Friday, January 30, 2015

Daedalus Books

While planning the bookstore tour of the DC/Baltimore area, I learned that the warehouse for an online bookstore was surprisingly nearby. We decided to stop in and see what we could see.

I was expecting something like the warehouse that is Second Story Books in Rockville. Out-of-the-way, hard-to-find, and a real treasure hunt, just a big room full of overstuffed shelves and boxes and not a little dust. I was way off.

First of all, Daedalus Books IS a little out of the way, on a side street, but it makes up for it with clear signage that is easily visible from the road. Second of all, it may be a warehouse, but it's not a used bookstore. Instead, it's a remaindered bookstore. The books are brand spanking new, but they're discounted because they weren't big sellers (don't be dissuaded, it makes for a fantastic eclectic/indie selection). And third of all, this is no overstuffed hodgepodge treasure hunt. Books are laid out neatly on tables and on shelves with enviable ladders, labeled "for employees only," alas. The storefront is bright, airy, and very clean. The employees are also excessively polite, and gave me the card to the nearest used bookstore in response to my query about selling used books (hey, ya gotta give some to get some).

While I didn't make any purchases this time around (it was towards the tail-end of the tour), I am thrilled to have found Daedalus Books. Instead of a used bookstore to wind away the hours, I think I've discovered a new go-to bookstore for, er, less selfish occasions.

Below is a photo of some of the stock. I forgot to take a picture of the outside, but it's readily available on Google. It's surprisingly hard to find on their website.

(Also, apparently no relation to Daedalus Used Bookshop in Charlottesville, VA; which I'm also a fan of, for different reasons).

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Top Ten Books I'd Love to Read With My Imaginary Nerdy Tolkien Book Club

Once upon a time, when Top Ten Tuesday had a similar topic, I invented the idea of a nerdy Tolkien book club. If they actually existed, here's what I'd want to read with them today.

I've read many of these before, but I'd like to read them again with discussion and focus. The following is the order I'm thinking of, but I could imagine switching it up.

Top Ten Several Books I'd Like to Read With My Imaginary Nerdy Tolkien Book Club

1. The Prose and Poetic Eddas (Icelandic sagas)

2. The Kalevala (Finnish myths)

3. The Silmarillion

4. Splintered Light and Interrupted Music by Verlyn Flieger

5. Beowulf (Tolkien translation)

6. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Tolkien translation)

7. The Tolkien Reader: Farmer Giles of Ham, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, etc.

8. The Hobbit

9. The Lord of the Rings

10. The Road to Middle Earth by Tom Shippey

12. Songs and Poems: Bilbo's Last Song, The Road Goes Ever On etc.

13. The History of Middle Earth

14. The Children of Hurin

15. The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun

I'm sure there are many more critical works that should be added, including some of Tolkien's own critical works. I also have not included all of Tolkien's oeuvre, such as the Unfinished Tales, which echo parts of The Silmarillion, History of Middle Earth, and Children of Hurin. In fact, it might make some sense to read versions of the same stories together rather than each book separately (therefore, some of the reads would be simultaneous rather than sequential).

Obviously, I have put a lot of thought into this, so someone, take me up on it!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Friday Finds

I've received a couple new reads lately, hopefully reviews will be soon!

Against the Country: A Novel by Ben Metcalf, through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program

Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld, via Bookmooch

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Top Ten Readings On My Ideal College Syllabus

Since today's Top Ten Tuesday is a freebie, I thought I'd write about something I think about a lot-readings and books that will interest today's college students. These are mostly a collection of readings I've actually used and found successful, as well as those I'd like to try.

1. "The Sun, the Moon, the Stars" from This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

I've taught this story in every class I could, with almost universally successful results (there's always the odd student offended by the cursing). If I could, I'd teach the whole book.

2. "Shitty First Drafts" by Ann Lamott

I tried this out in my classes this semester, and it went over really well. It was one of the readings that many students mentioned in their final reflection, even though we read it at the beginning of the semester.

3. Tripmaster Monkey by Maxine Hong Kingston

I read this in college and loved it. It speaks to the Asian-American experience as well as the immigrant and American experience at large. Unfortunately, we would probably not have time to get through it all, but maybe just the chapter where Wittman goes to the party, or maybe just the first chapter, or maybe just the last chapter...

4. "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" by Ursula K. Le Guin

We read this in one of my classes, and I think the students found the philosophical dilemma very interesting. In future, I'd like to show the Doctor Who episode "The Beast Below" along with it and perhaps do some compare/contrast.

5. "Sexy" from Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

I've tried "A Temporary Matter" from the same collection a couple of times, and while I really like the story, not as many students seemed to relate to it. Perhaps I'd have better luck with "Sexy," adultery is certainly a sexier topic than child loss.

6. Excerpts from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

I would just look at some of the funniest, or most thought-provoking, vignettes from Huckleberry Finn. I feel like it's one of those books students might expect to be boring, but would really love with some scaffolding.

7. Excerpts from The Good Lord Bird by James McBride

Similar to above, the book itself might look intimidating, but if we looked at particularly humorous or thought-provoking passages together, I could see it going over well. Also, many students probably won't have as fraught a history with McBride as with Twain (and maybe we could do some comparisons!). Maybe we'd also read a bit from The Color of Water.

8. "Sultana's Dream" by Rokheya Shekhawat Hossein

This would be a really short, easy way to get into feminist, sci fi utopias. It's short enough that we could spend a lot of time discussing the ideas, and the context they're in. Could also possibly be a point of contrast and comparison for "Omelas."

9. Excerpts from Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy

We would just read passages about the utopia Mattapoisett, as a point of discussion. Apparently, I just want to teach a class on utopias...

10. "Blot Out" by Colleen Kinder from The Best American Travel Writing 2013

This was probably my favorite story in an excellent collection. It's easy to read and understand, and would let us talk about what it means to wear the burqa, and Western and non-Western perspectives. I feel like that's still a hot topic/something that a lot of students would be opinionated about.

11. "Reeling for the Empire" from Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell

I'd consider teaching this. I think it's a great story, but I think it could go either way with students. We'd have to do a lot of discussion about metaphors, the historical context, and go over a lot of vocabulary. But it might still be worth it.

Please make more suggestions in the comments, I'm always looking for new ideas! Also, is there anyone else out there doing even remotely what Junot Diaz is doing? I haven't found anyone else who so closely captures the voice of the modern American young adult.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Gramp's Attic Books in Ellicott City

My friend came in from Boston last weekend, so we naturally went to explore all the bookstores around my newish domicile.

I'd noticed Gramp's Attic Books before, but never had occasion to venture inside. What a treat I was missing!

Gramp's Attic Books is an apt name, if your grandfather was the sort to value really fine editions of classic novels, or the type to gather vast collections on rifles, American history (emphasis on the Civil War and World War II), bookbinding, and London, respectively.

Although relatively small, Gramp's Attic Books boasts an extremely well-curated stock. Most of the books in the store itself (there's a couple shelves of mere paperbacks in the anteroom) are hard covers, and all are in excellent condition. I would not be surprised if there were a majority of first and second editions. If your tastes run to classics and the aforementioned collections, you might never want to leave. There are handsome caches of Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Nabokov, Cather, and other lesser known greats of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Even if you already own the books, there's probably a charming hardcover edition that you would salivate over nonetheless.

This is a real book collector's store, and as such, its wares are more expensive than some other, less organized, less scrupulous used bookstores. However, there are still some finds and steals if you look carefully. I'm very pleased with my own purchases (pictured below). For once, my selections are quite representative of the stock: a handsome hardcover of Katherine Anne Porter's Ship of Fools, and two paperback collections from book lover and The Washington Post Book World writer Michael Dirda. I'm halfway through Readings: Essays and Literary Entertainments right now, and Dirda's addiction to books and their ephemera is very much in keeping with the spirit of Gramp's Attic Books, even if the books themselves do not live up to the general aesthetic.

While I'm not suggesting you drop everything and fly here from Boston, if you ever find yourself in Ellicott City, MD, Gramp's Attic Books is well worth a look, especially (or most dangerously) for the connoisseur.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Book Review: The Boston Girl

2. The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

My mom got me this book for Hanukkah, and we went to hear Anita Diamant talk about it this week. Diamant's comments really brought into focus what I thought about the book. She affirmed that her "MO" is to write about hidden women's stories-specifically, in this case, the stories of the women of Rockport Lodge. The book she said, began with the title "Rockport Lodge," though it came to be more about the protagonist Addie Baum, the type of grandmother Diamant says she wants to be, whose sharp wit and humor came in during later revisions of the book.

As an aspiring writer, I was interested in Diamant's hints about the writing process. She confirms what I teach my students when we read Anne Lamott's "Shitty First Drafts," --it takes a lot of revision to get to the final product! For me, the final product was a compulsively easy read. I slipped into the skin of the character, a young Jewish woman growing up in Boston in the early twentieth century, and remained there the whole time.

Addie Baum tells the story of her life, from memory, to her granddaughter. The dialogue is believable as memory, but still clean and easy to understand. No tangle of clauses to get lost in, words are direct, and punchy: "Italians are as good as Jews when it comes to guilt." Growing up, Addie is friends with a group who call themselves the "Mixed Nuts," made up of the early twentieth century's best-known immigrants: Italians, Irish, and Jews. It's heartening, though perhaps unrealistic, how she maintains these friendships into adulthood.

Although this book is drastically different from The Red Tent in subject matter and style, it does spring from a similar agenda. This is a tale about one woman's life, and through her, about a whole swath of women who have not been especially recognized in history. In this respect, the book is equally successful. Rockport Lodge, a vacation house for working women, features prominently in Addie's story. This was apparently a real place, where women in Massachusetts gathered and organized and supported each other, especially younger women and girls. Through this network of sisterhood, Addie becomes a successful reporter and member of society. Though she eventually marries and breeds with a nice Jewish boy, her story, and those of her sister Betty and her eclectic friends, is an inspiring one.

I enjoyed The Boston Girl, but it also left me I hadn't learned or thought about anything new. The Red Tent was so revolutionary, and read at such a pivotal time in my life, that perhaps my expectations of Anita Diamant are far too high. The subject matter of the book is also extremely familiar to me, in a way that's comforting, but also stagnant.The story of Jews coming to America from the old country is, of course, my family's story, and while my family first stayed in New York, I have my own personal history with Boston. I especially enjoyed it when Addie's family moves to Roxbury. I once lived there, and I remember the churches festooned with Stars of David, which is how I learned it used to be a Jewish neighborhood (no longer, but Brookline, also mentioned, still is). On the other hand, I don't really need to be reminded of how good I have it that my parents didn't force me to work in a factory and then marry a nice Jewish boy they picked out.

Ron Charles' review in the Washington Post clarifies my feelings about the book: "World War I, the flu of 1918, the Minnesota orphan train, Southern lynchings — they’re all blanched in the warm bath of Addie’s sentimental narrative." The book does deal with some big issues, just not in a way that especially piques. Still, Diamant's mission in writing the stories of unknown women is appealing to me, and Diamant herself and her fiction are very relatable to me in particular, and I'm sure others coming from a similar Jewish immigrant background.

Recommended to fans of Jewish and women's fiction; also recommended to hear Anita Diamant speak if you can, definitely a worthwhile experience!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Top Ten 2014 Releases I Meant to Read But Didn't Get To

Happy Top Ten Tuesday!

1. Steles of the Sky by Elizabeth Bear

2. The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

3. Exodus by Deborah Feldman

4. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

5. The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski

6. The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

7. China Dolls by Lisa See

8. The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books by Azar Nafisi

9. Yes Please by Amy Poehler

10. Bombay Blues by Tanuja Desai Hidier