Bookstore Review: Book Plate, Chestertown

Chestertown is one of those places I dream about escaping to on weekends (like this short getaway last summer).  Not least because, in addition to the water and historic, tree-lined streets, it features *two* independent bookshops.

Book Plate - New Yorker Shelves

The Book Plate is a very well-curated shop right in the main historic section of town.

Book Plate Interior

It has an inviting, warm decor: natural light, upholstered chairs that feel like they might have come from someone’s living room, a long oriental runner.  The front room features an eclectic collection of chapbooks and ephemera that totally sucked us in and had us laughing.

Book Plate - New Yorker

And the heart of the bookstore reflects its college-town surroundings.  There are several shelves dedicated to writers from the New Yorker, and an extensive feminist section that includes some impressive tomes.

Book Plate - By Women

(The one bone I’d pick is the signage here: “By Women, About Women” is fantastic.  But I question “For Women.”  It seems to me that the next important step in gender studies… and in literary equity as a whole, is to have books by and about women be FOR both women and men.)

As our spring continues to lag behind, I’ve been dreaming about whiling away a morning at Book Plate… and then a long afternoon eating crabcakes on a Chester River dock.  Soon, I hope…

Book Plate - Exterior

Book Escape Sale

If you just stumbled across Saturday’s post and are disappointed to have missed the Smith Book Sale, I thought I’d pass along word of another used book opportunity in Baltimore.  The Book Escape is closing its N. Calvert St. location (this is the bad news).  They’ll be offering all their N. Calvert used book stock at $3 or less through March 28 (good news).  Note that this only affects their N. Calvert location… their longstanding Federal Hill location is staying open (reassuring).

All this book-buying news has reminded me that I owe you another Bookstore Review soon.  Maybe next week?

Smith Book Sale

Have you ever been to the Smith College Club of Baltimore Book Sale?  I’ve heard legends about it ever since we moved to Baltimore.  And, unfortunately, until today, I’ve missed it every year.  But I finally made it up there today, and it was a lot of fun.  They host an enormous weekend-long used book sale at the Timonium Fairgrounds.  Even at the end of a busy Saturday, their collection was still extensive, and very thoughtfully sorted.

Smith College Book Sale 2013

If you’re looking for something to do tomorrow, consider checking it out.   You can learn more here.

(Image courtesy of the Smith College Club of Baltimore Book Sale Facebook page.)

Namesake

I recently read an incredible essay about namesakes by my friend Toni.  It’s a fascinating look at the way names move through families and the weight they carry.  And an exceptionally lovely piece of writing to boot.  A must-read for your weekend.

My Aunt Helen wasn’t related to me biologically. She was my grandmother’s childhood friend. My sister Helen shares no DNA with my mother’s beloved Aunt Helen, but still Mom loves to talk about how similar the two of them are. She believes that in naming my sister after her aunt, there was an alchemic effect that endowed my sister with the personality traits of her aunt. Many of us believe in something similar. We want to believe in it. We revel in those moments of discovered similarities between the older relative and the namesake. We are triumphant, for we have discovered a kind of immortality.            – Toni McIntyre

Books

After receiving a few requests, I recently added a Recommended Reading page to the blog.  It contains eight truly outstanding novels and short story collections, which I’m really excited to share with you all.  If you haven’t read them yet, you may want to add these to your 2013 reading list.  (I’ve also included links to the books on Powells… if you’re interested, just click on the book’s cover image.)  I have plans to expand this page over time, so please check back often for updates and new additions!

One Today

Did you all hear Richard Blanco read “One Today” at the inauguration on Tuesday?  I always really love it when presidents choose to include a poem in the inauguration program, and I thought Blanco’s poem was breathtaking.  If you missed it, you can read the full text and see a video of the reading here.

I first saw Blanco’s inauguration reading on ABC, and I was startled and disheartened to see that the network chose to scroll tweets about the poem while Blanco was still in the process of reading it.  It felt so deeply disruptive — not only to this particular reading, but to the enterprise that poetry undertakes.  Poetry feels like one of the few places we can still turn for more sustained reflection.  One of the few places that can provide us with the distance (from scrolling news feeds and user comments, among other sensory and informational input) necessary to transport ourselves and our thinking about our world.

The scrolling twitter comments felt like an assault, and I had to close my eyes in order to escape them.  Even then, I couldn’t completely reimmerse after that intrusion.

Because of that, it wasn’t until I could get the written text of Blanco’s poem that I fully appreciated that last stanza.  That unnamed constellation.  Stunning, Mr. Blanco.  Thank you.

Pull up a Wicker Lounge Chair and Have a Cup of Coffee: Women Writers in Visual Culture

In its September issue, Vogue published a photography spread honoring Edith Wharton — a photography spread that featured actors, models, and writers; conspicuously, though, none of the writers were women.  I’m torn about this issue: on the one hand, I was pretty excited about the fact that any popular culture source was talking about (and photographing!) writers.  And the photograph I saw (I believe there are more I haven’t seen) only included seven people, so it doesn’t seem like a large enough sample to spark indignation.  But on the other hand, a photograph honoring a female writer ought to include a female writer.

As Kate Bolick writes in her nuanced and insightful look at this issue, “the reaction […] was…complicated”: here we are “confronted with something so obviously wrong (as if women writers aren’t underrepresented enough as is!) and yet so seemingly inconsequential (oh who cares—it’s just a photo shoot)…”

Vogue Wharton Spread

My own reaction was complicated enough that I tried to dismiss the matter.  But then this morning my husband and I swung by Barnes and Noble for a cup of coffee.  Behind our local Barnes and Nobel cafe is a large mural featuring seven writers, six of them male.  The only female writer represented was Emily Dickinson, and she was mostly covered by a sign about coffee.  The male writers in the mural talked and laughed with each other, sipped mugs of coffee, some painted in profile, all of them actively engaged in a fantasy literary cafe scene straight out of Woody Allen.  Except Dickinson, who sat stock still, facing forward, her hands folded neatly in her lap, completely separate from the collegial coffee drinking around her.

The thing that bothered me most about this mural, however, was the presence of several anonymous female figures, all painted with blank white ovals in lieu of faces, who lounged and sipped and chattered amongst the male writers.  It wasn’t that the mural only included seven figures, or that the figures included were men.  It’s that the composition included women, but the painter (or Barnes and Noble, which presumably commissioned the piece) didn’t bother to say, “We have room for two more writers in this piece?  And the figures you’re planning to paint are women?  Let’s make them Zora Neale Hurston and Charlotte Bronte.”

On their own, a photo spread in Vogue and a mural behind a Barnes and Noble cafe don’t seem to amount to anything.  Except that they niggle at me.  Contemporary gender issues are so subtle, so beneath the surface that it is difficult to identify them when they happen and even more difficult to give them voice.

“[…] any complaint sounds like whining, so it’s hard to know how to frame the discussion,” Roxana Robinson told Kate Bolick.  In Bolick’s article, Robinson again parses this complex issue: “The message of the shoot seems to be that a man can become an appropriate subject for the camera by being a professional writer. But a woman can only be an appropriate subject for the camera if she is a professional beauty.”

I worry that the outcome of these discussions will be a sort of token inclusion: sticking a random, stiff Emily Dickinson portrait in the middle of a cafe scene and then covering her with a coffee ad.  But what I’m arguing against isn’t so much the exclusion of women from visual representations of writers, but rather the more systemic, unspoken mindset that produces these incidents.  The fact that when bookstore owners and magazine editors — people who are supposed to be somewhat literary — brainstorm for these visual images, they don’t automatically think of a more inclusive, diverse, and representative list of writers.  I don’t want an Emily Dickinson afterthought.  I want women writers to be part of the discussion from the start.

Visual images carry increasing currency in our culture.  How powerful would it be to see a cafe scene or a back patio lounge where women and men writers participated equally and collegially?  It seems there’s a real call for some well-connected, talented photographer to produce a photo spread in response.

Bookstore Review: Boulder Bookstore

The Boulder Bookstore has a distinct personality.  I felt this especially when I wandered through the bright sunny spaces on the second floor.  This upstairs has a great web of twisting hallways and half-stairs, which lead you into, among other sections, the store’s impressive collections of meditation and metaphysical books.  Here there is the sense of a unique spirit that seems reflective not only of the individual sensibilities of the store’s owners, but also of the community to which this bookstore belongs.

The second floor also houses the store’s large collection of literature in its “Ballroom.”  It was easy to browse: the sunny space with its lovely arched windows seemed to invite lingering.

And the books themselves were thoughtfully arranged and displayed so that it was easy to pick up a few volumes and take a look through.

The Boulder Bookstore carries a mix of new and used books, but unlike many stores that carry both, the used books aren’t all cordoned off in a separate part of the bookstore.  Perusing the running section, for example, my husband came across a great selection of new books mixed in with a handful of harder-to-find used titles.

And while the Boulder Bookstore doesn’t feature cushy couches and lounge areas, there are practical and serviceable assortments of wooden armchairs throughout, and even an occasional table at which you could sit and jot down some notes.  Somehow lush leather club chairs would feel out of keeping with the straightforward nature of this store.  And my husband and I happily settled into old wooden chairs to flip through our piles of books.  Which is good because we would up returning almost daily during our trip to Boulder.

Conversational Stress

This summer I finally got my hands on Mindy Kaling’s book Is Everyone Hanging out without Me?  (It was checked out of my library for months!)  I enjoyed it far more than I’d anticipated.  Kaling is sharp, funny, and forthright, and some chapters were hilarious — and incredibly observant.

Here’s one of my favorite quotes:

A note about me: I do not think stress is a legitimate topic of conversation, in public anyway. No one wants to hear how stressed out anyone else is, because most of the time everyone is stressed out. Going on and on in detail about how stressed out I am isn’t conversation. It’ll never lead anywhere. No one is going to say “Wow, Mindy, you really have it especially bad. I have heard some stories of stress, but this just takes the cake.”

It’s so true… and such a strange phenomenon, really, that we choose to brag about stress.