Archive for August, 2011

“You go into a fugue state of exhaustion and inspiration.”

Head Waiter Mike Scalise offered the most apt description of the Bread Loaf experience. Don’t look for any such wisdom in these thoughts. I just can’t let go of the mountain and the memories:


Fireplaces that looked decorative on day one turned out to be vital.

Brief reactivation of Ross White’s phantom Twitter and Facebook accounts.

David Shields’s self-described “fiction driveby shootings.”

Every day, growing lore about the Nut Shack.

So many beautiful words and beautiful moments in the Little Theater.

Best Couple we hope are a couple: Tamara Choudhury and Jeff Stauch

Best Couple we know are a couple: Alan Carl and Benjamin Roesch.

Best Couple who really aren’t a couple (happily for their suitors): Lauren Edmondson and Liz Wykoff.

Still in awe of the fabulous waiters and staff. Such talent…such multitasking!!

The girl pack getting their fun on: Trish Woolwine, Alex Beers, Angie Chatman, Amy Schriebman Walter, Claudia Zuluaga, and Molly Absolon.

Kalapana Mohan at a too early 8 am after the first barn dance, radiant in a beautiful Indian-print Kameez tunic, hair perfectly in place. Asked how she was feeling post dance: “Very … very bad.”

Waiter flashmob to Lady Gaga’s Telephone.

Staff flashmob to Hall and Oates’s Rich Girl.

Wishing I’d had more time reading in those Adirondack chairs.

Alan Heathcock ghostbusting in Robert Frost’s cabin.

Philip Levine … stand-up comic.

Kris Bigalk and Señor Squirrel.

Every other person on crutches.

If only Charles Baxter’s lecture on “undoings” had come earlier in the conference.

Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich’s black Stetson: Western hot.

Nate Brown’s bow ties: handsome devil.

Chad Frisbee’s dancing shirt: 70’s sexois.

Jeff Stauch’s rainy-day speedo: no comment.

Turns out, alcohol does not prevent BLARS.

Suspicious repeat fire alarms in Cherry.

Unreal full moon.

All too real howling at moon.

Luis Alberto Urrea’s special box of writing wisdom.

Noreen Cargill working magic in the office at all hours of day and night.

The person who smells a waiter is a fool.” –Shuchi Saraswat. Though in fact, Shuchi and the waiters smelled and looked (and sang) beautiful(ly). Especially compared to the rest of us.

Oh, we just loved our moments in the Blue Parlor. Laughed and cried. Thank you Harriet Clark!

Blue Parlor Best Supporting Actor: photographer and sommelier Rolf Yngve.

Badass runners: Dave Essinger, Molly Absolon, Jeff Stauch, and Mike Kerlin.

Wondering each day:
A.)  What hat will Alan Heathcock wear?
B.) What will be on Rob Kaplan’s T-shirt?
C.) What name will they give to today’s stew?

All other questions anticipated and answered by the genius and in-depth daily reporting of The Crumb!

Another scoop for The Crumb!

Poet Laureate Philip Levine and Ross White, getting another scoop for The Crumb.

Amy Schriebman Walter every day in the Apple Cellar writing poetry.

One Minute in Heaven: General Contributors read from the hallowed podium … to ourselves.

(Thank you to Ru Freeman, Nicholas Boggs, and the 3 others who attended.)

Slice of Heaven: Courtney Maum’s Missed Opportunity.

Miss, missing that mountain air.

Best late-night antics and stamina: Richard Bausch tied with the waiters. Ok, the waiters really took this category, but the indomitable Bausch gave them a run for their money.

Bestest and Most Wonderful Presence (even when he wasn’t there): Tim Manley!

Michael Collier dancing on the table at the barn dance … got it on film.

Somehow all were unscathed after the body-slamming mosh fest during Smells Like Teen Spirit.

Top complaint on the feedback forms: “There should always be bacon the morning after a barn dance.”

Wishing I could hit replay and do it all over again.

Just like I’m replaying all the Bread Loaf lectures and readings on iTunes.

“What a remarkable time in literary Brigadoon.” Sharon Gelman.

Barely the tip of the iceberg. I know I missed a lot. A laptop conked me on the head during the shuttle up to Bread Loaf, so my own fugue state was also a semi-concussed one.

Does anyone else still hear that bell ringing?


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Apologies for the radio silence but I have been on a mountaintop in Vermont since last Wednesday, attending the 86th annual Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.  The irony of a writers’ conference is that there is precious little time for actually writing, and pretty much no time for blogging.  We participate in workshop, sharing our work, and each day there are a series of craft classes. Today, I am looking forward to Richard Bausch’s class, “Failing the Art of Exposition.”

And then there’s reading … and readings! From 4pm to about 10 pm each day, there are so many wonderful readings in fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. There are too many luminaries for me to enumerate here.  But here’s a list of this year’s faculty and guests. All of these readings are being made available on iTunes–here is the link to Bread Loaf on iTunes.

To get an idea of the hectic schedule, check out today’s edition of Bread Loaf’s daily paper, The Crumb.

Then of course, everyone being writers, things carry well into the evening, er I should clarify morning, hours. Thankfully, coffee is available all day, strategically stationed around the campus. I have been mainlining it.

To get a sense of the goings on, check out the Bread Loaf feed on Twitter:  #blwc11.

Bread Loaf Writers Conference Official Site

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There’s no money in poetry, but then there’s no poetry in money either.
—Robert Graves

Not to quibble with one of the most prolific poets and authors of the 20th century, but money, and more precisely the lack of it, has for centuries played an immense role in literature. Just as the deficit continues to plague our nation, such obligations have been a driving force in many of our favorite books, from the many “dettes” owed in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales to the gritty poverty of Angela’s Ashes.

There’s the infamous stolen loaf of bread that Jean Valjean paid for with his misfortunes over and over again in Les Misérables. The money Lily Bart accepts from Gus Trenor drags down her social status in House of Mirth. Of course, debt and penury are recurring themes in Charles Dickens’s many works. And perhaps more topical, there’s the giant credit card balance rung up by clueless Becky Bloomwood in Confessions of a Shopaholic.

Now, I don’t want to get too caught up with literature and debt.  After all, as Henry David Thoreau said:

Books are the treasured wealth of the world
and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.

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Two weeks ago, a 68-page fragment of Jane Austen’s unfinished novel, The Watsons, sold at auction for $1.6 million dollars.

This might seem rather spendy, especially in these gloomy economic times, but not to those of us who have known the anguish—the pain—of unfinished Jane.

Most readers are familiar with the angst that sets in when you finish the last book of a favorite author. Even that does not compare with the agony of getting deep into such a book, only to be left hanging when it has no end.

Margaret Drabble described The Watsons as “a tantalizing, delightful and highly accomplished fragment, which must surely have proved the equal of her other six novels, had she finished it.” Tantalizing indeed.

The Watsons starts off deliciously with a neighborhood ball, a description of an agreeable “young man of very good fortune,” and an immediate rivalry among the unmarried Watson sisters. But just as the story really gets going—spoiler alert—the words end. In an attempt to ease the pain, I plunged into Austen’s other fragment, Sanditon, only to find I had instead poured salt on the wound. More than disappointment, I felt abandonment and despair.

I burned myself again with Leaving Cold Sassy, after having connected so deeply with its predecessor Cold Sassy Tree. I hadn’t bothered to read the cover blurb explaining that Olive Ann Burns died of cancer while writing it. After a buildup of 15 chapters and some 200 pages, Will Tweedy’s story ended, midstream.

The author’s notes, in these cases, do little to ease the pain. Finding out what happened is never the same as reading the novel. This is most heartbreakingly demonstrated in Irène Némirovsky’s lush masterpiece, Suite Française. Our final vignette is of an ephemeral July afternoon, Némirovsky sitting outside “on [her] blue cardigan in the middle of an ocean of leaves,” writing notes as bees buzz around her. Two days later, the Nazis carted her off to Auschwitz. Her story, and that of the characters with whom she was so preoccupied, abruptly cut off.

Albert Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I know, at some point, I will reach once more for these works. No pain, no gain, … and not enough Jane.

Jane Austen’s Earliest Surviving Manuscript The Watsons Sells for $1.6MM

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As a Borders bookseller from 2006 until our store closed in April, I would like to respond to your last post Caveat Emptor: Skip the Borders Fire ‘Sale’.

You quote articles that say the Borders’ liquidation is “not that good of a deal” and that “some of Borders’ prices have even gone up.” These articles fail to take into account how liquidation works. Book prices are set by the publisher and printed on the cover. However, Borders discounts no longer apply. A bestseller may have been up to 40% off while Borders was still in control of the pricing matrix, but under liquidators, books are discounted by category. These prices continue to drop by about 10% each week, so that remaining books are 80-90% off during the final week. Those who choose to shop the Borders liquidation within its first weeks are essentially paying a premium for access to the more popular titles that will not last two months of discounts.

You also argue that shopping Borders sales will not help the employees, but in fact it can help them.  While we never work on commission and do not get a percentage of the store’s sales, employees can get extra hours if a closing store is consistently busy. I was able to pick up extra shifts as our liquidator green-lighted more payroll. Those padded paychecks helped tide me over until unemployment benefits kicked in.

Sadly, a bookstore in liquidation is no longer a place to sit for hours over coffee. The liquidator cannot pay for café perishables to be shipped to a closing store.  Expect seating areas and restrooms also to be closed in most Borders. The change in atmosphere is depressing for customers and staff alike, but a necessary part of the wind-down.

Your final advice, to seek out other local bookstores to support, I agree with wholeheartedly. As John Connolly, one of my favorite authors (who I have been lucky enough to get to know through my work as a bookseller), has said repeatedly, “Buy books locally – or you will not be able to do so for much longer.” Make sure to visit the bricks-and-mortar stores of your choice, whether independent, used, or chain.  I am grateful for booksellers of every stripe in my community. Last week, I attended a signing at an independent store less than two miles from the Borders where I worked. The sales clerk told me, “We never saw you as the enemy. Amazon is the enemy.” While some independents may be glad to lose the competition, most that I have talked with are simply sad to see another book outlet disappear.

If you do shop the Borders liquidation, either now or when the discounts get steeper, please be gentle to any remaining books and employees.  We are all very sorry to see this chapter of our lives ending, but would be glad to have you in our stores one last time.


Booksellers Without Borders  (We are the Remaindered)
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Book reviews, author interviews, and a reading
community from former Borders booksellers

Ghosts of Borders Past: Photo Tribute to Borders

Read Caveat Emptor: Skip the Borders Fire Sale

Read Borders, We Will Miss You

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