The Book Catapult

A Year of Reading, Week Fifteen

Book read (all or part of) this week:
The Orenda by Joseph Boyden
Redeployment by Phil Klay

I’m still dipping into Klay’s Redeployment, but the majority of my reading week was with The Orenda. Joseph Boyden’s forthcoming novel was a bit of a slog for me in its first hundred pages, but I’ve really hit a stride with it in the last week. It’s set in the early, early days of contact between French settlers and the Huron tribe in southern Canada – early-1600’s. The Huron and the Iroquois are at perpetual war – one group kills another and the other guys retaliate, and on & on & on. Throw a bunch of French Jesuit priests into the mix and things get even messier. As with most fiction about post-Columbian Native Americans (ie: Fools Crow or Panther in the Sky) we have the benefit of hindsight and a sense of historical perspective – we know that bad shit is going to go down and it’s just a matter of how much we will see in any one particular novel. In this, times are still relatively good for the northern tribes – and Boyden brings that world to life in quite wonderful ways. It ain’t perfect and there are some hokey moments & stilted dialogue, but it’s proving to be relatively solid historical fiction of an era that I find interesting. I’m sticking with it.

Other business: 
I’ve been spending most of my working days planning festivities for California Bookstore Day at the UCSD Bookstore.  An idea thought up by the intrepid minds of the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association (NCIBA), CBD is a day to celebrate everything that an independent bookstore can offer their community that an online retailer or a big box store cannot. On Saturday, May 3rd, 93 indie bookstores in California – including the UC San Diego Bookstore, believe it or not – will be hosting huge literary parties to celebrate that independent spirit. This bit is from the CBD website & I think it perfectly sums up what all this is about:

Independent bookstores are not just stores, they’re community centers and local anchors run by passionate readers. They are entire universes of ideas that contain the possibility of real serendipity. They are lively performance spaces and quiet places where aimless perusal is a day well spent. 

Indie bookstores, whether dusty and labyrinthine or clean and well-lighted, are not just stores, they are solutions. They hold the key to your love life, your career, and your passions. Walking the aisles of a good bookstore means stumbling upon a novel from India that expands your heart. It’s encountering an art book that changes the direction of your life. It’s the joy of having a perfect stranger steer you toward the perfect book. 

In a world of tweets and algorithms and pageless digital downloads, bookstores are not a dying anachronism.  They are living, breathing organisms that continue to grow and expand. In fact, there are more of them this year than there were last year. And they are at your service.

If that doesn’t inspire you to support your local businesses, I’m not sure why you’re still reading this. It gets me fired up every time – even if the store where I currently work is… let’s just say, as a whole, it lacks that passion for literacy and literature that I hold so close to the center of my being. (But the benefits are great!) By hosting a big ol’ CBD party, I’m hoping to try to change some of that culture – at the very least, I’d like to open some eyes on the campus itself.

In addition to events and things in the stores on May 3, there is also a whole slate of California Bookstore Day-only items that were specially produced for this day and will be available for purchase ONLY from California independent bookstores on May 3rd. And this isn’t just a bunch of crap, mind you. A signed, numbered George Saunders piece. A signed Brian Selznick print. A limited edition Neil Gaiman short story. A box of recipes from Michael Pollan. A badass new McSweeney’s collection. And a ton more.

Here’s the schedule of events at UCSD for the moment – we’re open from 10am to 5pm on that Saturday, May 3rd:

  • 10:30am – a special California Bookstore Day Coffee & Book Chat with yours truly. A spin on my monthly book chat where I’ll talk about all the CBD merch you can get.
  • 11:00am – a California-themed kids storytime. Followed by a CBD-themed craft session for kids.
  • 11:30 – an open-mic session kicked off by a reading of George Saunders’ CBD piece, Congratulations By the Way.
  • 12:30 – performance artist & novelist, Scotch Wichmann will discuss his art & his book, and stage a performance. Scotch is well known these days for being plagiarized by actor Shia LaBoeuf. (The two staged much-publicized competing performance piece protests in LA recently.)
  • 2:00 – novelist Jincy Willett will discuss her latest comic novel, Amy Falls Down, as well as a bit on the process of writing. Jincy is hilarious, by the way. 
Prizes like this limited edition chapbook of a Donald Antrim short story.

We will also have some live music in-store throughout the day – including Scott Paulson and the Teeny-Tiny Pit Orchestra. (Yeah, that’s right.) And literary trivia with some awesome prizes – all day long. And mobile foodies, Killer Street Tacos will be outside the store on Library Walk, slingin’ tacos in the afternoon. AND free parking! AND – as if that isn’t enough – all general books (with the exception of the CBD merchandise) will be 25% off all day long.

Anyway, the point is, all of these (except the discounting) are things that indie stores offer that you can’t get from buying your books at Walmart or from shopping Amazon. On CBD and 364 other days throughout every year, indie bookstores host author readings & signings, storytime for kids, open mic readings, and have passionate booksellers who provide a healthy, two-way discourse on literature, art, philosophy, or anything else people want to discuss. Indie bookstores strive to serve as that “third place” in our modern lives – a comfortable, stimulating place to be intellectually alive that isn’t home and isn’t work. 

I’ve been pretty hung up lately on the idea of the “third place.” Enough so that I’m back to fantasizing about opening my own store. But for the moment, I’m going to try and turn my current place of employment into a true California indie – at least for a day. So if you live in San Diego, do me a solid and consider stopping by the UCSD Bookstore on May 3rd.

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