Thursday, April 30, 2009

Challenging Books

Earlier this month the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom issued its annual list of the "10 most challenged books" of the previous year (found here). The list included books and authors both famous and less well-known, but the list of objections were over the usual issues that frighten those intimidated by the power of knowledge: religion and sex. A "challenge" is defined by the ALA as "a formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness."

Two of the books on the list figure directly in recent cases. In Burke County, here in Western North Carolina, there's been a long running controversy about The Kite Runner (#9 on the ALA's list) being assigned as high school reading. As a result the Burke County Board of Education is thinking of setting up a new policy which would seem to almost invite parents to protest teachers' choices of assigned reading based on a number of vaguely worded criteria. And two weeks ago four members of the library board in West Bend, Wisconsin were dismissed because they refused to remove controversial books from the library's young adult section, one title being The Perks of Being A Wallflower, which came in at #6 on the ALA's ranking. A national anti-censorship coalition sent a letter of protest to the West Bend Common Council concerning their action. (More on this, and a link to the protest letter, can be found here.)

One positive thing about these controversies: they often increase interest and curiosity concerning the books being challenged and create the exact opposite effect from what the book banners would like to achieve. What has become the most popular book in Burke County over the past couple of years, the one that libraries and bookstores can't keep in stock? The Kite Runner, of course.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

President Oprah

Populist? Demagogue? Liberator? Dictator? Opinions differ wildly about Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez but one thing is sure: the man can sell books. Last week he presented President Obama with a copy of the book, Open Veins of Latin America, by Eduardo Galeano, published by Monthly Review Press. The record does not show that Obama said, "Why, thank you, Hugo, just what I wanted; how did you know?" And the White House was noncommittal as to when Obama would get around to perusing his new gift, noting that the First Reader had a lot of books to get through.

However, interest in the book among the reading public rose instantly when word of Chavez' gift got out. In one of the most widely watched indicators of such things, Open Veins shot up on Amazon's bestseller list from somewhere around 55,000 all the way to number 2. As to the effect it's had on Monthly Review Press, a small operation that's an offshoot of the venerable leftist "Monthly Review" magazine, the press has been somewhat reluctant to say. Perhaps there's a bit of unease there: after all, many of their publications have attacked capitalism, and now they find themselves caught up in the middle of it.

So if Open Veins made it to number 2 on Amazon's list, what remained at number 1? A book from practically the other end of the political spectrum: Liberty and Tyranny, by the conservative talk show host Mark Levin. Welcome to America.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Friday, 4/24 at Accent on Books: Young Poets

Accent on Books will hold its last official National Poetry Month event this coming Friday evening beginning at 6:00: "Rising Stars: Young Poets Speak Their Truths." This program is being organized by Marian Plaut, local poet and great friend of our store, so we at Accent on Books don't know much more about what to expect than you do. All we know is that Marian will be assembling a group of students from local schools to share their poetry with us. When we had a similar program last year it was fun and inspiring for everyone involved.

We hope you'll come by Friday evening and show your support for these young people who have chosen to demonstrate their love of language by creating poetry. Who knows -- maybe they will one day be world famous and you can say, "I heard them first, at Accent on Books!"

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Son of Son of Just Announced: The "New" Nabokov

Monday was not a day for the faint of heart in Bookworld; announcements were flying right and left. In addition to Dan Brown and the Pulitzers, it was also revealed that in November Knopf will publish the final unfinished manuscript of Vladimir Nabokov. Now known as The Original of Laura, it was written by Nabokov on 138 index cards, which will be reproduced along with transcripts on facing pages in the Knopf edition.

The existence of this manuscript has been known for some time. One of the reasons for its delay in being published is an age old dilemma: what to do if you have work of potentially great interest or quality that the creator of that work wanted destroyed after his/her death. Despite his father's wishes, Vladimir Nabokov's son Dmitri has decided to go ahead with its publication. The debate no doubt will continue.

Son of Just Announced: The Pulitzer Prizes

Also on Monday, the 2009 Pulitzer Prize winners were announced. They are:

Fiction: Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout
History: The Hemingses of Monticello, by Annette Gordon-Reed
Biography: American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, by Jon Meacham
General Non-Fiction: Slavery By Another Name, by John Blackmon
Poetry: Shadow of Sirius, by W. S. Merwin
Drama: Ruined, by Lynn Nottage.
(By the way, Gordon-Reed's book also won the National Book Award last fall -- a pretty impressive twofer.)

Other than the drama winner -- which does not appear to be in book form at this time -- all these books are either in stock or available to be ordered at Accent on Books.

More about the winning titles -- as well as the runners-up in each category -- can be found at the Pulitzer website .

Just Announced: The New Dan Brown

Doubleday announced on Monday that it will be publishing The Lost Symbol, the long awaited and repeatedly postponed new novel by Dan Brown, author of The DaVinci Code. It will go on sale September 15, 2009. In this novel, Brown's protagonist, Robert Langdon, discovers he's the seventeenth cousin, 41 times removed, of Mary Magdalene!

Actually that's not true; at least I don't think it is. The new book evidently has something to do with Freemasonry. More information, but not much more, can be found at Dan Brown's website.

Will Accent on Books be carrying The Lost Symbol? Um, yes, I imagine we will.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Friday, 4/17, at Accent on Books: Community Voices

As we all know, you're not really a poet until you've won a Pulitzer Prize, your books have sold a million copies and you've been named Poet Laureate, right? Wrong! While Western North Carolina is home to a number of poets who have rightly gained notoriety and maybe even a little income due to the quality of their work, there are many others who either have not yet been discovered, or choose to write poetry not for fame or money but simply for the joy of expressing themselves.

This coming Friday, starting at 6:00 PM, Accent on Books will be celebrating these lesser known poets with an event we're calling "Community Voices," a kind of "open-mic" evening where those who have not yet had an opportunity to have their poetry heard can share it with an audience. If you or someone you know would like to participate we do ask that you contact us ahead of time (828-252-6255, or ) so we'll know how to structure the evening.

So come on out Friday, enjoy some light refreshments, and celebrate the essence of poetry: the magical use of language for the pure love of it.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Free Books!

Wanda Jewell faces a bit of a conundrum. As the longtime executive director of the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance -- a trade group of which Accent on Books is a member -- she has received a number of books from publishers over the years. Now they are beginning to accumulate in unmanageable numbers. So Wanda has come up with a clever solution that benefits her, benefits Accent on Books, and, most importantly, benefits our customers: she's giving her books away. For free! And you can be on the receiving end. Here's how:

Make a purchase from Accent on Books. Then go to Fill out the form you find there, print it out, mail it to Wanda with a copy of your Accent on Books receipt, and she will send you a free book. Furthermore, on the form you will have an opportunity to specify your favorite genres and favorite authors, which will help Wanda find an appropriate book for you from her extensive collection.

"Good while supplies last," as they say. But in this case there's quite a supply, so there's an excellent chance you can get in on this deal.

Thank you, Wanda, for this great idea. And thanks to all of you for supporting independent bookstores.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Friday, 4/10, at Accent on Books: Pat Riviere-Seel & Friends

The first thing about Pat Riviere-Seel's new book of poetry that catches your attention is its title: The Serial Killer's Daughter. We would sometimes like to forget that those among us who commit incomprehensible acts have parents -- and, often, children -- like the rest of us. The serial killer of the title is Velma Barfield, who was convicted of one murder, admitted to three others, may have been responsible for yet two more and was put to death by the state of North Carolina in 1984. She was the first woman to be executed in the United States after the restoration of the death penalty in 1976. The Serial Killer's Daughter is a remarkable sequence of poems -- sharply observed, unsentimental, yet searching for and often finding dignity in the lives of all its protagonists.

Pat Riviere-Seel and two other local poets -- Carolyn Elkins and Linda Metzner -- will be joining us this coming Friday evening, April 10, beginning at 6:00 PM. We hope you'll join us as we kick off our celebration of National Poetry Month.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

E-mail Alert

A bit of housekeeping:

For those of you who signed up for the Accent on Books e-newsletter and have your e-mail with Charter (""), you may be wondering why you haven't seen an issue for awhile. That's because Charter has labeled our e-mails as spam (the nerve of them!) and is refusing to deliver it to you. This has been very frustrating for us, but rest assured Byron, our e-mail writer and sender, is doing her best to solve the problem. In the meantime, you may want to check messages that have been designated as spam or alter your settings if you can do so. (Not having my e-mail with Charter myself I don't know whether this is possible.)

Thank you for your patience, and if you have any advice or feedback feel free to contact us at And if you haven't yet signed up for our free newsletter, you can do so either at that e-mail address or at the store.

There's a reason some of us are convinced computers are governed by trickster gods.

Monday, April 6, 2009

It's Opening Day...

...of the Major League Baseball season, even though the Chicago White Sox' home opener was postponed today due to snow. And Accent on Books is ready to step up to the plate with some books for the season.

Baseball Prospectus, 2009 (paperback). The ultimate book for statheads, with everything a Patriotic American needs to know about our National Pastime. Profiles and predictions for hundreds of major league players, plus all the top prospects.

Yogi Berra: Eternal Yankee, by Allen Barra (hardback). He may be best known to the general public as the most popular (if unintentional) American philosopher since William James, but the man could flat out play baseball. As Yogi himself said, "If you can't imitate him, don't copy him." Barra gives Berra the biography he deserves, with lots of great photographs.

Baseball in Asheville, by Bill Ballew (paperback). Here in Accent on Books' hometown we may not have a major league team, but the Asheville Tourists have a surprisingly long and even distinguished history, as this fun photographic chronicle reminds us. Babe Ruth once played here, Willie Stargell was a member of the team -- and Thomas Wolfe was a batboy!

We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball, by Kadir Nelson. I mentioned this one in an earlier post about the various children's book awards given out by the American Library Association, but it deserves a second mention. A dazzling, eloquent book that can be enjoyed by adults and children alike.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Importance of Cheese Containers of a Certain Dimension

Back in February I announced that the list was being narrowed in the process of naming the Oddest Book Title of the Year, in a contest sponsored by The Bookseller, a British magazine. The winner has been named, and I think you'll agree it's a worthy one. The oddest title has been determined to be The 2009-2014 World Outlook for 60-milligram Containers of Fromage Frais, a tasty volume published by Icon Group International. Yet, as distinguished as this title is, the decision to make it the winner could not have been an easy one when you consider the other finalists:

Baboon Metaphysics
Curbside Consultation of the Colon
Strip and Knit with Style
The Large Sieve and Its Applications
Techniques for Corrosion Monitoring

More on this auspicious competition can be found here.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

National Poetry Month

Get out your papers, pens, laptops and rhyming dictionaries (if you're a traditionalist) -- April is National Poetry Month. This annual event is celebrated by bookstores, libraries and other organizations throughout the country to recognize the important contributions that poetry and its practitioners make to our culture. You can sign up to have a Poem A Day delivered to your e-mail inbox free of charge. And The Read on WNC has a lot of good information up about poets here in Western North Carolina, including links to their websites.

We have some great events planned for the month at Accent on Books, the first one scheduled for April 10. Page 854 will have more information as it becomes available, or you can check our website anytime.

"Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village -- blow? show? throw?