Friday, September 9, 2022
Today I want to celebrate the release of a very special album of music from a very special member of my family. Many of you who know me know that my nephew Ben Levi Ross is remarkably talented, appearing in film and on Broadway, most notably as Evan in Dear Evan Hanson. What many of you don’t know is that Ben is also Boychik and Boychik’s first album has just dropped to rave reviews.
Read this to get a better understanding of Ben and Boychik:
Theatricality is all around us. The way we move through space and time, adorn our bodies, and inflect our words is theater. Boychik was birthed from a desire to explore that theatricality through hyper-vulnerable song writing. Composer/vocalist Ben Levi Ross spent much of their childhood and young adult life in and around the world of theater, training as an actor, ballet dancer, pianist, and singer.
Ben studied theater at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Drama for 1 year before exiting to join the Broadway company of the hit musical “Dear Evan Hansen”. They toured the country to rave reviews for a year as the titular role from 2018-2019. The LA Times called their performance “sensational”, with a “voice that has a radiant strength and fills the theater with its luminosity.” They go on to mention that “the heart and soul of the show is Ross, who matures the hard way before our very eyes. This extraordinary lead performance is heroic in the truth it exposes about our error-strewn paths from youthful alienation toward that distant mountain of self-acceptance.”
The Washington Post said that Ross has a “rewardingly supple voice” and has “built a character with whom we come to empathize deeply.” Ben went on to star in the Kennedy Center’s production of “Next to Normal” in 2020, as well as make their film debut in Netflix’s “Tick, Tick… Boom!” in 2021. Ben’s multi-disciplinary theatrical origins are the soul of Boychik and appear at the forefront of their music.
At age 23, Boychik collaborated with two production teams: Minneapolis musicians Jake Luppen and Nathan Stocker of Hippo Campus and acclaimed indie musician Brad Oberhofer to record a 9-track record based sonically in their voice and piano, but reaching into a plethora of styles and influences– from Phillip Glass to Fiona Apple, from Liz Phair to Rufus Wainwright. Dramatic narratives drive each piece, and each seems to be its own short play with a defined beginning, middle, and end. Boychik presents you a queer body and mind, confident yet aching—with bruises all around, and a need to be seen and heard.
Please download and listen and I hope that you agree with me at how brilliant it is.
Friday, September 2, 2022
Rachelle and I just returned from three weeks on the road. Yes, a road trip with Zo, our 11-year-old boxer, a really good boy and traveling companion. The first leg took us through Asheville to Washington, D.C. to Manchester, Vt. Before the long drive back to Miami, we spent lots of time near the Catskills in the Hudson Valley and the area around the Delaware Water Gap, along the New York and Pennsylvania border.
My lovely niece Madelyn married the wonderful Jake in a moving ceremony in Manchester on the grounds of Hildene, the summer home of Abraham Lincoln’s son, Robert Todd Lincoln and his wife. https://hildene.org
Although on my first extended trip like this in close to forty years I read, hiked and tried to chill with Rachelle and Zo, of course I found my way to some great bookstores. There’s Malaprops in Asheville https://www.malaprops.com.While in DC, I visited my friends at Politics & Prose https://www.politics-prose.com and Mahogany Books https://www.mahoganybooks.com. In Manchester I visited Northshire Bookstore https://www.northshire.com for the first time. I wasn’t alone; the entire wedding party made a beeline for this wonderful store over and over again. All of these stores are carefully curated and serve their communities in unique and meaningful ways.
In upstate New York, I visited a few other bookstores for the first time. In Rhinebeck I, of course, stopped into Oblong Books, which also has a location in Millerton https://www.oblongbooks.com. In Narrowsburg, don’t miss One Grand Books https://onegrandbooks.com with its author centric recommendations. In Woodstock there’s The Golden Notebook https://goldennotebook.indielite.org. I’ve been there before and it captures the spirit of the town that’s been its home for many years. It was also nice to stumble onto bookstores I didn’t know about. One of them is Inquiring Minds Bookstore https://www.inquiringbooks.com in New Paltz.
And, on the last leg, I was disappointed to visit the storied Fountain Bookstore https://www.fountainbookstore.com in Richmond, Virginia on the day it was closed and E. Shaver Books https://www.eshaverbooks.com in Savanah before they were open.
When you drive the country, mirroring the diversity that meets you at every turn is the diversity of bookstores and literary communities that makes for such a rich trip!
Friday, August 26, 2022
“Youth is happy because it has the capacity to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.” ― Franz Kafka
This summer we had the good fortune to work alongside a remarkable young woman. Bella Rotker is a poet, passionate about politics and issues of social justice, a lover of books and ideas, and about to enter 10th grade. Born in Venezuela and a Miami resident, she attends high school at Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan and her enthusiasm is infectious.
In these turbulent times, I take solace in knowing that Bella and all the other young booksellers at Books & Books have a “capacity to see beauty” and it’s this recognition that gives me great hope for a brighter future.
Before she left for school, I asked Bella for her poetry recommendations. Here they are:
Wishing Bella the best in the new school year and looking forward to working with her once again in the future.
Friday, August 19, 2022
So much has already been said about the tragic attack on Salman Rushdie and I stand alongside everyone who has decried this heinous act, while, also, sending Salman the most healing of thoughts. The statement from writer Ayad Akhtar of PEN America is particularly poignant:
And, today, on the steps of The New York Public Library, writers from all over the world honored Salman with a program titled, Stand with Salman: Defend the Freedom to Write.
My thoughts turn to the first time I met Salman. It was upon the publication of Salman’s novel The Moor’s Last Sigh (the novel that followed The Satanic Verses). The Moor’s Last Sigh was written while he was still in hiding and its publication was a sensation. Equally sensational was a very secretive and select tour that Sonny Mehta had put together for him. I was honored that Books & Books was one of the stores that was chosen to mount an event for him.
Publicizing his appearance widely was out of the question, but we did make calls to a number of our customers to let them in on the secret. The night before, Sonny hosted a lovely dinner at The Raleigh on Miami Beach with a number of Miami based writers in attendance and I was so pleased to see that after years in hiding Salman seemed so at ease and his sense of humor was in full bloom. He was interested in everyone and, of course, everyone was interested in him. His autographing, the next day, went off beautifully and it was apparent, once again, that, outwardly, at least, the pressures that came from being under constant threat were kept at bay. Salman seemed to revel in being among his readers and other writers.
The wonderful Susie Horgan took these photos:
In subsequent years, Books & Books and The Miami Book Fair have hosted Salman for many of his books and so many of us here in Miami think of him as a friend. It’s my fervent hope that our friend, Salman, will recover as quickly as possible and allow us to once again be witness to his vast curiosity, his deep intellect and his prodigious sense of humor. We need him and his voice now more than ever.
Friday, August 12, 2022
The loss of two David’s this week hit hard.
David McCullough was a regular visitor to Miami many years ago, and with each visit he would venture into our very first Gables store- the one on the corner- and spend hours browsing. Turns out his son and daughter-in-law, daughter of Bob and Adele Graham, who were living here at the time, were the draw. Although I was very respectful of his quiet time in the bookstore, I loved our conversations, which were all around books and his research on the life of John Adams, who was the focus of his next book. I remember vividly the time he asked me to order a whole series of books that were books Adams would have read during his lifetime, books that would give David further insight into the mindset of his subject. I wish I had kept that list, but I’m sure it can be found in the John Adams bibliography. He was a very kind man, inquisitive about the operation of the bookstore, in love with books and so appreciative of his readership. He will be missed by so many.
Over the years, he also developed a deep friendship with Mim Harrison, a key figure in that wonderful book-centric company, Levenger. Levenger even produced a replica of the typewriter David used to write all his books.
Here’s a wonderful remembrance of David McCullough that Mim just published on her blog:
David Beaty isn’t as well-known as David McCullough, but he was his equal when it came to his passion for all things books and authors, while also being an inventive writer and a wonderful friend and colleague. Our paths first crossed when he discovered Books & Books many, many years ago and our friendship grew over the years when he lived nearby and was collecting art and receiving his MFA from the FIU writing program. For a while he even worked at the bookstore. You can take his measure by all the moving remembrances circulating upon news of his passing.
This blog post is from the writer Tom Swick, our good friend who knew David really well.
Friday, August 5, 2022
A bit of local literary history. In 1983, I, along with The Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce, staged the very first Coral Gables Festival of Books and Writers. It lasted two years, took place in Ponce Circle Park and was then retired when planning for The Miami Book Fair began, with next year being the 40th Miami Book Fair.
We introduced some very cool writers at that Festival in the Gables. Carl Hiaasen was a guest author and so was Edna Buchanan and Charles Willeford. Also at the Festival was a writer whose work I was then recently introduced to: Russell Banks. His novel Continental Drift was just published, and I was hooked. I hand-sold hundreds of copies of his story of disparate cultures beginning to collide, working class New Englanders moving to Florida trying to strike it rich crossing paths with Haitians fleeing the most repressive of regimes any way they could. It’s as brilliant as it was prophetic, and, although published so many years ago, the issues it raises makes it as current as anything else you might read today.
Russell’s career was in full swing and Continental Drift led to his winning the Dos Passos Prize for Literature. Soon after came Affliction, The Sweet Hereafter, Rule of the Bone, and Cloudsplitter. Last year’s Foregone, the story of a filmmaker looking back over his life, spoke to me very deeply.
Over the years, Russell would visit Miami regularly and he and his wife, the wonderful poet Chase Twichell, took up seasonal residence on Miami Beach. And, most important to me, he and Chase became good friends to me and Rachelle.
So, when Dan Halpern, his editor and friend, slipped me an early copy of his newest Florida novel, The Magic Kingdom, of course I stayed up for an all-night read. I wrote Dan immediately to tell him how much I loved it.
I wasn’t alone. Here’s what I found when I opened the galley:
Very humbling to be in their company, but what they wrote is so true. And, with The Magic Kingdom about to be published in November, reviews are coming in fast and furious. Publishers Weekly just gave it a rave, with a star:
“Banks’s penetrating dissection of the American dream and its frequently unfulfilled promises is consistently profound. This is his best work in some time.”
Read the full review HERE
And, just like he has for almost all of his books, a trip to The Miami Book Fair is planned. But, without warning a new challenge has reared its head. Russell might not be able to make an appearance here anytime soon. What’s concerning for all of us who love and care about him is that he has recently been diagnosed with leukemia.
As I write this, he’s fighting back with all his might. His spirit is strong, and this cancer is beatable. I hold out much hope that all of us can celebrate the triumph of The Magic Kingdom with him at The Fair in November.
In the meantime, it’s available for pre-order, and, if you don’t trust me, there’s always Peggy and Paul to listen to!
Friday, July 29, 2022
Today I’m browsing my books, those in the store and some sent to my home. Some are already published and some will be soon. Here goes:
Any book that Walter Mosley calls sublime is a book for me. And, any novel that nods to the noir world of Raymond Chandler, while at the same time evokes the name Roberto Bolaño, makes it undeniably for me. Such is the debut novel, An Honest Living, from Miami’s own Dwyer Murphy. If you love New York City, books and bookstores, and a very smart PI novel, give it a try. I’ve been in its thrall the last two nights and can’t wait to get back to it.
Dwyer is also responsible for the not to be missed CrimeReads website.
When I was eleven years old, I never missed a Miami Dophins game. Although I loved football, I loved the Orange Bowl even more. When the stadium was full and the crowd at full throat, I imagined that the roar that enveloped me and the opposing team could stop time. Before I left home for college, I mostly lived through the team’s difficult years, although they were getting really good right before I left. In 1972, my first year away at college, of course, was when they had what no other team since has had, a perfect season.
All of this came roaring back while looking through a brilliantly conceived new account of that year and that team, Seventeen and Oh: Miami, 1972, and the NFL’s Perfect Season by Marshall Jon Fisher. It’s as much a social history of that period as it is a book about sports. It’s personal, nostalgic, and tells its story in nail-biting detail.
Claire Keegan’s Small Things Like These has been longlisted for the Booker Award. An older one of hers is going to be reissued in November. Foster has been hailed by likes of Hilary Mantel and was noted as one of the top 50 novels published in the 21st century by the The Times of London. I was lucky enough to get a galley and it’s available now for pre-order.
Todays musings is going to be a bit short because I am now running off to the Writers for Democratic Action live virtual event with Congressman Jamie Raskin and Paul Auster. You, too, can see it here whenever you’d like.
Friday, July 22, 2022
We lost Claes Oldenburg this week. His death comes at a particularly poignant time for me right now, as I’ve been thinking a lot about that summer in 1972 when I was 17 years old and both the Democrats and Republicans held their conventions in Miami Beach, where I lived, to choose their presidential nominees. (George McGovern and Richard Nixon)
While Oldenburg is most known for his large-scale sculptures of everyday objects- who can forget his Dropped Bowl with Scattered Slices and Peels installation of 1990 on the Miami Dade County Library’s plaza- I first encountered his work that summer in Flamingo Park where his poster for the Yippies (The Youth International Party) caught my eye.
That was the summer of Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail and Boys on the Bus, but the best account of what went on that summer was Norman Mailer’s St. George and the Godfather, which is now out of print.
This is the 50th anniversary of that summer, which in many ways, following the upheaval of 1968 in Chicago, was tamer, signaling the end of the 1960’s. The “Me Decade” was soon to be upon us.
Ten years later, Books & Books opened, our small shop was on the corner of Aragon and Salzedo in Coral Gables. Over the years, I’ve been very fortunate to have many mentors, other bookstore owners who have inspired me and who have become good friends. Richard Howarth and his wife, Lisa, are two that I met at the beginning. Their Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, is a booklover’s dream. I’m so thrilled that Casey Cep wrote a moving profile of Richard, Lisa and Square Books and their influence on Oxford and the literary community they’ve been essential to for over forty years.
I’m just back from the Sun Valley Writers Conference, and what a week it was. With the mountains of Ketcham, Idaho, as backdrop, thirty writers gathered for readings, talks and panels. Rita Dove and Natasha Trethewey gave readings from their newest collections, Evan Osnos, Heather McGhee and Ben Rhodes discussed the state of our democracy, while Admiral James Stavridis talked leadership. Erich Schwartzel opened our eyes to the Chinese influence on Hollywood. Ocean Vuong and Kathryn Schulz wowed their audiences and Anthony Doerr was a revelation; we all know how wonderful a writer he is, but his sense of humor and presence on a main stage was something to behold. Three first time novelists, Kalani Pickhart, Sanae Lemoine and Kali Fajardo-Anstine joined us at the Conference, as well as good friends Alexander Maksik and Lauren Groff (I was honored to interview her from the stage after her brilliant talk on the nature of historical fiction.)
This just scratches the surface, but I’m back, energized and ready to help bring some author magic to our own reading series and then on to The Miami Book Fair, in November.
Some friends from Miami made the trip, too, and wonderful news from one of them. Asha Elias has been working on her first novel, and while in Ketcham, she received word that it was sold to William Morrow. Pink Glass Houses will be published in the spring of 2024. Congrats!
Friday, July 15, 2022
Some of you might know that I graduated from the University of Colorado in Boulder, where I received my B.A. in English. The journey to that beautiful town nestled in the foothills of the Rockies was an unlikely one for me. I spent my childhood in the tropics of Miami Beach. I’d never experienced the kind of snow or mountains found out West, so Boulder wasn’t even in the picture. Not in the picture, that is, until I read a particular book. The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac was catnip to the 16-year-old me. It features a poet, patterned after the great Gary Snyder, perched on a mountain top as a fire lookout while writing poetry. Somehow, while walking along a palm tree lined street during a humid Miami Beach summer, I found some clarity, clarity as only someone so young could find. The University of Colorado was where I’d go. Although I never became a fire lookout, nor a poet, I found there a wonderfully rich literary community that in so many ways set me on the path to the destination where I find myself today. A book leading to a bookstore. Nothing is more poetic than that.
All of this is very present, because, as I write this, I’m back out West, here in Ketcham, Idaho, attending the Sun Valley Writers Conference. For these last number of years, this trip to the Conference has become the highlight of my summer. With mountain peaks as a backdrop, over thirty writers gather for a thought-provoking weekend of talks and readings in front of an enthusiastic gathering of readers. This year’s line-up features Ocean Vuong, Natasha Trethway, Terry Tempest Williams, Kathryn Schulz, Lauren Groff, Anthony Doerr, Rita Dove, Geoff Dyer and so many others. Many of its programs are also available virtually online.
The Sun Valley Writers Conference in July and The Miami Book Fair in November. Heaven!!
Ketcham has a history of being home to many writers. Wherever you go, images of Ernest Hemingway follow. Old photos of him line the hallways of the Sun Valley lodge, where I’m staying. And, the home where he lived and where he shot himself has been preserved. Last month our very own Books & Books Press published a wonderful memoir by Mark Kurlansky, The Importance of Not Being Ernest: My Life with the Uninvited Hemingway, and there are some very poignant scenes that take place in Ketcham. It’s really good.
We’re not the only bookstore that has also published books. City Lights Bookstore possesses a full publishing program, City Lights Publishers. I remember collecting their Pocket Poets Series, which includes the work of Allen Ginsberg, Frank O’Hara, and Julio Cortazar. They’ve been publishing these since 1955 and I remember the thrill I felt when I first came across them browsing in the Doubleday Bookstore on Lincoln Road a long time ago. I remember that day in 1982 when the first shipment from City Lights was delivered to us and how I expectantly opened the boxes and proudly placed these crisp new editions on our shelves, waiting for them to be discovered by a young reader for the very first time. It’s what we do as booksellers!
McNally Jackson Bookstore in New York City has just released the first titles of a beautifully curated and designed series of books, McNally Editions. They describe them this way:
McNally Editions is a paperback line devoted to hidden gems. Printed to last, on acid-free paper, with sewn bindings, these are books you may never have heard of—but that you will never forget.
Like the City Lights Poetry Series, we offer them at Books & Books hoping you’ll read them, and that this new series will last far into the future.
Friday, July 8, 2022
I warn you that once you enter the world of The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey you won’t soon escape its pull. I was enticed with an early galley a few months ago by the brilliant writer/editor John Freeman and I loved it so much that I decided to listen to its audio book on my morning walks; I was in its thrall once again. So, I’m in the wonderful position of encouraging you to not only read this exquisite novel about to be published by Alfred A. Knopf, but, also, for an extra special treat, listen to the beautifully read audio edition, as well. You’ll be transported.
Last week, Books & Books hosted Geraldine Brooks in celebration of her new novel Horse. She charmed us all with the story of the 19th century thoroughbred Lexington and how his legacy speaks to us today. It’s about so much, so much in addition to horseracing. I inhaled it and I dare you to put it down once you start.
Geraldine and her late husband, Tony Horwitz, came to Books & Books for almost all of their previous books and often made appearances at The Miami Book Fair. In some ways we all grew up together in this literary world of ours. As we celebrate our 40th anniversary, I often think of these relationships that make me so happy that I took that road less traveled so many years ago to open a bookshop, but remembering the irrepressible Tony, also reminds me of the acute losses that so many years bring.
Over lunch the next day, Geraldine and I were able to catch up. We talked about our kids, the Vineyard, where she’s lived for many years, and Sydney, where she’s from. And, of course, we talked books. She has just finished an appreciation of the writer Tim Winton for an anthology of Australian writers writing about Australian writers they most admire. I’ve never read Tim, so I decided to right that wrong. Many of his works have been made into films. Breath is a moving coming of age story set in the 1970’s and one of the best novels about the lure of surfing you’ll ever read.