The Shelf Life


(Paper)Back in Action

posted on May 29, 2014 at 1:00 pm by Blog Archive

It’s the time of year for renewal. To restart cycles, redye the hairdo, rewind the cassette tapes. Snow melts, songbirds sing, colors bloom, the sun comes out and old things come back to us in new forms. For example, books come out in paperback. You might say, well, books come out in paperback all year. Sure. That’s true. But I’m painting a larger picture here. Anyways all the paperbacks I’m talking about came out in spring. Good enough? Moving on.

Van Gogh's Field of Spring Wheat at Sunrise.

Van Gogh’s Field of Spring Wheat at Sunrise.

Like a butterfly from chrysalis, a paperback doesn’t necessarily match it’s larval, hardcover iteration. For anyone like me who, for better or worse, went to art school, the design decisions are more than kind of interesting. Some books keep the original design. Those who do are often the mainstream mega-bestsellers – Dan Brown, Sue Grafton, Janet Evanovich, even Game of Thrones – but the literary stuff usually gets a fresh breath of life, or at least a new take. To illustrate, here’s a selection of my 2013 favorites that have come back around with new plumage.

PeopletreesThe People in the Trees knocked my socks clean off. When I finished it was hard to read anything else for a while, and even now I’ll stop reading a book that I realize is trying to do something The People in the Trees did much better – namely, be haunting, wonderfully crafted and well-told, like Shirley Jackson’s stuff, or The Sparrow or Geek Love. It lingers like a bad, beautiful dream. And as for the covers, the hardcover (left) gets the moody strangeness and the paperback (right) gets the violence. One great thing about the hardcover is that if you were holding it in your hands you’d see the maggots all over the spine. It’s brilliant. The paperback is handsome, too, but moreso than dreamlike/odd it falls toward edgy/gritty. And if you haven’t read it and are wondering what the deal is with the turtle, well, then, read the book.

NewNamesThis I read in one sitting. We Need New Names was a finalist for the Man-Booker Prize and why was obvious in the reading – swift prose and a powerful narrative voice telling a damn good story. The hardcover (left) is electric yellow with skinny typography, which gets the exotic setting and the skinny legs of the young protagonist & her pals. The plane in the center takes the protagonist from her friends in Zimbabwe to America, and her aunt. The paperback (right) borrows much of the same palette but has the feel of U.S. propaganda painted on wood panels, maybe the side of someone’s home in Zimbabwe shortly before it’s bulldozed by Revolutionaries. As you might notice, the book got some good attention. Paperbacks often wear awards & praise like generals wear war medals, to gaudy results. This cover handles its accolades well. I hope it means this book will be noticed and read.

PanoptPerhaps you’ve also noticed that all these entries are debut books by women writers. All I can say is, so they are. It’s exciting because every book here is incredible and these writers are young and just getting their motors going. The Panopticon was written by a Scottish poet. The protagonist is a young girl and the setting is a prison. The hardcover (left) gets the prison (bars, keyhole), but the paperback (right), in a very subtle upgrade, really hints at what kind of prison – circular, with a watchtower in the middle to observe all prisoners at once. Also hypnotic, radiating lines which evoke the concentric circles of the prison and the protagonist’s often drug-induced, quasi-hallucinogenic, paranoid experience of her world. Both covers are stunning and capture well how unlike this book is from almost any other. And of note, both covers may have subconscious appeal to Hitchcock fans. And that’s all for now, til the next installment – happy reading, whether your book be hardcover, paperback, or e-.

Here There Be Dragons

posted on April 2, 2014 at 2:59 am by Jenny Oleinik

MCCAFFREY-obit-articleInlineOn this day in 1926, internationally-bestselling author Anne Inez McCaffrey was born, and millions of her loyal readers are thrilled about that fact. I remember to the day when I was first introduced to her writing: it was the night of my twelfth birthday, and I received a strange-looking set of books, including Dragonsong, from my uncle. Whether he knew it or not I had somewhat exhausted the children’s department at my local library, great as it was, and was re-reading my favorites from home again and again. Uncle Parky told me he had loved these books at his age. Being a kid, this made me somewhat dubious as to how good they could possibly be, but my reader self dutifully sat down to peruse. I was an instant fan.


AnneMcCaffrey_DragonflightIt was the beginning of a new literary era for me and opened doors to the adult literature world in the most interesting ways. Suddenly I was shopping in the “grown-up” departments at book stores and exploring new sections of the library that had before seemed old and stodgy. I devoured everything Anne McCaffrey had written, continuing with her Dragonriders of Pern series and working my way into her Brain & Brawn Ship books and Acorna series. My dad introduced me to Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov, and then I started reading adult fiction. I had always been an avid book worm, but I vividly remember the world of Pern and how it broadened what I already thought to be a wonderful literary experience. For that reason, perhaps, McCaffrey holds a special place in my mind and on my bookshelf, and I still think of her books as a kind of comfort food for the brain, something familiar and good to curl up with on any given day.


Though she passed away in more than three years ago now, the worlds she created continue through her son’s writing and, most importantly, through us, her fans.


“After Dachau” by Daniel Quinn

posted on March 27, 2014 at 2:20 am by Jenny Oleinik
Daniel Quinn and his many books. (Credit to for the collage photos.)

Daniel Quinn and his many books. (Credit to for the collage photos.)

Author Daniel Quinn is known for his high-concept literature–which I like to describe as written philosophies set to narrative–and his internationally best-selling book Ishmael can be found in classrooms around the world. After Dachau, which was published in 2001, ten years after Ishmael, is a high concept novel as well, but it’s appeal for me is in its approachability. The role between narrative and philosophy is more evenly weighted, and the addition of a more action-filled plot line (moderately so) makes it a more straightforward book for everyday reading.


Don’t get me wrong; I love Ishmael. It’s one of my long-time favorites, and I often feel I should return to it more frequently than I do. But there are days and weeks when, tired out from this and that, I find I don’t have the concentration to sift through the meanings and morals without the need to re-read sections as I go. There are books that can be read quickly and there are books that require more attention. Whether or not these books are better or worse for the ease with which they can be digested, it is a fact of life that sometimes we all have the attention span of a three-year old on a sugar high. And while After Dachau does in fact require far more concentration than your average beach read, it’s the lightest fare of Quinn’s that I’ve read so far. It’s also, as his books always are, very thought provoking.


I've never liked the cover art, but the content sure makes up for it.

I’ve never liked the cover art, but the content sure makes up for it.

Now comes the hard part: it is nearly impossible to describe After Dachau without revealing at least a few spoilers. For those who are incredibly spoiler-conscious, here’s a one-sentence description from the publisher: “Compared by readers and critics alike to 1984 and Brave New World, After Dachau is a new dystopian classic with much to say about our own time, and the dynamics of human history.” Quinn has created a fascinating revisionist history filled with “what if?”s, and the characters involved are just as befuddled as the reader when it all begins. And while the definition of “classic” may be thrown around with little care these days by reviewers and marketing teams alike, I can certainly say, with no hesitation, that After Dachau is worth the read.


Now for those who don’t mind a couple of spoilers in order to better understand what they’re diving into: It is 1992 A.D., 2,002 years after Hitler and the Nazis won the war, and the world is homogenous and ignorant, the re-written histories of world-wide genocides stripped from the history books. In this world, trust-fund baby Jason Tull, Jr., is a college graduate and bored with what his ordinary world has to offer. (This may be a “dystopian” society, but only through our perspective: the citizens of it are completely unaware.) To stave off the apathy, he signs on with an underfunded foundation looking to find and prove instances of reincarnation. When a tip leads him to car-crash victim Mallory Hastings, who wakes up as a deaf woman originating from 2,000 years ago, the journey to uncover history as it was begins. The “what if” questions abound, and Quinn clearly brings up the idea that to the victor go the spoils, history included.


You can find After Dachau in our Staff Favorites department at our main store in Seattle.

Rolling Out the Red Carpet

posted on February 26, 2014 at 2:52 am by Jenny Oleinik
Oscar himself guards the staircase at our U-District store.

Oscar himself guards the staircase at our U-District store.

Now that the Winter Olympics have concluded–and can I say bravo to Sochi on that epic celebration of Russian literature in the closing ceremony?–it’s time to turn our attention to the 86th Academy Awards. The lights! The dazzle! The pageantry! And, most importantly, the books that made so many of these movies possible from the start.

This year’s nominations stem from a bunch of great reads, and we’ve listed the majority of them, along with their respective book titles, below. Read the book and see the movie (or switch the order, if you so prefer). Lights, camera, action!
12 Years a Slave (Best Picture, Actor in a Leading Role, Directing, etc.) 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northrop. Solomon Northup was a free-born African American who lived between 1808 and around 1863. Twelve Years a Slave is Northrup’s memoir (as told to and edited by David Wilson) of his experience being kidnapped and sold into slavery for twelve years in Louisiana before regaining his freedom. Northrop’s book was a bestseller when it was first published (just a year after Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin) but then slumped into a a century of obscurity before it was “re-discovered” in the early 1960s. The movie 12 Years a Slave is not the first film adaptation of the book, though: in 1984, Solomon Northrup’s Odyssey (later released as Half Slave, Half Free) was aired on PBS.

WolfWallStreetThe Wolf of Wall Street (Best Picture, Actor in a Leading Role, Directing, etc.) The Wolf of Wall Street by Jordan Belfort. Having not read this one myself, I will pass the baton to Publishers Weekly: “Belfort, who founded one of the first and largest chop shop brokerage firms in 1987, was banned from the securities business for life by 1994, and later went to jail for fraud and money-laundering, delivers a memoir that reads like fiction. It covers his decade of success with straightforward accounts of how he worked with managers of obscure companies to acquire large amounts of stock with minimal public disclosure, then pumped up the price and sold it, so he and the insiders made large profits while public investors usually lost.” And a follow-up from Kirkus Reviews: “Entertaining as pulp fiction, real as a federal indictment […] a hell of a read.”


bookthiefThe Book Thief (Music – Original Score) The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. The Book Thief has been a must-read since its publication in 2006. Narrated by death, it tells the story of Liesel, a foster child in 1939 Nazi Germany. She discovers an insatiable love of reading that she shares with her foster father, her neighbours, and the Jewish man hiding in her basement. Though categorized as a teen book, it has become an international bestseller with readers of all ages and has spent over 375 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. It is one of those books that gets passed from reader to reader and has become a staple for book clubs nationwide. Zusak was recently awarded the 2014 Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime contribution in writing for young adults. Even if you don’t see the movie, this book is a wonderful choice.


The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects) — The Hobbit or There and Back Again by J. R. R. Tolkien. Well this one seems pretty obvious, don’t you think?


Captain Phillips (Best Picture, Actor in a Supporting Role, Writing – Adapted Screenplay, etc.) A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea by Richard Phillips with Stephen Talty. In A Captain’s Duty, Captain Richard Philips tells the story of the hijacking of the container ship MV Maersk Alabama and his experience as a hostage to Somali pirates before he was rescued. Tom Hanks’ acting in the role of Captain Phillips was, as is typical for Hanks, fantastic. While the film focuses mainly on Phillips’ experience, the book alternates between his ordeal and the experiences of his family in Vermont as they faced a different kind of emotional turmoil. A Captain’s Duty received starred reviews from both Booklist and Publishers Weekly.


mayor cover for webInside Llewyn Davis (Cinematography, Sound Mixing)The Mayor of MacDougal Street: A Memoir by Dave Van Ronk. The Seattle Times says this book is “[a] delightful, keenly-observed, cantankerous autobiography…which, if you love ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ you owe it to yourself to read.” In it Van Ronk, one of the founding individuals of the 1960s folk music revival, gives a firsthand account of his experiences and encounters with soon-to-be famous Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and more. According to the New York Review of Books blog, Inside Llewyn Davis “extensively mines Van Ronk’s remarkable posthumous memoirThe Mayor of MacDougal Street (seamlessly compiled from interviews by Elijah Wald; Da Capo, 2005) for scenes, anecdotes, and details of background, and its protagonist, Llewyn Davis (played by Oscar Isaac) sings songs closely associated with Van Ronk.”


The Great Gatsby (Costume Design)The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Whether you loved or hated the film–and it was definitely a dividing movie–almost everyone can agree that the novel by Fitzgerald is one of the all-time best American classics. If you haven’t read it yet, now is as good a time as any.


The "Before they were Oscars..." display set-up at our Mill Creek branch.

The “Before they were Oscars…” display set-up at our Mill Creek branch.

Saving Mr. Banks (Music – Original Score) Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers. Okay, so it’s not based on Mary Poppins so much as the woman who wrote it and Walt Disney’s determination to bring it to cinematic life, but I still think it belongs on this list. Another title that might be of interest is Mary Poppins She Wrote: The Life of P. L. Travers by Valerie Lawson. Booklist says: “It turns out there was a lot of the difficult Travers in Poppins. […] This meticulously researched but overlong biography may help restore a diminished literary reputation, but its unsparing portrait of an exceedingly unsympathetic human being will win Travers no new posthumous friends.” Biography fans ought to appreciate this one, especially those who were annoyed with the inaccuracies portrayed in the film (as charming as it was).


room on the broomRoom on the Broom (Short Film – Animated)Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson; illustrated by Axel Scheffler. This short is based on the classic picture book created by the same duo who wrote and illustrated another bestselling kids’ favorite, The Gruffalo. Learn more here about the animated short, the original book, and a new game app that’s available.


Philomena (Best Picture, Actress in a Leading Role, Writing – Adapted Screenplay, etc.) — Philomena: A Mother, Her Son, & a Fifty-Year Search by Martin Sixsmith. Philomena tells the true story, as told by journalist Sixsmith, of a pregnant teenager in 1952 who was sent to a convent and forced to give up her son for adoption. Five decades later she decides to find him and, unbeknownst to her, he attempts to find her as well, though they are now an ocean apart. Dame Judi Dench, who is nominated for a best actress award in this film, writes, “The extraordinary story of an extraordinary woman […] Philomena’s tale is special. […] It reveals a remarkable human being with astonishing fortitude and a truly humbling willingness to forgive. […] I hope Philomena’s heroic search and her courage in allowing her story to be told will bring comfort to all who have suffered a similar fate.” (Dench has written the foreword to the newest edition of the book that is now available.)


lone survivorLone Survivor (Sound Editing, Sound Mixing)Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10 by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson. Lone Survivor is a non-fiction account of Luttrell’s experience in Afghanistan under Operation Red Wing in which he and other Navy SEALs were to observe a local village and capture or kill a Taliban leader. An encounter with local residents, however, turns their mission treacherously violent as they find themselves surrounded and greatly outnumbered by Taliban warriors. Film rights were obtained in 2007, the same year that the book was released. According to The Washington Post, “If you’re looking for a true story that showcases both American heroism and Afghani humanity, [this] may be the book for you.”


Blue Jasmine (Actress in a Leading Role, Actress in a Supporting Role, Writing – Original Screenplay) — This drama, written and directed by Woody Allen, tells the story of a fall from wealth to poverty by a Manhattan Socialite. Though not specifically based on a book (note the nomination for best original screenplay), it has been heavily compared to Tennessee Williams’ play A Streetcar Named Desire. Some critics believe Allen was directly inspired by the play, citing similar plot and characters, though not all critics agree. Regardless, the two leading ladies in Allen’s film have previously been associated with Williams’ play, and a comparison of the two would certainly bring about a lively conversation about comparative art.


OsageAugust: Osage County (Actress in a Leading Role, Actress in a Supporting Role)August: Osage County by Tracy Letts. This play, an American black-comedy drama, premiered in Chicago in 2007 and then received  Pulitzer Prize in 2008. It focuses on the strong-willed and disjointed women of the Weston family who reunite after a family crisis in their hometown of Pawhuska, Oklahoma. The film adaptation features a star-studded cast (including Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, both with Oscar nods for their roles). The play itself is three hours long while the film is just around two hours. According to our own used book buyer, Brad Craft, “If you want to experience the full disfunction of this family, you owe it to yourself to read the play. A lot more drinking, drugs, and fighting–all of the fun.”


As always, happy reading! (And watching.)


posted on January 16, 2014 at 5:30 pm by Brad Craft

We at University Bookstore may be a little late with our own new year’s resolutions (how is it January 16th already?), but we are certainly ready to help you achieve your goals. Whether yours is to learn new skills, read more, find happiness in the little things, or to be healthier and happier, we’ve got the books to help.Diet guides? Check. Meditation aids? Yup. Happiness journals? Got ’em. Exercise techniques? Absolutely. Spiritual affirmations? Sure thing. Cookbooks? Of course! In other words, we’ve got you covered.

use2From all of us at the bookstore, here’s wishing you a happy and healthy new year! And for those of a more cynical temperament, a note from the ever-quotable Mark Twain:

New Year’s Day: now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.