Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Long Winter

So, Borders is in some trouble. In the book world, we have known this for years. There have been signs. I’m not sure if closing one third of Borders stores will save the company or not. I do know that there will be a lot of good people out of work who will be wondering if they will ever find a job that allows them to professionally exercise their love and knowledge of books again. It’s tough; things are tough all over.

Things are tough here, too. We don’t want to close our doors any time soon, but to be honest, the store is struggling right now. There are lots of reasons. Late winter and spring are traditionally our slowest times, with no summer or holiday reading to boost sales. In Fort Collins, I think the recession is starting to really hit home. Amazon and Walmart will always be cheaper. E-books may be eating into sales too, although you can buy Google e-Books online at our website. (Call us if you’re unsure how to order e-Books- we’ll be happy to help!)

We are now seeing our slowest months since we moved our bookstore downtown. It’s a bit worrisome, because you never know if customers are just giving their wallets a break or if they’re never coming back. We truly do understand that many of our customers shop at more than one bookstore. But: we don’t want to suffer the death of a thousand cuts, a little trickling away here, a little there, until we have nothing left.

So here’s a proposal: buy one more book per month here at Old Firehouse Books than you normally would. Choose one more book. Let us help you pick one out- we’re great at that! By helping to support your local bookstore, you are supporting five different book clubs hosted at the store. You’re supporting a place for local author signings (Laura Resau and Carrie Vaughn this month, C.J. Box and Diane Mott Davidson later this spring). You’re supporting a community gathering center, a place to hang out downtown while you’re waiting for dinner, a place to take the family when they’re visiting you. These are all services that are unique to our store, our town.

Everyone wants to have a vibrant downtown with a cool independent bookstore. I read every day about another independent bookstore closing, with customers in tears about losing their special place. We don’t want to do that to the community or to you. But we need your help and support. Please help us out with one more book per month. We love our customers, and want to be here for you.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


We've re-arranged the store!

After many hours of back-breaking-book-business, we've finally settled into a comfortable shelving situation! Exciting changes mean the store is approximately 137% more EXCELLENT.
Will you be able to find the books you're looking for?

Thrilling developments include:

-An E-Book Experimentation-Station! (We sell E-Books now!) Learn what all the fuss is about!
-Newer, more comfortable 'rugs' that are all the rage in Paris!
-A room devoted entirely to children's books! And teen books! And books for parents of children and/or teens!
-Light! Glorious light!
-A section for "Fiction" (consisting of our former 'novels' and 'mystery' sections) and a section for "Literature!" No longer will that 'Moby Dick' nonsense interfere with your search for Stephen King! (or vice-versa.)
-Our Science Fiction section is... Pretty much the same, actually.
-Even more in-store events! Come meet the authors of your favorite books! (See our website for details!)

Yes, here at Old Firehouse Books, we believe that change is good. So are books. When the two are combined, magic happens.

... But really, the new layout is pretty awesome. You should come by and see it.
Hope to see you soon!


Monday, February 14, 2011

Why you should read more graphic novels (Also, 'Zombies aren't just for nerds anymore.')

I will admit, at the outset, that I am somewhat biased towards comic books. Not in the "SUPERMAN PUNCHES BADGUYS" sense, but in the "Calvin and Hobbes, I really enjoy the art and it manages to be funny AND poignant at the same time" sense. I think I've even talked about it before.
At the risk of repeating myself, I think comics like Calvin and Hobbes are totally rad. Go read them.
But now, delving into new territory, you should totally read other comic books as well.
I know it may be old news to some, but comics have grown (and continue to grow) as a medium that is completely capable of imparting a mature, innovative storyline while expressing itself as no other medium can.

One of the best examples of this?

The Walking Dead.

No, really.

I know-- zombies are for weirdos and geeks. Before they shambled into the public eye (and, really, even after that) they were seen mainly around that one table in the lunchroom that nobody really wanted to go near because of the overwhelming cheetos-and-Mountain-Dew fug that seemed to hover there like a cloud (I call it 'chountain-foo.') From inside of this cloud, muffled grunts could be heard debating the merits of specific tactics during a zombocalypse, such as which weapon to use (fire-axe) and where to go (post-office. Think about it.)
Needless to say, this esoteric mumbling doesn't foster a sense of 'welcome.'

But that's all changed in the past few years. With the explosion of nerd-culture onto the pop-culture scene, normal people have started learning about robots and aliens. Moreover, they've learned that, hey, there've been some pretty smart things written about nerdy subjects. And--like it or not, Hollywood!--people tend to like smart things.

Where was I going with this?
Oh, yeah.

The Walking Dead is one of those 'smart things that have been written about nerdy subjects.' To quote the author (Robert Kirkman):

"To me, the best zombie movies aren't the splatter fests of gore and violence with goofy characters and tongue in cheek antics. Good zombie movies show us how messed up we are... They show us gore and violence and all that cool stuff too, but there's always an undercurrent of social commentary and thoughtfulness."

So, basically, what Kirkman is saying is that he's writing a character drama. Except, when anything gets boring or tedious, zombies show up.

How cool is that?!

Here we have an intelligent, well-thought-out character drama with awesome supernatural tension to influence the character's actions and drive the plot when things get stable. And the best thing is, there are so many comics like this now.

Check out Watchmen by Alan Moore, for one. It's excellent. The Sandman series, by Neil Gaiman is another. If you're not put off by dark, surrealistic visuals and grim plot, read Black Hole by Charles Burns. If realism is your cup of tea, go for Persepolis or Fun Home.


My point is, comic books are awesome. You can get into them without having to read years and years of backstory. You can enjoy them even if you don't like superheroes. And the best part is, they will probably make you smarter.*

Moral of the story? Read more comics.

(*This claim is not proven by science. Indeed, it is not supported by anybody but me, because I think smart things make you think, which makes you smart. Like exercise. For your mind. But you can also enjoy it, which you will.

... Read comics.)


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Thank-You to Brian Jacques

So, Brian Jacques recently passed away. He was the author of the Redwall series, which was all about talking mice that fought talking rats with a magic sword.

Man, I would totally keep going with how ridiculous that sounds, but the truth of the matter is that the Redwall books were some of the most influential books of my childhood.
I loved the whole shebang-- all the silly agnostic mice that lived inside of an abbey and ate delicious things, and the evil rodents that wanted in on the good thing they had going. All the badger-lords of Salamandastron, and the Long Patrol that they bossed around. The sword of Martin the Warrior, and all that shit. I loved it.
I mean, seriously-- I read it all. I listened to the books on tape to go to sleep at night. I'm not ashamed to say that I liked Redwall more than I liked most everything else that I was reading or watching (or doing, or that was happening in my life) at the time.
Redwall was the first saga that I ever really felt I was a part of. I grew up with the story, and I felt myself invested in the world that Jacques created. I wanted everything to go well for the talking mice just as much as I wanted to eat the delicious things that the critters at Redwall Abbey cooked up (to this day, there has never been a writer that has tantalized me with descriptions of food like Brian Jacques.) As silly as it was, I thought that it was the coolest thing. Moreover, I thought it was the most important thing for the mice to find the sword of Martin again so they could fight off the slavers and the brigands just in time for whatever non-denominational woodland festival Redwall had going at the time. Brian Jacques made me care about a story--about a group of characters, a place, an entire world and everything in it-- in a way that nobody before (and very few since) have been able to do.
In time, I grew up. I stopped reading the Redwall series because I started high-school, and at the time I thought those books were for little kids. And anyway, I had other things to read--things for class, other series of books, and so on--so I left the world of Redwall behind.
Except, I don't think I ever really did. No matter what I read, or where I've gone or what I've learned from years of books and classes, some part of me has always been sitting down at the table with Matthias, Methuselah, Basil Stag Hare and all the rest, eating a bowl of strawberries and cream and listening to the story of how Redwall Abbey was saved from Cluny the Scourge. And I know, and I can say without any hesitation, that I've loved every minute of it.
Thanks, Brian Jacques.


Monday, February 7, 2011


As some of you may know, I recently graduated from college with a bachelor's in English. I can hear you now:
"Fantastic!" you say. "Do you plan on teaching?"
"Then do you plan... Uh. Do you... plan on... Writing?"
"Yes. Eventually."
"What do you plan on doing, then, if not those two things?" you ask.
My answer?
I plan to read.
I've found the perfect job for this vocation. I am surrounded by knowledgeable people and an almost infinite fount of literary achievement to choose from. I have a pile of books from new authors at my house primed and ready to be perused.
My first stop on this literary excursion, however, is read all of the things that I pretended to do during my college career.
Like. Actually, this time.
My first step was to read Shakespeare. I've been avoiding this guy since tenth grade, but I've heard he's, y'know, pretty good or something. The most recent one that I've made my way through (on my own time) was Macbeth. The one with the witches. "Double double toil" and... something else. (it starts with a 'T!')
Yeah, that's pretty much all I knew about it, too.
As it turns out, it was a pretty rad play. A nice slew of crazy people trying to wash blood off their hands and war. Also Scotsmen. But I'm pretty sure I've already talked about how rad classics can be, so I'll move right along to my second revelation:
I have no idea what's been published in the past twenty years. My entire education has been geared towards the 'classics.' Looking at this reading list I've compiled, I think the most recent thing that I've been assigned (and that I'm only now getting to) has been something by Jack Kerouac.
This is a terrible failing of modern education. It's like, from our perspective, literature had a heart-attack and died as soon as 1970 rolled around. Which is ridiculous, right? I mean, think of all the excellent books that've been published within the last thirty years! If all I knew about literature was from the books I read in college, then I wouldn't even know that books like...


See, this is the problem! All I know of modern literature is from books like Fight Club by Chuck Palanhiuk and Watchmen, the graphic novel by Alan Moore (And I mean, hey, they're excellent books. Read them.)These are books that I've read on my downtime, according to the pulp-fiction tastes of a twenty-something male. They're great books, but I'm not sure how well Fight Club will be remembered to generations down the line.
What I'm looking for--and what I was denied by my education--are the modern classics. Stuff like Great Expectations, only, y'know, relevant.

(Side note: Wizard of the Crow, by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, is totally one of those modern-classic books. It's really refreshing to see something written by an African person who isn't Chinua Achebe. After all, I'm pretty sure that things have happened in the entire continent of Africa since, again, 1960. Regardless of what 'literature' would have you believe.)

But yeah. Okay. What I'm saying is that I can tell you exactly what was going through Hemingway's head as he wrote The Sun Also Rises--another excellent book--but I couldn't tell you what literary movement happened after Allen Ginsberg wrote Howl. And I really wish I could.
But first? I read Moby Dick.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Waiting for the Next Big Suprise

At the beginning of this year I was pressed with the difficult decision of choosing my last personal book until May. I say my last personal book, because while I continue to read copious amounts for school, I do not allow myself to pick up anything of my choosing during the semester. I've learned about myself that when it comes down to it, if I have a book I've chosen sitting next to an assigned one, I will choose my book every time. Obviously.

But I digress. I wanted something quick, something fun, something as different from Shakespeare as possible since I knew I'd be reading quite a bit of that over the next few months. But above all else I wanted something that would shock me. I wanted a book that would make my jaw drop at the first words of the last chapter.

This desire was mostly brought on by watching a recent movie adaptation of one of my favorite books from the 9th grade. I knew what was going to happen in the movie, of course, but I can recall little Kelsey sitting down with the book version, tossing the book to the ground when my mind couldn't handle the shock any longer.

Now you may be wondering what this spectacular book/movie is, but I've decided not to tell you. This is because you may not have seen this movie/read this book yet, and if you expect it to surprise you, it almost undoubtedly will fail to do so. This happened when I picked up my first book of 2011. I expected some mind blowing twist ending, and while the ending was good, I felt like I sort of saw it coming. This same effect took place when I saw the movie mentioned above with a friend who was experiencing it for the first time. "You haven't heard about how this ends yet, right?" I questioned him before the movie started. Of course, within the first twenty minutes, he already knew how the movie was going to end.

Knowing that something is supposed to surprise us makes us all the more alert in looking for clues of what might happen. Somehow this doesn't keep me from screaming at everything in every haunted house ever, but it certainly works for books and movies. I think with books and movies our expectations just reach too high when we vaguely see what lies ahead. We want the ending to be something we have never seen or heard of before, something that will split our little heads in two. This rarely happens when you can see the axe ready to do the splitting.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Love and Books

Our store is hosting a mixer for book lovers next week- you can check out the details on the front page of our website. I'm looking forward to it the way you look forward to any party- the food will be good, we've got some fun planned, who will show up? As I think about compatibility and book tastes, though, I wonder...

My husband and I have totally different tastes in reading. That is, I love to read, and he never cracks a book. He used to read more, especially during his many travels. But now he'll listen to his iPod or play games on his phone, or watch movies on his laptop, or one of the many other high tech options that we now have available to us. Me? I see an airplane trip as several hours of uninterrupted reading time. Full Stop. I usually take about twice as many books as I'll probably actually read on a trip, because who knows? I might somehow power through all the books I've brought and THEN WHAT??!! Security is bringing an extra book or two. I haven't gone to an e-reader, although traveling is one place where I could see a use for one. Maybe someday, but I don't mind cramming my suitcase full of books and pushing the weight limit for checked bags.

But I digress. The point is that I am a reader and believe I will be one for the rest of my life, and my husband decidedly is not a reader. This makes me sad sometimes. I can (and do) tell him about the books I'm reading in excruciating detail, discuss their themes, and ask him what he thinks. He will gamely take part in such a conversation. But talking about a book that I've already filtered through my brain is not the same as getting his own take on its ideas. My husband is a smart, thoughtful man. But I don't get to hear his thoughts on philosophy, the latest foodie book, or whether the new science fiction book I'm reading is as good as I think it is. He is a wonderful husband with many sterling qualities. It seems petty to be wistful about the fact that we don't read together. I certainly know that I won't change him. But if I'd gone to a booklovers mixer to meet him, he wouldn't have been there.

So, how does taste in books translate to compatibility? I love the members of my book clubs, because they are smart, funny, insightful, open-minded people, and we have great discussions. In theory, I can see that translating into a deeper connection, relationship-wise. If you know how someone thinks and what is important to them, that can help you decide if they would be a good mate. Just knowing how someone thinks and argues about books can help you see if they are willing to look at another point of view, if they are willing to listen, or if they just like to hear themselves talk.

I don't think type of reading necessarily should be a criteria for romance, though. I know, for example, many whip-smart, professional women who read romances almost exclusively. They have fast-paced, stressful lives, and they need an outlet and escape, which romances provide. Most guys that I know are not big romance readers (I can think of a couple of exceptions, though). But maybe the fact that the girl you're interested in likes a happy ending instead of tragic books is useful information? Conversely, if I know that someone else likes reading Charles Stross, for example, I know that we can have a great conversation about the direction that science fiction is going, how technology and imagination can ignite each other, and maybe find that we have similar senses of humor.

I think I can get along with just about any sort of book lover. I can respect different opinions and I know that everyone has unique tastes. It's fun to discover what you have in common as a couple, and where your interests are different enough that you learn from each other. My husband and I share a love of hockey and languages. I've taught him some about food, and he's certainly broadened my travel horizons. He hates the Vampire Diaries (my guilty pleasure) but will watch The Big Bang Theory with me. So I don't think it's about finding the perfect match, but finding someone whom you can respect and grow with.

But, I don't think I could marry an Ayn Rand worshipper. We're not coming from different viewpoints, but almost different planets. No offense to the Randians- maybe we could just be friends.