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?

First Officer's Log No 16: Curiosity Hasn't Killed Me Yet... or, How Knowledge Makes The Bookshop Go 'Round

Anyone who has spent any amount of time around me (i.e. 10 minutes or less) knows that if they ask me a question about a subject to which I have a particular fondness, I may have a tendency to talk their ear off about said subject. Like the lady who came in for the Writer's Workshop Program during the summer and asked me for a good book by a Japanese writer, and I handed her one of Yukio Mishima's novels, all the while babbling about how obsessed I had been in the summer of 2009 with his work. She bought the book, and came back two days later to clean us out of Mishima. So if you come in and there's no Mishima on the shelves... my fault. I probably sold it to somebody. The same goes for Natsuo Kirino, Ryu Murakami, John Connolly, Dennis Lehane, Val McDermid, and about a half dozen other authors, but I've babbled plenty about these marvelous writers.

Lately, I've been diving head first into non fiction, specifically Holocaust Studies. Now, being as that I am so fond of cheerful subjects, I of course did what I do whenever I get interested in something: I don't wade into the pool; I hit the high dive. So I scooted around the general information and headed straight for some of the most controversial topics in this field of study and was introduced to a new term: revisionist history.

This subject alternately fascinates and horrifies me, mostly the latter, because it strikes me as degrading and I feel it violates the memory of events. There is really nothing nice I can say about revisionist history. If anything, it motivates me to go out and find out more information, seeking an answer for why people believe the things they do, and, more specifically, why anybody would even think to try to revise the view of one of the 20th century's most horrific events.

It's akin to someone trying to revise my generation's reaction to September 11th. If someone came up to me and said 'Oh, no, you couldn't have seen what you saw', I'd have to bite my tongue before I could say 'Yes, yes I saw it. I was watching it on television as two airplanes struck the towers, and I watched them fall a few hours later'. I was in high school; it wasn't so long ago. I think it's a disservice, an insult to the memory of that day. Much like anyone who claims the Holocaust didn't happen is insulting the memory of millions of people, and insulting the generations that came later, mine included, who wanted to know why. Why do things happen and what can we learn to prevent them from happening again. The ultimate questions boil down to the word 'why'.

It's one of the main reasons I love reading history: I want to know why.

Humans are curious by nature, and I'm no different. I'm probably too curious, because the moment I learn something that intrigues me on some level - personal, academic, or professionally - I want to learn more, and I don't tend to start small in devouring information. Since it's been my job to describe books on the internet, I've done some of my own personal research into how books used to be made; Nialle has offered plenty of information on why current books don't hold up as well as old ones, and why some books are worth money and others aren't. From reading up on how books are bound (paper signatures used to be sewn together, and then sewn into a hard cover, which was then covered in leather or cloth; most modern books are glued into the boards and depending on who does the binding, it's not the best quality) to what kinds of leathers are used by book binders (goatskin is the most desirable, because it is beautiful and sturdy, and while calfskin is lovely, it splinters and tears as it ages), I've learned the bare basics of bookbinding and what makes a durable, long lasting book.

From knowing that information, I know what things I can describe on the internet to entice people. Knowing key things that make a particular copy of a book better than, say, a half-dozen other copies might be as simple as knowing how to read a piece of copyright information, or perhaps we have a nifty old Modern Library copy with a nearly pristine dust jacket (we have a gorgeous copy of Thoreau's 'Walden' right now in the Modern Library, plug plug). Having a copy with something special about it, just one thing that no other copy has, that's what we look for. Having that knowledge, that information, that's what makes our little world go 'round and 'round.

I've said it before, but I really don't think I'll ever stop learning. Even though I graduated college almost three years ago, I'm still insatiable when it comes to information, new and old. I still want to learn about anything and everything I can. I like having a broad scope of interest because it makes me able to talk with anybody regarding just about anything, and makes it easier for me to know the sections of the shop, so I can know what to do when someone is looking for That One Book. Since I've been scoping out books in certain sections lately for Nialle, I know what's in stock, where it is, and what might pique your interest. So if you're interested in Psychology, Cultural Studies, African History, Middle East History, European History (including the Continent and the UK), or anything Medical or Biology related, come talk to me. Maybe I can help you find That One Book.

Until next week, fellow bibliophiles.
Nialle and Ali are inspecting an old book for a customer, and Logan decides to investigate by sniffing each and every page:

Ali: "Logan's interested in the Counter-Reformation."
Nialle: "Logan's interested in how the Counter-Reformation smells."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

"Wax dubious... wax credulous... wax dubious... wax credulous..." - Jon

Monday, September 20, 2010

Ali: (reading a book title) " 'The Patient's Guide to Preventing Medical Errors'..."
Nialle: "It's hard to prevent medical errors when you're under."
Ali: "... Don't take both my kidneys! I need those!"

Saturday, September 18, 2010

This just in:

Whew! New arrivals today alone include half a shelf of management and business books, almost a hundred new titles in fiction, and some seriously excellent young adult fiction. We also recently purchased several Heritage Press editions, including Don Quixote and the Mark Twain illustrated by Norman Rockwell, among others. Those who have interest in U. S. History should check out the recently renovated section, too.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Ghostwriting No. 17: The Rictus d'Accord

In the immortal words of Howard Beale:

"I'm a human being.... My life has value.... I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore."

On the whole, I'm not an angry person, and I certainly don't think that anger helps in situations involving short, impersonal interactions. Sometimes I employ the facial expression we like to call "the rictus d'accord" [read: smiling and nodding] when someone says something off the mark (e.g. "I know you have a bathroom, and you better let me use it or I'm going to report you to the Better Business Bureau". It's not worth anger and not even worth arguing; our notoriously non-classy staff facility stall is not public, is labeled not public, and can be locked if people feel the need to do things we haven't granted them permission to do).

Over the last few days, however, certain persons have decided to make certain discussions personal. And that's the point at which I'm not going to take it anymore.

This is a place of business. It's not a public place; we rent this space for our independent, privately owned bricks and mortar bookshop to operate. That means we have the right to ask people to leave when they are behaving inappropriately. We don't exercise that right if it's not necessary to do so. But we do have that right.

Behaving inappropriately includes, but is not limited to: willfully causing harm to our premises, fixtures, and/or merchandise; willfully causing discomfort to a patron; distributing or posting printed matter without the consent of the business' owner or manager; causing harm to employees of the bookshop and/or our cats. If you do one of these things, we will (politely) ask you to leave.

I would think that people would have been raised well enough not to need to be told not to do those things. But I can't think that, because I've seen far too much evidence to the contrary.

Don't drop lollipop sticks on my floor. Don't yell. Don't pound senselessly on the piano. Don't leave your child alone here while you go somewhere else. Don't expect me to haul ten, or twenty, or two hundred pounds' worth of your refused books to the dump myself after I have specifically refused to purchase or accept them. And don't yell at my employees because they aren't trained to provide one of the extra services this bookstore offers. Yell at me if you want; I'm in charge of training, and so far I'm the only person here whom I have authorized to offer all of our extra services.

But don't expect me to offer you one of our free, non-required services or to offer you money for your books if you start behaving rudely. I am obligated to be of assistance to and polite to my customers. And so are you. If you've brought books to sell at this shop, you are the seller and I am the customer. I can make you an offer, which you can accept or refuse, or you can quote me a price, which I can accept or refuse, or I can refuse to buy the books altogether and expect you to remove them from my premises promptly. Nothing in those options qualifies you to hurl abuse. Nothing obligates me to take it. I'm the private citizen whose money you want. Act like it.

This post does not apply to 99.9% of the people who walk through our doors: the interesting, thoughtful, smart, funny, kind, and/or good-natured people who treat this place with a reasonable level of respect and the staff with a reasonable - often exceptional - level of courtesy. We strive to return their respect and courtesy and to offer fair prices both in buying and selling books. We strive to make this place a clean, fun, low-stress, high-value environment and to offer as many helps and services as we reasonably can. If we fail to meet your expectations, of course we want to know. You have every right to exactly the kind of respect and freedom to refuse a transaction that we do, and we value your constructive feedback.

No, except for the immediately preceding paragraph, this post applies to the few people who behave as though this bookshop were a public, state-funded toilet into which they feel entitled to dump their "business."

Knock it off. I'm not smiling and nodding here. I'm mad as hell. Don't hurt my place, my stuff, or the morale of my people. I'm not going to take it anymore.


P.S. Publically funded toilets deserve better than that, too.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

"Just because it glows in the dark doesn't mean it's explosive..." Erin, with regard to a can of Manwich.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

First Officer's Log No 15: Echoes

There isn't an easy way to handle someone who doesn't want to listen to you. I encountered this today, and when the person finally stormed off because I couldn't help him, I was left a bit put off. The truth is that Sundays we don't buy books - period. Nialle takes the day off, and I run the place, but I can't buy books from people because it isn't my call and it isn't my money. For the most part, people are understanding, and simply say that they'll come back another time. Today, the person was angry, and had an attitude because I couldn't buy back his book.

This isn't the first time this has happened. As I said, for the most part, people are understanding and cool about the book buyer taking a day off, and so they come back later. Then there are the people who feel that they have the right to snap at me or my co-worker, and stomp out of here, acting like children, because we can't help them. It's not a matter of not wanting to help, it's simply a matter of not being in a position to help.

Some months ago, Nialle mentioned the few people we deal with who fit the definition of looking for fights and inevitably destroy morale for the day. At this point, my morale isn't destroyed, and I'm over whatever initial frustration I had with today's person, but allow me to reiterate something:

I'm not the book buyer, nor am I the owner. I can't make any decisions regarding the welfare of the store, nor any decisions regarding the inventory because it isn't my place, and I don't have the training to do it. If you come in on Sundays looking to sell books, please understand that the book buyer is not here, and unfortunately I can't help you with selling your books or apply trade credit to your balance without her consent.

I know this isn't my usual type of post, but I wanted to say something. If there's one complaint that I am known for making, it is that rude customers are the worst part of working retail. Anyone who has done this type of work knows what I am talking about. A little politeness goes a long way, as does a bit of understanding.

Thanks for letting me put this out there, fellow bibliophiles.

Until next week.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Ghostwriting No. 16: An Ordinary Day

Except for the lack of Muppet imitations and the presence of freshly baked orange rolls - it's only 4pm, so Muppets and eating will doubtless occur before closing time - today is an average day in the Haunted Bookshop.

Someone is playing beautifully on the piano back on the stage. Avid readers drift from one 'room' to another; the chess players appear to have left, but they will probably return. Ali is working on a stack of economics books at the front desk while I work on U. S. History in the back office. Jon, while shelving, discovered that he has a talent for making the llama puppet look like it's chewing. The whole staff have gotten several laughs in, at least one caused by cat antics and at least one other caused by a clever quip. The Real Records folks have been over to visit. I've looked at a few collections of books, from which I selected books that our patrons would enjoy, and at least one person has shared graduate-level thoughts and general observations with us from his field of specialization. One person found a book she'd wanted to find for months, and another discovered a book he didn't know existed, and at least two got serious amounts of cat fur on the hems of their slacks from the amorous Logan. All in all, pretty normal.

What am I saying? Normal, at the Haunted? Six years - actually, precisely six years as of today - have passed since I purchased this bookshop, and though things like those I described above do happen on a lot of days, we can hardly look back at the last six years and call anything 'normal.'

What has changed: The shop is larger by about 1,000 square feet and 20,000 books. It's all on one level (with ramps), which is great for running children, book carts, and customers who couldn't use our old staircase. We have an actual cash register, and all of our book credit records are now digitized for easier use.

Three paid employees and five volunteers help with the cleaning, sorting, shelving, selling, and internet listing of books and with maintaining generally high levels of welcome and wit. Racks and stacks of puppets, board games, action figures, cards, wooden childrens' toys, and gifts amuse and attract our patrons, thanks to the mentorship of two beloved but now closed Iowa City businesses, Fun Zone and Vortex. The book collection itself is comprised of what I've bought over the last six years, including a paperback here, a box of art books there, some really stellar personal and academic collections, The Haunted Bookshop as it was in 2004, Northside Book Market in 2008, and The Bookery in 2009.

We have an ongoing project for an amazing local charity that has, with community help, raised thousands of dollars for local farmers and families. We get to host terrific events, like some of ACE Experiment's open read-throughs of Twelfth Night and other plays. Plans for this autumn include the introduction of weekly events for kids, some renovations to our history section, and a campaign to raise money to endow a chair at Coe College (my alma mater). We'll also be able to sponsor more social and educational events at the shop in the coming year, something I've wanted to be able to do and now can, thanks to the staff and community support.

What hasn't changed: This has never been about becoming the biggest store or the richest owner for me. It's always been about the joy of sharing books and meeting book people, the importance of education throughout life and the equal importance of recreation. The Haunted as it stands now is getting better and better at helping the community celebrate those values, which this community already held long before Nialle, the crazy Ulysses-toting, feline-noise-making, compulsively organized but erratically educated kid, turned up on the block. And we're still and always looking for more ways to help.

The books we carry are the cleanest, best-kept copies we can find of the books we value and believe you would appreciate. They're organized in sections for easy browsing and alphabetized so that we can help you get a particular title quickly. We pay well for good books and price reasonably what we obtain, and inbetween, we love talking to you about what you like, what you know, and what you do in our fine City of Literature.

And meanwhile, just as in 2004, I work in a fairly small area with a cat asleep in one corner, stacks of books about which I need to learn more or for which I need to perform minor repairs, assorted snapshots and cards from friends here and abroad, and piles of scratch paper with half-articulated ideas noted on them. I'm here to look at books for sale, to sell books, to keep track of the details involved in running a business, to wipe up spills and to feed the cats, but more importantly, I'm here to learn the best way to be a resource to the city I've come to admire and the people I've come to call friends. Also to tell ghost stories, to teach the odd fact or two, to learn about my customers' lives and knowledge (thanks for all the Vance Bourjaily anecdotes this week and for the interesting geological observations about northwestern Europe), to work beside some really neat people to whom I'm glad I can offer paying jobs, and to scurry along the floor imitating a chicken for my favorite two-year-old patron between bouts of current events updates and joking around with the brainiacs who haunt the shop.

It's a pretty good life. I'm grateful to all the people who help me to continue living it, from the kid who buys a $1.50 Kafka and the collector who spends $50 or more, to the fellow bookshop owners who recommend my store as I do theirs, to the hardworking Haunted crew and the sweet and goofy cats, to my long-suffering best friend (who puts up with my frequent rants about the less romantic aspects of retail, self-employment, and the economy at large and tolerates my still kinda ridiculous work schedule - there's a reason behind the joke that the shop is haunted because I'm pale and wander around in it at night). And I look forward to seeing what the new year will bring. To those of you who celebrate thus, Shana Tova!, and to everyone, hi!, thanks!, and what can I help you find?

Books on the Block

Are you a bird watcher? Are you also a bibliophile?

Want to buy the world's most expensive book?

(Although, if traveling to the UK on a whim for James Audubon's nifty nature book is out of your budget, the Haunted Bookshop has a really cool reproduction of Albertus Seba's Cabinet of Natural Curiosities, as published by Taschen. Come on in and ask us about the Hydra.)

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Hugo Award Winners 2010

Hey, Science Fiction and Fantasy Fans, your First Officer has just been informed that the Hugo Awards have been announced for 2010.

Your big winners?

China MiƩville for The City & The City, and Paolo Bacigalupi for The Windup Girl are tied for Best Novel.

Charles Stross is the winner for novella for Palimsest.

io9 (good website for science fiction reference with regard to novels, television and movies) has the whole list right here. Enjoy!

First Officer's Log No 14: The Music of the Page

Music is a constant for me, when I read, write, knit, or even play a computer game. I like to have music in the background, something to keep me grounded in reality even as I drift in and out of it. There is something about good music, a good story in a song, that draws the attention of the reader. Sometimes, a song hits you in a way that you start to associate with a novel, or a character from a novel. I imagine that the same thing happens with musicians - sometimes, they read a novel and they subsequently write music that relates to that novel or a character in it.

The musician Ben Nichols released an album entitled The Last Pale Light in the West, an unofficial soundtrack to Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian. Nichols' album is seven songs, each relating to a character or theme from the novel, from the teasing and intimidating "Kid", to the playfully uncaring "Davey Brown", to the final track, the ominous instrumental simply called "The Judge". The album plays with a blues and country style, but still strikes at the heart of the novel, a dark, blood-filled western that explores what makes men good or evil.

For me, music can filter in and out, and tell a whole new story. Some musicians that I've become quite fond of tell full on stories with their lyrics, such as Loreena McKennitt, and the Decemberists. These are long songs, some clocking in at 12 minutes, but they tell a full story, beginning, middle, end. McKennitt plays with imagery and epic poetry, sometimes adapting classical poetry as lyrics, such as her rendition of Alfred Noyes' "The Highwayman" or her song "The English Ladye and the Knight", adapted from Sir Walter Scott's It was an English Ladye Bright. McKennitt's voice is suited to her songs, a high, clear voice that tells the story as easily as the minstrels of medieval lore.

The Decemberists adapt old stories as songs, retelling folk tales ("The Crane Wife") or original tales of adventure ad madness ("The Mariner's Revenge Song"). In their album The Hazards of Love, there is a full story of love, loss, madness and revenge. Two young people fall in love, but there is a catch, and so they have to make a choice between happiness together or misery apart. To compare it to a certain pair of star-cross'd lovers isn't inaccurate, but I rather like Hazards more.

Telling stories with music isn't a new thing; it's an old, old past time. Telling stories around campfires, in old castle hallways, in great halls of strongholds, it might be a fantasy idea, but it's a great atmosphere. When we look at classic songs, classic poetry, old tales, we can hear music, we can imagine the people who first wrote and performed for others. There are always stories to hear, new ones to imagine and old ones to retell, and I think that musicians who explore those old tales in the modern era offer something new to those who might not otherwise find the stories.

A good story has a lot of elements, passion, drama, humor, strong characters, and an involved plot. A good song has the same things. So it's no surprise when a novel and a song owe their existence to a common source, a ballad or a folktale, told a long time ago. It's a comforting thought, to imagine that the stories people told so long ago are remembered now, and hopefully they'll appear again, in years to come, for new audiences to find.

Until next week, fellow biblio (and musico) philes.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Former Writher's Workshop Professor Passes Away

Former Writer's Workshop Professor Vance Bourjaily Dies

The author of A Game Men Play, Now Playing at Canterbury, and The Violated, among others. He published 10 novels altogether.

Bourjaily taught at the Workshop from 1957 to 1980, and worked with Kurt Vonnegut and Philip Roth during their time at the Workshop.

Our thoughts are with the family.

What is the perfect bookstore?

Here is a thought from Nina Sankovitch. What's yours?
Ali: (to a book she is cleaning) "Did somebody put coffee on you or are you a sticker?"
Nialle: (rather crossly) "Coffee goes in people not in books!"

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Want to buy a bookshop?

There's a bookstore for sale. You might want to think awfully hard about the information in this article before you take out a loan, though.