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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