Saturday, November 24, 2012

Mysterious addendum

Drat it all, I knew I forgot a few things in my post about the shop's Mystery section! I was responding to a blog-reader's email about the post, and realized I should just set some of this stuff down here and now before it escapes me again.

First of all, as a fan of everything Sherlock Holmes, I neglected to mention that I recently became a fan of the Mary Russell series by Laurie King. This series plays with the canon a bit by giving Sherlock a female foil, which has occasionally acerbic results, as you can imagine. I was a little ambivalent about the idea at first -- I mean, how far can you go with Sherlock Holmes before you've gone too far off track? But I decided to sample the series, and started out with The Moor simply because of A) its title ("Stay off the moors!!!") and B) because the Baskerville story is one of my favorite Doyle tales ever. I didn't really care that I was starting the series out of order. I've found some of my favorite series that way, like Van Reid's Moosepath League books (I started that one with Daniel Plainway: Or the Holiday Haunting of the Moosepath League when in search of my annual Christmas mystery book!). I did like the book. I must admit I still feel a little undecided about the liberties being taken with the Sherlock character, but the stories are good entertainment and more Holmes is better than none (although I find some of the Holmes pastiches to be dry as a bone, so I guess there are exceptions to my embracing of this subgenre).

After mentioning my early influences in the field, I did not expand the post's discussion into recent juvenile/YA fiction, which is an oft-neglected area rich in unmined ore for the bookhound. There are some really good mysteries for kids (and their adult companions!) out there -- The Theodosia series by R. L. LaFevers (starting with Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos) is fantastic, with archaeology and diabolical plots galore, and Jennifer Allison's Gilda Joyce series (starting with Gilda Joyce: Psychic Investigator) is also fun, with a slightly older main character and a bit of a ghostly supernatural edge.

The Kiki Strike series by Kirsten Miller is also fun, although I felt like the second book kind of lost the momentum -- there's a third one due out (finally!) early next year, so maybe she'll pick back up with that one. It would be great to catch the mood of Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City and expand it further! The other author doing great things with the sleuthing habit is Blue Balliett, author of Chasing Vermeer, The Calder Game, The Wright 3, and more recently another book which is independent of the first series, The Danger Box. I really enjoyed all three of the books that run together as a sequence, and on reading The Danger Box it is clear that Balliett has no problem creating new voices and settings with equally compelling skill in storytelling.

So far as the older series go, I still happily reread books in The Three Investigators series when the mood takes me. I found oddly enough that The Hardy Boys reread better for me than the Nancy Drew books, and I still need to sit down and revisit the Trixie Belden books to see how they sit with me all these years later. For even younger readers at an early reader pre-chapter book level, the Nate the Great books by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat (with their undeniably essential illustrations by Marc Simont) are a lot of fun, and are apt to create lifelong sleuthing enthusiasts with a surprising noir absurdist bent! Nate's mysterious neighbor Rosamond adds her own inimitable flair to the proceedings.

For those who noticed my mention of Chandler and Hammett in reference to the noir detective genre, but have little experience of them, I should add a note. Raymond Chandler is, along with Dashiell Hammett, one of the grand masters of the noir detective genre. If you are looking for a starting point for reading their work, there are some excellent collections available, which make it easy to make their acquaintance in your choice of short story or novel form -- Everyman's Library did a terrific anthology of Raymond Chandler's short stories a few years ago, which is what I started with. For those who prefer novels, The Long Goodbye is a favorite of many of my customers. Dashiell Hammett, on the other hand, is responsible for such classics as the Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man. I read his endlessly strange little vignette, The Dain Curse, and still need to sit down and sample his short stories, which are less well known.

Oh, and an author I entirely failed to mention in the article, though I meant to -- Ngaio Marsh! If you are an Agatha Christie fan, and have run out of titles, or if you like a good mid-century British mystery, I definitely recommend her. I had passed by Marsh's books for years for no apparent reason, then found myself with a copy of her Death of a Fool handy in a moment of need, and suddenly realized what I'd been missing out on for all these years. Like Christie, she was very prolific, writing dozens of books over the decades, and witty (although her sense of humor is very much her own). Her observations of human behavior in small village environments is fascinating and spiced with wonderful detail related in a highly entertaining fashion. Like Christie, her titles often changed depending on whether the book was printed in the UK or here in the US (for instance, Death of a Fool was also released as Off with His Head), so if you find yourself collecting her, arm yourself with lists that include both, lest you find yourself duplicating your library by accident!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Edward Gorey in Portland, Maine!

I am pleased to take a few moments to remind folks of the opportunity afforded them by the current Edward Gorey exhibition showing at the Portland Public Library here in Maine. A longtime fan of Gorey’s artwork myself, I would hate to find out that any of you had missed out on this chance to see his work here in Maine – a definite rarity!
NOTE: Any image below can be clicked upon to see a larger version for more detail.

While Edward Gorey’s ties with Maine are tenuous at best, he is certainly a New England neighbor, lodging himself in the nearby regions of Cape Cod for the latter years of his life, and he was a great appreciator of New England Gothic sensibilities. He did a bunch of illustrations for author John Bellairs, some for stories which took place in Maine, such as the uber-creepy Johnny Dixon tale The Spell of the Sorcerer’s Skull, a personal favorite of mine, which takes place near the island of Vinalhaven. There is also a panel in Gorey’s Cycling Cards series (included in Amphigorey Also) that depicts the “Apparition of demon cyclist that appeared in the sky over Gasket, Maine several times during the second week in November, 1911.”

But here ends the Edward Gorey trail in Maine, until now.

Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey is presented by the Bank of Maine, in partnership with the Maine College of Art (MECA) and Portland Public Library. The show opened Friday, October 5, 2012, and will be on display through December 29, 2012 in the Lewis Gallery at Portland Public Library, 5 Monument Square, Portland, Maine. The exhibition is free of charge to the general public.

The show is phenomenal, a once in a lifetime chance to be able to see almost 200 original pieces by this master of the pen stroke, as well as some of the published results collecting those endeavors. I have done my best to take advantage of this unprecedented opportunity, a gift from the show sponsors to those of us living here, and have visited the show almost a dozen times so far. Even with that many visits under my belt, I have yet to look at everything on display!

Although the Lewis Gallery is not gigantic, it is a pretty good size, and many of Edward Gorey’s pieces are intimate in size. They are made to engage the viewer. In fact a friend who works as a security guard at the exhibit describes the inevitable process of looking at the Gorey show. People come in, scan around the room casually, strolling along the rows of framed artwork. Then one of the pieces catches their eye. They stop. They step closer. They step even closer. Slowly, they begin to bend nearer and nearer to the piece, until their nose is only inches from the glass. He tells me this sequence of events is almost inevitable.

I can imagine why. Gorey’s art is made up of infinitesimal pen strokes in the pieces where he really gets going. While this creates a pleasing and engrossing texture when the pieces are reprinted in their respective books, the printing process invariably greys out the tones of the piece. When you see one of these illustrations in person, the effect is staggeringly dramatic. In the original, the tones of ink achieve a drama unavailable in the printed version. The darks are so dark, the details so keenly applied. One cannot help but look more closely, and inspect what one might have missed previously. The colors in his watercolor paintings are also delectable in person. One imagines the glass protecting the artwork is not just to keep dust off (they know some of us just want to EAT them whole).

My own relationship as a fan of Edward Gorey’s work began with the arrival of the series of John Bellairs books mentioned above, given to me as a Christmas gift by a family friend who was also a librarian. The stories were spooky yet I was unable to stop reading them. A few years later, someone else gave my family a copy of his pop-up book, The Dwindling Party. I was fascinated by the macabre storyline of family-outing-gone-wrong and the way it was paired with the playful pop-up book format. It perplexed and amazed my pre-teen mind. But it wasn’t until I began making my own art that I really began to explore Gorey’s work.

Set design for Giselle, Act II
As an avid bookreader, it’s no surprise that my own artistic leanings took off in the direction of book illustration. Edward Gorey was a tremendous inspiration in this respect. Not only did he do typography and book cover design, he also made extensive forays into set design, costume design, and all manner of formats to which his art could be applied. His house on Cape Cod was a live-in museum filled with his collected inspirations – saltshakers, finials, rocks, and other spherical objects. Today it has become the Edward Gorey House museum. He lived his art in all ways, so that one was unsure whether his art imitated his life or his art imitated his life.

Which makes it all the more shocking that someone might say dismissively, “I’ve always thought of him as an illustrator, not as an artist,” when Gorey was so much an artist that he lived his art, with gusto, aplomb, flair, and a curious passion. This is evident in his sketchbooks, four of which are included as part of the exhibit.

Early ideas for the Gashlycrumb Tinies

His finished work is as prolific as his ideas were, totaling to over 100 published books and projects within his lifetime. This exhibit showcases everything from early concept sketches to finely finished pieces, as well as some examples of the final printed products that resulted from his projects. Viewers will also be pleased to see early versions of cover art for some of his books.

In addition to this, he designed sets and costumes for countless theatre productions, some of which are also on display, and created popular animations and illustrated works for a wide array of artists ranging from Charles Dickens and John Updike to Virginia Woolf and H.G. Wells. His hand-illustrated correspondence to his mother and his friends is also present as part of the show, a rare treat indeed.

For a supposedly reclusive person, Edward Gorey was constantly and actively involved in the world around him.

The mysteries of seaweed!
Gorey often worked in black and white, with occasional delightful forays into watercolor. Working in a single color seems a strange thing to fault someone for, though some folks seems to think it is a mark against Gorey’s work (no pun intended). This is ironic when one considers that Gorey’s epic use of delicate nib marks to create texture and definition is a skill many artists aspire to, and when one remembers that James Whistler himself considered his own monochromatic nocturnes to be extremely serious and worthy undertakings, and the fact that Albrecht Durer’s drawings and engravings are some of his most famous art pieces even now.

Illustration has always struggled against the stigma of not being “art.” It is the subject of what seems at time an eternal debate – it is, after all, one of the Big Questions: What is life? What is art? Why am I here? Where did this paintbrush in my hand come from? I think you will find the answers are purely subjective, in many cases, and gain narrow definition only at the exclusion of other potentials, which is hardly a way to live at all. To paraphrase a friend’s remark, should I feel sad if I am considered to be “only an illustrator”? Only if it turns out I'm a slipshod and artless one, I suppose.

Here’s to living one’s art, and here’s to the folks that are giving us here in Portland a chance to glimpse how the art of Edward Gorey became his.

Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey is on view from October 5 – December 29. The Portland Public Library is located in the heart of Downtown Portland Maine at 5 Monument Square and is open daily from 10am – 7pm Monday – Thursday, Friday 10am – 6pm and Satuarday 10am – 5pm. For more information, visit

The show includes approximately 180 original works, including selections from The Gashlycrumb Tinies, The Doubtful Guest, The Unstrung Harp, The Gilded Bat, and other well-known publications, drawn primarily from the extensive archives of The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust and significant private collections.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

All the mysteries...!

This is my shop’s mystery section. I myself am a longtime mystery reader, a habit that started when I first picked up on my mom’s love for Agatha Christie books at a young age. Over the years, my reading and preferences have ranged widely, and the selection here at the shop reflects that. The shelves also reflect my reading wish list for mysteries. There are so many I have yet to read!

I have two mystery sections – one being the paperback section, the other being the hardcover section. Some of us enjoy the paperback editions the most – handy for their portability, one can pick up the sleuthing where one left off at the drop of a hat. Some paperback mystery fans are in it for the alternatingly exquisite and/or lurid vintage cover art versions made available to consumers over the decades. Others enjoy the solidity of a hardcover, or again the hardcover preference may come from the thrill of encountering the unmistakable panache of dustjacket art of a bygone decade.
After an early start with the typical juvie staples of the genre such as Nate the Great, Nancy Drew, The Three Investigators, Encyclopedia Brown, Trixie Belden, and others, I graduated into my early reading of Agatha Christie titles, a habit which continues to this day. Early favorites included The Man in the Brown Suit (still a fun choice for pure light entertainment) and the classic Murder on the Orient Express. When I first started, I latched onto Hercules Poirot’s cases. Later I became fond of Miss Marple, with such titles as Sleeping Murder still among my top 10.

Now I find myself turning to the previously neglected (by me) titles -- Tommy and Tuppence Beresford books like N or M?, or other fun capers like Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? With this range of tastes in mind, I do my best to carry as many of the Christie titles as I can at any given time, a tricky challenge at best! While many arrive in paperback format, I also try to stock as many hardcovers as I can as well, to allow fans of that format their own selection. I even have some Christie titles in French! The wide variety of editions of Christie’s books alone are enough to keep a collector occupied for most of a lifetime.
3 Dell Christies: A Mapback, a 1960s cover, & another earlier cover!
As a youngster, I moved from Christie into cozy romps like Dorothy Gilman’s Mrs. Pollifax titles, then onto Jonathan Gash’s excellent Lovejoy series. Along the way I also stumbled into that wonderful side lane, the genre of historic mysteries, which resulted in a special fondness for the medieval problem solving in the Brother Cadfael books by Ellis Peters and the Victorian era archaeological adventures in Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody books.

My book madness was definitely influenced by John Dunning’s Cliff Janeway books, and recently refueled by Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s Club Dumas.

Most recently, I finally found my way to the noir detective stories of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. I knew all along that chances were excellent that I would love them, but somehow in all those years I had never gotten around to perusing their pages.
One of Tom Adams' great
1970s Raymond Chandler covers

My guesswork was right – both Hammett and Chandler are now staples of my personal mystery library, and I keep the Green Hand’s shelves stocked with their titles as much as I am able. This is tricky, you see, because few people want to give up their old noir books – they are often favorites, to be held onto in perpetuity and re-read with great zest. Chandler I was particularly delighted by – he even made forays into weird fiction with stories like “The Bronze Door.” I have been told by customers and friends that I will also enjoy Charles Willeford and Richard Stark (aka Donald Westlake), in this vein.

Within the first year of the opening of the Green Hand Bookshop, I was sold an epic vintage mystery library that had been gathered over decades, read and re-read lovingly by the owners. I am still sifting through its volumes and discovering authors long out of print who sound absolutely fantastic. Among the boxes, I have stumbled across such treasures as Mr. Jelly’s Business and other obscure Arthur Upfield titles, and numerous examples of antiquated and quaint turns of phrase and dialogue, which I adore. There is nothing quite like the slang and colloquialisms of the first half of the twentieth century to entertain the anachronistic among us.

While I do stock plenty of best-sellers, I always have my eye out for the less common mysteries, the ones that slip through the cracks – European mysteries that trickle through import and translation slowly and inconsistently, historic mysteries with a readability that belies the painstaking research that underlies the story, old and long-out-of-print authors and titles that sound appealing despite their obscurity – I put all these on my shelves between the more common Patterson and Grafton novels in hopes that someone looking for a good story will pick them up some day and take them home.

There is so much more to write regarding mystery books, but I will leave you with just this taste today, and with plans to write more spotlight articles about this and other sections in future weeks and months to come. There are whole untouched categories in this genre alone – the fun stuff, like Elmore Leonard, Carl Hiaasen, Tom Dorsey, and Charlaine Harris’s pre-True Blood mysteries – the obsessive sleuths, like Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe – the sometimes-bad boys with a brain, like John Dunning’s Cliff Janeway and John Connolly’s Charlie Parker -- new ideas like Vertigo Comics' line of "graphic mysteries" which pair great mystery writers with comicbook artists. The list goes on and on, if you can follow the clues.

For reference, here is a partial list of some of the many authors I try my best to keep in stock in the Green Hand’s mystery section:

Margery Allingham
Cara Black
John Dickson Carr
Raymond Chandler
Agatha Christie
John Connolly
Arthur Conan Doyle (and all his followers)
John Dunning
James Ellroy
Tana French
Erle Stanley Gardner
Dashiell Hammett
Carl Hiaasen
Patricia Highsmith
Tony Hillerman
Arnaldur Indridason
Laurie King
Donna Leon
Peter Lovesey
Henning Mankell
Ngaio Marsh
Michael Marshall
Arturo Pérez-Reverte
Ellery Queen
Phil Rickman
Dorothy Sayers
Georges Simenon
Rex Stout
Josephine Tey
Jim Thompson
Jan Willem Van de Wetering
Robert van Gulik
Carlos Ruiz Zafón

This is the first article in what I hope will become a long series of articles, each focusing on a different genre of fiction or category of non-fiction as found on the shelves of the Green Hand Bookshop. This series of spotlight features serve to hold a candle to niches within each section that in some cases might be overlooked. Each piece is painted for the reader purely out of love for its subject matter.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

ReaderCon: Last year's novels reviewed

This post is the 4th in my series of reports about ReaderCon, held July 12-15, 2012, in Burlington, MA. We last mused over the panels "The Works of Peter Straub" and a reading of new material by John Crowley. Then, at last, your devoted narrator slept, in spite of every intention of devouring a substantial portion of one of the many new books she had acquired the day before.

Breakfast was a pleasant affair, spent in the company of a fellow member of the All Hallows' group in the hotel's restaurant. After breakfast, running a little late, your fearless narrator clambered into the packed Rhode Island room and managed to squeeze herself into a corner, where she perched against the back wall.

Unfortunately, my lateness meant I didn't get a copy of the list of the year's notable novels, as there were more attendees than copies available. However, the panel discussion was not hampered for those of us missing out, and Don D’Ammassa, Natalie Luhrs, Liza Groen Trombi (leader), and Gary K. Wolfe proceeded to mull over all the various delectable morsels that the publishing industry had seen fit to present to readers in the year since ReaderCon 2011.

Here is a list of those titles with brief notes where available:

Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti by Genevieve Valentine was rated a fast and entertaining read, sparse but very good.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern was applauded.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness was described as one of those books that gives the reader an addictive craving compared to smoking literary crack. It was apparently a very fun read, but not terribly substantial in hindsight.

Annoyances were aired that the new Christopher Priest, The Islanders, was still available only in the UK. American readers will know him as the author of The Prestige, already adapted into a major motion picture.

The Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch was called out as another promising read for those of us who like to drive ourselves crazy waiting for the next book.

John Connolly's name was brought up by Don D'Ammassa as a dark horse in fantastic literature. Those of us who are fans of his writing know he is skilled at spinning a tale, and often forget that part of the tale is fantastic due to his skilled weaving of elements. Ghosts give clues even in his hard-boiled Charlie Parker mysteries, and The Gates and The Book of Lost Things absolutely fall under the umbrella of fantastic fiction, with a fairy tale or fable-like feel to them. I can only hope that in future years Connolly is invited to ReaderCon -- I think he will be surprised at how many old fans he finds, and how many new fans he creates by his presence. Also, I suspect he will have a lot of fun.

Ernest Cline's widely acclaimed Ready Player One was an obvious addition to the list for the panel.

Neal Stephenson's Reamde was rated by most as more of a really good international spy thriller than anything else, which readers of his early book Zodiac will not find surprising.

Mieville's Embassytown with its inscrutable aliens engaged the panel and audience in lively discussion, and the audiobook solution for the aliens' perplexing speech patterns was lauded. Mieville's name was mentioned repeatedly, with great deference.

Mark Hodder's Burton and Swinburne series was recommended as a good addition to the steampunk genre.

Lavie Tidhar's book Osama, which takes place in a parallel universe where Osama bin Laden is a character in a book, received serious note from the panel. PS Publishing released it in North America.

A number of books released as Young Adult novels received note, including The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi, author of The Windup Girl, and Bitterblue, the latest installment in the Graceling series by Kristin Cashore.

George R. R. Martin's A Dance with Dragons was duly mentioned, and speculation as to whether the series would ever be completed was likewise duly raised.

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson received a fair amount of discussion, with varying reviews. The general consensus seemed to be that it was a sort of utopian "solar system" novel, but the overarching plot was not a main focus. Rather, the book tours the reader through the solar system planet by planet, and uses that for the sequence structure.

As talk turned to upcoming and anticipated titles, Hydrogen Sonata by Iain Banks, the latest in his series of Culture novels, was mentioned, as well as Shadow of Night, the 2nd installment in Deborah Harkness's "All Souls Trilogy," which was happily anticipated by those who had yet to pick up their just-released copy of the book.

This discussion was a great capsule overview of the prior year's books of note in the fantastic fiction field, especially useful for someone like me who is in the secondhand book field, where volumes are only encountered months and often years after their initial release. Not only were the standard adult fiction selections discussed, but note was also taken of promising young adult series, audiobook versions of texts, and other peripheral versions of the traditional book format.

Prior posts from my ReaderCon report series are here if you missed them:

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Mrs. Plant Talks, or...

...a rumination on 1920s mystery chapter headings.

I was just cleaning up an old copy of a 1920s Crime Club hardcover, and flipping through the pages I found that the titles of each chapter section were more than enough to entertain me on their own.

So, in hopes you too will get a grin out of these, please enjoy a selection of chapter titles from Anthony Berkeley's 1929 The Layton Court Mystery.

  • Mr. Sheringham Is Puzzled

  • Major Jefferson Is Reluctant

  • Four People Behave Remarkably

  • The Vase That Wasn't

  • Mr. Sheringham Becomes Startling

  • Mr. Sheringham Sees Visions

  • Mrs. Plant is Apprehensive

  • Lady Standworth Exchanges Glances

  • Hidden Chambers and What-Nots

  • Mr. Sheringham Amuses an Ancient Rustic

  • Mr. Grierson Becomes Heated

  • What the Settee Had to Tell

  • Mrs. Plant Proves Disappointing

  • Mr. Sheringham Is Dramatic

  • Mr. Sheringham Solves the Mystery (this one seems a bit premature)

  • Mrs. Plant Talks

  • Mr. Sheringham Is Disconcerted

  • The Mystery Finally Refuses to Accept Mr. Sheringham's Solution (see?)

  • Mr. Grierson Tries His Hand

  • What Really Did Happen

  • Not to leave you entirely in the dark, please allow me to produce a sampling of some quotes from within these pages:

    pg 31 But Roger had other things to do that dancing attendance attendance upon fainting and hysterical ladies.

    pg 80 In spite of himself he shivered slightly. "Ugh, you ghoulish brute!" he exclaimed.

    pg 169 "Oh, no!" Alec groaned. "Tea!"

    pg 167 "My God!" Alec shouted suddenly. "That isn't a cow; it's a bull! Run like hell!"

    Luckily for us, the book has not gone out of print. In fact, there is a reprint still going strong right now. Goody!!!

    Wednesday, August 8, 2012

    ReaderCon: Meeting Straub & Crowley

    Dear readers, in this post we pick up after the second installment of the ReaderCon report series, which had just departed a panel discussion of "The Works of Shirley Jackson" panel.

    Now, a glutton for literary punishment, I traipsed right over to "The Works of Peter Straub." As I may have mentioned before, Straub was one of the Guests of Honor of the ReaderCon 2012 convention. The panel was no less distinguished than the author himself, featuring the talents of Mike Allen, Caitlín R. Kiernan, John Langan, Henry Wessells (leader), and Gary K. Wolfe.
    One of the first items that came up in the discussion was the connection between what panel members called the “Tim Underhill novels.” What are the Tim Underhill novels? The character of Vietnam War veteran Timothy Underhill first appears in Koko, which I am reading currently (in part because of this panel discussion). He pops up again in The Throat, Lost Boy, Lost Girl, and In the Night Room, as well as being mentioned in Mystery. He reappears in the short story "The Ghost Village," which was published in the short story collection Magic Terror.

    The Underhill novels illustrate one of the points made early in the panel discussion. The 'braiding' of Peter Straub's tales, as in the Underhill novels, is not so much a form of continuity as a filling in here and there of left-out details, a re-focus of the lens, another facet of the story, each time with a difference from what came before in earlier books and stories.

    John Langan made the very good point that with Straub, "the story is not allowing you to JUST be terrified." With Straub, there is something more, an element that holds you to the tale, an air of mystery that makes you want to know more. Straub's horror is not slash and burn horror, shell-shocking the reader to death. He wants you to live to inquire further into the matter, and to be glad you did (mostly!). Horror rarely walks alone in Straub's books.

    I think it was also Langan who talked about how A Dark Matter returns again to the theme of the guru, the corrupt or bankrupt teacher, who somehow enlightens and endangers his young student, very similar to Straub's earlier novel Shadowland and John Fowles' The Magus.

    The panel members referred frequently to the characters of Mr. Club and Mr. Cuff, leaving me feeling very neglectful for never having read their story, which appears at the end of Magic Terror. [Yes, kind readers, pity me for my behind-ness in reading Straub’s other books beyond my already-favorites. I have been missing out on so much! I have started with Koko and am working my way through EVERYTHING as of now.]

    The panel compared Straub's multi-layered storytelling approach to the use of the "secret house" -- the house-within-a-house. There is the house that everyone sees, and then there is the OTHER house that exists simultaneously.

    Another intriguing mention by the panel went to the Lovecraft trope in Straub’s novel “Mr. X,” now also on my to-read-soon list. Mr. X himself, one of the main characters in the book, is fully convinced that the fictitious Cthulhu Mythos of H. P. Lovecraft is real, and he sets about his work to bring the triumphal earthly return of the Elder Gods to fruition. This, of course, is only on aspect of the story – there are other major characters in the play, adding their ingredients to the mix.

    As a little FYI, panel leader Henry Wessells mentioned the excellent Victorian era Lock & Key mystery series, edited by Julian Hawthorne (son of the famous Nathaniel). This series is mentioned in Lovecraft’s Library: A Catalogue, by S. T. Joshi. This little 10 volume set was a huge influence on Lovecraft’s reading, and is a terrific addition to the library of anyone who enjoys intriguing fiction with a mysterious bent to it. To read Wessell’s review of Lovecraft’s Library, click here:

    "What is a book but the struggle of a story to tell itself?" -- Henry Wessells

    In the panel quote above, Wessells speaks to the tendency of Straub’s books to be dynamic, mysterious cauldrons of seemingly organic activity, where the readers themselves are sleuthing their way through the changing story at the same time as they are experiencing its events, examining each character’s perceptions and memories for clues as to the true natures of the story. What is really going on? And without the reader, what happens to the story?

    The Straub panel finished up at 9:00pm, and I happily had my photo taken with the man himself, and took my friend Jeff Pert's photo with him too to commemorate the happy occasion. Mr. Straub was as pleasant and charming as I could have wished him to be. One always worries on meeting ones respected idols that they will turn out to be ... well, less than expected, to put it mildly. I was not disappointed, in fact I was delighted.
    That would have been enough to settle my first day at ReaderCon on a plentifully positive note, but the night was not over yet -- I still had the John Crowley reading to go to just down the hall. I had no idea what to expect -- and once again was met with nothing but good surprises.

    John Crowley, author of one of my all-time favorite books, "Little, Big," read to us for almost an hour from the preparatory chapters he has been building for his upcoming book, Ka. The book is told from the viewpoint of one crow, Dar Oakley, as he watches his fellow crows move through the world, and at the same time watches the other creatures, such as the humans, make their way across the face of the land too, with their peculiar and inexplicable ways. I'm always a little leery of animal point-of-view tales, but I have been surprised before (Felidae by Akif Pirincci, Tad Williams' Tailchaser's Song), and I found myself surprised by the freshness of Dar's voice and the keen illustrations of the world through an unmistakably crow-true perspective.

    I'm looking forward to the book's release. After the reading Mr. Crowley very graciously signed my ancient and cat-chewed paperback copy of Little, Big and let me take our photo together. All in all, a night of fantastic experiences I couldn't have had if I didn't go to ReaderCon. And this is just the end of the first day!

    Parts 1&2 of my ReaderCon report are here if you missed them:

    Saturday, August 4, 2012

    The hoary beard of science fiction?

    As a fan of weird fiction in general, and with classic supernatural fiction as one of my favorites, I like to peek in on the All Hallows newslist on Yahoo frequently (, and see what's going on in the current ghost story related conversation. Every now and then, the talk veers into similar but ultimately unrelated terrain, such as science fiction.

    One of the other group members was feeling discouraged about the lot of older science fiction, and I responded according to what I see in the shop here. Then I thought to myself, why not post this on the Green Hand blog where everyone can read it? This is what I've been saying to folks in the shop for the last little while, so some of you may have heard bits and pieces of this over the last year, but here goes:

    In response to the assertion that the only fans of old scifi (beyond the major classics like Heinlein) are retirement age themselves, I had this to say:

    I'd have to throw up a flare of positivity here and disagree -- I've been growing my scifi section extensively since I opened my used bookshop 2 1/2 years ago, and the stuff that gets people really excited, both young and old, is the uber-classic stuff that's slipped through the cracks. I'm trying to fill that gap, because no one around here really cultivates their bookshop's scifi section (or horror, which is my real pet section, and sadly seems to be a much harder sell for me than scifi is at the moment).

    I watch people as they come up, with their little pile of books in hand and a gleam in their eye as if they've found treasure before anyone else got to it. Or people come in and hopelessly ask me out of habit if I have a particular old obscure scifi title, and when I say, "Yes, I think I might have that," they get this I-won't-believe-it-'til-I-see-it hope on their face, and when I hand them the book, well -- I can safely say that the old scifi is not dead in people's hearts, at least not around here.

    The younger customers are reading articles about scifi online written by people like you who read this stuff in the decades after it came out and loved it. I think so long as the fans of scifi have enough enthusiasm and heart to keep telling the newcomers about the things they love most, the kids are learning to appreciate it too. The other method of inculcation is word of mouth -- their friends read the older stuff and inform them that they "have to read this!" and they listen.

    I have a ton of customers excitedly working their way through the obvious suspects (Heinlein, Asimov, Dick), and more who are taste-testing anything obscure they can get their hands on. Then there's Bester, Lem, Blaylock, and scores more who are scarce but sought after enough that I have a hard time keeping them in stock.

    I also run an all-women scifi bookclub that has been going for just over a year now, and is alternating male and female authors month by month, with great success.

    In my opinion, it is an incredibly exciting time to be a scifi fan, because there is no reason why you ever have to read a bad scifi novel (unless you want to!) -- the cream has risen to the top, and if a gem is missed by the vox populi, there is usually someone to stand up and shine a spotlight on it so that the observant fan will pick up on it and resurrect it.

    So there's my two cents on the matter. I know, I'm an eternal optimist. Can't be helped! I'm excited about all those darn books.

    Sunday, July 22, 2012

    ReaderCon: Being Shirley Jackson's daughter

    This post continues my report on the recent bookish goings-on at ReaderCon 2012. We have just left the panel discussion "At School with Peter Straub," and are ready to commence with "My Mother, Shirley Jackson."

    Our presenter for this talk was none other than the daughter of Shirley Jackson herself, Sarah "Sadie" Hyman DeWitt. Sadie was a lively and captivating speaker, regaling us with tales of growing up Jackson. Her mother died when she was only 16 years old, but those years gave her many vivid memories to pull from, to which she added all she had learned since in poring over the archives at the Library of Congress, which houses the bulk of Shirley Jackson's papers.

    One of the first things she mentioned was that she and her siblings were educated at the dinner table by Shirley and her husband, Stanley Hyman. Each year a number of topics of improvement were decided upon, and the relevant texts were read aloud in order for the entire family to absorb this academic nutrition as they ate the evening's fare in food.

    Throughout the talk, Sadie would whip out one of a stack of handwritten notes, and read for us some of Shirley's unpublished work, including a rousing poem featuring a 9-foot butler as a character.

    Another topic discussed was the influence of cats on the family. At one point there were 16 gray-and-black cats in the house. Stanley allowed Shirley to keep only 4 cats at a time, but they all looked so similar he never knew the difference. Shirley would occasionally creep Sadie out by sitting down next to her with one of the pets, saying, "The cat told me what you did in school today." Yikes! Omniscient cats + mom = terror

    Sadie recounted Shirley's fondness for houses, and all the care she took in hunting for the perfect "nasty enough" house to represent the monster manse of her famous book, The Haunting of Hill House.

    Shirley was also apparently a big fan of H.P. Lovecraft (I had no idea!), and used to tease their father because he was too scared to read Lovecraft's stories.

    Sadie was very forthcoming, and encouraged attendees to approach her throughout the weekend, as she had brought along with her an assortment of family photos and copies of other rarely seen items to share with anyone with an avid interest in her mother's work. She herself attended many other panel discussions and readings as a longtime scifi/fantasy reader.

    Next I headed onto the panel discussion for "The Works of Shirley Jackson," which featured among others folklorist and New England historian Faye Ringel. I have been a fan of her excellent thesis, New England's Gothic Literature: History and Folklore of the Supernatural from the 17th Through the 20th Centuries since I had the pleasure of reading it several years ago. Leading the panel was Maine's own Elizabeth Hand.

    The discussion gave me some food for thought, and ideas on a few texts and collections to keep my eye out for. Andy Duncan made an interesting comment likening Shirley Jackson's imaginative work to that of Philip K. Dick, a thought which never occurred to me but which does make sense and bears further pondering. I also want very much to sit down and read Jackson's essay "Experience and Fiction."

    Part 1 of my ReaderCon report is here if you missed it:

    Wednesday, July 18, 2012

    ReaderCon: Arrival & Peter Straub discussion

    When one of my regular customers (now good friend), cartoonist Jeff Pert, started coming to the shop shortly after it opened, he frequently mentioned ReaderCon, a literary conference that focuses on fantastic literature of all sorts. Last weekend, I got a chance to see what he was talking about for myself.

    ReaderCon 23 ( was held July 12-16, 2012, in Burlington MA, just outside of Boston, an easy drive from Portland. I can't recommend the event highly enough. To spend a weekend hobnobbing with a big crowd of fellow book geeks, attending panel discussions and book readings by some truly great authors, was the best working vacation I've ever had -- honestly, a pure joy throughout. Even the hotel itself was pleasantly appointed and yet affordable at the convention rate.

    The authors I talked to were approachable and personable, and everyone seemed to get along with everyone else on the panels and when loitering in the lobby. The atmosphere was relaxed but somehow charged.

    The bulk of my time was spent between the panel discussions and the "bookstore" or dealers' room. There was no lack of excellent topics to choose from in between the panels and the readings. In fact, I often found myself wishing I could be in more than one place at a time, and never did find time to read through the excellent essays contained in the 120-page souvenir booklet (the schedule booklet was another 82 pages of info), as many of the panels and readings ran into the evening, until well after 10:00pm.

    While the conference focuses on the fantastic in literature (scifi, fantasy, and horror, with all their offshoots), the real focus is on the literary, and panels weave together practicing authors, editors, academics, and other persons of interest. The focus this year was on guests of honor Peter Straub and Caitlin R. Kiernan, with memorial guest of honor Shirley Jackson represented by her daughter, Sarah "Sadie" Hyman DeWitt. Oh, did I mention the conference hosts the Shirley Jackson Awards, awarded each year since 2007 for "outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic" ...? To my great delight, at the award ceremony Maine's own Elizabeth Hand won Best Novella for her story “Near Zennor.” To see the rest of this year's winners, go to

    We arrived on Friday the 13th (how appropriate) and dove right in with the panel "At School with Peter Straub," wherein the 6-person panel held forth on what it was like to have their literary minds twisted by Peter Straub, many at an early age. His novels Koko, Shadowland, The Throat, and Ghost Story were mentioned repeatedly as formative influences on the writers of the panel. With Straub himself perched in the audience as a bonus, participants had little trouble entertaining the crowd with their attempts to figure out what makes him such a mammoth and mind-warping presence in the literary stream.
    John Langan, author of House of Windows and Mr. Gaunt, described the pervasive feeling of "expansiveness and restlessness" that infuses him as he reads Straub. Caitlin Kiernan, author of The Drowning Girl and The Red Tree (among others), observed that like Danielewski's House of Leaves (found as a central character in the novel of the same name), Straub's books are bigger on the inside than on the outside. I think it was Paul Tremblay who in talking about Straub's novel The Throat mentioned the idea that "the known story is not the real story." This theme of revelation and mystery reoccurs in most of Straub's other work as well. (Paul Tremblay is an editor, and the author of The Little Sleep and others.)

    This was just the first of many discussions I attended over the weekend. I'll keep posting installments about the rest of them here on the blog rather than drowning you in them all at once!

    Thursday, July 5, 2012

    New bookmarks by David Wolfe!

    WOW! Feast your eyes on the shop's stunning new bookmarks, designed and letterpress printed by David Wolfe of Wolfe Editions here in Portland, Maine. Or better yet -- come on into the shop to pick one up for yourself!

    Sunday, June 24, 2012

    Ship mates on a paper raft

    Well it has been far too long since I have had time to continue our pleasant conversations here. Many are the photos of intriguing tidbits of text and cover art that I have taken in the meantime, however! If you are ever missing me on here on Blogger, please do pop over and check in at our Facebook page, which is the target of frequent post-and-dash entries about the latest arrivals in the shop:

    Now -- today, for your amusement, I have put together a few choice details from a lovely little hardcover titled A Man to His Mate by J. Allan Dunn. It was printed in 1920 by Bobbs Merrill (copyright is also held by early 1900s pulp magazine magnate Frank Munsey, famous for All-Story Magazine, among others), with a handful of dramatic black and white illustrations by Stockton Mulford. You can click on any of the images below to see a larger version.

    First the front of the dustjacket -- a typical nautical yarn from the looks of it:

    Then, however, we open to the front flap, and are met with hyperbole and rollicking promises of the best sort:

    I mean, really -- our first character, John Lund, is all about "living adventure and tasting blood"! But the promises don't stop there. Turn to the rear flap and we find out that the author "has the punch in both fists"! By golly.

    Here are some of Mulford's illustration plates from the book:

    "The sea struck the opposite rail with a roar." Listen, I'm sure it's not her fault she's almost bursting her raincoat open.

    "'What's that I hit?' asked Lund." Listen, this is NOT something you want to be asked by the captain of your ship. Trust me.

    And, finally, a hint of intrigue: "The same gentleman who put chloral in my drink!" Wait a minute, if he's putting chloral in your drink, how much of a gentleman is he, really??? Oh, what's chloral? Only chloral hydrate, the original rufie, the "Mickey Finn" rape drug, as in "I think someone slipped me a Mickey!" (real quote from crazily drunk Canadian high schooler I met in a Moscow hotel on a student trip to the USSR. I had no idea what he was talking about, but eventually I figured it out from the context and his maddened ramblings.)

    I'll leave you fine folks to explore a library near you to find a reading copy of this book. Hope you enjoyed the post, and that it was worth the wait! :) I'll be back with more book treasure, much sooner this time.

    Sunday, March 11, 2012

    Sunday poetry: a phoenix

    Mixed in with a bunch of other random books I found today's poem, in a handbound edition of Rainmakers by Deborah Ward, with linocuts by Billie Bowman. Coyote Love Press put this lovely, slim volume out in 1984, with type hand-set in Janson. This copy is one of 26 lettered copies in the edition of 226. Those 26 lettered copies were hand sewn by Lorene Burman and bound in boards covered with paper marbled by Rick Swann. Both the author and the artist handsigned the colophon page, and the copy I have is letter "k" -- it's a very solid book, for all its reedlike presence on the shelf. So in a way, the book itself is a poem, before you even get to the pages inside!
    Self-Portrait with Phoenix

    You see, I've burned back to you,
    she said. And I knew the blue ashes
    as roses from my own throat

    and I opened my dark drapery
    to chamber her, inhale those ashes
    there; petals, blue smoke.

    Thursday, March 8, 2012

    Lovecraft on the wall

    All this month we are featuring an art show of work inspired by H.P. Lovecraft, weird fiction author par exemplar of the 1920s-1930s pulps. The show, titled "Madness Immemorial: A Tribute to H.P. Lovecraft," features work is by two artists, Brandon Kawashima and myself, Michelle Souliere. Brandon's work consists of 5 graphite and ink pieces and one watercolor piece, and my work collects 2 graphite pieces and 3 pieces in color pencil on velvety black Somerset paper.

    For those of you unable to make it to the show while it is up (through April 4, 2012), I did film a quick video during the opening, when the Watchers played their peculiar brand of surf music as accompaniment for the event, to give you a feel for both the work and the event. I've also included examples of the pieces below, which you can click to see larger versions.


    Lovecraft in Brooklyn by Brandon Kawashima
    Lavinia by Brandon Kawashima
    Innsmouth Harbor by Michelle Souliere
    Crinoid Cthulhu by Michelle Souliere

    Sunday, February 26, 2012

    Dinosaur poetry

    I was surprised to find that the distinguished Edna St. Vincent Millay at one point directed her poetic energies towards our venerable predecessors, the dinosaurs. No, I am totally not kidding.

    So here, for your Sunday pleasure, is a trifle from her volume Wine from These Grapes (1934), section 2 from her "Epitaph for the Race of Man":

    When Death was young and bleaching bones were few,
    A moving hill against the risen day
    The dinosaur at morning made his way,
    And dropped his dung upon the blazing dew;
    Trees with no name that now are agate grew
    Lushly beside him in the steamy clay;
    He woke and hungered, rose and stalked his prey,
    And slept contented, in a world he knew.
    In punctual season, with the race in mind,
    His consort held aside her heavy tail,
    And took the seed; and heard the seed confined
    Roar in her womb; and made a nest to hold
    A hatched-out conqueror . . . but to no avail:
    The veined and fertile eggs are long since cold.
    Card art by Matt Buchholz, Alternate Histories on Etsy!

    Friday, February 24, 2012

    Ace doubles: Pulp-lover's dream!

    I just got in a stack of old Ace Doubles, and wanted to share some of the awesome cover art with you all, because it's too much fun to keep to myself. :) Each Ace Double has two novels in it, and many sci-fi classics started out in this format back in the 1950s or thereabouts. The novels are printed back-to-back. Each book has one of the covers to itself, and the story reads front to back from that side of the book, which means to read the second book, you have to flip the book over and then turn it the other side up. Kind of a cool idea, really!

    Here is a sampling of typically wonderful intergalactic art from them.  If you click on the image, you will be able to see a larger version of the picture.
    Ace D-162

    Ace D-227

    One side of Ace D-99 -- with tentacles!!!
    To get an idea of how many books were published this way, take a peek at the list on Wikipedia, here:

    While the series is most famous for its focus on the field of science fiction, Ace also spread its range to include other genres such as Westerns and mysteries.

    Sunday, February 19, 2012

    Some poetry about a fish

    Here's a little bit of silly poetry for your Sunday afternoon!

    This comes from page 83 of a lovely 1961 UK edition of Ogden Nash's Collected Verse from 1929 On that I'm just putting out. A very fun read from the fellow who once said, "Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker"!
    The Fish
    The fish, when he's exposed to air,
    Displays no trace of savoir-faire,
    But in the sea regains his balance
    And exploits all his manly talents.
    The chastest of the vertebrates,
    He never even sees his mates,
    But when they've finished, he appears
    And O.K.'s all their bright ideas.
    Nash has a knack for snappy titles for his verse, such as:
    -- Here We Go Quietly Nuts in May
    -- Love Me But Leave My Dog Alone
    -- So Does Everybody Else, Only Not So Much
    -- My Dear, How Ever Did You Think Up This Delicious Salad?

    Friday, February 17, 2012

    Cover illustration marvels

    Every now and then I see some cover art that makes me wonder... what was the meeting with the art director like for this?! "Let's see, we want you to put Mr. Hitchcock's head in a burlap bag, but you have to also be able to tell it's him. Plus, you should stick a couple of swords through his head. And while you're at it, throw in a hangman's noose for good measure."
    I would love to ask the illustrator (credited simply as "Schumaker") what his work process was like for this one...