You asked for it.

Anyone who's ever visited our website knows that it's a simple creature -- you can read a little about our history, buy (most) (new) books, buy ebooks, learn about events, and probably do a lot of scrolling and squinting. Although a fancier website is on the long to-do list, as is typical of independent bookstores, our website is not the focus of our store. The books on the shelves are, and all their accompanying dust and creaks and whatnots.

But in an effort to have an internet presence that reflects some of the character of our store (and in response to requests from many of you), we are now pleased to announce that our legendary Staff Favorites (both from the main store display and a new case in the fiction annex) are now on the website. Click on a Green Appler's image to see a list of their favorite books and what they have to say about 'em. We add to/change these up regularly, so check back often.

Are San Franciscans really illiterate?

A certain online retailer released its list of America's top 20 well-read cities. Congratulations, San Francisco, you are NOT on the list.

What gives?

The certain online retailer used a curious statistical method to decide which cities were most well-read: their sales of books to these communities. By that logic, the inner Richmond is the leading reading neighborhood in the world, because that's where Green Apple sold the
most books.

Which is why Green Apple is so proud (and not surprised) that San Francisco is not on that list. Clearly San Franciscans recognize the value of shopping at locally owned independent stores. They support stores that collect and remit sales tax to California, that donate to local school fundraisers, that are owned by people who live and work and parent in San Francisco. They prefer interacting with other human beings when looking for something to read. They trust our personal recommendations instead of an algorithm.

Or maybe they're just illiterate.

But last we checked, San Francisco was pretty highly ranked in book (and booze) consumption by a slightly more reliable group of statisticians: the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. For example, this recent study shows spending on reading in SF was 50% higher than the national average.

Cheers, San Francisco! And thanks for reading.

Two new kids books we love

As the parent of boy-girl twins who just turned five, and as a reader, and as the owner of a bookstore, I can tell you that there are two kinds of books for kids that are sadly uncommon:

1) The innovative. Well, there are innovative books, like Gallop! But an innovative book that 5 year-olds love, that's rare. To that end, we are pleased to be selling copy after copy of Press Here by Herve Tullet (Chronicle Books, $14.99). It's a big hit at our preschool: an interactive book of a magical sort. You just have to come in to see it.

2) The truly funny. And I mean funny for the kids and for the grown-up reading it. We just received our first batch of Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake by Michael Kaplan and Stephane Jorisch (Dial Books, $16.99). When Betty Bunny discovers chocolate cake for the first time, she decides she loves it so much, she's going to marry it. Instead, she makes do with carrying it to school in her pocket. We love Betty Bunny.

"We buy him on our hands and knees"

There are innumerable reasons why some writers, however important, lauded, or influential they may have been in their time, slide into obscurity. For some, it’s a matter of style or the dialectic of literary history. Others fade because their preoccupations have grown unfashionable or have become dated or, most damning of all, now seem quaint. Others are not championed by influential critics, or their books are too big or small or serious or not serious enough or have ugly covers or are published under inauspicious circumstances or, due to the vagaries of the alphabet, are found on the often-neglected bottom shelves of bookstores and libraries. As David Marr remarks of the Australian Nobel Prize-winning novelist Patrick White, an author who in his later years grew acutely aware of his own obsolescence: “We buy him on our hands and knees.”

If I hadn’t been a bookseller for the past ten years, I wouldn’t have given the latter condition much serious thought, but the longer I’m involved in bookselling, the more convinced I’ve become that there are unfortunate practical elements that deter people from discovering certain authors. I wouldn’t go so far to argue that a book at ankle level is doomed to eternal obscurity or moldy decay, but there are extra-literary factors to take into account when considering the fate of neglected authors.

At Green Apple, this quintessentially ramshackle and labyrinthine bookstore—and therefore the kind in which books, and their readers, are easily lost—I pay attention to this most closely, and feel it most achingly, in our literature section, where the bottom row of books spans Augiéras, Ducornet, Hrabel, B.S. Johnson, Morante, Shafak, Unt, all the way to Zweig. From an aesthetic view, it’s hard to deny that the shadows settle nicely there, down around your feet—and although I’m convinced that inveterate book lovers are drawn to these gloomy depths and are willing to dirty their knees and fingers to pluck the overlooked from the gaping jaws of the returns cycle, many of us are content to sail along with our eyes at the steady horizon of face-outs and display tables.

In other words, many readers prefer the new. This is inevitable for many reasons, not the least of which is the sheer number of books published every year. Besides, the new adorns itself in contemporary splendor, and is alluringly placed at eye-level. The new requires only the slightest of motions: a step inside the bookstore and it greets you there, offering itself to anyone willing to half-extend their arm. The new is not torn, bent, yellowing, or spotted with mold. It doesn’t smell of decaying paper or insidious cigarette smoke. It is immaculate and offers itself to you unrepentantly. The new does not need to remind you of its existence: it’s in the newspapers, on the blogs, its authors are on talk shows. Your friends are talking about it.

But what happens when the new is pushed out by the newer? Despite the bookseller's innate sentimentality, we're of necessity a ruthless bunch who very early and very quickly realize that shelf space is always at a premium. But what of those books we loved two summers ago? What of the vagaries of the alphabet? The sometimes odd corner in which a book will suddenly find itself placed or misplaced? The cul-de-sac into which a poor doomed novelist’s masterpiece will drift over time? (There’s as much a geology as there is a geography of shelving.) There are plenty of these nooks and crannies in a bookstore, especially one as cluttered, crammed, and cavernous as Green Apple.

You wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t a book lover. With that in mind, I’ll propose a simple experiment: on your next visit to Green Apple, or whatever bookstore you frequent, take it upon yourself to get on your hands and knees, to crouch, to dig, to wipe away some dust. Ignore the talked-about new novel, just this once, and let serendipity guide you.


Gosh the nature of man makes me so mad! Like, why is everyone such a dumb mean jerk?! I don't get it at all. Rather than do anything about it though I prefer to read fiction, draw cartoons, sit on the internet and feel guilty. That reminds me, my newest staff pick is on our shelves as of today. It's called Misery Loves Comedy, it's by Ivan Brunetti, and it's a good reminder that one can indeed make some kind of career out of being a disenfranchised coward... so I guess there's some hope.

Misery Loves Comedy is a compendium of Brunetti's early work, including his first three issues of Schizo. At once autobiographical, philosophical, and completely deranged and derelict in the face of most ethical standards. This is Ivan at his nihilistic best. Beware, but also buy it. It's just that it's one of the last wonderful things...

Book of the Month: The Sisters Brothers

Each month in our newsletter, Green Apple presents the Book of the Month, a brand-new book about which we are evangelical. Some months, it's one Green Appler who loves the book and convinces everyone else that his/her choice is most worthy. Sometimes, two Green Applers are over the moon about the same book. This May, three Green Applers (including two of the three co-owners) are in love with The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt.

Kevin H and Ashely are responsible for our official "shelf-talker" below, but allow me to add that I, too, found this book thoroughly enjoyable, devouring it in one (albeit kid-free and slightly hungover) afternoon.

Reviewers speak of the humor contained in this western. Allow us to elaborate.

Two brothers with the last name of Sisters are assassins and rogues -- the mere mention of their names strikes fear in those lucky enough not to have crossed them, but for those that have, it's curtains. The older brother is a trigger-happy lead man with bad manners and a weakness for brandy who is also superstitious to a fault (he won't cross a hexed threshold to protect his own blood.) The younger brother prefers mint tooth powder to fennel, goes on a diet to (hopefully) win the affections of a lady, and is willing to risk a curse on his soul to protect a horse that he isn't really fond of. They bicker, argue, steal, fight, and kill their way to San Francisco (a chapter with the best description of the City we've ever read: both historical and ironically contemporary).

This western will leave you busting a gut, and trust us when we tell you that the spoon...well, it's not just for breakfast anymore.

Don't believe us? Read the heaps of praise here (e.g. “DeWitt has produced a genre-bending frontier saga that is exciting, funny, and, perhaps unexpectedly, moving.” -Publishers Weekly (starred review)).

You can buy it in the store, of course, or online here. Or read the Google eBook here ($11.99--the same price as Amazon). However you want to read it, stop depriving yourself of a good time (as the end is near?) and launch right into The Sisters Brothers.

PS Book cover of the year?

May 21, Judgement Day

Mark your calendars, the end is near.

It turns out that while most of us are preparing for a cataclysmic end in 2012 (that's what we're doing, right?), the day of judgement is imminently upon us, at least according to Oakland's own Harold Camping, who believes that May 21 is the day of rapture. Camping bases his belief on a rigorous study of the Bible, which apparently reveals, beyond a shadow of doubt, that we've got just a little over a week before Christ returns to cast judgement.

But don't start panicking just yet, this isn't quite the End, at least for the vast majority of us non-believers. We've got a few more months: the actual end is slated for October.

In the meantime, read a good book. If not The Good Book.

Not a taco truck

The event of the season

Suffering from royal wedding withdrawal? Find yourself wistfully longing for a little more pomp in your life? Got a knack for crafting? Boy, do I have the book for you: with Fiona Goble's Knit Your Own Royal Wedding, you can relive or heck, even reimagine the ceremony in as creepy cute a way as your heart desires.

Oh, those fabulous dresses! And those hats! So many hats!

Famous Moustaches in Literary Fiction

I don't recall a particular description of The Count's facial pattern in the book so why not a handsome mustache? He looks coy, you'd hardly expect the imminent gnawing that he's preparing to deliver. Best book cover I've seen in a while. Had to share.

My Favorite Video Game Box Art

Being both a gamer and designer, im always interested in what the latest games are putting out as their box art. Good box art has to deliver the message of what the game is about, the title, and unfortunately, a ton of horrible logos and marks which are required (ESRB ratings, publishers, developers, game system name/logo, silly tag lines, etc).

As a designer, you have to look past the ugly stuff and work with it the best you can. So in my list of favorites, ill pretend its not there. Whats attracted me to these particular boxes is typography, composition, originality, color, style, execution (did someone use an outer glow to separate elements? Not on my list!) and the general message. Is there a story to be told on the cover, and does it tell me what the game is about?

The Elder Scrolls IV: im including both Oblivion and Knights of the Nine, because they use the same concept. Ive never played these games but the box art is very attractive, and had some thought put into the design. you can think of the box as a stone tablet with the title etched into it. nice textures and appropriate typefaces allow this box to really stand out among the busy photoshop art heavy games surrounding it. it always nice to see the package used in such ways.

Gran Turismo 4:GT is all about cleanliness and elegance, two concepts that are communicated clearly on the box. Theres nothing too energetic about it as you might expect (see Need For Speed), smooth lines and white space, but it reminds me of a professional racing teams garage. The floors are clean, the tools are neatly organized, and the whole environment speaks of high performance. A good driver is smooth with the wheel and calm under pressure. I think the box reflects that too. Also one of the better logos for a game I can think of.

Left 4 Dead 2the original concept for this was a bit more gruesome. Only 2 fingers were attached to the hand, rather than just a missing thumb. Apparently 3 missing fingers would be bad for the gaming business? Send the wrong message? Too violent? Especially in a game where you hack zombie people up with chainsaws and axes? Whateves. From a production standpoint its not very impressive, but it sends a great message still and plays off the art from the original game. nice complimentary color palette too.

whats refreshing about this cover is the use of “white space” giving us an open savanna like environment, which is always pleasing. Especially in this market of busy compositions and closely cropped figures. If not for the awful logos and tagline all over it, this would be higher on my list, but that’s expected like I said earlier.

Mortal Kombat: Deadly AllianceMK covers dont usually feature a game character and the franchises logo has so much equity and is so recognizable, theres no reason to feature a character. They change the typography on almost every game, and it always fits the theme. This was the 5th game in the franchise and making the Roman Numeral 5 into a weapon was a nice idea. If you took away all the bevels and texture and made the whole thing flat, black/white it would still have a strong composition. Also, the newest MK game’s graphics, typography, and interface design is top notch!

Grand Theft Auto 4Rockstar always has some great marketing and box art, which seems to be done by the same artist. Its hard to separate them all because of that, and because they’re all so well done. I love the style that is a cross between comic book and video game.

Madden 10there’s logos all over this thing and not much hierarchy at all, but this take on the cover was so refreshing. It’s the only year they used 2 athletes on the cover and really emphasizes that duality of football. the color palette couldn’t be better, taking the teams from the years Super Bowl, the red and yellow (or, cardinal red & athletic gold) really make for an intense and youthful design. I love grunge, so this is a natural attraction for me, but all the texture/brush work is really well done.

Gears of War 2 LEthe composition with the iconic Lancer is as good as any logo. Its totally unique to the Gears franchise and is one of my favorite video game weapons. You can never go wrong with a black, white, and red color palette; the blood red back drop with the grungy, beat up Lancer makes for a powerful visual that really jumps off the shelf. The franchise also has a great word mark. Theres not a lot of clear communication here outside of the title, the art overall sends a mysterious message but being that its to a very specific audience who is buying the Limited Edition version, its totally appropriate.

Resistance: Fall of Mannot only are we given an indication of the setting and time period about the game, but theres a great story being told on the cover. The title of course communicates a lot about the story as well. It makes an instant impact and one that’s long lasting.

Red Dead Redemptionanother Rockstar game, and this one happens to be my favorite of all time so maybe im a bit biased, but theres no denying the unique style and originality of this spaghetti western epic. I definitely prefer the European version (left) as the protagonist John Marston looks more like himself in the game and its obviously an American western. The US version (right) seems to me, like a cover for a Civil War game. they both, either by composition or character style, draw inspiration from The Proposition cover

Don't Break Down the Front Door! There's Still Lots of Time to Get a Card for Mom!

Apparently there was some excitement on Clement Street last night. We don't have all of the details, but from what we can piece together, some drunken Cinco de Mayo reveler tried to punch his way into the store around 1:30 this morning, but only got a bloody hand (and arrested) for his trouble. No finger puppets were injured, and we opened at 10 this morning as usual.

Welcome! Ugly Duckling Presse

Pages from Erica Baum's Dog Ear

As our Facebook fans already know, Green Apple recently partnered with Ugly Duckling Presse to bring some of the finest contemporary poetry and artists' books to the Inner Richmond. Although we've long stocked Ugly Duckling's books, many titles are not made available for wide distribution. With this new partnership, however, we'll be carrying at least two copies of each new publication as they become available, as well as select backlist titles, and 6 x 6, a poetry magazine.

To celebrate the inaugural shipment from the Presse's home in Brooklyn's Old American Can Factory, I'd like to highlight some of the compelling books you'll now find on our shelves.

I recommended Christian Hawkey's Ventrakl in our January newsletter and, for the sake of convenience, will repeat myself here. I do not apologize, even if it seems I am belaboring the point:
How does one translate from a language one does not know? In this daring act of literary ventriloquism, Christian Hawkey attempts to answer that question by translating the poems of Georg Trakl, a German poet of some stature who lived in the early part of the 20th century. Through a series of outlandish experiments (including one with w 12-gauge shotgun), Hawkey creates a monstrous, lyrical hybrid of a book: homage, translation, mad genius' memoirs. A remarkably invigorating work.
One of the most exciting and beautiful--and honestly, a book I was desperate to get my hands on--works published this spring by Ugly Duckling is Erica Baum's Dog Ear, a collection of poems created by turning down the pages of old paperbacks. The photograph above (and below, I can't resist) provides a good example of the book and if you're curious, you can see more samples, as well as some of Baum's other projects, here. The brilliance of this collection lies in its utter simplicity and the fruitful, serendipitous juxtaposition of the happy accident.

While I could go on and on, I'll limit myself to one more recent arrival, Uljana Wolf's False Friends, being a German-English dictionary of false friends, true cognates and other cousins, translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky (translator and champion of Green Apple favorite Robert Walser, among others). On Translationista, her blog detailing the art and craft of translation, Ms. Bernofsky describes False Friends as an abecedarian, a poem or series of poems structured around the letters of the alphabet:
Each of the alphabetically inspired prose poems in Wolf's collection is based on words that exist in some form (homonymic, homophonic and/or homographic) in both German and English. Take for example the German word Mist, which translates as "manure." Or Igel, which is pronounced "eagle" and means "hedgehog." In her poems, the words flip back and forth between their English and German meanings, always on the cusp of signifying both at once. This approach results in a wonderfully playful book that also tells a hidden tale: there's a love story secreted between the lines of these poems, which - although written in prose - often slip into an iambic cadence. I liked the book so much that I translated it, even though much of the book's original bilinguality becomes invisible in English, replaced by wordplay of other sorts.

Read digital AND shop local

As we hope you've heard by now, you can now buy eBooks from Green Apple for any device (except the Kindle; only the tax-dodging Amazon sells those). Also, price competition has mostly gone away, so Green Apple's Google eBooks match all other sellers on price for most eBooks. All else being equal, why not get them from Green Apple?

Intimidated? Don't be. Even Sparky the Sock can do it (and he can barely turn pages in real books). Check it out.

Our site also offers title suggestions to get you started, and tutorials for any device. Getting set up will take a few minutes, but then your books will always be available (since they're stored in "the cloud") and ordering is super easy.

help spread the word. Most people who read eBooks don't think of Green Apple as a go-to source. But now you can do your part to keep Green Apple thriving by telling your e-reading pals to buy them from us. Thanks!

Ladies and Gentlemen, We Have A Guest Blogger

Katie Arnold-Ratliff will be reading from her new book, Bright Before Us, on Friday night at 7pm here at Green Apple. The book is set in various Bay Area and San Francisco locales, including a visit to an unnamed bookshop on Clement Street. We asked Katie to write a few words for us explaining the importance of the setting to the story.

When people read my novel, the question they usually ask is, “How much of this really happened to you?” They work up the nerve after the second round of beers, when things are a little loose and they think I’m more likely to rat myself out—because the way they ask that question always implies that I’ve cheated somehow at writing fiction, because my 12th grade US Government teacher really did show us Roger & Me, and I really did once leave a sweatshirt in a Pennsylvania hotel room. For shame!

That line of thinking is silly, of course. It’s hard to write, whether what you’re writing is true or not, and combining your own experience with fiction can be downright brutal, since doing so requires defying the biases of your memory—if what really happened isn’t all that interesting, you have to replace it with something that is, no matter how attached you might be to the truth. So I’m unapologetic when I tell people that, yeah, I did borrow from my own life. There are compelling reasons to do so. One, the living world is interesting enough—what’s the point in fashioning idiosyncratic details when you’ve got a billion at the ready? And two, some writers are great inventors while others are great observers, and I happen to fall into the latter category.

But if I’m being honest, neither of those reasons fully account for why so much of me is in the book. The reason for that sounds weird, but it’s true: it’s because I’ve got a wicked case of homesickness.

I lived in the Bay Area from the time I was born until I was 24. As an undergrad in Oakland, I had a workshop professor who told me every fiction writer ought to live somewhere uncomfortable—comfort, she said, is the enemy of good work. So I figured I’d head for the most uncomfortable place imaginable. Months later, I found myself holed up in your typical New York cliché—a tiny, barely livable room—in an utterly charmless upper Manhattan neighborhood, working toward an MFA. I’ll spare you the other cliché stuff (awful roommate, bizarre jobs, major lack of fundage) and instead say that, as I plugged away on the novel, one thing became abundantly clear: I only wanted to write about the Bay Area.

Here’s what I’ve learned: If you want to write about a place in a way that gives it real depth, that makes it feel like another character in the story, you need to know it, then leave it, then miss it—and you have to do that last part often, and a lot. Before moving to New York, I’d set everything in a nondescript invented location I gave zero thought to (at best a missed opportunity; at worst a violation of a cardinal rule of fiction: “nothing happens nowhere”). But once I was 3,000 miles from home, all I wanted was to live in the version of the Bay Area that existed in my psyche. So I built it on paper, word by word, and furnished it with my memories. The book started with the place I loved, and then came to encompass the experiences I’d loved there, too.

Of course, there are tactical advantages to setting a novel in San Francisco, drama-wise: it’s a rare city that sits beneath such a heavy atmosphere. There’s the bridge, siren to the suicidal. There’s the fact that the populace can’t even count on the ground not to open up beneath them. There are those two terrifying acts of God in a single century. There’s the fog. But my motivation was rooted more in longing—which, not coincidentally, is the most pervasive theme of the book. I missed the place I loved. And being confronted by New York, a city that was too new to make sense of and that, by virtue of that newness, meant nothing to me personally, showed me how well I understood San Francisco and Berkeley and Oakland and Vallejo, which are the places that mean everything to me. I had enough distance to finally see each of those cities, and yet enough mental proximity, via two-plus decades of memories, to know how they worked and what they felt like from the inside.

So I wrote a novel in which the characters, in and amongst the many things they do that I never did, live many things I lived. I sent them to the Botanical Garden, where they trudged around in the rain, talking about nothing (which I did one marvelous day, with a marvelous friend), and to the Conservatory of Flowers, where they stuck their fingers in the flesh-eating plant (my friend really did that; nothing happened) and to Berkeley Aquatic Park (where another friend and I used to get drunk and play badminton). I made them hang out next to the odd, out-of-the-way stream at Mills College, where I went to school. I made them walk aimlessly around Fourth Street in Berkeley, where I was a data processor for a weird and wasted year after graduation (the characters get a cupcake at Bette’s, natch). I made my protagonist live in Vallejo, my hometown, which I hated while I was there; living far away from it has made me love even that dump. (In fact, it’s the setting of the book I’m writing now—amazing what a little distance can do.)

Part of me wonders if, once I leave New York—which I will, someday—I might be possessed by a burning desire to write about it, too. After all, in the last five years I’ve made plenty of memories and friends; I have a good life here. But then I think about how, whenever I land at Oakland Airport or SFO, my whole body relaxes, and I feel some internal switch flip, and then I get my luggage and go outside and find that the air smells familiar and right, and the world coheres and make sense. I look around and in every direction I’m confronted by some association—like I’m surrounded by my childhood and adolescence and early adulthood, like I’m literally standing inside my coming of age—and I know there’s no way I’d ever feel that way about anywhere else. New York is where I’ve made a life; the Bay Area is the place that gave me life. Consider this book my thank you note.

Booksellers, not photographers

The good news is that my rare book knowledge far surpasses my 'point and click' photography talent, but Green Apple's trusty ol' Canon Powershot G5 is up to the task of showing you some of the more interesting used book developments around the shop, and in full-color to boot.

For example, just dig this complete run of Believer Magazine, the ground-breaking fiction / essay / film periodical from the fine folks at McSweeney's. . .seriously, dig it!

Then, there are the dozens of beautiful Modern Library Editions that were purchased last week from a condition conscious collector, enough in fact for us to give them their own bookcase in the annex. Check out these beautiful copies, in dustjacket, of some classic classics, most priced less that $20. Ahem. . . a bargain.

Everyone loves the lurid covers of those mid-century pulp and paperbacks, so why not kick-start your new collecting passion by nabbing a copy of 'Sex Slaves', 'Halo for Satan', or a beautiful copy of 'Astounding Stories' from the 1930's? Many of these paperback original 1st editions are priced quite reasonably, and most are even between $6 - $15! Again, they have a new bookcase in the annex, and also. . .another bargain!

Of course this is all just a drop in the bucket, as Green Apple has one of the most active buy counters on the West Coast; and what that means to you is endless variety in a store that's never the same place twice.

Uh Oh....

They're going to have to cut down the print run on this one...