Saturday, July 30, 2011

Soup and Salad: Buh-Bye Borders: Writers Reflect on Chain's Impact, World Book Night, Where in the World is Alice Bliss?, Agatha Christie Hangs Ten, What to Read at the Beach, Lassie's Author was Hardboiled, Ridiculous Book Titles, Flannery O'Connor Bathroom Supplies, 2011 Man Booker Prize, What Will Happen to the Wall of Books?

On today's menu:

1.  I'm feeling iffy about the meltdown and closure of Borders.  It was always my least-favorite of the mega-bookstores (the one in Columbia, Maryland was consistently filthy and cluttery), but I understand the upheaval its departure is causing some communities.  I'm always sad when another place to buy books and host readings is taken away from readers; and my heart does go out to suddenly-jobless bookanistas.  At Salon, a dozen-plus writers--including Ann Patchett, Erica Jong and Darin Strauss--offer "A Wistful Farewell" to the chain.  Anthony Doerr writes: "What does the demise of Borders mean?  It means we lose a few more dazzling temples to the written word.  It means more good people lose their jobs.  And it means--one can hope--that there’s more room in the meadow for some upstart saplings."  I especially liked this reflection from Lauren Groff (The Monsters of Templeton):
      I grew up in the tiny village of Cooperstown, N.Y., where there were precisely two places to buy new books: the grocery store, which had all of your sexy and bloody stuff; and Augur's Books, which slowly replaced most of their bookshelves with baseball jewelry and signed balls until a tiny but beautifully curated collection remained. Beyond that, there was the annual library book sale, where you could get an 1890s "Daniel Deronda" and complete Modern Library collections of Sir Walter Scott with squished insects inside.
      When I first came to a blockbuster bookstore--bright, cool, caffeinated, filled with endless quantities of books that smelled clean and had no silverfish running out of them--it seemed not unlike my idea of heaven. The truth is I love bookstores, any bookstores. I'm terribly sad when an indie goes out of business, but I've never fully understood the rage against big chain bookstores, because I've found that, more likely than not, they're staffed by smart, passionate, well-read book lovers. It breaks my heart that these people will now be out of jobs.
      As a citizen, it's cause for mourning, because you worry about people eating and paying rent; as a writer, it's also scary because we need all the solvent book-readers we can possibly get. It seems to me that we should reserve our fury about this for the virtual bookstores who don't love teachers or firemen or roads or municipal water supplies or feeding hungry children at least one good meal a day in school. You know, all the things that make civilization more sturdy, and all the things that are supposed to be paid for by taxes--which aforementioned virtual bookstores somehow believe they're above.
You can read all of the authors' reflections on the liquidation here.

2.  Here's some exciting news to counteract the black-cloud headlines about Borders:  World Book Night is coming to the United States.  The UK event was a big hit this past March, and so as with anything the Royals do we Yanks must follow suit (except for that afternoon tea thing, that's never really caught on over here).  Shelf Awareness has the details on World Book Night, American Style which is set for April 23, 2012:
Imagine being given 48 copies of one of your favorite books for free to give to anyone you want. That's the basic idea behind World Book Night, which was held for the first time in the U.K. this past March 5. Participants chose one of 25 titles, and then received 48 copies of the book and gave them out to anyone they wanted. During the first World Book Night, some 20,000 people gave away a million specially printed books--40,000 copies each of the 25 titles that included Life of Pi by Yann Martel, New Selected Poems by Seamus Heaney, The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carre, Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Beloved by Toni Morrison. All parts of the book world came together to support the effort, including publishers, booksellers, writers and, last but not least, readers. Just in the past few months readers in the U.K. nominated titles for next year's U.K. World Book Night. The final list of 25 titles for 2012 will be announced at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October.

3.  Speaking of the globe, Laura Harrington's new novel Alice Bliss is packing her trunks and heading around the world on a reader-to-reader tour.  The Where's Alice Bliss? campaign hopes to send the book to four continents and all 50 states courtesy of Book Crossing.  You can sign up to be part of Harrington's ambitious plan at her website.  No word on whether or not Alice will be traveling with Carmen Sandiego and Waldo.

4.  This is hardly news to those of us who have read Agatha Christie's autobiography, but The Guardian is breathlessly trumpeting the headline that the Grand Dame of Murder was one of the first Britons to surf....standing up.  She "was something of a pioneering and diehard wave-rider.  At a time when many of her contemporaries were chugging cocktails in Blighty, Agatha Christie was paddling out from beaches in Cape Town and Honolulu to earn her surfing stripes."  Not necessarily news, but it's always fun to see Agatha Christie in a bathing suit.

5.  If you're one of those who are only just now taking a much-needed summer break, Michael Dirda offers guidance at The Barnes and Noble Review on what to read at the beach or in the hammock:
      Summertime, and the reading is easy….Well, maybe not easy exactly, but July and August are hardly the months to start working your way through the works of Germanic philosophers. Save Hegel, Heidegger, and Husserl for the bleaker days of February.
      No, what you want at this time of the year are the books that you can idly pick up, readily put down, then lazily pick up again, as you snooze in a hammock or toast in the sun. Neither too absorbing or too emotionally demanding, they should lull, inspire reveries, provoke a smile, or maybe set off a few memories suitable for an afternoon's daydreaming. If summer were a movie, it would be a stylish romantic comedy like The Princess Bride or To Catch a Thief.

6.  One book you might want to pack along (if you can find it) is You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up a hardboiled noir from 1938.  I'd heard of it before, but it wasn't until I read Woody Haut's excellent essay at the Los Angeles Review of Books that I learned the author, Richard Hallas, was the pseudonym for Eric Knight.  Eric Knight's greatest claim to literary fame?  Lassie Come-Home.  Like me, Haut has a hard time reconciling "a hardboiled novel filled with murder, robbery, gambling, blackmail, scams, and suicide" written by the same guy who made his fortune from a tale about a cuddly collie.

7.  HuffPo has the 15 Most Ridiculous Book Titles Ever.  I think Come On Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All is rather catchy, but I'd probably steer clear of The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification.

8.  Because I'm such a Flan Fan, I have a Google News Alert set for "Flannery O'Connor."  Imagine my surprise when I saw a link for "Flannery O'Connor bathroom supplies."  Turns out "Flannery O'Connor" is the name of a dorm at Loyola.  Dang!  I was all set to buy some Hazel Motes Toilet Paper.

9.  The 2011 Man Booker Prize longlist has been announced:
Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending
Sebastian Barry, On Canaan's Side
Carol Birch, Jamrach's Menagerie
Patrick deWitt, The Sisters Brothers
Esi Edugyan, Half Blood Blues
Yvvette Edwards, A Cupboard Full of Coats
Alan Hollinghurst, The Stranger's Child
Stephen Kelman, Pigeon English
Patrick McGuinness, The Last Hundred Days
A.D. Miller, Snowdrops
Alison Pick, Far to Go
Jane Rogers, The Testament of Jessie Lamb
D.J. Taylor, Derby Day
As usual, I haven't read any of the nominees, but The Sisters Brothers, Pigeon English and Jamrach's Menagerie are all on my short-list of TBR books.  Galley Cat has free samples of all the titles.

10.  Over at Writerly Life, Blair wonders "What Will Happen to the Wall of Books?" if she keeps filling up her Kindle:
The process of change is slow, and we’re at a very early stage. But in looking at the collapse of Borders this week, I can’t help wondering whether the delight in books as physical artistic objects might be a fading phenomenon. Or books might become an elite, artisanal object rather than a mass-produced and highly common thing. We might begin to treasure the few physical books we have, while somewhere alone on a shelf a slim hard drive is holding the world’s texts.

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