Sunday, October 31, 2010

costumes. social responsibility.

Correct! It is Halloween. Halloween even here, at the Boooosmith (yardy har har).

It's getting pretty spooky here. Dana flew in this morning, and I haven't been able to make eye contact with her yet. As for myself, I'm not sure which is scarier, my "half dead" costume or the mess at my desk. Sigh. Either way

I've got candy.

at the register.

Apparently it is for customers, and not for help me out and come take it from my line of vision.

Have a happy Halloween- either a quiet night encouraging carbohydrate solicitation , getting dressed up as a promiscuous version of whatever (kitty, nurse, cave woman, fireman, gynecologist) and getting humiliatingly sloppy, or just the usual blood-letting in your local graveyard.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Move.

We've been packing for a month, and tomorrow is the day we get the truck in gear and fill it with the bedrooms, the living room, the kitchen, the bathroom, the studio, the art on the walls, the clothes off our backs, the books from the shelves. The light of the only home that my kids remember has been incrementally shuttered with each scrrrriiiiick of tape along the seam, and while I think little Libbie's adjustment might only last for a couple of confused mid-night awakenings, it's Jackson that makes this difficult to comprehend. I've moved too many times, Jess has as well, and Lib will take it all in stride as long as the faces remain the same. But Jack can maneuver this home terrain silently in the wee dark hours; the optimal trajectory for leaping from the window seat to the couch is muscle memory now; there may not be a cabinet that fits him so snugly as the one in which our scree pile of tupperware resides for only a few hours more.
"Daddy, I want to show you! Daddy I want to show you where I'm hiding!"

A home is defined by who lives within, but how can you feel that knowledge until you've moved from one beloved home to a new one? All I can do for my family, and especially the boy who may not grasp the concept, is express the joy and the hope that I feel at the prospect of a new home: a larger living room, where our books can line the walls, a smaller but brighter studio, a kitchen with a stove and oven blessedly out of little Lib's reach, a backyard for the kids (going out to play will no longer mean a trip down fifty steep stairs, a car ride, and planning for the inevitable desperation of the potty dance.).

Tomorrow we will settle in for our first night, we will lie with Jackson and Libbie until they give up and breathe deep the dark, and we will retire to our room of boxes and lamps and a giant bag of mixed shoes, and in the morning I will make pancakes in the light of a new home, a light that we brought with us and didn't have to unpack, and then we will all go to the playground, and I will bring my basketball.

my angst re: roald dahl

Ever since I saw Storyteller, the new biography of Roald Dahl, on our bookshelves here, I've desperately wanted to read it. I snatched a copy off the shelf, checked it out (ain't working in a bookstore grand?), and rushed home with it, intending to curl up with my cat, Pepper, who is my best reading companion, and dig in. Instead I took off the book jacket and put the book up on my shelf, and I haven't touched it since. But I will! I will. (There's just so much to get through first -- Obama's Wars, At Home, and Tommy's Tale are all in progress.)

Storyteller, by Donald Sturrock, is the authorized biography of Roald Dahl published in September of this year. I wrote my undergraduate English thesis on Roald Dahl (more specifically, I wrote on "Monstrous Women: Gender and Power in Roald Dahl's Children's Literature", and I will lend you a copy if you are ever interested in reading it). So I am almost absurdly fascinated with the guy, who was actually a pretty big jerk -- he once asked his wife, the beautiful and embattled Patricia Neal, if he could stay married to her but have an affair on the side. Predictably, the answer was no, but he did it anyway. He was also grossly anti-Semitic and a terrible womanizer. Not the guy you would have expected to write darling classics like The BFG and The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me, is it?

Do I love his children's work? Well, if it were still possible for me to read it without seeing misogynistic undertones everywhere, I would (and I did before I wrote my thesis). His adult work is morbid and horrifying and an absolutely wonderful read for anyone entranced by his children's stuff. Go read Kiss Kiss or Skin and see if you can ever see Matilda or James and the Giant Peach in the same light. (I can't.)

And before you get all thinking that I'm a horrible person for not liking The Witches or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I don't not like them! I think that Dahl's children's work is absolutely great for children who aren't old enough to sophisticatedly interpret literature. But if you count yourself among those who can read between the lines of your favorite books, here is my suggestion to you --
  1. Read Roald Dahl by Jeremy Treglown (the major resource I used for my thesis).
  2. Read Storyteller by Donald Sturrock (which may be good and may not be -- as I haven't read it yet, I can't say).
  3. Read some of Dahl's collections of stories for adults: Kiss Kiss is especially revealing, as is Skin, but you can take a look at Switch Bitch or My Uncle Oswald if you like.
  4. Now go back to some of your favorite Dahl stories for children (Matilda and The Witches especially) and see if you can look at them without a jaded, cynical eye.

I dare you.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Not every fall book is about goblins and bad little witches...

Halloween is right around the corner! October always goes by way to fast for me, but I can't let it get away without sharing more fall recs with you. I already introduced you to Fletcher, now it's time for Gianna.

Gianna enjoys running through leaves, not collecting them as homework. And, her procrastination habits aren't exactly helping her. But if she doesn't collect all 25 of her New England leaves and identify them, she will not be able to compete in the upcoming track meet. The Brilliant Fall Gianna Z is the quintessential fall book. Kate Messner's imagery of autumn is stunning and her way of describing people through what kind of tree they are is, indeed, brilliant. This book is great to read year round, but even more so in the middle of fall as the leaves change and fall right outside of your window.

More eye catching Halloween and autumnish titles:

Halloween Kid by Rhode Motijo
This western style tale leaves no room for hooligan ghosts, vampires, or werewolves. When non-candy items are being handed out, the kids think that Halloween might be on its way to being canceled for good. Halloween Kid can solve this problem on his own...or, maybe not. Join the Halloween Kid and trick-or-treaters as they band together against menacing goblins to keep Halloween safe for all -- with candy, too.

Ghosts in the House by Kazuna Kohara
This ghost story picturebook is like no other. I'll just say there are no scary ghosts roaming round this story, but this little witch girl has a mind of her own. After she catches these ghosts, she puts them through the washer, hangs them out to dry, and on the story goes. Charming and resourceful, Kohara only uses three colors -- orange, black, and white -- and is very deserving of the 2008 NYT Best Illustrated Book award.

AlphaOops: H is for Halloween by Alethea Kontis
Why is the alphabet always told in the same old format: first the a, then the b, then along comes the c? As long as all of the letters are there, it's still the alphabet, right? Join these letters as they put on a show for Halloween...dressed up in costume to their own costumed themes.

Seed Sprout Pumpkin Pie by Jill Esbaum
Here is a great non-fiction Halloween and autumn book. It's all about pumpkins. This book shows how a pumpkin grows and how different people use them -- from jack-o-lantern carvings, to giant boats, to kitchen delights. It's the whole squash family! "Have you picked your pumpkin?"

Leaves of the Season: Stained Glass Coloring Book by Ruth Soffer
Leaves are beautiful to watch, but what about making your own and hanging them on the window? This book provides a great indoor activity for oneself or a group of friends. It's not just for fall, but every season of the year. With 16 different leaves to color and explore, better go grab your markers!

Happy Autumn!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

That darn iPhone

I just finished a short book called "84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff." It's a collection of real letters between Helene, a script-writer in New York City, and the staff of an antiquarian bookshop, Marks & Co., in London beginning not long after WWII and ending in the late 60's. Most of the correspondence is between the witty and irreverent Helene and straight laced yet warmhearted Frank Doel (pronounced like noel,) a bookseller at the shop, but eventually many more staff members and even Frank's family get involved. "84, Charing Cross Road" is also a movie that came out in 1987 starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins and by all accounts is just as good as the book. While their relationship initially begins as a business transaction, it quickly develops into a friendship as Helene sends packages of hard to get food and toiletry items to the staff. (Britain was still under rationing at the start of the book.)

I was thinking a lot about reading and technology as I zoomed through this book. Obviously, the practice of letter writing has fallen off quite a bit (unless you consider email letter writing) and reading is not the major form of entertainment that it was 50 years ago, though you wouldn't necessarily know that here at Booksmith on a busy Saturday afternoon when books are flying out the door. But Ms. Hanff expresses such a love of words and stories that it got me yearning to read more. However, I often choose technology over reading. I've got my iPhone loaded with crossword puzzles and word games, and you can even watch Netflix movies on that thing now. I love it. And...I sort of hate it. It's major book competition. Sometimes I impose "No iPhone Games Week" on myself, and I enjoy those times, but there is part of me that doesn't really want to go much longer than a week. I don't like that part of me. But I think it's something a lot of people, and readers, struggle with.

"84, Charing Cross Road" got me nostalgic for the time when I would read every night before bed and finish a book every few days because I had a long commute on the bus. While crossword puzzles are a worthwhile endeavor, I really hope to regain some balance in the way I spend my free time. I really want to spend more of my time like Helene Hanff, with a cup of tea and a great book. Come to think of it, "Mad Men" is over for the season. Maybe now I'll have some extra time.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


In two contexts, a shout out to Texas seems in order.  First,  on to the World Series with those Rangers.   Someone at work, who knows I'm not a fan of a previous owner of the team, asked what would my choice of  AL team be; the archrival Yankees or the team  owned, at least in part, by said former  Prez.  Hmm.  But it became simpler when I read a flash news bulletin from the independent booksellers' national trade organization (which has been tireless in  advocating on this issue),  the American Booksellers Association.   The state of  Texas has assessed Amazon $269 million in uncollected sales tax.  To that I say, Yeeehaaww!  For all the years of its existence,  Amazon has claimed it need not collect the taxes the rest of us retailers do.  This makes for a most unlevel playing field, to continue the sports theme I began with here, and means huge revenue losses to States.   And now that Texas has put the sales tax issue in the appropriate light, I imagine numerous states feeling the pinch of shrinking resources will look up and say, "Hey, Amazon owes us taxes, too!"    I forget the origin of it, but "Don't Mess With Texas".   Though I do confess to a fondness for Buster Posey of the Giants, anecdotally, going back to baseball and the World Series.    Enjoy this last week of October, especially now that the beautiful full moon has passed with all its power to make personalities more potent.  Whew!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Flour is more than a key ingredient

I was going to talk about some interesting Halloween books, but then I got distracted by the Globe's article on Flour owner and professional baker Joanne Chang, and have been watching her cook on You Tube ever since. Have you ever watched her cook? She's amazing!

And now, finally, we have her book in stock, Flour: A Baker's Collection of Spectacular Recipes. I've flipped through this book and I cannot wait to begin experimenting with the hundreds of recipes. Chang gives some great cooking techniques that have made her culinary delights a major success in the Boston area. She also shares some helpful tips on how to take care of your tools.

From puddings to Pop-tarts, sticky buns and ice cream, various glazes, eclairs, and so much more, this book is begging to be initiated into your kitchen with streaks of flour and egg white stains across the pages as the recipes become favorites and are used over and over again.

Don't forget to look at our events calendar. Joanne Chang is coming to Booksmith on November 27th (Saturday) at 2pm for a book signing.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Coming Soon!

I love audio books, but hate it when there's random music in the middle that often disrupts the mood created by the narrator/author. I mean, the author never intended it to be there and it can often take away from their words. There is an exception though...

Ever heard Peter and the Wolf, where the instruments are orchestrated to illustrate the characters and action in the story? I don't remember the first time I heard Peter and the Wolf, but I do remember it being a calming and thoughtful performance -- even more so than the cartoon. I've always wondered why the orchestration of Peter and the Wolf seemed to be the only one of its kind for so long. That is changing.

The holidays are fast approaching us and we are getting tons of winter-holidayish books (more on that next month) coming into our store. Over the holidays, we will also be increasing our children's audio selection and be bringing in a few more music cds.

A few weeks ago, when I was at NEIBA (New England Independent Booksellers Association conference), I was introduced to Maestro Classics. After listening to their demo of Peter and the Wolf (a slightly different version than I grew up with), I was eager to go home and listen to the cd of Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, buried on my to-read-shelf. I loved it! Over the past week alone, I have listened to the story several times. The opening of the story, with Irish-pipes, guides the listener into the story and lets them imagine the scenery of a countryside. There are also hints of well known folk songs throughout the orchestration to create the mood of different areas. Sounds of machines and airplanes and steam are created by instruments of the orchestra.

In all, there are seven tracks on the cd. Besides the story itself, there is great information on the author, an original song about Mike Mulligan, and a quick talk on why the conductor chose the musical elements and sounds that he did. Here, music is for story telling, imagining, and creating a drama that extends beyond words.

Maestro Classics bring great story telling and music appreciation to children's (and parent's) ears. There are audio clips on their website, here. Other titles available: Sorcerer's Apprentice, The Story of Swan Lake, Casey at the Bat, The Tortoise and the Hare, and more. Keep a watch out for them in our kids' audio section.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Stop the insanity!

Okay, I have a problem. I can't stop reading. I mean, I can't stop reading everything at once.

I am reading five books at the moment. Skippy Dies, Moby Dick, A Short History of Women, The Girl Who Played With Fire and 84, Charring Cross Road. And it's annoying. I can't get myself to focus on one. I try to. I carry around one book at a time and plan to read it during my lunch break. But then at some point before lunch I'll inevitably get inspired to start reading another one. I'll make little bargains with myself: Okay, self, you can start this one but only after you finish Skippy Dies and eat your vegetables. That lasts for about one day. And it has nothing to do with the quality of Skippy Dies. There are just too many great books out there. They're coming out every week. And then there are great books that came out 50 years ago. 100 years ago. Four years ago. Fiction! Non-fiction! Ahhhh! I can't take it. I think I need a week off just to finish one book.

And then there is the pile of books I mean to read. That pile by my bed that has turned into two piles and then had to be moved into the office. And finally they just go onto a bookcase. A whole bookcase of amazing books that I want to read, that I promised myself I'd read two years ago. That I am GOING to read.

I don't think I'm alone here. I've heard others complain of the same thing. But I am getting pretty fed up with myself. This is no way to live. I'll make one promise to myself right now: I won't start another book today. I think I can do that... Maybe.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Don't Just Read What You Know.

I love the way kids read.

When you're a bookseller, it's very easy to read only "good" books. You're surrounded by recommendations from staff, customers, book reviews. Without even trying, you can pick up book after book (we're all pretty prodigious readers) and never get outside your comfort zone.

The truth is, there are so many books written in any one year, and there have been so many years of writing that you can choose a genre to specialize in, then choose a period of time, only read the best-of-the-best, and still not exhaust the possibilities. It can happen. Some people do it. They get PhD's and specialize in the post-colonial literature of the southeast corner of Nigeria between the periods of March and May 1975 dealing with the harvesting of yams. I once knew a Master's student who was reading only British literature dealing with cheese. It can happen.

But kids latch onto something. They decide one day that they like Mummies, and then they read everything they can find about mummies, whether it's a goofy YA novel or the Egyptian Book of the Dead. They'll read picture books and non-picture books and word books and non-word books. And then they'll decide they like turtles, and they'll do the same.

Kids are locked in that peculiar mental state adults only enter when stuck in a bathroom with only a shampoo bottle at hand--they will read anything, everything.

One thing I've found with my new job, working as the Events' Director, is that I can't shelter my preferences the way I did before. I try to read a little bit of each book we have an event for (there are too many to read them all the way through while still eating and sleeping and doing a somewhat decent job), and I attend the events themselves. And what I find out is that, while I wouldn't normally reach for a book on, say, the Large Hadron Collider, when I start to read it, I'm enthralled. Or I get on the edge of my seat for a reading about 19th century French CSI's.

Attending all of the readings at our store is like going to college and walking into a different classroom every day. It can be hard to keep up, but you discover something new every time. In the rest of the month, I'm attending Particle Physics 101, Holocaust History 202, Art of the Memoir, Special Topics in Medicine: Face Transplant Surgery, Fiction 301, Indian Cooking 101, Multi-Cultural American Literature, The Contemporary Domestic Novel, Oenophilia 101, and Classical Murder Mysteries.

And I don't even mind the homework.

Take my advice. If you cook curry every night, come to Madhur Jaffrey on the 21st, but also come to Sue Whitman Helfgot (10/19) or Julia Glass (10/20). If you're a scientist, show up for Dinaw Mengestu (10/25) or Mona Simpson (10/26). You'll be surprised what you find.

Slow Love Life

Dominique Browning writes a blog of that title which is adapted from the title of her latest book. Slow Love is one of the current crop of books about stepping off the corporate carousel and reinventing. In my opinion, hers is very good one the subject. And I enjoy her blog a great deal. Here's a link to a recent posting. It gave me a few moments of stillness here at whacky, wonderful, noisy Booksmith.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Small talk with strangers at weddings --or-- is girdle really the right word?

I will get off my shift today, run home to an Irish shower, slap on a dress (that I am now most certainly too bloated to really sport with any modicum of visual success) and go off with my fella to his pal's wedding. We will sit at a table full of people I do not know, with god willing an open bar and decent albeit olive oil rich wedding grub. What to talk about? What to say? In these situations you have one of two about what you are reading, talk about what you are watching. Here is my practice run.

Hi! My name is Kate... Did you watch this week's Biggest Loser?
I did! It made my Sicilian pizza taste so much better to watch those good people working so hard.

What's that?
You don't own a TV?
(this is where I add up the steps to the bar with a near rodentine ferocity)
...ahhh well then....Have you read anything good lately? Me? Well I'm really into the Room yea...I'm also very into the poetry of Cate Marvin
Oh! You're going to show me pictures of your great nieces? Wonderful.
Sure I can cut your beef for you mam.
Yes I agree, when dancing one should always leave room for the holy spirit.
Yes I'd love a picture of the two of us...sure I'll meet your grandson; he sounds enchanting? I do love a man in head gear.
This will go well. I can feel it.
I suppose it is good for me to get out.

Friday, October 8, 2010

putcher blinkeron

Since finishing the glorious novel Skippy Dies by Paul Murray, I've been stuck in that classic, but usually not this long-lasting, conundrum of what-the-hell-do-you-read-after-you've-just-finished-the-best-book-you've-read-in-years. In the past few years I have gotten in the happy habit of picking up a book about Buddhism every time this happens. Which is a lot. I've really only been reading either the best books I've ever read, or Buddhist texts. It's been good.

I've been soaking in the words of Chogyam Trungpa, and the last few days have been involved in the practice of snapping myself into the present moment, which activity, if you are a beginner like me, needs to take place about 59 times per minute. It's been working though, and the pains in my neck have disappeared, which tells me that my head has been trying real hard to hang onto my body, or the other way around. That means something, but I won't dwell on it.

Anyway, whether driving the car, trying to get Jackson to dress himself so we can get to school on time, eating ice cream, or riding my bike, I have been working with the idea of just doing that.
I have always told people, with a feeling of pride, of separateness, that while I may be a bookseller, or a father, or whatever, I am a painter, and my mind is almost always otherwise engaged, working on the next steps of the painting at home in the studio. It seemed like a good thing, a sign that I AM AN ARTIST, despite all the time that I spend doing other things.

Now I'm realizing that it is not. The fact that while I am helping someone find a book I am worrying about how I will preserve the soul scrape of green bird wings in the center of the painting while I attempt to convert the whole canvas into a whirlpool of oily black clinging hands searching for a hold as time smooths the contours neither makes me a better painter or a better person. It just makes me a person who does one thing while he thinks about another.

It's a good thing that I've been working on this, this present-ness. I am on the bike. I am on the bike. I am on the bike going downhill with a car before me and a car behind. The car before me turns into my path without signal or warning and I instantaneously slam on the brakes, front first followed by rear, and now compensation for the fishtales, one, two, three, the bumper of the car is right at my front wheel, I bear down hard on the brakes and my bike does what it will, and I leave it to spin over my head as knees slam into tar, hands shoot out to stop face from smashing and I know right away that I am ok.

I know it could have been a lot worse, and I think that being there, right there right then, might have very well been the thing that kept it from being worse. But so were the nuns who stopped to offer help, two separate cars full of them several minutes apart. Seriously, here I am engaged in the Buddhist method of existing in the now, of dealing with reality as it is just now, and it keeps me from grievous bodily injury. A moment later, multiple representatives of Christian compassion extend warm hands and offers of healing and water.

I don't really know what to think of it all, but I won't be dwelling on it.

I am just writing this sentence.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

cookbooks...they're a huge part of life, you know?

Many people know that I am the children's lit expert here. However, what you may not know, is that I am also quite the expert with allergy-cookbooks. So, you may occasionally see a few spectacular cookbooks reviewed here.

If done right, gluten free foods can be moist and simply amazing! Try out Elizabeth Barbone's Easy Gluten-Free Baking. It has become a staple in my kitchen -- particularly for the desserts.

This cookbook uses minimal ingredients and the base of these recipes is white rice flour -- one of the easier gluten free flours to acquire. Furthermore, even though this book hesitates to use substituted ingredients, I had no trouble making these recipes corn and dairy free.

The chocolate cake is moist and delicious. The brownies practically taste like fudge and even the "normal wheat-eaters" won't be able to tell the difference. Now, the best part of this cookbook is the "Taste Like" section... The Thin Mints are AWESOME! Just ask the staff, they are better than the real things.

Here are some other recipes that sound...heavenly:
chocolate waffles
cranberry bread
double chocolate chip cookies
jam thumbprints
gingerbread cakes and cookies
chocolate pixies
mint brownies
apple pie
pumpkin pie
twinkies (without all the disgusting preservatives!)

(Is your mouth watering yet? Yummy!)

If you need to buy allergy cookbooks (which now have their own section in our cooking wall of books!) for you or as a gift, come find me. I have more on the shelf to recommend and can help you navigate through them if they are unfamiliar territory for you.

:-d In the words of Julia Child, "Bon Appétit!"

Friday, October 1, 2010

Give me a better word.

Blog? BLOG is what has stuck? It's awful. When you want someone to read something online, 9 times out of 10 you have to direct them to a site by uttering this small slimy word nugget, "blog."

Read my blog.

Oh, yeah, so and so blogged about that, check it out on their blog.

We have a blog now!

Give me your ideas. You must have some. You can make them up, just like blog was made up. Be creative, be ridiculous, be evil, just give me something better. I love that working here at the Booksmith, writing the weekly newsletter, and being invited into the fold of "bloggers" has set me on the path of being a writer, but I swear, if someone can come up with an alternative I will so gladly never use that word to describe what I do ever again.

I just got off a reg shift with Jodie, a writer, and I was talking to her about nine paintings I will do, and the importance of a unifying visual language in abstract painting, and how that language takes on a whole new responsibility when it has to speak through nine paintings (and still be strong enough to impress itself upon a viewer when just one of those paintings is called upon to stand alone), and she was talking to me about the quest for the language that would provide a balance between ideas and impressionistic immediacy in her own work, and afterward I was reminded that Friday is my day to "post" an "entry" on the "blog", and all that proverbial fuel for my creative fire, that collection of wonderful words, honed through the ages, preserved for their integrity and aesthetic perfection by our ancestors, was soaked in a quick, stupid downpour.

What do you write? An essay? A novel? A poem? Poem, now there is a perfectly balanced word. A journal? A memoir?

A blaaaaahg?
Gross. Unnecessary. Ugly, and ready to be expelled.
Please help.