Winging It

Last week we received an email from a customer very concerned about the morality of promoting a book that seems to implicitly advocate the entrapment and importation of wildlife – specifically, in this case, an African Grey parrot from Zaire. So, we went directly to the source – author Jenny Gardiner. Thanks both to Jenny for her thoughtful response, and to our customer  – we’re always grateful for the opportunity to reply to your concerns. Jenny will be at store Friday, September 10th; we hope you’ll come join the conversation – click here for more info. And to see how Graycie is doing for yourself, click here for some great videos.

Yes, Graycie is a wild caught parrot, from Zaire. However, she came to us two decades ago, when imported birds were quite common and available even at pet stores (although we were not fans of the idea of acquiring a bird this way and had chosen not to earlier in our lives). Unfortunately, Graycie was a surprise gift from my well-meaning brother in law, who had been living in Zaire and brought parrots home for the whole family for Christmas.

I make abundantly clear in the book that never have we been in favor of wild caught adoption, that birds, in my opinion, are meant to fly in the wild and not be caged in one’s home. But once this poor stressed baby grey showed up on our doorstep, basically, we had no choice but to do the best we could to try to make her life comfortable.

Trust me, my goal is not to enrich my coffers on the backs of a captured parrot. For  what it’s worth, writing books is hardly a profession that lines very many authors coffers anyhow; my children earned more money petsitting this summer than I earn as a published author. Rather I am a writer who had a story to tell, and that is what this book is about. I do not paint a happy glossed-over depiction of how it has been for Graycie or for us, but rather I tell the truth about what we both faced and how we both learned to accept each other, warts and all. And I do make the case for adoption of rescued parrots rather than acquiring domestically bred parrots, because there are so many unsavory parrot mills out there and perpetuating such an unethical and cruel practice is wrong as well. In addition, I have a short story in an upcoming Humane Society-sanctioned anthology of dog stories, and I chose a nearby parrot rescue sanctuary as my charity of choice on the page listing contributors animal charities. Truly, my family is all about caring for creatures. Trust me, if I had any way of returning Graycie back to her flock in Africa I’d have done it long ago. Short of that, we did what we could to give Graycie a happy life, sometimes under very trying circumstances for all involved.

I’ve received hundreds of emails and Facebook messages from parrot lovers and owners all over the world, and they were all touched by and completely related to the story, so I hope you will consider giving it a chance before outright discounting it as a bad book or me as a bad person, because –and I might be a little biased here, so  do forgive me–neither is true.

– Jenny


August 30, 2010 at 7:39 pm Leave a comment

The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise

The British are coming, the Britsh are coming! Led by a phalanx of Beefeaters! I for one am crying “uncle” and laying down my arms – such is my complete capitulation to the charms of The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart.

Why am I begging you to read this book? If you’ve picked it up because of the irresistible cover, you might already know the plot (will our hero, Beefeater Balthazar Jones, who lives in the Tower of London, reclaim the affections of his wife, manage the Queen’s menagerie,  steer the “loathsome tourists” to the loos, all whilst defeating the forces of evil – ie., the ravens?).  I laughed – out loud – every dozen or so pages. Julia Stuart has a wonderfully understated and comic way with words; I defy any author to make better use of the word “japonicas” (page 242). This being a British novel, there is, of course, the obligatory male cross-dressing scene. Romance, illicit sex, ghosts, animals galore – there’s something for everyone. Yet Stuart also writes very believably about two parents who are grieving for the loss of their child – so sad, but folded gracefully into the novel.

If this all sounds too twee, I promise you it isn’t – Stuart has a light touch, a sure hand, and the literary chops to pull it off.  And just to make my favorite book even more enticing, for the next two weeks we will be donating 10% of the proceeds from each The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise sold to the SPCA of Connecticut – simply click here.  I urge you –call in sick due to a “surfeit of lampreys” (page 152) and enjoy.


August 10, 2010 at 6:04 pm Leave a comment

Under & between the covers…

A post from Roxanne Coady – please join the conversation – we’d love to hear your thoughts.

In today’s Dear Reader I spoke about the experience of reading with a flashlight under the covers after we lost electricity during a summer storm in Maine. The nostalgia that evoked – visions of trying not to wake up my sister while trying to finish just one more chapter – started me thinking about the intimacy of the entire reading experience. And it reminded me of a conversation I’ve been eager to engage in with you.

How closely is the experience of reading atttached to the physical book itself? Would it be the same or quite different on an ebook or other device? (Aside from the fact that you wouldn’t need to worry about the flashlight’s batteries being dead.) How many of you are curious about ebooks?

Many industry experts claim that, with more devices and access to the written word, readership will increase.  But, while sales of e-reading devices have more than doubled, it is still a very small percentage of the market overall. We would love to know what you want our role to be in this new environment. As for our future plans, we continue to explore all the options and are trying to figure out what will work best for your.

I know I’m tossing a lot of questions to you, but I’m curious to see what our customers are thinking. Our aim, always, is to be the kind of bookstore you want and need – so your feedback is invaluable.


August 5, 2010 at 6:23 pm 47 comments


Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear – once again a special order from an unknown customer has prompted a reminder of a reading immersion. Iris Murdoch is a beautiful writer – I’ve spent many hours engrossed in her books, hungry for her insight on why we do what we do, how we can change and why we can’t, if our actions matter and our decisions can wreak havoc or peace. All of which sounds like the makings of potboilers, but her novels are in fact thoughtful, honest, provoking without angst or drama.

Please don’t ask me for specifics about plot or theme, but I can tell you where I was when I read each. The Bell: in Maine on an extended vacation before returning to college; The Sea, the Sea: before children, on the recommendation of a bookselling mentor; A Fairly Honourable Defeat: snatching an hour where I could, knowing I needed to go slowly since there were no more.

I think it was Borges that said he hated going into bookstores and seeing all the books he could not read for the first time – how he envied people who have just discovered a favorite book and will be enthralled. Many thanks to the person who reminded me of Iris Murdoch; perhaps it’s time to read her all over again.


p.s. If you could develop “book amnesia” and reread a favorite book again for the first time with no memory of how it turns out, what would you pick? On my list: Murder Must Advertise; My amnesia movie? Chinatown.


July 27, 2010 at 6:58 pm 2 comments

One Day

I’ve never experienced the kind of spontaneous, on-the-sales-floor excitement – nay, evangelical ferver – as I’ve seen for One Day by David Nicholls. The totally cool thing is that four very different booksellers, with extremely different tastes, have all fallen in love with this novel.

It all started one morning when Lily (Let the Great World Spin) grabbed my arm and said, “We must write a blog about this book.” Sure, I say – why did you love it? “Here’s a book that could easily seem gimicky but isn’t, and is one of those rare books that actually deserves all the hype it’s receiving. I’m absolutely gaga over it.” (Yes, Lily really used the word “gaga.”)

Next, at our daily morning meeting, Peggy (Bone Fire) said, “I have to tell you about this book I loved – One Day – it’s Bridget Jones meets Jane Austen meets Ian McEwan.” Hmmm. The phone rang; it was Mary T. (Blind Descent), calling on her day off to say, “I loved One Day so much I’m going to sell the hell out of it – order twenty.” Feeling a little like an extra in Groundhog Day, I wandered into the lunch room. Do I have to tell you what happened next? Pat (Girl in Translation): “Oh my gosh, I read this great book!”

One Day follows Dex and Em through twenty years – and always on the same day, July 15th. Here’s Lily’s shelftalker:

Totally absorbing and deeply affecting, this marvel of a page-turner tells the story of its two main characters – Dex and Em – by revealing their respective lives to us on a single day every day for 20 years. Often hilarious (with clever, spot-on dialogue!) and sometimes heartbreaking, this memorable story of love and friendship is one to surrender to and savor.

The booksellers really want to spread the joy, and came up with some fun ideas. We’re discounting One Day 20%, which makes it really easy for you to read the book in time for our One Day book chat on Wednesday, August 18th at 7 pm. Join Lily and the gang as they rhapsodize and discuss – in honor of the dysfunctional Dex, there will even be wine. Click here to sign up – see ya soon!


July 20, 2010 at 3:00 pm 1 comment

Strange Folks

A blog from the incomparable Nancy B.

Uh-oh – there’s another birthday bearing down on me like a freight train. I stopped celebrating, or even thinking about my birthday, many many years ago, though I do like cake – but that can happen any time. But this year I have been asked to think about what I’ve read over the past year that has lasted – like a really good piece of cake, what words have made me happy. Here’s the list – with no comments:

Champlain’s Dream by David Hackett Fischer

Silk Parachute by John McPhee

101 Theory Drive by Terry McDermott

The Wild Vine by Todd Kliman

Just when you thought I would let you discover these books for yourself, here I am compelled to tell you about the last one:  Strange Telescopes by Daniel Kalder. It is one of those books that you just stumble across, are intrigued by the cover and the blurb on the back, and think, “I’ll try a few pages” only to find yourself three hours later looking up, hungry and thirsty, wondering where you’ve been with this wonderful writer. Present-day Russia, the bizarre, eccentric, and more than a little crazed denizens of various spots – the underground tunnels of Moscow, a newborn Christian community on the steppes, exorcisms in the Ukraine, and a wooden tower, constructed piece by piece to a ridiculous height and fenced off from visitors looking for a way in. There are strange people everywhere, thinking what we would consider to be odd things, but who is to say – Kalder tries to make no judgment, leaving us to wonder.

It reminded me of another favorite: Theatre of Fish by John Gimlette, about Newfoundland and Labrador. What is it about the desolate, seemingly uninhabitable places that breeds the strange? I have no idea, but how wonderful that they are there and these grand humans have made them home.

(We have a few copies of Strange Telescopes for only $10; click here to order or come by the store! – Karen)

July 9, 2010 at 12:57 pm 3 comments

Mission Accomplished: Book Drive

One week, 100 volunteers, 20,000 books, and 38 schools – our backs are sore but our spirits are high. When we asked ourselves how we wanted to celebrate our birthday (20 years and counting), we realized we wanted to somehow combine our love of reading and our appreciation for this community. So, today at 10 am, we held a New Haven Book Drive, in which every K-8 school kid in the city received a gift of a new book.

The publishers were incredibly generous in donating the books – I’d thank them here but they blushingly would like to remain anonymous. Volunteers from all over the shoreline helped unpack, sort, resort, and repack the books – they were all unbelievably upbeat, even in the face of mountains of boxes. And in an awesome feat of strength and endurance, about twenty folks helped unload an 18-wheeler full of books – 29 pallets worth. Even the truck driver, Ron, got in on the action – “This is for charity? Cool, I’ll help unload!” – and spent two and a half sweaty hours schlepping and hauling.

Today was the grand finale. The kids from King/Robinson Magnet School assembled to hear Roxanne talk about her love of books and how reading can change lives and make leaders out of them. She made the kids promise to read every day for at least ten minutes, and encouraged them to read aloud – to their younger siblings, to their parents, to their neighbors. Plus the organization she founded, Read to Grow, will keep the kids supplied with more free books throughout the summer.

We think everyone was pretty happy, if all the grinning faces are any evidence. The schools were thrilled and overwhelmed. A great, great day – thank you, everyone who made it all happen. Happy Reading!

June 21, 2010 at 9:24 pm 3 comments

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