Thursday, July 31, 2008

A small bench by the road

In a 1989 interview the Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, speaking of the lack of any commemoration of the lives of slaves, said, "There is no suitable memorial, or plaque, or wreath, or wall, or park, or skyscraper lobby. There's no 300-foot tower, there's no small bench by the road."

There is now.

This past weekend, on Sullivan's Island off the coast of South Carolina, Ms Morrison, along with a number of other people, celebrated the dedication of a simple bench looking out on the intracoastal waterway, placed there with a plaque commemorating those enslaved Africans -- about 40% of the total -- who entered this country through Sullivan's Island, as well as those who died during the Middle Passage. The bench was placed there through a joint effort of the Toni Morrison Society and the National Park Service. It's the first in a projected total of ten benches the society hopes to locate in various parts of the country that are significant either because of their place in African-American history or because of their importance in Toni Morrison's books.

As Toni Morrison commented last Saturday, "...the bench is welcoming, open, you can be illiterate and sit on the bench. You can be wandering, or on a search."

More on this story can be found here.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Man Booker Longlist

This year, the "Booker Dozen" is actually a baker's dozen. The "longlist" -- or semifinalists -- for the 2008 Man Booker prize was announced yesterday and it is comprised of thirteen books. The Man Booker is awarded every year in England to a book judged to be the best original full-length novel written in English by a citizen of either the British Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland. In recent years, this prize has become increasingly important in the US, with the winner and finalists drawing increasing prominence -- and sales -- because of that status.

This year's longlist is as follows:

The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga
Girl in a Blue Dress, by Gaynor Arnold
The Secret Scripture, by Sebastian Barry
From A to X, by John Berger
The Lost Dog, by Michelle de Kretser
Sea of Poppies, by Amitav Ghosh
The Clothes on Their Backs, by Linda Grant
A Case of Exploding Mangoes, by Mohammed Hanif
The Northern Clemency, by Philip Hensher
Netherland, by Joseph O'Neill
The Enchantress of Florence, by Salman Rushdie
Child 44, by Tim Rob Smith
A Fraction of the Whole, by Steve Toltz

Of these books, eight are currently available in this country. Four more -- Girl in a Blue Dress, From A to X, Sea of Poppies, and The Northern Clemency -- are due to be published over the next several months. The Clothes on Their Backs does not appear to be available in the US at this time.

The Man Booker shortlist -- about five finalists -- will be announced in September, and the winner in October. More information can be found at the award's website.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Man Who "Saved" Baseball

I first became familiar with Jerome Holtzman as a kid reading "The Sporting News" (actually, I'm still a kid reading "The Sporting News" -- just a slightly older one). Back then, it was a golden age for baseball writers with Koppett in New York, Murray in Los Angeles, Bisher in Atlanta (he's still active), and Holtzman in Chicago. In addition to their hometown papers, they all wrote for "The Sporting News" -- Holtzman's column appeared in more than 1000 consecutive issues.

Holtzman, however, had a couple of claims to fame the others couldn't match. First, he wrote the entry on baseball for the Encyclopedia Britannica. Second, he invented a statistic which was eventually accepted as official by Major League Baseball. He called it the "save," and it's used to measure the effectiveness of relief pitchers who manage to hold onto their team's lead when they enter late in the game. (Don't ask me to explain it -- if you really want the details you can find them here.) He also wrote, No Cheering in the Press Box, considered one of the best ever books about being a baseball writer (unfortunately, it's presently out of print).

Holtzman died last week at the age of 82. The "New York Times" obituary is here, and it includes a wonderful photograph of a cigar-chomping Holtzman sitting in the Chicago Cubs dugout with Don Zimmer, one of baseball's ultimate "lifers."

Monday, July 28, 2008

To the Prime Minister, with best wishes, Yann

Last week, a customer in the store bought a copy of The Life of Pi, the hugely popular novel by the Canadian writer Yann Martel, and, in the process told me a delightful story which led to a neat website that I have permanently added to the "Links" section of this blog.

In March of last year, Yann Martel was one of fifty outstanding figures in the arts who attended a session of the Canadian Parliament which was to include a ceremony marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Canadian Council of the Arts. Since this ceremony was to take place immediately following "Question Time," the Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, was present.

As it turned out, the "ceremony" was perfunctory to the point of being almost non-existent: a few remarks by a cabinet official, a smattering of applause, and that was it. But what Martel particularly noticed was that the Prime Minister paid no attention whatsoever to the proceedings, and spent the entire time with his head down, shuffling papers.

This led Martel to the conclusion that the Prime Minister needed more quiet time, more stillness in his life. And to help out in this regard, Martel resolved to mail the Prime Minister a book once every two weeks for as long as he was in office, along with a letter explaining the choice of the book.

And that's what he's done. If you go to the website, What Is Stephen Harper Reading, you will find a copy of each letter that Martel has sent the Prime Minister -- 37 so far -- a picture of the book that was sent and a note as to whether Martel has received any response. Actually, he has to date received just one -- a note from one of Harper's assistants acknowledging the very first book.

Martel's letters are amazing, and I will end with a quote from one of them:

"Cats are said to have nine lives. What is that compared to the girl, boy, man, woman who reads books. A book read is a life added to one's own. So it only takes nine books to make cats look at you with envy."

Saturday, July 26, 2008

"We can't change the cards we're dealt, just how we play the hand."

The above quote is from The Last Lecture, a bestselling book by computer scientist Randy Pausch, who died Friday after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 47 years old.

Pausch's book was based on a lecture he gave last September at Carnegie Mellon University -- where he was a professor -- shortly after he learned of his incurable illness. The video of his inspirational and defiantly humorous speech became an internet sensation, and he was featured in a "Wall Street Journal" article, and in "Time" magazine, which named him one of its 100 most influential people. In The Last Lecture, Pausch wrote about the events leading up to the speech and the influences behind it. Almost overnight, the book became a number-one national bestseller.

An obituary of Randy Pausch, along with links to audio and video of his speech, can be found here.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

What they're reading in Iran

Straight from the "Tehran Times" comes an interesting (if occasionally ungrammatical) article about what books are selling in Iran. And no, they don't mention Uranium Enrichment for Dummies. Some things are evidently constants everywhere -- Harry Potter, for example. ("The youth are more interested in imaginative books," according to one bookseller.) Not surprisingly, Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns) is popular. Of course the majority of books are of specific Iranian interest, especially history and literature. But a few classic titles familiar to Western readers are mentioned, such as Gulliver's Travels, and A Hundred Years of Solitude. And the Islamic Republic isn't immune to self-help mania: popular writers in that area include Rhonda Byrne (The Secret), and, oddly enough, Anthony Robbins (does Iranian TV show American infomercials?).

As for those of us in the business, perhaps we can take comfort that some complaints are universal: according to the article, one bookstore owner "concluded that bookselling is a cultural activity that has its own problems and also that it doesn't provide sufficient income."

More can be found here.

Anthony Robbins???

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Friday, 7/25 at Accent on Books: William J Everett

William Johnson Everett has lived and taught on four different continents over the past thirty years. He thus has developed an appreciation for the connections between cultures, and how those connections play out in history. His new novel, Red Clay, Blood River, deals with two simultaneous but seemingly disparate nineteenth-century events: the Cherokee "Trail of Tears," and the South African "Great Trek"; events that yet raise similar issues regarding exploitation and exile.

William Everett will be at Accent on Books this coming Friday starting at 6:00 PM. Join us as he talks about his life, his writing, and his sense of history.

More on the author and his work can be found here. Our store's event page is here.

Monday, July 21, 2008

So why did he put it behind the fireplace?

A demolition worker in the town of Poole in England seems to have struck literary gold. While taking apart the house that JRR Tolkien lived in until 1972 (when he moved to Oxford) Stephen Malton found a postcard behind the fireplace addressed to Tolkien and dating from 1968. The postcard has an Irish scene and is signed "Lin." Malton speculates that the sender might have been the writer Lin Carter, who at that point was working on a book about The Lord of the Rings (Carter's book was published in 1969). Malton says a collector in Belgium has offered him $500,000 for the fireplace and the postcard. Not a bad day's work in the demolition business, I imagine.

More on this story can be found here.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Friday, 7/18 at Accent on Books: Jeanne Adams

More years ago than either Lewis or I would care to admit, we worked at B. Dalton with a young lady named Jeanne Pickering. Jeanne was great to work with and delightful to be around, but after a short while she left B. Dalton to get married. Over the years we've occasionally heard about her through friends and relatives who are Accent on Books customers, and now, as Jeanne Adams, she will be appearing at our store to present her brand new first novel. It's a paperback original entitled, Dark and Dangerous, and if that title makes it sound like it's hot summer reading, that's because it is. It's a romantic thriller about a woman who finds herself needing the aid of a mysterious FBI undercover agent to protect her against her murderous ex-husband.

So join us at 6:00 this Friday to celebrate the joys of escapist reading and help us congratulate a former bookseller on her exciting new career. More on Jeanne can be found at her website, and more about our store events can be found at our website.

A New Poet Laureate

It's been a busy week at Accent on Books, and as a result I'm afraid Page 854 has been a bit neglected. However I will take the time to post a bit of news.

Kay Ryan was named today as the US Poet Laureate for 2008-09. A lifelong resident of California -- and educated at UCLA -- Ryan, in her early sixties, is known for a style of poetry that is both accessible and profound. She uses simple diction, interior rhyme, and often very short lines that can lead to surprising revelations. Unusually for a major poet, Ryan does not hold a fulltime position at a major college or university -- she has a part time job teaching remedial English at a school in Marin County.

More about Kay Ryan and the Poet Laureate program can be found here.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Wednesday, 7/16, at Accent on Books: Charla Muller (nudge nudge wink wink)

And now for something completely different:

Charla Muller's husband was about to turn forty so she decided to give him a special gift. A necktie? No. Soap-on-a-rope? Hardly. A Home Depot gift card? How lame.

Her gift was sex, every day for a year.

What happened after the announcement of her gift is the subject of Charla Muller's new book, 365 Nights, and Charla will be at Accent on Books on Wednesday, July 13, starting at 6:00 to talk about it.

This is certainly not your typical subject matter for Accent on Books authors, and it's kind of cool that after word of this event appeared in the newspaper we actually got a few protest calls. Controversy -- we love it! But before you get the wrong idea, we haven't started dealing in pornography and this isn't an illustrated how-to manual. Rather, it is a funny, thoughtful, down-to-earth chronicle of how to keep passion in a marriage -- or renew passion if it's disappeared -- amidst all the stresses, concerns, and crazy busyness of everyday life. And c'mon, admit it -- you know the subject matter's intriguing.

So we hope you'll join us this Wednesday evening. And if you're not familiar with the significance of "nudge nudge wink wink" (hint: it's connected to the opening sentence of this post) you can find out more here.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Sir John Templeton, 1912-2008

"How little we know, how eager to learn."

That is the motto that financier and philanthropist John Templeton set up for the foundation which he established in 1987 to promote the study of religion and spirituality as they relate to science, health, and other aspects of modern society. Templeton, a naturalized British citizen who was born in Tennessee, died Tuesday at the age of 95.

After making his fortune in investment funds (which are now part of the Franklin Templeton Group), Templeton in 1972 established the Templeton Prize which each year awards one million pounds for "exemplary achievement in life's spiritual dimensions." Mother Teresa was the first winner (six years before she won the Nobel Prize), and while other early winners were mostly religious figures, more recently the award has usually gone to scientists and philosophers such as Freeman Dyson, Paul Davies and John Polkinghorne.

One of the activities of the Templeton Foundation is Templeton Foundation Press, which publishes books on the connections between religion and science, and on interreligious understanding, among other topics. Several of their publications are available at Accent on Books.

More about Sir John Templeton can be found here.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Friday, 7/11 at Accent on Books: William Melnyk

This Friday, July 11, Accent on Books will be welcoming an author with a fascinating story to tell. Walter William Melnyk was for years an Episcopal priest serving in various different locations in the Eastern U.S. Like many other Episcopalians, he became increasingly interested in Celtic Christianity, but his attempts to combine pre-Christian -- and in particular, Druid -- practices with modern Christianity caused conflicts with Church authorities serious enough that Melnyk decided he had no choice but to leave the priesthood.

During a ceremony at Stonehenge, William Melnyk met Emma Restall Orr, one of the leading figures in the British Druid revival. They decided to collaborate on a book, and the result is The Apple and the Thorn, which Melnyk will present on Friday, beginning at 6:00 PM. The book is a novel about the Lady of the Lake and Joseph of Arimathea, two characters through whom Orr and Melnyk explore Celtic belief, in both its Pagan and Christian manifestations.

More about The Apple and the Thorn can be found at this website. Our store events page is here.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Sarah Allen, Award Winner

Congratulations to Asheville's own Sarah Addison Allen for winning the 2008 SIBA Book Award in Fiction for her novel, Garden Spells. "SIBA" is the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, an organization that includes Accent on Books among its members. The annual book awards are voted on by member booksellers, and go to books that are by Southern authors, or are set in the South. Therefore we at Accent on Books are particularly pleased that Sarah has won "our" award.

The complete list of winners follows. All are available at Accent on Books, or soon will be.

Fiction: Garden Spells, by Sarah Addison Allen
Poetry: The House on Boulevard Street, by David Kirby
Cookbook: A Love Affair with Southern Cooking, by Jean Anderson
Nonfiction: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver
Children's: Deep in the Swamp, by Donna Bateman, illustrated by Brian Lies

More about the SIBA Book Awards can be found on SIBA's homepage .

Monday, July 7, 2008

Accent On Books Is In the News (paper)

Sunday's "Asheville Citizen-Times" had an article by Dale Neal about the Asheville bookselling environment, and Accent on Books was one of the stores featured. The overall sense of the article was that, while challenges to independent bookstores are significant, Asheville seems to be unusually supportive to such endeavors for a town its size. The articled featured quotes from Lewis and me as well as from folks at The Captain's Bookshelf, Malaprop's, Once Upon a Time, and the recently closed Reader's Corner. There was also a picture of Lewis in Accent on Books, although some rather scraggly dude managed to get into the picture as well.

Thanks to Dale Neal for his article, and to all of y'all for supporting independent bookstores.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

"Aw, Mom, can't I stay in the car and read?"

I know this may be a quaint concept in the age of Ipods, cell phones, and in-car DVD players, but if you're looking for a book -- yes, a book -- to help your kids make it through those vacation car (or plane) trips, Accent on Books has a whole table full of possibilities in our children's section. Here are but a few highlights (keep in mind that age ranges are always just approximate).

I Don't Care If We're Not There Yet, by Joanne O'Sullivan (ages 8-12). A bold title indeed, but this paperback from Asheville publisher Lark Books just might live up to it. About 250 pages of puzzles, drawing activities, word games, you name it.

Where's Waldo: The Ultimate Travel Collection, by Martin Handford (ages 5 and up). You may already be familiar with Waldo, the world traveler who loves to lose himself in impossibly crowded scenes and then challenge you to find him. Here in compact form are dozens of such scenes from five earlier full-sized Waldo books. Lots of fun for people of all ages with good eyes.

My Giant Sticker Vacation Activity Book, from Priddy Books (ages 3-7). This one is for younger readers, and perhaps works best if there is an adult or older child willing to help out. Some of the activities are specially designed to improve reading and math skills. In addition to the book, there is a CD with additional pictures and puzzles.

52 Travel Activity Kit, by Lynn Gordon (ages 5-12). A package that includes a paperbound book, along with markers, a ruler and a score pad. This title is especially geared towards creativity, with a lot of prompts encouraging children to write and draw things from scratch.

Best of Mad Libs, by Roger Price and Leonard Stern (ages 8 and up). In honor of the fiftieth (!) anniversary of this addictively silly word game, here is a giant pad with 125 classic Mad Libs stories. Just the thing to bring out the giggling 10-year-old in anyone.

Travel Games: Fun and Games on the Go, from Scholastic Books (ages 6 and up). This compact package has playing boards for checkers and similar games, magnetic playing pieces, and a paperback book with rules for various classic board games, card games, and word games (playing cards and scorepads not included).

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Independence Day and the literature of heat

Last Sunday, Sam Tanenhaus, editor of the "New York Times Book Review," had an article in the Times' "Week in Review" section about how American literature is "a catalogue of summer disturbances." Ranging from Shakespeare and Montaigne, through Crevecoeur and Whitman, and up to Faulkner and Tennessee Williams (Caliban as a forerunner of Stanley Kowalski), it seemed to me a brilliant synthesis of politics, history and literature -- great reading for the Fourth of July.

I hope everyone has a great July 4th, celebrating (or avoiding) the holiday as you see fit. Accent on Books will be closed on the Fourth, but will reopen on Saturday so you can continue enjoying our great July sale.

I have mentioned our July *** SALE ***, haven't I?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

** SALE ** SALE ** SALE ** SALE **

Do I have your attention yet?

As many of you may already be aware, Accent on Books has a big 30% off ** SALE ** every year during the month of July. We send out an announcement card to our mailing list and Byron has announced it in our e-mail newsletter as well. We ask people to bring in the announcement card -- or print it out on the e-mail -- and they can get 30% off any and every book in stock as often as they want during the month of July. However, if you aren't on either list, just come on in and let us know you read about in on the blog and we'll sign you up and give you a card.

There's a bit of fine print (isn't there always):
-- Just applies to books on hand in the store, not special orders.
-- About a half dozen titles aren't eligible (mostly books by authors who will be appearing at the store during July).
-- No "double-dipping" on discounts; i.e., doesn't apply to books already discounted, and can't be combined with a frequent buyer card or Gracie Club card for extra discount.

Other than that, come on in, stock up on summer reading, do some early holiday shopping, and have fun!

By the way, have I mentioned we're having a sale?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

"My fellow Britons, read this comic book!"

Meanwhile, over in Britain, it may not be a national election year (see previous post), but there is a book that is causing a lot of political comment -- a comic book. It's entitled, Captain Britain and MI13, and the superhero portrayed is none other than Britain's current Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. The infamously dull former Chancellor of the Exchequer is the last person one might think of as a comic book hero, but Paul Cornell, who has previously worked on the "Doctor Who" television series, is an admirer of the Prime Minister and obviously came up with a unique way of expressing this.

Gordon Brown actually has a book out himself called, Courage: Portraits of Bravery in the Service of Great Causes, and it's available at Accent on Books. However, the only illustration is a photo of the author on the dust jacket.

More on Gordon Brown, comic book superhero, can be found here.