Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Shirley Jackson: Mistress of Horror and Domesticity

I'm confident that almost every bibliophile has a favorite author that at the utterance of that author's name a smile warms the face and they begin to glow. For me, that author is Shirley Jackson. I was introduced to Shirley Jackson in my American Lit class when I was a freshman in College. I was fresh out of high school and was free from required reading such as "The Great Gatsby” and “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” Professor Fisher had us read short stories and in that collection of short stories was “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson.

What high school Lit did not prepare me for was the power of this short story. I will tell you that it begins in a small American town and the town gathers for a lottery. I will not tell you the prize and certainly not how it ends. I will tell you that this short story traumatized me in such a positive way. It plunged me into the world of philosophical thought and personal debate. I am confident that almost every bibliophile can tell you about the book that changed their life. This short story changed my life in a way that forced me to question every decision with great caution. It made me think about why we as humans have our rituals, the origins of those rituals and why we are, as a society, stubborn to change them despite evolution and demand of modern times.

Shirley Jackson is well known for her stories of horror and fantasy. But what I love Shirley Jackson for is her memoirs about domestic life. Here is a storyteller who wrote one of the most significant horror novels of the 20th century yet she manages to bring me tears of laughter to the topic of domesticity.

The life of a housewife with four children, a husband, a dog and two cats doesn't seem like it could be a lot of fun but Jackson does exactly this. She makes domesticity fun and even throws in a night cap or three. These memoirs, "Raising Demons" and “Life Among Savages” have changed my writing style and how I view my own daily life in a positive way. I get a little depressed due to the hum drum of daily life. Reading these books puts daily life into a humorous perspective and the stories are anecdotes that heal me positive every time. These books are a few of my favorite things.

To hear the 1951 NBC recording of the Lottery click here: NBC "The Lottery: NBC Short Story

To learn more about Shirley Jackson go to: Shirley Jackson

Monday, June 29, 2009

Who Reads This Stuff?

Upon entering the book store I go through a sort of shedding experience. The moment I pull the door open my nostrils are filled with the glorious smell of coffee. Books and coffee, a most perfect marriage in my opinion. The stresses and concerns I had only a moment before are whisked away in the invisible aroma swirls that dance through the entire store. It only gets better. I am greeted with a “Hello” and a smile from my friend who also happens to be my co-worker. It never fails to occur to me that I work at a wonderful independent bookstore. Working at Anthology has answered a life long question of mine. Who reads this stuff?

Since I don't read Romance, Western or Sci-Fi novels I've often wondered about the people who do read these genres. There is an obvious demand as these sections hold large real estate in the store and the books that reside in these sections proudly sport creased spines. These are sure signs of loved books. In general, I don't read too much mass market paperbacks. Yet the Nora Roberts section is in constant rotation. Being a bookseller has put faces behind the question of “Who reads this stuff?” The people who purchase these genres are lively people who seem to have a common goal in their reading experiences. That common goal is to get away in a book. A 'mindless read' before setting off to the land of sleep. Maybe a working day only allows access to only 5 to 10 minutes of spare time. A work of quick fiction can accommodate such a time slot.

By nature I am an analytical thinker. I keep a journal of every book I read in case I come across a quote I like or a word I don't know. I take notes. Sometimes they are just blurbs and sometimes they are philosophical thoughts. Over the years reading a book just for fun has become a foreign concept to me. I feel that I must be learning something or it's not worth it to read. Working at the bookstore is changing this attitude. I find that most people rather enjoy talking about what they are reading and some are even thrilled. When talking to customers about what they are reading I, politely and in a non intrusive way, ask why they are reading what they are reading. The answer is pretty much the same each time, “to get away.” I also get recommendations and my “To Read” list is constantly growing.

My co-workers and the Anthology customers I meet inspire me to read that book that will allow me “to get away” without having to take notes in my Moleskine journal. Now, I just need to decide what that book might be.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

First person smart-ass

It always surprises me when people like the books I like for the same reasons I like them. I don't know why it should; I suppose my tastes are not so very esoteric. For example, on tor.com, I've come across a number of blog posts and comments about Steven Brust, who is perhaps my favorite author. (As you may remember from my previous post on this blog, about The Phoenix Guards.) And, in a bizarre turn, the author of my favorite webcomic Penny Arcade is also deeply fond of Brust.

This post discusses the structure of Brust's Vlad Taltos series and the futility of reading them in chronological order. I've had almost this exact discussion with a friend about the virtues of publication order versus internal chronological order. Or this post which discusses the terrors of terrible science fiction covers, with particular emphasis on why it's worth reading the Vlad books anyway.

When trying to sell people on the Vlad Taltos series I generally describe them as "imagine if Corwin from Zelazny's Amber books was the hero of Ocean's Eleven". So you can imagine my surprise to find articles and comments agreeing with me; Rojer Zelazny's Amber books probably started the trend of the "First Person Smartass" POV. The combination of a smart guy with a cutting wit and endless competence gets me every time. I simply adore Brust's Dragaera and Zelazny's Amber. Megan Whalen Turner's Gen series (The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, and The King of Attolia) is my current obsession.

I must admit that I love that kind of character even when he's not the hero of the story. Before I came across the term "First Person Smartass" I generally used the (less-pithy) "guy who's a total jerk but is so good at what he does that he gets away with it.

For example, in David Eddings' Belgariad/Mallorean series both Silk and Belgarath are totally that guy (and in The Redemption of Althalus the titular character is basically Silk and Belgarath smushed together into one guy anyway). All my favorite movies have that guy too, although I realize that can't exactly be called first person; Ocean's Eleven, Catch Me if You Can, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Pitch Black, The Princess Bride... Captain Kirk in the new Startrek movie is arguably that guy. Or again on TV, Dr. House is that guy.

It's interesting to note, now that I look at the list, that there aren't a lot of female First-Person Smartasses out there. Maybe the heroine of Janet Evanovich's mysteries? Or the heroine of Laurel K. Hamilton's paranormal romances? Elizabeth Moon has some really tough, competent heroines in Paksenarrion or Ky Vatta... but none of these really have that cutting humor I'm talking about. Robert Heinlein's Friday might qualify (other problems with the book aside).

So who am I missing on the list? I'd be particularly interested to hear any more female names.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Short Stories for Summer Days

For myself, summer is an excellent time to get out, enjoy the weather, and the long hours of sunshine. My days fill up fast with activities such as hiking, walking the dogs, gardening (although I must admit my garden is looking a little sad, it is my first year for trying my green thumb :), and riding bikes. After spending many hours in the sun, I find that when I finally head home I am exhausted; which makes it hard to read anything. Being an avid reader, I am constantly disappointed in myself when I fall asleep reading a book that I wanted to read in the first place. Well, my friends, I think I have found a solution to that problem.
Currently, I am reading The Best American Short Stories 2008 edited by Salman Rushdie & Heidi Pitlor. In this collection of twenty short stories, there are such authors as the recognizable T.C. Boyle, and Allegra Goodman; as well as some author whose first published work are included in this book. This is an excellent book, to randomly pick up and read from, being the longest story in the book is only about 30 pages. Great for me to read before I head off to Dreamland :)
Although, I do not normally read short stories, I am finding that I am really enjoying this collection. My favorite story, thus far, has to be The Year of Silence by Kevin Brockmeier; that chronicles a city's year of self-imposed silence. Utterly amazing ending; truly a universal message. A.M. Homes' May We Be Forgiven, was so disturbing and shocking that I am still trying to decide if I am glad I read it or not.
On top of being a treasure of short stories, this particular book has been selected to be the Anthology Reader's Circle July book. For any of you out there looking for a laid back, low key book club, that meets once a month, feel free to stop by and check Anthology Reader's Circle out. Recently, we have added an evening book club for those of you that can not make it in the mornings. In July, discussing this particular book, the Circle will meet on Wednesday, July 15th at 6pm, and on Thursday, July 16th at 10am. We love meeting new people, and feel free to read all the stories in this book, or just the ones that "call" to you.
Whether or not you make it to the book club, this is an amazing summer read, that gives you the freedom to enjoy all that summer has to offer. Happy Summer, and Happy Reading!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Recommended Reading: Young Adult

Sure, you've probably read Twilight and Harry Potter and maybe even The Book Thief, but here are some GREAT young adult reads that go beyond your average book!

Looking for Alaska by John Green - ages 14+

This story follows Miles as he escapes the monotonous comfort of home and joins a boarding school in search of a “Great Perhaps”. Miles finds excitement, danger, friendship and even love, in the form of Alaska Young. Pranks abound after Miles befriends a group of students who seem “too smart to be the wrong crowd”. Miles finds a sense of belonging at Culver Creek and meets people who will influence his life forever, but nothing can stay the same forever...

Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan - ages 12+

In a town that is a model for tolerance and acceptance, teenager Paul and his friends struggle with managing relationships and friendships. Paul falls for a boy named Noah, but is cautious about where the relationship will go. Both boys have been hurt before but really like each other and want to be together. Joni has been Paul’s best friend since first grade, but now that she is dating Chuck, she does not listen to Paul’s concern about her choices. Their friend Tony is gay, but his parents are overprotective, so when Tony wants to go out with his friends, he must lie to his parents about a “study group”. These central characters are supported by a wonderfully wacky group of friends, such as Infinite Darlene, the drag queen quarterback.

The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman - ages 11+

This story follows Lyra Belacqua. She is an orphan (or so she believes) living an uneventful life at Jordan College with her daemon, Pantalaimon. Pan can change into any animal that reflects Lyra’s feelings, since Lyra is a child. Adults’ daemons do not change shape. Lyra is visited at the college by her Uncle Asriel, and she learns about strange occurrences in the North, such as Dust and armored bears. When her friend Roger is stolen by the Gobblers, Lyra wants to go find him. Lyra is introduced to Ms. Coulter and moves to London with her, where Lyra learns even more about the North. Lyra uses a compass-like device (the alethiometer) to find answers to her destiny. Adventures ensue and not all is what it appears to be.

More Recommendations!

Red Glass by Laura Resau
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
City of Light, City of Dark by Avi
Realm of Possibility by David Levithan
Monster by Walter Dean Myers
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Happy reading!

Re-reading a Childhood Favorite: Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell

Recently, due to a class on Adolescent's Literature, I had the opportunity to reread one of my favorite books from my childhood. At first I was hesitant, as I thought that perhaps I would not enjoy the book as I once did, or that my fond memories of it would be dashed. I got over my concerns and reread Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell. This short novel for 8-12 year olds won the Newberry Award in 1961. It has also been named one of the Top Ten Young Adult Books of the Past 200 Years, which is quite a statement, as there are many wonderful YA books available.
This novel follows Karana as she builds a new life for herself after she is left behind when her entire tribe leaves their island. This is loosely based on the actual events of a Native American woman who lived alone on an island off the California coast for 18 years. Karana not only survives, but thrives, during her time alone. When her tribe leaves the island, Karana realizes her brother is not on the ship, and she jumps overboard to join him back on their island. He dies shortly after, and she is alone. She expects that someone will return for her, but they never do. (In reality, the entire tribe was decimated by disease and were completely wiped out.) Karana has many adventures on the island, including taming and befriending a wild dog, avoiding sea otter hunters, and sewing a skirt from cormorant feathers. She remains on the island completely alone for eighteen years. In the end, Karana is discovered and “saved” from her island. The irony is that her “rescuers” end up inadvertantly causing her death 7 weeks after bringing her to the mainland, due to disease and dietary issues. The story of Karana allows youngsters to find power within themselves and to see themselves as individuals who are capable of making independent decisions that matter.

Twenty years have passed since I first read Island of the Blue Dolphins, but the themes of family, isolation and identity still resonate with me. I still love the book, and I am glad I chose it for my re-read. I got to re-experience my childhood but I also got to enjoy the book from a new perspective. My husband is an archaeologist and I couldn’t help but notice all the details that are historically accurate based on artifact evidence found from this culture. It was interesting to see how O’Dell interwove historical data with storytelling to create this wonderful story which seems so lifelike. I had forgotten that the book is based (however loosely) on the true story of a Native American woman who lived alone on this island. As an adult, I have access to the internet (which was not available in the mid-80s) and I looked up (on Wikipedia) information about the actual island and the woman who lived there. I found it heart-wrenching to discover the island is now used as a weapons testing site for the US Navy, and that her cormorant skirt (which was real) was given to the Vatican and they lost it. I’m glad I did not know these things when I was younger. The themes of adventure that resonated with me as a child changed into themes of isolation and identity as I re-read. I could feel the loneliness of the main character, as a person alone on an island, but also the more poignant loneliness of being the last of her family, her tribe, her culture. I think that one of the reasons I enjoyed this book so much as a child was because I identified with that sense of being alone in the world. I think all kids have this feeling to some extent, and that is probably why they relate to this book. I also love that Scott O’Dell chooses to write about female protagonists. This is one of the few books when I was young that had a realistic, strong female rather than a Pollyanna-type main character. I am glad I got the chance to revisit this book and it has inspired me to reread some of my other favorites from when I was young to see how my experience with them will change and develop.

Have you read any books from your past lately? If so, which ones? What is your reaction to them now?

If you have not, which one would you choose? What did it mean to you when you were a child?

I would love to hear your thoughts!


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Southern Gothic at its BEST

I'm sure many people have heard of the Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris. Or, you have seen the HBO series True Blood (which is based on the Sookie Stackhouse books). No question that Charlaine Harris has very entertaining characters and writes a fun novel. She has introduced the modern world to the macabre of Southern gothic. Harris is not the first, nor will she be the last to write about the majesty of true Southern culture. If you like Harris I would recommend the KING of Southern gothic: William Faulkner.

As funny as it is dark, one of Faulkner's best novels about the South is As I Lay Dying. Faulkner shows the desperation of a family trying to move on in life through a physical and mental journey to bury their mother. Don't mistake Faulkner for one who is saddened by death. The journey that this family takes is hysterical because they are living life through purely selfish means. Faulkner does not write them as selfish characters nor does he write them as sympathetic. He writes them as they are and does not dance around the issues that face us all. From the moment where the youngest boy drills holes in his mother's corpse Faulkner has you rolling around laughing and questioning your own sanity.

I was deeply moved by the genius of William Faulkner. I was also horrified by the motivations of people to think of themselves first. At the same time I know that if you do not question your own motivations for living you end up waiting to die just as the characters in this novel. Faulkner writes about the the human condition as played out in the South, and he does a damn good job of it.

"Sometimes I aint so sho who's got ere a right to say when a man is crazy and when he aint. Sometimes I think it aint none of us pure crazy and aint none of us pure sane until the balance of us talks him that-a-way. It's like it aint so much what a fellow does, but it's the way the majority of folks is looking at him when he does it."- William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying

If you are interested in purchasing either of these books at your local, independently owned bookstore, or borrowing them from the local library here are the ISBN numbers:

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris, ISBN:9780441016990

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner, ISBN: 9780679732259

Happy Reading! - Greth

Friday, June 12, 2009

Summer Reading

When I look for a good fiction book I think I am like everyone else and I look for something that will grab my attention right away, someone who tells a good story, characters with many emotional layers, at least decent writing, and the list can go on and on. However, I believe that books, like food, coats, and bathing suits have seasons where they fit best. Certain books fit comfortably into specific seasons with ease and grace. Since we are in the midst of the summer holiday from school, and the season when most people take vacations, I think I have two books that are perfect for summer reading.

Something to keep in mind about me is that I don't usually care for books that others would label 'beach reads'. This is especially true about the summer. Hypothetically speaking, if I were going to read a 'beach read', I would read one during the winter when my brain gets bogged down and I have too much to do for my classes. Anyway, getting back to what I believe makes a good 'summer read' . . .

During the summer, after my senior year in high school I read one of my very favorite books. This book changed my perspective on entertaining fiction. Maybe this is due to the fact that I felt that I was at a crossroads in my life and I needed something that would take me from one stage of my life to the next. That summer I read The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. This book is a great piece of feminist fiction that tells the story of King Arthur from the point of view of the important women in his life. Bradley changed literary history by re-writing one of the greatest legends ever told. It is a moving piece about the roles that women embody in a world dominated by patriarchy. However, it is so much more than the words on the page. To me, this is what makes up a good summer read. Good summer reading should be something that makes you think that you have just read the epitome of perfect fiction.

It has been five and a half years since I graduated from high school. I am now getting ready to start my last semester of my bachelors degree. I am also in the process of applying to library science school for my masters degree. This summer is also a crossroads in my life. At the beginning of my summer hiatus I was struggling to find something that I could completely fall into just as I did with The Mists of Avalon. When I started looking for a book to read I did not know I was looking for something similar to Mists. However, when I finished Outlander by Diana Gabaldon I realized it was exactly what I was looking for. Outlander has much in common with Mists. It is written from the feminine perspective, with emphasis on the independence of women. It balances the perfect historical novel with the perfect fantasy novel. It was exactly what I was looking for and so much more.

For me, The Mists of Avalon and Outlander are perfect summer reads. They are written well and are just plain entertaining. In my life these novels represent so much more than just good fiction. These books are seasons in my life that I will always remember. I am proud to carry them as part of my reading history and would recommend them to anyone.

If you are interested in purchasing either of these books at your local, independently owned bookstore, or borrowing them from the local library here are the ISBN numbers:

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, ISBN: 9780440212560

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, ISBN: 9780345350497

Happy Summer Reading! - Greth

Saturday, June 6, 2009

French Milk and the works!

Recently I discovered the travel book French Milk by Lucy Knisley. One of my now top favorites! I couldn't put it down! Mostly because it is "written" in comic form, but that isn't the point. :) It is a delightful story about a young woman and her mother who take a vacation to Paris. Lucy is 21 years old and spends her 22nd birthday there. How great would that be?!? I am 23 and I have only been to the four-corner states, no further! I wanna go...Anyway, the story is wonderfully hilarious and fun. You follow her as she describes the delectable breads, wines, cheeses, her struggle being away from her boyfriend, the interesting people she meets, and the art and culture that surrounds her every step. This book, regardless of the illustration presentation that might possibly be a turn off, inspires you to poor you a glass of wine, set the mood with Paris-like instrumental music and enjoy an hour of humorous cartoons and a real-life adventure from the eyes (and hands) of a young lady growing from the young lady to a woman. (And in Paris! Okay, I am done. :D )

I highly recommend this books for those days when you are alone and want to feel like you have a good friend near OR those nights when you want to rest your head and inspire your dreams. Enjoy!!!

How many booksellers does it take to put in a light bulb?

Imagine it...one lady holding the light screen, two other ladies moving a metal books display and yet another lady picking up all the books that fall from that display. Now imagine this happening three times within a 10 minute period! A normal situation at Anthology Book Company. It is a good thing light bulbs don't burn out everyday! :) We are so lucky to have a team of great girls who have different talents (and heights)! Without even one of us, especially Greth (the tallest of us all), the job would have never been as sufficient nor hilarious. And we are so blessed to have a boss that isn't above helping put in a light bulb! Thanks Steph!

A day working behind the book counters is never boring. There will always be at LEAST one customer that will make (or break) your day, a book or 3 you find that you never knew you were looking for, but KNOW that you were meant to read it, and then of course, there is always the chai at the Coffee Tree. I never tire of that. :) You can't beat being a bookseller. But it would be nice if the light bulb would quit going out ( and if other light bulbs wouldn't follow the example).