Saturday, November 30, 2013

How Did It Get So Late So Soon?

How did it get so late so soon?
It's night before it's afternoon.
December is here before it's June.
My goodness how the time has flewn.
How did it get so late so soon?

~ Dr. Seuss

Obama Shops Bookstore on Small Business Saturday

Today is Small Business Saturday here in the States. Taking place every year on the Saturday that follows Thanksgiving, Small Business Saturday is a fairly new shopping holiday - it was started in November 2010. On Small Business Saturday, consumers are asked to shop at small businesses, which tend to be overlooked in favor of big chain stores, especially during the holiday shopping season.
U.S. President Barack Obama shopping at Politics & Prose on Small Business Saturday.
Image via

The president of the United States, Barack Obama, did his part to support Small Business Saturday today by shopping at an independent bookstore in Washington, DC. Joined by his daughters, Sasha and Malia, President Obama went to Politics & Prose, located in the Northwest neighborhood of the District. Founded in 1984, Politics & Prose Bookstore and Coffeeehouse is widely considered a significant part of the District's culture, attracting big names in the arts, literature, politics, and other fields. Earlier this year, First Lady Michelle Obama attracted a standing-room-only crowd to the bookstore, where she signed copies of her book American Grown: The Story of the White House Garden and Gardens Across America.
Politics & Prose Bookstore and Coffeehouse in Washington, DC.
Image via the Washington Post

Giving his patronage to Politics & Prose today, President Obama bought two shopping bags full of books, judging from press photos taken of his appearance at the bookstore. Bookalicious, a Tumblr blog that reports on "all manner of geekery surrounded around pop culture and literature," revealed precisely what books the president bought. The list of books, as officially reported by the White House and succinctly presented by Bookalicious, are:

  • Half Brother, by Kenneth Oppel
  • Heart of a Samurai, by Margi Preus
  • Flora and Ulysses, by Kate DiCamillo
  • Jinx, by Sage Blackwood
  • Lulu and the Brontosaurus, by Judith Viorst and Lane Smith
  • Ottoline and the Yellow Cat, by Chris Riddell
  • Moonday, by Adam Rex
  • Journey, by Aaron Becker
  • The Lowland, by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Red Sparrow, by Jason Matthews
  • Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson
  • A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, by Anthony Marra
  • The Sports Gene, by David Epstein
  • Collision Low Crossers, by Nicholas Dawidoff
  • Ballad of the Sad Cafe, by Carson McCullers
  • My Antonia, by Willa Cather
  • Ragtime, by E.L. Doctorow
  • The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
  • Buddha in the Attic, by Julie Otsuka
  • All That Is, by James Salter
  • Wild, by Cheryl Strayed

Today wasn't the first time that President Obama supported an independent bookstore on Small Business Saturday. In 2011, he shopped at Karmerbooks & Afterwords Cafe, located in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, DC. Last year, he took his daughters to One More Page Books, just across the river from DC, in Arlington, Virginia.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Explore Tolkien's Middle Earth with Google Maps

More than a few of us, I'm sure, have used Google Maps to look around our old neighborhoods, college towns, and of course, current locales. Many have also used Google Maps to virtually walk around prospective places to travel or live. But how many have used this popular Google feature to explore the map of Middle Earth?
A map of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth.
Image via

In advance of the December 13 theatrical release of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, the second in the trilogy of film adaptions of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, Google and Warner Bros. Pictures have collaborated on what is being called a "Chrome Experiment." This experiment allows fans of Tolkien to visit the actual physical locations that comprise Middle Earth, the fantastical setting for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings adventures.

It's basically a guided, interactive tour of Tolkien's Middle Earth, with the current destinations being Rivendell, Trollshaws, and Dol Guldur (more locales will be added later). Out of curiosity, I opened Google Chrome, went to Google Maps, and alternatively typed in "Rivendell," "Trollshaws," and "Dol Guldur," just to see what would happen. Well, it turns out that you can't explore Middle Earth in that way. You actually have to go to a particular link in order to do so. It's Going to this link will take you to the following screen:
Image via

Clicking on "Begin" will take you to a screen showing an aerial view of a map, from which you can choose to explore "The Wild Upland Woods: Trollshaw," "The Elven Enclave: Rivendell," or "The Once Great Fortress: Dol Guldur." Venturing further into each you will find that you need to use a compass point in order to navigate the terrain, just like you do in Google Maps. I found the graphics within each realm to not be as cool as those on the realm's cover page. Maybe they're still working on that. Still, being able to explore Middle Earth in this way is such a novel idea that Tolkien fans will be intrigued and perhaps pleased.

"In addition to the interactive map," reported Alexandra Cheney of the Wall Street Journal, "there's a 3-D explorable rend of each place designed to work on Chrome and Android. The project marks the first time Chrome Experiments have brought 3-D to a mobile device."

To get an idea of what it is like to take a "Journey through Middle-earth, a Chrome Experiment," check out the brief YouTube video below:

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

My Future Child(ren) Will Hate Me

An in-store display at Lorem Ipsum Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Image by rockcreek on Flickr.

Great Literary Twitter Feeds to Follow

I'm on Twitter more and more these days, not tweeting but following the feeds of favorite music venues ("Just announced! Your favorite band playing a show - win tickets!") and library career sites ("New full-time position available not in a city near you!"). I also enjoy reading the random musings and observations that are shared, such as this one from the Toronto Zine Library:

Twitter is actually a pretty excellent medium for keeping up with places like zine libraries and other literature-oriented establishments. I mentioned Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in my last post. I have a soft spot for Housing Works because the proceeds from all sales go toward assisting those living with AIDS.

In addition, the bookstore is staffed almost entirely by volunteers. So for the staff there, working at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe - sorting through bags and boxes of donated books, selecting books to sell and shelve, hosting a string of in-store concerts and other events, and preparing food and beverages at the in-store cafe - is a complete labor of love. As if Housing Works Bookstore Cafe couldn't be more awesome, it also has a great Twitter feed.

The Twitter feed of Housing Works Bookstore Cafe is among the "30 Essential Literary Twitter Feeds to Follow," as chosen by Virginia K. Smith at Brooklyn Magazine. The others include Melville House, an independent publisher of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry; Mellow Pages Library, an independently run library and reading room located in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn; Bookslut, a litblog and webzine founded and maintained by Jessa Crispin, who is based in Berlin, Germany; Literary Rejections, a site that shares writers' personal experiences with rejection; and Greenlight Bookstore, an independent bookstore that's in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn. And this is just for starters!

Check out all "30 Essential Literary Twitter Feeds to Follow" at THIS LINK.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Reasons to Love Local Bookstores

There are so many reasons to love bookstores, especially independent ones. They provide a warm and inviting atmosphere that welcomes browsing, enabling you to discover great books that you may never have come across otherwise.

Image via seventyone12 on Flickr

Indeed, the "luxury of browsing" is one of the "10 Lovable Things About Brick-and-Mortar Bookstores," according to BuzzFeed. Another is author events, where you can see big names in person for the cost of a book...or oftentimes for free. I've lost count of how many shining stars in the fields of music, literature, photography, stage, and screen that I've seen at local bookstores, including Lou Reed, Norman Mailer, Joan Didion, Annie Leibovitz, and Alan Cumming.

Bookstores also provide a sense of community. This is especially so with the smaller, more specialized booksellers, such as feminist, LGBT, and activist bookshops. Typically, they cultivate a sense of community by offering in-store volunteer opportunities, meeting space for like-minded people, and events of interest to those who frequent such neighborhood establishments. For a while, I volunteered at a women's bookstore, and I was embraced by a wonderfully diverse and immensely friendly group of people. It was definitely one of the more gratifying experiences in my life.

Image via Project Latte on Flickr

Another alluring aspect of brick-and-mortar bookstores is the cafe. Normally I don't patronize the cafe in bookstores because I'm too busy browsing the shelves (and once I find a book, I buy it and then I'm gone). Although for a brief time, a local bookstore had this hard-to-pass-up special where if you purchased books totaling X amount, you could get lunch from its cafe for free - and I'm talking about a full-sized sandwich, chips (or crisps, if you're in the UK), and a beverage. You better believe I went to the bookstore cafe then! But if you go to almost any area bookstore, you'll find that the cafe is the most popular place in the store.

Browsing, a sense of community, and the cafe are just three of the "10 Lovable Things About Brick-and-Mortar Bookstores." To find out all 10, see the BuzzFeed article HERE. And go to your local bookstore to discover more to add to the list!

The above photos are of Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in New York City.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

I Now Want to Read This Book

 "...and now all the halves wander the world over seeking one another. Love is the longing for the half of ourselves we have lost."
from The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Best Things About Being a Book Lover

To me, this is always a very welcome sight: the discounted books cart. Bargain!

Bargain books are my catnip.

Ambling around the city, perhaps killing time before meeting someone, I'll come upon a bookstore and see the discounted books cart just outside its door. The lure of cheap books, usually priced at $1 each, is just too strong for me to resist. So I'll walk over and crouch behind the cart, looking over paperbacks that have seen better days in hopes of finding my next read for next to nothing.

Happening upon book sales is #20 on the list of "The 23 Best Parts of Being a Book Lover," compiled by Arianna Rebolini for BuzzFeed. Spotting a book you've been waiting to buy priced at half off, or seeing paperback classics you've long wanted to read being sold at a deep discount, is definitely one of the small joys of being a bibliophile. However, impulsively buying books that are too cheap to pass up leads to another aspect of being a book lover, and I would hesitate to say that it's one of the best parts: Buying books faster than you can read them (#22).

My bookshelf is slowly (d)evolving into this one.

Already, my red bookshelf has become too small to hold all of my books. So I've begun to do that thing where you place books on their sides on top of books that have been shelved upright. Sure, it's not aesthetically pleasing - I would even say that it looks cluttered - but books do belong on the bookshelf, right? You tell yourself that it's only temporary until you weed your collection (not likely to happen) or buy a bigger bookshelf (likelier to happen, but not anytime soon).

Other parts of being a book lover, as listed by BuzzFeed, are a little too hard-core for me: midnight release parties (#17), sniffing old books (#15), and picking out the perfect bookplates (#10), for instance. And I'm hardly opinionated about which editions of the classics are the best (#8) - as long as they don't use a photo from the film adaptation for the cover. Speaking of film adaptations, it's usually with some reservations that I see "beloved characters come to life on the big screen" (#13). Yet I do get excited when one of my favorite authors releases a new book (#21), I enjoy book clubs (#6), and I geek out at book festivals (#4).

To find out all of "The 23 Best Parts of Being a Book Lover," many of which I'm sure you will relate to, see Rebolini's BuzzFeed article HERE. Bonus: The article's excellent use of GIFs, including the one of Sawyer from Lost reading Judy Blume's Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret.

All above photos from

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Library Cats Get Their Time in the Sun

Waiting for an event to start at a local bookstore, I walked around browsing the shelves. I came upon a section on animals, and a book caught my eye: Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World. Its cover featured a pert-looking orange tabby, staring out at the reader from behind a stack of library books.

Browser is eager to greet patrons at the Pine River Library in Minnesota.
Image via

I was intrigued because I had never heard of a cat being in a library before. (Since then, I've learned that a library in Russia has hired a bowtie-wearing cat to be its assistant librarian.) I certainly have never seen a cat in a library in all my years of going to libraries. At bookstores, yes. But libraries? No. I found the idea of a "library cat" to be a novel one, so I began to flip through the book about Dewey.

Although Dewey's story is unique (he had been abandoned as a kitten in the night drop box, was discovered and taken in by the head librarian, and became beloved by the townspeople, ultimately becoming an international celebrity), his post as library cat is not. Apparently, many libraries across the country have cats, and Flavorwire profiled some of the most popular.

Along with Dewey, who was the longtime mascot at the Spencer Public Library in Spencer, Iowa, there is Browser at the Pine River Library in Pine River, Minnesota; Pages at the Valley Center Public Library in Valley Center, Kansas; the noble Sir Eli at the Los Robles Elementary School library in Porterville, California; and the elegantly named Porter C. Bibliocat (the "C" stands for "Catalog") at the Anna Porter Public Library in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, among others.

Sure, all of these library cats may be in small towns, but they are far from being small-time. As mentioned before, Dewey was an international celebrity that even had a film in the works (starring Meryl Streep, no less). Browser, Pages, and Tober at Thorntown Public Library in Thorntown, Indiana, have blogs. Browser has even been featured in a documentary film. Shadow at the Arkansas School for the Blind in Little Rock, Arkansas, works at fundraising events. Sir Eli visits hospitals and hospices, where he brightens the day of patients. Isn't that fabulous?

To see more "Famous and Fabulous Library Cats," go to the Flavorwire link HERE.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Unusual Objects Found in Used Books

Being fond of used bookstores, I have browsed many used books. Yet all I have found flipping through their pages have been grease, coffee, or water stains or nondescript scraps of paper that were used for bookmarks. Michael Popek has been far luckier in uncovering forgotten treasures tucked away in used books.
It sure would be nice to find money in an old book.
Image from

Of course, it helps tremendously that he goes through up to 600 used books a day to select books to sell at his family's used bookstore, which he operates. In the process of sorting through hundreds of books, including cookbooks, vintage works of fiction, and children's classics, Popek often comes across items of real interest.
Monopoly money, not so much. But it'd still be a fun find.
Image from

Much of what Popek finds are handwritten recipes and notes; old photographs of families, friends, and sweethearts; postcards; letters; ticket stubs; receipts; advertisements torn or clipped from newspapers and magazines; and pressed leaves and flowers. However, he has also discovered decades-old Valentine cards, award ribbons, maps, money, marriage certificates, invitations, song and poetry lyrics, drawings and sketches, microscope slides, and even 78 RPM records.
Anyone who played Operation as a kid remembers these.
Image from

Popek takes his most interesting finds and displays them on his blog, Forgotten Bookmarks. "I'm a used and rare bookseller," he says in the blog's header. "I buy books from people every day. These are the personal, funny, heartbreaking and weird things I find in those books." Looking through his blog, which he updates frequently, I saw many forgotten items that made me smile (family photos taken at Christmastime), gasp (a book used for target practice, the pellets still lodged in it), or laugh out loud (comic books cleverly tucked inside news magazines).

When asked about his most favorite thing that he's found in a used book, Popek responded, "My favorite item is probably the optometrist bookmark. There's something really corny about it, but it's fun. I've even made it my Twitter avatar, @forgottenbkmrks. Overall, however, I really enjoy the old letters. They give us a glimpse into the past, how people talked and wrote and thought."
My mother had a Mystic Grip Disc, and it totally worked.
Image from

To glimpse the many old letters, photographs, pamphlets, postcards, inscriptions, and much more, go to Michael Popek's Forgotten Bookmarks blog HERE.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The True Reason Many of Us Read

"Nowadays I know the true reason I read is to feel less alone, to make a connection with a consciousness other than my own." ~ Zadie Smith

Above photo of Zadie Smith from

T.S. Eliot Gets the Comics Treatment

I've been a fan of comics since my childhood days of sitting cross-legged on the floor of the family den with copies of Marvel's Fantastic Four. (Do you remember the ads for the sea monkeys in the back?) The level of artistry and detail involved would captivate me for hours at a time. And who could resist a good story? 
Today, my admiration for the comics genre is just as strong. I've especially come to appreciate talent that is outside the mainstream. Take for instance Julian Peters, a comic book artist and illustrator who is based in Montreal, Canada.

In recent years, Julian Peters has been furiously adapting classic poems into comics. Among the many works that he has brought to life in comics form are "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" by John Keats, "Annabel Lee" by Edgar Allan Poe, and "Le Bateau Ivre" and "Sensations" by Arthur Rimbaud.

One of his latest is a striking adaptation of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot. Wonderfully illustrated, the comic expertly illuminates in black and white the inner monologue of the pained subject of Eliot's 1915 poem. Peters' intricate shadowing technique, razor-sharp attention to detail, and obvious mastery of creating an illusion of depth only heighten the anguish and sense of foreboding that plague the titular Prufrock.
You can admire the artistry of Julian Peters' adaptation of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" at THIS LINK. While you're at the artist's website, check out his other comics and illustrative work. You're quite likely to be blown away!

All above illustrations are from