04 Books I'm Surprised I Haven't Read

In which our heroine scans her shelves for books she really ought to have read by now

Let’s skip the intro because if we don’t I’ll just wax poetic about the two things I’ve been obsessing over lately: traveler’s notebooks and emergency room bills. What do these have in common? Well, uh, they’ve both convinced me to splurge in the last week. (I’m fine; America’s healthcare system is dumb, but soon I’ll have a new notebook to soothe my irritation.)

Moving on to books. This week, I decided to pull a few books off my shelves that, despite owning, I still have not read.


Should Have Been Reading

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

It seems crazy that I still haven’t read this. It’s a focal point of a recurring question on Drunk Booksellers (what’s your Station Eleven pick?). And yet. I started it a couple years ago, but apocalypse novels freak me out and I couldn’t get past the disease spreading. I think I stopped at chapter four. I was even told that the apocalypse part doesn’t last very long. Anyway, I almost feel the time for reading this has past. But I assume I’ll get to it one day. Two apocalypse books I do like: Woman World by Aminder Dhaliwal (a comic about a post-apocalyptic society in which men are extinct) and Severance by Ling Ma (an apocalypse novel where people turn in to sort of stagnant, repetitive zombies).

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

Friends freak when I tell them I haven’t read this book. I’m sure I’ll love it; I’m not sure what’s stopping me from starting. I only recently bought it. And I guess I still don’t know what it’s about so I haven’t been in the mood to read it—or I have and just didn’t know that that particular mood was the perfect Geek Love mood. But also you know that feeling where you’re afraid a book will disappoint you? Or, worse, that you’ll disappoint the book? You’ll recognize that it’s good and you ought to love it but something is missing? I’m not saying that’s what’s going on here. Just making excuses for why I haven’t read this.

Palimpsest by Cat Valente

I bought this book from Elliott Bay during the inaugural Indie Bookstore Day in 2015—the first time I visited the bookstore I now work at. I didn’t actually remember purchasing it until I flipped the book over, recognized the label, and noticed the date on it is Feb 2015. I bought it because my first and favorite Cat Valente book, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In a Ship of Her Own Making was conceived of, I’m told, as a children’s book in the world of Palimpsest. Actually, this is another one I started but did not continue. I’ve read the entire Fairyland series and Radiance and Space Opera and The Refrigerator Monologues. But not this one. Not yet.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

I saved this one for last. It is the book I am most surprised I still have not read. Shirley Jackson is one of my favorite authors, this book is one of her most famous. I tell people I’m saving it for a day when I just need to read something I know I’ll love. It’s not like there will be no Jackson left after I’ve read this. The only other novel of hers I’ve read is The Haunting of Hill House. Her memoirs, Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons are two of my favorite audiobooks—they are my comfort food and I never get tired of them. And I can always re-read the Ruth Franklin biography. No, it’s not about being left without new and exciting Jackson. I guess it’s just one of those books I’m not quite ready for.


Currently Reading

I’m half reading too many books right now, and I don’t feel like gushing about any of them. Am I in a reading slump? I have suspected, but not admitted. I ripped through two novels very quickly and now I’m looking around, slack-jawed, wondering what to read next. One of the four books I just told you I haven’t read yet? Or maybe something slim. Or a short story collection. I’m open to suggestions. Did you know you can reply to these newsletters? Tell me what to read next.

Until next time, here is a picture of a cat and a book I just started:


Other Ways to Find Me On the Internets

Once a month (or so) I host a podcast called Drunk Booksellers where my best friend and I interview a fellow bookseller while drinking. I sometimes tweet about books and politics. I sometimes post pictures of books I’m reading, or cats I’m hanging out with on Instagram.

Subscribe to this newsletter here.


NOTE: Most book links go to Indiebound so you can shop local via the Internet. Also, they are affiliate links so if you purchase something I get a tiny kickback (which goes towards my podcast because why have two affiliate accounts). Why shop local? Long answer: Here are a bunch of economic impact studies about the importance of shopping local. Short answer: bookstores are good/warm/lovely places that add so much value to the community, but they are also businesses, which cannot survive if you’re not shopping there.
Thanks to Lara Kaminoff for the cat mascot, Giles. Find more of her work here. Follow her on Instagram here.

03 Wonder, Sex and Sea Urchins, Mathematics and Logical Puzzles

In which our heroine is swayed by an NY Times book review

Last week, I meant to write a newsletter about recommendations I’ve received from fellow booksellers and how I am thankful for the workfamily I’ve built in my five years of bookselling. Instead I finished re-reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire for the n-th time (aloud with Sam, who has never finished the series), ate some turkey and apple pie (the latter reluctantly because I’m not really a pie-person), and played a dice game based on milk production (it’s called Dairyman and I recommend it). I will write that newsletter one day, but first I’d like to let the booksellers I want to reference know that I am referencing them in a newsletter they’ve never heard of.

So instead this week I bring you a random assortment of books I wish I were reading, thematic inasmuch as my general tastes and inclinations are thematic.


Wish I Were Reading

The Condition of Secrecy by Inger Christensen

This essay collection was brought to my attention by a co-worker who’d reserved a copy (it comes out today, Nov 26th). He said he’d read about it in the Times. The review had me by the third paragraph, which begins:

Christensen was a wellspring of Scandinavian experimental writing, a magus of poetry and philosophy whose lines live on as graffiti, trailed across buildings in Copenhagen. Her work was full of cunning and wonder, sex and sea urchins, mathematics and logical puzzles. 

I love lists of seemingly disparate things. I love the idea of a writer being able to deftly move from sex to math to sea urchins and back again. I’d never heard of Christensen, but another co-worker had a galley and so I brought it home and maybe I really will read it.

The Electric Information Age Book by Jeffrey T Schnapp and Adam Michaels

I’m still not clear on the contents of this book. I picked it up off our bargain table and gleaned that it’s about mass market publishing during the 60s/70s. I flipped through it and saw, in neon baby blue text

…an inventory?

Yes, this book is an inventory.

(But of a distinctive kind.)

And I was like

Also, the layout seems really cool and I love learning about the history of the world I work in. (If you’re also interested in the history of publishing, with a bit about bookselling, I recommend Merchants of Culture by John B Thompson.) But mostly I know I’m going to buy it because I have to know why it claims to be an inventory.

Hannah Versus the Tree by Leland de la Durantaye

The cover of this one is mostly what grabbed me. Also it describes itself as a mythopoetic thriller. But yeah, I really like that cover.

The Model Thinker by Scott E Page

Ok, I think I’m finally writing about a book I probably really will never attempt to read. The subtitle “what you need to know to make data work for you” is what got me, but this books innards seem a lot more technical than my brain is prepared for. I love organizing data in my relatively small world of books, but this is about applying multiple models to organize data “leading to wiser choices, more accurate predictions, and more robust designs.” I’m not even sure I know one model of organizing data. I mean… I guess I must, but I couldn’t tell you what it is. Still, I have this idea that maybe one day I’ll take classes in data management and who am I kidding, I’m going to at least make an attempt to read this one. One day.

The Last Equation of Isaac Severy by Nova Jacobs

A fiction title that is neither a story collection nor fable-adjacent? I’m branching out! I don’t recall hearing about this book before unboxing it yesterday, but I guess it’s out in paperback now. It’s about a woman who has to track down a dangerous equation that her recently deceased adopted grandfather left behind. Also she owns a bookstore in Seattle. (Also she owns a bookstore in Seattle.) It seems kind of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore-esque. Like a fun mystery romp that is both mathematical and bookish. Like the kind of thing I could recommend to a customer who is looking for something light (the most difficult recommendation request we get). So, yeah, I’m definitely going to get this on audio as soon as I finish the book I’m currently listening to. Speaking of which…


Currently Reading

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

I was not sure I’d like Ottessa Moshfegh. Her characters are mostly unlikable, which I’m a fan of in theory, but every time a short story of hers was described to me I felt kind of depressed. But then my S&S rep recommended this audiobook, which I’d been meaning to read and yesterday I finally started and I’m already almost 20% through. It’s addictive. It is lethargic and luxurious, and it feels vapid—that’s not quite the right word—but the writing itself is so sharp and incisive. I’m not describing it well. Moshfegh’s ability to quickly and thoroughly build a character, to give you a first impression but immediately hit on a person’s core, is admirable. Really it took all my efforts to stop sitting around listening to this book and write this newsletter. I must get back to it.


Other Ways to Find Me On the Internets

Once a month (or so) I host a podcast called Drunk Booksellers where my best friend and I interview a fellow bookseller while drinking. I sometimes tweet about books and politics. I sometimes post pictures of books I’m reading, or cats I’m hanging out with on Instagram.

Subscribe to this newsletter here.


NOTE: Most book links go to Indiebound so you can shop local via the Internet. Also, they are affiliate links so if you purchase something I get a tiny kickback (which goes towards my podcast because why have two affiliate accounts). Why shop local? Long answer: Here are a bunch of economic impact studies about the importance of shopping local. Short answer: bookstores are good/warm/lovely places that add so much value to the community, but they are also businesses, which cannot survive if you’re not shopping there.
Thanks to Lara Kaminoff for the cat mascot, Giles. Find more of her work here. Follow her on Instagram here.

02 Mostly Dark Fairy Tales

In which our heroine receives frontlist

Hello!

For those who are just joining us, this newsletter is a place where I talk about all the books I come across in life as a bookseller and hope to one day read.

This week I’ll be mostly talking about books that came out last week. Books can generally be categorized as frontlist or backlist, the former being books that are recently published or forthcoming. As a receiver at my bookstore, my main focus is frontlist. It is my favorite because you often get a say in where the book gets placed on the floor and I am a controlling pedant. Some weeks go by where I receive hundreds of new titles and not a single thing catches my eye. Those are sad weeks. Lucky for both of us, last week was not one of those weeks.


Wish I Were Reading

Northwood by Maryse Meijer

To include this on a list of books I want to read and probably never will is a bit disingenuous; I will absolutely read Northwood, but I really wanted to tell you about it. I loved Meijer’s short story collection Heartbreaker—full, as it was, with a sort of demonic whimsy—so there is no chance I’m skipping this new genre-shattering fable-like novella. Plus, it’s paper-over-board (that’s a hardcover with no dust jacket aka the superior format of hardcovers) with all black pages and white text. What’s it about? No idea. But I’m a sucker for anything that describes itself as a dark fairy tale. I’m also looking forward to Meijer’s next short story collection Rag coming out from FSG on February 12th.

The Naked Woman by Armonía Somers, translated by Kit Maude

Well hello Carmen Maria Machado blurb on the front cover. Feminist Press you say? A full misty, moon on the cover and “shocking erotic content”? I’ll be honest, I didn’t have to read a single word of this book, heck I didn’t even have to open it, to know that I very much want to read it. The Feminist Press’s website says: “In this searing critique of Enlightenment values, fantastic themes are juxtaposed with brutal depictions of misogyny and violence, and frantically build to a fiery conclusion.” I’m going to guess that the fiery part of that conclusion is no metaphor, but we’ll see. (Also, for those who don’t know, Carmen Maria Machado [whose blurb made me take a closer look at this title'] is an incredible writer whose short story collection Her Body and Other Parties was the best thing I read last year.)

How to Fracture a Fairy Tale by Jane Yolen

Are you sensing a theme? I mean, my wheelhouse is literally in the title of this book so how could I not include it? I’m more familiar with Yolen as author of the How Do Dinosaurs… series, but apparently she’s been called “the Hans Christian Andersen of America” and she knows her way around a fairy tale or two. Most of the stories in this collection have been previously published, but it seems to me a very good way to introduce myself to a new favorite fracturer of fairy tales.

The Lonesome Bodybuilder by Yukiko Motoya

Let me tell you about Soft Skull galleys. They all have a tall box on the back of them where they list what you can expect from the book. In a recent favorite, Vanishing Twins, I was told I’d learn, among other things “why The Handmaid’s Tale is erotic, why Who Framed Roger Rabbit is erotic, [and] why Moby Dick is erotic (and queer).” In The Lonesome Bodybuilder we are given a slightly different list:

I don’t know about you, but I’m completely charmed by this. Also, Soft Skull makes gif-versions of all their covers:

Oh, right, this book is a weird short story collection. That’s why I want to read it. I need no other reason.

Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

It’s not all weird short stories and fractured fairy tales in my TBR pile. I’m also interested in non-fiction.

There are not nearly enough books in the world that explore what life is like for people dealing with chronic illness and/or disabilities. To be honest, I didn’t give that much thought until I went to a Nicola Griffith reading for her book So Lucky and she spoke about the lack of “crip lit,” stories where disabled characters have their own narrative and their disability is not eradicated by the end of the tale. Since then I’ve been keeping an eye out for fiction and non-fiction that fills this void. Care Work is an essay collection about disability justice and building “radically resilient, sustainable communities of liberation where no one is left behind.” It looks like an important book that has something to teach absolutely everyone who picks it up.


Currently Reading

Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi

It’s been two years since Oyeyemi’s collection What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours came out so I literally jumped up and down when this galley arrived. Gingerbread seems to be vaguely inspired by the tale of Hansel & Gretel. So far it is about three generations of women and a very odd gingerbread recipe. Everything I love about Oyeyemi is present here, from her ability to quickly and simply paint a vivid character to her peppering of a story with mundanely magical details. I’m only five chapters in, but so far I’m really enjoying it.


Small Acts of Resistance

The midterm elections are over and the results could have been worse. As this interactive graphic from the New York Times shows, it actually went fairly well for Democrats. But there is still, there will always be, a lot of work to do. My next move is going to a workshop hosted by the League of Women Voters of the US (which is open to all genders). It’s an “in-depth look at the upcoming legislative session” and a place to learn effective ways of advocating for democracy. If you leave in or near Seattle, the workshop is next Saturday 11/17 and you can register here. If you don’t live nearby, I’m sure there is a chapter near you hosting something similar.


Other Ways to Find Me On the Internets

Once a month (or so) I host a podcast called Drunk Booksellers where my best friend and I interview a fellow bookseller while drinking. I sometimes tweet about books and politics. I sometimes post pictures of books I’m reading, or cats I’m hanging out with on Instagram.

Subscribe to this newsletter here.


NOTE: Most book links go to Indiebound so you can shop local via the Internet. Also, they are affiliate links so if you purchase something I get a tiny kickback (which goes towards my podcast because why have two affiliate accounts). Why shop local? Long answer: Here are a bunch of economic impact studiesabout the importance of shopping local. Short answer: bookstores are good/warm/lovely places that add so much value to the community, but they are also businesses, which cannot survive if you’re not shopping there.
Thanks to Lara Kaminoff for the cat mascot, Giles. Find more of her work here. Follow her on Instagram here.

01: A Kind of Introduction

In which our heroine tells you why she's here and why she's inviting you to join her

I guess the first issue of a newsletter needs some kind of an introduction, no? Who am I; why am I here; what will I write about; what is the answer to life, the universe, and everything, etc.

A Kind of Introduction

Hi. I’m Emma. Here are a list of the various ways I identify (in no particular order): bookseller, reader, writer, podcaster, former-cat-mom-now-cat-aunt, queer, Ravenclaw, type-A, Taurus, ENFJ, book hoarder, spreadsheet lover, Oxford comma enforcer.

(photo by Graham Shutt)

I’m writing this newsletter because, as a bookseller, I come across a lot of books I hope to one day read. Sometimes I take a picture of them, write them down in my notebook, add them to my reading spreadsheet, buy them right away, or try (and often fail) to remember them all. In my journal I keep an index of the books I mention (quotes, opinions, etc) in entries. This index has become a kind of map of my reading life, and I love that. I’m hoping this newsletter will become a map of my wish-I-were-reading life.

Ok, but why a newsletter? Well, I’m kind of obsessed with Nick Hornby’s column “Stuff I’ve Been Reading,” published in The Believer. Of his work I’ve only read High Fidelity so I’m no huge fan of Hornby, except I am because I love this column. I would read the collected works Ten Years in the Tub over and over again if there weren’t so much else in my TBR pile/shelf/spreadsheet. I heard he’s started it up again and I’m thinking about subscribing to The Believer just for that. For some reason I love getting a peak into another reader’s reading life. I thought other people may enjoy that too, but from me & about the books I’m not reading (but want to be reading), you know:

All the Books I’ll Never Read

(Or that I’ll hopefully read someday, but not now. Except that title is way less catchy.)

Our Lady of the Dark Country: Stories by Sylvia V. Linsteadt

I literally just heard of this book two hours ago. A customer came in to pick up their special order. The back cover reads:

In this collection of short stories, poems, and a novella, Sylvia V. Linsteadt explores the roots of patriarchal conquest in ancient Europe, and the possibility of something wholly different in both the deep past and the deep future. These are tales of women's power, of a strength rooted in the dark of the moon and the nourishing soil.

I am a sucker for

  1. short story collections

  2. feminine power

  3. general witchiness

  4. anything mentioning the moon

  5. telling the patriarchy to go fuck itself

So, yeah, this seems totally up my alley.

Never Learn Anything From History: A Collection of Comics by Kate Beaton

I saw the horse on the back cover of this book and did a double-take. Kate Beaton has a collection I’ve never heard of? Yes indeed, printed prior to her more well-known collections Hark a Vagrant and Step Aside, Pops. I found this while browsing the shelves at a friends house (trying to figure out how she organizes her books). I love the irreverent way her comics depict life, history, and ‘capital-L Literature’ Plus I feel like I basically get classics like Wuthering Heights without actually having read them. Thanks, Kate!

Feminist Theory and the Study of Folklore ed. by Susan Hollis, Linda Pershing, and Jane M. Young

That same friend has a shelf that I surmised to be the feminism/fairy tales/religion section. This book was on it. Honestly, I didn’t even flip through it. I will probably never read it. But I took a picture of it because I have this unfulfilled obsession with feminist theory and folklore—two separate (well, kind of) obsessions that have been married by this book (and loads of others, I know). By unfulfilled obsession I mean I buy books about, or keep lists of, feminist theory and also folklore. One day, surely, I will sit down and read the fairy tale, folklore, and mythology books I’ve been collecting; I will actually follow the self-created feminist theory syllabus that lives in my head. And then I’ll write a collection of feminist fairy tales (like that’s never been done before). It’s an ideal self—it’s a thing I say I’m interested in, with the books to back it up, but please don’t quiz me on it.


Currently Reading

I just finished Let Me Tell You by Shirley Jackson, a collection of new stories, essays, and other writings, edited by two of her children. I loved reading her early stories, but my real favorites are her essays about life, motherhood, and writing. Her idiosyncrasies are so endearing; I could not stop giggling while reading this. A favorite quote:

I’m going to get back all the books I ever lost, if I can find enough skulls

What a motherfucking badass witch she was.


Small Acts of Resistance

(Or one way I’m fighting back, and so can you)

I recently read One Person No Vote by Carol Anderson, which is a clear explanation of why our democracy seems to be breaking down (spoiler alert: it seems to be breaking down because it is). See, under the guise of protecting democracy from so-called voter fraud, the GOP is undermining it with terrifying voter suppression tactics. Anderson’s book (which is 36% notes and citations—aka extremely well-researched) will not tell you how to fight back—that’s not her job. But it will give you the facts and inspiration you need to fight back (I know, I naïvely still believe that facts make a difference).

If you have any doubts about ‘voter fraud’ and voter suppression, read this book and then pass it along to friends (and enemies and strangers). I’m not a one-issue voter, but I do think this may be the number one issue; every issue depends on who is in power and right now our elected officials are not representative of most Americans because so many Americans are being barred from their right to vote. Remember, voting is still a right, not a privilege; let’s keep it that way. And hey, it’s election day, so don’t forget to vote.


Other Ways to Find Me On the Internets

Once a month (or so) I host a podcast called Drunk Booksellers where my best friend and I interview a fellow bookseller while drinking. I sometimes tweet about books and politics. I sometimes post pictures of books I’m reading, or cats I’m hanging out with on Instagram.

Subscribe to this newsletter here.


NOTE: Most book links go to Indiebound so you can shop local via the Internet. Also, they are affiliate links so if you purchase something I get a teeny tiny kickback (which goes towards my podcast because why have two affiliate accounts). Why shop local? Long answer: Here are a bunch of economic impact studies about the importance of shopping local. Short answer: bookstores are good/warm/lovely places that add so much value to the community, but they are also businesses, which cannot survive if you’re not shopping there.
Thanks to Lara Kaminoff for the cat mascot, Giles. Find more of her work here. Follow her on Instagram here.

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