Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Special Offer on the Not Pulitzers

On Monday, the Pulitzer committee awarded its annual prizes for excellence in journalism and letters. For the first time since 1977, however, there was no award given for fiction. According to Sig Gissler, the administrator of the Pulitzer Prize, the three-judge panel failed to come to a majority decision regarding the finalists displayed to the left. 

Rather than argue that the system is flawed--there have been 11 instances in the history of the Prize of no award being given--we're going to celebrate all three finalists by offering a special Not Pulitzer Bundle.

Purchase all three books--Karen Russell's exclamatory debut Swamplandia!; the late David Foster Wallace's final work, The Pale King; and Denis Johnson's novella Train Dreams--and receive a 20% discount

Then, after you've read all three, you can host your own private Pulitzer ceremony, and bestow the award upon whichever novel you feel most deserves it. 

We've also put up a display of our recommendations for some of the novels we feel coulda, shoulda, woulda won the Pulitzer if anyone asked us for our opinion. No one did, but if they had, there would have been a winner this year. Just sayin', Sig. If you're reading this, consider giving us a call next year should this happen again.

So, again: purchase a bundle of the Not Pulitzers at a discount of 20% off list price (order online and we'll apply the discount for you or call the store at 415-397-2272), host an awesome party to bestow the prize on the most deserving of the three, and invite me. [The second and third steps are optional. But I'll bring the alcohol if you invite me.]

Friday, April 20, 2012

March's Apple-a-Month pick: New Finnish Grammar

It's taken us a while to get around to revealing to the wider world our Apple-a-Month selection for March, but we assure you it's no reflection on the strength of this fine novel by Diego Marani (translated by Judith Landry). If anything, the opposite is the case, this being one of the more memorable books I've read in months, one that continues to haunt me. Here's the praise I sung to our subscribers:
I've been a bookseller long enough to know that this book is going to be a tough sell. As memorable and heartbreaking a novel as any I've read in recent memory, New Finnish Grammar is saddled with both a dry title and unassuming packaging. It's unlikely that either of these things are going to grab a hold of you the way the extraordinary story hidden inside of this book will; you'd be forgiven for passing the book by, as I did for months. (Finland? Grammar? I'll stick with Fifty Shades of Gray, thanks.) But, when I finally gave in to the nagging voice that insists I read a certain book, I found myself caught up in a heartbreaking story about a man with no memory, no language and no homeland. Narrated in an earnest, straightforward voice, New Finnish Grammar manages nonetheless to speak to profound questions of identity and meaning, all while remaining as compelling as The English Patient.
At the time we mailed New Finnish Grammar, we weren't aware that it, along with Magdalena Tulli's In Red, our November selection, would be included among the finalists of the Best Translated Book Award. We're crossing our fingers that either of these books--or both!--will take home the prize.

And, for our subscribers, April's book will come with a special treat, so keep an eye on your mailboxes in the coming week. We think you'll be pleased by the surprise.

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Rare, Brave Story

I can't post my usual light musings because I just read Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West, reporter Blaine Harden's story of a young man's torture in, and escape from, a North Korean prison labor camp.

There’s no lyrical levity to lighten up this insider account. It’s a graphic and straightforward reporting of Shin Dong-Hyuk’s starvation, torture by sadistic guards, watching family members executed, a classmate beaten to death, and Shin’s mental anguish after his escape.

There’s some competition, I realize, for what nation’s citizens live the most harrowing lives of deprivation and degradation. But, it seems little media light has been shed on the horrifying inhumanity occurring within North Korea’s grey fields visible on satellite imagery.

The US intelligence community is aware of North Korea’s estimated 200,000 prison camp slavery victims. I appeal to US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta (if he’s reading this) to hold the Kim regime accountable for its atrocities.

Though I know this sentiment will contradict our official snarky vantage in this progressive urban vacuum, but reading Shin’s experience made me grateful to be American (despite our country’s own inequities, including with criminal justice and incarceration).

I urge Panetta and anyone not conversant in the reality above the DMZ, outside the Stalinist sound stage of Pyongyang, to read Escape from Camp 14.