Main Menu

Book Notes

Booknotes 07/14/2011



Another way to shop with Politics & Prose online.

Recently, I had the opportunity to introduce a customer to an often-requested, nifty feature of our website - the wishlist! It allows you to maintain several lists of books at once - books that you like (you can even write reviews to share with your friends), books that you plan on reading or buying later, and books that you want to receive as gifts.

Technically, wishlists are managed by our partner, the American Booksellers Association, through, their social networking site for fans of independent bookstores, but the application operates so seamlessly that it might as well be on To link the two sites, simply visit to learn how it works!

Some of the books you might add to your wishlists are in our two-volume SUMMER NEWSLETTER of staff recommendations, all discounted 20% to our members until Labor Day. Download the catalogs or stop in by the store for copies, browse our display, and pick up something new to read this summer!

- Andrew Getman

And in addition to Brad and Lissa's suggestions above, here's one more collector's item that many might want to put on their lists. . . !


ISBN-13: 9781594650154
Availability: Not currently shipping from publisher – Subject to future availability
Published: Humanoids, Inc., 6/2011
John Difool’s accidental discovery of the Incal, and the epic cosmic and spiritual quest which follows, has inspired artists, writers, movie directors, and countless fans for decades. Regarded as one of the greatest comics ever made, THE INCAL: Classic Collection (Humanoids, Inc., $44.95) is finally back in print in America. Humanoids’s Eisner award nominated collection quickly sold out last winter, but this new handsome edition features the completely restored colors of the original, in a regular graphic novel format. This is one of Moebius's best known and best loved works. With the usual mind-bending, spiritual writing of the cult movie director Alexandro Jodorowsky, it is a must-have for any library.

- Adam Waterreus

Click here for more graphic novel news.

Booknotes 07/7/2011


Michael Dirda wrote an opinion article for the book review Bookforum, that encourages us to be adventurous readers and to seek books beyond the most popular bestsellers. It is a challenge for us as booksellers to introduce you to our favorites. It's a also a reminder to us to share our discoveries more often and more overtly! As we so often find, national tastes may include - but don't always reflect – your own interests or the best in literature or non-fiction. They often don't include books that are local favorites, or popular at libraries, or loaned by frends. It is an incomplete rating system.


Dirda advises us all to do more than just follow trends and award winners, “Be brave. Buy a collection of poems every so often, explore genre fiction…, go back to that classic you always meant to try again, study the important books on the subjects that interest you. Above all, just say no to the insidious dominion of the best seller. . . .Think outside the list. There are John Crowleys and Jaimy Gordons to discover.”

Our staff-recommended books are listed and reviewed in our two volume SUMMER NEWSLETTER. We hope that you will consider these as options and as an added incentive to sample them, they are discounted 20% to our members until Labor Day.


Summer Favorites

Here are just two books from this new list of recommendations. They remind us about why we love to read:

With his evocative and haunting prose, Simon Van Booy spins the tale of three characters whose lives intersect in Greece. Fans of his short stories (Love Begins in Winter and The Secret Lives of People in Love) will find his trademark theme of human connection in EVERTHING BEAUTIFUL BEGAN AFTER (Perennial, $14.99), Van Booy’s first full-length novel. The book focuses on Rebecca, who moves to Athens to escape her life back in France; Henry, an English archeology student; and George, an American with an extraordinary gift for ancient languages and a terrible case of alcoholism. The three come
together by pure chance, and through their individual relationships and their unique group dynamic, discover love and acceptance despite the terrible tragedy that eventually tears them apart. - Angela Maria Williams

Anyone who loves books will feel an immediate affection for A READER ON READING (Yale Univ., $18). Alberto
is a warm and graceful writer who considers himself first and foremost a reader. The sheer joy of holding,
opening, contemplating, and recalling books comes through in everything he writes. No facet of literacy is too small or large for his attention; here are fascinating histories of the period, the page, and libraries, while the political pieces on repression and censorship make powerful arguments for the essential role freedom of reading plays in a society.

Manguel’s appreciations of his favorite books, Alice in Wonderland and Don Quixote (he also loves detective novels), are erudite and insightful, yet are less literary criticism than heartfelt recommendations. As every reader does with what he loves, he has made these books his own, and his essays demonstrate how reading, as much as writing, is autobiography, even as the books reciprocate, the cumulative readings bringing out their true character and giving them richer tones. - Laurie Greer

Click here for the first catalog and click here for the second. Download the catalogs or stop in by the store for copies, browse our display, and pick up something new to read this summer!

Andrew Getman

Club Read


Saturday, October 15 – Sunday, October 16
Politics & Prose is one of several independent bookstores throughout the Mid-Atlantic and the South sponsoring a weekend retreat in Huddleston, Virginia. A dozen authors and 200 readers will create a memorable experience for booklovers. If you love our author events, you’ll love this one-of-a-kind opportunity to spend quality time discussing books that have found enduring popularity and success with book groups across the country. Attend this non-stop feast of authors and for 24 hours, you'll dine, socialize, learn, chat, laugh, and make friends, as you share your enthusiasm as a reader and fan.

The cost: The entire weekend - all the activities with the authors, four meals, one night's lodging - is only $500 per person. Accommodations at the Mariners Landing are in multiple-bedroom condominiums. Attendees are responsible for the own travel and purchases of books, etc.

The authors: A dozen authors will participate; some you have met at Politics & Prose or have been local favorites, such as Dolen Perkins-Valdez, Amy Stolls, and Gretchen Rubin, as well as several debut authors. Click here to see the authors who have confirmed so far!

To keep Club Read a personal and intimate experience, registration is limited. Click here for more details and to register today. Registration code "POLITICN" will identify you as a Politics & Prose customer, and will inform the organizers where you learned about the retreat.

Happy Fourth of July!


Summer Newsletter 2


Independence Day causes me to reflect on what it means to work for an independent bookstore and on all that we have to celebrate by being part of a dedicated, intellectual and committed community.

The word independence contains a spirit of dedication to a cause, a common purpose and shared identity and values. As a proud employee of an independent business, I am committed to freedom of thought and expression. I feel privileged to work in a job where my input is valued and where I gain a large measure of happiness and personal satisfaction. My colleagues and I choose to work in an environment that supports our interests and goals and where we, in turn, are supported by a community of loyal customers who choose their friendly neighborhood bookstore. Because Politics & Prose is a local business, my employer and my colleagues pay taxes to a local representative government that is held accountable to me and my fellow citizens.

In continued gratitude for your patronage, our second Summer Newsletter will be available after July 4 and is filled with wonderful suggestions for your summer holiday. All Politics & Prose members receive a 20% member discount on the reviewed titles.

As always, we at Politics & Prose express our appreciation and gratitude for the spirit of community independence that helps keep us alive and supports our work. Thank you for helping to make our existence possible by sharing our values and supporting what we do for our neighborhood and the city.

- Andrew Getman


Graphic Novels

Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard by David Petersen and others (Archaia Studios, $19.95)
The Mouse Guard universe is well known, but, Legends of the Guard sees a handful of creators give the characters and world a different take. Set in an inn, the book begins with a contest, open to all customers, to tell the best story. The prize? Whoever best regales the innkeeper has his tab wiped clean. There are a number of favorites here, including Jeremy Bastien’s stunningly penned story, and some clever retelling of classic stories—the raven, the mouse and the lion—and even stories which form a world of their own, in a time many millennia before their telling, where kings and queens, generals and warriors, are forced into battle, and are made legend.

The Wrong Place by Brecht Evens (Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95)
The first thing you'll notice about Brecht Evens’s book is his stunning use of watercolor. His ability to paint movement and cacophony (especially dozens of people spilling onto a subway platform, or the condensed mess of dancers and partiers at a club) is truly amazing. He uses color to describe emotion and to illustrate his characters’ moods. The Wrong Place follows the exploits, adventures and myths of Robbie, a celebrity whose charisma attracts women and men alike. Evens has crafted a vibrant book about friendship, loneliness, love and social interaction. Totally original. Highly recommended.

Click here to see more of our recommendations for the month of June.

  • Adam Waterreus


Booknotes 06/16/2011



Sam Kean is a science writer currently working at Science Magazine in Washington D.C. He has written for Mental Floss, Slate, The New York Times Magazine and Air and Space. His first book, THE DISAPPEARING SPOON: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements (Little, Brown and Company, $24.99/ Back Bay, $14.99), brings a human element to the elements. He illustrates both the history and the science behind the periodic table of elements through stories of greed, folly, genius and politics. Mr. Kean takes a chart dreaded as dull and indecipherable since its conception and brings it to life with engaging, astonishing tales. Anna Thorn, one of our booksellers, asked Mr. Kean about chemistry class, his varied interests, and why lady chemists have often seemed to deserve pity. Here is an excerpt; click here for the rest of the interview. We hope it will entice you to join us this Friday at 7p.m. when he visits us at the store!

AT: One of my favorite things about The Disappearing Spoon is the amazing breadth of knowledge that you bring to the exploration of the periodic table.  You write about history, biology, economics, mythology and many other subjects.  You majored in physics and literature and have a masters' in library science.  With all these fascinating interests, what inspired you to write a book about chemistry?

SK: I actually don't consider it a book about chemistry! Or rather, it's only partly about chemistry. It's really about the periodic table, and I knew that the table intersects with so many different areas of life that I wouldn't be limited to chemistry. As for why I started writing the book, I knew a few of the tales from teachers and other sources over the years, and I just thought it would be great to get them all in one place, and cover the entire table, top to bottom, every element. I really liked the idea of completeness there, since there are so many elements we never get to talk about in class.

AT: Did you have a favorite chapter or story to write or research?

SK: I really enjoyed the chapter about the Soviet-American element naming war during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. It's probably the most narrative chapter in the book, and it also illustrates so well the messy way that real scientific research gets done.

AT: After exploring the tumultuous history of the periodic table, do you have any insights about the likely role of any particular elements in the future?

SK: Well, we'll definitely keep adding new elements to the table -- two more actually just got added to the table in early June, numbers 114 and 116. People always want to know if these heavy elements, which fall apart in less than a second in most cases, have any real use. And the short answer is no. But making ultraheavy elements can help scientists refine their theories and equipment, which can have trickle-down effects. And just as important, I think it satisfies something about human nature to keep exploring and keep pushing past the boundaries nature sets. So these elements are important beyond the narrow sense of having use in industry.

Click here for the rest of the interview.


Booknotes 06/02/2011



Amid all the hoopla, protest, and outright disgust (Carmen Callil of the feminist publishing house Virago) shown toward the Man Booker International for awarding Philip Roth a lifetime achievement award, it was great to see the announcement in the New York Times of some young writers receiving awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia and St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, received the Benjamin H. Danks Award in Literature. Becca Kirk, one of our former staff members, called her stories "compelling... darkly imaginative, heartbreaking, and beautifully written."  

Brando Skyhorse was awarded the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction and the 2011 Hemingway Foundation/Pen Award for The Madonnas of Echo Park. I wrote this review before he came to visit our store so I thought I would share it again.

We slipped into this country like thieves, onto the land that once was ours.
Brando Skyhorse’s debut novel, THE MADONNAS OF ECHO PARK (Free Press, $14), recounts the lives of Mexican Americans living in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Echo Park, once a fashionable home for people in the movie business and now a working-class community. Through a series of shifting points of view, we meet Felicia, a cleaning lady, and her daughter Aurora. We meet Efren Mendoza, a bus driver, and his brother Manny former jefe of the street gang Locos and father to Juan who’s just enlisted in the Army. And there are others -- all of these people who make up a neighborhood, people we see every day, never imagining the richness of their lives, or knowing how they intersect.The title comes from an incident that shaped the whole community, an act of violence, an accidental shooting, affecting some tangentially and affecting others deeply and crucially. This is a fine and beautiful novel by any standard, but as a first novel, it is astoundingly good.

Many of our booksellers enjoyed these books by these talented young authors, and we hope that you will, too.

- Mark LaFramboise