[This post was written on April 16, 2013, and originally ran on Book Riot.]
At 3:00 yesterday I had Twitter up and refreshing on the cash
register screen, because Pulitzer.org just was not updating fast enough
for this impatient bookseller. I was scanning through the updates,
alt-tabbing between the browser and the inventory while reading out the
winners’ names — until suddenly there were two stories. Adam Johnson won
the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and there were explosions near the
marathon finish line.
Patriots’ Day is a state holiday here in Massachusetts, and area
schools are on vacation all week. The bookstore where I work, just
across the river from Boston, was packed yesterday afternoon with
parents and children who wanted to get out of the house on a gorgeous
day. By 3:10 I wanted to chase them all away. Why did they all want to
ask questions or check out when I was trying to grab every crumb of
breaking news, not to mention find out about the Pulitzers I actually
cared about? (The fiction winner sells, but the
nonfiction/history/biography winners are usually more to my taste.)
I am so grateful to those customers. I didn’t need to track every
permutation of the early casualty counts, the was-it-or-wasn’t-it JFK
Library questions, the photos everyone seemed to be retweeting. My job
is to point people to the stacks of Lean In, to confirm that
the man in search of “Gonzo Girl” actually wanted Gillian Flynn’s book,
to help the woman who called to order a birthday present for her
six-year-old grandson who loved elephants. So that’s what I did.
The news was still there, in spare moments. Customers who had heard
something in passing stopped by the desk to ask for news, and we did our
best to fill them in. Some wanted to talk. One regular customer, who
isn’t usually given to chatting, stopped by the desks for a few minutes.
She said she was staying at the bookstore for now, where it felt safe.
By early evening the store started to clear out, as the families who
had spent the afternoon there headed home for dinner. What followed was
one of the quietest nights I can remember. I expect that once people
made it home last night, they didn’t want to go out again. I don’t blame
We did have some customers, though, and one stands out, because she bought Oliver Jeffers’ The Heart and the Bottle.
It’s a gorgeous picture book we cross-shelve in our collection of
children’s books on grief and loss. It’s about fear, too, and how you
can’t feel love without also being open to emotional pain — one of those
great books that connects with both child and adult readers.
The book is a few years old now, but I only discovered it this
winter, when a coworker handed it to me off the top of a pile of books
we were putting away. By the time the book made it to the shelf, all the
booksellers had read it. Someone pointed out that it was just the kind
of thing parents had been looking for after the school shooting in
I don’t think anyone expected that only a few months later parents would have another reason to come looking for it.
I wasn’t there on Boylston Street yesterday; I was only watching from
a few miles away. But thousands of people were there, and thousands
more are connected to the event. Boston is a small place, in the very
best way — places that look miles apart on a map are only a short walk
away. That’s one of the things I love about it. But it’s also the reason
that the customer who bought The Heart and the Bottle yesterday won’t be the only one looking for a book to help a child work through what happened, or to understand it herself.
Whatever book those customers are looking for, I’ll be there to help them find it. That’s why I’m a bookseller.
Thursday, April 11, 2013
Anthologies are great resources when you’re stuck in a reading funk. They allow you to explore, wander, and discover without having to commit to a full book by a single author(or several full books by several authors). Though my college professors might shudder at the analogy, anthologies can be the book equivalent of speed dating. So for National Poetry Month, here are two relatively new poetry anthologies, to break you out of your reading funk; let you wander and make discoveries in the world of contemporary poetry; and introduce you to dozens of different authors.
Postmodern American Poetry: An Anthology: “Postmodern” is one of those terms that, through misuse and overuse has become essentially meaningless (As clever as it is, Moe from The Simpsons isn’t quite right when he describes it as “weird for the sake of weird,” but he’s not totally wrong either.) To me, it’s pretty simple; postmodernism is the literature that happens after and continues the humanist exploration of modernism, playing with not just what stories we tell, or what stories are worthy of literature, but how we tell stories. (And yes, sometimes those continuations end up as pretty weird books.) Collecting the legendary and the obscure, including some of my favorites like G.C. Waldrep, Charles Bernstein and Noah Eli Gordon, extracts from massive poems and tiny little grenades of verse, as well as essays on poetics and biographic sketches of the poets this anthology demonstrates the diversity of American poetry boiling just beneath the main stream.
The Arcadia Project: North American Postmodern Pastoral: Nature poetry has always been important to American literature. Quite often it is the only style or subject matter a lot of people are really aware of. As a nation of the frontier, whose core myths are based in the idea of carving civilization out of the virgin wild, our relationship to nature is central to our relationship with American culture. But nature is a lot stranger than we give it credit for. Evolution has allowed for a dizzying array of perplexing, amusing, and disturbing plants and animals. Furthermore, as society grew, our relationship to nature changed. Climate change and environmental activism. Genetic engineering and national parks. Ecotourism and localism. There was a time when “Nature in America,” could be captured in direct poems built on clear images, but now, “nature,” is just as weird as everything else in our society. The Arcadia Project captures that weirdness, demonstrating a range of pastoral poetry as interesting, diverse, and weird, as nature itself.
Maybe you’re thinking to yourself that you don’t actually like poetry. If so, there’s a chance you’ll find a lot to like in these anthologies. Specifically selected to showcase a wide range of styles, formats, and tastes beyond the mainstream, these anthologies show the true range of poetry as a mode of expression and could very well include reading experiences you’ve never associated with poetry. There’s more to modern poetry than Billy Collins and more to nature poetry than Mary Oliver.
Friday, April 5, 2013
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