Saturday, July 31, 2010

E-reading, yes or no?

I just finished reading my first book on an e-reader device. (We own the actual book, but I had an opportunity to try out the device and wanted to see how it was to read on it for some lengths of time.)

The device is pretty nifty. I like the color touch screen, I like that I can turn the pages with my finger (a 'la the iPad), I like how portable it is and easy to hold. I like that I can change the font size. It opens exactly to the page I'm on when I turn it on, which is great. And, I'm not sure if this is true, but it seems to me that I read faster on the device.

But it isn't a book.

While the device has all the book's content (plus reviews and overviews and rankings, etc.), there are some things that the device can't give me. I'm missing seeing the cover every time I sit down to read. I miss feeling the heft, feeling the paper...this one is a hardcover, not very big, good picture on the front...see?

One Good Dog

(And yes, I can see the cover on the device if I click to get there, just not every time I pick it up.)

Books have personalities, not just the stories inside, but the overall look and feel, the cover picture/art/style/colors, the weight and heft of the book, the size of the text, the font, the texture of the pages...

On the e-reader device, most of that is missing. Each book feels the same in the hand, because (obviously) they are all loaded onto the one device. The device that feels and looks the same every time I pick it up.

I am enjoying the book I'm reading...hmmm, strange, as I write that it doesn't feel that I'm reading a 'book'. I am reading, it's worthwhile, a good story, likable characters (especially the dog!), I just don't feel as though I'm reading an actual book. strange.

For travel, the device would be great. We usually take lots of books with us when we travel, books that take up space (in luggage with space that is increasingly valuable) and are heavy (though we do take books we want to leave, continuing them on their Bookcrossing journeys). With an e-reader device there would be more options for what we had available to read at any given time.

The device does make the books more accessible. At one point, I was reading The Passage, which is a BIG hardcover. While I was lugging it to and from work to read it on breaks, I thought that an e-reader device might be handy (though I really LIKED the book itself even if it was heavy).

One of my co-workers owns one of the devices. She commented that sometimes she has a hard time telling how close she is to the end of the book she's reading. It does show which page you're on on the screen, and there is a progress bar at the bottom that shows how far through the book you are (which I liked), AND, she still sometimes feels that the ending sneaks up on her.

So do I want to own one of these devices? I like books themselves too much to think that I would use a device exclusively. Does it serve a purpose? Would I use it sometimes? Probably.

I am reading Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart which is set in the not too distant future. However it's distant enough so that most people use digital devices to read. Lenny, the main character, pulls out a regular book to read on a plane...

"I noticed that some of the first-class people were staring me down for having an open book. 'Duder, that thing smells like wet socks,' said the young jock next to me, a senior Credit ape at LandO'LakesGMFord. I quickly sealed the Chekhov in my carry-on, stowing it far int he overhead bin. As the passengers returned to their flickering displays, I took out my apparat and began to thump it loudly with my finger to show how much I loved all things digital, while sneaking nervous glances at the throbbing cavern around me, the wine-dulled business travelers lost to their own electronic lives."

Super Sad True Love Story: A Novel

Customers have expressed concern that reading regular books, book books, will end. And maybe it will. Though I hope not for a long long time.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

The Magicians: A Novel
I just finished reading The Magicians. The premise of the book was appealing, touted as Harry Potter for adults, it borrowed (heavily sometimes) from Harry Potter as well as Narnia, to create another world of magic.

Quentin, a high school senior, finds himself taking a test to see if he is worthy to be admitted to a school for magicians. Of course he is, and this book covers his entire five years (well, four, he skips a year) at Brakebills (this would be the Harry Potter part), as well as some time in Fillory (this would be the Narnia part).

Quentin is not a particularly likable character. Throughout the book he is waiting for good things to happen, for life to start. At first he thinks everything will be great because magic is real! He's going to a school for magicians!

"And then a vast stony weight suddenly lifted off Quentin's chest. It felt like it had been there his entire life, an invisible albatross, a granite millstone holding him down, and all at once it just dropped away and disappeared without a splash. His chest expanded. He was going to bob up to the ceiling like a balloon. They were going to make him a magician, and all he had to do was sign. Jesus, what the hell was he thinking? Of course he was going to sign. This was everything he'd always wanted, the break he'd given up on years ago. It was right in front of him. He was finally on the other side, down the rabbit hole, through the looking glass. He was going to sign the papers and he was going to be a motherfucking magician. Or what the hell else was he going to do with his life?"

This isn't Hogwarts, and going to a school for magicians does not solve Quentin's problems. Throughout the book, throughout the rigorous years of learning magic (including being transformed into different animals, which, at one point, introduces him to some wild sex and no, this book is not rated G or even PG), Quentin is depressed and dissatisfied.

Sometimes I liked seeing how Grossman's magical world differed (and was the same) as Harry Potter's or Narnia's. However, the author borrowed SO heavily from Harry Potter and Narnia, sometimes I found myself rolling my eyes. Really? Four empty thrones in Fillory? Four??? And a wood between worlds? Grossman had enough imagination, it didn't seem to me that he should have had to rely so heavily on other books.

I didn't particularly care for Quentin and, frankly, most of the characters. (Okay, I liked Alice). I did like that this was a more grown-up magical world, with sex and alcohol and drugs, though sometimes the overuse of those things made the characters rather tiresome.

There is a sequel coming out in the summer of 2011, The Magician King. I'm not sure I care enough about Quentin or anybody else in the story to read it.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Scam, A Favor, and Ickiness...

A woman in her early 30's approached one of the booksellers and said she'd like to ask a favor. "But only if you're not busy. If you're busy, then never mind." She went on, "Could I just check my email really quick?" The bookseller (who happened to be a manager) informed her that none of us are able to check email at any of our computers, email and facebook and so on are blocked from the work computers. The woman thanked her and walked out without buying anything.


Someone paid for their purchase using 65 one dollar coins.


A woman approached the register with a new teen fiction book in hardcover and a very crumpled receipt. She was in her late 30's or early 40's, shoulder length brown hair, wearing a light pink blouse. She seemed agitated. Her hands were dirty. She said she'd like to return the book. According to the receipt, the book had been purchased that same day. The woman didn't stop talking, about how she'd gotten ink on her hands, how she'd like to return the book and exchange it for something else, how she just found out that she didn't need this book. I said I could hold it up front and she could look around. She seemed twitchy (I suspected meth), and I could smell alcohol. Impaired much? She left the register WITH the receipt and without the book. After a few minutes she exited the store. I called a manager to let her know about this, we counted the onhand quantity of that particular title and including the book she was supposedly 'returning', the count was accurate. I'm guessing that she found the receipt in the trash (given the crumpled and dirty nature of the receipt), came in and found the book listed on the receipt and was trying to return it for cash. A common scam. Evidently she was too agitated (or impaired) to follow through with it.


One of the managers heard ripping in the magazine section. She observed an older man, white hair, rumpled clothes, tearing pictures out of magazines. Since this staff person was on a break and didn't have any way to identify herself as staff, she informed one of the other managers. The manager came over and told the man that he isn't allowed to do rip pages out of magazines he hadn't purchased yet. The man told her that "the pages were falling out anyway". Which they weren't. She took the pictures and asked him to leave. All of the pictures were of little kids, mostly in bathing suits. Icky on so many levels.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Unfinished Business

Unfinished Business: One Man's Extraordinary Year of Trying to Do the Right Things

I received Unfinished Business as part of's Early Reviewer program, lucky me!

The premise of this book appealed to me. Kravitz lost his job and realized that he had some things in his life he'd neglected, or wish he'd done, or wish he'd done differently, so he took a year to set about rectifying what he could.

He started out talking about his Jewish perspective about making amends...

"On Yom Kippur, god forgave us for all the vows we wouldn't fulfill in the coming year. But he only gave us absolution for the vows that involved him. It was much harder to atone for the sins we committed against other people. We had to ask the person to fogive us. If he chose not to, the wrong would persist. So you had to be precise - and persuasive - in your amends.

"In Judaism, as in the other religious traditions, sincerity is what counts most. You must cease to commit a sin, really regret it, and resolve not to do it again...Did I have that much courage and discipline? That was what I wondered as I compiled my list of unfinished business."

He proceeded on his quest, deciding on 10 things that he needed to attempt. The first one (and probably my favorite), is that he decided to reconnect with his Aunt Fern, a person who really believed in him when he'd been younger, but whom he hadn't seen in 15 years because she was institutionalized for schizophrenia. As with all of his attempts in the book, he visits her with trepidation, wondering if it will be bad for her to see him (which is what his family had been circulating, that it would be bad for her to see anyone). Would he make the situation worse by visiting? And, again, as with all of his attempts, they turned out much better than he'd thought they would, even though sometimes they were hard and had some things to work through.

He connects with someone and tells him how sorry he is for his daughter's death, attempts to let go of a grudge he'd held for years and years, repays a monetary debt, reconnects with a mentor.

There were a few chapters that seemed a bit, maybe, preachy? He reconnected with an old friend from high school who had since become a Greek Orthodox monk and he attempted to find out what lead his friend on this strict religious path. He also connected with an old teacher, who also had a very strong faith. While Kravitz was wrestling with his own faith while finding out about their beliefs and lives, it seemed less as though he was making amends or dealing with unfinished business than going to a class. So maybe not preachy, maybe didactic.

Kravitz comes away from this year-long exercise with a greater appreciation for the people in his life, for calm, quiet moments, for friends, as well as for just dealing with his unfinished business. I appreciated being able to share in his journey through this book.

Monday, July 19, 2010

More Customer Requests...

I'm looking for a book, it's of religious or spiritual poetry. The pages are brightly colored. Do you have it? (no idea, we need a little more information - words in the title, even one word in the title, name of an author (first OR last name), name of any of the poets...anything, anything)


Do you have a map of Afghanistan? (no, but we can order it)


Do you have the original Buddha Board? (no, but we can order it, and we did)


I'm looking for a book about the history of Spain.


Do you have any children's books in Russian? (no)


Three teenagers (or early 20's), 2 guys and a girl, all with piercings, tattoos and a skateboard among them, approach the register. "Alex Gray," one of them says. I send them to information. One of them comes up a few minutes later with a book of paintings by Alex Gray and asks, "How much is this? There isn't a price on this." I look at it, find the price (granted, it was in tiny print), and tell him "It's $29.95." Disappointed, he says "Do you have anything in here for $25 or less? Or is everything more than $25 so that people with $25 gift cards have to spend a little more than 25 dollars?" I said, "We have LOTS of things under $25. You happen to want something very specific, this book of Alex Gray paintings. For instance, we have books in mystery, by Alex Gray (probably a different one) that are $7 or $8."


Do you have the American Heritage Pictorial History of the Civil War? (no, it's out of print)


A woman called, she sounded older, with an almost quavery voice. "Do you have Dreamsicle figurines? I live on the coast and want to buy some but I don't know where to get them."

"We don't have them," I said, "Have you tried maybe a Hallmark store?" At the same time I was looking on the computer to see what Dreamsicle figurines ARE (and for those of you who don't know, like I didn't know, they are little white-ish figurines with wreaths of dried flowers on their heads). I find some pictures of the figurines and some books..."There are books about them, books about their values, they are collectible."

"Oh, I know! I want to start a collection for my granddaughter. Can you tell me how much they are worth?", she asked.

"I can't see inside the books, I can just tell that there are some books available. I'm not seeing any stores to buy the figurines themselves, though there are a lot of the figurines available online."

"Oh, I don't do anything online. Do you know where I could go to look at them and see them?", she asked (again).

"I'm sorry, I don't. You might try calling a mall and seeing if they know where one might buy them."

"Oh, that's a great idea! Do you have the number for the mall? I don't want to call information."


A woman with two teenaged girls with her approached me. "Go ahead and ask her," she told one of the girls.

"Do you have any books on how to get into prostitution?", she asked me.

"Um, how to get into prostitution?", not sure I heard the question right.

"Don't ask it like that, that makes it sound bad," whispered the other teenager.
The first teenager said, "Well, I mean, about someone who was a prostitute, or people who are prostitutes..."

"Do you want a biography or memoir about someone who was a prostitute? Or books that are study prostitution in society??", I ask, trying to get clarification.

The woman (I assumed she was the mom), jumped in, "She wants something about woman who were prostitutes but who got out of it, what was it that made them get OUT of being prostitutes." She knew what part of this project SHE wanted to emphasize.

"Ah." I take them to the women's studies section and show them a few books about the sex trade and feminism. I tell them I'll go check on the computer. I bring back a long list of books that might be what she's looking for, most of them not in the store. "On this list are books that might be helpful. We can order most of them. Is it for a report?" (I know, it's July, but thought I'd ask in case they needed the books quickly).

"No," the teenager answers. "I just want to know how they got into being prostitutes."

I left them browsing in the women's studies section. whew.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Purchases and Requests...

In an hour, customers asked about...

Three Questions by Muth (children's, hardcover)

Anything on gnomes (there is a large hardcover book on gnomes, has been out since the 70's or 80's, plus a couple of gnome mini-kits. They bought the book and one of the mini-kits. They'd already purchased the other one.)

"Do you know where there's a Safeway near here?"

Language of Life: Life, DNA and the Revolution in Personalized Medicine by Francis Collins (featured on a table)

dog food cookbooks (pets, bargain, there are several)

Big Leap: Conquer Your Fears by Gay Hendrix (self-improvement)

Yo Yeow Ma, Wisdom of Cats (bargain)

Supervision Concepts and Skill Building by Certo (didn't have, textbook)

Wizard of Oz (many versions throughout the store)

I Am America, and So Can You! by Stephen Colbert (humor)

anything on Japanese or Chinese tattoo (several places in the store, bargain, cultural studies, art, photo essay)

books on yoga (health and fitness, yoga)

Mastering Unreal Technology, Volume 1 (web/game design)

"Any books, preferably a mystery or fiction, where the protagonist is a personal trainer. Or an athlete. It's a present for my personal trainer and I thought it would be fun to give her a book that has a personal trainer as the protagonist." (I don't know, I couldn't think of one off the top of my head. Another bookseller did some more research.)

"Do you have Neurotic Styles, it's by Shapiro, published in 1965? You should carry it, it's a classic, therapists everywhere use this all the time." (No, don't have it, and neither I, nor Therapist, have ever heard of it)

A family came up to the register. One spinner display near the registers has little mini-kits, among them a desktop aquarium, a 3 inch high Snoopy, a Stewie from Family Guy doll, all in small boxes. One of the children in the family, a girl about three years old grabbed one of the boxes and told her dad, "I want this one!". He held it up for me to see. A purple box, with a drawing of a couple kissing on the front and the title...Great Sex: Lovemaking Techniques to Blow Your Partner's Mind.

Kind of a college-jock looking guy, short haircut, polo shirt, shorts that sagged a little, tan, pretty buff, bought The Four Agreements and a biography of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The purchase just seemed a little out of character, but then again, one shouldn't judge a book...

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Book of Lost Things

The Book of Lost Things: A Novel

    The Book of Lost Things is about a boy named David. His mother loves books and teaches him to love books and stories before she dies. She talk to him about the importance of stories and books, how being read gives life to stories. After his mother dies, David starts hearing books talk...

    "The walls (of the psychiatrist's office) were lined with books, although they were not books like the ones David read. David thought that he could hear the books talking among themselves when he arrived. He couldn't understand most of what they were saying, but they spoke v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y, as if what they had to impart was very important or the person to whom they were speaking was very stupid. Some of the books appeared to be arguing among themselves in blah-blah-blah tones, the way experts sometimes talked on the wireless when they were addressing one another, surrounded by other experts whom they were trying to impress with their intelligence."

    David prefers stories of mythology and fairy tales, and when he and his father move into his step-mother, Rose's house, David loses himself in the stories to help him forget the death of his mother.

    In a classic hero's journey (described well in Christopher Vogler's The Writers' Journey), David finds himself in a magic land, meets friends and helpers, encounters difficulties and tricksters, discovers unknown strength within himself, and goes home again, seeing the old place with new, more mature eyes.

    The Book of Lost Things is about David's coming-of-age, as well as his dealing with grief and loss, and Connolly uses familiar stories within David's story as his vehicle. Connolly does take some artistic license with the stories, which I found delightful. Red Riding Hood makes an appearance, as do Hansel and Gretel, and Goldilocks (briefly! oh dear...). Snow White and the Seven Dwarves feature as well, none of them quite as we've imagined all these years, the dwarves being communists and Snow White being, well, not very nice...

    "'Anyway, so he bounces in on his white horse like a big perfumed tea cozy, getting involved in affairs that are none of his business, and next thingy ou know she wakes up and - oooh! - was she in a bad mood. The prince didn't half get an earful, and that was after she clocked him one first for 'taking liberties.' Five minutes of listening to that and, instead of marrying her, the prince gets back on his horse and rides off into the sunset. Never saw him again. We blamed the local wicked stepmother for the whole apple business, but well, if there's a lesson to be learned from all this, it's to make sure that the person you're going to wrongfully blame for doing something bad is actually available for selection, as it were. There was a trial, we got suspended sentences on the grounds of provocation combined with lack of sufficient evidence, and we were told that if anything ever happened to Snow White again, if she even chipped a nail, we'd be for it.'
    "Comrade Brother Number One did an impression of choking on a noose, just in case David didn't understand what 'it' meant.
    "'Oh,', said David. 'But that's not the story I heard.'
    "'Story!' The dwarf snorted. 'You'll be talking about 'happily ever after' next. Do we look happy? There's no happily ever after for us. Miserably ever after, more like.'"

    I really enjoyed this book, yes, David's growth and development, but mostly how Connolly used familiar stories and characters to tell David's story.

    The story ended rather before I expected, as at the end of the book, there is a description of why he chose each story, the story's origins, as well as retelling the story in its original form, which all takes up close to 100 pages.

    "...he would talk to them of stories and books, and explain to them how stories wanted to be told and books wanted to be read, and how everything that they ever needed to know about life and the land of which he wrote, or about any land or realm that they could imagine was contained in books.
    "And some of the children understood, and some did not."

    Perhaps if you choose to read this book, you are one of the ones who understand the magic of books and stories.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Customers 8

A woman with white hair, nicely made up, wearing jeans and a polo shirt approached the register. She was buying How to Win at College, a trade paperback, for $11.95. I figured it wasn't for herself, so I asked if she wanted a gift receipt for it, in case whoever she was giving it to needed to return it.

"It's for my grandson.
He won't return it.
He'd better not return it.
We're paying for his college.
He'd better read it.
He'd better commit the entire thing to memory."


     A shortish, heavyish woman wearing a purple polo shirt and jeans, approaches me on the floor and whispers, "Do you work here?"
     "Yes I do," I reply. "How can I help you?"
     "There's a bachelorette party," she said quietly. "Do you have anything...for that?"
     "Well, we have a few books that might have some games in it...are you giving the party?"
     She shook her head, "No, no, no. I'm going to one."
     "So you need a gift?" I ask."
     "Yes, something that won't make me turn all red when she opens it. Do you have a book for...their relationship, for that...?"
     I lead her back to the relationship section and she says, "No, for...the bedroom?" and she blushes.
     "Ah. Right here. We have a sexuality section...most of them are pretty detailed," I said.
     "Oh dear," she says as she starts looking at the titles and covers..."I can't give her anything like this..."
     "Okay," I said, ready to move on, "Here's a book with questions the couple can ask each other about themselves and here's one that has romantic ideas, like giving her flowers or leaving him loving notes..."
     "No, those won't work," she muses. "There will be things at the party that are certain parts of, uh, a man's body."
     "Ah," I say, finally getting it. "So sex is the THEME of the party?"
     "Yes," she says, relieved. "It's for my goddaughter. I don't want to give her anything that is..."
     "...very graphic?," I finish the sentence for her.
     "Exactly." More relief.
     "Well, here's The Joy of Sex," I say, "Oh wait, they've updated this, now it has photographs." I pick up another version of it... "But here's a reprint of the original, no photographs, just drawings. It's pretty tame compared to a lot of this." (In case you haven't been in the sexuality section of a bookstore in the last 20 or so years, the books on sexuality have come a LONG way from the original Joy of Sex with it's pencil drawings of couples. Now there are full color photographs. Lots of them. And titles like Moregasm: Babeland's Guide to Mind-Blowing Sex and Tickle His Pickle and Hot Cougar Sex: Steamy Encounters with Younger Men and 101 Sex Positions: Steamy New Positions from Mild to Wild).
     She picks up Cosmo's Naughty Notes, a book of little sticky notes. "I don't know about all this," she says. "She's my goddaughter. It's like imagining of your parents having sex, you just don't want those images in your mind."
     I showed her The Art of Kissing by William Cane
The Art of Kissing
and she thought that looked like a possibility.
     I left her in the section to browse. She came up a few minutes later with The Art of Kissing and Cosmo's Naughty Notes, as well as How to Train Your Dragon, which she told me was for her son, not for the party.