Friday, April 27, 2012

Sea Swept and Fancy Free

I just finished a phenomenal book this week. It doesn't come out 'til September. Boy and howdy I can't get it outta my head. It's like, definitely one I think about when I should be concentrating real hard on conversations people are having at my face. And I don't feel it's super fair to talk about it yet since I can't share my galley with all of Brookline. BUT. Come September, there will be a great hootin' and a-hollerin'.

Suffice it to say, the novel takes place on a tiny island and the whole thing is beautifully sea swept. So sea swept, that since I pounded through it on my weekend (and did little else) my head feels a bit like sea water has washed everything away and I want to run away and build a little sea shanty and smoke a pipe.

There have been a lot of books like this one, playing with the same myths and whatnot. But this one worked for me where others didn't because the setting was so strong. I discovered in reading this that setting is a big difference for me, and that there are so many books I should like, but the setting isn't as concretely drawn and therefore less transporting for me. And I do ever-so-much love being transported.

So since I don't want to leave the ocean, you get to look at all these cool books we have in the UBC right now that will take you right there.

First up: Sailing Alone Around the World, being the account of a Boston sea captain Joshua Slocum who in 1859 took off on the first solo around-the-world sea voyage and lived to memoir it. It's like a longer, epic-er Old Man and the Sea but with PICTURES.

Next up we have a National Geographic coffee table book entitled Mystery of the Ancient Seafarers which is all about ancient civilizations that grew up near oceans and how it affected their culture, economy, cuisine, etc. Great full-color illustrations, and a unique, overlooked take on the big civilizations that we usually only learn about through war and sexual intrigue.

And last but certainly not least, a novel. Gentle readers, I'm real tempted to buy this myself because it's exactly what I'm in the mood for, but since the new Guy Delisle came out this week I'm leaving it on the shelf for you. I'm so magnanimous. We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen is a Danish sea epic that is fairly new to paperback and we have a real fancy copy in the UBC for a mere $9. It moves from the 19th century through the second World War, from Denmark to Hawaii, and all over elsewhere. And it starts with the line: "Many years ago there lived a man called Laurids Madsen, who went up to heaven and came down again, thanks to his boots." Yeah, that's right. Run, don't walk to snatch this up.

Thanks for reading, landlubbers!

"Sleepwalk With Me" Sneak Peak feat. Ira Glass, a small bribe between booksellers, and a theater full of nerds.

"We need to move to a city with fewer nerds." I say to Ashley, doing my best to ignore the cold chill in the air as we stand in the tail end of the serpentine line of ticket holders that curls around the block next to the Somerville theater."What if the theater burns down and there are no more nerds left in Boston?" Ashley replies. I had not considered that, but of course, now, it's all I can think of.

Our story really begins last Sunday, when Ashley called me in an old-fashioned honest to god tizzy while I was working up a storm (read: sitting at a table with my friends and spending too much money on cool stuff) at the Abstraks table at the Boston Comicon. I hate talking on the phone and Ashley knows it, so when I picked up she let me know, up front, that it was an emergency, that the Boston Independent Film Festival was kicking off on Wednesday night with a screening of Mike Birbiglia's new film, "Sleepwalk With Me" named after and based off his one-man show, with a Q&A session afterwards with the film's co-writer and co-producer, Ira Glass. I'm a huge comedy nerd and I dabble in NPR nerdism, so I was willing to sell my soul to go to this movie. Thankfully, all it took was a little bartering with Dana to move my Wednesday shift up a few hours so I could get out in time. Instead of a soul, I promised a blog post, and here I am, delivering.

Despite the fact that Ashley may have just doomed us all to hideous, melty death via an ultimate tragedy jinx, the line began to move shortly thereafter. I have not been to the Somerville theater very many times in my life; it's kind of a mixture of the Coolidge and the Wilbur theaters, with the ground floor being your standard popcorn, draft beers, and the various ephemera of movie theaters across this great nation. You pass through this familiarly loud, ever so slightly sticky-floored layer and make it upwards to the balcony. The theater on the inside is a little more opulent; a painted ceiling, all the trappings of vintage art deco. I'm impressed by the delicate moldings coupled with a comfortable seat, one that doesn't induce vertigo (I'm looking at you,Wilbur.) or the cramping of knees for those of us over 5'9. Marita joins us, mentioning that she watched my Rachel Dratch introduction (as she read from her new book, "Girl Walks Into a Bar..."  at the Coolidge via Booksmith nigh a fortnight ago) on youtube and that yes, I did indeed come off as nervous as I thought I did. However, since my performance did not include projectile vomiting or tears of any variety, it is concluded that clearly, I was not as visibly nervous as I felt. I am abused for having to work through the rest of the film festival, and I remind these two Northeastern grads that some of us are still plugging through our 6th year of college and don't need to be berated for it, thanks. New Ivy league jerks. Note to self: get dumber friends.

"Sleepwalk With Me" walks a delicate line between a real, sincere and gratifying narrative about a complicated situation, that situation being balancing a floundering long-term relationship with a budding career and dangerous sleepwalking disorder (you know, tale as old as time). Just when I thought the film was going to veer off in the direction of saccharine rom-com territory, Birbiglia pulled it back into the realm of the relatable. Ignoring your anxiety about your relationship, over-eating, not taking care of yourself and pushing yourself to your physical limits are all present in the script, and I can see myself in those shortcomings about as clearly as I can the sky in a crystalline pool. I also found it appealing that the movie is based off a true story, the story of Mike Birbiglia and his once-girlfriend, "Abby". Also, I am no hard-hitting film critic; I like a happy ending, and I'm not ashamed to say it, and this movie definitely delivered that. It may have had a greater (or lesser, frankly I can't tell) impact on me had I not already been very familiar with "Sleepwalk With Me" the album, which I considered to be a comedy album but I suppose you could call it a one-man show if that's what we're calling comedy albums now. I'm not trying to be catty, but what has stand up ever been but a one-person show? Can stand up not also contain truth? Sorry, soap box, sorry.

It became very clear, however, during the Q and A with Ira Glass, that the crowd predominantly consisted of NPR nerds, and not comedy nerds, or even hybrids like myself. Most of the questions issued from the audience were based on This American Life or The Moth, both of which Birbiglia has been featured on. Even the questions from the woman interviewing Ira where radio-centric, which makes sense; Birbiglia wasn't present, Ira Glass was, and what are you going to ask Ira Glass about if not radio? In the end I was not disappointed by the experience,  just surprised. I admit, my interest was piqued when I told people I was going to see "Sleepwalk With Me" and they knew what I was talking about. Birbiglia is not an unknown comic in the Boston area, but stand-up comedy is a weird circle of media. Either you are in the know or you're not, relegated to the Dane Cooks of the industry, or that guy who does the saucy puppets. There's nothing wrong with that, but that's why I was caught off guard when people responded to my claim that I was going to see "Sleepwalk With Me". I think Ira Glass' star power (and boy howdy do I love that I live in a community wherein THAT is a thing) drove the publicity for this film, and through that, a lot of NPR nerds definitely got exposed to what can happen when you refer to comedy as a One-Man Show (that is, you can get a narrative that is part comedy, part tragedy, part sincere reenactment of How Things Are) and I can't complain about that. I mean, I'll try, lord knows, I'll try...

Also, if you are somebody who has enjoyed my blog posts in the past and has been wondering where all the nasty sarcasm with the obvious grammatical errors of this blog disappeared to, the answer is, number 1, that I am trying so desperately to finish my undergraduate studies and get out of my state-financed hell hole that I can barely fill my lungs with air that my torso won't hit some stupid assignment that I don't have time for. In addition to that, in the area of things that Actually Matter, I am working on another project for the store that I am currently referring to as "Supa-Secret Project X", even though our events director Evan has repeatedly asked me not to. "Quit being so mysteriously weird" he says. "Please take off that cape before you host the author talk tonight" he says. "Please stop bugging my office, reading my emails, and referring to me as the 'loose end'" he says. That Evan. So uptight.

Anyway, suffice to say, I'm cookin' up something real good, ya'll, and I'm super excited and as soon as everything stops being so horrible re: state funded hell hole, I'm going to do some great stuff. In the meantime, deep love and kisses to you all, don't forget that Mike Birbiglia has also written a book called "Sleepwalk With Me", that is available in our humor section. He is a very funny man and if you like very funny things, you should come on down to the store and talk to me, because I know stuff, man. The things I know. Hooboy. Knock your socks off. Crazy.

Exes and Ohs,


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Creating a Feast

The most common question coming out of children's mouths is "why?"  And, it's a logical question.  If no one ever asked why, we really wouldn't know very much.  Why is a question I often wonder if not enough adults ask, especially when it comes to what's in the food we eat.  It's important to know what fuels our energy and brains.  So, I love it when books incorporate how food makes it to our tables -- before cargo-loads, boxes, and plastic get involved. 

How Did that Get in my Lunchbox? The Story of Food (ages 4-12), by Chris Butterworth, is a wonderful non-fiction book for young readers that emphasizes food does not grow in stores, contrary to what some urban school children perceive.  Butterworth takes you through the process of how bread is mixed, where apples are picked, how cheese is made, and so much more!  There are undertones of appreciation for food and the people who produce it, as well as what kinds of foods are better for you.  The most common comment customers give this award winning book is "beautiful" and "informative" and "exquisite."

Now, on to a new release: Minette's Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat (ages 3-8), by Susanna Reich, beautifully illustrated and completely cat!  Before Minette comes along, it is clear that Julia's life revolves around food.  But no matter what amazing meals and smells are cooking up around Julia's apartment, this cat only prefers mice and birds.  So, what does this book have to do with where food comes from?  I mean, yes, Julia Child was a brilliant chef, but her food came from the markets.  But Minette?  She hunted.  And that's how food is often acquired.  Gruesome? To many, yes.  But it is a fact of life just as hunting -- and foraging for berries and honey -- is in Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series (ages 6-12), Elizabeth George Speare's The Sign of the Beaver (ages 8-12) and Gary Paulsen's Hatchet (ages 10-14).  For one to live, something else must die.

I don't know if it's because we are situated in New England or what, but there are quite a few books that illustrate what goes into pancakes and how maple syrup is extracted from trees.  Tomie DePoala's Pancakes for Breakfast (ages 3-7) and Tyler Florence's Tyler Makes Pancakes (ages 4-7) both take a journey to get the eggs from the hen, the milk and butter from cows, and the maple syrup from the maple farm.  All is mixed and fried up, delivering smiles all around.  (Kate Messner's Sugar and Ice is a great read for older readers -- 10-14 -- that partially takes place on a running maple syrup farm.)

Knowing what goes into your food and all of the work that it went through makes you appreciate it so much more!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What Will It Be, Boston: Books or Burritos?

Not long ago I was walking up Tremont Street past the Boloco on the corner—you know, the one full of Emerson undergrads and suits escaped from the state house for a stroll across the Common—when I noticed a plaque situated to the left of the glass door. Edgar Allan Poe, I learned, was born near this spot, on Carver Street in 1809.

 Now, I’m not entirely against a chain that provides a "summer" burrito all year long. Those diced mangos embedded inside have gotten me through more than one long, cold New England winter. But as I perused the plaque outside Boloco’s door, I couldn’t help thinking that perhaps the site where one of America’s great literary lights came into being deserved a little more recognition. I don’t know exactly what I wanted. Maybe the chain would consider naming this particular branch Poeloco, or, in the least, serve a "Tell Tale Taco."

In 1827, Poe’s plaque informed me as the smell of sizzling beef lured me toward the door, Poe published his first book, Tamerlane and other Poems, at "a shop on the corner of Washington and State Streets." That shop on the corner, I knew, was the Old Corner Bookstore. I also knew that if I were to walk across the Common to the corner of Washington and School Streets, I would no longer find a bookstore. There would be a plaque—and there would be more burritos. The Old Corner Bookstore is now a Chipotle.

One might expect the author whose most famous word is ”Nevermore” and who died an obscure and lonely death in the back streets of Baltimore to slip into obscurity. But the Old Corner Bookstore was at the heart of America’s early literary scene, run by James T. Fields and William Davis Ticknor, prominent nineteenth-century booksellers who published not only Poe, but Hawthorne, Lowell, Longfellow (yes, it would make a great burrito name, but I’m serious now), even Emerson and Thoreau.

Now we eat tacos there?

Booksmith thanks you for your loyal patronage to our bookstore and reminds you that there are no less than two Anna’s Taquerias and a Boca Grande within walking distance of the store. Boston doesn’t need more consumer-driven chains, but we could use a few more literary sites—past and present—places that are more than plaques, spaces where we can feed on something more satisfying than any burrito, the sustenance of a vibrant literary community.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Adults Only

Where I grew up in Idaho, you had to show your ID and prove that you were of sound mind and body to buy dry ice. Yup. 18+ only to buy dry ice in Idaho. There are lots of great things you have to flash ID for: cigarettes, booze, "GRAPHIC" novels, and now, selling books to us in the UBC.

This is standard practice for most buyback situations but we've been renegades for a while. But now we're toeing the line. And you must, too, if you wanna swim with the big fishes. Or something. Anyway all that matters is that we're going to need photo ID when you sell us your used books starting 25 April. Thanks in advance for helping us out on this.

Other used book news: we got a lot of great Modern Library giant books: complete Henry James short stories, Thirty Famous one-act plays, that we are mylaring right now. Some great poetry, gobs of comics and lots of great contemporary fiction including this book The Line by Olga Grushin that looks really cool. And the pictured vintage paperback of Jane Eyre with a great cover. Come by and see! There's beautiful weather about! Don't be caught in the park or on the beach by a fancy member of the gender of your romantic preference WITHOUT a book to make you look like the smart AND attractive catch that you are.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Awesome Advice for Impressing Your Date

Everyone wants to impress that special someone when having them over for a date. But in the world of dating, everything is a challenge, and the slightest awkward moment could ruin your entire evening. Well, worry not! For I am here with some more of the Card & Gift Room's awesome items along with a step-by-step guide to having an evening you nor your date will likely forget.

Step 1: Dress Up for the Occasion
Whether or not you're a naturally good-looking individual (like myself), you'll want to add some flair to your attire if you want your date to really notice you. It is a proven fact that facial hair makes anyone, male or female, look incredibly distinguished and attractive. Instead of going through the hassle of trying to grow an awesome moustache or beard yourself, buy one! Stick on a moustache (in attractive styles such as Artist and Hipster) or blow up your own beard. Worried about those awkward moments when you gaze into each other's eyes? Try the Anime Eyes glasses to give your date something interesting to look at. And for  footwear, consider the Mop Slippers; everyone wants a date that can multi-task!

Step 2: Appetizers
You don't want your date to starve while they wait for dinner; it makes you look like a poor host. Whet your special someone's appetite with some bacon! Everyone loves bacon, and now you can enjoy it in a multitude of formats. Hang a bacon air freshener in your car to make an instant impression when you pick up your date; offer them some Bacon Gumballs or Gummy Bacon (Warning: Gummy Bacon is actually strawberry flavored) as a snack, or Bacon Toothpicks or Bacon Floss for a tasty way to get whatever that is out of your teeth. For chapped lips or the occasional boo-boo, there's bacon for that, too. By the time dinner actually comes, your date will be ravenous.

Step 3: Meal Preparation
It is always a good idea to impress your date with a home-cooked meal. The way to someone's heart is through their stomach, after all! If all that bacon didn't already win their heart, some of these impressive cooking accessories certainly will help. Show your date you take cooking seriously with the OCD Chef cutting board, which allows you to cut precise measurements of vegetables for the absolutely perfect dish. The Batter Finger spatula is a great tool for baking, and it doubles for an awesome "pull my finger" gag. Worried about burning your hand on a hot pan handle? Cover it with a silicone Banana Handle for maximum protection and potassium. If you plan to enjoy a bottle of wine, make sure to keep it fresh with one of our unique bottle toppers: Pickles, plungers, or bananas; there's something for everyone! Don't forget these whimsical oven mitts that make you look like an adorable animal has eaten your hand.

Step 4: Go with a Theme
Theme parties are not just for kids. A good theme will show your date that you have class and pay attention to detail. Here at Booksmith we happen to have some themed items set up for you, to save you the hassle of collecting them yourself! Russian Matryoshkas and Babushkas are adorable little dolls that your date will love. Put them in your kitchen as nesting Store-M Tupperware, M-Spoons measuring spoons, M-Cups measuring cups and Salt-M S&P shakers. If your date wants to freshen up in the bathroom, provide them with Babushka manicure sets, tweezers or matchbox emery boards. Their beady little eyes will make your date feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Step 5: Keep it Clean
Throughout your evening, you will want to show your special someone that you care about your personal hygiene. Your hands touch everything and spread germs everywhere! Protect yourself and your date with Handerpants, underpants for your hands. These attractive, stylish gloves will certainly make an impression--plus, they'll keep your date from noticing how sweaty your palms are when you touch. After dinner, don't let the entertainment end! Using these Dish Play rubber gloves, you can put on a show for yourself and your date while getting those dishes clean. Your skills at drama and puppetry will surely make them swoon.

 Well, that's about all the advice I can give you. With these tools at your disposal, you'll barely need to do a thing to make your special someone fall for you in no time. Your quest for romance is now complete!

You're welcome.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Headed Toward Icy Waters

100 years and 3 days ago, a gripping headline began making its way around the world.  The Titanic, the unsinkable ship, had been hit and over one thousand people had died.

Though there are many books on the Titanic for all ages, here are some interesting ones for younger readers.

DK Story of the Titanic introduces you to people who were on board and various phases of the ship's construction.  Along with a few I Spy games, this book talks you through what happened and precisely when. (ages 8+)

882 1/2 Amazing Answers to Your Questions about the Titanic is named after the length of the boat.  From cover to cover, there are logical and random questions you may have never thought  to ask.  For instance, is it true the fourth funnel was a fake?  Why was the Titanic carrying dragon's blood?  Is it true that there was a murder on the ship?  And, what was served for the first lunch on the Titanic? (ages 8-14)

Usborne Titanic Sticker Book is an interactive way of learning about this historical event.  Each sticker is paired with a small bit of information about the Titanic. (ages 6-8)

Build Your Own Titanic is certainly a one of a kind learning book.  After you read up on some history of the Titanic, you can build your own out of cardboard.  All pieces are pre-cut and the final model is 53 inches in length. (ages 8+)

Come on in and browse our adult history section or children's display to learn more about this tragic history in the Atlantic and how are lives are different today because of it.

"Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom — not a guide by which to live."
        - Robert Kennedy

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bike into Booksmith

Last week after closing down Booksmith for the night, I wearily boarded an overcrowded 66 bus to the orange line. When, thirty minutes after leaving the store, I exited the T station nearest my apartment and began stumbling up the block toward home, I was waved down by two exuberant bikers flying toward me.

I recognized the hunched, slightly sweaty forms of two of my co-workers, to whom I had said goodnight thirty minutes prior. As they wheeled merrily on their way, I trudged onward toward my apartment, through the door, and past my out-of-commission bike with a flat back wheel. As soon as my flat is fixed I'll be whizzing around Boston in a summer free from the hassle and trial of public transportation.

At Booksmith we have all the resources you need--short of fixing a flat--to prepare for a summer of biking around the state. Stop by our travel section for guide books and maps to help you plan a safe route through the city (see Boston's Bike Map--it's even waterproof) or a scenic ride through the backroads of New England (pick up the Moon Guide to New England Biking).

In addition, our Pocket Ride Maps offer creative routes to little known local destinations. Just slip these laminated, 3x5 maps into your pack and ride off to Singing Beach, Walden Pond, or Wompatuck State Park. Or if you simply need inspiration, check out the hip new Cycle Style, filled with photos of sleek, fashionable peddlers like yourself. Whether biking for transportaiton or recreation, bike into Booksmith for your travel needs.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Race Into the Booksmith!

It's that time again, folks! Time to get drunk and watch people with iron willpower rush past you! OR, if you're one of the elite few, time to race through our streets scantily clad without getting arrested. Go you!

Maybe this year is the LAST year you drink from the sidelines and next year you're going to do it. You're going to run the Boston Marathon. Better start training now because I hear it's pretty hard to qualify. But never fear, we've got this useful guide to eating right while training for endurance sports:

Or, this could be the year for you. In which case, the UBC has you covered. I'm sure it's against "regulations" and "rules" and you might get "disqualified," but maybe you should jazz it up this year and buy this book from us. You have the weekend to read it before you bust out barefoot running techniques on the streets Monday:

Finally, if you ARE running the race, here are a few helpful suggestions from your big fans in the Booksmith dungeon:

For while you're racing:
  • Vegan pizza delivery in the Allston-Brighton area: Peace O' Pie (617) 787-9884. I recommend the E.P.
  • Naked Pizza: Grab a gluten-free pizza as you rush down Beacon Street! They'll put fresh basil on it! (617) 232-2412.
  • Pizzeria Dante! Awesome pizza, also down Beacon Street, with just about any topping you could want. Call ahead and I'm sure they'll pop out their storefront and pass it off like Grecian torch-racers of old! (617) 232-5353.
For after the race, you're going to need to relax in a bath of Epsom salts, and my colleague Carl has just the recommendation for deep relaxation:

Godspeed you iron-willed uber-humans! And Bostonian spectators, remember: beer before liquor never sicker. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Showed the mouse to the magpie:

When you have nothing, it's okay to have more.  But be content with that.  You don't need multiple places of stuff or hoards of things lying around.  When too much stuff breaks your nest, it's more than enough.  When the purpose becomes solely getting more, it's more than enough.  It may be hard getting rid of so much stuff, but in the end, having "not much at all" is quite enough. 

Life is not stuff, it's living with the creatures around you.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Writing Home

A large part of travel is writing home about the adventure. Sharing your experiences abroad with others is dependent on your ability to accurately recall and vividly describe your escapades. If Cheryl Strayed hadn't kept a journal of her physical and emotional journey along the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995, chances are we would not have, 17 years later, her recently published, well-reviewed memoir of her travels: Wild. So before you take off for your next destination, swing by Booksmith to pick up a journal from our selection of travel diaries and blank books.

Molskine has a journal specifically designed for recording your travels, part of their Moleskine Passions series. This is my preferred journal to travel with, both for its durable hard cover and sleek appearance. The black cover of the travel journal is even more exciting because it is imprinted with a railway timetable. Inside you will find the pages conveniently divided into tabbed sections to help you plan, organize, and, most importantly, record your adventures.

Our Bon Voyage Travel Journal by Susie Ghahremani is less durable but a lot of fun. The cute illustrations--owls being airlifted by balloons--make this journal a great gift for the traveler on your list. The lined and illustrated pages  include helpful tips and simple writing prompts to inspire you. "Describe your accommodations." "Something new I tried:" "Save something near you right now and put it in the pocket at the front of this book so you'll always remember where you were."

For the more sophisticated traveler, there's the little black journal series' portable diary. This journal comes with travel tips and with pages designated for the practical information you might need to have on hand for each destination. The diary also encourages you to record your memories with sections like "where I ate" and "favorite moment." This journal is perfect for the business traveler who saves a few days on either side of meetings to see the sites.

And finally, Fordors' Open Road Chronicles is the perfect road trip diary. This slim spiral bound belongs in the glove department of every road junkie. The journal has tabbed sections for Trip Tips, Trip Lists, Chronicles, and Resources. Scattered throughout the pages are fun road trip trivia, just in case you didn't know that Arizona does not observe Daylight Savings Time, or that there are more dogs than people in San Francisco. Happy Travels!

Friday, April 6, 2012

We all make Miss Steaks

This week is much better than last week because my colleague Carl is back from vacation, so the UBC is back to regular buying capacity, and the Spotify playlists are significantly more varied. Also, we got new lights downstairs. I'll tell you what! It's like daylight down in our lil cave, you should come check it out. I didn't realize before that Carl wears different colors of flannel! Also, the lights are so bright (in a good way) that all the different colored spines of the books look like CANDY. It's good times.

When I'm left to my own devices in the UBC I do silly things like pass on first edition Don Quixotes and buy books that I later realize have highlighting in them. D'oh! (We also don't buy back books from our dollar cart but I didn't make that misteak last weak.) The book I bought that ended up having highlighting in it was ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life. I might need a copy.

So come check out all the pretty books in the pretty lights and see what weird stuff I bought while Carl was on vacation! Tons of old Grantas! Cool art books! Fiction that'll blow your mind!

Okay, thanks for reading!



Cartoon Heroes

Happy Spring! I'm sure most of you lovely readers are preparing for Passover, Easter or just the end of winter (albeit a very mild/practically nonexistant one)! Things have been very springy here in the store; flowers, bunnies, and matzoh-patterned pot holders adorn our store along with all the other spring holiday goodies just waiting to be brought home!

In my usual preparations for this spring holiday weekend, I have been spending my free time for the past few weeks stitching together brightly colored garments and detangling my unnaturally colored, four-foot-long wigs, and listening to Asian pop music.

I know what you're thinking: "Wait... what?"

Yes, this weekend I will be joining my fellow nerds and attending Anime Boston, New England's largest anime convention. Every year, about 17,000 otaku (anime fans) gather in the Hynes Convention Center (often dressed as their favorite characters) to celebrate their love of anime, manga, video games, J-pop music, and other nerdy type things originating in Asia. It also happens to usually fall on the same weekend as Easter and Passover. So in honor of this glorious event, and to inform those not familiar with anime and its fandom, I will share some of my wealth of knowledge and passion on the subject.

In order to talk about anime, you have to talk about Japan and its history. For most of its history, Japan was basically isolated from the rest of the world. In fact, for about 260 years, it was isolated by policy: Between the year 1600 to the 1860s, no foreigners could enter Japan, save a small number of Dutch and Chinese merchants, who were mainly confined to a small island off the coast of Nagasaki. Some of you may have read David Mitchell's novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, which chronicles the story of a Dutch merchant who travels to Nagasaki during this period and falls in love a young female scholar. Beautifully written, this novel gives the reader an excellent picture of life during this unusual period and the clash between two very different cultures.

Then, in 1868, Commodore Perry of the USA sailed into Tokyo Harbor on a huge battle ship and After American Commodore Matthew Perry forcibly opened Japan in 1867, everything changed. Not only did Japan rapidly modernize its government, infrastructure, and society, but culture rapidly changed as well. One of the people most responsible for introducing this cultural change was Yukichi Fukuzawa. Born into a low-ranking samurai family, he went on to learn English, travel around the world, become a translator for the government, and found his own university with an entirely new way of teaching. Basically, he's the most impressive guy ever, and his autobiography is absolutely fascinating.

Since then, Japanese and Western cultures have influenced each other immensely. While Japanese citizens were adopting Western dress and customs, artists such as Vincent Van Gogh and Claude Monet were becoming inspired by Japanese woodblock prints and incorporating Japanese style into their own work.

Early anime (Japanese animation) and manga (graphic novels) were based largely on the style of Walt Disney, but the style has since developed into its own unique entity which now has become popular in the United States. Cartoons such as Avatar: The Last Airbender are clearly influenced by anime, and many contemporary Western artists have adopted the flat, simplified, kawaii (cute) style epitomized by Sanrio and Hello Kitty. Children's books, too, have adopted this style: French artist Annelore Parot's Kokeshi series clearly imitates that of Sanrio and many other Japanese artists, while Felicia Hoshino's bilingual book Sora and the Cloud uses a much looser, painterly style.

Finally, for the animation enthusiast, I must recommend The World History of Animation. This hefty and rather epic book shows year by year some of the most important works of animation from around the globe, including many Japanese films such as Akira, My Neighbor Totoro and Princess Mononoke. Looking through this book, I basically wanted to see as many, if not all, of these films as possible... but I think that would take a long time.

Anyway, I'm really excited about Anime Boston, guys. I look forward to a weekend full of crazy costumes, music, skits, dancing, panels, artists selling stuff, and everything else that happens at these things. If you find yourself in the Copley Place/Prudential Center area, you're sure to see many of my fellow otaku enjoying the weekend. Don't be afraid: even though we look kinda weird, most of us are pretty cool people. You might even see me! I'll have blue hair, if that helps.


If this blog post has inspired you to even join in the festivities, check it out! Create an instant anime costume with our Anime Eyes glasses; it's all you really need to look like a genuine otaku. Grabbing a few of our sushi-themed accessories or cute Japanese erasers can't hurt, either. Banzai!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


If you have entered Booksmith-land over the past few weeks, you will quickly notice that things are drastically different. Though the aisles are wider, we didn't get rid of our vast selection of books. Actually, some brilliant minds found a way for us to hold EVEN MORE! I know, as if deciding between books could be any harder, but there you have it. We officially have more books than ever. 

And the non-sequitor transition here says, it's April. Happy Poetry Appreciation Month! (Ah, one reason to enjoy children's poetry is, you guessed, we have more than ever.) New books of poetry to fill your minds:

Edgar Allan Poe's Pie by J. Patrick Lewis
I've never cared for math at all, but maybe it would have been more interesting had my teachers used this book. Instead of boring and practical word problems, mathematical quandaries and puzzles in classic poetic retellings and verse are given. Math just sounds more interesting when you begin with, “Once upon a midnight rotten, / Cold, and rainy, and forgotten...” even though it ends with a fraction. “Let the train miss you. / Let the train be late by ten minutes so you can finish your snack./ Let the train steam along like a cloud” is all about percentages. So, will it be pie or pi for dessert?

A beautiful nature-iffic collection of poetry that is perfect for spring (and all other seasons). There is so much in it that is happening right now, like “Last week the twigs were just twigs, / bare and black and boring, / but now – blossoms!” (from Cherry Blossoms), and planting seeds, growing and nesting, and rainbows. Come see for yourself! In the words of Jamie, "this book will get you into the swing of spring."

A Meal of the Stars: Poems Up and Down by Dana Jensen
Quite the unique collection here. Some poems you have to read up, as if you were the kite on the end of a string, and others read down, like the drops of rain falling. Which way is which? In the words of the author, “That's up to you to find out. Have fun!”

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Poetics of Travel

You know to read the most recent travel guidebooks and the best travel literature before embarking into foreign territories, but what about the poetry of travel? Reading the verses of those who have gone before us on their own roads of discovery can allow us to explore our experiences in new destinations to greater depths, or simply open our imaginations to places never seen. And if the poet is truly phenomenal, they might even inspire their reader to make a journey all their own.

Such is the nature of Walt Whitman's "Song of the Open Road." Just reading a few stanzas should start you reaching for your road atlas.

AFOOT and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road.

Before you make those summer travel plans, come in to check out our newly enhanced travel section, stocked with guide books, maps, atlases, and travel literature poetic enough to inspire your next expedition.

Monday, April 2, 2012

What is it about these Mad Men?

With a whiff of vermouth and just a hint of shoulder pad, "Mad Men" has come off of hiatus and returned to the AMC broadcasting schedule. I myself witnessed it's triumphant return Sunday before last, watching as these familiar characters and the pace of this unusual period piece raised countless high ball glasses to tight lips across my television screen. While I was watching events unfold in the episode, it occurred to me how long Mad Men has been in vogue, and the effect it has had on popular culture at large, especially in its sartorial commentary. Even glancing around Booksmith, you can see the ripples Don Draper and co. have had; more than a few hardcovers sport references to "Mad Men" style cocktails, advertisements, or clothes. Even things that tout "retro" as part of their benefits, we all know what these products really mean. As a culture, something about these mad men has bewitched us, and across fairly stark generational lines, to boot. But why? What is so appealing about this particular series that makes us so captivated?

 The series premiered in July of 2007, against all odds, it seems. Matthew Weiner, created of the series, wrote the pilot when he was working as a staff writer on the show "Becker" in 2000, then got hired to write on "The Sopranos" in 2002, meanwhile shopping the pilot around and trying to catch the eye of a network; Showtime and HBO both passed. When "The Sopranos" wrapped in 2007, cable network AMC just happened to be available for new programming. Just like that, a culture obsession was born.

It's not the first time an episodic drama has captivated our collective interest. "Lost" and "Downton Abbey" spring to mind immediately, but I find it interesting they have not had the same effect on our couture, at least, not in the same way. The sequined gowns and high necked numbers the Dowager Countess flaunts have certainly had their ripple in the fashion world, but no one is having "Downton Abbey" dress up parties. But if they are, they should probably invite me.

If I had to guess, my suggestion would be that "Mad Men", while more similar to our own culture, harkens back (if I may) to a time where things were not quite so disposable, an era of tailors and rules for dress that people passed down to their children. It also consisted of a lot of non-breathable, synthetic fabrics, and, since I happen to be a talented thrift-store shopper, a definitive absence of almighty stretch material. It could also be called the last few years of private America; each decade since then we have increasingly come further and further out of our assorted closets, for good and for ill.

What I really want to talk about is what you're going to need for your Mad Men parties.

First off, here's a little ditty called "Mad Women", written by Jane Maas, a woman who worked as a copy editor in 1964. In easy to read, sassy prose, Maas talks about what it was like to be a woman in that place in that time. She discusses all the things you want to read about in a book like this, glass ceilings, fashion trends, and how the heck they managed to keep awake during the workday while still ingesting all that alcohol. The answer to that last one comes a little fuzzy to Maas, but if you're interested in reading about the time period, I recommend this memoir.

But the two components of any good Man Men party have to be the outfits and the cocktails. Some of us were not blessed with the kind of decisive palettes that will clue us in on the difference between high class booze and low class booze. For our specific brand of idiot, Charles Shaw will do. For the rest of you booze snobs, take a look at these cocktail guides to ensure you will whip up something impressive to please your high brow guests. Cosmopolitans for the cosmopolitan, I always say. Okay no I don't, I once accidentally served my guests double margaritas by accident and everybody got so plastered they could barely walk home. The next morning, a barrage of woeful "worst hangover of my life" texts appeared on my cell phone. Sorry guys!

Finally, a smart young upstart like you doesn't need to be told what to wear, bu
t if you find yourself awash in a sea of confusing hems, constricting zippers, and perplexing head wear, take a few cues out of this book, Decades of Fashion. It covers 1900 and on, but it's section on the 50's and 60's are particularly well documented and interesting.

That's all from this neck of the woods. I'll see you cats and kittens around the internet and beyond.

Also, friends, if you have been reading my posts on this blog (or, if you haven't, but know me personally and just think I'm cute) you can read an interview of the great Tim Fish I wrote for the first print issue of Abstraks, a monthly magazine about artists, available at Brookline Booksmith. You can also read my interviews every week on the interwebs, at