Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Most People Don't Want to Read

The job isn't much., but it pays and every once in a while someone gives me pizza. The problem with lifeguarding though, is that you are forced to listen to conversations you would normally run from. Look, you're stuck in the stand and people tread water in groups beneath you, talking about medicines and strokes, celebrity gossip, or what local newscasters they believe to be womanizers. Sound echoes off of water...
Yesterday, I was stuck in the chair while a trio of women were plodding along and talking about music. The conversation turned toward rap/hip-hop music. None of the three listened to it. America or the Eagles, yes, but hip-hop and rap, absolutely not. And one of the women, turning slowly on her water noodle, said: “I can't understand what they are saying. I just don't understand it. But when I think about it, I don't want to understand what they are saying.”
It occurred to me then, that this is the problem with literature and ourselves today. That is, perhaps we see a large quantity of fiction that is neither demanding nor moving because a large reading public is asking for just that. They don't want to be challenged or moved. They don't want to understand what the words mean.
Let me approach this from a different angle. Frederick Douglass wrote in his autobiography that his owner, upon finding his own wife teaching the young Douglass to read, said, “ 'If you teach that nigger how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master.'” Douglass reflects on this statement then by saying that, “it was a new and special revelation, explaining dark and mysterious things, with which my youthful understanding had struggled, but struggled in vain. I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty---to wit, the white man's power to enslave the black man. It was a grand achievement, and I prized it highly. From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom.” Douglass realized that he had been shut “up in mental darkness,” as he writes. What the slave owner was able to do was to keep his slaves from knowing the words that would set them free: freedom, abolition, rights. If a slave were to not know the word for freedom then how could they voice what they wanted? How were they to know it even existed? By controlling the language, by controlling language's use, slave owners were able to bind other humans into a controlled existence. Douglass' struggle to read is both a struggle to be able to perform the act of reading, but also to understand the words. To understand the words that were being withheld from him. His freedom was predicated on his ability to understand the meanings of the words he encountered and how to use those words on his own terms.
The reader who does not wish to understand what the words mean, who does not seek in either music, the visual arts or literature the meaning of the words that they read is prescribing themselves to a life of control by others, a life of mental servitude. If a reader does not seek to understand then any amount of information could be, and is, withheld from them. This argument is not new, George Orwell made it most famously and repeatedly. But it warrants looking at again, in light of the comments I heard offhand—the most telling time---and in light of our current sociological, political and environmental climate.
The fact that rampant human rights abuses, rising poverty and economic pressures upon the lower and middle classes, environmental disasters of cataclysmic scales and political scheming and money grabbing are not being screamed about en masse, is emblematic of a general desire to not understand the words that are being used around us. Call it a lulling, a refusal, malaise---what have you---it still stands that a lack of vocalized resistance coupled with actions to achieve the positive aims of that resistance would imply that certain words are neither being understood nor used in our common dialogue. We have refused to speak because we don't know the words to yell. We don't know the words because we don't want to understand what they actually mean. It cuts too close to home.
The phenomena of “summer reading” reinforces this argument. At the dawn of each summer we are inundated with lists showing the best summer reads. Often, these lists are accompanied by pictures of prone, tanning adults or teens, soaking in the sun on a beach. Behind the register at the bookstore we are often asked for “a good summer read. You know, nothing depressing. Something with like, a happy ending?” It is interesting to see this happen, this buying of books that are supposed to avoid any and all social realism and instead are meant to serve as “breezy” interludes before school starts again. Here, when people actually have the time or are making the time to read in quantity they do not want anything that reflects their daily lives, or the lives of others, accurately. But why not spend the time and effort to read David Simon and Ed Burn's “The Corner” or George Pelecanos' “Drama City” while sitting in the lawn chair with a beer?
Why not?
It is easy to blame social media, the internet, bad parenting and poor schools for all of this. But those are institutions run by humans and so humans are still at the root of the problem. And since not choosing is still a choice, to paraphrase the band Rush, humans still seem to choose to not look deeply into others or themselves. This in turn feeds the market, since so much of capitalism is built upon demand.
The problem has been shown, but the question still remains as to why. Why the refusal to want to understand the words? Perhaps because looking this closely at our selves is the hardest thing to do. Perhaps because truths that are uncomfortable and difficult may be exposed. Perhaps because upon knowing we will want to act, as Douglass did, and then we will be forced into another confrontation with our own hearts. It won't be easy, for as Douglass wrote, “as I writhed under it, I would at times feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing. It had given me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy.” But then he realized that he “wished to learn how to write, as I might have an occasion to write my own pass.”
No, it won't be easy. And in doing so we will see our wretched condition. But then we can move from seeing to action, from reading to writing, from reality television to living our own lives.
We need to learn to read first. Then we can write our own passes instead of having them written for us. We can become unmanageable in a middle-management world.
It begins with wanting.

Essay by William Hastings

Quotes taken from Frederick Douglass. “The Narrative Life of Frederick Douglass.” Dover Publications, New York. 1995.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Literature in the United States is Not Dead

Fiction is dead. The New Yorker inbreeds, repeats and exercises futility. Poetry in America is puerile. Best-seller prose has overtaken prose stylists. Everyone is reading vampire or zombie novels. The classics are being castrated and recast in bastardized sci-fi.

We've heard all of these arguments. We hear them every day. Especially in the media itself. And while there is truth to some of this, we simply cannot believe that fiction and poetry in America is dying or on the way out. Even with's strongarm, loss-leader buying practices and the wave of elitist e-readers for sale.

What we are seeing now is a repeat of the argument that has plagued the music industry for years. It was an argument that started in the music industry when the compact disc was introduced to replace vinyl. Consumers felt ambushed, artists felt a loss of control. Music seemed poised to die. Yet, it survived. So much so that between 2007 and 2008 vinyl record sales jumped from 988,000 to 1.88 million units. With the influx of digital piracy and file sharing the music industry again lamented its downfall and rightly so. However, a precursory glance at new music releases over the past month will show any casual listener that good music, damn good music, in America is alive and well. As much pressure as the industry faces artists still want to create and young, hungry musicians are still fighting to be heard. They are genre-bending music, while creating new markets for people to discover their music in. It could be argued that there is no better time to be a fan of music than now.

Likewise for literature. might be single-handedly trying to strongarm and sink the publishing industry, but small presses keep popping up and surviving. And while Anis Shivani will caustically argue that the “Best American Poetry” series has “been on a downward slope,” Alan Kaufman's brilliant anthology, “The Outlaw Bible of America Poetry” shows that poetry in this country is still full of as much spit, bone and napalm as it ever was. Poetry, like some of the best literature in this country, is currently thriving with the small presses. Steven Huff's work on FootHills Publishing, Laure-Anne Bosselaar's work with Copper Canyon, the poetry out with Coffee House Press or Archipelago Books, or any of the handfuls of chapbooks and folios being hand-sewn and printed in the United States indicate that poetry is alive and well and being well-crafted on the margins. Certainly, we'd love to see poetry being sold high above the potboilers on the New York Times Book Review's lists, but we know that it wont. But it's more than comforting to know that it is out there, alive and burning.

The hits that the publishing industry has taken over the past few years have only forced good literature to find new homes. While the major publishers still print and support great writing, their ability to hold and keep great writers en masse has diminished. So great writing, like poetry, has found smaller homes, different networks. It doesn't take much to find great writing in America. A quick recommendation from your independent bookseller will usually put you in the right place. Otherwise, a glance at any of the literary magazines in print would serve as a good guide. If that doesn't work, go into a bookstore and look at the spines of the books, find a publisher you have never heard of and buy the book on a whim. And while the merits of MFA programs can be and will be hotly debated there is without a doubt some excellent, emotionally powerful and intellectually stimulating dramatic fiction being produced in them. Whether it sees print or not. For what matters there is that people care enough about the craft at all to want to study it from the inside out.

Speaking of literary magazines: if we all were to subscribe to just two of them there would be a literary renaissance in this country. Think about that.

Literature is not dead in this country. It is alive, well and being produced at a fantastic rate. What it needs is a buying public that is willing to look for it in places it is not accustomed to and to buy it from places they haven't in years. What it needs is more debate like the controversy the New Yorker caused with its selection of great writers under forty. That article for all its flaws got people talking and making alternate lists, exposing the true literary scene, New Yorker magazine and otherwise, in America in all of its guises for the public.

Mostly though, what literature in the United States needs are more middle school and high school English teachers to teach students that there are great stories out there. To teach them that literature is meant to move you first and be analyzed second—or third, or fourth but never first. Those teachers need to emphasize the simple beauty of a well told story, not character charts or multiple choice exams. More importantly, literature in the United States needs parents to support those teachers and the writers in this country by turning the television off and then buying their child a book instead of a cell phone.

Essay by: William Hastings

Saturday, May 15, 2010

How to Buy Better Books

I read liner notes. It's why I don't download music: you don't get the booklet that comes with the CD or the moment that comes with unfolding the vinyl. Plus, you don't learn too much about the music without those notes. More importantly, you never get to see who played on the album, who wrote the songs or who produced it. And knowing those things are the keys to finding great music.

You know how it works. You carefully memorize the producers, record label, players, songwriters. Then you head into the music store and look for another album containing those names, some of them, any of them. Heck, if it worked once, it's bound to work again. This is how I got into jazz. I memorized the players on one album, especially on the Blue Note label which listed them on the back, and went searching for other albums with those players, or groupings of them. If Grant Green and Ben Dixon worked well on "Iron City" then they will work well on Big John Patton's "Let's Roll." If Gram Parsons' backing band on "Grievous Angel" can rip like that, they must certainly elevate The King on "Live at the International." And they did. Soul music works the same way. Anything on the Stax label will have their famous house band, how could it go wrong? Likewise, Motown, Hi Records or Fania.

Ever think of buying books like that?

We get a lot of requests for "books like..." or "another book by....or one like he/she wrote." We have no problem helping you out on those questions or pointing you in the right direction, after all, that's one of our more favorite parts of the job. But we are also here to help make you better book buyers.

On that note, there are some excellent small presses that are out there, who operate like the best record labels. They have good, tight collections, to the point where any book they are putting out is going to be worth your time. Trying to fill aspects of the publishing world that aren't being filled by the majors, or bringing back to life long-lost classics, these presses offer fantastic books by authors you may or may not have heard of. Some specialize in depth in a certain type of genre, others cover more ground. In the interest of keeping you searching and digging through the stacks, instead of the flash/bang trip, here's a list of some of these presses:

Akashic Books, Bitter Lemon Press, New Pulp Press, Archipelago Books, NYRB, Europa Editions, Busted Flush, Underland Press, Melville House, Dalkey Archive, Soho, new Directions, City Lights, Bleak House Books.

Next time you're in, carry that list with you. Look down the spines of the books and pay attention to the publisher instead of the author or title. You'll find some absolute gems this way. And isn't that what buying books is all about?

--William Hastings

Wednesday, May 12, 2010 Is As Useless As A Wart

Beirut has as many bookstores as it does bullet holes in its concrete walls. There's an old saying around the Middle East that goes, “The Egyptians write, the Lebanese publish and the Iraqis read.” Knowing this and seeing all of those bookstores scattered around the city, I knew that my time in Beirut was also a time to stock up.

I went to Beirut under a variety of guises: journalist wanting to see how people live, photographer wanting to capture a city molded from French and Arab influences and as a pilgrim wanting to venture into the Northern Lebanese mountains to visit Khalil Gibran's grave. The bars on Hamra Street helped me to answer the first part of my trip, the side streets the second. B'sharri, where Gibran's grave is, came towards the end of the trip, the Israeli fighter jets breaking international law overhead that day being the only thing that marred an ice blue sky. The whole time though, as I wandered and looked I saw bookstores everywhere. Small ones, without signs, tucked into alleys lit only from the inside. Large independents and large Arab chains thrusting themselves out into the foot commerce while shoe-shine boys dragging their boxes along behind them walked in front of the street displays. Outside of one, near Jalmeeze, a rose seller sat on top of a crate, her front tooth missing, asking if I wanted a rose to take home to my Syrian wife. “I'm not Syrian,” I told her. “American.”

“Does it matter?” she said.

The bookstores of Beirut are like the city's street signs: trilingual. Arabic, French and English. The bookstores and street signs as physical symbols of the city's history, the scars of its colonial past, its signpost towards an unknown future.

In between barroom discoveries, military checkpoints and near dawn dancing to Umm Kalthoum covers, I dug through the stacks in the bookstores. I bought all the out-of-print Arab writers translated into English that I could find and discovered some new ones for myself. I spent a rainy afternoon drinking Almaza lager beneath a green awning on Hamra reading Tayeb Saleh wondering where his Nobel was. I knew that Beirut took risks and published books banned in other Arab countries. I scoured used bookstores for Abdelrahman Munif, banned across the entire Arabian Gulf, and tracked down copies of Alhem Mosteghanemi. Each store I entered deepened the sense that I had that good bookstores held a window into understanding a city. The trilingual nature of Beirut's bookstores told me much about Beirut's citizens, the large poetry sections in each told me much about the Lebanese. And these bookstores were deep. Books everywhere, piling on top of each other on floors, windowsills and chairs with all of the available shelf space used up. Deep stocks for the demand. A demand that at night, on rooftop cafes with my sheesha in hand I would watch as kids, adults and couples read over dinner or with a beer. Bars had quotes from books written on the walls, a cab driver recited Taha Hussein to me.

Two days before I left I was wandering the back streets shooting pictures in the dying light of the afternoon. I followed an old lady up the sloping hill of a nameless street, shooting the flowerpots. I crested the hill and looked towards the bottom of the street. It ended at an intersection. Why not?

Just before I hit the intersection I noticed a small bookstore across the street. Small isn't right. Tiny. It was a box stuffed to the gills with books. Home.

I descended a half dozen steps and pushed the door open, knocking over a stack of books in the process. “Te Kalaf,” a voice said. “Wa ya te kalafeeyah,” I answered and restacked the books. The aisles, all three of them were as wide as I was, my shoulders brushed the walls of books on either side of me. French was against the far wall, English to the left and Arabic to the right. I went towards the Arabic section.

It was all there.

All that I wanted.

Seeing that the books were stacked three deep on the shelves, I began pulling books out to see how they were arranged. As I did so I saw how thoroughly the store was stocked. I knew then that they would have to have a copy of Al-Ma'ari in Arabic, the blind Syrian poet from the 1100s. I wanted in Arabic his: But truth still hides her face in hood and veil./Is there no ship or shore my outstretched hands/May grasp, to save me from this malicious sea?”

Blue cloth. Gold lettering on the spine: Al-Ma'ari. I nearly leaped.

“The Arab Socrates, no?”

I turned to see a small man, his face narrow and intelligent, standing behind me.

“Yes,” I replied in Arabic.

“Ayad,” he said, extending his hand.

“Is mi William,” I said.

He tilted his head to one side. My accent.

“Anna Amerikiya,” I told him.

“Ah. I wondered. Your accent is almost Palestinian,” he said in English.

“My tutor.”

“And you can read Al-Ma'ari?”

“A little. It's tough, its old Arabic as you know, but I want to have it.”

“And you should. Have you read Rabih Alameddine?”


“But you must,” Ayad said, turned and disappeared. I went back to the stacks, trying not to turn around too often in fear of knocking something off the shelves, and looked for a copy of Ibn Tarafa's “Mu'Allaqat” where he says, “Come off it! you who tell me not to fight &/ not to fuck, if ever I did quit,/could you offer me immortality?” Beautiful words for before 570 a.d.

Ayad returned, offered me a cigarette and handed me a copy of Alameddine's “Koolaids,” a book he described as being “incredibly important.” I opened it and began reading aloud.

We spent the next hour going back and forth between the Arabic and English sections, smoking cigarettes and drinking tea, reciting our favorites, swapping recommendations. As we read the stacks felt like they were closing in, each book demanding my attention. But the enclosure felt comforting, as if each new discovery could take me to the place I was looking for.

He asked what I was doing in Beirut. I told him I was a journalist. He smiled and said he was a poet. He went to a corner shelf, near the Arabic section and pulled down a book of his poems. He read to me. His lines were clipped and rang like ejected shotgun shells hitting glass floors. He spoke of the loss and the woman, that sharp corner of the night. Of cheating and knowing. Of the thing just beyond the fingertips.

He finished, smiled, lit another cigarette and inscribed the book to me. He shook his head when I asked him to add it to the stack of books I had going on the register.

Later, he slid a business card into his book and packed my purchase up. We shook hands and I walked up his stairs, past a stack of books and out into the falling rain, leaving the magic behind me just this one time.

None of that happens with

Photographs and Essay By: William Hastings

Friday, April 23, 2010

Kindles Aren't Books

I was twenty, newly tattooed and sobering up. I was running late. The Greyhound bus I boarded in Pittsburgh smelled like old sweat and food. A red-eye, I was going to move through the night, across the open fields of middle-Pennsylvania for a crack of dawn arrival in Philadelphia. There didn't seem to be an available seat on the bus and the driver was watching me through the rear-view to sit down before he backed out into the steel city night. I scanned the bus, tired, in and out of it, and saw a seat on the aisle three rows from the back. A large black man was in the window seat, more piled there than sitting, a muscular pylon rising out of the fabric. Our eyes met. I didn't have to look down into his to do it.

“Mind if I sit here?” I asked.

“Only if you'll talk about Nietzsche,” he said.

I looked at my hands. I was carrying the Viking Portable Nietzsche in my left hand, the cover facing out to the world. Red-eye reading.

We spent the next seven hours talking about the nature of god, will, the meaning of religion. He was a studying with the Jesuits in New York, on his way home from visiting friends.

That never would have happened if I was a Kindle user.

If I used that electronic reader, he never would have seen the cover, never would have commented and those seven hours would have been spent alone instead of in the company of someone from whom I learned much. A decade later I can still recall the smell of the bus, the gravel in his voice and his precise view on “Zarathustra.”

The Kindle gets rid of the cover and so it eliminates all the sweet, surprising moments that come with reading. Those chance meetings in a bar, a restaurant or cafe, the beach, wherever people sit and read and can see the covers of others' books. Wherever it is that they can comment on those covers and talk.

The Kindle kills the romance of reading.

With Kindles, Lawrence Durrell never would have found a used copy of Henry Miller's “Tropic of Cancer” in an outhouse on Corfu, sparking a friendship and exploration with Miller that lasted 45 years. America would never have known of Miller's work had that paperback not been found. With Kindles Mario Lima wouldn't read in the shower in Roberto Bolano's “Savage Detectives” and Bolano himself never would have stolen all those Philip K. Dick books that made him want to write. Jake Barnes waiting on a train reading “A Hunter's Notebook” loses something with a Kindle. That was always one of the best scenes in “The Sun Also Rises”: you can see Jake sitting there, in a suit, his legs crossed at the ankles and holding an open hardback copy of Turgenev in his hands. The train whistle sounds, he looks up at the station clock, smiles, closes the book and slides it carefully into his suitcase. The bull fighting awaits.

Picturing that scene with Jake and a Kindle takes away the possibility that another woman could happen by, comment on his copy of Turgenev and take up enough time to spare him from thoughts of Brett. It removes the edge off of the scene, it kills its musk and anticipation.

Kindles can't be rolled up and stuffed into the back of a pair of Levis. They can't be found in used bookstores full of another person's notes, those forlorn hieroglyphics from another's summer days. They can't weather the spilled glass of wine, the beer stains from those snow sodden January days at the bar. They can't be opened to the middle, stuffed with a postcard and a letter and mailed to your lover. They can't be hollowed out to carry a file to bust a friend from jail. They don't excite.

They are simply another way for someone to show that they possess something someone else doesn't have or cannot afford. In that sense, they are the perfect projection of status showmanship that has landed us into so much trouble already. But books were always the great equalizer. A paperback can pass hands in the street and illuminate the corners of life politics doesn't talk about. Chapbooks can build poets, underground newspapers get bound and create legends. Books get donated to homeless shelters and perhaps give hope. Charles S. Dutton took an anthology of black playwrights into solitary confinement while doing time on a manslaughter beef. He emerged wanting to act and start a troupe in the prison. He was allowed to do so on the condition that he get his GED. He's won more than a few Emmys since then.

Kindles aren't an equalizing force. While their cost may drop in the coming years they still will not gain the ability to be discovered, the ability to be smuggled, to be passed and recommended, mailed, inscribed, kissed, left behind on purpose, forgotten, tucked onto a shelf, stuffed into a backpack for the long hike, stuffed into a glove compartment with a flask for the long drive. Kindles won't join fire lookouts on mountaintops to inspire “The Dharma Bums.” Kindles won't force the revolution. Kindles aren't a threat people want to burn.

It's that ability, the ability to inspire, to strike fear, to engender love that all books carry and that all machines ultimately lose. They lose the romance of reading.

Someone stops into the store and asks how business is. Then they ask if “all those Kindles” have hurt business.

They haven't and they won't.

The machines will always lose.

Chance and possibility will win.

And on Greyhound buses running across state lines in the night, college students will still strike up conversations with saints over the paperbacks in their hands.

By: William Hastings

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Genre Not Genre

I'll admit to it, I have no shame. I used to shop in the store before I starting working for it. Rainy days especially. I'd come in with my brother, buy a stack of books and then head over to the Logan to read and drink by the fire and talk with Philip while he worked the bar. Each trip was the same, especially in Farley's: in the door, turn a hard right and check out the deep-stock of the poetry section. Then down to the middle aisle for the literature. Then the classics. Maybe bio or travel, history or current events, but I'd never make a trip without hitting poetry, literature and classics. But sci-fi or mystery or heaven forbid, true crime? Please, I wouldn't be caught dead in those sections, let alone reading a mass market paperback with the high-gloss cover. Literature, I read literature.

Farley's has humbled me since then. Taking the time to dig through the stacks and most importantly listen to the left-field recommendations of the staff helped turn my head inside out. Literature does not simply exist in the middle aisle or in the poetry section. Some of the best works of literature, especially in the twentieth century, were written and then sold in the sci-fi or mystery/crime fiction genres. Some of the best journalism we've seen is currently sitting in the true crime section. These are books that are so good, so perfect in execution, character and thought that they are elevated above the morass of the potboilers sitting in those genres. These are books that because of their perfections should be filed in that middle aisle. But, because the novels contain an alternate look at our world or future they are marketed by publicists as "sci-fi;" or because they contain a crime they are filed in mystery. Didn't Kurt Vonnegut write about machines, possible futures and science? Didn't Nelson Algren center his National Book Award winning "The Man With A Golden Arm" around a crime? Marketing, it's all done by marketing.

Our job is to turn our customers on to the best books there are. Many of those books are sitting in corners of the store that we unfortunately don't head into. Next time you're in, take the time to dig through the sections you neglect or get a recommendation. We're leaving the books where they're marketed for now, if only to lure you out of your book-searching-comfort-zones. If you want a superb prediction of where we're headed, go through sci-fi. If you want social realism, look for Philip K. Dick or Andrew Vachss. If you need a good biography head into the travel writing section. There's plenty more, plenty more. It's okay, trust us. I did. I'll admit to it, I have no shame.
Farley's Bookshop

Friday, January 29, 2010

Writers' Birthdays = Discounted Books!

Here at Farley's, we've decided to celebrate the birthdays of some of our favorite authors by sharing their books with you--at discounted prices! On the day of a given writer's birthday, we'll be offering his/her books for 15% off all day long!

Upcoming birthdays to keep in mind:
  • 1/29 Thomas Paine
  • 1/30 Richard Brautigan
  • 1/31 Norman Mailer
  • 2/1 Langston Hughes
  • 2/2 James Joyce
  • 2/3 Paul Auster
  • 2/5 William S. Burroughs
  • 2/7 Charles Dickens
  • 2/8 Kate Chopin
  • 2/9 J.M. Coetzee

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Farley's Book Club: February 2010

Think you know the story of Pinocchio? Think again! If all you know of the little wooden boy is his Disney incarnation, you're missing out... join us on February 16th as our book club gets together to discuss Carlo Collodi's original Pinocchio.

Though one of the best-known books in the world, Pinocchio at the same time remains unknown--certainly in America, where it is linked in many minds to the Walt Disney movie that bears little relation to Carlo Collodi's splendid original. That story--is about, of course, a puppet who succeeds after many trials and tribulations in becoming a "real" boy, and is hardly the sentimental and morally improving tale it has been taken for.

To the contrary, Pinocchio is one of the great subversives of the written page (you might compare him to his close contemporary Huck Finn), a madcap genius, hurtled along at the pleasure and mercy of his desires. It is his unabashedness, his unwillingness to give up on anything he wants, that drives him on and delights us. And Pinocchio the book, like Pinocchio the character, is one of the great inventions of world literature, a sublime anomaly, merging the traditions of the picaresque, of the commedia dell'arte, and of the fairy tale into a singular book that is at once adventure, comedy, and irreducible conundrum, one that anticipates surrealism and magical realism. Thronged with memorable characters and composed with the fluid but inevitable logic of a dream, Pinocchio is a masterpiece of satire, fantasy, and sheer wonder that is endlessly absorbing, amusing, and surprising: essential equipment for life.

In this new translation by Geoffrey Brock, the prizewinning translator of Cesare Pavese and Umberto Eco, Pinocchio finally has an English rendering worthy of the inspired original.

We'll be meeting on Tuesday, February 16th at 7 pm, and we can't wait to see you there!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Calling All Mystery Fans: 2010 Edgar Nominees Announced!

We have quite a loyal customer base of mystery fans, and this year's nominees for the Edgar Allan Poe Awards have just been announced! Awarded annually by the Mystery Writers of America, the Edgars honor the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction, and television.

Up for best novel are:

The Missing, by Tim Gautreaux

Sam Simoneaux's troopship docked in France just as World War I came to an end. Still, what he saw of the devastation there sent him back to New Orleans eager for a normal life and a job as a floorwalker in the city's biggest department store, and to start anew with his wife years after losing a son to illness. But when a little girl disappears from the store on his shift, he loses his job and soon joins her parents working on a steamboat plying the Mississippi and providing musical entertainment en route. Sam comes to suspect that on the downriver journey someone had seen this magical child and arranged to steal her away, and this quest leads him not only into this raucous new life on the river and in the towns along its banks but also on a journey deep into the Arkansas wilderness. Here he begins to piece together what had happened to the girl--a discovery that endangers everyone involved and sheds new light on the massacre of his own family decades before.

The Odds, by Kathleen George

The Homicide Department is upside down--Richard Christie is in the hospital, Artie Dolan is headed away on vacation, John Potocki's life is falling apart, and Colleen Greer is so worried about her boss's health, she can hardly think. A young boy in Pittsburgh's North Side neighborhood dies of a suspicious overdose. The Narcotics police are working on tips and they draft Colleen and Potocki to help them. In this same neighborhood, four young kids have been abandoned and are living on their own. The Philips kids, brainy in school, are reluctant to compromise themselves. But they need cash. Connecting these people and their stories is Nick Banks, just out of prison and working off a debt to an old acquaintance involved in the drug trade. Nick is a charmer, a gentle fellow who's had a lot of trouble in his life. One day he gives free food to the Philips kids, little guessing how connected their lives are about to become. Kathleen George's latest work pushes the edge--a spectacularly original crime novel.

The Last Child, by John Hart

Thirteen year-old Johnny Merrimon had the perfect life: a warm home and loving parents; a twin sister, Alyssa, with whom he shared an irreplaceable bond. He knew nothing of loss, until the day Alyssa vanished from the side of a lonely street. Now, a year later, Johnny finds himself isolated and alone, failed by the people he'd been taught since birth to trust. No one else believes that Alyssa is still alive, but Johnny is certain that she is---confident in a way that he can never fully explain.

Determined to find his sister, Johnny risks everything to explore the dark side of his hometown. It is a desperate, terrifying search, but Johnny is not as alone as he might think. Detective Clyde Hunt has never stopped looking for Alyssa either, and he has a soft spot for Johnny. He watches over the boy and tries to keep him safe, but when Johnny uncovers a dangerous lead and vows to follow it, Hunt has no choice but to intervene. Then a second child goes missing . . .

Undeterred by Hunt's threats or his mother's pleas, Johnny enlists the help of his last friend, and together they plunge into the wild, to a forgotten place with a history of violence that goes back more than a hundred years. There, they meet a giant of a man, an escaped convict on his own tragic quest. What they learn from him will shatter every notion Johnny had about the fate of his sister; it will lead them to another far place, to a truth that will test both boys to the limit.

Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death, by Charlie Huston

With his teaching career derailed by tragedy and his slacker days numbered, Webster Fillmore Goodhue makes an unlikely move and joins Clean Team, charged with tidying up L.A.'s grisly crime scenes. For Web, it's a steady gig, and he soon finds himself sponging a Malibu suicide's brains from a bathroom mirror and flirting with the man's bereaved and beautiful daughter.

Then things get weird: The dead man's daughter asks a favor. Every cell in Web's brain tells him to turn her down, but something makes him hit the Harbor Freeway at midnight to help her however he can. Soon enough it's Web who needs the help when gun-toting California cowboys start showing up on his doorstep. What's the deal? Is it something to do with what he cleaned up in that motel room in Carson? Or is it all about the brewing war between rival trauma cleaners? Web doesn't have a clue, but he'll need to get one if he's going to keep from getting his face kicked in. Again. And again. And again...

Nemesis, by Jo Nesbo

Captured on closed-circuit television: A man walks into an Oslo bank, puts a gun to a cashier's head, and tells her to count to twenty-five. When he doesn't get his money fast enough, he pulls the trigger. The young woman dies--and two million Norwegian kroner disappear without a trace.

After a drunken evening with his former girlfriend, Anna Bethsen, Police Detective Harry Hole wakes up at home with a headache, no cell phone, and no memory of the past twelve hours. That same day, Anna is found shot dead in her bedroom, making Hole a prime suspect in an investigation led by his hated adversary Tom Waaler. Meanwhile, the bank robberies continue with unparalleled savagery, sending rogue detective Hole from the streets of Oslo to steaming Brazil in a race to close two cases and clear his name. But Waaler isn't finished with his longtime nemesis quite yet.

A Beautiful Place to Die, by Malla Nunn

In a morally complex tale rich with authenticity, Nunn takes readers to Jacob's Rest, a tiny town on the border between South Africa and Mozambique. It is 1952, and new apartheid laws have recently gone into effect, dividing a nation into black and white while supposedly healing the political rifts between the Afrikaners and the English. Tensions simmer as the fault line between the oppressed and the oppressors cuts deeper, but it's not until an Afrikaner police officer is found dead that emotions more dangerous than anyone thought possible boil to the surface.

When Detective Emmanuel Cooper, an Englishman, begins investigating the murder, his mission is preempted by the powerful police Security Branch, who are dedicated to their campaign to flush out black communist radicals. But Detective Cooper isn't interested in political expediency and has never been one for making friends. He may be modest, but he radiates intelligence and certainly won't be getting on his knees before those in power. Instead, he strikes out on his own, following a trail of clues that lead him to uncover a shocking forbidden love and the imperfect life of Captain Pretorius, a man whose relationships with the black and colored residents of the town he ruled were more complicated and more human than anyone could have imagined.

To check out a complete list of all the nominees--including those for best short story, YA, critical/biographical, TV episode, and more--visit

Sunday, January 17, 2010

ALA 2010 Youth Media Awards!

This morning was a big morning for fans of children's & young adult literature, as the American Library Association announced this year's winners of its Youth Media Awards, including the Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz. Read on for all the details!

John Newbery Medals for the most distinguished contribution to children's literature

When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead

Newbery Honor Books:

Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished picture book for children

The Lion and the Mouse, by Jerry Pinkney

Caldecott Honor Books:

Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature

Going Bovine, by Libba Bray

Printz Honor Books:

In other award news, Deb Heiligman's Charles and Emma also won the first YALSA Nonfiction Award--congrats, Deb! Mo Willems won the Theodore Seuss Geisel Award for Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! (given for the most distinguished book for beginning readers). Walter Dean Myers received the first ever Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement; children's nonfiction author Jim Murphy won the Margaret A. Edwards award for Lifetime Achievement.

There's a great list of books that won the Alex Award as well, which recognizes adult books with appeal to young adults and includes Farley's staff favorite Stitches, by David Small. For a complete list of winners and awards, visit ALA Youth Media Awards.

So, what do you think of this year's winners? When You Reach Me has been a staff favorite at Farley's all year, so we're thrilled--but not surprised!--that it won the Newbery, and we're so excited for the formerly local Deborah Heiligman's successes. Congrats to all the winners!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Local Author Spotlight: Diana Wells

This weekend, we were pleased to welcome Diana Wells, author of Lives of the Trees to the bookshop! A friend to all trees and an advocate of green living, Diana doesn't travel much--to keep her carbon footprint low--but joined us for an exclusive signing.

Her books are favorites of ours in our Nature and Gardening sections, and her newest book, Lives of the Trees, is no exception. In it, Wells explores humanity's intricate and deep-rooted history with trees. As she investigates the names and meanings of trees, telling their legends and lore, she reminds us of just how innately bound we are to these protectors of our planet. Since the human race began, we have depended on them for food, shade, shelter and fuel, not to mention furniture, musical instruments, medicine utensils and more.

Wells was recently featured on NPR's "All Things Considered"; click here to learn more, and to listen to her interview in its entirety. Then, visit us at Farley's--the only place you can find a signed copy of Lives of the Trees!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Expand Your Reading Horizons with the 10-10-10 Challenge!

Be it one author by whom you feel compelled to read everything ever written, or that genre you're completely addicted to, it's all too easy to get stuck in a reading rut... to wrap yourself in that cozy little bubble of books you know you'll love and never crawl out. And really, who doesn't appreciate knowing that the next book you pick up is going to be one you can't put down?

But what about all of those amazing reads outside of the bubble? The ones you risk missing out on? That incredible biography overlooked by the fiction enthusiast, that perfect novel brushed aside by the history buff, that amazing short story collection ignored by the mystery-lover... well this year, we've discovered the perfect way to challenge yourself to pop the bubble and seek out books from a new section of Farley's: the 10-10-10 Reading Challenge.

The challenge was inspired by one at Library Thing, and is being spearheaded by two Twitter book professionals, Kalen Landow (@kalenski) and Melissa Klug (@permanentpaper). Here's how it works: choose ten genres/categories of books that are outside of your reading comfort zone. They can be anything you like! If you've never read a YA book, choose YA! If you'd like to make an effort to read more books by local authors, create a local author category! Then, try to read 10 books in each of your 10 categories by 10/10/10.

We know what you're thinking--100 books by October? Crazy! But the good news is that it's only a goal. If you don't make it to 100 by October 10th, no worries; the idea is just to challenge yourself to expand your reading. And keep in mind that some of what you read could count toward more than one category! For example, if two of your categories are YA and local authors, Marie Lamba's What I Meant... counts for both.

Farley's staffer Lauren has jumped in, with these categories:

Poetry/Novels in Verse
Science Fiction/Fantasy
Too Long TBR
Graphic Novels
Philadelphia Fiction
As-Yet-Unread Classics
Twitter Authors
Twitter Recommendations

To join the challenge, or just to learn more, visit Then let us recommend some great titles to you--from any section of the bookshop!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Congratulations to Matt Phelan!

Happy New Year all! We hope that 2010 is off to a wonderful start for everyone, as it certainly is for us... one of our resolutions this year is to do a better job of keeping up with our blog, and we thought we'd start by congratulating Matt Phelan, the 2010 winner of the Scott O'Dell Award!

Children's writer Scott O'Dell created the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction in 1982, hoping to "encourage other writers--particularly new authors--to focus on historical fiction." He hoped that this would "increase the interest of young readers in the historical background that has helped to shape their country and their world." Awarded annually, the $5,000 prize goes to a book published in the previous year for children or young adults. To learn more about Scott O'Dell and the Scott O'Dell award, you can visit O'Dell's site here. For more on this year's winner, keep reading!

The Storm in the Barn is an artful, haunting graphic novel following 11-year-old Jack Clark. In Kansas in the year 1937, Jack faces his share of ordinary challenges: local bullies, his father’s failed expectations, a little sister with an eye for trouble. But he also has to deal with the effects of the Dust Bowl, including rising tensions in his small town and the spread of a shadowy illness. Certainly a case of "dust dementia" would explain who (or what) Jack has glimpsed in the Talbot’s abandoned barn—a sinister figure with a face like rain. In a land where it never rains, it’s hard to trust what you see with your own eyes—and harder still to take heart and be a hero when the time comes. With phenomenal pacing, sensitivity, and a sure command of suspense, Matt Phelan ushers us into a world where desperation is transformed by unexpected courage.