Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Seasons Readings from Algonquin's Director of Marketing Craig Popelars

This week Craig Popelars, the brilliant Director of Marketing for Algonquin Books, has graciously allowed us to reprint a Christmas anecdote on the joy of receiving books:

Christmas morning 1972. There I am with my sister and her new Dressy Bessy doll. What you don't see in this picture is the one present that I received that Christmas and still have: a hardcover of A Family Treasury of Little Golden Books. On the inside front cover was inscribed, in mom's perfect cursive, "To Craig, Merry Christmas 1972, Love Mom & Dad."

I can't tell you what ever happened to the countless Christmas presents that I received over the years--my Evel Knieval action figure with scramble van, Stretch Armstrong (OK, we gutted old Stretch to get at the toxic steroid goo inside), the Rockem Sockem Robots. What never ended up at the garage sale or tossed out were the books that mom and dad gave me each Christmas. There's Richard Scarry's Busy, Busy Town; Hear Ye of Philadelphia by Polly Curren; O.J. Simpson by Bill Gutman; the works of Ruth Chew; The Wrinkle in Time Trilogy Boxed Set; a slew of Hardy Boys hardcovers; and countless others. And while the pages have yellowed, the bindings have cracked, and the covers have faded, I'll never ever part with these treasured gifts.

Betsy Burton, owner of The King's English Bookshop told me that the most memorable Christmas gift she ever received was Smoky the Cowhorse by Will James. She said, "after reading it at age seven, I played horse during recess for the next two years, kicking and whinnying like a rodeo bronco, much to the consternation of my classmates." A good book can inspire you in the kitchen or garden. They can tempt you into updating your passport and taking that dream trip to Borneo, and they can make a toddler smile with delight. Books can bring you a little closer to celebrated art or to the far corners of the solar system. They can make you laugh out loud, and they can engage and entertain. And, yes, sometimes a good book can make you look a little foolish on the playground.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

And the Winner is...

Last night (November 16th) the 2011 National Book Award winners were announced and the Warwick's staff is delighted to see two favorites standing in the winners circle. Winning the award for Fiction was Jesmyn Ward for her novel Salvage the Bones, which Bloomsbury's George Gibson reviewed (and raved about) in The Warwick's Blog last month as our special guest blogger. Stephen Greenblatt, a renowned literary scholar, whose work is much loved by our staffers, won the Non-Fiction award for The Swerve: How the World Became Modern.

Other winners were poet Nikky Finney for Head Off & Split and Thanhha Lai for her tween novel Inside Out and Back Again.

Check out the video of the Awards Dinner below:

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Classic Holmes

There are some things that I enjoy more thoroughly when they are in their natural state. I prefer a single malt scotch with a splash of spring water. If I have a Coke, I will seek out the Mexican brand that still uses cane sugar instead the high fructose corn crap. And when it comes to Sherlock Holmes, give me the one that Arthur Conan Doyle created.

Don’t misunderstand, I enjoy the latter year Holmes chronicled by Laurie King. Additionally, I have to admit to even enjoying the BBC’s complete modern re-imagining of Sherlock with the lead played by Benedict Cumberbatch (great Dickensian name that). By no means am I a Canon purist who puts every new incarnation of the great Baker Street detective through a literary inquisition where any deviation from Doyle’s original “Sacred 60” is hissed at with derision.

Still, nothing can transport me to the fog slicked cobblestone alleys of Victorian London quite like the original Holmes stories. I don’t mean it has to be Doyle’s actual words. However, it does have to be his voice. The master’s voice is unmistakable and rarely imitated successfully. Then, along comes Anthony Horowitz with The House of Silk.

Horowitz knows British period mysteries. You may have seen his pen at work if you have ever watched the WWII themed PBS Mystery Series, Foyle’s War. Obviously, he knows Britain’s Victorian period quite well too since the Arthur Conan Doyle Estate has officially approved of his new addition to the Holmes collection.

Most importantly, Horowitz knows Sherlock Holmes. He knows him so well that he trusts the voice of Doyle to continue to tell the story of 221b Baker Street’s most famous resident.

After a brief introduction where an aging Dr. Watson takes up his pen again after Holmes has passed beyond these mortal mists, we are taken back to the glorious heyday of the Sherlock Holmes and John Watson adventures. Where has this lost tale been? Watson tells us that the tale is so monstrous and dangerous that he will leave it safely with his solicitors with the express instruction that it cannot be printed until 100 years after his death.

It is just as we remembered it all. Close your eyes and you can smell the shag tobacco of Holmes’ church warden pipe as he sorts through clues to a series of murders that all have the same clue- a white silk ribbon. All of your favorite characters are here. Sherlock’s corpulent brother Mycroft, the rat-faced Inspector Lestrade, Wiggins and the Baker Street Irregulars, even Moriarty, they are all here again in glorious gas lamp lit color.

Horowitz truly pulls off the wonderful illusion that Arthur Conan Doyle has left us one last tale. One could easily imagine Anthony using one of Doyle’s psychic mediums to receive inspiration from beyond the veil.

In short, buy this book. Turn off the television for an evening. Turn out all of the house lights, save one. Brew yourself a pot of tea (don’t forget the cozy). Then sit back and lose yourself to the tale. For, the game is afoot.

James Jensen is a bookseller at Warwick's