"I cannot live without books." -- Thomas Jefferson

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

‘Tis the Season: for Oscar Buzz Books

by Christina K Holmes 

In my family Christmas season means Oscar season.  We’re not big on presents. Eggnog, take it or leave it. And being East Coasters, we are over cold weather the minute plows are out hacking through dirt inlaid snow trenches. But on Christmas day point us to the nearest movie theater playing this year’s critically acclaimed drama and we’re like kids in a candy store, or kids in a movie theater with candy more accurately.

Now that I’m in the book business (not to mention out in Los Angeles), I’m more aware of just how many movies are adaptations. Walking through Book Soup the other day, I saw so many covers with the bold print disclaimer “Now a Major Motion Picture”, just in case bibliophiles need that extra push to buy a copy.

Some I admittedly had no idea were penned as books before they were movies, like Silver Linings Playbook. Other stories I was happy to see play out in both mediums like Me and Earl and the Dying GirlAnd some are great works of written word that Hollywood couldn't quite translate for the big screen (see: The Great Gatsby, On The Road, The Age of Innocence and so many others it’s probably worth writing another blog post).

All this inspired me to put together a list of this year’s Oscar season buzz books. I’ll be stacking them up for a compare and contrast on my Holiday break. I’m even thinking of bundling them up with movie tickets as an extra treat for my family this year. Or not - I am in the book business after all. Santas everywhere take note.   

  1. Room A true life story inspires a book inspires a movie. What would Oscar Wilde say today?
  2. Brooklyn  A tale set in not modern day Brooklyn? Yes please.
  3. The Big Short  A very necessary education for the American people, which was turned into an impactful narrative with lots of laughs.
  4. Carol  Originally published as The Price of Salt, Patricia Highsmith assumed a pseudonym to write this novel due to its lesbian love story. Thankfully Cate Blanchett need not hide.
  5. The Martian  From a self-published serial to a Ridley Scott film starring Matt Damon. The dream is real.
  6. Dalton Trumbo  A book about a screenwriter that’s now a movie. Meta.
  7. Steve Jobs  The man, the myth, the legend.
  8. The Revenant  One of our book buyer Sherri’s favorite re-releases of 2015. But does Leo have her Oscar vote? Maybe 2016 is the year.
  9. Beast of No Nation  A debut novel turned Netflix Oscar contender.
  10. Danish Girl  A fictionalized account of one of the first people to undergo sex reassignment surgery. Perfect movie fodder.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Remembering Jackie Collins

We were stunned and saddened to learn of the passing of author Jackie Collins on Saturday from breast cancer. She fought the illness bravely, and in private it seems, as few knew about the diagnosis until days before her passing. Diagnosed six years ago, she completed five more bestsellers, as well as numerous book tours and public appearances. She was just 77 and leaves behind three daughters and six grandchildren.

Ms. Collins was a frequent visitor to Book Soup, often bringing her children and grandchildren with her. She was always dressed to the nines and the energy would change when she swept in.  She was lively and engaging with staff and it was a real kick to see other shoppers take note of her. Even if they didn't know exactly who she was, they could tell she was formidable.

Jackie Collins published her first book, The World Is Full of Married Men in 1968 and went on to write more than 30 books, translated into many languages, and selling 500 million copies worldwide. Those are the kind of numbers that most authors only dream of.

I remember taking a phone call one Saturday morning shortly after I first started working here. It was Jackie and her sister Joan calling from the car to inquire about books in stock. They were on their way down to the store. I spoke to them both and couldn't believe my good fortune! They were delightful with everyone and elegant in a way that you just don't see in Hollywood these days.

We hosted Jackie a number of times over the year and I was lucky enough to be assigned to what would be her last event with us in February of 2014.  She drew a great crowd and I was amazed by her interaction with her fans. They knew everything about her but what was surprising to me was how much she knew about them.  She remembered names and personal details and made everyone feel special and welcome. It was something to see. Someone in the audience asked her how she stayed so young and she replied, "Sex, sex, sex!" The crowd roared. She could have done that book signing at a  larger venue but she wanted to help us out and we're so grateful.

She was a constant champion of Book Soup and we will miss her immensely.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Mark Haskell Smith shares a Book Soup memory.

I don’t remember the exact day, but it was early-October in 2002.   My first event for my first novel.  I had always been a huge fan of Book Soup and the idea of seeing my name up on the marquee was thrilling and kind of intimidating.  That first event is a rite of passage for a writer and having my debut at Book Soup made me feel like a hapless talent show walk-on suddenly opening for AC/DC.  I’d never done a reading before and for all I knew this would be the only novel I’d ever write.  I was feeling excited and insecure. To add a complication -- and what novelist doesn’t like to add a complication? -- I’d invited a woman I had just met and had a serious heart-palpitation inducing crush on.  Nothing like flopping in front of someone you’re trying to impress.

But I guess I shouldn’t of been worried because there’s a magic to Book Soup, some kind of good karma, positive juju, invisible kittens high on MDMA riding unicorns vibe, that makes people smile when they’re in the store. 
In other words, this story has a happy ending.  Border Grill catered with margaritas and guacamole (the mashed avocado dip is used as a personal lubricant in a scene in the novel), and my reading earned an encouraging thumbs up from Jen Ramos and Tyson Cornell who were working the event.  Or maybe they liked the margaritas.  Even better, the Book Soup magic has continued, I’ve written
six books since then, and I married the woman I was trying to impress. 

Mark Haskell Smith's new book Naked At Lunch: A Reluctant Nudist's Adventures In the Clothing-Optional World is available here at Book Soup! 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Four Feet from Elton Freakin' John!

While still relatively new in LA, a friend of mine said he had heard a lot about this cool bookstore in West Hollywood. We got there just in time for an event to start and sat and listened for a bit. Jen Ramos (who went on to be my boss!) was hosting the event. In that 90 minutes or so that we were in the store we saw Keanu Reeves perusing books and my now husband found Michael Gladis and small talked with him because they had just recently worked on a TV show together. I left Book Soup for the first time wondering "What IS this magical place?"

Over the next few years, I made some big life decisions that included me leaving the film industry and left me looking for a job. The hope was to find something in events. I applied on Craigslist for an event host position. Who ever actually gets a call back from a job posted on Craigslist? Apparently, people do because Jen asked me in for an interview and we had, what I thought, was a great interview. A month went by, three months went by. Nothing. I wrote it off - just another Craigslist job not panning out. Out of nowhere, Jen called me back in for another interview (it really was three months later). The next day I was hired. That was in the summer of 2012 and I haven't looked back since. I went on to work as a Book Soup event host for two years before moving up in the Promotional Department to Vroman's.  In those two years, I feel like I saw it all (although I'm sure if I stayed longer I would have seen even more). I worked offsite events in places that if it wasn't for that job I would have never stepped my scuffed shoes in otherwise and believe me I sampled all the passed hors d’oeuvres I could!  I talked to authors on an almost daily basis. I loved learning about them and hearing their stories.  I helped celebrities find books. I'm sure I had in depth conversations with people that were somebody but I was oblivious to it. I stood 4 feet from Elton John...Elton freakin' John (and maybe I peed myself a little in excitement)! My first ever solo hosting event was for Jess Walters for his book Beautiful Ruins. In his talk he spoke about how he came to meet Kurt Vonnegut and I'm pretty sure in that moment I fell in love with that job and I fell in love with Book Soup all over again.

Looking back it makes perfect sense that I was led down this path to books and events because without knowing it then they have always been some of my favorite things. I’m so happy that I started at Book Soup and even happier that Book Soup is still around and going strong. It truly is a magical place!

Jessica Dickieson is the Digital Media Coordinator for Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena.  She really did drag twenty pounds of POS equipment to book parties in some of the swankiest hotels and homes in Los Angeles.

Did you know Book Soup once had a Bistro next door?

We did! Although we are having trouble finding photos from the old bistro. It was next door to us in the ground floor of the 8800 building, right next to our old newsstand.  This essay is from Clark Mason, our C.F.O. and a long time Book Soup staffer. 

I have a ton of memories of Book Soup.  Although my fondest memories are probably of the bistro.  I use to have lunch there almost every day.  I loved the food and the staff, I even had a table that I regularly ate at as well. They had this amazing peanut mango chicken sandwich and also a cobb salad that I loved.  I remember often attending book events at the bistro as well. One time I even hosted a dinner party there for some friends who had helped convince me to take the Book Soup job. I worked there originally from 1996 to 2000 and during that time I met  a bunch of fantastic people, too many to name, but many of them had a long term imprint on my life.  My favorite memory of Glenn was his advice to eat dessert first.  Another powerful memory I have is from the office that I worked in.  From the day I started there was a plaster cast of Whoopi Goldberg’s face hanging in the office near my desk.  I always thought it was odd and whimsical to have her face hanging so close to where I sat every day. I always think fondly of Glenn, the store and the bistro. 


Do you have photos from the old Book Soup Bistro to share? Please email us at info@booksoup.com

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Part of the Soup

True story, I once skipped town on the very day I had landed an interview to work at the formidable Book Soup. It was 1998 and I was a scared kid from Kansas. I'd only lasted two months in Los Angeles and the city was just too...Los Angeles for me at that time. I slinked home with my tail between my legs, convinced I had blown it. I eventually hit reset and made it back to California the way kids in their twenties do.  Like a gambler, convinced they just need one good hand to win the table. The house can't always win. It just can't.

I missed Glenn Goldman, the owner and founder of Book Soup when I skipped that interview.   I wonder now if he would have hired me and who I'd have become if I had stayed put and worked here then.  I can't spend too much time on it; life takes its time getting you anywhere and sometimes nowhere.  Mostly I think he'd have taken a pass on me, and the truth is I needed time to be a better reader and bookseller.  I kept selling books and made it back in early 2011 but I missed him. He had passed away from pancreatic cancer by then.

As we get ready to celebrate 40 years this week he's very much on our mind. Mostly things like, why did he open his bookshop on the Sunset Strip? And why did he call it Book Soup? And how did he ever land Muhammad Ali for a book signing?! I wish I had met him.  He's familiar to me the way a favorite author is.  He has a presence here in the store, and not in a ghost-y way.  He lives with the books, with the great and infamous who have shopped and signed here.

When I knew I would be moving back to L.A. from San Diego I made a stop by the Soup on a lovely autumn day. I browsed the aisles for quite a bit of time, reading the staff selections that jutted out from the shelves like panting tongues.  I heard voices in conversation and laughter from behind the rare books case (presumably from the break room) and I wondered if there could be a place for me here after all.

 I met Amy on that visit and I bought a copy of Just Kids from her.  I devoured that book just as she said I would.  It's the perfect Book Soup book; a book that makes you feel good when you buy it and even better after you read the last page.  You'll give it away 10 times and always buy another copy. I asked for an application too.

I'm very happy to be here now, and for however long they will have me.  I'm grateful I met Paige and Manny, for all those Saturday mornings with Fawn and Jagger, and for the chance to sell books with Emily and Sue who I swear are maybe the best booksellers ever! And of course Tosh, a sort of Jedi master of all things literary.  I read better now - and more, things that would have never interested me before. 

It wasn't easy being new, learning the staff and the customers (who truly are the best) and getting my legs here but I did. I remember hoping Jagger or Fawn would eventually like me and being relieved when both did.  I think of Jagger a lot (gone now too) and still expect to see him sometimes curled up in a ball behind the register sleeping or maybe keeping watch a little bit, over Glenn's shop, our shop. 

Friday, June 5, 2015

Book Soup Turns 40!

With our 40th anniversary just around the corner, Julia Callahan of Rare Bird Books and former Book Soup glory shares not one, but TWO tear-jerking remembrances from ye olde bookshop: 

"I started working at Book Soup when I was 22. I was working as a Page at Paramount Pictures, made no money, and decided working at a bookstore for extra money was the way to go. I had been in LA for about a year and I had some friends, but not many (I knew no one when I moved here). My Book Soup co-workers became family. I remember Ruth and Sue and Amy bringing a bit of extra food with them and making me eat healthy because I was making so little money, I could barely afford to eat. I remember Nancy giving me dating advice. Manny and I fought like siblings. Scott and I talked baseball. Fawn always made me tell her what I was reading. I remember walking into Book Soup and feeling like I was home. It felt like someone would care for me there. Like there were people that asked how my daw was going and what was new in my life. 

I still fully believe Book Soup is the reason I stayed in Los Angeles. I would have hauled myself back to San Francisco by now if it weren't for the amazing people I am lucky enough to call friends. Of course, the most significant relationship that came out of my time at Book Soup was with Tyson Cornell, with whom I've helped build Rare Bird Books & Lit. I was his assistant at Book Soup and now here we are, five years and hundreds of books later, with a company that just keeps growing.

That store was truly a blessing for me."


"It's no secret that the Marketing and Publicity department used to drink a lot. In our defense, on a good day we worked 12 hours, but normally we were there for 14-16 hours. Still, we drank a lot. I'm not sure when it began, perhaps before I ever came to Book Soup, but at 5pm every day we had what we called Draper Time (after Don Draper from Mad Men). We'd all go over to Red  Rock or Mirabelle and have a few drinks, chat for a while, and then go back to work.

It's a memory that seems like it can only happen in your 20s. Going to that bar across the street from your office where everybody knows your name. We drank whiskey and talked books and got to know each other in that special way that people who work closely together for very long days go. It is one of my favorite memories. Every time I drive by State (which used to be Red Rock), different memories flood back. Great times. Great friends. Learning some of the most important lessons of my life."

Email your own Book Soup to info@booksoup.com to be featured here on our blog!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Author Meredith Maran Remembers Book Soup When...

Have a favorite Book Soup story? In anticipation of our 40th anniversary party on June 12 (that's right -- 40 years!), we're collecting memories from Book Soup-ers everywhere.

First up is author, book critic, and journalist Meredith Maran, who finally (finally!) clarifies what the hell a Book Soup is.

Meredith writes:

"My most profound experience of Book Soup happened long before I'd ever set foot in the store. As an Oakland writer, each time I published a book I'd eagerly await my tour itinerary, hoping to find that enigmatic venue on the list. Again and again, I was disappointed, leaving me to wonder, "What's a Book Soup? Is it like alphabet soup? Stone soup? Duck soup?" It wasn't until I moved to LA that I finally entered that hallowed ground -- as an author/bookseller on National Independent Bookstore Day -- and realized what a Book Soup is: Soup's on!

Aw. Thanks Meredith. I totally get it now.

You can submit your own Book Soup story here.

And if you haven't read Meredith Maran's Why We Write or A Theory of Small Earthquakes yet, you're missing out, dude. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

6 Questions with Magician Steve Spill

[Photo: Steve Spill]

1. Reading your book, you get the sense that you are a man who has met everyone. How has working with some of the top people in entertainment shaped you own ambitions and outlook on life?

Those who I've worked with or admired most possess tremendous enthusiasm, great energy, and enormous self-awareness. My ambitions is to continually strengthen those qualities in myself and communicate with audiences while being the funniest and most amazing I can be.

2. What was it that attracted you first to magic and has this fascination sustained you throughout your career?

I was 5 and my dad was bedridden for a couple of weeks with an ulcer. That's when he lit the flame of magic in me, which, to this day, had never gone out. He sat up in bed -- his jaws sagging at first, his face pale, stubbled with beard hairs -- and taught me the simple trick with two strings that his father, my grandfather, had taught him. What I witnessed that day was one of the great thrills of my life.

The instant he started teaching me, a transformation came over him or from within him, he was no longer a slumped man in bed suffering from ulcer, suddenly vital and strong as if nothing was the matter with him... a regal master mentor, majestically passing the baton, the magic wand, to his son. Nowadays the same sort of thing happens to me. If I'm ill and have a show to do, another set of reflexes take charge and the ailments seem to vanish while I'm on stage. After that day, instead of Legos or little green army men, the only toys I played with were magic tricks.

One of the tricks of our trade that I love is the lying. Dyslexic displays of honesty that range from tiny little manipulative untruths, to big, fat in-your-face lies. To be a professional magician is to be an expert at dispensing disinformation, duplicity, hypocrisy, distortion, deception and fakery without any of the guilt or unpleasant consequences. And we magicians enjoy the thrill of getting away with it.

3. You explain and mention many original tricks you perfected throughout the years. Which one is your favorite and why?

My favorite is whatever new thing I happen to be working on at any given moment.

4. Your book includes a chapter on all of your failed ideas. Why did you include it?

Not ALL my failed ideas... that would fill many books. These are cherry-picked stories in the continuing saga where I had an idea, worked up a method to do the trick, got the props together, scripted the routine, and rehearsed it. But on stage, in front of real, breathing strangers, for one reason or another, it wasn't a keeper. In other words, these were routines that turned out to be useless and insignificant. I've included them in the book because in one way or another I found them to be poetic.

5. You are an artist, but you also run a business together with your wife, who is also an artist. How do these various identities mesh?

To write, produce, and perform a show in a theater that you designed, built, own, and operate, you have to be equal parts dictator and diplomat. You must be both the astonishing magician and visionary storyteller on stage and the guy shoveling raw sewage in the middle of the night because no one else would and everything would be lost if it didn't get done. You must be both an extravagant artist and a penny-pinching jerk. It isn't easy, and it isn't always fun. It isn't about money or fame. It's about what it takes to share you vision with those who want to see it. 

6. What advice would you give aspiring magicians?

Nobody makes a living as a magician by accident. You have to want it pretty bad. Success is enjoying the journey. The stamina of a marathon runner is more important than talent. Hard work helps you improve, and when you're obsessed, you make your luck.

I'm not big on giving advice, and I hate to give anyone false hope because luck has played a part in whatever success I've had, but I'll say this: By utilizing your skills and by being true to yourself and working hard it is possible to create an act or show that will -- if not rake in millions -- at least not find you on welfare at the end of the day.

[Photo: Skyhorse]

Steve Spill signs and discusses I Lie for Money: Candid, Outrageous Stories from a Magician's Misadventures on Tuesday, May 19 at 7pm. 


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

5 Questions with Author Kevin McEnroe

[Photo: Kevin McEnroe]

1) Our Town is your first novel. How long have you been writing?

I started taking writing seriously when I was about nineteen. I wasn’t a great student, and, floating through college, I took a fiction writing workshop simply because it met once a week, and at night. I didn’t think much of it until our first assignment, which was to write a story from the opposite sex's point of view. I thought, then, of a time when I was young, and I was left alone with my grandmother – my nana – one of my earliest memories. She died soon thereafter, and it’s the only time I remember her at all, but it must have stuck with me, because after that my professor came to me and told me I had something. He told me not to stop. So I didn’t – I’ve been trying to breathe life into her, and thus myself, ever since – and it was because of him that I finally understood what school is for. 

2) Your novel shares a title with Thorton Wilder's famous play, Our Town - although Hollywood is obviously very different than Grover's Corners. Was this a conscious decision of yours?

It was, indeed. It was for a long time called Serenity Side Down – a turn of phrase I liked, and which meant something to me. So, when my editor approached me about calling the book Our Town, I was nervous at first, both legally – not sure whether or not one was even allowed to co-opt a classic name, as such – and in that I didn’t want to disrespect such a legendary work. But, when I thought more about it, it began to feel as though Our Town was always the name, in some ways. From moment one I felt as though a narrator – or “stage manager” – was necessary to guide the action. And I felt that the hope of fame that Hollywood of old could provide a certain type of person was similar to the way people, when reading of Grover’s Corners, could hope for an easier, simpler life. The value systems that the two places offered up were no less than entirely opposite, but I found the hope that life could be better was in some ways the same, and so it began to feel right. Both right, and necessary.

3) Your novel is fiction, but you also come from a long line of Hollywood actresses who have struggled with addiction. How much or how little did your own family history shape this story? 

I’ve always known that Dorothy is based on my nana, Joanna Moore, who is my mother’s mother. However, outside of some attempt to honor her spirit, or, at least, attempt to realize what connected her and I, I view the rest of the novel’s landscape as entirely fictionalized. In many ways, I see the rest of the characters, and in some ways Dorothy, too, as just an extension of me. In the end, I do think I found out what connected her and I, and thus why I was so interested. Her ability to get in her own way – to do the wrong thing because you don’t believe in yourself, because you don’t believe someone like you deserves to be happy – is something that lives in me, too. And I hope, in honoring her, that it will be as though she’s finally able to gain some of the recognition that she should’ve believed she deserved from the beginning.

4) Who (or what) have your writing influences been? Where do you get your inspiration from? 

I have a tack board where I pin up ideas, when I have them. My influences are not all literary, as well. With this book, reading Nathaniel West’s The Day of the Locust and Joan Didion’s The White Album provided the feeling that I needed to write. But music also helped me – I would find songs that suited the tone and rhythm that I needed for a particular scene, and play them over, and over, and over, until it was right. And movies – The King of Comedy comes to mind. Oh, and lastly things like Bravo, for I found the vapidity of that sort of programming has existed in Hollywood since it’s inception, and it helped for me to attempt to incorporate that tone. 

5) Do you have any more novels on the horizon?

Yes. I am working on a New York book now. I think of Our Town as my LA book, and I want to treat the city that I now live in with the same reverence, and also disrespect. Both idealizing the romance of the New York streets at night, and fearing what happens if you continue walking on them until the morning. I’m working now, so I’m not sure, still, if I'll  be able to get this balance right. But I’m going to try, and I can’t wait to do so.

[Photo: Counterpoint]

Kevin McEnroe will sign and discuss Our Town on Thursday, May 14 at 7pm.