Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Friday, 12/17: Patti Digh at Accent on Books

The forces of nature have been walloping Western North Carolina, along with much of the rest of the country, in major ways since late last week, with snow and wind and bitter cold greeting us every time we dare to venture outdoors. We should be getting a reprieve by Friday which is a good thing, since a very different force of nature will be sweeping into Accent on Books that evening: Patti Digh.

Writer, teacher, mentor, visionary, Patti is the creator of the award-winning "37days" blog and author of several books, including the wildly popular, Life Is A Verb. This fall has seen the publication of two more books by her: Four Word Self Help, a delightful and innovative gift book, and Creativity Is A Verb, which, as the title implies, is a companion to the earlier Life Is. 

Patti is yet another nationally-known writer who has chosen to make her home here in Asheville and we have hosted her before, in what was a hugely successful event. We expect this one to be every bit as exciting and wild and funny and inspiring as Patti herself. You will definitely want to be at Accent on Books this coming Friday, beginning at 6:00 PM. And, of course, personally autographed books by Patti Digh make perfect gifts.

Find out more about Patti --and find a link to her blog -- at her website.         

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

This coming Friday: Sara Gruen at Accent on Books!

It's a busy season here at Your Favorite Bookstore, but I did want to quickly remind you that this coming Friday, December 10, **nationally acclaimed author Sara Gruen will be at Accent on Books**. The event will start at 6:00 PM, and Sarah will be talking about and signing copies of her new novel, Ape House, as well as her earlier books such as the extraordinary national bestseller, Water for Elephants. 

Sara is an Asheville resident these days, and is actually kind of a neighbor of ours here in North Asheville, so it's a particular pleasure to welcome her to her "home bookstore." It should be a great event, so tell your friends, and come on by this coming Friday, December 10, beginning at 6 PM.

Here is a link to Sara's website  


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Bring your child -- and yourself -- to Accent on Books this weekend.

As noted previously, author Gwen Suesse will be here at Accent on Books this evening. And that's just the curtain-raiser for what promises to be a busy weekend here at the store.

Saturday is the first annual Take Your Child to A Bookstore Day. The brainchild of New Jersey native Jenny  Milchman, this is an event dedicated to introducing youngsters to the magic and riches of reading. Here at Accent on Books, beginning at 11:00 AM, we will have a story hour featuring our own Byron Ballard, with gifts and goodies for all young attendees. So take some time out from your busy holiday activities to relax and share the wonders of  books with the next generation of readers.

And then Sunday is The Big Day: our  ** 27th Anniversary (!) Accent on Books Birthday Party & Open House ** . This event -- always held on the first Sunday in December -- has become an indispensable holiday event for innumerable booklovers in Western North Carolina, and with good reason, since it features:

-- Live Music
-- Delicious Food
-- And, most importantly, ** 15% Off All In-Stock Books **

The festivities will take place from 1:00 to 5:00 this coming Sunday, December 5, and everyone who is anyone will be here, including, we hope, you!

Saturday: Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, with story hour at 11:00 AM.
Sunday: Open House and Storewide Sale from 1:00 to 5:00 PM.

There! Your weekend plans are now complete, courtesy of Accent on Books. We're always glad to help out. 


Monday, November 29, 2010

Thursday, 12/2: Gwen Suesse at Accent on Books

Gwen Suesse has lived a life steeped in music. She has also lived a life confronting the various changes in the roles that women have been expected -- or not expected -- to fill over the past several decades. Gwen has combined these two aspects of her life in her new book, Womansong, which she will talk about at Accent on Books this coming Thursday beginning at 6:00 PM.

The subtitle of Womansong is "Balance and Harmony in a Feminine Key," and music is the organizing principle of the book. Through essays that bear such titles as "Counterpoint," "Improvisation" and "Fantasia," Gwen sets out her philosophy, with highly practical advice for all ages. She also includes a generous number of inspirational quotes, and beautiful watercolor illustrations by artist Renee Locks.

We are delighted that Gwen Suesse will be leading off our December series of author appearances at Accent on Books, and we hope you'll be able to join us for a relaxing and inspirational way to start off the month.

More about Gwen Suesse -- including video of her recent appearance on Lifetime Television -- can be found at her website.    

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Book Fair Ate My Blog Posts

Well, OK, that isn't the entire truth. Certainly over the last two or three weeks our annual book fair that we get together for the fine folks at Carolina Day School has been consuming a great deal of my time here. But other issues have arisen as well, and, perhaps, I've been beset with the dreaded Blogger's Block (dreaded to me, at any rate). Plus, the longer I neglected the blog, the more guilt I felt about it, and that made it harder to return to it. (Thanks, Calvinist upbringing.)

But Accent on Books is still around, with a holiday season full of great books and events coming up, and I'll try to get back on board with this form of communication to let you know what's going on here and elsewhere in Book World. And in case you need to be reminded about how to find us, we are the store in the lower level of Grace Plaza which doesn't yet have its Christmas decorations up! That's right, here at Accent on Books we actually acknowledge the existence of Thanksgiving, so we still have corn shocks and Turkey Day books displayed in our front windows.

So enjoy your Thanksgiving, come by on (I hate this term) Black Friday at a decent hour after a leisurely breakfast and, in the meantime, enjoy your books and support locally owned businesses.

And, in the spirit of the season (Thanksgiving, I mean), please accept our thanks for your support through the years.      

Monday, October 11, 2010

What A Picture's Worth

I don't remember how old I was, but I have a clear memory of a somewhat wistful moment in my childhood when I realized that, going forward, most of the books I would be reading would be largely text with relatively few pictures.

I was reminded of this last Friday when reading a New York Times article which set the book world literally a-Twitter. According to the article, by Julie Bosman, picture book sales have been steadily decreasing in recent years in favor of text-heavy "chapter books." A part of the reason may be the economy -- a 32-page hardcover picture book routinely sells for between fifteen and eighteen dollars (though paperbacks cost less than half that). The more provocative reason proposed: due to highly selective private elementary schools and standardized testing, parents feel pressured to get their children reading at a more advanced level at an earlier age, and these parents see picture books as holding that process back. As one bookseller quoted in the article said, "It's a terrible pressure parents are feeling -- that somehow, I shouldn't let my child have this picture book because she won't get into Harvard."

Having never been a parent myself, I can't speak to this kind of pressure. But my experiences as a bookseller suggest that this move away from picture books is not universally the case. When parents -- and grandparents -- are in our store looking for books for their preschool-aged children, picture books are what they are almost always attracted to. After all, they want children not only to read books but to love them. And while text-heavy books can certainly be read aloud to young children, a picture book provides an entirely different -- and, in some cases, preferable -- read-aloud experience. The scenario mentioned in the Times article of parents in a bookstore steering a young child away from picture books because they're "beyond that" is something that, thankfully, I very rarely see at Accent on Books.

At the very beginning of Alice in Wonderland, we find a bored Alice sitting by her sister, who is reading a book. When Alice glances at the book she is dismayed to see that it doesn't contain pictures or conversations: "'...and what's the use of a book,' thought Alice, 'without pictures or conversations'?" Conversations may not be at issue in books for preschoolers -- practically all children's books have conversations. But when it comes to introducing young children to the joy, excitement and magic of books, Alice's rhetorical question is very relevant: what's the use of a book without pictures?  

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Nobel Prize to Vargas Llosa

Mario Vargas Llosa of  Peru has won the 2010 Nobel Prize for Literature. He is the first South American to win the prize in almost thirty years.

Vargas Llosa, age 74, has published both fiction and nonfiction in a career lasting almost fifty years. He first won international acclaim with his second novel, The Green House, published in 1965. Other well-known works include the quasi-autobiographical Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (1977), and The Feast of the Goat (2000), a novel about the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic.

In addition to being a writer, Vargas Llosa has been very engaged politically over the decades, even to the extent of running for the presidency of Peru in 1990 (he lost in a runoff to Alberto Fujimori). He has moved rightward in his political views over the years, going from being an ardent supporter of the Cuban revolution, for example, to being more of a supporter of capitalism, and an opponent of authoritarian regimes of both the Left and the Right.

Vargas Llosa has kind of an odd connection to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the last South American to win the Nobel Literature Prize (in 1982). An early admirer of Garcia Marquez -- even writing a book about him -- Vargas Llosa ended up feuding with the Colombian writer, and reportedly punched him in the face in 1976. The two have evidently not spoken to each other for more than thirty years. 

Heidi Johnson-Wright of January Magazine interviewed Vargas Llosa in 2001; the article can be found here. Also, the New York Times has a page of links to articles in that publication by and about Vargas Llosa.

Meanwhile, I continue to hold out hope that the Nobel committee will give a long overdue Literature Prize to Margaret Atwood. Maybe next year.     

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

In the Present

The Accent on Books Reading Group (contact us if you want more information) is currently reading Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel's Booker Award-winning novel about the intrigues of Henry VIII, as seen through the eyes of one of his advisers, Thomas Cromwell.

One interesting feature of Wolf Hall is that it's written in the present tense, or the "historical present," as the present tense is called in fiction writing. As John Mullan pointed out in a recent article in The Guardian, it is a narrative strategy which, while it has a long history, seems to be popping up more and more in current fiction. Some critics see it as a cheap affectation, the result of the ascendancy of university writers' workshops. Mullan quotes Philip Pullman as calling the historical present "an abdication of narrative responsibility": by avoiding the past tense the author is relieved from -- or abdicates -- the responsibility of putting his or her own perspective on the narrative. On the other hand, it can provide an immediacy, a sense of presence, that past tense would perhaps lack.

As with so much else in writing, the effectiveness of the historical present in the end depends on the talent of the writer using it. In the case of Wolf Hall, I find it to be highly effective, giving you a sense that you are with Cromwell as he navigates the maze that is the politics of Henry VIII's court. And since John Mullan was part of the jury that awarded Wolf Hall the Booker, he obviously agrees with that.

Mullan's article is here.

By the way, our reading group will be meeting at the store at 3:00 PM on Wednesday, October 13, to discuss Wolf Hall. Feel free to come by, if you want to join in.      

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Your (Banned) Reading List

Today's the last day of Banned Books Week, so I thought I'd point to one more link on the subject.

Britney Wilkins at the Online College Degree blog has a list entitled, "50 Banned Books That Everyone Should Read." She has divided the list according to reasons the books have been banned or challenged. The reasons and a few of the titles:

  • "Protect the Children" (Catcher in the Rye and Harry Potter)
  • "Religion and Politics" (Satanic Verses and Grapes of Wrath)
  • "Sex" (Lady Chatterley's Lover and Tropic of Cancer)
  • "Race and Gender" (To Kill a Mockingbird and Color Purple)
  •  "Multiple Reasons" (The most ironic title here: Fahrenheit 451)
All in all, a pretty distinguished list of books, found in its entirety here.

Read freely! 

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

From O'Connor to MacArthur

An update of sorts to my previous post about Ron Rash winning the Frank O'Connor award.

One of the earlier winners of that award was Yiyun Li, and she has now been named one of the 2010 MacArthur Foundation Fellows -- in other words one of the winners of the famous "genius grants." Other winners this year from the fields of books and literature are Annette Gordon-Reed, best known as the author of The Hemingses of Monticello, and David Simon, nowadays known for his work in television (The Wire), but formerly the author of journalistic works such as Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets and The Corner.

The MacArthur Fellows receive $500,000 paid out over five years.This complete list for 2010 can be found here    

Monday, September 27, 2010

Banned Books Week

If you come by Accent on Books this week, you'll notice our left front window has yellow crime scene tape on it, and books in the display which are upside-down. No, we were not victimized by a break-in; it's Byron's clever way of calling attention to Banned Books Week. Observed every year at the end of September, Banned Books Week calls attention to the reality that fear of knowledge and the power of the written word is still very much with us, and every year individuals or groups try to have books removed from schools or libraries. Sometimes the individuals have not even read the books they are challenging; in every case they have appointed themselves as the final authority in deciding what ideas are acceptable and what ideas are dangerous or corrupting. The recent controversy over the burning of Korans in Florida is but one example of what goes on in communities across the nation on a constant basis, if usually in a less spectacular manner. Banned Books Week is co-sponsored by a number of organizations -- including The American Booksellers Association, of which Accent on Books is a member -- and is administered by the American Library Association. The ALA's website has a lot of excellent resources on this subject including a list of the Radcliffe Publishing Course's Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century, with notations about which ones have been banned or challenged (nine of the top ten novels and 25 of the top 30 fall in that category). And the AP published an article last week listing some of the more unexpected titles to be subject to challenges over the years, including Brown Bear, Brown Bear, the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, and the "Captain Underpants" series.

So we hope you'll take some time this week to appreciate your right to read what you choose, a right which is often not available in other countries, and will not continue be available in this country without our constant vigilance. 

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Congratulations, Ron Rash!

Ron Rash, who teaches at Western Carolina University and sets much of his work in southern Appalachia, has won a major literary honor : the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award. Ron, probably best known for his novel Serena, won the award for his most recent book, Burning Bright, which was described by an O'Connor judge as a  "technically absolutely beautiful -- incredibly well wrought" collection of stories. Past winners of the award -- which includes a prize of 35,000 euros, or about $47,000 -- include Haruki Murakami, Miranda July and Jhumpa Lahiri.

In addition to being an outstanding writer Ron is a great guy, and we at Accent on Books would like to congratulate him on this remarkable and well-deserved honor.  

Monday, September 20, 2010

Update: Oprah Has Called

Well, it seems my "half-joking" suggestion was Oprah's actual choice: she chose Jonathan Franzen's Freedom (see previous post). Not that Franzen needed the boost: his new novel is already the most talked-about book of the fall so far.

Nonetheless, he now has Oprah's imprimatur as well. Guess Nelson Mandela's book will have to find some other way to catch the public's attention.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

When Oprah Calls

Next Friday Oprah Winfrey will announce her latest on-air book club selection. Over the past fourteen years these announcements have created something of a conundrum for the book trade. On the one hand, Oprah very reasonably wants to be able to announce the title on her show without word of what it is getting out beforehand. On the other hand, publishers and booksellers -- as well as the Oprah folks -- want to have plenty of copies available for the inevitable spike in sales.

And thus was born one of the odder rituals in bookselling. Several weeks ahead of time, Oprah's people inform the publisher of the selected title that it is the chosen one, but the publishers are sworn to secrecy. The sales reps for that publisher then contact their accounts -- Accent on Books, for example -- with basically this message: "We have the next Oprah selection. I don't know anything about it except that it's a [hardcover/paperback] and the retail price is [whatever]." The bookseller -- yours truly, for example -- then has to take a stab in the dark as far as placing an order.

This has led to inevitable guessing games among book people as to what the chosen title is. My own record in this regard is not exactly stellar: of the 63 previous Oprah choices I've guessed one correctly. What we know about her forthcoming choice is that it is a $28.00 hardcover either published or distributed by Macmillan. One book that fits the description is Jonathan Franzen's new novel, Freedom, which I -- half-jokingly -- suggested on Twitter, even though Oprah's previous choice of a Franzen novel led to a public spat between the two of them.

However, Thom Geier, at the "Shelf Life" blog, has a more convincing guess: Nelson Mandela's new book, Conversations With Myself, a title which wasn't on my radar because it hasn't actually been published yet. Geier gives his reasons here.

All will be revealed on September 17. Stay tuned.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Typewriter Repairman!

Back in May I mentioned that we still use a typewriter in the back room, a source of delight or mystification for a number of our customers.

If it ever needs to be repaired, I think I may send it to Manson H. Whitlock up in Connecticut, simply because he deserves the work. The Yale Daily News recently proclaimed him, "the oldest typewriter repairman in New Haven," a pretty safe bet since he's 94 years old. And to judge by the interview the Daily News conducted with him, he may be one of the wisest men in New Haven -- including everyone associated with Yale. Why does he prefer typewriters to computers? "Because I don't even know what a computer is. I've heard about them a lot, but I don't own one, and I don't want one to own me. Typewriters you can own. I think a computer owns you." The most unfortunate change in his neighborhood in recent years? "It used to be when you were walking down the street and someone said 'hello' he was being friendly. Today, he's just answering a phone."

Granted, Mr. Whitlock may not be a paragon of modern feminism ("I think it was a good idea to have the gals come to Yale. The campus is much prettier now."), but he's still a priceless philosopher. The whole interview with him is a gem.

By the way, the title of the post was inspired by this.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Exit, Not Quite Pursued By A Bear

The Governor's Western Residence is located on a mountainside in north Asheville, not too far from the Blue Ridge Parkway. In addition to being a retreat for the state's chief executive it also hosts high-powered meetings and social gatherings.

This past Tuesday evening, the Asheville United Way hosted a picnic there for leading volunteers and donors, with the guest speaker being local author Wayne Caldwell, author of Cataloochee and Requiem By Fire. Wayne asked Accent on Books to provide copies of his novels for the occasion, so I loaded up my Subaru and off I went.

I arrived about 5:30 for the 6:00 event, backed my car up on the path near the picnic area, and was unloading boxes when one of the United Way folks called out, "There's a bear!" I walked over to the wooden fence on the edge of the picnic area and, sure enough, there at the bottom of a grassy bank and at the edge of the woods was a black bear sitting calmly with her back against a tree. As we stared at her she stared back, and at one point grunted and made a lunging movement toward us, causing us to lunge backwards. However, she didn't actually move, but just resumed sitting silently. The event organizers, meanwhile, were beginning to make calculations along the lines of bear plus picnic, and getting nervous about the results.

They got a bit more nervous when, after a few more minutes, the bear roused herself and, now accompanied by two cubs, started lumbering towards the back of the picnic area. As I continued leaning on the fence I was unaware that all but one other person had abandoned the picnic area for the parking lot. Then I suddenly heard the only other person still with me yell something that included the word "Subaru" as she dashed to my car, opened the driver's side door and jumped in. Operating on the principle of run away first, ask questions later, I ran over to the car and jumped in on the passenger's side. Looking in the side view mirror, I saw mama bear looking back at me from a distance of about fifty feet away near the one-story building which stretched across the back of the picnic area. She then vanished from sight, and, after a few more minutes, we slowly and quietly as possible eased out of the car. By this time, the people who had escaped to the parking lot were beginning to make their way back to the picnic area. The cubs were now in a tree right behind the one-story building with mama presumably at the bottom of the tree. Concluding that a bear attack on their major donors might not be the best kind of publicity, the United Way folks had finally made the decision to move the picnic to the back porch of the residence itself. All that remained was for me to retrieve the boxes of books, which were on a table just on the other side of the building from the bears. This was accomplished without incident, though I kept looking around nervously for the sudden appearance of a black, bear-like shape.

The rest of the evening went smoothly and successfully: good food, a great talk by Wayne and even some book sales. The bears had no further impact on events, though some of the Western Residence employees and I saw them as they came down the hill and went back into the woods, the two cubs wrestling with each other in that cute, bear cub nature documentary way.

Of course it's always unfortunate in one sense when bears show up where humans live, since it indicates hunger on their part, encroachment on our part or both. And it would have been even more unfortunate had either bears or humans been harmed in the encounter. Still, in another sense, there was something almost reassuring about what the incident indicated concerning the balance of things. Now matter how important we humans think we are, no matter how many Community Movers and Shakers are gathered in one location, there are times when Mother Nature reminds us who, ultimately, is in charge.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Shut Up and Buy My Book

If you're an author in 21st century America you have almost certainly been given the message, Use Social Media To Promote Yourself. Blog! Set up a Facebook page! Round up those Twitter followers!

Gregory Levey undoubtedly had gotten that advice, and thought it had paid off in a big way when a Facebook page dedicated to his recent book picked up an astonishing 692,000 "fans" in a matter of months. Yet Levey and his publisher, Free Press, didn't notice any particular increase in sales of the book. So, what was up?

Turns out a lot of the book's "fans" were actually just fans of the title: Shut Up, I'm Talking. (Levey's book chronicles his experiences as a speechwriter for Ariel Sharon.) Discussions on the fan page were full of "OMG"'s and "LOL"'s and people wishing they could say the book's title to someone or other, and not much about Israeli politics and international diplomacy.

So, can 692,000 fans be wrong? Maybe not, but they might be irrelevant. Time will tell.

More here.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


Let's face it -- Page 854 is slogging through the dog days. The weather here in what the Chamber of Commerce used to call Cool Green Asheville has been very warm and very muggy. (Yes, I realize we won't get much sympathy from flatlanders, but we don't expect this here in the mountains.) And, since your blogging correspondent will be off for the next week things will continue to be slow here.

All the more appropriate to share a summer reading list -- perhaps the ultimate summer reading list since it comes from the First Reader. Here, via the Daily Beast, is a list of the books that Barack Obama has been reading, or is said to have been reading, in recent months. Perhaps it also provides clues to what he will be lugging with him on his upcoming vacation.

Meanwhile, thanks to those of you who have responded to our request for donated school supplies. We've built up quite a collection to pass on to local schools, and we'll continue collecting them for a few more days.

Stay cool, and I'll see you in a week or so.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Weiner & Papa

It is now August, which means our July sale is over. (August has a way of doing that to July events.) Thanks to everyone who came in last month and took advantage of all the great bargains. But fear not: the shelves are far from empty. There's still plenty available for late summer reading, gifts and back to school needs.

Autumn may be approaching, but right now it's definitely summer, and our brains may not be ready for heavy exertion. For some, it's the perfect time to read Jennifer Weiner, and she's fine with that. Carolyn Kellogg wrote a profile of Weiner for the Los Angeles Times, and found a novelist who's perfectly happy with being a "chick lit" author: she's discovered her voice, women respond to her work and she sells a lot of books. It's a pretty good deal all the way around. Jennifer Weiner's latest book is called, Fly Away Home, and we have it in stock.

Meanwhile, down at Sloppy Joe's bar in Key West, Florida, the locals have been celebrating summer with their annual event honoring one of Sloppy Joe's most famous patrons: "Hemingway Days." The festivities included fiction readings, a play, a fishing tournament and the world-famous Ernest Hemingway look-alike contest. Congratulations to this year's winner, Charles Bicht, who somehow was judged to look a bit more like Papa Hemingway than 123 other white-bearded guys dressed in khaki fishing outfits. An article and photographs can be found here.

However you choose to spend the waning days of summer, we hope you enjoy it. And if you need something to read, well, you know where you can find it.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

National Independent Retailers Week

July 18-24 is National Independent Retailers Week, a time to celebrate locally owned, independent businesses that provide quality and diversity to your shopping experiences, and contribute their money and their energies to supporting their communities. It is also a time for those of us who work in such businesses, to thank you for supporting us. So, thanks! There is a cool NIRW graphic on the homepage of the Accent on Books website with a link to the NIRW site, so check it out. By the way, if you haven't been to our website since its recent hiatus, you should know that Byron is doing great things with it and will continue to develop it. Comments and suggestions are always welcome.

So what are we doing to celebrate Independent Retailers Week? We're continuing our amazing July sale. In case you've forgotten, that's 30% off virtually every book in stock. Only ten days left in the month, so come in and grab some great bargains, and congratulate yourself for supporting locally owned businesses.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


We all hear inner voices -- at least that's what the self-help writers would have us believe. Not the dangerous kinds that could get us institutionalized, but the nagging kinds that tell us we're not rich/smart/successful/sexy/just plain good enough. ("That expensive college education, and you're working in a bookstore?")

Shalom Auslander hears voices every day when he sits down to write, and I imagine anyone who has ever tried to put words on paper (or a computer screen) in a creative way will understand his predicament. In a recent article for "Tablet Magazine" Auslander labeled some of the many voices which second-guess his writing efforts, and while a number of them are specific to his being a Jewish author who writes humorously of his heritage, others are the type that can annoy anyone. There's the "Derogatory Scholar/Marshall McLuhan" voice ("...you should have gone to college. You should have gone to graduate school. You should have gone to the Iowa Writers Workshop."). Or the mellow but damning "Garrison Keillor Writer's Almanac" voice ("If you do enough serious things, for a seriously long time, I might someday mention your birthday. But this? This is not of birthday-mentioning caliber."). Or the dreaded "New York Times Book Review" voice ("...it isn't an important new work, it isn't a bold new voice, it isn't the future of American fiction, and it doesn't limn anything."). And, of course, the most pervasive and dreaded of all, the "Voice of American Express": "This better sell well, you're carrying a tremendous amount of debt."

Auslander's article with his full list of voices (funny, but warning: strong language) can be found here.

("Patrick, do you really think this blog post is informative or clever enough to publish? Are you sure?")

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Anticipating Autumn

Well it is definitely July out there. When the space between blue sky and clouds has dissolved into a whitish, grayish, hazy something-or-other you know that the hot temperatures will accompanied by an unwelcome mugginess.

What better time to look forward to fall, and the cool weather -- and new books -- it will bring? I'll leave it to the Farmer's Almanac and the wooly worms to make specific predictions about the weather, but we can be pretty specific about some of the major books due out over the coming months. One of the first major listings of forthcoming books has arrived via this posting from the invaluable website, "The Millions." The novel with the most buzz is probably Jonathan Franzen's new one, his first since The Corrections almost a decade ago. And there will be anticipation here in Asheville for Ape House, the new offering from our local literary celebrity, Sara Gruen. The upcoming nonfiction includes travel writing from V. S. Naipaul (Africa) and Ian Frazier (Siberia, which almost sounds appealing about now).

But again, that just the tip of the iceberg. (Ice! I think I need a glass of sweet tea.) Check out The Millions' full list here.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Big One

Tomorrow is July 1, and longtime customers of Accent on Books know what that means: it's time for our big, huge, ginormous Summer Sale!

How big is it? Well, it's:


*Every day except Sunday; we're closed on Sundays during the summer.

Of course there is some fine print -- we do have to stay in business, after all.

-- Doesn't apply to non-book items, special orders, or books that are already discounted.
-- Doesn't apply to a few books that we don't get full discount on ourselves: prayer books, hymnals, other liturgical items and a handful of self-published titles.

Still, even with the above exceptions you still have about 10,000 different titles to choose from at huge discounts.

So come and shake yourself -- and us -- out of the summer doldrums by stocking up on great titles at great prices. July only comes once a year (last I checked) so don't miss out.

Back to our regularly scheduled programming soon. Thank you.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

They Saw Dead People

Starting tonight at midnight, all across this great country of ours, people will be lining up at movie theaters for the film version of Eclipse, the third in the series of "Twilight" novels by Stephenie Meyer about highschooler Bella and her true love, the pale, caring, sensitive vampire, Edward.

Edward may cause swoons and palpitations among the many devoted "Twilight" fans, but he would be virtually unrecognizable as a vampire to those among whom the stories of such beings originated, as explained by Michael Sims in a recent -- and quite vivid -- article in the Chronicle Review. The peasant folklore that gave rise to the tales of such creatures was based on a fear of the dead, and a first-hand knowledge of their remains. Sorry, Bella, but accounts of your loverboy's forbears were based on experiences with rotting corpses. Furthermore, there was no need for vampires to increase their number by sinking their fangs into the living (a relatively rare motif). A large number of people were thought to face such a cursed life after their natural deaths, including drowning victims, suicides, heretics, grumpy people, those who talked to themselves and redheads. Those last three groupings suggest I may very well be headed towards a state of vampirism myself.

Perhaps Edward Cullen is the appropriate vampire for our modern, antiseptic age, where the unpleasant parts of life and death are hidden away as much as possible. For better or worse, we've come a long way from an earlier time when vampire tales had a subtext summed up by a scholar quoted by Michael Sims: "All the dead are vampires, poisoning the air, the blood, the life of the living, contaminating their body and their soul, robbing them of their sanity."

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Read. This. Slowly.

"Slow" has become the new cool. Perhaps this is most evident in the slow food movement, which emphasizes locally grown products and a true appreciation of eating.

Now, there is a "slow reading" movement that is gaining attention and followers. Is isn't so much a reaction to "speed reading" as it is a reaction to distracted reading. The internet's effect on our attention span has been widely discussed, but there is also its effect on our seeing reading as a matter of consuming as much information as we can as quickly as possible, by, for example, jumping from one page to another by the use of hyperlinks (such as the one I created in the previous paragraph). To reestablish a deeper connection with books and words, teachers are returning to such "old-fashioned" strategies as reading aloud in the classroom, and memorization (of poems, for example). As Lindsay Waters of Harvard University put it, "Instead of rushing by works so fast that we don't even muss up our hair, we should tarry, attend to the sensuousness of reading, allow ourselves to enter the experience of words." Chew those words slowly.

More information can be found (warning: hyperlink ahead) here.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Look Homeward

Accent on Books -- and indeed the entire Asheville literary community -- lost a beloved friend last week with the passing of Tom Woof. An impressive Shiba Inu, Tom was the devoted canine companion of Joanne Mauldin who, among other things, is a highly regarded expert on Tom's near namesake, Asheville's most famous literary son. (Joanne's most recent work is Thomas Wolfe: When Do the Atrocities Begin, published in 2007 by the University of Tennessee Press.) Joanne and Tom's visits to the store were always a delight, whether Joanne had a particular purchase in mind or was just coming by to share the latest gossip. In either case, Tom would always greet our other customers with dignified friendliness, and they, in turn, would be suitably and understandably impressed. And you knew it was An Important Literary Event in this town if Tom Woof showed up attired in his dapper red bow tie.

We extend our condolences to Joanne and to all of Tom Woof's many other friends and fans. I know that I personally will deeply miss his bright, friendly countenance. Perhaps he can now meet his famous namesake, and they can compare notes on the inimitable mountain community they both called home.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Monkeys & Donkeys & Battling Machines

With apologies to Sonny Curtis, we at Accent on Books have been fighting the computer over the last several weeks, and the computer keeps winning. Thus, Page 854 has been sadly silent. However, a turning point might have been reached, and we may be on the point of prevailing.

This has given extra meaning to an advanced copy I saw last week of a delightful children's book due out this fall from Roaring Brook Press called, It's A Book, in which a monkey patiently explains to his laptop-bearing donkey friend that, no, the book the monkey is reading cannot blog or tweet or make noises. On the other hand, as the donkey is amazed to discover, it doesn't require batteries or a password, doesn't need to be recharged, and if you just spend some time quietly with it, it has some quite powerful properties of its own.

So hopefully Page 854 can be revived here pretty soon. In the meantime, I suppose you and I can always find a good book to read.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Keeping It Local

Dale Neal is a journalist, short story writer and most recently a novelist. (His first novel, the award-winning Cow Across America, was published last fall.) He's also a great friend and customer of Accent on Books and a leading light of the Asheville literary scene.

During his career with the Asheville Citizen-Times, Dale has worked as literary editor, religion editor and a reporter on business and technology issues. He brought all of these interests to bear in a recent article in the Citizen-Times on the importance of supporting a local economy, with reference to Wendell Berry and Berry's latest book, What Matters: Economics for a Renewed Commonwealth. Throughout his long career, Berry has been a strong advocate of "keeping it local," more important than ever in the present economy when it comes to preserving local jobs and keeping them from moving overseas. As Dale points out, Asheville seems to be developing an increasing awareness of buying local, and hopefully that awareness will continue to develop.

The economic stakes are high. Dale quotes the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies as estimating that up to 70 cents of every dollar spent with a local business stays in the community, as opposed to 43 cents of every dollar spent in a chain store. (And, oftentimes, zero cents of every dollar spent online.) Something that hopefully we can all keep in mind when we make our buying decisions.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Friday, 5/28, at Accent on Books: Carrie Wagner

In 1991, Bob and Carrie Wagner began a life-changing journey: a three-year mission in Uganda on behalf of Habitat for Humanity International. Settling in the village of Ibanda, they began working with the local residents to build safe, high quality housing. As often happens in such situations those three years were transformative on both sides -- the "outsiders" as much as the community they came to serve. When the Wagners reluctantly left after their three years were up, their view of the world was completely different.

Fifteen years later, they returned to Ibanda, and that trip, as well as the original experience, is the basis of Carrie's beautiful new book, Village Wisdom. Carrie Wagner will be at Accent on Books this coming Friday beginning at 6:00 PM.

Carrie is a photographer as well as a writer, and her book is as magnificent to look at as it is moving to read. There is a wonderful immediacy to the letters and journal entries she wrote while she was there, and they provide a fascinating perspective when combined with her account of her return journey in 2009.

We hope you'll be able to join us this coming Friday to hear Carrie's unique and important story. More about Village Wisdom can be found at this website.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

What's That Strange Clacking Sound?

Last week a customer leaned her head into the back room and said facetiously, "What's that strange noise? I could hear it all the way at the front of the store." She was referring to the sound of me pecking away on our loyal store typewriter. Yes, we still have -- and still use -- one of those antique instruments which have almost vanished from the scene thanks to the ubiquity of computers.

Skye Ferrante would probably appreciate that. The New York-based writer still uses a 1929 Royal typewriter to produce his children's books. Problem is, that productive clacking noise is no longer welcome amongst the silent laptops in the Writers Room in Greenwich Village. According to the New York Daily News Ferrante returned to the room recently after an eight months absence and was presented with an ultimatum: give up the typewriter or abandon his cubicle (for which he pays $1400 a year). For Ferrante it wasn't a difficult decision: the Writers Room will see him no more. "I just wish there were some typists out there that would back me up," said Ferrante, "but I don't know of any."

Well, Skye, we may be a bit far away to be of any help, but just so you know: we've got your back.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

"Poetry is a weapon, bloodsoaked and glinting."

Over in England the competition for the post of Oxford Professor of Poetry is well under way. This prestigious position, a five-year appointment with an annual stipend of 7000 pounds, has attracted a wide range of candidates from the well-known poet Geoffrey Hill to the journalist Stephen Moss, who, though he describes his own poetry as "execrable," has promised to buy a drink for everyone who votes for him (certainly enough to get my vote).

And then there is the Sanskrit scholar Vaughan Pilikian. While he may not have the qualifications of someone like Hill, his statement in support of his candidacy may be the most florid, passionate and melodramatic of them all, enough to send the tweedy dons scurrying to the nearest exit. He declares, in part:

"Without wishing to take anything from the professorship's venerable past, the time has surely come to douse the fluttering flames of our traditions and step out into the dark. My aim in this august office will be to pull poetry from the drawing rooms and the garrets and the palaces, and send it forth. For poetry is a weapon, bloodsoaked and glinting. It is a gnostic heresy, a counterattack on all that holds us captive, a challenge to the cruel symmetries and stifled laughter of the Demiurge. It is only through poetry that we might revenge ourselves on time."

Who says poetry doesn't matter?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Saturday, 5/15, at Accent on Books: Ed Neilsen

"The Vietnam War was one of the most divisive events in American history. It tore apart country, family and friends....The goal of this volume is not to resurrect those debates, but rather to offer a forum to those in uniform who participated. However you feel about the debate, the efforts and sacrifices of our servicemen must be acknowledged."

The above passage is from the Introduction to Warriors, by Hendersonville author Ed Nielsen, who will be at Accent on Books this coming Saturday at 3:00 to talk about his book.

Nielsen, a career employee of the Defense Department, interviewed a number of vets from all different branches of the service about their experiences in Vietnam, and the recollections of nine of them make up the substance of his book. Army, Navy and Marine, they recall the harrowing, frustrating and at times even humorous experiences which comprised day-to-day life "in country." It's a witness that all of us, no matter how we might feel about the politics of that conflict, need to listen to and remember.

Saturday is Armed Forces Day, and we hope you will be able to join Ed Nielsen at the store to remember, to reflect and to pay tribute to those who have served.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Read, Read! Tweet, Tweet!

A growing literary phenomenon of the last decade or so is the program where people from a given geographical area all read the same book and then get together to discuss it. (Rob Neufeld, for example, has developed the "Together We Read" project here in Western North Carolina.)

Now someone has taken this a step further, using the power of online social networking. Jeff Howe, author of Crowdsourcing and a contributing editor at "Wired" magazine, has come up with "One Book, One Twitter," a plan to get everyone on the worldwide social network discussing the same book. After announcing the project, Howe arranged a vote for which book to read, and the winner was Neil Gaiman's bestselling and acclaimed fantasy, American Gods. While Gaiman himself fully supports the project, he is actually somewhat ambivalent about the choice, since he considers American Gods to be one of his more "divisive" books. Nonetheless, he has promised to help out by "sending helpful or apologetic tweets to people who are stuck, offended, or very, very confused."

Since, at last count, Twitter had about 100 million registered users, this has the potential to be a very large "book club" indeed, even if only a tiny fraction of Twitter folk participate. The discussion began yesterday, and if you would like to follow along, simply go to Twitter's home page and enter "1b1t" (without quotation marks) in the Search box. You don't have to be registered with Twitter to view the discussion, though you do have to be registered to participate yourself.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Reading Month of May

Is the warm weather here to stay? Is it safe to look back at the wackiest winter in many a year as a thing now past? Will we soon start whining about how hot it is? (For myself, I can answer that last question with a definite "yes.")

Life may in general be slowing down to summer speed but the new titles continue to roll into Accent on Books. May is a busy month in that regard with a number of new books going on sale today. Here are some of them:

Innocent, by Scott Turow. More that twenty years after his classic, Presumed Innocent, Turow returns to the world of Rusty Sabich, who faces new threats and challenges after his wife is found dead. (By the way, we have signed copies of this book in stock.)

The Last Stand, by Nathaniel Philbrick. Through chronicles such as Mayflower and In the Heart of the Sea Philbrick has shown himself to be an historian who combines strong scholarship with vivid storytelling. Here, his subject is the Battle of the Little Bighorn, and its effects not only on its direct participants, but on the country as a whole.

This Body of Death, by Elizabeth George. A newly widowed Inspector Lynley returns to Scotland Yard to investigate a London murder that may be connected to a strange area of southern England known as New Forest. Vintage Elizabeth George.

I'll Mature When I'm Dead, by Dave Barry. One of America's foremost humorists is still remarkably childish and, really, would we have him any other way? Topics here include being a dad, being a (relatively minor) celebrity, and a certain medical procedure beginning with a "c" and sharing part of its name with the next punctuation mark in this sentence: yeah, that one.

And a few of the titles due to be published later on this month:

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, by Stieg Larsson. The final volume in Larsson's remarkable trilogy finds Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomqvist trying to clear Lisbeth from triple murder charges.

Nomad, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The author of the bestselling Infidel here continues her story as she begins a new life in the United States after her time underground, and reconnects with her family back home.

War, by Sebastian Junger. With the spellbinding style that made The Perfect Storm so compelling, Junger here recounts his experiences with a combat platoon in Afghanistan during their 15-month tour of duty.

Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer, by John Grisham. The king of the legal thrillers writes his first novel for young people, about a 13-year-old who finds himself dangerously involved in a high stakes murder trial.

And June promises new offerings from, among others, Sharyn McCrumb, Christopher Hitchens and Janet Evanovich. Never a dull moment here at Your Favorite Bookstore.

Monday, April 26, 2010

New Hall-of-Famers

Yesterday, the North Carolina Writers' Network announced this year's inductees into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame, founded in 1996 and administered by the Network. This year's honorees:

-- W. J. Cash (1900-1941), Charlotte-based journalist and author of the highly influential work, The Mind of the South.

-- Allan Gurganus, born in Rocky Mount, author of numerous books but probably still best known for his debut novel, Oldest Confederate Widow Tells All.

-- Robert Morgan of Hendersonville, whose works of fiction, poetry and nonfiction include the novel, Gap Creek, and the biography, Boone.

-- Walter Hines Page (1855-1918), born near Raleigh, one of the leading literary figure of the post-Civil War "New South" movement: journalist, editor and co-founder of the publishing house Doubleday, Page and Co.

-- Samm-Art Williams, raised in Burgaw, actor, playwright and screenwriter, who rose to prominence through the Negro Ensemble Company, and is the author of the highly acclaimed play, Home.

More about the Hall of Fame and the North Carolina Writers' Network can be found at the Writers' Network website.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Friday, 4/23, at Accent on Books: Wayne Caldwell

Wayne Caldwell has been busy promoting his wonderful new novel, Requiem by Fire, something that we at Accent on Books know to a certain extent first hand. In late February there was a reception for Wayne at Ambiance Interiors, his place of work, and we supplied the books. We performed the same function at the Requiem by Fire launch party at First Baptist Church in downtown Asheville in early March. And last week Wayne spoke on his "home turf" at the Enka-Candler library and, again, we were privileged to provide books for the event.

So isn't it about time that Wayne dropped by Accent on Books itself for a reading and signing? Absolutely, and that will happen this coming Friday, beginning at 6:00. Requiem by Fire is the sequel to Cataloochee, Wayne's highly regarded historical novel published three years ago, and shows the same combination of down home storytelling and literary excellence that won the earlier book national praise. And Wayne the speaker and raconteur is just as entertaining as Wayne the novelist.

So if you have not yet gotten a copy of Requiem by Fire, here's the perfect time to correct that oversight. And even if you have, we hope you'll drop by and greet this wonderful Asheville author who has justifiably garnered national attention both for himself, and for the landscape and people whose story he tells with such beauty and eloquence.

Monday, April 19, 2010

"Never mind the cherry tree -- where are the library books?"

The New York Society Library recently discovered that two overdue library books checked out long ago had never been returned. Sadly, it's a bit late now, since they were checked out on October 5, 1789, by a patron who was simply identified as "president."

As in the President. As in George Washington.

Yes, the Father Of Our Country owes the New York Society Library about $300,000 in overdue book fees, factoring in inflation. The library insists they only want the books back, but alas, they seemed to have disappeared. (No doubt the First Dog ate them.)

And what were these now irreplaceable volumes? Law of Nations, and a volume of debate transcripts from the British House of Commons.

Hope George enjoyed them.

Friday, April 16, 2010

"The entire book is written in stupid metaphors"

"I tend to use Amazon more as a resource about books than to actually purchase books."

First of all, I would like to thank Jeannette Demain for starting her blog post on Salon with this statement about an eminently sensible way to use the ubiquitous e-commerce site. (I believe many of our customers use Amazon for exactly this purpose.)

What Demain goes on to discuss is one of the most famous -- or infamous -- aspects of any webpage for a book on Amazon: the reviews. These, of course, can be written by anyone -- anonymously if they so choose -- whether they have bought the book or not, or even whether they have read the book or not. Thus, if your Uncle Fred has recently published his collected grocery lists you can praise that book to the skies and give it five stars. On the other hand, you can take deeply felt, or gratuitous, pot shots at all-time classics, and it is this latter phenomenon that Demain writes about here, complete with examples. There is the person who describes Jane Eyre with the quote used in the title of this blog post. The Grapes of Wrath is declared, "absolute tripe," and Where the Wild Things Are has "good graphics" but "the message is all wrong." A review of The Bible manages to reference both The Lord of the Rings and Miley Cyrus. My favorite, though, is this comment regarding A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: "This book is 3 words over and over again: MY LIFE IS BAD." I hope this reviewer doesn't decide to start commenting on math textbooks.

Bitter students, trolls or courageous renegades declaring that the literary emperors have no clothes? You can reach your own conclusions and read more here.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Montcoal, West Virginia

I wasn't born in these mountains, but I spent my summers here as a child and I've now lived here more than half my life. The vistas fire my spirit and the deep forests nourish my soul. I will never have the understanding of the land and its people that a true native would but I feel that some of its essence has entered my being.

It's a long way from Asheville to the mining communities of West Virginia, but we are connected by the ancient line of peaks and ridges known as the Appalachians. And today it is a connection of grief and remembrance as the community of Montcoal, West Virginia, deals with the final reckoning of the mining disaster that took twenty-nine lives. The strong and proud people of Montcoal don't need my help -- and they certainly don't need my pity -- but perhaps our thoughts and prayers can travel the spine of these mountains and provide some extra comfort and resilience.

Yesterday, a friend posted on Facebook this video of scenes from the Kentucky coal country set to Patty Loveless' magnificent recording of the Darrell Scott classic, "You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive." It's seems a poignant, fitting elegy on this day. And it's also, I think, a time to remember the famous quote from Mother Jones, the great rabble-rouser and organizer who did much of her work among coal miners: "Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living."

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Friday, 4/9, at Accent on Books: Sarah Addison Allen

"...then the apple tree started throwing apples and the story took on a life of its own...and my life hasn't been the same since."

That's Sarah Addison Allen talking about the genesis of her 2007 novel, Garden Spells, which went on to become a national bestseller. The acclaim grew with her next novel, The Sugar Queen, and now the Asheville native and resident has yet another huge hit on her hands with her new novel, The Girl Who Chased the Moon. We are thrilled that Sarah will be with us this coming Friday night to talk about and sign copies of her books, beginning at 6:00 PM.

Sarah's unique combination of down home romance and magical realism has proved to be a winner with fans nationwide, and it's gratifying to see such a talented -- and genuinely nice! -- hometown friend become a tremendous success. Her new book takes place in what has become recognizable Allen country: a small Southern town with supernatural elements such as giants, ghosts, mysterious wallpaper and magical cooking.

So come on down to Accent on Books Friday evening and share some tales with one of our favorite writers and favorite people. And, in the meantime, you can find out more about Sarah at her website.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Trying to Preserve an Ancient Art

As the Trappist monks of Our Lady of Guadalupe Abbey in Oregon celebrate Easter this year, they are facing a serious decline in one of the businesses that sustains them: bookbinding. For hundreds of years, many of the finest bookbinderies have been associated with monasteries; but now, a combination of digital publishing and economic hard times has led to a sharp drop off in business for the abbey. Instead of binding up collections of periodicals, college libraries are putting the documents online. And budget cuts have caused government agencies, another major customer, to put off upgrading their archives.

Appropriately enough, the monks are responding to this loss of business by going to the very sphere responsible for the drop off: cyberspace. They've set up a website, bookbindery.org, to promote their bindery not only to institutions but also to individuals, who form the customer base for one of their most cherished -- and renowned -- services: rebinding family bibles.

As Ed Langlois points out in an article about the monks' business, this is about more than the welfare of one Trappist abbey. Digital archiving may seem a cheap, efficient way to preserve documents, but a simple virus or software glitch could conceivably cause such a collection to disappear. And, as one of the brothers of Our Lady of Guadalupe Abbey points out, "a few catastrophes may bring people back to hard copies." Especially when created with care by those who know and love the art of bookbinding.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Planes and Spoons

And an update on another earlier post.

Last month I reported on the nominees for this year's "Bookseller/Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title of the Year" (and I helpfully provided a link to the ballot). Well, a winner has now been declared: Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes, by Daina Tamina, which beat out such finalists as Collectible Spoons of the Third Reich. Hyperbolic planes, in case you're wondering, are a type of shape analyzed in higher mathematics. And, as the Diagram Prize's administrator, Horace Bent of The Bookseller, put it, "I think what won it for the book is that, very simply, the title is completely bonkers." In other words, a very worthy winner.

More here.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

On the Corner of Queens and Providence -- STILL THERE!

Update to my previous post:

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library system has decided not to close any branches after all, but staff and programming will be severely curtailed. After further public meetings, officials came to the conclusion that the public overwhelmingly preferred having all the branches open, even in a depleted state, rather than fewer branches open in a stronger state. After all, once a branch has been closed, it would be almost impossible to open it again; restoring programs in an improved economy would be a much easier thing to do. The reprieve may be temporary, however -- further deep budget cuts are still likely during the next fiscal year.

One heartening note: over the past week the library system has received almost a quarter-million dollars in contributions from the general public, and the fundraising was continuing, with a number of churches, for example, planning to take up collections at their weekly services. Kudos to the people of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County for recognizing -- and standing up for -- the invaluable services that libraries provide.

Monday, March 22, 2010

On the Corner of Queens and Providence

It was hardly impressive-looking from the outside -- no great columns, no marble lions guarding the entrance -- just a plain, one-story brick building. But inside was a trove of endless riches, or so it seemed to me as a kid. It was the South Branch Library, located on the corner of Queens and Providence in Charlotte, the city in which I was born and raised.

As of April 3, it will be gone.

In devastating news last Thursday, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Library system announced that it was closing twelve library branches and laying off a third of its staff due to budget cuts; among those closed was the modest yet beloved temple of my youth.

I moved away from Charlotte more than thirty years ago, and have been back only occasionally to visit what family I have left there, so I have no real knowledge of the area's economic and budget situation. Maybe the funds cut from the library budget really are needed to, say, feed, clothe and shelter the poor. But it's hard for me to not see last week's announcement as terribly shortsighted. After all, it is in tough economic times that the free services provided by libraries are most needed and most valued. Not everyone can afford computers and internet access, and libraries have the resources to aid job searches, supply information for job training and provide future generations with education, entertainment and inspiration to reach their full potential.

The destruction of the library system is not complete; there were other branches that escaped the axe, though further closings have not been ruled out. And the South Branch of my childhood was not exactly in one of the poorer sections of town. Still, though the director of the library system called last Thursday the worst day of his career, I think it was a lot more than that. It was a dark day for all of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Where Shakespeare Meets Nora Roberts and the Berenstain Bears

Faithful readers of Page 854 will no doubt be aware of my (hopefully not unhealthy) fascination with odd contests and strange lists. Earlier this week, courtesy of the invaluable Book Bench blog (see link on this page) I was introduced to a jaw-dropper: Wikipedia's "list of best-selling fiction authors." Supposedly, this is "a list of best-selling fiction authors to date and in any language" based on "approximate numbers provided or repeated by reliable sources" of "all fiction books written or co-written by an author." The resulting list is full of enough incoherencies and weird juxtapositions to give anyone a case of near-fatal literary whiplash. The first three places, for example, are held by William Shakespeare, Agatha Christie and Barbara Cartland (well, at least all three are English). Further down in the top ten we find Danielle Steel, Dr. Seuss and Gilbert Patten. (Who?? Evidently he was a dime novelist from early in the last century.) And so on down the line with, for example, Mickey Spillane, C. S. Lewis (they're right next to each other), Ann Martin of The Babysitters Club and -- no surprise here -- James Patterson.

In a classic understatement, the article notes that this is "an incomplete list which may never be able to satisfy certain standards for completion." And since Wikipedia is open source it's possible you might be able to briefly add your own favorite author -- or even yourself -- to the list. Who knows -- Leo Tolstoy, Nora Roberts and Frank G. Slaughter might enjoy your company.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Orange

This morning the longlist was announced for the Orange Prize, given annually to the woman judged to have written the best full-length novel in English published in Britain in the past year. (The novelist herself can be of any nationality.) The Orange Prize has been the subject of controversy over the years, with some praising it for calling attention to women writers who might otherwise be marginalized and others criticizing it as sexist or patronizing. Regardless, the award is considered of major importance at least in Britain, and winning it can be a transforming experience in a writer's career. The longlist includes a lot of stellar names, led by Hilary Mantel, whose novel, Wolf Hall, won the Man Booker prize in Britain last year, and just last week won the National Book Critics Circle Fiction prize here in the US. American writers on this year's Orange Prize longlist include Barbara Kingsolver (The Lacuna, set partially here in Asheville), Lorrie Moore (The Gate at the Stairs) and Kathryn Stockett (The Help).

The shortlist -- or finalists -- for the Orange Prize will be announced in April, and the winner in June. The complete longlist can be found at the Orange Prize website.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Marching On

While we have been peddling books around Buncombe County (see previous post), we have also been busy with events here at the store. March has been roaring like a lion all month and so, just to catch you up, here are the remaining store events for the next couple of weeks.

Friday, 3/19, 6:00 PM: Lenten Author Series, Part 2, with Ken Sehested, co-pastor of the Circle of Mercy Congregation here in Asheville. Ken's book, which came out last year, is called, In the Land of the Living: Prayers Personal and Public.

Saturday, 3/20, 2:00 PM: Katherine Charron, assistant professor of history at N C State, will be here to discuss her book, Freedom's Teacher: The Life of Septima Clark. This new biography of an unjustly neglected figure in the Civil Rights movement is a major contribution to both women's history and African-American history in the second half of the Twentieth Century.

Sunday, 3/21, 3:00 PM: Nan Chase, whose previous books include Asheville: A History, and Bark House Style, will be back with her new book, Eat Your Yard, a guide to landscaping that provides not only beauty but also sustenance.

Friday, 3/26, 6:00 PM: Lenten Author Series, Part 3, with Katerina Whitley, adjunct professor at Appalachian State, and author of numerous books including Speaking for Ourselves, Speaking for Ourselves and Walking the Way of Sorrows.

And get ready to mark your calendars for April as we celebrate National Poetry Month and bring in a number of authors both locally popular and nationally known, to enrich your reading experiences and your lives.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

On the Road

Here in the North Carolina mountains we're trying not to get accustomed to our current spell of early spring weather for fear that we will be thrown right back into the gales and storms of winter.

Last week, for example, the wind blew and the snow fell, but that didn't stop Accent on Books from taking our show on the road on three different occasions. On Sunday and Friday last week, we were proud to take copies of Requiem by Fire, Wayne Caldwell's new novel, to two different receptions honoring the increasingly famous author. Wayne and wife Mary have been great friends of the store for years, so we are always glad to do anything we can to get his books out in front of his fans, both new and old.

Sandwiched between those two events, on Tuesday evening of last week, the eminent psychologist Philip Zimbardo gave a presentation at UNC-Asheville. Dr. Ann Weber, a member of the UNC-A faculty and a collaborator with Dr. Zimbardo on a psychology textbook, is another valued friend and customer of ours, and was kind enough to ask us to provide books for this event. As those living here might recall, there was heavy snow falling virtually all day Tuesday, though blessedly the temperature was just warm enough to keep the roads mostly liquid rather than frozen. Fortunately, the white stuff didn't prevent a tremendous crowd from showing up for Dr. Zimbardo's event, and they were rewarded with a fascinating and thought-provoking presentation. Again, it was something we were pleased to be a part of.

Thanks to Wayne and Ann for allowing us to be associated with these events, and if you ever want to request our famous Accent on Books "book catering" service, just let us know!

Monday, March 8, 2010

International Women's Day

Every year March 8 is observed as International Women's Day, "a global day celebrating the economic, political, and social achievements of women past, present and future." The theme for this years celebration is "equal rights, equal opportunities -- progress for all." To mark the occasion, here are a few titles available from Accent on Books dealing with the triumphs and struggles of women in today's world. (Books are hardcover unless otherwise noted.)

Half the Sky, by Nicholas Kristoff & Sheryl WuDunn. Two Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters present stories of courageous women throughout the world fighting for justice and equality. The authors explain that expanding rights for women is not only the right thing to do but also a key to overcoming global poverty.

This Child Will Be Great, by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. In 2006, Sirleaf was sworn in as President of Liberia. Here, she tells her remarkable story: from imprisonment and exile, through her career in international finance and development, to becoming the first woman president in African history.

Jesus, Jobs and Justice, by Bettye Collier-Thomas. A book that uncovers the often hidden history of African-American women and their struggle for equal rights and justice within the context of Christianity. Collier-Thomas shows how the Christian faith was an inspiration in the fight for equality, but also how the institutional Church set up barriers of racism and sexism that these women had to overcome.

In the Land of Invisible Women, by Qanta A. Ahmed, M.D. (paperback). In this memoir Ahmed, a British Muslim doctor, takes a job in Saudi Arabia after being denied a visa to stay in the United States. While she finds hostility and discrimination as a professional woman in the Kingdom, she also finds moments of grace, and unexpected strength in her Islamic faith.

A Thousand Sisters, by Lisa J. Shannon. Lisa Shannon was living a comfortable life in the United States when she became aware of the horrific conditions for women in the war-torn Congo. This is the story of her awakening to activism and about how, armed with passion and determination, each of us can make a difference.

I, Rigoberta Menchu: An Indian Woman in Guatemala (paperback). The second edition of the now classic autobiography written by the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize winner. A stirring, powerful tale of the indigenous communities of Latin America, and their efforts to overcome oppression.

The Challenge for Africa, by Wangari Maathai. Founder of the Green Belt Movement, Maathai is another Nobel Laureate. In her new book she offers a realistic yet hopeful set of proposals for overcoming poverty in Africa through responsible development and environmental protection. Wangarai Maathai's memoir, Unbowed, is also available, in a paperback edition.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Able to Leap Seven Figures in a Single Bound

Accent on Books doesn't deal in used books (it really is a very different type of business), nor do we sell comics, but maybe we should reconsider. This past Monday a new record was set when a single comic book sold for $1 million. That is more than three times the previous record, which was $317,000. What's more, the sale took place after the comic was posted on a web site for all of one minute.

What was this miracle publication? "Action Comics #1", which featured the first appearance of Superman. (The $317,000 comic was another copy of the same thing, but not in as good condition.) Evidently the Man of Steel is to comics what Honus Wagner is to baseball cards.

And how much did "Action Comics #1" cost when it was first published back in 1938? About 10 cents. You do the math.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Gold Mine for Writers

Are you a writer, or do you aspire to be one? If so, then The Guardian has quite a gift for you. For a feature called, "Ten Rules for Writing Fiction," the British newspaper canvassed a wide variety of writers to get their basic rules for how to succeed at their craft. Among those who participated were Margaret Atwood, Roddy Doyle, Richard Ford, Neil Gaiman, P. D. James, Elmore Leonard and Joyce Carol Oates. The title of the article is somewhat misleading as not every author supplied exactly ten rules, and they work as well for nonfiction as for fiction.

There are far too many great rules to even highlight the best, so I'd just suggest you check it out for yourself. You can do so here.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Panic on Martha's Vineyard!

Can't resist passing on this anecdote conveyed in 140 characters or less via Twitter, from Katherine at Bunch of Grapes Bookstore on Martha's Vineyard:

"Just sold stack of books to panicked vacationer whose Kindle broke. *booksdon'tbreak*"

What more needs to be said.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

She May Not Be Original, But She's "Authentic"!

Plagiarism seems to have become a more serious -- or at least more high profile -- issue in recent years, no doubt due in part to the growth of the internet and all the material found there which can be easily appropriated. Just this week the New York Times uncovered plagiarism by one of its reporters, and J. K. Rowling found herself the the defendant in yet another -- quite possibly frivolous -- lawsuit, in which the estate of the author of a previously unknown children's book accused the "Harry Potter" author of stealing his material.

And then there's the case of Helene Hegemann. As the Times itself reported earlier this week, Hegemann, a 17-year-old German writer who has already had quite a bit of success, was found to have lifted whole pages of another novelist's work and included them in her new novel, Axolotl Roadkill. But here the story takes an unusual twist. Instead of trying to deny the accusations, or concede she'd made a mistake, Hegemann owned up to the appropriation of the material and insisted she didn't do anything wrong. "There's no such thing as originality, only authenticity," Hegemann has been quoted as saying. "I myself don't feel it is stealing, because I put all the material in a completely different and unique context." And Hegemann has gotten at least some support from the German literary establishment. Her novel had been nominated for the Leipzig Book Fair fiction prize, and remains in the running even after the recent revelations.

So is it stealing? Hegemann seems to see herself as the literary equivalent of a hip hop DJ, "mixing" materials from other sources to make something new. And the Jacket Copy blog quotes Jonathan Lethem as still appreciating William S. Burrough's originality even after discovering that Naked Lunch had numerous snippets of other authors' material. ("Burroughs was interrogating the universe with scissors and a paste pot.")

Of course attribution is key here: it isn't plagiarism if you acknowledge your source. But Hegemann didn't acknowledge her "authentic" borrowings until she was confronted with the evidence. Personally, I agree with Lee Ellis' conclusion as posted on The Book Bench: "Cutting and pasting shouldn't be considered writing. And though 'mixing' has a nice ring to it -- what about blending? Or melding? -- it doesn't hide the dirty reality that someone is getting robbed."

Thursday, February 18, 2010

"The Book"

I have added a new item to the "Links" area of this blog: a new website for us book geeks to get lost in (great -- just what we needed). It is a site created by the New Republic magazine and is simply called, "The Book." In addition to reviews of current books by New Republic staffers, it also features book-related articles from other websites and a feature which takes a second look at older titles. All fairly standard, but there are other features of a more historical nature which I find particularly appealing. One is a series of archived articles from nearly 100 years of TNR's history; currently up are articles by E. M. Forster on Jane Austen and Richard Hofstadter on Abraham Lincoln. The other feature is vintage video links of famous authors. So far, videos featuring such luminaries as Nabokov, Beckett and Berryman have been featured, and currently on the page is an interview with (a possibly drunk) Jack Kerouac.

At any rate, check it out yourself. You can click on the link in the right-hand column, or simply click here.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Yay, Mr. President! Boo, Mr. President!

Happy Presidents Day! As we celebrate the achievements of George and Abe and all the others, we realize that much of what we know of our earlier presidents is shrouded in myth and partisan interpretation, while we can rely on straightforward biographical facts when it comes to the most recent residents of the White House.

Or maybe not. While it may be a bit harder to sustain utter untruths about our recent presidents the facts of their lives can still be interpreted in startlingly different ways. And as a recent article at the website Slate demonstrated, that difference can be particularly pronounced when books geared towards adults and books intended for kids look at the same incidents from a president's childhood. Take the young Lyndon Johnson's habit of parceling out chores to his friends or siblings or other relatives. While a child's biography of Johnson portrays this as a Tom Sawyeresque game by a youngster showing initiative, Robert Caro, in his famous biography of the future Master of the Senate, describes the young Lyndon as a "harsh taskmaster" who would rather force his mother to gather wood than do it himself. And this seems to be the general difference between presidential biographies for the young and the not-so-young: youthful idealism is transformed into adult disillusionment.

More examples of this difference can be found in the Slate article here.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

"Map-Based Comparative Genomics in Legumes"

No, you have not suddenly found yourself at a blog dealing with the outer fringes of scientific research. The title above is one of this year's entrants in an eagerly awaited contest in bookworld: "The Bookseller/Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title of the Year." Administered by the remarkable Horace Bent, a columnist/blogger with the British publication, The Bookseller, this annual award has, since 1978, brought to international attention publications which have taught us such things as How to Avoid Huge Ships and Bombproof Your Horse, as well as the finer points of Living With Crazy Buttocks. As usual, the competition this year is fierce and unrelenting, with choices such as Bondage for Beginners, Collectible Spoons of the Third Reich, Dental Management of Sleep Disorders and Father Christmas Needs a Wee. And unlike many other hoity-toity literary prizes, with this one the public is invited -- nay, encouraged -- to help pick the winner. All you have to do is click on the ballot, check off as many or as few choices as you want and click on "done." It's your chance to help confer a unique and -- judging by the number of weird book titles out there -- highly coveted honor.

By the way, the Diagram Prize has now itself become the subject of a book which is titled, Do-It-Yourself Brain Surgery and Other Implausibly Titled Books. It's available at Accent on Books.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Now, where were we?

It's been a crazy ten days, what with lots of store chores, dicey weather and computer issues but there are at least a couple of items that I thought I would at least note in passing.

First, the death of J. D. Salinger at the age of 91. Since he was strongly associated with New York City it is perhaps appropriate that two publications located there provided some of the best coverage and reaction. The New Yorker's "Book Bench" had tributes from a number of writers including Joshua Ferris, Dave Eggers and A. M. Homes. And the New York Times' "Room for Debate" blog hosted a discussion on the relevance of Holden Caulfield and Catcher in the Rye for today's teenagers.

Second, the Great Amazon-Macmillan e-book price war. This was a crazy, complex two-children-in-the-sandbox kind of thing, but what it basically amounted to was Macmillan wanting to gain a bit of control over the pricing of its e-books sold by Amazon, and Amazon reacting by making it no longer possible to buy any Macmillan books at its site. The two sides have made up, at least for the moment, but Macmillan seems to be the winner here, since they have received support from two other "Big Six" publishers -- Hachette and HarperCollins. The precipitating factor in all this was undoubtedly Apple's introduction of its IPad device two weeks ago, since the new terms Macmillan wanted with Amazon were identical to the ones it had agreed on with Apple for Apple's "IBooks" store. Does any of this have any relevance for the huge majority of readers who still prefer "real" books to e-books? Insofar as this affair has shown a chink in the armor of Amazon's online monopoly I think it may be a good thing. Much cyber-ink has spilled regarding all this, but one of the best articles I've come across is this post from acclaimed young adults books author Scott Westerfeld.

Meanwhile, winter marches on, great books are still being written and published, and Accent on Books will continue to sell them. Real books -- the kind printed on paper with no download or batteries or gadget required to read them.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


In my January 25 post about the books Phil Jackson gave Lakers players I referred to Roberto Bolano as a "Mexican" author. Even though 2666 is set in Mexico, and Bolano spent many years there, he was, in fact, born in Chile. The blog entry has been corrected to reflect that.

Man's Best Reading Audience

Grouch Marx supposedly once said, "Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside a dog, it's too dark to read." One group, however, is proving that a dog can be a powerful incentive to literacy. For ten years now, Intermountain Therapy Animals has operated a program called Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D.), which brings therapy dogs into schools, libraries and other settings so that children can read to them. Dogs, of course, are a wonderful audience for young readers, conferring 100% rapt attention as the child reads aloud.

I urge to go to the organization's website and click on "R.E.A.D. Pictures." It will take to a slide show of children reading to dogs that will make your day.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Block out! Hit your free throws! Read!

Phil Jackson has established himself as one of the most successful coaches in the history of the National Basketball Association, having won a record ten titles. (Of course, having Michael Jordan on his Chicago teams and having Kobe Bryant on his current Los Angeles Lakers team hasn't hurt.) He has also earned the nickname of the "Zen master," for his interest in Buddhism and his sometimes unusual approaches to coaching.

For example, at the beginning of each season, he gives each of his players a book to read, and no, these books have nothing to do with the history of basketball or the execution of Jackson's vaunted triangle offense. Rather, they are general fiction or nonfiction titles which Jackson chooses especially for each player. This year, for example, Kobe Bryant received a distinguished work of Western fiction: Montana, 1948, by Larry Watson. Luke Walton, son of NBA hall-of-famer and infamous free spirit Bill Walton, got Edward Abbey's The Monkey Wrench Gang. Jackson's Spanish center Pau Gasol should be kept busy reading Chilean author Roberto Bolano's massive 2066. Perhaps the most interesting gift was the one given to new Laker Ron Artest, famous not only for his intense playing style but his ferocious temperament: he got a copy of Jackson's own book, Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior. You might want to read that very carefully, Ron.

A complete list of Jackson's bibliographic bestowals can be found at the New Yorker's Book Bench blog.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Spare the Blake, Spoil the Scholar

Undoubtedly there are some people who would consider reading the poetry of William Blake -- especially the "prophetic" poems -- to be a punishing experience. However, the headmaster at West Park School, in Derby, England, has given that idea a somewhat unusual twist: he's come up with a form of detention punishment quite different from anything the Brat Pack had to deal with in The Breakfast Club. Misbehaving students at West Park School are required to transcribe Blake's poem, "Jerusalem" while listening to Mozart's "Requiem" and Verdi's "Aida".

Would such an experience increase a student's appreciation for Romantic poetry and classical music, or increase a hostile attitude towards such things? Hard to say, of course, but evidence indicates the novel -- or poetic -- punishment does have a deterrent effect. Since the headmaster introduced the practice four years ago, the number of students ending up in detention has decreased dramatically.

More here.

Monday, January 18, 2010

"In that state between two waters"

Over the past week we have been appalled, saddened and occasionally inspired by the news coming out of Haiti. We have heard frequently of the poverty and despair said to be endemic in that country, and have listened to pundits and crackpots offer reasons for those circumstances.

In Sunday's New York Times, however, Madison Smartt Bell testified to the remarkable riches flowing from that Caribbean island and its extraordinary people. Art, music, literature and -- yes, Pat Robertson -- even Vodou have been a source of pride, courage and resilience in this country born from the determination of slaves throwing off their yoke of tyranny. How does one endure beyond all expectation of endurance? Perhaps part of the answer lies with these riches.

Madison Smartt Bell's article is here.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Friday, 1/15, at Accent on Books: Peggy Tabor Millin

Peggy Tabor Millin has been a prominent presence in the Western North Carolina writing community for years, and we are glad that finally we will be formally, officially hosting her for an event. She will be presenting her latest book, Women, Writing & Soul-Making: Creativity and the Sacred Feminine, this coming Friday evening, beginning at 6:00.

Peggy is the creator of a process called, "Centered Writing Practice" which she describes as "a free writing technique that bypasses the linear left brain and opens the path for intuitive creative process." The result is a writing experience that has benefits for personal growth and self-awareness, as well as engendering creativity. It's a process that Peggy has taught at numerous workshops and conferences, as well as through individual consultations, and it is the inspiration for her new book.

We hope you'll join us for light refreshments and fascinating conversations this coming Friday with Peggy Tabor Millin at Accent on Books.

More about Peggy and her work can be found at her website.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

OK, but I draw the line at anything by Ann Coulter

Have you broken all your resolutions yet? Mine are usually in pieces by mid-afternoon New Years Day. However, if you're still soldiering on with your good intentions -- or if you want to start new batch of resolutions after destroying the first group -- Laura Miller at Salon.com has a suggestion for you: broaden your reading horizons. Her blog entry is provocatively titled, "Read a book you think you'll hate in 2010," but, as she explains, that's not really what she means. "We all have our little biases," she contends, "and far be it from me to suggest that people force themselves to read books they don't like, but sometimes that's all these preferences are -- prejudices." If you automatically reject fiction, or nonfiction, or short stories, or books by men writers, or women writers, or whatever, well, you may want to reconsider.

If, like me, you're a pretty slow reader then obviously you wouldn't want to waste your time plodding through a book you simply don't like. But who knows -- that book of short stories about 12th-century Mongolia written by a transgender Brazilian now living in Kentucky may turn out to be your favorite book of the year.