Friday, December 11, 2009

Community Book Review: The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How The War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals

The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How The War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals by Jane Mayer

This book presents a heartbreaking parade, not just of horrifically abused detainees but earnest do-gooding government employees who actually believe in American ideals. The horror film atmosphere is most obvious in the scripted "takedowns" in which teams come in the night, but in the "don't go near the old farmhouse!" shock when some would-be public servant says "we don't torture! not this executive!" only to be proven desperately, tragically wrong. At the center of this horror is not even Cheney, who at least holds a constitutional office, but Cheney's "Cheney", his lawyer David Addington. Addington is a towering, raging bully, claiming the "president has already decided this!" as his cackling refrain. This book by New Yorker reporter Mayer definitely supports the "Bush as tool" theory, as the supposed wielder of all this executive power is portrayed as a disengaged cipher with a five minute attention span.
Meanwhile, Cheney and his own evil genius dream up a nightmare of a policy for the world's most powerful country, a country that apparently wrote the Geneva Conventions and is the custodian of their physical hard copy, appropriately located in the marginalized State Dept. The accounts of torture trying to extract confessions of things that don't exist (most damningly a Iraq-9/11 connection) brings the reports of Iranian interrogations unpleasantly to mind. There are good guys here(even John Ashcroft!), but they end up disillusioned and out of work. The book is particularly disheartening to read as Obama escalates Afghanistan and keeps plenty of those executive powers just in case. But it's nice to know that someone believed in US ideals, even if us cynical lefties don't.

Reviewed by Jesse Bacon

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Poem for Winter Solstice

Here's a beautiful poem by local poet Susan Windle in celebration of the upcoming winter solstice. Enjoy!

The Voice of Another Woman

Do not muffle
do not cloud
speak with your full voice
which is luminous
and please in mid-sentence
do not cover yourself
with that veil.

I want an end to shame.
I want clarity—mine and yours.
They told you brilliance would hurt
do not believe them
they said that light in your hands
is stolen
do not duck away like a thief.

Take the reins of the chariot
and shake
what you hold back—
take the reins and shine

Shine on me.

-Susan Windle

Susan Windle is Philadelphia-based poet and part of the poetry and singing group Voices of a Different Dream. They are two poets and a singer who have been creating, performing, recording and publishing original poetry and song in the Philadelphia area and beyond since 1991. Their work is a lively and inventive blend of the spoken and sung word. Honoring each woman's strong solo voice, they revel in the many ways to combine their voices. With no instruments but voice and gesture, their performances and recordings are journeys of the soul dedicated to fostering peace within and among us. Drawing on personal memory, the cycles of nature, and the current social and political climate, they create experiences that heal and celebrate. Their work is deeply feminist. They offer their music and poetry in the service of creating a kinder, more just, more joyous culture.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Women of the World Book Club: A Summary and Book List

We've just finished two full years of hosting Women of the World Book Club here at the Big Blue Marble Bookstore. It's been full of really wonderful discussions on what constitutes home, feminism, sexism, cultural histories, ghosts, mixed race and the construction of race, writing, editing, and so much more. We've read books about Ireland, China, Jamaica, Sudan, India, Vietnam, England, Nigeria, Sweden, New Zealand, Mexico, Iran, France, Spain, Japan, Ukraine, and a few in the United States, set in entirely different backgrounds (like the American South).

Interested in our book list for the past two years? Check it out below, and start exploring women writers from all around the world and all across the United States!

January 2008: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
February 2008: Fruit of the Lemon by Andrea Levy
Mar 2008: A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka
April 2008: Climbing the Mango Trees by Madhur Jaffrey
May 2008: Peony in Love by Lisa See
June 2008: Saving the World by Julia Alvarez
July 2008: The Gathering by Anne Enright
August 2008: Origin by Diana Abu-Jaber
Sept 2008: La Perdida by Jessica Abel
October 2008: Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer
December 2008: Stealing Buddha's Dinner by Bich Minh Nyugen

Jan 2009: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
Feb 2009: Slave by Mende Nazer
Mar 2009: The Teahouse Fire by Ellis Avery
April 2009: People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
May 2009: Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
June 2009: Kinky Gazpacho by Lori Tharps
July 2009: The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar
Aug 2009: Astrid and Veronika by Linda Olsson
Sept 2009: The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa
Oct 2009: Pig Candy by Lise Funderburg
Dec 2009: Hungry Woman in Paris by Josefina Lopez

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Staff Book Review: Olive Kitteridge

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Stout

Pulitzer Prize winner, Elizabeth Stout, creates yet another masterpiece with her novel Olive Kitteridge. As stated in a conversation with Elizabeth Stout and Olive Kitteridge, which the reader will find at the end of the book, "the power of Olive's character (ferocious and complicated and kindly and sometimes cruel) is best portrayed in an episodic manner". Olive Kitteridge reads more like a collection of loosely related short stories, all focused on the individuals who populate the small town of Crosby, Maine... all focused on the inner life and frailty and sufferings and triumphs of each character.

Olive Kitteridge is often seen as an utterly unlikeable, occasionally abusive, absolutely frank, judgmental character. What saves her, as the reader learns while progressing through seemingly unrelated chapters, is her valiant self-honesty, her accurate sensitivity to those around her, and her growing self awareness. We the reader are also made aware through other characters what history formed Olive Kitteridge. By her own definition she has "the strong passions and prejudices of a peasant". Olive is opinionated, quarrelsome, critical, overly sensitive, and sometimes excruciatingly kind and perceptive. And in the end Olive Kitteridge learns the value of love above all else, even if the subject of her love and comfort is a Republican who voted for an idiot.

Reviewed by Janet Elfant

Friday, December 04, 2009

My New Inspiration: Randa Jarrar

One of the wonderful things about hosting the Women of the World book club here at the bookstore is finding a bunch of new women authors with all kinds of multicultural and world backgrounds. Case in point: Randa Jarrar, author of the new novel A Map of Home. Just read her bio:

Randa Jarrar is an award-winning novelist, short story writer, and translator. Randa grew up in Kuwait and Egypt, and moved to the US after the first Gulf War. At the age of 13, she enrolled in 10th grade, and went on to attend Sarah Lawrence College at 16. Two years later, she became a single mom, and by the age of 22, she had a Masters’ degree, a four- year-old, and a desire to write a novel. She began A Map of Home at the age of 23, writing the bulk of it in a trailer in small-town Texas. Jarrar’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Oxford American, Ploughshares, The New York Times, Progressive Magazine, as well as online and in numerous anthologies. She is also a translator of Arabic fiction, and her publications include Hassan Daoud’s novel The Year of the Revolutionary New Breadmaking Machine. She currently lives in Austin, TX and is working on a collection of stories and a new novel, about a young single mother and her magical prophet son.

Ummm, can I be your friend and hang out with you and be inspired and write a novel and get my master's degree and raise my kids? Thank you. That is all.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Community Book Review: The Hemingses of Monticello

The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed

Thomas Jefferson: impregantor of his enslaved half sister-in-law and clingy extrovert. That is the portrayal that Annette Gordon-Reed concocts from the documentary material and the perspectives of the enslaved people in his life. The scanty lack of the former in the voice of the latter forces her into impressive acts of empathy and many such constructions as "He would have.." "She would not have..." But the work definitely earns its Pulitzer by doing so with such skill and illuminating a subject we kind of dimly know about but are missing a lot of important details. Chiefly the fact that this affair(?) between societal unequals lasted for decades, and followed the death of Martha Jefferson, Sally Hemings' half-sister.

Gordon-Reed manages to avoid either canonizing Hemings and her famiy or robbing them of all agency, leaving us to ponder the fact that her brother James committed suicide soon after freedom, or that either James or Sally could have had their freedom decades earlier during their brief time in Paris (Paris courts never refused a freedom suit.) Gordon-Reed does not argue in either of these or any other cases that this shows the beneficence of slavery or Jefferson, but she doesn't reduce her subjects to diversity month cutouts either. She points out other cases such as an enslaved woman who gets her white lover to buy her and live with her openly, and as a free woman. She makes the amazing observation that Jefferson would have had far less wealth if his father and law had to leave property to his enslaved sons, instead of just his white daughter. Similarly, Jefferson's daughters benefited materially from Jefferson taking Hemings as a "substitute for a wife" instead of marrying a woman who could have made any legal claim on him.

The best defense of Gordon-Reed's method, and the most lasting wisdom comes in her saying that the truth can be known by how it illuminates while lies are bound to obscure. This would seem to have application long beyond turn of the 19th century Virginia.

Reviewed by Jesse Bacon

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Seven Unique Gifts For $10 and Under (at our indie bookstore!)

Think you can't find cool and unique gifts for $10 and under at your local, independent bookstore? Here's seven odds and ends at Big Blue Marble that include everything from meditation to West African fantasy to scout notebooks and more.

1)True Love:A Practice for Awakening the Heart by Thich Nhat Hanh. $6.99.(Random House) A cute lil' guide for cultivating loving kindness written by the master of mindfulness meditation. Perfect for an everyday spiritual check-in!

2)The Original Scout Book(3 Pocket Notebooks). $10.00. (Pinball Publishing) These notebooks are the perfect size to fit in your pocket. I have been carrying one around in my back pocket everyday for the last month to record writing ideas, as well as notes and sketches from various expeditions. I gave one to my sister Anna and she uses hers to keep notes when reading and the book is thin enough to double as a bookmark. The pages are gridded so they are great for writing and sketching. -Moseph

3)The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems by Van Jones. $10.00, On Sale, Hardcover Non-Fiction. (HarperOne) I am in love with Van Jones. He is seriously my idol for many reasons, including coming up with the thesis of this book- rescuing our environment can rescue our economy, which can uplift many of our neighborhoods depressed by poverty and unemployment. This book is just one of the many hardcover non-fiction books on sale for the low, low price of $10.00. -Maleka

4)The Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu. $8.99. (Disney, Jump at the Sun)
"In West Africa, fourteen-year-old Ejii struggles to master her own magical powers." A young adult science fiction/fantasy book that has a young African girl as the main character? Get this for everyone.

5)Dead Until Dark: A Sookie Stackhouse Novel by Charlaine Harris. $7.99. (Penguin) Do you have family or friends in your life who are addicted to the Twilight series? Do they know about True Blood, the original HBO series based on these Sookie Stackhouse novels all about vampire detectives, werewolves, and a whole bunch of other fantastical folks? If you don't have enough money to shell out for the entire collection of Twilight, get these cheaper paperbacks instead, which are just as addictive. And if you've already finished all the Sookie Stackhouse novels, try Charlaine's other series involving Lily Bard or Aurora Teagarden. Woo-hoo!

6)First Puzzles by Galison/Mudpuppy. $10.00. Two words... how adorable. These little boxed puzzles have themes like construction, zoo babies, and Eric Carle books and come with four puzzles with four pieces each. Perfect holiday gift for the babies and toddlers in your life.

7)The Gashlycrumb Tinies, or, After the Outing by Edward Gorey. $9.00. (Harcourt) Looking for a classic gruesome alphabet book? You can't go wrong with this little book by the wonderful Edward Gorey, full of gothic illustration, little boys named Leo who swallow tacks, and little girls named Una who slip down drains.

Monday, November 23, 2009

PS Reads, and Gives You Writing Tips

Sunday night's event was a great close to a fabulous birthday weekend. The place was packed--standing room only. The seven readers represented a range of styles and genres. Perhaps the most exciting part though was the discussion afterward where the PS Reads authors and the audience (about half of whom identified themselves as writers of various genres) got into some meaty talk about writing and publishing. There was a heated debate about writing groups and workshops, which was an interesting continuation from some of the discussion that came up after Joanna Smith Rakoff's reading from the first reading of the weekend. It all started when Marc Schuster came out as a big advocate of writing groups, which he says are a great antidote to the stereotype of the solitary writer, locked away and banging on a typewriter. Then people shared some of their positive and negative experiences with writing groups, some tips on starting your own, and some opinions that they should be avoided altogether. Apparently, trust and honesty are important.

And because no matter what your opinion is on something, it is good to have a sense of humor. We learned that there are some great McSweeney's lists about writing groups. I didn't find the one that was referred to but there are a couple on there so check it out and if you find one that mentions space aliens lemme know.

We had some good open mike times, including a 93.6 year old woman who is now pursuing poetry in a new way. I didn't catch her name, but she said the whole thing, including middle names, so if you know it, lemme know.

Then there was some advice from both panel and audience members about submitting work for publication:
1. Study the people you are submitting to. If it is a literary magazine, read the kind of stuff they publish. You may be getting rejected because you don't fit the magazine, not because of the quality of your writing.
2. Read submission guidelines and follow them. It is like getting dressed for a job interview. You want to make a good impression.
3. Don't be discouraged. On average published work is rejected 23 times before publication.
4. Make multiple submissions, but if you get accepted somewhere tell the other mags ASAP. And maybe tell them about some new piece you wrote they might consider instead.
5. Also check out Duotrope's Digest, a free writer's resource listing over 2,700 current fiction and poetry publications.

by Moseph Speller

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Bookstore Birthday Doggerel

The store is four!
Come have a tour!
Step through our door
to worlds galore:

Come, kids, explore!
With bear of lore
And tiny boar
And glum Eeyore.

Hear lions roar,
And dinosaurs,
And babies shouting,
"More, more, more!"

Meet Santa Claus*
with Charles Santor(e)...
Read Gashleycrumb**
by Edward Gor(ey).

For YA crowd,
There's Edward Bloor,
And Annals of
The Western Shore

Try Shadow Speaker
And Graceling
by Kristin Cashore.

The store is four!
With books du jour!
Step through our door
And find out more --

From omnivore
To locavore,
From soldier's tour
To anti-war.

A book based on
Colbert's Report.
Our Choice by Gore:
Our earth -- restore!

The store is four!
Events galore!
And don't we score
With our decor:

With golden roof
and bamboo floor
and runes of power
upon the door...***

The store is four!
For you, our core,
whom we adore,
We shout, "Amour!"

-- a staff member

*Disclaimer: This is poetic license, where "meet" means "come learn about": the December 6 reading will not necessarily include a visit from Santa.

**Parental discretion advised.

***with serious apologies to J.R.R. Tolkien.

Friday, November 20, 2009

YA Fusion, or Our Differences Unite Us

We continued our Young Adult author series Thursday night with a lovely visit from Delia Sherman and Catherine Gilbert Murdock. It was an excellent event full of wit and warm comments. Catherine read from her realistic YA novel Dairy Queen (first in the D.J. Schwenk trilogy), a dramatic scene near the end. Delia then read from her middle grade fantasy novel The Magic Mirror of the Mermaid Queen (sequel to Changeling), a dramatic scene near the middle. And the very different readings came together beautifully, on the parallel strengths of the characters' voices.

The topic of voice reveals one area these authors have in common: they are agreed on the tremendous value of reading all the dialogue aloud, and even on reading dialogue aloud while taking walks outside, sometimes with vigorous handwaving. (They do differ on precisely how public such demonstrations should be.) Delia spoke about the fun of making literary allusions with her characters' personae, and Catherine gave examples of vocabulary, educational level, and tone as ways to ensure the consistency of voice and to distinguish characters from one another. I was particularly intrigued to hear her policy of rewriting to see what various characters would do if it were their story.

When it came time to talk about the writing process in general, we learned that Catherine is an avid outliner who insists on having the end of her story (sometimes the final sentence) and the emotion she wants to leave with the reader completely worked out in her head before she commits any of her work to paper, while Delia, well-versed in the story structures of many kinds of folklore, starts with an unformed idea and just writes, watching the story unfold before her. She often doesn't know the end until she arrives there herself.

One of the most charming aspects of this author event was watching our two guests react (graciously, of course!) to each other's very different ways of doing things. All in all, a delightful discussion. It entertained us, and, even more, it highlighted the breadth of possibility in writing and in story.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Quote: Theodore Gray

I have been enthralled of late with a big coffee table book called The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe, which I think should be installed in every chemistry class. It's got amazing pictures, and I'm learning all sorts of cool random stuff. I'm learning to distinguish the colors of light from the different noble gases. I've learned that cesium explodes on contact with skin (and most other things). I've learned that oxygen is a beautiful blue liquid at -183° C. Who knew?

And the writing is lighthearted and entertaining.

    "If carbon (6) is the foundation of life, then oxygen is the fuel. Oxygen's ability to react with just about any organic compound is what drives the processes of life. Combustion with oxygen also drives your car, your furnace, and if you work for NASA, your rockets. (Actually, the term "fuel" usually refers to the thing that is burned by an "oxidizer," so I'm speaking metaphorically when I say oxygen is the fuel of life. Technically speaking, oxygen is the oxidizer of life.)"

More on cesium and its fellow alkali metals:

    "The other elements of the first column, not counting hydrogen, are called the alkali metals, and they are all fun to throw into a lake. Alkali metals react with water to release hydrogen gas, which is highly flammable. When you throw a large enough lump of sodium into a lake, the result is a huge explosion a few seconds later. Depending on whether you took the right precautions, this is either a thrilling and beautiful experience or the end of your life as you have known it when molten sodium sprays into your eyes, permanently blinding you.
    "Chemistry is a bit like that: powerful enough to do great things in the world, but also dangerous enough to do terrible things just as easily. If you don't respect it, chemistry bites."

At the end of the introduction, Gray sums up the universe:

    "This is all there is. From here to Timbuktu, and including Timbuktu, everything everywhere is made of one or more of these elements. The infinite variety of combinations and recombinations that we call chemistry starts and ends with this short and memorable list, the building blocks of the physical world.
    "Almost everything you see in this book is sitting somewhere in my office, except that one thing the FBI confiscated and a few historical objects. I had a great time collecting these examples of the vibrant diversity of the elements, and I hope you have as much fun reading about them."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Community Book Review: Chronic City

Chronic City Love Letter

Jonathan Lethem's Chronic City woke me up in the middle of the night, right out of a dead sleep. I realized something about the stranded-in-orbit astronaut, about the environmental sculptor, about the ghostwriter, about Malcolm Gladwell's quality-of-life police, about the acupuncturist, about the war-free edition of the New York Times. (Who would choose the other edition?) I lay there in the dark, as paranoid/inspired as Perkus Tooth, the ex-broadsider around whom the story revolves.

And now I am in love with Chronic City. (It almost spells synchronicity!) It's the kind of love where I cannot stop mentioning it even/especially to people who haven't read it. It's the kind of love that shifts your perceptions forever. Try reading this book and then driving into New York City past Liberty Park; it's like liberating a collective repressed memory, a catharsis, an admission.

It's fitting to be in love with Chronic City, because it is a love letter to writing and the beautiful/terrible role that writers play in the necessary lies and half-truths that keep any culture, but especially this one, intact.

-Reviewed by Jane Cassady

Jane Cassady is the booking maven for the Philadelphia Poetry Slam. She has appeared in The November 3rd Club, The Comstock Review, Valley of the Contemporary Poets, and others. She works at Emlen Elementary Afterschool Program in Northwest Philadelphia, spending lots of time with craft supplies and optimistic little faces.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Major Jackson and Philadelphia

Have you heard of the poet Major Jackson? He is originally from the city of Philadelphia and has won numerous awards and fellowships for his absolutely wonderful poetry. Check out this piece below about Philadelphia and then come in and get your hands on our last copy of Hoops, his second collection of poetry that features Philly throughout the entire book.

Letter to Brooks: Spring Garden

by Major Jackson
When you have forgotten (to bring into
Play that fragrant morsel of rhetoric,
Crisp as autumnal air), when you
Have forgotten, say, sunlit corners, brick
Full of skyline, rowhomes, smokestacks,
Billboards, littered rooftops & wondered
What bread wrappers reflect of our hunger,

When you have forgotten wide-brimmed hats,
Sunday back-seat leather rides & church,
The doorlock like a silver cane, the broad backs
Swaying or the great moan deep churning,
& the shimmer flick of flat sticks, the lurch
Forward, skip, hands up Aileyesque drop,
When you have forgotten the meaningful bop,

Hustlers and their care-what-may, blas�
Ballet and flight, when you have forgotten
Scruffy yards, miniature escapes, the way
Laundry lines strung up sag like shortened
Smiles, when you have forgotten the Fish Man
Barking his catch in inches up the street
“I’ve got porgies. I’ve got trout. Feeesh

Man,” or his scoop and chain scale,
His belief in shad and amberjack; when
You have forgotten Ajax and tin pails,
Blue crystals frothing on marble front
Steps Saturday mornings, or the garden
Of old men playing checkers, the curbs
White-washed like two lines out to the burbs,

Or the hopscotch squares painted new
In the street, the pitter-patter of feet
Landing on rhymes. “How do you
Like the weather, girls? All in together, girls,
January, February, March, April... ”
The jump ropes’ portentous looming,
Their great, aching love blooming.

When you have forgotten packs of grape-
Flavored Now & Laters, the squares
Of sugar flattening on the tongue, the elation
You felt reaching into the corner-store jar,
Grasping a handful of Blow Pops, candy bars
With names you didn’t recognize but came
To learn. All the turf battles. All the war games.

When you have forgotten popsicle stick
Races along the curb and hydrant fights,
Then, retrieve this letter from your stack
I’ve sent by clairvoyant post & read by light,
For it brought me as much longing and delight.
This week’s Father’s Day; I’ve a long ride to Philly.
I’ll give this to Gramps, then head to Black Lily.

Friday, November 06, 2009

A Sugarless World

A lovely reading tonight with author James Magruder, a playwright and award-winning translator who lives in Baltimore. Here's an excerpt from the novel:

I guess I had a "collect 'em all" personality. Every week in 1973 a four-inch president, from Washington in a blue and gold Continental Army uniform to Nixon in a gray suit and tie, went on sale for forty cents at the Jewel food store. On the shelf above the shelf with my miniature liquor bottles, the thirty-six chief executives lined up like beauty contestants on a set of molded Styrofoam risers, with four Greek columns notched into the back row for a more republican effect. I was the class shrimp in grade school, so Madison, the shortest president, was my favorite. Taft was the fattest, buried in a piano crate.

Check out more from the main character Rick Lahrem in Magruder's story which talks about coming out, coming-of-age, and coming-to Jesus.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Community Book Review: The Wasted Vigil

The Wasted Vigil By Nadeem Aslam.

For folks whom Kite Runner was not depressing or complex or poetic enough.

Wasted Vigil literally nails its symbolism to the ceiling in the form of a library. The books were put there by a woman driven mad by years of Afghan wars, but the method is crudely effective, the Taliban don't notice them. Other metaphors are similarly fraught, the house also features paintings devoted to the 6 senses covered over by mud, a giant Buddha's head that weeps tears, and a collection of inhabitants who range from Afghanistans' would-be occupiers (British, Russian, American) to its current inhabitants, themselves an Al-Qaeda former Bagram detainee and a female schoolteacher.
All of this weight threatens to overwhelm the storyline which is basically flashbacks, hanging out, and gathering menace.

The poetic language, historic sweep, and admirable dialectic of blame (between colonizers and colonized) more or less sustain things, and we enjoy our time spent with these shattered people. My only complaint is the women are either dead, disappeared, or going back to Russia which serves to make them a moew little two dimensional then the agonizing, suffering, and also dying men.

Reviewed by Jesse Bacon

Friday, October 30, 2009

A Measure of Truth About Liar

How exciting to have Justine Larbalestier round off her Liar tour with a visit to Philadelphia!

Justine admired the Big Blue Marble (in fact, her publicist declared intention to take up lodging on a comfy chair and not go back to New York), tried kiwi berries for the first time, and talked with us about the writing of her newest book, which was composed in small scenes and then shuffled around and retrofitted. She described the process as akin to working with a jigsaw puzzle -- if what one did when moving a jigsaw puzzle piece was to violently lop off the sticky-out bits and "grow new wings" to make it fit in the new place.

Throughout its writing, Liar grew in ways Justine hadn't foreseen. It turns out that her earliest ideas for the book involved its being a lighthearted comedy (which, to be fair, did make us laugh). She spoke about how hard she worked to make different interpretations equally probable, and she told us about being surprised by readers' interpretations that hadn't occurred to her at all. She spoke about race and gender issues, and she described her careful work to make sure her teen-aged New Yorker narrator didn't sound Australian -- and her chagrin that no one had noticed. (Which speaks to how well she succeeded, of course.)

There were a lot of interesting and insightful questions, and, curiously, no discussions of Justine's boots, just her books. Also, she writes on her blog of her Scott Westerfeld impressions, and they really are impressive: the one she did last night made it seem as though he was really there! Oh, wait -- he was really there.

I was particularly impressed with her answer to a question of Maleka's about writing characters who have significantly different backgrounds from the author. She said, as she has elsewhere, that you can't be afraid of people getting mad at you for misrepresentation, because anyone whose writing gets published will find readers getting mad at them for something. But she made it clear that she doesn't mean one should ignore the critics; she means that one should expect the critics, and then listen to the criticism and learn from it.

Justine Larbalestier blogs at
Here is her website's Liar page.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Lise Funderburg Visits!

What a wonderful and warm visit by our neighbor and author of the memoir Pig Candy which was the Women of the World book club's selection of the month. We had a great discussion of the book with people asking Lise about her father's behaviors, journalism, whether they still had the farm and the fish pond, why she didn't put the death scene at the end of the book, and more. Lise mentioned thinking about doing a personal writing workshop in the Mt. Airy area, so be on the look out for more information. And if you haven't yet read this social history/memoir, get up on it. It's more than just succulent pig meat.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Your Children Are The Gurus.

This past Sunday morning we had the honor of hosting Lama Willa Miller, ordained in Tibetan Buddhism. She led a short meditation practice from her new book, Everyday Dharma: Seven Weeks To Finding the Buddha in You, read an allegory about looking within yourself, and led a discussion about staying in the present moment, the differences between Tibetan Buddhism and other Buddhist practices, and more. It was a wonderful presentation filled with knowledge that folks could really use every day.

I asked her about meditating within the context of living with three young children under the age of four. Where is the peace within the storm of preschool tantrums? Her response? Look to your children as gurus. They are the perfect teachers of patience, having an open heart, and just being in the present moment. She's so right. It just took that reminder to really have it sink in. And when you're not learning from them? Take a few minutes to steal away and create your own meditation. She says even two minutes will allow you to reboot yourself.

Friday, October 23, 2009

A Taste of Poetry Aloud and Alive

Missed Poetry Aloud and Alive tonight? (It's every fourth Friday of the month at 7:15pm.) Here's a taste of what went down by excellent local poet Steve Burke:

Doubting Thomas On The Bus

Cake-walking down the sidewalk, a zaftig young woman witnessing to whatever lyric is surging through her headphones,
carrying her away down Broad Street, where traffic thickly flows.
Music is a manifestation of something that can be believed in.
Revelation is something that's hard to keep to yourself. She is filled.
Maybe she is singing also, but for now I am deafened by glass
and she blinded by ecstasy-her left hand raised and pulled back,
raised again, the fingers of that hand opening then closing
as if breathing, or as if stretched up to a closet shelf, grasping for
something unseen, something lost, something that belongs to her.

-Steve Burke

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Staff Book Review: Invisible Cities

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

Invisible Cities is basically a series of prose poems, each describing a different city. There are only two characters in the book; the explorer Marco Polo who collects stories about cities and the emperor Kublai Kahn demands to hear about the cities contained in his falling empire. Perhaps the best synopsis of the book is the statement offered by Marco Polo that “an invisible landscape conditions the visible one.” As a surrealist, I found the book especially captivating because on one level it deals in the fantastical—cities which seem to exist in other dimensions, gargoyles which come to life, and cities that sprawl so rapidly that you cannot escape them. On another level Calvino touches on profound truths about geography and imperialism as well as the social, political and environmental forces that shape cities. I found this book to be tremendously fun, my roommates will attest that it caused me to jump up and down with excitement more than once. At 165 pages it is a quick read but it also challenged me look closer at the world around me. I’ve always imagined myself as an urban explorer but I found myself looking up and down and imagining the routes of storm sewers and buried streams with a new sense of urgency.

- reviewed by Mo Speller

Monday, October 19, 2009

Big Blue Marble Bookstore is called a jewel!

Wow! It's nice to find unexpected little descriptions about us in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Check out this event listing.

Next step In her three-decade career, author Liz Rosenberg has found success as a poet (the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize for The Fire Music) and a children's book writer (the Children's Choice Award-winning Monster Mama). Her first novel, Home Repair, is a finely crafted tale of loss and resilience, following a middle-aged mother as she deals with memories of one husband killed in an accident and another who just walked out. Rosenberg reads from her work at a Mount Airy jewel, the Big Blue Marble Bookstore, 551 Carpenter Lane, at 3 p.m. Saturday. Admission is free. Call 215-844-1870.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Big Blue Marble Baby Group is back!

Big Blue Marble Baby Group is back!

Yesterday at Toddler Story Time we had a small horde of squirmy little people. We had a good time! I mentioned to the adults in the crowd that we used to have a baby playgroup meet at the store and that we would love to have one again. All we would need was for someone to pick a time.

Actually, we've had 2 baby groups meet here. Each met until that cohort of kids got big enough for day care, then dissolved. And we were sad. Having a crowd of parents and kids here on a regular basis was fun.

After story time, two of the moms stepped up and said that Wednesdays at 11:30 AM would work for them. Hooray! I told them we would spread the word.

Big Blue Marble Babes: Wednesdays at 11:30 AM. Pass it on!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

we've succumbed to microblogging

For those who have wondered where we have been, you might see more of us in the realm of microblogging:

or check out the Big Blue Marble Bookstore page on Facebook.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Quote: John Green

Most young adult books don't come with footnotes. When they do, you can expect entertaining randomness, as in this section, including awesome footnote, from An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (known also for his correspondence as one of the Vlog Brothers along with his brother Hank):

"Over the years, people had occasionally sought to employ Colin in a manner befitting his talents. But (a) summers were for smart-kid camp so that he could further his learning and (b) a real job would distract him from his real work, which was becoming an ever-larger repository of knowledge, and (c) Colin didn't really have any marketable skills. One rarely comes across, for instance, the following want ad:

Huge, megalithic corporation seeks a talented, ambitious prodigy to join our exciting, dynamic Prodigy Division for summer job. Requirements include at least fourteen years' experience as a certified child prodigy, ability to anagram adeptly (and alliterate agilely), fluency in eleven languages. Job duties include reading, remembering encyclopedias, novels, and poetry; and memorizing the first ninety-nine digits of pi.33

"33Which Colin did when he was ten, by making up a 99-word sentence in which the first letter of each word corresponded to the digit of pi (a=1, b=2, etc.; j=0). The sentence, if you're curious: Catfish always drink alcoholic ether if begged, for every catfish enjoys heightened intoxication; gross indulgence can be calamitous, however; duly, garfish babysit for dirty catfish children, helping catfish babies get instructional education just because garfish get delight assisting infants' growth and famously inspire confidence in immature catfish, giving experience (and joy even); however, blowfish jeer insightful garfish, disparaging inappropriately, doing damage, even insulting benevolent, charming, jovial garfish, hurting and frustrating deeply; joy fades but hurt feelings bring just grief; inevitable irritation hastens feeling blue; however, jovial children declare happiness, blowfishes' evil causes dejection, blues; accordingly, always glorify jolly, friendly garfish!"

- John Green, An Abundance of Katherines

Oh, except...shouldn't the first "garfish" begin with "f"? (Not an easy fix, though.)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Guest post from Stephanie Bond

How to Refill Your Creative Well

I’m coming off a crazy-hard writing year where I wrote 3 manuscripts for my BODY MOVERS humorous mystery series so they could be released back to back. I also wrote 3 manuscripts for Harlequin Blaze (romantic comedies), also for back to back release. And I wrote 2 manuscripts for novellas. The schedule tested me physically and mentally, and afterward, I confess, I was zapped. My brain was mush—I could barely remember the names of the characters I’d written, much less come up with something new. But I had more projects on the horizon (after a short break), so I knew I had to do something to recharge my batteries. Here are some tips to regain your creativity if you’re in a slump:

Adjust your Zzzzzzzs. Physically, you need to adjust your sleep patterns up or down to get 7-8 hours sleep. I got way too little sleep most of last year, so now I’m making an effort to go to bed an hour earlier. Conversely, though, too much sleep can leave you feeling lethargic, so if you’ve gotten into the habit of sleeping in, you might want to set your alarm to get up a little earlier and get a jump on the day.

Get moving. Exercise truly is a panacea for the mind and body. Try to break a sweat at least every other day and keep moving for 30 minutes. Cardio exercise delivers oxygen to the brain and makes you more alert. I jump rope for 5 minutes shortly after getting out of bed. For a quick pick-me-up during the day, I do jumping jacks.

Eat well. Don’t put garbage in your body. I’m not the most disciplined eater around, but I do avoid the drive-through and opt for salad occasionally. Be good to your body—feed it well if you expect it to deliver on command.

Be a kid. To jumpstart your creativity, turn to something you used to do to have fun, like color in a coloring book. Or put together a puzzle. Or get out the Play-Doh and make funny shapes. Board games are also good to get your creative juices flowing, as are card games.

Get together with friends. Nothing refills your well like getting together with friends and having a good time. Let your friends buoy you with affection.
Try something new. Jar yourself out of a creative rut by trying something new. For me, that means taking a break from writing novels to write, say, a screenplay.

Set a deadline. Wow, if you’re burnt out, a deadline can sound ominous. But sometimes, you need a goal in order to get you moving again. Maybe it’s a self-imposed deadline, or maybe it’s simply making a to-do list for the next day before you go to bed.

Collaborate. Getting out of a rut is easier if you have a partner to pull/push you along. Working on a project with someone else will help motivate you to get moving, but allow you to share responsibility.

Working writers don’t have the luxury of waiting for inspiration to strike—sometimes we have to give our muse a nudge. Recognizing burnout and being proactive about refilling the creative well are crucial to maintaining your artistic edge!
Stephanie Bond left a corporate computer programming job to write fiction full-time. To date, she’s sold almost 50 romance and mystery novels. Stephanie currently writes the BODY MOVERS humorous mystery series. Books 4, 5 and 6 in the Body Movers series will be released back to back April, May, and June 2009. (Books 1-3 are still available at all Internet bookstores.) For more information, go to