Wednesday, June 25, 2008


The American Booksellers Association at this year's Book Expo America launched a new initiative called IndieBound that taps into the growing national localism movement. The IndieBound website is a gateway for the entire indie community with access to The Declaration of IndieBound manifesto, the Indie Next List, Indie Bestsellers, and merchandise, with more functions to come.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Boston, Real City destined not to join the Wasteland

This post to Porter Square's blog is in advance of my in-store reading next Monday from "Prescription for a Superior Existence," a new novel about a pleasure-addicted man who gets caught up in an anti-desire religion called PASE.

At the risk of sounding like a bad stand-up comedian ("Hello, Cleveland!"), I want to say first that I love Boston. Deeply and sincerely. My sister went to college in your fair city, so as a teenager I visited several times from northern California to marvel at your architecture and sense of history and fearless accents.

One thing I parcticularly liked was that you didn't worry about earthquakes, the specter of which haunted me, when in school our quarterly dive-under-your-desk drills had nothing to do with communism and everything to do with plate tectonics. I envied you very much and wished I could go to school in Boston when my time came.

For your sake it's best that I didn't. A big quake hit in 1989 that leveled large parts of Santa Cruz, where I would matriculate in a couple of years. Later I went to graduate school in Iowa City, which is 20 miles away from Cedar Rapids and currently half-devastated from flooding (I happen to be here today, in fact). From Iowa City I moved to New Orleans, where I was living in 2005 when Katrina struck. All this is to say that recently I, like Robert Oppenheimer, have had reason to quote from the Bhagavad Gita, "Now I am become Shiva, the destroyer of worlds."

Perhaps, though, I am less like Shiva than Jonah, and the world's metaphorical waters will calm once I mend my ways or am thrown overboard. A similar question can be asked about the hero of "PASE," Jack Smith, whose interest in the book's eponymous religion arises when news about climate change begins to penetrate his consciousness, and reports about extreme weather and shapeshifting glaciers and extinct species begin to suggest that something is wrong with the planet that only he can fix.

Now comes the reassuring part. Any resemblance I have to Shiva or Jonah is entirely in my head. Not necessarily so in Jack's case. I encourage you, therefore, to come to the store on Monday to hear about how in fiction, if not in real life, our planet's turbulent future might be steadied, at least for a while. It would be an honor to see you there.

Josh Emmons

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Comfort books

We read books for so many reasons: for entertainment, enlightenment, information, thrills, amusement, inspiration, escape. But when the world is topsy-turvy and novelty seems utterly undesirable, books can bring comfort.

Lately I've been reading my comforting books, the books I grew up reading, which are old friends that have served me well long into adulthood.

Madeleine L'Engle's "Time" series tops the list, and gives me something new to think about -- about the nature of time, the universe, human relationships, good and evil -- each time I revisit them. These books were spellbinding when I first read them over 20 years ago, and even after a dozen more readings, they still elicit the same thrill.

I also reread Harriet the Spy, a classic that seems both timeless and nostalgic. What 11-year-old child can wander around Manhattan so freely these days? It makes me wish for my very own Ole Golly.

Next, I think I'll go back to my favorite Roald Dahl book, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More, Edward Eager's Knight's Castle, and Tove Jansson's Finn Family Moomintroll. They're all childhood books that aren't the least bit childish, that absorb my heart and my head in equal measure, and that serve as touchstones I can go back to again and again.

What are your comfort books?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Thoughts on BEA 2008

Five of us from PSB winged our way to Los Angeles on May 28th to attend BookExpo America. I had never been to a book trade show so my expectations were high and filled with curiosity. Our American Airlines flight was packed and the six-hour plus trip interminable. But we arrived in sunny Southern California and found our way to Hollywood, where we were to stay for four days of hard work, good fun and discovery.

The four days in LA were quite eye opening and I learned a great deal about bookmaking, bookselling and booksellers. I found most book people to be enthusiastic, mildly competitive and most importantly totally involved and in love with their work. The educational meetings arranged by the American Booksellers Association (independent booksellers) were most enlightening and it was a treat to hear events organizers express their experiences, thoughts and ideas. One workshop discussed green retailing, now seen more than ever as an important part of customer service.

Besides meeting many authors, the most extraordinary thing was the reception I received when I mentioned I was from PSB. All the publishers, authors, and publicists heaped praise upon the store and were infinitely positive. Often I would hand a publicist our press kit then launch in to my spiel about how great our store was and invite them for a visit. It was heartwarming to know how respected and appreciated PSB is by so many people.

We all attended many author breakfasts, lunches and some dinners. For one breakfast Eoin Cofler was a brilliant MC and we were regaled with stories by such authors as Sherman Alexie, Neil Gaiman and Judy Blume.

Thomas Friedman from the NY Times spoke; his new book will debut in August. Entitled, Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution – and How It Can Renew America. It is described as a, “manifesto for our climate-challenged future". We all shuddered at what he had to say.

We had the great good fun of seeing our old colleague Emily Pullen, who now lives in LA and works at the Skylight Book store.

There were sightings of many authors; Jane had a glimpse of Barbara Walters signing her autobiography, Audition. I literally bumped into singer Dionne Warwick, who has written a children’s book. Local authors Dennis Lehane, Julia Glass and MT Anderson attended as well. All in all this was a fascinating experience and well worth the effort.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Next week I'm leaving on a cross country road trip. My traveling companion and myself have been planning this trip for just over a year, so I have to say I'm really ready to hit the road and see where it takes us. In order to sustain my excitement for the road trip I started reading cross country travel books- stuff like On the Road, even though I didn't read that particular book. I did read and enjoy Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins a non-fiction book about Jenkins' walk from Alfred, NY to Mobile, AL accompanied by his dog in the 1970's. It takes him over a year to walk that distance while stopping to work along the way. He first walks to D.C. where he talks to National Geographic about his trip. They give him a camera and ask him to photograph and write about his experiences en route and submit the results for possible publication in the magazine. This book made me want to get up and go, leave tomorrow, no planning-nothing just see who I would meet and where I would go. Jenkins met some very interesting people along the way, all local American folk, but each with a lot of character.
Next I read William Least Heat Moon's Blue Highways. Very different from Walk Across America, but with a few similarities, this trip takes us to different parts of the country and talks about his search for long lost dead relatives ( now buried under a reservoir). He travels from town to town on only the little back roads and choosing towns based on names like, Nowhere, TN. "Life doesn't happen along the interstates. It's against the law." This has been a bit of an inspiration for us, confirming our decision to keep to the 2 lane roads and avoid any sort of chain store or restaurant. By keeping our travels confined to local and rural America we have a better chance of meeting a diverse group of people.
I also re-read one of my favorite books the Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham. This book has been an inspiration to me since my high school days. It has always affirmed my belief that living unconventionally is OK and though it requires hard work it spawns true adventure. Set in the 1920's, Larry is expected to marry Marr, settle down and work at a law firm or brokerage. But having witnessed death up close in the last war Larry is inclined to "loaf" which isn't as easy as it sounds. He is always striving to educate himself, reading classics in their native language. In some ways his travels are a search for god, or at least a higher understanding of the universe. He goes to India and studies under a guru until he reaches enlightenment and then gives up his small fortune to drive cabs in New York. I think in some ways I search for the spirit of this book in my own travels, that sense that anything is possible even when frowned upon.
See you in a few months!

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