Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Diagram Prize

As reported in today's Shelf Awareness, this year's Diagram Prize winner for the oddest book title of the year has just been announced. The winner is Managing a Dental Practice the Genghis Khan Way by Michael Young. Other short-listed titles this year included The 8th International Friction Stir Welding Symposium Proceedings, What Colour is Your Dog?, The Italian's One-Night Love-Child, Myth of the Social Volcano, and The Generosity of the Dead.

"Previous winners include Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes, Living with Crazy Buttocks, Greek Rural Postman and Their Cancellation Numbers, How to Avoid Huge Ships, and Highlights in the History of Concrete."

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Brother Blue and Ruth Hill Award March 2011

Our very own Robert Smyth was awarded the Brother Blue & Ruth Hill Award by the League for the Advancement of New England Storytelling (LANES) - Celebrating story. Creating Community. The award is given annually in recognition of extraordinary commitment and dedication to the storytelling community which Robert has given for some 30 years.

Robert helped to launch the start of Storytellers in Concert the oldest adult storytelling series in the country in 1979. He was there supporting the first Sharing the Fire in 1981. He was there for the first Three Apples Festival in 1984.

It was in Robert's living room that LANES was formed in 1988. He went on to publish the first 5 Museletters, to be on the board for many years, and to give untold number of volunteer hours and donations in free copying and computer skills, to publish conference brochures, and the NE Directory of Storytellers for 20 years.

He was a huge supporter of Blue and Ruth’s storytelling series. He was the driving force behind the book paying tribute to Brother Blue in which people from all around the world contributed stories. He was a huge support to Ruth and Blue during Blue’s illness and continues to support Ruth on a weekly basis.

We just wanted you to know about another person working diligently behind the scenes on something for which he has a great deal of passion.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mysterious Istanbul (or is that Constantinople?)

Mysterious Istanbul (or is that Constantinople?)

Istanbul has always had a fascination for me with exotic harems, spices, silks, and sultans.

Childhood fantasies populated my thoughts until I reached Dorothy Dunnett and her Lymond Chronicles. Her brilliant writing brought my fantasies sharply into focus.

Pawn in Frankincense is the 4th installment in the series and is set in the Istanbul court of Sulieman the Magnificent. Ottoman empire but very Byzantine atmosphere.

While not a mystery in the classic sense, Lymond himself is mysterious enough.

Dunnett inspired me to put Istanbul on my list of must-visit places.

I’m really excited about the beginning of the new HBO series based on the Dunnett books. (I hope they get to Istanbul soon).

A mystery series set in modern Istanbul written by Barbara Nadel features Inspector Ikmen. Reminiscent of Donna Leon’s Venetian series with Commissaire Guido Brunetti, it has a strong sense of place and a sympathetic protagonist. The first book is Belshazzar’s Daughter published now by Felony and Mayhem.

After my first trip to Istanbul, the series provides little memory jolts (like the underground cisterns, the Blue Mosque) and stimulates thoughts of a return visit.

Another Istanbul mystery series is the Inspector Yashim series written by Jason Goodwin and is set at the end of the Ottoman empire. The first Inspector Yashim mystery, The Janissary Tree, is set in 1836 and features the eunuch, cook and sleuth looking into a series of grisly murders designed to halt sweeping political changes by the current sultan.

Jason’s first book, Lords of the Horizon, exposes his historian’s roots. Lords of the Horizon is a history of the Ottoman empire from the 13th to the 20th century.

The last novel I'll mention is set in Constantinople during the struggles between the Western (Roman) church and the Eastern (Orthodox) church. The Sheen on the Silk is written by Anne Perry (of much mystery fame) and gives us another perspective on the times of this ancient city. Not a total mystery but compelling nonetheless.

The Sheen on the Silk sent me off to look at Byzantine history. Lost to the West by Lars Brownworth reads like a novel and is endlessly fascinating.

This is only a sampling of the many opportunities to learn about Istanbul/Constantinople while being wonderfully entertained. When a city has been a major center of culture for 16 centuries, there is much to explore!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Craft News from PSB


Upcoming Events for Crafters in the Boston area.

March 12th and 13th

Fiber Camp

For those of you who are interested in Fiber Camp, here is the url

It really sounds like a good time and I understand they still have some spaces. (Maybe I can go next year!)

Even in the face of Fiber Camp, we will have Knit One on Sunday.

March 20th - Lucy (Mind’s Eye Yarns) is one of the sponsoring shops for the Red Line Yarn Crawl again this year. This was fun last year – great yarns, events at all stores and meeting up with friends along the way! Check with Lucy at or call her at 617 354-7253 for details.

April 20th – Gore Place Sheep Shearing Festival

Wonderful diverse fun!

A few of the new books in this month.

Knitting Plus by Lisa Shroyer - great details for altering knitting patterns to fit. Interweave $24.95

Spud and Chloe at the Farm by Susan B. Anderson – I’ve got to make the sheep! Workman $13.95

A Knitting Wrapsody by Kristin Omdahl – scarves, shawls, skirts – o’ my. Interweave $24.95

130 Mini Quilt Blocks by Susan Briscoe - patchwork quilt blocks - St. Martin's $22.99

Knit One Schedule:

Second Sunday of each month from 1:00 PM until (whenever you finish that row) 3:00PM

All handcrafters are welcome.

March 13

April 10

May 8 (I may be at Maryland Sheep and … whee!)

June 12


August 14

September 11

October 9


December 11

Stay well everyone and enjoy whatever you’re doing!


Jonathan Coe

As promised, Jonathan Coe turned up at the bookstore yesterday to sign copies of his new one, The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim. In my opinion, this kind of encounter is an experience one can only have working at an independent bookstore. When we each got done being extremely appreciative of what the other does (oh yeah, he loved the bookstore), he mentioned that he had never been to Boston before and was looking forward to exploring it a little on the T. He has never met compatriot Ian Rankin, but is a huge fan and wished he could stick around another week and meet him here on the 16th! He bought a copy of Wesley Stace's latest in paperback for his travels and was on his way.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Why a Bookstore?

On most Wednesdays, we host a story hour where a very talented story teller reads books and entertains kids for as long as their attention spans last. Our children's section has a big comfy teddy bear, a stuffed dog, samples of picture books and pop-up books, and toys for kids to play with. We also run a young reviewers program called Fresh Ink, that gives kids a chance to read advanced reader copies of books (which they can keep) and have their reviews published on our website and on a blog. On December 8th, 2010, we hosted an event, with Whole Foods for the poetry anthology, Poets for Haiti, with the proceeds from all sales going to Partners in Health, capping off a year filled with events big and small. We also now run a blog, Facebook page, and Twitter account sharing reviews, recommendations, author interviews, and news from the book world, along with our website with links to bestsellers, IndieNext List selections, Featured Titles, staff picks, our event listings and more. Our in-store displays are like the “Also Bought” feature except instead of some mysterious algorithm spitting out book titles, we have intelligent, passionate readers choosing and arranging the books around important and fun themes. And we love talking about books in all forms, whether through 140 characters a pop or long conversations in the store. And we can do all this because people buy books.

As the world of book buying changes at an increasing rate, people are beginning to ask why bother with a bookstore, especially when most of the time the book you buy is going to cost you more at a bookstore? If I can buy a book for $9.99 from my computer at home why go anywhere else? Well, you buy more than a book when you buy one from a bookstore. You get to pop in after dinner and wander around the stacks for a while or flip through a magazine while drinking coffee; you get a landmark to help you organize meet ups with your friends; a safe place to bring your kids; somewhere to go when you just need to get out of the house; you get a place to meet with your book club; to have a heart-to-heart with an old friend; and a perfect setting for a first date ("So...did you like Freedom?" "No." "Ok, then....") Buying books from us keeps our rent paid, our lights on, and our doors open. And if you don’t feel like going out, you can do the whole shop-from-the-comfort-of-your-own-home thing with us too, for books and ebooks, from our website. Every metal folding chair we put out for events was paid for by a book purchase. Every conversation you have with a bookseller (about a book or otherwise) was paid for by a book purchase, as was every stuffed animal in the kids section, every blog post you enjoyed reading, every author picture you looked at on our Facebook page, and every gift we wrapped for free over the holidays.

Does this mean you should feel compelled to buy a book every time you just happen to stop in to warm up or use the bathroom on your walk home from the train? Of course not. We just ask that when you’re thinking about buying a book from Walmart, Amazon, or some other heavily discounted venue, you think of everything else you get when you buy a book from a bookstore and compare prices as you must, of course, do. Sure the Amazon book is cheap, but it won’t come with a conversation about how Hollywood filmmakers never really capture the essence of Pride and Prejudice, or a free flip through a copy of US Weekly, or a tip on the next big experimental short story writer in translation, or, well, anything else.

But let’s face it, sometimes all that other stuff you get from us isn’t as important as the cost. Sometimes you need a book and would like to have coffee money for the week left over after you buy it. There’s nothing wrong with that. You should have options when buying books and some of them happen to be deep-discount joints. Just remember us with your holiday or birthday money or when you get your tax refund, or during that few day (or week) high after you’ve gotten a raise or a new job.

It might be best to sum this up with an old truism. Sure, their books are cheaper than ours, but, as with just about everything else in the world with a price on it, you get what you pay for.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Ian Rankin comes to PSB March 16

So a bunch of us were dancing around shouting "Ian Rankin! Ian Rankin!" and looking forward to how cool it'll be to have him in the store. Then somebody said "You're all pretty animated about a crime guy who gets pretty dark sometimes." "But he's probably the best crime writer in the UK!" we insisted. And the retort was, "Well just what makes someone that?" So we all calmed down and got to wondering about the dude. Here are some questions we sent off to him, preliminary to his visit, of course.

Q:Is there a particular book in your childhood that turned you on to the possibility of being a writer? Is there any particular author you'd credit as an inspiration?

A: Not childhood exactly, but as a teenager I read Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange and realised not all literature needed to be about angsty Russians and men in monocles. A bit later I fell in love with Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which led me to R L Stevenson's Jekyll and Hyde... and from Hyde to crime fiction.

Q:Your depiction of police procedures and the inner workings and/or politics of intelligence seem awfully well informed. Is this due to diligent research and the gleaning of tasty rumor, or do you perhaps have a cousin who's a cop?

A: I have a few friends/contacts within various Scottish police departments, and also know a few journalists and other useful people. I have also worked in a variety of large, bureaucratic organisations, and am guessing the police aren't any different: office politics is office politics, right?

Q:Are you familiar with our local guy Dennis Lehane?

A: I know Lehane, of course! Last time I did an event in Boston, I think he was there to introduce me to the audience. I wrote the introduction to one of the UK editions of 'Shutter Island'. We've known one another since we were hungry young writers. He's about as cool as a cat can get without the refrigerator-light going off.

The introduction and questions for Mr. Rankin were composed by Gary Cowan, PSB bookseller and Rankin fan.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Ebooks Education Session

Last Tuesday Porter Square Books held an ebooks education session. The session featured a general overview of ebooks at Porter Square Books, presentations about three ereading devices; the Nook, the Sony Reader, and the iPad, and a lively discussion that touched on pricing, technology, and other ebooks issues. Along with the presenters and other PSB staff on hand, one local publisher stopped by and shared a publisher’s perspective on ebooks, and a representative from Google ebooks was here answering questions about Google’s plans and getting feedback from the audience. For those of you who couldn’t make it, below is a blog post version of the overview, complete with links to more information. We've also updated our ebooks prices. Click here to learn more. And if you have any questions about ebooks and Porter Square Books, feel free to send an email to Josh at

Ebooks at Porter Square Books

  • Buying ebooks from us supports us the same way buying regular books does
  • Our ebooks can be read on virtually any device, except the Kindle, including a regular computer
  • With Google ebooks and ebooks provided by Ingram Digital we offer hundreds of thousands of titles and that number is growing
  • Ebooks are available 24/7, 365, from the comfort of your home and just about anywhere else and are a great way to support your local bookstore even as you travel

Buying an Ebook from Porter Square Books

Buying an ebook from us is pretty much the same as buying anything else off the Internet, except that instead of getting something shipped to you, you download a file, or, with a Google ebook, you can read it right in your browser. Click here for a complete walkthrough of purchasing an ebook through our website.

The Price of Ebooks

There are two methods of pricing ebooks; traditional and agency. In traditional pricing the publisher sets the list price and then we pay a percentage of that list price to the publisher whenever someone downloads the ebook. Here is a traditionally priced ebook.

Hardcover: $34.95

Google Ebook List Price: $28.00

Retailer Pays: $14.56

Our Price: $21.00

Amazon Kindle: $9.79

In this case, Amazon loses about $4.77 every time someone buys The Autobiography of Mark Twain for the Kindle.

In agency pricing, the publisher sets the selling price and the retailer receives a commission, acting, in essence, as an "agent" for the publisher. Here is an agency model book.

Amazon: $12.99

Google: $12.99

Sony: $12.99

Barnes and Noble: $12.99

Porter Square Books: $12.99

Seven publishers now use the agency model: Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, Wile, and Random House. These are seven major publishers and together account for a substantial portion (if not the majority) of ebooks publishing. This means that very often our ebooks will be the same price as Amazon's.

Still in the Works

The world of ebooks is constantly changing and Porter Square Books and the American Booksellers Association are doing our best to keep up with it. Here are some aspects of ebooks we are working to improve.

  • Using Gift Cards to buy ebooks
  • Not all books are available as ebooks or in all ebook formats so, before you buy, make sure you've selected the right format
  • Penguin ebooks available on our website
  • Integrated check-out so you can buy ebooks and regular books online at the same time
  • Highlighting and annotating Google ebooks in their otherwise very convenient, browser based reading function

For more information please visit our ebooks resources page.

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