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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Happy Holidays from Pistil

Here we are in various stages of solemnity:  Amy, Sean, Troy, and Tim - Pistil Staff, December 2011.

Reading Notes
Just a quick list of what I've been reading since the last entry:

From Ink Lake: Canadian Stories Selected by Michael Ondaatje.
A History of Forgetting by Caroline Adderson (novel)
Sitting Practice by Caroline Adderson (novel, did not like or finish)
The Wrong Mother by Sophie Hannah (trashy psychological thriller)
More Granta issues, as always....

Monday, November 28, 2011

Library of Useful Stories

I found a little book recently called The Story of a Piece of Coal:  What It Is, Whence It Comes, and Whither it Goes (1910), by Edward A. Martin, part of the "The Library of Useful Stories" series (not to be confused with The Library of Useless Stories).   A pocket-sized hardback bound in tan cloth and decorated with four illustrations of open books on the front cover, and one on the back, this book is a fine example of the charm of a physical book.  It's darn cute.  And so well-written!

From the homely scuttle of coal at the side of the hearth to the gorgeously verdant vegetation of a forest of mammoth trees, might have appeared a somewhat far cry in the eyes of those who lived some fifty years ago.  But there are few now who do not know what was the origin of the coal which they use so freely, and which in obedience to their demand has been brought up more than a thousand feet from the bowels of the earth; and, although familiarity has in a sense bred contempt for that which a few shillings will always purchase, in all probability a stray thought does  occasionally cross one's mind, giving birth to feelings of a more or less thankful nature that such a store of heat and light was long ago laid up in this earth of ours for our use, when as yet man was not destined to put in an appearance for many, many ages to come. 

Just try reading that aloud.  I'm happy to see a list at the back of the book of the other volumes in The Library of Useful Stories.  I think I will get myself a copy of The Story of Books.

Reading Notes

Once again, I am behind in recording what I've been reading.  I read a novel by Irene Nemirovsky called All Our Worldly Goods  about ordinary upper middle class French people whose lives are turned upside down by war.  The novel is particularly poignant to read given that the author died in Auschwitz, and the book was first published five years after her death.  I read half of A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore, a novel I found to be too damn annoying to finish.  The narrator is a twenty year old college student who gets a job as a nanny for a white couple who have adopted a black baby and rather than plot or interesting characters, the focus seems to be on the unbelievable, precious and quirky voice of this narrator.  I read a book called The Sexual Century:  How Private Passion became a Public Obsession by Tom Hickman.  This was a companion book to a British television show, and is full of great color images and lots of proofreading errors (actually, it probably wasn't proofread) and typos.  An amusing, fast read.  And, as usual, I've been dipping into various past issues of Granta magazine.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Declarations of Independence

I just finished reading Howard Zinn's Declarations of Independence, an excellent and fine and very readable history book.  In the first part of the book, Zinn addresses the root structure of political power in America and the world.  Zinn then employs examples in history, often "alternative" history, and writes about the true nature of political change and how it comes about.  The American political landscape is filled with a common language that is chuck full of truisms.  Such as the very fact that we live in a democracy, that we possess certain inalienable rights, that we have a system of one man, one vote and that the ultimate power rests with the people, who can remove those from office who do not represent their interests. 

But Zinn questions each of these assumptions and a great many others, clearly showing that representative democracy under a two-party system is not very representative at all,  Our rights are subject to what the courts at any one time or in any particular state determine them to be.  In example after example he shows that even when laws are clearly on the books -- often the result of huge battles to get legislation passed to protect or defend a people or an environment -- this offers no guarantee they will be enforced by authorities appointed by those whose economic or ideological interests they serve.  There are not laws saying the law must be enforced, there are only people: the courts at any time or place to enforce them, and if they choose not to it's pretty hard to force the hand of power to act against what it considers its reason for being. 

Do we live in a system of one man one vote when slaves and women got no vote, or when the top wealthiest 500 people control $200 billion and the bottom 60 million Americans have no assets at all? 
In fact, Zinn argues, the entire system is rigged and behind it lies a class system that perpetuates itself largely by taking extreme measures in controlling what gets taught and what gets published and what gets recorded historically as constructive popular opinion in a giant effort to convince the rest of us of the legitimacy and inevitability of the status quo.  But in fact this status quo rests in a very tenuous balance between the coercive institutions of our culture: the police, the prisons, the "intelligence" agencies and the military and the will of people who have historically determined they will no longer submit to an unjust rule and have taken the popular culture with them.  These have been the abolitionists, the countless white and black workers of the civil rights movement, the women's organizations who have transformed the role of women and the gay rights organizers who have stepped up to the challenge of Stonewall all the way to winning recognition of domestic partnerships. 

Zinn argues finally that the main force of these changes have not been through voting or lobbying our (non) representative government or by petitioning the courts but rather by non-violent direct action: by people deciding themselves what they want society to look like and then taking action, often against prevailing law and popular consent to bring it about.  It is a view of history that does not worship great men, but lays bare the tenuous and often very fragile state of what is and how the particular present has come to be and encourages the reader to bring forth the vision of what freedom and justice may actually look like with the grit and power of one's own hands.  It is an excellent read, that brings the force of history into and understandable and contextualized present. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Interesting Endpapers

Endpapers are "the double leaves added to the book by the binder that become the pastedowns [because they are glued to the back of the covers] and free [not glued] endpapers inside the front and rear covers." (Definition from IOBA Book Terminology.)

Most endpapers in modern books are blank white pages, but they can be decorative, colored, or printed with something having to do with the contents of the book, as in the endpapers pictured here from  a book called Spiders by Michael Chinery.  The images of a multi-eyed beast marching across these pages depict "movements from the balletic courtship dance of a jumping spider."  The author goes on to explain the spider's sex life, but you'll have to read the book for that.  I'll just give you this little tidbit:  "With both palps charged, the male is ready for action." Yow.

Here are some more examples of endpaper design:
From Mother West Wind's Neighbors by Thornton W. Burgess (1913).
From A New Path to the Waterfall by Raymond Carver (1989).

From Trees, Shrubs and Flowers to Know in Washington by C.P. Lyons (1956).
From The Devil Wagon in God's Country by Michael L. Berger (1979).
From a German book called Michelangelo by Fritz Knapp (1907).

From Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski (1946).

Reading Notes

As usual, I've been reading about five books at once, but I actually completed two of them.

The Last of the Live Nude Girls:  A Memoir by Sheila McClear (Soft Skull Press, 2011), as the title states, is the story of a stripper in New York City's Times Square peep shows  in 2006.  It's a fast read, kind of like Retail Hell for bookstore clerks, in that it describes interactions with annoying "customers", but naked.  And so worse.  One thing I noticed was how our narrator often refers to other strippers as being "old" when they are over thirty.  I guess it's all a matter of perspective.  The back of the book has a twelve page history of peep shows in NYC.

I also read The Living (HarperPerrenial, 1992), an epic novel by Annie Dillard set in the Northwest in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.  This book took me about three weeks to read, in part because it was 445 pages long, but also because I only wanted to read two or three of the short chapters at a time, as it was otherwise overwhelming.  The Living has lots of characters to keep track of - there's a handy list of characters at the front of the book - and covers a good deal of time and events.  I particularly enjoyed the local history, such as Native-white relations, the booms and busts of the frontier towns, and how to fell giant trees and make cedar shingles.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Book Sale: 20% off, Now until October 31

I am pleased to announce that the latest issue of The Standard, the official newsletter of the IOBA (Independent Online Booksellers Association), has been published and is available here:
This marks the first all-new issue in almost three years and there are some great articles: on dealer discounts, on famed booksellers Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine B. Stern, literary travels, yours truly on the importance of turnover, as well as reviews, book fair reports and member profiles.
The newsletter is available for all booksellers and bibliophiles. But if you like what you see, do hope you'll consider joining:
Thanks for your attention.
-Brian Cassidy,
Editor The IOBA Standard

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

100% Destruction Guaranteed

We received a Spam email from, advertising their service.  I particularly liked this phrase:  "When your load of books arrives at our facility, it will immediately be ground into tiny fragments.."   How reassuring!  The gist of the marketing is that by destroying your books for you, the company is keeping them from being re-sold by someone else.  I also like how their process "eliminates workers handling the books, thus eliminating the enormous desire to sell the books"  -  and the desire to read them, too?

Reading Notes

Well, I've been remiss in listing my recent reads, but here they are:

Nancy Culpepper:  Stories by Bobbie Ann Mason.  These stories are all about the same rural Kentucky family, and though they could certainly be read separately, the whole collection adds up to kind of a novel.  The speech of the characters, particularly Nancy's mother, Lila,  reminds of my own Texan grandmother's turns of phrases:  "I'm hotter than a she-wolf in a pepper patch!"  "They was sour enough to make a pig squeal!"

Snow by Orhan Pamuk:  I only read the first 100 pages of this one, then I quit.  I picked it up because Pamuk is Turkish and won the Nobel Prize, and there's a recommendation by Atwood on the cover, but I found it just plain boring. 

Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro.  I finally ordered a copy of Alice Munro's last collection (published 2009), after the price on the internet came down to a dollar.  This was kind of interesting experience in buying from an evil megalister.  The book actually arrived in a padded envelope, not just a tyvek wrapper, as is the usual practice.  It was described accurately, if vaguely, as "Good with average wear to cover, pages, and binding."  The stories themselves were classic Munro - not about happiness!  She's one of my favorites, and I finished it in two days, having read at least three of the stories previously, probably in The New Yorker.

Other than that, I've been continuing to read back issues of Granta, and the latest issues of Harper's.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Art Wall Party

Here at Pistil Books, we not only promote literature and reading, but we are proponents of the visual arts as well.  We had our almost-annual Art Wall Party last Friday.  The Art Wall, a.k.a. Gallerie d'Alley is the outside of our neighbor's dilapidated garage.  One of the gallery walls faces the small parking lot of his apartment building, while the other gallery hangs over the dumpsters and faces the alley.

The beginnings of the Art Wall are controversial:  different people claim to have installed the first painting over a dozen years ago.  In my hazy memory, this was a scene of cowboys gathered around a campfire, put up by Pistil staff person Tim.  Another early work was the vase of three flowers and their shadows against a bright yellow background that Sean and I found put out with the trash at the other end of the alley - and which still hangs today.

Somewhere along the line, rules for submission of artwork to the Gallerie developed, and the hangings took place at a rowdy (fistfights have almost broken out; paintings have been burned; others have been tossed onto the roof of the garage; artwork has been stolen) barbecue potluck:

Submission Guidelines for the Gallerie d'Alley:
  • Artwork must be original
  • Artwork must not have cost more than $3
  • Artists' statements optional 
Old paintings and other artwork that have weathered sufficiently are removed - and sometimes moved to local telephone poles - by the democratic vote of the crowd, or by the autocratic decision of the wielder of the screw gun, Sean.  Thus room is made for the new crop of masterpieces.

Please take a virtual tour of the Gallerie d'Alley:

Photos of the 2011 art wall by Prima Seadiva

Photos of our guests, themselves works of art

Saturday, August 6, 2011

What Goes Where

A sample of some books that sold recently and where they were shipped:

  • Here Come the Regulars:  How to Run a Record Label;  O'Fallon, IL
  • Rock Candy [graphic novel];  San Diego, CA
  • Lenin's Final Fight:  Speeches and Writings;  St. Paul, MN
  • Maritime Northwest Garden Guide;  Oak Harbor, WA
  • The Complete Book of Knots;  San Diego, CA
  • Informal Lectures on Formal Semantics;  Roseville, MN
  • Stellas & Stratocasters:  An Anthology;  Lily Dale, NY
  • Children and Television;  Austin, TX
  • Vancouver, Howe Sound, and the Sunshine Coast;  Wenatchee, WA
  • Slave Hunter: One Man's Global Quest to Free Victims of Human Trafficking;  Austin, TX
  • Boundaries of Jewish Identity;  Hyattsville, MD
  • Open Wounds:  A Native American Heritage;  Corvallis, OR
  • Zarathustra's Secret:  The Interior Life of Friedrich Nietzsche;  Rockville,MD
  • Friend of My Youth [by Alice Munro];  Alta, CA
  • The Heart of Yoga;  Ashburn, VA
  • Deities and Dolphins:  The Story of the Nabataeans;  Fayetteville, AR
  • Advanced Karate;  San Juan, Argentina
  • A River Lost:  The Life and Death of the Columbia;  Bainbridge Island, WA
  • Black Marxism:  The Making of the Black Radical Tradition;  Brooklyn, NY
  • Ravenna;  Tybee Island, GA
  • Income and Wealth Inequality in the Netherlands;  Lisboa, Portugal
  • Corrosion Fatigue:  Chemistry, Mechanics and Microstructure;  Toledo, OH
  • The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad; Old Granny Fox; Mother West Wind's Animal Friends [three books];  Stevens, PA
  • The Culture of Make Believe;  Owings Mills, MD
  • Modern Yucatecan Maya Pottery Making;  Whitefish, MT
  • Pindar's Olympian One:  A Commentary;  London, England 
  • A Taste of Turkish Cuisine;  Pacific, WA

It's nice to see that we had four customers from our own state.  Three books went to Maryland, and two to Austin, Texas.  Only three books went out of the country, fewer than usual.  Normally we have quite a few Canadian orders.

Reading Notes:

After seeing notices on bookselling forums that the known book thief John Gilkey was currently on the loose, I read The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett.  Although this was in trade paperback format, it read more like a long article.  Gilkey didn't seem like a particularly "interesting" book thief to me:  he stole books (using Modern Library's list of the one hundred best English-language novels of the twentieth century as his guide) by using credit card numbers gleaned from customers at Saks Fifth Avenue where he worked as a clerk.  Luckily, since we don't deal in very rare or expensive books, credit card fraud has not been a problem for Pistil Books Online.  When we were a retail store,  Pistil Books & News, however, both shoplifting and people trying to sell stolen books were a constant problem in our shop.  We still have our "do not buy" manila folder filled with polaroids of shady characters--sometimes smiling, sometimes giving the finger-- and descriptions of known book thieves that were distributed amongst the local bookstores.  Ah, an aspect of running a bookstore I certainly do not miss.

I also read a pretty forgettable novel called The World Beneath by Cate Kennedy.  It was a family drama about a teenage girl who goes on a backpacking trip with her estranged father and things go wrong. 

Monday, August 1, 2011

A Successful Book Sale

Our annual outdoor book sale, held Saturday, went very well.  The weather was sunny and gorgeous - maybe a given for other parts of the country at the end of July, but rain is always possible in Seattle. We had a steady stream of customers the entire time.  Michael, a friend from the local thrift store, commented that never had he seen so many "sale" signs on the neighborhood telephone poles.  Armed with a staple gun, Sean, Troy, and I were a match for the local band poster installers, putting up 200 photocopied signs ("free lemonade, beer, panties!"), as well as a couple dozen hand-lettered signs and re-purposed real estate condo sandwich boards (those sign boards are actually illegal in Seattle, but the law is unenforced).
Sean's father, Bert, who was in town to celebrate his 86th birthday was our trusty cashier.

We visited with neighbors, friends, old customers from our brick-and-mortar, former employees, local artists and writers, and many people who were new to Pistil.  By the end of the day, we had made a dent in the more than a thousand books put out for the sale, there was more room on our shelves for new stock, and Sean and I were off  to the beach.

Thanks to Tim, Michele, Troy, and Bert!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Pistil Books' Annual Outdoor Book Sale - This Saturday, July 30

Book Sale
1415 E. Union in the alley
Saturday, July 30
10 am to 4 pm

Over a thousand great books in all categories - 
fiction, poetry, history, science, art, philosophy, humor, biography, psychology, do-it-yourself, nature, and more...

Many like new.
Paperbacks $1
Hardbacks $2

Free lemonade!

Please stop by to browse and say hello.

Friday, July 8, 2011


In Seattle, summer doesn't really start until after July 4.  True to form, that's what happened this year and this week we've had some lovely days-- okay, two really sunny days and a few mixed days, and a little bit of rain.  Sean and I went camping over the holiday weekend, but arrived home the evening of July 4 to find all the neighborhood businesses closed and many house and lawn parties happening all around.

Reading Notes

I read several essays in a hot pink and purple book of McLuhan criticism published in 1967, McLuhan hot & cool:  a critical symposium (with cool striped ampersand and lower case titles throughout).  It was interesting to see what was then a hot topic from a perspective of 44 years later.  Television was new(ish)!  In the future, people would work from home from closed circuit television; airplanes were "horizontal elevators."  I haven't actually read McLuhan himself, but from the essays I read, I gathered that he thought the new generation reared on television was more global and tribal because they were using more senses simultaneously, as opposed to the linear mindset fostered by the "Gutenberg Galaxy" and the onset of moveable type.

I also read two novels by authors I've read previously:  On Beauty by Zadie Smith and Poor George by Paula Fox.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Rare Book School

I attended Rare Book School at the University of Virginia (thanks to a scholarship from the IOBA) at the beginning of June and took the course The History of the Book, 200-2000.  The course was taught by two rare book librarians, John Buchtel and Mark Dimunation, who were incredibly knowledgeable, as well as entertaining and quite funny (sometimes even breaking out in song and dance).  Since we covered 1800 years of history in 30 hours, the class was of necessity fast and slightly overwhelming in the amount of material presented.  It was taught in show-and-tell style, with many opportunities in the classroom and UVa's Alderman Library to see and handle objects from cuneiform tablets (replicas) to illuminated manuscripts, books, prints, bindings, and printing equipment.  The course also covered the cultural, social, scientific, and religious impacts of printing and book production.

One of the high points was a field trip to The Library of Congress (three hours each way by bus), where we got a quick tour of a small part of the library which is impressively decorated in book-related murals, sculptures, and mosaics, as well as a glance at The Gutenberg Bible on display, before settling into the Rare Book Reading Room where we saw many beautiful manuscripts and books.  Each student got to choose some book in particular they wanted to see, and I chose Alice in Wonderland.  Mark Dimunation, Chief of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress, happened to have a copy with some original John Tenniel drawings tipped in.  Other favorites viewed at LC were plates from the elephant folio sized (because each print was life-sized of the bird represented, and thus had to accommodate a turkey) Audubon's Birds of America; a block book--the equivalent of a graphic novel for the 15th century; Galileo's Starry Messenger, which he printed himself and appears to have his hand print; as well as a really cool book called Astronomicum Caesareum that was full of colorful paper calculators ("vovelles", one of our vocabulary words) that could be used instead of brass instruments for navigation.  That's just to name a few.  We saw literally hundreds of examples during the course of the week long class.

Most of the other RBS students were librarians, and most from the East Coast.  I stayed in a dorm room on the lovely UVa grounds, which were quite pretty with red brick and white columned buildings and lots of green space and gardens. It was hot there; quite a change from Seattle where summer doesn't start until after the 4th of July.

I had never been to the Library of Congress before (in fact, I had only been to Washington D.C. once in a brief stopover between NYC and Baltimore), and was quite impressed.  I'm interested in spending some more time exploring their website, which is where the digitized WPA poster above came from.

Reading Notes
After reading about her a couple of times in The New Yorker, I picked up a book by Paula Fox, Desperate Characters, to read on my flight home from Virginia.  It's a short novel, written in a realistic and precise, stark style about some indeed desperate characters.  I liked it and have passed it on to Sean who is currently reading it.  He kept saying, "Nothing is happening, except this woman got bit by a cat," so I'll be interested to see what he thinks when he's done.  Unfortunately for me, I finished the book by the time I got to the Atlanta airport where I had a four hour wait.  I took a look at the offerings on display at the airport bookstores and was totally horrified by the lowest common denominator represented.  Icky.  Of course, the same can be said for all aspects of airports and flying, from the terrible food to the inevitable blasting televisions.

When I got home, I picked up a couple of more Paula Fox books, and have just finished her memoir of her lonely and unconventional childhood, Borrowed Finery.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Open and Closed

"For the historian, there are no banal things."  I love the bright orange cloth cover of this book on a subject I didn't even realize was a subject. 

In local bookstore news, Pilot Books, a small "indie lit" store on Broadway closed this month after being open for two years.  They had a goodbye party with readings the weekend before last.  Left Bank Books has re-opened after renovation (earthquake retrofit) of their space in The Pike Place Market.  They are having a benefit art sale and social hour at Gallery 1412 just up the street at 1412 18th Ave. on Friday, June 3,  6:00 - 9:00 pm (free!):  

Come on out and support your local independent, worker-owned anarchist book store!  Left Bank Books is currently celebrating 28 years of rabble-rousing and radical book-nerding, and recently went through a difficult temporary relocation due to renovation at Pike Place Market.  They are back in their old space again, but they still need your support and love! 

This will be an art show of works done by the Left Bank collective and friends, that will all be for sale, probably via silent auction.

Free to attend!  Snacks and beverages will also be available for a small donation.  Please come check out all our amazing creative talent and support our project!  Also, if you have anything (including sculpture, knitted goodies, etc.) you'd like to donate/show please email directly to

Reading Notes 

I just finished a novel called Model Home by Erich Puchner.  This was a fast read, a not-necessarily-plausible story of a family going through some pretty melodramatic changes in the eighties, including the father investing (and losing) all their money in a housing development by the dump, affairs, punk rock, running away, and an explosion.

I'm also reading Granta #109, Work.   In an essay called "Life Among the Pirates," writer Daniel Alarcon describes the widespread publishing of unauthorized editions of books in his native Peru.  In Peru, most people can't afford to pay $20 for a book, but they might be able to afford the $3 pirated edition.  Alarcon visits street  book peddlers, actually hoping to find his own book for sale as a pirated copy.  It was really crazy to read about a place where books are so scarce and valuable, given the glut of books so easy to find in the U.S. at book sales, thrift stores, and online for a penny.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Help Desk

Our friend and former staff member Nathan has updated Retail Hell on our website, adding the fourth and fifth rings of Retail Hell to the already existing three rings.  We pulled out the actual composition notebooks all these entries were originally written in by hand, and reminisced about old Pistil days.  We were so young then, as attested to by the photos stuck in the store journals.  Pictured below are Sean, Tim, Amy, and Nathan.

Robin from Caffe PettiRosso played this YouTube video for me when she heard I was going to be taking a class on the history of the book.  Hey, this was new technology not so long ago.

Friday, April 22, 2011


Sean and I just returned from a trip to Istanbul, Turkey.  We saw amazing mosques, walked down tiny twisty roads that also somehow accommodated cars (a bumper passing by inches from your ankles was normal), ate delicious Turkish food, visited a fishing village on the Asian side of the Bosphorus and an island with only horse-drawn carriages (no cars!).  We also went to quite a few museums, one of which was the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum where we saw many beautiful illuminated Korans, like the Ottoman period one in the photo.  These, of course, were under glass and so open to only one set of pages, making us wonder if all the pages in the thick books were as intricately gilded and decorated.

Reading Notes
I have been continuing to make my way through the reading list for a course I'll be taking in June on the History of the Book, 200-2000 at Rare Book School at the University of Virginia:

John Carter. ABC for Book Collectors.
Christopher de Hamel. Scribes and Illuminators
Michael Twyman. The British Library Guide to Printing: History and Techniques.
Warren Chappell. A Short History of the Printed Word.
Elizabeth L. Eisenstein. The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe.

Scribes and Illuminators was quite interesting (especially in light of seeing the illuminated Korans), describing the creation of a book from the  preparation of the vellum or parchment,  the quill pens, paints and inks used, to the writing of the scripts and the final gilt and ink decoration and illumination of the book and the distribution by stationers and booksellers.  I must say The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe is slow going -- very academic and clunkily written, in my opinion.

For run, I read The Best American Short Stories 2010, edited by Richard Russo, which was quite hit-or-miss (and the series editor speaks of the disappearance of literary magazines in America, perhaps leading to fewer submissions to choose from?).  One story I quite enjoyed was "All Boy" by Lori Ostlund, about a gay eleven-year-old boy, a voracious reader, who starts the story literally in the closet.

Friday, April 1, 2011


Just got our first order from Japan since the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster:  Nuke-Rebuke: Writers and Artists Against Nuclear Energy & Weapons.  A little heart-wrenching.  I'm sending along a copy of Helen Caldicott's Nuclear Power is Not the Answer as a gift.

On a completely different note, we just received our first check from Book-It Repertory Theatre from sales of books we filled their newly launched lobby book cart with.  The books are selling for $3 each and we are splitting the proceeds with Book-It.  I'm really happy to have such a good venue for passing along books that aren't up to snuff for the extremely competitive internet sales market, but are perfectly good, readable and valuable.  Their next show is Sense and Sensibility in June.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Current Events

Above is pictured an amazing piece of sculptural book art by Brian Dettmer.  You can see more photos and read about his art on My Modern Met.

There is a connection between what's happening in the world and what books sell.  With the current headlines about events in Libya and Japan, some of our recent sales have been Escape to Hell and Other Stories by Qaddafi; Americans At Risk:  Why We are Not Prepared for Megadisasters and What We Can Do; and Fighting Radiation and Chemical Pollutants with Foods, Herbs, and Vitamins.  If we suddenly receive simultaneous multiple orders from different bookselling websites (we sell on ten) for a single title or author, that usually means that book or writer has been in the news recently.  Sometimes, sadly, a rash of orders is an indication the author has died.

Reading Notes

I have been remiss as to updating this blog with what I've been reading, so my list is a bit long this time:

Breast Cancer:  Reduce Your Risk with Foods You Love by Robert Pendergrast
A Short History of the Printed Word by Warren Chappell
Rick Steves' Istanbul
Time Out Istanbul
Strolling through Istanbul 
Lonely Planet:  Turkey 
Out Backward by Ross Raisin

The Pendergrast book really didn't have much more to say about diet and health than I've already read in books by Dr. Andrew Weil (eat a variety of organic vegetables and fruit, omega 3 fatty acids, real food, not processed food; exercise)  but it was refreshing to see a publication that talks about breast cancer as a preventable disease; not something that can only be screened for, as the mainstream medical establishment seems to believe.
    I quite enjoy when two books on completely different subjects unexpectedly intersect somehow, as did a mention of Turkish writing in A Short History of the Printed Word describing how the Turkish government  decreed in 1928 (along with abolishing the fez) that Turkish be written in Latin characters rather than Arabic; a change that instantly rendered many people illiterate and even reversed the direction of script from right-to-left to left-to-right.  I had just read about the secularization and westernization of Turkey under Ataturk in several of the many guide books I've been perusing in preparation for an upcoming trip

    Out Backward is a novel I picked from a pile being culled from our shelves to make room for the new.  It's the first person story of a 19 year-old social outcast (and accused molester) sheep farmer on the English moors who becomes obsessed with a 15 year-old neighbor girl who moves with her family from London--a definite clash of cultures and class.  The language is full of lively, expressive sheep farmer slang:  "glegg" for look, "tidgy" for frail or spindly; "sprog" for child; "trunklements" for things.  The Harper Perennial trade paperback of this book has essays and interviews with the author at the end, and there's a nice essay on the state of farming in the U.K.  The same old story about consumers wanting cheap food prices and agribusiness putting small farmers out of business.


    Tuesday, March 1, 2011

    A book by any other name...

    There's been some talk on a discussion list for members of the IOBA (Independent Online Booksellers Association) regarding an invitation from a member for fellow booksellers to advertise for free on a bookseller resources directory  called Smelly Books.  Quite a few of the booksellers who replied to this discussion said they didn't want to associate their books with smelliness.  Others said they loved the smell of old books and appreciated the humor of the website name.  Once a customer returned a book to us, saying it had an "acrid mildew smell," although when I received the offensive book, I could detect nary an odor.  Apparently (from my readings of bookseller discussion lists) this discrepancy in interpreting the smell of a book from no smell, to delightful scent, to stinky is a not unusual state of affairs.

    Reading Notes
    Sean and I have been reading Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart out loud.  The protagonist in this satiric novel, Lenny Abramov, is a reader and has a Wall of Books (which he does spray with pine sol)  in his apartment at a time when everyone has a constant stream of images and data via their äppärät (an object apparently a step above an I-phone) and books are generally regarded as smelly old things most people would be embarrassed to be caught handling, much less reading.   The depiction of a corporate controlled society, consumer culture, social networking, police state, and media limited to Fox Liberty-Prime and Fox Liberty-Ultra is a little too much like reality.

    Tuesday, February 22, 2011

    A Punchy President's Day

    Although it wasn't "officially" a Pistil Books event, Sean and I  had a President's Day Party this weekend.  A couple of friends, Russell (who is featured in Pistil Readings and has published zines on cocktail culture) and Evan, concocted delicious historical punches for the occasion:  Fish House Punch and United Service Punch.

    We asked our guests to dress in presidential attire and consequently had two Lincolns, a Dwight Eisenhower, the Queen of England (well, that was Sean), some diplomats from African nations, several stunning First Lady-looking types, a sneaky security contingent, and quite a few grungy protesters and anarchists (this being Seattle). 

    And of course no presidential affair would complete without the press, in this case The Stranger's Party Crasher.

    Here's CIA Agent Candiotti and the Queen.

    The high point of the evening were the presentations at the podium, which included The Queen of England reading from John Sinclair's Guitar Army ("free money!  f***ing in the streets!"); a rant in favor of the Puritans; some punchy thoughts by Lincoln; lovely patriotic songs; the presidential seal presenting a re-enactment of an encounter between Monica Lewinsky and Clinton; and an impassioned critique of secularism, which made use of all the occurrences of the word "ass" in the King James Bible. 

    Here we have a dashing pair of Jackie O supporters.

    Trudi , a candidate for class president of Beaver High School, gives the Beaver victory sign.

    The Presidential Seal prepares his presentation.

    All in all, it was a very fun evening, complete with first family paper dolls.

    Luckily, no assassinations took place.

    Sunday, February 13, 2011

    A Detailed Description

    Here at Pistil Books we don't use the automatic pricing system often used by giant warehouse companies such as Better World Books wherein books are unloaded by forklift and dumped on a conveyor to be scanned and priced by a machine with little or no attention paid to their condition -- or whether the pricing makes sense to anyone but a computer...   Here we take the time to look at a book, inspect it and grade it and then look to see on a few sites what would be an appropriate price for our copy.   So we get to see a great many descriptions written by other booksellers.  It is to the general degradation of the industry that has come to treat books like crushed cans or recycled flotsam to which the book descriptions found below are dedicated.

    Book Description: Stockton, California, U.S.A.: Lamm-Morada Pub Co, 1979. No Binding. Book Condition: Fine. 1st Edition. fine copy. Bookseller Inventory # 496j

    Sounds like a great copy except for that lack of binding problem.  Hard to read in the wind. 

    From Mathom House Books
    Los Angeles County Museum, 1984. Trade. Book Condition: Used. We do our best to describe each book accurately. Any discrepency [sic] between what is described and what is pulled will be noted in an email. If you would like a detailed description beyond what has been provided, please ask.

    Apparently "doing our best" to describe each book accurately is to determine if it is "new" or "used."  . 

    From Sparks Distribution Service:
    American Chemical Society, 1978. Book Condition: Good. Average used book with all pages present. Possible loose bindings, highlighting, cocked spine or torn dust jackets. Ex-Library. Ex-Library.

    I like how "an average used book" can have "possible loose bindings," because not only is this not at all "average" for a used book , but of course it would have more than one binding: there's the invisible one to count also.  So I get a copy with a loose binding, highlighting all over the place and a spine that looks like a chiropractor's nightmare and this is called "good," and "average" instead of  "poor."   It seems the Spark is a little weak.  It's great too how an outfit like this will make a blanket description that they'll then apply to thousands of books and even then they won't take the care to make the description make any sense to start with. 

    From Sparks Distribution Service:
    University of California Press, 1966. Book Condition: Very Good. Attractive. Shows some signs of wear and is no longer fresh.

    Albeit the book in question has to do with native plants, the application of adjectives usually reserved for produce to book descriptions is quizzical.  We would ask if the copy is  crisp and lush, or if the pages are wilted.

    From Mathom House Books Inc:
    Stanford University Press, 1955. Hardcover. Book Condition: Used. We do our best to describe each book accurately. Any discrepency [sic] between what is described and what is pulled will be noted in an email. If you would like a detailed description beyond what has been provided, please ask.

    I do hope they're not working too hard at "doing their best" there; we do know it’s a book, with hardcovers and it’s used.    I guess the only  “discrepency”  they might make at this point is by shipping a "New" book with no covers.  A "detailed description" would perhaps note if the book had been run over by a truck or been gnashed by a ravenous rottweiler. 

    From Look at a Book:
    Macmillan of Canada, 1981. Hardcover. Book Condition: Good. DUST JACKET WORN AS IT HAS SERVED IT'S [sic] PURPOSE AND PROTECTED THE BOOK, PAGES SLIGHTLY TANNED 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!

    Overall, I will be surprised if they learn to use punctuation.  They have served their purpose and can now go out of business.  I just want to remind them TO USE A LOT OF CAPITALS WHEN MAKING DUMB COMMENTARY WHEN VENTING THEIR PIQUE AT ANYONE WHO WANTS A BOOK WITH A DUST JACKET THAT HAS NOT BEEN TRASHED BECAUSE IT  WAS HANDLED LIKE SO MUCH RECYCLING. 

    EOS, 2011. Soft cover. Book Condition: Fine. Dust Jacket Condition: Fine. 1st Edition. ***ADVANCE READERS COPY(ARC)***SOFT COVER***UNREAD****ARTWORK COVER***RACHEL MORGAN IS IN TROUBLE.6 X 9.439 PAGES.EOS.MARCH 2011***ADVANCE READERS COPY***SOFT COVER***. Bookseller Inventory # 5976

    Lessee here, twice it's mentioned in caps that this is a soft cover, so there shouldn't be too much question about that, yet the d.j. is "Fine."  Maybe if it's not in caps it doesn't count.  Then it's an ARC, but no wait, it's a first, again the caps may win out here, plus ARC is mentioned twice again.  I think the main point is that RACHEL MORGAN (apparently a moniker for RUSTYLEEE) *****IS IN TROUBLE!!!!!!!*******

     -- Blog entry by Sean

    Sunday, January 23, 2011

    Return to Sender

    We just received back in the mail a package with an "unclaimed" sticker and no postage due that had been sent to South Africa last March, ten months ago.  The book ordered was called Living on 12 Volts with Ample Power and it was going to our customer in care of his yacht club.  When the customer didn't receive the book in the expected time frame, he emailed me and I was able to find another copy of this fairly unusual expensive book (and ours had been signed by the authors, although that probably wasn't its selling point), and send the new copy via registered mail to South Africa, rather than via the flat rate priority mail envelope, which only costs $13.45 to mail, but does not have tracking.   We rarely have problems with books not reaching their destination, and I had no problems sending to South Africa previously, but occasionally packages are "lost."  So I just figured the book had been lost or stolen and shrugged my shoulders.

    The returned package was pretty worn around the edges, and there was a tear at one corner, but inside the book (which had been double wrapped in a recycled used priority mail envelope) was still in the "Near Fine" shape it had left our store in.

    I emailed our customer with the news:

    Hi G.  Just wanted to let you know that today I received back the gone-missing of Living On 12 Volts you ordered from us last March.  It was returned in its original packing with no postage due, with a stamp from the South Africa post office marked "unclaimed."  We're glad to have it back, something I never expected.  Hope life is well on your boat.
    He responded:   Hi Amy.  Wow, I am amazed, that is really good news, I was convinced it had been stolen, I went to so many different post offices in Durban looking for it.  We are now in Tanzania, sailing/chartering around Zanzibar, and things are going well.  The book has been most useful, its my electrical bible!
    Thanks for letting me know, its a relief all round I think.  Kind regards, G.

    Another book sent to a different customer in South Africa, also was apparently "lost' in September.  It may show up yet.
    Reading Notes
    I have been reading a lot less since before the Christmas holidays... but I am currently reading Zadie Smith's White Teeth.  I'm only about a quarter of the way into it so far, but I recognized one section as something I had read an excerpt from previously.  It's well-written and quite funny.

    Monday, January 10, 2011

    A New Year

    So far, so good.   The holidays passed for us in a pretty low-key fashion.  Everyone always asks if business picks up at Christmas, and though we certainly do get some orders for gifts, mostly we see an increase in sales at the times of school semesters starting, like now.  Sean and I don't really participate in exchanging presents, but I do like to make a collage calendar to give out at New Year's.  Last year we collaborated on a 13-page black and white calendar with a color cover, but this year we didn't get anything so elaborate together in time.  Instead, I just made a one-page color collage with tear-off monthly calendar pages. So now we're going to work on next year's collages throughout the year, instead of at the last minute.  I have to say, I do like how everything's closed and quiet on Christmas and New Year's Day; a nice break from the otherwise constant work and consumerism of our culture.

    Reading Notes
    I am in the middle of reading Frozen in Time:  The Fate of the Franklin Expedition by Owen Beattie and John Geiger.  This is a book I decided to read because the cover has a pretty gruesome photo of the face of a frozen body from the expedition, the introduction is by Margaret Atwood, and the first few pages were coming out, making it unsaleable anyway-- hence the reading choices of booksellers.  The Franklin Expedition was searching for the Northwest Passage in the 1840's, but all 129 men on the two ships died, most likely from lead poisoning from eating canned food.  Canning was the big new technology for provisioning expeditions and lead poisoning wasn't yet understood.  This book tells the history of the Franklin Expedition and the subsequent investigations by later explorers and anthropologists in the area who attempted to figure out what happened by talking to Inuit Natives and looking for physical evidence-- both of which also indicated that the expedition members resorted to cannibalism in their desperation.

    I also re-read a novel by Anita Brookner, Bay of Angels.  Anita Brookner is a writer I like, but her novels are all very similar, usually having to do with an isolated daughter dealing with her parents' aging and death, all told from a very interior monologue.  Not that much happens, except for daily life, yet her writing is absorbing.