Our summer plans… Mizzou, Stephens, and Columbia College have all had their graduation ceremonies and many students have moved away for the summer. We’ve already noticed the change: there’s more parking, you can get a table at Cafe Berlin for brunch … Continue reading
So there’s a new book you may have heard about: When Breath Becomes Air, by the late Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon who died of lung cancer last March. In the last year of his life he published several essays on facing cancer, the irony of being a doctor with a terminal illness, and the sadness of not being able to see his daughter grow up. And Paul worked on a book, shepherded to completion and publication by his wife Lucy. But I don’t think of him as Paul – I think of him as Pubby (his nickname). Because that’s how he was introduced to me twenty years ago.
Pubby and I had a lot of things in common. We were English majors, active members of the Stanford Band, wrote scripts for the Band’s field shows, and served terms as public relations director for the Band. This is an understatement, but he had a great sense of humor – it worked on levels from subtle and dry to completely over-the-top and crazy. We liked each other’s writing, and shared stories about crazy hate mail we responded to. I remember when he tried to bleach his hair, and the closest he could get was orange. I’ve heard he always wore fake mustaches for ID photos, and was known to randomly show up to events wearing a gorilla suit.
He had another side, it turns out. Besides majoring in English, he also majored in human biology, and like many of my band friends, eventually became a doctor (by the way, majoring in Hum Bio alone is tough, without a reading-heavy major like English on top of it). He returned to the Bay Area, working as a neurosurgeon at the Stanford hospital. And the rest you know, or you will when you read his book. We weren’t close friends, and I hadn’t seen him in person in about ten years, but the news of his illness hit me harder than I expected. Reading his moving words made it a little easier to think of his impending death, if only because I could see how his various and disparate talents had melded in this perfect, tragic, way.
One thing that will really get you is when Pubby writes about his and Lucy’s daughter, who was born in the last year of his life. He knew he wouldn’t have much time with her, but he was determined to enjoy all the time he had. I look at my children and wonder if I have made the most of my time with them – how they would remember me if they were suddenly to lose me. Pubby was the third person from my era of the LSJUMB to pass away in a span of about a year (all from cancer), prompting me (and many of my friends, I’m sure) to dwell on my own mortality. But Pubby’s writing, I think, will not cause us to become obsessed with our deaths, but our lives: is what we’re doing worth doing? What is the best use we can make of the time we have left, however much time that is? What are the things that are really most important to us? I hope his book will help you find the answers to these questions. Snowden’s secret in Catch-22 is that man is matter, that we are fragile machines prone to destruction. Pubby’s secret is that despite that fragility, man can matter – we can choose to make a difference in this world before our own fragile machines break down, and our breath becomes air.
Despite what people may think, owning your own bookshop doesn’t mean that you get to read all day. In fact, Joe has probably read less in a year than he ever has… which is probably a good sign for the business (things are going really well and we’re really busy!) but it’s murder on his page count. What’s his page count you ask? Well… as truly obsessed readers can tell you, not only do you keep a count of how many individual books you’ve read, you also keep track of how many pages you’ve read. (Author’s note: I only keep track of how many books, NOT how many pages)
However, we were both still able to read enough to still call ourselves book lovers. So here are our favorite books we’ve read this year.
Joe’s Top 5 Favorite Books:
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin
Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World, by Haruki Murakami
The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier
Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
The Man in the High Castle, by Philip K. Dick
BEST OF THE BEST:
A tie between…
Ready Player One, Ernest Cline
Set in the not too distant future, this novel tells the story of the Oasis, a virtual reality world that provides relief for the unpleasant reality of Wade, aka Par7ival. When the creator of the Oasis dies, his will reveals a contest: the individual who solves a series of puzzles within the virtual world will inherit the whole thing. Both an homage to 1980s nerd culture (Wargames, D&D, Monty Python, Joust) and a reasonable glimpse into a dismal future, Ready Player One will transport you and thrill you.
The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
The Hugo Award winner from 1962, this novel feels as fresh as ever – like most of PKD’s work. The novel’s hook is its setting: an alternate history in which the United States lost World War II and was divided between Germany and Japan. The novel mostly takes place in Japanese-occupied San Francisco, but quickly demonstrates it is much more than an alternate history novel. Dick ruminates on the concepts of authenticity of artifacts, fate and the I Ching, and the nature of reality itself.
Kelsey’s Top 5 Favorite Books:
Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs, Sally Mann
Dumplin’, Julie Murphy
We Were Liars, E. Lockhart
Improbable Theory of Ana & Zak, Brian Katcher
How I Live Now, Meg Rosoff
BEST OF THE BEST:
Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs, Sally Mann
A beautifully written memoir about family, land, growing up in the south, art, poetry, photography, and controversy. I was fascinated by her upbringing, her relationship with artist Cy Twombly, and her photographic process. But where I connected the most with this book is when she talks about being both an artist and a mother, which historically, most male artists haven’t had to balance. Much like her honest, real, and meticulously rendered photographs, Mann’s memoir is a picture into how an artist is created.
People ask us all the time about which books sell the best in our shop and it’s hard coming up with a list immediately. Getting ready for Banned Books Week, we looked over the list of the past year’s most … Continue reading
Not only did we adopt you from Second Chance, we named you for one of our favorite characters in literature. And then, you know, we like, NAMED our business Yellow Dog Bookshop in honor of you.
You are so soft and sweet and empathetic. You deserve to have businesses named for you! Ice cream flavors named for you! Art contests held in your honor and so much more!
So why then, dearest Scout, did you eat ANOTHER book in our house? I know board books taste good… Our kids certainly thought they tasted good. But they grew out of that and yet here you are at the ripe old age of 9 and you’re still gnawing on cardboard.
We love you and we promise to always come home to you. We know you love us and miss us when we leave… You don’t need to show us by eating our books.
Joe, Kelsey, Bean, and Boo
We met working in an independent bookstore in California at Kepler’s Books & Magazines. The Bay Area is flush with independent bookstores like Books Inc., Green Apple Books, City Lights, Santa Cruz Bookshop, and so many more. What we … Continue reading
As Joe and I trekked up to his parents’ house in Normal, IL with both kids in tow, we started talking about books. I know, what are the odds that two people who own a bookshop would start talking about books?
At the end of the year we usually tally up how many books we’ve read (Joe keeps a page count as well, which I find slightly insane and charming all wrapped up together). This year we each had a couple of books stand out for us.
On Joe’s list:
1. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan
This is what happens if you cross Douglas Coupland with Neal Stephenson. A recently unemployed web designer falls back on his first love (books) when he notices a help wanted sign in a very unusual bookstore in San Francisco. Discovering a puzzle hidden in the mysterious volumes of the store’s tall stacks, he creates a program to solve it, only to find greater puzzles waiting. A great read for people who love both books and technology, but love books more.
2. The Cat’s Table, by Michael Ondaatje
Traveling by ship from Ceylon to England, a boy falls in with a motley assortment of passengers: two other boys his own age, a slightly seedy pianist, a gardener of exotic plants, and others. The narrator looks back at his 1950s self with a mix of wonder, nostalgia, and regret as he ponders the effects of this voyage on the lives of his friends. This novel is Ondaatje at his best, blending colorful characters, stories within stories, and lyrical but economic prose to rebuild a magical time and place.
3. Blythewood, by Carol Goodman
In Blythewood, author Carol Goodman revisits New York’s Hudson Valley, the setting of many of her adult novels, in her first YA/teen fantasy. In 1911, a young garment worker named Avaline Hall discovers there is more to her world than she knows – just as she is plucked from her hardscrabble life by her wealthy grandmother, she finds a world of wonder and danger at Blythewood, a boarding school that trains young women to defend humanity from dark and fantastic creatures. Blending real world events (the Triangle fire) with fairy tales come to life, Goodman builds a compelling story perfect for fans of Libba Bray.
And for Kelsey (me):
1. Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell
Set in 1986, this is the story of two teens who bond over music and comic books while riding the bus to school every morning. Eleanor has fiery red hair and dresses in old hand-me-down clothes. Park, half Korean & half white, dresses in black and loves punk music. Eleanor is different, and Park is both nervous for her and intrigued by her. Park is different, and Eleanor is drawn to his inner confidence and charmed by his “normal” family.
I thought the writing was good- particularly the back-and-forth repartee between the two, as well as Eleanor’s interior monologue. The heavier plot lines regarding abuse and poverty were handled beautifully. I really loved this book!
2. The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
Theo Decker recounts his life story – including how he managed to steal, or rescue, a famous painting during a terrorist attack on a museum. The writing is wonderful, with the turns of phrase that only Donna Tartt can pull off. I love stories that bring in many different elements that seem random but then are brought back and essentially become the most important parts of the plot.
3. The Weight of Blood, by Laura McHugh
Written by a local (Columbia, Mo) author, this eerie crime novel takes place in the Ozark mountains. Lucy Dane is grappling with the murder of her friend, another high schooler in their small town. As Lucy begins to uncover the grisly truth about her town, friends, and family, the truth about her mother’s disappearance 16 years before is revealed. This book reminded me of Tana French & Gillian Flynn’s stories, in which the history of the characters becomes just as important as the current storyline. It reminds us that our past experiences are never fully dealt with, but come back for us to search through as new situations trigger their echoes.
People ask us all the time where we get our books for the shop. The short answer is from all over.
We buy books for cash and / or trade at the shop. Joe, who manages the inventory, doesn’t take every title or genre. He won’t take books that are in bad condition or are underlined. In a college town we get a fair amount of people who are moving on and want to reduce the amount of boxes they have to move. And because many of them are students, we also see a fair amount of underlined or highlighted books.
Book sales are my personal favorite because Joe and I go together with a plan for book world domination. I’m always in charge of the Fiction area and usually also in charge of kids books. He’s in charge of everything else.
Not everyone has the time or energy for a giant book sale- they are not for the faint of heart. You have to get there early and sometimes wait in line in the rain before they open the doors. It gets hot really fast inside the community center, library, or church and you have to carry heavy boxes back to your car. At the last book sale we went to, an older woman pinched my arm to encourage me to get out of her way. It can be brutal in there. People are serious about their books (let’s not even get started with book scanners…).
After buying books at a large sale we usually try and grab a bite to eat – alone with no kids?! Hungry from all of that hard work?! We sit and eat and tell each other about all of the books we scored. It’s all very self-congratulatory and silly. And quite fun.
We appreciate our customers buying books in our shop and supporting a local business. So many of the books we’ve just picked up at a sale sell within a day or two as if customers can tell how excited we are to share these new-to-us titles with them.
We want to write more about our first year of owning a bookshop… so hopefully in the next couple of days we’ll manage to do it! But for now… here’s a glimpse into our Birthday Bash! We gave away pies made by Peggy Jean’s Pies (a local Columbia favorite); had live music by the coolest kid in town (he’s so cool he only goes by one name… Anders); face painting & kids crafts rounded out our party.
We have the best customers ever and as usual they came out to support us! This year has been a whirlwind and we couldn’t ask for a better community to be involved in… we love CoMo!
When readers have children they discover how much time those children suck up their reading time. We love our children. We really do… but we love our books too.
It’s not just the actual books that we miss, but the time hunting for books in the bookstore (without having to head to the kid’s section). It’s the dream of a stack of books on the bedside table that doesn’t include a Sandra Boynton board book (no matter how delightful they are). And it’s the feeling of being able to read uninterrupted with a bowl of ice cream in the living room (not at the kitchen table) without little tiny footsteps creeping down the stairs at night… catching you in the act (and requiring you to put the book down, return the spoon to your bowl, and explain that yes, parents sometimes eat dessert without their kids, and then starting the bedtime routine all over again). Because we miss our books (and the ability to consume junk food without the kiddos catching us in the act), we invented the Nap / Read.
Oh! And those of us who relied on a daily or at least weekendly nap… well, that goes right out the window when your kiddos stop napping. When you do finally get a chance to read you inevitably fall asleep because you’re sleep deprived from never getting to nap and catch up on your sleep.
The rules of Nap / Read are simple… You must bring more books than you can ever actually finish in a 24 hour period (because that’s about how long the average Nap / Read lasts for us). You must pack an excess of junk food (all of the stuff you tell your kids is really bad for them and that they should NEVER eat). You cannot watch TV (we advise NOT going on Nap / Read during March Madness if you’re basketball fans… you will be tempted to watch the madness the whole time you’re supposed to be READING). You cannot… uh, well… spend your time doing things other than reading, eating junk, and falling asleep randomly whenever you feel like it. In other words, save your “let’s reconnect time” for a different getaway (and maybe don’t bring as many books on that trip).
The short of it… we sit around and read and fall asleep and eat junk food in the same uninterrupted space. It’s absolute heaven.