Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Books On the Web

Perhaps the biggest news I've come across recently in the book world is Dmitry Nabokov's decision to go against his father's wishes and preserve The Original of Laura, the great novelist's last unfinished novel. The novel is currently in "138 handwritten index cards" and nowhere near the level of precision that Nabokov demanded of his own prose. I've always been of two minds about the issue because there is something to be said for respecting someone's dying wishes. At the same time, as long as readers and reviewers maintain an appropriate perspective on the text (and probably even if they don't), there isn't much chance that any damage will come to Nabokov's status as one of the great writers of the twentieth century.

Kurt Vonnegut was one of the important writers in my intellectual development. In my early teens, his works led me to a level of curiosity and criticism I had not encountered in my other reading and he demonstrated that one could be intelligent and funny at the same time. His death will begin the process of evaluating his place in American literature and this article about Cat's Cradle by Benjamin Kunkel, author of Indecision, is a good start.

Finally, (for today) Peter Matthiessen author of Far Tortuga, has released a one volume "recension," to use Michael Dirda's phrase from his article "Epic of the Everglades" included in the New York Review of Books RSS feed on this blog, of his three linked novels Killing Mr. Watson, Lost Man's River, and Bone by Bone. It is called Shadow Country: A New Rendering of the Watson Legend. It's a strange activity to me, to take a work that you've already finished, hack it up and represent it as a new (and 40 dollar in hardcover) work, but the passages that Dirda quotes in his article are so brilliant as to dispel any debate in my head about the legitimacy of the project.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Nathaniel Rich reads at PSB

I just finished reading The Mayor's Tongue by Nathaniel Rich and am very excited he is going to be reading at the bookstore this Wednesday, April 23, at 7 pm.

The Mayor's Tongue embodies everything that is good about magic realism--the use of fantasy to reveal reality, the blurry line between the two, the constant exchange between what we should believe with our logic and what we should believe with our imagination. Rich does this without drawing so heavily on the masters of the style that the book becomes simply a New Yorkified version of a Latin American story.

The book is composed of two stories. One follows Eugene, a native New Yorker hiding from his Italian immigrant father in well, New York. He is at a complete loss about what to do with himself, friends through his job at a moving company with an immigrant named Alvaro who speaks a very rare dialect, and a devotee to the fictional author Constance Eakins. The other plot line follows Mr. Schmitz, a man wallowing in his own haplessness as he tries to manage relationships with his wife Agnes and his dashing food-critic friend Rutherford. Ultimately, both Eugene and Mr. Schmitz are compelled to go to Italy (not the Italy of Under the Tuscan Sun, mind you) on quests they don't entirely understand, where aspects of themselves and their relationships with the other main characters are twisted through various prisms until each reaches a complex form of arrival at the end of the book.

As soon I as I finished the book, I wished I had paid more attention as it was filled with the subtlety crucial to success in literary fiction. For example, it took me over 200 pages to realize that one story line was told in the past tense and one in the present. There are constant language games that begin right with the title as The Mayor's Tongue refers to both the organ and the term for language ("Mayor's Tongue" as in "native tongue"). Eugene is translating a document from a language he doesn't know and Rutherford is afflicted in such a way that he forgets English. I'm sure those who speak Italian will notice an entire range of language games in the untranslated Italian that pops up throughout the book.

There is one more success in the book that I want to mention. It can be risky for a novelist to include as a character a great writer. There are so many cliches, so many lazy images, so many false enlightenments, that it is almost impossible to create an adequate writer character, let alone a compelling one. Rich succeeds with Constance Eakins because he sculpts the character around a particular relationship people can have with great writers. The fantastic elements of the story allow Rich to present something true about our reality with great writers.

Rich is also an editor at The Paris Review and at quite a young age. He has published literary criticism quite widely so regardless of one's particular interest in The Mayor's Tongue, there are many opportunities to read what Rich has to say about literature. He also happens to come from a very literary family, father Frank Rich and brother Simon Rich!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

PSB on Chronicle!

On Thursday April 17th Chronicle aired it's North of Harvard Square story, referring to Porter Square as NoHa. It was a very flattering portrait of the neighborhood and some selected businesses, Porter Square Books among them. I'm hoping to figure out a way to transfer my VHS copy to digital form and then hopefully post it here (if you have any suggestions on how to do that PLEASE help me!!)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Lois Lowry!

It was a real treat to be here for Lois Lowry last Thursday morning. I read The Giver in my 7th grade English class and I still remember most of what went on in the book. I recall getting into an argument with my teacher who was resistant to the idea that Jonas and Gabriel could possibly be alive at the end of the book. I, on the other hand, remained true to just that idea while all of my classmates took her word for it. I remember being criticized in front of the class for sticking to my interpretation (I'm still a little bitter). So I was hoping for a chance to tell Lowry about my experience. She listened and said "Oh, I never believed they died."

We had a full house and then some! Several classes walked over for the event so dozens of kids were on hand for the unforgettable experience of hearing the words from the author's mouth. Lowry read from her new book The Willoughbys, which is sort of a satire of the old children's classics, featuring a nanny; an orphaned baby left on the front stoop; mean, uncooperative parents; and bright scheming children. It was a really good time and the kids asked a lot of questions about what inspired her to write certain of her other 30+ books!

Here are some pictures from the event.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Joshua Ferris

Joshua Ferris came and read selected bits from the hugely successful Then We Came To The End. Now, I've never worked in an office, never known the thrills of working in cubicles and having chats around the water cooler. But Ferris sure makes it sound funny! What a reading it was, I couldn't help but laugh out loud!

What a charming fellow, and so easy on the eyes!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Need to Read (And Do)

We've recently increased the title selection in our magazines to include more titles for 'hobbyists'.
And, before those of you who consider knitting to be your primary occupation (jobs are just to pay for yarn) get upset, I don't know of another way of categorizing these titles. Come up with one, please!

We are now carrying Vogue Knitting and Art Jewelry in addition to American Patchwork and Quilting, Interweave Knits, Threads, FiberArts, and Make. We are looking to add more titles, so if you have any suggestions, let us know.

I've often pondered why, in addition to the needed (or, more properly, lusted after) supplies for my secondary interests (knitting, quilting, needlework, etc), I must possess all possible combinations of books and magazines related to the topic at hand. I don't think it's just because I'm a book person because lots of people don't have that particular addiction and still aspire to own all printed words on their particular interests.

I once read in a quilting magazine that the average quilter owns about $5000.00 worth of fabric - and then there are the toys! They forgot to mention the books.

Even with the amount of information available online these days (and you can spend a lifetime there!) somehow we need the books or magazines from these same people. As a bookseller, I'm certainly not complaining. As a person, I wonder if I'm maybe being a bit irrational!

Please enjoy our new selections and/or let me know if you've found a way of overpowering your need!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Channel 5! Keep a Look out for us!

Hi Everyone! Exciting News! A couple of weeks ago Chronicle came to the book store. They are doing a piece on North Cambridge and we are thrilled to be included as a destination! Air date is still unknown, but once we know we'll be sure to post it here for you. As you can see from the picture they came and interviewed our very own Jane Dawson. They also talked to a couple of unsuspecting customers.

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