Sunday, August 31, 2008

Human Dark with Sugar

I'm glad no one was in the store when I found out that Brenda Shaughnessy has a new collection out. I did a little dance (pinioned my arms like a 4 yr old and hopped around a bit... it probably looked like I was in the early stages of passing a kidney stone) and may have squealed a little bit. Shaughnessy was one of my first poetry loves after I entered grad school. We read Interior with Sudden Joy, and I wanted to read everything she'd ever written, which, at the time, was mainly found in the book we'd just read.

Now she has a second collection,Human Dark with Sugar and I'm still very much infatuated. As were the judges of the James Laughlin Award of the Academy of American Poets. Her poems are smart, lively, sexy, funny and surreal. Exquisite Corpse said of her first collection, "Brenda Shaughnessy... writes like the love-child of Mina Loy and Frank O'Hara." Her word play, confessionalism, sensuality, boldness, theory and sureality stand at the forefront of this comparrison.

In the new collection, seeking/missing/finding/losing/forcing love compells the quick wit and awareness. I leave you with a section from a poem titled, "One Love Story, Eight Takes."
It's only fair that I present yet another side
as insidious as it is,

because two sides hold up nothing but each other.

A tentacled skepticism,
a suspended contempt,
such fancies and toxins form a third wall.

A mean way to end
and I never dreamed we meant it.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Books to Prisoners Challenge

As booksellers, we are acutely aware of the negative effects of censorship on society. An effective democracy requires the open exchange of ideas, and many important ideas are contained in book form. Books and reading can have an especially profound positive impact on prison inmates, giving them tools for learning and personal growth during their time of incarceration. The education of prisoners reduces their burden on society in many ways once they are reintegrated.

In Wisconsin, the staff of Rainbow Bookstore in Madison has run a statewide Books to Prisoners Project since 2006, and has sent over 4,000 packages of books to prisoners since then. (They welcome donations - see their website for information on donating). But in early August, I received a press release from the organization with the news that the state's Department of Corrections was barring Rainbow from delivering books to adult prisoners. A letter sent to the bookstore on May 13 by Department Administrator John Bett stated that, "effective immediately, the WI-DOC Division of Adult Institutions will no longer allow books or publications from Rainbow Bookstores in any DOC facility." As of the time of the press release, the two sides were communicating to try and work out the problem (though perhaps slowly on the DOC's part).

Wanting to help spread the word, I e-mailed the press release around to some friends and allies. It was picked up by our friend and fellow traveler in the book business, Claire Kirch, who writes for Publisher's Weekly. She delved into the story, and the resulting article will run nationwide in the magazine's next issue. Says Claire:

I just filed a report that'll run in Publishers Weekly's magazine Monday on booksellers sending books to prisons, and all the red tape and ridiculous hoops they have to jump through. Thanks, Carl, for the story idea that blossomed out of your tip! Re Wisconsin's DOC and Rainbow Books, the update is that Wisc's DOC was concerned that the Books to Prisoners book donation program was collecting used books offsite and mixing them with new books from the bookstore. They told me there's an incredible volume of books coming in; they are concerned about safety and security with so many used books going through their system. But, they sent a letter to the Books for Prisoners program and the bookstore, dated Aug. 22, asking to meet with them to find a solution to the problem. Of all the DOCs I spoke to for my report, I found the Wisc. DOC to be the most sincere and most receptive to making sure that books get into the hands of prisoners who wish to possess their own books. If anyone is interested, I can post a link to my entire report Monday. Utah is particularly restrictive when it comes to providing prisoners access to their own books. It's unbelievable.
Thanks Claire! A little citizen action and a media spotlight can do wonders for keeping our rights intact. Here's the article.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Obama Book Mishaps Prove to Be Non-partisan

We posted recently about why we do not stock Obama Nation (for very similar reasons as when we declined to keep If I Did It on the shelf). Politics really have little to nothing to do with the decision: it's a matter of integrity and choosing not to participate in sensationalistic mudslinging and slander.

Now a book from the Democratic side of the political aisle is forcing the hand of independent booksellers across the nation. Obama's Challenge written by Robert Kuttner and put out by Chelsea Green will be available exclusively through the large river website for it's first few weeks. Chelsea Green is very proud of the book and hopeful for the conversations that it should inspire. Chelsea Green then goes on to tout its success in books in politics and sustainability. They apparently are very excited about the speed the mythic women warriors site can offer, but are ignoring the other questions of open market and supporting local businesses: both of which are integral to discussions on politics and sustainability. Giving exclusive rights to one vendor during the prime time for the conversations they hope to engender serves only to limit those conversations and alter people's impressions for reasons not related to the content.

Much thanks to Gayle Shanks, ABA President, who wrote on this subject at Bookselling this Week and goes into more details there.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Why we haven't stocked "Obamanation"

This is a helpful explanation of the "Obamanation" issue. Article from Media Matters

How to Build Your Own Fortress (of Knowledge!)

Image taken from a bookcase bedroom plan; a plan I want so badly to use in my room!

Step One Commit yourself to the process of building a Fortress of Knowledge. While a typical Fortress of Knowledge (FoK) is just as much fun as a typical Pillow-Blanket-Cushion Fort (PBC Fort), the FoK takes a bit more diligence.

Step Two Embrace the unique spirit of the FoK: sharing. PBC Forts are all about keeping things out- light, dogs, roommates and members of the opposite sex. But the FoK is built, not only with books, but also the intention to talk about books. To lend a book (with stringent warnings pertaining to any possible failure on the other party's part to return the book), make a recommendation, share an anecdote, win a team trivia tournament... these are the aims of the FoK!

Step Three Come to Northern Lights Books and Gifts and examine our quarry of books that we've just put on clearance! You'll have to do this in person rather than using our search feature, because choosing materials for an FoK is a tactile exprience.

Step Four Vary the composition of your FoK. It's easy to think that you'll be set for life with all political non-fiction and one cookbook, but think on a larger scale: throw in history, memoir, environment, novels, mysteries and poetry (especially grand for filling in any gaps). Also remember that bigger books are often better on the bottom and at corners.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Youth Obsessed Culture?

There is certainly a lot to be alarmed about in a culture obsessed with youth and beauty (such as spawning delusions of immortality), but a hotel here in Duluth, MN seems to be accepting our human condition very well!

I guess they may pass on the Twilight Series that splits its time between teenage love and immortal vampires. Then again, they might really like vampires and adolescent romance so much that they're reading the entire series before the movie comes out this fall! I'm not going to be one to speculate too broadly.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Junot Diaz geeks out

Many authors attempt what Diaz does so well- the intelligent portrayal of both brutality and tenderness. I became a big Diaz fan when I read his collection of connected short stories, Drown in a Latino Literature class. I was captivated by the grit and wit combinations in his stories. I wanted more.

So, I was excited when The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao came out and even more excited when I heard that it won the pulitzer this spring. The novel is impressive with its flawed narrator, casual code-switching to Spanish, and blending of story, history, fantasy, family, love, pity, lust and finding one's spot in the world. Diaz does not deny hope nor offer any clear redemption. He creates a narrative that invites us to examine our own lives, and lives around us, to see the forces that sweep through our lives and how we react to them.

Out in paperback this fall.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Not New News, but certainly still news worthy

We're still new in this blogging endeavor and we couldn't let this news item slip!

Shakespearean actor Mark Rylance, in his acceptance speech (for Best Actor) at the Tony Awards this past June, recited a poem written by Duluth's own Louis Jenkins. He did a fine reading - worthy of Jenkins's own delivery - and left the audience more than a little perplexed and a lot more than a little amused.

The attention garnered by the unique approach to an acceptance speech has given rise to talk about a possible production to be made of a series of Jenkins's poems. More of the story here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Wet Collection by Joni Tevis

It's hard to review a book that's already made it to the level of being a Minnesota Book Awards Finalist, but after finishing it, I felt compelled to tell more people about it.

Written throughout with vivid and poetic prose, Tevis connects short essays that, in addition to careful examination of their subject(s), often center on questions of reclamation and preservation. The title itself comes from a collection of animals and animal pieces preserved in the basement of a natural history museum and the interactions she had with the curator while looking through the various specimens.

So, what's reclaimed and what's preserved? What then is left behind and abandoned in those processes? Who has the ability and desire to sift through what's been forgotten and restore it? Tevis gives us histories, family legends, scenic vistas, and minute artifacts that swirl and blend time, emotion, religion, distance, attention and affection.

There are paragraphs that shine on nearly every page, like the specimens in jars that entrap a visitor's gaze/attention/imagination. Here's a quick taste from an essay focusing on the life of a single pioneer woman who lived very near where Joni spent the summer working as a guide for the Forest Sevice in Oregon. She's writing at the start of a burgeoning relationship:
Today we watched doves drop like rain from a black maple; yesterday I felt his throated speech thrum beneath my fingertips' this morning I woke with him, convinced we had just dreamed the same dream. All these things are mine, but I've given something up, too: late at night, by the lake, meteors pitch toward earth, and I'm not there to see it. A solitary life I turned away from. A life another woman lived ("The Rain Follows the Plow" p.76).

If you enjoy rich prose, careful reflection and writing that seems to defy genre, I strongly suggest this book.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Compare and Contrast and Review

I just finished reading City of Thieves by David Benioff and I really enjoyed it. I found that I enjoyed it on many of the levels that I enjoyed The Road last year. I thought a quick compare/contrast might help bring it all into focus.

Both are similar in their settings: famished and bare, populated by the desperate. That City of Thieves is Stalingrad under siege and The Road is an apocalyptic future landscape seems to make little difference when characters are looting, hoarding, sharing what little they can and fleeing cannibals.

But, in City of Thieves the narrator is the younger of the pair. Rather than the sparse, bleak and haunting prose of McCarthy, Benioff has a character who quotes from literature, some delightful dialogue and, while not verbose in description, he is allows pieces of the landscapes to really come alive. This difference is continued in the names- a man and his boy : rich Russian names with splashes of German. While City of Thieves is, ultimately, a coming of age novel, The Road is a man looking back on all he's lost- wondering at the futility of continuing forward.

So: what's left to compare? That against the backdrop of what's worst about mankind, there are still relationships that endure and even flourish because of their strange circumstances. One needs to be somewhat optimistic to read that into McCarthy, but Benioff nurtures that impulse as much as he exposes us to the murder, malice and desperation.

OK, my notions of some deep connection between the titles may be a little more fleeting than they originally seemed. Here's what to love in City of Thieves: Benioff captures a lot of the experience - the good, the bad, ugly and unexpected. Some stellar dialogue. An interest in incorporating other literature (a device that can be tedious in other works, but Benioff makes integral). Engaging characters that keep the reader intent on what will happen next. I really recommend it to anyone who read The Road and anyone else who's looking for a very solid read this summer.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Carol Bly video

Carol Bly was a tremendous literary force. She worked tirelessly with writers seeking to hone their craft. Insightful, sharp, stern and caring: she made a mark with many authors. Her only novel, Shelter Half, was published by Holy Cow! Press after her recent death.

We will be hosting an event to honor Carol Bly's life and celebrate her novel with a reading by friends and family at the Duluth Women's Club on Thursday, September 18th, at 7:00 pm.

Thanks to Jim Perlman of Holy Cow! Press for letting us know about this video. Entitled "The Lucky Predators," it features Carol Bly on the psychology of violence. It was recorded in 1991 during the first Gulf War.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Used up all those summer recipes?

Then come on down to the store!  We have a veritable smörgåsbord of cookbooks that are marked down 40% in our discounted books section. A real feast for the eyes... and then a feast for you and your family and friends after you put the book to use!

While you're down, check out the delectable best-sellers, regional tastes, and many other flavors of fine literary merit. If we don't have it out on the table, we can always order-in!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Caught Off-Guard

I was called out and lost some book-selling cred this afternoon. Asked if we were having a party for the new book in the Inheritance Cycle, rather than admit that I didn't know the Inheritance Cycle by that name, I stabbed in the dark to see if he meant to ask if we were having a Breaking Dawn Party. Swing and a miss. Ignorance displayed on two best-selling YA series.

In my defence, it was kind of noisy in the store, I've been thinking more in the realm of maritime titles than YA Blockbusters, and I had just sold 5 copies of Breaking Dawn in the previous 10mins. But, ultimately, I failed this caller.

So, caller from this afternoon, I can say that I've learned from my faux pas. From this moment on, I will no longer irreverently refer to the Inheritance Cycle as "the Eragon books." I will be able to say that we are taking pre-orders for Brisingr, but, at this time, we have no special party in the works. Please keep reading and please continue to support local booksellers, even if we may be caught off-guard (say in a noisy store) from time to time.