Q & A with Vica Miller

Vica Miller launched her latest book, Inga’s Zigzags, at our store in May. She took the time to answer some questions about her reading. We would like to thank Vica for spending time and sharing her work with us.

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 1) What are you currently reading?

I’m reading Where I’m Calling From, short stories by Raymond Carver. I have also embarked on Empty Without You (intimate letters of Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok). I recently finished This is How You Lose Her by Juno Diaz, which was brilliant, and next on my TBR list is The Land of Steady Habits by Ted Thompson.

2) Is there anything you’re particularly looking forward to the publication of?

I want to read the newest from Michael Cunningham, The Snow Queen, which was just published this May, and Laura ven den Berg’s Find Me, out in February 2015.

3) Are there standard titles or writers you like to recommend, either within or outside of your field?

I love everything by Jeanette Winterson, especially Written on the Body. Anais Nin’s diaries, Fire. I read and re-read Vladimir Nabokov. I think Laughter in the Dark (Camera Obscura) is the most outstanding novel ever written about an affair (besides Anna Karenina). My other literary heroes are Joan Didion, Toni Morrison, Ludmila Ulitskaya, Sarah Waters, Susan Sontag & Mary Gaitskill. Simon Van Booy’s writing is pure magic, especially his short stories. I think I’ve read everything by J. M. Coetzee, Michael Cunningham and Jeffrey Eugenides. And of course the Russian classics I grew up with, Dostoyevsky and Chekhov.

4) Do you have a personal favorite book of all time? If so, can you share it and tell us why?

It’s hard to name one book for all time, as time always changes and so do we.
I wanted to say Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, but how can I favor it over The Idiot by Dostoyevsky? And of course Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

5) What’s next? Any upcoming book projects in the works that you can tell us about?

I’m revising my second novel, The Shadow of a Blue Doll, and I have a few short stories in the works.

Vica_Miller_about

Vica Miller grew up in St. Petersburg (Russia) and has been a New Yorker for over two decades. George Plimpton called her a writer, and she believed him. Her first novel, Inga’s Zigzags, was published on May 14, 2014 by Ladno Books.

Vica also hosts the Vica Miller Literary SalonThe salons provide a platform for fresh voices in literature, who are serious about the craft of writing. They present new work from a mix of established and emerging writers, with the ultimate goal of supporting the literary arts and creating a loyal community of followers. Each salon features four writers and is set in a private gallery or art space.

“If you’re going to read one bisexual management consulting Russian novel this year, please, dear god, make it this one.” ~ Gary Shteyngart

August 25, 2014 at 1:10 pm Leave a comment

Staff Pick

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That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott, Bloomsbury USA

It is nearly impossible to write about the brutal reality of settler-colonialism without destroying all hope for a more equitable and just future. However, in That Deadman Dance, Kim Scott manages to focus on the everyday violence of Australian colonialism while simultaneously highlighting the possible reality of mutual learning and understanding. That Deadman Dance does not have the complete devastation of Scott’s earlier book, Benang, and although language plays a central role in the story, form, and ideas, neither is it imbued with the practical approach to working towards a better future that is found in the books arising from Scott’s language projects

That Deadman Dance focuses on two periods of settler-colonialism in Australia’s west. At the heart of the book is Bobby Wabalanginy, who follows the trace of the book through the non-linear narrative, befriending the new arrivals, helping them on whaling missions, and showing them how to work with the land. Bobby also moves with the reader across the major disjunction in the book. This disjunction is one of a movement from a period of toleration of Aboriginal inhabitants–and in fact, reliance upon  Aboriginal  knowledge and practices–to a period of distrust and growing intolerance. Focusing on this point in time allows Scott to show, materially, the complexity and subtleties of the relations of respect and subjugation inherent in the everyday practices of colonialism.  

Two main criticisms have been leveled against this book: that its characters are superficial and that the wandering writing leads to a longer-than-necessary book. However, the unwillingness to pin down  characters does a lot of work to problematize exclusive dualities – colonizer/colonized, black/white. I also see the characters in this book as expressing the idea that any person, any culture, remains always slightly unknowable. Scott refuses the temptation to round out the people in his stories by giving exhaustive character portraits, instead materializing within the characters this inability to definitively know. Further, on the part of the Aboriginal peoples, what some have termed ‘naïve’ in book reviews, is, rather, an exemplification of the difficulties inherent in a reorientation of vision and understanding.  And for the white colonizers, the book demonstrates the difficulty in understanding Aboriginal ways of seeing. The winding prose, too, just like the characters, epitomizes the uncertainty of the relations, the uncertainty of the future, and the enduring possibility for things to be other than the way they are. Rendering seemingly climactic events minor, Scott does not rely on momentous occasions or familiar emotional responses to drive the book. While the style challenges forms of writing that Western audiences might be more familiar with, it also embodies one of the central tenets of the book: the continuing inequity of knowledge and understanding; ways of listening and seeing. Scott says, in a well quoted verse in the book, ‘We learned your words and songs and stories, and never knew you didn’t want to hear ours’ (p.95).

This is an incredibly generous book. It does not shy away from shameful realities, but it remains playful and hopeful. The hope Scott offers is not an empty hope that if we continue to do the same things and live in the same way, that somehow, things will change, but rather a hope that comes from the fact that at some point in time, things were different; another way was possible. It shows things can be different again. In writing a moment in the past where another way was possible, Kim Scott  offers a vision for a potential future.

by Bec

August 8, 2014 at 7:12 pm Leave a comment

Q&A: Dr. Bashi

DrBashi_Logo (2)1) Could you give us a little history of Dr. Bashi?

I was a graduate student in New York when I became a mother and was inspired by the abundance of children’s educational and art venues in the city. I’d constantly come across wonderful books and educational toys but had a hard time finding any Persian children’s books, let alone educational toys. This made me look into the state of children’s education and literacy in my area of expertise, namely the Middle East. As a child in Iran myself, I had a difficult school start, for learning the Persian alphabet, diction and math all seemed like a punishing exercise. I believe that my negative experiences could have easily been avoided. Because with the right tools and stimulation, nearly all children are capable of visually memorizing the core elements such as the alphabet, numbers, shapes and basic cognitive concepts years before kindergarten/school-start.

So last year I took a leap of faith and fulfilled my dream of making the very materials I wanted for my own children.

2) Book Culture recently hosted a launch party for the Arabic and Persian block sets. What makes these sets different from other similar products?

I was very happy that we could have our first official launch event in Book Culture! Frequenting Book Culture both as a student and later as a mother was instrumental in the realization of our venture!

What makes our sets different from other similar products is that our blocks are ethically-made in Vermont, USA (no one is hurt making them) and of premium quality, which means they are made to last generations. When parents or a school purchases a set of Dr. Bashi blocks, they are also buying it for the next generation of children and their children…we guarantee it! Furthermore unlike the lindenwood and basswood alphabet blocks commonly found in the market, our blocks are suitable for children 1 years of age and older, they are made of sustainably sourced American hard maple wood – lacquered and painted with non-toxic ink–which creates a solid, non-splintering toy that is safe around the edges. This is particularly important as children under 3 tend to bite toys and lindenwood blocks are known to splinter (small chunks of wood can be bitten off) and lose their color fairly quickly.

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Dr. Bashi Persian blocks, available at Book Culture for discounted prices.

Secondly, when you take into account that every square cube has 6 sides to it, you realize that each side of a wood block is prime time real estate! So you don’t want to waste it!

On just 1 side for instance, we have added 2 combined educational components– color and geometric shape for children of all ages to learn—so when you add a triangle why not color it, and add the name of the color too—so e.g. red triangle instead of just red or triangle?

So both our Persian and Arabic block sets offer 10 different colors and 11 geometric shapes, as well as the entire Arabic or Persian alphabet and all their conditional forms, vowels and numbers, basic math symbols, useful sight-words, the four seasons, and weather types, and even the 5 senses (for the Persian). The typography, choice of words and illustrations on our blocks are unique, artistically-exciting and wherever possible race and gender conscious—created in close consultation with scholars in the field.

So our blocks are packed with education and help with developing fine and gross motor skills and cognitive concepts, while also promoting parent/teacher-child interaction.

It is important to keep in mind that while in Europe and North America, ABC wood blocks for children have been part of every home, nursery and elementary school’s inventory for centuries, this has not been the case for Persian and Arabic speaking regions. So when I decided to venture into the field of children’s products, I wanted to make the best ABC block ever made–surpassing 300 years of experimentation with English or French wood blocks, both in terms of material but also content.

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Dr. Golbarg Bashi with her children, at her graduation from Columbia University.

3) It is rather remarkable how much Dr. Bashi has accomplished, all while you maintain a full life as a scholar and as a mother. How do you do it?

Thank you for your kind comment! We have just begun our work. Parenthood and full-time work is always a challenge. I personally had to wait until my children were older before I could begin this venture. They have both finished preschool now.

4) Dr. Bashi will be hosting a Persian language story time on Saturdays at Book Culture on Broadway. What can parents expect for their children from these story times?

Persian storytime is a partnership between Dr. Bashi™ and Book Culture, a free program for the advancement of Persian literacy, language and heritage. My own children grew up attending story time in Book Culture’s 114th location. We’d pop in during story time even in languages we don’t speak because it was a chance for the kids to meet and play with other children and listen to an engaged adult reading from colorful books.

What parents can expect for their children from Persian story time is engaged and playful readings from a carefully selected list of beloved Persian children’s stories, both modern and medieval. It will also be a time for families and our children to come to Columbia campus, get to know each other, and have fun. I’d love to offer movie-time called something like “Persian n’ Popcorn” for older children with the option of writing and discussing the films or TV series we’ve watched. Hint hint, Book Culture ; )

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5) Are there any other products currently in the works? What can we look forward to from Dr. Bashi?

We are working on a Persian-English children’s books project that we hope to launch next year. We are also working on offering our blocks in a number of other languages such as Urdu, Hebrew, Swedish and even English! Our capabilities to make educational toys in any world language or in any particular theme (chemistry, geography, botany, history, stories and much more) are endless. Hopefully with more visionary investors on board, we can realize our full potential.

6) Where can people find out more about Dr. Bashi?

http://www.drbashi.com and follow us on our Facebook, Twitter (@Dr_Bashi), instagram (@dr_bashi), YouTube, and pinterest channels. And come to Persian story time on Saturdays at 2:30 PM in Book Culture on 114th Street, New York, NY.

Questions by Cody

August 5, 2014 at 8:19 pm 2 comments

A Love Story and An Outrage: The Miseducation of Cameron Post

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The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Balzer & Bray

You may have heard the hullabaloo about The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth being banned from a summer reading list at Cape Henlopen High School in Delaware due, supposedly, to profanity. Malinda Lo of Diversity in YA has been keeping readers well-updated on the proceedings. emily m. danforth herself wrote an open letter to the school board.

It’s true that the book does not shy away from expletives. Neither do the other books that have been allowed to remain on the school’s summer reading list.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a story about a girl, Cam, orphaned at a young age and raised by her aunt and grandmother. During the course of the novel, Cam comes out/is outed as a lesbian, forges sexual relationships with a few different ladies, and is sent to a religious camp meant to cure her.

Now, the matter of whether the book was really banned for profanity is being well and thoroughly tackled by the aforementioned sources. I don’t think another blog post about it would necessarily serve anyone. But another blog post about how great and uniquely important this book is? I think that’s useful. (Sidenote: I think vocal book loving is always useful.)

I love this book. And I think that this book, in particular, is valuable–not just for young queer girls, not even just for young girls, but for everyone. So I want to take this blog post to talk a little bit about why. 

The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a frank, gutsy story about a lesbian teenager. She falls in love with at least three different girls over the course of the book, all in completely different ways–from best-friend-turned-complicated love to, oh-thank-god-you’re-different-like-me love, to unrequited-or-is-it love. She also falls in love with movies, with exploring abandoned buildings, with (in an awkward and imbalanced way that is just so real) her best guy friend, with swimming, and the Midwestern sky. She loves her own self, even when she feels horrendously guilty about being who she is. She loves her grandmother and her aunt, even when they tell her that the very core of her is wrong.

And yet, unlike most other queer coming-of-age novels, this is not a romance. Cam’s first crush is not the girl who she gets shoved out of the closet for. Her first girlfriend is not the girl she dreams about. And the girl she adores with immediate, unadulterated adoration is someone else entirely. Because not for the first time, but definitely in a rare turn of events, this is a love story about a lesbian teenager who does not come out for her girlfriend, who does not run away with her girlfriend, who does not stay with the first girl she falls for. This is a love story that is not about two girls in love.

Cameron Post is a heroine for the confused people with complex stories. People of all kinds who know they need, desperately, to let themselves fully and bravely become who they are.

In a conversation with her friend Jamie, Cameron says “…maybe I do know, and I’m still confused too, at the same time. Does that make sense? I mean, it’s like how you noticed this thing about me tonight, you saw it, or you already knew it – it’s there. But that doesn’t mean it’s not confusing or whatever.”

This portrayal of confusion and intuition and becoming is not just for the high school age queer girls. Cameron Post is for the adults who could use a little more guts, a little more raw courage (here’s lookin’ at you, Henlopen school board.).

Anyone could read her story and say “that’s me.” Profanity and all, that’s me. Confused and ashamed and still somehow unabashedly herself, that’s me. Any brave person, any confused, in-love, defiant, reflective, growing person can look at this heroine and say “that’s me.”

And everybody should have the chance. 

by Kerry C

July 30, 2014 at 7:25 pm Leave a comment

How I Resolved to Stop Buying From Amazon, and What I Discovered After

bookcultureblog:

A wonderful, thoughtful piece on the feel and place of Independent Bookstores.

Originally posted on Fever Dreams | A Blog:

I have a guilty secret, and it is implied in the above headline.

Yes, I have long known of Amazon’s poor labor practices, hardball price reduction tactics, manipulation of publishers large and small, pressure on independent booksellers (though their numbers are fortunately growing), and potential for Armageddon once they have eliminated all competition. I also know similar unsavory facts about the meat processing industry, but I still had a hamburger for dinner last night. A psychologist might call it human nature.

Up until now, my solution for scrubbing away the ugly film that covers both activities has been the same: alter small habits without attempting a complete overhaul. Buy a book at an independent bookstore every time I found myself in one. Order beef and pork from our local CSA, let the kids meet the farmers and pet the cow so they learn where food comes from. Reduce the bad stream, gradually increase the good one. But Amazon and the bulk…

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July 24, 2014 at 2:25 pm Leave a comment

Call for Submissions: Table Talk

Our friends at Table Talk have put out a call for new submissions!

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CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS

          Table Talk is a new kind of magazine that brings together people, both renowned and unknown, from different professions, countries, and contexts. Each issue focuses on a rarely discussed idea or experience that appears in all of our lives. By gathering voices from seemingly unrelated perspectives, speaking through different media, we hope to create a new space for intellectual exchange.
          The inaugural issue released this past May focused on duende, the Spanish word for a heightened state of emotion we often experience as shivers up and down our skin when we are moved by a powerful performance. Contributors ranged from the contemporary American philosopher Alphonso Lingis, to Jazra Khaleed, a Chechen-born poet and boxer living in Athens, from the Australian anthropologist Michael Taussig, to Chris Buczinsky, an Illinois-based children’s book author and illustrator. The first issue is now carried internationally in top bookstores and magazine shops in Berlin, Istanbul, London, and New York. Online, the magazine has been read in over 27 countries, from South Africa to Japan, Brazil to Bangladesh.
          Submissions are now open for the second issue, centered on the idea of dyno. In rock climbing one normally needs three points of stability to safely navigate an ascent. There are some moments, however, when the climber reaches an area that she cannot overcome using this particular approach and must instead let go of everything, leaping through mid-air in order to surpass the obstacle ahead. Climbers call this dyno, a dynamic move. This decision to surrender all comfort and risk everything for one’s goal is not restricted to rock climbing. From fishermen who venture into dangerous waters for the big catch, to poets who abandon the rules of convention and risk their reputations to create new styles of writing, this moment of dyno is an intriguing lens through which to look at perseverance, innovation, and creativity across professions and disciplines.
          Any form of writing (essays, fiction, poetry, interviews, recipes, etc.) or visual art and media (photography, paintings, films, documentaries, etc.) that approaches the theme in innovative and accessible ways is open for consideration. Dyno can be explored directly or used as an underlying theme for the piece. Written submissions should be limited to 2,000 words, visual submissions 8 images, and video submissions 10 minutes. Any selected films will be featured in the print magazine as a QR code that links to the video on the website. Previously published submissions will not be accepted. Simultaneous submissions are allowed as long as we are immediately notified upon acceptance to a different publication.
          All submissions are due by September 16th, 2014.Please submit via this link: https://tabletalk.submittable.com and address any queries or thoughts to: info@tabletalk.io.
          Issue II set to release early November.

July 23, 2014 at 5:10 pm Leave a comment

“Home felt a bit threatened”: an interview with the editors of Prufrock Magazine

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Can you tell us a little more about the history of Prufrock? What was the motivation in starting a magazine of writing?

Well, back home in South Africa we don’t have many. So there seemed to be a space for it on the shelf. James, Annie, Nic and I had graduated not too long before, and seen many of our peers (and ourselves), go into jobs in social media – we knew there were good writers there, and guessed that there must be many more. Not only that, but South Africans who’d grown up after apartheid were going to graduate soon, and it seemed that this was a whole generation who needed a space to write too. These were the lofty ideals. The practical side of it is that we were young enough to take the risk, and wanted to do something that would be fun, satisfying, and meaningful. So we climbed up on stage at the end of events at a literary festival, and spoke to these big crowds of people, and tried charming them into buying the first issue. And they did!

As mentioned in the Editorial at the beginning, Volume 2, Issue 1: Magic Lantern has an “inky” feel to it. I really loved the piece in the middle, “Quarter-century, or, The Year I Was 25″ by Rosa Lyster, and found myself devastated while reading the Diane Awerbuck, “Harvest”. It is suggested that this inkiness may be a result of the idea of “feeling at home at the moment”. Could you elaborate on this feeling, and how it informed the selection and organization of the pieces?  

It’s eerie how an issue comes together with one feeling. Rosa writes for each issue – she’s written about picnics in books and dogs in books, and Narnia, and this piece came in and it was sadder, darker (though it ends happily, in summertime). The strange thing was that all of the best pieces submitted for that issue had been – we shy away generally from anything violent or horribly sad (overrepresented things in young writing), unless it’s very very good. At the time, Jacob Zuma had just been re-elected as our president (his first term was marred by corruption, violence, indifference). One of our big media companies had been sold a few months earlier to someone who seems to have scarily deep sympathies with the ANC, the ruling party. So home felt a bit under threat. There was frenzy over the Oscar Pistorius trial, and the Marikana massacre’s Farlam commission is ongoing. When the best nonfiction pieces we got centered on violence, it seemed linked. Many of the pieces reflected on the past, all of the fiction is told by child narrators. So that inkiness is the darkness, weight, permanence, of things that shape us.

Prufrock Volume 2, Issue 1

Prufrock Volume 2, Issue 1. Available at our 112th street location.

You have a small staff, but it seems like you’re building a large following and distribution. What is your role, and what is it like to work on a magazine like Prufrock?  

Oh it’s the best thing in the world! It’s also overwhelming at times, and it’s scary to feel so attached to something. We all do everything at the moment – distribution, social media, editing, though James is the design whizz. Our following is growing partly because we’ve had the support of some big guns back home – that’s been due to persistence, but a bit of luck too. This year Cape Town is the “World Design Capital,” and we were named one of the official projects, which meant we could crowd fund with the promise of having what we raised matched – and we did, we reached our top goal last week! Then, Exclusive Books, the country’s biggest bookstore chain has recently been sold, so there’s new energy and blood there. That’s helped, as well as the unwavering support of smaller independents. So there’s been plenty of good news to go around, which helps us get through deliveries and late late nights – though these have their appeal too. I came to New York in January to intern at Harper’s Magazine, and that’s how Prufrock met Book Culture.

What can we expect from the next issues? And where would you like to see the magazine go in the future?

Lots! More non-fiction we hope – as the magazine grows, we hope to be able to commission more pieces. One of the pieces that was written just for us has just won an award back home – “Vida Loves You,” from issue 3, by Nic Mulgrew, which is about drag kings and queens in Cape Town. We’ll also be bi-monthly from August. Perhaps we’ll add more regular features. We’re all mad about cooking, so maybe something there.

Where can people find out more about Prufrock?

This piece is a good place to start, but otherwise our website is www.prufrock.co.za (and we do offer international subscriptions for those of you who can’t make it to Book Culture), tweet @PrufrockMag, and facebook.com/PrufrockMagazine.

July 15, 2014 at 7:00 pm Leave a comment

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Book Culture is an independent community bookstore with two locations in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of New York City on 112th street and 114th street and Broadway. Visit us online at www.bookculture.com

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