Monday, March 30, 2009

Kicking off National Poetry Month

Over the last month I have been eagerly anticipating the beginning of April: NATIONAL POETRY MONTH! Wally and I have been brainstorming, preparing, and fan-girling (a term used here to represent the generally uproarious, giddy motions of two people REALLY into poetry) about all the things that we have organized to share and promote a love of poetry with our customers. Over the next coming weeks we will be hosting open-mic poetry reading sessions, a pajama poetry read-in day for kids during the Kid's Lit Fest, as well as a myriad of other events (see the newsletter!)

One of the things I'm looking forward to most is the Poem In Your Pocket Day. The history of Poem In Your Pocket Day, according to

"Poem In Your Pocket Day has been celebrated each April in New York City since 2002. Each year, city parks, bookstores, workplaces, and other venues burst open with readings of poems from pockets. Even the Mayor gets in on the festivities, reading a poem on the radio."

Last year, when I was working at Spellbinder Books in California, we celebrated Poem In Your Pocket Day with astounding results; we offered a homemade cookie to every person who came into the store that day and read us their poem. We had baked five dozen cookies for the entire day, and ran out after the lunch rush of customers! Needless to say, when Laura asked me to come up with ideas to celebrate National Poetry Month, this is one event I could not pass up!

To kick off National Poetry Month I would like to share one of my favorite poems...

"Shake the Dust" by Anis Mojgani

This is for the fat girls.
This is for the little brothers.
This is for the school-yard wimps, this is for the childhood bullies who tormented them.
This is for the former prom queen, this is for the milk-crate ball players.
This is for the nighttime cereal eaters and for the retired, elderly Wal-Mart store front door greeters. Shake the dust.
This is for the benches and the people sitting upon them,
for the bus drivers driving a million broken hymns,
for the men who have to hold down three jobs simply to hold up their children,
for the nighttime schoolers and the midnight bike riders who are trying to fly. Shake the dust.
This is for the two-year-olds who cannot be understood because they speak half-English and half-god. Shake the dust.
For the girls with the brothers who are going crazy,
for those gym class wall flowers and the twelve-year-olds afraid of taking public showers,
for the kid who's always late to class because he forgets the combination to his lockers,
for the girl who loves somebody else. Shake the dust.
This is for the hard men, the hard men who want to love but know that is won't come.
For the ones who are forgotten, the ones the amendments do not stand up for.
For the ones who are told to speak only when you are spoken to and then are never spoken to. Speak every time you stand so you do not forget yourself.
Do not let a moment go by that doesn't remind you that your heart beats 900 times a day and that there are enough gallons of blood to make you an ocean.
Do not settle for letting these waves settle and the dust to collect in your veins.
This is for the celibate pedophile who keeps on struggling,
for the poetry teachers and for the people who go on vacations alone.
For the sweat that drips off of Mick Jaggers' singing lips and for the shaking skirt on Tina Turner's shaking hips, for the heavens and for the hells through which Tina has lived.
This is for the tired and for the dreamers and for those families who'll never be like the Cleavers with perfectly made dinners and sons like Wally and the Beaver.
This is for the biggots,
this is for the sexists,
this is for the killers.
This is for the big house, pen-sentenced cats becoming redeemers and for the springtime that always shows up after the winters.
This? This is for you.
Make sure that by the time fisherman returns you are gone.
Because just like the days, I burn both ends and every time I write, every time I open my eyes I am cutting out a part of myself to give to you.
So shake the dust and take me with you when you do for none of this has never been for me.
All that pushes and pulls, pushes and pulls for you.
So grab this world by its clothespins and shake it out again and again and jump on top and take it for a spin and when you hop off shake it again for this is yours.
Make my words worth it, make this not just another poem that I write, not just another poem like just another night that sits heavy above us all.
Walk into it, breathe it in, let is crash through the halls of your arms at the millions of years of millions of poets coursing like blood pumping and pushing making you live, shaking the dust.
So when the world knocks at your front door, clutch the knob and open on up, running forward into its widespread greeting arms with your hands before you, fingertips trembling though they may be.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Oh! the Books You Can Book!

Tomorrow we will be selling books at Seussical Jr. down at the Morrison Center. In preparation for this event, we have flooded our store with the bright and nostalgic covers of Dr. Seuss books. I have been having flashbacks to some great times in my childhood. I once got in a lot of trouble for taking Hop On Pop too literally, I used to demand my eggs be dyed green, and the first book I translated from Latin was Cattus Petasatus (Cat in the Hat).

I privately think that the reason I became so active in environmental causes is because I read The Lorax as a child. I also think perhaps my best political essay was written in reference to the Star-bellied Sneeches. It's amazing how profoundly one author has changed my world-view.

We do have some awesome new interpretations on the old classics too. We have board books, cook books, pop up books, and a book with an internal elephant puppet! We even have some Seuss books I had never heard of like Hunches in Bunches and the Butter Battle Book.
If you love the good Dr. Suess as much as I do, then you should come in and reminisce with us. Either that or meet us down at the musical: March 28, 7pm, Morrison Center. Be there!

Thursday, March 26, 2009


Okay, so I'm going to talk nerdy to you. They told me to write a blog about books . . . they didn't tell me to make it appeal to a general audience: I guess that will change if they ever read this.

Have you ever said to yourself, "Kafka is just SO strange?" I'll bet you have . . . if you've ever read Kafka. Franz Joseph Kafka seems surreal and alien, yet his life was as bizarre and bleak as his writing. In fact, The Trial is an autobiographical recounting of his own experiences in an unpredictable regime, as a criminal in thought. Needless to say, Kafka is not the lightest or most coherent author with whom you might dally, but he has an odd way of reflecting the cognitive dissonance of actual experience in bizarre scenes which at once draw in and alienate the reader.

Kafka is not alone in this flavor of expression, yet most people see him as the sole example of his artistic style. Let's set aside, for the moment, Beckett, and those of his ilk who had surreality as their goal.

If you'd like to draw a comparison from authors in English, pick up Johnathan Swift; his humor is less obscure, yet his images fit the same surreal mold. Even in his non fiction, Swift advances his ideas by means of bizarre and surreal imagery; in A Modest Proposal, Swift suggests that the problems of food shortage and over-population might both be addressed by selling the children of the poor as food for the wealthy. This stunning essay not only brings light to the social inequities, but also to the modes of discourse used to justify unethical actions.

So you have Swift down, how about Rabalais . . . wait, chances are you've never read him . . . you may never have even heard of him, though he is generally considered a classic author. Rabalais is a French writer (in the development of the French language he is almost as influential as Shakespeare) who uses scatological categories in his fictional world to reveal the content of his experience and insight into modern culture. He is in fact so far outside the boundaries of what most Anglophone authors of his time considered good taste that, as far as I have been able to tell, no accurate and complete translation exists, probably because no one really wants to translate so much crude imagery.

Rabalais, however was the topic of what is perhaps the masterwork of the great Russian literary critic, Bakhtin. Ironically, or perhaps as a matter of causation, Bakhtin's own life was very surreal. In Bakhtin and Cultural Theory, a short sketch of Bakhtin's examination for doctorate, a topsy-turvey affair where the brash, underqualified, and unskilled puppets of the regime were able to deny his achievement in the face of the reasonable, erudite, and proven body of scholars in their midst. In short, his experience mirrors that of Joseph K. in The Trial.

So, now that I've taken you full-circle, I still can't seem to decide how I feel about the word kafkaesque, but I am pretty sure that it is not a set made of a single class.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Winter is, like, SO over!

A little while ago a former English teacher of mine asked me to read To Siberia by Per Petterson (the same guy that wrote Out Stealing Horses) so that she could talk about it with someone. Even though sad, Northern European literature isn't my favorite, I (being an incurable teachers' pet even 4 years after graduating) dutifully went down to the public library to give it a test run.

Unfortunately it was at about this time that all of the exciting, brightly-colored, cheerful, Springtime books showed up in our bookstore. While living through the tail end of winter, who really wants to read about Russian orphans when they c
an read about blueberries, fuzzy animals, and some good, old-fashion, fantasy action? Not me!

Just look at the difference in the covers, can you really blame me? So for now, I'm just racking up a library fine waiting for myself to get sick of the sunshine. But I am definitely looking forward to indulging in some more shiny, springy, eye-candy books!


Monday, March 16, 2009

Ten weird things I have learned from reading books

Outside of my bookstore persona, my friends often say that my head is filled with nothing, if not useless facts. But, to be honest, I was not the first person to bring light to these so-called "useless facts." Most things I learned, I picked up from (usually) some non-reference book. Here are a few cool facts I've discovered in the last few years!

1. James Dean only made three films in his short lifetime: Rebel Without a Cause, East of Eden, and Giant.
Maybelline "Maybe" Chestnut and her two best friends, Ted and Hollywood, drive cross country in search of Maybe's biological father, all while discussing the classic old school Hollywood films.
-Source: Absolutely Maybe by Lisa See

2. I've actually learned a myriad of things from The Art of Shen Ku; a Vitamin B6 deficiency, for instance, will cause sensitivity to sunlight, and people that are born in the year of the dragon and very compatible with people who are born in the year of the rat.
-Source: The Art of Shen Ku by Zeek

3. In the Old Testament of the Bible it says that when a woman is going through her "monthly cycle," anything that she has touched any male that is in the vicinity is NOT allowed to touch. In The Year of Living Biblically, the author's wife, out of spite, goes and touches everything in the living room while she is "cycling", so that he can not sit down- it is highly entertaining.
-Source: The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs
4. Vegetables can actually taste good.
When Mollie Katzen's The Vegetable Dishes I Can't Live Without was first released I was skeptical that there was ANY vegetable that I couldn't live without. But, being the world's worst vegetarian, I took a look, and low and behold, VEGETABLES CAN TASTE AWESOME! For any skeptics out there, try the cauliflower gratin with capers and bread crumbs: it's simple and can be served as a side dish or an entree!
-Source: The Vegetable Dishes I Can't Live Without by Mollie Katzen

5. In the Florida Everglades there is a critically endangered wildcat called the Florida Panther.
Nick and Marta go on a quest to find their missing science teacher, and on the way help to save a panther cub that has been separated from it's mother in Scat.
-Source: Scat by Carl Hiaasen

6. I have obtained a recipe to make invisible ink!
As a kid I remember thinking that the production of invisible ink was akin to Sasquatch, or the Loch Ness monster- a myth. One day I happened to stumble upon a real-life recipe for invisible ink in The Pocket Dangerous Book for Boys, and was thrilled. Who knew that any organic material that is clear can be turned into a heat-activated invisible ink?
-Source: The Pocket Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden

7. The assassination of President Lincoln included a plot to assassinate both Vice President Andrew Johnson, as well as Secretary of State William H. Seward. After the assassination, John Wilkes Booth, and one of his co-conspirators, David Herold, fled the state and instigated a 14 day manhunt that eventually ended in John Wilkes Booth's death.
Although my public school education did me well in some areas, I don't remember any information about Lincoln's assassination other than the fact that it happened.
-Source: Chasing Lincoln's Killer by James Swanson

8. It is possible to have punk rock ideals and follow a Buddhist lifestyle.
Noah Levine, son of Stephen Levine, the author and teacher of guided meditations, grows up in the 80's punk scene in Southern California. It's not until his last stint in juvenile detention that Noah realizes that he can integrate the ideals of non-conformity and need for change into a more peaceful, and less self-destructive, Buddhist existence.
-Source: Dharma Punx by Noah Levine

9. One of the first people to pioneer the reconstruction of dinosaurs based on the bones excavated was a Brit named Waterhouse Hawkins.
I was cleaning up the kids picture books section one day when I came across a really cool book called The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins. In addition to being full of useless knowledge, while simultaneously being the world's worst vegetarian, I also happen to have a weird obsession with dinosaurs. And man, what a book for everyone who loves dinosaurs! Waterhouse Hawkins was a sculptor who brought dinosaurs to life by making life-size models of dinosaurs in the Crystal Palace Park in London.
-Source: The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins by Barbara Kerley and Brian Selznick

10. It is ENTIRELY possible to write a whole book in fraternity-style speech patterns, and be both coherent and entertaining.
Daniel Maurer's new book Brocabulary carefully details how to brommunicate about ho couture, as well as how to be a chilletante, all while putting on the rouse of being an interesting and well-educated member of society.
-Source: Brocabulary by Daniel Maurer


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Erin Go Bragh!

Even since I was young I have had an uncanny fondness for St. Patrick's Day. Perhaps it was the feeling of connection to my Celtic heritage or perhaps it was merely its proximity to my birthday. Every year when given the opportunity to choose my special Birthday cereal I would inevitably choose Lucky Charms because of the Leprechaun. On my 8th Birthday I went so far as to play Pin the "Pot o' Gold on the Rainbow" at my party. Ever since I was young I have also had an uncanny fondness for theme parties.

Every year around this time I take the opportunity to reflect on the glory that is Ireland and Irish literature. I relive the sensuous pleasures of "Blackberry Picking" with Seamus Heaney, the bafflement of my first exposure to Samuel Becket's Waiting for Godot, and the joys of meeting the Irish Poet Laureate, Paul Muldoon.

I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Muldoon a few years ago when he did a small reading in St. Louis. He had unkempt hair, a wrinkled blaser, and an infectious laugh. He was everything you could hope for in a poet and more. His mellow, even lilt transformed his words into the stuff of legends, and I could almost smell the loam of Irish earth. That might seem a little dramatic, but his poems really did sound Amazing! with an Irish accent and a crooked smile.

So here's a little bit of his Ireland to get you in a festive mood

The Frog
by Paul Muldoon

Comes to mind as another small
amongst the rubble.
His eye matches exactly the bubble
in my spirit-level.
I set aside hammer and chisel
and take him on the trowel.

The entire population of Ireland
springs from a pair left to stand
overnight in a pond
in the gardens of Trinity College,
two bottle of wine left there to chill
after the Act of Union.

There is, surely, in this story
a moral. A moral for our times.
What if I put him to my head
and squeezed it out of him,
like the juice of freshly squeezed limes,
or a lemon sorbet?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

We have AWESOME customers!

I was working Monday evening last week, when I had a customer come in to find out if she could trade some of her books in for trade credit. Although I couldn't quite help her in that department, she asked if I could order a copy of The Watchmen for her. While I was waiting for my screen to load she told me that her son was really excited about the release of the film adaptation. From there our conversation went from her son's forray into making independent films, to good movies that we had seen lately. We sat and discussed our mutual love of Slumdog Millionaire. Both of us agreed that everything about it was amazingly well done; from the cinematography to the soundtrack, everything was perfectly orchestrated.

Although we were done with the formalities of getting a book order completed, this lovely lady and myself talked for roughly another 30 minutes before she had to go and I had to close down. By the time I walked out the door to go home I couldn't stop myself from thinking what a neat lady she had been, and that I hoped I would be in when she came to pick up her book, so we could chat again.

I wound up missing her by a few hours the day she picked up her book, but in my locker, waiting for me, was a copy of the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack that she had dropped off.

THAT'S how cool our customers are.


Thursday, March 5, 2009

Epically Good Poetry

With National Poetry Month fast approaching, poetry has been on my mind lately. Who am I kidding, I'm an English Major, poetry is usually on my mind. The other day a man came in to tell us about Open Mic Poetry readings at the Bistro downtown starting up on March 31st. Also, tomorrow, March 6th, there is a free poetry reading to celebrate International Women's day! That's at the church in Hyde Park 1520 N 12th Street at 7 pm.

So, I've been thinking, some of our earliest literature was in the form of epic poems: Gilgamesh, the works of Homer, Beowulf, etc. Our first inclination as a species when writing stories is to write poems.

I just finished a modern book called Because I Am Furniture by Thalia Chaltas that is hardly an epic, but it is an intense teen novel written in poems. It comes out next month and deals with an abusive father, complicated feelings of neglect and silence, and the ever present themes of adolescence. The details of abuse are clearly implied and thoroughly dealt with, but because it was written in poems they are never actually spelled out. I think that made this easier to read. If it had been prose it may have been too uncomfortable, too brutal, especially since I think this was mostly autobiographical. The veils of fiction and poetic devices do a lot for the subtlety of this book.

A lot of books have come out recently that tell us their stories through poems. Some that spring to mind are the teen books of Ellen Hopkins and Walter Dean Meyers, the children's books of Sharon Creech, and the novel Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow which is at the top of my 'To Read' stack.

What is it about narrative poetry that is so evocative? so addictive to our psyche? Is it a coincidence that we are cycling back to poetic narratives after all these generations? I don't know, but I think not. This is just the kind of thing I ponder while I'm drying my hair (believe me, I wish I was kidding). Anyway, something worth thinking about.


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Planet Earth, Tiny Homes, and My Own Space

When I started college, I was studying architecture - it truly is my first love. Unfortunately, math and science are not my strong subjects of study, and I ended up having to take the first of several math class for the pre-architecture program three times before I passed...and did so only marginally. Though not good with numbers, I could easily forsee that pursuing a degree which required taking classes multiple times would take forever.

Having dropped architecture, I floundered for a while and dabbled in education and literature classes. Eventually I stumbled upon social work and was instantly captivated. To this day, though pursuing a graduate degree in geriatric social work, my love for architecture still exists. Two of the coolest books on the subject that I have come across at the bookshop are A Place of My Own and Little House on a Small Planet.

Michael Pollan is best known for his 2006 work Omnivore's Dilemma and 2008 follow-up In Defense of Food. Written before his newly found fame, A Place of My Own offers up a quarkier, more personal side of Pollan. With guest appearances from builder/construction worker friends, reflections on Woolf and Thoreau, and initial writings on food and its connection between humans and the land from which it comes, Pollan covers an array of topics. What I found most captivating, though, were his thoughts on space; the questions he asked himself and readers regarding how much living space they actually need, and if their homes accurately reflect these answers.

And while I grew up in a household of five where one bathroom sufficed, some of the coolest homes I've yet to see - and currently desire - are not outlandish and huge. Rather, they are smaller and use space wisely; cuter and distinctly unique; eco-friendly and more energy-efficient than modern-day monstrosities. They are, of course, little houses on are ever-seeming-to-become-smaller planet...and suprisingly in sync with my own answers to Pollan's questions. You'll definitely want to stop in and take a peek at both of these titles!

~ Ross Wulf, Bookseller

Oh, Blessed Sleep . . .

Each evening I lie down to put my two year old nephew to sleep. I take two books from beside the bed. The first book last night was There's a Wocket in my Pocket, the night before it was Go Dog Go, but it needn't always be from the Beginner Books series. The second book is always the same: Dr. Seuss's Sleep Book.

There are some very good reasons for bringing two books: if I come with only one book, he will notice that I have not given him a choice, and he will subsequently demand another book, which is usually next to inaccessible, and interrupt our routine. Another reason for bringing only two books is that I can always be sure that Dr. Seuss's Sleep Book will, at least, be the second book we read. I must admit too, on nights when I am very tired, or have a great deal to do, I pray that he will choose it first, because that way lies slumber.

I pretend for a moment that I cannot see the book, he knows this game. "What does this say?"

"Dr. Seuss's Sleep Book," he says in that halting way only a child can, pointing to the words, as I do when I show him what it says. I turn the page . . . . "This book to be read in bed, Uncle Ty . . . ." From there we follow the path of sleep from the first yawn of a very small bug, named Van Vleck, until he falls asleep, usually before we arrive in the district of Doft. On those rare occasions when he does not fall asleep, we can always read it again; he loves that too.


Monday, March 2, 2009

Regarding stickyfish teams, I favor the bigfield fighting Koobish

Adam Rex's self-potrait

I had the great pleasure of working with Wally both Saturday and Sunday, and the even greater pleasure of introducing her to one of my favorite (if not my VERY FAVORITE) authors, Adam Rex. I was quite surprised, not only as a person that works in a bookstore, but also as a fanatic, that she had never even HEARD of Mr. Rex; as a formidable illustrator and author in both the children's picture book and children's literature markets, Adam Rex is quite recognizable.

I first discovered Adam Rex via one of my coworkers while I was working at Spellbinder Books in California, who told me that if there was any book that could sum up how amazing kids books could be, it was The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex. I was initially a bit hesitant to read Smekday because at that point I had a bit of a mental block about kids books, but my coworker reassured me by bringing in her treasured copy for me to borrow.

I was FAR from disappointed; in fact, I laughed so hard that I couldn't breathe or see, on more than probably a dozen occasions while reading. From that day on I vowed to put The True Meaning of Smekday into as many hands as possible to spread the wealth.

In addition to all of his own books, Adam Rex has been an illustrator for many other people's works. There have been a number of childrens books featuring his illustrations, but it was his original fantasy artwork for Wizards of the Coast, that was initially a hindrance for breaking into his now-established market.

Although I'm still waiting for Adam Rex to write another full-length book, I find myself continuously going to back to his picture books. The award-winning Frankenstein books, (Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich and Frankenstein Takes the Cake) as well as Pssst!, demonstrate Mr. Rex's talent for beautiful and intricate illustrations, as well as his silly sense of humor.

For now, it seems that I'll just have to sit back and wait. But, if you find yourself in the same situation that I'm in, having Adam Rex withdrawals, take a gander at his constantly updated blog for a quick fix to your Koobish blues!


A surprise party, of sorts