Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

A Very Long and Unplanned Hiatus

Well, I’m back. And I’m no longer at the bookstore, so expect to see more pictures (couldn’t do it at work, took up too much time, and I couldn’t save the photos to the computer), and perhaps something more than just book reviews. In time, I may change the name of the blog. But I’ll keep it for now.

Instead of trying to catch up on all the things I’ve been reading since I last posted, I’ll just start with something I’ve read recently.

The first is Salvation City by Sigrid Nunez. To be honest, I read this because I am anticipating her new book, Sempre Susan which will be coming out in April. It deals with her time working for Susan Sontag and living with/dating Sontag’s son David. But I had seen this one at work a few months ago and decided to give it a try. The main character, Cole, is recounting his very short life thus far. He’s only thirteen but both his parents have died, he’s lived in an orphanage, and has been taken in by a pastor and his wife, in Salvation City. Though Cole’s parents weren’t the only ones to die. A flu pandemic has swept through most of the United States, killing millions of people. Some, like Cole, survive but with only bits of their memory intact. Though, the ones we are to pity are the ones left behind, in constant anxiety about whether they will catch it, and the confusion of how to go on living without the loved ones they have lost.

As Cole has been taken in by a pastor and his wife, the issue of faith is discussed quite a lot. Pastor Wyatt, or PW as he affectionately likes to be called, and his wife are fundamentalist Christians who believe that the panflu is a sign of the End of Days. In their small town, ninety-five percent of the inhabitants believe the same. Many of them have had visions of Jesus Christ and have faith that they will be saved. Cole remembers his parents and realizes that they did not have faith. Not just in religion, they were atheist, but also in the government and each other.

Before the flu became a pandemic, Cole’s parents were separating. From the mind of a twelve year-old, nothing seems important enough to make your parents separate. And because we don’t know what is going on in their heads, we can only assume that they have no more faith in their marriage.

As the flu spread and people began dying more rapidly, Cole’s parents were not ready. It became increasingly hazardous for people to go outside and thus had no access to food, water, or medical supplies. And, when it came to that point, they were practically starving, and Cole’s father was infected. Soon after his father dies, Cole and his mother become sick. Cole survives, his mother does not. He is sent, along with thousands of other children who have lost their parents, into an orphanage that resemble those in Dickensian London.

This part of Cole’s life is told in retrospect as he tries to fit in to his new life in Salvation City. He is homeschooled by PW’s eager to please wife Tracy, and attends bible school with an ex-drug addict Mason, while trying to suppress his love for the coveted Starlyn. Mostly, he tries to make PW happy, seeing in him the devoted father he lost so early. But Cole’s young heart is broken when Mason and Starlyn run off together, and oddly no one criticizes them after they’ve left, except Cole of course.

Ultimately, Nunez gives a sharp critique of contemporary society, reflections on our postmodern apathy, and taking a closer look at the role of faith and those within whom it is unshakable.

——
As I said, I’m not working at the bookstore anymore, and so I’ve been trying to do some freelance writing, which is not working out. And I decided, late, late last night, that I’m trying to imitate the writing in the New York Times. Then I came to a subsequent realization: a lot of their writing relies on puns and re-using cliche’s with different words substituted for what you would expect. For example, “The real estate magnate and art collector Aby Rosen, one of the owners of Lever House, was in his element (and a pair of jeans),…” (via). Granted, I have been reading a lot of the styles section, and really that is more about who/what is being described rather than how. And so, as I was writing/reading/editing the post above, I thought that the next one I write will be far less explanatory and review-y, and much more writerly. We will see how it goes.

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Some Old News

In lieu of a review or rant, here are some links that I’ve found particularly interesting in the last few days. Look forward to reviews on Chris Cleave’s Little Bee, Peter Singer and Jim Mason’s The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter, Adam Foulds’ The Quickening Maze, and perhaps, if you’re lucky Columbine by Dave Cullen.

First, Book Shelf Porn. I have a lot of books and I like to arrange them in interesting ways. But these are just incredible. Some of the pictures are personal collections, others are large libraries that make you wish you were a librarian.

Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna just won the UK’s Orange Prize, beating out Hilary Mantel’s Booker-winner Wolf Hall and the much-praised The Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore. Read about a first-hand experience at the awards ceremony here (via dovegreyreaderscribbles.typepad.com)

I also enjoyed reading this essay about World War I poetry at The Millions. I don’t think I’ve seen such a extensive treatment of the poetry of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon outside of academia. It made me think a lot about the way we study literature and how we often take it completely out of its humane and historical context.

As always, the wonderful clan over at biblioklept put me on to a new Jeffrey Eugenides short story in the New Yorker. You should really read it, especially if you’ve ever endured a literary theory course. Also, the book referenced in it, Roland Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments is real and just as brilliant as it sounds.

I do love literary feuds, and the idea that so many of them were borne out of being drunk while writing a review. I wish I was erudite and aware enough to write a review while drunk. Anyway, read about Philip Kerr and Allan Massie at The Telegraph.

Last, a Virginia Woolf essay contest (via bloggingwoolf@wordpress.com) If I ever thought I had anything to contribute to the wonderful canon of Woolf-ania, I would do it through this contest.

Do enjoy.

On (not)Selling a Book

There are many categories of books that a bookseller encounters. I’m not talking about a book’s classification: fiction, non-fiction, kids, memoirs, etc. I’m talking about category of personal perspective. These categories (for me, and maybe I’m the only one with them) are (in descending order, with examples): a book I truly and completely loved and only going to sell to someone really discerning and interested (Virginia Woolf or Jonathan Safran Foer); a book I enjoyed and has mass consumption value and will rant and rave about in order to sell (David Benioff or Elizabeth Strout); a book that has received rave reviews but I have not read (Barbara Kingsolver or Paul Auster); a book that has received terrible reviews and have not read (Malcolm Gladwell or John Irving); a book I have not read and know nothing about (Jon Meacham or Thomas Friedman); a book I will show the customer to and not comment upon (Sarah Palin or Stuart Woods); and a book that I will actively encourage a customer not to buy (Tucker Max).

I really only want to focus on this last category. Tucker Max’s I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell is the only book I have ever talked someone out of buying.  It is a terrible “memoir” of a college-age misogynistic barely-human attempting to sleep with women, get drunk, and cause fights. I don’t really care about the drunk fighting and mischief, it’s really the rampant woman-hating.  Women don’t have names, are referred to as sluts and bitches, or their various orifices. I don’t agree with it and I refuse to say anything good about it. If someone chooses not to listen to me, that’s their prerogative.  I don’t, however, offer my opinion unrequested. I’m all for freedom of choice, but if you ask me, I’m going to let you know. And I’m not glossing over it. I may even read a portion out loud.

Now, before you get angry and puffed up about censorship and free speech, let me say this: if you ask a bookseller for their opinion, you’re going to get it, fully raw with fairly extensive reasoning. And even when you don’t ask, you’re already getting it, by the books placed strategically around the store, what’s in the window, what’s on sale, what’s face-out or piled up, opinions, opinions, everywhere.  So I find nothing wrong with sharing my opinion about a book that’s less than quality.

Most booksellers think it’s important to be honest about a book. Maybe not 100% honest, if I have minor problems with a book, I’m not going to share them with a customer that’s interested. If a book got a bad review, it’s likely I would tell them (how likely depends on how chatty I feel). It’s important for people to know, as much as we can lead them, what they’re getting into. And this includes not selling them something that we think/know is fairly crappy.

On this topic, one of the (many) things that bothers me about book-buying online today is this: who can you trust to find you a good book online? Sure, you’ve got your newspaper reviewers, but you don’t know whether they got paid or received some incentive for that review. Or maybe you don’t go for corporate sellout reviewers and rely on personal blogs or Amazon.com customer reviews, but they aren’t any more trustworthy than the media reviewers. You don’t know what other books that person has read or why they liked them (okay, maybe that’s a little unfair because if you’re a consistent reader of a blog, you do know what they have read and liked). I feel that (in addition to paying less money) customers buy books online to feel the independence of choosing their own books and not being told by a bookseller what they would like. I believe this trend is increasingly prevalent in younger customers, accounting for the lack of young (20-30) readers that come into my shop. They don’t want advice, they want to decide for themselves what they like and why. The problem is, your choices are guided by other people, a large group of people who have a vested stake in your choice, they are the publishers. And they care even less about whether you like or dislike a book, their money has been made. To them, you are a sale, an amount of money. Even before the transaction stage is reached, there are choices made about the books available to be bought. The books that are chosen are the ones that will sell the most, that is, those that have the most mass appeal; they are not too academic, too romantic, or too scientific. They are the lowest common denominator.

At least with a bookseller, you can look them in the face, talk to them, find out other things they’ve liked and have a conversation. You can also (almost) guarantee that if a bookseller tells you about a book he/she liked it, because we don’t have to read books we don’t like, no need to waste the time. The personal interaction, and customer independence, is something that gets lost in the discussion of the changes in the bookselling industry.

Bookselling is a capitalist enterprise.  Don’t forget it.