Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Boston Review: a Special Offer

Subscribe to the Boston Review today and receive your choice of Black Sparrow Books titles for free: Mirage, a novel by Bandula Chandraratna; Dawn, the memoir by Theodore Dreiser; or American a History in Verse: Volume 3, by Ed Sanders — one book with a 1 year subscription, two books with 2 years, and all three books with a 3 year subscription.


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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

On Reading Ransome

Like Arthur Ransome, I spent many glorious summer holidays as a child in the English Lake District. So, when Audible invited me to narrate Arthur Ransome’s classic series for children, I was delighted to hop on the train to Audible’s recording studios in Newark and read all twelve novels for them.

Beginning with Swallows and Amazons (1930) and ending with Great Northern (1947) I was transported back to an England where children get rid of their parents by chapter two and head off on sailing and camping adventures in the Lake District, the Norfolk Broads or the South China Seas. Whether they’re escaping from Black Jake in Peter Duck, literature’s only Latin-speaking Chinese pirate in Missee Lee, or the formidable Great Aunt in Picts & the Martyrs, the adventures are as engrossing and enchanting today as they were eighty years ago.

Arthur Ransome couldn’t have come from a world more different than the young engineer whose job it was check the sound levels and make sure I didn’t mispronounce "bowsprit" or "halyard." When he took Great Northern home one night saying, “I gotta know what happens next” — we were at the point when Dick is trying to save a rare bird’s egg from the wicked Mr. Jemmerling — I knew it wasn’t just me who had fallen under Ransome’s spell.

These days I live an all-American life just outside New York City. But since Ransome’s world reached into mine, I’ve been dreaming of sailing boats and creaking oars and lakes and sea and sea gulls and picnics and knapsacks and Pirate ships and buried treasure and tent pegs and charming English children asking each other to please pass the pemmican and the strawberry jam.

Accompanying Nancy, Peggy, John, Susan. Titty, Roger, Dick, Dorothea and Captain Flint word by word on all their adventures has been jolly good fun. I shall miss them.

[Alison Larkin is a comedienne, voice artist, and the author of The English American, a novel. Visit her website at]

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Letterpress Documentary

The Boston Book Festival: the Wrap

Though by turns persistently rainy and seriously windy our day at the Boston Book Festival was a huge success. Bostonians (and many denizens from the surrounding areas) were not deterred by the weather, and in fact were all the better dressed because of it. From within our tent we heard that most of the events were filled beyond capacity, and it felt good to represent the city alongside The Boston Review, Symposium Books, Brattle Bookshop, Grub Street, and many other wonderful locals. Aided in no small party by our close proximity to the Sausage & Hot Dog stand, we gave out dozens of catalogs, took addresses and emails, and of course, sold books.

If you saw us there and we didn't get your email, you can join our mailing list now!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Boston Book Festival, October 24

Like every Boston bibliophile with an penchant for festivities, we'll be spending this Saturday at the Boston Book Festival. You'll find us in Copley Square at the official Godine table, right next to the savvy folk from the Boston Review. Come by to say hello, buy a book straight from the hands that made it, and maybe even leave with a free sample. Catie Copley will be hosting tea at the Fairmount around 3:00 pm, and if we weren't manning the Godine table all day, we'd probably over at Trinity Church seeing what David Pogue looks like in person, or watching what bodes to be a brutal show — Grub Street's Writer Idol.

Rain or shine, see you there!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

To Begin: Do You Have a Blog?

The New Yorker has a very, very funny post spoofing the marketing department of publishers, particularly the online aspects (and being the online guru here, I was tickled pink). To wit:

"Let me introduce myself. My name is Gineen Klein, and I’ve been brought on as an intern to replace the promotion department here at Propensity Books. First, let me say that I absolutely love Clancy the Doofus Beagle: A Love Story and have some excellent ideas for promotion.

"To start: Do you blog? If not, get in touch with Kris and Christopher from our online department, although at this point I think only Christopher is left. I’ll be out of the office from tomorrow until Monday, but when I get back I’ll ask him if he spoke to you.

"We use CopyBuoy via Hoster Broaster, because it streams really easily into a Plaxo / LinkedIn yak-fest meld. When you register, click 'Endless', and under 'Contacts' just list everyone you’ve ever met. It would be great if you could post at least six hundred words every day until further notice.

"If you already have a blog, make sure you spray-feed your URL in niblets open-face to the skein. We like Reddit bites (they’re better than Delicious), because they max out the wiki snarls of RSS feeds, which means less jamming at the Google scaffold. Then just Digg your uploads in a viral spiral to your social networks via an FB / MS interlink torrent. You may have gotten the blast e-mail from Jason Zepp, your acquiring editor, saying that people who do this sort of thing will go to Hell, but just ignore it." [Read more . . .]

Monday, October 19, 2009


by Kit Bakke, author of Miss Alcottt's Email

I took Home Economics in ninth and tenth grades, in the very early 1960s. One year was required, but I liked it and took two years. It was very hands-on — cooking, baking, sewing, mending, setting the table, writing a thank you note. Our teacher visited all her students’ homes, telling us to brew and serve her tea, all the while engaging in gracious social conversation. I was nervous and stewed the tea into bitter, tannic awfulness.

Home Ec classes are mostly gone and, surveys tell us, so are home cooking and family dinners. Is cause and effect at work here? Is the absence of Home Ec the causing the rise in childhood obesity and diabetes? Perhaps also the decline of parenting skills and western civilization in general? Unlikely, but still. . .

Cooking and good nutrition came to my attention this week in the same way that when you name your baby Olivia you immediately meet dozens of other parents with an Olivia of their own. Suddenly my week was filled with references to people working to improve our nutritional knowledge and eating behaviors.

I belong to the Washington Women’s Foundation, a Seattle-based foundation that educates women to be responsible philanthropists as we give away $500,000 each year. We recently had a discussion about food in schools and read about Ann Cooper’s Lunch Box Project. The project provides broad resources for parents, kids, school administrators and kitchen staff — recipes, cost breakdowns, best practices (such as Michigan’s work to make it easier for schools to buy from local farmers) and more — all designed to help schools and parents provide healthy food for all children.

Later in the week, I learned that our county United Way has paid for coolers to be installed in “minimart” food stores so they can sell fresh fruits and vegetables in Seattle neighborhoods without convenient access to large grocery stores. Then a friend emailed me a New York Times article about British chef Jamie Oliver. I’ve been a Jamie fan since his extremely cute Naked Chef days, and have admired even more his growing engagement with community problem-solving. First he developed a food service training program for street kids in London — now a multimillion dollar foundation that turns out skilled restaurant chefs on a regular basis. His first restaurant staffed with these kids — Fifteen, in London — is superb and has been replicated in Cornwall (near Newquay), Melbourne and Amsterdam.

Then Oliver took on the London school lunch program, as abysmal as many in the U.S. With his introduction of healthy foods and scratch recipes, the kids showed statistically reduced rates of asthma attacks, less manic behavior and better concentration. Next he tackled an entire community — a town in northern England with high rates of poverty and obesity. He built a community center and taught people to buy, cook, and eat fresh, inexpensive foods — skills they apparently didn’t have a chance to learn in Home Ec. The idea of cooking a meal and eating it together as a family was new to them; one told Oliver that she thought only rich people ate that way. He is now in the U.S., spreading the same message: good food is available, it’s easy to cook, it’s fun to eat and it’s good for your family.

All these efforts remind me of Jane Addams and the settlement house movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Women arrived in American cities from farms in Poland or Italy or Russia and had to cope not only with a new language, but with different foods, food sources and cooking tools. It was difficult to learn what was nutritious and what wasn’t, and how to prepare it safely and deliciously. Settlement houses like Hull House taught immigrant women to provide good and safe food for their families in a foreign and often treacherous environment. New organizations now assist our more contemporary immigrants.

Most of us don’t face a language hurdle, but (dare I say it?) without Home Ec, we are as helpless as foreigners in our own land for all we know about healthy home cooking. The prepared food industry works hard to convince us that cooking is tricky and time-consuming, and it bombards our taste buds with so much sugar that we’ve forgotten how to appreciate a ripe tomato or a crisp apple.

My apologies for sliding into a rant. What I’m really trying to say is that historic skills are still valuable and that there is great pleasure and benefit to discovering the lessons of the past. Enough said.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Special Offer: The Woman in Black

Being October, and in the spirit of the haunted holiday, we at Godine thought it appropriate to offer Susan Hill's remarkable ghost story, The Woman in Black,through our website for 30% off the cover price. Set on the obligatory English moor, on an isolated causeway, the story's hero is Arthur Kipps, an up-and-coming young solicitor who has come north to attend the funeral and settle the estate of Mrs. Alice Drablow of Eel Marsh House. The routine formalities he anticipates give way to a tumble of events and secrets more sinister and terrifying than any nightmare: the rocking chair in the nursery of the deserted Eel Marsh House, the eerie sound of pony and trap, a child's scream in the fog, and, most dreadfully, and for Kipps most tragically, the woman in black.

The Woman In Black
is both a brilliant exercise in atmosphere and controlled horror and a delicious spine-tingler — proof positive that that neglected genre, the ghost story, isn't dead after all.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

New Aestheticism

Godine translator Damion Searls has a manifesto in the newest issue of The Quarterly Conversation, in which he proclaims New Aestheticism: 'For all its implicit timelessness, New Aestheticism will no doubt one day be seen as a reaction to its age and therefore part of it, like the Chinese literati in dark times who turned away from a corrupt court to tend to their gardens. Whom has all our genocide testimony helped? Has deconstructing the bourgeois subject of linear narrative served any purpose but to construct an escapist ghetto for intellectuals who might otherwise have been among the best minds of their generation? And then of course there’s the Bush years.

But hear how shrill this all sounds. The New Aesthete would rather be beautiful than shrill. “I don’t know why literary people spend so much time apologizing for their perfectly harmless little books that no one will ever read. You don’t hear generals apologizing for killing people” (Leonora Carrington, The Hearing Trumpet).

If you write interesting sentences then people will want to read them if not then not, that is the truth.'

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Booked in Seattle

We Seattleites regularly share honors with the citizens of Minneapolis for living in the most literate American city, thanks to an annual study of urban newspaper circulation, bookstores, library resources, periodical publishing resources, educational attainment and internet resources. However, high rates of bookishness could just as easily boil down to weather: we have rain; they have snow.

In 2004, Seattle built a new central library, designed by the very cool Rem Koolhaus. We called the building, naturally, our Cool House. Opening year, I was one of dozens of docents taking thousands of admiring visitors on weekly tours of the soaring glass walls, pointing out the views of mountains and water, and threading my charges through open stacks which spiral through five continuous levels (picture a parking garage corkscrew). These days, I am one of four hundred volunteers who stage a semi-annual book sale of donated books and library cast-offs. Selling hardbacks for one dollar and paperbacks for fifty cents, these events have raised over a million dollars for the library.

The two-day book sale is housed in an abandoned airplane hanger, appropriate for Seattle. Add coffee and a laptop and we’ve fulfilled everyone’s cliché of a Seattle event. We volunteers gathered on the last Friday this past September to arrange 200,000 books spine-up on hundreds of long tables marked with homemade wooden signs labeled by subject category. I spent most of my time setting up history, gender issues, and biography. I noticed an inordinate number of Princess Diana books — maybe we’re finally over her? As a small guerrilla action, I removed all the copies of James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces from the biography section and put them in fiction.

Volunteers may take any two books for free and are allowed to buy six more during their shifts. This is a wonderful benefit as the sale itself is extremely crowded with long check-out lines. After about an hour of sorting and arranging, I’d already set aside twelve books I didn’t think I could live without. Clearly over my limit, I removed myself from temptation by working in the Slavic and Russian language section, where I couldn’t read the titles, let alone the books.

The agony of decision! It’s still a painful memory to think of the books I had to let go, as a fisherman regrets the ones that got away. One I regretfully released was Bulwer-Lytton’s Last Days of Pompeii, which looked like great fun, especially since I have recently finished pasting all our family travel pictures from Pompeii into a photo album — I love those red and black frescoes of the winged cherubs pouring wine from elegant amphorae as large as they are.

What treasures did I keep from my shift? Cecil Woodham-Smith’s The Reason Why: The Story of the Fatal Charge of the Light Brigade. I’ve long admired her biography of Florence Nightingale and expect her treatment of the Light Brigade to be equally intelligent and readable. Others were MFK Fisher’s Among Friends, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s selected letters, a biography of Bess of Hardwick, Consuelo Vanderbilt’s autobiography, Carolyn Heilbrun’s Hamlet’s Mother, the letters and journals of a Wyoming settler from 1905-1910 for a friend of mine with Wyoming roots, and a very small volume of essays titled Are Women Human? by Dorothy L. Sayers.

And what am I reading right now? The Brothers K by David James Duncan, and E.M. Forster’s Commonplace Book.

Looking at a person’s book collection says a lot about them. Go figure.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Genius Works in Portland, ME

Many hands shot up with questions following our authors’ presentation at Longfellow Books in downtown Portland, Maine. A thirteen-year-old Somalian girl wearing a beautiful hijab thoughtfully disagreed with a gray-haired man who said it was worth demolishing a New York City neighborhood in order to build Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. If that neighborhood had not been destroyed, she contended, there would have been more places to live for the many immigrants who arrived in the 1980s and ’90s. A blond eleven-year-old, perched attentively in the front row, asked if Jane Jacobs would ever have thought it was OK to tear down old buildings. What a great question. And there were more.

The inquisitive young people were middle-school children who had signed up for an after-school discussion with their resourceful school librarian about Genius of Common Sense: Jane Jacobs and the Story of The Death and Life of Great American Cities. After pondering such topics as mixed uses of buildings in a neighborhood, what makes for vibrant city life, and what worked in their own urban community in central Portland, they walked to an evening author visit (attended mainly by adults) at a local bookstore.

The young minds were racing with thoughts and questions stimulated by reading this book about Jane Jacobs, the obstreperous child who challenged her teachers with her questions and grew up to write a book that debunked conventional wisdom about cities. Marjory and I – and David Godine, who was also in the audience – were delighted to see that Genius can work with such “young adults” and older ones too. We thoroughly enjoyed the lively exchange across generations and cultures.

[Glenna Lang is the illustrator / author of several Godine titles, including Genius of Common Sense.]

Friday, October 2, 2009

NEIBA 2009: Hartford

Sales manager Rachael Ringenberg and production / sales associate Daniel Pritchard will be attending this year's New England Independent Bookseller Association trade show in Hartford. We're at Booth #10, so please stop by and introduce yourself or just to say hello. We're also holding a Free Raffle good for a $100 Gift Certificate to David R. Godine — so make sure to pack your business cards!