The Shelf Life


Nick’s Pick for March

posted on February 25, 2015 at 9:43 pm by Brad Craft

lud3Ever heard of Ludmilla Petrushevskaya? Her first collection in translation was called THERE ONCE LIVED A WOMAN WHO TRIED TO KILL HER NEIGHBOR’S BABY. They were scary modern fairy tales. It won a World Fantasy award and actually ended up on a few major best-of-the-year lists. Then came the second collection, THERE ONCE LIVED A GIRL WHO SEDUCED HER SISTER’S HUSBAND, AND HE HANGED HIMSELF. Those were love stories. Now two of her most famous, prize-winning pieces are included in the most recent collection and my March Pick, THERE ONCE LIVED A MOTHER WHO LOVED HER CHILDREN, UNTIL THEY MOVED BACK IN. These little glimpses into reality read faster than a speeding bullet and are just about as friendly. You’ve never read anything like them. Meet a little Russian grandma who tells it like it is.


by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

Regular price $16

20% off at University Book Store

Our price $12.80



 77-year-old Ludmilla Petrushevskaya is arguably Russia’s best-known living writer, the author of over one hundred stories.


Grimly witty, uncomfortably realistic, her deadpan tales of everyday Russians are candid and spare, frank and funny. She portrays the constant drama of maternal love surviving in domestic hell.

These are not the atrocities of work camps, but the sufferings inflicted by loved ones upon each other across the hall. Her heroines are tired, scared, impoverished women crowded into cramped, identical concrete communal apartments.

Petrushevskaya dares to be open-eyed and open-mouthed about the breakdown of traditional human values. Her daringly honest, oddly comic tales show ordinary families bitterly at war with each other and themselves.

Come discuss the book with us!

Nick’s Book Club


4326 University Way NE

The Bookstore Café

Monday, 30, 6 pm

Homeless as a child, widowed while she was still young, this incredible author was one of the first proponents of the women’s fiction movement in modern Russia. A caregiver to both her mother and her grandson, she is currently a Moscow nightclub singer. Her work was suppressed for many years, and remained banned in Russia long after Solzhenitsyn was published.

Be adventuresome. Give her a try. And I sincerely hope to see some of you  on the Ave at 6 pm in the lovely newly-refurbished Book Store Café. See you there! — Nick

Praying Drunk

posted on March 20, 2014 at 5:49 pm by Blog Archive



A lot of us have given up on the short story, and we gave up well before we even bothered to try. If your experience was like mine, short stories were a thing of high school and college curriculum: 10-30 tidy pages that dealt out enough theme, setting, and voice to warrant several paragraphs, sometimes pages, of student analysis. But even the most dedicated reader can mature into a novel-only creature, despite our huge appetite for short-form creative work on the Internet.


Of course, it’s too bad, that’s where I’m going with this. Some authors – Philip K. Dick, Alice Munro, Raymond Carver – seem to have found their rhythm in short fiction in ways they rarely did with novels. Kyle Minor might be one of these writers. We won’t know until he writes a novel. But for the time being, Praying Drunk is one of the most provocative and poetic books I’ve read, period. At the outset, Minor asks us to read the stories in sequence, and I was reminded of concept albums like Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, which had similar themes of faith gone sour and loved ones slipping away. In truth, there may only be one or two stories in Praying Drunk, told over and over from different points in time, perspective, and prose style. Imagine A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius written with ten more years of maturity and hard-won wisdom, edited down to the starkest narrative essentials. But it’s it’s own beast. It works, it’s brilliant. I heartily, heartily recommend it.




Mavis Gallant 1922 – 2014

posted on February 18, 2014 at 8:17 pm by Brad Craft


A great short story writer, and one of the last of the greatest generation of contributors to the second Golden Age of the New Yorker Magazine, Mavis Gallant, died today, at ninety-one.  Her first story in that magazine appeared in 1951.  Her last book of stories was published in 2009.  (The first volume of her journals is to be published soon.)  In a career that spanned more than fifty years she published multiple collections of her short stories and novellas, two novels, and dozens of essays and  reviews.  Born in Montreal, though living most of her life in her beloved Paris, she was, with Alice Munro and Robertson Davies, one of that generation of Canadian writers who brought world-wide recognition to Canadian letters.


A very private person who preferred her writing to speak for itself, she gave very few interviews, one of the few was for the Paris Review.  In it she says of her stories, “I want a story to be perfectly clear and I don’t want it to be boring. C’est tout.”

She always was and they never were.  She will be missed.

On a (New) Bender

posted on September 21, 2013 at 12:35 am by Brad Craft
Letters and Memorials of Jane Welsh Carlye and The Color Master: Stories

Letters and Memorials of Jane Welsh Carlyle and The Color Master: Stories

Unlikely was the word. Fair enough. Considering the sort of thing with which I’m usually seen wandering off to lunch, the new Aimee Bender book does rather jar against expectations. Letters and Memorials of Jane Welsh Carlyle, prepared for publication Thomas Carlyle, edited by James Anthony Froude? Much more my usual.


But, Aimee Bender is just so good.  When earlier today, in social media, I announced the arrival of her latest book, and my enthusiasm for it, I was met with a certain, perfectly understandable disbelief.


I’m reading this?  Yes, yes I am.


Now, the other book I’m carrying around makes perfect sense, for me.  The letters of Mrs. Thomas Carlyle are among the neglected pleasures of English literature; tart, intelligent, full of keen observation and good humor. I’m reading in them now because I’m already reading with great fascination, and some impatience, the last volume of James Anthony Froude’s magisterial biography of the lady’s husband. Jane comes out of that the better person of the married pair. (Thomas Carlyle would have agreed.) Reading the Letters and Memorials, in addition to supplementing the text of the biography, has proved to be a joy. Easily the best book of letters, other than her husband’s, that I’ve read since those of their friend, Edward Fitzgerald (translator of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.)


The Color Master: Stories, by Aimee Bender

The Color Master: Stories, by Aimee Bender


So, why Aimee Bender?


A few years ago, we organized a Halloween reading series here at the bookstore. Called it, “Spooky Stories,” and read, mostly, the usual sort of thing, like M. R. James, etc. It was a reading series for grown ups, of a Saturday afternoon, throughout the month of October, and so we read some fairly unlikely things as well. A young coworker read a story by Aimee Bender. It was a marvelous thing; unsettling, deceptively simple, haunting, funny. Since then, I’ve read every word Aimee Bender writes.


The new Bender

The new Bender


I don’t like modern fabulists much, as a rule. I’m not usually a fan of the self-consciously artless, or the arbitrarily ill-defined.  There are of course masterful writers — Italo Calvino comes inevitably to mind — who make the most delicious hash of reality, but a writer like Calvino always does so in service of of larger questions; about memory, perception, and yes, the writing of fiction.


Aimee Bender has something of that same, sly gift for thinking through her nightmares, of inventing plausible consequences within seemingly mythical or fantastic scenarios.  She’s funny.  That counts for a lot.  She’s also a devilishly clever woman, a disciplined writer and a surprisingly benign philosopher.  Surprising, for me at least, because there’s a flippant disregard for the humane in a lot of the contemporary literature of this stripe; seems it’s embarrassing to be seen to care.  She writes, sometimes, about some horrible things, but she’s never mean.  rare quality, that, at least in contemporary literature.


So, yes.  Aimee Bender’s The Color Master: Stories, just out from Doubleday, is traveling to lunch with me and Mrs. Carlyle today.  And Bender is on my short list — my increasingly short list — of contemporary writers whose work I have to read as it’s published.  Not because I much care anymore about books because they’re new, but because I care more than ever about the ones that are good.


posted on September 6, 2013 at 6:42 pm by Blog Archive

The other day, I did something I rarely do, but ought to do more often: I sent a message to an author whose book I admired. In two words: fan mail. Now, some of you might think it a pastime for the obsessive, like the case of young Carol Dryden, who tried – unsuccessfully – to mail herself to the Fab Four:




Alternatively, consider the case of young Marge Simpson, who sent a lovingly rendered portrait of Ringo Starr to Mr. Starkey himself: here, not only is the experience mutually rewarding (and unlike Ms. Dryden, non-life-threatening), but a channel of communication that had, until that moment, been one-way from artist to listener suddenly ran a positive charge in both directions. There’s got to be something meaningful and worthwhile about that. Because, you know what? Life is short. So many of my favorite authors – Roger Zelazny, Leigh Brackett, Joseph Campbell – have passed away, and I wish I’d had the opportunity to let them know how much their work impacted my life for the better.



Dear Marge, thanks for the fab painting of yours truly. I hung it on me wall!


With that said, I have two recommendations for you. First, read Abby Geni’s collection, The Last Animal, out in October. I enjoyed it so much I was compelled to write to the author and let her know, which got this whole blog post going in the first place. Second, if you like an author’s work, let them know! These days, they often sit at their computers and avoid work like the rest of us. What I mean is, unless you’re writing to Stephen King or Stephanie Meyer, they probably have time to write back.


So, without further ado: my fan mail, and the author’s response. [ Two notes: “ARC” stands for Advanced Reading Copy, and it’s a complete bummer she won’t be coming to Seattle. ]




Hello Abby,


Earlier this evening, I finished the ARC of The Last Animal. “Terror Birds”, “Fire Blight” and the title story shook me in the best way. As someone who admittedly reads egregious amounts of science fiction, I felt a kinship with these stories, particularly when they involved animals and plants: stories of people comparing and contrasting their struggles with the mysterious existence of the other; a foreign, yet distantly reachable, intelligence.


Anyways, as a bookseller at the University Book Store in Seattle (I noticed the town was mentioned more than once) I’ll be recommending your collection come October. The ARC said your visits will be exclusively a Chicago affair, but should that somehow or sometime extend to the Emerald City, we’d love to see you. Thank you for sharing your inner world. It’s no simple action. All the best, and I’m looking forward to more in the years to come.


Michael Wallenfels

Self-Publishing Coordinator

University Book Store

Seattle, WA



Hi Michael,

Thanks so much for your lovely note. This is a whirlwind time, waiting for the book to come out! I’m delighted to hear the stories moved you. Though it’s unlikely I’ll be able to make my way to Seattle anytime soon — though I’ve always wanted to visit! — I’m glad to know my book has found a friend there. Thanks again!