Future of Books

lynch B&N[youtube:

This funny short film illustrates what not to do in case you were thinking about returning your Nooks (in light of the recent news.) Changing times for Barnes & Noble, huh? What do you think: is this the end of the big box bookstore, or just a temporary hiccup?

(Above photo of B&N former Chief Executive William Lynch; video from by Iris Huey)



maddieonthingsYou guys, Maddie is coming to Decatur. Get excited. And then get in line, because I am obsessed. Little Shop of Stories. April 4th.

Have you heard about the dog with the incredible balance and interminable patience? I have never considered myself a dog person, but after spending an embarrassing amount of time one afternoon pouring over photographer Theron Humphrey‘s Instagram, there’s now a growing part of me that would love my very own coonhound. Wonder if Maddie has a sister.

They have a book out. Check it.

(Photography by Theron Humphrey via Maddie On Things)

Every now and then I wander over to my local library in hopes of finding a copy of that new book I’ve been hearing so much about, but that I’m not yet willing to sink money into. (These trips usually coincide with my pay schedule, would you believe it?) Most days the more trending books are nowhere to be found. But every now and again, I find exactly what I’d been looking for (whether I knew it or not).

Such was the case with Nathan Englander’s collection of short stories, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, a direct allusion to Raymond Carver’s classic and readily assigned in MFA programs short story, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. It’s the sort of Carver-worship we’ve come to expect from the current stars of the literary world (Eugenides, Franzen, the late Foster-Wallace…). But no matter. Like Carver’s characters, Englander’s characters are often struggling to connect with one another, though less on an emotional level and more on a religious one. The common thread running through all of the stories in this collection is the characters’ Jewish faith and/or heritage, which is often at odds with themselves, their society, their family or neighbor.

In the title story (and one of my favorites), two couples — one secular, one hasidic — get high together around a kitchen table (with weed pilfered from the secular couples’ son’s secret stash). The tension you expect to persist throughout the story as ideologies clash and worlds collide takes a turn for the hysterical when the hasidic wife carves a bong out of an apple and then rolls a blunt in a paper tampon wrapper. But then, moving in time with the brewing tropical storm outside, the tension returns when the two couples play the “Anne Frank game,” where they hide in the secular couples’ large, American-style pantry and imagine which of their friends would hide them in the event of another Holocaust.

Such is the tenor of Englander’s stories: flippancy turned sinister. We see it in the elderly Jewish retirees in the story “Camp Sundown,” who become convinced that one of the attendees was a Nazi camp guard and stage an all-out witch hunt to get rid of him. The sinister element mixes with the comical, as in the case of the retiree couple who are terrified of their cabin burning down and satisfy themselves by wearing smoke detectors around their necks on specially-crafted lanyards.

A thought crept into my mind as I was reading “Camp Sundown” that I immediately tried to dismiss because it went against everything I’d been taught in my Ellie Wiesel/Art Spiegelman-dominated literature courses: where were the likable Holocaust survivors in these stories? Take a scene in “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank,” when the secular husband recounts a story he finds hilarious about the time he visited his father at his Florida retiree village. After playing a round of golf, the father and son are changing in the locker room when the son looks over and notices the number on the arm of the old man sitting next to him. The gentleman’s number is just one digit different from his father’s, which would mean they stood in line together at the camp. After pointing the fact out to the two elderly gentlemen, the father sneers: “All that means is, he cut ahead of me in line. There, same as here. This guy’s a cutter, I just didn’t want to say.”

That is, I think, the skill in Englander’s story craft. The subject matter alone is uncomfortable (especially the story “Sister Hills,” which follows the bloody history of two families who establish an Israeli settlement in Palestine in the 1970s), but Englander’s treatment of it goes one step father, putting us at odds with our comfortable American image of the Jewish experience. And that is the moment when we connect the most with Englander’s characters; for a moment we share the pull that his characters feel: between respect and disdain for their heritage, loyalty and rebelliousness, Americanism and Jewishness.

Have you read this collection yet? Will you? Fans of Art Spiegelman’s Maus series will appreciate Englander.

IMG_1842Linocut in progresslinocut inkingIMG_1577You may remember, I discovered linocut printmaking on Etsy a couple months ago and felt an instant pull to try my hand at it. What do I love about linocut? How to explain…

It’s physical. As in sore shoulders from keeping even pressure and a precise trajectory on the cutter. Physical, as in nicked fingers and thumbs when you’re first testing the limits of the cutter. Physical, as in aching neck from hunching over your projects. Hours pass.

It’s involved, a multi-step process. Drawing or designing your art, either directly onto the tile or in photoshop. Transferring the mirror image of your design onto the tile using graphite paper. Carving. Inking. Printing. Printing again.

Copies! You can print more than one.

Inking. As you can see in the pictures, it’s best to roll the ink out onto a nonporous surface. My glass Ikea table works nicely. It’s like being a kid again and painting on the furniture, only this time it’s allowed. Because it washed right off.

It has texture. I’m no artist, haven’t taken an art class since middle school, so I don’t have the right terminology to describe what I love about the look and feel of linocut. But texture comes to mind. The ink reveals the topography of the artist’s process. It’s no coincidence, I’m sure, that birds, nature and landscapes are popular motifs in linocut. The carving tools allow the natural textures and angles to shine through.

Dig into it. There’s something cathartic about eliminating negative space. Digging into the soft linoleum, cutting it away. It’s a picker’s dream.

Have you tried your hand at linocut before? Or another kind of printmaking? I’m enthralled by the entire genre. This video was a major source of inspiration. This one, too, in case you’re in a video-watching mood today.


It’s official. Nina Sankovitch, author of Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, announced her next big thing: a nonfiction book about letter writing. The author who famously read a book every day for a year got the idea for her second book when she moved into her New England home and uncovered a trunk of letters hidden in her back yard. (Doesn’t that sound like the preface to some Victorian sensational novel?)

Sankovitch explains: “The trunk was filled with hundreds of letters written by a boy to his mother from when he was about four years old, through his four years at Princeton from 1908 – 1912, and up until the death of his mother in 1937. I’ve always loved reading letters, and the discovery set me on a quest of understanding the unique qualities of letters that make them such forces for connection and remembrance.”

A trunk full of old letters? Just hiding out in your back yard? How lucky can you get! That is the sort of thing my sister and I used to dream of finding on our many excursions through the woods of our back yard and into the cluttered treasure trove of our attic. No such luck.

I suppose I’ll just have to live vicariously through Nina, for the second time.

Do you still write letters by hand? I’d love to get into it!


theimperfectionistsSometimes you don’t fully understand the extent to which a book makes an impression on you  until some time has passed. This was my realization the other day, sitting on big pank and contemplating my bookshelf.  The book that caught my eye and that inspired this theory was The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. I read The Imperfectionists close to a year ago and enjoyed it very much, but now, almost a year later, I feel I could give it a still more glowing review. It has benefited from months of positive (rarely acknowledged) reflection. The characters, all connected with a failing English newspaper based in Rome, never really left me when I closed the book for the final time and I find that I think of them often, like old friends long since dispersed by the winds of life who are still conjured up from time to time in the form of “I wonder what happened to Sue.”

The themes, too, I continue to contemplate. It was a timely novel, published in 2008 I believe, revolving around the drama of one newspaper in its final death throws. Rachman is a seasoned journalist, and so you’d expect him to have a thing or two to say on the subject. But despite this very topical subject matter, the novel is very much about people, individual lives all touched by this pipe dream of a newspaper. Like any good journalist, Rachman knows that even the most fact-based news story should have a human heartbeat, and The Imperfectionists has many. We discover in the novel’s final story (it is, in fact, a novel of interconnected short stories) that the newspaper itself, the non-human focus of the book, was not built upon some business-minded vision of disseminating good (English) news to expats in Europe, but upon the unreliable and shifting sands of human emotion, namely, love. Is Rachman making a more general statement about the demise of print news? That it was too human, too imperfect a dream to ever survive the inhuman age of computers?

At it’s core, The Imperfectionists is a book about people in all their volatile, emotional glory. Which is why, all these months later, I still remember the tragic Arthur Gopal, Obituary Writer turned Culture Editor, stunted life-long reader Ornella de Monterecchi, stuck in 1994 because she refuses to miss a single paper, and “Accounts Payable” Abbey Pinnola, who gets a piece of her own medicine when she falls for copydesk Dave, who she’s just fired.

Have you noticed that certain books just stick with you longer than others? Surprising ones, too! Which ones have stuck with you? What were the most memorable books of 2012 for you? I’d love to hear!

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