Thursday, March 29, 2012

April is National Poetry Month!

Here are all the ways the National Academy of Poets is celebrating!
If you're in the store, stop by our display and pick up a poem for Poem In Your Pocket Day (April 26th).  And check back for more poetry related posts throughout April :)

We're also excited about these local events:
Student Day of Poetry, this Friday, March 30th at MIT
The 2012 Massachusetts Poetry Festival, April 20-22 in Salem 

Kim Prosise 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The 2012 Children's Choice Book Awards

If you’re between the ages of 5 and 18, now is your chance to vote for your favorite books, authors, and illustrators in the NationalChildren’s Choice Book Awards!  
“Launched in 2008 by the Children's Book Council and Every Child A Reader (The CBC Foundation), The Children’s Choice Book Awards program was created to provide young readers with an opportunity to voice their opinions about the books being written for them and to help develop a reading list that will motivate children to read more and cultivate a love of reading.”

Check out past winners, see this year’s finalists, and cast your votes (There’s a teen category!) at, open NOW until May 3, 2012

The winners will be announced live at a gala in New York City on May 7,the start of national Children’s Book Week (More on that coming up soon!)

Kim Prosise

Monday, March 26, 2012

Our New Staff Picks Page

In February we rolled out a new staff picks page that uses tags to organize all of our recommendations. In the mood for a good mystery, click on “Mystery” in the Genre menu. You can also see our recommendations for Cooking, Graphic Novels, Picture Book, and more.

Did you have a good chat with Susannah, Nathan, Gary, or Carol? Just click on their name in the Bookseller menu and see what they’ve recommended. You can also just page through all the recommendations looking for something to catch your eye.

We started doing picks in this format in August, so some genres are still a little thin, but as the months go by, we’ll add more and more picks, making this page a great resource for finding your next read.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Kathy Gunst Event

Kathy Gunst, "Resident Chef" for WBUR's Here and Now, and author of Notes from a Maine Kitchen, will be at Porter Square Books on April 11th at 7 p.m. to read and sign books. Here she tells us a little bit about her new book:

"Notes from a Maine Kitchen is my love letter to Maine. It's a collection of essays and recipes that follow the calender year, starting in January with smelt fishing and stews, moving to April and foraging for wild ramps, on to garden season, everything you've ever wanted to know about lobster, and mushroom hunting in the fall. The essays tell stories of what it is really like to be in Maine--cook here, garden here, forage, and live here year-round, not just during tourist season. I've spent the past four months since the book was published last October doing book signings, cooking classes and demos, and I've been thrilled to discover that the interest and passion for my adopted state is huge--from New York to Oregon to Seattle to northern California.

I grew up in New York and the question I am asked most frequently is "How did you end up in Maine?" I left my job at Food and Wine magazine and moved here in the early 80's with my boyfriend, John, who later became my husband in a backyard clam bake wedding. As I tell it in the introduction to Notes from a Maine Kitchen, "We had decided to spend a year in Maine. I would write my first cookbook and John would work as a radio reporter. I remember thinking: Oh, a whole year in Maine! Like a year in Provence, or Tuscany, or Paris. It would be our little adventure, a year away, a time to experience New England.

That first cold winter we would wake up each morning and struggle to light a fire in the wood stove (New York City doesn’t provide much training for properly lighting wood stoves.) As the cast iron began to heat up and we watched the snow drifts outside, we would often ask each other, “What are we doing here?” And every time we had one of those “Wow-we-made-a-BIG-mistake-moving-to-Maine-in-the-dead-of-winter” days we would go out and buy lobster. When all else failed, it was lobster that kept us going. Lobster equals Maine and lobsters were a known entity. They were delicious and made us feel so much better about being here. We would buy the largest lobsters we could afford, and marvel at how cheap they were (in those days they really were cheap, particularly in comparison to New York City prices) and steam them and dip the meat into butter and between mouthfuls say to each other, “This is why we moved to Maine.” And for a short while, with bellies full of sweet, briny lobster meat, we were just fine. But it got dark at four in the afternoon and temperatures dropped to near zero, and the holidays crept up with our families hundreds of miles away, and again we asked ourselves: “What in hell have we done?”

Come see me on April 11th at 7 p.m. and hear more. I may even bring a few goodies to sample. Hope to see you there!"
-----Kathy Gunst

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Interview with Joshua Mohr

Joshua Mohr is the author of the San Francisco Chronicle bestselling novel Some Things That Meant the World to Me and Termite Parade, a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice selection. His latest novel, Damascus, is about art, protest, war, and more. The tension between fate and responsibility. A bartender with a birthmark that looks like Hitler’s mustache who buys a Santa Costume from a homeless man. A man with terminal cancer hiding his decline from his family. Mohr’s novel whorls around a dive bar in the mission district of San Francisco that hosts a controversial art show, brushes elbows with and sometimes plows right through many of the major questions and themes in contemporary American culture.

The climatic conflict of Damascus involves an art show with a very powerful, very pungent anti-war statement. Are there any topics that art should not explore or statements art is not allowed to make or not capable of making? Can art stop war?

I think art can teach empathy. It forces the reader to occupy different mindsets, different moral codes, varied sets of perceptions. So from that perspective, hopefully art can force us to examine our own beliefs. But in terms of stopping war, I doubt it. We seem to be too stupid to learn from most of our geopolitical mistakes. If Damascus is an anti-war book, it works similarly to Casablanca: the war is the backdrop, the setting, yet the story is all about the characters—the existential struggles that we all face each day.

At one point, a character is forced to choose between destroying art and being bodily mutilated. Is art worth bodily mutilation? Is art worth dying for?

I wouldn’t die for my art. Yet for the sake of the book, I pushed the metaphor to the ultimate extreme: what about yourself are you willing to sacrifice for your artistic values? I love questions that don’t have answers. Hopefully, devices like this involve the reader more deeply, as he/she stakes out his side of the argument. The reader emotionally invests in the character’s dilemma and thus becomes a part of the story himself.

In Damascus, the sources of many of the characters’ problems are beyond the characters’ control. One character has a birthmark that looks like Hitler’s mustache, can’t grow a real one, and can’t afford surgery to get it removed. Another has terminal cancer. Literature and fiction tend to shy away from the forces characters can do nothing about. How should literature and art confront and explore the problems we can’t solve? Should we tell stories where some things don’t change? Why or why not?

I think it was Milan Kundera who very poignantly said that a novel shouldn’t concern itself with answers: it should solely focus on posing the questions. The reader gets to populate her own set of answers. And in the case of Damascus, I cover a lot of very tough, very uncomfortable questions, varying from alcoholism to war to self-esteem battles to cancer. Different readers are going to have wildly different interpretations of the book.

Speaking of the cancer thread, the cancer patient in the novel, No Eyebrows, is based loosely on my father. He died about ten years ago from stage-four lung cancer. Writing about this topic was catharsis for me, deeply purging. So many people have lost loved ones to cancer that I hope the storyline appeals to a lot of them. Plenty of things happen in our lives that don’t make sense: what are we supposed to do with those pummeling confusions?

One of the primary motivators for the characters in the book is shame. Literature doesn’t usually look at shame in this way, but can shame be a positive or productive emotion?

I’m a recovering addict and alcoholic so shame is something I know a lot about. I did many things I’m not proud of. It’s a big part of my writing because shame is honest. Shame is the examination of action. It’s mostly expressed within our thought processes, how we talk to ourselves when nobody else can hear. In a novel, however, the reader can hear these thoughts, as they just so happen to be the voyeur peeking inside the character’s skull. Going back to what I said earlier about empathy, that’s my ultimate goal as an artist: to make a reader care about somebody they might typically disregard or discard. Letting the reader be privy to rationalizations or the shame that tumbles around our psyches goes a long way to building camaraderie between reader and main character.

One of my favorite aspects of the book is how you play with the symbols of “Hitler” and “Santa Claus.” Given how much they’re used, especially Hitler, are they still meaningful symbols? Is there a role for rote symbols of good and evil in culture? Are such symbols good, bad, neither? How should artists relate to these big monolithic symbols?

What a fantastic question! Yes, there’s absolutely a place for stock symbols, especially when we find ways to contort them to have new meanings. It’s a subversion, of sorts, a reappropriation: the Hitler birthmark in my book is idiosyncratic to the character. Its meaning springs forth from his consciousness. It’s personal. It’s alive.

Same with Santa Claus: the ol’ Saint Nick in Damascus won’t be shimmying down anyone’s chimneys come December. His presence in the book is closely tethered to one of the main characters. It’s vibrantly alive with the very unique perceptions of that player.

At times, the narration turns briefly to events in the wider world, hinting at everything going on that is left out. How important to a story is what is not told? When you’re reading, do you think about the world outside what is told in the book? How valuable is the act of excluding events, in writing a book?

Exclusion is a great option every writer has at her disposal: what makes the book versus what exists as implications in the narrative versus overt omissions. Each novel will approach these things in its own way. With Damascus, it was important for me to remind the reader that even while we spend so many pages incarcerated in a dive bar in San Francisco, the spinning world outside is a reminder of what brought each character to sit on a barstool and hold on for dear life. They all have their own reasons for ending up at Damascus. Most drunkards are trying to get away from something, so periodically reminding the reader of all the action happening around the globe helped to buoy the dive bar into the greater context of life.

What are you reading?

I teach in the MFA program at the University of San Francisco and am reading nothing but student work right now. It’s a congested semester, but I’m having a blast. I feel so thankful to have so many insightful and thoughtful students. I bet in a couple years, you’ll be asking them these questions!

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