Friday, December 31, 2010

Weighing What You Read, Let's Be So Happy This Year

Subtitle: Fat Hatred is soooo 2006

I'm going to ignore the non existent pressure of being the first of my colleagues to blog in this new shiny year...hell this new shiny DECADE.
On my walk home from work yesterday, I got to thinking about how my jeans were feeling snugger than usual. The thoughts that followed were the predictable Rube Goldberg-ing of my self image down the rabbit hole zeitgeist that has been the cultural moment of Hannah Montana, the death of two Brazilian supermodels from anorexia, and let us not forget Natalie Portman in Black Swan.

In short, I felt fat. Well, let's be honest... I am fat. My instinct when I re-remember my size in late December is to buy a crappy magazine detailing all the ways I can become someone else...the obvious...the eat less move more platitudes. Well, this year....I'm calling bullshit on that impulse.

Let's look at the facts:

I love my job.
I love my school.
I love my friends.
I love my family. (mostly)
I love my fella.
I have run (not walked mind you) 3 marathons while fitting into Lane Bryant's finery.

So why then, do I have to have a private meltdown every January about my waist to hip ratio? (With my luck a Doctor is reading this and preparing a comment with a litany of HORRIFYING studies detailing just how damn important that particular ratio is but I'll take my chances)

My life is pretty full, and so are my spanx. Must they be opposed?

So, for 2011................................................................................inhale......

I'm done giving my money to magazines that profit off of me feeling less than. I'm done giving my money to authors who want to sell me something that can't be sold.

This year, the only diet I am going on is a financial one. The money I spend on books will be books I want to read. Books that nourish and challenge me. Books and magazines that actually offer something. More Muriel Rukeyser!!!! (lots of her, and other size friendly feminists in our poetry section)

No more of the vapid glossy plateau- busting simulacrums that have repeated themselves for the last 40 years. I am going to spend my money locally, and only at stores that sell a size 14....(the new average for ladies in this here country.) I am going to buy local in season foods, from local farmers, local merchants. I am going to ignore national chains of most ilks. They make their money when we are fat and sad.

So, to all my chubby brethren, I say let us be strong this year, and be satisfied with what we have this very moment. Let us be so damn happy. If dropping 80 lbs is part of that, that's fine, but ....let's seek that change in a positive key. Let's love ourselves healthier. Let's buy books we want to read, clothes we look amazing in, food we love. Let's start that now. Not after we finish "ironically reading" a SELF magazine checklist written by a 21 year old intern who lives on a diet of Yogi tea and Fiber one.

...and to all my skinny cousins out there...perhaps this year you can resolve to treat yourself better as well...

...and if you are one of those people who already treats yourself and your cat to posh designer everythings...then...maybe this year you can challenge yourself to find beauty in diversity. Read, live and love a outside of your comfort zone... (us fatties do it all the time!!!)

All my love to anyone who gave me their precious time to read this little rant. Happy New Year to everyone...just as you are.

Curious George Finds a Final Resting Place

Photograph by Lindsay Metivier,
ruined via Photoshop by the author of this post.

On the last day of the 49th calendar year of the Booksmith, I came in to the store bleary-eyed and fuzzy-headed from my home, where a four-year-old Curious George junkie in recovery had told me just before the door closed "i love you that's why i'm going to give you a big hug."

Scheduled to train a new bookseller on the Atari-era computer system that keeps our records and manages our point of sale, I spent the first hour of the workday struggling to recall the litany of possible sales transactions that, after twelve years of wrangling the reg (pronounced rej) now exist as pure muscle-memory. The hour was long, but fortunately my trainee was patient, as I ended up spending more time chastising my fingers, which were skittering at their typically manic pace across the keyboard, than imparting actual knowledge. "Slow down! Even I can't tell what you're doing."

Release and relief for my cramping brain came in the form of Ric, Cool Ric. Leaving the continuation of the training to the zen master, I stepped down from the reg and immediately into a classic bookselling moment.

"I need something that will make a paper boat, do you have something?"
"...are you looking for a kit? Or a book that includes instructions?"
"I suppose I should tell you what this is for. The boat will carry a family member's ashes out to sea."

Now, a book has not been written about every specific subject, but I'm usually adept at finding needles in haystacks. The next part of this story would usually involve extensive searching down byways and through the crafts section, the card & gift room, google. And when the objective is something so personal and important, any bookseller worth the title would put off all other duties in the pursuit of the prize.

But me? Coming from where I come from? And that boy, who declared his love and his intention to express it, not two hours earlier?
Inigo Montoya holds aloft his beloved murdered father's sword, invokes the spirits, and is guided to the secret knot in the great tree. The six-fingered man is found. Curious George cannot hide his secrets when guided by the spirit of his greatest fan.

In the one where he rides a bike, George provides a step by step diagram explaining how to make a paper boat out of a newspaper.

This is a great day, for all of us.

Except Philip, who didn't learn a thing from me.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

On to the Next

Hard to believe another Christmas has come and gone.  It's an odd time of year here in a bookstore.  New titles of the year are barely budding among the collaged shelves of classics and yesterday's reads.  Holiday shopping has dwindled down.  Restocking the shelves won't feel like a running a marathon for a while.  Usually were so focused on what's up and coming that it's nice to relax back into the old favorites for the time being.  This week, I finally had time to leisurely read my favorite holiday picturebooks.  I think I melted into the couch and lost myself between the pages; it was a great experience.  Excuse the cliche, but it was like spending time with old friends, as you loose yourself in a memory that's right in front of you.  And, for a moment, all is good and peaceful.

I hope that you will revisit old favorites, while the snow is thick outside, as well.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Kate's Holiday Tip #3..../ It feels like you are all the store...right now!!!!

As if I need to exhibit any more proof of my suspect comes Kate's second to last Holiday tip. Sigh.

Imagine everyone a deer.

So- for whatever reason, when I am in large crowds, I start to imagine everyone as deer. I imagine them as the deer version of themselves...skinny jeans, glasses, baby bjorns, spandex, converse.....whatever they are wearing, they continue to wear, but as deer...deer with purses, messenger bags and helmets, deers with bags of gifts, and 20oz of hot coffee...

I have done this for as long as I can remember. When it happens- I find it soothing to think of people as my favorite spirit animal.

So during this stressful and frantic final week before gifty Mc-Gorge town....remember you can cover everyone on your list in this one store...for reals...then ...take a moment to breathe, close your weary eyes....and imagine a deer in a plaid scarf blogging at a messy desk in the back of the bustling booksmith.

Now, I'm gonna go get some free Taza chocolate from that pretty deer at the front.

Oh deer.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

and that's what christmas is all about

Until I was about fifteen years old, my family had a Christmas Eve ritual that featured reading out loud as the main event. The whole day was highly ritualized (luminaria, church, cookies for Santa, etc), but the annual reading was my favorite part. We would come home from church, turn the lights on on the tree, get into pajamas, and start reading.

We always began with Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and my little brother would read that one. We had an old copy, with pages that felt like fine sandpaper and a barely-erased pencil drawing that someone had once made in a fit of book-defacing glee. Then we moved on to The Polar Express, which my dad read. He always inflected the lines in the exact same way, but his version was never boring -- in fact, I can still hear the way in which he always said, "We were on our way home." (Aw. Nostalgia.)

After that, it was my turn, and I read Harvey Slumfenburger's Christmas Present. It's a totally endearing story of one Christmas Eve when Santa realizes, upon returning to the North Pole after a long night of present delivery, that he still has one gift left in his sack. That gift belongs to Harvey Slumfenburger, who lives at the top of the Roly-Poly Mountain, which is far, far away. The book chronicles Santa's journey to Harvey's home -- the reindeer are too tired to fly, so Santa has to find alternative means of transportation. Along the way, he is aided by all sorts of lovely people and gets up to all kinds of hijinks. (When I discovered that my beloved Booksmith doesn't currently carry this title, I was dismayed. Hint hint, Alie/Mark!)

My mom always wound up the reading with The Night Before Christmas. She, too, always read with the same inflections every year, and I'm never able to read the poem without hearing the way she recited it. Then it was off to pick out cookies to leave for Santa (we always left homemade ones that we had frosted earlier that day), and, perhaps foreshadowing the ardent bleeding-heart animal lover that I was to become, I always insisted on leaving carrots, too ("for the reindeer!").

Of course I associate Christmas Eve with cookies and milk, and lights on the Christmas tree, and presents the next morning, but I also will never be able to dissociate it from reading. If your own Christmas Eve ritual needs more oomph, more family-togetherness, try throwing in a book or two (or three, or four). I know that I sound hopelessly nostalgic and tied to the past (and yes, Zoe will probably accuse me of nerdiness -- again), but I can't imagine a better way to have wrapped up our family's Christmas Eve.

It sounds cheesy, and I'm sure that if my parents were to read this blog entry they would dissolve into fits of nostalgia and call me, in tears, immediately -- "I can't believe you remember how I used to read The Night Before Christmas!" -- but really, reading on Christmas Eve is one of the strongest traditions from my own childhood, and I wholly recommend it to anyone and everyone who celebrates Christmas (and Christmas Eve).

And if you need ideas for titles, Booksmith carries three out of four of the books mentioned here, and hopefully will be carrying the fourth shortly. :)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Come, to the Nativity

"But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.'" (Luke 2:1-11, NIV)

Amidst our overflowing tables of holiday and wintry books, we have great books that focus on the nativity scene.  Please read on the celebration for one of the many reasons of the season.  For all you reluctant readers -- overly cautious on reading the birth of Christ -- please look closely.  Some are more involved with the traditional nativity scene than others.
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski 
For those of you who know the nativity story in and out, try this one out.  You won't be disappointed. Thomas is seven and knows exactly how his nativity set looked -- the beloved set was lost in a recent move.  However, the best wood carver in town is always "mumbling and grumbling,muttering and sputtering, grumping and griping."  Will Thomas get his sheep that look happy? A cow that is proud? And, "'Jesus [...] smiling  and reaching up to his mother.'"?

This edition is also available in a gorgeous P.J. Lynch box set and includes a fabulous audio cd read by James Earl Jones. 

Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo
Frances is a very thoughtful child.  The organ grinder on the street, along with his monkey, are homeless in the bitter cold and snowfall. No else, except for young Frances, has thought to invite this man anywhere.  Newbery author, Kate DiCamillo, inspires readers to share a real spirit of the holidays -- compassion.  With this, along with the words and acrylic gouache paintings, Frances does indeed show how great Joy can light up a room and a life.

Nativity by Julie Vivas
Tattered clothes, a very pregnant lady, and angels in army boots?  I love, love, LOVE this version of Christ's coming.  The bright illustrations reflect an overflowing inn, Mary and Joseph as ordinary humans, angels as warriors on a mission -- not cute little things with fluffy wings -- and people full of curiosity.  Join the celebration in the birth of the Savior.  The text focus on Luke chapter 2, with no nonsense, even though the illustrations will bring many smiles and laughs. 

Charlie Brown Christmas Pop-Up NEW
The text remains faithful to the 30 minute short that plays every year on TV, or it might even be on DVD (perhaps VHS, too) in your very own living room.  Now, it's not quite the same effect, but it is a great pop-up to walk around with Charlie Brown again and hear Linus recalling what Christmas is about.

Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
"The first pageant rehearsal was usually about as much fun as a three-hour ride on the school bus, and just as noisy and crowded. This rehearsal, though, was different. Everybody shut up and settled down right away, for fear of missing something awful that the Herdmans might do."

The Herdmans are the bullies of all bullies!  So, what are they doing at the first Christmas pageant practice at the local church?  And, what will they do first? Beat everyone up before the performance, burn the church down, or steal from the offering plate again?  Even though this book focuses on an important holiday for Christians, it is in no way overly-religious.  I'll just say that it was first read to me out loud in second grade, at a very public elementary school.

Christmas is Here illustrated by Lauren Castillo NEW
A boy stops by an outdoor nativity, looking intently at baby Jesus.  Readers are soon sprung into the story of the shepherds hearing the message from the angels that Christ the Savior is born.  I really like this picturebook because it is not over taken by ridiculous extras or overt cuteness.  It is simply the text from Luke 2:8-14, taken from the New King James translation.  The illustrations work to mirror the text in a way that focuses your attention on what is really happening.

A Christmas Manger by H.A. Rey 
Remember staring at the nativity scene when you were a kid?  Waiting for your parents to leave the room so you could play with the "it's just for looking" toy?  Here's one to play with!  This punch-out paper set includes everything you need to recreate the Christmas miracle.  The paper is very durable, so it is perfect to use year after year, or to use as an inexpensive nativity scene for little hands -- more experienced ones, too!

Monday, December 13, 2010

I asked him what his name was.

I came to my desk this morning and there, between the wrist pad and the keyboard, lay one bobby pin; plain, brown, and totally set on not giving up any information. How do you interrogate a bobby pin, you ask? You should've seen me.

He was bent, not too hard, this way, then that way. I roughed him up a bit, tapping him, very gently, against the edge of my desk. I held him upside down.

What's his age? Whether he's worked with straight or curly?

Was it a coworker of mine, who left him there? Mark? Bruno? Eric?
Liz T?

Was it an outside actor?
A circus actor?

Nothing. Silent.
I was left with much respect. For him, not myself.

This all had little or nothing to do with bookselling. The rest of the day is about that. This is about the mysterious drama that even a Monday morning in the Booksmith, not yet open and empty of customers, in the second week before Christmas, can bring.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Virtual books, from your local--- literal store... (also, is the ebook fluid? ((creepy))

This past Friday Google announced that it will be selling ebooks, and we did too. We will be selling our ebooks... ON THE INTERNETS! With Google. It's a complicated relationship, but all good pairings are. This is huge. It will mean that if you want to continue to support us, and read on your Android/ nook, ipad, sony....., you can! We are trying to keep up with you tech savvies as best we can, and we are so grateful to be able to offer virtual books, through our literal store. By buying your ebooks from us you are shopping locally and keeping your money in the community. You are saying that you like us, and that you want us around...and we want to be around! Having cool events, selling quirky cool & chic gifts, employing friendly, nerdy and attractive locals to help you find the perfect book you never knew you wanted to read.

TANGENT (short)

This may sound paranoid...but does anyone else think it is weird that once you buy an ebook, the publisher can "update" the contents? That's cool for fixing spelling errors, and addendums to introductions; but isn't it also a little 1984 spooky? The book is then fluid, changeable and not wholly yours? Wasn't it a year ago Amazon yanked 1984 from people's kindles, and refunded their money due to some copyright infringement?

Just the idea that someone could creep into you house, and pull a book from your shelf and rip some pages out, or just TAKE it (and leave the $ at the foot of your bed) is enough for me to want to continue to own the physical book.

I do dig some reading devices, especially the one's without DRM.
I'm not afraid of technology, I'm just not completely trusting of the idea of any "cloud" holding my "virtual bookshelf". Join me for another paranoid moment....

What if something happens to that cloud? Will this moment in history be looked upon as a dark age?

Keep your books, and print out your important emails. (just sayin')

Thanks for reading, however you choose to do it.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Why can't we all be more like Carl?

In the childrens section right now, on the remainders table for about $13, we have this book called "You're a Good Dog, Carl!", its an anthology of six stories about Carl the wonder dog.

Now, I'm going through this thing right now where I don't buy books (or anything) I don't absolutely need, because occasionally I look around my tiny room in Allston and I freak out because its so jam packed with tidbits and mementos (the embroidered mystery plaque I found at a thrift store that says, amongst delicate cloth flowers, 'My eyes are my ears', the commemorative 'The Facts of Life' lunchbox/DVD series combo, the framed picture of Kathy Griffin) that I have to take some breaths.

And I have to do this because part of me secretly believes that the hippie-sanctioned "on the road" lifestyle is the way to be, that earthly possessions mean nothing and minimizing your junk is key. And the other part of me LOVES TO SHOP, specifically loves to collect weirdness, loves the feeling of a new thing that is mine. I digress - the point is, I'm not buying this anthology, because I don't have a child and can't legitimize that purchase in my brain. However, if I had endless space and money it would be mine.

I was originally introduced to Carl when my half sister Emma was born in 1993. I was never one of those kids that wanted a sibling. First off, the idea of a constant playmate totally bummed me out - I was, and still am, a big proponent of quiet, alone time. When adults would say ridiculous things like "Well I bet you'd love a little brother or sister, wouldn't you? Someone to play with?" my response was simple. It seemed to me that there were only enough resources for me; food, water, attention, sleeping space. Why introduce a new organism into this sphere if, clearly, it was only going to wilt and die? Seemed wastefully irresponsible. I wasn't really that into the kids that I got to leave behind at the end of the school day, let alone somebody I would be competing with constantly. Also, as a child, my mother was a live-in nanny and would moonlight in outside nannying jobs to pick up some extra cash. I would go with her, so I felt like I had the inside scoop on the brother/sister dichotomy. It was ugly. It was mean. Low-down and dirty. Thanks, but pass.

So when Emma was born, I was a little reticent. Emma, like a cat, could sense I was with-holding and became my biggest fan. Every time I had a weekend at my Dads house, she demanded my attention. Since I was 6 years older, we ended up reading a lot of books together, especially right before she went to bed. This was how I met Carl.

Right off the bat, the concept is fantastically ridiculous. Carl is a rottweiler, a notably large, barrel-shaped breed, whose owners literally leave Carl in charge of what looks like a roughly 8 or 9 month old baby, who almost immediately crawls out of his crib and starts riding Carl around like a horse.

The initial adventure is restricted to the house, which, okay, the fact that Carl is a dog aside, is mildly believable. This could happen, conceivably. Parents leave dog and baby in house, baby gets out of crib, causes mayhem. That happens right!? Not that weird. Further inventions include the park, a day care (interesting, there is a day care close enough to this families house that a dog can get there in an afternoon while being ridden by a baby and yet the parents choose to leave the rottweiler in charge? Ok, fine, no judgment) and other wacky places. At one point, the mother is on a walk with Carl and the baby and she runs into one of her friends (from the book club, you know) who has her brand new puppy with her and the mom says "Lets go get some tea! Carl can take care of the baby and the puppy!"

Okay, Carl isn't even consulted on this, but okay. Just because he can't talk doesn't mean he doesn't have a voice, you tool of white oppression. But never mind that now.

I have opposable thumbs, a high school degree, I'm about a semester and a half away from having a bachelors degree, I pay a gas bill, an electric bill and rent every month - and I'm pretty damn sure I couldn't take care of a baby and a puppy at the same time. What if one of them poops? What if one of them poops on the other one? What if they both poop at the same time, and I slip in it and crack my head open on the counter top, propelling me into a worst case scenario trauma coma?? Do you see? Do you see how, once you open your mind to all the possibilities, how easy it is to be paralyzed by fear??!

Not Carl. Carl shoulders these responsibilities like a champion. Carl could probably take care of the fruit fly problem in my apartment. He could fix it when I mess up with my friends and they feel like I'm ignoring them when really I'm just busy all the time. He could probably write the final I'm avoiding by writing this blog. Then I could ride him to UMASS Boston and everybody would say "Hey, is that girl riding a dog!?"

And I'd say, "You're a good dog, Carl." and take another swig from my hip flask.

keep it real, Brookline. May Carl have faith in us all.

how to understand a crazy cat

My cat is crazy. She has a very strong penchant for being on things (backpacks, blankets, bathmats), so much so that one of her many nicknames is "On-Things," as in "Good morning, On-Things!" She loves nothing more than to stare at the wall for hours on end, mesmerized. And sometimes, out of nowhere, she will caper around and climb up an unsuspecting leg -- "Ha-HA!" and then pretend like nothing happened at all.

My cat is crazy. At least, that's what I thought until I read Temple Grandin's Animals in Translation.

You might recognize Temple Grandin's name from the TV-movie named after her that won an Emmy this past year. She is a woman with autism who, due to her unusual affinity and connection with animals, has designed humane slaughterhouses and factory farms, and has written several books about the relationships that humans develop with animals.

In Animals in Translation, Grandin uses her understanding of neurology, autism, and animal behavior to describe exactly why animals behave as they do. Balking at a yellow raincoat hanging on a fence? Extreme contrast in an animal's environment can be upsetting. Somehow knowing that you're coming home and waiting at the door when you walk in? Maybe your pet heard you breathing as you pulled up into the driveway. Breaking out of an invisible fence even while knowing he'll get a shock? Maybe your dog values freedom enough to deal with a quick sting of pain.

Grandin dedicates chapters to aggression, perception, feelings, pain, and "how animals think." Throughout, she uses neurological research and her own understanding of autism to explain how the experiences of autistic people and animals are interrelated. Her eventual conclusion is that autistic people can act as a bridge between animals and people without autism, simply because their experiences have aspects in common with both being human and being animal. High degrees of perception and fascination with repetition are only two of the way that Grandin points out can link autistic people with animals.

I really don't feel as if I can do the book justice just by writing about it. It's a completely fascinating read, and Grandin's unique, straightforward writing style is just great. Read it. Read it now. Buy it as a gift for anyone who 1) loves animals 2) loves ethics 3) loves neurology/brain research 4) is interested in autism 5) just needs a holiday gift. We've got copies of Animals in Translation, and we're also stocked up on Grandin's other books -- just ask us at the front desk, at InfoSmith, or around the store.

(And by the way, my cat's not crazy. When she stares for hours at the wall, she's probably perceiving tiny changes in lighting that I can't see. When she earns the nickname "On-Things," she's probably just enjoying the unique feelings of new materials on her fur and skin. And when she pounces and pretends like she didn't, she could be experiencing conflict between her desire for alpha status and her knowledge that, in reality, I am the alpha.)

(Also, the very best line in the entire book -- the one that made me laugh out loud on the T -- is "Assistant was carrying cat down hall when cat exploded." If you want to know what THAT'S about...I suppose you'll just have to read the book, won't you?)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Rockin' around the tree and sightings of that big red guy

"So when in doubt, give a book that's just awesome."  Nicely put, Shoshana.  And, when you have no idea what book of awesomeness to choose, well, that's what we're here for.

Without further rambling, here's the awesome fun santa-ish and tree decorating books worth your while:

Gingerbread Pirates by Kristin Kladstrup
This is still my favorite holiday recommendation; I mean, his peg leg is a tooth pick!  In the wee hours of Christmas morning, Santa is not the only one awake.  There is a whole army of gingerbread pirates that Captain Cookie must save from that cannibal called Santa Claus.  But the gift Santa has for this pirate crew is certainly delicious indeed.

Olivia Helps with Christmas by Ian Falconer
Next to the original Olivia, I think this one is the best.  Even for this energetic growing pig, Christmas can be exhausting.  But it's all worth it.

My Penguin Osbert by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel
To all penguin lovers, I know you are out there!  Joe has learned to be very specific in what he asks for.  So, when he gets his penguin, it's the most wonderful gift in the world, right?  Even when he wants to be outside in the snow all the time?  Fills his bath with ice cold water and "iceberg" soap?  Cold creamed herring with seaweed jam for breakfast?  From Joe to Santa: "If you feel like maybe I should have asked for a different present, and you want to swap, that would be okay."

Fletcher and the Snowflake Christmas  by Julia Rawlinson NEW
If you loved Fletcher and the Falling Leaves, you should check out his new book.  Fletcher, always the helpful type, wants to make sure that Santa knows the way to the Rabbit family's new home.  He has a plan to lay down arrows made of branches.  But, it snows.  Will Santa still be able to make it on time?

Gift of the Magi by O. Henry (illustr. by P.J. Lynch)
For those of you who aren't familiar with this classic, it is a wonderful short story about a poor husband and wife who truly give from the heart.  Selling your most treasured possession can bring the most humbling gifts.  P.J. Lynch's breathtaking watercolor illustrations reflect the joy and sadness with each page turn.  This is no doubt the beautifulest illustrated edition out there.  (It is also available in a box set with two other fabulous books.)

Of course we have so much more, including classics like Nutcracker, over flowing editions of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Polar Express...  And even now I'm realizing that I didn't write about Great Joy or the The Jolly Christmas Postman.  So many choices!
Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Day (Another?) In The LIfe

I think I may have written another blog of this title not too long ago. But anyway, the last couple of days have been quintessential Booksmith. True, it's the busy holiday season so the antes are upped. But to give you a sampling, I'll note a few things.

We keep our door open to the sidewalk/street as many days of the year as possible. That makes for some noisy-ness. Today, no fewer than 3 major fire/ambulance cavalcades stormed deafeningly by. Two dogs had a big fight right outside our entrance. Two other dogs engaged in aggressive alpha dog stuff mid-store. We have a veritable Westminster (sp?) Dog Show variety walking the aisles on any given day. To all we give a biscuit. The fellow selling Spare Change newspaper for the homeless had a profane exchange with his girlfriend but assures me they're just fine, thanks. Coffee spill on gift book table, aisle 2 - such a LARGE coffee - oh, my. Chewing gum splat in aisle 4 and I stepped in it - drat. Diaper change of standing toddler in aisle 3 - best of luck with that process. Men's room toilet out of order. Women's room heater busted. Sigh.

Cute child was found crying at the front door about to leave to find his mother, who, when summoned via all store phone page, seemed pretty calm about her boy with tears streaming down his face as she paid for her various purchases. Tis the season for stressful shopping. Family members arguing, but laughing , about what is approriate for their Grandmother. .Someone banged into a display rack sending 3 china mugs to shard-dom inadvertently. Clearly, we don't abide by "You break it, you buy it.". Someone commented about the serendipitous nature of our Tate's Chocolate Cookie display flanked by Bananagrams , a game in a banana-like container - reminds him of a grocery store. We got a call from a Mom looking for a small menorah suitable for traveling for her child. We had a nice felt, finger puppet one. A customer wanted the perfect gift for a 15 year old Down's Syndrome kid who loves Karaoke - sponge shower microphone - done deal. For the local recycling activist, we had 2 books on where trash really goes - frightening, I assure you. A puddle on the floor in the kids' section (dog or child?) barely gave us pause. Someone needed 12 small magnets gift wrapped individually with post-its on each to identify. We sold 6 more Handerpants (see last week's Bmail).

Also lots of fabulous books on all subjects were sold. Amusing to see George W. Bush and Keith Richards (aka KEEF) side by side on our bestseller display. New York Times Top 100 and Top 10 announced and bookmarked on our shelves. Good times!!

It's a fun and funny place, our Booksmith.

Next year, we'll be 50 years old. Check out our "branded" Tshirts, magnets, mugs, pint glasses and so much more for the HOLIDAZE. Shameless plugging? Oh, yes, I do believe so :)

When the choice is yours

I'm a big proponent of letting kids be involved in their own reading choices. But it doesn't always work that way, and this time of year, people of all ages get choices made for them. That's part of the fun.

If you come to the kids' section and ask me for gift suggestions for a blank-year-old, I'm going to ask you what you know about the child's interests and/or other books he or she likes. But I'm also going to point you toward our Best Gifts Ever section, which is full of books that we booksellers just think are awesome, divided by suggested grade level.

When I was ten, a co-worker of my dad's gave me a couple of books. One of them looked kind of boring from the cover, so I read it first to save the more interesting-looking reads for later. Well, that dull-looking book turned out to be From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. It had kids running away from home, managing on their own, and discovering things adults hadn't discovered. (Tip: Kids tend to love books about other kids who run away from home, manage on their own, or discover things adults haven't discovered.)

My point? Besides that thing about books and covers that you probably already know? Gifts are a great, low-pressure way to introduce readers to new books. So when in doubt, give a book that's just awesome.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Kate's Holiday Tips Part II

I shall begin with a tangent. Remember waking up early just to watch cartoons on Saturday mornings? Well, waking up to sell books is almost as sassifying. Almost.


We started carrying Taza chocolates and things have changed in my life since. I have lost 30 lbs, I can now complete a full leg split, and suddenly... I can speak Polish. The chocolates are that good. This particular brand is a local company in Somerville, and we are having a free tasting on Dec 18th. This chocolate tastes unlike any chocolate I have had, and now every other chocolate tastes of wax and plastics in comparison.

On to my tip of the week!

In efforts to maintain a healthy BMI do NOT have more than one serving of fiber one's 90 calorie chocolate peanut butter bars. If you don't believe me, then try having 2 before bed. Let me know how you're feeling in the morning. My email is The experience was reminiscent of my 2002 foray into the world of olestra. I'll leave it at that. Classy.

What I'm saying is, instead of having a substitute for the real thing, have the damn thing. Forget O'doul's, and waxy chocolates and have the dogfish head and Taza. You'll need less and be a happier person all around.

If you read this far, thank you...and yes I am seeing a professional.

Friday, December 3, 2010

This is the last you'll hear from me

about Paul Murray and Skippy Dies.

Probably not actually.

Anyway, he read here tonight, and we sold a ton of his amazing book, and if you weren't there (every seat was filled, folks stood on the stairs, it made me so happy) then you missed out big time. I mean, Amy Sedaris might smell like whatever Zoe said she smells like in her last post, but young Paul Murray is the real deal in the world of storytelling, and to see this many people come out to see him, well, it makes me think that there are some surprises left in the old world.

I just had a pair o' pints with him and a few other good folks after the reading, so you'll forgive me if the foregoing seems gushy or the forthcoming seems abrupt, but

We have nothing else to say to each other until you do.

And if you have read the book and did not come out tonight, you missed him reading the chapter about the beginning of the Halloween Hop, where Skippy sees Lori in the white dress and Dennis dresses up like the Automator. And he read it beautifully, we laughed and laughed.


Thursday, December 2, 2010

accio audio

I can't imagine how I am ever going to follow up a blog post like Zoe's. (See below -- it is 1) epic and 2) ridiculous, much like the woman herself.) I think I probably have to resign myself to the fact that I'm just not as funny as Ms. Z, and you should probably resign yourself to that too. Of course, if you're reading in backwards chronological order, my post will come before Zoe's, and you will read my semi-nerdy post and maybe smile a tiny bit, and then you will read Zoe's magnum opus and in your gales of laughter you will fall out of your chair, or off of your couch, or out of your seat on the T. Oh well. So it goes.


Audiobooks are not really my thing, unless they're read by the author, who in my opinion is the only one who really knows how to read the writing. But I have one exception to this, and that is the brilliance that is Jim Dale reading the Harry Potter series.

Major nerd confession -- I listen to Harry Potter on audio every night as I fall asleep. I started about three years ago, when a certain person with whom I was sharing my sleeping space introduced me to the joys of Jim Dale, and I've never looked back. Of course, by now I've listened to all the books multiple times, and I have my favorite parts of each one. I don't go in chronological order; rather, I just pick what I'm in the mood for -- a Quidditch game? Action and adventure? Quiet times at the Burrow? (Man, I just nerded all over myself.) My default if I can't think of anything else is usually Chapter 22, Book 4, in which Harry asks Cho to the Yule Ball. He's so gawky and awkward and I can identify. (I asked out my date to the senior prom by passing him a note in precalculus. COME ON.)

So anyway, Jim Dale is pretty much a genius. His voices are absolutely perfect for the characters, and it's sometimes surprising to remember that it really is only one guy doing all the voices. Take his high-pitched, feathery Dolores Umbridge voice, for example, and compare it to his gravelly, rough Hagrid voice -- they sound nothing alike. But I suppose that's why Jim Dale's been winning Grammys for all of these albums, pretty much -- because they are absolute vocal brilliance. AND he's British, which earns him ten bonus points (at least in my book).

So the main side effect of having listened to Harry Potter on audio as I fall asleep every night for the past three-and-a-bit years is that I am the biggest Harry Potter trivia nerd ever. I mean ever. I can't recite passages, but you can ask me the tiniest detail about the most trivial scene, and I can tell you. It must be a subconscious thing, because I'm never really paying attention to the audio as I fall asleep.

I'm not really sure where this post is going...I suppose I should just conclude with a general recommendation of Harry Potter audiobooks, mostly because Jim Dale is an absolutely wonderful voice actor and I guarantee that if you like Harry Potter you will like the audiobooks. (And maybe you'll join in on the listening-to-Harry-at-night bandwagon -- let's start a trend, people!)

How To Be Cool: Tips From A Secretly Timid Art School Drop-out

This Tuesday, after hastily finishing a five page paper on the reunification of Germany in 1990 (oh and might I say it is a delightful diatribe on that subject, full of fun facts and quotes, to share with your friends slash family! It would not be going too far to describe it as a romp) slappin' on a dress and some leggings and chugging a Dogfish Head 90 Minute (why do you taste better than love ever did??), I headed down to the Coolidge Corner Theatre and watched my friend Katie deliver a quite hilarious introduction of the one and only Amy Sedaris, who then showed us how to do some crafts and fielded questions from the audience. Both ladies were delightful, and I was seated pretty far back but if you asked the front row I'm sure they'll confirm that Amy moves with the undying grace of the ages and smells like sweet lotus blossoms falling on a temperate spring pool. I don't know, I'm guessing.

Afterwards I let myself be carried off with the crowd to the Booksmith to get my book signed. I always have a lot of bravado when I get in the line, and then as I get closer and closer to celebrity, I slowly remember that I am naturally a shy and apologetic person and by the time I get to the fame I've compromised myself down to not making eye contact, barely muttering a response to any and all questions asked of me, and shuffling out of the line as fast as I can so not to get in the way. You might not think that this would be my survival technique dujour from meeting me or reading these online blog posts, but I am meek, internets. I am a quiet coyote. I'm a note leaver and a letter writer, the type to avoid confrontation at any cost. I fully intend to inherit the earth.

Sometimes I make it pretty far with high hopes ("I'm gonna ask for a picture and tell him/her that I loved him/her on that one thing they did and they'll laugh and we'll probably be BFF 4 life and get each others initials shaved in the backs of our heads...") and then the Famous People Handlers are so businesslike and they don't smile and they manhandle my property in some way to make sure I don't have a bomb or chloroform and I totally lose footing. Then its just all downhill from there, I start babbling and making that nervous laughter that sounds like a dying pelican because I can't stop breathing and laughing simultaneously so at this point I'm alternating between some kind of half hearted giggle and taking huge, life affirming gulps of air...

So the moral of that story is I was too shy to ask for a picture and now I regret it. At least I got to bask in the sunshine of Amy's presence for a few cherished seconds, and I have a personalized signed copy of Amy's book. The inscription reads: "Zoe - Keep sharing your needles, skein brain." Although, to be honest, when she asked me if I crafted and I said "I knit. A little." What I meant was, I once knitted a scarf in 2007 that is too wide and has little fuzzies wherever I switched colors because I don't know how to do stripes and I haven't really picked up the needles since because I am unable to learn things right now that don't have to do with getting a degree or getting paid. Details.

Actually the meat of this blog post ("What? It''s not over?" I hear you, trust me, imagine living in this brain. Its like an over-loud sports bar all the time except playing on the speakers is not sports announcers, its my own constant neurosis and narrative. Its like I'm trapped in a Seinfeld episode that won't ever end.) is this: lets talk about my top 3 Brookline Booksmith Public Reading experiences.

Picture, if you will, if you can, 2002. I'm 13, maybe 14. I'm dumpy, I'm awkward, and I'm accompanied by my mom at Margaret Cho's reading of her autobiography, "I'm The One That I Want". First off, it's 2002, I assume the Booksmith and the Coolidge Corner Theatre have not yet formed the love bond that they have now, but even in addition to that Margaret is not yet a superstar, so the reading is in the Readers and Writers room, downstairs in the bookstore.

I am mere feet away from Margaret Cho as she reads from her autobiography about all of her sexual adventures and misadventures and wetting the bed, all the trappings of future stardom. I've just started 8th grade and moved to Winchester street, and all these new things are happening to my body! Hair in new places! Weird feelings! Zits, argh!1!!!Cho's sexplicit (I just made that word up, move over Shakespeare/Sarah Palin) life is something I have trouble relating to but I read the biography and loved it because I love Margaret, she is so funny and honest, and aside from all the underground S&M dungeon stuff, an excellent role model. After the reading we got to meet her and have the book signed, and my mom mentioned how much we loved a stand up show she did at the Wang, and I was deeply and fundamentally embarrassed by her sheer existence. This was neither the first or last time that would happen. You are embarrassed by your parents until you become them, and then you have to be embarrassed by yourself like an adult.

My number two greatest all time Booksmith author talk was Linda Barry circa 2007ish. Linda Barry, if you don't know her, is absolutely amazing. I found out about her when I was 10 and preferred reading cartoon anthologies at the Newton Public Library to (ugh) talking to children my own age (gross). That reading could be a blog post all of its own, how she started out singing to calm her nerves, or how she's so great because she promotes art as something accessible to everybody which I totally dig because in all facets I'm a dabbler and a dilettante which makes me suspicious about anything you need training for.

I was still in art school at the time, trying to figure out if I belonged there, (and if not there, then where?) so I was asking myself a lot of questions about drive and motivation. Barry is so passionate in person, the way she talks about learning how to draw and express herself through art made me think about my own expression and art, who I created for and why. She was inspiring and hopeful, and I've always thought I should write her a letter but I never have.

Amy Sedaris can go in as my number three favourite all time author talk, although I have been to many more. Because she was amazing but also because I've already made this post too long and I'm going to get those awkward responses to it that are like "Ohh, loved the blog post Zoe, only took me half an hour to read it, its the perfect length since I don't have anything better to do in my life than read your gargantuan cyber natterings. OBLIGATORY EYE ROLL." And I'm like "I'M SORRY ITS AN ADDICTION" and then they're like "You already have an addiction its called alcoholism" and I'm like "oooh, low blow, Mom, low blow. Hand me that bottle opener."

Sorry. Those...those are my issues. We've gotten off track somehow.

Thanks for reading, ya'll are the salt of the earth. Keep on craftin' on, and come to the author readings, because its a cheap way to briefly touch the flickering flame of celebrity, and then years later you get to say you hobnobbed with so-and-so in the Brookline Booksmith basement before they blew up (figuratively or literally, both are equally impressive). That is plus a million cool points right there, and if we aren't striving for maximum cool then what is even the point of getting up in the morning???? Stay classy, 617.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Snow Books

Oh snow, where are you?  White beautiful fluffiness of cold!  There's so much to do in it.  Though, one thing I have never seen anyone do is build a snow castle.  Fort yes -- castle no.  All you need is some sand castle buckets and it's instant great fun!

I made this to avoid shoveling off part of the deck when we had 8 feet of snow at a time (in Alaska -- that was the year we had 200 inches total).  Okay, now on to the fun indoor stuff:

Waiting For Winter by Sebastian Meschenmoser
What does winter look like to you?  How would you know what snow looked like if you'd never seen it?  Join the animals of the forest -- a rambunctious squirrel, a sleepy hedgehog, and a gruff looking bear -- as they wait for the last leaves to fall and winter to arrive.  These illustrations are brilliantly sketched and have just enough color to send emotion and anticipation straight to the reader.  This one is a must! Ages 3-8

10 Little Penguins by Joelle Jolivet and Jean-Luc Fromental NEW
Ever since 365 Penguins became a popular request here, I find it no surprise that this new penguin book is flying off of the shelf.  10 little penguins are playing a game, but in each situation a penguin goes missing among this interactive paper pop-up.  Where have they all gone and will they ever return?  This is a great counting book and perfect for any penguin lovers.  Ages 4-8

Snow Day by Komako Sakai
Little Rabbit waits and waits and waits for it to stop snowing.  Finally, right before bed, he can go out and play in the first snow fall of the season.  This peaceful and comforting book is a great winding down winter time book.  Ages 2-5


Old Bear and His Cub by Olivier Dunrea NEW
This is a sweet story focusing on the relationship between grandfather and grandson.  The cub doesn't want to be told what to do.  After all, nothing is too rough for this young cub.  But he loves his grandfather so!  So, he will wear his scarf, eat his porridge, and not catch a cold.  But, can this little cub take care of his grandfather when he catches the sniffles? Ages 2-8

Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, Mary Azarian
Snowflakes have been swirling around the earth for quite some time now.  But did you know that we did not always know what snowflakes really looked like?  Jump into a fascinating look at the intricate designs of a single snowflake as we learn of a boy's childhood and thirst for science.  Snowflake Bentley is definitely deserving of the 1999 Caldecott.

The U+1 Goal: How you can help us keep going strong for free.

As the store's events director, I think a lot about why people come to us and why they come back. For example, tonight we had about 500 people stop in to our shop to see Amy Sedaris. Most of those people had been to the store before; they saw the signs saying she was coming or they got our email or looked at our events calendar, and they bought tickets and showed up.

But some of those 500 people were here for the first time. I guarantee it. Someone brought their grandmother or their sister or their boyfriend or second cousin twice removed, because they saw that sign, and they thought "Holy molasses, Aunt Gertrude loooooves Amy Sedaris!"

And my hope is that Aunt Gertrude gets here, and she has a good time, meets her favorite comedian, and notices while she's waiting in line, "Wow...this store is really cool." Perhaps she likes the layout, the books she finds--maybe she likes the jolly rancher she's handed while she's waiting to get a book signed. And then Aunt Gertrude comes back, and she sees that Patton Oswalt is coming, so she brings Cousin Billy, who loooves Patton Oswalt.

I believe in our bookstore. I believe that once you cross our threshold, you're going to be hooked. And I believe too that the only reason we have a bookstore still while others (tragically) don't is because you guys are pretty fond of us too (if you're willing to read my rambly blog post, you must be).

So here's my holiday wish/request/plea. It won't cost you anything, but it makes all the difference in the world, and it can guarantee you'll have your favorite indie around for the next 50 years:

During the holiday season, bring in one person you know who has never been to the Booksmith. (Get it? U+1...You, plus one person...okay, so it seemed catchy to me.)

Meet someone for breakfast at Zaftigs or dinner at Khao Sarn or a movie at the Coolidge or a coffee at Peet's. And then when you're done, say, "Hey, do you want to stop into the bookshop just up the road?" Or bring them to an event for an author they'll like. Share your holiday gift-shopping expedition with a friend or group of friends and make us one of your stops. Heck, set up a Facebook event and invite everyone you know in Boston to join you for an hour of browsing.

You'll be helping them find one of the niftiest shopping spots in Boston, and you'll help us stay that way. And who knows? Maybe while they're here, they'll figure out that what you really want for the holidays is a Booksmith gift card. I mean, it could happen, right? And you're not above dropping hints...are you?

And if you and your +1 are in when I'm working, tell me so. I'd be thrilled to thank you, and I'd love to welcome him or her.