Friday, November 03, 2006

William Styron 1925-2006

William Styron died the other day. There is an interesting article about him and his work at and a really great quote by him.

"A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted. You should live several lives while reading it."

He certainly gave us some great books; Sophie's Choice, Lie Down in Darkness, The Confessions of Nat Turner, etc.


In the past week I've tried to keep track of what I handsold to see just how many books I talk up with our customers. Here's the list, incomplete as it is:
  • 2 books about falcons and various birds of prey
  • A pocket guide to wild mushrooms
  • A guide to edible wild plants
  • A bargain astronomy book
  • A star atlas (one of the round ones)
  • The new Junie B Jones hardcover Junie B., First Grader: Aloha-Ha-Ha!
  • The new Magic Treehouse hardcover Blizzard of the Blue Moon #36
  • A Captain Underpants boxed set
  • A Harlan Coben book on cd
  • A Janet Evanovitch book on cd
  • A Robert Ludlam book on cd
  • A First Dictionary
  • Haunted Connecticut
  • Ian Kershaw's Hitler: 1889-1936: Hubris
  • Olivia by Falconer
  • The very excellent How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman
  • Two J. California Cooper books: In Search of Satisfaction & Some Love, Some Pain, Some Time
  • A leather address book
  • A calorie counter guide
  • Two classic books on board books
  • A couple of teen fiction titles I can't remember what
  • A booklight
  • A Conspiracy of Paper by David Liss
  • The Club Dumas by Arturo PĂ©rez-Reverte
  • A Spanish audio set
  • A travel book for India
  • A baseball book for "a boy who doesn't like to read" (I forget which one)
  • A particular Don't Sweat the Small Stuff at ____
  • Caroline Kennedy's A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children
  • Michael Patrick MacDonald's All Souls: A Family Story from Southie to a guy interested in books about South Boston gangster Whitey Bulger
  • the better of two college algebra test books
  • the best college guide
  • The new Barefoot Contessa book Barefoot Contessa at Home
and a host of others I forgot to write down.

Monday, October 30, 2006

"Better than the book"

After relaunching this blog, I received an email from my friend Tony stating “I totally disagree. "The Witches of Eastwick" and "The Handmaid's Tale" were both excellent movies based on mediocre books. Given time, I bet I could think of a few more. "Logan's Run". "Planet of the Apes"”.

I subtitled this blog “because the Book is always better than the movie” knowing that the statement is not true as an absolute. The last two books on Tony’s list I will agree with as better than the novel (although I do like Planet of the Apes novel but the film takes it into a different area). The Handmaid’s Tale got bad reviews by a majority of the major reviewers while Witches did get some good reviews – Roger Ebert being one raved about it – but there was a major change in tone from Updike’s novel.

Yet there are some films that surpass their source material. Years ago around Oscar time when the current crop of Best Picture nominations were not from literary sources, I made a window display around books made into films that surpassed them. On my list were: The Shawshank Redemption, The Godfather, The Lady from Shanghai, The Bridges of Madison County, The Fly (1990), The Manchurian Candidate (1962), The Silence of the Lambs (debatable as the film was very faithful to the novel), Rosemary’s Baby, a lot of Stanley Kubrick (if you consider their iconic level) and everything by Alfred Hitchcock; pretty much a lot of genre entries especially in mystery or science fiction. If you email me your list I will post them in a later entry. Here’s a site to get you started: .

Still, given the number of crappy movies based on books, or even very good movies based on excellent books, books triumphs over film any day. As this is not an absolute, I will concede and remove the “always” in the subtitle. And besides, Reading is still better for your brain than watching TV.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Oh and the nephew called the other day (with help from my mother; he's precocious but still only three) to tell me that his favorite book was now The Jungle Book: A Pop-Up Adventure by Matthew Reinhart (ISBN: 1416918248) which I got him for his birthday. Score one for uncle Bookkook. It had bears (natch) and other animals and he knows the story well. I will have to take some pictures of the inside of this book as the pop up illustrations are incredibly beautiful and you can’t see that from the cover picture.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Books for the creeps

The Hallowe’en books are still on the displays and I can’t tell you how many people I’ve helped recently who said they were buying early Christmas presents. Like the overachiever who finishes the test way ahead of everyone else and cheerfully parades his paper to the teacher while the rest of us toil away, I meet these people with a mixture of envy and irritation. Perhaps it's only appropriate that our front table, the one you see when you first walk in our store, is covered with piles of scarlet red books: Lisey's Story by Stephen King (ISBN: 0743289412) and State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III by Bob Woodward (ISBN: 0743272234).

We have Hallowe’en displays galore and are selling everything from Stephen King’s more recent titles to It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown (ISBN: 068984607X for the 35th Anniversary Edition). My two favorite books for this time of year are The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (ISBN: 0140071083 or 0143039989) and The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror by David J. Skal (ISBN: 0571199968).

The Monster Show is a wonderful critical analysis of the history of American horror movies and how the horrors and the anxieties of the real world were echoed on the screen. George Romero’s Living Dead films are often sited as having a racial or political agenda, but Skal also makes cases for how horror films like Tod Browning’s Freaks, It’s Alive, and other schlocky delights base their origins in real cultural fears.

The Haunting of Hill House is probably the most perfect haunted house novel you will ever read. Before you send me emails asking “what about The Shining (ISBN: 0743424425)?” just know that Stephen King freely admits he stole from Hill House to decorate the Overlook Hotel . It has qualities of a fairytale as Eleanor leaves her dull practically non-existent life as a spinster to join a trio of merry ghost hunters at this house whose malevolence overwhelms them. It is dreamy in parts as Eleanor meets her fellow researchers and then turns deadly serious when, in the middle of the night, something starts banging on doors and the hand that she clutches in the dark may belong to no one at all.

Hill House scared the HELL out of me! I first read it while I working an overnight shift at a creaky old house in the woods at a school for disturbed adolescents. I reread it once a year it or watch the very faithful 1963 film (ignore the 1999 unimaginative adaptation) and get creeped out again and again.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Cormac McCarthy’s The Road

When I reviewed books for the new author program, it amused me that there were some books everyone could completely agree on, some, agreement met on it’s merits (or lack of) but for as many different reasons as readers, and some books that had me sitting in wonder if I read the same book as my fellow reviewers. When we read a book, we bring our own unique sensibilities and sensitivities to the process, like it or not. I try to read a new book without the baggage of the author’s history or my own state of mind but there are occasions it can’t be helped.

I’ve been waiting for Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (ISBN 0-307-26543-9) since it was announced and borrowed it (another perk of the job) for the days I have off. I have started it several times and got in only about 25 pages before stopping. The Road takes place in an post-apocalyptic world (hinting of America after a huge nuclear event) where an unnamed man and his young son are walking south through the burned and ash covered landscape. McCarthy’s prose is spare this time, writing in a religious tone making this less of Mad Max in America and more of a horror story from the Book of Revelations. It is a deeply bleak and depressing book, as it should be, and when I got to page 10 where the man and the boy are walking in a destroyed city past desiccated corpses and the man warns/consoles his shivering boy “Just remember that the things you put in your head are there forever…” I realized I was not enjoying reading this story and dreading to continue and so I put the book down.

It's not that I want only sunshine and buttercups in my fiction, it's just that the experience of reading should also be a pleasurable one at least somewhere in the work.

I do highly recommend McCarthy's Border Trilogy (All the Pretty Horses, etc. ISBN: 0375407936) and Blood Meridian (ISBN: 0679728759) however.

Birthday boys and books

Tuesday was a typical stormy New England fall day, one that starts dark and overcast and stays that way till the true dusk when the sun finally gives up and passes to the other side of the world. I drove through the country back roads in autumn rain, marveling how the half light made the reds and yellows and tawny leaves glow against the dark grey, almost purple, sky.

I was heading up to see the nephew whose third birthday it was. The poor little fellow had a cold and an ear infection as did his baby sister and mother. While there was a proper party planned for Saturday, there was to be some celebration Tuesday dependent on who was well enough to do what. I went up with a bag of toys for him and felt a little self silly that I didn’t bring him books (not that I haven’t given him enough, mind).

When I arrived at the house, R--- comes racing out to greet me. “Uncle ------! Uncle ------! You’re here!” as if I have been away for months. I scoop him up and give him his regulation zerbert ( and after I greet my worn looking sister-in-law who is carrying the baby on her shoulders like a little laughing Buddha, I set him down and precede to dole out his presents.

After a complicated dinner, R---- wants me to read to him on the floor of his bedroom. Sick boys and birthday boys get their wishes. I grab some of my favorites, a Richard Scarry collection and Where the Wild Things Are but R--- is having none of it. He pulls out this bargain book I got him an encyclopedia of North American animals, way over his reading level but lots of big pictures. It seems R--- is into character not plot. He sits in my lap and we turn every page and he asks me “What’s that? What’s that?” at each picture at each animal and when I realize that he probably knows which animal is which, I turn the tables on him and he answers just about each one. Not bad for just three years old, eh? How many of you know what a fisher is? ( Mercifully, we were called for birthday cake when we hit the birds because they were more than half the book and even R----’s cuteness would test my patience for naming every breed of duck.

So today’s recommendation is from the nephew. Having seen the Disney video Brother Bear repeatedly, he became obsessed with bears. So uncle Bookkook found this great series of books By Karma Wilson and wonderfully illustrated by Jane Chapman. I got him The Bear Snores On (0-689-83187-0) when he wouldn’t sleep at night, The Bear Wants More (0-689-84509-X) when R--- became a fussy eater and Bear’s New Friend (0-689-85984-8) when his little sister was born. All of these books are sweet and lushly illustrated from the inside cover to the jackets, often with one illustration on the two open pages. The rhymes are simple and repetitive (great for little ones) and the illustrations capture the personality of every character. R--- loves them. (Pssst! Don’t tell him this but he is getting Bear Stays Up for Christmas (0-689-85278-9) for Christmas. These books are from Simon and Schuster and some come in board books.

Karma Wilson's website

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Previously on the Bookkook blog:

Yes I know it’s been some time since I posted but I have a good reason (and a note from my mother).

In the spring of this year for about two months, I volunteered for reading galley submissions for a program at work promotes new and unknown writers of substance. This meant, for me, reading about 16 galleys for books released in the Fall of 2006 and taking the train into New York City - almost 2 hours journey for me - once a week to report if the book was worthy or not. Out of the 16 books I read in 8 weeks, 5 were selected for this program, and, just so you know my mouth is where my money is, I bought 3 of them for myself. I can’t have you thinking I don’t stand behind my opinions.

So for a while I was in reading boot camp, trying make sure I could keep up with the pace and making sure I was clearly and honestly reporting on a book’s merits. I did enjoy the process, read some wonderful books and met some folks in our corporate offices with heavy responsibilities. Yet, it took a lot of time and energy and afterwards I played catch up with the other things that I claim as my life. Vacations, work, family conspired to keep me away from this blog.

Recently, I finished the same program as I did in spring, reading about 13 galleys in about 6-7 weeks of early 2007 titles (this time only 4 of my reads were worthy).

So I have no excuses and it’s back to business.

Right before participating in the new author program, I bought The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville, Vol. 1 by Shelby Foote (ISBN: 0394746236 and 0307290425) and made the mistake of starting it knowing that I would not finish it’s 800 plus pages with the required reading I was about to do. I can’t express just how wonderful is the prose, how rich the detail, and how American the voice is. It is quite simply one of the best books I have ever read and I can’t do this book enough justice. Just go buy this book and make the time to read it. I hope to read all three volumes but I suppose it will take me a lifetime as will Ulysses and Moby Dick and all of Shakespeare’s plays. HIGHLY recommended!

Sunday, January 15, 2006


The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze & other stories
by William Saroyan
ISBN: 081121365X New Directions Publishing Corporation

The title of this book always reminded me of Bugs Bunny singing the song in a cartoon so I treated this book as a sentimental relic of the 1930’s Depression Era America, like I Remember Mama. How really wrong I was. When New Directions came out with an edition, it forced me to examine just what I thought this book was: literature or twaddle. I was first impressed with the writing skill (it’s finely written) but then I was taken by his breath of humanity and by the force of its' character’s passionate convictions. I remarked to someone that it is a young man’s book (Saroyan was 26 when it was published) but it has a universality to it, a humanity to which anyone could relate. It’s one of those books that inspires hungry young people to write. It’s a pity Saroyan is not read as much as he used to be.

I keep this book near the bedside and dip into it again and again so when people ask me what I am reading and I can't think of what it is, I just say The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze because it's not that far from the truth.

Tribute site:

“The most solid advice for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell. And when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough”
William Saroyan 1908-1981

Saturday, January 07, 2006


The big clean up of the store begins and I keep finding lost titles in very odd places. The general public quite often uses us a resource (read: library, research room, place to go to read magazines for free and leave a stack of 15 for the booksellers to reshelve at close) and as often leave their books either in piles on the floor (annoying) or shoved onto the improper shelf from where the books came from (will get you lodging in the 8th circle of the Inferno, bub!) When our customers ask if our books are filed alphabetically I say yes, until we open the doors to the public.

Our store is rather large so when I see a quantity of one in stock on our computers I die a little inside.

Actually I head to the section praying that the blessed book is where it is supposed to be while simultaneously running through my head the range of places it could be from the slightly off to the incredibly stupid. Can’t find Knitting for Dogs (ISBN: 0743270169) in Knitting, let’s try Pets. Steven Millhauser’s wonderfull Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer (ISBN: 0679781277) not in fiction under M for Millhauser, see if it’s under D for Dressler. David Foster Wallace’s Consider the Lobster (ISBN: 0316156116) not in essays, try fiction, try nature, try new releases and, gosh darn it, try seafood.

Genre novels hide in fiction; fiction, if the title is off beat, everywhere else. Regional history titles vacation in travel. We have foreign language phrase books in the foreign language section AND in foreign travel. Books that were bestsellers a few weeks and months ago seem to stay around the stacks of current bestsellers like the former High School graduate who keeps hanging around school with nothing better to do. New releases are a good place to look before giving up the search. When I exhaust all that, I just look around the nearby shelves cause people are so %$#@ lazy and dump books where ever the stop looking at them.

I really don’t expect any customer to reshelve our books but the one thing that really boils my asparagus is when someone dumps a book just inches/next to/on top of the empty space/pile of/the gap they just made when they pulled it out too look at it. That, as mom would say, is laziness personified. ( I was going to post a picture here to illustrate my point, but I didn’t want to come off THAT crazed.)

A few years ago when I was at the university store I had this one customer who would drink his single cup of coffee over a huge (10 to 15) pile of books he pulled down then leave us to clean up his mess while he then went to hog our free phone line. Customers reading while sitting in our cafe was not that unusual, but that huge of a pile of books and that he did it every single, was. Some of our staff even had a less than polite name for him, especially the wait staff for whom he left the smallest of tips. One day I was shopping for clothes in a department store when guess whom I discovered was in charge of the men’s department - old Piley himself. He had broken the fifth rule of retail: it’s a lot of work to keep your store neat, thou shall not mess up someone else’s store! I proceeded for the next 30 minutes joyfully and quietly wreck his department. I unfolded as many sweaters as I could find, moved handfuls of shirts to the wrong racks and left piles of clothes strewn over displays. He didn’t see me there (evidentially customer service was not one of his skills either) but when I left, I saw him frowning as he scurried over to fix everything. It was petty and small, but I really enjoyed doing that.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


Yes, I know I know. Shame on me for not keeping up the blog. Okay I’ll try better in 2006.

When I first started as a bookseller years ago, the first thing that I noticed was the amazing amount of self-improvement books we sold even in the small independent store near the ivy league university. In the bigger store its even worse. Being of Irish extraction, my people view the need for “self help” as some sort of personal failure, an expression of weakness so when I get the umpteenth call for the same badly reviewed relationship book someone saw on Oprah, the little sarcastic bastard inner me makes a very rude comment silently while the outer me grins and finds the book for the customer in a friendly and polite manner.

Since the store is piled high with the requisite diet, exercise and self help books that will be sure to change your life, I’ve decided to let the little sarcastic bastard inner me out to make all the comments those books. These are not reviews, just pent up frustration at the glut of these books that crowd out the good stuff this time of year.

The Sonoma Diet Connie Guttersen etc. ISBN: 0696228319. The diet of hippies, pot heads and drunks.

How the Rich Get Thin: Park Avenue's Top Diet Doctor Reveals the Secrets to Losing Weight and Feeling Great Jana Klauer ISBN: 0312340389. Darling, it’s called LIPOSUCTION.

The Good Housekeeping Supermarket Diet: Your Shopping List for Delicious and Healthy Weight Loss Janis Jibrin ISBN: 1588164683. Salad, salad, tofu, chocolate frosting container, anything Entenmanns, anything Hostess.

Natural Cures They Don't Want You to Know About Kevin Trudeau. Damn those “Theys”!!! I guess there really is a conspiracy to keep your fat butt on the couch.

Then there’s the abs diet, the low carb diet, the no carb diet, the high protein diet, the grapefruit diet, the blood type diet, the stone age diet, the Japanese diet, the Okinawan diet, Mediterranean diet, the cabbage soup diet, macrobiotic diet, the raw food diet, the Bible diet, the Israeli Army diet, the detox diet, the Florida diet (you know the one) etc etc etc. A search on Barnes & came up with 2,836 diet books, yeesh! I had to stuff the little sarcastic bastard inner me back into his hidey hole as he was starting get get really nasty and this is a PG rated blog.

So instead of some whiney crap (a book shaped object) that you will read once then ignore, I give you life inspiration and a dietary rule ala Monty Python & the Meaning of Life: “…try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.”

That will be $25.95 please.