Archive for July, 2010

This summer has been fantastic so far, mostly because Boyfriend and I have been able to visit bookstores all over the place. When we went from Seattle to San Francisco, we plotted our stops based on proximity to certain bookstores. Being in all these wonderful places (and reading a recent list of some of the best bookstores in the nation) made me think I should make my own list. Because I really, really like books. And I really, really love being in a bookstore. Without thinking about it too much over the years, I’ve somehow come up with this whole philosophy on what makes a wonderful bookstore. There’s lots of subjectivity involved here: for instance, I do not enjoy The Strand in New York. Feeling packed in like a sardine among infinite stacks of books under grim fluorescent lights is not my idea of pleasant. No, a good bookstore in my opinion is a sort of lovely space between your home and books and mind, and another’s; there’s peace and recognition, excitement, shabby old books that break your heart, chatty and spacey owners who love their books like the sleepy dogs at their feet. Here are the ones I love most, and a few extra things.

Honorable Mentions

*Cellar Stories 111 Mathewson St., Providence, RI

Providence is a sorta darling town, or at least that’s my impression from driving through it every now and again. I like this place, though it does tend to be daunting when I’m either loaded down with new books on my way back South, or about to be loaded down with new books. But I’m drawn in nonetheless.

*Kramerbooks 1517 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington DC

I’ve grown up with Kramer Books, and I still have a lot of love for this place. I’m no longer young and unemployed or working odd hours, and so going in there around six to look at books and have some wine is sort of terrifying for me. But it will always be wonderful to wander in here after midnight in September, have some pie, and wander off again with three or four new books.

*The Globe Corner Bookstore 90 Mt. Auburn St., Cambridge, MA

I love everything about this place. Browsing an entire bookshelf dedicated to Afghanistan? Finding my dearly loved Blue is the Colour of Heaven on the shelf? The Afghan Amulet? The Way of the World? If you like to look at dreamy, gorgeous cookbooks, or obscure books on the Middle East, Central Asia, Bolivia, Berlin, Cairo; really, anywhere in the world: this is the place. Expensive, but well-worth it, and the staff has always been super nice.

10. Powell’s Books 1005 W Burnside, Portland, OR

I can see the arguments for placing Powell’s higher on this list. And I admit, it’s something. Powell’s is just this enormous, sign-filled Goliath. I followed Blue Signs, and Gold Signs, and found entire shelves dedicated to Native American Literature, found one of the best science fiction stockings I’ve yet seen (though the former Book Alcove is always in my heart). The problem is just that it’s too big. It is overwhelming in a way I find cold. I like to know the people at a bookstore, to recognize them, to know these particular owners are passionate about Mid-Western cookbooks and bird-watching. Powell’s, on the other hand, takes up city blocks. It’s here for it’s fantastic, incredible selection that truly blew me away. It’s number ten though, because I need more than that.

9. East Village Books 99 St. Mark’s Place, New York, NY

East Village has maybe 1/1000 of Powell’s selection, but what they have is pretty impeccable. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat down in there and picked up a book I was utterly unfamiliar with, bought it, and fallen in love with it. Most recently I got all gooey over The Dud Avocado. But it happens all the time. Maybe I love it because it feels so intimate and low-key after I get dragged to The Strand. I’m sure there are cheaper bookstores with broader selections in New York, but this is the one I know best, and I’m glad of it.

8. Octavia Books 513 Octavia St., New Orleans, LA

One of our roommates in New Orleans complained to us about how no one in that city likes to read, which drove me crazy because that is so not true. People in New Orleans do everything overblown, and of course they do some things like drinking and porching more than others. But they also produce incredible literature. Note the italics: incredible. Not only has New Orleans and the rest of the South produced some of the finest writers in the United States, but New Orleans also happens to have some charming bookstores. There’s a lovely shop in the Quarter owned by a former lawyer who scours the country for books. It’s hideously expensive, but I still frequent it just to sort of breathe the air.  There’s some terrific used bookstores as well (I recommend McKeown’s); but my heart belongs to Octavia. The sunlight! The bakery next door! The fine Southern Literature section! The cookbooks! The history and political science books! Whoever selects the books for Octavia is doing an incredible job.

7. City Lights 261 Columbus Ave., San Francisco CA

City Lights is airy and lovely just like San Francisco. What a wonderful, perfect city full of wonderful, perfect bookstores. And what wonderful, perfect books City Lights is filled with; and isn’t their poetry selection stunning, and yes, I was insanely filled with book-lust as I looked upon all of Rebecca Solnit’s essays lining the shelves, and yes the light and the sky were other-worldly. Well, la-di-da. Yeah, I’m maddeningly jealous of people who get to live near City Lights. Someone tell me about Oakland. That seems like my kind of town.

6. Normals 425 E. 31st, Baltimore, MD

A bookstore where one has to step over a dog to get to the cash register and everyone is moving slow and calm: Yes. The hours are peculiar and strict. The selection is odd and fascinating. The vinyl collection is sterling. I’ve gotten some of the most interesting books in my life from Normal’s. This little place in Baltimore is never crowded. Like Baltimore itself, it’s an overlooked gem. An afternoon at Normal’s is to browse through obscure (and I mean obscure) science fiction and fantasy, great fiction, history, an enormous record collection, and to watch the dog never move. I love that dog. I love this place. Normal’s is fantastic and over-looked, but as long as they’re getting by and doing well, that’s fine with me.



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I have been doing a lot of reading on ecology and indigenous peoples recently. It is very, very fascinating. How sad to think of all the time wasted in schools when we could have been learning how to grow things, study soil, how to fix and mend our goods, where our goods come from, how all things are connected. Instead we got a lot of computer classes, math quizzes, pep-talks about the new and intense global economy, and read lots of books by white men. What a bummer. Anytime we talked about indigenous peoples it went something like: “How sad they are all gone now. We should try to save the rainforest or something. Now let’s have a bake sale for the newspaper, drive over to the game twenty miles away tonight, and waste lots of resources!!”

Digression aside, I’ve come across all sorts of inspiring actions and movements I knew nothing about, such as the incredible International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers. They are wonderful.

Their lives and work are so phenomenal. All the bad news, the repetitive mantras of “economy, free market, deficits, Afghanistan, terrorism, security, unemployment, tea parties, filibusters…” it goes on and on and it doesn’t seem to stop. When I came across these women I felt a breath of relief for a moment. Here is something good happening. Here is something older than all of our fleeting concerns, here is something sustainable, here is something totally inspiring.

Here is the briefest of sketches: these women come from indigenous tribes, and they are the preservers of a wisdom which conflicts with much of our modern culture’s narratives. They apparently are the fulfillment of ancient prophecies among their respective peoples which speaks of the coming together of 13 grandmothers from all over the world. They speak profoundly about the loss of memory, the loss of much wisdom, about serving as guardians of the Earth, about the importance of prayer and connection to the land and our communities.

Here is their Statement of Alliance taken from their website:

WE ARE THIRTEEN INDIGENOUS GRANDMOTHERS who came together for the first time from October 11 through October 17, 2004, in Phoenicia, New York. We gathered from the four directions in the land of the people of the Iroquois Confederacy. We come here from the Amazon rainforest, the Alaskan Tundra of North America, the great forest of the American northwest, the vast plains of North America, the highlands of central America, the Black Hills of South Dakota, the mountains of Oaxaca, the desert of the American southwest, the mountains of Tibet and from the rainforest of Central Africa.

Affirming our relations with traditional medicine peoples and communities throughout the world, we have been brought together by a common vision to form a new global alliance.

We are the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers. We have united as one. Ours is an alliance of prayer, education and healing for our Mother Earth, all Her inhabitants, all the children and for the next seven generations to come.

We are deeply concerned with the unprecedented destruction of our Mother Earth, the contamination of our air, waters and soil, the atrocities of war, the global scourge of poverty, the threat of nuclear weapons and waste, the prevailing culture of materialism, the epidemics which threaten the health of the Earth’s peoples, the exploitation of indigenous medicines, and with the destruction of indigenous ways of life.

We, the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, believe that our ancestral ways of prayer, peacemaking and healing are vitally needed today. We come together to nurture, educate and train our children. We come together to uphold the practice of our ceremonies and affirm the right to use our plant medicines free of legal restriction. We come together to protect the lands where our peoples live and upon which our cultures depend, to safeguard the collective heritage of traditional medicines, and to defend the earth Herself. We believe that the teachings of our ancestors will light our way through an uncertain future.

We join with all those who honor the Creator, and to all who work and pray for our children, for world peace, and for the healing of our Mother Earth.

For all our relations.

Margaret Behan-Cheyenne-Arapahoe Rita Pitkta Blumenstein–Yup’ik  Aama Bombo–Tamang,,Nepal Julieta Casimiro-Mazatec  Flordemayo-Mayan  Maria Alice Campos Freire-Brazil Tsering Dolma Gyaltong-Tibetan  Beatrice Long Visitor Holy Dance-Oglala Lakota  Rita Long Visitor Holy Dance-Oglala Lakota Agnes Pilgrim– Takelma Siletz Mona Polacca-Hopi/ Havasupai  Clara Shinobu Iura-Brazil  Bernadette Rebienot- Omyene”

I just can’t more highly recommend reading up more about what these women are doing, where they are coming from, and what they stand for.

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Whenever I think Goldman Sachs can’t be any more sick and cruel and horrible, I’m proven wrong.

“…through the 1990s, Goldman Sachs and others lobbied hard and the regulations were abolished. Suddenly, these contracts were turned into ‘derivatives’ that could be bought and sold among traders who had nothing to do with agriculture. A market in “food speculation” was born.”

My God, what is happening in Mexico?

“Nearly 50 candidates and public figures have been assassinated in the run up to Mexico’s 2010 state elections. Former presidential candidate Diego Fernández de Cevallos, major leader of the ruling PAN party, was kidnapped on May 16 and has not been heard from since. Three days ago, Rodolfo Torre, the odds on winner for governor in the state of Tamaulipas, was murdered in a highway ambush. Torre’s murder represents the highest ranking politician of the 50 assassinations this election cycle.”

Here’s another environmental problem finally getting some attention: air conditioning. Can I just say how delightful I find Seattle to be? For a few days I can forget the horrible heatwaves in Washington DC, and enjoy this weather which is cool and normal and pleasant. They’re really just going to have to stop talking about heatwaves, by the way. Now it’s just the way the weather is, with brief respites of coolness.

Overall, I just don’t really know how I feel about the human race.

But I am in love with Seattle, and I am also sort of wild about Judith Jones and her Cooking for One blog right now. She won me at gooseberries.

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Working and Eating

I am on vacation! Which means I am working on a very serious and important post about books. It is so important! And so serious! I have had to spend lots of time collecting portraits and photographs of people with beards and bulbous foreheads.

But I also feel like I should post something, and so I will share my very awesome and good recipe for an asparagus dinner. I came up with it myself this week, and it was really fucking incredible. I made it on Monday. Then I made it on Thursday. Now it’s Friday morning, and I might have to make it again tonight.


I did not cook that asparagus. But I just want you to have a nice visual. I’m such a doll.

Asparagus with Caramelized Onions and Rice


One bunch of asparagus

One lemon

One clove garlic

One large yellow onion

Olive Oil (enough to coat pan)

Sea Salt, or some other overly-expensive salt of your choice. I like Kosher!

Rice (as much as you like)


Slice up the onion. Pour olive oil into a large frying pan, enough to coat. Cook the olive oil on medium-high heat for about 30 seconds, then add the onion. Coat it in olive oil and stir it around so it’s not all piled on top of each other, but cooking evenly. Cook it on med-high for about two minutes, then add some sea salt. After this I turn the heat down and stir it every five minutes or so. The onions should cook for at least forty minutes.

About fifteen minutes before the onions are ready to your liking, start the rice.

Clean and snap the asparagus. Steam with a few pieces of garlic for about 5-6 minutes. Not too long, though!! It should be bright and happy and super-green, and not mushy or sad. Asparagus can be very sad, it’s true.

After everything is done cooking, arrange the asparagus and rice on a plate. Squeeze some fresh lemon on both, and add any additional salt and minced garlic (not too much). Then place the onions on top.

It’s very good! Or at least, I think so, and so I should share it.

Happy almost Fourth of July!

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