Balm for the weary soul

I don’t have to explain the giant orange reason my soul is weary, but I will explain to you why Giant of the Senate by Al Franken is like a balm.

1. It’s funny. Especially the audio book read by Franken. I’m guessing it must be funny on the page, but hearing Franken read it with his brilliant comedic timing makes it a real joy. I also noticed something I hadn’t before. He sounds like a Minnesotan. A bit like my uncle Roy actually. I guess that is a hard accent to lose. Although 2 years in DC and 2 years in Hawaii in my 20s did the trick for me–mostly.

2. It’s uplifting. Franken’s story about his time in the U.S. Senate and the personal and political lead-up to being elected, gives one a lot of hope that political discourse, and kindness are not things of the past. It made me less apt to throw myself off a bridge when thinking about, or reading about President 45.  It is one thing to be unhappy about a politician with opposing view points (on everything), but it is another thing when that politician is a verifiable serial liar of the highest order with a 5th grade vocabulary and a propensity to act like a 5th grader as well. Franken not only hearkens back to sunnier days, but provides a real pep talk for our path out of this.

I can’t say whether or not a “normal” Republican would find his pep talk equally inspiring as a lefty like myself. In some ways I think they could, because I hope against hope that they realize the abomination running our country, but also because Franken has plenty of nice things to say about Republicans and particularly the Republicans he works with in the Senate. (Unless you are Ted Cruz. He doesn’t really let up on Ted Cruz.)

3. It’s informative. I am continually amazed by how little Americans understand about how their government works. I find myself cringing on Facebook when a friend posts a meme or makes a statement that makes it clear they don’t remember much about junior high civics. This book would go a long way to making them far less ignorant about the basic workings of government. And Franken definitely gets in the weeds when talking about congressional process and maneuvering, getting elected to national office, policy, and politics in general. I may be a bit of a politics and policy nerd, so I am not sure how well I can judge how a general reader might find some of his discussions. For my part, I thought it was great. I learned more than a bit about ag policy, Native American issues, and the ACA.

4. It’s uplifting. I know I said that already, but it bears repeating. The book reminds me that the political ideals of my formative years in Minnesota are not the politics of Michele Bachmann and her ilk. It’s traditionally been the home of sensible Democrats and sensible Republicans for that matter. I would not be embarrassed to be represented by the Minnesota Republicans of my youth. It also reminds me, and makes me proud that even today Minnesota has the highest voter turnout of any state (narrowly beating out Wisconsin).

5. It’s unputdownable. If you think you may enjoy this book, you probably will enjoy this book. And even if you think audio books aren’t your thing, this might be a really good time to listen to one. Franken had me laughing out loud and sitting in my drive way at the end of my commute because I didn’t want to stop listening.

Minneapolis has bookstores and gardens too

After all of those posts of Seattle/Tacoma bookstores I feel like maybe you all are tired of those posts. But that is probably a silly notion. Plus I was in Minneapolis this past weekend and spent some time in Magers and Quinn. Believe it or not, I really did have no intention of buying anything. But then there was this whole NYRB Classics section with everything close to half price.

I wish they would turn that mezzanine into a little napping loft.
Good advice.
I’m not sure if you can tell there’s a little pass through on those two back shelves.
This is what broke my resolve to not buy any books.
I must say I focused on the thinner volumes. I wanted to maximize the number I could buy and still fit them in my bag.
I’ve read about 50% of these.
I’ve been ambivalent about Simenon in the past, but I couldn’t pass up this one with an intro by Anita Brookner. MIght see it all in a new light at this point.
They were helpful.
Here is the purchase pile. I bought the bottom book on Prince for a friend but I ended up getting quite engrossed in it. Couldn’t pass up the Jim Crace book of stories. The rest are all totally new to me.

The Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden is over 100 years old. Despite 25 years living in Minnesota, I didn’t even know this existed.

I put the ‘taco’ in Tacoma

Just when I thought my luggage was already too full of books, I discovered a great bookstore in Tacoma where I was attending a meeting. The gorgeous weather had me out on the streets walking, walking, walking and it didn’t take me long to find King’s Books. I had plenty of time to browse so I decided to do a slow troll from A to Z. (I’ve tried going Z to A in the past, but it never seems to work.)

As I browsed I read the shelf talkers describing various staff members’ favorite books. I soon realized that some guy named Kenny had reading tastes that are diametrically opposed to mine. You know, the kind of books that I find too complex and non-linear to be able to enjoy. And then the store’s phone rang and the guy at the desk said “King’s Books, this is Kenny”.

So that’s Kenny.

Always in the mood to have a book natter, I decided to strike up a conversation. Unfortunately, my opening line was about how we didn’t like the same kind of books. Kenny was extremely friendly but I could tell I was one ill-chosen word away from going down in his bookseller’s diary as being one of the annoying ones. When I went up to make my purchases I thought I would give it another go. I think I said something lame about my blog (this was harder than a blind date) but we eventually turned the corner from wary bookseller/boring customer to novelist-bookseller/not-as-boring-as-he-may-have-originally-thought-at-least-it-beats-staring-into-space, customer.

We even talked about, wait for it, A Little Life. He took my measured ranting in stride conceding a point here and there but never once waning in his love of the book. Simon Savidge may have to up his game as Kenny loves the book so much he has read it 3 or 4 times.

I love the sign. (And the blue sky.)
Now that I look at this picture, I feel like I didn’t spend enough time here.


This made me think of Booktopia in Petoskey.
A Virago I don’t have. A Cusk I don’t have with a really weird cover. And a Sarton I do have (and love), but not in hardcover.
If only the bridge would move a little to the left.
An arboretum-like park just steps away from King’s. Given the gorgeous weather, I spent a lot of time here.
I watched some crows picking on a seagull here. I was feeling sorry for the seagull until I realized it probably had an eye on some nearby crow’s eggs.
Allium at UWTacoma


I stumbled across Tres Hermanos taco truck one day and went back the next for a second round. Really, really yummy tacos. I wish I had gone a third time. Four tacos, rice, beans, soda, 9 bucks.
Many things at Legendary Doughnuts looked better than they were. But that fritter on the bottom was strawberry/banana and it really hit the spot.

Bookish Capitol Hill

After my day of walking and bookstoring (it’s a word), I was starting to get peckish and decided to head back toward Capitol Hill to find food and The Elliott Bay Book Company.

Clearly a fabulous independent bookstore if ever there was one, but I should mention that buying new books seemed doubly stupid at the time not just because I didn’t have room in my suitcase, but also because the Politics & Prose member sale was coming up on the following weekend. Still, I bought books.

A zine about toast. On toasted paper.




Maps and books on the left bank

When I finished up at Mercer I decided to head over toward Pike Place Market to check out Left Bank Books. Another delightful walk with green things, a ship or two spotted through the side streets, more than a few cute dogs, including a corgi. As I got close to the market I stumbled across a map store. Talk about an endangered species. As much as I love maps, it was late enough in the day that I didn’t have tons of patience for browsing things I knew I wouldn’t be buying. But on the way out a mappish novel caught my eye.

Left Bank Books was right around the corner and right in front of the main entrance to Pike’s Place Market. It is a tiny shop that really could have been sur la rive gauche. It was like a smaller Shakespeare and Company but with far less fiction and far more political books. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the shop I wasn’t in the mood for polemics, but by this point I was intent on buying something from every store I went into. Happily, I found what seems to be a fun (perhaps depressing?) book about libraries.

I wish this was in my neighborhood

After coming down Queen Anne Hill I finally made my way to Mercer Street Books–the original object of my hour-long walk across town. It is such a lovely, clean, well-kept, organized used bookstore, I wish it were in my own neighborhood. (Although I would like it to be right next door to a messy, unorganized used bookstore because I love those too.)

When I have traveled somewhere by air I don’t want to load up with books that I need to get back to DC. Not surprisingly then, I’m generally not inclined to buy anything that I can find relatively easily at home. So my usual approach is to hunt for things that are hard to find. But in a well-run, tidy, used bookstore like Mercer Street Books, where their stock is newish and appears to turn over with some frequency, it is harder to come across the kind of stuff I like to find—that is, those rare but not prized mid-century, middlebrow novels that I take a fancy to. Not one to want to leave totally empty handed, however, I seem to gravitate to NYRB and Europa editions. Because their titles are older and/or off the beaten track I never feel bad about buying one or two or ten. Especially when they are half off the cover price.

Totally new to me, not entirely sure if I will like them but that didn’t stop me from buying all three.


Having only begun reading The New Yorker in the Tina Brown years I never understand old timers who moan about how the magazine is a shell of its former glory. It is a fantastic fucking magazine, I just don’t understand the complaints. This long time New Yorker writer even bemoans how it started to suck in the Wallace Shawn years. Seriously Renata, what  was it before that? Maybe this book will finally explain it to me. If not, looks like a nice gossipy read.
A reminder that I was in the city of Nancy Pearl.


A lovely combination.

Books fit for Queen Anne

I found myself with one full day in Seattle and Mother Nature was not only cooperative, she was beaming down on the city in a sunny, warmish, low humidity glow. The weather and the fresh air gave me such an uncontrollable groove, but I had done almost no forward planning and was in danger of squandering a truly glorious day. I found myself at 11:00 a.m. on a Sunday (just having had a two-hour massage) on a cozy little corner on Capitol Hill. I had already walked 30 minutes from my hotel and I knew that the immediate environs were not necessarily as picturesque as the corner I was standing on. I decided to rely on an old standby for me when visiting cities new to me—I looked up bookstores on my phone. Usually where one finds an indie or used bookstore, one finds an interesting, walkable neighborhood. Based on a quick look Mercer Street Books seemed like a good target. Googs was telling me it was a 56 minute walk. I thought for a second about taking an Uber, but the weather and the city were too alluring so I set off on foot.

As I wended my way across the city I was taken with pocket views of mountains and harbors and lots and lots green. Quiet, narrow streets, cute bungalows, interesting shops, chocolate cookies to write home about, community gardens, and an REI flagship store that had been built to feel like it was set in the woods. I could go on and on about how much I enjoyed my wander across the city. When all was said and done that day I had walked almost 13 miles.

First up was the previously mentioned Mercer Street Books, an immaculate store with new and used books—although I feel like it was mainly used. The only problem was that I was thirsty and starving. After a bit of browsing I knew I would never be able to really pay attention to the stock unless I got some food. Once sated with two slices of pizza, I thought I would explore the hilly Queen Anne neighborhood before I got loaded down with books. The hills looked steep enough, I didn’t need to add weight to my bag. While I was exploring the neighborhood atop Queen Anne’s hill (which was quiet and beautiful, and yes, green) I ran into a bookstore. Queen Anne Hill Books is a lovely little bookshop with good stock. I was tempted not to buy anything because I didn’t really have the capacity to load up on books that I knew would be easily available from my local indie. But how could I not support a neighborhood bookstore? So, one book and a postcard heavier I walked back out into the sunshine to make my way back down the hill to Mercer Street Books–which I will tell you about next time.

When I stopped for just a minute in Mercer Street Books before eating lunch, I noticed this map of Queen Anne Hill which is was piqued my interest in climbing the very steep hill up into the neighborhood.
I mainly stayed on residential streets while I was up on Queen Anne Hill, but then I randomly cut over to a commercial street and stumbled across this almost immediately. At first I thought the Yellow book must be some sort or local guide which made me wonder if it was a legit bookstore or some sort of gift shop.
When I saw the joke I realized it was legit.

Nice to see a Buncle display.
I din’t buy this, but I should ask for royalties.
I love how all the little traffic circles around town have green things growing in them.