Happy Books

A woman came into the store the other day and asked for a suggestion for something to read. She had been reading a lot of heavy, dark books, and asked if we could recommend a "happy book." Not funny, necessarily, but uplifting, affirming. It got me thinking. The best book I read in the last year, Every Man Dies Alone, by Hans Fallada, certainly didn't fall into that category. The last book I read that I really liked does have a happy ending, but the reader has to get past a lot of distress to get to that point. And the oeuvre of the great Cormac doesn't contain a lot of sunny, carefree moments. Just like comedies never winning the best-picture Oscar, happy books mostly don't get the respect they probably deserve. The book I finally landed on was Timbuktu by Paul Auster , the story of a homeless man as told from the point of view of his only friend, a dog. I read it a long time ago (and now it is out of print, it would seem), but I remember it as a book that left me with a happy glow. Any other suggestions?


We would always prefer to sell you a book, but we are pleased to announce that Green Apple is now ready to meet all your head warming needs.

That's right, come spring winds, summer fog, fall fun, or winter winds, the Green Apple beanie will keep you warm AND help keep Green Apple's brilliant booksellers employed.

At only $9.95, it's the perfect gift for any literate San Franciscan with a cold head.

Why I Read by Peter Carlson

A few years ago, we started an occasional series in our email newsletter: an original essay by a writer called "Why I Read." We've been reprinting them on the blog on occasion (see below for links to others).

Today's comes from Peter Carlson, who wrote a fine and funny book called K Blows Top. It was our Book of the Month back in June 2009 (my blurb on the book is here; or pre-order the paperback here--it's due in about a month). Without further ado, here's why Peter Carlson reads:

I read to be entertained and enlightened, amazed and amused.

I read to hear great stories and encounter fascinating minds. I read to fall asleep and I read to wake up. I read to learn how the world works, how the other half lives, how we got in this mess and how we can get out. I read to find out what happened yesterday, and also to find out what happened in the Big Bang and the Black Plague and the Black Sox scandal. I read because reading transports me through time and space and I don’t even have to get out of my chair, except to pour more coffee.

When I was in kindergarten, I fell in love with the delightful rhythm and music and wordplay of Dr. Seuss and ever since then I’ve been reading in the hopes of finding a book that made me feel as ecstatic as the good Dr. did. Seuss led me to the zany comic verse of my next literary hero, Ogden Nash. My search for Nash poems led me to anthologies of American humor, where I discovered Mark Twain and William Saroyan, and I haven’t been the same since.

I love how one book leads to another and another and another in a never-ending chain of discovery. I read to satisfy my curiosity, but my curiosity is insatiable, so I keep on reading.

I read everything--newspapers, magazines, novels, poems, biographies, history, e-mail, junk mail, and the backs of cereal boxes, although the quality of cereal box literature ain’t what it used to be. I also read the wisdom inside fortune cookies, always adding the customary implied ending “in bed,” which inevitably improves the message. I also enjoy reading FBI files, in which words, lines, sometimes entire pages are blacked out by G-man censors—a heavy-handed, backhanded tribute to the power of words.

I love the moment when something an author wrote in another time and place makes me burst out laughing. And I treasure the moments when I’ve watched people riding the Metro in Washington read my newspaper stories and laugh out loud. That’s a better award than a Pulitzer Prize, although less lucrative.

Of course, it was my love of reading that led me to start writing in the first place. And attempting to write inevitably gives you a deeper appreciation for what you read. But there is a downside, as any honest writer will admit: You read something that’s really good and you think, Damn, I wish I’d written that.

I‘ve just published a new book —“K Blows Top,” a non-fiction comedy about Nikita Khrushchev’s bizarre adventures in America. I’ll be thrilled if readers think, Damn, I wish I’d written that. The only thing better would be hearing them laugh out loud.

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

Poem of the Week by Kim Addonizio

Happy Monday. Today's poem comes from Oakland poet Kim Addonizio's new book Lucifer at the Starlite. Enjoy.

Where Childhood Went

The teeth sold to the fairies
are tombstones in the graveyard of the fireflies.

By their cold caught light
you can make out the big house submerged

in the backyard creek,
thought-minnows spinning in motes in the attic.

The lovely young parents, so long preserved,
are showing signs of rot;

the kitten named Princess, signs
of invisibility. But look, the old dolls

are doing well; they smile and smile.
And the witch? Darling, the witch was real.

The Fist Roberto Bolaño...

I know, I know more Roberto Bolaño recommendations from Green Apple...

But this is his first book ever! The book he waited twenty years into his career to publish. The book Bolaño himself said, "the only novel that doesn't embarrass me is Antwerp."

Here is what I will say: Just today opened my locker to see a small, black, hardcover book with gold foil stamping on the front (the picture to the left does no justice). I turned the book to look at the spine to see in the same gold foil stamping ND.

So I spent my breaks reading the first 20 pages of this magical book and trying to figure out just what to make of it. . . .

Well, I'm loving it, though I can see what Bolaño means in his introduction when he says, "I never brought this novel to any publishing house, of course. They would've slammed the door in my face and I'd have lost the copy."

All that
Bolaño will later write is in this small, concise, beautiful surrealist murder mystery that travels countries and continents and literary borders.

A New Biography of...

Oprah! Buy it now.
(For more: The Guardian)

All grown up

Green Apple suddenly feels so grown up: we got our very first slatwall last month.

Slatwall, of course, is a retail staple: a simple way to hang or display many different types of merchandise. But at Green Apple, everything from books to DVDs, from shirts to games, has long been housed on plain pine bookcases. I admit, it goes against every bone in our body to remove two bookcases and replace them with slatwall. Our fear is that as bookcases (and books) disappear, we will gradually become a gift store with books, not a bookstore with other stuff.

Luckily, we are still a few hundred bookcases and about 150,000 books away from that fear. So you can feel OK coming in to browse our eclectic and stylish selection of greeting cards. Really, it's OK. Come on in.

Poem of the Week by Anya Logvinova

Let's skip to Russia for this week's poem, shall we?

The following is by Anya Logvinova from Contemporary Russian Poetry: an Anthology, edited by Evgeny Bunimovich (Dalkey Arhive, 2008).  This poem was translated by Larissa Shmailo.

The Best Poems, I Swear to God

The best poems, I swear to God,
aren't about unfaithful husbands,  unfaithful wives.
They remind you of a list of things for the road,
essential, beautiful, permitted.

Usually they're about autumn, about white ovens
about how homes are built, how butter is churned.
They are rarely about the fact that everything could be lovely;
they are more often about what we shouldn't mention.

Willy Vlautin Event on May 3rd!!

Lately I've been reading a couple books in the 600 page range, so I haven't been very good about blogging. But then I saw that we are doing an event with Will Vlautin.

I wasn't the first in the store to read Willy Vlautin; I wasn't even the first to read Lean on Pete; but I am definitely convinced that I don't know of another writer like Willy. He is one of those authors where I was tossed his first book and couldn't wait for the next (but not in one of those mystery series sort of ways). KPR first tossed me Motel Life, Willy's first book and I read it, fully enthralled, in one quick sitting. The next day I read Northline. I will say that none of these books are alike, but Willy's voice and feeling make them a part of a sad and lonely series.

KPR says of Lean on Pete: "Vlautin's prose is skillfully without artifice, telling the story directly and cleanly, and we ache as our protagonist tries to make his way in an indifferent and sometimes dangerous world."

I will say that the event with Willy at the Edinburgh Castle was one of the best readings I have even been privileged to see. Willy read with a pedal steel behind him and once again, KPR's review of that night (or maybe Pete's, not quite sure, but I definitely agree): "Finally, I just have to say...it was the most sublime literary event I've ever attended. This promises to be a rich Monday evening, even if you don't go to author events."

So come by the store, pick up Lean on Pete, and join us on May 3rd.

Our Customers Love Us!

The maxim in retail is that you only hear from your customers when they're unhappy. Which is a good thing- we definitely want to hear from people when they feel that they weren't treated well at the store, or if in some other way they were somehow let down by their pals at Green Apple. But sometimes people write to tell you how much they like you. And sometimes they go even further. We've had people bake cookies for the staff, or drop off baseball tickets because they know there are a lot of Giants fans here. The above paint sample collage was sent to us by an appreciative neighbor as a token of her affection for the store. It is now affixed to the wall of our stairwell, a place of high honor. It is lovely, and we are honored.

Nicest Author in the World?

Working in the book business, we have pretty special access to authors. Between trade shows, book tours, drop-in visits, and just plain old customers who are writers, we meet dozens of authors every year. And, of course, we booksellers think of authors like some people think of movie stars or popes. The authors vary, of course, in their level of success, from self-published scribes to Pulitzer Prize winners. And they vary, of course, in how they treat booksellers and the general public.

Some swoop in with an entourage (like Maya Angelou did a few years ago). Some sneak in under the radar (like Oliver Sacks did with actor Robin Williams once in my early days of bookselling). And some try to steal their own books. Well, OK. One tried to steal his own book. But that's another story.

This winter, I was invited to a publisher sponsored dinner with Howard Norman at a book industry trade show. Alas, at the last minute, he canceled--a combination of his mother dying and crazy winter blizzards kept him from coming. Understandable, right? Sure, I was disappointed. I LOVED the Bird Artist and his short story collection Kiss in the Hotel Joseph Conrad and very much liked The Museum Guard and and The Haunting of L and enjoyed his most recent book What is Left the Daughter (coming this summer). But when your mom dies, all bets are off, right?

So it surprised me to get hand-written card in the mail about a month later apologizing for missing the dinner, thanking Green Apple for its support over the years, offering to come by in August when he's in the area, and giving me his snail mail and email addresses.

A real mensch, I say.

Any other nominations for nicest author ever?

Poem of the Week by Joseph Noble

Happy Monday. Here's your weekly dose of poetry. This week's poem is by Joseph Noble from An Ives Set (Lyric & Press, 2006). Enjoy.

PS. Something's wrong with our web site. We DO have a copy of this book on hand.

calcium light night

to sing and to speak
the alphabet begins
fife type tones bones
signals with hat in hand
thinking in the cell
tramp tone
makes you free
sound round
the few days
we shall breathe

Local Author Honored

Congratulations to Richmond District resident and young adult author (and regular patron of Green Apple) S. Terrell French, who is in Washington D.C. at this very moment accepting the Green Earth Book Award for her novel Operation Redwood, which came out in May of last year. One of our bestselling young adult novels of the year, Operation Redwood mixes fast-paced adventure with an environmental message, as a group of San Francisco youngsters set out to save a redwood grove from the clutches of a large corporation intent on clearcutting. Here is a recent profile of the author from The Examiner.

Sarah Palin and Green Apple team up to save the wolves!

When Sarah Palin's memoir, Going Rogue, came out back in November, we at Green Apple thought it would be nice to put the proceeds to good use. So we decided to donate 100% of the profits of the book to The Alaska Wildlife Alliance, an organization that works to prevent aerial hunting of Alaska's wolves, among other good causes. It also worked out to be a pretty good publicity stunt (see here and here and here and here). In the end, we sold 12 copies. Several people who bought the book from us told us that they were buying it as a gift, but that they were glad to be able to buy it from a place where the money would do some good. One customer even wanted to buy the book and not take it with them- we just told her to make a donation directly!

So a big thank you to Green Apple customers who bought the book from us. Today we cut a check to The Alaska Wildlife Alliance for $139.15, and maybe there will be one more wolf roaming Alaska than there otherwise would have been.

Alpha-bet : the Best Bet

It's time, internet and fellow booksellers, for me to confess something: I have the alphabet stuck in my head most of the time. Anyone else? No, really? I didn't think so. But after a day of shelving books, maintaining a section in detail, or scanning the shelves in a frantic attempt to find an author with an ambiguously hyphenated last name, it just seeps in there, a constant stream of relating one letter to what must come before or after it.

This may effect me more than most, due to a condition remarked upon by all who know me called an Uncannily Precise Recollection of Every Sesame Street Routine Aired Between 1985 and 1991. I don't know why I developed this, but as evidence I recently identified a co-worker's old favorite short based only on her vague description of a particular rain boot. I think that those fragile sponge-y years during which public broadcasting was my only televised input used up my entire memorization capacity, and while my relationship with subsequent learning suffered for it, it has the lovely benefit of providing many different tunes for remembering where letters go while I'm shelving books at Green Apple.

Long story short, this post is dedicated to the alphabet, and this month is dedicated to poetry, and so I give you this:

Ron Silliman's The Alphabet is a wonderful example of how the simplest units of our strange and baffling language can be stranger and baffling-er than you ever thought possible. At a whopping 1,054 pages of poetry and narrative verse, it's a gorgeous beast of a thing, a compilation of twenty six smaller volumes published over the years in various journals and magazines, each dedicated to a letter of the alphabet. It's no simple read, best suited to live on your bedside table for a while be chiseled at gradually, but there are lines in there that will stop you cold and make you want to go back, understand how you got there and figure out where the heck you're going. So if you're looking to draw out National Poetry Month into several months, or if you really have absolutely nothing to do until May, then this book is the perfect celebration of all that poetry can do and undo.

But if you need a simpler alphabet story, or perhaps you need help navigating Green Apple's (ahem) flawlessly alphabetized shelves, allow me to share my favorite for making the process a little more wonderful, albeit with questionable depictions of traditional African garb. A, Amazing.

Book spine poems

A new floor is being installed on our mezzanine today

We usually try to create original content here, more or less, instead of just pointing you elsewhere on the web. But with our kid's section torn up for two days for new flooring, and in celebration of National Poetry Month, we gleefully steer you here and here to see "book spine poems," like the ones below.


Ms. Kelley and Ian's

Stone Arch Books Blog

Good stuff, eh?

Poem of the Week by Duncan McNaughton

Welcome to a new week, the first week of National Poetry Month. This week's poem is by Duncan McNaughton

Dizzy birks Jack's head at the bar

according the theory of light of Exodus of Cyzicus, if
along the corniche at Smyrna
among the gently rocking vessels moored nearby
is one in which a woman sleeps
in a torment of neglect
the afternoon away
against the evening's festivities, then
amidst the promenade of strolling Levantines
must be collapsed on a bench a man
collapsed in mourning
as if twisted around an invisible pole
don't disturb him

Exodus constructed a huge ship at Gades
which he filled with party girls and physicians
for the westward voyage in the shape of a horse

when he is ready he will take coffee like a sacrament
tobacco cigaret in any cosmopolitan area there are masters
locally permanent at odds with themselves
on the subject of this world
and the worms boring through its hull

--Duncan McNaughton, from Capricci (Blue Millenium Press, 2003)

Say Hey? Say Baseball!

Well after a long winter's wait...Happy opening day! (Even if it is only the Yanks and Red Sox opening day). To celebrate a new season here are some baseball books you should check out...

Spiros says of Willie's Boys: "When I was growing up , Willie Mays was The Man. His 1972 trade to the hated New York Mets was my first childhood intimation that not all was right with the cosmos. This book is valuable in giving the 'Marvell Origins' account of my idol (I knew Willie's nickname is buck; I hadn't realized it had been bestowed upon him by his Birmingham Black Barons teammates: it was short for 'runs like a buck, walks like a duck'). More crucially, it serves as an account of the riveting Negro National League Pennant Race of 1948, and an examination of the causes of the death of the Negro Leagues. All in all, an excellent read."

Next is the authorized biography of Willie by James Hirsch, Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend. There is so much depth to this book, so many great stories, that I couldn't put it down. Willie is the man.

Lastly...looking for a good coffee table book? For only $29.98 there is the Big League Ballparks: The Complete Illustrated History. This is a beautiful and informative look at the history of the ballpark. It takes us from 1845 to the present, with 500 pages of history. The perfect opening day present for any baseball fan.


Felices Pascuas

It's a bit after 1:00AM in Buenos Aires, where I've still got a couple of hours to kill before going out to hit Palermo Soho and its legendary nightlife. All the buzz back in the states seems to be that the Ipad was released to as much fanfare as the original Iphone. Excuse me if I don't grab the next plane to Best Buy. During the past couple of weeks my wife and I have traveled through three countries and are looking at two more to come. I've been on eight flights so far and have yet to see a Kindle. I can't imagine that the Ipad will be much different, fanfare and dollars aside.

We're both (obviously) voracious readers, and packing a mini-library for a month's worth of excursions away from home was quite a chore. You've got to be committed to your selections. Every page needs to count. But that's half the fun, yes?

I tore through Sebastian Junger's forthcoming 'War' in an advance reading copy - it won't be realeased for more than a month. Yet when we saw that the lending library of our digs in El Chalten (Patagonia) had a bathtub bloated paperback of 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' on its lending shelf, I gladly left 'War' and gave the dragon its due. Then we passed that "Girl" off to the Scottish couple behind us in line for our return flight; they were thrilled. I wonder who will find 'War', and if they will realize that it's something a bit special.

My wife was reading my old copy of 'Subterrianans' when an old photo of an older girlfriend fell onto the bed. She was cute in a late-eighties sort of way, and I hadn't thought of her in decades. The copy cost me $2.00 way back when, and even though it broke into pieces during this trip, between the two of us, a buck became a buck well spent.

I read a tattered copy of an out of print biography of W.C. Fields on Easter Island. Damn if he doesn't look like a Moai on the cover... There are 3,500 horses that roam free on the island and they claim as many people, but there are three libraries in the singular town of Hanga Roa. Still, I'll probably leave this tome somewhere near Bolivia. Or maybe in Uruguay if it survives the journey.

Killing time in the airport of Santiago, Chile, we were drinking beers in an earthquake shattered terminal beside an older Austrailian couple. He had a Lee Child mystery peeking out of his backpack. I had read that one in the past, but he'd just found his near where the penguins roam in Punto Arenas. We gabbed about Jack Reacher and then pooled our change to cover the drinks - all the ATM machines were on the fritz.

As I type this, my wife is flipping through 'Basketball Diaries' by Jim Carroll, a genuine poet who passed away while books were still read on paper, and didn't yet need a current converter to give them life overseas. She knew I was posting this blog, and chuckled at the serendipity of a line she came upon. Books are sometimes like that. Aku Aku.

"The more I read the more I know it now, heavier each day, that I need to write. . . and each time a page gets turned a section of the pentagon goes BLAST up in smoke. Solid."