Borders leaves, Freedom arrives

OK, so the two are not related, but here's the book news of the day.

Borders is closing stores, including one of their 4 San Francisco locations (near the ballpark). We're thrilled to announce that we're NOT closing (except overnight, as we always have, and on Thanksgiving and Christmas).

Borders is also putting in some sort of make-your-own-teddy-bear workshops. Now we at Green Apple are not against selling non-book items to stay profitable (see here), and we've always promised to stay nimble and adapt to the ever-changing marketplace. But, hmm.

In other news, the most buzzed-about novel in a long time is out today: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. The front cover of Time magazine, Obama's acquisition of the book pre-publication, multiple gushing reviews in the NY Times and elsewhere.

For a simultaneously amusing and enlightening review, see this video from the Washington Post.

We're discounting Freedom 20% (for now). So come support a store that is NOT bailing on San Francisco though times are tough. Save $5, get it today, and have some dim sum. It's even sunny right now. . . .(10:37 am 8/31/10--no guarantees).

The Perfect Book

Photograph by Sophie Berdzenishvili

"... For Mallarme the perfect book is one whose pages have never been cut, their mystery forever preserved, like a bird's folded wing, or a fan never opened." - Maggie Nelson, Bluets

I have a confession: there's a book (a novel) - to preserve the secret I won't reveal the title - I speak of as if I've read, though I never actually have.

I've owned this book for ten years, at least, so time isn't an excuse. I've picked it up dozens of times with the intention of reading it; I've brought it on trips; I've read about it in other books, but I've always held back from reading it. From what I gather it's not particularly difficult or intimidating. Based on my literary predilections, it's a book I am absolutely certain is "my kind" of literature.

Even given my not-having-read-the-book, I've often recommended it to people based on... not false pretenses, exactly, but a feeling that this book, the one I haven't read but feel a deep affinity for nevertheless, deserves to be read - by others. I've always equivocated, saying, for instance: "I love X." or "X. means a lot to me." Despite the fact that I've not read it, these statements are not false. I do love the novel, it does mean a lot to me. (In fact, given its special place in my reading - or rather non-reading - history, I cherish it more than many of the books I've read and loved.)

When I occasionally suffer pangs of guilt or worry that I'm making fraudulent claims or deceiving people who put their trust in my taste (not to speak of my sense of honor), I remind myself that there are innumerable things I love without fully understanding and that I am perfectly happy not to understand: the mechanics of flight, nebulae, the French language, evolution, baking. (To name a few.)

It would seem that a book belongs to a different species of object: a book is for reading, after all, that's its agreed-upon function. Yet does the fact that we can read a book limit it to that exclusive use? I hope not. (Do birds fly so we can understand flight?) I think it's possible to love the idea of a book or the way it feels in your hands or looks on your shelf or the memories it evokes. (Or, perhaps, for other, more ineffable reasons.) I think it's possible that the feeling we have for a book - based on whatever affinity or memory - is sufficient to serve as the only justification necessary for our enthusiasm.

I wonder if you agree.


I had a strange interaction with a customer the other day. After ringing her purchase through I asked, as is customary in the retail industry, if she would like a bag to carry her books. She replied without hesitation that she would indeed and that it would be great if I could double up the bags because she had two infants at home. Of course I proceeded to do so and wished her a pleasant evening, but internally I was questioning the correlation between the plastic bags and the two babies. Why waste money on an expensive stroller when a perfectly serviceable plastic bag can be acquired for free with a small purchase at your local bookseller, perhaps? I'm not really sure. I didn't ask and I never quite figured it out.

As funny (or as horrifying) as the image of a person towing their child down Clement St. in a plastic bag may be, the interaction brought to mind the myriad of responses I've heard to the question of 'bag or no bag?' after being hired at Green Apple nearly three years ago. Aside from the most common answer, the simplest 'yes' or 'no' preceding a thank you, I've come accustomed to hearing either one of two things following that step of the interaction. If the need or desire for a bag is not present, the response is often followed by some vaguely proselytizing phrase regarding the importance of conservation for the sake of our fragile environment. If the desire is indeed there, the environmental championship is often replaced by some excuse regarding necessity. Fact.

Now let's be clear. I'm not trying to pass any particular judgement on these interactions or place myself on any sort of soapbox. I'm just observing a trend that I witness on a near daily basis. I wonder if perhaps as a long time resident of San Francisco an inflated sense of moral high water has rubbed off on me. I've certainly noticed myself tune in more and more on unnecessary packaging. On my last visit to New York City I was annoyed that a plastic bag was proffered with literally EVERY purchase (c'mon man, they're called pocket books for a reason!), but the issue is much more complex than that. With crises like the gulf spill, The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and corporate overproduction of just about everything useless, it's hard to commend or condemn little decisions like accepting the offer of a bag or replacing old light bulbs. It's a situation that requires a massive amount of patience, research, and in the end for us ultimately either a lot of hard work or destruction. Big concepts, sometimes frustrating to be so often reminded of, but I'm sure you know what I mean.

Recommended reading:
Endgame by Derrick Jensen
The Prize by Daniel Yergin
The World Without Us by Alan Weisman
The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith
MAD Magazine

Summer reading: The Twin

I don't know how I ended up taking this Dutch first novel to the East Coast for my summer vacation. And it was sort of an anomalous experience to immerse myself in life on a cold Dutch farm while lolling on a Delaware beach in 90-degree heat. Circumstances aside, this book consumed me in the best possible way.

The Twin won this year's Impac Dublin Literary Award, and, I say humbly, their citation best explains why this book is so good. Here are two excerpts, or read the whole citation here.

Though rich in detail, it’s a sparely written story, with the narrator’s odd small cruelties, laconic humour and surprising tendernesses emerging through a steady, well-paced, unaffected style. . . .

The book convinces from first page to last. With quiet mastery the story draws in the reader. The writing is wonderful: restrained and clear, and studded with detail of farm rhythms in the cold, damp Dutch countryside. The author excels at dialogue, and [the narrator] Helmer’s inner story-telling voice also comes over perfectly as he begins to change everything around him. There are intriguing ambiguities, but no false notes. Nothing and no one is predictable, and yet we believe in them all: the regular tanker driver, the next door neighbour with her two bouncing children, and Jaap, the old farm labourer from the twins’ childhood who comes back to the farm in time for the last great upheaval, as Helmer finally takes charge of what is left of his own life.

So sunny weather in San Francisco be damned. Buy and read this precise novel now or when the fog returns. . . and thank me later.

Object Press...In the Train

Object Press is a new small press with large ambition. Their mission statement says it best:
Object Press was formed in 2008. We are a small, independent press that publishes fiction in slim, quality paperback editions.

While our publications might not easily fit into categories, there are certain motivations that unite the work we do. One of them is the desire to present fiction—focusing on, but not limited to, the novel—that is somehow different, expanding its potential, its horizon of possibility. One aspect of this is reflected in presenting titles of relatively short length, favoring writing that is precise, inspired and thoughtfully structured. Another important motivation for us is something we don’t hear very much of in publishing, and that is the pursuit of joy. The joy of writing, reading; of discovering a new narrative, a new voice; of holding and handling books; of seeing them on shelves, inviting them into our lives, our thoughts. These books are objects for use, objects for reflection. And these are our projects, focusing on literary innovation, good design and the pleasures of literature.
With their new publication, In the Train by the French author Christian Oster, Object Press has done what they set out to do.

In the Train is a strange, unsettling, and very comfortable novel. It was recommended to me because of my affinity for Jean-Philippe Toussaint's novels- The Bathroom (Dalkey Archive 2008) and Running Away (Dalkey Archive 2009)- and that Oster's novel had a similar feel. It does have a similar feel to it but In the Train is very much Oster's own novel and own style.

It is the awkward struggle for love in the short and bumbling ways that love can occur. It starts on a train platform and moves forward from there...a bumpy, twisting turning train ride of human interaction. It is frustrating, funny, unhappy, and joyous. It is fragile and heavy and light.

It is why you have to read In the Train to fully experience what Oster wants you to feel. It is a short, enjoyable novel that is worth the trip.


One week ago today Cathy Guisewite announced she would be ending her thirty-four year run of the popular Cathy comic strip. The final daily will appear on October 3rd 2010. That is all.

A Non-exhaustive Guide to Exhausting a Place, in Four Steps

"One overcast weekend in October 1974, Georges Perec set out in quest of the infraordinary*. . ."

So begins the jacket copy on the slim and elegant edition of Georges Perec's An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris just published by Wakefield Press (translated by Marc Lowenthal).

Perec's quest was a humble one, but fascinating despite - or more likely because of - that: to catalog everything that passed before his gaze as he perched at a cafe table for an entire weekend. He watched and noted each passing bus, the mysterious comings-and-goings of pigeons, debris floating in the breeze, deliverymen, church-goers, groups of tourists with cameras at the ready . . . everything within the limits of Perec's concentration finds its way into this delightful little book, whose contents reveal - in that magical way by which the whole proves more substantial than its parts - the workings of one of the great (and sadly under-recognized) writers of the 20th century.

Rather than attempting to exhaust the contents of the book by offering a synposis (for details, see Lily Hoang's review at HTMLGiant), I'll offer a quick guide (I'm off for the weekend in 5 minutes) to embarking on the same adventure yourself:

  1. Perec's attempt spanned three days, and in the process of exhausting a place, he exhausted himself. You might not have three days, but an hour should suffice.
  2. Find a suitable place to perch for whatever length of time you've allotted yourself, preferably by a cafe window, or on a stoop, a porch, a patch of grass, the library, a bookstore, the mall, the top of a hill. Any place works as long as you have a view of some sort of life.
  3. Be sure to be well-supplied: a notebook, a pencil, coffee, snacks. (If you're like me, snacks are the most important part of any undertaking, however taxing or non-taxing they may be.)
  4. Bring a sense of wonder: sure, it might sound boring to sit in the same spot for a certain length of time and note everything that passes, but you'll be surprised, I bet, by the number of common things you habitually overlook.


* Infraordinary being defined as "the humdrum, the nonevent, the everyday—'what happens,' as Perec put it, 'when nothing happens.'”

We're Giving It Away

Not sure if y'all saw this story in the S.F. Chronicle today. Here's an excerpt:

San Francisco is an urban grid of 7 miles. But to author Rebecca Solnit, it is a place of limitless landmarks, treasures and meanings - teeming with butterfly habitats, queer sites, murder mysteries, World War II shipyards, blues clubs and Zen Buddhist centers. This fanciful interpretation of space is the subject of Solnit's forthcoming book Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas, co-created with a team of cartographers, artists and writers. The book is Solnit's visual tribute to the city she loves. But like everything she's done, it's original and intellectual. The 22 maps Solnit presents capture San Francisco's red/blue political terrain, its place in cinematic history and identity politics, and its double role as environmental hotbed and toxic polluter.

Now through December, SFMOMA is displaying (and selling) seven of the book's maps and hosting a series of events around them. In July, the "Monarchs and Queens" map was unveiled, which juxtaposes the habitats of local butterflies with the shifting locations of queer public space.

Green Apple is lucky enough to have been given a supply of these maps to give out for free, so stop by and ask for one while supplies last.

Walnut Creek Rock City

Ever wonder what's going on in Walnut Creek? Well I'm on top of it for you. Check this out: Unbound: A National Exhibition of Book Art. I stopped out there last week. Pretty nice. BART stops right by the gallery (well, a few blocks away), and the gallery itself only costs five bucks to get in. Well worth it for a bit of quiet afternoon entertainment. Plus when people are all like, "What have you been up to?" You can quaff your wine and say "Oh I finally got around to visiting that little gallery outside of the city. You know the one." And then walk away.

Seriously though, it's a fun show and it's nice to get out of the city once in a while. You'll get some reading done on the train too.

Top Shelf

In each Sunday's Book Review the San Francisco Chronicle runs a list of recommendations from local independent bookstores. This week, we offered some of our favorite selections. Check 'em out here.

And click here for an archive of past selections.

Vintage Contemporaries

In the Early 1980's, Gary Fisketjon at Vintage Books published a group of young authors under the Vintage Contemporaries imprint. The books were all paperback originals, and shared a common design scheme. Many of the writers published under the banner of Vintage Contemporaries went on to become the great authors of their generation: Richard Ford, Raymond Carver, Ann Beattie, Tobias Wolff, and a kid named Cormac McCarthy. I thought of this series recently when I realized that two of the authors from this series, Richard Yates and Frederick Exley, are the titular subjects of two works of fiction this coming Fall. Odd coincidence?

In Exley, by Brock Clarke, due out in October, a young boy in Watertown, N.Y. (setting for the great A Fan's Notes), goes in search of the author of his father's favorite book. The boy's father is hospitalized, and the boy thinks that Mr. Exley is the only one who can help. Doesn't help that Exley is dead.

And then we've got Richard Yates, due out next month by author Tao Lin, whose last book was Shoplifting From American Apparel. Not having read a word of this book, or even a description of its contents, I can't say whether the author of Revolutionary Road plays a part in the book beyond the title. I can say that, when I first started in the book biz oh so many years ago, Revolutionary Road was generally accepted as the best book you had never read. That's of course no longer true.

I'll finish with a short excerpt from Exley. In this scene, the young narrator examines his father's copy of A Fan's Notes, the talismanic book that holds such a powerful sway over and maybe holds the secret to the riddle of his father:

"I looked at the cover again. The corners of the cover were torn and wrinkled, the spine was split, and so many pages were dog-eared that you might as well consider the whole book dog-eared. It looked like it really was the only book my dad had read in fifteen years: it looked used, but more than that, it looked loved."

Hard to picture having that reaction to a Kindle.

Confessions, Cannons, and Lady Thoughts

SS passed his blogging post on to me for the day, and he picked a heck of a day to do it, because The Guardian recently ran an article that got me, and plenty of other lady (and non-lady) readers and writers on the internet*, pretty riled up.

The heart of the message of the article, which is about contemporary female writers who write about their experiences -- which coincidentally happen to include being female (funny how that happens) --- is not a bad thing. At the most interesting (ahem) point in this article, the writer quotes Emily Gould, saying "If a woman writes about herself, she's a narcissist. If a man does the same, he's describing the human condition." True, and important.

But where I take issue with this article is in its rather absurd attempt to trace all female writing about being female to Candace Bushnell's Sex and the City novels. Most specifically, this sentence: "Before Candace Bushnell, books like Gould's that sought to capture the dilemmas and dichotomies of modern womanhood with a wry, humorous honesty, were almost unheard of." The article concludes by rounding up what it adorably terms "Grin And Share It: American Confessional Classics", thereby doing exactly what it criticized: using the word "confessional" as a stand in for "girl-thoughts". The list, which contains some perfectly good and probably smart and entertaining writing, to be sure, defines this four book literary cannon as ranging all the way from Sex and the City to Julie and Julia. Which hardly seems like a range at all.

So, while I wouldn't dissuade anyone from reading any of the books mentioned above, I thought I'd put together an alternative list, some of which *gasp* pre-dates Sex and the City. And those that don't, well, certainly weren't written to be paired with a Cosmopolitan and designer footwear (but hey, read how you read). And I resisted the urge to throw in the cannon of historical bad-ass women folk like Sylvia Plath, Virginia Wolf and Joan Didion, and further resisted the urge to really shock and awe with some Kathy Acker or Monique Wittig. I stuck with the Guardian's parameters of "modern confessional". Here we go:

1. Beauty Talk and Monsters, by Masha Tupitsyn, is a collection of semi-autobiographical stories, mostly told through the lens of movies. In these stories, Tupitsyn blends actual experience with her own pop-cultural literacy, blurring (or revealing the already blurred nature of) the lines between reality and learned narratives.

2. Plainwater, by Anne Carson. This book of essays, poems, and essays that read like poems, meditates on relationships, travel, mythology and water almost seemlessly, as if all of the above are one topic. Carson's writing is hypnotic, her insight and vision of the world completely sharp and unique while being entirely relatable. A great traveling book.

3. I Love Dick, by Chris Kraus, is a collection of love letters Kraus and her husband sent to a professional acquaintance after meeting him once. The recipient's name is Richard, and I'd tell you to get your mind out of the gutter if it weren't for the fact that I think Kraus knew exactly what she was doing when she named her book. Raw, honest, and slightly disturbing, it will make all your crushes seem normal.

4. Flaming Iguanas: An Illustrated All Girl Road Novel Thing, by Erika Lopez, is a simultaneously lovely and gritty illustrated partially true coming-of-age-when-you're-already-an-adult story. It's shocking, touching, and laugh-out-loud funny.

Got more? Of course you do. Women have been writing about being women for as long as people have been writing about being people. So share 'em, and we'll all be the better for it.

*I refuse to use the term blogosphere, but that's what I'm talking about. And that kind of self-contradiction is exactly what footnotes are for.

Sharp new Green Apple shirts

We just got in some new Green Apple shirts. This design has graced our canvas bags for 20+ years, but we've never done a shirt. It took a request from a regular customer to get them made, and we only printed a few to test the waters. But staff is snatching them up quickly, so I thought I should spread the word before the test run sells out. We will, of course, get more in a few months.

Snazzy American Apparel "ringer" T. Behold:

This One's on Us

It's been a grim summer here in SF, that's for sure. The fog has been more relentless than usual and I can't blame anyone for wanting to take a trip out. The question is, what to read when making a quick sojourn to one of the currently sunnier parts of the state? Between all the swimming holes and horseback rides, what to do indeed? An audio book perhaps? Well if you're game, here's one on us:


Originally released in 1994 and now out of print, this audio version is narrated by Ice T himself. Click the links below to download and enjoy!




August's Book of the Month: I Curse the River of Time

Buy it here, thank us later

So many Green Applers loved the latest from Per Petterson (author of Out Stealing Horses), that it was a no-brainer selecting it as our "Book of the Month" for August. Below is Molly's pitch as to why we think you'll agree:
This novel caught and held me for an immersive three days of reading. It takes place in roughly that span of time in a journey through Norway and through memories, told via the monologue of a man whose most basic truths are crumbling around him. In his signature hauntingly precise prose and dreamlike narrative structure, Petterson subtly unfolds multiple stories that could have easily fallen to cliches (divorce, familial class struggles, cancer) in a unique, poignant, and inexplicably hopeful way. As with most books I love, when I finished this one I felt something like relief - not that it was over, but that it exists.
And here is our further attempt to get you to buy this fantastic book.  If you enjoy it, please help us spread the good word.

As always, we guarantee our monthly selections. If you don't love I Curse the River of Time, we'll refund you the cost of the book.

GOAT: Greatest of All Time -- a Tribute to Muhammad Ali

If you look at the GOAT of old, you will see Jeff Koon's tribute to the great boxer and an idea of the immensity of the project. So you want a copy now? Well unfortunately it goes for $5,000.00+ these days...until now.

Finally, TASCHEN's collectible tribute to Muhammad Ali is going to be available for only $150.00 (no it's not signed but still). The book will be released in late August, but we're accepting presale orders leading up to its publication. Don't miss your chance to pick up this gorgeous commemoration of Ali at a downright steal of a price. Hurry, the first printing will still be valuable and will disappear quickly!