Monday, June 29, 2009

Getting Lit in Texahoma

The inaugural bookshopping experience in my future home state of Oklahoma was a very interesting one in which I interacted with two delightful bookshop kitties, drove long stretches of prairie dotted with oil pumps and cattle and although did not find the one John McPhee book I hoped to scoop up, zoomed away from OK with a handful of delightful titles.

The first thing we learned is that when a used bookstore has zero competition it is right easy for this bookstore to price their books to provoke gasps from those bookshoppers who have been spoiled by the likes of Renaissance and Downtown Books. The Used Bookstore in Lawton was one such place, a place where Miss Maple lazed around all over the toppled piled of magazines meowing for pets and the owner played Willie Nelson on the boombox behind the counter of the front room which itself emitted its own bookshopper tractor beam for all the regional titles ranging in topic from topography books to Dust Bowl narratives and Comanche literature & folklore. Although we didn't purchase anything there was a decision made to return to those stacks regularly upon our encampment on the banks of Medicine Creek.

Next we sought out this mysterious Hastings place that touted itself in the phonebook as an "entertainment" store. They are a chain retailer that sells books, music and DVDs. The selection was much less varied than Boswell and set up much like any other chain bookstore save that the books wrap around the center of the shop where the music and DVDs are. The kids bargain section was impressive and I picked up a copy of New Baby Train by Woody Guthrie(himself, a native Okie) and The Juniper Tree and Other Grimm Tales. Bayard got a used Delillo- yes, they also sold a small selection of used titles. The whole set-up was a bit odd but I suppose that without an indie nearby and if we are seriously jonesing for a title we may have to stop in from time to time.

The most notable outing was our hour-long drive into the northern wilds of Texas to Archer City and Larry McMurtry's Booked Up. What is Archer City like? Well, it's just like the small town of Thalia in McMurtry's Horseman, Pass By. Exactly like it, except in real life three of the four blocks that make up the main drag are occupied by the four buildings that house the endless used books under McMurtry's care. The other establishments include The Wildcat Cafe- which for what it lacked in decoration and smoke-free environs it made up for with the best cheeseburger Bayard had had in as long as he could remember; the guy behind the counter also asked, "Ya'll in town for the bookstore, are ya?".

He was awesome, along with the table of old-timers drinking coffee in the back whose conversation subsided when anyone entered the restaurant and picked up again once the entrant(s) sat down. I really wanted to get the 75 dollar signed copy of Richard Hugo's The Lady in Kicking Horse Reservoir but settled instead on a hardcover of Tim Winton's Minimum of Two. On a sidenote, on the drive between St. Louis and Tulsa, on the way down, we happened upon a PRI segment featuring Tim Winton. Lucky, huh? Again, the prices at Booked Up were not as low as I'm used to in used books but the selection was mind-boggling expansive and The Wildcat Cafe was a definite bonus. Our waiter also loudly clued us in on the make, model and color of Larry's car, in case we were looking for him and on the short, extremely hot, walk back to our vehicle, we did see this car and we did see the man in his black-rimmed glasses but refrained from saying anything, mostly because I'm afraid of famous people (esp. ones that have won the Pulitzer) and Bayard isn't very talkative by nature. However, in a perfect world, I would have commented on what a delight it was to be followed around the rare book room by his very chatty bookshop tomcat.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Few Books About Food

Michael Pollan changed the way I buy food, and has increased my need to read about food and the environment. And, summer is a good time to do this, considering all the great farmers markets and fresh, local food around. I am more aware of buying local (I joined a CSA for the 3rd year in a row) and the need to support local organizations that are rooted in my community. In his book, In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan has a great line that says: "If your parents or grandparents would not recognize what your eating as food, then don't eat it." That is a rough quote, not exactly verbatim. Pollan would like people to think about local, sustainable avenues for food consumption; and no, buying from the local gas station does not count. The quote hark ens back to a time when people had no choice but to buy and eat locally. Which leads right into a new book by Mark Kurlansky called The Food of a Younger Land.

Back in the 1930's the WPA sent out a group of writers, from Eudora Welty to Zora Neale Hurston, to chronicle what Americans ate. This was before chain restaurants and fast food joints took over the country, this was the land of the New York Automats and of the Mint Julep controversy. It was the New York Soda Fountain Slang guide for ordering your food that I found fascinating(for instance, Hug One was Orange Juice, and Blind 'em was two eggs fried on both sides). Kurlansky did a great job of putting together the files that the writers left behind, reading this book makes you hungry, very hungry. This book is a lot of fun, I felt myself wishing for these simplier times again with the good food (yes, I know the great depression was in full swing). And as for the section on Wisconsin, we can still order up the regions specialty in the Friday Fish Fry.

An Edible History of Humanity by Tom Standage delves into the deeper history behind food and civilizations. He starts off in the near east with barley, wheat, and sustainable agriculture and then, moves through history touching on the potato famine and the spice trade. He points out that the history of food intersects with that of the history of humanity and that they go hand-in-hand all throughout. He focuses on a few net causes in history and shows them repeating throughout (for instance, that food was used to pay taxes which then was used to pay government workers), maybe a few times too many, but this was a good, interesting read. He is the author of Salt and Cod, he always has something interesting to point out that others may have missed.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Food Inc Documentary is out, Read the book!!

I am really late in plugging this, but the Food Inc documentary is out! Though, it is not playing anywhere near Milwaukee, but opened in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, and Vegas. Hopefully, it will do well enough that it will become widespread throughout the country. From the few reviews I read, the movie is shocking and powerful in the way that Fast Food Nation made people recoil. But fear not, your local bookshop should have copies on hand, I know we do.

The momentum that authors like Michael Pollan, Bill McKibben, Eric Scholosser and Barbara Kingsolver seemed to have re-kicked off, seems to only be picking up. They started the conversation, the book & movie package should continue it. Questioning where our food comes from and what is our food made from are only the tip of the iceberg. I will write more on this in a later posting along with a handful of new books out but for now here is the trailer.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Ocean's Sweaty Face in your mailbox

I have to admit that I haven't bought a McSweeney's Quarterly in a very long time. I really loved Yannick Murphy's Here They Come, McSweeney's Book of Poets Picking Poets, The People of Paper and a few other things, but it got to the point where I couldn't justify buying an entire hardcover priced issue. Thankfully they've come up with a way to own all the clever design without shelling out a bunch of cash- GREETINGS FROM THE OCEAN'S SWEATY FACE: 100 MCSWEENEY'S POSTCARDS. The postcards feature artwork by Daniel Clowes, Charles Burns, Marcel Dzama and David Byrne, among many others. The lucky among you will begin to receive them, postmarked from the frontier, around mid-August.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

A Journey to Salt Lake City and a Couple of New Books Out This Week

Back in January, when Daniel first announced that he was going to open a book shop at the Downer Ave location, we travelled to Salt Lake City to help prepare for the coming adventure. It was the host site of Winter Institute, an educational weekend, where booksellers talk to other booksellers, some publishers, and authors for upcoming books. I must say that Salt Lake City was nothing like what I thought it was going to be.

It has a couple of great independent book stores in The King's English Book Shop and Sam Weller's Zion Bookstore. Both shops are the complete opposite of the other. Sam Weller's is a huge three story bookshop that could swallow up our bookshop whole. It has their used books mixed in with their new books, which I thought was great, and they have a labriynth in the basement of really old books and magazines. The King's English is full of nooks and crannies and a great selection of titles. I loved the way they displayed and took their teen books out of the kids section. They are on a fantastic street full of restaurants and a few other retail shops. A great middle eastern restaurant that we ate at was Mazza, I highly recommend the falaful sandwich.

I was lucky enough to get invited to a dinner with Macmillan and their authors while I was out there. It was lucky, because I was excited to meet Mishna Wolff. Her new book, I'm Down, which came out last week, was hilarious. She grew up in a poor black neighborhood with her white father who thought he was black man. He walked the walk and talked to the talk, however Mishna never fit in. I liked the book mainly for her wild attempts to garner attention from her father, and quite possibly because of the crazy cover. She joins a basketball team that only has black girls on it. Her mother shows up into the picture, and moves her to a prep school, mostly all white. She still does not fit in, this time for the opposite reason. Her stunts at attempting to be accepted by either culture are funny and left me feeling awkward for her. Ultimately, she has to find her balance that makes her happy. I highly recommend this book.

However, after talking to Mishna Wolff about her experiences about writing the book and the food, Macmillan had the authors move to different tables. Shannon Hale sat down at our table. I knew who Shannon Hale was, but had never read her. I must say that she was highly entertaining and has us rolling in our seats. The main theme of her new adult novel, she writes mostly for young adult and has a new Bayern novel coming this fall (our children's booksellers knew who she was right away), centers around a wife meeting a celebrity that is on her top five list. Everybody knows the list, it contains celebrities that your significant other would run off with. My wife only has one that I know of: George Clooney. Never going to happen, so no worries. In The Actor and the Housewife, Becky meets her dream guy, and they hit it off. Not an affair so to speak, but they quickly become best friends. You can see where the monkey wrench gets thrown in. Anyway, Shannon Hale was a lot fun, and if you need a good beach read, I think this might be the one for you.

Both books are recent arrivals at our shop and our being featured in our Boswell's Best at 20% off this month.

Liking Ladylike w/ Olivia, Julie & Julia

Sometimes I really like lady-like things. I'm listening to Olivia Gentile talk right now (I'm live-blogging. It's my debut) and she's talking about this woman, Phoebe Snetsinger, who is diagnosed with cancer and decides to make it her mission to see every species of bird she can before she dies and I'm standing here yelling, in my head, "you go girl!" I sure am. Ms. Gentile is very sweet and funny and I might want to get a manicure with her or something. This all reminds me of a conversation I recently had with Godsave where the trailer for Julie & Julia comes on the TV and I watch open-mouthed and laugh when Meryl Streep as Julia Child makes a farting noise at someone and I proclaim, "I don't want to see Star Track(yup), I want to see that!" Also, Julie & Julia is a book so I'm more allowed to talk about it here on a book blog.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

from the wilds of Brasil, Tom Franklin

Now this from Tom Franklin, author of SMONK.

We had a righteously animated book flocking the last week to discuss SMONK and as a result I have some semi-legible questions scrawled on bar napkins for you.

1. The first question begs for a prequel and pleads, "we want more Smonk."
I've often thought of a sequel. Ned Smonk is born via caeserean (sp?) so that Evavangeline survives. She social climbs to a position of prominence and Ned becomes a ruthless Alabama policitian. Wm R. McKissick Jr, his father (though he doesn't know it) tries to assassinate him for reasons I've not been drunk or stoned enough to contrive. Yet.
But my wife -- agent either -- won't tolerate any more Smonk. In fact, BA, reading my new novel ms, calls any overwritten parts Smonkian, and cuts them.

2. Why Eugene, Oregon? Why not name him Ann Arbor, Michigan or Denver, Colorado?Because I liked the name E. O. Smonk and knew, upon thinking of E. and O. together, that they'd stand for Eugene and Oregon. It's also the reverse of O. E. Parker --Obidiah Elihue Parker-- in Flannery O'Connor's story "Parker's Back," a story I love.
Also, early in the writing of Smonk, I came up with a mythos of Smonks, and part of it was that they'd take the name of wherever they were born. That went, but the name stuck.

3. What inspired the rabies religion? Was it rooted in some historical situation or was it purely a product of your twisted, southern mind?
For the longest time I didn't know what Smonk was. Werewolf? Half-dog, half man? The missing link? I just knew he was something other than completely human. The spooky town of Old Texas, with its widows, was part of the book but with its past unexplained. Then my friend, writer Michael Knight, read an early version of the ms and asked abt the town. I didn't know. But, to answer his question, I wrote that whole flashback past scene in a fevered frenzy, almost 20 pp, being horrified and delighted as I went. Kind of a metaphor for any religion, you know, a "prophet" and those who follow him.

4. As the night progressed and we had exhausted all discussion of Smonk, Cormac McCarthy, Deadwood and 21 Jump Street, our attention moved to the cover. We know authors don't have much say in this decision but...where's the goiter? Is the gun a pump action shotgun or an over under (I don't know about guns but this member of the book club was very interested in knowing if you knew).
The cover. I love it. I worried that, because I'd made so much of Smonk not wearing hats, the cover had one. So the artist removed the hat and I have that version of the cover somewhere. But it wasn't as cool-looking, I thought. Then my editor said, "It doesn't have to be exact, as long as it gets the feeling." I agreed.

But I also had Smonk put on a hat, for a disguise, at the book's end, as he and Ike sneak into Old Texas. Note, too, that there's no rain in the book, but there is on the cover. So I wrote in some rain, too. I know, I know, I'm a whore. But E. O. would approve.

The gun, not an over and under, but I don't think he had the gun until he got into the room, when McKissick brought it back. So it's just a convenient firearm that he goes in with.

5. An artist in our group, Kristopher Pollard has finished his own drawing of Smonk. It will be revealed to me tonight and then smuggled to you via internet...because we're creeps and nerds.

I would LOVE to see the rendering of Smonk. Please do forward it when you can. Maybe I can put it on my homepage or something. Though I can never figure that stuff out.

Thank yall for keeping ole E. O. and co. alive. I wish I could've been there.

Tom is currently living in Brasil with his family. He just finished a new novel entitled CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER. He is very nice.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

I'm sick of Brooklyn, too, Ed Nawotka.

Thinking a lot about regionalism lately, I've been mulling over my own dislike for travel. I really just hate it. I hate the fuss and the non-familiarities and the having to be on time for things. My lit. preferences tend to mirror this as the geographic trends in my reading hover significantly around the one place (or subject) for extended periods of time. Most recently, Australia was my readerly home and this sprung from a year-long hang-up with surf culture/lit.

I share with Ed Nawotka of Houston a similar disdain for the tendency of major book reviews to spend the majority of their readerly/critic time in NYC but I'm sure it's their own regional love that leads to this phenomenon. Believe me, I'm the last person you'd see running around swooning over Wells Tower. Ander Monson, however, needs only flinch for me to completely lose it. I would wager my entire home library on the bet that if Ander Monson wrote a novel about the snow, static electricity and hollow sound of walking on a frozen lake and set it in or within 100 miles of New York City, he'd be front page NYtimes Sunday Book Review material- throw in a 9-11 subplot and he's a National Book Award shoe-in.

Furthermore, my Oklahoma reading is fullforceahead as I'm just about to finish Horseman, Pass By by Larry McMurtry and Hud is in the Netflix queue or whatever it's called. It seems I'm moving to a land where the majority of one's day is spent longing for a breeze or a cool-down. Joe Meno, a stellar Chicago author, was in town for a reading at the store and my husbandinthreeweeks, Bayard Godsave, read a couple stories as a local opener (which Daniel is trying to do more often and I think is absolutely wonderful). Prior to the ballyhoo, they (Bayard and Joe) were chatting about our move to OK and there was a great exchange where neither of them could decide if the state was in the South, the Midwest or what. I vote for the South, mostly because I'm manifesting in my mind endless sweet tea and biscuits and gravy and also that's what they eat in the McMurtry (they also sweat through their leather belts, but I'm choosing to ignore that).

The catalyst for this post is a video I found as I was obsessively following BEA via the internetz (the BEA which I've gathered signals the end of BEA as anyone has known it). It's from the NBCC panel where that guy I mentioned earlier, Ed Nawotka, whose name is remarkably Wisconsin but he lives in Houston and has a bone to pick with book critics all reviewing the same books (ahem- he clearly hasn't been to The Inside Flap- which is sadly lacking in updates, but was booming for years with Downer Schwartz employee reviews). The panel responds with the example of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Geeta Sharma-Jensen for successfully localizing her book section. I can personally attest to this.