Author Archives: theotherdayatportrait

Spidey sent me!

The new season at TheatreUnleashed opens March 8th with The Spidey Project, an original musical and Broadway parody. TheatreUnleashed has partnered with The Literally Healing Program at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and they are doing something that we think is beyond cool!

If you purchase  (from us or any of the other indies in LA) a book from the children’s wish list, you get to name your ticket price at the door! The show is PG-13, so if you’ve got 1 or 12 kids with you, all you need is a book per person and you get in to see a very funny show for however much you can afford. I can’t think of many places in this great city about which you can say that!

Did you catch that? When you come in or call to order the book of your choice, just say (or scream), “Spidey sent me!” And, if Spidey sent you, you get 10% off paperbacks and 20% off hardcovers.

This is such an amazing opportunity to kill a bunch of birds with one little stone: you support local theatre, you give sick children books, and you give your own children an experience they won’t soon forget.

Call us if you need more reasons.

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“A book is a wondrous thing. It can take you places you’ve never been and allow you to explore your imagination through ways not otherwise possible. Every person, man, woman, and child, should experience the joy of reading a book. Many people have asked how they can help with my service in South Africa. This project I cannot do alone and would love any help that can be offered. I am currently attempting to develop a library at the Primary School where I work. Their library consists of dust filled textbooks, broken tables, and no more than 30 reading books. We were recently able to get shelves, though we are seeking book donations in any way possible. The kids range from kindergarten to seventh grade. The seventh graders can only read simple books. Nothing more advanced than a fourth or fifth grade reader in the United States. We are looking into donors for large shipments abroad, however, they generally would like us to contribute the shipping fees. The school is unable to pay these fees, nor are the members of the village as they are just hoping to have enough money to buy food. Every new book gives a child a chance to read. During my lesson with my remedial fifth grade students yesterday a boy stopped me during the spelling test to tell me, “I want to read.” I hope he gets that chance soon.”

This is an excerpt from a letter written by Katie Roberts, a recent graduate of Cal State Northridge, who is now living and working in a little village outside of Jericho, South Africa, as a Peace Corps volunteer.  Katie is doing everything she can to acquire books for the students in her school (“my learners,” she calls them), who are in desperate need of them.

The Siphumelela (“We Succeed”) project’s aim is to distribute books provided by Books for Africa, (books provided to Books for Africa by regular folks like you and me,) to rural primary and high schools in the Mpumalanga,  Limpopo and North West Provinces.

Katie says, “There are a total of 10 Peace Corps volunteers involved, including myself, who are arranging for our schools to receive over 20,000 books, including story books, math books, science books, and English literacy books to improve the overall resources our schools are lacking due to the rural areas we live in...Thousands of students will  benefit from the Siphumelela project by [being  equipped with] the tools needed to speak, read, write, and understand English, which is a…fundamental skill these children need to excel in their studies and become productive members in South African society.”

We want to help Katie and her learners in any way we can, and hope you will be able to, as well.

A few days ago, I jokingly told a long-time customer, with whom I share a similar sense of humor, that  I thought he was crazy for buying his books from us still, when he could get them at a fraction of the cost elsewhere. He didn’t get the joke though, and became suddenly and ferociously serious. “I want to have a local bookstore to go to. The price I pay for that is nothing compared to its value.” People like him remind me every day of the community we have here, and what an unbelievably awake, loyal and kind one it is. It is this fact alone that allows us now to ask for your help. We are your official drop-off location. Books that your children no longer read, that are on their way to Goodwill, or the library, or under the bed… simply bring them to us!

Please spread the word about Katie and her cause as far and wide as you can. Whatever shape or size your help comes in, it will be appreciated and prized by hundreds of children.

To donate or to learn more about the Siphumelela project, please click HERE. (When donating, please note “Katie Roberts” in Comments, to ensure that the funds reach her school.)



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Flatscreen– a very long book trailer featuring more than one kind of movie star

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To Gilbert Imlay, who, in the end, was not very good to her

Sent from Paris, evening, 23 September 1794

I have been playing and laughing with the little girl so long, that I cannot take up my pen to address you without emotion. Pressing her to my bosom, she looked so like you (entre nous, your best looks, for I do not admire your commercial face), every nerve seemed to vibrate to the touch, and I began to think that there was something in the assertion of man and wife being one — for you seemed to pervade my whole frame, quickening the beat of my heart, and lending me the sympathetic tears you excited.

Have I anything more to say to you? No; not for the present — the rest is all flown away; and indulging tenderness for you, I cannot now complain of some people here, who have ruffled my temper for two or three days past.

–Mary Wollstonecraft, mother of Mary Shelley, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women

Letter published in Love Letters of Great Women, many copies of which await you in our fireplace room

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You make me want to die happy.

“What an intelligent bookstore!”

A customer just exclaimed that, to no one in particular, while browsing the fiction section. It made us beam with pride. That he turned out to be an intelligent man himself, with whom conversation was a delightful adventure, helps us accept the compliment humbly.

We hear things like “what an amazing selection of books” and “what an incredible atmosphere and all these wonderful and tasteful gifts!” all day long. More than anything else, we’re constantly thanking people. But, like a lot of other things in life, this one was about precision. Word choice, to be exact.

I share this with you because I feel like boasting  in order to illustrate the point that sometimes all it takes is a couple of the exact, right words and you’re forever etched into another person’s memory and, by extension and/or definition, their being.

The trick, I find, is to get at the root of things. Not to strive for profundity, but quite the opposite. Strive to find the most basic and simple truth and get to it via as direct a path as possible. Here’s a line that Marvin Bell gifted his wife in “To Dorothy”: “You are not beautiful, exactly./You are beautiful, inexactly.” I haven’t seen Dorothy but I’d be willing to bet he’s right. And it feels, very specifically, that I know exactly what he means by “inexactly”.

Here’s another, this one from e.e. cummings’ “somewhere i have never traveled,gladly beyond”: “(i do not know what it is about you that closes/and opens;only something in me understands/ the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)/nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands”

It need not be absurd or lofty or intentionally poetic. All it needs to be is true and specific and, most importantly, you need to look for it as deeply as your senses can see.

“You are everything I will never be.”

“The way you laugh makes my head pulse. “

“When I sit next to you in the evenings in silence, I can actually feel my molecules wanting to break away and join your molecules.” [okay, maybe that one was a little much…]

This Valentine’s Day, draw a picture, pick a flower, write a poem (and include it in the box of diamonds, of course.)

Good luck!

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Little treats for Friday afternoon… because you’ve been good

  • Listen to this sweet, short podcast from Poetry Off the Shelf,  “I knew all along you were mine”. Apparently, there are  many different ways to say “I love you”.
  • Here’s a little animated movie about flying inanimate objects (and other stuff) that you might like:

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore — Directed by William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg– Nominated for an Academy Award, 2012

  • We’re crazy for the Crawleys here at Portrait of a Bookstore, and the word on the street is, you are too! Here’s a taste:

Millions of American viewers were enthralled by the world of Downton Abbey, the mesmerizing TV drama of the aristocratic Crawley family–and their servants–on the verge of dramatic change. On the eve of Season 2 of the TV presentation, this gorgeous book–illustrated with sketches and research from the production team, as well as on-set photographs from both seasons–takes us even deeper into that world, with fresh insights into the story and characters as well as the social history.

Brilliantly evoking the long-vanished world of masters and servants portrayed in Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs, Margaret Powell’s classic memoir of her time in service, Below Stairs, is the remarkable true story of an indomitable woman who, though she served in the great houses of England, never stopped aiming high. Powell first arrived at the servants’ entrance of one of those great houses in the 1920s.  As a kitchen maid – the lowest of the low – she entered an entirely new world; one of stoves to be blacked, vegetables to be scrubbed, mistresses to be appeased, and bootlaces to be ironed. Work started at 5.30am and went on until after dark. It was a far cry from her childhood on the beaches of Hove, where money and food were scarce, but warmth and laughter never were. Yet from the gentleman with a penchant for stroking the housemaids’ curlers, to raucous tea-dances with errand boys, to the heartbreaking story of Agnes the pregnant under-parlormaid, fired for being seduced by her mistress’s nephew, Margaret’s tales of her time in service are told with wit, warmth, and a sharp eye for the prejudices of her situation. Margaret Powell’s true story of a life spent in service is a fascinating “downstairs” portrait of the glittering, long-gone worlds behind the closed doors of Downton Abbey and 165 Eaton Place.

Have a wonderful, bountiful weekend, everyone!

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Love and Other Stories

Donna Recommends:

Valentine’s weekend, Art and Marion Fowler flee their Cleveland suburb for Niagara Falls, desperate to recoup their losses. Jobless, with their home approaching foreclosure and their marriage on the brink of collapse, Art and Marion liquidate their savings account and book a bridal suite at the Falls’ ritziest casino for a second honeymoon. While they sightsee like tourists during the day, at night they risk it all at the roulette wheel to fix their finances-and save their marriage. A tender yet honest exploration of faith, forgiveness and last chances, The Odds is a reminder that love, like life, is always a gamble.


Aida Recommends:

Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart–he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone–but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.

This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.


Lucia Recommends:

Hayat Shah is a young American in love for the first time. His normal life of school, baseball, and video games had previously been distinguished only by his Pakistani heritage and by the frequent chill between his parents, who fight over things he is too young to understand. Then Mina arrives, and everything changes.

Mina is Hayat’s mother’s oldest friend from Pakistan. She is independent, beautiful and intelligent, and arrives on the Shah’s doorstep when her disastrous marriage in Pakistan disintegrates. Even Hayat’s skeptical father can’t deny the liveliness and happiness that accompanies Mina into their home. Her deep spirituality brings the family’s Muslim faith to life in a way that resonates with Hayat as nothing has before. Studying the Quran by Mina’s side and basking in the glow of her attention, he feels an entirely new purpose mingled with a growing infatuation for his teacher.

When Mina meets and begins dating a man, Hayat is confused by his feelings of betrayal. His growing passions, both spiritual and romantic, force him to question all that he has come to believe is true. Just as Mina finds happiness, Hayat is compelled to act — with devastating consequences for all those he loves most.


Aida Recommends this, too. Highly.

A terrible epidemic has struck the country and the sound of children’s speech has become lethal. Radio transmissions from strange sources indicate that people are going into hiding. All Sam and Claire need to do is look around the neighborhood: In the park, parents wither beneath the powerful screams of their children. At night, suburban side streets become routes of shameful escape for fathers trying to get outside the radius of affliction.

With Claire nearing collapse, it seems their only means of survival is to flee from their daughter, Esther, who laughs at her parents’ sickness, unaware that in just a few years she, too, will be susceptible to the language toxicity. But Sam and Claire find it isn’t so easy to leave the daughter they still love, even as they waste away from her malevolent speech. On the eve of their departure, Claire mysteriously disappears, and Sam, determined to find a cure for this new toxic language, presses on alone into a world beyond recognition.

Here’s James Fearnley’s new single, “Hey Ho”. Another beautiful love story.

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Fun Thing of the Day

From The New Zealand Book Council

I am not ashamed to confess that I was not immune to the requisite (sadly, misguided) Che Guevara phase most people of my generation went (are still going) through. By phase, I mean reading and rereading everything about and by him and maybe, possibly, having too many dreams in which he led (with me in tow) the revolution at my middle school. I was slightly more tolerable, I suppose, than my contemporaries, who did not read the books, did not know the history, but did own 5 different t-shirts with his face emblazoned on them… and wore these in rotation, proudly. But only slightly more tolerable than them. All this to say, watching this video did not remind me that I wish I could do something about Cuba, or immediately bring to mind the UN speech I nearly memorized,  or the photos of Aleida I scrutinized. Instead, it transported me back into my 13-year old body, and made me feel almost exactly what it felt like to read his biography. It was an unexpected, fleeting, and incredibly surprising experience. Watching this video about the book that shaped this man caused me to relive what it felt like to be shaped by a book about this man. You see where I’m going with this?

All in all, I am now convinced, thanks to this video, that books are cool!


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Slasher Films and Wine

It’s that time of year again; the lonely will feel lonelier, the coupled should might start to wonder why they don’t celebrate their love more often than a day a year. Also, flowers. Lots of flowers will be cut and if I could, I’d organize a field trip to the city dump sometime around February 21st… just to see how it looks under a blanket of flowers. I know, I’m such a romantic!

We’ve been wondering how our customers plan to spend Valentine’s Day this year. Here’s what they say:

Watching every episode of “Downtown Abbey” and pretending I am Mary Crawley.

…With a bottle of wine and my cat. I’m not bitter.

…A nice dinner with the love of my life, my mom!

…Chocolates, Roses and Champagne. Sharing it with the woman I love.

…Fantasizing about a future romantic Valentine’s Day.

…A gift exchange at a quiet dinner. Driving home the long way, holding hands in the dark. Getting home and cuddling on the couch with an old movie.

…Romance to me: Wine and “Mortal Kombat”.

…Cuddling with my dog, then shopping, then a good book and some tea. Forever alone.

…Watching “Back to the Future”!!!

…In a bubble bath, with wine and a good book– alone. I’m not bitter either.

…Some Marvin Gaye and Chardonnay.

…Not Alone.

…At an animal shelter, giving love to all the animals.

…With my best friends.

…I’m going to spend it with my 14-year old daughter. Take her on a “date”, pull out her chair, open her door, tell her she’s beautiful.

…Writing my husband a poem for each year we’ve been married.

…I plan to stay in bed all day.

…I’ll be romancing myself.

…Mountaintop. Guitar. Brownies. His voice.

…Braiding her hair.

…Making up songs, singing them. Dancing. Being quiet and still. Not fighting. Remembering how it could be.

Photo above: Chic, hand-stitched, Parisian headband. One of a kind… and we have many different kinds. I’ll be spending Valentine’s Day prancing around with one of these on!

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Happy New Year

It’s a new day… and it’s a new year. From all of us at Portrait, may yours be filled with recognizable moments of joy, at least a tolerable slew of successes, good health and good reading.

To start the year off right, some make resolutions, others clean out the closet, still others make an effort to fly back from their vacations with optimism.

We are having a…

See you soon!

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