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.