Monday, December 12, 2011

Pride3 and Prejudice3

Although I have long been a fan of all things Jane Austen, I admit to being somewhat disdainful of the recent spate of mashups involving some of my favorite novels.

A few years ago when Pride and Prejudice and Zombies came out, I had no interest in it, and was horrified to learn that my book club had chosen it as one of their selections. After grudgingly agreeing to try it, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. The Bennett sisters were portrayed as strong young women who were protecting their neighborhood from an onslaught of undead creatures. More importantly, George Wickham received his comeuppance in this version of the story, which is quite different from the original. In Miss Austen’s version, Wickham’s only punishment is marriage to Lydia and a lifetime yoked to her. Perhaps that is enough.

I have just finished the latest offering by PD James, Death Comes to Pemberley. I was thrilled to learn that at age 91, this veteran mystery writer is still cranking out books. In this novel, she combines the delightful characters of Pride and Prejudice some years after the original book ends, with her specialty of criminal investigation and suspense. Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are happily married and living at Pemberley with their two young sons. Jane and Mr. Bingley are also happily married and living nearby with their offspring. Events take a dramatic turn, when on the night of their annual ball, Lydia arrives uninvited, hysterical, insisting that her husband is dead.
Once the body is discovered and the search for the murderer begins, the story is all PD James. Fans of her Adam Dalgliesh mysteries will enjoy this book as well as diehard Austen devotees.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

On the Creation of a New Section

It was one of those mornings where the phones were ringing long before the doors were even unlocked for business. I took a call from a young woman seeking a botany reference book. Nothing specific, which means having to physically scan the section, looking for what suited her request (basic, detailed, illustrations would be nice). I find two possibilities, one which seems perfect. I return to the phone, giving the caller a description. She doesn't want me to hold it for her, but will come in looking for it later if she's interested. I go to put the book back on the shelf, only to realize I can't, because the Gardening section is almost completely out of order.

So, I start to re-alphabetize (by author) the whole section.

While doing so, I notice other things - books that are shelved in the wrong section (in General Gardening but are about Landscaping) or perhaps labeled incorrectly (labeled as Vegetable Gardening, but is really more Garden Literature). I also start noticing a trend - one I'd casually noticed before but which had suddenly turned into Red Car Syndrome* - an abundance of books about growing food and raising chickens in urban environs, as well as guides for new homesteaders and memoirs from hobby farmers.

The more I think about this, I start recalling other similar titles I'd seen in other sections of the store, ranging from Memoir to Cooking to Nature. So, I propose to Jason that we merge them all into its own distinct section. We agree that if there's at least a dozen titles, it's probably a good idea.

So, the process begins of gathering up titles that seem to fit in the sort of section that addresses this new(ish) interest in self-sufficiency in small, urban spaces. Before each book can be relabeled, they need a category code, something to help booksellers shelve and then find sought-after books. They're all three letters and start with a letter that usually stands for the overarching subject (F for Fiction, I for Issues, etc.). We decide it should be peripheral to Gardening (G), but what should the other letters be and what should they stand for? We repeatedly brainstorm a few things but Sharon points out that Urban Farming, in Gardening would give us an acronym of GUF, which made Sharon giggle, so we couldn't not go with GUF.

Once that's settled, each book must be logged into the store's inventory database with its new code and then a label printed and put on the back of the book. Then, they are shelved all together in a happy new area all its own. Of course, this entire process takes all day since it's pretty detail-oriented and time-consuming, particularly when its done while also taking time out to help customers, answer phones, wrap books for gifts, etc.

The highlight of it all was when (and I am not making this up) at the end of the day, shortly before we closed, a young man came in and asked, "Where do you keep books on urban farming?" I smiled bigger than he probably expected so it might have seemed a little creepy, and led him to our brand new section.

What titles can you expect to find in GUF? Here's a sampling:

Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter
The Urban Homestead by Kelly Coyne & Erik Knutzen
Urban Homsteading: Heirloom Skills for Sustainable Living by Rachel Kaplan
The Bucolic Plague by Josh Kilmer-Purcell
The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food and Love by Kristin Kimball
Mini-Farming: Self Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre by Brett Markham
Homegrown & Handmade by Deborah Niemann
Your Farm in the City by Lisa Taylor

*Red Car Syndrome: When you own a red car, you notice all the red cars on the road and they seem to be everywhere.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Something About Childhood Memories, or, Snappy Title to be Determined.

A Blog Post from Mark

I was trying to come up with a list of my 5 favorite books from 2011 for our bookstore newsletter. After going over everything that I’d read during the year, I finally came up with my list. Some titles were fiction, some were memoirs but as I looked over the list, I saw a pattern emerge. A number of books such as We the Animals by Justin Torres, The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje, and It’s All Relative by Wade Rouse all had something to do with childhood, either from a child’s perspective of from recollections from childhood. Particularly from the vantage point of children from 11-13 years of age, which are particularly crazy and volatile years.

I even wrote a small anecdote about a book, by request of our friend John Eklund who is a rep for Harvard University Press regarding a new book called On Rereading by Patricia Meyer Spacks. I wrote about having reread a book that I’d been required to read in high school, a book that I hated at the time, but fell in love with when I read it years later. The book was The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, which is now I book that I cherish. Here was a story about a boy in his early teens setting out (although not exactly by choice) on an incredible, life-changing adventure. Yet as a young teen reading the story, I somehow was not able to appreciate it.

I think as we get older we not only look back fondly on our formative years, but only as adults are we able to evaluate it and put it into some kind of perspective that fits into who we are now. In an interview about her new book The End of Everything, Megan Abbott talks about her 13 year old protagonist and describes the world of a young teen as ‘big, terrifying, and thrilling’ and how everything takes on a heightened sense of drama.

There is something to that transitional point in our lives, in our early teens, when we are no longer ‘little kids’ but we are not yet grown-ups either. The world is full of mysteries and wonder and it is an exciting and scary time. As we read or write books that center on that time in our lives, it gives us an opportunity to connect once again with who we were then. Not to be there again necessarily, because of course we can’t go back, nor should we really want to. We all have to grow up, but maybe by connecting with stories about childhood, we as adults can rekindle some of the sense of wonder that we had, and the sense that anything in the world is possible.

(My apologies for listing the poster as Daniel, but we just set up Mark's account. It really was written by Mark.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Party Like it's 1989

To every geek girl and nerd boy who's ever wanted to ride a lightcycle or wear a browncoat, I give the ultimate party blend of every cult film, gaming, music, comic or literary pop culture reference from the last 25 years of the 20th century.

In Ready Player One, it's 2044 and the world is so heavily ridden with poverty and crime that most of the population immerses themselves in a virtual reality where magic is real and technology rivals that of Star Trek. When the designer behind this online escapist fantasy dies and leaves his fortune to whoever can journey through one last great gaming adventure, our hero Wade Watts determines he will win it all and leave the real world behind for good. What happens next is a new adventure of epic proportions complete with a kiss to rival Westley and Buttercup's.

This is the perfect book for anyone who has ever purchased items while traveling the Oregon Trail, knows what to do with two halves of a coconut, frantically rolled a die and scribbled with a pencil, pumped their fist in the air in rebellious triumph, danced if they wanted to, or spent an afternoon dropping quarters in slots listening to the sounds of beeps and boops. It is the novel of a generation inside of which beats the heart of our collective future.

Calling it the "geek book event of the year," Drew McWeeny writes in his review on 'Motion Captured' at "It is a preposterously great read, and a richly imagined science-fiction world that uses the very idea of nostalgia as a thematic jumping-off point. By embracing the idea full-force, Ernie's crafted one of the first truly significant works of art about the '80s generation and their refusal to let go of their childhood, and what value there is in shared cultural experience."

The author, Ernest Cline, will be appearing at Boswell Book Company on Monday August 29th at 7pm. Check out our Facebook event listing for more fun links and share with friends!

Thanks to a little bit of pre-release bookseller fun at the retro record store and video game arcade Logan Hardware in Chicago, we managed to connect with Ernie for a little Q&A.


While I'm sure you had a lot of the pop culture references floating around your brain already for the writing of RP1, was there any book, movie, game, or album that you discovered for the first time and really fell in love with? Or perhaps a pop culture area that you hadn't been familiar with that you really got into?

I've always been fascinated with late-20th century pop culture, so I'm not sure if I "discovered" anything new in that vein while writing the book, but I definitely re-discovered a lot of stuff. In fact, I think that's probably one of the reasons it took me so long to finish the book. Whenever I didn't feel like writing (which was most of the time), I would throw in an old 80s movie like Ladyhawke that I hadn't seen in years, or boot up MAME and play some classic video games - all under the guise of "research" for my book. It's bad news for your productivity when your "research" is indistinguishable from "goofing off." That's actually a problem that confronts the characters in my book.

You did a lot of spoken word work in your earlier years. I find “Nerd Porn Auteur” to be hysterically funny, and am constantly making people listen to it. Do you have any other spoken word pieces stashed away that have yet to see the light of day, and will we perhaps be honored with one at any of your live events?

Thank you for forcing my work on your friends! I wrote nearly all of my spoken word stuff back around the turn of the century, and I threw all of it up on the Internet - even the pieces that weren't that stellar. I stopped performing and writing spoken word on a regular basis in 2001, but since all of my work is online, new people are always discovering it, which is extremely cool. I still continue to come up with great ideas for spoken word pieces. A few of them wound up in my novel, but most of them are just sitting in a folder on my hard drive. Once my book tour is over and things calm down a bit, I've considered putting together a new spoken word album, just for fun. We shall see.

And yes, I totally anticipate a few fans of my spoken word showing up at my book signings to demand that I recite "Airwolf." If that happens, I will dutifully comply.

Did you get to meet Kristen Bell when she filmed Fanboys? I want her to be my best friend, can you introduce us? Or, at the very least, get her to play the part of Art3mis in the film version of RP1?

Yes, and she is just about the sweetest person you'd ever want to meet. When we met, I still hadn't seen any of Veronica Mars, but I had seen her appearance on the show Deadwood, and in a cast of amazing actors, she totally stole the show. So I totally geeked out on her about how amazing she was on Deadwood, but she was totally cool about it. And since she's one of my favorite actresses, I think she'd make a fantastic Art3mis! (But you'll have to wear a brunette wig like you did in Fanboys, Kristen. Sorry!)

(And sadly, no, I can't introduce you to her, because she took out something called a "restraining order" against me, and I'm not supposed to go within a hundred yards or her now.)

Speaking of stars, another one of my childhood crushes, Wil Wheaton, has recorded the audio version of RP1, and it's no secret how you geeked out over getting him to do it. Did you also know he's been a fan of yours for about ten years? How awesome is it that he's just as excited about your book as you are to have him narrate it?

It is BEYOND AWESOME, just like Wil himself. When he linked to my spoken word website on Fark back in 2003, it resulted in me selling about a gabillion CDs, and it also gave my self-confidence as a writer a huge boost, right when I really needed it, because I'd just started working on Ready Player One. So it's total karma that Wil ended up narrating the audio book. He's been an inspiration to me for ages, so it's pretty amazing to have him work on my book.

You have to pick one book, one album, one game, one movie, and one snack to take to a deserted island that only allows for retro items - nothing from the 21st Century can be brought with you... What do you take?

Book: The Complete Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Game: Black Tiger

Movie: Real Genius

Snack: Twizzlers

Greg asks: "If OASIS was real right now, would you make use of it and how often?"

If the OASIS was real right now, I'd probably be addicted to it. In fact, I'd probably be answering these questions from within my virtual underground stronghold, talking to you via a live vidfeed.

Carl wants to know what your favorite number is and Jason wants to know, how many gigawatts does it take to go back in time?

My favorite number is 42, and it takes 1.21 gigawatts to go back in time.

Speaking of gigawatts, is Ecto88 making the tour?

Yes, I am driving Ecto88 on the tour. But it is a 30 year old Irish-made sports car, so I'm hoping it will survive the 2000+ mile journey.



"I'm a geek, and I think that made me appreciate even more the ambitious narrative structure and the incredible creative detail... This is a 'frakking' good read." -Carole Barrowman, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

"Ready Player One is a great read for all the geeks out there and something you can hand off, unashamedly, to your friends and family when you are finished reading."

"Cline strikes the nerves of nerd culture as expertly as Andy played that skeleton organ in The Goonies." -Entertainment Weekly (A-)

"Ready Player One’ provides a most excellent ride. Once the story is up and running, and the novel blasts to its world-ending climactic battle, I found the adventure story and its revenge of the dorks dream fully satisfying." -Ethan Gilsdorf, 'Geek Pride', Psychology Today

"I loved every sentence of this book, and was a little sad when I reached the end and re-entered reality." -Mark Frauenfelder,

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Canophile Inside

Nearly two years ago I happened upon an advanced reader's copy of a book titled Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell and Know. I loved it, scribbling out a quick recommendation card to attend the book on our New Non-Fiction shelf:

"Many things a lover/observer of dogs has long known are now being confirmed by scientific research into the fascinating, no longer entirely unknowable, minds of dogs."

It landed, the New York Times gave it a great review and people started coming in asking for it. Then NPR did a story. Sales shot up again and it eventually became a #1 New York Times bestseller. It's a book that has deserved all the press it has been getting. It isn't the first book to really explore life from a dog's senses, backed up by the most current research into canine biology, ethology and evolution but it is certainly the most readable survey of the topic. Did you know that a dog can follow a human's point but our closest relative, the chimp, cannot? Or that a Siberian Husky develops, in some areas, at a rate even faster than wolves? Do you know why your dog is so eager to taste everything? Any guesses as to the true motivations of a dog who saves someone's life? This one is truly for the intellectual canophile.

Just a few months ago, a second book came nipping at the heels of Horowitz's science and cognition narrative: Dog Sense by John Bradshaw. Most notably, Bradshaw is Foundation Director of the Anthrozoology Institute at the Univ. of Bristol, before which he founded the Anthrozoology Institute at the Univ. of Southampton. Dog Sense differs from Inside of a Dog in that it provides a brief history of the domestic dog based on recent research, then takes the (relatively) new behavioral and cognition science and puts it all together in a practically applicable way. He debunks Cesar Millan's infamous resurgence of alpha and domination theories and also explores the changing demands of companion animals' lifestyles.

To capitalize on the recent success of the Bradshaw and Horowitz books, I'd like to share, in no particular order, some of my favorite nonfiction dog books.

{ I'd like to preface this list by sharing my canine CV: I grew up with a Tibetan Mastiff and then a pound mutt. An avid reader of all things dealing with canine including biology and ethology, I also worked for nearly 3 years at a rural animal shelter & humane society and with canine rescue groups. As an adult, I've lived with/raised a Rottweiler, a Border Collie, a Mal/Sibe mix and a Siberian Husky. Currently I live with an Alaskan Malamute and a 2nd Siberian Husky. }

Canine Body Language: Interpreting the Native Language of the Domestic Dog
by Brenda Aloff

A must-have for anyone who really wants to understand the domestic dog. The definitive guide to canine body language, this book breaks down every eye expression, tail wag, ear position and their relative relationships to each other. An intelligent observer can then follow the basics, connect the dots and begin interpreting more complex dog-speak. I firmly believe that knowing this information is a brilliant base to be able to address behavioral issues and begin problem-solving, as well as facilitate understanding of dog-dog interactions (esp. with the abundance of dog parks). One read of this book with careful examination of the hundreds of corresponding photos and you will never watch or interact with dogs the same ever again.

This is my go-to book as gift for all new dog owners. There is also an edition geared specifically for puppies (The Puppy Whisperer) but this one is good for those bringing home a squiggly, wiggly bundle of furry love as well as for adult adoptees. Using a non-violent approach rooted in natural domestic canine behavior, Owens walks the new dog owner not only through what to do but why to do it.

For the Love of a Dog
and The Other End of the Leash
by Patricia McConnell

McConnell is adjunct associate professor of zoology at UW-Madison, a certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, runs a nationally respected training company, is co-host of Wisconsin Public Radio's nationally syndicated Calling All Pets, and was the animal behavior specialist for Animal Planet's Petline. This woman knows her animals, but her books turn the focus onto the humans. She takes basic biology and illustrates, using real life examples from her vast experience, how people can better understand their dogs simply by understanding their own selves. For the Love of a Dog keeps its focus on emotions - ours and theirs. The Other End of the Leash does the same with behavior - the physical and practical application and effects of actual actions.

A very personal, intimate portrait of one woman's life with her dog - a small Shepherd mix puppy ('Lucille') who changes her messed-up life for the better. Freshly out of life as an alcoholic and freshly addicted to a very unhealthy relationship, Caroline Knapp invests herself fully into life with Lucille. As a journalist and writer, she approaches this canine memoir with a keen eye to the rest of doggy journalism and science (as it existed in the 1990s), plus first-person stories from other dog owners. This one hits closest to the heart strings.

Shaggy Muses
by Maureen Adams

This splendid literary foray peers into the lives of five women writers and their dogs: Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Edith Wharton, and Emily Bronte. Equally a biography of writer as that of canine, these beautiful relationships are inspiring to the reader in a way that can really offer only a glimpse into what a connection like this must have provided for each lady author.

A Good Dog
by Jon Katz

Nobody captures dog-life in the poetic images, words, and heartrending honesty that accompanies the human-canine bond, as Jon Katz*. And this title is absolutely his most heartbreaking for anyone who's ever tried (and "failed") to save a dog

Katz Tells the story of his rescue of, and significant relationship with, a desperately neglected Border Collie named Orson. "Failed" is not, of course, the right word. It's simply what it feels like, to work very hard at helping a dog who may be beyond salvaging because of a life that existed before you. It's a feeling, and experience, most commonly known by those in rescues, veterinary or humane animal work. There are many everyday dog owners who have gone through this as well, but it's a difficult thing to share with others, because no matter what wonderful life you gave a dog, if even for a shorter time than deserved, having to choose to end it prematurely is a devastating choice that never leaves you. Katz tells this story while baring his soul - a story that is mine, too.

*More of Jon Katz's books that I love and recommend: A Dog Year, The Dogs of Bedlam Farm, and Izzy & Lenore

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

On classic literature

In my English 110 class during my freshman year at college, we were instructed to read and write a paper on Henry V. Being the ever-responsible young man that I was, I postponed the reading of the work in favor of more important academic pursuits, such as drinking too much and sitting around in front of the television. I wrote the paper the night before it was due, chugging down caffeinated soda and frequently referring to notes found on the internet. I am simultaneously proud and not proud to say that I got an A on the paper. I am not sure how.

This was just one in a long line of classic works of literature I haven't read. There reasons for this are numerous and varied, but it usually boiled down to my deep-seated bias of classic literature being boring and uninteresting to me. Conversations with older, wiser individuals usually went something like this...

Wise and intelligent person: Hey Greg, you should read this work of classical literature!

Foolish, insolent Greg: Yeah, I've been meaning to. I'll put it at the top of my list!

Exit, pursued by bear.

Foolish, insolent Greg proceeds to read some contemporary sci-fi.

To illustrate the severity of this phenomenon, I'll just throw this out there - I've never read Huckleberry Finn. Yes, I know most school curriculums require it. No, I didn't pull a "Henry V." I just never had to read it.

It was with this knowledge kicking around in my brain that I found myself sitting on the couch with nothing to read. I had just come off a long string of fantastic science fiction books that aren't due out for months, and I wanted to read something that was out already. Thankfully, my parents are avid readers, and after a couple minutes of perusing the shelves I located an old mass market copy of 1984, circa before I was born. I figured, what the heck - I could keep on my sci-fi run and read a classic work. And if I hated it, well, then it would just reaffirm my belief that classic literature was boring.

Suffice to say, I was floored. Probably one of the best books I've read in my entire life. I had no idea there was a love story involved. It is probably the first time I felt the hype behind a book truly lived up to the text itself. Fantastic. I could go on forever about it.

My first reaction was, oddly enough, to lash out. Why didn't anyone tell me how good this book was?! I thought to myself.

And then I smacked myself upside the head and recalled that quite a few people for quite a few decades had, in fact, told me exactly how good the book was.

And then it dawned on me. An epiphany of epic proportions.

If 1984 was as good as they say... what other classic works are as good as they say? Surely they can't ALL live up to the hype, but some likely would. My to-read list quadrupled in length overnight.

Since my dramatic paradigm shift, I have still been reading contemporary works. But in the back of my head, I've been debating what my next big classic undertaking will be. I've always wanted to read The Count of Monte Cristo, but I'm not sure I'm mentally prepared for that yet. The length is daunting, to say the least. Perhaps I'll finally buck up and pick up Huckleberry Finn.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Ubik; or is this the real life

There is a part in Ubik where Joe Chip awakens after falling asleep in a hotel in Switzerland and attempts to place a call to room service. On the other end of the line is Runciter's voice, his dead boss.  The boss that Joe and his fellow employees just took to the moratorium after being assassinated by a rival. They were hoping to be able to talk to him, that maybe they could bring him back to get new orders and how handle the mishap on the moon.

It did not work, they could not get through to Runciter, he very well could be beyond them forever.  However, here he was talking on the phone in Joe's hotel room. How did he know that Joe stayed here, how could he even talk on the phone? It is the beginning of a long line of contradictions. Pretty soon, Runciter's image starts to appear everywhere, on money, in ads.  Messages start becoming apparent to the survivors that Runciter needs to talk to them, at one point they find an ancient tape recorded message.  As this goes on, the world starts to decay and to weaken. The survivors start to wonder if they actually survived or if reality was unhinged.

Right there is enough to know why we decided to read this book for our monthly sci-fi book club at Boswell's.  It is classic Philip K. Dick at his best and definitely my favorite. The discussion centered around the fact that it is really hard to critique a book that you really loved. I know I have a problem finding fault in the book, and if I really love a book, then I have a really hard time being critical of it.  Thankfully, the group enjoyed the book and we did not have to find holes or lack of continuity. Though the lack of continuity was one of the main driving factors in the book; in fact time seems to collapse in this book as the fabric of reality slips away.  I would say my favorite part to discuss was the ending and how everybody interprets it (not going to ruin the end for you, so I will not delve into it too deeply).

I was thrilled that the first section in the forthcoming book, The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick begins with his musings on Ubik.  For all of those rabid fans out there, this is the holy grail for Philip K. Dick followers. These are the thousands of pages of writing that he left behind, they were his thoughts on an event in his life that was simply stated as "2-3-74." The date that he discovers a cosmic mystery, it also led to the famously hard to read Valis trilogy; well if not hard-to-read then hard-to-follow (still loved it). There have been conspiracy theories aplenty surrounding this book and the reasons it was never to be published.  The simple fact is this: it is huge and cumbersome.  It took Pamela Jackson and Jonathan Lethem to really put the book into a format that reach all his fans.  Coming this November it is high on my top priorities as a must read.

Up for this June 13th: CJ Cherryh's, A Wave Without a Shore. Check out the the Boswell Science Fiction Book Club's Wikispace here.  Also, I might have some cool postcards to give away.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

FWR Guest Post

(Written as a short story month guest post for Fiction Writer's Review)

A fellow bookseller, when inclined to discuss my fiction reading habits, described my taste simply and accurately as “dark and twisty.” This, fortunately or unfortunately, is all too true, and when you are a reader of things that are dark in nature, violent in content, lustfully raw, and stormy in mood, it’s sometimes best to take it in small, brief doses. This post honors that taste, with a nod to new favorite storyist Alan Heathcock’s* recent NPR piece, “Three Books to Take to a Fistfight.”

You see, the reading experience of a well-written story can be as quick and powerful as a fine-tuned boxing match: punching in sharp, quick jabs, leaving the reader crawling on the ring floor by the end of it. Some writers are so adept at this that it only takes a few pages (thank you, Donald Barthelme and “Some of us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby”). Many others take their time—bobbing and weaving, faking left then right—before landing one uppercut-cross-hook combination for a TKO (William Gay, you sly old bastard with your “Paperhanger,” not to mention Brad Watson’s “Water Dog God“). And still others combine fancy footwork with lots of pulling away, no contact necessary for forty pages, until one bolo punch surprises the reader, who is now plastered back against the ropes, panting, and it’s a blackout (beautifully demonstrated in “Adult Beginner I” by Alexander MacLeod).

And it’s not just the guys who will take you down in a fight, using the story as a means to pummel you into readerly submission. The ladies have their fair share of representation in this world of hope in the face of hopelessness, extreme reaction in the face of grief, and struggle with baser animal instincts—and they throw in some high kicks with their boxing skills. Alyson Hagy repeatedly lands arrow-straight shots to the sternum that will knock the wind out of you (”Border”). Lydia Peelle’s exquisitely executed roundhouse (”Mule Killers”) mirroring the continuous cycles of change will leave you dizzy. And for pre-fight training, no reader can go without the jump-rope wordplay, complicated emotional pyramids, and intense structured workouts led by Edith Pearlman, who will leave you puking from exhaustion and weeping with relief.

Story Collections to Make You Feel Like You Just Lost a Boxing Match:

(*Don't forget about our event with Alan Heathcock on Monday, June 6th at 7pm! More here.)


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The New Must Read Fantasy that is not Martin or Rothfuss

I recently finished the new Patrick Rothfuss, A Wise Man's Fear (which was a great read, even after a 4 year wait), and I realized that I still felt like I needed another great fantasy fix.  Easier said than done. There are so many books in the fantasy section. So many new ones, old ones and obscure ones that you could just trip over, which is what I did with The Winds of Khalakovo.  I was shelving away in the fantasy section when I noticed a sizable pile of copies of one book.  I know I did not order that title, it had to be an event (yes, he is coming on April 23rd at 2pm) that I did not know about, and a fantasy one at that! The publisher for the book was Night Shade books, which published the Hugo and Nebula award winning book The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, a huge plus.  I was intrigued to say the least.

I grabbed a copy to read and was instantly hooked.

The world is incredible: ships that fly, elemental spirits, blight, famine, and characters that try to get their lives right, but are so very flawed. This is not a book where the author creates the world as the story goes along, rather he immerses the reader into a fully realized world, and it is breathtaking.  There are the 'Landed', represented by the Nine Dukes and their type of magic that harnesses the elemental winds to fly their ships between the islands, the Aramahn, who wander the world, never settling down but also practice a different type of elemental magic, and then there is the Maharrat a fanatical group looking to stir up unrest.  Beaulieu weaves these different cultures together to give the reader a unique, complex world to experience.  It is a world that is unraveling, with blight and disease, and political uncertainty.
Nikandr is the Prince of Khalakovo, diseased and doomed to a painful, wasting death, yet betrothed to Atiana.  The Nine Dukes of the land come together to celebrate the political alliances that the marriage will cement together, when an elemental kills the Grand Duke. Nikandr has to protect a small Aramahn boy, who is thought to have summoned the elemental. Somehow this boy might just be the key to that Nikandr has been searching for, to keep Khalakovo and the Grand Duchy out of civil war.

That is all I will tell you about the plot; just know that Beaulieu has amazing twists and turns to spin you around his world. So, if you have finished the new Rothfuss, and you are eagerly anticipating George R.R. Martin's July 12th release of A Dance with Dragons, you owe it yourself to come check out The Winds of Khalakovo and Bradley Beaulieu at Boswell Book Company on Saturday, April 23rd at 2pm.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

the pale footnote king

"the dead can't edit"1

Interested in reading David Foster Wallace's2 newest novel, The Pale King?3 Consider first catching up on his earlier works4.

1I started reading this with mixed feelings. On the one hand, Wallace never finished it, so it's likely not the book he envisioned. BUT IT'S DAVID FOSTER WALLACE!! The result, as with my reading experience, is mixed. When it's good, it's very good. When it's not, it's just unpolished. Read it for the good parts (they're great) and recognize that the dead can't edit.
-Conrad1a, bookseller at Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee, WI1b.

2Wallace (February 21, 1962 - September 12, 2008) was an American author of novels, essays, and short stories, and a professor at Pomona College in Claremont, California2a.

3An unfinished novel being published by Little, Brown and Company on April 15, 2011.3a

4The Broom of the System, Infinite Jest, Girl with Curious Hair, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, Oblivion: Stories, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, Everything and More, Consider the Lobster, and This is Water.

1aConrad Silverberg is a leftist, orthodox atheist who is married with children and who likes The Beatles, Iggy Pop, Tom Waits and Neil Young, among other musicians.1a-I He has read everything written by David Foster Wallace.1a-II
1bMilwaukee, Wisconsin (nicknames include 'Brew City' or 'Cream City') is located on the Western shores of Lake Michigan, some miles north of Chicago1b-I, Illinois.
3aTax Day

1a-ISource: Facebook profile
1a-IIWell, okay, not everything - not his philosophy or science books.
1b-IPopularly known as the 'Windy City'

Friday, March 25, 2011

Fantasy food for thought.

Well, this is a little embarassing. It has been almost two months since anyone updated this! Let's change that, shall we?
This morning, I was ambling downstairs for my morning coffee when I overheard someone talking about fantasy literature on the radio. Yaay Wisconsin Public Radio! Veronica Rueckert was interviewing Wisconsin native Patrick Rothfuss, of The Name of the Wind fame. You can listen to the program yourself here (10 AM on 3/25).

Mr. Rothfuss said something I found particularly interesting - someone he knew had read his books, and classified him as a literary fiction writer, rather than a fantasy writer. Admittedly, I have not read any of his books myself, except for The Adventure of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle. And while wonderfully written and deliciously subversive, I assume it is not the ideal Rothfuss example. But it's no secret that The Name of the Wind and its sequel, The Wise Man's Fear, are firmly entrenched in the fantasy category.

The reasoning behind Mr. Rothfuss's classification as a literary fiction writer was simple - it was because the book was deemed "good." I've often wondered about this myself. Why do fantasy and science fiction books have such a stigma? Are they really more poorly written than literary fiction books? Is that why they don't sell better?

I don't know the answer. It does seem odd to me that this stigma exists in spite of the Lord of the Rings series essentially shooting it in the foot. The same rule applies to science fiction as well, with powerhouses like Kurt Vonnegut disproving the theory that science fiction is poorly written.

I'd love to hear what this blog's readers think. Leave a comment and give your $0.02! In the end, all I can do is shake my head and continue to recommend some forthcoming science fiction titles that are well-written.

The Passage comes out in paperback in May. I've raved about this before, so I won't subject you to it again. It's available as a bargain book for $10!

Robopocalypse lands in June. Think World War Z with robots instead of zombies. Very entertaining, and set to become a Steven Spielberg flick in 2013.

Warm Bodies comes out at the end of April. I'm currently a few chapters in. It's about a zombie who falls in love. Yes, I realize how awful that sounds. It's actually rather good thus far.