Friday, March 27, 2009

In the News

With the move upon us, Old Firehouse Books is starting to get featured in the news:

The Book Rack will be changing its name and moving from its current location at 1801 S. College Ave to the 1881 firehouse at 232 Walnut St.

Old Firehouse Books, the business’s new name, will open April 10.

The new store will be 400 square feet larger than its current location, allowing for more books, book group meetings, author signings and community events.

The Book Rack has been in existence since 1980. The current owners, Susan Wilmer and Dick Sommerfeld, have been in the book business since 1983. Although it was initially a used-books-only store, in the past five years the store has sold new books as well. The store hosts a book club of its own and is active in the Be Local movement in Fort Collins.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Old Firehouse is closed on March 26

We are closed today, due to some rather brisk weather. We hope to resume normal operations tomorrow. We apologize for any inconvenience, and hope you are home, snug and warm, with a good book.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

so, I really meant to do this sooner

Here's an update on the new store:  the heavy lifting is pretty much done.  There was some carpet that some enterprising soul had glued, and glued, and glued, to the concrete.  That is now gone.  Walls are knocked out to make bigger entrances into each room.  We are putting a short ramp between the second and third room, since each room is on a slightly different level- funny old building!  I think we're mostly to the painting and finishing of walls and floor.  
On Saturday, Molly and I went down to do some market research and hand out coupons to whoever would take them.  What a beautiful day!  So many people out and about- it makes me feel like we're doing the right thing by getting into that mix.  
Since there seems to be some dismay about parking, I commented on the fact that we will have some dedicated parking there.  
So go the marketing efforts- I'm pretty new at this stuff, and hope that we are getting the word out.  One more week open at our current location!

You've got to see these!

I'm sharing a link to some beautiful pictures of incredible bookstores.  Amazing!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Greetings from New York

Hello, bibliophile comrades! This is Kelsey writing from the Big Apple and I am spending my second half of Spring Break in this fine, chaotic city visiting my brother who is living here for an internship. This place is amazing, really, but I must say my heart will always be in Fort Collins.

I am posting because today I had a chance to visit one of New York's many, many locally owned book stores: Saint Mark's Book Shop. I found it on accident online while searching a record store recommended to me by a friend, and thought it might be worth checking out based on the reviews alone. My parents, sister, and I made the long treak from the tip of Manhatten up through the city to find 3rd Street and St. Mark's with only our poor senses of direction and a small, inaccurate map to guide us. After a good two or three hour walk we were about ready to hail a cab and crash back at the hotel, but we pressed on an found it around the next corner. I was worried at first that the place would be a disappointment, and I had dragged my family along with me so I felt responsible for the turnout. We weren't disappointed, or at least my mother and I weren't. My father and sister spent most of the their time at Saint Mark's Book Shop in the art, humor, and fashion sections, but my mother and I got lost in the shelves immediately. The place reminded me a lot of our humble little Firehouse Book Store, but with a style only found in New York. For example, they included an entire section dedicated solely to Anarchist Literature and played a music best categorized as bizaare, to say the least. I limited myself to four books--
  • Angels by Denis Johnson: His novel, Jesus' Son, is one of my favorites, and when the woman working there recommended him I knew it was time to pick up another of his books. As far as I can tell so far, it's about a woman traveling cross country on a bus with her baby daughter to escape a brutal relationship.
  • Minor Characters by Joyce Johnson: I probably wouldn't have recognized her name had I not read the back of the book, but Johnson was with Jack Kerouac when his fame was just beginning to spark. This book is about the women of the beat generation who faded into the background of their male counterparts, yet lived just as interesting and progressive lives.
  • Counter Culture Through the Ages by Ken Goffman: I'd heard of this book before and took the time to skim it in the store. It covers all of life's rebels "from Abraham to Acid House" covering everything from the Spain's conquests to Bill Gates.
  • Child of God by McCarthy: This one was recommended to me by a close friend who loved The Road as much as I did. This one sticks with McCarthy's less-than-cheerful outlook and is about a man accused of rape and murder of young women. I'll try to take this one in small doses.

I know how absurd this is-- to be buying books in New York that I could have gotten an employee discount on if I ordered them at work, but I just couldn't resist. I was reminded by a customer who once told me that they are more a fan of buying books than reading them, and I fear that I'm headed on this same dark, dirt poor path. I've started all of them already, in addition to the two I brought along for the plane, and I'm not disappointed.

The woman working there seemed ecstatic that I would ask her opinion on what to read, and would pop up throughout my visit from behind shelves with some other "must-read" from her own collection. Her advice was worth having.

So now these four books are on their way home to sit on my shelf with the others that are half read and itching to be finished. I need more hours in the day. I'm sure you all can relate.

Look Me in the Eye

One of the reasons I like working at Old Firehouse Books is being able to talk to the variety of customers that frequent the store. No one is the same yet strangers can easily bond over a book. My interest with how people, who have such different perspectives in the world, yet manage to connect to each other is one of the reasons I decided to read “Look Me in the Eye.”
The book is the autobiography of John Elder Robinson, who growing up had difficulty interacting with others. He struggled because he was born with Asperger’s syndrome before it was even recognized as a mild form of autism. As a child he was called anything from psycho to sociopath, because of his inability to recognize social signals and therefore respond appropriately.
Beyond his struggles with Asperger’s, John has some amazing stories that include his frequent childhood pranks (some on his little brother Augusten Burroughs) to touring with the band KISS as a teenager.
I liked this book because of the illuminating picture John provides on how he understands life. This is a great book for fans of anything by Temple Grandin or anyone looking to gain a bit of insight into someone else’s world.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Upcoming Book Review: Ignore Everybody

One of the greatest pieces of advice I've ever heard is this: when a person gives you advice, it's just as important to scrutinize the person giving the advice as it is to consider the advice itself. Ask yourself: would you take financial advice from a bum begging for change? Advice on what restaurants are good from a person whose diet is made up of fast food and pizza? I definitely wouldn't. 

So whenever I hear advice on how to succeed as a creative person, I'm skeptical. A person giving advice on writing should frequently write themselves. Someone who thinks they know all about music should, generally speaking, listen to and play a wide variety of music. So I hope you'll believe me when I tell you that Hugh Macleod, author of the blog and upcoming book Ignore Everybody And 39 Other Keys to Creativity, is a person to listen to. Hugh draws cartoons on the back of business cards, the most powerful of which to me resonate some stark truths he's found in his life as a creative, like so:

Sometimes the cartoons are just his thoughts, which are often crass and humorous:

If any person can tell me how to succeed in the artistic world, it is the man who has the ability to make money by selling doodles on the back of business cards. This is as good a time as any to give full disclosure: I have every reason to like this book, and few not to. I one day hope to make a living off of my creativity. I read Hugh's original Ignore Everybody post a year ago and enjoyed it immensely. I've re-read his thoughts several times since then. I even enjoy Hugh's artwork, which is by no means a requirement for enjoying his book, though there may be some correlation.

If you've never heard of Hugh, want to be a creative and maybe laugh a bit, make your way to his excellent blog and buy Ignore Everybody. The insights in the book are largely the same from the original musings posted, although a few ideas, such as more on the nature of good ideas and how such ideas spread, have been expanded upon. 

And if you have heard of Hugh, know that the book's abundant cartoons (80 to be precise) make it something special and different from its online counterpart. 

If you haven't read the book, here is an excerpt taken from Hugh's site which also gives some more insight into its author:

2. The idea doesn't have to be big. It just has to be yours.
The sovereignty you have over your work will inspire far more people than the actual content ever will.
We all spend a lot of time being impressed by folk we've never met. Somebody featured in the media who's got a big company, a big product, a big movie, a big bestseller. Whatever.

And we spend even more time trying unsuccessfully to keep up with them. Trying to start up our own companies, our own products, our own film projects, books and whatnot.

I'm as guilty as anyone. I tried lots of different things over the years, trying desperately to pry my career out of the jaws of mediocrity. Some to do with business, some to do with art etc.

One evening, after one false start too many, I just gave up. Sitting at a bar, feeling a bit burned out by work and life in general, I just started drawing on the back of business cards for no reason. I didn't really need a reason. I just did it because it was there, because it amused me in a kind of random, arbitrary way.

Of course it was stupid. Of course it was uncommercial. Of course it wasn't going to go anywhere. Of course it was a complete and utter waste of time. But in retrospect, it was this built-in futility that gave it its edge. Because it was the exact opposite of all the "Big Plans" my peers and I were used to making. It was so liberating not to have to be thinking about all that, for a change.

It was so liberating to be doing something that didn't have to impress anybody, for a change.

It was so liberating to be doing something that didn't have to have some sort of commercial angle, for a change.

It was so liberating to have something that belonged just to me and no one else, for a change.

It was so liberating to feel complete sovereignty, for a change. To feel complete freedom, for a change.

And of course, it was then, and only then, that the outside world started paying attention.

The sovereignty you have over your work will inspire far more people than the actual content ever will. How your own sovereignty inspires other people to find their own sovereignty, their own sense of freedom and possibility, will give the work far more power than the work's objective merits ever will.

Your idea doesn't have to be big. It just has to be yours alone. The more the idea is yours alone, the more freedom you have to do something really amazing.

The more amazing, the more people will click with your idea. The more people click with your idea, the more this little thing of yours will snowball into a big thing.

That's what doodling on business cards taught me.

If you get a chance, check it out. In the end, it's a book about finding what you love and pursue it with all your heart. Have fun, be open to new things, and just rejoice in the life you have. As Hugh likes to say, rock on, with whatever it is you do. Hopefully this book will help you rock as much as it's helped me. I'll leave you with one more cartoon, my favorite:

Ignore Everybody And 39 Other Keys to Creativity will be released on June 11th, 2009

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Oh, hello there.

Don't worry, we're still here. It's just a busy month. You know, with the moving downtown and packing and culling books that don't sell and moving downtown and making phone calls and setting up meetings and all kinds of things. I was planning on posting a book review of some cool things coming out, but George R R Martin and his monstrous tomes of fantasy spoiled that, and me heaping praise onto an already well-reviewed, excellent series isn't going to bring anything new to the table. And if you haven't heard of and/or read A Song of Ice and Fire, do so. It's excellent.

More posts are coming, including a review before the week is over. Take it easy Firehouse crew.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Not Becoming My Mother by Ruth Reichl

The title wasn't so inviting. Not Becoming My Mother by Ruth Reichl; a lifetime of victimhood? A blamefest? Happily, it was neither of these. This work, written originally as a speech, is the perfect blend of feminist history and family dysfunction. This tome closely reminds me of Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own. Both are slim volumes in part targeted to professional women and can be said to be handed down for more than a gernation to come. Both look at wartime economies (Woolf examines the time between the Great War and WW2 in Britain, Reichl queries over WW 2 and its aftermath in the U.S.): how they change the women at homes, how they relate differently to men and women after the war is over; and how men and women relate to each other. Reichl's mother embodies these changes, and desperately, while living through her daughter at times, offers the supreme sacrifice: one day you will defy the odds and come to be your own person even if one of those odds is me. Live not by my example, but in spite of it. 

It was the course her mother saw as a possibility for her daughter and it embodies the supreme sacrifice, however martyred. Reichl's mother lived within her limitations. It's been a hundred years since Reichl's mother was born, but the book is fresh, non-pitying, and lovingly written. It is not syrup or molasses. It is timely (maybe more for its psychodrama than its herstory though today's lessons can be learned through both). Its wit and evenness make it a novel with which to breathe evenly and deeply.

- Alexandra Smith

White Witch, Black Curse by Kim Harrison

Kim Harrison's White Witch, Black Curse is a thoroughly satisfying read. Let's face it; Rachel's life is anything but boring! She has helped weres, elves, vamps, and gargoyles, this time even demons, banshees, and ghosts, thus getting herself shunned as a black witch. And what a fascinating ride it is! I sometimes wonder how long Harrison can continue with Rachel and her "friends" without losing me as a reader; yet once again, she pulls me in with her characters and their lives, loves, and liabilities exquisitely. This intricately convoluted story weaves together loose ends from previous novels in the series while bringing back a unique thread I had forgotten about. This time she even gives her readers a satisfyingly happy ending--though not The Ending. Yes, I recommend this read and am once again anxiously awaiting the next in the series, knowing it won't come soon enough for me.

- Sandy Turk, The Book Rack/Old Firehouse Books customer since 2001 (or maybe earlier, either way, she's a regular)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

a poem

Book Store on Wheels by Kelsey Myers

There once was a store that sold lots of books.

(The staff was renowned for their impressive good looks!)

Their small little store, right by Dairy Queen

was by the bike path, across from Human Bean.

But as years went by, the store kept on growing

and everyone knew which way they'd be going!

It was time to move on, move to a better space,

and downtown Fort Collins was just the right place!

They searched and they searched all throughout town

until the Old Firehouse location was found!

It was bigger and better, the spot was divine.

They knew that there the book store could shine!

So they all got ready for the big move,

it would be tough, but they know they'd improve

the book store by changing, because that's how life goes,

even though moving sometimes really blows.

So now they're all ready to relocate the store,

it should be fun, although a bit of a chore.

But when it's all finished, the last box unpacked,

no one will deny the obvious fact

that it was all worth it, worth all the work

worth seeing Dick and Susie go berserk.

So be ready to see them in their new spot

and go in to see all the great books they got!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Free Books!

You heard right, Random House's science fiction/fantasy website suvudu is giving away some awesome books for free. The five books initially released include Blood Engines by TA Pratt, His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik, Settling Accounts: Return Engagements by Harry Turtledove, Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson, and Assassins Apprentice by Robin Hobb. The plan in subsequent months is to continue adding books one can download for free. If you're at all a fan of the genre, make sure to check them out -they're all written by extremely talented authors.

Grief Journey through Books

(brought to you by Molly)

In July of 2006, I lost my only sibling to cancer. I felt like I was the only person on earth who had ever lost a brother - and I knew I was the only one on earth who had ever lost my brother. Over the next several months, I entered a mode of super-processing, where I turned inward and absorbed other people's experiences through books. Now, almost three years later, I am frustrated that I haven't been reading as much but have realized that it means I am much more present for the life outside my head, rather than the one inside.

As a society, we tend not to talk openly about the process of grieving, despite the fact that it is something everyone will experience eventually. In the spirit of bucking normal societal trends (hey, I work at an independent bookstore), I am dedicating this posting to books about death, dying, grief, and loss.

The only book I found addressing my specific loss was Surviving the Death of a Sibling: Living through Grief When an Adult Brother or Sister Dies by T.J. Wray (ISBN 9780609809808) . Using Kubler-Ross' model of the five stages of grief as a backbone, Wray shares her own grief experience and includes excerpts from others who lost a sibling to provide advice for moving through grief. I devoured the book in two days shortly after Kaleb's death but found that when I returned to it months later that it was more painful (but also more useful) because I had moved beyond "shock" and had started to experience the later stages of grief. There is a surprising lack of understanding for those of us who have experienced that loss and this book made me feel like someone (rather, lots of someones) understood the glacial tip of the iceberg of what it means to lose a sibling.

I also read Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' Tunnel and the Light: Essential Insights on Living and Dying (ISBN 9781569246900). Her many experiences in working with the dying provided me understanding of what my brother may have been going through in the couple of months preceding his death. Her writing style is engaging, her views on death and dying positive and inspiring, and I consider this a must-read for anyone who is alive and will eventually die.

Being a spiritual but non-religious person, I found Grieving Mindfully: A Compassionate and Spiritual Guide to Coping with Loss by Sameet Kumar (ISBN: 9781572244016) to be most helpful. The central theme in this book is that the grief journey is similar to a spiral staircase, moving upward from a central point rather than in a straight line. It does not negate the 5-stages of grief but rather can be used in tandem. It especially helped me make sense of the impact of anniversaries less obvious than just birth and death. It includes suggestions for meditation, writing prompts, and proposes that the best way to survive grief is to move gracefully through it rather than past it.

What are some books that helped you through a difficult time? Please feel free to post comments, offer suggestions, or simply share your stories. We're looking forward to hearing from you!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Review of "Happens Every Day" by Isabel Gillies

The last subject I would give advice to a friend on is divorce. Advice is so free, and besides, self-affirmations or objective reality sound glib, or trite. Happens Every Day by Isabel Gillies could aptly be retitled "Deconstruction through Divorce". Gillies invites the reader into a marriage in upheaval with too much fighting, too little communicating. The marital fabric really starts to unravel once the coy, dark-haired-cum-Audrey-Hepburn-other-woman is introduced. Much of the story is a rant from a jealous wife who ends up losing her husband. This isn't a romance novel but a pain-filled Nora-Ephron-Heartburn memoir. Everybody gets hurt, and assumingly everybody heals (at least, partially heals). Divorce is messy, sad; it can be a time of soul searching and self-realization - just because it happens every day doesn't make it easy.

-Alexandra Smith, Book Rack/Old Firehouse Books customer since 2008

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY, Art, Craft, and Design

This Friday the 6th, the Handmade Militia of Fort Collins will host their [small scale] Craft Fair at The Matter Bookstore and Bean Cycle Coffee Shop, at which local crafters will be able to showcase and sell their products. Oh and they'll have a few batches of free, handmade cookies too. All around, it is sure to be a great time, but the reason I mention the fair now is because events like it and groups like the Handmade Militia are the very subject of Faythe Levine and Cortney Keimerl's Handmade Nation. Levine and Keimerl's book is, like its accompanying documentary film*, a celebration of the burgeoning indie craft community in the United States, complete with individual artist interviews, articles and "The New Wave of Craft" timeline. Being somewhat of a crafter myself, I enjoyed the book greatly. Reading about fellow tattooed and bespectacled artists was both entertaining and inspiring, especially in the case of Knitta. The concept of "tagging" trees, street signs and who knows what else with knitted pieces of art makes me chuckle all while making me want to so something just as fantastic (since they are knitted they can be easily removed and are basically harmless, unlike spray paint). In the end, Handmade Nation is a quick, but satisfying read and if you have ever thought about taking up sewing or have even progressed to the point of starting your own craft business on, you should definitely pick up a copy today.
*I am currently gathering information about scheduling a screening of the film once we get all moved in downtown. Stay tuned for more information!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Why, what, when?

So I figure now is a good time to explain some of the details of our move. We get asked a lot of questions by our curious customers. So let me list some questions and give you some answers:

1.What? Are you moving? yes, yes! Our lease will be up in April. We'll be at our current location until March 31. Then we will pack like mad, shrink wrapping (yes, it's true!) our books to the shelves and will move on April 4. Then we'll take about a week to unpack and look livable. Our aim is to reopen on Friday, April 10.

2. But why? I like where you are now! This space has been good to us, but the new one has a lot of great things going for it. We will have about 400 more sq. ft. of space, which we can use to have space for book groups, author events, etc. We'd really like to be a community meeting place. We will have parking that we share with Tuesday Morning, and a space in the back alley to unload books- there will be a back door that you can go through to get to the trade counter. The firehouse is a very cool, historic building that will help us maintain our character as your funky local bookstore. And don't forget, Silver Grill, La Luz, and Rasta Pasta will be just down the block if you get hungry. I personally anticipate a couple of pound weight gain from our move.

3. Cool! Can I help? We don't want to drop any shelves on our lovely customers, so will not need help moving in. However, we are setting up a list for people to sign up on if they want to help with final shelving and organization.

I've got a couple pictures of the empty store up on top. We are tearing out parts of the wall to make a door into the very back of the store. The first two rooms in the store will be cement and the last room will have a tile floor (it used to be a machine workshop, I believe). The back room is where we'll have a seating area, as well as books.

4. Will you have coffee? We won't. We'd love to have a coffee or tea shop next door. Right now, though, we feel like we're just starting to get this bookselling going. Starting a new business right now (and doing a coffee shop would be starting a new business) would just stretch us too thin. Other bookstores that we've talked to say that coffee in bookstores tends to work best as a separate business, with a separate manager/owner, unless the bookstore owner has expertise in food service. If you know anyone who wants to start a business next door to us, send them our way!

Thanks Elder Sign!

Well, it's officially March, and one month before the big move. We already had plenty to worry about, but apparently we're now at risk to Flying Polyps. Like there wasn't enough stuff to deal with before. Great. Just great.

Thanks jmz and rudius