“Your life must be an open city, with all sorts of ways to wander in. “

glow in the dark coverA blog post about a face-to-face book club? This brand of old-meets-new, paper-meets-screen sensibility is perfect for the Brown Baggers latest discussion about Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. Many of our group members enjoyed this book, a modern fairy tale of sorts. The Brown Baggers, rather a bookish bunch, enjoyed the literary intrigue and focus on the written word. The addition of technology and other modern devices gave this book a fresh feeling.

Some of the details were so fantastical that some readers turned to technology (Google in particular) to confirm whether or not certain references even existed! One topic that came up for discussion was whether or not this new spin on the literary caper would stand the test of time. Despite the high-tech details, most group members felt it would hold up if considered more of a fable or adventure quest rather than a cutting edge story. Even those who weren’t grabbed by the book still appreciated that it was a light, slightly quirky read. It would probably have a lot of appeal to a young adult audience as well. Many Brown Baggers also delightedly commented on the book’s glow-in-the-dark cover. The author notes this feature makes it “something that’s worth buying in its physical edition” — an interesting thought for a digital age.

More information:

Listen to NPR’s Morning Edition story here.
Read a profile of Robin Sloane in the New York Times.

Want another high-tech tale or bookish read? Try one of these titles available at JMRL:

The Circle by Dave Eggers
The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Finally, a group member shares this fun video just for laughs.


“We say of some things that they can’t be forgiven, or that we will never forgive ourselves. But we do—we do it all the time.”

Having valiantly made our way through such tomes as Moby Dick, We the Drowned, and Bleak House, it maybe comes as no surprise that the Brown Baggers were ready to read something shorter. For April, we turned to one of the masters of the short story, Alice Munro and her latest, Dear Life. A well-known Canadian writer, Munro has only written one full-length novel but her work has been widely published in magazines and collections. Last year, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature and the committee noted her as “master of the contemporary short story.”

It was an interesting experiment to attempt to discuss an entire collection of stories. After sharing some biographical information about the author, group members started off the discussion by sharing more general thoughts about the book as a whole.  Munro’s unique writing style was at the forefront of our talk. While many of us agreed that she has quite a way of conveying much with her sparse prose, it was difficult to read the stories one after another. The group members who enjoyed the stories most allowed time to lapse between reading sessions, maybe reading one story a day. Others who attempted more than one in a row found the experience especially bleak. While the prose was incredibly well-crafted, the tone and themes of small town isolation and rigid social confinements could accumulate into a depressing reading experience. That being said, we agreed that this showed the real extent of Munro’s genius. Even with few words, she could completely portray a vivid and evocative scene.

More information about Alice Munro:

Find more stories by Munro in the JMRL catalog

Interviews, facts, and more resources on the official Nobel Prize website

Review of Dear Life in the London Review of Books

Read The Bear Came Over the Mountain, originally published the the December 27, 1999 issue of the New Yorker and later adapted into the film Away from Her

Hankering for more short stories? Give one of these a try:

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce

The Swimmer by John Cheever

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor

 Do you have a favorite short story? Chime in and let us know in the comments!



Tony, Tony, Tony!

Anthony Bourdain

Come and join us Thursday afternoon here at the Central Branch where we will be discussing Anthony Bourdain’s A Cook’s Tour during the monthly meeting of our Brown Baggers Book Group.

You might know Mr. Bourdain (Tony to his friends and television viewers) as the author of Kitchen Confidential or from his Travel Network show No Reservations. Some of you may know him from his increasingly frequent cameos on Top Chef or his colorfully acerbic war of words with Food Network uber-celebs Rachael Ray and Sandra Lee.  If you are not yet familiar with one of the culinary world’s most polarizing figures, please drop by this Thursday June 17th for what promises to be a lively and entertaining discussion.

Anthony Bourdain rose to prominence, after years toiling as executive chef at New York City’s Les Halles, in 2000, with the publication of Kitchen Confidential, his hilarious, scary and scathing expose of the realities of kitchen life within the demanding world of professional cooking.  The success of this book garnered a Food Network show called A Cook’s Tour, the literary chronicle of which became the sequel to Kitchen Confidential and is our Brown Bag Book Group Selection for June.

Part travelogue, part foodie manifesto, A Cook’s Tour is a collection of pieces written as Bourdain traveled the world “in search of the perfect meal” while Food Network cameras prowled dutifully in his wake recording every live cobra heart appetizer, shot of vodka and sarcastic reference to vegetarians.  Go along for the ride as he visits fishing villages in France where he reconnects with his youth and explains how one fateful bite of an Arcachon oyster ignited his lifelong passion for food. Follow him down the “haunted” streets of Phnom Penh all the way to Thomas Keller’s French Laundry in California’s Wine Country.  It’s an exhilarating, entertaining and at times surprisingly poignant journey.

Bourdain’s fast and furious literary style is heavily indebted to the late, great Hunter S. Thompson, so HST fans take note.

Triumvirate of Tony tidbits (for diehard fans and recent converts alike)

1. JMRL has just received copies of his brand new book Medium Raw!  Reserve your copy now because they are circulating fast.

2. If you haven’t read his blog on the Travel Channel…What are you waiting for?  It’s a typically hilarious, harrowing account of what’s on his mind, what did or didn’t go into a particular episode of No Reservations, what movies and directors influenced their decision to film an episode a certain way, etc.  Recommended.

3. Did you know that Anthony Bourdain was a published author before writing Kitchen Confidential?  His first book, Bone in the Throat, was published in 1995.

Hope to see you there.


(image courtesy of Time.com)