Here an Award, There an Award, Everywhere an Award

I love the beginning of October.  Not because of the fall weather, in Los Angeles autumn means everyone covers their lawns in manure so it smells like, well you get the idea.  Plus, we have the Santa Anas which blow the smog to me and causes fires anywhere.  Despite the environmental hazards, October means literary award activity.  In case you’ve been too busy caring for your lawn or enjoying the changing leaves in other parts of the country, here’s a recap:

On October 7th, the Swedish Academy named Mario Vargas Llosa as the winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize in literature “for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat”.  Although some literary critics are unhappy with the choice because Llosa is no longer a socialist and they see this as a victory for the right.  Remember, one country’s right can be another country’s socialist.  I was grateful they picked an author I knew and read (loved reading Conversations in the Cathedral when traveling in Peru a few years ago), it feels like years since that happened.  The betting was pointing heavily towards Cormac McCarthy, which generally indicates the author will not be picked.  Hope he didn’t stay up late waiting for the call.

Earlier this week, Howard Jacobson won my favorite book award, the 2010 Man Booker Prize.  Actually, it’s my favorite short list and the start of my Christmas list every year.  Jacobson’s book The Finkler Question won him the award.  I didn’t know anything about the book, but the title alone made me giggle.  Rightly so, it’s a comic novel.  Jacobson penned an essay about the need for comedy in serious novels in The Guardian.

To my ear the term “comic novelist” is as redundant and off-putting as the term “literary novelist”. When Jane Austen rattled off the novel’s virtues in Northanger Abbey – arguing that it demonstrated the “most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour . . . conveyed to the world in the best chosen language” – she wasn’t making a distinction between the literary novel and some other sort, or between the comic novel and the not so comic. The liveliest effusions of wit and humour are simply what the reader of a novel has a right to expect.

Again, the odds makers were wrong.  The betting was so heavy for Tom McCarthy’s C that one betting house stopped accepting bets.  They should have taken the risk, all that money they left on the table.

Last, but not least, the National Book Foundation announced the finalists for the National Book Award:

  • Peter Carey, Parrot and Olivier in America (Alfred A. Knopf)
  • Jaimy Gordon, Lord of Misrule (McPherson & Co.)
  • Nicole Krauss, Great House (W.W. Norton & Co.)
  • Lionel Shriver, So Much for That (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers)
  • Karen Tei Yamashita, I Hotel (Coffee House Press)

And now my Christmas list is just about complete.  Of course, the scuttlebutt was more about who was not on the list, Jonathan Franzen for Freedom.  I’m not surprised, I enjoyed the book, but there wasn’t a single sentence that I underlined as stunning.  We’ve been having a discussion about Freedom on the Bookstore People Facebook page, hop over and tell us what you think.

Bookstore People has a Facebook Page!

Claire and I feel sassy and cutting edge now that Bookstore People has a Facebook page! We’re still figuring it out, causing some humorous moments.  Yesterday, Claire sent me an e-mail asking “why is it doing that?”  I responded, “did we break it already?”  No worries, we have young family members who love the opportunity to help us and laughing at us.

We’re planning on conversation and bookstore tidbits that we won’t be writing about on the blog, click here to join us!

Verghese Speaks


What better way to kick off the Beverly Hills Literary Escape than a cozy conversation with Abraham Verghese, the author of Cutting for Stone? Verghese genuine interest in discussing his book and medical practice left everyone spellbound.  Here are some highlights:

  • A Wandering Writer. Verghese wrote Cutting for Stone over a seven year period, a little bit every day.  He told me before the talk that he believes in the process of building one piece at a time.  He started with a mental picture of a nun in an operating room having a baby.  That was already shocking, yet he upped the drama by giving her twins.  He doesn’t write from an outline, but through experimentation.  That’s how he came upon Marion’s voice as the narrator, moving fairly seamlessly into, then out of, and then into again, first person.  He worked to combine the intimacy of first person with the omniscient knowledge of third person.  His model was the opening scene of The Tin Drum when the grandson tells how his grandmother was impregnated, but how would he have have known? [An excerpt of just this scene is in Wherever I Lie is Your Bed.]  About three quarters or approximately five years into the book, Verghese’s editor said it was time to end the experimenting and find the conclusion.  There were too many options and Verghese needed to narrow in on where the book was going.  In a state of anxiety, he flew to New York and free associated with his editor until he mapped out the remainder of the novel.
  • Size Matters. Initially, Sister Mary Joseph Praise’s story was to return at the end of the book with few hundred pages of text.  However, the author noticed that when people in bookstores pick up a long, large book, they tend to put it back.  He felt size matters and if a book is too long, it can discourage people from buying it.  I look at long books and think it’s more likely than not that the book needed a stronger editor.  I affirm his choice, this ending works.
  • Shiva. He didn’t want to give Shiva a clinical diagnosis, but as the reader suspects, Shiva has Asberger’s Syndrome.  At one point Verghese’s editor said “I can’t really see Shiva,” and he answered “precisely.”
  • Inquiring Minds Want to Know, What Does the Title Mean? His goal was for the title to be a bit mysterious, I’d say he accomplished it.  My mother read the book first and asked me as I was reading it, do you get the title?  My first thought went to sculpture, cutting marble/stone for a statute, so I kept looking for art references.  Don’t go that route, it took me nowhere.  Verghese explained that there is a line in the Hippocratic Oath that a doctor promises not to cut for stone.  In the olden days, people suffered from bladder/gallbladder/kidney stones that caused extreme pain and ultimately death.  Charlatans wandered the countryside cutting the stones out bringing immediate relief but also death from a hacked and germ infested procedure.  New doctors still promise to not perform these operations.  It’s a phrase that resonated with the author whenever he repeated the oath.  Cutting for Stone was always the title of the book.  The characters’ last names were initially Pickering until it occurred to Verghese that naming them Stone tied the title to the book.  He wonders if maybe the title was a little too mysterious.  Hmmm, maybe.
  • Reading. Verghese sees little difference between practicing medicine (which he does at Stanford) and writing, they stress observation of and curiosity about  humans and their stories.  Verghese tells his medical students, “If you aren’t reading novels, the imagination part of your brain will atrophy.” Of Human Bondage directed Verghese to medicine.  The main character, Philip, failed as an artist but viewed medicine as an opportunity to see humanity “in the rough.” Verghese felt that a few may have the natural talent to be an artist, but if one worked hard enough, a person could be a good doctor and that’s what he set Continue reading

In Honor of 10-10-10 – Three Great Literary Tens

photo by woodley wonderworks

In celebration of the numerically whimsical date.

First:  The most influential list of ten in the history of humanity:

The Ten Commandments

  1. You shall have no other gods before me.
  2. You shall not make for yourself any carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
  3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
  5. Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.

Second:  Other than the Bible (which I already gave the top spot), the all time top bestsellers according to Wikipedia:

1.  A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (1859, English)

2.  The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (1954, English)

3.  The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (1937, English)

4.  Dream of the  Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin (1759-1791, Chinese)

5.  On the Three Representations by Jiang Zemin (2001, Chinese)

6.  And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (1939, English)

7.  The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (1950, English)

8.  She by H. Rider Haggard (1887, English)

9.  Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1943, French)

10.  The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (2003, English) [Okay, at the risk of looking like a literary snob, this kills me a little bit.]

Third:  From the greatest writer in the English language, William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 10:

For shame deny that thou bear’st love to any,
Who for thyself art so unprovident.
Grant, if thou wilt, thou art beloved of many,
But that thou none lovest is most evident;
For thou art so possess’d with murderous hate
That ‘gainst thyself thou stick’st not to conspire.
Seeking that beauteous roof to ruinate
Which to repair should be thy chief desire.
O, change thy thought, that I may change my mind!
Shall hate be fairer lodged than gentle love?
Be, as thy presence is, gracious and kind,
Or to thyself at least kind-hearted prove:
Make thee another self, for love of me,
That beauty still may live in thine or thee.

Would love to hear what literary 10s you come up with.  Better yet, what literary 11s since 11-11-11 will be here before we know it.

Idlewild Books – New York, NY

In honor of this weekend’s Book Tourism event, I’m posting a a couple of reviews this week of stores participants can visit during their eight hours of exploring Greenwich Village.

The entire five days I spent in New York City, I exited the subway station to the street and turned in the correct direction only once.  Even when I thought ‘my instincts say it’s to the right, so I’ll go to the left,’ I went the wrong way.  I was so sure I heading the correct direction down 19th Street to Idlewild Books that I walked blocks and blocks away from the store.  It’s a lovely neighborhood, I know because I’ve seen it at a pedestrian’s pace.  Actually, a little quicker.  On the way back it started to sprinkle, then it started to rain, then hard, and I started to sprint.  When I entered Idlewild Books I was dripping.  I literally shook myself off on the landing like my golden retriever.

Some of the stained glass and chairs are from the original Idlewild Airport

David, the owner of the store, asked “Did you forget your umbrella?”

I said, “I’m from Los Angeles, I don’t even own an umbrella.”

I’m sure the store is beautiful in any weather, but it is perfect for a stormy day.  It exudes warmth.  Check out the picture with the wooden floors, huge front window and bookshelves everywhere.  There is an alcove or two for curling up in.  In fact, the entire time I was there a man was diligently working on his laptop in a corner.  In Los Angeles, he would be a screenwriter, but since I was in New York I assumed he was writing the next Great American Novel (no, it wasn’t Franzen).

I hesitate to say that Idlewild Books is a travel bookstore because I fear that the title invokes the travel section at Borders with sloppy shelves of guidebooks.  Idlewild Books has guidebooks (they looked neatly organized), but its charm is as an advocate for traveling with or through literature.  In the last 18 months, I think I’ve purchased about a dozen books there (a set for each family vacation) and only one was a guidebook that David practically had to beg me to buy when he found out I loved Italian art.  My experience has been to tell David where I’m going and what I’m interested in and he tells me the books that will add an entirely new dimension to the trip.  I should add, it’s not just me, he recommends the books my teenagers will carry with them.  [What we read on our latest family vacation, including David’s suggestions, will be in a future post.]

The store is divided geographically with all the guidebooks, novels, YA, classics and non-fiction about the appropriate area in one location.  By providing novels relevant to the literature, culture and history of various countries, the store is also a treasure trove of translated literature.  When I was looking for books to read while Continue reading

The Scholastic Store – Soho, New York, NY

In honor of this weekend’s Book Tourism event, I’m posting a a couple of reviews this week of stores participants can visit during their eight hours of exploring Greenwich Village.

Mother and son reading on the kangaroo's tail

The Store Of My Childhood Dreams

My favorite day in elementary school was the day the Scholastic Books flyers arrived.  Growing up in a small town with very few bookstore options and having read through everything of interest in our small library, this was my monthly goldmine of book discoveries.  Weighing my desire for each book while carefully allocating my allowance money provided early lessons in money management.  This childhood literary crush didn’t fade with time.  When my kids started school, I raced to volunteer to be the Scholastic Parent.  Every year I was amazed that I was competing with nobody, the parents and teachers happily gave me the job.

When I saw The Scholastic Store on my way to Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, I practically skipped over (well, I might have actually skipped if the weather wasn’t so hot and muggy).  I hesitated for a moment going into a children’s bookstore without any kids, either with me or at home.  I realized this was the perfect opportunity since my teenagers would have wanted to spend less time in a children’s bookstore than I would.  The store is a delight!  It’s a cross between a playground and a bookstore.  Don’t take my word for it, check out the store tour video.

The Scholastic Store is organized by age.  I spent quite awhile in the YA section for teenage readers.  As a mother who inadvertently gives her daughter YA books that are too old for her, I found it helpful that the YA books were divided between teens and pre-teens.  The sales people were immensely helpful, pointing out several books that a lover of the Twilight series might enjoy.  The rest of the store was a bit of a walk down memory lane.  The Magic Tree House section reminded me of the hours we spent learning about the world from Ms. Frizzle.  Harry Potter central brought back the days we had to buy three copies of the latest book so we could all read it at once.  And of course, I recalled the truly olden days when the Big Red Dog was the hero of our world.  Add to those series the Hunger Games trilogy, the 39 Clues Books, and Madeline, it’s clear Scholastic publishes terrific kids books.  To see them all together in this publisher’s bookstore is a treat.

The Scholastic Store is more than a purveyor of books, it’s an activity center.  With regular storytime every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, activities every Saturday and a dream birthday party destination spot, the store attracts our littlest readers with fun.

If you’re in Soho, with or without kids, stop by and indulge yourself in a visit to childhood reading.

The Scholastic Store

557 Broadway

Soho, NY

Tel:  212.343.6166

Bookstore Tourism is Rolling Again!

Several years ago, I followed a series of links on the Internet to discover Bookstore Tourism by Larry Portzline.  I immediately bought the book.  What I remember thinking as I read it is that were other people like me, people who looked for bookstores when they were traveling along with great restaurants and unique activities.  In the “old days,” Larry also led organized tours to various stores.  Well, happy days are here again!  For the first time in years, Larry will be leading a bookstore tourism event to Greenwich Village.  Here are the details:

On Saturday, October 9th, Larry is commandeering a chartered bus, picking up 50 bibliophiles in Harrisburg and Lancaster, and dropping them off at Washington Square Park with a map locating 23 area bookstores.  Larry’s description of a few of the stores:

The stores include everything from the Strand, which advertises 16 miles of shelf space, to Bonnie Slotnik Cookbooks, just a few blocks away, which is the size of a living room but has a worldwide reputation.  (No lie, she carries cookbooks from all the way back in the 1700s and has chefs and collectors from all over the world calling her.)  Some other favorites:  Three Lives & Company, Housing Works Bookstore Care, Books of Wonder, Partners & Crime . . . I could go on and on.  Some new stores on the list:  the Scholastic Store, the Taschen Store, and Idlewild Bookshop.  It’s a fantastic mix of new, used, and specialty bookstores.

The bus leaves at 7PM giving the participants 8 hours of bookstore shopping time.  This is the blueprint for my perfect day!

If you’re interested in joining this tour or learning about future tours, contact Larry through his website, via Facebook, or via Twitter.