Monday, April 27, 2009

Great Lakes histories & Quiliterature

by Sarah Marine

As a homegrown American Great Laker, I was of course drawn to the one of many Zone books on our Zone Book Display, entitled The Great Lakes of Africa: Two Thousand Years of History. It is a sprawling study by a supersmart French guy named Jean-Pierre Chretien. His resources include colonial archives, oral tradition, archeaological discoveries, studies in anthropology & linguistics and his own thirty years of scholarship on the region which encompasses, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Eastern Congo and Western Tanzania. In a region today plagued by extreme violence he discovers histories rewritten, unexplored, misinterpreted and altogether undiscovered. I can't explain to you how I crave such a book written about my own midwestern seas of grandiosity.

Also, in keeping with the marine theme of this post so far, my own most exciting discovery this week has to do with a certain epigraph nestled within Jeff in Venice, Death in Varansi, which Bayard is currently reading.
The quote reads:

'This is not the river,
it's an explanation of the river
that replaced the river.'

Dean Young


Furthermore, I would like to share with you, dear blog readers, a few images of the current project undertaken by my In Cooperation Quilting Circle. The project was to create a 12inch by 12inch textile interpretation of the story 'Ironhead' from the collection Willful Creatures by Aimee Bender.

ironhead in the tall grass

mama pumpkinhead with baby ironhead

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

MKE: apex of literary activity? & sports poetry

When Joshua Beckman spends 72 hours in the city of Milwaukee and attends weekend readings by Bill Berkson & Kit Robinson, has a Monday night reading on a cold rainy April night at a weeks-old bookshop and attracts over thirty people, then while sipping whisky with his Milwaukee bookshop friends, runs into CD Wright arriving for her own reading the following day, he thinks it's impossible that a certain blog in Milwaukee can jestfully proclaim that their city is the "literary capital of the world".
Drew Blanchard, Derrick Harriell, Joshua Beckman

In other news, I have decided to delve into the world of sports poetry, which I am very excited about as my obsession with sports writing has yet to wade into that genre (I've already tackled the sports dictionary, encyclopedia, almanac, biography, fiction and philosophical text). All thanks to Karl Saffran from Woodland Pattern for promising to steer me towards the best.

Also, of note, two books that I was exceptionally excited about getting in the store have arrived: Michael Dickman's 'End of the West'. He and his twin were recently discussed in a phenomenal article in The New Yorker. The second title is Nikki McClure's first hardcover children's picture book- 'All in a Day', written by Cynthia Rylant. Additionally have fallen in hearts with Jan Ormerod's 'Moonlight' and 'Sunshine'- in spite of the dad looking a lot like that guy in Annie Hall who keeps calling Alvy, "Max".

See you all tonight at the C.D. Wright reading!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Dear Joshua Beckman, What have you been reading while on the road?

Dear Sarah,

Read Horace the other day to some folks building (and destroying) a scale model of Rome.
Also read Catullus but found myself far more in the mood for Horace glorifying rural life.
And also reading Louis Aragon's Paris Peasant all about wandering around the city.
So strange counter impulses for me right now,
and carrying around but not really reading much of The World and Its Streets,
by Larry EIgner and Unconscious Memory by Samuel Butler.

See you soon,


Ode II, 15 (trans, Burton Raffel)

Soon, these royal palaces will be empty
Acres for the plough, fishponds wider than
The Lucrine Lake will be everywhere, and the flat-leaved
Place tree will push out

Regal elms, and violets and myrtles and hosts of
Fragrant flowers will scatter their perfume
Where once the fertile olive grew
In rich groves,

And thick-branched laurels will keep out
The sun. Romulus never meant it
So, nor long-haired Cato, nor any of
Our simple fathers.

They owned almost nothing, but Rome
Was rich beyond measure: no citizen boasted
A porch paced out in ten-foot lengths,
Open to the cool northern winds,

No citizen would dare offend the gods, would
Refuse to build them wonderful shrines, of rare
Marble, and every city was made a delight
At everyone's expense.

I love how even his email reads all poemy-like(can I make 'poemy-like' an official new Boswellian literary device? Yes? Good.)

Joshua will be reading at Boswell Book Co. on Monday, April 20th at 7pm.
Joining him will be two Milwaukee poets (hand-picked by moi), Derrick Harriell and Drew Blanchard.
I hope you can join us. It's going to be a real fiesta.

Monday, April 13, 2009

three wedding bks, two novels, one bk of short stories, one manuscript, one bk of poetry, oh my!

by Sarah Marine

I feel as though I've been reading at a serious crawl. My current reading shelf includes three wedding planning books, two novels, one book of short stories, one manuscript and one book of poetry.

The guides to getting hitched include The Ultimate Wedding: Workbook and Organizer. The workbook portion contains a super comprehensive timeline & collection of budgetary lists. This is handily attached to a small accordian file, variously labeled Attire, Music, Reception, Flowers, etc. so I can be coddled into organizing receipts and other annoying adult-type things. The second most important tool has been Anti-Bride Etiquette Guide, a book whose title sort of backs up the Alt-Kids Bookseller title recently bestowed upon me by Daniel. I'll own up to it only because I think it's hilarious that there is a subset of people who still use Alt- as a prefix. In fact, I'm going to use it more often. Anyway, this book, for example, tells me that in fact it is okay to have two bridal showers when your parents are divorced and the two tribes of females on either side are as different as a 13digit ISBN and a Library of Congress number. Lastly, The DIY Bride, encourages one to "get your craft on". It's a good book to have when exploring cheapcheap alternatives to more expensive crap people will try to convince you that you need to rent. I generally stay away from anything that involves a hot glue gun, but the boutineer ideas and web stuff were pretty useful.

In the long fiction category, I've been slowly making my way through Keith Gessen's All the Sad Young Literary Men. I have to admit that, in the past, Gawker sort of tainted my view of Gessen. I mean, they generally hate on hipsters and young literary types to an obtuse degree, but they do it in a really smart way. However, Sonya from Penguin was a doll and sent me a copy of the new paperback and I decided to (gasp) think outside gossipy Gawker and give it a go. So far, I am enjoying it. Sam, the protagonist, is hell-bent on writing the great Zionist novel of his generation. He reminds me awesomely of a Dean Young poem in which there is:

some sort of crow so unsure of its
crowness, it thinks it's a stone
just as the stone thinks it's
a dark joke in the withered fields
and has to be so opaque to keep
all its ketchupy light inside because
you never know what sonuvabitch
is hanging around, waiting for a chance
to steal your thunder.

Basically the kid is Jewish and tends to date all these Israeli women only in hopes of appearing more Jewish and capable of constructing a novel about a conflict and region he knows little about first-hand. So, yeah, he's confused.
I'm also into The Great Perhaps by Joe Meno. I am enjoying the varied form. It echoes The Squid and the Whale in a lot of ways. Set in Chicago, Meno looks at the complexities of marriage, siblinghood and the quest for personal '-isms' in an academic family.

The manuscript is my fiance's novel (!!!!!). All I can say at this point, is that it is at once exciting and terrifying to be included in this process.
The book of poetry is Take It by Joshua Beckman. Joshua has shared via email a list of books he is enjoying on his tour- which includes a stop next Monday at Boswell's. I will post it later this week.
The short story collection is Sixty Stories by Donald Barthelme.

Happy Monday!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Jack Pendarvis on Reference Books

On Reference! by Jack Pendarvis
I love reference books. I have tons of them. There is nothing more pleasurable than thumbing through a reference book. The subject doesn't matter.

Back when people had money, I would occasionally treat myself to a lavish volume like FISHES OF ALABAMA by Roschung and Mayden, with illustrations by Joseph R. Tomelleri. I don't care about fishes too much. But I love this book about them. It's elaborate and thorough. It makes me think of the book Bruno Schulz describes at the beginning of SANATORIUM UNDER THE SIGN OF THE HOURGLASS (another favorite book, though I don't think you could call it a reference book except in the most mystical way): "The Book lay still and the wind opened it softly like a huge cabbage rose: the petals, one by one, eyelid under eyelid, all blind, velvety, and dreamy, slowly disclosed a blue pupil, a colored peacock's heart..."

Reference books don't have to be expensive. I got a whole hardcover five-volume set of BUTLER'S LIVES OF THE SAINTS at a yard sale for like $2.00. There's some water damage, but the saints can take it!

I have too many reference books to tell you about. I just noticed, while trying to decide which ones to feature here, that Edward O. Wilson wrote the forward to both FISHES OF ALABAMA and THE BEHAVIOR GUIDE TO AFRICAN MAMMALS. I guess he's the go-to guy for your nature reference book forwards. I love that BEHAVIOR GUIDE in part because some of the illustrations are so lovably crude and simple. My favorite example is the chart that claims to show you all nine of a cat's possible facial expressions. I could look at it all day, and sometimes I do. The best cat facial expression might be "an offensive mood unaffected by fear."

I have a bunch of dictionaries of symbols, and I like comparing them. Which one will say the most interesting thing about horses, for example? It's fun to find out! According to Cirlot, "Jung came to wonder if the horse might not be a symbol for the mother." What the...? Says Tresidder, "Of all animals, their symbolism is the least limited, ranging from light to darkness, sky to earth, life to death." I like my symbols more specific and weird, so I'm giving this point to Cirlot.

Walter Benjamin's THE ARCADES PROJECT is like an extremely personal and soulful reference book.

You can't go wrong with the DICTIONARY OF ANCIENT DEITIES. Never know when it might come in handy. It hasn't yet, but you never know!

Speaking of ancient deities, my wife and I have recently started watching BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, on which practically everything is named after a Greek place, event or god. This gives me an excuse to constantly drag out THE OXFORD CLASSICAL DICTIONARY. It doesn't really add anything to the show, but it gives me a good feeling.

FILM NOIR: AN ENCYCLOPEDIC REFERENCE TO THE AMERICAN STYLE contains a few small and baffling errors. But I only know that because it's so wonderfully gripping and accessible I have practically read the covers off of it, and because it has led me to view firsthand dozens of movies I never would have heard of otherwise.

Probably the book I have owned for the longest time is a reference book. It's called HOW TO KNOW THE BIRDS by Roger Tory Peterson. The date written on the inside cover, under my name, is 1971, when I was eight. This book exemplifies something I love about reference books: they have to put things a simple way that strikes me as poetic. Here are some questions under the section "How Does It Fly?" from HOW TO KNOW THE BIRDS:

Does it undulate (dip up and down) like a Goldfinch (below) or a Flicker?

Does it have a straight arrow-like flight like a Dove (below), a Starling or a Duck?

Does it fly erratically, lurching this way and that, like a Nighthawk?

Does it skim like a Swallow or a Tern?

Does it soar like a Gull (below) or a Hawk?

Does it beat its wings slowly like a Heron, or rapidly like a Songbird or a Duck?

Does it progress with an even wing-beat or with several flaps and a sail?

Does it travel in flocks?

PS I forgot to mention THE WPA GUIDE TO 1930s IOWA, in case you're planning a trip to 1930s Iowa. And the great Vance Randolph's DOWN IN THE HOLLER: A GALLERY OF OZARK FOLK SPEECH, in which we learn not to say red onion, moosey, twitchet, satchel, or monkey in the presence of a lady.

---The Downer Avenue bookseller relationship with Jack Pendarvis exemplifies the grand opportunity for the readerly/authorly connection enhanced by the worldwidewebworld (Facebook, blogland). In short, our obsession with this Pendarvis fella can not only be reflected in booksales but also in wall posts and blog comments. Lucky him, lucky us- right? Right.

Jack lives in Oxford, MS, where he "teaches", "writes" and pals around with Tom Franklin. Keep up to date with his wit, groundhog next door and Jerry Lewis love at

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Poetic Goods

Boswell Book Company's first month is brimmin' with poetic goodness.

Monday, April 20th, 7 PM. Wave Books editor and award-winning(NYFA fellowship, Pushcart Prize, finalist for the PEN America Poetry in Translation Award) poet Joshua Beckman reads from his new work 'Take It'. He joins us after my lamenting over no Milwaukee stop- (tons of thanks to Brandon Shimoda from Wave Books for appeasing me). Opening for Beckman will be two Milwaukee writers, Derrick Harriell and Drew Blanchard, UWM instructors, doctoral candidates, oft-published poets, who have had side gigs in a hip hop band, and at a certain Downer Avenue bookshop, respectively.

Saturday, April 25th, 7 PM. An evening of traditional Persian poetry, featuring a selection of poems both in English and Farsi. Then hear Roya Hakakian, brought to town by Alverno College and the Wisconsin Society for Jewish Learning, as she discusses both her poetry and her memoir, Journey from the Land of No: A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iraq.

Wednesday, April 29th, 5-7 PM. Downer Avenue hosts the second annual celebration of Poetry Everywhere, the collection of short-animated films set to famous and soon-to-be-famous verse. This year Liam Callanan has moved his project from city bus to the big screen (Downer Avenue Theatre). The show starts at 7 PM.
Gather at Boswell’s for a pre-show reception/shopping night. You can designate ten percent of your purchase to go to Callanan’s nonprofit poetry project.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Poetry for the nation. In April, especially.

by Sarah Marine

I get really pumped for National Poetry Month. I mean, REALLY excited about it. This level of enthusiasm began with a poem I wrote in the fifth grade about Native Americans & snow, to my teenaged self scrawling little ditties about boys and dead birds. It has matured into a tendency towards crazy nutso obsessions. Anyhow, as a children's bookseller and reader of poetry, below are three juvy titles having to do with poets that I think everyone in the wide world should have in their libraries.

Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude
by Jonah Winter; Calef Brown

With cameos by Matisse, Picasso, Hemingway and of course Alice B. Toklas, the nonlinear prose of this book echoes triumphantly the playful style of Gertrude Stein. The suspended, dream-like illustrations of Calef Brown, add to the surreality of the "narrative" which proclaims, "all art is modern when it's being made". I regularly delve into To Do: A Book of Alphabets and Birthdays, which was originally intended for children by Stein and was rejected as too complex for the young mind. There is something telling about Stein's influence, when the majority of the reviews of this title are written in the Gertrude style, which is style. Style is that which is style. Style is Gertrude is Gertrude.

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams
by Jennifer Bryant; Melissa Sweet

from Brian at Townblog, who introduced me to this title:
"[Ezra] Pound also shows up in River of Words, a biography for children of William Carlos Williams (or "Willie Williams" as he's called in the book). Here, the illustrations by Melissa Sweet combine representations of Williams' early life with the images and text of some of his poetry, so that words rush through and lend an energy to each pages' illustration. Jen Bryant suggests that it is the sound of the Passiac River that leads Williams to strive to find a "New American" approach to poetry, one in which meter and rhyme mattered less than presenting a fresh and uniquely American perspective, as if the continent and its politics and its people could be channeled through the poet. Williams, the small and bespectacled country doctor with his pockets full of poems, becomes in this book a bold and heroic figure. As someone who had to balance an interest in art and poetry with a practical career, Williams has long been a particular hero of mine, and this book clarifies the choice, the sacrifice, and the challenge of that particular balance."

Eloise Wilkin's Poems to Read to the Very Young
by Eloise Wilkin

This is my go-to title for folks looking for baby shower gifts, baptisms and other assorted starter books for a child's library. Wilkin's unparalleled illustrative knack for capturing the wonder and curiosity of a child, often in nature, makes her my absolute favorite of all children's illustrators, ever. This book takes it a step further, accompanying the doe-eyed little dears with poems from Langston Hughes, Aileen Fisher, A. B. Shiffrin, Christina Rossetti, Sarah Coleridge, Robert Louis Stevenson and Kate Greenaway, among many more. I've got an extensive Wilkin library of my own, but have yet to acquire 'Baby Dear', the very first book I can recall reading by myself. My parents presented it with me at the age of three, upon the introduction of my little sister into the mix. I loved the book took me a little longer with the baby.

I leave you now with a Jubilat interview with Dean Young, the object of most of my poetic affections. If what he says in this interview doesn't have you running to your local indie bookshop (Boswell Book Co.), you might be a robot...or a cylon.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Boswellians

The long week between closing a bookstore and opening a bookstore, is one of great travails. The Boswellians would trudge home exhausted from a long day of actual, sort of, could maybe be classified as physical labor, crawl weary-eyed into their warm springtime beds, neglecting the dusty stack of books on bedside table and fall into a deep bookseller slumber, vivid dreams of the old fashioned handsell being just beyond their reach. But, at last, these troubling times are over, as 2559 N. Downer Avenue is open for bookselling business. So far it’s been two glorious days of the smiling Milwaukee literati ambling through the doorframe exclaiming, “I’m so glad you’re open!” and the Boswellian reply, “We’re so glad you’re here!”

We have a few stellar plans- which include guest posts from the likes of Jack Pendarvis and Laura Lippman & some question and answer sessions with Joshua Beckman and Keith Gessen. See? It's so exciting! All that and regular book reviews from a newish group of Downer booksellers eager to tell you all about what they're reading. The land of Boswell is righton, righton.