Monday, September 28, 2009

Ban This Post, I Dare You

Happy Banned Books Week everyone!

It’s hard for me to believe that we are still challenging and banning books in the United States of the 21st century. The sad fact that this behavior occurs at such a rate to warrant a full week devoted to anti-book banning awareness is a bit shocking, really. Is this the Inquisition knocking on our door? Are we standing in the Bebelplatz in Berlin? Is this Mao’s Cultural Revolution? No, this is 2009 Obam-America, yet we are still challenging the literary value of Toni Morrison, Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil, John Gardner, Aldous Huxley, and The Kite Runner (all challenged in the last year).

Even though we have lived through Vietnam, September 11th, South African Apartheid, Britney Spears shaving her head, and countless other atrocities across the globe, we are somehow still shocked by The Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird, even though every high school student in America has been assigned to read both of them since the 1960’s. Harper Lee is not racially insensitive (try the opposite) and Salinger is not a pornographic pervert, at least as far as I know. Harry Potter is not an advertisement for the occult and Philip Pullman is a children’s book author, not an anti-Catholic hate-mongerer (at least not publicly). And Harold Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States is not “un-American, leftist propaganda”. C'mon, people, lighten up.

My point is simple: You are free to read anything you want - this is a basic, fundamentally democratic freedom that we enjoy. Ignore all this hatred and ignorance and go out and read one of these banned books. There have been over 10,000 formal challenges to printed works since 1990 - with over 500 last year alone. These challenges, while often overturned by rational school boards and sane libraries who recognize the folly of banning A Brave New World, seek to not just remove books from classroom curriculums, but to remove them from public shelves - in effect, censoring them from viewing. Nine of the top ten greatest novels of the 20th century (according to the Radcliffe Publishing Course panel) have been challenged or banned at some point in their published lives - 42 of their top 100. It’s almost as if a book isn’t worth reading unless it pushes the envelope somehow….

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Kazuo Ishiguro's Nocturnes: Funny Strange or Funny Ha-Ha?

It's not everyday at Warwick's that you hear somebody say 'That Kazuo Ishiguro is a laugh riot' or 'I laughed so hard while reading Remains of the Day that milk came out my nose.'  That's probably for the best as one wouldn't want to taint Mr. Ishiguro's reputation as one of the most talented, distinguished and classically restrained novelists working in stuffy old England today.  But, beneath Ishiguro's stoic poker face, his understated prose, and his quietly brooding, melancholy characters, there is a great deal of humor, often missed, misread, or misunderstood. 


Ishiguro's latest work, Nocturnes, a collection of five short stories (But not a short story collection, as this Guardian UK interview explains), linked thematically by music, nightfall, and characters whose lives have not quite turned out, should dispel any notion that the author is incapable of a good chuckle.  Among the moments of high-brow slapstick are an ill-fated Gondola ride to serenade the scraps of a crumbling marriage, an old friend's visit to a college roommate who is trying to hold together the scraps of a crumbling marriage, a pair of Austrian musicians trying to hold together a crumbling marriage . . . fair enough, it doesn't sound funny, but that is what is so beguiling about Ishiguro: the prose is so unstylized, so deadpan, you are completely caught off guard by a saxophonist who gets plastic surgery because his agent convinces him he is too ugly to be a star.  At first you don't know if you're supposed to laugh.  His wife's parting gift as she leaves is to have her new boyfriend pay for the surgery, which the musician hasn't wanted all along.  This discomfort continues, the narrator wrapped in bandages, hiding out in the upper floors of a posh hotel, until the moment a stranger on a cellphone says,

"But it's a man.  With a bandaged head, wearing a night-gown.  That's all it is, I see it now.  It's just that he's got a chicken or something on the end of his arm."

Legend has it that Franz Kafka, another author few would confuse with Groucho Marx, was often overcome with fits of laughter, to the point of tears- his own and others- while reading his latest (unfinished) manuscripts to friends.  Ishiguro, I think, is commonly lumped in with the descendants of E.M. Forster, plainly because of the Booker Prize winning Remains of the Day, which, at its surface is a novel of English class and manners (and implicitly a critique of such things).  But that book, like all of Ishiguro's work, is littered with sublime bits of humour and the uncomfortable comic situations that our lives are unintentionally cursed by.  I read Remains of the Day while working at a used bookstore.  It took roughly four hours, which meant, at $6 an hour, it was the most money I've ever been paid to read a book.  At the time I was too young to know it was okay to laugh as Stevens repeatedly attempts to explain the birds and the bees to Lord Darlington's engaged, 23 year old godson.  Rather, I thought, isn't that strange?  I also thought it was crucial at the time whether Gregor Samsa was really a cockroach or simply believed himself to be one.

Nocturnes then, for me, finishes the loop Remains of the Day began.  Ishiguro has given us the dense, uncanny Unconsoled, whose most surreal (Read 'Kafkaesque') moments are also the most hilarious; When We Were Orphans begins as a detective novel and morphs into a Fellini film; Never Let Me Go is a haunting, deadpan parable, whose premise becomes ridiculous in the hands of any other living writer.  Ishiguro's style is the ultimate straight man.  He is able to convince the reader that even the most ridiculous situations can reflect the melancholy poignance of the human experience.  Now that's comedy.

Nocturnes is not Ishiguro's masterpiece, but any doubts about his genius, or his brillant sense of humour, are given the ghost by the second story of the collection, 'Come Rain or Come Shine'.  In it, the narrator is invited to visit two old college friends, now struggling in their marriage.  When he arrives, he discovers that he has been brought to town because they think he is a sad, complaining wretch.  He is told by the husband simply to 'be himself', which will be so unpleasant to the wife that she will suddenly reappreciate her husband's merits.  By the end of the story there is an old shoe boiling in a pot and the narrator is on all fours tearing the pages of a coffee table book with his teeth.  Like Kafka, it is difficult to know whether to laugh or cry when the story reaches its climax, but it is clear enough that we are in the hands of a master of many things.  Nocturnes adds the short story and poignant farce to Kazuo Ishiguro's toolbox of genius.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Seth's Book Roundup!

An embarrassment of riches is coming your way this fine September day from the world of the book - and even more throughout the whole Fall. With Dan Brown striking fear into the hearts of publishers everywhere, everyone has pushed the release dates back on their biggest titles of the season, starting with today. This "Fat Tuesday" sees Margaret Atwood, Karen Armstrong, Richard Dawkins, Alexander McCall Smith, James Ellroy, Anita Shreve, Kazuo Ishiguro, and even Glenn Beck.  That's just today!  Later in the season, we'll see A.S. Byatt, John Irving, Paul Auster, Richard Powers, J.M. Coetzee, Jonathan Lethem, Philip Roth, Barbara Kingsolver, for sure another James Patterson or two, maybe another Clive Cussler or a Janet Evanovich, who knows.  The point is, there is much more to read out there then just Mr. Brown's latest.

I, for one, have read the Margaret Atwood (left), the Coetzee, the Auster, and the Jonathan Lethem already (one of the perks of being an independent bookseller is the early copies of such books) but with the possible exception of Auster's Invisible, haven't been blown away by any of them. I liked Atwood's The Year of the Flood - a prophetic vision of a post-apocalyptic world that does not seem so far fetched - but felt it was too closely tied to her 2003 novel, Oryx & Crake, which I did not read. I guess this is my fault, but I felt I was mislead. She is a remarkable writer though, have no doubt - the world she has created (filled with far-reaching corporations, over-processed food supplies, and the threat of global pandemics) is frighteningly close to somewhere we could conceivably be headed ourselves.

I ultimately ended up hating J.M. Coetzee's Summertime, not for his writing ability, but rather for his self-indulgent, self-serving material. Summertime is an autobiographical novel - the third of these he has written - that is so heavy handed with the self-deprecation that the reader comes away liking him far less for admitting within that he is a successful author but more for forcing us to see how pathetic he used to be. I read this because it has been nominated for the 2009 Booker Prize, although, now I'm not sure why, save the fact that that's what happens when he writes a new novel. (For more on Coetzee, you can check out my post on my other blog, The Book Catapult.)

Jonathan Lethem is the author of two of my all-time favorite novels - Motherless Brooklyn and Fortress of Solitude - but has been unable to fully recapture that spark in his work since. His new book, Chronic City, shows flashes of that brilliance - biting satire, great characters, absurd social situations, a vivid depiction of New York - but ultimately, he lost me, spiraling downward into a nearly incomprehensible storyline about virtual realities and online gaming. (I'm still suffering from the disappointment, actually.) Of its 408 pages, you can probably sleep well after stopping at 390 or so.

Ah, then there's Mr. Paul Auster. Auster is an author whose work I either love or hate - in that order, according to his publishing schedule. Book of Illusions (good), Oracle Night (bad), Brooklyn Follies (really good), Travels in the Scriptorium (really bad), Man in the Dark (pretty good) - so, I didn't have the highest hopes for Invisible. Surprise! The pattern has been shattered!  Invisible is a clever, well-wrought novel that tricks the reader at every turn with false information and embellishments by the multiple narrators. In reality, people often do not tell the truth - or at least they sometimes alter that truth to better serve themselves - so why is this not usually the case in fiction?  Why should we implicitly believe every word that our narrator imparts to us? I love books that test the boundaries of fiction like this - David Mitchell, Borges, Calvino - and Auster (with the exception of Follies) always tries to push that, but often ends up bound in the knots of his own overreaching machinations. Not so here - this left me really wondering about the place identity, truth, and narration in both fiction and reality. If you read just one Auster novel in your life, this just might be the one - it's certainly the most resonant for me.

So, there's no need to read just The Lost Symbol this season - there are hidden gems everywhere, you just have to now where to look.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Heather's Paranormal Corner

So apparently I’m the resident expert in all books paranormal, particularly if those books speak to a certain age group (yeah, I’m talking to you, Twilighters). So, I thought that I’d use the fantastic, new Warwick's blog to speak about a few of the good, the okay, and even the ugly paranormal books that are currently available.

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater: Grace and Sam have a connection. They’ve watched each other for years, but have never met. Grace and Sam are in love, but can never be together because of one thrilling secret…Sam is a wolf. Enter the mysterious and wonderful world of Shiver, where two people, one cursed to live a life he wasn’t born to, come together to overcome the greatest of odds. This is a great book, a combination of romance, mystery, drama, and the paranormal that literally kept me enthralled. This up-and-coming series by Maggie Stiefvater just plain rocks. If you were really a fan of this genre, Shiver would be on your bookshelf showing signs of wear and tear despite the fact that it only came out in August. Out of the list I’m posting today, this is my number one pick!

The Evernight series by Claudia Grey: This series so far consists of two books, Evernight and Stargazer. The series surrounds a young woman, born to vampires and attending Evernight Academy, an exclusive boarding school open to “special humans” and vampires. This is a fantastic series! Both books are fast-paced, dramatic, and romance laced stories that absolutely captivated me. The storylines are unique, and I eagerly looked forward to the third installment.

Adult fans of this genre, why aren’t you reading the Fever series by Karen Marie Moning? Seriously! The central characters are strong, sexy, and sarcastic. The dark, dangerous streets of Dublin are entrancing, and the mystery at the heart of this series is fantastic, dramatic, and heart wrenching. Read book one in the series, Darkfever and you will be hooked. I have personally introduced this addictive series to several eager readers and have received glowing reviews. The fourth book in the series, Dreamfever, has just been released in hardcover, I brought it on a plane with me to Dublin, thinking it would take the whole flight, and finished it in hours…I just couldn’t stop reading! Check it out and thank me later!

For space sake I’ll write briefly on the “okay” titles.

The Hollow by Jessica Verday has an interesting premise and likable characters, but doesn’t quite cut it in the end. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy reading this, I just was enthralled enough to spend the time to write a recommendation.

Immortal by Gillian Shields: I don’t know if the author was just trying too hard with this one, or if I was hearing too many echoes of Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr, but this book didn’t quite click. I’ll read the sequels, but I won’t be in any hurry.

Now, I’m having a moral dilemma. I respect just about anyone who puts pen to paper and is actually able to get the results published by a major publishing house. So, it is difficult for me to write negatively about their work, but really, this needs to be done! So here they are…the ugly:

Now, this will be difficult for many to swallow, particularly since Stephenie Meyer wrote that the following book was “…a remarkable debut; the ingenuity of the mythology is matched only by the startling loveliness with which the story unfolds.” Now, as a Meyer fan I’m sorry to say this, but Aprilynne Pike’s Wings, was dull, predictable, and just plain bad. I mean a story where a girl finds out she’s really some sort of faerie with flower petals that grow out of her back, sounds kind of cool, but in reality the unremarkable prose, and annoying, unintelligent characters creates a book that you just want to put down.

Carrie Jones’ Need is one of the few books that it was painful for me to read. Why anyone would think that main character Zara, with her over emphasized interest in the ACLU, Amnesty International, and a penchant for writing letters to various political organizations is interesting I just don’t know. I’m all for a politically and environmentally conscious character, I think it’s great to see one in a teen novel, but the extreme attention paid to this character trait is ridiculous and becomes tedious quickly. The writing is just plain uninspired. Let us hope that the upcoming sequel is a little less clich├ęd, and a little more original.

Heather is one of our fine, well-read booksellers and the assistant to our Event Coordinator. She has been at Warwick's since 2005.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Zeitoun

'Oh My NOLA' - by Seth MarkoI had the great fortune to live in the city of New Orleans from February 2001 to May 2003 - quite enough time for me to fall completely, hopelessly in love with its people (including the girl of my dreams), its incredibly rich history, its dirty dozen brass bands, the peat-smell of the river after a rain, the po-boy sandwiches (dressed), its oak-lined avenues, night-blooming jasmine, and countless other idiosyncrasies that make the Big Sleazy so appealing.

We left for San Diego just over two years before Katrina - a date now four years past, but forever etched into the memories of every American, whether or not they had ever personally glimpsed that city nestled in the elbow of the Mississippi. One of the hardest experiences of my adult life was watching on CNN as the city was abandoned - by residents, authorities, everyone - and given up as lost. My sister and her husband - French Quarter residents at the time - lived through the Storm itself, left town in its darkened wake, and returned again to keep living. According to her, the worst part was not the hurricane, but the progressively worse days afterwards, when the lights went out, the Quarter was abandoned, the police left town, and the looters and "zombies" wandered the streets.

Every New Orleanian has a Katrina story - and that's what they do, they tell their stories. Dave Eggers, author of the bestselling memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and the recent novel, What Is the What, has produced a stunning new book chronicling the post-Katrina story of the New Orleans family of Abdulrahman Zeitoun. Eggers writes with a simple, straight forward grace, skipping the looming soapbox completely and offering a concise chronicle of Zeitoun's experiences in all their horror and inhumanity. Dare I say, a heartbreaking work of...well, if not genius, then satisfying competency.  As I read this book, I quite literally had to keep reminding myself that this story actually took place in the United States of America of the 21st-century and not war-torn Sierra Leone or some other awful place.

Me and ZeitounZeitoun was an upstanding member of New Orleans life - he was a homeowner, a self-starting business owner, he had 4 perfect children, he paid his taxes and he stayed out of trouble. In hindsight, his only mistakes in life, if you can call them that, were staying behind in New Orleans during Katrina to protect his home and being of Syrian descent. After the storm surge flooded his Uptown neighborhood, Zeitoun patrolled the streets in his canoe, rescuing as many people from their water-logged homes as possible. About a week into this new, flooded, apocalyptic world, the home where Zeitoun and 3 friends were staying (a house owned by Zeitoun) was raided by a military-styled swat team and the four men were detained. I say detained because they were not Mirandized, not charged with crimes, they were just shuffled downtown to a makeshift prison that had been constructed attached to the Greyhound bus station. The only information Zeitoun received concerning his incarceration was muttered phrases from the military personnel along the lines of "terrorist" and "al-Qaeda".

"It had been a dizzying series of events - arrested at gunpoint in a home he owned, brought to an impromptu military base built inside a bus station, accused of terrorism, and locked in an outdoor cage. It surpassed the most surreal accounts he'd heard of third-world law enforcement."

Without giving too much of Zeitoun's story away, he spent the month of September 2005 imprisoned first in "Camp Greyhound", then in Hunt Correctional Facility in upstate Louisiana, for crimes that were never made clear to him by anyone in any authoritative capacity. He was met at every turn by uncompromising bureaucracy, a rudderless government, and uncaring or uninformed military personnel. The worst part, perhaps, is that his is just one of thousands of stories born out of the unique and tragic circumstances surrounding Hurricane Katrina. That said, I believe it is one story that should be read by every single American in order for them to have a proper perspective on just what sort of unspeakable things happened in our own backyards in 2005. In that sense, Eggers has done the rest of us a great service - bringing to light this tale of domestic atrocity in such a methodical, straight-forward way, without overt embellishment, so that there is no question that this story should never have happened on American soil. But it did.

Obviously, for me, Zeitoun resonates on a very personal level, although many of my friends and family were able to avoid such tragic circumstances as the Zeitoun family experienced.  I realized, as I read, that the Zeitoun family home was just four blocks from the first house I lived in in New Orleans in 2001. Would I have seen Zeitoun paddle past in the days after the storm had I still lived there? Would I have gotten in his canoe to help? Would I have needed rescuing myself?

Needless to say, I will return again to the city that remains in my dreams. I think that everyone on this planet has a place just for them - a perfect fit somewhere. I knew the first time I set foot on the rain-washed streets there, that New Orleans was that "somewhere" for me. Return, Rebuild, Renew, as they say.


For further reading, I heartily, heartily recommend Chris Rose's book, 1 Dead In Attic. Chris is a sometimes-NPR contributor and a long-time entertainment columnist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune whose book is a collection of his columns from the year after Katrina. They will break your heart. Maybe six months after the Storm, I heard him read one of his stories on the radio - about taking his kids to the Ninth Ward for the first time, post-Katrina - and it completely reduced me to tears.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Great Booksellers Answer Not So Great Questions About Great Books, In The Warwick's Octagon with Reggie Style. Volume One: Jim Stewart

Jim Stewart's prolific Warwick's career began part time in February of 2002.  As his online Warwick's profile states, "if Jim gets behind a book, its true destiny as a monumental bestseller will be revealed."  Towards the end of our riveting interview we are joined by the Book Department manager Adrian, who is denoted by an 'A'.

R: Let’s pretend Warwick’s is on fire.
J: On fire?
R: Yes, on fire.
J: Oh my gosh, ok.
R: You’ve safely evacuated all the customers and there’s just enough time to go back in once more before the roof collapses. What book do you chose to save from the flames?
J: Shantaram!

R: What if my limp body was draped over the last copy?
J: Then I would pull it away from you. And since you’re already dead I don’t care, so-
R: No, I’m still alive, I’m just stunned.
J: You’re still alive? And you want that book?
R: No, I’m begging you to leave me and save the book.
J: I would save the book. No, I would save you. That doesn’t sound as exciting though.
R: Now, with Shantaram, you’re approaching a big milestone- the 1,000th copy sold.
J: 1,000 copies, cool, and how many we’re stolen?
R: That’s quite a feat and a testament to handselling. Shantaram will be up there with books like The Da Vinci Code, The Kite Runner and Secret Life of Bees. What do you think the key to your success has been and is there a copy you wish you hadn’t sold, if you had it to do over again?
J: Well, I do regret selling a copy to this one groom to be of a wedding couple because he took it with him and when he got back the bride was upset with me that I had given him a book that was so much more interesting than talking to her on the plane.
R: Incidentally, have you ever actually read Shantaram?
J: (Indignantly) Yes, and I have the 48 CD set at home.
R: Wow, how many hours is that? Two days?
J: Right, two days, it would be.
R: Let’s do some role playing. Imagine I’m a grandmother browsing in the children’s section.
J: Oh, that is so easy.
R: Because of the pony tail?
J: And the beard.
R: All right, here we go. Excuse me sir, do you work here? I’m shopping for my grandson.
J: Yes, I can help you, I hope. How old is he?
R: He’s six months old, but he’s very advanced for his age. He reads at a fourth grade level.
J: Oh yes, I totally understand.

Awkward Silence.

R: So what would you sell her?
J: I would probably suggest an anthology of stories, because a lot of people spend a lot of money on one book and they have one story. You should buy a book that’s going to have a shelf life . . . and some mileage.
R: Speaking of shelf life. I notice that you’re reading Paws & Effect. What drew you to the book?
J: I have two Corgis. So anything that makes me more enamored with my dogs.
R: So do you think that your dogs have healing powers based on your reading?
J: Oh, definitely. Last night I wasn’t feeling well so I laid down on my bedroom floor (Editor’s Note: Passed out?) and Penny sat next to me and I put my head on her. She never lets me do that.
R: And you felt this healing energy?
J: I definitely felt something.
R: I had a friend whose black lab would poop in the bathtub every time there was thunder. Do you think he was a healer dog, according to Paws and Effect?
J: Hmmm. Probably not, unless he could do something special with the poop.
R: If dogs could read do you think they would all buy coffee table books of pictures of owners throwing tennis balls?
J: Now, they’d want dog pictures of the opposite gender.
R: What would you try to handsell a dog, assuming they’ve read Shantaram?
J: I have a book on how to make dog treats.
R: That would be good. Do you have the ISBN on that one? 
J: I’d have to order it. 
R: What would your biography be called and who would you want to provide a blurb for the back cover?
J: Oh my gosh, biography. I’ll Never Go There Again, would be the title. And I’d probably get . . . I’d get John Stewart. And I would be able to go on his show then.
R: You’ve already planned a tour?
J: Sure. See, I’m not actually going to interview him, I’d just write the blurb myself and put it on the back cover.
R: Oh, it would be a fake blurb?
J: When he finds out what he wrote he’s going to want me on the show.
R: So a little guerrilla marketing?
J: Exactly.
R: If I came over to your house and browsed your library what would I see? Books stacked on the floor? Alphabetical by author?
J: No. The books I purchase I put on the top shelves. The books I need to read pre-publication are on the two bottom shelves. They’re sorted by date, so when October rolls around I know I have to read these books. That’s the idea at least . . . then reality sets in.
A: Who distributes Client?
R: Perseus. Perseus is Client. If you don’t like a book do you put it down or are you one of those people who just have to finish?
J: No. If I’m not caught up in it by the third or fourth chapter I’m outta there. Unless somebody tells me different.
R: What kind of food would they serve on a flight full of Vampires?
J: Oh man, Vampires. Well . . .
R: Is there anything you’re reading right now that this would pertain to?
J: Well, yeah. There’d be . . .
A: Blood sausage.
J: Yeah, blood sausage.
A: Sorry.
J: Well, most vampires don’t really need to eat. All they want to do is drink.
A: Hagis.
R: Just in-flight cocktails.
J: Yeah, so you’d have to put the blood sausage in a blender.
R: So is The Strain any good?
J: It’s very good. It’s a different approach. This Vampire spirit from Eastern Europe gets on a plane. And victimizes everyone on the plane, including the pilots- drains all their blood by the time they land. So when they’re released, it releases a virus in the people, so they become Vampires, and it becomes this huge Vampire plague.
R: Okay, final question. I know you loved the Zookeeper’s Wife and I know you’ve worked as a newsman before, so let’s pretend I’m Diane Ackerman and today is October 1, 2009, the day she appears at Warwick’s for her new book, Dawn Light. You have one question, which I will try to answer as Diane Ackerman.
J: Well, the thing I’m always interested in with writers is what inspired them. I know they get that question all the time, but it is interesting to me because being a wanna-be writer, I’m always looking for ideas that inspire people.
R: As Diane Ackerman, I would say having readers like you is what inspires me. And thank you for coming tonight.
J: You’re very welcome.
R: I would be happy to sign your books.
A: That’s a bunch of B.S.

Note: for more of Jim's adventures, check out his blog - jimstewartstories.blogspot.com

Friday, September 11, 2009

Guess the Booker Winner Contest!

Office pools are a huge part of what makes America great - who doesn't fill out an NCAA bracket in March or buy squares on a Superbowl grid? (Well, I'm sure lots of people, but bear with me here.) How confident are you in your prediction abilities? Have you surveyed the field and drawn a logical conclusion as to who you think will win?  No, not Week One of the NFL season, the Booker Prize shortlist field!

In celebration of the announcement of the Man Booker Prize shortlist this week, we have decided to host a little contest here at the store - or at least the virtual portion of the store. Decide who you think will be the winner of the 2009 Man Booker Prize and leave your answer on our Facebook Discussion posting.  That's right, you have to be a "fan of Warwick's" on Facebook to complete your entry.  Don't worry, it's free, we just want more Facebook friends - and besides, don't you want to be our friend? You're reading our blog already, so what's the harm?

After the Booker Prize is awarded over in England on the evening of October 6, we will randomly select a winner from the huge pile of correct answers and award our own super-great prize: a copy of the winning book! (Of course, the contest winner may have to wait a bit for the book to become available here in the States, but that's a whole 'nother issue.)

Here is the list of nominees again:
Will Coetzee become the first three-time Booker winner? Will 34-year old Adam Foulds burst onto the literary scene with a win? Will Mantel maintain her early lead on the English odds boards and pull out her first win?  Get your entry in today!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Pointless, Incessant, Barking

Every time I think of blogging I remember the only New Yorker cartoon that has ever made me laugh. There are two dogs and the first dog says, "I had my own blog for a while, but I decided to go back to pointless, incessant barking." On the other hand, Melville liked to throw around the quote "All is Vanity, All." and most of what he wrote after Moby Dick was considered pointless, incessant barking at the time, so maybe that isn't such a bad thing after all. Maybe the only reason I remember this cartoon is the fact that it is posted by the bathroom sink in the employee restroom at Warwick's, which is technically in my 'office' (A future blog post?).

So what exactly is a book blog suppossed to do? Back in the day folks had the literary salon, the Bloomsbury Group, the Algonquin Round Table, etc. Nowadays, rather than authors haunting bookstores, they are posting on their website and tweeting as they write. We have such bizarrely named places as the Book Slut and the Book Catapult. The web is full of great places to talk books, but for me it just isn't the same. James Joyce isn't loitering at Shakespeare and Co. anymore, he's in a chat room for two hours mediated by his publicist. I am not completely cynical, however.

More experienced bloggers than I have ironically bemoaned the death of culture in their culture blogs, but I think they would be heartened if they spent some time at Warwick's (the physical entity). It's not like a big box store where people are strewn about the floor, not a staff member within shouting distance, it's a place where customers interact with the staff and, most importanly, talk about books- what they're reading, what they've liked. Each recommends card our staff members write and place next to a book reaches just as many readers as any blog post or tweet. It's a lot like a blog with instant feedback- a blog without the anonymous nature of the interaction. It's great to see people posting comments about what you've written, but nothing can replace the pride you feel in the store when a customer comes back trusting your taste and wants you to tell them what to read next. In fact, the entire staff are potential bloggers and don't even know it. It's actually impossible to blog about books in the building without three or four co-workers interrupting to talk to you about books. I know this is true as well at the many great Independents just in Southern California- Vroman's, Book Soup, DG Wills - which is just down the street and is close as you're going to get to Sylvia Beech's store in 2009.

So for me this book blog is like getting the home version of Jeopardy after you've been on the show. It can't ever replace the face to face interaction with staff and actual, physical books, but it's a great place to trade ideas and to incessantly bark about the books I believe in. I hope that any readers we are lucky enough to have will come down and meet us face to face, and I hope that my co-workers, who are always talking shop, will share some of their insights on this blog.
So there it is, I'm officially a book blogger. Now I just have to find a good book to read. Any suggestions?

2009 Booker Prize Shortlist

"We're thrilled to be able to announce such a strong shortlist, so enticing that it will certainly give us a headache when we come to select the winner."  -2009 Booker Prize chair, James Naughtie

The Shortlist for the Man Booker Prize (essentially England's Pulitzer Prize) was announced this morning, dashing the hopes of Cheeta the chimpanzee, Colm Toibin, and William Trevor, while not surprising perennial favorites J.M. Coetzee, A.S. Byatt, and Sarah Waters. The list:
Hilary Mantel
No real surprises to this list, really, as I think a lot of folks see Coetzee headed toward an unprecedented third Booker win. (Although I read the galley for Summertime last week - the 3rd of Coetzee's fictionalized memoirs - and ultimately thought it pretentious and way too self-indulgent. But that's just me.) I don't think that there was any way such a strong longlist (with the likes of Byatt, Trevor, Toibin, Waters, & Mantel) would not produce an equally strong shortlist.
 
But there is a surprise here, actually. Not that Warwick's condones such behavior, but, in England there is a serious Booker-betting subculture and the first set of odds were announced immediately after the list itself. The surprise is that Hilary Mantel is the early front runner with 11/10 odds of winning. Shocking. Warwick's staff favorite, Sarah Waters is the second favorite at 7/2, with Coetzee at 4/1, Byatt at 13/2, and Mawer & Foulds at 11/1.  Will Coetzee come from behind and snare his third prize? Or will Byatt be the darkhorse?  The suspense! The drama! Place your bets!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Light My Fire

Given enough inward thought, most people can remember back to the days of youthful enthusiasm when reading on their own was a new thing to be enjoyed and savored like, well, a good book. To be able to (literally) curl up in a chair and (figuratively) disappear between the pages of a book, without worrying about the petty concerns of the adult world - most of us pine for such days. (In fact, some of us became booksellers with the hope that that was part of the job.) What was it about that first formative volume that really stuck in your craw, leaving a voracity for reading in it's wake? Why did it become a stepping stone to a life of reading rather than just another pile of glue and paper to be tossed aside for something else?

Janet, one of our prime booksellers, posed this question to her peers: What was that first book that really lit your fire and made you realize that escaping into the pages of a book was the greatest activity you could possibly do? Here are our answers:

Janet:  The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
John:  The 21 Balloons by William Pene Du Bois
Emily:  Matilda by Roald Dahl
Susan:  The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell
Adriana:  The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
Jan:  Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene
Adrian:  Heidi by Johanna Spyri
Seth:  The Book of Three, then The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander
Vicki:  Little Women by Louisa Mae Alcott
Jim:  Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers
Barbara:  Half Magic by Edward Eager
Heather:  Little Women by Louisa Mae Alcott
Rhonda:  Little Pilgrim's Progess by Helen Taylor
James:  The Mouse & the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary
Rob:  Charlotte's Web by E.B. White and/or James & the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
Scott:  E.T. the Extraterrestrial (film novelization)
Steven:  cannot read

What about you, reader? What was that book that first got you interested in reading - enough so that it became a lifelong pursuit, if that is indeed what it has become?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The New Warwick's Blog

You have suddenly found yourself on a Warwick's blog.... How did this happen? What does this mean? What will I learn here? Have no fear, gentle reader - we are here to help.

First and foremost, we are readers here at Warwick's. And we know that you are too, so allow us, if you will, to be your guides through the rich and magestic world of the book. The Warwick's blog will serve as a forum for our booksellers to write about the hot book topics of the monent - whether its about the incredible novel they just finished (see example below) or the amazing news about the forthcoming Sony E-Readers or the scathing review of So-and-So's new book in the New York Times - this is the place to hear what our Bookies have to say.

For instance - I loved the book Everything Matters! by Ron Currie, Jr. Oh, do tell:
Imagine that you were born with the absolute, unquestionable knowledge that the world would end in a fiery comet collision somewhere around your 36th birthday. How would you live your life knowing that everything you say, think, or do is relatively futile – or at least decisively finite? Would you throw it all away, would you try & save the world, or would you just...live? This was a book that completely caught me off guard – both with Currie’s brilliant narrative crafting and with the story’s powerful, raw humanity. Sharp, intelligent humor permeates every page & is the driving force behind it all – without laughter, the very idea of this would be too morose & depressing. Instead, Junior’s life story makes for one of the most original & compelling novels I have read in a long while. It’s rare that you read a new novel & come out the other side knowing that it will become one of your all-time favorites....

See? Now the seed has been planted.... So check back often for updates - we also have a Facebook page and a Twitter page - plenty to keep you entertained while away from La Jolla.