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Newsletter Number 35 • Septemer 12, 2007


Sometimes I read a non-fiction book and when I finish I realize that I disagree with many of the observations and conclusions of the author, but nevertheless am very glad I read the book and think that almost everyone should read the book. Such is the case with the cult of the amateur: how today’s internet is killing our culture, by Andrew Keen. (The author and/or the publisher have elected to use no capital letters in the title.)

Keen is an interesting commentator, as he founded a dot.com company in the 90’s and hobnobs with many of the stars in Silicon Valley. The book is a “polemic” which argues the case that “today’s new participatory Web 2.0 threatens our values, economy, and ultimately the very innovation and creativity that form the fabric of American achievement.”

In a polemic the author, like a lawyer arguing his case in a trial, selects data points and argues conclusions that support his thesis, as opposed to trying to objectively examine data and/or evidence to determine objective truth or reality. This being the case, I have no argument with the style or data the author has chosen, but I do not share a majority of his observations and/or conclusions. Nevertheless, as an everyday user of the web (as almost all of us are) I think it is of the utmost importance to be aware of the issues such as privacy, theft of intellectual property, identity theft, and many other potential issues and problems that are becoming major threats to our culture and society. Keen is no Luddite, and that makes his observations and criticisms all the more compelling.

Having read this book, for the first time I understand what a “cookie” is and how it is an invasion of my privacy. Furthermore, and closer to home I realize how Amazon (and Google) are trying to become “Big Brother” and know everything about us and use it for their commercial advantage. In an effort to encourage our readers to order from our website and eschew Amazon, I will conclude this review with a quote from this book:

“This compilation of personal information is not just limited to the Internet search engines. On August 10, 2006, four days after AOL’s release of its search queries, the Internet retail giant Amazon.com lodged a request with the United States Patent and Trademark Office to patent ‘a system to gather and keep massive amounts of intimate information about its millions of shoppers.’ This ‘system’ is designed to compile the most intimate economic, ethnic, sexual, and religious information about Amazon shoppers. Amazon not only wants to own our online shopping experience, they want to own the online shopper—turning each of us into another data point within an infinite database of e-commerce intentions.”

This is an important book and I really believe we all need to read it in order to become more informed about what is happening on the Internet, and how and why it may be giving birth to significant risks to our way of life and many of our cherished institutions.

The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss is one of the most unique and enjoyable novels I have read in the last few months. I give the author credit for having an incredible imagination in devising a very unique plot and then doing a fantastic job of writing to bring to life a cast of very compelling characters from different countries, cultures, and ages.

The book is really quite unique. The author has great talent. The book contains humor, pathos, and everything else that makes novels worth reading. One of the reviewers I read basically caught the essence of this book in a single word “captivating”.

The characters in this book range from old men born in Poland before WWII to a young brother and sister living in New York. I found each character fascinating and the weaving together of the story is qualified as a “tour de force”.

This is the kind of book I would never have looked at, let alone read, were it not for Tony’s assistance. Tony remains an incredible resource and I urge our local customers to allow him to make suggestions and our out of town customers to give him an occasional call to see what he is reading and recommending.

“One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic.” Josef Stalin

I have never met a single person who did not like The Kite Runner. (If you have never read it you have a real treat in store for yourself.) The author, Khaled Hosseini has now published his second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns. Set in Afghanistan, covering about a 50 year period, this novel weaves together the lives of very intriguing characters within the context of the horrific history of wars, revolutions, and the excruciating examples of man’s inhumanity to man, and even more so to woman.

Hosseini is a masterful storyteller, and I found the book very difficult to put down, even though, at times, it was very painful to share the suffering of the main characters. One cannot help but be moved by the accounts of love, hate, family relationships, loss, and the triumph of the human spirit. Quite frankly, I did not think this book was as good as The Kite Runner, but that is like saying that Lou Gehrig was not as good as Babe Ruth. In fact, A Thousand Splendid Suns is among the best fiction written in recent years, and your only choice is do you rush out to buy it hardbound or do you wait for the paperback. (We offer 20% of the list price for the hardbound edition.)

While reading this book I kept thinking of the observation by Stalin, quoted above. I remember my reaction to the notice of deaths from Vietnam, the Middle East, Darfur, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. Often the death tolls did not affect my heart, simply because they were merely statistics. When I read a novel like this, my heart is opened and my tear ducts are activated, because the tragedy is to the individual and not just an abstract number. I think this is a very good thing. This is a wonderful book! I am envious of you who have not yet read this book, and can look forward to the pleasure of reading it.

By the way, one of my favorite non-fiction books of the last 10 years, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, is now available in paperback. Many friends who have read this book thanked me for the recommendation.

Len Oppenheim

Now a recommendation from my wife Dena…

Hot Leads ... Cold Shoulders, The Essential Guide for Men Who Sell to Women (Hardcover)
By Robin Craig & Norma Ory

One of my fellow Rotarians in Arizona co-authored Hot Leads...Cold Shoulders, a guide for men doing business with women. This book is excellent reading for any man to help him be better prepared in his dealings with women, be it in professional or social settings. This sentence from their Introduction nails just why reading this book will benefit any man (and, I dare say some younger women): “Each time you interact with a coworker, someone in upper management, or a supplier, they’re deciding whether or not they want to work with you.”

Robin and Norma deal with things that I am sure every woman has wanted to tell a man – but felt it too personal. I found the book fascinating and think most women reading this book will think of several men she wishes HAD read it! Every young man coming out of high school or college would be well served to read (and keep handy to re-read) this book and take the advice of these two women. No matter how perfect a resume, the job may go to the young man who read and followed this book’s advice. (Great graduation gift.)

The authors are partners in Package You, a Scottsdale, Arizona consulting firm dedicated to creating great first and lasting impressions. This book is a result of their survey, their previous years in executive positions, as well as information gathered from consulting to businesses, and conducting seminars and workshops.

There is a whole chapter on “In a World of Words, the “Eyes” Have it,” which deals with how to make meaningful eye contact, listen with your eyes, maintain eye contact, and what where NOT to look. Throughout the book examples are given. In this chapter they discuss behavior such as looking out the window, looking at someone else in the room, staring at her below the face (no matter what she is wearing) and how each of these actions diminishes your success with this woman.

The book jacket states that “Women are expected to control 60 percent of the country’s wealth by 2010, according to Business Week and Gallup. If your professional success depends on selling to or conducting business with women you must read this book!”

Most of the time I only read fiction and leave the non-fiction to Len, but knowing Robin, I wanted to read the book. It is a wonderful handbook. Now, if someone would just write a book about Courteous Driving....

Hope you all enjoy a wonderful end of summer!


Your turn, Tony…

A Lovely, serene, deeply spiritual book that deserves to be a classic,

Stoner by John Williams, written in 1965 tells the life story of a Professor of English. The novel takes place in the early part of the 20th Century.

The writing is such that one goes back and rereads passages. This is a tremendous achievement and should be read by any lover of great fiction. I seldom fall in love with a book, but I did with this one. The simplicity of the writing is deceiving for in the words lies much about the truth of human nature and circumstances of individual lives. A simple story of a man’s life from poor farmer to educated professor of literature, in the end is a story of all our lives; a story of you and me. How our daily efforts one day all end in silence, a silence not affected in the least by the activity and effort we put forth. What we perceive as our failures are but yarn that make up the beautiful patchwork of our lives.

Unless one is adept at words, one can take away from the experience of a work of art.

So my descriptive attempts of this book do not do it justice. All I can add is that one must read this book and experience the beauty of this work or art. This is a Five-Star Book!

Warning.. do not read the introduction to Stoner before reading the book…it contains many spoilers.

If you have problems with your back... you may be interested in a new book we received from India: Yoga for Backache by Carrmine Ireene is filled with asanas to help relieve the suffering of back pain.

Speaking of Asanas, the best book we have found in our 25 years of bookselling on that subject is Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha, by Swami Satyananda Saraswati. “This comprehensive text provides clear illustrations, step by step directions, and details of chakra awareness. It guides the practitioner or teacher from the simplest to the most advanced practices of Hatha Yoga system. A therapeutic index is provided for doctors and Astanga Yoga therapists/practitioners, incorporating recent information from research into Astanga Yoga. This edition successfully brings the exposition of Astanga Yoga practices to the standard of a university text.” It is a wonderful book whether you have specific health issues or just wish to maintain general health.

If you enjoyed Kali’s Odiyya (see review August 2007 newsletter) you may be interested in Amarananda Bhairavan’s latest book: Medicine of Light: A Shaman’s Journey through Mystic Space-Time. “This exciting story contains information about incarnation, karma, the subtle body and the “cosmology” of consciousness. More than a New Age novel, Medicine of Light will make you want to read it in one sitting and come back again and again for its valuable teachings in consciousness.”

The History of Love was loaned to me by a good customer and fellow book lover.

I thank her for this treasure. The book was beautiful, enchanting and happy as well as sad.

You will not be disappointed in this beautiful story of love, loneliness, and the power of the mind to create for us livable situations to continue our journey through life.

Remember those boxes... You started with a large box... You opened it and inside was a smaller box... You opened the smaller box and yet another smaller box... Well reverse the process and that is basically the book/publishing business of 2007. Soon there will be just one big box.

When I began selling books in the early 1980’s there were many publishers... Today there are only a few and the number is growing smaller. Independent book stores were thriving... now many have gone from” hopefully next year” to going out of business sales… More and more our choices are narrowed and what we read is decided by fewer.

What is being published is now being controlled by a smaller and smaller few and whether a book is published at all in increasing frequency depends on the mainstream marketability of the title.

Author Barbara Kingsolver talks about how she was not on any corporate bookstores radar and it was small independents that hand sold her first book, and it made her the well know author she is today.

John Grisham’s first novel was sold from the back of his car bookstore to bookstore. An independent store saw the potential and sold it with a passion.

Without independents and the choices they offer, there may have not been another novel by Barbara Kingsolver or John Grisham.

Corporate stores rent space on their prominent front tables. Books are placed there that can afford the rent... The corporates keep track of your interests and sell your personal likes to other corporations.

Independents put their favorite and noteworthy titles on their front tables... and then hand sell with passion. We keep all personal information as private as a priest in a confessional.

Independents have gone so far as to challenge the federal government, when personal information of customers was demanded.

The books that have meant the most to me as well as many of our customers are books that are rare to the shelves of corporate stores front tables.

Independents bring greater choice to the book reader and that unknown quirky book becomes the one that changes our life… the one that is born through the love and union of bookstore managers who are passionate and their customers who are guided down unknown roads they did not know existed.

Let’s start reassembling those little boxes. Who knows you may find a diamond hidden inside.


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