Sunday, October 2, 2011

To entertain or enlighten?

"to entertain . . . is one of the two possible reasons to write, or for that matter read. To enlighten and to entertain: what else is there? And while good books — even so-so books — serve both functions, if you ever have to choose one over the other, keep in mind that a book that entertains without enlightening can still be a guilty pleasure, but a book that enlightens without entertaining is algebra."

From Pete Dexter's marvelous review of Jim Harrison's new novel, The Great Leader, in today's New York Times Book Review.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Bird is the Word?

These just in! Audubon Birds with real bird calls!

(The product of a collaboration between the National Audubon Society and the Ornithology Lab at Cornell University).

Charming, wonderful, cute. These birds are a hoot! (Or some of them are anyway). And at $7.50 each, they cost just chicken feed.

Twenty different birds are currently nesting in a tree in the middle of the store. Come see. Binoculars not required...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Regulator's Top Ten Bestsellers September 1-15

1. Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention will Transform the way We Live, Work, and Learn by Cathy Davidson.

2. Dark Tangos by Lewis Shiner.

3. Durham in Changing Light by John Zager.

4. Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

5. Arguably by Christopher Hitchens.

6. Night Train by Clyde Edgerton

7. A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan.

8. A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin.

9. That Used to Be Us by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum.

10. Just Kids by Patti Smith.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Rude and Douchey

We solidify our reputation as an intellectual bastion with two new arrivals:

-Rude Hand Gestures of the World, and

-The Rogers and Littleton Guide to America's Douchiest Colleges.

The Dukies are going to want to give some of the gestures from the first book to the authors of the second...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Bookstore Quotes

"What I say is a town isn't a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it's got a bookstore it knows it's not fooling a soul."
---Neil Gaiman

"I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman, 'Where's the self-help section.' She said if she told me it would defeat the purpose."
--George Carlin

"A bookstore is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking."
--Jerry Seinfeld

"A man in a bookstore buys a book on loneliness and every woman in the store hits on him. A woman buys a book on loneliness and the store clears out."
--Doug Coupland

From Book Love: A Celebration of Writers, Readers, and the Printed and Bound Book. Edited by James Charlton and Bill Henderson and published by Bill Henderson's Pushcart Press.

And Bill Henderson, by the way, has another marvelous new book out, All My Dogs: A Life. A a memoir told through the lens of the dogs he has had over the years. Highly recommended!

Tom Campbell

Friday, August 19, 2011

28 Views of Durham?

27 Views of Chapel Hill has just arrived, and it looks like a great collection.

It's a fine companion to 27 Views of Hillsborough, which came out last year. Lots of excellent writers in both of these books.

Now somebody needs to do one of these for Durham. But in all modesty, I think it will have to be called "28 Views of Durham." Durham being, of course, bigger and better..!

Howls of outrage from Hillsborough and Chapel Hill folks to: Appreciations from Durham to the same.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Calling All Punsters!

Contestants Needed for the Great Durham Pun Championship!
Saturday, July 9th at 7:00 p.m.

If you feel that every morning is the dawn of a new error; if, for you, a day without puns is like a day without sunshine--there’s always gloom for improvement--this event is for you! Pairs of punsters will be given a subject and the first punster will have 10 seconds to come up with a relevant pun. Then punster number two gets 10 seconds. If they succeed it’s back to punster number one. On it goes! We’ll start the evening with about 20 contestants, and a couple of hours later the last pun person standing will be crowned The Pun Master of Durham!

Think you can stand up to the punishment? Sign up at the bookshop, call, or email to be a contestant! Or just come on by to enjoy an evening of fabulous word play and beer featured from Fullsteam brewery. (Rules will be based on The O. Henry Pun-Off World Championships, held each year in Austin, Texas. See for details).

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Monday, May 23, 2011

Super Sad True Book Video

Thanks to the book-trade daily email Shelf Awareness ( for this heads-up:

Hilarious book trailer of the day: Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart (Random House). The trailer for the hardcover edition starred James Franco; this one, for the paperback, stars Paul Giamatti as Shteyngart's roommate, who goes with the author to a book club meeting in Shteyngart's honor. The meeting is a super sad love story.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Regulator’s Top Ten Bestsellers Week May 15-21

1. The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure
This is McClure’s deeply heartfelt, frequently hilarious tale of her quest to recreate the world of Laura Ingalls Wilder once and for all.

2. Neverisms by Mardy Grothe
A book of quotations of things you should never do, or never never do. A delight for quotation lovers and language aficionados.

3. F in Exams by Richard Benson
A short excerpt from this graduation gift of poorly answered exam questions:

Biology Exam Question: What is a fibula?
Answer: A little lie.
Math Exam Question: To change centimeters to meters you_____.
Answer: Take out the centi

4. The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew
North Carolina author writes a story set in 1950s South.

5. Butterfly’s Child by Angela Davis-Gardner
Local author's latest novel. "The kind of book you sink into, becoming so transfixed by the story that you cannot help devouring it in just a few sittings. Davis-Gardner has created a masterful novel and an engaging read."—Charlotte Observer

6. What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen
Chapel Hill native and YA rockstar's latest book!

7. Bossypants by Tina Fey
Super funny star of 30 Rock. Who can resist those man arms?

8. Cooking in the Moment by Andrea Reusing
Owner of the Lantern Restaurant here in Chapel Hill, who just won the James Beard award!

9. Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
A funny book about the financial crisis from this bestselling author.

10. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Who was the woman behind the immortal Hela cells now studied by scientists the world over?

Monday, May 16, 2011

We get Wilder than ever!

Wednesday night the Wilder Life wagon train rolls into town, as Wendy McClure discusses her new book The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie.

What is it about these books that people are still fascinated by them 75 years after they were first written? (I've secretly wanted to go on a vacation to the Dakotas ever since I read these books to my own daughter almost 20 years ago). And who was Laura Ingalls Wilder anyway?

Wendy McClure became obsessed with Laura and the whole Little House thing, and luckily for the rest of us "lesser obsessives" she did something about her obsession.

The Chicagoist web site says "In The Wilder Life McClure brings her readers on a journey in which she discovers the lost world of Little House on the Prairie as untarnished and delightful as it ever was, despite the pieces that have rusted, disappeared or been replaced with time."

Whether you prefer the Prairie or the Big Woods...Wendy McClure, Wednesday night at 7:00 here at The Regulator.
Tom Campbell

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Mardy Grothe's Neverisms

"Never underestimate the powers of a reader." - Wallace Bacon.

Just one of many "Neverisms" Mardy Grothe has collected in his latest book, Neverisms: A Quotation Lover's Guide to Things You Should Never Do, Never Say, or Never Forget. Mardy will be here next Thursday at the Regulator! Craig Wilson in USA Today reviews the book, saying: "Never is a great word. It's so final. There are no gray areas with never. It's the exact opposite of spineless maybe."

Also, check out Mardy's post with Neverisms and pictures of the neverists he quotes at the Huffington Post.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Patricia Wells on Tuesday, Gary Shteyngart on Wednesday

From Paris and Provence to Ninth Street! The award-winning cookbook author Patricia Wells will be at the bookshop Tuesday night with her newest book, Salad as a Meal: Healthy Main Dish Salads for Every Season.

And Wednesday night (for something completely different) we host one of my absolutely favorite current novelists, Gary Shteyngart, celebrating the paperback release of his recent novel, Super Sad True Love Story.
Super Sad... (it's not, really) is set in a dystopian near future where the U.S. is bankrupt, everyone walks around wearing i-phones on steroids that broadcast all their intimate details to everyone around them (and to the government as well), and no-one reads anything longer than an email. Wandering through this not so brave new world is one Lenny Abramov, a fan of "printed bound artifacts" (books), who has fallen in love (how retro...) with a Korean-American woman named Eunice Park.

It's Woody Allen meets George Orwell, with an extra dash of Russian fabulism. Super Sad True Love Story was named a "Best Book" on more than forty 2010 year-end lists-and that doesn't count mine. David Mitchell calls the book "An intoxicating brew of keen-edged satire, social prophecy, linguistic exuberance, and emotional wallop."

Come meet a great writer--and a real live wire--Gary Shteyngart, at The Regulator Wednesday night.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Discount Members Sale This Weekend!

Our special “Royal Wedding” Discount Club Sale starts Wednesday and runs through Sunday. In honor of the goings-on in Jolly Old England this Friday morning, all of our books in English will be on sale!

Wednesday April 27th through Sunday May 1st, discount club members will get:
20% off on all new books
30% off on all sale books and used books

If you can’t make it to the store—if you’re in London for the wedding this weekend?—you can order by phone (919-286-2700) or through our web site ( The 20% new book discount will apply to most special orders placed during the sale as well.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The (Hilarious) Future of Books

Leave it to McSweeney's.

Some highlights from James Warner's article:

2020: All Books Will Be
Cross-Platform and Interactive.
Future "books" will be bundled with soundtracks, musical leitmotifs, 3-D graphics, and streaming video. They'll be enhanced with social bookmarking, online dating, and alerts from geo-networking apps whenever someone in your locality purchases the same book as you— anything so you don't have to actually read the thing.

2030: All Books Will Be
Crowdsourced and Cloud-Based.

2040: Authors Will
Become Like Tamagotchi.

2050: Analog Reading Will Be
Digitally Simulated.

2070: We Will All Become Cyborgs.

2080: A Golden Age of
Informational Fluidity.
For the benefit of those people at future-of-publishing panels—there's always one, for some reason—who insist it's really not about the text but the smell of the book, books will by this time be available exclusively as lines of fragrances. Subsequently, humans will modify themselves into a species with a powerful olfactory sense, able to read underwater by decoding strings of pheronomes. Aroma-bibliography will triumph, as vast epics are composed for newly developed scent receptors, transforming the rising seas into a giant bath of community-assisted transmedia content. Also around this time, the oral literature of dolphins will be deciphered and will turn out, inexplicably, to be all about vampires.

Read the whole glorious piece at:

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Alexandra Styron here tomorrow night!

Great reviews of Reading My Father from

--USA Today:

--Entertainment Weekly:

--The folks at Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill:

And then there's this from the bookstore's email:

By any standard, William Styron was one of the major literary voices of the last 50 years. The author of The Confessions of Nat Turner and Sophie's Choice, he also penned an extraordinary book about serious depression as viewed from the inside: Darkness Visible.

Now his youngest child, Alexandra Styron, has written a remarkable memoir about her father: a man who, though a gifted, successful writer, was haunted by the "noonday demon" of depression throughout his life. Although the book is told through the lens of "a childhood in an intellectually glittering, artistically engaged, and emotionally precarious household" (Geraldine Brooks), Reading My Father is not primarily concerned with wallowing in family tragedies. Rather it is a clear-eyed, compassionate look at the toll that Styron's illness took on his own life, on his writing, and on his family. And it is one of the best books about a writer that I have ever read.

Alexandra Styron has clearly inherited her father's skills as a writer and storyteller. And in the final analysis, she has not written a dark book--there are too many wonderful characters and incredible stories here for that. It is a beautifully written, deeply humane look at a great writer and a troubled human being.

The Regulator is honored to host Alexandra Styron's inaugural event for Reading My Father this Wednesday evening (April 20th) at 7:00. We look forward to seeing you there.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Paris USED to be the Food Capitol of the World...

But that's so over:

Thursday, April 7, 2011, 7:00 p.m.
Local cookbook author and owner of Foster’s Market, Sara Foster, will launch her new book, Sara Foster’s Southern Kitchen: Soulful, Traditional, Seasonal, with a reading, signing and tasting. Bill Smith, local chef and author, writes, “In her Southern Kitchen, Sara uses her simple yet sophisticated style of cooking to introduce us to the foods she grew up with in Tennessee. Some of the recipes are traditional, others have been adapted to modern times. All will tempt people who love to cook.”

Thursday, April 21, 2011, 7:00 p.m.
Food writer and cooking instructor Sheri Castle will discuss and sign copies of her new book, The New Southern Garden Cookbook. Samples will be served! “Castle has written an Asparagus-to-Zucchini compendium of delectable recipes with deep southern soul,” write Matt and Ted Lee, authors of The Lee Bros. Simple Fresh Southern. “Interwoven throughout is Castle’s own narrative—of a North Carolina gal who found her way home through cooking and gardening—told in an engaging, encouraging voice that home cooks will enjoy having close to the stove.”

Friday, April 22, 2011, 7:00 p.m.
James Beard nominee and chef/owner of Lantern Restaurant Andrea Reusing will discuss and sign copies of her new book, Cooking in the Moment: A Year of Seasonal Recipes. Samples will be served! With an emphasis on local ingredients, this collection is a “mix of childhood favorites, standbys that can be prepared quickly, simple restaurant dishes, and celebration dishes to feed a crowd.” This is a book to sit-down-and-read, as well as open-and-use.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011, 7:00 p.m.
Cookbook author Patricia Wells will discuss and sign copies of her new book, Salad as a Meal: Healthy Main-Dish Salads for Every Season. The author of ten previous books, Wells also runs a well-known cooking school in Paris and Provence. She was also the restaurant critic for the International Herald Tribune from 1980 to 2007.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Ditch the computer, keep your books

From an article titled "Gadgets You Should Get Rid of (or not)" in the New York Times, March 23rd.

Writer Sam Grobart recommends getting rid of your desktop computer, point and shoot camera, camcorder, digital music player, and more.

But he says this about books:

"BOOKS Keep them (with one exception). Yes, e-readers are amazing, and yes, they will probably become a more dominant reading platform over time, but consider this about a book: It has a terrific, high-resolution display. It is pretty durable; you could get it a little wet and all would not be lost. It has tremendous battery life. It is often inexpensive enough that, if you misplaced it, you would not be too upset. You can even borrow them free at sites called libraries.

But there is one area where printed matter is going to give way to digital content: cookbooks. Martha Stewart Makes Cookies a $5 app for the iPad, is the wave of the future. Every recipe has a photo of the dish (something far too expensive for many printed cookbooks).

Complicated procedures can be explained by an embedded video. When something needs to be timed, there’s a digital timer built right into the recipe. You can e-mail yourself the ingredients list to take to the grocery store. The app does what cookbooks cannot, providing a better version of everything that came before it.

Now all Martha has to do is make a decorative splashguard for a tablet and you will be all set."

You can read the entire article here:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Read Everything: Harvey Weinstein

"People say to me all the time: How can I get in the movie business or how do I get there, how can I have your job? And I just say, you know, I had an unfortunate accident. When I was a 10-year-old kid, I played cowboys and Indians. I was on the losing side of a guy who had like, kind of a musket, like a Davey Crockett musket, and he poked my eye out.

For six months I stayed home because both my parents worked. But there was a librarian next door; her name was Frances Goldstein. I knocked on her door one day and said, Im bored out of my brain, you know, can I read something? And thus began my education into the world of reading.

So for those people who like to do what I do, the answer is read. Read everything. I read the Americans; I read the Russians. And I still to this day read a book or two every week, and read every magazine article I can get my hands on."

--Harvey Weinstein, the producer of The King's Speech, on Scott Simon's Weekend Edition, March 5, 2011

Monday, March 14, 2011

Andrei Codrescu on the Kindle..."sugar-coated cyanide"

I wish somebody told me, don't take candy from strangers when I made my first tax-free Internet purchase. I wish that I had remembered the first one's free, which is how dealers make new junkies. I wish that every cliche humanity acquired to protect itself from its history of bamboozlement and trickery was sewn on every shirt pocket by a smart mom.

I won't enumerate each new snare in the house of virtuality, enclosing what remains of our human bodies as the net tightens and we, the fish, thrash about. But here's a new one. I'm reading a new book I downloaded on my Kindle and I noticed an underlined passage. It is surely a mistake, I think. This is a new book. I don't know about you, but I always hated underlined passages in used books. They derail my private enjoyment.

When somebody offers perception of what's important, something moronic, usually, which is why I always prefer buying books new so I could make my own moronic marks. But moronic or not, it was all between me and my new book.

And this thing on my Kindle is supposed to be new. And then I discovered that the horror doesn't stop with the unwelcomed presence of another reader who's defaced my new book. But it deepens with something called view popular highlights, which will tell you how many morons have underlined before so that not only you do not own the new book you paid for, the entire experience of reading is shattered by the presence of a mob that agitates inside your text like strangers in a train station.

So now you can add to the ease of downloading an e-book the end of the illusion that it is your book. The end of the privileged relation between yourself and your book. And a certainty that you've been had. Not only is the e-book not yours to be with alone, it is shared at Amazon which shares with you what it knows about you reading and the readings of others. And lets you know that you are what you underline, which is only a number in a mass of popular views.

Conformism does come of age in the most private of peaceful activities -reading a book, one of the last solitary pleasures in a world full of prompts to behave. My Kindle, sugar-coated cyanide.

--From NPR news, March 7, 2011

Monday, February 21, 2011

Three Views of the Borders Bankruptcy

From the American Bookseller's Association:

Though Borders is not a member of the American Booksellers Association, we are always saddened when any bookstore closes. The industry – whether independent bookstores, publishers, or readers – does not benefit from the diminishment of places to browse, discover, and buy books.

However, despite the doom and gloom expressed by some about the future of full-service bricks-and-mortar bookstores – and, while we don’t underestimate the challenges that lie ahead – ABA believes that the indie bookstore model is well positioned for the future.

ABA membership numbers have stabilized; the vast majority of ABA members are coming off the best holiday season they have had in years; and, we’ve partnered with Google to allow our members to offer e-books through their websites.

As book buyers and readers are facing a skyrocketing number of books vying for their attention – with more and more demands on their time – our members’ customers are telling us that, now more than ever, they appreciate the care independent stores take in choosing the titles to stock, and that the curated selection in our stores can’t be found elsewhere.

In addition, more and more consumers appreciate the fact that our members are locally owned and have long-standing and close ties to their communities. They understand that by shopping in an independent store they are making sure that far more of their spending dollars recirculate back into the community. Shopping locally supports the small businesses that are creating jobs, directly fuels local growth, and helps preserve the special things that make each American community unique.

Looking ahead, we know that indie stores will have to continue to work hard and stay nimble and innovative. No matter what may appear in the headlines today, and understanding that the circumstances leading to the current situation facing Borders is very different than those of independents, we believe that our members will continue to offer their customers a unique shopping experience they can’t find anywhere else.

From Paul Kozlowski, a long-time, serious book person, currently working for Other Press:

10 reasons Borders should croak
1. To remind publishers that their industry consists of making books first, spreadsheets second.

2. To allow a host of talented book people to get back to work in adapting to new technologies and financial terms, instead of nursing a sick and contagious retailer.

3. To serve as an object lesson in the consequences of bad management.

4. To reduce the amount of linear shelf space devoted to books in dozens of overbuilt markets across the country.

5. To vindicate all of the fine book people who originally built Borders and worked for the company during the first three decades of its existence. They are the ones who watched in horror as a succession of greedy fools and outside operators -- men and women with no feeling for the culture of books -- presided over the company's decline, with no thought except for their own compensation.

6. To give independent booksellers a chance to reestablish beachheads in communities that were overrun by chains.

7. To prove, yet again, that repeating the retail sloganeering of the day -- "category management," "just-in-time inventory," "synergistic merchandising" -- accomplishes nothing unless you actually do what you say you're going to do.

8. To show exactly how worthless a highfalutin mission statement really is. (One sure sign that a corporation is sick at the core -- the bullshit mission statement. An honest mission statement would read: "Our mission is to make a profit, pure and simple." Unfortunately, Borders couldn't even carry out that mission.)

9. To illustrate the pernicious effects of untrammeled growth, the same "growth is good" ideology that led to the mortgage meltdown and financial crisis of the last four years.

10. Finally, to end the silly speculation, the enervating news stories, and the distracting pronouncements of impending doom. We don't need to be reminded these are tough times -- we're living through them. But it's bracing and ultimately inspiring to see the wheat properly separated from the chaff.

Borders plight redux, from Paul Kozlowski a day later:

The other day I gave ten reasons why Borders should go under, all of which remain valid. Even so, there is always another side to a story. Here are some reasons why Borders’ demise is bad news:

★ Loss of jobs. It is shocking and depressing to contemplate the human cost of having so many people thrown out of work, especially those hourly employees who kept faith and took pride in their individual stores even while management was selling them out. They deserve sympathy and aid, especially given the high number of unemployed already out on the street. Then there are those poor souls who have been selling and servicing the account for publishers. What will become of them?

★ Loss of common space for readers to gather. Borders' superstores had become community social centers, where people from all walks of life, united by their love for books, could sit together, drink coffee, read, write, converse, and enjoy each other’s company. Despite the rhapsodizing of the techno-savants over the creation of an “online commons,” it is nothing compared to the real thing -- a shared physical space and a shared physical experience. Shuttering these spaces will impoverish the communities who depended on them.

★ Lost sales at healthy retailers due to the dumping of inventory in a liquidation sale.

★ Loss of diversity in the retailing eco-system. As poorly managed as Borders was, it did provide an alternative for those who didn’t like Barnes & Noble’s cookie-cutter merchandising or live near an independent bookstore. Borders did bring physical books into the otherwise barren wasteland of American big box retailing.

★ Loss of tax revenues for local jurisdictions.

★ More power accruing to Amazon. Amazon already owns the largest slice of the retail book business pie by far, a condition it exploits to extract favorable terms from publishers and bully states into backing down on sales tax collection initiatives. Amazon is a big, efficient virtual selling platform but a lousy marketer (except for their own products, i.e. the Kindle) and it couldn’t care less about the content it hawks, only the profits it generates. It adds nothing to the browsing experience and relies on algorithms to make customer suggestions. It has the personality of an ATM. Who wants Amazon to control half of the trade book market?

★ An increase in vacant storefronts, those filthy eyesores strung along America’s highways.

★ An increase in the odds that Books-A-Million and Hastings will survive and limp along doing what they’ve always done. That these two backward-looking and unappealing retail chains are still in business is a sure sign that inertia is the most powerful force acting on the marketplace.

★ Loss of display space for the fine handiwork of all the talented cover artists and designers who make books look good. Jacket art is still one of the most compelling factors in getting consumers to pick up a book. A thumbnail online doesn’t come close to the real thing.

★ A substantial ratcheting up of the fear about the future of books and a new wave of mournful, or celebratory, articles, blog posts, and ‘think pieces’ stating that physical books and bookstores are dead. Ugh.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Talkin Books with Barack

The first surprise was that Barack Obama opened the door to the Oval Office himself, smiling, inviting us in, shaking hands, asking for names and hometowns.

No, let’s back up a bit. The first surprise was certainly that I was at the White House at all. How I got there starts way back on Herbert Hoover’s first night at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. March 4, 1929. The story is that Hoover’s books had yet to arrive, and as Calvin Coolidge had left no books at all on the White House shelves Hoover had to borrow a book from a night watchman for his bedtime reading. Picking up on this story in the newspaper the next day, the enterprising head of the American Booksellers Association quickly arranged delivery of a selection of current titles, intended as the beginning of a permanent White House library.

Pretty much every year since then, the ABA has made a delivery of books to the White House. During George W. Bush’s eight year term an ABA representative generally just dropped the books off, though on a couple of occasions there were brief meetings with Laura Bush, a former librarian.

So here it was January 2011, and as a member of the board of directors of the American Booksellers Association I was in D.C. for 7 days of meetings. Board meetings, meetings with folks from other kinds of independent business alliances, meetings with other booksellers, publishers, authors. Going in I had no idea I’d also be meeting with the President. But on Tuesday word came down that we’d be doing the annual donation of books on Thursday morning. The whole board would be going, and we each needed to pick a book. We’d be meeting with Obama himself.

Thus it was that about 11:15 in the morning on Thursday January 20th I found myself in the Oval Office with 7 other board members (great booksellers all!), and with Barbara Meade, the co-owner of Politics and Prose bookstore just outside of D.C., and Oren Teicher, the ABA’s CEO. Books in hand, we were standing around with Barack in front of the big Presidential desk. We had been told the appointment would last for only ten minutes, so I expected we would just hand him our books, they’d take some pictures, and we’d be out of there. I know Obama is a reader, but he had just finished hosting the Chinese Premier the night before. He is a very busy man and there was no political capital to be gained by hanging out with the likes of us.

But it was time for me to be surprised again. Obama asked questions about almost every book we gave him. He was especially interested in the books that the two children’s booksellers among us had brought for his daughters. He lamented the fact that he could no longer just walk into a bookstore and browse. Talking about books for his daughters, he said that the best books were ones that really engage them, but that they have to “stretch” for. He related reading aloud “Life of Pi” to his 8 year old. She kept insisting that they continue, even though the book “deals at some points with some pretty serious ideas and theology.” He was immediately drawn to Abraham Verghese’s marvelous novel, “Cutting for Stone,” and a number of us talked about the book’s richness and depth. Obama was clearly enjoying being with us, talking about books and reading.

I was the last person to hand him my book. “I figured somebody had to bring a political book” I said as I handed him a copy of Matt Taibbi’s “Griftopia,” a jaundiced, startling view of the financial meltdown. “Oh I know who Matt Taibbi is,” Obama said. “He sometimes doesn’t have a very high opinion of me.” As if to prove his point, he opened the book to an early page and read aloud the chapter heading, “The Biggest A**hole in the Universe,” a portrait of Alan Greenspan. “He’s not talking about you there,” I joked, giving him a pat on the shoulder.

After a group picture, Obama said that since we had each given him a book, it was only fair that he give each of us a book in return, and he handed out signed copies of “The Audacity of Hope.”

Now it was time to go. We filed out into the hall, and I started to walk toward the door where we had come in. But I stopped when I heard Obama’s voice again. He was standing in the doorway, talking about how hard it was to find good books for his daughters. Maybe we could help him, send him some recommendations? Oh yeah, we could do that, we all agreed.

Then we walked once more past the Marine sentry, who for the second time that morning did not move a muscle and failed to reply when I thanked him for opening the door for us. The better part of 20 minutes had gone by. But who was counting?

My 20 minute take on Barack Obama? For what it’s worth::

He’s young, smart, and handsome. He clearly has a sense of himself, and he has to have a fair amount of ambition or he wouldn’t be where he is today. Yet he also seems to understand that there is always more to learn. In my experience people that think they already know everything aren’t readers—witness our last president. Obama was engaged in talking with us, engaged in talking about books, and he is clearly engaged in the work of being a father. Many politicians become just “operators” who have long forgotten how to relate to people on a basic human level. That’s not Barack Obama.

I’ve certainly had my disappointments with him during his first two years in office. He has seemed surprisingly slow to lead, slow to frame the issues facing the country, and he has let many of the same folks who created the financial mess advise him on how to respond to it. But against this I left his office feeling he was indeed young, smart, open to learning, and still connected to the basics of our shared enterprise of being human together. All of this bodes well.

Maybe folks trying to influence him might try talking to him in a different way? Like:
--Hey Barack, when those girls of yours grow up, are you gonna want them dating people like those sleazy guys from Goldman Sachs?

I’ll bet this would get his attention. And then those sleazy guys at Goldman Sachs would probably get some more critical attention from President Obama as well...
Tom Campbell

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Good Story From the General

Retired General (and North Carolina native) Hugh Shelton told a great story during his appearance at The Regulator back in October. I've been repeating his little vignette ever since, so I thought I'd write it down here.

Shelton was the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the end of the Clinton administration and the beginning of Bush's term. His position gave him a seat on the National Security Council, and these events transpired at one of the first meetings of the Security Council that he attended, during the Clinton administration.

The meetings were held around a long table, and Shelton was sitting at one end of the table, next to an (unnamed) cabinet member. During a period when a lot of side conversations were going on, the cabinet member leaned over to Shelton and asked if it were true that U-2 reconnaissance planes were flying over Iraq on a regular basis, and that these planes flew too high for the Iraqis to be able to shoot them down.

Yes, that was true, Shelton replied.

The cabinet member than asked if could be arranged for one of these flights to fly lower, so the Iraqis could shoot it down, giving the U.S. an excuse to "do something about Saddam."

Shelton thought for a moment, and then said that yes, he thought it could probably be arranged.

Really? The cabinet member asked.

Yes, said Shelton. "Just as soon as we teach your sorry a** how to fly one of those planes."

You can read the full version of this story in Shelton's memoir, Without Hesitation; The Odyssey of An American Warrior.

Tom Campbell

Monday, January 10, 2011

What a poem says..

"What a poem says is not what the words of the poem say."

"The very first thing a poem says is that it is a poem."

"The meaning (of a poem) is in the lilt of the words, in the meter, in the rhyme."

--From translator and poet David Slavitt at his marvelous reading last Friday night.

And there was this as well:

"The point of (reading) literature is not to improve yourself. All reading should be pleasurable, engaging, delightful."