Wednesday, November 5, 2008

November Children's Events

Greetings all!

Longtime, no chat. Things have been a little crazy, both around the Odyssey and at home. For those of you who don't know, I now am also a full-time grad student, as well as a the full-time Odyssey Children's Department Manager. That means I no longer sleep and eat only one meal a day, in my car, as I drive between work and class. (That's mostly a joke. Mostly.)

Regardless, November is the Odyssey's 45th anniversary month! To celebrate, the Odyssey has some incredible authors lined up (including the unbelievable Stephen King/Richard Russo pairing this Thursday, November 6th!).

Here's the children's line-up:

Saturday, November 8th 11 AM
Storytime with Carol Weis
Author of
When the Cows Got Loose!

Carol is absolutely hysterical and brings lots of cow memorabilia with her. All ages are welcome for this picture book storytime event.

Saturday, November 15th
10 AM

Costume parade led by Holly Hobbie's beloved Toot & Puddle!

(These will be costume characters.)

11 AM

Holly Hobbie
- author of the Toot & Puddle series, and her newest book - Fanny
Nathaniel and Jocelyn Hobbie
- author/illustrator of the Priscilla series

Come celebrate our 45th anniversary day with a store-wide 20% off sale and some of our favorite story book characters!

Saturday, November 22nd
11 AM

Storytime with
Jarrett Krosoczka

Author of
Punk Farm, Punk Farm on Tour, Bubblebath Pirates, Baghead, and many more!

Jarrett's unique style is fun, fresh, and engaging. All ages should come hear a story or two and maybe even watch him illustrate for you!

For questions, reservations, or book purchases, call Rebecca at the Odyssey at 413.534.7307

Hope to see you all here!


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Book Review: Songs for the Missing

This weekend I went camping with my roommate at the DAR State Forest Saturday night. I brought three things from work with me that made the experience infinitely better; a Mighty Bright book light (a surprisingly powerful LED light, convenient not just for reading in my tent, but for generally finding my way around in the dark), a Sigg bottle (since Nalgenes are out and my mason jar method of transporting water can be a bit cumbersome, I caved in and tried one of these- I love it!), and Stewart O'Nan's new book Songs for the Missing, due out November 3, 2008.

After the fire had died down and we'd stomached as many smores as possible, I crawled into my tent, flipped on the book light, snuggled into my sleeping bag and opened Songs for the Missing. This is the first book I've read by O'Nan, so I didn't know what to expect and was completely blown away. I could not stop reading and it was only when I realized it was past midnight and I would be waking with the dawn, that I forced myself to close the book and turn off the light. The next morning after a campfire breakfast of oatmeal and apples, I headed to the Cummington Old Creamery, sat down with a cup of coffee (Dean's Beans' Creamery Blend is one of my favorites in the Valley; incredibly smooth and mild, but with a complex flavor that belies its mellowness, and the Creamery is the only place to get it), and a super delicious pumpkin cake, and kept reading.

Emily C. picked up Songs for the Missing for me at the Neiba Conference last week on an hunch that I might like it. I don't know if she knew that it was set in Northern Ohio, in a small town called Kingsville just off of I-90 and east of Cleveland. I certainly did not know when I began reading that this was a place intimately familiar to me, not because I've ever been to Kingsville (I have not), but because I grew up in Ohio and spent all of my life there prior to moving to Massachusetts. The stark contrast between Ohio and Massachusetts is always difficult to describe to folks out here; the long flat roads that stretch out endlessly, the wide highways with cars zipping along, the endless strip malls with the same collection of fast food joints and dollar stores, the repetition of suburban houses that vary only in their shades of pale yellow and white exterior siding, a monotonous sequence on loop. If I should ever again need to explain to anyone what that part of my childhood was like, I just might hand them this book. Kingsville is the kind of place I've driven past dozens of times on my way to and from larger places, barely pausing to notice its presence except perhaps to stop off the freeway to fill up on gas or get something to eat; the kind of place I could describe in great detail without ever setting foot there. O'Nan of course, does it better than I ever could.

O'Nan gets small-town Midwest life dead-on. The picture he paints of Kingsville is at times painfully real. While I grew up in Columbus, a large city and far off almost mythical land for the characters in the novel, I spent a good deal of time outside of the city in places just like Kingsville. The slow summer boredom of the recently graduated teens as they wait for September so they can leave for college, that endless ache to get out and leave small town life behind, the nights spent hanging out on the hoods of cars in parking lots, or hopping over rocks on a river-front, the taunting appeal of drugs and alcohol as a means of staving off boredom and tolerating the tedious trickle of time, congregating with friends outside the Dairy Queen drinking Blizzards and beer, and the persistent confident knowledge that you were merely biding your time until you were gone; this is how O'Nan opens the novel, and this is what I remember of the summer after my senior year.

O'Nan's characters are abruptly jerked out of this late-summer stupor by the disappearance of eighteen year old Kim Larsen. The novel follows Kim's family: mother, father and introverted younger sister, and her handful of close friends, including her boyfriend J.P., as they struggle with their loss and the precarious state of uncertainty that searching for a missing person brings. As their search widens and the community rallies together in support of the Larsens, one appreciates the close-knit and familiar nature of Kingsville, but the search also reveals that even in the smallest towns it's possible to have secrets. O'Nan intimately describes the sense of helplessness Kim's father feels and the frustration of not knowing what happened. He maps the transformation of Kim's mother as she repeatedly steps into the public spotlight to raise awareness and rally support for their search, while in private tackling a fraught mother-daughter relationship with Lindsay, her other daughter. O'Nan also traces the trajectory of Kim's college bound friends and boyfriend J.P. as they eventually leave Kingsville; rather than coming off as a trite teenage love story, J.P's process of pulling in and letting go and his insights into his relationship with Kim that develop only in her absence are sincere. Each figure in this somber story comes alive with the breath of purely good fictional writing; their grief is acute and their struggles poignant. Songs for the Missing is a persistent but beautiful heartache and an incredible assay into the nature of loss.

-- Joe

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Ahoy! Book Review - Sea of Poppies

Hello Readers!

This being my inaugural blog post (and first book review of any sort for the Odyssey) I could not ask for a better book with which to introduce myself than this: I have just started Sea of Poppies, Amitav Ghosh's newest novel, due out in October. I am a long time Ghosh fan and count The Hungry Tide among my list of favorites, so I was quite excited when Emily Russo, our Events Coordinator, handed me an advance copy of Sea of Poppies. I was even more thrilled to find that the book opens in Ghazipur, not far from the dusty village in India where I lived for a year. I was hooked before I had even turned the first page.

Sea of Poppies is the first volume in what promises to be a rousing and enlightening trilogy about the British opium trade during the early 19th century and the ways in which it altered the lives of a myriad cast of characters. Vast in scope, Sea of Poppies spans multiple continents, traverses both land and sea, and weaves together the narratives of a motley crew of ship-bound strangers.

Many of Ghosh's books focus on characters who straddle cultures, countries with impossible to define borders, and regions with shifting lands; in The Hungry Tide island villages emerge and disappear each hurricane season, The Glass Palace explores the rise and dissolution of political regimes, nations and empires. In each of these, Ghosh forces readers to consider how history reveals the most enduring and seemingly stable of things to be ultimately tenuous, as ever changing as the ebb and flow of the ocean. Sea of Poppies is no exception.

The point of convergence for Sea of Poppies' characters is an ocean vessel called the Ibis. The Ibis is a retired slaving ship from the Americas that has been acquired by a British merchant who wishes to conscript it for the British East India Company's opium trade with China, which operated out of the Bay of Bengal. As a result, Ghosh sets up both Sea of Poppies, and ostensibly the trilogy as a whole, so that much of the action will take place in and around the Bay of Bengal and its many tributaries in India, across the ocean and toward the Chinese coast.

Bodies of water are a recurring theme across Ghosh's works and often form the unifying element of individual novels. By centering this new tale on the Ibis, Ghosh further distances himself, and his characters, from identifying with or planting their feet on any one land, nation, religion, or culture. His characters are either rootless or uprooted early on in the book, each instance of which serves as the impetus that guides them toward the Ibis. In addition to being a captivating narrative, this rootlessness makes Sea of Poppies a pointed comment on the struggles of displaced colonized peoples and on the rippling effects of colonial expansion. Ghosh spends some time early in the novel describing how the opium trade effectively pushed all other crops out of many Indian farmers' fields, forcing those farmers into increasing debt as they took advances and loans to cover the expense of buying the basic foods that they had previously grown. A virtue that Ghosh's books consistently reveal is his ability to make history come alive while drawing the reader's attention to stories often washed over in traditional historical accounts.

The language of Sea of Poppies also takes on an interesting historical dimension. The novel is written in English, but Ghosh calls attention to English's role as a colonizing tongue and does not position it as an assumed norm of the time. Rather, his characters' dialogue reveals English to be as eccentric and confusing a language as laskar, the sea-specific language of the sailors, or culurally based and geographically specific as perhaps Bhojpuri, a local Indian dialect. This is nowhere more evident than in the person of Mr. Doughty, an Indian-born Englishman, whose unique mixture of languages is both mildly humorous and indicative of the nature of cultural exchange that resulted from colonial commerce.

To say that Sea of Poppies is a complicated novel would perhaps be appropriate. However, Ghosh's style might be better characterized as involved and elaborate. Ghosh's language is beautiful, rich with detail, and the amount of historical research that went into Sea of Poppies is incredibly evident, but his characters' dialogue can at times require some deciphering, aided in part by a glossary that appears at the end, written as if it were the record of a character in the novel.

If there is one criticism I'm inclined to pose, it's that Sea of Poppies might over-indulge Ghosh's penchant for extreme detail in pursuit of historical authenticity. It is a delicate balance that allows his works to seem incredibly present and brings characters into sharp focus, but which threatens to become distracting as his use of multiple languages and list of terms becomes ever larger and more unwieldy. It remains to be seen if embarking on a trilogy alleviates or exacerbates this tendency.

For now, I will continue to both forgive and enjoy Ghosh for his resurrection of the laskar's language and his fusion of Hindi and English, because it was those very details that made me feel completely transported to the Sundarbans in The Hungry Tide and that I hope will keep me sailing on the Ibis through all three novels.


Saturday, August 30, 2008

Children's Book Review - Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Today I finished a book that made me cry. If I had been alone, I probably would have cried more, but as it was, I was at work on my lunch break, so only a tear or two escaped. But the mere fact that I had the inclination toward tears is a big deal. I am not a crier. Yes, tears welled at the news of Walter in Rilla of Ingleside (by L.M. Montgomery, and if you don't know the news, I'm not telling), and okay, I admit it, I am a HUGE movie crier (lord knows why but I swear I shed a tear at something in almost every movie these days), but about books, and most importantly, in real life? Not a weeper. Have you ever seen The Holiday with Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Jack Black, and Cameron Diaz? Jude Law has a funny bit in it about being a major weeper. Not. Me.

Anyway, I digress. The point is, I have not read a lot of children's books lately that have reached in and pulled at my heartstrings, so I wanted to post today to tell you about one that has. Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta. Amazing.

The main character, Taylor Markham, is 17 and lives at the boarding school on Jellicoe Road. Her mother abandoned her when she was 7. She doesn't know anything about her father. She is also the new leader of her House at school, and the unwillingly chosen leader of all of the House leaders. The leaders don't believe in her. Her House barely knows her. And Taylor doesn't want any of the responsibility, but has no choice but to shoulder it.

There's a war, you see. A war that began almost 20 years ago and is faithfully carried out while school is in session. Townies vs. Cadets. vs. the Houses of the school on Jellicoe Road. The Townies are kids who live in the town nearby. The Cadets are boys from the military academy that comes to that area for training ever year. There are property boundary lines, invasions, retaliations and retributions, fist fights, broken bones, treaties, and perhaps a hidden tunnel.

There's Taylor's closest-thing-to-family, Hannah, who has just disappeared. There's Raffy, Talor's BFF, who tells her the truth and keeps it from her when necessary. There's Santangelo, leader of the Townies, with his sidekicks - The Mullets, and his history with Raffy. Lastly, there's Jonah Griggs - betrayer, former run-away mate, who knows too much about Taylor for his own good, and is currently the leader of the Cadets.

Betrayed numerous times beyond measure, hurt, afraid to hope for love, and reluctant leader, Taylor can't keep it together. She falls apart. But the surprise is who is there to help put her back together when she does. Who is Taylor? Where is Hannah? Where is her mother?
Who will win the war? And in the end, does it matter? Trust me, the end does NOT disappoint.

If all that isn't enough, here's a taste of the book - just the first two lines should do it:

"My father took one hundred and thirty-two minutes to die. I counted."

Read it.


Hardcover: 9780061431838 $17.99

Thursday, August 28, 2008

airplane reading for physicists

Hello Again Everyone,

Dying to know what I'll be carrying with me to read on Sunday? I know you were wondering, 'cause I know how much you care. Here's the short list:

Dancing Wu-Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics - Gary Zukav, Harper
I'm 1.5 chapters in, and Zukav is annoying me a little bit with his breathy awe of all things quantum, but really I love teasing out the philosophy (and lack of certainty) that forms the bedrock of modern physics and I am quite enjoying this ride. I love mixing new physics with Eastern philosophy (how could you not see the connections?), so I'll forgive Zukav his frequent waxing poetic. I mean, I guess that is kind of the point.

Luminous Fish - Lynn Margulis
Ok, first off I *love* this cover, and the subtitle ('Tales of Science and Love'). Margulis's short stories all explore desires that drive scientists, from knowledge and fellowship to lust and insecurity. I keep cringing at the personal choices these people make, and at the same time they feel deeply, uncomfortably familiar. Here's a great publisher's quote about it: "All of us who struggle to balance family, professional, and social commitments with intellectual quest will be intrigued by the humanity of these tales." Nice, right?

Labor of Love: A Midwife's Memoir - Cara Muhlhahn
I am not sure if I can handle this book, but I intend to find out. As you may or may not know, I have a very strong maternal urge and it manifests all the time as this bone-deep wanting that leaves me feeling weak. I cry at births on movies, I cry at births on TV commercials, heck, I cry each time I see Warf deliver Keiko's baby on that Star Trek episode with the 'quantum filament' problem (honestly, they'll put quantum on anything these days. I have some quantum dust bunnies behind the couch...). I'm totally drawn to this book, but I know it will be an intense emotional experience, as this 'candid and fascinating memoir chronicles Cara's experiences as a midwife; the joys, the heartbreaks, and the hundreds of mothers and babies she has come to know. It is both an insider's look at childbirth and an engaging story of a woman who is living her passion." (Publisher's Marketing)

I might also bring a full novel, but I don't remember what I have that wasn't sold at the yard sale or already boxed to ship. Maybe City of Refuge (Tom Piazza), our Sept First Edition Club pick, or that new Neal Stephenson book Anathem, I've never read him before. The ARC is gigantic, but it comes with a CD of something, perhaps background music for monasteries and mathematics? Apparently Sea of Poppies (Amitav Ghosh)is something amazing, but I gave my copy away and besides, my capable replacement is writing you fine people a blogpost about it so I shouldn't even bring it up. Anyway, I guess there is a bit of actual work around here to still get done, maybe, or at least I'd better pretend.

Take Care Everyone! Be good to each other, read everything Joe and Rebecca tell you to, and check out the store in person if you get a change. I mean, surely it will all go totally downhill after I leave but it'll still be an interesting place to visit ;)


the end. for real, I mean it this time.

Hello Dear Readers,

As usual, I hope you are all well. It is a gorgeous late summer day here in Western Massachusetts, a warm sunny day sandwiched between cool nights. I saw a tree starting to turn on the way to work today which clearly places us on the edge of Fall, a beautiful time in New England but always a time of great change for me. I am a Fall child after all, being a Libra and whatnot. Anyway, the fabulous E.C. drove 'cause my car is *gone*!! Sorry if you were hoping to make an offer, but I got my asking price, and this sweet kid in Easthampton got a new project, complete with free car-repair items and bumper-stickers!

Ladies, Gentlemen, and Everyone Else, today is my very last day at the Odyssey. Good thing, too, 'cause my plane leaves on Sunday! I suppose most people goof off on their last day, or call in sick or something, but I'm finding it kind of difficult to let go of the things I'm responsible for. Ok, I'll be honest, I'm having trouble letting go of the First Edition Club. I have put a huge amount of ongoing time and effort and thought into keeping it running smoothly with minimal mistakes and high quality mint condition books, delicately yet efficiently handled from bookstore arrival to shipping date, and I can't seem to just let it go. I'll probably be sending Joe notes for the next month as I think of little tricks we used to minimize mistakes or mylar quickly or something. I also really enjoy talking with First Edition Club members too, and being able to find special editions or have books specially inscribed or simply offering something unusual. Basically I like being able to put in a bit of extra effort and providing a specialized service. *Sigh* I guess maybe I like retail. Maybe. It is pretty rewarding to be able to get great books to friendly people, tho, and the overwhelming majority of our club members are friendly people. So friendly, in fact, that one actually sent me a book as a going away present! Just to be clear, he pays for the books that we send him, it is a business transaction, and sure we talk books once or twice a month, but wow, he gave me a book as a thank you for selling him books. This guy sent me an early printing of Silent Spring (Rachel Carson) after he learned of my Environmental Science academic plans. Seriously, where else could this happen? I love independent bookstores. And the Odyssey Bookshop most of all, of course. (Ooh, Terry Tempest Williams is coming to the store this fall for her new book! Take note, environmentalists!)

You may have noticed my love of the El Camino, but you may not know that Ford produced a similar car-truck between '57 and '79, the Ford Ranchero (read about it here). You might know that my mom is one of our most regular readers, perhaps because I don't call home enough (sorry mom!) so she sometimes learns things about me via blog. Well I recently learned from her that my parents actually owned (and drove) a Ford Ranchero shortly after getting married, when they were living in a tiny apartment in LA and carving newlywed dreams out of concrete and seaweed. WooHoo, that's puts me one step closer to ownership, being directly related to people with such a car/truck/miracle rather than just living next door to 'em. Somehow the they never thought to fill the bed with water (what's the point if you can just drive/walk/bikeride into the Pacific), but these fun folks did! I'm not actually sure if this is an El Camino or a Ford Ranchero, but it is pretty awesome either way. This concludes my multi-day muscle car/wading pool digression.

Well, I guess I'd better go do some work, after all that talk about not letting go. I'll tell you guys about my airplane reading later today.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Books on books

I've recently become interested - fascinated by? feel compelled to read? - books about reading books.

It began with what I consider the cream of the crop of book lovers' tributes: Anne Fadiman's Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader. I read this maybe 4 or 5 months ago, and still consider it to be one of my literary highlights of the year. This book is an ode to love of reading, and books, and the role those play in a book lover's every day life. Not to mention, Anne Fadiman is a superb essayist; the pages pass too quickly, you laugh heartily and sigh deeply, and still, always, you want to read more so you can say, Yes! That's me! I do that too!, and not feel alone in your connection and possible devotion to the books in your life.
Paperback: 9780374527228 $11

(If you just love essays, as I do, Anne Fadiman's book of familiar essays, At Large and At Small, is equally wonderful. Hardcover: 9780374106621 $22, Paperback: 9780374531317 $12)

My interest in things literary was then continued when I recently picked up a copy of Who the Hell is Pansy O'Hara? by Jenny Bond and Chris Sheedy. Subtitled "The Fascinating Stories Behind 50 of the World's Best-Loved Books", this book, written in the form of small chapters, uncovers and reveals delicious little tidbits of information about authors' lives, everything that influenced them into producing well-known works, from the Bronte sisters and Dostoevsky to J.K. Rowling and Dan Brown, and everyone in between.
Paperback: 9780143113645 $13

The latest book in this growing collection I discovered last week, mainly because the title is something so near and dear to my own heart. Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading by Maureen Corrigan is absorbing me to the point that I considered saying those exact words to the poor waitress at breakfast the other morning. I didn't, I politely declined a refill of my tea water, and then went back to reading what is essentially a memoir through books. Taking a surprisingly feminist reading of books and authors that influenced her life, Maureen Corrigan dives into detective novels, action-adventures stories, and what surprised me the most, Christian literature. Not having read a single "Catholic-matyr narrative" (as she mentions in the introduction), I'm actually excited and interested to see what she has to say, from a feminist point of view, about these texts, and how they fit into a modern, non-practicing (in terms of an established relgion), feminist woman's life.
Paperback: 9780375709036 $13.95

So, if you, like me, not only love to read, but for some reason also love to read and identify with other people's books about loving to read, then there are three suggestions for some darn good book-readin'. Enjoy!


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Book Review - The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry

Hello folks!

So I admit it, I've jumped on the "popular book" bandwagon. I picked up The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry a couple of weeks ago and have just had a chance to sit down and tell you what I think about it.

My opinion in a nutshell: I disagree with any review that calls this a "fast-paced" novel. For me, anyway, it certainly wasn't. I didn't dislike the book; in fact, I enjoyed reading it very much. But you know what I DID like about it? It was one of those books where I could put it down, read something else, and come back to it without losing the train of the book. Each time I read it, I got involved with the story, with the characters, but it wasn't something I just had to read until it was done.

The basic premise, for those who don't know, is that this woman grew up in Salem, MA, in a family of lace readers - women who could read the future in patterns of lace. There is some childhood trauma, and Towner (as she now calls herself - her name used to be Sophya) leaves Salem for good. Many years later, the mysterious death of her beloved great-aunt brings her back to town to face not only the town and the memories she left behind, but the ghosts, both dead and alive, who are still there.

Towner had, at one point following the trauma, been institutionalized, even given shock therapy, and maybe that explains why the book reads in a sort of monotone voice. There is an omniscient narrator; there is Rafferty's voice - he's the police officer/love interest who is investigating not only the great-aunt's (Eva's) death, but also the mysterious disappearance of a young pregnant woman; there is Towner's voice; there is Eva's ghostly voice, lingering through Towner. Throughout all those voices, however, the story doesn't really change in tone or pitch, which is what makes me call it written in monotone. Though a mystery, the story doesn't read as a suspenseful drama, which I think does give a bit of extra oomph to the excitement of the final chapters.

To be honest, the little twist or revelation at the end came as a surprise for me because I hadn't really been aware that that was a plot point! Okay, I'm thinking to myself as I read, so there's the dead great-aunt - was she murdered? what is the real story of her death?; there's the missing girl - was she murdered? who's baby is she carrying? where does she fit in?; there's Towner herself - is she crazy? is she going to stay in town? will she solve these mysteries? what's up with her and Rafferty?; but where's the real suspense to all of this? Perhaps if I had read the book straight through instead of putting it down, I would have picked up on the secret little plot twist before the end, but as it was, I greatly enjoyed the little gasp of surprise I gave at that revelation.

I think I need to go back and read it again, all the way through, so that I can get the full impact others are talking about, because as much as I enjoyed the book for the good read, the suspense just wasn't there for me. I'll tell you one other thing the book did very well, though - I now need to take a trip to Salem, Massachusetts to see how beautiful the town is in person!

Also, Ms. Barry was here in store last night, for a wonderful book reading/talk/signing, so drop on by the Odyssey to pick up your signed copy of The Lace Reader today!


The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry
Hardcover: 9780061624766 $24.95

Friday, August 15, 2008

Quickie Post - Baby Names

No, this is not a baby announcement. I just happen to be a baby name collector, for that time roughly 5-7 years from now when I begin seriously thinking about beginning my own brood. Nieves showed me the most original baby name book I've seen in a long time, and I just had to share it with all of you.

It's called A is for Atticus: Baby Names from Great Books by Lorilee Craker.
Paperback: 9781599950204 $12.99

It's wonderful! Each name has a little paragraph next to it placing the name in history and in literature (and even throws in some pop-culture references). Lorilee even thoughtfully talks about the crossover of names from male to female and vice versa, or ambigender names (of which I'm a big fan).

Because I'm not planning on having babies for at least 5 years, I'll share with you some of my personal favorites. Some of these I found in this book, some of them have been in my head for years.

Scarlett Auden (called Auden, though, not Scarlett)
Scarlett is for Scarlett O'Hara - Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley, the sequel to Gone With the Wind, is one of my favorite books of all time. Auden for W.H.Auden.

Barrett Phinneaus
Honestly, I just like both these names. Perhaps I'll call her Phin for short. Not sure yet.

Loren Jude
I've always loved the name Loren spelled this way. Jude is a family reference - my mother loves the Beatles, particularly the song "Hey Jude". When she and my father were dating, he used to sing it to her - with one little change. My mother is Jewish, so my father used to croon, "Hey Jew" instead.

Lucan (no middle name for this guy yet)
One of King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table

Joscelyn Roarke
Joscelyn is the name of one of the heroes in a favorite series of mine - the Kushiel series by Jacqueline Carey. It's wonderful fantasy fiction series (two trilogies make up the entire series), with amazingly researched and then fabricated world wars and religious history and great political intrigue, amazing plot and character development, fantastic sex, humor and adventure. Couldn't put them down. Am crying the series is over. Roarke is a name I've always loved, but particularly as the incredibly dreamy and dangerous husband of Lt. Eve Dallas in the "in Death" series of books by J.D. Robb (a.k.a. Nora Roberts - yes, I read her, don't judge me).

Lastly, I really want the middle name of a child to be Blake, for William Blake, one of my all-time favorite poets, but I don't have a first name yet. I'm not sure Lucan Blake works. Jury's still out on that one.

Feel free to write in and share your favorite names too!


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Speaking of Springfield...

Hello Dear Readers,

Hope you're all well, and if you are in Western Mass I hope you are enjoying the sunshine. Throw on some sunscreen and go soak up the Vitamin D! Do it quick tho, I think we have rain scheduled for the evening.

Bob, our illustrious used and rare book buyer, has been rather busy this week receiving and pricing crates of antiquarian textbooks, poetry, and assorted gems from various sources. One of his recent acquisitions is a photography book by Donald D'Amato of Springfield, Massachusetts chronicling the last 350 years of the city's history. What a wonderful cornerstone for "Springfield Residents United"! Or some such internet thing. C'mon people of Springfields, unite! Or just come in and paw through this book, it is pretty interesting. It is way out of print, but we do have this one barely used copy on the shelf, until someone takes it home. The book is Springfield - 350 Years; A Pictorial History, by Donald D'Amato, 1985, and is signed by the author. I'd show you a picture, but I can't seem to find any. Y'all will have to look it up.

Also regarding Springfield: Banned Books Week. Banned Books Week is Sept 27- Oct. 4, 2008. The Springfield (MA) Library is either celebrating rather early or very late, but they are celebrating Banned Book Week nonetheless with priceless information about our local area. Did you know that the very first book banned in the New England Colonies was written by the founder of the colony of Springfield, MA? That's right, our very own William Pynchon brought The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption to New England in the Fall of 1650 after publishing it in London earlier that year (how's that for quick shipping!). You can read the full article here, and please also thank the Springfield (MA) Public Library for supplying us with this information. I'd say that Springfield (MA) is #1 in all Springfields in the nation for informative and helpful public libraries. Anyone else wanna step up to the plate, or are you all gonna just roll over and give up? C'mon Springfield (VT), I heard you had some fight left in ya!

Alright, Take Care everybody. And of course, be good to each other, buy my car for a million dollars, and read everything I tell you to right now.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Yard Sales, El Caminos, Springfield anywhere, and zucchini mechanics.

Hello Dear Readers,

I hope you are all well, and if you are in Western Mass I hope you are enjoying this Pacific Northwest-style summer. It is awfully strange for it to rain every afternoon here, but I'm pretty sure someone upstairs arranged it to ease my transition to the actual Pacific Northwest, so thanks weather folk! I mean, I think most people are getting kind of tired of it, but I do sincerely appreciate the sentiment.

So today I have a number of rambly things to mention, rather than a specific book review to post. Good thing I'm leaving, or someone might find this level of disorganization irritating. Here goes:

I'm having a yard sale. People call them 'tag sales' out here, but people to crazy things all the time and I can't be bothered to keep track of all of it. My tag sale will be outside my house, which is in Northampton. There will be signs. If you want to buy houseplants, books (lots of books!), furniture, clothing, old tapes and cds, weird surplus items, and possibly some zucchini bread, you should visit old south street on saturday and follow the signs to our sale. How does this relate to books? Well, you know who calls these events 'tag sales'? Crazy people like Martha Stewart, that's who. Order this book, by Mz. Stewart, read up on how it works, then come buy my stuff.

So my ode to the El Camino is somewhat of a hit on our blog, altho I can't really explain why. In honor, I have found you fine people this other person's Ode to the El Camino. His trumps mine 'cause he has actually owned one, where I have only lived next door to one. Also, I realize this is sounding a bit flippant, so let me bring a veneer of authenticity to this topic by introducing you to the real, original, camino, 'El Camino Real'. North America's oldest and longest road, this is what I remember most vividly of elementary school social studies. A road. Anyway, pick up this book and learn all about it, eh? 'Cause who doesn't love learning?

So a friend of mine (and fellow bookseller, soon to join the Harvard Bookstore, woot woot yay Nicole!!!) was visiting this weekend, and we hatched a fantastic plan. Apparently there is a town, city, village, or hamlet named Springfield in every state in the union. We think someone (hopefully someone who does not live in Springfield) should start a blog/forum/web application to unite the people of Springfields, so that they can revel in the unique yet universal benefits of living in Springfield. Confused by the lack of relevance to your world, or lack of context in this post? Just check out these two books (a, and b), and take a moment to respect the place The Simpsons has carved out in American pop culture. Yeow.

Ok, last thing I swear. This weekend I buggered some basic car maintenance and got air stuck in my fuel injectors (yes, that car is still for sale! I'll drop the price if you mention the blog!) and had to get the car towed to my mechanic. It was even more fantastic than usual. First off, he was there on a Sunday, which is wonderful. Next, he showed me how to bleed the injectors myself so I could fix this on my own next time. Lastly, I paid in zucchini bread. Seriously, I brought him bread to thank him for being around on Sunday, and he didn't charge me anything for fixing my problem or showing me how to fix it myself. Wow. So this doesn't relate to a book but I just have to plug is shop in this, my only public forum, 'cause seriously this guy is amazing. So, anyone in western mass need some car work, maybe have an interest in alternative fuels and/or learning to take care of your car yourself? Go to Seven Sisters Auto in Hatfield, MA. They are a fantastic shop.

Ok, that's all I'll subject you people to today. Take Care, be good to each other, and of course, read everything I tell you to right now ;) Best,

Friday, August 1, 2008

Book Review - The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Hello faithful readers,

I know, it has been way too long since I've posted to our blog. Darcy has been so much better about that than I have this past month. But today being August 1st, I have firmly resolved August will not get away from me - I WILL post, especially when I've read a delightful book I want to share.
Lucky you, dear readers, because I just finished such a book yesterday, and so I will post about it now!

First, this title - it's absolutely yummy. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Doesn't that make you want to dive right in and take a big bite out of the book itself? What is this society? What's Potato Peel Pie? Who is in it, how did it get started - so many questions come to mind when you read such a deliciously convoluted title. Ah, and the book does it's part to answer them.
The book itself is an epistolary novel (thank you to Emily Crowe for supplying me with that word; for the life of me I couldn't remember what it was), which means it is told entirely in the form of lette
rs. And they're good letters too! I love this form of novel because it feels so much more intimate. You're not just getting this tale, you're getting the thoughts and feelings behind the actions, which for some reason people feel so much freer and more able to put down on paper (in the form of letters) than when they're verbally describing a situation. If all the letters don't actually describe the situation, then they serve to tantalize you with glimpses of the plot and tease you into reading more!
The letters are all to, from, or about Ms. Juliet Ashton, the central character in this novel - an absolutely delightful woman who is a writer by trade, so her letters are wonderfully descriptive, yet nonetheless are never verbose and always leave you wanting to read whatever letter comes next. She receives a letter herself from a man on the island of Guernsey who had purchased a book written by Charles Lamb, which had been previously owned by Ms. Ashton. He writes her to say that he really enjoys this first taste of Charles Lamb and wonders if she would be able to help him in procuring more works of similar literary quality and merit. Ms. Ashton takes up a correspondence with Mr. Dawsey Adams (the man who wrote her), and is thus introduced to the society he is apart of - The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The current year being 1946, people are still recovering and rebuilding their lives from the devastation of World War II. This society was begun during the German occupation of the Channel Islands, of which Guernsey is a part. Soon Juliet is corresponding with many of the members of this society, slowly uncovering the stories of German wartime occupation - the love, loss, friendship, and courage that occurred on this isolated island during the war - and getting a first-hand look at what that means in her own life.
No part of this book disappoints. I simultaneously wa
nted to rush through it to see how and what happens, and never wanted it to end. Now that it has ended, I'm sending it to three people I know, and starting it all over again myself. For fans of The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, The History of Love by Nicole Krauss, and/or Letters from an Age of Reason by Nora Hague (all three of which are fabulous books and if you've liked one, you should read the others) will love this book as well.

The Guernsey Literray and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Hardcover: $22 9780385340991

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Alive in Necropolis, Angels & Demons, and me being a slacker

Hello Dear Readers!

I hope you are all doing well, and if you are in Western Mass I hope you are enjoying this latest batch of rain-free days. I'm writing 'cause it has been a while, but I don't have a lot to report, and what there is to report I don't have a lot of time for.

I've been studying more than reading for fun, but I did recently break down and read a couple of silly thriller/mystery things. First was Angels and Demons by Dan Brown, and I have to say I was not impressed. A particle physicist at CERN discovered (along with his beautiful daughter/research partner) a method for making relatively large quantities of antimatter, and portable carrying cases which hold their charge for 24 hrs. When the charge runs out the vacuum fails and the antimatter annihilates everything in its range, but rather than calling the cops the director of CERN calls Langdon, a symbologist at Harvard. The name of an ancient brotherhood of anti-Catholic scientists was branded into the researcher's chest, so of course Langdon is the fellow to deal with it, right? So they go to Rome, elbow their way into full Vatican access during an historic pope selection (the holy conclave?), and race against time along a path of clues laid by Galileo, Bernini, and their contemporaries. It just struck me as unnecessarily flashy in a lot of ways. Sure, an antimatter weapon would be quite impressive, but is so remarkably improbable at this point that I could not successfully suspend my disbelief. The narrative was kind of clunky with a bunch of cheaper bits (there are more delicate ways to express that our main characters are physically attractive), but it was fun enough and I was looking for something light, so it carried me along to the remarkably improbable resolution.

Next up was Alive in Necropolis, by Doug Dorst, which I expected to be about zombies but is actually about ghosts. And cops. I find ghost stories kind of campy, so I mostly stuck with this one because the setting (Colma, East of San Francisco) reminded me of my 'homeland', but it turned out to be a decent read (yes, I know I'm reading light stuff these days). We put this one in mysteries but it would probably do ok with older teans, altho I don't think parents would like the drugs and misbehavior. Our hero is a rookie cop who gets his spot after his predecessor dies in an apparent suicide. Colma is where San Francisco goes to be buried, so a lot of his beat is graveyards, and he starts to hear and see flickery ghost things. Meanwhile Dorst gives us a bit of a window into the ghost world, and it soon becomes clear that a violent miscreant with a band of thugs is on the loose, causing pain for the sake of pain and 'killing' ghosties (and people?) who get in their way. When will some brave soul find the courage to stop them? Rookie bonds with a troubled teen (son of some famous director) after saving him from a graveyard mishap, so we also get a window into a teen's life of poor decisions, ill-advsed crushes, thoughtless drug use and *totally* clueless parents.

Right, that's all I've got time for today. My replacement started last week, and he is going to be fantastic. He's kicking my butt at every task I give him, asking really good questions and getting really good at figuring out the answers we give, and is clearly more organized and professional than I am. Maybe one day he'll even blog...

Anyway, Take Care, All!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Ode to the El Camino

Hello Dear Readers,

Well folks, it's summer for real out here, and hot. June had a bunch of rain, with impressive thunderstorms damaging crops and felling trees all over the place, but we've been stuck in a humid heat today. I tend toward delirious plotting as my humidity coping mechanism of choice but find the heat quite enjoyable just the same. In the early days of melting heat this summer Rebecca and I hatched a fantastic plan for Western Mass wading pool domination, and now that it is really warm again I'm dusting off the plans. Please allow me to explain, in rambling detail.

I have a deep and irrational love of the El Camino, a sporty sedan with a pickup bed produced by Chevrolet between '59 and '88 (for reference, check out this book! We can order it for you, if you like!) I don't generally care about muscle cars, am pretty irritated by our auto dependence as a culture, and have only begun noticing well-maintained older cars since acquiring a generally maintained older car, but there's something about the El Camino that just stands out. What twisted cockiness to name your vehicle 'The Way,' when that car-centric way is probably killing us, I love it! My neighbor had one growing up, I associate them with west coast badass and strange chrome choices, and I want one.

Rebecca and I also both want more swimming. Lakes, ponds, rivers, pools, clean water barrels, doesn't matter. When it's 95 in the shade we want more water, all the time. Now, I have a lot of relatives in desert climates, a couple of them live in trailer parks or their momma's basements,
a number of them have pickup trucks, and I have heard rumors of second cousins filling pickup truck beds with water for an instant wading pool. Last month, while collapsed on the couch in a pool of my own sweat, I realized that El Caminos also have a truck-type bed. Just imagine the awesomeness of sitting in your El Camino and, at the same time, sitting in your wading pool. What an incredible collision of worlds! That, my friends is the final plan for Western MA wading pool domination.

Confused by what I mean? Well, here are some useful images:



That's all for now folks, have a great evening!


Ooh ooh, also the store has hired my replacement! woo hoo it's really really real! And I *love* the first edition club, but that is braggy news for another day. Take Care, all.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Someday You'll Miss Me...

Hello Dear Readers,

Enough with the pleasantries, I'm leaving the Odyssey. I'm leaving the bookstore job, my fantastic household and housemates, the Pioneer Valley, the state of Massachusetts, the New England Region, this half of the country, and my community garden plot. My housemates will inherit the garden plot, but I am also selling my car if you are interested (1983 Mercedes-Benz 300TD, a navy blue wagon with 264,000 miles on 'er and two years of successfully running on alternative fuels. It is not converted to run on WVO (waste vegetable oil) but I currently run about half WVO half petroleum diesel in the summer (under the advice and supervision of my mechanic) successfully, so my fuel costs about $2.40/gallon and I get something like 22-24 mpg. The car is a champion, but old and not 'restored' by anyone's definition. I'll miss the old broad. $2000 obo) and holding a yard sale in August to hand off all those ARCs I've collected with the intention to read, and maybe an actual bookshelf or two.

I got into a graduate (PhD) program in Environmental Science/Physics in Portland, Oregon. I haven't figured out how to pay for it yet (but y'all are welcome to help, by all means. Have you been wondering what to do with all those benjamins taking up space in your bank vault?) but I'm going to work that out on the way. I intend to engage in environmentally relevant research in Atmospheric Physics, perhaps studying the sources and sinks of atmospheric trace gases (for example, methane) which have relevance to climate. It will be amazing, and tons of work. I'm so excited.

After the cactus-theft fiasco I promised you fine people to never write another non-book-related post, so here are the tie-ins. Remember that car I'm selling, the one that runs on WVO sometimes but is begging for a true conversion or biodiesel enthusiast to take it all the way? She has been pressuring me to read this new book about 2 dudes crossing the country on WVO. The book is called Greasy Rider, by Greg Melville, and it comes out in October from Algonquin. I haven't read the book yet (but I might be giving away an ARC at the yard sale if I get to it by then! You should come by with your wallet to find out.) so I'm irresponsibly recommending it based on content summaries. I want to read this one, therefore you should read it. Hmm, apparently that is also the name of a movie about crossing the country on WVO, but I don't believe the two are related. Here is an article about the author.

So, why study air? Isn't that, like, what the empty glass is filled with? I must be some kind of nihilist, huh? Luckily a book came in just today addressing that very question and exploring that fascinating sea of particles that fills our lungs and protects us (ok, along with our magnetic field) from the ravages of space. An Ocean of Air: Why The Wind Blows and Other Mysteries of the Atmosphere, by Gabrielle Walker, seems like an excellent tour of atmospheric studies for laypeople. I just started it today so I can only say that it held my attention pleasantly through dinner, but here is an involved review of the book by someone else. He seemed to like it.

Take care, dear readers!


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

gardens, fairies, eco-warriors, and excellent dogs

Hello Dear Readers,

I hope this summer has been treating you well. My garden is really starting to take off, would you like to hear about it? Well, it is producing more broccoli, kale, and zucchini than I can handle on my own, but the onions haven't really started yet. The cucumber plants, shining stars of last year's garden, are hovering somewhere between sickly and dead, and the heads of lettuce that grew so fast and tasty early on have all been chopped off and are busily trying to grow back. The cilantro, basil, and spinach have flowered with surprising speed (oops!), the seven tomato plants are waist-high and flowering, and the potato plants are a dark-green sort of gigantic, although I have no idea how to tell when they are ready and safe to eat. Perhaps someone has put this information in a book, eh? Wouldn't it be lovely if there was a place, a retail establishment, where one could go with pieces of eight, and leave with a book full of words. Wouldn't that be lovely...

So it is a Tuesday night here at the Odyssey and the store just filled with a Elli's 8 member bookclub. Neil and I have both been sick this past week, and EC is on another fabulous island vacation, so it has been quite hectic for everyone else but I've spent an awful lot of time in my pjs falling asleep into books.

I don't read young adult books too often, but last week when I left work early to crash out feverish on Rebecca's couch I needed something light and fantastical to read in the 10 minute segments I woke up for. Artemis Fowl (Eoin Colfer, Hyperion Books, ISBN 9780786817078) was a great choice, with the extremely easy language carrying a fun and fantastical plot through a variety of twists and turns. Thank heavens the Rebecca's House Health Spa carries children's books!

In my more alert moments I have been reading Confessions of an Eco-Warrior (Dave Foreman, Three Rivers Press, ISBN 051788058X) by one of the founders of Earth First! I really love the way this book is written, and am enjoying it much more than I expected. I was expecting something dry and dogmatic, but Foreman writes quite pleasantly. I love the way he philosophizes about the role of humans on this planet, and what our actions represent in relation to its other inhabitants. He takes space in every chapter to write about a wilderness experience, and they are great anecdotes. I am looking forward to learning more about the evolution of Earth First!, and the evolution of Foreman's activist philosophy, by actually finishing the book.

Inspired by the amazing in-store reading on June 24th and the overwhelming publicity, I also recently read The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (David Wroblewski, Ecco Press, ISBN 0061374229). Wow, this one deserves to win something big. Edgar Sawtelle is the only child of Trudy and Gar, dog breeders and trainers who are developing the Sawtelle 'breed' while working for a larger goal in canine evolution. Edgar is mute, his best friend and soul's other is a dog named Almondine, and the entire story takes place before he turns 16. I have heard that this is a re-telling of Hamlet, but my sense of Shakespearian Lit is pretty shaky so I couldn't verify the claim. It does, however contain Shakespearian elements introduced in a distinctly American fashion. There is an oracle, but she chain-smokes and runs the general store, and there are layers of familial dynamics. The Sawtelle dogs are incredible as well, bountiful in their dog-ness but trained to exercise their judgment as well as recognize commands. This story is incredible, I want to read it again for the first time, and I want to walk through those northern woods and see if I can run into a Sawtelle dog.

That's all for tonight, hope you're all doing well!


Saturday, July 5, 2008

Book Review - Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love by Lara Vapnyar

Hello all,

What a rainy Saturday we're having here! I have to confess, though, that I love the rain. To me, there are so many endless possibilities for fun on a rainy day. I know all of you with kids must be groaning and wanting to click that back button on the browser, and I have to agree, as a child I probably did not feel this way, but as an adult? - oh my, give me a good rainy day anytime! It's just so much easier for me to excuse doing what I want on a rainy day, which is mostly to curl up with a good book. Or curl up to watch a movie. Or curl up to take a nap. Basically anything that involves some sort of curling. There's also cooking and baking to be done, unpacking my new apartment, writing letters to various friends and relatives, etc. etc
., all of which you'll notice I am not doing at the moment, but am instead at work, and writing this book review to all of you. Wherever you are and whatever you're doing on this gray Saturday, I hope you're taking a small moment to appreciate, rather than complain about, this rain. Just remember - as much as we affect it, the daily weather is one of the few things humans have not found a way to absolutely control (yet), and I thank goodness for that every day.

So, about this book I'm supposed to be telling you about. It's great. I say that knowing full well I picked it up expecting it to be good, and being thrilled that I wasn't disappointed. Do you ever have those hunches? When you look at a book, totally judging it by its cover, and think, yeah, I bet I'm really going to enjoy reading you. This was one of those books for me. Let me also tell you that I'm a rather recent, but assuredly passionate, short story/essay lover. Who knew? Seriously, this is an adult-life discovery. I think we should start encouraging more children/teens/young adults to read short stories because (though I wasn't this way as a child), so many children get really overwhelmed by the size of a large book, tiny words, pages and pages of text. If they knew they only had to sit down and read one little story, and then maybe turn the page a day later and read another little, and then they may sit and read two in one sitting - perhaps soon they would be reading a whole book, just for that sense of accomplishment that comes when you've turned the final page, and as much as you've enjoyed the tale, boy are you glad you now have permission to be done and get up and go back to the rest of your life.

Clearly I digress. Lara Vapnyar writes about food as if it's there on the page in front of you for you to taste. She writes about love the same way. The fact that she is able to combine the mostly inner monologue of people's musings on life and love (she could be writing about a day in your own life, really), while simultaneously making your stomach growl for the hot borscht with sour cream someone in the story has just made, is an absolutely brilliant way of inviting other senses to partake in this primarily visual experience (that of reading the actual words on the actual page). Her stories reflect the food in them in the sense that if the food is unsatisfying in the tale, you may be left with a brief lingering and longing sensation for something just a little better or a little more of the tale to come along. If the food has been completely filling and satisfying, the story wraps up with a warm, contented closure. At the end, just as with a fabulous meal, I was sad it was over, and simultaneously relieved the self control was taken out of my hands or else I would have gorged myself a little too much.

If you like her writing, or short stories/essays in general, you should also check out her other works, Memoirs of a Muse and There Are Jews in My House.

Go poke your head out in the rain a minute. It's fun, I promise.


Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love by Lara
Hardcover: $20.00 9780375424878

There Are Jews in My Houseby Lara Vapnyar
Hardcover: $17.95 9780375422508
Paperback: $12.00 9781400033898

Memoirs of a Muse by Lara Vapnyar
Hardcover: $22.95 9780375422966
Paperback: $13.95 9781400077007

Saturday, June 21, 2008

June Children's Event Overviews

Hello all!

We've had some wonderful children's events the past two weekends so I thought I would take a second to tell you about them.

On Saturday, June 14th, we hosted Jeanne Birdsall, talking about her latest book The Penderwicks on Gardam Street (sequel to her 2005 National Book Award Winner The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy) to a very interested mixed-age crowd. They listened with rapt attention as she described her writing process, revealed that there will be 3 more Penderwicks books yet to come, and answered audience questions. We were so thrilled to have her in the store, and I speak on a personal note that I believe echoes the thoughts of many a Penderwicks fan when I say, I can hardly wait the 3 more years for the next Penderwicks book to be released.

Penderwicks on Gardam Street, by Jeanne Birdsall
Hardcover: 9780375840906, $15.99

Today, on Saturday, June 21st, the Odyssey played host to another local favorite, Barry Moser. He read from an old favorite, Earthquack! (what a tongue twister!), as well as from his newest book, Hogwood Steps Out. Telling fun stories and answering audience questions, Mr. Moser was a charming and fun featured guest.

Earthquack!, by Margie Palatini, illustrated by Barry Moser
Paperback: 9781416902607, $6.99

Hogwood Steps Out, by Howard Mansfield, illustrated by Barry Moser
Hardcover: 9781596432697, $16.95

If you were unable to come by for either of these events, feel free to stop by the store and pick up your autographed copy today!

Don't forget to check out our summer Saturday Children's Events, beginning the weekend after the 4th of July. Grab a flier at any of the store counters.

For Children's Department questions or book reservations, call Rebecca at the Odyssey at 413.534.7307

Happy reading!