summer reading = got umbrella?

Another soggy June afternoon in our City by the Bay, and if you're like me, this is the perfect weather for a bit of summer reading! Lucky for you, I've got some wonderful suggestions if you need them; and if you don't need them, how about turning off your computer and getting to those books!

Last week David Kipen and myself were guests on KALW's "Your Call" show - we discussed summer reading habits, how things are in the book biz in general, and how reading is getting done these days, what with ebooks and all. . . We took tons of listeners' calls and suggestions, and I almost wore out my voice thanking everyone for all the praise heaped on Green Apple. But luckily the voice hung in there.

Luckily the voice hung in there, so if you missed it last week, you can simply CLICK HERE and listen to the podcast any time you want to. Unless you're reading, and then I wouldn't want to interrupt you.

The Store Mural

Here is a photo I found of the front of the store before we put the murals up on the facade. There are bookcases blocking the windows on the second floor, and someone had put tatami mats on the backs of the bookcases to make them more presentable, I suppose. What happened is that the mats got sun-damaged over time and, as you can see, the store began to look a bit derelict.

The murals, done by Back to the Drawing Board, a company that has done pretty much any of the interesting storefront art you've seen around town, are supposed to be windows, giving passersby a look "into" the store. Inside, browsing the stacks, we see Mother Goose, a space alien scanning a copy of To Serve Man, and Dashiell Hammett looking like he's about to shoplift one of his own books.

One interesting back story to the mural: when the artist did the first draft, it looked pretty much like it does now, except the customers were much better dressed. More business casual than Clement Street. No offense to our beloved patrons, but the people in that first draft just didn't look like most of the customers we see in the store on a daily basis. So we had the artist replace some pantsuits with sweatshirts, and the mural was born.

A Gallery of Rogues (abbreviated for palatability)

The critical reaction to V.S. Naipaul's misogyny (including Molly's justifiably indignant response on our blog) got me thinking about the uncomfortable fact that a number of my favorite writers--whether past or current--were, to phrase it none too delicately, dicks.

I know it would be more generous and fair to give each of the following writers his or her due by examining the historical, biographical, and sociocultural factors that contributed to the dickish behavior on display, but hey! we're on the internet. If you can't spew hate-filled vitriol without regard to the complexities of human nature on the internet, where can you? (Unless you're lucky enough to get a book deal.)

All joking aside, the ethical question of whether it's right to read a writer or admire an artist who exhibits such antisocial behavior as those below is a thorny one. Just where do aesthetics leave off and ethics begin? Does our admiration of The Artist excuse us from passing judgement on his or her life? And where does biography leave off and an artistic legacy begin?

Or should we agree with that wit Oscar Wilde, who once claimed that "There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all."

Or, on the other hand, with Georges Bataille, who argued contra Sartre, that "Literature is not innocent. It is guilty and should admit itself so."


Exhibit #1: Knut Hamsun

Hamsun looks dapper here, in 1925, with his wife Marie and the family dog, but twenty years later he'd be put on trial in Norway for his allegiance to the Third Reich. It wasn't bad enough that he gave his Nobel Prize medal to Goebbels; no, Hamsun actually went so far as to eulogize Hitler.

Exhibit #2: Patricia Highsmith

According to playwright/biographer Joan Schenkar, the acerbic, virulently racist, anti-Semitic, and malevolent Ms. Highsmith once threatened to leave her fortune to the Infitada.

Exhibit #3: Louis-Ferdinand Celine

Celine's hatred crackles not only through the pages of his work, but of his life as well. Jim Knipfel sums it up most succinctly by writing that Celine, anti-Semite and collaborator with the Vichy government, "was [to put it mildly] not a very pleasant fellow."

See also:

Maurice Barres, Ernst Junger, Gabriel D'Annunzio, August Strindberg, Yukio Mishima, Ezra Pound, Ayn Rand, Francois Villon, D.H. Lawrence, Anne Perry, &c. &c. &c.


No Longer Human, Osamu Dazai's final (complete) novel could more literally be translated as "disqualified from being a human," but I suppose someone along the path to its Western publication decided that wording would not have the proper je ne sais quoi when faced out on the bookshelves. A shame, I think. Whereas "No Longer Human" seems to presuppose a world of curious advent, possibly even some kind of sci-fi connotation (nothing wrong with that), the less judicious version seems to get straight to the point. This is a novel about a weird sap that can't hang out with normal people. He's all twisted up. Lacking. Backwards. Completely without qualifications. It's a really neat book and you should probably read it before you die.

On a related note, Dazai committed suicide in the June of 1948.

ladies and gentlemen...Mr. Jesse Ball

Jesse Ball (1978-)

I have been telling everyone I have met since reading Jesse Ball's Samedi the Deafness that he is my favorite American author alive. I know this is a bold statement but I was blown away by the absurd being so effortless and natural. You encounter the story and world that Ball creates without being told that things are not what they seem and that they will change in impossible ways but that you will have no problem accepting them.

The same was true for The Way Through Doors. I couldn't put it down. Then a coworker gave me a used copy of Vera & Linus, written and published by Ball and his wife Thordis Bjornsdottir. I contacted Jesse and made this my staff favorite. It was my favorite of all his books. It is dark and troublesome and wonderfully disturbing (it isn't available through our web site so call the store, we will get you a copy).

Then last week a wonderful thing happened...
The Curfew was released. I have already read this book twice and may read it again soon. It is truly magical. It is truly sad. I want to tell you all about it but this about Jesse Ball is the minute you start you want to tell the whole story like a folktale. You want to pass on the story to as many people as possible. It's just the way his stories reveal themselves to the reader.

So I will tell you only how it starts so that you will want to carry on:

We are born in this cemetery, but must not despair.
-Piet Soron, 1847


There was a great deal of shouting and then a shot. The window was wide open, for the weather was often quite fine and delicate during late summers in the city of C. Yes, the window was wide open and so the noise of the shot was loud, as though one of the two people in the room had decided to shoot a gun into the body of the other.

This was not the case, however. And because no one in the room itself had been shot, the man, William Drysdale, twenty-nine, once-violinist, epitaphorist, and his daughter Molly, eight, schoolchild, slept on.

Those were the methods of employment. Daily, Drysdale went about to appointments while Molly went to school and was told repeatedly to repeat things. She could not, and didn't.

Maybe How to Live

(Where we will begin.)

I recently had an experience that, if being completely honest, most booksellers would call at the very least wince-inducing: the request for a book recommendation to serve as a gift, and a gift-giver who seems to know absolutely nothing of the recipient except for their age. "I'm looking for a book for a guy who's turning 34", for example. And there the information well seems to run dry. It's like when you would go to company barbeques with your parents and someone would say "Oh, the Whatzitfaces have a son your age, you'll have someone to play with." Except you're a girl and you're 9 and boy children are gross bizarre aliens to you and it turns out that Junior is actually 7 which is a GIANT difference and you both have to sit in the backyard and guess at everything to find anything at all in common with this other life form. Didn't you hate that? These moments can be sort of like that.

The nice thing is that sometimes they can take a turn for the thoughtful. This customer (shopping for a recent high school grad) did have some vague parameters for the book she was looking for, and they were as follows: "Nice", "something that will teach {the reader} something, maybe how to live", "with some pretty pictures or something", and "not a stupid book" (the latter was repeated many times).

She did not say: inspirational, motivational, uplifting.

She did (essentially) say: smart.

I liked that.

Sometimes I think that, particularly in this season of graduations, transitions, and new beginnings, it's easy to default to words like "inspirational", when what we are really looking for out of the world is "intelligent with joy". One is prescriptive, the other descriptive -- one kind of book tells you how to be, the other shows ways that people are and, perhaps most illuminating and comforting, how people have been before you. Of course, books intended to motivate and inspire can serve a wonderful purpose, and sometimes that sort of finger-wagging "just do it, damnit" tone is exactly what one needs to do some bootstrap lifting when life inevitably is very hard. But in general, I am of the opinion that a book that makes your world bigger is better for you than a book that makes it smaller and more about you.

And this is how my vague and tight-lipped gift-giving customer and her could-be-anyone invisible gift-givee have ended up with a copy of Maira Kalman's The Principles of Uncertainty. I recommended this with complete confidence in its ability to meet her parameters.

It's nice:

It has pretty pictures:

It will teach the reader something (maybe how to live):

And it's not stupid. It's smart:

But not, you know, too smart:

And (last but not not least appealing) about we've got it in hardcover for a mere $12.98 (not listed on our website, as it is a remainder, but we've got plenty of copies. Just give us a call).

Intelligent with joy. Off you go, could-be-anyone. This is good for you.

Everything is coming up roses (a rose is a rose)

Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein at home (by Man Ray)

In Everybody's Autobiography, Gertrude Stein famously summed up a visit to Oakland, the city where she spent her formative years, by writing that "Whenever you get there, there is no there there." Stein's oft-misinterpreted and typically gnomic line refers to the disappearance of her childhood home as much perhaps as a particular sense of cultural dislocation that a long-time resident of Paris must have experienced upon visiting California in the 1930s. Stein, of course, was not just any Parisian, but one who, along with first her brother Leo and later her partner Alice B. Toklas, famously surrounded herself with artists now recognized as the revolutionaries of modern art, including Picasso, Cezanne, and Matisse.

Were it possible for the ever-confident, self-assured, and endlessly and eagerly photographed Stein to return to California now, seventy years after her trip through Oakland, she may find herself inclined to revise her opinion of our lack of thereness, if only due to the happy accident that has San Francisco (Toklas' home town) on the verge of Steinian delirium. Between the Contemporary Jewish Museum's contextualizing Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories and the SF MOMA's The Steins Collect exhibits, it seems we're in for a summer of breathlessly unpunctuated excitement.

Or maybe this feverish excitement is limited to Green Apple, surrounded as we are by what seems like a blessed deluge of books about, relating to, or touching upon our most famous literary emigrant. Although not all of the following books are tied to the concurrent exhibits, the serendipitous coincidence (not to mention seeing Stein's mug plastered all over town) has me eyeing my copy of The Making of Americans with a sense of guilt. (Although I could cop out--if listening to a 913 page book could be considered a cop out--and sit back while Gregory Laynor's performs the book for me.) (Do yourself a favor and listen to page 906.)

If any of this has made you feel the urge to brush up on Little Gertie*, take a look at the books below: from Atak's beautiful (and difficult to keep in stock) interpretation of Stein's story "Ada" to the hefty companion to The Steins Collect, I'm sure you'll find something in which to dip your toe before moving on to sentences like
Once upon a time there was no dog if there had been a dog nobody wept.

Once upon a time there was no name and if any one had a name nobody could cover a name with a name. But nobody wept except somebody who had not that name wept.

Atak's illustrated version of Stein's Ada, her first "word portrait" and a significant artistic breakthrough, is a bright and bold interpretation well-suited to the subject. Since I'm entirely ignorant of printing techniques, I'll quote from the book's publisher:
Atak’s unique style of illustration harks back to the days of chromolithography. As with these early printing techniques, on every page of the book each print layer is meticulously created by hand directly onto film. There are only a handful of artists left still using this technique and the result is inimitable. The book has the look and feel of something created in the early days of printmaking.

The Steins Collect is the companion book to the MOMA show. Read more about it on the Yale Press Log, which also informs us that the Press will be reviving two more of Gertrude Stein's work this fall, perhaps turning this summer of Stein into a veritable revival.

Steins' The World is Round is out-of-print (although you can view the edition illustrated by Clement Hurd--he of Goodnight Moon fame--on Flickr), but To Do, a follow-up to that book is a nice consolation, as consolations go. Molly explains why we're so infatuated with this one:
This whimsical book begins with the reassuring fact that everyone has a name and a birthday, taking a dizzying journey through the alphabet and the names therein. Never published in Stein's lifetime because it was deemed too obscure for children and adults, Yale University Press thankfully saw it as perfectly suited for both.

In 1906, Harriet Lane Levy was convinced to move to Paris from San Francisco by her friend Alice B. Toklas. Finding herself suddenly immersed in "in a strange world peopled by artists who spoke a language she could not understand--a colorful world that she could only remotely observe in black and white," Levy compiled these brief reminiscences which were until recently tucked away at the Bancroft Library. A fine book capturing an exciting era.

And, of course, there are the books by Stein herself, if you're so inclined.


* "Little Gertie is a little schnatterer. She talks all day long and so plainly. She outdoes them all. She's such a round little pudding, toddles around the whole day and repeats everything that's said or done." -- from a letter written by Stein's father, quoted in William Gass' essay on "Gertrude Stein and the Geography of the Sentence" (in The World Within the Word)

The Inner Richmond

My originally casual interest in photography somehow mutated into an expensive compulsion over the last few years. For the better part of this time I have been employed at Green Apple Books & Music. When I find myself excited to see how some photographs are going to turn out but still have some shots left on the roll, it is not uncommon for me to bring my camera to work and try to finish it off, wandering around Clement and the avenues on breaks. Fortunately this neighborhood is a massive pile up of personality and culture condensed into a tiny space, so I am never lacking of subtly odd or amusing sights. As if there was any more need for reasons to stop by for a visit.

Chinese New Year Celebrations
These women were all trying to build 'perfect dozens' at the grocery store, which I think is totally crazy and I love it.
How do they make dogs like this?
This last picture was was taken by my coworker, billed as 'A' on this blog. I was lacking my camera that day, but we agreed that the little tub was just begging to have his photo taken.

Father's Day is Almost Here...

That's right, it's time to do some last minute shopping for those of you who love, or even kind of like, your fathers.

Father's Day is June 19th and we have some great ideas for $40 to $70 from TASCHEN.

First is Albertus Seba's Cabinet of Natural Curiosities. This is one of the 18th century's greatest natural history achievements and remains one of the most prized natural history books of all time. Though scientists of his era often collected natural specimens for research purposes, Amsterdam-based pharmacist Albertus Seba was unrivaled in his passion. TASCHEN has reproduced this amazing work in a trade cloth edition for only $39.98.

Another book from TASCHEN that has been flying off the shelves since Christmas is The Book of Symbols. Authored by writers from the fields of psychology, religion, art, literature, and comparative myth, The Book of Symbols combines original and incisive essays about particular symbols with representative images from all parts of the world and all eras of history. The highly readable texts and over 800 beautiful full-color images come together in a unique way to convey hidden dimensions of meaning.

Green Apple is offering this book also for $39.98...

And if you really love your father you won't mind spending $69.98 on Stanley Kubrick's "Napoleon": the Greatest Movie Never Made...

For 40 years, Kubrick fans and film buffs have wondered about the director's mysterious unmade film on Napoleon Bonaparte. Slated for production immediately following the release of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kubrick’s "Napoleon" was to be at once a character study and a sweeping epic, replete with grandiose battle scenes featuring thousands of extras. To write his original screenplay, Kubrick embarked on two years of intensive research; with the help of
dozens of assistants and an Oxford Napoleon specialist, he amassed an unparalleled trove of research and preproduction material, including approximately 15,000 location scouting photographs and 17,000 slides of Napoleonic imagery. No stone was left unturned in Kubrick's nearly-obsessive quest to uncover every piece of information history had to offer about Napoleon. But alas, Kubrick’s movie was not destined to be: the film studios, first M.G.M. and then United Artists, decided such an undertaking was too risky at a time when historical epics were out of fashion.


Summer Reading

Andre Kertesz, On Reading

Struggling with finding a suitable book for your summer reading? Googling "summer reading 2011" brings back over 250,000,000 results, which would take months to wade through. If you don't want to waste your summer sorting through all those lists, you can check out our recommendations or some of the lists I've highlighted below.

A Bolaño reading list (and an unexpected bargain)

Over at Conversational Reading, Scott Esposito offers a Roberto Bolaño Reading List, based on the late author's book raves and reviews included in his most recently translated work, a collection of essays called Between Parentheses.

Although the list is compelling, it is sadly not exhaustive, and misses out on one of the books Bolaño most admired, J. Rodolfo Wilcock's The Temple of Iconoclasts. But "admired" doesn't sufficiently cover the adulation Bolaño heaped upon The Temple of Iconoclasts. In fact, he called it

without a doubt one of the funniest, most joyful, irreverent, and most corrosive books of the twentieth century.
This is conjecture, but the notable absence of this book from the reading list may be due to Conversational Reading's partnership with (follow the link), which lists the sole new copy of Wilcock's book at a whopping $173.68 and of the nine used copies available, the cheapest will cost you $42.90.

However, there's hope.

If Bolaño's praise of The Temple of Iconoclasts has piqued your interest, but not enough to lead you to dish out (at least) $40, I've got a not-so-secret: we've stocked the book for over a year and, unlike our online competitor, we're selling it at its list price of--wait for it--$14.95.

Race to Death Valley

Mickey Mouse has long been known as the adorable mouse-hero, mascot of the Disney Media Corporation, a sweet, wholesome, safe and secure icon for kids and parents alike. For forty-five years however (1930 -1975) the daily Mickey Mouse strips portrayed a somewhat skewed version of the beloved character. Floyd Gottfredson, who wrote and illustrated these strips but was never allowed to sign his own name, depicted Mickey as a hero still of course, but also a bizarre and dynamic personality which was fully capable of misanthropy, socially irresponsible behavior, planning and executing dangerous ideas, and wrapping himself up in bizarre and potentially violent situations.

Only a small handful of Gottfredson's collected works have been published and most are out of print. He pioneered a trendsetting style of adventure comics, though in his lifetime remained largely unrecognized. His contributions to the Disney landscape were not made public until his identity was discovered by a fan in the mid 1960s, and even so it would not be until 2006 (twenty years after his death) that he would be honored, inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame.

Fantagraphics has kindly republished a bit of the Gottfredson Mickey run in their new book "Race to Death Valley," beautifully restored, repackaged and of course on display in Green Apple's main store as well as the annex. 'Bout time.

Just Two Things

ONE:(Wise words from your shelves: Modular Bookcase System from Saporiti)

(As a big fan of Google's "doodles", I was pleasantly surprised to find this one on June 5th in celebration of what would be Richard Scarry's 92nd birthday)

All Moby, no -Dick

I generally turn a blind eye to "customized" ads on social media sites, but a few days ago the above (on Facebook) caught my attention for several reasons, not the least of which is the presumption on the part of the editor that he was capable, with his gentle hand, of making Moby-Dick more "enjoyable" than Mr. Melville intended it to be. (That missing hyphen in the Readable Classics edition of the book must've been the first stumbling block to enjoyment. Nothing sours my reading pleasure more quickly than a hyphen.) Of course, any editor willing to mash up Pride & Prejudice and Moby-Dick, and then give himself top-billing on the dust jacket, is obviously not lacking in presumption. Or, more charitably, gumption.

Here's a sample of the first chapter of the more readable novel, which at least keeps in tact the greatest opening sentence in American literature:
Call me Ishmael.

Some years ago, having no money in my purse and nothing to interest me on the shore, I thought I would sail around a little and see the watery part of the world.

It is my way of driving off the gloom. Whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul, or when I find myself following every funeral I see, and especially when I feel like stepping into the street and knocking people’s hats off--then I know it is high time to get to sea as soon as I can.

Instead of putting a pistol to my head, I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If men would only admit it, they would have nearly the same feelings toward the ocean as I.
And here's the opening of Melville's weird, digressive, and labyrinthine masterpiece, with the excised or emended--in other words, the less readable--bits faded:
Call me Ishmael. Some years ago - never mind how long precisely - having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off - then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.
I'm not going to get into the ethics or aesthetics (or lack thereof) of such bowdlerization--I'm sure there are a few philistines readers who find such abridgements helpful and time-saving. I will simply point out a project translator and author Damion Searls undertook a few years ago, published as a special issue of the Review of Contemporary Fiction, in which he composed a text of everything--words and punctuation--left out of a similar helpful abridgement of Moby-Dick (called Moby-Dick in Half the Time). As you can see below, Searls titled his edition ; or the Whale.

Who has time to learn what a semi-colon is, anyway.

Looks Like People Still Like Actual Books

I was watching the fifth inning of Ken Burns' great baseball documentary recently. Part of that episode covers the 1930's, and one of the controversies discussed in that episode was Cincinnati Reds owner Larry MacPhail's decision to broadcast all of the Reds' games on the radio. For Free! His fellow baseball owners said he was crazy, that nobody would pay to come to the games anymore when they could just switch on their radios and hear all of the action. What happened instead, of course, is that Reds' attendance grew, as the fan base expanded, and women began to take an interest in the game.

My Wikipedia says that it was a guy named Robert Englund who said, "What's old is new again." And what brings this all up is the hubbub surrounding the publication of Adam Mansbach's Go The Fuck to Sleep. The problem started when a pdf of the complete book, including pictures, spread around the internet. You can download it here if you want (or you could pay money and order it from us here). Even though the book could be viewed in its entirety for free, it shot to #1 on Am***n and stayed there. The publisher, Akashic Press, rushed the book out to capitalize on all of the interest. And now the book is on our shelves and, yes, it is selling.

Because the fact is, you may be able to view a book like this on your laptop or your tablet, but you're not going to leave those gadgets lying on the proverbial (or literal) coffee table, turned on, ready to be flipped through on the merest whim. Books are like that, no power source needed, waiting on the shelf, some of them even looking pretty snazzy, ready when you are.


From The Guardian:

"In an interview at the Royal Geographic Society on Tuesday about his career, V.S Naipaul, who has been described as the 'greatest living writer of English prose', was asked if he considered any woman writer his literary match. He replied: 'I don't think so.'

The author, who was born in Trinidad, said this was because of women's "sentimentality, the narrow view of the world. And inevitably for a woman, she is not a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing too," he said.

'I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me.' "

Funny, even with my narrow view of the world I can tell from just one sentence if something was written by an asshole.