Friday, March 30, 2012

Bits and Bobs about Books and Booksellers

I agree with Mr Gray, Booksing will never cease as long as there are bibliophiles who love the feel of a real book around (from Shelf Awareness):

Robert Gray: Will 'Booksing' Lead to the Bibliocalypse?

"In our new digital lives, we're deluged by text but evermore removed
from proper reading. The textures and objects that once filled our lives
have been replaced by the bald touch screen, though for every physical
thing left behind, the Internet generates a billion virtual simulations.
One result is booksing: a palliative appreciation of books as things,
which muddles up the nostalgia for a more tactile world with our anxiety
about just not reading enough."

I came upon Raghu Karnad's article late
last week in Mint, an Indian business daily that has a content
partnership with the Wall Street Journal. Provocative writing haunts
readers long after their eyes leave the page, and this piece certainly
did so for me. Even the headline is a challenge, if not an outright
scold: "Fake bibliophilia: Our irritating new tendency to fetishize the
physical book is actually an excuse not to read."

What intrigues me about Karnad's damnation of fake bibliophilia is his
assumption that the roles of reader and "bookser" are mutually
exclusive; that booksing is an inevitable sign of the bibliocalypse. As
an old reader and bookser, I must disagree.

A booksing high is best when shared. As Karnad notes, "If you use
Facebook or Twitter, you may have noticed the recent popularity of
'booksing,' which is very different from reading. Booksing tends to show
up as a gushy, shared celebration of the idea of books, rather than of
the experience of reading any given one."

I do use Facebook and Twitter, but I've also noticed that the same
people getting a little "gushy" about "the idea of books" are just as
often evangelizing for works and authors they have read and loved. I'm
blessed by the fact that a majority of the people I know are readers.
(This was not the case for much of my early life, so I appreciate my
bookish clan.) And here's a little secret: Most of them are, as far as I
can tell, fully addicted "booksers" as well. Hmm... I wonder if
surrounding yourself with people who love books and reading as much as
you do is just another deadly strain of booksing.

Karnad contends that booksing "often celebrates books through their most
cosmetic aspects." He criticizes, among many things, "the over-scrutiny
of cover design, the fetishization of typefaces, the reading of writing
about reading and writing." He warns of "an epidemic of Tumblr pages
that you can broadly call 'Hemingway, Typewriter,' in which famous
authors are seen doing things." He scolds us for the "veneration of the
collection, the shelf, the bargain bin, the discount haul, and other
forms of textual abundance (or, as we know too well, unread

Well, I'm part of that problem, too. Every day I scout the Web
wilderness for items that might be included in our Book Candy section of
Shelf Awareness for Readers As unofficial
Booksing Editor, I find stuff like amazing book spaces,
unusual book products, even
surgically carved book sculptures
And if booksing is really a bad drug for a terminal malady, then beware
the recent escalation of Pinterest, which is essentially a
booksing doctor writing prescriptions on demand.

Karnad seems particularly miffed about The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr.
Morris Lessmore, which
recently won an Oscar in the best animated short category. He observed
that you can leave it "feeling that both the film and the Academy's
tribute are hollow and, all the more for their loveliness,
self-defeating. I'd call them 'booksy.' " The Joy of Books video, which currently has
three million views on YouTube, is also cited as symptomatic of the
decline and fall.

"The joy of reading is harder to access than The Joy of Reading video,"
Karnad wrote. "I'm as vulnerable to this as anybody. Yet when booksiness
gets a big plug from the Academy Awards, it leaves me feeling suspicious
and sad and mad, because it looks like a worthless welfare check from a
healthy creative form to one that's thought to be moribund. If reading
is indeed about to die, then booksing is a good sign of its dropping
pulse. If we stopped booksing instead, we'd have one less distraction."

Stop booksing? Never! In fact, I just saw a photo of this amazing
"library loft" I want to
share with you. And now I'll go back to reading my new favorite
book--Geoff Dyer's Zona, an intriguing exploration of Andrei Tarkovsky's
film Stalker, which ends with a striking shot of a girl reading in a
room filled with books. Wait a second. Is that too booksy as
well?--Robert Gray

Amazon is making even more inroads in's the Godzilla of Booksellers!

Calling the 3.3 million-square-foot project "the largest development
ever proposed downtown,"
the Seattle Times reported that Amazon's proposed three-block high-rise
project could take eight years to complete, according to the architects,
who met with the city's Downtown Design Review Board Tuesday night.

Even though most of the attention thus far has been focused on the
37-story office tower that will be the centerpiece of the project, each
block will also "have shorter buildings--up to six stories--that would
be linked to the tower on that block by one or two skybridges. On the
block likely to be developed first, a small bridge would link the tower
to a 40,000-square-foot auditorium-like building seating 2,000 that
Amazon plans to build along Lenora Street," the Seattle Times wrote.

All Things Digital called the plans "fairly shocking
given the company's rapid growth over the past few years. Clearly, the
company's leader Jeff Bezos has a lot more surprises in store that may
push the company beyond its core online retail and digital businesses,
including the Kindle."

I really want to read this book, as it's about my home state of Iowa, plus it has gotten lots of good ink in the press recently:
By the Iowa Sea: A Memoir by Joe Blair (Scribner, $24, 9781451636055).
"This is a perfectly written book about a very complicated family under
extraordinary circumstances. A troubled couple, Joe and his wife, along
with their four kids, live in Coralville, Iowa, at nightmarish flood
tide. Blair knows how families work and knows the sorrow of families
working poorly. He also learns the way tragedy can pull things together.
His struggles with his wife and learning-disabled son are particularly
moving. No one can teach someone to write with Blair's level of honesty
and love." --Paul Ingram, Prairie Lights Books, Iowa City, Iowa

Another wonderful column from Robert Gray, and I totally agree with him on this front, too, as some books are meant to be read slowly, and enjoyed sentence by sentence, though I prefer reading Steinbeck and Patricia McKillip that way, rather than Ondajate:

Robert Gray: I'm Reading as Fast as I Can!
Maura Kelly sparked a flurry of online commenting, sharing and
retweeting this week with her "Slow-Books Manifesto"
piece for the Atlantic. "In our leisure moments, whenever we have down
time, we should turn to literature--to works that took some time to
write and will take some time to read, but will also stay with us longer
than anything else," she wrote.

The enthusiastic and "real-time" electronic call and response struck me
as deliciously ironic, given her censure of the "Fast" entertainment we
are subjected to on "the screens that blare in every corner of America
(at the airport, at the gym, in the elevator, in our hands)."

And yet, by nature and temperament, I have always been a slow reader and
tend to agree with her manifesto, even if I harbor considerable
reservations about the dismissal of "non-literary books" and "emphasis
on literature."

Before shattering my readerly innocence by accepting a bookseller's job
in the early 1990s, I was a lingerer over pages, paragraphs and
sentences of the books I loved. I underlined and committed excessive
marginalia. I read passages aloud to people I liked, saying, "Listen to

I could have been a poster child for the Slow Book Movement before there was one, though
as Malcolm Jones
pointed out a couple of years ago, the "phrase 'slow reading' goes back
at least as far as the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who in 1887
described himself as a 'teacher of slow reading.' The way he phrased it,
you know he thought he was bucking the tide. That makes sense, because
the modern world, i.e., a world built upon the concept that fast is good
and faster is better, was just getting up a full head of steam."

In Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient, Hana receives this advice:
"Read him slowly, dear girl, you must read Kipling slowly. Watch
carefully where the commas fall so you can discover the natural pauses.
He is a writer who used pen and ink. He looked up from the page a lot, I
believe, stared through his window and listened to birds, as most
writers who are alone do. Some do not know the names of birds, though he
did. Your eye is too quick and North American. Think about the speed of
his pen. What an appalling, barnacled old first paragraph it is

During my slow reading years, I was habitually monogamous, spending a
month with a book, three months with an author's works. Most of those
habits became seriously compromised, however, when I entered "the trade"
and quickly adopted their bookishly promiscuous ways along with a
professional need for reading speed.

For a long time now, I have juggled several books at once--good books
and bad books; print books, e-books and audiobooks--while ever casting a
covetous gaze toward other tempting titles within reach on shelves and
online. There have been far too many one-night-reads, when I scanned 50
pages and bailed.

Despite these ongoing betrayals of my slow reading heritage, I've tried
to remain faithful to the ancestral tomes as well (currently slow
re-reading Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens). It may not be enough.

A booklover's life is a complicated affair. As a professional
reader--which is what booksellers and editors become--I don't have a
vested interest in the titles that land on my desk incessantly, though I
begin each with hope and the desire for love. Page one is always

Books are, in fact, irresistible to me. Always have been. Can I read
them all? No. But within the considerable limitations of my ability,
time and attention span, I'm reading as fast as I can. Except, of
course, when I'm reading... slowly.

As I said, it's complicated. What does that mean?

Not this: "The average person reads between 200 to 400 words per minute.
By at least tripling your reading speed you would possess a much wider
and more flexible range of reading rates and experience for the first
time the thrill of DYNAMIC COMPREHENSION. It is like watching
movie."--Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics

This: Reading is journey. On any trip, sometimes I go fast and sometimes
slow. The key lies in not choosing one speed over another permanently
(you'll hit a tree), but learning how to shift gears. Yesterday, I was
reading and writing at high speed in upstate New York. Today I downshift
to Our Mutual Friend and will spend an afternoon in 19th century London.

I can even see the road sign coming into view. Caution: Slow Reader
Ahead.--Robert Gray

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

MWF Seeking BFF by Rachel Bertsche and Bookish Bits

"I talk to strangers instead of avoiding them. I do the work to bring people together, personally or professionally. When I'm invited somewhere I say yes and show up. I try not to interrupt, especially with stories about myself, and I don't point it out whenever I go out of my way for a friend. I get a kick out of new people instead of acting awkward around them. I get phone numbers, and I use them. In short, I'm a better friend." from "MWF Seeking BFF" by Rachel Bertsche.
The above is what happens, in a nutshell, to twenty-something Bertsche, who, after being a native New Yorker, moves with her new lawyer husband to Chicago, and realizes that she's far afield of her support system of family and friends.
Instead of bemoaning her friendless state and wallowing in lonliness, Rachel does what most people her age do when confronted with a challenge: they blog about changing their situation for a year, and then write a book from all their blog posts about the experience, complete with snark, pithy quotes from experts and their books, and the occaisional neurotic rant.
The success of this menthod of non fiction book has been touted a lot in recent years, with the publication of "Julie and Julia" a blog turned book turned movie, (with Meryl Streep doing a turn as Julia Child, and being marvelous, as usual) and Hungry Girl, a blog turned series of books turned TV show. There are countless other examples, but the thrust of all these books remains the same, ie a young woman flounders around and grasps onto a way to 'find herself' via some challenge over the course of a year, whether it be reading 100 classic novels or cooking every recipe in Julia Childs cookbook. In this case, Rachel sets a goal of meeting 52 new women who could be potential "BFFs" or "Best Friends Forever." She tries everything imaginable, from a paid friend service (which, unsurprisingly, is awkward and doesn't yield a friend)to going to a religious group meeting, to attending a "speed friending" session, as well as writing an article for a major publication begging shamelessly for contacts with women her age in her same situation.
She meets odd women, humorless women, fun women and some she just doesn't feel a 'spark' with, of course, in addition to some that she feels would be perfect BFF candidates, only to discover that they never call or email her after the first date, they marry and move out of town or they're just not that into her, which seems to surprise our heroine, even though the reader will, by now, realize that she's something of an acquired taste, when her neurotic charm wears thin, revealing patches of shiny narcissism.
Though I found Rachel judgmental and annoying in places (there really aren't any women you can find common ground with over the age of 30? Really?) I still enjoyed her friendship journey, though I don't know that it made for a book with any real density. But if you're looking for an extended blog post that's light and doesn't take long to read, this is the book for you. I'd give it a B, only because she wraps it up with a win for everyone, and I felt she learned something along the way.

As a writer, I really identify with this woman's quote about her life, except instead of going on a book tour, I have to get dressed to go out and buy groceries, go to the gym, etc.

"I work from home. My commute is five feet down a hallway from my bedroom to my office. I wear pajamas until I'm required to leave the house or bathe. I brush my teeth, but not my hair. Who do I need to impress, the UPS guy? (In fact, I do worry about what he thinks of me.) My point is, unlike people who work among other humans, I don't particularly need to be presentable. I also don't need to be organized, prompt, poised or sociable. All I have to do is sit behind a desk and write a book. Until the book comes out, that is. Then every habit I've hammered into my psyche over the last year has to be undented when I embark on a book tour.
I wish I could liken my physical transformation to that of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly, but it's more like a bear shaken out of hibernation in the middle of winter. Packing seems like rocket science to me. The sound of the alarm can be particularly brutal when I have to get up at 4 a.m. to fly across the country in time for an evening event. Every day I wear outside clothes (as I call them). Sometimes I attempt to iron, attempt being the operative word. I even wear makeup occasionally and brush my hair. And I will fully admit to being utterly cranky most of the time.
But then I step into a bookstore and I realize that despite all the alarming data about e-books and the demise of bookstores, there are still people out there who read, who buy books with pages, who take the time to come to an author signing and make you feel special, even when you know what you really are. I'm the slob, staring at a blank page, feeling like an idiot, most of the time. But for a few weeks out of the year, I'm an author." --Lisa Lutz, author of the Spellman series. The latest is Trail of the Spellmans (Simon & Schuster)

I want to see this so badly!
From Shelf Awareness:

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London: the Making of Harry Potter opens March 31, but the Guardian's Sam Jones had an early peek at the exhibition,
which "promises to bring true wizard fans closer to the heroes and
villains than ever before.... they will be able to stroll down Diagon
Alley, peer into Professor Snape's potions class and gaze around
Dumbledore's office as the set where the eight films were shot opens to
the public for the first time."

Jones noted that while "the veil is well and truly lifted" on the Harry
Potter moviemaking mystique (see photos here,
"the more technical trickery reveals its sleight of hand, the more the
sheer ingenuity and effort that went into the films becomes apparent...
[and] all the signs suggest it will enchant visitors as much as the
books and films that gave rise to it."

I was a Brownie and a Girl Scout,so I appreciate reading that Chronicle Books honored this Scout Troop:

In celebration of the centennial this week of the founding of the Girl
Scouts of America, Chronicle Books invited Girl Scout Troop #62076 to
visit its office in San Francisco. The scouts snacked on cupcakes and
Girl Scout Cookies, saw pictures of Chronicle Books staffers as girl
scouts, learned how Chronicle developed its line of licensed Girl Scout
journals and stationery and were treated to a visit and book signing with
Annie Barrows, author of the Ivy and Bean series.

I plan on seeing this movie as soon as I can find it in a local theater. I'd also like to see "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" with Ewan Macgregor, because I believe he's one of our finest actors. Though I'm not a Papa H fan, I do think his relationships with women were fascinating.

HBO released a new teaser trailer for Hemingway & Gellhorn,
starring Clive Owen (Ernest Hemingway) and Nicole Kidman (Martha
Gellhorn). Indiewire noted that there "is nothing particularly new or
eye-catching on show here until right at the end of the trailer, and
then comes a new and vital piece of information about the film--the air
date." HBO will premiere Philip Kaufman's film May 28.

Finally, this video is hilarious! I read so hard, I'm JK Rowling! Go reader grrls!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Floating Library and March Reads

March came in like a snowy leopard, if not a lion, with cold temps, followed by warm spring temps of 60 degrees or higher, designed, no doubt, to lure us into thinking that we could turn off the heat in the house, but wait! Last night and this morning winter temps and loads of snow made a reappearance in Maple Valley, with windy wet flops of snow falling from the skies and delaying school for two hours. Once afternoon set in, the temps rose enough for the snow to become slushy and messy, and dangerous to drivers, of course, since this evening is book group at the Library, where we will be discussing "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" by Jonathan Safran Foer.
Meanwhile,I finished "The Witches Daughter" and "The Secrets of Madame Olivetti." I'm almost done with Elizabeth Cohen's "The Empowered Patient" which is making me rethink all my docility in following my doctors advice and not questioning their diagnosis.

I think this is a marvelous idea:

From Shelf Awareness:
Keeping an Indie Afloat... Literally
Word on the Water is a
London bookbarge
that "stops for two weeks at each mooring to sell books donated by the
public and by charity bookshops," the Telegraph reported, noting that it
is one of more than 2,300 boats on British waterways that are
businesses. The bookstore is run by "The Doctor" Paddy Screech, "The
Professor" John Privett, and "a mysterious Frenchman called 'The
Captain,' " who owns the vessel.

Screech believes his business is drifting toward the mainstream: "We
live in times where young people have Debussy mustaches, and listen to
Sixties and Seventies music. They are interested in the past. I don't
remember there being a youth cult before where the past was so
fascinating. There's a hunger for authenticity.... Younger people are
becoming interested in things that machines can't do: talent."

Operating under the motto "Quirky is the word," the owners of Word on
the Water are "not aiming at what people want, we're trying to make
people want what we give them, and business is going very well--we are
exceeding our projections quite significantly," Screech observed. "This
is a bookshop where you are taken on a journey down the shelves and keep
bumping into things that you otherwise wouldn't have."

I've gotten more books from Baker Street, for half price, and am now desperately trying to send off the ones for family and friends while trying to wrestle my TBR stacks into submission. Admittedly, it is a good problem to have to not know what one wants to read next. Still, I am hoping that inclement weather will afford me time to just sit and read...that, and the fact that many of my favorite shows are on hiatus and have been cancelled helps, too.