Sunday, September 26, 2010

Anthony Bourdain & Medium Raw

This past Friday, my fellow Odyssey booksellers and I were working at the Anthony Bourdain event in Springfield, MA. We'd been invited by the folks at Symphony Hall to sell his books before, during, and after his event, as well as at the VIP reception immediately following his presentation. As a reward, we, in turn, got to attend the event for free, meet Mr. Bourdain, and get our own books signed.

What did I learn from Tony? Other than he's taller in person (6'4") and just as irreverent as his television persona? He's still angry with his usual targets: the Food Network. Celebrity cooks who have laid claim to the un-earned title of "chef." The dumbing down of the American palate, courtesy of chain restaurants that have muddled simple, traditional cuisines beyond all recognition: Chili's. Applebee's. Macaroni Grill. ( Or in the words of Tony himself: "The Olive Garden--sure, it sounds Italian. So does 'chlamydia.' Don't be fooled. It's not Italian, and it's not good.")

He's still not too happy with Alice Waters, either. Or with the King, the Clown, and the Colonel. Bourdain is neither burdened by politesse nor inclined to mince words. But just because he's playing to an audience for shock value doesn't mean that it's not riotously funny and thought-provoking by turn. I missed a good 30 minutes or so of his presentation because our staff members were rotating in and out of the auditorium to keep watch over our bookselling tables, but I did get to hear his rules for travel, and I have to say, I couldn't agree more.

1. Be curious.
2. Be polite.
3. Be grateful.
4. Observe local custom.
5. Dress appropriately (Tony's reaction to underclad tourists on a trip to Istanbul: "Presumably you wouldn't wear a Speedo to the Vatican. So why the hell would you wear booty shorts where half your ass hangs out to the Blue Mosque?").
6. Eat everything.
7. Drink everything.

I received a comp copy of his new book, Medium Raw, last week (thanks, HarperCollins!)--just in time to get it read for last night's event. Much of his show is derived from the book, and in turn the tone of the book is as conversational as his show. Occasionally Bourdain shows a brilliant turn of phrase, but most of the time it just feels like he's talking to the reader without much forethought, but what he lacks stylistically he makes up for with his colorful language. Though I grew weary with his macho, sexually charged metaphors and I zoned out a bit during the long chapters about chefs I've never heard of, I found the book to be engaging, for the most part.

We still have a few signed copies of Medium Raw available for sale, but they won't last long. Give us a call if you'd like to order one!

~Emily Crowe

Kevin and Tony, just chillin' after the event

Monday, September 20, 2010

A great new book for classical music and historical fiction lovers alike!

Richard Harvell's The Bells, released this week by Crown Publishing, was one of the more interesting books I read on vacation this summer. Born to a deaf mother amidst the peals of the loudest bells in 18th-century Christendom, Moses Froben is a boy whose extraordinary sense of hearing is matched only by the altitudinous beauty of his soprano voice. Dark events lead him to seek sanctuary at the Abbey of St. Gall, where even darker events lead to the forced castration that will preserve his exquisite voice and rend him asunder from his love. ( Or will it?) All musical roads eventually lead to Vienna, and there he finds solace with friends old and new in this fascinating retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth. An impressive debut that will delight historical fiction and classical music fans alike. ~Emily Crowe

Saturday, September 18, 2010

New Picturebooks

We have a number of new fall picturebooks in- from award-winners to new favorites- all beautifully illustrated. Some are more adult-appropriate while others would make wonderful baby shower gifts. I wish I could take them all home...

Art and Max
by David Wiesner
Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
I love Wiesner's work. Tuesday is one of my top three pictures books of all time (I say top three because actually ordering such a thing is impossible). The incredible detail of his illustrations creates such miraculous magical realism. The preview I've seen of Art and Max (coming this fall) is no exception. The atmosphere, breathtaking detail, and bizarre story is all you could possibly want. This is not a book I can review or blurb- it must be seen.

Children Make Terrible Pets
written & illustrated by Peter Brown
Little, Brown & Company, September 2010

Every child goes through a phase in which a pet is necessary in order to live a normal life. Besides, everyone else has a pet.... Children Make Terrible Pets puts a new twist on this classic situation when Lucy the Bear brings home a human child. Her mother (like any sane mother) is not pleased. The pet, named Squeaker, is going to mess up the furniture and cause trouble- he needs to be left in his natural habit. This is a sweet and silly book that will have kids giggling, and just maybe abandoning their desire for totally unsuitable pets.

Dillweed's Revenge: A Deadly Does of Magic
written by Florence Parry Heide with Roxanne Heide Pierce, David Fisher Parry, and Jeanne McReynolds Parry
illustrated by Carson Ellis
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
I was immediately drawn to this book, being a fan of Carson Ellis' illustrations-think Decemberists' posters and the covers of The Mysterious Benedict Society series. The story is dark and strange, complete with nasty adults and a series of coffins that immediately gets one thinking about Edward Gorey. Which, it turns out, is exactly where one's mind should go, as Edward Gorey illustrated Heide's Treehorn series in the 1970s.

Dillweed and his strange pet, Skorped, are forced to do the servant's work when Dillweed's parents are away having fun, which is often. It's a miserable existence, but at least they have each other. That is until Perfidia, the maid, decides to get rid of Skorped.

This is a dark adventure that will be enjoyed by strange children, followed by terrible teens, and laughed at by absurd adults.

Piggy Pie Po
by Don & Audrey Wood
Harcourt Children's Books, September
This Fall, from the creators of The Napping House, Piggies, King Bidgood's in the Bathtub, and my personal favorite, Heckedy Peg, comes a silly new story of an adorable pig named Piggy Pie Po. Piggy Pie Po likes many things and he is a very accomplished little pig- the only thing he can't do is tie his shoes. Piggy Pie Po loves to eat. He eats his way through a table-full of food, until he makes a terrible mistake, eating a red-hot chili pepper!
The colorful pictures, are, as always, delightful. Very young children will enjoy the rhyming text and speedy pace of the story. Though Piggy Pie Po will be released in Hardcover in September, it would make a delightful board book. Great for the 2-4 crowd, Piggy Pie Po would also make a wonderful baby shower gift.*

*I know there are a lot of people intent on purchasing only classics for baby showers. But the fact is, many people already have the classics, especially if this isn't a first child. So why not pick a new book by award-winning author/illustrators of classics?

Diary of a Baby Wombat
written by Jackie French
illustrated by Bruce Whatley
It's not often I love books for being cute, but baby wombat, is, well, cute. And who has he discovered to be his new friend? A human baby. Meanwhile, mum wombat is trying to find a bigger hole for her and baby to sleep in, and baby wombat, while trying to be helpful, is only causing trouble as usual. Will mum find them a bigger hole? And will baby wombat help her?

The interactions between the human baby and baby wombat are sweet while the mum and baby wombat interactions are classically fun (especially for parents). Just looking at a sequence of mum and baby sleeping will win you over.

Pocket Full of Posies: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes
illustrated by Salley Mavor
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, September
I tend to be ambivalent when it comes to nursery rhymes; there have been so many collections and so many illustrators, and, for me, they were never as good as a story. But Salley Mavor's illustrations are incredible. Using beads, felt, thread, wood, and other natural found objects Mavor has crafted a soft, warm, and infinitely charming world. Every tiny piece of clothing (to give you a sense of scale, acorn tops are hats) is embroidered with textures or patterns. The most difficult part of executing a three-dimensional illustration is the lighting and photography, and the reproductions here are beautiful. The texture is soft and visible, but not overly emphasized or overwhelming. Objects have a soft shadow to give depth, and the colors retain their earth to jewel tones. While I wouldn't ordinarily think of purchasing a book of nursery rhymes for myself, Mavor's illustrations are something I want to revisit often.

It’s a Book
By Lane Smith
Macmillan, August 31, 2010
So accustomed to our electronic devices: lap tops, phones, e-readers, not to mention all of Apple’s goodies….
And a book, well, what is it good for? Because you can’t blog or tweet or email with it...
An explanation of a book for the chronically plugged-in and a scathing way to remind people of their worth, It’s a Book has had multiple Odyssey employees roaring with laughter.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

An elegant new novel

You know how you can dip into a book and from the first chapter it transports you to another world? Daphne Kalotay's new novel, Russian Winter, is just like that. I picked it up at the height of the summer heat wave and it felt nothing short of miraculous to be carried away to the bitter winter of Moscow in the 1950s and 1960s to help keep the humidity at bay.

This narrative pas de deux binds Nina Revskaya's mysterious past as the Bolshoi Ballet's rising young star with her reclusive present as an anonymous benefactor of the Boston arts scene. When a rash, youthful decision based on jealousy and insecurity sets events spinning out of her control, Nina spends the rest of her life guarding a dark secret. With this sweeping story of art, love, and Soviet politics come hints of intrigue and betrayal, and even those with the most dazzling talent cannot protect themselves against damaging accusations.

The book, published by HarperCollins, goes on sale on September 7, and it's currently one of the top books by independent booksellers for the month--you can see all of our collective favorites here. What's more, it's the Odyssey's September pick for our First Edition Club.

~Emily Crowe

Monday, September 6, 2010

A new novel, utterly convincing and haunting

Room by Emma Donoghue. Jack, our 5-year-old narrator, and his mother are being held captive in an 11' by 11' room. His mother struggles to give him as close to normal a childhood as possible under these desperate circumstances, with "Outside" being a made-up world he sees only on TV. But when Ma's daily struggle against insanity becomes too much to bear, Jack must bear the burden of a drastic escape plan. Donoghue's ability to portray Jack's understanding of his world and Ma's determination to keep him safe is both poignant and heart-wrenching. It's been a long time since I've read a book that has affected me as much as this one has--it's absolutely haunting. This title was the #1 choice among independent booksellers for the month of Septemer (you can see the entire list here). It's out this week in hardcover from Little, Brown.
~Emily Crowe

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A fascinating, disturbing read...

Proportionately, I don't read a lot of nonfiction each year. Maybe one work of nonfiction for every 10-15 works of fiction. But boy howdy, every now and again I really hit the jackpot with a book that entertains, educates, and enthalls, and most recently it was with Hal Herzog's forthcoming book from HarperCollins, Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat.

Herzog uses this book to explore the ambiguous moral complexities (or would that be complex moral ambiguities?) of the relationships people have with animals. What are we to make of the fact that in 1933, the Nazi party signed into legislation the world's most comprehensive animal protection laws? Why do so many people denounce cockfighting but think nothing of popping back a few fast food chicken nuggets made from hens whose lives are undoubtedly worse than the gamecocks'? How is US Congress able to not recognize certain breeds of mice and rats as animals in the Animal Welfare Act, enacted in 1966 and still in place today? Herzog's book leaves more questions than answers in this book that is endlessly fascinating, describing in surprising detail the ambivalence and ambiguities and complications we feel towards the animals we love, hate, and eat.

He devotes an entire chapter to the "comparative ethics of fighting chickens versus eating them." Herzog argues that fighting cocks live the life of Riley compared to the "Dante-esque living conditions" of the COBB 500, a chicken modified by Tyson Chicken for its disproportionate breast meat. He certainly convinced this reader (with help from Michael Pollan and Eric Schloss) that there are real evils in the mass production (read: torture) of chickens for the fast food industry that far outstrip the evils of cockfighting, and not just because of the sheer numbers. So when he turns the discussion to issues of class and race, it becomes even more thought-provoking: "Why then is it legal for us to kill nine billion broiler chickens every year, but cockfighting can get you hard time in the federal penitentiary?" After all, "factory-farmed chickens are exempt from virtually all federal animal welfare statutes INCLUDING the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1958" [emphasis mine]. Cockfighting in the US is mostly the domain of rural working class whites or urban working class people of color, so Herzog suggests that "society is much more likely to criminalize forms of animal abuse that involves minorities and the poor than animal cruelties that affect the wealthy." According to him, over 5,000 horses died at racetracks in the US in the years 2003-2008, and yet polls show that most Americans are not in favor of banning horse racing. He concludes, rather succinctly, "like cockfighting, horse racing represents a confluence of gambling and suffering. But unlike cockfighting, thoroughbreds are the hobby of the rich."

There are dozens of other chapters, each of them fascinating and disturbing by turn, and I'd go so far as to recommend it to almost every category of mature reader I know. As a bookseller, I'm not sure I can think of higher praise.

~Emily Crowe