Saturday, August 23, 2008

Baby Sparrow Terrorizes Bookstore

So yesterday I'm busy pricing up a stack of books at the helm of Old Saratoga Books when I register the sound of squawking birds in the background. I thought it was just a territorial dispute between a couple of birds, but then I saw a dark grey blob skulk past the counter and it was my hunter cat, Sam, normally a sedentary lover cat, with a baby sparrow in his chops.

I somehow got to him before the poor fledgling was harmed, but I was not left unscathed for my maternal pains. Sam scratched and bit and wanted to keep after his bird toy as I dragged his twisting carcass off to a basement quarantine. Of course, when I got back to scoop up the birdling it had hopped off to one of about 1,000 possible hiding places in our bookshop. I spent the better part of two hours whistling and dusting and trying to find my new pet, while Sam yodeled indignantly from below. There were no peeps, no trails of white bird doo-doo, nothing.

It was only after I gave up the hunt and was back to my bookish chores, stooping to throw out something in my wastebasket that the vicious sparrow baby popped its head up and scared me to death. Sam was snoozing away again, so he didn't see me chase after the surprisingly hot little scamp, still sporting a smattering of grey down. I grabbed it and placed him/her on a sidewalk tree branch. Happily, a mamma sparrow showed up within an hour of mournful cheeping by my baby bird friend and she kept up with bug feedings until closing.

Just another day at the old bookshop. Today Sam sulked and wouldn't come onto the counter where he normally craves my company during business hours.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Spencertown Book Festival

Russell Banks, a wonderful author of interesting and often tragic books about the Northeast will be headlining an interesting literary week in the Columbia County village of Spencertown next month. Details below. Do yourself a treat, though, and read his novel "Rule of the Bone" even if you can't attend this event.


CONTACT: Mary Anne Lee, Spencertown Academy, 518-392-3693


SPENCERTOWN, NY – This year's Festival of Books at Spencertown Academy Arts Center in Columbia County, NY, promises plenty to interest bibliophiles, with more than 10,000 books for purchase and appearances by more than a dozen acclaimed authors including Russell Banks and Mary Gordon.

During the first weekend of the Festival, the programming centers on the timely topic of immigration. On Saturday, Sept. 6, a panel of guest authors will explore the immigrant experience as revealed through personal memoir. Da Chen's candid memoirs explore his childhood growing up in communist China; Rutgers University professor Rigoberto Gonzalez wrote about his coming out and coming-of-age as a member of a Mexican migrant worker family in the United States; and documentary filmmaker Sadia Shepard wrote of her experience exploring the tiny Jewish community in India where her grandmother grew up.

On Sunday, Sept. 7, the discussion turns to the immigrant experience in post 9/11 America. Panelists include Ariel Sabar, a journalist for the Christian Science Monitor and author of a forthcoming book exploring his family's roots in Kurdish Iraq; Margaret Talbot, a fellow at the New American Foundation and staff writer for The New Yorker; and Carl Strock, an editorial columnist for the Schenectady Gazette. Also on the panel is Steve Downes, an Albany attorney who worked with Albany ImamYassin Aref to publish his memoir, "Son of Mountains," detailing his journey from Kurdistan as a UN refugee to his imprisonment on terrorism charges.

The second weekend of the Festival brings a line-up of distinguished authors, beginning with the award-winning writers Russell Banks and Mary Gordon on Saturday, and an impressive line-up of local authors on Sunday including Shelia Weller, Rebecca Flowers, Elizabeth Hess, Julia Pomeroy, Alan Gelb, David Rubel and Lucia Nevai.

Both Saturday mornings will feature a children's book breakfast with appearances by everybody's favorite crimson canine, Clifford the Big Red Dog, plus children's book authors, story time and arts and crafts. The children's event begins at 9 a.m. on Sept. 5 and 12.

The festival will be held at Spencertown Academy over two weekends: September 5-7 and September 12-14. Admission to the Festival of Books, including all author readings, panel discussions, and children's events, is free. The opening night preview party on Friday, Sept. 5 from 6-8 p.m., featuring wine and hors d'oeuvres, costs $25; those who attend will have "first pick" of this year's book offerings. Tickets for the Harvest Dinner on Saturday, Sept. 13 at 6 p.m., which honors the distinguished authors participating in the festival and features Columbia County local food, are $125.

Now in its third year, the Festival of Books has grown from a sale of donated, high-quality books (donated collections have included books on filmmaking and cinema and an entire library from a NYC estate) into a premiere literary event.

"In a few short years this event has grown into a significant regional literary festival, and it keeps getting better, as evidenced by this year's roster of acclaimed authors," said Mary Ann Lee, director of Spencertown Academy. "Many people are attracted by the size and quality of our book sale. Because this is a community of readers and book lovers, the Festival has a wide variety of top-notch offerings."

The Festival schedule: Preview Party Friday Sept. 5, 6-8 p.m.; $25 admission; Saturday, Sept. 6, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday, Sept. 7, 12-5 p.m.; Friday, Sept. 12, 9-5 p.m.; Saturday, Sept. 13, 9 a.m.- 5 p.m.; Sunday, Sept.14, 12 – 5 p.m., all books half price.

Spencertown Academy is located on Route 203 in Spencertown, NY, about halfway between Route 22 and the Chatham/Spencertown exit on the Taconic Parkway. For more information and updated schedule, call 518-392-3692 or visit website .

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Book Review: Murder on the Leviathan by Boris Akunin

Another good book has been read and savored on my Orbis Terrarum Reading Challenge list (9 books by 9 authors from 9 different countries), in which I endeavor to make my bedside book pile more worldly. I read Georgian-born Muscovite author Boris Akunin's "Murder on the Leviathan" (NY: Random House, 2004), a charming murder mystery set on a luxury ocean liner in 1878. While I had picked the book thinking that there was going to be more insight into Russian culture, this instead provided an old-fashioned locked room mystery puzzle peopled with characters straight out of the Clue board game: stuttering Russian diplomat Erast Fandorin; a pompous French policeman, Commissioner Gauche; a half-mad, ginger-haired English aristocrat, Sir Reginald Milford-Stokes; the Italian Ship's Physician, Dr. Truffo; a outwardly calm but inwardly passionate Japanese nobleman, Gintaro Aono; a pregnant Swiss banker's wife, Renate Kleber; and a middle-aged English lady, Clarissa Stamp, who has recently come into a bit of money.

Commissioner Gauche is aboard the Leviathan steamship on its maiden voyage, bound for Calcutta, India, in search of a mass murderer. Back in Paris, an eccentric collector of Indian antiquities, Lord Littleby, was found bludgeoned next to a shattered display case missing a gold statuette of the god Shiva and painted Indian shawl. Downstairs in the kitchen of his mansion, nine of his servants, including two children, are found poisoned and are slumped in their seats at the table. The only clue Gauche finds at the crime scene is a whale-shaped golden key, which turns out to be a ticket for luxury accommodations on the Leviathan.

The writing is well-paced and the characters are interesting and have their inner ruminations fleshed-out in chapters written from each of their perspectives. A great deal of wit shines through. In this passage, written from Commissioner Gauche's perspective, he comments on the undercurrents of a literary conversation among the suspects:
"The commissioner noted that the person who evinced the liveliest reaction was Miss Clarissa Stamp, the old maid, who started babbling about artists, the theater, and literature. Gauche himself was fond of passing his leisure hours in an armchair with a good book, preferring Victor Hugo to all other authors. Hugo was at once so true to life, so high-minded, that he could always bring a tear to the eye. Besides, he was marvelous for dozing off over. But of course Gauche had never even heard of these Russian writers with those hissing sibilants in their names, so he was unable to join in the conversation. Anyway, the old English trout was wasting her time; "M. Fandorine" was far too young for her."
An old English trout! Indeed.

Similarly, in other chapters written by other suspects we get snarky references to the "amoeba-like" Mrs. Truffo, Anglo-French nationalist rivalry, and Aono's seething rages over daily faux pas committed by his red-haired barbarian shipmates and the completely the reverse, European and American astonishment that Aono would be clad in only a loincloth doing martial arts moves and meditating on the upper deck. Overall, a wonderful mystery novel with all of the elements in place for a mental escape to another time and place: interesting characters, humor, an intricate plot and wonderful atmosphere.

Recomended for lovers of classic British-y and literary mysteries, devotees of historical fiction and anyone interested in Indian folklore and legend.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Book Trout as Art Patron

There's nothing that warms the heart of the Book Trout more at the shop than an interesting book quest. I love hunting down books for customers from a few remembered clues ("It had a blue cover and there's something about a dog in the title") or saving a college student a boatload of money by tracking down economical copies of books from an arm-length reading list.

Even more fun is trawling the shelves for unusual requests, such as the other day when Troy Artist/Curator/RPI Professor Michael Oatman came into the shop seeking older science, solar power and space travel books for a project which is being commissioned by MassMoCA, our family's favorite local museum. If understood the scheme correctly, Oatman is designing a rocket ship or airplane that has done some time travel and will be carrying an onboard library of vintage science and technology books that museum visitors will be able to handle and leaf through in the final exhibition. Oatman picked up a couple of boxes of interesting books with cool retro jacket art and illustrations, and amusingly dated titles. I am on the lookout for other books that fit this particular criteria to collect for him and cannot wait to take my daughters over to MassMoca next year(?) to check out the finished installation. Maybe they will think having parents as used bookstore owners is not so uncool after all.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

August Book Giveaway

Each month the Book Trout swims through the shelves at Old Saratoga Books to select a free book for one of our bloggy readers. Last month I selected Timothy Lewontin's "Parson's Mill", his account of his apprenticeship as a sawyer at a Vermont sawmill, as our free book giveaway selection and am happy to announce that Evenlake is the winner. Congratulations Evenlake!

For the August book giveaway, the Book Trout is offering a hardcover copy of the late Susan Sontag's novel, "The Volcano Lover" (NY: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1992). Known more for her essays and erudite, philosophical prose, this novel was a surprise bestseller for Sontag. It is based on the lives of Lord Horatio Nelson, Emma Hamilton, and her husband, Sir William Hamilton. As the dust jacket notes "The Volcano Lover is about revolution, the fate of nature, the condition of women, operatic emotions and stories from Don Giovanni to Tosca, art and the collector's obsessions, and, above all, love". If you like passionate and interesting literary fiction, a la Umberto Eco, I think you will like this book.

To enter the book giveaway, simply leave a comment below by midnight of August 31st, Eastern Standard Time, and the winner will be randomly selected from the participants. Good luck to all.