Saturday, June 30, 2007

Imagine All the People... Gone

I'm not a science fiction fan, as a rule, but I'm not immune to a little alternative-future thinking on occasion. So I'll confess I was intrigued by a recent CBC interview with Alan Weisman, author of the forthcoming SF novel The World Without Us (to be published July 10).

Weisman discusses how the world would change if humans were to suddenly disappear. For example, he predicts that feral housecats wouldn't miss us at all. (But you knew that.) The author says he spoke to a number of experts to ground his sci-fi in sci-fact, and the result sounds like it will be better than your usual space opera.

Listen to the interview here.--David E

After IV

Last month, I drew your attention to a great title: Working IX to V : Orgy Planners, Funeral Clowns and Other Prized Professions of the Ancient World. (See that earlier item here.) I also mentioned that the author would be appearing on NPR. Now that interview has been posted, along with an excerpt from the book detailing various types of Roman slaves and their extremely specialized responsibilities.

My favorite is the triumph slave: "The slave stood behind the triumphant general in his chariot [during the victory parade], holding a heavy, jewel-laden gold crown over the man's head. His other task was much trickier. As the procession moved along amid cheers, the slave whispered wet blanket remarks into the general's ear: 'You're not that great. Look around you and remember you're only a man.'" That doesn't sound hard at all.--David E

Friday, June 29, 2007

Why & Wherefore

Have you ever wondered why soda comes in round containers while milk comes in square ones? No, I hadn't either until the question was posed in an article at Design Observer.

The answer--that milk's squared containers mean more efficient use of refrigerated space during transport and display, while a soda can's round shape is easier to hold in your hand and better holds the pressure of a carbonated liquid--is revealed in The Economic Naturalist: In Search of Explanations for Everyday Enigmas.

Author Robert Frank is an economist and professor who wants to turn the study of the dismal science away from mathematics and statistics in a more social, psychological, and--he would say--naturalist direction, and he's focused his attentions and his economics analyses on the world around us, specifically product design and consumer behavior.

Pick it up if you want to learn Frank's answers to questions such as
  • Why, even though the discs are exactly the same size, do DVDs come in such larger packages than CDs?
  • Why do drive-up ATM machines have Braille dots on the keypads?
  • Why do fast food chains promise a free meal if the cashier doesn't offer a receipt, even though most customers don't want one?
--David E

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Thumbs up for Annie

Daniel B Smith reviews Annie Dillard's latest novel The Maytrees at, and it's a rave: "At times, The Maytrees acts like vintage Dillard: It contains gorgeous, meticulous descriptions of the outdoors that springboard into the Platonic ether, into meditations on devotion, loss, and time. ... The result is one of the most lucid and effective books Dillard has ever produced."

Run, Don't Walk

HarperCollins is offering advance reader copies of Ann Patchett's next book Run, which will be published September 25. Patchett is the author of book club favorite Bel Canto.

To get on the list for a copy, email HarperCollins.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Just Like Being There has posted an almost hour-long reading and Q&A with Armistead Maupin. The event was held at San Francisco's Books Inc. bookstore. Maupin is discussing his latest book Michael Tolliver Lives, the latest book in his longrunning Tales of the City series.

No Thorns, Please

NPR recently talked to Aurelia C Scott about her new book Otherwise Normal People: Inside the Thorny World of Competitive Rose Gardening. Learn the tips and tricks of the flower world's most devoted growers. (Some, for example, actually place a shovel beside an underperforming bush, as a threat.) There's also an excerpt from Scott's book, to whet your appetite.

And you can find out even more here in our store on July 1, when Scott herself will be here for a reading. The stories are great, and the Q&A will be worth the trip, I'm sure. So bring your favorite flower stories and enjoy.--David E

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Well Begun is Half Done

World-famous librarian (how often do you read those words?) Nancy Pearl has posted some great reading suggestions for the younger set. To whet you appetite, she's chosen books with particularly engaging openings. Among my favorites:
  • "There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it."
  • "I come from a family with a lot of dead people."
  • "I have been accused of being anal retentive, an over-achiever, and a compulsive perfectionist, like those are bad things."
  • "We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck."
What are these from? Your choices are below, but they're not in order. Give it a guess.
  • Each Little Bird That Sings
  • The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
  • Millicent Min, Girl Genius
  • Feed
The answers are here, along with exceprts, so you can keep on reading past the first sentences.--David E

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Just Can't Wait

A purported hacker who broke into Bloomsbury's computers has posted what he claims is the super-secret ending to the seventh and final Harry Potter novel.

Why did he do it? The hacker says, "We did it by following the precious words of the great Pope Benedict XVI when he still was Cardinal Josepth Ratzinger.He explained why Harry Potter bring the youngs of our earth to Neo Paganism faith. So we make this spoiler to make reading of the upcoming book useless and boring."

In fact, it's the revelation that's kinda dull. (You can read the putative secrets here). I haven't read the Potter books, so that combined with the fractured English makes the post pretty well meaningless to me. Take that, hacker.--David E

The Sound of One Tooth Gnashing

Residents of the little French town of Lussaud (pop. 25) are up in arms over their depiction in Pierre Jourde's novel Pays Perdu. Five of them are currently on trial for actually attacking the author's house with stones in 2003.

What provoked such biblical outrage? Passages such as this: "That curious tradition of having only one tooth could have been taken for a fashion, a form of dandyism, like wearing a monocle. It seemed an aesthetic expression rather than a necessity. Because one lone tooth--is it any better than having none?"

Pays Perdu isn't available in English just yet, but you can read the Guardian's coverage here. A Year in Provence this ain't.--David E

Friday, June 22, 2007

Reading Nigeria

Nigeria is on the literary map. Two of the country's writers have won major literary prizes recently. Chinua Achebe (author of the classic Things Fall Apart) won this year's Man Booker International Prize for his career, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie won the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction for her second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun.

And it turns out that Adichie actually grew up in a house once occupied by Achebe. How's that for a promising literary pedigree?

Nigeria's Daily Sun newspaper is hosting a forum in which readers compare the two authors both to each other and to Olaudah Equiano, who is argubably Nigeria's first author for his book The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African. The comments make for a very interesting glimpse of a writing scene little known in the US.--David E

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Behind the Curtain

Last week, I wrote about McSweeney's sale to cover debts incurrred during the bankruptcy of their distributor. This week has posted a full article, going into all the details. If you're interested in the behind-the-scenes financial aspect of publishing, it's a must-read. My only comment: the article is perhaps a little too upbeat in its belief that the internet will be the salvation of struggling small publishing houses.--David E

The Last Grape on the Vine

I'm always the last to know. It turns out that A.M. Homes, author of the recent memoir The Mistress's Daughter is bisexual, telling the Washington Post, “I've dated men and I've dated women and there's no more or less to it than that.” She's also written for HBO's guilty pleasure The L Word.

For more on all this, you can read an interesting interview with the author at E

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Wee Reads

Don't tell me you don't have room for another book. New York's Grolier Club is hosting an exhibition of miniature books through July 28. In the show are a two-inch-tall set of the complete works of Shakespeare, a four thousand-year-old Babylonian tablet, and a book that's been to the moon and back.

You can also see video footage from the show here.

Poetry from Guantanamo, Part 2

The University of Iowa's book Poems from Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak got a very compelling write-up in the Wall Street Journal today. Among the details: prisoners scratched poems on stryofoam cups with pebbles and passed them between the bars. The military censored some of the poems, citing the possibility of hidden messages in the verses, but verses like "To be with my children, each a part of me/to be with my wife and the ones I love/to be with my parents, my world's tenderest hearts,/I dream to be home, to be free from this cage" don't seem to be hiding their content at all.

See my earlier post about this topic here.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Off the Shelves, Into the Galleries--Part 2

Last week it was books as building materials. Today it's books as fantastic distorted, even tortured shapes and forms, courtesy of photographer Cara Barer, who has two series of her photographs posted on her website (here and here).

Says the artist, "I realized I owned many books that were no longer of use to me, or for that matter, anyone else. Would I ever need "Windows 95?" After soaking it in the bathtub for a few hours, it had a new shape and purpose."

Get Published, Poets

Knockout, a new literary magazine, is soliciting poetry for its second issue. The deadline is August 15. See for full details.

Boxers or Briefs?

Kids' book illustrator Noah Z Jones has a promotional website that's worth a look: Don't be scared if you're at work; it's not going to get you in trouble. Rather, it's filled with cartoons of various animals standing around in their underpants. Each also comes with a quick list of likes and dislikes. It's worth a quick look.

Friday, June 15, 2007

On the Mike, Part 2

Mike Jones talked to the Minneapolis StarTribune's Claude Peck and Rick Nelson. (Fair warning: I haven't had a chance to listen to this interview yet.--DHE)

Download the MP3 here.

And hear him for yourself when he's in the store on Thursday, June 21, at 7:30pm.

Straight Up With a Twist

In the middle of May, NPR had a nice interview with Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein, authors of Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes. Their book uses jokes (goods ones, even) to illustrate philosophical concepts.

Now, Boston's public radio station WBUR has posted an hour-long program with the pair, so you can really get your fill.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Local Folks Make Good (Again)

It's an odd name for a literary prize--IMPAC; and odder still when you know that it stands for Improved Management Productivity and Control. But the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award is a big deal. At 100,000 euros (about $135,000), it's the richest award out there for an author.

This year, 169 libraries around the world nominated 138 novels for the prize. Nominees included Slow Man by J.M. Coetzee, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy, and Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie. But the winner was a little-known Norwegian author Per Petterson, for his novel Out Stealing Horses.

And to bring it all back home, Petterson is published in the US by the Twin Cities' own Graywolf Press. While they won't see any of the money, the award again reminds the literary world just how good Graywolf's judgment is.--David E

Free Expression

The Scotsman has posted a brief article about two upcoming BBC television programs (or programmes, rather) to be hosted by Edinburgh author Ian Rankin. Which is really neither here nor there for us here in the States. But what is worth a quick look is the comments which readers have posted about Mr Rankin. They feel he's overexposed; I guess that's the nice way to say it. But although the comments are mean, they're also really funny.

Read them quickly, before they're removed for violating Terms of Service.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Gray Lady

The New York Times has launched its own blog, entitled (prepare to grin fixedly) Paper Cuts. So far so good: They've posted about Chinua Achebe winning the Man Booker International Prize, an essay by Martin Amis shadowing Tony Blair to Iraq (highly recommended), and a slideshow of book ads from the Times from the early 70s.

Posts are long, but for now infrequent.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Off the Shelves, Into the Galleries is featuring art made from books. If your collection is threatening to overwhelm you, you might find some ideas for putting those unruly tomes to good use.

On the Mike

Mike Jones was on the Leonard Lopate show from New York's public radio station WNYC. You can listen to the show here:

Hear him for yourself when he's in the store on Thursday, June 21.

Gimme Gimme

To cover a deficit caused by the bankruptcy of their distributor, McSweeney's is holding a fire sale on some very cool stuff, including signed copies of their books and magazines, and doodles by authors such as Spike Jonze, David Byrne, Tony Millionaire, and Dave Eggers. Some of the items for sale are listed on their website; the complete list is at eBay. New items are posted daily.

My personal favorite is the issue of McSweeney's number 13 signed by Chris Ware. Are you reading this, Santa?--David E

Monday, June 11, 2007

No Dogs Allowed snarks all over John Grogan, author of the freakishly popular Marley: A Dog Like No Other, Marley and Me, and several other Marley-related tomes. It seems Grogan's old employer, the Philadelphia Inquirer, is republishing his old columns, which they own, without paying him. To add insult to unremunerated injury, the cover features a dog, the better to lure in Marley's fans.

In a letter to his publisher's sales reps, Grogan's agent says, "Already there is a title and jacket that egregiously exploits John's success with Marley & Me, and we are outraged at this misleading representation of a collection that has nearly no content that relates to Marley or even to dogs."

Marley's people have not commented on the brouhaha, but it's a good bet that he didn't get paid for any of it.--David E


The New York Times has a review today of Robert Frank's Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom And the Lives of the New Rich. It's fun for stoking your sense of outrage, both economic and aesthetic. Alligator-skin toilet seats for your private jet, anyone?

But don't be jealous; all is not well in Have-land. They want more. Says the review, "On a more reassuring note, it’s nice to learn that the rich suffer status anxiety, too. When Richistanis are asked how much money would make them feel secure, they inevitably choose a figure that is double their own net worth."

--David E

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Book with a Beer Chaser--June

Join us Tuesday the 12th at Bryant Lake Bowl (map) for conversation and a beverage with some very interesting folks. Doors open at 6:00pm for socializing; discussion begins in earnest at 7:00pm.

This month's book is Special Topics in Calamity Physicsby Marissa Pessl. The New York Times loved it, saying, "The joys of this shrewdly playful narrative lie not only in the high-low darts and dives of Pessl’s tricky plotting, but in her prose, which floats and runs as if by instinct, unpremeditated and unerring."

Books & Bars is not your typical book club. We provide an atmosphere for lively discussion of interesting authors, good food and drinks. You're welcome to come even if you haven't read the book.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Baaaad Sushi, Man has published two excerpts from the new book Death of a Dissident: Alexander Litvinenko and the Demise of Russian Democracy. The book describes the poisoning last November of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko. It's written by Alex Goldfarb and Litvinenko's widow Marina.

It's Better Over Here

Armistead Maupin's latest installment of his great Tales of the City series comes out this month. Michael Tolliver Lives brings loyal fans up to date on the goings-on of Michael, Mrs Madrigal, Brian, and even the long-missing Mary Ann Singleton.

Regular readers of this blog know I like to contrast the American and UK versions of books' covers. (Two nations separated by a common language, etc, etc...). And I'm doing it again. But it's not out of kneejerk Anglophilia. Rather, it's to point out that Americans are getting the better deal this time. The UK cover isn't nearly fabulous enough:

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Aldo Leopold

The blog at the Encyclopaedia Britannica website has a very interesting posting about the naturalist Aldo Leopold. It's a very nice summary of Leopold's life and career, including his founding of the Wilderness Society and the Civilian Conservation Corps.

If it stirs your interest, you can't do better than to start with Leopold's classic work Sand County Almanac. We also have a good selection of his other books in our Nature Writing section.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

In the (Random) House

New York magazine has posted an interesting little summation of Random House and the economics of a large publishing house. It's not all a bed of roses. For example: "Out of every eight books, one is very profitable, one is very unprofitable, and six either break even or lose money."

Folks Are Talking

The buzz around the multiple books about Hilary Clinton continues unabated.

The Times of London has posted an extract from Carl Bernstein's new book A Woman in Charge. And my favorite Canadian radio news program As It Happens features a 15-minute interview with Bernstein in its daily podcast.--David E

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

No Cold Omaha

Atlanta, New York, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver.

In all these cities, bookstores are hosting readings by Mike Jones, the Denver masseur who announced last November that his client of three years was Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals. You can also add Minneapolis, since Jones will be at our store on June 21.

Who's not on that list? Colorado Springs, home of Haggard's former congregation, New Life Church, and arguably the place where folks most want to hear from Jones. The local Borders and Barnes & Noble stores aren't hosting the author, though if you want to give them money in exchange for Jones' book I Had to Say Somthing, they'll accept it.

Independent bookstores support independent voices. Take advantage of being in the big city (or at least within driving distance) and come hear Mike Jones. Otherwise, you might as well live in Colorado Springs.

And the Winner Is....

Cormac McCarthy will be on Oprah today discussing The Road, his postapocalyptic father-and-son-reunion story. If the message boards at are any indication, Lady O's fans have embraced her surprising choice of reading material.

And the next OBC title has been announced. This time it's a less unusual selection: Jeffrey Eugenides' perrennial book club favorite Middlesex. It's the story of Calliope and her discovery that she's in fact a hermaphrodite. (I'm not giving anything away; the book's first line is "I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.").--David E

Monday, June 4, 2007

20 Questions

The New York Times Magazine thinks Mike Jones is worth talking to. He's the subject of this week's "Questions for..." page. You can see it here.

It's a very interesting glimpse of the "escort who brought down Ted Haggard," as they put it. But it's only a page. If you want to know more, you can ask your own questions on June 21 when Mike is in our store. See our events page for all the details.

Meanwhile check out Mike's book I Had to Say Something. Then meet the man himself on June 21.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

What's in a Name?

I'll confess that I've never read Crime and Punishment, but apparently it's full of confusingly similar names, as a result of all the diminutives, patronymics, diminutive patronymics, and so on. Into this breach leap the brave programmers of with The Amazing Dostoevsky Machine which allows you to pick distinct (and distinctly unusual) names for the characters. The formerly tongue-twisting Andrey Semyonovitch Lebeziatnikov becomes the euphonious Dicky Dalloway; Sofya Semyonovna Marmeladov is now Trixie Gallagher.

You can either print out a cast list or view the entire text online, with your new easy-to-remember folks in place.--David E

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Read All About It

The entire script for the brilliant, funny film Withnail and I is available online. If you haven't seen the movie, rent it. The 1987 story of two down and out students is a cult classic, not least for its dialogue. If you've seen the movie, you can now read your favorite bits. Here are two of mine:

I [mentally]: Thirteen million Londoners have to cope with this, and bake beans and allbran and rape, and I'm sitting in this bloody shack and I can't cope with Withnail. I must be out of my mind. I must go home at once and discuss his problems in depth.


Withnail: Look at that, look at that. Accident black spot. These aren't accidents. They're throwing themselves into the road gladly. Throwing themselves into the road to escape all this hideousness.[To a pedestrian] Throw yourselves into the road darling, you haven't got a chance.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Where's the On Switch?

Too Real

UK television viewers will soon be able to watch a reality show featuring aspiring authors. Not the actual writing, you understand; thought is not telegenic. The show will be authors pitching book ideas to a panel headed by Simon Cowell's older brother Tony. Tony is himself a published author--his works include a compilation of his younger sibling's most caustic putdowns--so he knows good writing.

Details are here, if you really want to know.