Friday, June 29, 2007


This is pretty disappointing: links to

I am as big an NPR fan as anyone (up to ten hours some days, in the Prius and streaming on iTunes--how's that for a stereotype?), but this is rather disheartening. As the above article and feedback mention, many independent booksellers are very involved in supporting and promoting their local stations.

Obviously, NPR is underwritten by many huge corporations (Target, ADM, etc), so having an Amazon link isn't that surprising. What irks me is the lack of an alternative. Booksense would be a great candidate and would give NPR listeners a choice in the matter, an element which probably led them to tune in public radio for news and entertainment in the first place. Booksense also offers the same click-through services, too, I believe.

I want to be careful to not completely bash NPR here: they are perhaps the most influential source of referring sales to many independent booksellers, sans Oprah. Our local station continually reminds listeners to support local bookstores and NPR features many prominent Indies recommendations on all the lists.

It just seems that not provided an alternative to a business that is driving down prices to levels that independents simply cannot afford to match if they are to stay in business--not to mention provide benefits to employess--is against what many of their listeners believe in.

Hopefully, NPR listeners speak up: buy books from your local independent at let NPR know you aren't happy about an exclusive online Amazon link.

--Jay Johnson, independent bookseller

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

2007 Quill Awards

I received an email today with the 2007 Quill Award nominees, which were announced earlier this month at BEA in New York. The Quill Awards are the self-declared "consumers choice" awards for books, sponsored by Reed Business Information and broadcast by NBC. It is the only televised book awards according to their own press, which apparently doesn't consider BookTV coverage of other book festivals. The categories I'm mainly interested in are the Debut Author of the Year and the General Fiction nominees.

For Debut Author of the Year the nominees were: Ishmael Beah's A Long Way Gone; Miranda July's No One Belongs Here More Than You; This Is Your Brain on Music, by Daniel J. Levitin; The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield; Love Is a Mix Tape, by Rob Sheffield. Based on sales and Starbucks cred, it'd be hard to imagine A Long Way Gone not being the favorite in this category. It is great to see a short story collection included, and Miranda July's is certainly worthy. You can read a few of our booksellers praise it here. The Thirteenth Tale was a favorite at our shops that are big with book club readers; it seems to have potential as a metafictional mystery, which is my own personal favorite minuscule book category. I have heard good things about Love Is a Mix Tape and we should have a short review here soon. I admit I know nothing about This Is Your Brain on Music.

For General Fiction: Brothers, by Da Chen; American Youth, by Phil LaMarche; The Road, by Cormac McCarthy; Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl; Jamestown, by Matthew Sharpe. We had Da Chen and Marisha Pessl in Shorewood and you can read my post about the latter here. The Road is amazing, and I have to say I'm really surprised that it is getting the attention it has been, though it is very deserving--perhaps the most deserving. Just remember that it won the Pulitzer *before* it was an Oprah pick. Jamestown has been officially added to the books I'm going to attempt to pick up this summer, though that stack is taller than I am at the moment.

For discussion of the Business category, I recommend checking out the blog of 800-CEO-READ, by far the coolest people selling business books in the world today. (I suppose I should also disclose that they are our sister company). Click on an any of the five titles listed and you'll see what 8CR (and others, including some of today's most-relevant authors) have said about them.

I'm going to work on the alternative awards (the Flappies?), composed of books not nominated for any awards this year, but were very deserving.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Easter Rising - Review by Denise Dee

Quite possibly the best punk rock memoir ever written.

Michael Patrick MacDonald grew up in Southie (South Boston) and has a very delicious black humor in his writing. He is 13 when he first gets into punk- back in the late 70's. MPM comes from a very large family and you can see how punk gave him a place in the world and might very well have saved his life.

Easter Rising is also a road trip book - not just a stroll down punk memory lane. He also goes with his Ma to Ireland as an adult. Some of the roads he travels are in his head and heart, and some of them are literal roads to NYC, London, Ireland, and Paris. I felt like I was at his side listening to his stories- rather than reading words on the page.

Some of the things I laughed the hardest at were when his grandfather comes over with holy water to exorcise him- because he heard MPM has been devil worshipping with the 'punk rocks'. When a friend of his sisters tells him he heard punks like to pee on themselves, MPM writes that he is so tired of trying to explain himself (and punk) by this point that he says- "Yeah that's what we do". I also loved a part where he is exchanging notes in class with a girl who tells him her name is Siouxsie. She writes "PUNK IS DEAD- GET OVER IT ".

And this is all before he's 16.

He realized when he visits in Derry that though many of his friends back in Southie have never been to Ireland, somehow the Irish message of 'Never give up the fight' has been imprinted on their hearts.

It's the kind of book you will be calling/e-mailing friends to quote lines from. My co-worker Justin's wife, who is in her 20's, loved it as much as I did.

By the end of the book when his Ma is carrying her accordion with her on Easter Sunday (he doesn't ask her why) he realizes that you "never know when you might be called on to give it everything you have to give". I was crying.

Read it or at least go to his MySpace page and check him out.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Soon I Will Be Invincible - Austin Grossman Interview

Austin Grossman is the author of Soon I Will Be Invincible; a fantastic new book published mere weeks ago by Pantheon Books. Soon I Will Be Invincible is a genre-twisting look at superheroes, their villainous counterparts and the everyday struggles that don’t go away just because you can lift a semi over your head. Soon I Will Be Invincible is Grossman’s first book, and all the more remarkable for that fact. He graciously agreed to take some time during his promotional tour for the book to answer some questions through the magic of electronic mail (I believe the kids are calling it e-mail).

How is the book tour going?

Anyone who's ever gone on a book tour knows it's a chancy proposition. Everyone who has come to the readings has been awesome - people ask great questions! But there aren't always that many of them. I'm writing this from the Portland, OR airport, where I had a great reading at Powell's. New York, Boston, Chicago, and Minneapolis lie ahead.

Your author bio states that you’re a doctoral candidate at the University of California - Berkley with a specialty in Romantic and Victorian Literature. Given the (frankly appalling) lack of cyborgs and scientifically-enhanced megalomaniacs present in Romantic and Victorian Literature, I’m going to guess your inspiration for this book came from other sources. What inspired you to write a book set among the mythology of comic books? Are you a comic book fan yourself?

I think no one will be surprised to learn I'm a comic book fan - I got hooked in the 1980's on Chris Claremont's X-Men and Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, even before I saw stuff like Watchmen. Apart from Moore, I think the biggest inspiration was just wanting to combine all my favorite stuff in one place - superheroes as filtered through the more detailed language and richer emotional palette of the authors I was studying in school. I grafted it all together and the monster lived!

Is Soon I Will Be Invincible the first book you’ve written for publication?

Yes. I edited Postmortems from Game Developer, an extremely useful anthology, but apart from video games I've never published even a scrap of fiction before.

Comics, while adored by tons of literate readers, still have a bit of stigma to them. Was there initial resistance from publishers regarding a ‘comic book story’?

Well, I think that was balanced by the prevailing wisdom that "superheroes = $" - so if anything comics served as a good hook to get people interested. I was a little unsure who would want it though, whether it would go to science-fiction imprint or mainstream-fiction or what. Pantheon has both a literary line and graphic novels, which is perfect.

The book’s cover and chapter break images are really cool. Of course, it should come as little surprise that Chip Kidd is the designer. How much input did you have in the look of the book?

I spent about half an hour chatting with Chip, and he took it from there. I expected a more vintage-comics look, which has started to become fairly common, but he took things in a totally new direction. Most of my input consisted of sending emails saying "Go Chip! Yay!" By the way, the other designer was M. Kristen Bearse, who I hear great things about - I have no idea how they divided up the work.

(by the way, I think Chip is going to publish something on Amazon's blog about how he did the design for the book - I'm as curious as anyone!)

Along the same lines, the website for the book is a nice touch. Did you have a hand in the design?

The credit there goes to Robert Scott, who took Chip's cover image as the basis for a mad-scientist/Art Deco look that is totally original. I did most of the text and consulted on the features, but as with the book design, it was a case of finding a talented person and staying out of their way.

Who are your major writing influences?

It's pretty eclectic. Alan Moore is obviously a huge model, especially his work on Watchmen, Swamp Thing, and Miracleman (note: Miracleman is a hugely influential, near-impossible to find Moore work caught in legal limbo). There's something of William Gibson's super-compacted prose as well - I've read Neuromancer about a hundred times - and of course his character Molly Millions influenced the idea of Fatale. In a character like Doctor Impossible I'm sure there are echoes of Peter Shaffer's Salieri in Amadeus, and before that Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground.

I’ve heard some writers say that they write every day. Personally, inspiration comes in fits and starts. Are you an every day writer? What’s your process?

Well it's my first book, so I can barely dignify whatever it was I did as "process." Most of Soon I Will Be Invincible was doodled into notebooks between (and sometimes during) classes in graduate school. Only the last year or so was "full time" writing. When I read about famous writers they always get up at 6AM and get everything done by noon; I generally made it to a coffee shop by 11AM and struggled on until 3 or 4 in the afternoon.

Given your background in video game development, is there any chance of a Soon I Will Be Invincible video game?

A video game adaptation could conceivably follow a film release; if it happens, I'd love to have a direct hand in it, and help author something that really works interactively, rather than just pasting the characters/storyline onto the latest game engine. It would be really fun to work with my own IP to do something genuinely original.

The world you’ve created in the book seems ripe for further exploration. Are you looking to write more about these characters?

I'm working on some new material that may fit into this world - I'd love to develop some of this book's minor characters, and let Doctor Impossible and the Champions lurk in the background for a while.

Have you read anything worth recommending lately?

I got an advanced copy of Douglas Wolk's Reading Comics, which compiles and adds to some of the critical pieces he's published over the years. It's incredibly smart and enriching treatment of some tough material - the Hernandez brothers and the dreaded Dave Sim, for instance, hugely benefit from a careful critical overview. (and yes I'm reading with him in Minneapolis, but I'm not just being nice - I was blown away)

To read the review of Soon I Will Be Invincible, click here.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Deer Hunting with Jesus

This book has gotten two great reads from our booksellers:

"There is a war going on that is wreaking havoc on the lives of nearly one-third of all Americans. The victims of this war are the 35 million working poor. They work the hardest, get paid the least, and cannot get ahead no matter how much personal responsibility they take in their lives. They drink canned beer, praise the Lord on Sundays, and hail the fast cars speeding around an oval track—all the while being manipulated by conservatives and mocked by liberals. Deer Hunting with Jesus takes us into the lives of these folks with humor and respect, leaving you raging and passionate to fix the deepening canyon divide between the rich and poor."


"I can hardly describe how much I enjoyed Deer Hunting with Jesus, but it’s so good that I’m willing to try. Bageant’s writing style is lively an entertaining, sort of a mix between Molly Ivins and Southern story writer George Singleton. The book didn't preach to the choir like a lot of liberal examinations of society's ills, mainly because Bageant didn't just dismiss the mostly white lower class subjects in his book as ignorant fools, but really made an effort to understand why people barely getting by would vote into power politicians interested in giving tax cuts to the super rich. Again, great book!"


With praise from our booksellers, and authors ranging from Studs Terkel to Sherman Alexie and Howard Zinn, this book warrants at least a thumb through at your local (independent) bookstore.

Check out this review; it's entertaining and insightful.

There are also some audio archive interviews at Joe Bageant's website.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Justin's Geek Explosion

If you don't read comic books, you're missing out on some of contemporary fiction's best stories and writers. Don't let the wrongful stigma 'Comics are just for kids.' stop you. Today's comic books are geared for and aimed squarely at adult readers. Here's a list to get you started...

Watchmen by Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons - By far my favorite work of fiction, comic or otherwise. Alan Moore destroyed the notion of comics being "just for kids", and told an amazing story of political, social and personal upheaval to rival anything that had come before or since. Where else could you find yourself rooting for a sociopathic xenophobe
but in this story?

Fables: Legends In Exile by Bill Willingham/
Lan Medina, Steve Leialoha and Craig Hamilton - Everyone knows fairy tales are deeper than Mother Goose, but Fables takes that idea and runs with it. After being driven from the Homelands by a shadowy adversary, the heroes and villains of every bedtime story ever told are forced to make a go of it among the mundane people of our world. How they create a society and the strife present when larger-than-life personalities clash is the stuff of great fantasy.

Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore/Brian Bolland - My choice for the best Batman story of all time. Between the spot-on characterization of Batman, Commissioner Gordon and The Joker, and the insanity linking them all together, this story has so much to offer. Also, it contains perhaps the best moment between archenemies ever written.

Starman: Sins Of The Father by James Robinson/Tony Harris and Wade Von Grawbadger - A look at legacies and the father/son bond set amidst a coming-of-age story involving super-science, murderous villains and inherited vendettas. That's what's so great about comics - they can be either as straightforward or allegorical as any other medium, make points regarding the deepest human ideas and conditions, and show a twenty-something antique dealer learning to pilot an energy-blasting flight rod.

Preacher: Gone To Texas by Garth Ennis/ Steve Dillon and Glenn Fabry - Garth Ennis is insane and brilliant. He's written a story about a lapsed reverend searching for God while accompanied by his assassin ex-girlfriend and an Irish vampire. Also, the preacher sees John Wayne. Did I mention his family are an ultra violent clan of hillbillies? And how about the sheriff's son who shoots himself in the face and doesn't die? And what about the single-eyed inbred childhood friend? I won't even mention the Vatican's murderous agents, or the living embodiment of Death - The Saint of Killers. Yeah, insane and brilliant sums it up.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

If You Liked School, You'll Love Work (Short Stories Vol. 4)

Irvine Welsh is probably best-known for his novel, Trainspotting. As with that book, the true enjoyment in his latest is the clever characterization and cultural immersion on offer. The strange situations and people encountered in If You Liked School, You'll Love Work are masterfully sketched, right down to the intentional misspelling of words to convey an accent; the Midwesterners say 'nat', instead of 'not'; the English bar owner calls women 'gels'. It's touches like these that help to entrench the reader into the body and geography of the characters. Welsh is intricate but never overwrought; there are no wasted words, no descriptions that feel like padding.

Never one to shy away from sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll, Welsh takes aim at the people obsessed with all three (and other vices). The characters on display in this collection are creatures of habit and environment; a common thread being the myopia of self-interest that leads to misunderstandings both funny and terrible. A tripping trio unprepared for the desert, a 'Sex In The City' wannabe with WASP practically tattooed on her forehead, a bar-owning 'chubby chaser' convinced that his happiness is proportional to his control over the women in his life. There are no morality plays here, just people reaping what they sow.

Stereotype plays a big part in the stories as well. Preconceived notions and knee-jerk 'common knowledge' intrude on the ability of most of the characters to think clearly about the (admittedly strange) situations they find themselves in. Of course, without these limitations, the characters wouldn't be nearly as fun to read about. Happy, well-adjusted people are the province of some other writer not nearly as enjoyable to read.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

No One Belongs Here More Than You (Short Stories Vol. 3)

Bookseller love for No One Belongs Here More Than You, the debut collection from Miranda July.

"In No One Belongs Here More Than You, Miranda July holds the world in her hands. She examines it from curious angles. She pokes at it. She rubs it in the most delightful ways. Miranda July is not afraid of writing it like she sees it. In her Miranda-esque, matter of fact but childlike way, these stories unfold languidly, beautifully, naturally. My conclusion: No one must read this book more than you."

--Maryke Berger, Downer Ave.

"Miranda July is insane; a brilliant and fabulous writer, but insane. And I love her."

--Stacie Williams, Downer Ave. & Bay View

"Fans of Miranda July's films will be thrilled to learn that her painfully sweet vision translates beautifully to the page in this new collection of stories. Her characters are misfits found in the most awkward and agonizing situations. Although her characters can be jaw-drop outrageous, they are true to themselves and have an innocence that leaves the door open for their (our) redemption. Ultimately, July shows us a tenderness and beauty in the very traits that could condemn these characters in anyone else's world."

--Joe Lisberg, Downer Avenue

"The interpretation of everyday situations down to the smallest aesthetic details culminate in these grand stories of most appropriate misunderstandings. This acclaimed filmmaker and McSweeney's contributor has perfected the art of romanticizing the ridiculous."

--Sarah Marine, Downer Avenue