Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Book Pairings

We love pairing gift items with books here at PSB, and this year we have some fun ideas:

1) Literary Onesies: Because they're never too young to be exposed to such classics as Make Way for Ducklings, Where the Wild Things Are and The Hungry Caterpillar. We stock these in 12 month sizing and prices range from $20 - $22.


2) Litographs Tattoos: For rebellious readers who want to wear their favorite books, these temporary tattoos feature lines from Peter Pan, Pride & Prejudice, Walden and more. Each package comes with a set of 2 tattoos for $5.

3) Book Lover Mugs: These new mugs from Seltzer are inspiring and sassy, and perfect for any reader in your life. Choose from 3 styles (our favorite is "Reading is Fun & Mental"); each is $12.

Along with these items, we also carry reading journals, book lights, totes and pouches --even literary bandaids! And don't forget we're offering Free Local Holiday Shipping this year to make your shopping easier. Season's Readings!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Folio Society Raffle

Wizard of Oz
As you might have seen in Scout Cambridge and the Boston Globe, the lavishly illustrated and designed Folio Society editions of classic books like Wuthering Heights (introduced by Patti Smith), Little House on the Prairie (introduced by Jane Gardam), Pride and Prejudice (introduced by Sebastian Faulks) and The Wizard of Oz (introduced by Maria Tatar) make wonderful gifts. And we also know that signed copies make wonderful gifts. Folio Society books are incredibly high quality editions that are beautifully and uniquely made, and Porter Square Books is the only bookstore in the Boston area that carries them. We have dozens of titles.
The Princess and the Goblin

Starting now when you purchase any Folio Society edition at Porter Square Books, you will receive a free raffle ticket for a chance to win either a Folio Society Engagement Calendar, an edition of The Princess and the Goblin, signed by Maria Tatar (who wrote the introduction), or an edition of The Wizard of Oz, signed by Maria Tatar (who wrote the introduction to that one as well).

But wait, there’s more! If you buy two Folio Society Editions, you receive three raffle tickets and if you buy three or more Folio Society Editions you receive five raffle tickets. The winner (one prize per person and the winner must be able to pick up the prize at the store) will be drawn and contacted on Sunday December 22nd. So getting a wonderful gift for a loved one gives you a chance to win a wonderful prize for yourself.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

What Happens When You Shop during Indies First at Porter Square Books

Indies First is a nationwide event that coincides with Small Business Saturday, where authors spend the day as booksellers in their favorite bookstores. It started with Sherman Alexie who was looking for a way to give back to the stores that do so much for so many authors and it quickly became a national event celebrating the particular value locally owned independent bookstores bring to their communities. So what will happen if you choose to shop at Porter Square Books on Indies First, Saturday November 29? Well, you will:

Support Your Local Community
The data are unequivocal; shopping at locally owned businesses greatly benefits the local economy. Through salaries, taxes, business spending, and charitable giving, more of the money you spend locally gets recirculated back into your community. Even the value of your house goes up. So along with getting whatever you buy, your local tax dollars also buy you better funded schools, safer roads, and a stronger economy for your home.

Participate in a National Movement
There is a lot to love about the internet. Who doesn’t appreciate being able to buy something while in their pajamas or in the middle of the night every now and then? And social media has allowed people to make connections with each other in ways that were never possible before. But, as Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer write in their Indies First open letter, “There’s nothing like the human, organic serendipity of an independent bookshop, where people who read and love books share their love with others.” Indies First is not about rejecting the digital world (PSB has a website and lots of fun on social media) but about celebrating the experiences that can only happen face-to-face, stranger-to-stranger, reader-to-reader, and, at least on this day, reader-to-writer.

Avoid the Stress of Mall & Big Box Shopping
Will it be busy at Porter Square Books on Indies First/Small Business Saturday? I certainly hope so. Will there be the chaotic rushing about as shoppers wrestle their gift lists into submission? Sure. But no matter how busy it gets in the store, someone will always be willing to take their time with you. If we need to spend fifteen minutes helping you find historical fiction or decide which dystopian trilogy is the right dystopian trilogy or anything, we will spend that time with you. And maybe you will have to wait in line for awhile to check out, but even that’s not so bad. It gives you a moment to breathe. And you could always talk to the folks around you about books.

Get Book Recommendations from People Who Live for the Written Word
On Indies First at PSB, you will actually be able to get recommendations from someone who wrote the book on comics and graphic novels. And an author with expertise in picture books, and one of the great movers and shakers of mystery and crime writing in New England, and the author of one of the most critically acclaimed debuts of 2014, and an author who writes for teens, middle grade, and picture books. And that’s not even counting the two MFAs in Children's Literature, Co-chair of The New England Children's Booksellers Advisory Council, librarian, newly minted novelist, and Gary The Most Interesting Bookseller in the World, who will be working that day. In many ways, Indies First is about shopping, just like Small Business Saturday is about shopping, just like pretty much every day between November 28th and December 24th is about shopping, but at PSB, on Indies First, you’ll be shopping in an ongoing celebration of the written word.

You Get Books
Oh yeah, and, on top of everything else, you've bought books to share and/or to read. Can’t beat that at all.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Holiday Prep 2014

We're firm believers here --well most of us anyway!--that it's never too soon to start planning for the winter holidays. Whether you're looking for gift wrap and candles, or just decoration inspiration, we've got great stuff this year.

Boxed cards galore: We carry Unicef, Hanukkah, Boston-themed notes, and everything in-between. Looking for just one card for that special someone? We've got a varied selection of funny and beautiful holiday cards in singles also.

Ornaments for your tree, garland, and gift packages. This year we have pine cone birds, felt ice skate pairs, newsprint birdhouses and glittered woodland acorns just to name a few.

  Advent calendars continue to be one of our most popular items. We have many different types of regular and oversized calendars (one of our favorites features kissing hedgehogs!).

And finally, we've got a wonderful selection of Hanukkah goodies: boxed notes, candles, gift wrap and yes, even latke servers!

So stop by and visit us today for your holiday supply needs. (And don't forget about our Free Holiday Shipping service to Cambridge & Somerville.) Happy Holidays from PSB!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Reconnecting with Ben Parzybok

About seven years ago, we launched this blog as way to do more of what we love to do, talk about books and share them with readers. We quickly saw it was an opportunity to connect authors and readers through author interviews. (Well, and as an opportunity to get our questions answered, of course.) Just about the same time we were launching our blog, Ben Parzybok’s debut novel, Couch, came out from Small Beer Press and Ben became our very first author to be interviewed on our blog. Ben’s second novel, Sherwood Nation, came out this fall as the store was also celebrating its 10th anniversary so we decided to touch base with him again.

Set in Portland Oregon after a massive drought has crippled American society west of the Mississippi, Sherwood Nation is a different kind of dystopian novel. No magic. No zombies. No tyrannical overlords ruling with iron-fists and tournaments. It brings a fascinating realism to the genre, creating a uniquely human and tangible version of the apocalypse story. Sherwood Nation is about real people grappling with an all too real catastrophe in ways that reveal aspects of our culture today, while exploring the best, worst, and, most importantly, the vague middle between the two ideals, of what we could be. 

How have you changed as a writer between Couch and Sherwood Nation?

Part of this answer is easy: I wrote the first draft of Couch during a languorous stretch of six months while I was living in Ecuador, living under incredibly cheap rent and with no job. I had the luxury of writing as many as six hours a day. Finishing Couch (editing) took longer, as these things do, but that first six months was an incredible surplus of time in which to compose.

I wrote Sherwood Nation during a five year span where I ran a startup and raised two children. I started the book after a visit to Brazil and upon my return, kept my jet-lag, waking at 5am to compose in a dream-like fog. So I flipped my natural tendency for late-night frittering to early morning writings. I wrote Couch while abroad, I wrote Sherwood Nation in the town I live. These are the surface things.

The deeper things are less easy to identify. I began this book during a period in which there was an air of doom. I started during the economic collapse, and an incredible lot of apocalyptic media was being produced (still is!). I wanted a book that tackled that, and yet fought against it, eked some hope into those visions. I wanted a big book, an ambitious book, something that came out swinging. I wanted to examine our version of democracy, and to watch how people, in hard circumstances, became resourceful and ingenious. So in general, I wanted more, and I was intent on tackling much more difficult material, and, I think, braver about doing so than I was with Couch. Is this a change for me? I don’t know. I’m working on my third book now, and the goals are less ambitious, and there’s a thread of the fantastical again.

What have you learned in that time that you applied to Sherwood Nation?

I learned a lot about myself as a writer, discipline-wise. I invented (for myself) a different style of writing — patchwork and weaving, with many POVs. A style that would allow me to work on a large project while so occupied with other things. And certainly there are family dynamics that made it into the book, whether real or spoofed (I have not yet, but at many times considered, building an extensive labyrinth of tunnels under house — though I did build a long tunnel for my rabbits recently ).

Dystopian novels are now completely mainstream, but the most popular ones tend have elements of fantasy and science fiction. Do you think there is special value in a realistic dystopia, like Sherwood Nation, or is it just a different way of approaching the same human problems?
I specifically worked against the fantastical, hyperbolic dystopias that we frequently see in order to play with versions of how I thought humans as a whole might react, and how we might re-form, under dire circumstances. A mainstay of those other books is a single hero, fighting against all odds, etc etc. While this book has a primary character, it is many characters that make up the varying shades of gray that form the community that, in my mind, does a heroic thing. That is to say, in Sherwood Nation, there’s a utopian scenario within the dystopia. For that, I felt like painting it realistically would be far more compelling.

Did Sherwood Nation start out as a drought story or did you consider a couple of other types of cataclysmic disasters?

Actually, the book was originally about a drought, a flood, and an ice storm. I was going to examine how the nature of the disaster alters our relationship to each other and to our selves. The drought was first, though, and obviously the plot wanted to go somewhere else. I didn’t realize when I started it, but droughts are orders of magnitude more complicated than floods or ice storms. You can deny a drought is even happening for the first few years (hello, California!), and then you have all the time in the world to wallow in the anxiety of it. I started the book before California’s drought, and so it’s been startling and fascinating to watch what’s happened there. Another five years and they’ll essentially be living Sherwood Nation…!

One of the interesting aspects of the character’s in Sherwood Nation is their different relationships to their vocations or even to the idea of having the vocation. Some have direct connections to their vocation, whereas other characters struggle to find theirs, while other characters have vocations, but don’t really understand them. Do you think it is important for people to have vocations? Why or why not? Does the idea of a “vocation” have different significance in a story than in real life?
Phew, that’s a good question and one I’m not sure I know how to answer. If you mean by vocation their calling — no, I don’t think it’s necessary to have a calling. That pre-supposes some kind of relationship with destiny which I’m not sure is there. Do I think it’s necessary to have passions? Absolutely. I think every attempt to root out and explore passions should be made. These are what make life enjoyable, what makes life fun and worth living. And by extension, people who think life is fun and worth living have positive influences that go way beyond their own selves. But the idea of a calling is an elusive one for me. If I ever find mine, I will write post-haste.

Don’t want to give the plot away, so I won’t be specific, but in order to have conflict and stories, something has to go wrong and they do for Sherwood Nation. Do you think the “something always goes wrong” of storytelling reflects reality? If so, how does telling and reading stories help us or not, with what goes wrong in the world?

A story in which nothing went wrong would not be much of a story. The stories we tell each other in life — for them to be re-tellable, by their very nature, there has to be tension/mishap/etc. Do stories help us manage our world? Hell yeah. See my comment below, but also: I strongly believe that novels, and perhaps particularly speculative novels, allow us a sort of decision tree for the future. We absorb them and with the power of those visions, continue to shape our world.

Can we do this without heroes and martyrs or do people always need someone or something charismatic to follow?

We absolutely need heroes! We’re a social, emulative species. We learn who we are by watching others. It is by wanting to become the people that we admire that we become admirable people. I don’t consider the world to be divided between sheep and shepherds. I think each of us is allotted with the seeds of heroism, and it’s our job to grow those into our own heroics. A martyr… on the other hand, is someone who makes the ultimate sacrifice for their heroics, and that’s a much rarer thing. I think these people have certainly shown to be useful in bringing about large-scale change in society.

And, of course, what are you reading?

I’ve got a few books going. I’m reading Alice Munro’s Runaway (I’m embarrassed to say I’ve not read her before this), Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Last American Man - a captivating non-fiction piece about a present-day mountain man. The book has a lot of astute observations on American men (and how they were shaped by a history of wilderness). Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (wow! whew!). And finally, Goodhouse, by Peyton Marshall - a sci-fi dystopia by another Portland author who I’ll be interviewing soon. The book that I’m not reading yet but am most excited about, is Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari…it doesn’t come out until next February in the States.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Tim Riley on The Goduncle of Funk

Affectionately known as the "Goduncle" of funk, just a rung beneath James Brown's godfather, George Clinton's career as a black rock innovator spans the past fifty years with three number 1 singles and three platinum albums.

Clinton's work mirrors the story of black pop from doo-wop through Motown pop and soul to dance music, and gained iconoclastic stature through extended guitar solos, cartoonish concept albums, and exuberant stage shows with outlandish costumes.

Most of his work revolves around two distinct groups, Parliament and Funkadelic, who appeared as the P-Funk All-Stars after 1981. Well-known albums include "Free Your Mind And Your Ass Will Follow," and "The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein."

Key role models for Clinton include Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix, but he presided over his many casts of musicians as a mentor and svengali, spawning solo careers for bassist Bootsy Collins and keyboardist Bernie Worrell. His work can be palpably felt in the music of Prince, and rappers have sampled his recordings almost as much as James Brown's. He was inducted into the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame in 1997. His new memoir, Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain't That Funkin' Kinda Hard on You? recounts his zig-zag career with New Yorker writer Ben Greenman.

See George Clinton in conversation with Tim Riley on October 25. More info and ticket details here.

Tim Riley is a professor at Emerson College and author of several books, including Lennon: Man, Myth, Music.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Our NYRB Top 10

We always been big fans of NYRB Classics here at PSB and so were very excited to organize an event in which Daniel Mendelsohn (who is brilliant) talked with William Giraldi (who is also brilliant) about John Williams’ (yep, brilliant) National Book Award-winning novel, Augustus. Alas, illness forced the cancellation of the event, but we can still celebrate the good work NYRB Classics does in keeping great old books alive and in bringing great foreign books to America. So, to thank them for all the work they do for books and reading and to compensate as best we can for the canceled event, here is my NYRB Top Ten.

Quiet and humble this is a beautiful, yet melancholy, story of a simple life, that offers a precise and fascinating look into Japanese culture, while touching on  events and themes universal to human experience. 

A 19th century Quantum Leap, if Mark Twain were a consulting writer. Lee hops from body to body touching on just about every aspect of 19th-century America in the process. Along with being a classic of satire, Sheppard Lee would be a great text for any history course taking a deeper look into daily life.

Would you rather be held captive by Caribbean pirates or a group of children? After reading Hughes’s somewhat surreal high seas adventure, you might have some trouble answering that question.  

Part narrative history, part reference guide, Stewart’s account of how American places got their names is a fascinating read for anyone interested in history and culture. Read front to back, look up your hometown, or just dip in and out.

For fans of Alice Munro and Jhumpa Lahiri (who wrote the introduction for this collection) Gallant is one of the great short story writers who almost fell into obscurity. Start here and you’ll find yourself quickly snapping up her other collections.

Not only does Neil Gaiman love this book, Gary “The Most Interesting Bookseller in the World” was overjoyed when he saw it come back in print. He staff picks it and recommends it to anyone (of any age) looking for a great story.

Renata Adler’s funny, wise, insightful novel accumulates through a series of vignettes; each one acting as both a brilliant portrait in its own right and a tile in the mosaic of the novel. Politics, journalism, class, wealth, sex, singing "Happy Birthday," money, parties, and lovers, Speedboat reads like the Facebook feed of the most interesting person you know.

The greatest adventure novel ever written. In related news, Vikings are awesome.

Suddenly, everyone was talking about a forty-year-old book. Not only were they talking about it, but folks like Ian McEwan and Colum McCann were heaping praise upon it. So big was the impact of Stoner’s re-release that it was even a Waterstones book of the year.

Definitely the greatest novel of WWII. Arguably the greatest war novel, period. Should be included in any discussion of the greatest novels ever written. Further description would just diminish this monumental achievement of the written word.

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