Monday, March 31, 2008

Link-Mad Monday: Small Stores, Comics, and Anne

Lots of fascinating book news in the world today... of which the below is but a tiny, arbitrarily selected portion.

AM New York has an article on a new Brooklyn bookstore I have not yet visited: Babbo's Books, a few blocks away from me in south Park Slope. Despite the article's incredulity about an indie bookstore opening and staying open, the shop seems to be doing well on a small scale, and proprietor Leonora Stein has ideas for making it better. A field trip seems in order!

In the indie-bookstore-makes-good category, a coalition led by ABA president Russ Lawrence of Chapter One Books has been influential in keeping Wal-Mart out of their Hamilton, Montana community. After watching the documentary The High Cost of Low Price I'm even more impressed by their efforts, especially since they admit not everyone in town was convinced Wal-Mart was a bad thing. But check out the Wal-Mart exec's explanation of the pullback for classic villain-retreating-while-proclaiming-victory...

Title Page TV is back with a new episode of their author interview podcast -- this one features David Hajdu's intriguing-looking comics history The Ten-Cent Plague, as well as Mary Roach's already much-loved sex science book Bonk and others. Not sure when I can sit for an hour to watch the whole thing (and now I have to go back and watch Episode 2 since Sloane Crosley AND Keith Gessen are reading at our store), but now that I'm down to just one job maybe I can actually take a lunch break...

Speaking of comics commentary, Matt Blind at ComicSnob.com has a very thoughtful post on an issue on the minds of many in the book industry: what's going to happen now that Borders is up for sale? He's done his research and has both some careful analysis and some "raw opinion", and his list of links at the bottom makes this a great place to go to get some insight on the matter.

For more thoughtful commentary, you can hear my bookstore coworker (and novelist) Cheryl Sucher on New Zealand radio here. Cheryl's married to a New Zealander and energetically involved with her adopted homeland, and she's got a great take on subjects as wide-ranging as our governor's recent indiscretions, the presidential race, and the most commonly stolen books at indie bookstores.

For a bit of laugh, check out the winners of the annual competition from British magazine The Bookseller of the "oddest title competition".

And if I can take a moment to love on something totally old and un-hip: this year marks the 100th anniversary of the first publication of Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. Margaret Atwood has a great reflection on the book's enduring popularity here. While I can see why some Canadians like George would feel a little eye-rolly about the whole Anne thing by now, I'll recommend not only the first book but the whole darn Anne series. I read those books straight through every summer from when I was about 11 to when I was 15 or 16, living through a whole life from orphan to beloved child to college girl to teacher to wife to mother, and even her children's adventures in World War I -- the last possible Anne story, it seemed to me, as the world just got too different after that, and uglier. I wrote a paper in high school defending Montgomery as a "literary novelist," though I'm not sure I would agree with that now -- as Atwood admits, the characters are mostly static, and the novels are more like fairy tales or romances than novels: the classic outsider who becomes the hero, wish fulfillment and fantasy. But, she adds,

This [wish fulfillment] is one of the reasons Anne of Green Gables has had such an ongoing life, but this in itself would hardly be enough: if Anne were nothing but a soufflé of happy thoughts and outcomes, the Annery would have collapsed long ago. The thing that distinguishes Anne from so many "girls' books" of the first half of the 20th century is its dark underside: this is what gives Anne its frenetic, sometimes quasi-hallucinatory energy, and what makes its heroine's idealism and indignation so poignantly convincing.

As one of those lonely, bookish kids, Anne opened up the world for me; gave me aspirations to virtue as well as self-creation. There were ugly things in the world, and difficult people, and things that you couldn't do anything about; but there was also deep friendship, and moments of beauty, and if you were lucky, as you got older, strings of happy ordinary days "like pearls slipping off a string." I can't quite do justice to the story; as with most things that influenced one strongly as a child, my feelings about it are strong but incoherent. But if you or some girl you know hasn't read the first book, pick it up with an open mind, and see if it doesn't have a kind of power, of imagination, and of the joys of ordinary life, and of old-fashioned unselfish love. Sure, it's a fairy tale -- but those are some of the most powerful stories we have.