Books In Translation...

To continue with my books in translation series I realized that I hadn't written about the last three books that I had finished, not to mention that they are all recent works in translation from New Directions...

The first was put out in the beginning of February- Bad Nature, or With Elvis In Mexico. It is part of their New Directions Pearls Series, containing short works in a small and sleek format for around ten bucks. Others in this series have been Federico García Lorca's In Search of Duende, Tennessee Williams' Tales of Desire, and the forthcoming Everything and Nothing by Borges...

Bad Nature is a short novel by the amazing Spanish novelist/journalist/translator of major English works into Spanish, Javier Marías. Marías is best known for his three volume trilogy Your Face Tomorrow (each word is a link to each volume) also published by New Directions...

Bad Nature
is a quick read, and definitely larger than its 57 pages. It is narrated by a young Spanish kid working on Elvis' 13th film Fun In Acapulco. It is short so I don't want to give anything away but this is a great read (and inexpensive at that).

Stay tuned next Sunday when I will talk about either one or both of the latest Roberto Bolaño novels to be put out by New Directions; Monsieur Pain and The Skating Rink.

Standing the Test of Time

My associate Pete wrote last week about books in the "1,000 copy club," that is, books that Green Apple has sold more than a thousand copies of over time. The book in question was If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland, first published in 1938. Published over 70 years ago, it still outsells (at least here at the Apple) every other writing book published since, including books by much more successful authors like Stephen King and and Elmore Leonard.

So what other books are there like that, written over 50 years ago but still setting the standard in their field? The first one that comes to mind is The Joy of Cooking, originally written in 1936 (and revised a few times since then), it
continues to be one of our top 5 cookbooks every year, year in and year out, no matter what other cookbooks come along and catch the public's fancy and sell well for a while and then disappear.

Another candidate would be Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. This one is from 1918, and though other usage guides have come and gone, nobody seems to have said it as well as these boys.

My last candidate is a bit more obscure- Calculus Made Easy (as if). While we don't sell nearly as many copies of this as we do of the above-mentioned books, it still sells a few copies every year, exactly 100 years after it was originally published.

I'm not saying these are the best books in their respective categories. It's just that, for whatever reason, they have caught the book-buying public's fancy. Friends recommend them to friends, generation upon generation. Can anyone think of other books that fall into this category?

Join me for a drink?

I’m growing more and more impressed with the quality and uniqueness of literary events in the Bay Area these days - impressed yes, but not surprised… In a city that leads the rest in dollars spent per capita on books and booze, I’ve come to expect (and also work hard to organize) authors from far and wide pimping their wares in watering holes that range from dive bars to speakeasies to penthouses to cafes. If there’s a table and a stage – OK, maybe some haven’t had a stage, but still – literature in The City flows like fine wine; or at least MD2020.

Over the past couple of months I’ve attended sold-out Literary Death Matches, a packed Porchlight and a really rambunctious Quiet Lightning. Sad that I missed the most recent Writers With Drinks, but I do believethat I'll be there next time...

So when I encourage you to brave the rain tonight and join me at The Knockout for another in the continuing Drinks With Tony series, you know that I know what I’m talking about. Tony Dushane has been recording a live talk-radio show there for some time now, but tonight’s scene will be a bit different, as we’re celebrating the release of Tony’s new book, Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk – his memoir of growing up Jehovah Witness. Interesting, indeed! Joining Tony on stage this evening will be Alan Black, Harmon Leon and Marisa Matarazzo with musical guests Vagabondage.
Tonight's event is FREE, so please try and make it down and support your local scene!


I've been pretty heavily in to the work of Anders Nilsen for a little over a year now, and since I just can't get every little thing of his in to the store (much is out of print) I'm putting the spotlight on his work today. You might recognize his illustrations from a book cover or three, such as Ron Currie Jr.'s book God is Dead, his award winning cover (at the NY Book Fair) for Armitage's translation of The Odyssey, or perhaps the recent Penguin reissue of Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales. Whether you have or haven't heard his name I highly recommend you look further in to his work. Green Apple carries his most recent graphic novel Dogs & Water, which I can attest for myself is mighty good.

For a little more info on the guy, his website is here. His blog, in which he writes on his own work as well as others, is here.

Poem of the Week by e.e. cummings

One of my favorite poets is e.e. cummings. I'm drawn to his playfulness with language and his humor, and also to the occasional lustyness of his poetry. A newly released collection called Erotic Poems gathers 50 of his romantic and lusty poems along with 12 drawings by the poet.

there is a
moon sole
in the blue

amorous of waters
blinded with silence the
undulous heaven yearns where

in tense starlessness
anoint with ardor
the yellow lover

stands in the dumb dark

love i slowly
of thy languorous mouth the


Literary Quotes

One of my favorite all time quotes from Herman Melville's Moby Dick: "All our arguing with him would not avail; let him be, I say: and Heaven have mercy on us all—Presbyterians and Pagans alike—for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending."

From John Steinbeck's East of Eden: "It is true that we are weak and sick and ugly and quarrelsome but if that is all we ever were, we would millenniums ago have disappeared from the face of the earth."I'm not sure which of the English translations has this Georges Perec quote, in French the book was L'Infra-ordinaire: "What we need to question is bricks, concrete, glass, our table manners, our utensils, our tools, the way we spend our time, our rhythms. To question that which seems to have ceased forever to astonish us. We live, true, we breathe, true; we walk, we go downstairs, we sit at a table in order to eat, we lie down on a bed on order to sleep. How? Where? When? Why?"

Gung Hay Fat Choy

A lot of independent bookstores are struggling in these tough economic times. Competition from the big chains, Amazon, e-books: it all chips away at the bottom line. But at Green Apple, we're holding our own. One might ask the secret of our success. Is it our business acumen? Our aggressive marketing? No, it all comes down to The Lion Dance. Every Chinese New Year, members from local martial arts clubs come around and, for a small donation, perform a Lion Dance in the entryway of the store and set off some firecrackers to ward off the evil spirits. This ensures good fortune for the coming year. So Gung Hay Fat Choy, everyone. For a good book on Chinese New Year, check out Celebrate Chinese New Year by Carolyn Otto.


My latest staff pick, Alfred Jarry's The Supermale, just showed up at Green Apple the other day. A pioneer of the surreal and absurd in his time, Jarry was a notable figure in Paris. A drunken showboat, a rampaging cyclist, a brilliant author, an irresponsible owner of firearms. A destined pauper and a lifelong midget, his mere existence was controversial in the time of his life (1873 -1907).

Recently reprinted, in Jarry's fashion The Supermale still remains equally hilarious and bizarre. Some wary readers may be deterred as it is often cited as 'the first cyborg sex novel,' but really, don't let that stop you, your friends, your family or pets. Insanity, blasphemy. Whatever. It's been over one hundred years since the book was published and it still holds up as more clever than the bulk of literature published in the last ten.

Below is a quick short story by Jarry to give you glimpse of what you're in for. To read about the man himself, click his name below (highly recommended).


By Alfred Jarry

Barabbas, slated to race, was scratched.

Pilate, the starter, pulling out his clepsydra or water clock, an operation which wet his hands unless he had merely spit on them -- Pilate gave the send-off.

Jesus got away to a good start.

In those days, according to the excellent sports commentator St Mathew, it was customary to flagellate the sprinters at the start the way a coachman whips his horses. The whip both stimulates and gives a hygienic massage. Jesus, then, got off in good form, but he had a flat right away. A bed of thorns punctured the whole circumference of his front tyre.

Today in the shop windows of bicycle dealers you see a reproduction of this veritable crown of thorns as an ad for puncture-proof tyres. But Jesus's was an ordinary single-tube racing tyre.

The two thieves, obviously in cahoots and therefore 'thick as thieves', took the lead.

It is not true that there were any nails. The three objects usually shown in the ads belong to a rapid-change tyre tool called the 'Jiffy'.

We had better begin by telling about the spills; but before that the machine itself must be described.

The bicycle frame in use today is of relatively recent invention. It appeared around 1890. Previous to that time the body of the machine was constructed of two tubes soldered together at right angles. It was generally called the right-angle or cross bicycle. Jesus, after his puncture, climbed the slope on foot, carrying on his shoulder the bike frame, or, if you will, the cross.

Contemporary engravings reproduce this scene from photographs. But it appears that the sport of cycling, as a result of the well-known accident which put a grievous end to the Passion race and which was brought up to date almost on its anniversary by the similar accident of Count Zborowski on the Turbie slope -- the sport of cycling was for a time prohibited by state ordinance. That explains why the illustrated magazines, in reproducing this celebrated scene, show bicycles of a rather imaginary design. They confuse the machine's cross frame with that other cross, the straight handlebar. They represent Jesus with his hands spread on the handlebars, and it is worth mentioning in this connection that Jesus rode lying flat on his back in order to reduce his air resistance.

Note also that the frame or cross was made of wood, just as wheels are to this day.

A few people have insinuated falsely that Jesus's machine was a draisienne, an unlikely mount for a hill-climbing contest. According to the old cyclophile hagiographers, St. Briget, St. Gregory of Tours, and St. Irene, the cross was equipped with a device which they name suppendaneum. There is no need to be a great scholar to translate this as 'pedal'.

Lipsius, Justinian, Bosius, and Erycius Puteanus describe another accessory which one still finds, according to Cornelius Curtius in 1643, on Japanese crosses; a protuberance of leather or wood on the shaft which the rider sits astride -- manifestly the seat or saddle.

This general description, furthermore, suits the definition of a bicycle current among the Chinese: "A little mule which is led by the ears and urged along by showering it with kicks."

We shall abridge the story of the race itself, for it has been narrated in detail by specialized works and illustrated by sculpture and painting visible in monuments built to house such art.

There are fourteen turns in the difficult Golgotha course. Jesus took his first spill at the third turn. His mother, who was in the stands, became alarmed.

His excellent trainer, Simon the Cyrenian, who but for the thorn accident would have been riding out in front to cut the wind, carried the machine.

Jesus, though carrying nothing, perspired heavily. It is not certain whether a female spectator wiped his brown, but we know that Veronica, a girl reporter, got a good shot of him with her Kodak.

The second spill came at the seventh turn on some slippery pavement. Jesus went down for the third time at the eleventh turn, skidding on a rail.

The Israelite deminondaines waved their handkerchiefs at the eighth.

The deplorable accident familiar to us all took place at the twelfth turn. Jesus was in a dead heat at the time with the thieves. We know that he continued the race airborne -- but that is another story.

The 1,000 Copy Club, Part II

Last summer, we introduced Green Apple's 1,000 copy club: books that have sold over 1,000 new copies since our computer became able to track perpetual sales (somewhere around 1999). We sort of, um, forgot about that nascent series, but it's back at last.

Coming in just 140 copies behind our all-time best-seller--You Can't Win by Jack Black--is Brenda Ueland's If You Want to Write (@2329 as of today).

Clearly Green Apple customers do want to write.

If You Want to Write is one of those inspirational writing books that transcends writing, i.e. it inspires all to art, independence, and truthfulness. First published in 1938, it has clearly stood the test of time.

In part, sales of these two books stem from their placement on our Staff Favorites display and the shelf-talkers our booksellers wrote for these books. But there must be something else--other books sell for a while then die down, while these 1,000 copy club members just keep right on moving. . . .but why are our two best-sellers both from small presses? Why are both bestsellers over 70 years old? Hmm. . . .

If you need something to read (or want to write), take the tacit advice of almost 5,000 Green Apple customers over the last ten years, and try You Can't Win or If You Want to Write.

Poem of the Week by John Masefield

Happy Monday. I swam in the bay this weekend for the first time in a few months; the Mavericks surf contest on Saturday was epic; and I'm heading to the warm waters of Mexico later this week. So today's poem is salty. Anyone else hear the call?


I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song, and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a lughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

John Masefield (1878-1967)
from Poems of the Sea (Everyman's Library Pocket Poets series), 2001

VERY BAD (but somehow sweet and nice...)

OK folks - I dig the creative and well placed 'urban art' that graces many of the walls, sidewalks, light posts and overpasses in our fine city. I appreciate the blast of color and the infusion of life onto the bland, gray voids of the urban jungle. I understand that many of these murals are done with the full consent of building owners, and beyond that, I want everyone to know that Banksy is a personal hero of mine. I get it - I really do!

But I really DON'T enjoy having to replace the front windows of Green Apple because some ***-h*** decided to scribble a tag with acid etching markers. I DON'T dig the abuse of private property without a higher goal than basic defacement. It's time to grow-up a bit, dontcha think?

Sigh, but then I saw this new addition to the entry way of Green Apple this morning. I heart books too, my friend, but I really wish you would just blog about it like everyone else does and leave our walls and glass alone. But thanks for the kind words - next time, why not tell tell your friends instead?

D is for Dirigible

The dust is beginning to settle as the moves throughout the store are (kinda, sorta) on their way to being finished. I don't have much time to say anything, as I should scurry back to organizing the piles of kids books scattered about on the mezzanine, but there's never lack of time for some ABCs, right??

I came across the Space Alphabet [click on the image to view the entire slide-show] while browsing PictureBookIllustration (which is full of incredible art from books throughout present and past times); I'm sure you'll enjoy it. And be sure to stop by the store sometime in the near future to have a look at the new changes!


Pictured above here we've got a photo of Grant Morrison sporting a classy Tom of Finland kind of look. Below, Alan Moore, with sort of a more Fimbulvinter thing going on.
These two play the key roles in a minor dispute that I've affectionately begun calling THE WIZARD WAR. They also both write comics. Specifically some of the most notable comic book titles to come out in the last thirty some odd years, such as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Moore), The Invisibles (Morrison), The Watchmen (Moore), Doom Patrol (Morrison), V for Vendetta (Moore), and We3 (Morrison), just to name a few. Alan Moore's titles may be a little more immediately recognizable due to the fact that many of them have been made into awful, awful films (much to Mr. Moore's chagrin), but this in no way means he's more famous or reputable than Morrison, at least not in the comic world (and, as a sideline, I recently heard rumor that Grant Morrison's We3 was optioned by New Line Cinema).

So aside from fame and multiple awards, what do the two authors have in common? Well they are both well known for reappropriating famous literary and comic characters throughout their works as well as famous historic events. They both have tendencies to write storylines that wax philosophical, question ethical standards, gender, religion, and generally question authority- that is, in a weird between-the-lines comic author sort of way. Oh, and they also totally hate each other. Why? Man, I dunno'...

...I really don't! But okay, okay. Maybe 'hate' is a strong word to use. However there is rumor of some dispute, and they have both made it clear publicly that they are not buddies. I suppose creative disputes are common through all of literature, graphic or non (hell, look at Stan Lee and Steve Ditko). Anyhow, in the vein of our FAMOUS LITERARY DISPUTES shelf that Sparks created on Green Apple's landing some time ago, our new expanded graphic novel section in our fiction annex now features a shelf fully dedicated to THE WIZARD WAR. It showcases choice titles by both authors. Check it out the next time you stop by, y'know, if you're in to that sort of thing.

Oh, and look up some gossip on both of these guys sometime if you're bored. Man they are kooks!

No One Cares What I Had for Lunch

But you should.

There's a book on blogging, you see, called No One Cares What You Had for Lunch: 100 Ideas for Your Blog by Margaret Mason.

But she doesn't know about the meatball sandwich at Bella Pizza on Geary and 5th Avenue. And I have yet to read her book, alas.

Omnivorous neighborhood denizens take note: said meatball sandwich is delicious and comes to about $6.50 with tax. I can't vouch for their pizza; I'm a Nizario's and Giorgio's loyalist.

Back to legitimate book news tomorrow, we swear.

Poem of the Week by Paul Hoover

Happy Monday, readers. This week's poem is by Paul Hoover. It's an excerpt from a poem that shares its title with its book: Edge and Fold (Apogee Press, 2006). Enjoy!


the real that's in the world
is a word intending

absenting all it knows
a single leaf keeps falling

at the center of an eye
where the god is hidden

by the brightness it projects
we have not the strength

to divide ourselves by one
because it can't speak

the field is now a world
aimed at attention

Books in Translation

This week's featured book in translation is by Nobel Prize-winning Herta Müller. The Passport is a dark and lyrical journey through post-World War II Romania.

I have been entranced by this book for the last few days. It is a tough look at Romanians trying to leave a country destroyed by war.

While The Passport is a dark and sad tale, it's written in short and brilliant chapters.
Müller has an understanding of human nature that is both insightful and scary.

Windisch as he bicycles through his town trying to find an escape to Germany for him and his family.

Müller's writing is dark and beautiful, showing the lives of a town trying to escape their past. It is a short, dark book. . .but one that is worth reading.

This blog post is brought to you by Snuggie

Having spent most of my life on the east coast, San Francisco's subtle seasons often left me disappointed. I thought I missed the bracing cold of a January morning or August's oppressive humidity. Now that I'm four months into a Midwest winter (I'm promised it'll last only two more months), I realize I was being sentimental. I'm prone to that sort of thing. However! rather than complaining too much (on a public forum), I'll do my best to remain positive. Yes, I will. I will, yes. I am trying. It's just the wind... and the snow... and the way you can feel your breath freezing in your nostrils and you know that you're bleeding from your nose but the blood freezes on your face and everyone's looking at you and wondering why the hell you aren't wearing a hat and...

[Deep breath.]

One of the (few) positive things about being unable to disrobe from my Snuggie - which, of course, is covered in cat hair and crumbs - is that I have little recourse but to spend a lot of time finding out just how much interesting stuff there is on the Internet. (Oh, sure, I read books too. Sort of.) Who knew? Maybe you didn't, so I'm going to share some wonderful things I've found, like the photograph above of Billy Faulkner. Or this, which must surely be the work of the Devil. Or God, it's hard to tell. Either way, it scares me.

Without any former ado, here are the links:

1. The photograph of Faulkner was pulled from this gallery at Life Magazine of famous literary drunks and addicts. Not included was Alfred Jarry, who, in typical Ubu-esque fashion, offered this quip in reply to concern over his drinking habits: "We thought we had done once and for all with this question of alcoholism, and that all sensible people understood that the use, and even more the abuse, of fermented beverages is what distinguishes man from beast."

2. A few links for Bolaño enthusiasts: First, his story William Burns is available (for free) at The New Yorker. And second, Bolaño's "Advice on the Art of Writing Short Stories," originally published in World Literature Today, is available here.

3. Novelist and provocateur Tom McCarthy (Remainder, one of my favorites) has a long essay on Jean-Philippe Toussaint in the latest issue of the London Review of Books. (In case you forget how much we love Monsieur Toussaint, look here. He's good fer what ails ya.)

4. Coleridge or Wordsworth, eh? The former was an opium addict prone to wanderlust, the latter "the most sober of the great romantics, a water drinker, a walker of the hills, an exemplary family man." The choice is obvious.

5. Finally, Dolores Park will be closed for over a year starting sometime around September 2011. This is awful news, but take consolation in the Secret Spaces of San Francisco.

Word Gobblin'

A while back, I'm not sure how long ago exactly, I asked myself whether or not I might be a 'foodie.' I think around the time I had been sucked in to a semi-extraordinary number of conversations on the subject, and having previously denounced foodie-ism as, well, a kind of ridiculous pomp of American affluence, I decided to seek out some basic foodie literature, see what it was all about, and determine whether or not my attitude was hypocritical. As it turned out, no. I'm not so much a foodie. I like a good meal as much as the next person, and I enjoy cooking perhaps a bit more than the usual twenty-six year old American male, but the er... 'orgasmic' tone of some of the writing I encountered, it was certainly nothing I could abide by. So I happily (or perhaps begrudgingly, depending on my mood), decided to let the pomp continue on without me. On the other hand, on my food-lit expedition I came across a few interesting things.

Alone in the Kitchen With an Eggplant, a remainder book here at Green Apple, contains a haunting tale of solitary culinary by Haruki Murakami revolving around spaghetti, though it hardly seems to be about spaghetti at all. Really an obscure must read for fans.

Issue 102 of Granta, The New Nature writing issue, contained a silent comic by David Heatley which illustrated the process behind the preparation of the classic American lunch (cheeseburger, fries and a coke) in an honest, and what I consider tasteful manner. No pushing of ideologies, merely a diagram the factory farming process. The strip ends with a set table and the reader is left to decide its intentions. Kind of nice I thought, considering the murk of literature out in the world commanding people to eat that and not this, buy this and not that, liberate cow and not chicken, etc.

Michael Pollan holds three spots in the top ten on the SF Chronicle's paperback best seller list. Furthermore there are four other books holding top ten spots which are primarily about food. This information is essentially re-reporting gleaned from the Zyzzyva blog (the angriest literary blog around, which I enjoy being that some of my more unpopular critical views are shared on it), but I found the fact curious. What does this say about the state of literature in our beloved bay? To me things like Zagat have no place on a list such as this, being that it's something that's readily available in 'e' format. Even in the case of Michael Pollan's work, yes, it is nice to see that people are examining their eating and shopping habits, but I can hardly imagine reading In Defense of Food, The Omnivores Dilemma, and Food Rules back to back (let alone writing them). I read Peter Singer's Animal Liberation in high school, among a plethora of zines, articles, etc, which helped influence my own personal dietary choices. I suppose my question is what the current validity of this work is when there is such a world of infinite mystery for us to be exploring? How much truly needs to be said?

Ah well. Perhaps we can all have a discussion sometime. For now let me close this post by drawing your attention to two final things-

1: My coworker Jenn has done an excellent job preparing and arranging a new shelf in our fiction annex, an impressive display of Green Apple's selection of translated foreign literature, with very little focus on food. I cannot recommend taking a look at it enough the next time you happen by the store.

2: My favorite meal still consists of the same thing that it has for the bulk of my life. Here:

Track me down at the store someday if you are interested in going out for some lunch.


As I created a shelf-talker for the Young Adult display of Dino Buzzati's, The Bears' Famous Invasion of Sicily, I realized the words I had written (brutal and horrific) are probably two words parents don't necessarily want to be used to describe their son or daughter's next book choice. This got me thinking, again, about the blurry line which oftentimes divides Young Adult (YAX) and adult books.

Buzzati's book is a perfect example of a story which I'm certain many adults would love, yet it's published via the New York Review of Books Children's Collection, thus making its home the shelves of YAX, a land not frequented by many adults without a child in mind. Buzzati has works in both the adult and YAX sections, as do: Roald Dahl, James Patterson, Jules Verne, Sherman Alexie, Orson Scott Card, Hans Christian Andersen, Oscar Wilde, Robert Louis Stevenson and numerous others. Many of the deemed "classics" are read in middle school and high school classes, therefore those books are sometimes shelved in multiple places as well.

In an attempt to know the product I'm surrounded by, I try to read a few YAX titles, which are usually books I'd otherwise never come across. "Grimble" (Clement Freud/McSweeney's), Against the Odds (Marjolin Hof), The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (Joan Aiken), The Magician's Elephant (Kate DiCamillo) and Pam Munoz Ryan's forthcoming, The Dreamer, are all YAX titles I read last year; they stand proudly on their own as quality literature and are some of the best I read in '09.

I suppose the bottom line is this: a good YA title should be able to be read by adults. So if you're at a blank as to what your next read will be while perusing the regular fiction, you should give the Young Adult section a go.

Also, if you want to read more about the publishing aspect of YA vs. Adult, check this article out from the NY Times.

Poem of the Week: Alan Bernheimer

Happy Monday. Today's poem is by Alan Bernheimer, from his 2009 collection The Spoonlight Institute. Without further ado, here's "Visible Means."

Visible Means

Here for now a small wonder
tea's velvet tongue on fluted teeth

nobody's fault prevents the poor
from being born, with spectators

no wonder foreign objects
contrary to light
touch and go numb
possibly people or plants

half indoors, top half outside
seeing stars at the edge of insomnia
and gray apples at dawn

number, uneasy and underfoot
in some lifelong radio outskirts

from Alan Bernheimer's The Spoonlight Institue, Adventures in Poetry, 2009.