Wednesday, May 27, 2015

To Stay Within the Lines or Not Stay Within the Lines With Adult Coloring Books

I haven’t jumped on the adult coloring book boom myself, but it doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate it. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have admitted to me that they recently have bought coloring books: “It’s just so relaxing,” they invariably say.

I accept that, and I’m genuinely overjoyed that so many people have found this way to de-stress. But it just isn’t for me. I guess my sense of relaxation is less tied to the visual and tactile senses that coloring stimulates. I’d rather spend the time reading. And for pure relaxation, I’m actually extremely accomplished at just staring at the wall and letting my mind wander.

In the United States, credit is usually given to the two coloring books by Johanna Basford, Secret Garden and Enchanted Forest, but an article in Publishers Weekly gives the credit to the French, in particular, to Art-thérapie: 100 coloriages Anti-Stress, published by Hachette Pratique in 2012. The publisher, realizing the the French people led the world in popping anti-depressants, decided to add Art Therapy and Anti-Stress to the covers of their coloring books, and before you could say 64 colors, a million French people were coloring between the lines. More specifically, a million French women started coloring, as the publishers in that country say most sales have been to women.

There is evidence that coloring can indeed help us de-stress. Psychologist Gloria Martínez Ayala says

The action involves both logic, by which we color forms, and creativity, when mixing and matching colors. This incorporates the areas of the cerebral cortex involved in vision and fine motor skills [coordination necessary to make small, precise movements]. The relaxation that it provides lowers the activity of the amygdala, a basic part of our brain involved in controlling emotion that is affected by stress.

Along with the gardens and forests of Basford and her imitators, mandalas are one of the most popular coloring books. Mandalas, of course, have a long history of promoting focus and relaxation in Eastern religions, and Psychologist Carl Jung was encouraging patients to color mandalas over a century ago.

But as with any craze in our modern consumer society, the originals have given rise to specialization and to bizarre offshoots. Secret Paris: Color Your Way to Calm appeals to people stressing out about when they’ll be able to afford their next trip abroad (Secret Paris will soon be followed by Secret Tokyo and Secret New York.)

There are also plenty of coloring books that cross the line from merely whimsical to downright wacky. Are you ready for the Hipster Coloring Book and the Dapper Animals Coloring Book And, of course, there are some that interpret the phrase ‘adult coloring book’ in a slightly different fashion: The Fetish Coloring Book, anyone?

Indeed, coloring books may very well decide our next presidential election. As far as I know, the Hillary: The Coloring Book has the political field to itself right now. I see no Mike Huckabee Coloring Book, no Jeb Bush, no Rand Paul. If Hillary Clinton does indeed become our next president, future historians my well point to the fact that she, alone out of all the candidates, tapped into the zeitgeist of Crayon-Americans.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Malko Linge is no James Bond

I finally read one of Gerard de Villiers’ Malko Linge novels. I almost tossed it aside within the first ten pages, because it opened with such a ridiculous pulp-novel sex scene that it didn’t seem worth continuing.

But I stuck with it, and ended up enjoying the novel quite a bit, though not without reservations.

For those who aren’t familiar with Gerard de Villiers, his Malko Linge series of spy novels is one of the best-selling and long-running book series in the world, with 200 volumes from the first, published in 1964, until the last, published shortly before his death in 2013. They are published in France, and have been translated into many languages, but because they are rarely translated into English, he is not well known in the United States.

I’d heard that Gerard de Villiers/Malko Linge was the French Ian Fleming/James Bond, and since I’m quite the sucker for James Bond movies, I was intrigued, though at the same time rather shocked to realize I’d never actually read one of Fleming’s James Bond novels. Only then will I know if they are as pulpy and sex-drenched as a de Villiers novel.

And make no mistake: they ARE pulpy and sex-drenched. You don’t read them for great literature. For many people, it isn’t even the intense plotting and abundant chapter-ending cliffhangers that keep them reading. The thing that fascinates people about de Villiers novels is the amount of detail his novels have about real-world spycraft. As a profile in The New York Times Magazine put it:

The books are strange hybrids: top-selling pulp-fiction vehicles that also serve as intelligence drop boxes for spy agencies around the world. De Villiers has spent most of his life cultivating spies and diplomats, who seem to enjoy seeing themselves and their secrets transfigured into pop fiction (with their own names carefully disguised), and his books regularly contain information about terror plots, espionage and wars that has never appeared elsewhere. Other pop novelists, like John le Carré and Tom Clancy, may flavor their work with a few real-world scenarios and some spy lingo, but de Villiers’s books are ahead of the news and sometimes even ahead of events themselves.

Or, as The Wall Street Journal put it:

De Villiers was also a writer who worked very hard. He was famous for cultivating top spies and diplomats as sources, and French intelligence officers and prime ministers read his books for coded information and analysis of events that had just occurred or were still unfolding across the Middle East.

I can attest to that. The book I read, The Madmen of Benghazi, takes place in Libya at the time of Moamar Quadafi’s fall and demise. Published less than a year after those events, the book describes the politics of contending Islamic militias in Benghazi in a way that seems right out of the newspaper. Even more amazing, the CIA command center in Benghazi he describes was a secret at the time, but within months would roar into the headlines with the attack which took the life of US Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

I’d say the book appealed more to the current-affairs junkie in me than to the booklover. The writing was uninspired, and numerous sex scenes were were cringe-worthy. Even the protagonist, the Austrian aristocrat Malko Linge who does work for the CIA on the side, puzzled me. In this particular book, at least, he didn’t really seem to do all that much. He was rescued from attempts on his life by others, his observations were interpreted by others. Indeed, the only real contribution he seemed to make was the one for whichthe CIA agent specifically recruited him for: to seduce the lover of a Libyan prince the US and Europe sought to install as leader of the country, thereby preventing an Islamist takeover.

Maybe in some of the other novels, Malko Linge acts in a more well-rounded James Bond way. Am I interested to find out? Well, yes, I’d be willing to read the other two translated novels Vintage Books has published, Chaos in Kabul and Revenge of the Kremlin, as well as the two others they plan to publish. Would I become proficient in French just to read the many others? No.

And I am now curious to read some Ian Fleming, to find out whether the James Bond novels are as pulpy as these. Back in 1958, Paul Johnson, reviewing Dr. No in the New Statesman, wrote: "I have just finished what is, without doubt, the nastiest book I have ever read….by the time I was a third of the way through, I had to suppress a strong impulse to throw the thing away."

I know the feeling.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Sex in Tight Places

The Bookstore Cat notices from his stats that some people have come to my blog via the Russia Google search term "sex behind bookcase."

I'm sorry if Putin's renascent police state is forcing you to have sex in hidden places. Please try not to soil the books.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Busy Week of Book and Political Conventions

The Bookstore Cat apologizes for the lack of posts recently. I was on the road last week and busy, busy, busy.

There are two conferences I go to every year: the Book Expo, the biggest trade show of Book Publishers in the United States, and Netroots Nation, a gathering of several thousand liberal bloggers and political activists.

In years past, the conferences were scheduled a few weeks apart. This year, they were scheduled the same week. The Cat was not pleased.

The Book Expo in New York City ran Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, but I was only able to attend Tuesday before hopping aboard Amtrak's Acela to Netroots in Providence, Rhode Island. I partly made up for it by going to one of the warm-up events, the Book Bloggers Conference on Monday.

While killing time before the 8:00am registration, I perused the blogs of as many conference participants as I could. I also witnessed the incredible feat of blogger friend-of-a-friend Sara writing this blog post for her site Cutest Landing, despite having just arrived on an overnight bus from Washington DC.

The conference was pretty good. There was some star power in the speakers, starting with Jennifer "don't call me a chick-lit author" Weiner in the morning (her new book The Next Best Thing comes out July 3rd), and ending with The Bloggess herself Jenny Lawson. A copy of Lawson's hilarious memoir Let's Pretend This Never Happened was included as part of the swag for conference attendees, and she signed our copies afterwards. Lawson is the rare author who autographs her books standing up, as if she's signing a football or a Star Wars X-Wing model.

In between, there were table-hopping hobnobs with authors. I drew Kitty Kelly, best known for her gossipy and controversial unauthorized biographies of such people as Oprah Winfrey, Frank Sinatra and the British Royal Family. Her new project is not so controversial: Capturing Camelot: Stanley Tretick's Iconic Images of the Kennedys. Tretick was the Associated Press photographer who took many of the most iconic photos of John F. Kennedy's presidency, and Kelly, as manager of his estate, gained access to a trove of material in an old trunk (which he had once playfully told her contained nude photos). Many of the photos have never been seen before. The book doesn't come out until November, but is available for pre-order now.

I also shared the table with Anthony Swofford, whose Gulf War memoir Jarhead was a hit in 2003 and was made into a movie starring Jake Gyllenhaal. His new memoir, Hotels, Hospitals, and Jails, proves that life back home can be as stressful in its own way as life in a war zone. Swofford's book details the harrowing psycholgical downspin his life took after the success of Jarhead, with divorce, self-destructive behavior and thoughts of suicide, as well as with the long-held animosity he held toward his father. At our table, however, strove to portray himself as the better, calmer man he has become by the end of the book, and shared mostly humorous anecdotes about the three RV road trips with his terminally ill father that give his story its narrative structure. One would not have guessed from his table presentation how deeply infused with anger these road trips were. On a side note, Swofford told us that the best book on the Iraq War he had read was The Yellow Birds, by Kevin Powers. The book doesn't come out until September (though you can pre-order it), so I was very pleased to snag an advance reader's copy at the Book Expo.

Overall, the Bloggers' Conference was a good experience. I learned, in no particular order, that publishers take book bloggers very seriously as part of their publicity campaigns and strive to work with them, that there are multiple ways of getting access to advance reader's copies, and that you are unlikely to become rich through book blogging (the potential trickle of revenue was referred to as 'ramen profitability,' because that's about all you'll be able to buy.) I also learned that real men evidently don't book blog, as women outnumbered men around 25-1. And a met a lot of terrific book bloggers, many of whom I'll be pointing you to in the months ahead.

The Book Expo itself was its usual whirlwind of activity, meeting authors, publishers, Captain Underpants, Barack Obama impersonators and, of course, scooping up advance reader's copies. I'm usually there for three days, but was limited to just one day this year. In other years, I've come home with multiple duffle bags of free books, but this year, partly because I had to travel and partly because I didn't want my wife to kill me ("where are we going to put all these!?"), I exercised extreme self-control and only came away with a small suitcase full. My top grabs: an ARC of the new Barbara Kingsolver novel Flight Behavior, coming out in November but available for pre-order, and of the forthcoming Henning Mankell thriller The Shadow Girls, due out in October. My favorite author encounter was with cartoonist Stephen Pastis, of Pearls Before Swine fame. He looks just like he draws himself in the cartoon, albeit more handsome and less seedy. Best of all, when autographing, he asks which character from the strip you would like drawn (I chose Pig.)

My Book Expo experience ended Tuesday afternoon, when I hopped the Amtrak Acela to Providence, Rhode Island, where I joined the 3000 progressive political activists and bloggers attending Netroots Nation. It was not the end of my book experience, however. There were plenty of authors at Netroots Nation. I was most pleased to get autographed copies of new books from some of my favorite political comedians: Baratunde Thurston (How to Be Black, Lizz Winstead (Lizz Free or Die), and Lee Camp (Moment Of Clarity.)

It was an exhausting week, followed by an exhausting return to the bookstore in the very busy week leading up to Father's Day. But I'm back, and your faithful Cat will be bringing you more news and reviews very soon.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The University of Missouri Press is Closing

The Bookstore Cat hates to see any publisher go under (well, OK, he wouldn't mind seeing Regnery Publishing die.) It seems especially sad to lose a university press, so it was upsetting to hear that the University of Missouri Press would be closing down.

It's money, of course. Thanks in part to obstructionist Republicans who think preserving tax cuts for billionaires is more important than funding education, universities around the country are facing a cash crunch. Tuitions are rising faster than the rate of inflation (billionaires, of course, are not bothered by such trifles as the cost of living), and programs are being cut. For the University of Missouri, the $400,000 subsidy given to its press was the budget chop of choice. The ten employees had not an inkling beforehand; they learned of it before their mid-morning meeting on May 24th.

The University of Missouri Press was founded in 1958, and has published some 2000 books in a wide range of academic subjects. They published the Collected Works of Langston Hughes, preserving his lesser-known and out-of-print writing. Their American Military Experience Series rigorously examines the effect of 20th Century wars on American life. They are exceptionally strong in publishing books on Missouri arts and letters through their works on Mark Twain and Harry Truman, and through their Missouri Biography Series and the Missouri Heritage Series. It is in such specialized and regional history that university presses excel, and where their loss may most be felt.

The University of Missouri Press has published such esoteric works as The Original Rush Limbaugh, a biography of the idealistic civil rights attorney who must be rolling over in his grave at the racist, sexist and idiotic bloviation of his namesake radio commentator grandson. They have published a number of important works in African American history, including the Satchel Paige biography "If Only You Were White" and From Edward Brooke to Barack Obama, a look at African American political successes since 1966.

These streams of wisdom are soon to go dry.

Fortunately, university press closings have been relatively rare in the 143 years since the first true American university press was founded by Cornell in 1869. A number of presses have closed and later reopened, including such renowned ones as the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford, and the University of Minnesota, but only a handful have been shuttered for good.

The Bookstore Cat hopes we can keep it that way.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Read Faster or I'll Kill This Puppy

Say hello to Medallion Media Group's TREEbook, the Timed Reading Experience E-book. No, time-released in this case does not refer to stunts like Jennifer Egan currently publishing a story via Twitter over a ten-day period (read ABOUT it HERE and read the actual Twitter feed HERE, continuing through June 2, 2012.)

TREEbook is an actual e-book with multiple story lines, plot twists and surprises embedded in it. Unlike similar books where the reader chooses which story line to follow and ending to choose, TREEbooks takes the path completely out of the reader's control. The book will react to HOW you read it, how fast or slow you read, where you stop off and when you restart.

Built into the code of each TREEbook™ are time triggers that are set off based on your reading habits, such as your average reading pace, which day you’re reading, or even how long you read, leading you to each successive branch within the story. With the interplay between time triggers and story branches, different readers can experience various results of pivotal moments within the same TREEbook™. If, for example, you read that the hero has ten minutes to dismantle a bomb but your real life forces you away from the TREEbook™ for fifteen minutes, you could return to the story in the aftermath of the explosion. If your friend is reading the same book, depending on her reading habits, her experience may be different. For example, the hero could save the day. The outcomes would lead you and your friend to even more diverging branches of the story.

Medallion president Adam Mock tells Publisher's Weekly that “videogame narration is the model for the future of publishing.” In other words, you set the storyline, embed a multitude of potential scenarios, then throw the reader in and test his or her reactions.

This has great potential to screw with the minds of book club members, since everyone reading the book may end up with a totally different story. And what about those people (YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE!) who have a compulsion to read the last sentence of a book first? How will TREEbooks handle them?

And c'mon, let's get real about how people read. You get confused about a plot point, forget who a character was, and so you flip back several pages or even chapters to refresh your memory. With a TREEbook, there seems to be a very real possibility that if you flip back to reread a section, the story might have changed by the time you return to where you left off. Then what do you do?

If I were to read a TREEbook, I think I'd be tempted to read a few chapters, then set the book down...FOR AN ENTIRE YEAR. Let its little time-released plot twists and embedded Easter eggs percolate in limbo. I suspect that when I finally picked the book up after 365 days of spurning it, the text would probably just say "fuck you, buddy, you don't deserve this story."

Fine. But if you are curious, the first TREEbook, The Julian Year, by Gregory Lamberson, will be released in 2013.

Forget 'Fifty Shades.' Here's the REAL Mommy Porn

The Bookstore Cat was prowling the Harlequin Romance display the other day when two series caught his eye. One was called "Pregnancy and Passion," and the other was "Billionaires and Babies."

The tagline for the Pregnancy and Passion series reads "When irresistable tycoons face the consequences of temptation...." Billionaires and Babies promises "Powerful men...wrapped around their babies' little fingers."

Well! It seems there's a whole romance genre out there based on the idea that a woman can land herself a hunky billionaire just by getting knocked up. I guess the bodice-ripping vampires and Scottish lairds that crowd the romance market aren't the most outlandish fantasies after all.

The current entry in the Harlequin Desire series of Pregnancy and Passion is Maya Banks' Undone by Her Tender Touch, which, according to her introduction, is the last of the four part mini-series. The back-of-the-book blurb starts out:

Just one night? Yeah, right. Pippa Laingley should have known better. When an evening of passion with Cameron Hollingsworth results in an unplanned pregnancy, she's at a crossroads.

On the cover, the man's hand rests not on the heroine's hip, as is often depicted in the romance novel artwork, but rather on her belly.

I was all set to make easy sport of this idea of getting the guy by getting knocked up, but it turns out that the plots are more complicated than that. In Undone by Her Tender Touch, for example, it turns out that the hunky and rich Cam Hollingsworth had lost his wife and infant son in a tragic accident; they had died right before his eyes. Now, while he was prepared to do right financially for Pippa and the love-child, he could offer nothing more. He could never trust again, never love again, never risk the pain of loss again.

Pippa is an independent woman; she's struggling to start her own catering business. She is sexually active: the one-night tryst with Cam was instigated as much by her as by him. They both have to struggle with some issues (along with some near-death experiences) before finally ending up in the haze of happily-ever-after Harlequin bliss.

It seems that all four of the Pregnancy and Passion books followed a similar line of strong women impregnated by wealthy men who had issues to work through. The plots are outlandish --in Enticed by His Forgotten Lover, for example, wealthy hotelier Rafael de Luca got amnesia from an accident and has no recollection of the affair that resulted in Bryony Morgan's pregnancy-- but at least the books are not based totally on the idea that prospective fatherhood is the key to landing a reluctant millionaire.

The Babies and Billionaires series seems more fixated on the fantasy that the way to a billionaire's heart is through the uterus. In Charlene Sand's The Cowboy's Pride, rancher Clayton Worth is ready to move on after a year-long separation from his wife who had refused to have children, until she shows up with an infant in her arms. The novel works through her original reasons for not wanting children, through the affair that ended up with her pregnant, and Clayton's realization that he still loves her with all his heart.

Emilie Rose's The Ties that Bind weaves a complicated romance between a billionaire stuck with a baby by his devious ex, and the struggling young mother he hires as a nanny, while in Catherine Mann's Honorable Intentions, a man rekindles his buried desire for the fiancee and infant son of a buddy killed in war.

I've got nothing against escapist romance. Real relationships can be hard work*, and these happily-ever-after romantic fantasies can help smooth the way through the ups and downs of love. The fantasy pushed in these stories, however, seems to me not quite so sweet. There is, after all, a child involved here. To promote the idea that having a baby will result in a forever blissful romance flies in the face of real life. After all, as a recent meta-analysis of 2159 studies reports:

[After childbirth] "we actually find a steeper decrease in well-being for men, suggesting that women's well-being does not suffer as much from having children as men's well-being," says Luhmann....

"Relationship satisfaction after childbirth is permanently below its prebirth level. The long-term effects of childbirth on life satisfaction are also negative but not quite as severe," writes Luhmann.

It certainly is one of the more hotly contested issues in popular culture. Just Google something along the lines of "Does having a baby strengthen a relationship" and pick through the wreckage of warring websites.

This is not to say that many people and couples DO find their lives enriched and their bond deepened as they raise their children together. But it is a lot of work, and any fantasy that deters people from entering parenthood without first taking the full, clear measure of how it will affect their lives is not a healthy fantasy.

The Bookstore Cat gives two paws down to 'Pregnancy and Passion' and Billionaires and Babies.'

*The Bookstore Cat's joyous partnership with his wife of 16 years is the 'exception that proves the rule' of relationships being hard work.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Book Review: Bookshelf

It's fitting that the first thing I thought when I picked up Alex Johnson's lovely new book Bookshelf was that its perfect 7 inch square shape would make an odd fit on a bookshelf, being both shorter and wider than the most common book sizes.

Not that it would matter in my house, of course. My bookshelves have long been overwhelmed and are stacked every which way, augmented by floor stacks and tote bags full of advance readers copies. Here is what the typical bookcases look like in the Bookstore Cat's home:

With my books so clearly out of control, it was with a mixture of lust and bemusement that I perused Bookshelf and its over 250 pages of photographs. The bookshelves, bookcases, book displayers and book brandishers featured here are for the most part works of art, and in many instances incapable of taming an overabundant collection.

Johnson wryly acknowledges up front this tension between design and practicality, with two dueling quotes, the first from Seneca on the copyright page, the second from Samuel Pepys to kick off the book's introduction. Seneca argues for moderation:

A multitude of books confuses the mind. Accordingly, since you cannot read all the books which you may possess, it is enough to possess only as many books as you can read.

Pepys, on the other hand, give voice to the creeping despair many of us know all too well:

Up, and to my chamber doing several things there of moment, and then comes Sympson, the Joyner; and he and I with great pains contriving presses to put my books up in: they now growing numerous, and lying one upon another on my chairs...

When thinking about taming an expanding book collection, most people think of the typical library model, rows of straight parallel shelves. Most of the shelves in this book break that model completely. Indeed, many of the designs strike me as dangerous to anyone with obsessive-compulsive disorder: shelves that twist and curve and teeter at odd angles will, when filled with books, wreak havoc with any orderly linear concept of book storage.

Two off-kilter designs proclaim their intent in their very names: 'Untamed Chaos' consists of "nine identically sized boxes, stacked and angled in chaotic fusion" (see it HERE), while 'Broken Shelves' breaks each shelf into two parts, each sagging down at odd angles (see it HERE, about halfway down the page). These off-kilter shelves often rely on the weight of the books themselves to make the displays work, which can make extracting the volume you desire a frustrating game of Jenga or Pick-Up Sticks.

Indeed, calling some of them 'bookshelves' at all may be a misnomer; given that so many of them use such book-unfriendly shapes as circles, ovals, kidneys, triangles, and polygons of the most outlandish design. This is not necessarily a bad thing, however, as such designs force the intermingling of books with other objects.

A lot of people out there probably are less interested in making a philosophical statement how the written word should be integrated with rather than segregated from other objects in our lives, and more interested in getting their damn piles of books under control. The choices presented in Bookshelf narrow considerably for those with vast collections and/or limited space, but there are some good choices.

The Ledge (see it HERE) is gorgeous, and even more striking if more than one are used. Tetrad (see it HERE) is equally striking, with it's colorful Mondrianesque pattern. If you're just starting out in acquiring books, the ingenious Rek Bookcase is just the ticket. It's "interlocking zigzag elements slide in and out," meaning you can pull one section open just enough to hold the only book you own, of you can slide it open to its full six feet and display dozens of volumes. Perhaps the most intriguing is the Zig Zag (see it HERE), as the unique shape of these units allow multiples to be set linearly, in a corner, or even four backing onto one another for a columnar bookcase.

Another excellent solution to book storage found throughout this book are bookcases integrated into furniture. The Bibliochaise and the Tatik both incorporate into comfy armchairs slots for dozens of books (you may have to click and scroll a bit on these uber-groovily-designed websites to find the chairs). Having a chair with dozens of books incorporated into it is the reader's version of the television remote: you don't have to get up to change the story. The Big Wheel doesn't look quite as comfortable, but it looks like a lot of fun: a ten foot wooden donut wheel with the books stored around the circumference. You can lounge in the middle, or get in and roll it along by walking (assuming you live in a huge loft or out on the street, that is.)

But the bookcase chair that most adheres to human nature would have to be the Lost in Sofa, a plush upholstered armchair of five-inch cubes, each with deep cracks between them, which, as author Alex Johnson puts it, "aims to make the cracks between cushions useful, rather than simply a limbo for loose change and lost keys." I imagine if I owned this 'bookcase,' I would have it porcupined with dozens of books in no time.

For the most part, Bookshelf doesn't aim to solve the problem of storing a multitude of books. The bookcases displayed here are works of art, and many of them are meant to display books as objects of beauty as well. As Johnson writes:

The restricted capacity of some shelves, however, can be a virtue. Those that offer little more than a ledge or cranny are perfect places to display much-loved volumes. They also present the chance for a statement to be made about the books they hold.

Johnson's section on single shelves is devoted to this idea, as the beautiful and often ingenious pieces are only designed to hold a handful of books. But, as he points out, "[t]he beauty of many of these shelves is that, while they work well individually, they are more eye-catching when arranged in groups (like books themselves.)" With these shelves arrayed in groups across a wall, a balance between beauty and practicality is possible to achieve.

The Bookstore Cat enjoyed this book very much and highly recommends it, but he would be remiss to not highlight one last bookcase: the Cat-Library from Belgian designer Corentin Dombrecht. This modular bookcase can be assembled with built-in cat stairs, either out in front, or hidden behind, between the bookcase and the wall. All I can say is MEOW!

NOTE: Bookshelf is based on the Bookshelf Blog maintained by Johnson since 2007 and still going strong. Check it out!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Have You Seen Your Mom Since Giving Her 50 Shades of Grey for Mother's Day?

I know a lot of you out there gave your mothers Fifty Shades of Grey for Mother's Day. Maybe you even gave her the whole trilogy, including Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed.

I don't understand why you did it. But you did. Publisher's Weekly says you did:

According to BookScan, sales of Fifty Shades of Grey jumped 40% in the week before Mother’s Day compared to the earlier week, selling almost 443,000 copies....Sales of the second title, Fifty Shades Darker, increased 30% over the prior week, with the book selling about 210,000 copies for a total of approximately 682,000 trade paperback copies. Fifty Shades Freed almost kept pace with Darker, as its sales rose 29% in Mother’s Day week over the previous week, selling 180,000 copies

The Bookstore Cat can vouch for selling around 700 copies during the week leading up to Mother's Day.

Yes, a lot of those sales were people buying the books for themselves or for a friend. But a lot of you did actually buy this for your Mom. You heard her say she wanted to read it. You heard her friends tell she "had to read it." You saw lots of women your Mom's age reading it . Maybe you saw the author's picture in the newspaper and thought she looked like a sweet, wholesome woman.

You just wanted to be a thoughtful son or daughter. You heard the buzz about the book without necessarily understanding. Despite all the attention it's been getting, many people don't seem to really know what they're getting into. Women come into the store with questions like "Have you heard anything about it?" or "My friends say I have to read it, do you know what it's about?"

Women of all ages. Plenty of women in their 70s and 80s have come in with the same questions, and walked out with their copies. One man mentioned that both his wife and 14 year old daughter were reading it. He picked up a copy, thumbed through a few random pages, then suddenly blanched and backed away.

Perhaps by now you realize that what you gave your dear mother was sado-masochistic porn, a relentless grind of unending orgasms. Not that there's anything wrong with her reading it, but do you think it should have come from YOU?

Well, it's now been one week since Mother's Day, and I'm wondering: Have you seen Mom since then? Perhaps she hasn't been around so much, or hasn't returned your calls. Maybe she's seemed really, really busy? Or if you have seen her, has she seemed at all...different? Maybe she's been doing some online shopping?

Is the spatula still in the kitchen?

And are you still planning to give Dad a necktie for Father's Day?

BONUS: Here's a picture of author E. L. James signing books at the Bookstore Cat's store a few weeks ago:

Monday, May 14, 2012

Out With Mom, In With Dad

Mother's Day is already a distant memory in the bookstore, and the Father's Day tables are up.

It's therefore appropriate that one of this week's new releases is a memoir from Sh*t My Dad Says author Justin Halpern. Halpern hit the big time when, after multiple rejections from publishers for a memoir about his father, he started the twitter feed Shit my Dad Says. Shit went viral, led to a best-selling book, a further downward career spiral for Captain James T. Kirk and publishing love for Halpern.

His new book, I Suck at Girls, is a memoir about his love life, and looks hilarious from the peeks the Bookstore Cat has taken. And don't worry: Justin's Dad has plenty to say in his inimitable style throughout the book. The Twitter feed has recently been offering such teasers as:

"No. You don't even have hair on your balls." Story from my new book about asking my dad to explain sex when I was 9.

At first glance, the Father's Day displays this year don't seem quite so testosterone-fueled as in years past, though they are still heavy on grilling, tools, sports, military history and infantile humor - you know, Dad stuff. As the idea of same-sex couples continues to gain acceptance, I won't be surprised someday soon to see a Father's day table devoted especially to them. It's a nice idea in practice, but in truth I shudder when imagining the stereotype-infested title list the corporate marketers might push out, some lazy pastiche of fashion, cooking and Broadway. Hell, they might decide to just leave some Mother's Day displays in situ, just change the sign over the stacks of Martha Stewart and Barbra Streisand.

The corporate marketers still tend towards ridiculous pigeonholing when marketing for holidays. Smart booksellers tweak their displays to what their customers actually are interested in, whether they are mothers or fathers, gay or straight. You can be sure the Bookstore Cat is on the case.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Make Me One With Everything

That Buddhist joke about the monk who walked up to a hot dog cart and said "make me one with everything" for some reason came to mind when I read that two spiritual publishing heavyweights were about to merge:

Shambhala Publications has acquired Snow Lion Publications, a purchase that will add more than 300 new titles to its list of books on spirituality, psychology, health and lifestyle. Snow Lion, based in Ithaca, NY, specializes in Tibetan Buddhist books, including over two dozen titles by the Dalai Lama.

The Snow Lion website has already been replaced with a single page announcement of the change, with a link redirecting to a parallel page on the Shambhala site, where a few minor changes are announced, such as the continuation of email quotations from the Dalai Lama and the discontinuation of non-book meditation practice accessories.

Though I generally don't like to see small independent publishers subsumed into others, I suppose this isn't a bad match. Shambhala is the bigger of the two and has been around longer, and has the advantage of a long-time (38 years!) distribution agreement with Random House, so Snow Lion's catalog of Tibetan Buddhism books may benefit.

Both Snow Lion and Shambhala started out as shoestring operations. Shambhala started in Berkeley, California in 1969, with their first book being a 1000 copy run of Meditation in Action by the 30 year old Chogyam Trungpa, who today remains one of the best-selling Buddhist authors despite having died 25 years ago. The zen foodie titles The Tassajara Bread Book( 1970) and Tassajara Cooking (1973) were early classics of counterculture cooking, sourdough starter for the popular natural cookbooks of today. Their 1975 The Tao of Physics, by Fritjof Capra, was a pioneer in what has become a genre unto itself of explorations of the parallels between quantum physics and mystical traditions.

Their catalog continues to reflect the eclectic spiritualism of those early days. They've published translations of The Tibetan Book of the Dead, the I Ching and Sun Tzu's The Art of War, among many other classics of Eastern religion. They've published books on martial arts and Natalie Goldberg's classic 1986 bible for aspiring writers Writing Down the Bones. They've published Buddhist nun Pema Chodron, arts and crafts books, and a whole series on Jungian psychology.

And they've absorbed smaller spiritual presses in the past as well: thanks to their 2004 purchase of Weatherhill, Shambhala became the publisher of the revered zen classic Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, by Suzuki Roshi.

Snow Lion, on the other hand, has always been narrowly focused on Tibetan Buddhism, and its hundreds of titles make it the largest publisher on the topic. They got their start in 1980 with the assistance of the Dalai Lama himself. Founders Gabriel Aiello, Patricia Aiello and Sidney Piburn, after expressing a desire to help the Tibetan cause, scored a meeting with the Dalai Lama during his 1980 visit to Canada. The Dalai Lama not only suggested a number of classic Tibetan texts he thought would appeal to readers in the West, but he also offered them exclusive rights to publish a collection of talks he had given during his U.S. visit in 1979. With that book, Kindness, Clarity, and Insight, Snow Lion was on its way.

Shambhala can now offer Snow Lion's extensive Tibetan offerings in its catalog. I regret to see the passing of Snow Lion as an independent press, but hey...nothing is permanent. Best wishes for their convergence.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Conservative Author Jonah Goldberg Inflates His Credentials...Again!

Here's a blast from the past, from Daily Kos on January 28th, 2008:

Jonah Goldberg's faux Pultizer "nomination"

It seems back when conservative blatherer Goldberg's earlier book Liberal Fascism was published in 2008, he was trumpeting the fact that he'd been 'nominated' for a Pulitzer. In truth, his name had been 'submitted' to the Pulitzer committee, as are thousands of others each year. He was never among the few actually chosen as nominees to potentially win the award.

Four years later, he has a new book out, The Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas, and he tries to pull the exact same trick. The dust jacket for his book proclaims that Goldberg has "twice been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.", he's still NEVER been nominated. Details below...

An article on MSNBC (which I came across via an email from Publishers Weekly):

In fact, as Goldberg acknowledged on Tuesday, he has never been a Pulitzer nominee, but is merely one of thousands of entrants.

When this bit of résumé inflation was pointed out by a reporter for, Goldberg said he hadn't meant to mislead anyone and removed the Pulitzer claim from his bio at National Review Online....And he added, "I never put it in the bio in the first place."

His publisher, Penguin Group (USA), said the error was unintentional and it would remove the Pulitzer word from his book jacket when it's time for the first reprint, "just like any other innocent mistake brought to our attention."

Yes, completely unintentional. An honest mistake. Except, of course, that it's the exact same innocent and unintentional mistake he got caught pulling four years ago.

And of course completely innocent and unintentional on the part of the National Review, which also touted Goldberg as twice-nominated for the Pulitzer, until they scrubbed the reference. MSNBC helpfully provides links to the BEFORE and AFTER screenshots of the National Review website. They did the exact same scrub of Goldberg's bio four years ago.

Goldberg has been a Pulitzer entrant, but so are some 2000 other each year who can spring for a 50 dollar fee. As was pointed out in that diary on Daily Kos four years ago:

Work that has been submitted for Prize consideration but not chosen as either a nominated finalist or a winner is termed an entry or submission....The three finalists in each category are the only entries in the competition that are recognized by the Pulitzer office as nominees.

Cross-posted at Daily Kos

Conservatives just can't get over their addiction to lying.