Reading Group Roundup – August 2013

Left Bank Books hosts reading groups that are always welcoming to new members! If you have any questions or think you’d like to register your book group with Left Bank Books, please drop Jonesey a line at Here’s what our groups are reading this month. Pick up a copy for 20% off at either store, and join in the fun!

The Sex Lives of CannibalsSunday, August 11th, at 2pm in the Downtown store, join Jonesey and Reading the World as they discuss The Sex Lives of Cannibals by Maarten Troost: At the age of twenty-six, Maarten decided to pack up his flip-flops and move to Tarawa, a remote South Pacific island in the Republic of Kiribati. He was restless and lacked direction, and the idea of dropping everything and moving to the ends of the earth was irresistibly romantic. He should have known better. This is his hilarious story.

Vermont PlaysMonday, August 12th, at 7:30pm in the CWE store (downstairs), Shane and his group, Read This Play, will be discussing The Vermont Plays by Annie Baker: “Circle Mirror Transformation,” which takes place in a summer acting class and alternates between theater exercises and moments between classmates, shares the 2010 OBIE Award for Best Play with “The Aliens,” which explores weighty topics of love and death through the easy banter of the slackers behind the local coffee shop. Also included is “Body Awareness,” set during Body Awareness Week at the local college, and “Nocturama,” in which a twenty-six-year-old Brooklynite returns to live with his mom and video game obsessed stepfather.

ValenciaThursday, August 15th, at 7:30pm in the CWE store (downstairs), the Lesbian Reading Group will be reading Valencia, Michelle Tea’s fast-paced account of her search for love and high times in the drama-filled dyke world of San Francisco’s Mission District. There’s the knife-wielding Marta, who introduces Michelle to a new world of radical sex; Willa, Michelle’s tormented poet-girlfriend; Iris, the beautiful boy-dyke who ran away from the South in a dust cloud of drama; and Iris’s ex, to whom Michelle turns when Iris breaks her heart.

Daughter of TimeTuesday, August 20th, at 7:30pm in the CWE store (downstairs), Shakespeare Festival Reads will discuss The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey: Scotland Yard Inspector Alan Grant is intrigued by a portrait of Richard III. Could such a sensitive face actually belong to one of history’s most heinous villains – a king who killed his brother’s children to secure his crown? Grant determines to find out once and for all what kind of man Richard was and who, in fact, killed the princes in the tower.

Unreal LifeThursday, August 22nd, at 7:30pm in the CWE store (downstairs), the Gay Men’s Reading Group will be discussing The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov by Paul Russell, his novel based on the extraordinary life of the gay brother of Vladimir Nabokov: his stuttering childhood in the shadow of his brilliant brother, his opium-fueled evenings with his sometimes lover Cocteau, his troubled love life on the margins of the Ballets Russes and its legendary cast, and his isolation in war torn Berlin where he will ultimately be arrested, sent to a camp and die in 1945.

Bel CantoWednesday, August 28th, 12pm, in our Downtown store, Kris and the Novel Ideas reading group will discuss Bel Canto by Ann Patchett: Somewhere in South America, at the home of the country’s vice president, a lavish birthday party is being held in honor of a powerful businessman. It is a perfect evening – until a band of gunwielding terrorists takes the entire party hostage. But what begins as a panicked, life-threatening scenario slowly evolves into a moment of great beauty, as terrorists and hostages forge unexpected bonds and people from different continents become compatriots, intimate friends, and lovers.

Elizabeth CostellSaturday, August 31st, 4pm, in our Downtown store, the Writers Read group will be discussing Elizabeth Costello by JM Coetzee: After eight novels that have won, among other awards, two Booker Prizes, and most recently, the Nobel Prize, JM Coetzee has once again crafted an unusual and deeply affecting tale. Told through an ingenious series of formal addresses, Elizabeth Costello is, on the surface, the story of a woman’s life as mother, sister, lover, and writer. Yet it is also a profound and haunting meditation on the nature of storytelling.

This Week @ LBB: Summer Reads, School Shopping, Star Wars, and Sparks

Own a signed copy yet? We still have some available!

Happy August! No doubt you feel like summer’s winding down already, but it’s never too late to book that last minute vacation. You’ll need something to read, of course, while you soak in those rays, and you’re in luck: Publishers Weekly just released their Best Summer Books of 2013, with St. Louis’s own Curtis Sittenfeld making an appearance on the fiction list for her novel, Sisterland. A personal favorite of mine, the third volume of Russ Kick’s Graphic Canon series, was touted as the “most beautiful” book of 2013, and I couldn’t agree more. The series gorgeously and creatively illustrates classics from The Faerie Queen to Great Expectations all the way up to Infinite Jest, and can give you a fresh perspective on the familiar stories you “suffered” through in your high school English classes.

Summer Reading
See something on your list? Give us a call and we’ll put it on hold for you.

Speaking of English class, does your child or teenager have a summer reading list? Did they just tell you about it now? They haven’t even started yet? Never fear! Many customers have come in with just this dilemma, so we’ve devoted space in our YA and children’s sections to books on local summer reading lists. Give your kid a nudge about their own list, and don’t panic if they’ve conveniently “forgotten” about it until now. We’ve got you covered.

Jabba the Puppett
May the Force be with you, and the kids of McQuarrie Middle School.

We have some awesome kids’ events lined up for August. For your little Star Wars fans, Tom Angleberger will be at our Downtown store next Thursday (the 8th) at 2pm for the newest book in his Origami Yoda series, Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppett. The Origami Yoda series is a staff favorite, and Tom’s presentations are always fun and interactive, with crafts, doodling, and (you guessed it) origami. Plus, Tom covers a lot of great issues in his books, from children with different learning styles to the importance of an art curriculum in schools, and the The Strange Case of Origami Yoda was one of our picks for reluctant readers. Read a review of the series from our own children’s buyer, Sarah, here.

Nicholas SparksTickets for our event with Nicholas Sparks on October 9th went on sale yesterday, and his fans showed up in full force. We sold over 200 tickets in less than eleven hours, beating the record previously held by David Sedaris for fastest tickets sales at Left Bank. Tickets for the main auditorium at the Central Library are sold out, but you still have a chance to hear about The Longest Ride by buying tickets for the Creative Experience area, which will have audio and video of Nicholas Sparks’s presentation, and you will still get a pre-signed book, a meet & greet opportunity, and a chance to participate in the Q&A!

Billy Lynn
“Wild, emotional, semi-political, and amazingly well written,” says Shane.

If you’re a fan of contemporary fiction, Shane has a new staff pick: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain. An extra incentive: Luis Alberto Urrea, author of The Hummingbird’s Daughter and Queen of America, recommended this book to Shane when he visited the CWE store this past winter. That’s a bookseller recommendation and an author recommendation! Doesn’t hurt that it was nominated for the National Book Award, either.

Gatsby Shirt
Aisha Tyler’s new book gives it a thumbs up!

And, new in Sidelines That Lauren Has To Own (And Probably Already Does): Out of Print T-shirts! I’m sure you’ve looked at your favorite book cover and thought, “I’d really like to wear that.” (Just me?) Well, now you can. I bought the Pride and Prejudice one, but there’s also The Great GatsbyA Clockwork Orange, as well as The Very Hungry Caterpillar in children’s sizes, to name only a few. Now, if they just made a Les Miserables one…

A sneak peak at next week’s events: Apart from Tom Angleberger, we have Victoria Christopher Murray on Monday, the 5th, at the Carpenter Library, and Julie Garwood on Wednesday, the 7th, at the Central Library. Can’t wait to see you there!

First Look: What’s New on Our Shelves This Week

New releases arrive at Left Bank every Tuesday! Here are a few of particular interest to us this week, that we encourage you to check out.

Real TalkReal Talk For Real Teachers by Rafe Esquith

The only classroom teacher to have won the National Medal of the Arts, Rafe Esquith is famous for transforming a group of fifth-graders into what Publishers Weekly calls “classical music playing, Shakespeare-performing superachievers.” He’s been recognized by Johns Hopkins, Parents Magazine, and Oprah Winfrey. And he’s back with his new book, Real Talk For Real Teachers, a book of advice for those who struggle day to day in the world’s hardest profession. Plus, we’re bringing him to MICDS on Friday, July 19th (you can purchase tickets here). If you’re an educator at any stage in your career, this is going to be an inspirational night you absolutely don’t want to miss.

Countdown CityCountdown City by Ben Winters

Second in his Last Policeman trilogy, Washington University alumnus Ben Winters tells the story of Detective Hank Palace who, 77 days before an asteroid collides with earth, takes on the case of a woman from his past and her missing husband. A sci-fi mystery that asks the big questions:  What do we as human beings owe to one another? And what does it mean to be civilized when civilization is collapsing all around you? And you can meet Ben on Wednesday, July 24th, at our CWE store. Come on out and give him a warm welcome back to St. Louis!

BelladonnaBelladonna by Fiona Paul

Staff and customer favorite Fiona Paul returns with the sequel to Venom, her YA mystery set in Renaissance Venice. In Belladonna, the second chapter in the Secrets of the Eternal Rose series, Cassandra Caravello is trying to forget Falco, the wild artist who ran off with her heart, while searching for the Book of the Eternal Rose, the only evidence that will save her fiance, Luca. Left Bank is the official home store for signed copies of Fiona’s books, so you can order an autographed copy of Belladona today!

Also new in-store this week: The English Girl by Daniel SilvaThe Secret Keeper (in paperback) by Kate MortonThe Light in the Ruins by Chris BohjalianThis Town by Mark LeibovichThe Never List by Koethi ZanThe Poisoned Pilgrim (in paperback) by Oliver PötzschWitch Wraith by Terry Brooks; and The Violet Hour by Katherine Hill.

In Case You Missed It…

This week at LBB:

Spike!!!  7-1-13
Maybe just one treat? Because I’m cute?

No doubt you’re preparing for a long weekend full of fireworks and barbecue and lake visits and long naps. Rest assured that Left Bank store cat, Spike, is way ahead of you there. In fact, he’s already staked out two of his own favorite napping spots for the holiday: best friend Jay’s inbox, and right in the middle of the floor, probably where you’re about to walk, next to that book you really want to look at, so that it wouldn’t be so hard to reach out and give him a nice rub on the tummy, would it? He doesn’t think so.

Booksellers rock the race.

Let’s not forget about last weekend, though, which was Pride weekend in StL! The staff was out in full force to celebrate, of course, with David and Kris participating in the Pride 5K downtown. David ended up winning first place in his age group and second overall, and Kris won second place in her category.  A big congrats to both of them, and here’ s hoping everyone had their own fun Pride adventures this weekend!

Farewell, Priya!

We also said bon voyage to a good friend and wonderful bookseller, Priya, who’s leaving Left Bank to attend grad school in the fall – but first, to take a cross-country road trip, of which we’re all enormously jealous. We will miss her dearly, and wish her the best of luck!

photo (17)
I’ll take five.

Just in! These beautiful new Left Bank mugs arrived on our shelves today. How much have you always wanted to drink coffee out of a mug with your favorite shop cat on it? So much. I know I’ve already staked my claim on one (the big secret to purchasing sidelines at Left Bank: will Lauren buy it?)

And a brand new staff pick to check out, next time you drop in: Jonesey just finished The Art of Joy by Goliarda Sapienza, which was released to critical acclaim in France in 2005 and has just arrived in America, and she calls it an “entirely worthwhile” endeavor with an “unforgettable and influential” main character.

Come see Maddie downtown on July 10!

Took a little breather from events this week, but there’s a lot to look forward to next week. At the CWE, Shane and his reading group, Read this Play, will be reading Sons of the Prophet on Monday, Linda Hull will be in to read from her “Mrs. Frugalicious” mystery, Eternally 21, on Tuesday, and Victoria Wilcox will discuss the first book in her Doc Holliday trilogy, Inheritance, on Friday. Downtown, photographer Theron Humphrey and his best friend, Maddie the Coonhound, will stop in to autograph and “pawtograph” the book companion to the internet sensation, Maddie on Things on Wednesday. And on Saturday at the Central Branch of the St. Louis Public Library, YA author Laura Nowlin will read from her debut novel, If He Had Been With Me. You don’t want to miss any of these!

We’ll leave A Song of Ice and Fire for a few years down the road.

Bookseller Story of the Week: a young boy of around eight years old approached Robert and asked for fantasy recommendations. After covering all the familiar bases (the boy had already finished the Harry Potter series, Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, the Ranger’s Apprentice series, and was currently in the middle of Tolkien’s Return of the King, with hopes to read The Silmarillion), Robert knew he was going to have to aim a little higher. A few recommendations later, boy and mother left the store happy with a copy of the nearly 700 page Theft of Swords in hand, and a promise that they would return for more personal recommendations from Robert. Need some fantasy recommendations for your precocious young reader? Robert might be your guy!

And the Bookseller Find of the Week: a customer came into the CWE store searching for “a book written by a psychiatrist, about the statute of limitations on how much you can blame your parents for things, and it had a really clever title.” FOUND! One copy of Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart by Gordon Livingston to a good home.

Have a safe and fun holiday weekend, and hope to see you next week in the bookstore!

Reading Group Roundup – July 2013

Looking for a good book this July? Left Bank Books hosts reading groups that are always welcoming to new members! If you have any questions or think you’d like to register your book group with Left Bank Books, please drop Jonesey a line at Enjoy!

Sons of the Prophet: A PlayMonday July 8th, 7:30pm in the CWE store (downstairs) join Shane Read This Play on a brand new day! This month they will discuss Sons of the Prophet by Stephen Karam: A deeply humorous, unflinching portrait of grief and loss, Sons of the Prophet depicts a Lebanese-American family in rural Pennsylvania beset by an absurd string of tragedies. At the play’s center is Joseph Douaihy, a once-promising world-class runner now sidelined by injury. As Joseph confronts his deteriorating health, he is also forced to face the death of his father, an ailing Uncle, and a desperate boss beset by her own tragedies.

Two Towns in ProvenceSunday July 14th at 2:00pm at the Downtown Store, join Jonesey and Reading The World as they discuss MFK Fisher’s Two Towns in Provence: This memoir of the French provincial capital of Aix-en-Provence is, as the author tells us, “my picture, my map, of a place and therefore of myself…just as much of its reality is based on my own shadows, my inventions.” A vibrant and perceptive profile of the kinship between a person and a place.

Richard IIITuesday, July 16th at 7:00pm in the CWE store (downstairs) join Shakespeare Festival Reads in a discussion about Richard III: The final play in Shakespeare’s masterly dramatization of the struggle for power between the Houses of York and Lancaster. Treacherous, power-hungry, untempered by moral restraint, and embittered by physical deformity, Richard, the younger brother of King Edward IV, is ablaze with ambition to take England’s throne.

Written on the BodyThursday, July 18th at 7:30pm in the CWE store (downstairs) join the Lesbian Reading Group for a discussion of Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body: The most beguilingly seductive novel to date from the author of The Passion and Sexing the Cherry. Winterson chronicles the consuming affair between the narrator, who is given neither name nor gender, and the beloved, a complex and confused married woman. “At once a love story and a philosophical meditation”.–New York Times Book Review.

The Man in the Wooden HatWednesday, July 24th at 12:00pm in the Downtown store join Kris and Novel Ideas for a discussion of Jane Gardam’s The Man in the Wooden Hat: A portrait of a marriage, with all the bittersweet secrets and surprising fulfillment of the 50-year union of two remarkable people, The Man in the Wooden Hat is fiction of a very high order from the author of Old Filth.

Celluloid Activist: The Life and Times of Vito RussoThursday, July 25th at 7:30pm in the CWE store (downstairs), the Gay Men’s Reading Group will discuss Celluloid Activist: The Life and Times of Vito Russo by Michael Schiavi: The first critical biography of gay-rights activist Vito Russo. Celluloid Activist illuminates, through the life of this fascinating individual, some of the most explosive cultural revolutions in American history and significantly expands the fields of gay film studies, biography, and history.

Interested in something a little different? The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts is hosting a different kind of book club. Exhibition Bookshelf explores the power of color during the run of Donald Judd: The Multicolored Works. Discover how authors use color while you are surrounded by Donald Judd’s multicolored works within the contemplative spaces of the Pulitzer galleries.

Fun Home: A Family TragicomicThursday July 18th from 7:00pm to 8:30pm join Anton DiSclafani in an exploration of Alison Bechdel’s use of color in her memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, in which Bechdel lets us in on her complicated relationship to her father. Anton DiSclafani is the author of The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, which was released on June 4, was named a most anticipated book of 2013 by Publisher’s Weekly and The Wall Street Journal. Visit for the full schedule. Contact Philip Matthews, programs coordinator, at or 314-446-2057, to join the book club.

We’ll Always Have Paris: Your Bookseller’s Guide To Les Misérables

On September 9th, Eleanor Sullivan will be joining us at our Central West End store to talk about her new Singular Villages mystery, Graven Images. Here’s a thing you need to know about Eleanor Sullivan: she claims Les Misérables as one of the five Broadway shows that changed her life.

Here’s a thing you need to know about me: I am obsessed with Les Misérables.

As my coworkers know all too well, I actually can’t shut up about it. I’ve watched the musical more times than I care to admit. I saw the movie four times in theaters. Some version of the soundtrack is a permanent fixture in my car’s CD player. My dream cast involves an actor that sings entirely in Spanish. My favorite character is, 50% of the time, not even said by name in the libretto. I’m currently in the middle of reading two different translations of the book.  My cat’s name is Valjean.

That’s how far gone I am, friends.

This summer, the Muny is doing a production of Les Misérables, and you might plan on going to see it (I highly recommend it, as my personal dream cast member Norm Lewis is playing Javert). I’m here to tell you that before you do, you should really read up.

Are you crazy?! you ask. You want me to read a 1400 page novel by July?!

Not….necessarily. You have options.

For Newbies (to the show):

ImageSaw the movie in theaters and can’t seem to get enough of Fantine and co.? Check out Les Misérables: From Stage To Screen. This gorgeous and fairly comprehensive guide tracks the show from its conception through Broadway runs, international productions, touring companies, and anniversary specials, concluding with a rundown of the making of the Oscar-nominated film. What’s really special about this book, though, is that it has pockets chock full of replica memorabilia, from ticket stubs to posters to original costume sketches to libretto samples (with director’s notes!) to movie call sheets. This is your one-stop-shop for catching up with all things musical.

For Newbies (to this world):

Want to share your love of Les Misérables with your young children, but don’t think they’re quite ready for Hugo’s classic novel? Cozy Classics has an absolutelyCozy Classics adorable board book version, illustrated with beautiful needle-felted figures, that gets the point across in a lot fewer words, while helping teach your children about such important thematic elements as “Poor,” “Run,” and, of course, the central message of Les Mis, “Love.”

For Newbies (to the novel):

Les Mis SignetYou’ve seen the musical, you’ve seen the movie, and now, you think you’re ready to give the novel a try. Maybe you attempted to read it in high school, and balked at its length (or you had to return it to the library before you could finish). I would suggest reading the Signet Classics paperback edition, translated by Lee Fahnestock and Norman MacAfee. It’s the edition I started with, and retains all the elegance of Hugo’s prose without making it dense and unreadable. Plus, shorter chapters for easy breaking points! Trust me, it’s a book you’ll want to stop occasionally and reflect on for a while before picking up again. It’s not abridged, so you’ll still have to wade through the 100 page digressions on the Battle of Waterloo and the Paris sewer system, but you’ll also emerge with a much better understanding of your favorite musical characters, the June Rebellion (not the French Revolution!), and the story’s central message of optimism, love, and redemption. (Also, getting through Waterloo is like a badge of honor. They should make t-shirts!).

For Seasoned Veterans:

Have you, like me, seen countless viewings of the musical, film, and have already torn through the book at least once? Time to pick up the Word Cloud Classics edition! Les Mis CloudNot only will it look spectacular sitting on your bookshelf, but the translation by Isabel Hapgood is a bit loftier, probably reminiscent of the prose of Hugo’s day, and will make for some fascinating comparisons to the Signet Classics translation. Plus, no matter the translation, your second reading of Les Mis is always more fun, and more revealing, than your first!

See? You have options. Don’t think of Les Mis as that book your professor wanted you to read in college and you Spark Noted (and after all, you’d already seen the musical). Think of it as delving into a complex and fascinating new (old) world, full of remarkable characters and themes still entirely resonant today, that you’ve only scratched the surface of. That’s the wonderful thing about Les Misérables: 150 years later, and there’s still more to see, more to talk about, more to learn, that’s just as fascinating now as it was then.

Sedaris 101: Diabetes and Owls for Newbies

Blasphemy alert: Two weeks ago, I’d never read anything by David Sedaris. I’d never heard anything by David Sedaris. “Not even the elf thing, at Christmas, on NPR?” you ask, disbelief in your voice, your eyebrows rising into your hair? Nope. Not even the elf thing, at Christmas, on NPR.

It’s not that I had anything against David Sedaris. On the contrary, customers and coworkers alike raved that he was spectacularly, side-splittingly, tears-in-your-eyes-can’t-breathe-right kind of funny.  But when you work in a bookstore, your To Read list has the tendency to, er, get away from you a little. Get away from you like the distance runners got away from me, a last minute 800 meter relay substitute, during my 8th grade track championship: quickly, and painfully, and dramatically.

So when I found myself scheduled to work David Sedaris’ May 25th event with Left Bank Books for his new book, Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls, an event which sold out in less than 24 hours, prompting us to shut down a section of Locust Street and pipe his talk out for the masses, I was pretty excited. I hadn’t had the time to read any of his books, but now I had the opportunity to get a taste of what all the fuss was about. “You just have to hear him,” people would say to me, “and you’ll understand.”

Ladies and gentlemen, consider me a convert.

You’re looking at David Sedaris’ newest fan. And it’s not only because he’s hilarious. I mean, he is hilarious. So hilarious that it was actually hard for me to do my job – manning the book table outside the store for the listening party, which numbered around 300 strong – because I was laughing so hard. And it’s not only because his fans are so awesome, as all the ones I met were – from the group who ordered pizza and brought wine and set up their own picnic in the street, to the couple who traveled from Kentucky to hear him, to the two young Mormon men on their mission trip who wanted to personally thank Sedaris for getting them out of a tough spot, to the toddler who clapped at all the right moments and was especially interested in our May events calendar.

No, the real reason I’m now a card-carrying member of the David Sedaris fan club is because of how absolutely wonderful David Sedaris was to all his fans, and how generous he was with his time. He engaged with each and every person that stood in line to meet him. He listened to life stories with genuine interest, and tailored his book personalizations for each person with stickers and references to funny anecdotes and details they’d revealed in their conversations. This was much more than a signature and a handshake. This was an experience.

And this experience lasted until 3 am, which is when a still chipper and friendly and invigorated Sedaris ran out of people to sign books for. I clocked out around 1:30, because I had to open the store the next morning, and he signed my audio book, purchased for my upcoming trip to Texas, “To Lauren, Who Quit Early” (all in good fun, of course). Sedaris, it seems, isn’t about to forgive you for leaving his party.

But really, where else today can you get that kind of experience? More and more, people are expecting less and less. In this era of now, now, now, of e-books and smart phones and having the whole world available at your fingertips, who’s still going to sit down and have a face-to-face, one-on-one conversation with you, not only about a book, but about what a book means to you?

David Sedaris will. And for that, I consider myself a fan. I might be a few years behind the curve, but I’ll be devoting six hours on the road to Me Talk Pretty One Day because of my David Sedaris experience.

And next time, I won’t quit early.