Common Good Books

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“September. It seems these luminous days will never end.”

—   First two lines of James Salter’s A Sport and a Pastime

Ocean: A Photicular Book, a Study

Two New Mags

Today our magazine selection grew by two. Welcome, Cherry Bombe and Victory.


Cherry Bombe is a magazine about the women of the culinary world (in the broadest sense of the word). The topics covered are vast, and the magazine is elegantly designed. This issue includes a love letter to oysters, an interview about the science of space-food, supermarket themed fashion photos and lots of recipes and profiles.

Victory is a journal about sports, but not in the ESPN sense of the word. They may describe themselves best: ”unmoved by statistical analysis and provincial opinionating, Victory is concerned with the eternal glories and ignominies of players and pursuits the world over.” The journal is stunning—and as much about art as it is about sports. It is photo-centric and filled with historic, panoramic interviews and essays.



Wall of Beautiful Books


We did some redecorating with some of our favorite publishers in mind. Shout out to New Directions, Library of America, Melville House, Penguin and New York Review of Books. You make pretty books — and good ones, too. 


Football (Book) Season


I love books about sports because they are the perfect venue for an author, and sometimes an athlete, to make metaphysical the overtly physical reality of athletic competition. What is unconscious (running, sweating, breathing hard) is made very self-conscious in the act of writing and reflecting. Actually, I recently dissolved the labels in our sports section that separated the books by sport. These books, the good ones at least, transcend the limitations of such categories. In short, to call Ken Dryden’s memoir a “hockey book” is to deride its content. 


These days, though, with football and in particular the NFL, every conversation necessarily begins with the body. They begin with newly surfacing scientific research about brain trauma, violence and brutality. Against Football,by Steve Almond does not deviate from this trend. Almond highlights the obvious fact that the sport is physically destructive. He extrapolates from there; being a fan of the physical sport, he argues, encourages our “lust for violence, our racial neuroses, our yearning for patriarchal dominion, our sexual hang-ups.”

On the other side of the dialogue is Mark Edmundson’s Why Football Matters. This book is hard to categorize – it is a memoir, it is a reflection on culture (gender, family) and it is an optimistic defense of the sport. The book is a romantic catalog of Edmundson’s personal history with football. For anyone who has played the game (or any sport really), these stories will resonate strongly.

But even in Edmundson’s book, harsh physical realities of football permeate his reflection; “brutality, thoughtlessness, dull conformity, love for the herd mentality and the herd – these can be products of football too.” Basically, he explains, he was lucky to be athletically inept. This way he was prevented him from giving himself over completely to the sport.

The dialogue between these books seems important – and inevitable. Especially in a time when the future of the sport is so uncertain. I grew up loving football and I sympathize with Edmundson’s appreciation of the game.

But maybe football as a whole is doomed to be implicated the harms that come along with the NFL. Each snap necessarily implies collision. In the shadow of  Alzheimer’s, domestic abuse and suicide, Edmundson’s optimistic and heartwarming reflections might be too little too late, even for a football fan.


Women in Clothes

by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, Leanne Shapton & 639 others

Get to Know a Bookseller: Joe


"This is Karl, he wrote a book called MY STRUGGLE."

Joe: The last interview.

Colin: This is the last one.

J: The last one before you leave, man. I’m honored. Although, I don’t have time to do my Lennon Remembers interview he did for Playboy in the ‘70s when he was all bitter and hated everyone. I’d have to prepare more.

C: Bitter about The Beatles?

J: Yea, The Beatles. It’s super outrageous, right after they broke up. Lennon’s like, “I’m a genius and genius is pain,” and stuff like that. I’m paraphrasing, obviously. There’s one part where he’s like, “If I could be a fisherman I would. But I can’t. I’m brilliant.” He says a lot of nasty stuff about Paul, in particular.

C: Did they interview all The Beatles?

J: No, it’s just him. It’s him and then Yoko chimes in occasionally. And he defends her a lot because he felt she was unfairly treated. But I always thought when we did this I would do my John Lennon. (Dons fake British accent) “If I could do something else I would.” (Typing) It’s from 1970. I’m looking it up. So. I’m not gonna do that.

C: There’s no one here that you want to #$@! all over, or argue hampered your creativity or anything?

J: Probably shouldn’t.

C: When did you start working at Common Good Books?

J: Oh, I’ve worked here forever it seems like. I started right after we opened, so pretty much after college. I worked at a grocery store before this and it was awful. I did a whole year there and then got on here and ended up getting full time after awhile.

C: So, besides Martin, you’ve been here the longest.

J: And some part-timers, like Jean, Kathy, Keelin, Rene. I hope I’m not forgetting anybody.

C: What do you think has changed the most?

J: The move has definitely helped a lot. We’re busier, more visible; it’s easier to do events. We’re next to Macalester, which really helps. People know where it is. Even if you don’t know St. Paul, everyone kind of has a clue about Snelling and Grand. It’s just good that were not in a basement.

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“Poems infatuated with their own smarts and detached from any emotional grounding can leave the reader feeling lonely, empty and ashamed for having expected more.”

—   Tracy K. Smith, The New York Times, July 21, 2014
Read The Hernandez Brothers 

Good Books of Late


Make that Good Books of Early. Two releases we can’t wait to talk about are Ben Lerner’s novel 10:04 (Available 9/2) and John Williams’ Augustus (8/19). As I said half-jokingly via email earlier this month, Lerner’s novel serves as something of a meta-sequel to his critically-adored debut—and CGB favorite—Leaving the Atocha Station. There are no shortage of sequels in the summertime and readers may understandably frown at the thought of opening a book only to find droll callbacks and bigger explosions. The good news is that Ben Lerner is probably in the top five best writers under 40 category and the only big bang in 10:04 is the sound of Ben Lerner, a poet by trade, tearing the heart out of the contemporary lyric novel and leaving its skeleton, cold and accountable. What we get is not quite Adam from Leaving the Atocha Station but a similarly fraudulent young writer whose first novel was a conspicuously critical success, but 35 and with a book contract. Both Lerner and Williams (1922-94) contemplate the making and side-effects of American individualism, but Williams, over the course of three novels, envisioned its source, namely solitude, from three periods in Western history, working his way back to Ancient Rome in Augustus. The epistolary novel won the National Book Award in 1973 and has now been brought back into print by NYRB. That’s right, a book that won the National Book Award has been harder to find for some 10 years than Jedi Search, book one of the Jedi Academy Trilogy, presumably also in print.

Also expelled from the riptide of obscurity comes Don Carpenter’s (1932-95) The Hollywood Trilogy. Less of a trilogy, really, than three novels set in Hollywood by a screenwriter who redefined Western grit. Carpenter’s characters are acidicly ambitious and his take on their twisted and sundry pursuits of despair comes as close to an insider’s confession as any celebrity memoir, without, miraculously, sacrificing humanity. Plus, where else can you find three bracing, intelligent novels together for $19? It’s meant not to be answered. Please stop saying Costco. 

You know, before Monday night, I would have referred to Saint Paul as A great city to get coffee in! Or A great city to read about! But ever since we threw our first midnight release party in honor of Haruki Murakami, my apparent sarcasm has changed its inflection. Saint Paul? Try great city to stay up like a GANGSTER and… read in, still quietly. Approximately 40 people stayed up late for Lit Up Late to eat, drink, perhaps meet their neighbors, I’m not sure, I was in charge of drinks, and get their hands on Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage the second it went on sale. We had a blast and thank everyone for coming and not dressing up. 

Speaking of parties. There ain’t no party like a paperback party cause a paperback party don’t Shhh! Our most anticipated paperbacks of late include Very Recent History by Choire Sicha, which Sarah calls “detached, deceptive,” and one of her “top five” books of the year; The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy, which I call “a concise and compassionate summer read, with staccato prose and fleeting, cross-stitched chapters,” and White Girls by Hilton Als, which several members of our staff are “very excited” to read, eventually.

Common Good Books celebrates the release of Haruki Murakami’s novel Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage and the launch of Lit Up Late, a literary mini-series of late night events, with a cover of Peter and Gordon’s “I Go to Pieces.”

Reading Room


"Discoveries" at Elliot Bay Book Company, in Seattle, WA

Roughly three days into my trip to Seattle, the irony of objects in my carry-on occurred to me like weather must to birds mid-flight. By my side, altogether, were two notebooks, a pen, iPod, dates, four granola bars and a copy of the following: The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster, Am I a Redundant Human Being? by Mela Hartwig, Pam Rehm’s rather slim third book of poems, The Larger NatureThe Chairs Are Where the People Go by Misha Glouberman and Sheila Heti, C.J. Jung’s The Undiscovered Self, Christian Wiman’s My Bright Abyss (hardcover), Picasso’s Tears: Poems 1978-2013 by Wong May (hardcover), The Joshua Book by Zachary Schomburg (hardcover), Laughter in Ancient Rome by Mary Beard (to my count, that’s four hardcovers), A Short Introduction to the Ancient Greek Theater by Graham Ley, Virginia Woolf’s (best book) The Waves, Geoff Dyer’s magnificent Out of Sheer Rage, Daybook by Anne Truitt, The Event of Literature by Terry Eagleton and, wait for it, Wayne Muller’s A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough. I know, I know. I had the same reaction. 

What brought me to Seattle, you ask: A six month residence? To build a useless dam? No, in fact, vacation; a time intended to reduce stress, to lighten the supposedly proverbial load. To be fair, I began the trip with five books on my person, an acceptable—if not exactly frugal—number for the socially-inept traveler, stuck on stage two of Erikson’s hierarchy of development. For readers, time away—any time away—from home represents what I imagine a low fire came to stand for to our Hominidae ancestors: fear; stress; some early form of existential dread. Yes, there’s the Kindle, which I’ve given up not using to refer to all “devices” made for “users,” as if reading was analogous to plugging in one’s cell-phone. But books are different; books require attention like a country does one’s passport. Attention I was determined and defiantly ill-prepared to give as I sat onboard the plane like a one-man band quite literally adjusting to life “on the road.” And then I went to The Elliot Bay Book Company. 

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This just in from Univocal. Judith Balso’s Affirmation of Poetry, a philosophy of poetry through works by Wallace Stevens, Osip Mandelstam, Giacomo Leopardi, Fernando Pessoa and others. 

One Plus One


At a recent store meeting, the staff of Common Good Books set sail on the topic of how best to sell more new books. “I could stand by the door with my shirt off,” said Joe. “We could trade books for coffee, or donuts,” I said, before reminding everyone in the group of what Joe had said. And before long we had our idea: spruce up the titles of densely nontransparent novels with subtitles culled from nonfiction books! For example, Jo Jo Moyes’ new book, One Plus One (more like One Plus Boring…), becomes One Plus One: My Year in a Woman’s Prison. You get the idea. Unless, of course, you have the donuts on you…

  1. If It Is Your Life: One American Mother Learns the Wisdom of French Parenting by James Kelman 
  2. 10:04: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back by Ben Lerner 
  3. Panic in a Suitcase: America’s First Woman in Space by Yelena Akhtiorskaya 
  4. Can’t and Won’t: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting: Stories by Lydia Davis 
  5. Lookaway, Lookaway: America’s First Tornado Chasers by Wilton Barnhardt
  6. Tigerman: What He Knew and When He Knew It by Nick Harkaway
  7. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage: An Essay on Free Will by Haruki Murakami 
  8. Not That Kind of Girl: Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them by Lena Dunham 
  9. Next Life Might Be Kinder: The Art and Science of Spontaneity by Howard Norman
  10. Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey Into the Afterlife, Probably by Dave Eggers

If You Liked “Sweetness #9”…


Edan Lepucki, author of California, recently gave Stephan Eirik Clark’s debut novel, Sweetness #9, the “Lepucki Lift” on The Colbert Report, calling it, appropriately, “so good.” Here Clark recommends a few addictively good books of his own. Catch Clark in person on August 19th at Common Good Books.

The strange thing about book recommendations is that you have to rely on your memory to give them, and when you last read a book twenty years ago, you might have reason to doubt that memory. All the same, I can’t help but suggest you pick up Nude Men by Amanda Filipacchi, because with the exception of maybe Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I can’t remember another book making me laugh so hard. That the source of Fliipacchi’s humor is a relationship between a sexually-precocious 11-year-old girl and the flummoxed man who tries to fend off her advances is all the more astounding. The first paragraph should be enough to hook you: 

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