|From the Pen of Inkwell's Owners|
Notes on old favorites, or why re-reading is not just a luxury...
A few people have asked me if I’m sticking to my tradition of re-reading my favorite series of books during February. My answer? You bet! As early as December, I feel the itch of anticipation... the desire to curl up & dive headlong into the pages with my favorite characters.
My most beloved books of all-time are the six book series called The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett. The first book appeared in 1961, and Dunnett finished the series 14 years later in 1975. When Mary Palmer, a friend & fellow bookseller, first suggested the books to me, she pointed out how meticulously Dunnett had plotted the books, so that events in the first novel, The Game of Kings, played out in the last book, Checkmate. The books’ titles each represent the game of chess, which is not only an important part of the story, it is also indicative of the complex strategic planning and forethought that Dunnett used in writing these wonderfully rich historical novels.
The Lymond Chronicles, named after the antihero Frances Crawford of Lymond, are set in the 16th century. With consummate skill, Dunnett has created a fiercely intelligent, complex, passionate adventure that is such thrilling and addictive fun. The exploits of Lymond are larger than life, always vivid, and as hilarious as they are heartbreaking. Spanning the countries of Scotland, England, France, Turkey, and Russia, the story delves into the politics, religion, and the arts of the time period. The novels are a whirlwind of deception, passion, swashbuckling and intrigue. What a rewarding experience it has been to encounter the imagination of Dorothy Dunnett.
It’s a challenge and a delight to read the series in the shortest month of the year. 28 days to read 3,167 pages - an average of 113 pages a day. When friends & family look at me incredulously, not only for how much I’m reading but because I’m re-reading, I simply respond that I couldn’t imagine anything I’d rather be doing. Reading great books is a privilege that I never take for granted. How lucky I’ve been to have these particular books in my life!
1. The Game of Kings (1961)
2. Queen’s Play (1964)
3. The Disorderly Knights (1966)
4. Pawn in Frankincense (1969)
5. The Ringed Castle (1971)
6. Checkmate (1975)
“When you reread a classic you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in you than wasthere before.” ~ Clifton Fadiman
Notes on gift giving, or why books never outlive their usefulness...
Why do we love to give our loved ones books for special occasions? It’s because books are gifts of lasting value. Books never need batteries, nor do they go out of fashion. Long after toys are broken and forgotten, books remain viable, a source of renewable entertainment.
I fondly remember the books I received as presents over the years. When I was 11, my Aunt Ellie gave me Nancy Drew’s first two adventures, and I received Little, Big by John Crowley for Christmas when I was 14 from my 10-year-old sister Andrea. Even now, years later, these books are on my bookshelves, and I think of the gift-giver every time I see these titles. Out of all the presents I’ve received during my lifetime, books are the most personal and the most precious.
In talking with the Inkwell staff about their own special books, it became apparent that each reader has a strong sensory connection with their library; our memories are stirred up through each book, bringing back the time, place, and people surrounding our experiences with the book. Steve’s eyes lost focus as he reminisced about his gilt-edged, red leather bound copy of The Complete Sherlock Holmes that his mother gave him when he was a teenager. To this day, he has refused to read the final Sherlock Holmes story so that the book will never end!
When I browse my shelves at home, each title seems to whisper its origins to me. I get lost poking through my old favorites, and often enter into a pleasant reverie about what each title means to me. My books exist as an external memory drive, and have the power to provoke a flood of memories as much as any photograph.
There is a saying, “A book is a present you can open again and again,” and it is this longevity that makes books truly unique. Although I said thank you to both Aunt Ellie and Andrea years ago for the books, I want to say thank you once again. I still have these wonderful gifts, and they will remain with me forever.
Notes on the upcoming fall season, or more reasons why we find reading the most satisfying form of entertainment...
This fall the publishing industry is celebrating an exciting schedule of new releases featuring such heavy hitters as John Irving, Jon Krakauer, Michael Connelly, Stuart Woods, Malcolm Gladwell, E.L Doctorow, Anita Shreve, Diana Gabaldon, Nicholas Sparks, Mitch Albom, Robert Parker, Patricia Cornwell, and John Grisham.
The holiday season wouldn’t be complete without new titles from James Patterson, John Sandford, Vince Flynn, Dean Koontz, David Baldacci, Sue Grafton, Clive Cussler, and Stephen King. Rest assured that they all have books pending this fall too.
Of course this line-up has us thrilled as we anticipate a busy bookselling season over the next three months. We haven’t seen such an impressive collection of “big” books in over ten years. It really is going to be a wonderful fall, especially for avid readers!
Remember that you save an additional 20% on all pre-orders at the Inkwell.
Here is a list of books that are on our personal “to read” lists:
Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall by Kazuo Ishiguro
Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby
Half Broke Horses:True Novel by Jeannette Walls
Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon
Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett
American Civil War by John Keegan
Look at the Birdie by Kurt Vonnegut
The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk
Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving
Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
Notes on summer reading, or what to read on a Cape Cod beach...
Each summer brings waves of youth
seeking help with their summer reading picks. It’s very satisfying
to share our enthusiasm for great books with younger readers.
Perusing the titles of assigned reading makes us nostalgic. Remember
reading To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time? How about A
Wrinkle in Time or The Catcher in the Rye?
schoolchild, I used to get so excited when the school reading lists
were first passed out. I’d immediately start circling all the books
I wanted to read…even though only three books were required; the
list became a doorway that lead me to undiscovered countries.
is a temperate zone in the mind, between luxurious indolence and
exacting work; and it is to this region, just between laziness and
labor, that summer reading belongs.”
~Henry Ward Beecher
As adults, we’re missing out on the
joys of planned summer reading. If you’re longing for a reading
list of your very own, a new book entitled Beowulf on the Beach
is the perfect companion to kick start your reading adventures.
Author Jack Murnighan, who has a Ph.D. in medieval and renaissance
literature from Duke University, writes clever and fervent essays
about “What to Love and What to Skip in Literature's 50 Greatest
Hits.” Murnighan says, “These books are dazzling, but
that’s not how they’re normally taught or perceived. And if you
don’t go back to the classics as an adult, you might never know how
much better they are when they’re read for pleasure, not for a
test. As long as the so-called great books stay locked up in the
ivory tower, people don’t see how gripping and meaningful they can
be, and their kaleidoscopic glories get squandered.”
So as your children and grandchildren
are toting books to the park and beach, be sure to pack your ‘summer
reading’ books too!
Notes on owning an independent bookstore...
regularity, customers tell us they are envious of our work environment because
bookstores are so peaceful. Although we’re pleased that our design objective of
providing a calm, browseable bookstore has met with success, the fact that we’re
a retail establishment seems to have been forgotten! On our side of the counter, it is frequently hectic as we wait on
customers, answer phones and email, and strive to check off items on our to-do
We spin ceaselessly in circles each day,
and no two days are the same. Today we dealt with requests for author signings,
looked up hard-to-find books, coordinated summer events, and designed store
posters, not to mention the daily required maintenance of straightening,
receiving, and shelving inventory. Tomorrow brings meetings with sales reps,
phone calls to customers for whom we’ve ordered books, and more writing and
editing for our newsletter.
The most pervasive
bookstore myth is that we are able to read books in between customers. Booksellers
are just like you; we have to squeeze in our addiction for books in between the
rest of our daily routine. There’s never any time to slack off and read during
our shifts, but we make reading a priority when we’re off duty because it’s
part of the responsibility of being a good bookseller. After all, you have to
know what you’re presenting, and the trust of a customer is a sacred thing.
Naturally, our staff picks table is the bestselling area in our whole store,
and these prized books are our favorite items to sell. Sharing and
communicating with fellow readers about the books that have inspired us is
without a doubt the best part of being an independent bookseller.
Instead of longing
for a bookstore atmosphere, the really covetous thing is this: our favorite
hobby is a prerequisite for our business. We never need an excuse to read!
Notes on choosing books...
I’m happy to report that for once my New Year’s Resolution
has been successful. No doubt it’s because it was about adding something
rewarding rather than sacrificing something like my much needed daily dose of
caffeine. My resolution was to read one additional book a month. I’ve been
averaging at least two books a week since January.
It feels like I’m
back in high school. I would read on the bus, in the back of class, after work,
before dinner, and post homework. As a teen, I read incessantly. It’s been an
eye opening experience to shut off my laptop, and make reading my primary
source of entertainment again. Just by forming a habit of reaching for a book
instead of poking a power button, I’ve reclaimed my time and found my focus
After forming our
Not the Bestsellers Book Club, I created a list of books that Kathleen, Steve,
and I will be discussing over the next year. Both Steve and Kathleen were
curious about how I winnowed my choices to these particular books. With a wave
of my hand, I lightly brushed off the question by saying I read some reviews
and just, you know, looked at what was coming out in paperback. Afterward, it
became clear that the simple question made me feel both embarrassed and
pleased. The process of choosing books, good books, is at times daunting –
especially when you consider that there are more than 100,000 books published
each year. It was gratifying that my fellow booksellers were curious about how
I identified and selected worthwhile titles. Because so much of book buying is
intuitive, it is intensely personal. When you operate on your gut instinct, it
reveals who you are, unfiltered. That kind of exposure of self can be scary to
an introverted reader! One of my favorite quotes is by Oscar Wilde, “It is
what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you
can’t help it.”
I’ll try to answer
that harmless question, “How did you choose these books?” It’s difficult to
describe and quantify the process of selection because it’s an artistic, not
mathematical, endeavor so there isn’t a memorizable formula that will garner
the expected result. We are all sponges, absorbing information from many
sources: news, books, blogs, people, etc. In addition to the routine
information flow, I refine that influx of data into a sustained focus about
books and authors. It’s not something I only do when it’s time to buy inventory
for the store, it’s an integral part of me everyday, this search for great
books. Combining the external sources of data with both my love of books and
experience in bookselling/buying, I sift through hundreds of books - titles
I’ve been intending to read, books that were recommended to me, lists of new
titles being published, my favorite blogs, and book reviews from newspapers and
magazines. I build a list of potential picks swiftly using that gut instinct,
concentrating and choosing, then chipping and polishing until the list for our book
club is unveiled.
We won’t equally
enjoy all of these titles. Already out of the four books our club has read so
far this year, we’ve discovered that The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti
winningly became one of our favorites, while Animal’s People by Indra Sinha,
though brilliantly written, was an ordeal to read. Steve said, “This book club
has raised the bar on my reading. These aren’t books I would have normally
picked up off the shelf, but I’m so glad I’ve read them.”
Isn’t that what all book clubs should
strive to be? Instigating and provoking, expanding your horizons, and keeping
you alert and alive.
Michelle and Kathleen
Owners of the Inkwell
An award winning independent bookstore
in Falmouth, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
am eternally grateful...for my knack of finding in great books, some of
them very funny books, reason enough to feel honored to be alive, no
matter what else might be going on.” - excerpt from Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut