Monday, December 31, 2012

Wishing You a Happy New Year

"The New Year, like an Infant Heir to the whole world, was waited for, with welcomes, presents, and rejoicings."

-- from "The Chimes"
    Charles Dickens 

And So This Was Christmas

London 2012

The Drawing Room

Michael Slater, Emeritus Professor of Victorian
Literature at Birbeck College, University of London,
reading from A Christmas Carol

The Dining Room
Charles and Catherine Dickens

Monday, December 17, 2012

Why is my nose on your face?*

 Nestled between the bright fluorescently lit branch of Staples on one side and a small, inviting wine shop on the other, Westsider Books ( would be easy for a casual passerby to overlook. As a neighborhood resident, I’ve come to appreciate its stalwart presence. With hundreds of books crammed into a shoebox-sized space—the realtor two doors down might praise it’s creative use of built-ins—Westsider Books has outlasted the demise of Shakespeare and Company across the street, the arrival of the Barnes & Noble at 82nd Street and Broadway, and the rise and fall of the Barnes & Noble at Lincoln Center.

Now thanks to director/writer/actor Woody Allen, the store will be immortalized in film as M. Schwartz and Sons, a dealer in rare and used books.

Here’s what the store usually looks like.

Westsider Books on Broadway.

To see how it was transformed for the movie, take a look at this picture that originally appeared in Westside Rag, a neighborhood blog where Ms. Stacked-NYC is an occasional contributor. The Westside Rag article also offers details about the film, which stars Mr. Allen, John Tuturro, Sofia Vergara, and Sharon Stone.

I’ve enjoyed most of Mr. Allen’s films the first time around—and am looking at some of his earlier work through the fresh eyes of Miss  But his writing is equally interesting to me, and, I think in some cases, more consistently funny. My introduction to his written work was Without Feathers. My favorite piece was The Whore of Mensa, in which an unhappily married man pays for what he can’t get at home: conversation about literature and philosophy. Of course, this being Mr. Allen, the arrangement has a down side, our protagonist ends up being blackmailed by the “madam”.

Incidentally, if you’d like to know what Woody Allen’s favorite five books are, they’re listed in a 2011 article that appeared in the British newspaper, The Guardian. 

* Long ago and far away—in high school, to be exact, my good friend G (who had a sharp sense of humor of her own) and I used to laugh hysterically at lines like these culled from Woody Allen's work. With observations from the absurd to the self-indulgent to the poignant, Mr. Allen still makes me laugh.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Share the Love

 Last year I participated in World Book Night for the first time—an experience that was both gratifying and humbling. Passing out free books in a well-lit public location might sound like a situation in which one would be happily welcomed. But the responses I received were most definitely mixed and included irritation, suspicion and pretending-I-didn’t-exist (admittedly, a useful strategy for some NYC moments).

This won’t stop me from participating again, or at least applying to become a giver for the 2013 event, scheduled to take place on April 23. If you’re interested in doing the same, you can visit the organization’s web site here. The 2013 book list—an interesting mix of genres and eras are included— is also available. 

Among this year’s selections is Lisa Genova’s Still Alice. I read the book about six months ago and found it both well written and deeply depressing. Ms. Genova’s account of an accomplished woman’s loss of self after the onset of Alzheimer’s is effectively drawn in a first-person narrative, and the reader is privy to her struggle to deal with the accompanying rage and confusion. The book (and real-life cases like Iris Murdoch) undermines the wistful fantasy I have that an active life of the mind can serve as protection from this fate.

I think Still Alice is worth a read if one is prepared for its mostly bleak tone. However, since I handed out Rebecca Skloot’s award-winning The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks last year, I hope to have the opportunity to give away something a bit more upbeat from World Book Night’s list.   Tina Fey’s Bossypants anyone?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Even Better in Person

Alexander McCall Smith ranks high among the living authors I greatly admire, so when I learned he would be appearing at the Union Square Barnes and Noble, I immediately made plans to attend. (I’ve talked about my crush admiration for McCall Smith elsewhere on this blog.)

McCall Smith is a large man with rumpled hair, an agreeable voice and a high-pitched laugh. As I had hoped, he is also smart, charming, funny, and engaging. The night I saw him, he spoke beautifully, answered questions graciously (he declined to share his opinion of Scottish independence, adding “if you don’t mind") and wanted to be sure that the audience got to ask as many of them as possible, gently overriding the organizer who wanted to limit the exchange.

While waiting in line to have a book signed, the woman in front of me told a story that only increased my respect for the author. Just minutes before the reading she had bumped into McCall Smith outside the restrooms.  They chatted briefly and upon learning that the woman’s mother had found his Scotland Street series a great diversion while being treated for lymphoma—she’s now recovered—he suggested that they call her so that he could say hello and wish her well. The phone call was promptly made and received with great pleasure. 

In the recounting, the story sounds slightly wrong—as if the gesture was that of a celebrity to one of “the little people”, but I don’t think that was the case. I believe McCall Smith is prepared to like most people and is committed to focusing on what is good in the world while seeing the bad with a calm and clear eye. During his talk he spoke for a few minutes about the tendency of modern authors to write about dysfunction, but also noted that he believes there is a place for the other as well, for writing about the ways in which we can be—and are—kind to one another.

McCall Smith after signing a book for Ms. Stacked-NYC.

McCall Smith currently writes a book a year for each of five different series. I bought this volume, the latest in the Isabel Dalhousie novels.  

Among the topics addressed are: art theft, “gifted” children, and the importance of trying not to lie—a typical McCall-Smithian mixture of mystery, sociology and philosophy!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Book Art

Honesdale Branch of the Wayne County Public Library
Honesdale, Pennsylvania

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Dreaming of Venice

It’s a perfectly beautiful fall day in New York, but I’m dreaming of cold, damp Venice and a December visit to the Libreria Aqua Alta.

Located on the Calle Lunga Santa Maria Formosa in
the Castello district,  the store can be reached either on foot or by boat.
Alta Acqua Libreria translates to "High Water Bookstore."

Books are arranged on raised shelves, in tubs, and in
the gondola pictured, to avoid damage during flooding.

Tourists and Venetians browsing.

One of the resident cats.

A closer look--with the owner of the shop
in the background.
You can find out  a bit more about the store here and Michelle has posted a lovely story about one of the owner’s kittens who needed rescuing from a nearby building. I think it may be the same cat pictured above. More pretty pictures can be viewed at the store's facebook page.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Thirty Years of Banned Books

Banned Books Week started yesterday and continues through October 6. Co-chair of the celebration, Bill Moyers, describes his connection with books and the importance of universal access to them in this short and persuasive video

In it, Moyers talks about the first books he borrowed from his local library and about being a freshman in college and his elation at seeing the school’s library for the first time. He was so impressed and inspired he considered majoring in library science so that “[he] could be near all those books.” He goes on to talk about why it’s so important to fight this form of censorship.

Moyers’ video is viewable on a youtube channel dedicated to the subject as part of a Virtual Read-Out. You can read a passage from a banned book and record it for broadcast here or just see what choices other supporters of the event have chosen to read.   

I particularly enjoyed the passage from the Great Gatsby read by Christine Hadlow at the Missoula public library in Montana. The language in the scene in which Nick becomes reacquainted with Daisy and meets Jordan for the first time may be even more affecting when read aloud than when read silently. 

The American Library Association web site provides this description of this celebration of freedom from censorship.

Banned Books Week is the national book community's annual celebration of the freedom to read. Hundreds of libraries and bookstores around the country draw attention to the problem of censorship by mounting displays of challenged books and hosting a variety of events. The 2012 celebration of Banned Books Week will be held from September 30 through October 6. Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. More than 11,300 books have been challenged since 1982. For more information on Banned Books Week, click here.
According to the American Library Association, there were 326 challenges reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2011, and many more go unreported. The 10 most challenged titles of 2011* were: 
1.  ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series) by Lauren Myracle 

2.  The Color of Earth (series) by Kim Dong Hwa

3.  The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins

4.  My Mom's Having A Baby! A Kid's Month-by-Month Guide to Pregnancy by Dori Hillestad Butler
5.  The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
6.  Alice (series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

7.  Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
8.  What My Mother Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones

9.  Gossip Girl (series) by Cecily Von Ziegesar 
10. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

It’s startling to see a list where the Gossip Girl series sits side-by-side with To Kill a Mockingbird, but of course I think readers should be able to read either one if they wish to. Moreover, I don’t think reason is the strong suit of those who would impose their morality or politics on the global community of readers.

Look for more links of interest on the ALA website, including the most frequently challenged authors of the 21st century.

* Any thoughts on what might make the list next year?