Monthly Archives: May 2010

Goodnight Moon

Usually this time of year I’m not at the bookshop. In years past, I’ve been at BookExpo helping out our regional independent booksellers’ association. I’ve always enjoyed the big convention; talking to publishers about new titles, meeting other booksellers, meeting authors, and just generally poking around and seeing what’s new. The educational sessions are great too – they always got me psyched up to try something innovative and different at the shop. I wore flat shoes and worked the floor all day, everyday. Camaraderie, good galleys, free drinks – what’s not to love? Tired feet were a small price to pay.

But this year, due to various kinds of upheaval I’m here at home. The last week in May is beautiful in Ohio. There’s lots to do this time of year too. We have a whole bunch of different authors coming to the shop that I need to get ready for, there are the air conditioners to put in the upstairs windows, flowers to be tended –  we can put out the outdoor furniture and enjoy the breeze. I didn’t know what I’d been missing.

I really didn’t know what I’d been missing.

Today a man came into the store and asked, “Is this Barnes and Noble?”

There was a pause.

We said no.

He said, “But it says here on my iPhone that there’s a Barnes and Noble here.”

“Um, well… there’s not. Can we help you? We’re a locally-owned independent book store.”

“Did there used to be a Barnes and Noble here?”

“No, there’s never been a Barnes and Noble in this town.”

“But it says on my iPhone.”

“I’m afraid your iPhone must be wrong. We have lots of books, though.”

“Will you take my Barnes and Noble Gift Card?”

Sigh… “Yes.”

To appreciate the real weirdness of this scenario, you have to know that the bookstore where I work is located in a 200 year old building on a street entirely devoted to small, independent businesses. It has a large sign on the front with the name on it as well as the sort of clever, hanging sign you see on pubs in England, sporting our logo and name. We’re not shy about this whole who-we-are thing.

“Are you sure there didn’t used to be a Barnes and Noble here?”

“Yes, I’m sure. This shop has been here for 41 years.”

And no, this was not a teen prank dreamt up to mess with people. The fellow was at least 50 and did not seem parted from reality in any significant way that did not concern books. Though we are right next door to a bar, he was not drunk, nor was he discernibly high.

“I want to show you on my iPhone.”

We demurred. He insisted. He then held out the device so that the staff could all see that indeed, it seemed to say there was Another Bookstore at our address. I think he expected us to morph into a Barnes and Noble before his very eyes once we could see the evidence.

We remained stubbornly ourselves.

Shamelessly stolen from someone I don't even know on flickr. See: mosand's photostream

It’s a full moon tonight, variously called the Flower Moon, Milk Moon and Corn Planting Moon, but now I will think of it as The Bookshop Moon.

Goodnight stars. Goodnight air. Goodnight booksellers everywhere…

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Chet Meets His Match

I’m cat sitting this week. I like all animals (some more than others – for instance, if a car salesman’s family were to go out of town for the week, I would not agree to look after him until their return). But I’m normally more of a dog person than a cat person.

This cat is a dog.

Her name is Nessie (after the chocolate, not the monster) and she comes when she’s called. She loves to be brushed. She’s a Persian and has more hair than any creature I have ever met. Beautiful, shiny hair, with all that brushing.

She does not fetch (so far), but then I’ve had dogs who wouldn’t fetch either. She is also affectionate to the point of self-destruction. Cat sitting almost became a literal description of what I am doing when she crept silently onto the the chair I was about to plunk down in this morning.

Not Nessie. Not my picture either.

She thinks she likes coffee. I am trying to persuade her otherwise. Worst case scenario: her people return from their vacation and I must report that their cat has not slept all week. So far I have been successful at keeping her away from caffeinated beverages, but she is persistent and my morning reflexes are not all that fast.

The whole thing does sort of remind me of Chet, the giant vampire cat from Christopher Moore\’s books. Except Nessie is a force for good. And all she wants is a coffee buzz.

Off to ply her with cat toys…

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Cover to Cover

I really like Michael Chabon’s latest book of essays, Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father and Son. It came out in 2009 with a cover that was quite nice. The title makes cover design a bit tricky – it’s a little arresting, which is good. The graphic originally chosen by the nice folks at Harper was especially well suited to this reflective, tender and beautifully challenging collection. Intricate and neutral, the art appealed to both sexes and a range of adult ages. I was so impressed that I blogged about it somewhere else.

Now they’ve changed the cover. For Fathers’ Day, I think. It currently sports a bespectacled and intense-looking kid in a really, really bad paisley shirt. It’s the author, circa 1968 —  and I’m sorry, Michael Chabon, I love your work, but that’s a terrible photo. You can almost hear it bellowing from the shelves as you walk by, “THIS BOOK IS JUST LIKE SOMETHING BY DAVID SEDARIS!”

It’s not. I like David Sedaris a lot, but this is a whole different ballgame.


Shut up, cover art. This is not that kind of book at all.

Manhood for Amateurs is the kind of book that makes you think. And then makes you fall in love with our whole species for its ability to try and fail and disappoint and come up shining with some ordinary and brilliant gesture of compassion. The book makes you challenge the way you see other people and ask yourself if you’ve looked around lately. 

But there’s that cutesy-retro cover, saying “I’M FOR HIP 20- AND 30- AND MAYBE, MAYBE 40-SOMETHINGS! DON’T GIVE ME TO YOUR DAD!”

Because let’s face it, your dad would look at this book and say, “What the Hell? Are you guys trying to tell me something? I would never wear a shirt like that. Who let the kid out of the house that way?”

I’ve given this book to college students and an adult-Sunday-school teacher in her 80s. Mrs. McV especially liked the essay on Christmas. Manhood for Amateurs has something to say to just about everybody, but your dad will never pick it up –  not with this cover.

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How Did You Get This Number?

Sloan Crosley’s new collection of essays by this name is flat wonderful.

I enjoyed her previous book, I Was Told There\’d Be Cake. It was funny and sharp, but she was so young. I dimly remember being that young. Crosley is obviously talented and IWTTBC is witty and edgy.

But sometimes I think the “edge” we laud so much in the arts lately reveals a kind of immaturity. You reach a certain point in life and uncomfortable + odd + kind of sad, no longer  =  funny.  Failings stop being something other people have and start to accumulate at the back of your dresser drawers — medals you wish you hadn’t gotten for coming through whatever you failed at still alive. Put another way, you become a bit of a sap.

Crosley’s new book has a depth and warmth you don’t see very often in personal essays. She’s less of a clown and much more funny than in her bestselling first collection. Her turn of phrase is sometimes startlingly elegant and always spot-on. And in How Did You Get This Number she doesn’t just make you laugh, she makes you think. HDYGTN comes out June 19th. Go out and get yourself one. I look forward to much more from this author.

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Roberston Davies offers some very good advice along with all the laughs in The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks. Marchbanks was Davies’ alter-ego for a series in the Peterborough Examiner. As narrator of the essays collected in this sort of mocu-memoir, he serves up wit in heaping dollops. 

Somewhere in there he advises people to sleep on their guest bed every once in a while, so as to spare guests the agony of a night spent considering whether they should try the floor instead. And how would somebody with a spare bed know that it had been rendered unsleeponable by years of hospitality unless they tried it out? 

Of course, the easy way to do this is to fight with the person who shares your bed. But if you live alone or enjoy a strangely uninterrupted couple-y bliss, you’ll never know if your guest bed is a torturous sack of lumps. 

I tried mine out recently and find that isn’t. It is, in fact, miles more comfortable than the bed in my actual bedroom. This saddens me, because: 

a) The guest bed, being a narrow twin, actually fits in the guest room and my current bed would not. I live in an old house and the stairs to the guest room are too small and twisty to admit anything much larger than an average-sized human being. 

b) I have been sleeping on what has gradually become a cement-like platform and somehow not noticed. This may be because the way my schedule is currently arranged, I become unconscious about .05 seconds after my head hits the pillow. No reading in bed for me – that’s for people who get enough sleep. 

Ironically, The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks is ideal bedside reading. The sections are the right size to allow the reader to put it down at reasonable intervals, and the book is diverting enough to make insomnia pleasant. I used to read it all the time (the fact that this book stands up to re-reading is another selling-point).  

Papers, much to my dismay, is not in print in the U.S. Its contents are drawn from three earlier collections: The Diary of Samuel Marchbanks, The Table Talk of Samuel Marchbanks & Samuel Marchbanks’ Almanac, all of which also went out of print here years ago (I mention this in case you are reading in Canada, or are planning a trip there — a wonderful opportunity to pick up, say, copies of everything Davies ever wrote). 

I did see a copy of Papers in good condition on a recent visit to The Bookseller, Inc., in Akron, Ohio, a lovely little used-and-rare bookstore.   

A cozy nook to settle in and examine your finds

I should give them a proper plug and say that they also carry ephemera & specialize in books on aviation and lighter-than-air transport and can boast of a very strong Ohio history collection. The Bookseller also has a sweet, elderly pug on staff who is gentle and friendly but will happily leave you alone if you are not a dog person. Do plan a visit. They are right across the street from the Westpoint Market (nifty specialty grocer with a tea room), so you can pick up some delicious goodies or stop for a snack after you’re done shopping for books.

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Waiting in traffic today, I noticed an odd thing. There in front of me, stopped at the light was what looked a lot like a hearse but was certainly an SUV. It was black with curious silver trim and tinted windows in the back.

Well, I thought, that’s practical. Our society has reached a point in automobile manufacture where ordinary vehicles are large enough to schlep the dead. Undertakers and Mafia hitmen, rejoice! The strange thing? It had a roof rack.

So I suppose if you were hoping to take your skis with you to the afterlife, you’re in luck.

Maybe it’s just a family car owned by someone with strangely funereal tastes. I picture a goth soccer mom in striped tights with ironic tats and black-black dyed hair. In the greater suburbia of my mind, she stands on the sidelines, her arm around a tearful little girl in cleats, saying, “It’s Ok, Sweets. Winners are losers.”

I hope they come into the bookstore. Maybe they’ll bring Christopher Moore…  Click here to see a wee video about his latest book.

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This afternoon I spent half an hour in a crowded supermarket taking a cell phone call from my mom’s doctor.

Did you know that the quietest place in a busy supermarket is the condom aisle?

I have trouble hearing properly on cell phones, and as a result tend to shout into them. So I crouched on a little step-stool there by the Trojans and listened to an internist tell me all about aortic aneurisms.

There are two types. Well, who knows? Maybe there are a dozen. I learned about two today: thoracic and abdominal. Happily, I learned about the kind that are fairly regular in shape and only four centimeters in diameter.

In retrospect, I wonder what the heck that step-stool was doing in the condom aisle.

I mean, the highest shelf is a little below eye-level.  I think most people browsing the

This is an aisle at Thompson Dean Drug in Sioux Falls, Iowa. I offer it here for scale.

 prophylactics would be tall enough to reach them – sort of a You-must-be-this-tall-to-ride-this-ride phenomenon.

Of course there are little people and folks in wheelchairs to be thought of, but the step-stool can’t be much help to those with limited mobility, so really that just leaves the under-4-foot crowd, of which there are few. Are people sending their children to buy condoms for them? I can see it now… “Do you like being an only child, Jane? Good. Here’s Mommy’s wallet – off you go.”

Regardless of age or height, any shy people hoping to buy vaginal lubricant or pregnancy tests today between 4:00 and 4:30 were out of luck, because there I was, parked in front of those and other supplies, yelling “WHAT?” and “You mean we need to see a thoracic surgeon and a vascular surgeon and – wait, which do we have to do first?”

During a long silence on my end, a friend spotted me and put her hand comfortingly on my arm, then looked startled and said, “Sorry!” Sorry because I was on the phone? Or sorry because she found me in the condom aisle? We may never know.

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I Love you, Eustace Tilley!

Since my mom took a spill last week, we’ve been spending a fair amount of time in doctors’ waiting rooms, catching up on the latest in periodical literature. For the rugged awaiting x-ray, there’s Outdoor Life, from the pages of which I bring you:

Great Moments in Taxidermy

1876: Martha Maxwell shows her specimens at Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia.

How could you not want to find out more about that? I refer you to the delightfully informative Mississippi Library Commission Reference Blog.

Here’s a photo:

Image courtesy of the good folks at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Foundation

Also revealed by Outdoor Life: The Secrets of Garlic Bait. They are safe with me.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that Vogue is smarter than I remembered (or possibly, I am just less dim). Thumbs up, Vogue, for interviewing Timothy Geithner, and for your brief but useful book reviews.

Cosmopolitan however, remains a box a hammers.

Not the cover of a current issue, but I like this one much better. For more, visit

But I was sucked right in by their feature story on how to give yourself a bikini wax without violating the Geneva Convention. My summary:

  1. Buy home waxing kit.
  2. Follow directions.
  3. Being waterboarded is still more comfortable.

 And Cosmo? Your piece, 50 Great Things to do With Your Breasts? I don’t even know what to say to that… Do you have a room full of fifteen year old boys who write the copy now? When I am so bored that I need a list of things to do with my boobs, I am confident that the nice people from the asylum will come and take me away.

 Tune in Next Week, when you’ll hear me greet that delightful and rare compendium of waiting room diversion with: “Ooh Lookie: A New Yorker!”

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