Here is a small space to discuss independent bookstores, Indie Next List selections, Indie bestsellers . . . and, most essentially, the stories that permeate our literary lives.

As (1) an employee of an independent bookstore,--namely Beehive Books; check out our blog here--(2) a self-proclaimed localvore, and (3) a lifelong reader, I believe that independents are vitally important to their surroundings, that their significance extends far beyond the volumes they vend.

Bookstores--especially the funky, idiosyncratic, locally supportive (indie)pendent ones--are community catalysts.

They are messy, organic, lovely homes for books, yes. But they also house, and inspire, the words we speak to one another about such books; they so naturally invite conversation, interaction, dialogue, relationship. The trenchant Elaine Showalter says that "What keeps literature alive, meaningful to read, and exciting to teach isn't unstinting approval or unanimous admiration, but rousing argument and robust dispute." Written words are beautified by the spoken words that surround them. The most beautiful library, or collection, is one that pulses with the dialogue of its readers--and independent bookstores are one of the purest examples of this truth.

And here is where I'd extoll the virtues of the independent book business itself. But as I am only a humble but fierce admirer/apprentice (and a dangerously longwinded one, at that), I'll now refer you instead to IndieBound--your online connection to independents everywhere. Read their concise answer to the question "Why Shop Indie?" and join their community, if you wish.

In my small nook of the indie world, I offer reviews of notable books in the independent community. I focus on current Next List selections and indie bestsellers, but I'm always open to books that find me in my literary life--whether a customer at Beehive recommends an obscure title; a co-worker passes me a childhood favorite, or a small press sends us a fresh gem. I'm always on the lookout for ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies), and I have a penchant for children's literature, especially middle readers, so you'll see some of those here, too. That said, my readership will only grow richer through yours--all comments, debates, and reading suggestions are more than welcome. Let's create our own unique nook in the indie book community!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Brother Sun, Sister Moon

Katherine Paterson is simply wondrous. Since I first perused Bridge to Terabithia, I have been awed by her work; her brilliance; her compassion, and the scope of her humanity and humility. If you are interested in studying children’s literature, her body of work is a great starting point—check out her library here.
This gem, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, is a glorious retelling of Saint Francis of Assisi’s “Canticle of the Creatures.” Rarely does a picture book meld word and illustration so seamlessly; the traditional, simple language of Katherine Paterson’s “reimagining” of the prayer is translated into image through Pamela Dalton’s quiet, detailed cut-paper spreads. Paterson and Dalton’s collaboration is a wonderful testament to God’s presence in nature, and it also provides a lovely, clear example of personification for children. A humbly wonderful achievement.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Irresistible Radishes: The Dirty Life, by Kristin Kimball

In celebration of midsummer bounty, I'm featuring Kristin Kimball's The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love. Kimball's story was an Indie Next List "Now in Paperback" selection for May 2011. The hardcover was published last October.

When I began perusing The Dirty Life, I was immediately charmed by Kimball's exquisite gift for food writing; her details are downright M.F.K. Fisher delectable. I read the prologue twice, savoring its lyric morsels. Never have I found a plump radish so irresistible.

However, my awe is twofold. From the beginning, I was lured by the book's foodie poetic, its wholistic CSA virtues, its paean to local and organic sustainability. What impressed me further was the continuance of Kimball's elegant language throughout her bald and gritty portrayal of farm life--an existence rife with struggle, sweat, and loam. Kristin Kimball is unsparing in her account of Essex Farm's incipience, and equally as candid in detailing the knobbly beginnings of her relationship with her husband, Mark. Lacking any farming experience, Kristin abandoned her cosmopolitan New York life for five hundred acres, a pioneering, irrepressible farmer, and a dream (or, simply said: food, farming, and love). Her stories of acquiring draft horses; sugaring; crafting golden butter from Jersey milk, and battling weeds and timeworn machines are striking; but it is Kimball's roughly hewn wisdom and self-discovery fostered by farming, community, and love that prove well worth the reaping in this beautifully human memoir.

Read a passage from the book on Kristin's website, and watch a short film detailing a day in the life at Essex Farm here.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Indies Choice: Jennifer Donnelly's Revolution

In honor of the recent 2011 BEA (BookExpo America) conference, I'd like to showcase this year's Indies Choice Award winners. This annual indie honorific is closely tied to the previous year's Next Lists (i.e., each 2011 Book of the Year nominee is pulled from a 2010 Next List). All titles are exclusively selected, both initially and in the final voting stage, by ABA member booksellers. The Indies Choice Awards are unique in their celebration of both distinguished books in the independent community, and its organizations, including ABA and IndieBound.

Access this BTW (Bookselling This Week) article to view the four winning titles in each category (Adult Fiction, Adult Nonfiction, Adult Debut, and Young Adult). You can also read some of the award-winning authors' comments from the BEA Celebration of Bookselling & Author Awards Luncheon here.

I was particularly delighted to see Jennifer Donnelly's Revolution receive the Young Adult award. This is a seamlessly constructed novel, expertly researched and wonderfully human. Fusing both contemporary and historical fiction, Donnelly presents two heroines: Andi, the novel's protagonist, a musically gifted, brilliant and hurting Brooklynite, and Alex, a resilient daughter of the French Revolution. Suffering under the weight of her younger brother Truman's death, her mother's subsequent instability, and her father's distance, Andi is in danger of failing her senior year at St. Anselm's, an elite private school in New York. Against her will, she accompanies her father, a renowned geneticist, to Paris, where she writes her senior thesis as he conducts research on the alleged heart of Louis-Charles, Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI's wretched son.

While in France, Andi discovers Alex's diary, a treasure the reader is privileged to peruse with her. Embedded in Andi's first person narration, Alex's story of dedication to the young Louis proves her an equally riveting protagonist in her own story. Also, despite the temporal separation between Andi and Alex, their coming-of-age emotions connect gracefully, for Donnelly establishes the parallel between Andi's mourning of Truman and Alex's compassion for Louis-Charles in a straightforward yet unforced manner.

From its beginning chapters, Revolution is unflinching its portrayal of difficult subjects such as suicide, depression, and--in Alex's world--mass human suffering. In essence, this is a novel of stunning emotional scope. Reading this intensely human book, I could only imagine what a feat it must have been to compose. Two genres, two primary characters, two writing styles. A deep knowledge of music and an immense amount of research into the French Revolution. And, above all, a candid, questioning, and compassionate look at suffering, cruelty, loss, love.

To learn more about the writer who accomplished all this one novel, check out Jennifer Donnelly's website. Here you'll find wonderful writing advice, insight into Revolution's genesis, and even Andi's playlist.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Tiger's Wife

The Tiger's Wife is currently number four on the Indie Bestseller List (Hardcover Fiction), and it was the main selection for the March 2011 Indie Next List.

Mystery, quest, folktale, poetry. Tea Obreht's The Tiger's Wife is a novel of superb scope and nuance, told in rich, lyrical prose.

Natalia, a young pediatrician forestalled in mourning her grandfather's death by its strange circumstances, seeks out the story of his final days in a Balkan country still reeling from years of conflict. Traveling to an orphanage in Brejevina with her best friend, Zora, in order to administer innoculations, Natalia meditates on the two folkloric stories entrenched in her grandfather's life: the Tiger's Wife and the Deathless Man. In the present, Natalia's own story takes her to places as deeply embedded in superstition as the characters peopling her grandfather's chimerical tales. Ultimately, Natalia's quest, and her historical research into her grandfather's life and the stories that shaped it, all coalesce to comprise The Tiger's Wife--a truly multi-layered, polysemous achievement.

An added boon to the novel's succulent prose is its perfect yoking to the story's folkloric structure. Obreht's transitions, from Natalia's narrative to her grandfather's twin sagas, are both seamless and stunning. Yet her language, magical though it may be, refrains from turning syrupy; though the novel progresses via shifting narratives--requiring a kind of virtuosic balance--Obreht remains in complete, flawless control of its movement and its imagery.

Tea Obreht is a young author--The Tiger's Wife is her debut novel--born in 1985 in the former Yugoslavia. But her age, rather than limiting her wisdom, seems to work as but another strength of the novel. I found her ability to render the war in Yugoslavia digestible absolutely striking. She directly addresses the conflict so infrequently that when it is centralized, the effect is both childlike and trenchant: "The war had altered everything. Once separate, the pieces that made up our old country no longer carried the same characteristics that formerly represented their respective parts of the whole" (161). Obreht ponders, too, the very nature of conflict: "When your fight has purpose--to free you from something, to interfere on the behalf of an innocent--it has a hope of finality. When the fight is about unraveling--when it is about your name, the places to which your blood is anchored . . . there is nothing but hate" (283). Far from oversimplifying, Obreht's handling of the war through Natalia's account is one of the book's greatest strengths, both on a literary and a human level.

My only quibble with the novel is its occasionally wayward literary experimentation--i.e., a sudden shift to second person, an odd temporal leap, or a penchant for backstory extending even to objects, such as the blacksmith's musket. But it may certainly be argued that these techniques are germane to the novel's content. Also, either the experimental variety lessened as the book progressed . . . or, I was simply too charmed to notice it anymore.

In essence, this is a true delight for the literary reader. Peruse The Tiger's Wife and bask in Obreht's lush descriptions, her folklore on the cusp of magical realism, and remember its sequence of stories as one recalls a vivid dream: green, lush, and strange.

Summer Reading Advisory: My parting bit of advice is to read The Tiger's Wife slowly--it is to be savored--and remember the opinion of the people of Brejevina: " . . . [If] you are making your journey in a hurry, you are making it poorly" (98). This book catalogues a murky passage of time, perfect for summer languor. Find a patch of sunshine and sip its words like nectar.

However . . . before you get too serious about that summer reading stack, check out Tea's contribution to the New Yorker's Books, Interrupted.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Book Business: Central Ohio Indies Press On

Here is a wonderful Columbus Dispatch article featuring independent bookstores in central Ohio, including The Book Loft in German Village, Karen Wickliff Books in Clintonville . . . and us! Tim Feran provides a great overview of the independent book business here; the article is unsparing in detailing the struggles independents have endured since the 1990s, but it also illuminates their unique boons, surprising growth--and ultimately, reveals why we're here to stay (as long as we remain, in Feran's words, "more than just a big brick box with reading material.") As Mel expounds in the article, it's all about community and discovery. Read the full article yourself for an insider's view of the indie community in the Columbus area.