Wonderful Video of What Happens in a Bookstore at Night

I’ve been in a bit of a posting slump, but I’m working my way out and what better way to start the new year than with this lovely stop action video, “The Joy of Books,” about what happens in Type bookstore at night.  I can’t wait to visit Toronto just to stop by Type Books to thank them for bringing a smile to so many people, and to buy books.

Type Books

883 Queen Street West

Toronto, ON Canada

T:  416.366.8973



Scrambling For A Last Minute Gift? Head To Your Local Bookstore!

Farhad Manjoo ignited the latest round of ‘will the local bookstore survive’ with his “Don’t Support Your Local Bookstore” tirade on Slate.  (I couldn’t fail to notice that while Salon promotes a campaign to support local bookstores, Slate is bashing them.)  Numerous responses Manjoo were published, twitter feeds with special hashtags popped up, and even Manjoo wrote a second article advising bookstores to change their tactics in order to survive.  Not sure how many are waiting to listen to his advice.  I’ve started several posts to describe the uproar, but life has been a bit hectic in the Allen-Niesen household lately.  So here’s the upshot:

Bookstore are doing great this holiday season.   Stores across the nation are consistently reporting an uptick in sales starting in the fall.  It’s hard to give an ebook as a gift.  Over Thanksgiving weekend, possibly with some help from Small Business Saturday, sales were brisk.  I was in my local bookstore, Diesel, yesterday and it was packed.  I asked how business was going and the owner said good, they’re sure to stay open another year.  That is a holiday present for our entire area.

And here’s what Manjoo can’t do on Amazon.  He can’t ask a live person for a tailored recommendation.  My son likes Malcolm Gladwell, Bill Bryson, and Chuck Klosterman, what new author would he enjoy?  Mia led me all over the store pointing out good choices.  (Sorry, can’t tell you the answers, they’re wrapped under the Christmas tree.)  Sure, Amazon would give recommendations based on my purchases, but I don’t have any problems knowing what I want, ever.  And when we were done with my son, I moved onto my daughter with her own set of favorites.  In 20 minutes I had a stack of books, all wrapped.  As a bonus, I enjoyed talking to the staff and the other customers about books and the holidays.

I highly recommend that you do the same.  Drop by your local bookstore in the next two days and challenge the bookseller to find the perfect book for the person you have yet to buy a gift.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!



57th Street Books – Chicago, IL

I'm a fan of a bookstore that has a Europa display

57th Street, the actual street, is perfect for the meandering bookworm.  We started with lunch at the graffiti clad Medici Restaurant.  Famous for its burgers and scribbled upon walls and furnishings, we filled the time waiting for our food by adding our own “tags” to the table top.  More importantly, within blocks there are three excellent bookstores:  57th Street Books, O’Gara & Wilson, Ltd., and Powell’s (no, not the Portland one).  We started at 57th Street Books and had a hard time ever wanting to leave.

57th Street Books is one of three bookstores that comprise a co-op, the other two being Seminary Co-op and the Newberry Library Bookstore.  We were in the neighborhood to look at the University of Chicago.  When I learned that 57th Street Books gives a 10% discount for co-op members, I immediately started adding up how much money we would save if Kyle bought his textbooks through it–another plus for Chicago.  Regardless of the discount, this is an engrossing store.  It goes on and on, just when I thought I was heading to the back, I realized I was just entering a new room.  It’s a full service store with depth in a wide variety of genres.  The atmosphere is warm and inviting with lots of exposed brick and worn wooden shelving.  The staff is chatty and welcoming.  We talked about books, the university, what it’s like to live in Hyde Park, in some ways they were just as informative as the school tour.

I love bookstores that introduce me to new books and given how many bookstores I visit in a year, it’s not aways easy to do.  57th Street stocks shelves next to the cash register for books recommended by excellent sources:  NPR, the NYT, the Economist, the NYRB, the New Yorker.  Need to know what literary people are reading but don’t have time to read all the reviews, just stop by the store and you’re set.  Throughout the store I found sheets tacked up with clever titles listing recommended books.  My favorite was “Suffering from P.H.P.S?”  (For that uninitiated, that would be the Post Harry Potter Syndrome.)  The cure included reading The Magicians by Lev Grossman, Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin (Keith recently started reading the Game of Thrones series, I think we will see him again sometime later in the decade), and a few other options that all seemed to have the word Chronicle in the title.  I love a bookstore that takes care of its customers withdrawal symptoms.

In the science section, one of those areas I usually breeze through, The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World From the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean caught my eye.  I don’t know much about science so I usually try to read one book on the subject a year; this is going to be my 2012 choice.  Plus, I’ll try to get Kelsey to read it before she takes chemistry next year, I’m sure it’s full of tidbits she can sprinkle throughout her work.

57th Street Store is worth stopping by and hanging out, who knows what you’ll find.

57th Street Books

1301 E. 57th Street

Chicago, IL

T:  773.684.1300



Essay Challenge Recap

I coming in just under the wire this year, this challenge must be completed today!!  The Essay Challenge over at Books and Movies is the only one I joined this year, even so, I didn’t keep up with it the way I have the past two years.  Not that I haven’t read essays all year long, I just haven’t kept track or written about them.  Here I am an hour before the challenge ends trying to figure out what I read this year!

Most of my essay reading, in fact these days almost all of my reading, was art based.  My favorite art essay collection was in The Steins Collect catalogue for the SFMOMA.  Combined the essays gave a picture of the family and their experience with and impact on modern art.  The collection was organized by family member:  Leo Stein, Sarah and Michael Stein, and the most famous of all, Gertrude Stein.  By happenstance, I was reading the collection when Woody Allen released “Midnight in Paris.”  The essays provided a scholarship background to many of the Owen Wilson Paris scenes.  I read 10 essays in this collection.

In response to an photography exhibit at the Getty Center about trees, I read an extended essay called The Tree by John Fowles.  I wrote about it for Earth Day earlier this year.  Whew!  At least I wrote about one essay!


Although I read it and listed it for last year’s collection, once again I read “Here is New York” by E.B. White while sitting in a cafe in New York City.  It is an essay worth reading every time I go to New York City, it adds a dimension to the visit that doesn’t diminish upon re-reading.

In preparation for the de Kooning exhibit at MOMA, I read two Clement Greenberg essays that discussed this artist:  ”‘American Type’ Painting” and “The Late Thirties in New York.”  Plus, the dense and long introductory essay in the exhibit catalogue “Space to Paint” by John Elderfield.

Last, but not least, is my companion in the car, the Mark Slouka collection Essays from the Nick of Time.  Through carpools and quick lunches this book kept me company.  I have notes and comments throughout each essay, I’ve loved them.  I’ve read “Hitler’s Couch,” “Arrow and Wound,” “Listening for Silence,” and “Historical Vertigo.”  Actually, I’ve read “Arrow and Wound” twice and will probably read it again tonight now that I’m thinking about it.  This is a stellar collection.

That’s it for this year, 19 in total that I can document although I’m certain I read far more.  Next year I’m going to be do better!!  If nothing else, maybe I should buy fewer essays and read more of them.


Salon says “Support Your Local Bookstore!”

In the latest pitch to keep bookstores alive and well, or at least breathing, Salon.com gave credit to indies for finding and promoting the latest excellent book most of us don’t know:

An independent bookstore brings a lot to a city or a town: a showroom for the latest literary releases, an auditorium where authors share their work and meet their fans, a bookish environment in which to sip coffee and a fun place to browse in the 20 minutes before the movie starts. But what’s less immediately visible is your local bookseller’s expertise and influence when it comes to introducing great books to your community and, ultimately, to the world.

Name the last book you really loved — be it “The Help,” The Hunger Games,” “Like Water for Elephants” or “Game of Thrones.” The authors of all those popular titles and many, many more can testify that independent booksellers were crucial in moving their work from a sleepy shelf against the back wall to a stack prominently displayed on a front table. They’re  the people who helped Harry Potter take off. Local booksellers know their customers better than any computer program, and when they press a book into the right hands, insisting “You’ve got to read this,” their recommendation really counts.

Readers of this blog know that independent bookstores add so much to the community in which they exist, but Salon makes a good point that the promotion of a book by River Run, across the nation from me, can very well have a ripple effect on what I’ll be reading in the next few months.

Salon is asking readers to help promote independents by sharing their stories about great bookstores.  If you have one you’d like to give a shout out to, join their Declaration of Independents and help an independent bookstore stay strong.  Of course, we would love to post any reviews or stories you have about bookstores, so feel free to send them to us also.