A Time Of Darkness and Despair

My first visit to Green Apple Books? I remember it well. The creaky floors, Cruddy (by Lynda Barry) on display for $6, and, up on the mezzanine, my favorite section of all - True Crime. As with Mystery and Science Fiction, it is the (hopefully not too) worn and tattered paperback which is the linchpin of this section. Repressing a shriek of delight I grasped Say You Love Satan (David St. Clair) and The Search For The Green River Killer (Carlton Smith). Foolishly I set them down to wander the store some more, then was unable to find the mezzanine again! Years later I was able to read the Carlton book, but St. Clair's renowned work on the hessian Satanic drug addicts of New Jersey continues to elude me.

     Eventually I started working at Green Apple, and am known as the store's resident authority on this section, though our bookkeeper is more widely read in this field than me. The dynamics of used true crime had changed in the meanwhile. As I remember the glorious '80s and '90s, every used bookstore was hip deep in trashy, gnarly paperbacks priced under $3. Browse shops in San Francisco these days and these titles are few and far between. So, a few weeks back, when two boxes of of mass market true crime treasure came in across our buy counter, I glimpsed for the first time many titles which captured my attention. Convinced a ravenous market existed for these books, I was determined to read as many as I could before they hit the shelves. Over a period of two weeks, I tore through Angel of Darkness (Dennis McDougal), The Misbegotten Son (Jack Olsen), Freed To Kill (Gera-Lind Kolarik with Wayne Klatt), Ted Bundy: The Killer Next Door (Steven Winn & David Merrill), and The Gainsville Ripper (Mary Ryzuk).
     It wasn't all good times. I knew immersion in this level of depravity would have negative effects on my mental health. Children cannot understand that even though a bad thing happened, it is incredibly unlikely to happen to them. After reading true crime for two weeks, I developed this same problem. Before, I was able to control my fear of being abducted and cut up about by realizing, if this terrible thing happens to one person, that's too many, but it does happen. But if it happens in the US to 270 people in one year, the odds of any one individual falling victim is 1 in one million. In practice, even these odds are lessened by my being male, fairly privileged, and avoiding dangerous situations. For example, I do not get hell of wasted drunk, climb in a stranger's car, and take the pills he offers. I don't accept offers to pose naked and tied up for money, even a hundred bucks. This kind of risk reduction has served me well over the years. But logic was defeated after 1500 pages of terrible happenings. The most casual encounters seemed to me to be a set-up. Many men seemed to be hiding a secret and horrifying life. Stopping to tie my shoe, I felt like a limping and lonely antelope on the savannah. While camping, I had to struggle not to run the 50 yards from the river back to our campsite (it looked more like 50 miles) after a branch broke in the distance. I thought it a security breach that my friend told a staggering drunk the name of the campground we were looking for. He seemed an ancillary character, no doubt soon to be picked up by his brother, a maniac with a history of fire-starting and head injuries, recently released from prison...  

     Plato recommended all things in moderation, but that's not really me. In this instance, I am more like the character sang about by Johnny Cash on Live At San Quentin - "I had all that I wanted of a lot of things I had, and a lot more than I needed of some things that turned out bad." It will be at least ten days before I'm ready for Driven To Kill  (Gary King), while Camouflaged Killer (David Gibb) still waits on the shelf at home.

A Perfect Tenn

Recently I passed over my pile of new releases to read The Lady of Larkspur Lotion, (1941) from 27 Wagons Full of Cotton and Other Plays by Tennessee Williams, which I purchased for 91 cents at the old 9th Avenue Books years ago. The six-page one-act drama portrays a self-deluded lady who turns tricks in a New Orleans fleabag SRO to pay rent, but thinks she’s a Hapsburg rubber plantation heiress, and who contains many of the archetypal characteristics of all the playwright’s female characters.

My favorite of Tennessee’s outcasts like Sweet Bird of Youth’s lonely, aging film star, Alexandra Del Lago, or Battle of Angel’s ostracized Cassandra Whiteside, refuse to accept personal embarrassment or pity.

Tennessee Williams, (March 26 is the 101st anniversary of his birth), transcended his borderline psychosis by writing five to eight hours per day, seven days a week for 50 years, creating uncompromisingly private plays about public confession that hunger for truth and uphold the sanctity of imagination.

The best art is about art, I've heard, and Tennessee’s poignant art illustrates the victory of fertile and immortal expression, over cold, complex, harsh reality.

A Streetcar Named Desire's Blanche DuBois (whose monologues I have performed in a casual open mic talent show) says “I don’t want realism. I want magic,” summing up my affinity for these vulgar, degenerate, disenfranchised outcasts and the usually male, virile, young wanderers they prey upon, who feel entrapped in scandal, their past catching up with them, who choose the kindness of strangers over commitment to moral principle.

I was introduced to Williams’s decadent and hungry females in a San Francisco State class led by poet and internationally respected Hemingway scholar Robin Gajdusek, in 1992, the final year of his teaching career. In that Tuesday night class I’d feel the fizzy brain high you get listening to a passionate and brilliant lecturer, as Gajdusek revealed Tennessee’s metaphors and themes of Dyonesian ressurrection, illuminating the symbolic pebbles beneath the stream in Williams’s supple ear for gothic-tinged conversation, my wrist aching from furious note-scribbling. When a grandiose student interrupted to opine at tedious length, I’d rage inside, “We’re wasting precious time.”

If I had chosen Beowulf or Dickens to fulfill my single author class requirement, would I be pulling them off the shelf just for fun, 20 years later?

Gajdusek, who died in 2003 at age 78, also wrote Resurrection, A War Journey, recounting fighting with F Company, 37th regiment of the 95th Infantry Division in its assault on a German-occupied fort in Metz, France, 1944, the poetry collection, A Voyager’s Notebook” (1989), and eight other poetry volumes.

Thank you Professor Gajdusek and thank you Tennessee Williams!

My Secret Least-Favorite Writer

(The writer in question is NOT Malcom Gladwell, I just needed a picture for this post and thought it was a good opportunity to point out the pretty funny Malcom Gladwell Book Generator.)

There is a contemporary author who pretty much everybody thinks is great who I think is not so great, and I'm not going to tell you who it is because I might get fired or killed.

Of course, I'm being a tad dramatic there, but the fear is real -- I've toyed with the idea of writing a scathing (or at least snarky) blog post about this author many times before, and every time, the potential consequences of my unpopular opinion seem to outweigh the satisfaction I would gain and the fun I would have doing it. But what are those consequences, really? And why, you may ask, would I hold back criticism if I feel that it's warranted and that voicing that criticism would help readers make a decision informed by at least one more opinion? It's not like I've been one to bite my tongue before, and I didn't get canned for that one.

In part, it's because the difference between my opinions on V.S. Naipul (linked to above) and my opinions about this author is that I've never read a book by V.S. Naipul, nor would I tell anyone else not to. My comment there was on a ridiculous thing that he said, not on the quality of his writing, and I can, as readers have long been accustomed to doing given the long history of, um, unsympathetic writers, separate the two. The difference is that I think that this one author, the one everyone seems to like who I don't like, just isn't as good as they get credit for being. And, as such, putting a criticism of such an author in a forum like this would be akin to saying "stop buying these books". And that's a statement that gives me some unease, not just as a bookseller, but as a book lover.

I think most booksellers would agree that there are books one sells somewhat reluctantly. Something you'd rather see fade into obscurity because for whatever reason it's bad enough that you wish it wouldn't exist (I've never entertained any hope of that in this case -- this author is here to stay.) Still, this is somewhat of a taboo subject in a literary and publishing culture that is so often considered to be under threat, in which the most commonly expressed opinion is that anyone buying a book, any book, is a good thing, and one that we shouldn't criticize too harshly or it will all just go away and there won't be books anymore.

This, then, is part of the reason why I don't want to name this author: because it feels irresponsible of me as a bookseller to dissuade people from reading anything. But this also isn't just anything: this author is respected, beloved even. Their works are not "popular fiction", they're literature. They are neither "trashy" nor intellectually snobby. If you are reading this blog, I'd bet the odds are that either you've read one of this author's books or been recommended one. I myself have both read a few of this author's books and have recommended them to customers and even friends, if I think it's something that the person will like. Nevertheless, I feel very strongly that there are some fundamental problems with the writing -- laziness with offensive implications, mainly -- for which this author should be criticized.

But I'm not going to do it here. Not because I don't think that there's a merit to literary criticism that is critical, though some have that view. But because my ideal that states that it's a good thing for people to buy and read literature is stronger than my ideal that states that this author contributes, at best, lame things to the popular consciousness.

Am I at peace with that decision? Obviously, not really. I still felt a need to write about it, which is what I do with things I'm not at peace with. What do you think, readers?

on choosing a Staff Favorite

It can be hard, after 18.5 years of working in a bookstore, to come up with a new Staff Favorite. We read so many good books, and so many good books don't need our help. The perfect fit for the Staff Faves display is an excellent book that most customers have yet to read, so one can revel in the joys of spreading the good word about a great book.

My best Staff Favorite ever was A Fan's Notes by Frederick Exley, because:
  1. Many people had never heard of it;
  2. My shelf-talker was passionate and convincing (something about how cheated
    I felt that I had lived 26 years on this earth before someone told me about this great novel);
  3. it's awesome; and
  4. booze played a prominent role in the book, and San Franciscans love their booze (and boozy books).

My latest Staff Favorite was a bit of let-down, sales-wise. It was The Corrections, truly one of the best novels I've ever read. But almost everyone who might read it already has, so I was preaching to the proverbial choir.

My newest addition to the Staff Faves display is Fahrenheit 451. This pick could go either way: everyone has heard of it, but I'm hoping that many readers have just never gotten around to it, as I hadn't until a long plane trip to Nicaragua last month.

The thing about a book like this is that you think you "get it," even if you haven't read it. It's become so ingrained in our consciousness, like Pride and Prejudice or Moby Dick, that anyone who reads books pretty much "gets it."

But you can't, you don't, until you really do read it. Or at least that's what happened to me. The reason Fahrenheit 451 has held up for long is not just the easily imagined dystopian world in which books are burned, but in the powerful narrative, the eerie unexplained parts, Bradbury's prescience about wall-mounted TVs, the humor and lust and loss.

You just have to read it.

On Going Out-of-Print

What's the average lifespan of a book?

I'm not referring to the length of time a book can survive in a library or private collection, but the time between a book's publication and its eventual, inevitable obsolescence. How many novels published twenty years ago are still in print today? How many from two years ago, even? (At the moment, I'm only considering books published traditionally by publishing houses, not Print on Demand titles--even though POD technology is rapidly changing the way we conceive of the life cycle of a book.)

Without any recent statistics (or, rather, the motivation to dig them up), I'd be hard-pressed to come up with anything more than an educated guess, but I doubt I'd be too far off by estimating that 70-80% of books don't stay in print for more than a few years. If we limit the discussion to novels, I think this number may be even higher.

This isn't to say that a book's death is necessarily a tragic event--at least not for those of us who feel overwhelmed by the enormous quantity of books being published every year (close to 300,000 in the U.S. alone, according to UNESCO). A book's author suffers, I'm sure, and every book has at least one or two devoted readers who will lament its passing, but the fact is that most books are published, sell poorly, then fade into oblivion, perhaps to be resurrected later. It's the natural progression.

In the abstract, this all sounds like a fine argument for the obvious necessity of a sort of literary Darwinism, in which the fittest survive and the weaker go the way of the dodo. But as a bookseller, I've seen too many fine books slide into oblivion to believe that fitness, to extend the metaphor, is the most important characteristic of a book's continuing existence. Unless we're okay with equating fitness to sales figures (I'm not), what do we make of a masterpiece like Dino Buzzati's The Tartar Steppe--a novel as perfect and haunting as Albert Camus' The Stranger--being permitted to slowly fade into obscurity?* Or one of my recent staff favorites, Roland Topor's cult classic The Tenant, which we sold hundreds of copies of before it too became a ghost? Or, to use another personal example--and the impetus behind this post--what of Wilcock's Temple of Iconoclasts, a book Roberto Bolano called "one of the funniest, most joyful, irreverent, and most corrosive books of the 20th century"? (Our inventory tells me we have one left on the shelf, so if you want it, come and get it.)

By nature, this consideration is very personal: these are all books I've loved and done what I could to pass on to other readers. Yet they have nevertheless gone out-of-print. What's a bookseller to do in this situation? Feel guilty that I couldn't more convincingly persuade you to read them? Or feel humble pride that I was able to sell the copies I did? In a paradoxical sense, the guilt I feel is less for my inability to turn these books into bestsellers than it is for speeding them along the road to oblivion: if we'd sold fewer copies, they'd still be on our shelves--for a while longer, at least.

In the end, my only recourse may be to lament all the factors that lead to a book's death--the cost of printing, warehousing, and distribution; the sometimes odd constraints of acquiring rights; the difficulty of getting a book noticed among the avalanche of other books; our suffocating copyright laws. It's a helpless feeling, but more than ever, with the POD technologies mentioned above and the increasing digitalization of books, it may be that in the future we'll look nostalgically at the days when books had a lifespan. It may be that in a subtle way, the threat of disappearance is part of the reason we so cherish the books we love.


* Buzzati's novel is technically listed by its publisher as being Out of Stock Indefinitely, which is a polite way of saying "We're waiting to pull the plug." My inquiry to the publisher, David R. Godine, about the status of the book wasn't answered.

The lit keeps quaking

I've been very excited to work with Litquake this year, co-producing their monthly reading series, Epicenter. At Tosca. That's right. . . Tosca Cafe, the hallowed North Beach watering hole.

The idea for Epicenter is actually to have a little less reading, and a lot more discussion - this is why we are booking two authors at the same time and encouraging them to shoot the breeze to our hearts' content. Please enjoy a couple of photos of last month's guest, Steve Erickson, above and below. Steve was in conversation with San Francisco journalist Kevin Berger, and it sure delivered!

Next on the Epicenter calendar is a double-header for the ages: Geoff Dyer and David Thompson! Thompson, the notable film historian (you may have heard of his The New Biographical Dictionary of Film - an absolute classic, now in it's fifth edition) will be the perfect cohort to Geoff Dyer, whose new book, Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room takes on one of the greatest cinematic experiences of all-time, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker. Each author has scads of books published, and this event is certainly not one to miss. Did I mention that it's at Tosca Cafe?

The Epicenter series has been very successful so far, which is a fancy way of saying, "Get there early, as seats fill quickly." Check our website for more details.

Judging a Book by its Cover...

One of the tried and true clich├ęs in the book world is the age old adage don't judge a book by its cover. Unfortunately, a lot of the time that's what my job requires. When buying remaindered books I rely on my knowledge of what sells in our store but also I take a chance on titles I don't know. I don't have the luxury of reading every book I see (at abook fair or warehouse I see up to a million titles in an eight hour day) and when a sales rep comes they usually bring only the covers. So a lot of times this is all I have to go on.

On the other hand sometimes that is just what a book needs as it's sitting on our new release tables. One of those books has been on various display tables since I saw the cover in the summer of 2006: Apathy and Other Small Victories by Paul Neilan (who has now become a friend of mine after a pretty fun reading we did with him. We have since sold 635 copies of the paperback, 150 remainder copies, and if I remember correctly almost 200 in the original hardcover edition....

I picked up this book after one look of the cover and didn't put it down after the first paragraph:

"I was stealing saltshakers again. Ten, sometimes twelve a night, shoving them in my pockets, hiding them up my sleeves, smuggling them out of bars and diners and anywhere else I could find them. In the morning, wherever I woke, I was always covered in salt. I was cured meat. I had become beef jerky. Even as a small, small child, I knew it would one day come to this."
I was in the middle of two other books when I walked past Tupelo Hassman's first novel, Girlchild, on our newly released hardcover fiction table. The library card over the trailer-home in the desert photo caught my eye and I picked it up and started reading:

"Mama always hid her mouth when she laughed. Even when she spoke too gleefully, mouth stretched too wide by those happy muscles, teeth too visible. I can still recognize someone from my neighborhood by their teeth. Or lack of them. And whenever I do, I call these people family. I know immediately that I can trust them with my dog but not with the car keys and not to remember what time, exactly, they're coming back for their kids. I know if we get into a fight and Johnny shows up we'll agree that there has been 'No problem, Officer, we'll keep it down.' "
From there I couldn't put it down. This is a dark, compelling, and poignant novel about a young girl and aspiring girl scout trying to escape the history of the women of her family and escape the Calle, a mobile-home town outside of Reno full of white trash, drunks, and the danger of being from a long line of damaged women.

- npb

February's Apple-a-Month Club selection, or, the trouble with fiction

As our Apple-a-Month subscription service enters its fifth month, we've started to get a few more questions about what our criteria for an Apple-a-Month Club book is. Luckily, there's the vaguely composed something like a mission statement from the website behind which to dodge the question.

Our Apple-a-Month Club selections have very few guidelines: new, paperback fiction is the main criteria, and we endeavor to share something you might not pick up or hear about anywhere else. Other than that, you can expect a variety of literary genres and styles.

The most important part of that, to us, being something you might not pick up or hear about anywhere else. That's both because 1. we don't want to send you something you've already got and 2. we think (and hope) that part of the trust you've placed in us to select a novel a month for you comes from a curiosity about what you might be missing from the world of literature, a desire to try something new.

That said, we thought that the biggest challenges in this new endeavor would be drumming up subscriptions (not a problem, but keep 'em coming) or staying on top of new releases. While the latter has been a by-the-seat-of-our-pants operation to be sure, surprisingly (to me, at least), it's the "fiction" part that sometimes presents a problem.

The problem with fiction, for these purposes, lies in trying to find a fictional world with something approaching universality. While most novels deal with the same Big Stuff, many of the popular contemporary variety tend to anchor themselves in realities -- like "college", "war", or "Iowa" -- that a reader simply likes and relates to or does not. It is, perhaps, for this reason that our small list of past Apple-a-Month club books has so far tended towards the inner life, a subject matter that is just so vague and strange as to almost require a less than linear approach.

In Red concerned itself with the magical humming beneath the surface of a mythical Polish town. Leaving the Atocha Station's primary drama lies in a poet's struggle to find his voice and sense of place. And Invitation to a Voyage peeked into the delicate inner workings of the human search for a home and a purpose, timeless themes in fiction, in a manner both intimate and specific. All of these have been at least somewhat non-traditional, storytelling wise, but in each case that seems to be a response to the very problem we have in selecting recommendations: that fiction must simultaneously conjure a novel world and touch on something true. Trying to come up with books that do this for a few dozen people I've never met has been an unexpected and interesting challenge, one that has made me think about what makes fiction good and relevant in a way that I perhaps never would have otherwise.

February's book, then, epitomized and answered this challenge. It's a genre the author herself would describe as autofiction -- a term that is gaining some literary popularity in its original French to describe a sort of melding of the genres of memoir and fiction. In the case of trying to find a fiction book with a sense of universality to it, this is something of a dream -- because what is it about another's deepest personal experiences and responses that prompts a reader to peer into their own?

Here's our February Apple-a-Month pick: Gwenaelle Aubry's No One, and the accompanying shelf-talker, which more concisely explains its apt-ness and beauty than this long-winded musing I've stumbled into. Read it, buy it, subscribe, and join us in this strange experiment in how to recommend fiction to everyone.

Gwenealle Aubry's No One is a genre-straddling work of tremendous power. In attempting to come to grips with her father's descent into madness, Aubry breaks the boundaries of the traditional fiction/non-fiction divide, creating in the process a blend of memoir and novel. Constructed as a fragmented dictionary -- from Artaud to Woody Allen's Zelig -- this lyrical and heartbreaking work will challenge each reader to examine the ties that bind us to our family, to what it means to love someone who we may never understand.

In Response to Craig Ward's Response to Banksy

I feel a bit silly about defending someone who really needs no defending. I believe Banksy is one of the best artist, not just of our generation, but of all time. (For now, ill leave it at that.) The stencil letter "M" in my logo is a tip of the hat to him (though also a common general street art aesthetic); his black and white stencil style. So as you can imagine, ill side with Banksy in a lot of issues, not blindly just because i like his work, but because we have the same views on a lot of issues and i strongly connect with his artistic ideas.

Banksy gives his take on advertising
Thats a link to an article where Banksy goes on a little about "Brandalism" (which ive written about before) that was in his book Wall and Piece. So what would an artist who thrives on controversy be without a little more controversy? Banksy is a little over the top but, like his work, you cant take his words at face value. Theres something deeper to them and if you only glance at it, you'll miss the point. Enter Craig Ward, who wrote a response here:

First, i cant say Craig is "wrong" exactly, he makes many valid points. I mean, how is a street artist who ask no one for permission to do their art which is displayed in public not supposed to sound hypocritical when bashing advertisers on "brandalism"? Craig makes the paralel of Banksy's art and advertising writing

Now, as far as I see it, the very act of putting your work in the public eye – say on walls, street corners, in alleyways and underpasses etc – is, effectively advertising it by virtue of people being able to see it at all. Exposure is advertising. And unless I’m much mistaken, the only product you’re selling is yourself.

The last time I checked, The Advertisers at least had to pay a lot of money to use the public spaces that their wares occupy – unlike yourself who has decided to remove yourself from that model in the name of art and anti capitalism.

The problem i have here is that Banksy isnt advertising himself via artwork. I can see the other side sure, the more work he does the more his name stays relevant and that work may be protected by the city (making it a permanent fixture) or he can continue selling other pieces at over $1 million. But again, thats at face value and only the icing on the cake for Banksy. You're missing the point if you dont see the message. His work is mostly inspired by social injustice and world problems (war), mixed in with a good bit of humour. His work dosent call attention to himself (as jealous, attention seeking, tag-thugs such as Robbo are concerned with) but is there to make you think, to make you notice something important. Thats not what McDonalds does with a billboard. i dont believe Banksy is quite as anti-capitalism as his work at first glance suggest. i believe he is anti-bad art, and anti-bad product. He dosnt take on the products and people who do good in the world, but has issues with those who sell you poison and if you think fast food is anything less, you're sadly mistaken.

Mr Ward goes on to say

Another criticism often leveled at advertising is that it steals from artists and plagiarises ideas, where as your work is merely ‘inspired’ by one artist; Blek Le Rat. Which I guess is OK. And the fact that you’ve made a comfortable living from it is also fine. I feel like it’s a convenient irony though that the only people who can now afford to own your work are the ad-land Creative Directors and City boys that you so eagerly rail against, while at the same time selling your own brand of rebellious, anti-establishment cool.

Craig's criticism i mostly just disagree with, except with this part where i think he is simply wrong. Blek le Rat and Banksy had the same problem, and Blek was first to find the proper solution. Banksy had no need to reinvent the wheel here. They wanted to be able to post their art so it read clearly and most importantly could be applied quickly. the black and white stencil (sometimes a wheatpaste) was a simple and convenient answer. Banksy has never been about style or great craft, he's about communicating messages. These two guys are certainly not the only two to use this technique, in fact i would say most street artist at least start out with black stencils or wheat paste. As for "selling his brand", yea i probably agree with that. Banksy's go for $1million at auction now. But i dont see that "cheapening" his work. He does seem to have a great sence of humour so Banksy may just be talking about himself now when he does something like this. . .

Im fine with that. because the art dosent hold any less truth then it would if he were a homeless bum. Banksy is all about the message.

As a child of the 80′s I grew up surrounded by cigarette advertising, yet I’ve never bought a pack in my life. I’ve seen car ads every day for 30 years and I’ve never bought one of those either. That’s as much as I can say about myself, but its clear to me that you’re ignoring the fact that people have a choice in what they buy – if they buy anything at all – and that they actually like buying things. They work hard for a living and purchasing something other than basic food, utilities or clothing gives them a sense of achievement; that their hard work has paid off in some capacity.

Its true, you dont have to buy everything you're advertised by, but thats not to say it isnt effective. How many times do you see an ad for something (taco Bell late at night) then decide you want it? advertising works, and no one is immune to it. Look closer at Banksy's work. When he takes on McDonald's its usually featuring children. And the message is right.

Regarding ‘the most sophisticated technology the world has ever seen’ that you mention, you must be referring to the office fax machine? Having seen agency life, I can attest that there’s nothing Machiavellian going on; no illuminated map of the globe and no sinister plot to take over the world; just a bunch of people trying to make a living.

i believe Banksy was referring to the technology we use to make advertising on the technology we use to view it. Its all wasted on garbage and things that really have no value. You can live without an Audi, an iPhone, a Big Mac, etc. These things are truely not important for a happy and just life. This is coming from a guy who takes on racism, gay rights, and "the man" with a concrete wall and paint. To see his disdain for the bombardment of capitalist advertising is clear to me. He also talks a lot about "wasted potentiel". I think thats what he's referring to here as well.

Banksy, keep doing what you're doing. The impact you've made on the world is far more important than anyone in advertising has done. People who recognize the messages and ideas of your work, and who have felt something from it (much better than food poisoning) will probably agree, its worth a million dollars.

UPDATE: its all been resolved between the two: article link

ARCs, hope, and regret

One of the joys of working at a bookstore is advance reader's copies--preview copies of forthcoming books. We get dibs. And we get about 30 dibs each week, so there are plenty from which to choose.

One of the curses of working at a bookstore is advance reader's copies. We don't let ourselves read Steinbeck or Stein or last year's hot title, because we feel an obligation to sort the forthcoming wheat from the chaff.

On the plus side, we get to read wonderful books that are soon to be great hits (like this or this), and we can eventually take some credit for evangelizing and helping them spread like wildfire.

And we can drop a book after 50 pages without guilt. We didn't buy it, so if it's no good, no hard feelings. On to the next book.

On the other hand, we get fooled sometimes. Before leaving for a (no checked luggage therefore only two books) trip to Nicaragua, I started a promising new novel set here in SF. It
made the suitcase. And it was awesome. For 225 of its 250 pages. It just didn't all come together, alas.

No big deal, right? But it displaced some other book that may be the next great thing.

Such is the anguish of the bookseller.

Shed no tears for me, though. The pile by my bed never wanes, despite regular "I'm never really going to get to this one" purges. Nor does my desire to read. And someday, maybe I won't work in a bookstore, and I can finally get to the classics I've missed.