Category Archives: Bits and Bobs

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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“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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