucky enough to go to Oleana once, and I can vividly remember the heavenly deliciousness. I hope I'll have a special occasion that calls for a return visit someday soon. Well, that and someone willing to pick up the check...

Thinking of Fall...

Sorry to have been quiet, but it's getting quite busy here in the Brookline Booksmith basement as Fall Buying Season began in earnest for me today. Though hot enough to sweat while standing still outisde (my barometer for when it's too hot), I spent my day trying to figure out what you all will want to take home in November and December.

Going through publishers' catalogs is more like fun than work. Everything looks good, or, at least, it should if the publishers' marketing teams have done their jobs. Of course there are some things that even the most finessed blurb can't save, but those generally have their own comedic value. Unfortunately, then reality sets in and I spend a lot of time trying to suss out which books truly deserve space on our shelves and which only sound good. I don't want to get suckered by the equivalent of the kick-ass trailer that was way better than the movie.

Up first was Hachette, and today's big book was obvious--Stephen Colbert's I Am America and So Can You, which will be coming out in October. But here are a few of the other things that caught my eye:

Did you know that there are more Chinese restaurants in America than McDonald's, Burger Kings, and Wendy's combined? The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food by Jennifer 8 Lee looks so cool. I'm eager for the discussion of Jews and Chinese food--my mother was honestly very worried that she did something wrong as I disliked both Chinese food and chopped liver (Just so you know, I now have a proper love for the former though I still can't stand the latter). Unfortunately, I'll have to wait until MARCH for this to come out. Grumble.

The fiction title that most intrigues me is Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips, which takes the premise that the Greek gods are still with us, and living in a London townhouse. Little, Brown is describing it as Homer meets Jennifer Weiner, which makes me a bit nervous. I'm hoping more for Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson meets Curtis Sittenfeld's Hannah Gavener.

As for Alie, she is a girl who really knows her mysteries, and when I told her that Denise Mina's backlist was going to be reissued she was thrilled. So this will be the season of Denise Mina; starting in September her older books will be gussied up with pretty new covers and in February the paperback of The Dead Hour will be released as will her new hardcover, Slip of the Knife.

Up next? Simon and Schuster on Tuesday, and then on Wednesday I'm off to NYC for BEA--booksellers nirvana!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

New Title Tuesday!

The big news today, which you probably don't need my little blog to tell you, are the new releases today from Al Gore and Khaled Hosseini, Assault on Reason and A Thousand Splendid Suns, respectively. I should probably be excited, but here's the truth--I never read Kite Runner or saw An Inconvenient Truth, and I can't say I plan to anytime soon.

So here's my alternate pick of the week:

Belle Greene was an African-American woman born in the late nineteenth century. Passing as white, she became a librarian at Princeton University and was then hired (when she was only 20!) to be the librarian for J.P. Morgan. She then created and curated for him one of the most renowned private collections of rare books and manuscripts in the world (which you can see now that the Morgan is a public museum). Ms. Greene was also quite a saucy lady, with flirtations a plenty and an ongoing love affair with a married man. I think I probably would have skipped right over this book if I hadn't already been familiar with her. My friend Alan told me about Ms. Green when I was getting my degree in library science--he thought I would appreciate a woman who said (perhaps apocryphally) "Just because I am a librarian doesn't mean I have to dress like one!"

Monday, May 21, 2007

Guerrillas In Our Midst

Because I have never left my high school mentality of needing to know what people are saying about me I tend to Google "brookline booksmith" fairly often to see what pops up. Today Google Blog Search brought up the blog for these folks, the Guerilla Poetics Project (Perhaps part of the guerrilla nature of the group is to misspell guerrilla? Just wondering). It seems we have been targeted for guerrilla poetry, which I personally think is super-cool and makes me want to forget work and go through all our fiction and poetry to see if an operative has hidden any other gems. I read some of the broadsides online, and am impressed not only by the poetry (though I can't say I love them all, but I guess that's the prerogative of the artists' recipient) but the aesthetics of the prints as well. Now that I have outed them I'm afraid these little presents will disappear. Especially since I might represent the oppressive system. Secret operative, please keep hiding poems in our books! Stuff like this makes me love the possibilities of literature.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Collect Raindrops by Nikki McClure

Nikki McClure's calendars have hung in my kitchen so I was so thrilled when I saw a collection of her work in the Abrams catalog. Today our copies of Collect Raindrops have arrived! Ms. McClure creates intricate papercuts; her palatte is only black, white, and a single accent color. Her subjects are the natural world and us in it, and each image is accompanied by a directive--strengthen, swim with a friend, seek, respond, encourage. "Realize true riches" accompanies the image of someone picking tomatoes; the cover image is paired with the word "strengthen." This is art made for reflection, that makes you think but is not opposed to emotion as well.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

I am so bad at keeping secrets

So Brian, our events manager, emailed me today with the names of some of the authors we'll be having soon. I was going to tease you all and give hints and initials and all sorts of stuff like that, but, well, I'm so excited that I just can't not share--Lisa See! Jasper Fforde! William Gibson! And, for something completely diffrerent-- Tedy Bruschi! There's more, but I've been sworn to secrecy...

Guessing Right and Wrong

So there are two ways to screw up as a buyer--
1. Buy too many copies of a title no one wants
2. Buy too few copies of a title everyone wants

Buying too many books doesn't endear you to the boss and makes you look like a fool, but from what I can tell it sure doesn't have the daily hurt that comes with having to tell a customer we're out of a title and don't know when we'll have it back.

My first #2 as a buyer is Christopher Hitchens' God Is Not Great, which we've been out of for over a week now as we wait for the publisher to get more printed. I actually did have a good sized initial order, but not nearly enough for the demand. I'm not happy, but I know I made a good buy that was just a little too low and we were just a little too slow to get more.

In comparison, being out of Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein's Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes make me feel awful. When I saw this in the Abrams' catalog I knew it would be perfect for our store; I was psyched. I bought a modest but not inconsequential number for our front desk, a nice high profile spot where I thought it might get some notice, sell a few and then we could order more. Well, we got them in they sat and sat and sat. I figured I had a #1 on my hands; I'd chalk it up to a learning experience and be glad I didn't order more, as I had originally intended. Then NPR did a little piece with Messrs Cathcart and Klein and we sold out of our copies in an hour and have had requests in the double digits and won't be able to get anymore until the book has been reprinted. This has been made all the more nightmarish for me because, as mentioned in the previous sentence, I had thought about ordering bigger but didn't have the courage.

Please forgive me, Brookline Booksmith customers; I know I still have a lot to learn.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

What to do with a review

So there was an interesting article in the New York Sun today about Joshua Ferris's book Then We Came to the End. In a nutshell, David Blum is wondering what the purpose of excellent reviews are if they don't translate into wider exposure for a book and its author.

He writes: "It used to be that books had the shelf-life of a container of yogurt. Nowadays it seems more like hamburger meat. If a book doesn't make it to the New York Times bestseller list within the first several days of arrival, it never will. Even "Heyday," Kurt Andersen's hugely hyped historical novel that also garnered cover-boy treatment in the Times, only lasted a couple of weeks on the list before falling away. Interestingly — and not coincidentally — much of the commercial fiction that lasts the longest on the Times's list doesn't get reviewed at all.

Part of the problem may be that bookstores don't pay close enough attention to reviews. I went to look for "Then We Came to the End" at the Lincoln Square Barnes & Noble the day after the Times review, and experienced the kind of scenario that leads authors into years of costly psychotherapy. No one knew where to find it. Three clerks and 10 minutes later, I'd bought one of the store's last three copies. At that moment it occurred to me: What if bookstores created sections devoted to that week's best-reviewed books? Or posted positive reviews alongside the books themselves? That way, book reviews (even those that appeared only online) would be easily accessible to those most likely to buy books — people already browsing in the bookstore. Right now, bookstores place all their marketing muscle behind bestseller lists, meaning that prize positions get awarded to those who've already won the horse race. Even movie theaters operate according to more democratic principles than that. Shouldn't good bookstore placement go to good books? Just a thought."

I'd like to address a couple of issues Mr. Blum brings up.

One, the shelf-life half-life of a book. In this he and I are in full agreement. I hate the current cultural climate that only allows for immediate successes. While I think this is most obvious in the movies and television, there is more and more of that feeling in my world as well.

Often I have very little time to allow a book to find its audience. Most publishers allow an unsold book to be returned to them after having been on the shelf for three months. Due to constraints of budget and space (sadly, primarily the former) not many books get to prove themselves much beyond their first trimester if they don't show some signs of early life. This is especially true of hardcovers and especially especially true of fiction and especially, especially, especially true of debut authors. I hate it, but that's the way it is. Since I'm the one making the decision to return a title sometimes I can let an extra month or two slide by, but eventually I can't justify holding onto a book that no one wants to take home.

Luckily, we have customers with awesome taste, so the things that last the longest at our store tend to be those whose invisibility Mr. Blum laments. We sold a number of Then We Came to the End and quite a few Heyday as well (hell, we even had Kurt Anderson at our store for a reading). I can promise that both titles are safe on our shelf until at least July, but then it's up to you all.

This leads me to Mr. Blum's second point, which is that bookstores hide their lights under a basket. Here I take some exception. I would say that most of us here at the bookstore are well aware of the titles reviewed in the Times (as well as the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, and on NPR). Like I said, our customers' good taste often means that indeed our featured titles and bestsellers are the well-reviewed books of the season. And when he suggests that we post positive reviews alongside books, well, we already do that. I would say we do that one better as the reviews we post are those written by our own staff. And our bestsellers are only feet away from our staff picks--books we choose specifically because we want them to get the attention we feel they deserve and might otherwise not receive. Perhaps Mr. Blum needs to start shopping at the Brookline Booksmith, that's what I say.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Birthday Wishes

First I just have to share something I saw on the T today which just pefectly encapsulates Mother's Day--there was a guy standing on the platform with a bouquet in one hand and a laundry bag in the other. I love you mom.

So Tuesday is my birthday, and just in case anyone is wondering what to get me, here is a helpful hint or two:

Tord Boontje by Tord Boontje
My favorite contemporary designer. Period. Oh, how much I want this book. I'm pretty sure it will be Uncle Sam's gift to me thanks to the check I just received from him for overpaying him last year. I keep thinking that I'll have to start buying Table Stories pieces one by one so when I'm 50 I can have a lovely dinner party with my beautiful dinnerware.

Poiret by Harold Koda & Andrew Bolton
We just got our copies in here, and it is just a gorgeous book. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful design and photography of some of the most beautiful, beautiful, beautiful clothing ever created. I hope the essays and captions are of equal strength.

I am not surprised at the quality of Poiret; as a rule Yale University Press is the best when it comes to publishing books on fashion and costume (partially this is the result of publishing catalogs from the Met's Costume Institute, pretty much the only public collection of costume and fashion that is regularly exhibited and published). If you want pure theory you want Berg, of course, and if you want purty pictures than you have a number of publishers to consider, but Yale is best when it comes to combining the intellectual and visual aspects of clothing.

Perhaps this is the moment to interject that clothing/costume/fashion/ whatever you want to call it is something in which I take particular interest. Remember my previously-mentioned over-education? Well, in addition to my master's in library science (thanks, Simmons!), I'm one thesis shy of a master's degree in material culture and decorative art from the Winterthur Program in Early American Culture where my focus was on clothing and textiles. Maybe if you're really lucky I'll tell you what my thesis was about! Maybe I'll finish it one day. Probably the same day I finish that collection of Tord Boontje tableware.

[On a side note, thanks to an idiot who didn't know what s/he had, I have my little paws on a used copy of Installationview by Ryan McGinness, a favorite artist of mine. ]

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Jim Crace

I really meant to do a nice little review of The Pesthouse, but today has been quite busy and exhausting. It's good to know that so many people love their mothers. So, in lieu of my writing, I've decided to give you a taste of some of Mr. Crace's(which is far superior, anyways). This is the first story from The Devil's Larder, a collection of short (actually, very short) stories he pubished in 2003 that's pretty much out of print. It is one of my favorite little things:

"Someone has taken of--and lost--the label on the can. There are two glassy lines of glue with just a trace of stripped paper where the label was attached. The can's batch number--RG2JD 19547--is embossed on one of the ends. Top or bottom end? No one can tell what's up or down. The metal isn't very old.

They do not like to throw it out. It might be salmon--not cheap. Or tuna steaks. Or rings of syruped pineapple. Too good to waste. Guava halves. Lychees. Leek soup. Skinned Italian plum tomatoes. Of course, they ought to open up the can and have a look, and eat the contents there and then. Or plan a meal around it. It must be something that they like, or used to like. It's in their larder. It had a label once. They chose it in the shop.

They shake the can up against their ears. They sniff at it. They compare it with the other cans inside the larder to find a match in size and shape. But still they cannot tell if it is beans or fruit or fish. They are like children with unopened birthday gifts. Will they be disappointed when they open up the can? Will it be what they want? Sometimes their humour is macabre: the contents are beyond description--baby flesh, sliced fingers, dog waste, worms, the venom of a hundred mambas--and that is why there is no label.

One night when there are guests and all the wine has gone, they put the can into the candlelight amongst the debris of their meal and play the guessing game. An aphrodisiac, perhaps; "Let's try." A plague. Should they open up and spoon it out? A tune, canned music, something never heard before that would rise from the open can, evaporate, and not be heard again. The elixir of youth. The human soup of DNA. A devil or a god?

It's tempting just to stab it with a knife. Wound it. See how it bleeds. What is the colour of the blood? What is its taste?

We all should have a can like this. Let it rust. Let the rims turn rough and brown. Lift it up and shake it if you want. Shake its sweetness or its bitterness. Agitate the juicy heaviness within. The gravy heaviness. The brine, the soup, the oil, the sauce. The heaviness. The choice is wounding it with knives, or never touching it again."