Monday, July 30, 2012

Man Booker Prize Longlist Announced & What We Have Now

The Man Booker Prize Committee has announced the long list of nominees for its 2012 award for the best fiction published in the Commonwealth of Nations and the Republic of Ireland. You can see the full list here and in the mean time, you can browse our shelves for the following nominees, in stock now:

Bring Up The Bodies, by Hilary Mantel, is the sequel to the 2009 winner, Wolf Hall.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce is a book about an unhappily married man on a trip to see a dying friend.

Skios is a witty romp by Michael Frayn, the author of the popular play Noises Off. This one is set on a beautiful Greek island amid a raucous cast of characters.

Narcopolis, by Jeet Thayill, is a raw and often explicit fictional account of the effects of the drug trade in modern India.

 So come in and check out these potential prizewinners, all of them great reads, and stay tuned as more of the nominees are published in the U.S.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

* Trevor *

Michael Cunningham calls Trevor "an important book," and it's pretty hard to argue with him.  The novella is an updated version of the 1994 Academy-Award winning short that inspired the founding of The Trevor Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing life saving information and support to LGBTQ youth. 

The story opens with a Harold and Maude-esque scene in which thirteen year old Trevor is face down on his front lawn, playing dead.  As the narrative continues, it becomes clear that he is bright, hopeful, and artistically inclined, stands up for his passions (among them Lady Gaga and George Gershwin) and has several close friends.  Though he sometimes feels neglected at home, he respects his parents and realizes that they are "merely busy... I am not exactly inspired by the type of work that they do, but I totally appreciate the fact that ever since I can remember they have kept a roof over my head and sent me to school fed and fully dressed.  As their only child, I have always had pretty much everything I need." *

It doesn't sound like the beginning of an activist novel.  Trevor is strong-minded and comes from a relatively supportive environment.  Like many middle schoolers, he is sometimes clever and sometimes hopelessly naiveoften mature, and on occasion almost unbelievably childlike.  And Lescesne hits certain universal adolescent moments spot on.  When Trevor discovers that his mother has been reading his e-mails, he recounts:
"She had a fit and then we had an all-out fight.  I told her that my private life was none of her business and maybe it was crazy but it seemed to me that I ought to be able to have the freedom to express my own private thoughts in the privacy of my own room and on my own 'personal' computer.  She claimed that I was still too young to have any kind of a life that didn't concern her, personal, private or otherwise.  'I'm your mother,' she said louder than was absolutely necessary. 'And in case you haven't noticed, I am in charge of your life.' "
But as events progress, it becomes obvious how Trevor's innocent pursuit of happiness is hampered by the assumptions of his friends and family.  The specter and stigma of "gayness" quickly turn his world upside down.  Terrorized by his peers, Trevor begins to consider taking his own life for real.

Trevor is important because its protagonist does not represent a single character, but serves as a vessel for the joy, despair, and alienation that LGBTQ youth can encounter every day at school and at home.  The book emphasizes the importance of acceptance, trust, and the types of close personal relationships that provide teens with the support they neednot only to go on living, but to feel healthy and safe no matter what their sexual orientation may be. 

On sale August 2012 from Seven Stories Press, New York City.
Seven Stories Press believes publishers have a special responsibility to defend free speech and human rights, and to celebrate the gifts of the human imagination.
A portion of the proceeds from Trevor will benefit The Trevor Project.  The back pages contain an author's afterword and information about the organization, as well as a guide listing crisis hotlines, support networks, and other resources for teens.

Kim Prosise  

*Quotes are from the uncorrected advance proof and may not exactly match the final book

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Interview with Emily St. John Mandel

Emily St. John Mandel's first novel, Last Night in Montreal was a June 2009 Indie Next pick and a finalist for Foreword Magazine's 2009 Book of the Year. Her second novel, The Singer's Gun, won the Indie Bookseller's Choice Award and was the number-one Indie Next Pick for May 2010. It was also long-listed for The Morning News' 2011 Tournament of Books and the 2011 Spinetingler Awards.

Her newest novel, The Lola Quartet, was the #1 Indie Next pick for May 2012. The novel follows Gavin Sasaki. A picture of a young girl, who looks like she could be his daughter, draws him into a tangled conflict with his former high school band mates involving $120,000 stolen from a drug dealer in Utah. Gavin soon realizes the girl in the picture is his daughter by his girlfriend in high school who disappeared soon after graduation. Distracted by this revelation, Gavin, a journalist for a New York newspaper, slips in his reporting, a slip that leads to a series of fabrications, his disgraceful firing, a return to his hometown in Florida, and ultimately into an investigation revealing the dire consequences of past decisions and the desperate lengths some will go to make up for them. Emily will be reading with Jaynce Stefan-Cole on July 26 at 7pm. Below is an email interview with her.

Why do people like reading about crime so much?

I think it's the vicarious thrill. No reasonable person wants to be involved in a crime, but as a species we've always been enthralled by stories, and crime stories always have a strong narrative arc. I think it's partly that we just like good stories, and partly because we wonder what we're capable of and what the people around us are capable of?

What can we learn from crime whether real or in fiction?

I think it depends on both the crime and the fiction. Some crimes seem to come out of nowhere and probably couldn't have been prevented, while others suggest wider societal problems (e.g., in the case of people who are arrested in connection with the drug trade.) 

Crime fiction generally has a pretty high body count, but not so in The Lola Quartet. What is the relationship between "crime" and "violence"? Do you think too often we define "violence," too narrowly? Is there an understanding of the term that better encompasses all the ways we harm each other?

To tell you the truth I don't really think of myself as a crime writer, and I've never set out to write crime fiction. What I'm always trying to do is write literary fiction with the strongest possible narrative drive, and that emphasis on plotting keeps pushing me over to the edge of the genre. But all that aside, I think we do often define violence too narrowly. I was at a party recently where a woman was flirting very blatantly with a man who wasn't her husband, for instance. It struck me as a violent act, because her husband was right there and had to suffer through it. It was a kind of torture for him. That kind of violence shows up all the time in literary fiction.

Crime fiction also, usually has some kind of villain, but in The Lola Quartet, the villain, or the closest character to a villain, is only brought into the story as a result of another character's actions. How would you define a "villain"? Is there such a thing as "villain-less crime"?

That's a good question... I suppose my working definition of a villain is something akin to the descriptions one reads of sociopaths, which is to say, someone who pursues their own interests and truly doesn't care whether doing so hurts or kills anyone else. With that as a definition, I think there's absolutely such a thing as a villainless crime. When I read the news, it's difficult for me to see some of the criminals as true villains. The truth is, I think it's probably easier to fall into a life of addiction and petty crime than most of us would like to admit, and I think that under extreme circumstances even the very best among us are probably capable of doing terrible things. 

Crime fiction is often organized around a plan, whether it's the precise, professional crime of Stark's Parker, or some caper gone wackily awry.  But The Lola Quartet is organized around decisions. The characters make a decision and the decisions compound into a crisis. Do you think this makes The Lola Quartet a more realistic story? What can we learn from stories with plans? Why do you think we find criminal masterminds so appealing?

The plans in fiction are often elaborate, absolutely brilliant constructions. I think we like those plans partly because we like puzzles, and it's fascinating to see how it all fits together, and partly because who hasn't dreamed of outsmarting society? I think our fascination with criminal masterminds has something to do with our experience of work and our longing for freedom. My personal experience has been that most jobs aren't very pleasant, and that even the pleasant jobs have unpleasant moments, so unless my experience of working for a living is wildly outside the norm, which I doubt it is, my suspicion is that most of us will spend at least part of our lives in a state of unhappy drudgery. What a delight to imagine outsmarting everyone and walking away with the suitcase full of cash. 

You've partially answered this above, but the differences between The Lola Quartet and more traditional crime fiction (as demonstrated by the preceding questions) has lead people to describe it as "literary crime." What does that term mean to you, if anything? Do you think it's useful in describing a work? Is there a better term?

I've been going with contemporary noir lately, but literary crime sounds just as good. Literary crime is a reasonable description of the kind of books I've been trying to write these past few years, these literary-but-plot-driven novels. I'm flattered by the label, because "literary crime" pretty much describes Donna Tartt's The Secret History, which is one of the best books I've ever read.
A lot of ink is spilled on the state of literary criticism in America. As a staff writer for The Millions, one of the major lit crit websites, do you think there is an inherent difference between online and print criticism?

Not really, at this point, given that most print reviews are also published online. In theory, I suppose the main difference is that it's harder to respond to reviews in print. I'm not sure that's such a bad thing. I've seen a number of excruciatingly public meltdowns by writers who've received bad reviews. It's harder to have a public meltdown via a letter to the editor than it is to fire back instantly in the heat of the moment in the comments thread. 

Is there a "state of literary criticism in America," or is that just a convenient fabrication for writers to complain about or celebrate certain trends or themes?

By and large, I think literary criticism in America is a pretty vital and interesting affair. The persistent complaint, though, is that more men than women get reviewed. For years I've avoided wading into the debate, because look, being a writer isn't that easy regardless of gender, and I certainly know a lot of struggling male novelists, but the numbers suggest that the complaints are entirely justified. The numbers are unfortunately quite clear: a writer has a much higher chance of getting reviewed by major literary publications in the United States if that writer happens to be male. It disturbs me.   

The Millions does a great Most Anticipated Books list every so often. What's on your "Most Anticipated" list?

I'm very much looking forward to Zadie Smith's forthcoming novel NW. I love her work. I'm also very much looking forward to Elliott Holt's debut novel, You Are One Of Them, forthcoming in spring 2013; I went to an early reading of the work and liked it a lot. Also Emma Straub's Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures and Jami Attenberg's The Middlesteins, forthcoming this fall, and Jennifer Gilmore's The Mothers and Joshua Mohr's Fight Song, both coming out next year.  

What are you reading now?

Luminarium, by Alex Shakar.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Alice Boatwright/Collateral Damage

In what seems another lifetime ago in the late 1970's I lived in Portsmouth, NH playing music and working in my first bookstore job at Fred Miller's Little Professor. Portsmouth was beginning to come alive then with a vibrant community of artists, writers, and musicians. It was there I first met Alice Boatwright and it is indeed a great pleasure for me to have Porter Square Books extend an invitation to her to read and talk about her debut novel, Collateral Damage on Friday, July 20. A Seacoast NH journal recently interviewed Alice about her life after Portsmouth, her writing and the genesis of her new novel.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Year's Best SF via Readercon On Our Shelves Now

If you're a science fiction reader, you probably know ReaderCon. If you don't know it, it's an annual conference of science fiction and fantasy literature that takes place every July in Burlington, Mass. I attended this weekend and came back with lots of critics picks for the top science fiction and fantasy of the year. These are all available on our shelves now.

John Connolly's Burning Soul is a supernatural thriller and the latest in a series, but it stands alone just fine.

China Mieville's "linguistic apocalypse" (Mieville's words) Embassytown is hard science fiction about an alien world and a very special form of communication. It's also a personal favorite of mine.

Mieville's latest, Railsea, is also a lot of fun. A takeoff on Moby-Dick, it's young adult friendly and a very absorbing book.

Tim Powers' Hide Me Among the Graves is historical fantasy about the Rosetti family and what one critic at ReaderCon called "the best fantasy of the year." It traces the "secret history" of the family between the lines of history.

N.K. Jemisin's The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun were described as having "great worldbuilding". Inspired by ancient Egypt, critics called them "multilayered" and "wonderful."

Kristin Cashore was described as "the most thoughtful writer today for young adults" and her latest, Bitterblue, was a critics' favorite in both print and audio.
Other books on the critics' best list that we have in stock include
  • A Dance with Dragons, the latest in the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin,
  • Deadline, by Mira Grant,
  • Blue Remembered Earth, by Alastair Reynolds,
  • 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson,
  • Caliban's War, by James Corey,
  • Reamde, by Neil Stephenson,
  • The Drowing Girl, by Caitlin Kiernan,
  • Some Kind of Fairy Tale, by Graham Joyce,
  • The Cold Commands, by Natalie K.  Morgan,
  • Range of Ghosts, by Elizabeth Bear, and
  • The Shape of Desire, by Sharon Shinn.

So come by and shop some SF!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Fresh Summer Greeting Cards

Need something for that summer birthday, wedding, or just because?  We at PSB love these quirky card companies, in stock now:

Makers of the seven year pen, notebooks, tote bags, and those curious buttons that we love to rifle through at the front counter, Seltzer Goods adds great graphic design to everything they produce.  Their cute, snarky greeting cards are custom made in the USA out of 100% post-consumer recycled paper and printed in Canada with veggie-based inks.

Meri Meri
Meri Meri makes whimsical little gifts and cards for every occasion.  Even the mini cards are sold with coordinating envelopes in subtle prints that complement the cards inside.  The cards themselves are pastel confections of textured paper, ribbons, glitter, and sometimes even googly eyes, designed in England and handcrafted in China.  There's so much stuff on them, you'll need additional postage!

Two Bad Mice
This English publisher supplies lovely cards featuring the work of contemporary artists.  We particularly like those graced by Anita Jeram's expressive animal watercolors and Allison Friend's pet scenes.  They're fun, classy, and delightfully occasion-less.

One of our staff spent time in Washington, D.C., and convinced us to check out the locally crafted Archelaus cards.  They've been flying off shelves ever since, and I have to admit, I've purchased my fair share.  The distinctive text and vintage images are just irresistible.  Those with steampunk sensibilities or just a wacky sense of humor will especially appreciate the "notorious check-box cards," all printed on recycled paper.

Our locals!
Specialty Cards 4 U: Julie Strickland's pretty specialty cards and pocket notes are all of the finest quality. 
Janice G. Fischel's original photographs have been made into a great collection of blank notecards.

Our card stock changes constantly, so keep an eye out for new favorites when you come in!

Kim Prosise

The Biggest Development in the History of Ebooks

OK, so maybe the title of the post is a bit of hyperbole, but not much.  Marcel Proust’s six-volume novel In Search of Lost Time is now available as a single one-volume ebook for a mere $49.99. Having lugged an old two-volume hardcover edition back and forth on the train for 8-10 months, been blown away by the beautiful and subtle prose, floored by moments of breathtaking wisdom, and slowly convinced that In Search of Lost Time is probably the greatest novel ever written, it’s kind of hard to describe just how excited I am this ebook edition has finally come out.

It's even a bit of a deal. If you bought each volume individually it would cost about $70 depending on which editions you purchased, but that isn’t why I’m so excited. For the first time, readers can truly experience In Search of Lost Time as a singular work and use all the advantages of ebooks to explore it as such. We’ll be able to search in text for phrases, images, and terms to see how they are used throughout the entire book, without having to cobble it together volume by volume. The notes you take in Swann’s Way, will be right there for you when reading Time Regained.  And the entire novel will be in one convenient location.  Sodom and Gomorrah will be right there when you finish The Guermantes Way.

To me, this is what ebooks are for; removing some of the material inconveniences from the experience of reading. And if there is a great book with a bunch of material inconveniences between it and readers, it’s Proust’s absolute masterpiece, In Search of Lost Time.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Sit. Stay. Read. Calendar Photo Shoot

Is there anything better than helping fiercely independent readers find their way to under-appreciated works, tucked into shelves, waiting to be discovered, hoping to be shared? Normally, I would say this is the single greatest thing about working the 9-3 shift at PSB on Sundays, but that would be a half-truth. 

I come for the books...
but I stay for the dogs.

Our customers invite us into their reading lives, but they invite us into their families sometimes, too. And while we don’t hand out candy to their toddlers and teens, we do pass out an awful lot of dog treats. And best we can tell, the love is mutual, even if it is bought and paid for in crunchy milk bone goodness.

Whatever it takes to keep the customer happy, right?

Their names read like a restaurant menu, from Pimms to Pudding. But these guys mean more to us than a break in our duties to scratch ears and shake paws. They mean community. And for an indie like us, that means everything, so we’ve decided to give a little something back in the name of good books, loud barks and, without a doubt, the best dogs in Boston.

For the first time this holiday season, PSB is proud to offer our very own 2013 calendar, SIT. STAY. READ! featuring the store’s most loyal four-legged customers as centerfolds. Is your dog Mr. October? Let’s find out!  

On Sunday, July 8 and Sunday, July 15, between 9am and 3pm bring your dog by the store for a photo opp. A quick pic and your dog’s name is all that’s required. We’ll do the rest to have SIT. STAY. READ! available just in time for calendar season at year’s end. 

And the best part? Not only will your dog be an overnight sensation, gracing every refrigerator in Cambridge, proceeds from calendar sales will be donated to LAST HOPE K-9 RESCUE, a Boston-based organization that rescues as many dogs as possible from high-volume kill shelters throughout the U.S., to be adopted or fostered in MA, until they can be placed in their…ahem…fur-ever homes.

We hope you and Roscoe, Toby, Copley, Pudding, and everyone else can make it. It promises to be (forgive me) a howling good time!


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