Monday, October 28, 2013

Consequence Books

And the three books of the last two weeks that I am excited we got into the children's section:

1. Allegiant by Veronica Roth
I have been annoying everyone with how excited I am about this book. I made keening noises at the boxes before we were allowed to open them. This book. I just...I am still filled with so many feelings. It was exactly what I wanted....I'll stop now.

2. The Mischievians by William Joyce
My love for William Joyce is a very real thing. When his Guardians series was turned into a movie I was easily the most excited person in the theatre. I was also supposed to be the Flying Book Girl from his The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore for Halloween.

3. Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett
Alex gets the overly sweet Birthday Bunny and edits it into the incredibly awesome Battle Bunny! Beyond clever.

Consequence books are something that have come up in my life a lot recently. Partially due to my excitement over the last book in Veronica Roth's Divergent trilogy (see above) and partially because the revelation of how much I love them is a fairly new one to me.

A consequence book is a book that deals predominantly (or just heavily) with the...well, consequences of what happened in a previous book. Often they're reflective, like a character trying to deal with something that happened. Other times the action is directly the result of what happened in the previous book.

Generally, I'm, a big fan of consequences. I mean, maybe not in my own life, but in literature I'm a big fan. So, it drives me crazy when characters do something big and nothing happens. There should always be some form of backlash. If, for some reason, there's not it needs to addressed and I expect a really good reason.

I mentioned the Divergent trilogy because Insurgent (book two) is a consequence book. As I talked to people about the series (in my excitement about Allegiant's release) I came across more people unsure of the second. First I was baffled because I loved it so much and then I was just curious about what was so different about it that people who loved the first didn't like it.

Which was when I realized that Insurgent is so much about Tris dealing with what happened to her in Divergent. It has new plot in it, yes, but it's more about the backlash of the first book's violence. I though it was exactly what it needed to be.

And that was why I loved it. Roth does such a wonderful job of making her characters fully human and it's the consequence books that show how human characters are. I want to see them deal with what happened to them. When we see that they seem more human, we get a more fully realized picture of who they are.

(For the record, Veronica Roth does a really brilliant job of making her characters human outside of Insurgent as well.)

Another one that comes to mind is Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl's Beautiful Chaos (book three). I get the strangest looks when I tell people that it's my favorite. But (and I feel we're beyond spoilers now since there's a movie and the first book came out in 2009) when Lena brought Ethan back from the dead in the first book we only got minimal consequences. We saw how that impacted her, not how it impacted Ethan. Mostly because he didn't know what happened to him, but it never set well with me.

Then Beautiful Chaos came out and that's most of what the book is about. It's finding out that he lost part of soul. That he's half of what he should be. That the world is out of balance. I loved it. I loved how it was handled. It was what I wanted all along.

Just like in my last post how I wanted the loss, I want the consequences. In life great actions often have dire consequences. If a story is going to be well crafted big actions should have big backlash. And seeing how characters deal with their own actions and what happens to them makes them human.

I love books with fast paced action and awesome banter but it's the books that deal with the consequences that stick with me the most.


Friday, October 25, 2013

You, Too, Can Be On a Boat

According to the New York Times Sunday travel section, it's the time to strike if you're want to book a cruise. The deals are on now and what better way to see swaths of the world AND get away from it all at the same time? I've set up a small subsection at the beginning of our Europe section for cruise guidebooks. So come get LUXURIOU$ and load up on how to be on a boat!

Berlitz Cruising and Cruise Ships 2014  A big ol' guide for the Cruise newbie or afficianado. This is a great book to by right now as you start to plan your cruise. There are reviews of all the lines, itineraries, ideas for how to spend your time both on and off the boat, and while some details may need refreshing over the years, you could really hold on to this for future ideas for planning. This could be your Mediterranean cruise year, and next could be your Alaskan cruise year, and the same Berlitz book could guide you to all your coming adventures.

Rick Steves Northern European Cruise Ports and Mediterranean Cruise Ports  Rick Steves guides are great in general, but particularly on a cruise, if you're a do-it-yourselfer, a little budget conscious and a really excited, open-minded sort of person his guidebooks are AMAZING. Enough information that you can go through even the most overwhelming museums on your own, useful phrases in the back to make a friendly impression on the locals, and exhaustive, frank and practical reviews on everything from where to eat, when it's worth booking an on-shore excursion through the ship, and what is missable and unmissable both on the ship and off. Great for those travelling with or without families, and if you prefer investing your money in lifetime memories over fancy digs.

Fodor's European Cruise Ports of Call  If you're maybe cruising without the kids, if you enjoy the finer things in life, if you have a membership to the MFA AND the Gardner, and would spend a premium for hotels with high-thread-count sheets, Fodor's guides might be speaking your language. Exhaustive guides to the major ports of all the major cruise lines, tips for the sort of food you would eat to have a culinary experience, NOT to run home and tell horror stories about, tips for maximizing your museum and shopping trips in your quick city jaunts at each port. We have them in for Europe and new editions for Alaska and the Carribbean are on the way!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Slowly But Surely

When I moved to Boston a few years ago, I left my full collection of books at my parents' house, electing to bring select volumes and sending for more as I needed them.  Every time I go home or have a visitor from home, I bring (or ask them to bring) at least 10 books. I know I'm going to box them up and send them to my Boston address via media mail one day, but I'm holding off because this way is more fun.

Last week, I called my little brother to see if he could put together a stack for a friend of mine to pack.  I e-mailed him a list, which he promptly ignored, and when I got him on the phone it was only because he was avoiding his homework.  I had him go through a few shelves, reading aloud title after title, asking him who wrote what.  We reached San Francisco Poems by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and I asked him to pop it open and read a random poem to see if I wanted him to send it along.  After sighing repeatedly, he started reading "The Great Chinese Dragon" in a very inspired fashion. Halfway through, I asked him if he knew what it was about. "Dragons taking over Chinatown, and then people telling the dragons they can't take over Chinatown and stuffing them in basements" was his reply.  I told him what I thought it was about and debated, somehow managing to draw my sister in and starting a three-person argument about poetry, ending with my brother threatening to do his homework.

I asked for the next title. "You suck." my brother said.  I was aghast. " Christopher Moore."

Media mail can wait, I'm having too much fun with this.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Stuff Found in Used Books

Readers of our weekly b-mail newsletter will already be familiar with our Find of the Week, a feature of the the magical scraps and ephemera that used books never fail to yield. If you're not a follower, I promise there are few better ways to kill a weekday afternoon than a leisurely browse through the archives with a hot Cup o' Noodles in hand.

What you may not know is that Paul, the sassy voice of b-mail (email to sign up) and long-time curator of Find of the Week, barely scratches the surface. Our used book buyers field hundreds of new arrivals every week; by my estimation at least half of those books hold not just old bookmarks but ticket stubs, polaroids, business cards, notes, lists, sketches, pressed flowers, trading cards, even money.

So while you can still get your weekly dose of scavenged weird via our newsletter, I thought I'd feature a few of the passed over finds here every once in awhile. Paul might even let me dig through his huge box of all the old newsletter finds (eight years worth! That's 416 weeks of strange stuff, for you kids keeping track at home) and post some golden oldies for the newbies.

US Department of Homeland Security
Homeland Security Investigations
Special Agent
Violent Gang Unit



Monday, October 21, 2013

Meetings, meetings, meetings

Some people's jobs involve a lot of meetings. Maybe even enough that they find themselves complaining about the time they waste spend in these gatherings, where discussion may or may not be more rambling than productive. If this sounds familiar to you, I sympathize. But such is not the life of a bookseller.

For most of us, meetings are a rarity. Oh, we have shift meetings, where we get through about ten announcements in as many minutes. We even have occasional department meetings, which go a bit more in-depth. But such excuses to sit down only come about once in a while. And the type of meeting we had on Friday was rare enough to be a real treat. Debra the Candlewick rep came by, and she brought galleys.

Candlewick Press focuses on children's books, and it makes beautiful ones.

Fun ones.
 Exciting ones.
Thought-provoking ones.
Needless to say, when Debra pulled out advance copies of the next round of books, we grabbed. I dove right into Girls Like Us, out in May (consider yourselves tortured), because the need to pass it around was obvious. It alternates between the viewpoints of two young women, both mentally challenged but in different ways, with distinct voices and responses to the sometimes harrowing way the world treats them. This is the sort of book that's going to start great discussions with customers.
I can't wait to look more closely at the rest of the pile in my cubby. If this is what meetings are like, bring 'em on.


Friday, October 18, 2013

Luminarious New Zealand

This week 28-year-old New Zealander Eleanor Catton became the youngest person to win the Man Booker Prize with her 2nd novel The Luminaries. I haven't read The Luminaries yet, but a reviewer on the BBC called it the "Kiwi Twin Peaks." This alone is sufficient to whet my appetite, but there's a lot to this book, in fact the longest Booker Prize winner ever clocking in at a staggering 848 pages. It follows the story of Walter Moody, who's come to work the goldfields in 1866 New Zealand who stumbles upon a series of unsolved (and possibly related?!) crimes including the disappearance of a wealthy man, the suicide of a prostitute and the discovery of a cache of money in the local drunk's house. I hugely can't wait to dig into this!
Right now it's spring in New Zealand, and if you're considering on taking a second summer for yourself in this beautiful archipelago, December would be a great time to jaunt away from New England and sip egg nog on the beaches of Auckland. If you're planning a trip on the sole basis of having an 848 page novel to read on your way there now, don't stop at Ms. Catton, the Kiwis have a magnificent array of beach reads to bring with you: 

The Bone People by Keri Hulme. The 1985 winner of the Booker Prize, this is one of those books that has a huge cult following but sells steadily despite being a generally unknown book. Without giving too much away, it's basically the story of a woman artist in New Zealand and a young Maori boy who tries to steal from her one night but then returns and their interactions thereafter. It's a bit of a challenge but a rewarding one.

Katherine Mansfield is easily one of the greatest authors from New Zealand, and if you haven't read her yet put Alice Munro down for a sec and read some of the greatest short stories in English. She wrote around the time of H.D. and Virginia Woolf and she's definitely of their ilk though in a class of her own, of course. “The Garden Party” is really great.

And if you haven't read the book that serves as the basis for the amazing film The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera, do it now! It draws on Maori myths and tells the beautiful story of a girl born to a patriarchal family who overcomes tradition to prove herself to her traditional grandfather by riding a whale along the coast (which in the Maori legend was done by a male).
Fall is the greatest time in New England, but we all know it's brief, so after the leaves change, come load up on Kiwi-fic and keep summer going year-round!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Happy Birthday, Jay

My baby brother and I have the same birthday, a decade and a half apart.  My fifteenth birthday was spent in a hospital waiting room sitting placidly while my mother gave birth. As the only boy in our family, he has been saved from hand-me-down dresses and dolls with tangled hair, but still ends up getting everything after my sister and I are done with it.  His bedroom is scattered with a motley collection of electronics, old beanies, and books he poached from my shelves.

For his birthday, my perpetual gift is a pile of books.  We have similar tastes, meaning I'm very good at selecting books that he'll read ravenously.  The only downside is that means I will also read the books ravenously before sending them to him, making his books yet another accidental hand-me-down.  On occasion I read his books with post-its, writing "!!!" and popping it on the page after a salient plot point so he'll call me afterwards.  We've consumed Kazu Kibuishi's Amulet series, Gene Yang's graphic adaptations of Avatar: The Last Airbender, all of the Rick Riordan books, Doug TenNapel's books for younger readers, Raina Telgemeier's graphic adaptations of The Baby-Sitter's Club, and pored over dozens of galleys.

This year he is turning thirteen, and I know that my days of brilliant gift-giving may soon come to an end.  He has an iPhone.  He's starting high school next fall.  He knows what twerking is.  He isn't a baby anymore, even though I insist on calling him my baby brother.

As he matures, I'm curious to see where he'll go with his reading.  Will he follow in my ravenous Nicholson Baker footsteps?  Will he like Christopher Moore?  Will he discover Jessica Hagedorn?  Will he still love the books he read as a kid?  For now, I'm able to give him the following books that I know he'll love: Gene Yang's Boxers/Saints boxed set, the new Kazu Kibuishi Explorer collection, and a book that some dude scribbled in.
In which we learn having an events director as a sister has its benefits
Happy birthday, Jay. Love you. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Tricky Thing About Endings

Three books I'm psyched we got in the children's section:

1. House of Hades by Rick Riordan
 Do I really need to say anything else about this?
2. Unbreakable by Kami Garcia
Half of the writing team of Beautiful Creatures. Creepy ghosts. Some romance. Wonderful.
3.Fletcher and the Falling Leaves by Julia Rawlinson.
Okay, so we got this one back in. It's a favorite of mine.

I know a lot of people who are happy ending people. They want every book to end with everything neatly wrapped and tied with a bow.

That's fine. I think some books should end that way. Not everything needs to end with a string of deaths and heartache. It would be boring, not to mention very strange if every book did (I imagine a lot of rogue cars jumping curbs, random snipers, and spontaneous rockslides).

But there are books where most of the book pretty much promises death. You read the entire thing on the edge of your seat wondering which character is going die. Someone has to. Maybe our ragtag band of heroes is horrendously outnumbered. Maybe someone starts off the story incurably ill (John Green proves that that can still be surprisingly heart-wrenching). You read the entire thing completely certain that someone is about to die.

And then no one does. At the last second that surprise army comes in, or someone with a magical cure to this previously incurable illness appears and everyone is okay...happy even.

I am usually disappointed... I am also infamous among friends for having no qualms about killing characters off.

Sometimes people are okay. I'm cool with that. I don't want to read books where everyone dies all the time, I'm not that macabre. I do usually like it if the characters bleed a little first (that can be emotional bleeding. I'm not picky). If no one gets hurt what are the stakes?

That's the thing though, the stakes. They need to be high for what's happening to matter. The threat must seem great. Even in books like the teen romances they are up against time. It takes place over a summer or a school year and they only have so long. But if the threat is going to be big enough to matter something must be lost.

I'm never convinced when five main characters go up against an army (with maybe 10 of their closest friends) and no one dies. Often no one is even gravely injured. It doesn't make sense. There should at least be lots of blood. Maybe most of them make it out alive thanks to their superior powers or that last minute help but there's no way that there were no casualties.

Often authors will toss in what I mentally refer to as 'padding characters.' These are the ones whose names we hear a couple times before, maybe they share a joke or two with the main characters. They are almost guaranteed to die. Because you recognize the name you care just enough and the author can say that someone we knew died.

I'm not okay with just padding characters dying. The stakes aren't high enough.

But how many people are really happy with a book (or series) that ends with the main character alone and grieving...or dead? There would be outrage. But at the same time people are still angry when the consequences aren't high enough.

Where's the line? Can we ever be happy with the way it ends?

I would be okay with the main character dead if it made sense. But I also think the story requires the same respect the characters do. To change the flow of the story for the sake of the ending is cheap. And I think it often shows when that happens. The ending doesn't make sense. There is never a time when every reader is going to be happy. I'd rather be devastated but satisfied.

But I'm beginning to think that I might be a little bit bloodthirsty.


Friday, October 11, 2013

Around the World in 80 Bites

While literature doesn't get much better than a long, super-descriptive food scene (the meals in Laura Ingalls Wilder's Farmer Boy! The restaurants in Hemingway's Movable Feast! The baked yam in Invisible Man!) it does get better when you are describing in minute detail meals had on epic journeys. There's been a spate of food memoirs lately, and even more recently than that a new crop of food memoirs On Location. There's something nostalgic and comforting reading about the food that people grow up with, and even if it's from a culture entirely foreign to you, what better way to understand cultures than in the food we grow up on. Some of the most beautiful sentences in literature seem to come from whatever gland is deep within us that hold the genuine love, passion and nostalgia for the foods that sustained us when we were young. Here's a roundup of my recent faves, and one I'm drooling to dig into:

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, Anya von Bremzen  This book was such a funtime treat to read. It was equal parts history of the Soviet Union, nostalgic memoir of a not-so-easygoing childhood, and a love poem to a century's worth of food from one of the biggest nations in the world, encompassing such a huge swath of culinary traditions it was dazzling, dizzying, and hunger-making. Von Bremzen is both funny and skilled, she made my stomach grumble embarrassingly over fish bones cooked in butter, something I'd never be interested in eating under normal circumstances. She is a sauce-y wordsmith!

My Berlin Kitchen, Luisa Weiss  On the other side of the Iron Curtain, Luisa Weiss grows up learning to cook and bake in her West German home. As a grown-up in America she returns to the recipes of her youth and tells a beautiful story that instantly transports you to the homey kitchens and worldly restraurants of megalopolis Berlin.

Blood, Bones and Butter, Gabrielle Hamilton  By now you might have noticed that the books in this post present a common color scheme. Red and yellow, the colors of the golden arches, have long been considered colors that will make consumers hungry and therefore to eat more. Perhaps this is true also of books, but when you've got a writer AND CHEF of such superlative skill as Gabrielle Hamilton, you cook drop her sentences in a greasy wax bag and the whole world would beg for more. Simultaneously a memoir, coming of age story, complicated love story, and hilarious if grueling account of the blood and sweat poured into opening her own restaurant, Hamilton's book is beautiful, true and offers one of the most fascinating accounts of understanding hunger in a brilliantly wrought scene that catches up with our narrator on her first trans-atlantic trip in Amsterdam. The simplicity of a small meal of a boiled potato and sliver of cheese has stuck with me YEARS after reading this book. She is SO BRILLIANT WHERE IS HER NEXT BOOK!?

A Fork in the Road, ed. James Oseland  Is a book I haven't even read yet but am salivating to dig into! It comes out in December and my-oh-my: Francine Prose, Andre Aciman, Rita Mae Brown, Marcus Samuelsson, Michael Pollan, Monique Truong, Madhur Jaffrey and a bajillion other writers dish on the best meals they've had abroad. Run don't walk--OH MY GOSH is it lunch time yet?!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

In the Emergency of an Event

It's a quiet weeknight after a long, hectic day. You're through putting up with people for the time being, and maybe it's starting to rain, but that's nothing a pumpkin spice latte and an hour of bookstore browsing can't soothe away. Nothing more therapeutic than sinking into the hushed hum of a new novel on a cool Autumn night - until 450 fans come stampeding in.

Last night, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jhumpa Lahiri graced our store with her presence, signing copies of her new book for a line of fans that snaked its way up and down all the aisles and almost reached out the front door. I love these huge events; Booksmith staff keep a tight rein on the chaos while giddy readers meet their heroes face to face.

But I always feel a sympathetic twinge for the innocent browser caught up in the bustle unsuspectingly. It doesn't happen often, but if you find yourself in a quiet store one minute and thronged by voracious readers the next (on, say, October 22nd, October 30th or November 7th), just follow this simple guide.

1) Don't panic.

2) Stick close to the walls and edge your way toward the front of the store. With a crowd pouring in this may feel like spawning upstream, but if food can do it so can you.

3) Across from the front register you will see a doorway. This is your escape hatch. Go through it.

What's this? Suddenly the teeming hordes are gone. You descend the stairs in a slight daze. While the main sales floor fills to capacity, you have the Used Book Cellar all to yourself. Chairs, laid-back music, one-of-a-kind scoops... paradise at last. Consider it your fallout shelter from the mayhem up above.

Some new finds:

Calaveras: Mexican Prints for the Day of the Dead

Classic and antique postcard art from the Holiday Most Envied by White People. Printed on heavy, removeable card-stock.

Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom

And you thought Trekkies were obsessive.

The Ordinary Acrobat: A Journey into the Wondrous World of the Circus, Past and Present 

It was the Lautrec-esque cover that caught my eye, but the subject matter couldn't be more sordid and captivating. Check out the NPR review.

Harry Dickson: Les Spectres Bourreaux

Hardcover reissue of the classic pulp magazine. Great practice for French language learners, though the Parisians might mistake you for a gumshoe detective.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Three real winners

This weekend, I attended the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards and the Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium, which focuses on the books that were honored. Though a bit lesser-known than the Newbery and Caldecott Awards, the BGHBs are a high honor within the children's book community, and the winners often don't get enough attention. (Heck, these days even the Newbery and Caldecott don't make it onto the Today show.) This year's winners were all books we're enthusiastic about here, so I thought I'd give them some screen time.

The Picture Book Winner:

Building Our House, by Jonathan Bean
With spare text but very informative (and very '70s) illustrations, Jonathan Bean tells the story of how his family built their own house when they moved to the country. This one is a must for any budding engineer. Just ask Paul about how he and his family have embraced Bean's work; Bean's new book, Big Snow, "makes [his] heart sing!!"

The Fiction Winner: 

Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell
This young adult novel is romantic but not just about the romance. It has characters with big problems, but it isn't just about those problems. It's funny, sometimes even while it's heartbreaking. It takes place in the '80s, but you can get it without having experienced them. John Green loved it. What more do you need to know?

The Nonfiction Winner:

Electric Ben, by Robert Byrd
Don't be fooled by the thinness of this picture book biography. It's full of information, arranged for maximum grabability. Ben Franklin had personality, and by the end of the book, you'll feel like you're on a nickname basis with him.

There's variety in kids' and YA books, is what I'm saying. Particularly in good kids' and YA books.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Oktoberfest: OR, It Could Be Wurst

The real live Oktoberfest wraps up in Munich this week, though if you're planning on going we still have plenty of great books AND if you plan on bypassing the crowds and going to Munich after Oktoberfest, many of the biergartens will still be around, not to mention all those great breweries, so this exhaustive display in your favorite travel section can help no matter where you plan to drink your beers in October.
The original German-style Oktoberfest has been around in various incarnations since King Ludwig I married a pretty princess in Bavaria. Since then, a huge party complete with many of the beers from the regions spotlighted by breweries have washed down countless WurstBrezeln and Sauerkraut for locals and tourists alike always around the end of September to the middle of October. So slap on some lederhosen and get the low-down with Meet Me in Munich: A Beer Lover's Guide to Oktoberfest which breaks down the best tents, what to wear and the whys and hows of all the many Oktoberfest traditions. Also the author's name is Moses Wolf and that in and of itself justifies the price of this beautiful, photo-rich book. And as with most locations in the world, we have quite the Schmaus of more general guidebooks and maps to the region.

For many in New England, the dual signal of leaves changing colors and the proliferation of pumpkin beers signals Autumn time. What better time to hit the road, go on a road trip through the brilliant leaves, stop for a jaunt in an orchard, and to wrap up with a tour to the many magnificent New England breweries? Norman Miller's Beer Lover's New England is an exhaustive list of the best breweries, restaurants and bars in New England. So if you don't want to shell out a tiny fortune to Lufthansa, stay stateside and celebrate your own Oktoberfest, in the prettiest autumnal location in the world!

Conversely, for the armchair tourist who wants to avoid all those Mid-Atlantic leafers scoping out our trees, stay at home with this massive, beautiful World Atlas of Beer. There's a lot of history and science about beer in the beginning, and then broken up by region a rundown of the most popular beers by location. What the locals like, what the international community likes that is produced there, and at what specific temperatures to best consume a beer in a pub in Sheffield. Among many other details. There are also tons of gorgeous photographs. An incredible gift for those upcoming holidays, too, folks.
To keep track of all these beers is the Moleskine Beer Journal where you can write down all the beers you've tasted and what you thought about them BEFORE YOU FORGET. So go out there and toss one back for me! And if you've gone to Oktoberfest or are having your own, tell me all about it in the comments!