Joyce Maynard's "Why I Read"

As I'm still recovering from the holiday rush, let's dip into the "Why I Read" files for today's blog entry, shall we? "Why I Read" is an occasional feature of our email newsletter and a personal favorite of mine. We've been gradually posting them online for all to see. In short, we ask authors why they read.

Today's entry comes from Joyce Maynard, a local author whose works include her memoir of growing up in the 1960s (Looking Back), her early 1990s novel To Die For (later made into a movie) and many more. Her latest book, Labor Day, came out last summer. NPR said that "apart from being a successful thriller, this book is a fascinating portrait of what causes a family to founder, and how much it can cost to put it back on the right path." Here's her original essay:

Truth to tell, I didn’t start out as much of a reader. I watched TV as my own private rebellion against the world of English literature. Child of two English teachers who quoted Shakespeare and eighteenth century poetry at the dinner table, I favored “Father Knows Best” and “Gilligan’s Island.” Still, every night before I went to sleep, my father sat at my bedside, reciting poetry. Sometimes he had me memorize Wordsworth. Sometimes Yeats or Blake. And the rhythms stuck in my brain, even as the sitcom stories faded.

I thought about our old practice of memorizing poetry just the other day, when (having come, a little later than some, to the joy of reading great literature) I had reached that scene in Ian McEwan’s novel,
Saturday, in which the young daughter—with her whole family held hostage and a knife at her mother’s neck—recites the poem “Dover Beach” and so disarms the man responsible for the crime that he releases them all. It wasn’t brute force or the heroic arrival of a SWAT team that brought about the family’s release: it was Matthew Arnold’s words.

My father could have recited “Dover Beach.” My mother, too. If I had been a more willing student, I would know the poem better than I do. But the rhythms of poetry—the poetry that was as much a part of dinners in my family as the food set on the table—sustain me still. Poetry can save your life, was McEwan’s message. Not just poetry, either, but language, words, the sound of syllables, the music of sentences.

Link I will never be a physically powerful person, but with words, well chosen, I take on strength. I know this, as a writer, because I know, as a reader, what other writers’ words have done for me. They open up the universe. They lift me out of myself, revealing a larger world.

Words can save your life, is the lesson. I believe it. That’s why I read.

Thanks, Ms. Maynard. Want to read others? On the blog so far: Beth Lisick, Susan Choi, Peter Rock, Dave Eggers, Daniel Handler, and T.C. Boyle.


We don't talk about film on the blog much, and being that Green Apple houses a formidable selection of movies, I'd like to touch on some Hollywood news today.

This Christmas, as great as it was for me, was overshadowed by an insurmountable loss. On Christmas day I learned that, on December 17th 2009, Dan O'Bannon was taken from this world by Crohn's disease. For those not familiar with the man, O'Bannon was the brains behind the scripts of some of the best sci-fi & horror films of the last forty years. He is the man who penned Alien, Lifeforce, Return of the Living Dead, Total Recall, Screamers, the two best (and in my opinion only watchable) animated shorts featured in the 1981 Heavy Metal movie, and a lot more. He worked with both John Carpenter and George Lucas at different points in their careers, collaborating to create some of the most visually stunning special effects of the seventies.

So for what it is, goodbye Dan. I wish word hadn't come to me so late. You were a true brutalitarian and your efforts to make quality films will be greatly missed. It's time to revisit your work.

Just In Case Our Word Wasn't Good Enough...

Yes, Jean-Philippe Toussaint’s Running Away was our November Book of the Month, fully guaranteed, and 16 of you bought it in November...

Of course we had our Book of the Month Video that went with it...

Today's New York Times Book Review, might be a good indicator that you really, really, should read this book.

See, I'm not the only one who loved this book!

So come on in and experience this awesome book from Dalkey Archive.

You should also check out this other article in the New York Times about books in translation and Open Letter Books.

Dave Eggers Stops By!

Christmas came early for us here at Green Apple-- Dave Eggers, the busiest man in literature, came by for a visit. He graciously signed all of his latest works, and when he overheard us telling a customer that we were sold out of the McSweeney's Panorama, he ran to his car and came back with a box full! Of course, those sold out in minutes.

Pete took artistic license with the photo, going for a "day for night" feel. We assure you that our bookstore is not this dark.

So if you're looking for unique holiday gift ideas at the last minute, give us a call: 415.387.2272! We'll put a copy aside for you.

Too busy to blog

It is with meta excitement that I now blog about being too busy to blog. Thank you, book-loving people of San Francisco, for a robust holiday shopping season.

Oh, and here's the line for the new bike rack I showed you last week. Yoinks! The lines in our store are shorter and move quickly, I assure you. Peace.

When We Let You Down

People get a little wiggy around the holiday season. It's the truth. What are ya' gonna' do? When you're desperate to find that perfect gift for that special someone/thing (I mention 'thing' because yes, someone did ask me for a recommendation on a book for their dog once), it's easy to temporarily forgive the sins of our many crummy corporate competitors and turn to them for an answer. They've got a hell of a lot more money and power and to blow tracking down whatever it is that you may need- but friends! Friends! I'm asking ya' pretty please on bent knees not to falter! The culture of reading that a corporation offers is bankrupt of character. So here's the deal. If you can't find what you're looking for at Green Apple, I am happy to give you a list of independent bookstores in San Francisco that will be thrilled to accept your business. That way we won't see so many book stores going the way of Black Oak and Stacey's (or at least not as soon), and you don't have to feed Moloch.

Neighborhood: Castro
227 Church St
(between Market St & 15th St)
San Francisco, CA 94114
(415) 552-6733

Neighborhood: Noe Valley
3957 24th St
(between Sanchez St & Noe St)
San Francisco, CA 94114
(415) 821-3477

Neighborhood: Mission
3166 16th Street
(at Albion St)
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 864-3936

Neighborhood: Mission
900 Valencia St
(between 20th St & Liberty St)
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 282-1901

Neighborhood: Bernal Heights
401 Cortland Avenue
(between Bennington St & Wool St)
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 648-5331

Neighborhood: Inner Sunset
345 Judah St
(between 8th Ave & 9th Ave)
San Francisco, CA 94122
(415) 664-0126

Neighborhood: Haight-Ashbury
1369 Haight St
(between Central Ave & Masonic Ave)
San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 431-8355

(and of course we all know...)
Neighborhoods: Nob Hill, North Beach/Telegraph Hill
261 Columbus Ave
at Broadway
(between Jack Kerouac Aly & Saroyan Pl)
San Francisco, CA 94133

Now, this is all just off the top of my head. I know I'm forgetting plenty. So if another good shop comes to mind let us know. Happy Holidays to the good kids, & if you've been bad, well, watch your butt. It's getting cold and Krampus is out there...

Bestsellers and....not

'Tis the season for everyone and their book review section to list their best books of the year. I thought I would run down what's hot this holiday season, and a few things we thought we'd be selling better than we are. To begin, the single bestselling item at Green Apple since Thanksgiving is (drumroll)- finger monsters! Yeah, we're a bookstore, but people have a hard time resisting these little guys at a buck a pop. The next bestselling item is...Mad Libs! Holy cow, I thought we had a serious literary venture going here. Our remainder buyer bought a huge assortment of Mad Libs, and we're moving them out by the armload at just $1.98 each. OK, let's get serious now. The bestselling book in the store, even though we were out of it until the middle of the month, is R. Crumb's awesome Book of Genesis. We've got a bunch in stock right now, but it's going fast. The other bestselling books, in descending order, are The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, National Book Award winner Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, Alice Munro's new collection of stories Too Much Happiness, and Ad Hoc at Home, which unfortunately is about to be out of stock for a while. Our current Book of the Month, Bicycle Diaries, is next on the list, and to complete the list is a book off our staff favorites display, Art & Fear. Our new and very functional website lists inventory as of last midnight, and you can order a book to be picked up in the store. Technology actually making your life easier for once.

Now for some books that we had high hopes for, but our customers don't seem to share our enthusiasm. Topping that list is James Ellroy's magnum opus, Blood's a Rover. Not sure why folks aren't putting this one under their tree. Another book we had high hopes for is Justice, which seems like a perfect dad book. Lastly, all of the folks who bought Pride and Prejudice and Zombies don't seem to be as enthusiastic for Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, at least not at Green Apple (I have noticed it on nation bestseller lists).

Breakin' The Law: Using Bleeding Cowboys

Bleeding Cowboys has been one of the most popular grunge fonts of the last couple of years. It’s a free font from and is easily available to any designer or “amateur designer” out there. Sadly, this font with so much promise has become, though no fault of the creator, the new Papyrus. Its true that it is way over used, though I feel the problem with most applications of it is that its not used in the right way or for the right project. That being the fault of those “amateur designers”.

The number one rule in typography is: don’t settle for what the font gives you. That’s especially true for a lot of grunge fonts. You should use them as a foundation to build upon manipulating size, weight, kerning, etc. how this font gets used most of the time is people wanting to type a name out, select the font, and call it finished. For shame.

I’ve selected 5 examples of this font being used in a way that it should be used. (Well at least I feel it works). Why only 5 examples? Because as far as I know, there are only 5 good examples in existence. Which is the inspiration for this article. That rebellious side of me that always says “you’re not supposed to do that, but dammit I’m going to make it work!” wants to save this fonts reputation and hopefully inspire others to do what is right with Bleeding Cowboys and not have it go the way of Papyrus, Rosewood, and Times new Roman.

In this example of Cabo Wabo tequila from, you will see the first rule of typography put to use. The designer never settled for what the font was, but only took what was needed. What makes this font so recognizable and often despised and loved are the whips and splats on the letters. But the true strength of the font is the western serif letterform itself. A nice sans serif font also balances it

Another example from Again you see the designer cutting off unnecessary whips and splats and letting the letterform really come through. They also balanced it with another grunge, though less intense, font. All three bottles share a nice rusty, grungy, color palette, which is another thing to keep in mind. You shouldn’t use this font with pastels or rainbow colors. If you’re going to go grunge, you have to go all the way. Nirvana > Bush

Again, notice the color palette. And for the third time, we’re not settling for the font right out of the box. (or would it be folder?) There’s just enough crazy grunginess to it to make it noticeable and fill some negative space. This one uses a serif font to balance the rest of the text. So in our third example, we see a third different type of font being used for balance and they all work well.

Master card
Why master card is using this, I don’t know. I suppose major corporations like getting in on the trends from time to time too. (even David Carson did an ad for Western Union in the 90s) but focusing on the pure aesthetics of this, it’s following the rules of the other examples. Not over done, good color selection, balanced by another font, and using the capital letters.

Okay, shameless self promotion here, but hey, its my blog! After seeing the previous four, there should be no surprises about the use of this one. My whole personal identity is centered on an old west outlaw theme. I think this is the perfect choice of font for myself. I know what you’re thinking; “it’s the new papyrus why would you use this for your own logo omg!” well, remember that thing I said about “knowing im not supposed to do this but dammit im going to make it work anyway!” Yea that also played a part of the font choice for myself. I guess if your going to be an “outlaw” you’ve got to break some rules, right?