The Professionals

Ask a Book Store Employee: Mast Books' Robbie McDonald

By Lit Life | August 12, 2010

Among the bodegas and tiny pipe shops on the border between Alphabet City and the East Village stands the brand new, utterly hip Mast Books. Since opening two months ago, Mast—which sells used books on literature and art—has attracted a steady stream of New Yorkers looking to buy and sell anything from vintage magazines to tattered copies of Naked Lunch. A constant fixture at the counter is Robbie McDonald, who uses his discerning eye to decide which books the store will purchase. Though Mast is relatively small, the shelves are crammed and unmarked, making Robbie any visitor’s go-to man.—Valeriya Safronova

Mast Books

66 Ave A
New York, NY 10009

Tell me about the store. There are book people, writers, and East Village hermits who come in every day, and they buy something a few times a week. Of course, there are always weird characters that come in to sell books. They have mostly run-of-the-mill bad fiction, but they’re just out of their heads.

What do you like to read? I read mostly philosophy. I just read Witold Gombrowicz’s Pornografia and it made me laugh because it’s really absurd. It’s about two older men obsessed with creating a trsyt between two teens in the midst of the German occupation of Poland.

Do you have a favorite philosophy book? It changes from week to week—after all, there are a lot of books to read. I think more people should read Walter Benjamin and Georges Bataille. Benjamin’s a precursor to the whole idea of post-modern thought. And everybody knows Bataille’s literature, but he was also a Nietzsche philosopher and a surrealist.  

Continue reading "Ask a Book Store Employee: Mast Books' Robbie McDonald" »

Novel Obsession

Laura Moriarty’s Hiatus Was All Barbara Kingsolver’s Fault

By Julie Vadnal | July 23, 2010

"The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is funny, devastating, and fastidiously researched, with a galloping plot that kept me reading late, night after night. As a reader, I was delighted. As a writer, I was more intimidated than inspired. In fact, the first time I read The Poisonwood Bible, I stopped writing for a while. There didn’t seem to be a point in working so hard to create something when Kingsolver was out there doing her genius thing. I said this to a friend, who told me, “Think of your favorite musician, or your favorite band. Maybe they really are the best. Fine. But would you want everyone else to stop writing songs?” Her comparison felt liberating. I’m still awestruck by the brilliance of other writers. But I keep on with my own work, knowing that even for a discriminating reader, what I create might be the right song at the right time."

Laura Moriarty's latest novel, While I'm Falling, is out now.

Photo by: Tracy Rasmussen

Printed Matter

Scrap Book: "The Situation" Writes a Self-Help Guide, Kindle Outpaces Hardcovers, and More

By Lit Life | July 22, 2010

The Situation
The Jersey Shore just keeps on giving. Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino has signed a book deal with Gotham Books to write a self-help guide to the guido lifestyle. The book, Here’s The Situation, which hits shelves in November, includes tips on fitness, hygiene and GTL (gym, tan, laundry) scheduling. The super-tan stud told Entertainment Weekly that it will be “a tell-all book. Sorta like how I came about and everything like that,” but it’s worth mentioning that he’s hired a ghostwriter to make the book more, uh, comprehensible. Fist pump! [Entertainment Weekly]—Laura Lajiness

This week, announced that the Kindle e-book sales outnumbered hardcover book sales for the last three months, selling 143 e-books to every 100 hardcovers that don’t even have Kindle editions. This literary revolution is gaining speed as digital sales have risen to 180 digital books for every 100 hardcover copies in the last four weeks. Mike Shatzkin, founder and chief executive of the Idea Logical Company told The New York Times, “This was a day that was going to come, a day that had to come,” and predicted that in a few decades there will be less than 25 percent of books in print. [NY Times]—L.L.

William Jacques, a previously convicted thief and Cambridge graduate, was sentenced this week to three and a half years jail time for stealing more than $60,000 worth of rare books. Over the course of three years, Jacques—disguised in glasses, a tweed jacket, and armed with a fake library card—walked out of the Royal Horticultural Society's library in London with 13 volumes of Ambroise Verschaffelt’s 18th Century Nouvelle Iconographie des Camellias. In the past, Jacques was found guilty of stealing the work of authors such as Galileo and Kepler. [The Guardian]Valeriya Safronova

The legal battle over Franz Kafka's unseen manuscripts, drawings, and letters, which have been hidden away for more than 80 years, has reached a new climax. Before his death, the author gave the works to Max Brod, a close friend, who left them with his recently deceased lover. Now, the lover’s daughters, who inherited the stash, are involved in a suit with Israel’s national library over whether the Kafka works should remain locked away in their possession, or, as Israel demands, be published for the world to see. This week Israel had a mini-breakthrough, when experts were finally allowed to see the documents that most likely have not been read since they were written. [The Independent]—V.S.

Photo: Getty Images

Caught Reading

Ariane Adrain, PR Intern

By Lit Life | July 22, 2010

What are you reading?

I’m reading the Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. I just started it because I recently got a New York City library card, and this was a book that I found on the “Suggested Reading” bookshelf.

What about it appealed to you?
I like to read novels about strong women. The main character is Lily—a 14-year-old girl who lives in the Deep South in the late 1960s. She’s willing to stand up for the people that she loves and I admire that.

What other books do you love that have strong female characters in them?

Memoirs of a Geisha is one of my favorites. Another one would be To Kill a Mockingbird. I love that book, but I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love that book.

What are you wearing?

I’m wearing an Urban Outfitters dress, Ray Ban wayfarers, and a cross that I bought in Jerusalem.—Valeriya Safronova

Photo: Kelsey Cherry
Printed Matter

Scrap Book: Apple Censorship, Writers' Houses Online, and More

By Lit Life | July 16, 2010

Apple’s latest bold move: book censorship! Within the past month, the mega corporation pulled the following titles from the iTunes store for objectionable language and gay themes: Tom Bouden’s graphic novel adaptation of The Importance of Being Earnest, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, and the Kama Sutra (okay, this one one we kinda understand), among others. After an explosion of Internet objection, Apple brought back the titles, admitting, at least in the case of Rob Berry and Josh Levitas’s Ulysses Seen—a comic adaptation of James Joyce’s Ulysses—that, yup, they made a mistake. [Huffington Post]

And when one book battle is won, another is lost: book signings occur less and less nowadays because, according to the Wall Street Journal, negotiating which authors sign in which stores can get complicated, especially in Manhattan. The biggest “get” is the Union Square Barnes & Noble, where authors like David Remnick, Sebastian Junger, and Mo Rocca have read and signed. "To be there," said Evan Boorstyn, deputy director of publicity at Grand Central Publishing, "is the equivalent of getting your name up in lights on Broadway." [Wall Street Journal]

On July 13th, editor and writer A.N. Devers launched Writers’ Houses, a site that marries the love of fiction with the love of home design—with just a dash of voyeurism. Inspired by a curiosity of writer’s work spaces, the website will feature daily posts on the homes of our favorite deceased writers, like Zora Neale Hurston, Dashiell Hammett, and John Steinbeck. [Mediabistro]—Laura Lajiness

Photo: Getty Images

Novel Obsession

Aimee Bender Doesn’t Mind the L.A.-to-Brooklyn Commute

By Lit Life | July 7, 2010

“I remember reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn when I was 11 or 12. I have two sisters, and we were all big readers, so we would just pass books along. They would be dropped in the bathtub, they would get covered with food; they were these swollen paperbacks with ripped covers. It’s that involvement where you can’t even put down your apple juice because you have to be in the book so constantly—a credit to the love of the book. And Francie is such a likeable, female narrator that I think as a little girl reading the book, it was very easy to identify with her even though she was living in Brooklyn and I was living in L.A. It was set in a whole different time period, but I still felt connected."—Interviewed by Laura Lajiness

Aimee Bender’s newest novel, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, is out now.


Photo: Max S. Gerber

Novel Obsession

Cecily von Ziegesar on Opting Out of the Whole “Love Is Patient, Love is Kind” Routine

By Julie Vadnal | June 25, 2010

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is my absolute all-time favorite book, the one that made me feel like writing was valuable and maybe something I could do. It's a very slight book, but it manages to accomplish so much. The story is told from the point of view of an insider/outsider. What a trick—using those insidery details, so keenly observed by someone new to the world, and sucking the reader right in. This is the kind of writing I strive for—an exciting story, quick, with no tedious parts. I even asked my dad to read from The Great Gatsby at my wedding. The scene where Daisy is crying into Jay Gatsby's shirts is such a simple, raw moment: "’They're such beautiful shirts,’ she sobbed, her voice muffled in the thick folds. ‘It makes me sad because I've never seen such–such beautiful shirts before.’" I feel the same way every time I read The Great Gatsby. It makes me sad because I'll never read such exquisite sentences as those.

Cecily von Ziegesar's latest novel, Cum Laude, is out now.

Cecil Von Ziegesar

Photo: Augusta Sagnelli

Literary Big Shot

Books on Film: Expired Shelf Life

By Lit Life | June 24, 2010

A bookshelf in Chernobyl, Ukraine, taken 24 years after the devastating 1986 nuclear accident. Photograph by Roman Kudryashov

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