Wonderful Video of What Happens in a Bookstore at Night

I’ve been in a bit of a posting slump, but I’m working my way out and what better way to start the new year than with this lovely stop action video, “The Joy of Books,” about what happens in Type bookstore at night.  I can’t wait to visit Toronto just to stop by Type Books to thank them for bringing a smile to so many people, and to buy books.

Type Books

883 Queen Street West

Toronto, ON Canada

T:  416.366.8973


Scrambling For A Last Minute Gift? Head To Your Local Bookstore!

Farhad Manjoo ignited the latest round of ‘will the local bookstore survive’ with his “Don’t Support Your Local Bookstore” tirade on Slate.  (I couldn’t fail to notice that while Salon promotes a campaign to support local bookstores, Slate is bashing them.)  Numerous responses Manjoo were published, twitter feeds with special hashtags popped up, and even Manjoo wrote a second article advising bookstores to change their tactics in order to survive.  Not sure how many are waiting to listen to his advice.  I’ve started several posts to describe the uproar, but life has been a bit hectic in the Allen-Niesen household lately.  So here’s the upshot:

Bookstore are doing great this holiday season.   Stores across the nation are consistently reporting an uptick in sales starting in the fall.  It’s hard to give an ebook as a gift.  Over Thanksgiving weekend, possibly with some help from Small Business Saturday, sales were brisk.  I was in my local bookstore, Diesel, yesterday and it was packed.  I asked how business was going and the owner said good, they’re sure to stay open another year.  That is a holiday present for our entire area.

And here’s what Manjoo can’t do on Amazon.  He can’t ask a live person for a tailored recommendation.  My son likes Malcolm Gladwell, Bill Bryson, and Chuck Klosterman, what new author would he enjoy?  Mia led me all over the store pointing out good choices.  (Sorry, can’t tell you the answers, they’re wrapped under the Christmas tree.)  Sure, Amazon would give recommendations based on my purchases, but I don’t have any problems knowing what I want, ever.  And when we were done with my son, I moved onto my daughter with her own set of favorites.  In 20 minutes I had a stack of books, all wrapped.  As a bonus, I enjoyed talking to the staff and the other customers about books and the holidays.

I highly recommend that you do the same.  Drop by your local bookstore in the next two days and challenge the bookseller to find the perfect book for the person you have yet to buy a gift.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!


57th Street Books – Chicago, IL

I'm a fan of a bookstore that has a Europa display

57th Street, the actual street, is perfect for the meandering bookworm.  We started with lunch at the graffiti clad Medici Restaurant.  Famous for its burgers and scribbled upon walls and furnishings, we filled the time waiting for our food by adding our own “tags” to the table top.  More importantly, within blocks there are three excellent bookstores:  57th Street Books, O’Gara & Wilson, Ltd., and Powell’s (no, not the Portland one).  We started at 57th Street Books and had a hard time ever wanting to leave.

57th Street Books is one of three bookstores that comprise a co-op, the other two being Seminary Co-op and the Newberry Library Bookstore.  We were in the neighborhood to look at the University of Chicago.  When I learned that 57th Street Books gives a 10% discount for co-op members, I immediately started adding up how much money we would save if Kyle bought his textbooks through it–another plus for Chicago.  Regardless of the discount, this is an engrossing store.  It goes on and on, just when I thought I was heading to the back, I realized I was just entering a new room.  It’s a full service store with depth in a wide variety of genres.  The atmosphere is warm and inviting with lots of exposed brick and worn wooden shelving.  The staff is chatty and welcoming.  We talked about books, the university, what it’s like to live in Hyde Park, in some ways they were just as informative as the school tour.

I love bookstores that introduce me to new books and given how many bookstores I visit in a year, it’s not aways easy to do.  57th Street stocks shelves next to the cash register for books recommended by excellent sources:  NPR, the NYT, the Economist, the NYRB, the New Yorker.  Need to know what literary people are reading but don’t have time to read all the reviews, just stop by the store and you’re set.  Throughout the store I found sheets tacked up with clever titles listing recommended books.  My favorite was “Suffering from P.H.P.S?”  (For that uninitiated, that would be the Post Harry Potter Syndrome.)  The cure included reading The Magicians by Lev Grossman, Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin (Keith recently started reading the Game of Thrones series, I think we will see him again sometime later in the decade), and a few other options that all seemed to have the word Chronicle in the title.  I love a bookstore that takes care of its customers withdrawal symptoms.

In the science section, one of those areas I usually breeze through, The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World From the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean caught my eye.  I don’t know much about science so I usually try to read one book on the subject a year; this is going to be my 2012 choice.  Plus, I’ll try to get Kelsey to read it before she takes chemistry next year, I’m sure it’s full of tidbits she can sprinkle throughout her work.

57th Street Store is worth stopping by and hanging out, who knows what you’ll find.

57th Street Books

1301 E. 57th Street

Chicago, IL

T:  773.684.1300


Essay Challenge Recap

essaychallenge2011graphicI coming in just under the wire this year, this challenge must be completed today!!  The Essay Challenge over at Books and Movies is the only one I joined this year, even so, I didn’t keep up with it the way I have the past two years.  Not that I haven’t read essays all year long, I just haven’t kept track or written about them.  Here I am an hour before the challenge ends trying to figure out what I read this year!

Most of my essay reading, in fact these days almost all of my reading, was art based.  My favorite art essay collection was in The Steins Collect catalogue for the SFMOMA.  Combined the essays gave a picture of the family and their experience with and impact on modern art.  The collection was organized by family member:  Leo Stein, Sarah and Michael Stein, and the most famous of all, Gertrude Stein.  By happenstance, I was reading the collection when Woody Allen released “Midnight in Paris.”  The essays provided a scholarship background to many of the Owen Wilson Paris scenes.  I read 10 essays in this collection.

In response to an photography exhibit at the Getty Center about trees, I read an extended essay called The Tree by John Fowles.  I wrote about it for Earth Day earlier this year.  Whew!  At least I wrote about one essay!

Although I read it and listed it for last year’s collection, once again I read “Here is New York” by E.B. White while sitting in a cafe in New York City.  It is an essay worth reading every time I go to New York City, it adds a dimension to the visit that doesn’t diminish upon re-reading.

In preparation for the de Kooning exhibit at MOMA, I read two Clement Greenberg essays that discussed this artist:  “‘American Type’ Painting” and “The Late Thirties in New York.”  Plus, the dense and long introductory essay in the exhibit catalogue “Space to Paint” by John Elderfield.

Last, but not least, is my companion in the car, the Mark Slouka collection Essays from the Nick of Time.  Through carpools and quick lunches this book kept me company.  I have notes and comments throughout each essay, I’ve loved them.  I’ve read “Hitler’s Couch,” “Arrow and Wound,” “Listening for Silence,” and “Historical Vertigo.”  Actually, I’ve read “Arrow and Wound” twice and will probably read it again tonight now that I’m thinking about it.  This is a stellar collection.

That’s it for this year, 19 in total that I can document although I’m certain I read far more.  Next year I’m going to be do better!!  If nothing else, maybe I should buy fewer essays and read more of them.

Salon says “Support Your Local Bookstore!”

indie-bookstore-doi-460x307In the latest pitch to keep bookstores alive and well, or at least breathing, Salon.com gave credit to indies for finding and promoting the latest excellent book most of us don’t know:

An independent bookstore brings a lot to a city or a town: a showroom for the latest literary releases, an auditorium where authors share their work and meet their fans, a bookish environment in which to sip coffee and a fun place to browse in the 20 minutes before the movie starts. But what’s less immediately visible is your local bookseller’s expertise and influence when it comes to introducing great books to your community and, ultimately, to the world.

Name the last book you really loved — be it “The Help,” The Hunger Games,” “Like Water for Elephants” or “Game of Thrones.” The authors of all those popular titles and many, many more can testify that independent booksellers were crucial in moving their work from a sleepy shelf against the back wall to a stack prominently displayed on a front table. They’re  the people who helped Harry Potter take off. Local booksellers know their customers better than any computer program, and when they press a book into the right hands, insisting “You’ve got to read this,” their recommendation really counts.

Readers of this blog know that independent bookstores add so much to the community in which they exist, but Salon makes a good point that the promotion of a book by River Run, across the nation from me, can very well have a ripple effect on what I’ll be reading in the next few months.

Salon is asking readers to help promote independents by sharing their stories about great bookstores.  If you have one you’d like to give a shout out to, join their Declaration of Independents and help an independent bookstore stay strong.  Of course, we would love to post any reviews or stories you have about bookstores, so feel free to send them to us also.

Which authors would you invite to Thanksgiving dinner?

Taking a riff from NPR’s story last week about which deceased composers Miles Hoffman would invite to Thanksgiving dinner, I pondered the same question for authors and asked quite a few friends.  Here are the guidelines:  which dead authors would you invite to Thanksgiving dinner?  Which author would you invite to give a reading Thanksgiving evening?

Some Favorites

In my unofficial survey (meaning you saw me in the last couple of days or responded to my Facebook status update), Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, and Mark Twain were the big winners.  F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jane Austen, and Leo Tolstoy came in a close second.  Just tallying the most popular loses the charm of creating a conversational grouping.  One person had Shel Silverstein, C.S. Lewis, and Roald Dahl at the table, all authors who wrote for children and adults at the same time.  Can you just imagine the potential rant on current media saturated childhoods?  It would be gripping.

Another friend had an all Russian table:  Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy, and Anton Chekov.  My son’s first comment was “no Russians” regardless of the fact that his favorite novel is The Brothers Karamazov.  I’m a huge fan of Russian literature (one of my college majors was Soviet Studies, I’ve read and enjoyed them) but I kind of understand, a Russian table would make for a loooong dinner.  I’d throw Virginia Woolf in with them and label the table: Depression Eats.  I’d add Hemingway, but I worry that he could feel needlessly inadequate and start acting out, plus he would require a lot of expensive wine with dinner.

The Reading

Mark Twain is a hands down winner here and what an evening it would be!  Imagine what he would write about the current state of our nation?  He was never a fan of politicians and this year would give him a lot of fodder with which to work.  For me, a very close second, maybe even a tie, would be Charles Dickens.  He was famous for his readings and the magical evenings they created.  Although many put him on their invitation A list, I think he may be too much of an attention hog for a dinner party; I like conversations, not monologues.

One friend suggested inviting Julia Child since it is a meal.  That is way too intimidating for me.  It occurred to me though, rather than a reading, the performance could be watching Julia Child cook Thanksgiving dinner for all of us.  That would be a meal not to miss.

My Table

After talking to so many people and hearing several ideas, it’s hard to come up with one.  Since it’s my post, I won’t, here are my latest thoughts:

Fiction and Spirituality:  Fyodor Dostoevsky, C.S. Lewis, and Flannery O’Connor, all three beautifully interwove an excellent story with spiritual themes accessible to everyone.  It would probably be a good idea to include Henry Nouwen who didn’t write fiction, but seems amazingly gracious.  The table may need his charm.

The US and Europe:  Edith Wharton, Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Somerset Maugham, all authors who could write a beautiful tale that portrayed their own society and time, but tended to have a broader view of the world.  Austen less so, but if I’m going to raise any authors from the dead, she’s on first gravy train to dinner.

The Power Table:  since it’s my post and I can do what I want to, this table is full of women who carved a path in their fields and, ultimately, for the rest of us–Dorothy Parker, Lee Krasner, Coco Chanel, and Eleanor Roosevelt.  I’d ask Abigail Adams to sit next me, then write a letter to John describing the dinner and share it during our evening reading.

Who would you ask to your Thanksgiving dinner?