Monday, October 29, 2012

Judging a Book by It's Lover By Lauren Leto

The holiday season is fast approaching, so my next few reviews will feature some books that make great gifts.  I'm going to be honest here and admit that the stuff I usually read doesn't always make the greatest gift.  Only people as insane as myself will appreciate the doom and gloom of Bill McKibben during the holiday season.

Target Audience: Book lovers and wannabe book lovers.

This hilarious book was written for readers.  I loved this book so much I was sad when it ended.  I tried to just read one section a night, to keep it going for a little longer and as little rewards after work., but I ended up finishing it in just a few days after my resolve gave out.  Good books are addicting as anything and impossible to put down.

Leto is a die-hard reader.  She's well-read in everything from classics, to modern classics, to modern garbage.  But this book isn't really about what she's read, so much as it's about things she's learned just by being a reader.  For example, there's a chapter about the proper way to pick someone up in a bookstore.  There's also a chapter about the physical book and how readers should prefer the cheapest, lightest copy.  I disagree with her there, being madly in love with hard cover gift editions that look so lovely on my shelf.  And overflowing onto the floor next to my shelf... oops.

As a bookseller I loved the section on How To Fake It.  She talks about the kinds of people who love certain authors and the stereotypes they fall into.  According to Leto, the kind of woman who reads Philippa  Gregory is one that has a repressed desire to go to the renaissance festival.  Can't really argue with that.  She then summarizes several major authors and their three most famous or important works, so that you can talk about them in conversation, while appearing to have read them.  Since I Fake It repeatedly throughout the day at work, I obviously found this very informative.*  I also discovered that, as someone who loves Hesse, I am required to own one straw chair. Hmm.

My favorite section was not about the books, but the authors.  In the chapter Your Movable Feast, Leto imagines what it would be like to have dinner with some of the most famous author couples.  She's got to start with a bang, so begins by getting drunk with the Fitzgeralds, eating bacon with Krauss and Foer, and then ends up fawning over Franzen, but Faking It with his wife.

I read this book at night, in bed, constantly cracking up and causing my boyfriend to stop his own reading and make me read what had made me laugh, and then explain why it was funny.  I say this not to speak poorly of my boyfriend, who is actually very well read, but to warn of the dangers of buying this book for someone who isn't madly in love with books.  Sure, they'll laugh, but not as much as they could, or should.  It's like taking a non-theatre person to go see [Title of Show].  See, you had no idea what I was talking about.  Just trust me on this.

*Disclaimer: I do not lie at work about what I have read.  I do however, have a knowledge of what many popular books are about and the kinds of people who read them, so I stand by Leto's "Faking It" as an excellent resource for booksellers.

Buy it indie!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Your Local Book Shelter

The used book section where I work is like a no-kill shelter for books.  Customers can take old, unwanted books, that have become too burdensome to continue caring for, to our store.  It's not that
these books are totally unloved, otherwise they may have been thrown away without a second thought.  Instead, our book-loving customers do the right thing and bring these books to us so that we may find them new homes.

When a used book is brought in we do a once-over to make sure it is well-behaved, gets along with the other books, and will be safe to expose to the general public.  If it has had too hard a life, it will
be sent to a local library, where they put the book out at one of their book sales.  From that point we can only hope the book is retired to a quiet home to live out the remainder of its days with an
avid reader.

If the book is deemed fit for our customers it goes out to the sales floor, where we take good care of it until a new owner comes in to claim it.  We're sure to put the books where we think they'll be most likely to find a new home.  For example, we'd never mix history and fiction books, otherwise we know fights would break out.  Jane Eyre and Stalin never could get along.  Where space allows, we also separate hardcovers from paperbacks, so that the youngest don't steal all of the thunder from their elders.  I could tell you countless horror stories about the latest hardcover from Patterson picking fights with old copies of Sherlock Holmes.  Hardcover books can be terrible bullies, especially in Mystery, but they can't be blamed for what is in their nature.

For the most part, we'll look after those books for as long as it
takes for them to find new homes, browsing them ourselves, offering words of encouragement, and giving recommendations.  Sometimes a book will sit on our shelves for so long, we'll spotlight it, we'll offer bargains, and we'll put it right up front.  If even all that fails, after years of loving attention, we either send the book to a library book sale, or donate it to a local cause.  Sometimes it can take up to four years to match a book to its perfect owner.  For books like
Roadside Geology of Alaska, it may take some extra time and attention, but I'm confident an Alaskan geologist will wander into our store any minute now.  The moment of tearful amazement when that happens will be epic: a match that was meant to be.

So when you find yourself browsing your home shelves for something fun to read, don't look upon those older books with guilt.  Understand that you did your best, but sometimes books just don't get as much attention as they need.  Pack them up with care and love, give them a final flip through for goodbye, and then bring them to your local used bookstore. They'll do their best to get them safely and happily to a new home.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Garbology by Edward Humes

Garbology is one of the best environmental books I've ever read, and coming from me that's saying quite a lot.  Not only is the book accessible to anyone, it's also insanely interesting to anyone.  Humes is an excellent writer and journalist.  His statistics and sources are well cited and researched, and always relevant.

The subject of trash is an interesting one and something I've spent a lot of time thinking about.  We all create trash and by putting it in the trash can and setting the trash can on the curb, we believe we are doing our part in protecting the environment by not littering.  But where does it all go?  By sending it away to a dump are we really avoiding litter?  What really constitutes as litter anyway?  More importantly, why do we create so much trash to begin with?

Humes starts the book in the most logical places one can start a book about trash: the dump.  He begins the book by presenting the problem of garbage and the ever-looming question of what to do with it all.  He then gives a detailed and fascinating history of how trash was dealt with before the modern dumps, before we needed empty canyons to fill, because we wasted less, though Humes points out that trash was no less of an issue then as it is now.  He moves on to rogue trash, which doesn't make it to the landfill, and often ends up in the ocean, which has turned into a kind of plastic soup.

The second part of the book is dedicated to the study of trash, garbology.  Humes proposes that knowing we have a problem is not enough, we must get to the cause and the cultural habits behind the problem.  Here he turns to the worlds first garbologist.  Bill Rathje can probably go through your trash and know your household size, age range, income, and personal habits, without ever meeting you.  There's a lot of information out there abut trash, and he is the original trash fact-checker.

A team of people set up a trash tracking system to study where garbage goes after it is discarded and how long it takes to get there.  The results were scary.  Some bits of trash, especially recycled electronics (printer ink cartridges were the worst offenders) were shipped thousands of miles, back and forth across the country for days. Even though these things are being recycled (we hope), the system itself is so wasteful it's better to stick with reducing waste, rather than thinking we're off the hook by recycling.

The final part of the book is dedicated to solutions, from high-tech, large scale solutions, to simple at home solutions.  He gives us the story of Bea Johnson, whose family throw away virtually nothing.  Their households yearly waste can fit into a mason jar.  I thought I was doing well with only a five gallon bucket every  three months, but suddenly I found myself a little jealous.  I tend to agree with the low-tech solutions, mostly because the problem started with an abundance of technology and consumerism.  Personally, I think the best way to solve the problem of over-consumption is to stop consuming, though the thought of a garbage death ray is pretty rad, I must admit.

I've persevered through enough non-fiction to know that it can get rather dry and dull.  I've enjoyed books that I could never call page-turners, however, this book is absolutely a page-turner.  It has a very clear beginning, middle, and end.  In fact, as soon as I finished it, I couldn't wait to share the book with several other people.  I even went as far as calling a bookstore in Sante Fe, to purchase a copy for a friend who lives there.  I'll often mail a book to someone who I know would enjoy it, but I'm not really willing to part with this one permanently.

Buy it indie!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Growing up with banned books

I was lucky enough to come from a family that didn't really believe in censorship, so my mother was always happy to read any books with me, or discuss them, if I showed an interest. She generally let me decide for myself what was too advanced, or too scary for me (I will also mention that watching The Shining all the way through is a right of passage in my family, where scaring the snot out of your kids is just part of raising them properly). When I was about 7 or 8, and just becoming interested in adult books, my mother read me1984, which has been banned repeatedly in schools, libraries, and sometimes entire countries.

What better book is there to teach us about the dangers of censorship and the tragedy of losing our autonomy? I still remember being drawn to the cover of her amazing edition from the 70's (I later lost that copy of the book when I accidentally dropped it in a dumpster years later, while taking out the trash. Apparently I couldn't put it down long enough to leave it in our apartment for even this short trip). Although I didn't understand all of it then, it did give me a healthy distrust of authority. My mother has always been proud of this trait in me, though my teachers, managers, and landlords less so. I'm not saying I would not have learned this trait without the book, but I am saying that had my mother tried to shelter or censor my life and my reading choices, I would not be the strong-willed, independent person I am today.

I'm not recommending that a parent read a 7-year-old anything by Orwell though, because that's completely insane. What I am saying is that it may seem like a small thing to ban someone from one little book, but one book eventually becomes many and then suddenly we've got a case of Fahrenheit 451 on our hands. The very notion of this infuriates me to no extent, because although I am often overcome with a desire to burn Snooki's book, as a book lover and free-spirit, I could never tell someone else what they have a right to read. Who knows, maybe someone could find it inspiring some day. That inspiration may or may not be to stay as far away from self-tanner as possible, but at least something can be gotten from it, right?

I remind myself of that every time I sell a copy of 50 Shades of Grey. Having not read it myself, I couldn't say for sure if it really is worthy of the loathing it gets from bibliophiles everywhere. That being said, I'm still not going to read it. But you can. Who knows, maybe it will inspire you to read something else next time. Actually, there's a lot of forbidden sex in 1984... maybe you'd like celebrate banned book week by picking up a copy of that as well?