Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Most Coveted Galley in the Store... probably not what you'd think. Last week Ann, our Penguin rep, sent me the galley we have all been waiting for: Red Carpet Suicide by Perez Hilton. Actually, she sent me two galleys which is a good thing because the first one she sent mysteriously disappeared the first day I got it. Furious office cleaning and passive-aggressive notes on our bulletin board have not coughed up its return. Very curious.

So far I've read Red Carpet Suicide and passed it on to Katie who will be passing it on to Bonnie who will be passing it on to Kate. We should probably be ashamed, but we're not. If you love Perez then you'll want this book. If you have no idea who or what I'm talking about then you probably shouldn't bother. If you hate Perez then sorry if you're now thinking less of me. (But know that I'm not judging you on what you bring up to the register)

I had a blast with the book, especially the first part where we are instructed on the eleven steps of celebrity (drink! don't eat! get paid just to show up places! hire your own paparazzi!) and the third part where Perez is unexpectedly open about the ways he gets his gossip. The book can be snarky and dirty and a bit immature at points (none of this is surprising if you are a Perez fan) but I was surprised by his genuineness at the very end in a letter to Andy Warhol.

Moving from the ridiculous to the sublime, in completely unrelated news the National Book Awards are being given practically as I type!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

I found out via Ain't It Cool News that Steig Larsson's amazing mystery The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has been made into a movie in Sweden. Based on these previews I would totally line up for that one. I'm also impatiently lining up for the sequel, The Girl Who Played With Fire, which will be coming out next August, which now seems entirely too far away.

Monday, November 3, 2008

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year...

Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines!
Oh my god, how did it become November? The past 48 hours has seen the store turned into a winter wonderland.
(As you can see my camera phone is really top quality. Guess you'll just have to come in to the store if you want to see all the decorations actually in focus)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Children's Book Festival

Now I know that the current weather forecast for Saturday says rain, but in the spirit of optimism I thought I would post about a nifty event happening over on the Common this Saturday from 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM rain or shine--the Boston Globe's Children's Book Festival.

They have really great authors scheduled--my highlights would be seeing Jane O'Connor who writes the Fancy Nancy books and Jarrett J. Krosoczka who wrote Punk Farm and is, according to Alison, the children's book buyer at Wellesley Booksmith, a really fantastic guy (you can read about the event Wellesley Booksmith did with him here).

If you go let me know how it is--my Saturday will be spent working here at the store!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Books: The Movie

I love books and I love movies, so I'm always interested when the former become the latter. I know plenty of people who moan over it, but I don't.

For one thing it often brings people to books they may have otherwise forgotten or overlooked. The Coolidge Corner Theater recently played the new adaptation of Brideshead Revisited and we've sold more copies of that title in six weeks than we did all of last year.

I also think you can like the book better (you'll always like the book better!) but still find a lot of value in the film. I remember getting into a pretty fierce argument with a friend over an adaptation of Mansfield Park. She argued that the director had totally misunderstood and abused Austen's characters and as a result she absolutely hated the film. In some ways she was right--the Fanny Price of the movie was a very different heroine than she was in the book. But I still loved it. I enjoyed what it was for what it was and I appreciated that it made me reexamine the book, what I liked about it and how I understood it.

I got to thinking about all this as Wednesday's Publishers Lunch posted an item from The Hollywood Reporter about a kerfuffle regarding the series of movies in the works based on Tintin. I hadn't even realized movies were being made! And the kerfuffle is over whether Steven Spielberg or Peter Jackson is directing? I'm smiling either way.

What do you think about movie adaptations? Do you have any favorite (or hated!) book-to-movie translations?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Books for Babies

I was looking at the new deals on Publishers Marketplace and saw that Leslie Patricelli and Candlewick have signed a deal for them to publish more of her board books. Yay!

I love to recommend Leslie Patricelli's colorful and funny books about opposites (such as Quiet Loud, Big Little, and Yummy Yucky) when people are looking for baby shower gifts. They make a great counterpoint to classics such as Pat the Bunny and Goodnight Moon and The Very Hungry Caterpillar that every other guest is bringing. Why not something different?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Past into Present

I had a really great conversation with a customer recently--we were talking about The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff, which contains two parallel stories, one set in the past and one in the present. The 19th century storyline revolves around the true (but fictionalized ) story of Anne Eliza Young, one of Brigham Young's many wives and a crusader for the abolition of Mormon polygamy. In the present day Jordan Scott, the son of the 19th wife of a current polygamist must try to exonerate his mother, who is accused of murdering her spouse.

I really enjoyed the book but mentioned that I much preferred the historical storyline to the contemporary and we were talking about how novels that attempt to carry on two storylines often have a hard time balancing both--one tends to come out much stronger. However, I have to propose one book that strikes a perfect balance: Possession by A.S. Byatt. One of my all-time favorite novels, Possession alternates between a pair of Victorian poets and the present-day scholars who research them.

What are your favorite novels that successfully bridge the divide between parallel storylines?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Little House on the Prarie--The Musical!

Growing up I loved Laura Ingalls Wilder and all her Little House books (I still dress up as Laura for Halloween). My friend Elly loved L.M. Montgomery and all her Anne books. I remember our arguments over which books were better, which while not quite of the my-dad-can-beat-up-your-dad variety were pretty close.

Anne of Green Gables turns 100 this year and has been getting a lot of media attention as a result. Much to my immature delight, however, there was an article in yesterday's New York Times about a new musical version of Little House on the Prairie opening at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Ha! Take that Anne!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

One More Thing...

I didn't get to go to BEA this year (Book Expo, the book world's huge trade show/carnival) as it was in California which was a bit of a bummer. I'm pretty much over it at this point but there is one thing I am still regretting...I missed out on a private party/concert by Prince. AT HIS HOUSE!!!

I saved my invitation just the same.

Shop Talk

For the back page of the upcoming New York Times Book Review Leanne Shapton (former bookseller and author of Was She Pretty) drew sketches of booksellers at independent bookstores around New York City and asked them the following questions: "Have you ever kicked anyone out? Do you correct customers' pronunciation? What's the strangest thing anyone has left behind?"

In the hopes of having Ms. Shapton come to Brookline to sketch me I have taken it upon myself to answer her questions in advance.

Have you ever kicked anyone out? No. But my fear of doing so is exactly why I never wanted to become a manager. I have asked people who use their outside-voices while on their cell phones to please keep it quiet. The nasty-look versus embarrassed-grimace response is about 1:1.

Do you correct customers' pronunciation? No, but I put try to put them out of their misery as soon as I realize they're looking for books by J.M. Coetzee (by the way, it's kind of like this: cut-TSEE-uh). I do always smile bigger when I'm at the register and ask someone how they are and they reply with "well" rather than "good."

What's the strangest thing anyone has left behind? I can't think of anything really good at the moment but I can say that I haven't had to purchase an umbrella since I started working in a bookstore. Helpful hint if you get caught in the rain: ask at a bookstore if there are any spare umbrellas in the lost and found--it's a good bet you'll get lucky.

And to make this more interesting, my most awkward customer interaction (of late): I recently had a very odd exchange with a customer when I was at the register. She came up to me and gushed, "Has anyone ever told you you look just like Anne Frank? You look just like Anne Frank!" Er, no. But thank you?

On a pretty unrelated note:
This week's NYTBR reviews The Drunkard's Walk by George Johnson. Cool. Extra-cool? The illustrations for the review are by Jessica Hagy!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Year is Half Over...How Did That Happen?

So I could share with you (and remind myself!) of what I've been reading I started a couple I just have to make sure I keep them updated!

I've been so busy with rep appointments and I want to share all the awesome books coming soon, but it might have to wait for a bit...which will be good as it will give me a chance to go through the catalogs again to remind me of what's coming!

A fall book from Simon and Schuster that I already finished and loved is French Milk by Lucy Knisley. It's a graphic novel travelogue of a month in Paris with her mother. Honestly, I'll be upfront about the fact that there's no real storyline or character development, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself and when I was done reading I felt that:

A. I want to go to Paris with my mom
B. I want to go to Paris with Lucy Knisley
C. I want to go to Paris with Lucy Knisley's mom
D. Actually, I'll take any of the above.

I'm not quite sure why I liked this book so much since, with few exceptions, I'm not a big fan of graphic novels (I know, I'm a traitor to my generation). Jessica over at The Written Nerd is a graphic novel whiz/aficionado and has offered me suggestions in the past, but they never took. Maybe it's because this is so simple--a journal of daily visits to the museums, restaurants, and shops. Maybe it's because my favorite things in the world are museums, restaurants, and shops. Or maybe it's just that the snoop in me really appreciated that I got to read someone's diary.

Related Notes:

The only other graphic novels I've really gotten into are by Jeffrey Brown (his most recent is Little Things). Apparently I really like my graphic novels as autobiographical petit fours.

Perhaps it is not surprising that I enjoyed the book Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You by Sam Gosling.

Unrelated Note:

Apparently The Book Bench, the New Yorker's book blog has linked to me. First thought: Wow! Second thought: Why? I'm not very good at articulating why I like the books I do, I'm a horrible writer, and I ignore this thing for stretches of inimitable length. Perhaps this means I need to step up my game. Or this means I will not long be linked with such estimable company. Time will tell.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Ming Tsai's Boston

I get lots (LOTS!) of emails from publishers, and while I try to read all of them I'll admit I skip over more than I probably should. Today I opened my email from Clarkson Potter (part of Random House, Clarkson Potter focuses on cooking) and saw a link to a little interview with Ming Tsai about some of his Boston favorites.

In case you don't know Chef Tsai, he owns Blue Ginger, an acclaimed restaurant (that I really hope to try when I have a reason to splurge) near our sister store in Wellesley and is the author of the cookbook Blue Ginger, a classic that has been on our shelves since it was first published in 1999!

Note to self: Must head to Porter Exchange to try Sapporo Ramen.
Note to you: If you'd like to sign up for Clarkson Potter's Recipe Club newsletter you can subscribe by sending an email to

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Galley Grab!

It's been a while since I've done one of these, but they're lots of fun (at least I think so) so I'll try to remember to do them more often (especially now--Alie and I have just started meeting with our reps for the fall season which means they bring lots of new galleys for us. Yay!)

On with the freebies...

The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry

This was originally self-published, but it got such great attention that it got picked up by HarperCollins; they'll be releasing the spiffed-up version in August (you can read about it in this article by the Boston Globe). The Lace Reader, set in Salem, is the story of Towner Whitney, a woman who has a complicated relationship with her family--women known to be lace readers (those who can read a person's destiny through examining a piece of lace) and known to be a bit removed from the norms of society. Towner had left Salem under difficult circumstances, but is compelled back after her beloved Aunt Eva goes missing. The ensuing drama forces Towner to come to terms with her family, her past, and her gifts (and has a kicker of an ending). You can find out a lot more here.

I read The Lace Reader a couple of months ago and really liked it--a great read with an intricate plot and interesting characters. Though it's described as a mystery, it isn't me it's more of an exploration of abuse and loss and family. I especially recommend it to all the Jodi Picoult fans out there.

Wake Up: A Life of the Buddha by Jack Kerouac

Wake Up is a biography of the Buddha that Kerouac wrote in the '50s as he was developing a fascination with Buddhism. I gave a copy of this to Ric as he's both in charge of our Eastern Religion section and a fan of Kerouac (Scripture of the Golden Eternity is a particular recommendation of his), but I have another copy for you as well!

And finally, Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox by Eoin Colfer

Be a hero to your kids and have them be the envy of their friends by giving the an advance copy of the new Artemis Fowl book, the sixth book in Colfer's series about a teenage genius of dubious moral character and the alternate world he discovers filled with fairies, trolls, and the like. (for ages ten and up

If you'd like any of these, just leave me a comment with your first name and I'll put it on hold for you behind the register!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The New Percy Jackson Book Has Arrived!

Oh my gods, I can't believe I forgot to mention this earlier--Battle of the Labyrinth, the fourth book in the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan arrived! Yippee! I wanted to grab one right out of the box on Tuesday morning and start reading but restrained myself. Instead I took home Titan's Curse, the third book, to reread before I start on book four (in true good-book fashion, I missed my T stop last night as a result). I leave for Florida later tonight which gives me three hours of uninterrupted time with Percy, Annabeth and Grover! Yay!

I'm also taking The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson as Alie just finished it and cannot stop talking about how amazing it is. And I mean that quite literally. There's a window (well, not really a window, more of a square-shaped hole in the wall) between our offices and I've heard her rave about this book pretty much multiple times a day to anyone and everyone. How can I not try it?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

I'm In Love

Vanilla Pound Cake. Triple Lime-Chocolate Crunchy Feet. Cranberry-Lemon Pound Cake Loaded with Chocolate. Coconut-Pineapple Crunchy Feet. Chocolate Butter Cake. I could go on.

We just got in a fantastic new cookbook--CakeLove by Warren Brown. Mr. Brown owns CakeLove, a bakery with locations in DC, VA and MD that's won numerous awards and he hosts Sugar Rush on the Food Network (Maybe I can convince him to open a Boston outpost of CakeLove? Maybe I can convince him to marry me? Just kidding. Sort of.)

I'm really impressed with this cookbook for a few reasons. First off, the recipes just sound delicious and have flavor combinations that are actually unique (which is hard to come by. The last baking book that had recipes that had me sit up and take notice is Regan Daley's 2001 In the Sweet Kitchen, which I still think is the best resource on baking and sweets out there. Period.).

Secondly, perhaps most importantly, Mr. Brown really does a great job of providing clear and descriptive instructions that also have a personal voice, something I love in a good cookbook--especially since (embarrassing confession alert) I read them way more than I actually cook from them. For example, he explains creaming butter and sugar in a way that totally opened my eyes to what to look for during the process (in case you were wondering: dancing--what a great term!, clumping, and coating). And here's his instruction for transferring batter to a pan: "Fill the prepared pan about three-quarters full. Even though this batter is a bit runny compared to the others, don't pour the batter into one spot and let it ooze around the pan. Instead, deposit the batter with the rubber spatula in small clumps around the pan." This is exactly the kind of stuff I want to know.

Finally, I think the idea of "crunchy feet" is just the best thing ever. Crunchy feet are pound cakes baked in little brioche pans that give you a quick hit of deliciousness and don't require frosting, which I have to admit, I don't usually much care for. As an added bonus it makes the baking process super-quick--generally just 15 minutes--which is fantastic as delayed gratification is not my strong suit when it comes to baked goods.

Going on...Sassy Cake with mango puree and cayenne pepper. Maizing Cake with fresh corn. No-Mixer Chocolate Cake. Cherry-Chocolate Chip Cupcakes...

Monday, May 5, 2008

A Masterpiece!

This past week I read a great book for kids coming out in September--Masterpiece by Elise Broach. It's the story of Marvin, a beetle whose family lives under the Pompaday's kitchen sink in New York City. Marvin discovers his hidden talent for drawing when he creates a birthday present for James, the eleven-year-old boy who lives in the apartment the beetles call home. Even more important than his discovery of his talents, however, is Marvin's discovery of a true friendship with James. Marvin's talents lead Beetle and boy to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where they try to help uncover who has been stealing Durer drawings.

Masterpiece reminded me of some of my absolute, all-time favorite stories from childhood-- From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (Claudia and Jamie are siblings who run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art--they shower in fountains and sleep on historic beds!--and try to discover the secrets of a beautiful sculpture), The Borrowers (a family of teeny-tiny people who create an entire world underneath the floorboards just like Marvin's family), and Charlotte's Web (I was reminded of the beautiful descriptions of friendships--and the unexpected talents of a bug!). That's some seriously heady company to be keeping, and Masterpiece pulls it off beautifully. Three cheers!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Brookline Booksmith In the News

We've gotten some awfully great press lately and I just wanted to share how exciting it is to everyone here. We think we're awfully cool (well, I'm not so cool, but the store is!), so it's nifty when others agree! Read on...

** April's Boston magazine lists "The 61 New Best Things About Boston." Coming it at #36 is the poet Charles Coe, who kindly tips his hat to Brookline Booksmith and McIntyre and Moore as two of the best things in Boston. Thanks Mr. Coe!

**April's Lola magazine features Hannah Richards, founder of The Colored Pencil Project. They asked her to list the ten things in Boston she can't live without. Number one? Killing time at Brookine Booksmith! Ms. Richards made our day when she said "I love everything about it--the creaky floors [note--glad someone likes 'em...], the sales in front, the staff." Aww, thanks. We love you too!

** listed "25 Things to Do in Boston for Under $25" and coming in at #13 is attend a book reading at the Booksmith or the Harvard Book Store, our friends across the river. Cool!

**And last, but not least, just as Alie was recently featured in the Boston Globe's Book Reviews for her "Pick of the Week," this past Sunday was Dana's turn in the sun. She recommended Mudbound by Hillary Jordan. You can read what she said here (just scroll to the bottom).

Not too shabby, my friends, not too shabby. (By the way, I'm grinning like a fool.)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Our Story Begins

I'm totally excited that Tobias Wolff's new book, Our Story Begins, went on sale today! It's a collection of his short stories--some previously published, some new. I'm really thrilled--as I've mentioned before, his novel Old School is one of my all-time favorite novels. I really don't have much else to say--I just wanted to point out that Tobias Wolff is an awesome writer and you should read his books. That's all. Sometimes there just isn't much more than that. Oh, except that he'll be reading here on April 7th and you should get your tickets now (I think this might be a sell-out--tickets for our event with Jhumpa Lahiri are already gone!).

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

IACP Nominees Announced

The IACP (otherwise known as the International Association of Culinary Professionals) have announced their nominees for their 2008 cookbook awards! You can read the full list here. The awards will be announced April stay tuned!

As for me, I was particularly pleased to see Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich and Chez Jacques by Jacques Pepin nominated as they both came by the Brookline Booksmith this past year for signings. I'm going to have to check out Sweet Myrtle and Bitter Honey--though I'm familiar with almost all this year's nominees somehow this one flew under my radar.
Any favorites of yours on the list?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Secrets of Bored Booksellers

So, as much as we are usually busy helping customers (as well as shelving, sorting, ordering books, returning books, recommending books, dusting the shelves, etc.), there are the very occasional times (mostly during blizzards and major sporting events) when we may have a moment to wonder what we should do with ourselves. I have a bookseller friend who takes those moments to construct the funniest damn Venn diagrams you've ever seen.

I can't wait to show him Jessica Hagy's new book Indexed. It's a HILARIOUS little compilation of graphs and diagrams that have been amusing me for days (and has me checking out Ms. Hagy's blog for more!). Some of my favorites:

The intersection of organ, monkey, and scared little kid? Medical miracle or street performance.
Big jewelry, cane, and fur coat? Rich old woman or pimp.

And finally...
Father, son, and ghost? The worst camping trip ever.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and HBO

Just a quick bit of news from Shelf Awareness that I found pretty cool--According to Variety (click for full article), HBO will be doing a series based on Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books. And it would seem they're doing it with serious class--Anthony Minghella (who co-wrote and directed adaptations of The English Patient, The Talented Mr. Ripley AND Cold Mountain) and Richard Curtis will be doing the writing and directing.

I'll definitely have to hit up a friend with HBO to have a viewing party.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Picks for Kids--Anatole

So, before I drive away all the adults, I just wanted to blog about my final pick for our staff recommendations wall. It's a wonderful classic picture book by Eve Titus titled Anatole (originally published in the 1950s and just as great today). If you know anyone who loved the movie Ratatouille (not just kids!)--they absolutely MUST meet Anatole, a Parisian mouse whose taste buds help the Duvall Cheese Factory become the most successful cheese producer in all of France. But all the while he must keep his identity a secret (he is a mouse, after all!)

By the way, Paul Galdone, the illustrator of Anatole, won Caldecott Honors for both that and its sequel, Anatole and the Cat, also written by Ms. Titus and also worth checking out. And by the way times two, Ms. Titus had a way with mice--her other best known character is Basil of Baker Street, a.k.a. the Sherlock Holmes of the Mouse World (who inspired a Disney movie of his own, The Great Mouse Detective).

Friday, March 7, 2008

Picks for Kids--A Great and Terrible Beauty

I mentioned earlier my recommendation of The Mysterious Benedict Society. I also recommended the Gemma Doyle Trilogy by Libba Bray, the first book of which is A Great and Terrible Beauty. Set in Victorian England and a parallel world of the realms, the story of Gemma and her friends is really magnificent in how it balances history, fantasy, romance, and suspense! I also appreciate how the melodrama is tempered by a nice thread of humor. I really think that all those Stephenie Meyer fans should give Libba Bray a read--I have a feeling if you like Ms. Meyer than you'll love Ms. Bray as well.

PS--This is another series with a lovely web presence; click here to sample.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Picks for Kids--The Mysterious Benedict Society

Brookline Booksmith will soon be setting up a special wall in the kids' section devoted to staff recommendations. Yay!

My first recommendation is The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. My blurb: Four very clever children—Reynie, Kate, Sticky, and Constance—come together under the tutelage of the curious Mr. Benedict to form the Mysterious Benedict Society. I loved trying to solve the puzzles and challenges presented to the children as they took their qualifying exams and then moved on to their mission—saving the world from the evil Mr. Curtain! This is a true treat of a novel that is equally fun for both kids and adults.

By the way, this is a really cool website that tells you more about the book and lets you test yourself with the types of puzzles and challenges that the Mysterious Benedict Society faced (and, if you're like me, find out you're not nearly as clever as Reynie, Kate, Sticky or Constance!).

I was thrilled to find out that a sequel will be coming out in May--The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey. My Hachette rep got me an advance copy and I couldn't put it down! Just as good as the first. Yippee!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Alie's Pick Makes the Big Time

Alie was featured in Sunday's Boston Globe book reviews for her recommendation of Vendela Vida's Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name! Cool!

As Alie says "The writing is as sparse as the locale - Lapland - but you are drawn in immediately. A unique and intense read about a woman whose mother deserted her. When her father dies, she finds out he is not her biological father. Her journey of discovery is harrowing but affirming." (Click here and scroll to the bottom to read her review in its original context.)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Pick of the Week--The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8 Lee

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles is another one of those great book that I read a bit ago and have been impatiently waiting for its release--and now it's here! Here's a review written by Debra Ginsberg for Shelf Awareness (my favorite daily on the book trade) that's much better written than anything I can do:

"Every so often, an obsession can lead to a big payoff. This is certainly true of debut author Jennifer 8. Lee, a New York Times reporter and an "ABC" (American-born Chinese), whose fascination with fortune cookies led her to write this engaging and informative cultural history of Chinese restaurant food in the U.S. Lee (whose middle initial signifies "prosperity" in Chinese) began her research in 2005, when an unusually large group of Powerball winners were revealed to have gotten their lucky numbers from fortune cookies that they'd received in Chinese restaurants across the country. Finding a quirky appeal in the phenomenon, Lee decided to trace fortune cookies back to their origin and soon found herself on a quest that encompassed Chinese restaurants in 42 states and several countries.

Although the food itself is central, Lee trains her focus on the unusual blend of culture, history and custom that make up American Chinese restaurants, individually owned eateries that outnumber McDonald's, Burger King and KFC combined in the U.S. Unfolding her journey much like a Chinese menu, Lee takes several lively and enlightening sidetracks as she follows the fortune cookie trail. For example, she credits the introduction of chop suey, a dish that did not exist in China, as the beginning of American enthusiasm for this "exotic" cuisine and researches the evolution of Chinese take-out. In a similar vein, she offers a short biography of General Tso whose eponymous chicken dish is unknown in his native land and deconstructs the elements of soy sauce at the world's largest producer. In a chapter titled "Why Chow Mein is the Chosen Food of the Chosen People," Lee examines the close relationship between Jews and Chinese food, including a quick review of Jewish dietary laws and a very funny anecdote involving kosher ducks. In more serious but no less spirited sections, Lee examines questions of national identity and the immigrant experience as seen through the eyes of several Chinese restaurant workers and journeys across six continents looking for the best Chinese restaurant in the world.

Ultimately she arrives again at the fortune cookie (not, as it turns out, a Chinese invention) and realizes that her search for the meaning within it has led to a greater understanding of her own culturally mixed identity. Both witty and charming, Lee's book is also surprisingly wise--every bit the treat one finds at the bottom of those familiar take-out containers."
As for me, I really enjoyed how Ms. Lee moved between humor and serious reporting. I love when I learn about the complexities of those things around me of which I never take more than cursory notice and am entertained at the same time. My favorites were the chapters on how Chinese restaurants are bought and sold through a cross-country network run from the small Chinatown of New York City and, of course, the previously mentioned look at the close relationship between Jews and Chinese food (I can't imagine a Christmas without egg rolls!)

One final note and warning: I read this book about a month ago and have had consistent cravings for Chinese food ever since. Honestly, it's starting to annoy my friends who would prefer Thai or Indian. Sorry guys.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Winter Institute--Part Three

A number of publishers were hosting dinners on Friday night, I attended the Harper Collins dinner hosted by the indefatigable Carl Lennertz. Before we left for Louisville he wrote those of us attending the dinner to ask if we had any authors we were especially keen to sit near--I requested to be near E. Lockhart (I figured anyone who wrote such books as Fly on the Wall and The Boy Book --books I know would have been my favorite books in the world if they were around when I was 13--would be a fun dinner companion), and was glad to see that my wish was granted!

In addition to Ms. Lockhart I was seated near Elizabeth Bluemle, one of the most fun people you'll ever spend time with, and wonderful booksellers from Wild Rumpus in Minneapolis and Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville, IL, both bookstores I've heard so many great things about and been wanting to visit for the longest time. This is the first time I've gotten to go to an author dinner with booksellers who focus on children and young adults, and it was a really fun change of pace.

Saturday's breakfast was without a speaker, instead it was an opportunity to chat with other booksellers about what you're reading--a great chance for me to practice my handselling skills!

After breakfast I went to a panel on the business of publishing. It focused on the P&L, or the Profit and Loss Statement, which is the set of numbers publishers run to figure out how to make a title profitable, taking into account the expenses--production costs, author costs, operating expenses, etc. I actually found it quite fascinating. As someone who is just learning what the difference is between gross and net, margins and profits, it was a very helpful crash-course in business practices and great insight into the minds of publishers and how they make decisions about book design and print run quantities based on their P&Ls (because God knows I wonder what they're thinking often enough--even a bit of clarity can be helpful!).

Another set of publisher rep picks followed, and then it was on to lunch with a panel of experts on the national movement towards shopping independent and local--Bill McKibben, author of Deep Economy (a previous staff pick of Dana's), Stacy Mitchell, author of Big-Box Swindle, and Michael Shuman, author of The Small-Mart Revolution. All were incredibly upbeat about the direction of independent businesses, particularly in areas where they have been able to band together as independent business alliances (such as nearby Cambridge Local First or Local First Vermont). They observed that it has often been bookstores that have led the way in forming such alliances and that we should, as centers of ideas and culture, continue to do so--in fact, in the words of Mr. McKibben, it is our "moral obligation."

The post-lunch session can be deadly, but I actually had the most fun at a session at "Consumer Behavior Revealed--The Dating Game." This could be because they, in fact, took an unsuspecting volunteer from the audience and had her play the Dating Game! The point was to learn about what motivates consumers in their decision making processes. The fact is that books can be purchased everywhere--why do people choose one place over another (and, of course, how can we get people to choose to buy their books with us)? We reviewed Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs and looked at how psychological, situational, social, and commercial influences can affect consumer choices.

Dear lord, it's time for me to go and I'm still not done talking about Winter Institute! Well, one more post tomorrow should do it--until then...

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Winter Institute--Part Two

After lunch was a choice of more panels, I went to one on inventory management (a fairly dry and boring topic to blog about, but critical for buyers) and one for prospective bookstore owners with a panel of folks who have opened their stores in the past eighteen months. I'm not planning on opening my own store anytime soon, but I was curious to hear what these folks had experienced.

There was an opportunity to go to a rep picks session after that, but I was a little tired of sitting and being talked to so I decided to take a break and start blogging before it all got away from me. I brought my computer down to the second floor, as that's where the free wi-fi can be found, but I ended up doing more talking with others than blogging at that point. I'm so glad I got to meet Michele Filgate, the events coordinator at RiverRun Bookstore, and we spent the better part of an hour talking books. We actually were talking with a librarian--in a nice bit of book confluence, it turns out that there is a conference for SLA, the Special Libraries Association happening at the same hotel at the same time! I kind of feel bad for the librarians---I wonder if they know that just one floor above them is an entire room of galleys for the taking (We actually snuck our librarian friend into the author reception happening so she could meet Augusten Burroughs as he is her favorite author!)

As you may have surmised from the last sentence, there was a wonderful author reception/signing for the big evening event. My swag: The new collection of short stories from Tobias Wolff, Our Story Begins (another cat out of the bag--he's coming to the store later in the spring! Yippee! I don't know that I've ever blogged about it, but Old School was my favorite book the year it came out, and it remains a favorite. If you haven't read it, you must! There are so many reasons why you MUST read it--a killer coming-of-age story is one, but another is his portrayal of classic literary figures--Robert Frost, Ayn Rand, and Ernest Hemingway. He writes these characters just as I would have imagined them to be. I could go on and on (which I did, embarrassingly enough, when I met him last night...sigh), so instead I'll move on.

I also got Mary Roach's new book, Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, which I'm eager to read. I've never read Stiff or Spook, but I've always meant to read her as I know there are lots of folks at the store (both employees and customers) who lover her and, hey, this book's got a topic I can totally get behind (oh, and by-the-by, I have a feeling she'll be coming to our store too! I tell you, Brian is ah-mazing). For the boys at the store I got a copy of Mr. Burrough's new memoir about his father, A Wolf at the Table. I'm not sure who will get it yet--I know that Carl and Chris and, one other person, I think, have his books on their Essential Reads lists, so I might just have to have a sudden-death Rock Paper Scissors tournament.

Finally, for my mom, I picked up a copy of Pocketful of History: Four Hundred Years of America One State Quarter at a Time by James Noles. It takes each state quarter and uses the iconography to talk about state history. As my mom is an avid state quarter collector (and middle school teacher) I thought she would really like it for herself and her students. By the way, in case you were wondering, she's collecting those state quarters for her future grandchildren. And she's not just collecting one set, but two. But no pressure. Sheesh, mom, thanks! I guess, though, it's better than the mom of a friend who, while we were in high school and college, would collect Disney VHS tapes when they came out for a limited time so that her future grandkids would have them. I wonder what she has done with them now that I don't know that they even still manufacture VHS players? Anyways, sorry for that digression...

It's almost time for lunch, so I think I'll sign of for now but more later about my dinner with E. Lockhart and all of today's highlights!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Winter Institute--Part One

Yesterday's travel day went off without a hitch. I had a direct flight to Louisville, and shared it with a bunch of faces I recognized from other New England bookstores. I would guess, in fact, that of the approximately 30 people on board (it was one of those little 48 seaters), at least half were en route to Winter Institute. It meant that I payed even more attention than usual to what the people around me were reading while we were waiting for takeoff.

I had a bit of downtime after checking-in, and then headed over to the Muhammad Ali Center for the opening reception. I know how important networking is, and I know I'm supposed to use the opportunities presented to me to meet other booksellers and develop connections and all that good business practices stuff, but I have to say that I was just blown away with the museum and its exhibits, and spent most of my time exploring the Center. I'm not a boxing fan, but his is a fascinating story and I was completely intrigued.

This morning we had breakfast at 8:00, followed by a presentation by Danny Meyer, the owner of Union Square Cafe and Grammercy Tavern and all those other top-ranked Zagat's restaurants, based on his book Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business. I really took to heart his point that our emphasis should not necessarily be on being the best at what we do, but being our customers' favorite. THAT is success.

I know that we can't possibly stock every book that every customer wishes we did. We can't be open every hour, give every discount, or utilize every new technology. And it kills me sometimes. But there are customers, all the time, who tell me when I'm at the register that we're their favorite bookstore. I don't think I've ever really listened to them the way I should. After listening to Mr. Meyer this morning it makes me want to really pay attention to those compliments and take them to heart as much as I do the complaints (why is it so easy to remember every complaint and dismiss every compliment?). What are we doing right for these customers? How can we do it for even more people? And how can we build on those strengths?

Mr. Meyer argues that to become a favorite you have to provide more than service-you have to provide hospitality. What's the difference? Service is a one-size-fits-all method of fulfilling expectations, while hospitality is a dialogue, a one-on-one method that makes someone feel heard and recognized.

Following breakfast was a choice of a number of panel sessions, I chose to go to one on handselling, which was a perfect segue from the topics Mr. Meyer was discussing as it is the art of putting the right book in the hand of each customer who comes into your store. I am still at the apprentice stage of handselling, but if you want to know what great handselling is then ask for Lisa or Paul when you come into the store. Listening to them recommend books, it makes it impossible to not want to drop everything and immediately read whatever it is they suggest. I dare you.

Then it was off to lunch where our speaker was Gary Hirshberg, the C.E.O. of Stonyfield Farm. I have to admit that I wasn't expecting much, but his presentation was AMAZING. Like, really, truly, moved me amazing. He believes that business and the environment don't necessarily have to be at odds--in fact, doing the right thing for the environment can actually be profitable for the bottom line as well as profitable for world. And he puts his money where his mouth is. He writes about it in his book Stirring It Up: How to Make Money and Save the World, which I don't think I ever would have read without hearing him speak and now can't wait to start. Mr. Hirshberg's dedication to doing the right thing isn't a front, or good P.R., but is a way of life for him that I think not only inspired me but a lot of other booksellers in the audience. I think there might be a movement coming in the publishing and bookselling community where we really look at the industry and exernality (this is a new concept I learned today at lunch) and environmental economic effects.

(By the way, a very cool and informative website is for Climate Counts, a non-profit started by the Stonyfield Farm people that makes it easy to make consumer decisions based on company environmental policies. Check it out!)

Well kids, it is midnight, and time for me to head to sleep. But I'll try to get up a bit early to write more while it's all still fresh in my head...

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

What I've Been Up To Lately...

Dear Lord, how did it get to be nearly the end of January already?

It's funny, this is a slower time for the store in general, but here in the basement we are SUPER busy with our buying season, looking at what's coming up for the spring and summer. So far I've seen our reps from Macmillan, Perseus, the University of Chicago Press, Wiley, and Hachette. I'll try to give you my picks from each soon.

Right now I am super-psyched as I'm getting ready to head down to Louisville, Kentucky for the American Bookseller's Association's Winter Institute. I think it's just the break/energizer I need. And lucky you--you'll get to find out all about it! My present to myself this Hanukkah was a pretty new laptop and she'll get to take her very first trip with me tomorrow when I bring her along! So look for some posts from an exhausted but jazzed bookseller over the next few days.

More soon!

Friday, January 4, 2008

Winter Events

So I just want to crow a little bit...

USA Today had a "Winter Books Preview" and, wanting to be a good bookseller (and just wanting to know what other folks are excited to read), I checked it out. And you totally should, too, as the interactive feature they have at the top is just really damn cool. the article are mentioned four top picks for literary fiction: The Senator's Wife by Sue Miller, The Reserve by Russell Banks, Lush Life by Richard Price, and Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri. And their top pick overall was Geraldine Brooks's People of the Book.

So why am I crowing? Because in the next few months we will be hosting FOUR of the above authors! Geraldine Brooks will be here January 8th, Sue Miller will be here on the 16th, Russell Banks on February 5th, and (shhh...I don't know if I'm even supposed to be telling you this yet...) Jhumpa Lahiri will be here on April 3rd. I have to give mad props to Brian, our events coordinator, for really putting together the best events schedule I have seen in a long time (you can see the list of all our author events through January and February here).

By the way, you can officially be jealous of me because I have read Unaccustomed Earth and it is spectacular. I don't know how Jhumpa Lahiri does it, but she just hits a home run every time. And I need to finish the current book I'm reading this weekend so I can get through People of the Book before Ms. Brooks gets here next week! I am really excited for this one.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Our Bestselling Titles of 2007

Happy New Year!

I thought I would add to the never-ending end-of-the-year roundups that happen right about now (What can I say? I'm a sucker for lists). So here is the Brookline Booksmith Top 25 Titles of 2007:

25. Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks
(pretty impressive that this book made the list considering it has been out only three months!)
24. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
23. Intuition by Allegra Goodman
22. The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards
21. Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
20. Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
19. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
18. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
17. How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman
16. The Gathering by Anne Enright
(by the way, you can come meet her at our event on Friday, February 15th!)
15. The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon
14. The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
13. Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert
12. The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud
11. The Road by Cormac McCarthy

And now for the top ten...
10. Boston Restaurants 2007/08 by Zagat
9. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
8. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson
7. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
6. The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
5. Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
4. The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
3. Fist Stick Knife Gun by Geoffrey Canada
2. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

And drum roll please...our bestselling book of the year...
1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

Here's to another awesome year of fantastic books!