Friday, December 16, 2011

The Best Books We Read 2011

As we did last year, we'll be running a series of posts featuring our staff members' selections of their favorite books read in 2011. Forgive our presumption, but we're booksellers: most of us can't limit ourselves to just one book.

Jeff's picks:

"A masterful work of sensation and criminal violence, this title is one-stop shopping for many of the greatest true crime cases in American history. The legendary baseball analyst's synthesis of thousands of frequently lurid and trashy books has resulted in this 500 page tome. James goes light on the gory details, but managed to keep me enthralled throughout. One of the best books I've read this year."

"The patient wanted her doctor's attention. The doctor wanted to be the next Freud. The author wanted a bestseller. Expertly guided by the doctor, the doped-up and delusional patient provided a spectacularly gruesome and almost entirely fictional narrative, which the writer honed into a mammoth bestseller, Sybil. Ms. Nathan answers the question which seems mystifying today--how did these two shysters (and their subject) successfully perpetrate such a fraud? I loved the author's previous work and this book also captured my heart."

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Independent Bookstores as Amazon Showroom? has been much in the news of late. They created quite a hullabaloo recently with their price comparison app. It would seem that Amazon is not content to be the largest retailer in the world, it wants to be the only retailer in the world. And given the way they treat their vendors, it would seem that they would not be kindly overlords if they were in fact to gain the world domination they seek.But then I came across this article in the NYTimes, and it got me thinking that they might be making a mistake. Here is the main point:

Bookstore owners everywhere have a lurking suspicion: that the customers who type into their smartphones while browsing in the store, and then leave, are planning to buy the books online later — probably at a steep discount from the bookstores’ archrival, Now a survey has confirmed that the practice, known among booksellers as showrooming, is not a figment of their imaginations. According to the survey, conducted in October by the Codex Group, a book market research and consulting company, 24 percent of people who said they had bought books from an online retailer in the last month also said they had seen the book in a brick-and-mortar bookstore first. Thirty-nine percent of people who bought books from Amazon in the same period said they had looked at the book in a bookstore before buying it from Amazon, the survey said.

So dig that- If Amazon succeeded in shutting down all of their bookstore competition, their sales would go down! Maybe it's time for Amazon to start helping us out with the rent. It's in their own best interest.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Titter for the toys for tots: Sat. 17th 2-4pm

You may have heard of him before, but you have never heard him like this. . .
He's the coolest dude from the chilliest climate on the Southest Pole. . .
Sometimes when he drinks too much egg-nog he does Christopher Walken impressions. . .
If you bring in a toy (or make a $ donation) for the SFFD Toys for Tots program he'll let you sit on his lap - he'll tell you a dirty joke - he promises not to touch you. . .
We didn't have a single complaint last year, so we invited him back again. . .
Appearing at Green Apple Books on Sat.17th 2-4pm:

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

the tuesday interview: gene luen yang

[thanks, as always, to royalquietdeluxe for this]

I first read Gene Luen Yang's American Born Chinese when I TA'd a children's lit class as a graduate student and was, without reservation, completely blown away. He lives here in the Bay Area and right after that I had a chance to hear him read at SFPL and then again, this summer, I head him read as part of The Diversity in YA Tour. He strikes me as genuinely curious and is thoughtful and creative in ways that inspire my own work.

RQD: What are you working on? What interests you about these characters?
Gene Luen Yang: I've got three different projects going on right now.1. I'm doing a graphic novel continuation of Nickelodeon's popular animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender for Dark Horse Comics. I'm writing and a Japanese art team named Gurihiru is drawing. I'm a huge fan of the original cartoon, so I'm very excited about this. Of all the main characters, Zuko is my favorite. I relate to his struggle to do -- or even know -- what's right.

2. I'm writing a superhero comic for First Second Books. Sonny Liewis handling the art. The story is set in Chinatown in the 1930's. I can't say much more about the project at this point, but I'm super-excited about this one, too.

3. I'm writing and drawing a graphic novel about The Boxer Rebellion for First Second Books. I've been working on this one for years and years, ever since American Born Chinese came out. The Boxer Rebellion was a war that occurred on Chinese soil over a hundred years ago. At the time, the Chinese government was incredibly weak so the European powers were able to set up concessions all over China -- pieces of land that the Chinese government had no control over. A group of poor, illiterate teenagers from the Chinese countryside decided to take things into their own hands. They performed rituals that called down ancient Chinese gods to possess them. Then, emboldened by the gods' superpowers, they marched through China killing foreigners and Chinese Christians. There are many parallels between The Boxer Rebellion and what's happening in the Middle East today. Of all the projects I'm currently working on, this one is closest to my heart.

RQD: What art or artists interest you?
GLY: I have to confess, I'm pretty comics-y. I read a lot of comics and I am primarily inspired by other cartoonists. My musical tastes are lame. I mostly like pop music from when I was a teenager (late 80's, early 90's -- Rick Astley is totally underrated, as are the Fine Young
). Even my movie tastes are comics-y. Like pretty much every other cartoonist, I love Studio Ghibli movies.

RQD: What book, story or poem do you return to over and over?
GLH: Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. As for prose books, I love Silence by Shusaku Endo.

RQD: What are you reading now?
GLY: I'm reading a collection of Father Brown short stories by G.K.Chesterton. I recently read The New New Thing by Michael Lewis. (I really wanted to read the Steve Jobs biography, but my library didn't have it so I settled for the biography of another Silicon Valley

As I mentioned already, I also read a lot of comics and graphic novels. Comics that I've read in the past month or two: Picket Line by Breena Wiederhoeft, My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf, Feynman by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Merrick, Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol, a
volume of Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen that I borrowed from a friend, Chris Giarrusso's G-Man with my kids, and the new Wonder Woman comic from DC Comics.

RQD: What did you read as a kid? What is its impact on your work now?
GLY: I read a lot of comic books. :) I also loved Orson Scott Card, Lloyd Alexander, Judy Blume, Clifford Hicks. Remember Clifford Hicks' Alvin Fernald books? I *loved* them when I was a kid. I wanted to be Alvin. I seem to be the only one, though. Nobody else my age knows what I'm talking about.

I remember reaching the end of the J section at my library and feeling lost in the adult section. That's when I latched onto comics. There wasn't much of a YA section when I was growing up.
Illustration: Still from Studio Ghibli via Cartoonbrew

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Best Books We Read 2011

As with most of us here, it is hard to narrow down the best book I read in 2011. But amid all the Faulkner and Bolaño, the DeLillo the Ondaatje, a new collection of Ambrose Bierce from Library of America, the latest from César Aira and Jean-Philippe Toussaint, and a new found favorite, The Land Breakers, (my new staff favorite that was recommended to me by Michael Ondaatje) by John Ehle. In all that fantastic reading and more I have narrowed it down to a new collection of classics and a new beloved author; Fairy Tales by the Brothers Grimm (TASCHEN) and The Armies (New Directions) by Evelio Rosero.

The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm
Leave it to TASCHEN to make the magical world of fairy tales that much more magical. They have pain-stakingly collected twenty-seven of these beloved Grimm fairy tales, newly translated for book lovers of all ages, paired with stunning vintage illustrations from the 1820's to the 1950's. Each story is separated and decorated with intricate silhouettes that were commissioned just for this edition. This is the perfect gift for children and adults alike to cherish these classic tales. For the art lover in you, TASCHEN has chronicled the artists and their history in the back of the book making this more than your typical collection of fairy tales. This book has also been Brain Pickings #1 pick for best illustrated children's and picture books of 2011.

The Armies by Evelio Rosero
Evelio Rosero has quickly become one of my favorite authors and Anne McLean one of my favorite translators. I picked up Rosero's latest short novel Good Offices and couldn't put it down. It is a dark and satirical look at the Catholic church, the politics of Colombia and the perceived worth we put on human life. And yet it is funny. The main character is a hunchback who is extremely smart and perceptive and not your typical Catholic hunchback. After finishing Good Offices I immediately (against my normal reading practices) read the first novel of Rosero's that New Directions translated in 2010, The Armies. This book kicked my ass. I have passed it on to others, and the response has been unanimous - this is a haunting masterpiece of writing and translation - everyone should read this book. Again Rosero writes of a small town in Columbia, this time it is a town caught in the middle of a war. Soldiers, paramilitaries, and guerrillas treat Bojayá and it's people as if they are nothing but a receptacle for their violence. Despite the violence and atrocities this book contains, you are constantly held by the stunning imagery and voice that Rosero brings to The Armies. This is the best book I read in 2011.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Meet Our Neighbors: Jersey's edition

[Here's Green Appler Kevin Davis with a story on our newish neighbors]

In our continuing endeavor to entice East-of-Stanyan-Street-dwellers to spend a day in the Avenues, may we introduce Jersey’s Sandwiches one block north of us at 6th Avenue and Cornwall.

Erick Morton, who owns the store with his wife Shannon Gnatek, curates his selection of ingredients: Charlie’s Pride brand navel cut pastrami, Carando brand Genoa salami, Dutch Crunch from South City’s Ofiesh family bakery outlet, freshly ground horseradish, homemade Russian dressing, freshly made pesto with roasted pine nuts, Chevrine brand goat cheese, Tillamook cheddar, crumbled Maytag pungent blue cheese, imported fruity and complicated Emmental Swiss cheese.

“It’s either that or not have Swiss cheese,” says Morton. “I’m kind of a nut about it. My food costs are out of control. I won’t serve anything I’m not proud of.”

“My starting point was friends and acquaintances,” says Morton, who developed his recipes through trial and error, seeking advice from contacts in his six years bartending at Beach Chalet, the old Broadway Street Enrico’s, Presidio Heights’ Spruce, and most recently the TenderNob’s Fly Bar. “I’d pick the brain of whatever chef I was working with.”

Jersey’s complex and time-intensive spicy chicken, for example, is brined in vinegar, then marinated in olive oil, rosemary, thyme, shallots, and garlic, which Morton then serves slathered in tangy chili pepper Sriracha aioli sauce.

Morton, 35, who grew up in the Manhattan suburb of Ramsey, New Jersey, poaches his meatballs in his own marinara sauce, and roasts the Angus beef and hormone-free turkey in the morning at Divisidero Street’s Solstice Restaurant.

The tiny Sixth Avenue storefront seemed a fit for both his small

convection oven and budget, without involving deep-pocketed partners.

“I saw the space available and it seemed affordable without getting a bunch of loans, just using personal savings to get a foot in the door,” said Morton, who has an SJSU Masters in Education.

Jersey’s has become an “industry spot,” said Morton, drawing a chef from Ligurian eatery Perbacco, a Michael Mina manager, and 23rd Avenue’s Pizzetta crew.

“That our customers are chefs, servers and bartenders, people in the know, who know what good food is, it’s high praise when people in the culinary industry like what we’re doing,” said Morton who lives with Gnatek across the street from the Masonic Street MUNI barn.

Royal Oak, Michigan, native Shannon Gnatek, 34, left waitressing at the casual Bell Tower Bar and Restaurant at Polk and Jackson to help at Jerseys full time, and before that waited tables at Union Square Morton’s Steakhouse for sometimes big personalities like Hulk Hogan.

“I dropped a bottle of wine on his foot,” says Gnatek who is taking a break from studying at 17th and Capp Street’s Shelley Mitchell Method Acting School.

Gnatek, who quit drinking two years ago, is currently reading Daniel Okrent’s prohibition history “Last Call,” which she was motivated to purchase by a Green Apple shelf talker.

Morton counts Orwell, Palahniuk and Suzanne Collins as favorite authors, but was most recently impressed with Michael Lewis’s The Big Short.

“It will piss you off,” says Morton, who honeymooned with Gnatek by visiting 23 countries in eight months.

Jersey's is at 200 6th Avenue at Cornwall. Call ahead to avoid waiting: (415) 221-0444