I am a freelance author, writer, critic, artist, and entrepreneur living in the Heart of the Texas Hill Country.
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Sometimes I wonder how people come to recommend books, like how, or why it is that they decide on one book over another to share with a person. I do know that in reality it’s no more complicated than arbitrarily picking a title that you have either enjoyed or have heard about and suggesting it, but I don’t know, I think that I want it to mean more than that. A typical person reads on average four books a year, and when you consider how many books are published every year the whole concept of the arbitrary book recommendation—errgh—it’s like everybody flooding their unwanted political opinions throughout social media—you know, we’re living in the age of your fact being just as real as my opinion, when really almost everything that we do, in our social media life, is veiled by the umbrella of validation, it’s like someone saying, “damn it read it, cause I told you to, although I didn’t really read it either…”
But, we don’t recommend books to validate ourselves, so what is it actually that I’m trying to say?
While working in bookstores I learned pretty quickly that one of my most important responsibilities, at least in regards to customer service, is the book recommendation. People walking through the doors are most eager to inquire about their next read, and they leave this profound task upon the shoulders of a perfect stranger. I know from experience that many booksellers really are not that eager to engage with someone when it comes down to the recommendation because, for a number of booksellers, they tend to be a little highbrow in their tastes and, therefore, in the particular act of recommending a book to someone whom “has likely never even heard of a single author that [I] might go out of my way to suggest,” said bookseller will resort to recommending something as similar as possible to the last thing that you read, and it would be irrelevant to them whether you actually enjoyed it—assuming that is that the bookseller hasn’t brushed the request off by being “too busy.”
With that said, I have always enjoyed giving recommendations, in part because sharing is caring, right? I mean introducing a person to a new author, or a new style of writing, or even a book written by an author they might be familiar with though the title is unfamiliar to them, or perhaps they have always meant to read it and have never gotten around to it and I just happened to remind them. Regardless it’s irrelevant what someone may usually read, and whom they may not be familiar with—especially in terms of the last book one might have finished. Recommending books is an interesting challenge, and even more so when someone walks through the door looking for recommendations and have filters that need to be maneuvered.
The Light Between Oceans by M.L Stedman; this is a conventional historical novel—read in many book clubs—that takes place in Australia shortly after World War I, a young newly married couple suffered a stillbirth only to discover a small boat which has washed ashore, on which they find a dead man and a living infant girl, a happenstance that the young woman convinces her husband “to be a gift from God.” It is very well written, and is well worth your time
The Light Between Oceans
by M. L. Stedman
I googled book recommendations and went through a number of the sites that popped up—I noticed recently that I look at landing pages differently, and the ranked pages that are the first few that Google lists now that I have spent a great deal of time studying SEO—most of the articles offer the same incite, which is “Where do [we] even begin?” and then they all follow through to list a number of books but, I mean, if you’re a book reviewer or writer or you run a bookstore in some fashion writing about book recommendations is incredibly important if only to direct traffic to your site. I have, of course, thought about writing the blog many times over the past years, since I started this website and blog, and every time I actually sat down to write the blog the idea that I was trying to convey would be lost somewhere after the first few paragraphs, and I’m not sure if I can explain why. I could do exactly what every other site and article that I happened upon has done, which is to write a short introductive paragraph and start listing books, but I think, for one thing, and as I have mentioned in a previous blog: reading is deeply personal for me, I’m not always eager to share my experience of reading a particular book with anyone. I love the conversations that watching movies and listening to music and even writing often develops but reading, for whatever reason, is a conversation that I actively avoid, and especially the sharing of the experience.
However, I love sharing the act of reading with people, but because it’s so intrinsically existential I suppose, for me, recommending a book should have more of an impact than tossing a copy of Red Sky at Morning on the floor at someone’s feet whispering, “Read it.”
Red Sky at Morning
by Richard Bradford
There are a handful of authors that I have learned I really enjoy recommending, and I think it’s because there is a certain universality to them while also introducing people to someone new, but of course it depends greatly on whether whomever I’m talking to has heard of said author. I’ve also learned that depending on where I have lived certain authors are less commonly known, and I have become pretty good at reading people as a result. Haruki Murakami is one of those authors, and especially when recommending some of his earlier novels because they were considerably more epic than his more recent works, his newer stuff feels a little forced to me—although I have read everything, and will continue to—he is kind of known for being formulaic, his novels follow a very specific formula which I discuss in my blog Haruki Murakami: A Profile.
Kafka on the Shore
By Haruki Murakami
When I think about writing this blog, I’m looking for something more to say or to offer, as if I were attempting to create some platform of intent: after reading this blog you’ll have everything you need to in order to maneuver the subtleties of the book recommendation, like, for example, I would want to create an app, kind of like a dating app, you input some information, maybe take a compatibility test, and the next thing you know you are well on your way to exploring every book that would inherently consume your being, but alas “I wouldn’t even know where to begin.”
It is important to branch out, and to experience new writers, and new styles, and new ideas, but you will likely find that it’s also enjoyable. A friend of mine in high school and I used to introduce one another to new music. Every time we saw each other, which was every day, he would have new musicians or bands for me to listen to, and I would leave him with his own list to explore. Every one of the musicians that I listen to today was discovered because of that experience either directly or indirectly, as some ripple effect of those conversations. I have three friends, at least, from Barnes&Noble either in Salt Lake City or New York City whose friendship was enlisted in much the same way, although it was with books. We would simply throw ideas out at one another and dive into great new authors. It was also during one of those ventures that I learned that it is OK to not finish a book, if you really just don’t like it. Put it down, never pick it up again, and you know what, as a matter of fact, just get rid of it—I don’t mean to toss it out a 5th story walkup or to burn it but sell it back to a used bookstore for a little extra cash or trade.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr; another conventional historical novel—also read in many book clubs—that takes place in German occupied France during World War II. I little girl goes blind when she was 6 years old and her father goes through extraordinary measures in order to help her to live an independent adult life.
All the Light We Cannot See
By Anthony Doerr
While I was browsing for book recommendation sites on Google I did come across this article on Mashable, and it’s no different than any other that I came across however the feeling I got while reading it was better than most. Also I came across a How To of recommendations on BookRiot’s website and, by the way, if this is a site that you have not yet visited take it on my word, you should. It’s a great site.
BookRiot’s 5 Tips for Being Great at Recommending Books:
1.) "Recognize Read-a-Likes. If the person asking you for a recommendation is asking for a book that is like another title, you’re looking to match two things: motifs and tone. Motifs are recurring elements in a book that give it its particular flavor; tone is atmosphere, how light/dark the book is, whether it’s cynical, hopeful, funny, etc. For example, if someone asks you to recommend a book to read if they loved The Night Circus, look for a book that has similar motifs (magic, Victoriana) and a similar tone (romantic, lush, hopeful, tense). Comb your book memory for a title with all or many of those things; of course, if you don’t have an encyclopedic memory of everything you’ve ever read, you’ll need to…"
2.) "Keep Good Records. If you have trouble remembering what you’ve read, keep a book journal, an account on Goodreads, a spreadsheet, or some record of your reading life. It should be easily accessible, so when you’re at dinner with a friend and she asks you for a rec, you can pull it out and quickly consult it. For 201 level record keeping, add tags to each title for its genre and the format in which you read it. Someone wants an excellent audiobook about nature? I can find one in my spreadsheet in about three seconds. Need a romance that you want to read digitally? Done and done. I can even tell you if it’s available at our local library."
3.) "Ask the key question. “What’s the last book you read that you loved?” is the only question you ever need when someone is asking you for a reading recommendation and you don’t know anything about their taste. The answer will give you motifs and tones to pull from; if you haven’t read it, you at least have a genre to pull from. If the person can’t remember or isn’t a big reader, ask the same question, but about movies. You might luck out and find they last watched a book adaptation, but even if that’s not the case, you’ll get an idea of what kind of story they enjoy."
4.) "Read wider. If you only read the classics and bestsellers, you’re not going to be a very effective or interesting recommender of books. No one needs you to tell them to read Dickens or Stephen King or Agatha Christie or whoever won the Pulitzer this year. Branch out. Read in the genres you haven’t read yet, pick up books from small presses. Read diversely from authors in translation, from authors from different ethnicities and sexual orientations than your own. Become a source of serendipity for the people you’re recommending for. Help them discover gems."
5.) Abandon snobbery. No one is going to ask you to recommend their next read if they think you’re going to judge them for their current one. If you still hold onto outdated ideas about science fiction or romance or comic books, you probably haven’t read from those genres for the last few decades: go do so. If your James-Patterson-obsessed dad wants a recommendation and you happen to be a little snooty about JPatz, you’re going to have to move away from that attitude to fairly consider what it is about those books that has your dad enthralled so you can give him the next book he’ll love. Books have readers for reasons. Be open to those reasons.
I often see friends of mine asking for book recommendations on Facebook, and I rarely make any suggestions, though I rarely engage on Facebook in any respect, with the exception only of my Communitea Books Facebook Page. A couple weeks ago a friend of mine posted a desperate need for a book recommendation and she listed a handful of filters, a number of books immediately came to mind, so I did browse the comments—which is another reason why I rarely engage on Facebook, the bloody comments, my goodness people will come up with any reason to bash Obama (even still) or to taunt Trump…whoa, I thought this was a book forum?!—but regardless of whether I was planning on actually commenting, I did want to at least, I don’t know, make sure that people were recommending books, but in the snobbish, “…these books are lame,” kind of mentality, it was more in the sense that I was looking to reinvigorate my hope in humanity—that people are still reading! Of course, I know they are, but it’s fantastic to be reminded of that.
…furthermore, if you are interested in a book recommendation please contact us at email@example.com I am quite good at it, and I’ll get the book, if we don’t already have it, for a better price than you will find anywhere online in comparison with the same book of condition and edition ;)
Red Sky at Morning by Richard Bradford
Trade Paperback; Used. Red Sky at Morning by Richard Bradford.
"The classic coming-of-age story set in New Mexico during World War II about the enduring spirit of youth and the values in life that count.:
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Trade Paperback; Used. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Historical Fiction.
"...about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.
Marie-Laure lives in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where her father works. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.
In a mining town in Germany, Werner Pfennig, an orphan, grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find that brings them news and stories from places they have never seen or imagined. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments and is enlisted to use his talent to track down the resistance. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.
Doerr’s “stunning sense of physical detail and gorgeous metaphors” (San Francisco Chronicle) are dazzling. Ten years in the writing, a National Book Award finalist, All the Light We Cannot See is a magnificent, deeply moving novel from a writer “whose sentences never fail to thrill” (Los Angeles Times)."
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Trade Paperback; Used. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami.
"Kafka on the Shore displays one of the world’s great storytellers at the peak of his powers.
Here we meet a teenage boy, Kafka Tamura, who is on the run, and Nakata, an aging simpleton who is drawn to Kafka for reasons that he cannot fathom. As their paths converge, acclaimed author Haruki Murakami enfolds readers in a world where cats talk, fish fall from the sky, and spirits slip out of their bodies to make love or commit murder, in what is a truly remarkable journey."
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There is something that feels uniquely American about harboring severe judgements of radical intent which, I suppose, is to say that we have a tendency to lean fiercely towards the extreme ends of the spectrum, regardless of the spectrum. Once labeled you are the stereotype, as well as the many pendulous archetypes that follow. In the fall of 1994 my sister, mother, father and I would sit down weekly to watch the new Star Trek incarnation: Voyager, not one of us could be considered a Trekkie, however each of us could enjoy the series—and others like it—for any number of reasons: the outrageous plot lines, unilateral character development, and the exceptionally—and intentional—“B” status, among other reasons. It’s the same appreciation that would allow me to enjoy myself at a Star Trek convention while simultaneously gawking at the satiric humor of Galaxy Quest. Some people might clarify the mental wherewithal by suggesting to, “…do everything in moderation.” Though I make every attempt to avoid the particular aphorism. We enjoyed the show, but we were not consumed by it, and there has been little—if anything—in my life that has consumed me to the point of behavioral dissonance. Suggesting to, “…do everything in moderation,” sounds, to me, like the temptation otherwise might be great, though I struggle to accept moderation. In reality I am capable of enjoying something for what it is, and I generally don’t extend more to that appreciation than that of an intrinsic piece of entertainment.
Last August when I starting building my online bookstore and found myself sitting for hours uploading books, individually transferring relatable information for each and every one of my greater than 2,000 book collection I also discovered a renewed interest in television. I had previously stopped watching TV. I am not one of those obnoxious pseudotrites aspiring only to judge and condemn anyone whom acts, interests, or believes differently and in this case I did not quit watching TV because I had been elevated to a higher level of humanaic consciousness, for me it could be considered a general addiction, I stopped watching television because I likely wouldn’t have done anything else—I would posit, as well, that our pseudotrites are actually more like “us” than they would like to admit. As it turned out sit-coms were a convenient backdrop to my work once music, in that particular setting, became suddenly nettlesome. There were of course a number of shows that I had been “meaning” to watch for an exponential number of years, and so I thought, “What the hell!” I watched the Office, Parks & Rec, The Killing, Sherlock, Numb3rs, and Criminal Minds: Behavioral Analysis Unit as I was browsing for a new show, recently—I still spent a great deal of time working in my living room, uploading new books to communiteabooks.com, and Instagram, and Pinterest and diving deep into marketing and learning new marketing techniques—I discovered Star Trek Voyager on Amazon Prime, and so I have been re-watching it, and it has taken me back to a different time. I am almost finished with season 3 and I’m feeling nostalgic in a very healthy, and seemingly physiological way. I was nine when I first started watching this show, needless to say it was a simpler time, in many-many more ways than the one.
I am appreciating the nostalgia: the characters, the music, and remembering how differently members of my family would react as the story would unfold. The music, especially during the first two seasons, really struck me; the opening sequence would begin and as the solar flare passed and the shows name would appear—I smiled every time. I couldn’t help it. I have also noticed a few differences in me: how I would react to the show; how I would react to the characters; something similar happened to me when I watched Numb3rs: I had originally started watching the show years ago—I forget the circumstances exactly—and I never finished it, I made it through a season, maybe some of two. I remember thinking how bad Don Eppes was to his brother Charlie the first time I watched it. The second time around, however, when I picked it up again sometime last year I didn’t feel the same way. Their relationship was somewhat turbulent but not nearly to the extent that I had previously felt, but the show hadn’t changed—I did. I’m noticing something similar re-watching Voyager. When I was younger a nine, ten, eleven year old boy my Star Trek Voyager celebrity crush was on Kes played by Jennifer Lien, however this time around, as an older man, I find that I would be more interested in Lt. B’Elanna Torres now, played by Roxanne Dawson. The two characters are fairly different from one another, at least in respect to their worldviews and, it’s funny, I just realized that Tom Paris played by Robert Duncan McNeil also had an interest for both Kes and B’Elanna Torres, and although I like the actor Paris is one of my least favorite characters.
Communitea Books had a great week last week, and I’m enjoying the thought that returning to a more childlike place emotionally and mentally may be, in part, responsible for that. There was a lot about my childhood that I have been grateful for inasmuch as there has been a great deal about my adult life that I have been grateful for, however those two people had never really met—my present and former self. I was ripped out of my childhood and spent some time in kind of an emotional purgatory before allowing myself to become an adult. This time while I am re-watching the show I am learning to allow those two people to meet, by exploring my childhood and Star Trek Voyager is allowing for some previously dormant feelings and emotions to become wakeful and relevant again. I do believe that too often people lose sight of who they are by forgetting who they were, and the shadow of some warped belief that it’s necessary to give up part of your childhood, to adopt a kind of mutual cynicism, and accept some illusive, senseless, and insidious truth. It is that childlike purview that allows you to enjoy something simply for the sake of enjoying it. To enjoy Star Trek without worrying about the obscurities of stereotypes, and to rediscover a childlike sincerity that will only strengthen your efforts throughout life without concerning yourself with an over involvement of moderation.
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I have always envied people whom are capable of speed reading, and retaining all of the information, the extreme side of the spectrum is an eidetic memory, otherwise known as a photographic memory. Many scientist agree that you cannot develop and eidetic memory, but I am not so sure about that. I read an interesting fact about eidetic memory that I shall share with you is that: the memory does not rely upon visual input, but rather it utilizes the capacity of the other body senses (Koka, 2016). And, with that in mind, there are exercises that you can do to improve your memory, such as: working on visualization skills (e.g. memory recall in greater and greater detail), playing card games (learning to count cards, etc.), encourage active reading (reading something with intent to discover information), chunking information into smaller bites, learn to make [memory] multi-sensory (explore your surroundings with all your senses, consciously), the ‘Duel n Back’ game (which can be found at brain scale), and the method of loci, or ‘places,’ which is spatial memory (walking around your home with zero light using only your memory to guide you without running into anything).
Another method that presented itself one evening while I was watching Road Trip with Sean William Scott, Amy Smart, Tom Green and others: a key to learning, and retaining information quicker and with greater ease comes by relating new information with information that you already have.
“Rubin: “What Class is that again?” Josh: “Ancient Philosophy” Rubin: “Well I can teach you ancient philosophy in 46 hours.” Josh: “Really?” Rubin: “Yeah, I can teach Japanese to a monkey in 46 hours. The key is just finding a way to relate to the material.””
Many of us do not realize however that we actually do have to teach ourselves how to learn, and memory, as most of us were fortunate to realize at some point in high school, is a huge part of learning, and understanding that we are capable of stretching our memories to retain information that we do not really want to have. We never have a problem remembering things that we are interested in—those things that intrigue us—but all that other crap, all of that everything else, that we would rather not deal with—do we really need that? And why does it so often stick with us anyway? When I was growing up it was easier to separate the two, however now, with Facebook and our media—having changed as dramatically as it has—useless crap is spilling out of our ears. I, for one, have no interest in political memes, although one did help me to recall the correct response at trivia last week, nevertheless it occurred to me that if my brain has to retain that one piece of useless information that popped up on my Facebook feed that I could not care less about, I would much rather my brain simply remember everything that it sees, reads, and hears all of the time, exactly.
I watch Criminal Minds: Behavioral Analysis Unit and, for those of you who are also fans you already know where I am going with this: Dr. Spencer Reid is an f@$king badass. Dr. Reid has an eidetic memory; the especially fantastical episodes or scenes are when he hits a switch in his brain and we watch him recalling information, even conversationally, verbatim. I want that! I read two books fairly recently that were incredibly fascinating, and I would like to come back to them once that I have made certain deductions about memory, I have a feeling I will get more from reading it with [those] in mind—you know by employing that thing I mentioned earlier called active reading—they were How to Read Literature like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster, a book which many people are familiar with, I think that it is required reading now in many college courses, and Mastermind: How to Think like Sherlock Holmes by Maria Konnikova.
I dated a girl not too long ago that could open a book and within hours have finished it, and I am not talking about one of those pleasant ‘one sitting’ novels, I mean a novel that is, on average, three- to four-hundred pages and I suppose that she remembers a good bit of it, probably because in those hours she allows it to consume her. And now that I am thinking about it that thought, actually, might explain a lot. I envied that about her, but it was all that I envied about her, and now knowing that a novel, in as many ways as is possible, became, for those few hours, her reality and she became, for those few hours, whichever character she deemed fit, and as she would come out, many of those characteristics, those that she either shared with a character or wish she had, would become a part of her, and after a time, and many-many books, she had become a puzzle of a collection of pieces each of which allowed her to experience something about this world she was afraid to actually touch.
“Time moves in one direction, memory in another.” William Gibson
My memory is unusual, I cannot make sense of it. I remember behaviors well, and intentions, and ambitions, alongside useless facts, and where at a table people sat, however there are some things that my memory does not seem to have an inclination for and the reason escapes me, but probably only because I am looking for it. The ultimate irony is how can I look for a memory that is behind me, and only in shadow?
“We take it for granted that life moves forward. You build memories; you build momentum. You move as a rower moves: facing backwards. You can see where you’ve been, but not where you’re going. And your boat is steered by a younger version of you. It’s hard not to wonder what life would be like facing the other way.”
I think, when it comes down to how I perceive the world, in our humanity, and as emotional creatures it seems obvious to me that we are bound to our moods, and our feelings, and our emotions too entirely they affect us profoundly in a moment and then in the next moment that feeling is fleeting, and we are different. Memory, which lives in such high regard, as if memory in-, and of itself was a being of our own creation that we are indebted to and that follow us, and yet our memories are as fluid and fleeting as the feeling that inspired our behavior in the first place, I think that is why eidetic memories are so intriguing to me, because they are balance; imagine a space between logic and emotion that collects the pieces that are left behind, and that space is neutral—remembering everything as it was, exactly and not how our emotions wanted them to be. From my humanist perspective that would astounding, but, on the flip side of that it would also be pretty great to locate a single passage from War and Peace on a moments’ notice just for the hell of it from my head.
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The vast majority of people throughout the United States are unware of how different our country is depending on where it is that you live. It will rarely cross your mind that the people living in the Southwest are not experiencing the same thing as those living in the Midwest, and so-on-and-so-forth, there are, of course similarities, an example of which being McDonaldization and the illusion that efficiency and familiarity establish some deeply-rooted since of comfortability, though this is not entirely true. Yes, regardless, I did laugh at Tom Segura’s joke, “…the worse part, honestly, of traveling in our country is that there’s no surprises. I swear to you, I travel every week, and it’s really a disappointment. Every place is exactly what I thought it was going to be. You know? I can prove it to you. Picture a place you’ve never been to in this country. Picture it. Yup. That’s exactly how it is.”
…because there is truth to that, it’s those similarities, or differences that we actually think about: I live in Texas, in a little town in the heart of the Texas Hill Country, I grew up here, I moved out of state after high school for ten years, and now I’m back, there are still people who believe that here in Texas we ride our horses to work, and granted in another little town about 40 miles from me called Bandera there is truth to that, but they do not speak for the rest of Texas, however, you would be surprised by how different things actually are.
I keep repeating myself, why? Because it’s important for you to understand the differences. When I was living in Salt Lake City I developed a strong craving for Jamba Juice one Sunday afternoon, I drove around for nearly two hours just hoping to find a Jamba Juice that was open on a Sunday. I remember having a conversation with a female friend—or so I thought she was—until I asked her, “So, can men and women be friends?” Her response was, “Yeah, I think so.” I continued with, “What if one of them is married?” To which her response was, “Oh, absolutely not.”
The way that people think, what people are interested in, how people express and act on those interests, all of which, and more, differ depending very much on where it is within the United States that you live. I was at the gym last week in the middle of a conversation—which, frankly, I still cannot understand what this friend of mine was thinking approaching me at the gym while I wearing headphones, I honestly don’t care how well I might know you—he asked me about my work, “So you run an online library, right? How’s that going?” I responded with, “Well, it’s a bookstore…you know, and it’s going great…” He looked at me after I corrected him about my business being a bookstore and not a library as if to say, what’s the difference? And there’s a truth to that, in Texas. If you’re even the slightest bibliophile (book person) living wherever it is that you might be living you are probably familiar with Book People in Austin and Larry McMurtry’s bookstore in Archer City, Booked Up, those are the two bookstores to speak of in the state—in the state of Texas! And most Texan’s are not familiar with them, but then again most Texan’s are still under the impression that printed books and bookstores are a thing of the past, most Texan’s are not aware that as of 2012 bookstores, and especially privately owned used bookstores have seen a steady increase both in new stores and sales, and that digital—or eBooks—had leveled out in sales.
It’s a result, entirely, of this misconception that though you might drive by (or thru) a number of familiar franchises between here and everywhere else, that everywhere else is not the same. They are not watching the same news stations, they are not hearing—or agreeing—with the same ideals, and I’m not referring to a political agenda, even though our government and media has managed to make everything seem like it’s a political arena in attempt to divide a manipulated American public, bu-bu-buuttt that’s not exactly the point of this blog. I want to talk about books, and about reading, guess what? Reading is alive and well, and you fellow Texan’s I’m not only talking about in “dirty liberal cities” like San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, and New York, small town moderate (left of-, right of center Americans) are tearing through the spines of an increasing number of books and hauling them—after reading—to their local libraries or bookstores (what’s the difference again?) for reselling.
Did you know that Half Price Books started in Austin, Texas? HPB is one of the largest book retailers in the country, and, that’s right, it started here in lil ol’ Texas—there are five stores in San Antonio. Just outside of San Antonio in the numerous growing towns such as Boerne, Bandera, Comfort, Kerrville, Fredericksburg, and New Braunfuls the only existing bookstores (that are not specialty stores) exist within the local libraries, which, unfortunately, do not have the means to offer to the town the inventory or the hours that the residents deserve. The main reason for this is the fact that most people in rural Texas do not understand that people still enjoy reading. I know, from a number of perspectives that might sound ludicrous, in the sense that how can a person not know what they like, but that’s not what I’m trying to get across, it’s that you don’t necessarily know what other people like, and individuals, for whatever reason, make the assumption that they are different from everybody else, that our own interests are not shared by the people around us, and it’s that idea exactly that is the catalyst behind the ‘mob mentality’ reaction to—well, now-a-days, to just about everything.
Printed books are not going anywhere. And it’s not just about nostalgia, though there is something about holding a book, smelling it, having it resting on our shelves, it’s not entirely about that, and it may not be the most logical understanding, but the simple truth is that the reason books are not going anywhere is because, they are books. The Gutenberg Bible was printed in 1455, that’s more than 560 years ago. Don’t let your misunderstanding of what others may or may not understand affect something that you actually enjoy doing, pick up a book, grab something of your shelf, open the spine, and start reading. Respond to this article, and tell me what you decided to read, and how it made you feel—or visit Communitea Books and share with me a story about a time when you stopped reading, for a while, and came back to it, or tell me about a book you never finished, the one that’ still sitting on the shelf with a bookmark in it.
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In 2007 I was working as a bookseller at a Barnes&Noble in Murray, Utah. Most people are aware that somewhere within a Barnes&Noble there is a discount book section, usually up front near the cash registers, these books are called Remainder Books: books printed in excess and are liquidated and resold to book distributors to be, again, resold at considerably discounted prices. On my shift one morning I was browsing these discount books and happened upon a book titled, Consider the Lobster. It seemed interesting, based solely on the cover: it’s a white book at the center of which is a single red lobster and above that is the title, in black Consider the Lobster. I bought it, having never heard of David Foster Wallace until then. Yes, that’s right, prior to that moment, having worked for Hastings Entertainment and Border Books, Music, & Café I somehow never became familiar with the 1996 Literary Masterpiece Infinite Jest. I take full responsibility, though it did not take me long to remedy that mistake. After finishing Consider the Lobster I scoured the shelves for anything I could find by Wallace, and I consumed it all.
David Foster Wallace from that moment on would be my favorite author. There was something about the way that he wrote, and it was more than his prescriptive, and deeply personal relationship with the English language, it was as if Wallace was peering with an unbiased curiosity into my psyche, and this was perfectly comfortable for me, as the reader, because in response he would open himself up to me even more. There are passages of Wallace’s that I would sit and read over and over again, squeezing every ounce of substance from each sentence. It felt as if David Foster Wallace and I were more than confidants, we were friends. And for me it may have been more than that, because it seemed as if he was speaking through me, to me.
Wallace was born in Ithaca, New York, and was raised in Champaign and Urbana, Illinois. His parents were professors at two nearby colleges, his father an emeritus professor at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and his mother an English professor at Parkland [Community] College. David Wallace attended Amherst College and majored in English and Philosophy where he discovered an interest in Modal Logic and Mathematics, he graduated Summa Cum Laude in 1985. His English honors thesis would become the manuscript for his debut novel, The Broom of the System (1987), a novel that follows 24 year old Lenore on an escapade to recover her missing great-grandmother who had escaped from a nursing home, dealing with a neurotic boyfriend and the sudden musings of a talking cockatiel. Wallace attended the University of Arizona where he graduated with a Masters of Fine Arts degree. Along with Broom of the System Wallace had also sold The Girl with Curious Hair, a collection of short stories before graduating from U of A.
David was a regionally ranked junior tennis player in his youth, which was the inspiration behind Hal Incandenza’s (the protagonist of Infinite Jest) time spent at E.T.A. the Enfield Tennis Academy. Infinite Jest is one of the most epic novels ever composed. The novel is set in a postmodern setting of The United States, Canada, and Mexico that composed a unified North American Superstate known as The Organization of North American Nations. Corporations would be allowed to bid for, and to purchase naming rights for each calendar year such as the Year of the Whopper, the Year of the Whisper-Quiet Maytag Dishmaster, and the Year of the Yushityu 2007 Mimetic-Resolution-Cartridge-View-Motherboard-Easy-To-Install-Upgrade for Infernatron/InterLace TP Systems for Home, Office or Mobile [sic], but most of the novels setting takes place during the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment. There are several major plotlines, that all connect via the production of a film, Infinite Jest also known as “The Entertainment.” It’s at this point in the description of the novel that I will stop summarizing and implore that you find the time to read it yourself, and by “find the time,” I very much mean scrap for time, because this book is going to consume your life for that period of which it takes you to read it—it’s worth it.
David Foster Wallace is the recipient of the Aga Khan Prize for Fiction, The Lannan Literary Award, the Whiting Award, Salon Book Award, and The MacArthur Fellowship (The Genius Grant), he was a professor of Creative Writing and English at Pomona College in California. He is the author of three novels (The Broom of the System, Infinite Jest, and The Pale King [Unfinished]), three collections of short stories (Girl with Curious Hair, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, and Oblivion), and several collections of essays (Both Flesh and Not, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, Everything and More, and more), he’s contributed in numerous magazines, and he published his 2005 Commencement Speech at Kenyon College, This is Water, which is widely considered to be the greatest commencement speech of all time.
After the publication of Infinite Jest in 1996 Wallace went on a book tour that was kind of alarming for him, and it shook him in regards of fame, and how it is that someone in his position might view themselves in relation to how others view him. Some of what he went through was illustrated in David Lipsky’s, Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace, a memoir about Lipsky’s experience traveling with Wallace on the tail end of the Infinite Jest book tour, a piece that was originally supposed to be for Rolling Stone Magazine. The Memoir become the 2015 drama film The End of the Tour starring Jesse Eisenberg as David Lipsky and Jason Segal as David Foster Wallace—both the memoir and the film are fantastic, and although it made me nervous when I first learned that Jason Segal was playing the part of Wallace, he was absolutely phenomenal.
David Foster Wallace spent a lifetime struggling with depression. He was on a cocktail of medications and in early 2008 he stopped taking one cocktail in hopes of transferring to another, they did not work, and when attempted to return to his previous cocktail it no longer had an effect on him. David Foster Wallace hanged himself on September 12, 2008. He rarely talked about his issues with depression and alcohol and recovery and medication, yet he did have moments of sincerity if under direst, which is to say that if people really pushed. David Foster Wallace was an incredibly human being, and an outstanding American writer whose works will continue to amaze people for…ever. The Las Angeles Times called Wallace, “one of the most influential and innovative writers of the last twenty years.” And Time Magazine referred to Infinite Jest as one of the greatest English language novels published since 1923. Loyola University in New Orleans and Harvard University both offer classes on Wallace, and in 2017 the International David Foster Wallace Society, and The Journal of David Foster Wallace Studies were established. For another unique and refreshing take on Wallace check out this wonderful article from NPR, Here.
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I have an idea:
Regardless of the influential scale of your impact, regardless of whether its effects are great and wide, or individual and minute, regardless of whether you're concerned you might look bad to your peers instead of consistently looking for someone else to blame for (y)our problems—personal or societal—why don't you focus on what your role is in creating those problems. The political price tag has gotten to be too high, because whether or not anything on C-span directly affects the majority of our lives, we are allowing it to affect our lives, and, of course, in cases of school and workplace shootings and other senseless deaths we really are beginning to experience a phenomenon that will not be remedied from the top down.
It is way too easy to blame others, to focus on the misdeeds or irrational understandings of those that we might disagree with, and to justify our behavior with our own developed sense of social morality. The American party system has become so manipulated and so divisive, and that divisiveness has become so commonplace that we do not even recognize that our ship is sinking. It has nothing to do with Barack Obama or Donald Trump or Mitch McConnell or Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton—nothing. We are too focused on blame. Somewhere along the line the American people became convinced that our way of life, and our society, our American dream no longer existed, and instead of actually looking at it, instead of stopping to say, “Well, sure it does.” We started blaming each other. It’s the Democrats, it’s the republicans, it’s the African Americans, it’s the immigration issue, it’s the gun control issue, it’s the LGBTQ community, and it’s that George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump—it’s not, it has always been us. Our indifference and our lack of accountability.
I liked Obama, I voted for him, twice, but a lot of his policies did ignore the intentions of the constitution; however, I am quite certain that when most conservatives argue in favor of that point they have no idea what they are actually talking about, they are simply repeating sound bites that they happened to hear making the rounds through the social mediasphere, and if they do [claim to know what they are talking about] then their indifference now completely outweighs their sense of social service. I am a proponent of social liberty—for everyone. It’s nonsensical to say that, “I am a proponent of social liberty, well, except for blacks, and homosexuals, and the transgender, and…” with that said, it’s not the place of the federal government to decide for the American people what your sense of social liberty is. Racism and sexism and other prejudices are a form of ignorance, there is no doubt about that, but if the United States is going to establish law in favor of-, or against various social liberties—though it’s something that the U.S. should never do—it can only be done at the state level. Obama did ignore that. Is that prosecutable? No, I’m sorry, it is not, and neither is it forcibly divisive. As I have mentioned, that personally, I do understand the frustration of ignorance, and the desire to force a sort of…re-education, but it cannot be done, forcibly; that is a fine line to cross, and we have to maintain the distinction—and if for no other reason that we are sometimes too different in our perspectives from one another.
I can appreciate the necessity of the 2nd amendment though I cannot, for the life of me, understand why conservatives are fighting so hard to keep semi-automatic guns available to the public, it makes no sense to me whatsoever. The argument that you can keep it simply because you have the right to, is, I mean, it’s apathetic and careless, and borderline dangerous, actually, at this point, it is beyond borderline. There are more than enough alternatives available to the American public without the ‘freedom’ to unload and unreasonable amount of ammunition sailing towards a deer or a target attached to a barrel of hay. You don’t need it. Even the Founding Fathers disallowed weapons in some situations and institutions, too many people conveniently ignore that, inasmuch as they ignore the language, “A well-regulated militia…” the first lines of text in within the amendment for, “…shall not be infringed.” When it is undeniably clear that the act of infringement, in this case, refers to the amendment in its entirety, and how not regulating gun control is in actuality an infringement on the amendment. Yes, we do need a 2nd amendment, people do need the right to “bear arms,” but some of y’all need to be reminded that there is a difference between pride and freedom.
I am pro-life. Do you know what that actually means, to me at least? It simply means that I am against death, well premature, unnecessary, and senseless death. It means that I am against the acts of “police brutality,” abortion, and the death penalty—and I have a sleuth of issues with our judicial system, specifically the correctional department, and how people are imprisoned for life for non-violent drug crimes, I mean come on—isn’t that what healthcare’s for? Oh, wait, we can’t even figure out our healthcare system either. But, why? It should be simple: we have a capitalist economy, right? Well then why isn’t healthcare privatized? Only then would the sick actually get the quality of healthcare they deserve. The United States is too big for Universal Healthcare, especially if our federal government is focused on making everything a federal issue.
And look, no, I don’t agree with abortion—I’m prolife—however, I’m also male, which in-and-of-itself kind of eliminates me from having any sort of practical understanding, and therefore opinion on the issues, especially considering that I am prolife, not just pro-birth.
The point that I’m making with all these personal political confessions is, well, 1.) That there needs to be a distinction between our social and our political lives, but more important 2.) Most of your opinions are based on sound bites that mean nothing, if you established some sort of linear “How Did I Come to these Conclusions” outline for your political beliefs system it wouldn’t make any sense, because it’s not based on anything.
And although it seems that I am using republicans as a series of examples of what not to do (I'm about to do it again), I am, by no means, only referring to republicans, this is a bipartisan problem, democrats are just as responsible, you are a mirror image, only, to your political counterpart.
I mean a major aspect of Republican Dogma is moral family values based greatly on the teachings of Jesus Christ, while there are 11,000 immigrant children that have been removed from their parents and locked up in warehouses across the southern most part of our country. Congressman are not even aloud to tour these facilities. And you shrug your shoulders and whine about immigration? And that’s justifiable to you? Jesus was Middle Eastern, why don’t you try Googling “People Born in Bethlehem,” and after weeding through the various paintings of Jesus and pictures of American kids recreating The Nativity, tell me what you see.
And I’m even a proponent for having, and enforcing better immigration laws, but come on, let’s do things the right way, hmm?
So instead of getting on Facebook and sharing fake news articles, or real news articles and expressing your feelings of intense distaste towards something completely irrelevant to our everyday lives, why not stop and think about what you really want your role to be, and what your role actually is, and through this exercise maybe you’ll learn to take some accountability. Because is it really Obama or Trump that’s dividing this country? Or is it us?
So, let’s try that, and were that takes us.
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More of the Most Expensive Books since 2014, Cont'd
In a previous blog I left off with the list of “The Most Expensive Books Sold on abebooks Since 2014, after 2015. It’ll never cease to amaze me that many of the books you have on your shelves at this very moment are likely valued anywhere between $1 and $30,000! And how simple it might be to appraise them, granted most of the books you have will fall somewhere between $1 and $10, but you never actually know, until you afford some time, and a little effort to understanding the varied value(s) of books.
I am surrounded at this very moment with amazing books in knowledge, in story, and in value both fiction and non-fiction, and how lucky I consider myself for discovering this world. See I’m not entirely a bookworm, or professedly even at all. Yes, I do love to read; looking out my window however at the adventures this world has to offer it’s difficult to justify sitting inside and writing and reading all day, even being outside and reading. I lived in Salt Lake City, Utah for a couple of years and being surrounded by parks such as Bryce Canyon or Zion how could you not visit, and my time in Santa Fe, New Mexico was just as filled trips to Tent Rocks, Abiquiu, Taos, and the Chama River, and that’s only a small fraction of my experience hiking, camping, bouldering, kayaking, and exploring every opportunity I discover. Books are not a safe haven for people afraid to actually live life, nor are they entirely an opportunity to escape life.
I love books and reading inasmuch as I do being outdoors, and movies, and music, and traveling, and writing, and socializing, checking out new micro-breweries, coffee shops, restaurants, and so much more. Reading, I think, allows you to explore yourself, an introduction, if you will, to whom you might be, by inviting conversation with yourself through the lens of story. For those of you that haven’t yet explored it, it might help to understand that there are more to books than you might know.
The Most Expensive Book Sales of 2016 were:
I have a collection of over 30 different versions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, including a couple facsimiles of the original Alice’s Adventures Underground. I’ve been collecting them for longer than any particular title or author. I’m not sure why. There’s just something about it. When I see these editions of Alice, first the 1969 edition with illustrations by Dali, and now this First Edition (1866) selling for $36,000 it really makes me want to find a copy. How amazing would that be?!
The Most Expensive Selling Books of Last Year (2017) were:
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I know that many of you have been waiting for the next installment of “Our Favorite Authors Favorite Authors.” It’s been a long, and exciting road, haha ha. I’m so glad that we’ve all been able to take this journey together. To watch these lists go from nothing to, gosh, to, you know, where we are now. Thank you, all. And now for that moment we’ve all been waiting for:
I expected a lot from Jonathan Franzen’s list, inasmuch as I did for David Foster Wallace, they were friends after all, and had a mutual taste for literary flare.
I wanted to include a list with George R. R. Martin in it, however…well, it’s not that I cannot find his favorite books, and authors, it’s, to be honest, that they are too obvious. His favorite authors are exactly what you would expect them to be. And I legit got bored reading interviews, and looking up topics.
I met Neil Gaiman several years ago while he was reading/performing with his wife Amanda Palmer at The Jean Cocteau in Santa Fe, New Mexico. George Martin owns the theatre and the two, George and Neil, are good friends, Gaiman makes fairly frequent appearances as The Cocteau. It’s always interesting to me how the authors that authors often choose as their favorite often are within the same genre as the lists owner, maybe I just have a lingering hope that the lists are more varied, diverse. I don’t know.
The first book I read by Tom Robbins was Fierce Invalid Home from Hot Climates, it was unlike anything that I had read before, in a plethora of ways, he is more well known for his books, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues and Still Life with Woodpecker, both of which are great books, all of which you should probably make the time to read. It’s difficult to find the best novels that he lists alongside the author, so I’ve only included his favorite authors; with one exception.
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Most people have a general understanding of the fact that some things in our world might be collectible. Things that maintain either sentimental or intrinsic value for one reason or another, things that we keep laying around the house. My ex-wife and I used to collect shot glasses from the various places that we would visit. I’ve collected basketball cards, coffee mugs, milk caps (pogs), and other things throughout my life. We rarely think that anything we collect might actually be worth something, though we all do have that hope—hence the reason for Antique Road Show. We see some cool pieces, but the vast majority of items passed around are worth very little, if anything. …still, though…
I began collecting books several years ago. It always feels good to get ahold of a book that has an obvious monetary worth, books such as a First Printing of Charles Portis’ True Grit, Richard Ford’s A Piece of My Heart, and a Signed copy of No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy. However, discovering the true worth of something that you may not have known is exciting as hell! A lot of people find value in something only that has a price tag of a few hundred dollars (or thousand(s) dollars) or more, I get excited when I find a book for a couple of dollars that is capable of extending its value by even only half. Books are not worth all that much, most Harry Potter books, for example, after the third book hold very little value simply because there are so many printings, but a First U.K. Edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (there were only 500 printings) has sold, recently for $20,000, and if you find a copy of that book that is misprinted (there is a misprint on page 53 within a list of items for each student to bring to Hogwarts, ‘1 Wand’ is listed twice.) it has sold for as much as $33,000.
There are a lot of books that you are giving away to used bookstores, and are selling during garage sales that are more valuable than you might know, and so what if their value peaks at $25? Consider the margin if you were about to sell it for $.25. If you’re not sure, visit the link here, I offer book appraisals (if you’re looking for the value of a single book or a couple of books that peak under $50, I’ll be happy to waive my fee), I also provide estimates for free. You never know what you might have, and even if you decide to sell it in the yard sale, put the proper price tag on it.
I’ve compiled a list of The Most Expensive Books Sold on abebooks since 2014, and will include them here over the course of two blogs, maybe more.
The Top Selling Novels of 2014 were:
Every book on this short list is, in many ways, a classic, and we’ve grown to expect that with collectibles, with valuables; and on the occasion, with classics, we associate age, but that is not always the case, and neither is it that they are always ‘classics.’ Most of you probably would not consider John le Carre’s Call for the Dead a literary classic. Which is to say that if you have a book and it’s not a ‘classic,’ that does not automatically mean it’s not worth something.
The Top Selling Novels of 2015 were:
The point that I am making in such a roundabout way, is that books are extremely fascinating in a number of ways. To find books by P.D. James, and Terry Pratchett on a list of books that sold for nearly ten grand, on the same list as As I lay Dying, a First Edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Career of Evil (2015), it’s amazing to me. These are extreme cases but some of the books that you’re getting rid of so effortlessly are so much more valuable than you know, and even taking them to a place like Half Price Books you’re only going to get a third of what the book is most likely worth. I like Half Price Books, and used bookstores, I love that they find good homes for lonely, needy books, and for the majority of your excess paperbacks that’s exactly what you should do with them, but take a second look at what you have. If you leave this post with anything I hope that it’s a renewal of interest for books, reading, collecting, and appreciating. They aren’t just sitting on your shelves to take up space or to provide some rustic or intellectual aesthetic, there really is something else there.