Critical Linking: May 4, 2015

       Our daily round-up of bookish links. Tastes great with coffee.

For book lovers, there’s no more magical place than the local bookstore. Endless shelves of stories and characters, all at your eager fingertips. And while most of us have probably spent a significant amount of time wandering the aisles, few of us know what goes on behind the scenes. Here, some insights into the life of a bookstore, gleaned from the people who keep the shelves stocked.

In the aftermath of Independent Bookstore Day, here are 17 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Bookstores.


To celebrate Small Business Saturday, President Obama and his daughters went to Politics & Prose and bought 17 books.

Is Obama the most indie-bookstore friendly President ever?


“I get more pushback on YA and, frankly, on Victorian women’s poetry than I do on fanfic. Nothing can match the snideness with which male scholars of modernism tend to regard Victorian poetry by women.” But she stressed that she’s a tenured professor, a luxury that some fan studies scholars, many of whom are independent, aren’t afforded. “It gives me a kind of intellectual and professional freedom that is quickly disappearing.”

Main lesson, academia getting interested in fanfiction. Secondary takeaway, dudes everywhere are the worst about YA.


On May 2nd, request a ride in the Lyft app over to a participating independent bookstore in your city. Once your ride ends and you arrive at the store, use the app to rate and pay your driver, and get your receipt by email. Just show your Lyft receipt on your phone to a store employee and you’ll receive a free canvas tote bag filled to the brim with posters, stickers, keychains, temporary tattoos and more from bestselling series such as Divergent, The Selection and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.

Did anyone do this for Independent Bookstore Day?


We run a pretty sweet little bookish Instagram account, if we do say so ourselves (and we do). Come check it out.


What does a University Book Store bookseller do on vacation, you ask? Why, visit other book stores, of course!

Our children’s bookseller Jenny was on holiday in the other Washington (D.C., of course) and couldn’t help but stop by one of her favorite East Coast book stores, Politics & Prose. It’s always nice to visit with fellow Indie book shops, browse the shelves, and inhale that delicious, book-y smell.

Eccentric tourist destination? Perhaps. Wonderful tourist destination? Definitely.

The Pink Suit by Nicole Mary Kelby is the perfect gift for Mother’s Day! Says Entertainment Weekly:  “A novel that’s just about the pink suit worn by Jackie Kennedy that day in Dallas? Yes - and it’s terrific!”

Planning to give a copy to your mother? Print out our eCard to go along with it!

Plus, Nicole Mary Kelby will be at Politics & Prose on Mother’s Day! Be sure to stop by and see her if you’re in the area.

If you can use your religious freedom to not cater gay weddings, Joan Cheever can use hers to feed the homeless, dammit.

Here’s a picture of Joan Cheever, who was given a ticket for feeding homeless people on April 14th. The ticket carries a potential fine of $2,000.

Joan is a trained chef who, for the last decade, has used her food truck to feed homeless people 3-course meals. On Tuesday, April 14th, Joan was ticketed by San Antonio police. She has a food permit for her mobile truck, but she was cited for transporting and serving some food from a vehicle other than that truck. There are good reasons for having food permit laws for mobile vehicles (sanitary considerations and public health), but those laws are usually reserved for people trying to sell food, not provide alms to the poor.

Are we actually supposed to believe that San Antonio is worried about the health of its homeless population when it has banned panhandling, sleeping in public, and camping without a license (including sleeping in vehicles)? San Antonio is also considering making it illegal to even give money to panhandlers as well, targeting not just homeless people, but also those who wish to help them.

Joan is fighting back, though. She has cited Texas’s Religious Freedom law, and is contesting the ticket. “One of the police officers said, ‘Ma’am, if you want to pray, go to church,’” she told WOAI-TV. “And I said, 'This is how I pray–when I cook this food and deliver it to the people who are less fortunate.”

The Indiana pizzeria who cited religious freedom for its decision to not cater gay weddings got nearly a million dollars worth of crowd-funded support. There is also crowd-funding for Joan, to help her with her charitable work and potential legal costs.

Spread the word. A statement just as loud should be made for this woman.

It’s not about being published. That’s a wonderful problem to have and I wish it on all writers, because it is a joy. […] If you can go a year without writing and feel just fine, you’re not a writer. So what. It’s actually a good piece of news, now you’re free to go find out what the hell you’re supposed to do.

Andre Dubus III from this reading/question and answer session at Politics & Prose, one of my favorite bookstores.

Dubus talked to a member of the audience who seemed shy about calling herself a writer, and this was his answer: “I bet you can’t go three four days without feeling far from [yourself],” he said, to which the young woman agreed. “Alright so forget published, you’re already a writer. You’re stuck with it.”

I think about this a lot.


My friend Courtney took the top picture of me answering questions after my reading at Politics and Prose. It’s one of the best independent bookstores in the country and I’ve been a regular customer there since I was a kid, so it is an honor and a thrill to see my novel on the store’s bestseller list! (All bestsellers are 20% off, so even if you don’t live in Washington, you can order the book from P&P’s website.)

And Hannah Oliver, one of the amazing booksellers at Politics and Prose, took the bottom two pictures of me next to my “Desert Island Reads.” I picked five books for a display at the store: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov; Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson; Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy; The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton; and The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov.

It was hard to choose just five books. Others on my list of favorites include The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro; The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark; Moby-Dick by Melville; The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald; Middlemarch by George Eliot; Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen; The Remains of the Day by Ishiguro; The End of the Affair by Graham Greene; Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin; We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson; My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead, edited by Jeffrey Eugenides; and the collected poems of Elizabeth Bishop and Emily Dickinson. 

I could go on.

Who says you have to wait until September for some SPX action?

Not us!

The Small Press Expo is co-sponsoring a tremendously cool comics event for our DC-area people, hosted by our good buds at Politics and Prose (if you ask me, the crown jewel of Washington, DC’s independent bookstores).  

The incredible Guy Delisle is coming to Politics & Prose on April 26th, touring in support of the English translation of his latest graphic novel, Jerusalem, debuting this month from our friends at Drawn & Quarterly.

D&Q has a great preview of Jerusalem online that you should most assuredly check out if you are unfamiliar with Guy’s work. Delisle is famous for his first-person travelogues from places like Burma, North Korea and China.  

In Jerusalem he recounts a year his family spent in Israel while his wife worked with Doctors without Borders.  Originally published last year as Chroniques de Jérusalem, the graphic novelwon the Angoulême Comics Festival Prize for Best Album in 2012.

As a little extra bonus, EVERYONE who picks up a signed copy of Jerusalem at the April 26th event will also receive a FREE PASS to the 2012 Small Press Expo.

That’s pretty rad, right?

We would absolutely love it if you’d help share the word about the event. 

So tell your comics-loving pals to come on out next Tursday, April 26th to see Guy Delisle at Politics and Prose. Start time is 7:30 PM!

Let’s show Guy a great welcome in DC!


Book Tour Stop #12: Politics and Prose, Washington, DC

How had I never been to Politics and Prose? I’d heard about this magical store for years, but my previous trips to DC had always been fast and furious, and I’d never had the hours necessary to roam the many wonderful aisles. Good lord, what a bookstore. Big and friendly and well-stocked, with a coffee shop to boot. If I lived in DC, I would never go anywhere else. You would have to pry me out with the Jaws of Life, those things they use to get people out of crushed automobiles. The reading was FAB, and afterwards we went to Jaleo with Stuart* and his gorgeous, brilliant wife, and we all drank some sangria. Success!

*Pre-order Stuart’s amazing novel here. You won’t be sorry. It’s one of the best books of 2013. Yes, that’s right, it’s one of the best books from a year that HASN’T EVEN HAPPENED YET. You heard it here first. 

Tonight I had the incredible honor of sitting in the pews of Sixth and I synagogue in DC to hear Toni Morrison discuss her new work “God Help the Child” with Michele Norris. This is a culmination of something that started when I saw Maya Angelou in 2013, continued with meeting Nikki Giovanni in 2014, then seeing Sonia Sanchez and meeting Margaret Atwood this year. 

I’ve been a devoted reader of Morrison’s writing since college, intrigued by her subject matter as much as her writing style. Tonight she mentioned how Oprah once told her that she has to go back and read over parts of Toni’s books after she read them. “Well,” Toni replied, “That’s called reading.” 

And while the works of Toni Morrison do require close reading, that focus is rewarded with rich, nuanced stories that take readers on a journey from ignorance to knowledge. All her characters learn something by the end of the tale and, subsequently, readers do as well. That’s one of the most gratifying aspects of reading her books.

Just holding her new novel has me curious what new lessons await me inside. I feel like I learned many personal lessons from “A Mercy,” that book was transformative for me in a real way. And beyond the lessons the characters learn within the narrative there’s a good deal to pickup about how to write a good book. There are no step by step instructions, but the framework is there: Strong, unforgettable opening lines. Three dimensional characters with much to learn. Lyric prose that enchants and challenges.

Morrison is a master builder whose constructions (novels & non-fiction) have earned her an esteemed place in history, and on my bookshelf. 

I was happy she not only discussed her new book, but also spoke to this moment in the nation where we are witnessing so many Black men killed before our eyes on TV sets and cellphone screens: 

“Now there is videotape. Now there is conversation. Now there is outrage. And…what is interesting, among the things that are sad in addition to the loss of these lives…the police…it’s not that they are just out of control and they don’t live in the neighborhood and they don’t have any connection. They are strikingly cowardly. It’s just amazing. It’s stunning. They think the gun is the manly thing. But you shoot somebody running away and you’re scared, and you say ‘I was fearful for my life.’ Somebody’s running from you, and you have a gun or a taser or what have you.  Or somebody calls and when they get out of the car there’s a twelve year old kid in a park. How could you do that? What are you afraid of? What are you afraid of? They’re badly trained, so I am very grateful there’s a lot of noise. I know the point in the media is property. That’s much more important to them than human life. ‘Yes this is terrible this child is shot, but look! They’re tearing up a CVS! They’re tearing up…’ Yeah? And someone comes out, sweeps it up, puts the stuff back, but all you hear is ‘Oh my god, they bombed…the car’s on fire…’ You know what I mean? You can replace the car, or not! But the child, the boy, the man IS DEAD. I don’t have any solutions. I just have wonder, and not despair. Because that’s the way evil wins.”

This incredible opportunity to be in the house with the only living Nobel Prize winning novelist was getting to meet her, speak with her, and laugh with her. Though the moment occurred in a room of hundreds, the words we exchanged seemed to occur in some magnificent vacuum where only she and I were. A thirty second experience that will stay with me for a lifetime.