Thursday, April 19, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. 1922-2007

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. died last week and I am ashamed to say I haven't written anything about him. I'll link to the New York Time's obituary rather than try to encapsulate the man and his books. I will say I loved his irreverence to all things self important, his view that war was futile and that life itself was absurd. In a way, he was the Mark Twain of the 1960's and 1970's and early 1980's. In 2005 his collection of essays A Man Without a Country was published and was a hot seller for a while. I caught him on a talk show doing promotion for the book and was shocked to see how old he had gotten (he was around 80 at the time) and slightly doddering but still a man with a wicked sense of humor and a great mind.

Here's to you Mr. Vonnegut!

My personal favorites are:
Breakfast of Champions; or, Goodbye Blue Monday!
Timequake (I mention this as it is a very personal novel Vonnegut the narrator goes back in time to try to stop the death of his real brother, at least in print, and shows off Vonnegut's human side).

I found these rules for writers as I was reading about Vonnegut's life. Thought I would pass them along alough I have reservations about the last one.

On pages 9 and 10 of his book Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction, Vonnegut listed eight rules for writing a short story:
1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
4. Every sentence must do one of two things -- reveal character or advance the action.
5. Start as close to the end as possible.
6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them -- in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

The Joy of Bookcases

Ikea, Ikea. Say have you been to Ikea?
Ikea, the big blue & yellow building?
The Swedes make furniture I adore so
and cheap bookcases even more so.

(my apologies to Groucho Marx)

Like most book nuts, I have books in every room of my home, excluding the linen and front hall closet. While most are in the two bedrooms, there are the regulation cookbooks and books on food in the kitchen, coffee table art books in the living room (not on the coffee table though) and even books of trivial nature in the bathroom for situations that require reading of, ahem, a short or non linear nature. Recently I was rather disgusted with myself as I've amassed several piles of floor stacks of books and made yet another trek to everyone's favorite Swedish press board furniture store and get yet another couple of cheap bookcases. Right now, every book I own (minus the ones in the bathroom) are on a bookcase or shelving unit with some room left over.

By my estimation, I have about 4/10ths of a mile of books. I usually count my books on my birthday, so in June I will know the answer to your next question, "how many do I have?"

I try to keep them in some order but I have them divided mostly between the main and spare bedrooms. The main bedroom housing the newer titles, the spare bedroom holding the older ones that suffered through a house fire in the apartment I lived in April of 2000. The damaged ranged from burnt and totally destroyed to no damage at all. Most books fell into the middle range where the spines were discolored from smoke or the tops of the pages have a slight brownish tinge to them and for a while everything I owned smelled like a smoked ham (the result which is I can't stand the smell of anything smoked since). I did have some rare first editions most of which survived, some not.

I made a little alcove between the two bookcases and placed a chair there and a reading lamp and a ticking clock on one shelf. There's nothing so peaceful as sitting reading while the afternoon light slowly fades away.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

So Oprah and the Pulitzer Prize Board are tougher than me...

Well, that's how it goes.

I had a conversation with a customer who said The Road has a happy ending (I peeked, it sorta does) and that it was very rewarding. I thought about giving it another go but remembered all the "dark literature" I read in my 20's - The Beats, the drug addicts, the sexual underground, transgressive fiction - and felt been there, done that.

The Pulitzer pick doesn't suprise me; Oprah does. While she likes dark subject in her reading, I thought this was too literary, too difficult for her bookclub. We sold The Road like crazy the first few days it was announced as her new bookclub pick and as her housefrau fans bought it I kept wondering what their reaction would be once they cracked open the book and started on that journey across the blighted landscape.

One customer came in looking for "the new Oprah book" last week and as we were checking her out, she told us how she hated some of the dark, depressing books Oprah picked. I am not a used car salesman. If you ask me how good a book is, I will tell you my opinion or critical response. I warned her "this is pretty bleak, very dark" but it was very well written and very literary. That didn't stop her (good for her) and she promised to tell me what she thought.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Life goes slow and life goes fast and here I am again apologizing for gaps in the blog. I sound like the past four years of my journal making apologies for not writing more at the beginning of every entry.

Winter is finally dying down and the great circle of life in the bookstore goes round and round again. Displays of diet books fade to Valentine's displays (essentially books with red covers about relationships, love or sex or better yet, chocolate) which melt like the February snows to the current season of tax guides, Irish related books and the sudden deluge of Easter books.

Right now the current hot titles in the store are:
-In an Instant: A Family's Journey of Love and Healing by Lee Woodruff, Bob Woodruff ISBN 1400066670 ABC News' embedded reporter in Iraq and how an explosive device

-A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah ISBN: 0374105235 Beah's autobiographical story of being forced into soldier-hood at age 13 in Sierra Leone, a fate a lot of African boys suffer.

-The Secret - Rhonda Byrne ISBN: 1582701709 (No I haven't read it so I don't know what "the secret" is. Go ask Oprah; she's responsible for all this hype).

Being rabidly but not fanatically Irish, I usually recommend James Joyce's Ulysses around this time of year. This year I thought I would give you all a break and recommend An Irish Country Doctor by Patrick Taylor ISBN 0765316234. A new doctor finds a job in the Northern Irish town of Ballybucklebo (The Town of the Cow-Boys) under Dr. Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly, the irascible old resident physician. It's light and fun but charming and a good read. A good cozy. Think James Herriot in Northern Ireland.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Hey! Over here!

No, I didn't fall off the face of the earth. Let me explain.

Middle November: I thought my old Windows computer finally died as I could no longer get online.

Late November: I bought an iMac (love it love it love it) and needed sometime to get used to OSX.

Early December: lost my internet connection again, the cause of which was that I need to have the cable that runs the entire length of my apartment building replaced when I can work out the logistics of getting everyone where I need them to be at the time I need them to be there.

December: Christmas in retail...are you nuts??? Do you think I have the time to deal with all this???

Early January: while working off a cold that boomeranged on me. I discovered if I disconnected the TV cable, and ker-jiggered with the cable modem, I could get some online time.

And there we stand...

Will update in a few.