Writer’s Desk: Don’t Limit Yourself

Best known for his titanic five-novels-in-one omnibus 2666, Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño was prolific enough that even after his death in 2003, his bibliography continues to grow.

In “Advice on the Art of Writing Short Stories,” he suggested one reason for that prodigious output. Never stick to just one piece at a time:

Never approach short stories one at a time. If one approaches short stories one at a time, one can quite honestly be writing the same short story until the day one dies.

Of course, Bolaño also warns to be careful:

The temptation to write short stories two at a time is just as dangerous as attempting to write them one at a time.

But it seems clear which approach he followed.

Reader’s Corner: Sometimes You Need that New Louise Erdrich Book

Novelist Ann Patchett wrote in The Guardian about what it’s like at the bookstore she co-operates in Nashville after closing the doors but trying to do their best keeping up with orders:

I understand now that we’re a part of our community as never before, and that our community is the world. When a friend of mine, stuck in his tiny New York apartment, told me he dreamed of being able to read the new Louise Erdrich book, I made that dream come true. I can solve nothing, I can save no one, but dammit, I can mail Patrick a copy of The Night Watchman.

Reader’s Corner: Keep City Lights Open

A lot of businesses are closing down during the shelter-in-place order. Among them is San Francisco’s storied City Lights Bookstore. Very simply put, it’s one of the finest book emporiums in the country, if not the world. It’s hard enough keeping a low-margin indie store open in the Bay Area these days, much less post-pandemic. They need help in order to get back in business once the state gives the OK.

A GoFundMe page has already raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. Throw a few bucks in.

You can also buy books from them via Bookshop. Check out some of the offerings from their decades-old publishing line, particularly the Pocket Poets Series titles like Ginsberg’s Howl or O’Hara’s Lunch Poems.

Reader’s Corner: Defend Your Bookstore

I hate London Nazis.

This past weekend was business as usual at Bookmarks, Britain’s “largest socialist bookshop.” Then the fascists showed up.

According to The Guardian, “the store was attacked by far-right protesters wearing masks who wrecked displays and ripped up books and magazines.”


The campaign group Stand Up To Racism, speaking on behalf of Bookmarks, said some of the attackers carried placards reading “British Bolshevik Cult” and that one of those involved wore a Donald Trump mask.

Nobody was hurt. This time.

Per Shelf Awareness, “The store will host a free, open-to-the-public ‘solidarity event’ next Saturday, with several authors slated to appear.” Anybody who is in or nearby London, loves books and free discourse, and hates Nazis would be well-served to stop by and show support.

Reader’s Corner: Afghanistan Book Business Booms

Only two out of five Afghans can read. But those who can are snapping up as many books as they can. In a country where foreign aid budgets and cheap imports have destroyed many local businesses, publishing is flourishing. Kabul alone has at least 60 bookstores and close to two dozen publishers (up from a mere two during the Taliban years).

Per the Times recent dispatch from the frontlines of Afghan bookselling:

In a turbulent, troubled society, curling up with a book has become the best tonic around.

“I think in any environment, but perhaps especially places at war, book reading creates a pause from day-to-day life and isolates a reader from their surroundings while they’re buried in a book,” said Jamshid Hashimi, who runs an online library and is a co-founder of the Book Club of Afghanistan. “This is powerful anywhere, but in a place like Afghanistan, it can be a means of emotional survival.”

Interestingly, many recent bestsellers have been Afghan translations of books by Westerners about Afghanistan, such as Steve Coll’s Ghost Wars and The Envoy, Zalmay Khalizad’s memoir about serving as American ambassador in Kabul.

Writer’s Desk: Take the Train

Among the books listed for the Man Booker Prize 2017 were familiar names like Arundhati Roy, George Saunders, Colson Whitehead, and Zadie Smith.

New to the list was Fiona Mozley, a 29-year-old bookseller from York whose debut novel, Elmet, hasn’t even been published yet. According to her editor, Mozley wrote the story while commuting on the train.

To be longlisted is an impressive achievement for anyone but for a debut author who wrote Elmet while travelling up and down to London from York on the train is just amazing.

This might be tricky if you take the New York subway to work (fewer seats, after all), unless you’re one of those dictating writers.

Reader’s Corner: Go Shopping

We know that money doesn’t buy happiness. Yet, sometimes shopping does make people feel better; or at least they think it does. So here’s the question, can buying something in particular make you happier than something else?

A study published last year in Psychological Science tried this experiment:

They gave vouchers to extraverts and introverts to either buy a drink or a book. Along the way, participants repeatedly completed a measure of positive and negative mood so that the researchers could study deviations from the mood baseline. The results showed that introverts who had bought books enjoyed mood lifts.

Easy. Feeling down? Go to the bookstore.

Weekend Reading: November 11, 2016



Weekend Reading: March 11, 2016


Screening Room: ‘All Things Must Pass’


In 1999, Tower Records had $1 billion in revenue. They were bankrupt by 2006.

All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records is playing now in limited release. My review is at PopMatters:

Nobody who ever went into the original batch of Tower Records outlets in California ever said, “What a beautiful space.” In that way, they were axiomatic of the greatest record stores, which understood space pragmatically, slapping up some posters and cardboard displays, but otherwise committing to the mission. That was, of course, to sell records. This dedication is one way record stores were different from bookstores, which usually tried to give their customers a slapdash kind of ambiance: a few sprung couches, a little café, maybe a calico cat curling around your legs while you browsed in Fiction, A–H…

Here’s the trailer:

Weekend Reading: September 18, 2015


Reader’s Corner: Run this Bookstore

Wigtown (Shaun Bythell)
Wigtown, book town (Shaun Bythell)

Hey, wanna run a bookstore? If you can get yourself over to Wigtown in beautiful, not-independent Scotland, they’re giving away the chance to learn all the ins and outs of the trade. According to The Bookseller:

The Open Book project will invite interested parties to apply to live in and run a local bookshop, renamed The Open Book, for a period of up to six weeks. Anyone is invited to apply, with preference given to artists, writers, thinkers, and “bibliophiles”. Participants will be given a crash course in bookselling and will be asked to contribute to a blog outlining their experiences, as well as keeping the shop open for a set number of hours a week.

Check it out. Wigtown (it’s Scotland’s National Book Town, don’t you know) is on the western shore, looks remote and positively gorgeous. You’ll get a lot of reading done and perhaps learn why booksellers are both frequently grumpy and at the same time highly content with their lives.