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Friday, January 29, 2016

Saving the World, One Book at a Time

 My love for books has spilled out of the house and onto our front yard. Yes, my husband and I are now proud stewards for Little Free Library charter #26074 at our home here in Houston. This wonderful little library was our Christmas gift to each other from  

We purchased our library already assembled, but many people build their own. My wonderful husband and stepson got it all set up and now we are promoting literacy from our front lawn. We initially stocked our LFL with books for all ages and we hope neighbors will stop by and take whatever appeals to them. Visitors can return the books that they take, or not. They can also bring their own books to share with others. LFL books are always a gift – never for sale!

If you didn't already know, the Little Free Library movement is rapidly growing. Many libraries have been installed and thousands of books shared around the country as well as around the world.  Little Free Library’s mission is to:
·      Promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide.
·      To build a sense of community as we share skills, creativity and wisdom across generations.  Check out the LFL story at

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Fight the Stupids: Support All Your Local Book Shops

I am happy to report here that Maple Street Book Shop in New Orleans is alive and well. The reports of her death are greatly exaggerated. The venerated 50 year old shop is showing her age, but still ticking. My brother and I visited Maple Street last Friday as part of our quest to visit all the independent bookshops in New Orleans in one day. Luckily for us, but unfortunately for the city, there are only three. But three independent bookstores (all in roughly the same area of the city) are not bad, considering that the much, much larger city where I currently reside has only two. But I digress. Maple Street owners have decided to stay open based on customer response. Lately all the old faithfuls and some new converts have been flocking to the literary institution, which first opened its doors in 1964, to buy books. According to manager/owner Gladin Scott, Christmas sales exceeded expectations and they will stay open at least another year. So, dear readers, don't stop to read the rest of this post, get yourself to Maple Street Bookstore in New Orleans and buy some books. They take book exchanges and have a great selection of used books as well as a fairly extensive inventory (for a bookstore that almost closed) of new books of all types. On the down side, I am thinking they are still having trouble paying their electric bill because it was COLD in there. It was a chilly day in New Orleans and even colder in the bookstore. Thankfully, there were space heaters which helped a lot. So if you buy all your books from Maple Street, they might be able to turn up the heat.

To backtrack, my brother was visiting New Orleans from the Bay Area and we decided to visit all the independent bookstores in the city on our day together. He has fond memories of driving three hours from our hometown in our mother's station wagon during the late sixties and early seventies to visit Maple Street. Once there, he spent many solitary hours exploring the inventory and discovering such treasures as the poetry of Gary Synder before driving home later the same day with a car filled with books. Every time he returns to New Orleans, he re-visits his "first" bookstore, Maple Street. He was alarmed to hear they were closing earlier this year, so we decided to check the pulse of the city by stopping in Maple Street and the two other bookstores.  
We started at Octavia Books, the newest kid on the block in terms of New Orleans book shops. Located uptown near Whole Foods and a bustling section of Magazine Street, the bookstore opened in 2000 and was the first to re-open after Katrina in 2005. Octavia has become a favorite of mine as I mentioned in that earlier blog post. But on this visit with my brother, we found the recommendations a bit hollow. The employee who helped us based his suggestions on what was selling well, which was helpful, but not as rich as if he had read the books himself. At each store my brother asked for a literary page turner, in the vein of The Buried Giant. A tricky question if you haven't read that wonderful book by Kazuo Ishiguro. At Octavia, the book recommendations were weak. But it was a still a pleasant visit. I came away with Celeste Ny's Everything I Never Told You. The store has a relaxed, literary vibe and is around the corner from my current favorite breakfast spot, Toast. So you can't bet that! 
Next we drove over to the nearby Tulane University area and visited Maple Street as previously described. We didn't linger because of the cold, but the recommendations were sound and I bought two books there (because... SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE!). I had to buy Elaine Ferrante's first book in her series because it is apparently flying off the shelves in all three stores we visited. This is a literary novel, not on the bestseller list, that is doing quite well in New Orleans.  I also bought the only Ellen Gilchrist book that I don't already own (because...Ellen Gilchrist).
Last, we went up St. Charles to the Garden District Book Shop on Washington. This little gem has been around for 38 years and was the busiest of the three bookstores we visited. Customers were in and out. Books were being sold and discussed. The bookseller that helped us had read the books she recommended and very enthusiastic.  We lingered awhile and my brother purchased Station Eleven (which I enjoyed last summer). He almost bought the Salman Rushdie but decided to wait until it was in paperback (I don't now if I can wait that long). Garden District Book Shop has survived the opening and later closing of the big box bookstore Borders a few blocks down on St. Charles Street. The vitality of this shop is probably due partly to its location in The Rink and because New Orleanians tend to support local retailers, especially beloved book shops. Visiting all the bookstores in New Orleans was a perfect way to spend a chilly day in the city.  After that, we drove by all three of the Confederate monuments that the city is removing, but that is another story for another day.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

College Murder Story Redux

In Bradstreet Gate, a first novel by Robin Kirman, college friendships are tested after an enigmatic young professor is accused of murdering one of his students. The ivy covered walls of Harvard are the setting for the convergence of the three college friends and the strange professor who is never convicted for the murder of a student who is not one of the central characters. The victim is a peripheral part of the story. The novel starts at the time of the college murder and covers the next ten years for the three friends and their odd connection with the accused professor.

I devoured the book, which could be called a psychological thriller, pretty quickly because I wanted to see what happened. But I was sorely disappointed by the ending. The writer introduced a couple of new characters in the very last bit of the book and it felt disjointed. Many plot threads are never really explained. The writer goes into a lot of depth with the three main characters and the professor, but some of the plot gets lost. The pacing of the book is not what you'd expect from a thriller.  Some reviewers are comparing the novel to The Secret History by Donna Tartt . There is no comparison. Overall, this book was a disappointment. I received the novel from Blogging for Books for this review.