Tag Archives: books


Securing memories on the page would seem to be an immensely superior way of retaining knowledge compared to trying to hold it in the brain. The brain is always making mistakes, forgetting, misremembering. Writing is how we overcome those essential biological constraints. It allows our memories to be pulled out of the fallible wetware of the brain and secured on the less fallible page, where they can be made permanent and (one sometimes hopes) disseminated far, wide, and across time. Writing allows ideas to be passed across generations, without fear of the kind of natural mutation that is necessarily a part of oral traditions.

Moonwalking With Einstein

Remember this

Wasn’t that elegant. I wish I had written it.

That is a passage (and one I am warned not to quote for purposes of review) from Joshua Foer’s upcoming book, Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering. It’s from The Penguin Press and releases on March 7.

Yes, Foer’s surname is familiar. He is the younger brother of Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Everything is Illuminated. Josh, who used to call his older brother “Jonny,” was a recent college graduate living with his parents when he began this book, though it is clear from my advance reading that he is already an accomplished writer – at least of nonfiction.

Let me leave you with 2 other snippets from the book.

When St. Augustine, in the fourth century A.D., observed his teacher St. Ambrose reading to himself without moving his tongue or murmuring, he thought the unusual behavior so noteworthy as to record it in his Confessions.

Writing, you see, was once seen as no more than the best way to memorize things, and the state of inscription at the time actually required any reader to have pretty much memorized the text already. Accordingly, since most readers “performed” a piece aloud, it was practically unprecedented to imagine that anyone could understand what they were reading without at least subliminally “speaking” the words.

Need an example? GODISNOWHERE. Agree or disagree?

Want more of Foer? Check out his Website.

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The Sustained Train of Thought of One Person Speaking to Another

The Librarian of Congress, James H. Billington, weighed in recently on a Newsweek poll about the future of reading. As the administrator of the Library of Congress, Billington is uniquely situated to survey the state of the book.

While the survey included neither independent booksellers nor non-industry folk, the brief piece is worth reading. But Billington gives a compelling definition of the book.

Here’s what he had to say: The new immigrants don’t shoot the old inhabitants when they come in. One technology tends to supplement rather than supplant. How you read is not as important as: will you read? And will you read something that’s a book—the sustained train of thought of one person speaking to another? Search techniques are embedded in e-books that invite people to dabble rather than follow a full train of thought. This is part of a general cultural problem.

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How to Make a Small City Great

One of the best books of the last few years is Lords of the Sea: The Epic Story of the Athenian Navy and the Birth of Democracy, written by New Albany’s own Dr. John R. Hale. In that book, Hale introduces his history with a compelling story. Here’s a passage, lifted from lordsofthesea.org, that served as inspiration to my first run for public office.

“I cannot tune a harp or play a lyre,” said the Athenian soldier-statesman Themistocles, “but I know how to make a small city great.” His vision set Athens on a course towards greatness when Themistocles persuaded his fellow citizens to build a fleet of 200 warships known as triremes – long galleys propelled by triple banks of oars.

Some of you may have heard that I’m running for office in the New Albany city elections this year (the Democratic Party primary is May 3.) Dr. Hale’s book was instrumental, and the relation of the story of Themistocles leadership and vision had a real effect on my decision to offer my name to the electorate.

The book is called a “thriller history” by one reviewer and I have to agree. Hale perfectly balances the story without dwelling too long on any one segment and anytime I was ready to move on to the next thing, the author was right there with me.

This is a book about a little-known and little-understood era and if you like nonfiction, you owe it to yourself to read it. I can guarantee you an autographed copy, personalized if you wish, if you order the book prior to March 7.

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Recommended: The Death of the Liberal Class

Pulitzer Prize winner Chris Hedges offers up a “stunning” (my new favorite word – it’s an inside joke) diagnosis of the state of America today in his book, Death of the Liberal Class, a recent release from Nation Books.

Death of the Liberal ClassHedges defines “liberal class” as the press, universities, labor movement, culture, Democratic Party, and liberal religious institutions. I would posit that one remaining bulwark of the liberal class is the independent bookstore, but that’s for another day. I’ll just say that we, as an industry sub-group, are by definition liberal in the very best sense of that word.

The death he describes was not sudden – it was lingering – and its absence as an institutional check on the rapaciousness of a corporate capital regime dismantles the last protections for the weakest among us.

Publishers Weekly, in a review, said “his most interesting theses include the parallel between the current domestic climate and the fall of Weimar Germany and the conclusion that ‘Everything formed by violence is senseless and useless. It exists without a future. It leaves behind nothing but death, grief, and destruction.'”

Without a living liberal class, Hedges reports, there remains no “mechanism to make incremental reform possible. Its absence results in anger being channeled into anti-democratic ideologies that “detest … the civilities of a liberal democracy.”

With power grabs flying at us daily, now might be a good time to explore how America allowed itself to become so vulnerable to those ideologies.

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Going Through the Change

There has been a debate in the store (and in my house) about whether a book can change your life.

TONIGHT: ATTORNEY JON FLEISCHAKER, presented by the Media Law Resources Center Institute, the local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and Destinations Booksellers. TOPIC: Censorship and the First Amendment. 7 p.m. at Destinations Booksellers, 604 E. Spring St., New Albany, Ind.

Book That Changed My Life

Do You Have One?

Some of you will know that I had been scheduled to be an in-studio guest of WFPL’s State of Affairs this past Monday. That show has been rescheduled … and I will not be on that future show.

However, I did prepare for the show and rather than “waste” that preparation, I’ll be giving you an extended, multi-day presentation of my thoughts on the show’s announced theme, “Books That Changed Our Lives.”

Though I will be hiding an Easter Egg in each of the next few posts, if you have no interest in the topic, skip these … unless you want to discover our special offer nestled comfortably somewhere within. Don’t worry. They’ve always been pretty easy to find.

To kill some of the suspense, here are the 3.5 books I had chosen to discuss on the show.

1. Andersonville,by MacKinlay Kantor

2. All the King’s Men, by Robert Penn Warren and

2B. Facing the Lions, by Tom Wicker

3. Atlas Shrugged,by Ayn Rand

I’ll discuss these over the coming days. But today, I’d like to first talk about the whole idea of whether a book can change a life.

I do know that “books” changed my life, and they continue to do so. Nothing I know of keeps a decaying brain supple like the exposure to new ideas, places, and people that books can give you. At least once a year I have to reshuffle my “list” of favorites and bests when I come across a new one. That list has grown considerably since I opened Destinations Booksellers. You can put your hands on many of them because if I love a book, I keep it on my shelves – whether its sales numbers justify it or not.

Were an intelligent alien to descend on New Albany tomorrow seeking to understand humanity, I could, from stock, provide her with a reading list to occupy her time for months and months and months.

I do come down on the side that asserts that a book can change a life. Sometimes explaining it is so simple as to be unnecessary, but most of the time it requires a story.

For those of you who visit the store with some regularity, you know I love to tell a story. Perhaps I’m mistaken that my stories are, in fact, interesting or thought-provoking, but tell them I do. I have a floor littered with ears that have been talked off to prove it.

I submit the idea, though, that the life-altering nature of books is unique to each individual. Could it be that our friends who don’t read books don’t because no book ever changed their lives? And if none did change their lives, do they see no compelling reason to read?

I’ll bet that none of those people are reading this right now, so we’ll just stick to the “remnant” who do read books … perhaps in the hope of that next life-changing one.

Interestingly, a few years ago Roxanne J. Coady and Joy Johannessen edited a collection of essays called The Book That Changed My Life: 71 Remarkable Writers Celebrate the Books That Matter Most to Them.

I present to you a list from that book:

  • DOROTHY ALLISON on Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye
  • KATE ATKINSON on Robert Coover’s Pricksongs & Descants
  • JAMES ATLAS on Gwendolyn Brooks’s Selected Poems
  • ROBERT BALLARD on Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth
  • GINA BARRECA on Jean Kerr’s The Snake Has All the Lines
  • NICHOLAS A. BASBANES on the Works of Shakespeare
  • GRAEME BASE on J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings
  • JEFF BENEDICT on The Little Engine That Could
  • ELIZABETH BERG on J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye

Come by the store to see what Patricia Cornwell, Sebastian Junger, and Jacqueline Winspear or dozens of other top contemporary writers chose as the book that changed their lives.

Don’t worry. I don’t recognize all of those writers, much less read them. But please … use the comments section to tell me and my readers about the book(s) that changed your life.

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