31 January 2012

Norwegian Wood Readalong: Part-the-Last

Well, sometimes you just get what you ask for.  I thought I wanted more Midori, then it was all Midori, all the time, and then she turns into this sulking shell of a girl.  But then, I guess, she turns out okay, despite her falling in love with Toru.  At least she's direct, and a little directness goes a long way with this crowd.

Let's see...Naoko is still dreary and fucked-up, and whoops--she commits suicide, too, to nobody's surprise. Too bad, so sad. Moving on.

Reiko.  Alas, she fell under Toru's spell, too.  I mean, I can totally see now why chicks dig him--he likes to iron clothing and get rid of wrinkles and everything, and who wouldn't swoon over that? I reckon she's off to off herself.

Toru. Mr "I've just declared my love for Midori, so I guess the first thing I better do after getting back to civilization is indulge in a pity fuck right now." Helluva guy, that Toru.

So, I suppose it should come as no surprise that I didn't care much for this book.  Murakami's men are either boors or bores, and the women are all either dull and suicidal, or far too bright & incandescent to be with Murakami men. Still, by the time I came to the end of this book there was a certain satisfaction in it, apart from the relief of finally getting to the end.  I'm completely puzzled why this is the book that rocketed Murakami to both national and international stardom, though--how this book can be a cultural touchstone is way beyond me.

I bought 1Q84 as soon as it released in the US, but I don't think I'm going to be picking it up any time soon.  I'm going to need a Murakami palate cleanser before starting in on that doorstop of a book. But still, y'all, how much fun was it to do a read-a-long with a modern classic that most of us didn't really like so much?  Totes fun, that's how much!  Yay, Alice, for hosting.

29 January 2012

Book P(Review): The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman

 When I was at Winter Institute a couple of weeks back, Wendy Sheanin from Simon & Schuster surreptitiously slipped me a copy of a manuscript called The Light Between Oceans by M. L Stedman.  Since the last manuscript she sent was for Carol Anshaw's Carry the One, I moved it to the top of my TBR pile and I just finished it last night.

I'll start by saying one thing.  M. L. Stedman is a helluva fine storyteller -- I was smitten with the novel by the end of the 6-page prologue.  The book opens right after World War I in Australia and Tom is just self-aware enough to know he needs some time and space away from civilization after returning home from the front, so he applies for a job as a lighthouse keeper for the Commonwealth. He takes one remote post after another, finally settling on one that is 100 miles off the shore of southwestern Australia, at the point where the Indian and the Southern oceans meet. It's practically hardship duty, for he only gets one month's vacation after a three-year contract of isolation.

So when he meets and falls in love with Isabel, he knows it's not fair to ask her to join him on Janus Rock, but she will not be deterred.  Their love is almost enough to sustain each other, but after suffering miscarriages on that lonely outpost, Isabel's sanity reaches a breaking point.  Shortly after burying her stillborn child, a small dinghy gets swept by the oceans' currents to their rocky shore, bearing a man dead from exposure but protecting an infant who by some miracle still breathes.  Instead of recording the incident in the official logbook, Isabel convinces Tom not to mention it and to keep the baby girl as their own child since the outside world is not yet aware of their immediate loss.  With deep and grave misgivings, Tom acquiesces out of love and loyalty for his beloved wife, but it creates  such a deep conflict in this man of honor and duty that he is never the same again.

The reader by now knows there is no possible way that this decision can end well for Tom, Isabel, or the baby they name Lucy, but that's all I can say for now without giving too many spoilers. I'll conclude with saying that the adults in Lucy's life give lip service to the question, "what would be best for Lucy?" but they all have their own selfish and morally-justified agendas in answering it.  The problem here is that any compass of moral relativism lacks one True North, but even (or, perhaps, especially) non-parents like me will understand the choices the adults made in this riptide of a novel that sweeps characters and readers alike into cross-currents of sympathy and sorrow.

The book is slated for an August 2012 publication from Scribner and this novel of love, loss, selfishness, and sacrifice will find itself a wide and devoted readership, or else I miss my guess.  Here are some of the passages that spoke to me for various reasons while I was reading:

"At the kitchen table, the flame of the oil lamp wavered occasionally. The wind continued its ancient vendetta against the windows, accompanied by the liquid thunder of waves. Tom tingled at the knowledge that he was the only one to hear any of it: the only living man for the better part of a hundred miles in any direction (37)."

"He begins to shape his routine. Regulations require that each Sunday he hoist the ensign and he does, first thing....He knows keepers who swear under their breath at the obligation, but Tom takes comfort from the orderliness of it. It is a luxury to do something that serves no practical purpose: the luxury of civilisation (38)."

"Just to be beside her had made him feel cleaner somehow, refreshed. Yet the sensation leads him back into the darkness, back into the galleries of wounded flesh and twisted limbs. To make sense of it -- that's the challenge. To bear witness to the death, without being broken by the weight of it. There's no reason he should still be alive, un-maimed. Suddenly Tom realizes he is crying. He weeps for the men snatched away to his left and right, when death had no appetite for him. He weeps for the men he killed (57)."

"The town draws a veil over certain events. This is a small community, where everyone knows that sometimes the contract to forget is as important as any promise to remember...History is that which is agreed upon by mutual consent. That's how life goes on --  protected by the silence that anesthetizes shame (172)."

" 'Oh, but my treasure, it [forgiveness] is so much less exhausting. You only have to forgive once. To resent, you have to do it all day, every day. You have to keep remembering all the bad things.' He laughed, pretending to wipe sweat from his brow. 'I would have to make a list, a very, very long list and make sure I hated the people on it the right amount. That I did a very proper job of hating, too....No,' his voice became sober, 'we always have a choice. All of us.' (364)."

27 January 2012

Nawlins Day Three: Vive le Small Press!

So, back to Winter Institute.  Working on approximately 3.5 hours of sleep, I valiantly hie myself downstairs to the ballroom where the Small Press Breakfast was held.  I was not only on time, but early, and it was only my fervent devotion to the importance of small presses and the responsible publishing they do in our world that kept me from skiving off.  Showing up as an act of love is what it was. Chelsea Green, Europa, and Small Press Distribution were just three of the presenters that morning.  I was a little saddened to see that so many of my colleagues came late, but at least they bothered to come at all.  There were a lot of empty chairs out there, which is too bad since we're independent booksellers and it seemed to send the message that we just like to give lip service about supporting small, independent publishers and do not actually want to make the effort to show up on time (or at all) to hear about their cool new books and programs.  I was a little ashamed at us overall, but pleased that the three Odyssey booksellers were all there, if a bit bleary-eyed (speaking only for myself, of course).

Now, I did skive off for two other portions that day.  Like the frequent flyer saying goes, I like to vote with my feet.  Instead of wasting spending time with a randomly assigned cohort to discuss how a theoretical store might better itself, Joan and I headed out into the heart of New Orleans to visit a real bookstore and how it survived Katrina and what its best practices were for continued survival.  There were several to choose from, but we ended up selecting Octavia Books in the Garden District, not least because we wanted to see more of Magazine Street (which is, without a doubt, one of the coolest streets I've ever driven down). 

Joan outside of Octavia
It's a lovely shop and we had a great time talking with their booksellers, but we had to rush to get back to the hotel in time for Joan to check out and for me to catch Round 2 of the publisher's rep picks.  More soggy sandwiches, but lots of exciting new books to hear about, so it was pretty good.  The afternoon sessions were of varying use to me, so I poked into them randomly and was super happy that I ended up at the one where John Green was on the panel.  He's great!

After a last poke through the galley room (this is heaven: it's a room filled with tables piled high with books and we could just walk through and help ourselves to whatever books looked good. I kid you not) and spending time in line to pack up and freight out said free books from the galley room, it was time for the small press author reception.  Yay! 

What was quite possibly the best "official" part of the trip for me, though, was the author dinner for Simon & Schuster.  Simon had never invited me for anything before, but as I said earlier, I read and reviewed more books in 2011 than ever before, and one of them just happened to be for one of the two authors S&S invited to Winter Institute: Carol Anshaw's Carry the One. Color me tickled (and starstruck 'cause I got to sit next to Carol at dinner)! Not only was this one of the best parts of Winter Institute, it was one of the best author dinners I've ever had the pleasure to attend.  It was held at The Red Fish Grill, which was excellent (duh--it's a Brennan family restaurant).  We had a private room with two tables of 8 people, and a good mix of publishers, old guard booksellers, and newer ones like me.  The food was *amazing* because Wendy had planned the menu with perfect attention to local flavors and specialties, and it turns out that our waiter, Ike, was a character who plays himself on the tv show Treme
Our prix-fixe dinner menu
The wine flowed as freely as the conversations did, and for the first time ever at one of these dinners, I didn't feel like the little girl invited to eat at the grown-ups' table.  I was seated between Wendy and Carol, who were both amazing, and across from a young bookseller named Liz Sher from Politics & Prose who is my new best book friend.  Halfway through the meal, Carol traded places with Chris Cleave, author of Gold (but whom readers would recognize as the author of Little Bee/The Other Hand), so I got to be starstruck once more with an author whose work I greatly admired. They also both wrote really, really sweet inscriptions in my galleys, which made me swoon.

I think many of us were reluctant to call it a night after dinner was over, so a few of us gathered for one last drink and a salute to the Big Easy.  (Or rather, it was one last drink for me but the other stayed out 'cause they were wearing their dancing shoes). I, however, had a breakfast date with the lovely and venerable Emoke B'racz from Malaprop's in Asheville the next morning, so I hied myself back to the hotel around 2:00 am to get some rest.

The day dawned hot & hazy--just the way I like it, actually, as memories of that morning will keep the cold New England winter at bay--as Emoke and I made our way down to Cafe Du Monde one last time.  We talked story, as the Hawaiians say, for a good long time over beignets and cafe au lait, at one of the last tables available.  By the time we rose to leave, there was a line snaking down the block.  We rejoiced in our good fortune, but perhaps that was just tempting fate, because on our walk back to the hotel, I stepped off a curb only to simultaneously catch my toe on a raised flagstone and see a car approaching out of the corner of my eye. In an effort to keep from being run over (in my head I kept saying to myself, I cannot die in New Orleans, I cannot freakin' die here in New Orleans!), I must have been quite the comical sight to see as I flew horizontally across the street, losing both of my shoes, my sunglasses, my scarf and my handbag, only to crash mightily to the earth a few inches shy of the opposite curb.  I attracted quite a bit of attention, and luckily Emoke was there to gather my accoutrements while a kindly restaurateur helped me to my feet and insisted that I sit at one of his tables to shake off the near-accident.  The car, happily, braked at quite a distance from me and nothing much was hurt beyond my ego, though later I did develop some pretty nasty bruises on each knee and one forearm. Unfortunately my new cashmere sweater was ruined from skidding and sliding into home the curb, but I, at least, lived to read another day.

That's about it in a nutshell.  Travel home was complicated but not interesting enough to write about, and I had to hit the ground running the next day for textbook rush at work.  I miss New Orleans and the opportunities that Winter Institute provides for meeting other book people and networking in a way that doesn't feel like networking.  I hate networking, but I love Winter Institute. And that's all I have to say about that. Thanks for reading along with my bookish adventures, and here are some parting photographs:

Bourbon Street on a Tuesday night

A typical wrought iron balcony in the Quarter

25 January 2012

Nawlins Day Two: Or, Did I Really Just Do That?

Day two of Winter Institute: our morning started off with a bang since Carl Lennertz was on hand to talk about World Book Night US.  Holy cow--anybody who is reading this blog and living in the US who has NOT already signed up for it should do it now! I signed up the moment I first heard about it.  Basically, it's a great big way to give books to people who aren't big readers.  And these are FREE books 'cause publishers, authors, wholesalers, and printers are all donating their resources to pay for these books.  I won't know until mid-February or so, but I signed up to give away 20 copies of Laurie Anderson's Wintergirls (selected from a list of 30 titles) to an after-school group the next city over from my bookstore. The idea behind this is to put books in the hands of people who don't have great access to books for various reasons: lots of people are choosing women's shelters, prisons, military bases, non-profits.  Some folks have said they want to give out books on their local street corner, or their local mass transit.  Doesn't this sound great?

Unfortunately, I thought the educational sessions for Thursday and Friday were lacking compared with previous years.  And due to my own stupidity (alas), the one session that would have been best for me to attend was switched to a different time slot and I missed it.  That's okay, though, with Rep Pick lunch to swoop in and save the day.  That's when booksellers get to sit on their bums and eat a boxed lunch (alas, soggy) while various sales reps come to them and have 15 minutes to pitch their company's best books coming up this spring & summer.  It's a lot of fun and it's very high energy, and I'm not sure how the reps keep themselves from going hoarse by the end of their 6th presentation.  Word on the street is that shots of Maker's Mark *might* have been involved.  There are a lot of titles to take in, so it's best when the reps limit themselves to saying more about fewer titles as opposed to saying less about more titles, but it didn't always work that way (alas, I wanted to say "alas" one more time in this paragraph).

Just a random shot of the cabildo that I made by light of day
The main star of Winter Institute, though, is the author reception that evening.  Dozens of authors sit at tables around the room and booksellers stand in line to get free books signed by those authors--as many as they want.  It's just crazy.  And just in case it wasn't jealousy-inducing enough, they also lay by significant drinks and hors d'ooeuvres for those people not fortunate to be invited out for a dinner.  So yeah, free books, free wine, free food, lotsa mingling with rock star authors (some of the headliners were John Green, Jeannette Winterson, Nathan Englander, Julianna Baggott).  How can that possibly be bad?  Well, it can't.  I mean, my shoulders went a little numb from the weight of all of those books in my tote bags, and after a while I couldn't balance two bags AND a class of wine, but life should always be so hard.

Anyway, I thought that I'd be one of those booksellers on my own for the evening after the reception, but one of my reps, Eileen from Ingram, saw me in the ballroom and asked me if I'd met Marsha, her colleague from the southern territories, yet.  When I said no, Eileen told me I should introduce myself to her because she wanted to ask me to dinner for that night.  Assuming me that there was no way that I'd run into Marsha in that crowd of 600 people or so, I just thanked Eileen and moved on.  But in one of those instances that you wouldn't believe if it were in a movie, I climbed into the elevator after the reception and there was Marsha from Ingram.  She squealed a little when I introduced myself to her and what do you know? She invited me out for dinner, and not just any dinner.  Dinner at Galatoire's.  Reservations were in 15 minutes. Would that be problem? Um, that would be a big, fat NO!

Not my image

Not my image
I'd never been to Galatoire's before, though I'd been steeped in its mystique.  It's from the old guard of New Orleans restaurants, or as they say on their website, it's the Grand Dame. The atmosphere is very Old World and the menu is exquisitely heavy.  Marsha ordered appetizer samplers for the table, and the soup (turtle) and salad (avocado and crab meat) were very good, but the piece de resistance came with the entree.  I had the decadent crabmeat sardou, served up with spinach creamed in a bearnaise and the most wonderfully tender artichoke hearts.  It wasn't beautiful, but it disappeared in double time.  Wyn, the bookseller from Lexington, KY, across the table from me, ordered the same thing and between us there was an orgy of yummy-noises.  But what was *really* photo worthy of the evening was what Rob, my neighbor from Ingram, ordered: puppy drum fish, fried and served up whole.  Hand to God, it looked like a prehistoric piranha:

Creepy, no?  It actually tasted pretty mild, but I was happy when Rob let the staff clear the carcass away so that we could proceed with desserts to share.  I love that a large table of relative strangers all shared the sweet potato cheesecake, black bottom pecan pie, Key lime tart, and bread pudding, sticking in one fork right after the other and passing them 'round the table.

This is a book jacket
We ended up shutting the place down, which is a point of pride for me, but I had plans yet to come, so after thanking Marsha profusely for including me for a dinner that I'd never be able to afford on my own, I walked back to the hotel to meet up with Steven Wallace from Unbridled Books, one of the best small publishers of literary books out there.  He's an old book buddy of mine and we'd agreed months earlier to drink each other under the table meet for a civilized beverage of the adult variety, but when I walked into the lobby I ran into Emily (my bookselling compatriot from Lemuria) and quickly surmised that Wallace would probably be more enchanted to be in the company of two Emilys instead of just one.  He was.  He's that kind of charming Southern gentleman.  So he took us 'round to the Napoleon House to introduce us to its signature sazerac.  Unbelievably, the bar had last call at our second round and we actually shut the place down.  That made me two for two that night.  Yeah, I rock like that.

Our were the only chairs still on the floor!

Wallace and the Emilys
 The night was still young.  Or at least the morning was.  So we texted Emily's roommate, Kelly, and she met up with us for another round. Unfortunately, only the Carousel Bar seemed open, which is cool enough, but it was super loud there and very difficult to chat, so we moved on after only one round to the one place we *knew* would still be open.  That's right: Cafe Du Monde, open 24/7.  Beignets, here we come! There weren't many tables in use when we arrived, but we sat back to tell all kinds of stories about the authors we've worked with (if you're a badly behaved writer who toured in the South or New England in the last two decades, your ears were probably burning) and Wallace regaled us with tales from the heyday of 1980s publishing and the gluttony and greed that marked that decade. I guess it was a little after 3:00 am when we looked up and saw that we were the *only* table in use outside at CDM, with all of the other chairs stacked up on the tables.  So while it's technically true that they're always open, I think this counts as three for three places that I shut down in one night.  Did I really just do that? Believe me when I say that is *not* my usual style, but I had the Emily reputation to maintain.  So what if we all had to be up for the 8:00 small press breakfast later that day? 
See what I mean?  Craziness!

Okay, I *loved* this shadow that the Jesus statue threw on the back of St. Louis Cathedral.  It was all eerie until Emily (or perhaps Kelly) quipped something about Touchdown Jesus.

24 January 2012

Norwegian Wood Readalong: Part Trois: I suck

So...when we left off at the exciting point last week, we were most of us kinda bored and wanting more Midori.  It's as if Murakami heard our silent pleas and it was like all Midori, all the time. In fact, I was enjoying the book so much more that I read it straight through on my trip to New Orleans last week.  The catch (and there's always a catch) is that I thoughtlessly packed up my copy with notes and dog-ears and marginalia with the fifty or so books that I picked up in Nawlins, so I'm waiting for it to arrive tomorrow in my big box o' books.

And since I drank my weight in beer and sazeracs last week and am still, in fact, feeling sleep deprived, I can't really recall any of my thoughts about this week's assignment, other than these very broad and not-very-helpful ones:

1. Midori rocks, but she is also troubled and a little wacky: "let's go get drunk, let's go watch porn together, let's talk all about blow jobs." But I loved the hospital scenes with her father, particularly (and oddly enough) the one with the cucumber & Toru.

2. Why do all of these incredibly damaged women like Toru when he's not very interesting, not a good conversationalist, and actually says he might not be able to keep himself from raping a woman if he were to spend the night with her and she didn't want to have sex (though in reality he was able to manage just fine)?

3. Why is ho-hum and conventional Toru attracted to these incredibly damaged women?

Next week it is my intention to review the book in its entirety once my copy arrives in the mail.  I can say that I ended up liking the book more at the end than I had at the end of last week's excruciating reading, but I guess that's not saying much.

What say you, Norwegian Wood Read-a-long-er?

23 January 2012

Nawlins Day One: As the Crowe Flies and Read and Eats and Drinks

Our first full day at Winter Institute (and thus New Orleans) could start off in only one way: a visit to Cafe Du Monde.  Touristy? To be sure. But you'll also find plenty of locals here, and the staff are kind to the homeless of New Orleans, so consider that the next time you're looking for a reason to go.   But despite the the fact that it's touristy, Cafe Du Monde's prices are decidedly not.  Breakfast for three, including three plates of beignets, two cafe au laits, and once hot chocolate came to just under $20.  My roommate, Marika McCoola, and I met up with Ann Kingman, one of our terrific Random House sales reps (and whom some of my readers might know for her Books on the Nightstand podcast with Michael Kindness), at 8:00 Wednesday morning to walk to CDM from our hotel, the Crowne Plaza on Canal & Bourbon. 
Each order of three beignets comes absolutely drenched in powdered sugar, but you have to do that in order to balance out the fat from the fried dough.  Add in coffee for a completely nutritional breakfast. You have to trust me on that.
It was a beautiful morning, sunny & bright, made all the more welcome by the wintry weather all three of us had left behind. All three of us were in high spirits as we walked back to the hotel, just in time to be addressed by Ann Patchett, America's favorite new bookseller.  That's right--for those of you who haven't heard, Patchett was dismayed when all of the bookstores in her hometown of Nashville closed; when nobody else stepped forward to open one, she did it herself.  She's an amazing speaker who can talk engagingly off the cuff quite at length and she held us all spellbound telling us of her early book tour and the challenges it presented (her publisher gave her $3000 to cover a 30-city book tour).  Inspirational is not a word I use lightly, but she really was.  And if I admit that I was on the verge of tears more than once during her talk, it's because she's tapped into that collective feeling we had of the urgency of our situation as indie booksellers, on the edge of big changes, opportunities, and challenges. I clearly wasn't the only one who felt that way because she is the only speaker from Winter Institute that I recall receiving a standing ovation from all of us. Here's a photo from the New York Times showing Ms Patchett and Karen Hayes, her business partner (and incidentally my old sales rep for Bantam Doubleday Dell when I used to work at Lemuria).
Not my image: it's from the NYTimes
Later that day we got to sit back and listen while USA Today writer Bob Minzenheimer interviewed eminent historian and writer Douglas Brinkley, author of The Great Deluge, his book about the experience of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.  He and his family actually were stranded in the city during the ordeal, so unlike the subject of most of his books, he has firsthand knowledge of just exactly how terrible those days and weeks were.  Like with Patchett's talk, my eyes watered a bit listening to Brinkley describe in detail the everyday acts of heroism he witnessed at the hands of the disenfranchised, those with nothing to lose who acted with strength and grace while those the city should have been able to count on, including former Mayor Nagin and former President George W. Bush, sequestered themselves away in cowardly fashion.

That night Algonquin  (one of my favorite publishers) partnered with local New Orleans bookseller Britton Trice to host a gathering of booksellers, and Joan and I were extremely fortunate to have been included.  Britton owns the Garden District Bookshop and his home is in the same district; I'm not sure what the publisher folks had to do to convince him and his wife to host us, but it had to have been a pretty sweet deal because his place is amazing.  Check out the size of these bookshelves, which line the entire room that Karen is standing in (I asked her to stay there to give the photo some scale):
We basically could have just enjoyed ourselves by reading his bookshelves, but no! Algonquin provided authors from their 2012 list for our entertainment AND some amazing truck food to feed us all.  Brandon Jones, Kris D'Agostino, and John T. Edge, authors of All Woman and Springtime and The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac, and Truck Food, respectively, signed books for the thirty or so of us and between times we noshed on the amazing food provided by Que Crawl (pulled pork and shrimp po-boys, boudin balls, Krispy Kreme bread pudding--need I say more?).  Here's bookseller extraordinaire, Stan Hynds, who hails from Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT, in front of the food truck, followed by a photo of Brandon Jones as he was about to sign my book:

The night ended relatively early for Winter Institute dinners, so I did what any self-respecting bookseller would do: I texted Emily from Lemuria to see if she and her roommate, Kelly, wanted to meet up for a drink.  45 minutes later, we were walking through the Quarter looking for a good place to go.  They in turn texted their local host, who recommended a few places in Maurigny or on the far end of the Quarter, and we ended up at a place called Molly's for a round of beers and dishing about the bidness.  I'm pretty sure we solved most of our bookstores' problems.  If only we remembered the solutions by light of day!  I thought it was a late night, almost shutting down Molly's and getting in around 2:00 am, but apparently that was just child's play compared to the following evening, but that will have to wait for another telling...

22 January 2012

Nawlins: As the Crowe Flies and Read and Eats and Drinks and...

Jackson Square, New Orleans. image mine
So...I just got back from New Orleans, and by that I mean early this morning after a god-awful day of travel, but I've since had to go to work and catch up on things before coming home to give woogies to my animules who were missing me.  But now I'm here to talk wildly about Winter Institute and how generally awesome the city of New Orleans is.

Firstly, Winter Institute: this is the place where 500 independent booksellers gather to share stories about being indies and how to survive and put best practices into place, whether you're a national rock star bookstore like Politics & Prose in DC, or more of a regional indie folk star like the Odyssey Bookshop, which is my store.  The only thing we have to pay is our hotel room and our flight and incidental expenses because publishers and wholesalers (thank you, Ingram Content Group!) sponsor the whole damn event for us.  We represent a small portion of book sales nationally (figures include online sources such as Amazon and big box stores such as Target or Wal-Mart), but apparently we're tastemakers in the industry and because of that, publishers like to sponsor Winter Institute and invite us out to author dinners and such.   Who knew?

What I do know is that Winter Institute is what I most look forward to all year long.  I enjoy attending BEA and my regional trade show of NEIBA, but Winter Institute rocks it in a way far beyond the other two.  For one thing, it's a fairly small attendance as far as national trade shows go: it's capped at 500 attendees to maintain a sense of intimacy and so that we can break down into manageable groups for further discussion.  And while there still is, regrettably, a sense of cliquishness at events like this, the more I attend, the more booksellers I come to know and thus the less I feel like an outsider.

For example, publishers still tend to favor the old guard (or at least their biggest) accounts when it comes to dinner invitations, which makes it difficult for new booksellers to get invited, particularly if they're not the buyer or the events coordinator for their store.  In the past I've "inherited" invitations from my colleague Joan (who is definitely a member of the old guard) when she couldn't attend, but this was the first year that I was invited to multiple dinners on what I presume to be my own merit; a situation that I exclusively chalk up to the fact that I was my most active in 2011 for reading & reviewing books for publishers and they finally seemed to notice, despite the fact that I'm neither the events coordinator nor the primary adult book buyer in my store.

Over the next few days, I'll be posting about the Winter Institute and how I took to heart the New Orleans unofficial catchphrase, "laissez les bon temps roulez."  In other words, I behaved as if I were a good 20 years younger than I am, but I regret nothing.  In the meantime, here are a few shots from our welcome reception at the Louisiana State Museum at the Cabildo in Jackson Square:

Marika & Joan at the Cabildo
One of the displays at the Cabildo
Another Cabildo display. It was cool.  And HUGE

The children's buyer from Books & Books in Florida. All of her tattoos were hand drawn on her by the actual illustrators when visiting her store, which she immediately had inked. I love Otis!

18 January 2012

Wordless Wednesday: the homeless apostrophe

I think Wordless Wednesday is a meme hosted somewhere, but I'm honestly not sure.  And as I'm having to post this via my telephone while I'm away in New Orleans (about which, more anon), I don't really have the time or the thumb technique to look up where, etc.

But I saw this photograph in a Shelf Awareness recently and it made me laugh, as apostrophes (and their proper uses) are causes dear to my heart.

17 January 2012

Norwegian Wood Readalong: Part Deux

So, is it just me, or have the rest of y'all had "Norwegian Wood" stuck in your heads all week, too? I've been whistling and humming it at every turn.  And am I the last one to know about the film adaptation to be released in the US later this year?  I found it quite by accident today when looking for the Hunger Games trailer to watch.

All of this is to delay my discussion of the book, which I confess I find little pleasure in reading.    Though I did finish the reading this week, I found the two assigned chapters tedious, indeed, which makes me fear that perhaps I'm too pedestrian to appreciate Murakami's subtleties.  What I cannot determine is whether it's a lack of understanding the cultural differences or my lack of sophistication getting in the way.  

What's up with this passage in chapter 6: "I'm saying you shouldn't use yourself up in some unnatural form.  Do you see what I'm getting at? It would be such a waste. The years nineteen and twenty are a crucial stage in the maturation of character, and if you allow yourself to become warped when you're that age, it will cause you pain when you're older. It's true."

And I noticed on the back cover of my edition that the LA Times Book Review said that this was "easily the most erotic of [his] novels." I wonder at that when there are passages like this in the book (and last week somebody else already pointed out Murakami's use of her "opening" in a sex scene): "If he wanted to play with my breasts or vagina, I didn't mind at all, or if he had semen he wanted to get rid of, I didn't helping with that, either." Erotic? I don't think so.

Still, the loony bin Ami Hotel was a pretty interesting place, though it's hard to imagine such a place here in the US.  And Reiko's piano student was a real piece of work (though the writing was on the wall for that one).

Basically I have three words for Murakami at this point: More Midori, please.

Sorry for being so down on the book this week; I hold out hope that by the time I come to the end that my opinion may change.  What about y'all?  What did you take away from this week's reading? 

13 January 2012

Hey HEY Hey, New Orleans!

Okay, who can tell me the source of today's blogpost title?  I'll give you a hint: it's from an eminently quotable show from the late 1980s and early 1990s.

That's right--I head down to New Orleans, Nawlins, the Big Easy, the Crescent City next week, and what's more, I'm traveling there for work, which means very little out of pocket expense for me.  New Orleans is my favorite city in the US to visit, and it's one of my favorite places in the world.  Having grown up in MS, I was a frequent visitor there until I moved north.  I had friends in college who were from there and whose parents opened their home to all of us whenever we wanted to visit, including during the Mardi Gras season.  I'm pretty sure that there isn't any number of hostess gifts and thank you notes that could adequately express our gratitude for taking us in, so Betty and Jerry Cooper, this blog's for you!

You know what Betty and Jerry would do for us at Mardi Gras time?  Not only did they make large, nourishing breakfasts to fortify us during the day or welcome us back home at night with hot & hearty dishes like jambalaya, or allow us to play Mardi Gras music very loudly on the speakers at all hours of the day or night...each morning after breakfast they would drive two separate cars down to the parade routes and leave one there, then drive back to their house together while we were getting ready for the day.  Then one of them would round up all of us kids and drive us back to the parade route to drop us off--all so we could have a vehicle on hand after the parades and could drive home whenever we were ready. These are the kind of parents who have always enjoyed the company of their children and by extension their children's friends, and I've rarely met a family who were so universally generous or gracious.  While I certainly appreciated at the time everything that Betty and Jerry did for us, I was also wrapped up in that bubble of self-involvement that marks adolescence and young adulthood; it is now when I look back on those long-gone years that I marvel at their largess toward a rag-tag bunch of teens and college kids. Which is why it was all the more devastating when Hurricane Katrina destroyed that home I remember so fondly. 

It's been a couple of years since I was last in New Orleans, incidentally for standing up in the wedding for Betty and Jerry's daughter, Elizabeth, which was one of the loveliest weddings I've ever had the pleasure of attending. (Sidebar: we had our hair done at 7:30 that morning and the stylist offered us our choice of daiquiris, strawberry or eggnog. Would that all hairdresers had multiple daiquiri machines in their back rooms to offer their clientele)

Next week will be completely different, for I'm heading down for Winter Institute, an industry trade show for independent booksellers, capped at a 500-person attendance to maintain a sense of intimacy.  We attend educational sessions and panels, listen to speakers on the state of the industry, attend wine receptions with various authors, generally mingle with other folks in the bidness, and GET FREE BOOKS.  It's the coolest gig around, and this year on top of everything else I've been invited to a couple of publisher's soirees, so color me stoked.  Wednesday night is a large dinner party hosted by Algonquin, one of my favorite independent publishers, at the home of a famed New Orleans bookseller known for his swanky Garden District Bookshop.  We'll ride the streetcar (do not call it a trolley, please) from our hotel in the Quarter to his home and enjoy some Abita beer and boudin balls and other traditional comestibles.

Friday night I get to attend the Simon & Schuster dinner where I'll meet authors Carol Anshaw, who wrote Carry the One, and Chris Cleave, whom most readers will know from Little Bee, but who will be promoting his forthcoming novel Gold.  (I liked both books very much and the links will take you to my reviews.) Dinner will be held at the Red Fish Grill, which I believe opened since I left the South, but it's a Brennan establishment so let's just say I feel pretty good about it!

My husband would disown me if I forsook the Acme Oyster Bar while down there, and for me, no visit to that august city is complete without a visit (or several) to Cafe du Monde.  One of my favorite visits there was a spur-of-the-moment roadtrip in my freshman year of college, three hours away by car.  I reckon it was around 8:00 that night when we decided we were craving beignets and that nothing else would do.  So we piled into my boyfriend's roommate's car and headed down.  We started and ended at Cafe du Monde and in between times we walked the Quarter, stopped in at Pat O's (yup, touristy, but who can possibly resist the alluring combination of fire fountains and Hurricanes-a-gogo?), and sang some karaoke at The Cat's Meow (Love Shack. That's right. We rocked that tin roof.).  I seem to recall we made it back to Jackson in time to go to church the next morning. 'Cause we were bad-ass renegades like that.

So, umm, yeah.  New Orleans.  Gonna be there soon.  Which makes this post travel related and thus totes legitimate.

NB: Only the photos of people belong to me. The others were found on an obliging tourist promotional website.  I used to have very similar photos of my own, but I lost them when my hard drive fried last year.

10 January 2012

Norwegian Wood Readalong

I've never participated in a readalong before, but I rather obnoxiously commented on the posts for everybody who participated in the Help! I Haven't Read The Help Readalong, sponsored by Reading Rambo. This month she's sponsoring a new one for Haruki Murakmi's Norwegian Wood, which nobody doubts will be a more elevated selection.  However, my book just arrived at the bookshop yesterday and the first posting deadline is today, so I am a little behind.  Woe is I. But I will buck up, suck it up, and give it the ol' college try (and any other cliche you can think of that is suitable).  I've already missed out on the introductory post, in which we are to elaborate on our feelings of reading Murakami: to sum up, a little bit intimidated because I've read two of his books before and one of them kicked my ass & I didn't finish it, and the other was slim and dreamlike and carried me along on its gentle current. Which one will Norwegian Wood resemble, or will it be something entirely its own?

Okey-dokey.  Here are my almighty thoughts about chapters one through four two.  In a readalong, I'm not sure which is more important: finishing the reading and posting late, or posting on time what you've had the chance to read. I'm erring on the side of the latter for this week until informed otherwise.

I'm not sure if it's a cultural difference or what, but the conversation between Toru and Naoko seems completely stilted.  The relationship itself and the way they interact feel natural, but any verbal exchange leaves me feeling dissatisfied.  On the other hand, the same dream-like quality that I liked about After Dark seems to be developing here, and I'm all for that.

I love the meditation on memory and clarity at the end of chapter one: it's almost like a prose version of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle: the closer in time he is to Naoko, the less clear she seems, and conversely, "the more the memories of Naoko inside me fade, the more deeply I am able to understand her." Maybe it's just the old physics nerd in me resurfacing, but I was completely drawn to the last two paragraphs in the chapter.

Cicadas--who knew that they were in Japan?  Of the four places I've lived in the US (MA, NC, MS, and WI), I have only ever known them in MS.  I wouldn't have expected them to show up in Japan, what with the wildly divergent climates.

Boys' dormitories--I guess that's a cross-culture disgusting thing.  I was an RA in college and had to make several, ahem, official visits to the boys' dorms after hours and they were always appaling.  I love Murakami's description of mattresses here: "sweat-impregnated pads would give off odors beyond redemption." So true, so true.

National anthem--"until pebbles turn to boulders" seemed like the phrase should be reversed to me until I looked up the rest of the lyrics online.  Now I suppose I just find it creepy, because if it were "boulders turn to pebbles," then it's just a really long time on a geologic time scale.  But waiting for pebbles to turn to boulders is not going to happen, ever. And then I had the irreverent thought that it would be a better national anthem for North Korea. And then I realized that I don't really want to inspect too closely the words of my own national anthem and I left it alone.

And how 'bout that suicide, eh? Can't wait to move on 'cause in retrospect it makes the convo in chapter one a little less stilted.

Shoot, this makes me feel stoopid.  Can't wait to read everybody else's response so that I can learn better how to do this.  'Til next time, y'all.

09 January 2012

As the Crowe Flies and EATS

Last weekend my husband and I left on a jet plane to visit my family in Wisconsin over New Year's.  Traveling in New England is always a little dicey in the winter, and traveling to Wisconsin at that time of year isn't exactly for the faint of heart.  I find it almost impossible to believe that I was born there, such is the thinness of my blood today.  My brother, in contrast, thinks there's nothing at all wrong with wearing cutoffs and a t-shirt to shovel snow; his heavy winter coat is very similar to the light jacket I wear in the summer when it rains.

Our driveway in snow (& deer tracks)
But I digress.  When traveling in winter, my husband and I always allow plenty of time for layovers in case our departing flights are delayed, and if the forecast predicts even a dusting of snow the night before or the morning of a departure, we hie ourselves to an airport motel to avoid what happened one time on our way to MS in February: the forecast promised less than an inch of snow accumulation overnight, but when we tried to navigate our hilly, curvy driveway, our 4-wheel drive car slid downhill on the black ice.  At one point the car did a 180-degree turn and thus we slid the last bit backwards.  How we ended up not hitting a boulder on the way down or avoiding other cars when we slid into the street below is a matter left to speculation, but we were so shaken that we barely made the drive to the airport on time. We are now thusly over-cautious when it comes to winter travel.

On the bright side, our layovers in winter are also long enough to accommodate meals more leisurely than grabbing takeout from the various fast food chains that define the airport landscape.  In Minneapolis (MSP) we have a favorite place to nosh when the timing works: Surdyk's Flights, which is a full wine shop (thus the punny name for an airport eatery) with a small bistro attached. If you're in a hurry, you can grab a sandwich or homemade pastry to go, but I recommend grabbing one of the booths to settle in for a meal when it's feasible. 

The bar/counter at Surdyk's

Books & cappuccino: so very civilized in an airport
We settled into a cozy booth for two, where our first order of bidness was to turn off the small screen tv, but close on the heels of that, we ordered a couple of cappuccinos (cappuccini?).  I opted for breakfast and chose the egg & swiss panino with a side of fruit while DH selected the prosciutto and pecorino sandwich accompanied by a tarragon potato salad.  Both were excellent, ample, and at $7 and $12, respectively, not out of line in terms of price. Although we didn't partake on this particular visit, Surdyk's also has a full bar with nothing but top shelf liquor.  It's one of the rare places outside the Caribbean or a specialty bar where you can find a really good rum (my friends, Bacardi is rotgut as far as I'm concerned).  They happen to pour Matusalem, or at least did the last time we were there.

My breakfast panino

DH's sandwich

Close up of their made-daily muffins, brioches, and other pastries.
Feeling refreshed and oh-so-very-civilized after lingering over coffee and our books, we soon settled in for our flight to Central Wisconsin Airport (CWA), nestled in the heart of the state.  I've never seen so little snow on the ground in December or January as I did on this trip.  Wisconsin is not at its best in the winter, especially when there's no coat of snow to gently mask the drably harsh features of the landscape, but there is still a kind of stark beauty there.  These are some photos of farmland between the airport and the small, dying mill town where I spent my earliest years:

This photo reminds me quite viscerally of Mississippi

The stories this abandoned house could tell

What else would you name your welding company?
Our visit to Wisconsin was splendid but entirely too short.  It's never enough time to visit with family, whom I only see once or twice a year, but it's a difficult time for me to get away.  There's a fairly short window between the end of the holiday retail season/end of year returns and the gearing up for Winter Institute and textbook rush.  Still, you might be amazed at the sheer amounts of baked goods and liquor that my family and I were able to put away in those brief days.  For once I held my own against my DH, brother, and sister-in-law, but suffice it to say that it will be a long while before I want to get friendly with another bottle of Zacapa.

Before we knew it, it was time to head for the airport again, this time on our way to Detroit (DTW), which is one of my favorite airports.  There's a good Japanese restaurant on the main concourse, and after you've filled up on sushi or noodles, you can entertain AND refresh yourself at the water fountain display.  The water itself can be mesmerizing, but as it shoots and leaps in patterns, it's also ionizing the air around it, so I suggest that you pause to take a few deep breaths.  I also love what I call the Rainbow Connection (someday we'll find it!), the underground tunnel that connects the main concourse with the two smaller ones.  Here are a few more photos in parting:
Sometimes there's music playing, too.

Imagine what it'd be like if you were tripping...
The pause that refreshes
Frost on my mom's window