Notebook: July 5, 2018

by Ann Kjellberg, Book Post Editor

Welcome, Book Post readers!  Thank you so much for signing up! We’ve been lining our ducks up here at Book Post and are just about ready to send them waddling out, with two short + sweet weekly book reviews and another tidbit, a reflection from one of our writers or an update like this from your humble editor—a  bouquet of news to delight, divert, and inform from the worlds of books and writers. Our hope is to provide a bit of mobile sustenance to that weary figure, the American general reader, as you make your way through your day, wherever you may lurk, and bring us all together for a moment around stuff we can all appreciate. We’ve so far featured reviews by novelists Padgett Powell and Anakana Schofield, of Florida and Vancouver respectively, and in the pipeline we have Christian Caryl on the Russian mob, Ingrid Rowland on Renaissance feminists, Michael Robbins on Allen Ginsberg, and much more!

Another Book Post feature we like a lot is our monthly partnership with local booksellers.  For July we bring you the Boulder Book Store. Take a look and imagine those cool mountain breezes blowing out of your smart phone. Things are looking up already, hmm?  If you can’t make it to Boulder, you might try some of the destination bookshops Shelf Awareness has unearthed recently (here and here): the floating one in Venice, the outdoor one in Ojai, the one with a spa in Bath, the bookstore/hotel in Tokyo, and bookstores in a theater in Buenos Aires, a church in Maastricht, and a car park in Malaysia. In Mumbai the adventurous international publisher Seagull Books has recently opened beautiful new offices in Calcutta and Delhi and celebrated its anniversary with a huge festive sale in its own eclectic bookshop. Says Seagull on Twitter: “The Seagull space in Delhi is not a place for buying or selling. Nor will it only be a ‘seagull fantasy.’ The Annexe at Maharani Bagh will be an intimate space for everyone to share their minds ideas writing thoughts. And it will be a shared space for publishers and others. Free.” Though a seagull fantasy doesn’t sound half bad to us.

Meanwhile in New York City novelist Emma Straub opened a bookshop, Books Are Magic, in Brooklyn when a beloved neighborhood place closed, and local girl Noëlle Santos is on the brink of opening her independent bookstore/bar, The LitBar, in the Bronx after that borough’s only bookshop, a Barnes and Noble, pulled up stakes a couple of years ago. Kona Stories in Kauai reports that for their part they are not menaced by lava and ash, but numbers are down due to tourist skittishness; on the bright side there is an uptick in sales of volcano-related books to visiting geologists.  In case you’re considering opening a bookstore of your own, Heidi and Michael Bender of Split Rock Books in Cold Spring, New York, have some advice to offer in LitHub on how to respond to the incredulity of your friends and acquaintances.

TV personalities are doing their bit to keep books moving. Jenna Bush Hager is leading the Today Show in a summer book club and recently hosted a segment in which the Today anchors shared their favorite books, reminding us that Jenna’s mother Laura began her working life as a librarian. In that spirit, Jenna even opened a Little Free Library right there in 30 Rock. We should get one here, if we can keep the dogs from peeing on it. Jenna’s summer book club book is There There, a novel by Tommy Orange about the native American experience; There There has recently appeared, perhaps not coincidentally, on the Times fiction best seller listJimmy Fallon had a contest for choosing a summer book club book of his own; 140,000 votes were cast, we are told, many more people than you could fit in the Seagull bookshop probably in a year.  The winner, Children of Blood and Bone, a debut fantasy novel by Nigerian-American writer Tomi Adeyemi, also on the best seller list, sounds like a lot of fun and also a great way to fend off longing for Black Panther 2.  Naturally these projects come with hash tags to substitute for snacks and sofas: #readingTODAY and #TonightShowSummerReads. 

In laying up her project Jenna cited a Pew Research Center Study about the decline of reading in America, a question also considered recently in The New Yorker by novelist Caleb Crain, who seemed to be trying to talk himself out of worrying about it. Jenna and Caleb might consider waving around a recent study by the Journal of the American Medical Association, spotted by the book blog Moby Lives, indicating that reading can help stave off dementia!  The educational publisher Follett is tackling the problem with a campaign to save the job of the school librarian, to which we say, hear hear.  Meanwhile a few miles from Lake Erie a young girl named Alannah Pionessa, who had spent her first perilous weeks of life in intensive care, asked for her ninth birthday for books and blankets to be given to all the babies in the Oishei Children's Hospital NICU, God bless her (also via Moby Lives).

A recent Good Magazine article attributed the high level of reading in Iceland (by contrast) not to very early intervention but to a historic lack of other things to do; though the government also offers a competitive artists’ salary. Hm!  This reminded us of a great program we saw this week at Porter Square Books: a bookstore writer’s residency. Resident writers get discounts in the store and cafe, they can use the office after hours, and they get to nose through free swag from publishers; and in return they write for the store’s blog, recommend books to customers, and host events.

The benefits of emptiness for the reading life also reminded us of the loss this week of poet Donald Hall, whose life and work were so closely identified with the naturely silences of his home state of New Hampshire, where he occupied a farmhouse that had been in his family since the Civil War. Fellow agrarian Verlyn Klinkenborg wrote in the New York Times when Hall became US poet laureate, “So much of his poetry has emerged from the rigor of his privacy … The setting is pastoral, and yet there is a ferocity in Mr. Hall’s voice that undoes the pastoral, which is always waiting to be undone.”  The New Yorker looked back on work Hall had published there over the years and Fresh Air broadcast selections from his interviews, among many fond tributes. Bill Moyers’ documentary on Hall’s life with his wife, the poet Jane Kenyon, whom, though she was nineteen years his junior, he outlived by twenty-three years in one of literature’s great romances, won an Emmy in 1993.

Owen King, though, son of Stephen, writes in The New Yorker that “I was alarmed by the amount of time that my parents spent alone. I couldn’t understand how they could bear it.” Long before the podcasting boom Stephen, whose family read to each other nightly, recruited Owen to read books for him into a cassette recorder, and Stephen returned the favor.  Excellent practice for the writer-to-be, and a wholesome way to keep the kids busy. I don’t know if I’d like to spend sixteen hours with the voice of the adolescent Owen King though—“I narrate, rhinal and breathless, like a telemarketer fighting to keep someone on the line”—but parental love would probably buff the experience.

We are learning however that the Kings in Maine and the Halls in New Hampshire might not have had it as quiet as they thought.  Word lovers, including novelist Richard Powers, had been thrilling to the news that trees communicate with each other through fungi in their roots (though their leaves apparently sometimes suffer from an also-writerly condition known as “crown shyness”). Now the online science magazine Nautilus reports that even modestly sized plants are conversing, through airborne chemicals. “If plants seem silent to us, it’s only because we’re oblivious to their chatter.”  The cry of the woodland plants was not able to stop recent pilferers of the remote Poets Table, a secret readers’ nook built into a shelf of the Black Hills by the “Vagabond poet” John Raeck in 1969. The table and chairs were hacked up and swiped by unidentified malefactors, but concerned passersby posted evidence of the deed to social media and the ensemble was restored. Once little known and hard to find, the outpost had over the years attracted more and more hikers making their way to the natural alcove in the rocks high above Sylvan Lake and leaving behind a scribble or two for anonymous fellow readers. The perps claimed they were defending the purity of the landscape, although it seems they also kept the bookshelves and the trunk. The Oxford English Dictionary this month sent out a call for new words from around the world. Perhaps if the plants step forward and build up their vocabulary they will be able to prevent future such incursions.

That’s all we have for now!  We hope you will sign up here for more news from Book Post, and especially for our terrific reviews, which are the main attraction.

Your Editor

CORRECTED: To note that the LitBar will open in the Bronx later this summer.

The Boulder Book Store in Boulder, Colorado, is Book Post’s July featured bookstore. 

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Monsoon window from Seagull Books’ new offices in Calcutta, as seen on Twitter, June 25 @SeagullBooks