Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Book of Thanks

I had a disagreement this week with a fellow bookseller about whether I could use “meditative” to describe books, and if I did, would that talk someone into reading it? I was trying to describe that feeling I get when I read a work of transformative literature, whether fiction or nonfiction, that inspires me to be a better person. It’s both inspiring and empowering. Perhaps I’ll call it the Three Cups of Tea syndrome. I think Eat Pray Love would be another, particularly the “pray” part.

Narrative nonfiction has flagged a bit this year, with Tea and Eat continuing to sell, but no titles in the genre breaking out at the same level. I think the biggest success we are having is with The Zookeeper’s Wife, that wonderful book by Diane Ackerman about the Jews who were sheltered during the Holocaust at the Warsaw Zoo. Another book that has definitely had legs that spoke to the “eat” part of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book is The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry, the adventures of Kathleen Flinn at Le Cordon Bleu cooking school.

Both books had good reviews, wonderful reads from booksellers, and now strong word of mouth. And isn’t it odd that I can’t seemingly write anything without talking about a French book? Another aside--I keep calling Flinn's memoir "The Sharper the knife, the less you cry" and according to a certain search engine, so do a lot of other people.

The book, however, that I thought and still think has the best chance of being the next Tea Syndrome book is Kate Braestrup’s memoir Here if You Need Me. It’s Braestrup’s life as a minister to game wardens in Maine. She took up the calling after losing her husband (before his passing, he himself hoped for that ministerial post) and offers stories from the field mixed with lessons she’s learned. It’s one of those inspirational books that appeals to both believers and skeptics, perhaps because she doesn’t discuss exactly where she gets the inspiration to do the right thing. As she’s a Unitarian Universalist, she doesn’t even exactly say whether her belief system is a religion or a philosophy.

(As an aside, I must mention one of my favorite novels, Jamesland, that features a delightful Unitarian Minister as one of the protagonists. Oh, what a book!)

Out in paperback for a few months, Here if You Need Me is one of those books that got very passionate reads from our staff. I made a few of my fellow booksellers write their thoughts down:

"I found myself repeating parts of Here If You Need Me aloud to family members and co-workers. I am sure I will be pulling the book off my shelf again and again. A heart wrenching but wonderful read.”
--Nancy, a Schwartz Bookseller (marketing guru)

“You won’t forget this compelling tale of loss, survival and love.”
--Ken, another Schwartz bookseller, from Brookfield

Alas, I can’t find the other notes, but trust me, there was some passionate enthusiasm in the house.

from the Booklist review:
“A poignant, funny book by a sympathetic, likable, immensely appealing figure.”

From the starred Publishers Weekly review:
“…Good memoir writing does not depend on celebrity or adventure—who'd have thought that a self-confessed recovering neurotic like Anne Lamott or a monastically-inclined poet like Kathleen Norris would make it big?—and Braestrup's insightful essays are extraordinarily well written, mingling elements of police procedural and touching love story with trenchant observations about life and death.”

Hey. It’s all the spirit of Thanksgiving. In fact, this all only came up because Nancy asked me if I knew a good book to recommend for a Thanksgiving roundup. My other choice was A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving...with stickers!

If you finish Here if You Need Me and you aren’t grateful for something, I’ll be very surprised.

Coming next: a really special gift book you may not have seen anywhere else.

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