Dear Reader

Random musings on reading and books from a librarian in training.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Promotions really work! (or I'm a sucker)

Yes, yes. I've said I'm trying to not to bring any new books into the house. Then I got this email from Borders touting a special edition of eclipse and the new moon in paperback. I was intrigued. I really enjoyed twilight and to top it all off a 30 percent coupon.

This is kind of neat promotional idea. The special edition of eclipse has the first chapter of the upcoming breaking dawn, the cover doubles as a poster with the book's cover. There's also a t-shirt transfer sheet, which strikes me as a little dated. Do kids today even know what t-shirt transfers are?

Once the dust jacket is removed, there's a regular cover.

These two are going on my summer reading list, which I promise I'll be sharing soon!

The bookseller hinted that the buzz around this series is comparing it to Harry Potter. I can see how, these books could be a series that like Harry Potter both adults and the younger set (in this case, probably teenagers enjoy.)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Summer reading

Ahhh, summer. Sunshine. The beach. The smell of suntan lotion. Longer days.

And books.

A flood of summer reading lists is starting to pour in. I’ll try to keep up. Feel free to post suggested lists in the comments section.

I know one book I definitely will have my eye on: The Condition by Jennifer Haigh. I really liked both Mrs. Kimble and Baker Towers.

I'll try to keep you posted on summer reading suggestions and will share the list of books that I hope to read this summer. Please leave your suggestions for summer reading.

Summer reading suggestions (and one spring reading suggestion):

Three Books about Sand and Sun

Fiction Picks for Your Mental Getaway

Booksellers' Selections for Summer Afternoons

SF-Fantasy Heavy Hitters for the Summer

All Summer Long

Staff Favorites: Three novels to try this summer


5 Must-Read Books For Summer

Summer reading: We've got it covered

Older but wiser: Random picks for summer reading

The National Book Critics Circle Announces the Spring 2008 NBCC Good Reads List

(Image courtesy of Crystal Eye Entertainment)

Harvard Bookstore for sale

Here in Mass, we’re lucky in that we have a number of great book stores. In Cambridge, there’s the Harvard Coop and Harvard Bookstore. There are also niche bookstores such as Pandemonium Books or The Globe Corner Bookstore.

The Harvard Bookstore, which has been a landmark for years, is now for sale. Frank Kramer assumed leadership of the store when his father died in 1962. The bookstore has been around since 1932.

Boston Globe’s Off the Shelf posted a Q&A with Kramer, who helped co found Cambridge Local First – a program that encourages people to shop locally. According the Q&A, gift certificates will be honored by the new owner and Kramer expects that the frequent buyer program will continue as well. According to articles, Kramer does not want to sell his bookstore to a chain.
I found this interesting. I think it’s not just small, independent bookstores that need to be creative to draw customers.

Q: I’ve noticed that you are beginning to sell many non-book items. Why is this happening?
A: It is no secret that independent bookstores across the country are losing some of their book sales to the internet and other media. Despite this trend, people continue to need and enjoy a physical place in their communities and in travel destinations where the world of ideas and the literary mind are celebrated. Harvard Book Store has been that place for 75 years because we have sought out books and other products that our customers will buy. We will only remain profitable if we keep doing that

More reading:

Harvard Book Store for sale,

Harvard Book Store for sale,

Harvard Bookstores:

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Since May is Vampires month, I thought I'd my part by reading by twilight by Stephenie Meyer. ;-) It's the first book in her series that's geared towards young adults. I thought this was a good start to her series - parts of it felt like it was building the foundation by introducing the characters and their back stories. I know this is technically a young adult book, but I thought it was rich and a surprisingly dense read. I really liked the characters, but the one thing that irritated me is how quickly the main characters fall in love.

Once I started reading, I was definitely hooked. I found myself skimming ahead, because I really wanted to know what happened next.

In a nutshell, Bella moves to a small town in Washington to live with her father. She meets Edward and falls in love. The hitch - Edward is a vampire.

About three things I was absolutely positive.
First Edward was a vampire.
Second, there was a part of him - and I didn't know how dominant that part might be - that thirsted for my blood.
And third, I was unconditionally, and irrevocably in love with him.

I find interesting how vampire mythology really varies from author to author. For instance, in twilight, vampires can go outside during the day time, rather than burning in the sun, they sparkle almost irresistibly. They do prefer to go out in overcast/ rainy weather so at not attract attention. Meyer's vampires also don't need to sleep or breathe and are virtually indestructible. In contrast, in the Sookie Stackhouse series and other books like Tanya Huff's, vampires sleep during the day/ or spend the daylight hours in a suspended state, not alert/wake/alive. Charlaine Harris' vampires will burn and can die if they go out in the sunlight.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Borders launches new ecommerce site

Borders has launched a new ecommerce site. Previously, the book chain had a partnership with Amazon.

According to the Detroit Free Press, one feature the retailer is touting is the Magic Shelf.

In a nutshell, the “magic shelf” is meant to mimic the experience of browsing in a bookstore. A graphic on the homepage shows illustrations of books on bookshelf. When you place the mouse over the book cover, a popup shows the author and other information.

"We wanted a real bookstore online," said Kevin Ertell, senior vice president for e-business at Borders, in an interview with the Free Press last week. "What we did to capture that bookstore feel was putting the Magic Shelf on the sign-in page."

Customers can also browse the site in the brick and mortar stores and rewards members can use coupons on the site.

It’s a little too early for me to render an opinion on the new format. I feel like I need to get under the covers a bit. Amazon has the edge right now in terms of usability, but I don’t know if some of that is because I have more a history with ordering and browsing. I do like that they’re trying to mimic the experience of browsing in a book store, which is one of my favorite things about going into a bookstore, poking around, picking up some titles just because they have a cool cover. A good browsing experience can be like a really fun scavenger hunt.

I will say that I’m not too crazy about the interface. Having little “pop up” blurbs about books seems a little cumbersome and they seemed slow to pop up. I do like that when you’re looking at a book, there are recommendations for further reading.

I think Borders is facing a tough, up hill battle to beat/ come in even with its former partner. Amazon seems like they can under price everyone else. For instance, while Borders is selling Twilight for $7.69, Amazon has it for $6.04. (Wal-Mart of course has the lowest price, selling it for $5.77.) The suggested retail price is $10.99 leaving me to wonder how small, independent stores can possibly compete. Sigh.

Reactions to the site were mixed on the Consumerist from:

A traditionalist:

buying books online is no fun. nothing can replace the smell of fresh ink and new paper. the coffee smell mixed in like they have at Barnes and Noble doesn't hurt either =)

A possible fan:

I actually might like this way of shopping online. (But I like the b&m Borders, too.) I'm a browser, and it's hard for many online merchants to simulate browsing, as much as they try to flag my interest with "readers who bought this book also bought..."

To mocking/ unimpressed:

um...yeah, the only thing magic about that magic shelf is its ability to make me disappear from the site.

Wow. Starting an online bookstore. In 2008. Way to innovate, guys.

Borders launches e-commerce site today

Borders' Web-Based Plan to Save the Book

Borders Launches A Website With A "Magic Shelf"

(Image from the Consumerist)

Book purging

I recently had a little windfall (sidenote: you really can win money taking surveys!) and decided to buy bookshelves. Real bookshelves. Not the kind with weird cardboard particle material or the kind I have to (badly) put together. Since most of my books are in boxes, I decided it was time to organize them and do my yearly weed through. Like wardrobes, I think everyone should cull through their books at least once a year. I usually discover that I managed to have two copies of at least one book. Last year it was Fast Food Nation, this year it was Great Expectations. Sadly, after mailing out several books on Paperback Swap and putting about 20 books up to swap, I ordered several books on Paperback Swap to help fill in some missing holes. I thought I'd show some of the books that will soon be nicely displayed in my BRAND NEW bookshelves!!

In the stack on the left is my entire Sookie Stackhouse collection and Jasper Fforde's two series -- Thursday Next and nursery rhymes. I also included some of my nonfiction reads including The Worst Hard Time, a riveting look at the Dustbowl era and Nickel and Dimed, A Civil Action and No Matter How Loud I Shout.

What's on your bookshelf?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Barnes & Noble may seek to buy rival, Borders

With rising food and gas prices and the current housing woes, we’re definitely entering uncertain/ tough economic times. Even the big retailing giants are starting to feel the pinch.

There’s been a lot of speculation about whether Barnes & Noble is positioning itself to buy one of its main rivals, Borders.

Borders is floundering. According to Forbes, the company posted a $157.4 million loss, roughly $2.68 per share this February. That’s an increase over the previous year, in which the bookseller experienced a $151.3 million loss.

Chains like Barnes& Noble face similar pressures to independent bookstores – competing with ecommerce giant Amazon and Wal-Mart, which is drastically lowering the prices of the books it sells.

When the last Harry Potter came out, many smaller book stores substantially decreased how many they had on hand because they just couldn’t compete. The suggested retail price was $34.99 and sold it for $17.95, Wal-Mart for $17.87 and Target for $17.99. Stores like Wal-Mart can afford to substantially mark down a book because they know that once they draw shoppers in, they’ll fill up their shopping carts with a myriad of other items.

I’d prefer the two chains stay separate. I think having competition in the marketplace is a healthy and good thing. I also worry the effect this would have on smaller independent book stores. I tend to lean in favor of Borders versus Barnes & Noble. I like that you don’t have to pay $25 per year to have a Borders rewards membership card. (Although they did make some changes to the rewards program that I wasn’t too crazy about.)

Borders is taking steps to stem the tide. The company is currently opening concept stores, which will feature wireless Internet service, a digital station at which customers can do a range of cool things such as create their own CDs, download books, publish their own books or create photo books.

The verdict is out whether this will help turn around sales.

Additional reading:

Borders CEO expects investments in stores, Web to bear fruit,

Barnes & Noble loss widens, weighing Borders bid,

No substantial talks on sale, Borders' CEO says,

Would A Bigger Barnes & Noble Kill Independent Bookstores?

Borders' Popular Rewards Program Proves Both Too Popular And Too Rewarding,

The book snob reappears. Oh joy

Would you care to compare bookshelves? Should I hide my library record for fear that you’ll think it’s pedestrian or too middle-brow? Did you just shudder at my Betty Neels collection?

Yes, I’ve never read Ulysses and only read The Hobbit, but have read every Harry Potter book.

I really dislike book snobbery. If you want to plow through The Fountainhead or have Jonathan Frazer on your night stand, good for you. Let's all keep our eyes on the books in front of us!

I mention this because the can of worms surrounding Harry Potter continues.

The Guardian weighs in: “When Harry met sexism/ Critics just won't accept female fantasy writers, as the latest round of JK Rowling-bashing shows”

Rowling will be giving Harvard's graduation commencement address in June, which apparently has some people’s knickers in a twist.


Writing in the university paper, the Harvard Crimson, student Adam Goldenberg rips into Rowling as "a flash in the pan", "a petty pop culture personality" who "tricked parents into letting their kids read books filled with sex, murder, and homosexual role models". Furthermore, "writing bedtime stories is lame".

If having sold 375 million copies of a book series is a flash in the pan, I’m sure there are plenty of writers who wish they could also be a flash in the pan. Meanwhile, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing that Rowling explores some dark themes. The series is about the epic fight against evil therefore there is murder, betrayal and violence. There’s also love, loyalty, and bravery. And what’s wrong with having homosexual role models?! That comment is raising multiple red flags for me.

And for the kicker, writing bed time stories is lame. What?! I'm more convinced that if you want raise a child who reads throughout their life, you have to engage them while they're young. Those bed time stories are sparking children's imaginations and their love of reading. Would we prefer they were playing video games or watching television?


“Speculative fiction - whether that is historical epic, space psychodrama or telepathic warrior quest - has always been about infinite possibilities. Why is it so hard to imagine a world which acknowledges the importance, multitude and sheer brilliance of its women writers?”


It’s a shame that people are so eager to pigeon hole books and the people who read them. Take the label chick lit. It seems like it’s used to dismiss books like oh, that’s chick lit. Unfortunately chick lit isn't the only genre sneered at, you can add science fiction and fantasy to the occasionally sneered at group. That's unfortunate -- there's good and bad books in all genres. To me, it's not the genre but the individual book that matters. Is it a well told story? Does it have rich, complex characters or compelling dialog. Most importantly, at the end of the day am I itching to get home so I can read another chapter?

When intellectual snobbery raises its ugly head, no one wins.

Wishful thinking

Although I clearly have a problem with hoarding books, I've managed to build a decent sized wish list on Amazon and Paperback Swap. I thought it'd be fun to share some of the books hanging out on my wish list right now.
As you can see it's a varied list including some books and authors I've blogged about.
Some highlights:
He's a Stud, She's a Slut, and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know. I'm a faithful Feministing reader. I'm eager to read Valenti's latest work.
The Film Club: A Memoir - I recently heard the author and his son on NPR. When his son wanted to drop of high school, David Gilmour had one stipulation. His son had to watch three movies a week with him. His son is now headed to film school. They both seemed very down to earth.
Are You There Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea. I love this title and she's always cracked me up every time I've seen her on a VHS special.
Don't You Forget About Me -- I enjoyed but enough about me enough that I'd like to read Dunn's upcoming novel.
Dead as a Doornail -- Charlaine Harris. I recently realized I don't actually own the entire Sookie Stackhouse series. That can simply cannot be allowed.
What's on your wish list?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

May is for vampires?!

I’ve been meaning to post about this for awhile because I think its fun.

First Second, which specializes in graphic novels, has declared May Vampire Month.

Amazon: Vampires? In May? Why, First Second, You Are a Cheeky Publisher, Aren't You? -

First Second’s blog:

There are many novels featuring vampires starting with Bram Stoker’s Dracula all the way up to Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series.

First Second publishes Little Vampire and Life Sucks. Both are vampire-themed graphic novels. (I’m eagerly awaiting both from the library.)

There must be something in the air or this idea is really catching on because the Seattle Public Library’s blog is doing a series of posts on vampire fiction.

The Vampire List, Part 1: Love Bites -

I noticed another reader pointed out the absence of Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse books; apparently they’ll be included in later posts. Regular readers are aware I’m a big Charlaine Harris fan.

Update: Shelf Talk's has another vampire post -

I tried reading the Turning and just couldn't seem to get into it.

Some other vampire reading I’ve enjoyed includes Anita Blake – although I have to admit I lost steam. The earlier books are better. There are many fans who think this series went off the rails.

Mary Janice Davidson, who’s mentioned in Shelf Talk’s list. The first book in this series is Undead and Unwed. I really like these novels. It’s sort of like vampire chick lit. They’re fun, quick reads.

Another series I enjoy is Tanya Huff’s Blood Ties series that revolve around Vicki Nelson, who becomes a private detective after a degenerative eye disease forces her to retire. I would definitely check out Lifetime’s Blood Ties series. I think this really captures the essence of the books, but also stands on their own.

Ack! I didn’t realize this might not be coming back on the air. Really Lifetime you have a great show and you don’t renew it. Grhh. If anyone has positive news to share on this, please do so.

(Side note: Dear Lifetime, I’m watching you! Do NOT mess with my beloved Project Runway. Just DON’T).


Speaking of vampires – Stephenie Meyer is currently making the rounds for her latest novel, Host. Meyer is best known for her Twilight series – a vampire series geared towards young adults.

Stephenie Meyer By the Numbers -

Meyer is also featured in Book Page, “Words to live by: there are no children’s books or adult books – there are only good books & bad boos. Everyone should read the good ones.”


From Dead to Worse

Confession time: I love the Sookie Stackhouse series. They fall in the rare category of books that I will not only buy in hard cover, but faithfully pre-order on Amazon. It's really hard to describe, they’re a combination of fantasy, mystery, supernatural. Sookie is a telepathic bar maid living in a world occupied by werewolves, shape shifters and vampires. Only vampires have come out so to speak and have formed an uneasy relationship with humans.

I enjoyed the latest installment - From Dead to Worse. However, I didn't feel like it was the strongest book in the series. While the books have become longer and more complex as the series progresses, they've also become more unfocused. With the latest offering, it seem like Harris tried to cram too much in – strife within the vampire and werewolf communities, family issues, a roommate struggling with her relationship with her father and the fact she turned her boyfriend into a cat by accident, etc.

Phew. It just seemed a little too scattered.

That said, it was a fun read and I just love immersing myself in Sookie’s world. I can already anticipate what the next book might tackle.

More Geek Gear

I may reveal some political leanings here, when I divulge that I love Northern Sun ( When flipping through their latest catalog the above t-shirt caught my eye.

Banned Books Week doesn't kick of until Sept. 27. Until then, I'll try to do my part. I have The Chocolate War out from the library.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


Given the rising cost of paper and increased focused on green, it’s not a big surprise that some publishers are reconsidering the ways they do business - such as communicating with booksellers.

Some publishers like Harper Collins are doing away with their paper catalog. Instead, booksellers can look online to see upcoming books.

“Publishers consider dropping old standby: the paper catalog” – Associated Press.

"I think we are overdue. We produce thousands and thousands of catalogs, many of which go right into the wastebaskets," HarperCollins President Jane Friedman, who said the switch would likely begin by summer 2009, told The Associated Press. "It's such a waste of paper and so inefficient."

Some booksellers are a little resistant to the change, according to the AP. They like being able to make notes and flip through the catalog.

Publishers consider dropping old standby: the paper catalog – Associated Press;_ylt=AvtHVwsrNzV6WYtWGE15pHlREhkF

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The power of redemption

Do you believe in second chances? James Frey probably hopes you do.

Perhaps best known for the controversy surrounding A Million Little Pieces, Freys back with a new novel, Bright Shiny Morning.

Without dredging up the past or my opinions about Frey, I will say I think our society has a dangerous habit of hyping up people and making them into stars and then delights in completely demolishing them. Look at Frey, one minute he’s on Oprah, hundreds are reading his book, flash forward he’s eating crow on Oprah.

That said, I couldn’t bring myself to read my copy of A Million Little Pieces. To me I didn’t see the point of reading something that I knew wasn’t the real thing. And I think the criticism he faced was legitimate.

With his new novel, Frey is now back in the limelight. He recently guest blogged over at Amazon’s Omnivoracious.

Amazon also included some reviews of Frey’s book in their regular feature: Old Media Monday: Reviewing the Reviewers:

(New York Times Janet) Maslin on Bright Shiny Morning by one of our other guests this week, James Frey: "The million little pieces guy was called James Frey. He got a second act. He got another chance. Look what he did with it. He stepped up to the plate and hit one out of the park. No more lying, no more melodrama, still run-on sentences still funny punctuation but so what. He became a furiously good storyteller this time."

(Los Angeles Time’s) David L. Ulin on Frey's Bright Shiny Morning: "'Bright Shiny Morning' is a terrible book. One of the worst I've ever read. But you have to give James Frey credit for one thing: He's got chutzpah.... Whatever else his failings as a writer, Frey was once able to move his readers; how else do we explain the success of 'A Million Little Pieces'? It's just one of the ironies of this new book that his fictionalized memoir is a better novel than 'Bright Shiny Morning' could ever hope to be."

The Boston Globe’s book blog, Off the Shelf also weighs in, “The Power of Redemption.”

I feel like Off the Shelf makes some good points. While I believe everyone deserves a second chance, there are so many amazing authors and books I want to read, I would say Frey’s pretty low on my list.

Additional Reading:

Reviews mixed on new James Frey fiction,

James Frey emerges, with a novel about LA,

James Frey's 'Bright Shiny Morning': the reaction,

Disgraced author James Frey rebounds with messy 'Morning',

(The above image originally appeared on

A Girl Named Zippy

I added this book to my 'to read' list based on a recommendation from a fellow Paperback Swap member ( I’m glad I did.

A Girl Named Zippy is Haven Kimmel’s memoir about growing up in Mooreland, Indiana (population: 300). Her family nicknames Haven Zippy because she’s always in constant motion.

This was a gentle memoir of Zippy’s colorful childhood that's told from a child’s perspective. Despite being a small community there’s some colorful characters like the ornery drug store owner, her chain smoking father and science fiction crazy mother. There are also stories of animal abuse, gambling, family abuse (not Zippy’s family) and poverty.

Some highlights for me: When Zippy tells her father she wants to be in the mafia when she grows up, he brings a framed certificate saying she was an official lifelong member of the Mafia. It was signed by Leonard “The Lion” Gravitiano Salvatore. Another is when Zippy convinces the next door neighbor “hippies” to give them their dog, who she thinks they don’t treat well, in exchange for hair cuts. She gives the dog to her father as Father’s Day present. According to Zippy, her father and the dog are constant companions for 14 years.

There’s also an interesting underlying emphasis on religion, while Zippy’s mother is a devout Quaker, her father does not go to services. Once when Zippy tells him everyone thinks he’s not a Christian he takes her early in the morning to a campground and tells her that it’s his church:

“’Where there are two or three gathered together, there I am also.’”

“Are there two or three of something out here?” he asked gesturing around us.

I nodded. “There are two or three trees, and two or three bugs, and two or three flowers. And us, of course.”

“Then this is where God is.”

Overall, I found this a charming come of age memoir.

Additional reading:
Haven Kimmel:
Kimmel’s blog,

Purity of Heart (fan site):

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


A coworker pointed this post out to me: What Feminist SF Books Should Be Movies?

Feminist SF: The Blog explores the topic after seeing a blog posting on the top 10 sci fi books that should be made into movies. Not only were there no women on the list, none of the books even had a female protoganist.

It’s interesting reading and good spot for reading ideas. Her list includes Anne McGaffrey, Catherynne M. Valente and Kate Elliot.

Best of the Bookers

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Booker Prize, a one-time prize has been created to honor the best of the past winners.

The list has been narrowed down to six. Voting ends mid-day July 8. (I regret to say that I have not read any of the finalists. I’m hoping to rectify that. Disgrace is in the mail to me as I type.)

The finalists are:

Pat Barker’s The Ghost Road

Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda

JM Coetzee’s Disgrace

J G Farrell’s The Siege of Krishnapur

Nadine Gordimer’s The Conservationist

Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children

A list of all Booker prize winners can be found at:

Amazon’s take on it: The Most Bookery Booker: Down to Six,

Monday, May 12, 2008

Help Back Pages Books

I’m lucky enough to live walking distance from a bookstore – Back Pages Books.

I was saddened when I heard that it’s having financial difficulties. Back Pages is an independently owned bookstore. The owner, Alex Green, always strikes me as very smart and well read. He also seems like a nice guy, whose always up for a chat with customers.

According to its Web site, Back Pages is facing possible closure.


On April 18, Back Pages Books will celebrate its third anniversary. It has been truly extraordinary to see the bookstore become a vibrant meeting place for readers and authors from around the world. However, three years is also a point of difficult reflection for us. We must face the reality that without significant increased financial support, we will have to close the store in the immediate future.


Back Pages Books is starting a membership program that ranges from entry ($20) to platinum ($2,500). Benefits, which are based on membership level, include discounts, invitations to members only events, signed first editions and more.

The store will use the money to pay for outstanding accounts with publishers, sustained accounting and bookkeeping, a new inventory system and tax relief.

While most people in this area think of Moody Street in terms of restaurants, there’s also a gift store and unfinished furniture store. However, a number of factors make it tough for retailers there including a lack of day time shoppers and limited parking on the weekend. I think the high number of dollar stores/ used/ thrift stores makes it difficult for non-discount stores to compete.

Update: I did not realize that the Construction Site - a toy store on Moody Street had closed. According to the Boston Globe, four stores on Moody Street have closed in the last year.

Whatever the challenges, I would hate to see Waltham lose a wonderful asset like Back Pages Books. Studies have proven that local independent stores give back more to the community. According to Big Box Swindle, when Austin, Texas studied two local bookstores versus a proposed Borders, they found that for every $100 spent at the local stores, the stores spent $30 in Austin resulting in a $45 local economic impact. For that same $100, a typical Borders spent $9 in the local community, resulting in a local economic impact of $13.

I recently read about Edwards Books' - a Springfield bookstore- closure. The owner said that 50 percent of all independent book stores have closed in the last decade.

Hopefully, Back Pages Books will get enough support that they can buck that sad trend.

Additional Resources/ Reading:

Edwards Books to close,

Shelf Life: Romance, Mystery, Drama, and Other Page-Turning Adventures from a Year in a Bookstore, Suzanne Strempek Shea (Chronicles Shea’s experiences working at Edwards Books).

Independent America,

American Booksellers Association,

Saturday, May 10, 2008

but enough about me

I decided I needed a change. I wanted happy, light and perhaps a bit fluffy. I wanted a book that didn't require a box of tissues at hand when I was reading it.
but enough about me: How a Small-Town Girl Went from Shag Carpet to the Red Carpet was the refreshing change I was looking for.

Dunn wrote for Rolling Stone, was a MTV veejay and had a brief stint as a correspondent for Good Morning America. She talks about growing in New Jersey - a seemingly ordinary childhood. Her father worked for JC Penney and her mother made a variety of beige food.

"Surely, everyone on earth relished the fiber-free beige food my family loved to bolt down -- crescent rolls from a can, boil-in-a-bag noodles. Is it puffy? Is it off-white? Pull up a chair!"

Sprinkled between the chapters are how-to tips for interviewing celebrities - "How to Approach an R&B Artist when You're the Whitest Person in the Western World" or "None For Me, Thanks: Gracefully Refusing Your Host's Kind Offer of Heroin." The latter dilemma arose for Dunn when she interviewed Scott Weiland from StoneTemple Pilots.

There's some fun behind-the-scenes on famous people. Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton both sounded really nice (and both gave Dunn food). Jennifer Beales, not so much.

Dunn also chronicles her nervous bouts before interviewing many of her subjects and especially before going on television.

Her reminiscences about interviewing U2 had me in stitches. The day of the shoot, she shows up with a giant zit in the middle of her forehead. Her producer recommends that she look straight at the camera.

"His eyes flicked to my forehead and he abruptly stopped talking. "What is that?" he asked frowning. "Did you hurt yourself?"
"I look like a unicorn, don't I? I said.
He shrugged. "Its a little distracting."
"After I asked my questions, I stared straight ahead at the camera as they responded. Don't turn to the side, I kept telling myself. They must have been wondering why they had to address my ear, but they gamely went along with it, presumably figuring that I had some sort of showbiz tic."

Overall, a charming and fun read.
Check out Dunn's blog,

Friday, May 9, 2008

Milk, Gas ... are books next?

Prices are up all around – gas, milk and other groceries are just some things that more expensive lately.

Will books be next?

Publishers Weekly tackles this topic: “As Costs Soar, Will Prices Follow?” According to the publication, the rising price of paper and fuel are forcing publishers to consider raising prices.

“Paper companies, faced with their own increased energy costs, implemented a third price hike May 1. Unlike some other periods, when prices were rolled back, the new increases have stuck—at least for now—as the consolidation of Canadian paper mills and increased demand abroad have stressed capacity.” (Publishers Weekly)

Some publishers are considering alternatives such as using different quality paper, issuing books as trade paperbacks instead of hardcovers or changing features such as book flaps.

I can see how publishers might be in a tight spot on this. At a time when people are cutting down on discretionary spending and one in four Americans did not read a single book last year, it seems risky to hike prices. According to Publishers Weekly, Wal-Mart recently told magazines that if they want to increase prices they’ll need to submit justifying the move. The same could apply to publishers.

The Red Tape Chronicles also has an interesting article about the hidden costs of inflation. For instance, if the size/ quantity of what we purchase decreases in size but not price, isn’t that a form of inflation since your dollar is buying less.

As Costs Soar, Will Prices Follow?

Less for your money? That’s inflation, too


CNN has an article on Ten Cent Plague, “The pictures that horrified America.”

CNN: “However, the keepers of the boundaries pushed back, Svitavsky says. In those Red Scare times, "Adults were fearful [of works that questioned the establishment.] ... Comic books were believed to be an underestimated, unpatriotic tool to get at kids."

The children, Hajdu says, illustrated the tension of the times. Some had tried to hide their collections; others had energetically taken part in comic-book burnings. He interviewed many of them, now grown-ups in their 60s or 70s. "It was harrowing to listen to them," he said.”

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Help Stamp Out Hunger

This Saturday (May 10), the United States Postal Service and National Association of Letters will be conducting its annual food drive.

The post office is asking customers for non-perishable food items such as canned soup, canned vegetables, pasta, rice or cereal. Place your donations next to your mailbox before your letter carrier arrives. The carrier will take the donations to a post office to be sorted and delivered to a local food bank or pantry.

According to the USPS, roughly 4 percent of Americans don’t get enough to eat –some even going all day without a meal.


From the USPS: That four percent translates to an estimated 35 million people, including 12 million children, at risk of hunger in America. In late spring, most food banks begin running out of donations received during holiday seasons. This drive is one way people can join the U.S. Postal Service to help stamp out hunger right in their own communities.

If you didn’t receive a post card alerting you to the upcoming food drive, you can contact your local post office for more details/ to learn how you can help.

With very little effort you can help others in your community.

And Tango Makes Three Still Under Fire

The American Library Association has released the top challenged books in public schools and libraries.

There is some positive news – the number of complaints decreased. Last year there were 420 challenges versus 546 the previous year. However, according to ALA’s release many challenges go unreported.

The most challenged book – And Tango Makes Three. This is the second year in a row that And Tango Makes Three topped the list.

The children’s book is based on a true story about two male penguins at New York City’s Central Park Zoo. The duo shares a nest and when the other penguins starting having babies, place an egg-shaped rock in their nest that they treat like an egg.

"They have little luck, until a watchful zookeeper decides they deserve a chance at having their own family and gives them an egg in need of nurturing. The dedicated and enthusiastic fathers do a great job of hatching their funny and adorable daughter, and the three can still be seen at the zoo today." (Julie Roach, Watertown Free Public Library, MA via Amazon)

The Top Ten Challenged Books:

1. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
Reasons: Anti-Ethnic, Sexism, Homosexuality, Anti-Family, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group

2. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Violence

3. Olive’s Ocean, by Kevin Henkes
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language

4. The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman
Reasons:Religious Viewpoint

5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
Reasons: Racism

6. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language,

7. TTYL, by Lauren Myracle
Reasons:Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

8. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
Reasons:Sexually Explicit

9. It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
Reasons: Sex Education, Sexually Explicit

10. The Perks of Being A Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

From the Associated Press: “In Burlingame, Calif., Mark Mathabane's "Kaffir Boy," a memoir about growing up poor and black in apartheid-era South Africa, was banned from an intermediate school after a parent complained about a two-paragraph scene in which men pay boys for sex.”

It’s depressing that the dissenting voices are keeping children from reading great works like Toni Morrison’s Beloved. I respect that everyone has a right to their own opinion, but when that leads to books being pulled from the library shelves, I have serious problems.

Why not use books that you disagree with as a chance to discuss your beliefs with your children. In the case of Kaffir Boy, that’s an opportunity to discuss the effects of poverty and racism. Or alternatively, see if your child can read another book instead of the one assigned.

Books like I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings may be upsetting to some, but they’re based on reality. By trying to have them banned, their opponents are trying to stifle someone else’s voice. And that’s just wrong.


“Free access to information is a core American value that should be protected,” said Judith F. Krug, director of the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom. “Not every book is right for each reader, but an individual’s interpretation of a book should not take away my right to select reading materials for my family or myself."

“Penguin tale tops list of `challenged' books” -;_ylt=AmKMwT3ITjsBqlsWWTX5kWZREhkF

Monday, May 5, 2008

Brother I'm Dying

When Edwidge Danticat was a young child, her parents emigrated to the United States. For eight years, she and her brother, Bob, lived with her aunt and uncle, Joseph and Denise in Haiti. In her moving memoir, Brother I’m Dying, Danticat chronicles her family’s history.

During their years apart, she communicates with her family through sparse letters and brief phone calls.

After moving to the United States, Dantitcat remains close with her uncle, visiting him many times. Her family refers to her uncle as their second father. When Joseph arrives for a visit, her father says:

“Do you see your children,” my father blurted out as though he’d been waiting a long time to say it. “Do you see how much they’ve grown.”

In later years both her uncle and father are in poor health. After UN troops use the roof of her uncle’s church as a base to fire their weapons, he finds himself in serious danger. Even though he had no control over what the troops did and they fired from many people’s roof, gangs threaten Joseph and his church and home are looted. A neighbor smuggles him out of the neighborhood in a disguise and he eventually flies to the United States. (He had a trip planned). When he arrives, Joseph requests temporary asylum.

It’s then, unfortunately, things take a turn for the worse. Joseph – an 81 year old with health problems, is placed in detention. He dies shortly after – in the prison ward of a hospital, unable to see his family. When he becomes sick during an asylum hearing, a medic even claims that he’s faking it. Just five months later, Danticat’s father also dies after fighting pulmonary fibrosis.

I’m woefully ignorant of Haiti’s history. It’s one of political unrest, oppression and violence. When he was a small boy, Joseph was ordered to not go too far home because his family was worried American troops would make him work in gangs rebuilding bridges and roads. His brother urged him many times to leave arguing that there was too much violence in his neighborhood. Joseph did not want to leave his church and neighbor’s.

This is a gripping, elegant, heart breaking memoir with a tragic ending. Danticat loses both her uncle and father in close succession. Shortly after her uncle dies she gives birth to her daughter, Mira, who she named after her father.

The family can’t bury Joseph in Haiti because gangs threaten to burn his corpse. He’s buried in New York.

“He shouldn’t be here” my father said … “If our country were ever given a chance and allowed to be a country like any other, none of us would live or die here.”


“And I’m my imaging, whenever they lose track of one another one of the other calls out in a voice that echoes throughout the hills, “Kote w ye fre m?” “Brother where are you?”

And the other one quickly answers, “Mwen la. Right here, brother. I’m right here.”

Additional reading

A Haitian family, linked by love, must learn to live on separate shores,

NBCC Award Finalists in Autobiography: Edwidge Danticat's "Brother, I'm Dying,"

Edwidge Danticat, Dealing with Birth and Death,

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Book buying addiction

I came to the sad realization many years ago that I buy more books than I can ever possibly read. It's my Achilles heel. I hate clothes shopping, generally prefer to wear my Chucks than buy cute fashionable shoes and almost never wear jewelry. (Not that I'm implying Chucks aren't cute or fashionable!)

That leaves books. I try. I make pledges/ resolutions. I will not buy ANY books for six months. For every five books I read, I'll get rid of two when I'm done. I will go to the library, instead of "checking" out Amazon. Never fails, I break my word.

And the crazy thing is I can find books anywhere... grocery store, garage sales, etc. This week I popped into Costco to return something and made the foolish decision to browse. Bought two books -- Al Gore's Assault on Reason and Loving Frank. (I think they pipe something through the air filter because I cannot go into Costco without buying something. Look a barrel of coffee, hmm that's a lot of coffee, but it's so cheap. I'll drink more coffee!)

I love finding books in unexpected places ... my local thrift store, tag sales and library book stores are great places. On a recent trip to my neighborhood thrift store I found Not Without Laughter by Langston Hughes and The Narrows by Ann Petry (who wrote The Street). I also found Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress and Quite a Year for Plums. When the Waltham library had its annual book sale I found What the President Does All Day, which was all about JFK. I love quirky, offbeat or cool finds like that. Best of all, it was less than a dollar. Now that's a bargain!

So keep an eye out, you never know when you might spot a treasure. And I'm not buying any more books until I've read the current batch of to reads that's out in my apartment. This time I mean it!

Even More Junot Diaz

Fresh Air is currently running older episodes. It recently aired an interview with Junot Diaz, who wrote The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Regular Dear Reader readers may recall I really enjoyed this book. In this Fresh Air interview, they describe Oscar as the “ghetto nerd at the end of the world.”

Diaz speaks about his book, his upbringing and the Dominican Republic. He even does a reading from his novel.

One thing I thought was interesting was his discussion about the different languages in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. There were parts I didn't understand whether it was Spanish or SciFi references I didn't get. Diaz notes that he wanted there to be one language chain that the reader doesn't get. "I wanted everyone to know what it felt like to be an immigrant," he said.

I’m currently reading Brother I’m Dying – a memoir by Edwidge Danticat. It’s interesting to read about the other side of the island – Haiti, which similarly to the Dominican has a history of unrest.

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