Friday, February 27, 2009

"Bartender! Another Hemingway."

Speaking of St. Patrick's Day (see previous post) and a certain activity often associated with it, at least in this country, a writer named Brian McDonald recently posted a clever article in "Proof" a New York Times blog dealing with alcohol. Titled, "Under the Literary Influence" McDonald's piece is written in the style of an addiction confession, and talks about how he fell under the thrall of alcoholic writers when a friend of his handed him a Raymond Chandler novel. Soon he was guzzling not only Chandler but Hammett, Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Bukowski. Eventually he spiraled out of control, not only reading books by these writers but books about them as well. Then, a clerk at Barnes & Noble (the killjoy!) handed him a copy of Pete Hamill's memoir, The Drinking Life, and McDonald's life was changed. He left his alcoholic writers behind and started reading recovery memoirs instead.

Frankly, I think his pre-reform reading sounds like a lot more fun.

McDonald's article can be found here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Saturday, 2/28, at Accent on Books: Leeks and Daffodils

Everybody knows about St. Patrick's Day -- green beer, leprechauns and all the rest. But that's not the only Celtic holiday that occurs next month. March 1 is St. David's Day, recognizing the patron saint of Wales, and Accent on Books will be celebrating it a day early this coming Saturday, starting at 2:00 PM.

We invited the Prince of Wales, but Camilla wouldn't let him come out and play. So we decided to go with a local Welsh celebrity instead, Bev Gaines, and she agreed to be our special guest for this occasion for the second year in a row. Bev has traveled to Wales on numerous occasions and brings a great wealth of knowledge and anecdotes to share about this country, its people and its customs. And Byron will be brewing up tea and baking some of her delicious scones to add to the festivities.

Leeks and daffodils are the two plants associated with this day, but even if you can't bring or wear those, come by Saturday and join us in celebrating all things Welsh at Accent on Books. The Irish will have their day in the sun soon enough.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Reps Are Coming!

No, I don't mean Republicans or repo-men. "Reps" here means publisher sales representatives, and I have appointments with several next week. I have a rather large pile of publisher catalogs to go through before they arrive, so things may be fairly quiet on the Page 854 front for the next few days. You may want to start working on that pile of books next to your chair because I'm sure I'll be ordering lots of great new titles that will be arriving in the coming months.

Now, where was I? Oh yes, UNC Press....

Thursday, February 19, 2009

You know, those rectangular things with pages?

Last week, at something called the O'Reilly's Tools of Change conference -- attended by many publishing bigwigs -- a Deep Thinker named Bob Stein suggested we need to redefine the word "book." Stein entitled his talk, "A book is a place," but he wasn't thinking of the old romantic notion of books sending readers to places in their imaginations. No, Stein's new definition of book was, "a place where readers (and sometimes authors) congregate." He was thinking of course of the digital world and the internet, where, he predicted, future "books" would be published, read, commented on, and maybe rewritten. To extend the redefinition game, nonfiction authors in Stein's Brave New Bookworld become "leaders of communities of inquiry," and fiction writers will be "creating a world together with their readers." Publishers will become curators of "communities for their authors around their readers." Stein further predicted that his grandchildren will likely see reading entirely as a social experience and "won't even understand [the] concept" of reading alone.

OK. Whatever. From what I understand I may already be behind the times with this blogging business. Seems like the Thing To Do Now is to migrate over to Facebook, which is not a book with pictures of faces, but rather an internet community where the word "friend" is a transitive verb. Of course as soon as I join it will probably become obsolete. Guess I'd better book it on over there and check it out.

Co-owner, Accent on Things With Pages

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

ADHD Dogs and Metaphysical Baboons

Gee, here it is mid-February already, and I haven't written a single post this year about a Weird Literary Prize. Well, it's time to rectify that by noting that the British publication The Bookseller has announced the longlist (or semifinalists) for its annual Diagram Prize for the oddest book title. The intrepid blogger Horace Bent has been accepting nominations for months now, and will narrow the longlist down to a six-copy shortlist, from which the public will choose a winner. Among those now in the running, here are a few of my favorites. (Yes, these are titles of actual books published within the last twelve months or so.)

All Dogs Have ADHD
Baboon Metaphysics
Christian Texts for Aztecs
Living With Dormice
The Emotional Life of Contemporary Public Memorials

Last year, The Bookseller celebrated the 30th anniversary of this prize by staging a contest for the oddest book title of the past 30 years. The winner: Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers.

More here.

Monday, February 16, 2009

A Twenty Year Sentence

In addition to the births of Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin, another anniversary was observed last week in the literary world. On February 14, 1989, while many people were exchanging valentines, Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini was sending an entirely different kind of message when he issued a fatwa against Salman Rushdie and his publishers over Rushdie's book, The Satanic Verses.

So, twenty years on, how much does the "Rushdie affair" still influence writing and publishing? According to an article in The Independent, the effects can still definitely be felt in Britain. Indeed, just last September, a very similar situation seemed to arise with a controversy around Sherry Jones' novel, The Jewel of Medina (see my earlier blog entry here). What is easy to forget -- and what the Jones incident brought back to mind -- is that Khomeini's fatwa was not just against Rushdie but against his various publishers, some of whom were killed or injured in Japan, Italy, Turkey and Norway.

As the article points out, one of the main effects of the fatwa is probably self-censorship, which is impossible to measure because you are talking about an absence, a silence. There are topics that writers and publishers are just not daring to approach. But novels and stories about Islam and Muslims are still appearing in Britain, though the emphasis may be more on society and culture than religion. And if the fatwa had a positive effect, it was to remind those of us in the relatively safe West that in many countries around the globe. thousands of writers take their lives into their hands any time they publish a story or essay which those in power see as criticism directed towards them.

By the way, the present Iranian government noted last week that the fatwa against Rushdie has never been formally rescinded, and therefore technically is still in effect.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Another Bicentennial

Over the past few days there has, of course, been a lot of discussion about Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin, both born 200 years ago yesterday. But there's another prominent, more purely literary figure whose bicentennial occurs this year, and who perhaps deserves more attention than he's getting. Edgar Allan Poe was born January 19, 1809.

The California writer Nick Mamatas has an interesting and thoughtful tribute at Mamatas points out that while paranoid moral policemen have banned books from schools which are significantly less threatening than Poe's (see my February 9 entry) Poe has for the most part escaped unscathed. This certainly isn't because he lived an exemplary life: Poe was a pro-slavery substance abuser who married his 13-year-old cousin. Nor is it because his stories have uplifting morals; indeed, Poe is one of the most "transgressive" writers in our literature. Rather, it is the methods used to teach him that have rendered Poe "safe." By concentrating on the analysis of literary tropes or trying to place him in the context of his times those entrusted with introducing Poe's work to schoolchildren manage to "defang" him (to use Mamatas' phrase).

One can only hope such strategies are not totally successful. Besides his literary importance -- Poe virtually invented the detective story and the modern horror story -- we need writers who are willing to ask the darkest, most threatening questions and take us to the edge of the abyss so that we can get a view which might provide some answers.

Marmatas' article on Poe can be found here. By the way, one of my favorite opening sentences in literature comes from Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado": "The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as best I could; but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge." Not a sentiment I necessarily endorse, but it's a great way to begin a story.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Friday, 2/13, at Accent on Books: Randy Russell

Last November, Asheville author Randy Russell came to Accent on Books to talk about his new book, Ghost Cats of the South. Randy is a wonderful storyteller and all those present had a great time. However, due to nasty weather, our crowd was quite small (is "small crowd" an oxymoron?).

Now, Randy has graciously agreed to a return engagement, and we're hoping that better weather will allow all ghost lovers, cat lovers, and lovers of lively stories to turn out to hear him. His range of ghostly expertise goes far beyond cats, fascinating as they are, even including the bone-chilling tale of the haunted recliner!

So come on out this Friday evening, starting at 6:00, have some refreshments, and spend part of a February night around our virtual campfire, as Randy Russell regales us with tales of the uncanny, the strange and the downright odd. And, in the meantime, you can visit his website here.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Who's the totalitarian here?

Last week was not a good time for intellectual freedom.

First, it was reported that in California, of all places, a county school board banned the acclaimed novel Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya from the schools after a complaint by a parent. The main reason for removing the book was "excessive vulgarity or profanity," something which, of course, a public high school student would never otherwise be exposed to. This book has been championed by, among others, that famous subversive radical Laura Bush, who named it to her "Top 10 Reading List for All Ages." Upon learning of the school board's action, Anaya commented, "We have ample evidence throughout history of what happens when we start banning books, when we are afraid of ideas and discussion and analytical thinking. The society will suffer."

Meanwhile, back here in North Carolina, the state branch of the ACLU announced it had filed a lawsuit on behalf of a prison inmate named Victor Martin who had a 310-page manuscript that he was working on confiscated by prison authorities. The reason was not given, but perhaps it was because they discovered that Martin was not working on a sequel to Little House on the Prairie. Martin has written three previous novels, drawn from his own experiences, and they're evidently pretty spicy examples of "urban lit." "I decided I would spend the time I have in prison in a positive way and maybe I could influence younger readers to steer clear of the choices that I made that put me behind bars," Martin was quoted as saying.

And down in Atlanta last week, a federal appeals court gave its blessing to the Miami-Dade County School District's decision to show their opposition to totalitarianism by engaging in book-banning. The book in question is a dangerous volume for children ages 5 to 8 entitled, A Visit to Cuba. No bad words or vulgarity here -- this time the complaint was that the book gave too positive a portrayal of life in Cuba. A lower court judge had overturned the book-banning, offering the eminently sensible suggestion that instead of removing a book with one viewpoint, the schools could perhaps add other books with opposing viewpoints. Sensible solutions and the book-banning mindset, however, do not easily coexist, and the school district decided to appeal the ruling instead. Sadly, they got a 2-1 judgement in their favor, in a decision that one lawyer said managed to "twist the law into a pretzel." And Miami schoolchildren are now safe from a variety of different viewpoints about life in nearby Cuba.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

If it worked for John and Yoko, why not a bookseller?

My apologies to any of you who might have braved the snow and the wind chill Wednesday to come to Accent on Books, only to find it closed. Not only did I not make it in to open the store, I'll have to admit I spent part of the afternoon and evening reading in bed.

I don't need any inspiration to do that, but if I did, I could look to Jayne Ramage, of Aberfeldy, Perthshire, Scotland. She spent one entire day last month reading in bed. What made it even more unusual was that she did it while at work.

Ramage is the co-owner of the Watermill bookshop in Aberfeldy, and she decided to stage a 24-hour "bed-in" at her store to promote books and reading as a way to escape the gloom and doom of these troubled times. And she did it up right: blankets, pillows, tea and biscuits, the phone off the hook, and even a cat curled up on the end of the bed. As might be expected, her demonstration caused quite a lot of comment and, no doubt, more than a little jealousy. "Reading is totally recession proof," she said. "All I'm hoping people take from this is that picking up a new book, or an old favourite, is a great way of getting away from the stresses and strains of life."

More about Ramage's bed-in can be found here.

Yawn. Good night.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Friday, 2/6, at Accent on Books: Marijo Moore

The history of warfare and its effects has largely been written by men. Birthed from Scorched Hearts: Women Respond to War, is a remarkable new anthology that sets out to correct that. Its editor, Marijo Moore, and several contributors to the volume will be at Accent on Books this coming Friday night, beginning at 6:00 PM.

Marijo is a well known figure in the Western North Carolina literary world, and much of her previous work -- fiction, poetry, essays -- has been concerned with the experiences of American Indians. This anthology, however, ranges far and wide, from prehistory to the present, and from locations around the world. Contributors include nationally known authors such as Paula Gunn Allen and Amy Goodman, as well as such well known local writers as Glenis Redmond, Kathleen Stripling Byer, Accent on Books' own Byron Ballard, and Marijo herself.

Birthed from Scorched Hearts is a powerful anthology filled with eloquent, courageous writing. We hope you'll join us at Accent on Books to pay tribute to its spirit, and those who created it.

More about Marijo Moore can be found at her website.