Friday, May 14, 2010

Yarr... there be treasure buried!

When I was a kid, I dreamed of adventures. I hoped every day that something exciting would happen. Dinosaurs coming back to life, or aliens landing on earth. Or perhaps a Boxcar Children-esque mystery for me to solve. Nothing too dangerous, just something to break the dreary monotony of my dull childhood life.

In hindsight, I realize this was an incredibly naive thing to wish. I didn't know how good I had it. I still yearn for adventure and treasure-seeking, gallavanting across the globe with an Indiana Jones style fervor. But I realize that the majority of such things are the imaginings of a bored and creative child's mind. Real treasure hunts aren't something booksellers generally get to go on.

Until now.

The Clock Without A Face is a McSweeney's production (which one could probably guess just by looking at it), and it defies any sort of genre-classification you try to pin upon it. It's a picture book, it's a mystery, it's an interactive adventure. The basic idea is that you are attempting to solve a mystery by looking at the apartments of a building's eccentric tenants. It's sort of like Where's Waldo meets interior design, but forces you to think rather abstractly to solve the mysteries. And then at the end, it is revealed that the twelve numbers off the face of the clock at the top of the building are real. Yes - tangible, real life, if-you-find-them-you-get-them real. And they are buried around the United States, with their locations encrypted within the drawings in the book.

Oh my gosh. It's a treasure hunt. A real one. I was skeptical at first, so I took a look at the website on the back of the book. It seems legit. Apparently there are a lot of people trying to figure this stuff out. Folks have been putting their heads together over the internet, trying to figure out where the numbers are buried. Here's the kicker: as of my writing of this - 7:38 PM on 5/14/10 - none of them have been found.

Come on in and take a gander at this book, since I'm really not doing it justice by my descriptions. It's in the kid's section, most likely face out and with a funky shape. Try your hand at finding the real-life treasure.

Oh, and if you do find a number, I get the assist!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Refreshing Translations

A few months ago we created a display to accompany the Best Translated Book Award prize for 2010. It has sold well and we receive many compliments on it. So, a makeover was clearly in order.

Just last week in New York City, PEN American Center held their week-long, sixth annual, World Voices Festival of International Literature featuring 150 writers from 40 countries. This celebration of connecting literature from around the world to readers of other languages is a reminder that with globalization comes the opportunity to embark upon new literary journeys.

So, with an aesthetic facelift and some new titles, the books-in-translation display is alert and refreshed, ready for another round of introducing Milwaukee readers to works from other countries.

The refreshed display includes a diverse range of languages from all over: Western Europe (Italian, French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Greek); the East (Russian, Chinese, Japanese); Scandinavia (Danish, Icelandic, Norwegian); the Middle East/Africa (Hebrew, Arabic); South America (Portugese); and some less familiar tongues (Catalan, Basque, Croatian, middle-Scots).

There's The Tsar's Dwarf by Peter Fogtdal (translated from the Danish by Tiina Nunnally), a darkly humorous exploration of religion and what it means to be human, told through the heart and mind of a Danish dwarf kept by Peter the Great in the early 18th century. I also recommend Fogtdal's riotous blog about books, U.S. life, and culture clashes.

We have Seamus Heaney's translation of Robert Henryson's epic poem The Testament of Cresseid and Seven Fables from the Middle-Scots, a version of English spoken in the 1400-1500s. You may scoff at my inclusion of an "English" book with works in translation, but Middle Scots is not exactly English as we understand it today. For example: "Ane sillie scheill under an erdfast stane / Off quhilk the entres wes not hie nor braid;"

The Accordionist's Son by Bernardo Atxaga (translated from the Basque by Margaret Jull Costa) deftly weaves the traditions and culture of the Basque people with the memories of a self-exiled man to explore the history of a little-known region as it grapples with war and keeping it's identity alive. Themes of class, family and politics blend together seamlessly in this superb, dark, yet celebratory tale.

Tatyana Tolstaya, of the literary family Tolstoy, echoes her familial legacy of brilliantly inventive writing with The Slynx - a post-apocalyptic, dystopian novel (set 200 years after the end of civilization as we know it) that begets a radioactively mutated new race, old humans clinging to the last scraps of the world's literature even though books and freethought are banned, and a mysterious creature that stalks this new landscape.

Or how about The Pets by Bragi Olafsson (translated from the Icelandic by Janice Balfour), which takes place entirely in one apartment as a man hides under a bed when an old friend comes to visit, but that friend comes inside anyway, makes himself at home and throws a huge party. All the while, the poor Emil is hiding away under his bed.

These magnificent works are here for our enjoyment thanks to the laborious, inglorious work of translators. Won't you pick one up today?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Spring Green Market Days

Last week we had our first of a month of Spring Green Market Days (Sundays in May, 2-6pm, rain or shine). Our May 4th newsletter featured photos and information about the vendors who set up shop on the sidewalk outside our store.

Spring Green Market #2 was held on Mother's Day with some familiar faces and some new. These brave souls weathered the chill that accompanied the lack of sunlight, smiling and chatting up all the passersby.

Glass Goddess Designer Jewelry was in attendance for a second week with her beautiful pendants, as was Auntie G.G.'s Farm Market Perennials (though she sells maple syrup and handcrafted soaps, too). Auntie G.G. brought a new item this week: candy apples from the award winning Amy's Gourmet Apples in Cedarburg, including a strawberry cheesecake apple! Daniel was very excited about buying an apple, but disappointed when he realized the store didn't have a knife big enough or sharp enough to cut it into immediately consumable pieces.

Newcomers this week offered handmade items edible (cheeses, mushrooms, pickled asparagus, relishes, pasta sauces) and not (purses and cloth birds), though I guess you could eat the purses if you really wanted to, I just don't think it would digest too well.

Sally Shearer of Sally's Purses had a full rack with varying sizes, from a small purse to large over-the-shoulder tote or market bag (perfect for mushrooms and a candy apple!). Handmade entirely from recycled fabrics (old windbreakers, vinyl tablecloths), re-purposed materials (belts, seed bags) and found objects (buttons, trinkets). What started out as a personal project because she was tired of paying out the nose for a new purse, Sally realized she had found a home for her love of unusual fabrics and found material. A Bay View resident and member of the Bay View Arts Guild, you can find her at the South Shore Water Frolics in July, as well as other area craft shows.

A familiar face from our holiday Farmer's & Artisan's Markets was Decatur Dairy, a co-op located in Brodhead, WI. Headed up by Master Cheesemaker Steve Stettler and with 100% of their milk products coming from a family farm, Decatur Dairy features 24 varieties of cheese, all handmade. Their Havarti is a U.S. championship cheese, having swept the top awards for several years running; and their Muenster is a First Place world championship cheese! I found that out after sharing my love of their Muenster Pepper and secondary love of the Herb Havarti, so I swear I'm not making this up. Decatur has a physical storefront as well as an online store - they will ship!

The celebrity of today's market, however, was Eric Rose of River Valley Ranch & Kitchens, who just happened to have been featured in today's Sunday Journal Sentinel - "The Fungus Among Us." 33 years ago Eric began helping out his father, a former restaurant owner sick of not being able to find a good mushroom provider who started growing his own, in exchange for a place to grow some bean sprouts. This "labor of love" blossomed into a whole new life, with River Valley growing from just one employee to 30, being featured on the Food Network's show Food Finds for their Portabella Salsa, and on its way to becoming a certified organic food producer. With five varieties of mushrooms, as well as asparagus, onions and other vegetables, Eric Rose and River Valley Kitchens create their own assortment of fresh salsas, dips, pasta sauces, bruschettas and even a Portabella-Wasabi Steak Sauce and Marinade. I recommend the Artichoke Dip which mixes with cream cheese for a delightful, fresh, and happy-mouth experience. You can find River Valley's products at area markets throughout the season, as well as their online store. For those of you thinking about following in his footsteps, Eric says "It's not as easy as it looks." And 33 years later, he still isn't growing bean sprouts.