Monday, February 2, 2009

Been a Long Time Gone...

I just got back from Winter Institute in Salt Lake City, a long weekend of educational programs for independent booksellers, sponsored by publishers and our national trade organization. In between educational sessions we schmooze and circulate and reconnect with old bookselling friends. Oh, yes, and GET FREE BOOKS! This year I wised up and actually brought an empty suitcase with me to take home all of the goodies to share with the rest of the staff. If anything was made clear this year at Wi4, it was the importance of blogging. (Well, actually, that's not quite so. Lots of things were made clear, but this was the one thing that I could actually implement as soon as I got home, while waiting for the jet lag to clear up. If you can have jet lag for only a two hour time difference, that is. This time last night I was just getting in from a publisher dinner. In fact, it was the least pretentious publisher dinner in history, but more about that in tomorrow's post.)

So in the four days that I was away, I read five books. I usually average about 2.5 books per week, but when one is stuck on an Airbus 319 in Detroit for a few hours, apparently one can get a lot more reading accomplished!

Triangular Road by Paule Marshall. I got to meet this amazing woman at Wi4. I'd read an earlier book, Praisesong for the Widow, the first time I traveled to Grenada a few years ago. This book is a memoir based on a series of lectures given at Harvard. It's a series of snapshots of pivotal moments in her life, including large moments like her state-sponsored European travels with Langston Hughes, or smaller moments like her travels to the tiny Caribbean island of Carriacou where she finally banishes a severe case of writer's block. Though this memoir wasn't as pleasing to me as her novel, I can't understand why Marshall isn't more widely read--she's a real treasure.

Hot House Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire
by Margot Berwin. My Random House sales rep Ann Kingman pressed this book into my hand last week when visiting the store, so I took it along to read on the plane. I gobbled it up so fast that I actually had to buy another book at the airport bookstore to read on my second flight! A woman recovering from a divorce unwillingly gets involved in the search for nine plants with a collective mythical power in the Yucatan. A delightfully distracting read, the author takes us for a romp that is equal parts romance, adventure, magical realism, and self-discovery. It's a colorful, frothy, well-paced novel perfect for escapist reading.

Valeria's Last Stand by Mark Fitten. He was at the author reception at Wi4 and just as charming as can be. It didn't hurt that one of the grande dames of bookselling mentioned how much she loved his book during the opening remarks the first day. Anyway, this quiet first novel is a modern day fable set in a small Hungarian village. Regime changes may come and go, but a fool is a fool is a fool and petty corruption is just as immune to communism as it is to capitalism. This book really is about hidden longings and shows that at the intersections of romance & practicality and power & ambition, peculiar and wonderful things can happen.

girls by Laurie Halse Anderson. Alas, she was not at Wi4, but her galleys were. I'd not read her before but she's a favorite with Rebecca Fabian, our children's buyer at the Odyssey Bookshop, as well as our teen readership. It astonishes me how brilliant Anderson is at getting into the mind and under the skin of her characters. Not just another troubled teen story, Wintergirls explores the scary and inexorable downward spiral Lia's psyche takes after her former best friend is found dead, alone, in a seedy motel room. Anderson's language of anorexia is as haunting as Lia's mental anguish and she keeps the reader guessing until the end whether Lia will be able to keep herself from vanishing altogether.

A Thousand Splendid Suns
by Khaled Hosseini. This is the book that I picked up in Detroit--it killed me to have to buy a book from a chain bookstore. I also may have his name spelled incorrectly, so my apologies! Hosseini spins a tragic tale of two women whose lives are full of unimaginable horrors, set against the backdrop of various Afghan regimes. What endures is their new found loyalty to each other as well as as the intense yearning for home that the displaced feel. I'm the one bookseller in the US who didn't read The Kite Runner, so I have nothing to say in terms of comparisons, but I had been wanting to pick up this book ever since watching Hosseini engage in bantering on stage with Stephen Colbert (not for the faint hearted!) a couple of years ago at BEA.

I'm also totally excited about tomorrow's book release for Abraham Verghese's Cutting for Stone, which was probably the best book I read in 2008. (What year should it count in? The year that I read it or the year it is available to the general public?) It's an epic story, full of grace, sharp observations, hard truths and redemption. It's about family, fatherland, betrayal and self-discovery. It's one man's story set against the backdrop of Ethiopia, India, and the US. It's full of heart. Beautifully written. Brilliant insight. I could go on and on, but by all means, just go out and read it! We're going to have signed copies 'round here next week, so if you're interested in a signed copy give us a call or shoot us an email. May I confess something? I'm a little giddy at the thought of meeting him next week. I just hope I don't go all fangirl on him and say something to embarrass myself!

~Emily C.


Ann said...

OK, I'm a little biased, but what a fantastic first blog post, Emily! :)
I'm a little afraid I'm going to get all fangirl on Mr. Verghese, too. I'm counting Cutting For Stone as a favorite of 2009, by the way, even though I also read it in 2008. Just seems to make more sense.

And now of course you've added more books to my TBR list. Thanks!

Emily Crowe said...

Thanks, Ann! Actually, it's not my first post, but you've have to go back several months before you you'd see another one of mine. I'm going to make a much bigger effort now, though!

Emily C.

The Odyssey Bookshop said...

Thanks, Ann! Actually this wasn't my first post, but you'd have to go back a few months before you'd see another one of mine. I hereby resolve to make sure the Over 30 demographic at the bookshop is heard more frequently 'round here.

Buried said...

Only 300 some odd days until I join said demographic.