Friday, January 31, 2014

Our Createspace Authors, Part 1

Createspace, an Amazon company, helps authors self-publish. If you are writing/marketing your book and are interested in consigning your book to our store, please inquire at 

It seems not a week goes by we don't have customers mention they would love to consign their self-published book to us, and it is so hard to say no!

So, if you haven't noticed, to the right of the cash register are a number of books of local, self-published or small press authors. We are proud to have these authors on display, but we think perhaps not enough customers are taking the time to browse through this section. So we're going to tell you about a few. It is remarkable the talent and range of subjects you didn't even know was there!

1. Magic: The Crest ~ by Rena Marthaler
Magic: The Crest

We'll use the old rule that youngest goes first. And Rena Marthaler beats our other authors by decades. Only in the 4th grade, Marthaler participated in the NaNoWriMo Young Writer's Program, and has written a fantastical first novel. This is a fast-paced adventure story of four friends who discover they have magical powers and follow a prophecy to Oregon, fighting all sorts of fantastical creatures along the way (their first encounter is with a dragon, and the stakes only go up from there).

Kids will fall under the spell much the way they have with Rick Riordan and J.K. Rowling; adults will sit back and enjoy how the childhood imagination can take off at cheetah-speed, basking in the nostalgia when they wrote their first fantasy novel (mine was about a twin boy & girl who ran away from their wealthy but oppressive father and fell into a band of noble thieves), and thoroughly enjoy how smart-aleky the main character, Rachel can be (e.g., "I'm starting to bore you, aren't I? Well, suck it up. It's about to get interesting.").

Hopefully Rena won't stop at just one. Let's wish that this writerly impulse will continue her whole life.

2. Without Boundaries: My Life During the Viet Nam War ~ by Dieu Bao
Dieu Bao's Memoir

It's understandable why we, as consumers of books, are not so interested in the self-published word. Publishers and editors help us feel like what we're going to buy (and hopefully read, and hopefully enjoy) has passed a test of sorts. The self-published world, by stepping away from the publishers (not necessarily the editors), is seen as a little more raw, the consumer feels a little closer to bad writing. I think we fear the best we can say is, it's amateur.

For Bao's book, that sentiment is unfair. She has written a heartfelt memoir, and has worked in a second language to put into words the oftentimes inexpressible horrors of war. It is my sentiment, that Bao's testimony, although the style may not be to the caliber of Patchett's or Quindlin's, is powerful. It offers to us new insights to those affected by a war that very much affected our country and culture, because it is more than just about war, but about life. It has as much happiness in it as it does tragedy. Bao writes honestly, and for that I say she deserves patronage.

Just pick up Without Boundaries, and see how well its honesty can pull you in.

3. Bentari ~ by Timothy Brown

What we also need for this post is an adventure story. Bentari is just that story. Specifically, Nazi treasure hunters in the Belgian congo. Anyone? Yes. Bentari, the Swift Climber, our hero, is a resourceful young man fighting to defend his people against--who else?--Nazis.

But this is done deliberately and in control. Here's the first paragraph, to give you a sense of Brown's ability:

Sometimes the calm occurs as the sun first breaks across the eastern sky. Some days it happens after an hour or so when the sun's heat begins to scald the jungle air. The calm settles like coincidence and, for that still moment, all the birds and morning talkers hush together. The rising heat and humid air melt into an intoxicating perfume. Movements of the briefly silent fauna become majestic and graceful in the calm. The forest and its children paint the timeless and mystifying tableaux. 

Brown moves to the allure of the jungle setting, and, after our title character Bentari experiences this calm, the tension rises, ending in murder. It propels forward from there, but always deliberately. This is the mature outcome of what Bao and Marthaler started. Whereas the other two authors write with a glibness that is nevertheless a compelling read, Brown's prose is more controlled. Still, the imagination is always at work. We move from deliberate writing to tensions and adventure. It's worth a read.

[We'll follow up next week with three more CreateSpace authors, including some nonfiction. If you have a book that you'd like to consign to Wallace Books, please contact us personally at, or stop by the store.]

~ James Maynard, January 2014

Friday, January 24, 2014

Crow's Commentary: "Book of Ages" by Jill Lapore

Available in hardcover at Wallace Books
Usually, as I'm driving to work, I get to enjoy the NPR Sunday Puzzler. But, every once in a while, I'll catch a snippet of an NPR book review on my way to Wallace Books. I know many customers are listening in, too, so I'll often put a copy of the book that's being discussed on the order if I think it sounds like a good one.

One day this fall, I heard a discussion of Jill Lepore's Book of Ages: the Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin on Fresh Air. It sounded good. Real good. I put it on the order.

Each subsequent workday, I would come in and see Book of Ages on the new hardcovers table. I'd stare longingly at its cover from behind the desk. Once in a while, I'd flip open the cover or lazily drag my fingers across the spine thinking, "Yes, friend. I will take you home after the holidays..." I told James I wanted to read this book so many times that he started to roll his eyes at me. Secretly, I wanted this book to sell before I could take it home because I had about 25 half-read books in a stack that were abandoned for favor of the never-ending flow of grad school readings. There are good books in this stack-- Lonesome Dove, George Saunder's latest Tenth of December (now out in paperback!). There are books in this stack that I really, really loved reading and really, really regretted putting down for favor of the academic sludge that I've been ingesting on the regular. This book had to go home with someone else, or that stack would never dwindle.

I started to talk it up to customers who came through, "Oh, Book of Ages is on my 'To Read' list. I can't wait." But apparently, they could. The holidays were over, and I took it home. Merry Christmas to me, from me (& Julie). Stack of half-reads be damned, I started in on the book before I even got home from the store.

Now, reader, as I'm sure you're well aware, there is a phenomenon that occurs when something is touted or coveted for so long that the object desired cannot possibly live up to the expectations. I feel like there is a word for this and it was probably in that grad school readings that I most certainly did in lieu of reading for pleasure. I was absolutely sure that I had hoisted this book onto so lofty a pedestal that it would never meet my expectations. So, imagine my delight when Book of Ages exceeded these expectations. There is a reason it was shortlisted for the 2013 National Book Award for Nonfiction.

Jill Lepore's book chronicles the life (and opinions) of Jane Franklin Mecom, Benjamin Franklin's favorite sister. Jane comes alive on the page through Lepore's expert weaving of Franklin family lore, the history of women in colonial New England and the letters that Jane exchanged with her loved ones. The remarkable collection of letters are the real charm of this book. Jane is every bit as intelligent and witty as her famous brother, yet has none of the pretense or requisite form that was required of letters written by gentlemen in her day. It was rare for women to write, and even rarer for these records to be kept. Jane Franklin's letters are a treasure: personal, gossipy, emotional, and charming. The exchanges between Benny and Jenny (Benjamin and Jane's nicknames) are a particular delight-- they respectfully banter about life, politics and values. They challenge each other's way of thinking about the world: a world that started in the same small home in Boston and diverged into two entirely different paths.

We have new copies available in hardback. If my recommendation is not enough, my cat also seemed to enjoy the book as well when I read passages aloud to him, as I am wont to do. Buster seemed particularly pleased with the intricate way Lepore included excerpts of Poor Richard's Almanack and the poems of Ann Bradstreet.

~ Kim Crow, January 2014

Friday, January 17, 2014

Friday Reads ~ "Of Walking in Rain" by Matt Love

Nestucca Spit Press $19.95 USD
Matt Love's newest self-published book.

Let's let Newport author Matt Love get the first word:

Who would you rather hang out with? Someone playing hooky from work because of the sun or rain? Rain is a bindle, the sun carry-on luggage. You can slide in rain. You can smear rain, but never touch the sun. Rain sluices gold. Rain foments serenity. Rain launches sedition against conformity. Rain sends roots deep; the sun desiccates. The sun speaks in monologues while rain always dialogues. Rain is aural and visual and has body; the sun can't possibly compete with that Triple Crown. Only genuine awakening results during encounters with rain. The sun? Mostly relaxation or trying to forget. All my great notions manifest in rain. All my mediocre ones emerge with the sun. We can thank capitalism for making the word "acid" an obscene adjective of rain. The Hindu religion has a rain god. Noah's 40 days and 40 nights is a richer story than Joshua's sun standing still. What are the semiotics of rain? Is it a symbol for transparency or solidity? Earlier, I switched on Save Me Jesus Radio and a crooner crooned a maudlin "thank you " to God for taking him out of rain. The implication was that Satan lurked there. God I hope so! If I find him, we'll get right down to it.

For all you puddle-splashers, you rainy-day bicyclers, you who see umbrellas as eight-pronged instruments of hell: this is the book for you. Matt Love, a prolific self-published author (check out his website, Nestucca Spit Press, where you can order books and see where Matt Love will be reading, here), should be considered Oregon's minister of rain, which puts him in a holy caste.

Of Walking in Rain is firstly a record of three months in 2012 -- from October to the end of December. Plot and story arch take a back seat to what ends up to be a record of rain, the best way to describe a book that churns and skids along: on some days Love is lucid, political and anecdotal; other days he wants nothing to do with expository and sets off on diatribes like the one above. There are moments of love, moments of conflict -- characters are introduced and forgotten, old memories are revived and new memories created. For the reader this means movement--in time, in language, in rain--and if it is raining as you read this, it will be hard to put down.

I love this book. I keep it in my bag so it is now a banged up beautiful copy. I've left it out in the rain so its pages are puffy. I'm writing this today during an obscene dry spell in hopes that rain will hear my plea and come back. Every time we have those beautiful rains that last for days, and the clouds just keep coming and every body starts to feel miserable until they stop feeling miserable, I pick up this book and read it. You should do the same. It'll make you proud to be an Oregonian. And after summer I'm thinking I'll start my own rain journal, which is essentially what Love wants me -- wants us -- to do: join his Church of Rain by creating your own rain journal. And support self-published authors and local business.

Although I'm loath to send you over to Powell's Books' website, nonetheless there are some blog posts by Matt Love I think you should check out. Maybe he'll do a few blog posts for us as well.

~ James Maynard, January 2014

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Books You Didn't Know You Needed: The Completely Mad Don Martin Collection

The Completely Mad Don Martin (2 Volumes), $89.00 USD

Cartoonist Don Martin (1931-2000) has come into the shop, in a beautiful two volume box set! With matching red and blue cloth covers, with each cartoon pasted neatly on each page, this set is a veritable homage to a man considered Mad Magazine's "maddest" cartoonist.

In case you didn't know, Don Martin was perhaps most famous for his original sound effects in his cartoons (perhaps my favorite would be the sound of Captain Kirk Crying ~ "BAHOO, BAHOO, BAHOO"). 

Interested? We'll have it here in the shop -- shop local, don't pay shipping, and add a gorgeous gem to you book collection!

Matching red & blue cloth covers
Each cartoon carefully pasted to each page.

Friday, January 10, 2014

2014 Book List Review ~ Hilary Mantel's "Bring Up the Bodies"

[To keep with his 2014 Book List post, and just for fun, James spends his hours off writing small informal reviews of what he has read, in no particular order. See the (partial) list of books, here]

Bring Up The Bodies ~ Hilary Mantel
Picador -- 2012

The second book of Mantel's "Thomas Cromwell Trilogy," Bring Up the Bodies covers only nine months of English history -- from autumn of 1535 to May 1536 -- the fall of Queen Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII's second wife. This is in sharp contrast to Wolf Hall, the first book in this trilogy, which covers a greater period of time, and the constraint in time and subject did seem to me to make its sequel a lesser novel. 

The problem may be a matter of subject and primary sources. Wolf Hall details Archbishop Wolsey's fall, Henry's divorce with Catherine, Thomas More's execution, and of course that little thing called The Reformation -- subjects that, since they had more resounding impacts on Western culture, were more fully documented and Mantel had more complete primary texts to work with. (My wife laughs derisively: "it's because they [Wolsey, Henry, More] were men," she says.) With these tools Mantel could powerfully re-create the tensions of that historical period, tensions which spurred us forward. In Bring Up the Bodies the tension is still there, but not the scope. Anne's trial and execution are clouded in historical vagaries; as Mantel notes, "the evidence is complex and sometimes contradictory; the sources are often dubious, tainted and after-the-fact. There is no official transcript of her trial . . ."

So Wolf Hall is a better novel because there was better source material for Mantel to work off of? I believe so. Bring Up the Bodies does what so many other books of Tudor-era England do: fall into the befuddled allure of Anne Boleyn's last days. But this doesn't mean you shouldn't read it. We all fall into that allure. Mantel's skills do not diminish, they just lack space to expand. You especially want to be there when the sword (yes, apparently it was a sword) falls, to see a writer re-create an event hundreds of years past, with all the emotion of the moment. Mantel does it. She's great.

As a side note, for reading groups: there is a passage, lurking in the last fifty pages, that does well to explain Anne Boleyn, Thomas Cromwell, and the challenge Hilary Mantel faced when approaching this time in history.
 Late into the book, Cromwell speaks to his clerk Wriothesley (pronounced "Risley") of Thomas Wyatt, a poet and Cromwell's friend, and rumored to be another lover of Anne's. Cromwell means to keep him safe from the trials and executions, and speaks to Wriothesley about Wyatt's poetry and genius. Says Cromwell,

Another time you trap him and say, Wyatt, did you really do what you describe in this verse? He smiles and tells you, it is the story of some imaginary gentleman, no one we know; or he will say, this is not my story I write, it is yours, though you do not know it. He will say, this woman I describe here, the brunette, she is really a woman with fair hair, in disguise. He will declare, you must believe everything and nothing of what you read.

There is in this passage a motif of the book, both for the reader and the writer. How words themselves are creations, hearsays, how Mantel is a creator and a liar, how Cromwell is, how Boleyn is. Cromwell certainly knows the power of words, as he begins to weave hearsay into a legal case. And it seems to be Mantel's chief anxiety, how to take the vagaries of the time and make them into something concrete for a reader of the twenty-first century.

Want a less glib more professional review? Why not the New York Times?

~ James Maynard, January 2014

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Some Great Poets Stopped By Today

Including some Neruda, Gluck, the complete Anne Sexton, Li-Young Lee, even some Lorca (so rarely seen and so quick to go!)

Before shelving these into our poetry section (which you should totally browse), I thought I'd post a poem I stumbled on as I was sifting through Gerald Stern's poetry collection, "American Sonnets."


What was I think of when I threw one of my
peach stones over the fence at Metro North,
and didn't I dream as always it would take
root in spite of the gravel and the newspaper,
and wasn't I like that all my life, and who isn't?
I thought of oranges and, later, watermelon
and yellow mangoes hanging from sweetened strings,
but it was peaches, wasn't it, peaches most of
all I thought about and if the two trees that
bore such hard little fruit would only have lived
a few years more how I would have had a sister
and I would have watched her blossom, her brown curls
her blue eyes, though given her family she wouldhave
been wild and stubborn, harsh maybe, she would
be the angry one--how quiet I was--the Chinese
grew their peaches for immortality--the
Russians planted theirs so they could combine
beauty and productivity, that was
my aesthetic too, I boiled my grape leaves,
I ate my fallen applies, loving sister.

~Gerald Stern

Friday, January 3, 2014

A Partial Reading List, 2014

So she says, "you know, like Atwood's work."

Yes, I say. Yes, like Atwood -- Margaret Atwood. I know the name.

"Or Lessing. Or Munro. Those authors."

Yes, yes. Doris Lessing, Alice Munro. That last one just won some prize. The Nobel. And sure I've read Nobel Prize winners before. Like Albert Camus.

"You haven't read any of those authors, have you," she says in a cold scolding voice. The subtext at work is women authors, I haven't read any of those women authors.

I shrug, giving it my best ham. Guilty smirk. And it's not to say this past year I haven't read women authors: sure I have. In fact, some of the best books I've read for 2013 were by women: Hilary Mantel (Wolf Hall), Julie Otsuka (The Buddha in the Attic) and Doris Kearns Goodwin (Team of Rivals).

"You just didn't happen to mention those authors," I say, sheepishly.

She scowls again, and points to my list. Of the twenty-seven books I read for 2013, only four of them were women authors. (Although I listed three of the four above, I thought best not to mention the fourth. It was pretty bad.)

She does the math fast. She's really smart. "That's about 15%. If you're generous."

I think of ways to defend myself more, but the data doesn't lie. Sure, I try to steer clear of the hegemony as much as a straight white male can. But if 85% of my reading time is dedicated to straight white male authors, how much am I actively trying to expand my horizon?

I think, maybe, she has a point.

So here's my 2014 book list, at least for the start of the year. Considering the average number of books I read each year is 25, and considering I hate breaking promises, I resolve to read 10 books by women writers.

"That's 40%!" I proudly pronounce. She's unimpressed, which always impresses me.

First 10 Books for 2014

1. The Bully Pulpit ~ Doris Kearns Goodwin

Right now I'm racing through Team of Rivals to get to Goodwin's next history, which came out this winter. (I've already read a little of it, in truth). The fact that it is about Teddy Roosevelt, William Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism is what spurs me forward. I think I'll appreciate it more than her Lincoln biography, mostly because it seems more a work where, as an historian, Goodwin is trying to answer some more complex questions than were approached in Team of Rivals. Specifically on what effect the news media has on a presidency and how it shapes a national narrative. I'm interested to see what kind of lessons we can draw from that in our own time. This is definitely my #1 book on my reading list.

2. Bring Up the Bodies ~ Hilary Mantel

The second book in her Thomas Cromwell trilogy following Wolf Hall (have I mentioned Wolf Hall?) and I'm very excited to read it. Of the kind of historical fiction that surrounds Henry Tudor (Henry VIII), Mantel's work is the most sophisticated. Suspenseful without much violence, Mantel does a wonderful job of recreating what the real anxieties were during Reformation England in a way I have not seen equaled.

3. Quiet Dell ~ Jayne Anne Phillips

This is a new thriller that I've picked up here at Wallace Books and read pieces of at a time. Phillips re-imagines the real story of a killer who preyed on widows in western Virginia. In her novel, the heroine, journalist Emily Thornhill, becomes involved in the investigation and works to bring the killer to justice. The opening lines of Quiet Dell give a good impression of Phillips writing style, which I think has a light literary touch:

Phillips' new thriller
"When the year turns, there are bells on the wind. All the old years fall on the ground in lights. When you walk across those lights, it sounds like walking on all the piled-up leaves of giant trees. But up high the bells are ringing for everyone alive. There are silver and gold and glass bells you can see through, and sleigh bells a hundred years old. My grandmother said there was a whisper for each one dead that year, and a feather drifting for each one waiting to be born."

4. Anything "essay" by Susan Sontag

I'm going to write as little as possible in this entry. The fact that I know the name and have absolutely no connection with anything she has written (and here I hear the hiss and sneer from nearly every one of my female friends), means that I better just shut up and get to reading.

5 and 6. Oryx & Crake and The Year of the Flood ~ Margaret Atwood

Kim says to try Cat's Eye first, but Devo let me borrow his copies of the first two books of Atwood's Oryx & Crake trilogy (the third book, MaddAddam came out this year), so I'm going to start there. In any case, post-apocolyptic fiction (or as Wiki puts it, "speculative fiction") always draws my interest.

7. Shout Her Lovely Name ~ Natalie Serber 
Local author Natalie Serber

Let's talk local Portland authors and let's talk about the short story. Two good things. For one, you can bask in that smug feeling that you understand a little more about the local PDX culture then, say, those pleebs who haven't read a local author. As a bonus, short stories are like short jogs: you feel like you accomplished something, and you still have time for so much else!

The New York Times had some good things to say about Shout Her Lovely Name, here.

8. Cleopatra ~ Stacy Schiff

Alan Cheuse, of National Public Radio, says of this history that "Schiff deftly separates fact from legend, legend from poetry, and creates a model of methodology and compelling story. She re-creates a place and time in a praiseworthy leap from scholarship to narration." That works for me. After all, the only thing I thought was interesting about Cleopatra would be what Shakespeare wrote. But I'm willing to be mistaken.

Good non-fiction by women authors

9. Galileo's Daughter ~ Dava Sobel

Why has it taken me so long to get to this book? Only good things have I heard -- and as much as I'm taken by early twentieth century politics, or classical (even legendary) Egyptian figures, I might as well delve into Florence and papal Rome while I'm at it. In any case, science meets religion is always a fun topic -- and I do like the idea that most of the primary material comes from a cloistered nun: should give new insights to that part of history! (Here's where you can comment yes or no, since Sobel's book has been out for so long)

10. The Red Tent ~ Anita Diamant

Earlier this year, a customer here at Wallace Books recommended The Red Tent to her daughter, and pulled it from our Staff Recommends shelf. She asked if I was the staffer who recommended it. I wasn't. I said I had started reading it years ago when it first came out, but couldn't get into it. She said she had the same problem, but after the first two chapters the book explodes (figuratively, of course; if it exploded literary that would be some pretty bad marketing). She said it was wonderful. I promised that I would read it. I still haven't forgotten that promise, so The Red Tent will be read. (And if any of you had the same problem, we have many used copies in the store, so pick it up and try it again!)

As I get through this list, I'll write up extra posts to informally review them. Also, if you've read these books, we'd love you to send us your views on them -- did you like the book, hate the book? How's the weather for you today? Is there a traffic accident we should avoid? You know, the relevant stuff.