Thursday, November 19, 2009

Have you met Bad Kitty? Be careful!

"It's not that cats don't like baths. It's not that cats have a difficult relationship with baths. It's not that cats chose not to vote for baths in the last election...It's simply that...CATS HATE BATHS!"

And Nick Bruel's Bad Kitty is no exception. The cartoon-style drawings of Bad Kitty convey quite a bit of emotion as he tries to avoid getting in the tub in Bad Kitty Gets a Bath. Uncle Murray ("I like to take a shower in the morning while I sing old show tunes") chimes in from time to time with fun facts about cats. For example, they should be bathed in warm (not hot) water. Unlike Uncle Murray, they do not like showers and will not sing show tunes.

When it's time for Bad Kitty to celebrate his birthday (Happy Birthday Bad Kitty), he hauls out The Giant Cat-alog of Cat Toys with a photo of a cat on the cover saying "I want everything." If you've ever lived with a cat, you will appreciate this all too well. Each of the neighborhood cats attending the party turns out to be quite a character in his or her own right, and you may not be too surprised at how the party turns out, but you will be entertained as it unfolds.

The drawings and humor should make the Bad Kitty books inviting to reluctant readers, but the content and vocabulary will exercise their brains a bit more than they might be expecting.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

There really is something about the Cape

It's hard to choose which among all the new books to pick up next, but I couldn't resist the allure of That Old Cape Magic. I only married into Cape Cod, myself, so I lack the childhood memories of my husband's family or the characters in Russo's novel. Or my own children, come to think of it. Maybe they'll write their own novels (or parent-bashing memoires) about the oddities of life on a peninsula that's definitely part of the US, and yet very much its own place.

Last year about this time I picked up Richard Russo's previous book, Bridge of Sighs, and found myself savoring the writing, enjoying the turn of phrase. Then came the "school boy bullying" scene and I had to quit. There are certain things that I'm just done with: no more movies about weddings, no more children putting all their creativity into tormenting each other. Oddly, though, I find I will still read about weddings, which play a large role in That Old Cape Magic. It's especially easy when Russo gets so much entertainment value out of the ritual, both the formal and informal aspects.

I'd like to give the book as a present, but am afraid my in-laws might read too much into the choice, given the trouble that the the main characters have with their own in-laws. Jack has tried to spare his wife and children the often exasperating company of his parents, but finds too late that they don't have to be present to win. Or even alive - in the first chapter we're introduced to his father's ashes, riding around in an urn in the trunk of Jack's car. The humor may have its dark side, but I think even in-laws could enjoy it.


Friday, November 6, 2009

Just Like Us, only maybe better students

Author Helen Thorpe was brought to the US as a 1-year-old child by her Irish parents, so it's not surprising that as a journalist, she's still interested in what the immigrant experience is like for young people. At a talk she gave yesterday at CU, she explained that she had been looking for one teen from Mexico to write about, when she lucked into meeting a group of four best friends, one a US citizen by birth, one with a green card, and two with no papers.

I nearly stood up and cheered at Thorpe's first statement, that her goal in writing Just Like Us was to present the facts and details of the lives of these four young women, letting readers come to their own conclusions about how it all relates to immigration, education, economics, etc. I find it so hard to read books where the author tries to tell me exactly what my reaction should be, or make sure it's the one they author has decided I should have.

I was also impressed by Thorpe's commitment to the project: she spent five years following the girls from age 17 to 22. She also covered debates on immigration, including at least one where her own husband, Denver mayor John Hickenlooper, was a participant - she said that caused some awkwardness for her as a writer! Thorpe even spent time with Tom Tancredo, currently one of the strongest anti-immigrant voices in the US.

One aha! moment that I'd never put together before: you can't board an airplane if you don't have a government-issued ID, which you probably don't have if your parents brought you into the US without benefit of immigration papers. You could end up in the contradictory position of being an immigrant unable to do much migrating.


Monday, November 2, 2009

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

It wasn’t unusual for me to run out of blank pages before the end of the day, so should I have to say something to someone on the street or in the bakery or at the bus stop, the best I could do was flip back through the daybook and find the most fitting page to recycle, if someone asked me, “How are you feeling?” it might be that my best response was to point at, “The regular, please,” or perhaps, “And I wouldn’t say no to something sweet,” when my only friend, Mr. Richter, suggested, “What if you tried to make a sculpture again? What’s the worst thing that could happen?” I shuffled halfway into the filled book: “I’m not sure, but it’s late.”

-Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

I finished reading this book a few months ago, and loved it. Safran Foer, for those who don't know, also wrote Everything is Illuminated, which I also recommend. This one was fun and quirky but also poignant and sad. Safran Foer is really good at getting the balance between emotions. He also does some cool things with the formatting of the book: there are some different colors, some character spacing stuff, and some of the story is told through photos. I think it’s also got a kind of universal appeal: I can’t think of anyone (except maybe someone who is incredibly pretentious about literature) who wouldn’t enjoy it. Definitely check it out if you get a chance.


It keeps turning out like a game of musical chairs - me in the middle with an armful of books that have nowhere to sit! Well, actually, we've been moving the chairs around, too. Tis the season to try to fit in all the new books we're hoping will be just what someone wants to give to someone else for a present.

It's more than that, though. Troubadour is also moving away from its original focus on the performing arts. Deb thinks we just don't have the population density in the Colorado Front Range to support a store that's so specialized. I have two additional theories: 1. performing artists are too busy rehearsing to do much reading 2. they don't usually have a lot of disposable income, either.

So we're squeezing together the shrinking performing arts sections, expanding the area for children's books so more of the wonderful cover art can show, and highlighting fiction from all over the world.

Along the way, we're simplifying categories - how to decide on categories to organize books into is a subject for another day - so short fiction and classic fiction are mixed in with the rest of the fiction now. Science, biography, essays, history - they're all just non-fiction. The fun part, though, was switching the two sections of non-fiction with the three sections of fiction, so people would come to the fiction first. Moving the bios in with other NF opened up a section of shelves, into which I moved the middle section of fiction. That left space for the first section of NF to shove over, and so on, but right at the end I was faced with two shelves that needed to simultaneously switch places. Never having mastered the wingardium leviosa spell, I had to do it the hard way.

It's amazing how persistent habit is. Days later, I'm still automatically heading to the old locations. But breaking habits can be powerful, too. One day at the first bookstore I worked at, the owner had me move some gift items from one area to another. They'd been sitting there for months, nobody paying them much attention, but once I started moving them, people were practically grabbing them out of my hands. We hope all our moving will give everyone a new look at all the cool stuff that's packed into this small store!


Friday, October 23, 2009

Literary Animals

I've been working at Troubadour for four years, come December, and I've never lost the thrill of opening a new carton of books. So it's been a fun week, with holiday orders coming in, trying to figure out how to show off all of these books that caught our attention at the fall show.

Animals are everywhere, from fiction to non-fiction, children to adults. I've got big puppy eyes staring at me from book covers and calendars. Everyone seems to want to get inside the animals' heads. The narrator of The Art of Racing in the Rain is Enzo, a lab mix - he thinks he must have some terrier, too, since terriers are problem solvers, unlike sheep dogs, who don't think outside the box. Also on offer are The Hidden Life of Deer and The Hearts of Horses.

My money is on Temple Grandin to do the best inside job. "Autism made school and social life hard, but it made animals easy," she says. If we want to make our pets or livestock as happy as possible, we have to recognize that they have the same core emotion systems that we do. Then we can figure out how to maximize positive emotions and minimize the negative. I'm hoping the cat chapter will help me figure out what the heck our cat wants, since she often seems to be demanding something...loudly.


Friday, October 16, 2009

Hi! It took me so long to get the blog started that it's time to go home. I can't wait to write about some of the great new books that are coming in ahead of the holidays here. Had a hard time getting my nose out of Benny and Shrimp, earlier. More soon!