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.