Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Are You Seth? vol.5

In Volume 4 of Are You Seth? I discussed what I (then) consider(ed) "the best" novel from 2009, The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen. However, being an indecisive fellow, if I am completely and totally honest with myself - and you - I cannot so blithely announce a favorite book, when, as Yoda would say, "there is another". If I had not been fortunate enough to read Spivet, then Everything Matters! by Ron Currie, Jr would hands-down, without a doubt, be the best novel I read in 2009. Even as things are, I'm not sure which book is better anyway... I should just shut up.

Imagine that you were born with the absolute, unquestionable knowledge that the world would be destroyed in a fiery comet collision somewhere in the vicinity of your 36th birthday. (Bear with me here.) How would you live your life, knowing that every single thing you do or say or think is either futile or at the very least, more finite than we are comfortable thinking about? Would you use your knowledge to try and save the world? Or just your own family? Would you just try to forget and just drink yourself to death? Or would you just live your life as normally as possible? Does anything you do matter? These are the questions posed to Junior Thibodeau, born with an all-seeing, all-knowing voice inside his head that shares all of its vast knowledge with him, turning him into a lonely, introverted, alcoholic genius who feels that no one really knows him since he cannot share the knowledge he possesses. He peppers his life with poor decisions, all under the ruse that nothing he does in life matters at all, since the outcome is so devastatingly pre-determined. But the one constant in life, he finds, is love, and no amount of destiny can impede that emotional connection to other people in your life.

Currie has taken a highly unusual, potentially disastrous premise and created a completely plausible, emotionally resonant life story around this Junior Thibodeau, born with a unprecendentedly unique prespective on the world. Junior spends most of his 36 years dwelling on the fact that the world will be destroyed - so much so, that he doesn't know how to actually live a life based in the moment. Once he discovers - perhaps too late? - that life is all about living from moment to moment, that unique perspective he had completely changes, even if the fate of the world may not. Thankfully Currie allows his readers to avoid the potential for morbidity and overwhelming depression of such an end-of-the-world story, by writing this tale with substantial humor and grounding Junior in reality by lending his "inside voice" a deep-seeded, genuine bonhomie. Despite his mistakes, I cared a great deal about Junior and those he loved - in spite of the fact that I shared his absolute knowledge that he would certainly go down with the ship when that fateful comet arrived. What can I say, it really hit home with me. It was just one of those books that totally caught me off guard and has stuck with me ever since - I knew from about halfway through that I will read this book over and over and over again throughout my life, always having my own unique perspective on the life of Junior Thibodeau.

***A revision on this "one other note":  the second edition of "Coffee with a Bookseller" is (re)scheduled for Tuesday, January 12 at 10:00am. (December is just too busy, hence the resched.) Come on down to the store, have a cuppa joe with me & I'll talk books right to your face!***

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Great Booksellers Answer Not So Great Questions About Great Books, In The Warwick's Octagon with Reggie Style. Volume Two: Adriana Hill-Diamond

Now that my dream interview with starlet Alicia Silverstone (at last month's Warwick's cooking club event) has officially fallen through, I've turned to my other 'Favorite Lady I'm Not Married To', bookseller extraordinaire Adriana Hill-Diamond, to provide some quote fodder for the Warwick's Blog.  Adriana is the lynch pin behind both the Warwick's Book Club Program and our lovely magazine section.  If there's a magazine that smells pretty, or has pretty things in it, or has something to do with England, we have it and she reads it.  One of my long term goals in life, if my wife and I accidentally have a child, is to have that child spend a tranquil happy decade before embarking on an arranged marriage with Adriana's future child.  Thusly, the married couple, if they chose to hyphenate, would have the last name of Hill-Diamond-Ehrig-Burgess, which sounds like a great name for an architecture firm, or some crazy accountants.  In fact, my kid's first name would be Hyphen (Which is a pretty common first name in some countries), so my kid's name would sound like:  Hyphen Ehrig hyphen Burgess hyphen Hill hyphen Diamond, for example.  Anyway, what were we talking about?

Reggie Style:  Adriana, welcome to the Octagon.  Why does the magazine selection at Warwick's intentionally alienate half of the population?  No Sports Illustrated, no Car & Driver, no Consumer Reports, no Field & Stream.  What message are you sending to the La Jolla Man?

Adriana Hill-Diamond:  No one cares what they think.     Unless they're fashionable, in that case they're reading Vogue.  There is one rule of thumb for selling magazines:  It's got to have breasts on the cover; either women's or chicken's.

RS:  Can you think of a policy any more discriminatory in the history of the world? I’ll answer that one for you:  no, you can’t, because it doesn’t exist.

AHD:  (Look of daggers, tapping fingers impatiently.)

RS:  If you had your own Magazine what would it be and what would it be called?

AHD:  Baking For the Weak Willed or Cats on Bikes.

RS:  As Book Club Coordinator, what insights can you give to people who have perhaps been scared to take the leap and start a bookclub?

AHD:  Don't.  It causes nothing but heartache.  They're right to be scared.

RS:  Why is there always someone in the bookclub who suggests reading The Red Tent?

AHD:  Not true.  No one reads that.

RS:  Let’s talk about your dominance in the Warwick’s cupcake battle: I believe you won Best in Show, Best Frosting and Best Cake.  Do you have any rituals while you’re baking? Like standing on hot coals or guttural chanting?

AHD:  Curse, cry, start over.  Have another tantrum.

RS:  What are some of the cookbooks you’ve been influenced by?

AHD:  Nigella Express, Magnolia Bakery and Baked by Lewis and Poliafito, which is my baking bible.

RS:  Have you ever had a job where so much cheese was served in the breakroom?

AHD:  No.  But it's not enough.  Who doesn't love cheese?  (Editor's Note:  Nancy Warwick, the owner of the store, is second only to Wallace, from Wallace and Gromit, in her love of cheese. . .we suspect Adriana is up for a performance review soon.)

RS:  I am contractually obligated to ask you about books, so tell me about the Joyce Maynard book, Labor Day, so we can get to the speed round.

AHD:  It's about a lonely boy who lives an isolated life with an even lonelier mother.  They spend Labor Day weekend with an escaped convict and it changes their lives forever.

RS:  I spent a lost weekend in Yuma with an escaped convict when I worked the beauty pageant circuit, but that story's probably best for another blog, another day. . .

AHD:  (Scowls.)

RS:  Any other books you'd like to give a shout out to?

AHD:  Man Who Ate the World by Jay Raynor, First Stop In the New World by David Lida, First & Last Freedom by Krishnamurti.

RS:  Ok.  Speed round.  How many tatoos do you have?  A.) 20+ B.) 15+ C.) 10+ D.) Less than 10

AHD:  D.

RS:  Name the celebrity baker you would most like to challenge to a cupcake bake-off?

AHD:  Bobby Flay, because he'd probably make some lame blue corn cupcake.  Can't imagine that would taste good at all. . . then again I've never tasted a blue corn cupcake. . .but I refuse to like anything by the man who once jumped on Morimoto's counter.

RS:  Final thoughts.  I like to tell people that you’re my work wife, and I know you think of me as your work husband. Have you ever had a relationship with another human that was lower maintenance yet as beautiful and enriching as ours?  This is a yes or no question.

AHD:  Human relationship?  No.  But Abbey, my dog, is certainly lower maintenance.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Are You Seth? vol.4

Let's step back a bit for this edition of "Are You Seth?" - step back to a simpler time... This book has been on the shelves at Warwick's since May 5th of this year, but I'm afraid that there are still those of you out there who have not only not read this yet, but have never even heard of it. For shame! The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen just might be the best book out there this year and it has brushed past you like a specter in the night...
"Do you ever get the feeling like you already know the entire contents of the universe somewhere inside of your head, as if you were born with a complete map of this world already grafted onto the folds of your cerebellum and you are just spending your entire life figuring out how to access this map?"
Twelve-year-old genius cartographer, Tecumseh Sparrow Spivet lives on a ranch in Montana with his family - to his young eyes, his mother is a floundering entomologist and his father is an unloving, gritty rancher. Ever since his younger brother died tragically the summer before, T.S. feels as if his parents don't care whether he's present or not, and he retreats into the elaborate mapping of his world. Now, these are not maps in the traditional cartographic sense, but rather intricate diagrams and illustrations of every object, experience, and thought that he deems important enough to put down on paper. An elaborate diagram of a "Freight Train as a Sound Sandwich", the history of 20th century, mapped according to 12-year old boys eating Honey Nut Cheerios, the structure of the Bailey train yards in Nebraska. The scientific drawings he does for a professor friend at Montana State are so accurate and so beautifully rendered, that the professor sends them off to "the attic of our nation", the Smithsonian in Washington, without T.S.'s knowledge. When the museum awards T.S. the distinguished Baird fellowship, without knowing that he is only in junior high, T.S. debates whether to accept his new life or to continue in anonymity on the ranch. In light of his parental ignorance, this boy who has never been more that 50 miles from home, decides to slip off under cover of darkness, hop a freight train, and make his way across the country, on his own, to accept his award in D.C.

As a reader, I relish those books that challenge my perceptions of what a novel is meant to be, bending the rules of narration to create something truly unique and wonderful. The trick here lies in Larsen's delivery of T.S.'s story, not just in the tale itself.  Being that our narrator is a cartographer, we are provided with diagrammatical footnotes in the margins as a sort of illustration of whatever T.S. sees or thinks about. When confronted by a bible-thumping hobo, T.S. illustrates the man's terrifying features under the journal heading, "Fear is the Sum of Many Sensory Details". He has never seen a car with spinning rims before - "The Car With Black Windows That Drove Backwards While Traveling Forwards". The added element of these illustrations creates an entirely different book - one that transcends mere novel and becomes a visual, physical mapping of a story. A novel as art, if you will - in a more literal sense. T.S.'s humor, naivete, and intelligence become remarkably magnified through his maps. Everything he experiences becomes heightened and the writing takes on a more evocative air when coupled with these remarkable additions, creating a beautiful, hilarious, moving story unlike anything I have ever read.

How could there possibly be another novel this year that is more of a complete package than this? I was left stunned by it's brilliance and humbled by Larsen's talent.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Remember Saving CeeCee Honeycutt

by Heather
One of the perks of being a bookseller is that we are fortunate enough to receive advanced copies of books. One of the disadvantages of being a bookseller is that we receive advanced copies of books. Why is this blessing such a frustration? Think about it this way; when you first finish a really good book what do you want to do? Put it down and forget about it? No, probably not. How about call up a friend and encourage him/her to pick it up? Ding, Ding, Ding! There’s a certain thrill and excitement when you can share a good book with someone. There’s that feeling of camaraderie, the intellectual stimulation, and the downright enjoyment you feel when you can connect with someone over a book. So, if you’re paying attention you get the bookseller’s dilemma. What do you do when the book you just read and loved isn’t available for 3 or more months? Well, you can get all of your bookseller friends to share your advanced reading copy or you can blog about it. So, here is my opportunity to share one of those books with you.

A couple of months ago there was this novel - Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman - floating around the staff (mainly the female members). It was a debut novel that takes place in the south, seemingly quaint, simple, “kind” chick-lit as I like to call it (you know the type, no sex or foul language, kind of dull). Not my cup of tea, so I heard the title and dismissed it from my mind. As the weeks rolled by the title started to creep up again in conversation. First I heard Vicki describing it as a heartwarming modern fairy tale, then Jan and Barbara were discussing it, comparing it to The Secret Life of Bees. A week or so later Adrian handed me her copy and asked if I would read it. I believe her words were, “If you like southern, you’re going to love this book”. Now, I’m not exactly Miss Southern Lit, but okay, my interest was slightly piqued, if only because I had just been told by 4 other booksellers that the book was good, and I needed something to read on my break. So, I went for it.

Here are my thoughts: Yes! Yes! Yes!

This wonderfully delightful novel absolutely grabbed me. The author, Beth Hoffman, has this smooth prose that captures the idiosyncrasies and nuances of southern life and style. The cast of characters is vivid in personality, feminine intelligence, and southern charm. Hoffman also manages to convey a hard core of strength and determination beneath her sweetly loving and exuberant female characters. This seemingly simple story of a newly motherless girl taken in by her great aunt is truly superb. It is both laugh out loud, and cry in the dark, a multi-dimensional story wrapped in the fa├žade of a light and easy read. This is one of those books that you put down, and then pick right back up because you must find someone else to read it and enjoy it with you.

Do I hear Reading Groups clamoring yet? I should! As Janet told me “Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is my new favorite book! I’m already telling all of my reading [group] friends and relatives to watch for it.” So watch for it! No one else should have to say to themselves “Why didn’t I pick this up weeks ago?" So, thank me in January (yes, you have to wait that long, but I promise it will be worth it) for introducing you to as Adriana puts it, “a delightful new novel that will charm and win over girls ages 10 to 100”. I’ll be waitin’ ya’ll!