Friday, September 24, 2010

Celebrate Banned Books!

Happy Banned Books Week!  The First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution guarantees us freedom of speech, yet every year a large number of books are challenged in court and removed from libraries and schools, limiting the access that readers - especially young readers - have to them, restricting our basic rights of freedom. Removing books from public access is essentially a direct assault on a person's ability to choose what they read. This is where Banned Books Week comes in - BBW is an annual celebration of the freedom to read. In a salute to BBW, we will have a sharp-looking display of banned books at the store and, right here, a few of the Warwick’s staff have selected some of our favorite challenged books from the last decade or so, telling you why we love them and why they not only should never be banned, but should be READ!

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
"Would any serious reader question the place of To Kill a Mockingbird among the great works of American literature? A compelling story with deeply affecting characters, the novel draws you fully into a world charged with issues central to the American experience: the interplay of race and class, the death of innocence, law and order, gender and family. This amazing novel has been challenged repeatedly, in schools and libraries, for its use of racial epithets, for its use at times of vulgar language, and its frank portrayal of rape. I would argue that these challenges point exactly to why this novel is so important  - it is honest, true-to-life and our history, and still able to arouse powerful, indeed, visceral responses."

Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
"Twain captures the humor and contradictory morals of the pre-Civil War Antebellum South. Banning this book for racism misses the whole point he was trying to make with his satire. Every time I read it, I find something new to consider."

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
"The banning of books in itself makes me sick at heart. When I scanned the lists of challenged books I was amazed to find In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. That book is a modern classic, a beautifully written true story of random violence in America, timely and important."

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
"From the master of characters, John Irving is at his best. Owen Meany will stay with you for the rest of your life! Anyone over the age of 15 should be able to handle this book. Banned? Really?"

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
"Jeannette Walls proves that success and normalcy can come of and despite family dysfunction, an invaluable lesson in the current social climate. Not only should this book NOT be banned, it SHOULD be read by all."

Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer
"I’m always appalled when I see that a book has been banned. I mean the Bible, Diary of Anne Frank, even Mein Kampf, these are all part of history! So why did I pick the Twilight books? Well, they too are now a part of history or pop-culture at least, and whether or not you love or hate them, they are a strong part of our current culture. Besides how offensive can you get when the hero and heroine remain virgins until marriage and place such an importance on family? This series was actually banned because it was too racy and too sexual. Go figure."

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
"I can see why a book about steamy pedophilia would be banned. However, the writing is intoxicating, characters engaging, and the tale beautifully told. Humbert Humbert’s obsession for the young Delores is told by him, and the description of the madness that ensues is part of Nabokov’s greatness."

"I've given this a lot of thought - Catcher in the Rye, Harry Potter, The Chocolate War - those are easy, smart-looking picks for favorite banned books.  In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak has always been one of my favorite books that always surfaces on the list of those banned every year. Why all the hubbub?  (This is a Caldecott Honor book, after all.)  So the kid flashes the reader a little bit in the kitchen - no big deal.  I'm always flabbergasted by schools and parents who challenge books like this - it's the adults, of course, who are uncomfortable with a little naked boy in a book, rather than the kids reading them.  I know I didn't care when I was a kid reading this - I was too busy reading the awesome story.  After all, isn't that what reading is all about? When I was looking over the handy list of the American Library Association's Most Frequently Challenged Books I also discovered that the most challenged book from 1990-1999 was Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz.  Say what?!  Banned for being too...scary?  C'mon, people.  Go out and read a banned book."

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Warwick's Questionnaire: Nicholas Sparks

The so-called Proust Questionnaire was originally a 19th-century parlor game designed to reveal bits of the soul, personality, & deep secrets of the participants through a series of pointed questions.  Versions of the quiz were re-popularized in the 20th-century by Vanity Fair and Inside the Actors Studio.  Our version - The Warwick's Questionnaire - is a series of ten questions designed to plumb the depths of the souls of visiting authors.

Nicholas Sparks is the massively popular, bestselling author of sixteen novels (six of which have been made into blockbuster films), including the brand-new Safe Haven.  He came by Warwick's on September 22nd to sign books for 300 of his biggest fans and he still found the time to answer our silly Questionnaire.

1. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
  • Helping my second son, Ryan learn to speak.
2. What is your greatest fear?
  • Disappointing those I love.
3. If you were a superhero, what would your power be?
  • Incredible luck.
4. If you could bring one writer back from the dead, who would it be?
5. Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
6. What is your most treasured possession?
  • My photo albums.
7. Which living person do you most admire?
8. If you were not able to be in the writing profession, what would your preferred occupation be?
  • I'd manage a global-macro hedge fund.
9. What are you most looking forward to seeing on your tour stop in San Diego?
  • My relatives.
10. What is your motto?
  • Live well, but buy a lot of insurance.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Coffee For the People!

Just in case you needed more reasons to get down to Warwick's on the second Tuesday morning of every month for Coffee with a Bookseller, our program got some great coverage this week in the widely-read book industry rags Bookselling This Week and Shelfawareness.  Don't be the last one on your block!  Get on down here next month!  (October 12)  The article:

Coffee With a Bookseller at Warwick’s
By Karen Schechner, for Bookselling This Week, on Wednesday, Sep 15, 2010

Seth's actual coffee in Hvar, Croatia
On the second Tuesday morning of every month, Warwick’s, in La Jolla, California, hosts “Coffee With a Bookseller.” The store serves free coffee and scones, and staff member Seth Marko leads customers on a “casual, informal journey” through new releases and Warwick’s staff picks.

“It can be a great way to connect with your reading community,” said Marko. “People love that it's informal, and I usually field a barrage of questions on how the book industry works, which is always fun to talk about. I love to point out to people that you don't get ‘Coffee With a Bookseller’ from Amazon or Barnes & Noble! It gets people thinking and keeps them shopping local.”

The 10:00 a.m. event has grown from a couple of attendees, when it first started in January, to about a dozen, “which is pretty much perfect,” said Marko. “It gets more and more popular every month as word gets around. People really enjoy the ‘insiders’ look at what's new, so when they come to one Coffee, they almost always come back the next month.”

Attendees receive 20 percent off any of the six to 12 titles typically discussed. Books mentioned at August's edition included: Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart, I Curse the River of Time by Per Petterson, Star Island by Carl Hiaasen, and The Vanishing of Katharina Linden by Helen Grant.

Warwick’s is considering expanding the series. Marko said, “We've discussed a nonfiction branch with John Hughes, another of our booksellers.” For the holidays, the store is considering hosting a gift book/cookbook version.

Customers have a good time, and they buy books. “People love a discount, so when you couple that with a passionate bookseller in your ear, it usually translates to decent sales figures,” said Marko. “Last month I mentioned the paperback release of Everything Matters! by Ron Currie, Jr. and told everybody that it was my favorite book from 2009. We did quite well with that one that day.”

For the bookseller, it’s an ideal sales scenario – the customer is seated (Note: No seats! We stand!) and caffeinated. “Anytime I get to just talk about books I've read and enjoyed with a relatively captive audience is a lot of fun,” said Marko. “The best part of being a bookseller is getting the chance to tell someone about the books you love, right? What better way to do that than over a cuppa joe and a scone?”

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Warwick's Questionnaire: Christopher McDougall

The so-called Proust Questionnaire was originally a 19th-century parlor game designed to reveal bits of the soul, personality, & deep secrets of the participants through a series of pointed questions.  Versions of the quiz were re-popularized in the 20th-century by Vanity Fair and Inside the Actors Studio.  Our version - The Warwick's Questionnaire - is a series of ten questions designed to plumb the depths of the souls of visiting authors.

Christopher McDougall is a journalist and the author of Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen about the barefoot-running, super-healthy Tarahumara Indians in Mexico.  In between working on his next book, he runs "in bare feet among the Amish farms in rural Pennsylvania," where he lives with his family.

1. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
    You can't run from the Warwick's Questionnaire.
  • Luck isn't really an achievement, but I'll claim it on a technicality. I have a knee-jerk instinct to say "Sure!" any time I'm offered work, only realizing later that maybe there are smarter ways to earn a buck than mucking blindly about in canyons or the Congo.
2. What is your greatest fear?
  • That I could be wrong about Answer #3.
3. If you were a superhero, what would your power be?
  • "If"?
4. If you could bring one writer (or runner? Your choice!) back from the dead, who would it be?
  • Give me just enough of Nelson Algren to splice with Emil Zatopek to create the coolest, toughest, cleverest bad-ass to ever walk the planet. Unless Johnny Cash makes it back first.
5. What is your most treasured possession?
  • I've got to steal this one from Geronimo: "I only trust my legs. They're my only friends." Everything good that has happened in my life has come from strolling, skulking or flat-out running into places I had no right being.
6. What living person do you most admire?
  • C'mon, what answer is there besides the Prez?
7. If you were not able to be a journalist, what would your preferred occupation be?
  • Have you ever heard of Statement Analysis? I came across a blog recently of a guy whose job is to analyze transcripts of criminal suspects. Super fascinating. Kept me up till 4am reading about odd little tells in the Amanda Knox and Madeleine McCann cases. "Guilty people have a difficult time saying four words," was one of the insights." And here they are: 'I didn't do it.' They'll embellish it, avoid it, try to persuade you that they're 'not the kind of person who could ever do something like that.' But 75% percent or more of guilty people will never say those simple words in their testimony." So yeah, sign me up for Statement Analysis 101 if this gig bottoms out.
8. How far can you run without shoes on?
  • TBD. Ever since I got rid of those Burmese Tiger Traps known as cushioned running shoes, I've stopped getting injured. I'm running farther, better and more consistently than I ever dreamed possible, so really, the only limits on distance are time and desire.
9. What are you most looking forward to seeing on your tour stop in San Diego?
  • An old friend from Philly, Jennifer Silverman.
10. What is your motto?
  • Once you BS your way into the job, you'll figure out how to do it.
Chris McDougall will be at Warwick's on Monday, September 13th at 7:30pm to discuss and sign his book, Born to Run.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A Book Lover's Manifesto

by Adrian Newell, Warwick's Book Buyer

Recently, a local school district announced a major change in their school curriculum - the removal of classic literature as required reading because "classics," according to this district, have been deemed to be irrelevant. School curriculum will instead focus on math and sciences. Such a change in emphasis will most likely result in a negative effect rather than a positive one as reading comprehension has been proven to improve test scores as well as lay a good foundation for academic achievement in college.

This announcement triggered a heated discussion in my office regarding the negative side effects/fallout that such a shortsighted approach will produce…this took me down a mental “rabbit hole”, which brings me to the point of this, my first ever blog entry...and, no, the irony is not lost on me!

There has been a lot of chatter these past few years regarding e-books, digital content and platforms, which has led to the inevitable prediction of the demise of the printed book. Despite all this chatter it’s safe to say that no one was truly prepared for the exponential growth in e-book adoption as evidenced in this past year. Everywhere you turn there are articles etc covering this topic and the book industry has not been unaffected by this constant barrage of negative press regarding the future of the physical book. Physical books are already being relegated to the ranks of obsolescence and possible extinction. When self-professed book lovers and supposed supporters of independent bookstores (most notably Sven Birkerts in a recent WSJ article) agree can the end be far off?

It is not - unless book lovers unite to stem the tide of this potentially self-fulfilling prophecy. As long as we stand by, fail to speak out and remind/educate consumers as to what we stand to lose, we may witness a loss that will be devastating to the cultural and intellectual fabric of our society.

I grew up without a TV or phone. My parents were depression era babies and quite frugal in their approach to consumerism but books were always an important constant in our lives. We went to the library every week for a new batch of reading materials. They also took the time to read aloud to us daily. A favorite memory (and only good one!) from school was my 6th grade teacher who read The Hobbit aloud to us every day. The only effective way to get everyone to behave was the threat of not reading if someone misbehaved. This only happened once, after which the severe peer disapproval leveled at the miscreants was enough to keep everyone in line.

I credit my lifelong reading habits and exposure to the ideas discovered on the pages of books as my truest and best education.

At this point I feel the need to declare that I am not a Luddite...well perhaps a wee bit...I love the ease that certain technology has brought to everyday life. However, I view technology as a means to an end, not the end itself. I own an iPod, an iPhone, a computer, but at no point will these devices ever replace the satisfaction and joy of holding and reading a physical book. When I look at the books on my bookshelves I can clearly recall many happy moments spent reading as well as what was going on in my life at the time of reading specific books. They are a visual history of my life and looking at them evokes memories of people, places, and experiences that would be lost if my library consisted of only books downloaded to an e-reader.

Additionally, the literary life has put me in contact with many wonderful people who have enriched my life. Technology can be good, but also serves as a barrier to truly connecting with people. We are losing the art of conversation, letter writing, journal keeping etc...always connected but never truly connecting at more than a superficial level. Texting, tweeting, and emailing cannot adequately replace face-to-face conversation where you can look the person in the eye and watch their facial expressions mirror their thoughts and emotions. Nuance is lost in cyberspace and emoticons are a poor substitute for the real thing.

Recently I gave a shout out to It’s a Book by Lane Smith as my favorite book of the year. Why, you might ask, would I pick a children’s book above all the other deserving, finely written books of the past year?! Here’s why - he succinctly captures, with few words and charming illustrations, the current struggle between technology and the printed word. This is a book every book lover should read and share with others. (Check out his interview with the Wall Street Journal.)

So... my challenge to you is this. Just as we’ve seen a burgeoning “slow food” movement address the encroachment that fast food, processed food etc. has had on the culinary arts, I’d like to propose a “slow books” movement to encourage book lovers to go out and remind those around us of the importance and necessity of physical books. This is my call to arms and revolution, if necessary, to preserve something precious and vital to our culture.

Be retro, take a vacation from technology and unplug for a day...and use that day to reconnect with friends, explore the outdoors, or read a book. Most of all, speak out about this issue. Let’s not stand by doing nothing until it’s too late.

Be vocal, be proactive!

So spread the word, spread the love and give someone you care about a physical book this holiday season. It’s still the best entertainment value out there and time spent reading is never wasted!

Check out the following links to articles of interest on this topic.