Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa (Literati Cultura)

Once upon a time, I had a favorite book store.  It was Borders.  From its Novi store opening in the mid-1980’s to its closing in 2011, I spent a lot of time (and money) in that second home.

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Since its departure, I’ve explored the indies, and discovered many excellent book stores, each with their unique character.  Literati Bookstore is one such treasure.

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Located in downtown Ann Arbor, Literati opened in 2013.  Fiction on the main floor, nonfiction on lower, the books are displayed on shelves from the old Borders stores.  Typewriters shine in the front counter display case, with a manual Olympia on the lower level for patrons to type their thoughts.  On the upper floor is a cafe, which was opened recently, where U of M students sit with their laptops and lattes, and author talks and book signings take place.

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Samples of typed comments adorn the side of Literati Bookstore.

In September, 2015, the bookstore started a on-going, signed, first edition, subscription book club called Literati Cultura.   Through this, readers enhance their own reading and exploration of new writing.  It also allows bibliophiles to grow their libraries with signed first editions, creating a potential collectability element.

Each month, a Literati Cultura subscriber receives a hard cover, first edition book, signed by the author, as selected by owner Hilary Gustafson.  Included is a typewritten letter from Ms. Gustafson, detailing why the book was selected, and a limited edition print by Wolverine Press.  All this for cost of the hardcover book.  If you live a distance from the store – like I do – they will ship it to you for the additional shipping cost.  The selections thus far have been:

  • The Fates and The Furies by Lauren Groff. (Sept. 2015)
  • Mothers, Tell Your Daughters by Bonnie Jo Campbell (Oct. 2015)
  • Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape by Lauret Savoy (Nov. 2015)
  • Beloved Dog by Maira Kalman (Dec. 2015)
  • My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout (Jan. 2016)
  • Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa (Feb. 2016)
  • The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan (Mar. 2016)
  • Desert Boys by Chris McCormick (Apr. 2016)
  • Heat & Light by Jennifer Haigh (May, 2016)
  • The Girls by Emma Cline (June, 2016)
  • Miss Jane by Brad Watson (July, 2016)

This month, I’ll be receiving the twelfth book of the subscription – Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson, completing the first year of the club. I figured it was about time I start getting into these books, as they always seemed to arrive beneath the higher priority books I was reading.  Of the eleven titles received thus far, I have only read one.  After last night, I can now say I’ve read two.

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Beloved Dog by Maira Kalman (Dec. 2012 selection) was an easy first book to read.  Illustrator, author, and designer, Kalman tells the story of the her life with her husband and the sadness of losing him, and the how the love of a dog – an animal she feared throughout her life – opened her to a new joy for living.  It was a quick read as the story is told with words and illustrations, and was approved by my beloved dog, Zen.  I gave it the Goodreads rating of a 3 – I liked it.

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Of the ten remaining books, the one that jumped out at me first was the February, 2016 selection, Sunil Yapa’s Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist. 

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It’s November 30, 1999, as nineteen-year-old Victor emerges from under the bridge of the Seattle freeway he slept beneath, into the organized chaos of ‘N30′ – the first day of the protests against the WTO Ministerial Conference.  His step-father, Bishop, is the Chief of Police, and has not seen Victor since the boy left three years earlier to bare witness to the world.  The story is told through these two characters, as well as King, a young woman activist with a not-so nonviolent past; King’s lover, John Henry, an older activist from the Vietnam-era; police officers Park and Julia who become engaged with the protestors; and Dr. Charles Wickramsinghe, the diplomat from Sri Lanka seeking to have his country become a member of the WTO.

The novel puts these characters not only into conflict with each other, but within themselves as they confront nonviolent protest, police brutality, and globalization.  Yapa does this skillfully, not in a sententious way.  The only feeling of stepping out of the novel and into the political came in the way the final chapters were written – from Chapter 40 on.   It didn’t bother me as a reader, as it takes its shot at the media and the way such events are covered, but others may have a different opinion of whether it pulled too much away from the characters’ stories.

On the Goodreads scale, I give this book five stars – it was awesome.  Some people like to read novels set during periods of war.  I enjoy those that are set during occasions of protest.

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Visiting the Indies Chapter Six: Paperback Writer Books in Mount Clemens, MI

Back in Chapter Three, I participated in Small Business Saturday by supporting independent book seller Used on New Books & More in Mount Clemens.  In 2013, author Sherman Alexie encouraged writers to go out and support the independent book sellers.  Used on New Books & More was my closest, hometown book store, a block over from my law office.

This year, I spent a couple of hours at Paperback Writer Books in Mount Clemens.  The owner, Lisa Taylor, and her husband Davey with his partner business, Weirdsville Records, outgrew the little space on New Street and in August moved a block over to the larger 61 Macomb Street storefront in downtown Mount Clemens.  The move also places the store on the same block as my law office.  Too convenient for this book addict.
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It was another enjoyable afternoon, which sounds redundant because time in a book store is synonymous with enjoyment.

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(The guy below had my back the entire time)
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A couple of book events coming up in Macomb County

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I’ll be signing books at Paperback Writer Books in Mount Clemens on Small Business Saturday – November 29, 2014 – from Noon to 2PM.  Come on out and support small business!

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Paperback Writer is located at:
61 Macomb
Mount Clemens, MI  48043

Then, on Thursday, December 4th, I’ll be at the Chesterfield Library for the Local History Book Sale, from 6:30 PM – 7:30 PM.

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The Chesterfield Library is located at:
50560 Patricia Ave.
Chesterfield, MI  48047

Borders Memorial Library and “The Y in Life” as art

I’ve recently written about my favorite book stores – those that carry the latest titles as well as used, rare and old book stores.  But one book store was missing from that lot, because it has been missing from the bookish landscape since 2011 – Borders.

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With its demise, I’ve discovered all these wonderful book stores I might not have otherwise.  Borders was my oasis.  My bookish paradise.  Since the early 1990’s, when the Novi store opened, before it became a massive franchise that was big but not too big to fail, it was the place that fostered my reading and writing hungers.

When they closed, I took advantage of it.  If there would be no Borders for me to retreat to any more, to peruse and feel at home in, then I was going to create the space in my home.  I picked up Borders shelves, Borders signs, Borders accessories.  And I was going to turn a room in my house into my Borders Memorial Library.

First, I needed the walls painted the right Borders color.  This red did the trick.

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I thought I was set, but upon learning about a treasure trove of old Borders store and office fixtures, I completed the room – or at least as it is now.

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Upon entry is the noticeable Borders rug, with a Borders shopping basket.  The shelves – all from Borders’ stores – holding my library.  Straight ahead on the tall shelf is my collection of Borders Classics.  Leather bound editions, hard cover editions, and soft cover, all published by Borders’ State Street Press in Ann Arbor.

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The shelf with the glass doors holds my collection of works by writer W. Somerset Maugham and the writings of A. Edward Newton, a legendary book collector from the early part of the 20th Century.

And yes, the framed poster is the promotion for the release of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows at Borders.

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The tall shelf in the corner of the above photo now houses my signed editions.

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The chair, from the cafe area of the Novi store.

This is my Borders escape.  My retreat.  And with the electric typewriter there, a place to bang out some thoughts when I have them.

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Borders, the business, the book store, may be gone.  But its memory and essence remains a part of my existence.

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At the Ann Arbor Art Fair this summer, I came upon the booth of Sarah Bean.  Her artistic talent was in book carving.  She would take your favorite book and turn it into a piece of art.

I know.  At first, a part of me cringed.  How could one take a knife to a book and carve it?  But looking at the display of her work, I was intrigued.  I went back to Ann Arbor the next day, a copy of “The Y in Life” in hand.  I turned it over for her to perform her magic.

Today in the mail the carving arrived.  Framed and beautifully done, it now hangs on the wall outside my office, where I can see it constantly.  “The Y in Life” is now both a literary work of art, and a graphic work of art.

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You can see more of Sarah’s work at her website, “The Art And Poems Of Sarah Bean.”

Ten favorite used, rare, and old book stores

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Recently, I wrote about Ten favorite book stores, with the caveat that their main revenue source is the sales of new books.  This entry is for my favorite used, rare, and old book stores.  These stores provide the service of recycling books that have been read and enjoyed with others – some being works where rarity and historical relevance make them valuable.

As in the independent book store list, this list is in alphabetical order.

Argosy Books – New York, NY

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In New York, there are many rare and old booksellers.  Some occupy a studio, which you have to know what you’re looking for because there is no browsing like one would in a conventional book store.

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Others lease a larger retail space.  Bauman Books was spectacular, however when I pulled a random novel off the shelf and saw the $4,500 price tag, I knew the place was way outside my budget.

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Argosy was different.  Yes, they have valuable books beyond my financial reach.  But they also have a basement where old and rare books were within my budget.  This balance made Argosy my favorite old and rare book store in New York City.
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Aunt Agatha’s -Ann Arbor, MI

Aunt Agatha’s New & Used Mystery, Detection, and True Crime Books is a store specializing in the genre of crime.  Though they carry new mystery titles, the store houses a large inventory of used mystery novels.  It is also a stop for mystery writers on their book tours.

The Bookie Joint – Traverse City, MI

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Downtown Traverse City has two excellent book stores within a couple blocks of each other on Front Street.  On Union Street is a delightful used book store called The Bookie Joint.  Good selection, heavy with romance and mystery, I can usually find something I haven’t found anywhere else.

Dawn Treader Book Shop – Ann Arbor, MI

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No stroll through downtown Ann Arbor is complete without wandering the rows of shelves at the Dawn Treader Book Shop.  Peruse the abundance of used old books in every category imaginable.  Admire the rare and collectible books locked in the showcases.  A book lover leaving here empty-handed is a sin.

Half Price Books – Florence, KY (and other locations)

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I can only comment on the Florence, KY location, as I understand there a quite a number of these franchises around the US.  Good selection of used books, coupled with some rare and old tomes.  They also sell used vinyl, CDs, DVDs, and comic books. I list this with some trepidation.  The thought of franchising the sales of used books sends a shudder through me as I think about the used book, small business owner potentially displaced by this franchising.  It is a place to visit when I’m visiting my sister and her family in the Cincinnati area.

Housing Works – New York, NY

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I loved this place in New York.  Stocked through donations, staffed by volunteers, the proceeds from the sales of the books and cafe go to the Housing Works nonprofit organization which works towards the end of homelessness and AIDS through advocacy and providing healing services.  The cafe even stocks beer and wine.  A very cool place for books and hanging out.

John King Books – Detroit, MI & Ferndale, MI

We are blessed here in the Metro Detroit area with the legendary and most awesome used book store in the world – John King Books.  The four-floor former glove factory is a world of books from the recent present to the past.  A separate rare book room is available by appointment only (one day, I’m going to make an appointment).  If that’s not enough, there is a second location just north of the Wayne State University campus, and a third location on Woodward just south of Nine Mile Road in funky Ferndale.  This is a must-stop destination for any bibliophile and plan on spending hours there.

Landmark Books – Traverse City, MI

Located in the historic Traverse City State Hospital, Landmark Books is home to a fine collection of old and rare books.

Paperback Writer – Mount Clemens, MI
Weirdsville Records – Mount Clemens, MI

Used books and vinyl records, and a whoooole lot of weird stuff!  This is one of my favorite places.  Full disclosure – I’m biased.  It used to be called Used on New Books over on New Street a block away from my office.  Now it is on Macomb Street, less than a block from my office!  Featured on the Emmy Award winning Under the Radar Michigan, Dave and Lisa Taylor run a cool shop in the heart of the Clem.  Lisa was a Borders Book Store manager for years, so you know the book selection is going to be awesome.  Media savvy Dave is a member of The Amino Acids band, and hosts The Sir Graveson Show.  Here are a couple samples of commercials for their shop (back when they were Used on New)

Under the Radar Michigan piece:

They even carry “The Y in Life.”

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This is my hometown book store.

The Strand – New York, NY

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I’m cheating with this one.  Eighteen miles of books, and probably the majority of them are new titles.  However I’ve included this store here because the basement level of this establishment is stocked with a massive number of used books, and the top floor is host to a vast collection of old and rare volumes.  This is the ultimate all-in-one book store for the reader, writer, and collector.  The only downside?  No seating.  You can spend hours within browsing, and every minute it will be on your feet.

Books.  Yes, I love them.  New, used, old, rare, each contain a world that has been diligently toiled over by a writer in seclusion, and sold by a seller who appreciates the art form who also dives into the pages along with his/her customers/readers to journey into the hearts and minds of characters that go through the metaphorical heartaches and challenges of the world we live in, giving us a sense that we are not alone.  It is quite powerful what a bound collection of pages with words printed on them can do.

Ten favorite book stores

I saw this article on the Condè Nast Traveler website listing 11 Mega Bookstores We Love.  I’m a bit of a book store connoisseur myself, so I thought I’d do something similar.

My criteria is simple: they must be book stores I have physically set foot in, and their main revenue is derived by the sales of new titles.  This criteria would eliminate John King, where Condè Nast Traveler included it.  That’s okay because in a forthcoming entry I’ll list ten of my favorite used/rare/old bookstores as well.

The list is not ranked, but in alphabetical order – which also seems appropriate because I can’t claim a single “favorite” book store.

TEN FAVORITE BOOK STORES

Book Beat – Oak Park, MI

For over thirty years, Book Beat has been Detroit’s premiere Indie bookseller.  Maneuvering through the narrow spaces between the shelves, it is a browser’s paradise.  Too many times I’ve gone into this store with a single book in mind and discovered more.  Author visits are frequent.  It’s a hip, Detroit cornerstone of art and literary delight.

The Book Loft of German Village – Columbus, OH

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There’s more to Columbus, Ohio than Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew SC.  The Book Loft is a huge, two-story building with thirty-two rooms of books.  It’s like wandering through a mansion of books.  They do have a map so that you don’t get lost, but getting lost in this place is half the fun.  Book lovers should plan on spending a few hours here.

Brilliant Books – Traverse City, MI

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I started visiting Traverse City annually for the Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan conference in 2008.  One year, this classy book store popped up, opening its doors the week I was there.  The sales force is knowledgeable and friendly.  Signed editions are available, some of which I kicked myself for not having picked up at the time.  They have a Surprise Book of the Month club where, for a single payment, they will send you one book a month that, from what I’ve heard, customers love.  They offer a membership, which, if you are voracious like me, will pay for itself in no time.

Horizon Books – Traverse City, MI

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I am writing this blog entry in the lower level of this store.  That is how comfortable it feels to be in Horizon Books.  And what could be more special than a book store open from 7AM to 11PM every day.

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Since I’ve been coming to Traverse City and writing in their lower level, other groups have met including a knitting group, a mass of Mahjong players, a book club, and Occupy Traverse City.  Friday nights there is live music by local artists.  And books.  Lots of books.  All the new stuff on the main and upper floor; bargain books and magazines in the basement with the cafe.

Literati Book Store – Ann Arbor, MI

A little over a year old, Literati has filled the void left by the closure of Borders in downtown Ann Arbor.  Fiction on the main floor, nonfiction below ground, they are adding a cafe on the second floor.  Awesome atmosphere and host to many authors on tour.

McNally Jackson – New York, NY

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My summer trip to New York City introduced me to this pleasant, two-story book store, where literature is sorted by countries, not en masse, alphabetical order by author.  One element that impresses me in a book store is its writer’s reference section, which McNally Jackson was well stocked.  Perhaps this is because they offer book publishing services through their in-store print-on-demand service.

New Horizons Books – Roseville, MI

This makes the list by virtue of being the closest independent book store carrying new titles to my residence.  In business for over thirty years, it does serve its community with the latest titles – leaning more toward the best seller lists than from the Indie Next lists.  It boasts a large magazine selection, yet carries no literary journals.

Nicola’s Books – Ann Arbor, MI

Another gem of Ann Arbor, Nicola’s is located in the Westgate Shopping Center west of downtown, featuring a large selection of titles.  This is another location where authors often visit on their book tours, and signed copies can be found.  I’ve lost many hours browsing the abundant shelves here.

Politics & Prose – Washington, DC

When our daughter attended American University, she resided in an apartment a couple subway stations away from this cozy book store.  An abundance of political and history titles (it is Washington DC after all) and fiction, they host many author visits.  I was in town when Naomi Klein was there for the release of The Shock Doctrine.  On another visit, Barbara Ehrenreich was going to be signing what was her new book at the time – Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America – the day after we left town.  No problem.  They were willing to have a copy signed and shipped to me.  Over a week had passed from the signing and I contacted them about the book.  They looked it up and discovered they had forgotten to have one signed for me.  No problem.  They sent one of their staff to Ms. Ehrenreich’s residence for signing, then shipped it to me.  Now how’s that for service!  (Awesome book, by the way, if you haven’t read it yet).

Purple Tree Books – Cheboygan, MI

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This is not the biggest book store on my list.  Nor is it the easiest to visit.  However, just over a year ago this book store took root in downtown Cheboygan (the top of the Michigan mitten) and serves its community well.  Owner Emily Clare, a well-educated bookseller, named the store in order to bring awareness to Cystic Fibrosis (purple is the awareness color for this incurable genetic disease), which her niece was diagnosed with when only six days old.  It’s a book store with a cause.

Those are my Top Ten Independent Book Sellers.  Soon, I’ll post my Top Ten Used, Rare, and Old Book Stores.