Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Literary Man About Town

A paper man takes a stroll through a city made of books -- a literally literary town -- in this wonderful video from 4th Estate. It's not unlike working in a bookstore, really, where daily proximity to books and routine immersion in the sum total of the world's creativity and knowledge become commonplace but never dull. It's rated G, but squeamish bibliophiles take note: Several books were harmed in the making of this film.


(Via Paper Cuts)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Top 5 Books to Remind You...

As a kid, I went through all the drug abuse resistance programs a kid ought to. I still remember Officer Austin, the D.A.R.E. representative for our district. He would come in and crack a few jokes, ham it up through the mandatory all-school assemblies, and then sigh and give the boys noogies. We loved him, dearly, and every one of us promised him we would never get on his bad side.

That didn’t stop me from appreciating the irony of my classmates wearing D.A.R.E. t-shirts to school parties, and lately, I’ve heard that programs like the one I attended are going the way of the dinosaur. Legend has it that caustic contemporary wit simply makes a mockery of sincere do-gooders like Officer Austin and his cohorts. But for the parents of young children, there’s no need to fear – I have an alternative.

Make your kids watch Trainspotting. I know what you’re thinking: is that really child-appropriate? Of course not. But the moment that baby’s head spins around, any desire I ever had to try hard drugs dissipated. Follow it by reading these anti-drug submissions courtesy of staffer Eve.

Top 5 Books to Remind You to Never Get Hooked on Drugs

1. The Heroin Diaries, Nikki Sixx
2. Go Ask Alice, Anonymous
3. Tweak, Nic Sheff
4. Smack, Melvin Burgess
5. Requiem for a Dream, Hubert Selby


Sunday, December 7, 2008


If you haven’t read World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks, you are missing out. It has everything. Desperate battles, the near-annihilation of the human race, and, of course, zombies. World War Z is the book I recommend to every red-blooded male between the ages of 18 and 40. But when those same males inevitably return to the store looking for more of the same, I’ve always been at something of a loss. There’s nothing else quite like World War Z… luckily Eve has come to our rescue with:

Top 5 Books to Read if You’re Undead

1. The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead, Max Brooks
2. Empire: A Zombie Novel, David Dunwoody
3. Down the Road: A Zombie Horror Story, Bowie Ibarra
4. Plague of the Dead: The Morningstar Strain, Z. A. Recht
5. Dying to Live, Kim Paffenroth


Saturday, December 6, 2008

Top 5 Books to Re-read and Re-discover

When I first read The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, I was about 14 years old. Reading the book, I couldn’t stop myself from thinking that finally, somebody got me. Only Holden Caulfield understood how phony the rest of the world was, and he recognized how I loved my family even while I wanted to break away from them. That narrator – he was a genius.

It wasn’t until I re-read the book in college that I realized just how messed up I was as an adolescent. Holden suddenly seemed like one of the whiniest characters to ever live. He was spoiled rotten and couldn’t appreciate everything he’d been given. I was horrified that I had identified so closely with a character that was nothing like me. At least, nothing like me now.

Every time you read a book, it hits you differently. People change, and they discover different aspects to works of great literature every time they re-read them. According to Stephanie in accounts payable, these are her favorite books to read over and over again.

Top 5 Books to Reread and Rediscover

1. The Stand, Stephen King
2. Outlander, Diana Gabaldon
3. Swan Song, Robert McCammon
4. The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
5. Sunshine, Robin McKinley


Friday, December 5, 2008

Top 5 Graphic Novels

I never read comic books when I was a kid. I didn’t have a brother and the boys on my street were more interested in video games than serials. Truthfully, it wasn’t a genre I knew anything about until I turned twelve. During an exploration of my Grandmother’s house, I discovered my father’s childhood collection of The Green Lantern.

Over the years, my love for the genre has changed. After a lot of reading, a stint working at Newbury Comics, and even a Comics as Literature course in college, I’ve realized that graphic novels appeal to everyone. After all, when you boil it down, it’s really just a great story set to art. If you know someone who loves comics or if you’d just like to rekindle a childhood addiction, here are some options for the more mature set.

Top 5 comix to make you wish you'd never given up comic books

1. La Perdida, Jessica Abel
2. Shortcomings, Adrian Tomine
3. Pocket Full of Rain, Jason
4. Pitch Black, Youme Landowne
5. Ordinary Victories, Manu Larcenet

As a bonus, there are a few books worth reading about comix and graphic novels. Check out the winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon, the soon-to-be released Dream City by Brendan Short, and, a non-fiction option, The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America by David Hajdu.


Friday, November 28, 2008

Top 5 Cookbooks for the Impossible Child

I pride myself on being an experimental chef – I rarely make the same thing twice, and I frequently don’t need recipes. I inherited this trait, in part, from my mother. Growing up, she would experiment with all kinds of exotic, healthy foods. I grew up eating tofu, drinking soymilk, and knowing that whether you called it a chickpea or a garbanzo, it was disgusting. This early level of experimentation, however, led to some unforeseen backlash. I went into culinary withdrawal when I was about five years old, and for two full years, refused to eat anything other than peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

I don’t pretend to be a nutritional expert, but I do believe this must have had adverse effects on my physical development. Perhaps that is this why I stand an Amazonian 5’2” with bare feet. At the very least, it put me off peanut butter for what may prove to be the rest of my life. Which is why it is so important to have your kids eat healthy foods – but also to teach them to love them. Our staffer Eve – resident mom and children’s expert – submitted the following list of some of her favorite cookbooks to get kids eating right.

Top 5 Cookbooks for the Impossible Child

1. Deceptively Delicious, Jessica Seinfeld

2. The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids’ Favorite Meals, Missy Chase Lapine

3. DK Healthy Cooking for Kids: 50 Fun Recipe Cards

4. Healthy Lunchboxes for Kids, Amanda Grant

5. One Bite Won’t Kill You: More than 200 Recipes to Tempt Even the Pickiest Kids on Earth, Ann Hodgman


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Top 5 Solutions to Your Holiday Woes

The holidays are coming, and sometimes it’s nearly impossible to find the perfect gift. Luckily, there’s a book out there for everyone – even the people on your shopping list who hate to read. We’ve asked our staffers – who probably read more than they should – to give us some input about their favorite books. Until the holidays (and possibly a bit beyond), we’re going to publish their suggestions regularly. Check back to find out what the experts have to say about the best books on a variety of subjects – everything from cooking to zombies.

If you want to avoid the maddening crowds at the mall this Black Friday, head over to see us instead. You can get all of your holiday shopping done right here in our plaza, and we want to help you. The hoodlums at Hoodlums Music & Movies are joining in the fun and making some Top 5 Lists of their own – you can find more information about that here. Then join us in the Changing Hands community room at 6:00 p.m. on Friday, November 28 for a free screening of one of the greatest books-turned-movies of all time -- High Fidelity. We’ll talk about some of the hot new titles coming out for this gift-giving season, too.

In honor of movie night:

Top 5 Books That Actually Became Good Movies

1) High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

2) Thank You for Smoking, Christopher Buckley

3) A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

4) Oil! by Upton Sinclair

5) No Country for Old Men by Cormac Mccarthy


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Download and Fold Your Own Poe

A little Halloween folding fun from Paper Toyz. Download E.A. Coobie by Goobeetsa here.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Fending Off the Offseason

“All literary men are Red Sox fans. To be a Yankee fan in literary society is to endanger your life.” - John Cheever

Arizona has become baseball country. The Diamondbacks have been competitive since their inception eleven years ago, and they’re finally drawing a respectable crowd. With the Cincinnati Reds slated to move Spring Training to Goodyear in 2010, we’ll officially split the pre-season with Florida. Glendale even lured the Dodgers away from their very own Dodgertown! Living in Phoenix, I should be in baseball heaven.

So why doesn’t it feel quite right?

I think the problem is that I grew up just outside Boston, Massachusetts. In Boston, a Red Sox hat is appropriate attire for school, a job interview, or your aunt’s wedding. The elements themselves united to challenge your fan-love. Through June, you were practically guaranteed freezing drizzle. July and August? Humidity that would drown the average desert-dweller. And by the time September and October came along, there was a decent chance you would need mittens. If you had season tickets in Boston, you would be allowed to test your mettle against every type of weather. But did we complain? Yes -- bitterly. You could hear almost as much whining in the stands as cheering. But we went anyway, dammit, and we enjoyed it.

It wasn’t just the weather, it was the stadium itself. The seats were more compacted than a car towed from Yawkey Way. It wasn’t until 2002 that the trough was replaced with urinals in the men’s bathroom. As some of my friends noted, there was an almost perpetual stench lingering over the park. But it was Fenway, and Red Sox fans united in fighting for its preservation. We weren’t just fighting for a ballpark, we were fighting for character and history. Fenway would never need a giveaway day, a sign begging for applause, or any concession to fans other than a rendition of “Dirty Water” played over the loudspeaker. The Sox have sold out more than 400 consecutive games, and in addition to the 37,000 fans inside the park, 50,000 more are lining the streets. So while I like the comfortable seats and well-manicured corridors of Chase Field, I find I miss feeling like my ballpark is held together by chewing gum and dreams. I miss rooting for a team that doesn’t have to resort to a gyrating bobcat and fancy graphic design to get the fans on their feet.

The other night, white-knuckled watching the Sox try to force Game 7 of the ALCS, a thought hit me like a wild pitch: I was unready for the season to end. What would I do with my Saturday afternoons? How else could I justify eating a giant sack of kettle corn for dinner? When else would fashion sense allow me to wear a matching hat, shirt and baseball-stitched bracelet? I decided to compile a list of my favorite baseball books (and some I’ve just been meaning to read) to be sure I could sustain myself through the long, cold baseball-free months.

1. Shut Out, Howard Bryant
2. The Soul of Baseball, Joe Posnanski
3. The Teammates: A Portrait of a Friendship, David Halberstam
4. The Wrong Stuff, Bill Lee
5. Ball Four, Jim Bouton
6. Eight Men Out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series, Eliot Asinof
7. The Duke of Havana: Baseball, Cuba, and the Search for the American Dream, Steve Fainaru and Ray Sanchez

8. Baseball: A Literary Anthology, Nicholas Dawidoff
9. The Natural, Bernard Malamud
10. Shoeless Joe, W. P. Kinsella

11. Baseball: 365 Days of Color Photographs from the Archives of Major League Baseball, Joseph Wallace
12. Baseball’s Golden Age: The Photographs of Charles M. Conlon, Neal and Constance McCabe
13. Grand Old Game: 365 Days of Baseball, Joseph Wallace
14. 100 Baseball Icons: From the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Terry
Hefferman, Kit Hinrichs and Delphine Hirasuna

15. We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball, Nelson Kadir

Sunday, October 5, 2008

See Live Humans Read!

The Twin Hickory Public Library celebrated Banned Books Week with a cross between a living museum diorama and a carnival side show. Volunteers sat in the display and read banned or challenged books while trying, I suspect, not to appear self-conscious. Or fall asleep.


(Via boingboing.)

Friday, October 3, 2008

Almond Joy

Last Saturday, writer Steve Almond appeared at the bookstore to give a reading. It’s an event that I anticipated with a level of glee that threatened my studied facade of literary snob detachment. I had to school myself to avoid unflattering comparisons to thirteen-year-old girls at their first Avril Lavigne concert. Which is why I determined not to blog about the event: I wanted to avoid looking like a sycophantic fan-girl.

Why then, you might ask, am I blogging about it now? I’m getting there.

I’ll come clean: my adoration of Steve Almond has little to do with his writing, even though I thoroughly endorse his work. My devotion is the result of living in Boston in 2006, when he made the kind of stand that most of us only fantasize about. Boston College had invited Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to be their commencement speaker that year, and Almond responded by resigning his post as adjunct professor of English. He did so publicly, in an editorial that was published in the Boston Globe. And Boston -- nay, the nation -- exploded. Was it because they were so supportive of Condoleezza Rice? Polling numbers would indicate otherwise. I suspect it has more to do with Almond’s blatant disregard for his financial security or popularity: a stance I applauded even as I wrote aggressively pandering publicity pieces to pay my rent. In short, Steve Almond boasted the balls I wished desperately to grow.

I also admired him for his ability to withstand the brainwashing that seems to overwhelm everyone who comes into contact with Boston College. I personally have encountered more than one BC alumna who received a gift of breast implants upon matriculation. Allow that to sink in for a moment: their parents actually bestowed heaving, silicone-infused bosoms to their daughters to reward -- wait for it -- their hard work and intelligence. I saw brilliant girls attending BC become more concerned about Coach purses than, well, Condoleezza Rice’s official title or job performance.

Almond’s in-store appearance was everything I dreamed it could be. He ranted and mocked his audience, he elicited complaints from passersby, and he came with the New Times' recently retired Booze Pig, Colin Redding, who brought delicious, complimentary chocolate from Granny’s Chocolate Creations. I embarrassed myself by losing nerve and failing to ask an insightful question, then choked on my own tongue when I asked him to sign the books I had brought along. It was like a fairytale.

But this week, reading my freshly autographed copy of Not That You Asked, I came upon his rant “Blog Love,” in which he analyzes the role of the literary blog. In a rare moment of diplomacy, he is careful not to condemn all blogs. But he asks the basic question -- why do they exist at all? What is the purpose? Comparing himself to literary blogger and outspoken Almond critic Mark Sarvas, he writes “We both face the same doomed task: to write in an era that has turned away from the written word.”

Is this what this blog is for? A last stand against the inevitable demise of literature as we know it?

Or is it simply a forum for me to reveal the deep, abiding fan-love that ensures I will never be cool?


Monday, September 29, 2008

From the Ashes

Over a year ago Gayle and I were invited to dinner at the home of some friends. There we were introduced to Steve and Elizabeth Wiley, friends of our friends from across the street. In the course of the evening we listened with great interest to the story of Steve and his partner Kristian's music and DVD store, which had been located in the ASU Memorial Union until a fire on November 1, 2007. Having served the community for nine years, and having developed a large and enthusiastic customer base and strong ties to the local indie music scene, the guys from Hoodlums were eager to find a new home for their shop. Even with an established track record and a mailing list of loyal customers awaiting their reopening, it was crucial to heed the old dictum that the three most important factors in retail success are location, location and location. Fortunately, this story has a happy ending:

"We would head to the southeast corner of Guadalupe and McClintock just to go to Changing Hands — or Trader Joe's, or China Max, or even Baskin-Robbins, but now we're happy to report we have yet another reason to hit the south Tempe strip mall. Hoodlums, the record store smoked out of the Memorial Union at ASU by a recent fire, is graduating to a spot just a couple doors down from Changing Hands. Now we can shop for books and music, and we're looking forward to joint projects from the two businesses, like a recent event featuring the author of 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die. We like the sound of that!"


Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Sorted Books Project

I love this. Carefully arranged "book clusters" from artist Nina Katchadourian's Sorted Books project. From private homes to public libraries, the curatorial process is the same: "[C]ulling through a collection of books, pulling particular titles, and eventually grouping the books into clusters so that the titles can be read in sequence, from top to bottom."

The results can be touchy-feely:

Lifetime Movie of the Week-y:

Lear on the heath-y:

Or Steven Spielberg-y, circa 1975. Cue the ominous cello music:

See more of the Sorted Books project here.


Friday, September 26, 2008

1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die

Tom Moon, longtime critic and music aficionado extraordinaire, has committed a cardinal sin. It might not be listed on any stone tablet, but its confession managed to make an entire audience of audiophiles groan collectively -- something even a reference to Britney Spears can rarely do. Moon admitted, with a lamentation and an imp-like grin, that he had sacrificed his entire collection of vinyl records because he couldn’t bear the thought of moving them any longer. The crowd assembled at the bookstore Wednesday night shuddered, and time stood still.

Sitting in the front row of the audience, my dog-eared and be-noted copy of his new book, 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die, perched neatly on my lap, I had to concentrate to stop my face from twisting into an expression of appalled alarm. It was like learning that Dr. Spock had slaughtered a child to avoid carrying a diaper bag. I thought of the LPs I myself own, swaddled in plastic sleeves and alphabetized in their very own book case. The records that I had wrapped individually before trucking them from Quincy, Massachusetts to Tempe, Arizona. I clutched my book to keep from wrestling away the microphone and initiating some rambling, lunatic rant about the warm tones of vinyl versus the tomb-cold sound of a CD or mp3. I counted to ten, and reminded myself that I could possibly use a vacation and a therapist to fit into polite society.

Truthfully, I was more surprised by the admission than anything else. The scope of Moon’s taste is something everyone should strive for, and he’s composed a truly egalitarian book. Not only does he include classical compositions, but rock, jazz, blues, opera, hip-hop, and an expansive variety of international artists. His passion for his trade is evident before you’ve read beyond the book's introduction, and his status as an expert grows with each successive entry. Even if he did listen to most of the recordings through the static, finite waves of digital recording, it’s clear he has done his research. Research that is invaluable for music fans of all levels of intensity, because it can spark an interest in a genre or artist you’ve never heard of before.

After the event, at the newly reopened Hoodlums Music & Movies, I mentioned some of the missteps I made during my musical education. There will always be a soft spot in my heart for the B-52s, who are responsible for the first album I ever owned. I’ll always have a little love for Led Zeppelin’s filler-flooded Presence, an album I assumed was good during my formative years because every record store had so many used copies on hand. I’m not embarrassed by those admissions; they were some of the first recordings I loved and they inspired a passion for music. But for those of us who need a bit of guidance from time to time, this book is the kind of resource that could help a kid choose Led Zeppelin II instead. Best of all, Hoodlums has decided to aid the education process by offering a 10% discount on all 1,000 recordings.


Cross-posted at staticandfeedback.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Winner Is

I arrived at the bookstore this morning and found a copy of the just-released New Times "Best of Phoenix" awards on my desk. After blinking for a moment at the issue's befuddling cover and then thumbing past citations for "Best Bathroom" (Geisha A Go Go), "Best Place to Dress Like a Freak" (Easley's Fun Shop), "Best Local Law Firm Commercials" (Lerner & Rowe), and my personal favorite, "Best Bygone Theme Park" (Legend City, where I once barfed on the Krazy Kups), I discovered that Changing Hands has again won the award for "Best Bookstore."

Here's the entry:

Bookstores may be a dime a dozen (the way novels used to be), but there's something priceless about Changing Hands Bookstore, the independently owned Tempe shop that's become a Valley destination for book lovers, shopaholics, and DIY types. Along with a stunning selection of new and used reads -- many displayed with insightful comments from bibliophile employees -- Changing Hands hosts more public speaking events and book-signings than any other bookstore in the Valley.

Renowned physicist Michio Kaku and bestselling author Stephenie Meyer are just two big names to make recent appearances. In addition, there's a multitude of other interesting events on the Changing Hands calendar, from writing workshops and crafting groups to toddler-parent yoga. Besides books, the gift section has a well-edited variety of quirky finds.

Who can resist a crisp new journal, some exotic incense, or maybe a goofy Blackbeard action figure? Every aisle here is full of temptation. And as a bonus, you can waltz right into Wildflower Bread Co. when you're ready to sip some espresso and ogle the goodies you just bought. We'd probably live at Changing Hands if we could, but then they might just put us to work.

And lest you think the good folks at New Times are -- to borrow a phrase from a certain local presidential nominee -- "in the tank" for Changing Hands, consider this: We also won the Readers' Choice award.

A million thanks to New Times for the award love, and to our customers for voting us into the top spot again this year.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Rhyme Without Reason: Or, £70 and a Butt of Sack

British poet laureate Andrew Motion told an audience at the Ealing Arts Festival in London this month that the Queen has given him writer’s block. "The job has been very, very damaging to my writing," Motion said. "In fact, I dried up completely about five years ago and can’t write anything except to commission."

Unlike Motion's American counterpart, the British poet laureate is responsible not only for promoting poetry generally but for composing original verse for ceremonial occasions, including royal weddings, birthdays, and funerals -- poems the Queen barely acknowledges, much less appreciates. According to Motion, "The job has been incredibly difficult and entirely thankless. The Queen never gives me an opinion on my work for her."

Making matters worse, the job pays peanuts. Or rather, it pays £70 annually and a “butt of sack,” or barrel of Spanish wine. (Fun fact: during his tenure, Motion negotiated a stipend increase to £5,000 annually and a crate, not a barrel, of the coveted Spanish hooch. Coopers everywhere dropped their bung-borers and bilge hoops in disgust.)

Motion, whose fellow laureates include Ben Johnson, William Wordsworth, Alfred Tennyson and, more recently, Ted Hughes, will resign next year from the lifetime appointment. "I thought the poetry had all gone," he said to his London audience, "but I feel some of it is still there and may yet return."

I hope so. Reading the self-described "rap-style" tribute Motion cobbled together for Prince William’s twenty-first birthday, one gets the feeling that the poor man can’t scale the wall, or dog-paddle the moat, or leap from the Queen's dank tower quickly enough:
Better stand back
Here’s an age attack,
But the second in line
Is dealing with it fine.

It's a threshold, a gateway,
A landmark birthday;
It's a turning of the page,
A coming of age.

It's a day to celebrate,
A destiny, a fate;
It's a taking to the wing,
A future thing.

Better stand back
Here's an age attack,
But the second in line
Is dealing with it fine.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Making Books, Old School

I agree with William Smith at Hang Fire Books. This 1947 Encyclopedia Britannica video on book-making brings together some of my favorite things: books, more terrifying metal than my own CD collection (in which King Diamond and Slayer figure prominently), and a work environment hazardous enough to give an OSHA inspector a cerebral hemorrhage.

And the best part? The voice-over actor’s cloying, Jiminy Cricket-like narration of the printing and binding process. He begins:
“This man is an author. He writes stories. He has just finished writing a story. He thinks many people will like to read it. So he must have the story made into a book. Let’s see how the book is made!”

Friday, September 19, 2008

Infinite Rest

My copy of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest weighs three pounds and contains 981 pages of narrative, 96 pages of "Notes and Errata," and plenty of exhaustingly long sentences. Even the simplest synopsis of plot shows its absurdity. The novel follows the kids at Enfield Tennis Academy, who face the standard pressures of growing up, along with twice-a-day tennis practices and preparations for the Whataburger Invitational. It portrays the struggles of a large and ridiculous cast of characters living in Ennet House, a drug and alcohol rehab facility located down a hill from Enfield, as they make varying degrees of effort to put their lives back together. And it recounts the attempts of a wheelchair-bound group of Quebecois separatists who try to take over the whole of the North American continent by disseminating copies of the illegal film "Infinite Jest," a movie believed to be so entertaining that anyone who watches it is immediately transformed into a drooling, incapacitated vegetable.

Wallace sets his novel in an imagined future in which corporations purchase the rights to time itself (Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment, Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar, Year of Glad). The American president is a jazz-standard crooner named Johnny Gentle. The book was written in 1996, and reading it more than a decade later I'm hit with the unnerving feeling that this imagined future doesn't seem as preposterous as it probably should.

I've been reading Infinite Jest for about a year and a half now. I've taken many breaks, some of which were really long. I didn't pick up the book for four months when I was finishing my last semester of college, and I've been tempted many times to put it aside in order to read something else. Still, now that my bookmark (which is a big, sturdy postcard I bought in Chicago, because the book is massive) sits fifty pages from the end of the novel, I'm sad I can't say I got the book under my belt before hearing the news of Wallace's death at age 46. I'll have to read the last fifty pages with the knowledge of his suicide, which will probably cast a sad shadow over the end of a book that is frustrating and exhausting less often than it is hilarious, very entertaining, and genuinely moving.

David Foster Wallace's death is a big loss for bookstores and book fans everywhere. For me, reading his writing is not only fun but helpful in navigating a very weird world. When I read Wallace I'm exposed to insights I would never acquire on my own. These insights exist not only in Infinite Jest but in his considerable body of other work: his three story collections (the most recent of which is Oblivion), his two essay collections (A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again and Consider the Lobster), and his first novel, The Broom of the System.

Luckily for all of us, his work will be around forever.


KCRW's Michael Silverblatt this week hosted a special edition of Politics of Culture with book critic Anthony Miller. It's a moving tribute in which they discuss Wallace's impact on fiction, his generation, and American culture. Listen here.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Idiot Girl Goes Postal

I emailed author Laurie Notaro last week to see if she could sign some books for a fan who was unable to attend her recent event here at Changing Hands (for Laurie's story collection The Idiot Girl and the Flaming Tantrum of Death). Her response was just too weird and wonderful to keep to myself. Here's our exchange, reproduced with Laurie's permission, of course:

Ooooh, potential disaster looming. Going to the post office is a HUGE pain in the ass for me, mainly because 1) I've been banned from the one closest to me and 2) standing in line behind Eugene people is a testament to witnessing vast amounts of stupidity, self-absorbency and essentially not understanding the basic principles on which the world works. I can't stand going there, and what will happen is that you will send me the package, and it will sit on my coffee table for weeks until you send me a nudging but nice email reminding me to send it out. I will still forget. You'll send me another note, I'll forget again, and it will go on this way until you are no longer speaking to me and I sure don't want that to happen.

So I will send you some bookplates, I'll sign them with whatever the lady wants, and as an added bonus for not being able to go to the post office, I'll send her stickers, magnets and an Idiot Girls membership card (which, by the way, is laminated).

I'm serious. If you send these to me, I will flake on you. Not intentionally, but it will happen. I am horrible at these things; it is a huge flaw and I admit it. If I can get this in the mail today, I will not flake on you. So...send me her name, what she wants me to write, how many, and I'll get them out.

Thanks, Laurie. By the way, why did you get banned from the post office?

When the price of stamps went up a couple of years ago, I went to the closest branch (it's in a crap store, like a Walgreens, but full of crap, floor to ceiling crap, crap like glass unicorns, balloons, Pyrex dishes and packages of fake poo. And candy. LOTS of stale candy. It's like the place where all old candy comes to completely decompose). I waited in line behind a zillion Eugenians who like to round out every money exchanging transaction with a nice, pointless conversation about a) are Disney stamps more expensive than regular stamps? b) what is the difference between a book of stamps and a sheet of stamps? and c) if they write a check, can they write it over the amount and get seven dollars and forty-two cents back? I was there for basically an entire afternoon and when it was finally my turn, I asked for 400 one-cent stamps. The post office lady looked at me like I had just called her a dirty whore. She actually gasped. "Oh no," she told me. "I can't give you that."

So I replied, "Oh, you don't have 400?"

And she said, "No, I do, but if I give you 400, there won't be any left for the next person who wants one-cent stamps."

And I replied, "Well, I'm not very concerned about that. I have to mail out 400 envelopes."

And she continued, "Well, you can't take them all for yourself! Someone else might need some and if I give them all to you, then I have to order more. And then I wait and wait for one-cent stamps because the post office is slow in sending them."

And I tried to reason: "What does it matter if I take all 400, or if I take two hundred and the guy behind me then asks for two hundred? You'll still have to order them."

And then she got surly and said, "No. I won't do it. I'll give you 200 and that's all. You can't have them all."

So I got the 200, and I was PISSED.

So the next day, I went back, waiting in line for a good portion of my life, and when I got up to the counter I asked for 200 one-cent stamps.

Then she got pissed. "I give you 100," she warned me, and then she pointed her finger at me and said, "Don't you come back. Never come back."

I didn't go back for a year, but the other post office is farther away, so I would make my husband take stuff down there or I'd go to UPS. Finally, I took the chance and she let me mail one package, then another a couple months later, and another. The last time I was there I told her her wrist tattoo was pretty, but I think she could tell I didn't mean it. We're working on our relationship, I guess. Turns out her husband owns the crap store, which answers lot of questions for me. We're taking it slow, and that's why I don't go there too often.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages

Over the course of an average day here at the bookstore, I'm reminded of how specified books have become. A survival guide for shopping at Costco? Check. A pictorial of the most preposterous tattoos ever inked? Check! How about guidelines for healing your dog through the ancient art of Reiki? Of course, check. I suppose the lesson to be learned is that there is a book suitable for every inclination, no matter how obscure. Perhaps I should not have been so shocked, then, to have found myself shelving a book that was clearly marketed towards me. Regardless, when I discovered that Ammon Shea had written Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages, it was unnervingly like catching someone peering through my bedroom window.

There is something I have always loved about underused academic lingo. I drop the word palimpsest into casual conversation. I've been known to correct people who misuse "blowzy." When a customer once asked me for a book on numismatics, I took undue pleasure in being able to lead him to our section on coin collecting. And while I recognize that there is something undeniably pretentious about such behavior, I have come to accept that it's one of those personality flaws I'll have to live with. I write with a fountain pen, too. A little pretension comes with the territory.

In a childhood attempt to be able to communicate with my obnoxiously educated father, I frequently read the Oxford Pocket Dictionary on the sly. But my dabbling in linguistics is nothing compared to Shea's completion of the full 20 volumes of the OED. Over the course of one year, the man sat down and read each and every entry; a feat he recounts with apparent good humor and self-deprecation. This is a man who risked physical health, sanity, and cohabitational tranquility for a hobby. What concerns me most about the book, however, is that my first response was one of approval, rather than alarm or ridicule. It was a reaction that allowed me to understand that my passing interest in wordplay might someday be more – I was staring down the barrel of my future midlife crisis. Later that day someone sold a Navajo dictionary into the store, and it was only the image of my looming mortgage bill that prevented me from emptying my bank account. It is, I realized, a steep and slippery slope.

I have not yet read Reading the OED, despite the fact that it has received glowing reviews from both the New York Times and the Arizona Republic. It is inevitable that I will, and I'm fairly certain I'll enjoy it. But until I feel that I can safely delve into its pages without yearning to replicate the experiment, perhaps I had better stick to something a little more benign.


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