American Housewife

1488342289855

 

I was browsing in Powell’s City of Books, when Helen Ellis’ short story collection, American Housewife, leaped off of the shelf, demanding to be read. Just take a minute to admire the awesome cover. It looks just like a photograph of my mom from the 50’s. if my mom had cotton candy hair. Those glasses, that tangerine sweater-set, the enormous curlers = if a book can be judged by its cover ( and I like to judge), I know that Ellis’ stories are going to take me on a fun ride.

PLOT American Housewife is Helen Ellis’ collection of short stories, all involving the title subject. What defines an American housewife? Ellis’ housewives are smart, snarky, and occasionally highly disturbed.

LIKE– Ellis is a fabulous writer with a gift for crafting unique sentences. For example, here is a sentence regarding the discovery of a new independent bookstore, that absolutely delighted me: from How to Be a Patron of the Arts =

It’s like you’ve found a unicorn grazing next to the dry cleaner that a friend told you could get cat barf out of cashmere.

It made me laugh-out-loud-

For five minutes-

In an airport.

Ellis fills all of her stories with this type of humor. There wasn’t a single clunker in the collection, but there were standouts. Here are the ones that I thought were stellar.

What I Do All Day – A less than three page laundry list of the activities that the narrator does in her typical day as a housewife. It’s hilarious, but what I admired most is Ellis’ pacing, and the way her story builds to the climax of forced dinner party conversation. As an American housewife myself, I found the idea of justifying my day to be extremely relatable.

Dumpster Diving with the Stars – The narrator, a not-quite-famous writer, goes on a reality show that involves dumpster diving and challenges akin to Antiques Roadshow. I loved all of the pop-culture references, including John Lithgow as a contestant. The title rocks, and makes me wonder if a show like this has ever been pitched. Yes, is the likely answer.

The Fitter – The narrator’s husband is a famous bra fitter, with women angling to make him their next husband, while his wife is near death, after first having a mastectomy. Although there is humor in this story, it was very dark, and the emotional pain of the narrator was palpable. The ending was very much a surprise.

My Novel is Brought to you by the Good People at Tampax – A cautionary tale of an author who signs a contract with Tampax to endorse their products in her novel, and then faces a combination of writer’s block and procrastination. She learns that Tampax will not accept excuses, and that not just her writing, but basically her life, is theirs, until she fulfills her contractural obligation. This made me feel paranoid about my own writing schedule. Miley Cyrus and Paula Deen make appearances as poster-children for reinvention.

DISLIKE– Nothing. American Housewife is a highly-entertaining collection by a gifted writer.

RECOMMEND– YES!!! Helen Ellis is a treasure, and I will be on alert for more of her stories. I can’t recommend this author or American Housewife, enough. A fabulous story collection!

Our Visit to Amazon Books

1484608207725

After nearly a week of cabin fever due to Portland’s “Snowpocalypse,” Dan and I decided to risk icy roads and drive to the Washington Square Mall. We are still fairly new to Portland and this was our first visit to the Washington Square Mall, which is fabulous. I was pleased to see many of my favorite stores, including an enormous Nordstrom. However, our specific purpose was to check out Amazon Books, the third in a growing chain of traditional “Brick and Mortar” bookstores that Amazon.com has opened.

I feel it’s safe to say that most people in the book community, whether they are book lovers or industry professionals, would vehemently agree that “Print is Not Dead,” and to that end, the idea of new bookstores opening is a happy sign. However, when I attended the 2016 AWP Conference, there was a lot of buzz regarding Amazon and worries over what their new bookstores would do to our beloved independent bookstores. Is there room for both to co-exist?

My initial impression of Amazon Books is that it’s incredibly welcoming and inviting. The store was full of shoppers, but the aisles are easy to navigate and the products are spaciously displayed. Nothing is crammed or out of place. Amazon Books was impeccably organized.1484609437165

Notice that all of the books face-forward? This is throughout the entire store, with every book. Recently, I had the pleasure of reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Clothing of Books, in it, Lahiri writes about moving abroad, and since she has so few posessions in her new home, she faces her books forward, using the covers as art. It forced her to really think about book covers; what goes into making them, and how they represent what is between those covers. I thought of Lahiri as I browsed, really taking a look at all the beautiful covers and noting how certain authors have become so recognizable from the style of their covers, with a font or palette that is used from book to book.

 

Facing the books forward, also limits the space for inventory. Amazon Books is a carefully curated store, and the stock seems to be exclusively popular books and classics. The thing I love most about browsing in an independent bookstore, is the odd-ball discoveries, the books from small presses or ones that the owner of the store stocks out of love. I like the sense of risk in stocking books that are not well-known or already popular. This isn’t to say that I don’t read plenty of bestsellers, I do, however it’s not as much fun to browse amongst bestsellers. The sections of a bookstore that I usually shop from are Fiction, Travel, and Non-Fiction/Memoir; in Amazon Books, I was familiar with a majority of the books stocked in these sections. I saw plenty that I wanted to buy, but I didn’t have a single discovery. This made me realize that Amazon Books is not directly competing with the independent Bookstores that I treasure. If anything, they are more closely competing with Barnes and Noble, which may have more stock, but is not nearly as pleasant of a shopping experience. I’ve not visited a Barnes and Noble in Oregon, but the ones that I had near my home in California, were always messy and increasingly filled with non-book related items.

I appreciate that Amazon Books has sections dedicated to local authors and employee recommendations. Although it’s primarily a place for bestsellers, it’s not devoid of a personal touch.

What about the Kindle? I was a reluctant Kindle owner, when a first generation Kindle was gifted to me from my aunt and uncle in 2008. My aunt worshipped at the shrine of Oprah, and when Oprah featured the Kindle on her annual Oprah’s Favorite Things, my aunt immediately called Amazon and got on a waitlist. When I opened my present on Christmas, I had no idea what I was holding. I had never heard of the Kindle. My aunt, by no means a technology expert, was chuffed to have presented me with not only the year’s hottest gadget, but one that was book related. She spent the rest of her life gloating about being in “the know” about the Kindle, before her young-ish niece.

I say I was reluctant, because I didn’t want to give up my physical books. I barely used that first generation Kindle. It took me years to realize that e-readers are awesome for travel, and easier to read in bed. I’m now on my fourth Kindle and I’m a fan. Amazon Books dedicates a small corner of their store to Kindles, and other Amazon technology, like Alexa ( Alexa has been another woman in our house for over a year, we love her). What’s great about this, is it serves as a place to go with your Kindle questions or problems. Sometimes it’s just nice to get help from a human standing in front of you, rather than dealing with customer service over the phone. In a clever move, Kindles are set up around the store, so that you can check one out, without feeling like an employee is hovering. This said, I found all of the staff to be friendly and helpful, without giving any type of sales pitch.

All of this sounds great, but what about prices? If you are a member of Amazon Prime, you will get the same price as Amazon.com. If you’re not a Prime member, the price was as marked on the book, which I found a little high. Price checkers are scattered throughout the store. Like the stock market, the prices on Amazon.com are always shifting. The Amazon Prime price is where Amazon Books destroys other bookstores. Unless a book is on special offer, it’s rare to see prices quite this low. Also, it seems that the Kindle prices are often higher than the print prices.

 

Check-out was a breeze. I used the same credit card that I normally use for my Amazon Prime purchases and my account was located immediately. An email receipt was sent, without me having to provide any additional information.

1484611402226

I purchased Paul Beatty’s novel, The Sellout, and the book was automatically removed from my Amazon Wishlist.

1484611493973

I was impressed with Amazon Books. The store is inviting and a pleasant browsing experience. The prices cannot be beat, yet I’m relieved that they are currently not positioning themselves to compete with the things that I love about my indy bookstores. I feel like each has their own place and each can gain my business for different reasons. The world is a better place for having more bookstores.