Category Archives: Bits and Bobs

Take me home!

Austin Kleon, of Newspaper Blackout fame, gives you permission to steal. He also tells you what’s good stealing and what’s stupid stealing. Also, why you’re stealing even if you don’t know you’re stealing. And, importantly, how to get out of your own way while stealing. In Steal Like an Artist, a tiny adorable book with lots o’ drawings, Kleon shares maxims, tips, quotes, anecdotes, rules… inspirations(!) for the creative person.  For those who need permission to screw up and write/paint/dream/grow/      insert creative verb here      drivel before they produce the masterpiece each of us is capable of (it’s okay, even I can’t tell if I’m being ironic here.)


Here’s Ray Bradbury in 2008  for The Big Read, presented by the National Endowment for the Arts. Definitely worth eight minutes out of your life.


The Guardian, inspired by Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing, asked some authors for theirs. Here’s Geoff Dyer’s list. Click here for the rest.

1 Never worry about the commercial possibilities of a project. That stuff is for agents and editors to fret over – or not. Conversation with my American publisher. Me: “I’m writing a book so boring, of such limited commercial appeal, that if you publish it, it will probably cost you your job.” Publisher: “That’s exactly what makes me want to stay in my job.”

2 Don’t write in public places. In the early 1990s I went to live in Paris. The usual writerly reasons: back then, if you were caught writing in a pub in England, you could get your head kicked in, whereas in Paris, dans les cafés . . . Since then I’ve developed an aversion to writing in public. I now think it should be done only in private, like any other lavatorial activity.

3 Don’t be one of those writers who sentence themselves to a lifetime of sucking up to Nabokov.

4 If you use a computer, constantly refine and expand your autocorrect settings. The only reason I stay loyal to my piece-of-shit computer is that I have invested so much ingenuity into building one of the great auto­correct files in literary history. Perfectly formed and spelt words emerge from a few brief keystrokes: “Niet” becomes “Nietzsche”, “phoy” becomes  ­”photography” and so on. ­Genius!

5 Keep a diary. The biggest regret of my writing life is that I have never kept a journal or a diary.

6 Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire.

7 Have more than one idea on the go at any one time. If it’s a choice between writing a book and doing nothing I will always choose the latter. It’s only if I have an idea for two books that I choose one rather than the other. I ­always have to feel that I’m bunking off from something.

8 Beware of clichés. Not just the ­clichés that Martin Amis is at war with. There are clichés of response as well as expression. There are clichés of observation and of thought – even of conception. Many novels, even quite a few adequately written ones, are ­clichés of form which conform to clichés of expectation.

9 Do it every day. Make a habit of putting your observations into words and gradually this will become instinct. This is the most important rule of all and, naturally, I don’t follow it.

10 Never ride a bike with the brakes on. If something is proving too difficult, give up and do something else. Try to live without resort to per­severance. But writing is all about ­perseverance. You’ve got to stick at it. In my 30s I used to go to the gym even though I hated it. The purpose of ­going to the gym was to postpone the day when I would stop going. That’s what writing is to me: a way of ­postponing the day when I won’t do it any more, the day when I will sink into a depression so profound it will be indistinguishable from perfect bliss.


From a section titled Daily Program:

Mornings: If groggy, type notes and allocate, as stimulus.

If in fine fettle, write.

Evenings: See friends. Read in cafes.

Explore unfamiliar sections- on foot if wet, on bicycle if dry.

Write, if in mood, but only on Minor program.

Paint if empty or tired.

Make Notes. Make charts, plans. Make corrections of MS.

Note: Allow sufficient time during daylight to make an occasional visit to museums or an occasional sketch or an occasional bike ride…

Henry Miller’s Commandment #5:

When you can’t create you can work.


Did you know that the most creative companies have centralized bathrooms? That brainstorming meetings are a terrible idea? That the color blue can help you double your creative output?

I didn’t. But I do now, because I read this book. And today I am one book smarter than I was two days ago. What is smart, anyway? This book answers that question, too. Pretty good book,  wouldn’t you say?


In conclusion, watch this. Ideas are such funny little guys.

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Tails I win, Heads you lose.

UNESCO voted to admit Palestine. As a result, the US pulled all funding. Gabon, a country the size of most Americans’ closets, pledged $2 million to UNESCO. There’s a law involved. Also, a good measure of some serious politicking. If you want to learn more, see here, or, you know, just Google it. Your head will spin. 

It’s unlikely that the US pulled funding in order to punish innocent children desperately in need of resources. It’s also unlikely that Gabon is taking the money out of its own people’s hands solely for the purpose of helping the aforementioned children. This whole thing is about something totally different and it has nothing to do with children or education or hungry, displaced people or the futures of these… Except those are the very things it affects.

In order to laugh hard enough to confuse your tears away, please watch this and this.

So far, we have collected (and ourselves donated) ten boxes of children’s books to send to the school in South Africa where Katie Roberts is volunteering. We continue to add to our growing stacks and implore you to let your friends and family know about this cause. The only problem is, we can’t send these books until the fund, called Siphumelela, collects $16,000. So far, just $5,945 has been amassed. To learn more about this, please click Here.

There are too many laws, too many agendas, too many codes of morality to contend with. All we can do is act ourselves in whatever way we’re able to, for whatever cause it is that moves us.

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the bursting-ness of the season

“Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night.”

~Rainer Maria Rilke

Three favorite spring poems that make me feel the ripe bursting-ness of the season, I always re-read these around Easter/Passover time, and give them as gifts, folded up in eggs. 

Manley Hopkins was a Jesuit priest, but he didn’t miss the deliciously sexual nature of the season in this poem, and I’ve always loved how contagious the joy in it is. You really must read it aloud, it’s even more luscious than chocolate bunny ears in your mouth.
by Gerard Manley Hopkins
Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –
   When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
   Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
   The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
   The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.
What is all this juice and all this joy?
   A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,
   Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
   Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.
And this one because I dare you to read it and not go skipping down the street.

[in Just-]
by e.e. cummings
in Just-
spring          when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman

whistles          far          and wee

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old balloonman whistles
far          and             wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and




balloonMan          whistles


While the other two poems are about the wild, sprawling, juicy nature of spring, this one is about the perfection, the hush, the quiet majesty of blooming and beginning.
[Spring is like a perhaps hand]
by e.e. cummings
from The Complete Poems : 1904-1962
Spring is like a perhaps hand
(which comes carefully
out of Nowhere)arranging
a window,into which people look(while
people stare
arranging and changing placing
carefully there a strange
thing and a known thing here)andchanging everything carefully

spring is like a perhaps
Hand in a window
(carefully to
and fro moving New and
Old things,while
people stare carefully
moving a perhaps
fraction of flower here placing
an inch of air there)and

without breaking anything.

Spring is one of the four most wonderful seasons of the year. We love it as much as Summer, Fall and Winter here at Portrait, and we invite you to celebrate it with us as we share the art and literature that encapsulate what spring means to each of us. What whispers or roars “Spring” to you?

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Oh rapture!! Today is National Pie Day.  Well, not precisely.  Really, it’s National Pi Day, in honor of the mathematical constant π (3/14, get it?) however, we pie people are not about to pass up this onomatopoetic opportunity to adore pie. This magnificent mash-up of two of humanity’s greatest achievements was obvious to the math geeks too, since pi day’s originator, Larry Shaw, physicist at the San Francisco Exploratorium, designed the festivities to include marching around one of the Exploratorium’s circular rooms, and then…what else…consuming fruit pies!  This started in 1988.  The U.S. Congress voted it as a National Day in 2009, and more likely celebrated it by throwing pies at each other.

It’s a gorgeous spring day here in Southern California.  A perfect day to make a pie – sunny and inspirational yet fresh and cool enough to help keep gluten in check for the perfect flaky crust.  I made a pie last night, in anticipation of the day, because really there is no more ambrosial and fortifying breakfast than apple pie. This was a homey Apple Dumpling pie from Anne Dimmock’s little gem, Humble Pie.  It has some family heirloom recipes, but really it’s a read-it-again-and-again “Ode to Pie” – the Zen of making pie crust, the politics of pie, state fair pie competitions, the kinship between pie and baseball, and (something every woman should know and practice) judging a man’s character according to his pie protocol.  Her story about the mechanics who got her back on the road after a weekend breakdown and signaled with their deeply longing glances that no fee could equal the value of one of the two freshly baked family-destined pies waiting in the back seat confirms my own experience.  There is no end to the all-round helpfulness and joyous brotherhood of mankind that a home-baked pie will provoke.

The American Pie Council has declared January 23 as the non-mathematical, wholly pie-devoted National Pie Day.  Save that date for next year, and rejoice that there are several π/pie dates coming up in April and July.  Vicious in-fighters that they are, scholars have competing theories of most-appropriate pi dates.  All that could ever amuse and educate you on this subject is here  – on the Real Pi Day website, which declares that Pi day “should not be tied to the grubby political vagaries that resulted in the Gregorian calendar’s accidents of number.”  (ref. U.S. Congress, above).  We pie enthusiasts aren’t going to quibble; we’ll eat pie on all of these candidate days, and April is so packed with pi/pie possibilities (the 16th, 26th, and 29th)  that I’m going to go ahead and declare it National Pie Month.  July offers Pi Approximation Day, held on July 22 since the fraction 22/7 is a common approximation of π.  Pie thanks its kissin’ cousin Pi for all this bounty. We’ll pie-party on like an ancient Egyptian with a nut-and-honey galette, a Roman with his placenta, a Medieval Englishman dreaming of coffyns, traps, and pyes, and our 21st century PIES!


P.S. After more than 200 years in print, Encyclopedia Britannica will never again see another print edition. Just think, you’re like the guy on whose watch the pager became obsolete. Lucky you. Nevertheless, let us observe a moment of silence, please.


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Oh, happy day

These images are of the stunning greeting and note cards by Lumia Designs, the work of Suzanne Karlson (one of our Portraiteers!) You must visit the website, here, to see all the designs. They are all handmade, using images from vintage ephemera and fine, elegant fairy dust, otherwise known as glitter.

We are so happy to announce that you can now order custom Lumia note cards directly from us at the bookstore. Note cards with your own name on them, or the name of a friend for whom these would be a gift, or a message of your choosing, along with one of many enchanting images.

For some afternoon fun:

Revisit these bookstores!

Watch and have a think about this!

And, totally unrelated, this, too!

This one is for you if you need just one more thing to make today worthwhile. Also, this!

For a list of the 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award Winners, see this. To read them, come see us!

Happy Weekend, Everyone.

P.S. This weekend is a fabulous time to do some Spring Cleaning, don’t you think? And, when you’re at it, no doubt you’ll find an old book or two your kids have grown out of. When you do, won’t you please bring them to us so we can send them to South Africa?

P.P.S. If you haven’t read Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, by Alexandra Fuller, you simply must remedy that. I mean it!

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to decrease the volume and mass of objects at will — part one

On March 4th,  published an article by Julie Bosman and Matt Richtel. Here it is. I’ll wait for you here as you follow that link to read it.

For those of you who don’t like to do something else when you’re still in the middle of an original something, this is how the article begins: 

“Can you concentrate on Flaubert when Facebook is only a swipe away, or give your true devotion to Mr. Darcy while Twitter beckons? People who read e-books on tablets like the iPad are realizing that while a book in print or on a black-and-white Kindle is straightforward and immersive, a tablet offers a menu of distractions that can fragment the reading experience, or stop it in its tracks.”

At this juncture in my reading experience I felt a not-exactly-pleasant flutter somewhere deep inside me announce itself sheepishly. As I read on, it just got more obnoxious. Something I couldn’t  put my finger on was making me feel physically sick. Eventually,  it was unmistakable; I was angry. Angry, I think, that it’s a real enough situation to come to the attention of the NYTimes, to be researched, for subjects and sources to be found and interviewed. I knew this was a problem for writers. Most writers these days  need to purchase an application to keep them away from the internet when they’re tearing their hair out… or procrastinating. But readers? Readers too? This is the part that floored me. You ready?

“With so many distractions, my taste in books has really leveled up,” Ms. Faulk, [a voracious reader from Los Angeles, says.]  “Recently, I gravitate to books that make me forget I have a world of entertainment at my fingertips. If the book’s not good enough to do that, I guess my time is better spent.”

Exhibit B: This morning I drove by two billboards, which stood facing each other. (I swear to you I am not making this up.They were billboards and they were facing each other, directly on opposite sides of the same street.) Here’s an artist’s (my) rendition (sort of) of what they looked like. I did not  make up the text.

Boys and girls, on one hand we have ceaseless, simultaneously exciting and anesthetizing video games, and on the other good, old fashioned reading, achieved by mental exertion of the kind utilized in school. You choose! It suddenly dawned on me: you don’t need to read books to enter new worlds anymore. There are far easier, much more vivid, more instantly gratifying, more immersive, interactive, stimulating ways by which to enter new worlds. In fact, these worlds are 3D and you can decide which rock to peer under and which to throw in the lake and how many ripples it’ll make when you do. So, if reading is nothing more than a hobby, in the same category as video game playing, karate, movie-going, crocheting and TV-watching, then it is the least exciting of all your options. Or, at the very least, it’s the one with the least amount of fun involved. Gone are the days, in short, of enticing your children by dangling “unexplored worlds” and “adventure” in front of them. They chew up and spit out adventure now like it’s Halloween candy.

That a book is not worth spending time on if it isn’t __________ enough to distract us from the innumerable other forms of entertainment “at our fingertips”, is something you can say only if you view reading as a form of entertainment. This is why it made me angry. Because I don’t view reading as solely a way to entertain myself… nor as solely a way to inform myself nor as solely a way to educate myself (remember when there was a difference between information and education?)

The kid standing between the two billboards, each promising the same thing, will always (unless he’s the exception) choose the video game. The “voracious” reader who expects to be entertained on par with the exploits on YouTube or Facebook or even The Paris Review or a story or video on, will always x-out of the window , scroll out of the e-book, put the book down in favor of these.

The promises we make about reading literature are no longer serving us, in short. The problem is not with video games or the internet and the myriad fascinating things that are found there; nor is it with so called mindless entertainment (don’t get me started on how much better “mindless” is than some of what’s treated as high art in these parts and others!) The problem is also not the tablet or e-reader or whatever else they’re called. The problem is that we’ve forgotten how to read. We’ve forgotten why we read. And because we have forgotten, we encourage little ones (who eventually become adults, let me add) using all the wrong arguments. Arguments that in and of themselves reveal the wrongest, most empty conceptual foundation. To have a more agile mind, you’re better off studying mathematics, critical thinking, doing puzzles. To “enter new worlds” and “travel anywhere you want instantly”, you’re better off popping in a DVD (watch this, for example, and tell me when the last time was a book made you feel like this does). To “walk in another man’s shoes” you’re way better off playing a role playing game online, where you almost literally get to walk in another (wo)man’s shoes. The virtues of just about every other hobby far outweigh those of book-reading. Except, reading should not and, in truth, cannot, be compared with any other activity. Herein lies the problem.

What is reading, you ask, if not any of that? Good question.

I’d answer it, except my husband, who is in the next room, just emailed me a link to this video on YouTube and I’d far prefer to watch it instead, right after I text him the menu for dinner tonight.


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make us happy in the happy bees

“Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night.”

~Rainer Maria Rilke

Winnie the Pooh inspires springiness in Donna.

 “It used to be Winnie the Pooh when the kids and grand kids were young… all the foolishness in the forest.”

“How sweet to be a Cloud
Floating in the Blue!
Every little cloud
Always sings aloud.”

“Pooh bear floating with a balloon carrying him close to the bees…that’s spring to me.”


The Velveteen Rabbit makes Karen “feel happy and spring-like.”

Why? “Because it’s the bunny crucifixion,” of course.

As the Skin Horse says, “‘Real isn’t how you are made,’… ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'”


Julie loves Robert Frost’s “A Prayer in Spring”.

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.

For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfil.

Spring is one of the four most wonderful seasons of the year. We love it as much as Summer, Fall and Winter here at Portrait, and we invite you to celebrate it with us as we share the art and literature that encapsulate what spring means to each of us. What whispers “Spring” to you?

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Bookishness Elsewhere…and a Rant

“The Wonderful and Terrible Habit of Buying Too Many Books”– Gabe Habash laments and rejoices (all at once) in his disgusting addiction.


Ann Patchett thinks that the possibility of interaction with “smart people” is a pretty good reason to choose independent bookstores over everybody else. I couldn’t agree more. Especially since everyone I’ve ever met in a bookstore was a genius, not including a cat or two.


Wendy MacLeod, writing for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, answers some frequently asked questions about poetry, here. For example, the oft-posed question which has irked many a life traveler: “Why do people go to poetry readings?” Answer:  “…Some go because it makes them look arty and deep. But most use poetry readings as a gentle, non-addictive sleep aid.”


On May 7, 2011 (okay, so this isn’t exactly breaking news,) Robert Krulwich gave the commencement address at Berkeley School of Journalism. If you haven’t read the transcript, here it is. Do yourself a favor and read it. Then write yourself a thank you note.


Here’s something interesting. A book recommendation website specifically for 20-somethings, called 20Something Reads. Presumably, every newly-released book with romance and/or violence in it will be found here. Or not. I don’t know. Mainly because I don’t understand the distinction. Cleopatra is on the Spring Break 2012 reading list, along with Blood, Bones and Butter and Stories I Only Tell My Friends, Rob Lowe’s autobiography. Also, Bond Girl. I guess it’s safe to say there won’t be books about euthanasia here, but that’s about all I can safely say. Because, after all, after “Young Adult” there is only “Adult” and there is a reason for that. Is the idea here that the twenties are only a hop and a skip away from the teens, whereas starting in the thirties, you’re a whole country apart? If so, (and, mostly, this is certainly true of the early twenties, when you’re no more than a teenager with responsibilities,) I still want to know what makes a normal twentysomething. Who are twentysomethings? 25-year olds with toddlers? 28-year olds living in their parents’ basements? Mark Zuckerberg? Jeanette Winterson? Are twentysomethings of this generation more or less worldly than those of the previous? What does “worldly” even mean anymore when a version of this world is at everyone’s fingertips now? I suppose twentysomethings will choose and review the books featured here, and that will make them books for twentysomethings. Maybe that’s all there is to it.


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Rah rah racker rah. Rah rah racker rah. Rah rah racker rah. Rah rah racker rah!

“Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night.”

~Rainer Maria Rilke

May was my month. A stolen month because it wasn’t meant to be mine. August was meant to be my month. But I was born three months early, which suited me just fine. May was when the daffodils appeared and the Hawthorne trees bloomed. My middle name was Hawthorne. Jewell Hawthorne. It was fairly obvious to me, therefore, that the white blossoms that covered the trees all around Sunny Hill Farm were meant for me, were mine only, were mine alone. So when the page on the miniature calendar that dangled from a string at our kitchen window was torn off  and the month of May appeared in all its splendor, my heart skipped more happily than during any other month of the year.

By the age of nine I had figured out that making my own birthday plans was the thing to do. And so, the tradition of inviting my best friends Sally, Sydney and Christy over for a three-day sleep-out began. Starting on the first day of spring we would sit together mornings and afternoons on the school train and, as the old cars shook their way up and down The Main Line of  tracks that reached from Paoli to Philadelphia, we curled up on the velvet seats, our uniform blazers and canvas book bags thrown aside, and made lists of what we would need and things we would do.

My birthday event would begin on a Friday afternoon in the middle of the month, come rain or shine, and run through to Sunday afternoon. The first thing we would do was set up my parents’ old canvas tent far from the house in the back pasture up on the hill and under a blossoming Hawthorne that overlooked the muddy pond below. We had ice chests filled with eggs, bacon and liverwurst, a cast iron frying pan for cooking, and a wood crate to protect our loaves of bread and bags of potato chips from the raccoons, possums and foxes that came our way in the dark of the night. Cans of Dinny More stew were stacked for our dinners and, of course, there were sweet, gooey Twinkies with candles for the day itself. Our four ponies tethered nearby, we had only to reach out to touch their soft doughy noses whenever we felt like it.

Each day we woke up with the sun and every night we lay flat like pancakes under the stars and talked about our wild dreams. In between, we went for long rides on our ponies, starting out on the old dirt road behind the farm and then climbing up the hills to the forest above, where we raced along the winding paths, jumping fallen branches that blocked our way. Nothing held us back. We were brave as thieves stealing time not intended to be ours. We had school exams coming up, all kinds of weekend commitments like dance classes, pony club, lessons of all kinds that we had skipped out on. We were kings, the special ones. We owned it all up there in the forest, secluded from the rest of the world. We would scream out nonsense words like Rah rah racker rah and guttersnipeat at the top of our lungs as we galloped along, avoiding low-hung branches by wrapping ourselves flat against our ponies’ necks.

When we’d reach a spot in the woods where warm beams filtered down through the treetops and found us, we would slide from our ponies, exhausted, and spread ourselves out in the sun, outstretched hands touching hands so that we were all connected, and fall asleep. We went for late night swims in the muddy pond, tripping down the hill from our tent, naked as jaybirds, and canonballing in. We would emerge shivering and shaking with the hairs on our legs and arms standing straight up like sharp pins and then we rolled ourselves dry in the pasture grass and huddled together into a single figure, our breathing soft and kind, our hearts beating like soft drums in the still of the night.

April showers, then May flowers. May was my month. It was in the month of May that tenderness and a deep longing first entered my life.

–excerpt from work in progress tentatively titled, An Unexpected Life

by Julie Mannix von Zerneck

a.k.a Mama Portrait

Spring is one of the four most wonderful seasons of the year. We love it as much as Summer, Fall and Winter here at Portrait, and we invite you to celebrate it with us as we share the art and literature that encapsulate what spring means to each of us. What whispers “Spring” to you?

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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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