Friday, September 1, 2017

Summer reading wrap-up at the Green Hand

Well, I know that summer is really not over for another month, but here in Maine the weather has suddenly decided (at least for today!) that boy, maybe fall really is on its way!  But that does not mean that reading comes to an end.  To the contrary!  We Mainers know the secret to surviving winter is laying in a good store of books.

Meanwhile, we while away the still-a-bit-warm months, nibbling on a bit of the prospective titles here and there as we go, just a morsel to tide us over in between county fairs, apple picking, and coffee drinking.
This time I'd love to talk about two diametrically opposed books. One is a classic, one is a new kid on the block (relatively speaking).

Let's talk about the classic first. Like so many other classics, I knew Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat (to Say Nothing of the Dog) by reputation long before I read it.  In fact, I read Connie Willis' To Say Nothing of the Dog, an amazing and highly entertaining time travel novel riffing delightfully on Jerome's book, years before I read the original, which I tell you gave it a certain absurd level of surprise.

Jerome's original is a confection of frippery, ostensibly centered around what should be a relaxing riverboat journey in the company of friends.  Well, you know how that goes.  A little from Column A, a little from unmentioned Column B, C, and D.

It is worth noting the asides from the narrator, which are many and varied throughout the journey.  You learn such practical lessons as: how one should never, ever, travel with a large wheel of stinky cheese, no matter how much your nice friend wheedles you to take it with you.  This is probably a good lesson for me to learn before accidentally finding it out for myself in person.  Trust me.

In summary, Three Men in a Boat is a perfect book for dipping in and out of during idle moments.  I wish all of you may have many of these during your summer months, this year and for all the years to come!

The second book, Dreams from the Witch House: Female Voices of Lovecraftian Horror, edited by Lynne Jamneck, was released by Dark Regions Press in early 2016, about a year after the project was successfully funded (and then some!) via IndieGogo.  This is another book I've been dipping in and out of -- as I am wont to do with most short story anthologies I read.  So far the stories I've read have been wonderful -- eerie, unsettling, and uniquely different from much of the Lovecraftian fiction I've read in the past few decades.

The volume is a lush affair, oversized and rampant with full-color reproductions of paintings by Daniele Serra, an Italian illustrator some of you may know already from cover art on some of the Joe Lansdale novel reprint editions which I carry at the shop.  Authors include some old favorites like Joyce Carol Oates and Storm Constantine, and many newer authors for readers to explore further, such as Tamsym Muir, whose story "The Woman in the Hill" strikes just the right creepy note.

If you are interested in copies of either Three Men in a Boat or Dreams from the Witch House, I do have both of them at the shop for your reading pleasure, along with all sorts of other volumes, old and new, that have been flowing through our doors all summer long since we returned to a more normal operating schedule.  Drop in when you can -- you never know what you might find!

Some of you may have noticed that I missed a couple of weeks on here, mostly because I had the great pleasure of going to NecronomiCon 2017 a couple of weeks ago, down in Providence, Rhode Island.  It was a great feast of literary, cultural, and social delights.  I will write a post giving you the highlights shortly, so stay tuned!

My cat Meep inspects the additions to the home library.
Meanwhile, here is a snapshot of my haul from the weekend (not as big as it should have been; I demonstrated admirable restraint, but only because I'm going to be ordering a few things wholesale for the store shortly).

First, flanking the stack of bookish bounty, are a couple of issues of Ravenwood, full of the names of friends and other intriguing peeps, including cover art by Sam Heimer and Pencilmancer (Josh Yelle)!  Hot damn.  Next is Dean Kuhta's debut novel, Silvarum, promising all manner of marvels (Hi Dean!).

The slim volume below?  Oh, that's In the Gray of the Dusk: A Collection of Typewritten Treasures by Muriel E. Eddy, neighbor to H.P. Lovecraft himself, a nice addition to the copy of her other book, The Gentleman from Angell Street, which has been on my bookshelf since I bought it at one of the original NecronomiCons, back in the 1990s. Next on the menu is the delicious souvenir program from the convention, a feast unto itself.

Next, Lovecraftian Proceedings No. 2 from Hippocampus Press, recording the 2015 proceedings of the Dr. Henry Armitage Memorial Symposium, a celebration of Lovecraftian scholarship and exploration which features in the lecture schedule at the convention each year.
Following that is the anthology Carnacki: The Lost Cases: 12 Tales of the Classic Detective, edited by Sam Gafford, which I've been wanting to read since the idea for the collection was first announced.   Then, two titles bought from the nice folks at Cellar Stories, Providence RI's used book oasis, steps away from the historic Biltmore Hotel:  Shapes of the Supernatural, another great weird fiction anthology by the powerhouse editing team of two sisters, Seon Manley and Gogo Lewis, and The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge, which I've been meaning to read for a while now.

So... stay tuned for future developments!  And enjoy the tail-end of summer!!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Summer reading at the Green Hand: Fantastical tales!

While I read a lot of genre fiction, I rarely read books that might be termed as fantasy, having binged on it heavily as a teenager.  However, once in a while a book comes to hand, often randomly, that tips the scales and pushes me to read something full of dragons, wizards, kings and queens.  This is the case with tonight's addition to the summer roster of Recently Read Books.

First let me sing the praises of one Charles de Lint.  I have long loved his Newford Stories, but have not often read his pure fantasy.  Enter The Harp of the Grey Rose: the Legend of Cerin Songweaver, found by happenstance on a gray day on the Free Book shelf at Flatbread Pizza here in Portland -- because there is nothing more alluring than a book you didn't have a moment before, and de Lint's name is always a glint of gold in amongst any assortment.

This is a brief novel, a delightfully refreshing 230 pages in paperback.  In it we meet Cerin, maturing from young orphanhood with his foster mother at the edges of Wran Cheaping village, watching her witching ways, meeting her tinker kin, and wishing the old tales were alive for him to experience. 

Then he meets the solitary Grey Rose, losing her almost immediately to a horrible warlock long thought to be only a legend.  And so his quest begins.  Along the way there are the requisite near-freezings, near-drowings, and the companionable talking bearfolk.  I won't tell you more -- just know that you will meet many myths and mythical creatures, experience harrowing sorrows and witness desperate acts of heroism.  Again, this is a fast ride -- de Lint's pen fires a lightning streak among the forests and shadows for you to follow.

While I love de Lint's storytelling, it is hard to explain precisely why.  What makes him soar above other fantasy writers for me, luring me to keep on reading?  I suppose for one thing de Lint is not heavy-handed with exposition of plot, setting, and characters.  He describes within the telling.  His characters bring you into their world through their eyes, into their heads through their thoughts.  The magic in his stories is lived by the characters, and by you at the same time, likewise their doubts and questionings.

So if you want to escape into another world, follow that harper of the pen, Charles de Lint.

Secondly, we come to Neil Gaiman's American Gods, which I will treat more briefly, since it is so much in the public eyes these days with the new Starz adaptation fresh in people's minds. 

No, I hadn't read it yet.  I knew it only by reputation.  ("BLASPHEMY!" you shriek in shock and amazement, holding your head between your hands and staring in shock at the Recalcitrant Bookstore Owner!)  It was on my personal 2017 list of Books I Should Have Read By Now, and I was bound and determined to read it before I sat down to watch the show.

I had tried reading Good Omens shortly before, but it fell flat for me.  (I know, again you shriek "BLASPHEMY!" right?)  So with that disappointment fresh in my mind, I had no high expectations for American Gods, even with almost two decades of my friends' and customers' hype ahead of it.

I fell for it almost immediately.  Something about the deadpan delivery of our narrator, Shadow, perhaps.  And the idea of all the layers of deities and entities that we humans so love to conjure up, no matter what era or belief system we are a part of. 

But overall there is a great feeling of trueness about it -- and I'm not saying TRUTH here -- I'm saying trueness.  True humanity, true imagination, true nighttime logic -- because one last thing I must say is that the entire book, real as it feels, also feels like a dream.

I hope you have all found time to read some wonderful books of your own out there this summer. 

Γ€ bientΓ΄t!

Friday, July 28, 2017

Now reading at the Green Hand: Egyptian magic & ghosts!

Here is the latest in our (almost) weekly blog posts about our own summer reading here at the Green Hand Bookshop.

From my massive stack of now-reading and to-be-reads, here are a couple of goodies!

One of these is a re-read: Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos.  This is part of a series by R.L. LaFevers which I highly recommend.  This one, the first in the series, is dedicated by the author "To clever girls everywhere who get tired of feeling like no one's listening."  The series' main character is Theodosia, young daughter of two Egyptologists, and alongside her we find ourselves treading the lanes and sidewalks (and museum crypts) of the early 1900s.

Spiced liberally with run-ins with interfering relatives, daft and distracted parents, the suspicious behavior of museum staff members, Egyptian mythology and magic, as well as a dash of international intrigue, this is my favorite kids' series written in recent years.  It is a worthy successor to Harriet the Spy, Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, The Three Investigators, and all the other books about sleuthtastic risk-taking smartypants I loved reading as a kid.  Don't miss a chance to pick some of these up.

The next one, A Natural History of Ghosts: 500 Years of Hunting for Proof by Roger Clarke, is a book I've had on my to-read shelf since a friend recommended it ... two and a half years ago!!!  So, long overdue to be read, in other words.

Well, it was worth the wait.  Roger Clarke knows his stuff, and while a lifelong ghost hunter himself, he also is well-versed in the accompaniment of ghostly fiction that has trailed along in the wake of our obsession with true-life hauntings over the centuries, making this book a double delight. 

Clarke writes fluidly, so that the reader doesn't feel like a row of placenames and dates is just being reeled past your inner eye.  He doesn't repeat things others have written -- he extrapolates, he draws connections together, and illuminates dark corners of the past long forgotten.  He throws a spotlight on ghosts you may only know as a whispered name, a reference dropped during a Ghost Hunters episode, an intriguing aside in an Astonishing Legends podcast... but now you'll know all about them yourself, thanks to Clarke!

In fact, by the time you're done reading this book, you'll have a long list of hauntings to go research further, as well as a slew of great books to read on the topic.  Clarke is generous in citing his sources, and the book is fully indexed for those among you (like myself) who like to know where everything is, as well as treating readers to a smattering of illustrations to whet your appetite for period pictorials and far away locations (well, for us in the U.S. that is, as most of the book focuses on the UK, Clarke's home turf).

Hope everyone out there is having a good time with their summer reading too!  'Til next time...

Friday, June 30, 2017

Now reading at the Green Hand: Night Marchers by Daniel Braum!

Hello everyone -- here is the latest weekly report on what the heck I'm reading when I'm not doing hard labor in the bookmines.

In spite of the books already in my current reading pile, I set everything aside this week when my copy of Daniel Braum's The Night Marchers arrived.  I started reading, curious to find out what he'd been up to.  A couple stories in, I was pleasantly surprised.  Now, seven stories in, more than halfway through, I am CONVINCED.  This is a fantastic book.

Whether it's the glorious but haunting hues of ghostfish appearing in the dark corners of the room, or the burning aftermath of grief, or strange death slithering through the thatched jungle roof, there is something in each of these stories that makes it impossible to stop reading them. 

But what something is that?

Maybe it's the way the reader finds themselves so immediately immersed in each new story.  The entry is sharp and complete and vivid, a spell only the best short stories are able to snare us with.

Maybe it is the voice of each character, crystal clear in the reader's mind, so clear that no matter what they are telling the reader, it is immediately real, no matter how strange or unfamiliar.  This is because no matter how fantastical the details, the human element at the heart of the story is so strong it pervades everything within.

Maybe it is the velocity of each story, a living current that sweeps the reader along -- you are caught, you are part of that moment in that world, you are led into the jungle, the ratty apartment building, the ocean, the burning building.

Whatever these dark and magical ingredients are that he's been playing with to achieve this wondrous collection of tales, Daniel Braum has succeeded in mixing them in new and different combinations that surprise and captivate, startle and thrill.

I'll be getting copies of the book into the shop soon, but if you're not in the Portland, Maine area and you would like to order from the publisher, it's easy to check out The Night Marchers and a bunch of other titles in the Grey Matter Press shop online:
http://shopgreymatterpress.com/

Alright, I've gotta go -- more stories to read before I'm done!!!

UPDATE:  WE HAVE COPIES of The Night Marchers at the Green Hand Bookshop now!  Come visit!  πŸ˜ƒπŸ’€πŸ˜ƒ

Friday, June 23, 2017

Now reading at the Green Hand, No.2

Picture This! READ IT!!!
There are some books that do something that no other books will do for you, personally.

Lynda Barry has rescued me in times of need more than once.  I puzzled over her Marlys/Ernie Pook comic strips in the Casco Bay Weekly over 2 decades ago.  I found the characters annoying, but couldn't stop reading them week after week.  I eventually grew to love them.

Several years ago a certain someone bought me a copy of Lynda Barry's What It Is, and I loved it.  Then a couple of years ago I bought myself her next book, Picture This.  "Learn how to ART with the Near-Sighted Monkey!"  Who could resist?  Not me. 

Time and time again, Lynda Barry saves my bacon and puts it back in the creative fire.  There is something about the way she thinks/writes/draws that my deep-down brain understands, even when it is at its most broken (hello, the last 12 months).
Lynda Barry on the wilfulness of monsters and our need for their unpredictability.

There is an air of the dream-logic to her pages.  It makes sense to the part of your brain that you can't talk to directly.

Besides all that, she is absolutely, heartbreakingly funny.

If you are a creative-minded person (I don't care how long it is since you've done "art" -- maybe even since you were a kid -- you know you have a creative brain regardless), do yourself a favor and pick up one of her books the next time you have a chance!

 πŸ’˜  I promise, you won't regret it.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Coming soon... SUMMER HOURS!

YEAH THAT'S RIGHT!!!  Starting June 27th, we will be open 6 days a week again!  FINALLY!!!  Whohooooo!!!!!
Tues-Thurs 11:00-5:00
Fridays 11:00-6:00
Saturdays 11:00-7:00
Sundays 12:00-5:00

soon soon soon!  πŸ˜ƒ
HAPPY SUMMER EVERYONE!!!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Now reading at the Green Hand!

Hi folks!  I'm going to try something new.  While I don't read as much as folks imagine I read ("...because when you're at the shop you just sit there and read, right?"), I do make a serious effort to at least chip away at a few of the many books on my to-read shelf on a regular basis.  So I thought it might be fun to just jot down a couple of the most recent books I'm reading each week, in case some of you are curious about them.  Most of these are in-process reads, so -- no spoilers in the comments please!  πŸ˜‰

I'm inaugurating this feature on the blog in honor of going back to a regular full-time schedule at the shop starting the last week in June.  Hooray!  Cheers to you, cheers to reading, and cheers to books and writing!!!  ...and HAPPY SUMMER!

1.  Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones
Last year at ReaderCon, the posthumous Guest of Honor was Diana Wynne Jones.  I had never read any of her books, but knew her work from a gazillion recommendations from friends and customers, and watching Miyazaki's adaptation of Howl's Moving Castle.  One of the things I love about ReaderCon is being able to go to panel discussions about authors I haven't read yet -- it's like getting an inside window into the author and their work from people who a) really love them and (if you're lucky) b) people that actually know them in person.  It's a phenomenal alchemy that occurs when one of these panels takes off like a rocket, and the Diana Wynne Jones discussion was one of these. 

This is now the 4th* Diana Wynne Jones book I've read since last summer, and once again I am charmed.  The cool thing about these books, though, is that it is not a treacly charm -- she writes smart, she writes witty, she writes delightfully absurd in the most unexpected places.  Throughout the book, the story and characters are compelling, and I find myself really wanting to know what happens next at every page.

*:  I started with Howl's Moving Castle (even more to love than the movie!), moved onto Deep Secret (a very ReaderCon-ish setting!), then Witch Week (good witch? bad witch? which witch?).

2.  The Comedians by Graham Greene
Graham Greene is another author I have waffled about reading for years now.  Not waffled about reading him, you understand -- I waffled about what book to start with.  Then a copy of The Comedians came across my desk, and suddenly it clicked.  Voodoo?  Haiti during the shadowy period of the Tontons Macoute?  A tale wound between characters with commitment and those with none, those who "if they die, they die by accident." 

So far the novel is excellent.  Sparse prose that paints a foreign scene, and introduces characters without belabored exposition.  Greene drops in details as deftly as any artist with a brush -- here a dab, there a wash, and gradually the foreground and background are filled in.  There is a stunning poignancy in the world painted through the people in this story, told with deceptive simplicity, revealed moment by moment, year by year, painless except for in sudden moments of surprise when Greene catches at you intentionally. 

Here is where I started with Graham Greene.  I think I'll read Travels with My Aunt next. 

------------
Thanks for reading along with me!  Hope your summer reading is going as well as mine is!


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Lend me your ears

Nancy Grayson - Maine Historical archives

Those of you who are used book enthusiasts and longtime Portlanders might well remember Cunningham Books, which shared The Green Hand’s view of Longfellow Square from the other side of the intersection at 188 State Street, in the location where LFK and Miyake are now.

Nancy Grayson, the owner of Cunningham Books, closed the store when she retired at the end of 2010, a year after I opened The Green Hand Bookshop. She told me, “It’s okay – now that you’ve been safely open for a year, I don’t have to worry about leaving this corner without a bookshop on it.”

When the shop was hosting its rousing closing sale, upon which booklovers descended in hordes, The Forecaster’s Randy Billings stopped by to do a story. When he asked her for an interview, Nancy said she wasn’t interested. “I don’t like touchy-feely stories about businesses closing,” she said. [“Closing the books: Longtime Portland bookstore shutting its doors,” October 12, 2010]

This was Nancy to a T. She knew her own mind, and had no problems letting you know what she thought if you couldn’t help asking.

In true Nancy style, Cunningham Books launched two new book ventures with her own closing (that I know of! Maybe there are more…?), my shop across the way and the delicious mystery-lovers’ haven, Mainely Murders (mainelymurders.com), run by our mutual friends Paula and Ann down in Kennebunk.

Nancy Grayson has always been a woman of few words but of great influence. She was my mentor.

I have known Nancy since I was a teenager, when my life-long used book buying addiction began in earnest. For the usual inexplicable reasons, we hit it off early on, and that friendship only became deeper as the years went on.

In case you don’t know it, dear reader, the book trade is a business one must be mad to partake of. When it became clear that I was a lost cause, unable to stay away from bookbuying, she added to my self-taught experience by adding her own. She advised me on how to pick out better books, showed me how to clean up books that needed help, and encouraged me in thinking and researching for myself.


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She ran a tight ship, upholding tremendously high standards for herself and everyone else.
 
As another friend recently said, it doesn’t matter how much time your have with someone you care about. It is always going to seem like the time was too short when that person is suddenly gone.

Caesar: 
Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear,
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.
--William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar (II, ii, 32-37)

Nancy passed from this mortal plane in the early minutes of the Ides of March, opera echoing in the shadows of the room.

There will be no memorial service, no burial service, no obituary in the local paper, because that’s how Nancy wanted it. But in the spirit of our friendship, it seems only right that I mark her journey’s departure with words. Just enough words.

I’m sure she knew I was going to do this little write-up. She knew me well.

So fare thee well, Nancy, until we meet again. It’s been one hell of a good wild ride, but as you replied on a cold rainy March evening, the last time I saw you, “It’s only the beginning.”