Last week was moving week – which meant all sorts of chaos ensued, including, the moving of many, many, many boxes of books. 32. I counted. It’s probably way too many and I haven’t even gotten them all out of our old apartment. Downside to moving, less time for reading. My new nonfiction book club met mid-week, which meant mid-move, and I was the embarrassed leader who hadn’t finished the book. But I promise, reviews and other bookish wonderfulness to follow upon completion of moving and cleaning! As well as a gorgeous shot of my new bookcase wall!
Back in November I joined Libro.fm as they provide advance listening copies (ALCs) for booksellers. Libro.fm is the indie version of Audible with similar terms and selection. I finally put my free membership to good use and listen to Kristen R. Ghodsee’s book.
From the Inside Flap:
Unregulated capitalism is bad for women. If we adopt some ideas from socialism, women will have better lives – and yes, even better sex.
American women today are encouraged to lean in and pursue professional success, all while juggling relationships and the responsibilities of raising kids. But they face a rigged economic system that makes “having it all” impossible. What if there’s an alternative?
Kristen R. Ghodsee has spent years researching what happened to women in countries that transitioned from state socialism to capitalism. She found that, when done right, socialism can lead to economic independence, better labor conditions, and a better work-life balance.
Capitalism, it turns out, is the enemy. In the workplace, capitalism creates the wage gap between the sexes so that female employees are underpaid and overworked. it reinforces gender stereotypes at home, too, where women are tasked with a second shift as caregivers.
You are not a commodity. It’s time to improve women’s lives, and Ghodsee’s book is a spirited guide to reclaiming your time, emotional energy, and self-worth.
I hate the title of this book, I ranted against it every night I read it to my husband. Who eventually decided to pick it up himself and start paging through it to see what had me so angry. And he said, “I thought you’d love this book.” And I do, goodness yes, I love this book. But I hate the title. I feel like the entire premise and point of the book is lost in the sensationalist nature of the title. It’s like a click bait-y headline in my newsfeed, not the title for a book about feminism and socialism.
While I cannot begin to understand what living under state socialism was really like, I doubt it was quite as rosy as Ghodsee paints it. But this book is not really about what Soviet socialism was like, but merely uses it to compare and contrast the experience of women in the west under capitalism (primarily in the USA) and that of women in the Eastern Bloc in the days of the Iron Curtain. And while the primary argument gets a bit repetitive, it is, at its basis, the root of feminism.
Capitalism is built on women’s unpaid labor. Because women work primarily in the home, they have consistently been dependent on male family members, especially spouses, for all their basic needs, from income to health care. Under socialism, when women work outside the home and receive a fair wage, more government and public funds are put into their support with public day cares, and other facilities to assist families in care taking responsibilities. The Scandinavian system of public welfare and socialism is held up as the supreme ideology that all nations should strive for.
Whether this is feasible or not in the US, I honestly don’t know. But it certainly and intriguing point and line of questioning that Ghodsee undertakes to explore and I would be interested to see how, after the next election cycle, our system of governance might change and evolve.
Rating: 9 out of 10 stars
Edition: Hardcover • $22.00 • 9781568588902 • 240 pages • published November 2018 by Bold Type Books • average Goodreads rating 3.95 out of 5 stars • read in April 2019
As spring approaches, I look forward to books that bring not only a smile to my face, but a laugh as well. Below are some of my favorite books that genuinely made me laugh out loud.
As the anniversary of his death approaches, I think long and hard about Robin Williams – he who laughs loudest and longest is usually in the most pain. Tony made me laugh, and I will forever be grateful for that.
I laughed so hard I was crying. Though my laughter here has been tampered a bit by the fact that Allie Brosh has rarely been seen either in public or online for 5 1/2 years now and her second book is indefinitely postponed. Allie, wherever you are, I hope you’re okay.
I didn’t realize the mental health theme here until I started writing these descriptions. One way of combating depression, which each author thus far has always been transparent in discussing, is humor.
After recently finishing her disappointing follow up, I wanted to remind myself why I love Alyssa so much. She truly is a most relatable woman.
Princess Margaret was a very unique character and while her life was clearly sad, the way she handled being the Queen’s little sister offers a great deal of humor.
I begged and begged our publisher rep for an advance copy of this book because I loved Who Thought This was a Good Idea? And when she didn’t send one, I was devastated, but of course, still read it when it arrived on the shelves for sale!
From the Inside Flap:
Alyssa Mastromonaco is back with a bold, no-nonsense, and no-holds-barred twenty-first-century girl’s guide to life, tackling the highs and lows of bodies, politics, relationships, education, life on the internet, pop culture, and spontaneous motorcycle trips along the Japanese coast. Whether discussing the future of diplomacy or high-profile dance-offs, working int eh West Wing or working on finding a pair of underwear that doesn’t make her look like a Teletubby, Alyssa leaves no stone unturned… and no awkward situation unexamined.
So Here’s the Thing… brings a sharp eye and outsize sense of humor to the myriad issues facing women the world over, both in and out of the workplace. Along with Alyssa’s personal experiences and hard-won life lessons, interviews with women like Monica Lewinsky, Susan Rice, and Chelsea Handler round out this modern women’s guide to, well, just about everything you can think of.
I love Alyssa Mastromonaco. I did not love So Here’s the Thing… Which is upsetting to me. As a bookseller, my goal is to bridge the divide between readers and authors and also help to expose readers to something new and different. When I loved Who Thought This was a Good Idea? so much, I shared it with a middle aged woman who once walked into the store wearing a MAGA hat. She loved it. Bridging the divide, one step at at time. When she asked for So Here’s the Thing… I had to think long and hard about whether I recommended it or not.
The publisher’s marketing is misleading. Alyssa spends the first quarter of the book rallying against our president. I think everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I wouldn’t be such a big fan if I didn’t find myself often agreeing with her. However, I feel there is a time and a place for such rhetoric. And based on the marketing of this book, I felt the publisher tried to hide the truly divisive language found between the front and back cover.
Additionally, the non-political parts felt like a rehashing of anecdotes from Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? I loved it, but this felt like the fat that was trimmed from the first one. And trimmed for a reason. I understood the point of the book to be on offering helpful advice to twenty-first century women, and while I still respect Alyssa and look forward to any further books she may write, I was left incredibly disappointed by So Here’s the Thing…
Rating: 6 out of 10 stars
Edition: Hardcover • $27.00 • 9781538731550 • 240 pages • published March 2019 by Twelve • average Goodreads rating 3.92 out of 5 stars • read March 2019
Diary of a Bookseller, Day 3
I support the freedom of speech and freedom of the press. I work in a local bookstore, one of the last bastions of free speech. I’m also lucky enough, that in my role as the assistant manager at a local independent bookstore, I’ve been featured in local publications three times in as many years, the most recently this past weekend.
My favorite books of the last few years have been the memoirs and biographies of journalists, specifically those of Lynsey Addario, Marie Colvin and Martha Gellhorn. So when a local Philadelphia journalist approached me about writing an article about the store a few weeks ago, I said yes. Not just because I wanted to be in the paper and online, but because I want to support our journalists in reporters in their efforts to tell the truth. Why so important in this particular instance? Because she wanted to talk about my least favorite shelf space in the store: the politics section.
My boss and I sat down with Maria Panaritis, and talked about how that section has changed since the election of 2016. And admittedly, I had some sleepless nights before hand, agonizing about what I could say that wouldn’t alienate any of our customers. Because even the customers with different political ideologies than me, still choose to support a local bookstore and I vowed not to forget that. I love our customers, and I want to represent them, just as much as the store. And thankfully, the feedback so far has been positive. For your reading pleasure, if you so choose, are the three articles I mentioned at the start.
I alternate back and forth between loving and hating celebrities memoirs. The hate, from the fact that they often are approached by a publisher to write a book, or their agents have very little difficulty finding a buyer for a proposed memoir. Whereas the rest of us aspiring writers have to grind our teeth writing query letter after query letter. The love side, comes from the content. They offer a mostly safe palate cleanser read, best read between heavier books from which one needs to recover. So here are my top choices, in no particular order:
While full of more name dropping than I typically care to endure, it’s been a long time since I’ve laughed so hard at a book. I loved Always Look on the Bright Side of Life and will read anything and everything now that Eric Idle chooses to write.
I’ve loved The Princess Bride for most of my life and when my coworker told me how wonderful As You Wish is, and I discovered the audiobook is narrated by almost the whole cast, I was completely hooked.
Part memoir, part self-help, Iliza’s book is both helpful and humorous. I love everything she does and, along with Lucy Knisley, I feel like she’s my big sister author.
More a collection of essays, and not quite a fair assessment of celebrity memoir as it was Tony’s writing that made him famous in the first place, I will love and defend this man for the rest of my life.
When I was first introduced to her on screen, Mindy annoyed me. I think it was mostly her speech patterns on The Office. But I loved The Mindy Project and my sister raved about her books so I figured I’d give them a shot. She really is an inspiring person and role model.
Diary of a Bookseller, Day 2
One of my favorite parts of my job at a local independent bookstore is hosting author events. Sometimes, this is also the most stressful part of my job. We’ve hosted events for everyone from our local self-published picture book authors to national, and international, bestsellers. And each and every event is different, based on the author, audience, and publisher. Sometimes things go incredibly well, and sometimes we weather complete catastrophes.
The Debut or Little Known Author
On Tuesday we hosted debut novelist Mathangi Subramanian to discuss her book, A People’s History of Heaven. I was super excited to have her come to the store, as the bookstore is one of very few independent bookstores owned by an immigrant, my boss, the owner, is from India. As Mathangi’s book is set in India and the area around the bookstore has a sizable Indian population, it seemed like the perfect fit. But no one RSVPed to attend our event. We’d had a few people buy the book, but we were nervous we’d be asking her to speak to an empty space. It’s a fine line to walk with events – do you cancel? Do cross your fingers and hope for the best? Rarely do we cancel, though we have had to do so before, especially if the author was traveling a great distance, we don’t want to waste their time.
Thankfully, a debut or little known author is usually grateful for any and all exposure we can offer them and no one has ever gotten upset with me for no one showing up. These events can either be boring, or exciting. If we don’t have other projects to work on at the store, we can spend the allotted time chatting with the author, their family, and learn more about them and the book and we can help spread the word about it. Often, if the turnout is disappointing, we’ll revisit having an event later, if possible, once we’ve had a chance to spread the word.
The Local (Celebrity) Author
These events make up the bread and butter of our in store events. Being in the Philadelphia area, when Ray Didinger released the updated edition of the Eagles Encyclopedia, we hosted his book launch. This was an exciting event, a, because I’m an Eagles fan, and b, it was sure to be a popular event. With a popular event, but a small publisher, there’s a greater chance of something going wrong. In this instance, we discovered about a quarter of the books had a printing error, and had to scramble to get the books in stock, given how many we had pre-sold for the event. Thankfully, Ray was delightful and the event went smoothly.
Often with a local (celebrity) author, they think they’re hot sh*t and that they’re doing us a favor by gracing us with their presence at the store. Oftentimes these are authors who do not have agents, publicists, or event editors and have self-published their own books. We had one man hound us repeatedly to put his book on the counter, would re-arrange all of our displays, drive away our customers by standing at the door and shoving his book in their face and follow them around the store, and then called us incompetent for not bringing in hundreds of people to his signing after he changed the date three times.
The local author is the most difficult event to predict how it’s going to go – it can be lovely and delightful, or it can be a nightmare, along with anything in between.
The Bestselling Author
I think it’s almost like celebrities, some are wonderful, some are ones you don’t want to meet because you’ve heard stories about them ahead of time. We’re lucky to have two wonderful bestselling authors who call us their home bookstore, Lisa Scottoline & Elin Hilderbrand. They are both absolutely wonderful human beings and delightful to work with (they’re books are pretty good too!), they bring in hundreds of people to the store which is always a logistical challenge. This summer will be my 4th event with each of these two ladies (they both come by the store every summer), and I’m just starting to find that I’m finally getting the hang of it. For those who love attending events, here are some frequently asked questions I get in the lead up to a big event and immediately after, and the answers I normally provide:
Question 1: Do I have to buy the book from your store?
Answer 1: Yep! The publishers send their authors on tour and pick our store as a stop because we promise them a certain number of sales. If the event is at a local independent bookstore, you should buy your book from them anyway to support your local economy. Often other markets will charge more for the book to be signed. At an indie, you’re getting a book and the opportunity to interact with someone you admire, for the sticker price of the new book.
Question 2: Can I bring my mom/dad/sister/best friend/co-worker with me?
Answer 2: Of course! The more the merrier! However, if they don’t share your enthusiasm for the author, please consider the other fans when saving seats, standing in line for the signing, etc.
Question 3: Will the author personalize my book/take a picture with me/have a 20 minute conversation with me?
Answer 3: Authors are generally incredibly kind and gracious people – they know that they wouldn’t be in the position they are if not for their loyal readers like you! However, each sets their own rules on pictures and personalization, and when you want to have a lengthy conversation, please be considerate of the people waiting in line behind you, and the staff who have to stay longer than the last person in line who have usually already been working for 8 hours by the time it’s your turn in line.
Question 3: Why did you do this particular thing this particular way?
Answer 3: Because the author/their publicist/publisher/etc. wants it that way. We are often asked why we don’t move our two biggest events out of the store and to a bigger venue – we get complaints that the store is overcrowded, we should just close for the event, we ran out of seating, etc. It’s hard to explain to people that we know our limitations and we do our best to accommodate everyone, but that if we more the event outside the store, we can’t utilize our new wine bar. Trust me, the staff want you to have an enjoyable time.
I have always been a collector of books, but a few years ago, when I started working at an independent bookstore, I was introduced to these magical things called…
Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs)!
For those unfamiliar with the concept (and I was before attending my first BookCon shortly before starting my job at the bookstore, they are paperback copies of books that are to be released in the next 1 to 9 months pre-bound by the book’s publisher for distribution to booksellers, librarians, and in today’s world, book bloggers and Instagram influencers. While some bloggers blog to get these coveted free books, I am lucky enough to be inundated with them at work. I’m a book blogger to help me keep track of everything I have read.
But now, gentle readers, my husband and I are moving into our first house. Yay! A house! I thought this would automatically mean more room for more books, dream come true, right? Wrong. The house we fell in love with is lacking one major thing that I wanted – a wall that I could easily convert into faux built in bookcases to achieve my dream of a Belle-esque library, complete with sliding ladder to reach the higher shelves.
The lifelong dream of three year old me is not to be. At least not yet. I still hold out hope. But now, what do I do with my
Aside from taking all the extra book boxes from work (which are, of course, perfect for transporting books), what do I do? I’ve already donated some 300 books to various organizations, schools, and charities, my shelves are all double stuffed, and I’m going to have to get rid of one of them due to lack of space… I thought moving from apartment to house would mean more space, but I digress.
While Unf*ck Your Habitat has been a helpful guide in paring down other things and establishing productive cleaning habits, I don’t want to forgo bringing home lots of books! So while I pack and donate those books I no longer have room for and can bear to be parted from, I shall continue to brainstorm ways to avoid bringing more home… three weeks to go!
After a few years of being without a book club to lead (I still participate in my former club), I felt the nagging urge to start one that better suited my current tastes, nonfiction! Below is my review for the inaugural book, Isaac’s Storm!
From the back cover:
September 8, 1900, began innocently in the seaside town of Galveston, Texas. even Isaac Cline, resident meteorologist for the U.S. Weather Bureau, failed to grasp the true meaning of the strange deep-sea swells and peculiar winds that greeted the city that morning. Mere hours later, Galveston found itself submerged by a monster hurricane that completely destroyed the town and killed over 6,000 people in what remains the greatest natural disaster in American history – and Isaac Cline found himself the victim of a devastating personal tragedy.
Using Cline’s own telegrams, letters, and reports, the testimony of scores of survivors, and our understanding of the science of hurricanes, Erik Larson builds a chronicle of one man’s heroic struggle and fatal miscalculation in the face of a storm of unimaginable magnitude. Isaac’s Storm is the story of what can happen when human arrogance meets the uncontrollable force of nature.
So, I missed the first book club meeting of my own book club. I had to go to the Hudson Valley in New York for a book buyer’s retreat (which was a lot of fun) and so my coworker, Su, filled in for me. Three ladies showed up, a strong presence for a brand new club, and apparently they had a lively discussion. I absolutely cannot wait to join in for the next meeting – if you want to follow along with our reading from afar, check out our book club page here!
I have now read three works by Erik Larson, Dead Wake (my favorite), In the Garden of Beasts (my least favorite) and now Isaac’s Storm (my middle choice). Unlike the first two works I read, Isaac’s Storm focuses on one main storyline, that of Isaac and the town of Galveston before, during, and after the storm. Other people and places make brief appearances, but the primary narrative sticks to the Texan Gulf coast.
As one of Erik’s earliest works, it is not surprising that what we think of as his trademark storytelling style, epitomized in Devil in the White City according to my coworkers, is not present in Isaac’s Storm. It is still an enjoyable book and a fascinating portrait of the early days of the American weather service. It is also difficult to fathom that Erik wrote this book before Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf coast. The bureaucracy involved in getting word out to the area that a storm was coming is laughable, but still in place today.
Unfortunately, I walked away from Isaac’s Storm without much more than a “I’m glad I didn’t live in turn of the century Galveston.” I didn’t particularly care for Isaac and I couldn’t tell you the names of any of the townspeople mentioned throughout, they just didn’t stick with me the way the people in his other books did. It wasn’t a bad read, just not Erik’s strongest (also not surprising, at it is one of his earliest works).
Rating: 7 out of 10
Edition: Paperback • $16.95 • 9780375708275 • 336 pages • originally published August 1999, this edition published July 2000 by Vintage • average Goodreads rating 4.06 out of 5 stars • read in March 2019
In preparing for a weekday drive to my father’s place two hours away, I went searching for a fairly short and entertaining book to listen to on the drive – enter Maeve in America!
From the Back Cover:
Maeve Higgins was a bestselling memoirist and comedian in her native Ireland when, at the grand old age of thirty-one, she left in search of something more. Like many people in their early thirties, she both was and absolutely was not the adult she wanted to be. At once smart, curious, and humane, Maeve in America is the story of how Maeve found herself, literally and figuratively, in New York City.
These essays – of not being able to afford a dress for the ball, of learning to live with yourself while you’re still figuring out how to love yourself, of finally realizing what sort of shelter dog you would be – will make you laugh out loud as they reveal a woman who shoots for the stars and hits the ceiling, but always finds the words to make sense of it all.
Maeve Higgins is one of my new favorite people. Ten years ago (I can’t believe it’s been that long) I traveled to Ireland for a study abroad opportunity. While certain circumstances led to the trip being an absolutely disaster, the vast majority of the people I met were wonderful, warm, gracious and welcoming. I was a young girl, traveling the country because my step-father’s ancestors hailed from the Emerald Isle (and my German was shaky, so English seemed the better bet). And one of the fascinating things I learned while there that has stuck with me ever since is this: pre-famine, Ireland’s population was nearly 9 million. Afterwards, it was 4.5 million. It is still roughly 4.5 million, though slowly growing. So why, after the famine, did it take 150 years for the population to start to recover?
Emigration. For the most part. And when someone emigrates from one location, they become an immigrant in another. Enter Maeve, Irish emigrant, US immigrant. Maeve arrived in the US shortly before the changing of the guard at the big house in D.C. And while the bulk of her book is about her experiences in NYC as an (elder*) millennial (*Iliza’s term) and details her struggles with her finances and dating (the two things that plague millennials most), she diverges to a few political and social justice oriented topics.
Maeve travels to Iraq with two other comedy writers/performers to do workshops with Iraqi and Kurdish comedians and she hosts an important podcast focused on immigration and the stories of those who have immigrated to America. Importantly, she addresses her privilege as an immigrant, being a native English speaking white female. But she is using the privilege to bring to the forefront voices of those far less fortunate immigrants, often to the chagrin of her podcast producer. Maeve Higgins is doing amazing things for the US and the world.
Yesterday, I got really angry. I was reading a Buzzfeed article, as I am wont to do when bored, and it was about Mike Pence and the Irish PM. It was a important story, well written, and made its point eloquently. However, the same picture is used twice, and the third person in the picture, the only woman, is Maeve Higgins. And her presence is not acknowledged. AT ALL. While she is not the focus of the article, due to lack of acknowledgement, readers have assumed a number of things about her role and reason for being in the picture. This article PERFECTLY highlights how often women (and immigrants) are completely overlooked by the media. All it would have taken was a quick caption: “Irish PM, VP, Irish writer Maeve Higgins and Irish PM’s Partner” (but instead of titles, put names, because all names are important).
Maeve has done tremendous things to advocate for a forcibly silent majority of immigrants. And when her visage is featured in a nationwide, widely read, publication, her presence is completely ignored–and, as a result, her accomplishments.
Rating: 9 out of 10 stars
Edition: Paperback • $16.00 • 9780143130161 • 256 pages • published August 2018 • by Penguin Books • average Goodreads rating 3.57 out of 5 stars • read March 2019