Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Sunday Question

Which lost independent bookshop do you most long for?

As we all know, many independent bookstores have fallen by the wayside in the past few years. Thankfully, our wonderful Odyssey Bookshop remains, but so many are lost to us. I thought I'd ask this week, which do you most miss? A kind of homage to bookshops of our past.

Since I've been on a kind of vacation, albeit one that has chiefly involved sorting and packing for my move, I haven't had the opportunity to ask my compatriots this question, so I don't have as much material to work with. However, what prompted the question was my perusal of the Irish Times last week, and coming across the startling news that one of my favorite bookshops in the world, the great Winding Stair in Dublin, had morphed into a frou frou restaurant.

Now, when I first came upon the Winding Stair, in the Dublin of the mid-nineties, it was a slightly raffish, lovely pink behemoth, three floors of books and a cheap vegetarian cafe. Something like Northampton's Haymarket in its first incarnation, but with a long literary pedigree, and a view from its dirty Palladian windows of the River Liffley meandering its silver way through the heart of Dublin. It boasted a huge collection of books by Irish writers (remember, you can't throw a stone in Ireland without hitting a Nobel Laureate, or at least a statue of one).

It became my favorite Dublin hangout, and much of the time I spent in Ireland -- in 1995, then again in 1997 -- was spent ogling books there, buying books, and gazing out at the spectacular view while writing very bad poetry (this was before I realized I was a novelist, NOT a poet).

So I was crushed to find it had been bought up and swankified. Thankfully, I've since discovered that the bookshop still exists, but in a diminished (and probably also swankified) form. And it remains to be seen if the frou frou restaurant encourages grubby writers to sit for hours writing poetry, whether very bad or Nobel quality.

I guess this impresses on me even more strongly the need for the bookshops in our lives, and the need to mourn those we've lost.

Let us know which you have loved and lost.

~ Chrysler

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Anthony Bourdain at Symphony Hall

Anthony Bourdain will appear at Symphony Hall in Springfield on Friday, September 24 at 8:00 p.m. To get tickets, please visit the Symphony Hall website, (The Odyssey Bookshop is not a ticket vendor for this appearance).

Selected tickets will be $10 off from September 2 through September 6.

Books by Bourdain will be provided by the Odyssey Bookshop that evening.

Hope to see you there!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Extra! Extra! Read All About It!

The "it" in this instance being the conclusion in the Hunger Games Trilogy! That's right Katniss fans, Mockingjay is coming! Mockingjay is coming! It is less than 24 hours before the third book, and the final installment of Susan Collin's excellent series is ready to be picked up!

We have had plenty of pre-ordered Mockingjays. If you don't want to be left out of the loop pre-order or reserve you copy while you still can! Give us a call (413)534-7307, or reserve your copy by ordering here.



Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Sunday Question

Which cookbook is your favorite?

Brought my mom to Sherry Brooks Vinton’s event promoting her new canning and preserving book, Put ‘Em Up! last week. Mom, having grown up during the Depression, learned nothing much new, but I was inspired. As I am by any new cookbook. I’ve gone and made two kinds of salsa from the book, and am planning more forays into jam and pickle making before the end of the harvest. This is my favorite time of year, with all abundance before us, and I inevitably begin hunkering down with my (many) cookbooks, planning for fall and winter cooking extravaganzas. And this year, I’m moving as well, but unlike Emily Russo, I’m finally able to bring all my books and range them round me again, after storing most of them for a few years. I find myself gravitating first to the cookbooks, going through boxes and greeting them like the old friends they are.

I actually cried over my cracked, stained and spattered old Moosewood Cookbook, which I thought I’d lost.

I’ve been distressed lately about the strange trend of looking up recipes on the Internet. I actually know people who’ve ditched all their cookbooks because they can find anything they might need online! But cookbooks are sacred to me, a source of comfort and entertainment like no other. So I thought I’d ask everyone else who is passionate about their cookbooks this week which are their favorites.

It turns out we have a passel of vegetarians at the Odyssey. John’s favorite cookbook is Simple Vegetarian Pleasures, an oldie but goodie by Jeanne Lemlin.

He also favors The Winter Vegetarian by Darra Goldstein.

Joan likes Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone by Deborah Madison.

And Marika’s fave is Crescent Dragonwagon’s The Passionate Vegetarian, which I own but haven’t used because the cover scares me. I’ll have to give it up and get over myself, I guess. And you have to love her name.

Trust Nieves to shake things up. She is enamored (as I am) with Amy Sedaris’s quirky, funky I Like You: Hospitality Under The Influence.Entertaining etiquette, rabbit care tips, craft projects and recipes are all rolled up in one hilarious package. I’ve tried the recipes, too, (mostly Greek) and they’re really good. Nieves also likes I Know How To Cook, by Ginette Mathiot, the bible of French home cooking.

I am having a hard time choosing. Like all cooks, I have many favorites. I own so many cherished vegetarian cookbooks I can’t possibly choose one of them over another. I adore Jane and Michael Stern’s Square Meals, a compendium of American comfort food, with a fantastic teatime section, and the best recipe for Cincinnati Five-Way Chili ever. I have quite a few collections from theBon Appetit, Gourmet, and Cook’s folks. But I think the best magazine cookbook is Saveur Cooks Authentic American.Saveur has won a gazillion James Beard Awards, and no wonder. When I use any of their recipes, whatever it happens to be always unfailingly not only comes out tasting amazing, but also looks just like the picture!!!! I never have that kind of luck with any other recipes.

If I had to choose a desert island cookbook, it would have to be Joy of Cooking, though. I don’t think I could live without "American Fruit Desserts." Make that dessert island!

The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook would be a close second, for the entertainment factor rather than the Hashish Fudge. I don’t care who knows it, I think Alice was a finer writer than Gertrude ever thought of being. Clear and precise and funny. Her cookbook combines really fantastic food writing (and anecdotes about everyone from Picasso to Hemingway) with funky, fancy recipes. Violet souffle. Mmmm.

Speaking of food lit, look for our table at the Anthony Bourdain event on September 24th at Symphony Hall in Springfield, part of the Springfield Public Forum Lectures. I asked to work this event because I was blown away by Mr. Bourdain's exploits in Kitchen Confidential, and have been a big fan ever since. His new book is Medium Raw, which I assume he'll be reading from (although you never know). In any case, a fine time should be had by all foodies.

And let us know about your favorite cookbooks!


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Younger Voices, Older Eyes and Ears

So in following with my obsession previous blog post about young adult books and adult readers, this post talks about some amazing books that I have read that are marketed towards adults, but feature a young protagonist, and arguably could be read by a younger audience.

I just finished Helen Grant's debut novel, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden.
Set in a small German town where local gossip mingles with legend, for 10-year-old Pia that means parsing out fact from fiction. No easy feat for a girl whose grandmother explodes on Christmas eve. While this occurrence puts the town into a tizzy, it is soon forgotten when young girls Pia's age begin to disappear, some in broad day light. Pia, along with fellow outcast StinkStefan, take it upon themselves to find the monster that is spiriting away children.

While the story is told from the first person perspective of a young girl who still believes in fairy tales, the reader must beware as there is no honeyed ending. But rather like an old Charles Perrault, or Brothers Grimm story, ends with an unfortunate and ghastly resounding finality.

There have been several other authors who have expertly manipulated children's voices for the benefit of a well told story. In fact some of the best story telling I have read in the past couple of years are from books of this tenor.

The Selected works of T.S. Spivet by, Reif Larsen, which I can't stop talking about, features talented pre-teen, T.S. Spivet, who draws maps and diagrams in his spare time. This beautifully written, and drawn book takes you on a sweeping adventure. This is a book that both adults and teens can really enjoy. To read more about it check out this here blog post.

One of my favorite introductions to a sweeping New England yarn was Hannah Tinti's The Good Thief.
This very Dickensian novel takes place in 19th century New England. twelve-year-old Ren is an orphan who has a penchant for sleight of hand. One day he is whisked away from the orphanage he calls home by the mysterious con-man Benjamin. Tinti deftly tells their story in a way that is both charming and spooky.

I really recommend reading this book on chilly fall days, with a mug of cider, and a throw blanket on top.

Last but not least, one of my recent favorite publications is Alan Bradley's The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Bradley, an older Canadian Gentleman writes in the voice of almost eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce. A precocious, intelligent English school girl. Whose penchant for getting into things leads not only to her passion for chemistry, but into a lot of trouble as well. Her life, in a decrepit English country mansion, with her two older sisters and widowed father, is turned upside down when a stranger is found dead on their lawn. Bradley writes not only convincingly as Flavia, but wonderfully, richly. This is the first book in an at least three book series. To read more about the sequel click here.

While most of these books are intended for adults, I would definitely recommend most to older teens as well.

Hope y'all are having a great weekend!



Thursday, August 19, 2010

Am I Too Picky?

When a large group of galleys come into the store, the staff members at the Odyssey Bookshop all take turns in the kitchen flipping through the books, reading jacket copy, and ultimately, selecting titles he/she wants to read. I'm sure we all have different methods of sorting through the stacks, but I tend to first look at the spines of all the books to see who the publisher is. As it turns out, I'm much more likely to take a chance on a novel if it's published by one of my favorite houses than if it's from a publisher that has a less than stellar track record with my reading tastes.

Yesterday, however, when I was looking through the latest batch, I found myself wondering if I was being too picky. I had picked up a title (admittedly because it has a beautiful cover), but I immediately put it down again when I saw who the publisher was. Not only did I put it down, I made an audible "ugh" sound. Then I thought to myself, wait a second, am I punishing a potentially brilliant writer simply because I don't often read/like the works his publisher puts forth?

There are many, many books out there in the world, so I know I have to have some system of deciding what gets moved father up my to-be-read pile, but I'm not sure if my preferred method is always a good way to do it. So, I'm putting aside any preconceived notions and I'm taking it home to see what it brings me.

Emily Russo Murtagh

Monday, August 16, 2010

YA? Y Not?

Sorry for the bad pun... but I couldn't help myself! Well I'm not really all that sorry to be completely honest; and it is a particularly apt title for this here blog post. So, moving right along.

I recently read an essay in the New York times, entitled "The Kids Books are All Right." (An okay title, which can not stand alone without the recent movie release The Kids are All Right, but that is in fact another blog post entirely).

I loved reading this essay because it hit upon many of the arguments I have had for reading Children's and YA literature. (Plus I love the excellent illustration by Ross MacDonald).

The article probes the recent popularity of children's and young adult fiction with adult readers. A phenomenon that I think predates Harry Potter, i.e. C.S. Lewis, Roald Dahl, Lewis Carroll, L.M. Montgomery, plus the multitudes of other classic children's literature! When one re-reads these books as an adult, they still resonate however you are usually able to appreciate them on a whole new level!

Although one should never dismiss the fabulous J.K. Rowling and the contribution of Harry to popularizing Children's literature. The recent publications of Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and yes Twilight, sorry non-Twi-hards*, have not only made it okay to peruse and read books on the Young Adult shelf, they have made it quite popular.

You can, and I suggest should, read the entire article by clicking on this or the above links! To order your copy of any of the mentioned YA titles you can click here. Chances are they are in stock so stop on by, give us a call. We love to talk books, YA and otherwise.



*Die hard Twilight fans.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Sunday Question

I was lucky enough to be asked to my first author dinner this week. Joan and I made the trek to Cambridge, where we met up with about twenty independent booksellers hailing from Mystic CT (Bank Square Books) to Portsmouth NH (River Run Books) and everywhere in between. We ate amazing, locally sourced and very fancy food at Evoo in Kendall Square (Shy Brother’s Cloumage Filled Batter Fried Verrill Farm's Squash Blossom with Pesto Dressed Zucchini "Noodles" anyone?) courtesy of the good folks at HarperCollins. And we had the great pleasure of meeting Daphne Kalotay, author of the new novel, Russian Winter. At the book’s center is an aging prima ballerina now living in Boston. She decides to auction her fairly vast collection of jewelry, which brings up blasts from the past for her, revealing the story of her defection from Soviet Russia in the 1950’s. I learned so much about the ballet, the treatment of artists in the USSR, and amber jewelry while reading the book, that it gave rise to this week’s Sunday Question: which book have you learned the most from?

Joan wisely says she can’t choose, because she learned from different books in different periods of her life, but she did mention The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

Marika says Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, which she’s read from cover to cover, all 1026 pages of it, no mean feat!

Nieves also has a passion for art, and she insists that any art book she picks up educates her.

Kevin has learned the most from Mad Magazine, which, growing up in the 1960’s and 70’s, I can appreciate. Political satire has never been so much fun, even in the age of Steven Colbert and Rachel Maddow.

I’ve also learned so much from so many books, it’s difficult to choose. I think the go-to book for me as a teen was Ellen Buchman Ewald’s Recipes For A Small Planet. Ms. Ewald inspired Frances Moore Lappe to write Diet For a Small Planet, then turned out this little cookbook herself. It was the book that not only changed me into a vegetarian, but gave me the tools to be one. It had me kneading bread and making yogurt at the tender age of thirteen, and I’ll be forever grateful. I hope Diet for a Hot Planet, written by Ms. Lappe’s daughter Anna Lappe, will similarly influence a new generation to eat closer to home and discover the pleasures of their own kitchen. Yes, you too can make Shy Brother’s CLoumage Filled Squash Blossom! It might not look as pretty as Evoo’s, but it will taste just fine.

I think though, the books I’ve learned the most from have been novels. I’ve not only learned to write from the likes of Eudora Welty, Louise Erdrich and Stephen King, but I’ve learned about the intricacies of the human heart. Couldn’t ask for more from a book than that.

Let us know which books you’ve learned the most from.

~ Chrysler

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Two days? Two books!

One of the best things about traveling is the actual travel time. For me, time on an airplane = time spent reading = happy time. Last weekend I went to Santa Fe for an entirely too brief (one might say crazy-short) amount of time. Here's what I read and recommend:

THE COOKBOOK COLLECTOR by Allegra Goodman. This novel is full of humanity at its best and worst impulses. Set mostly in the Silicon Valley and NYC during the rise of the “” business and IPOs, it features sisters Emily, a brilliant programmer, and Jess, a romantic philosophy student. Each sister tries to prove to the other that her way of life is superior, despite their parallel searches for life’s greater meaning, but when September 11, 2001, comes along, both sisters realize that what’s really important has been in front of their faces all along. Currently on the IndieBound bestseller list for hardcover fiction, published by Dial Press.

ONE DAY by David Nicholls. I bought this book hoping to find a quick and absorbing read for a flight to Santa Fe, but I soon realized that in addition to being those things, it was also full of heart. Emma and Dexter meet on the day they graduate from university and this novel follows each one every year on that date for two decades. Their relationship goes through many phases—they are variously penpals, friends, allies, indifferent acquaintances, unrequited and requited lovers—and along with the glimpses into their lives we get parallel histories ranging from pop culture and politics. Simultaneously funny and heartbreakingly true, this book will appeal in particular to fans of Nick Hornby. Currently on the IndieBound bestseller list for paperback fiction, published by Vintage Books.

Monday, August 9, 2010

I'm tricky...

I found a way to get around my husband's 25 book rule! As I've mentioned before, my husband, daughter and I are moving to Camden, ME for the fall.

When we were up visiting for a few days this past weekend, I bought books from the local bookstore and then LEFT THEM THERE.

Take that 25 book rule!

Emily Russo Murtagh

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Sunday Question

What is the most frightening book you’ve ever read?

I’ve been reading James Howard Kunstler’s The Witch of Hebron, a post-apocalyptic tale set in upstate New York, the second book in a planned trilogy about the end of our oil-based civilization. I often forget that the book is set in the near future, and slip into a kind of complacent nineteenth century mind-set. The horse is the best means of transport, everyone grows their food and barters. The descriptions of the lovely rural landscapes are beguiling. But once in awhile, a character makes a reference to “the old times” of Internet access and cell phones. The old times of easy travel and knowledge of the world. The deserted McMansions molder away, homes to skunks and highwaymen. This for some reason creeps me out no end. So I started thinking about which books scare the bejesus out of us, and why, prompting this weeks Sunday Question. The answers have been fascinating in their diversity.

Marika couldn’t read Neil Gaiman's Coraline at night, because the buttons for eyes creeped her out.

Nieves discovered Poe when she was eight, and was terrified and fascinated in equal measure. “I didn’t understand it all, but enough to be like, whoa!"

One customer told me that her most recent reading fright fest was Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry, which I agree is amazingly creepy in the traditional ghost-and-graveyard way.

Another customer claimed he was most frightened by a recent biography of Mao. I could see that, too.

I confess to a love for all things creepy. I adore Edith Wharton’s ghost stories, H.P. Lovecraft is a fave. I write creepy books. But they don’t really scare me. I am a fairly recent convert to Stephen King’s books, but I’m not too fussed by the scary bits there, either. No. What really makes my skin crawl and my stomach churn are true crime books. I can’t comfort myself with the thought that they are only fiction, because, gee, they’re not. When I read Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter in high school, I couldn’t sleep with the book in my room. I read Truman Capote's chillingly gorgeous In Cold Blood not long ago, perhaps the perfect true crime book, and even though I’m older and more hardened, I had to make a special trip to leave it out on the porch before I could sleep. For me that’s the true test of a frightening book.

Which books must you relegate to another room before turning out the lights?

~ Chrysler

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Howard Norman, folks. He's amazing!

Howard Norman’s new novel, What is Left the Daughter, was
actually the Odyssey Bookshop’s July selection for our signed first editions club. He was originally scheduled to come to our store for an event but he had to cancel due to a family emergency. So Joan Grenier (the co-owner) and I had made a little trek to Saratoga Springs, NY, to meet Norman and to get our books signed for the club. He was as sweet and unassuming as can be and we enjoyed our time with him very much. Here's hoping he'll be able to make an Odyssey appearance on the next go-round!

There are some authors out there who, when you hear they have a new book coming out, just make you sit up and take notice, and Howard Norman is one of them. This is the story of a man named Wyatt, whose tragedy-marked early life seems to start a trajectory of doomed events over which he has no control. In the opening sequence, we learn that his mother and father commit suicide on the same day, each jumping off a bridge in Halifax, Nova Scotia, because they are both in love with the same neighbor woman. Wyatt is then taken in by his aunt and uncle, where he apprentices with his uncle to build world-class toboggans and not incidentally, falls in love with his adopted cousin, Tilda. Meanwhile tensions are building over World War II, and when Tilda falls in love with a German student at her university, it sets yet another tragedy in motion. This quiet novel is really about the provinciality of small towns, particularly economically depressed ones, and all of the attendant yearnings, prejudices, and dreams of escape associated therein. Norman’s deceptively simple prose is poignant and fitting, reminding us that life doesn’t usually come with Hollywood endings.

~Emily Crowe

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Amazing coincidence?

Okay, so is it a coincidence? Or is it just an instance of cosmic harmony where two of my best loved books for the fall happen to mention the same obscure historical figure? Mary Toft was an English woman living in the early to mid 18th century who convinced leading medical authorities of the day that she had given birth to rabbits. Yes, live rabbits. Apparently she had them going for quite a while and eventually 'fessed up. What an embarrassment to the Royal docs, eh?

Bill Bryson makes reference to it in his wonderful book called At Home: A Short History of Private Life in a section on medical history, particularly the woefully inadequate medical care given to women up through the 20th century. Not only was it indelicate for a doctor (always male) to actually examine his female patients, his patients didn't even have the vocabulary to describe their ills when something went amiss "down there." It's a wonder that every woman didn't die in childbirth.

In Julia Stuart's charming new novel called The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise, it's a minor character who stumbles across the interesting information about Mary Toft and then shares it with his friend Balthazar, a Beefeater living in the Tower of London, as a means of distracting his friend from mourning the death of his son.

I had read Bryson's book first and found the Mary Toft tidbit extraordinary, but that was nothing compared to how I felt when I ran across her name once more in Stuart's novel. Is there anybody out there who can calculate the chances of that happening? I dunno. But it seemed so rare that it deserved its own blogpost.

~Emily Crowe

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

My new favorite book for the fall

If I had only one word to describe this book, I’d be hard-pressed to choose between “delightful” and “charming.” It’s one of those rare gems that introduces you to indelibly quirky characters, showcases a meandering plot that is utterly rewarding, and provides just as many laugh-out-loud moments as poignant ones. Balthazar Jones is a Beefeater who lives in the Tower of London with his wife, Hebe, who escapes during the day to run an outrageous Lost and Found office for the London Underground. Because of Balthazar’s proprietary relationship with Mrs. Cook, the world’s oldest living tortoise, the Queen decides to transfer the royal bestiary from the London Zoo back to the Tower, where Queen Elizabeth I originally housed it. Along the way we encounter missing penguins, a purloined bearded pig, the troublesome ghost of Sir Walter Raleigh, and the Tower chaplain, who moonlights as both a rat exterminator and a bestselling writer of women’s erotica with a strong moralistic tone, under the pseudonym Vivienne Ventress. I can’t tell you the last time I read a book filled with such wonderment, and it really is a joy to read a book whose literary value isn’t compromised by its sparkle and charm. People who loved The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society or Major Pettigrew's Last Stand will love this one, too, as will anybody who enjoys books that are pleasantly offbeat and filled with British humor. It was simply enchanting.

~Emily Crowe

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Sunday Question

Which book do you wish you’d written?

I was lucky enough to have attended Jon Clinch’s reading on Thursday. He’s quite the raconteur, and of course has written two amazing books, his much-touted debut Finn, and now Kings of the Earth, a gorgeously written story in the rural gothic vein -- think Faulkner in upstate New York. I’m just now reading the book, and every time I close it, I think “Damn, I wish I could write something as heart-wrenching and spare and funny and fine.”

Which gives rise to this week’s question: which book do you wish you’d written?

Diana says definitely Chekhov stories, because they are so timeless, so lasting. Who wouldn’t want their books to be studied for a hundred years and counting?

Kevin would claim Stephen King’s The Shining. “I’m thinking of the bank account,” says Kevin in his forthright fashion. But there’s also Stephen King’s amazing ability to create the most compelling characters and to access the dreams and horrors of the collective consciousness with such precision.

Marika’s answer was my favorite. She feels no need to claim anyone else’s work. She can’t wait to see what she herself will write.

For better or worse, I know what I write, and I’d still love to have written, oh, say, A.S. Byatt’s Possession, a tour de force that captured the Man Booker Prize. Not for the prizes and acclaim, although those things would be nice, but because Dame Antonia is so erudite, so bold. I admire no end her hutzpah in creating two famous nineteenth century poets, not only their world entire, their sensibilities, their curiosities, but also their poetry, and in the styles of Emily Dickinson and Robert Browning, no less. It helps that she is a Browning scholar, but still.

If you have a secret longing to have written Emma, or The Great Gatsby, or even Archie comics, let us know!

~ Chrysler