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Amazon’s Top 10 Books: August 2015

Here we are again – time for the book editors at Amazon to give us their ten best bets for the books to read this month. I’m excited, because this month, there isn’t a single author I’ve ever read before. All fresh meat for me! Huzzah!

Here are the 10 books recommended by Amazon book editors this month, plus, of course, the debut spotlighted book.

This month’s spotlighted book is Kitchens of the Great Midwest: A Novel by J. Ryan Stradal, where food meets literature.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest, about a young woman with a once-in-a-generation palate who becomes the iconic chef behind the country’s most coveted dinner reservation, is the summer’s most hotly-anticipated debut.

When Lars Thorvald’s wife, Cynthia, falls in love with wine—and a dashing sommelier—he’s left to raise their baby, Eva, on his own. He’s determined to pass on his love of food to his daughter—starting with puréed pork shoulder. As Eva grows, she finds her solace and salvation in the flavors of her native Minnesota. From Scandinavian lutefisk to hydroponic chocolate habaneros, each ingredient represents one part of Eva’s journey as she becomes the star chef behind a legendary and secretive pop-up supper club, culminating in an opulent and emotional feast that’s a testament to her spirit and resilience.

Each chapter in J. Ryan Stradal’s startlingly original debut tells the story of a single dish and character, at once capturing the zeitgeist of the Midwest, the rise of foodie culture, and delving into the ways food creates community and a sense of identity. By turns quirky, hilarious, and vividly sensory, Kitchens of the Great Midwest is an unexpected mother-daughter story about the bittersweet nature of life—its missed opportunities and its joyful surprises. It marks the entry of a brilliant new talent.”


And the rest of the recommendations:


Infinite Home: A Novel by Kathleen Alcott



Days of Awe: A Novel by Lauren Fox



Rising Strong by Brené Brown



Barefoot to Avalon by David Payne



Last Bus to Wisdom: A Novel by Ivan Doig



Street Poison: The Biography of Iceberg Slim by Justin Gifford



Voices in the Ocean: A Journey into the Wild and Haunting World of Dolphins by Susan Casey



Make Your Home Among Strangers: A Novel by Jennine Capó Crucet



The Bourbon Kings by J.R. Ward



In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware


Rare Book about Cigar Store Figures Sells for $1,550

An exceptionally rare book about cigar store figures has sold for $1,550 on the AbeBooks.com marketplace. Hunting Indians in a Taxi-Cab by Kate Sanborn has an eye-catching title and also contains valuable photographic evidence of a rather forgotten form of advertising. Published in 1911, this small book has just 74 pages and about 8 1/2 inches by 5 1/2 inches in size.

Hunting Indians in a Taxi-cab by Kate Sanborn

The author appears to have toured the east coast of the United States looking for cigar store figures, which were still commonplace during this era. Sanborn’s black and white photos (see below), usually four to a page, accompanies her text where she describes the location and the condition of the figures.

Cigar store figures hold a special place in American retail history and wooden Native Americans are their most famous form. They were developed because retailers needed visual methods of advertising due to low literacy levels. Native Americans were used to advertise tobacco because they had introduced the early colonists to the plant and its uses, and there was a connection. The figures varied in size from a few feet tall to life-size models that must have been very striking on sidewalks.

Obviously, these figures became less popular due their racial stereotyping and also rules around what could be placed on a sidewalk. A former professor at Smith College in Massachusetts, Kate Sanborn (1839-1917) was an author and lecturer. Her book reveals that cigar store figures went beyond Native Americans and included many recognizable characters – such a baseball player and a hunter – from American society.

The book was sold by Judy Brothers of The Bookstack from Willow Springs in Missouri. She said: “I believe that most of the figures were in New York or Baltimore.  I was not aware of the variety of the figures before I looked through this book and saw women, a policeman, Punch, Jim Crow, and others.”

The book is extremely rare. There are no other copies for sale on AbeBooks and only one other copy has ever sold on our site.

Sanborn has a number of other striking non-fiction books to her name including A Truthful Woman in Southern California, a travel memoir, where she leaves New England for the West Coast in order to recover from illness. She also wrote Adopting an Abandoned Farm where she describes her experiences of running a dilapidated farm in Metcalf, Massachusetts. Humor and dogs were reoccurring themes in her writing – Educated Dogs of To-Day looks into canine intelligence.

I can only imagine but Ms Sanborn must have been quite the character.

A baseball player, jockey, hunter and policeman from Hunting Indians in a Taxi-cab

Three Native American cigar store figures and a highland chieftain from Hunting Indians in a Taxi-cab.

Four female cigar store figures form Hunting Indians in a Taxi-cab

Four Punches from Hunting Indians in a Taxi-cab

Omar Sharif, Boris Pasternak, The KGB and the CIA

Midway through the year, while scanning a report of our recent high-value orders, a sale caught my eye. It was a copy of Boris Pasternak’s classic novel Doctor Zhivago, in its original Russian, bound in plain, blue cloth. It sold for $11,000. The bookseller’s description mentioned that this was the edition “covertly published by the CIA”. Obviously, I had to learn more about that. And I did. You can read all about the man who smuggled Doctor Zhivago into the light, here, from the KGB’s refusal to allow publication of the book in the Soviet Union, to the CIA’s very real involvement and eventual declassification of documents nearly 60 years later.

During my research, I also discovered the 1958 Pantheon edition of Zhivago (below), complete with many, many black and white illustrations by Alexander Alexeieff.


While I was initially disappointed to not have glossy, full-color illustrations, it ended up feeling so fitting. The more of Zhivago I read, and the more I learned about the climate in which in was written, the more the images seemed perfectly aligned with the book’s contents. And they’re quite beautiful. They’re all black and white. While I don’t know the original medium, I’d be tempted to guess charcoal. Some of the drawings seem crude and undefined in their style, but still manage to convey a strong message and elicit an emotional response. This is just a drop in the bucket- the book is just full of these dark, snowy, stark and telling images.











2015 Booker Prize Longlist Announced

It’s here, it’s here! My bookish little heart is going pitter-pat with joy. The 2015 Man Booker Prize Longlist has been announced.

Many of my favorite books throughout the years have been Booker nominees or winners, so I trust the committee’s selections implicitly. Since its inception in 1969, the Booker prize has been awarded to the best novel of the year written by an author from UK, the British Commonwealth, or Ireland. Happily, last year the committee first included American authors as well, broadening the talent pool further. This year’s longlist includes authors from Jamaica, Ireland, Nigeria, India, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States. No Canada this year. Too bad. There are some big names on the list – Anne Enright, Marilynne Robinson, and Anne Tyler – and some debut novelists as well. I’m excited to see what’s what.

Here is the list of all 13 Booker semi-finalists:














The longlist of 12 will be painfully whittled down to a shortlist of six books, which will be announced on Tuesday, Stepember 15th in London.

Those six finalists will be further narrowed to the one and only 2015 Booker Prize winner, to be revealed on Tuesday, October 13th, which will be live-streamed by the BBC.

Misprinted copy of Go Set a Watchman sells for $1,556

Go Set a WatchmanA misprinted copy of Go Set a Watchman has sold for $1,556 (£988) on the AbeBooks marketplace. Earlier this month, it emerged that a number of the UK first editions were missing sections of text from pages toward the end of Harper Lee’s novel.

The Guardian had reported:

A number of the first 25,000 copies of Harper Lee’s new novel Go Set a Watchman are missing paragraphs and sentences from the final pages – with many readers complaining it has tainted their reading of the book. It is unknown how many of the books purchased are missing the pieces of text.

The novel, a sequel to Lee’s 1960 debut, To Kill a Mockingbird, sold more than 105,000 copies in the UK on its first day of release. According to publisher Penguin Random House, the misprint occurred after an error at the printers resulted in six pages towards the end of the UK edition having missing lines.

In a statement the publisher added: “Due to an error in the printing process a limited number of copies of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman are faulty. Replacement copies are currently being printed and the situation will be resolved swiftly.”

“It was just incredibly frustrating,” said Mike Bell, who pre-ordered the book so it would arrive on the day of its release. “It seems a shame to mess up the printing on such a historic book. There were several sentences that were incomplete or missing entirely and it just really bothers you and disrupts your reading. I’ve got a new copy coming so I’m going to go back and reread those pages but it’s a bit late now.”

Well, Mr Bell’s flawed copy potentially has some value. Let hope he didn’t throw it away. There are no other misprinted copied listed for sale on the AbeBooks marketplace right now and it appears the misprints are limited to the UK. The buyer who purchased this particular book was not located in the UK.

Some collectors enjoy picking up literary oddities and these misprinted Watchmen books definitely fall into that category.

Step into Eureka Books – a literary goldmine in Northern California

Eureka Books in Northern California

The word ‘Eureka’ is derived from the Greek word for ‘I have found it’ and I almost shouted those very words after reaching Eureka Books, a wonderful bookshop nestled in a corner of Northern California.

We’d driven south for five hours, give or take an hour or two, from the glorious sand dunes of Southern Oregon that inspired Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction novel, Dune, so Eureka Books was a most welcome sight at the time.

Eureka Books stands proudly in the historic district of a rough-around-the-edges town on the shores of Humboldt Bay. It could be argued that it’s an odd place for a bookshop but there’s actually another used bookstore a little further down the block. Unless you are doing a road trip down the Pacific Coast on Highway 101 (and you should) then you will probably never pass through Eureka, which is a bit of shame because this bookshop is a real treasure. (I must add there is a most unusual building in the town called the Carson Mansion, which is also worth seeing – see below.)

Eureka Books offers a wide range of books

Open seven days a week, Eureka Books is located in a red and white Victorian storefront built in 1879. The building has had several incarnations including as a saloon. Outside, there is a Zoltar fortune telling machine, which fans of Tom Hanks will remember from the 1988 movie Big. There is a tall airy interior which opens into a second floor as you venture further in – you feel it’s a building full of stories and that those tales go way beyond books.

Scott Brown is co-owner of Eureka Books and his previous position as editor of Fine Books & Collections Magazine involved plenty of storytelling. Scott’s wife Amy Stewart is also a co-owner and she’s in the storytelling business too as an author – her green-fingered books include Wicked Plants, Wicked Bugs, Flower Confidential and The Drunken Botanist. Both Scott and Amy knew this bookshop well before the opportunity arose to acquire the business.

The store, which is a member of the ABA (American Booksellers Association) and ABAA (Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America) offers new, used and rare books that appeal to a wide spectrum of buyers. Scott has been careful to ensure the store is not cluttered.

You will notice signed copies of Amy’s books alongside the latest releases upon entering the store. Rare and antiquarian books are displayed in glass cabinets down the walls. Used and out-of-print books become more plentiful as you work your way through the shelves.

It is very much a community bookshop with signings by local authors and involvement in the local arts scene. That community feel extends to the internet where Eureka offers a vibrant blog and also online versions of its rare book catalogs.

You will find around 5,000 of their books listed on AbeBooks.com – again carefully curated. Their inventory stretches from many interesting books about Humboldt County to the California Gold Rush and books about books, and much more.

If you are ever in these neck of the woods, you know what to do.

The view from the second floor of Eureka Books

Upstairs at Eureka Books

From paperbacks to coffee-table books…

Plenty of books related to Hollywood

There are also rare and out-of-print books galore

And the Carson Mansion, one of Eureka’s other attractions

Bookish Yoga Poses

I think there’s a widespread belief that bookishness and athleticism are much like oil and water, and rarely mix well. Bookworms have oft been portrayed as pale obsessives with one-track minds, who eschew the outside world and any activity other than delving into their next read.

…Come to think of it, that might not be far off, for some of us. But it doesn’t mean we don’t welcome new ways to try. With yoga being all the rage these days, Charlotte Lacroix from AbeBooks’ German office made it her business to find out if it was possible to get some exercise, some stretching, some sunshine and fresh air, all without having to take her nose out of her book.

She posted about her experience over on the ZVABlog, and we’ve recreated it for you below in English.


I don’t like to admit it: I’m a couch potato. And in these sunny summer days, you easily get a really bad feeling in your conscience when you see people packing their swimsuits or going to the park with their yoga mat. My personal mat is rather for lying around, and I usually also carry a big picnic basket and at least five books with me when I go to the park.

But I recently found a solution for my dilemma: did you know that there is a way to do sports while reading?

Yoga expert Erin Schafranek from “Rundum Yoga” explained how, and was happy to show me. And somehow, the poses recommended by her reminded me of the book world again…

1. “Book Bend”

We start our training pretty smoothly: close your feet, soles together, and lower the body slowly. In this position, even the most thrilling book can be read in a relaxed way. Best to avoid thrillers and courtroom dramas, as a sudden jerk upwards could hurt.




2. “The Light-Reading Sphinx”

Known simply as “The Sphinx” by yogis, this position allows for some light reading and relaxation, while still giving your lower back some gentle, efficient stretching. Perfect for pleasant, meditative reading.




3. “Book Ends”

How do you like these sporty book ends? The key to this pose is to keep your legs and feet at 90 degree angles. This might be a good position for reading comedy, since all the blood is going to rush to your head anyway, so you might as well have a good laugh.



4. “The Reading Pirate”

Fine, technically it’s called the Tree pose, and it’s already a bit less comfortable. You need a bit of balance for this one so please, nothing too engrossing for your reading choice, or you might topple.



5. “The Dog Ear”

The dog ear is not only a folded edge of a page, but it also helps you to train your legs, lower back, and shoulders, while it stretches the vertebral column.



6. “The Bookmark”

The bookmark trains arms and your belly muscles. Make sure that your arms are in a 90° angle with the floor and that your bottom stays in the same height as your shoulders. Guaranteed to keep you in place – although you probably won’t make it more than a few pages in this pose.



7. “The Open Book”

Not as innocuous as its name might imply, this pose is definitely not for beginners. Also, you might want to try it in front of the mirror before presenting it in the park. Erin still looks quite relaxed reading in this pose.



8. “The Bibliomaniac”

You’d have to a bibliomaniac – or some kind of maniac, anyway – to attempt this pose without yoga experience! Even our model and yoga expert can only peek into her book while doing this very advanced pose!



And at last, our fearless blogger Charlotte can now return to the park with her head held high and her conscience intact, after her day training with yogi Erin Schafranek.


Who’s your book hero?

AbeBooks Book Heroes

By our definition, a book hero is ‘a person admired for noble achievements relating to the preservation and celebration of books and reading.’ Book heroes come in all shapes and sizes and can include parents, friends, teachers, librarians, community workers or neighbors.

We’re celebrating the world’s book heroes by sharing their magnificent stories. Meet a school teacher who battles illiteracy in Ghana, a rare book dealer who saved a priceless literary treasure from thieves, an organization that uses books to finance worthy causes, and two friends who started a literary utopia on an Italian mountainside.

If you know a champion of books, literature or reading, we want to hear about them! Nominate your book hero today and we could tell their story to the world via our section devoted entirely to AbeBooks Book Heroes.

Share your book hero story by emailing mybookhero@abebooks.com, or tag your story on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram with #mybookhero.

Amazon’s Top 10 Books: July 2015

Whether you prefer to read in a hammock, on the beach, at the pool, or tucked away in the cool indoors, Amazon’s top 10 books for July will surely enhance your summer reading list.  From page-turning mysteries to historical fiction, here’s what the Amazon editors have selected this month.

1. Circling the Sun: A Novel by Paula McLain

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

2. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

 Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

3. Speak: A Novel by Louisa Hall

Speak: A Novel by Louisa Hall

4. Confession of the Lioness: A Novel by Mia Couto

Confession of the Lioness: A Novel by Mia Couto

5. The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey by Rinker Buck

The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey

6. The Hand That Feeds You: A Novel by A.J. Rich

The Hand That Feeds You: A Novel by A.J. Rich

7. The Last Pilot: A Novel by Benjamin Johncock

The Last Pilot: A Novel by Benjamin Johncock

8. The English Spy by Daniel Silva

The English Spy by Daniel Silva

9. Alive: Book One of the Generations Trilogy by Scott Sigler

Alive by Scott Sigler

10. Vendetta by James Neff

Vendetta by James Neff

Debut Spotlight: Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich

Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich

The Appeal of Post-Apocalyptic Reading


A few years ago, we put together a list of the best post-apocalyptic fiction. But I’ve been reading more and more of it, and there have been some excellent selections since then, so wanted to look into it again.

What is it that so attracts me to post-apocalyptic fiction as a genre? I’m not sure why I would feel drawn to delve again and again into subject matter that gives me nightmares (and it does), but I suppose there’s no accounting for (even one’s own) taste. And a quick scan of my reading choices over the past 5 or more years shows a definite pull.

It began with my zombie fascination, I suppose. I realize that paints an extremely immature picture, as obsession with a fictional monster as an adult is a bit strange. But there is something so compelling about the idea, even in a repellent, horrific landscape, of death not being the end, and of being forced to use your wits, skill, and luck to survive in a world completely turned upside down. And that last sentiment applies to not only zombies, but also plague, war, aliens, and a host of other catastrophic occurrences best left to fiction. There’s a pull, to that notion of necessity.

I’m clearly not alone, either. There is plenty of post-apocalyptic fiction in mainstream popular culture, zombie and otherwise, not only in books, but also in movies and television. The television series The Walking Dead, which premiered in 2010, is on its 5th season, wildly popular, and still going strong. In the fickle, flash-in-the-pan era of Netflix and piracy, that’s impressive. It’s also probably where my fascination began, when I started reading the original Walking Dead comics in 2003, by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore. I loved them, have kept reading them, and then also read World War Z, by Max Brooks, which is written as a historical account of the world’s downfall (again, zombies) and revitalization. That one was riveting, because it’s written so thoroughly, in such articulate, well-thought out detail, that it makes the entire event feel plausible, despite our rational brains knowing better. It looks at every angle of what would happen, in every corner of the world, in such an event. So those were my first real interest zombies (besides George Romero movie binges), sparked after an interview I read with Kirkman in which he said he loved zombie movies, but that every one ended too soon. His premise for the Walking Dead comics stemmed from his need to see what happened next – how society tried to rebuild; what day to day challenges arose when the main problem of being eaten had been addressed or adjusted to; how a new society would differ from the old in both positive and negative ways, and more.

I think that’s the part that I find the most riveting – the removal of the comforting and restrictive societal rules, norms and institutions that (largely) keep society running (arguably) smoothly.

My first memory of reading something that gave me that feeling was William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, which I read in the 8th grade as assigned reading. I was horrified by it, and I loved it. The speed with which the schoolboys abandoned their uniforms (and all they stood for) and submitted to their most base and primal inner instincts was shocking, yet didn’t feel unnatural in the book. Are we held in place by so flimsy a barrier? Is there such a thin line separating us from savagery?

In Lord of the Flies, as in The Walking Dead and all other post-apocalyptic fiction I’ve read, the answer is yes and no. Some rise above, to find their best selves revealed in the wake of a disaster, while others have their worst brought out by fear, panic and mob mentality, and sink quickly into cruelty and depravity. Perhaps that’s what draws us to the genre – am I wondering, deep down, what my own true nature is? Am I hoping I’d be a noble leader, a humble hero helping to create a new, better way of life? Or am I afraid that I’m weak, spineless and cowardly, quick to step on others for my own personal gain? It’s an interesting question to think about – when it comes right down to it, what kind of people are we?

I recently finished the complete & uncut edition of The Stand by Stephen King (1153 pages! What a behemoth). I’m not usually a Stephen King fan, particularly in recent years (though I still think Misery is one of the most terrifying novels ever written), but I’d had so many recommendations for it that I caved, and I’m glad I did. I found the earliest parts of the book, when the flu is spreading, to be the most terrifying of the whole book. Many of the elements I’ve found so appealing in other post-apocalyptic fiction were thoroughly expanded upon and even turned into symbolic metaphor. It definitely got a bit hokey at points (okay, a lot hokey), but I still found it very engrossing and interesting, and always appreciate King’s attention to detail. What’s nice, as I realized midway through, is that the very nature of a post-apocalyptic novel helps it to be timeless. The Stand was written 37 years ago, but didn’t feel dated, because all the technology would have been absent anyway. Sure, if you think deeply, it might be conspicuous that nobody mentions missing Facebook or finding a dead cell phone or using the glare off an iPad to start a fire – but who thinks that deeply while engrossed in a good story?

I also recently read Station Eleven by Canadian novelist Emily St. John Mandel, which I would very highly recommend. Like The Stand, it tells of a frightening, fast-spreading illness (The Georgia Flu, in this case), and the small numbers of survivors who are left behind struggling to survive and make sense of the new world. It also has a very interesting theater and drama bent which made the novel enjoyable on another level. It’s beautifully written, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

If you’re into YA, a really interesting choice I read recently for post-apocalyptic goodness was More Than This, by Patrick Ness. It’s difficult to discuss the novel in detail, as to do so would involve spoiling some of the unusual and unexpected developments therein. It begins with a teenager named Seth, who wakes up in a deserted neighborhood in England and comes to believe he is in hell, or purgatory. The novel follows a surprising trajectory and makes a powerful statement about modernity. It could have come across as preachy, and thankfully, didn’t (I hate that).

What else have I missed over the past few years? Leave a comment and tell me what other post-apocalyptic titles I should explore.