Stretching What I Think of as an Essay

What is an essay?  I heard a few descriptions at a reading of essays from The Lost Origins of the Essay edited by John D’Agata a few weeks ago at REDCAT.

  • An essay is both a verb and a noun because the writer figures out what she thinks as she writes.
  • An essay is a quarrel with the writer’s self or the world.
  • The essay is the reverse of redemption narrative because it doesn’t answer questions, it’s an ongoing argument and asks more questions.
  • It’s a work of art that can change the reader’s perception of self or other people.
  • The essay might not have any function at all.
  • Finally, quoting D’Agata from the book, “I think the essay is a antidote to the stagnancy of writing because the essay tries to replicate the activity of the mind . . . the essay is the equivalent of a mind in rumination, performing as if improvisationally the reception of new ideas, the discovery of unknowns, the encounter with the “other.”

I bought this compilation at Bookshop Santa Cruz last summer as a counter point to the essays in Lopate’s The Art of the Personal Essay.  The Lost Origins of the Essay is a doorstop compilation of essays from across time and all over the world (other than the United States) that one speaker described as an argument that the essay is a vehicle for art.  The four essays I heard read certainly supported the case for artistic writing:

From 1957 – “Tisanes” by Ana Hatherly are vignettes, some a paragraph, others a sentence.  To date, Hatherly, a Portugal writer, has written 463 Tisanes, approximately a third of them are translated and 15 of those are published.  The provide a flurry of images interwoven with questions and observations that left me contemplative and quiet.

From 1500 B.C.E. – “Dialogue of Pessimism” by Ennatum of Akkad is a conversation between a master and slave wherein the master instructs the slave to an action, the slave instantly agrees in such a Continue reading

New York City – So Many Bookstores, So Little Time!


In honor of Book Expo America, Book Blogger Con and Book Week, She is Too Fond of Books created a new website, Spot Light on NYC Bookstores.  Before I describe it, can I just say I LOVE IT.  The goal of the site is to provide a brief description of bookstores in the five borough area.  There are links to the five different boroughs so you can narrow your search, plus a convenient way for stores to add themselves to the list.  The site will continue beyond the book conventions, so if you are going to be in NYC, this is a a place to check for your own bookstore tour.

Looking through the list, I noticed there are a few stores missing, and of course, there are some that are listed that we have reviewed, so here’s our take on NYC, so far:

Plus, The Millions offers a walking tour of NYC bookstores each year and last year New York Magazine chimed in with it’s list of great NYC bookstores.

I’ll be in NYC in July (bummer, not for any of the book conventions), so I’ll be visiting Spotlight on NYC Bookstores to find new stores to visit and revel in.  If you have a favorite, tell me, I can’t see them all so any personal opinions will help narrow my choices.  If you are attending a book convention, stop by an independent bookstore and give them some of your business, they give so much more than they receive.

One of the Nation’s Best – Powell’s in Portland, OR

A couple of weeks ago, my girlfriend Leslie visited Portland and headed directly to Powell’s, the mother-of-great-bookstores.  I was stuck in Los Angeles, mentally following her through the day.  I e-mailed her a message to have fun just as she was entering the store.  Hours later after I paid bills, picked up tired teenagers, and cleaned up the house for dinner guests, she e-mailed me that she was just leaving the store.  One guess as to who had the better day.  Here is Leslie’s wonderful afternoon:

Powell’s Books in Portland has long been one of my favorite bookstores. However, it’s been years since I’ve been there and I caught myself wondering if it was truly as special as I recalled or if my memory had turned it into something far better than it really is.

I recently returned from Portland to see a good friend who, when we were talking about what to do during my visit, immediately asked “You want to go to Powell’s, right”? We made sure that there was enough time to spend a couple of hours perusing the shelves. I’m very pleased that my memory was correct – it is a fabulous independent bookstore. And, a few hours really, for me, was not enough time to spend there.  (My mother-in-law, who lives outside of Brunswick, Georgia doesn’t have a lot of good department stores in her immediate area and is always on the hunt for clothes. She was in Portland a few years ago and passed up two free afternoons shopping in Nordstroms so that she could spend more time at Powell’s. It’s that kind of place).

My girlfriend in Portland, Laura, visits Powell’s fairly often. She brought me up to speed on several of the changes that they’ve made over the years. The best change is that the store just simply keeps getting bigger. It now takes up an entire city block. If you don’t want to look through every single section like I wanted to, the sections are all color coded with very easy to understand colored signs. Looking for fiction? Look for the blue and gold signs. Philosophy? You’ll find it under the Continue reading

What a Fun Literary Game!

Each month, diesel, a bookstore, posts on its website, “So, You Think You Read A Lot?”  a video literary game.  Watch the video below and see if you can guess the book.  If you think you know, drop by any diesel–Oakland, Malibu (and really, there’s no better time to visit Malibu) or Brentwood–and tell them your guess.  If you’re correct, you have a chance to win a prize.  Want to test your reading knowledge?  Scroll through the website to for past installments.  If you think you know this book, e-mail me the answer (I promise not to enter the contest) because I have absolutely no idea and it’s driving me  nuts.

2010 Innovations in Reading Award Winners Announced!

The National Book Foundation started this award last year to promote new and exciting ways to encourage reading.  It’s the Innovations in Reading Award that brought readergirlz to our attention last year.  Each winner receives a grant of $2,500 from the National Book Foundation, and in today’s economy, those are real dollars.  Here are this year’s prize winners:

Mount Olive Baptist Church
Hopkins, SC

Hopkins, SC doesn’t have a library anywhere in sight let alone a bookstore (the closest is 26 miles away, I know because I looked it up on IndieBound).  To fill a need, the members of Mount Olive Baptist Church combed garage sales, bought books and asked state libraries for donations and created their own children’s library.  Each child has a chance to talk about what she is reading.  The National Book Foundation described the church as “wonderfully supportive of this secular activity.”  Amen!

Brooklyn, NY

This may be this year’s readergirlz for me, it’s a poetry literary journal “published” via text messages.  A couple of poems are published each week, so I won’t be swamped with messages (that was my twitter experience until I figured out who to follow with  my devices on).  The writers are established poets (or so the National Book Foundation says, and they should know, I don’t really have any idea) and ” by publishing poems of just 140 characters or less, Cellpoems does not aim to decrease readers’ attention spans; rather, it adds focused, distilled work to a grand tradition of short poems, from the tanka and haiku to the monosonnet, and aims to present poetry to as many readers as possible by making it easily accessible to digitally-minded readers.”  You can sign up via the website or by texting JOIN to 317.426.POEM.

826 Valencia
San Francisco, CA

Let me just start by saying that I’m jealous that 826 Valencia got the award and not 826LA.  The 826 programs, regardless of where they are located, work with students aged 6 to 18 with their writing skills and to foster a passion for writing Continue reading

Lonesome Water Books in Sisters, Oregon

Or, How I Found Two Laura Ingalls Wilder Books

I saw a wooden “BOOKS” sign as I exited Paulina Springs Bookstore (a review of that store soon), it was hanging from the eaves of the porch overhang on a wood sided building lined with a wood plank sidewalk.  The entire scene was straight out of “The Rifleman.”  Loaded down with my Paulina purchases, I walked over expecting to see a mish-mash antique store with a few books.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Peeking inside the window, the store was momentarily closed, I saw rows and rows of bookshelves.

After meandering around Sisters–when you are there you must, must, must stop for handmade ice cream at Sno-Cap, even if it’s freezy and you have to eat the ice cream with a scarf and gloves–a cute little town with fabulous views of the Cascades, I stopped back at Lonesome Water Books.   The first thing I noticed was a sideline never before witnessed in a bookstore:  vintage buttons.  Lots of buttons.  They almost made me wished I sewed.  The owner’s wife loves buttons and a portion of her collection, I learned that many were still at home, were offered for sale.  Momentarily waylaid, but then remembering I don’t sew on buttons, I started roaming the shelves.  All neatly arranged, the store has every category of books imaginable.  My favorite:  Autos, Fire Engines, Tractors, Small Engines and Bikes, this category of books was new to me, but it took up two shelves.

In the memoir section, I tripped over a hardback early edition of  On the Way Home by Laura Ingalls Wilder, a diary of her move with Almanzo and Rose from South Dakota to Mansfield, Missouri.  I thought I had read everything by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I devoured the entire series multiple times as a child, then couldn’t wait to read them to my children (it was so hard not to sob when Jack died), and finally read much of the series again in a sod house when Leslie and I took our daughters on a Little House on the Prairie trip from one Ingalls homestead to another.  I explained to the clerk how excited I was to find the book, how I had traveled to the places Wilder lived.  Prior to this conversation, the clerk and I had run into each other in the aisles, but hadn’t spoken.  He listened to me, nodded twice, asked me to wait a  moment, then walked to another part of the store.  I heard books moving around, a few humps and then he returned with a first edition of West from Home:  Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder, San Francisco 1915 and placed it in front of me as if it was a gift.  And it was.  I didn’t know she was in San Francisco (visiting Rose apparently) and can’t wait to read her impressions of it.  This taciturn elderly gentleman knew exactly how to please a customer.

Lonesome Water Books

221 West Cascade Ave

Sisters, OR 97759

T:  541.549.2203