Finally, a bit of sunshine!

And no, I'm not talking about the Giants and their dramatic back to back victories against the Dodgers...

Earlier this week, The San Francisco Bay Guardian published their annual 'Best of the Bay' award issue, and indeed, Green Apple Books emerged victorious in two separate categories!

Thanks to all those who voted for us in the 'Best Used Bookstore' and 'Best Independent Bookstore' categories in the readers' poll. While it's true that we have enjoyed string of 12 or 15 years as the winner in these areas, it's always a great honor, and I hope our streak extends well into the decades to come.

So SFBG Editors and SFBG readers: open your arms for a giant hug from your favorite, appreciative, local booksellers!

A year of Bernhard

I first attempted to read Thomas Bernhard four years ago. In early 2006, Vintage Books published a paperback edition of his novel Gargoyles, which told the story of a doctor's rounds through a desolate mountainous countryside in Austria. Accompanied by his idealistic son, a post-graduate medical student, the doctor makes several stops, each grimmer and more despairing than the last, culminating with a visit to the insomniac Prince Sarau, a character who would be one of the most singular in all of modern fiction if Bernhard hadn't outdone himself in several other of his novels.

Prince Sarau - hysterical, hypersensitive, and above all overflowing with words - is given free reign to rant for upwards of a hundred pages. He is, as I would learn last summer when I (finally) found myself able to return to Bernhard's work, the prototypical Bernhard character. His venom and world weariness consume him, his anguish is of the most universal type, casting Life under the pall of Death: "The catastrophe," he says, "begins with getting out of bed." And yet... what redeems this novel from being nothing more than angst-ridden railing at the injustices of the world is, among other things, Bernhard's adroit manipulation of tragedy and comedy. This oscillation - comparable to that of an alternating current - effects a great pathos in Bernhard's work: a character you want more than anything to hate can become, in the turn of a phrase, one with whom you sympathize. Because you understand what has wounded him.

As alluded to, it took me a couple of years to navigate my way back into Bernhard's work. This was for reasons practical - most of his novels were out-of-print (more on that in a moment) - and personal: it takes an iron-willed constitution to be able to withstand the emotion onslaught of these books. So, I waited. I was certain the time would ripen.

It did, and with beautiful coincidence it seems I've stepped into a Bernhard renaissance: Vintage has reprinted several of these long out-of-print works (Wittgenstein's Nephew, Correction, The Lime Works so far with Concrete and Woodcutters to be released on August 10); Seagull World Books, an impressive newcomer, just released the previously untranslated story collection Prose (pictured above) and will be publishing another of Bernhard's early (decidedly twisted) fairytale-like stories, Victor Halfwit, later this year; and Knopf is releasing a slim volume of Bernhard's account of his attendance at award functions, My Prizes. (For a taste of the scandalous fun of My Prizes, see the Complete Review's take on the book.)

All of this is by way of saying, urgently, IN ALL CAPS, &c.: if you are a serious reader, if you are interested in what it means to be human in an imperfect world, if you are at all curious as to how anguish can be transformed into art, you NEED to read Thomas Bernhard. And now, gratefully, you have no excuse not to.

Come to Papa

With our usual Wednesday blogger Clark out sick, here's a photo and a link that caught our proverbial eye at Green Apple this week.  Yes, it's a Hemingway look-alike contest.  Looks like good times in Key West, huh?

Photo and story from here.

Our Fair Gnome

We received an email in our catch-all "query" mailbox last week, and it was a real blast from the past. We need not add anything further, as the note says it all.

My name is Richard Mansfield, I carved the Punccinello that stands outside your door. (The one you guy guys continually abuse with your idiotic paint schemes.) (And, somewhere around there, there is a hand with an extra finger--that's mine as well--and a baseball player with an articulated arm--that's my work.)
Also, at one time I created every goddamned sign in that place.

Let me tell you something about that:

I walked into Richard Savoy's little hole in the wall bookstore (best guess 1973 or 4) and asked him if he needed any signs. He said, "No, we don't use signs."

He assured me that his customers enjoyed stumbling around through the place with the hope of eventually discovering some order in the apparent madness. While I was there, maybe eight, maybe ten people interrupted him to ask where they might find one thing or another.

"Maybe I could just do a chart, you know a floor plan." "No, thank you. I really don't want signs in here," he said just as if he owned the goddamned place--which he did of course.

So, I went down the block a bit to a bookstore--not yet then called The Jabberwock (and I wish I could remember that guy's name...Bob, I think...had a house on 2nd Avenue, bird watcher.) But that guy, whatever his name, looked at my work and said, "Yeah, give me some large signs for each section and some shelf-size signs. He made up a long list.

So, I made the signs and sold them to the guy and he put them to use and, after a couple days, called me, declared the signs effective, and asked for more.
With that encouragement I stopped in at The Green Apple on my way home and hit Savoy again. I told him that the guy down the street was using my work and he said, "Really...? From the way he said it I got the idea that other had shattered some kind of sacred trust by using signs in his joint.

Couple days later, I deliver the signs to Robert (I'm beginning to think that was his name) and he tells me that (his) competition down the street wants to see me.
So, I stop in and Richard Savoy tells me that he's seen what I'd done down the street and he ordered a few small signs. From that moment on Savoy was sign crazed: I didn't stop making signs for him for almost a year..steady employment, filling up that entire goddamned place with signs.

And I guess that's all I have to say about that.

richard mansfield

P.S. We've always known him as Mergatroid. I don't know why.

Poem of the Week by Timothy Liu

After a brief hiatus, the Poem of the Week returns.  This poem is from Bending the Mind Around the Dream's Blown Fuse (Talisman' House, 2009).


Cistercian chants floating free across a trash-blown sky.

Briefs rolled down mid-thigh tethered to some dream.

Eternal flame steadily sinking towards the alcove's base.

Five nails driven through a column of melting wax.

A desert crossed at century's end a pair of cellular phones.

Topographies of tumbleweed snagged on rusted barbs. 

Along the highway's endless fuse the dashboard lit drive on.

The Return...

Roberto Bolaño's The Return is a dark and twisted collection of stories. . .great, but definitely twisted.

Once again New Directions gives us a Chris Andrews' translation of the Chilean novelist.

These stories are some of the darkest I've read by Bolaño.  They include themes of murder, pornography, prison camps, prostitutes, politics, ghosts, soccer, necrophilia, and other haunting themes. They are Bolaño's short stories, so they're both easy to read and highly insightful as to his idea of "the secret story." Here is an excerpt of Stacy D'Erasmo's interview in The New York Times Book Review:

"That's what art is, he said, the story of a life in all its particularity. It's the only thing that really is particular and personal. It's the expression and, at the same time, the fabric of the particular. And what do you mean by the fabric of the particular? I asked, supposing he would answer: Art. I was also thinking, indulgently, that we were pretty drunk already and that it was time to go home. But my friend said, "What I mean is the secret story.... The secret story is the one we'll never know, although we're living it from day to day, thinking we're alive, thinking we've got it all under control and the stuff we overlook doesn't matter. But every damn thing matters! It's just that we don't realize. We tell ourselves that art runs on one track and life, our lives, on another, we don't even realize that's a lie."

Books, signed.

A couple of Davids did us the great favor of signing copies of their new books: The Lost Cyclist and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. They're sure to go fast, so get 'em while you can.

When Animals Want More

Sometimes animals just want more outta life. Some of them want to explore outside of the confines of their zoo pen, while others have the slightly more ambitious goal of invading a city (namely, Sicily). Frank Tashlin's, The Bear That Wasn't, is slightly melancholy, following a bear who proves himself a fine worker in an industrial complex, but is still always called a, "silly man who needs a shave and wears a fur coat." In the end, the bear rises above his silly bosses by concluding that even though people say he is one thing, doesn't necessarily make it true. Way to think on your own, bear! Curious George even takes part in the animal revolution by, among other things, wanting to make pizza.

There's a new display in the children's section of the store with some of my favorite books highlighting animals who love adventure. What are some of yours?

What it is

Excerpt from Rosanna Greensteet's '09 interview with Slavoj Žižek:

Greenstreet: What makes you depressed?

Žižek: Seeing stupid people happy.

Find more of Žižek's musings on the world at large in any number of his books. Try these:
First as Tragedy, Then as Farce
Living in the End Times
In Defense of Lost Causes
Welcome to the Desert of the Real!

Once more around the block

Robert Walser died doing what he loved: walking.

Last week's post, in which I mentioned a handful of non-fiction books on the "Art of Walking," got me thinking about walking and writing. Isn't walking, after all, as much an imaginative act as a physical one? There's a ruminative and voyeuristic aspect to walking that makes it not unlike the task of the novelist: to be both inside and out, to pay heed to the soul and the city... Indeed, there is a long tradition of walking fiction.

Perhaps the golden age of the walking story was the early 20th century, when writers as diverse as Henry Miller, whose perambulations (and of course his sexual escapades) around Paris formed the basis of Tropic of Cancer and other works; Raymond Queneau - ex-Surrealist and founding member of the Oulipo - who spoofed the pretensions of the former group in his novel Odile, in which a band of revolutionaries set out to change the world - by walking; and Robert Walser, whose long short story "The Walk" (in NYRB's Selected Stories) is a gem of the genre that starts off in typically Walserian fashion:
I have to report that one fine morning, I do not know for sure anymore what time it was, as the desire to take a walk came over me, I put my hat on my head, left my writing room, or room of phantoms, and ran down the stairs to hurry into the street.
My favorite walking novel, though, is of more recent vintage: W.G. Sebald's melancholic Rings of Saturn, a strange mix of history, photography, and the workings of memory. The Rings of Saturn is a troubling book and not a happy one, but through its twilit gloom something of hope shines through; perhaps it's the consolation instilled in us by the act of solitary walking: that of the illusion that we are, at least for a time, moving away from our problems.

Please feel free to share your favorite walking novel with us.

Anyone read Japanese?

Found this ( on Twitter today and wondering what cruel things they're saying about our humble bookstore across the Pacific. Anyone willing to translate for us? Excerpt below:

日本でも扱っているところがあるかもしれません。McSweeney's というサンフランシスコの個性的な出版社が発行している文芸誌(?)です。毎号全然違う形態で、このNo.33は新聞形式。

スラスラっと 読めるようになりたいですけど、全然ダメですねー。

Hey kids - read and be rewarded!

We announced this last week in our newsletter, but I wanted to take another quick moment and pass it along to our blog followers as well: Green Apple Books is having a summer reading reward program for any and all kids 15 and under.

Click the image on top of this post to go to the full-size questionaire. All we ask is that you read 20 books this summer and then tell us a bit about your favorite. Once you fill out the questionaire and bring it into Green Apple Books, we will give you a store credit good for $5.00 - it's that simple. Really.

The books read don't have to be purchased at Green Apple (although we wouldn't mind if you did) and there is a chance that we will use your comment card as an in-store "shelf-talker" so other readers can share in your favorites.

Book lists must get back to Green Apple by August 31st, 2010 so GET READING!!!

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

Book of the Month!

Each month, we present a new book that we enthusiastically recommend. Really enthusiastically recommend. This month's choice was endorsed by multiple Green Applers (not to mention by Dave Eggers on the front page of the NY Times Sunday Book Review last week). Buy it now and thank us later. Here's Nick's "shelf-talker."

Many of the (few) people who say they don't like David Mitchell call his books inaccessible. I can understand this and will start by saying the The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is not one of those books. This is a beautiful, remarkable, and--yes--accessible work of literary genius. There are few books, classics included, that I have enjoyed as much as this book. It has a very historical majesty to it but feels modern at the same time. De Zoet is a wonderful protagonist in a book full of mystery and danger. This book will continue to be read as long as people are reading. Don't think any further. Just buy it. -npb

Haute Art

A personal favorite illustrator and cartoonist of mine, Trevor Alixopulos, will be having a small press spotlight show on his work opening this coming Monday, July 19th at The Cartoon Art Museum (665 Mission St. SF). Aside from technique and attention to detail, what I like about his work is the that the paneling is loose, often abandoning the confines of traditional panels giving most of his stories a kind of dreamlike quality, as if they were vaguely recalled from some far depth of the subconscious. See what I'm talking about below, in his comic rendition of a portion of Hesiod's Works and Days (a particularly impressive accomplishment in my eyes, since I feel it to be extremely rare that a graphic interpretation of works previously published yield any new angle on original text).

See what The Cartoon Art Museum has to say about him below the comic, and check out his books at The Green Apple Annex.

Beginning on June 19, 2010, the Cartoon Art Museum’s ongoing Small Press Spotlight will feature the art of Trevor Alixopulos.

Trevor Alixopulos is Hawaii-born transplant to the Bay Area, raised in Sonoma County. He has been working in art comics and small press for the past ten years. First inspired by the 1990s zine explosion and the new wave of art comics in RAW and LOVE & ROCKETS, he started photocopying his first minis while still in his teens. From his first stapled satirical zines his artistic horizons have broadened to encompass long form graphic novels, experimental narratives and painting.

After producing his handmade comic QUAGGA for several years he was eager to work on a more ambitious scale and jumped at the chance to draw a graphic novel. His first, Mine Tonight (2006), was a deconstructive political thriller, set in the 2004 Presidential Election. Suffused with the overheated, paranoid atmosphere of the post 9/11 years, it attempted a romantic modern noir of Bush’s America. His second graphic novel, The Hot Breath of War (2008) again engaged social themes, but this time in an abstract manner, more lyrical than literal. A novel of short stories grouped around themes of passion and aggression, exploring the areas where people try and fail to connect, from the battlefield to the bedroom. The Daily Cross Hatch called The Hot Breath of War “A book that demands to be experienced.” It was nominated for an Ignatz Award for Best Graphic Novel and was listed on’s Top 100 Comics of the 00’s.

Alongside his longer novels Alixopulos has continued to produce small hand-made comics with a stapler at home, as well as working in watercolor and screenprints. His art has been featured in shows at Giant Robot, Gallery of Sea and Heaven, STUDIO Gallery and in ANTHEM Magazine. On the themes of his work today, Alixopulos stated, “…I’m interested in the play between narrative and iconic forms in comics. Comics stake out some common zone of understanding, while dramatizing those areas where understanding breaks down. I like this profane realm, where the word won’t go; language becomes cartoon, visual joke, enigmatic sign and heraldry.” Today he does occasional commercial illustration, works in a library and draws comics from his home in Santa Rosa, California.

Of Walking

Richard Long, A Line Made by Walking

I was recently introduced to a friend of a friend who moved to San Francisco from London and who knows no one in the city. Partly inspired by Tom Graham's just completed 7-year, 1,200 mile project of walking every street in San Francisco, I promised to show the new arrival around town, but on the condition that we would do so by walking. After all, we do live in the U.S.'s most walkable city. That's something to hang our hat on, I think.

There are no shortage of books on walking, of course: Thoreau's seminal essay "Walking" being one of the most eloquent and widely quoted meditations on an act so mundane and overlooked that in order to appreciate it we've taken to referring to it as an art. (Cf.: Geoff Nicholson's easygoing, rambling The Lost Art of Walking.) And while I promised this transplanted Londoner a series of casual walks, it's more serious walks that intrigue me.

Werner Herzog's 1974 walk from Munich to Paris, chronicled in Of Walking In Ice (which, though it's not on our website is currently in stock), is one such arduous walk. Spurred by typically inscrutable and supremely irrefutable logic - he reasoned that if he were to walk to Paris, his friend (the film critic Lotte Eisner) would not die - Herzog tramped through miserable conditions during three weeks in late-November/mid-December, breaking into boarded up cabins to sleep, making a detour to see Joan of Arc's house, arriving in Paris to find that yes, indeed, his logic proved correct.

Another such walk - the results of which are pictured above - was undertaken by the artist Richard Long. Long's work centers on the idea and practice of walking - and on the possibility of transforming something as transient as a walk into a "lasting" - a relative term - piece of art. A Line Made by Walking, created by Long in 1967, is contextualized in a recent essay by Dieter Roelstraete published in After All's beautiful "One Work" series.

Finally, there's the two-volume set of memoirs by Patrick Leigh Fermor, A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and Water, chronicling what's now a nostalgic walk across Europe from London to the Balkans in the early 1930s. A classic of travel literature, Fermor's account offers an evocation of the splendors of a lost world, and of the pleasures of something as simple, and taxing, as walking.

He loves us (yea, yea, yea!)

One of the first customers at Green Apple this morning was Paul McCartney's production manager, in town for Mr. Sir's concert tonight at AT&T Park.

To hear him tell it, "Paul loves your store - he said I had to come by and check it out." Apparently, the biggest Beatle shops at Green Apple every time he comes through San Francisco! Maybe we'll see him today after his sound check?

By the way, we no longer have that signed first edition of Eclipse in the rare book case - it's on its way across the pond to someone's wife...

Tune In, etc. . .

Well, it's a cold and foggy day in the Richmond District, so it must be summer in the City. And if you're the kind of reader that can turn pages while wearing mittens, I suggest that not only do you keep reading this post, but that you dust off your hi-fi and tune it to KALW next Wednesday the 14th at 11:00AM, when I'll be a guest on 'Your Call.'

That's right, I'll be taking my dulcet tones on the road (and hoping that KFOG doesn't get too jealous) to help folks find just the right book(s) to read this summer. I've got a healthy stack already, but if anyone has a suggestion that I should pass along over the airwaves, please leave a comment below.

Here then are the details: Wed. July 14th on KALW 91.7fm ((or KUSP 88.9fm in Santa Cruz) or streaming here) from 11:00am - 12:00pm. And yes, I'll be taking toll-free calls: 866-897-TALK. But please be nice...

"Why should anyone steal a watch when he could steal a bicycle?" - Flann O'Brien

I've never stolen a watch or a bicycle, nor - knockonwood - have I had either stolen from me, but Flann O'Brien is the perfect man to introduce a new display shelf on our (previously referred to) landing, in praise of bicycles.

It's easy to overlook the ubiquity of the bicycle in the Bay Area, or to take for granted our generally bike-friendly city, but having spent a year in central Illinois, where, upon taking my bike out for its inaugural ride through the corn fields, I was shouted at from a car: "Haven't you heard of a sidewalk?" I can assure you that I am more than happy to be biking in a city with bike lanes, fellow riders, and drivers who are (sometimes) aware. All the more so because that question hurled from a minivan came on a road that didn't even have a sidewalk to ride on, if I were so inclined.

While our modest selection of bicycling books doesn't claim to be comprehensive, we're happy to be able to recommend to readers and bikers some titles that speak to the joy of pedaling:

I read Tim Krabbe's The Rider in one breathless sitting and have since found myself obnoxiously recommending it to anyone interested in road bike racing or excellent journalism. I've never had much ambition or desire to be a racer, but Krabbe, a former chess-player-turned-rider, recounts a grueling 150km race through the Cevennes mountain range so convincingly, with such obvious passion, that I found myself tempted to start practicing climbs on my own.

Flann O'Brien's Third Policeman is, in addition to being a fundamental text in the television series Lost, an incomparable masterpiece of Irish literature, madcap and surreal, full of absurdity and the source of such delightful passages as this:

The gross and net result of it is that people who spent most of their natural lives riding iron bicycles over the rocky roadsteads of this parish get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their bicycle as a result of the interchanging of the atoms of each of them and you would be surprised at the number of people in these parts who are nearly half people and half bicycles...when a man lets things go so far that he is more than half a bicycle, you will not see him so much because he spends a lot of his time leaning with one elbow on walls or standing propped by one foot at kerbstones.
Then there's Pedaling Revolution, Clark's staff pick. I can't do justice to the glory of Clark's shelf-talker and its addendum, so I'll invite you to come into the store to see it for yourself.

Rounding out the display is the ever-useful SF Biking and Walking map, with its sweat-saving routes; the Moon Bay Area Biking guide, a great resource for planning short or long rides; and David Herlihy's lavishly illustrated history, Bicycle. Herlihy is also the author of one of our current bestsellers, The Lost Cyclist, a gripping account of the search for a cyclist who attempted an around the world ride in the late 19th century.

And, of course, everyone's favorite cheese-loving rodent, Anatole, whose primary means of locomotion is, naturally, the bicycle.

BUSTED BANK just compiled a list worth taking a glance at- The Forbes Fictional Fifteen. Though I've just become privy to the knowledge of the list's existence recently, it is apparently one that Forbes compiles annually. It features the fifteen most wealthy fictional characters that they could come up with, though this year is especially exciting with six new additions to the previous, as if the economic crisis and slow climb back to stasis had perhaps hit the world of the imaginary as well. Hmmm.

It's funny trivia, the back accounts of the unreal. Bruce Wayne is wealthier than Jay Gatsby, though not NEARLY as loaded as Scrooge McDuck, but you know who's richer than all of 'em? Who else but Carlisle Cullen, a vampire in the bestselling Twilight series? Makes sense I guess. I mean, vampires live for however long they want and have time to amass fortunes beyond fortunes. More importantly I'm sure though, is that the character was penned by Stephanie Meyer, one author that certainly has a taste for the grandiose. I mean, one of her novels has a vampire giving a cesarean to girl who's pregnant with a super-strong psychic baby! Why shouldn't the Howard Hughes of the undead be rolling around somewhere between the pages?

Okay, anyway, check out this list. It's a laff.

Walk a mile in the shoes of another

Says Martin, a fine Green Apple bookseller:

One of the great joys of working at Green Apple lies is the fact that the store has been in the same location since its opening. As it has grown , it has absorbed other rooms in the building, taking on a second floor and an annex as the need arose. This organic growth gives the store its wonderful back rooms and stairs, nooks and crannies—but it also means that some great sections can be slightly hidden and easy to miss.

One such section is “Belles Lettres," which contains essays and memoirs, and is tucked in the upper southeast corner of the store, near the end of the reference section. Thus it does not get much in the way of casual browsing. However, there are some great books in this section, including some lesser-known titles by favorites such as George Orwell, Flannery O'Connor, and Chuck Klosterman.

Recently I have been reading a fair amount of memoir. Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman, an account of her year spent in prison, is one of the best memoirs I've read in a long time. It is an incredibly honest book, as Kerman, who admitted her guilt after being arrested, comes to terms with her (indirect) complicity in the drug trade. Losing Mum and Pup by Christopher Buckley and The Mercy Papers by Robin Romm both deal with the loss of a parent (in Buckley's case, both parents within the span of a year). Funny In Farsi by Firoozeh Dumas is an old favorite of mine, dealing with growing up in the US as a child of Iranian immigrants. This is a fun book (I’ve heard that Jimmy Carter is a fan of this one as well).

So the next time you have some browsing time in Green Apple, spend some time in some of the less traveled sections. There are treasures waiting to be found.
(photo by Robin Allen)

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!!!

And if it's not too redundant, "thank you" SFGate readers for voting Green Apple Books as the Best Bookstore in the Bay Area, as announced last week in the Best of the BayList Awards.

Topping this list becomes much sweeter when we realized that over 70,000 votes were tabulated in the Best Bookstore category alone, and that bookstores from all over the Bay were nominated!

Not to mention how wonderful the other bookstores in the Top 5 are; indeed, these are some of my favorites, and each one would have been a well-deserving winner. So congratulations also to Moe's (#2), Book Passage (#3), Builders Booksource (#4) and Dark Carnival (#5)

O.K. - maybe it is redundant at this point, but a big THANK YOU from all of us at Green Apple - we love this stuff!