Friday, May 22, 2009

The Bookstore at Joshua Tree National Park

Okay, so this "bookstore" is actually just one wall in the park's gift shop/ticket center, but it did provide me with one priceless bit of information: In a small, print-on-demand book titled simply, Scorpions, I learned that there are no poisonous scorpions in the continental United States. This did wonders for my paranoia, allowing me to relax and enjoy my day in the desert. (It was only five hours later, when I returned to the gift shop/ticket center to take this photo, that I saw the book shelved beside it -- Mountain Lions. Needless to say, my paranoia returned.)

Vacationing Blogger Presents:
Recycled Post #4

Note: While I'm away, I'll be re-running some of our more popular posts from the past few years. Today's is a tongue in cheek deadly serious editorial about tourists. This was originally written for the 4th of July, but it seems totally apt for Memorial Day Weekend, too.

It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year
(cue: gunshot sound fx)

Originally posted on 7/2/7

It's the 4th of July weekend, and the tourists have arrived on Cape Cod en masse. Actually, it's the first of two 4th of July weekends, as this year America's birthday falls on a Wednesday, granting it a party that stretches out over an entire week, like Mardi Gras and/or the major holidays in the life of a child with divorced parents.

The pictures of the cars stuck in traffic coming over the Bourne Bridge are horrific no matter how you look at them. In light of current events, it brings to mind the cars abandoned on the highways of New Orleans after hurricane Katrina. If you prefer to look at it through Hollywood's viewfinder, the sight resembles a George Romero film where the zombies had all learned to drive and are now heading to the Cape to eat the tanned flesh of the Kennedy kids. If you're a local, you simply swallow your vomit and try to look away.

I imagine the Wampanoags, the original inhabitants of the area, must have felt a similar feeling of woe when the Mayflower first came over the horizon. No longer were they autonomous humans with lives of their own, but complimentary, make-shift tourist bureaus, living solely to give detailed directions to their easily distracted, ADD-afflicted interlopers. I'm sure that the pilgrims had a lot of children who needed to go to the bathroom/have a glass of water/wanted to sit and read books for free with no intention of purchasing them, too. And they were guests, dammit, so why shouldn't they be allowed to? Is it documented anywhere whether the first words out of John Smith's poorly cared for mouth were "Do you have public restrooms?" or "Where's a cheap restaurant where I can get 5 star seafood?" Cuz I've got $5 riding on the first one and I'd really like to collect.

For a small business owner, the tourist season is (seppuku on) a double edged sword. Sure, the money is flowing (well, it was...pre-recession), but so is the unasked for criticism from folks who will most likely never return. Oh, you like espresso and think we should add a coffee shop to our bookstore? That is what you said, right? Because I could barely understand you as you stuffed your face with the complimentary coffee and cookies we laid out for *ahem* paying customers. You say your daughter self-published a novel about a girl who dreams of becoming a writer? Well, gosh darn it, why are we wasting our time planning Harry Potter events when we could be stocking up on print-on-demand books that there is absolutely no demand for? While I agree that having Alice Sebold, Michael Chabon and the cast from Grey's Anatomy in to do a group signing would be nice, I'm afraid that that has already happened. Last week. Sorry.

Another headache is the ludicrous expectations that many of these folks wash ashore with. In what bookstore, save one on the Harvard campus, would you be able to walk in and purchase a specific volume of untranslated 1970's Swedish psychology texts? And yet there are people walking in with requests as ridiculous as this every hour on the hour. You try to let them down easily, (a free cookie is a good way to start), but they will often take offense, as if you purposefully didn't have the book in stock just to make the writing of their thesis paper that much more of a challenge. What's worse is that they then tell you, "I'll try Borders," and then ask you for directions! I offer to tell them how to get to the Massachusetts border and leave it at that.

As strange as it sounds, I am actually able to take some small solace in the fact that the tourist season is still only beginning. Cuz come late July, all of the stuff that threatens to drive each and every one of us locals insane inevitably starts to seem less annoying and more a part of everyday life. The memories of traffic-free side roads fade away, as does the urge to treat crosswalks like checkered flags at the Indy 500. You actually begin to smile at customers -- are they still called customers if they're not buying anything? --when they yell at you and your staff for not allowing pets to roam the aisles unattended, as you know that the experience will provide fertile fodder for countless columns while bookstore blogging in the slower months. I don't have the proper psychology book handy (I think it's one from the 1970's), but I believe they call this Stockholm Syndrome.

Hmn...Stockhlom. Now there's a place I'd like to visit someday.

(The second photo is actually of Falmouth, England, but I thought it apt considering the secession celebrations currently taking place.)

Related: For a longer, funnier critique of local tourism, check out Marcia Monbleau's wonderful The Inevitable Guest: A Survival Guide to Being Company & Having Company on Cape Cod.

Los Feliz' Best Bookstore: Skylight Books

Located in the heart of Los Feliz, CA, Skylight Books is the indie bookstore all other indie bookstores oughta look to for innovative inspiration. The layout is slightly off-center yet easy to navigate. The staff is helpful, but not intrusive. Endcap displays feature quirky themes and unexpected pairings. Author appearances are staged in such a way that they feel like exciting events rather than stuffy sales pitches. Most importantly, Skylight is stocked to the ceiling beams with books -- great books -- the sort of selection that can only be curated by a staff of rabid readers.
The only reason I can think of to hate them? Jealousy. In this crappy financial climate, they're doing so well that they recently opened a second store (next door) featuring a mouth-watering array of comics, art books and magazines.

To visit their blog, click here.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Vacationing Blogger Presents:
Recycled Post #3

Note: While I'm away, I'll be re-running some of our more popular posts from the past few years. Today's is a classic, caustic editorial about Banned Books Week. This one got us a lot of online attention when it first ran. Well, for a day, anyway.

We Sell 'Banned Books'
(but only after the ban is over)
(and only if it's politically correct to do so)

Originally posted 10/2/7

Banned Book Week is the book industry's annual celebration of their own self-satisfaction and self-importance. Bookstores everywhere (including us) hang signs in their windows and around their stores boasting that THEY. SELL. BANNED. BOOKS. They get a write up in the local paper, place little white cards around their store, blog about it, and for what? To make themselves feel progressive and important. But of all the books that they are so 'bravely' selling, how many have been considered 'dangerous' in the past ten years? How many have been banned in a marginally enlightened society in the past twenty years? None. sell Uncle Tom's Cabin and Huck Finn. How cutting edge! That really sticks it to The Man. Are you serious? I bet you Bill O'Reilly wouldn't even say anything bad about freakin' Huck Finn. But how many copies of the Anarchist's Cookbook does your store have on hand? Or Mein Kampf? Or the Tin Tin in the Congo book featuring offensive racial caricatures that Little, Brown recently decided against publishing? There are import editions available from a variety of distributors. If you're truly against censorship -- and not just the antiquated/outdated examples of censorship -- shouldn't you be carrying such a book? I'm not suggesting that bookstores start a 'Hate' section, but if you want to crow about your unadulterated selections, you'd better not be playing the behind-the-scenes censor with your own stock. To do so is hypocritical. Free speech is the right of everyone. Providing unencumbered access to the literary works created under the auspices of free speech (all of 'em -- not just the ones we agree with or approve of) is our business. Bookstores shouldn't have to rally around themselves once a year to proclaim that they hate censorship and the banning of books. Such a concept should be an integral part of every book store, library and reading room. It should go without saying, really.

Best Damn Creative Writing Blog's Top 10 Books Americans Want Banned

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Vacationing Blogger Presents:
Recycled Post #2

Note: While I'm away, I'll be re-running some of our more popular posts from the past few years. Today's is a comments-culling editorial about books that inspire you to buy other books. As we're still hoping for a more happening comments section, feel free to add your own titles below.

Gateway Books
Originally posted on 9/11/7

My high school's D.A.R.E. program (a well-meaning, misguided, state-funded attempt to keep kids off drugs) used to use the term 'gateway drug' to describe any drug that appeared harmless (cigarettes, pot, leaning in too close to one's magic markers), but inevitably led to other, more dangerous narcotics (crack, crystal meth, permanent markers). In recent years, I've begun to pervert the 'gateway' moniker to fit the needs of my own vice of choice -- books.
Gateway Books are books that are so damned good that they make you want to read any and all the other books name dropped within. One of the first gateway books I remember coming across was S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders. Not only did I pick up some random Robert Frost in hopes of finding 'Stay Silver' and 'Stay Bronze' (his lesser works), I also rented the videotape of Gone With The Wind (the book looked too long and too boring to my fourteen year old self -- and still does!). A few years later, Possession by A.S. Byatt inspired me to go on a Victorian and Elizabethan poetry kick. I can't say that I was chomping at the bit to read The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser before then. The ultimate gateway book for me, though, has been Mike Davis' City of Quartz. Davis, a Los Angeles historian with a photographic memory and a gift for finding the threads that bind seemingly disparate subjects together, had me watching film noir classics like Detour and The Big Sleep, gobbling up the South Central-centered pulp fiction of Chester Himes, the dark, satiric, science fiction of Aldous Huxley, and becoming a salivating fan boy at the alter of Joan Didion's 1960s suicidal California travel lit. I'm not exaggerating, I literally spent an entire year exploring the books, movies and music mentioned in City of Quartz. If that ain't the obsessive-compulsive behavior of an addict, I don't know what is.

In the comments section below, feel free to stand up and tell us your name, your age and what books served as gateway books in your lifelong literary addiction.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Vacationing Blogger Presents:
Recycled Post #1

Note: While I'm away, I'll be re-running some of our more popular posts from the past few years. Today's is a tongue-in-cheek editorial about writing in one's books. This one garnered a surprising amount of hate mail when it was run on The Hipster Book Club's Facebook page. Here's hoping it still rakes in the click-throughs.

Marginal Graffiti
Originally posted on 8/28/7

Are you the sort of reader who jots notes in the margins of the books that you're reading? Do you underline passages that hit a raw nerve, or witty one liners that you plan to wow your co-workers with at the next office party? Have you ever written something totally unrelated -- say, a phone number or grocery list -- in a book, simply to avoid getting up from the comfortable position you're sitting in?
If so, stand tall. You've nothing to be ashamed of.
Unlike those folks who only open their books partway so as to avoid creasing the binding, you're actually enjoying your reading experience. Hell, you've taken it to the next level, making it an interactive activity. What's more, you've proven yourself to be such an avid reader that while loving and respecting literature, you've also made it into a natural extension of yourself. Think of it this way: you write stuff down on the back of your hand all of the time, don't you? The fact that you're able to draw quick police sketches of shady individuals on the inside cover of your airport read only proves that you are books and books are you.
So to hell with the haters who scoff at scuffed bindings and your corner-of-the-page flip book adaptations. They've never experienced the joy of picking up an old paperback, only to find the pin number to a long lost checking account with fourteen dollars plus interest accrued. Nor have they ever tasted their own vomit after opening up an old book of poetry and seeing their freshman year knockoffs iambic pentametered in the blank spaces.
Sure, you'll never be able to sell (or even give away) your unwanted books for fear of the cringe-worthy secrets that you wrote in the margins seeing the light of day, but honestly, is there really such a thing as an unwanted book? When I look around my dusty old mansion, piled from floor to ceiling with books that might benefit needy schoolchildren, I remind myself that once a book has been, personalized, it's a part of me. As such, the inevitable donation and/or disposal of my ballpoint battered books will be handled under the same stipulation with which I have agreed to donate my organs.
Only after I'm dead.

(For my preferred crematorium and a map to the spot where I'd like my ashes scattered, see the margin of page 152 of my copy of Exquisite Corpse: Surrealism and the Black Dahlia Murder.)

Monday, May 18, 2009

Boston's Best Comic Book Shop: Comicopia

The first bookstore I visited on my vacation was Boston's own Comicopia. In fact, I was so desperate to go there that I paid an extra $15 cab fare just so's I could pop in on the way to the airport. No hyperbole: There is no store in MA with a better selection of trade paperbacks and/or graphic novels. Superhero, indie, arty -- you name it, they've got it. Sure, the staff talks on the phone while they ring you up, but with a well-organized, well-stocked shop like this, etiquette is unimportant.

(As my camera was packed safely away, the photo used here was swiped from For a few more shots of the shop, click here.)

Inkwell Michelle's 30 Second Book Review

The Last Dickens
by Matthew Pearl
Pearl plunges the reader into the world of 1870, skillfully blending historical fact and literary fiction into a riveting tale about Charles Dickens’ unfinished last novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Drawing on original letters and newspapers, Pearl recounts the extraordinary celebrity of Dickens during his speaking tour of America, at a time when hundreds would line up overnight, enduring freezing temperatures in the hopes of obtaining tickets to his sold out shows.
The mystery begins when the seedy underworld of the opium trade washes ashore in Boston Harbor with tragic results. Daniel Sands, a young apprentice for publisher Fields, Osgood, & Co., is killed while on an errand to pick up the coveted manuscript of Dickens’ last serial installment of Drood.
Daniel’s mentor, James Osgood (of the aforementioned Fields, Osgood, & Co.) is disbelieving of the police’s insinuation that Daniel was involved with opium. In an effort to unravel the mystery, Osgood and Daniel’s sister Rebecca set sail for London to investigate the recently deceased Dickens’ papers. They hope the answers to Daniel’s death might lie in the missing ending to Drood.
Intelligent and fun, The Last Dickens is chock full of insights into the history of publishing, the politics of opium, and the trials and triumphs of literary genius.
Pearl has garnered acclaim for his previous books, The Dante Club and The Poe Shadow. His well-researched literary mysteries are thoroughly enjoyable, and particularly appealing to avid readers. They are literally literary. His titles say it all.

Road Trip!

I'll be on vacation for the next nine days. In the interim, I'll be posting pictures of random bookstores I encounter in my travels*, as well as re-running some of our more popular posts from the past three years. Regular updates will resume 5/27.

*So if you see a disheveled ne'er-do-well taking pictures of your shop, please don't call it in as a terrorist threat. It's just me, stealing your bookstore's best ideas.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Amazon Supplier Splits, Chaos Ensues

From The Daily Mail UK:

The treasure hunters stand knee-deep in Danielle Steels, Len Deightons and Jeffrey Archers, hoping to find more exotic literary fare.

This is the scene at a huge book warehouse whose contents are being given away after they were abandoned.

Strewn across the floor are thousands of volumes. Many are a little dog-eared or have yellowing pages. But since they are free, who's complaining?

Bibliophiles have travelled from far and wide to the old Bookbarn site on an industrial estate in Brislington, Bristol.

Yesterday, Porsches and BMWs were parked alongside vans outside as the scavengers carried out their finds in crates and on trolleys.

In an endearing display of how the British love the offer of something for nothing, someone had even come with a small trailer on the back of his car. Others were seen stacking books in prams.

To finish this article, click here.

(Thanks to Novel of Life for the heads-up!)