Wednesday, April 25, 2012

World Book Night: Before and After

If you're reading this blog post, there's a good chance you've already heard from us, or another bookseller, or another bookish source, about World Book Night.  Just in case you're new to this bandwagon, here's a short recap: It started in the UK last year as a means of increasing awareness and enthusiasm for literature.  This year it hit our American shores and a big ol' committee chose 30 titles with widespread appeal for teens and adults and then printed up a bazillion of them for readers to give away FOR FREE.

Yes, you read that correctly.  Free books to give away to people who do not identify themselves as readers.  Some book givers went to non-profits, prisons, or after school programs, while others selected a street corner in their hometown and let the people come to them.  It all happened on Monday, 23 April, which happens to be the birthday of Cervantes and the birthday and deathday of Shakespeare!

On Saturday we hosted a reception for the 25 book givers who selected The Odyssey Bookshop as their distribution center, and we asked the ever-lovely Carlene to cater the reception for us.  She pulled out all the stops, creating four different pastries, one of which even dates back to Shakespearean times, and we all enjoyed her warm-weather version of high tea with an iced raspberry zinger lemon tea and sprigs of fresh mint!
Carlene's amazing treats!
I signed up as a book giver the morning I first heard about World Book Night, and I selected a YA novel called Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson as my title to share with others.  Like all of Anderson's books, it's a powerful and sensitively told story that realistically depicts teen situations without ever talking down to them. For my location, I chose Girls, Inc.of Holyoke, MA, where my part-time co-worker, Sarah, works as her day job. She and I both signed up to give books away to their teen program, and Odyssey co-owner Joan Grenier also went with me to share one of her favorite books.  When we asked for a show of hands for how many of the girls in the room loved reading, only a few went up, but there were lots of squeals of excitement when we actually started distributing the books to the girls. I even overheard a small group of them trying to decide which book they were all going to start that night so that they could read it together. Now that is what World Book Night is all about!
Girls Inc.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Holy Pulitzer, Batman!

Yesterday was an important day in American letters.  You see, it was the day the Pulitzer Prizes were announced.  For everything except fiction, that is. You know, the division that more readers care about than any other.  No biggie.

What's the deal, Pulitzer Committee People? While the official word is that the committee couldn't reach consensus, the rumors started flying right away yesterday that the committee didn't think any book was worthy of the prize. That's not the kind of elitist publicity anybody wants. (And of course, by "anybody" I mean me...and readers & booksellers who agree with me.)

Seriously, though.  What gives?  I understand that it's hard to reach consensus when three (and I probably ought not to get started on why there were only three titles short listed) books are so vastly different.  But yoo-hoo, Pulitzer Committee People? You're the ones who created the short list to begin with.  The decision was only as difficult as you made it for yourselves. I imagine there's also a lot of pressure to make the "right" decision as literary tastemakers, establishing one book above all others as being worthy of our posterity.

Which, in my view, is all the more reason to actually make a decision.  Nobody else in the real world can get by with just withholding the award when the decision-making process is too preciously difficult.  Why can they?

I don't happen to agree with the three finalists that the committee picked, but that's neither here nor there.  I would have preferred to see Teju Cole's Open City win this prize, as to my mind, it was the finest book "dealing with American life" published last year.

What about you?  What are your thoughts on the omission this year for the fiction prize? What do you wish would have won?


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

So, this is Tuesday, which means Day-of-Awesome-Book-Releases, and today I want to mention a book that both Marika and I have read.  It's called Grave Mercy, written by Robin LaFevers, which is the first book in the His Fair Assassin series. Marika was lucky enough to get a manuscript direct from the publisher, while I had to content myself with a plain bound galley given away at the New England Independent Booksellers Association last fall.  No matter, because the tagline is so groovy that I knew that I would have to read it right away: Why be the sheep when you can be the wolf? Why, indeed.

It's a rollicking good read, set in 15th century Brittany.  Ismae, marked from birth as the devil's child, passes from the hands of an abusive father to those of an abusive husband without so much as a by-your-leave, but a mysterious person comes to her rescue that eventually leads to convent of St. Mortain, one of the old gods of yore. There Ismae learns the dark arts and becomes assassin and handmaiden to Death himself.  Yeah, that's right.  Did I mention the part where I said it was rollicking? And outrageously fun?  And sinfully distracting from any real world problems you might be experiencing?

But you know the best part?  Marika read the manuscript so early and liked the book so much that her blurb is featured on the back of the dust jacket!  She says, "A romance full of intrigue, poison, and ultimately finding one's way, His Fair Assassin will be a trilogy readers of all ages will gobble up."

Because the Odyssey loves this book so much the publisher, Houghton Mifflin, has given us t-shirts and buttons to give away to everybody who purchases a copy of Grave Mercy, while supplies last.  The red tees and the white buttons both feature the tagline, Why be the sheep when you can be the wolf?