Thursday, January 31, 2013

Somerset Books at Second Saturday Biergarten Bazaar on February 9

For those of you who have followed this blog for any length of time (and stuck with me through the “silent year” of 2012), you know that the quest for the right retail space has been something of a trial. That search continues, but in the meantime the desire to match the right book with the right reader has led me to an unorthodox solution: guerilla bookselling.
Therefore, Somerset Books will meet the public for the first time on February 9th at the inaugural Second Saturday Biergarten Bazaar (S2B2). S2B2 is an outdoor vendor fair held at the amazing Jones/Butler Biergarten, located in the historic Meadowbrook neighborhood of East Fort Worth.
There will be many great local artisans ready to work with you on the perfect Valentine's gift, and you will find all things vintage, crafty, repurposed and funky. And books. Don’t forget the books. Vendors include Danette’s Urban Oasis, Indiplanet Studios, Somerset Books, and many others.
It’s politically correct nowadays to talk about “buying local;” this is your chance to actually get out and buy local. Any number of local brick-and-mortar stores get their start at events just like this one, as it is a way to let people know who you are and build relationships within the community long before sitting down with some banker about loans and leases.
The S2B2 is Saturday, Feb 9, 2013 from 9 am to 1 pm. The address is 2300 N. Edgewood Terrace, Fort Worth, TX 76103. Find them on Facebook here.
So come on out next Saturday, find your sweetie something unique for Valentines, support local business, and buy some books. Definitely buy some books.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Book Review: The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon is the third of a planned four-book series centered around the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. It follows the phenomenal (and phenomenally successful) The Shadow of the Wind and the equally gripping The Angel’s Game. In The Prisoner of Heaven we return to the familiar Sempere and Son’s Bookshop in Barcelona, and like the previous books the story is told in both the present and the past. For this novel, the present is 1957 (a few years after the events in The Shadow of the Wind) and the past is the early 1940s (just after the end of the events in The Angel’s Game).
In the first book the main character was Daniel Sempere, and in the second it was David Martin. What makes The Prisoner of Heaven stand out besides Zafon's signature Gothic atmosphere and a tightly woven plot is that this book focuses on perhaps his greatest character: Fermin Romero de Torres. A crucial but supporting character prior to this (and perhaps the best literary sidekick since Sancho Panza), here Fermin grabs center stage and never relinquishes it.
The story opens with Fermin preparing for his wedding when a mysterious figure from his past arrives at the Sempere and Sons Bookshop threatening to reveal a decades-old secret that could destroy Fermin’s world. He and Daniel embark on a search for this stranger, and in the process Fermin finally reveals what happened to him just after the end of the Spanish Civil War, as well as things about Daniel’s own family that set the stage for the much-anticipated final volume in the series.
On numerous occasions Zafon has said that he never set out to write a sequential series, but one that can be entered and experienced at any point in the story, starting with any of the books. In theory this is true; anyone who has not read the earlier novels and begins with The Prisoner of Heaven will find that it easily stands on its own merits. But moving to the earlier books after this one will certainly not be as satisfying. This is particularly true of The Angel’s Game, which while a classic in its own right makes more sense and is a stronger story in light of the revelations found in The Prisoner of Heaven. Best to read the books in the order Zafon wrote them, because while they can stand alone, each one builds upon its predecessor.
At 380 pages, The Prisoner of Heaven is a much shorter work than either The Shadow of the Wind or The Angel’s Game, but its relative brevity in no way detracts from the story. And it leaves readers who have been enchanted by Zafon’s magical world for nearly a decade both impatient for the final installment and sad that the end of the tale is finally in sight.

Best Opening Lines

The opening line of a novel can set the tone for the whole book, and there are many that have become as famous as the book that contains them. What follows is by no means an exhaustive list; it is simply a few of my favorite opening sentences, almost all from novels I have actually read (this means leaving out classics like "Call me Ishmael" from Moby Dick). Feel free to add your own favorites in the comments section:

"I still remember the day my father took me to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books for the first time." - Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Shadow of the Wind

"All children mythologize their birth." - Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale

"Boog warned me about Washington, but until I saw the rich lady set her pugs on the dinner table, I didn’t take him seriously." – Larry McMurtry, Cadillac Jack

"Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton. Do not think that I am very much impressed by that as a boxing title, but it meant a lot to Cohn." – Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

"People are afraid to merge on freeways in Los Angeles." – Bret Easton Ellis, Less Than Zero

"I guess by now there can't be too many people anywhere who haven't heard about Billy Clyde Puckett, the humminest sumbitch that ever carried a football." – Dan Jenkins, Semi-Tough

"I have never begun a novel with more misgiving." - W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor’s Edge

"My father had a face that could stop a clock." - Jasper Fforde, The Eyre Affair

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair." – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

"Jude had a private collection." – Joe Hill, Heart-Shaped Box

"Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself in a dark wood, for the right path had been lost." – Dante, Inferno

"Samuel Spade’s jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting V under the more flexible V of his mouth." – Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon

"A writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story." – Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Angel’s Game

"Mr. Sherlock Holmes, who was usually very late in the mornings, save upon those not infrequent occasions when he stayed up all night, was seated at the breakfast table." – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles

"It was a pleasure to burn." - Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

"I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up." – Jack Kerouac, On The Road

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Books That Lead to Other Books

There are times when one novel you are reading leads you to a completely different novel, usually a classic of Western Literature. This is done most often through a specific plot development, discussion between characters, or even a mention of the book or author. It may be fleeting (as a mention of a book that influenced the character as a child) or as a key plot element (as is the case in most bibliomysteries). The eleven pairs of books below are examples of one book that leads you to another, either for the first time or the first time in a long time. 

The Club Dumas centers around, among other things, the discovery of an original manuscript fragment of Dumas' classic The Three Musketeers. There is a benefit to reading both of these at the same time.

Tea Obreht's amazing debut novel features Kipling's The Jungle Books as a significant plot piece. Since most of us only remember the Disney version, it may be time to actually read the original.

The Last Dickens is a compelling bibliomystery that imagines an answer to the question of how The Mystery of Edwin Drood might have ended had Dickens lived.

Sheridan Hay's debut novel doesn't deal directly with Moby Dick, but with a newly discovered "lost" manuscript by Melville. Moby Dick is a natural read after this since it's his best known novel.

In Zafon's follow-up to The Shadow of the Wind, the main character's life is changed as a young boy through his reading of Great Expectations. Yours could be changed as well.

Another Matthew Pearl bibliomystery (he's written three), this one deals with the first translation of Dante's classic Inferno into English. Knowledge of Inferno is not necessary to enjoy the story, but you'll enjoy it more reading these two side-by-side.

Jasper Fforde's debut Thursday Next novel relies heavily on the Charlotte Bronte classic, and for more than just the title. It's easier to enjoy the changes that occur in Fforde's alternate-universe imagining if you know how the book really ended in the first place.

The third of the Matthew Pearl novels mentioned here (and the best of the three), The Poe Shadow fills in the missing details of Poe's tragic final days before his untimely death. If you don't come away with a new admiration for Poe, and a desire to read him again, I'll be very surprised.

Graham Moore's new novel has his main character searching for the true-life missing journal of Arthur Conan Doyle, while also telling the parallel story of Doyle's attempt to rid himself of Holmes once and for all. Reading Holmes after The Sherlockian seems, well, elementary.

Carrell's second novel, Haunt Me Still, revolves around a contemporary production of the Scottish play, and the curse that still hangs over it. Reading Macbeth at the same time adds a nicely eerie aspect to the novel.

While by no means a key element of The Shadow of the Wind, the way Sempere Senior enjoys reading Candide is enough to make a reader curious about Voltaire's classic work. In this case, curiosity is a good thing.