Wednesday, May 24, 2017

San Francisco Book Haul

As I mentioned on my last post, I love buying books on vacation, even if they are things I could get at home.

City Lights Books, San Francisco
This was my fourth visit to SF and I shopped at two of San Francisco's bookstores- City Lights, in North Beach and Green Apple Books in the Richmond neighborhood. I've been to both before although I haven't been to Green Apple since my first SF trip in 2008. City Lights is often the very first place I go when I visit beautiful San Francisco.

As much as I love browsing the European literature section at City Lights, this time none of my purchases came from that part of the store.

Hadriana in all my Dreams, by René Depestre, is set in Haiti and tells the story of a woman transformed into a zombie during a festival in 1938, just prior to her wedding. It won the Prix Renaudot and was translated from the French.

On the nonfiction side, I picked up A Crack in the Edge of the World, by Simon Winchester, about the notorious earthquake of 1906 that completely transformed San Francisco.

The Veins of the Ocean is an American novel set in Miami, about "a young woman's journey away from her family's painful past toward redemption and a freer future." No less a personage than Roxane Gay praised it as "lush and entrancing." Sounds perfect, and I'm going to Miami later this year.

I also got a zine called "Better Feminist Workbook," with questions about feminism and one's relationship to it, and space to write your answers.

At Green Apple, I picked up two books.

Such Small Hands is by Andrés Barba and translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman. "Life changes at the orphanage the day seven-year-old Marina shows up." I can't wait.

Finally I got Signs Preceding the End of the World, by Yuri
Herrera, also translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman. It's about a young woman who gets smuggled into America from Mexico with secrets in tow.

So for me it was a pretty modest haul. And there are other things I saw that I passed on. But I have been such a slow and unreliable reader lately, I just didn't feel like I should get lots of books. Plus I brought a very small suitcase and this is all that would fit.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Why Buy Books on Vacation?

I just came back from almost a week in the glorious city of San Francisco, and yes I had a wonderful time, visited some of the city's wonderful bookstores and came home with a suitcase full of books.

Why is it that we book lovers buy books on vacation? It's not like I didn't bring like four or five to read for the week. And I could pick up the exact same books here at home, but somehow they are more appealing, more exotic, when I find them in a bookstore far away.

Bookstores have personalities; different stores feature different displays; books are faced-out that aren't somewhere else and individual staff-pick signs draw the eye to old things in a new way. And then sometimes the mood just strikes and you buy something. When I went to England a few years ago I tried to buy things that I didn't recognize from home, things that maybe weren't released or released as widely in the US but it's hard to tell sometimes. I bought at least one book that was released in the US under a different title with a different cover. And my favorite book from that trip was released in the US about six months after I got back.

Merchandising plays a big role. My favorite SF bookstore is City Lights, owned by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and located in Beatnik North Beach. The store divides its fiction geographically- there is a section each for American, European and Latin American-Asia-Pacific fiction. I almost never leave the European section honestly. They stock a large variety of small presses and a pretty comprehensive selection at that so there are always tons of books I haven't seen elsewhere. And so I end up buying a lot. In NYC the store McNally Jackson also stocks its fiction geographically and I buy a lot there, too, but they go further and break it up by country. I find that this method limits my browsing a little more and I don't typically buy as much. I also don't buy as much because McNally Jackson is near where I live and I'm not in vacation-indulgence mode when I shop there. Book-buying on vacation is like any other kind of vacation shopping- I just feel freer to indulge because travel makes it special and the books themselves become souvenirs.

But the bookstore itself has to be special, too. There are lots of so-so bookstores in SF (and elsewhere) and unless the book is really something unusual, I don't buy unless the store casts its spell on me first. I'll browse anywhere of course. What makes me love a store? I don't know. I just get a feeling from the selection, from the atmosphere. I like to see big plentiful displays, lots of piles, the sense that there is a lot in the store. I don't care if everything is new or if the store is spotless (sometimes a little run-down adds to the fun) but I like the sense that they have a variety of publishers, small presses and mainstream stuff mixed together, authors from all over the world, and that their taste is similar to mine.

There is a newsletter the book trade uses to help pick stock called the Indie Next List; everyone gets it and because I work in the industry I know basically what's on it from month to month. When I walk into a bookstore and see a big display of these books and only these books, I generally walk right out. A good bookstore the way I define it will show a little more imagination and personal touch. I like to see a point of view; I like to see local or national politics mixed in, some indication that the store knows where it is. Which is not to say I go for the "local authors" shelf because I don't.  I do however make a point of buying a zine or two if a selection is offered.

So the primary challenge of vacation book-buying is limiting excess. Once when we got to the airport they wanted to charge us $100 because we were 2 pounds over the weight limit on our luggage- because of books. So we were able to put a few into our carry-on bag. If you want to avoid that scenario you can always stop by the post office before you leave and send them home or ask the bookstore to do it when you buy. Or buy one of those luggage scales, which is a good thing to have anyway. But if you visit a place known for its bookstores, it may just be a risk you have to accept.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

What Am I Reading?

It's not Monday so I won't use the "It's Monday" meme illustration.

I've been in the worst reading rut. Oh I've been reading- there's a stack of half-read books in my husband's office, ready for sale or donation, to prove that. I've been reading plenty but I can't seem to finish a book to save my life these days.

Among the books I've DNF'd lately are
The Revolution of the Moon, by Andrea Camilleri,
The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton, and
The Houses of Belgrade, by Borislav Pekić.

Just so I don't feel like I'm wasting my time completely I've decided that any book I get far enough into, that I decide I don't want to read anymore, will count as a book I've read. (Thanks Tim.) Because otherwise I am worried my book list for the year will be very very short.

Now I was really enjoying the Wharton, and was reading it for a book club meeting that was postponed until September, so I may yet finish it. The others not so much.

I have finished a few things too, like a couple of César Aira books (always a treat). But it's been a tough year for my attention span. A friend just finished The Book of Joan, by Lydia Yuknavitch, currently making the rounds as an "it-book" and he told me all I had to read was the first chapter- "it tells you all you need to know." He told me this knowing I'm having some completion issues. So that sounds good to me.

Right now I'm reading The Son and a book called Tram 83, by Fiston Mwanza Mujila, about a bar and its denizens in Democratic Republic of Congo.

I'm confident I'll finish my re-read of The Son, currently on TV. But I'll wait till I finish reading it to watch.

I hope you're reading- and finishing- some great stuff too.

Monday, May 15, 2017

But I Don't Wanna!

A week or so ago I was reading this article on Book Riot about the author's struggle to pay full price for books. The article is called "The Financial Pain of Supporting Independent Bookstores," so right off the bat we know his position. He lives in New York City where there is no shortage of independent bookstores including some of the best in the country. And he lives in Brooklyn, the borough where a great many of them are located. And yet. And yet he feels compelled to shop on Amazon. I'm sure this has nothing to do with the fact that Book Riot makes money through Amazon advertising, a fact which he neglects to mention. The sad truth is, he just doesn't want to pay full price for books.  And a lot of people, judging by the comments and my own experience talking to readers, including many who pass through the bookstores where I have worked over the years, feel the same way.

A wealthy woman I know once told me she "can't justify" paying full retail for books so she shops Amazon. And somehow people don't believe me when I say Amazon teaches people to devalue books, teaches them that books aren't worth paying for. But this is what I hear over and over. People will pay $5 or more for a single greeting card but full price for books? Not worth it.

A bookstore closed in my old neighborhood of Cambridge, Mass., about two years ago. This was a popular store selling used books which despite a fairly loyal customer base had some business practices that limited its cash flow and while it held on for a long time, eventually it folded. When it did, it took with it a fair bit of foot traffic that other stores on its street benefited from. And on my last visit home one of those stores was closing- because, the owner said, the bookstore's closing had diminished neighborhood custom so much.

Thanks, Amazon, and thanks Amazon shoppers. This is what you buy with your bargains. Less taxes for cities and towns, fewer jobs, and more shuttered storefronts.

And then I was talking with a high school friend who recently published a book- a debut author, just the sort of person positioned to benefit from exactly the kind of attention and curation and support independent bookstores can give. And he reads on a Kindle, and shops on Amazon, and sees no problem at all with any of that. Except that if he and people like him keep it up, there won't be any independent bookstores to host his events, talk up his book to readers and help get him on the map. His book will be just another page on a website.

A bookstore customer once asked me what he "gets" by shopping at the store versus Amazon. You get bookstores.  You get that neighborhood store that's just "so cute". You get jobs for your neighbors. You get tax income that helps pay for the services you expect and use every day. That cute store doesn't hang in there by magic. It's cold hard cash that keeps it open and nothing else. You get bookstores and all the bricks and mortar businesses that make up your downtowns, that make your neighborhood and town appealing. You get people wanting to come live in and visit your city.

What do you get from Amazon?

Monday, April 3, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

So it's been a while. I've been busy with work and more work, and I've been having a hard time concentrating on reading, much less on blogging. I did finish Véra, by Stacy Schiff, her biography of Véra Nabokov, and it was enjoyable and immersive. It's not a page-turner, but a detailed and interesting portrait of a woman and a marriage. It's great for Nabokov fans.

I also finished Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid, very of-the-moment and moving. And I treated myself to The Literary Conference, by César Aira, probably my favorite living writer at this point.

This week I'm reading Sarah Dunant's new Borgia book, In the Name of the Family, which is melodramatic, detailed and fun, a portrait of political machinations and court life during the early Italian Renaissance.  It's a worthy followup to 2013's Blood and Beauty and I'd recommend it to fans of her work and historical fiction generally.

I'm still reading and will probably finish this week Oksana Marafioti's charismatic and enjoyable American Gypsy, about a Russian Roma teen growing up in 80s Los Angeles. It's colorful, funny, sad, moving and bittersweet all at once.
Finally, I started Ludmilla Petrushevskaya's wonderful memoir, The Girl from the Metropol Hotel, about growing up in Communist Russia. I love the picture of her on the cover. This is not a girl you mess with! And she grew up to be a searing and challenging writer of womens' lives.

Monday, March 13, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Well, I finished a book- I DNF'd two but I managed to finish one, Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid, which I enjoyed and admire but I can't really say it's "all that" the way that some of my friends are. But it is a moving and thought-provoking story about global migration, very of-the-moment and also timeless.

Next up for me is Ella Minnow Pea, by Mark Dunn, a novel about what happens when a government starts to ban letters. It's not supposed to be dark and depressing like it might sound from that short summary. My husband gave it to me to read because I told him I needed something light.

I'm still working through Véra, by Stacy Schiff; I have about 150 pages to go and at my current pace I'd say that's two more weeks of reading time. I am enjoying it but it's dense and after about 10-15 pages I get sleepy. But I always come back for more.

Finally, at the gym I'm reading American Gypsy: A Memoir, by Oksana Marafioti, and I'm really enjoying it. Marafioti came to the U.S. with her family in the 1980s as a young teen after growing up in Russia with her Armenian-Roma family and the book covers life before and after the big move. It's light and really fun, but it has its moments of sadness too. It's a real pleasure to read and it's motivating me to go to the gym. Awhile back I read Isabel Fonseca's Bury Me Standing, a history and memoir about the Roma and this book is a good follow-up.

That's it for me for this week. I hope you're reading some good stuff. I'm off Twitter for Lent but we can chat about your reading after Easter. Have a great week!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

My 2,000th Book

So I realized that I recently added my 2,000th book to my account! I know some of you have more books than that but this is a big milestone for me. This number includes books that I no longer own as well as library books, audiobooks and e-books, so it's not like I have 2006 books (the total) hanging around in my 1,060sqft apartment. Hardly. Although my number doesn't include my husband's books. Huh.

Anyway so the award goes to The Revolution of the Moon, by Andrea Camilleri, an Italian best known for his Inspector Montalbano procedural crime novels. This book is a departure for him, historical fiction about Eleanora de Mourra, who ruled Sicily for just 27 days before the Catholic Church brought her down.

Like many if not all of Camilleri's books it's set in Sicily but not the present-day Sicily of his crime series; this book is set in 1677 and includes all kinds of intrigue and shenanigans. Sounds like fun! It comes out from Europa Editions in April.

Monday, March 6, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

As expected I finished A Separation, by Katie Kitamura, and it's been selling well at work. I think it could make an excellent book club choice with its meditative tone and emphasis on character and motivation.

The Houses of Belgrade (Writings from an…After I did that post on my top ten oldest unread books I was motivated to actually read one of them. So last week and this week I'm reading Borislav Pekic's The Houses of Belgrade, which was also released last year from NYRB Classics as simply Houses. My edition is older and it's from the Writings from an Unbound Europe series, which was put out by Northwestern University Press from 1991-2012. Nice to see NYRB taking up at least one of their titles.

It's an interesting read but slow and again character-driven. Arsenie Negovan is a retired architect and landlord who has been housebound for some time; as he ventures out in 1968 Belgrade to see what remains of one of his beloved houses, he is engulfed by memories and hallucinations from the past. He is a benignly unhinged unreliable narrator and there is much black humor to be had in his ramblings. Tragedy too.

And I'm working my way through Véra, by Stacy Schiff, Schiff's biography of Véra Nabokov. It's very good and very dense; I can read about 10-15 pages per night and I expect to be reading it for several more weeks. I'm about halfway through page-wise. I would highly recommend it to someone interested in either the Mrs. or her husband or just as social history.

That's it for me. I have comments limited to "members of the blog," of which there are none, but if you'd like to comment drop me a line and I'll see about giving you permission. Which I reserve the right to rescind if comments start getting spammy again. But I miss you!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Spring to Early Summer 2017 in Books


In the Name of the Family is the highly-awaited sequel to Sarah Dunant's Blood &Beauty, the first in her series about the Borgias. I really enjoyed Blood & Beauty and can't wait to read more about Lucrezia, Cesare and Pope Alexander and their further intrigues. I think historical fiction readers will want to save a space on their bookshelves for sure. Random House.

The Impossible Fairy Tale, by Han Yujoo, is an intriguing short novel about two children- one blessed and one cursed- and what happens when one of them starts leaving notes in her classmates' notebooks. Graywolf.

The inimitable Camille Paglia is back on the scene with a new book of potentially incendiary essays, Free Women Free Men: Sex Gender Feminism. I've started paging through and let me tell you- it's hot. Pantheon.

Lola, by Melissa Scrivner Love is a book everyone is going to be talking about, a crime novel about gang violence and street life in L.A. starring a tough lady with secrets. Buckle up. Crown.


If you're a crime reader you're going to want to get ready for the next entry in Jassy Mackenzie's Jade de Jong series, Bad Seeds. And if you don't know this series, you're missing out- Mackenzie is an incredibly talented voice and her South African setting and gritty heroine bring the procedural to some great places. Recommended for Ian Rankin and Gene Kerrigan fans. Soho.

Spoils, by Brian van Reet, is a war novel set in Iraq that already has bookstores and libraries buzzing.
Little, Brown.

The Revolution of the Moon, by Andrea Camilleri. This is going to be so fun. Mystery author
Camilleri changes tack and writes historical fiction about Eleanora di Mora, politician and powerful woman extraordinaire, whose rule in 1677 Sicily lasted a mere 27 days. Europa Editions.


So many great books are coming in May!

The Queue, by Basma Abdel Aziz is set in an unnamed Middle Eastern country and is about a totalitarian state and what happens when a long line forms outside the Gate, through which all must have permission to pass. Melville House.

Jane Austen, the Secret Radical, by Helena Kelly is a book-by-book
analysis of Jane Austen's social and political views. It's going to be a lot of fun and very popular among Austen fans. Knopf.

Salt Houses, by Hala Alyan is a hotly-anticipated release about a Palestinian family upended by the 1967 Six Day War. Early reviewers call it "dazzling." Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

The End of Eddy, by Édouard Louis, is a French novel about boyhood and sexual awakening in a French factory town. People are comparing it to Karl Knausgaard and Marguerite Duras. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.


In June, I'm really excited about The Essex Serpent, by Sarah Perry. It's set in England of the 1890s, where a sea serpent may be terrorizing a fictional town. It's been out for awhile in England and I think it will do really well when it comes out from Custom House.

Then there's The Windfall, by Diksha Basu, about the trials of being nouveau riche in modern day India. It looks like fun. Crown.


I can't wait to read Andrew Sean Greer's Less, which I think will be the brainy beach book of 2017. It's about a man traveling the world to avoid his ex and finding himself and true love at the same time.

At the same time new galleys are always coming in, and I'm sure I'll have more books for you to add to your own burgeoning TBR piles before long. I know mine never get any smaller!

Monday, February 27, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I finished Eva Sleeps, which was a very good read. I'll have a review soon.

This week I'm deep into Katie Kitamura's A Separation, about a woman looking for her soon-to-be ex-husband in Greece. It's very low key and suspenseful. While she's ruminating over their relationship you can feel the clock ticking in the background. I expect to finish in a day or two.

Stacy Schiff's Véra is keeping me up at night, too. It's quite immersive and interesting. I didn't realize Mrs. Nabokov was Jewish, and the impact that had on their lives.

At the gym I've decided to stick with magazines for a while and keep it light. Plus I don't have any nonfiction galleys I want to trash on the cross-trainer right now. :)

Last week I attended a "spring media lunch" given by Little, Brown, and learned about some interesting upcoming titles. I'm going to do another galley post soon and tell you about some of them.

I hope you're having a great week in books!

Movie Review: JULIETA (2016)

Julieta (2016). Dir: Pedro Almodovar. Starring Emma Suárez, Adriana Ugarte, Daniel Grao, Inma Cuesta and Darío Grandinetti. R. Spanish with English subtitles.

Julieta is a middle-aged woman planning to move from Madrid with her boyfriend, a writer named Lorenzo; they live an affluent, sophisticated life full of books and art. But on the day of the move Julieta encounters a ghost from her past, a young woman named Bea who was once the best friend of Julieta's daughter Antía. It quickly becomes clear that Antía and Julieta are estranged; Julieta doesn't even know where her daughter lives, or that she has had three children. Running into Bea sends Julieta into a tailspin and her new life unravels as she attempts to reconnect to her past.

Julieta is gorgeous to look at. This is my first Pedro Almodovar film and I fell in love with the lush colors, the settings and costumes just this side of outlandish. The color red appears in almost every shot like a subliminal message; art and nature define and direct the characters' lives. Young Julieta is dressed like an 80s paradigm from her spiky hair to her shoulder pads and booties. Older Julieta is a sleeker sophisticate and played by a different actress as drawn and secretive and missing a piece of herself. Lorenzo assists in putting the two Julietas back together, but only maturity, empathy and love can do the job in the end.

Julieta is based on three short stories by Alice Munro from her 2004 book Runaway, "Chance," "Soon," and "Silence," and the characters and story have her trademark depth and authenticity but it's the two actresses, Emma Suárez as the older Julieta and Adriana Ugarte as the younger, who bring her to life. Julieta's crushing guilt at the fate of Antía's father is almost unbearable and both Suárez and Ugarte wear it like their own skin.

I really loved Julieta and would strongly recommend it as a film that shows the heart of a woman laid bare.

Rating: RUSH