Author Archives: Elizabeth Bluemle

It’s Official—The Funniest Bookseller in Vermont!

Elizabeth Bluemle -- July 31st, 2014
Josie comedy

Josie Leavitt; photo © Stephen T. Knight

Okay, “funniest bookseller” wasn’t actually the category for which Josie Leavitt won top honors; it was Best Stand-Up Comic, in the annual contest run by Vermont’s arts weekly newspaper, Seven Days. The Seven Daysies are coveted awards covering 177 topics ranging from Best Restaurant to Best Place to Get Naked. Seven Days takes voting seriously; you have to vote in at least 50 of the 177 categories for your votes to count. This year, around 10,000 Vermonters sent in their picks for “best,” and Josie won Best Stand-Up Comic! The Flying Pig is bursting with pride.

This is actually Josie’s second win; she tied with “The Logger,” Rusty DeWees, in 2011, the first year that Seven Days included the stand-up comedy category. Winning the category’s first year was fitting, since Josie has been so instrumental in creating the now-blooming Burlington stand-up scene. As Seven Days put it so aptly and wonderfully in the award announcement this year:

Josie Leavitt — Josie Leavitt is the matriarch of Vermont’s burgeoning standup comedy scene. In fact, were it not for her efforts, the state might not have a standup scene at all. The New York City transplant and Flying Pig Bookstore co-owner is not only one of the funniest people around; she’s a great teacher, too. Her comedy classes through FlynnArts in Burlington have churned out more talented local comics than we can count. A few of them now rank as members of Vermont’s longest-running standup crew, the Vermont Comedy Divas, which Leavitt founded.

I’m not sure if there are any other stand-up comedian booksellers out there; it’s worth considering if you have a gift for funny. Customers come in not only for our book recommendations, but for a great laugh.

The Flying Pig couldn’t be prouder of hardworking, hilarious Josie. Please join us in congratulating her on winning this lovely award!

P.S. Our bookstore was delighted to be a finalist for the Seven Daysies. Our congratulations to compatriots and winners Phoenix Books (for inside Chittenden County) and Bear Pond Books (outside Chittenden County)!

Psst! All Books Are Interactive

Elizabeth Bluemle -- July 29th, 2014

interactiveRecently, I came across catalog copy for a book with a big starburst sticker on the cover that boasted that this book had some extra feature that made it “INTERACTIVE!”

I’m a little mystified by the impulse to add moving parts or noises to books to make them seem more interactive than they already are. Reading a book not only requires a complex set of skills involved in decoding words and making meaning from them, but involves the imagination, engages predictive thinking, and—depending on the content and challenge of the material—invites reflection and the processing of new information. Readers create the world of a book alongside the author. Reading lights up the brain all over.

The truth is, the more “interactive” a book is, the less a reader is required to engage meaningfully with it. When you add bells and whistles that do the work for you, you’re actually making it less interactive, neurologically speaking.

Readers necessarily interact with a book by creating mental images and making connections as they read; the brain is quite active while reading. In fact, reading is apparently one of the top ways to exercise your brain, along with learning another language, meditating, and getting some physical exercise.

So the interactive label seems more like marketing hype to hook consumers more than something that adds true value to a book. I’m not a total curmudgeon; as a young reader, I adored books that did fun things. Bennett Cerf’s pop-up joke books were read to tatters, and for a solid year, the See-n-Say was my favorite word-related toy. Heck, I *still* encounter pop-up and lift-the-flap books that knock my little reader self’s socks off. But I don’t think anyone would have claimed that the pop-up book or the See-n-Say made me a better thinker.


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Somewhat serendipitously for this post, Salon just ran an article by Sara Scribner titled, “Your iPhone addiction will rot your kid’s brain,” with subtitle teasers “iPads and other devices aren’t really interactive. An expert on the need to read for kids.” In the article, Scribner interviews Jason Boog, author of Born Reading: Bringing Up Bookworms in a Digital Age — From Picture Books to eBooks and Everything in Between. This new book takes a look at interactivity from a slightly different— and just as important—angle: the interactivity that happens when a child and adult read and discuss books together.

I haven’t read the book yet, but will look forward to seeing what it has to say about young readers and books and devices.

As for the type of “INTERACTIVITY” shouted by burst-shaped stickers on book covers, well, I’m not sure how many parents are taken in by that label. But I’m entirely certain that they will be able to assess its relative value, for better or worse, after a single reading.

What to Do About Leveled Readers?

Elizabeth Bluemle -- July 25th, 2014

star wars a new hope coverLeveled readers are, in some ways, a bit of a fly in the bookselling ointment. They sell extremely well, which is terrific, but they are also notoriously uneven when it comes to leveling. Teachers, parents, and even many kids are obsessed with the levels (for a variety of reasons, some unavoidable), but every staffer in a bookstore’s children’s department knows that levels are not consistent between publishing houses, and sometimes not even within the same house.

Recently, we received DK’s Star Wars: A New Hope, labeled a “Level 1: Beginning to Read” book. I knew the book would be wildly popular with early readers, and was curious to see how the author, Emma Grange, would translate the Star Wars story into words and sentences appropriate for someone just beginning to read. I think of someone beginning to read as being ready for something along the lines of “See Spot run,” or Hop on Pop, or Sam and the Firefly.

So Star Wars seemed to me to be quite a challenging job to turn into a beginning reader, given the many unfamiliar names and fantasy concepts that would need to be explained to an audience too young to have seen the movies. And the truth is, I doubt it is truly possible to retell this Star Wars adventure in a way that most children just beginning to read could manage on their own.

The book has lines like, “The rebels are a group of people who want to free the galaxy from the Empire,” and “A brave rebel named Princess Leia is determined to defeat the Empire,” and “R2D2 and another droid named C-3PO flee in an escape pod to the planet Tatooine,” and “Luke and Han rescue Princess Leia, but then they fall into a waste disposal unit.”

I think Ms. Grange did an excellent job of distilling the story into a short, easier-to-read form, and I know that kids reading Level 1 books will be deeeeelighted to have the opportunity to chat about Star Wars with their elder siblings. And I know that parents will be happy to help their new readers work through the more complicated words and concepts (the illustrations help there, as well). And yet, does that make the book a Level 1? There are Level 3 books simpler than this one.

With schools and publishers using standards from any of five or so different leveled reading programs, there is bound to be plenty of fluctuation. What this inconsistency in levels means for booksellers is that we need to be very familiar with all of the series we carry, so that we can better match young readers with books at just the right level of challenge.

And that is a challenge and a half for those of us on the sales floor. 

The Post-Privacy Era

Elizabeth Bluemle -- July 15th, 2014

George Orwell’s 1984 (Signet Classics)

“We had a strange phone call this morning,” said our staffer David as I walked in the door this morning. “Strange” is not generally a harbinger of good things, so I was alert. He continued, “A gentleman called and asked if our credit card machine stored information about his purchase, because he bought a book about Gatlinburg here, and a couple of days later, a tourism ad for Gatlinburg showed up on his phone. He was very upset.”

This was strange, certainly, but of course had nothing to do with our store. David had tried to reassure the caller by letting him know that our credit card machine, a stand-alone unit connected only to a power source and a telephone line, is essentially a magnet-stripe reader and a keypad. It is completely separate from our point-of-sale system computers. The only information that goes into it is the credit card swipe itself. Even if we’d wanted to violate our customers’ privacy in such a gross and unethical manner, it isn’t possible.

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Sideline Serendipity

Elizabeth Bluemle -- July 11th, 2014

While we carry sidelines (i.e., non-book items) from all over the world, it’s a special pleasure to stock toys, stationery, journals, gifts, greeting cards, etc., from local folks.

Every Christmas, my sister gives me either a small calendar or a packet of fine letterpress stationery on the most toothsome paper. They are made by ZoëInk, a Burlington designer whose aesthetic is delicious. The website gives just the tiniest taste of the range of designs available; suffice it to say that they are tasteful, bold, restrained, whimsical, and deeply pleasing to the eye.


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Lend Us Your Ears: What Shall We Listen to Next?

Elizabeth Bluemle -- July 9th, 2014

golden compass audioI love a compelling audiobook. I’m a sucker especially for male British narrators (bonus points if they are named Simon), followed closely by female British narrators and Lenny Henry (who actually is a male British narrator but does other accents so beautifully he gets his own category). Any narrator not in one of those three rubrics is assessed on a case-by-case basis.

I must be an aural learner, because I can recall even more detail when I’ve listened to a book than I can when I’ve read it. I wouldn’t ever choose to give up reading with my eyes — it’s hard to skim over passages of exposition in an audiobook, for one thing, and it’s a lot more difficult to locate lines you heard earlier and loved — but the pleasure of hearing someone tell a story well never gets old. We are a storytelling species, after all.

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How Many Books = Too Many Books?

Elizabeth Bluemle -- June 30th, 2014
Susanna Hesselberg untitled

© 2006 Susanna Hesselberg (click on image for artist website)

Like all book lovers who hold on to loved volumes, and who have moved many times, and have inherited books from family members, I struggle with keeping my collection — well, if not pared down, at least sane. And by “sane,” I mean mainly relegated to bookcases, instead of threatening to crush me under toppling stacks.

I have moved within cities, between states, and across the country, every time with dozens and dozens of book boxes. (I think Bekins and Booska have me on a banned customer list by now.) Recently, my sister and I inherited my father’s book collection, and his books number in the several thousand. He loved to read about magic, travel, photography, loved mysteries and books about words and wordplay. He had excellent taste in these categories, and his books are beautiful. But most of them are in storage, and I cannot figure out how, without building myself a house made entirely out of books, I will be able to keep them.

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The Unputdownables, Or, One-Sitting Reads

Elizabeth Bluemle -- June 27th, 2014

The great thing about being a bookseller: so many books to read! The terrible thing about being a bookseller: SO many books to read. They’re a mixed blessing, these stacks of advance reading copies and digital shelves filled with downloaded goodies from NetGalley and Edelweiss (booksellers’ treasure chests). With the sheer number of titles published every year, even the really good ones can start to blend together. Which makes the one-sitting reads — those books you cannot stop reading, the ones you make little bargains with yourself about trading task time for reading time, the ones you end up staying awake until 3 a.m. for — all the more memorable.

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Welcome to the Newest ShelfTalker Blogger!

Elizabeth Bluemle -- June 17th, 2014

kenny still lifeEver since his first guest post for ShelfTalker five years ago, DDG Booksellers owner Kenny Brechner has brought his creative, funny, irrepressible spirit—not to mention his considerable intellect and insight—to this blog. (You can find a full linked list of Kenny’s previous posts below.)

When Kenny stepped up several times this spring to contribute fabulous posts while your regular Shelftalker bloggers dealt with a family medical crisis, we decided it was high time to make his posts a regular treat for readers. It is with great glee that we announce Kenny as the newest official ShelfTalker blogger, providing one new post every week! Woot!!

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Spoofy Brilliance + the Anti-Anti-YA Book List, Compiled

Elizabeth Bluemle -- June 13th, 2014

Earlier this week, I posted a call to gather titles to counter one writer’s Slate article dismissing YA books as not suitably literary or complex reading for adults. Suggestions poured in, and I’m posting the list of books below.

First, however, I wanted to share the first bit of my favorite response to the Ruth Graham article. Titled “A Young Adult Author’s Fantastic Crusade to Defend Literature’s Most Maligned Genre,” it was posted on by YA writer Kathleen Hale, and it begins this way:

Last week, I read Ruth Graham’s article “Against YA.” In it, Graham contends that adults should be embarrassed to read YA novels. Instead, grownups should focus their attention on serious, “literary fiction” that grapples with “big ideas about time and space and science and love.”

As a YA writer myself, I was understandably offended. I’m not some schlocky trash-peddler. I’m a serious author, capable of far more than maudlin plot twists and clichéd dialogue. That’s why I decided to confront Graham in person.

I picked her up outside the graveyard before nightfall.

“I’ve been waiting for you,” she said, as we stepped into my father’s beat up Chevy. We were going 70 miles an hour, two girls with different colored hair.

“Why did you say that about YA?” I asked, as tears streamed down my face like rain.

“Because it’s true!” she hissed. And I saw in the moonlight that her anger made her beautiful. This was before the war, when the oceans still had water, and the moon was still visible in the sky.

Hale’s post continues, hilariously, in this vein. It is clever, spooftastic fun, but also a glorious, smart reply to the issues raised in Ruth Graham’s article.

And now for the Anti-Anti-YA Book List of complex, rewarding young adult reads no one should be ashamed of reading and enjoying. The aim was to include only realistic YA, but a few fantasy, alternative reality, and graphic novels sneaked in. Thanks to all of the ShelfTalker readers who contributed:

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

17 and Gone by Nova Ren Suma.

33 Snowfish by Adam Rapp

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Afterparty by Ann Redisch Stampler

anything by Sarah Dessen

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross

Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

Black Juice by Margo Lanagan

Bone Dance by Martha Brooks

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Breathe My Name by R.A. Nelson

Candy by Kevin Brooks

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Confessions of a Hater by Caprice Crane

Crossing Stones by Helen Frost

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Dark Dude by Oscar Hijuelos

Deerskin by Robin McKinley

The Diviners by Libba Bray

Downriver by Will Hobbs

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Every Day by David Levithan

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Fat Angie by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo

Fighting Ruben Wolfe by Markus Zusak

Finninkin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

For the Win by Cory Doctorow

Gil Marsh by A.C.E. Bauer

Going Bovine by Libba Bray

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Grave Mercy by R.L. LaFevers

Gringolandia by Lyn Miller-Lachmann

Guy in Real Life by Steve Brezenoff

Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger

Heart’s Delight by Per Nilsson

how i live now by Meg Rosoff

How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford

Hush by Eishes Chayil

I Am J by Cris Beam

I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan

If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson

If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan.

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

In Darkness by Nick Lake

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Jumped by Rita Williams-Garcia

Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal

The Kings Are Already Here by Garret Freymann-Weyr

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking trilogy) by Patrick Ness

Last Night I Sang to the Monster by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Lessons from a Dead Girl by Jo Knowles

Liar by Justine Larbalestier

Life as We Knew It (Mooncrash series) by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet

Like the Red Panda by Andrea Seigel

The List by Siobhan Vivian

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Looking for Alaska by John Green

Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaria

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

My Book of Life by Angel by Martine Leavitt

My Soon-to-be Sex Life by Judith Tewes

No Safe Place by Deborah Ellis

Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr

The Opposite of Hallelujah by Anna Jarzab

Paper Covers Rock by Jenny Hubbard

the perks of being a wallflower by stephen chbosky

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

Pointe by Brandy Colbert

Postcards from No Man’s Land by Aidan Chambers

Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman

Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Sean Griswold’s Head by Lindsey Leavitt

The Secret Side of Empty by Maria E. Andreu

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Served Anytime by Sarah Combs

Shine by Lauren Myracle

Since You Left Me by Allen Zadoff

Sister Mischief by Laura Goode

Skim by Mariko Tamaki (graphic novel)

Solace of the Road by Siobhan Dowd

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron

Sorta Like a Rockstar by Matthew Quick

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Stick by Andrew Smith

Stoner and Spaz by Ron Koertge

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

Suckerpunch by David Hernandez

Tamar by Mal Peet

Taste of Salt by Frances Temple

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

This is How I Find Her by Sara Polsky

Toning the Sweep by Angela Johnson

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

The Tyrant’s Daugher by J. C. Carleson

Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Whale Talk (and other novels) by Chris Crutcher

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

Winger by Andrew Smith

With or Without You by Brian Farrey

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina