Tuesday night was Saturday night!

Thanks to everyone who made it to Tosca Cafe last week, on very short notice, to witness the verbal hurricane that is Bobby Keys - a truly special night was had by all! Imagine, if you weren't among the lucky dozens in attendance, of kicking-back in a red naugahyde booth and gently sipping a famous 'House Cappuccino', while the Rolling Stones' sax man (that's right The Rolling Stones) regaled you with tales from more than 50 years on the road. . . Amazing!

You better believe that Bobby Keys (a native Texan) has the gift of gab; tales poured forth all evening, some hysterical, others touching: Keith Moon chasing his butler around the yard with a hovercraft, secret recording sessions with Gram Parsons and Keith Richards in the latter's basement studio, and tender remembrances of Levon Helm, John Lennon and sadly, many others.

Bobby's booming voice comes through perfectly in his recent memoir from Counterpoint Press, Every Night's a Saturday Night, which was what brought us all to Tosca last Tuesday in the first place. Well, that, and to hopefully witness a television thrown through a window. . .

If you missed it, you still have a chance to get to get your hands on a SIGNED COPY, which isn't exactly the same thing as downing White Russians with the man, but I do what I can. And by all means, check-in with our event calendar, or follow us on Facebook, just don't miss the next one!

Indie Booksellers Awards

Each year, the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association honors the best books written or illustrated by Northern California authors and artists.  With input from booksellers representing 200 stores in the region, here are the 2012 awards.

Click through on any title for more info, and congrats to the local authors and artists who keep producing such good books for Green Apple to sell.  

A Special Offer on the Not Pulitzers

On Monday, the Pulitzer committee awarded its annual prizes for excellence in journalism and letters. For the first time since 1977, however, there was no award given for fiction. According to Sig Gissler, the administrator of the Pulitzer Prize, the three-judge panel failed to come to a majority decision regarding the finalists displayed to the left. 

Rather than argue that the system is flawed--there have been 11 instances in the history of the Prize of no award being given--we're going to celebrate all three finalists by offering a special Not Pulitzer Bundle.

Purchase all three books--Karen Russell's exclamatory debut Swamplandia!; the late David Foster Wallace's final work, The Pale King; and Denis Johnson's novella Train Dreams--and receive a 20% discount

Then, after you've read all three, you can host your own private Pulitzer ceremony, and bestow the award upon whichever novel you feel most deserves it. 

We've also put up a display of our recommendations for some of the novels we feel coulda, shoulda, woulda won the Pulitzer if anyone asked us for our opinion. No one did, but if they had, there would have been a winner this year. Just sayin', Sig. If you're reading this, consider giving us a call next year should this happen again.

So, again: purchase a bundle of the Not Pulitzers at a discount of 20% off list price (order online and we'll apply the discount for you or call the store at 415-397-2272), host an awesome party to bestow the prize on the most deserving of the three, and invite me. [The second and third steps are optional. But I'll bring the alcohol if you invite me.]

March's Apple-a-Month pick: New Finnish Grammar

It's taken us a while to get around to revealing to the wider world our Apple-a-Month selection for March, but we assure you it's no reflection on the strength of this fine novel by Diego Marani (translated by Judith Landry). If anything, the opposite is the case, this being one of the more memorable books I've read in months, one that continues to haunt me. Here's the praise I sung to our subscribers:
I've been a bookseller long enough to know that this book is going to be a tough sell. As memorable and heartbreaking a novel as any I've read in recent memory, New Finnish Grammar is saddled with both a dry title and unassuming packaging. It's unlikely that either of these things are going to grab a hold of you the way the extraordinary story hidden inside of this book will; you'd be forgiven for passing the book by, as I did for months. (Finland? Grammar? I'll stick with Fifty Shades of Gray, thanks.) But, when I finally gave in to the nagging voice that insists I read a certain book, I found myself caught up in a heartbreaking story about a man with no memory, no language and no homeland. Narrated in an earnest, straightforward voice, New Finnish Grammar manages nonetheless to speak to profound questions of identity and meaning, all while remaining as compelling as The English Patient.
At the time we mailed New Finnish Grammar, we weren't aware that it, along with Magdalena Tulli's In Red, our November selection, would be included among the finalists of the Best Translated Book Award. We're crossing our fingers that either of these books--or both!--will take home the prize.

And, for our subscribers, April's book will come with a special treat, so keep an eye on your mailboxes in the coming week. We think you'll be pleased by the surprise.

A Rare, Brave Story

I can't post my usual light musings because I just read Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West, reporter Blaine Harden's story of a young man's torture in, and escape from, a North Korean prison labor camp.

There’s no lyrical levity to lighten up this insider account. It’s a graphic and straightforward reporting of Shin Dong-Hyuk’s starvation, torture by sadistic guards, watching family members executed, a classmate beaten to death, and Shin’s mental anguish after his escape.

There’s some competition, I realize, for what nation’s citizens live the most harrowing lives of deprivation and degradation. But, it seems little media light has been shed on the horrifying inhumanity occurring within North Korea’s grey fields visible on satellite imagery.

The US intelligence community is aware of North Korea’s estimated 200,000 prison camp slavery victims. I appeal to US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta (if he’s reading this) to hold the Kim regime accountable for its atrocities.

Though I know this sentiment will contradict our official snarky vantage in this progressive urban vacuum, but reading Shin’s experience made me grateful to be American (despite our country’s own inequities, including with criminal justice and incarceration).

I urge Panetta and anyone not conversant in the reality above the DMZ, outside the Stalinist sound stage of Pyongyang, to read Escape from Camp 14.

"There is a pleasure in the pathless woods"

Photo by Bryan Larson

I've always thought that one of the questions our HR manager should ask potential employees during their interview is, "How good are you at giving directions?" This, because without a doubt the question we're most frequently asked is, "Where are your ____ books?" (Health, business, science fiction, philosophy, &c.) I answer this request often enough that it seems like just about everyone who comes into the store is here for the first time, newly arrived and wide-eyed.

We more than welcome new customers, of course, and it's natural that those who frequent the store are more aware--even if only vaguely--of Green Apple's layout, as shifting and possibly inscrutable as that may be (sometimes even for those of us who work here). Which is to say that the frequency of this question seems to be a good sign for us; the day no one asks where, for instance, poetry is will surely be a sign of impending doom.

And while we've stenciled apples onto floors, given names to parts of the store, printed maps, and slapped signs (atop of older signs, next to newer signs) to the walls, the fact of the matter is that even with all of these helpful pointers, bookstores are, to my mind, the most difficult retail environment to navigate. By difficult I don't mean troublesome, but tricky, like following an overgrown path through a forest. The person who asked at the front counter where writings on nature are will, by the time he or she gets upstairs, have been so sidetracked as to have already forgotten where we were sending them.

This is why so many people speak fondly of getting lost in a bookstore or why we browse for books: I've never heard someone say they're browsing for a pair of jeans.

But we do technically browse for jeans. And we do technically search for books. The difference that exists between the two, I think, is the receptivity the bookstore fosters, the sense of wandering and happy discovery that exists in a space that, Borgesianly, opens up to infinity. Think about the contents of a bookstore: pages upon pages full of dreams, plots, characters, facts, photographs, indexes, footnotes, reaching back into history, forward into the future, stretching out across the present, or into other impossibilities. It's dizzying, yet we invite it. We seek it out.

Rather than coming to any conclusions here--I may not have had even one to draw--I'm going to let this meandering post mirror the way we experience bookstores, and conclude an excerpt from Lo Chih Cheng's "Bookstore in a Dream":
The forest that awes and fascinates us the most
is this bookstore...

Nobody, not even the 89-year old third-generation
shopkeeper, Mr. L.,
Nobody knows the bookstore's true dimensions--
not even the literature Professor T., who last
year in pursuit of some
remaindered book,
was submerged forever in the quicksand of letters,
or the critic who, after many years, came dashing out of a
or the new breed of bats biting his neck...
Really, even in the closely guarded stacks east of Section
in the shrubbery, mainly of biographies and fables--
we will occasionally run into the
skeletons of the lost...

Clement Street- not just for Tupperware

If Alissa Anderson has her way, Clement Street won’t be known mainly for cheap toilet brushes, and someone hoisting a dead hog on his shoulder, because her delightfully curated pop-up store, Foggy Notion, just around the corner from Green Apple, displays a unique selection of handmade and organic decorative appointments, potent potions, and hefty accessoires, bringing a bit of Hayes Valley chic to our sometimes too-sensible street.

Here’s some of the locally crafted luxurious goods found here:

  • Anderson’s own necklaces with chandelier crystals and old-fashioned keys ($30-$75), thin, multi-pocket wallets with heavy-duty snaps redeemed from vintage pleather tennis racket covers ($20-$40), pencil and cosmetic pouches made from soft leather Venezuelan Pampero rum-bottle bags ($36), that Anderson, (granddaughter of seamstress Concetta Longo) sews herself in the shop/studio on an industrial Juki sewing machine, under the brand “mittenmaker.”
  • Sturdy Job + Boss clutches and bucket totes by Oakland’s Brook Lane and Kirby McKenzie using the hand-dipped Shibori dye-bath technique ($130 to $310).
  • Plush “Lay Swing” pillows by Grass Valley partners Carabeth Rowley and Tahiti Pehrson, with intricate papercut stencil work, hand silkscreened on vintage seersucker.
  • Berkeley’s Juniper Ridge room sprays ($20) like “Steep Ravine” and “Cascade Glacier” from sustainably wildcrafted aromatics like spicy laurel, woodsy cedar, sweet desert piƱon, citrusy Douglas Fir, and pungent sage. Ten percent of their profits go to defending western Wilderness causes such as Desert Survivors and the California Wilderness Coalition.
  • Bernal Heights-dweller, and CCA Wattis Institute Curator Jana Blankenship’s “Captain Blankenship” brand “Russalka” palmarosa bath salts ($20) and perfumes ($20) like “meteor” with ylang ylang.
  • 26th and Balboa Jonathan Anzalone and Joseph Ferriso's Anzfer Farms Driftwood Bud vases ($15) and lamps ($75).
  • Portland, Oregon Matt Pierce’s water-repellant, canvas Wood & Faulk bags ($170-$250).
“If I can do as well as December from word-of-mouth and street traffic, then I can do better this year,” said Anderson, 33, an eight-year 6th and Clement Street resident.

Foggy Notion (inspired by the song from Velvet Underground’s 1969 “VU” album, and the Avenues’ familiar vapor, of course), is throwing an Earth Day party April 22, featuring Dogpatch dweller, sculptor and jewelry designer Robyn Miller’s vintage fashions and accessories, and used records from Andy Cabic of neo-folk band, Vetiver (whose thoughtful new Richmond District-inspired LP, Errant Charm,” (Sub Pop, $22), by Cabic and Thom Monahan, is on sale.

Treasure Island Woodworker Drew Bennett used reclaimed Douglas Fir and Redwood to construct the store’s handsome counter.

Store owner Anderson, a Wakefield Memorial High School (Buffy Sainte Marie, class of 1958) and Smith College grad, is also a former Vetiver cellist.

275 6th Avenue 415-683-5654

Wild about WILD by Cheryl Strayed

Our April Book of the Month, guaranteed to please, is Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed.

Wild is, at its base, a memoir of a struggling young woman and her challenging solo hike along the Pacific Crest Trail (1,100 miles of it!). But it's so much more--full of heart, humor, hope, and humanity.

You will probably be hearing about this book everywhere. Believe thehype. (e.g. Sunday New York Times Book Review, SF Chronicle, GoodReads). I, for one, am willing to put my reputation of 18.5 years as a bookseller on the line for this one. You will love it.

Further proof? My wife and I almost never read the same book (it seems inefficient to us--is that weird?). In rare instances, we will more or less force the other to read something--she had me read Behind the Beautiful Forevers (which is excellent), and she read (and loved)
Wild. So it's not a guy book or a women's book--it's just a great book.

Buy if from your favorite local independent bookseller! If that's Green Apple, here's a link to the book and to the eBook. Those who act quickly might get a signed copy, as the author was gracious enough to stop by the store today.