Tuesday, November 25, 2008

From My Shelf Top 5 with Cameo by Hobo

Saturday, November 22, 2008

an abbreviated ode to indie bookstores

Kasey Cox

One of the reasons I love visiting, shopping at, networking with, and working in an independent bookstore is that you never know what you'll find. The people who frequent indie bookstores, as customers and as staff, are an interesting, eclectic, Heinz 57, fascinating lot of people. And how does this group differ from the folks in a big box bookstore? Certainly, there's some overlap, but the folks who come to the indies usually love the treasure hunt. They are looking for more than the top 40. They want more than what Amazon tells them to buy this month, more than the Madison Avenue list of "what cool people are reading right now", more than Walmart's paperback rack. They want staff who can talk about what they've recently read, people who can suggest authors you might like because you just read this other book, informed recommendations on a book for your seven year old nephew.

While I find online shopping occasionally necessary, it is not always as convenient as the online companies would have you believe. Especially if there's a problem. Suddenly, you can't talk to a real person, you're dialing some "800" number -- if you can even find a phone number at all -- and being told to press "1" to continue in English, and the people you bought the book from have moved, died, or didn't provide delivery confirmation, so the book is lost. They don't care that you needed it NOW for class, or a birthday, or for your book club. Or you've been charged a heck of a lot more for shipping than was originally explained to you.

Don't you love just coming in to a bookstore to look? I love meandering, browsing the shelves, never knowing exactly what I might find. I like to touch the books, read selections, debate prices in my head, weigh my options, and .... best of all... no shipping, no wait time.

If you are more the directed hunter type of shopper, where you come in with a mission, and want to (or need to) get in and get out, that's no reason to avoid your local bookstore. Usually these folks will bend over backwards for you. They pride themselves on their customer service, and you are their customers. Unlike the faceless, nameless drones online, these people know you and will see you around on a regular basis. Bookstore staff in your town or neighborhood know that you buy books from them, and that you, then cook their steak the way they like it when they're at your restaurant for their special birthday dinner, or you fix their leaking pipes, or you help them when some spammer phishes their bank account. It's like the old "Cheers" series -- your bookstore knows your name, what you read, who you're interested in, what kind of prices you can afford.

Indie bookstores provide a place for people to meet, to talk, to try out different ideas, to learn, to lose themselves, to find themselves anew. They build community, one book at a time.

In this era of corporate greed and irresponsibility, in this economy of uncertainty, it's more important than ever to shop local.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Neither Picasso nor Hemingway gets the final word

Kasey Cox

How lucky am I? I’ve written enough book reviews (or achieved a loud enough reputation as a sucker and a soft-heart) that now people send me a copy of their newest book, asking that I might publish at least one review in order to publicize their work. Wow – free books, and an appeal to my writer’s ego. I feel blessed, honored … but also more pressured. A recovering perfectionist, I confess that writing has also been an area in which I have struggled mightily. In my worst hours, I will write a sentence or two, stare at it, erase it, stare at the blank page, write almost the exact same sentence, chastise myself for always using the same adjectives, cross it out, gnash my teeth, consider throwing the book or the computer or both against the wall.

Teeth gnashing aside, for several weeks after I read Dave Boling’s book Guernica, I hesitated to write a review. I've been avoiding going through this process for Guernica not because I didn't like it, but because I liked it so very much. I want to write a review that is worthy of the book, that somehow beautifully conveys everything that was beautiful in this first novel by Dave Boling. I figure, maybe, eventually, I will be able to, but it will take much more thought and writing. In the meantime, I want to start telling others to start reading this book!

I have already raved, ad infinitum, about my fondness for historical fiction. As a teenager, when I was bound to the place I lived, before I had a chance to travel, I traveled and learned about other times, other places, other people through novels like this one. This is true, now, too: as a young, working adult, owner of a small business in a small town, I am too busy, and too poor, to travel much. I let books take me places. Yes, I read nonfiction, too. I especially enjoy history, and I do understand the difference between history and historical fiction. And though the best writers of nonfiction history for the general public -- people like Barbara Tuchman, Stephen Ambrose, Joseph Ellis, Edmund Morris -- write beautifully, I find the lyrical language of the fiction warmer and more accessible.

This is certainly true of Dave Boling's writing. In prose that is has both lovely descriptions and compelling action, the book moves well and draws the reader in.

I know quite a bit about World War II, the Blitz, and also about the history of France (French major), but very little about the history of Spain. The little I know of the Spanish Civil War comes mostly from Hemingway novels. I know next to nothing about the Basque people. So I was interested in reading Guernica as a possible springboard to learn more. This novel is by no means a definitive work; Boling clearly explains as much in the author’s notes at the end, and provides an excellent reading list. I consider Guernica an invitation to delve into these events. I read a few critical reviews which offered advice to the effect of "don't bother with this novel; go back and read Hemingway (again) instead." I completely disagree. Though Papa Hemingway is a strong presence in our understanding, I believe it very important that he is not given the only word on this time period. As a matter of fact, Hemingway's terse style and ex-pat views give us only one small window. I want more. I received it here.

Even though I often hesitate to recommend a book only available in hardcover -- since hardcover prices are going up so much! -- I wholeheartedly say, this book is worth the hardcover price. Treat yourself.

Hobo hugs perfectionists. He says, “Silly humans; only cats are perfect!” Although he’s a Hemingway cat, Hobo recommends other authors, too. For instance, himself! Watch for the new edition of “Hobo Finds A Home”, coming to bookstores this next week! Or read Hobo’s Histories at his blog archives, here.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Walking With Spring

Kevin Coolidge

The doughboy, the G.I, the grunt, the modern day land warrior, the men who combat the enemy-You may fly over a land; you may bomb it, pulverize it and wipe it clean of life-but if you desire to defend it, protect it and keep it-there’s never been anything but boots on the ground.

All wars are different, and all wars are the same. They all have a price. The Army’s first study of the mental health of troops who fought in Iraq found that about one in eight reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. The survey also showed that less than half of those with problems sought help, mostly out of fear of being stigmatized or hurting their careers.

Once called shell shock or combat fatigue, post-traumatic stress disorder can develop after witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. Symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, feelings of detachment, irritability, trouble concentrating and sleeplessness. A lot of people, including vets, don’t believe that PTSD exists, mostly because guys don’t talk about it.

A lot of guys come back from wars really messed up, and it doesn’t just go away. They aren’t going to talk to you about it. They don’t want your pity. They don’t pity themselves. You can’t see it. It’s there...

It was the spring of 1948, and a young man from Pennsylvania had to work out the sights, sounds and violence of World War II, during which he lost his best friend. He took a hike, for four months. Earl Shaffer became the first person known to hike uninterrupted the entire length of the Appalachian Trail, from Springer Mountain in Georgia through 13 other states to Katahdin in the central-Maine wilderness...on more than 2,000 miles of footpath.

Earl Shaffer wrote a book about his experience called Walking With Spring. Originally self-published (300 copies), Walking with Spring was first professionally published in 1983. Written soon after his first of his three thru-hikes, the last undertaken at age 79, and far more difficult than he liked as he neared his eighth decade.

This book only contains hints and clues about this unusual man, the loner, the poet, and the man rooted in nature. Although Earl had suffered psychological trauma during his service in the South Pacific, he hardly mentions it at all. There are no long-winded passages of psychobabble or self-pity in this book. Instead, you get a real feeling of interest and wonder at the natural world Schaffer experienced--concisely, yet accurately conveyed.

This is not a book to prepare you to physically or materially hike the Appalachian Trail. It is instead a memoir of a period in time, the aftermath of war, and the recuperative power of the outdoors on the human psyche. John Muir knew this, as did Emerson, and Thoreau. Perhaps this is the strongest argument in defense of wild places. The wilderness is absolutely necessary for people to be human…

Hobo says this is my side of the mountain. He’s a real ridgerunner, born in the hills and suckled on the teat of a cougar. Can’t get enough of Hobo? Hike on over to www.frommyshelf.blogspot.com for past columns. All hail the cat, I mean chief. Look for Hobo on January 20th. Politics are about to get a little furrier. The committee to elect “Hobo For President” approves this column.