George Saunders

Happy California Bookstore Day!

Saturday, May 3rd is California Bookstore Day (CBD). This is the day all of us Californians tip our hats to the indie bookstores we love, celebrating their existence as stack-laden and sometimes mildly claustrophobic utopias of browsing, where we can still quietly lose track of time as we peruse in search of the answer to that never-ending question, “Where is my next favorite book hiding?”

What would a celebration of bookstores be without some special books and book-like materials published specifically for these underdogs of the free market? One of the greatest aspects of CA Bookstore Day, aside from (duh) bookstore love, are the unique offerings created by authors and artists exclusively for participating indie bookstores. For once, this stuff won’t be cheaper on Amazon.

This year, the pickings are awesome. They include a $20 special edition of Congratulations, By the Way, an expansion of George Saunders’s convocation speech to Syracuse University. These will be signed, numbered, and doodled upon (?) by the author.

Saunders cover

A literary map of California will be available for $40, created especially for CBD.

3 Fish Studios Bookseller copy

Perhaps the most seriously awesome of the items available will be a wooden stencil with a quote taken from Don DeLillo’s White Noise, “California deserves whatever it gets.”

2-21 AG Book Stencil WOOD 2

Here is the whole quote for inquiring minds, from page 66 of DeLillo’s White Noise:

This is where California comes in. Mud slides, brush fires, coastal erosion, earthquakes, mass killings, et cetera. We can relax and enjoy these disasters because in our hearts we feel that California deserves whatever it gets. Californians invented the concept of lifestyle. This alone warrants their doom.

Although the stencil and its homage to DeLillo is seriously amazing, leave it to the mad hatters of publishing over at McSweeney’s to come up with a beautifully designed concept book so awesome it (literally) tops all other offerings. The publisher created a 2-foot-tall, free-standing, accordion-style book for CBD. In this work of art (which includes a hidden foldout illustration of California landscape), called Bookstories, McSweeney’s poets and authors (Californians, of course) “explore through short pieces the best bookstore they know of that doesn’t exist.”


I’m waiting for McSweeney’s to release an wearable book, or maybe an edible one. There’s always next year…

Visit to get all the details, including which bookstores are participating.

And if you don’t live in California, be glad you don’t have to worry about your state falling into the ocean in an earthquake! Just kidding… Maybe your state has something similar to CA Bookstore Day? If not, maybe you are just the person to start this celebration of those little special places that sell books. Maybe this event needs to go national!

Review – Woke Up Lonely by Fiona Maazel.


I’m still processing this book – at several times near the beginning I hated it, and was sure I’d put it down at any minute.  And yet I kept reading, as Maazel’s writing hit me in beautiful gasps and starts, mixed in with and nearly masked by all the madness of her stretched-thin plot.

The summary in a chick-mag hooked me instantly – a man develops a cult to fight the pervasive loneliness of our times, only resulting in his further isolation as the cult grows.  When I checked this book out from the beautiful Walnut Creek library and glanced at the Goodreads reviews before I started reading, however, it was rated 3 stars.  This means average, and I was worried.  People weren’t digging Woke Up Lonely, for some reason.

If Chuck Pahalniuk and Christopher Buckley were lovers and decided to adopt an African baby, Fiona Maazel might be that baby in its infancy.  One of the blurbs on the back compares Maazel to George Saunders, and I was like “WOAH let’s not go that far – George Saunders is a master of the craft!”  But then, I guess, I can see it.

What I kept getting tripped up on here was the incredible (meant in the literal, hard to believe, way) plot.  This book has a ton of bells and whistles: corrupt government officials, North Korean leaders, spies with full time makeup artists building alter egos out of face paint, an entire subversive tunnel city under Cincinnati.  I guess what gives me pause in comparing Maazel to great authors is I felt that there was such simplicity in the premise of and the concepts in the book, and yet the book itself was full of Buckley-ish mayhem that was meant to be cynical/funny but just didn’t make any sense.  I thought the plot was all fine as long as I was looking at it from a distance, not focusing my eyes too hard.  But if I stopped to pause and think what was happening in the book, I was like “What is this crap that I am reading?”

The saving grace for the plot was the writing – the main characters’ long expositions on love and loneliness are so sad and true, and Maazel has a gift for poetic one liners, like:  “I was stunned but then not, because if Norman was his own season, he came every year.” and “We were not excitably poor or evangelical, but we were striking for how little capacity any of us had to dream of a life outside the one we had.”

I would have loved a more simplistic book that showcased Maazel’s crisp writing and her premise, loneliness in the 21st century.  If you are thinking of reading this book, get ready for a messy and bumpy ride.

Woke Up Lonely: A Novel by Fiona Maazel on