Friday, November 30, 2012

My Way or Norway, or; Tied Up in Knuts

Knut Hamsun is considered one of Norway's most important writers. He's not read very widely in the US despite Hemingway's claim that "Hamsun taught me to write." But Hamsun was a hugely prolific author and one of only 11 Norwegian Literature Nobel laureates. His books are spare, taught, with deep characters and lush Nordic atmospheres. It sounds oxymoronic but he is really worth reading to understand what I mean.

Just this last week the UBC coincidentally acquired several of the few novels of Hamsun's translated into English from different customers throughout the week. Get a foothold in Norwegian literature with Hamsun, or discover a new writer. There are many points of entry and no two of his novels are alike.

Here are the ones in stock this week:

A perennial Hamsun favorite; considered his masterpiece by the Nobel committee. Chock full of Norwegian landscape it is the story of man in nature told through a village of homesteaders at the turn of the 20th century.

A masterpiece of existentialist literature. A man wanders the streets of Oslo starving himself in order to fuel his experience and creativity. Haunting, creepy, like staring into the gaping maw of an Edvard Munch painting or reading a depressing Kafka story turned grotesquely realistic.

One of those heartbraking love stories where the poor young man is in love with the wealthy girl, but she is expected to marry into her own social caste while he works desperately to make something of himself.

A mysterious stranger moves into a shack near a village. He lives a solitary life with his dog until a village girl wanders by. They fall in love but neither knows the other's feelings. A bittersweet modernist fable.

Protagonist Ove is a drunk, a womanizer, an incorrigible. His interactions in the microcosmic world of his Norwegian fishing village occupy this slim, humorous novella.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Go go go go

It's nearing the end of my second-to-last semester of graduate school, the holidays are about to hit, and our extraordinarily stellar events series is being its extraordinarily stellar self (Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen is tonight, this event will be glorious).  In short, life is busy.

My favorite picture of the Booksmith is this one, taken a few months ago, before our event with Chris Matthews, or was it Molly Ringwald?  I honestly don't remember. Point is, we brought out every single folding chair we had in the store and put it in our event space. I remember running around before the event, making sure everything was taken care of, and I took this picture when I went to test the mic. The room was empty, save the chairs, and it was an amazing sight to see.  In ten minutes, people would start filing in and the room would transform, but for now?  It was quiet and exciting in its own way, the chairs just waiting for people to occupy them for an hour or two. 

This may sound silly, but I often marvel at our events series.  We pull it off, the events team and I, and we're lucky to be part of this niche in the Boston literary scene. I hope you've either been to an event or are planning to go to one, because this here, when we all come together and are bubbling with excitement over getting to hear an author we love love love speak?  That's the best part of my job.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Gift tables, a guardian moose, and other reasons I'm still feeling thankful

Okay, so technically, Thanksgiving's over. Technically, it's Cyber Monday, except that there's already speculation that Cyber Monday is a thing of the past because Black Friday has gotten so darn huge. Oh, and there was Small Business Saturday, which was pretty awesome, and I hear that tomorrow is Giving Tuesday. My point is, if the Shopping Days can have this much of the calendar, then it's not four days too late to share some things I'm thankful for.

I'm thankful for customers like the very excited grandmother seeking fairy tale books for her soon-to-be-adopted grandchild. The young reader in question wasn't slated to arrive for about six months, but the customer wanted to have the books ready so the older-sister-to-be could practice reading them. Books get to be part of some of life's most joyous moments, and I'm thankful I get to be part of that.

I'm thankful for customers like the elementary-aged girl I spotted cracking up as she read Diary of a Wimpy Kid 7: The Third Wheel. Seriously, this girl was practically rolling in the aisles, and she was learning that books can make you do that. I'm thankful, too, that more and more parents are embracing the kinds of books that kids themselves choose. I love me some classics, and many kids do choose them, but the Wimpy Kid series and its ilk are a powerful literary gateway drug, and I will push them happily. 

I'm thankful for the customers who say they don't know anything about children's books, but then see a Richard Scarry book, or a Ramona book, or The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and are suddenly gushing about childhood reading memories.

I'm thankful that the kids' department has grown, both in space...

...and in staff, who have gamely jumped in with their handselling skills and their making-things-look-pretty-and-run-smoothly skills.

I'm thankful for our new gift table, the go-to place for boxed sets and other gifty, booky items. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the only place in the store where you will find Katniss and Clementine within a few inches of each other.

I'm thankful for Thidwick, our guardian moose who arrived courtesy of Oliver Jeffers' This Moose Belongs to Me. We promptly charged him with overseeing the children's section and making sure all went well.

He's doing an excellent job.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

There's gold in these here walls

The above book may not look like much (unless you've got a hankering for puffed pancakes with sausage, in which case, hurry down to our Used Book Cellar and snap this baby up) but it's something of a refugee. I found it the other day while shifting things around in the art section. Turns out when you take all the monographs off the bottom shelf it reveals a thin little gap between the wooden slats; a passageway to the void from whence this little guy returned to us. Sometime in the murky past (I'd spitball around three years ago if publication dates are any guide, but that assumes some chronolinear laws of reality to which bookstores are often an exception), "100 Meals for $5 or Less" slipped past its bulkier cookbook colleagues and slid away behind the wall. If it weren't so aggressively orange the protruding corner of its cover might have escaped my notice entirely and it would have spent eternity back there with the dust-bunnies and phantoms.

Which kind of got me to thinking. What else do you think might be lurking within the walls? Because I'm a little obsessed with the idea of ruins and buried history. Just think about the bones of this old bookstore. A few decades back we housed our own cafe; the floorboards still creak from a legendary (apocryphal?) coffee-tsunami. And you may have heard that we just celebrated our 50th birthday, but 279 Harvard St. wasn't always a literary landmark. Once upon a time this was a neighborhood grocery, and it still bears a few traces of those days. We have a meat locker in our office and somewhere there is a dumbwaiter, which I vow to find, even if it requires inconveniencing several busy people.

Ye olde-timey Booksmith.
Here, I posit, are a few things that generations to come might find during renovations to expand the store over an entire city block (in utopic future times when the rest of the world tunes in to what Brookline already knows about the critical import of bookstores):

- A colony of very well-read Borrowers.
- A leather-bound first edition of The Scarlet Letter.
- A dog-eared copy of Ezra Pound's Cantos filled with Charles Olson's cryptic but besotted marginalia.
- The loopy signatures of the 21st century's greatest literary minds. (This part is for real. You know all those big-name authors you get to meet and hear read at our store? The illustrious Dennis Lehane started the tradition of signing our bathroom wall and now it's kind of a thing).
- A signed declaration of surrender from the CEO of Amazon.
- Red Sox trading cards.
- All the very BEST used books (with inscriptions and pictures and fold-out treasure maps) that you just know the employees keep squirreled away for themselves even though we swear we'd do no such thing.
- A thousand buttons, earrings and ballpoint pens.
- The body of a Poe protagonist.
- Wistful postcards.
- The Arkenstone.

But enough speculation. My archaeological sense is tingling so I'm off to dig up some real dirt. Stay tuned for more ancient Booksmith updates.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Black Friday is upon us!

Retail workers around the world are bracing themselves for the holiday rush, and though it officially starts today, the Booksmith is READY, cowboys and cowgirls. We've already had crowds the last few weeks (THANKYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOU), we have a big beautiful gift book table front and center, and we have this fancy gift guide on the internet! And this Tumblr with tons of recommendations on it! You can shop on our website or call us in the store and we'll wrap and ship your presents basically anywhere. If it's a really cool destination, like Hawaii, I think a lot of booksellers would be happy to deliver it personally for a nominal shipping and handling fee. Us Booksmithies are wildly aware of how lucky we are to have such a fiercely loyal customer base that shows up every year and takes our advice on gifts and walks away with presents for most of their family from our humble little shoppe.

But if I can get on my preachy high horse for a minute: if you're thinking of not buying local, reconsider. We may not carry a really obscure copy of an academic book on the statistics of manatee migrations that you think would be a killer gift for your dad, but because of our space, what we do offer is a highly curated and super-considered selection of anything lots of kinds of people will love. So if you re-calibrate your expectations to walk in our doors and see what we recommend, we have 51 years of experience in your neighborhood, and our staff has cumulatively some 20 higher ed degrees and hundreds of years experience reading and seeing what works for our customers. So keep it local this year! Fight the internet conglomerate beast! WE PAY OUR TAXES! Things are cheaper online because companies don't incur the costs of having a shop of crazy brilliant, super-excited booksellers running around helping you, with lights and heat on, with rent costs in our neighborhood and then funneling tax money back into the community we share. So yeah it would be nice to save a few bucks on a book or gift, BUT AT WHAT COST? Those discounts are doing something bigger. They're changing the world, and this year you can put your money where your ideals are and decide which world you wanna live in.

Here at the Booksmith we are eager to help you walk away with the best gift for your friend or family member because, really, gifts and books are all we care about. They're our full-time jobs and our hobbies at home. We know our stuff and we're so excited about it, that we want to help you choose the perfect gift. So stop in, say hi, and let us work our holiday magic!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Wasn't It Just September?

The holidays have already started here.  Try as we might, Christmas items are creeping up everywhere.  I just realized I accidentally put on red and green today, which makes me want to cry a bit.  Thanksgiving hasn't been ignored--we valiantly have an inflatable turkey up front along with other Thanksgiving items (have you seen the turkey mask?)--but Christmas is still elbowing its way forward. I'm trying to stop it like that person who likes standing in the middle of doorways, but am infinitely less successful.

Before I go on my Thanksgiving leave, here are some shout outs.  To the people who were in Trader Joe's this afternoon, aren't you glad we survived the line and have all these bottles of wine? I sure am.  To the customer who just called to ask if we are participating in Small Business Saturday, we are, and thank you for being so enthusiastic on the phone.  To the hot guy in fiction, thank you for being handsome and yes, you may have my phone number.  To the woman who loved Natasha's recommendation of Jeffrey Eugenides, thank you for being so fun. To you, blog reader, thanks for taking the time to read this.  You're a sweetheart. 

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, and wish me luck with the turkey.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Earth as Art

I love walking through the travel aisle and finding a customer standing transfixed in front of our map browser, gazing at the brilliant colors of our Tyvek map, contemplating the World Upside Down, or pointing out a memory of a place on a map to a friend. Maps draw people in, ask for interaction, reflection, or simply admiration. While I walk by our browser fifty times a day, I gained a new appreciation for the art of cartography this past week at two different venues: the Boston Antiquarian Book Festival and the new map room at the Boston Public Library.
Walking through the rows upon rows of ancient and beautiful books, prints, and maps at the Antiquarian Book Festival at Hynes Convention Center, it was my turn to gawk. I squeezed between two tweed suits, through a cloud of must, and stood staring at the familiar shape of my home state. A German 1955 map of Iowa hung before me, surrounded by maps that showed our states divided into territories–a visual history lesson. I passed one map so old it depicted California as an island. I’d seen a similar map at the Boston Public the week before when I finally made it to the new Map Room there.
If you haven’t visited the Norman B. Leventhal Map Room, check it out on your next trip to the BPL. When I went, it was election week, and the walls were covered in red and blue U.S. maps, with plaques explaining the electoral college. I read the plaques; it still confuses me, but this was no fault of the exhibition. The current exhibit focuses on Boston’s public spaces. As you enter the map room there is a gorgeous mural of downtown Boston, overlooking the State House and Common. Inside, you can learn about the development of your favorite greens around town.
If you or someone you know is also an appreciator of the map as art, come check out the amazing travel-oriented gift books we have on display at Booksmith. From the Granger Collection we have a gorgeous book of Historic Maps and Views of Boston. After perusing these historic views of your favorite city, check out Mark Ovenden’s new Railway Maps of the Worldwhich I happen to have on my coffee table at home. From Kim Je-hwan’s dizzying design of the Tokyo Metropolitan Railway System to a map of the United States covered with an intricate system hairline cracks that was the world’s largest railroad network at its peak in 1918, this book will stun, absorb, and amaze your guests.
And finally, when you’ve completely saturated yourself with these visual masterpieces, pick up Robert D. Kaplan’s Revenge of GeographyKaplan examines the history of the world through the lens of the map, exploring how climate changes, topography, and proximity all contributed to major events in the shaping of world history. All of these books make great holiday gifts, especially when paired with that tube-shaped package that can only be the wall map on their list. For more about the maps we carry, visit us at

Monday, November 19, 2012

Schools in the store!

The words were whispered among the staff in the days leading up to Thursday. "Devo Night. Devo Night." The night when, just by telling us they were with Devotion School, customers could get ten percent off their entire purchases and have another ten percent donated to their PTO. School librarian and friend of the store Chris McDonnell would be here with a list of her recommendations. It would be intense, I was told. I pictured parents, driven by their mindfulness of Chris's wisdom, playing tug-of-war with the last copy of Drama.

And then people came, and then more people came, until they made the biggest Devo Night in Devo Night history. It was intense, and moving through the kids' section was darn near impossible even for the expert crowd-weavers we booksellers have become. I'm told that the distant adult sections and Card and Gift Room had their share of shoppers, too. 

But intensity doesn't have to mean chaos. These customers, many of them regular customers, seemed to be in great moods as they shopped for books. Many were quite independent, and the questions I got came from both on and off the recommendations list. My fellow children's booksellers worked like elves, filling in holes as quickly as they appeared.

Next up:  Lawrence School Day on December 1, 4-7 pm, with storytelling, songs, and an appearance from local children's performer Vanessa Trien. Gift wrapping will be offered from 9am to 8pm with a request for donations. A percentage of each sale will be donated to the Lawrence School.

There will be lots of people.

Bring. It. On.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Booksmith Crime Log

SATURDAY 13:27   Police responded to a shooting on the beach. A man of Arab descent was murdered. Suspect is in custody. Hate crime suspected.

SUNDAY 20:49   Police responded to noise complaint in an apartment complex. Upon investigating the scene, police discovered a double homicide. Items appear to be missing from the apartment as well though no sign of breaking and entering was detected. No murder weapon has been found though a suspect, a tenant of one of the victim's properties, has been called in for questioning.

MONDAY 23:10   Police responded to a stolen vehicle downtown. Two young, white gentleman were last seen near the car. The suspect is believed to be Dean Moriarty, a known car thief.

TUESDAY 23:47   A young couple called police to report an injured man in the park. The victim, a transient, claimed a gang of oddly-dressed teenagers sang at him then beat him severely. There are no suspects at this time.

WEDNESDAY 14:05   An area man called to claim that his daughter was abused by a hired handyman. The charges were later dropped.

THURSDAY 09:17   The liquor license of a hotel downtown is now suspended after an anonymous tip that the bartender served a minor. According to the report, the minor appeared to be 15 or 16 and wore a red flannel hat.

FRIDAY 19:57   Police received a complaint that a load of jeans was stolen from a dryer out of an area laundromat. According to surveillance tapes, it appears to be known thief Marla Singer. She appeared to have an accomplice.

FRIDAY 21:38   Area woman E. L. James was arrested for impersonating an author. [Ed.: ZING!]

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Hey, I'm Jamie. My heartstrings are easily pulled.

For my first blog post, I was going to tell you about starting my day by flipping through My Ideal Bookshelf,  ZooBorns the Next Generation (in my head, ZooBorns TNG), and My Bookstore, but then the following occurred:

A man rushed into the bookstore, and within five minutes he was up at the register with a book in hand. He gave me The New Father by Armin Brott.  I looked at his wrist and saw a plastic ID bracelet decorated with teddy bears and ducks, and realized what this all was. I asked if he had come straight from the hospital, which he had, and if it was a boy or a girl.  It was a boy, and I congratulated him. He was clearly elated and excited, and he flew out of the bookstore as quickly as he had come in.

I want to put this out there, in case he ever stumbles upon this blog: I'm glad we were here to offer you the right book for your growing family, and I hope we get to see your baby as he grows up.   Congratulations again, and thank you for reminding me about my favorite part of bookselling: connecting the right person to the right book and knowing they're about to have a lovely future with one another.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

For a Long Time...I Talk About Proust

It happened again. I stopped mid-sentence, my eyes re-focusing on the waitress who was clearing plates from in front of everyone around me. I looked down at my own half-eaten plate of cooling mac & cheese and I knew--I'd done it again. I'd gone off on another Proust rant that took me out of my time and transported me into another; for the past who-knows-how-long I had been completely unaware of those around me. Luckily, my listeners this time  were my fellow Proust Club members, meeting around the corner from Booksmith at Hops n Scotch, and Proust rants, while perhaps not relished by everyone present, were at least tolerated. I sheepishly passed around the Tupperware full of honey almond madeleines I had baked the night before, and felt immediately forgiven.

Ever since I first read Proust's seven volume, 3,000 page novel, In Search of Lost Time, almost five years ago now, I have not been able to stop talking about it. So when Booksmith happened to hire a fellow Prouster, Lydia, who is mid-sixth-volume, and Natasha in Used Books informed me she planned to read it all in a year, signing Shuchi up at the same time and somehow inspiring Carl in Used Books to make us beautiful little journals in which to keep our "Proust Club Notes," it was inevitable: we would form a Proust Club.

As this is the third Proust Club I have belonged to, and as I have already read Proust's first volume, Swann's Way four times, I decided that instead of reading along with the group, I'd take the opportunity to read supplementary material about Proust, and contribute what I could to the discussions. Lucky for me, in addition to the used books Natasha's been discovering,we've been inundated with a run of new books about Proust.

The most essential of these to our Proust discussions has undoubtedly been We Love Madeleines, a new cookbook by Miss Madeleine. The madeleine is a spongy, scalloped tea cake. When dipped in tea, this little delicacy has the power to transport Proust's narrator back into his days in a small village called Combray; from these memories his novel is born. For each of our Proust Club meetings, I've decided to sample a new recipe from We Love Madeleines. So far we've tried and approved the Pumpkin Spice Madeleine, the Brown Butter Bourbon Madeleine, and, our Proust Club favorite: the Honey Almond Madeleine. One of these days I'm going to try the Chocolate Bacon Madeleine.

The most heated discussion surrounding our Proust Club has been which translation to read. Until recently, Booksmith customers who were found puzzling in the "P" section of Fiction were always treated to a small, controlled Proust rant and then gently but forcibly directed to purchase C.K. Scott Moncrieff's translation. 

But now that Lydia has joined our ranks, anyone who comes looking for Proust will be privileged to witness a lively, friendly debate between Lydia--who prefers the new Lydia Davis translation--and me. Without going into all the reasons why you should read Proust through Moncrieff, I will say that a new, beautiful slim volume that Shuchi recently discovered containing Lydia Davis's words on her own translation, has at least made me appreciate her efforts as translator of Proust, even if I still believe them inferior to those of Moncrieff. Proust, Blanchot and a Woman in Red was published as part of the new Cahiers Series--check them out on our Staff Recs Shelf.

If you've already read Proust, you may be interested in some recent scholarly works on him, including Proust as Philosopher by Migel de Beistegui and Martin Hagglund's Dying for Time. Any attempt of mine at summing up these erudite studies of his work risks ending up like Monty Python's "Summarizing Proust Contest." Let's just say that I've spent a lot of time thinking about my chronolibido over the past few weeks.

And finally, a more accessible Monsieur Proust's Library by Anka Muhlstein was released just last week by Other Press. Muhlstein, author of Balzac's Omelette, explores first, how and what Proust read as a child, then the later impact that authors such as Baudelaire, Ruskin, Racine and Balzac had on the author.

That Proust knew these author's works intimately is evidenced in his pastiches, or imitative essays written in the style of a particular author, some of which have been collected in The Lemoine Affair, published by our friends at Melville House. Come to think of it, I believe it was Proust's incredible sensitivity to the spirit behind an author's works that may have set off my rant at Hops n Scotch. Madeleine, anyone?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Meanwhile, on the Kids' Display Wall...

The New York Times knows a lot of things. It knows what's happening in the world and how to analyze it. It knows what's worth seeing on Broadway and what's not worth your time or your time. It certainly knows which adult books are nightstand-worthy. Well, the Times' taste also extends to children's books.

Now in its 60th year, the New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Books list covers an interesting cross-section of each year's children's book output. It includes plenty of picture books for the younger set; just try to look at Naoko Stoop's woodcuts in Red Knit Cap Girl without feeling tranquil, or the well-dressed eggs with legs in Oliver Jeffers' The Hueys in the New Sweater without feeling bouncy.

But the list doesn't stop there. Many of the best children's books with illustrations are works of nonfiction, which can appeal to a broader age range than the typical picture book. Though a preschool-aged science buff might certainly enjoy the creepy-crawly close-ups in Steve Jenkins' The Beetle Book, an independent reader will probably get more out of the factoids about each species. Similarly, Joe McKendry's One Times Square is a fun flip-through for any young armchair tourist, but the longer text is geared much more toward elementary-aged historians (who are also old enough to appreciate the signed copies we currently have in stock). And then there's Henry Cole's Unspoken, a completely wordless picture book that invites readers to interpret the story its pictures tell about the Underground Railroad.

The vast majority of the books on the list are on display now, and the last few are on their way. Are you on your way?

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Proust is in the Pudding

So a bunch of the nerdiest staff members are gathering together and tackling Proust's epic, 6-volume novel In Search of Lost Time. Some of us have read it before, some of us are in book 5, some are fresh and new to the longest novel in the universe, but we're all having fun eating madeleines and talking about the book, and there is QUITE A LOT to talk about when each page has a whole novel's worth of unpacking to be done about it.

I have had as much fun finding and reading secondary material on Proust while I make my way through the series. My background in philosophy in particular is sending me on all kinds of romps through Husserl, Bergson and Merleau-Ponty to not only refresh my memory on phenomenology but to see also how the moment-to-moment perceptions and almost stream of consciousness style move along the observations and action in the novel.

If you're interested in a similar pursuit, there have been some serendipitous coincidences of arrivals in the UBC on the front of Proust-related books.

David Abram, Spell of the Sensuous
Abram's book is an investigation of language and perception and how through history our language and means of storytelling have influenced our conception of space and time; a subject of primary importance to Proust.

Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution
Bergson was a contemporary of Proust's, and in fact he even married Proust's cousin. Proust read Bergson and was highly influenced by him. Creative Evolution is a work written on the heels of Darwin drawing on immediate, moment-to-moment sense experience to explain reality, rather than pure reason alone. We got this beautiful Modern Library edition WITH a rad dust jacket that I lovingly mylared for you.

Alain de Botton, How Proust Can Change Your Life
de Botton turns to Proust's modern epic to learn important life lessons. Important chapters include: "How to take your time," "How to read for yourself," and perhaps most importantly, "How to be happy in love."

and of course, there's Proust himself. We have several volumes and versions of the epic novel.

Curl up with some madeleines, tea, and the perfect autumn to winter novel (and any and all supplementary materials), and read along with the staff!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Destination of the Month: India, or "think pink"

While wandering through the Globe Corner Travel aisle at Booksmith this past week, you may have been drawn in, distracted, or blinded by a display of hot pink books. Could someone please tell me why India again and again gets classified as hot pink?

From the Wallpaper Guide and the Love Guide to Delhi, to The Three Sisters Indian Cookbook, to Siddhartha Deb's new book The Beautiful and the Damned, when it comes to India, book designers seem always to "think pink" (I spent Hurricane Sandy re-watching Funny Face).

Pink or not, if you're looking for literature to guide you into India, we've got it. Read more on our blog at

Monday, November 5, 2012

'Twas the month before all those holidays...

We have a little section.
It once held Halloween.
But now there's Christmas, Hanukkah,
and everything between.
Oh, dreydels, dreydels, dreydels,
and turkey books and snow.
Oh, dreydels, dreydels, dreydels.
Displays will grow and grow.

We have some books on Pilgrims.
We have the famous Grinch,
and (c)han(n)uk(k)a(h) spelled many ways.
Yes, shopping is a cinch.
Oh, dreydels, dreydels, dreydels -
they're just a month away.
Thanksgiving's even sooner.
Don't waste a reading day.

Olivia Talks Turkey,
and Keats's Snowy Day,
and Hanukkah Around the World,
and more than I can say.
The season has begun.
Just blink and it's December,
so ready, set, and run!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Epic Night of Epic Proportions

Last week I went on a Fancy Date to the Philharmonic. I got dressed up and rode my fancy towncar the 66 to Harvard and got to see the Boston Philharmonic perform Jean Sibelius' piece "Lemminkainen and the Maidens of the Island," inspired by a chunk of the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic.

I am a huge nerd. I am obsessed with the Kalevala. I don't know how to listen to music. So imagine, a nerd like me twitching in the cheap seats, not sure if I'm supposed to be looking bored with all the epic that surrounded me--a full philharmonic, Sanders Theater in Harvard, fancy people from Cambridge--or giddy with excitement. Which I was. The best part was that the conductor, Benjamin Zander explained a bit about the piece, and Sibelius, and then had the different parts of the orchestra play tiny elements of the music and explained their significance musically and for the atmosphere of the piece. It was SO AWESOME. And it really helped my understand and appreciate what was happening when the piece began for real.

So I was impressed by Zander, whose book, The Art of Possibility we have a used copy of at the moment. A book that gives practicable advice to boost creativity.

And I was impressed by Sibelius who could somehow translate all the awesome epic atmosphere and action of the Kalevala, and in particular the scene it illustrated, a small sliver of the story where the hero Lemminkainen visits some island maidens and woos them all. Sibelius captured the ocean and the sea birds, demonstrating sonically that we were on an island. He captured a festivity, and all the drama and backing and forthing of a dramatic love affair. All in like, 12 minutes of music. It was truly inspiring.

If you haven't read the Kalevala, you must. It's got it all: magic, wizards, love, hate, curses, travel, adventure. It's like a Scandinavian Odyssey with a way bigger cast of characters and a harder, darker core.

If you haven't read Zander's book, you must. I'm a convert.

And if you've already read the Kalevala, happenstance brought the UBC a copy of Return to Kalevala by Richard Worth just yesterday. It's a fantasy novel inspired by the Kalevala.

So come to the UBC and discover a piece of Finland. Or uncover your own creativity. Or come find a treasure that might inspire you to go on your own cultural adventure in the city (a book on the Renaissance that might inform a trip to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, perhaps?).