Saturday, February 20, 2010

Gung Hay Fat Choy

A lot of independent bookstores are struggling in these tough economic times. Competition from the big chains, Amazon, e-books: it all chips away at the bottom line. But at Green Apple, we're holding our own. One might ask the secret of our success. Is it our business acumen? Our aggressive marketing? No, it all comes down to The Lion Dance. Every Chinese New Year, members from local martial arts clubs come around and, for a small donation, perform a Lion Dance in the entryway of the store and set off some firecrackers to ward off the evil spirits. This ensures good fortune for the coming year. So Gung Hay Fat Choy, everyone. For a good book on Chinese New Year, check out Celebrate Chinese New Year by Carolyn Otto.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


My latest staff pick, Alfred Jarry's The Supermale, just showed up at Green Apple the other day. A pioneer of the surreal and absurd in his time, Jarry was a notable figure in Paris. A drunken showboat, a rampaging cyclist, a brilliant author, an irresponsible owner of firearms. A destined pauper and a lifelong midget, his mere existence was controversial in the time of his life (1873 -1907).

Recently reprinted, in Jarry's fashion The Supermale still remains equally hilarious and bizarre. Some wary readers may be deterred as it is often cited as 'the first cyborg sex novel,' but really, don't let that stop you, your friends, your family or pets. Insanity, blasphemy. Whatever. It's been over one hundred years since the book was published and it still holds up as more clever than the bulk of literature published in the last ten.

Below is a quick short story by Jarry to give you glimpse of what you're in for. To read about the man himself, click his name below (highly recommended).


By Alfred Jarry

Barabbas, slated to race, was scratched.

Pilate, the starter, pulling out his clepsydra or water clock, an operation which wet his hands unless he had merely spit on them -- Pilate gave the send-off.

Jesus got away to a good start.

In those days, according to the excellent sports commentator St Mathew, it was customary to flagellate the sprinters at the start the way a coachman whips his horses. The whip both stimulates and gives a hygienic massage. Jesus, then, got off in good form, but he had a flat right away. A bed of thorns punctured the whole circumference of his front tyre.

Today in the shop windows of bicycle dealers you see a reproduction of this veritable crown of thorns as an ad for puncture-proof tyres. But Jesus's was an ordinary single-tube racing tyre.

The two thieves, obviously in cahoots and therefore 'thick as thieves', took the lead.

It is not true that there were any nails. The three objects usually shown in the ads belong to a rapid-change tyre tool called the 'Jiffy'.

We had better begin by telling about the spills; but before that the machine itself must be described.

The bicycle frame in use today is of relatively recent invention. It appeared around 1890. Previous to that time the body of the machine was constructed of two tubes soldered together at right angles. It was generally called the right-angle or cross bicycle. Jesus, after his puncture, climbed the slope on foot, carrying on his shoulder the bike frame, or, if you will, the cross.

Contemporary engravings reproduce this scene from photographs. But it appears that the sport of cycling, as a result of the well-known accident which put a grievous end to the Passion race and which was brought up to date almost on its anniversary by the similar accident of Count Zborowski on the Turbie slope -- the sport of cycling was for a time prohibited by state ordinance. That explains why the illustrated magazines, in reproducing this celebrated scene, show bicycles of a rather imaginary design. They confuse the machine's cross frame with that other cross, the straight handlebar. They represent Jesus with his hands spread on the handlebars, and it is worth mentioning in this connection that Jesus rode lying flat on his back in order to reduce his air resistance.

Note also that the frame or cross was made of wood, just as wheels are to this day.

A few people have insinuated falsely that Jesus's machine was a draisienne, an unlikely mount for a hill-climbing contest. According to the old cyclophile hagiographers, St. Briget, St. Gregory of Tours, and St. Irene, the cross was equipped with a device which they name suppendaneum. There is no need to be a great scholar to translate this as 'pedal'.

Lipsius, Justinian, Bosius, and Erycius Puteanus describe another accessory which one still finds, according to Cornelius Curtius in 1643, on Japanese crosses; a protuberance of leather or wood on the shaft which the rider sits astride -- manifestly the seat or saddle.

This general description, furthermore, suits the definition of a bicycle current among the Chinese: "A little mule which is led by the ears and urged along by showering it with kicks."

We shall abridge the story of the race itself, for it has been narrated in detail by specialized works and illustrated by sculpture and painting visible in monuments built to house such art.

There are fourteen turns in the difficult Golgotha course. Jesus took his first spill at the third turn. His mother, who was in the stands, became alarmed.

His excellent trainer, Simon the Cyrenian, who but for the thorn accident would have been riding out in front to cut the wind, carried the machine.

Jesus, though carrying nothing, perspired heavily. It is not certain whether a female spectator wiped his brown, but we know that Veronica, a girl reporter, got a good shot of him with her Kodak.

The second spill came at the seventh turn on some slippery pavement. Jesus went down for the third time at the eleventh turn, skidding on a rail.

The Israelite deminondaines waved their handkerchiefs at the eighth.

The deplorable accident familiar to us all took place at the twelfth turn. Jesus was in a dead heat at the time with the thieves. We know that he continued the race airborne -- but that is another story.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The 1,000 Copy Club, Part II

Last summer, we introduced Green Apple's 1,000 copy club: books that have sold over 1,000 new copies since our computer became able to track perpetual sales (somewhere around 1999). We sort of, um, forgot about that nascent series, but it's back at last.

Coming in just 140 copies behind our all-time best-seller--You Can't Win by Jack Black--is Brenda Ueland's If You Want to Write (@2329 as of today).

Clearly Green Apple customers do want to write.

If You Want to Write is one of those inspirational writing books that transcends writing, i.e. it inspires all to art, independence, and truthfulness. First published in 1938, it has clearly stood the test of time.

In part, sales of these two books stem from their placement on our Staff Favorites display and the shelf-talkers our booksellers wrote for these books. But there must be something else--other books sell for a while then die down, while these 1,000 copy club members just keep right on moving. . . .but why are our two best-sellers both from small presses? Why are both bestsellers over 70 years old? Hmm. . . .

If you need something to read (or want to write), take the tacit advice of almost 5,000 Green Apple customers over the last ten years, and try You Can't Win or If You Want to Write.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Poem of the Week by John Masefield

Happy Monday. I swam in the bay this weekend for the first time in a few months; the Mavericks surf contest on Saturday was epic; and I'm heading to the warm waters of Mexico later this week. So today's poem is salty. Anyone else hear the call?


I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song, and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a lughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

John Masefield (1878-1967)
from Poems of the Sea (Everyman's Library Pocket Poets series), 2001