Fascinating courtly intrigue and bloody power games set on a generation ship full of secrets―Medusa Uploaded is an imaginative, intense mystery about family dramas and ancient technologies whose influence reverberates across the stars. Disturbing, exciting, and frankly kind of mind-blowing.” ―Annalee Newitz, author of Autonomous

Friday, April 27, 2012

Why Don't People Read More?

The other day, Lance Polingyouma, my coworker at the Heard Museum Book Store, was dismayed to discover a printing error in the book he was reading, a collection of essays from a gathering of Grand Canyon historians. A large chunk of text was missing, and other chunks of text had been duplicated. This book is on Lance's Top Ten list for the bookstore, and he had been pushing it like crazy. He sold the other two copies we had and was thinking about buying the third, himself. Now we'll have to send that copy back to the publisher and get a replacement. At some point, the customers who bought the other two books could come in and demand their money back, if their books are also defective. We had to shrug and say, “Oh well. We'll cross that bridge when we get to it.”

But as I was driving to work this morning, I began to wonder if we ever will get to it. Lance is a gifted bookseller – my old employer, Borders, would have drooled over his ability to pitch a book. And because Lance is of Hopi, many Anglo visitors to the Heard Museum hang on his every word. If he recommends a book, they tend to buy it. But that doesn't mean they'll ever read it.

When you're a bookseller, it's usually because you really like books. You like to think that people are going to read what you've sold them. But what we booksellers often forget is that dreaded thing, a thing from which we also cringe: the TBR pile. All of us have a mountain of books at home that are designated To Be Read. We're really interested in those books, we really intend to read them some day – but it's going to be a while before we read many of them, and some of them will never get read.

The problem is not-enough-time-in-the-day-itis. If you're fascinated with a lot of things, and you buy books about those things, the time eventually comes when you have to admit that you could read ten hours a day and not finish all of those books. And let's face it – you're not going to read ten hours a day, for all sorts of good reasons. You've got family and friends, a day job, maybe a garden, a household to run – maybe you're even afflicted with the writing bug yourself, and boy, does that cut into your reading time. So your TBR pile grows and grows. Eventually it can look more like a chore than a pleasure. Once that happens, your reading really slows down.

When books were first invented, readers didn't have this problem. The library at Alexandria burned down, another library at Herculanium was buried in volcanic ash, and Irish priests were sitting on most of what was left. So average readers didn't have as many titles they could buy. They had a shelf of favorite books (or scrolls) they could read over and over again. This may sound odd, but there's something to envy about that. Your other chores may have piled up back in those early days, but your book stack just couldn't get that ponderous.

Sill, anyone who enjoys reading would rather have our TBR piles. And now that young people enjoy reading more than ever, those stacks can only grow larger. When I first started working in a bookstore (back in the Dark Ages), adults pushed what few books were written for young people as if they were spinach. “Here, hold your nose and swallow this – it's good for you.” When kids discovered they liked a book, it was completely by accident. And if they wanted another book like it, they didn't have that much to choose from. The YA section in that store I worked in all those years ago had only two small shelves dedicated to YA books.

Now, thanks to J.K Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, Suzanne Collins, and other pioneering authors, you could fill an entire store just with YA titles. Kids are reading them, and so are adults. E-readers give people an even wider selection, at lower prices, so the virtual TBR stack is also growing.

Let's face it. We're doomed. We can only sit and stare into space, thinking, So many books, so little time. And that's the real reason why people don't read more. Lance and I can probably relax – even if those two books turned out to have printing errors, it may take those customers a couple of years to figure it out.

And if it doesn't, Lance will probably just sell them more books.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

H.M.S. Donovan

Anyone who worked in a music store back in the Days of Yore (when we could actually play what we wanted instead of suffering through the programmed stuff) will tell you that one of the great pleasures of that job was introducing customers to great albums they would not have otherwise known. When I worked in the music department at Borders, many years ago, HMS Donovan was one of the albums I loved to promote.

Most people only knew the Donovan who sang “Mellow Yellow,” a delightful song, but hardly the full range of Donovan's repertoire. And very few people may recall his cameo appearance in the movie, If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium, in which he sings “Lord Of The Reedy River.” That this incredibly romantic song is included on HMS Donovan is a testament to the emotional range represented by the album. It was produced as a present to his young daughter. But, though it contains children's songs and poems, there is nothing tame about them. You have only to listen closely to the song of “The Walrus and the Carpenter” (from Alice In Wonderland) to know that.

A tantalizing rumor that has persisted for many decades is that at least Paul McCartney and possibly also John Lennon did backup vocals (as the doomed Oysters) for “The Walrus and the Carpenter.” This is hard to confirm, because the vocals were altered, probably mechanically or (my own whimsical theory) possibly by having the performers inhale helium. This theoretical collaboration is hard to dismiss, considering that a version of “The Walrus and the Carpenter” is on a Beatles bootleg album. Donovan isn't credited for singing on that bootleg, but he did work with the Beatles from time to time. McCartney did backup vocals for Donovan's song, “Atlantis.” And Donovan helped McCartney finish writing the song, “Yellow Submarine” by coming up with the lyrics, “. . . Sky of blue, and sea of green, in our yellow submarine . . . “ When the Beatles traveled to India to visit the Maharishi, Donovan went along.

Another interesting thing about the album is the artist who did the cover and the interior art (in the earlier printing, a bonus poster was included) – a fellow who simply called himself Patrick. Patrick also did the art that was supposed to appear on the Beatles album that eventually became the White album. Needless to say, this did not happen, and the art was eventually used for The Beatles Ballads and the EMI Dutch release of a love songs album, De Mooiste Songs.

My brother, David, researched Patrick some more and discovered that he is the Scottish artist and playwright, John Patrick Byrne. He is well known in Scotland and has published a children's book, Donald And Benoit. Mr. Byrne doesn't seem to play up his connection with the Beatles, so a fan set up a website for him. To quote from the bottom of the home page: "This is a website dedicated to the paintings of the Scottish artist John Byrne, the true renaissance man from Paisley. I thought about calling it 'ohforgodssakewhycan'tIfindJohnByrnes paintingsonthenet.com,' but, sadly, the domain name was already taken."

One last bit of trivia about Mr. Byrne -- his significant other is Tilda Swinton.

As for the other album whose cover Mr. Byrne painted, YouTube lists many of the songs on HMS Donovan. Unfortunately, the one for “The Walrus and the Carpenter” seems to have been recorded with a hand-held microphone off of someone's turntable, using a scratched LP. This version of “Jabberwocky” is much better.

And one of my all-time favorites, “Henry Martin,” is also well represented.

There are 28 songs on the album, and most of them can be sampled on YouTube. Once you've heard them, you may decide to download the songs from itunes. If so, it's an investment you won't regret.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Heard Museum Book Store

In Phoenix, At Central Avenue and Encanto, you'll find one of the last surviving bookstores, The Heard Museum Bookstore. We specialize in books by and about Native Americans, and about Arizona travel, geology, and history. We have also have children's books and cookbooks. People often ask me which books are my favorites, so here are my (current) top ten.

EM'S FAVES (In No Particular Order):

Grand Canyon: Vault Of Heaven, by the Grand Canyon Association

Magnificent photographs and a very informative text, at a bargain price!

Grand Canyon's Long-Eared Taxi, by Karen L. Taylor

Find out why mules are the only animals that can ferry people into the Great Unknown.

Roadside Geology Of Arizona, by Halka Chronic

Learn more about the Geology Capital of the World – from your car!

Gem Trails Of Arizona, by James R. Mitchell

Catch gem fever and go looking for not-so-buried treasure.

Talking Mysteries, by Tony Hillerman and Ernie Bulow

Read what Hillerman and Bulow have to say about their lives and about writing.

The Arizona Cookbook, by Al Fischer & Mildred Fischer

Authentic Indian, Western, and campfire recipes

Forest Cats, by Jerry Kobalenko (photographs by Thomas Kitchin & Victoria Hurst)

An informative text with breath-taking photographs

Frequently Asked Questions About The Saguaro, by Janice Emily Bowers

Find out why the saguaro is truly the movie star of the desert.

Sheep In A Jeep, by Nancy Shaw & Margot Apple

A wild and wooly expedition!

Brighty Of The Grand Canyon, by Marguerite Henry

The adventures of a beloved burro, with delightful illustrations