Cleaning up the SF/Fantasy Section

sf catThe other day I tackled a job I’d been dreading. Only because it offered procrastination on a job I dreaded more.

So now we know: when it comes to cleaning and culling the Science Fiction and Fantasy shelves versus doing laundry, SFF wins.

Not casting aspersions, CJ Cherryh needed some serious attention along the spines. It’s the hazard of being shelved low in a cat-fostering bookstore; hair accumulates. And of course, the cats WOULD gravitate to Cherryh….. (Inside joke: for those who haven’t read her, she has a feline world thing going. I suppose if we had staff unicorns, they’d hang with the Anne McCaffreys. But do unicorns shed?)

And then there was alphabetization….The SFF shelves line the walls, but one sticks out, chest-height, at a right angle into the room. So, should A – or, as it’s known in the biz, Asimov, Anderson, Anthony – start on the wall or the sticky-out shelf.

It would have made more sense to plan this from the get-go, but not until I hit the Hubbards and Forgotten Realms (for some reason side by side in my mismanaged universe) did I decide the series would fit on that low shelf. So sensible, so orderly, so non-chaos-theory!

Until one tries to decide what a series is.

Star Trek, TekWars, Dragonlance – sure. But what about Jordan’s Wheel of Time, or Martin’s Game of Thrones? A chance to put him alphabetically next to, oh, say Meuller’s lesser-known trilogy would afford opportunity to see it while hunting famous people.

Yeah, we book sellers are sneaky like that.

But then there are the space issues (heh heh). Herbert’s Dune is the 1970s¬†Hunger Games - more’s the pity – but it’s just too MUCH to get all that shelf space devoted to it. So I double-stacked him in the series section.

It felt a little like sending a has-been to the minor leagues. Spaceball? Hmmm…..

Anyway, I got all the way to L (aka Lackey and Lawhead) before I had to decide again. Jack Whyte went to series, but Lawhead? He’s esoteric: Christian themes, fantasy SF combo… Should I put him next to Bradley in series? Oooh, talk about a catfight. Bradley’s lusty Merlin next to Lawhead’s lawful good guy? Eeek.

So yes, I admit my organization of the SFF books became rather random and “because I say so” toward the end there. Burroughs isn’t in series, but Tolkien is–next to Star Wars, poor sweet elves.¬†Pendleton’s bad-guy survivor series is, Axler’s Deathlands isn’t.

Because space dictated it. Space, the final frontier? More like the final border. There’s only so much room, guys.

But I must admit, all this arranging got me in the mood for some fun, campy, spacing out. When I picked up my cat afghan crocheting that evening, I started in on Firefly, which is silly, and sweet, and has GREAT music. A friend described it as “intellectual, plus all the guys wear tight pants.”

Go by, mad world.

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Someday—-

Jack’s poignant guest blog reflecting on then, now, and someday

Back in the early 1960s, I was a twentysomething hanging out on the Scottish folk scene. We had a number of dedicated folk-song clubs established in cellars, cycle clubs and all sorts of unlikely venues, and they all had one thing in common: singing in harmony together at the end of the evening We Shall Overcome!

Now we did (and still do) have a certain ‘fellow feeling’ in singing it, Scotland being a country that felt put upon by its bigger neighbor, but we had no real understanding of where the song came from or what it meant to the folk who created it. We just knew it made us feel strong and special.

Overcome has haunted me for years. An African American gospel song, it was brought to the famous Highlander Center in Tennessee in the late 1950s by Lucille Simmons and members of the Food and Tobacco Workers’ Union. There they adapted it, and staff member Guy Carawan passed it on to Pete Seeger. The rest is history, including more re-makes and re-shapes than Kumbiya.

Over the years I learned about Highlander’s work, and the place seemed near-mystical. When a mutual friend introduced me to Guy Carawan himself just a couple of years ago, I was able to shake hands with a man as legendary to me as John Lennon might be to someone else.

Knowing that back in Scotland we had a too-easy enthusiasm for identifying with those who had faced down the color bar, I was overjoyed when just last weekend Wendy and I were invited to join a group of Appalachian writers at Highlander Center – the very same place where We shall Overcome was re-born as a folk anthem for social justice.

Oddly enough, all the participants that weekend were white. I watched the day’s activities unfold, examined pictures on the walls celebrating the triumphs of activism, read news clippings and wandered around, feeling out of place. Was it my being from Scotland that made it feel an exclusive rather than inclusive experience? Was it worship from afar meeting the reality that one group can only do so much?

A friend uses the term ‘folk elite’ to describe people who mean well but who don’t ultimately impact the place in which they have decided to practice charity. Perhaps that is what I was: one of the elite, incapable of grasping the legacy spread before me. But I have to admit, at the end of that weekend I felt no closer to being part of the “We” in We Shall Overcome than I did back in the sixties, in Scotland, holding hands with all my fellow middle-class singing friends. And that saddened me.

 

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The Monday Book: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

Paula McLain’s novel about Ernest Hemingway’s wife Hadley was one of those books I let go in and out of the shop while it was bestselling, but had on my “as soon as it slows down, I’m taking it downstairs to read” list.

I guess I missed the window. Out of state recently in a thrift store, I found it lying on a neglected shelf of musty, curling books for a quarter. Although we typically eschew buying books for cash, there seemed only one course of action….

I admit that Hemingway’s Missing Suitcase of Work (if you’re not familiar with this cautionary tale, google it) has fascinated me for years, sorta like the Bermuda Triangle. So I anticipated really enjoying this book.

While I liked it, I didn’t love it, and that’s mostly down to how well McLain describes her characters. They don’t come off as nice people, the Stein/Fitzgerald/Anderson glitterati set inhabiting Paris between the wars. They come off as vapid and aggressive. Which means McLean is a really good writer.

She doesn’t try to sound like Hemingway. Hadley, as first person narrator of the book–and Hemingway’s first wife if not his first love–sounds like a lot of women trying to be their own person and also satisfy a guy.

McLain deals well with the added tensions of artistic competitiveness, both within the marriage and between the glittering members of the lit set. If you know a lot about Hemingway’s life, seeing these events from a close-but-not-the-same point of view is interesting–particularly the lost suitcase, a pivotal yet fairly quiet event just after the novel’s middle. It has the feel of just another day in the life, as McLain has written it–a bad day, but not coming out of the writing’s character to trumpet “And from that moment to this….!” There is no literary anachronism in this book.

I am glad I got to read it, but it won’t go down in history as a favorite. It turned out to be more interesting to me in relation to the Paris writing yuppies than as its own work. Which is likely why many people read it. It doesn’t disappoint, and I think it’s odd that the thing that shows what a good writer McLean is, is the thing that consigned the book to “meh” for me: that she shows the character and flawed core of all those literary heroes.

She did such a good job, I didn’t like them, or her book. But I liked her writing. Go figger. :]

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Bucket Lists

four leafJack and I lead contented lives. We run a bookstore, rescue cats, live amiably with occasional passionate flairs, and own our house. We don’t have to cook if we don’t want to because we have a cafe in the bookstore; when we want something to read, we amble around looking for it. I have enough money to buy most of the yarn I want and all of the yarn I need, and Jack has a little red sports car.

Yeah, we’re shallow sometimes. :]

The bucket list thing has for the most part passed us by. Jack said once he wished he could pair his black socks correctly before he left this life, and I aspire to get through a whole tube of chapstick. Other than that, go by mad world.

But my friend Cami is a go-getter and a champion back-of-the-pack marathoner, and she is in Chile with her husband. They suggested we come for a visit. Neither Jack nor I have been to the continent of South America, and I admit we used the words “bucket list” to discuss the trip. As in, “It wasn’t on our bucket list, but it seems like a nice opportunity.”

That started one of those in-the-car conversations while driving to Maryland this week. (We went to visit our friend Melissa’s bookstore The Parkville Bookworm, along with her staff cats Stan Lee and Spencer. Eight hours is a long time to listen to NPR talk shows.)

On the drive Jack and I compared bucket list items, big and small. Some of these we probably can’t get, and some we can’t get without help, but hey, it pays to dream. So here it is……

THE JACK AND WENDY BUCKET LIST

Independence for Scotland (Jack and me both)

Find a four leaf clover (I’ve never found one in my whole entire life, except once inside a book, dried and pressed.)

Visit Fiji (Neither of us have been there, and we don’t know anything about it. We just like the name, I guess.)

Tell stories at the Iranian International Storytelling Festival (It’s held every February, this was their 18th year, and they don’t invite a lot of Westerners. But someday….)

Own a Morgan sports car again (I rolled my eyes at this, and Jack informed me that every guy is allowed a secret fantasy.)

Have the bookstore completely organized in a manner that makes sense (Jack says this has to be mine alone as he won’t put something on this list that can’t happen. I pointed out the Morgan thing and he just smiled. Should I be worried?)

 

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Half a League, Half a League – – -

jackWhen Wendy and I first met she asked me if I liked walking. “Of course!” I lied. I was smitten and would have said anything.

Ever since, when given the option, she will walk rather than take a bus or taxi when we’re out of town on book or health business. Her preferred enticement for me to join her in this activity is to find an Indian restaurant nearby, knowing I love a curry dinner above most things in life.

“It’s only half a mile” is the usual precursor – -

On pretty much every occasion, however, the ‘half a mile’ turns out to be considerably more. I have learned to ask “a Wendy half-mile or a standard half-mile?”

It’s sometimes been necessary to cross busy highways, garnering strange looks from car drivers who are obviously wondering who these idiots are clamboring over guardrails. Sometimes the Indian place is no longer there, or it’s become a Mexican eatery, or it’s not open for another two hours – or it’s not open on Sundays.

That’s not the point, though – it’s all about the walk – – -

Yesterday we went to the Kennedy Center in DC to see ‘Evita,’ which involved a forty minute walk from the hotel to the Metro station. Because we had extra time, Wendy suggested a walk to the botanic gardens, which of course started with a twenty minute walk in the wrong direction. A suggestion from me that we avail ourselves of the shuttle from the wonderfully named Foggy Bottom station to the Center was grudgingly accepted, as was my later suggestion that we do the same in reverse going back.

Wendy always wins out in the end, though; she was saving the final ‘cherry on the cake’.

We still had a forty minute walk back to the hotel from the Metro.

The view was lovely, but my feet hurt.dc sunset

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The Monday Book: THE LAST KABBALIST by Richard Zimler

The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon is a BIG book. (I like big….. yes, okay.) It came into our shop years ago and I took it upstairs to read, and became engrossed. Read it in three nights. Then I put it back in the shop, and when I started writing the Monday Book blog, I couldn’t remember the name!

Just yesterday another copy came into the shop, and I recognized it instantly, grabbed it, and wrote this for y’all.

This is a GOOD read if you like historic epics intertwined with realistic characters. Richard Zimler’s story takes place soon after Lisbon’s 1506 massacre of “New Christians,” when the powder keg of Muslim, Christian, Jewish interaction ignited. For those unfamiliar, in the late 1400s a lot of Jews were living in Portugal, which had proved the most tolerant of the countries available to them. But in 1497(ish) Jews were hauled en masse to Christian baptism fonts and pretty much converted against their will to Christianity.

That should have kept them safe, but the world being what it is, it didn’t. Zimler’s epic picks up at the point where rumblings have started again.

The Last Kabbalist is a fascinating depiction of the interaction between not only these BIG categories of religions, but the smaller divisions and hidden links between them. Subsets of Jews and Muslims and Christians act independently within their religions, following the threads of their own lives: desire for knowledge, compassion, anger, vengeance.

And human hearts are never simple anyway. Berekiah is a young illuminator (an illustrator) who finds his uncle murdered– his uncle who apprenticed him and is the sole of religious dignity, dead with a naked girl beside him. So there’s a mystery, but also Berekiah needs to survive the riots, he’s in love with a girl, and he’s kinda trying to hold his family together.

At times awful in its depictions of violence, always insightful into how people have helped and harmed each other since history was recorded, Kabbalist is a gripping read. You felt like you could see, smell, taste, and feel the terror, hope, and desperate planning of those trying to survive.

A word of warning: don’t start Kabbalist unless you have time to read for awhile. You’re not going to put it down easily.

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Hi! I’m Prince Caspian!

DSCN1247Hi! I’m Prince Caspian! I’m a very brave explorer and a good shoulder sailor. I love to find small spaces to hide in and then jump out at people’s feet. And I love, love, love to cuddle.

I’m just here at the bookstore until I get my forever home. The bookstore is fun for now, though. Lotsa tall places to climb up and jump on people’s shoulders from. The other day I did a perfect four-paw landing on the back of one of the ladies who works here, as she was stooped over shelving some books.

DSCN1214Was it my fault she screamed like that? Honestly, it was kinda fun though, flying through the air. It didn’t hurt cause I landed on a soft chair. Just kinda bounced a little. But to hear her tell it, she thought the devil had her.

I’m just a little kitten, lady, no big deal!

Really I’m kinda sweet and innocent. Except I’m gonna be a pirate when I grow up. But don’t tell the people in the bookshop, ’cause they said I’m named for a character in a Christian children’s book.

People say I’m cute, but what they don’t know is what a very brave cat I am.They used to call me Small Fry, but I didn’t like that very much because it reminded me of the scary time I spent in that garbage can. There wasn’t anything to eat in there but cold french fries and it was so hot and hard to breathe. I knew I had to get out so I was very brave and cried and cried for help, and a nice lady heard me and got me out.

I’m trying not to hold a grudge against the guy who put me in there. He said I’d find some stuff to eat and it wouldn’t be his problem. Buddy, you need to rethink how you’re living your life. That’s all I’m saying.

DSCN1226Who needs a grudge when I’ve got all these nice people around me? First I went to the animal hospital and I stayed there a whole two weeks because I was so small and you could see my ribs – well, cold fries just aren’t much to eat, are they? And I had coccidea, which is a kitten disease that’s easy to take care of if you get the right nutrition. (Again, with the cold fries….)

Everybody loved me at the hospital and carried me around on their shoulders and let me ride on their shoes. And then I came to the bookstore, and everybody here loves me too. I’m a really lovable guy. And I get all I want to eat here! This place is great.

Mom says soon somebody will take me to another place and that will be my forever home, and I’ll get all I want to eat and have lots of laps and shoulders and chairs and shelves. I’m looking forward to it.

‘Scuse me, I see somebody coming and I don’t want them to know I’m using the computer. Come see me! Ask for Prince Caspian! Bye!

DSCN1253

 

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