An intriguing but inconsistent collection that explores the allure of bookstores.

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THE BOOKSHOP ON LAFAYETTE STREET

A volume of short stories and poetry aims to celebrate bookstores. 

After bumping into each other at Classics Books in Trenton, New Jersey, bookstore owner and writer Maywar and prize-winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa decided to “collaborate on a collection of poems and stories that all take place” in a bookstore. The result is a volume of 20 offerings from various authors and artists that include poetry, prose, a play, and a scattering of illustrations. Following the introduction, the collection opens with a piece by editor Maywar (Running Flat, 2016) that alludes immediately to the magical quality of bookstores: “Everybody wants to pull a book in a bookstore and discover a secret passageway.” Komunyakaa contributes an extract from his book-length poem “The Last Bohemian of Avenue A,” a mournful paean to disappearing Lower East Side bookstores. A short story by Jeff Edelstein steps inside the mind of an impatient book collector. In a tale by Jackie Reinstedler, a bookstore becomes a family’s place of refuge from worldly worries. Komunyakaa’s poem is a standout piece; his writing is spare yet fiercely moving: “Lower East Side bookstores / are now gutted temples, / & when windows of St. Marks / were papered I felt the hurt.” A poem by Barry Gross effectively portrays the homely comfort drawn from bookstores. Regarding closing time, he writes: “I’m hoping he overlooks / and locks me in so I can make / a paper blanket of words / to feed this warmth.” But the collection lacks variety, with Maywar contributing nine of the 20 pieces. His keen observations are let down by tenuous metaphors: Bookstores are “powder kegs, ready to amplify whatever emotion you have when you enter one.” They often offer sentiments expressed by other writers, making the collection repetitive: “Used bookstores are havens for readers in an unkind world.” Still, the poem “At Classics Books” by Doc Long deftly captures the atmosphere of a bookstore: “Open any book” and sense “the sulk of wine and incense / all the way from Dakar or Tashkent.” But the evocative scent of biblichor permeates this volume all too faintly, proving insufficient to transport readers to their favored spots between the bookshelves.  

An intriguing but inconsistent collection that explores the allure of bookstores.

Pub Date: April 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-933974-32-3

Page Count: 88

Publisher: Ragged Sky Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2019

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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