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.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Population 485

As you hopefully are aware, Duluth has chosen Michael Perry's Population 485 as our "One Book, One Community" selection for 2009. When I first heard the selection, I wasn't sure if the book was one I could relate to because if I was to write a book about the "town" I grew up in, it could be titled "Population 3.8 Million." Well, I can say that those 3.8 million people aren't any more interesting than the 485 people that Michael Perry describes.

Michael Perry writes beautifully and one can feel his appreciation for the people and town of his boyhood to which he returns as an adult. He has experienced an interesting combination of occupations and each chapter ties together several story lines. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and think it's an excellent choice for our community to read, share, and discuss.

As part of the "One Book, One Community," we have reading guides for Population 485 at Northern Lights Books and Gifts. In addition, you are invited to attend an evening with Michael Perry and his band "The Longbeds" at Lake Superior College on Friday, May 1st, 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $5 for adults and $2 for students. We hope you will join us for this wonderful event.

Population 485

Monday, April 13, 2009

#Amazonfail - a quick overview

Twitterers and bloggers have been abuzz over #Amazonfail these past few days. So, if you've missed out because you were with friends and family, outside breathing fresh air or otherwise not glued to the twitter updates, here's a quick summary. *edit* And here is another great summary of the situation from a bookselling/public relations perspective.

First Twitter= a network of mini-blogs. Users follow individuals and institutions they're interested in and receive updates - short 140 character postings detailing current status (enjoying a great lunch at Sir Ben's); links to interesting sites or news items (click for more information on #Amazonfail); re-tweets (reposting someone else's posting); and replies @username.

The # is used to precede a topic that is then more readily searchable through Twitter, so you can go to and search for the diverse conversation threads surrounding the topic of #Amazonfail.

Adding FAIL as a suffix (actually attached or just following) is a trendy way of saying that something has significantly fallen short of the perceived objectives. Misspellings in signs, funny mishaps caught on film, etc.

The actual controversy (in an extremely condensed nutshell): Amazon makes books with "adult" content harder to find and sometimes (somehow...) removes them from the sales ranking. If you're looking for something specific, you're still likely to find it, but you're not very likely to come upon it by cyber-browsing or relying on their algorithms to find a book you might like. It sounds like a responsible enough policy. Then people started noticing that LGBTQ content was being "removed/processed" under this "policy" while Playboy and other "adult" content featuring or catering toward a heterosexual (and predominantly male) sexuality was still showing up in the sales rankings and browsing. Thus segregating and de facto censoring LGBTQ content. Some say that feminist theory books were included. Twitter postings and re-tweets abounded. Blogs were both hastily written and thought through and written.

As of my writing right now, I'm unaware of the final say: Amazon claims it's a "glitch" they're fixing. Many in the LGBTQ community see it as discriminatory policy enacted to make non-hetero-conforming sexuality even less visible than it already is. Some accuse tech-savvy(ish) conservatives of recognizing the adult material policy and systematically tagging literature they view as subversive to be "adult."

In any which way, it is a demonstration of why no one entity should be given the control over the distribution of so many diverse voices and viewpoints. So, with no accusation nor malice, I invite you to use this as an opportunity to consider how many algorithms and single-company policies you've allowed to make selections for you rather than speaking to a friend, colleague or someone who dedicates themselves to the sale of a particular media in an independent store that specializes in a media and may be very close to your community (like, say maybe an independent bookseller!)

Search books, bookstores and many many things independent at

Authors, Publishers, Bloggers, Organizations, etc...: you're NOT tied to amazon either. There's no reason for you to be at the mercy of their rankings, policies, algorithms or glitches. Become an Affiliate!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Slow Reading and a Thank You from Lisa Scottoline

We always savor appreciation from customers and authors. Lisa Scottoline shares her experiences growing up as a reader and developing in her love of Independent bookstores. And now I know how to pronounce her last name, so there's all kinds of learning and appreciation here!

Thanks Lisa Scottoline! We couldn't do it without great authors and fantastic books that are worth the time spent engrossed in a story!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Children's Stories

I can't speak for her book myself, but Author and Professor Maria Tatar speaks very well in this short video about how it is that children, and even we as readers who fell in love with reading as children, choose and become immersed in books.

It reminds me of the last post of Lil' Red and many of Neil Gaiman's successes.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Lil' Red Riding Hood: Scientifically Understood

Fairy Tale told through Information Flow complete with graphs, population densities, and nutritional values of Granny, this video re-imagines the story of Little Red Riding Hood to have modern/technological components.

SlagsmÄlsklubben - Sponsored by destiny from Tomas Nilsson on Vimeo.

My favorite retelling of Lil' Red is in Angela Carter's collection of retold fairy tales The Bloody Chamber. The story is "The Company of Wolves." Dark, disturbing, and turns the old notions of innocence and power into a strange pretzel.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Reader Review from Margit!

Helen Boosalis
Helen Boosalis: My Mother's Life in Politics, by Beth Boosalis Davis, University of Nebraska Press, 2008

The biography of Helen Boosalis reads like a lively textbook of responsive and responsible city government and a fascinating account of a Greek-American Minneapolis girl who makes good as the first female mayor of a city over 100,000, Lincoln, Nebraska. The memoir is Beth Davis's perspective on her mother's political career seen through a daughter's eyes.

Boosalis didn't start out as a politico. She and other League of Women Voters members supported revision of Lincoln's City Charter to include a strong mayor form of government. When the men didn't implement the strong mayor system, Boosalis stepped up to the plate after 16 years on the council, won the mayor's seat, and proceeded to practice what she preached: open and transparent government, opportunities for neighborhoods to take action, and a strong comprehensive plan that guided development for years.

There are numerous nuggets of wisdom gleaned from this political pioneer who became the first female president of the US Conference of Mayors and ran as the Democratic-endorsed candidate for governor of Nebraska.

Boosalis cultivated public-private partnerships in the 1981 economic recession that hit cities hard. She "encouraged city departments to use volunteers to help sustain existing programs facing budget cuts," among other innovative strategies.

Davis, herself an Evanston IL city council member, asked her mother "what she thought were the most important attributes for serving in public office." Her mother's list began with "courage, willingness to take risks; knowledge and preparation" and it goes on.

Davis tells her mother's story with "flash forwards" to the 1986 gubernatorial race, creating momentum, interest and insights into the mind and heart of a woman whose political focus throughout several decades of public service was community.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Lion Called Christian

A Lion Called Christian
I like a book that I keep thinking about long after I've shut the back cover. I like a book that makes me question my beliefs and value systems and leaves me pondering ethical tenets. A Lion Called Christian is such a book. The book tells of a pair of young Australian men who purchased a lion cub at Harrod's Department Store in London in the late 1960's. One cannot miss the irony of naming a lion Christian! I also can't help but be horrified that they could buy a lion at Harrod's.

The men kept Christian for about a year in which time he grew to be quite a sizable creature. They realized that they could not keep a full-sized lion and researched places for him to go. They didn't want him to have the fate of finishing his life in a zoo or circus. They were able to connect with George Adamson who worked with Elsa (of Born Free notoriety) and took Christian to Africa to be rehabilitated to live as a lion in the wild.

Footage of Christian seeing these men a year after he was set free in Africa has been circulating on YouTube. There is no question that he recognized his previous housemates when they came to see him. I don't want to spoil the story by telling you more about it but I'd be curious what others think about issues that are raised.

Why, after almost 40 years, is this story reemerging? What is it about it that we find so irresistible? Do animals truly have the ability to feel toward humans the love and affection that we feel toward them? Why do we expect wild animals to live among us for our joy and entertainment? (I often think of the case of a circus elephant who escaped in Honolulu and was killed by authorities because of the danger she posed when she ran through the streets.) I don't like animals being utilized in circuses but can zoos provide them a hospitable habitat? Some endangered species seem to need extra care and protection and might zoos keep them from becoming extinct?

I'm quite impressed with the maturity and selflessness shown by these young men to make the decision to try and have Christian "return" to the wild even though he and his parents were born in captivity. As much as I would want this for all wild animals, I can't imagine the feeling of letting him go knowing that he might not survive. Even though it is obviously the right thing to do, my human emotions keep surfacing when I think about doing this.

I invite you to read this book and see if it raises some questions in your mind as well. By the way, a search at Harrod's website shows that one can no longer purchase a lion there. Now, that's progress!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Modern Life: poems by Matthea Harvey

Modern Life by Matthea Harvey
"Matthea Harvey's vision of America is spooky, apocalyptic, and beautiful: proof that there is wonder in even a dark time like ours." -George Saunders says on the back cover of Modern Life put out by Graywolf Press.

-Spooky & apocalyptic: the chilling indifference and casual reference to the horrible in the sequences "The Future of Terror" and "Terror of the Future":
When we got jaded / about joyrides, we could always play games / in the kitchen garden with the prisoners. / Jump the Gun, Fine Kettle of Fish and Kick / the Kidney were our favorites.
It was time to make a home / in the hedge and try not to hear the gunshots. / So what if the grass was really green glass?

-Beautiful and Defiantly Wondrous: As stilting an image of green glass being confused with grass is, the gesture of the narrator to be aware and still making a home is touching. In another sequence of poems, we follow Robo-Boy and see the difficulty in being human as well as the difficulty of being anything else once that humanness has been imbued. Figureheads of ships without sailors, on their own and finding a truer existence; a room full of moons yearning for planets to orbit as the waiters endlessly circle the tables below.

Modern Life is a mixture of imagination in the face of desolation. The bleak, rather than being ignored or covered up is embraced as being part of the experience. In "Estamos En Vivo, No Hay Alternativo" this impulse of making the best of what we have because there is no other choice is illustrated with the request to
Dip that tiny brush into / your paintbox and mix up something nice / and muddy for me.
That is then tempered by the violent commodification of sex. Tenderness, innocence, playfulness all exist with brutality and detachment.

Harvey's writing stays aware of the lush possibilities in language as well as seeking ways to demonstrate nuanced gestures and surprising turns in the flow of an idea. In some of her prose poems, she creates new worlds, not unlike Russell Edson but not as jarring. Modern Life succeeds at making a complex statement on where we are going through the use of various voices and techniques - a very engaging read.

I first came across Matthea Harvey's poetry several years ago when I became very much engrossed in the anthology Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century eds. Michael Dumanis & Cate Marvin. Her images, gestures and attention to language has always caught my attention. In addition to Modern Life, she has also written Sad Little Breathing Machine (also by Graywolf) and Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form (Alice James Books) (two of the finest titles I've come across!).Legitimate Dangers

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Readers' Reviews Club - earn up to 15% off!

As a way to further our efforts to expand our online community to reflect some of the advantages we have in the store, we're starting a Readers' Reviews Club and offering an incentive to start sharing your thoughts and opinions on the books you love!
Now, in the store, these conversations come naturally, because we all love to talk about great books so that others can share in the great reading experiences we've encountered. That interaction is a little more difficult online, but, we hope, still very possible. So here is the announcement to prompt us all into action!

Hello fans of Northern Lights Books & Gifts!
The great thing about this page is knowing that we all love books, love community, and love independent voices. So, now we'd like to share that love a little more by offering a discount when you share your love of a book!
We're initiating a Readers' Reviews Club - to start it off, members will receive 15% off a full price in-store item OR free shipping on an online/phone purchase! -see "fine print"
How do you join?
Send us a review of a book that you've really loved! It can be anywhere from 30-300 words giving us a sense of what the book is about and why you enjoyed it! (negative/critical reviews have their place, but we really want to share books that really made a difference for us rather than steer folks away from books we didn't enjoy)

Where to send your reviews? Well there are spaces set up on the fan page on facebook where you can add your two cents for 15%! Otherwise, feel free to email us at the store: norlight at norlights dot com and we can cross post it here and on our store blog: Norlight Lit Life.

Once we see your review, we'll send you a certificate for either 15% off an in-stock, in-store item OR free shipping on an online or phone order. Then you can come into the store (or online or phone!) and find another book to love and to share!

We're really looking forward to the great reviews and books to come!

"fine print"
-This discount is available for an initial period as we really seek to get these conversations moving.
-Although we won't limit how many reviews you can post, we do have to limit how many discounts/free shipping we can offer: two per customer, per month.
-All reviews are welcome, but we'd like to focus on books that are still in print that we can offer to other customers through our store.
-We reserve the right to edit anything that we cross-post. If you would like to approve of our edits, let us know. Anything that we post will be credited to you by first name - this will be to protect your privacy. If you'd like to be credited by your full name, let us know!
-Discounts will be awarded to reviews that tell about the book and tell about why you enjoyed it and would recommend it to someone else. If it does not talk about the book, or if it seems to be lifted off the back cover (and we KNOW that none of you would ever do that - we just have to say...) we will reserve the right to withhold the discount incentive.

We look forward to hearing about, and sharing, all the books that you love! Contact us if you have any questions!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

RIP Bill Holm

Bill Holm in center after Shelter Half reading
A tremendous author who represented some of the best writing and insight of both the Minnesotan and Scandanavian experience. He will be missed.
Minnesota Author Bill Holm dies

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Sip of The Teapot Dome Scandal

Teapot Dome Scandal

I highly recommend you check out Laton McCartney's book The Teapot Dome Scandal: How Big Oil Brought the Harding White House and Tried to Steal the Country. Now as one who loves non-fiction, I can say that this book is written like a novel and would be interesting to those who feel that history is just not the genre for them. I was constantly struck by how truth can really be stranger than fiction. Some of the incidents that happened with this scandal seem straight out of Hollywood. The book starts out with Jake Hamon, "The Oil King of Oklahoma" telling his mistress that she cannot come with him to Washington, DC as he starts his work with the Harding administration because of Mrs. Harding's insistence that he be reunited with his wife. Next thing you know, the mistress shoots Hamon. The way this sequence of events is revealed in Chapter 1 is quite intriguing and makes the reader hungry to see what's coming in the rest of the book.

I remember learning the term "Teapot Dome Scandal" in high school but I really didn't have an understanding what it was about. Given our concerns now about how much our country is dependent on petroleum products and the effects they have on our environment, I think it's worth a visit to events of the 1920's and the leasing of government land to benefit, you guessed it, oil companies.

Teapot Dome was land in Wyoming that contained oil that the Navy had for a reserve. President Harding's Secretary of the Interior, Albert Fall, leased the land to Harry Sinclair (think Sinclair Oil). As in every good scandal involving a presidential administration, there was a fall guy. In this case, his name Albert Fall and he became the first cabinet member to go to prison for his deeds while a cabinet member. Thus the term "Fall guy." He may have been comforted to know that his name would live on to this day as a term for someone who takes one for the team!

The Teapot Dome Scandal is now available in paperback. If you want, we're happy to order you a copy in Hardcover. You'll want to hang on to this one!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

More Information Than You Require

There are too many great authors out there about whom it seems impossible to say enough. So we try to say as much as we can when we can. For me, John Hodgman is one of those authors. One of my very talented friends from grad school, Chris Michel introduced me to Hodgman's first book, The Areas of My Expertise. Now Mr. Michel has written an excellent and insightful review over at The Brooklyn Rail of Hodgman's latest, More Information Than You Require.
It is not merely a gag book—a flip-through bathroom reader akin to The Onion’s Our Dumb World or The Daily Show’s America: A Citizen's Guide To Democracy Inaction. It turns out that Hodgman’s book is substantial, and a piecemeal reader might not pick up on the underlying narratives that suffuse Hodgman’s work. The fake histories of mole-men, hobos, and Presidents interweave, referencing and influencing each other. There are stories enough in the book for three or four different novels, and the careful reader will discover narrative arcs as detailed as in any decent piece of fiction, with characters emerging and interacting with the vast, odd world Hodgman has created.

I can also attest that it's a wonderful book to read in the company of good friends - there will be several passages that you'll want to read aloud and many pictures and diagrams you'll want to pass around.
Click to see Hodgman expound on lost time, physics, aliens and love.
Follow Hodgman on Twitter

Friday, February 20, 2009

Buying Local

Supporting community, encouraging independence, sharing passion - these are all things we think of when we think of shopping locally. It's hard to over-emphasize how important it is to a community to have and maintain that ability. Just browsing through other blogs of other great independent bookstores and came across a posting from the owner of The Regulator Bookshop in Durham, North Carolina, who describes the issue very nicely, finishing:
There's no escaping the fact that we live in a global economy. And for a lot of reasons the global end of things has been running rampant lately, driving local business to the brink. Some of this has to do with efficiencies, but a lot of it also has to do with access to capital, exchange rates, and things like the financial backing needed to sign a lease at most shopping malls.

But we also live in a very specific (and I think very remarkable) place. And supporting a little local balance to the global giants can only be a good thing for this place we call home -- and, really, for the global economy as well.
Buying Local Has a Big Impact

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Quick note on Graphic Detail

A link via FSG books: The Cleveland Free Times posts a nice review of non-fiction books using extended illustration, a la graphic novels, to better explain their concepts at hand. Shows that with innovation, there are always new ways of telling stories and sharing information.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

New Technology and Books - from Anita

Do you Twitter? Blog? Facebook? Download Books? Listen to Audio Books? Download Music? I really want to know as a bookseller what my customers are thinking about technology, buying books and how they get their information about what to read. I would really like to hear back from you about these topics.

We are having an ongoing discussion at our store among our staff and I am wondering if it is an age thing. Twenty somethings versus fifty somethings. This discussion is very hot among professionals in the industry beginning with the authors, readers, booksellers and publishers on many different levels.

I do email, use a cell phone, leave voice messages and retrieve voice messages, occasionally but rarely shop online. I don’t download books or audio. While the store has a Facebook page I do not. I do read books, magazines, newspapers and listen to audio books that I buy or check out from the library. I love holding the book, turning the pages, collecting my favorites on a bookshelf. When friends come over and see my shelves we have a nice chat about our favorites reads. The rest of my favorites are at the bookstore where I get to talk with customers about favorite books we’ve been reading. Over many years of leading the store bookgroup one of our favorite rituals is going around the circle to share what we’ve been reading lately. We hear about new authors and titles that we’ll check out as soon as possible.

I guess I am in the right profession because I like to “talk” about books with people. I am less than excited to “write” about them. But after selling books for over 18 years one thing is certain I am always learning something new and Blogging is something new for me. Will I keep blogging? We’ll see….

Here’s what I am excited about from the past few months.Image borrowed from Skokie Library Flikr Page
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, One of Obama’s recommendations it is a fascinating “fly on the wall” point of view by the skillful use of letters and research to show the dynamics of Lincoln’s cabinet.
So Brave Young and Handsome by Leif Enger, The long awaited second book by the award winning author of Peace Like a River. The main character is a turn of the century (early 1900’s) author fighting writer’s block after a “one hit wonder”. Enger captures the setting of the time period, colorful characters and tells a charming thoughtful story about adults remaining open to the adventures of life.
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson is a great addition to the Scandinavian Noir Genre. Very satisfying suspenseful mystery with a classic investigative reporter type and a young edgy/punky misunderstood highly intelligent teenage woman who is a computer hacker that ends up collaborating with the reporter with his investigation. This is the first of three novels that have been bestsllers in Europe and are now being release in the US by Random House. Unfortunately very slowly! The second book The Girl Who Played with Fire will not be out until the end of July.

Tell us what you’ve read recently that you’ve liked.---Anita Zager

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

One Book, One Community: Population 485 by Michael Perry

Population 485 We're very proud to announce that the One Book, One Community selection for this spring is Population 485 by Michael Perry. Small town life viewed through the lens of an EMT re-entering his community after being gone for 12 years. Raucous, tragic, humorous, touching and insightful - these accounts are written with a careful ear for language and a finger on the pulse of the relationships that make and sustain communities.

There will be discussions across the city in the months ahead and a discussion guide available in March. On May 1st, Michael Perry is scheduled to be in town giving talks, and culminating in a reading at Lake Superior College. We'll be looking forward to his newest book, Coop at the same time. See the Duluth Public Library, Northern Lights Books and this blog for updates.

Twitter News: QQQ?

Kim came up with a great idea: to share Quips Quotes and Queries on some of our favorite books and authors. We'll be trying to share these through twitter, prefixed with the somewhat cryptic QQQ. We're not branding it- just indicating that what is to follow is a Quip/Quote/Query. We'll try to link to the book/author as well.

Twit back at us with your own QQQs!

Quips Quotes & Queries

Friday, February 6, 2009

John Beargrease: Legend of Minnesota's North Shore

John Beargrease by Daniel Lancaster
With the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon (much longer than a marathon, discuss) held nearly every year just beyond our backyards, many of us have become quasi-experts of the sport of sled dog racing - at least to the degree of eyeing up all of our pets for a good lead dog/cat/parakeet.
But that sense of expertise seems to level off when we think of the man after whom the race was named. I felt rather proud for many years to tell people "he was a mailman, of some sort, who delivered mail by sled dog, at least during the winter. He should have had my sheltie at the lead, and then he'd really have been a legend." My lack of knowledge deflected by keen sled dog strategizing.
Those days of deflection are at an end! No longer will we live in ignorance of one of the great icons of the North Shore. Daniel Lancaster has gathered and compiled an insightful, engaging and very readible biography of the man who traversed the North Shore. Published by Holy Cow! Press, heritage comes to life through the story of John Beargrease who, through his determination, connected small communities, traditional Anishinabe life and the burgeoning modernity of Duluth.
Read the reviews from Lake Superior Magazine and The Star Tribune and listen to his interview with Cathy Wurzer on MPR.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

From the page to the screen

Ok, I'm not very good at keeping up with movies and movie adaptations of books. Just recently I've missed announcing and reviewing:The Spirit, The Secret Life of Bees, Revolutionary Road, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and probably a dozen others.

Largely this is because I'm not a huge movie-goer. (For just a few dollars more, I can own the book and be the visual director.) I'm also wary of adaptations because they are re-tellings of stories; stories that we've come to love because they were originally told so well! But, it can also be very magical to see and hear another person's vision of what you've loved.

I have a feeling that this movie will be one of those magical, visual experiences. Coraline by Neil Gaiman looks to be quite tremendous. For those of you who are not familiar with Neil Gaiman, here's my reductive impression of his works: he understand Story(yes, with a capital S) to an extraordinary level; he is not afraid of the dark; because he truly embraces Story, his works span age levels very easily; he has a great wit; and he has a true knack for teaming up with brilliant visual artists. Take that writing force, apply it to a story of a little girl who is fleeing the ordinary and then trapped by the wondrous, compose it with an innovative/creative production company and you have a potential classic on your hands.
Opens February 6th. I'll have to watch it February 7th, since I'll be listening to Michael Ryan read at CSS. So, if you can't make it to listen to Michael Ryan, I highly suggest you see Coraline.
Here's the Gaiman approved trailer:

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Now here's an exciting challenge

In a time of year dominated by weight-loss challenges, The Bookstore People announce a challenge that will result in Brain-Gain!

The Independent Bookstore Readers Challenge is a challenge to explore the world of indie booksellers. They have different levels of commitment - check out two new(to you) stores to be a scout - visit Indies in Europe and become a Globe trotter! Sign Up Here!

They are also planning to help cross-post reviews and experiences, so make sure to share your discoveries and help your fellow scouts, specialists, nationalists, continentals, globetrotters and type A personalities (see their page for descriptions!).

So, next time you're about to head out on a trip, check IndieBound to find stores along the way!

The bags are pretty handy for travelers...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The More You Know...

another definition of songstress
We're big believers in attending class daily through the University of Life Campus at Northern Lights Books.
Today, Melanie and I heard a singer/songwriter referred to as a "songstress" on the radio. I doubted it was an actual word. It sounds like someone slapping a suffix on a noun and calling it a day - I have no real objection to that practice, I'm a suffixer on occasion myself, but this caught me off guard.

So, asking Melanie how sure she was it was a word (She was $1 sure; in these rough economic times, I wasn't that sure, so her wager went unmatched), I googled it. Sure enough, songstress is a word. Melanie would have won a dollar in a non-recession year.

But! The definition includes the root word, song: "a female singer, esp. one who specializes in popular songs." Not esp. helpful in a definition. So- do they mean hits, top 40 songs? Or do they mean popular, "pop," music as a genre? It seems absurd to specialize in writing hit songs (it wasn't mentioned as a career path at my job fair in elementary school), but it's also awkward to refer to a musical genre by "songs."

Is it one of those awkward moments that's actually more correct? Is the dictionary ambiguous because they felt resentful including the word to begin with? What words do you like to suffix into creation? Prefixers out there?

Keep questioning.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration poem.

Twin Cities Poets weigh in on Inauguration Poem

As I'm writing right now, Obama is motorcading on his way to the Inauguration. It seems redundant to express my excitement on that fact, so, let me shift attention to the fact that poetry is being featured again today!

Elizabeth Alexander will soon be reading her poem to commemorate the occasion. She will be only the fourth poet to read at an inauguration.

The role of the poet and of poetry is... influx; precarious; languishing; misunderstood; vital; all of the above? Whatever your personal stance, there is something truly remarkable, and not just because it is somewhat of a rarity, when a poet gives voice to ideas/emotions/images/sounds. Art and ideas joined in celebration and reflection of an event: they can be very powerful. So, as a lover of words, this is truly a moment of hope and change!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Reading for Comfort

After some discussion about how and what we read, there's a nice new blog out there (in the interwebs) focusing on specific titles and explaining more of the emotional effect the books had for the readers.
Via The Olive Reader (another nice site for book news), Good Books in Bad Times is also backed by HarperCollins but features a range of books and titles, new and old from multiple genres and discussed by different authors. Good to peruse at any time, but I especially recommend it for anyone in search of a good cathartic book. Tearful can be uplifting!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Have you been reading?

2008 One Book, One Community Read
Although it's been hard to say how accurate the findings really are, there's a new study by the National Endowment for the Arts released that shows that people, especially younger people, are reading a bit more than in the last few years.

Among the credits: popular book groups (a la Oprah), online resources (both for the writing itself as well as more communcation and awareness of books), and community reads.

Our last One Book, One Community read, Three Cups of Tea was a great success - we're eagerly looking forward to this season and will announce the new title as soon as it's finalized!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

But baby, it's cold outside

Twelve Below Zero
So what books are you reading to keep yourself warm?
For some reason I've just picked up a handful of books by Scandanavian authors (The Howling Miller & Silence of the Grave), a cool new collection of Minnesota authors,Fiction on a Stick and local short story craftsman, Anthony Bukoski's Twelve Below Zero.

I seem to be taking the aclimation approach to taking on the cold.

How about you? Cold days - do you dive into Pamuk's Snow or are you off to the tropics and mystery Coroner's Lunch? Do you block out the cold by focusing on politics and the world around us?