20 February 2009

A book for the Math Nerd in your life...

I was always a bit of a nerd growing up, but it wasn't until I attended the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science that I found my bats, to use a Stella Luna reference. I'm a word girl now, but there was a time when numbers were my passion.  Physics was my first love in high school. Alas, I wasn't quite clever enough to pursue it as a career because after a certain point I couldn't really wrap my head around the whys and wherefores of the essential maths required to pursue it at a higher level.  Differential calculus kicked my butt and I've been hanging my head in shame ever since.  But I still have a love for numbers and numberplay, even if I'm not particularly good at any of the hard stuff (isn't that just tragic?). 

So that's why I'm telling y'all about this new book published by Hodder and Stoughton called Venn That Tune.  The first time I heard about it was during a visit with my sales rep.  Apparently I was the first buyer among his accounts to order a small stack of this marvelous little book.  The then-associate textbook manager, Darcy (the one who left us to pursue graduate school in physics, actually.  Sigh.), and I were doubled over with laughter about this book--every page brought a new wave of laughter--the kind where you think you can finally stop and then one hiccough later it starts all over again, despite the tears that are now trickling from your eyes and the aches in your abs.  It really was *that* funny.  

Have you ever wondered what the intersection of math geekdom and a love of pop culture might look like?  If so, look no further!  Andrew Viner has put together an entire book of classic song titles in the forms of Venn diagrams -- you know, the various sets of circles whose overlapping qualities form a subset.  For one example: you've got three circles depicting Things That Have Been Done For Me, Things That You Have Done, and Things That Have Been Done Lately.  Where all three intersect, there's a question mark:  it's the venn diagram of Janet Jackson's 1986 pop hit, "What Have You Done For Me Lately."  It's clever, it's nerdy, and it's a whole lot of fun.  Take it from somebody who knows: it's *perfect* for the math geek in your life.  

14 February 2009

Absinthe Makes the Heart Grow Fonder on Valium Time's Day

So today is Valentine's Day.  Or Valium Time's Day, as my husband likes to call it.  We're on a tighter budget than usual, but even in high-on-the-hog times February 14th wasn't a day that we splurged much.  After all, we reasoned, Valentine's Day is so commercial that it's either for the amateurs or for those who feel they have something to prove.  So tonight we headed out for an early dinner at Taco Bell and then home for margaritas and a movie.  Instead, though, when we got home we indulged in an adult beverage of a different sort.  Just yesterday at the liquor store we noticed that real absinthe was back on the shelf, so we picked up a bottle of Lucid. Since until recently absinthe has been banned for sale in the States, we hadn't had  real absinthe in quite a few years--not since our friend and former housemate Mary returned from Antibes, France, with a bottle smuggled away for us.  I'm not a huge fan of the anise flavor that dominates absinthe, but in the spirit of sharing I had a wee nip.  We only sampled it straight but next time we might do the whole experience with the sugar cube & water to see the louche effect.  Any of you tried it?  Do you like it?  Have you seen the Green Fairy after imbibing?  Is it anything like the Green Flash?  

13 February 2009

What I'm reading now...

So at Wi4 I picked up a lot of galleys, both for myself and for my colleagues. I mean a LOT of galleys. Enough that I filled an empty suitcase full of 'em, packed up a box to ship back, and still had a few that wouldn't fit and thus got left behind in my hotel room. The hard part about going to Wi4 is actually ranking the books: which ones to be read immediately, which ones to stack in my windowsill, which ones to go on my nightstand, which ones to stay downstairs in the kitchen, which ones get stacked in the front hallway, which ones to stick in my car, which ones to leave in the bathroom...you get the idea.

One galley stuck out for a few reasons, among them the bright yellow cover and how likable the author seemed at the reception when he signed my book and mentioned that Mt. Holyoke College, the campus across the street from where I work, makes a cameo appearance in his novel. This book was hilarious! For Steve Hely, there's nothing sacred in the publishing world. How I Became a Famous Novelist is about this guy named Pete Tarslaw who wants to write a best selling novel in order to impress an ex-girlfriend who has just announced that she's getting married. By doing field research at a Barnes & Noble he concludes that his book must follow certain formulae to become a bestseller. And that in order to reach the largest possible audience his book must include "murder, secrets, mysterious missions, characters whose lives change suddenly, women who've given up on love but turn out to be beautiful...descriptions of delicious meals," and characters of "unusual racial backgrounds [who will] garner at least pretend interest from all readers." What ensues is a total send up of the publishing industry, more-serious-than-thou novelists, self-help DIYers (not a redundancy, apparently), memoirists, and even readers. It's fun, it's clever, it's tongue-in-cheek, it's snarky. It's also a paperback original from Black Cat books (part of Grove Atlantic) due in July, so it will be a great summer vacation read.

There's something else that impressed me about this book: Mark Twain was referred to throughout the book as "Mark Twain." This might not seem like a big deal, but to me it is. You see, Mark Twain is a pseudonym for Samuel Clemens and thus should never be referred to as simply Twain. Kinda like how Leonardo da Vinci should only be shortened to "Leonardo" and never to "da Vinci", but thanks to Dan Brown and his editors, millions of people will now never know the difference. Anyway, most writers and even many editors these days wouldn't catch that mistake, so I was quite pleased to see the Mark Twain thing done properly. Even if the author did use the newfangled definition of "namesake" instead of using "eponym."

10 February 2009

Smitten. Or, How the Mountain Went to Muhammad

The title about sums it up.  I met a literary hero of mine today, the man who wrote the best book out of the last couple hundred or so that I've read.  I am in deep smit, as a friend of mine says.  My colleagues, Joan and Emily, and I traveled with about 300 books to Boston today so that we could get them signed for our First Editions Club (FEC).  Abraham Verghese wrote an amazing first novel (he's written two previous memoirs), but beg and plead as we did, we weren't able to schedule a reading at our store.  His book is a big to-do this season and every major bookstore was clamoring for him.  Being off the beaten Boston-NYC-Washington, DC path as we are, we didn't really stand a chance.

Well, if Muhammad can't come to the mountain, the mountain must find a way to go to Muhammad.  Hence packing up the car and making the roadtrip today, meeting up with two sales reps from Random House, and getting Commonwealth Hotel security to help us maneuver two flatbeds' worth of books up to Verghese's hotel room.  The day was just about perfect as far as I'm concerned: a few hours of booktalk, a nice lunch, a visit to a really nice bookstore for the first time (the Wellesley Booksmith), and, of course, going all fangirl over meeting Mr. Verghese.  He was as lovely as can be, gracious and engaging, soft-spokenly charming.  In a word, delightful.  He also happened to mention that somebody at Knopf had shown him my earlier blog post in which I gushed about his book, and he even joked that he had taken extra care getting a close shave this morning before meeting his fan.  

You know how every once in a while you read a book that you want to tell everybody about? Cutting for Stone is like that for me.  It's really everything that a great epic novel should be, with incredibly sharp observations on the human condition, realistic and complicated characters and their inter-personal relationships, all set against the wider background of important world events, with nuanced social commentary as a constant undercurrent.  I loved it.  And I have the feeling that it's a book I may turn to again & again.  
 Here's the photo of us after the books were signed.  L-R: me, Verghese, Emily RM, Joan.  Hotel security has just come in to help us get the 30 boxes back down to the loading dock.

06 February 2009

How I'm Going to Spend My Summer Vacation

Okay, show of hands:  how many of you have almost as much fun planning for your vacations as you do *on* the vacations?  I definitely fall into that category.  In fact, I have so much fun planning for vacation (for which read:  the Caribbean) that it's almost satisfying enough to do all the planning without the travel.  And when the winter blues hit, sometimes planning a tropical escape is all that stands between me and insanity, even if the trip never actually materializes.  Seriously, these New England winters are just about the only thing to put a strain on my marriage.  November and December aren't so bad with all of their distracting holidays, but every January when the calendar rolls over and a new year hits, I'm bemoaning my decision to ever leave Mississippi and move to Massaschusetts.  It's awful.

I've planned about a dozen ways to spend my summer vacation this year, each one more satisfying than the last.  If all goes well, I'll have two weeks or just a smidgin more to play around with, which is ample time for two islands, and if my husband acquiesces,  I might even be able to squeeze three islands into it.  The only factor that remains unchanged in all of these glorious permutations is our time in Grenada.  Ahhhh, Grenada.  For one thing, it may well be our favorite island.  For another, more prosaic reason, it makes economic sense (aren't you glad I didn't say cents?) since we have a free stay there.  Two years ago a wonderful Grenada website sponsored a contest for people to write about their vacation.  The writer of the winning trip report, voted on by forum members, would receive a free stay at this fabulous little villa.  Since I had stayed at that same villa in 2006, I knew exactly how special it was, so I wrote my little heart out, bribed my husband and other forum members to vote for me, and the prize was mine!

Grenada is an amazing island and I'm constantly surprised why more Americans don't travel there.  Probably because it actually takes some effort--it's much easier to get there from the UK and even Germany.  Coming from the east coast I have a relatively easy travel day, getting there about 16 hours after leaving home; most Americans have to overnight somewhere along the way, usually Miami.  

I took this photograph while my husband and I were reading at Morne Rouge in Grenada.  It's a stunning crescent of beach with incredibly calm 
and clear water, peppered with palm and almond trees for shade, and anchored at one end by a funky little beach bar.  This is the place where my husband and I go when we want a quiet day reading on the beach.  It's fun chatting with the vendors who come by and then ambling up to the bar at the restaurant called Sur La Mer to grab an ice cold Ting (a refreshing carbonated grapefruit drink) or rum punch, depending on the time of day.

This photo shows Morne Rouge from the road above it.  Sur la Mer is the low-lying white building on the far end.  You can see how crowded it is!  Like I said, I don't know why more people from the US don't travel to Grenada.  It's got everything I like: rolling green mountains, beautiful uncrowded beaches, a thriving West Indian culture that hasn't been watered down by mass tourism, funky fishing villages, a charming downtown on a picturesque harbor, and most importantly, Grenadians.  Grenadians have shown a collective indomitable spirit since the devastating hurricanes back to back in 2004 and 2005.  

So, basically, Grenada for us is a done deal.  Now I just have to decide what island(s) to pair with it this trip.  Do we go back to Bequia so my husband can appreciate it better?  He suffered an awful gout attack on our visit there in 2006, so what he remembers has been blurred by a cloud of pain and painkillers (and I ain't talkin' about the liquid kind!).  There's a great place there that offers a ridiculously low rate for the value it provides that we'd like to try.  Or maybe we spend a few nights on Antigua, reminiscing about our wedding there back in 2003.  Or perhaps we try a new island, one like Anguilla that will allow my long-suffering husband to indulge in his favorite vacation pastime of nothin' but limin'.  I'm constantly having to balance my inclination to be on the go with his inclination to stick his butt in a chair and read all day.  He indulges me more than I deserve, actually, and he's even admitted that as annoying as my insistence is to make him get out and see things, he always appreciates it in retrospect.  

Honestly, our choice will probably come down to the financials more than anything else.  I'm waiting for American Airlines to announce their summer fare sale and then I'll probably pick my other island(s) from whatever is most cost effective.  Usually we could rely on our frequent flyer miles to get us wherever we want to go, regardless of price, but our FF accounts are down to zilch since our wedding present to my brother and sister-in-law was tickets for their honeymoon.  Wherever we choose, it will be amazing.  Though there are certainly destinations we've not fallen in love with, we've never had a bad vacation.  As much research as I put into these trips, anything that doesn't live up to our expectations would be my responsibility, and one that I shoulder gladly.  

04 February 2009

Rant: What's happening with the editorial world?

I love the English language.  I'm simultaneously proud and intrigued with how malleable it is. Its definitions and pronunciations shift through time and it's infinitely stretchy and accommodating, adapting words from every known language and claiming them for its own.  I'm definitely a curmudgeon, though, when it comes to certain standards of language and grammar and I find myself increasingly frustrated with new books where I find the editing standards to be sub-par.  Or rather, the copy-editing *and* the editing.  I know that English grammar isn't taught the way it used to be, but I don't know what's happening with the education of our editors these days.

Take, for example, the new book called The Piano Teacher.  It's a lovely debut of intertwining stories set in Hong Kong during and after World War II.  The story line is intriguing, delving into the mysteries of identity when one is stuck halfway between the worlds of Europe and Asia and it takes a hard look at the choices people are sometimes forced to make to save themselves or their loved ones.  Unfortunately, I wasn't able to appreciate fully just how good this book is because I was constantly distracted by grammatical errors peppered throughout the book.  

I don't really blame the author--her job is to craft the story, not polish it up.  But who did the copy editing?  And when the copy editor didn't catch the mistakes, why didn't the editor?  I don't know the name of the particular rule that was broken every few pages, but it's the rule regarding gerunds (the -ing form of a verb that acts as a noun) and how they require the possessive form of a pronoun.  Ugh, I'm not explaining myself well, so I'll use an example:

The book's lack of precise editing led to my appreciating the book less that I expected.  
The book's lack of precise editing led to me appreciating the book less than I expected.  

The first example is correct.  "Appreciating" is a noun and therefore requires an adjective as a modifier, hence my, the possessive, is the correct way to write the sentence.  So back to The Piano Teacher...page after page I saw the same grammar rule being broken.  I don't mind it so much when it happens in dialogue--not everybody speaks according to the proper rules of grammar, after all, and in many cases it wouldn't be at all appropriate for a character to speak properly.  But when it happens in the voice of the omniscient narrator, I really do have a problem with it.  Like I said, I'm a curmudgeon, but I find this mistake is being made in nearly every book I read.  Maybe this rule has changed over time and I've just not been made aware of it?  Maybe our poor educational system is so overburdened that generations of students are getting sub-par grammatical educations.  Lord knows that the children in my life can barely identify the parts of speech, much less tell me how they should be used.  But it's the copy editor's job to know grammar rules inside and out--why does this particular rule continue to slip through the cracks?  

There's a book coming out from a new writer this summer that is original and fresh called The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet by Reif Larsen.  It's the story of a 12 year old genius who lands an award from the Smithsonian for his extraordinary cartographic abilities.  T. S.  maps out every detail of his life, even making charts for things you might not think were quantifiable, such as the 5 types of boredom that his sister experiences on a regular basis.  He's a boy who is on speaking terms with geology, chemistry, and physics well above his grade level, a boy who studies the flora and fauna of his native Montana.  He is a boy, then, who clearly would never refer to a certain migrating bird as a Canadian goose.  He would know that the correct name is actually Canada goose.  And he would know that in the language of physics that there is no such thing as deceleration; instead, because it's a vector quantity, it's known as negative acceleration.  These are just two of many editorial oversights in this new book (hey, the book isn't published until June--maybe the publishers will see this blog and correct the mistakes before then!), which is too bad because I think this book is going to make a big splash.  

The book itself has a larger than average trim size because both margins are filled with T. S.'s drawings and musings.  The drawings add another layer for the reader to appreciate and ponder, and the five years that it took Larsen to put the book together show.  It's a fascinating first book full of humor and heartbreak, alternating between moments of suspense and moments of sweetness.  I think it's going to be a big seller and I would love to invite the author to our store and be able to introduce him to our customers.  So isn't a shame that Larsen's editor isn't doing a thorough job?  

I wonder if editors are taking on so many acquisitions that they just can't do justice to all of the books assigned to them.  I wonder if I'm just hopelessly critical.   Who can say?  Maybe it's just time for me to learn to let things go.  

What about you, dear reader?  What sorts of grammatical things set your teeth on edge when you're reading?  Share them here.  Commiserate with or chastise me--I'm curious to know your thoughts.  

02 February 2009

The Strange Phenomenon of Bookseller Guilt

My colleague Emily RM and I frequently chat about what we're reading, but it's what we're *not* reading that looms over us and tends to make us feel guilty. It's a bit peculiar, really. She's the Odyssey Bookshop events coordinator, I'm one of the buyers, and we're both on the selection committee for our First Editions Club (forthwith, FEC). So between our various job descriptions we generally have a lot of books to read. She had a recent post about juggling 8 books at a time. I don't have quite that many going at the moment, but I've always got at least three books in various stages of reading.

Sometimes, though, we (gasp!) stop reading for work and start reading for our own pure-dee pleasure. Usually the guilt kicks in if I merely contemplate re-reading Jane Austen or picking up a backlist book that I never got around to when it was new. But it's the fanfiction reading that really takes my guilt to a whole new level. I *love* Harry Potter fanfiction. Romance, adventure, slash, angst, alternate universe: I love it all. Give me Snape/Hermione. Or Draco/Harry. Or Cho/Ginny. Or Aberforth/goat. I'm not particular. If it's well done and if it makes me able to forget the travesty that was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, chances are good that you can find me hunkered down in my bed late at night, feverishly reading it. And if it verges into smutdom, so much the better. My husband calls them my Dirty Harry stories and fancies himself quite clever for doing so.

Anyway...fanfiction or not, this is the kind of reading that makes me feel guilty. If some of my colleagues have read a book and loved it, and I'm in the middle of it and having a pretty good time myself, sometimes guilt will make me put it down. After all, that title will be lovingly handsold to customers without my help, and there are so many other titles out there that customers won't know about if I don't read them and spread the word. I've put down quite a few good books in 2008 because I was feeling guilty that too many booksellers had already read them. No doubt if I pick them up in a few years to finish reading them, I'll feel guilty about that, too. Among the neglected titles were Dennis Lehane's The Given Day, David Wroblewski's The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, and Amitav Ghosh's Sea of Poppies. All of these books were excellent, at least the parts that I had go to by the time I put them down. Alas, my coworkers and colleagues finished them first and guilt compelled me to pick up other titles instead.

Maybe I need a bit of therapy to get past the guilt, but as it turns out the Emilys are not alone. When I was at Winter Institute I discussed this bookseller guilt with a few other folks who reported similar reactions and feelings. One of my belated resolutions for this year, then, is to embrace whatever forms and whatever directions my reading takes me. If that means slash or smut, or if it means sticking with a book I love all the way to the end, despite my entire staff's having already read it, so be it.

Less Wine, More Bourbon! Or How I Quit Worrying and Learned to Love the Bar

Not my photo--found online at gearpatrol.com
I'm not a big wine drinker. Despite what my boss Joan may tell you about my bourbon consumption, most days I'm not even a big drinker, full stop. It might even be true of many booksellers, I don't know. But when you get 500 of us in a room together and offer us free booze we collectively go a little crazy. At the closing reception at Wi4 the bars ran out of wine only about one hour in. They always serve wine at these things. Times are tough and I assume that it's crazy expensive to keep 500 folks in booze, but my suggestion for next time is less wine, more bourbon! A bottle of bourbon will go just that much further than a bottle of wine, after all. Bourbon demands a slower pace (for most of us mortals, anyway. there will always be those exceptions out there, like Willie Morris or Jim Dickey, both of whom could put away a fifth by lunch time if they had the notion).

But I digress. What I really wanted to share with y'all is the publisher dinner sponsored by SPD (Small Press Distribution) that I was invited to on Saturday. Let me start by saying that despite my shyness I *love* being invited to publisher dinners. It's food, it's booktalk, and it nourishes the soul of booksellers. But this one was particularly fun, as the table was fairly intimate and there was no single dominating demographic, save the bizarre chance that all but three of us had been born in Wisconsin. So there we all were: a couple of folks from Buffalo who had been in the bidness for years & years, a handful of outspoken young folks who are the future of bookselling, two folks from the publisher, and me.

You know who wasn't there? A table full of people with the "I'm a funkier-than-thou Bookseller" attitude. *You* know what I mean. Some among our tribe pride ourselves on how funky, edgy, and intellectual we can be, and frankly I find it all a bit tiresome. You know who else wasn't there? People filled to the brim with pretentiousness and officiousness. Compare the following two conversations:

Publisher Dinner #1, with Publisher & Author to Remain Unnamed

Author (slightly paraphrased, but believe me, the essence is true): ...so basically I realized my road trip to the Mississippi was a bad idea when I stopped in this store and they didn't have my books or know who I was. Don't they know my new book has just been translated into 453 languages, including Pig Latin? And don't get me started on all the social problems--those folks are just scary and I couldn't wait to get out of there and back to civilization. (Turns to me) And where are you from?

Emily: Actually, I'm from Mississippi.

Author: Well, thank goodness you escaped, eh? It must be awful to be from such a backwards place. I bet you're glad to be in New England now!

Emily: wtf? Did you just insult me, my home, and my kin with one swell foop?  

Publisher Dinner #2, with SPD:

Bookseller #1: So a few years ago my girlfriend and I were at Disney World and noticed they had a dark Winnie the Pooh ride. I *love* Winnie the Pooh so we went on it.

Bookseller #2: Dark? You mean like they had Eeyore slitting his tendons and a Tigger pelt on the wall?

Bookseller #1: Nah, just literally dark, man. With black lights and shit. It was just random Pooh scenes and then all of a sudden it was Pooh's birthday.

Bookseller #3: Dark Pooh. That could be cool. What if Pooh couldn't leave the Hundred Acre Wood? Like, if there was a fatwa? That's probably why he lived under a sign with somebody else's name on it. So nobody would be able to hunt him down. What was that name? Mr. Sanders? Mr. Saunders?

Bookseller #4: So he'd be, like, Rushdie the Pooh.

Booksellers all: Yeah, Rushdie the Pooh!

I ask you dear reader. Which conversation would *you* rather be participating in?

In other news, there are two more books that I read over the weekend that I didn't get around to mentioning last night:

Valeria's Last Stand by Mark Fitten. He was at the author reception at Wi4 and just as charming as can be. It didn't hurt that one of les grandes dames of bookselling mentioned how much she loved his book during the opening remarks the first day. Anyway, this quiet first novel is a modern day fable set in a small Hungarian village. Regime changes may come and go, but a fool is always a fool and capitalism is no more immune to petty corruption and bribery than communism was. This book really is about hidden longings and shows that at the intersections of romance & practicality and power & ambition, peculiar
and wonderful things can happen.

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson. Alas, she was not at Wi4, but her galleys were. I'd not read her before but she's a favorite with Rebecca Fabian, our children's buyer at the Odyssey Bookshop, as well as our teen readership. It astonishes me how brilliant Anderson is at getting into the mind and under the skin of her characters. Not just another troubled teen story, Wintergirls explores the scary and inexorable downward spiral Lia's psyche takes after her former best friend is found dead, alone, in a seedy motel room. Anderson's language of anorexia is as haunting as Lia's mental anguish and she keeps the reader guessing until the end whether Lia will be able to keep herself from vanishing altogether.

It had to start sometime...might as well be now!

Okay, so I'm a little new to Blogtown.  I've been posting online about my travels for some time now over at www.fodors.com/forums but it was only when they briefly quoted me for their 2009 Caribbean guide that I started to think about posting my trip reports and book musings someplace a little more personal.  But since I'm somewhat lazy and more than a little blog-phobic, it took the combination of my attending a bookseller's conference this past weekend and the recent announcement that a coworker was starting her own book blog to give me the kick in the pants I needed.  So thank you, Emily RM and Winter Institute!  

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.