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.