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What I Remember (8): Booknotes


His last works (2004-2008)

Peter , George, and AmeliaPeter , George, and Amelia

In September 2004, George, who had recently passed his 80th birthday, focused his never-flagging energy on a new endeavor: helping generate interest in Morningside Books, the bookstore owned by his youngest son, Peter, and his daughter-in-law, Amelia. To that end, he came up with a publicity gimmick that employed his favorite device – words – about one of his favorite habits – reading. George was a voracious reader; he finished at least two books a week, as well as countless magazines, The New York Times, and, of course, The New Yorker (which he read cover to cover, even in the dark days of Tina Brown). He regularly passed books on to his sons with the comment, "I think you'll enjoy this," although no one enjoyed those books half as much as George.

The new publicity device would be called Booknotes and it would turn out to be a duty he loved. Although the newsletter was only four pages, he turned it into something special, a kind of "Talk of the Town" for Morningside Books. There were announcements, mini-reviews of quirky books, author birthdates (with quotations), political commentary, and even his memoirs. George designed it, brought it over personally to Village Copier on 118th Street ("They're terrific," he used to say, in his typically enthusiastic manner), and doted over it like a parent with a special child. It's no wonder that he was pleased to receive a letter and photograph from a Booknotes fan. The letter was one of praise, which he was happy to receive, but it was the photo that particularly tickled him: it was a picture the writer had taken of her assembled collection of Booknotes, George's last major writing project.

m o r n i n g s i d e
b o o k s h o p
b o o k n o t e s o f t h e m o n t h
s e p t e m b e r 2004

A Welcoming Note: To new students and new neighborhood residents, to continuing
students and continuing residents, and to visiting passersby, we’re here to supply students
with specific class texts--and everyone with all the non-class reading you may be into
(mysteries, fiction and non-fiction classics, political pamphleteering, best sellers, travel,
poetry, humour, picture novellas, etc., etc.) as well as a constantly replenished stock of
what-a-great-buy! remainders.

We invite you to browse to your reading heart’s content and ask our knowledgable staff for
help, computer searches, special orders, neighborhood directions, etc. We’re here to help.

Some Personal Notes: Peter and Amelia Soter, the new owners of the former Papyrus
--the convenient Morningsde book stop for over three decades--have spruced up,
lightened up and newly stocked up the premises in preparation for the next three decades.
For your interest, here’s their backstory. Longtime neighborhood residents, Peter and
Amelia were co-students, grades one through five, down the street from here, at St. Hilda
and St. Hugh’s grade school. When, they said their good-byes at the end of the school
year, Amelia’s family moved on, and Peter may have pined away, drowning his sorrow a
few years later with a part time job at Papyrus. This eventually morphed into a lifetime
career as a bookseller with stints as a Papyrus partner and jobs at Hacker Art Books,
Computer Book Works, Gotham Book Mart, and his own Verso Books in Chelsea.
But neither Peter nor Amelia thought about renewing their fifth-grade companionship until...
Until, several decades after the fifth grade, Amelia walked into Verso Books and Peter, at
the checkout counter, said “Aren’t you Amelia Linden? Didn’t I accidentally bloody your
nose in the fifth grade?” “Yes.” And “Yes.” And here they are today, a half a block away
from where it all started. Anybody wanna make a movie?

Notes on Very Local,Very Readable Authors on Our Shelves: Celebrated chef and best-seller (Kitchen Confidential) mystery writer Anthony Bourdain; Nation editor/writer Richard Pollack (The Colombo Bay); New York Times columnist Anemona Hartocollis (7 Days of Possibilities); Jennie McPhee (No Ordinary Matter); Columbia professor Ann Douglas (Terrible Honesty). If you’re a published or about-to-be published writer, let us know about it.

Hot Sellers Notes: Pulitzer prize, new in paperback, Edward P. Jones, The Known World; Alexander Mccall Smith, the No. 1 Ladies Detective Series; Chris Ware’s graphic novel Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid On Earth; Marjane Satrafi’s Persopolis; and the best-selling Japanese Manga comic books. Plus, since ‘tis the season to be political, your choice of Clintons, Moores, Frankins, Ivins, and the various reports including the well-written, very readable The 9-11 Commission Report. Have a sweet September.

april 2006
Burgeoning April is a perfect month to think poetically. So, we celebrate the birthday (April 17, see In-Store Events) of the Greek-Alexandrian poet Cavafy. Practically unknown outside his small circle during his lifetime (1863-1933), but, in the 2oth century, "discovered" by E. M. Forster, lauded by W. H. Auden, a favorite of Jackie Onassis—his Ithaca read at her funeral—he became one of the high points of modern Greek literature and also, perhaps, of 2oth century world poetry. One of his earliest poems (above), on first reading, seems a specific cri de coeur about his illicit sexual orientation. But, with a small stretch, it also speaks to the isolation that results within any racial, gender, ethnic, or other minority "wall." And, with a slightly further stretch, it could be a metaphor for our present national incarceration within the walls of our ill-conceived Iraq adventure. (This last, alas, brings to mind the similar fateful imperial adventure of ancient Athens which, with its "quick war" against Sicily and despite much anti-war advice at the time, resulted in years of quagmired irresolution and spendthrift costs that eventually served to bring an end to the historic hegemony of Athens.)

Peter Soter, with bookstore birthday cake.Peter Soter, with bookstore birthday cake.
Now, like Cavafy, we sit here and despair.
How did we not notice? Even though we did hear
the noise and the sound of the war builders,
those who have shut us off from the world.
Why did we not notice? We think of nothing else.
Our minds eaten by this fate.
Because we had so much to do outside.
Without caution, without pity, without shame,
They have built thick and high walls around me
And now I sit here and despair.
I think of nothing else: my mind eaten by this fate
because I had so much to do outside.
Ah, when they built the walls, how did I not notice.
But I never heard the builders or any sound.
Imperceptibly they shut me off from the outside world
The Unintended Publishing
Consequences of the Iraq War
(vs. the intended Halliburton money-making consequences)

Tuesday, April 11, 7:00 - 8:30 pm Come meet author Nadia Gould, who will read from and discuss her recently published memoir Hitler Made Me a Jew. Paradoxical and haunting, her memoir is an optimistc and moving account about escaping tragedy to create a new life.

Wednesday, April 5, 7:00 - 9:00 pm Nikki Stiller, our neighborhood poetry connection returns to host a special reading by Jewish women poets, "Writing Our Lives," that showcases the published poetry of Henny Wenkart (Love Poems of a Philanderer’s Wife), Mindy Rinkewich (The Sweet Kid from Warsaw), and Helen Papell (Caretaker’s Mask). Sounds like fun.

Wednesday, April 12, 7:00 - 9:00 pm Kevin Baker discusses the historic and celebrated Harlem enclave known as Striver's Row which is also the title of his fascinating, well-researched, and well-received book about one of our nearby neighborhoods.

Monday, April 17, 7:00 - 8:30 pm
With the participation of Columbia’s Department of Hellenic Studies, we’re celebrating the poet Cavafy’s birthday and the recent publication of poet Aliki Barnstone’s new translations of The Collected Poems of C. P. Cavafy. Her poet’s ear—as well as her Greek-speaking mother's help—give Cavafy’s verse new music in English. Reading and talk by longtime Cavafy fan George Soter (the shop’s grandpa and editor/writer of these morningside booknotes).

Thursday April 20, 7:00 - 9:00 pm Pound for Pound, the knockout life-story of Sugar Ray Robinson, by distinguished author Herb Boyd and Sugar's son, Morningside neighbor Ray Robinson II, who will be joining us. Join us during our Sunday “quiet time.” 10:00 am to noon, Sunday, April 23. We’ll welcome you even more warmly than usual with complimentrary juices, coffee, and noshes. Plus we'll offer a 10% discount on your book purchases.

If you log onto the internet and search for books on "the Iraq War" you’ll be flooded with over 2,000 (no kidding) titles. But who can read even the 100 best books on the subject? So, here are our choices for the top Iraq-US war books.

1. The Assassins’ Gate by New York Times reporter George Packer--some parts of which appeared in the New Yorker--and about which the Washington Post reviewer said, "...relates all...clearly and briskly...moving portraits of both Iraqis and Americans while skillfully guiding (you) through the intricacies of colonial administration, Iraqi ethnic politics and Beltway skullduggery." We agree it’s "the best book yet written (2005) on this war."

2. American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money by Kevin Phillips. Now, an apostate from the Republican Party, the author as a young political strategist foresaw and helped build the new and more conservative Republican majority that would come to dominate American politics for decades. He is scathingly critical of the Bush administration’s dangerous policies that have misdirected us into a war and into astonishing levels of debt.

3. Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq (2006) by another New York Times reporter Michael Gordon and former Marine General Bernard Trainor. Using material from the newly declassified U.S. Army official history of the war, the authors don’t gloss over the many tactical mistakes nor the often high level military/civilian disputes. They also point out the shockingly similar ostrich-head-in-the-desert-sand war tactics used by both Hussein and Rumsfeld. Enlighteningly painful.

4. State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration by Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times reporter James Risen. Relentlessly uncovers the breathtakingly strange events leading up to the war. Even the reader who has been inured to what’s going on by the daily headlines and op ed pieces can find new depths of shockability here. A "What the hell is going on?" page-turner.

1. If your birthday’s in April, and the date matches that of one of our April literary celebrants, you can enjoy a special 15% “literary birthday discount.” On that date—and the two days before and after—simply flash us a birthday ID, name your co-birthday author, and stock up. George at home.George at home.

2. If you were not born in April, you can still enjoy a special 15% “literary birthday discount” by stocking up with
books written by any one or all of our April honorees. Department of So Many Books, So Little Time One way, to feel well-read even while being run ragged through your daily life, is to read the long precis-like reviews in The New York Review of Books. Just in the April 6 issue alone, Gary Wills’s review of At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68 by Taylor Branch, gives you, on five pages, a lot of the factual meat and emotional heat that is covered in its 1,039 (!) actual pages. You may not have read it, but you may feel as though you have. Similarly, Ian Buruma’s review of the R.Crumb Handbook by R. Crumb and Peter Poplaski, is so filled with historical details, analyses, wry quotes, and appreciative curatorial comments that, once you’ve read the three and a half pages of the review, again, you may feel almost like you’ve gone through the 438(!) pages. (And you may still want to.)

So, now, all those hours and days you saved have given you time to turn to some of the actual books that The New York Review of Books publishes. Modern out-of-print classics in handsome, slim paperback editions, priced at $12.95 and $14.95. Many of them, you may’ve been hearing about during much of your reading life but haven’t bird-dogged them through their publishing afterlives. Here are a few sample titles: Glenway Wescott, Apartment in Athens and The Pilgrim Hawk; Lionel Trilling, The Middle of the Journey; Italo Svevo, As a Man Grows Older; Fr. Rolfe (Baron Corvo), Hadrian the Seventh. There are enticingly many more.

Remainder Find: If you’ve got any parental or avuncular seniors on your gift-giving list, discover for them The Girl Watchers Club, the lively yet nostalgic romp by Harry Stein, that’s delighted every senior on our list. Original hardcover edition, published at $24.95, now $6.98. Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster by Eric Dyson. Angry iconoclast Michael Moore comments on the dust jacket, " took the weather--the weather!--to literally and figuratively rip the facade off America’s two biggest taboos: Race and Class." Dyson’s book tells the whole sad, still to be finished story.

4-2 (1842) Emile Zola: "J’accuse."
4-4 (1928) Maya Angelou: "At fifteen life had taught me undeniably that surrender, in its place,
was as honorable as resistance, especially iF one had no choice."
4-9 (1821) Charles-Pierre Baudelaire: "Il faut epater le bourgeois."
4-10 (1941) Paul Theroux: "Travel is glamorous only in retrospect."
4-13 (1743) Thomas Jefferson: "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilizatioN, it expects what never was and never will be."
4/15 (1843) Henry James: "It is art that makes life, makes interest, makes importance...and I know of no substitute whatsoever for the force and beauty of its process."
4/17 (1863) Constantine Cavafy: "Now, what will become of us without barbarians? Those people were some kind of solution."
4/22 (1660) Daniel Defoe: "Actions receive their tincture from the times, And as they change are virtues made of crimes."
4/23 (1616) William Shakespeare: "Men are April when they woo, December when they wed; maids are May when they are maids but the sky changes when they are wives."
4/28 (1926) Harper Lee: "Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing."