Friday, March 29, 2013

Bookshelves of Character(s)

I gathered used books you would find on the shelves of beloved fictional characters.

We have quite a spread in the UBC, so it wasn't too tricky! See for yourself!

Gabriela's bookshelf would have tasty cookbooks (not that she needs help in that department), stories about carnivals which she loves, and a magical realist romp with voodoo to remind her of her friends.

Jane's bookshelf would be utilitarian but fanciful: travel stories, books to brush up on her French, drawing and teaching techniques.

For the time traveller in all of us: guilty pleasure mysteries from the 20s, a Pamuk novel to remember one's travels to Constantinople, the new Mantel to hearken back to the days of Cromwell (in which she was totally alive) and some Alexander Pope. Original first edition, probably signed.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Books, man.

I'm seeing my baby sister and brother tomorrow.  They'd probably be mad at me for calling them babies, simply because they're teenagers now, complete with cell phones, facebook profiles, and a sense of agency.  I don't care, we have over a decade age difference and I've changed their diapers. You can't go back from that.

While I was packing, I asked them both if they wanted anything.  My brother gave me a list of graphic novels he wanted, and my sister seemed to shrug across the phone.  "I haven't read anything good lately.  Can you pick something for me?" I tried to figure out exactly what she wanted, but she stayed non-committal.

So, here it is: the list of books I am bringing for my 14-year-old baby sister which may contain her new favorite book or may collect dust, depending on her preference.

-A galley of Daniel Wallace's Kings and Queens of Roam.  Big Fish was excellent, maybe she's in the mood for some magical realism!
-Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine, but with the express instructions to read it at the beginning of June.
-Ned Vizzini's The Other Normals, because I thought it was hilarious.
-Jaclyn Moriarty's The Corner of White. Epistolary style! Fantasy!
-A beat-up copy of The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, because she should have one.
-Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, also because she should have one.

(Personal to my sister: if/when I run out of clothing, know it's because I used most of my space bringing books home for you, so now you have to buy me dresses. I just put it out to the Internet so it has to happen, Internet rule.)

Monday, March 25, 2013

In which Amy enthuses about endings

Hullo Blogsmith readers, I am not Shoshana. I'm Amy, another children's bookseller, and I would like to take a minute or six to talk about something we've all experienced: finishing a series.

The end of a beloved book series is a unique sort of agony. (Yes, I used the word 'agony' and, no, I don't regret it or think that I am overreacting). It's the kind of pain that starts off as a little dull pang in your chest, perhaps the first time you hold the book in your hands. You look down at it, your excitement likely visible to the naked eye, and you are suddenly frozen. You have it. The balm to soothe your question fevered brain, the answers, all in your hands, ready to be consumed with undoubted vigor. This is the moment you have been waiting for.

But you can't open it just yet.

To open it is to start on the last leg of an adventure. To be forced to say goodbye to friends you might even know better than yourself. Once you start you'll have to finish. Once you finish, it's over. It can't be over! These characters are supposed to grow up and grow old with you! It's not right!

Inevitably, you take a breath and open the book.

You might laugh, or cry, or get so mad you want to throw the book (but you would never do that, right?...Right?!). You'll feel the remaining pages dwindle under your fingers. Maybe you don't notice, or maybe you nervously watch the number count higher and higher as you get closer to the end. Sometimes you even slow down, realizing so little is left.

But the moment always comes.

It's over.

This last week, Clockwork Princess, the final book of Cassandra Clare's The Infernal Devices series, was released. I took release day off so that I could sit down and read the entire thing undisturbed. I even put a note up online declaring that I would be unreachable. Both my computer and my phone were turned off and I expressed a strict unwillingness to answer my room door unless there was a serious emergency.
And though Clare wrote a wonderful and fitting end to the trilogy, I had that moment. That heart aching, how-could-it-possibly-be-over moment. I sat stunned. I was feeling so many different things at once. But Jem! Will! And what about Tessa? It didn't seem possible that I outlived them. Because that is what it felt like, my friends were gone. I spent a couple of days refusing to read anything else. I just wanted to think about it. Think about what I'd had and what it felt like I'd lost.

Even now, a week later, I still have the book on my mind and strong desire to hunt down everyone who's read it and talk to them. I watch the shelf, waiting to see someone pick it up, just so I can express my, hopefully mutual, excitement. I'm not done with it. I have so much to talk about still!

So, if you have so many feelings after Clockwork Princess that you feel like you're bursting, or you just think you can succeed where so many have failed and convince me that Will is better than Jem, come find me. I'll be happy to talk to you. I'm usually in the Young Adult section looking at the shelves and trying to figure out what to read next, or where I've heard of that one book, or why they can't just all fit nicely in place.

That aside, I don't think you have to like this series, or even young adult books, to get swept up in the end of a series. To get caught in that freezing moment where it seems so unjust that things have to end. Things always do. Eventually that series will end and you'll be left with this part of your life that is suddenly over. It's the curse (or, a curse, rather) of the book lover. We make so many friends only to have them ripped away.

You'll never be able to replicate the experience of the first time you read a certain book, but there's small comfort in knowing that you can always start all over again. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

It's What's Inside That Matters

Devotees of the store, and the UBC in particular, may already be well acquainted with our Find of the Week, in which B-Mail author Paul selects the things Carl and I fish out of the many books that cross our counters and captures their essence with captivating captions. But almost as fun, intriguing and occasionally unnerving are the little things found written inside the covers. Below are some of my favorites from last week:

Sketches on the inner cover of a novel; perhaps plans for some sort of sinister subterranean Stonehenge?

Har. Har.

Perhaps the best Ex Libris plate I've ever seen? Inside an old Modern Library hardcover.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Certain Kind of Shorthand

I swear, there's a luxury in being constantly surrounded by books and people who simply understand what you mean. A shorthand emerges, incoherent babble transforming into a string of words and references that unexpectedly reveal yourself. For instance, a customer bought a copy of Raymond Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love yesterday.  In the usual Booksmith style, I said how much I loved the book.  "You'll have a good time with it!" I said cheerily, and immediately covered my mouth. "I mean, you know, good time probably isn't the best way to put it with the subject matter but--"

"I know what you mean." the customer replied, and laughed. 

No further explanations are needed, you know what I mean.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Reading is for sharing! Sharing is caring!

Shocking revelation: Story Time is at least as rewarding for the reader as it is for the readee!

I've read with children in classrooms, in bookstores, and curled up on couches with hot chocolate before bedtime. I've read chapter books, picture books, and even books with no pictures. I've made up my own stories or retold stories that only exist in oral storytelling. Reading aloud (or telling your own stories) isn't just about repeating words on a page. It's a new way of experiencing a story. I was taught how to read aloud by examples set me during my childhood: my father (who also made up some fantastic stories of his own), my fifth grade teacher, every live theater production of Shakespeare I ever saw or performed, audiobooks ...

Looking for suggestions? I love making them! I also love a countdown. Below are my top five picks for read-alouds:

5. Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

I read this with my third graders last year and we had a blast! It's one of those books that feels like it was easy to write because it's so clear and tight, in terms of craft and imagery. The characters are also very easy to visualize, which means that infusing characters with personality and energy (aka making up awesome voices) is not hard to do. This is important if you're new to reading aloud. Plus, Wrede's novel tells a funny and powerful story about friendship and being true to yourself - that's pretty appealing no matter how old you are.

4. The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson, ill. by Axel Scheffler

Not only is Gruffalo a popular picture book but it was also an Oscar-nominated animated short film a couple of years ago. What I love about it is that the rhyme scheme helps tell a very funny story without getting old. I think every reader appreciates a strong story but I know as an adult, who might wind up rereading the same story every day for a year, that a clever and thoughtful story makes for a refreshing read (even if it's the five-hundredth read).

3. The Watsons Go To Burmingham 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis

I had a fifth grade teacher who was from Texas and his lazy southern drawl breathed incredibly vivid life into a story that was both historically and geographically distant from anything my Northwest, suburban self knew. Kenny's story is both funny (his family are a riot!) and powerful (he's African American and living in Alabama during the Civil Right's Movement) and really comes to life when someone who cares about it reads it aloud.

2. Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran, ill. by Barbara Cooney

This is another one from my childhood. My Aunty M (no, really) used to read to my sister and I quite a lot, and I'll never forget this one. McLerran's words lay the foundation of the imaginary town, Cooney's crystal-clear illustrations fill in the sand-blasted desert color, and Aunty M's slow, deep voice breathed life into each page. My sister and I built our own Roxaboxen after Aunty M read this to us and children I've read it with since have discussed, drawn, and created their own, too.

1. Harry Potter and Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

Yes, I know this book doesn't need another plug. I have to mention it here, though, because of it's truly magical in its ability to help almost anyone become an avid reader. Many of my friends grew up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione and experience their first reading of the text as a classroom or parental read-aloud. I was a teen when I discovered Harry Potter through the Jim Dale-narrated audiobooks (if you want a crash course in read-aloud, look no further!), and haven't stopped listening since (although the Stephen Fry-narrated audiobooks are definitely worth a listen, too).

My absolute favorite Harry Potter read-aloud success story comes from a friend in Seattle. Her husband was never very interested in reading. My friend, however, had broken her literary teeth on Harry Potter and was dying to share them with someone new. One night before bed, she spontaneously began reading them aloud to her husband. From that evening on, they worked their way through the entire series together and he hasn't stopped reading since.

Want your child to become a lifelong reader? Want to turn a reluctant adult into an bookstore junky? Read aloud with them!

Also! Join us for Brookline Booksmith's Children's Story Time (click on the link for a sneak-peek!) every third Saturday of the month. Next Story Time will be April 20 at 10:30am. Kids ages zero to ninety-nine welcome! 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Sordid Books

This last week, the UBC acquired Sorted Books by artist Nina Katchadourian. Katchadourian is a multimedia artist and this volume collects her HIGHLY ENJOYABLE photgraphs/scans of book titles arranged in order so that they tell a story. Sometimes profound, sometimes funny, this is a great book and hugely inspiring. $12 in the UBC! It's a bargain! Check her out:

As I said it was hugely inspiring, so your faithful UBC compatriots have arranged a few of our own from our stacks of New Arrivals.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Sometimes You Just Want to Hug a Customer

This morning, a woman bought a copy of J.D. Salinger's Nine Stories.  I told her about how I buy copies of this collection and hand them out whenever I feel someone needs it.  She told me about her favorite edition (the entirely white cover with the rainbow corner) and how her favorite story was "The Laughing Man." I had to comment--that story haunts me every year, and I always read it as slowly as possible. Upon every re-read I find something new, and it's always connected to some new life experience I've had that allows me to interpret a bit more of the story to fit my evolving idea of 'adulthood.'  I wish I could go back to my sixteen-year-old self and see what she saw upon reading that story, because that point of view is long gone.

I told the woman about reading it again in a college English class and being startled by what it contained.  Things I had previously glossed over popped to the forefront, holding my face in its hands and forcing me to look it in the eye.  Much like the story itself, I had been reading without bothering to notice there was a storyteller with a life of their own behind it.

It turned out the woman was a professor getting ready to teach "The Laughing Man" to one of her classes. As she left, she smiled at me and said, "You've affirmed my faith in everyone under thirty."

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

AWP Boston, or the Noise before the Silence

Over half our staff at Booksmith are writers. So many of us were delighted to hear that AWP (the annual Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference) would be held in Boston this year. Convenient, yes, to have over 10,000 writers, readers, agents, lit mags, editors, and publishers converge on one's hometown. But I also found myself slightly disappointed not to be able to use the conference as an excuse to see a new place, to stay in a hotel, in short, to travel.

But attending a conference like AWP is a lot like traveling, even when it takes place on your doorstep. There is nothing so foreign as the landscape of the three gigantic exhibition halls in Hynes Convention Center, crammed with row upon endless row of booths bannered with MFA programs looking for tuition money, lit mags searching for submitters, publishers looking for readers. 
On the exhibition floor.

If the international cuisine of the Prudential Center food court didn't transport you to new lands, you could listen to readers from all over the world at one of the many panels on literature, publishing, and almost any aspect of writing culture imaginable. From essayists discussing the urge toward memoir to a conversation over big versus indie publishers, I found that many of these panels were stimulating in the way that travel is, breaking me out of my habitual ways of thinking about writing and pushing me into new practices and points of view.

Outside, the blizzard blew.
And finally, like travel, a conference introduces you to new people you might otherwise not have had the chance to bump into. People like the Australian woman who bustled into a panel on travel writing and took a seat next to me. She told me she'd never walked through snow before, and I asked if she'd come all the way around the world for AWP.

"No," she laughed, "I heard some young people talking it up on the bus from New York, and I pricked up my ears." Her hostel was full of conference-goers as well, and she followed them to Hynes. "I'm meant to be here," she confided, and told me about the book she had just self-published about her travels around the world. We listened to the panel together, learning how to capture and document that elusive essence of place.

And while a conference, like travel, is exhausting, there were periods of contemplation as well. One evening, after a day of navigating the chaos of the exhibition, I stumbled out of a Grub Street party at a noisy and crowded bar and headed back to Hynes for the keynote speaker. There I found Vets Auditorium full of writers gathered to hear a conversation between poets Derek Walcott and Seamus Heaney.

My brain was fried from the day of speakers, my head was woozy with one drink too many, and my ears were ringing with the bar's loud music and the louder sound of writers' networking. I settled into my chair and focused in on the speakers, who were conversing from two armchairs on the stage.

Walcott was saying something about silence, stillness, and serenity, what he called the "prologue before articulation." As I listened, the noise of networking fell away. "Where silence is," Walcott said, "real art arrives."

"Yes," Heaney nodded, "But you have to be able to dwell in the clamor as well--that is the condition we inhabit."

Later Heaney would tell us about reading Virgil when he was a school boy in Sixth Form. The required text was Book Nine, but all he remembers about that course was his teacher continually asserting with regret, "I wish it were Book Six, lads, if only it were Book Six."

Perhaps I had taken in one panel on literary tropes too many, but every word Heaney spoke seemed to hold the potential for metaphor, and now when I think back on the blur that was my trip through the foreign lands of AWP, my sense is that if nothing else, the convention was for me Sixth Form. A conference about art is not art itself, if anything it is the dissonance that distracts us from creation. Yet it is in that chaos that we dwell, and if it is a clamor that points us on to Book Six, to the silence before articulation, then it was a trip worth taking.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Put down your shovels and listen.

Once upon a time, there was a town.

It had its challenges.

For months, the people made the best of things.


But after a while, it seemed like nothing would ever change.

Soon, signs began to appear that it wouldn't last forever.


The people began preparing for things to come.


Slowly, slowly, the world began to look a little different.


The wait can seem long.

But we all know what happens when you wait long enough.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Literary Mad Lib CONTEST!

I've been finally making it through War and Peace by Tolstoy. It's my New Year's Resolution. My trick is to listen to the audiobook while I walk to work from Allston. Not only am I making record progress, but it's also a great book to listen through this mega snowy winter. It keeps me from complaining as I walk through blizzard-like snows when the troops I'm listening about are marching for weeks with no boots. SOOOO I thought I'd pick this scene.

Chase away the snowstorm blahs with this fun lil game from your humble basement dwellers in the UBC!

Send in your completed Mad Lib, and whichever we judge the funniest will get a free used book (priced under $10. Or 10 $1 books. Or 20 .50 cent books)!

On the evening of the last day's _VERB_ an order had been received that the commander in chief would _VERB_ the regiment on the march. Though the words of the order were not _ADJECTIVE_ to the regimental commander, and the question arose whether the troops were to be in _VERB_ order or not, it was decided at a consultation between the battalion commanders to present the regiment in _NOUN_ order, on the principle that it is always better to "bow too low than not bow low enough." So the soldiers, after a twenty-mile march, were kept _VERB_ and _VERB_ all night long without closing their eyes, while the adjutants and company commanders _VERB_ and _VERB_, and by morning the regiment instead of the straggling, disorderly crowd it had been on its last march the day before presented a well-ordered array of two thousand men each of whom knew his _NOUN_ and his _NOUN_, had every _NOUN_ and every _NOUN_ in place, and shone with cleanliness. And not only externally was all in order, but had it pleased the commander in chief to look under the uniforms he would have found on every man a clean _NOUN_, and in every knapsack the appointed number of articles, "_NOUN (1)_, _NOUN (2)_, and _NOUN (rhymes with 1)_," as the soldiers say. There was only one circumstance concerning which no one could be at ease. It was the state of the soldiers' _NOUN_. More than half the men's _NOUN_ were in _NOUN_. But this defect was not due to any fault of the regimental commander, for in spite of repeated demands _NOUN_ had not been _VERB_ by the Austrian _NOUN_, and the regiment had _NOUN_ some seven hundred miles. 

E-mail your submissions to! Winner announced next Friday!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

In Boston for AWP?

I love visiting bookstores.  On vacations, I'll rearrange my schedule so I can visit one (used, preferably) and spend at least an hour walking the aisles, admiring displays and plucking books from the shelf that I absolutely, completely need, no matter what the luggage weight limit says.  There was a period in my life where I traveled a bit too much, to the point where I would have already scoped out what used bookstores were in town, bring my books to sell during vacation, and then pop back out with enough books to make up for the ones I had just sold.

Right now, we're readying ourselves for the wave of people attending AWP, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference.  In just one day (Winter Storm Saturn, I refuse to let you get in the way), Boston will be filled to the gills with writers and literary types, more so than usual.  If you're here and you're visiting, you should hop on the green line and visit. You'll probably be near the Hynes Convention Center stop, so take the C outbound to Cleveland Circle.  We're right at Coolidge Corner and so easy to find.  If it takes you more than 10 minutes, you're either lost or the T is running late.  I will not say it is probably the latter.  Noooo.

Step off the train, wander cautiously to your right, and soon you'll see our lovely doors: 

Once you step in, you'll see this to your left (remember it for later)! 

You'll see new hardcovers, our bestsellers, bargain books, and more.

Prepare to spend some quality time in our card and gift room.

You'll also see ladders!

Our used books are downstairs (remember that sign earlier?)

And as always--check out our author events (and this window)!

We're super excited to see all of you--visit, say hi, and find some books that will put you over your baggage restrictions.