Thursday, April 1, 2010

April 1st, Northern Lights Announces E-Reader

With the iPad, Nook, Kindle & Sony Reader all gaining in popularity and ebook sales increasing four-fold, we at Northern Lights have decided to be on the winning side in the battle of the books. We will no longer be selling physical copies of books.

That's right. Our entire inventory of carefully selected titles with all of their great pictures, interesting covers, pages that we love(d) to turn and smell - all of them are priced (by the publishers) to go! And, for a competitive price, sign up to be the first to have our new e-book reader, the Lazer Gazer. It'll automatically download all of our newsletters and you'll be able to read all the e-books that you purchase from us.

We're so proud of this new e-reader that we're producing. It has yet to go into production, but let us tell you about the features. Firstly, like the Kindle, it allows you to read only content purchased from us - no longer will you have to worry about being able to read content that you purchased anywhere else. You'll be able to put your entire library on this one device, and when it breaks down, you'll be able to buy a whole new library to read on your second generation Lazer Gazer!

Special Northland features: 1. Waterproof- don't let paddling trip stand between you and a good read again! 2. Night-rechargeable - works best with the northern lights, but will regenerate power from the stars and loon calls as well! 3.Will translate stuffy-name-dropping & New York-centric texts to reference fishing spots and hockey players. 4. Vocal Interface - tired? Let the woman from the movie Fargo read the text to you as you rest your eyes! And many more!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

So Brave, Young, and Handsome

Leif Enger's first novel, Peace Like a River, was received with great acclaim. I've had the book on my shelf for years because I originally purchased it for a book group and then was unable to attend and sadly never read the novel. I recently picked it up and was actually surprised by its story. Admittedly, from the title I was expecting an easy going, romantic book and I learned that it is the story of a family whose oldest son has been accused of murder and is running away from the law. The rest of the family is out on the road in an attempt to find him. Family relationships, faith, and the help of strangers all come together to weave a tale that is captivating.

Understandably, readers waited with great anticipation for Enger's second novel. It was almost seven years in coming and the result was So Brave, Young, and Handsome. Perhaps not too surprisingly, the narrator of the story is a writer, Monte Becket, who had one extremely successful book published and has since suffered from writer's block. So Brave, Young, and Handsome tells of Monte meeting an outlaw named Glendon Hale and of their travels together. They come across interesting characters all the way along the story. One can ponder if people like Monte and Glendon could really end up travelling together and how choices you make at various times in your life can effect the final position in which you end up.

Northern Lights Books and Gifts is honored to host a dinner and booksigning with Leif Enger on Thursday, August 6th at 6:00 p.m. at the Radisson Hotel in Duluth. Details about the evening are on our website This event will be a memorable one so don't miss out!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Oh Garrison, you know we love you, but...

we hope you realize why people were justly upset with your comments of late.

Comment one: 
Garrison Keillor commented that Common Good Books, St. Paul, Minn., which he opened in 2006, "is sort of slowly making its way. I don't know. It's not making money. Nobody makes money with bookstores."

It's the blanket of "nobody" that stands independent bookselling hair on end. It is certainly difficult to make money selling books. Living in 90% of the world today, you'll find difficulties making money in most businesses that don't revolve around oil, weapons, or governmental bailouts.
This buys into the dangerous MYTH of the dying bookstore. Times are tough. Some great stores have closed their doors. Bookselling alone has brought few independent wealth. But to say that no one makes money on it, that we're non-profits without 501-c status rather than integral and innovative members of the business community- that's where we disagree. Most vociferously with the perpetuation of that myth that bookstores are a dead-end for business - the myth that big box stores and online warehouses would love to use as examples of us being quaint dinosaurs. The only way someone should mistake us for quaint dinosaurs is in hearing our roar combined with our impeccable customer service!

Comment Two:
"I love bookstores. I love to hold books in my hand. And to give that up is painful. It's like if Minnesota passed a law against fishing, it wouldn't affect the food supply that much. You know, if we passed a law against guys going out in a boat with a rod and a reel and bait and fishing for sunfish and crappies, people would still eat, nobody would go hungry who hadn't before. But it'd be painful. It's a part of our culture."

This has the trademark mix of whimsy, locality and heartfelt nostalgia that keeps people tuning in to hear the news from Lake Wobegon, but I'm just not so sure how relevant it really is to books or bookselling.
Are the fish books and fishing bookselling? Or is fishing the act of reading? Are bookstores fish? I agree that losing bookstores would be painful, but, for me and many, many others, it would be more akin to losing a limb and a sensory perception than not being able to eat fresh pike. Also, why mention just the sunfish and crappies? A good book is at least a walleye or a bass or a northern pike one needs to wrestle with to pull it from depths to appreciate glimmering in the full light of day - its sleek muscle and brutality, it's deep coloration and streamlined design; it's ultimate fragility.
Books are communication, not just good reads. If the internet was a replacement, booksales and books published wouldn't be increasing. If electronic readers were acceptable substitutes, they wouldn't need to work so hard to replicate features like turning the page.
If bookstores are fishing then it would be a painful, detrimental loss. But it wouldn't be because of a law being passed, but rather a law not being passed to level the playing field of taxes (that's another blog post to come on this story). The real way we would lose that part of our culture would be for people to believe that first myth of the dying bookstore. Just as fishing is more than a hobby, bookselling is a passion and a lifestyle. If too many people decide that they would rather have frozen fishsticks or some other conglomeration of processed protein in stead of getting out on the lake, spending time with friends and family and meeting one's meal(or, to our vegan/vegetarian friends - rather have nothing but frozen entrees than fresh organic produce). If people start to think it's all just a hobby - that the man leaving Grand Marais at 5am every morning and coming back with food to sell at a restaurant, feed his family and sell a bit more; that the dedicated booksellers reading as many books as they can so that they can match other booklovers- other seekers of knowledge with -with the best books out there... that would be a painful loss.

But it's avoidable. First step is to ignore and fight that dangerous myth. Second is to think of where one is spending money and if they are really making purchases that will add value to their lives and communities. Click here for more hints and steps in that direction.

I'm sure people love Common Good Books, and while Keillor may not be making money, he is able to hire highly capable people to keep the store running. We hope that, in evaluating the state of Independent Booksellers, in the future he give more of a weighty pause that makes the questioner consider the question further... because the answer lies somewhere in that space between the concerned customer and the dedicated bookseller. Not in some abstract blanket statement.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

If you don't think that society has changed much in the last half century, then perhaps you should take a look at The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Set in segregated Mississippi in the early 1960's, The Help explores the lives of white people and the black women who work in their homes. Each chapter is told from the point of view of one of the main characters and gives an intriguing look at life at that time in that part of the country.

The story tells about Skeeter, a white woman who has just graduated from college and returns to the city of her childhood. Another character is Minny, a black woman who has lost many housekeeping jobs because she can't keep herself from saying how she really feels. We also learn about Aibileen, a black woman who has endured a great loss and has her own story to tell.

These three women collaborate to write a book anonymously that tells exactly how it is to be a black woman who working as a housekeeper who sacrifices her own life to earn money taking care of white people. The author does an excellent job of painting a picture of how risky writing this book really would have been for people in the segregated south. What would have happened if someone found out who wrote the book? What could they do to insure their safety if someone suspected that they were the authors?

It wasn't until I was almost done with the book that I remembered someone in my family used to tell us about the African American woman who was his family's "help" when he was growing up. She took care of all the children in the family and did all the household chores. He would talk about her as if it was a good situation for her as well as the family. I never really thought about this before until I read this book. Would she really say that it was a good situation for her or was there another life that she would rather have been living?

Kathryn Stockett grew up in Jackson, Mississippi with "help" in her home. Having the story told by someone who experienced this social structure makes it seem more plausible. Have we come a long way from this time? Let's hope so.--Melanie

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


In order for someone to be a great humorist or an entertaining comic, above all, he or she must be highly intelligent. As years go by, I've noted this time and time again. David Sedaris is obviously one who has this prerequisite. He is the author of several "memoirs" and all of them are alive with his wit and wisdom.

When You are Engulfed in Flames is his latest collection and was released in paperback on June 2. It's a wonderful book full of individual stories that invite you to read from cover-to-cover in one sitting or allow you to take in just one chapter at a time if your time is limited.

Sedaris makes me feel like I am laughing at the people with whom his path crosses. Upon further reflection, I realize that I am most often laughing at myself. From the airplane seatmate who is annoyed at David because he won't switch seats with her husband to the woman in his Japanese language class that he is determined to bury with his superior language skills, I see pieces of myself both in Sedaris and his fellow life travelers. I hazard to guess that we can chuckle at his observations, realizing that he could be writing about us, and pray that we don't at sometime find our names in one of his books!

Northern Lights Books and Gifts is honored to have the opportunity to host Sedaris for a book signing and reading at the store on Monday, June 8. The reading starts at 6:00 pm. David Sedaris will be miked and you will be able to listen to him in the parking lot. Following the reading, we will be admitting groups of ticket holders into the store to have their books and CDs signed. Ticket holders will be admitted in numerical order.

In order to attend the signing, each person must obtain a numbered line ticket from Northern Lights Books by purchasing a David Sedaris book or CD. We suggest that you purchase your books as soon as possible to ensure that you are able to get them. Details are at our website

We will have live music beginning at 5:00 p.m. Dairy Queen , ICO, and Caribou Coffee will be open for you to purchase refreshments. This will be a night to remember! Won't you join us?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Books coming out backpacking to Isle Royale

There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing the book(s) to bring along with you on a backpacking trip.  As I'm on a very short break now between packing and no longer having internet access, I'll just announce what books are coming with us and explain the process and reflect on the results when I'm back.
In John's bag: my favorite leatherbound journal (my mom gave it to me, calling it an Indiana Jones diary); Couch by Benjamin Parzybok an intriguing newish book about friends, a flood, a couch and an adventure; and The Writer's Notebook Craft essays from Tin House - promising new writer's book - also came with a cd that will NOT be coming on the island.  I like to have a good page turner and a good reflective read.  
Runners up: The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene; And Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris; and Eccentric Islands by Bill Holm.

And, my literature outfitting for my friends: Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams; Geekspeak by Dr. Graham Tattersall; Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson; Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers; Twelve Below Zero by Anthony Bukoski; Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie; Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indridason; and several ARC's that I'll mention if they are chosen.

See you all at Sedaris on Monday!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Hey! We have a blog!

I should write that on my mirror, so I'm reminded every morning.  Sorry there's been such a space between posts- there have been some issues with emails reception rates at the store, we're working on getting our new website organized, and I also teach part-time and have been recognizing and addressing all the mistakes my students and myself have made over the course of the semester!  That grading game continues for another week, so this is just a quick post to suggest other fine literary-type blogs to hold your attention in the interim (and beyond)!

In no particular order-
First: Perfect Duluth Day is a great site for knowing what's happening in the Twin Ports - reflections on movies, concerts, webvideos, news articles, etc.  Eclectic with a very local spirit.

Second: Magers & Quinn down in the cities has a great blog run by my friend and fellow bookseller, David E.  Book news, links and info on their events and deals.  Great read all-around and I'd qualify it as rather vital if you're living in or headed down to the Cities.

Third: Bookavore a very cool bookseller now managing a store in Brooklyn.  Great insights, fantastic suggestions and, in the last piece, a great recipe.

Fourth: The Word Hoarder, Rich is another bookseller out east, and has great posts on the book industry from a practical, bookselling position.  Especially if you're interested in the drama surrounding the digital books.  ALSO, he has compiled a great collection of forthcoming books.  Check them out.

Fifth: Vromans a great bookstore on the other coast.  Again, a great space for insight into the state of the publishing/bookselling industry.  If you're ever in Cali, try to make a visit to their store.

And our very own friend, Author, Andrew Slade keeps us up to date on developments and news up and down the North Shore.  He and his poodle are out on the trails often and he writes to tell how they are doing.  His books are available at our store!  If you're interested in the Northland Outdoors, I highly suggest checking his blog often.

What other Northern MN/WI blogs do you read?  How do you keep the pulse of the local community?  Where do you go for book news/review/and insights?  Let us know!  

I'll be back in a week.  Hopefully some of my colleagues here at the store will chime in with a review or two.  If not, I have a lot on deck myself!

Peace Love and Books!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Not sayin'... just sayin'....

The Kindle II strikes me as the kid in class who gets all the attention- love or hate, people just can't look away. As soon as you do, Bezos starts in with the spitballs and it starts all over again. So, it pains me slightly to feed the Kindle fire (not an actual fire, although the name is evocative; I do not condone burning books or e-readers of any kind!), but there is one thread I can't resist pulling on a bit more.

It's the notion that there exists a widespread strain of book-snobbery, judging people by their covers... of the books they're reading. I was not aware of this particular epidemic, but there have been several articles on the phenomena. I personally and very interested (as a bookseller, teacher, writer & busy-body) in what people are reading, and it's hard to separate that interest from some snap assessments, but I'd never thought of it as judging. Open apology to all those who have felt judged by their book covers as I walked by and peered a little too long.

Kindle will save us from both the judging eyes and the ego-maniacal show-offs because there is no more cover to see. Pulps, bestsellers, self-help, newspapers, classics - all under that plastic/metallic sheen. The great literary equalizer... except... PEOPLE WILL SEE YOU READING ON A KINDLE!!!

Nothing against the Kindle, but let me offer up an analogy: I love bikes of all types, road, racing, mountain, retro, kids, trick... each one is very enjoyable and specifically suited to different tastes and activities, and each one carries some reputation. I may be judged as being healthy, being broke, being a pretentious eco-warrior of some sort. I may take on all the fury originally directed at bikers who were not safe or considerate on the road. So, to avoid the whole hullabaloo, I buy a nice, shiny Hummer. It's sleek and attractive and it can hold all of my bikes! I can take my bikes anywhere now! Heck, if I see a bike I like, I can have it in my Hummer in a matter of seconds (with a good lock cutter). Gone are the days of being judged and feeling awkward for being so pretentious with my bikes, now that my Hummer is with me everywhere I go!

Again, nothing against the Kindle or the Hummer... well, nothing too much against either of them... but it seems to me that as far as judging people goes, you'd be jumping out of the pan straight into the fire. E-readers (the kindle is not the only one on the market - iphone has app and the sony e-reader is cheaper and very comparable) definitely have a lot of advantages and they are a blessing to people who are by trade or nature very avid readers. But, if you want to avoid prying eyes, invest in an affordable book tote cover (quilted with good designs; handles and book mark built in). Or, hide your kindle in a bestselling hardcover.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Buy Indie Day!

There’s a ton going on this weekend - the full force of Homegrown; One Book, One Community reading at LSC 7:30 Michael Perry, Duluth Poet Laureate reading at the Green Room Saturday at 3:30pm; the final weekend of Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse. It seems then especially fitting that it’s also Buy Indie Day.

Started by the American Booksellers Association, it naturally focuses on Independent Bookstores, but embodies local spirit. Wherever you find yourselves today, think of how you’re supporting the unique community! Listen to local musicians, watch local theatre, buy from local food vendors, artists, craftsmen, and booksellers! Just stop by to let them know that you’re glad they’re here and contributing to the maintenance of Duluth’s unique character.

Happy Indie Day, Duluth!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Pugnaciously pushing a powerful poetry-month phinish

Several were not able to attend the great talk last Thursday here at the store with Ryan Vine - but it was a great chat! I wanted to include some of the highlights and try to turn this into a once a month feature of poetry/poetics resources/reviews kinda deal. Maybe even something more specific! For now, here's the recap of our discussion on poets and poetry non-local, non-famous, non-dead.

1. Ryan Vines poets that he's been excited about he past few months: Dean Young, Tony Hoagland, Karen Volkman, Denise Duhamel, Jennifer Knox, Matthew Dickman, Tom Lux, & Terrance Hayes.

2. In addition (because there's not a name there not worth getting excited over) to that tremendous list, I came up with the following: Russell Edson, Jordan Scott, Matthea Harvey, Eireann Lorsung, & Brenda Shaughnessy.

3. We discussed whether any poet is or can be famous. Mary Oliver's sell-out performances, Billy Collins's best sellers were the only contemporaries we could think of with fame due to their poetry, though those of us who read a lot of poetry would have a long list of candidates who've achieved relative fame.

4. We discussed then influence and representativeness. Every lump of generations seem to have there handful of poets that define their times, but what consensus would be reached for the late 20th Century? Collins? Oliver? A strong case was made for Robert Bly but there was a sad recognition that academics have not fully embraced him. A reluctant case was made for Ashbery, but it felt more like saying Kevin Bacon would be remembered as the actor of this age because of his six degrees - we saw Ashbery spreading a similar net. I made a case for Seamus Heaney - throwing open a gate of all English-speaking poetry. We're holding our final ruling until we have a whopping book deal.

5. There are no whopping book deals even remotely connected to poetry.

6. Some great reviews at Small Press Distribution (we'll be ordering from them more frequently if you see anything you like) and Rain Taxi, from the Cities (available in print free by the door).

It was also decided soon after, that Northern Lights will be carrying several poetry/literary review magazines. Starting this summer (times will vary for each) we'll be carrying Poetry (also, don't miss their blog of poets on poetry, Harriet), American Poetry Review, Crazyhorse and the Kenyon Review.