So here's the lowdown: I'm a career bookseller. I left grad school in 1997 feeling dissatisfied with academia (oh, yeah, and apparently I sucked at teaching!) to find myself working for the great Johnny Evans of Lemuria Bookstore in Jackson, MS. I became completely besotted with the book world and have worked nearly every possible angle of it: new books, used books, rare books; publisher's sales rep; even a small amount of free-lance editing. Now living in western Massachusetts, I've been working at the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley for the last two years. It's a venerable store with an amazing history and I'm quite proud to be a part of it.
I just got back from Winter Institute in Salt Lake City, a long weekend of educational programs for independent booksellers, sponsored by publishers and our national trade organization. In between educational sessions we schmooze and circulate and reconnect with old bookselling friends. Oh, yes, and GET FREE BOOKS! This year I wised up and actually brought an empty suitcase with me to take home all of the goodies to share with the rest of the staff. If anything was made clear this year at Wi4, it was the importance of blogging. (Well, actually, that's not quite so. Lots of things were made clear, but this was the one thing that I could actually implement as soon as I got home, while waiting for the jet lag to clear up. If you can have jet lag for only a two hour time difference, that is. This time last night I was just getting in from a publisher dinner. In fact, it was the least pretentious publisher dinner in history, but more about that in tomorrow's post.)
So in the four days that I was away, I read five books. I usually average about 2.5 books per week, but when one is stuck on an Airbus 319 in Detroit for a few hours, apparently one can get a lot more reading accomplished!
1) Triangular Road by Paule Marshall. I got to meet this amazing woman at Wi4. I'd read an earlier book, Praisesong for the Widow, the first time I traveled to Grenada a few years ago. This book is a memoir based on a series of lectures given at Harvard. It's a series of snapshots of pivotal moments in her life, including large moments like her state-sponsored European travels with Langston Hughes, or smaller moments like her travels to the tiny Caribbean island of Carriacou where she finally banishes a severe case of writer's block. Though this memoir wasn't as pleasing to me as her novel, I can't understand why Marshall isn't more widely read--she's a real treasure.
2) Hot House Flower and the Nine Plants of something-or-other by an author whose name eludes me and I don't want to get up out of bed to find the book (see what I mean about lazy?). My Random House sales rep Ann Kingman pressed this book into my hand last week when visiting the store, so I took it along to read on the plane. I gobbled it up so fast that I actually had to buy another book at the airport bookstore to read on my second flight! A woman recovering from a divorce unwillingly gets involved in the search for nine plants with a collective mythical power in the Yucatan. A delightfully distracting read, the author takes us for a romp that is equal parts romance, adventure, magical realism, and self-discovery. It's a colorful, frothy, well-paced novel perfect for escapist reading.
3) A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaleid Hosseini. This is the book that I picked up in Detroit--it killed me to have to buy a book from a chain bookstore. I also may have his name spelled incorrectly, so my apologies! Hosseini spins a tragic tale of two women whose lives are full of unimaginable horrors, set against the backdrop of various Afghan regimes. What endures is their new found loyalty to each other as well as as the intense yearning for home that the displaced feel. I'm the one bookseller in the US who didn't read The Kite Runner, so I have nothing to say in terms of comparisons, but I had been wanting to pick up this book ever since watching Hosseini engage in bantering on stage with Stephen Colbert (not for the faint hearted!) a couple of years ago at BEA.
Okay, so this post is rambling towards incoherence now, so I'll finish this later. Next up: more book reviews, The Least Pretentious Publisher Party Ever, and more Wi4.