Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A New Website for Porter Square Books

In a few months Porter Square Books will be changing our website. You'll still be able to order books and e-books, read staff picks, see the Indie Next List, keep track of our events, and sign up for our monthly e-mail newsletter. We'll be changing the design and hopefully adding new features. And we're looking for your suggestions. What features would you like to see on the Porter Square Books website? What do you use our website for now and how would you like to use it in the future? Do you want to see Porter Square Books on any of the social networks?

Send suggestions and ideas to and thank you for your input.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Exquisite Corpse

If I were to picture my ideal intellectual website, I'd be pretty close to picturing The Exquisite Corpse. It's an online journal of stories, poetry, essays, book reviews, art, multimedia art, etc. It has a serial comic. A collection of twitters from the dead. News. Excerpts. Interviews with William Burroughs. It's like getting all of your smart artsy friends together in one room and actually controlling which one of them gets to talk. It is run by the writer, poet, intellectual Andrei Codrescu, author of The Posthuman Dada Guide: Tristan Tzara and Lenin Play Chess, and New Orleans Mon Amour, along with collections of poetry and other works. If you're looking to spend some intellectual time on the web, the Exquisite Corpse is the place to go.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

David Sedaris author signing

One of the joys of working in a bookstore is being on hand when authors come to talk about their books. Last week we were very excited about David Sedaris coming to the store. He did not disappoint, he was fabulous. As we all anticipated his talk was entertaining, funny and a tad risqué which was great fun. He read from new material and his diary entries which whetted our appetite and interest in reading his books. He was patient with the audience questions and handled them in his own magical manner. After the reading he was very patient signing and talking with his fans until close to midnight, never hurrying anyone and always funny and polite. Many people have probably read his clever pieces in the New Yorker, but last Thursday he did not throw out condoms, but talked about some of his favorite writers. I loved this. I’m always fascinated to hear what writers are reading, plus he mentioned one of my favorite authors, Tobias Wolff. The other two he passionately talked about were Adrian LeBlanc and Aleksandar Hemon. I just started Hemon’s new book of stories, Love and Obstacles. Each story is better than the preceding one, love to discover new authors. Sedaris is a charmer and a real pro at his author signing gig.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Before Spivet

The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet is garnering praise from all corners of the book world, including the staff here at Porter Square Books. What is most groundbreaking about the novel is the integration of the story, told by the charming narrator, 12-year-old cartographer T.S. Spivet himself, with the beautiful illustrations in the margins. Reif Larsen combines the story with the sophisticated supporting illustrations to create a unique reading experience. But Larsen wasn't the first to use illustrations in a novel. If you like T.S. Spivet, here's a quick look at some of the works that paved the way.

As with just about everything, Lawrence Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, A Gentleman was one of, if not the first novel to incorporate illustrations.

Here are Tristram's illustrations of the plot arcs of the preceding volumes of his novel.

And here is an illustration of a gesture one of the characters made with his cane. The sentence below reads, "A thousand of my father's most subtle syllogisms could not have said more for celibacy."

After Sterne there is a gap (at least in my knowledge) of the use of intergrated illustration in fiction until the post-modern era. The short story writer Donald Barthelme wrote story collages.

He also included simple illustrations in at least one short story, Eugenie Grandet.

Perhaps the most famous use of simple line illustrations in a novel comes from Kurt Vonnegut's novel Breakfast of Champions.

The novelist W. B. Sebald often used photographs in his novels, a technique that was recently used by Aleksandar Hemon in his National Book Award Finalist novel, The Lazarus Project. The pictures below are from Sebald's novel Austerlitz.

Larsen distinguishes himself from these predecessors with the beauty of the illustrations. The authors discussed above were writers who used illustration to communicate very particular ideas in their works. Larsen is a very talented visual artist in his own right and so his illustrations carry a depth of substance the others don't. A collection of just the illustrations from the novel would still make a good art book.

The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet poses a number of challenges to the reader, but it does so in a way that's more obviously accessible than some of the other works I've mentioned. The charm of the narrator and the entertainment of the story could turn T.S. Spivet into a gateway book for people, showing readers they can be entertained and challenged by the same book.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Shonen Jump

Good news for all you manga fans. Porter Square Books is now carrying Shonen Jump, the most popular manga magazine in the United States. For fans of manga its a great way to stay on top of the genre and for people interested in learning more about manga its a good resource for getting your feet wet. It is also the original source for a couple of my favorite anime cartoons, Cowboy Bebop and Trigun. You'll find it in our two graphica sections.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Book Talk On-line

There are lots of book-related sites on the web, here are two of my favorites:

Paradoxically by Paradox Olbers

In my first blog I mentioned a SciFi-guru friend of mine: this is his page. His name is Spike MacPhee and he was the owner and manager of the Science Fantasy Bookstore in Harvard Square in Cambridge, MA from 1977-1989. Toady he is deeply involved in Second Life, managing his own virtual gallery of astronomical art; he is a head of operations at the International Spaceflight Museum, as well as a NASA Second Life CoLab manager. So he knows whereof he speaks. His blog has a wealth of information on Second Life, science and technological news. It is also a trove of reviews and essays about science fiction, both classic and comtempary.

The other site is Shelfari ( ), a clever little social network based around books. Members fill virtual bookshelves with chosen books, rate them and/or comment on them. Then you can find other members who share your tastes, join discussion groups, browse your friends' shelves, and talk books to your heart's content. It's easy to use and fun, just be careful during registration not to invite your entire email address book (the site's default setting).

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