A Farewell, A Thank You, A Welcome

Spike, Lord and Master

The past five years of Left Bank Books’ career in St. Louis has arguably been the best we’ve had.  The supposed death of bookstores and recession be damned, we’ve done some pretty cool stuff, even if the only one who got rich and famous was Spike, our beloved bookstore cat.

After our business partner, Barry,  retired from the bookstore in 2009, Kris and I worried about whether we would be up to the task of keeping this stubborn St. Louis institution alive.  His shoes were giant, and almost impossible to fill.  Add to that  the birth of the second location of LBB downtown and the pressure was on.

One of the many fortunes we count at ye olde bookstore, is the  smart, ambitious, talented, hardworking, dedicated and patient (with both the owners and the customers) staff of booksellers we are lucky enough to have.

I’d like to take a quick moment on this blog to thank one in particular who has been with us these past five years and has grown our events series into a force to be reckoned with.

Danielle Borsch interviewed for her job at the beginning of 2008.  One of the reasons she got the interview was because her resume had honest to god footnotes and hinted at the magnetic, dynamic person she is.  We were worried because she had two other jobs – one hosting bar trivia and the other producing and acting in The Immediacy Theater troupe she formed with

Danielle Borsch, Outgoing Events Coordinator

her friends.  I wish I could go back to the meeting with Kris and Barry after that interview and tell her how wrong we were to have worried about her ability to manage her time, how she would meet and exceed our expectations.  Every. Single. Time.

The three of us grew to love her and depend on her spot-on intuition about hosting events.  During her tenure, we hosted the likes of Jimmy Carter, Tony LaRussa, Terry McMillan, Jonathen Franzen and David Sedaris (more than once) and hundreds more.

It was fitting then, that her last event with us was this past Saturday, when David Sedaris stopped at our Downtown store to read from and sign his newest book, Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls.  We’ve hosted David on every one of his book tours, and knew that this event would be big.  It would need experience.  It would need stamina.  It would need talent.  It would need Danielle.

Kris and I sat on our couch scowling out the window around 3pm when we heard thunder.

We were all set up to do our outdoor listening party on the streets of downtown St. Louis complete with tents, lawn chairs, beer, food – and books – lots and lots of paper objects that don’t mix kindly with Midwestern spring weather.  I say we scowled because of the thunder, but I have to admit that my scowl was also the result of the worst ear infection I’ve ever had.  So bad, in fact, that I missed one of my favorite

The downtown listening party primed and ready to hear David Sedaris.

authors AND the last event of one of my best friends.  My sister and her friend volunteered to work the event, and around midnight, she came back to my house reporting that when David arrived, the clouds went away and the sun came out.

It was 3 am before poor Kris got home, still buzzing from the event and far past her ability to be coherent about it, but I did hear stories from that night from those who were there.  Mostly the surprises were limited to the good to the weirdly good – the giant sticker books David brought with him, from which he selected one for each customer and incorporated the sticker in the autograph of the book; the patient waiting for a lung transplant who made it to the event and talked to her favorite author; the Mormons who left a very kind note for him because they couldn’t stay.

Hannah Nutt, Incoming Events Coordinator

The event went well, and ushered in the era of our next Event Coordinator, Hannah Nutt, who, like I did when Barry left, has big shoes to fill, but I’m not worried.  She has taken the reigns and will steer this event series in her own way, with her own (many, many) strengths.  We’ve also moved one of our best booksellers, Lauren Wiser, into our events and publicity mix.

I say this because I will miss Danielle for so many reasons both professional and personal that it has been hard to untangle the layers.  I’ve been writing this blog post, and even in its writing a piece of sunshine has peaked through the thunderous clouds in my head.  I’m remembering the anxiety we’ve had every time one of our bookstore family members leaves and the uncertainty that comes along with replacing that very unique, seemingly irreplaceable person.

Lauren Wiser, Publicity Manager

I’m also remembering the hope and joy and fun in discovering the humor, strength, passion and fortitude of the new members of our family.  I can’t wait to get to know our newest member better.  I can’t wait to see what she and Lauren come up with.

As I see it, the main strength we have as a store is our ability to look forever forward.  I’m looking forward to seeing what they can do.

I can’t wait to see what we can do together.

From Guest Blogger, Josh Hanagarne

As promised, a post from author, Josh Hanagarne who will be signing his new book, The World’s Strongest Librarian on May 11.  The New Yorker posted this review (definitely worth a read).  You can also follow his blog at http://worldsstrongestlibrarian.com/.


Hey there, fans of Left Bank Books!

Josh Hanagarne

Meet Josh on May 11 at the St. Charles City-County Library!

I’ve been tasked with bringing you a list of spring/summer reading recommendations.  I’m all too happy to do so.  Relieved, even. This might surprise you, but even though I’m a librarian, I don’t get to talk about books at work very often.  Most people just don’t ask, they just want to be escorted to the Internet, which breaks my bookish heart.

I’d guess that 80% of what I read is either recommended to me by other bookworms, or it just happens to cross my desk at the library. I never know what I’m going to find. It’s kind of how I feel when I’m browsing an out-of-the-way bookshop and I head down the next aisle.

If a book looks remotely interesting, I grab it.  I definitely have my favorite authors, genres, and subjects, but my constant exposure to unfamiliar books means, happily, that I read outside of my comfort zone quite often.

I tend to think in stories, and the more stories I read, and the broader the scopes and subjects of the stories, the more connections I can make.  A mind that can is familiar with a greater variety of subjects is going to be more adaptable.

Now then–you wouldn’t be on this website if you weren’t a fellow book nut, so I’ll try and reward your curiosity with the latest and greatest books that have jumped out at me.

The Boys In the BoatThe Boys In The Boat:  Nine Americans And Their Epic Quest For Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown

Before this book, I didn’t have any stories or ideas tied to rowing.

In fact, before reading The Boys In The Boat, if you’d asked me, “What’s less interesting than competitive rowing?” I would have said, “Nothing! What else can we talk about?”  But I had similar thoughts about horse racing before reading Seabiscuit, about running the mile before reading The Perfect Mile, about running in general before reading Bowerman And The Men Of Oregon, and about the history of Formula 1 racing before reading The Limit.  

 But of course, these books were great not because of the sports they profiled, but because of the people involved.

Not only is Brown’s book interesting, It’s thrilling, and he’s a fantastic writer.  The people in the story are a pleasure to know.  I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a book about sports and competition this much.  If you like stories about scrappy underdogs beating the odds, this is the book for you.

The Ocean at the End of the LaneThe Ocean At The End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Someone recently asked me what the best part of being a debut author with an upcoming book.  “Getting a sneak peek at Neil Gaiman’s new book,” I said immediately. And truer words have never passed my lips.

If I’d read The Ocean At The End of the Lane as a child, I don’t know if I ever would have recovered.  This book contains what might be the most terrifying scene I can think of for a young boy.  When you get to the bathtub scene, you’ll know what I’m talking about.  My favorite thing about Gaiman is that he tells stories of impossibly strange worlds, while hinting at worlds behind the stories that are more unusual yet.  Ocean is a masterpiece of potent, concise thrills.

This is Neil Gaiman, so…you’re probably going to read it no matter what the story is. But okay, the plot:  A young boy unleashes a creature from another world and gets into a world of trouble.  That might sound like a story that could have come from any writer, but if you know Neil, you can guess that it’s not.

The Never List by Koethi Zahn

I read The Never List in one night and stayed up too late doing so. In the early pages, two women are abducted.  They awaken in a cellar, shackled to the walls with two other women.  Three years later, our narrator escapes.  The story picks up years after that and involves her abductor’s potential parole, the letters he is sending to her and his other victims, and a cult that would have fit right into a season of Dexter. The Never List  reminds me of Chelsea Cain but not as gruesome, and Gillian Flynn without the sick humor.  If you can have fun with an ugly, nasty story, check this out. You know who you are.

GulpGulp by Mary Roach

In her inimitable style, Roach has previously tackled the cadaver, the soul, sex, and everything you wanted to know about space travel but were afraid to ask.  With Gulp, she goes down the hatch.  This book contains just about everything you’d never want to know about what’s happening inside of you.  It’s fascinating, disgusting, and as Roach fans will already know, hilarious.  My only complaint?  I can’t believe she took this internal tour and never even mentioned the tapeworm.

I could go on and on and on, but now I’d like to turn it over to you.  I’d be grateful if you’d head over to my blog or send me a Tweet.  Let me know what you’ve read and loved lately! (please)

Hey – We have a blog!

Greetings from your friendly city bookstore. As I write this, another of our local indies is fighting what seems to be a losing battle with their landlord over whether they can stay in their location or not. The alternative is a storage facility on the lot where a 150 year old Victorian house once stood.

Yes, it might seem odd to make the first post on the Left Bank Books blog about a competing store’s struggles, but hear me out. Our store does not, and cannot exist in a vacuum. Without a vibrant local independent bookstore scene, the variety of local flavor and unique personalities of each area diminish. If one store fails, we all shine a bit less brightly.

Josh Hanagarne, decidedly strong librarian

My next post (very shortly after this introduction) will be from guest blogger and author of The World’s Strongest Librarian, Josh Hanagarne, where he’ll recommend some summer reading, but I wanted to introduce you to our blog and encourage you to follow our posts, as we’re much more interesting than Amazon and way cooler.

We’ll be tweaking this blog and looking for (begging for) more guest bloggers, but in the meantime do this:

  1. Sign the petition to save our good friends at The Book House.  It’s the right thing to do.
  2. Scroll down and take a look at the very well established blogs that some of our booksellers have already created including Page Appropriate, our children’s buyer’s blog!
  3. Read Josh’s blog post and then come to our event with him on May 11.  It’ll be fun, and you’ll be glad you came.

Jarek Steele

Co-Owner, Left Bank Books