Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My top non-fiction titles of the past decade

There are all kinds of interesting ways to do this. One book published or read in each year of the decade. A thematic list. But I'm going to be pretty vanilla and just go with ten books that moved me, taught me, fascinated me or simply have stuck with me most. This is only listed in the order I read them. I have to say what a fun experience it is to look over such a period of time and remember various books for whatever reasons. If you keep any kind of reader's log or journal I advise looking back--even if you don't make any kind of list. But if you do, please post responses.

1.) "Down in My Heart" by William Stafford. He is mostly known as a poet and rightly so. But this little book(94 pages) is a treasure. From 1942-1945 Stafford was held in a conscientious objector's camp for his refusal to join the U.S. Army. This is no silver spoon youth whining. His stance is measured and his beliefs often do waver--but never fully break.

2.) "A Book of Reasons" by John Vernon. After the death of his brother the author is left to sort his things. What follows is the full discovery of his brother as a recluse. The items found become a part of who this man was and interspersed with the personal narrative is a brief history of certain items. There are lots of sad family books--and this one is sad--but it is also ultimately a story of one brother's love for another both in life and death.

3.) "Mystery and Manners" by Flannery O'Connor. This is her lone book of non-fiction and it is a collection of essays, speeches and articles. Her main topics and issues have been discussed critically ad nauseum. She is the queen of southern gothic. Yet she possessed humor and tenderness that are often overlooked. The essay on the peacocks she kept as pets is worth the price alone.

4.) John McPhee, is to me, the perfect non-fiction writer. His topics are widely varied. He does research that influences his work but does not overtake it. He's both funny and profound. He lets the subjects speak for themselves. I will not go on. I could pick almost any of his books but I've decided on "Levels of the Game" which is micro-story at its finest. This is, ostensibly, an account of one tennis match between Arthur Ashe and Clark Graebner in 1968. The two could not have been more different in background, style or temperment. So the book is about sports, yes. But it is also about competition and psychology and, like all fine journalism, much more.

5.) "Bury Me Standing" by Isabel Fonseca. I like books on outsider culture of all kinds and gypsy culture could be the most 'outsider' of all in that even its members don't fully conform to one set of ideas or ethnicity. Fonseca has written something that isn't so much a history as a partial glimpse. The very fact that she was given any access at all into these people is a testament to her tenacity and good faith. Gypsies have been mistreated and feared across the globe. Who they are is a genetic and cultural tangle. Fonseca's is the best of the many books on this topic I've read.

6.) "Newjack" by Ted Conover. He tried and tried to get a position as a CO(corrections officer) and it finally worked. This book is an in the life work portrait of a prison worker. A true behind the scenes look at life behind bars and the men who live on both sides.

7.) "Ghosty Men" by Franz Lidz. The infamous Collyer Bros. have gained new life in E.L. Doctorow's new novel "Homer and Langley". Hoarders of all stripes are getting attention on reality tv. Yet these two men, and their stories, are best told through this book.

8.) "Lone Wolf" by Maryanne Vollers. Eric Rudolph is both an obscene criminal and an anti-hero. He was the man behind the 1996 bombing in Atlanta during the Olympics and other, less known, attacks on gay bars and abortion clinics. Despite his identity being known by officials he was on the run for several years--living in seclusion in the Southeastern hills and mountains.

9.) "Danube" by Claudio Magris. I've lived near the mighty Mississippi for all of my life and am enchanted by waters. Magris takes the reader on a journey through, across and beyond this famed river. 

10.) "An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination" by Elizabeth McCracken.  This is a perfect bookend to the Stafford book. Another short personal essay about the loss of a child. That is dark, I know. But she puts things in perspective for both herself and the reader. In the course of her essay I found myself thinking about friendship and family and how I treat them.

11.) When I got to ten I realized I had forgotten one book. "Salt" by Mark Kurlansky is easily the one book I learned the most from. Without doubt.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The crush is on

This is the time when the shoppers can be frantic. They have procrastinated. Or, the recipient is very difficult to buy for(we hear this an awful lot). It is a whirlwind of sometimes tired, desperate and aggravated people. Much more often, thankfully, we get to see some of the best that this season and its spirit can bring. Shoppers are calm and enjoy their time browsing and frequently help one another and give suggestions. The books are whirling in and out of hands. It is fantastic fun.

2009 has been a challenging year for small businesses, retail in general and the world of books. Yet we've made it thanks to the support we get from loyal customers who've decided to put their money into stores they believe in. For that, and much more, we send our best to all of you.

I've been pressured to join the maelstrom of lists. And I've chosen to do so. Next week I'll be posting the best fiction and non-fiction I've read in the past decade. Until then--Happy Holidays.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

This is our week(with Magers and Quinn)

I've talked before about this one-of-a-kind literary scavenger hunt and the final week has arrived. Go here to see the previous locations and the backstory of this great adventure. We have some promo materials, galleys, broadsides and other bookish giveaways for those who come our way and the correct answers to the trivia questions.

Biggest thanks must go to the brains behind this operation. The good people at Coffee House, Graywolf, The Loft and Milkweed put this into action and are the ones who have put together the grand prize. We're always thankful for the good work and great books that come from them.

Enjoy the hunt!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Event a week from today and odd sighting

Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl will be at Micawber's next Friday, 12/18, at 7 p.m. to discuss her new book "Drink This: Wine Made Simple" It's a fine guide for both beginners and those who know a little but want to know more. It's smart and fun and absolutely not intimidating. She's been a bright star in the Twin Cities food and wine scene for a decade or so and this book is a treasure.

Just this morning, while walking past one of our tables of sales books, a jacket caught my eye and I thought, "That doesn't belong there." Funny thing was, it did. But check out these covers.

Different designers. Civil war and wine. But artistic siblings, no?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Two very good things

For the locals--anyone who has been here in the last two months or so knows how difficult it's been to actually get here. MN DOT decided to play an evil joke on us and make it nearly impossible to drive within a mile radius of the store. However, both 280 and Raymond Avenue are now open and it is very easy to get here again. For this simple pleasure we rejoice.

Even better, we sold books this past Wednesday evening at the Barbara Kingsolver event. 1,127 listened to her talk that was insightful and fun. Both Dara and I got to speak with her briefly before the event and she was gracious and so down to earth. Anyhow, the good news is that we currently have 17 signed copies of her new novel "Lacuna" which has been getting great reviews.

For you? A treat. For someone special? A one of a kind, personal, gift.

Get em' while we got em', y'all.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The love of books

Today on Keri Miller's Midmorning show on MPR she hosted Allison Hoover Bartlett--author of "The Man Who Loved Books Too Much"

My impression, after reading the book, was that she intended to write a book on book thieves in general. However, she became so fascinated by one man, John Gilkey that it turns into his story. Like all career criminals there is no simple explanation for his obsession with books. Very rarely does the subject of a book agree to discuss his crimes and give details of the how's and why's. Find today's interview at and then read the book, or vice versa. Fascinating stuff.

In less illegal terms, I have fallen head over heels for a new book and think it is the title I will champion from now through the holidays. I generally try to find a book from a small press or a book that will receive little to no press attention to push. I'm breaking my rules a little bit.

In 2005, Graeme Gibson had a book entitled, "The Bedside Book of Birds" and I remember we sold a lot of copies despite a price($37.50) that I found quite odd and a little high. So today when I saw his new book I immediately glanced at the price($35) and found myself pleasantly surprised. Then I got lost in it for about fifteen minutes--which is something I very rarely do. "The Bedside Book of Beasts" is a compendium of, yes, beasts. There are lots of collections out now that seem mish-mashed(is that a word?) together and lack cohesion or any sustained theme. This book makes sense and has quotes and art from around the globe. The color and quality of the images is really what makes the book in my mind. Mythology, cultural history, biology, poetry, religious thought all weave into the narrative. This is the kind of book you buy to give away and end up keeping for yourself. My words do not do it justice--stop in and have a look.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Price Wars, or:What the he double hockey sticks is going on?

I could very easily list a dozen or so links about the battle between Walmart, Amazon, Target and Sears(really?) to see who can sell new books the cheapest. And much of what has been written is of the snarky or poking fun variety. But the real issues, and there are many, are cause for great concern. Certainly for bookstores and publishers and everyone else involved in the wild world of books. But also for retailers in general and also, I believe, for consumers as well.

I won't get into all the nuts and bolts of this. Go here for some good analysis and a link to the New York Times for the news portions of the story.

I would say the only title on the list that poses major problems is the Barbara Kingsolver--which is probably true for about 90% of booksellers. Here's an interesting twist: we are selling books for a Stephen King event in November and could have saved about $2,500.00 if we had ordered our books through one of these websites rather than the publisher directly. That is crazy. Krazee.

One of the biggest problems in all of this is that it devalues books as a sellable commodity. I'm as free market as the next guy, but that isn't exactly what we're dealing with here. It puts even chain stores in a tight spot. Since they're known for discounting I'm certain customers will be asking if they too can go cheaper. And they really can't afford to. Or is it they can't afford not to? I'm not sure. If nothing else this points out that the book industry is sick. No healthy industry would allow a couple middle men to step in and buy massive amounts of product to re-sell at massive loss. How massive? Well, the King book is going to retail for $35(although that suggested price is starting to mean less and less). If the rules are being followed, 46% is the discount these re-sellers should be getting. That means they, and we, get the book for $18.90 and selling it at $8.99 means a loss of $9.91 on each and every one they sell.

It will be very interesting to see how all of this plays out. It's possible that very soon, if not already, the inmates will be running the asylum of the book world.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A very mixed-bag

Well, we're almost two weeks into the coldest October in 60 years in Minnesota. And it is currently snowing some very fat and wet flakes onto us. It is pretty--but a little early for my tastes. And, after a very exciting last month of baseball, the evil and uber-talented Yankees have sent us fishing. Yet, there are some exciting things to discuss--like outdoor baseball next year. And two great in-store events this week.

Tomorrow night at 7 p.m. John Minczeski will be here reading from his new book of poems, "A Letter to Serafin" and on Friday 10/16/09 David Rhodes will be here at 7 p.m. to read from his newly released "The Easter House." Both men are great writers and great representatives of what the Midwest can bring to literature.

Plus, if that isn't enough for you, we have stacks of copies of the fourth Jeff Kinney YA book "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days" The kids can't get enough of this stuff.

Finally, the two new remainder shipments are here with lots of fantastic stuff in the $4.99-$8.99 range. Come get it before it's gone.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Where to put all the books?

I'm well aware that people face this question on a regular basis. Build more bookcases? Sell them or give them away? Move to a bigger house? All answers with different problems.

As a bookstore, especially a small one, we need to deal this kind of problem on a regular basis. There is some give and take depending on the season, of course. More books from September-December and then less from January-April/May. The summer season has its own little rhythm.

This fall is an especially wild season of books, as I've mentioned before. We've had to get a little more creative with the positioning of books than normal. Normally, we move books around pretty frequently on the front tables. But this season, this season, is different from any other. There are simply too many books for us to display. So, what he have decided to do, is create another table for new releases. Normally, we have two tables of hardcover new releases--both non-fiction and fiction and one table of new paperback releases.

Now we have four full tables of new books. We also have two shipments of some cheaper books coming in. These books are quality stuff that is either from Europe or books that have come out in paperback.

As I'm speaking, or typing, the MN Twins are tied in the late innings. Go Twins!

Monday, September 28, 2009

MBA stuff

MBA is short-hand for the Midwest Booksellers Association and each fall we convene in the Twin Cities to kick-off another year of bookselling and have a small trade-show.

Unlike the national get-together that is held each May this has less bells and whistles and superstars floating around the convention floor. But what the conference actually yields is oftentimes equally helpful and more fulfilling.

The conference has breakfasts and lunches with specific authors that booksellers can attend and get some actual face to face contact with the writers themselves. There are also educational and informational panels on how to better display items, how to use social media and others with various titles(but the same goal) that simply mean: how to sell more books better.

On Friday evening I attended an awards reception featuring the Midwest Bookseller's Choice Awards winners. There was a winner and runner-up for 5 categories--Fiction, Non-Fiction, Poetry, Children's Picture Book and Children's Young Adult book. Seven of the ten authors were in attendance and it was a great joy to hear them speak about their books, why the Midwest matters to them or how independent booksellers have meant something to them.

David Wroblewski, author of "Story of Edgar Sawtelle" spoke of his connections to Wisconsin and how they continue to inform him despite no longer living there. Michael Perry has won legions of booksellers over, both near and far, for his great books of non-fiction, his sincerity and his ability to put on a good show--which he did in a speech that was nothing less than great stand-up humor. He also told a heart-warming story about his father, a farmer in Wisconsin, and when, at 17, Michael decided to tell him that he had decided to become a nurse.

Todd Boss and Freya Manfred followed by reading some poems filled with both wonder and whimsy and Todd recollecting his own personal connections to Michael Perry through his now-deceased editor. Todd was a manager at Micawber's before we bought the store and it was wonderful to see his poetry career continue to rise.

Ingrid Law and Lauren Stringer carried the children's portion of the event by discussing illustration of snowflakes and some items kept at the ready for inspiration. Law discussed taking a real road trip that followed one she was writing about to make sure she was "at least getting some of it right."

Neil Gaiman finished the evening with another wonderful speech. He said that he considers himself a Midwesterner now, after 17 years, and how he still felt it his job to point out that doing things like driving trucks onto soon to be thawed lakes only to see which fell in first "is a bit odd." He carried the laughter and the head-nodding from shared experience of the earlier speakers and told us how he got interested in good books; how one bookseller had done that for him as a child.

In all, it was a great reminder to me of the great sense of place so many books we sell can evoke for others. It was reaffirming to hear authors speak passionately in a number of different ways about how literature still matters. Most of all, it was fun and a real honor to be there in their presence.

Saturday I walked the floor of Rivercenter looking at new titles for fall and talking with sales reps from publishers both local and national. It was a fun, if tiring, weekend filled with books and the people who surround them. Rejuvanation in so many ways.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Ridiculous self-promotion

So, after my complaining last week someone from D.A.P. called me and explained their side of things. While we didn't come to a total agreement it was beyond good of her to take some of her busy time and chat with me. A nice discussion ended with her asking if I would participate in a series they run on their art blog. My art cred isn't all that great but I think I pulled together a pretty decent list. Here it is.

Just as a note--several of these books aren't readily availble or in stock at Micawber's. It was just stuff I pulled off my personal bookshelves.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A complaint about complaint--

I was very excited, about a week ago, when I was unpacking a box from Distributed Art Publishers and saw "New York City Musuem of Complaint" edited by Matthew Bakkom. The book is a collection of 132 letters written to various mayors of New York City from 1751-1969. Published by Steidl/Miles it is a gorgeous book and was priced at what seemed to be a great value--$35.

I was even more excited when I found out that Bakkom is originally from Minneapolis and began to page through it. Fabulous, witty, letters regarding all manner of things. One of the best aspects was the hand-written script or, even, at a later time the type-written messages. I was beginning to sense that we might have a real holiday sleeper on our hands. Good value, quirky with high-quality design and presentation.

That is, until yesterday when I found out that the price had been changed to $60. Now, I've been in bookselling for a decade-plus and I've seen trends come and go. Recently, lots of publishers have been changing prices in an effort to slow the bleeding a little. Almost anything priced $14 has gone to $14.95 Lots of hardcover fiction has changed from $23 or $24 to $25. We've even seen lots of changes from something costing 'x' dollars and ninety-five cents going to 'x' and ninety-nine cents. Every penny truly counts. But is well beyond what is rational or sensical.

For whatever reasons, and I'm sure that some people at Steidl or DAP could rattle a few off, they feel the need to almost double the price of a book that quickly goes from affordable to outlandish for a lot of book-buyers. I certainly would put myself in that boat at least.

The craziest part of this is that after selling our first copy we immediately ordered four more. We did this the day before the official price change, apparently. So we got billed at the original price and will be selling our remaining copies at the very fair price of $35. Sadly, when they are gone and we get more the price will have changed by twenty-five bucks. What this does to the overall sales of the book is yet to be determined. But I know one thing: we will sell far, far, less of it and I'm guessing many other indies will do the same. In fact, lots of smaller stores won't even carry it due to expected sticker shock.

We're down to two copies as we've sold two of our re-order since I started thinking about this last night. The book world is in a state of massive flux right now and there is nothing that can better illustrate that fact more than this bizarre saga.

The jacket is pretty plain and basic--I assure the inside is far more attractive.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Nice interview with Kate Greenstreet

She'll be reading here near the end of the month. 9/29@7 p.m. with poet Norma Cole.

Check it out here

Monday, August 31, 2009

The big fall and some little treasures

Jonathan Lethem gave an almost ecstatic review in yesterday's NYT Book Review to Lorrie Moore's new book--which is now in stock with lots of other fall releases coming in day by day.

The downside of the massive list of big-name authors with new books is that, even more than usual, it becomes more difficult for small press books to get review attention or other prime placement. No attention=no sales regardless of how fine a book it is or who publishes it.

So we've decided to do a little focus on some of our smaller friends in the book world. For the next month we'll have a rotating display of books from presses such as Ugly Duckling Presse, Fence Press, Wave Books, Dzanc Books, Telegram, Persephone Classics, Atlas and Co., AK Press, Europa Editions and Hotel St. George Press to name just a few currently displayed. This, of course, without even mentioning our local friends and any number of university presses.

Small publishers fight the same fight we do. To get noticed despite larger places. To grab people's attention without massive advertising budgets. To do quality work and contribute to art that they think matters.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Two things that are not ours

As I've mentioned before, the coming months are very exciting times in the world of book publishing and selling. Two other reasons to smile are a little closer to home.

There is a great literary scavenger hunt that is being run and supported by our local stalwarts at Coffee House, Graywolf and Milkweed Presses. Here is the link to all of the info and story about They've already gotten some great local and national press. Please join in on the fun.

The launch for the whole thing is on October 10, 2009 at the Twin Cities Book Festival. has all the info on the festival including a fantastic line-up of authors/speakers.

We are one of the sites participating in "Around the Twin Cities in (Almost) 80 Days and are happy to be part of such a vibrant community of the written word. More info will come from us regarding the particulars once the hunt begins.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."

Optimism abounds these days. It is, in part, due to the truly gorgeous summer we've had here in Minnesota. Also, as a certified sports nut, this is the time of year when so many teams have high hopes. Football teams are in the midst of training camp and everyone thinks they can do well. Big-time soccer is in full-swing and even Americans are taking notice. Mostly, though, the optimism has everything to do with the books we're starting to see trickle in. The trickle will become a monsoon come September-December.

As each month comes along I'll be focusing in some detail on a select grouping of titles. For now, even to start a list is to shove aside so many great books/authors. But as I've talked to so many of our book-slinging colleagues in New York, Miami, Boston, San Francisco, Milwaukee and other stores locally, I've heard the same refrain: "I cannot remember a Fall season like this. I'm so excited."

Booksellers can rarely agree on any one thing--we're iconoclastic by nature--but we love to put good books into the hands' of our customers. There is no greater joy than opening boxes for some highly anticipated book. And for the next sixteen weeks or so there will be much joy across the country.

Come September I'll start highlighting these many gems. One book I will single out right now is "Homer and Langley" by E.L. Doctorow. The book releases 9/1/09 and it concerns the infamous Collyer(yes, Homer and Langley) brothers--NYC's greatest recluse/hermit/scavengers/former socialites. Doctorow does a marvelous job of inhabiting the different brothers minds and ideas. His sense of their time(1880's to late 1940's) is so engaging to all the senses. It is a real treat to be in the hands of such a master of language and human emotion.

Almost forgot to cite the quote above. Mr. Winston Churchill said those words--and, today, I agree.

Friday, July 31, 2009

All the pretty little new books

August is almost here--and, usually, that does not mean a whole lot book-wise. But 8/1/09 marks six years for us as the 'new' Micawber's. For that, alone, we celebrate our customers and the books that have enabled us to continue doing what we love to do.

Harry Potter, in both the books and the movies, has presented itself as an anomoly. Adults and children of all ages have attached themselves to the works of the one and only J.K. Rowling. We all know this. Amongst the scores of articles and stories regarding all things HP there are lots of other noteworthy titles that have gotten ignored by the mainstream media.

The Percy Jackson series for the YA audience has brought scores of teens and adults into bookstores across the land. The phenomenon of vampires has not limited itself to Stephanie Meyer alone--as the wild and unpredicted success of "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" has proven. 

Stieg Larsson has become quite an international scene-stealer in his own right even after his own early death. "The Girl Who Played With Fire" just released this past Tuesday and has already become one of our best-selling hardcover fiction titles of all-time. The follow-up to "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" has brought interest from all types of our fiction readers--mystery-lovers/avant-garde fiction/contemporary lit. lovers/international readers.

This coming fall brings new fiction from a wide range of novelists for readers to choose from: Barbara Kingsolver, Pat Conroy, Richard's Russo and Power's, Thomas Pynchon and E.L. Doctorow to name just a few. So, needless to say, there is no shortage of good novels to pick from in the coming months.

Fiction, in all its various forms and worlds, is one way for us to engage in the written word. To dive into the unknown or familiar and stay there for a little while.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A dirty book is rarely dusty...

The subject line is not attributed to anyone--and, maybe, with good reason for it doesn't make a lot of sense. But what is a book? That is the very serious question publishers, authors, agents and booksellers are currently asking ourselves.

Is a book an idea? Is it pages? Or plot? Or is it a legally licensed entity? Can one own a book like one owns a single title of music? There is no one answer to these questions. And even the real answers get tricky. When a hard-drive crashed on one of my computers I tried to re-create my musical "library." I was told that out of 1,317 digital files there were 31 that could not be obtained. So I had purchased a piece of art that was, for worse not better, temporary.

I don't mean to bash Amazon, ITunes, Kindle, Sony Reader or any of the other electronic arts devices. I try very hard to carve a fine line between what we do and the chains, big boxes and internet sellers do. They do bulk and discount much like  Target does. We do hand-selection. Both are fine.

But there are distinctions. Once you buy "1984" by George Orwell, for example, from us you can do whatever you want with it. Cut a certain passage out of it for a collage. Try to re-create the cover in a watercolor. Cross out lines you hate. It is yours.

Now, it seems, the folks at Amazon can edit your reading/listening tastes even after you have bought them. I don't need to go into detail about this--check out any number of newspapers for a recount of this very real, and scary, scenario.

We sell books. We sell words and pages and comma's(edit) and physical objects. What you do with them, once sold, is entirely your business. Cut them up. Annotate them. Read them. Love or hate them. Read them. Read them. And keep them, forever.

Friday, July 17, 2009

A little pretty picture

I'll be posting a couple things in the next few days--my brain has been conceptualizing but my hands have not done the typing--so I'll just leave you with a picture that Micawber's friend and on-call artist Stephanie Hynes took awhile back.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


Stieg Larsson became a fast star with his first book in a trilogy, "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo." It has just become available in the last two weeks both as a trade paperback and a mass market edition. Mass market books are the small paperbacks that are done for a lot of mystery titles and are featured in malls and airports. They're portable and cheap and easy to pass on to the next reader. For reasons I cannot fully understand or articulate we have not sold many mass market books that are also published in the standard trade edition. This book, however, has proven to be the exception to our normal rule. 

Larsson, sadly, died just before the first book was published. His books, however, continue to not only live on but strive. The second book, "The Girl Who Played With Fire" will be available on 7/28/09 and we have great hopes for it. His mystery books are both fast-reading and smart. If you're looking for something to treat yourself or as a gift this could be just the thing.

Monday, June 22, 2009

New local reading series

I don't often plug for stuff here--but there is a new series going in town that is too cool not to mention.

Bill Caperton(musician, cheesemonger and lover of words) has done the hard work on this. Info can be found at

Readings for, and by, the people. With smart themes. Win-win as far as I'm concerned. Many thanks to Bill for getting this show rolling. We're lucky to have him here.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Oh, people can come up with statistics to prove anything."

Homer Simpson, author of above quote, went on to say that, "14% of people know that."

I thought of this quote yesterday when I was doing some data entry for late summer/early fall titles and saw that "Freakonomics" was finally coming out in paperback. At one time, not so long ago, that book needed no introduction or explanation. It was at the top of the NYT bestseller list, the authors were being interviewed seemingly everywhere and people were(mostly) in love with their quirky math. But, in the book world, that was eons ago. So let me step back a moment.

The book was published originally and quietly in April of 2005. It quickly picked up steam and, what followed, was all the aforementioned success. Crazy findings coupled with "sound" numbers became the 'it' thing. So the book sold and sold and sold...So much that when the normal time arrived for a paperback to release--generally one year--the publishers said, "Aw, forget it. We'll keep selling this thing until it dies." Reports are that 3 million copies were sold. That comes from their own website .

I wasn't down on the decision to keep it going until they made one mistake. A new edition was planned and put together to revise some mistakes, update some data and make it a little spiffier. The problem was they did this in another hardcover--published in 2006 and more expensive than the original at $29.95 For on-line and other discount retailers this might not have made a difference. But for normal bookstores it was quite odd and required lots of explaining to customers who were surprised by the lack of a paperback and the increase in price.

So, now, we come to the paperback which is due in August and will retail for $15.99 The word is also out that they're working on a new book, "Superfreakonomics." Books are like movies in that anything that does well must be copied and pushed to its furthest logical point so I certainly don't begrudge the new book or their overall success. I, in fact, really enjoy lots of the pieces. But why wait so long? I wonder if, in the end, the book wasn't done a disservice. Is it possible that the book and its ideas have been forgotten--even by the reading public? I don't know the answer to those questions and I'm no publisher or economist--so the answers, very well, could point to the opposite of my thoughts.

In a time when publishers and readers are feeling an economic crunch from all sides is it better to offer more for less? I think so. So here's to hoping for great things from their new works--and a more sensible paperback release time frame.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Book geekiness and super intensity

I'm an admitted book geek and I understand, truly, how odd my love of books is to the great majority of the world. But I own my geekiness. One of 'odd shelves' of books is true stuff--and specifically, true crime related to books and other art.

So I was very happy to find a copy of "The Man Who Loved Books Too Much" by Allison Hoover Bartlett waiting for me at the store yesterday. The book doesn't officially come out until September 2009 and I'm only twenty-five pages in so it's way too early to know if it's good yet. But I was struck by one of the epigrams.

"For him that stealeth, or borroweth and returneth not, this book from its owner...let him be struck with palsy, & all his members blasted...Let bookworms gnaw his entrails in token of the Worm that dieth not, & when at last he goeth to his final punishment, let the flames of Hell consume him forever."--Anathema in a medieval manuscript from the Monastery of San Pedro in Barcelona.

Now, I'm all for serious punishment for serious crime and whatnot--but that is some serious venom coming from those monks. Just another reminder not mess with religious orders or theft.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Corpus Libris

Hey Good People: I did decide to return from NYC despite enjoying the Great Lawn, Shake Shack and wonderful public transportation an awful lot. I'll be getting to the winners of the swag in the next couple days(don't get too excited--it's recession swag) but I want to post something real quick and point you to an incredibly fun book blog. is a site where they post pictures of people posing with book covers. I submitted one a few weeks back and we'll see if it makes the cut. Sadly, we had a hard time lining it up just right because my face is longer than a cheetah's. Almost, but not quite right.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

And now I'm gone...

Not yet, really. But I will be going to New York this week for a yearly bookseller's convention. At BEA(Book Expo America) there are lots of things going on. Panels upon panels upon panels covering everything from the new books for Fall to social media(like blogs!) to ways to increase profit by selling a lot of sidelines/bizarre materials in no real way related to a bookstore.

We decided, from the beginning, that we would make it by selling actual books. Not gadgets like head-lamps for reading in bed. Not beanie babies or chewing gum or hand-towels with Shakespeare's face on them*. Not e-books. All of those things have a place in the American marketplace--we know that and do not want to seem snobbish in our regard to them. But books are what we know and love dearly. So I will head to the BIGAPPLE and try to remain focused on our task at hand--namely, getting good and different books into your hands.

So I will ignore the trinkets and madness that can accompany any trade meeting. I will go to meetings and listen to other booksellers talk about what has/has not worked for them. I will get some advance copies of books due in the coming months so we can talk to you about them. I will order more remainder books(discounted and foreign titles) that allow our customers to have some choices that are both cheap and interesting. I will talk to agents, sales reps, publishers, authors and booksellers. I will attend some cocktail parties and do my best at what I do worst--making small-talk. I will walk and walk and walk.

BEA will be different this year. Lots of publishers are scaling back the number of author appearances, parties and the size of their booths--the economy, of course, necessitates that. But I will continue to preach my gospel: the Midwest is not fly-over land. Small bookstores can still matter in a world of Costco's, Target's and a million on-line retailers. We have readers here. Readers who choose to select their own books. Readers who still depend on words printed on paper. Readers who, despite the trends, still read things beyond the national bestseller lists.

I also promise to collect some swag. The first five e-mailers to will get some kind of gift I bring back from the convention. It might be a canvas bag. It could be some free books. It could be something I cannot even imagine. Just put free stuff in the subject line of your e-mail. Or call the store and tell them I promised something.

In any case, I'll be back around the 1st of June.

Until then....

Friday, May 15, 2009

Excuses are like opinions...

So, it's spring and I've been slacking on posting. One of the reasons is that I've been selling books at lots of events outside of the store. Author events are like anything else in life. They can seem exciting--but after time they aren't always so great. It's similar to the pizza joint your best friend worked at in high-school. At first, it's thrilling and wonderful. Then it becomes mundane and boring.

So after ten years and about 1,000 total events I'd recently become a bit jaded by events. You often hear the same questions from audience members(what time of day do you write/do you write on paper or the computer/what does it mean). And authors frequently read for far too long in my experience. Yet, in the past few weeks I've attended two events that were revelatory. Very different in many ways and similar in all the ways that are good.

Norah Labiner is a talented novelist whose style is all her own. She has published three amazingly creative novels with local Coffee House Press. I attended an event at the Loft Literary Center two weeks back--she read and was accompanied by her husband on pump organ. It was a fascinating evening and I really encourage you to see her read if at all possible. Two more chances are coming soon: 5/21/09 at the Hamline Midway Library at 7 p.m. and 6/30/09 at the Ridgedale Library also at 7 p.m. This is a great example of a small press working with a talented, if fairly unknown, author. Her novels are mind-blowing in their creativity and genre-bending ways.

This past Wednesday evening, we sold books at the Minneapolis Club for Graywolf Press and their author Elizabeth Alexander. She's now best known as the woman who read a poem at Obama's inauguration. Now a big name in the world of poetry--she has long been a stalwart at Graywolf. And only when she began to read the now famous poem did I realize that I was witnessing a truly historical moment--if on repeat. Her reading was measured and simple and powerful. She also discussed all of the pressure and madness that was involved with her writing the poem and getting it into print. Graywolf rushed a very beautiful chapbook edition of the poem into print and it is available for $8.

What these two events reminded me of was a pretty simple fact I had forgotten: events can make a powerful book or work even more powerful. Art, in person, is a very different thing than art on paper.

A bonus is that we got 20 copies of "Praise Song For the Day" signed by Elizabeth Alexander. We'll only be selling one copy per customer to limit dealers and collectors from hoarding them all. Available until they're gone.

Friday, April 24, 2009

2009 Best of the Twin Cities

We're happy to have been named Best New Bookstore(there is a Used category as well) by City Pages for 2009.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Micawber's Book Chat and a poem

Join us this Thursday, the 16th, at 7 p.m. as the four booksellers of Micawber's discuss some of our recent favorite reads. New stuff and old. Young adult, essays and new fiction. We read across the board. Stop in for some ideas to get your spring reading kick-started.

From "An Aquarium" by Jeffrey Yang


Slantwise the crab advances. Poets,
philosophers, the body
politic share different aspects
of this problem.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"What's My Name, Fool?"*

It's always exciting for a bookseller when books arrive in the store that we've already read in advance and enjoyed. This week I had that excitement tripled. Two novels and a one book of nonfiction that I've been waiting a long time for. The novels really could not be more different from one another in tone, focus and style. But what joins them, in my mind, is a very solid sense of place. "All The Living" is a first novel that follows a young woman, Aloma, to her husband's family farm in rural Kentucky. His parents have recently died in an auto accident and the book traces the couple as they try to come to terms with a dying way of life(tobacco farming), a dying town and a family in disrepair. But it isn't all woe--Morgan's writing is assured and measured and filled with beauty. The second book, Chris Cleave's "Little Bee" is a book that indy booksellers have been chattering about for months now. Due to the nature of the story I can't really talk about it too much without giving away important details and storylines. I can promise it is one of those books you want to read without the bother of phone calls or going to work or washing the dishes. It truly is a tour de force.

The last book is one I was pretty hesitant to even look at. Dave Cullen's "Columbine" takes a look at the Colorado school shooting from 1999. I thought it would be voyeuristic and too much like a cheesy newspaper or magazine article. I was wrong on all fronts. Cullen spent 10 years researching this event--looking at the how's and why's and what could have been's. He's done an amazing job weaving together the stories of families affected by the deaths or serious injuries to their children along with some serious looks into the lives of the two killers. America's obsession with firearms and our bizarre 24/7 media culture also get some examination. In the end the reader is still left with a lot of questions. Yet some answers are given and it is an example of journalism at its finest--well-researched rather than the quick point. Emotional without being sappy. Pointing towards some issues that we, as a country, need to deal with. Or else continue to face events as heartbreaking and scary as Columbine all over again.

Also, I'm just sending out our April e-mail newsletter with a focus on poetry as it is National Poetry month. Too many people are scared of this fine form. I'm going to make it a point to post some fun and accesible poems during the month. Let a little poetry into your life this month.

*That is what Muhammad Ali once yelled at Floyd Patterson during a fight when Patterson had kept calling him Cassius Clay. Happy April Fool's.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

One more little thing

We're in the process of completing a Facebook page for the store. You can already become a fan of the store and in the next week or so we'll have all of our events and some smashing new pictures posted.

It's a move towards making the store both a comfy physical space and an accesible and interactive virtual one.

Onward, virtually, ho!

All those pretty little things

Merchandising is sort of an icky word as far as I'm concerned. We like to think that books can speak for themselves and don't need a lot of over-the-top pushing from our end. The reality, of course, is that we run a business and like all businesses we need to do some promoting of our "product."

One fun aspect of this is getting to put together some little displays for various books. Our front tables are generally a showcase of the new and notable. But we do have one small table near the front register that doesn't have a specific cause. At times we use it to display books for an upcoming event. Other times it has some kind of focus or theme. Come April, we'll have lots of poetry books out for National Poetry Month. Right now I've chosen to turn into a little curator's table.

What I mean by that is that it doesn't have one particular focus other than the books displayed are ones we find to be beautiful, eye-catching or otherwise visually notable. Make sure the next time you stop in to take a peek at the little table and see what it has to offer. Little treasures await.

Finally, as the Schwartz group of bookstores(in Milwaukee) get ready to close their doors as March comes to a close I wanted to post a quote from their founder that I found especially compelling: "Bookselling was and is for me a cultural and political expression, an expression of progressive change, of challenge to oppressive authority, of a search for community values which can act as an underpinning of a better world. The true profit in bookselling is the social profit; the bottom line, the measure of the impact of the bookshop on the community." A. David Schwartz

That quote really reflects what we hope to do day in and day out here at Micawber's.

Bookselling was and is for me a cultural and political expression, an expression of progressive change, of challenge to oppressive authority, of a search for a community of values which can act as an underpinning of a better world. The true profit in bookselling is the social profit; the bottom line, the measure of the impact of the bookshop on the community.

-A. David Schwartz (July 15, 1938 - June 7, 2004

Friday, March 20, 2009

Kids stuff

Hope some of you can join us tomorrow at 2 p.m. as the Okee Dokee Brothers join us for some singing. Check out their website at to get more of an idea of what these two amazing young men are up to.

Also, two long-awaited books have come back into our store.

First, around Christmas, Daniel Pinkwater talked about James Thurber's "13 Clocks" which has come out in a very nice little hardcover package. It was gone forever but is now back. Come see it.

Second, we're happy to report that SAP's very own Susan Marie Swanson and her Caldecott-winning book "The House in the Night" has come back into stock. Copies are flying so top in to pick one up.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The post in which I stump for Hans(just not me).

Earlier today I sent out our monthly e-mail newsletter(let us know at if you want to start getting it) and I touched briefly on the fact that so very many people these days are asking us, "So, how are things going?" It can be asked with trepidation or commiseration or with compassion. The economy, in short and as we all well know, is not so great. Regardless of small or large business or what type of industry people are in it's tough sledding right now. No different here. Yet I'm choosing to take an optimistic viewpoint and think of this as a time to re-focus on what's important(the customers and the books) and choose our stock carefully and handsell those books we believe in even more wholeheartedly.

I also know that people are mostly exhausted by the constant chatter regarding "the economy." So I try to avoid it mostly. We're trying to get even more remainders in on regular basis to give customers various price options and always on the look-out for more great paperback options.

But who and what I really want to talk about today is Hans. Not to worry: I haven't gotten all third person on y'all. Hans Fallada is a writer that wonderful Melville House publishing is trying to bring back to the reading world's minds. His novels written during the Nazi regime--often written in code in small notebooks--have been suppressed and banishedat various times. Fallada's personal story is as wild and sad and unbelievable as any fictional story could ever be and I'll leave his biography those who read his books and those who wikipedia. But the novels--they deserve some talking about.

"The Drinker" and "Little Man, What Now?" have both been published in paperback for $16.95. These are re-prints and both had fans like Thomas Mann, Graham Greene and Herman Hesse to name a few serious heavyweights. It's exciting to see them published anew and available to new audiences. The real prize, in my mind, is the never before translated "Every Man Dies Alone". When we got an advance reader copy a few months back I handed it off to my mom who is a book-devouring machine. She read it and told me how fantastic she thought it was. Now that I'm fifty pages from the finish I have to agree. The book was written in 24 days(no typo) and is based on real-life events. A gorgeous jacket with cool inlaid maps accompany this book. Melville House has done American readers a great service by bringing these books to us. I hope they find enthusiastic readers both near and far. Go here to read a recent review. I do hope that, like "Suite Francaise", a book can find a deserving chance at life.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What is the what(?) and how do they get there?

I'm always interested in what I see displayed or otherwise "showcased" in small stores. I look at endcaps in co-ops or displays at the Electric Fetus. I stare at the piles of t-shirts, yarn or fountain pens. What were the steps or decisions that got them there? The answer for us is not one but many. The stocking of a store like ours is a grab-bag of decisions, non-decisions, chance and luck.

Now, for instance, we are meeting with sales reps from a variety of publishers and going through their catalogs for spring and summer. Relationships get formed over time and these reps are a very important part of what we do. They suggest, prod, beg and sometimes demand that we carry certain titles or that we should buy more and sometimes less than we first decided. We feel lucky to have great relationships with a huge number of the reps we see. They help us to have an informed, interesting and wide-ranging stock of books. And while this is the main way any book finds its way into our store it isn't the only manner by any means.

We get a surprising number of books onto our shelves after a customer has special ordered a book. We do look over all the books on order and many become things we sell multiple copies of. It's part of what makes this a community store--sometimes people give us valuable input without even knowing it.

We read reviews--constantly. A common misconception is that only reviews in the New York Times or London Review of Books makes an impact. Things pop-up in several of the small, local, papers as well as the Pioneer Press and Star Tribune. I, especially, do a lot of on-line reading and find new gems in lots of tiny places. Later this week I'm planning on focusing a post on some of these little corners of the internet where I find great stuff. Sometimes bad reviews even push to get a title. Reviews, after all, are just one man(or woman's) ideas. One of the great powers of books, to us, is that there is no gold standard. The whole "One man's treasure is another's trash" is certainly true in the world of books.

The bottom-line is that we fish with a relatively small net and know, painfully so at times, how much good stuff evades us. So our stock is an organic and constantly shifting thing.

As for our displays: nothing in Micawber's is paid placement which is outside the norm--even for small stores. And that is a fact we're very proud of. The books you see on the front tables or even faced-out on the shelves are that way because we like them or find them important It's never because a corporate department has given us money to show them off. The tables change frequently and the goal is to always showcase new and interesting things.

If you have ideas for us--whether it's one particular book you think we should carry or a section we should have--please let us know. Do we always take that advice and make it happen? No. But we very often do.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A room without books is like a body without a soul

In our most recent monthly e-mail I discussed, briefly, the onslaught against actual printed books and our response to that trend. Believe me, I have the utmost respect and regard for old-school stuff like letterpress, broadsides and hand-stitched book arts. But that is exactly what they are--forms of art. And a new world, if not a brave one, has already arrived and is constantly changing the face of what we booksellers must do if we want to survive.

So we get asked a lot: "How do you intend to deal with e-books, Kindle, e-readers..." Electronica, in all its forms, has become a steady and insistent form in our lives. I, and we at Micawber's and all other indie stores across the land, woul
d be fools not to acknowledge that simple fact. So things must change--but maybe only a little. Because, maybe, if you allow me to think a bit on the screen--that which endangers us can also make us stronger. 

As consumers become more aware and able to purchase books in different forms it also gives publishers and booksellers the chance to offer the old and tired book in new and different ways. Here are some recent examples: "Firmin" by Sam Savage is a novel about a rat living in a bookstore that eats other books. The trick here is that the cover has portions of its paper 'eaten' out if it. It was a brilliant decision to market the book this way and will catch the eyes of many readers--who see the actual book.

Second is a book entitled, "I Live Here" edited by Mia Kirshner(among others). There are four 84 page booklets encased in an old record album s
tyle binding. The book itself contains lots of important essays and ideas--but, again, it is the package itself which will grab most people in stores.

"Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat" by Lynne Jonell is a YA novel that has images running up and down each page that create a visual image to accompany the text from page to page.

"State by State" edited by Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey is an essay collection with one piece done for each state has endpapers done in a fantastic motif. 

There are now several books out with braille on the covers and within the books. Book jackets are, increasingly, becoming more textured and multi-faceted to fit the particular book. McSweeney's, always cutting-edge, in both design and content have lots of books with die-cuts, woodcuts and other imaginative design.

All of this encapsulates the importance of the book as physical object. Something to be held and touched and gazed upon/at. So will the book die? I don't have an answer for that with 100% certainty. For now--even with bombastic and unforeseen technology--it seems unlikely.

The Kindle apparently increased sales 300% over the past year. That means a few things: one, that there is an audience for this kind of thing. Two, not that many sold the year previous. And three, that we as people who love real and actual books, must continue to find new and improved ways to sell an old thing.

For now we're holding strong to old traditions at Micawber's. We aren't selling books on-line(because that can be done faster, cheaper, etc) at a million places. Second, that we sell books to people who want to read them. We'll continue to do this as best we can for as long as we can.

As always, feel free to let us know about your opinions either here or via e-mail at or even via phone at 651.646.5506

until next...

p.s. subject line is from cicero

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Something wicked this way comes...

Subject lines are mostly mundane things. Time, place, general idea, etc. I prefer to use them a little more loosely. Most often, I use subject headings for e-mail and, now, the blog that have little to nothing to do with the actual post. Hope that's okay.

In this case, however, Micawber's-land has been hit with a little something wicked in terms of staff sickess so I'm a bit behind in getting this post done. Once we're back at full-strength and time isn't so limited I'll be back in the habit of posting 2-3 times per week.

This coming Saturday, 2/7/09 we have a very special event starting at 2 p.m. Our very own Dara Dokas will be reading from her newly published children's book, "Muriel's Red Sweater". This is her second published work and the first for anyone associated this directly with Micawber's. She will read, we'll have cake and she'll be happy to sign copies for you. Dara has really given the children's section a boost since she started last spring and we couldn't be happier for her. So join us for the fun.

I have a soft spot in my heart for fiction. It's my duty in life to help people find novels that could otherwise get lost in the massive tsunami of novels. It is especially hard right now for publishers, novelists and booksellers to sell hardcover fiction for reasons that are varied: cost, massive number of them available and lack of publicity to name a few. So here are four new ones that I think deserve some attention...

"The Vagrants" by Yiyun Li. I was captivated by this young woman's book of stories a few years back, "A Thousand Years of Good Prayers." This novel is China during the Cultural Revolution and Li has a way of making it seem both smaller and larger than it was. A quote from the back of the book states that Ezra Pound once said, "Literature is news that stays news." Perfect for this title. $25 Random House

"In Other Rooms, Other Wonders" by Daniyal Mueenuddin. This man was raised in Pakistan and Wisconsin which is a combination I cannot wrap my brain around. The stories within this book contain such a myriad of types of people and places that is almost impossible to believe that one human conjured them all. Lots of indie booksellers are touting this as one of their early 2009 favorites. I would love to see it get similar acclaim to "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle." $23.95 W.W Norton

"Cutting For Stone" by Abraham Verghese. He is Professor and Senior Associate Chair for the Theory and Practice of Medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine. I suppose that fact could be either intimidating or intriguing. Be that what it may be. This book is a 534 page-ripper set in Africa and America. Filled with patients and doctors. About both healing others and trying to heal yourself. Ultra-large novels often get lumped into groups as either pretentious or poorly-edited--this is neither. $26.95 Random House

"The Accordionist's Son" by Bernardo Atxaga. I have always loved the Basque region of Spain since I spent some time there when I was seventeen. It's like Texas on steroids and with a more beautiful language and lifestyle. Atxaga has wrapped all of that into a great story. This is published by our friends at Graywolf and--as always--they and the author deliver outstandingly. $25 Graywolf Press

I should also mention that each of these books have wonderful packing and could be seen as much as art objects as simple books. The Mueenuddin, as pictured above, is especially astounding and even moreso on the book that on a flat screen.

Finally, in fairness, I should attribute all subject lines. Today's, of course, comes from Ray Bradbury's fantastic work with the same name.


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Awards, Death and Words

First thing first: Susan Marie Swanson(friend of the store and SAP resident) has won the Caldecott prize for her book "The House in the Night" with illustrations done by Beth Krommes. Neil Gaiman won the Newberry and he also has local connections. Go Minnesota.

In the past week W.D. Snodgrass and, more recently, John Updike have passed away. Two major writing souls in contemporary America.

For those interested in late breaking events(and local) we have Cathy Wurzer in the store tonight at 7 p.m. to discuss her new book(and the tv show to follow) on Highway 61.

I'll have more updates along with new releases on 2/1/09.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Us in the media and Mr. Obama's poem

Hey All: has done a great 2008 year-end round-up. They asked for local bookavores thoughts about the year just past and I responded(along with many others). The article can be found at

Also, we just got news earlier this week that Elizabeth Alexander's inaugural poem will be available on 2/6/09 in an $8 paperback. We have lots of copies on order. Call or e-mail us to reserve one.

As the temps dip back into the sub-zeros--have a good weekend.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The classics or canon and shame...

There is so much to read and only so many hours in a reading life. That's the facts, folks.

So people have their reading for work and their reading for the commute(via bus or train, we hope) and their vacation reading. Things to read for book club. The magazines. The newspapers. It can all be a bit overwhelming. So things do get left behind.

I'm giving away a little secret right here: readers, even the most diligent among us, do not finish it all. So we booksellers hear every day, "I'm afraid to admit..." or "I can't believe it but.." or the bashful, "I should have read this in school..." followed by To Kill a Mockingbird, Moby Dick or Little Women. It makes me feel bad for folks carrying all that guilt. So here's a little exercise in personal contentment or just chilling the heck out--Let It Go. Read what you want when you want to. And if that happens to coincide with War and Peace--so be it.

I have no problem with The Classics although I do cop to hardly reading anything assigned to me from 1991-1999.

I just want to see our readers a little more happy--no little reading devils looking over their shoulders.

Go forth and read in peace...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Big, big, Day

This day, friends, is a biggie. It could encapsulate too much. But we have a new president(Ahoy, Obama) and HOPEfully a new outlook on what America can be. The man even reads--from what all reports seem to suggest--widely, of his own free will, and interestingly.

In celebration of this great event, please join us tonight as Daniel Slager(ed. in chief) at Milkweed Editions will be on hand to discuss their new anthology "Fiction on a Stick." Jacey Choy, John Reimringer and Ethan Rutherford will also be here to read from their stories. 7 p.m.

Thus far we've gotten some great response to this here new-fangled blog. Please do keep us posted on what you'd like to see and read and hear from this modest little portion of the electronic world. More than anything else, I want this to end up being a discussion. Not just a place for me to type into some great void.

Until next...

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Current reading...

One of the most frequently asked questions that I get at the store is, "What are you reading right now?"

There are people, legions of them, who can read five or six or ten books at one time and make sense of them all. I am not one of those people. I can handle three, maybe four, at one time. Otherwise names and dates and times all run together and I have no idea what I'm reading at all.

I have devised a system in the past year or so that has helped me to organize my book life. I try to live that life with my feet in three worlds. One old book, one new book and one book that will come in the future. Booksellers, you see, are bombarded with advance reader copies of books that are not available to the general reading public. This is with the intention that when the books actually release there are booksellers talking to customers about them with some degree of knowledge.

So here and now is what I'm reading:

The old: "A Writer at War: A Soviet Journalist With the Red Army , 1941-1945" by Vasily Grossman. Grossman was a novelist and essay writer who volunteered himself as a journalist in the great fight. I first knew of him through his massive novel, "Life and Fate." His war journalism has been compared to Ernie Pyle, A.J. Liebling and John Hersey. Needless to say, it is informative stuff.

The new: "Lush Life" by Richard Price. This isn't exactly new. It came out last spring and the paperback is due in March. Price is the literary master of the who-dun-it. His prose and conversation are second to none. I'm, somewhat ashamedly, a huge fan of the HBO series The Wire and all of its best assets present themselves in Price's prose--who wrote for the show.

The future: Anne Michaels is known to the cult fans of her last book, "Fugitve Pieces." It's been about ten years and her newest does not disappoint. Taking place in both Egypt and Canada the story unfolds with a pretty slow pace--but well worth it. The words, each and every single word, are well chosen and placed. I'm only 3/4's done but I read it at every chance I get. It is, without doubt, something to look forward to in the world of fiction.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Sun and the Swimming

Last night, when I got home from the store, I shovelled at my house. Then I walked one block down to our friend's house and did more moving of snow. They're in Puerto Rico on their honeymoon--happy honeymoon Jenny and AC--and while I cursed their good fortune and happy travels I thought to myself, "Where could I be right now?"

Of course this relates to books. Tim O'Brien's "Tomcat in Love" has a character that dreams of going to Fiji. I, too, dream of Fiji today.

In the past we had some trivia questions related to books on our website and the winner would get a $10 gift certificate. I've been thinking about those questions and how they aren't that much fun or that challenging--with Wikipedia(not a citable source but good for info) and Google. So, we're moving to more essay related ?'s. 

My last question was related to holiday giving or receiving book memories. Several entries were memorable, funny or poignant. One, however, stood out. In the next couple days I'll post that entry.

Until then: I dream of Fiji.

Where would you like to be right now?

p.s. Tomcat is nowhere near O'Brien's best novel. Read "The Things They Carried" or "Going After Cacciato" first.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Fun night in a sad sort of way

Last night I took myself into the chill and arrived at Lake and Chicago to watch a screening of Carol Johnson's 1974 documentary on John Berryman entitled I Don't Think I Will Sing Anymore Just Now. Before some technical difficulties ended the short film a little too shortly we got to see the facets of Berryman that enthralled and confused his audience--his great reading, his love for teaching, his great battles with the bottle and his ongoing sadness regarding his own father's suicide.

Critics, friends and family also chimed in with rememberances and anecdotes. When the dvd player froze Berryman was giving a reading and his hand was pointed to sky with mouth wide-open. Disappointing not to catch the entirety of this rare film--yet somehow right.

Before and after the audience was treated to people reading various Dream Songs. The highlight, for me at least, was hearing his widow Kate read one that she said she always loved hearing him read aloud. It was a stunning little moment.

I had the thought to drive the Washington Ave. bridge where his life ended in 1972 on a very bitter January day--but it was late and time to just go home.

Friday, January 9, 2009

0 degrees of seperation

It's real winter here in St. Paul. The kind where you spend too much finger-numbing time scraping car windows and shovelling and saying to anyone who will listen, "Cold out, huh?"

This is the time to hunker down with some good reading material and some hot chocolate or red wine.

This weather makes us think--

Tell me a story. On a dark and stormy night. It all began when...
Teach me something. Amuse me. It might have been different if...
Here is a story the world has never known. This, I swear, is mostly true.
Read to me. Let me read to you. Let's just read.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Onto the new...

We finished the year-end inventory on 1/6/09 with the help of many friends, ex-staff and family. The numbers have been tabulated, accounted for and put into intense mathematical formulas. Thank goodness it's now completed--always one of the longest days of the year.

In better news--lots of new releases are starting to roll into the store. We also have orders placed for more remainder books(that means cheap) and some new little sections.

Monday, January 5, 2009

It all starts now...

It's tough to tell what, exactly, will come of this space. With hope and good intentions we now take our place in the book blogging world.