Now What?

So it's Dec 31st (Happy New Year's Eve, by the way!) and you got a big honkin' stack of books for the holidays. Or maybe some of you were lucky enough to receive the "Just the Right Book" gift package (see Dec 5th's post). Whatever the case may be, you're facing a huge stack of books, added to the pre-existing collection of tomes on your shelf.

What to do? What to do? How about try a blogger's challenge? Here are some I thought worth checking out:

The Read Your Own Books Challenge - this one is really simple. Pick a number of books you want to read in a year. Pick said number of books off your shelf. Go. Really! The only rule is that you have to read books you already own.

The TwentyTen Challange - Requires one to read twenty books, two in each of ten categories. Only one of these categories is the "new" book category, meaning it has to be acquired in 2010 (but you can count gifts or giveaways). The rest can be found on your shelf, which I think could also prove an interesting way to explore what you have on your shelf that you may have forgotten about.

The New Authors' Challenge - Read books by new authors - that is, authors that are new to you. Therein lies the charm in this one: I guarantee there are authors on your shelf that you've never read before. Maybe it was a gift, maybe you always wanted to read something by Graham Greene, or Edgar Allen Poe, or Nora Roberts... now's the time. The only added challenge to this is seeing if you have 15-50 (those are the margins) books by new-to-you authors on your shelf. If not, it might be time to expand your reading horizons (hint, hint) and this could be a good challenge for you anyway.

Library Challenge - If you're looking to participate in any of the above challenges, or just have a laundry-list of titles to read (like me) and are trying to limit the number of books you're adding to your collection (also like me) this one might be for you. It won't help you explore the books you already own, but it will hopefully limit the number coming in. Simply read a set number of books from your local library. You never know what you might find in there - try asking a librarian for recommendations (a dangerous suggestion, I know).

Ok, that's all for now. If I see any more, I'll keep you posted. In the meantime, I'm off to dig through my own stack of books...

Christmas Trees of Books!

When I grow up (which will never happen) and have my own house that is big enough to have a real Christmas tree (which hopefully will happen), I am totally stealing this idea.

From yesterday's Shelf Awareness: Christmas Trees made of books at Chicklet Books' store window in Princeton, NJ. The store owner says, "Books are made from trees... and now trees are made from books!"


Last-ditch Holiday Shopping Efforts

Still struggling for gift ideas for the bookworm on your list? Never fear, Books On the Nightstand, a weekly podcast and blog, has compiled a list of book suggestions for everyone on your list. Much less intimidating than the 4,000 "Best Books of 2009" lists that are floating around out there...

See the full holiday book-buying guide here, and look for an independent bookseller near you at IndieBound.

The Power of Books

I give you fair warning, this is not such a happy story. But it is a bit of a hopeful story, and it convey the power of books to make us enjoy ourselves, our time, and our company, something I think it is important to remember in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.

Regina Holliday's story of her husband's love for Stephen King and the connection they formed over his writing, through sickness and in health, can be found on Regina's blog. Read this first, then continue...

Where would be without literature, without books? What would we be without the ever-reliable escape of a fantastic tale, the thought-provoking words of our top thinkers, the historical value of the writings of our predecessors? Is there any more powerful form of entertainment than the written word read on the page or aloud, whether it be to yourself, an audience of one, or in front of the masses?

Movies and plays and television and radio are not to be dismissed, but I cannot believe that bonding over a television show would have had the same outcome for Regina and her would-be-husband, and I cannot believe that a movie would have had the same influence on Fred through his illness. And therein lies the lasting power of books.

Not Your Average Books for the Booklover

More holiday gift ideas, but this one a bit more traditional. Books for booklovers -- but not just any books. Books about books and book culture:

The Art of the Bookstore: The Bookstore Paintings of Gibbs M. Smith ($30, Hardcover, 9781423606437)

From yesterday's Shelf Awareness:
This lavish, slip-cased book commemorates the 40th anniversary of Gibbs Smith's publishing house and celebrates 58 bookstores and booksellers around the country, plus Paris's Shakespeare & Co. and Buenos Aires's El Ateneo Grand Splendid. The paintings are bright and joyous, accompanied by each bookstore's story. Dennis Wills, owner of D.G. Wills Books in La Jolla, Calif., was asked by Smith to characterize the feeling of his store: a "sort of nineteenth-century cracker barrel hardware store from a John Ford film, with Pabst Blue Ribbon in the refrigerator." Looking at these paintings, reading the text, one has to agree with Lewis Buzbee, who wrote in The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, "When I walk into a bookstore, any bookstore, first thing in the morning, I'm flooded with a sense of hushed excitement."

At Home With Books: How Booklovers Live with and Care for Their Libraries ($60, Hardcover, 9780517595008)

From the publisher:

At Home with Books is a visual delight, a helpful resource, and an inspiration for every bibliophile with a growing home library. Includes professional advice on editing and categorizing your library; caring for your books; preserving, restoring, and storing rare books; finding out-of-print books; and choosing furniture, lighting, and shelving. Full-color photographs.

A Book of Books ($29.99, Hardcover, 9780821258149)

From the publisher:
A visual tribute to the printed word, this delicious ode to the book will be irresistible to anyone who treasures the feel of fine paper and the special allure of a clothbound volume.Abelardo Morell's elegant photographs of books are presented induotone reproductions, highlighting the grace and sensuality of theprinted page. Morell has selected unusual books, like a leather-bound volume that is smaller than a paper clip, an impossibly large dictionary and illustrated books whose characters appear to leap off the page.He has photographed the endless ocean of books in a library and thestrikingly beautiful way in which weathered and water-damaged bookstake on sculptural form.

A Book Addict's Treasury ($16.95, Hardcover, 9780711226852)

From the publisher:
"If you wish to keep books, you must guard them against young dogs as well as against borrowers and furniture removers. It was a collie six months old that ate my first copy of Pride and Prejudice." -Robert Lynd

"The top of a book is the place where every bluebottle prefers to die." -George Orwell

"Those things that look like blocks but come apart on one side." -F. Scott Fitzgerald'"

The ideal gift for any book obsessive, A Book Addict's Treasury is an extensively researched anthology of more than 350 quotations and excerpts from a wide selection of writers and thinkers--all on the subject of books.

On Reading ($29.95, Hardcover, 9780393066562)

Andre Kertesz (1894-1985) was one of the most inventive, influential, and prolific photographers in the medium's history. This small volume, first published in 1971, became one of his signature works. Taken between 1920 and 1970, these photographs capture people reading in many parts of the world. Readers in every conceivable place-on rooftops, in public parks, on crowded streets, waiting in the wings of the school play-are caught in a deeply personal, yet universal, moment. Kertesz's images celebrate the absorptive power and pleasure of this solitary activity and speak to readers everywhere. Fans of photography and literature alike will welcome this reissue of this classic work that has long been out of print.


And two titles that have received a lot of press in 2009...

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective and a World of Literary Obsession ($24.95, Hardcover, 9781594488917)

From Publisher's Weekly (September 17th):
Bartlett delves into the world of rare books and those who collect—and steal—them with mixed results. On one end of the spectrum is Salt Lake City book dealer Ken Sanders, whose friends refer to him as a book detective, or Bibliodick. On the other end is John Gilkey, who has stolen over $100,000 worth of rare volumes, mostly in California. A lifelong book lover, Gilkey's passion for rare texts always exceeded his income, and he began using stolen credit card numbers to purchase, among others, first editions of Beatrix Potter and Mark Twain from reputable dealers. Sanders, the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association's security chair, began compiling complaints from ripped-off dealers and became obsessed with bringing Gilkey to justice. Bartlett's journalistic position is enviable: both men provided her almost unfettered access to their respective worlds. Gilkey recounted his past triumphs in great detail, while Bartlett's interactions with the unrepentant, selfish but oddly charming Gilkey are revealing (her original article about himself appeared in The Best Crime Reporting 2007). Here, however, she struggles to weave it all into a cohesive narrative.

Homer and Langley: A Novel (
$26, Hardcover, 9781400064946)

From Publisher's Weekly (September 17th):
Starred Review. Doctorow, whose literary trophy shelf has got to be overflowing by now, delivers a small but sweeping masterpiece about the infamous New York hermits, the Collyer brothers. When WWI hits and the Spanish flu pandemic kills Homer and Langley's parents, Langley, the elder, goes to war, with his Columbia education and his godlike immunity to such an ordinary fate as death in a war. Homer, alone and going blind, faces a world considerably dimmed though more deliciously felt by his other senses. When Langley returns, real darkness descends on the eccentric orphans: inside their shuttered Fifth Avenue mansion, Langley hoards newspaper clippings and starts innumerable science projects, each eventually abandoned, though he continues to imagine them in increasingly bizarre ways, which he then recites to Homer. Occasionally, outsiders wander through the house, exposing it as a living museum of artifacts, Americana, obscurity and simmering madness. Doctorow's achievement is in not undermining the dignity of two brothers who share a lush landscape built on imagination and incapacities. It's a feat of distillation, vision and sympathy.

Also recommended: Dewey the Library Cat. Read my review.

NOT recommended: Books: A Memoir. Read my review.

T-Shirts for the Book Lover

Still short on Christmas ideas for that hard-to-buy-for-bookworm on your list? No worries -- you still have two weeks, which is plenty of time to order online from Novel Tees. Yep, just what it sound like. Novel t-shirts based on novels make a true novelty gift. (How's that for a clever business name?)

Here are a few of my favorites:


Other options include Hester Prynne, Moby Dick, Bartleby, Walt Whitman, Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and Thoreau. Available in sizes for men and women.

Just the Right Book

It's like wine-of-the-month club, only it's for booklovers. And it's custom-made. And it has no age limit, and no state restrictions on shipping. So... it's better than wine-of-the-month club.

The Just the Right Book program, created by R.J. Julia Booksellers, is pure genius. The gift giver goes online, answers a series of questions (one of which is how many books they want to send in a year), and the booksellers choose a list of books they think will be appropriate for the gift recipient. The gift-ee, as it were, receives the books staggered throughout the year. It's the most no-hassle reading list you've ever been assigned, and it's personally tailored to each recipient! And, what is more (for some folks, anyway), you are supporting a local, independent bookstore in the process - even if it may not be local to you. Oh, the opportunities the internet affords us.

For more information, check out the Shelf Awareness article here. You can also read about the program (or start buying books as gifts) at the Just the Right Book website.

Telephone Boxes

When was the last time you used a pay phone? When was the last time you even needed a pay phone? Cell phones have pretty much completely extinguished any need for this once practical device. Sadly, here in the US we eliminated the "telephone box" decades ago, leaving us with now-defunct little three-sided booths on street corners that make the perfect place to leave an empty Starbucks cup or hang some change to a homeless guy hiding from the wind.

The UK, however, was smart enough to keep their very-retro-looking red telephone boxes (they even call them telephone boxes!), and now have a much more interesting piece of street furniture to find new uses for. My personal favorite? A community library. Apparently those "little" red boxes are big enough to hold a few hundred volumes... check out the full BBC article here.

Personally, if I had a red telephone box, I would make it a little reading nook. One bean bag chair, a few pillows, a little corner shelf for phone (strange that I need a spot for my cell phone in my reading nook within a phone booth?), cuppa tea, etc. Any other ideas for a red telephone box?

Happy December!

Well, it's officially December, which means I am too late to wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving (oops), but I can now officially start pushing books as holiday presents without being too early! It's too late to take advantage of the ten reasons to shop for holiday books early (see previous post), but it's not too late to check out the ingenious "Buy Books for the Holidays" blog. With book recommendations, trends in book buying, spotlights on literacy charities and profiles of independent bookstores across the US, it provides some interesting insight into the world of books-as-gifts.

Stay tuned for more, as well as some book reviews from my Thanksgiving reading...

Early Holiday Shopping?

I promised myself I wouldn't post anything about the holidays until after Thanksgiving, but this one was good enough to sneak through the embargo.

From today's Shelf Awareness, a link to a bookstore's blog on eight good reasons to get your holiday shopping done at their store early this year. Most apply to bookstores across the board - enjoy!

1. We have not yet started playing Christmas music.

2. That feeling of self-righteousness over starting so early translates into treating yourself to something as well.

3. You can make a list of all the things you want, so that you can hint liberally at Thanksgiving.

4. If there’s a hardcover you’ve been eyeing, you have time to read the whole thing before giving it away.

5. We have free gift wrapping. By Christmas, you’ll forget what it was you bought. Aren’t surprises great?

6. It’s much easier to stick to your budget when we aren’t serving you eggnog like we do the week before Christmas.

7. All versions of The Night Before Christmas are still in stock. You won’t have to settle for that one weird one left over on Christmas Eve.

8. You’ll bring smiles and joy and a twinkle to the eye of your favorite local, indie bookseller.



Book Review: Love Stories in This Town by Amanda Eyre Ward

Sorry for the gap in posts! Been sick and traveling, but I'm catching up now, I promise. The one perk of being home for a week was that I caught up on some reading; sadly, the loopy meds meant I only got through one book. But it was a good one, and worth it.

Love Stories in This Town (with a great title, and a great cover) is a collection of short stories, new from Amanda Eyre Ward. Ward's stories all focus on love, but not in the way you might expect: she takes her readers on a tour of heartbreak and loneliness, offering a surprisingly insightful - though depressing - take on love, life, and happiness. From the widow of a Sept 11th victim to a pregnant ballerina, a young librarian in the Midwest to the crazed housewife living in Saudi Arabia, Ward's stories draw on small, seemingly insignificant details of life to present the emotions behind every decision we make and relationship upon which we embark.

The first half of the book is a collection of unrelated short stories, while Part II turns to Lola, a heartbroken college student attending her ex-boyfriend's wedding to Miss Montana. Each subsequent story provides a snapshot of another moment in Lola's life, from her stint in Saudi Arabia with her husband on a compound to the visit of her mother-in-law and her first grandchild. The balance between the two halves is superb, and the skill with which Ward weaves the themes of the first half of the book into the Lola stories impressive.

Ward's writing is crisp, clear, and perfectly adapted in each story to the moment and character being portrayed. She alternates between the short choppy voice of a struggling widow, the youthful voice of a young librarian and the long poetic sentences of a ballerina without missing a beat, and manages to maintain her own voice and strong writing style throughout.

Bottom line: The blurb on the front of the book claims that Love Stories in This Town is impossible to put down, but I couldn't disagree more. No, this is a book to be digested in small bits, one story at a time. To rush through it would be to sacrifice the raw emotion in each page, carefully contained by the first and last pages of each story, like bookends precariously balanced on either end of wobbling tomes. Ward's collection is sharp, insightful, witty, but most of all poignant, resulting in a book that leaves the reader wanting more while simultaneously knowing that that is all there is. Bring your tissues and schedule lots of reading breaks, and you're sure to enjoy it.

PW Top Books of 2009

As I mentioned in a post the other day, this is the hey-day of "top books" lists for 2009. Right before the holiday season, so most publishers have released their titles for the year (or announced them, no less), and just in time for recommendations for gift giving... can you believe it's gift-giving time already?

But not everything is smooth going in the world of "top lists." Publisher's Weekly announced their top 10 books of 2009 last week to much criticism: all ten authors were male. (View the list here.)

PW claims that they judged the books without taking author gender into consideration, but opposing parties claim that this is just their way of covering up their blatant bias. Quite frankly, I think the whole argument makes us miss the point.

Regardless of whether or not PW took gender into consideration (and really, one would hope that as such a beacon of the industry they would review on merit, and nothing else), the real problem posed by this situation is the lack of women on the list. Not because PW is biased, however, or chauvinistic, or anything else feminist critics might have you believe, but because there are either no books qualified, or not enough books qualified that they stood out to the reviewers.

After all, we know that no "top 10" list can be comprehensive, and we know that these lists are subjective. We should be disappointed by the lack of candidates, or lack of dearth of candidates, instead of bickering about the bias of the reviewers.

The organization of Women in Letters and Literary Arts has released a response, with a list of top books by females in 2009.

Nose in a Book (Quote of the Day)

It's Sunday, which means the end of the weekend, but not necessarily the end of great reading material. Even Coolio agrees:

"I used to walk to school with my nose buried in a book." - Coolio.

Well, that's just... coolio.

Looking For a Good Book?

Amazon released its suggestions for the top books of 2009 (ranked both by editor preference and sale ranking) just this week. Although, as they claim themselves, it is nearly impossible to objectively rank books, and if it were, there is no guarantee that readers will agree, the lists often provide some interesting titles you are bound to have missed - after all, we can't keep track of everything, especially with the number of books published this fall.

The customer rankings can provide some insight into buying habits too: mass market mysteries seem to dominate the list.


Even if you don't buy on Amazon (get it at your local store in a continued celebration of National Bookstore Day!), the lists are fun to peruse.

Weekend Reading

I'm off to a wedding in Massachusetts this weekend (where it will be 27 degrees tonight; when did winter get here?). In the bag to take along:

The Wizard of Oz (ebook via the Classics App)

What are you reading for the weekend?

Tomorrow is National Bookstore Day

Saturday, Nov 7th marks the first annual National Bookstore Day. The goal is to drive both new and returning customers back to brick-and-mortar stores (at least for a day). It's not too late for bookstores to participate, or for customers to start planning their bookstore excursions for the weekend!

For more information National Bookstore Day, visit the Publisher's Weekly site here.

To locate an independent bookstore near you, visit Indiebound or Delocator.

Book Apps vs Game Apps

A recent report has declared game apps the bestselling apps for the iPhone and iPod from Aug 2008 to Aug 2009 - not all that surprising, really. But the same report also claims that in the last four months, book apps have prevailed over the evergreen game apps as the number one app category for both devices.

The full article, which I came across through today's Shelf Awareness link, was featured in this morning's Telegraph, and is worth the read.

The most interesting bit, I found, was the possible threat to Amazon's market share that successful iPhone/iPod apps could pose. Any thoughts?

I myself just got an iPod as an early birthday gift (THANK YOU) and it's already loaded down with audiobooks, e-book apps and reader apps... I could see how this multi-functional device could easily pose a threat to the uni-tasker Kindle (especially given that the Kindle is only compatible with Amazon products).

Book Review: In Tongues of the Dead by Brad Kelln

It is impossible to read Brad Kelln's novel, In Tongues of the Dead, and not immediately begin to draw comparisons between it and The Da Vinci Code. Both center around a little-known (or little-understood, as is the case in Brown's work) aspect of Biblical history and the controversies and coverups caused by these supposed "myths." While this is not necessarily a bad thing, those of you who know my snobbish literary ways know that to me Dan Brown (while valuable to the publishing community) is not exactly the role model for well-written fiction.

In Tongues of the Dead is based on the myth of the Nephilim, children of angel and woman, who have been forsaken by God. Their secrets are supposedly recorded in the Voynich manuscript, written in a language that no one can decipher... except Matthew (annoying called "Little Matthew" throughout the story), an autistic elementary school foster kid. The only catch is that the Vatican wants the kid, and the manuscript. But then, so do a bunch of other people. And therein lies the bulk of the plot.

Though Kelln's book is a page-turner, no doubt, it falls short of its goal with flat writing and even flatter characters. Transparent in every way, Kelln's writing constantly tells instead of shows, that Creative Writing 101 faux-pas we've all spent our writing lives trying to avoid. The characters do not develop as the story unfolds; what is more, they are introduced and then left to disappear for chapters on end, making a miraculous re-appearance later on in the story. Even worse than flat characters, though, is that all of the characters-even the children-speak in the same voice. Presumably this is how the author speaks ("Little Matthew" and "Little Wyatt" invokes images of resentful nieces and nephews politely tolerating cheek-pinching to the age of 16); this is not how children, priests, cardinals, assassins, psychologists and nurses speak.

Sadly, what could have been an entertaing story is seemingly lost in the author's mind: the story is inconsistent, often confusing and there are several bits left unexplained or forgotten about. The ending almost-kind-of-sort-of wraps up all of the various strings of the one plot line, but even there it falls short: relationships are left undefined, characters have disappeared and relics start magically appearing in unexplained places.

Bottom line: Overall, if you are a fan of Church-cult fiction such as The Da Vinci Code, et al, In Tongues of the Dead might be of interest to you. To be sure, it is a quick read, and not a particularly challenging one, so it could be a great distraction for an evening lost in a book. But if you're looking for believable characters, a comprehensive plotline or something a bit more substantial, I'd take a pass.

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Thanks to ECW Press' Shelf Monkey program for supplying a review copy of this title.

Shelf Discovery Challenge!

I've decided to participate in my first-ever blog challenge!

The challenge: Booking Mama's Shelf Discovery Challenge

From the contents of Shelf Discovery (see below), choose 6 books to read between now and April. Then read them. Then write about them.

The book - Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading

Based on a column from Jezebel.com, author Lizzie Skurnick revisits our favorite middle- and high- school reads, from Ramona Quimby to the daring Judy Blume. These are more than mere stories, she urges us to consider, bringing into light the life lessons learned in each.

My picks - 3 re-reads, 4 new reads (yeah, yeah, that's more than 6)

1) From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (first read)

2) The Secret Garden and/or A Little Princess (re-reads)

3) Flowers in the Attic (seen the movie, but first read)

4) Jacob Have I Loved (first read)

5) Little House on the Prairie (re-read)

6) Forever (first read)

The Nook and e-Lend Options

One of things that both I and other people seemed to be most interested in on the new B&N Nook was the ability to share titles between readers. Sure, they had a 14-day limit, but there are times when I wish I could impose this on my lent-out printed books, so that's easy to get around. Original Nook announcements claimed that e-books on the Nook claimed that e-books would be lend-able an unlimited number of times, albeit not to more than one person at a time (kind of like a printed book -- are we seeing the parallels?).

But, lo and behold, DRM could not go so smoothly. Instead, publishers - yes, publishers! - are digging in their heels and throwing a bit of a fit about the lending of e-books. I fail to see the problem, really, as printed books are swapped, traded, lent, borrowed, stolen, etc, on a regular basis, and if our claim is that e-books should not replace printed books, than why would we want to establish e-books as "fixing the problem" of borrowed print books?

In response, B&N has limited lending to only 1 time per book. I guess that's kind of like lending a printed book to someone who always forgets to return it...

Moreover, with the ongoing debate about e-book pricing, does it really make sense for publishers to claim that e-books should be priced at the same level as their printed counterparts while simultaneously limiting the uses and capabilities of e-books? I'm big on not undervaluing e-books so as not to undervalue printed books (look at the crazy price wars), but in order to back up this claim, publishers (and e-book retailers) have to start addressing some of the issues of e-books: not compatible from one reader to the next, no lending rights, etc, etc, etc.

In the end, though, I guess it boils down to one question: e-book or p-book, does book lending really threaten publishing, or does it serve to promote books, authors, and the like? Any thoughts?

Book Review: Women, Work and the Art of Savoir Faire by Mireille Guiliano

The latest from bestselling author of French Women Don't Get Fat (which I've never read, but sure did sell a lot of back in my bookstore days), Women, Work and the Art of Savoir Faire offers advice for women in the workplace. Aptly subtitled "Business Sense and Sensibility," author Mireille Guiliano provides just that: sense, and sensibility, for the woman in the workplace.

Beginning the book with a lamentation regarding the number of mentors available to women in the workplace, it almost feels as though Guiliano is reaching through the book to provide this much needed mentorship to her readers in lieu. Although her advice can seem a tad obvious at times (make eye contact and remember to smile, e.g.), it is enlightening to have such a gentle reminder of the more obvious things and fresh look at the less obvious (how to entertain your boss at a dinner table, for example).

My only true grievance with the text (besides the fact that I finished it without ever being told what "savoir faire" actually means) is the gender bias confronted in each chapter. This happens in two ways: first, although the front flap copy and first chapter suggest that a few men may enjoy the book as well, I found this not to be true. As a woman in a workplace environment, I gleaned many useful lessons, but the majority of these were particularly geared toward women, and only women. No man is going to be told to store a classic, A-line black dress in his business wardrobe, after all.

But slightly more irritating than this are the sweeping stereotypes made of both male and female workers: men are loud, and interrupt more often, and need to feel powerful, whereas women are more emotional, more likely to let others speak over them, etc. Luckily, Guiliano keeps the text from becoming too stereotypical by presenting these stereotypes with a form of apology (although this is something she cautions women never to do; apologizing too much and pointing out mistakes is apparently in our nature).

Perhaps the highlight of the book is Guiliano's mentor-like tendency to remind her readers to consider themselves, to weigh their options, to determine what success means to them, etc. Although we hear this frequently, it is both reassuring and helpful to be reminded of what is good for us from time to time. And, like urging smaller portion sizes, Guiliano is correct in reminding us in the importance of balance. I suppose this is why she feels so much like an author-mentor, and in the end, that is the charm of the book.

Bottom line: Guilano's text is engaging (especially given the potentially dry subject matter) and entertaining, and, as she had hoped, her stories and anecdotes give new meaning to each of her workplace lessons. Well-written (especially as English, we learn, is not her native language), informative, and at times thought-provoking, Women, Work and the Art of Savoir Faire is an easy read for any woman in the workplace, and would make a valuable gift for any young woman starting her career (or more experienced woman needing a bit of subtle guidance). Gentlemen, though, should probably take a pass (the title pretty much guarantees this though, no?)

Added points to the design team on this one for the mono-color images at the heading of each chapter and the overall paper and feel of the book: it is classy, sophisticated, and perfectly matches both the author and the tone of the book.

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Thank you to Atria Books, part of Simon & Schuster, for the review copy of this title, via Goodreads.

B&N Nook - A Round-up

Oh, this week I am a failed book-blogger. How can I claim to be interested in the book world and not write anything about Barnes & Noble's big announcement of the week: the release of the Nook? Information first appeared on the BN website on Oct 20th, and the Nook has been no small subject among the world of e-books (and p-books!) this week.

In short, the Nook is BN's response to the so-far widely successful Amazon Kindle. The $259 Nook has WiFi and 3G capabilities, allows readers to share books (oh, DRM, how we love you) across devices (although as far as I can tell, not the Kindle or Sony reader). The WiFi will only be in stores for now, but there are talks of opening it up later.

From what I can tell, it seems that BN has addressed many of the complaints that users have had with the Kindle and the Sony e-reader. It allows the sharing of books (which the Kindle does not), has WiFi access (available in stores, which is creating a brick-and-digital bundle many have been hoping for; this will also be seen in hardcover/e-book bundled sales), has a large, easy-to-read screen, can be used as a USB device... the list goes on.

Teleread, devoted to e-book developments, has more information on all of this -- here's a round-up of their coverage from the week.

As a side note, there are still theories that Apple will outdo the lot of the book retailers (look at the success of the book apps on iPhones and iPods...). Check out more details in Newsweek.

E-Book vs P-Book

Just noticing a new trend in the talks surrounding e-books -- it seems the alternative, printed matter book as now been dubbed a "p-book" (presumably the "p" is for "printed").

I feel that it's less cumbersome than "printed book" or "bound book," etc, making the discussions of printed vs electronic books slightly easier (and ensuring that the p-book stays a part of the e-book discussion).

Other thoughts?

Call for a National Digital Library

I've talked what feels like endlessly about the downsides of e-books: their threats to the publishing industry, the loss of the value of the printed book, etc. But there is a plus, one that both the publishing and library markets seem to be glossing over (myself included) -- a digital library can house thousands of resources for areas that would otherwise be deprived of such materials due to budget constraints.

In this line, journalist David Rothman calls for a National Digital Library in yesterday's Huffington Post. Happy Friday reading!

Price Wars

Most of you have probably caught some wind of the recent price wars going on between Amazon, Walmart, Sears, etc -- if you haven't, here's the bottom line: these super-chains are competing with one another to slash the prices of the newest big hardcover releases. Something so simple, yet so completely out of hand; prices are falling lower and lower, with Walmart now seemingly settled on $8.99, Amazon at $9.

For more details on the price wars itself, The Book Case summed it up quite well in a post on Monday, and the Wall Street Journal also gave coverage.

There are a host of problems with the price slashing, some obvious, some not so much. First, these retailers are now selling the books well below cost. Whether they worked out the world's best discount with publishers or are selling the books at a loss, I'm not sure, but I know that the average retailer - hell, even wholesaler - does not get a 74% discount (which is the discount on Steven King's latest release, priced at $35 and selling for $9 at Amazon and Walmart). How selling anything at a loss is a reasonable long-term business model is beyond me.

Furthermore, this only increases the already numerous problems for independents. They couldn't compete with the 30% discount on Amazon - how can they compete with a $9 hardcover? Actually, there is one way: they can buy the book from Amazon or Walmart (both of which are offering free shipping), then mark it up a few bucks and still sell new books at a higher discount than they could have afforded had they gone through a distributor. What a great way to rejuvenate the publishing industry - put the distributors out of business.

But even more concerning than the immediate effect on sales at indies, or the long-term success of super-chains with a negative-profit business model is the impact of this on the consumer's valuation of a book. We've struggled enough with pricing for e-books, with the consumer arguing for $10 and cheaper, and the publishers arguing that books are worth more than that, even when they aren't printed. There was concern that $10 e-books would necessarily bring down the value of a printed book, making printed matter obsolete and unprofitable, thereby leading to the decline of printed books. But this was all theoretical, what-ifs, we'll-sees.

Now, a $9 hardcover suggests that this is what a book's value is - and practical cost analysis will show that no publisher could stay afloat by pricing all books at $9 and under. It's an impossible competition, completely short-sighted, and dangerous for all involved, even the competitors themselves.

Phew, rant over. For more, check out a PW blog response here, and recent Shelf Awareness discussions: yesterday and Monday.

Agatha Christie - Welcome to Fall

I picked up two Agatha Christie books at the Strand in an all-around rage: I was 60 pages into Larry McMurtry's Books and it was so incredibly bad that I needed something else to read just to get me through the subway ride from Union Square to Queens. (Yes, it was that bad) Luckily for Christie, she was everything that McMurtry was not: clear, fluid, well-written, entertaining, engaging, and, on top of all that, became the perfect read for the just-starting-to-cool-down weather of October.

A Pocket Full of Rye bases its actions, quite sneakily, on the age-old children's rhyme: Four-and-twenty blackbirds / baked in a pie... I will confess that I did not see the way that the murders fit into the rhyme until Miss Marple herself pointed it out to the detective. A Murder is Announced works backwards, declaring the upcoming murder in a local newspaper and leaving the survivors to work out what happened versus what they think happened.

Both mysteries Miss Marple mysteries, starring the classy - and classic - Miss Jane Marple, subtle old-lady detective. Both require a bit of suspension of disbelief, or perhaps a new-found belief in coincidence, but I do not consider this a flaw. No, the genius of Christie's work lies right in these coincidences, cleverly tying together a number of seemingly un-related strings to solve an as-yet seemingly impossible puzzle.

It is tempting to declare Christie's work trite, or cliche, or overdone, but this is like calling Jane Austen too typically romantic: to do so is to forget that these were pioneers of their fields. Agatha Christie, author of over 70 books in her lifetime, was the first serial murder mystery writer to create a truly successful "brand" around both herself and her characters (namely, Miss Marple and Poirot, of later A&E fame).

Bottom line: If you are looking for a solid mystery read, but aren't willing to stoop to the level of Patterson and his kind, I would unhesitatingly recommend going back a few decades to discover, or perhaps re-discover, Agatha Christie's work. Plus, in addition to a page-turner mystery, she serves up a healthy portion of British heritage and quirky culture from the post-war years, something the Osprey/Shire nerd in me thoroughly enjoyed.

Sarah Palin... again.

Palin seems to crop up all over the place on here, doesn't she? But then, she seems to pop up all over the place period, so maybe it's not so surprising. Today it's back to Palin's book, but not as you might expect (although yes, the pre-orders for her book are still on the bestsellers list(s), and yes, she is once again currently out-selling The Lost Symbol). No, this one is from today's Medio Bistro blog, GalleyCat, focusing on the cover image and a tie-in publication.

What it all boils down to is that Palin's book has such a cookie-cutter political figure book cover, it is just asking for parodies. And a parody is exactly what is coming. After all, why should Palin be the only one to reap in the cash? No, that would hardly be fair. Stay tuned for Going Rouge: Sarah Palin: An American Nightmare, coming from OR Books this fall.

To see the covers, check out the original GalleyCat post.

As a side note to Palin's autobiography: her book shares a subtitle with at least 20 other biographies and memoirs, including those of Benjamin Franklin, Ronald Reagan, Martha Washington, Condoleeza Rice and my personal favorite, guitars. How rogue can it be if it's already been done?

National Day on Writing

Today, October 20th, is not only Anna's birthday (Happy Birthday darling!), it's also the first ever National Day on Writing! The day was designed by the US Senate to honor those who write and to encourage people to start writing; more specifically, to do the following:
  • highlight the remarkable variety of writing we engage in today;
  • provide a collection for research on whether writing today has risen to new highs or sunk to new lows; and
  • help us help others to write better.
And for those of you thinking, "Well, but me? I'm not a writer," I can assure you, you most likely are. The Senate carefully included all forms of writing:

"Whereas the National Day on Writing honors the use of the full range of media for composing, from traditional tools like print, audio, and video, to Web 2.0 tools like blogs, wikis, and podcasts..."

Now, I'm not sure that podcasts would be officially considered "writing," but I like where they are going with that.

Thanks to The Book Case for sharing the link to this event.

For more information check out the day's official website. And then go write something!

Another Cool Idea of the Day...

In (yet another) follow up to the 24 Hour Book Project that I posted about recently, here's another cool idea of the day: a Twitter book project. Neil Gaiman of fantasy writing fame has paired up with the Twittersphere to write an audiobook - or record one, at any rate. It all started at noon today, and was capped at the first 1,000 tweets. You can read the whole story here.

Now, I'm not much of a Twitter fan (I just don't get it, although if you do, you can follow me @ofabookworm... did I do the @ right?), but I do think this is an impressive use of new technologies to create a new work of fiction.

The final product will be available for download on the project's website for free; I will keep you posted if I hear it's completed!

Another Bit of Optimism

A bit of a speech likening the dawn of digital books to the dawn of mass market paperbacks, way back when. Not something I was alive for, but an interesting argument...

Check out the GalleyCat excerpt for the important bits of the speech.

Bookshelf Reviews in Brief

I am only one blogger on this humble little lit blog, and so in order to keep book reviews coming (I realize not everyone is as fascinated by industry news as myself), I will henceforth (word of the day, anyone?) start to review, in brief, books from my recent past reading adventures.

Two (and by a married couple, no less) to start: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer, and A History of Love, by Nicole Krauss


Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close


Jonathan Safran Foer's second novel is one of the few of September 11th that I have read that succeeds in being tragic without being didactic, heartbreaking without really having to try, and beautiful without describing anything beautiful. Innovative, creative and unique, Foer's writing style - combined with the overall design and layout of the book - make the book hard to put down, harder still to forget.



A History of Love
Kraus' writing style closely mirrors that of Foer's, but it is hard to say if one is necessarily copying the other, or if they have just grown together as writers. Regardless, it works, and Kraus is able to use her impressive grasp of the clipped sentence to convey great things in few words. The story of a man missing both his true love and his novel, and now left to grow old and uncertain of his own existence, meets that of a troubled teenager trying to piece together the meaning of pretty much everything.

Both authors write novels that verge on poetry, and both stories are haunting, impressive (in every sense of the word) and full of beauty and tender care for the quirky characters involved. Neither should be missed - although I'm not sure I would recommend reading the two back-to-back, as I did.

FTC Regulations

To clarify the comment at the bottom of yesterday's review regarding "FTC disclosure," here's a brief catch-up on recent FTC regulations on book blogging:

Basically, the FTC requires that any product review or endorsement for which compensation is provided must include a full disclosure of said compensation. So, for example, if a publishing company paid me $50 to write a review of their book, I would have to disclose that information within my review. Or as a footnote/sidenote/more info note. I'm a bit fuzzy on the details.

This is a) not new (the laws regulating this were passed in 1980) and b) perfectly logical. Where it starts to get hairy is in recent FTC regulations declaring that receiving a book counts as payment for a blogger - so if a publishing company pays me no cash, but sends me a review copy of a book, that must be disclosed. If it isn't, a blogger can face up to $11,000 in fines.

Needless to say, there's been a bit of an uproar about this. I'm not very good at brief summaries, so read for yourself some of the varying opinions, objections, etc:

Teleread's Objections
Another Open Letter to the FTC on Media Bistro
The First Open Letter to the FTC on Media Bistro

Her Fearful Symmetry


From the bestselling author of The Time Traveler's Wife comes a second novel that promises not to disappoint any fan of ghost stories, romances, or well-written literary fiction. With Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffenegger presents the story of two twin sisters who inherit their aunt's flat in London upon her death. Bordering the walls of Highgate Cemetery, one of the most famous Victorian cemeteries in London, they know that something is strange about the place as soon as they arrive... but no, it's not that much of a cookie-cutter ghost story.

Instead, this is a story of love, romance, siblings, family, secrets an betrayal. With her haunting prose - no pun intended - Niffenegger weaves together a cast of truly unique characters, from the OCD agoraphobic crossword writer upstairs, to the lonely bachelor downstairs, from the ancient keeper of the cemetery to those typical Victorian figures buried within it, and, perhaps most importantly, from one twin to the next, and from one set of twins to the next.

Sadly, Niffenegger's character development is a bit uneven, with some sudden and unexpected actions scattered throughout otherwise rather linear characters. Rather than seeming intentional, it feels to the reader as though the author knew her characters almost too well; I'm sure in her head, there was an explanation for every action at every given time, but this reasoning does not always carry through to the reader, causing a few confusing pages here and there.

Overall, though, the plot and writing carry the story through this flaw, and the series of unexpected events promises to keep any reader turning the page to the very end, and wishing for more when you get there.

Bottom line: A haunting novel of love, family and betrayal, Her Fearful Symmetry is worth the time it will take to read it - and trust me, that won't be long, as you won't be able to put it down.


[I received an advance copy of Her Fearful Symmetry in the mail - not sure what mailing list I got on for that, but no complaints here! But, in the interest of full FTC-disclosure, I did get a free copy of this one.]

Banned Books Week: A Quick Follow-up

Sorry, guys, I know I'm due for some more original thinking here - it will come, I promise. Reviews of Her Fearful Symmetry and two Agatha Christie novels are in the works, and I'm reading my way through The Secret History. But in the meantime, a quick note on Banned Books Week, which took place Sept 25-Oct 3:

The Guardian, reporting on collected Amazon reports, noted that sales of And Tango Makes Three, the most challenged book of 2006, 2007 and 2008 (according to the ALA), peaked during Banned Books Week and the days immediately after. The book is challenged frequently on grounds of "homosexual undertones," which critics claim are thinly veiled under cute penguin cartoons. The story, based on true events, tell the tale of two male penguins raising an orphan penguin in the zoo. Clearly, this is threatening the morality of our nation's children.

But, as I predicted, challenging the book has only increased its popularity. I'd call that books 1, censors 0, if we were keeping track.

Huffington Post Books Section

In a time when newspapers everywhere are cutting their book reviews section as eagerly as teenagers desperately try to rid their faces of acne, the Huffington Post is going against the current: they are starting a books section, known as HuffBooks.

The editor, Amy Hertz, seems to have a good grasp of the publishing world, and, what is more, will stand by the book to the very end. Her introduction article is an insightful and interesting read. Just a taste:

Because there's never been a better time or place. People who think books are dying don't understand the power of ideas to inspire. And people who think books will die at the hands of the Internet, don't understand the power of what happens when an engaged reader -- of both web and print content -- discovers new ideas, new thoughts, new thinkers, or remembers the impact of a classic. Word spreads faster than ever, and the ensuing debate helps refine ideas for the future.

The comments section of the article is although worth a browse.

Dan Brown vs Sarah Palin

Now there's a match-up I'd like to see in person. In actuality, though, the only contest we are likely to see is between their books: both bestsellers, both "on sale" now (I use hyphens because Palin's book is only in pre-orders). Yes, folks, Sarah Palin's autobiography, now publishing in November, is currently beating out The Lost Symbol for the #1 bestseller spot on Amazon. What this says about our reading habits as a country, or worse, our political tendencies, I choose to ignore at this particular moment.

No, instead of the usual doom-and-gloom that comes with my posts on readers' choices or ebooks, I am today going to focus on the positive outcomes of Dan Brown's books. As predicted, sales of related titles have started to trickle in - see today's PW article for more details. Personally, I have had enough of hating Dan Brown and what his books have done to our impression of reading (see previous post). Let's look on the bright side this Tuesday: a) people are reading and b) people are, we can see, interested in learning more about Brown's subjects. Isn't that what books are all about?

24-Hour Book, Continued

Following up on a comment left on the post regarding the 24-hour book project:

Despite incredible Googling skills, I haven't been able to dig up much more on the outcome of the project other than the fact that it was completed within the allotted time frame, and the launch party for the book was this evening in London. Hopefully there will be more information on the book post-launch (some publishers like to keep things hush-hush until after the release, even if that is only for a period of 12 hours or so...).

As to seeing a project like this on our side of the pond, thanks for the reminder! There was actually something similar conducted during Book Expo this year: Book: The Sequel. This was slightly different as it was not actually a novel, as in the 24-hour book, but it was created in the same vein. Perseus dedicated part of their booth at BEA to Book: The Sequel, with a workstation equipped for editing, design and layout, and promotion. Members of the book world were polled at BEA (what better place to pick the brains of book nerds galore?), and submissions were taken online as well. The whole process began Friday morning, and the book had a launch party on Saturday afternoon. You can see some samples of sequels on the book's webpage, and the schedule of publication is available here.

Here's to creative thinkers!

Borders Joins B&N

Just a heads up to the internet obsessed (such as myself): Borders has now joined Barnes & Noble in offering free WiFi in their stores. Go shopping! Enjoy!

Brilliant Idea of the Day: The 24-Hour Book

I can't stress enough my belief that the book industry has to adapt to the age of 21st-century technology in order to survive. We can't keep doing things the way they have always been done, because this is a new age (read: ebooks) in a new market (read: broke) with new challenges (read: Amazon). In this vein, the brilliant idea of the day comes from England: the 24-hour book.

if:Book, the Society of Young Publishers and completelynovel.com have teamed up with Spread the Word to challenge writers to create a book about London in just 24 hours. Not just write, but create: print, publish, etc. The writing will take place this Saturday, with publishers and editors swooping in on Sunday to prepare the book for its Monday launch. Technically you could argue that that time frame is longer than 24 hours, but it's still impressive.

The project goes beyond the interesting timeline to engage readers by inviting anyone interested in actually participating in the process. Through the glorious Google Docs, parts of the book will be written by anyone interested in logging in and writing (with monitoring by the lead author, for cohesion's sake). The group has put out a call for editors on Sunday, and is even looking for someone with a really loud voice to stand on top of buildings in London and start a shout-campaign (which I think may or may not be legal).

This is the kind of project we need to see more of - the kind that is not only interesting in its own right, but the kind that goes one step further to really get people interested in books and the book-making process. Without that interest, what we are left with is raw type -- glorious in and of itself, but just as accessible digitally as physically. And that is the end of publishing. Ha, I keep ending these posts with doomsday announcements; really, I do think there's hope, I promise.



Super Thursday!

Well, guys, today is the day. It's the first day of October. It's also a Thursday. But not just any Thursday - today is the day that the publishing world has started to refer to as "Super Thursday," referring to the unofficially declared launch of all the titles us publisher have been stockpiling for better holiday placement.

Today is the day that 800 new - yes, NEW - titles go on sale. Eight. Hundred.

According to the Guardian article, this is three times the number of titles usually published for the beginning of the holiday season. Does this strike anyone else as a bit desperate? I can almost picture the editors and sales people getting together and saying, "Ok, if book sales are down by 50% percent (that's a made-up number, for the record), we just have to double the number of titles on sale to make our budget for the holiday season." Right?

Well, maybe not. My concern is that with so many new titles, too many will be glossed over and eventually forgotten. If you see ads/reviews/displays of 4 books you want to buy for yourself and for holiday gifts, for example, I would argue that there is a pretty decent chance that you would by at least 3, if not all 4, of these titles. If you see ads/reviews/displays of 12 books you want, well, now we're looking at a lot more money in a much more uncertain time. Even if the 8 unpurchased books go on the "to-read-later" list, well... we all know how quickly that grows and how stubbornly it refuses to shrink.

What is more, there is a significantly lower chance of any consumer actually seeing any publisher's advertising and publicity efforts, because the whole holiday market has suddenly become so overrun with titles that unless you are Dan Brown, JK Rowling, or Mackenzie Phillips (hey, she had a 10-year affair with her dad, and sadly, that's what sells), you don't have much of a chance of making a splash.

I certainly hope that this is overly doom-and-gloom on my part, and that this mad rush of books brings in so many people to bookstores that sales are up and everyone is in the black and books are booming. Only time will tell. In the meantime, prove me wrong and buy everyone on your Christmas list a book this year. Everyone.

Book Review: Books by Larry McMurtry


Wow. I was really, really looking forward to reading this one. After all, what could be better than a memoir about a guy who loves books so much that he dedicates his life to them: writing them, editing them, adapting them for screenplays, collecting them, dealing them. This is so right up any book-nerd's alley, and it doesn't take much to know I am just that book-nerd-type.

But despite the subject matter, Larry McMurtry's latest release, Books, will remain half-read on my shelf, and I'm debating even allowing it to keep that rare bit of open real estate.

McMurtry's writing in this book is shoddy at best, and desperately in need of an editor. Please, someone, get rid of the exclamation points all over every page. Cut the "dialog." Snip the tedious tangents. Wait, though -- if any of this happened, we'd be left with nothing to read. Books spends so much time dedicated to the opening hours of bookstores (they are open quite late in San Francisco, I've now read a dozen times) and the bizarre, seemingly unimportant romances of fellow booksellers that to remove the tangents would be to leave the text devoid of any story at all.

The already chaotic writing is only worsened by constant references to previous McMurtry titles, which, whether intentional or not, give the book the overall impression of a failed sales-pitch.

Bottom Line: Skip it. Without a cohesive subject matter and/or decent chronology of events, no memoir will survive. Worse, this one delves into details you couldn't be bothered to care about while glossing over what might have been interesting. Writing like this promises to be disappointed to any booklover, regardless of subject matter.

Medicine for the Soul (Quote of the Day)

The quote over the door of the Library at Thebes reads "Medicine for the soul." What could possibly be more true about a library?

In this vein of the importance of books and libraries, I have a spot of good news for the weekend: the Free Library of Philadelphia, which was threatened with closure due to budget cuts in Pennsylvania, will remain open. Details and a thank you from library staff can be seen here. Libraries: 1, Budget: 0. For now, at least.

Banned Books Week

Today marks the start of Banned Books Week 2009, an event created to celebrate the importance of the First Amendment. The American Library Association (ALA) offers some good insight into historical banned books on their website, and it's worth poking around if you are interested in the subject.

A quick glance over the top ten banned books lists from 2001-2008 reveals some interesting and unexpected finds. Julie of the Wolves, a childhood favorite of mine, and the His Dark Materials Trilogy. The usual titles pop up: The Adventures of Huck Finn (for racism and language) and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (for much the same reasons).

In honor of the week, I will be breaking my personal book-buying-ban to read And Tango Makes Three, which was the most challenged book for 2006, 2007 and 2008. I'd never even heard of this one until I started looking into banned book lists; I wonder what this says about the efficacy of book-banning efforts. Rather than banning the title, the book-banners have served only to bring it more and more into the public eye.

This seems to be somewhat of a continuous occurence. Recall last fall when there where vicious and unsubstantiated rumors floating around about Sarah Palin's book-banning efforts, if you will. While the rumors turned out to be false, they brought the issue of banned books back into the spotlight. People once again realized that book banning has not disappeared - rather, it is rampant across the United States (see a map of banning efforts).

In the end, maybe we should let the crazy people try to ban books. More often than not, they will fail; the First Amendment may be complicated for some issues, but the matter of censoring reading materials seems pretty black-and-white in regards to the law. In the process, though, banned books will be remembered, old favorites picked up and seen in a new light, and, hopefully, we can remember that we are almost all, on some level, passionate about books and reading. If it takes a controversy to remind us of that, I'll take it. And I'll take those banned books, too. Off to the Strand...

Writer Spotlight - Shel Silverstein

Today is Shel Silverstein's birthday - it would have been his 79th. He is the author and poet of many of the beloved child stories and poems we know and remember fondly: Where the Sidewalk Ends (1974), Light in the Attic (1981), Falling Up (1996), The Giving Tree (1964), The Missing Piece (1976)... the list goes on. To say that he work was prized is an understatement: A Light in the Attic alone won 9+ awards, and remained on the NYT bestseller list for over two years.

But Shel Silverstein was in every sense of the word a Renaissance man: singer, songwriter, poet, children's author, cartoonist. He studied music and composition briefly, and his songwriting credits include the soundtrack to A Boy Named Sue, various songs for Johnny Cash, and several hits for Loretta Lynn and the Irish Rovers.

He first started drawing cartoons for the Pacific Stars and Stripes as a GI in Japan during the Korean War. His work was later featured regularly in Playboy Magazine, and connections to a friend in children's publishing led to his first children's book, The Giving Tree. The rest, as they say, is history.

Peter & Max - a Fables Novel


Thanks to Jay Franco, I once again find myself feeding my Fables addiction; this time, it's Peter & Max, the first Fables novel by Bill Willingham.

For those of you who haven't read the Fables books (and you should, immediately), the series tracks the stories of various fabled characters - Snow White, Cinderella, the 3 Little Pigs, Pinnocchio, et al - and their flight from their homelands in face of an unknown invader. They set up a hidden community in New York City... and I can't really tell you any more than that without spoiling it.

Bill Willingham's genius for creating stories out of pre-existing plots and details rivals that of Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked, et al, and his latest installment in the Fables series does not disappoint in this regard. Peter and Max tells the story of the Pipers: Peter Piper (of pickled pepper fame), and Max (of the Pied Piper legends). Willingham's character development can be a bit uneven - perhaps he should have titled the book PETER and max - but this does not detract from the plot overall. Willingham's story moves steadily through modern and magical times, drawing together several fable strings into one cohesive story that is quite hard to put down.

Bottom line: A quick read, Peter and Max will entertain both the Fables fanatics and novice reader alike, and contains enough inked illustrations throughout to satisfy the graphic-novel-nerd in all of us. Especially enjoyable for the reader with a knowledge of fables and folk tales.

Share the Link Love

Ack! Not many posts lately - I've been to Carlisle for work, a weekend dip into the 18th century (the Market at Washingtonburg event), and am still catching up.

In the meantime, here's a little non-book-related reading and a bit of a plug for a friend:

From a baby-eating sculpture in Switzerland to Mongolia’s giant statue of Genghis Khan, the world’s weirdest monuments display local quirks.

Lyndsey just had her first feature article published on the Travel and Leisure website. Of course I'm biased because she's a friend, but it's a great article on some unexpected monuments across the globe. I admire her dedication to travel writing - she's had a thing for Rick Steves since I first met her, back when she still had blue hair. I also admire the little statue of the peeing boy, appropriately titled "Mannekin Pis." I'm not sure what that says about my admirations, but there it is.

Review of Her Fearful Symmetry to come soon...

Revolutionary Road

I finished Revolutionary Road last week but it's taken me this long to actually process enough of what I read to write anything about it. Not necessarily in a bad way, but this is probably the farthest thing from uplifting you could find in the world of modern literary fiction.

The plot is relatively uncomplicated: Frank and April Wheeler get married young, have children, move to the suburbs of New York City to raise their family, and spend every spare minute they have disdainful of suburban life. The typical, normal family lifestyle is so... beneath them. You can see where this is going -- the two find themselves unhappy, trapped in a lifestyle they never chose and never truly wanted. But how does one break out of this? And perhaps more importantly, if you do break out of it, how do you maintain your identity? Do you have one to begin with, or is it all pretend?

I don't need to elaborate on these questions much more than to say that Yates does not paint a happy picture of married suburban life, at least not for the Wheelers. But despite the absolute melancholy that settles upon the reader, clinging on us like a mink stole in August, Yates' prose is sharp, clear and insightful. He captures the essence of relationships, the difference between love and mere admiration, the intricacies of motherhood and marriage - all in the minute details of every day life.

What is more, Yates has a firm grasp on the inner monologues of his characters. They are ever present, but never bulky. They lend only further insight into each character, furthering our understanding of their absolute failure to communicate their inner selves to anyone (what a happy thought). His dialogue, like his characters' thoughts, is natural and graceful.

Bottom line: Revolutionary Road offers what one can only hope is an unrealistic portrayal of the lives we choose - or do not choose - to lead, and the impacts of these choices. An excellent read, but only if you are in the mood for a downer.

----

As a side note, the movie is actually a decent adaptation of the book, although the many friends I've spoken to have not been fans.

Who else is sick of hearing about Dan Brown?

With the launch of Dan Brown's latest and very much anticipated novel, The Lost Symbol, on Tuesday, it seems that it is impossible to turn anywhere in the book world without being accosted with stories, links, trivia regarding the reviled and admired Dan Brown.

Did you know The Lost Symbol broke Barnes & Noble's record for highest number of sales in one day? It is also the number one ebook selling on BN's digital book sales. (Read the full story here.) It is also one of the bestselling titles on Amazon, with digital sales surpassing hard copy sales (with the exception of pre-orders).

But despite this wild success, Dan Brown is quite literally a reviled figure in the literary world. Sure, we're all snobs in our own right, loving to hate the James Pattersons and Nicholas Sparks of the world. And Nora Roberts - don't get me started. But these authors are so formulaic, publishing so many titles in one year, that it seems reasonable to despise them; they undermine everything we believe about writing and the writing process.

Dan Brown is a different story: he writes one book every few years. Sure, some of this is probably for the publicity hype that builds up around his work, but he is also a writer in a way that Patterson has long ago abandoned. It seems harsh to dismiss this effort with so little thought, and paints an image of the literary world as a bitter, jealous lover who has been spurned in favor of fame and money.

Literary world - let's get one thing straight: there is nothing wrong with being successful as an author. We are not starving artists, competing for whose loft has the least heating and who eats more vegan chicken soup out of the can. I hated the Dan Brown books as much as the next literary snob, but maybe we should lighten up on Dan Brown the author. After all, he has managed to create a living-and a solid one, at that-doing what he loves. Sure, we're all a little jealous, but let's cut the man a break and be happy for the money and sales he is pumping into the industry, despite what we may think of his ever-so-poorly crafted sentences.

Save the Words

The nerd in me totally loves this -- a website that offers readers a chance to re-adopt terms in danger of being removed from the dictionary.

It's a little-discussed fact that every time a new word such as "bootylicious" or "bagillion" is 'officially' adopted into the English lexicon, some other seemingly out-of-date or out-of-touch word rides off into what Shelf Awareness calls the "lexigraphical sunset." Sure, I'm proud of Beyonce and all that, but I really would rather use the word "advesperate" (to approach evening) than "bootylicious." Seriously, no contest.

So off to Save the Words, all of you, let's bring the English language back to its righteous past. Myself, I'm off to watch Kevin coquinate (this is the word I've just adopted).

Free Library to Close

It's a sad day for the world of libraries, and the book industry in general, when an institution as large and important as the Free Library in Philadelphia is on the brink of closure. You can see the announcement and more details on the library's website. Closure is set for October 2nd.

I recently attended a wedding in this library and was nothing less than dazed and amazed to such a great hall of books (I feel pretty much the same way when I go to the 5th Ave Humanities Library in NYC). I can only hope that Harrisburg will have the good sense to make the necessary budget changes, but I do understand that in this environment, it's not always so easy as that. But what will they do with it all: the building, the staff, the books?

"What the heck is Indiebound?"

Those of you who click the links on my blog dutifully, as blog readers should (wink, wink), will notice that I link to titles on Indiebound as often as possible. Those of you who do not click said links, or perhaps even those who do, might ask the same question as a recent customer in the Next Chapter Bookshop in Mequon, WI: "What the heck is Indiebound?"

Here's my best answer: it's an alternative to Amazon for book searching, recommendations and links. When I want to link to a book - and we all know that is quite often - I can link to the book on Indiebound rather than Amazon, and because Indiebound has this nifty feature that allows you to type in your zip code to local an independent bookseller near you that carries the book, I am supporting local, independent bookshops instead of the Monsterzon. Phew, that was a long-winded, one-sentence answer to that question.

But wait, there's more. Indiebound allows bookstores to register themselves, and book buyers and bookshop owners can input their book recommendations for new and exciting reads, which in turn are compiled into the Indie Next List. There is also a Children's Next List, because, as in all publishing, adult books and children's books are considered separate markets (some, such as myself, might claim that the children's book market is missing out on parents, as well as kids that like to read above their 'level' and adults that like to read below it, but that's another story, really).

Next Chapter's blog post on the question explains better than I could how the site is viewed from a bookseller's point of view - give it a glance over, at least. They also add that you can use the site to find independent bookstores just about anywhere, so we all know what I'll be doing before my next vacation.

I'm off to peruse the Next List myself, to see if there's anything on there I just have to read. Wait, damn. I promised I'd read what I already own...