Tuesday, September 29, 2009
I'm normally opposed to reading "memoirs" by people who haven't passed the age of 30 (have you really done enough to make me want to read about your life?), but because of the description in the catalog and on the book cover, it sounded intriguing- so I dove in, finishing the book in just a couple of days.
Elna Baker is a young LDS (Mormon) woman living in New York who has an internal war taking place between head and heart. Being Mormon means no drinking alcohol or engaging in pre-marital sex, among other things, and this seems to conflict with most of the non-Mormon men she attempts to date. As Elna relates, her longest relationship lasted a month and that was because the guy was out of town for two weeks. Her search for love and acceptance leads her to fall for the most unlikely of men- an atheist. A man who seems to be the exact opposite of a practicing Mormon, yet one who seems to be everything she wants in a potential husband. Can she make it work?
"The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance" is a funny story of how a young Mormon woman navigates dating, love and other disasters. While an engaging read, some parts of the book slow down, due not to story, but to the occasional awkwardness of Baker's writing style. When dealing with Mormon issues and doctrines that play a role in her story, Baker does a satisfactory job of explaining her religion to non-Mormons, but a few statements on Mormonism aren't explained well, and would only be fully understood by a member of the LDS faith. Conversely, there will be many practicing members of the LDS faith that will be offended by some of the language Baker uses as well as some of her feelings about, descriptions of, and encounters with sexual situations.
A book that made me laugh out loud and question my own beliefs and doubts about God and religion, "The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance" will find a niche, both inside and outside Mormonism, among those who enjoy a quest for self and a good laugh along the way.
"The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance" is available to order from our online affiliate Powell's, or by coming into the Bookmark at the U.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
“Fiction’s about what it means to be a fucking human being.” –David Foster Wallace
At the same time my good friend was sentenced to three years in a penitentiary, I moved off the North American road system, to Unalakleet, AK. This is similar to the plight of the narrator in my novel Sometimes We’re Always Real Same-Same, and yet, I hardly made the personal connection when writing it. I thought I was writing the book to better understand the humanity behind imprisonment—how it affects the inmate and his/her family. And I was. But recently, while flipping the pages to find something to read at upcoming events, I saw another reason for writing the novel. I think I was trying to save my friend, using a pen instead of a megaphone. And by leaving Minneapolis I felt like I failed him.
Angela Y. Davis, in her book Are Prisons Obsolete? argues that “Mass imprisonment generates profits as it devours social wealth, and thus it tends to reproduce the very conditions that lead people to prison.” It’s important that we question everything, (right?) politically and socially, including prisons. But how often do you hear a guy on the street corner with a megaphone yelling “Close the prisons!”? It seems we generally don’t question things until they are personal. I didn’t question prisons until I was passing my ID through a slot and walking through magnetically sealed doors and sitting at a booth to talk to the same person I had shared nachos with a few weeks earlier. We see this every day. We see authors write the same memoir over and over, and authors write the same characters over and over. And then I wondered if I was doing the same. Was I only expressing an interest in issues that I had experienced firsthand? It seemed to be the case with my novel. Prison, personal. Spirituality, personal. Mental illness, personal. Rural Alaska, personal.
But when I think about it, I hope that’s not the case. I don’t think it is. Not for most of us, anyway. Of course nobody is perfectly compassionate, but many of us have baked bread for a friend who lost her job, or driven an extra hour to give a family member a ride, or threw in fifty bucks to a local youth group fundraiser. Even if we had never lost a job or waited for a bus or went to church, we felt empathy for those who had.
And I look at some of the best-selling contemporary novels lined up on my bookshelf—Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich, What is the What by Dave Eggers, Lark & Termite by Jayne Anne Phillips. These all, in a way, personalized an issue or two for me that I hadn’t experienced. These novels, in a way, changed my life. So maybe the easy answer is that stories, explicitly and implicitly, transform the personal into the communal.
So by writing about an ex-gangbanger whose older brother is locked up for life, maybe I was, on some level, trying to save my friend. And sure, maybe I was trying to convince the reader to care. But I didn’t write the story with the same motivation that I have for reading stories. I wrote the novel to convince myself to care, over and over, edit after edit. I wrote it to feel this life more fully. I wrote it, standing in front of a mirror with a megaphone, paraphrasing David Foster Wallace, “This is what it’s like to be a fucking human being.”
"Sometimes We're Always Real Same-Same" by Mattox Roesch is available at the Bookmark at the U and at our online fulfillment partner, Powell's Books, and wherever great books are sold.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Cesar, the teen gang-banger from Los Angeles, watched his older brother, Wicho, go to prison for his gang activities. Cesar's mother, determined to keep him from the same fate, moves herself and Cesar back to her native village in western Alaska. The only thing that the pessimistically minded Cesar wants is to do is get back to LA, but, Go-boy, his older, overly optimistic cousin bets that Cesar won't go back.
How these two cousins affect each other, and how their surroundings affect both of them is the basis of this wonderfully told story of life in a small village where everyone knows who you are and what you do. Infused with doses of melancholy and humor, "Sometimes We're Always Real Same-Same" is a touching novel of how we are often more alike in our wants, needs and feelings than we really like to admit to ourselves and others.
"Sometimes We're Always Real Same-Same" by Mattox Roesch is available at the University Campus Store or through our online fulfillment partner, Powell's Books.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
The author is E. L. Doctorow and the book I was talking about is his newest novel, “Homer & Langley.”
Before I go further, let me just say a couple of things. I like Doctorow. I mean, I really like him. I was introduced to writing fiction in high school by being told to read “World’s Fair” and learn to write emulating him. “Billy Bathgate” was incredible. Doctorow easily has more awards for his writing than I have years in my life. I would love the chance to meet him one day. But, while immaculately written, “Homer & Langley” was not my favorite Doctorow novel. Why?
“Homer & Langley” is a fictional biography of the infamous New York City Collyer brothers who, while living in a mansion on Fifth Avenue, became the poster boys for pack-rats worldwide. They were born in the 1880‘s and died in 1947. Doctorow changed their timeline, moving them forward into the twentieth century so they could experience all the great events from World War I to the Vietnam War and the moon landing. While an interesting story to have two recluses experience the major events and watersheds of twentieth century United States from inside their mansion, the story also seemed a little contrived, kind of like Forrest Gump becoming inadvertently involved in most of the major political and cultural events of his lifetime.
While excellently written (Doctorow is incapable of writing a poor sentence), the story itself did not envelop me, pull me along and make me want to turn the page before I had finished reading the one I was on. The best episode of the entire story, where Homer and Langley are forced to house a wounded gangster, falls in the middle of the book.
If you are a Doctorow fan, “Homer & Langley” is a book worth reading, but I don’t expect this new novel to win new fans for this traditionally amazing author.
"Homer & Langley" by E. L. Doctorow, available September 1, 2009, is available for purchase by coming into the Bookmark at the U or by ordering from our online partner, Powell's.
Friday, August 14, 2009
"Last Night in Montreal" by Emily St. John Mandel is available at the Bookmark at the U and at our online fulfillment partner, Powell's Books, and wherever great books are sold.
Monday, August 3, 2009
The Meaning of Night is a fabulously written, historical mystery set in Victorian England, infused with life by a cadre of characters that inhabit its pages. The protagonist, Edward Glyver, a man undone by an event from his early childhood, feels the only way to reacquire what is rightfully his is to exact revenge on the man he blames for everything gone wrong in his life- Phoebus Daunt. But, what seems to be a straight-forward story of retribution and revenge takes turns both dark and twisted, ultimately revealing an outcome that leaves the reader surprised and satisfied in a morbidly curious way.
This is one of my top ten all time reads, and a must for mystery lovers.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo combines a murder mystery, family saga, love story, and financial intrigue into one satisfyingly complex and entertainingly atmospheric novel.
Harriet Vanger, a scion of one of Sweden's wealthiest families disappeared over forty years ago. All these years later, her aged uncle continues to seek the truth. He hires Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist recently trapped by a libel conviction, to investigate. He is aided by the pieced and tattooed punk prodigy Lisbeth Salander. Together they tap into a vein of unfathomable iniquity and astonishing corruption.
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
"The Cold Dish" by Craig Johnson is the Book of the Month for June 2009 at the Bookmark at the U, at the University of Utah Campus Store. Johnson is an exciting voice in the mystery genre, who tells his stories with both great characters and settings. The characters of Walt Longmire, Henry Standing Bear, and Victoria Moretti have become some of my favorites in the mystery genre. Sitting down with a Walt Longmire mystery is like sitting down for a chat around the campfire with old friends.
"The Cold Dish" introduces us to Walt Longmire, sheriff of the fictional Absaroka County in northern Wyoming and his attempts to keep the peace in what should be a relatively peaceful place.
"Longmire knows he’s got trouble when Cody Pritchard is found dead. Two years earlier, Cody and three accomplices had been given suspended sentences for raping a Northern Cheyenne girl. Is someone seeking vengeance? Longmire faces the most volatile and challenging case in his twenty-four years as sheriff and means to see that revenge, a dish that is best served cold, is never served at all."
Friday, May 1, 2009
The Bookmark at the U's Book of the Month for May 2009 is "City of Thieves" by David Benioff. The review of this book was written by Josh Clemens, buyer at The Bookmark.
When Lindsay Wood, a rep from Penguin, recommended this book to me, I told her that I was planning on reading it but I had to get over my unfounded resentment towards the author first. She rapidly deduced the root of my envy and responded “Why? Because he’s married to Amanda Peet?” Absolutely! David Benioff has a successful writing career and he’s married to Amanda Peet! How lucky can one guy get? Wait until you read this book before you answer that question. It is purportedly based on the experiences of his grandfather during the siege of Leningrad in 1942, and it would seem that luck runs in the Benioff genes. One could say that the author has a diluted variation of the Benioff luck gene, and he would likely agree with that assessment.
A blazing quick read, City of Thieves reads like a screenplay, implausible yet not surprising, considering the author is also a screenwriter. The action takes place over a few days in the drawn out siege, and there is no surfeit of transcribed Russian words to stumble over. The narrator does his share of stumbling, but each time it is fortuitous. “Not everybody has talent,” Lev Beniov tells another character who inquires about his talents, but he doesn’t yet realize his own talent for survival. Mistaken for a thief, Beniov is paired with Kolya, a charismatic deserter, and given the task of locating a dozen eggs by a colonel in the NKVD. It is an impossible task in a besieged city, but Kolya is irrepressible. When the pair falls in with a band of partisans and meets Vika, a tomboy sniper, finding the eggs becomes Lev’s second most important conquest. Full of likable characters and humor even in the face of atrocities, City of Thieves deserves to be recommended rather than resented!
Thursday, April 30, 2009
But, wait! We're not going to tell you what the book for May is yet.
To kick off the Book of the Month for May we are holding a contest where you can win a free copy of the book. All you have to do is this: follow us on Twitter and watch for clues about the book. The questions will start vague and difficult, and then begin to get specific. If you are the first person to send us a DM (Direct Message) via Twitter, with the title of the book and the author's name, you will win a free copy of the book. The first person to DM us will be based on the time and date stamped on Twitter. We do need to limit this contest to the United States and Canada, but other than that, start following us on Twitter and play along.
Monday, April 13, 2009
Henry had worked in the book industry for many, many years, longer than many of us who worked with him, and longer even than some of our younger booksellers have been alive. For many years he sold for Oxford University Press, University of Chicago Press and other University Presses, and we valued the relationship we had with him. Henry was knowledgeable about the books he recommended and sold to us and his suggestions made our store better.
In an earlier post, we mentioned that Henry among others were forced into retiring or leaving the book business because the economic climate no longer made selling books profitable (what little profit there is in our business). So, while we were originally saddened by the last visit Henry made to us in the spring of 2008, his recent passing makes this loss even harder to bear.
Thank you Henry for the time you spent with us in this business you loved. We won't soon forget you.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Now, before I start receiving hate comments from you Darcyophiles who read the book every year, I want you to know I consider it to be great and classic literature- for someone else. "A Tale of Two Cities" or "To Kill a Mockingbird" are more my style of classics. But, I am considering reading "Pride and Prejudice" in its new incarnation- "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith.
How can you go wrong with an opening sentence that not only embodies the classic style of Jane Austen but includes a warning about zombie attacks? "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains."
This has turned out to be the hottest book on the shelves this last week, not just here at the Bookmark, but in stores around the country. The publisher has already gone back to the presses for two reprints. We sold our last copy on Friday, three days after it arrived in the store. And, what's worse, somebody stole the "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" poster we had hung up in the store to promote the book. They stole it from a main aisle, in broad daylight, with the lights on! I don't know about anyone else, but I'm blaming zombies.
"Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith is published by Quirk Books and is $12.95 in paperback.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Monday, March 30, 2009
But, wait! We're not going to tell you what the book for April is yet.
To kick off the Book of the Month for April, we are holding a contest where you can win a free copy of the book. All you have to do is this: follow us on Twitter and watch for clues about the book. The questions will start vague and difficult, and then begin to get specific. If you are the first person to send us a DM (Direct Message) via Twitter, with the title of the book and the author's name, you will win a free copy of the book. The first person to DM us will be based on the time and date stamped on Twitter. We do need to limit this contest to the United States and Canada, but other than that, start following us on Twitter and play along.
Friday, March 20, 2009
One upscale steakhouse turned me away for dress code violations. Apparently, you are not allowed to eat really good steak if you are wearing jeans (they were nice jeans! No holes or frayed edges). Another two restaurants turned me away because I was dining alone and they were too busy to set a table for just one person (is my money worth less because I am eating alone?). I refused to eat at another because their salads cost $30 (when in the hell did a salad start costing $30, I asked).
Ultimately, I ended up finding a table at Wolfgang Puck's Spago. They had no problem with my clothes, or the fact I was eating alone. It was some of the best service I've ever had at a restaurant anywhere in my life (my glass was never empty for more than thirty seconds). The food was amazing. It was the first time in my life that a steak (Blue Cheese Encrusted Prime Filet Mingon) actually made my eyes roll backwards. Yeah it was that good!
Now, this may seem a strange way to introduce a book, but let me finish.
I recently read a book that invited me in and sat me down at a amazing story. I often read from the buffet of the popular and trendy, so this book was like having an exquisite meal being brought to my table at Spago. I read it slowly, savoring the words, enjoying the story, examining the characters one by one. It wasn't a huge book, but I left feeling far more satisfied than if I had read ten mediocre books.
"Last Night in Montreal" by Emily St. John Mandel is all at once a mystery, a love story, a book about family, about connections and disconnections. It is a recipe for a story that comes together perfectly for a literary meal.
Lilia, whose story we follow throughout the book, is a young woman who can't stay in once place. Ever since being kidnapped by her father, away from her mother, she has been on the move from one place to another, from town to town, and city to city. Being on the move has become so ingrained in her life that she tells her lover Eli, whom we meet at the first of the book, that she dosen't "know how to stay." And then she leaves him.
The question that haunts the reader, and Eli, throughout the book is, "why did her father take her in the first place and send her into this vagabond existence?" And so, we follow Eli to Montreal, where he goes to look for Lilia after receiving a mysterious letter indicating that is where she went after leaving him. We learn about Lilia from several different characters in the book, all of whom her life has affected in on way or another; Christopher, a detective who was hired to find Lilia but became obsessed with her; Michaela, Christopher's daughter, a young woman who lost both her father and mother to Lilia; and from Lilia herself.
What I loved most about this book was the language that Mandel used to tell Lilia's story. It left you both empty and full, warm and cold, lonely, yet surrounded by empathetic characters. By the time I reached the end of the story I felt both happy and sad for Lilia, for Eli, for Micheala, and for Christopher. I wanted for all of them to have found more but knew the book would have been less fulfilling if they had.
In the end, "Last Night in Montreal" was like that Raspberry Chocolate Chip Souffle that ended my dinner at Spago- a perfect ending that was both bitter and sweet and left me hoping that one day I would be able to come back once again and enjoy another meal from this author.
"Last Night in Montreal" by Emily St. John Mandel will be available in bookstores in June 2009 and is now available for pre-orders.
Friday, March 6, 2009
When I had the chance to start working in bookstores, more than 15 years ago now, I leaped, headfirst, into that shallow pool of income, for the love of books. Certainly not for the love of a big paycheck.
Over the years I have come to find favorites in genres and authors. While I'll read any book I can, I naturally gravitate toward mysteries. My first memorable favorite author was Robert Heinlein (back in my science fiction days). I think it's natural for most readers to favor a genre or author, reading more heavily from those than from anything or anyone else.
In the last couple of years, I have come across another favorite. This falls into a category of books where you don't generally find readers picking favorites. This category crosses multiple genres and encompasses many different authors. But, having said that, I have found a favorite small publishing house- Unbridled Books.
Why, you ask, would I have a favorite small publisher? It is simply this. I have never read a book from Unbridled that I didn't like. That is saying a lot. Unbridled seems to have a knack for picking great authors who write great books.
I was first introduced to Unbridled by Caitlin Hamilton Summie, Unbridled's marketing director, when she presented her picks for great books for the 2007 fall season. I was particularly taken by her description of The Pirates Daughter by Margaret Cezair-Thompson, which convinced me to read it. I loved it.
I have since read The Lamentations of Julius Marantz by Marc Estrin, Hick by Andrea Portes, Abbeville by Jack Fuller, and more. I am currently reading, and thoroughly enjoying, Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel and Shimmer by Eric Barnes with The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire by C. M. Mayo and Madewell Brown by Rick Collignon sitting at the top of my "to be read" pile.
While there are many other publishers whose books and authors I enjoy, I find it hard to say that I have enjoyed every book I've read that they've published. But to this point, Unbridled, in terms of my other great passion, baseball, is batting a thousand.
So, here's to Unbridled Books, a publisher who has yet to disappoint me.