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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bread for books

I like to barter.  Over the years we've traded books for movie tickets, coffee, picture framing, artwork, restaurant gift certificates, admission to plays, and bread.  Pistil has a baker friend who arrives at our door each week on his bike and delivers his handmade whole-grain nutty bread to us in return for book credit which he uses to purchase advanced chess books.  I've never played chess, but I know from his description to look for books with a lot of notation.  This bread-for-books scheme is a natural one, since "bread" and "dough" are slang terms for money.

Speaking of dough, a recent acquisition which may end up in The Museum of Weird Books is a bright orange scholarly volume by Steve Penfold called, The Donut:  A Canadian History.  Although I've visited British Columbia, our close neighbor, regularly, I had never realized that the donut is Canada's national food.  The epigraph of this book states, "For the historian, there are no banal things."--Sigfried Giedion, Mechanization Takes Command:  A Contribution to Anonymous History

Reading Notes
I've been pretty busy reading since my last post, finishing four books.  Today I read The Bear's Embrace:  A True Story of Surviving a Grizzly Bear Attack by Patricia Van Tighem, from start to finish.  It is one of those books with suspense built right in, since you know from the very title what terrible thing is going to happen, and the first page describes the narrator heading out to a hike on a beautiful autumn day with her husband.  The ordinariness of their trip contrasted with the dreadfulness of what follows creates an engrossing tension from page one.  The book is not only about the bear attack itself, but about the lifelong consequences:  living with facial disfigurement, constant infections and surgeries, post-traumatic stress syndrome, and depression.  It's a powerful, well-written, story, and a good reminder of how much chance, luck, and randomness drastically shape our lives, for better and for worse.

I've also read a novel, a book of short stories, and a non-fiction book about one of my favorite activities, walking:  Nothing is Quite Forgotten in Brooklyn by Alice Mattison; Dimanche and Other Stories by Irene Nemirovsky, and The Lost Art of Walking by Geoff Nicholson.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Filthy in a box

Over the course of the summer, our cat, Filthy, has been transformed from a scaredy-cat mostly indoors pampered white fluffy kitty into a mostly outside rough and tough, no longer terrified of raccoons, beast who spends much of his time in the front yard, sleeping in his basket or hiding in the grass.   His indoor time has moved into the bookstore, as is appropriate for a literary type such as he is (he especially enjoys climbing onto your chest for a drool fest if you're on the couch trying to read a book).  Sean didn't like Filthy sleeping in his chair in the bookstore, though, for some reason not appreciating sitting in a layer of cat hair.  So since he's been banished from the office chairs, Filthy has been restlessly scouting around for a new place to dream of chasing mice, resolutely ignoring the cushion and fuzzy towel I placed on the floor for him.  Today he decided a box newly emptied of books was the perfect bed.

Last week we went to the Moore Theatre to see a screening of the film I Am Secretly an Important Man, a documentary about a local poet and musician, Steven Jesse Bernstein, who performed in Seattle in the eighties, often opening for various grunge bands.  A really funny clip of  Jesse Bernstein being featured on a local television news program after being voted best poet in Seattle by Seattle Weekly (not exactly a bastion of alternative culture) readers opens the film, with the carefully coiffed anchorwoman asking the heavily bespectacled and tattooed-knuckled Bernstein how he would describe his poetry and him replying, "dark."   Although dark it is, his work is often humorous, and can be heard on the Sub Pop album, Prison, with music recorded by Steve Fisk.  A lot of longtime Seattle artists were featured in the film, and many were in the audience.  Left Bank Books collective, who published a book of Bernstein's poetry, More Noise, Please!, in 1996 was tabling in the lobby. 

Reading Notes
I started reading Larry's Party by Carol Shields, but quit about half way through.  I thought it was pretty boring to begin with - the main character was a male florist who becomes obsessed with building hedge mazes, and the story followed his romantic and family life.  But Shields' habit of repeating not very interesting bits of biographical information drove me to quit reading.  I'm not sure what purpose the repetition was supposed to serve, but I found it very annoying.  I'm a bit disappointed, because I was hoping to like Carol Shields just for being a Canadian woman writer, since I'm quite fond of Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, and Mavis Gallant.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Evil Megalisters

One of the more frustrating and disturbing developments in the online bookselling business in the past couple of years has been the rise (or more accurately, the race to the bottom) of "megalisters."  These are companies that buy books in large quantities--one method they have for acquiring books at library sales is to send in groups of scanner-wielding employees with no book knowledge to scan bar codes and buy the books their device tells them too-- or the megalisters collect donated books by touting their supposed green stance.  They then handle and list their books in the most automated method possible, treating books like widgets, using pricing bots that undercut each other until books sell for the minimum (one dollar on Abebooks and one cent on Amazon) and giving no description of what they're selling except a blanket disclaimer, using "may" and "can".  Here are some examples of megalisters' so-called descriptions:

Paperback. Book Condition: Good. Good: Typical used book. All pages and cover intact (including dust cover, if applicable). The spine may show signs of wear. Pages can include limited notes and highlighting. Occasionally these may be former library books. Overall you will be surprised at how good our used books are. We just want to remind you that this is a used book. Satisfaction Guaranteed!.

Book Condition: Used. 4th Edition. 4th Edition-Inventory subject to prior sale. Used items have varying degrees of wear, highlighting, etc. and may not include supplements such as infotrac or other web access codes. Expedited orders cannot be sent to PO Box. 

Paperback. Book Condition: Acceptable. Acceptable: may have one or all of the following; light corner bends, scuff marks, edge chipping, may have name written on inside title page and or, missing DJ, some light damage to binding, writing or highlighting on pages, possible light water stains.  

Event Coming Up
Paul Constant, the book editor of The Stranger, is hosting "Get Lit":
It's time yet again for Get Lit, the twice-yearly bookseller, librarian, and book-lover's happy hour! This is an opportunity for book-minded people to hang out, drink, and talk shop about books in a casual setting. Suggested topics this time: Freedom, Jodi Picoult's Freedom backlash, whether Seattle needs a Bookfest, and any interesting gossip you may have heard at PNBA this year. We'll be meeting in a reserved upstairs room at a nice bar just to the east of downtown, The Living Room. It features comfy chairs, stiff drinks, and no television. Hooray!
So here's the skinny, highlighted for your convenience. 
6 pm until whenever. Sunday October 17th.
The Living Room—1355 E Olive Way Seattle, WA 98122—(206) 708-6021
Save the date! And please forward this e-mail to anyone you think might be interested. Get Lit is all about having a fun, laid-back, inclusive time. Literally: The more the merrier.

Reading Notes
I just finished reading Postcards, and I feel like I'm done with E. Annie Proulx for some time.  Her writing is somewhat literary, but it's also quite trashy and sensationalistic (this book had a whole chapter describing shotgun suicides, for instance).  I think it's a matter of what you like to read, but I get bored with such melodrama fairly quickly.  I also read Changing Places by David Lodge.  This was set in the sixties (and written in the seventies); about a British English professor and an American English professor who exchange universities for the academic year.  It's a comedy and a slice of the times, full of swinging chicks, student protests, and the like.  Fairly amusing, and fluffy.