a visit with Jonathan Evison

(photo poached from the
very classy Tattered Cover blog)

We were lucky enough to sit down last week with Jonathan Evison, author of our February 2011 Book of the Month West of Here. Here's a short summary of our conversation.

Green Apple (GA): What are you reading right now?
Jonathan Evison (JE): I'm just finishing Let the Great World Spin. I also just read and loved The Sisters Brothers by Patrick Dewitt (due out in May from Ecco Press). It reminded me of Charles Portis. Also loved Zazen by Vanessa Vesilka, another Portland, OR, writer I admire.

GA: What are you working on now?
JE: Well, my next novel to be published is called The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving--it's a coming-of-middle-age-in-crisis story. But I'm working on the next one now, though this book tour has thrown me off my writing habits. I usually awaken at 5am to write for a few hours before anyone else is up, even though I'm nocturnal. With that routine gone during the tour, I have only beer to ground me.

GA: Really, you can usually drink a bunch of beer at night and still write in the morning?
JE: Yeah. I'm kind of like a knuckle-baller. The knuckle-ball pitcher uses the awkward release of a weak arm to throw the hitter's timing off. That's why they pitch tired. And I'm just really focused after partying.

GA: Thanks for coming by; I wish I took better notes. Our blog readers aren't going to realize how fun and smart you are. Want a beer for your drive to Danville?
JE: No, thanks. It's only 11am. And I have two cans of Guiness in the car. How long a drive is it?

If you need a reminder of why we loved West of Here, it's here.

Poetry bestsellers - February 2011

(Our website is lying, Ventrakl is not out of print.
It is very much in print and on our shelves.)

Bookselling without Borders

As you've probably heard, Borders has filed for bankruptcy and is closing 200 of its remaining 600 stores, including two in San Francisco (Union Square and Market Street). We've been hearing lots of concern about Green Apple's future, so we'd like to address this transitional moment.

While we were never fans of Borders' aggressive expansion, which effectively shut down hundreds of locally owned independent bookstores in the US, we will not dance on their grave. They did a lot of things right, which is why they thrived for a while. But in their absence, we're hopeful that fewer chain stores may mean more opportunity for local indie bookstores.

And more indie stores means a healthier local economy, as indies return 40% more money to their local communities than chains, and indies return 99% more money to their local economy than online competitors. (more here)

We are also concerned about the impact on publishers, those creative people who produce the "product" that we love and sell. In the midst of a rough economy, the tumultuous evolution of ebooks, and other challenges, they are owed tens of millions of dollars from Borders. That could have a significant ripple effect and compromise their ability to publish new and interesting books. And fewer good new books isn't good for us or our customers. [Update/oops: Not to mention the ripple effect on authors, the true generators of everything worth reading].

And, of course, we're concerned about our own long-term viability.

I should start by saying that Green Apple is currently a viable and healthy business, and we'll do everything within reason to keep it that way (sorry, no taqueria in the annex). As long as readers buy enough books from us to keep the lights on, the rent paid, and our staff supported, we'll keep reading, buying, shelving, and displaying good new and used books in all subject areas.

We've long adapted to the changing marketplace and will continue to do so: we constantly shift the balance of new books to used; we expand and contract sections in response to demand; we introduce and phase out whole lines of merchandise based on what you're buying.

What else is Green Apple doing to remain vital?

Well first, we're selling Google ebooks. These are device-agnostic, cloud-based ebooks that you can access on any device (except Amazon's proprietary Kindle), any time, anywhere. And for most titles, Green Apple's price will match everyone else's, including Apple's, Amazon's, and Google's. We've just finished training our staff, and we invite customers to ask us questions--in the store, by phone, or via email--about getting started. We can help those who already have a device or those thinking of trying ebooks for the first time.

We've also spruced the place up a bit, installing new flooring in two rooms and expanding our children's section significantly.

We're honing (but not eliminating) our DVD and CD selection to make room for more of what you want, including literature in translation, remainders, and gifts.

And we're doing more in-store author events, all of which are free and entertaining. We know you want to get away from your computer every once in a while and talk to other book-lovers.

And we've upgraded our computer system to better serve you. And we've improved boring back-end stuff, too, for better efficiency.

And we will continue to hire, train, and give benefits to the good booksellers who keep the store vital and dynamic. We’ve provided health insurance for our employees for over 25 years, and we don’t even tack a “Healthy San Francisco” surcharge on your tab (tempting as it is).

We will continue to collect and remit the sales tax (unlike Amazon) that keeps public schools open and public transportation running. We will continue to donate gift cards and books and money to the 100+ schools and organizations that we support each year. We will continue to support local authors by taking their books on consignment and hosting their readings. We will continue to be the booksellers who have fun. And we will continue to support live literary arts, like the Literary Death Match and Litquake and Writers with Drinks.

Like other local business owners (but unlike chains and internet retailers), the owners and employees of Green Apple live, work, study, invest, and play in San Francisco. We care about our city.

But it's really up to you, our customers. If you think Green Apple is a necessary part of the San Francisco literary landscape, then shop here, or shop here more often, or bring us new customers, or pay cash, or bring your own bag, or Yelp or blog about us. If you're in "the media," write about us or have us on your show. Forward our email newsletter to friends who read.

Or if you'd rather shop online, our website is very functional.

And if you read ebooks, give our Google ebooks a chance. We can help.

We're here to help you find good books to read, be they new, used, or e. And we're here to offer you much more, like magazines, gifts, a fine selection of greeting cards, CDs, DVDS, and so on.

But if you'd rather not have a bookstore in your community, shop mostly or only at Amazon. No one should shop at Green Apple out of charity or pity or noblesse oblige, but because you want what we’ve got. You mold the retail landscape with every purchase; vote wisely.

from a photo by Robin Allen

And by all means, if there's something we can be doing better, please tell us. The owners are Kevin Hunsanger, Pete Mulvihill, and Kevin Ryan, and at least one of them is here pretty much every day. And the phone number is 415-387-2272. We'd love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading.


Weekend "Monday Morning/Monongah, WV" from Slumberland Records on Vimeo.

Woof. Whatta' February. Busy, busy, busy like a Richard Scarry book. I think this has been emphasized by my colleagues on the blog as well. I'm in luck however, my vacation has finally arrived and in the spirit of that here's a video by SF locals, WEEKEND. They're on tour in Europe right now so it'll be a minute before you get a chance to see 'em back on the home front. In the meantime you can check out their album 'Sports' on our listening station in the annex. I recommend the track 'Coma Summer.' It's a crusher.

A rainy Saturday

On Tuesday, amid news that other bookstores were closing, we began a new era at Green Apple with the installation of an entirely new (to us) point of sales system. While there are sure to be some frazzled nerves and confusion, we're certain you'll be pleased with all of the features we've added to help you find whatever it is you're looking for.

Now I'm off to shelve some books. In the spirit of Roman's post from long ago, here are some songs about books.

The Power of The Handsell

Probably the best thing about being a bookseller is the chance the be an evangelist for a book one loves. This is known as The Handsell. (I'm sure car dealers and pet shop owners do handselling too, but sharing a favorite book somehow seems more.....lofty).

Limitless - The Dark Fields

The most recent issue of Filmmaker Magazine (the magazine of independent film) has a profile of "A-list hollywood scribe" Leslie Dixon (Mrs. Doubtfire, Outrageous Fortune, etc.) and her forthcoming film Limitless. Here's the part of the story that caught our eye:

"That Dixon...would have a problem scoring gigs writing darker, yet still mainstream, movies seems a bit crazy, but that’s today’s Hollywood, where writers are ruthlessly compartmentalized based on gender, age and past credits. Of the edgier material Dixon delights in as a viewer, “I don’t think people will offer me [these films],” she says. “But needing work is not where I am in my life right now. What turns me on is more important.”

"Looking for something that turned her on was how Limitless got started. “Every so often I get depressed by the things people are developing,” she says, “and I go to the Green Apple bookstore in San Francisco. I ask them what’s good just so I can cleanse my palette.” The store recommended Alan Glynn’s The Dark Fields. “I wasn’t looking for a novel to adapt,” she says. “But halfway through I got a weird tingling feeling that ‘this is mine.’”

“The premise of the novel was good,” Dixon says. “What if a loser slacker guy gets a smart drug? I knew an actor would want to play that part. It would be fun to watch out-of-shape, crappy-clothes Bradley Cooper have his girlfriend dump him because he’s a loser and then three weeks later he’s in a fancy suit bamboozling Robert De Niro.”

Read the whole article here.

The above handsell must have taken place a few years ago (unless it was a used copy), because the last time we sold a new copy of that book was in 2006. Before that, we'd sold some 500+ copies off of the staff favorites display. It has been out of print for a while, but it will be reprinted in March with the movie cover, all because a bookseller here at Green Apple Books read a book and loved it enough to handsell it. Watch the trailer here.

Indie Booksellers Meet President Obama

Lo that Green Applers were not among the lucky few to meet the president, but the glow has warmed our cheeks somehow. Here's the story, courtesy of Bookselling this Week, a publication of the American Booksellers Association.

On Thursday, January 20, the ABA Board of Directors met with President Obama in the Oval Office for the presentation of the ABA White House Library, a selection of current titles given to each presidential administration since 1929, for the reading pleasure of the First Family. The White House visit occurred in conjunction with Winter Institute 6 and the Board’s winter meeting.

The Board was accompanied to the White House by ABA CEO Oren Teicher and Barbara Meade, co-owner, with the late Carla Cohen, of Washington, D.C.’s iconic Politics and Prose.

Sarah Bagby, ABA President Michael Tucker, Ken White, ABA Vice President Becky Anderson, Barbara Meade, Beth Puffer, President Obama, Tom Campbell, Betsy Burton, Dan Chartrand, and ABA CEO Oren Teicher at the presentation of the White House Library.

Books presented to the President, including YA titles for his daughters, were:

  • Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories, by Simon Winchester (Harper); presented by ABA President Michael Tucker, Books Inc., San Francisco, California
  • A Nest for Celeste: A Story About Art, Inspiration, and the Meaning of Home, by Henry Cole (Katherine Tegen Books); The Candymakers, by Wendy Mass (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers); and Out of My Mind, by Sharon Draper (Atheneum); presented by ABA Vice President Becky Anderson, Anderson’s Bookshops, Naperville, Illinois
  • Colonel Roosevelt, by Edmund Morris (Random House): presented by Barbara Meade, Politics and Prose, Washington, D.C.
  • Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese (Knopf); the winner of the 2010 Indies Choice Book Award for Fiction, presented on behalf of the entire group
  • Doctor Zhivago, by Boris Pasternak: A new translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Pantheon); presented by Sarah Bagby, Watermark Books and Cafe, Wichita, Kansas
  • Foreign Bodies, by Cynthia Ozick (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt); presented by Betsy Burton, The King’s English Bookshop, Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America, by Matt Taibbi (Spiegel & Grau); presented by Tom Campbell, The Regulator Bookshop, Durham, North Carolina
  • Song of Myself: And Other Poems by Walt Whitman, selected and introduced by Robert Hass (Counterpoint); presented by Ken White, San Francisco State University Bookstore, San Francisco, California
  • Storyteller, by Patricia Reilly Giff (Wendy Lamb Books) and The Danger Box, by Blue Balliett (Scholastic Press); presented by Beth Puffer, Bank Street Bookstore, New York, New York
  • Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand (Random House); presented by Dan Chartrand, Water Street Bookstore, Exeter, New Hampshire
  • Washington: A Life, by Ron Chernow (Penguin Press); presented by ABA CEO Oren Teicher, Tarrytown, New York


Maybe it's impolite or bullying to pick on the most diminutive of months--as if February doesn't catch enough flack already, what with its Valentine's day and its imprecision (is it a leap year? Am I the only one who can't keep track of this?)--but I'm ready to kick the month to the curb. Sure, I can't complain about the weather in San Francisco. I don't have to shovel snow or salt the sidewalk and there's little chance I'll lose my dog in a snowdrift (I don't have a dog, I'm daydreaming), but that doesn't mean I'm not sick of whatever passes for winter here. As it is, everyone is achy and coughing and sniffling and dripping and oozing... winter is just about as unflattering as horizontal stripes on a fat man.

One of the things getting me through the rest of this dreadful and snotty season are piles of publishers' catalogs, treasure troves smelling of warm Spring and Summer days. In particular, I'm really, really excited about the fact that 2011 is shaping up to be, at least as far as I'm concerned, the Year of Raymond Roussel.

Roussel (1877-1933) was an eccentric, to say the least, one whose self-published works were met with at best quizzical reviews upon their initial publication, but that have grown steadily more influential--possibly more so due to their cult status--among artists and poets over the years. Admirers include(d) Marcel Duchamp, John Ashbery, and Harry Mathews, among others. Michel Foucault even wrote a study of Roussel. (That is available as both a paperback and a Google eBook.)

While Roussel's work has previously been published in English translation, at the moment all of his work is currently out-of-print in the U.S. Until March, at least, when Princeton UP will publish a new translation of New Impressions of Africa by Roussel biographer Mark Ford.

In the months following, British publisher Oneworld will release for American fans of the avant-garde both Locus Solus and Impressions of Africa, and in August (I can almost feel the sand between my toes), Dalkey Archive is publishing super-translator Mark Polizzotti's new edition of the aforementioned Impressions of Africa. I don't often get excited about publishing "events," and perhaps I'm a party of one in considering this an event, but I cannot wait to get my hands on this book.

Until then, I'll keep plugging away at Thomas Bernhard, adding misery to February misery.

Notable Texts on Art and its Relation to Propaganda and Political Bodies

-The Situationists and the City
, a collection of writings from Situationist International edited by Tom McDonough.
-Art and Text, edited by Aimee Selby with a font on the cover that takes me back to way back when and some other strange places as well.
-Color: A Natural History of the Palate by Victoria Finlay, which I have discussed before.
-Danzig Baldaev's Drawings From the Gulag is a bleak journey into a historic institution designed for punishment and torture, and a strange account of art's existence there.
-And of course, my nonfiction 'book of the year' from last year The Great Debate About Art by Roy Harris.

Book stuff on technology blogs?!?

If those blogs are BOINGBOING or Laughingsquid, then of course books. . . I check-in with both of these sites daily, and they never fail to amaze me. Every day. Amazed!

In fact, boingboing and Laughingsquid are huge supporters of books and bookish things, as exemplified by the following two posts, from yesterday and today. One showcases how the book can evolve into a unique object of art, and the other is a gentle plea from graphic-novel guru Alan Moore on the importance of libraries.

Two sides of the same coin, and both stirring examples of how important physical books are to a culture, to a creator, and to our minds.

Thanks boingboing and laughingsquid for making the internet a safe and free haven for book readers!

Foursquare offer at Green Apple!

Do you remember Little Bee by Chris Cleave? It was a Green Apple Book of the Month and the subject of one of our most successful (and dare we say hilarious) videos ever? Well, to celebrate the release of Chris Cleave's Incendiary, Green Apple has teamed up with Foursquare.

New to Foursquare or unsure how to take advantage of the offer? Please allow my 4-year-old twins to help.

So what's the deal, you ask? Here's the deal:

So stop by Green Apple in the next week or two, check in on Foursquare, and pick up a copy of Incendiary and your free Little Bee (which would be a generous gift if you've already read it, right?).


We got a killer write up on FELT & WIRE. If you're not familiar it's a blog on design, print and packaging... um... I think it's exciting. Even if that's not a topic of interest for you though, maybe you'll enjoy their bit about us. You're reading OUR blog, right? It's accompanied by some very nice photographs, my favorite of which features two of my coworkers candidly peeking around a corner. I've stolen and posted it below. Thanks Felt & Wire!

February's Book of the Month: West of Here by Jonathan Evison

Each month, we present a new book that we enthusiastically recommend. Really enthusiastically recommend. Here's KPR's really enthusiastic "shelf-talker". Buy it now.

There are books for which the words "gem-like" and "compact" and "precise" apply, but West of Here isn't one of those. West of Here is: Epic. Sprawling. Visceral. Lusty. Big in every way -- it spans years and generations. Filled with characters who will stay with you long after the book is done, including the rugged wilderness of the Olympic penninsula itself, from Klallam Indian to modern-day Sasquatch hunter. Along the way there is love and blood and birth and death and human vs. nature. The story takes us from the settlers -- who first dammed a wild river -- to their descendents -- who want to tear the dam down to preserve the salmon run. The settlers' impulse to conquer the wild is set against the modern notion that it is nature that needs protection from humans. I know this is a cliche, but this is that rare almost-500 page tome that, when you get to the last page, odds are you will quietly mourn the departure of these characters from your life, and then quietly turn the book over and begin the adventure all over again.

a new book we like: The Lover's Dictionary

The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan is a short, sweet, and creatively narrated novel of love and its aftermath.

If there's one subject for which our vocabularies so often feel insufficient, it is also perhaps the most popular subject for artistic expression. The nameless narrator of this book has constructed the story of his relationship as a dictionary. Through these short entries, he provides an intimate window into the greatest events and the most trifling details of being within a couple.

The Lover's Dictionary is funny and fun and heartbreaking.

Green Apple got to ask author David Levithan a few questions. Check out his answers below. Oh, and we have a handful of signed copies for the first customers who hightail it in here!

Teresa Strasser is Very Funny

I just came across a post on Huffington Post by Teresa Strasser, who is going to be at Green Apple on Friday Feb. 25 to promote her new book Exploiting My Baby: Because It's Exploiting Me. I had no idea who she was before we booked the event, but now I'm quite interested. Here are a few excerpts from the post, the whole of which can be found here, which is about the drugs and other chemicals she's not allowed to ingest while pregnant or nursing.

Vicodin -- Narcotics are bad. Except for the fact they produce a little something called euphoria. Listen, this drug is a highly addictive opioid that should be used only to manage moderate to severe pain. However, my definition of "pain" is a loose one. Is it painful to sit around pondering labor?

Klonopin -- Relaxes muscles, reduces anxiety, helps you sleep. Take it the night before a job interview or audition, and the entire next day is kissed with a light potion of placidity. If taken during pregnancy, it may cause "floppy infant syndrome." I don't know what that is, and I don't want to know.

Artificial sweeteners -- Yellow packets, blue packets, pink, I don't know what's in you or which of you is better, but you all taste so chemical-y now. You taste like a birth defect.

This could be fun. You have a few weeks to block off space on your calendar. Beer & wine will be provided, so we can toast her self-discipline.