Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Free Lists!

TCD has a nice summer list piece by Amy Elliott up currently on the front page, featuring former Schwartzies of all stripes (Dave Mallman, buyer = awesome!), including yet to open former Schwartzies. Plus, NPR is pimping there list.

One of the regular drawbacks of lists from booksellers is what I call the "we're really trying to sell this book now (maybe because we;re getting co-op $$) and while we're not all that excited about this book, we can certainly pretend to be" factor. In reality, I've found indie booksellers do a good job of avoiding selling their souls via the short rec or newsletter review - but I'd be lying if I said it didn't happen, even in MKE.

So, I thought I'd follow suit with a similar list, plus variation, my version, hopefully free of swag-related influence*. I hope other Flappers will chime in, maybe even by editing this post to add their hand picks. (Can ex-booksellers still hand "sell"? Well, some current booksellers would be encouraged to participate, too)
Books Recommended

(* If you have swag to offer, please email me or leave a comment; I can produce a review of a book I've never read in about two days, if provided marketing materials.)

"Short" List - books you can kill in a matter of days, if not hours...

One of my perpetual favorites, The Invention of Morel, by Adolpho Bioy Casares. This is short (a few more than 100 pages) and will be read very quickly. It's a genre-bender that mostly lives in a fantastical dream world of an un/inhabited island. The main character, fleeing some law ins some country (murder!?!) takes refuge on the island, discovers a mysterious and luxurious hotel with enigmatic contraptions (kind of like a bizarre mechanical heart for the building/island) and is then joined by visitors, led by the bizarre Dr. Morel, that may or may not see him, that may or may not be real, or that may or may not be existing at the same time that the main character is existing.
Sure, it sounds like a *lot* to cover in 100 pages - and it is. However, Borges is right in calling this novella a work of masterful plotting. because, well, it is able to connect all of these narrative "contraptions" and "inventions" into a slippery adventure-mystery-fantasy. And, really, who are we to argue with Borges?

Another all-time fave short work is the equally masterful Crying of Lot 49, by Thomas Pynchon. It's funny, absurd, mysterious and euphoric - and ultimately intriguing and mind-bending enough to keep you thinking about it
longer than you'll think about The Invention of Morel - which, in estimate, is a very, very, very, very, very long time. The story of Oedipa Maas' execution of a will (her will? - oh Tom, stop it now!), this novel/ella (ella, ella, eh, eh, eh) moves quickly and hilariously from bizarro psychedelic rock bands and child actors watching discontinuous orderings of old films, to cigarette filter conspiracies, to philatelia, Jacobian revenge plays, and the exposure of a world-wide secret society/postal system - all while looki ng for Pierce Inverarity's inverse rarity. Hilarity - and a completely enjoyable, mesmerizing variety of vertigo - ensues.
Plus, you get the added benefit of saying you read a Pynchon novel! And without fighting the joys and traps of Gravity's Rainbow - which you should do, too.

City of Glass is another shortie novella, a semiotic sleuth story, by Paul Auster,
who our kids will likely be reading in college, since he's a white American male. As an added bonus, he's also a great storyteller and this, City of Glass, and the rest of the New York Trilogy are very good: entertaining, fast-paced, bending the typical genre trappings of both gumshoe and intellectual puzzle. A large part mystery, this meta-work explores authorship, identity and the descent into madness that is usually glossed over in the PI's search for intimate and complete knowledge.

Bonus: if you like this, which you will, obviously, you'll also read The Book of Illusions, a longer work by Auster that is more novel-ly in a "literary" fiction way, but just as experimental and contemplative - and meta, of course.
"Short-ish" - books that look long, but really are short on closer inspection...

When I read Annie Dillard's For the Time Being, it was a squat square of a hardcover, almost a board book of short, insightful natural (as in "nature") travelogue and sometimes-converging observations. The great part about this series of meditations is that they can be consumed as just that: short little bits of beautiful writing. Yet, if you'd like, you can also explore a more connected reading, mapping convergences - or, better, using Dillard's prompts, you can make your own meaning. Kind of a DIY-aesthetic, if you will.

I read Black Swan Green while on my honeymoon, which was great (in both ways). And, in honor of Bayard and Sarah's wedding on Sunday, I'm going to recommend it as summer reading. Plus, Bayard loves this book, too, as do many other former Schwartzies. This is David Mitchell's follow-up to the (as-yet-unread-but-I-hear-it's-[and-is-on-my-short-list-of-long-books-]) fabulous Cloud Atlas, a coming-of-age story of a boy in England, discovering all is not what it seems, making unlikely friendships and navigating the trials of family life and strife. This is one of those books you really, truly won't want to put down and might not. It's well-paced and populated with, what seems while reading, all the "right" people, places and problems.

Coming soon: the "Long" books... and more lists!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

New CoOp in Shorewood?

posted by Jay

With the news of a planned book CoOp at the old HWS Shorewood location, we're interested in your take on the prospect of a new/similar/different bookseller/bookselling model in the same location.

I think it's safe to say all of us at the Flap are happy when new independent booksellers open, as the loss of the Schwartz shops were a loss for the community as a whole. Bookshops are places for discussion, for the sharing and communication and debate of free ideas of all kinds - and for the formation of social capital.

However, the question needs to be asked: how will this bookshop succeed where Harry W. Schwartz failed?

Is the "CoOp" model different enough to succeed?

What are "competitive" prices and how does that enable success?

Follow the discussion at the Inside Flappers social network, where you can discuss books, authors, write your own blogs - share your voice, ideas and media. We're keeping tabs on the news and articles on this development.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

a short sarcastic bit about my time in the Hood

i’ve just read Robin Hood (a book club edition that unfortunately i can’t link to purchase…

… in fact, the edition i read was written & illustrated by Louis Rhead [see photo], and i can’t find an edition by him that is well in print. if you’re interested, you’ll have to fend for yourself… )

anyway, i love reading folktales & folklore & myths & mythology & any regionally significant tales for that matter, so this was great fun to read. but i couldn’t get over the fact that this is NOT the same foxy Robin Hood that i knew as a child. on the contrary, this “new” Robin Hood seemed to be more concerned with his inflated ego than that whole “stealing from the rich and giving to the poor” deal.

sure, there were times when his inner goodness & generosity came out and they all lived happily ever after. most of the tales in the book involved Robin picking a fight with a stranger, in which he was inevitably BESTED by said stranger, only to invite them to join the gang of merry men.

and the kicker? the offer that wound them all in, to join the gang? to steal and roughhouse, drink and party, to generally be lazy jerks taking advantage of others in order to finance their own self-interest. this certainly isn’t any Robin Hood i’d want my young impressionable self looking up to, i can fully understand Disney’s decision to emphasize certain better aspects & deeds of the character.

but then again, the book WAS a rollicking good time, and wouldn’t have been nearly as good if everyones feelings had gotten in the way.

this'll have to do for now as a legit update on the Flap.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

J.G. Ballard has Died

via GalleyCat:

J.G. Ballard, the influential novelist and namesake of the literary term "Ballardian," has died.

His novels included "Crash," "Empire of the Sun," and "The Drowned World." His novel "Super Cannes" won the Commonwealth Writers Prize after its publication in 2000. According to the BBC, Ballard's agent, Margaret Hanbury, noted that the author had been sick for a few years.
Crash is on the shelf, courtesy of David Zimmerman. (Sorry for never giving that back, David.) I admit it's unread, except for the first chapter. I know Bayard is a big fan. I enjoy Baudrillard's review of Crash.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

i am holding it in my hand

i'm gonna tell you a love/adventure story about books. get excited.

just a few days ago i was in Bloomington, Indiana visiting my dear Anabelle, who attends Indiana University (which has an absolutely beautiful campus, but i digress). it was here that i stumbled upon something fantastic, something i've been coveting for a number of months, something i've had no luck (until now) obtaining. that something i'm telling you about is Tell Me Something by Jason. (the word play has no meaning other than my own personal amusement).

sometime last year i was first introduced to the work of Jason - while perusing the graphic novels section of the Downer Ave Schwartz - by the striking title I Killed Adolf Hitler. this book tells the simple story of a modern day contract killer who goes back in time to assassinate Hitler, fails and is stranded in 1939 while the Fuehrer returns to present day, learns of his would-be fate and disappears into our society. also included are a trans-time and trans-generational love story, jealous exes, conspiracy theories, bad dreams, etc.

yet when i say "simple story", i mean it. Jason is an expert at expressing a complex idea with simple visuals and dialogue. most of his works contain little to no dialogue, actually - entire stories can be read in facial expressions, twitches, color changes and movements. 

the entirety of Tell Me Something contains 7 lines of dialogue. it tells the story of 2 lovers and the trials they go through to be together, using dual layered story arcs differentiated simply by the panel borders to convey depth and reshape the story into an intriguing form.

back in Bloomington now: Anabelle knows me so well as to suggest that we pay a visit to a local non-profit bookshop, Boxcar Books (also on wikipedia) - a great shop in a converted house with small signs simply stating "We're not for profit, please don't steal from us!" of course i gladly agree to the venture  and remind myself before entering that i probably shouldn't buy anything (unemployment, you know) - unless, of course, it's something i just can't pass up. not 5 minutes into my exploration i find something that i just-can't-pass-up. 

sitting silently on a shelf is Tell Me Something - out of print, few copies available, not found in the 8 other bookstores i've searched - waiting for me patiently in the small backstreet bookshop i just so happened to visit on a rainy day after 3 years putting off my long overdue trip to Bloomington. we are finally united.

if the reader cannot find that scene superbly romantic, it must need to be described by a far better writer than i - or perhaps illustrated by Jason.

and the moral of this story? go to Boxcar Books, you'll be glad you did. stop into any small, out of the way bookshop and you'll be sure to find your personal literary unicorn.


Jason is published in the US by Fantagraphics Books. according to the rear flap of I Killed Adolf Hitler:
"Jason was born in Norway in 1965. Suddenly he spoke to a cat. Winter filled the room. They could see the ocean."

Thursday, April 9, 2009

mini-post that might encourage me to post more

i’m reading Wonder Tales by Lord Dunsany and loving every second of it. ex-Schwartz comrade Joe Lisberg introduced me to the Right Honorable Lord, but only recently have i begun exploring his works (unemployment begets free time).

his writing is superbly fantastic - and by that i mean it is steeped in surreal fantasy. these stories are short but exquisitely crafted and plotted, individual names speak volumes, specific words are chosen for the intense visual undertones they convey. everything is so damn epic that i can only indulge myself in short portions - i equate this phenomenon to slowly sipping from a glass of years-aged scotch, or gently tasting small squares of finely-wrought velvety chocolate.

indulge yourself, i implore you.

i’ve been looking for some excerpt that i could post, but everything is so long & involved that it’s difficult to find something short enough. i'll share with you this; it's the last paragraph from one of my favorite of the stories. i don’t think it quite adequately conveys the grandiose scope of the story, but it’s close.

"And Sippy very unwisely attempted flight, and Slorg even as unwisely tried to hide; but Slith, knowing well why that light was lit in that secret chamber and who it was that lit it, leaped over the edge of the World and is falling from us still through the unreverberate blackness of the abyss."

wow. epic? yes.

(this book was originally two books, the Book of Wonder and Tales of Wonder, repackaged into a single volume by Dover Editions)

also - check out what Joe is up to with Deep Sea Studios through their portfolio and blog.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Flap is Dead? Long Live the Flap! or Why some epilogues are premature

Below this post you'll see one that was previously -- and presumptuously -- titled "The Last Official Post on the Inside Flap".

This title supposes at least two things: that one person can speak as an "official" representative of a group of individuals, without their consent, agreement or blessing; that the Inside Flap is changing or ceasing to publish reviews, interviews, insights and opinions on independent books and publishing - and whatever else loiters in our individual warped minds.

Neither of these are true.

The Inside Flap will continue to provide reviews, interviews, general thoughts on publishing and whatever else we are motivated to type and post.

What is true is that Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops are now "officially" no longer open. And, while the Downer Ave Schwartz was the hub that brought all of us as individuals together and molded us into a group of friends and sometimes enemies (okay, not really; it just sounded nice...), The Inside Flap was always a collection of individual's creative efforts, not a product of Harry W. Schwartz.

The goal of this blog, since it's inception in May 2007, has been to provide honest and independent views on books and publishing - not to serve as a corporate mouthpiece. Those of us who founded the Flap (and more , importantly, those of us now contributing to this collaboration) wouldn't be interested in reading marketing copy - why should you?

This is the essence of independence.

This is the Inside Flap.

This is what we, the Flappers, will continue to bring you. The Flap has always been an independent creative collaboration of booksellers as individuals, receiving no monetary or material support from any business. Sure, we often talked about things happening at Schwartz on Downer - this was what was happening in our lives and in our reading community. I'm sure we'll continue to bring you news on events hosted at Next Chapter in Mequon, Boswell Books on Downer, at Woodland Pattern in Riverwest, at local universities, etc.

I'd personally like to take a moment to thank everyone who continues to read the Flap: encourage us to continue by subscribing to our feed, forwarding us to your friends and, most importantly, joining the conversation by commenting or sending us a review.

And, while I won't structure it as a epilogue, I will say "good luck" to Next Chapter in Mequon and Boswell Book Co in Milwaukee - I hope we have two great new indies in the area.

I won't presume to let you know what everyone else is up to in 150 words or less.

I will, however, presume to welcome you to the Inside Flap, again, on behalf of all the folks who have worked so hard to bring you this site.

And now: the future:
Stay tuned for

  • a slightly new look, as we'll respect Daniel Goldin's request that we remove the public domain image of Boswell from our logo. This was used as the logo of the former HWS and has been chosen as the logo for Daniel Goldin's Boswell Book Co. We liked the little guy, but we don't need to squat on anyone's identity for personal benefit.
  • more reviews: Nella Larsen's Passing might be the next book you should read, unless Justin, Stacie, Carl, Sarah or Jordan disagree
  • my sometimes coherent thoughts on the intersection of print, digital, reading, writing and ownership
  • whatever else my brilliant colleagues have in mind
And, final plug, we'll soon have a feed in the Arts&Letters>Books section of Third Coast Digest, the former VITAL Source.