Thursday, August 28, 2014

Peter May's North American debut

I will go right ahead and say from the outset that I do not generally read detective novels, or crime novels, or mystery novels, or Section 940 (as we call them in the bookstore). I don't dislike them, they just don't often make it to the top of my list. But a dear friend, and someone whose taste I trust in books, talked to me last month and said "I just finished the best book I've read in two years. You have to read it. The writer's name is Peter May and the book is The Blackhouse." I nodded politely because I knew I had no plans to read the book (there was just too much on my pile right then - galleys of the new Ian McEwan novel and Maureen Corrigan's book about Gatsby, and Josh's staff pick for this month, The Most Dangerous Book, and all sorts of other stuff). And that was before I even knew that it was a detective/mystery novel, which made it even less likely that I'd read it. But then I mentioned it to my wife, Dina, and she said "Peter May - he's coming to the bookstore in September, I think." Well, sure enough, he was. And then the stars aligned further because in the back of the store I found galley copies not just of The Blackhouse, which came out in the US a couple of years ago, but of The Lewis Man, the new book for which Mr. May is coming to visit us next week. Score. (These two books are the first two of a trilogy - the third, The Chess Men, is out in Britain but not yet here.) Then I started reading about him and the books and how people have gone nutso over them in the UK and Europe (France especially), and I found out that his appearance at Porter Square will be his first in the US for this book (I believe he was in the states briefly in 2013 when he won a number of awards for The Blackhouse). The signs all added up to the fact that it looked like I was going to be reading these books.

So I read The Blackhouse. Wow. This is a phenomenal piece of writing. The story takes place on the Isle of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides in Scotland (May is from Glasgow). Fin MacLeod is an Edinburgh detective, originally from Lewis, who is called back to the town he grew up in, and which he had left years ago, to investigate a murder that appears to have parallels to a case he had handled in Edinburgh. The novel alternates chapters between the third person narrative of the present - Fin's investigation - and a first person narrative of the child Fin growing up with many of the characters who are still around and are now the primary figures in the investigation. May's descriptions of place are magnificent and evocative - Lewis seems indeed to be God's country, forsaken and bleak and harsh, and he writes as well about weather as he does about landscape. His characters, and his dialect, are brilliant.

So that's enough about Blackhouse - just go read it. (We have plenty of copies at the store.) Now I'm halfway through Lewis Man and basically all the things I said in the last paragraph about Blackhouse are true here as well - Fin is again the central character, investigating a murder in Lewis, alternating voices between a first and a third person narrator. And also, as before, the past not only informs Fin's memory and psyche, but becomes inextricably woven into the events of the present, and is part of the mystery (and, I can predict, its solution). Many characters return along with Fin, and the physical setting is again a crucial and mesmerizing part of the story. But don't worry, this is not just a rewrite of the first book.  Far from it - and in fact so far I like it even better.  This is a you-need-to-go-to-sleep-but-you-can't-put-it-down-and-you-stay-up-til-3-in-the-morning book. You are naturally curious about solving the mystery, but that is only a fraction of the delight of the experience of reading the novel. I'm hooked, and am waiting for Chess Men to finish the trilogy.

I predict you will hear a lot about Peter May in years to come. And you will be able to say that you saw him his first time here, when he landed in America with his new book. Even if you've only just started The Blackhouse, and even if you haven't (yet), please come and meet Mr. May on Tuesday the 3rd. You'll thank me.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Booker Long-list at PSB

The Man Booker Prize might be the most prestigious book award in the English language, making the revelation of the long and short lists of the finalists a major event in the book world. This year’s announcement of the long list drew particular attention because 2014 is the first year in which Americans are eligible to win the prize. As interesting as it is to see four Americans on the list (especially Joshua Ferris who read at PSB for the paperback release of his National Book Award finalist novel Then We Came to the End) the Americans didn’t catch our eye; the two finalists who will be reading with Porter Square Books in September did.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan, September 5.

The Guardian calls Flanagan’s long-listed book “A masterpiece . . . A symphony of tenderness and love, a moving and powerful story that captures the weight and breadth of a life . . . A high point in an already distinguished career.” The Australian says, “Nothing could have prepared us for this immense achievement . . . The Narrow Road to the Deep North is beyond comparison . . . Intensely moving.” And from The Observer: “A novel of extraordinary power, deftly told and hugely affecting. A classic in the making . . . Masterful.”

In the despair of a Japanese POW camp on the Thai-Burma Death Railway in 1943, Australian surgeon Dorrigo Evans is haunted by his love affair with his uncle's young wife two years earlier. His life is a daily struggle to save the men under his command from starvation, from cholera, from pitiless beatings - until he receives a letter that will change him forever. Moving deftly from the POW camp to contemporary Australia, from the experiences of Dorrigo and his comrades to those of the Japanese guards, this savagely beautiful novel tells a story of death, love, and family; exploring the many forms of good and evil, war and truth, guilt and transcendence, as one man comes of age, prospers, only to discover all that he has lost.

Richard Flanagan is the author of five previous novels, including the widely acclaimed Gould’s Book of Fish, which have received numerous honors and have been published in twenty-six countries. He lives in Tasmania.

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, September 18

Joe Hill, who will be in conversation with David at our event says “The Bone Clocks is a stunning work of invention, incident, and character. The levels of awesome in this book are off the charts,” and Publisher’s Weekly wonders if The Bone Clocks is “the most ambitious novel ever written, or just the most Mitchell-esque?” while calling it “a thing of beauty.”

Following a scalding row with her mother, fifteen-year-old Holly Sykes slams the door on her old life. But Holly is no typical teenage runaway: A sensitive child once contacted by voices she knew only as "the radio people", Holly is a lightning rod for psychic phenomena. Now, as she wanders deeper into the English countryside, visions and coincidences reorder her reality until they assume the aura of a nightmare brought to life. For Holly has caught the attention of a cabal of dangerous mystics—and their enemies. But her lost weekend is merely the prelude to a shocking disappearance that leaves her family irrevocably scarred. This unsolved mystery will echo through every decade of Holly's life, affecting all the people Holly loves—even the ones who are not yet born.

A Cambridge scholarship boy grooming himself for wealth and influence, a conflicted father who feels alive only while reporting from occupied Iraq, a middle-aged writer mourning his exile from the bestseller list—all have a part to play in this surreal, invisible war on the margins of our world. From the medieval Swiss Alps to the nineteenth-century Australian bush, from a hotel in Shanghai to a Manhattan townhouse in the near future, their stories come together in moments of everyday grace and extraordinary wonder.

Rich with character and realms of possibility, The Bone Clocks is a kaleidoscopic novel that begs to be taken apart and put back together by a writer The Washington Post calls “the novelist who’s been showing us the future of fiction.”

And while we’re talking about prizes, Eimear McBride, winner of the most recent Bailey’s Prize for her first novel A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, will be in conversation with Madeline Miller, winner of the 2012 Orange Prize (the original name for the Bailey’s Prize) on October 29th, which should also be an amazing event.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Books on the Bottom Shelf

Serendipity is one of the great joys of shopping in a bookstore. You wander in, maybe not even planning on buying anything, and you walk out with the exact book you need to read right now, just because the cover caught your eye while browsing. These powerful moments are created by the physical interaction between the reader and the store. But, surely, you’ve noticed in your travels that the physical world has some limitations. Our space is finite which means there will be books on bottom shelves. The cruel forces of organization and alphabetizing conspire to make it almost impossible to just bump into one of these books.

Perhaps the books most victimized by this cruelty of order are those works of adult fiction written by authors whose last names begin with “z.” Not only are they all the way at the end of the fiction section, not only are they all the way down on the bottom shelf by the floor, they are also right next to cafe seating. Often, you can't bend down to look at them even if you wanted to. So I decided to show some love to the bottom shelf and share some of the best books you’ll probably never see while browsing.

Green Girl
A brilliant work of alienation, Green Girl is the story of Ruth, an American in London drifting through jobs, men, and friendships. Zambreno’s book was originally put out in a limited run by a small publisher, but now with wider distribution, Green Girl should become a post-modern classic.

Loteria 
By turns affecting and inspiring, Loteria is a powerful novel that heralds the arrival of an outstanding writer, one who reminds us of the importance of remembering even when we are trying to forget. Seems a shame that such a beautiful cover is so rarely seen.

Stefan Zweig:
Thanks to Wes Anderson and The Grand Budapest Hotel and the new biography, Zweig is having a bit of a moment. Start with his novels like The Post-Office Girl, Chess Story, and Beware of Pity, or, if you prefer big beautiful hardcover editions, just get The Collected Stories of Stefan Zweig.

The Silent Woman 
The publishing world is hard enough on feminist works in translation without the array of shelves hiding Monika Zgustova’s novel. A rapturous novel of love, longing, and exile, The Silent Woman depicts a twentieth century woman's life against a backdrop of war and political turmoil. Monika Zgustova was born in Prague and lives in Barcelona, Spain. She has published seven books, including novels, short stories, a play, and a biography. Silent Woman was a runner-up for the National Award for the Novel, given by the Spanish Ministry of Culture. Zgustova has also received the Giutat de Barcelona and the Mercè Rodoreda awards in Spain, and the Gratias Agit Prize given by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Prague. She has translated more than fifty books of Russian and Czech fiction and poetry, including the works of Milan Kundera and Vaclav Havel, into both Spanish and Catalan.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

More Books Signed by Neil Gaiman!

Well, we had so much fun last year sending thousands of signed copies of Neil Gaiman’s book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, around the country, we decided to do it again!

Starting now, we have a limited supply of signed copies of:





You can also order all three here.

Orders will be fulfilled while supplies last.

In related news, we now accept Paypal on our website and, drum-roll please (or whatever counts as a drum-roll in your part of the world) we now ship INTERNATIONALLY. For international shipments we only accept Paypal. The charge for shipping everywhere but the US and our neighbors to the North in Canada, is $20 for the first book and $6 for each additional book for orders up to 4lbs. For oversize orders, the charge is $25 for the first book and $15 for each additional book. For shipments to Canada, it is $14 for the first book and $6 for each additional book up to 4lbs. Above 4lbs. the cost to Canada is $19 for the first book and $11 for each additional book. Domestic rates are the same at $6 for the first book and $1 for each additional book. Orders will ship starting on August 13th. If you choose to pick up in store, the book will be available as soon as you get a completed order email from us.

Big thank you again to Neil and as always, thank you to everyone who supports us.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

#LitMagLove Giveaway!

Our magazine collection includes, among other periodicals, a selection of literary magazines. The writers among us know how important literary magazines are to our reading culture. For writers, literary magazines are often where they cut their teeth and where they are first noticed by readers. Even for established or famous authors, literary magazines offer an opportunity to practice their craft in a different setting and in front of a different audience. For readers, literary magazines are a source of surprise and discovery, a chance to get in on the ground floor of an author, genre, or movement. They also provide an opportunity to read the weird, experimental, and innovative work you don’t see much of in mainstream publishing.

Publishers send samples of new lit mags on a regular basis to make us aware of what is available in the hope that we will carry them. Space limits what we can offer though we do try to rotate various titles in and out. We are still left with a large collection of individual titles which we would like to share with you.

We'll be giving away two sets of 6 (six!) lit mags each. For your chance to win, just tweet why you love lit mags to @PorterSqBooks with the hashtag #LitMagLove. The 2 (two) tweets with the most retweets by August 1st will be the winners. (In the event of a tie, we will randomly select winners from the top tweets.)



Tuesday, July 15, 2014

“Our Bookstore”

When we first opened we were frankly amazed at the local welcome. Granted it's a pretty bookish part of the world, but it was still a wonderful thing to be treated as if we were coming to the literary rescue of the neighborhood.

The incident that really highlighted our place in the community was a cataclysmic accident that happened in our second year: an SUV in a handicapped parking spot drove through the windows of the recently opened Cafe Zing. It was a Saturday and there had been a typically long cafe line (even in its earliest days!) that had just worked its way through. Ten minutes earlier and it would've been a much more horrible calamity. As it was three people got seriously hurt, the big solid Zing counter was knocked some 30 degrees askew and the front of the store was stove in. The weirdest part of it was that Tag's next door had their Saturday popcorn machine going - so people were calmly looking over this scene of devastation while calmly munching popcorn. It was also early in the ubiquity of folks holding up their phones to take pictures. Surreal.

The neighborhood reaction was surprising. A Starbucks that we used to frequent (before Zing opened) sent food and drinks over, even though Zing was technically competition. A local pizza place sent stuff. People kept coming in and saying, "I'm not getting anything right now but I wanted to make sure you folks were staying open." Their outpouring of concern over "Our bookstore" was a beautiful thing, and really brought home the fact that we were now an integral part of what turns out to be a unique little part of the world.

Gary Cowan

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Porter Square Books Mindset

Every year Beloit College puts together the Beloit Mindset, a list of facts, observations, and characteristics they think help explain the mindset of incoming freshmen. We liked the idea so much we flagrantly stole it to create our own Porter Square Books Mindset as another way to the tell the story of our first ten years. Check out the Beloit Mindset here (it’s well worth a read) and continue on for ours.

If you were born in 2004...

Elfriede Jelinek has always been a Nobel Laureate.

The Notebook has always been Exhibit A in the sappy movie category.

Howard Dean has always been known for his screaming skills.

Martha Stewart has always been a convicted felon.

Michael Phelps has always been known for his medal count.

"You get a car. And you get a car" has always been an Oprah reference.

Janet Jackson has always been known for her Super Bowl performance.



In 2004...

...you’d be met with a blank stare when you asked someone if they were “team Edward or team Jacob.”

...we were still waiting for the next Harry Potter.

...cutting edge smartphones, like BlackBerry, had physical keyboards

... "showroom" was a noun, not a verb.

... only college students could be members of "The Facebook."

... Britney Spears was the top search term on Google. (And she had just married Kevin Federline.)

... Barack Obama was famous for his speech at the Democratic National Convention.

... Ukraine was undergoing a revolution. Also, Iraq was descending into chaos.

...there was no such thing as a tablet computer.

...you needed two hands to count the number of major US airlines.

...you couldn’t post anything on YouTube.

...some of us became "Lost" - at least for a season or two - or was it all a dream

A lot has changed over this decade and it doesn’t seem like the pace of social change is abating at all. But for everything that has changed in the past and everything we expect to change in the future, both in the wider world and in the Porter Square Books community, books are still a powerful source of joy and meaning in our lives and we will continue to do our best to bring the best books to our readers.

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