Crippling Budget Cuts? Who Ya Gonna Call? Ghostbusters!

Facing $37 million in budget cuts, the New York Public Library turned to Improv Everywhere and asked for help getting the word out that donations are needed.  The infamous “Ghostbusters” movie begins in the stunning Rose Reading Room causing the following panorama of smiles and chorus of cheers.

Jump over to the Improv Everywhere website to view behind-the-scenes photos and other Improv Everywhere videos.  Like what they do?  Consider buying their book Causing a Scene:  Extraordinary Pranks in Ordinary Places with Improv Everywhere. Personally, I think that’s a great end of the year gift for any teacher of performance.

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Opposable Thumbs Make It So Hard to Turn a Page

Dogs, Cats, and Books

A friend of mine has a book coming out that’s told from a dog’s point of view.  The book is terrific–I had the good fortune to read an advance copy–and if you’ve ever loved a dog, it will ring very true for you and wring some tears from you as well.  (Check it out at www.adogspurpose.com and while you’re on the site, click on the dog of the week contest and vote for Harvey, the yellow lab who’s lying down almost cheek to cheek with a really good-looking Persian cat dude.  My daughter nominated Harvey and he hasn’t won yet so we could use the votes.)

Anyway, this has me thinking about animal books, both fiction and nonfiction.  It also inspired me to look up pet bookstores online, a niche I’ve never heard of.   If anyone knows of a bookstore catering to pet owners, I’d love to hear about it.  (I’d be even more fascinated by accounts of a bookstore catering to the actual pets, but as I mentioned in the title of this post, I really don’t think you’re going to find a lot of animal readers because of that whole missing opposable thumb thing.  Maybe Kindles will change that.  I’m fairly certain I could train Harvey to use a Kindle.)  I have found some online bookstores that offer a range of books about dogs, but I’d love to know if there’s a real Indie somewhere that stocks mostly animal-related titles.

Animal books fall into several categories.  There’s the advice book, best exemplified by the Monks of New Skete and their line of really smart books about training and raising puppies.  I don’t know anyone who’s serious about dogs who hasn’t consulted one of their books–they really do seem to be the best ones out there.  Then there’s the non-fiction memoir kind of book. like Marley & Me which I haven’t actually read, but I did see the movie (the ultimate Hollywood phrase).  Loved the dog, hated the humans.

Animal fiction–stories in which the protagonist is actually an animal–run the risk of being twee.  I remember when everyone around me was reading Jonathan Livingston Seagull (man, that dates me).  I couldn’t stand it.  On the other hand, I read The Incredible Journey when I was little and loved it, and don’t even get me started on my passion for Watership Down.  No, do, because I have a funny story about that.  My father told me to read it.  I was probably like 12 at the time and deep into my “I won’t do anything my parents tell me to do” stage (I’m still waiting for that one to pass).  Anyway, my dad said I’d like it, I said, “I’m not interested in a book about rabbits” and he said, “Just try it,” and I said, “I won’t like it,” and he said I had to read a chapter before lunch, and then by dinner time I hadn’t lifted my head up from the book and I finished it in like two days because I loved it so so much.

So books about animals can be fantastic if you can achieve that delicate balance between over-anthropomorphizing them and keeping the audience engaged and sympathetic.  (One interesting thing about my friend’s book A Dog’s Purpose is that he was very careful to keep the dog’s comprehension of any dialogue to the only words a dog would understand, so while the reader can follow a conversation, the dog himself only registers his name and words like “walk” or “biscuit”–it’s a really nice way of staying true to the narrator’s doggy nature while letting the reader have the information he or she needs.)

The truth is, those of us who are pet owners are a pretty ready audience, eager to be pleased.  There are, I think, universal experiences that come with pet ownership: it’s a more challenging and frustrating experience than usually represented (a lot messier too in all sorts of ways) and yet there is something about those moments when you’re curled up with your dog or cat or snake or whatever that can make life feel that much more endurable.  If a book can tap into that feeling, it’s going to get to you (if you like pets–I know some people, mostly in the family I grew up in, who don’t).

And if someone can tell me why my cat always waits until I’ve actually started peeing to paw at the bathroom door, could you please do that?  I don’t care if it’s in a book of advice, a memoir, or a novel: just tell me why I can hold the door open for ten minutes, coaxing him to come in and he won’t but the second I give up, close the door and proceed with the task at hand, that’s when he starts scratching at it furiously.  If you can explain that, I’ll buy your book, whatever it costs.

(Confidential to Kim: are we allowed to talk about bodily functions in this blog?   If not, my bad.)

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Stretching What I Think of as an Essay

What is an essay?  I heard a few descriptions at a reading of essays from The Lost Origins of the Essay edited by John D’Agata a few weeks ago at REDCAT.

  • An essay is both a verb and a noun because the writer figures out what she thinks as she writes.
  • An essay is a quarrel with the writer’s self or the world.
  • The essay is the reverse of redemption narrative because it doesn’t answer questions, it’s an ongoing argument and asks more questions.
  • It’s a work of art that can change the reader’s perception of self or other people.
  • The essay might not have any function at all.
  • Finally, quoting D’Agata from the book, “I think the essay is a antidote to the stagnancy of writing because the essay tries to replicate the activity of the mind . . . the essay is the equivalent of a mind in rumination, performing as if improvisationally the reception of new ideas, the discovery of unknowns, the encounter with the “other.”

I bought this compilation at Bookshop Santa Cruz last summer as a counter point to the essays in Lopate’s The Art of the Personal Essay.  The Lost Origins of the Essay is a doorstop compilation of essays from across time and all over the world (other than the United States) that one speaker described as an argument that the essay is a vehicle for art.  The four essays I heard read certainly supported the case for artistic writing:

From 1957 – “Tisanes” by Ana Hatherly are vignettes, some a paragraph, others a sentence.  To date, Hatherly, a Portugal writer, has written 463 Tisanes, approximately a third of them are translated and 15 of those are published.  The provide a flurry of images interwoven with questions and observations that left me contemplative and quiet.

From 1500 B.C.E. – “Dialogue of Pessimism” by Ennatum of Akkad is a conversation between a master and slave wherein the master instructs the slave to an action, the slave instantly agrees in such a Continue reading

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New York City – So Many Bookstores, So Little Time!

From Freefoto.com

In honor of Book Expo America, Book Blogger Con and Book Week, She is Too Fond of Books created a new website, Spot Light on NYC Bookstores.  Before I describe it, can I just say I LOVE IT.  The goal of the site is to provide a brief description of bookstores in the five borough area.  There are links to the five different boroughs so you can narrow your search, plus a convenient way for stores to add themselves to the list.  The site will continue beyond the book conventions, so if you are going to be in NYC, this is a a place to check for your own bookstore tour.

Looking through the list, I noticed there are a few stores missing, and of course, there are some that are listed that we have reviewed, so here’s our take on NYC, so far:

Plus, The Millions offers a walking tour of NYC bookstores each year and last year New York Magazine chimed in with it’s list of great NYC bookstores.

I’ll be in NYC in July (bummer, not for any of the book conventions), so I’ll be visiting Spotlight on NYC Bookstores to find new stores to visit and revel in.  If you have a favorite, tell me, I can’t see them all so any personal opinions will help narrow my choices.  If you are attending a book convention, stop by an independent bookstore and give them some of your business, they give so much more than they receive.

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One of the Nation’s Best – Powell’s in Portland, OR

A couple of weeks ago, my girlfriend Leslie visited Portland and headed directly to Powell’s, the mother-of-great-bookstores.  I was stuck in Los Angeles, mentally following her through the day.  I e-mailed her a message to have fun just as she was entering the store.  Hours later after I paid bills, picked up tired teenagers, and cleaned up the house for dinner guests, she e-mailed me that she was just leaving the store.  One guess as to who had the better day.  Here is Leslie’s wonderful afternoon:

Powell’s Books in Portland has long been one of my favorite bookstores. However, it’s been years since I’ve been there and I caught myself wondering if it was truly as special as I recalled or if my memory had turned it into something far better than it really is.

I recently returned from Portland to see a good friend who, when we were talking about what to do during my visit, immediately asked “You want to go to Powell’s, right”? We made sure that there was enough time to spend a couple of hours perusing the shelves. I’m very pleased that my memory was correct – it is a fabulous independent bookstore. And, a few hours really, for me, was not enough time to spend there.  (My mother-in-law, who lives outside of Brunswick, Georgia doesn’t have a lot of good department stores in her immediate area and is always on the hunt for clothes. She was in Portland a few years ago and passed up two free afternoons shopping in Nordstroms so that she could spend more time at Powell’s. It’s that kind of place).

My girlfriend in Portland, Laura, visits Powell’s fairly often. She brought me up to speed on several of the changes that they’ve made over the years. The best change is that the store just simply keeps getting bigger. It now takes up an entire city block. If you don’t want to look through every single section like I wanted to, the sections are all color coded with very easy to understand colored signs. Looking for fiction? Look for the blue and gold signs. Philosophy? You’ll find it under the Continue reading

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