Friday, November 25, 2011

Guest Blogger Katie Shattered by a New Favorite

Wow! I’m a little bit speechless right now. I knew Shatter Me was going to be good but I had no idea I would love it as much as I did. I can already tell that this is going to be one of my top books of 2011.

Juliette has been locked up for 264 days. She has been in isolation for that whole time. When Adam is thrown into her cell one day she’s not sure if she should be happy that she has company or terrified of what she might do to him. You see, Juliette can kill with a single touch. And now someone else knows about her gift and they want to make a deal with her. Will Juliette choose to become a monster and use her gift for power or will she fight back for a chance at freedom and the boy she has always loved?

Shatter Me is a new kind of dystopian novel. Sure the world is the same as a lot of others; bleak and hopeless, but that is where the similarities end. Tahereh Mafi really made dystopian her own. I don’t feel like I can compare it to another book because it was just so unique from the characters to Juelitte’s crazy ability. The first thing that came to mind when reading about Juliette’s ability though was X-Men. I loved it!

I also want to mention the romance in this book. I normally wouldn’t dedicate a whole paragraph to the romance but I have to. Adam and Juliette were so good together. Adam was so sweet and caring but also strong and protective. It was so hot! Juliette was not weak by any means but it was so refreshing to read about a guy who is not afraid to show how he feels and stand up for the girl he cares about.

My absolute favorite thing about Shatter Me was the writing. I really wanted to pull some favorite quotes but I would end up sharing the whole book. I honestly cannot pick a favorite passage because they are all so beautifully written. I actually found myself tearing up many times at the way Tahereh Mafi described how Juliette was feeling. I have never felt more connected to a character.

Overall, Shatter Me is a new favorite of mine that I recommend to everyone. I could gush about this book for days! Go check it out!

Friday, November 11, 2011

"The Oracle of Stamboul" - More than a fairy tale for readers of every age

And now, a blog from Kyle Mares, Bookseller Extraordinaire:

As a bookseller, I recently had a long conversation in the children’s department with a retired teacher who was interested in writing historical fiction for readers of every age. She asked for my favorite examples of such novels, and beyond a few rudimentary classics I couldn’t name any published within the last five or so years. Everything seems to be dystopian futures or time travel, with little effort spent examining the authentic past.

If Michael David Lukas noted the dearth of such novels, he surely would have felt assured that his debut novel, The Oracle of Stamboul, would fill that lack. It certainly reads unlike anything you’ve read lately: blending historical facts with a kind of magical, heightened realism, Lukas recreates the lands of the Ottoman Empire of the late 19th century and focuses eventually on Stamboul (known today as Istanbul). A young girl chafing under her stepmother’s oppression and craving both freedom and further knowledge follows her father to Stamboul, where circumstances and vague prophecy mark her as the titular oracle whose knowledge and foresight will change the very course of history. Soon she has a larger choice to make: fulfill her destiny and serve the sultan or avoid her destiny and find that elusive freedom.

Being sensitive to descriptions of place, I was always entertained and often astonished at the depth of detail Lukas weaves into his narrative. Entire pages had to be read and immediately reread to fully absorb the richness manifested in the text, and Lukas is to be commended for finding so many varied ways of describing the kind of intricate décor and architecture found in the homes, businesses, and palaces of Stamboul. Melding historical fiction with a keen sense of visual aesthetics is how Lukas conjures up this very different time and place, and the beauty of his prose makes the reader an enthusiastic traveler back to 1885. Just as fascinating is the ongoing question of the prophecy regarding 8-year-old Eleonora Cohen. Is Eleonora an exceptionally bright young girl or a prophesized shaper of destiny? And what exactly does it mean to be the oracle?

Calling The Oracle of Stamboul a kind of fairy tale seems too simple, as its complexity and lushness combine with the magical elements in a way that moves beyond most fairy tales. I think it’s more appropriate to say that this novel has many facets that blend together as an evocative historical epic that imagines a fantastical possibility of magic in the destiny of the Ottoman Empire. Genre-busting as it sounds, The Oracle of Stamboul is highly recommended to any reader who loves the pleasure of well-written prose and the adventure of a faraway, long-ago world captured as lovingly as possible.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Get in the Halloween Spirit with "Ashes"

In the spirit of Halloween, I wanted to write a blog about Ilsa Bick's new YA horror novel Ashes. Liesl, who buys our children's and teen titles, has been going on about it for a month, so naturally I'm intrigued. Then, at our event with Laini Taylor (Daughter of Smoke & Bone) a few weeks ago, I met Katie, the wonderful reviewer behind Katie's Book Blog, and she told me how much she wanted to read Ashes, too. I've been wanting to partner more with local bloggers for some time, and this struck me as the perfect opportunity to feature a Guest Blogger. To my delight, Katie also thought this was a great idea, and has written an awesome review for a creepy book for us to feature this week. So, without further ado, I give you a Guest Blog, straight from Katie's Book Blog!:

Ashes is a dark and gritty tale of a world gone mad. Ilsa Bick does not shy away from anything and while at times it seems overwhelming, in the end it all adds up to one fabulous book.
Ashes packs a punch from the very beginning. It is full of action, suspense, and tons of terrifying revelations about what happens when there aren’t enough resources for everyone. It is full of death, destruction, and quite a few gory surprises. The scariest thing about Ashes is how realistic it is. It really makes you think that this could happen sometime in the very near future.

Every character, even the ones with the smallest roles, is three-dimensional and wonderfully well-rounded. Alex, the main character, is full of spunk, fight, and quite a few snarky comments. Ellie, one of the first characters we meet after Alex, is a breath of fresh air in the gloomy atmosphere of post-EMP United States. Even through the toughest times she lightens the moods and brings out Alex’s sweeter side. Tom is my favorite character because I think everyone can relate to him in some way. He is very real and steady. No matter what, I think everyone can find someone to relate to in Ashes.

Overall, Ashes is one of the most gripping stories that I have read in a long time. This trilogy is one to watch out for. It holds a lot of potential. If the following books are anything like this one, Ilsa Bick can expect to have a lot of engrossed fans. While it may be a little too gory and intense for some younger readers, I think older YA readers will really appreciate it.

Thanks, Katie! Here's to the start of a beautiful friendship.
Check out for other great reviews of YA novels.

Monday, October 17, 2011

We the BBS Staff love "We the Animals"

One of the things I love about our staff here at BBS is our eclectic taste in books. Some of us are poetry nerds, others love sci-fi and fantasy, some are hard-core literary fiction fans. We've even got readers of romance, zombie novels, and the occasional zombie romance novel. With so many varied readers on staff, I always pay attention when I discover that half the staff are reading same book. A few years back, that book was The Hunger Games. Last year, it was Room. Now, it seems like everyone around here is reading We the Animals, a new novel from Justin Torres.

I asked around for some comments on the book from our booksellers, and here's what they said:

Justin Torres writes in images, emotions, and fragments of childhood disguised as prose. His manner is effortless yet heavy. His scenes are equal parts lovely and painful. And his stories hold a truth that sinks into your stomach and buries itself there. We the Animals is a beautiful, heart-wrenching recollection of hopeless poverty and youthful exuberance that can only be described as brilliant.

We the Animals is a lyrical and captivating account of man's childhood, liberally seasoned with desperate nostalgia and universal appeal with a hint of urban tragedy. Torres delivers some of the most beautiful and heartfelt prose to grace a book cover in years. If you are looking for the next great American novella, this is it.

A thought-provoking portrayal of the dysfunctional family, We the Animals by Justin Torres will pull you in with the poetry of its language and hold you in a world that is as uncomfortable as it is beautiful. It's the kind of novel we all should read and has left me questioning my own understandings of love, support, and family.

The shock of Justin Torres' poetic novella about three young boys growing up in an impoverished family isn't the beatings, the abandonment, or the drunkenness, but the moments of tender love. It's the unbreakable bond between brothers that shines through the day-to-day horror of belonging to two people who became parents at fourteen. It's the stolen caress after the father's battering violence. It's the magnificent flow of Torres' language as he renders each painful scene in riveting detail. Finally, it's the sensitivity of a young boy living in home that has done everything to deaden tender feelings. This book is important as a testament of how love can endure in even the most impossible situations. Torres has captured the emotional heart of a wrung-out family in this jewel of a novella.

With deliberate style and delicate poetics, Torres invests a trio of young brothers with a worldliness steeling them against outside forces promising harm, yet leaving them ill-prepared against corruption from within. Sketching a complicated family trapped by heritage and class, Torres provides glimpses of the primal kind of love that binds them together and promises ultimate tragedy when it all falls apart.

Though it is marketed and sold as "fiction", Torres' story feels more like truth than the world outside the pages. In an observant and poetic voice, it is a telling of the classic story of three sons, narrated by the youngest. It's a book about brotherhood, coming of age, and the inevitable realization that our parents are people too. Lit by love and shadowed by pain, it is the true story of the human condition.


I think I know which book is next on my "to read" list...

Friday, October 7, 2011

What We're Reading

So I'm sitting at my desk, thinking about what to pick up this weekend (it's supposed to be pretty cold, so I plan on snuggling up indoors with a book and either apple cider or hot chocolate). I decided to use the best resources I have at my disposal -- coworkers. So I called around the store and asked booksellers, "What are you reading?"

Here's what they told me:

Patrick -- Lightning Rods by Helen DeWitt
What he likes about it - "I love the writing. It's probably the funniest book I've read in a couple of months. It's a satire of something I didn't think could be satirized: sexual harassment."
Brief Plot Synopsis - A man finds success in a creative solution to sexual harassment in the workplace.

Christian -- Sabbath's Theatre by Philip Roth
What he likes about it - "I love it. I like that [Roth] can take such difficult and scandalous subject matter and still keep literary and artistic integrity while writing about it."
Brief Plot Synopsis- "A guy named Sabbath who is a puppeteer on trial for obscenity. He's a disgusting, dirty old man, but he brings up a lot of philosophical questions about society."

Ashanti -- The Stand by Stephen King
What she likes about it - "It's awesome. It's a really realistic rendition of an apocalyptic kind of end-of-the-world scenario and there's some really interesting magical realism among the survivors. King always has such realistic characters, it's probably his best quality as a writer."
Brief Plot Synopsis - "Despite bans on German warfare, a government experiment of a superflu gets spread among the populous and wipes out 99% of the human race."

Nicole (our newbie!)-- Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
What she likes about it - "I really like the idea that the story is shaped around these pictures."
Brief Plot Synopsis - "A young boy discovers something strange about his grandfather's past."

Jorden -- Hark a Vagrant by Kate Beaton and Deer Hunting with Jesus by Joe Bageant
What she likes about them - [HV] "It's hilarious. It's both history and good social commentary" DHWJ - "It's really sad but also funny, and just really sobering, I guess."
Brief Plot Synopses - "HV is Kate Beaton's second collection of comics and DHWJ is about how America is poor and keeps screwing themselves by voting Republican."

Ria -- Poems by Elizabeth Bishop
What she likes about it - [Ria had some difficulty putting her feelings for Elizabeth Bishops poems into sentences that would do them literary justice] "They're beautiful and...they're just awesome. They're awesome and amazing and wonderful and she's incredible."
Brief summary of the poems as a whole - "They're mildly humorous and honest without being overly confessional."

Stephanie -- Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor (who will be here on Monday!)
What she likes about it - "There's a good lead character. It's intriguing, and leaves you with a bit of a cliffhanger. I don't like that I have to wait for the next one though."
Brief Plot Synopsis - "Mysterious teen artist in Prague leads a secret second life and discovers who she really is."

Tracy -- The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins and David McKean
What she likes about it - "The whole reason I picked it up was because of David McKean. He did The Sandman and his art is just really awesome. I love him. So far, the science is described in a way that is helpful for people like me who don't have science-y backgrounds."
Brief Plot Synopsis - "It's about evolution. Which, I know the basics of it, but the way they're describing some of the concepts are really interesting and different."

Arsen -- Contents May Have Shifted by Pam Houston and When She Woke by Hilary Jordan
What he likes about them - [CMHS] "The writing's good and she's telling her story in a very interesting, unique way." [WSW] "It’s kind of creepy. It makes me want to make sure that Rick Perry doesn’t get to be president. "
Brief Plot Synopsis - "Futuristic tale where a woman wakes up dyed red because she has been convicted of the murder of her unborn child."

Laina -- All Men of Genius by Lev AC Rosen
What she likes about it - "I picked it up because it’s written by someone I went to college with. It’s a little bit along the lines of Alana – it’s a twin story (though not for middle readers!) it’s gender-bending, it’s doing this ‘what is the right path for you despite social convention,’ thing, it’s science, it’s invention, and I’m finding it’s really different to read books by people you know.”
Brief Plot Synopsis - "It's a new Victorian steampunk novel. A scientifically-inclined girl goes to exclusive all boys educational institution without anyone knowing who she really is."

...and so that's what folks around the store. What are you reading?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Where All My Boys At?

As a veteran of the bookselling world, I keep up with industry news on a daily basis. I visit several worthy websites on my jaunt around the web, catching up on new books and old friends. Indie bookstores will often post photos of their staff arrayed around this or that visiting author. I'm consistently given pause by the rarity of men in these photos (unless, of course, it's a male author). Where have all my fellow male booksellers gone?

My father was a nurse when I was growing up. My mother dressed me as a nurse for my first three Halloweens. When queried by friends, I would insist on a qualifier: "My dad is a male nurse ..." He later became an anesthetist, at which time I would tell puzzled friends, "He puts people to sleep." Do my own children feel a similar reluctance to divulge that, "My dad is a male bookseller"?

We're grateful to the wonderfully capable women who fuel our indie bookstores across the country. I hold no grudge against them, nor against the traditionally female readers who buy most of the books from our stores. Without them, our industry would be in even more dire straits. It is reported that men don't read as much as women, although god knows I'm attempting to raise my own sons to buck that trend. During the fifteen years I worked at Grass Roots Books & Music in Corvallis, Oregon, there were only two other men who held positions there aside from the owner. One of them was a barrista for our sad little coffee shop. A male barrista, I suppose ... When I come across a fellow male bookseller at conventions or gatherings, I feel like we belong to a secret club, exchanging a covert nod of the head.

While at Grass Roots, I facilitated our official store reading group for several years. My lady friends and I would meet monthly to discuss our most recent selections. One of our recurring topics was whether a male author could effectively render the female voice and psyche. What did I know? I recently began half-jokingly telling friends of a plan to assemble an all-male reading group. We would call ourselves The Li-Bros ... It's not that we would read only male authors, not an Iron John thing, but we could discuss whether female writers could get us guys in all our complexity.

Possibly motivated by this idea, my reading of late has skewed decidedly dude. Think Cormac McCarthy, Tom Franklin, Barry Hannah. Writers who allow few women into their stories, and who even I would argue don't really represent them too accurately. Harry Crews, Larry Brown. I recently finished a stellar read by an author named Charles Willeford, Cockfighter. Note to self: A prime candidate for the next Li-Bros meeting.

As Floor Manager of Boulder Book Store, I've taken care to achieve some balance among our bookselling staff. Younger vs. older, student vs. graduate, female vs male. I feel good about this, perhaps making up for the time I spent with the fine ladies of Grass Roots. While the boys of BBS are not an especially gruff bunch, I feel we represent the male species well enough. My secret plan is to one day send the industry a photo of several of us gathered around a visiting author. Until then, I extend a hearty invitation to my fellow fellows in the greater Boulder area. Follow your wife or a female friend into Boulder Book Store and help realign the literary universe. No need to launch a takeover, just celebrate the manly art of reading.

An all male staff photo (though, not of all our male staff members). Pictured from Left to Right and Top to Bottom: Warren, Larry, Arsen, Patrick, Digs, and Scott.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Why Supergods by Grant Morrison is the most important book you’ll read in 2011

“We tell our children they’re trapped like rats on a doomed, bankrupt, gangster-haunted planet with dwindling resources, with nothing to look forward to but rising sea levels and imminent mass extinctions, then raise a disapproving eyebrow when, in response, they dress in black, cut themselves with razors, starve themselves, gorge themselves, or kill one another.”
– Grant Morrison, Introduction to Supergods

As important as logic and reason are to our rational, technological modern lives, one of the most egregious absences from the current worldview is that of myth. Politicians, rock stars, and reality television celebrity idiots have infiltrated most available slots in the mass consciousness set aside for admiration, mimetic representation, and plain old hero worship. This is not a good thing. Such cults of personality distract us from art, and therefore distance us from our own imaginations. When we fail to engage our imaginations, we neglect something crucial that allows us to repurpose and transcend our ordinary lives. We forget that an essential aspect of life is to seek always discovery and ultimate meaning.

Supergods is rather pointedly not the universal answer to all of humanity’s ills. It doesn’t really claim to be. It is an impassioned analysis and celebration of what one hyper-creative writer sees as a evolutionary step forward from the myths and legends that once enthralled and sustained a burgeoning human awareness. Superheroes are the latest step in the logical progression from gods and demi-gods and urban legends. They invigorate and augment the stories that feature them. They straddle the razor’s edge between being as flawed as us all and being everything we wish we were. They show us that there is a better path to choose that is seldom an easy one but one ultimately leading us all to a finer world. They inhabit a comic book world for now but they are infiltrating our culture through television and film, advertisements and online strips. They want only the best for us all, and they will strive against anything to ensure our survival.

Comic books and graphic novels may not be for everyone, but Grant Morrison isn’t looking to recruit only nerds and geeks to his way of thinking. Supergods is an argument toward embracing any art that makes you stand a little straighter, feel a little better, and smile more at everyone you pass. Readers who have forgotten how to dream of things larger than themselves and are hopeful about finding a new and more confident paradigm won’t merely find entertainment in Supergods. They’ll find inspiration.

Kyle Mares is a MFA student in Writing & Poetics at Naropa University. Born in Denver, he finds his return to Colorado (to attend school in Boulder) to be strangely invigorating after living in Chicago and outside Los Angeles. Having worked for three years in a southern California comic book store, being a bookseller at Boulder Book Store has proven to be a much quieter, less argumentative experience. He's not much for off-roading but he is considering bungee-jumping for the very first time.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Local and Loved #5

Cover Charge for Author Events

On April 25th of this year the Boulder Daily Camera released an article that partially explained why the Boulder Book Store started charging for events. They did an excellent job. The problem is, so much has happened since April.

June 21, 2011 the New York Times released an article that explained that the Boulder Book Store isn't the only one charging. All across the country independent bookstores are asking customers to open their wallets and shell out a little money for some cheap, intelectual entertainment. This isn't meant to be a slight to readers, it is intended to be a way to reward customers who pay for books at the bookstore (the tickets ALWAYS act as coupons for the featured book or anybook on the day of the event) and a message to those who look at the store and then buy online.

Is $5 too much to ask? The average evening movie costs between 8 and 10 dollars, that isn't counting the extra charge for 3D. In actuallity an author event is worth paying for. It is a great date or the ideal way to pass a lazy evening.

So show your love for the local and come out and support the Boulder Book Store at author events.

Who would you pay to see at the bookstore?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Local and Loved #4

These are the books that say something about the community, though most aren't about Boulder.
In my opinion one thing that makes the Boulder Book Store a true gem is it's support of local authors. 81% of American's say they want to write a book, that's not to say all of them do it but 81% want to. According to the US Census there are 311million people in the United States, that means that 251,910,000 people want to write a book. 190,000 people get published. That means that there are people writing (not all 251,910,000 because there are a lot of things people say they want to do and then don't) who aren't getting published. At the Boulder Book Store that is not the case for the locals who come in, looking for a break. Check out the lovely blue tagged books on Rec Case 3.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Local and Loved #3: Knowledge is Power, So Our Booksellers are the Superheroes

There has never been a doubt in my mind that it takes a special kind of person to work in a bookstore. Booksellers must have reverence for books, an extensive knowledge about books, vivacious readers, and a few endearing quirks. The problem is most booksellers at other stores seem to fall a bit short. Sure they all love to read and some may even wear socks with sandals, but they don't have it: They don't have the knowledge of and reverence for books that truly make a bookseller great. Here at the Boulder Book Store I have yet to find a bookseller who can't give me a spot on recommendation or one who doesn't exclaim over books with awe. Reason number three on the Local and Loved list is that our booksellers are the best. I had the chance to follow a few of them around and get a tiny bit of background...

Warren: 16 years
Warren started at the bookstore because he wanted to be surrounded by books. He wanted to buy and feel and read books. He has accumulated an amazing collection since starting at the Book Store and he can't wait to actually have the time to read all that he has. Warren loves seeing what's new at the store and getting a sneak peak of what's to come. He especially loves to see what books old books are being reprinted. A year or so ago he was able to replace a copy of The Long Ships after the New York Review Books reprinted a bunch of classics. Above all Warren just loves to be with the books.

Joey: 4 years
Joey is the sidelines guy. All the cool, extra stuff in the store is here because of him. Joey started working at the Boulder Book Store because he needed a job...and he loves books. The thing that Joey loves the most about the Books Store is how coworkers. He says that they're like one big (crazy) family.

Laina: 2 years
Laina works at the store because books are in her blood. Her parents own an independent bookstore back east and her home has always been filled with books. After moving to Colorado Laina knew that the Book Store was where she belonged. Laina loves the customer service aspect of the store. She loves helping people fine the right books, the ones they came in looking for and others that they might like. Books are very therapeutic for her and she wants everyone to have that same feeling with the books they read.

Tara: 2 years
Tara used to come into the Book Store as a patron and worked across the street years earlier. For her it just made sense to come back to a place she loved. Tara's favorite thing about the Book Store is its location downtown, it's a hub for so many things. She also loves working here because of Joey.

Patrick: 1 year
Patrick started at the Book Store because of the books and the community he had already become a part of. Many people from book club already worked at the Book Store and it already was a place he belonged. Patrick loves the Boulder Book Store because it is truly a community of people who love books. The Book Story is also a place of meeting.

Helen: 1 year
Helen applied for two years before she found a place at the Boulder Book Store. She graduated with a degree in English and it made perfect sense to be surrounded by the friends that she had learned with (books). She loves being at the Book Store because of the books but she loves it for other reasons as well. The Boulder Book Store is the heart of Boulder. It is a place for meeting new people and learning new things. It is also an excellent place to meet Simon Van Booy.

Christian: Christian grew up in Boulder, this is a place where he has roots. After returning from graduate school he wanted to do something he loved and selling books was the perfect thing. Christian loves that the Book Store is a crossroads for the intellectual community and a hub for local flavor. It is a place for him to be introduced to the faces that he's seen his whole life. He has had his first conversations with people that he used to stand in line with at coffee shops or see at the grocery store. The Boulder Book Store is a place for the community to come together. At events everyone can learn and everyone can teach.

For some it was a fluke, coming in a finding a place in this big, historical building. But for every book seller and staff member, The Boulder Book Store is home. And they strive everyday to make it home for their customers too.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Know the Past, Find the Future

So a little less than a month ago we thought it would be fun to host a writing contest. The prompt? Libraries. Write anything -- fact or fiction -- about libraries. This was sparked by the release of Know the Past, Find the Future -- a book Penguin released to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the New York Public Library (a pretty big one). Winners received a copy of the book and their winning submissions can be read here:


"Libraries" (by Craig)

Who needs’em ~
Got my iPod
Got my iPad
And my iPhone
Epic ringtone
Got my fast car
Got my own star
Gonna go far
Dig it? We are.

What’s a book, man?
In the trash can!
Turnin’ pages?!
Seems like ages
Since mom read me
Stories fed me
Curled up nice
And… thinkin’ twice
I’m goin’ down there
To the place where
Stories live and
Words like quicksand
Take you under
Words like thunder
Rock the soul and
Like a good band
Live forever ~
Forget them?

Libraries rock, man!


"In The Library with Maurice" (by Sandra)

My mother’s face was red and she was breathing heavily. I wasn’t quite sure if it was the intense heat or her rising anger. She remained silent as we boarded our boat-car, lips pursed into their characteristic thin, crooked line; I noticed that every button on her white cotton shirt had found its hole, all the way up to her neck, which had started to hang a little over the top of her collar. She was barely over forty, but the avalanche had started early. At ten, I didn’t fear my forty-something face. I should have.

She was struggling to start the car. Dad was at work. It was over a hundred degrees; we lived in the middle of nowhere, and the clunky air conditioner in the living room window had just died again. With her right foot, my mother mercilessly pummeled the old Dodge, another cast off from my father’s parents, fairly grunting with frustration and anger. Turn the key. Pump the throttle. Turn. Pump. If Dad had been home, he would have been outside in a jiffy, shouting at her at the top of his lungs to stop—she was flooding the engine. “Mrs. J, you’re flooding it! Stop! Stop!” Sometimes, my mother would do it just a few more times, just to make her point about the car, about everything. Then he would finally understand and hang his head. Loud and clear, Mrs. J. It was too late. At that point, we would have to wait for the car to return to a state of balance. Everyone would slowly disembark and dejectedly walk back into the house.

But this day, by some miracle, she got the engine to turn over. I was in the front seat, and my three younger siblings were in the back, probably mocking me, as usual. My mother broke her silence with a war whoop and we were off. Our tiny air-conditioned library, 20 non-air-conditioned minutes away, was waiting for us.

Once inside, we sighed with cool relief. We wandered over to the children’s section, where the tables were already too short for me, and my mother practically ran for the celebrity bios. The library couldn’t have been much bigger than our own tiny house, but it seemed like a mansion. Like Mom, I staked out my spot, away from my immature siblings, and found my own questionable material: Maurice Sendak. Before I was old enough to start sneak-reading my mother’s secondhand celebrity smut, Maurice opened a window in the room of my repressive childhood. My favorites were Higglety Pigglety Pop! or There Must Be More To Life, and In the Night Kitchen. I suspected that there was something subversive in the former, and something desperately titillating about the latter, but I was very sheltered, and couldn’t have explained my feelings. With a curious, heavy hunger, I poured over the pictures and messages in all of these books, even the popular Where The Wild Things Are, which also seemed a bit twisted for the squeaky-clean, don’t-question-authority, conservative façade of my childhood home.

Once, I borrowed Higgelty, but I knew enough to avoid taking home In the Night Kitchen. As far as I know, my mother never saw it. In 1974, the book had been banned in several states; our librarian was either a hippie or a very distracted lady, like my mother. Maurice inspired me to question my world; his world had different rules. Sometimes, children just enjoyed the moment and didn’t worry about whether they were going to heaven or hell. Rules were broken or thrown away. Characters who questioned the meaning of life may have initially feared being eaten, but eventually everything worked out satisfactorily.

In some ways, I haven’t changed much. If someone had told my ten-year-old self that Maurice was gay (of course, he had not yet revealed his sexuality in the 70s), I wouldn’t have known what it meant, but if I had, I’m sure I would have smiled and said, “That’s why I like him. He doesn’t do what everybody tells him to do.”

Maurice has said that when he was a young man, he kept his sexuality secret in order to please his mother. He was sure that she would have been unhappy with him if she had known the truth. Certainly, when I was young, it seemed to me that my mother was not happy with any sexuality. As a result, all of my growing up work had to be done in secret. In my head. Without answers to many pressing questions. But also in the cool comfort of the library, at the children’s table, with the gentle guidance of an author who, like me, just couldn’t see the point in all the rules.

A special "thank you" goes out not only to those who sent us submissions, but also to everybody who loves books -- whether from libraries, local bookstores, or Aunt Edith's shelves. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Introduction to Modern Japanese Literature Part IV: Short Stories

This is the ­­­fourth and last in a series of blog posts introducing Japanese fiction to English speaking readers in the hopes that we become more aware of Japan's place on the international literature stage. Previous posts here: 1, 2, 3.

If you're thinking of trying out foreign literature but aren't sure whether you'll like it or not, I suggest trying a few short stories by foreign authors. In modern Japanese fiction, many authors tackle both the novel and short story formats of writing and have wonderful pieces in both.

In fact, the most successful authors in the Japanese literature scene tend to vary the lengths and genres of their works. They write novels, but depending on the author, some also write short stories, novellas, nonfiction, and essays. To put this idea into an American context, one may consider Ernest Hemmingway, who wrote both fiction and nonfiction, and long and short stories very successfully.

From a reader's point of view, the charm of short stories is that they take less time to read than novels, so they're a good way to read casually and start reading an author you're unfamiliar with. Readers who are already fans of an author's novels can enjoy the same author's short stories too; reading short stories can be an entirely different experience for both readers and authors. Haruki Murakami, in his preface to Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, wrote about what he experiences when writing different types of stories:
"To put it in the simplest possible terms, I find writing novels a challenge, writing short stories a joy. If writing novels is like planting a forest, then writing short stories is more like planting a garden."
Thus, the way he goes about writing short stories is different than his approach and attitude towards his novels, which creates a different atmosphere and experience for his readers as well. Personally, I find reading his novels akin to eating a full-course dinner, and his short stories like drinking a relaxing afternoon tea. They're both satisfying in their own way. The following are a few of my personal recommendations for Japanese short stories:

After the Quake, by Haruki Murakami (compilation)

The six stories in this collection are set at the time of the catastrophic 1995 Kobe earthquake. An electronics salesman who has been abruptly deserted by his wife agrees to deliver an enigmatic package—and is rewarded with a glimpse of his true nature. A man who has been raised to view himself as the son of God pursues a stranger who may or may not be his human father. A mild-mannered collection agent receives a visit from a giant talking frog who enlists his help in saving Tokyo from destruction.

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, by Haruki Murakami (compilation)

Here are animated crows, a criminal monkey, and an iceman, as well as the dreams that shape us and the things we might wish for. Whether during a chance reunion in Italy, a romantic exile in Greece, a holiday in Hawaii, or in the grip of everyday life, Murakami’s characters confront grievous loss, sexuality, the glow of a firefly, and the impossible distances between those who ought to be closest of all.

Lizard, by Banana Yoshimoto (compilation)

This book is the first collection of short stories written by popular Japanese author Banana Yoshimoto on the topics of love and family. Easily read, but producing deep themes and concepts, Yoshimoto's stories are realistically surreal and darkly hopeful.

Rashomon and Other Stories, by Ryunosuke Akutagawa (compilation)

This collection of short stories by Nobel Literature prize winning writer Akutagawa includes "In a Grove", a psychologically sophisticated tale about murder, rape, and suicide; "Rashomon", the story of a thief scared into honesty by an encounter with a ghoul; and "Kesa and Morito", the story of man driven to kill someone he doesn't hate by a lover whom he doesn't love.


This concludes my introduction to modern Japanese literature blog post series. If you're still interested in foreign literature, I suggest checking out the website Words Without Borders. They review and promote literature from all around the world.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Gary Vaynerchuk - The Thank You Economy Event

Hey, Tweets DO Matter!

Ever been so exasperated at a company's service that you wrote a scathing facebook status about it right after you left? Ever tweeted your friends to get their input on what to buy? Yes, voicing your opinion on social media websites does make a difference, and a huge one at that, according to Gary Vaynerchuk.

Gary Vaynerchuk is a New York Times bestselling author and his new book, The Thank You Economy, talks about how critical social media is in today's cutthroat business world, how it is slowly reverting our economy to one that resembles the 'old days,' when local stores knew most of their customers on a personal basis.

He discusses how social media has brought a significant amount of power back to consumers via virtual word-of-mouth communication, and how businesses can use this to leave their competitors in the dust. He also talks about how social media can affect a company's efforts in branding itself and its products, for better or for worse.

An excerpt from chapter one of The Thank You Economy can be downloaded and read here, and you can also visit his website here. You can also see his video posts and blog there.

In case you were wondering, here's a video of him defining what a "thank you economy" is:

True to what he writes, Mr. Vaynerchuk uses twitter regularly, and encourages his followers to voice their opinions on his page.

Vaynerchuk, who started off his successful career selling wine, also wrote Crush It!: Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion, has been featured on FOX and CNN business programs as a business expert and social media consultant, co-founded an agency that deals with branding and startups, and has spoken at conferences around the world about his business strategies.

Boulder Book Store is excited to have Gary Vaynerchuk speak about and sign The Thank You Economy at our ballroom on Thursday, April 21, at 7:30 pm. We hope to see you there!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Japanese Fiction Series:Great Untranslated Books

This is the ­­­third in a series of blog posts introducing Japanese fiction to English speaking readers in the hopes that we become more aware of Japan's place on the international literature stage.

For this blog post, I will be introducing a few Japanese novels that haven't been translated into English yet. These novels have found success in Japan but have not expanded to the foreign market yet. This list is by no means comprehensive, as it is limited to those that I have already read, but I do think that some of these novels would catch the interest of at least a few foreign readers if only they were translated into English.

Kokuhaku (Confessions), by Kanae Minato

If I could choose any one book that I'd like to see translated into English, it would be this one. It's a powerful psychological thriller about a single mother and middle-school teacher whose daughter has been killed by two students from her homeroom class. Confessions was turned into a movie in 2010, and was selected as Japan's entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar for that year.

It starts with a very long monologue from a teacher to her class on the last day of school, where she announces both her retirement and that she knows who murdered her daughter. Upon revealing the murderers' identities, and how she came to this conclusion, she leaves, but not before mentioning that the milk they were drinking before her speech was tainted with the blood of her HIV-positive former fiancée. This is the shocking first chapter of this novel, which unfolds from six different perspectives of people involved with the killers, from mothers to classmates, showing the events prior to, during, and after the murder itself. Minato touches upon the themes of justice, revenge, family, juvenile law, and bullying throughout her storytelling, which creates a story that paints a picture of the dark side of modern Japan.

I would like to add here that even if you watch the movie, it has been tweaked just a bit so that it fits the director's personal interpretation of the novel. The novel itself actually brings into play many more questions about the reliability of each narrator and what has really happened when all is said and done.

Ahiru to Kamo no Coin Locker (The Foreign Duck and Native Duck's Coin Locker) by Kotaro Isaka

It's a shame that the translated title of this novel doesn't do it justice in showing just how strangely simple it sounds in Japanese, as it sets the tone for this novel, and draws in readers with its absurdity. The story itself is of a college student starting to live by himself away from home who meets his neighbor, a strange boy who, like himself, has a fondness for Bob Dylan. Spending time with this man, whose strange ideas include robbing a bookstore to acquire a dictionary for their Bhutanese neighbor, he learns about his girlfriend and a case that ended with her death. As the novel progresses, and huge twists and revelations occur, one becomes confused as to who is who, and it becomes difficult to figure out the truth, and whose story is the truth and whose is a lie.

Sabaku (Desert), by Kotaro Isaka

Kotaro Isaka is good at writing his novels to fit songs. If the novel above was set to Bob Dylan's Blowing in the Wind, Sabaku is set to the songs of the punk rock Ramones. It's the story of five university students who meet freshman year; about the relationships they build with each other, playing mahjong and getting involved in shenanigans throughout their four years in college. From metaphors comparing society to a desert and college students being on the cusp of entering this desert, to referencing current oil wars and American politics, Isaka also brings his own brand of casual social commentary into this work through his diverse set of characters, whether they be the overly idealistic and annoying Nishijima, or the calm narrator Kitamura, who observes everything around him objectively with a "bird's eye view."

The format of the novel is also unique, depicting snippets from sequential seasons of four years of college (freshman year spring, sophomore year summer, fall of junior year, and winter of senior year, then back to spring for a last chapter on graduation). This is an unconventional and enjoyable novel about growing up that also depicts the current everyday life and mindset of the Japanese college student.

Colorful, by Eto Mori This novel puts an unidentified sinner's soul into the body of a 14-year old boy who tried to commit suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills. The twist is that in order to get the chance to be reincarnated in his next life, the sinner must find out and realize what sin he committed during his own life, which apparently has something to do with the young boy whose body he inhabits. As he lives the pitiful life of a miserable teenager who was good at art but was going through the "worst day of his life," the sinner struggles to find the connections between him and this boy while living the boy's life, all the while trying to make the best of this life he's been given. This is a light, uplifting novel about second chances and how looking at things from a different point of view can drastically change perspectives.

Switch wo Osu Toki (When You Push the Switch), by Yusuke Yamada

Yusuke Yamada is popular with young audiences in Japan and is known for his gory teen thrillers and mysteries. This novel stands out to me as one of his best works, as it seems to be more toned down than most of his other works, and is thus targeting a larger target age group.

Many people know about Japan's high suicide rate. In this novel, the Japanese government, in an attempt to study the psychological causes of suicide, has built facilities nationwide where 10-year old children are taken away from their parents, given a switch to stop their hearts, and monitored in facilities until they push the switch themselves. The novel takes place at one of these centers seven years after the start of this program. There are only five children left who haven't pushed their switches, and the man in charge of them is tired of his job, so he begins provoking them. Enter a new character, a young man who comes to visit the center. Whether he is trying to help the children or the manager of the facility, though, remains ambiguous, leading to an epic and thrilling wild goose chase that shows why people choose to live…or push their switches.

So, what do you all think? Were there any books from this post that caught your eye? If there was, please leave us a comment!


In light of the continuing difficulties lasting in Japan, I encourage people who wish to lend a hand but don't know what to do to visit the following websites, all of which are contributing to help those suffering from the earthquakes, tsunami, and nuclear breakdown here and here.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Classic Literature vs. Modern Japanese Literature

The interns, Jill and Chelsea here! We thought we would do a collaboration to bring together two factions of literature that come from opposite sides of the globe, classic Western novels and modern Japanese fiction.

Here are the 6 novels we found similarities between:

1984 is a classic dystopian novel by George Orwell, depicting the futuristic 1984’s collectivist society. This novel inspired Haruki Murakami, whose latest novel, 1Q84, is a play on words that makes its title equivalent to 1984. Murakami references Orwell’s work while telling his own story of the years leading up to 1984, introducing the strange yet normal characters that he is famous for using in his signature style. Fans of literature and modern fiction alike should enjoy this literary re-working.

Lord of the Flies is a classic English novel about a group of young boys who are stranded on an island, and through a series of events show the deterioration of the human condition into barbarian acts. Battle Royale is quite similar. The plotline is basically the same, but the children are chosen and put on the island so that they can kill each other on TV as a scare tactic for futuristic fascist Japan. Both novels show how children put in dire circumstances resort to cruelty in unspeakable acts.

The parallels between The Secret Garden and Goodbye Tsugumi lie in the characterizations and overall themes of these novels. Tsugumi and Mary are both introduced to the reader very early in their respective stories as unpleasant young women. Both novels build on the themes of family and growing up while exploring the strength of relationships between cousins.

If you are a classics lover, don’t forget to attend our “Revival of the Classics” night on April 15th at 7:00 pm!

Jill's Favorite Forgotten Classics

Though the Time's 100 Greatest Novels List has some of the classics we know and love, it also contains a few drawbacks. Firstly, it only includes novels from 1923 to the present, leaving out a large chunk of great classics that are "too old," and I believe we need to remember some of the great novels that came before 1923! Secondly, great authors usually are not solo acts; they usually have written other works that might be less read, but have astounding merit nonetheless. And lastly, sometimes there are some classics that I feel were completely and unfairly forgotten.

As for novels that were "too old" to make the list, there are two I am particularly fond of, Anna Karenina and Les Miserables. Both written in the late 1800's, these two gems serve as examples of great prose. Anna Karenina, a novel composed of 8-part installments by Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, portrays the high-class society of Russian society with timeless romance and themes of jealousy, family, society and faith. Though it may be one of the longest novels you will ever read, Anna Karenina is worth it. The timeless characters and story still have a lot to offer in today's society, where many of the issues run rampant. We will shift our attention now to one of Victor Hugo's most important novels, Les Miserables. It is the story of strife and heartbreak of the poor in France experienced during the French Revolution. Following characters that experience love, death, prostitution, war and revolution, Les Miserables still stands today as a hallmark for human emotion. Les Miserables and Anna Karenina are similar in that they both examine the human condition, though in different extremes. The themes remain the same though one is in high society and the other in the gutters of the streets. Timeless works like these are proof that we are all essentially the same, and that feeling emotions of doubt, love, jealousy are all part of this world we all inhabit.

Many famous authors usually have one book that makes their fame worldwide. But what about the other works they wrote? For two of my favorite authors, J.D. Salinger and F. Scott Fitzgerald, I actually love the books that aren't their most famous. J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey is a favorite of mine, and one I think goes underrated most of the time. A compilation of two stories both published in the New Yorker, it centers on the youngest two children of the Glass family, the main subject for the majority of Salinger's work. The precocious Glass children who were once famous for their stint on It's a Wise Child (a radio show where children answered difficult questions) work through issues of society, religion and dealing with their eldest brother's suicide. For F. Scott Fitzgerald, everyone knows him for The Great Gatsby. However, I thoroughly enjoyed his debut novel, This Side of Paradise, which launched him into fame in the 1920's. This Side of Paradise focuses on Amory Blaine, a pretentious young man looking to climb the ranks of society. An interesting look at society's flaws, This Side of Paradise is definitely worth a read, as Fitzgerald's first novel is just as profound as his last.

There were also some books that I felt were unfairly left off Time's list, as they are classics in their own right. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and The Bell Jar are both widely read classics that I felt deserved to make the cut. Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a wonderful coming-of-age novel featuring the timeless heroine Francie Nolan and her dysfunctional, if loving, family. Almost a century old, Francie's tale still rings true with women and girls everywhere. And then there is Sylvia Plath, a figurehead for feminists everywhere who was also lobbed off the list with her first (and last) novel The Bell Jar. The story follows Esther Greenwood, a successful young woman completing an internship at a fancy magazine in New York City. The Bell Jar follows Esther's spiral into madness as she falls out of touch with society and the people who surround her. Profound and illuminating, it leaves readers questioning. Both of these novels prominently feature strong heroines and beautiful writing. Though written decades apart, they both still explore the human experience and open doors into different realms of possibility.

Don't forget to stop by on April 15th at 7:00pm for our "Revival of the Classics" event, featuring author Erin Blakemore!

Recommendations made by Jill, the Spring Intern at the Boulder Book Store. Need more recommendations? Find me on Twitter at @JillLovesCoffee!

Monday, April 4, 2011

John Robison - Be Different Talk and Signing Event:

Don't Worry, be different

Augusten Burroughs, bestselling author of Running With Scissors, wrote in his memoir about his older brother "Troy" in the chapter "He Was Raised Without a Proper Diagnosis." When the memoir Look Me in The Eye hit the New York Times bestsellers list a few years later, it became apparent that "Troy" was actually an alias for "John Robison."

Look Me in the Eye is Robison's personal memoir in which he tells his story of living with Asperger's Syndrome, a disease that is similar to autism, but does not hamper linguistic and cognitive development. Because Asperger's is identified by abnormal social interactions and communication, Robison lived undiagnosed until he was forty years old. Until then, he was hampered by his inability to 'fit in' in social settings, despite his intellectual brilliance and work competence. His books explain how he copes with his condition and how he became successful despite it.

Be Different continues his efforts to help his fellow Aspergians, those around them, and also other misfits by incorporating his personal anecdotes and observations with practical advice on topics related to self-identity and social ineptitude. Among the most helpful topics he covers are when to make an effort to fit in versus when to embrace eccentricity, and how to identify special gifts and use them to your advantage.

John once worked as a guitar special effects specialist for Kiss, as an engineer for a company manufacturing toys, and then set up a successful independent car repair business, but now works as a writer and speaker, and also works with Elms College and their autism and Asperger's graduate program.

For more information, you can visit his website here, which has a blog, information updates, links to his facebook and twitter pages, and resources for educators, too.

Come to Boulder Book Store on April 13, at 7:30 pm to hear John Robison talk about his new book and get your copy of Be Different signed, as well!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Many Faces of Jane Eyre

Mia Wasikoska (of Alice in Wonderland and The Kids Are All Right fame) is the new face of the classic heroine in Charlotte Bronte's timeless Jane Eyre. However, this isn't the first adaptation of Bronte's novel. In fact, it has been adapted over 15 times for the big screen and 8 versions for television, not including the spin-offs and sequels! In honor of our "Revival of the Classics" event, we at the Boulder Book Store decided to take a look back and remember the most memorable Janes throughout the years.

Mabel Ballin (1921)

Virginia Bruce (1934)

Joan Fontaine (1944)

Susannah York (1970)

Sorcha Cusack (1973) (TV)

Zelah Clarke (1983) (TV)

Charlotte Gainsbourg (1996)

Samantha Morton (1997) (TV)

Mia Wasikoska (2011)

Jane Eyre is in theatres now! Let us know what you think on our Facebook or Twitter. Need more reccomendations? Talk to me (Jill, the Spring Intern) on Twitter @JillLovesCoffee.

Come to our "Revival of the Classics" event on Friday, April 15th at 7:00 pm! There will be classics trivia, a book swap and local author Erin Blakemore will speak about her novel The Heroine's Bookshelf! Students with ID will recieve a free coffee/tea.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Weird is Good: Japanese Fiction Part II

Hello, spring intern Chelsea speaking. This is the second in a series of blog posts introducing Japanese fiction to English speaking readers in the hopes that we become more aware of Japan's place on the international literature stage. The previous post can be found here.

Japanese modern literature is weird, and that’s a good thing.

Weirdness comes in many forms, and in the case of Japanese fiction, levels of strangeness vary from author to author. The weirdness of Japanese fiction ranges from subtle absurdity to absolute craziness and insanity.

I am most fascinated by how a lot of this weirdness is presented realistically in real world settings, played off as normal life despite having qualities that are undeniably weird.

Perhaps the best example of 'real-life weirdness' in modern Japanese fiction is found in the realistic yet fantastical works of Murakami Haruki, such as A Wild Sheep Chase or The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, in which seemingly normal protagonists meet characters with weird traits and quirks (for example, a girl whose job is to survey the hair of middle aged men for a wig company, or a man who hides among sheep while wearing their skin), and go on adventures that aren't really adventures in a traditional sense, as they don't have that sense of urgency that usually makes adventures exciting. This weirdness is narrated along with actions that are painfully normal, like cooking pasta for lunch and going to the cleaners, and this combination of abnormal and normal life makes it hard to judge whether the novel is meant to be realistic or not.

As for the completely insane, Murakami Ryu's Coin Locker Babies comes to mind. Aside from the weird premise of following the lives of two boys who were abandoned by their mothers in train station coin lockers after birth, this book is full of crazy happenings, with a love interest so weird that she has an alligator for a pet, self tongue-cutting, pregnant-girlfriend stabbing, and a mysterious, fictional destructive substance that is eventually used to wipe out the entire city of Tokyo. The weirdness is very explicit, obvious, and out of this world, yet deceptively believable because it IS set in this world, in modern Japan.

Abe Kobo wrote The Box Man, which is a novel written from the viewpoint of a man who essentially lives his life wearing a box, with holes for eyes, feet, and his mouth. If this isn't weird enough, the appearance of a few more box men and the ambiguous way the story is told (where you're not sure which box man is which, and squabbles regarding people wanting the box and wanting to become box men themselves abound) makes it weird as well. Kobo also wrote The Woman in the Dunes, in which sand becomes as much of a character as the human characters, strangely enough. Many people consider Abe Kobo to be Japan’s Franz Kafka, and that is because the weirdness of their works brings their stories to life.

Weirdness, as I mentioned in my previous post, is a good thing for novels. It makes stories interesting. It gives them a mysterious quality and an element of surprise, because you never know what to expect or just how weird it will get.

Here's a question for you: Have you read any books that were so weird that they're good?
In light of the current situation in Japan, I encourage people who wish to lend a hand but don't know what to do to visit the following websites, all of which are contributing to help those suffering from the earthquakes, tsunami, and the aftereffects here and here.