Thursday, February 27, 2014

Two Buildings, Legendary and Mythic

Many of us reading addicts often have several books going at the same time.  Recently I noticed that in my current reads pile I had (along with, oh, a story collection, a biography & a coffee table art collection) two books about, of all things, buildings.

But oh, what buildings they are!

Inside the Dream Palace: The Life and Times of New York's Legendary Chelsea HotelWhat do Mark Twain and Sid Vicious have in common? They are two of the mind-boggling parade of sociohistoric denizens of New York City's fabled Chelsea Hotel, flavorfully recounted by Sherill Tippins in Inside The Dream Palace. Originally built as a social experiment following 19th century utopian ideals, it was artist-friendly and tolerant of characters and eccentrics from the beginning. It ultimately hosted an astonishing percentage of the (eventually) great writers, artists and well-known cultural figures of what we could call American Bohemia. Even listing a selection of famous guests gives one vertigo. Just scan the index...The Parthenon EnigmaAnd then up there on the Acropolis in Athens,one of the seven wonders of the ancient world (and nothing to sneeze at in the modern), the Parthenon. Dedicated to Athena, it once housed a gigantic statue of the goddess, now lost, and some of the greatest sculpture from antiquity still extant - specifically the Elgin Marbles attributed to the great sculptor Pheidias and now in the British Museum.  In The Parthenon Enigma archeologist Joan Breton Connelly argues that a famous tableau usually interpreted as a processional in honor of Athena is actually a ceremony of human sacrifice.  This is the big controversial core of the book but the rest of it is a fascinating exploration of just who the ancient Greeks were and how they thought about their world.  It's history that adds a rich perspective to this most iconic of structures.

The stories of both of these structures loan themselves to impressive name-dropping.  The Chelsea can boast Dylan Thomas (who drank himself to death there), Thomas Wolfe, Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, Patty Smith, Berthold Brecht.  The Parthenon can name-drop Athena, Poseidon, Zeus.... 

Friday, February 21, 2014

February 2014 Porter Square Books Receives Grant from James Patterson

We are proud and pleased to announce that Porter Square Books has been awarded a grant from James Patterson. This article will give you some background on Mr. Patterson's program to boost the health of America's independent bookstores.

"Our bookstores in America are at risk. Publishing and publishers as we've known them are at stake. To some extent the future of American literature is at stake." (James Patterson)

Porter Square plans to use our very generous allotment to support children's author visits to schools. We will now be able to underwrite the cost of books for children who do not have the means to buy them. If each child can have a book during an author's visit, the author can better engage the children in meaningful and stimulating discussions. The excitement of meeting a "real" author, and the tangible experience of holding that author's book in hand while talking about it, is so immediate and personal that it can foster an excitement about reading that a classroom cannot otherwise replicate.

One of our missions has always been to play a role in promoting children's literacy in Cambridge and Somerville. We are now in a very good position to do just that. We are very grateful to Mr. Patterson.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Ragnarok Reading List

Apparently the world is about to end...again, as Ragnarok, the Viking version of the Apocalypse is predicted to happen on Saturday February 22, 2014. I know, it’s not much time, but I’ve put together a reading list to get you prepared for the twilight of the gods.

Edda by SnorriSturluson: The Edda is the most extensive extant collection of Norse mythology and the source material for our understanding of Ragnarok. Interestingly enough, unlike Homer and the author of Beowulf, Snorri was a historical person we actually know a fair amount about.
Song of the Vikings by Nancy Marie Brown: Snorri himself was a wealthy chieftain, wily politician, witty storyteller, and the sole source of Viking lore for all of Western literature and there is enough of a historical record left to get a sense of his life and times.

The Vikings by Neil Oliver: The vikings were feared conquerors and unprecedented explorers, but not so great record keepers. Despite being a powerful force in culture in their time, it is only recently that archeological evidence has allowed us to get a fuller picture of their society.
Northlanders Vol 1. by Davide Gianfelice: Or, instead of learning something, because what are you going to use that knowledge for anyway if the world is going to end, how about a pin-your-ears-back, tundra-soaked, blood-strewn Viking adventure graphic novel. Even if you just flipped to the fight scenes in Gianfelice’s comic, you’ll get your money’s worth.

The Long Ships by Frans G. Bengtsson: OK, maybe, maybe, this whole “Ragnarok Reading List” conceit was just another excuse to tell you all about the greatest adventure novel ever written. And even if that were true, (which it’s not...maybe.) I wouldn’t be sorry. Red Orm’s adventures take him from Sweden to the Mediterranean. He fights for the Caliph of Cordova, he washes up on the shores of Ireland, he helps defeat England’s army, he bumps into Genghis Khan, he interacts with nascent Christianity, and returns home to treachery. OK. This whole conceit really was a chance to tell you all about how awesome The Long Ships is. I mean, I lent my first copy to my dad, and when I asked for it back, he flat out told me “No.” That’s how good The Long Ships is.

Friday, February 14, 2014

What Books NOT to Give on Valentine’s Day

Sure, you can find lists all over the place for what books and gifts you SHOULD buy for Valentine’s Day, but only your friends at Porter Square Books will ensure your Valentine does NOT open a sparkling fuse of relationship dynamite. So here are the books you SHOULD ABSOLUTELY NOT GIVE AS A GIFT ON VALENTINE’S DAY. (Though they’re good books, just for other situations.) (Which is a roundabout way of saying there are a few readers out there for whom these are perfect Valentine’s Day gifts, but that risk is all yours, my friends.)

Autobiography by Morissey and Call Me Burroughs by Barry Miles. Sure, both Morissey and Burroughs are major figures in contemporary Western culture with enduring effects on music and writing, and both are absolutely fascinating people, but neither one was particularly good at the whole romance thing.

This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz. Diaz is one of the finest short story writers putting pen to paper and This Is How You Lose Her is another masterpiece…but there’s a lot of infidelity. A lot of infidelity.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. One of the single greatest works of literature written in English. I really hope I don’t have to tell you why this is a very bad Valentine’s Day gift.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Runaway bestseller, soon to be major motion picture, bookseller favorite, and about the best argument we’ve ever read for NOT getting married. So, I guess, if that’s the message you want to send on Valentine’s Day…

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. A world wide phenomenon? Yes. But not exactly evocative of stable, healthy relationships. (See also: Wuthering Heights.)

Double Indemnity by James Cain. Pro tip: stay away from books where getting rid of a spouse is a major plot point.

Regarding the Pain of Others by Susan Sontag. Rarely does someone pine for a mixed message on Valentine’s Day, but I’m pretty sure a mixed message would be much preferred over Sontag’s examination of our consumption of suffering.

Killer  Inside  Me by Jim Thompson. Though it would be the absolute best way to say, “It’s not you, it’s me.”

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. Unless you can somehow spin it as “Your love hits me like a tolchock to the gulliver,” (which, if you can, bravo) this work of ultra-violence it probably best left for a different holiday/occasion. Like Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Creating a Wish List at

Did you know you can create a wish list of books on our website? Yep, it's true. You could use a wish list as just that, a wish list, something to jog your memory when it’s time to buy a new book or someone has given you a gift certificate. Your wish list can also be emailed, so you can use one as a gift registry for a birthday party or a wedding or some other celebration, or as a way to organize a book drive for your school or local library, or even to make sure you get all the books on a syllabus for a class you’re taking. Here’s how to set one up.

Start by clicking on “Login,” even if you don’t have an account with us yet.

Next, login with either your Porter Square Books account or your Google account. (You can also create your own Porter Square Books account if you don’t have one yet, but who needs another password to remember.)

Then find the book you’d like to add to your list. When you select the book, you’ll see two buttons under the status inventory. Click on “Add to wish list.”

You’ll then be brought to your wish list. Click on “Update wish list” and you’re done. Once you’ve set up your list, you won’t have to go through this step. Just click on “Add to Wish list” and a little message will pop up, with a link to your list, letting you know the book was added.

Once you’ve created a list, you can give it an expiration date (after the party, wedding, shower, etc) or not. You can re-name it or put your name on it. You can also remove items from it (assuming your begging has worked) or change the quantity you want of each book.

To email your list simply click on “Email Wish List.” You can send it to up to 10 email addresses at once, give it a custom subject and include a message. There will be a link at the bottom. When someone buys a book from the list, the “Add to Cart” button in the book’s listing will be replaced with “Fulfilled.” If you were asking for say, ten copies of To Kill a Mockingbird, for your school, and one person buys one copy, the “Wanted” number will change to “9” and the “Have” number will change to “1” until all ten have been purchased. If you realize you actually need more copies than you originally asked for you, you can change that as well.

If you happen to leave to, I don’t know, work or go outside or something, and you need to get back to your wish list, just login (or if you’ve set it up to automatically login in, click on your user name). You’ll be brought to this screen. Just click “Manage Wish List,” and you’re there.

But wait, you’re thinking. I’ve got a ton of different things going on and it would be great to have multiple book lists. Though you can’t do that directly through, you can create multiple lists, that can be emailed and connected back to PSB through is an online community created by the American Booksellers Association, that, among other things, allows you to create book lists and connect those lists to your favorite book stores. Here’s how to do that.

First, go to and click on “Indie Community.”

Then click on “Join the Community.”

Once you’ve created your profile click on “My Book Lists” and low and behold a Wish List will be there waiting for you. Next click on “Add Books/Edit List.”

Then search for the book you want by title, author, keyword, or ISBN. When you’ve found the book, click on “Add to this Book List.”

There it is. Now click on “Save List and Continue.”

Now you can continue adding books to the list. You can also use the Add Books/Edit List” to change the order of the books in the list. You can also email the list to friends, family, guests, or anybody else. You can even become a fan of Porter Square Books (or your favorite indie bookstore) so the email will include a link to buy the book from that store. Here’s how to do that. First click on “Locate an Indie Bookstore.”

Next enter your address or zip code, where it says, um, “Enter Your Address or Zip Code.” (If you’re a fan of ours from far away, you can enter our zip code, 02140.)

Then, click on “Porter Square Books” and “View Profile” in the little pop up, that, um pops up.

Then click on “Become a Fan,” and, well, yeah, I guess a lot of this is self-explanatory. Once you’ve gotten that all set up, you can create multiple book lists for all your needs. If you’re a blogger, you can also grab HTML code to display your list(s) on your blog.

And there you have it. A single wish list from or as many book lists as you want connected to PSB through Organize, promote, and celebrate with books!

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