Showing posts from January, 2006

Comment: Ivy Leaguers & Amateurs; Reviews #5 and 6

So we've truly come out on the other side of Spring Coursebook Rush. It seemed to happen too fast to be able to talk about it at the time, but now that the hordes of students have retreated and we've started to bring the store back to normalcy, it's time for a little commentary. Getting ready for the beginning of the semester is like preparing an army to march: we plan for months the order of operations (though now we've got it down pretty well), hire new staff and train them, and then at the last possible moment tear down our remainder and new release tables and replace them with coursebooks arranged by department and tense-a-barriers for handling the lines downstairs. It can be a very stressful time -- there are a bunch of inexperienced staffers doing their best, professors place their orders late (or not at all), and hundreds of students with individual demands pass through the place every hour. But there's a camaraderie from all this intensity, not unlike the

Comment: Booksellers in Blogland

If you're a book person who spends time online, you're probably aware of at least some of the literary blogs out there. MobyLives has great author interviews and a new radio show (and has launched the successful Melville House press); the LitBlog Co-op is a group of bloggers who effectively promote under-appreciated books; and of course, BookSlut is a great source for book reviews, news and chatter (though I've been clicking there less recently as the writers' snarkiness has started to get to me). There are dozens of others, by publishing types or writers or just book lovers: GalleyCa t and Elegant Variation and Beatrice and Chekhov's Mistress and on and on. Clicking on any one of these will probably lead you to a list of links to dozens of others, any of which are worth reading on a good day. But I want to give some attention to a specific segment of the literary blogosphere: the booksellers who blog. These are a special kind of reader and book lover, as I&

Reviews: Consider The Lobster (#3/52), The Hour of the Star (#4/52)

I've just come out at the other end of Spring Rush Week, which I mentioned in my December post -- the week that Columbia courses start, when our store has been transformed into a college bookstore and we all spend five straight days saying "What department? What professor? Do you want all the books or just some of them? Used or new? I'm sorry, your professor hasn't ordered here... I'm sorry, that's the price set by the publisher... I'm sorry, our system has crashed, it will be just a moment..." I've been working 9-hour shifts and running around a lot, so I've been a little worn out. I have managed to do some reading on the subway, though, so here's the latest batch of reviews. CONSIDER THE LOBSTER by David Foster Wallace (Little, Brown, December 2005) I mentioned I was in the middle of this just after Christmas, and I finally finished it last week. As I opined earlier, I'm not quite postmodern enough for literally weighty fiction like I

Review: Black Swan Green (#2/52)

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell (Random House, pub. April 2006) Before I can tell you what I thought of BLACK SWAN GREEN, I should tell you what I thought about CLOUD ATLAS. I read David Mitchell's first book GHOSTWRITTEN and thought it kicked total ass -- it was on our favorites table for months. I really liked NUMBER9DREAM, too, though in a different way, and became convinced that Mitchell was one of my favorite writers. But when I came in to work after reading CLOUD ATLAS, I couldn't really even speak. All I could do was point to the book and say "Hehmeh... Fehshnehmeneh... Wow." Later I got over my tongue-tiedness -- even to the point of being able to have a half-intelligent conversation with Mitchell himself at a publisher dinner following his reading at our store, an event that is surely one of the highlights of my life as a bookseller. The fact is that CLOUD ATLAS is probably my favorite book of all time. The plot would take too long to summarize -- ju

Chronicle: National Book Critics Circle Awards Finalists 2006: The Other Academy's Awards

Saturday night the ALP and I met up with my former boss (and good friend and mentor, affectionately known as T) in the West Village, and we all made our way down to SoHo for the announcement of the finalists for the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Awards. [If you want to skip the social review and find out the finalists, scroll to the end for the list.] Comparable to the National Book Award (only with no cash if you win), the award is given, obviously, by the National Book Critics Circle, an organization of about 500 book reviewers and critics -- kind of the equivalent of the Academy for the Oscars, though perhaps a bit less glam. Books published in English from anywhere in the world are eligible. Since the announcement of the shortlisted finalists was being held in the beautiful McNally-Robinson store in SoHo (a relatively new independent in town, now open for a little more than a year), and "light refreshments" were included in the festivities, we all ankled downtown to c

Comment & Review: Book-A-Week Challenge, Book #1

Now that my sinus thingy is slowly receding, I'm ready to get started on all that New Year-type stuff I haven't had the energy for in the first few weeks of January. So, it's time for a resolution. Bookdwarf drew my attention to a couple of different groups setting reading goals for the year: read 50 books , read 75 books , etc. My total for last year, according to my Book of Books Read, was a measly 45. I feel like I've got a lot more books than that floating around in my head, though -- part of being a good bookseller is being informed about books you haven't had time to read, so you can hand them to the people who want to read them. Reading the Sunday NYTBR all the way through every week, listening to buzz and talking to other readers in real life mean that I could probably tell you the essence and appeal of say, 150 books from last year. And there is all that magazine and short story reading that doesn't add to the total. But I'm still a little emb

Comment: Writers, Writing, and Last Laughs

So if you're the sort of person who keeps up with news in the book world (or even if you're not), you may have heard about the twin scandals of the past week: J.T. LeRoy (author of the cultishly embraced SARAH and THE HEART IS DECEITFUL ABOVE ALL THINGS, fictionalized, fantasized memoirs of his youth as a truck stop prostitute in the South) does not exist , and James Frey (author of Oprah pick and massive bestseller A MILLION LITTLE PIECES, a memoir of his struggle up from drug addiction and crime) made it up. Details are still coming out, but it seems fairly clear that LeRoy was a creation of Laura Albert (who wrote the books) and Savannah Knoop (who played LeRoy in public). And Frey has now admitted that he exaggerated or invented many aspects of his life for his book, including his jail time and other dramatic elements. Frey's story seems to be getting a lot more press -- Larry King, Oprah, and the publisher are all weighing in, and readers are expressing a wide ran

Reviews: Holiday Reading Roundup

As tends to happen when one is first surrounded by family, then laid low by illness, I've done, I feel, woefully little reading over the Christmas / New Year's holiday. But there are a couple of winners in there, and I want to gush over them before moving on, in future posts, to this year's book world business. (I've realized in reading over this that my stuffy nose may still be making me a little bit cranky, even about books I love, so take my snarkiness with a grain of salt, or a vitamin C.) The New York / Cincinnatti / Denver plane read turned out to be THE WINSHAW LEGACY, OR, WHAT A CARVE UP! by Jonathan Coe (Vintage, originally published 1994). What was I doing reading this? -- it's not even something new, and certainly nothing like JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR NORRELL by Susanna Clarke, which was last year's plane read and which was what I held up to the staff at Partners and Crime as an exemplar of what I wanted to read. It's the story of Michael Owen, a s

Chronicle: Christmas in Denver

My brain is still a little mushy (the result of continuing sinus infection and not enough sleep), but I'm slowly working up to speed, and I can't wait any longer to chronicle the book-related adventures of the holidays. The ALP and I managed to get a ride to the airport despite the strike, and looked into the bookstores in the Cincinatti and Denver airports before making it to the relatives' house. His folks, his sister, brother and sister-in-law, and the little ones were very welcoming, and it was a wonderfully laid-back holiday. One of the highlights of my vacation was reading WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE and IN THE NIGHT KITCHEN by Maurice Sendak to a two-year-old about five times apiece. I may have enjoyed/understood Max and Mickey's adventures more than he did, but his continuing interest was very gratifying. It's not often I have the chance to indulge my love of kid stuff -- having small relatives has its advantages. Of course the ALP and I deluged the kids

Comment: Please stand by...

This is not the post about Christmas in Denver, or the books I've read or stores I've visited or thoughts I've had to share since then. This is just to say (thank you Dr. Williams) that I have contracted some sort of bug thing, and I've been out of it since before New Year's, and feeling way too loopy and incoherent to try to write in a respectably readable fashion, or even sit in front of the computer for very long. But I'm still here, and I'll post extensively as soon as I have the time and energy. I'm going back to bed with my comic books and my ginger tea... look for me here shortly.