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A blog from Broadway Books: A great little bookstore with great big service.

Updated: 2017-02-08T20:46:53.686-08:00


Ann Patchett: My Hero


I'm sure most of you are familiar with Ann Patchett the author. She has written several well-loved books, including Bel Canto, Taft, and her most recent, State of Wonder. But did you know that she is also Ann Patchett the independent bookseller and, sort of by accident, Ann Patchett the spokesperson for independent booksellers everywhere?

When the last general independent bookstore closed in Nashville, her hometown, Ms Patchett and her business partner (former Random House rep Karen Hayes) started their own: Parnassus Books. When an author of such high recognition opens a bookstore, it makes news, and Ms Patchett has been all over the media. If you haven't yet read the article she wrote for the December issue of The Atlantic, I encourage you to read it.

I love just about everything she wrote in her essay, but I was particularly moved by this passage: "Maybe we just got lucky. But this luck makes me believe that changing the course of the corporate world is possible. Amazon doesn't get to make all the decisions; the people can make them, by choosing how and where they spend their money. If what a bookstore offers matters to you, then shop at a bookstore. If you feel that the experience of reading a book is valuable, then read a book. This is how we change the world: We grab hold of it. We change ourselves." Ooooh, it still gives me goosebumps - especially the part about Amazon not getting to make all the decisions.

Last year I had the pleasure of attending a conference at which Ms Patchett spoke. She was so moving and inspirational I thought, "I need to  open a bookstore right this minute," and then I remembered I already have one. I have never felt prouder than I did at that moment.

Day 24: A Look at Saudi Arabia


It's finally here: the last day in our 24 Days of Books. Day 24. Christmas Eve. We've talked about a lot of books this month -- a little bit of everything. I'm guessing you deduced that the blog posts were written by more than one person: Sally McPherson (the every-day blogger), Roberta Dyer, Kate Bennison, and Joanna Rose. (Either you figured it out or you thought they were being written by one twisted, multi-personality bookseller.)  I resolve to write more book posts in 2013 on a regular basis, rather than saving the bulk of them up for the time of year when we're all likely to be the busiest. But, what the heck; it adds a little extra juice to the month.I had a hard time thinking about which book to tell you about today. I considered I Could Pee on This: And Other Poems by Cats, but those are selling like hotcakes without a mention here (the perfect stocking stuffer). I thought about writing about Lidia Yuknavitch's new novel Dora: A Headcase, but everyone seems to know about that already as well. (By the way, let me just say that I think a wrapped set of Dora with Lidia's award-winning memoir The Chronology of Water would make a incredibly thoughtful gift.)I considered Standing at the Water's Edge: Bob Straub's Battle for the Soul of Oregon, a new biography that I will be taking on vacation with me next month on the personal recommendation of one of my biggest idols: former Oregon governor Barbara Roberts.But instead I decided to go with another paired set of reading: two perspectives on Saudia Arabia and it's people, one nonfiction and one fiction.On Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines - And Future, is written by Karen Ellott House, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has been visiting the kingdom for more than 30 years. Saudia Arabia is a country of great importance to the world, but one that most people know little about, one of the last absolute monarchies in the world. Or, as The New York Times described it in its review of House's book: "It’s not Mars, exactly, but for most Americans Saudi Arabia is probably more like another world than any other inhabited part of this one. It is about as distinct from the freewheeling United States as a country can be."In her book, House examines Saudi Arabia not only through her interviews with most of the key members of the royal family, but, more importantly, through the lives of countless individuals -- men and women, in villages and in cities, conservative Muslims and modern reformers, young and old. This book is an authoritative, illuminating, riveting inside look at a country that could well be on the brink, and what that portends for Saudi Arabia's future -- and for our own. Here are some comments from reviews of House's book:Zbigniew Brzezinski: "It exposes incisively and dispassionately the social contradictions and the potential political vulnerabilities of contemporary Saudi Arabia. A timely and truly important book."Henry Kissinger: "An engaging and lucid exploration of Saudi politics and culture . . . recommended reading for all those seeking a new perspective on one of the world's most consequential societies."   Tina Brown: "One of the most revealing and impressively reported books I read this year. Karen Elliot House’s 30-plus years’ experience in one of the least accessible countries makes us see, hear, and experience Saudi Arabia like a local."For a fictional perspective on this country, I offer up the newest from Dave Eggers: A Hologram for the King,  a finalist for this year's National Book Award for fiction and recently named one of the top five fiction titles of the year by The New York Times. His novel centers on 54-year-old Alan Clay, a struggling American business and a bit of a sadsack in a rising Saudi Arabian city, pursuing a last-ditch attempt to stave off foreclosure, pay his daughter's college tuition, and finally do something great.The book has been called a "heartbreaking character study" and a "deft and darkly comic novel," a sort of "moral vision quest." Pico[...]

Day 23: Help Thanks Wow. Really. We Mean It


Welcome to Day 23 in our 24 Days of Books. We're down to the second to last day! Although I do not consider myself a spiritual person and gave up the church of my parents forty years ago, there is a small handful of “religious” writers that I consistently read. At the top of this list is Anne Lamott. She is a Christian writer whose thousands of avid fans include many readers who are not.

Because she is such a good writer, I suspect I would read Ms. Lamott’s books were she to write about ice fishing or Tuvan throat singing or the import/export business in Chad. I would read her sports columns if she wrote them. I would read her first drafts, which she says are horrible. I would not dare to read her diary, but I most certainly would read her grocery list. Her writing has helped me through early parenthood and tough times. She has helped me with my own writing. She has made me snort-laugh out loud more than most humorists who are trying way harder than she is to elicit laughter. And whether I am reading her fiction or her essays, I always feel that I am in good hands.

Ms. Lamott’s new book is a slim but timely volume titled Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers ($17.95, Riverhead Books). Her thesis is that all “prayer” – and she defines this term very, very loosely – boils down to one of the three simple words in the title.

The definition of prayer that Ms. Lamott uses transcends religious differences or ideology. Prayer is “certainly not what TV Christians mean. It’s not for display purposes….Prayer is private, even when we pray with others. It is communication from the heart to that which surpasses understanding.”  And, she adds, “Let’s not get bogged down on whom or what we pray to….to the animating energy we are sometimes bold enough to believe in; to something unimaginably big, and not us.” Although I might personally quibble with the “not us” part of her definition, I might just change it slightly for myself to say “not me."

So, the three prayers are rather self-explanatory, I think. Help me. Thank you. Wow, that is awesome.

These three thoughts (call them prayers if you want) will carry us a long way.  It’s the season for all of them.  Help is something we all need when we are struggling alone or together with doubt, hardship, loneliness, suffering, or tragedy – and there is too much of that going around lately. Thanks is especially felt at this time of year but applies to every single day of our lives that we have food and shelter. And Wow:  I am reminded of Steve Jobs’ last words: Oh Wow. Oh Wow. Oh Wow.

It’s telling that we have a little trouble figuring out where to shelve this book in the store. It doesn’t fit neatly into Christianity or Judaism or Eastern Religions, which are the three distinct sections for religion that a small store such as ours has. Neither does it strictly adhere to the Psychology shelf, or Essays, or Personal Memoir. Right now we are solving the problem by stacking it up on the front table, where we put our favorite new nonfiction. And as fast as we stack it, we sell it. Shall we hold one for you?

Day 22: Superb Stories from Women


Welcome to Day 22 in our 24 Days of Books. While there are lots of great new books out from well-respected male novelists this year (Tom Wolfe, Ian McEwan, Michael Connelly, Junot Diaz, Martin Amis, John Banville, to name just a few), it's a rocking fall for great novels from female writers. Here are a few that particularly stood out to us:  [...]

Day 21: The End of Your Life Book Club


Wow. It's Friday, which means Christmas is only a few days away, and means it's Day 21 in our 24 Days of Books. One of my favorite books of the season -- and one of the most touching and inspirational (which sounds way smarmier than the book is)  --  is the true story of a son and his mother who start a “book club” that brings them together as her life comes to a close. The End of Your Life Book Club ($25; Knopf), by Will Schwalbe, tells the story of the time he spent with his mother at the end of her life -- his mother’s last days through the prism of the things they read togetherMary Anne Schwalbe had been a passionate, active woman; she maintained her passions to the end. She had a successful career in education, eventually becoming the director of admissions at Radcliffe and then Harvard. In her 50s, she discovered the cause of refugees, and she devoted the rest of her life to that cause, traveling all over the world -- Bosnia, Liberia, Monrovia, Laos, etc. She was the founding director of what is now known as The Women's Refugee Commission.As an ardent believer in education and in reading, one of her final goals was to help raise money for a national library and cultural center at Kabul University, as well as for traveling libraries to reach remote villages throughout Afghanistan. (Today, the main library building is almost finished, and there are nearly 200 libraries across all 34 provinces.)When Mary Anne was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, her husband and children were actively involved in her treatment. Will started accompanying his mother to her chemo treatments. Because they were both ardent readers, Will usually started their conversations with a natural question: "What are you reading?" Mary Anne underwent treatment for almost two years, so what evolved was a sort of mother-son book club.Talking about books allowed them to talk about tough issues that they might not have otherwise been able to talk about. It wasn't about setting a reading agenda -- reading all the classics, for instance, or books on a certain subject -- but just reading books they wanted to read, for whatever reason, and talking about them. "Just because a book is selling zillions of copies and is enormously popular, that doesn’t mean there aren’t extraordinary things to be learned and gained from it. That education and inspiration can come from all different kinds of messengers....I really wanted to show how my mother and I talked about books, which is we’d talk about what was interesting to us in a book. It doesn’t have to be the best thing you ever read or the worst thing you ever read. It can just be interesting."  Schwalbe was in publishing for 21 years. During that time he saw a lot of great memoirs about people who had difficult times with their mothers. For him, however, this memoir is a celebration of his mother.At Hyperion, Schwalbe signed a book, The Last Lecture, written by a college professor who was dying of pancreatic cancer and wanted to leave something behind so his young children would have a way of knowing him. Schwalbe thought about sharing the manuscript with his mother, but he worried that perhaps the subject might be too close to her situation. So he just left the manuscript in her room and figured she would read it if she wanted to. She devoured it.Another book they read together was The Etiquette of Illness, by Susan Halpern, through which he learned not to ask "How are you feeling?" but rather "Do you want to talk about how you are feeling?" He learned that when you are spending time with someone who is ill or dying, it's not about what you say; it's about what you ask -- ask, and then truly listen -- and to check in more regularly, rather than waiting until something bad happens.Along the way, Schwalbe began writing a blog to keep friends updated on his mother's condition. But it also gave his mom a "mini platform" to get out what she wanted to say. "Don't forget to[...]

Day 20: Succeed in the Kitchen with Science


Welcome to Day 20 in our 24 Days of Books. Tick tock tick tock.... In a year when so many good cookbooks have been published, one merits our special attention due to its popularity with cooks across the country. I'm talking about Cook's Illustrated The Science of Good Cooking: Master 50 Simple Concepts to Enjoy a Lifetime of Success in the Kitchen ($40, America's Test Kitchen).Cook's Illustrated is one of our favorite magazines, and also one of our bestselling periodicals. It is renowned for its near-obsessive devotion to finding the very best way to cook a particular dish. Focusing on American home cooking and aimed at the home cook who wants to be the best possible cook she/he can be day after day after day, the magazine staff tests hundreds of recipes weekly, to discover which techniques work well and which don't.Besides recipes, the indefatigable chefs at Cook's Illustrated test and rate cookware, kitchen gadgets, and pantry staples. And they aren't afraid to say what they think.It's known as "the food geek's bible" for good reason. Cooking is an art, yes, but so much of what happens in the kitchen is science, and this magazine has been exploring the relationship between cooking and science for twenty years. As they say, good science makes good food. And good food doesn't have to be a mystery.This new book boils down tens of thousands of tests into fifty simple concepts that are guaranteed to make you a better cook, whether you are a novice in the kitchen or an old hand. Christopher Kimball, the bow-tied founder and publisher of Cook's Illustrated (which incidentally does not accept advertising to avoid any conflict of interest) is the relentless (in a good way) captain of this ship, and his personality and attention to detail steer the ship with a firm hand.Including 400 recipes that are "engineered to perfection," the nearly 500-page volume is organized around the fifty concepts. Each concept is explained in a section called "How the Science Works," and then the Test Kitchen experiments are described. Following that, the recipes! So, here are a few of the principles:Gentle Heat Prevents OvercookingFat Makes Eggs TenderAll Potatoes Are Not Created EqualVodka Makes Pie Dough EasyTwo Leaveners Are Often Better Than OneBesides the principles and recipes, this book also contains essays on the sciences of measuring, time and temperature, heat and cold, tools and ingredients, and much, much more.This is the perfect book for just about any cook on your list. As always you'll find many more great gift ideas in our Holiday Books guide, available at our store. We love more than anything helping you to find just the right gifts for the people on your list -- especially the hard-to-shop-for ones. Hope to see you soon! We'll be open til 9pm every day until Christmas, except for Sunday (7pm) and Christmas Eve (5pm), for your convenience. Publishers are already starting to run out of some of the hot titles of the year, so don't wait too long. [...]

Day 19: We Be Dancing Fools


It's Day 19 in our 24 Days of Books, and we feel like dancing all around the store. Wouldn't it be cool if you were just walking down NE Broadway and out of nowhere someone began dancing, I mean really dancing, when you least expected it? Wouldn't that make you smile? You probably wouldn't be able to help yourself. Even if you'd been feeling a little dour or grumpy (not that that ever happens to me), you wouldn't be able to hold back a happy turn-up of the lips, or perhaps even a guffaw.

So imagine a whole book of such things. That's what photographer Jordan Matter started by asking a member of the Paul Taylor Dance Company to dance for him in a place where dance is unexpected. So, dressed in a commuter's suit and tie, the dancer flew across a Times Square subway platform. And in that image Matter found what he'd been searching for: a way to express the feeling of being fully alive in the moment, unselfconscious, present.

Organized around themes of work, play, love, exploration, dreaming, and more, the book Dancers Among Us celebrates life in a way that's fresh, surprising, pure, and joyful. There's no photoshopping here, no trampolines, no gimmicks, no tricks. Just a photographer, his vision, and the serendipity of what happens when the shutter clicks. The book presents one thrilling photograph after another of dancers leaping, spinning, lifting, kicking, but in the midst of daily life: on the beach, at a construction site, in a library, a restaurant, a park. With each image, the reader feels more optimistic, elated even, eager to see the next bit of magic. One reviewer wrote: "I wonder, if we could see into people's souls, would we see them dancing just like this?" 

Jordan Matters's grandparents were a photographer and a painter, his parents a filmmaker and a model. He began his career as a baseball player, but after seeing a Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibit he started taking pictures as a hobby. His hobby turned into a passion, and soon into a career as a portrait photographer. His Dancers Among Us project continues on his website. Here's a taste of what the book has to offer:

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Day 18: We're Caught in a Spiral...


Today is Day 18 in our 24 Days of Books, and we're feeling a little playful. While we usually speak only of books (the series is, after all, called the 24 Days of Books), today we're going to tell you about something that's a book and an activity, all wrapped up in one package: The Klutz Spiral Draw.

When I was a kid, I used to love to play with my Spirograph, happily making designs for hours. Did you do that too? The geometric drawing toy was first developed by British engineer Denys Fisher. It has been a registered trademark of Hasbro, Inc., since that company bought the Denys Fisher company.

Now Klutz has developed a new spin on this classic drawing activity: Spiral Draw. With this kit, you can create one zillion designs. Really. I counted them. The package includes a 48-page book of instructions, inspiration, and wide open space for your own spiral expression; 4 see-through drawing wheels with more than 65 shapes; a spiral draw frame; and one six-color pen (yellow, pink, violet, blue, green, and black, for those of you dying to know).

The Spiral Draw box says it's for ages 8 and up, but I bet they're are plenty of kids older than 8 (my age, for instance, which is plenty older than 8) who would get a big kick out of this box o' fun. And you know how you find yourself at the last minute having to bring a present to a kid's holiday or birthday party? Keep a few of these in the closet for just those occasions. Or need a white elephant gift? (I bet this is the one that people will keep trading to get!) And it's under $20, so it should easily fall under your spending limit.

Klutz was incorporated in 1977 in Palo Alto, California, by three friends from Stanford University: an English major, a business major, and a psychology major. They began by selling sidewalk juggling lessons along with a trio of no-bounce bean bags. "We think people learn best through their hands, nose, feet, mouth and ears. Then their eyes. So we design multi-sensory books," says John Cassidy, the English major. The company's credo is "create wonderful things, be good, have fun." Sounds good to me. Klutz was acquired in 2002 by Scholastic Inc., the largest children's book publisher and distributor in the world.

As always, you'll find many more great gift ideas in our Holiday Books guide, available in our store. Hope to see you soon!

Day 17: Dancing with Calvin and Hobbes


Welcome to Day 17 of our 24 Days of Books. "Calvin and Hobbes" is unquestionably one of the most popular comic strips of all time -- and definitely one of my favorites. The imaginative world of a boy and his real-only-to-him tiger was first syndicated in 1985 and appeared in more than 2400 newspapers. Bill Watterson, the man behind the strip, retired on January 1, 1996, leaving many ardent followers (including me!) bereft. The entire body of "Calvin and Hobbes" cartoons is now available in four full-color paperback volumes in a sturdy slipcase: The Complete Calvin and Hobbes -- and it's only $100!!

Combining the richly conceived characters and efficient drawing of "Peanuts" with the visual virtuosity and linguistic playfulness of "Pogo" and "Krazy Kat," Watterson applied his intelligence and supple cartoon skills to come up with a creation beloved by millions who still mourn its passing.

As you probably already know, the strip featured a precocious and adventurous six-year-old boy, Calvin, and his sardonic stuffed tiger, Hobbes. Hobbes' dual nature is a defining motif for the strip: to Calvin, Hobbes is a live anthropomorphic tiger, while all the other characters in the cartoon strip see him as an inanimate stuffed toy. But did you know that the pair are named after John Calvin, 16th-century French Reformation theologian, and Thomas Hobbes, a 17th-century English political philosopher? Come to think of it, you probably did.

Bill Watterson was designing grocery ads, a job he detested, when he began devoting his spare time to cartooning, his true love. When asked how autobiographical the series was, he said, "I'd say the fictional and nonfictional aspects were pretty densely interwoven. While Calvin definitely reflects certain aspects of my personality, I never had imaginary animal friends, I generally stayed out of trouble, I did fairly well in school, etc., so the strip is not literally autobiographical. Often I used the strip to talk about things that interested me as an adult, and of course, a lot of Calvin's adventures were drawn simply because I thought the idea was funny. In any given strip, the amount of invention varied. Keep in mind that comic strips are typically written in a certain amount of panic, and I made it all up as I went along. I just wrote what I thought about."

Available for the first time in a paperback boxed set,  this is a treasure sure to create jubilation in all Calvin and Hobbes fans. And really, who isn't?

As always, you'll find many more great gift ideas in our Holiday Books guide, available in our store. Hope to see you soon!

Day 16: The Gift of Poetry


Welcome to Day 16 in our 24 Days of Books. What a wonderful gift a book of poetry makes; don't you agree? It seems there are always so many good collections from which to choose -- and we are especially blessed with so many lovely poets right in our own backyard. It's so hard to pick from the many wonderful collections at our fingertips, but here's just a few that come to mind.One of my favorite poets is Mary Oliver, so I'm thrilled that she has a new collection out in time for the holidays. And this isn't the first time I've mentioned in this blog the effect a beautiful cover has on me: a good cover doesn't always make for a good book, of course, but it draws the eye -- and how wonderful to display on your shelf!In her newest book, A Thousand Mornings, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet once again opens our eyes to the beauty of nature, exploring the mysteries of our daily experience and the transformative power of attention. Whether studying the leaves of a tree or mourning her adored dog, Percy, she is ever patient in her observations and open to the teachings contained in the smallest of moments.In an interview on NPR, Oliver said that her work has become more spiritual over the years, growing from her love of the poets who came before her and the natural world — but that she feels a great sorrow over humanity's lack of care for that world. "One thing I do know is that poetry, to be understood, must be clear," Oliver adds. "It mustn't be fancy. I have the feeling that a lot of poets writing now... sort of tap dance through it. I always feel that whatever isn't necessary shouldn't be in a poem."Another wonderful author -- one who fortunately for us lives right here in Portland -- with a new collection of poetry is Ursula K. Le Guin.  Though internationally known and honored for her imaginative fiction, Le Guin started out as a poet, and since 1959 has never ceased to publish poems. Finding My Elegy spans fifty years of work and includes some of the best of her earlier verse along with a rich series of new poems that she has been writing for the last four years.The seventy selected and seventy-seven new poems consider war and creativity, motherhood, and the natural world -- from the titles of many you can see the influence of place on these poems, such as "At Cannon Beach," "Up the Columbia River," and Mornings in Joseph, Oregon." And not to sound like a one-trick pony, but what a breathtaking cover. I should add that Ms. Le Guin also has a two-volume collection of short stories just out: The Unreal and the Real: Selected Stories Volume One: Where on Earth and The Unreal and the Real: Selected Stories Volume Two: Outer Space, Inner Land.This is what The Guardian has to say about her short stories: "A century from now people will still be reading the fantasy stories of Ursula K Le Guin with joy and wonder. Five centuries from now they might ask if their author ever really existed, or if Le Guin was an identity made from the work of many writers rolled into one. A millennium on and her stories will be so familiar, like myths and fairytales today, that only dedicated scholars will ask who wrote them. Such is the fate of the truly great writers, whose stories far outlive their names." One of my favorite authors to hear read in person -- whether he's reading poetry, prose, or, I imagine, the telephone book -- is John Daniel, with his sonorous voice and big heart. [I am a HUGE fan of what he laughingly calls his "momoir' and his "popoir": Looking After: A Son's Memoir and Rogue River Journal: A Winter Alone.] His newest book is a collection of poetry: Of Earth. His first new collection in eighteen years, Of Earth contains roughly half the poems from each of his two previous collections, Common Ground and All Things Touched by Wind, and a g[...]

Day 15: Let's Rock And Roll!


Those of you who follow our 24-day Adventish countdown of books may have noticed that “a book a day” often means “a group of books a day” in our lexicon. We can’t help it: 24 days just isn’t enough time to tell you about our favorites if we can only do one a day. So we're going to push the envelope today, Day 15 in our 24 Days of Books, and tell you about an extraordinary number of new memoirs and biographies this year from musical folks. Did you make it to the recent  Springsteen concert? Who doesn’t love The Boss? Peter Ames Carlin’s book, Bruce, is the first biography of Bruce Springsteen in twenty-five years to have been written with the cooperation of the man himself. Allowed unprecedented access to the artist as well as his family and band members, Carlin’s assessment of this musical giant shows the human as well as the heroic sides to a very complicated, often controlling, and always passionate figure. Mr. Carlin, formerly a television and music critic for The Oregonian, lives in Portland and we have signed copies on our shelves now (signed by Mr. Carlin, not by Bruce).Waging Heavy Peace by Neil Young chronicles his career from his early days with Buffalo Springfield through his solo career and collaborations with Crosby, Stills & Nash, Crazy Horse, and dozens of other notable musicians and groups. He has seen it all, and here he tells it all. Acclaimed for both his musical talent and his artistic integrity,  he has had at least one major hit in every decade since the sixties and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice. Known almost as well for his political and philanthropic involvements as his music, he was a cofounder of Farm Aid and an annual fundraising concert for The Bridge School, which assists children with physical and communication impairments.Mick Jagger is the story of the most notorious and enigmatic rocker of them all, written by a seasoned biographer of such animals. Philip Norman, who previously wrote bios of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Elton John, Buddy Holly and John Lennon, works his magic here to peel back the layers we all know are there (narcissist, drug and alcohol abuser, archseducer of women) and exposes some suprisingly human qualities and vulnerabilities. We recently learned that the average age of the Rolling Stones is higher than the average age of Supreme Court jurists. Mick is 70. Has he mellowed? Read it and see. If you're really into the Stones, you might also be interested in The Rolling Stones 50.  The only official book celebrating the band's 50th anniversary, this is a coffee table book with more than 1000 illustrations and photographs, as well as Stones memorabilia.Two years ago, I attended a Portland concert by Leonard Cohen that was part of what we all assumed was his farewell tour. And this year, he was back again, falling to his knees and skipping around the stage as if he were in his twenties! At age 78, this mellow, sage Zen master of song is still taking us along on his oh-so-cool ride, cocked fedora atop his head and mellow voice deepened with age, cigarettes, and experience. Sylvie Simmons recounts his remarkable life and legacy in I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen. From Montreal to the Chelsea Hotel to the monastery to the concert stage, this book tells the definitive account of an extraordinary life.And as long as we're on the topic of Leonard Cohen, you should check out The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley and the Unlikely Ascent of "Hallelujah," by Alan Light. The book offers a fascinating account of the making, remaking, and unlikely popularizing of one of the most played and recorded rock songs in history: Leonard Cohen's beautiful and heartrending song, "Hallelujah." Who I Am is Pete Townsh[...]

Day 14: Let's Get Cooking!


On the fourth day of our 24 Days of Books, we told you about some wonderful new cookbooks -- all by area authors! Today, the 14th day, we're going to tell you about a few more, including one by another local author (how blessed are we with local cookbook authors???) who was inadvertently left out last time.Roots: the Definitive Compendium with More than 225 Recipes (Chronicle, $40), by Diane MorganRoots, rhizomes, tubers, corms.  Lotus root, salsify, malanga, crosne.  Diane Morgan is a Portland writer who truly belonged in our local writers cookbook blog.  (What a major oversight on our part!!)  The introduction alone is a celebration of the world of gnarly underground food.  There are 225 recipes arranged by root, with beautiful colored photographs that will change your mind forever about what grows down there under the dirt. Lotus root is a delicate, flower-shaped root that nestles among snow-peas in a stir-fry.  Crosne is a member of the mint family that can go into curried fritters or get pickled to dress up a martini. There is history, lore, and storage tips, as well as availability. (How else would you find a good source of galangal?)  The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook (Knopf, $35), by Deb Perelman.Simple recipes in a book full of advice from the creator of the award-winning SmittenKitchen blog, this is a collection of chat and ideas on how to be at home in your kitchen.  Starting with peach and sour cream pancakes and including a recipe for broccoli slaw as well as the author’s favorite summer cocktail, this book has everything for the rookie cook as well as the  gourmand:  tips about how many good knives you really need (one),  what kind of salt the word “salt” means,  whether you need one of those cool, long-handled wooden spoons (you don’t), and  how to lose your fear of pizza.   Jerusalem: A Cookbook (Ten Speed Press, $35), by Yotam Ottolenghi  & Sami Tamimi  This lavishly illustrated book celebrates the tradition of Middle – Eastern hospitality that goes back centuries:  food as shared humanity.  There are classics, in reverently traditional form, as well as dishes wherein the authors have allowed themselves a little “poetic license."  Roasted sweet potatoes with fresh figs,  swiss chard fritters, and chicken cooked with clementines and arak,  or with sweet spiced freekeh.   Yeasted cakes, kibbeh, ghraybeh,  mutabbaq.  The recipes are a walk through the cultures of Israel,  Palestine, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. This is an important book about not only food and food traditions, but also about  the historic diversity that is Jerusalem. Barefoot Contessa Foolproof: Recipes You Can Trust (Potter, $35), by Ina Garten Not just a cookbook,  this is a party book!  Food Network star Ina Garten  arranges recipes (with 150 color photographs) by meal:  cocktails (Sidecars with dried cherries!), starters (Crab streudel! Carmelized bacon!), and onward to lamb dishes,  barbecue, pasta, and  seafood  for lunch and dinner, with side trips into vegetables and desserts. She also includes ten foolproof tips for cooking, twelve foolproof tips for tables settings, and a whole section on foolproof menus, planning and shopping -- all in Garten's friendly and reassuring chatty style.Bouchon Bakery (Artisan, $50), by Thomas Keller.This magnificent book is about French baking as an act of creation.  Three world-class chefs come together to offer their answers to what they define as the eternal question:  What is your favorite recipe?  Each recipe tells not only how to make one of their amazing pastries or cookies or breads,  but also wh[...]

Day 13: And a Wookie to You Too!


Welcome to Day 13 in our 24 Days of Books. It's a gorgeous, sunny day in Portland today, which causes us to look to the sky, which leads us, naturally, to think of all things Star Wars. Surely you have a Star Wars fan in your circle of friends and family. Check out all of the cool Star Wars books we have in the store:Star Wars Year by Year: A Visual Chronicle. This gorgeous $50 hardcover book is the definitive history of all-things Star Wars, a coffee-table book celebrating four amazing decades of the Star Wars experience. This is truly the book for the Star Wars fans of all ages. Star Wars: The Ultimate Visual Guide: Updated and Expanded, by Ryder Windham (Dorling Kindersley; $24.99). This oversized hardcover book reveals the story of the amazing Star Wars saga in full detail, covering not just the movies but also the ever-expanding range of books, novels, comics, and media. Packed full of interesting facts about the world of Star Wars merchandise and fandom, astonishing pieces of art, and full-color photographs, this compendium is the key to knowing everything there is to know about the iconic brand that is Star Wars. Matthew Reinhart is one of the Kings of Pop-Up (capitalizing just felt right), and he shows off all of his skills in this new book: Star Wars: A Galactic Pop-Up Adventure, published by Orchard Books ($36.99). In this explosive, interactive, pop-off-the-page book about the Star Wars franchise, Reinhart has created a new 3-D experience packed with great features such as pop-ups, working light sabers, pull tabs, and other interactive features. The book explores the characters, stories, vehicles, droids, and more -- a stunning book that will impress all fans and provide a whole new perspective to the universe. Star Wars Origami: 36 Amazing Paper-Folding Projects from a Galaxy Far, Far Away..., by Chris Alexander (Workman Publishing; $16.95). This is probably my favorite of the bunch: a book that combines the Star Wars universe with a hands-on activity book -- what could be cooler than that? A front section introduces origami definitions and basic folds. Bound in the back is the book's unique folding paper, two sheets for each figure, enabling users to create ships, droids, weapons, and many many Star Wars characters, such as Boba Fett, Princess Leia, Yoda, and R2-D2. The creations range in difficulty from easy to tricky, and will provide hours of entertainment for the Star Wars followers in your universe. Everything old is new again, right? LEGO seems to be all the rage right now -- again. And the Star Wars franchise has hopped on that wagon too. We've got both the LEGO Star Wars Character Encyclopedia ($18.99) and LEGO Star Wars: The Visual Dictionary ($21.99), both from Dorling Kindersley.Not everything is made of LEGO. We have the Star Wars Character Encyclopedia also from Dorling Kindersley ($16.99). This book is the definitive illustrated guide to Luke Skywalker, Jabba the Hut, and many more favorite characters from the Star Wars galaxy, with stat boxes, expert text, incredible movie stills, and more than 200 profiles. This is book is a must have for Star Wars fans.  For the younger Star Wars fans in your world, we have Star Wars 1, 2, 3, a boardbook that uses Star Wars' most popular heroes, villains, vehicles, droids, and aliens to teach fundamental counting skills; and Star Wars: Phonics Boxed Set, which includes ten books and two workbooks that use full-color images of Star Wars characters to teach reading -- particularly good for reluctant readers.  As always, you'll find many more great gift ideas in our Holiday Books guide, available at our store, and we're always happy to help you find just the right gift. See you soon! [...]

Day 12: Pedal Power!


It's Day 12 (12-12-12!!) in our 24 Days of Books, and today we're going to hop in the saddle! We Portlanders love our bikes. Both local and national publishers have figured this out, so now we have a selection of recent biking-related books that will appeal to the bikers on your shopping list.OregonCycling Sojourner: A Guide to the Best Multi-Day Tours in Oregon (Into Action Publications, $17.95) by Ellee Thalheimer, is a guide for adventurous souls who long to hit the Oregon road with their bikes for extended periods of time. This guide features 8 multi-day bike tours in every part of the state, including complete camping and lodging info, 12 breweries, 3 scenic bikeways, and 14 mountain passes. All levels of cycle touring are included, and tours for every season are recommended, as well as tours for every budget. “Cycling Sojourneris like bike touring with a witty fellow bike nerd who is full of enough lively anecdotes to keep you entertained but enough information to keep you from getting lost” – Russ Roca and Laura CrawfordBikingPortland: 55 Rides from the Willamette Valley to Vancouver (The Mountaineers Books, $18.95) is by Owen Wozniak, who has lived and cycled in Portland for ten years. As a project manager at the Trust for Public Land, he works to protect natural places for people to enjoy. This is his third guidebook. The 55 rides outlined in the guide range from the city’s urban core east to the base of Mount Hood, west to the Tualatin Valley and Coast Range foothills, down the Willamette Valley and north across the Columbia River. The rides vary in length from 3 to 56 miles, and in difficulty from easy through moderate to challenging. Each ride is clearly mapped out and described with elevation profiles, mileage logs, public transportation access, Also published by Into Action Publications, and perhaps our secret favorite book on this list, is Hop in the Saddle ($9.95), a cleverly named guidebook to Portland’s craft beer scene, by bike. This book is also by Elle Thalheimer, with the help of Lucy Burningham and Laura Cary. This little red beauty covers 20 breweries, 8 bottleshops, and 31 bars and restaurants. Each of these beer spots is a local treasure such as Amnesia Brewing, Hair of the Dog, Grain and Gristle, etc. NOT included are the national chain locations, common in every city. There are 5 Portland Beer Routes (and 5 Bike Nerd Extended Routes) to get you to your destinations, with plenty of things to see along the way. Beervana indeed. Where to Bike Portland (BA Press, $27.95) is by Anne Lee, the Deputy Director of Portland’s Community Cycling Center. This spiral-bound guide outlines 72 great rides, including 26 rides for kids. Illustrated with hundreds of full-color photos and detailed maps, it’s a handsome and useful book whose rides include many in the inner city, but stretch as far afield as Vernonia, Clark County, Wilsonville, and Troutdale.  75Classic Rides Oregon: The Best Road Biking Routes (The Mountaineers Books, $24.95) by Jim Moore includes routes all over the state varying in length from 3 to 359 miles, including 4 multiday tours and variations for longer or shorter rides, or connections to other routes. Expert advice on preparation, safety on the road, and riding techniques are accompanied by a handy at-a-glance chart to help you select your ideal ride, and downloadable turn-by-turn cue sheets. There are 6 rides on the coast, 13 in the Portland metro area, 11 in the Willamette Valley, 8 in southern Oregon, 11 in the Mount Hood/Columbia Gorge area, 7 in the Cascades, 4 in central Oregon, 11 in eastern Oregon, plus the 4 multiday trips. Although it’s not a local guidebook, we include Fifty Places to Bike BeforeYou Die (Ste[...]

Day 11: It's All in the Past


Welcome to Day 11 in our 24 Days of Books. I love reading books on historical subjects. Do you? Here's just a sampling of what's on the top of our history list these days.For me it's always a happy celebration when we get a new book by Timothy Egan, one of my all-time-favorite narrative nonfiction writers -- and judging by the awards he's received (including the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award) I'm not alone in that assessment.Hot off the press is Egan's new book about Edward Curtis, Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt ($28). Edward Curtis was charismatic, handsome, a passionate mountaineer, and a famous photographer, the Annie Leibovitz of his time. He was thirty-two years old in 1900 when he gave it all up to pursue his Great Idea: to capture on film the continent's original inhabitants before the old ways disappeared.He spent the next three decades traveling from the Havasupai at the bottom of the Grand Canyon to the Acoma on a high mesa in New Mexico to the Salish in the rugged Northwest rain forest, documenting the stories and rituals of more than eighty tribes. It took tremendous perseverance -- ten years alone to persuade the Hopi to allow him into their Snake Dance ceremony. And the undertaking changed him profoundly: from detached observer to outraged advocate. Eventually Curtis took more than 40,000 photographs, preserved 10,000 audio recordings, and is credited with making the first narrative documentary film.Reviewers have called the book "a darned good yarn," "a rollicking page turner," "a story for the ages" -- at its essence a book about the extreme personal cost of outsized ambition. An interesting subject in the hands of one of our most talented narrative nonfiction storytellers; what more could you want?Ross King is known for his deep scholarly research presented in a narrative that appeals to both academics and general readers, primarily tackling topics in the worlds of art and architecture. Some of his previous books include Brunelleschi's Dome, Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling, and The Judgment of Paris.  Now he brings us a fascinating look at an artist's life in Leonardo and the Last Supper (Walker and Company; $28).Leonardo da Vinci was at his lowest point, both professionally and personally, in 1495 when he began work on The Last Supper, the masterpiece that would forever define him. King paints a complex portrait of the artist, and explores dozens of stories that are embedded in the painting, bringing to life a fascinating period in European history and presenting a portrait of one of the world's greatest geniuses through the lens of his most famous work. As one reviewer says, "the book is meticulously researched, gracefully written and fascinating to read.”Moving back to this side of the pond,  we have the new book by Kevin Phillips, 1775: A Good Year for Revolution. In this new book, the iconoclastic historian and bestselling author attempts to puncture the myth that 1776 was the watershed year of the American Revolution, arguing that the great events and confrontations of 1775 are instead the true beginning of the revolution. Along the way, Phillips explores the ethnic, religious, demographic, political, and economic roots of the revolution. (Penguin Viking; $26)Another nuanced study of a complex period is 38 Nooses: Lincoln, Little Crow, and the Beginning of the Frontier's End, by Scott W. Berg (Pantheon; $27.95). While Union and Confederate armies clashed at Bull Run and Antietam, another epochal but largely forgotten war was being waged along the Minnesota frontier, as the Dakotas cl[...]

Day 10: What to Get the Kids??


It's Day 10 in our 24 Days of Books, and today we're talking about books for younger readers, around 8 to 12 (although these are just rough guides, because every kid is different AND lots of older readers -- me, for instance -- like to read good middle grade books). So take the age range with a grain of salt.The first "book" I want to tell you about is a book plus a whole lot more: Recycled Robots: 10 Robot Projects, by Robert Malone and published by Workman Publishing ($24.95) -- an irresistible book and kit that shows how to make ten different moving robots out of the most ordinary things from around the house such as an empty salt container, a drinking straw, a candy tin, a cereal box, cardboard tubes, old dolls or action figures, and assorted Lego or Tinker Toy parts. The kit includes a full book of instructions, along with a battery-powered motor, two windup walkers, some googly eyes (it just wouldn't be complete without googly eyes), and much more. What kid won't love being the inventor, designer, and engineer of his or her own amazing, moving robots??Another perennial bestseller along similar lines is Papertoy Monsters: 50 Cool Papertoys You Can Make Yourself, also published by Workman ($16.95). The book offers 50 fiendishly original die-cut designs that are ready to pop out, fold, and glue -- and each character comes with its own backstory. No discussion of books for middle readers would be complete without a mention of the Wildwood Chronicles series by local writer and singer Colin Meloy and his wife and illustrator Carson Ellis. Book Two in the bestselling adventure series set in the Impassable Wilderness, a dense, tangled forest on the edge of Portland (hmmm...could it be Forest Park???), Under Wildwood, has just been published in hardcover ($17.99) and Book One, Wildwood ($8.99), is now out in paperback.One of the most popular writers for the younger crowd is Rick Riordan, a former middle school teacher with two sons who writes wonderful books that are based on Greek mythology (the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, followed by the Heroes of Olympus series) and Roman mythology (the Kane Chronicles series). Riordan is also the mastermind behind the 39 Clues series. I've been hard-pressed to find a kid who doesn't like his books.One of my favorite new middle reader series is the Books of Beginning trilogy, by John Stephens. The first book, The Emerald Atlas, has recently been published in paperback ($7.99), and the second book, The Fire Chronicle, recently came out in hardcover ($17.99). “Irreverent humor and swashbuckling adventure collide in a fetching fantasy," says one reviewer of this tale of three siblings: Kate, Michael, and Emma. While the New York Times called it "A new Narnia for the tween set," perfect for fans of the His Dark Materials series. The author was a writer for The Gilmore Girls, a TV series known for its witty, snappy dialogue, which definitely comes out in this series.The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, and its sequel The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, written by Catherynne Valente and illustrated by Juan Ana, tells the story of twelve-year-old September, who lives an ordinary life in Omaha until her help is needed in Fairyland. Described as offering the charm of Alice in Wonderland and the soul of The Golden Compass, with "a glorious balancing act between modernism and the Victorian Fairy Tale, done with heart and wisdom." The author creates "a world as bizarre and enchanting as any Wonderland or Oz and a heroine as curious, resourceful and brave as any Alice or Dorothy." Heck, I would buy the books for the titles [...]

Day 9: I Might be Hallucinating....


Welcome to Day 9 of our 24 Days of Books. Although I do not read hard science, I am a fan of science in general and am quick to acknowledge my love for the facts and especially the speculations that science brings into our lives, to say nothing of the profound truths that are made evident to us by the various scientific disciplines. As a bookseller and a reader, I am always appreciative of a scientist who can write for the general public and explore/explain parts of this world (which is to say, parts of THE world – and beyond) without talking down to us. Of these authors, my consistent favorite over many years has been Oliver Sacks.Dr. Sacks, a neurologist known to many from his long articles in The New Yorker and elsewhere, is perhaps the most elegant and eloquent writer in his field. He has become known to millions of readers for his great empathy for patients, as well as his crystal-clear explanations of their medical conditions and the circumstances of their lives. My first encounter with his work was The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, which was a collection of fascinating pieces about various patients with cognitive disorders. A later book, An Anthropologist on Mars, was similar in format and included what may be his most famous patient profile, that of Temple Grandin, an extremely high-functioning autistic woman who has since become quite famous for her groundbreaking work with large animals and her own lectures on cattle as well as autism. (A very good made-for-TV movie of her life, starring Claire Danes, is worth watching if you have not seen it.) Another of his books, Awakenings, was made into an Oscar-nominated film of the same name that starred Robin Williams and Robert De Niro.Dr. Sacks was written many books about his work (as well as a memoir, Uncle Tungsten, which details his very accomplished and scientific family). Most of his books use individual patients and friends as illustrations of particular phenomena, and from these beginnings he launches into larger discussions. He has dealt at length with blindness, Parkinson’s disease, music and its effects on the human brain, migraine headaches, and many more topics. He often uses his own personal experiences to augment the discussions, which is unusual for scientific writers.  He has written about people afflicted with face-blindness (the inability to recognize people by their faces) by confessing to this affliction himself, for instance. How lucky we are to have such an articulate scientist who is also able to personalize a topic so well!This season, Knopf has published Dr. Sacks’ book, Hallucinations ($26.95). Many people think that hallucinations happen only to “crazy” people. Wrong, of course. They happen to people who are suffering from sensory deprivation (this is what a “vision quest” is). They happen to people who are ill, or injured, or having migraine headaches. They happen to those who are intoxicated. They happen when certain drugs are ingested. They often happen for no reason at all, to perfectly normal and healthy people. They happen to you and they happen to me.Most of us think of hallucinations as visual. But they can also affect other senses. People can hallucinate sounds (did you ever hear someone call your name in an empty room?). We can hallucinate smells! I suspect each of us has had the eerie feeling that someone was following us, and turned around to see nobody there. There are tactile hallucinations, such as the sensation of bugs crawling on your skin. These are all common neurologically based imaginings.As a young doctor in California in the 1960s, Oliver Sacks had a personal as we[...]

Day 8: I Think it's Shorts Weather


Welcome to Day 8 of our 24 Days of Books. Many of you are big fans of short stories -- me too! So today I thought I'd talk about a few of the fabulous new collections published recently. Inevitably I will miss some great ones, but this is a good start -- any one one of these would make a terrific gift.If you ever get a chance to see northwest author Sherman Alexie in person, do it. He is the most amazing speaker: smart, funny, smart, opinionated, smart, provocative -- did I mention smart??  But if you can't see him in person, for goodness sakes read his books. [By the way, the Multnomah County Library system picked two of Alexie's books for the 2013 Everybody Reads program: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (winner of the National Book Award for Young Readers) and Ten Little Indians, a collection of short stories.Alexie's newest book is another collection of short stories, Blasphemy, in which he unites fifteen beloved classics with fifteen new stories in one sweeping anthology for both devoted fans and first-time readers. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly had this to say:  "Alexie hammers away at ever-simmering issues, like racism, addiction, and infidelity, using a no-holds-barred approach and seamlessly shattering the boundary between character and reader. But while these glimpses into a harried and conflicted humanity prod our consciousness, there’s plenty of bawdiness and Alexie’s signature wicked humor throughout to balance out the weight."Alexie, who currently lives in Seattle, is a bold and irreverent observer of life among Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest. Blasphemy is published by Grove Press ($27).Alexie is good, but you can't talk about short stories without talking about Canadian author Alice Munro, who thank goodness has a new story collection out this year:  Dear Life, published by Knopf ($26.95). As in all of her writing, in each story she illuminates the moment a life is forever altered by a chance encounter or an action not taken, or by a simple twist of fate that turns a person out of his or her accustomed path and into a new way of being or thinking.The book ends with four pieces set in the area where she grew up, and in the time of her own childhood: stories “autobiographical in feeling, though not, sometimes, entirely so in fact.” Munro has an unparalleled gift for storytelling, meaning this collection is not something you should miss -- and that would make a wonderful gift.My favorite story collection of the year is Birds of a Lesser Paradise, a debut collection by Megan Mayhew Bergman. Bergman’s powerful and heartwarming collection captures the surprising moments when the pull of our biology becomes evident, when love or fear collides with good sense, or when our attachment to an animal or wild place can’t be denied. I started reading the first story and after just a few pages I was hooked, and knew I had happened upon a short story writer that I hope to be taking pleasure in for many years to come. Author Jill McCorkle called Bergman "a brilliantly gifted writer who recognizes and highlights life's fragilities in a way that will leave your heart aching while also finding those bits of hilarity and absurdity that bring uniqueness to each and every creature.” The paperback edition of the book has just been published by Scribner ($15).This year we were blessed with a debut book from a Portland author, Natalie Serber, who gave us Shout Her Lovely Name, a collection that explores the relationships between mothers and daughters -- described by one reviewer as "equal parts lo[...]

Day 7: Books About Books!


Welcome to Day 7 in our 24 Days of Books. Today we present books about books for the true book lover on your list. These seven books will appeal anyone who believes in the importance of story in our lives, and to those who love physical books and bookstores you can actually walk into and browse, pulling books off the shelves.The books that we choose to keep -- let alone read -- can say a lot about who we are and how we see ourselves. My Ideal Bookshelf is both a coffee table book of art and a fascinating glimpse into the books that matter the most to a wide variety of leading cultural figures. With text edited by Thessaly La Force and art by Jane Mount, the book devotes a two-page spread to each person, with one devoted to commentary about the books and the facing page presenting a charming original painting of that person's imaginary shelf.Some contributors present a neat, tidy shelf with minimal books, such as author Francine Prose, whose shelf contains Chekhov, Chekhov, and some more Chekhov -- and Max and the monster dolls from Where the Wild Things Are. While others are all over the map, such as actor/writer/artist/filmmaker James Franco, who conjures up a higgly piggly pile of novels, short stories and plays. This gorgeous, hardover book ($24.99) is published by Little Brown and Company.In My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read and Shop, edited by Ronald Rice, more than eighty well-known writers pay enthusiastic and heartfelt tribute to bookstores and booksellers, waxing poetic on the brick-and-mortar stores they love and often call their second homes -- Edith Pearlman and Nancy Pearl, Ivan Doig and Abraham Verghese, and even our very own Chuck Palahniuk, all talking about bookstores. What could be better than that?As I mentioned in yesterday's post, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce is a picture book that will knock your socks off. This book inspired the Academy Award-winning short film of the same name and reminds us that in today’s world of traditional books, eBooks, and apps, it’s still the story that we truly celebrate. As Publishers Weekly describes it, the book tells the store of  "a dreamy bibliophile named Morris Lessmore, who loses his cherished book collection to a cataclysmic storm that’s half Katrina (Joyce is from Louisiana) and half Wizard of Oz....[Eventually], Morris finds an abandoned library whose books are alive and whose covers beat like the wings of birds. They flutter around him protectively, watch as he starts writing again, and care for him as he ages." The book is a charming must-have for any booklover, regardless of age.A quirky little novel that is both thoughtful and gleeful, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan is simultaneously a mystery and an ode to bookstores and "old" knowledge (versus "Google" knowledge), mostly set in a hole-in-the-wall independent bookstore in San Francisco. Can tangible books and new media exist happily side by side? With a plot "as tight as nesting boxes, or whatever their digital equivalent," the book has been described as clever, whimsical, beguiling, and big-hearted. Author Nick Harkaway calls it "the love child of Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus and Neal Stepheson's Reamde. How can you resist with a description like that?Monsieur Proust’s Library by Anka Muhlstein is an erudite and entertaining introduction to the life and work of Marcel Proust through the books he read, providing not only a friendly introduction to the momentous In Search of Lost Time but also exciting high[...]

Day 6: Picture This, Kids!


It's Day 6 of our 24 Days of Books. Holy cats, how does the time move so fast in December?? This post is one of the hardest I write each year, yet one of the posts I enjoy the most: children's picture books. I'm a huge fan of picture books -- a love generated and nurtured by my mom, an elementary school librarian for many years.The hard part about writing this post is choosing which books to highlight from the many, many wonderful and well-deserving books that would make ideal gifts for the youngsters in your life. Besides picture books, we also have lots of board books and early readers and nonfiction books for kids and pop-up books and oh the list goes on and on. Come see us and we'll help you find just the right gifts. (We'll also be talking about books for older young readers in a later post.)One of my current favorite picture books authors is Jon Klassen. Last year's book, I Want My Hat Back, made me laugh out loud, with its understated and wry dialogue. The illustrations (which Klassen also does) are simple and charming.Klassen is back with another hat-centered picture-book charmer: This is Not My Hat. Again using spare but gorgeous illustrations paired with darkly comic minimal dialogue, Klassen delivers another winner that will truly tickle your kid's funny bone. Both hat books are published by Candlewick Press. Klassen is the illustrator for two other picture books I'm fond of: House Held Up by Trees, written by Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet Ted Klooser, and Extra Yarn, written by Mac Barnett. And as long as I'm mentioning Mac Barnett, his newest picture book Chloe and the Lion (illustrated by Adam Rex), presents a hilarious tale of the importance of working together and pairing your talents, rather than fighting over whose are more valuable. (I loved it!)It's always a great year when one of my all-time-favorite picture book authors/illustrators comes out with a new book: Ian Falconer, the man behind the wonderful Olivia series. In Olivia and the Fairy Princesses, our strong-willed, opinionated piglet goes on a hilarious quest for individuality in a world too full of ruffly, sparkly princesses. The book is published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers. Atheneum has also recently issued a full boxed set of all seven Olivia picture books. Wow. If I didn't already own all seven I'd be snapping this set up in a heartbeat. Maybe I still will. What a wonderful gift this would make -- the kind of set that can be passed along through the generations, as Olivia is certainly a classic worth keeping.Another very sweet new series comes from northwest native (she grew up in my hometown of Walla Walla)  Deborah Underwood (who now lives in the Bay Area) and illustrated by Renata Liwska: The Quiet Book, The Loud Book, and now The Christmas Quiet Book, celebrating the quiet sounds of the holiday season. The series is published by Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt. (Guess which book parents buy more of between The Quiet Book and The Loud Book???)This Moose Belongs to Me, a new picture book written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers, is the story of a boy and his moose (doesn't everyone have a pet moose?), in which the moose is more than a little resistant to the rules the boy tries to impose on him. This book is sure to set off a fit of giggles. (And it's featured in our Holiday Books guide this year.) Jeffers' absurdly funny book from last year, Stuck -- in which a boy gets his kite stuck in a tree and attempts to knock it down -- is one of my favorites.Another picture book I love is being covered in another blog about book-r[...]

Day 5: Thick, Chewy Political Biographies


Welcome to Day 5 in our 24 Days of Books. Each Fall season seems to bring us an amazing array of biographies of fascinating people, and this year is no exception. Today we'll tell you about a few wonderful new political biographies that would make great gifts.Jon Meacham won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009 for his biography of Andrew Jackson, American Lion. This year he explores the complexities of one of our early presidents in Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power. The book brings vividly to life an extraordinary man and his remarkable times, presenting Jefferson the politician and president, a great and complex human being forever engaged in the wars of his era. Philosophers think; politicians maneuver. Jefferson's genius was that he was both and could do both, often simultaneously. Such is the art of power. Meacham writes, "The closest thing to a constant in his life was his need for power and control. He tended to mask these drives so effectively...the most astute observers of his life and work had trouble detecting them." The book also delves into his contradictions, including his hypocrisy on the issue of slavery. Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of Team of Rivals (the basis for the new movie "Lincoln") writes, "This terrific book allows us to see the political genius of Thomas Jefferson better than we have ever seen it before. In these endlessly fascinating pages, Jefferson emerges with such vitality that it seems as if he might still be alive today." Stacy Schiff, author of  Cleopatra: A life, describes the book as "a thrilling and affecting portrait of our first philospher-politician," and says that the author "resolves the bundle of contradictions that was Thomas Jefferson by probing his love of progress and thirst for power. Here was a man endlessly, artfully intent on making the world something it had not been before."And Walter Isaacson, author of last year's bestselling biography of Steve Jobs, writes "In addition to being a brilliant biography, this book is a guide to the use of power. Jon Meacham shows how Jefferson's deft ability to compromise and improvise made him a transformational leader." This hardcover book, published by Random House, is $35.Another biography of a fascinating life was just named one of this year's top five nonfiction titles by the New York Times. The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy, by David Nasaw, tells the story of the man who launched the twentieth century's most famous political dynasty. The only biographer granted unrestricted access to the Joseph P. Kennedy papers in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, Nasaw tracks Kennedy's astonishing passage from East Boston outsider to supreme Washington insider. His career accomplishments included banker, World War I shipyard manager, Hollywood studio head, broker, Wall Street operator, New Deal presidential adviser, founding chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the first Irish American ambassador to London.Nasaw says he is drawn to writing about big American moguls, such as William Randolph Heart and Andrew Carnegie, subjects of his previous biographies, in large part because we think we know who they are, and there’s been a lot written about them, but most of the people who’ve written about them have done so with the purpose either to condemn or celebrate. He says "what you really have to do is start all over again from the beginning... throwing out every preconception, every anecdote, every comment that X has made to[...]

Day 4: We're Cooking with Local Friends


Welcome to Day 4 in our 24 Days of Books. Today we're cookin'! This year’s crop of cookbooks is so large and varied that we’ve split it up into two posts. In today's post we'll talk about our favorite cookbooks by local authors. Julie Richardson, co-author with Cory Schreiber of the fabulous Rustic FruitDesserts, has written another winner with her newest cookbook, VintageCakes: Timeless Recipes for Cupcakes, Flips, Rolls, Layer, Angel, Bundt,Chiffon, and Icebox Cakes for Today’s Sweet Tooth (Ten Speed Press, $24). Julie spends most of her days baking cakes and other goodies for Baker & Spice, her bakery in southwest Portland, so this book is a perfectly baked project for her. Every recipe in this charmingly retro book is a walk down memory lane, from the plainest to the fanciest. After sifting through hundreds of cookbooks and recipes looking for classic American cake recipes, Julie selected the most inventive and delicious, tried and true recipes she could find. She then retooled them using the best ingredients and up-to-date techniques. The result? Gobsmackingly scrumptious cakes of all kinds that taste even better than you remember. Stroll with me through some of the offerings: Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting, Red Velvet Cake, German Chocolate Roll, Harvey Wallbanger Cake, Mississippi Mud Cupcakes, Lazy Daisy Oatmeal Cake, Blueberry Cornmeal Skillet Cake, Nectarine Oat Upside-Down Cake, White Chocolate Rhubarb Downside-Up Cake. You get the idea. These comfort food desserts are just about the best thing you can do with your oven.Ken Forkish is known to all of us as a master baker, especially of bread and pizza. There are some days when nothing will do but a pie from Ken’s Artisan Pizza. And of course every day is a good one that includes a loaf from Ken’s Artisan Bakery. A Silicon Valley refugee, Ken has studied his craft at the San Francisco Baking Institute, the CIA Greystone, Toscana Saporita in Italy, and l'Institut Paul Bocuse in France. It’s our incredibly good fortune that he landed in our city to set up shop! His new book is called Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza (Ten Speed Press, $35). It’s all about the dough for Ken. Whether you are a total beginner or a serious baker, this book has a recipe that suits your skill level and time constraints. Rustic boules. Neapolitan-style pizzas. Focaccias. And there’s much more than recipes here. Ken offers the reader a complete baking education, with a thorough yet accessible explanation of the tools, techniques and ingredients that set artisan bread apart. This is an indispensable resource for bakers who want to make their daily bread exceptional bread. Portland, Oregon Chef’s Table: Extraordinary Recipes from the City of Roses by Laurie Wolf (Lyons Press, $24.95) celebrates our best restaurants and eateries with recipes and photographs. The recipes are accompanied by profiles (photos and essays) of restaurants and the chefs who make them sing. No wonder the New York Timeshas fallen in love with Portland’s food culture! Here are the best recipes from Andina, Clyde Common, Little Bird, Lincoln, Laurelhurst Market, Pine State Biscuits, Blue Hour, Ate-Oh-Ate, Nostrana and many more fabulous places. Within these pages, we get to meet our local food superstars: Andy Ricker of Pok Pok and Ping, Gabriel Rucker of Le Pigeon, Lisa Schroeder of Mother’s Bistro and Bar, Naomi Pomeroy of Beast, Adam Sappington of Country Cat, Greg Higgins, Vitaly Paley[...]

Goodreads Choice Awards for 2012


After more than a million votes were cast, Goodreads has announced the winners of its Goodreads Choice Awards for 2012, the only major book awards decided by readers. Here are the winners in each category:Fiction: The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. RowlingMystery/Thriller: Gone Girl, by Gillian FlynnHistorical Fiction: The Light Between Oceans, by M.L. StedmanFantasy: The Wind Through the Keyhole, by Stephen KingParanormal Fantasy: Shadow of Night, by Deborah HarknessScience Fiction: The Long Earth, by Terry Pratchett and Stephen BaxterRomance: Fifty Shades Freed, by E.L. JamesHorror: The Twelve, by Justin CroninMemoir/Autobiography: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl StrayedHistory/Biography: Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch, by Sally Bedell SmithNonfiction: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking, by Susan CainFood/Cookbooks: The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food from My Frontier, by Ree DrummondHumor: Let's Pretend this Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir, by Jenny LawsonGraphic Novel//Comics: The Walking Dead, Vol 16, A Larger World, by Robert Kirkman, illustrated by Charlie AdlardPoetry: A Thousand Mornings, by Mary OliverYoung Adult: The Fault in Our Stars, by John GreenYA Fantasy/SciFi: Insurgent, by Veronica RothMiddle Grade: The Mark of Athena, by Rick RiordanPicture Book: Olivia and the Fairy Princesses, by Ian FalconerGoodreads, launched in 2007, is the largest site for readers and book recommendations in the world. The site has more than 12,000,000 members who have added more than 420,000,000 books to their shelves, providing a home for casual readers and bona fide bookworms alike. Goodreads' mission is to help people find and share books they love. What's not to like about that?[...]

Day 3: Far from the Tree


Welcome to Day 3 in our 24 Days of Books. We had originally intended to discuss this book -- Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon -- under the heading “Nonfiction Sleepers.” It certainly qualified: a well-researched social commentary, an excellent read, and a thoroughly under-appreciated book. However, Solomon’s book was just named one of the top five nonfiction books of 2012 by the New York Times, so it is officially no longer “asleep.” The book  is simply amazing. The author set about to document the lives of families with one or more “exceptional children.”  In this book, “exceptional” includes any individual affected by a spectrum of physical, mental, social, and psychological differences -- deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, children who are prodigies, or who become criminals, or who are transgendered, or many other differences.  After interviewing more than three hundred families, many of them multiple times, over a ten-year period, Solomon came to a profound appreciation for these children and their families. He found that many families grow closer through caring for a challenging child and that most discover supportive communities of others similarly affected. His proposition is that it is in fact diversity that unites us all. The book will hold great appeal for any parents who have ever looked at their child and thought, “Where did this come from?" Social workers, psychologists, pastors, educators, corrections officers, nonprofit managers, or political policy makers can also benefit from this book’s careful documentation of the meaning of family when one or more children present special challenges. The author has had his own struggles with being “different and weaves his personal story into the narrative to give readers an even deeper appreciation for families in our culture where “different” is the reality.  Andrew Solomon's book Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and won the 2001 National Book Award. He is a Lecturer in Psychiatry at Cornell University and Special Adviser on LGBT Affairs to Yale University's Department of Psychiatry. Far from the Tree -- almost a thousand pages long -- is available in hardcover for $37.50 and is published by the Scribner imprint of Simon & Schuster.As always, you'll find many more great gift ideas in our Holiday Books guide, available at our store. See you soon!    [...]

Day 2 of 24 Days of Books: War


Welcome to Day 2 in our 24 Days of Books series. Today's theme is war. That might seem like an odd theme for holiday gift-giving, but there is an unusually strong crop of recently published novels with war themes that are powerful and well written and could be just the right gifts for someone.The Yellow Birds is a debut novel about a soldier coming of age and about the psychological aftermath of war. In Al Tafar, Iraq, twenty-one-year old Private Bartle and eighteen-year-old Private Murphy cling to life as their platoon launches a bloody battle for the city. Bound together since basic training when Bartle makes a promise to Murphy's mom to bring him safely home, the two have been dropped into a war neither is prepared for. The nonlinear, fractured narrative, which jumps around in time and location, mirrors the chaos and brutality of war.The novel was a finalist for The National Book Award and was this week named one of this year's top five fiction titles by the New York Times. One NYT review called the book  "a first novel as compact and powerful as a footlocker full of ammo." Another described it as a book "that stands with Tim O’Brien’s enduring Vietnam book, The Things They Carried, as a classic of contemporary war fiction."At the age of 17, Kevin Powers enlisted in the Army and eventually served as a machine-gunner in Iraq. In 2004 and 2005 he served with the U.S. Army in Mosul and Tal Afar, Iraq. After his honorable discharge he studied English at Virginia Commonwealth University and received an M.F.A. in Poetry from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin in 2012. Says Powers: "About a year, two years, after I got home I started trying to deal with my own questions about my experience. I started initially writing poems about the war. I've been writing poems and stories since I was about 13. And I just started accumulating material and I realized that I needed a larger canvas to say what I wanted to say, which was to try to answer the question that people were asking me, which was what was it like over there."The Yellow Birds is a thoughtful, powerful, lyrical war story. It is published by Little Brown and Company and is available for $24.99 in hardcover. Another war-themed book that was a finalist for this year's National Book Award is Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain. The story takes place over the course of a single day at the annual Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving Day football game. The seven surviving members of the Bravo Squad -- America's most sought-after heroes from the Iraqi war after a three-minute-and-forty-three-second intense firefight is caught on tape by an embedded Fox News crew -- are slated to be honored at halftime of the game, along with a musical performance by Destiny's Child.The novel presents little in the way of actual war scenes but instead focuses on the American reaction to war and war heroes. After watching a Dallas Cowboys halftime show, the author found it to be a "surreal and patently insane -- to me, anyway -- mash-up of militarism, pop culture, American triumphalism and soft-core porn....I wondered what it would do to your head, to have been over there immersed in daily life-or-death situations, then you return to the U.S. and get plunked down in the middle of this very artificial situation." The book has been described as both wickedly funny and heartbreaking, the Catch-[...]