Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Curiosity & fascination

Here's a little article in which I consider some of the little sub-sections of the shop, and how they came to be.

People often ask me how I pick the books that I put out onto the shelves at the Green Hand. One of the major tenets in the assembly of my bookshop's stock is whether or not a book evokes curiosity. It seems a reasonable hope that if a book looks interesting to me, it will look interesting to someone else as well.

Of course this selection method has its hazards for those of us who are nuts about books. The other thing that people ask me is how I avoid the temptation to bring everything home with me. Working at the library for a while helped. It gave me a greater appreciation for the resources of interlibrary loan, which allows me to read books I might never otherwise see -- but not everything is in library lending collections, and I'm one of those people who likes to own books that they love. In answer to that craving to stash book treasure at home, I had to come up with a back-up plan to outsmart myself. To whit, my epically long "to read" list is formed in a large part by titles that have come into the shop. I find it a little easier to convince myself to put the books out on the shelf for sale to your guys if I can at least write down the author and title so I can find another copy of the book later. This way I prevent a massive book logjam forming at home, which is an uphill struggle, I can tell you!

While I do sell a lot of fiction, the non-fiction categories in the Green Hand are many and varied. The big ones, like history and biography and art, are obviously present -- but what pockets in the shop are stocked and cultivated purely out of a joy in their existence? There are some funny little sections that are tucked in between the more general ones. Sometimes they linger, mostly intact and slowly growing, until an annual visit from one person or another occurs, and half of the books get wiped out in one fell swoop.

Magic and illusionism, circuses and sideshows, for instance, is a section particularly prone to this behavior pattern. Part of the problem is the lack of people willing to relinquish their stage magic and midway related books. Really, why would you want to? This is a regular state of affairs for a used bookshop -- we depend on people being willing to give up their good books. The odds are against us, but we're willing to keep trying!
Within the true crime section the smaller historical criminology and forensic sections keep a certain amount of space for themselves, where these books wait for the day when they will find their own regular patrons. The Pinkerton Detective Agency history, Scotland Yard, and early criminologists are favorite topics for this area.

Books on calligraphy and their companion volumes on illuminated manuscripts (a personal passion) wait in an array of sizes below the illustration section (another personal favorite). There is something about the dedicated combination and labyrinthine arrangement of image, text, and borders on those pages that draws me in. Someday a person as obsessed as I am with illuminated manuscripts will stumble across this shelf, and it will make a delight of their afternoon.

From The Story Bag, a
collection of Korean folk tales
Other favorite sections ebb and flow every week or month as folks discover them for the first time or return for their regular inspection of the shelves. My folklore and mythology section threatens to overwhelm the bookshelf it shares with books about psychics, dreams, dowsing, and out-of-body experiences, even though it is one of the liveliest for browsing and buying. I stuff it with as much as I can, moving beyond the basics by Bullfinch, Joseph Campbell, Andersen and Grimm to turn-of-the-century Asian folklore, early American folklore, and dictionaries of symbols.

Dinosaurs and other paleontological matters take up part of a shelf in the natural history/biology section, near books about evolution and Darwin, waiting for their fans to find them, while kids' dinosaur books sell in a slow but steady flow. I'm still waiting to stumble across a mother lode of paleontology books so the section can achieve the breadth and strength I would like it to.

Some sections come and go like the seasons. My beekeeping section sometimes doesn't even exist, but it always pops up again eventually. Likewise my books on clocks and watch repair, or knot tying, or those about the nitty-gritty of raising chickens.

In other words, the shop's collection is like an organism. It adapts and changes, every growing, occasionally sloughing off extra or worn books via the $1 bin, adding new shelves where they're needed, and within its greater body creating sub-sections of itself as books collect and different subjects gain cohesion within the larger general subjects. I hope that is the sign of a healthy bookshop -- changing, growing, adapting, and responding to the needs of its customers on a daily basis! A bookshop in fine fettle should always be fun to explore, and give its regular visitors pleasant surprises when they think they've seen everything it has to offer. Come see!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The 2013 Reading List so far...!

At the beginning of 2013, the irony of being a bookstore owner who had very little time to read books was wearing thin. With that in mind, I resolved to READ MORE. Apparently it worked.

Here is my list of Books-I-Have-Read for 2013 so far! This does not include books I am part-way through (of which there are many); these are all books that I have finished reading. Whoo!

Superluminal by Vonda McIntyre

Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates

Mollie Peer by Van Reid

Dark Twilight by Joseph Citro

Embassytown by China Mieville

Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris & Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus by R.L. LaFevers

Starkweather: The Story of a Mass Murderer by William Allen

When Findus Was Little and Disappeared by Sven Norqvist

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

The Beginner's Handbook of Dowsing: The Ancient Art of Divining Underground Water Sources by Joseph Baum

The Magic Circle by Jenny Davidson

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov

Georgia: In the Mountains of Poetry by Peter Nasmyth

Blessed and Cursed Alike by Kiarna Boyd

As a whole, the list contains an overwhelming number of books which I found to be very good, and several that were outstanding. Some were classics I'd been meaning to read FOREVER, and gosh darn it, now I have.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Review: Blessed & Cursed Alike by Kiarna Boyd

Blessed and Cursed Alike
by Kiarna Boyd

The pulse of any city flies fast and rides hard if you know how to hang onto it. A good story is the same way. Blessed and Cursed Alike is the first novel by author Kiarna Boyd, and in its pages a spell is cast on the reader.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I first picked up the book, except there was bound to be magic, and that the plot was driven by motorcycle couriers. I knew it was likely the magic would attract me, but so far as motorcycle couriers go, my only exposure to them had been in Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, and from time spent hanging around the hard-riding bicycle couriers that were a brief phenomena during the 1990s here in Portland, Maine.

I read a couple of chapters, and put the book down until I had more time. On my next day off, I picked it up again. I didn't put it down again until I'd read the whole thing. In other words, I spent my single day off of the week immersed in the world of the city, the city of Zade and Otter and Dis. And it was good.

In any city, there are the ways that are heavily trafficked, and there are the ways in between them. Those who know the city on the ground level know and use the between-ways automatically, threads of a map long-woven into their heads. The shortcuts, the favorite graffiti tags that mark a particular post or corner, the dark places to avoid. It's all there. This book travels those ways.

Something is going on in the city. Couriers are dying at an alarming rate. Strange murders and deaths are occurring every day. Granted, that's pretty normal in a big city. But these deaths are piling up way beyond normal. They are pushing towards something big and strange, something marked large on a powerful and unknown agenda. The couriers keep pushing through the traffic, all praying for luck as Dis attempts to get them where they need to go, on time, and now more importantly, while keeping them safe. Unable to name what enemy is pushing the city towards the brink, he does his best to protect his own.

Overlooking the city from its benevolent perch, the towers of St. Anna's cathedral form a graceful fortress from which Mother Ida shines as another beacon of support to the couriers, mourning with them as their friends die, one by one. She blesses their bikes in the hopes of preventing more tragedies, and behind the scenes she and Dis fight over what is the best way to keep everyone safe -- her somber, churchly ways, or his centuries-older pagan ways. When murder reaches into the safety of the churchyard, and a friend disappears, the stakes are raised. How much sacrifice is too much?

Meanwhile, the wheels of the couriers' motorcycles continue to crisscross and weave through the streets of the city, with less of them on the road every day.

As Dis attempts to unravel the patterns of death and influence, the cords tighten around his adrenaline-bound clad of riders, until it finally becomes evident that what is manipulating this modern city towards cataclysm is a much, much older history than most of them know.

As well as having a terrific cast of characters which I spent most of that Monday off hanging out with, this book touched a few long-languishing heartstrings for me. It reminded me of the raw frontier feel I got from reading the Borderland/Bordertown series (brought to life by Terri Windling, Will Shetterly, Ellen Kushner et al back in the 80s, recently revived in the new collection Welcome to Bordertown). Unpredictable and charged with magic, but very, very human. It also reminded me of the shadowy powers-at-work feel of another great piece of early urban fantasy, Emma Bull's Bone Dance.

Another good crossover comparison would be Charles de Lint's books, where everyday people grapple with extraordinary things on the threshold between now and a much older world whose lingering magic weaves through the edges of ours, alternately burning and blessing those who find it.

I highly recommend this book. It is well-written, from setting the scenes to dialogue to pacing. Even the cover design is sharp. Most of all, I feel like I know the characters after reading it. I suspect they'll be hanging around in my head for a good many years to come.

I'm tremendously glad I chose to read this book. As laden as the story is with death, it's a reminder that you get one life to live -- live it to the hilt, and then when Death comes, as it does, for Blessed and Cursed Alike, have no regrets.