Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Judging a book by its cover

Here's a link to the blog for Green Apple Books of San Francisco(I've met one of the owners and he's quite cool).

Check it out for a cute little musing on some books actually being better than their covers.

I admit that I'm a cover slut. In other words, a great cover intrigues and titillates me and I want to get to know that book better, if you know what I mean. When I look at most modern covers, I'm impressed. I can't tell you how many times I've unpacked a book to get it ready for the shelf and had to stop and look inside because the cover was so beautiful/shocking/original. To be sure, this is the job of the cover designers. From the beautiful covers of paintings that grace many historical novels to the cartoony fun of Christopher Moore covers, it's easy to glance at a book and know what tone the author is trying to evoke and which other books on the shelf are going to be similar. Just think about when Girl with a Pearl Earring came out and spawned endless other covers (and books) riffing off of paintings (Girl in Hyacinth Blue, for example). Not to mention Year of Wonders, Birth of Venus, and Secret History of the Pink Carnation.
But what of bad covers? I can certainly think of many that look dated, but I can't blame the poor things for the era that spawned them. Most of the current bad covers are celebrity written, with the person in question posing and posturing on the cover. Yes, we know, the book is about them, their name is on the cover.
Any nominations for recent bad book covers?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Review of Columbine by Dave Cullen

Columbine is not a book I would have deliberately selected to read. I hesitantly picked it up from the employee damages shelf for something to read while I ate my lunch. I read a few pages of a lot of books at lunch and leave them here at the store, never returning to them. I took Columbine home out of curiosity, took it on a road trip to Arizona, and finished it in 3 days. I had been living in California when the Columbine shooting happened, remember seeing footage from the school cafeteria, and remember the slant offered by the media: Trench Coat Mafia, outcasts targeting jocks, blaming the parents. What I found inside the book was a very different story - a fascinating biography/psychological assessment of the two shooters, detailed accounts of the actual shooting plus the myriad of events leading up to it, and the objective presentation of the diverse impact of the event on parents, victims, survivors, and community members. As a teacher, I am mindful of the possibility of such events happening "anywhere". After reading this, I was "comforted" (and simultaneously a little disturbed) by the fact that this was not a sporadic event, but rather was planned a year ahead by these two boys; that they were not subtle in their jokes or hints; that one student was (unfortunately in retrospect) diagnosed as a psychopath and possessed an arsenal of weapons in his basement; that both had displayed criminal behavior prior to the attack. I am armed with accurate information about who commits these sort of crimes, their motivations, and how their plans might leak as part of assignments, art work, comments, etc. The Columbine shooting could have been prevented with improved communication between law enforcement agencies, with more persistent inspection of the warning signs, with more aggressive parenting. What I took away from this book was that we learn from mistakes and this was a big mistake.

I recommend this book for those who have always wanted to know more about the Columbine incident, are interested in true crime stories, or who were affected indirectly or directly by the shooting. It is also a good read for teachers and professionals to learn more about how to watch for warning signs in those prone to such acts. The writing style is straightforward and the exposition is well-organized and even a little suspenseful. You will find yourself propelled forward through the story, starting with the incident itself and then forward from the first seeds leading up to the incident.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

The title says it all.  This book is written as the diary of Junior, a teenage Indian boy growing up on a reservation.  On his first day of high school, he discovers his mother’s name inside the math book assigned to him and decides to attend the nearest non-rez school.  This decision results in more trouble for already unusual Junior because many Indians in his community view him as being arrogant and turning his back on their culture.  The all-white school 50 miles away gives Junior another set of problems with the only other Indian at school being the mascot. 

            The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is meant for teens, but is still a great quick read for adults.   Sherman Alexie does an amazing job of combining the tragedies of Junior’s life with humor.   His style of writing and use of his own experiences makes you believe you are actually reading the surprisingly insightful diary of a fourteen year old boy.

 I enjoyed this book because it was a combination of the new and familiar struggles of figuring out how to define yourself within a mix of cultures.  I think it is a story that many could relate to while still finding themselves surprised by Junior’s fresh perspective.   

Friday, April 17, 2009

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Our book group met last night

We talked about Away by Amy Bloom. This book is beautifully written. The main character in it is learning English (she is a Russian Jew) and has a thesaurus that she uses to describe the emotions and situations that she experiences. The lighthearted play on words that ensues helps the reader through what is some rather grim subject matter. Bloom has a very keen sense of irony which she uses to describe the time period (the 20s), the subject matter (a cross-country trip by a woman desperate to recover her daughter) and the human condition. The book explores the themes of being an outsider, the various shades of love, and survival and pragmatism. The characters stayed with me, and I'd recommend this book whole-heartedly.

As far as our book club goes, we meet the third Wednesday of every month. You're welcome to join us! Next month, we'll be reading Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen. Our meeting will be at 6:30 on May 20.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Upcoming Book Review: The City and The City by China Mieville

I just finished reading The City and The City by China Mieville, and while I can't compare it to any of his other books because I haven't read them yet, I can tell you that this book was an excellent read.

When a murdered woman is found in the city of Beszel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks to be a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he investigates, the evidence points to conspiracies far stranger and more deadly than anything he could have imagined.

Borlú must travel from the decaying Beszel to the only metropolis on Earth as strange as his own. This is a border crossing like no other, a journey as psychic as it is physical, a shift in perception, a seeing of the unseen. His destination is Beszel’s equal, rival, and intimate neighbor, the rich and vibrant city of Ul Qoma. With Ul Qoman detective Qussim Dhatt, and struggling with his own transition, Borlú is enmeshed in a sordid underworld of rabid nationalists intent on destroying their neighboring city, and unificationists who dream of dissolving the two into one. As the detectives uncover the dead woman’s secrets, they begin to suspect a truth that could cost them and those they care about more than their lives. 

What stands against them are murderous powers in Beszel and in Ul Qoma: and, most terrifying of all, that which lies between these two cities.

The book is billed as a mystery/fantasy, and that's a fitting description, though I read more fantasy than mystery, so I'm not the best person to judge it as a mystery. That's not to say the plot isn't well-constructed - just that I'm not familiar with mysteries and therefore can't rate the book as a mystery. But, as a work that resonates and makes me think, The City and the City succeeds.

The story opens in Beszel, but it doesn't take long to realize that Beszel and it's sister city, Ul Qoma, are, in parts, built upon the same geographic ground. If one was walking down a street, it would be possible to look on the left and see the citizens, buildings and mannerisms of Beszel, while seeing an entirely different city comprised of different people on the right.

But the citizens don't see each other because of Breach, a covert organization lurking between the cities. If a Beszel citizen breaches the border between cities, members of Breach descend upon the offender from nowhere. 

The book's main flaw isn't so much a flaw as it is a wish for something more. The plot and the characters work, but there are times when I wished I was further inside Tyador's head. The unfolding of how the two cities works is the real meat of the story.

There are themes I wish I could expand on, but am unable to due to their spoilerish nature, among them how different sets of knowledge catalyze entire paradigm shifts in one perception, changing nothing and everything and the lengths people will go to hold fast to the cognitive biases they have formed. And I get the feeling that these are only some of the things the book brings to light - it's very complex and promises to reward re-readings. And I can't wait to read it again.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Upcoming Old Firehouse Books Events

So, now that the new store is up and running, we have a few events planned for May, including our open book group and a few signings.

On May 23rd we're hosting Laura Resau. Laura will be signing her book, Red Glass, which comes out in paperback the week prior to the signing. A summary of the book:

One night Sophie, her mother, and her stepfather are called to a hospital, where Pablo, a five-year-old Mexican boy, is recovering from dehydration. Pablo was carrying the business card of Sophie's step-father - but he doesn't recognize the boy. Crossing the border into Arizona with seven other Mexicans and a coyote, or guide, Pablo and his parents faced such harsh conditions that the boy is the only survivor. Pablo comes to live with Sophie, her parents, and Sophie's aunt Dika, a refugee from the war in Bosnia. Sophie loves Pablo - her Principito, or Little Prince - but after a year, Sophie's parents are able to contact Pablo's extended family in Mexico, and Sophie, Dika, and Dika's new boyfriend and his son must travel with Pablo to his hometown so that he can make a heart-wrenching decision.

Sophie has always been afraid of everything - car wrecks, cancer, becoming an orphan herself. But traveling with Dika, Pablo, Mr. Lorenzo, and Angel - people who have suffered losses beyond Sophie's imagining - changes her perception of danger. Sophie feels a strong connection to Ángel, but she fears losing him almost as much as she enjoys their time together. When a tragic event forces Sophie to take a dangerous journey, she recognizes that life is beautiful even in the midst of death - and that love is worth the risk of losing.

Red Glass is also one of the Fort Collins Reads books, which is the program the city implores its residents to read and discuss, culminating in a discussion with the Fort Collins Reads authors.

Shortly after on May 26, we're having our first Brown Bag Lunch with author Lisa Jones, who will be discussing her book Broken. The lunch is exactly what it sounds like, so bring some food and we'll see you there!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

We're Open! (Again!)

Okay, so we've been too busy to post for a while. But in the interim, we have successfully moved our store. We packed in just two days, and moved into the new space a day early to stay ahead of last weekend's snowstorm. For the last week, we've been unpacking, placing books, changing our minds, moving books, and generally generating chaos. But it worked! We might not have all our book section signs in place yet, but we are open and ready for business. A huge thanks to the volunteers who came in and alphabetized until their eyes crossed- we could not have done it without them.

I don't have pictures ready to post yet, which just means that you'll have to come and see for yourself just how beautiful the new space is. We have high ceilings in the front room, exposed brick walls, and three rooms that seem to keep on going and going. Customers keep asking if we have more books, which we don't, because the space feels so much bigger. We do have 400 square feet more of space, some of which will be used for book club meetings, author signings, and other events. There is a back entrance and a loading and unloading parking space in back which you can use if you have a lot of books to take to the trade desk, which is in our second room. There is also designated parking in the alley between us and Tuesday Morning. We have now separated our check-out counter from our trade counter, in order to reduce confusion and serve our customers more quickly. This is a way of doing trade that seems to work well for Anthology, our sister store in Loveland. We'll see how it works for us.

We are really excited to show off our new space, so come visit us soon!