Bookish

Have been reading Dorothy Sayers in brief snatches of time, and have to say that Busman’s Honeymoon was a real disappointment after Gaudy Night. It was basically bad Mary Sue wish-fulfillment fic with a particularly shmoopy hurt/comfort ending. There were moments I did like, where Harriet is adjusting herself to the ethics of Peter’s professional calling, but the struggles with their own flaws and weaknesses that made GN so fantastic were gone here, with both characters either being perfect or being completely traumatized and helpless but never anything in the middle.

Also, yesterday marked the release of three novels I’ve been waiting for, the Glee season opener, sukkah building, and a Connie Willis reading at the local library, and I was unable to do any of those lovely things because I have too much work. September isn’t even over yet, and I’m already wishing I could snatch days from winter break.

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Oddly starving

I know I just fasted yesterday, but my pattern has always been that the break-fast gets me back to normal. But this morning I’ve had two Luna bars, a venti frappuchino, a bagel with cream cheese, and teriyaki with rice, and I’m still STARVING. WTF?

In other news, Yom Kippur services were wonderfully moving. The rabbis were great and I loved praying out of Tateh’s mahzor. (There is some really awesome stuff in there–for the concept of God creating the world anew every day, they have beautiful scientific information about how often new solar systems are formed and the process of their formation. For the Torah and Haftorah portions, the commentary is more focused on provoking discussion than on providing answers. And that’s not counting the very approachable translation or the beautiful poems and readings throughout!)

Also, during the break between services, I ran a journaling workshop for people who were interested (those who didn’t write on Shabbes/Yontif were encouraged to contemplate the prompts without writing) and I got a great turnout and really positive response from people. A lot of people wanted me to run workshops through the synagogue on a regular basis. It’s exhilarating–I’ve wanted to teach since I was a kid, but I’m still so new to it that it’s a shock to be good at it and to have people really appreciate what I bring to the table. It’s really starting to feel like a calling.

I’m going to go make myself some tuna casserole and see if that takes care of the monster hunger, and then back to grading.

G’mar hatimah tovah

For those of you who are fasting, I wish you a good inscription and a meaningful fast.

I’m getting over being sick, so I’m trying to load up on salmon and spinach and orange juice and meds as much as I can before sunset. And I’m leading a meditation-type thing tomorrow afternoon between services, so I’m hoping I can muster energy for that.

Also, Tateh made the New York Times, which is pretty awesome.

Frustrating day lightened by heavy books

Plowing through as best I can, despite being sick, trying to get my lesson plans done, my class’s assignments graded, and launch a major fundraising event for the program. I’m getting things mostly done, but I wish I could just curl up in the fetal position and drink oceans of tea. Also, apparently there’s been a massive recall of cold medicine, so I’m doing all this without the benefit of drugs.

On the up-side, just read Dorothy Sayers for the first time and realized that Lois Bujold borrowed heavily from Sayers to write Komarr and A Civil Campaign, which is kind of awesome, because I get the treat of reading something I already like, but that is still totally new to me. Whimsey-babble is rather like Miles when he’s hyper, and Harriet is as perfect a counterweight for Lord Peter as Ekaterin is for Miles.

Also read The Magicians, which I’ve heard a number of people describe as more realistic than Harry Potter in terms of its depiction of what would really happen if you gave teenagers god-like powers and turned them loose on a school. That’s true, but what got to me was both the fine writing and the awareness that having magic and a special destiny doesn’t change your ability to screw up your life and make yourself miserable. Plus, the Narnia send-up is pretty awesome. (And that’s about all I can say without massive spoilers.) This is one of those books I want to read repeatedly just to chew on it from different angles.

Back to the wars…

My dad made the Wall Street Journal!

The Wall Street Journal has a review of Mahzor Lev Shalem and they quote and comment on Tateh in his role as chair of the committee.

All through this process, I’ve been so incredibly proud of the work he’s done and the aspirations he’s had for this project, aspirations I think he’s fulfilled wonderfully. It’s just an amazing accomplishment. I’m really looking forward to praying out of the Mahzor this year.

The ever-dying book

Really wanted to comment about the closing of the 66th St. Barnes and Noble, because I really disagree with the Times article on a few crucial points. The main thrust of the article is that the 4-story superstore is closing because people don’t really read print books any more: at most, they see the store as a coffee shop where they can read something for free, not a bookstore where they can buy coffee after they’ve bought a book. They also point out that Upper West Siders will still be able to use the 82nd St. B&N, which “…[helped] put the beloved independent bookstore across the street from it, Shakespeare & Company, out of business 14 years ago.”

While I do argue with other aspects of its business model, I heartily approve of the coffee gambit. Barnes and Noble has spent years cultivating itself as a “destination,” the place you go to relax by yourself or with friends, so that when you do buy a book, you’ll buy it from them. They also encourage people to read in the store, which ideally leads to people trying, liking and buying books they wouldn’t have risked buying sight unseen. And whether or not they buy books, customers generate revenue for the store with every overpriced latte. The problem is, we’re on the cusp of a generational shift where online bookstores, handheld reading devices and recommending algorithms are going to outdo everything a physical bookstore can in terms of selection and browsing, and the new generation of readers is more comfortable reading online, leaving B&N with a four-story coffee shop in an overpriced Manhattan neighborhood. They’ve tried to justify the floor space by stocking educational games and cards, things you can’t use an E-reader for, but bookstores are probably going to have to reinvent what a physical bookstore can do better than a digital one if they want to stay afloat.

And topping that list is customer service, which I think is the real reason why two of those three bookstores I mentioned at the top are dead or dying and the third is doing okay. For those of you who are not Manhattan natives, the 66th St. Barnes and Noble is the one where every thirty seconds, a voice yells over the intercom for people to get out of the cafe if they’re not actively eating or drinking, and a server whisks away your empty plate so you have no excuse to linger even five minutes after eating. It’s an obnoxious, unfriendly place, and when I lived two blocks away, I would walk the extra twenty blocks to 83rd St. or the fifty blocks down to 14th St. There was never enough seating at either store, but I always knew I was welcome to stay as long as I wished, with friends or alone, whether or not I was buying anything. Shakespeare & Co, as I have mentioned before, was a store with no selection, unfriendly staff, and real management problems. As a bookish teenager, I went there maybe twice and was made to feel supremely unwelcome both times. Just because it was a smaller chain that got crushed does NOT make it the hero of the tale.

The bookstores that I go to have a few crucial things in common: they make customers feel welcome, they follow customer buying trends to know what’s good to stock for their clientele, and they have staff who are knowledgeable in different areas, so you can get recommendations for books similar to the ones you like. Those are all social concerns, and they’re the one edge physical bookstores can cultivate better than computers: you can talk to real people, face to face, about books, and you have a relaxing physical space where you can meet other like-minded people in your area.