Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Guest Post: Phillip Hoose on Young Heroes

We're excited to be hosting National Book Award winner Phillip Hoose on July 28. He'll be here to discuss his new book, The Boys Who Challenged Hitler. Since Phillip has been writing about young people taking a stand for more than a decade now, we asked him to tell us what makes young activists so fascinating.
Knud Pedersen and the other Churchill Club boys took on the German army with paint, gasoline and nerve. They struck on bicycles, usually in broad daylight since they all had curfews. They had no military training whatsoever. Had they enlisted in an armed forces unit, they would have been desensitized through boot-camp like experiences and rebuilt as warriors. But the boys had no army to train with; they had to make it up themselves. They soon discovered that there’s no sticking your toe into a war. You are drawn in quickly. They loudly debated the ethics of killing, even as they practiced shooting their stolen machine gun in a monastery loft during their father Rev. Edvard Pedersen's Sunday church services. They trusted no one. They were bright, sensitive, deeply patriotic ninth-graders who were ashamed that their government had given in to German forces without a fight.

What resonated for me is that the boys made up their own minds about resisting the German occupation of Denmark. The adults in their lives cautioned them not to mouth off, not to rouse the sleeping Nazi giant who had settled so comfortably among them. The boys thought it over, read and talked and listened to BBC radio broadcasts—and then followed their hearts. Knud Pedersen later said he could imagine himself as a peace activist at another time, but when he reached his personal crossroads, he had to fight.

Stories of teens making a difference have been a hallmark of my work for decades. Teens are passionate, judgmental, caring, idealistic, self-righteous, courageous, and energetic. Young people often see life dramatically, and many are inclined to take action. Some grow up in times of convulsive social change, as did the tens of thousands of students caught up in Brown v. the Topeka Board of Education. During such times, even a single act can spark monumental change. At such a moment, Claudette Colvin entered history's spotlight while simply riding the bus home from school. Her historic decision to keep her seat was, she later said, impulsive, but based on a lifetime of anger and frustration: "I felt Harriet Tubman pressing me down on one shoulder and Sojourner Truth pressing down on the other," she later said. "History kept me in my seat." Fourteen-year-old Knud Pedersen and his friends likewise made a decision at a tinderbox moment that set major events in motion.
Teenagers' stories go untold. Until the Internet—adults wrote nearly all the stories. One thing I learned during my research on We Were There, Too!: Young People in U.S. History (Farrar, 2001) is that adults and young people can experience the same phenomena very differently and write from greatly different perspectives.

I hope my work will encourage more young people to tell their own stories.
And we hope you'll join Phillip Hoose here on July 28!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Market Basket fan? Tell us about it.

Who has a Market Basket story?
Later this summer we're hosting Grant Welker and Daniel Korschun, authors of the new book We Are Market Basket: The Story of the Unlikely Grassroots Movement That Saved a Beloved Business
The book draws on the stories that both employees and customers love to tell about the store -- and we'd love to hear yours.
Share a story in the comments, or email josh@portersquarebooks.com.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Weekends Are Difficult: Pre-Bloomsday Edition

Ulysses is commonly considered one of the most difficult books in the English language and, though I think some of that reputation is unwarranted, it’s certainly up there. And I do think there is value in having these avatars of certain concepts, like The Great Gatsby as “The Great American Novel,” or Shakespeare as “The Greatest Writer Who Ever Lived,” because they give us a starting point for conversations that get beyond the facades of archetypes. (Though we do have to get beyond the archetypes for the conversation to have value.) How we read Hamlet or The Great Gatsby informs how we read everything else and teaches us how to talk about everything else. And so how we read Ulysses, when we think of it as “The Most Difficult Book,” teaches how to read everything else we consider difficult.

So with that in mind, here is one simple tip (Clickbate FTW!) for how to read Ulysses that I think will help you climb any literary Everest you might attempt.

Relax. I know, I know. Yeah, there can be more to it, like reading it with a friend, brushing up on your classics, having a historic map of Dublin handy, remembering that it is supposed to be funny and dirty, getting used to the absence of quotation marks, developing your ability to parse internal monologue from external speech or third person narration, accepting that Ulysses is one of those books that doesn’t always fit into your reading life no matter how noble your intentions are, some people even recommend skipping the first three chapters of Stephen Daedelus being super-Stephen Daedelus and starting with Leopold Bloom making breakfast in chapter four (I don’t like that idea, but well, it’s an idea), and all of those do or could help and not only make for a successful first read, but allow for deeper more satisfying reads.

But really, it’s just relax. Yes, there will be parts of Ulysses that don’t understand. I’ve read it six times or so and there are parts of it I still don’t understand (Oxen in the Sun, I’m looking at you). Ulysses and difficult books in general are written so there is always something just out of reach so that you can return to them over and over, so there is always something to learn or discover, so they can speak to imaginations born decades or centuries after they were composed. Unless you actually have a test on Ulysses the next day, you don’t have a test on Ulysses the next day. You don’t need all the answers. And you don’t need to feel, inadequate or frustrated if you get to the end of a sentence or paragraph or chapter (or the book) and feel like you didn’t understand a thing you read. Get what you can get out of the first read (you’ll probably surprise yourself with just how much that is) and just know that you’ll get even more the next time.

OK. There is one more thing. (It never really is “One Simple Trick.”) Joyce did not pour his life into Ulysses so people wouldn’t understand it. He didn’t endure poverty, censorship, and struggle just to prove how smart he was. I think a lot of the problem readers have with difficult books is they start reading with the assumption of difficulty and so build a barrier between themselves and the book. So, before opening the book, assume you will understand it, assume you will enjoy it, assume it is a work of profound humanism written to speak to everyone.

You still might not get through and you still might not enjoy Ulysses, and that’s fine. Ulysses isn’t for everybody. But even if this difficult book isn’t for you, others will be and this one (OK, two) simple tricks will help you read them.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Scandalous Romances Selected by Caroline Linden

One of the advantages of digital reading is the ability to dive deeply into a topic or genre you’re excited about. Perhaps it is Civil War novels, histories of orange farming in California, or travel guides to places you never plan to visit? In a few minutes you can fill your phone or ereader with as many books as you like on your latest obsession, the topic you want to research, the genre in which you want to become an expert. So we’re asking authors to curate lists of books in particular genres, exemplifying particular traits or exploring particular topics to help you take a deep dive in your reading.

Caroline Linden, critically acclaimed romance author who will be reading from her latest, Love in the Time of Scandal, on Thursday June 18th, created this list of scandalous romances. Historical romance, like The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, dark fantasy romance like Dark Lover, comedy, like Lady Be Good, and more, this list has something in it for everyone, including Caroline’s favorite romance of all time. Assuming everyone is looking for a little scandal in their reading--and I’m just going to go ahead and assume everyone is looking for a little scandal in their reading. See the whole list here or get more information and download the Kobo reading app here.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

How to Read Krasznahorkai

Laszlo Krasznahorkai is the most recent winner of the Man Booker International Prize, delighting a small, but passionate following of fans, and introducing him to a whole new audience of potential readers. But Krasznahorkai can be difficult and if his idiosyncratic, odd, and, to me at least, delightfully off-center, interview (quotes are near the end) is any indication, he’s not terribly interested in making himself accessible. But he’s nothing if he’s not intriguing and so here are some tips for how to read Krasznahorkai if you’re intrigued enough to give what might be the world’s greatest living writer a try. These thoughts will be applicable to at least Satantango and his latest Seiobo There Below, even though they are vastly different books.

A Different Kind of Beauty.
Krasznahorkai’s topics are often bleak, dark, and sometimes downright depressing, but in his hands, everything from a mud-drenched road in rural Hungary to a terrible day in Athens to a disintegrating alcoholic doctor to an ancient Japanese ritual, is rendered beautiful. His prose finds its way into the cracks of broken people and ideas to shine a light on what value remains, making everything he writes about, even the most awful things, glow. Look for the glow while you read.

Both Precise and Vague
Krasznahorkai is one of the most precise writers I’ve ever read, especially in Seiobo There Below where he writes specifically about precision and obsession. He can be precise to the point where your mind swims in the relentless but, in my opinion, perfect details. You will be rewarded if you take your time and read as precisely as he writes. That said, it is easy to be overwhelmed by his prose, especially during his many page-long sentences. When that happens rather than getting frustrated and giving up, just let yourself go and drift along the river of his prose. Even if you don’t get everything (you won’t) you’ll still get a lot from a vague reading of his precise prose.

A Different Project Than Most American Books
Through school, through what’s popular, through various literary awards, we develop over our reading lives a sense of what a book is “supposed” to do. We expect characters to do certain things or change in certain ways. We expect types of things to happen in the plot. We expect ideas and themes to correspond to other images and events. Krasznahorkai will not meet those expectations. But he’s not trying to. He has different projects, different goals, different priorities. But that’s one of the real joys of reading books in translation; they show you just how much potential there is, beyond anything you could imagine yourself, in books.

There’s been a lot of discussion in recent years about the roles and responsibilities of literary awards. In general, I think awards are free to reward whatever the organizers think is valuable. That said, I think awards are most important and have the biggest impact when they draw attention to great books and writers that are otherwise unknown. I doubt Krasznahorkai will ever really become popular, but I am very excited that this challenging and beautiful writer will be now be discovered by many more people who would have otherwise passed him over.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Books with Family Secrets from Celeste Ng

One of the advantages of digital reading is the ability to dive deeply into a topic or genre you’re excited about. Perhaps it is Civil War novels, histories of orange farming in California, or travel guides to places you never plan to visit? In a few minutes you can fill your phone or ereader with as many books as you like on your latest obsession, the topic you want to research, the genre in which you want to become an expert. So we’re asking authors to curate lists of books in particular genres, exemplifying particular traits or exploring particular topics to help you take a deep dive in your reading.

Celeste Ng, who will be reading from the paperback edition of her critically acclaimed debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, on Tuesday May 12th, put together a list, focused on books that contain family secrets, including Where’d You Go Bernadete, Tinkers, The Suicide Index, and more. If you're interested in families with something to hide, see the whole list here or get more information and download the Kobo reading app here.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Libromancers of Independent Bookstore Day

Have we told you about Independent Bookstore Day? We have? Like, a hundred times? Oh well, did we mention the amazing booksellers who will be working that day? OK, good.

Every now and again you’ll see a new website or app or update to an existing website or app that is supposed to, finally, make it easier for people to find a book they’ll enjoy. Whenever someone writes an article about this new miracle technology, I find a little mantra pops into my head. For every “problem” the article identifies, I think, “Well, then you just have to ask a bookseller.” (You know, “bookseller” doesn’t really seem to capture the nature of the job, so I’m going to go with “libromancer.”) It’s not the books on the shelves that make a bookstore, it’s the intelligent, passionate libromancers, committed to finding the perfect book for every reader who walks in. It might be a bit much to imagine the concept of “celebrity libromancers,” but a part of me believes the world would be a much better place if there were at least some paparazzi camped out desperate to get a picture of whatever Dale is reading. So here are the “celebrity profiles” of our libromancers of Independent Bookstore Day.

Nathan likes to read novels, memoirs, history, and biographies. He likes to alternate his reading, although, sometimes he goes through a phase and reads about a certain subject for months. For example, he’s been reading a lot about France and its history. That would include novels by Irene Nemorovsky, Paris: The Secret History by Andrew Hussey, How to Live or A Life of Montaigne by Sarah Bakewell, Seven Ages of Paris by Alistair Horne, Edmund White’s Le Flaneur and Monsieur Proust when he feels like a slow waltz. Since he wrote his master’s thesis on Edith Wharton, he likes to re-read her work occasionally. Her short story, "Roman Fever," rivals James Joyce’s "The Dead" as the most brilliant piece of short fiction ever, in his opinion. Before he worked as a bookseller he was in show business.

Tildy likes books. Seriously. She really likes books. When she was in grade school, she got in trouble in math class for reading under the desk. She doesn’t remember what she was reading but that one math class was not the only time covert reading occurred. Her favorite book is Ender’s Game. She’s into children’s literature ranging from picture books to realistic fiction for middle grade, young, and new adult. She likes taking pictures of people, and especially of people doing stuff they’re passionate about. She’s really good at starting crafty things (crochet, knitting, embroidery, etc.) and not finishing them

Jennifer is the gift and card buyer and visual merchandiser. She likes reading a little bit of everything but she especially loves artist bios, horror and Ann Patchett. When she’s not reading, she's stitching or watching TV series, like The Walking Dead. Her most interesting bookstore customer was Glenn Danzig.

Sarah organizes bookstore events when she's not behind the counter, assembling office furniture, or memorizing the inventory. In high school and college she was voted most likely to use the phrase “But the methodology of the study has been criticized,” in casual conversation.

Mackenzie is a west coast transplant to Boston, and loves books for tiny people--picture books, middle grade, and young adult--and anything set in the past. She is a writer, fangirl, fast walker, Diet Coke addict, Frankenstein fanatic, Star Wars quoter, former blacksmith, amateur ukelele-ist, book hoarder, sweater wearer, and author of the forthcoming YA steampunk novel, This Monstrous Thing.

Marika loves children's books and works with them in some capacity as a bookseller, writer, illustrator, and professor. She's always been drawn to postmodern children's books, stunning illustrations, fairytale retellings, and graphic novels. A few favorites include This One Summer, The Eyre Affair, and Maggot Moon. When she's not in danger of being buried by books, Marika can be found Telemark skiing, or twirling much too quickly on a dance floor. She's also slightly obsessed with NPR quiz shows.

Robin is the Children’s floor manager and sidelines buyer. She hails from New York (Go Sox!) and worked on Wall Street in her former life. When she's not reading all types of kid’s books and adult fiction, she likes to snow shoe and ride bikes with her dapper librarian husband.

Katie likes to read a little bit of everything, particularly fiction and YA, though recently she's been into memoirs and food writing. If she's not behind the counter she can usually be found unleashing her inner librarian by re-alphabetizing the messiest corners of the store or rounding up titles for new end cap displays. Other than reading, her hobbies include cooking and/or eating (vegetarian cookbooks are her weakness), making things, and travel. Next up is a trip to St. Petersburg and Stockholm this summer.

Dina is the store's general manager and, with her husband David, co-owner. Dina's passion is introducing young children to books. Before PSB Dina spent many years as an elementary and then pre-school teacher. Dina loves her whole staff at the bookstore, including Maxie, the store mascot and faithful family dog. When not at Porter Square Books, Dina loves being active on her bike, in her hiking boots, and in her kayak. Dina also enjoys the Boston theater scene, playing board games, and hanging out with her daughters when they're home from college.

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