Celebrate Gay Pride!

In honor of Gay Pride Month, as well as the wonderful news from New York state, here are a few gay-themed favorites picked by our staff. Enjoy!

A Queer History of the United States
by Michael Bronski (Beacon)

(Summer Booknotes Selection)

In the tradition of Howard Zinn and Gail Collins, Michael Bronski’s new history of the United States is an accessible, highly-readable exploration of our nation’s past. Bronski’s approach to writing history is integrative and inclusive, and provides a panoramic view of what was once just a snap-shot. Bronkski’s A Queer History of the United States is not just a history of famous Queer people, things they did, and events that shaped their lives—it’s a history of everyone, of our entire country. Bronski’s refusal to segregate Queer history from the history of all people is wonderfully refreshing and illuminating. –Candra

by Kathleen Winter (Grove Press)

They kept it a secret in the small remote coastal town in which they lived. Neither boy nor girl. Only three people knew. The parents, well-meaning, brought him up as a boy named Wayne, who struggled with the two genders within him. Not written with sensationalism, this debut novel is a beautiful and compelling story of societal labels, identity and our own place in the world. Highly recommended. -Seth

By Malinda Lo (Little, Brown and Company)

One of my favorite lesbian-themed novels from last year was Malinda Lo’s young adult novel, Ash, a retelling of Cinderella in which a young orphan girl trying to escape life with her wicked stepmother befriends and begins to love the King’s Huntress . Huntress is a prequel to Ash, and draws inspiration from the I Ching. In Huntress, two teenaged girls are chosen for a special mission to Tanlili, the Fairy Queen’s realm. Both novels transport readers into a world of fairies, magic and young love. -Karen

Will Grayson, Will Grayson
by John Green and David Levithan (Speak)

When two authors come together to write one book, one never knows how it’s going to turn out. In the case of Green and Levithan, two talented young adult authors, sharing a book seems to come naturally to them. In alternating chapters, each author takes a Will Grayson, two angst-ridden Chicago teenagers that share the same name and some of the same insecurities, and sets them on separate paths that inevitably intersect to hilarious consequences. Buoyed by a fantastic set of supporting characters and a treatment of teen issues that is at once thoughtful and humorous, Will Grayson is a superb entry into the YA pantheon. –Casey S.

It Gets Better
By Dan Savage and Terry Miller (Dutton)

Dan Savage and Terry Miller’s YouTube Project is now a book and it includes stories adapted from the many personal stories shared on the website and many new stories as well.  Some are Seattle stories–such as bookseller turned community leader Michael Wells’ and all of the stories reflect the tremendous diversity of our community. It does get better, thanks to the commitment and hard work of all of these contributors and many more. -Karen

Secret Historian
Justin Spring (Farrar, Straus, Giroux)

What a rare find! At a time in history when limitations were imposed on homosexuals by a repressive society, Samuel Steward’s life was on record – kept by a man who was record-obsessive. Justin Spring poured through Steward’s archive of “Stud Files” from 1924-1974. Steward was a true renegade. -Seth


Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Saved My Life
By Kim Severson (Riverhead)

The New York Times writer Kim Severson’s memoir, Spoon Fed (now out in paperback), is as much a story of coming out, falling in love and getting sober as it is of her finding her voice as a food writer. She shares life lessons learned from Marcella Hazan, Marion Cunningham, Alice Waters and others, but I thought the most enlightening story was hers. Finding family acceptance and self-acceptance and making a life with her wife and family–that’s good news for those of us who thought we could expect much less for ourselves and our loved ones. -Karen

Summer Booknotes from Our Staff: Children’s Books

Noah Barleywater Runs Away
by John Boyne
illus. by Oliver Jeffers (David Fickling)

Sometimes it’s necessary to run away from home in order to experience adventure and to avoid dealing with some unpleasantness. So, eight-year-old Noah Barleywater takes off for that great beyond without even having eaten breakfast. John Boyne’s previous book, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, is an astounding story about a friendship across the fence of a concentration camp, and while Noah Barleywater Runs Away reads like a light-hearted, whimsical fable about talking animals and magical trees, it is a story that imparts the truth: that sometimes things are more than what they seem. –Leighanne

Earth to Clunk
by Pam Smallcomb
illus. by Joe Berger (Dial)

A boy is assigned a pen pal at school, only this pen pal is an alien named Clunk from the planet Quazar. The boy doesn’t want a pen pal so he sends Clunk pretty much everything he hates: smelly socks, spoiled food, even his bossy big sister. Clunk sends back odd things as well, and soon an unexpected friendship is formed. What will happen when Clunk comes to visit for a sleepover? Find out in this fantastically fun tale, which shows how sometimes the greatest things come in strange packages. –David

Wow! Ocean!
by Robert Neubecker (Hyperion)

Robert Neubecker continues his delightful Wow! series, following Wow! City!, and Wow! School!, with Wow! Ocean! No need to don your diving gear to learn about sea life, just follow the adventures of Izzy and her family as they travel from mountain to sea. Playful illustrations guide us through tide pools, deep sea dives, and sunken treasure. Cleverly embedded within the drawings are the names of shells, fishes, dolphins, and much more. Both adults and children will be enchanted by Neubecker’s artful presentation, and a little learning might just sneak in. –Seth

Booknotes, the newsletter of The Elliott Bay Book Company, is written entirely by bookstore staff. It represents a sampling of recently published books that we have enjoyed reading. We appreciate every opportunity to assist in finding books to meet your interests.

Kids Reading and Recommends Summer Program

June 1st through September 1st

One of our favorite things to do as booksellers is recommend good books. This summer we want to invite all kids between the ages of 6 and 14 to help us recommend some of these great books. Each time you read a book this summer, we encourage you to come in, write a brief recommendation to put on the shelf next to that book and then enter your name in the summer drawing. The more books you read and write about, the more chances you have to win; read five books, write five recommendations, enter to win five times, read fifty books, write fifty recommendations, enter to win fifty times.

All you need to do is pick up a recommendation form at our information desk, write your review and when you turn it back in at our front desk or our information desk, you will be given an entry form to fill out for the prize drawings.

The prize drawings will be held Friday, September 2nd. There will be prizes for each of the following categories:

Ages 6-8
Ages 9-11
Ages 12-14

Prizes will include some of our favorite books, an Elliott Bay Book Bag, a $25 Elliott Bay Gift Certificate and a lot of other great swag.

We have three simple rules:
1. These must be books that you have read over this summer only.
(No fair writing reviews about book you read last summer.)
2. The book you recommend must be one that we carry on our shelves.
3. The recommendation must fit on our recommends card.
(This is always our biggest challenge when we love a book.)

Are you ready?…Get set…Go!

Summer Booknotes from Our Staff

Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away by Christie Watson (Other Press)

Twelve-year-old Blessing’s story quickly transports us to vibrant Lagos, Nigeria, where life with her parents and beloved brother seems full of joy and promise. But Father’s abrupt departure necessitates moving to their grandparents’ village home in the Niger Delta. With a child’s uninhibited curiosity and candid emotion, Blessing tells of adjusting to rural traditions, to the extended family’s colorful characters, and to the sometimes violent, oil-drenched politics of village life. Her apprenticeship as a midwife reveals the cultural challenges women face, but also their resilience, eventually giving this novel’s wonderfully authentic narrator a maturity that yields love, purpose, and compassion. –Erica

Oil on Water by Helon Habila (Norton)

A poignant and timely story about the human consequences of oil dependency, Habila’s new novel takes place in the Nigerian Delta, and follows a brief, but critical interlude in the lives of two Nigerian reporters as they attempt to gain access to the front lines of their divided world in search of the kidnapped wife of a British oil executive. As they negotiate the complex moral terrain of ruthless rebels and military men, every clear preconception is blurred, except one: when people are the sacrifice, there is no gain. –Candra

You Are Free by Danzy Senna (Riverhead)

In her first short story collection, Senna continues to tackle complexities in previously unseen ways. Issues of ethnicity and class meet the routine concerns of love—that which informs all our fleeting or constant relationships. Senna seats her stories in a kind of airy darkness where nothing is certain and anxiety thrums below the surface. A mother struggles to overcome her own insecurities through her child’s schooling in “Admission.” Often times power plays out in unsettling ways, as in “The Land of Beulah.” Despite the discomfort, it is this uncertainty in the order of things that makes Senna’s ideas so sincere, important, and real. –Shannon

Booknotes, the newsletter of The Elliott Bay Book Company, is written entirely by bookstore staff. It represents a sampling of recently published books that we have enjoyed reading. We appreciate every opportunity to assist in finding books to meet your interests.

An Interview with Jessica Francis Kane

I had the good fortune to host Jessica Francis Kane at Elliott Bay in the fall of 2010 for her novel, The Report. I subsequently put it on our staff recommendation wall. When Melville House Publishing sponsored the Indie Booksellers Choice Awards, an Indie Book Award for Independent presses voted on by Independent booksellers, Jessica’s book was the first that came to my mind and I nominated it. Charles Day at Melville House suggested that I might like to interview Jessica based on my staff recommendation. Jessica’s book is exceptional, so I enthusiastically jumped at the opportunity. The following is the result of that enterprise. –Greg

On hearing the story of the WWII catastrophe at Bethnal Green, which became the genesis for your novel The Report, was this a story that struck you as good material for a work of fiction? Did the story grab you immediately or was there something else which caused you to seriously consider it for a fictional treatment?

I risk melodrama here, but I have wondered, did someone in the crush that night pray her life would not end in vain? How else did this story reach up and grab me out of the great maw of history? I have absolutely no connection to it other than that I lived in London for three years from 1998-2001. I did not have a grandparent who was in the crush or lived in the neighborhood. I do not even have a relative that has been hurt or killed in a great public tragedy or natural disaster. But something about this story compelled me, and after 9/11 I saw in it a way to write about what guilt and blame do to individuals and a community after a disaster, and the tragedy of misunderstanding when the needs of people suffering are opposed to the concerns of government. I thought it would make an important and heartbreaking story, if I could get it right.

Obviously the character of Laurence Dunne was a public figure, so there is some public record of his work and achievements, while many of the victims were just average people living in London’s East End. How did you go about imagining the people who lost their lives that night?

A lot of reading and thinking! Obviously, first and foremost, I read about the lives of Londoners during the war. A book I found enormously helpful was Norman Longmate’s How We Lived Then. I was interested in the characters who emerge, good and bad, in any time and place where refugees arrive into a settled population. It’s a difficult and fascinating problem. By all accounts the East End, absorbing so many Jewish refugees during the war, was a success. But there were tensions and the book explores what happens when a community, even a close-knit one, is pushed to its breaking point. I needed a range of characters who would represent this community, and who I could put in several different spots the night of the tragedy.

Where did the framing device of the documentarian come from to tell the story?

That idea came later when I began to realize I was less interested in answers than consequences and reverberations. I wanted to think about how tragedies are endured and reinterpreted, so I needed to allow for a lot of time to pass. Errol Morris’s “The Fog of War,” an astonishing film about what time does to our perspective, was a big influence. I wanted to turn the tables on Laurie (Laurence Dunne) the way that film turns them on [Robert] McNamara. I wanted tragedy and reckoning, immediacy and reflection. A young documentarian, someone seeking to understand the tragedy anew 30 years later, seemed right.

While doing your research when or how did you know you had done enough and that you now needed to trust your imaginative instinct?

I fear my research was not proper or methodical. It always felt sporadic and haphazard. I doubt a historian would read Bill Buford’s Among the Thugs to better understand crowd behaviour, but I did. I studied the shelter drawings of Henry Moore and thought about what it would take for people to want to go underground to sleep. I took a lot of notes at first, but eventually hit on a method that let me off the hook a bit: I decided that the details I could remember without the benefit of notes were likely to be the best ones to make convincing fiction. So I began to write and research simultaneously and began to trust myself to remember what I needed. Eventually, I began to get confused about what I’d read and what I’d written and that seemed like a good sign.

Do you feel there is a common thread which runs through your fiction? Are there particular experiences, ideas, or questions which reoccur in your work?

With only one story collection and one novel, I feel barely ready to answer this question! But it’s a good one, and I am thinking about it because I’ve just been working with my editor on the table of contents for my second collection of stories. I think adult/child relationships interest me, especially the pain of lost respect. The difference between how we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us is another theme. The caustic effect of blame. Nostaglia; failing to learn from the past. But really, I hope to leave this question to my readers and critics. It is always fascinating to read this kind of summary judgment in a review or email from someone who has read my work.

Are there writers or other artists who have had an influence on you as a writer?

I come back again and again to Graham Greene and Penelope Fitzgerald as twin guideposts of some kind. But I try to read widely and when I’m really reading hard and well I can learn something from anyone. Questions of perspective and voice, the problem of handling time and narrative tension—they are perennial and solvable so many different ways.

How does writing a novel compare and contrast with writing short stories and do you value one over the other?

It certainly took me a long time to figure out how to write a novel, almost 10 years with an abandoned one along the way. But by the time The Report was done, I knew I wanted to do it again. In the meantime, I’ve returned to writing stories and I’m loving that. So I hope to keep writing both, with the occasional essay here and there, and maybe even a play some day.

Learn more about The Report from Jessica’s The Morning News essay “Caught Telling Fiction“.

JESSICA FRANCIS KANE is the author of the short story collection, Bending Heaven, which was published in the US (Counterpoint, 2002) and the UK (Chatto & Windus, 2003). Awards and honors for her work include the Lawrence Foundation Prize, fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Special Mention in the Pushcart Prize anthology. Her stories have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and published in many publications, including Virginia Quarterly Review, McSweeney’s, The Missouri Review, Narrative, and Granta. Her essays and humor pieces have appeared in Salon, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and The Morning News, where she is a contributing writer. Her first novel, The Report, was published by Graywolf Press in September 2010. It was a finalist for the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize from the Center for Fiction, the Grub Street Book Prize for Fiction, and a Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers” pick. It was published in the UK by Portobello Books in March 2011. A new collection of stories is forthcoming from Graywolf Press.

Summer Booknotes from Our Staff

Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle by Thor Hanson (Basic Books)

It turns out feathers aren’t just interesting to birders as Thor Hanson entertainingly shows here. Peppered with historic anecdotes and interviews with both scientists and feather fanatics, his book guides the reader from the controversial fossil record (which sparks hot debates such as the “ground-up” vs. “tree-down” flight theories) to Vegas show girls in their elaborate feathered costumes. The enthusiasm of the people he encounters and his own passion for the topic is surprisingly contagious, turning a book on the niche study of feather evolution into an unexpectedly fast paced read. –Pamela

Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon’s Army & Other Diabolical Insects by Amy Stewart (Algonquin)

Amy Stewart follows her award-winning book, Wicked Plants, with a look at the high drama of insect and human confrontation in Wicked Bugs. Among the many stories Stewart collects are that of an Arizona woman who, upon awakening from surgery for a supposed brain tumor, discovers that she is harboring a huge tapeworm. Readers will also find out about the chemical weapons brandished by the bombardier beetle (famous for avoiding being eaten by Darwin), and discover that bed bugs can live in overgrown toenails. Here’s more proof that fascinating stories live close to home. –Karen

Booknotes, the newsletter of The Elliott Bay Book Company, is written entirely by bookstore staff. It represents a sampling of recently published books that we have enjoyed reading. We appreciate every opportunity to assist in finding books to meet your interests.

The Rule of 13, Or YA that Won’t Make You Wanna Die

In this rapidly changing, information-spastic world, we all want to be able to anticipate the newest fad, if only to have a chance of appreciating it before it becomes passé. For some time now I’ve been searching in vain to identify the new and upcoming trend in young adult literature. Not so long ago, the It-Genre was amped-up drug culture stories à la Crank. Sweeping in like Scarlett O’Hara to take its place were the Twilight knock-offs, the zombie apocalypse(s) and the fairy/witch/mythology-drenched fantasies. Currently, high-octane dystopian fiction like The Hunger Games consumes the limelight.

And yes, I have loved them all. But, what’s next?

One night, while studying the shelves in the children’s room, I had this brilliant idea (flimsy notion) that I could calculate the newest trends in YA lit using the (bum ba da da!) RULE OF 13! By taking a random selection of books (every 13th, alphabetically) and analyzing the common themes, I hoped to be able to project the overreaching arc and discover the one clear, front-running genre.

Did it work? You bet it didn’t.

What I ended up with was a remarkably well-rounded gaggle of books that represented every genre under the sun. There were no universal themes, no bridges uniting these disparate kingdoms of lit. These were books that addressed first love, betrayal, coming out, family trauma, drug abuse and the trials and tribulations of friendship; there were genres ranging from vivid realism to dark paranormal romances, old-school Southern Gothic ghost stories and dystopian futures.

I was at a loss. The only theme that held them together was this: being a teenager is freaking hard. So, when someone on Questionland asked me to recommend some YA that wouldn’t make him want to die (I paraphrase), I said, “Ah ha, Eureka!”

What we all need is a break. A break from grim dystopian sagas, from stories heavy with sexual or physical abuse, from unhealthy relationships with vampires, witches, fairies, zombies, and shape-changers, a break from the uncertain future, from dire reality, from never-gonna-happen fantasy. We need some levity in our lives. Clearly, without my trusty Rule of 13  revealing the new It-Genre, we’ll have to wait with baited breath; but at least we can cleanse our palates before the next big course. Having said that, I have pulled from some of my favorites, polled the staff and done my research to provide you with this list, in case you too need a breather from all the teen angst. Pared down to its basics without the bells and whistles of genre, this is just good, fun storytelling. I hope you enjoy these as much as we have.

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

En route to the Miss Teen Dream Pageant, the plane carrying the contestants crashes on a desert island. As the surviving beauty queens struggle to endure in an unforgiving land of dangers they’ve never dreamt about, they encounter snakes, eat grubs, and outwit sinister island inhabitants. Armed with their wits and excellent fashion sense, these girls show that they are not to be trifled with. A little bit Lost, a little bit Lord of the Flies, with a dash of Miss Congeniality, Bray has created a charming and comical novel about a group of young women that learn how strong they can be. –Casey S.

The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To by DC Pierson.

At 15, Darren’s life revolves around sci fi books and video games. But when he betrays the secret of his friend–a boy who cannot, and doesn’t even need to sleep–Darren embarks on the action-adventure of his life.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

When two authors come together to write one book, one never knows how it’s going to turn out. In the case of Green and Levithan, two talented young adult authors, sharing a book seems to come naturally to them. In alternating chapters, each author takes a Will Grayson, two angst-ridden Chicago teenagers that share the same name and some of the same insecurities, and sets them on separate paths that inevitably intersect to hilarious consequences. Buoyed by a fantastic set of supporting characters and a treatment of teen issues that is at once thoughtful and humorous, Will Grayson is a superb entry into the YA pantheon. –Casey S.

The House of Tomorrow by Peter Boganni.

This is a brutally funny novel about self-discovery, family bonding, outcasts and punk rock. I think that’s really all I need to say here.

Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John

This is the feel good book of the year I wish everyone would read, and it’s not just another teen rock-n-roll book. High school senior Piper Vaughn would be voted “Least Likely to Manage a Rock Band” by her classmates—not because Piper is deaf, but because she is the antithesis of rock; staid, safe, practically invisible. So when a bet goes wrong, landing her as manger for the school band, Dumb, Piper is faced with a myriad of challenges—the least of which is her hearing. In the process she learns much about friendship and family and inner strength. Sooo good! –Holly

I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan.

With their unstable father carting them around the country, Sam and Riddle have practically raised themselves. When Sam meets Emily, though, the brothers finally have a chance at normalcy and that best of human connections: love.

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco Stork

Marcelo hears music in his head, which his doctor thinks is a symptom of his autism-like condition. He’s lived an insular life Even though he’s always felt comfortable at his school which caters to kids with special conditions, his dad gives him an ultimatum:  face public school his senior year, or spend one summer interning at his dad’s law firm.