Friday, April 30, 2010

Chapbook Festival in NYC 5/3-5/4 Be There Or Be Rhombus

Just a reminder that on May 3rd and 4th some of the best small presses around will be hawking their wares from 11:30-7pm @ the CUNY graduate center in Manhattan! There'll be a sea of tables, a flood of books, and a deluge of terrific writing circulating amongst a river of excitement. A full run down of participating presses and readings can be had at their website. My press, Greying Ghost will be parked at table #12. We'll have a candy dish. I'll be wearing my trusted fedora.
My way to work today started with fifteen minutes sitting in the big stand of pines in our corner of the Forest Hills Cemetery, not a soul around but three or four squirrels, a crow, and perhaps 800,000 newly winged insects, maybe thee-eighths of an inch long, all putting their freshly unfurled wings to first use, and eager to hitch a ride whenever they can. They just sort of flew into me and clung, out of control and a touch desperate. It often takes an insistent second swipe to convince them to let go.

Whether it's a good or a bad thing I'm not sure, but when I am out in the city the wind is almost always in my face. I feel like the truck driver in Douglas Adams' world, the one on whom it always rains, in his case because the clouds just love him so.

Today I go to work without a book, I finished one a couple days ago, and this is the day to gather a new one. Something quick, something observational. Rather than intense, emotional, personal. Certainly nothing "experimental". Sunlight and bugginess doesn't lend itself to gravity, introspection, or experimentation.
Something that will let you brush off flies. Haven't you ever read a book that transfixed you, something that rooted you, rendered you impervious to physical distractions and irritations?
Then one of us here has a book you have to read.
Ask us next time you're in.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Rockin' Books

In honor of our terrific event for Bryan Charles' terrific book about Pavement's Wowee Zowee (see above for vintage Pavement footage), I've decided to make a list of my most favorite books about rock and roll.

Please Kill Me: An Oral History of Punk
Could this be the best rock book ever written? I certainly think so. So does Iggy.

Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981-1991
Azzerad's writing can be a little cheesy sometimes, but he does such a great job of capturing so many different scenes that this book is a must-read.

Call Her Miss Ross: An Unauthorized Biography of Diana Ross
You can't beat Randy Taraborelli for dirt, and boy does he dish. There's a reason thi 21 year-old supermarket biography is still in print -- for its portrayal of scary ambition and untrammeled egotism that the musical Dreamgirls captures in song.

Just Kids
Patti Smith's memoir is just stunning. If you want a more thorough opinion, check out my official review.

England's Dreaming, Revised Edition: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock, and Beyond
For those confused about the cultural significance of the recently deceased Malcolm McLaren, avail yourself of this giant classic text.

Literary Sandwiches

When actors or other celebrities write books for children, they’re usually too wordy, contain uninteresting plots, or use characters to talk down to readers. However, the average kid despises books that whack him or her over the head with heavy moralistic lessons. We are no longer in the 19th century! In my theory, all books teach something – even if it’s encouraging pure silliness or thinking way out of the box. The mark of a great picturebook is when non-extraneous text works WITH illustrations to tell an unforgettable story. Read your kids a real Story and see their analytical skills grow. You may be surprised at how much more kids are willing to read and learn when they are able to relate the book to their own life and experiences. Reading puts us into someone else’s shoes for a while and is really our only chance at getting into someone else’s head. When interrupted by an intrusive narrator’s comments, it ruins the effect.

The Sandwich Swap, by Queen Rania AlAbdullah, the queen of Jordan, is nothing like the stereotypical celebrity book. As a matter of fact, The Sandwich Swap is the best new picturebook this year I’ve seen to hit the shelves. AlAbdullah, along with co-author Kelly DiPucchio, tells the story of Salma and Lily to show how differences can lead to a room full of flying pudding cups and shame OR a scrumptious feast filled with smiles and laughter. Tricia Tusa’s vibrant illustrations work fabulously with the text to reveal a great story of acceptance and difference (well, those are the themes I saw, how about you? Friendship? Acceptance? Problem solving?). So what’s the synopsis of this book? I’ll just tell you that it begins with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and ends with a hummus sandwich.

Monday, April 26, 2010

My Treehouse

Have I mentioned before that my "office" is a raised platform in our back room? It's big enough for a desk and a couple of filing cabinets and that's about it. It has no door of any kind, so I have a perpetual open door policy. It would be very claustrophobic but for its window which is wide and has a view over the entire store right up to the front doors and out onto the street, even. Not many people browsing in the store even notice that I'm up here. There is much to see and hear, both in our back room which is a very busy place and "out on the floor", as we call it.

So just think of all the books and other goodies you find here. Every item comes in the back door, literally. From there it all goes off to various places in the back room or downstairs. Downstairs means via a conveyor belt which dates to 50 years ago when this store was a grocery market. Mercifully, the conveyor has held up with minimal maintenance all these years. After being put into our computer system and priced, everything then goes out to the selling floor. This requires the diligent labor of numerous busy booksellers. Besides all of that activity, there are many discussions, problems solved and overall orchestration of the store's workings going on at all times in this same back room. Phones are ringing, printers are printing, book carts are rattling. It is quite the beehive and my ears are well-attuned to all the buzzing.

The other perspective, looking and listening out into the store, is equally "buzzy". I can see customers browsing, hear parts of many conversations about books and not, and notice when someone seems to need help finding something or the line is getting long at the registers and send help. At times, I feel a bit like an air traffic controller or a juggler. It's fun to make things work well and efficiently. This way of working can lead to a bit of craziness in trying to stay focused on larger projects. Each day has many, many interruptions. But multi-tasking is indigenous to the times we live in, right?

Since my office is just above the kids' section, I am witness to all manner of hilarity. Scenarios range from delightful vignettes of a toddler being read to by an older sibling to a middle-grader lost in a chapter book to a diligent little guy moving all the furniture around to a child repeatedly saying "Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom." whilst said parent is deeply engaged in using her Blackberry. We have some big stuffed literary characters for kids to bond with and a fanciful faux tree to shade them. There's a bench and a rocking chair and room for strollers of many sizes and makes. Occasionally, kids will toss books all over the place uncorrected by the accompanying adult sadly ruining those books. But our great kids' booksellers keep that to a minimum while doing a ton of recommending to all and sundry. It's all part of the observed bookstore life.

It's delightful to see our aisles full of booklovers and booktalkers and book buyers. And overhearing customers recommending titles to friends or perfect strangers is always a treat. People just seem to like being here in a familiar, comfortable gathering place. No purchase required for that. It's what makes stores like ours more than just a place to buy something. It's a place of learning and connecting. It's lively and fun. It's just a really cool place.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

National Poetry Month!

We have an entire shelf dedicated to bad-ass small press poetry...I want it there permanently, but that's not a likely bet (if I were a bettin' woman.) The long and short of it is...Come check out all the crazy-great new stuff Mark brought in while we have all this amazing extra space!!!

How sexy are these covers? How chic? The ultimate spring accessory...but vanity aside...these are some seriously entertaining reads. If you are uncomfortable with poetry...just think of them as edgy flash fiction...genre is a fluidity anyhow...

Next week I'll be writing about my month long speed date with a kindle... it'll be rich.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Audio rocks!

Audiobooks are not just for the road anymore. They are also great to use when you’re just not feeling well for whatever reason. Let’s face it, the TV can only do so much when your head is spinning and your eyes are too tired to stare at the colorful, talking box all day. Instead, put on an audiobook of your favorite book, sit back, and rest your eyes. Don’t worry, there are no alterations in the script – unlike the movies “loosely” based off of a terrific novel.

You can find some great excerpts here (scroll down to the Jukebox). And as always, we’d be glad to order any for you here at the store (with no shipping charges!). Here are some of my own favorites:

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
What can be better that reading E.B. White’s classics? Listening to him to read his work, of course!

Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Wrinkle in Time is almost more magical when read aloud by the author.

House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne (read by Jim Broadbent)
Tigger attacking Pooh’s tablecloth is one of the most hilarious things I’ve heard read aloud.

Audiobooks have gotten bad rap over these years because you’re not really reading the book. But, what about hearing your favorites? Especially when, God forbid, you can't read. Audio is great!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Free Willy Vlautin Reading!!

Thee one and only Willy Vlautin will be reading from his Indie Bound recommended novel Lean On Pete @ Booksmith this upcoming Wednesday @ 7pm. This event is free. Come hear the best author you haven't read yet.

heron stillness

That's what I was appreciating this morning on the way to work. Cycling along the outer edge of Jamaica Pond at a quarter to six, the heron glides above the water and alights beside a group of three trees along the shore, not sixty feet from me. Adjusting his straw-thin legs he turns outward and...stops. I approach halfway - trying to appear gentle and disinterested - and for about three minutes not a muscle moves on this amazing predator. No mammalian facial ticks, no blinking. Every muscle is still.

Can any of you reading this remember the first book, or any book, that, with the very first words, darted out and captured you? You felt, reading the first sentence, that this book will mean something big to me. And then it turned out to be true? You got to the end and the whole book justified those first words?

For me, it was the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. And the words aren't even really all that gripping, either. But the voice with which they were read, somehow, even that early in the narrative, was assuring, respectful, and warm, and it promised secret worlds of story-telling.

A book is like (and let me say here that I realize my analogy is a stretch, but really, any analogous thing you can come up with for a Book is going to be a stretch, and yet miraculously close to the truth, as well. What is a book yet to be read except nothing and everything?) a heron.

It glides into your home and...stops.
It's pages settle minutely, and then nothing moves, not leaf or jacket.
You approach, it is still.
You examine it, you watch it, you trust it.
Put your hand out to touch the cover, to open the first page.

It darts, and you are taken.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

respect without the romance

I don't have a digital camera for a myriad of reasons. Mostly I don't have the cash, and there is something that feels transient about the experience, I can take so many pictures that it would border compulsion, each one meaning less and less....
the other reason is--- I have a monster fear of losing pictures that I love...
...that's why I still use film (120) and use the hardiest, cheapest camera out there...the holga.
I don't chose to use film because it is kitchy and urban outfitters broadcasts the hipness of lomography with their overpriced film section...
I don't romanticise old technologies simply because they are old... I use them because I know that it is important that the tradition live on casually somewhere...and they force my frantic brain to settle down, and focus on taking one good shot.
I have to keep the compulsion to collect, accrue and consume in check.

Friends have told me about holga & poloroid apps on their iphones- and that's great....(feels cheap but whatever it looks great.) The reason it wouldn't cut it for me is because the process is lost. I want that slowness. It's good for me.

I'm resisting running the parallel of ink to page ....and ebooks to book-books, and bookstores....(That's another post)...but I think you can image the lines I'd draw. One line...when all the data is corrupted and the servers go down- how will the future be sure this wasn't a dark age?

Mostly- I want to understand how things their purpose changes, how we make meaning of things, how meaning is made of us... how obsolescence changes the way we view the medium...

Mostly I'm protective ...when it gets old...and other people are throwing it away...I love it more.

© Kate Robinson 2010

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

My hero, Brady Udall

It just so happens that I get to schedule a number of authors whose books I love (see: Sam Lipsyte, Lorrie Moore). Sometimes it works the other way around: a publicist will approach me about an author I'm not familiar with, I'll set something up, they'll send me the book and I'll love it.

Such was the case with Brady Udall. To say I loved The Lonely Polygamist is a bit of an understatement. In fact, I am fully confident that it is a work of rare novelistic genius.

I will admit I was drawn to this book because it is about polygamist fundamentalist Mormons. Ever since reading Jon Krakauer's book Under the Banner of Heaven, I have been enthralled by polygamy, Joseph Smith, and special underwear. And then Big Love happened, and soon became my second-favorite TV show of all time (first place: Six Feet Under).

Needless to say I was pumped when I read a title with "polygamist" in it. I was a little scared, too. Polygamy seems like it would be a tough subject to tackle, even if, like Brady Udall, you grew up in the Mormon church and spent a couple years living on a polygamist compound doing research.

My fears were for naught. This book is ridiculously great. It's a weird, terrific pastiche of John Irving, Cormac McCarthy, Katherine Dunn, Joy Williams, and Shelley Jackson's grossly under-appreciated novel Half Life. It's funny how the best books reduce me to the stupidest cliches. I laughed and I cried. The characters were so real! Some of these scenes will stay with me forever.

The "official" reviews aren't out yet, but advance buzz is promising. I'd like to see someone try to tell me this book isn't great. I'd recommend The Lonely Polygamist to those who like any of the following: Mormons, feelings and books.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Used Books Are Super Awesome

As the UBC dives headfirst into our peak season, it is imperative for us to once again send out an a.p.b. on your used books! There's only once way we'll be wheelin' and dealin' previously read literature this summer. We can only sell what we buy back from you, our beloved custos (that's street slang for customers). So here's a quick run down of the buyback procedure.

Most assume the process of bringing in used books is an arduous task. This can be true if you loath moderately heavy lifting, stairs, basements, cold hard cash (note: if over $50, a check), remember what arduous means, or all the above. Really, the process is quite easy. The first thing you should do is get whatever you'd like to sell together and begin to weed out the stuff we do not buy back. Items that have cracked spines, underlining, highlighting, or water damage should be removed and recycled. Other items such as textbooks, audio books, travel guides, magazines, and computer program manuals, should also be removed and donated to either a charity or to a local thrift store. We tend to buy mostly paperbacks so if you have a lot of hardcovers, be warned that we can be very selective. Your best best with hardcover books is to speak with us directly by calling or sending us anemail.

Now that you have everything together, the rest is as easy as 1,2,3. Or in our case, 10 to 4, Wednesday thru Saturday. No need to make an appointment. Simply stop by during the buying hours and we'll be more than happy to check out your loot.

Once we've gone through your books and picked out the ones we can use, we'll add up all of the original list prices and give you either 15% of the list price in cash, or 20% in store credit. The store credit can be used for anything in the store and even better, the darn things don't expire. Ever. ... Yes, exactly like the Terminator.

So if you have your eye on a handful of our super awesome collection of spring releases, why not earn some scratch by selling us your unwanted super awesome books? Its a win-win! Simply bring em on in, Wednesday thru Saturday, 10-4pm.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Sunny afternoons with miles of women. Booksmith Life.

I'm taking a break from the heat of Chelsea Handler.
As in the sun, heat from the sun. I've been the guy going down the 500+ deep line asking to see every person's receipt and asking for every person's name and writing it correctly on a Post-It; oh, the Melissa's, the Lauren's, the various spellings of Amy/Aimie/Aimee/Ami...then the Big D, the Azi, the Machoukeya, the Ashwipe (yes. Ashwipe.), two Renee's and one Rennie. A Mike, several John's, one Teddy, and a Dolores.
I only misprinted names seven times.
I don't have a word for what it was all like, but it was new to me.

I'm taking a break so that I can continue my train of thought, which was broadsided off the rails as I reached the front door of the store and saw the line stretching into the haze, which should give a sense of how long the line was, considering that this is a crystal clear afternoon. But all of these folks - mostly twenty-something women here to celebrate this icon of sex, laughs, and vodka - they actually are the continuation of my train of thought.

Martin Amis' next novel is in my hands. I've followed his every book, and I feel I am attuned to the fluctuations of his creative output, its general arc. If this were a Tour de France Stage Profile, you'd have a short, steep climb right after the neutral starting zone which gives a taste of the potential (The Rachel Papers): then a fast, almost spiraling descent into a bunch of his books that I don't really enjoy (including one of his best known, Money): then what this spectator considered to be the unmatchable mountain in the middle of the ride, a steep, long, emotionally draining and technically challenging hill (London Fields): followed by a rather tricky (and experimental) little patch, which also brings us our first sprint point (Time's Arrow): another forgettable stretch leads us down into the reflective valley road (his memoir, Experience): and then we start the long slog up the mother of all mountains, where we find out the true nature of all that lies beneath this journey (his bio of Stalin, Koba the Dread): and then it really kicks up into the sky with what is surely the awakening of the mature artist (House of Meetings).

And with this, The Pregnant Widow, he has burst out into the sunshine of the final mountaintop. From this vantage point he surveys what came before, with a wisdom and a sureness that he has never fully possessed before.
And, so daring is he, he has written his most profound novel using almost nothing more than tits & ass as his medium. This book is utterly unique. His characters are incredible specimens as well as fully realized humans. His dark worldview is tempered by endless compassion for our every flaw: the primal urges always win the day, but everyone knows they ought not to, and some even try, almost exclusively in vain, to deny them.
He has written comedic passages here that exceed anything he has written before. It is a sun-drenched tale of a summer in the Sexual Revolution, and it is, perhaps, his best novel yet.
May 14th.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A world, a whole world!

Here's something that blows my mind: There are other countries out there. Like, a lot of them.

Okay, wait, before every single one of my history and social studies teachers and my British girlfriend team up to beat some sense into me, let me explain a little bit.

I'm a pretty well-read guy. I was a literature major in college and, well, I work at a bookstore. I've read books from all different time periods. If you're talking Homer to Marlowe to Austen to Faulkner to Boyle, I can deal with it. I would even hazard to say that I'm in the know when it comes to books.

But then I discover this guy named Javier Marias who writes sentences that make me want to either cry or hug the earth for being so beautiful. And no one else here knows about him.

But Javier Marias is not some unknown. He's not a random hermit sitting in a garage printing his own books and leaving them on park benches. In fact, all of Spain has scooped me by a few decades here, considering him one of their national treasures and all of that.

And here's where it blows my mind: There are so many countries in the world, and each one of them has their own Javier Marias, followed by thousands of lesser-known writers whose names I will never hear, but who are probably also doing things with words that would make me cry, if only I could understand them.

Every day I work I find another book I want. There are far too many for a lifetime. But even so, that's just a fraction, just a thumbnail on the collective body of world literature. It's only the books that are translated in English that I happen to find.

How can that be anything but amazing?

P.S. Really, Javier Marias is awesome. Seriously.

Aging, books

I went to Montreal a few weeks ago for my birthday. I brought with me one of the first books I ever purchased with my own money, which was a pocket French dictionary. 1992 was an ambitious year - at the same time, I bought a Teach Yourself French book, which I have since lost. I retained nothing from the book's lessons aside from requests for soda and slower speaking. (That is not to say anything about the quality Teach Yourself book, but rather my linguistic ineptitude, need of fizz, and a lifelong fog of confusion.)

When I opened the dictionary in the bar to parse the beer list (je voudrais une blé aux cerises s-v-p) while watching a game of curling (AUTHENTIC CANADIAN EXPERIENCE!) I remembered the pages were once crisp and white. The browning pages of the dictionary now smell sweet and dry, sort of like graham crackers, when they're opened. My name is in a ten-year-old's bubbly cursive in the front. Now my handwriting is sharper and illegible. It's a marker of a point in time, a time when I read dictionaries for fun, really.

What's going to happen to the sensuality of books in the digital age, or as a marker of personal progress? Trust me - I am no luddite. I experienced the burgeoning of the internet in my teens - one friend and I admittedly get a sense of nostalgia upon finding particularly bad animated GIFs or renderings of pop songs on MIDI. We were sort of crushed when Geocities, a haven for amateur-designed personal homepages, went down last fall. I talked to strangers on the internet before it was semi-acceptable. But there isn't that same sense of place, touch or smell with reading as much. And books degrade over time. But just on a purely physical-experiential basis, it's really cool to see them as they age along with you. They are a joy. That's one reason why I'm here. I hope it never comes to this:

P.S. the illustrator of above cartoon, Jef, will be coming here on May 2. GET PUMPED.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Some Spring Reading

The tips of plants were barely budding a few weeks ago. I’m so glad it’s spring now, aren’t you?

Right before the onset of spring, I had the pleasure of rereading E.B. White’s Trumpet of the Swan. There’s nothing like reading a nature story -- that takes place in the wilds of Canada -- outdoors while surrounded by some very vocal mallards, green tipped trees, and birds singing over a pond reflecting a blue sky. And, in Brookline, where no real mountains or forests without noise pollution are readily accessible, I like to settle for Hall’s Pond – off Amory St, less than ten minutes from the Booksmith. Some people prefer cafes and books, but reading outdoors does have its merits no matter what the temperature is (yes, I admit to reading outside in 10˚ weather and thoroughly enjoying it). Anyway, I soon realized some other prominent themes in E.B. White’s classic that I had long since forgotten. The main one is that every boy needs to read The Trumpet of the Swan; or, why Louis is a great role model.

•Knows and appreciates the power of literacy
•Knows there is more to communication than verbal words alone
•Pays off his debts
•Stands up for what he believes in
•Materialism only extends to his needs
•Is a hero
•Committed to his girl, jobs, and his promises
•Has a fabulous taste in music, not to mention his own trumpeting skills
•Knows that living a sheltered, captive life is no life at all
•(and, did you know Louis used to live the Boston Public Garden -- well, okay, in the book? He’s a local!)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Bookstores and me

Kate's touching post about why she works in a bookstore made me reflect on the reasons I'm here. I had to think about it because I've been working in bookstores since I was 19 years old (I just celebrated my 30th birthday in September -- thank you for your belated wishes). Here are the reasons why:

1. It's all I know! Wait, that's not at all true. I've had several publishing jobs since college, none of which were as fun as working in a bookstore. I've worked for a literary agency, a sales group and a literary magazine. None of these jobs forced me to confront contemporary literature on a daily basis. This one does! Thankfully!

2. People who work in bookstores are awesome. This is universally true. Even if you worked at the worst bookstore, there would be at least one awesome person for you to talk about books with. Don't even get me started on the Booksmith -- everyone here is wonderful. They know everything!

3. Books are nice. They're really nice. I'm really, really into them and it's really, really nice to work with them every single day. Often, customers will express their fantasy of working in a bookstore. Let me tell you, customers, though we might not get to read all day, we're still living the dream.

4. The soundtrack is reassuringly predictable. Two things universally dominate the soundtrack to any independent bookstore: Putumayo and Belle and Sebastian. No matter what my thoughts are on these particular musical forms at any given time, it's nice to hear them year in and year out.

5. (Specific to the Brookline Booksmith) The customers. I've worked in a number of communities, and this is far and away the most literate, wonderful group of people I've had the pleasure of working with. You all are super! Brookline aside, it's always great to talk about books with people for a living.

6. Specific to my current job at the Brookline Booksmith: I get to meet authors I love. Lorrie Moore and Lee Child might never remember my name or face, but I will treasure our time together until my dying day.

7. Advanced reading copies. 'Nuff said.

Is this enough motivation to get people off their Kindles? I hope so. I am so copying Jeff Bezos on this post.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Farewell To A Pal

Upon my return from vacation, I, freshly shorn, shed a tear and an adieu to our beloved, if heavily soiled Mr. Carpet. Even though you were more of a Rorschach (the test, not the Watchmen character (though he applies as well)) of filth you were a treat to walk on. How many fellow patrons have strolled across your grime-sodden surface over the years? A Million? That's two million feet! Huzzah! But all god things must come to an end. And thanks to the ban on trans fat we had to expedite the process of replacing you, what with all the gastronomic spillage that had since seeped into the very core of your fabric. Laws are laws but you will always be in, the, law of our love, or whatever. I mean, don't get me wrong. You were quite easy to replace, both physically - since we outsourced that duty - and mentally. Yes, we have shorn you like snakeskin. Only, in this case, they tossed your rank remnants straight to the trash, son, instead of in a drawer to forever reckoned to be whipped out at parties as a sort of ha-ha-funny gag. But you will be missed. You were there when I started at Booksmith many moons ago. Though I have tried to limit physical contact with you, often in the improvised form of shopping and trash bag gloves, you have touched me in many ways. I have sauntered over you. I have introduced my wife to you. I have piled books on you and spilled $40 worth of coke (the drink) on you. I have worked by your side. Godspeed, Mr. Carpet! We were brothers from another mother.

Now lets make the new carpet feel welcome!


[warning! shameful self-promotion content]

In other news, me and my press Greying Ghost will be selling books in NYC May 3-4th at CUNY! | INFO

Please come on down and hear some great readers and support some truly innovative and admirable small press folk. It'll be an absolute hoot! festival facebook page

Be well!

Where to Begin

You should be careful what you ask people. For instance, I seem to be a pretty cool guy. I wear funny t-shirts. I've perfected the disaffected cool-guy nod. Sometimes I listen to indie bands in cafes, sipping a tea and reading some trendy lit mag. I've got this down.

And then, oh naive customer, you ask me about writing. And any level of coolness I possess melts away like an antagonist in Indiana Jones. I go from Arthur Fonzarelli to Henry Winkler right before your eyes.

Last week I had a customer ask me about Grub Street because he was looking to get into writing. I've only been to Grub Street once, but it seems like they've got a good thing going--a nice downtown writing space, a decent lit mag collection, reasonably priced classes led by people who write published stories. Also, they're non-profit, which happens to be true of pretty much any group of writers.

But the conversation, which took longer than I think either of us expected, got me thinking about what I knew when I first started writing and what I wish I had been told. So here are some tips for odds and bobs around the store and the web that can be of help to writers and serious readers alike:

1. The anthologies section: Did you know it's there, right after fiction on the southern wall, waiting for you to discover hundreds of new names or rediscover ones you'd forgotten? There's hardly a better way to get a sense of the different stylistic choices one can make than to read some Donald Barthelme followed by some Raymond Carver.

2. Literary Journals: You want to know where the newest of the new is in the store? Well, yeah, at the very front...but wait, you want something so new that you're just about the only one on your block to know about it? Follow me back to the magazine racks. You see that little stumpy end-cap in aisle 2? The magazines without pictures of movie stars or fashion models on the cover? Here there be gold.

Literary journals are the life blood of the writing world. They're the place where authors make it before they make it to the front of the store. And they're also where you'll find the newest stories from your favorite accomplished authors, before they gather them all up in collections. I mean, sure, the New Yorker is great if you want one story every 2 weeks. But have you looked in the Antioch Review or Tin House yet? Ploughshares, The Paris Review?

3. Remainders: Let's face it. Writers and money go together like oil and water. Which is why you should jump on the chance right now to snag up one of my favorite writing manuals while it's on the bargain tables. Francine Prose's book "Reading like a Writer" currently on the bargain nonfiction table, is the anti-writing manual writing manual. It has no rules. It makes no promises of publication. But it does for a budding writer what an analytical diagram of a Shelby Cobra does for a budding mechanic. Also, while you're at it, pick up Tobias Wolff's "Our Story Begins" because Wolff, well he's just too good to be ignored.

4. A couple links, because there's a lot of good out there: The New Yorker fiction podcast has writers reading other writers and then talking about those writers. The Paris Review website has interviews with the best writers of the past century (the cream of which are collected in books that we do sell, and which I may or may not clutch to my chest as I fall asleep every night).

Finally, we have many books. Keep reading. Whatever you do, just keep reading, and let the writing come.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Laugh Your Ass Off

That's what Erik, one of our stellar booksellers, mentioned in his Friday evening introduction for Christopher Moore.  Some 200 strong packed our downstairs Writers and Readers Room for his reading from his new novel, Bite Me.  Erik was referring to our comedic line up for the next couple of weeks.  Following Mr. Moore are Chelsea Handler, Sarah Silverman,  and David Sedaris (at Symphony Hall).  If I knew how to do the link thing, I'd do it.  But until I learn it, go to our website and check out our events schedule - - which, if you are reading this, you probably already know.

I'm something of the historian in our blogger group having been at the store the longest.  So the Laugh Your Ass off thing amuses me no end.   Here we are, a 49 year old indie bookstore with creaky wooden floors and old-ish bookcases and even older-ish lighting (we do plan to upgrade that soon) hosting several of the most current of hip, hilarious authors.  And they are media personalities, too.  I mean, we could almost be on reality TV (Laugh Your Ass Off?)  Or have our own video game (  Bookstore Wars?).  In fact, we should probably REALLY think about one or both.  As a group we are REALLY funny.  

So my historical point here is that we like to combine the best of what has made us relevant and au courant all along with the best of the new.  Besides the celebrities, we also host amazing authors of every genre and subject and style.  And that is only part of what we do at Booksmith.  We are a veritable beehive of activity and selection and style and personality.

The flower boxes in front have new plantings in bloom, the dog water bowls are out, the Red Sox are playing, the Marathon is in a couple of weeks.  Maybe Butler can even beat Duke, who knows??    It's spring, the season of renewal and growth and sunshine.   Come by and visit us!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

part of the reason I'm here

My father had visitation with me every other weekend. He would take me for breakfast at a greasy spoon diner, and then maybe bowling...and then finally (and mostly always) before he dropped me back off at my mother's, he would bring me to a bookstore and let me pick out whatever I long as I promised that I would (and could) read all of what I brought home.

This was the one huge splurge I was allowed; and I felt it a moral obligation to read the books my father purchased for me with his hard earned money...

I have seen some fathers with their daughters in the store, and sometimes I can tell the pairs on borrowed time...we know our own...

There's a way to stay with someone when you read a book that they recommend, buy for you, or borrow...there is something in the handling of the object, and the object's internal energy that keeps; and ties all involved histories together.

And to lighten the mood, I offer this...

Friday, April 2, 2010


That's what I think of when I think of Philip Pullman.

Click here to see why he is one of the most important writers of these times, especially for young readers.

Good for him, and the book comes out in May.