Friday, October 19, 2012

Pre-order SIGNED copies of Chris Ware's Building Stories

The inimitable Chris Ware is coming to sign books, and we want to make sure you get your hands on 'em.
And by book, we do mean the architectural marvel that is his latest, Building Stories. You may have seen it on our Facebook page, in our store window, or everywhere. A signed copy of this gem is worth having, and this is your opportunity to pre-order it.
Ware will be at the JCC on October 23rd, and we'll be taking orders up until that date. Unfortunately, due to the expected turnout, we cannot offer personalized inscriptions.  Order it now, pick it up (or have it shipped for free!) on the 24th! 

Building Stories, in pieces

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

(video) On Bookselling

We made this video for a contest: Why My Bookstore Matters.  Did we capture the essence of Green Apple?  What do YOU like about Green Apple that we missed? Do these books make our butts look big?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Relief for the blog-deprived

As you can see, we haven't been posting here much lately.  To best stay in touch with all things Green Apple, find us here:

We hope to see you in person soon!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

September's Apple-a-Month Club Pick: Don't Take Our Word For It...

Happy Apple-a-Month Club subscriber Michelle Richmond posted these lovely pictures of our latest offering on her excellent blog, Sans Serif. Maybe there's a filter involved, but I'm choosing to believe that this is just how nice the world looks when you open an Apple-a-Month Club package. 

Says Cervantes (in the above word bubble) of September's pick: “As the creator of the immortal Don Quixote, I (Miguel de Cervantes) deserve a suitably rich story, which I get here in Jaime Manrique’s Cervantes Street: a novel full of the vibrancy, clamor, and catastrophe of the 16th century. Manrique deftly intertwines my life and adventures with that of my friend-turned-rival, Luis de Lara. (Our relationship, unsurprisingly, soured over the love of a woman.) Told in alternating chapters, so each character (humbly permit me to say I get the better parts) gets his say, the novel builds layers of swashbuckling adventures and back-stabbing betrayals. A page-turner worthy of its subject.”

Want to unwrap a similar marvel -- and have such nice lighting when you do -- next month? Subscribe

Thursday, September 27, 2012

New Fall Season

The equinox has passed, autumn is in the air, bones are broken and brains contused against the skull--America's most popular sport has returned for another glorious season. While here at Green Apple, books on America's past time have proven more commercially viable than those on America's more violent Sunday showdowns, a few great titles concerning professional football have arrived this fall, to wit--

Best of Rivals by Adam Lazarus is an in-depth report on the days when Steve Young backed up Joe Montana during the 49ers glory years. Thankfully, the local eleven are quite strong this year, so the media isn't dependent on digging up old news to satisfy local fans. Nevertheless, having two #1s at your most important position is a good problem to have, except for the #1 who ends up sittin'. However closely one may have followed this story, there will be something new discovered in this exhaustive work.

The Last Headbangers by Kevin Cook is mis-titled, as many heads are banged, hammered and slammed in the modern game. To be fair, the violence of today's NFL is in many aspects quite tuned down from the legalized muggings of the 1970s. Cook begins his story with the 1974 Oakland-Pittsburgh Divisonal playoff, immortalized as "The Immaculate Reception" in the Steel City and remembered less charitably by East Bay devotees and sympathizers. Miami and Dallas figure in as powers of the time, and the end of '70s style pro football is marked here by "the Catch," the January '82 Dwight Clark reception heralding the rise of 49ers dynasty.        

The Code by Ross Bernstein purports to explicate the "unwritten rules" of the game and the penalties enforced by other players on those who cross them. In practice it's a compilation of anecdotes about the culture of physical intimidation on the field. No one wants to injure anyone, they just want to hit them so hard they stop playing. Well then.

The National Forgotten League by Dan Daly covers the early days of pro football, ending with the birth of the AFL in 1960. This book is also a collection of anecdotes, but darn, there are some good ones. The first professionals were regarded by the general public as thugs too undisciplined to work for a regular criminal enterprise. The fans were held in even lower regard, being largely immigrant single men who spent the Lord's day gettin' drunk and gambling on the aforementioned thugs. Football is a rough game today, but it's nothing like the Coal Leagues of Western Pennsylvania, where nationally renowned referees had to be imported to prevent fans who bet on the losing side from rioting.

The professional football season is only five months a year, so let those of us who care, care deeply, and let's use the power of reading to broaden our historical knowledge. It would be a shame to run out of things to yell about.      

Friday, August 31, 2012

An Election Year Message from Green Apple Books

The evolution of a Green Apple commercial:

1. It's campaign season. We should do something political.

2. We have this major online competitor, and we think people should buy their books from us rather than from them for a lot of reasonable reasons.

3. Reasonable is boring.

4. This happens:

Thursday, August 30, 2012

August's Apple-a-Month Club Selection: Gone to the Forest by Katie Kitamura

Wait, where did August go? I swear I left it around here somewhere.

Well, now that another month has snuck by without my noticing, it's high time we updated you dear readers on the exploits of the Apple-a-Month Club by introducing our August selection, Gone to the Forest by Katie Kitamura.

We first heard tell of Gone to the Forest months ago -- first from a sales rep whose enthusiasm for the book seemed particularly noteworthy, then over drinks with a fellow bookseller and longtime book buyer who works for a certain other legendary San Francisco bookstore. His raving about Kitamura's novel really sealed the deal, and we got on hands on it as soon as we could (this persuasiveness having nothing to do with the aforementioned drinks involved, I promise).

And then there was Julie Orringer:
“Gone to the Forest is a mesmerizing novel, one whose force builds inexorably as its story unfolds in daring, unexpected strokes.  Kitamura’s prose brings to mind Cormac McCarthy or Jean Rhys, but the music of these lines is all her own—lyrical, sharp-edged, spare, and unafraid. Be warned: you’ll find yourself reading long past midnight, out of breath and wide awake.  This is a bold and powerful book.”
And then there was Salman Rushdie:
One thinks at times of both Coetzee and Gordimer, but Kitamura is very much her own writer, and makes you feel keenly the tragedy of her three lost souls.” 
And THEN we found out that Katie Kitamura loves Green Apple (I hear the phrase "bookstore crush" was used), and while we had already made the decision by that point to send it to our subscribers so clearly we're not just being biased here, flattery never hurts.

Long story of accumulating book-buzz made short, in August, our subscribers were among the first to have a copy of Gone to the Forest put in their hands. Here's our pitch, to add to the chorus of deserved praise this novel has received:
Gone to the Forest is the story of a family in an unnamed colonial country  in an unspecified time, drawing the reader's attention directly to the riveting events taking place in a family in turmoil, with only hints of awareness that the larger world they inhabit is on the brink of civil war. The novel begins with a slow burn; Kitamura's pose, mesmerizing in its sparse, curt description, is a perfect vehicle for this tension as she conveys the complexities of fear, love, and home in the briefest of momentsGone to the Forest offers what few novels can: a story that feels at once eerily familiar and completely singular. In Kitamura's expert hand, it's a story that's sure to spellbind you.
(Interested in getting great new paperback fiction sent to you or a loved one once a month? Sign on up.)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Summer Means Ice Cream

As “summer” nears its end, the warmest days of the year are finally here, at least for those of us who live in western San Francisco.  So let’s talk ice cream.

We have a dozen or so ice cream recipe books on the shelves at any given time here, but of local interest are two newish additions to the shelf, both with a distinctly local flavor: Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream Book and Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones (the Bi-Rite Creamery’s entry).

They have a lot in common, from a predictable passion for good ingredients to clearly written recipes, from lavish full-color photographs to quirky flavors.  Both even feature mostly custard-based ice creams (vs. Philadelphia style ice cream, which is uncooked).  Mostly, the differences are in the tone and attitudes of the authors and in the details of specific recipes.  It’s almost as if one is the punk rock dude’s guide to making ice cream and the other comes from your smart, friendly, capable girlfriend.

Let’s start with Humphry Slocombe.  As I said, the roughly 40 recipes are clear and feature all the shop’s hottest flavors, plus some that rarely appear, from their top seller—Secret Breakfast, which includes bourbon and corn flakes cookies—through the rarely appearing strawberry (or, as they call it, “Here’s Your Damn Strawberry Ice Cream.”).  The really unusual recipes are those involving veggies, beer, meat, and cheese. The book also includes a few sorbets, sundaes, sauces, etc.  Overall, it’s a solid book and fairly priced at $19.95 from Chronicle Books.

The Bi-Rite Creamery’s Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones lacks the attitude, and makes up for it with thoroughness and 90 recipes.  There’s no lack of creativity, though—the book includes flavors like Earl Grey, Crème Fraiche, and Salted Caramel.  There are also a good number of non-ice cream recipes, including sorbets, cookies, sauces, ice pops, and more.  It is also a good deal—nicely produced, clearly illustrated, and bound in a hardcover for $24.99 from Ten Speed Press.

Take your pick—the edgy recipe book or the sweet one?  You won’t regret either one, so maybe just get them both.   

Thursday, August 9, 2012

San Francisco Punk -- Then and Now, Mostly Then

Reissues outsell new records. That's why shops, mailorders, and labels continually invest in them. People would rather buy something they know is good than something they have to try out. Also, every year there are new folks who are getting excited about these artists for the first time. This summer, reissued works of San Francisco punk from the '70s, '80s, and '90s have brought some long-awaited material back to the public. In this reporter's opinion, there is some seriously good shit to be had.

     In the fall of 1976, a teenaged Penelope Houston left Seattle to enroll at the SF Art Institute, up on the hill in North Beach. By 1977 she was fronting the Avengers, and her shorn blonde hair and leather jacket graced the covers of their records. By the time the band split in 1979, they'd recorded quite a bit of material, but only a single and a 12" EP had appeared. In 1983 the local label CD Presents released a self-titled Avengers LP, with almost all of their recordings. By the time I'd heard of the band, all of this material was out of print. As the years went on a few singles and live recordings appeared. It's only now, at long last,  that the LP has been reissued. Four Men With Beards is doing the vinyl, while Water Records is doing a double-CD version, with live recordings, outtakes, and a comp track--one of their greatest songs, 'Cheap Tragedies,' which appeared on the legendary, long out of print Rat Music For Rat People LP.


       In the winter of 1978, the British group the Sex Pistols played their final shows on an ill-fated American tour, finishing their careers (as did the Beatles) here in San Francisco. A twenty-something Texan, Gary Floyd, was at the show, and he retunred to Austin eager to contribute to the emerging punk scene there. It took too long to form a band, so he flyered the city with posters for non-existent shows featuring his non-existent band, the Dicks. But before long, the band was real. 1980 saw their first single, Dicks Hate the Police, an instant classic reflecting the, uh, tension between good-ol'-boy cops and Texas queers and freaks. In 1982 their first LP, Kill From the Heart, was released on Los Angeles's SST Records. At this time the band relocated to San Francisco, but after a particularly difficult tour the other guys headed back to Texas, leaving Gary to reform the band. This new line-up released the Peace? 7" in '84 and the These People LP in '85. All of this material went out of print, with Kill From the Heart and Dicks Hate the Police commanidng high prices on the collector's market and being repeatedly bootlegged. I'd never heard either LP until Alternative Tentacles reissued both this summer. The CDs contain the 7"s, and 1-2-3-4 Go! also reissued Dicks Hate the Police on vinyl. Kill From the Heart blew my [freakin'] mind--thrashy, bluesy, 90-second (give or take) songs guaranteed to inspire disgust in decent, patriotic people (racist police will be particularly offended.) Now I can see how the greatest punk history website in English was inspired to borrow this LP's title for its name. These People continues the attack, specifically targeting militarism this time, but with less thrash and more rockin' blues. Gary was and remains an incredible performer, so don't miss out when his solo projects perform.

     South Florida, early 1990s--four young men form a band whose name is an obscenity, causing them to sometimes play out under the abbreviated moniker F-Boyz. After a few 7" releases, the band relocated to San Francisco's Mission district. When the singer moved back home, the guitar player, Matty, took over on vocals, and they recorded their final 7",  vs. the Hawaiian Mafia, the title inspired, in what would become a recurring theme, by death threats left on their answering machine. When the bass player left as well, Matty and the drummer, Aesop, recruited a new bassist and formed a new band, Hickey. In the band's first three years they had three 7" EPs, two split 7s", and numerous compilation tracks. In '97 local label Poverty Records compiled all of this, along with unreleased material, as the CD Various States of Disrepair. After Poverty went belly-up, an East Bay concern, S.P.A.M. Records, reissued this disc, and soon they were gone as well. In early 1999 the band went "on hiatus," and while Aesop and Matty played out together and with others in a great many bands, Hickey never performed again. Hickey remained beloved owing to their inspiring songs, relentless touring, and amazing stage presence. Matty died in 2002, and Hickey's music (as well as other work of his) was posted free on a tribute website. A live DVD and a reissue of Various States were oft-rumored, but elusive. Finally, this summer saw Oakland's 1-2-3-4 Go! Records release a remastered CD and double LP reissue, with nine new songs recorded after the first disc had come out. I snatched up a double LP upon its arrival here at our Fiction & Music Annex, and it has yet to leave my turntable. These tracks highlight the range of styles the band had mastered, with catchy, melodic, sing-along numbers; epic, four-minute big-guitar meetings of punk and 70s rock; lazy, ugly dirges; compressed, savage, grating attacks; mellow indie rock... I can't stop singing these songs everywhere I go. Seeing the Hickey heart (their logo) spray-painted or etched in cement (like at Duboce at Church by the outbound train stop and the sidewalk at 9th and Irving) always makes me smile.

     To be fair, though, the greatest punk music is being made now, or at least that's the attitude you gotta have to avoid being a washed-up adult. All of the bands discussed above were very popular in small scenes, but largely unknown to the general public, and so it is with today's most inspiring bands. The easiest way to get a weekly dose of new and old obscurities is to visit a website hosting a weekly radio show recorded in a live/work space here in San Francisco. Maximum Rocknroll is a volunteer-run monthly magazine, thirty years old this month! Ever since day one these kids (in the political sense) have been digging in to the best music they can find from around the world. The radio show started in 1977, preceding the magazine by five years. The over-the-airwaves show died when the guy who dubbed all the tapes in real time to mail to radio stations finally burnt out. With the advent of internet radio, the show was reborn and remains strong as [heck.] The magazine is hella sweet too. Check it out in our Annex.      .   

Saturday, August 4, 2012

A coupla apples

It's been a while since we last updated our loyal readers (there are a few of you, right?) on the further adventures of our subscription plan, The Apple-a-Month Club. Although the last two installments have gone unreported, I can assure you that the program continues on, with your intrepid professionals scouring the latest and best fiction (and just to be complete, some of the not-best fiction, too) to dig up a book sure to delight, provoke, or otherwise entertain our subscribers.

If our reaction to the last two Apple-a-Month books is any indication, we think that our 8th and 9th books in the subscription plan are two of the strongest titles yet. Without any further ado, then, here's what we have to say about June's selection, Crusoe's Daughter:

"It's been a long time since I've been as surprised and utterly charmed by a novel as I was by Crusoe's Daughter. At once a masterfully written portrait of early twentieth century England and a fun story full of endlessly complex characters, Crusoe's Daughter begins with young orphan Polly Flint arriving at a strange yellow house on the moors which is inhabited by an even stranger pair of aunts. Through two World Wars, a bizarre stint at a mysterious home for artists on the verge of nervous breakdown, the lives and deaths of many of her loved ones and her own rather drastic ups and downs, Polly keeps close her beloved copy of Robinson Crusoe, which she considers her guidebook to all things. With nods Dickens and Charlotte Bronte (and the constant presence of Defoe) but with a wit and voice of her own, Jane Gardham weaves a remarkable tale of a life -- inner, outer, and all the intersections therein."

In July, we chose a novel translated from the French, Marie Chaix's Laurels of Lake Constance (trans. by Harry Mathews):

"History, we all know, is written by winners. Marie Chaix's  novel shows the flip-side of that well-worn axiom, offering a poignant account of a man (a fictionalized version of her father) who made a disastrously wrong choice and, as a consequence, ended up on the side of the losers. It's a novel about war, politics, and family. Even more, it's about distance: the distance between heartfelt conviction and the practical application of those convictions; the distance between members of a family; and perhaps most achingly, the insurmountable distances borne of war."

If either of these (or any of our previous selections) intrigue you enough to join our club for 3, 6, or 12 months, visit our subscription page or call us at the store (415-387-2272) or, hey, come on by! We like visitors.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Misshelved True Crime

While one might think the content of a non-fiction work indicates where in the store it will be shelved, this isn't always true. Today we will examine three books, all of which by content are clearly True Crime, but might be shelved elsewhere at the behest of the publisher's marketing department.    

     The first and most horrific title is A Stolen Life: A Memoir by Jaycee Dugard. The author was abducted at age eleven and lived the next eighteen years in a backyard shed in Antioch, CA. Her captor was a sex offender and the book does not spare much detail as to the circumstances she faced. I haven't read it, and maybe never will, as these particular gruesome details are too much for me. This title is marketed as a memoir, and I do trust the people at Simon & Schuster to know how from whence their stock will best sell. John Glatt's book on the case, Lost and Found, is shelved in True Crime, and there's no reason for Dugard's account to be anywhere else, except the belief that folks who do not browse True Crime will buy it.

      Just recently published and expertly done is Killer On The Road by Ginger Strand, published by the University of Texas Press. The back cover identifies the subject matter as "History," which is true in a sense but also disingenuous. The author looks at the effect the national highway system has had on murder in America. Most people today have lived with highways all their lives, so do not appreciate what an incredible change this public works project had on the country. She looks at particular cases in depth, and has no shortage of material to draw from. From my perspective, the greatest chapter concerns the Atlanta child killings of the early 1980s. The stated goal of building the freeway system through the heart of the city was to provide rapid access from the suburbs to the downtown core. As it happened, many thousands of residential housing units were destroyed, almost all of which had been occupied by black people. The black neighborhoods remaining in the shadows of the on-ramps were physically and economically divided from each other and the rest of the city. The result was neighborhoods which had not been poor became so, and those that were poor became desperately so. As readers of True Crime have noted again and again, the poorer the missing person, the less the police investigate. Students of the genre will be excited here, as for this chapter, Strand relies heavily on an out-of-print & scarce title, The List by Chet Dettlinger. He was an detective with the Atlanta police, one of many assigned to the case, and became rather critical of how the investigation was handled. When Wayne Williams went on trial for two of these killings, Dettlinger worked with the defense. Strand meshes the disregard for downtown Atlanta blacks by federal and local governments with the inability of all involved to stop these children from being killed. Once Williams was convicted of the two counts of murder, almost all of the twenty-plus remaining unsolved cases were closed. The final chapter of Killer On The Road examines the physically and psychologically punishing job of cross-country trucking, and the extent to which this profession attracts and/or creates killers. This book is highly recommended.

     Our final tome today is 2009's Police Interrogation and American Justice by USF professor Richard Leo. We shelve this title in Legal Studies, and have been able to sell roughly one a year since it came out. I'm not sure how much longer it will remain in print, but this book is important to an understanding of how the criminal justice system works in practice. Leo sat in on hundreds of hours of interrogations in East Bay police departments, and his research does not instill confidence in their methods. The list of True Crime books wherein a false confession enables the actual perpetrator to continue to victimize others would be long indeed. I: The Creation of a Serial Killer by Jack Olsen, Central Park Five by Sarah Burns, and The Devil's Knot by Mara Leveritt are three we carry new. This nearly happened in Bringing Adam Home by Lee Standiford. Edward Humes's out-of-print Mean Justice describes the production of false confessions as being considered quality police work in the eyes of exceptionally dangerous Kern County cops and prosecutors. Of course, coercing someone into an undeserved prison term is a hell of a crime in itself. Society is doubly victimized as the actual criminal remains free. Police and prosecutors have proven extremely reluctant to re-evaluate their techniques, even in the face of overwhelming evidence of their failures.

     Crime and anti-social deviance permeate our society. For sure Business, Environmental Studies, Political Science, Sociology, and any History section will have books just as fearsome as those to be found in True Crime.



Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Speak softly, but spread the word: the original venue for Litquake's annual bash has been changed at the last minute due to the club's violation of liquor laws. . .

Ironic that the name of this year's Litquake party is Password: A Literary Speakeasy, and will feature in-character readings from the likes of Dashiell Hammett (Eddie Muller), Dorothy Parker (Sarah Fran Wisby), and many others. Awesome that the shindig will be hosted by the lovely (but not so silent) screen-star, Louise Brooks (Alia Volz), and will include Prohibition-era cocktails, as well as jazz, and a caricaturist. Dreamy in the fact that there will be a Thin Man movie marathon.

Best of all - tickets are still available - just tell 'em Mergatroid sent you!

Thursday, July 19th 8:00PM
(new location) Public Works 161 Erie Street map

Saturday, July 7, 2012

no "Q"uestion about it

when people ask me where my favorite place to eat is around here i tell them hands down, unequivocally, with no bias whatsoever, in complete confidence and honesty: Q restaurant.  conveniently located a few blocks away from us at 225 clement (between 3rd and 4th avenues), this delectable gem has great food (seriously, the meatloaf and tater tots are my favorite), amazing seasonal specials, a fantastic wine selection (you gotta try the "Sexy" from portugal, no joke), a fun and energetic staff (some of whom just so happen to be good friends of mine, and the more you go there, you just might consider them friends of yours as well), funky decor (the magnet alphabet letters are a riot), yummy desserts and the proverbial icing on the cake: frooties that come to your table when the check is presented.  if that is a metaphor to sweeten the process of paying the bill then i am 100% behind it.  if you have never had a frootie, you are seriously missing out on one of the best candies ever invented, and i will argue my point with authority as i am considered 'that guy who likes candy' around the bookstore.  and here is the kicker, my favorite flavor:

and making a rare appearance for special occasions
(i ate dinner there last night and my server tossed these my way, laughing as she did so,
and honestly, what's a better occasion than that?)

so go see my friends, enjoy some down-home fantastic food, some sexy wine, the excellent musical ambiance (that i forgot to mention earlier), and some frooties in the best place to eat in the neighborhood.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012



The Third World is a tough place to live. Privation, a poisonous environment, ignored (at best) by state forces, malnourished and short-lived in sub-standard housing--billions of people through the world live in such circumstances. While existing in the popular mind as a far-flung locale, the Third World is better conceptualized as the land and people of any country deemed useless by capitalists. Comic journalist Joe Sacco teamed up with muckraker Chris Hedges to document Third World conditions here in the the US. Days Of Destruction Days Of Revolt (Nation Books) examines desperate and destitute people in New Jersey, New York, West Virginia, Florida, and South Dakota. Sacco's intricate artwork and unblinking sympathy dovetail with Hedges's examinations of social forces leading to personal suffering.

     A collection of Sacco's earlier work also graces us this month. Journalism (Metropolitan Books) collects pieces previously published in outlets such as Time, Details, Harper's, Virginia Quarterly Review, and the Boston Globe, among others. He focuses on migrants and the displaced, those fleeing economic or military crises. His artwork is incredible, but it's his relationship to his own stories I admire most. He includes himself and his gathering of stories in the comics, illuminating his own subjectivity as an author. 

     Probably these titles will not make one feel better about the state of our world. But as edifying recent history they are highly recommended. For those who are discovering Mr Sacco for the first time, his earlier works on conflict in Bosnia and Palestine are also a wise investment.       

Friday, June 22, 2012

Reading Harvey Milk Live

Authors KM  Sohnlein and Alvin Orloff read from The Harvey Milk Interviews: In His Own Words edited by Vince Emery, on Tuesday June 19 at the Human Rights Campaign Store

They, along with Daniel Nicoletta, Larry Bob Roberts, Tommi Avicolli Mecca, Marke Bieschke and Kevin Killian made this an entertaining and educational event. This photo was purloined from Kevin Killian's Facebook page. We had free cookies donated by Hot Cookie and coffee from 18th Street Starbucks. And we raised a little money for the Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

ashley's picks

perfect for a day underneath a tree in the park, on a blanket in the sand, for a few hours squished on a plane, or whenever you feel like taking a pleasant literary journey, here are some recommendations for young adults, kids and kids at heart for the summer.



the future of us by jay asher & carolyn mackler
when two high-schoolers pop a cd-rom touting free access to AOL in their computer, a strange website appears where they are asked to ‘friend’ people and ‘like’ their comments.  the website address is equally confusing, with ‘facebook’ in the title.  but it’s 1996.  ‘facebook’ hasn’t been invented, yet there they are, profiles of themselves fifteen years into the future.  and even more mysterious, actions that they took that day oddly change their status as they return to this curious website.  what consequences will they face as they tamper with the knowledge of who they will become, and what, if anything, will make them happy that far into the future?  perfect for the neophyte technophile in your life.


the catastrophic history of you and me
by jess rothenberg
who knew that it IS actually possible to die of a broken heart?  on the surface it seems like your typical first-crush-ends-in-tragedy-and-then-a-return-from-the-grave-to-learn-the-shocking-truth-about-what-was-really-going-on-in-your-life-and-getting-revenge-seems-like-the-best-option-and-the-after-life-guide-assigned-to-you-is-kind-of-cute-but-you-would-give-anything-to-have-your-life-back story, but is it really?  san francisco provides the perfect backdrop and the five stages of grief provide a template for this heartfelt post-mortem love story.

the statistical probability of love at first sight by jennifer e. smith
she missed her flight by four minutes, to go to a wedding she didn’t want to attend with people she has bitter feelings for.  and if hadley thought her life was turned upside-down due to her parents recent divorce, she was in for a big surprise when she met oliver at the airport, who sits in 18c on the next flight. her seat? 18a.  mysterious and british, he helps her see that her own attitudes toward family and love could use a new perspective.  sweet, poignant and romantic all at once.


me and earl and the dying girl  by jesse andrews
greg and his foul-mouthed best friend earl worship the films of werner herzog.  so much so that they make their own films with a very loose understanding of plot, characterization and story (read: containing none of those things).  but when a childhood ‘acquaintance’ (read: one of his first attempts at having a girlfriend) is diagnosed with cancer and his mom forces him to be nice to her, all his preconceived notions of what is good and right in the world go out the window, especially when she expresses how much she likes those cacophonous visual montages he calls ‘movies’ and what they actually turn out to be in the end (read: a surprise for all).  

middle grade (8-12 years old)


13 gifts  by wendy mass
Tara just got herself into a heap of trouble at the end of the school year, the kind that gets her sent to stay with her aunt and uncle for the summer instead of madagascar like originally planned.  she soon discovers not is all that it seems in the sleepy little town, especially when she finds herself indebted (as in her eternal soul type of debt) to someone who may or may not be the oldest resident, who knows more than she should and offers her a chance to collect 13 items in exchange for her help (as in getting her eternal soul out of hot water type of help).      


alien on a rampage by clete barrett smith
“so, what did you do for summer vacation, david?”
“oh, nothing major.  i went to my grandmother’s and discovered her bed and breakfast is actually a waystation for vacationing extra-terrestrials!  i can’t wait to go back!”
(spoiler alert: little does david know that upon his return he will uncover a plot to destroy the planet!)


horten’s miraculous mechanisms by lissa evans
it all started when stuart’s parents decided to move to the seemingly sleepy little town of beeton, despite his sullen protests.  when he arrives, a mystery surrounding a long lost relative who just so happened to be a magician draws him into a delightfully charming adventure including some unbelievable happenstances and some rather odd neighbors in the form of triplets named april, may and june who just so happen to be remarkably good at, i mean investigative journalism.


merits of mischief: the bad apple by t.r. burns
the kilter academy for troubled youth prides itself on accepting even the most unruly, undisciplined and difficult of children and thoroughly...rewards them for mischievous behaviour?!?!  full of whimsy and clever twists and turns, a definite must-read manual for benevolent troublemakers everywhere.

last but not least, my favorite book this season (for all ages)


the one and only ivan  by katherine applegate
humorous and heartwarming, poignant and thought-provoking, and a whole slew of words that escape me but would be perfect to describe just how wonderful this book is.  ivan, a gorilla in captivity since he was a juvenile, offers his thoughts about his art (when he is tired of drawing he eats his crayons), his philosophy on patience (he counts the days in a continuous tally) and ruminates on his own misunderstood intelligence (“try knuckle-walking for an hour.  you tell me: which way is more fun?”).  this story will delight kids of all ages and perhaps the next time you get the feeling the animals at the zoo are watching you with curious eyes, you may be right.

Monday, June 11, 2012

What the kids are reading these days, literally

SF's public schools let out on May 25, so it seems like a fine time to check in on what the kids are reading this summer.  To that end, here are Green Apple's top ten books for young adults and for younger readers.

Young Adult/Middle Grade:

  1. Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  2. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
  3. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
  4. Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
  5. Serpent's Shadow by Rick Rioirdan
  6. LEGO Ninjago: Rise of the Snakes by Tracey West
  7. LEGO Ninjago: the Golden Weapons by Tracey West
  8. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
  9. Enchantress by Michael Scott
  10. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Young Readers/Picture Books:
  1. Oh, the Places You'll Go by Dr. Seuss (a perennial graduation gift)
  2. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (Slide and Find edition) by Bill Martin, Jr. and Eric Carle
  3. The Monster at the End of This Book by Michael Smollin
  4. All Around the World by Geraldine Cosneau
  5. Inside Freight Train by Donald Crews
  6. Pierre, a Continuous Tale in Five Chapters and a Prologue by Maurice Sendak (RIP)
  7. Hug Time by Patrick McDonnell
  8. The Feelings Book by Todd Parr
  9. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle 
  10. The Boy Who Cried Ninja by Alex Latimer
As always, we're here with suggestions for kids of any age!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Your Mother Should Know now, if you got her a subscription to the Apple-a-Month Club for Mothers Day last month. So now we can tell you all about May's (topical) subscription book, which was The Book of My Mother by Albert Cohen, translated by his wife and published in a lovely new edition by Archipelago Press. 

 Albert Cohen's The Book of My Mother defies classification, as a tribute to the complexities and depth of familial love should. Part memoir, part novel, and written originally as a collection of richly narrative and descriptive essays, the book is both the story of Cohen's relationship with and loss of his mother (who died shortly after he had left France for London to escape the Nazis during World War II) and a meditation on grief, family, exile and isolation. While you should probably keep tissues handy, there's great joy here, too -- Cohen, who once claimed that his true homeland was the French language, relays his often playful love for his mother in what seems to be a love affair with the sentence itself, each remarkably crafted and full of wit and wonder. Both a timely and timeless read for the month of Mothers Day.

Which brings us to the here and now, which is, in a happy coincidence (er, Hallmark scam, or whatever) the month of Fathers Day. If you're still looking for a gift for your old man, the Apple-a-Month-Club might be just the thing (though, as far as we know, there isn't a "Book of my Father" coming out this month, except this one, which is of course very serious and hard-hitting non-fiction and therefore disqualified.) In any case, imagine the look of delight on any loved one's face when they see this:

Subscribe, or just stay tuned for next month to find out what we send out in June (bearing in mind, of course, that what makes mail better than blog posts is that, uh,  it comes in the mail.)

Friday, June 1, 2012

Question your teaspoons: an interview with Daniel Levin Becker

Daniel Levin Becker, San Francisco resident and Believer magazine reviews editor, is the author of a recently published study of the Oulipo, Many Subtle Channels. For those unfamiliar, the Oulipo--an acronym for Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, which translates into something like the "Workshop for Potential Literature"--is a predominantly French group whose members explore and expand the possibilities of literature by employing various formal constraints. These constraints range from the simple (for example, the procedure n+7 involves replacing every noun in a text with the 7th following it in the dictionary, a process that often yields inspired results) to the elaborate (see this list of some of the rules followed in the composition of the uber-Oulipian Life A User's Manual). All constraints serve to extend the boundaries of literature and bypass the old Romantic saw of "writer's block."

It's likely that you've read work by a member of the Oulipo, perhaps without being aware of it. Italo Calvino is a member (once a member, always a member), as are Georges Perec, Harry Mathews, and Raymond Queneau--one of the group's co-founders, in fact, as well as author GAB favorite, the irrepressible Zazie in the Metro.

Daniel, who was inducted into the Oulipo in 2009, kindly agreed to answer a handful of questions about his book, the history of the Oulipo, what the group can do for you, and some of the books that have had a lasting impact on him.


Green Apple Books: Throughout the book, you offer several definitions of the Oulipo. Are any of these definitions more apt than others? Have you formulated your own response to the (this) inevitable question of "What is the Oulipo"?

Daniel Levin BeckerI usually go with some variation of "a research group of writers and scientists whose collective subject of inquiry is the literary potential of mathematical structures." Sometimes--okay, often--I replace "research group of writers and scientists" with "bunch of nerds."

GAB: Can you tell us a little about how the Oulipo is constituted? How does one become a member of the group? How does one avoid becoming a member (or remaining a member after one is inducted)?

DLBOne becomes a member first by attending one of the Oulipo's monthly meetings as a guest of honor and presenting whatever it is of one's work that dovetails with oulipian interests, then by being unanimously elected by the group. One can avoid becoming a member very easily: by asking to be a member and thereby becoming permanently ineligible for membership. After one is inducted one cannot quit or be kicked out; the only official way to leave the group is to commit suicide for no purpose other than to leave the group, and to do so in the presence of a notary. A few people have distanced themselves from the group's activities by just sort of ceasing to participate, but they're still officially considered members, just inactive ones. This includes dead members.

GAB: You make a pretty sustained case in the book as to how and why an admittedly obscure French literary group has relevance to more than a coterie of like-minded enthusiasts. Can you briefly sum up this argument and tell us what an awareness or appreciation of oulipian methods can offer the "average reader"?

DLBIt's not mine to make, but I buy pretty wholeheartedly into the argument that creativity thrives on rules and constraints, and that there are rules and constraints in virtually everything we do--so there's potential for organized play, i.e. games, all around us. For me the games usually have to do with language, and are usually pretty momentary--but what's cool about this line of thinking is that (a) it can be anything with rules and (b) it doesn't have to be momentary, that you could use those rules to build something much bigger if you were so inclined. Consider La Disparition [Georges Perec's e-less novel, translated as A Void].

Irredeemably nerdy example of how this plays out: I passed someone on the street the other day wearing a muscle T-shirt that said "FUCK SLEEVES" and immediately (well, after thinking "that is awesome") thought of the band Fuck Buttons. And I got a few moments of joy from the contrast of those two structurally identical but culturally different phrases: why is it that on a T-shirt "fuck" reads as a verb and in a band name it seems like a functional attribute (i.e., "just press the fuck button")? What if you switched those roles and made "fuck buttons" a chant among rioting zipper industry workers, and "fuck sleeves" a really crude name for fishnet stockings? You could go pretty far with that little game (although I think it's probably pretty obvious why I let it remain momentary in this case). That's the "potential" part. 

Anyway, I think the idea of potential is mostly just that structures are there for you to play with in whatever way makes you happy and creatively productive. It's not just about creativity, though, for me and for most of the people in the book: to some degree we like games because there are rules and we're not faced with the complete uncertainty of the real entropic world, and by the same token there's something existentially reassuring about the idea that there are solutions to be found, the way there are solutions to math problems, even (or maybe especially) if you're only solving problems you set for yourself. 

I promise this is all explained more eloquently in the book. 

GAB: What's your favorite book by an Oulipian?

DLBIn an effort to be unpredictable, I'm going to say Calvino's t-zero. It's not actually very oulipian, just nerdy and brilliant. Ask me tomorrow, of course, and I'll probably have a different answer.

GAB: What are you reading now?

DLBI'm a ridiculously sidetrackable reader these days, but I just read Gianni Rodari's Lamberto Lamberto Lamberto (tr. Antony Shugaar) and I have open and active dossiers on Jennifer Dubois's A Partial History of Lost Causes and Sergio de la Pava's A Naked Singularity.

GAB: And, if the answer is different from the above, which oulipian book has had the biggest effect on you?

DLBIf you'll permit me the mischievous technicality of interpreting "oulipian book" as "book in the oulipian mode" rather than "book by a member of the Oulipo," I'll go with Nabokov's Pale Fire, thanks to which I discovered that the structures surrounding the apparent story--the paratexts, as I would later learn to call them thanks to the extraordinarily dense book by that name by Gérard Genette--could be just as interesting and dramatic, if not more so. 

GAB: Finally, if you could have a Staff Favorite at the store, what would you pick?

DLBIs it too late for [John D'Agata's] The Lifespan of a Fact? I geeked out on that book hard.

GAB: It's not too late. We geeked out on that pretty hard too.


N.B. -- An extended interview will soon be available on Writers No One Reads.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

in Praise of Pippi

My family and I are trading houses with a family in southern Sweden this summer, and, in preparation, I was searching for some leads on Swedish literature (aside from the obvious Stieg Larsson).  And my kids are at the age when they're leaning away from picture books and into chapter books--things like Ramona the Brave, Homer Price, and Ivy and Bean have been big hits of late.  Which led us to Pippi Longstocking.

Now Pippi has always been somewhere in my cultural memory, but I had yet to read this book until last week.  Don't make the same mistake.

If you:

  • have kids ages 5-7, read this to them.
  • have kids ages 8-10, buy it (or get it from the library) for them.
  • ever read youth literature, treat yourself to this wonderful book.
Why?  It's jolly good fun.  

Pippi is a young girl living with no parents, just her horse and monkey.  She possesses superhuman strength, and she often mocks convention (which the kids will love, of course).  She's fiercely loyal to her next-door neighbor kids, Tommy and Annika, and she leads them on a series of adventures that are a joy to follow.

I'm not sure what this book's central place on lists of Swedish literature says about the Swedish people, but I'm looking forward not only to our visit this summer, but to the next two books in Pippi's series.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Two New Books I Really Like (With Pictures)

It's been a bit of a whirlwind day/week/month here at Green Apple, and sort of in my life, too. So perhaps it's in search of some simplicity that now, sitting down to blog, all I want to do is tell you all about two of my favorite new books, and to show you what beautiful pictures they have. Don't be fooled, though -- though both of these books are heavily illustrated in some form, they are Very Serious (but oh so delightful) Books. 

The first is Antigonick, the hotly anticipated (er, hotly anticipated by me) new translation/interpretation of  Sophocles' tragedy by the incomparable Anne Carson (and published, beautifully, by New Directions). Re-working a classic tale is nothing new for Carson, a classical scholar whose work often either references, re-tells, or analyzes ancient Greek literature, but her particular style of translation is so unique, poetic and adaptive that it must be read as poetry all its own (creative liberties included -- as in her previous work, Carson often alters the spellings of characters' names and broadens the restrictions of space and time, allowing her, in this case, to reference to Samuel Beckett and Virginia Woolf in the first five pages of a story from 440 BCE.) What really makes this book a lovely object to leaf through, though, is Bianca Stone's beautiful accompanying illustrations, done on translucent pages that overlap Carson's handwritten text. Turning each page feels something like dusting off a relic. 

Despite its modern voice, its wit and its aesthetic charm, Carson is not one to make the tragedy of Antigone easy on the casual reader. And in case you're not familiar, it's a doozy. If you are familiar with Greek tragedy at all (SPOILER ALERT for every Greek tragedy), it won't surprise you to know that pretty much everybody kills themselves by the end, while the Chorus doth protest and mourn and hem and haw. It's great, in a way best summed up by this page:

As Simon Critchley once wrote, "tragedy is like Guinness. It's not supposed to be good for you."

My other favorite book of late is my new kids' "staff favorite", and has been nearly impossible for me to talk about without forcing whatever patient listener I've tricked into listening into full-blown story time mode -- every picture must be shown, every detail of the adventure recounted. Its debatable classification as a kids book aside, this beautifully (and not particularly briefly) written book also has its roots in the oldest of stories, a journey fit for its own Joseph Campbell PBS special. The book is Taka-Chan and I, originally published in 1967 and now in a re-issued edition by the NYRB Children's Collection. It's narrated by Runcible, a Weimerarmer who, according to his author bio, is a firm believer in broadening international understanding ("The world would be a better place if more dogs would travel", Runcible says.) He knows, because, according to this story, he once dug a hole all the way from his home on the beaches of Cape Cod to Japan, where he met a little girl named Taka-Chan. This and all of the adventures that follow are documented in the stunning photography of Eiko Hosoe, and, well, c'mon. Look at this pair and just try not to be charmed to smithereens. 



Turns out, Taka-Chan is being held captive by a fearsome sea dragon. In order to free her, Runcible must find the most loyal creature in all of Japan and lay a flower at his feet. The challenge is accepted, the quest begins. 

I won't give away the ending, but let's just say this is a hero's journey, not a Sophoclean tragedy. No reader will close this book with a heart un-warmed. I can't recommend this highly enough for anyone, of any age, with two feet or four.