The World’s 11 Most Unique Bookstores?

powells

Somehow I started receiving e-mails from Fodor’s Travel the other day. I do not recall signing up for its newsletter but then I compulsively sign up for contests without reading the terms so it is probably that I agreed to get the news letter as part of the terms. There are worse fates in life.

Anyway it had an interesting piece entitled “The 11 Most Unique Bookstores in the World” mixed in with what to do in Cabo and similar pieces. I live near Powell’s City of Books, one of the largest independent book stores in the world (according to Powell’s) and was interested in what made the list.

A pair were also bars as well as bookstores, BookBar in Denver and Kramerbooks & Afterwords in Washington D.C. and while that is not a bad thing, I think I would prefer to do my drinking and reading combination in a more secluded environment such as a cozy café or at home after I have purchased a book. I could easily see drinking too many beers while ready some comedy. However they both look very comfy so maybe I should give them a try next time I am in the area.  A third was a champagne bar, Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar.

A slight variation on this theme is the Brazenhead Books in New York, where after his rent became to high the owner moved the store to his apartment and made it by appointment only. Oh, and he also made the place into a speakeasy as well. Kudos on creativity.

The largest is the Book Garden in Tehran, with 700,000 square feet and a rooftop park where you can go read. It even offers 1,000 free books to read on the roof. The photo supplied has a spacious, open store. I have to admit that I prefer crowded, stuff places that have the interesting book aroma.

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Bart’s Books

It has entries for most colorful in Saraiva Bookstore in Rio de Janeiro, the most outdoorsy in Bart’s Books in Ojai, California, and the most romantic with the aptly named The Ripped Bodice in Culver City, California. None of those really grabbed my interest to be honest. Another unique looking place, La Caverne aux Livres, in a former home of Vincent Van Gogh as well as in a train station and a few rail cars. In Auvers-sur-Oise, France it looks interesting but not sure I would go out of my way for it.

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Livraria Lello

The one that I would really have liked to visit, and had no idea about when I was there was the Livraria Lello, a gorgeous bookstore in Porto, Portugal. Purportedly the inspiration for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter books and movies it is a combination of Neo-Gothic and Art Noveau stylings.

So check out the article and see if any appeal to you and if you have a favorite drop me a line and let me know about it. Not that I have anything against drinking and reading but four bars in the top 11? One fun fact is that in reading all of the bookstores’ web sites I found that Fodor had previously run a World’s 20 Most Stunning Bookstores article. I did not check it out but it seems to me that it’s cheating to then run one on 11.

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

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It is rare that I start a book and really have no idea what is going on, but that is what happened with Yoon Ha Lee’s Ninefox Gambit: Machineries of Empire Book 1. On the surface I knew that a military unit of an empire called the hexarchate was going into combat, against a heretical group called the Eels. That I understood. It was the combat part that confused me. Well that and a good deal more in the book. More on this later.

The book focuses on a pair of characters called to quell a heretical uprising. One is Captain Kel Cheris (Kel representing the main military arm of the hexarchate, and Shuos Jedao, a long dead and once traitorous general who can be called back from the dead, and is occasionally since he is undefeated in all of the conflicts that he has been engaged in, no matter the odds. The Shuos are the spying branch of the hexarchate.

They serve an empire called the hexarchate, which has six distinct groups that guide it, each group with a different role, from military to inquisitional. There is a good deal of infighting among the groups, including advancement by assassination. Each group has developed powers that inexplicable come from following a canatonical calendar that they all use. Adherence to the calendar imparts a huge range of powers from enabling space ships to powerful and bizarre weapons such as one that turns everyone into ribbons of glass.  How? No idea.

Also troops that form in set formations are granted powers from the formation. Heretics use different calendars. Adherence to their calendars weakens or completely neutralizes the exotic weapons of the hexarchate and in some cases even the space ships. For instance one side uses weather machines that dissolve troops- that are countered simply by using a new formation. Then a second formation gives an outnumbered unit a power magnifier that enables it to slaughter its foes, initially the Eels.

All of the ambiguities about  basics such how do things work such as exotic weapons, space ships, how adherence to the calendar  and formations influence each other, the importance of mathematics, how did the universe got this way, are all left unexplained and that is very annoying.  No info dump in this tale.

So back to the story. Cheris and Jedao lead an attack on the Fortress of Scattered Needles and use various strategies, weapons and formations to try and crack open a place that is widely thought of as impenetrable. Some of the unexplained come a bit more into focus, or rather you understand that if the characters do A then it affects B which in turn affects C. Still not sure how.

The universe of Ninefox Gambit seems pretty black and white. The only really colorful things about it are place names such as the City of Ravens Feasting and weapon names like snakescratcher dart and the amputation gun. Most of the people and their environment, while ever alterable seem to be just window dressing.

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However, I also found the book very compelling, although I think if I was in a different mindset when I started reading it I might not have gotten out of the first chapter. It takes a while for the characters to come into focus, and only a few are granted more than a cursory introduction. There are some interesting twists to the story, and added along the way not just as an ending to cause you to wonder where the story will go. The shifting sands of the political body are always present and makes you think along lines that you might not normally follow in a Sci-Fi book. Apparently others have found the book compelling as it is shortlisted for Best Novel by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. So a Nebula Award could be in its future.

I did not know that Ninefox Gambit had been nominated for a Nebula when I bought the book. A friend had simply told me that I would find it challenging, and it was sitting on an endcap as I walked by at Powells. Usually when I get around to reading books that have won or been nominated for top prizes it is about a decade after the fact. I just read somewhere that the sequel is due this summer, wonder if I will get to it this year. There are so many unanswered questions, not along the lines of why does this work but how will this plot twist turn out and who is behind that action that I expect it to be an interesting read.

flatland

I have never read the book Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin Abbott Abbott or seen any of the film versions, imitation and parodies but I wonder if this is part of the inspiration for this book?

Juvenal-The Sixteen Satires

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The Sixteen Satires is probably my least liked ancient text that I have read. I have a pretty broad, but not deep, experience reading books not just from ancient Greece and Rome but also Indian, and the Near East.

I understand the importance of his place in history, and the importance that satires have as a literary form, it is just that it seemed like one long rant, like listening to a senile uncle complain about everything, and how nothing is as good as it was in his day.

No one is to be trusted, especially women. He hates gays, Greeks, Egyptians, Jews and probably a host more that I just did not take note of. He dislikes working people and the common man. The aristocracy is no longer filling a number of roles that it should be, and here is where I find it interesting.

He often complains about the changing role of clients to the nobility. At one time they were people that were followers of an aristocrat who in turn fed them and often entertained them. The aristocrats in turn provided him with an entourage that apparently showed to society at large how important that individual was. Juvenal was in the group. He complained that at one time they got great food and good wine, then food baskets and then just cash. He laments that a group has become professional followers and are (apparently) edging out people such as him.

I did learn a good deal about the sordid underside of higher Roman society, even if much of it is a bit sketchy on the facts, and should be questioned. While he presents it as a snap shot of everyday life most reviews I have checked have said that it is nothing of the sort. The book is basically on long litany of complaints and, at least to me, got very tedious.

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Another point not in favor of the book was the translation. I understand that translation is an art, and that often each generation gets a new one that reflects in some ways the current culture as well as what is being translated. I took Latin in high school and struggled mightily with Caesar’s Commentarii de Bello Gallico, with results that often did not match what Caesar was saying. However translating a Latin phrase into a French one does not seem quite kosher. But that is one of the minor complains that I have.

The Romans did not have problems with the Prussians nor with the Moors. They did not use farthings or gold guineas. I am pretty sure that people who went to the race track (why not use hippodrome since most people reading this would know what that was?) did not wear track suits. The list goes on and on. For a book such as this I am assuming it is for more than the casual reader and they understand who any of the tribes the Romans dealt with as well as terms that deal with items used in daily life such as coinage. It takes away from the feel of the book by using 20th century terms instead.

The version I read was a Penguin Classics translated by Peter Green. I was interested to note that in looking at a review for a more recent translation by Green he laments the liberties he took with the version that I read, so I might give it a second look but honestly I doubt it.

I am sure that there are positives from the book that I did not take away. It did help refresh my memory about some of the short lived Emperors of this time, but right now that is pretty much all I can say. Well that and I discovered De Bello Africa, about Caesar’s campaigns against his republican enemies in Africa.