Monday, April 14, 2014

New York Times article about Seattle Bookstores, Michael Palin and Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

This article has an awesome quote from one of my favorite bookstore owners, Roger Page of Island Books. It's a lovely article that points out why indie bookstores thrive in Seattle and surrounding communities more than they do in other parts of the US. I could have told them it's because King County is chock-a-block full of readers and serious bibliophiles! I have seen people line up at library sales, at Goodwill half price book sales and I've seen people perusing the books at garage sales, so I know that there are those who, like myself, are always on the hunt for cheaper ways to feed their reading habit. Of course, I also spend too much money on new books that I get from places like Island Books, and when I can't find them there, I go to The Sequel used bookstore in Enumclaw or to Finally Found Books in Auburn and search there. Yes, I also sometimes buy books online, primarily at Barnes and because I have a membership there, but I avoid Amazon unless I have no other option.

For its part, the Times went far afield for a positive story on indies,
offering a feature on how Seattle bookstores are thriving despite--and in a few cases because of--Amazon's presence
in the city. "As Amazon has exploded with growth, hiring thousands of
tech workers at its downtown headquarters and helping bolster the
Seattle economy, local bookstore owners have seen a surprising new side
of the company they loved to hate: Many Amazon employees, it turns out,
are readers who are not shopping at the company store," the paper wrote.

The story went into detail about Jeopardy! champion and former Amazon
books editor Tom Nissley's purchase of Santoro's Books, which he is
turning into Phinney Books. (See our interview with him here

Like nearly every teenager in the 1970s, I was a huge fan of Monty Pythons Flying Circus, and I had a crush on Michael Palin, who was so goofy and adorable he was irresistible to a book and drama nerd like me.  I think it's wonderful that he's supporting local bookstores!

Michael Palin's Book Tour Will Support U.K. Indie Booksellers
Author, world traveler and Monty Python legend Michael Palin will
promote the latest volume of his diaries, "Travelling to Work: Diaries
1988-1998", with his first one-man tour across England. The Bookseller
reported that at "each of the 21 venues of the tour, a local bookshop
will be selling signed copies of
Palin's books in the foyer of the theatre." Travelling to Work will be
released in September. 

"The link up is to give them [local
bookshops] a little more coverage and visibility," Palin said. "I think there
is something that the bookshop represents which is the heart of
community life. Bookshops are a way of bringing people together. There
is a feeling when you go into one, an idea that this is a good place to
be. People talk to each other more. They take their time. I love
bookshops because they allow you to browse much more easily than online.
I love physical books, the look, the color."

These photos are fascinating. I wish I'd been able to see some of these stores before they closed.

Beautiful Vintage Photos of Bygone Bookstores'
In its "Beautiful Vintage Photos of Bygone Bookstores:"
slide show, Flavorwire invited readers to "indulge in some literary
nostalgia and appease your book-beauty tooth (you know you've got one)
with these lovely old photos of old bookstores (in some of which you
could, at one time, find old books). And all right, not all are complete
bygones--some, improbably, wonderfully, are still standing--but they
don't look quite like this anymore, and so the vintage-photo-ogling

I am so very excited about this, because I adore and rever Librarians, and because the movies were so deliciously fun.

For fans of bookish action heroes, TNT has greenlighted 10 episodes of
The Librarians,
a series based on an earlier TV movie trilogy called The Librarian and
slated to air in late 2014, Entertainment Weekly reported. Noah Wyle
(Falling Skies, ER) will executive produce and return in the lead role
"as the big cheese librarian," while Rebecca Romijn will play "a sexy
counter-terrorism agent who's in charge of protecting the librarians."

TNT's plot synopsis for the new series includes this description of
Wyle's character: "Prior to taking the job, he was a bookish nerd with
22 academic degrees and absolutely no social skills. As Librarian,
however, he managed to use his extraordinary knowledge, successfully
recovering ancient artifacts and, in the process, saving the world from
unspeakable evil on more than one occasion. Over the last decade he's
gone from bookworm to dashing swashbuckler, one of the secret heroes of
the hidden world. As great as Flynn is, the job of Librarian has become
more than one person can handle."

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro was not at all what I expected. First of all, it's a science fiction book that is being sold as a literary novel, mainly because the author wrote the Remains of the Day, which was made into an award-winning movie from the award-winning book about servants in an English household. Here's the blurb that outlines the plot: "From the Booker Prize-winning author of The Remains of the Day comes a devastating new novel of innocence, knowledge, and loss. As children Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside. It was a place of mercurial cliques and mysterious rules where teachers were constantly reminding their charges of how special they were.
Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman. Ruth and Tommy have reentered her life. And for the first time she is beginning to look back at their shared past and understand just what it is that makes them special–and how that gift will shape the rest of their time together. Suspenseful, moving, beautifully atmospheric, Never Let Me Go is another classic by the author of The Remains of the Day."
What that blurb, and the author, neglect to tell you is that these flashbacks into Kathy's life and the lives of her friends are marred and shaped by the knowledge that they are clones, created for the sole purpose of "donating" all their vital organs and blood and bone marrow to "regular" human beings until they die before reaching middle age. 
The author doesn't bother to share this vital fact with you until you're almost halfway through the book, but the strange way that these children act with their 'teachers'/guardians, and their somewhat detached and slightly cruel way of dealing with one another twigs most readers, especially science fiction readers, to the fact of their being "made" creatures early on. While most reviewers consider this to be the authors "restraint" with plot details, and totally justified because it somehow makes him more literary than those ghettoized genre authors, I thought it just made the novel's plot slow and stupid, and it made the characters seem dumb as well. Nor did I find it beautifully atmospheric. I found it depressing and full of the existential angst of people who were born to be cattle, for the use of others, and who weren't allowed any life of their own, really, outside of school. Once these clones completed school, they're sent off to farms until they're old enough (in their early 20s) to become "carers" or people who take care of the donors who are having one surgery after another to remove whatever body part is needed by a 'regular' human. Kathy is a particularly good carer who is allowed to stay on the job long enough to care for her school chums, who all 'donate' to 'completion' (read: death) under her care. What is never discussed in any solid way is WHY none of these clones runs away, gets a new identity and then lives a regular life just like anyone else. Do they have, like Blade Runner's "skin job" clones, only a certain number of years to live before they die from an off-switch coded into their DNA? Is there some feature of their design that shows physically, like a bar code tattooed on their arms or foreheads? It is mentioned that they are all born sterile, and they're told that though they can have sex, they need to be wary of STDs and to be certain that they really care for the person that they're becoming intimate with. So when Kathy has sex with various boys/men, and even when she has sex with Tommy, whom she supposedly loves, it is discussed in a fairly clinical way, without any passion or excitement, but more as a rote action that a person would take as a matter of course, like brushing your teeth. It is for this reason that it's hard to actually like any character in this book. The reader finds herself wondering why the guardians didn't try to do more to emancipate these clone children so that they don't become slaves to this donation routine that kills them in pain. We are told, late in the novel, that there is no reprieve, no legitimate way out for the clones, even if they are "in love" or have proven, via artistic ability, that they have a soul. So why is this story told at all? Why does it exist, except as a cautionary tale of the future, or science fiction, as it's known to the rest of us? I will give it a C, for the writing, and I would only recommend it to someone who isn't at all depressed by stories of hopelessness and pain.

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