Tuesday, December 28, 2010

":sigh: All right, Literary Truffle Pig will go dig up some more copies..." - Nialle, RE: Cormac McCarthy books and the lack of them in the shop, despite us getting in half a dozen since the beginning of December

Sunday, December 26, 2010

First Officer's Log No 26: Plague-Induced Book Lists

So I have some down with some sort of horrible manifestation of the plague or the flu or whatever, and therefore, sadly, I am not the most effective or most articulate of people right now. However, in between dashes from the couch, and snuggling under the heaviest blanket I could last night just to keep from shivering myself silly, I started to think through the books that I've read this year that have grabbed my attention or made me rethink things. (Please to be bearing with me, I am looptastic as I write this).

First off, I did two themes this year, French literature, and then for October, I read a book each week, four in total, that I felt properly conveyed the Halloween and / or spooky spirit. With regard to French literature, I finally read Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo, as well as Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. Both books now rank amongst my favorites. Monte Cristo I found engaging and mysterious, with a long streak of diabolical intent throughout the story. Les Miserables took me some time to read, but Julie Rose's new translation grabbed my attention. Rose has a splendid way of translating French, remaining faithful to the original intent of the phrasing while transcribing it in such a way that it appeals to contemporary readers. If you've not read Hugo's classic, then I highly recommend Rose's translation.

For my Halloween experiment, only one new book truly appealed to me, as Will Storr Vs The Supernatural was an already familiar book to me, but one I hadn't discussed at length before. Of the three other books I read, Jennifer McMahon's Promise Not to Tell had my attention and had me on the edge of my seat. As much a coming of age novel as a suspense thriller, I was drawn into McMahon's gothic world of casual cruelties and friendships that fall by the wayside, but someone revive themselves, even at great cost. McMahon counts high on the list of my favorite new writers.

I confess that I didn't read a whole lot of young adult fiction this year, though I quite liked Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games (I know, not the most original pick, but I really enjoyed it). As to other things, I read a number of newer theology books, but found that none this year really captured my interest or taught me anything that I hadn't learned elsewhere. That's not to say that things like Michael Parenti's God and His Demons and Paul Berman's The Flight of the Intellecutuals aren't good books, they are, but Parenti strives too hard to be amusing with his style of writing, and Berman feels as if he is talking down to his audience. That said, Terry Eagleton's On Evil is probably my favorite theology or philosophy book I've read this year. Eagleton has a fantastic way of writing, and, being a literary critic, offers comparisons and interesting observations from classical lit while he is making his arguments.

History and Social Science are going to wait for next year for me to dive into. Being as that next year is the one hundred and fiftieth start of the American Civil War expect to see lots of recommendations or blurbs about new and exciting Civil War history. I anticipate a lot of it coming through our doors.

Well, folks, that'll do it for this year's First Officer's Logs, but check back with us next year, because we've always got new and interesting things going on at the shop, and we're always restocking with new books. Have a great holiday and a safe New Year.

Until next week (year), fellow Bibliophiles.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Introducing: Ralph


So why do we carry Folkmanis puppets?

As with most Haunted Bookshop stories, this one has multiple beginnings. The main reason we carry the puppets is because, when toyshop legend Mark Gauger of The Fun Zone retired, he taught Nialle how to order puppets because she liked them so much. To back up, Nialle liked them so much because Nialle was awakened by a loud yell from Ralph the White Mouse approximately twenty years ago.

Nialle's sister, the infamous Meara, had gotten Ralph, the family's first Folkmanis puppet, from Mark Gauger at The Fun Zone and had already practiced quite a lot. Nialle doted on Meara and grew up wanting to be a Muppeteer, so naturally, Ralph's appearance at Nialle's bedside prompted delight rather than annoyance. (N.B., this was before Nialle started drinking coffee.)

So, to bring it back around, Nialle met Ralph because Meara got Ralph from Mark, from whom Nialle would later learn the toyshop biz. Small world, right? Wait, it gets better. As recently as three years ago, Nialle was stopped on the street by a woman who thought Nialle looked familiar:

"Aren't you Ralph's sister? I mean... I mean the sister of the girl who had that mouse puppet that used to ride the bus, the puppet's name was Ralph, this was a long time ago but I still have his business card...."

Nialle did an actual, unfeigned double take. "Ralph had business cards?"

"Didn't you know? Oh, was I not supposed to tell you?"

"No, it's cool," Nialle reassured her. "Actually I sort of remember that. Um - I think he lives in Cedar Rapids now, but I can tell him hi from you if you want."

The woman appeared to realize abruptly that weird anthropomorphizing sorts of things were going on, bade Nialle a hasty "Oh, that's okay, I just thought I'd say hello. Good to see you. Bye," and hurried off.

Nialle, however, never thinks it's weird to let puppets be people too. Therefore, Nialle strongly encourages folks who got their Folkmanis puppets at The Fun Zone or The Haunted Bookshop to share the puppets' stories. We'd like to know where everyone ended up, including all those brothers and sisters of Ralph (and his gray cousin, ALOYSIUS) who stayed with us for a while before going out to ride the buses and taunt the sleeping sisters of the world. Submit your puppet's story and, with your permission, we'll reprint it here!

...Starting with Ralph. Meara, dish us up some of Ralph's madcap hijinx, would you? Because to hear people talk around town, he went to the public library, Vortex, Fun Zone, the Co-Op, and a bunch of other cool places all the time. He could well write a 1990's sequel to Irving Weber's history of Iowa City series!


All Haunted Bookshop puppet profiles reflect the personal ideas and opinions of the Haunted Bookshop crew exclusively and, while the pictures of the puppets are copyright Folkmanis, Inc., none of these profiles are sponsored, endorsed, encouraged, or approved by Folkmanis, Inc.; they are strictly for the amusement of regular bookshop guests who have come to know how Haunted crew develop characters for puppets.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

First Officer's Log No 25: Let It Snow... History, All Flavors Thereof

History, as any regular reader knows, is a subject near and dear to my heart. Since deciding that my efforts to understand World War I may be futile, at least in my attempt at a two - three week crash course, I've decided that moving onto other military histories might create better understanding. Also, a flawed plan, but, hey, at least I'm learning. I figure, anyone who wants to learn anything about the current world would do themselves a favor by reading history, any history they can get their hands on. It's worked for me.

So, for the fans of history on your list, may I present a few of my picks that should appeal to just about anyone.

** For the US History Fan...

You can't go wrong with Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. Even if you don't agree with Zinn's politics, his writing is fascinating.

Anything David McCullough has written, particularly interesting are his biographies of two presidents, Harry Truman and John Adams. Highly recommended.

** For the Military History Fan...

Well, there's plenty to pick from here. If World War I is your interest, then John Keegan's book The First World War is a good introduction. For World War II buffs, Stephen Ambrose's works, including Band of Brothers, are excellent choices.

** For European History Fans...

Check out anything on famous world leaders, such as Napoleon or Winston Churchill. Reading up on men like these two helps readers understand the contemporary world more, especially considering the world when they were alive. Anything on famous revolutions - Russian and French come to mind - are also excellent choices.

There's so much history to choose from right now, and so much to learn, that it often feels like there's not enough time to read it all in order to understand it better. I fully confess that I've only scratched the surface of the history that interests me, but if you stop by the shop, maybe I can help you out with finding that perfect historical period that fascinates you.

Until next week, fellow bibliophiles.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Introducing: Rosalind

We sell puppets. We're really into puppets. Not just any puppets, either. We carry Folkmanis puppets. We know from experience that they're safe and durable, because my first one is twenty years old now and still chattering away and pretending to sneeze to get out of awkward situations; we also know kids love them, because we do and we routinely see children lighting up at the sight of them. Perfect as baby gifts, storytime assistants, study buddies (no joke; my rabbit and Ross' lobster helped us through classes), gag gifts, host presents, cube spice, personal icons, alter egos, flirtation devices, and more, these puppets include a wide range of animals and curious characters, and we're proud to offer over 50 species at any given time.

Also, when you are not looking, we practice with them. So that we can impress you when we introduce you to them. Seriously. It's very serious business.

It is actually true that, when we have carried a certain type of puppet for a time and have gotten practice with voicing and characterization of that particular type, we end up giving them names and personalities. So I thought I might introduce you to some of our favorites. ...One or two at a time, because it will take a while to list all the ones I like.


Don't be fooled by the soft cloud of feathers and her skill as a storytime helper. She might be willing to take the role of Crow in a Native American legends storybook or Jeremy from Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, but ask her to recite Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" and you're likely to lose a finger. Worse, you might be subjected to her snarky renditions of other poems, such as "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" sung to the tune of the "Gilligan's Island" theme song.

Rosalind is one tough bird. Like all corvids, she's intelligent, listens with her head tilted to one side and memorizes at the same time, and loves to mock. She in particular loves to mock. A lot. Sometimes viciously.

The way we hear it is that, a long time ago, she and JULIET, a swan puppet, scrapped over a handsome short-eared owl puppet named ROMEO. Juliet and Romeo took off together (the swan and short-eared owl are no longer in active production, even), and Rosalind got seriously bitter. She'll tell you exactly what she thinks about the other birds in the house, from peacock JUNO to ILENE the hummingbird, and she has zero tolerance for what she calls "the culturally embedded assumptions about dark-plumaged birds," "the indefensible use of cop-out phrases like 'unconventional beauty' or 'interesting perspective," or the use of the words "dark," "soul," "tears," or "dove" in poetry, especially the rhymed and metered kind.

Underneath the razor talons and beak, though, Rosalind is a sensitive companion, quick to defend her close friends and quicker to playful exchanges of wit, and if you can gain her trust, her feathers are soft as a newborn chick's down and her nodding chuckle sweeter than loveliest of loon cries - if you're in to sort of Mae West-sounding chuckles.

All Haunted Bookshop puppet profiles reflect the personal ideas and opinions of the Haunted Bookshop crew exclusively and, while the pictures of the puppets are copyright Folkmanis, Inc., none of these profiles are sponsored, endorsed, encouraged, or approved by Folkmanis, Inc.; they are strictly for the amusement of regular bookshop guests who have come to know how Haunted crew develop characters for puppets.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"If the cats are Jewish, Nierme is Jewish in a Lauren Bacall sort of way. Logan is Jewish in a Philip Roth kind of way." - Paul Morton, customer

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Credit card use

Fact: If everyone had used cash or good checks during each of the last four months - if no one had used credit or debit cards - we could have offered someone a 15hr/week job at $7.50/hour.

Every time you use a credit card, an average of 4% of your purchase goes directly to the credit card company.

Shop green. Use cash at locally owned shops and help us keep the money in the community.

First Officer's Log No 24: Let It Snow... Fantasy, Mystery, and Science Fiction

The snow whips back and forth in the wind outside, but it's not so much snow as gently wafting flakes of white puffy stuff. It's December, and so winter is officially upon us here in Iowa, but the weather is still reminiscent of extremely late fall. So that means you can walk outside without gloves, but you'll want your hood and a scarf, or, if you're like me, you reject the scarf, throw on your trusty over-the-ear headphones that amplify the bass in lieu of earmuffs, and maybe wear arm warmers on those days when you still need to use your fingertips. I like winter a lot. Snow and ice I can take or leave, but winter as a season is probably my favorite, because as I said a few weeks ago, warm fireplaces in coffee shops and restaurants, or curling up under a warm electric blanket with a book are my favorite things to do.

It's also holiday season. Hanukkah began last night, and Christmas has three full weeks to go before it arrives. That means shopping, shopping, shopping, and people are always popping in and out with lists of books they need, or asking for good recommendations. We're running through our Harry Potter and Steig Larsson as fast as we can get them in, and some of us have taken a fancy to certain books so much that we're having trouble keeping those in stock, too (I confess to being among the guilty parties in this matter).

So, kindly allow me to suggest a few titles that I think will appeal to your gift-giving needs.

** For the Fantasy fan in your life...

If they like Robert Jordan or George R.R. Martin, then Steven Erikson will be right up their alley (also, Erikson is a graduate of the Writer's Workshop Program here at the University of Iowa, so there's an Iowa connection).

For the Tolkien fan who might not quite be ready for the heavier fantasy works, Terry Goodkind and Terry Brooks both have complete series set in their respective worlds of the Sword of Truth and Shannara.

Speaking of JRR Tolkien, if there's someone who loved the 'Lord of the Rings' movies in your house, and they haven't yet experienced the books, it's never too late to introduce them to Middle Earth all over again.

For the Harry Potter fan who needs a new series of magic and adventure, look no further than Diane Duane's Young Wizards series.

** For the Mystery reader...

Dennis Lehane's Mystic River and Shutter Island are both excellent novels turned into films, and they're a treat for any mystery lover.

For the Steig Larsson fan, there are plenty of European authors to choose from, including Jo Nesbø (Norway), Arnaldur Indriðason (Iceland), and Henning Mankell (Sweden). Northern Europe has been producing great crime fiction for years, but these three are great additions for Larsson fans to check out.

Denise Mina and Val McDermid are two excellent Scottish crime writers, both of whom have consistently put out great material. Mina's Garnethill is the first in her trilogy of the same name, while McDermid's Killing the Shadows and A Place of Execution are highly recommended.

For more traditional detective fiction fans, you can't go wrong with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's always popular Sherlock Holmes. For other excellent mystery series, I suggest Elizabeth George for those looking for a British detective, while Lee Child's Jack Reacher series follows an American ex-MP who travels the United States perpetually getting into some form of trouble or other.

** For the Science Fiction lover...

For those who love hard science fiction in the vein of Simon R Green's Deathstalker novels, Peter F Hamilton is the author to check out. His trilogy of novels, The Reality Disfunction, combine elements of science fiction, horror, and adventure, sure to please any science fiction fan. Yes, zombies are among the bad guys in Hamilton's universe, so zombie fans will enjoy them too.

William Gibson is the father of cyberpunk, and Neuromancer remains a classic of the genre. He practically invented the concept of the internet in his stories, though I will say that I'm glad my nervous system isn't how I surf the net.

Classic science fiction abounds, and sometimes the old classics, Jules Verne and HG Wells, are the go-to guys. If you are seeking great imaginative worlds and grand tales of high adventure, there's nothing that a little classic storytelling can't do to satisfy that craving.

Until next week, fellow bibliophiles.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Ghostwriting No. 27: Owners' marks, underlining, and library marks

Each independently-owned used bookstore has different rules about what books to buy. We've posted our policy that we never accept former library books and are otherwise somewhat strict about not taking books with a lot of markings in them. Other stores have different policies. In general, the differences have to do with what kind of people want what kind of books, as well as what the bookstore's owner wants to select.

We have, in the past, been offered some really great books with some heavy underlining inside. We've heard from some of our customers that they would buy books with underlining, and sometimes, if we're really short on a book frequently used for classes, we'll buy underlined copies. We also make exceptions on the library rule for books that were owned by monastery libraries (they tend not to put too many stickers and stamps in) or for books over a hundred years old. On the whole, however, if we receive books containing a lot of underlining or with owners' stamps on the front cover or the edges of the book, we donate them to our ongoing Benefit Sale for Local Foods Connection or, if they are heavily damaged, we recycle them.

There are several reasons that this store has this policy. Let me enumerate a few. 1. We have a lot of books, and we buy a lot of books, so when we're buying, we have to think about what we have room to shelve. We're offered a lot of beautifully kept books, so we tend to prefer those. 2. Though some of our customers don't mind or even like prior owners' marks like underlining and inscriptions, many dislike such marks. 3. We price underlined books lower than we price clean ones, but lower still doesn't always make for customer satisfaction. As a matter of business, it's better policy to stock things that make our customers happier - and on which we can make some amount of profit.

With regard to library books, there are many more reasons not to carry them: for one thing, there are dozens of places to buy former library books in Iowa City, often for $3 or less. It wouldn't be cost-effective for us to try to 'compete in that market,' as the business types would say. For another, some have embedded security devices that cause inconvenient beeping noises in buildings with alarm systems, which also raises the problem of having to check each book for discard marks to be certain the library doesn't expect to get them back. And for a third, library books have often been subjected to a great deal more wear than single-owner books; we worry about whether the bindings are still good, whether a page might have gotten torn out, that sort of thing. It's more efficient to turn them all down than to go through each, page by page and signature by signature, to make sure that they are still in good enough condition for a new reader to enjoy.

There are some marks we don't mind as much. A prior owner's name, a date, a meaningful inscription in a very old (100+) book, a neatly affixed bookplate, all are acceptable. What we don't want are marks disfiguring the outside of the book or marks in the text itself. We are more lenient about margin marks and pencil marks than we are about heavily penciled or penned underlining, and we are more lenient about underlining than about highlighting. If you have questions about whether your books meet our guidelines, feel free to call, email, or stop in.


For those of you who order books online, here are the technical terms for what we do and don't accept:

- POI or Prior Owner's Inscription - this is usually just a name on the front free endpaper, also known as a 'flyleaf'. (There are two front endpapers - the fixed and the free - left and right sides of what is usually the same sheet of paper, half of which is glued inside the front cover and the other half of which protects the first printed page.) - These are fine.

- Bookplate tipped in / affixed / at the front endpaper. - (Tipped in and affixed are the most common terms for something stuck to a page in the book; we say 'laid in' if it's not attached.) If the bookplate's glue damaged the page, this might be a problem, but usually we don't mind bookplates.

- Mild staining / toning from pressed leaf/flower at pages x-y - As long as it's mild, we don't mind. (Toning is our term for when something acidic, either laid in or sometimes the book's paper itself, causes the pages to turn yellow or even brown.)

- Scattered pencil marks in the text - these are sometimes okay, depending on the book. Same goes for scattered pen marks in the margins.

- "Prior owner's stamp at edge of page block" or "black mark at edge of page block" are kind of suspicious. Sometimes what is being called a "prior owner's stamp" is actually a publisher's "not for sale" or "not for resale" stamp, which means that selling it isn't strictly legal. It might also be a library stamp, including a really big, ugly "DISCARD" stamp. "Black marks" or "publisher's remainder marks" can sometimes be a warning that the book was printed for one of those giant print runs on cheap paper, which means the pages might have toning, which happens quickly with cheap paper. We will sometimes accept books with remainder marks, as long as they are otherwise in excellent condition, but we never pay first edition or collectible prices for remainder marked books, nor should you when you are buying books.

We do not accept:

- "Ex lib. with usual / expected marks / stamps" - I've seen this description all over the internet. It seems to mean library book with any or all of: spine sticker, call numbers written on the outside or inside, library stamps on the first, last, and sometimes middle pages, card pockets, handling spots or stains inside or outside, or worse. My general rule of thumb is: if the seller doesn't take the time to explain to you what 'usual' or 'expected' marks are, the marks are probably really ugly or the seller might just be careless.

- "May have underlining / highlighting / marks in text" - see above.

- "Extensive underlining / highlighting / margin marks" - another description we'd never use, ourselves. What is extensive? Is it extensive enough to keep the book from being useful? Not very clear.

- "Heavy foxing" - Foxing is what we call the little brown freckle-like marks that sometimes appear at the top edges of undusted books or at the first few pages or illustration pages of old books. We don't mind a few specks, but if they even come close to obscuring the printed words or the illustrations, we won't take the book.

- "Bleed-through" or "red/green/blue/etc. stain at edges / on pages x to y" - This is almost always an indication that the book got wet enough for the cover to bleed ink into the pages, which means the cover and pages may be warped, moldy, stuck together, etc. A faint coffee spot may be all right on the outside edge of an academic book, but a coffee spot that stained the margins or text or made the page edges ripple is not.

As always, if you have questions, feel free to ask. We're happy to help you figure out which internet-listed book is right for you or how to describe the condition of your book.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

First Officer's Log No 23: Old Favorites and New Toys

I think I've concluded that global warming must be real, because despite the fact that it's maybe a little over 30 degrees outside in the final full week of November, there's not a speck of snow or ice on the ground. I don't know about anyone else, but I'm quite happy to have winter in Iowa, sans the side effects. That being said, though, there are a few great coffee shops in town that have their fireplaces roaring, and who doesn't love being able to curl up in a comfy chair next to a fire with a good book?

I have a whole stack of books for winter reading, but I'm curious to know what people are planning on attacking this wintry season for their literary or non fiction fixes? I've got a mixture of both, and lately I haven't been able to pin down what The Big Thing will be this year. I mean, Steig Larsson is still selling like hot cakes, and we have a few nice new hardcovers of this year releases like Brady Udall's The Lonely Polygamist and Justin Cronin's The Passage, but I'm curious to see what people are hoping to see their neighborhood used book store have on hand.

It is that time of year again, when holiday shoppers (yours truly included) experience that mixture of dread and eagerness: the dread of braving The Mall, and the eagerness of finding The Perfect Gift. Well, fear not, gentle shoppers, for we might be able to help you out.

The good news is right now we have a lot of older favorites in stock, such as all the Harry Potter Books, including volumes 3 through 7 in hardcover, as well as most of the Cirque du Freak series for those supernatural teen fiction fans out there. As always, we have a great collection of children's picture books with beautiful illustrations, and don't forget our new kids non-fiction section. There are some very nifty reprints of classic Nancy Drew books from the 1920s, as well as an assortment of other old favorites, like Hardy Boys and Boxcar Children. If you need some suggestions for young adult readers who need something new for the winter holidays, just let us know.

We've got several lovely Library of America editions of classic American fiction like Philip Roth and Mark Twain, as well as non-fiction classical political writing from Jefferson, Paine and a very cool edition of A.J. Liebling's World War II articles. Our history section continues to grow, and we have a strictly European History section now, as well as Historiography, or books on writing about history. If you're coming in search of education or parenting books and don't find them up front, don't panic, they're in the back room above psychology now.

We've got a whole bunch of new toys to go along with the books, including some whimsical card games and new puppets. For more information, check our website or stop by and we'll be happy to demonstrate how to best utilize the big turkey puppet for maximum amusement during your big holiday get togethers.

Until next week, fellow bibliophiles.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

National Book Award Winners 2010

The 2010 National Book Awards have been announced. The highlights include:

* Winner for Young People's Literature: Kathryn Erskine, Mockingbird

Winner for Poetry: Terrance Hayes, Lighthead

* Winner for Nonfiction: Patti Smith, Just Kids

* Winner for Fiction: Jaimy Gordon, Lord of Misrule

Ghostwriting No. 26: Store Policy on Children

We have always enjoyed the company of young people, from curious-eyed newborns to those just starting to read "grownup" books and beyond. Unfortunately, however, the time has come to state a policy with respect to our youthful company.

Poorly behaved parents will be asked to leave.

DO NOT leave your under-12 children here while you go elsewhere.

DO NOT leave your children alone at the front of the store while you look elsewhere until you have made certain that they have selected an appropriate activity and can engage in it respectfully.

DO NOT permit your children to disrupt the browsing of other patrons.

DO NOT leave the bookstore before making sure that your children have picked up any toys or books they have pulled from the shelves. If you don't know where something goes, please return it to the front counter and suggest to your children that keeping track of where they got something so that they can put it away properly is mannerly and appreciated.

We strongly encourage parents who want to share the experience of visiting a bookstore with children and are happy to do all we can to make the experience fun and interesting. We cannot, however, tolerate situations in which children, particularly disruptive ones, are effectively left in our care without our consent. Please teach your child to enjoy our premises respectfully.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

First Officer's Log No 22: "Yes, But Is It Good?", or, Why Ali Has Mixed Feelings On Book Awards

So this past weekend, I watched quite an amusing little video clip from Slate.com's "Outside the Box" Book Reviews, wherein the reviewer goes after the NBA. No, not the National Basketball Association, the National Book Awards, and proceeds to explain, in a very hyperbolic and amusing fashion, why he doesn't necessarily agree with the choices for finalists, and also makes the, in my opinion, accurate observation that regardless of what the finalists for book awards are, there are always bound to be people who complain that their favorite book was overlooked and why that simply isn't fair.

I recall a conversation I had once upon a time with friends who were all quite well read and liked reading authors who tended to get short listed for prestigious literary prizes. Being in a sarcastic mood, I asked if the books that won were actually any good. The discussion quickly shifted to what defines a truly good book from the rest of the herd, but the question still lingers in my mind today: does a prize attached to a book's name actually make it better, or more deserving than any other book released in that same year?

I'd like to point out that I long ago learned to be skeptical of whatever books were award winners, despite the fact that some books that win awards truly do deserve it. That said, I can't say that somebody who won the Nobel ever made me want to rush out and read their book. Perhaps I read it later, when I stumbled upon it, but the Nobel doesn't make that much of an impression on me. I probably need to work on this.

Since I went through and made a long list for the shop's reference on who won what in what year and why, I gained a newer appreciation for the absolutely levels of frustration that book critics and prize committees must face when deciding on and awarding marks (high, low, in between) to literature, science fiction, mystery, non fiction, what have you. It's got to be the most baffling and unappreciated job in the publishing world, because no matter what you do or say, you can't please everyone.

The Nobel Committee appears to choose literary figures based upon their contributions to writing, but judging from the fascinating article at Wikipedia, I'd recommend jumping straight to this bit, about the controversies in the history of the prize. Perhaps it's because I have an odd affinity for reading about gossip in the literary world (and who doesn't, truly?), but I found the who's-who of authors who never won the prize more compelling than those who have won it. It boggles the mind, comprehending the political nature of the Nobel Prize in Literature, especially when it is, in theory, supposed to be about the art of writing.

There are a few awards that I follow, the Hugo and Nebula, the Edgar Awards; otherwise, I decide on books to read based upon word of mouth or various articles I read. A prize means very little to me as a reader. However, I've discovered, in my almost ten years of working in bookstores, that people respond to half-dollar sized stickers on the front covers of books that announce what prize the book has won. The nature of the prize isn't as important as the fact that a book has won a prize of some kind, therefore elevating it to something other than Just Another Books.

Hundreds of books come out every year, but only a few get to be truly worthy of prizes, and the things that do get chosen for awards inevitably make some book reader, somewhere, miffed that their favorite book of the year wasn't chosen for this award or that. The books that seem to win awards, the last decade or so, for fiction, seem to be long, drawn out accounts of what I like to call Families In Distress, and Drama Drama Drama, With Some Angsty Humor On The Side. These are the kinds of books that sell very well in the past decade, and I think it shows that the publishing industry reflects the country's state of mind. Post-9/11 America is distraught, still, almost ten years later, nervous, scared, worried about every thing. People want to read about things the way that they wish they were, or perhaps they wish to read about lives that seem worse than theirs. That's probably why the misery memoir was so popular in the mid-2000s.

Admittedly, these aren't the kinds of things I usually read. Granted, when I was in college, I didn't really read for fun all that much, and if I did read for fun, it was a trashy urban fantasy novel or a copy of Rolling Stone, something I could stuff in my backpack next to my school notebooks and texts. If a book won a prize, that meant it was Serious Literature, and up until this year I have had a very hard time taking Serious Literature, well, Seriously.

The nonfiction I read nowadays might win notice as one of the Best Books of (Insert Year Here) from The Economist, The New York Times, or some other nationally known magazine or newspaper, and maybe, like Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower, the book might win the Pulitzer. The books that I did enjoy the most, for their writing style, story and characters, those weren't the kinds of books that prize committees looked at. Even when the Quill Award (2005 - 2007, discontinued in 2008) was awarded to Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind in 2007, while I was excited that more people knew it was a good novel, I'd read the book at the insistence of a friend, not because it was winning prizes or recognition from committees.

Literary prizes seem to reflect current temperaments, much like any artistic prize, from the Academy Awards for movies, to the Grammys for music. As such, it's no surprise that whatever is chosen for the current year is what reflects culture the best, but that doesn't mean that genuinely good books have to be pushed out of the way. There is truly great literature out there, strongly written stories that don't get notice or attention until book sellers start noticing them, and even then, no matter how hard you push, you can't convince a committee that the truly great novel is right below their noses.

It's a shame. They must have the most frustrating job. I suppose when you're forced to narrow a field of books down to five or six with true merit, you have to sacrifice really good stuff for the stuff that will sell, that will bring in money. It's trendy, it reflects the times. Hopefully it will change. In the mean time, I'll try to keep my eyes open for good books, but not necessarily stuff that wins prizes.

Three Local Authors Book Event

Today the Haunted Bookshop is pleased to announce a local author's book event. Come visit us this afternoon for three local children's book authors - Michell Edwards, Claudia McGehee, and Jacqueline Briggs Martin - and their news books. There will be readings, signings and cake. The cats and staff are very excited for this event so come help us show support to our local writing community.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Ghostwriting No. 25: Store Policy on Mold and Mildew

For health and safety reasons, we must ask that you

NEVER bring moldy or mildewed books into the shop.

This policy is not flexible. Patrons who bring in anything containing mold or mildew will be asked to remove it immediately.

Some of our patrons have allergies. We can't allow mold or mildew to infect our inventory. And staff and cats deserve to have a clean environment free from spores that might make us feel ill or develop infections or breathing problems.

Dispose of moldy or mildewed books responsibly. Put them in the garbage.

First Officer's Log No 21: Random Act

This past week, a most unexpected thing occurred. A bit of a brief statement, but here it is: a few months back I had a long conversation with a customer about history and the interest I had in particular aspects. We had a great time talking, he bought several books, and I had a good feeling he would definitely return. On Wednesday, he did return, and he brought me a book.

It's one of the most unexpected things I've had happen. He showed up, told me that he had finished the book and wanted my opinion on it, and so gave it to me to read. Needless to say, I was quite surprised, in fact, I am still. It's such an out of the blue thing to happen, and on a topic that I'm genuinely interested in, so for him to do this was... well. I don't really know what to say to it, expect thank you.

To you customers who come in, visit us, shop with us, play with our cats, joke with us, talk with us, tell us stories, and have fun in our place of business, to you, I want to say 'thank you.' I feel, perhaps that I do not say it enough, but thank you.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"It's funny but will it get them off their tractors in Peoria?" - Jon, as a television exec with reference to 'Moonlighting'

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Fourth City of Literature: Dublin

The Haunted Bookshop would like to give a shout out to our newest UNESCO City of Literature: Dublin, Ireland!

Dublin joins us, here in Iowa City, along with Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as unique cities that have contributed to the growth and experience of literature and literary communities throughout the world. Congratulations!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

"You are very insolent, cat!" - a customer to Logan, who was attempting to get her smoothie

Saturday, November 6, 2010

"Some cover artist needs to be shot. First against the wall when the publication comes." -Nialle

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Ghostwriting No. 24: 50% More Legitimate Endorsements!

Gold foil stickers. They're everywhere, and they'll say anything.

It's the time of year when I rifle through the fiction section, checking to make sure I am acquainted with each book (and to see what's missing), and this time around I'm noticing how many books have circular gold stickers announcing everything from the obviously useful information that the author won the Nobel or that the book won the Man Booker or Pulitzer to announcing awards I had to look up for lack of familiarity (I had no idea how many writing associations hand out awards in this country), or sharing last-minute, high-powered blurbs (often one-word superlatives by household-name authors), or promising - no, I wish I were kidding - extra material. Reading group guides, added introductions, author interviews, that sort of thing.

Does that actually work on book buyers? The 25% MORE FREE advertising program? I'm dubious. But anyway.

Awards: They are useful insofar as they bring recognition to authors and works of outstanding quality. Have you noticed how many people have lost faith in them, though? Well, maybe not lost, since I'm not sure when who had what faith, but especially since the Nobel committee laureated J. M. G. Le Clezio, I've heard rather the opposite of "Ooo, a Nobel winner, this must be good!" Pulitzer-winning novels, word around the counter informs me, are all very depressing (though the folks who tell me this usually allow that The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay did not follow the pattern they claim). Man Booker prizes, my sources tell me, seem to go to very weird authors (and I don't disagree that Margaret Atwood is weird - I'm not sure she would either - but Peter Carey and Kiran Desai, weird? Unless being articulate and picking topics that don't appear to be grovelling for feature filmhood is weird).

On another point, though, one can suffer from award saturation. The dozens of widely recognized prizes aside, Writer's Digest (the publisher) awards gold foil stickers to the author of a winning self-published novel. This probably isn't quite the branding the Nobel Laureate sticker-bearers were hoping to tap.

Meanwhile, the blurbs. I don't think there's really a way to win at the game of recommending books, since people naturally disagree on what's good and why, but I do think there are a few clear ways to lose. One is to call a book "a glowing triumph of profoundly moving imagination," which uses five out of the seven most overused words in literary-fiction blurbiage (the other two are "exuberant" and "compelling"); one is to have a single adjective, excerpted from what was hopefully a full and intelligent discussion of the book's merit, slapped on a dust jacket with an exclamation point after it, as if to demonstrate the expedience with which the lonely adjective was cleaved from its context; and one is to compare a book to two other books that bear little, if any, resemblance to each other or the book at hand. For example - and I am not making this up, as much as I wish I were - calling The Raw Shark Texts a convergence of "Moby Dick and The Wizard of Oz" (Kirkus Reviews, what were you thinking?) just makes me wonder how many people are literate enough to know that Moby Dick was, not a shark, but a whale.

I'm all for visual cues to help market books. Don't get me wrong - I know how hard the publishing industry has worked to give customers ways to sort through the incredible numbers of titles for kinds they like - I do see that gold foil circles have their uses. But 1. Wolf. Do not cry it. and 2. "Excellent" - New York Times Book Review... really? Couldn't you at least have thrown in a noun so that I know whether it's "Excellent Noir" or "Excellent Recipes"?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

"Come on, sweetie, get out of there... no, not you, Nierme, I'm talking to the menorah..." - Jon

Thursday, October 28, 2010

First Officer's Log No 20: Creepy, Eerie and Oh-So-Cool, Part 4

Well, the end of this little experiment in words and pages that are creepy comes to a close. This week, I get to spotlight one of my favorite books, and I suppose it would be good to say that I've read this particular book several times, regardless of the time of the year, but it always makes an appearance in my life in October. Will Storr Vs. The Supernatural is a nonfiction record of a journalist's attempts to understand the fascination with ghosts, haunted places, possessions, poltergeists, and all sorts of other unexplainable phenomena.

Will's journey begins in the United States, where he spends a few days with a self-proclaimed "demonologist", who opens Will's eyes to the possibility of the supernatural being real. Unnerved by his experience, and determined to understand why the topic of ghosts and ghoulies is so popular, Will sets out on various adventures with local U.K. ghost hunting groups, a famous parapsychologist, and even lands an interview with the Vatican's own chief exorcist. Along the way, he runs into liars, cheats, true believers, self-professed psychics, New Age practitioners, "monsterologists", witches, a Druid, a Newcastle-born "Native American", and the TV set of Britain's own ghost hunting show 'Most Haunted'.

The book is a marvelous exploration of the kinds of things that scare us, and also the stories that keep us awake at night. He begins his tale in the United States, where he claims, eccentric people in the United States are so much more convincing in their eccentricities. The disturbing things he witnesses, and the unnerving realization that his subject might not be crazy, sends him on his year-long quest. Will's journey takes him all over England, and the people he meets make his "demonologist" friend seem absolutely quaint. Throughout the book, Will must keep himself from losing his faith in rationality, even as ever stranger things keep happening to him.

This is probably the best book on ghost hunting or the supernatural that I've read. Will Storr has a great grasp of how to write not only well but with respect for the people he is interviewing and experiencing events with. He doesn't judge his subjects, and instead allows the words he records and transcribes to speak for themselves. It's a great book, a good read for a chilly night, and simply a great example of accessible, interesting nonfiction. I highly recommend it.

And that concludes this year's installment of Creepy, Eerie and Oh-So-Cool. Hopefully we can do it again next year, but until then, I'll try to have something new and interesting to write about each month, and maybe have a few books to throw out at you every few weeks.

Until next time, fellow bibliophiles.

Ghostwriting No. 23: The Ghostlist

A few words as we approach the Halloween season.

1. One of the things I hate about this time of year is having to tell people that no, we do not have cold spots or blood dripping down the walls. They get so disappointed. Alas, it is fact. We also don't hear voices or footsteps, and I'm sorry, we do not give haunting tours.

2. That said, we do have a small section especially for books about ghosts. While ghosts have not lately been hypersexualized, deprived of historic symbolism, or given supporting roles in blockbuster movies about teenaged girls getting whatever they want, they are nonetheless rich with character possibility. Let me recommend a few favorites:

- Anything by M. R. James. I'm not just saying this because there are so many beautifully described books and libraries in these stories. They are also sterling examples of the short suspense craft. Also they have gorgeous books in. Did I mention the leather bindings?

- Anything by Sheridan le Fanu. Using the frame of the reflections of a doctor with special interest in psychology, this author successfully spooks the reader with a little reverse psychology: what the doctor doesn't tell you will keep you up at night.

- The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. Brief, evocative, and full of the sense that even scarier than things that go bump in the night is the astonishing capacity of the human mind to anticipate and dread disaster.

More recent books:

- The Mercy of Thin Air by Ronlyn Domingue. Narrated by a ghost, this novel is really about strong women in two different lucrative decades facing unacceptable gender norms, but the ghost is also a genuinely likeable prankster with some keen observations about women, life, power, and the hindsight that gets more twisted the more one tries to fight upstream.

- A Fine and Private Place by Peter Beagle. The protagonist, a homeless man shacked up in a crypt with an unlocked door, watches the dead struggling with disembodiment. It takes observing a particularly complicated posthumous love affair, dodging the verbal assaults of a particularly insightful crow, and uncertainly accepting kindness from a very lively widow to bring this man back from the proverbial grave(side).

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Our Chosen Charity: Local Foods Connection

Check out this nifty article about the local foods movement here in Iowa City and Johnson County. If you're interested in the Local Foods Connection cookbook, we have them here at the bookshop.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ghostwriting No. 22: A Plea for Sanity

Ladies and gentlemen, may I remind you that other people writing books containing a famous author's characters are, by definition, fanfiction authors. Few, if any, write anything of compelling quality, and let me remind you that most take the story in directions the author would not have approved. Remember Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley? Not only did Rhett and Scarlett supposedly get back together, but Scarlett became the head of a clan - yes, clan - in Ireland. Margaret Mitchell would never have written anything resembling that. The author basically wrote a numbered-series romance novel and used Mitchell's characters' names.

So please, please, if you really want to read something like Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice from something like Mr. Darcy's point of view, read Henry James' Daisy Miller, all right? E. M. Forster's A Room with a View will also do.

Thank you.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

First Officer's Log No 19: Creepy, Eerie and Oh-So-Cool, Part 3

This week's entry is Body Surfing, a very strange, weird novel from Dale Peck. The basic story involves demons that jump from body to body, two teenage boys, one of whom becomes possessed, and a Croatian demon huntress who comes to save the day. It's not the easiest book to describe, even for supernatural fiction standards (and are there such things?), and the opening sequence, set in ancient Rome, suggesting that the Emperor Nero was possessed by one of these demons... well, it starts off weird and gets stranger. So far, the story is pretty typical, but I absolutely love the characters.

Peck's three main characters are Jasper, a shy, laid back teenager, his best friend Q., the more impulsive of the two, and the huntress, Ileana, who reminds me, as I'm sure Peck intended, of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, minus the extreme angst. She's tough, refreshingly unsympathetic to the things she hunts, and comprehends from the get-go that she is a soldier in a war, and therefore she must shut off the more emotional aspects of her personality and get her hands dirty, with no apologies. Compared to the teenage boys, she's the adult center of the novel, the responsible one, and the novel itself is very, very mature, as far as content is concerned.

A note: this is not fluffy supernatural fiction; it starts as a coming-of-age story, and before you know it, it's a full on horror novel. I wasn't quite prepared for it when I started reading the book, because it seemed fairly silly, after the delicious eerieness of Jennifer McMahon's Promise Not To Tell, and the thoroughly unpleasant events of Gillian Flynn's Dark Places. So, imagine my pleasant surprise, and slightly turning stomach, when I started reading Dale Peck's novel.

It's gory; very, very gruesome at points. I'm not one for extreme blood and guts in my literature, and this initially threatened to turn me off, but once I met Peck's characters, I was hooked. He's got a simple story when you break it down, but the characters and the liberal doses of humor throughout the novel keep it going at a good pace. There isn't a slow moment that I've found. So, compared to last week's offering (to which I am resorting to somewhat mixed feelings) I feel like I can recommend Body Surfing to just about anyone who wants a good, creepy novel to read.

Until next week, fellow Bibliophiles.

Monday, October 18, 2010

(Not so Little) White Whale on the Go...

Today is the 159th birthday of Herman Melville's Moby Dick, originally called The Whale.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Ghostwriting No. 21: On Collectors' Items again

As a side note before I begin - this was a really spectacular week, and not just because four different people brought us cookies. It was a great week for conversations, a week of discussing the ideas of the liberal arts, the important trends in recent writing, the book industry from several angles. Thank you very much to all those who participated in these conversations. These are the experiences that motivate us and help us to learn more to share with our other patrons.

All right. Let's return to the topic of collectors' books.

First, you should know - whether you are a serious collector or whether you have stumbled upon a collection you'd like to sell - that the collectors' market is very, very bearish right now. That means that if you're in the market to buy, now is a good time, and if you're in the market to sell, now is not a good time. If you do buy, you need to be informed about what you're buying and for whom - the best investment right now is something that you will enjoy having, because the future of the market is very much up in the air, or something you plan to give as a nice present to another person - or you need to be prepared to wait. And wait. And wait.

Urban folklore has been telling people that items from the childhoods of the baby boom generation are valuable. This is as true as most urban folklore, which is to say, only sometimes sort of. For about a year, I had a strong turnaround in yellow-spined Nancy Drews and blue-spined Hardy Boys from the 1950's-70's. That market has been saturated temporarily, which means I can't offer as much money as I was offering for such books. Which in turn means I've got some very frustrated people who are unhappy that their Nancy Drews and Hardy Boys aren't worth a bundle of quick cash now.

Folks, this is a market. Values go up and down depending on supply and demand. I purchase and sell at the most reasonable prices I can, but if I have eight copies of The Red Barn Mystery and haven't sold one in six months, I'm just not going to pay much for a ninth copy. If I were a monster corporation with vast warehouses and even vaster cash flow, I could maybe stock up on Red Barn Mysteries, if I thought they made a good long-term risk. But I'm not and I can't and I don't.

There are some collectors' books in which I am still and always interested, and some in which I will never be interested again. Here are some to note:

1. Beautifully illustrated children's books. If they are more than sixty years old and in near-perfect condition, they may have collectors' value. If they are less than sixty years old, or if they are worn in the way that children's books usually are, they are not collectors' items, they're just books.

2. Old mass-market paperbacks. For a while, there was a strong collectors' market in mystery and science fiction paperbacks from about 1940-1970. This market is currently in bearsville. It is remotely possible that it might go bullish again, but here's the thing about old paperbacks: they were printed on highly acidic paper and bound with cheap glue, which means that if you actually opened them after 1970, they are no longer collectibles. They are old paperbacks with brown, brittle pages and cracks in the binding glue. Unless they happen to be the only printing of a certain short story or novel by a later-famous author or are perennial favorites with kitschily lurid cover art, they don't have value at all, let alone as collectors' items.

3. Collectors' Editions. There's a sad joke in this industry that is sad because it is about 97% true: If it has the words "collector's edition" printed anywhere on it, it will never be collectible. It might be nice because it has good illustrations or was printed on better-quality paper, but that just means that it might survive in competition with younger copies of the same book. On incredibly rare occasions, a collector's printing actually does have value; one example would be the Heritage Press editions of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, which were illustrated by Norman Rockwell, which makes these two books double-whammy Americana. The Heritage Press editions of almost everything else are just nice copies of books.

4. Signed firsts. There's a trick to signed first editions. The trick is this: the first edition has to have been a small print run; the author has to have signed the book before the author became a household name (at least among literati households); and the author does now have to be a household name. A signed copy of a motivational book is just another copy of a soon-to-be-outdated book. A signed first of a famous author's ninth novel is, given the industry's current insistence that authors run round the country signing books, common and therefore not collectible (though if you're the last one with a copy in nice shape a hundred years from now and the author is still popular, you might get collector's money for it). A signed first of James Oliver Curwood's first novel is, unless you can find the one person in America who might consider writing a cultural studies paper on a very outdated bunch of novels by a nearly forgotten author, a paperweight.

5. On the time frames of collectibility: A first edition of Harry Potter and the (First Three Books) - and mind that the British editions came before the American ones, so purists will want the British ones - simply aren't going to go up in value as collectors' items for a generation or more, if they ever do at all, given the enormous print runs involved. In fact, it is safe for the amateur collector to assume that if a book was first published during the lifetime of the average book dealer, the first edition probably isn't collectible yet. There is one exception to this rule, which is that if the first edition was printed during the early childhoods of a really, really nostalgic generation (and it's true that the Boomers are often nostalgic), it might - might - be collectible now. But only now. Once the Boomers begin retiring and trying to live off whatever retirement savings they've got after the market crash and the Social Security freeze, many will try to sell their old books, the market will be flooded, and there won't be enough demand to keep the prices high because so many of the childhood books of the Boomers aren't popular with subsequent generations. It's brutally sad, but it's true.

This all sounds very gloomy and doomy. Of course some collections still have value. For example, a really good collection of well-chosen, authoritative, scholarly medieval history books is and will remain valuable as long as people still think about history. A collection of first books by subsequently important authors will turn valuable if kept well for a generation or two (out of sunlight, temperature fluctuations, humidity, and smoke). Books over a century old that are still important now do have value if they are still in readable and attractive condition. I'm just suggesting that you probably shouldn't expect to get double your money back on a complete set of Goosebumps books, that things made to be collectible generally don't end up being worth a lot of money, and that selecting what you want based on your taste for your enjoyment is just a better way to think about book ownership anyway.

Collectors' markets are markets. They fluctuate. A good book, however, is still good as long as you keep rereading it, and that holds a value - not necessarily a financial one, but still a real one - for the rest of your life. If you're going to play the markets, do research, understand the trends, keep an eye on sales prices, make sure what you've got is in excellent condition, and choose your reselling methods based on how much time you want to put in and how much money you want to get back. If you're going to build a personal library, decide what you like, change your mind when you feel like it, and enjoy what you've got while you've got it.

Yes, I'm biased. There are a lot of reasons to collect, and in the end, though I routinely circulate my collection to other people, I am essentially a collector too, and what I collect is stuff I think my patrons will appreciate. I don't get a lot of calls for pristine Little Golden Books. I doubt very much that anyone does in this general economic slump we're in. I do get a lot of requests for cheap paperback copies of The Catcher in the Rye, which is why I actually pay as much for nice copies of Catcher as I do for blue-spine Hardy Boys. And to be entirely honest, I like the Catcher readers better than the collection sellers, because there is one thing you can count on about me as a market for books: I think of money as what has to keep moving so that I can do what matters to me, which is to spend time with book lovers.

And as anyone who sells anything will tell you, it's a good idea to know your market. So. Now you know.

First Officer's Log No 18: Creepy, Eerie, and Oh-So-Cool, Part 2

This is how I imagine the current book I'm reading being created:

'Entertainment Weekly' writer / reviewer Gillian Flynn sits down, perusing her bookshelves for inspiration, and her eyes fall upon Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. She raises an eyebrow, thinks I could write about a farm family - a mother, two sisters - that is brutally murdered and the aftermath of such an event. Of course, she'll need good insight into how someone deals with the aftermath of such a heinous crime, the brutal slaying of a mother, and she sees James Ellroy's My Dark Places. Ah hah! she thinks, There's my title, even. Dark Places. Her eyes scan her shelves, narrowing as she closes in on where to form the central character, the one through whose eyes she can tell the story, and her gaze falls upon Stephenie Meyer's Twilight. Of course! I'll create the most narcissistic, self-loathing woman I can imagine! The sole survivor of what has happened, and she'll make Bella Swann seem like a high class intellectual!

I'm probably being a bit mean. I'm really enjoying Gillian Flynn's Dark Places, which is, as described, a novel about a farm family's brutal murder, and the sole survivor, little Libby Day, who is convinced her older brother Ben is responsible. Her testimony at age seven sends him to prison for the murders, but twenty five years later questions are raised by a group of true crime enthusiasts calling themselves the Kill Club. They are convinced Ben is innocent, and Libby is forced to reexamine that long ago day and the events leading up to the incident which changed her life.

I'm at the half way point in this novel, and Flynn is a marvelous writer. She has a knack for characters, and the sequence in which she describes Libby's first visit to the Kill Club is amongst the most skin-crawling things I've read. There is something truly disturbing about this novel, the understanding that there are people who truly sleep, live and breathe true crime, and will risk the alienation of 'normal' society to pursue their obsessions.

There is something quite compelling about Libby, despite the fact that she is amongst the most narcissistic, self-loathing, and, quite frankly, unpleasant characters I've ever read. Most of the novel is from her perspective, and she is bluntly self aware of her own character, which I do find somewhat refreshing. Perhaps it is the fact that she knows that she's not a nice person, not a good person, and has had questions, but is unwilling to explore them. Flynn has written a great character here, even if I found myself reading her with increasing distaste, but still wanted to read more. To me, this is the sign of a very good book.

Perhaps not as creepy as Jennifer McMahon's Promise Not to Tell, Gillian Flynn's Dark Places is still great reading, and a perfect book to curl up with in mid October.

Until next week, fellow Bibliophiles.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Upcoming Event: Local Children's Book Reading and Signing

We are very excited to announce an upcoming reading at the Haunted Bookshop. Local authors Michelle Edwards, Claudia McGehee and Jacqueline Briggs Martin will be reading from their new books, The Hanukkah Trike, Where Do Birds Live?, and The Chiru of High Tibet, on 14 November, 2010. There will be a signing with the authors following the reading, and frosted book cakes.

Because who doesn't love books and cake?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Man Booker Prize Winner 2010

The Man Booker Prize for 2010 has been announced today, and has been awarded to Howard Jacobson, a British novelist known in England for his explorations of comedy and the lives of British Jewish characters. Jacobson's novel The Finkler Question is the winner of this year's Man Booker, so hopefully we'll see copies of the book floating into the shop in the next few weeks. Check in often, and congratulations to Mr Jacobson.

Monday, October 11, 2010

"It was cute, but cute in this whole 'ooh in 6 months you'll be a flesh eating monster' kind of way."
- Ali, referring to baby alligators

Thursday, October 7, 2010

First Officer's Log No 17: Creepy, Eerie and Oh-So-Cool

It is that time of year again, when the leaves are a-falling, and the footballs are a-hurling through the air, and the hot apple cider is brewing across the street at our neighborhood coffee shop, T Spoons, and lots and lots of people are coming in and out every week, looking for that excellent fall weather reading material.

Except that the past few days have been absurdly warm for October in Iowa, what with today reaching into the low 80s for temperature. I don't know about you, but if I can be seen wearing shorts (not that I can or will be) in October, then something's up with the weather gods. Well, I can't do anything about the weird fall-ish weather, but I can cue you, my fellow bibliophiles, on to this month's hot tips: namely, my goal, each week, to have a new book to bring your attention to, that fits the creepy and eerie motif of October, and because Halloween is my favorite holiday.

So, without further ado, I would like to draw your attention to Jennifer McMahon's Promise Not To Tell, a marvelously eerie little novel that I started reading two nights ago and have been loathe to set aside ever since. This novel follows a woman named Kate, returning to her childhood home, where a young girl is murdered the night Kate arrives. Disturbingly enough, this new murder bears a striking resemblance to the death of Del, the Potato Girl of local legend, Kate's childhood best friend.

McMahon is an engaging writer, able to write in a child's voice as well as an adult. Her characterization can be a bit off-putting at first (there is a secondary character whose overprotective maternal instinct I find particularly grating), but within three pages I was hooked into the story. I highly recommend Promise Not To Tell as my first official Weekly October Creepy Eerie and Oh-So-Cool Novel (WOCEOSCN) ... and somebody's going to have to recommend a better acronym that that for me.

Until next week, fellow bibliophiles.

Ghostwriting No. 20: A True Ghost Story

I am following a trail of
those wire-and-paper twists,
dropped every few yards
and bright against the asphalt.
No long, square plastic bags,
but still, I think of bread.
Who could eat so quickly?
Or make sandwiches while walking?
Was it all flung to the birds?

I wish I were a bird.
Not for the squabbling
that must have followed each slice.
To have been fed.

Then I see them, not many,
but all on the wire, heads bobbing,
and I think: they are full.
I could eat them. One bite, another.
Good breeding stops me.
City birds are covered in lice
probably diseased.
Vegetarians live longer!

There are no unlocked cars
with bags of chip crumbs

hidden in wheel wells,
no dumpsters with
telltale clouds of fruit flies.

The birds. They would be too hard
to catch, too small to satisfy.

One darts abruptly, dives,
snatches a red wire tie.
I look along the path, the scattered
green and blue and white scraps,
becoming invisible just yards away
because of the heat boiling
over patches of engine fluids.

The birds dropped the ties here.

No, worse.

A little old man, born in the Depression,

collected them for decades
but now knows, his pension gone and
medical bills looming, that wire twists
have no currency anymore,
and he is plucking them from
a coffee tin - its logo from the forties -
and wrapping a happy thought in each one,
then dropping each,
and when he gets to the doors
of the distant wholesale warehouse,
he will sit and hold the can
and hope no one spits in it
because he can't afford to let it rust.

All my dreams are like this now.
I don't go to a doctor; I read enough
to know what I'd be told;
clonazepam and maybe a vacation.
I'll tough it out.

But when I pull the brown bag

out of my briefcase
and reach for the loaf of bread
and a knife to spread some butter
and I'm ready,
the white twist-tie stops me.
What would he have put
in this one?
His daughter's first step,
a flawless tomato,
a wet cloth on his forehead,
the squeak of new shoes?

It's 8:43 already.
I've done the math: going 45
in a 35 doesn't actually make time.
I buckle in at the stoplight.
Coffee comes in bags now,

and even if it didn't,
what would I think to save?

Nobel Prize in Literature 2010

Good news for all you South American novel fans, Mario Vargas Llosa is the Nobel Laureate for 2010. We've got several copies of his books in stock, including The Bad Girl and The Feast of the Goat.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

"Free Association Friday. Every day, at the Haunted Bookshop." - Jon

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

"Don't try to understand, just go back to cleaning Noam Chomsky." - Jon

Monday, October 4, 2010

Ali: "And I was thinking, 'Only 6 feet ahead of me and then I'm back on American soil' and then we were stuck in the terminal for four hours, and I was losing my mind going 'I need a book I need a book I need a book I'm going crazy I'm going crazy I'm going crazy', because the last time I bought a book was 9 hours before in Madrid, and it was a (author's name) novel and it was crap!"
Anna: "I hope I'm never stuck in an airport without a book. That would be awful."
Ali: "That's the thing, I had a book, but I'd already read 'Lord of the Rings' three times in two weeks and you can only take so much of Frodo's singing before you go 'Aaagh! I've had enough!'"
Nialle: "Sacrilege!"
(uproarious laughter)
Anna: "But I have Sumatra (coffee), and it's right above Australia. It's one of the more easily defensible places on the map."
Nialle: "Anna, honey, you have to leave Risk behind when you come into the office."
Anna: "But why? You get to play at hostages!"

Friday, October 1, 2010

M: Ice cream.
A: Ice cream!
T: Ice cream!
[pause; all look at N]
N: ...We don't all scream for it, you know.
R: Personally, I just cuss for asparagus.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ghostwriting No. 19: Bubbleheads

Old people like me (I'm 32) often remark about the fact that kids these days will say anything while talking on a cellphone - even very private things - even in very public places. I do understand that privacy has been in decline basically since urbanization, which goes back thousands of years, not just a generation or two, but it still bothers me to hear a young person rating another's sexual prowess while browsing in my poetry section. On the other hand, along with the rest of the urban world, I am learning how not to listen to all the background noise, despite its exponentially growing quantity.

What really bothers me, though, is not that kids these days don't think twice about discussing their hidden bits in earshot of total strangers. It's that they really, really don't understand people without cellphones. That's what makes them bubbleheads: not a lack of intelligence, not the personal bubble they appear to imagine around themselves when they are plugged into the audio device of their choosing, but their apparent inability to comprehend that I do not have and do not want a cellphone of my own.

I do not want people to be able to reach me during the few hours I'm not at work. I do not want people to call me and to be forced to pay for the air time at both ends of the call, especially since it is apparently now acceptable for telemarketers to call cell phones. I do not want to pay more monthly bills or to purchase an expensive device that does more stuff. If I were a truck driver or a consultant and had children, I'd want them to be able to reach me, so I suppose I'd get a simple one. But I'm not and I don't.

This rapidly becomes symbolic of the insured-techno-debt-bubble outside which I live. Telemarketers earnestly pitch their plan to help me refinance my debt into one monthly payment. I tell them I only have one monthly payment already - a mortgage, low-interest; no car payments, no credit card debt. (It's one of the few perquisites of being a childless recluse.) More than a few have actually replied, "You're kidding. You've got to have a [big-box retailer] card or something."

Bubbleheads also don't understand why I have a problem with federally enforced purchase of health insurance. I'd rather put my money in a savings account so that I can afford to pay the doctor up front without making him or her do extra paperwork if I do get sick. This concept is apparently even more foreign than being debt-free. They argue that if I willingly buy state-mandated car insurance, I shouldn't have a problem with federally-mandated health insurance. The bubbleheads are completely bewildered by my answer, which is "I can sell my car." But seriously, does this entire generation take for granted that giving money to a corporation will somehow protect them against debt? Don't they hear about the people whose claims get denied? Don't they do the math and figure out how much of each monthly payment goes to administrative costs rather than health care? What kind of bubble are they living in?

A big one, evidently. I keep hearing things that make no sense to me, even from people old enough to know better. That they didn't know that credit cards cost merchants money to process. That they don't know who is running for the House of Representatives in their district. That they can't imagine how I've gone years at a time without buying a single thing at a 24-hour superstore. That they don't understand that collectibles (and cars, and houses, and stock shares) are only worth what someone else will pay for them, as opposed to what they paid or what a guide book says these items are worth. That they're miserable and overworked and afraid of their own debt, all of which I do understand; the economic weather is awful out there; but that they still can't imagine not being able to drive an SUV to an all-night store, call back to the house to check the shopping list and discuss what's on TV, and then pay for a gallon of milk with a credit card.

People talk about the growing gap between rich and poor. I don't know the numbers, so I won't comment. I do, however, see a growing gap between people who pay for the latest in the new standard of living and people who don't have those things/policies/investments, by choice or by necessity. It's a scary gap. Bigger than the generational rift between boomers and their parents. Bigger than the division in computer skills between people born before the internet and people born after. People still talked to each other on either side of those gaps, however hostilely or uncomprehendingly. But how can I even say 'hey, I'm sorry you're unhappy, I'd help if I could,' when everybody's always on the phone?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Vote for the Haunted Bookshop in the Press Citizen Best of the Area 2010!

Apologies for the lateness of this post, but the Iowa City Press Citizen is hosting its annual Best of the Area contest. The first round of voting is closed as of 26 September, but the next round starts upon 11 October. Help the Haunted Bookshop be one of (if not the) best bookshop in the Iowa City area!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

"Kitty come back! Kitty come back!" - little kid, eager to see Logan

Friday, September 24, 2010

Banned Books

In celebration of banned books - many of them classics vibrant with genuine life, really great stories, major contributions to literature, and kids' books with titles that make some weirdos think they're evil - this week's window display will show off some of our favorite banned or challenged books.

Want to know why they were challenged? Some of the reasons are just plain flabbergasting. The Egypt Game, for example, promotes dabbling in the 'black arts.' Besides the poor choice of phrase, the pretext for banning here demonstrates a lack of understanding of the contents of this book. Anyway, we have the facts up at the counter - just ask.

Unplug your mind from the rigid views, the misunderstandings, the cultural myths. Get the real thing and learn what these important books have to tell us about real life. Want help picking one you'll like? We're happy to listen to your tastes and recommend accordingly.

Meanwhile, we encourage everyone to take this week to express an important idea: Talking about what's really out there helps people learn to make better decisions. Just forbidding art that represents what's out there doesn't change reality or the importance of learning how to handle it. Start a conversation about your favorite banned book. Get an "I Read Banned Books pin" here or at the Public Library. Get seen reading hot books. Show people that you're not afraid to think for yourself.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ghostwriting No. 18: Wiki Edit Me, Please

Everybody knows some stuff about a lot of stuff, and if they have had good and interesting education and experiences, they may know a lot of stuff about some stuff.

One of the reasons that I chose book dealing as a line of work is that I like to learn lots of stuff about lots of stuff. I don't claim to be an expert on anything not involving the purchase and sale of some types of used books, but I love simply by sitting at the counter and listening when people choose to share something about what they know. I can learn so much. Patrons here have taught me things as diverse as the discoveries of archaeology in Croatia, who/what Oulipo is, why pressboard is bad for the environment, what the fine print of the new health care reforms includes, and how to use a certain powder-based drink to clean stains on sinks and other ceramic objects.

And, less specifically, I think it is incredibly important for people to have conceptual outlines of major ideas and some specific information about a scattering of subjects. Not only does this permit people to understand political, social, and personal issues at home, at work, and in the news, but it also gives us a wide variety of perspectives - and a wide variety of problem-solving methods from which we can devise ways to solve new problems.

Knowing how, for example, an archaeologist documents layers of physical information might help one to figure out a means of documenting one of those insidious workplace problems that started too small to notice and got too big to ignore. Knowing the scientific method helps people to evaluate certain clumps of information, e.g., if people notice a trend of feeling icky after drinking milk, they can test a different fat percentage of milk for a week, and soy milk for a week, and repeat until they have a sense for what, specifically, makes them feel icky. If it does, they can stop consuming that, thereby improving their own lives without the need for medical diagnostic procedures.

The more ways you know to deal with information, the more informed your decisions can become. This is important for everybody, since we're all mostly making educated guesses most of our lives. It's also particularly important for people who need to adapt really quickly, like entrepreneurs, e.g., me.

So today, for various reasons, I'm thinking about all the stuff I don't know, and I'd like to ask those of you who drop by, email, or otherwise keep in touch with the store to share if you happen to know things from my current Checklist of Stuff to Research:

1. Um... this is embarrassing, but I'm not exactly clear about the current state of literary criticism. I'm still a little shaky in my understanding of postcolonialism and have no idea whether there are other, recent schools about which I should learn. Help!

2. I tried to read an article this morning about Chinese currency being undervalued. I didn't get it. Can someone explain this to me?

3. Zoroastrianism. What, who, where, when, and how's it going now?

4. Does anyone know what the 1/2" round-bodied, dark-colored spiders with pink and white legs are? I've seen three now and don't know what to make of them, but the cats keep eating them before I get a chance to look closely.

5. If I want a small electrical job done at my house - the installation of a new outlet in a room that doesn't have any - whom should I call?

6. My musical tastes don't really run to the Romantic, but I'm fond of solo piano concertos. Composers? Performers? How about solo violin?

7. What's your favorite free science podcast? I'm a devout listener to Michael Silverblatt's Bookworm and Mike Duncan's History of Rome but need more variety in my audible diet. A good, authoritative news podcast (not Amerigocentric please) would be helpful, too.

8. What is an "iPhone app," and is there any reason I should have one? (Hint: I don't own an iPhone and still don't know what a Droid is.)

9. What are the most important books in current analytic philosophy?

10. Any sign of a fourth wave of feminism yet? If not, what's up with the third wave these days? I failed to pay attention after a bunch of different sources tried to make Ally McBeal the third-wave poster person, so I'm pretty out of date now.

There's a start, anyway. Even posting a link to an authoritative website would help me start learning - can you help me out?