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

Monday, May 9, 2016

Book Soup Interview with Sara Majka

 By Christina K. Holmes

This week, I had the privilege of interviewing author Sara Majka on her collection of short stories Cities I’ve Never Lived In, our (Book) Soup of the Month. And, just like these wooly stories sketch shadows of brilliant truths in the mind for the reader to ruminate over days later, so too will Sara’s words on her collection, writing life, and influences. 

Most of the stories in Cities I’ve Never Lived In are rooted in towns and cities across the eastern seaboard. How is place central to your stories?

Place was the thing that influenced me most when writing this collection. I started writing it when I moved--very briefly, just for a year--to the center of Maine. It was not a happy year for me, and I spent a lot of time driving down to Portland and became inspired by the people and the isolated coastal towns. My dad was in the Coast Guard and growing up we lived for a short time in Maine. Still, I don't know why that year was so important. Something about being there really triggered something for me. And then I also spent time in Provincetown, Massachusetts (as a fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center) and in New York City, and those places made it into the collection as well.

Your narrator seems to meander in and out of her stories, starting in one place and ending in others. Can you tell us more about why you chose to tell her stories in this way? Is this style a reflection of her character?

Sometimes the only answer I have to things is: that's how I am, or how I see things, and I think this is one of those examples. That meandering or drifting was a lot of how life was for me back then.

Your narrator’s insights are extremely poignant. One line in particular struck me in your title story: “I didn’t want another period of instability, and I felt the suspension you feel when you’re fine, but you’re worried it won’t last, and there’s nothing you can do to make it stay”. How did you choose to balance these sparks of acute awareness with the plot of your stories?

I really enjoy reading those sorts of lines in other people's work. I like writers who want to directly tell you something, who have that inclination--of course, it has to be well done and fit the narrative. But I fell in love with Graham Greene's The End of the Affair right away because he started to talk about what love was. I'm on the road right now or else I would take out my copy and make sure that he actually does that. But in my memory he does. And Carson McCullers. [H]er book The Ballad of the Sad CafĂ©. In my memory she spends half that novella trying to get at love, what it is, how it works.

I read in your interview with A Public Space that the title story is quite autobiographical. Does it make you feel vulnerable to incorporate part of your own life into fiction? How do you safely separate the two?

It doesn't make me feel vulnerable, and I don't know why, as I'm a relatively private person. I'm not even sure private is the right word, as my first inclination is always just to reveal what is going on, so I'm willing, always, to reveal a fair bit, though I do have a reserved personality.

I have this thing I think to myself, one of those things that makes sense to me but might not make sense when said out loud, but I think to myself: the more you give away the more that's left. It's sort of like that saying, hiding in plain sight, but the spirit is somewhat different.

Why did you chose to work with a first person narrator? What did it provide you as a writer?

I can't seem to get away from a first person narrator. Every story starts with one when I write. Sometimes if the first person narrator tells a story, I can then, later, during revision, take that frame out and what's left is the third person story. But I always have to create a narrator and then it's them and not me who tells the story. It's a lot of work! Two whole worlds to create. But just telling the story seems weird to me, like I'm talking in a fancy accent or in a serious voice. It also feels too broad. Creating the narrator helps to narrow the focus.

Can you tell us about your influences? Do you have any particular writers that inspire you?

Yes! So many books. I tend to think, though, with this collection that my biggest influences were [W.G.] Sebald and [Alice] Munro.

Is there anything outside the writing world that impacts your storytelling, for example art or film?

Visual art. I love museums. I love the space of it and the quiet of it, and being able to wander about and look at color and shape.

Why are you drawn to short fiction?

I grew up wanting to write a novel. I was an avid reader as a little girl, and naturally you don't really read short stories that young. Except in school. But I just read novels on my own and so that's what I wanted to write. But as I got older and started to write, whenever I tried longer it didn't work out. I seem to need the speed and movement of the shorter form.

Can you tell us about your writing process? How do you begin? How do you know you’ve finished?

Oh, the process is almost humorous, it's so...I can't even come up with the right word. Slow still suggests forward progress. What I do is almost a meditation on nothingness.[O]r a meditation on writing rather than writing itself. It's almost like every day that I write, I have to work to accept the way in which I write. I have to accept that it's not about moving forward or getting something done.

Much of the work I do is to make something shorter. I'll write and write and think I'm doing a novella or even...dare I say....a novel, and then I start editing and it becomes ten pages. That's my joke about my process, but it's also somewhat true.

And finally, what book or books are you reading currently?

I'm in the middle of Jonathan Lee's High Dive. He worked for A Public Space (he's at Catapult now) when my book was coming out and he was (and still is) a great help.

Order the book HERE

Monday, April 18, 2016

By Christina K. Holmes 

The votes are in. No, I’m not talking about what author would win the presidency (It’s Kurt Vonnegut by the way).

I’m talking about the vote that really counts: the one you make every day as a consciousness, grassroots-loving, local business supporting, citizen of the world. Your decision to shop local and independent. Cast your theoretical vote towards independent bookstores in this great U.S. of A by coming out for Independent Bookstore Day on Saturday, April 30th.

What is this you ask? It’s a day when hundreds of bookstores participate in exclusive events and sell one of a kind books and artwork to show our appreciation for our book-loving  patrons. It’s also a chance for you to support us: a community of bibliophiles recommending our little hearts out everyday. In case that doesn’t convince you, here’s a listicle.  


Top 5 reasons to come out to Independent Bookstore Day:

  1. Support your local bookstore! Take the opportunity to stroll through Book Soup for new books, stationery, or maybe just to check in on your favorite booksellers.
  2. The events are awesome. Curious George will be at Book Soup reading - bring your kids and extra bananas!  Author Jim Colucci will also be here discussing his book Golden Girls Forever. Then to finish off the evening, a live DJ set and happy hour. See the schedule here.
  3. The official Independent Bookstore Day merch will be out of this world, including a rumored Neil Gaiman coloring book (The rumors are true).
  4. Make a day of it and do a bookstore crawl. Like a pub crawl but better for your health. It’s a perfect excuse to go to neighborhoods you haven’t been in a while and check out the scene.
  5. Books, books, books and more books! Need I say more?

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Sir Elton John, the Patron Saint of Book Soup

If you happened to be lucky enough to be in West Hollywood on the afternoon of Saturday, February 27th, then you probably saw, felt, or heard the awesome power of Sir Elton John's (FREE!) concert from the old Tower Records, directly across the street from us. We had a front row seat, and it was something to see!

The concert was Sir Elton's way of thanking the City of West Hollywood for allowing him to hold his annual Oscar viewing party and fundraiser at a local park. That party by the way, raises massive amounts of money for the Elton John AIDS Foundation, and is attended by a who's who of old and new Hollywood.

In the video announcing the free concert, Sir Elton tells Sharon Osbourne about his passion for the old Tower Records and then he proclaims his affection for Book Soup! The feeling is mutual. He declared he might throw himself off a bridge were we to close our doors. There's no danger of that so all are safe for now.

We've long maintained that Sir Elton is something of a saint around these parts. He and his family have been an amazing support over the years and probably kept our lights on in leaner times. A visit from Sir Elton  is always a highlight of our day. Plus he wrote a kick ass memoir about his charity work on behalf of people all over the world living with HIV and AIDS. Seriously, you should read it. People pay good money to see him globally, so a free concert (in our front yard no less) made for a special day in our neighborhood.  We miss the old Tower Records store too and we can't wait to see what Gibson Guitars does with the space.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Presenting our new favorite Kiwi bookseller - Kiran Dass!

We recently participated in a bookseller exchange program with Booksellers NZ and had the pleasure of hosting Kiran Dass. She came to us from Unity Books in Auckland, New Zealand. We asked her a few questions about her American journey.
  1. 1.Tell us about Unity Books. 
Unity Books is a proudly independent and award-winning bookshop in the heart of Auckland city, New Zealand. We also have a sister shop in Wellington. We stock literary fiction, thoughtfully selected quality non-fiction, oddities and take immense pleasure in the art of handselling - putting the perfect book into the customer's hands, the book they didn't even know they were looking for. We are committed to supporting local publishing and small press.
  1. This is your first time in the States. Any surprises?
Yes! This is my first visit to the States. One of the first impressions I had is how warm, friendly, polite and welcoming the people I met in Denver (when I was there for the ABA Winter Institute) and Los Angeles have been. Los Angeles has a pretty similar aesthetic, atmosphere and geographic sprawl to Auckland, though on a much larger scale, of course. 

  1. Your scholarship was to work at the bookstore of your choosing right? Why Book Soup?
 The amazing scholarship I was awarded by Booksellers NZ and Kobo meant the opportunity to attend the Winter Institute booksellers conference followed by work experience at an American independent bookstore. We don't actually get to to choose the bookstore where we are placed, but when I heard the placements were in Los Angeles, I crossed my fingers for Book Soup and quietly suggested it as an amazing bookshop to Booksellers NZ. Why Book Soup? Jo, my manager at Unity is a fan of Book Soup and once described it to me as being like "Unity Books x 3." So naturally I was curious. After looking it up, I knew it would be my sort of bookshop from the high standard of literary fiction and non fiction kept in stock, the location and the description "Book Soup has been serving readers, writers, artists, rock & rollers..." I felt at home as soon as I walked in the door.
  1. What books are you recommending while you are here?
I've managed to recommend a few books to customers on the shop floor at Book Soup! One is Lucia Berlin's startlingly superb 'A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories' - such cleanly written observational pieces. I also recommended Clarice Lispector's short stories. I don't usually tend to gravitate to short stories, but these writers are harsh mistresses of the form! I also recommended Hanya Yanagihara's brilliant 'A Little Life', which was my book of 2015. It turned me inside out and is one of the most immersive literary experiences I have ever had. (I think we need to form a support group for those of us who have read it, though!)

  1. How much of L.A. have you seen? What was your favorite?
I have managed to see a tiny bit of LA. Vroman's at Pasadena was great. I managed to get to Disneyland which was absolutely bonkers and exhausting, and a real highlight for me was the extraordinarily esoteric and brilliant Museum of Jurassic Technology. 
  1. Are you taking any books back in your suitcase?
I haven't started, yet! But I did buy a book about Duran Duran from Book Soup and hope to pick up more special books during the rest of my travels to New York and San Francisco. If I have to get another suitcase, so be it.

  1. What bookstores do you hope to visit in New York? San Francisco?
I plan to visit The Strand, Three Lives & Company, Word and Community in New York And, Green Apple Books and of course, City Lights in San Francisco. And as many other independent bookstores I can find along the way.

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.