Friday, December 4, 2009

Postsecret Storm Warning

Rain. It happens. Even, occasionally, in Arizona. As luck would have it, it may happen on Monday night, during our first-ever outdoor event: a talk and booksigning with Postsecret's Frank Warren.

If the weather proves particularly foul, we may be forced to move the whole shebang back to the bookstore. We'll know for sure Monday morning, so please spread the word and stay tuned to our Twitter feed or Facebook page for real-time updates. You can also call us at 480-730-0205.

For now, though, it's still a go for Tempe's Kiwanis Park, just a mile and a half away from the bookstore. Enter the park at Guadalupe and All-America Way (a provocatively-juxtaposed intersection that would likely make Lou Dobbs' head explode) and follow the signs to the covered Fiesta Ramadas amphitheater.

So haul out the winter wear, desert-dwellers! It may be chilly, but the company will be great, Frank will be his usual charming self, and the Wildflower Bread Company will be serving some of the best hot chocolate in the American southwest.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Staff Pick: Eating Animals

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
25% off in November

I know what you’re thinking, but this isn’t just another anti-meat book. Eating Animals is a father’s meditation on family, the power of big business, and the consequences of not asking questions. It’s a look into one of our largest, most ecologically destructive and secretive global industries. With the same literary brilliance of his acclaimed novels, Jonathan Safran Foer picks up where Michael Pollan fears to tread. Who are we trusting to feed us? Is “free-range” really what we think it is? If we are what we eat, doesn’t that make us weak, disease-prone, tortured animals? And why are we letting this happen to us?


Friday, September 11, 2009

Driving Under the Influence of Books

And you thought texting while driving was dangerous.

Post-9/11 Novels: Adding The Zero

There's been lots of discussion today about post-9/11 novels -- which of them are good, which are bad, and which are timeless. In that final, transcendent category of literature built to last, Ian McEwan's superb Saturday and Joseph O'Neill's lyrical Netherland seem to be the clear leaders, while the rest remain a mixed bag of hotly debated also-rans: Don DeLillo's Falling Man, John Updike's Terrorist, Jay McInerney's The Good Life, and Benjamin Kunkel's Indecision, among others.

My take? I'll enter the fray with two of my least favorites: Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (which I found cloying and virtually unreadable) and Ken Kalfus's A Disorder Peculiar to the Country (which I found sour and unfunny but mercifully short).

As for favorites, I'd like to put in an enthusiastic word for a title that isn't often mentioned in conversations about post-9/11 literature, or at least not often enough: Jess Walter's The Zero.

Despite being shortlisted for a National Book Award, The Zero somehow fell through the cracks after it was first published in 2006. Partly this had to do, I think, with Walter's willingness to write a comic novel about 9/11, and partly with the spectacular public implosion of his then-publisher, the Regan imprint at HarperCollins. I remember speaking with Judith Regan's assistant at the time, who also loved the book and who just shook her head sadly in acknowledgment of Walter's raw deal. "Bum luck," she called it. "Such a great novel, too."

Here's the blurb I wrote for the bookstore shortly after The Zero was released in hardcover:

What Catch-22 did for Joseph Heller and Slaughterhouse Five did for Kurt Vonnegut I suspect The Zero, in time, will do for Jess Walter. In what some may view as an act of post-9/11 literary hubris ("the Zero" refers to ground zero in New York City), Walter has written a novel of darkly comic genius that is plot-driven, suspenseful, heavy on the dialogue, and above all, funny. No small feat for a novel that opens with street cop Brian Remy waking up to find he's shot himself in the head, then slowly discovering that he's somehow involved with a nefarious U.S. intelligence agency called the Department of Documentation. Unfortunately, Remy can't remember if he's one of the good guys or one of the bad guys. The novel's amnesia premise and jarring narrative gaps may wear thin at times -- Memento, anyone? -- but the real prize here is Walter's language. He has an unerring ear for dialogue, and his descriptions of the work that goes on atop the smoldering rubble of the Twin Towers -- and the men who carry out that work at their own peril -- are hellish, beautiful, and occasionally heart-stopping. A remarkable, highly recommended read.

What do you think? Which are your picks for best and worst 9/11 novel?


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Geriatric Sexcapades

Today in Tempe, Arizona, it was 88 degrees. The orange blossoms are still blooming, the birds are still singing – but I recognize that this is a temporary condition. When temperatures are above 80 in early April, it’s impossible to pretend that Spring is anything other than fleeting. In a matter of weeks, the Sonoran desert will revert to a desiccated wasteland capable of causing heat stroke in a matter of moments.

But for now, Tempe is practically oozing vitality and romance – I catch teenagers necking in my neighborhood, customers are holding hands in the store, and I keep reading novels filled with geriatric sexcapades.

Nothing screams Spring like elder-love.

I didn’t set out to read multiple books on passion in the 70+ set, which makes it somewhat stranger that I coincidentally selected three successive books that featured wrinkled gymnastics. Other people have pointed out that the publishing world sometimes releases multiple titles on similar themes, but nursing home nookie seems a little more bizarre than usual. But what I discovered was that, contrary to my youth-centric stereotypes, these depictions of amorous seniors have a lot to teach even a jaded 20-something like myself. For example: life is too short to waste it on petty lies, deceits, and disagreements. It is important to be honest to yourself and to those around you. Be confident in your physical appearance, because it will only get worse over time and nobody really cares anyway. And, finally, it is never too late to find love, no matter how many wrinkles and sags you might have.

Aren’t those nice messages?

So if you find yourself lovelorn this Spring, I recommend checking out one of the following titles:

The Little Book, by Selden Edwards.

Sima’s Undergarments for Women, by Ilana Stanger-Ross.

Valeria’s Last Stand, by Marc Fitten (this one isn’t coming out until May, so write it down. It’s worth the wait).

These are the perfect books to read during these ephemeral temperate days. And don’t worry, they’re about more than just aged ardor.

- Rachel

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Gaiman and Colbert

In case you missed it, Neil Gaiman was on The Colbert Report last night, talking about his Newbery Award-winning novel The Graveyard Book. Hee-larious . . .

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Neil Gaiman
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorMark Sanford

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Former Changing Hands Bookseller
Returns with Carnival of Vulgarities

Nina arm-wrestles the poet.

D. Hamilton Doggett. Now that’s a name worthy of an immense granite tombstone. Of course, the man behind the name isn’t anywhere near extinction, and even if he were, he’d likely prefer his ashes resting in an urn on his mantel, in snug proximity to his homemade samurai armor. Until he gives up the ghost, though, he’ll continue his pursuits as writer, poet, and master of the stutter-step.

Carnival of Vulgarities (2008) is Doggett’s most recent book, bringing together a collection of thirteen poems spawned over the last decade. From ghosts of war, erotic demons, and Edgar Allan Poe dying in a ditch, his work is “a conjoining of verse and myth that seeks to entertain, instruct, astonish, amuse and lay bare the commonalities that bind us all.” With diverse themes encompassing love, death, and war, Doggett borrows widely from history and mythology, but recasts characters with plebeian empathy. In response to why his work is laden with historical references, Doggett explains that he has always had an interest in retelling stories from the bottom up. By lending an ear to the lesser characters of major opuses, he draws out their narratives and embellishes their literary lives. The poem "The Illiad of Elpenor Ithakasios," for example, expounds upon Elpenor, a mere soldier of Odysseus’, who fell to his death from a roof in drunken squalor. As with Doggett’s obsession with the bizarre myth surrounding Poe’s death (which, in reality, was quite mundane), the piece demonstrates his attention to the unrecorded potentialities of moments past.

On having self-published the work, Doggett admits, “I love the control. I think a lot of people lose sight of that. They want to be that writer. I want people to like what I write." Of course he wouldn’t turn down publishers’ interest, but that Lone Ranger appeal of independently seeing through his own project would stand undiminished. He knows he’ll be compelled to write whether or not there is public interest, and this is what makes him a writer’s writer.

For more of Doggett’s writing, check out his novella The Evangelists (1998) and his short story "Clockwork Betty" (featured in the Maple/Ash Literary Review #2), both available at Changing Hands Bookstore. Also keep a lookout for Ghost of Iga, the first book in his forthcoming ninja saga.

Doggett will appear at Changing Hands on Friday, March 6 at 7pm. Read his blog, DOGGEREL, here.


Monday, February 16, 2009

Gayle Greets President Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter visited the bookstore last Friday with his book, We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land: A Plan That Will Work. Changing Hands co-owner and American Booksellers Association President Gayle Shanks offered him a warm welcome:

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Flap Copy Interview: Christian Lander

Last Tuesday, we hosted a booksigning for Christian Lander, author of the blog and subsequent book Stuff White People Like. A sizable and enthusiastic crowd stopped in to hear Lander talk about his unexpected rise to Internet fame, and then joined him afterward for drinks next door at Mac's Broiler & Tap, and even later at Four Peaks Brewery. He was generous enough to sit down with us pre-booksigning to answer a few questions about his taste in literature, Xbox, and the future for white people in a floundering economy.

Tessa: How would you define white people as they’re described in your book?

Christian Lander: You don’t have to be white to be "white," you just have to be rich. There’s the right kind of white people and the wrong kind of white people. Generally the white people I’m talking about are post-wealth. You don’t seriously worry about money if you spend your time pursuing being the most altruistic person possible or being artistic or being recognized as artistic.

Tessa: What are common misconceptions people read into the blog or book?

Lander: The people who need to have it cleared up are a really small minority. What’s amazing is that people look at the title and have one of two reactions. Either, “This is going to be really offensive and I’m going to get really upset” and then they look at it and they think “Oh shit, this is actually true,” or they look at it and they’re expecting “Stuff white people like: polo shirts, awkward dancing, mayonnaise.” You know what I mean? The old stereotypes that don’t apply or are so milked to death by really bad stand-up comics. And then they look at this and think “Oh, these aren’t the white people I’m used to seeing parodied; this is me.” Some people misinterpret it by thinking it means Stuff Only White People Can Like, implying this elitism. And that’s a mistake. Because this group I’m talking about are desperate to bring diversity into their friendships and into their class. They’re desperate to shed their elitist tag.

Tessa: But doesn’t the book also say that this group wants diversity, but only as long as they don’t have to step outside of their comfort zone? White people want diversity, but they don’t want to do anything too hard or painful to get it.

Lander: Yes, that's the hypocritical part that comes along with it. You always want to go to a place where you’re the only white person around -- except a nightclub.

Tessa: You said you didn’t meet your first Republican until you came to Arizona for graduate school. What are your experiences with the other half of white people, the social group your book doesn’t describe at all?

Lander: I also lived in Indiana, so I met a lot of other Republicans, and I met some eighteen-year-old Republicans. And that blew my mind. I didn’t understand how anyone can be 18 years old and that bitter. Don’t you want to save the world when you’re 18? I understand when you’re forty and sick of paying taxes. But at eighteen, don’t you want to help everybody? And I learned from my students really quickly -- no. So that was a bit of an eye-opener. And pretending to validate some of their opinions was very difficult. I had to be careful because if I attacked them instantly they were filled with this rage. Here’s this white liberal douchebag shutting me up. And then they get this feeling of victimhood again. I think that was what Sarah Palin was all about; about trying to tap into people who felt like they were being victimized by other white people. Victimized as stupid or as backwards or as racist, and they played into that. It worked, to an extent.

I have an entry in the book called "Knowing What’s Best for Poor People." That was what I learned living in Arizona and living in Indiana: that I really believed that if these people had the same education and money as me they’d be exactly like me. Its pretty fucking egotistical, right? My eyes were really opened to that, to the hypocrisy and ridiculousness of that, so that's why I try to point it out in the book.

Tessa: That was an entry that really stuck out for me. Most of the book is funny and light-hearted, but then every once in a while you point something out that rings as really uncomfortably true.

Lander: My favorite thing that someone can say about the book is I laughed at half of it and I cringed at the other half.

Tessa: Is the prognosis grim for white people now that the economy’s in a recession? They’ll have less money to spend on Apple products, and might suddenly be unable to afford being artists.

Lander: No this is perfect for white people, because its going to open up new neighborhoods to gentrify. And its going to drop property values, so you’re going to get more credibility for living in these neighborhoods again, and they’ll be gentrifying faster. Also, if you live in a city like New York or Chicago, you can stay while things get worse, while the other white people you hated leave to go back to the suburbs. So the neighborhoods will get rough again. White people want to be back in 1982 New York, and this is going to be the way to make it happen.

Tessa: What about white people in the age of Barack Obama? It was easy to be a white person during the Bush administration, when the country’s leader was a figure so easy to hate and want to distance yourself from. Now that person is Obama, who white people genuinely love but who they also aren’t allowed to hate.

Lander: The Bush thing is funny, because for eight years, white people felt oppressed. They felt like, I am oppressed in my own country, I’m not represented by my government, I’m going to pretend I’m Canadian when I go to Europe. So this one’s going to be interesting, it’s like you’ve got everything you want, and white people are never happy when they get everything they want. We have to wait just a little bit of time. Some people will figure out when they really push Obama on gay marriage that he never really supported it. Like, Oh my God, I wasn’t listening, I was too busy looking at the stickers. So the honeymoon will be over eventually.

Tessa: Would you mind telling us, since this is a bookstore blog, what you like to read?

Lander: It’s going to be as pretentious as you’d expect. I just read all the Douglas Coupland books: Generation X and Microserfs, Eleanor Rigby and Girlfriend in a Coma. I loved William Burroughs’ stuff before he started taking acid. If you read the compiled work of William Burroughs, you can see when he took his first hit of acid. Curtis Sittenfeld, who wrote American Wife. She’s amazing. On the literature side I like really unpretentious writers who write in a really straightforward way that tells a story. Of course I read Michael Pollan’s stuff and Barbara Ehrenreich’s stuff. And I read a lot of books on Los Angeles history. Mike Davis wrote some books -- City of Quartz and Ecology of Fear. No one in L.A. cares about L.A. history. L.A. history is like if a gas stationed opened in ’82. George Saunders, I like some of his stuff, sometimes it’s just a little too whimsical for me. Kurt Andersen -- I absolutely adore Kurt Andersen. He’s the guy who did Heyday and he was an editor at Spy back in the ‘80s. Spy magazine was The Onion before The Onion. It's beyond brilliant. And it’s actually discouraging to read because it’s so smart and bang-on hilarious.

Tessa: Give us an honest assessment of how white you are.

Lander: I wrote the book.

Tessa: So you would say most of the stuff applies to you?

Lander: Everything in there except the nature stuff. I don’t like camping or outdoor performance gear. I hate North Face stuff with a passion.

Tessa: Do you like expensive sandwiches?

Lander: I love expensive sandwiches. Tucson has some awesome expensive sandwiches. Bison Witches, that’s my favorite expensive sandwich in Tucson.

Tessa: Do you own a TV?

Lander: Of course. I play Xbox all the time.

Tessa: Do you have any entries on your blog on Xbox? Is that a white person thing?

Lander: Nintendo Wii is in there, that's a white person thing. Xbox bridges all cultures.

(Thanks for the photo, Sara!)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Three Booksellers' Inauguration Adventure

When Barack Obama was elected President, I was sitting at a party with a circle of friends, sobbing at the television. I had no words to describe what I was thinking at the time. As a person who rarely shuts up, it was unusual to find myself so inarticulate. All I could think, as I watched the poll numbers roll in, was that Americans had done something right.

It just meant so much.

So a month later, when that feeling hadn’t yet given way to jaded disinterest in my commandant-to-be, I hatched a harebrained scheme. I decided that I would find a way to attend the inauguration, come hell or high water.

It was about as impractical an idea as I’ve ever had. After all, requests for inauguration tickets had been put in months earlier, as had vacation requests from work. The cheapest hotel rooms still available were being offered for no less than $1,000 a night. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I had to go. And not just that – I had to drag two of my coworkers into it.

It wasn’t until Jamie, Kim and I were sitting at the airport bar that we discussed how none of us really thought we were going to pull it off. The three of us somehow convinced our amazing, benevolent, politically savvy – did I mention good-looking? – employers to give us simultaneous vacation time. We booked flights to Baltimore because the more convenient flights were full, and I bullied a former co-worker into letting us sleep on her floor. We convinced loved ones to drive us to and from the airport at preposterous hours of the night. We borrowed luggage, blankets and sleeping bags. And while we still didn’t have inauguration tickets, we did have high hopes. We’d already pulled off the impossible, and Obama kept preaching about hope.

We had wanted to attend this inauguration for a variety of reasons. Whatever your politics, it’s impossible to deny that this was a historic election. I wanted to see how people were responding; I wanted to assess the crowd’s energy. I wasn’t disappointed. I saw people behaving with incredible kindness and people demonstrating appalling rudeness. I had assumed that I knew what racial tension felt like, but honestly, I had never seen the subject of race laid so open. I heard a black woman tell a white one, “He’s not your president.” And yet, I also saw more groups of multi-racial companions than I had ever seen before. People of all ethnicities struck up conversations with my friends and I on the Metro. The longer we were in Washington, the more we realized that there was no recipe for this. People were no longer quite sure how to interact with each other. Racism is still a lit fuse in the United States, but one that might someday fizzle out instead of exploding.

The evening before the inauguration, we made our way to the Capitol building. We knew that we would be nowhere near it the following day, and we wanted to see what we could. It was already dark, and set-up was well under way. Hordes of tourists stood gazing at the dome, glowing in the night, watching their breath condense and dissipate. It was well below freezing, but no one was in a hurry to leave.

We headed home relatively early because we knew the next day would be a full one. We wanted to reach the Metro by 4:00 a.m., when it opened, because we knew it was our only hope of getting a decent spot. Around 11:00 p.m., we entered our apartment building, apple-cheeked out of the wind. We climbed into the elevator with a formally dressed older gentleman, and Kim pressed the button for his floor.

“You girls going to the inauguration tomorrow?” he drawled.

“Yeah, that’s the plan,” we replied.

“You girls got tickets?”

This was a question we had been asked countless times since embarking upon this adventure, and our negative response was usually met with looks of pity, and sometimes laughter. We had traveled across the country, and we were going to have a worse view of the jumbotron than we would have had in Arizona. Yes, we understood that. But we wanted to be there anyway. I concluded that people watching was, perhaps, a dying art.

“Sadly, no.” we replied. “We’re heading up to bed so we can get up at 3:00 a.m. to head down to the Mall.”

“Hmmm…” he responded. And pulled out his cell phone. The elevator doors for our floor opened and closed, and not one of us moved.

“You girls missed your floor,” he noted. To which we asked the only question we could.

“Why are you on your cell phone?”

He began speaking into it. “David? Yeah, this is Harry. I’m in my apartment with three beautiful young ladies. Is there any way we can get them tickets? Great, yeah. Just pull the car back around.”

As he put the phone into his jacket pocket, he thrust out his hand. “I’m Harry Teague,” he said. “Congressman for New Mexico’s District 2.” We headed down to the lobby, and sat there chatting about our own Congressman, Harry Mitchell, and the upcoming festivities. Before long, a town car pulled up outside the building, and Mr. Teague stepped outside. He returned holding three beautiful blue tickets, let us get one snapshot, and then returned to his own apartment.

We waited until he was out of earshot before we started screaming and calling everyone we knew.

The next day, at 4:15 a.m., we were waiting at the Metro with the rest of the world. The sun had not yet begun to rise, and already people were shoving in panic and anticipation. Everyone was terrified that they would be denied a spot, and it turned out they were right to be concerned. A record number of people turned out for the festivities, and even people with tickets were eventually turned away. As we were exiting the metro, Kim, Jamie and I became separated, and I was wedged against the escalator and forced to walk sideways. It was easy to see how, later that day, a 68-year-old woman was trampled and knocked onto the tracks. All over the city, people were buzzing about the mobs. Official estimates hold that 1.8 million people thronged the Mall for the inauguration, but that seems impossible. It felt like many, many more.

By 5:15 a.m., we were waiting outside our gate with hundreds of other people. All of us shared tales of ticket requisition. People sang Christmas Carols and replaced a certain name with Obama’s. It was bitterly cold, and accounts kept rolling in of people being hospitalized for hypothermia. The inauguration wasn’t scheduled to begin for nearly seven more hours.

At 8:00 a.m., we were rushed through security, and only 30 minutes later, we were in the third row of our section.
We were approximately three feet away from Bruce Springsteen, Spike Lee, Usher, Dikembe Mutombo, Robin Roberts, Mary J. Blige, and countless other celebrities. We knew this because of the response of the crowd. I wish I could say that we saw them. But during those early-morning hours, our view was limited.

As the hours passed, the crowd shifted, and eventually, we could see the stage. We watched as the crowd cheered for Colin Powell and hissed at Clarence Thomas. We watched as George W. Bush was booed. We heard Aretha Franklin sing the National Anthem, and Rick Warren give his prayer. And we watched Barack Obama sworn in as President, and the crowd quieted down for the first time all day, and adults cried as shamelessly as children.

When the entire ceremony was over, everyone began looking at each other as though for the first time. National hopes for Barack Obama are almost comically unrealistic. There is no way that any man could repair the economy overnight, end the war in a way that pleases everyone, end the threat of terrorism, embrace alternative energy solutions, and address every other major issue plaguing America. But in that moment, it didn’t feel that way. I don’t think anything felt impossible to anyone.

On January 20, 2009, Washington, D.C. suspended work and school. Away from the National Mall, the city was deserted. So when there was nothing left to see on the Capitol steps, and everyone turned away, I was surprised that I was just as moved by the scene behind me. The trees were bare of leaves, and shreds of newspaper blew down barricaded streets. Gates hung ajar, windows were darkened, and stores were closed. And all around me, humanity was marching together into a fresh reality.

“Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.”


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