Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Comment: Odds and Ends, On the Shelf

I'm stranded in Brooklyn today, as a result of the New York City transit workers strike. Many brave souls have managed to get in to work anyway, but as I don't know anyone with a car and my bookstore is about as far away in the five boroughs as one can get from my house, I'm really stuck without the subway. I'll have to find some way to find a carpool or otherwise make it to work tomorrow, but I'm pretty sure the store can make it through one day without me. And I have to confess I'm enjoying the "snow day" -- I've been working at two busy stores every day for weeks, and I'm feeling a little burnt out. So I'm spending the morning on odds and ends, and looking forward to reading and a nap in the afternoon.

In the odds and ends vein, thanks so much to those of you who have posted comments and sent emails – I've replied to some (including the anonymous commenter who pointed out that I had mistakenly listed Powell's Books as being in Seattle rather than Portland -- whoops, thanks!). It's the busy season, and I haven't had much time to read comments or others' blogs -- I hope you'll forgive my absentia, and stick around for more conversations in the new year.

One conversation I've been having with a lot of people lately is the one about the novelist who changes the world. Orhan Pamuk , the author most recently of the brilliantly structured and insightful SNOW and inarguably Turkey's best-known novelist, has been accused by the Turkish government of "denigrating Turkish identity" because of comments made in a Swiss newspaper interview about the Turkish genocide of Armenians during World War I. You've probably already heard about this, but if not you'll find a ton of information here, at the Literary Saloon archive (thanks to Bookdwarf for the link). The trial has now been postponed until February, possibly because Pamuk is likely to bring evidence to court which will prove the truth of his statement, but also because his international status as a writer (and not an exclusively or overtly political one, but a thinking literary fiction writer) makes jailing him potentially embarrassing.

No one knows how the trial will turn out, but it's certain that the harsh limits on free speech in Turkey are coming under much greater international scrutiny. Along with librarians' and booksellers' robust campaign against the Patriot Act in the U.S., these events are an indicator of the power of books, of words, and of the people who take these things seriously and demand that they be free to use them. Even here in the 21st century – especially so now, when we have access to books and writers that may never before have seen worldwide distribution – it is possible for writers, and readers, to make a difference. Whether you get involved by joining the protests, or simply by buying the book of a controversial or beleaguered writer, you become part of a great tradition of literature as a force for change.

On a slightly less serious note, I'm getting ready to get on a plane again on Thursday – this time to Denver, to spend Christmas with the extended family of the Adorably Literate Partner. (The ALP's family, incidentally, doesn't contain many big readers – he's kind of the black bookish sheep. I've struggled to find non-book gifts for them all, and I now have a greater sympathy for customers trying to buy things for people whose tastes they don't really understand. They're a super nice family, though, including two very small new members, and it promises to be a festive vacation.) So I'm looking through my bookshelves again and contemplating plane reading. I've collected scads of galleys and books lately, many of which I'm dying to read – it's terrible that one has to make choices! So, since I have nothing else to do today, I'm making a list of the unread books sitting temptingly on my shelf. Feel free to comment – I appreciate the input!

EARTH DEMOCRACY by Vendana Shiva (South End Press)
After seeing Shiva's smiling, defiant, optimistic face in the documentary THE CORPORATION, I'm intensely curious about her vision for a less corporately run, more environmentally wise future. She's one of those rare non-abrasive thinking activists.

THE SLEEPING FATHER by Matt Sharpe (Soft Skull Press)
I knew Matt as a bookstore customer in the West Village, but I've somehow never read his highly acclaimed, bestselling, independently published, paperback original novel of dysfunctional family life. What's wrong with me?

REBEL BOOKSELLER by Andrew Laties (Vox Pop)
This one I HAVE actually read already, but it's so chock full of information about the publishing and bookselling industries and advice both financial and creative about starting and running an independent store (all in Laties' manically enthusiastic voice) that I feel like I haven't taken it all in. It deserves a full review, which I'll run as soon as I make a second reading.

RUNNING A 21ST CENTURY SMALL BUSINESS by Randy W. Kirk (Warner Business Books, comingFebruary 2006)
This is a new edition – I snatched up the galley hoping my boss didn't notice. =) I know I'm a nerd, but this business book is actually exciting to me right now, as I think about what steps I can take to launch my own bookstore.

I love this guy's insanely long titles! The first page or two sounded like a promising trip through the Lower East Side. High on the list.

THE WINSHAW LEGACY by Jonathan Coe (Vintage)
This one was a recommendation specifically for plane reading ("something rich and absorbing, please," I begged") from the folks at Partners and Crime, a great Greenwich Village mystery bookstore. (Why am I buying books from other stores? Because they know things that I don't.) Sounds dishy but intelligent. Can't wait.

ABSOLUTE WATCHMEN by Alan Moore (D. C. Comics)
The ALP received this massive anniversary edition of the groundbreaking 1970s "superheroes in the real world" graphic novel for his birthday, and I'm so stealing it as soon as he's done.

THIS BOOK WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE by A.M. Homes (Viking, coming in April 2006)
This one I kind of have to read, since I'm supposed to write a review of it in a couple of weeks. But I've never read Homes and I'm looking forward to it. I know she's kind of a cult favorite, and I wonder if I should read some of her other stuff before tackling this one?... any advice appreciated.

Okay, I'm finished rambling wistfully – think I'll snuggle into the couch and while away the Brooklyn day with one of these. Good reading to all!


Anonymous said...

I appreciate your nod to the consignment section at St. Mark's--it's one of my favorite little corners of New York. I've bought some issues of Paping there, which is quirky & visually appealing, & once I found this gorgeous box of broadsheets, all by different poets, that I treasure. The point that Margarita made about Americans' assuming self-published equals vanity (or plain bad) is a good one to ponder, & I'd love to see what selections your future bookstore would carrry.

The Pamuk trial is a huge deal (as well as an illustration of history's dumbly repeating itself)--how dismaying that people in the street yelled "Traitor!" at the author as he left the courthouse last week. In the novel there is a subtle yet strong subtext of the 1911 genocide, as Ka consistently mentions abandoned Armenian homes he passes on his walks. Armenian friends have told me of recently travelling to Turkey & coming across those same empty houses & obviously Armenian (with their distinct architecture) churches, yet whenever they asked locals about the buildings' provenance, no one seemed to know. Was it collective amnesia or the result of a successful campaign to erase history?

As for the transit strike here in Manhattan, I walk to work & thus have no readymade snow excuse, but you just go on & enjoy your couch!

Book Nerd said...

I know my take on Pamuk's trial here is pretty simplistically upbeat -- mentioning the increased attention to freedom of speech doesn't take into account the ugly backlash against it, and the abuse Pamuk will probably have to take, and that many others have taken wihtout being noticed. (In his New Yorker essay this week, he mentions that friends joking that he's now "a real Turkish writer" since he's been threatened with jail time.) I got into a conversation with a Turkish man at a holiday party, and his opinion was that the Armenians are whiners, that no one has any business putting opinions like Pamuk's in print, and that punishing dissent is a perfectly normal way of handling things. I'm not sure how such a mindset develops -- Pamuk has some thoughts on it himself -- but it takes a long time to change. Hopefully, this will be a step, but like our own civil rights movement, it's likely to be a messy process.

We should visit St. Mark's together sometime -- I like the idea of consignment as both a community service and a forum for undiscovered talent, but I don't have much of an eye yet for the good stuff. I'm looking forward to learning about it!

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