Book Review: The Disinformation Book of Lists

I like The Disinformation Company. I like Russ Kick. They do a lot of cool work distributing strange and wonderful information that more people should know, and they do it with style. Alas, I think this set me up to want more from the Disinformation Book of Lists than it could deliver.

To be fair, I would have loved this book with a deep and abiding passion ten years ago. It’s possible that I have simply lost my hardcore edge. But I think it’s more than the Book of Lists is … well, the best way I’ve been able to put it is that it’s conventionally subversive. Lists of heroin brand names, smart drugs, and incidents of homosexuality in animals are interesting, but not exactly mind-blowing. It’s nice to know that Sherlock Holmes was a coke fiend, but my world is not rocked. Nor is it really a shock to learn that characters in the Bible do horrible things.

There are a few lists in the book that are more powerful. I think these are the ones that take advantage of the power of the list format by showing the reader patterns of things that they might have otherwise dismissed as a freak accident. Most people have heard about a nuclear test that dumped radioactive dust on a nearby Nevada town; it’s harder to accept the story as a regrettable mistake when you’re presented with a dozen separate incidents. The same principle works with botched executions and prisoners exonerated after years behind bars. It does not add any power to the aforementioned list of heroin brand names.

I think the book works best, however, as a source of cocktail party conversation. The right type of person can draw a lot of fodder from all the ways people have died at Disneyland. I certainly have.

Originally published on LiveJournal

Another week in the book mines

Yesterday at work I had an experience that I simultaneously hope is my future and hope is never my future.

An author came by to sign his book. This is a part of the book-tour thing I didn’t know about; authors go to bookstores not to read or meet people, but just to sit down, sign the store’s stock of their book, and then leave.

I also didn’t know that the publishers have relationships with freelance professional minders in every metropolitan area: folks who know the area, know its bookstores, and shepherd authors between all the bookstores they’re supposed to visit. That sounds like a really neat job.

Anyway, this author comes in to sign his book. I have heard nothing of this. Neither has my assistant manager. But hey, signed books; it’s all good. I go to find his latest book on the shelves.

We have two copies.

They try to play it off as a good thing, because it means it’s selling, right? I don’t tell them that according to the database, we only ever had three. Fortunately, his previous book just came out in paperback, which is really where the money is in mysteries, and I manage to dig up a dozen copies of that. Still, it was a little awkward.

Later in the shift, I reached a watershed moment in my retail career. I am now a purveyor of filth; a smutmonger; a corruptor of the public virtue. I sold my first porno magazine yesterday. Playgirl, to be precise. The customer was very particular about the magazine being in the plastic (which makes a certain amount of sense, I guess), and was very eager to get any back issues we had. Unfortunately, our adult backstock is meager.

It delighted me that I got to put it in a brown paper bag.

Originally published on LiveJournal

Stuff involving Me and Books

I’m going to have to start containing myself on the freebies. Between stripped books and advance copies, working at a bookstore has the potential for accumulating truly stupid amounts of printed material, and so far I’m not doing too well at resisting temptation.

I’ve been working at chewing through my reading backlog, though; I’m making an effort to read for at least half an hour every day, which is a nice way to break up the massive stretches of writing.

Yesterday I finished En Garde, which is an ancient swashbuckling RPG from GDW — indeed, so ancient that I hesitate to call it an RPG. It’s more of a dueling wargame onto which has been built a swashbuckling simulation. It is, however, truly a wonderful game — chock full of that robustness that modern game designers are always trying to get back to when they try to get retro. It hurls together swashbuckling cliches from a dozen different sources; how can you not love a game where you can choose between serving in the Royal North Highland Border Regiment and the Gascon Regiment? It handles fencing, gentleman’s clubs, mistresses, regimental politics, mass combat, and court intrigue in a little handbook smaller than any modern game product of which I am aware. (It really makes me want to run a swashbuckling LARP, but that is not an idea to entertain just now.)

Last night at Kepler’s we had in some of the folks from to talk about their new book, 50 Ways to Love Your Country. It was an interesting crowd. Mostly older folks, which I suppose is to be expected from the graying leftism of the Peninsula. We tend to get a relatively older crowd anyway; Candace Bushnell was the only author I’ve seen get significant numbers of younger folks, though I think David Sedaris had a relatively youthful crowd. More interestingly, the crowd was probably about 80 percent women. I’m not sure what to make of that. I hypothesize that my own experience with leftist activism suggests that a lot of leftist groups tend to greet newcomers with an armload of uninspiring grunt work, which I’ve seen turn off a bunch of guys who really just wanted to be the guy on the barricades with the big-ass flag*, but not so many of the women. I can’t really back that up, though.

Entertainingly, no sooner had the event wrapped up than the attendees got up and starting helping fold chairs. That’s never happened at any other event.

Finally, I got a raise! Successful completion of the training period earns you an extra pittance — I think it’s something like 3 percent. It ain’t gonna make me rich, but it’s better than a kick in the head.

*Yeah, including me. In my case, I was really turned off by the Amway model of political action; I wanted to do something, not recruit more recruiters.

Originally published at LiveJournal

The fateful lightning of my terrible swift sword

Today I embarked upon a new activity in the bookstore, one which fills my authorial bowels with a strange sympathetic dread.

Pulls. Such an innocuous word.

Periodically, a well-run bookstore has to go around pulling off the shelves books which aren’t selling, in order to return them to the publisher for credit. As a bookseller, this is a grand thing. It’s good for the bottom line; it clears up room to shelve some of the massive stacks of overstock we have; it generally makes my life easier. And yet, I feel sort of uneasy pulling. The realities of the book trade being what they are, I know I’m basically consigning the book, and its author’s hopes of fame and earning out, to obscurity. It’s kind of sad looking up a book that we have nine copies of and taking all nine back to the loading dock.

With the hardcovers and trade paperbacks, it’s not so bad. You can pretend that they all get sent to a farm upstate where they can run and play with the other books (which, as I think about it, isn’t a bad way to think of Ingram’s Oregon warehouse). It’s the mass-market paperbacks that break your heart.

They don’t get sent anywhere. They just get their front covers torn off and mailed back, as if some sort of bookstore mafioso decided an editor needed to be taught a lesson. The rest of the book goes in the dumpster, unless some ghoulish bookseller decides to snag a few decapitated books (What?).

I took comfort in listening to a trio of highly literate high schoolers discussing their next book purchases and their college applications, however. I like it when people too young to drink tackle grand literature; it makes me feel there is hope for the world yet. I conclude, however, that I am indeed getting old, because I think the current cohort of teenagers has just abominable taste. I mean, really; white pumps on a seventeen-year-old?

Originally published on LiveJournal

Book Review: Sirio

Sirio is the autobiography of Sirio Maccioni, proprietor of the famously exclusive Le Cirque in New York. It begins with his childhood as an orphan in Tuscany during World War II and chronicles his ascent through the ranks of the restaurant industry over five decades and four countries.

I like nice restaurants, and I have a soft spot for a good Horatio Alger story, so I thought it would be a fun read. And I really enjoyed the first half of the book. His tribulations as a busboy and waiter in the postwar restaurant scene, at the verge of the nouvelle cuisine, are interesting social history and a ripping yarn besides. A brush with the forbidden ortolan and chasing down a cruise ship in a Cuban police boat are fun grace notes to the series of ever more responsible jobs that are the hallmark of the up-from-poverty narrative.

Around halfway through, however, with the closing of the famous Colony, where Sirio had been maitre d’, and the opening of Le Cirque, his own venture, the snap begins to fade. In a way, there’s nowhere left to go but down, and the youthful exuberance and relentless progress fades into an endless series of battles with the New York Times restaurant reviewers and his own chefs.

You can’t edit a man’s life, of course, but I would have loved more pages on the scrappy waiter and fewer on the beleaguered restaurateur.

First published on LiveJournal

Friday night and patent leather Manolos

Well, it was an interesting old day down at Kepler’s Books. We had Candace Bushnell, the author of Sex and the City, reading in the store today. It was the largest event I’ve worked during yet, which I suppose is a good dry run to the David Sedaris event on Sunday that everyone is terrified of (God knows what will happen if we get Clinton).

The Bushnell audience was an interesting bunch; not our usual clientele. Lots of pink. Lots of high schoolers who I suspect were trying for a sophisticated and sexy look, but, well, yeah. Some things a sixteen-year-old just can’t do. A fair number of dumpy, testy-looking women, which I’m not sure how to interpret.

And as the owner observed, everybody was on their cell phone.

Bushnell herself was an interesting character, though I suspect she’s a better writer than a reader. Her voice sounds at least fifteen to twenty years younger than she must be, given that she was writing magazine articles in the eighties. She had some entertaining anecdotes about people having sex in cedar closets, but her Argentinean accent is poor.

I had a pair of customers in a row who I feel were iconic of something: first, the perky Jewish blonde teenager in a pink tank top who bought Bushnell’s book with a hundred-dollar bill, and second, the exotic henna-fingered brunette teenager in a gray tank top who tried to buy a Sedaris book with a credit card that was declined and had no other means of paying.

Then, alas, the low point of the evening. I had to sell someone one of the Acorna books. With the frickin’ sacred temple cats. There is no God.

Originally published on LiveJournal