On Why I Love Books

Borders will always be special to me– even if they had no soul

As I mentioned before on my bio page I have been thoroughly obsessed with books ever since I was a child. I have a very distinct memory of walking into a Border’s Bookstore for the first time and being amazed that I could own these books. I grew up in a very small town with no bookstores at all. But my parents were book people so we would take the 45 minute drive up to the closest book warehouse when I was younger. The earliest memory I have of going into a bookshop is at age 12 when I bought Angus, Things and Full Frontal Snogging because it sounded awesome instead of being recommended by the Scholastic Corporation. I read the whole series after that. It was funny and cool and not what my librarian would have stocked in our very tiny school library. You see, the vast majority of my reading came from my school library and while they tried very hard to have a wide variety a lot fell through the cracks. They were far more concerned with having the right academic research volumes than the latest Young Adult novels. Of course when I was able to drive I could make regular pilgrimages to my local county library to get a larger selection.

However, there is nothing quite like having your own library to choose from. So despite the weird smell and brightly buzzing fluorescent lights I loved Border’s Books most of all. I mean, they no longer exist so that should be proof enough of how truly awful they are. Not that Barnes & Noble Books is all that improved but at least they attempt to have some atmosphere. But to this book starved mind Border’s was a hub of intellectualism. I could get any fresh crisp new book that I wanted. It wasn’t until I was old enough to travel to Philadelphia and scour their small selection of independent bookshops that I realized how cheap and garish the new printings of books were. I remember what it was like to hold a printing of a classic book from the 60s or 70s. I would marvel at how beautiful and detailed the cover art was and thought how I had never seen anything like it on a new printing.

Don’t get me wrong- what matters the most to me are the words contained within that cover, not the actual cover. My real obsession stems from the world that books take me too. I become completely enraptured by a great novel. The world falls away and there is very little that can distract me. Take me to a rock concert and I could sit quietly with a book and never hear a sound. They envelop me in a place of magic and safety all at once. I can be placed in the middle of a great battle yet feel as though nothing could ever touch me. That is truly the best thing about being a reader and I think most will have to agree. We love nothing more than getting lost in the pages whether it is bound in this decade or any other. 

What about the rest of you? Why do you love books so much? What is it that draws us to them and makes us readers for life? Do you have specific editions or just whatever you are able to locate for a good price?

See you later, see you soon.

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AMONG OTHERS and Curses

“There are some awful things in the world, it’s true, but there are also some great books.” (pg.52)

I have been wanting to read more science fiction for quite some time now but I never knew where-or I guess with whom- to start. It has been a genre that interested me but I always found kind of intimidating. There are authors that some people discuss in hushed tones. These are authors that have a cult following that few other genres could rival. A lot of these writers have been doing so for many years and have giant catalogues to show for their years of work. But I am conflicted since I have read the back of many titles but none have jumped out at me as something that I would like to read. Yet, I still have the desire to read at least one. Just to see what all the hype is about. Well, this book gave me a great list to work from. She talks about dozens of sci-fi (and some fantasy writers too) that all sounded like things that I would like to read very much. I even thought about taking a cue from Morwenna and begin from the letter A and just see what happens. It would not be unwise to start with Poul Anderson and slowly make my way down to Roger Zelazny.

However many sci-fi books are discussed does not make this a sci-fi novel though. It is far closer to a fantasy with all the fairies and magic that happens. Or does any magic actually happen? As Morwenna says herself, “You can almost always find chains of coincidence to disprove magic.” (pg.40) Since Morwenna is such an unreliable narrator we can’t even be sure that any of the fairies or ghosts that she claims to see actually exist either. Which I think is the best part of this book. It allows you to decide if you want to believe in the magic or not. You have to dig deep and really examine how you feel about the mystery of the world around us. I just really love the idea of fairies but I certainly don’t really believe that they exist. Jo Walton makes you feel comfortable giving in to the fantasy of seeing fairies or being able to say good bye to our loved ones one more time without forcing you to actually believe them in real life. Just relax and enjoy the journey with Morwenna who is infinitely interesting.

The book is worth a read just for all the wonderful things that Walton has to say about the book culture. Certainly most of us have nothing in common with Morwenna on a personal level. We don’t have a witch mother or a twin that died because of said witch mother. We aren’t in a boarding school being paid for by our rich but crazy aunts. We can’t make that connection but we all feel the same way she does about books. And as a future librarian I especially loved what she had to say about them:

Libraries really are wonderful. They’re better than bookshops, even. I mean bookshops make a profit on selling you books, but libraries just sit there lending you books out of the goodness of their hearts. (pg.59)

Is that not that best thing ever said on libraries? Well, it’s the best thing I ever read in a book about them. And how true it is too! As a bookseller I try to be honest and give the best advice and price to my customers. But I have to make money to keep the place running. Libraries have a big advantage with outside funding and they just let you browse and borrow until your heart is content. They’re good like that.

If you enjoy a good curse then you might like… 

Junot Díaz

I read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao in college and totally enjoyed every character. It is set in New Jersey which is always good for me. There are places that I know of in it. I recently gave the book away to 20 lucky strangers for World Book Night back on April 23. Read about it here in The Press of Atlantic City. It was a lot of fun and a lot of people have come back and said that they really enjoyed the book. Even some people who aren’t big readers. This book mentions a lot of sci-fi and fantasy writers as well. And is about outcasts from society dealing with major tragedies. But that’s about as far as the commonalities go. The curse in this instance is from the Dominican Republic and is associated with luck more than fairies. The references also seem more current. The book is seriously good as well though.

On Underlining and Highlighting

Do you underline or highlight?

A few months ago one of my favorite bookish websites Bookriot.com ran a feature in their “Our Reading Lives” segment on writing in books. In it, guest contributor Paul Montgomery of iFanboy.com wrote about his inability to mark his own books. His fear was based on the idea that upon his death people would cull information about him from these highlighted pages and interpret him horribly, horribly wrong. When we mark our books we are leaving a bit of ourselves in the pages which can be intimidating. As Montgomery fears, “Because what if I write the wrong thing?” However, I think that there is no such thing. Often I have found notes in books that make me laugh out loud with their obvious observations or ridiculous interpretations. But it’s all worth reading for me. I like touching the past in some way. Who cares if the last person to read it was a dunce? In the end you just make the connection of reading the same book, whether it was last owned by Harold Bloom or Joe Schmoe.

The whole point of writing in my books is that it reminds me of the human element of reading. We read books alone but in this way we can share the experience.  As an avid collector of used books one of my favorite things is to read any old notes that the previous owner left. I especially adore a good inscription on the front flyleaf. I make it a point to write a note in any book that I give as a gift and I cherish any book given to me with a note in it. I want to make those connections from across time. I usually give books as gifts to all my friends and family so I have written a lot of inscriptions over the years, from the sentimental to “Red Sox suck”. Hopefully, many years from now some stranger will pick it up and it will make them laugh or maybe even cry. If they are anything like me they will try to conjure an image of giver or recipient. Or a happy accident will make sure that they have the same name as me or they are giving the same book to their own family member. We will have shared a special moment without ever meeting face to face. 

What about you? Do you share the same fears as Paul Montgomery? Or are you as fearless as I am? Do you underline in ink or use a highlighter? 

THE BERMUDEZ TRIANGLE and Identity

I just finished my first taste of Maureen Johnson in a matter of hours. I was captivated from beginning to end. No lie. I have been a fan of Maureen Johnson on Twitter for many months now. She is the QUEEN OF TWITTER. Seriously. She is funny and smart and makes the rest of us Twits feel very amateur. So, I was very excited to actually read some of her fiction. I was impressed. The story is written from 3 different perspectives with no clear delineation but it never got confusing. That is no easy task. Some writers (like Jodi Picoult) have mastered the multiple perspective storytelling but usually employ different chapters, and even different fonts, to represent the varying voices. Not here. Yet, I could identify each speaker with ease. I tip my hat to you, Maureen.

The story deals with three best friends that have a difficult time regrouping after a summer of new experiences. The crux is that their friend Melanie has discovered that she is a lesbian and has done so with another member of the trio- Avery. The third, Nina, has been away a leadership camp held at Stanford University and was not privy to this information all summer long. This is not a spoiler since it says as much on the back cover. But how each girl deals with all the consequences from this revelation– along with a variety of other teenage dramas– is what is most intriguing; in that it is totally realistic and believable at every moment. I remember some of the struggles that they deal with. And while I am a heterosexual I can still relate to being so confused by my body and my feelings towards significant others. She does a great job of showing how gay teens deal with the world but maintaining a universality to allow for everyone to connect with these girls.

I highly recommend picking up this book no matter what age you are. It will take you through exploring who you are and what is the most important in your life. Absolutely wonderful!

If you still need to read more about identity crises…

Zadie Smith

I read On Beauty in college and have been giving it as a gift ever since. While it’s not an uplifting read, it’s an honest one. She dwells on how the world has preconceived notions of nearly everyone, from the overweight black woman to the white male professor at a prestigious university to the troubled but brilliant black teenager. You need not be any of these particular descriptions to feel the emotions of these characters. It is so well written that everyone, even a young white college student, can totally relate to feeling like an outsider. Also, that feeling of fulfilling a certain stereotype. There is a great scene with Kiki, the overweight black woman, who upon meeting with some white people goes into a head shaking finger wagging cocky black woman “routine”. As she is doing it, her inner monologue is appalled that she is conforming to this portrayal of a strong black female instead of being herself.  It is a situation that a lot of us have had to deal with at some point. We often give into stereotypes to be more pleasing to those around us.

See you later, see you soon.

On Investment Books

Longfellow’s Divine Comedy Looking Lovely in the Sunshine

Two of my most prized possessions were purchased at the same place around the same time. It was a small antique store run by two sisters that was right down the street from me. It was called Things Remembered. It has since closed down but I insist that they had the best selection at the best price of any antique store I’ve ever been in, and I go to a lot of them. I had found plenty of treasures in the many rooms of that over sized building over the years but two were especially important to me. The first is an antique necklace made of several strands of white and purple beads that I wear nearly everyday. I love purple. Obsessed, really. Most of my closet is filled with a variety of shades and tones of purple so when I found this necklace it was love at first sight. Though, I can not remember how much I paid for it but I am sure I got my money’s worth by now, some 6 years later. The other is a set of The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri as translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It was printed in 1876 bound in green leather with gold lettering. They are beautiful and I can still remember how they looked in the sunlight of the front room. It was priced out of my range but I had a good rapport with the owner by then so I approached her with a deal. The asking price was $50 but she agreed on $30. So, I walked out with the three huge volumes in my arms and a huge smile on my face.

I had a plan for those books. They would sit on my shelf for many years making me look like a genius and after a while I would sell them for thousands. I was around 20 at the time of the purchase and I was convinced that old books generated that kind of money just because they are old. Of course I am older and wiser so I know that is not necessarily true. In fact, I did my research and I believe my set is worth about $150. More than I paid but not quite the thousands that I had in mind. After doing research at Bogart’s for all the books that get donated I have a better idea of what types of books are of any worth or not. These are probably just mail ordered volumes that the wealthy would set on their shelves to show off their money and education. They’re nothing special. But a few features make them more desirable- namely the popularity of the title and the good condition of the books.

However, I no longer wish to sell them. They mean too much to me to let them go for any price. I realized how silly of an idea that it was to buy them as an investment but now I appreciate them for a different reason. They represent a moment in time in my life but they also symbolize every year that they were in existence. I can feel the weight of history trapped between the covers. I look at them as a moment in time when books were printed with the utmost care and the best materials. In an age of digital books and shoddily made paperbacks it feels nice to hold a book made with such love. These were made to last a long time and will do so in my company for many years. 

What are your investment books? Do you have a collection? What is the most amount of money you spent on a book? Feel free to send a picture of your favorite antique book.

See you later, see you soon.

THE SHADOW OF THE WIND and Sexuality

“Why are books burned? Through stupidity, ignorance, hatred… goodness only know.”

I had a tough time choosing what quote to start this post off with because I had underlined and dogeared so many. Though, towards the end, I was so caught up in the mystery that I stopped all together. Every word was poetry. I noted the comparison to Gabriel García Márquez, one of my all time favorite authors, on the back of my edition and I was skeptical, but Zafón delivered. It was as beautiful and sensual as anything that Márquez had written. The sexual tension throughout was taut and believable. No awkward fumbling. I actually believed that Zafón has had sex at some point. There are books (I won’t name names) that I could swear the author was a virgin. Not here. I felt myself blush but I was never offended. Romance writers should take a lesson from Zafón in the art of writing a sex scene that would send a whole nunnery into a titter. In a time when bawdy yet poorly written novels top the bestseller lists this novel stands apart with very graphic but beautifully handled sex scenes. Add in a truly romantic love story and you have the perfect novel to fill up those hot summer days.

Add in a fascinating mystery and you have a novel that you just can’t put down. I finished this book in only a few days. I read the entire final half while at the beach with my friends. I did not look up very many times. They finally gave up with trying to include me in the conversation. They will feel the same when I give them this book to read. Like I said, I was furiously underlining every sentence that caught my eye but as the mystery began to unravel my pen fell silent. While the solution was not anything groundbreaking, the way in which it unfolded was magical. Nothing was left unknown and all my questions were answered but not all at once. Just slowly the resolution leaked out as the novel concluded. I won’t spoil it here but we can talk more in the comments below.

There was not much I didn’t like about this book. In fact, I found some inspiration for my next tattoo within these pages. Among the many beautiful quotes rose this perfect description of books:  “Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you,” answered Julián(pg.209). This rings so true for me. My favorite books are those that I can relate to in a very deep way. I had never thought to describe this sensation as looking into a mirror before but now I know. I use the word “sensation” here because when I really connect with a book I feel in a a very visceral way. My heart flutters and I feel my blood pumping through every inch of my  body. Reading a great book is a total body experience. This book did all that and more. I hope to have this tattoo over xmas so I’ll post a picture as soon as it is made permanent.

If you liked this then try…

Diane Setterfield

If you loved the mystery of this story then please pick up The Thirteenth Tale immediately. It is the only book by this author which is very depressing but it is fabulous. Once again the mystery unfolds slowly and the characters are unforgettable. I honestly read it in one sitting. I just could not put it down once I started. It deals with a bookstore owner and a beloved writer just like in The Shadow of the Wind so if you really liked the bookseller hero- this is great. This is another book that I have recommended time after time at Bogart’s and most people come back just gushing over it. Even a customer that I had my doubts about came back in love with the book.

See you later, see you soon.

On Bookshelves

One of my two living room bookshelves

A few months ago I tried to run a contest in which people would post pictures of their bookshelves and the most interesting layout would win a gift certificate. It did not go over well. The above picture is my admission and I only received one other set of pictures. I was keenly disappointed. Not only because my AWESOME,WONDERFUL, FABULOUS idea had been ignored, but also because I was curious as all hell to see other people’s bookshelves. I can’t claim credit for the idea completely as the inspiration came from seeing famous people’s libraries in a variety of places. First, I had seen a book called Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books while shopping in a little bookshop in Philly. Then, a few weeks later I saw a series of blogs dedicated to old and new photographs of people in their libraries. I just loved the idea. For as readers are we not defined by our bookshelves? I certainly feel that way. And I do not mean how much you spent on them or if they are perfectly alphabetized. But rather, where we decide to display them and what we consider worthy of space on our shelves. I especially loved that the book included some up close shots so that you could read the spines. I recognized some of my own favorites on those shelves. It was amazing that nearly all the homes had books in a plethora of rooms. Not just one dedicated library like there used to be. Now, books are decorations.

Up close of one of my bookshelves

A good friend of mine made that observation a few days ago and it got my mind turning again about that failed contest. Like I said, a lot of my motivation for the contest was shear curiosity. We sell dozens and dozens of books everyday and I wanted to know where they end up. I take books very personally and I was hoping to recognize some of my old friends on the shelves of our customers. Maybe wave hello through the computer screen and know that they are safe. Ok, maybe not actually wave, but metaphorically say, “I’m glad you found a home.” That is one of the things I love as a bookseller. I get to put books into people’s hands and homes. I always get to see the book in hand but very rarely in home and I thought this would be a great opportunity. Alas, no one else wanted to let me into their homes.

Maybe if I just leave it for fun I can get some more people to join me. So you’ve seen mine, show me yours! Add a photo or two of your most representative books up on their shelves. Indulge my curiosity!