Staff Musings

November 27, 2007

Store News

Filed under: Store News and Events,Uncategorized — carricee @ 9:57 pm

Lots of store news to share this week – first of all, Don’s Books won 1st Place in the Gingerbread House competition in the Local Landmark Category at the Howard County Historical Society! Woohoo! We KNOW we are the best local landmark! We got a ribbon and everything! If you didn’t get a chance to check out the house at the lighting ceremony at the Seiberling, stop in and see it. We’ve got it on display.

Another big piece of news – we are having a t-shirt sale. All of our t-shirts can now be purchased for only $5. I know you are saying to yourselves, Why, what great holiday gifts those will make! Lark even made a beautiful display so that you get to see them immediately upon walking in the door. What does the display look like? I’m not going to tell you! You’ll have to come in and see for yourself.

More news: Don’t forget that Tuesday, December 4th at 6 p.m. will be the next installment of our book discussion group; we’ll be talking about A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf. If you’ve never read Woolf, you are in for a serious treat. She weaves common sense logic with stunning prose, and she does it so well that even people who disagree with her view (that a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction) don’t feel particularly offended by it. Some people say that this work is no longer relevant;, personally I believe people who say that haven’t been paying attention. Ooooh! Look, already disagreement and dissension! It’ll be a lively talk on Tuesday, that’s for sure.

What else is going on? The comic book and graphic novel discussion group will be reading The Watchmen by Alan Moore for their December discussion. The Watchmen is the classic graphic novel. It is the graphic novel that made it possible for graphic novels to be considered literature. It was listed by Time magazine as one of the best books of the 20th century. So yes, it’s that good. Come hear what everyone has to say about it on Tuesday, December 11th at 6 p.m.

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November 21, 2007

Wha?

Filed under: Social Sciences — carricee @ 7:10 pm

So I’ve been reading The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, by Malcolm Gladwell, and it’s great. It talks about how epidemics, trends, and ideas get started and expand. Gladwell tries to explain epidemic phenomena as diverse as syphllis and Blue’s Clues – and it makes sense! One of the things I like about Gladwell is how well he organizes his books; he makes concepts easier to grasp by arranging a whole book almost as simply as a five-paragraph essay.

Okay, so one of his examples of epidemic type behavior is the tremendous and unexpected drop of crime in New York City in the mid-1990s. He attributes this drop to the context of the city, or more specifically, the Broken Window effect. Apparently, we subconsciously react to our environment a great deal more than we suspect. Before the 90s the city was being swallowed in a miasma of trash, grime, spray-paint, etc. In neighborhoods and the subways crime was rampant and the streets were filthy. The dramatic shift came about when New York decided to clean up their subway system – no cars were allowed to go out with graffiti, they increased officer presence in the area and prosecuted those who tried to jump turnstiles. This had a dramatic impact on the attitude of the people who entered the subway. All of a sudden, it seemed to be a place where crime and filth were no longer tolerated.

The dramatic drop in subway crime led New York to apply the same technique to the city. Thus, the Broken Windows effect was nullified, and New York became a much safer place to be.

This part of the book made me think about Steven Levitt and Stephen Dunbar’s book Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. In it, they also talk about the dramatic crime drop in New York and explore some possible causes. The Freakonomics explanaion is much more controversial – as a numbers guy, Levitt tends to look at everything without the normal patina of ethical and sensitive thought most people clothe their sight with – he believes it’s because of abortion. The children who would have been born to parents who did not have either the resources or the will to raise them well were instead aborted after Roe vs. Wade made abortion legal in the 1970s. These children would have been in their late teens in the mid-90s had they been born, and Levitt believes that the fact that they weren’t born is what caused the monumental decrease in crime – simply, less disadvantaged kids means less crime.

Now, I was thinking the other day (I do a lot of driving and tend to spend long stretches of it thinking about completely unproductive things), if we combined Malcolm Gladwell and Steven Levitt into one person, would their powers grow exponentially or would they neutralize each other? I mean, Gladwell is incredibly sensitive to social data and Levitt brilliantly uses numbers to understand phenomena, but maybe you just can’t HAVE both of those things in one person. For the purpose of my daydream though, I decided that you could.

Then, I started thinking about other brilliant people we could combine with Gladvitt to make an even more impressive human being. I was thinking maybe Neil Gaiman for his writing ability and his almost fey outlook on the world (that would add some color to economics), and then Xeni Jardin from boingboing and NPR just because she’s so cool and good at everything technological, and then maybe that representative from DC who is so passionate and strong-willed and speaks so well,¬† but I couldn’t think of her name. She was on the Colbert Report though (I googled it and it’s Eleanor Holmes Norton). I also thought about Al Gore, because of the environment, but then I remembered he’s not really a scientist, and we already have one politician.

So we have a social scientist, a rogue economist, a technology person, a writer, and a politician, all together in one person, working to make the world a better place. And I have way too much time on my hands.

November 20, 2007

Light Night Reading

Filed under: Fiction & Literature,Sci Fi & Fantasy — carricee @ 11:35 pm

Last night I stayed up entirely too late reading a novel by Robert Charles Wilson called A Hidden Place. Though it’s undeniably a science fiction novel, it’s a good stepping stone for those readers who don’t like quite as much science mixed in with their fiction.

The story is set in the Depression, and it revolves around a young man named Travis whose mother died in some mysteriously disgraceful way. He moves to a small town on the edge of nowhere to live with his aunt and uncle, working in his uncle’s ice factory. The town is similar to many small towns in America, ambitious to be a city, but lacking both the money and the attitude. The characters all start out as typical, but evolve into anything but.

The narrative is like Billie Letts meets Neil Gaiman. The prose is outstanding, the plot engrossing enough that I didn’t notice it was 3 am. Then I turned off the light and tried to go to sleep, then turned it back on and kept reading. I have loved every Robert Charles Wilson book I’ve ever read, and this one was his first. His newest is called Axis, it’s the sequel to last year’s Hugo winner, Spin, which is also brilliant. My copy disappeared into the hands of some unsuspecting dinner party guest I think, during one of my “You must read this!” breakdowns. Stop in and pick up some Robert Charles Wilson. I do believe it’s impossible to be disappointed.

BookPusher

Filed under: Fiction & Literature — carricee @ 12:20 am

Sometimes it seems like my reading tastes are a little wonky. Most of our customers come in to the store with all kinds of anecdotes about sharing their books with friends, of switching books back and forth – in fact, we have several groups of customers who always come in together with books, they share the trade credit, buy stacks, and don’t bring them back until they’ve both read all the books.

That’s so fun! I always tell them. How nice to have friends or family members with whom you can share books! Because, to be honest, none of my friends want to read what I do, despite all my efforts. I try to cram books I like down people’s throats every chance I get. Sometimes they read them, but a lot of times, they don’t. It’s really an addiction. Sharing what I love about books gives me purpose, adds value to my character, makes me feel squishy inside. I think I’ve said before, helping people find books they’ll enjoy is my favorite thing about working here.

Of course, if I paid more attention to my friend’s tastes in books, I might find more pleasing selections for them. Lately my reading has been rather heavily focused on light science fiction and fantasy, which few of my friends read to any great extent. Those who do favor the formulaic epic fantasy, which I also enjoy, but not nearly as much as I used to. Battles between good and evil are undoubtedly necessary, and certainly interesting at first, however they tend to get tiresome after you’ve read fifty or one hundred of them. Nor do most of them want to read the social psychology type of non-fiction that I find interesting. I could probably get some to read mystery cozies, but, though I do enjoy those books, my heart’s just not in it.
So, what do my friends like to read? Funny, we’ve been talking about that a lot lately. I thought I’d share what they are currently reading (or have recently finished) with you, in the hopes that it will inspire me to keep on searching for them.

Best Girlfriend: The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman – This one is one I gave to her , and she loves it. Success!

Husband: The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan – This is also one I gave to my husband, but he’s pretty much stopped in the middle. Not that it’s not a good book; he’s really enjoyed it and loves to tell everyone about all the corn that’s in the food they are eating at parties; he’s just gotten out of the habit of reading after finishing two whole books this summer. It’s very sad, but at least we had a run!

Dinner Party Friend 1: The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant – I don’t think I had anything to do with this one, though it is a book I enjoyed a great deal. It’s a historical fiction about some of the women in the Bible.

Dinner Party Friend 2: The House of God, by Samuel Shem – Apparently a frighteningly true-to-life portrait of the life of medical interns, this is a book I had never heard of until last week. According to DPF2, it created a huge uproar when it was released, as patients learned just exactly how tired and crazy the people who are trying to keep them alive can get.

Role-Playing Friend 1: The Orc King, by R.A. Salvatore – Though I loaned him the copy he is reading, I really can’t take credit for this read as my friend knows much more about the Forgotten Realms universe and Drizzt and his friends than I do. I don’t know how much he’s enjoying it, but I’ll likely find out this week.

Role-Playing Friend 2: The Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling – After the untimely death of Robert Jordan, I’m sure many people will follow my friend’s example and not begin a series until the author has finished it. I’m not sure how much he’ll like this series. He’s distressingly picky when it comes to books, and though I’ve tried to narrow down exactly what he needs in a novel to keep his attention, so far I’ve failed utterly. He didn’t like Robin Hobb. ROBIN HOBB!

See how few of these books I had anything to do with? That is why you must come into the store and help allay my book-pushing addiction. Come in and tell me that you like to read historical fiction about Irish potato farmers! Tell me you like books with anthropomorphized animals as the main characters! Books with a social conscience, books without one, and books that seem to have been written by drunken monkeys I’ll happily help you find. Despite trying to make my friends read what I like, it’s as much fun if not more for me to help customers find books to suit their own tastes. So come into the store and save my friends from my need to be a book pusher! It’s almost a social obligation.

November 10, 2007

Superman, Virginia Woolf, and Paint Fumes

It’s been quite awhile since we’ve blogged about what’s going on here at the store, not because there’s nothing going on, mainly just because we’re more interested in talking about books than about ourselves! But we’ve had a great couple of months.

If you haven’t attended the book discussion groups the first Tuesday of every month, think about giving them a go. The readers who make regular appearances are outgoing, fun, and up for lively discussion. Moderator John Rudy helps keep them from getting too rowdy. Just kidding! He’s the rowdiest. The next book to be discussed, on Tuesday, December 4th, is Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, an essay that first found form as a lecture given at a women’s college. She talks about what a woman needs if she is to be a writer, and what would have happened to a fictional sister she invents for Shakespeare had she tried to write. The debate on this will be unrestrained wildness, I’m sure. Woolf is a brilliant writer, and no one denies that, but I’ve already had people tell me they think her work is irrelevant in the light of modern society. I gnash my teeth and respond politely (because I’m in retail) but if I manage to get the evening of the discussion off, so go the gloves.

We’ve been doing a lot of painting and shifting around books at the store lately in preparation for the upcoming holiday season – we want to make it all pretty so you will want to come here even more! Christian fiction is getting more room, and mystery is getting a make-over. We are switching around self-help and health a little bit too, though they will be in the same general area. Stop in and let us know what you think.

This coming Tuesday is our first comic book discussion group, and they’ll be talking about The Death of Superman. There has been a lot of interest in the group and we’re excited to see how it turns out. The fun and fascinating Joe Klemann will be leading the discussion. The Death of Superman¬† is the best-selling graphic novel of all time, not just because of the demise of the world’s most beloved superhero, but for the years and years of back story that went into the plot. The collaborative and serial nature of graphic novels and comic books make them a perfect avenue for discussions of this sort, and we couldn’t be more pleased to be hosting it here. That’s this Tuesday, November 13th.

November 7, 2007

Dark Elves and Evil Geniusi

Filed under: Children's Literature,Sci Fi & Fantasy — carricee @ 12:46 am

This past week I’ve finished two books I’ve been meaning to read for a while – The Orc King by R.A. Salvatore and Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks. Let’s start with the most famous one, so less dedicated readers can slip away after. What did I think of them?

The Orc King is the first in a series called Transitions by Salvatore, and it also ends up wrapping up quite a bit of plot line that had been left at the end of the last series, The Hunter’s Blades trilogy. I admit that this was not my favorite Drizzt book. I think this stems more from personal preference than from the actual quality of the book though; sometimes it’s hard to tell. Particularly, I thought it dragged because I like to skim over the battle scenes – they just really aren’t that interesting to me – and since they are in the middle of a war with the orcs and the orcs are also at war with each other, battles take up a good chunk of the book.

The other thing I didn’t particularly care for was all of the orc action. Obould, the actual Orc King, and his enemies eat up quite a few pages, and Salvatore hasn’t made me care about them yet. They are boring, mean, and not witty at all, even the “good” ones. I don’t really like to read about characters I don’t care about, and there are a LOT of them in this book.

Now let me mention the things I did enjoy about the book. Mainly, that was Cattie-Brie. Her character actually changed and developed in interesting ways, and I found that I quite enjoyed the new role she took on in the group dynamic, and also enjoyed speculating on her future. I also like the way she and Drizzt’s relationship plays out. I love how Salvatore has always ensured that she was written as at least as strong a character, if not more so, as the guys.

I did enjoy the scenes with Wulfgar and Colson but I’m not sure how I feel about his actions yet. Nor am I entirely sure I know what his actions ARE.

So, all in all, I’m definitely glad I read it, however I’ll probably never read it again. Unless you hate orcs, it’s a must for people trying to follow the canon of Drizzt, of course, and it’s not really BAD, I just didn’t think it was all that interesting. To me. However, if you’ve never read one of Salvatore’s Drizzt novels before, do NOT start with this one. You will be bored and confused.

On to Evil Genius, a young adult book by Austrailian author Catherine Jinks. I first heard of this novel through a book review on SFSite, and it sounded like so much fun I had to order a copy. Evil Genius is the story of a young boy named Cadel Piggot, an orphaned child genius who is being raised by two incredibly soulless and dispassionate individuals, leaving him with little to distract him but the study of systems. When Cadel is forced to go to a psychologist due to criminal hacking activity, he learns that his real father is actually a criminal mastermind who is currently in prison, and has created a school to teach evil geniuses such as what he is trying to shape Cadel to be.

The book is dark but funny; it toys with the ideas of mental and physical superiority and the meaning of morality in ways that, while they lead the reader along a path, they don’t force them at gunpoint down the road. It’s well-written, you grow to care about Cadel and several of the other characters, well, at least one, almost in spite of yourself. And best of all, there’s a sequel in the works! Great for teens, it’s probably at about a 6th or 7th grade reading level? I really just made that up. But it’s definitely a fun read for adults too.

I also read another cozy this week, but I wasn’t going to admit that.

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