Monday, September 12, 2005

Man Booker 2005 Shortist Announced

Like Steve Martin's title character in the movie The Jerk I wanted to run around the bookstore today waving the email yelling "The Man Booker 2005 Shortlist is here! The Man Booker 2005 Shortlist is here! The Man Booker 2005 Shortlist is here!" until I am wrestled to the ground by calmer saner folk and carted gently away. In my former store at the Ivy League University, literary awards were a big deal and the calls for the books would start almost immediately as the awards were announced in the UK. The reading tastes of my current customers out in the 'burbs runs to the Da Vinci Code and chick lit so my enthusiasm is met with polite smiles.

The Booker Prize, is given annually to the best work of contemporary fiction "written by a citizen of the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland" and is a very prestigous award (and a nice bit of pocket change, £50,000 - $91,109.53 in US dollars - to boot) and starts the big fall award season in which includes the Nobel Prize for Literature in October and the National Book Award in November.

What it means for writer is recognition and, eventually, money as the publishers pump out as many volumes as they can as soon as the award is announced.

It just frustrates the #$%@ out of me as these awards, especially the Man Booker, is a list of the shame I feel that I have not read enough of these authors or these books.

I can trust the Man Booker Shortlist if I am looking for a book literary novel. You should too.

The Man Booker Shortlist for 2005
John Banville, The Sea ISBN: 0307263118 March 2006
Julian Barnes, Arthur & George ISBN: 030726310X January 2006
Sebastian Barry, A Long Long Way ISBN: 0670033804
Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go ISBN: 1400043395
Ali Smith, The Accidental ISBN: 0375422250 January 2006
Zadie Smith, On Beauty ISBN: 1594200637

(Shh. Evidently Julian Barnes is favored to win according to .)

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Call me a muggle but I am not a fan of the Harry Potter. However...

I grew up reading a lot of British juvenile literature, great stuff, but pretty much the same themes as Oliver Twist: a meek and mild child growing up separated from his parents, in a cruel environment eventually discovering his uniqueness and how he can rise above that harsh world. That is the plot outline for many British books, including the Harry Potter series.

Despite trying several times (and Oh God! how I tried), I just could not get into the first book. The writing was weak, the plot obvious themes were nothing new to me.


I like J. K. Rowling as a person and as the creator of a huge cultural phenomenon. The facts that she refuses to be rushed to finish a book, that she will not allow for any crappy merchandize and will tell her fans to boycott such stuff and refuses to allow for anyone to dictate what her creations can or should do in any creative person should be commended. She also seems to genuinely care about her fans especially the young ones as much as she cares about her characters.

I disagree with Harold Bloom's comment on how the kids who are tearing through Harry Potter books are not reading. Are the Harry Potter books grade A+ prime literature? No. The writing is not graceful nor inventive but any child who reads them is exercising his or her mind. Kids are reading more, they are demanding more and Harry Potter has become a gateway to better kids lit books, like Tolkein and C.S. Lewis and Le Guin, L'Engle and Pullman etc.

As any bookseller can tell you, we have seen a huge rise in parents asking us "My kid TORE through the last Harry Potter. Got any recommendations of other books for him? S/He's can't wait for the next one." And we do have suggestions of great stuff. Score one for reading.

I get called the book snob at work because I prefer literary fiction and non-fiction to "entertainments". But I do like thrillers and mysteries and graphic novels and read them now and again. I have always said books are like food. One can't survive on empty calories nor on high fiber bland meals. One needs books to make you a better and smarter person certainly, but one needs junk food now and again to vary the diet, otherwise if you are not enjoying your meal, why bother?

Saturday, July 16, 2005

What one heard on Harry Potter 6 night

Please don’t run. No, I haven’t read the books but any book that gets kids excited about reading is fine with me. Please stop running. Yes m’am, you do look just like Harry Potter. Please don’t hit that girl with your wand. Attention shoppers, will the owner of a Numbus 2000 broom please move it; you are double parked. Please stop running. Will all wizards report to Mrs. McGonagall’s classroom please. Yes you do look like Hermione. Please stop RUNNING!!! Can you bring up another 50 boxes please? No, I haven’t read the books but any book that gets kids excited about reading is fine with me. HOW many people are in here now?? Attention shoppers: will the owner of a dragon answering to the name Norbert please come to the front desk please? Hey kid: STOP RUNNING! Yes I love Harry Potter too. Yes it’s nice to see kids excited about any book. Yes, it's been a good night. Ack!

Friday, February 11, 2005

Sophocles meet Arthur Miller. Arthur Miller, Sophocles.

I go on vacation and Johnny Carson dies; I come back and Arthur Miller dies.

Years ago I had the honor of meeting Arthur Miller when I was a fledgling bookseller at the independent bookstore in the college town where I worked for a number of years. His new play Broken Glass was in rehearsals and somehow someone finagled a book signing from him. I had just switched careers and was so impressed with the fact that the first book singing I would experience with my new store was for this giant of a mind whose works I loved (and butchered) in high school. For a few weeks before, I approached every customer who came to our cash wrap with flyers for the event with a zealot’s glee only to be met with “Arthur Miller -- wasn’t he married to Marilyn Monroe?” Yes (you dolt) but he also wrote Death of a Salesman, The Crucible, A View from the Bridge and All My Sons!!!

The day of the event the line stretched literally all the way around the store. He was very gracious and witty, even chuckling with amusement as a friend of mine asked him to autograph a baseball which he did. Three first year students came running to him during a lull in the line. They saw him in our window, raced in and asked him to sign the only thing they had in their hands: an old library edition of some anthology of Greek drama. As he opened to the flyleaf the smiled and said “You know, they stole everything I wrote.”

Arthur Miller 1915-2005. And I got to shake his hand.


Friday, January 21, 2005

And the winner is....

I'm leaving in a little while for Ireland, so I thought I would inform you of my most momentous decision. For my vacation reading I chose Nick Hornby's The Polysylabic Spree (ISBN: 1932416242, $14 McSweeney's Publishing) a collection of his essays about reading (and what books he bought that month and why) collected from Believer Magazine, and Arabian Nights translated by Hussain Haddawy (ISBN: 0393313670 $16.95 Norton, W. W. & Company) as the translation seemed facile and the stories were often very short. I will also be reading my geneology notes and a bunch of magazines, including Forbes which has a cover article about blogging. Quel apropos, no?

For those of you who want to see what the Irish bestsellers are at Easons (their version of Barnes & Nobles) look Not too different from our lists.


Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Why I will never, ever, ever give you any specific details about my life or work (especially work).

Blogger sacked for sounding off
Waterstone's says bookseller brought firm into disrepute
- Patrick Barkham

Wednesday January 12, 2005The Guardian

A bookseller has become the first blogger in Britain to be sacked from his job because he kept an online diary in which he occasionally mentioned bad days at work and satirised his "sandal-wearing" boss.

Joe Gordon, 37, worked for Waterstone's in Edinburgh for 11 years but says he was dismissed without warning for "gross misconduct" and "bringing the company into disrepute" through the comments he posted on his weblog.

Published authors and some of the 5 million self-published bloggers around the globe said it was extraordinary that a company advertising itself as a bastion of freedom of speech had acted so swiftly to sack Mr Gordon, who mentions everything from the US elections to his home city of Edinburgh in the satirical blog he writes in his spare time.

Mr Gordon, a senior bookseller who rarely mentioned work in his blog and did not directly identify his branch of Waterstone's, said he had offered to stop posting anything about his working life online when the company called a disciplinary meeting. According to his union, Waterstone's rejected his plea despite it not having any guidelines on whether its employees are allowed to keep weblogs.

read the rest:,,1388249,00.html

Joe Gordon's blog:

Saturday, January 15, 2005

What to read, what to read, what to read...

My vacation to Ireland starts next week (so long suckers) and I’ll be enduring a long plane ride and as I have this horrible fear of being bored without something to read so I’ve been fussing over what vacation reading I’ll be bringing. I need something with substance but able to put down and without boring me or being predictable.

Last time I went, I took the newly released hardcover of Peter Carey's take on Dickens - Jack Maggs (ISBN: 0679760377 paperback Vintage $13) and read very little of it, only watched how the damp Irish air curled the pages even when the book was shut. It was too dense of a book for vacation anyhow. I eventually read it later and loved it as I do most things Carey writes.

Since we didn't have it in stock, I ordered Diary of Samuel Pepys (ISBN: 0679642218 $19.95 Modern Library edition) in hardcover (get the paperback edition ISBN: 0812970713 for $13 if you like or the nine volume University of California Press edition if you are serious) when remembered that a used copy I had that was illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard of Winnie the Pooh fame had been destroyed. I also ordered The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon (ISBN: 0231073372 Columbia University Press $20 paperback) also to replace a destroyed copy. Though it has been years since I’ve read a proper Sci-fi novel (since I discovered all those post modern and magic realist writers) I’ve been eyeing both Jupiter (ISBN: 0812579410 Tor Books $7.99) and Saturn (ISBN: 0812579429 Tor Books $7.99) both by Ben Bova and of a series of the colonization of the solar system, planet by planet. I have a nice collection of adventure stories from the 1930’s I like a lot but would be too nervous to take it overseas. Pepys and Pillow Book I could pick up at any point and drop since they are observations on life, one in 1660's London, the other in medival courtly Japan, and really don't follow a narrative (although it is fun to watch Pepys, the old letch, record his attempts in code to kiss yet another housemaid--'baise la fille' Saturn would be cool to read with whats happening on Titan with the Cassini-Huygens probe, and yes I am fully aware just how nerdy that sounds and I don't care.

Friday, January 14, 2005


All our staff, including moi, have been complaining about the cranky or wacky customers streaming in our store. Don’t ask me why, but, hell’s bells, some mighty long sticks been stuck up some rear ends. More than a few cute little old ladies waddle up to our info desk and are ready to throw down for any little reason (“book can’t be ordered” “book is out of print” “book is not available in a bilingual Serbo-Croatian/English edition” “book has to be special ordered from Oregon and can’t be here for your step-grandson’s girlfriend’s birthday tomorrow”). We do try to bend over backwards for our customers and we have staffed our store with some really great people who love to give great customer service (we really do) but try keeping your patience while some ninny who has all but called you an idiot as you try to fix what ever issue they have that has nothing to do with the store.

On the wacky side, yesterday I had the “The Lady who Wouldn’t Listen” who asked me to find a book on social anxiety then promptly continued to talk over my questions and ignore my answers that each book that had a zero in the in store quantity line in our data base was not in the store, 5 times. I finally concluded that no matter what I said she ain’t gonna listen so I took her to the psych section and suggested she browse though the textbooks and power walked away from her only to get caught at the register with “The Lady Who Took 15 Minutes of My Life I Will Never See Again To Decide in My cashier Line if a Blank Gift Certificate was better than A One with a Denomination". After getting her out and priding myself for not reaching over the counter and bitch slapping her, another cashier whispers to me “What the Hell? Was SHE retarded?” I made my getaway trying not to laugh.

I don’t usually bitch about our customers. We do get a lot of nice people, some of whom are as passionate about books as we are and practially live in our stores, some of whom use us as a reference library and visit us a few times a year. Today I had a stumper when this woman asked for a book for friends of the family whose middle aged daughter died and she wanted a book where you could record your memories of the deceased. After wracking my memory for 10 minutes, I ordered a book I remembered dimly from about 5 years ago that seemed to be what she wanted (when I find the ISBN, I‘ll write it here). She was so appreciative and so sweet like a lot of our customers. But this week she seemed to be the exception with the cranks and the kooks and the shady characters.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Snow, lightbulbs and crime.

I worked through this past weekend -- I have no life, I’ll freely admit it -- and because of a snow storm earlier in the week and an ice storm Friday, we were dead Friday night and absolutely insanely busy on Saturday. In between running to help customers and answering the phone that was ringing non-stop, a girl who works for me said with a harried look “this is like a day before a storm.” Typically we get busy before a winter storm as people run like maniacs to the stores. I told her what I’ve also noticed: that right after a winter storm, as soon as the roads clear, people head out in a frenzy similar to the pre storm one to buy buy buy. Fine with me if cabin fever drives our sales.

This weekend we got a lot of adults asking for books on obscure topics (“the history of the light bulb” and “the science of a percolator” were two such requests). Usually there’s a shy school aged child lagging behind who has a book report due the next day and the library is closed. I do a little mental computation to determine if anything in stock matches the subject matter and reading level of what they‘re looking for then trot them over to the kids' science section or to the computer to search for anything even remotely comparable. Chances are, the more particular or obscure your topic is, the less likely if is to be sitting on any bookstore’s shelves waiting for you, especially when little Jimmy has to turn it in by Monday and it’s now Sunday afternoon. I can usually find something for them, either in an adult’s book or in a larger book with broader topics and can order an obscure title, but never within the time they need. For the record, my Edison biography was rejected but my recommendation for the percolator people was enthusiastically seized: Food Network’s Alton Brown I'm Just Here for the Food: Food + Heat = Cooking (ISBN: 1584790830 Stewart, Tabori & Chang).

The big book of week is Amber Frey’s Witness: For the Prosecution of Scott Peterson (ISBN: 0060799250 HarperCollins) which came out last Tuesday. I spent a lot of time trying to gauge how much to reorder. We sold through our initial stack despite my doubts on its legs but it seems to appeal not just to those who want juicy details of the Peterson case but to readers of "he done her wrong" stories. Accordingly, I went a little aggressive on the reorder as I think it will continue for a while at least until the next big scandal.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Invocation (Sing! Oh Muse...)


Thanks for stopping to read my book related blog. What you should know about me is this: I am a bookseller in New England for over 12 years now although I have been a bibliophile and a bibliomaniac (hence "BookKook") since I was old enough to hold a book in my hands. I have the enviable position of making my living selling books which are also my passion and sometimes my obsession.

This blog should be about why books are important and enjoyable and about my (mis)adventures as a bookseller. I hope to bring you stories, reviews and recommendations and to keep you informed of what happens in my end of the book world.

Please note that any postings are of MY experience and not of my employer. Blame me if it’s awful and lavish praise on me if it's good. I hope to keep you entertained and informed, so wish me luck!

(Just a little invocation to get things going. I know, I know. Poetry--sheer snobbery.)

There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry—
This Travers may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll—
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears the Human soul.

--Emily Dickinson

Dickinson (1830-1886) is one of my favorite poets though I often times find her as elusive as I find her playful. She was born, lived and died in Amherst, Massachusetts, and did not take up writing poetry until she was in her 30’s. She became a sort of a recluse, isolating herself physically from the outside world but composing 1,775 poems between the 1860’s until the time of her death in 1886. Her use of language and odd phrasing and metaphysical themes has made her one the the greatest American poets, if not one of the greatest women poets of all times.

Unknown in her lifetime, she was posthumously famous after her sister arranged for the publication of Dickinson’s work with the assistance of, and meddling from, an editor named Thomas Wentworth Higginson who altered the poems’ words, rhythms, and even line spacing to make the poems less rough and wild. Poems By Emily Dickinson was published in 1890 and became the literary event of the year. This bowdlerized, or Higginsonized, version turns up in many places especially in thrift or bargain editions. This is not the Dickinson you want to buy.

I own two copies of The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson edited by Thomas H. Johnson. One was a cheap paperback I bought used and the other is a recent hardcover edition I treated myself to last April after I looked at my used copy and the forest of paper bookmarks sticking out of the pages I use to mark favorite poems. The hardcover Complete Poems (ISBN: 0316184144) is $35 while a paperback version (ISBN: 0316184136) is only $19.95. Both are published by Little, Brown & Company and contain the 1,775 poems as they were written by the poet. I recommend either very highly.

For those of you unwilling to make a commitment of that much odd dashes in their verse, try Final Harvest (ISBN: 0316184152) also by Little, Brown; or the children’s Emily Dickinson's Letters to the World (ISBN: 0374321477) Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $16, illustrated wonderfully by Jeanette Winter; or Dickinson: Poems (Everyman's Library Pocket Poets Series) (ISBN: 0679429077) $12.50 from Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

In fact just get everything in the Pocket Poets’ Series -- the books are small and beautiful, hardcover and inexpensive and really do fit in your pocket. I own several and if I had the money would snatch up every single one of those little gems. Here is the complete listing at the Random House site: Check out some of their great anthologies in the series too.

Just what ever you do, for the love of God, don’t buy any defective Dickinson edited by Higginson and Todd.