Saturday, March 26, 2011

Incoming Books: March 26, 2011

I had no idea how busy my Saturdays would get after kids -- not the slightest clue. (I spent my first ten years in the publishing business reading manuscripts all day Saturday -- The Wife was in retail and always worked that day, so it was a quiet, sit-around-the-house-and plow-through-work day.) Nowadays, I barely even get to look at my computer until 9 PM on a Saturday, and baseball season is only just starting.

(On the other hand, the boys are lots of fun: today we watched The Cannonball Run together and I got to see Thing 1 discover Farah Fawcett's nipples -- not unlike the way me and an entire generation of American boys discovered them, actually -- and lose the battle not to mention that out loud, while Thing 2 looked on in mystified silence and The Wife and I shared a "we're got a teenager now" look over their heads.)

That's all preamble: I always want to write a long, thoughtful review on a Saturday -- this time, the hope was either Among Others or Blackout/All Clear -- and I'm always foiled. So, instead, I'm going to tell you about the books I bought.

As you probably know, the major bookstore chain Borders is closing 200+ stores right now, and I hadn't managed to get to one of them before today. It's kind of a big deal in the book business, so I wanted to see it for myself -- and grab some bargains along the way, maybe. On top of that, Thing 2 whipped through The Bad Beginning (first of the splendidly awesome "Series of Unfortunate Events" series by Lemony Snicket) in one night earlier this week, and I realized I needed to seriously replenish my "read a novel, get a manga free" shelves. So I checked in with the boys, got a long list of manga to acquire, and set off.

(This particular Borders is in the biggest mall in my state -- which is pretty darn big in general -- sending me deep into unfamiliar territory; I don't spend much time in malls these days, seeing as how I'm not a teenager nor do I care deeply about clothes.)

Anyway, I came big with a huge haul -- eighteen manga for the boys to earn (various volumes of Shaman King, Yu-Gi-Oh: Duelist, and One Piece), plus a random Garfield book. Along the way, I also found a few books for me, since i always do:

The Infinities by John Banville -- Banville is probably the most "literary" writer that I read regularly; I'm in the habit of keeping up with his books, and they're definitely thorny and require effort but have also been worth all of that effort so far. I'd half-forgotten about this 2009 novel, since I was waiting for the paperback. I now have the paperback, so let's see if I can find time to read it.

The Final Solution by Michael Chabon -- I need to read more Chabon, and I'm not likely to dive into my big hardcover of Kavalier and Clay any time soon. So a short paperback might be just the thing to jump-start my interest in his work...I hope, at least.

The Collected Short Stories of Lydia Davis -- I do have a mental image of myself as a more serious, more literary-focused reader than I probably am, but a review of this in The New Yorker last year made me really want to read it, and I've picked up the hardcover several times in the library. Finding a paperback -- at 50% off -- made it impossible to resist. And I didn't notice until I was grabbing an image for this post that the rules on the cover -- that double box around the text -- is all hand-drawn, which is a great subtle little touch.

The Hammer by K.J. Parker -- I absolutely loved Parker's "Scavenger Trilogy," which I bought and glowingly blurbed at the SFBC. (Though they didn't sell all that well -- ungrateful wretches that club members are, as usual.) And I've felt guilty for not reading any other Parker books since then -- they're all tough and serious and grim and quite dark, much like a character named Parker written by a man called Stark, though I don't think that was a conscious echo -- so I've almost bought several of them. This one stands alone, it wasn't shelf-worn, and it was half-price. So I got it.

The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost -- This is another book I've picked up half-a-dozen times over the years -- this paperback edition is from 2004 -- and never quite bought; it's a humorous travel narrative about a then-young Dutch guy who ditched his regular life and went off to the South Seas, which turned out not to be the Gaughin-esque paradise he expected. Again, seeing it for a bout half price finally moved the needle.

And last for me was Bloom County: The Complete Library, Volume Two by Berkeley Breathed. I loved the Bloom County strip at the time, but I was young enough then, and Breathed's subsequent efforts have been so underwhelming, that I worried that the strip wouldn't stand up this many years later. But the reviews for this IDW series have been excellent, and I find myself drifting more and more towards the great American strip comics [1] recently, so I was happy to see this volume still available in the picked-over Borders store.

As to the store itself, it was a liquidation sale, and those are always a combination of grimness (half the store roped off, with fixtures taped together for sale; hand-printed signs; messy shelves with lots of face-outs) and joy (the thrill of the hunt through barely-organized shelves; the restless energy of the bargain shopper). As I understand it, it's not really "Borders" running those stores anymore, but a liquidator, so the efficiency and organization doesn't reflect on Borders' current management team. (Whoever that is this week.) Borders does have a chance to reorganize and come back as a strong, stable bookstore chain -- they're still the second-biggest chain in North America, even after all of those stores are closed. But they'll need to focus on selling books -- which are quirky, persnickety things, sold to quirky, persnickety people -- to do that, and they've been very lacking in book-focus for a long time now. I'm a natural pessimist, but I want to be optimistic about their chances -- so I'll just say that they're not out of anything yet.

[1] As a thousand other comics critics/reviewers/readers have before me; it's not a new tendency at all.

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