Birds and “Blooms”: The Legends Lift Off

An endearing moment captured on film: Charles with one of the many mini-Pale Males. Courtesy of KennedyWorks.


            In a recent e-mail, Steve Kennedy, poet and keeper of the flame of his uncle Charles Kennedy’s charmed life, writes: “I am very pleased to invite you to attend the Colorado premiere screening of the multiple award-winning urban nature documentary The Legend of Pale Male. It is the feature-length story of the famous nesting red-tailed hawks of New York City. All proceeds of the screening will benefit Denver’s own legend, The Bloomsbury Review, one of the finest literary review magazines in the country. The film features my late uncle, New York naturalist, photographer, and writer Charles Kennedy. Charles and I have had the honor of writing for The Bloomsbury Review over the years, and it has a dear place in my heart. And this film is guaranteed to warm the hearts of viewers of all ages.”

            Steve’s words are not just boasting or PR spin, and I can share a story to prove it. As a gift for his retirement, I purchased a DVD of Pale Male for my brother Dan, a birder so devout that he keeps his life-list handy at the dining room table. Just outside the sliding glass doors beyond, it is not unusual to encounter half a dozen species of birds at any one time, different ones in each season. I expected Dan to love Pale Male. I was not palemalewingsdisappointed. And even though she can show you where the meadowlarks nest at a nearby lake, I did not expect my sister, Kelly, to be enthralled to silence by the life of a raptor. Nor did I anticipate that my sister-in-law Kathy, whose birding interest (by her own admission, and excluding a trip to view the sandhill cranes along the Platte River in March) is pretty much limited to, “Oh, look! It’s a bird!” would be held in thrall by the biography of a family of hawks.


Filmmaker Frederic Lilien in action.

But enthralled we were, from the opening scenes of filmmaker Frederic Lilien’s charming antics as he weaves and bobs before the camera, trying to explain how his destiny became linked to that of a red-tailed hawk named Pale Male. The hawk is unique for many reasons. The uncharacteristic pale feathers from which he takes his name (known as leucism) is rare among birds. And he is the first redtail in a century to choose the indisputably urban area of Manhattan near Central Park as his territory. Observed by Lilien as well as by Charles Kennedy, the story of this wild creature achieves the status of a legend for the simple fact of his life as well as the love and loyalty he has engendered among those reputedly thorny New Yorkers. The film translates the quality of legend as it follows Pale Male and his family in their attempt to remain wild, all the while wordlessly teaching the human audience about the meaning of and the need to protect true wildness.


Dr. Alexander Fisher (a Manhattan resident and avid Pale Male fan), Charles, and Frederic.

First sighted in 1991, Pale Male was the subject of a PBS Nature documentary aired in 2004. “He Won the Heart of New York,” the video cover boasts. While red-tailed hawks are a sight to be expected here in Colorado, Pale Male was the first one known to inhabit Manhattan in a century. He chose for his residence a ledge atop a posh co-op along Fifth Avenue—where fortunately, as it later turned out, a legendary, all-American girl also lived. On the ground, Charles Kennedy was one of Pale Male’s earliest and most ardent admirers. Inevitably, he and filmmaker Frederic Lilien met. Together they documented Pale Male’s life, amidst a growing crowd of admirers who grew devoted enough to affirm and defend the hawk’s right to nest wherever he chose.

November December 2009 mar cover fin_Page_1By 2004, The Bloomsbury Review (TBR) was well past its 20th anniversary in the wild world of publishing. A small literary review dedicated to featuring good books that were off the radar for large, mass-market publishers, from the beginning Blooms concentrated on promoting work from independent, small, regional, and university publishers, as it does still. Many literary notables have lauded Blooms. “The world of books is the better for it,” said Norman Cousins. Wallace Stegner wrote that TBR “contains a more balanced examination of current books than any of its glamorous competitors.” Best-selling author Tony Hillerman said TBR is “the best book magazine in America.” David Streitfeld of The Washington Post: Book World called TBR “a leading publication, wholly, even zealously devoted to literature.”

Pale Male and Blooms have both had their trials. Pale Male’s nest was unceremoniously destroyed by a co-op board in a unilateral decision that the raft of sticks had to go. Enter the crowd who had begun to keep watch over Pale Male and his mates (several of whom met with early fatal ends) as they tried to survive the hazards of urban living. Enter also the legendary all-American girl who lived in the co-op, Mary Tyler Moore, who along with Pale Male’s ever more determined fans, joined the effort to restore the nest to the hawk.

A stoic shot of Pale Male silhouetted by a Manhattan moon. Taken by Charles Kennedy, courtesy of KennedyWorks.

Blooms, with its national circulation and overseas subscribers, has managed to survive as other “little magazines” have either scaled back or become extinct. From a fledgling newsletter affiliated with a bookstore, Blooms grew to publish many first interviews with authors before they became literary household names, among them: Louise Erdrich; Walter Mosley; Joy Harjo; Sherman Alexie; Clarissa Pinkola Estés, PhD; Harry N. MacLean; Barbara Kingsolver; John Nichols; Terry Tempest Williams; and many more. Blooms has reviewed first novels, first books of poetry, first essay collections, first works of nonfiction … first! It has always recognized the power of poetry as a natural force in the literary world. It has supported the efforts of translators nearly as early as the poet Robert Bly! Tom Auer, TBR’s founder and first publisher/editor-in-chief, once laughingly told me, “Other literary magazines run out of money and so they stop publishing—we just get another issue ready for the printer!” Blooms is legendary for the quality of the work it publishes as well as its indefatigable nature to survive in the urban literary jungle. It has survived the death of Steve Lester, its first art director, and the death in 2003 of Tom Auer. And while advertising dollars have grown scarce throughout the publishing world, enthusiastic support from Blooms’ readers has not. Here’s another chance for us to prove it.

BLOOMS_flyerIt’s no surprise that one legend would come to the aid of another. Or that Steve Kennedy, inheritor of his uncle Charles’ legacy, would offer Blooms the chance to present the Denver premiere of The Legend of Pale Male as a fundraising effort for the magazine. To date, the film has won nine awards, including “Best of Festival” at the International Wildlife Film Festival, the “Audience Favorite Award” at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, and “Best Nature & People Award” at both the Japan Wildlife Film Festival and the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival.

The Denver premiere offers local supporters of Blooms, as well as bird and wildlife lovers, the opportunity to support these “wild” legends of air and word. To that end, the Rocky Mountain Land Library (RMLL)—yet another Denver legend in the making—with its 35,000-volume collection devoted to, as co-founder Jeff Lee writes, “extend everyone’s knowledge of the land, and to waken us to the sheer miracle of life on earth,” has stepped forward as the main sponsor of the film premiere.

Click here for some background and to watch the film trailer on RMLL. And be sure to stop by their table the night of the event. (Anybody got a good urban location for a 35,000-volume special collection library?!)

The Legend of Pale Male premiere takes place on Saturday, April 27th, with a reception at 6:30 p.m., followed by the screening of the film at 7:15 p.m. After the screening there will be a chat with the filmmaker, Frederic Lilien. Help us fill the house in the beautiful, historic Miller Center at Montview Boulevard Presbyterian Church, 1980 Dahlia Street in Denver. But don’t delay; buy your tickets now!

PURCHASE TICKETS online at under “What’s New.”

RESERVE TICKETS or for more information: 303-455-3123 OR 800-783-3338

OR e-mail:

See you there! And if you are not local but would like to help Blooms keep flying high, you can make a donation in absentia through the Web page listed above.

Pale Male soars above New York City

Pale Male soars above New York City.
Help Blooms to continue to soar from our loft in Denver.
We hope to see you April 27th!

WRITER: Kathleen Cain is the author of The Cottonwood Tree: An American Champion (Johnson Books/Big Earth Publishing, 2007). She has been affiliated with The Bloomsbury Review in one way or another since 1982. She has also served as a volunteer naturalist for Jefferson County (Colorado) Open Space and has recently joined the advisory board for the Rocky Mountain Land Library.

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Dichotomous Anonymous

Wherein I am delighted to welcome one of the best writers and poets I know, Kathleen Cain, into the Bloomsbury Blogging fold…

With a few essential exceptions, I disdain dichotomy. Either/Or. One or two. Up or down. Yes or no. Black or white. Blah blah blah. The world is so much more complicated, at nearly every turn. The answer could be both. All of the above. Sideways. Yes AND no. Gray.

Yet we insist on not just simplifying but also trivializing choices that deserve our most thoughtful attention. I track this way of thinking back to René Descartes—“Try to read his work as biography,” my humanities professor encouraged when he noticed how distressed I was to have to endure yet another dose of bifurcated thinking. (Sigh.)

Our hangover from (Des)Cartesian dichotomy shows itself even in our reading habits. One person vows to only read fiction. Another, nonfiction. English cottage mysteries or Patricia Cornwell. Chick lit or literary fiction. Speculative fiction or historical. (Period. The end.) On it goes. Admittedly, reading preferences are individual and can be no more accounted for than taste or the perception of beauty. Still, I wonder. The either/or’s seem to go on as the book lists lengthen. Well, what can you expect from a country that can only come up with two major political parties (in reality, with nods to all the oncomers) and still runs its religious discourse according to good or evil rather than love or the lack of love (one of the few essential dichotomies I’ll allow myself).

But, back to books. Even our ways of reading have lined up against opposite walls and are staring each other down as awkwardly as the way the boys used to stand and gawk from one side of the gymnasium and the girls, attempting poised nonchalance, from the other at high school dances.

Kindle or hard copy?
Nook or paperback?
E-reader or physical checkout (remember libraries)?

“I don’t care what anybody says,” I’ve often heard members of my aging yet still demographically prominent Boomer generation vow (even though the grandkids just gave them an e-reader for their birthdays), “I just like the feel of a book.”

If you were brought up with books as ordinary household accessories, there’s no denying the tactile experience: the rough or smooth skin of the paper; and sometimes even its smell, which inhaled deeply can recall the scent of trees, the whisper of turning pages. In the case of books wrought with craftsmanship and care: the pure heft in your hand, the beauty of blue marbled endpapers; likewise, the minor artwork of a hand-tooled cover; or the aroma of ink, tainted as any artifact with a whiff of the ages. There’s the ability to linger over a word, a sentence, or a paragraph and then return to one or the other—or all!—sometimes on the hunt with the eagerness of a child.

On the other hand, the multitasking digital generations often can’t be bothered by lugging around a heavy old thing like a book in a backpack, especially in a backpack overloaded enough to create a premature curvature of the spine before the age of thirty. And why should they when they can carry the equivalent of a major public library in the palms of their hands? The Enlightenment at their fingertips? With a shrug, a puzzled look at the thought of reading an actual book, and a still-lingering “whatever” from the younger crowd, the e-book device gets fired up.

Both books and e-books have come to be considered sacrosanct objects. But here’s a dichotomy-buster I like—one of many, but it’s my favorite—The Book of Kells. The original 9th-century manuscript, written on vellum in a delicious script known as “insular majuscule” and bound in four volumes, has, by contemporary definitions of time, long since been digitized; the facsimile edition was created by Facsimile Verlag of Luzern in 1986. I had the privilege of visiting the Trinity College-Dublin Library in the early 1980s when, to the delight of viewers, a page a day was still being turned (the volumes are now less often alternated for display). I also had the privilege of seeing the facsimile edition when the local chapter of the Irish American Cultural Institute brought it, along with Bernard Meehan, Keeper of Manuscripts at Trinity College Library, to the University of Denver for a special lecture and exhibition. So, as you can see, I have long been on the path of Dichotomy Anonymous.

But, without much transition, let me change directions for a moment (or at least a thousand words or so) and consider books as if not (shudder) tools, as at least utilitarian objects. Not exactly like a screwdriver but a tool nevertheless—for gaining knowledge, for entertainment, to scare ourselves, to travel to distant and imagined worlds or states of mind. A screwdriver is certainly more utilitarian than a book in securing the everyday world, of making it strong and whole. But when the battery-operated and then the rechargeable versions of this essential toolbox resident appeared, I didn’t toss my old reliable Stanley in the trash. Did you?

The electric screwdriver works great for all those straight-on, obvious jobs. But when a frame clip—one of the tiny plastic pieces around the edges of my security door—breaks off and has to be replaced, I don’t reach for Mr. Electric Head. I retrieve one of the mini Phillips-head handhelds. It fits the small diminishing space of intersection with the back door. Adapting a principle from art and architecture, and applying it, I’ve learned that circumstances determine any useful form.

This principle is easily applied to books and reading as well. If there’s a snowstorm that’s likely to keep me more or less housebound for a couple of days, having a good book to snuggle up with is a requirement. As the snow whispers its icy message outside, I can hear the lisp of pages turning while I am safe and warm inside, and inside the story. The heft and shift of the book on my lap—I like that. Maybe it’s even large enough to be propped up on my lap desk. During the quiet hour, when and if it can be taken in the late afternoon, likewise. Before bed, cozy beneath the covers, propped up on a pillow, even the multipound hardback of Salman Rushdie’s Joseph Anton is no burden. A delay at DIA because something is wrong with the plane? No problem. A paperback, a Kindle, a Nook—take your pick. On the wing or on the run? Likewise. I’ve learned to make the reading need fit the situation. It’s no longer an either/or world when it comes to books and reading. It’s a realm of and … and … and … . And, just as I finish writing, an article in The Wall Street Journal, weighing the results of recent reader surveys, advises: “Don’t Burn Your Books—Print is Here to Stay.”

Kathleen Cain is a writer and poet, transplanted from Nebraska to Colorado in 1972. She is the author of The Cottonwood Tree: An American Champion (Johnson Books/Big Earth, 2007), currently being used as a textbook in a nature-writing course taught by Dr. Sandra Maresh Doe at Metropolitan State University in Denver. She has poetry forthcoming in two anthologies: Turn (Uttered Chaos Press) and The Untidy Season: An Anthology of Nebraska Women Poets (Backwaters Press).

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Gray on ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’

I’m happy (and I’m sure you are as well) to introduce to you our first guest blogger, Dawn W. Petersen—wherein our heroine, Editor Extraordinaire, goes on a quest to intellectually stalk the Best-selling Beast, The-Book-That-Must-Not-Be-Named…

Who among us has not heard the buzz about Fifty Shades of Grey since its debut in 2011? Where have you been? For three days running, everywhere I went I overheard conversations about this book, some from behind cupped hands in whispers punctuated with snickers; others in indignant, disgusted tones accompanied by much gesticulation. I caught the phrase “mommy porn” in three separate instances.

I became curious (plus I always pay attention when things happen in threes). What had E. L. James written that seemed to have everybody’s panties either moist or in a bunch? Why had this book penetrated so far under our thick 21st-century skin, landing it in the company of controversial books such as D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover in the 20th century, Kate Chopin’s The Awakening in the 19th, and back and back to the beginning of recorded history? How did Fifty Shades of Grey become a popular-culture phenomenon? And what is this new genre, mommy porn, anyway?

In graduate school, working toward my M.A. in English literature, I was taught that the primary rule of literary research, textual analysis, and generally knowing what one is talking about is: Go to the source. This means the primary source,  if at all possible, or secondary sources as close to the primary source as possible, if the first option is impossible. This is the same law we live by at Blooms in what we do. So I decided to buy Fifty Shades of Grey and find out for myself.

I have to admit, I felt a little self-conscious standing in line at Barnes & Noble with the book under my arm. To assuage my discomfort, I tried making chitchat with the bookseller, a woman with gray hair and glasses, as I handed my purchase across the counter.

“This book has certainly stirred a lot of controversy.”
“Yes, it has,” she replied, rolling her eyes. (If only she knew what would happen to her if she rolled her eyes like that at Christian Grey! But I didn’t know this yet, either.)
“Have you read it?”
She snorted. “No; I wouldn’t read that book.”

When I began to read Fifty Shades of Grey, the first thing I noticed was how poorly written it is. I don’t mean this in a mean-spirited way; this is simply not writing with an eye to the beauty of language or of the illuminating metaphor. Okay, it’s a lot worse than not just that. In fact, by about page 35, I didn’t think I could read the book. If the heroine flushed or blushed, thought “Holy cow!” or “Holy crap!” or rolled her eyes once more, I was going to retch. I had to put the book down for a few days.

But pick it back up, I did. And pushing on I found that in many ways Fifty Shades conformed to a checklist for a classic novel of the romantic period. Christian Grey is a casebook Byronic hero, with a few twists, a soft one being that his hair is not dark black or brown but a dark copper red. The seed of the mysterious circular scars on his body, the presumed cause of his inner angst, is planted early in the tale. The heroine, Anastasia (Ana) Steele, is textbook as well—young, virginal, and blue-eyed—except instead of cascading blonde curls she has unruly brown hair. Ana is an English literature major about to graduate. She has never had a boyfriend and contemplates whether she might have “spent too long in the company of literary romantic heroes.” She wonders if Grey qualifies as one. Yes, Ana; yes he does.

Here’s where the hard, 21st-century twist comes in and the author subverts the dominant paradigm: This romance takes place within the world of BDSM (and if you know exactly what that acronym stands for, you know more than I knew then). This was a world I knew almost nothing about, and I found it fascinating. Submission is more my idea of a nightmare than a fantasy, however. Still, the book did compel me to wonder: What is that thin line between pleasure and pain? But the constant sex quickly became redundant and an interruption from what really did interest me in the story: the alchemy of these two characters’ energies encountering the Other. In this sense, the love story in Fifty Shades of Grey, had the same effect as classic romances, without being well written.

Despite this truth that is indisputable to me but still argued amongst some others, I recently saw a post on Writers Write’s Facebook page citing Nielsen data comparing 100 of the leading best-seller lists of 2012 that showed the Fifty Shades trilogy holds spots one, two, and three on every one of them. Following this link back to the source lead me to an article in The Guardian sporting all sorts of facts and figures. Here I learned that these books sold 10.5 million copies in 2012, this being 8 million copies more than the next trilogy on the list, The Hunger Games.

Wow. Really?!? I never would have guessed. But I’m pleasantly surprised. If millions of mommies are making time to read and to entertain sexual fantasies amidst lives stuffed full of taking care of business, more power to ’em. You go, Mommies! It’s important for mommies to have “me” time.

I was also surprised to discover that one can buy this book off a shelf in the local grocery store. Make no mistake: Mommy porn—whatever that might be—this is not. Fifty Shades of Grey is not a book children should stumble upon, and it’s exactly the sort of book a curious young me would have lifted from my parents’ bookcase. I believe it should be shrink wrapped in stores and not sold to anyone under 18, and kept out of reach of children at home. For adults: If you want to read the book, read it; if you don’t, don’t.

Would I recommend Fifty Shades of Grey? No, I wouldn’t, except perhaps to a particular person for a specific purpose. There truly are a few nifty tricks inside. And I don’t regret the time I spent inside the book’s world. I wouldn’t encourage anyone else to go there, however. Seriously. Not well written. But I am glad that E.L. James did write it; I can appreciate a good transgression. And I’m delighted that millions of people—women, men, daddies, grandmas, adults of whatever stripe—have enjoyed her books for whatever reason, which, now that I have formed an informed opinion, I still don’t know exactly what that is.

Dawn W. Petersen is an editor and a writer for TBR, and is an independent editor and for more than 20 years has been a book coach/doctor. She received her MA in English literature from the University of Colorado in Boulder. Though she is sheepish to admit it, she ended up reading the entire Fifty Shades trilogy; she just had to know how it all turned out.

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Crow’s Feet are neither crows, nor feet. Discuss.

Hello? Knock, knock. Is anyone there?

Tap, tap! Is this thing on?


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And the Beats go on…

In a recent Facebook post, we pointed our good friends to the Grey Art Gallery at New York University, where the self-annotated photographs of Allen Ginsberg are now on display until April 6. If you make your way to New York between now and then, it’s an exhibit you won’t want to miss, as it features not only his own wild self, but the other famous (infamous?) carousers he went on the road with: William S. Burroughs, Neal Cassady, Gregory Corso, Jack Kerouac, and others.

In the Fall 2010 Issue of The Bloomsbury Review, our great friend Gregory McNamee reviewed the book which arose from the initial exhibit.

Beat Memories
The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg
National Gallery of Art/DelMonico/Prestel
$49.95 cloth, ISBN 978-3-7913-5052-3

Allen Ginsberg (1926–1997) was many things. Notably, and at times notoriously, he was a poet, the author of the zeitgeist-defining Howl, a primary document of the Beat Generation. He was a controversialist, sometimes without apparent intent, sometimes with a definite wish to rattle our collective cages. He was a correspondent, archivist, and teacher of note. He was a traveler, diarist, ecstasist.

And, perhaps least well-known of all his pursuits, he was a photographer of distinction.

Ginsberg was almost 70 when he received the news that he had incurable cancer, and he set himself to doing what he called “death work,” which included putting the last of his archives in order. He had already sold much of his library and collection of manuscripts some years earlier, encountering criticism from odd corners for having done so. His photographs, it’s said, were not so well ordered, but fortunately a new home for them came courtesy of a collector named Gary S. Davis, who, writes curator Sarah Greenough, “acquired a master set of more than 390 Ginsberg photographs from his estate.” Davis subsequently donated 75 images to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the basis of the exhibit catalog now published as Beat Memories.

The master set included every photograph of which Ginsberg had kept a copy, most of them inscribed with captions in circumstantial detail. One disturbing image of a dissipated Jack Kerouac, for instance, bears the handwritten legend,

Jack Kerouac the last time he visited my apartment 704 East 5th Street, N.Y.C., he looked by then like his late father, red-faced corpulent W.C. Fields shuddering with mortal horror, grimacing on D.M.T. I’d brought back from visiting Timothy Leary at Millbrook Psychedelic Community, Fall 1964.

There’s a lot going on in those 47 words, just as there is in the gelatin silver print of a Beat angel fast disintegrating into a right-wing misanthrope and alcoholic.

But there are happier moments, too, some recorded in mere snapshots, others carefully composed studies made after consultation with and lessons from the Swiss photographer Robert Frank, well-known for his book of 1959, The Americans (first published in 1958 in Paris as Les Americains). Ginsberg recalls in an interview reproduced here,

Robert said, “If you take someone’s photo, more or less close-up, always include the hands.” I asked why. He said, “The face is naked and the hands are naked. It gives a more complete picture of the action or the whole attitude of the body. If you just take a picture from the chest up—no hands—you don’t quite get the whole gesture.

For her part, another photographer, Berenice Abbott, encouraged him to stand back to give “a little space around the subject,” thus affording context to the image.

The advice was well taken, perhaps nowhere better than in a photograph of Beat bad boy William S. Burroughs taken late in his life, when Burroughs was living square in the middle of the heartland railroad earth. Writes Ginsberg, at the time of the photograph, Burroughs was “looking at the sky, empty timeless Lawrence Kansas.” Burroughs retorted, on seeing it and pointing to a little sedan far in the background of the image, “But the car dates it.”

Some of these pieces are dated, some indeed timeless. All are worth seeing and lingering over. On a trip to Washington, D.C., this summer past, I visited the National Gallery of Art, where 80 of Ginsberg’s images were on display in a special showing. The L-shaped gallery in which the exhibit was mounted was full of museumgoers, many young enough to have been Ginsberg’s great-grandchildren. Listening to snatches of their conversations, it was clear to me that they didn’t have much sense of who Ginsberg was—or, for that matter, who the likes of Burroughs and Kerouac were, either. It was also clear, though, that they intended to find out, spurred to interest by the fluent captions and images before them. Beat Memories makes for a fine introduction for those newcomers, and it is a pleasure for anyone interested in Allen Ginsberg’s life, work, and times.

Gregory McNamee is a contributing editor to The Bloomsbury Review; a writer, journalist, editor, photographer, and publisher. He is the author or title-page editor of thirty-five books and more than four thousand periodical publications, including articles, essays, reviews, interviews, editorials, poems, and short stories.

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Do any of us really want this to happen? Again?

Surprise! I’m not going to talk about the “Make it New” campaign this time (though you can keep that in the back of your mind, if you wish…). No, this is a matter that should concern all of us obsessed bibliophiles—particularly in those burgs where Borders and Barnes & Noble moved in and rode all the independent bookstores out of town on a rail. Borders is gone.

Guess what? As the former owner of two independent bookstores crushed under the big money-bloated butts of B. Dalton and Waldenbooks when they arrived as anchoring ballast attached to the eye-sore-grotesqueries of sprawling Shopping Malls, I know a little bit about these things. (Pssst: And where are B. Dalton and Waldenbooks now, by the way?)

Now, as our friends at Melville House point out,

Maybe you’ve noticed that there seem to be a lot of Barnes & Noble superstores closing lately? Not just stores in remote locations (like, say … in rural upstate New York), but in some of the nation’s largest metropolitan shopping areas, such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Seattle, Chicago, two stores in Dallas, another in Austin, and Manhattan. And that’s just in the last 30 days or so.

What had been a slow shrinkage as leases ran out—a store here, a store there—turned into an avalanche after Thanksgiving. Stores that should have been well-stocked for the holidays were instead out of inventory and passing time until the end of the year.

Maybe it’s just sentimental old once-upon-a-time-bookstore-owning me, but bookstores are very special places—akin to and better than cathedrals, and no one is going to convince me otherwise. And even though some may call it heresy, and while I still prefer an independent bookstore with an owner I can chat with about books and authors, and poetry and poets—even the somewhat sterile, corporate Nook-pushing Barnes & Noble is better than nothing, people!

Yes, you may have to engage a couple of worker-bees in a Barnes & Noble before you find one who loves books as much as you do—but they are there. Really, what better way to spend a rainy afternoon, or spend an hour waiting for the kids while they’re at the dentist, or having some time after having dropped the spouse off at work—what better way to spend your time than picking up a cup of coffee, heading into your nearest bookstore, and massively zenning out surrounded by shelf after shelf of books?

And, you know what? It’s all right to have a particular book in mind—and you know what else? If they don’t have it, they can order it for you. Are we all really in such a slam-bang, have-it-now, instant gratification, all-fired whiz-splat hurry that we must have that book this very moment or we’re going to puddle into an unscrapable grease-spot on the carpet? And what’s the difference between waiting for an Amazon delivery or waiting for the book to arrive in the store—where you go pick it up, and maybe find something else you’d like to read?

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

The smallest bookstore still contains more ideas of worth than have been presented in the entire history of television.
Andrew Ross

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 love walking into a bookstore. It’s like all my friends are sitting on shelves, waving their pages at me.
Tahereh Mafi

We lose bookstores and we lose an awful lot of who we are as civilized human beings. And I’m going to end this now. I’ll meet you at the bookstore?

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“Make it New” doesn’t mean “Make it Short.”

One of my otherwise favorite literary bloggers, has declared that when one goes about making blog posts, one should:

Keep It Short. One of the most important tips about blogging is to keep your posts relatively short—no more than 500 words. Blog readers are always in a hurry, and they just won’t stick around to read a long post … Don’t do this.

I would perhaps find this useful were I involved with one of the many political blogs—which, let’s face it, mob the electronic ether—although that may be what is  wrong with politics? Too much boiled-down commentary into byte-size bites that because of their very brevity miss virtual landscapes of nuance? (No pun intended with that “virtual,” there.)

Be that as it may, while I certainly am a political animal of the most monstrous species some might say, run-of-the-mill politics is not what we’re about here. No, we are a book magazine, a literary magazine, and while we are setting about in a fresh spirit of “making it new” we are simultaneously carrying on in the long tradition of The Bloomsbury Review—in other words, we know our readers to have a patient intelligence and that they are interested in seeing how our writers delve into a book or topic and with fine brushes delineate content, significance, context, substance, and hue.

We have not been, nor will we be here in this ethersphere or in the pages of The Bloomsbury Review, brief for the sake being brief, or brief for those who have a short-attention-span, or brief for those who are “in too much of a hurry” to slow down, stop, ponder some, and rearrange their perceptions, if need be. Our writers cherish words, sentences, and paragraphs and like to hold them up to the light to see how they reflect, refract, shine, gleam, or shimmer—and they like to share their discoveries with others.

By this paragraph, I have probably lost those readers anyway—but for the good folk who are still with me, I’m happy to announce (and I’m sure many of you are relieved to read) that soon, very soon, mine will not be the sole voice you will find here. And those who will appear have been chosen for their brains, hearts, and courage—as well as their ability to sing like Seraphim.

This is a blog, yes, and a very small part of what we are doing to “Make it New,” here at TBR. And while we may be seen to have trotted along a tiny bit behind the curve, we’re on our way. In the process however, we will not be abandoning all that The Bloomsbury Review has stood for over the past now 34 years.

Of the first phase of our journey, the print phase, Mark Twain sent a letter to the celebration of the opening of the Gutenberg Museum, and said it best:

The world concedes without hesitation or dispute that Gutenberg’s invention is incomparably the mightiest event that has ever happened in profane history. It created a new and wonderful earth, and along with it a new hell. It has added new details, new developments and new marvels to both in every year during five centuries.

It found Truth walking, and gave it a pair of wings; it found Falsehood trotting, and gave it two pair. It found Science hiding in corners and hunted; it has given it the freedom of the land, the seas and the skies, and made it the world’s welcome quest. It found the arts and occupations few, it multiplies them every year. It found the inventor shunned and despised, it has made him great and given him the globe for his estate. It found religion a master and an oppression, it has made it man’s friend and benefactor. It found War comparatively cheap but inefficient, it has made it dear but competent. It has set peoples free, and other peoples it has enslaved; it is the father and protector of human liberty, and it has made despotisms possible where they were not possible before.

Whatever the world is, today, good and bad together, that is what Gutenberg’s invention has made it: for from that source it has all come. But he has our homage; for what he said to the reproaching angel in his dream has come true, and the evil wrought through his mighty invention is immeasurably outbalanced by the good it has brought to the race of men.

Now we move forward to another phase—just as revolutionary. And as James Panero recently said in “The Culture of the Copy,”

The rise of the Internet will no more destroy literature than did the invention of the printing press. On the contrary, the Internet’s new copy culture will almost certainly increase literacy and the spread of democratic ideals, furthering the legacy of the printing press. … An argument can be made, and so I will make it here, that the invention of the Internet is the under-recognized revolution of our time.

The Bloomsbury Review will be what it will be in our future—but we will likely not be brief. I hope you are as excited as we are.

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On this New Year’s Eve…

Nadir and pinnacle, here we are—Janus-like—looking behind and looking ahead. The quote is attributed to Plato, though apparently there’s some question about it and we’ll probably never know, but he’s certainly a good enough icon on which to hang the wisdom of such a comment. For TBR the past year has been a tad rocky, as the few kind followers of this Blog well know—but we survived it. And an awful lot of good has come from our travails and we’ve tucked a lot of learning from our experiences into our tote along the way—as the journey is always what it’s about.

We have readers, friends, fans, writers, reviewers, and subscribers from all around the world—from Daysun in Los Angeles to Kathleen in Denver, from Pavlos in Greece to Maryam in Iran. All of these wonderful lives connected to ours are riches we treasure. Plutarch in his famous essay “On Peace of Mind” tells the story of one Antipater of Tarsus, apparently a very wealthy man, who

before his death was reckoning up his pieces of good fortune, and he did not omit even the memory of the delightful voyage he had taken from Cilicia to Athens. So we too should not overlook common pleasures but take account even of them, be glad that we live and are well and see the sun, that there is no war going on or civil strife, that the earth is open to the farmer’s tilling and that whoever wills may fearlessly sail the sea, that we are free to speak and act or be silent and idle. We shall get more contentment from the possession of these blessings, if we imagine ourselves without them and remind ourselves often how people who are ill long for health, and people at war for peace, and an unknown stranger in a great city for names and friends, and how miserable it is to be deprived of what we once had. Then all these good things will not seem great and precious to us only when they are gone and nothing while we have them. For absence of a thing does not actually add anything to its value.

I look back at the books I’ve read over the past year and know what solace, and knowledge, and direction they’ve given me; and it’s with impatient, excited anticipation that I look forward to the upcoming chapters that will unfold in my mind and make a difference in my life. “Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” —Charles William Eliot

And as long as we’re speaking of books and journeys, we can’t leave out Emily Dickinson:

There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry—
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll—
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears the Human Soul –

A million golden, shining “Thanks” to all of you who have been with The Bloomsbury Review from the beginning—and the same to all of you who have recently joined us on our expeditions into the written word. The generosity of your companionship in the past—and your patient friendship as we caravan our way into the future makes any difficulties we have encountered, or will encounter, nothing more daunting than a mote of dust. As W.H. Auden so humanly said in “As I Walked Out One Evening,” “You shall love your crooked neighbor/With your crooked heart.” And that’s the best any of us can do. We wish you a Happy New Year.

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‘Real’ books or e-books? Alarmed?

The tastes of the reading public are turning digital, says The Huffington Post.

Print book sales rise hailed as a sign of a fightback in a digital world,” says The Guardian.

From HuffPo:

A Pew Internet Research Center survey released Thursday found that the percentage of Americans aged 16 and older who read an e-book grew from 16 percent in 2011 to 23 percent this year. Readers of traditional books dropped from 72 percent to 67 percent.

From The Guardian:

The strongest weekly sale of print books in three years is being hailed as a sign that “real books” are fighting back in a digital age thought to be dominated by e-readers and tablet computers.

From The Bloomsbury Review: What The…?

Is this a cultural thing? Are Americans more likely to be seduced by the newest glittering gadget than our more staid but beloved UK cousins? Or is the fault, Dear Brutus, in the statistics?

HuffPo/Pew goes on to say:

“Those owning an e-book device or tablet jumped from 18 percent to 33 percent, with much of that increase coming from last year’s holiday season, when millions received Kindles, Nooks and other e-readers as gifts. Awareness that libraries offer digital texts grew from 24 percent to 31 percent. The telephone survey of 2,252 people aged 16 and older was conducted from Oct. 15 to Nov. 10.”

There’s no indication in the story, but these “telephone” polls are usually conducted via land-lines, and the associated demographics might suggest that there are more reading e-devices out there than even these statistics declaim, as younger readers are more inclined to dwell their days digitally—mightn’t they?

In The Guardian:

With many authors and publishers fearful about how book-buying habits are being altered by the growing popularity of e-readers and tablets as reading devices, the news was welcomed by writers including William Dalrymple, author of Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India, who took to Twitter [Editorial note: Ironic] saying: “Real books fighting back!”

I’m still stumped. The UK publisher, Pearson, “is paying £55.5m [$89.5 million cash for a 5 percent stake] … in the company behind the Nook series of e-readers and tablets, which is part of US book chain Barnes & Noble.” So, in the UK, where “P-books” are on the rise, a UK publisher is investing in e-books. In the US, do we really even know how many are using e-books instead of p-books?

All in all though, the saddest statistic is “those reading books of any kind dropped from 78 percent to 75 percent,” which Pew called “statistically insignificant.” As of this post, there are 315,083,267 people in the US—and now only 236,312,450 are “reading books of any kind.”

I stink at math—an understatement—but according to my crabbed calculations that’s a loss of 7,089,374 readers (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong! [But be nice about it.]). And that’s almost the populations of Los Angeles, Chicago, and Dallas combined. At any rate, P-(“Real”) or e-book, that’s not “insignificant” in the dictionaries I believe in. Reading books is what makes us a significant nation—so the word I choose is alarming.

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Okay, I’m the world’s worst blogger.

You would be too, if you were surrounded by editors as talented as those who surround me! It’s intimidating. But I am a half-way decent writer—and a damned good volunteer. I am determined to make this New Year a more active one as far as this blog goes, and I’m inviting your comments, ideas, and suggestions—as well as submissions (which, forewarned, means the same editorial scrutiny that makes me whine and bleed).

There’s a whole helluva lot in the hopper for The Bloomsbury Review, and there are multiple Universes in a plethora of Dimensions going on in publishing as well—which I intend to share with you and invite you to suffer under my deficit-witted opinions, because—why not?

Most of you don’t know me from Adam (or Steve, for that matter)—and wisely probably don’t care. Some background ought to be provided I suppose, to give me a little gravitas—if it doesn’t matter, and it doesn’t–you can skip the next few paragraphs. I began my book career by owning one bookstore, then a second. When shopping malls, like enormous nefarious flying saucers began descending all over the land, anchored at one end by B.Dalton and at the other by Walden Bookstores, and beaming their deep-pocket death-rays on the independent bookseller, I “booked” it outa here (remember that phrase?), disobeyed Horace Greeley and headed East to get into publishing.

I started with Running Press in Philadelphia (which was tiny and un-conglomerated then and housed in a decrepit series of freezing dilapidated offices over a used encyclopedia store). Moved to Westminster/John Knox Press after I got tired of picking lead paint ceiling chips out of my coffee cup, moved to Oxford University Press (US) in New York, Amtracking daily from Philadelphia with Becky Sinkler, the best-ever editor of The New York Times Book Review–from there to The Pilgrim Press, on to the University of Illinois Press as assistant press director, on to being associate press director at Georgetown University Press in Washington, DC. Then, seduced by greed (albeit forewarned!), I took a position at a well-known Press that had/has the reputation of being an employee revolving door. It also had/has, ironically, the reputation of publishing what one would call books with a “humanitarian” bent. I was let go the day after I returned from my younger brother’s funeral. Oh, and I’ve had a few things published along the way. Some in respectable places.

Welcome back. See, I told you it doesn’t matter. Anyway, Fate kindly delivered me back into the arms of The Bloomsbury Review where, long-distance, I had been writing book reviews since 1983—and for the last six years or so, I have been a happy book-besotted volunteer. I love this magazine.

Let me repeat that: I. LOVE. This. Magazine. Just grabbing less than a handful of past issues, I see an interview with Barry Lopez, and one with Terry McMillan, an interview with Edward Abbey, a conversation with Nicole Hollander, another interview—this time with J.P. Donleavy, and yet another with Raymond Carver. Reviews of books on murals, psychology, art, photography, poets, adoption, Route 66, sex, drugs, and rock and roll. There are reviews of good first novels by authors who went on to fame, and there are reviews of good novels by authors who seem to have disappeared, completely. There are poems by Wendy Bishop, Tony Moffeit, Steven White, Martín Espada, Thomas R. Smith, Michael Hogan, Jim Barnes, and a poem by Antonio Marimón, translated by Gregory McNamee. So what’s not to love?

Be all that as it may, and nevertheless and notwithstanding, and in spite of my bloated sentences betraying the fact that I’ve obviously read entirely too much Henry James, I’m determined to offer up opinions about what’s going on in our literary landscape, as I’ve traversed most of it clumping along in one pair of pumps or another (DISCLAIMER: My Rambling Rhetoric© in no way reflects the opinion of anyone connected, however closely or loosely with The Bloomsbury Review or any other related entangled entity, be it sovereign or subordinate), whether you like it or not.

I’ll keep you updated on our “Make it New” project. We’ll do polls. I’ll complain and grouse. I’ll prod and praise. Let’s have fun. Squabbling is allowed—within the bounds of decency of course, and as long as you don’t frighten the horses—in the newly installed Disqus (pronounced “discuss”) comments below, or by registering here otherwise. Friend, Like, or Follow Us on Twitter (@BloomsReviews) or on our Facebook page if’n you’ve a mind to.

This won’t be easy for me, as I’m a perfectionist surrounded by perfectionists. But it won’t work at all without you. So let us begin

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