Friday, May 28, 2010

Crossing the Chasm?

Thanks to Ellen for inviting me to post in advance of the launch party (Tuesday, June 15th @ 7:00 p.m.) for Captivity.

Captivity is historical fiction, but something about Maggie Fox’s story has always felt contemporary to me, and I think it’s the underlying idea of connection.

When Maggie and her sisters began communicating with spirits, coaching them to rap on the walls in code, the U.S. was in a frenzy of economic and territorial expansion. Samuel Morse’s telegraph, an obscure electrical force, seemed to suggest that the living might as easily master a “spirit telegraph,” a direct line to the dead. Antebellum Americans, like their Victorian counterparts, had seen their religious faith and ideas about the afterlife undermined by science. They were rational, progressive, and uneasy — ripe for trends like mesmerism and the attractions of the occult. The Fox sisters allowed many to trust again in the continuity of life. The movement the family inspired ultimately claimed more than a million followers.

I can’t help thinking that we’re in a place not unlike where the Victorians found themselves at the height of spiritualism. We’re devoted to advancement, in thrall to technology, and just as they seized on the diversions of table tilting, spirit writing, and ectoplasm — the mechanics of communication — we sustain perpetual connection through many and beloved gadgets.

I don’t know about you, but no matter how wired I am, no matter how often I’m texted or friended or have my blog comments commented upon, I don’t necessarily feel any closer to getting it right, to crossing the chasm to other people.

And so the means becomes the end.

But as the spiritualists might say… there is no end.

Who’s to stop us trying?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Does Porter Square Books Rock?

That's the basic question here.

I mean, I just got back from Powell's City of the Books, the mother of all Indie Bookstores, and I can happily report that that place rocks. Hard. Elliot Bay Books in Seattle -- they rock. River Run up in Portsmouth. Yup. Rock.

But Porter Square? I'm not sure yet. They're so new, and so clean, and so mall-bound.

So here's my official list of five thing Porter Square Books can do to insure Rock Status:

1. In-store medley of Ike Reilly tunes on the PA
2. Open bar during readings
3. Pot brownies in the cafe
4. Required chest tattoos for all employees
5. Did I mention the open bar during readings?

Any other suggestions most welcome, particularly in advance of my July 28 reading.

Hold on loosely, but don't let go,

Steve Almond

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

New Audio Week of 5/24/10

A short list this week. But a good one!

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson Read by Simon Vance

Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer by John Grisham Read by Richard Thomas

Monday, May 24, 2010

Share & Enjoy!

May 25th is Towel Day, a chance for all hoopy froods and fans of the late great Douglas Adams to wave their towels and show their appreciation for his truly remarkable books.

Born on March 11, 1952, Douglas Noël Adams was the author of quite a few books, a couple of computer games, some Doctor Who scripts, a bit of Monty Python, a television show or two, and a plethora of radio scripts. He was a staunch environmentalist and campaigned extensively for endangered species, writing Last Chance to See to showcase endangered animals, and even going so far as to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in a rhino suit. A technophile, Adams was a prolific e-mailer since the technology's infancy and a huge fan of Apple, even starring in some of their commercials. He wrote several articles on technology, some of which are reprinted in the posthumous The Salmon of Doubt. Douglas Adams died of a heart attack on May 11, 2001. He is sorely missed.

So grab your towel, stick out your thumbs and check out our selection of books by this really together guy.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Interview with Ellen Kushner

Recently I had the privilege of interviewing Ellen Kushner, May's SF/Fantasy Author of the month.

Q: Your Riverside novels have been called “fantasy of manners” – fantasies more concerned with social relationships then with heroic quests – how did you come to write these books? Who and what were your influences?

This is a huuuuge question - I'm afraid I'm going to punt you over to my website, where I've written an essay about just that:

Q: Your second novel, Thomas the Rhymer, is based on the 13th century story of True Thomas, an historical figure and basis of many legends and songs.

Obviously you did quite a bit of research; how did you choose among the legends and how did you make them your own?

I was obsessed with ballads and folklore from the time I was about 14. I read books, I listened to music, from the "hardcore" folk recordings of folks like Ewan MacColl, to Brit Folk Rock bands like Pentangle and Steeleye Span . . . . It was really my passion for these things that made me want to write Thomas the Rhymer, rather than the other way 'round. And it was great, while I was writing the book, that every time I needed a plot twist or new character, simply to be able to dip into the rich cauldron of folklore and balladry for it.

Q: I’m a big fan of your radio program “Sound & Spirit”. What is the relationship between your writing and your work on “Sound & Spirit”?

I feel like "Sound & Spirit" is really a novelist's radio show! So much of public radio now is straight up journalism. But on the show, when I talk about other times, other cultures, I'm not just reporting hard facts -- though of course my staff & I go to great lengths to ensure accuracy -- but really, I try to enter an imaginative space as well, and to use evocative language. With fiction, I'm always telling writing students that writing should be musical; it should be cadenced, and rhythmic. So getting to use actual music woven into my words to craft an hour of radio every week is a dream gig!

Q: The Fall of the Kings was co-written with your wife, Delia Sherman. How did this process work? Do you think this collaboration distinguishes this novel from your others?

I think there's no question it's a novel neither of us could have written alone. We challenged each other, we encouraged each other, we rewrote each others' prose . . . The result is something quite unique, I think! Delia will tell you she was trying to imitate my writing style from Swordspoint, but I feel what we actually did was to develop a "house style" that's really a combination of our shared influences, from Anthony Trollope to Dorothy Dunnett (and beyond!).

Again, in the interests of time, I'm going to send you to the "Letter" we wrote for our publisher's website about the nuts & bolts of our collaboration:

Q: I read that your first books were Choose Your Own Adventure books. I loved those when I was a kid! How did your come to write those books, and how did you go from there to your other books? (And which titles did you write?)

Writing my first novel took a lot longer than I expected, and I needed some income! I was at a World Fantasy Convention where a Bantam editor was looking for young writers to write CYOA books, and I said I was interested and sent in a proposal, which became Outlaws of Sherwood Forest (about a kid at summer camp who has adventures with Robin Hood - always a dream of mine!). There's a complete list of my 5 CYOAs posted on my Bibliography:

I get a huge kick out of the fact that people who are all grown up now actually remember reading them when they were kids. Thanks for asking about them!

Q: What are you up to now? Any more novels on the horizon?

I've spent the last couple of years working on a ton of fun projects, none of them a novel . . . yet. I've written a number of short stories (again, check out that bibliography), including a few in the Swordspoint continuum. One of them, "The Man with the Knives," was just published this month as a gorgeous limited edition chapbook with art by Thomas Canty:

I turned my children's book, The Golden Dreydl, into a play that's been performed for the last two years at New York's Vital Theatre. I'm working on a "historical magic realist klezmer radio drama" with Yale Strom & Elizabeth Schwartz, which I hope will go into production this fall. I even got to act in a reading of the first draft of my friend Chris Claremont's screenplay! And Holly Black & I are currently editing a new collection of stories in Terri Windling's "Bordertown" world, due out in Summer 2011. So life in New York is not dull. But I do need to get going on that novel.....

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

New Audio Titles Week of May 17th

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall Read by Fred Sanders

Nomad by Ayaan Hirsi Ali Read by the author

The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore Read by the author

The Nearest Exit by Olen Steinhauer Read by David Pittu

The Promise by Jonathan Alter Read by the author

61 Hours by Lee Child Read by Dick Hill

Storm Prey by John Sandford Read by Richard Perrone

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen Read by Hope Davis

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy; Primary Phase by Douglas Adams A BBC Radio Production

The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace Read by Robert Petkoff

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

New Audio Week of May 10th


Fever Dream by Douglas Preston and Lee Child read by Rene Auberjonois

Last Call; The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent read by the author

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman read by the author

The Poacher's Son by Paul Doiron read by John Bedford Lloyd

War by Sebastian Junger read by the author

The Red Thread by Ann Hood read by Hillary Huber

Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende read by S. Epatha Merkerson


Little Brother by Cory Doctorow read by Kirby Heyborne

boom by Mark Haddon read by Julian Rhind-Tutt

The Cardturner by Louis Sachar read by the author

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Phantom Noise

Brian Turner's collection of poetry Here, Bullet, absolutely blew me away. It happened to catch my eye on a cart of books to be shelved and I happened to flip to the title poem. The world stopped moving. As soon as I finished the poem, I bought the book. Turner served in the Iraq war, and "Here, Bullet" is the 21st century's first great work of war poetry.

Since then I've checked our database every now and again to see when Brian Turner would come out with another collection. Finally, Phantom Noise came out. Phantom Noise is another brilliant collection, making the case for Brian Turner as one of America's great living poets. Like Here, Bullet, Phantom Noise deals with the war in Iraq, but this time from the home front, exploring how the war constantly forces itself into daily life. Phantom Noise also looks beyond warfare with poems like "Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon," "Lucky Money," and "Homemade Napalm," exploring events and themes of more mundane human existence. Phantom Noise is a brilliant collection and once again I'll be constantly checking the databases for the next Brian Turner collection.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

New Audi Week of June 3rd, 2010

These are the latest new audios on our shelves. They are available to rent or buy.

The Lake Shore Limited by Sue Miller. Read by the author.

I'll Mature When I'm Dead by Dave Barry. Read by the author

The Last Stand by Nathaniel Philbrick. Read by George Guidall

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. Read by Cassandra Campbell with Bahni Turpin.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Water is Life

I was on Martha's Vineyard over the weekend and through the bookstore in Vineyard Haven, Bunch of Grapes, heard about an event happening at the historic Edgartown Old Whaling Church on Sunday evening. The title of the program was "Water is Life" and on the program, which featured poetry by Fan Ogilvie and Native American flutist R. Carlos Nakai, were Susan Straight from National Geographic and Irena Salina, documentary filmmaker. The film Flow: For Love of Water evolved into a book published by National Geographic and edited by Irena Salina, entitled Written in Water. The book is a collection of "simple, powerful, direct stories of passionate people and their involvement with water." Contributors include Frank Clifford, Marion Stoddart, Bill McKibben, William "Waterway" Marks, Lynne Cherry, Alex Matthiessen and Alexandra Cousteau. Alexandra, granddaughter of Jacques and founder of Blue Legacy (, was there Sunday night having just come from the Gulf and the scene of the horrific oil "spill" (euphemism for exploding geyser). She delivered a sobering assessment of the state of things water-wise. Coincidentally, as she spoke, Boston and environs were under a boil water order and the Gulf is being despoiled. In June, Alexandra will begin a 4-month tour of major bodies of water in North America. She will write about her experiences through blogs and other internet sources throughout the summer. Her stories should be accessible through the Blue Legacy website.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

May’s Featured SF/Fantasy Author

Ellen Kushner

Friend of the store and once-local author Ellen Kushner is an award-winning storyteller, performer, and host of NPR's Sound & Spirit.

Her Riverside novels -- Swordspoint, The Fall of the Kings (written with her wife Delia Sherman), and The Privilege of the Sword -- have been described as "fantasy of manners". Set in the rakish Riverside district of an imaginary city, these novels chart the literal and social fencing of swordsmen-for-hire in grand Regency-era style, replacing battlefields with ballrooms and epic quests with political machinations.

Kushner's second novel, Thomas the Rhymer, won both the World Fantasy Award and the Mythopoeic Award in 1991. Based on the medieval ballad, it tells the story of a wandering minstrel’s time in Elfland, his romance with its queen, and his life afterward blessed by her to always tell the truth. Lyrically written, populated by achingly human characters, and adorned with riddles, poetry, and magic, it is a truly beautiful novel.

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