Saturday, December 30

Empty handed

In addition to the cache of books discovered beneath the tree there was also a rectangular strip made from a substance others more worldly than I knew to be 'plastic.' Apparently I can use this plastic strip to barter for books at Barnes & Noble Booksellers. I know not what possible utility this plastic could serve the purveyors of books, but I am never one to quibble with current trends in bartering--as outlined in the just released Old Barterer's Almanac 2007--especially when, as in this case, I seem to have gained the upper hand.

It may or may not be interesting to note that until just recently I had always been more of a Borders man than a Barnes & Noble man. Borders, as you may know, began in Ann Arbor, and the flagship store on East Liberty really is quite marvelous. When I lived in Boston I used to go out of my way to shop at the Borders by Downtown Crossing even though I lived nearby the BU Barnes & Noble as well as the Prudential Center Barnes & Noble. Just one of those silly quirks of brand loyalty I suppose. But here in Seattle I quite prefer the downtown Barnes & Noble to the downtown Borders (Borders still reigns supreme in the music and DVD departments, but this is Book-Loop, where such ephemera are cast aside in favor of more scholarly pursuits). Perhaps as my college days grow more distant my bond with Borders slowly crumbles. Or perhaps it is simply the case that the Barnes & Noble is more comfortable, their staff far less intrusive as I browse, their patrons far more convivial. Granted, neither of these nationwide behemoths can hold a candle to the local gem that is Elliott Bay Book Company, and so this entire paragraph becomes obsolete.

Because of my allegiance to Elliott Bay it probably comes as no surprise that my Barnes & Noble gift certificate, while received with much appreciation, has caused me some frustration. I stroll through the aisles at Barnes & Noble in search of books I know to be plentiful at Elliott Bay and I come away wanting. No Davies, no Cheever, no Percy, no Marcus. Why, not even Catch-22 or The Brothers Karamazov, two classics that seem to have unforgivably slipped through the cracks of their shelves and mine. At one point I held Richard Ford's The Sportswriter in my hand. I put it back to browse some more and when I returned some time later, deciding that at the very least I could get that for now, it was nowhere to be found. I stormed out, no books in hand. Sure, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt, the holidays scurried away leaving the literature section in something of a drought. Hopefully a restock is in order, or I'll have to shift back to Borders.

But seriously, I did stumble across a Colson Whitehead book of essays regarding New York titled, The Colossus of New York. Not sure if either Bryan or Louis have read this, but seeing as how Bryan is now unashamed to refer to himself as a "New Yorker" I figured this might be of interest. I read the introduction and skimmed (it's true!) through other portions with great delight. If I, who has passsed through New York only a handful of times, find the book of interest, I thought others here might feel even more strongly about it.

Also stumbled across a book called 1001 Books to Read Before You Die, or some such foolishness. It seemed decent. But really, is every novel by Ian McEwan and Don DeLillo worthy of being placed in a top 1001? 1001 isn't really a lot when you consider the list begins circa 600 BC with Aesop's Fables.

Wednesday, December 27

A good haul

On Monday morning a large cache of books was discovered beneath a tree off Lambert's Cove Road. Here is how the treasures were divided:

Books now in my possession:
Sixty Stories - Donald Barthelme
The Stories of John Cheever - John Cheever
CivilWarLand in Bad Decline - George Saunders
The Areas of My Expertise - John Hodgman
The Paris Review Ineterviews, Volume I
The Better of McSweeney's, Volume 1

Books for Mom:
We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live - Joan Didion
Brick Lane - Monica Ali
The Echo Maker - Richard Powers

Books for Dad:
A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines - Janna Levin
The Geographer's Library - Jon Fasman
Waiting for the Barbarians - J.M. Coetzee
The History of the Siege of Lisbon - Jose Saramago
Yiddish with George and Laura - Ellis Weiner and Barbara Davilman

Books for Brother:
The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2006
A Fictional History of the United States (with Huge Chunks Missing)
100 Hikes in the Inland Northwest

What books did you all get? Louis, you get anything good?

Saturday, December 2

Books for the non-reader

I have this brother. Smart chap, a graduate of a fine Big Ten institution, a fan of many "literary films" and, from what I know, a generally thoughtful and soulful person. But you put a book of more than 200 pages in front of him and he'll act like a eight year old staring down a heaping pile of slimy lima beans. He ain't having it. The occasional exception to the rule seems to be the random sci-fi or fantasy novel--books that lay far outside the realm of my notable gift-selecting prowess. For years the only book that I gave him was a volume of Simpsons comics each Christmas. This went on for about six years until, with me in college and he in his mid-twenties, it just didn't feel right. I have since moved on to giving him the annual collection of Best Non-Required Reading, a gift he says he enjoys but one is never sure just how much of it he actually reads.

This year I have been giving much thought to what novels I might be able to give him that won't go unread. I have considered The Gunslinger, the first volume of Stephen King's Dark Tower series. People seem to like, but who knows, the only King book I have read is The Shining, an altogether different affair. Then there is Neal Gaiman's American Gods, a fairly literary novel with enough fantasy that its length might prove to be a non-issue. Also, I have considered Benjamin Kunkel's Indecision, a humorous debut novel about a twenty-eight year-old slacker who takes a drug that cures his chronic indecision and soon finds himself romping about South America. While my brother might greet the humor and subject matter in Indecision warmly, I want not to have him think I am sending him some sort of not-so-veiled message about his own life--which would not be the case--so I have shied away from this one temporarily.

But, in general, what are some good books for the non-reader? Off the top of my head there are some obvious non-fictions like the work of Klosterman and Sedaris--breezy, fun books that seem to appeal to the well-read and unread alike. I struggle a bit more when trying to generate a list of novels. Perhaps this is because I am an elitist when it comes to the book gifts. Indeed, King seems rather too populist for my gift-giving sensibility. Something like Life of Pi is a swell choice, I think. And, while some skimmers might disagree, I believe the shorter novels of Murakami are a fine selection for a person such as my brother with an apparent taste for fantasy but an aversion to literature.

I could ramble on longer, but I come to you now from the communal computer in my apartment building and folks are waiting. If they only knew how urgent this Book-Loop correspondence was they would go upstairs, take a nap and give me more time, but no, they seem quite impatient.