Sunday, July 31, 2011

First Officer's Log No 35: This Summer...

... I intended to lead a charge on Russian literature for my (sort of / I hope I can keep it up) Annual Summer International Fiction Reading List. Sadly, it didn't ever really pan out. I had a few picked out, and they just never got read. About the only Russian reading I did was read up on Catherine the Great, who was quite the fascinating lady. And that was the extent. I think I'll have to try harder in the future. Or choose literature that I will force myself to dive headfirst into.

As far as my summer's reading list has gone, I've been diving through quite a bit of nonfiction, as per the usual. This fall's crash course has been decided, and a reading list is slowly being compiled. Otherwise, every time we buy a bunch of theology or criticism, Nialle and I both start in with the "Mine!" "I'll fight you for it!" "... Fine..." back and forth.

This summer has been quite the adventure around the shop. The expansion has been completed, the layouts redone. Since the last of the bookshelves we had for sale went to their new home, Anna redesigned the windows in the children's room, so we have puppets galore. Stay tuned for more puppet madness!

We're buying a lot this time of year, and we're getting it out as fast as we can. Stop by and check out the new stock, the new layout, and don't forget to pet a cat.

Your First Officer will strive to be more up to date with this little blog in the future.

Until next time, fellow bibliophiles.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Run-on Sentience #1: Stuck in the Middle With You; or, (Book)marked for Life

Here we are, gazing in gaping wonder at the vast, pregnant frontier and untapped virgin resources of The Haunted Bookshop's new weblog--or “blog” as the kids are calling it. We're like pioneers! For generations, we have been supplicated by blows from the carpal-tunneled hooks of internet pirates, who, together with marketing departments, have made the internet an overbearing tempest of “Free! Free! Look at me!” demands, an engulfing bit torrent of sleaze and depravity and addiction. We could have built the city of Atlantis; instead, we built an Atlantic City.

Well no more! The hardy and the intrepid (to say nothing of the self-glorifying) have tread a new path toward the inland internet, where we will live off the land; raise upright, respectful families; dress modestly; share recipes for various types of non-greens-based salads; and do other such things as shall establish--wait, wait . . . what? 2008? This blog has been around for three years? On an internet timescale, that puts us well past WWWII. New superpowers have emerged, and advertising campaigns have budgetarily bloated into an in-your-face space race. The roofs of our sod houses sport satellite dishes. Our oxen have been slaughtered, spiced, and smoked, and long since eaten and forgotten. Our horses died and were subsequently beaten.

At any rate, this column at least is new. We're calling this “Run-on Sentience” because I, Jon, your good friend and humble narrator, will use it as a forum to ramble on at length about literature, poetry, and other things in some way related to what we do at the Haunted. Hmm . . . in my excitement, I seem to have skipped something.

Amuse, o muse, and help me chronicle--
Engorge my gut and over-stuff my crop
With art of airy Saint McGonagall--
In prosody foie gras Th' Haunted Bookshop.

There. The muse has been notified of intent. Things are official.

I recently had occasion to look over the books on my shelves--the occasion being that summer term ended, and the dust in the house had gotten so thick that I was expecting to find Buzz Aldrin's boot-print. During my cleaning, I realized that they broke down into three categories: The Pile, being the great unread masses; The Shelved, those individuals of such merit that they were not resold after having been read; and The Dishelved [Note to Nialle: I owe pun jar one quarter.], the books which, for one reason or another, fell out of favor before they had completely said their respective pieces.

The first two estates, I am certain, are inevitable in the governance of literary affairs; being natural opposites, they must exist in some proportion wherever men live with books. Even at the erudite and ignorant extremes, where one type or the other predominates, both are categorical necessities. Say “these” and “those”, “warm fuzzies” and “cold pricklies”, “butter-side uppers” and “butter-side downers”. You are defining each in relation to the other. They go together like love and marriage, which, in turn, go together like a horse and carriage. Ask the local gentry. Erm, anyway, in my case, Sartre and Sophocles wait to join the ranks of Salinger and Nabokov among the masterworks which I have blundered through like a blind man in the Louvre.

Which brings us to the third batch, those tormented souls stuck in unending transition, on a voyage of the damned between the unread nation that doesn't want them and the island of completion which won't accept them. What is to become of them? They seem an unnecessary kind of refugee class of book, axolotls in a neotenic purgatory, half devel--you know what? I'm gonna dial down the noir melodrama.

Am I the only one who winds up with stacks of these bookmark traps? It's not that they are outright rejected; such books I resell or drag to the knacker. It's not that they are all left half-leaved for the same reason, either. Don Quixote I quite prefer to take in episodes, and it has survived about eight moves without being lost or sold. I was cruising through Anna Karenina like a clipper, until I hit a sandbar about 250 pages in, in the shape of two chapters about Levin cutting grass with a scythe. As The Bard, Elvis, reminds us, “Wise men say, 'Only fools Russian.'” [Note to Nialle: two quarters.] Dubliners, I've been told, I started at the wrong end, the beginning. It seems the dead are the most welcoming in Dublin. Les Fleurs du Mal? More like, “Le's bore dem all.” Atlas Shrugged? So did I.

Oh, right, and Tales of Love by Julia Kristeva, which I am supposed to be reading for a class I am supposed to have completed in the spring term. And that is where we hit upon the real trouble with these books, all the “supposed to” and “should” that they bring, all the anxiety and psychic drag. They are neither books to look forward to in anticipation nor ones to recollect in fondness. They are the books which receive a sidelong glance. “I say, Honorea, how did those books get in here? I shall have to have words with the doorman.” They are the books which threaten to embarrass us whenever we have company, for they might necessitate a shameful clarification: “Actually . . . I never finished it,” or “Ratched does what to McMurphy?” or “I'm halfway through, but I found out that Netflix lets me stream The Next Generation. You remember that one where the evil oil monster kills Tasha Yar on the Bonanza sound-stage planet? Yeah, that episode is awful.” It's not merely that we haven't finished these books; it's that they haven't finished their work on us. Like Lilliputians, in a great horde they can tie us down.

The solution is apparent, even if it is merely a reiteration of these same anxieties: we must eliminate this third class of books, either make honest women out of them or send them back home to live with their parents. We can't keep stringing them along, insisting that a few cold winter nights or a weekend by the pool in Santa Fe really meant something, when we haven't checked in to see what's happening in months. I should quit with that analogy before it gets out of hand. My plan is to identify those very few individuals, such as my good friend from La Mancha, to whom I am ready to devote regular, steady resources toward completion, and to privilege them with priority treatment. All the rest will be stripped of their bookmarks and discharged from service until such time as they may be called upon again. Henceforth, there are only two outcomes: completion and triumph, or abandonment and death. . . . well, resale when possible.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

What not to put in a book blurb, part 7890487639046707

ALI: Actually worse than "utterly readable." Yeah. It said "absolutely readable."
NIALLE: If you plot it on a curve, it approaches infinite... being in English?
ALI: There was even one that said "unbearably readable."
NIALLE: What does that mean? It's so not incomprehensible that it hurts? ...No, I know what it means. You know all those people with smooth brains? This is like a waffle iron!