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A Note from Emöke: Our Anniversary!
It seems like yesterday that I threw the doors open to Malaprop’s and Downtown Books and News. Time does fly by when I have fun.It is a wonderful testament to this town that it has allowed us to be over service for their book needs for THIRTY-FIVE YEARS. Imagine that - 35 years. Readers young, old, new, and local keep telling us to stay the course, to keep the center of this town amazing. Asheville has become as vibrant and diverse in selection as we have always aspired to be. We are a sanctuary for folks looking for a moment of respite from a chaotic world. Our selections of new books at Malaprop's are as varied and unique as the well-loved (or used) books at Downtown Books and News. I could not be any more proud of these stores and the staff who help you find JUST the book you were searching for.


(gift certificates and café items excluded)

Colim Thubron is an author whose work I have not read in entirety, but maybe I should. The last two titles I have read (Night of Fire and To a Mountain in Tibet) infused me again with the love of curling up with a book and not paying attention to anything else. Not selling. I have to qualify that by saying that I have read more than a few authors in those years, but as many things get old, GOOD writing in BOOKS never ages for me. For example, poet Jimmie Margaret Gilliam, who read downstairs at Malaprop's thirty-four years ago. We are celebrating her memory at 3 pm on Sunday, June 25th by reading from Torn From the Ear of Night, a selection of her poems published by White Pine Press. Join us for this special event on June 25th. I am grateful for her words and her support for all these years.   

Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin is out this month. She is a writer who not only supports independent book sellers but writes wonderful novels for us to share with you. She will not disappoint you as she has never disappointed me on my journey of reading good literature.

My family has been blessed by those who appreciate the arts and music. You are probably aware that there has been a lot of activity with coloring books. I am happy for this since I truly believe that practicing any of the arts is essential to the soul’s well being. We have been spending time throughout the years drawing together around our family table. I have decided that I will share some of the results by doing an exhibition at Downtown Books and News Gallery in July. Come see and enjoy “ Family that draws together is drawn together.”

On July 1, join us at Downtown Books and News for our 29th Anniversary with reading, writing, music, and a great cup of coffee at my family's art opening. 
Sometimes life events hit like a blow to the head with a two-by-four. Sometimes they catch us unaware. These blows may be followed by a hard punch to the stomach.I experienced one of those double sucker-punches not too long ago.

For weeks I couldn’t concentrate enough to read anything more elaborate than a news story. An activity that had been my greatest source of comfort as far back as I could remember was lost to me. I recall how grateful I was the first night I felt sufficiently focused to make it through a chapter of one of the books stacked on my bedside table.

Initially I was convinced, as most of us in deep pain usually are, that I was alone in my misery and that no one, however caring and helpful, had the slightest inkling of what it felt to be me. Not surprisingly, I quickly found out that I was wrong about my unique status. Someone else’s two-by-four may have come from a different tree than mine, but that didn’t make the collision any less painful.

Once I started reading again, I relied first on my literary equivalent of comfort food: cozy mysteries. If a dog was part of the story, so much the better. Gradually, I started asking friends and acquaintances who also had been walloped by hard objects for book recommendations that might help instead of simply distracting me. The list was a long one.

It’s impossible to say how large of role my “therapeutic” reading played in my healing process—which, in any case, continues. I do know that reading, for me as for many booklovers, is a place of solace and rest: a place to learn, a place to lose myself. What follows is a very short list of the books I learned from and found respite in. I offer it in hopes that it may be useful. Naturally, you don’t have to have suffered a traumatic event to benefit—these books are good and wise reading at any time..

Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor
Described as a spiritual memoir, this book is more than that. It’s a meditation on understanding and learning to appreciate those periods when our lives are not what we'd like them to be: we're facing difficulties in our work, or our relationships, or we're depressed, or stressed, or simply not able to perform in our lives in the way we want to or think we should be able to. The author, an Episcopal priest, believes that there is much we can learn from the dark—both literally and metaphorically--from the simple act of being able to truly see the stars, to learning about ourselves and others as a way of reaching love, understanding, and joy. Often, she says, it is while we are in the dark that we grow the most.

Hardwiring Happiness by Rick Hanson
The message of Hardwiring Happiness is an upbeat one. Because it’s based on science—neuroscience, specifically—it’s good for people like me who find solace in hard facts when anecdotal comments, however well meaning, don’t help. Hanson, a psychologist and the author of the bestseller Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom, explains human beings’ seeming bias toward negativity, and offers specific suggestions on how to counter this bias and build new neural pathways in our brains that reinforce calm and happiness.

Rising Strong by Brené Brown
Brené Brown’s Rising Strong contains more jargon is necessary, but her message is powerful enough to override that small annoyance. A credentialed researcher who values both quantitative AND qualitative data in her work, Brown suggests that it’s when we’ve failed, or been “trashed, betrayed, forsaken, thrown under the bus, or had the rug pulled out from under us—pick your metaphor”—that we have the biggest opportunity for emotional growth. If there's one overarching message in the book, it's to question the stories we tell ourselves, the ones we make up to feel in control, or right, or comfortable. Certainty--the belief that our stories are true, usually accompanied by blaming someone else for our distress, is the first sign that we need to dig deeper.

H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald
This is a difficult book to categorize. It's part memoir and contemplation of grief, part biography (of T.H. White), and part nature study. The first was the heart of the book to me, eloquent and honest but never "confessional," which sadly now seems required of any memoirist who aspires to a best seller.  

Mainly, it’s the story of the author’s training of a goshawk over several months, following her father’s death. It’s filled with gorgeous writing (MacDonald is a poet) that consistently hits home. A sampling:

“Watching, not doing. Seeking safety in not being seen. It's a habit you can fall into, willing yourself into invisibility. And it doesn't serve you well in life. Believe me it doesn't. Not with people and loves and hearts and homes and work. But for the first few days with a new hawk, making yourself disappear is the greatest skill in the world.”

“There is a time in life when you expect the world to be always full of new things. And then comes a day when you realise that is not how it will be at all. You see that life will become a thing made of holes. Absences. Losses. Things that were there and are no longer. And you realise, too, that you have to grow around and between the gaps,…”

Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott
Lamott's success as a writer comes from her ability to make each reader believe that Lamott is speaking directly to them, that, in fact, they and "Annie" were separated at birth. But mostly I think it's Lamott's gift of what I'd call "practical grace." Lamott seems to believe that God (and grace) is in the messes, in all the imperfect places where most of us spend most of the day, every day. If we make friends with those parts of ourselves that screw up (repeatedly) and ask for help, and stay in community with others who are in the same boat, then from time to time rays of light will break through that will make us gasp with wonder. And it's that light, or grace, that helps us return the favor.


Now that it's getting warmer again, I find myself doing something that I try to do every year, and generally don't do well: reading outside. In years past, when I've tried to do it, whether sitting on a bench or in the grass or by a creek, I can't manage to get focused, always flicking flies or ants or other, scarier bugs, off of myself. This year, though, I live pretty close to a couple spots that make for great reading: a grassy hill with a nice view, and even higher up a bench with an even better view (but generally more people around). Over the past month or so I've been trying to go to the grassy hillside to read on my days off or before work, if I have a later shift, and have mysteriously found myself reading easily, not worried about the bugs and occasionally looking up and taking in a beautiful day, with the wind blowing in the trees and big, white clouds in the sky. Somehow it's lead me to be a better reader, probably because of this impulse to look up and around so often—it slows me down when oftentimes I'm trying to rush through all my books to get onto the next one.

I just finished reading a very new book by a very new publisher—Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, published by Transit Books. It's an amazingly written novel written about Uganda (by a Ugandan) and tells a really wide-ranging tale of both 18th and 21st century Uganda, one that never feels generalized or totalized, but nonetheless feels realistic and generous in its scope. There are a lot of truly funny moments in the book, and the multitude of characters are all extremely well drawn, and Makumbi interlocks her disparate characters (disparately, distantly related to the same patriarch, Kintu, cursed for reasons I won't go into here). The novel deals very heavily with patriarchal structures and strictures, and Makumbi does a great job of portraying them realistically and objectively while also occasionally subverting them and showing how damaging they can be. It's a relatively long book, and I thought it might take me a while to read, but I ended up flying through it in three days, and fell completely in love! I would recommend reading the introduction first, as Aaron Bady helps explain some of the very Ugandan content of the novel, and explains why it's such an amazing, important, different book. As always, you can find it on my staff picks shelf in the store!

Dear Patty

Dear Patty,
I read last week’s column, which got me thinking about another aspect of change: gender reassignment surgery. You know why! Much to the dismay of those around me, I am a student of celebrity pop culture, which is a more sophisticated way of saying celebrity gossip. I was weaned on the National Enquirer. Another man’s trash is one man’s treasure, right? As a result, the high-brow options never appealed to me. Isn’t it off-putting to have someone look down upon your reading choices because the authors are not part of the revered literary canon or just aren’t obscure enough?
Signing off,
Not Snooty in Newland
Dear Not Snooty,
I think you may actually *be* snooty, which is ironic coming from a low-brow culture warrior like yourself. You’re like a sentry guarding your own Fort Fabulous Dahling.  Surely that comes from being on the defense for so long. Who started this war anyway? Oh, that’s right. This war is the never-ending kind, and there are no winners (or biggest losers), just folks taking sides in defense of intellectual territory that morphs into the ad hominem attack in case we want to stop taking sides. Right now I have my eye on Caitlyn Jenner’s The Secrets of My Life. As a long-time watcher of reality t.v., I have followed the Kardashians for years, much to the chagrin of those who see it as schlock and quickly wrote me off as mentally compromised. My take on pop culture is that it is a sign of the times, manufactured and derivative and a reflection of fear and longing. I am fascinated and confounded by it. Didn’t you watch FEUD: Bette and Joan and learn from it? You may have overlooked The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood until it made its debut on Hulu as a t.v. series last month. And to think you may have been without this dystopian novel since its release in 1985! Keep this quote from the book in mind: “Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.” Draw from cultures in general, and that means many brows, rather than a unibrow (except in reverence of Frida Kahlo).
Featured June Events
Wednesday, June 7 at 7 pm
Sarah Dooley presents YA novel Ashes to Asheville
Wednesday, June 14 at 7 pm
Gail Godwin presents Grief Cottage
Tuesday, June 20 at 7pm
Jenny Allen presents Would Everybody Please Stop: Reflections on Life and Other Bad Ideas
Sunday, June 25 at 7 pm
Book Release & Celebration for Jimmie Margaret Gilliam
See Full Calendar 

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