Wednesday, May 27, 2009

2009 Up-and-Coming Paperbacks

In conjunction with our Paperback Catalog, we have recently added several new titles to our ever-growing collection of paperback books based on suggestions
from our customers.

With everything from graphic novels depicting the turbulent years surrounding the Iranian Revolution, to a fable depicting a naïve German boy’s view of the Holocaust, to a nonfiction selection about a young man living life to the fullest while faced with leukemia, there is sure to be a title that will hold your students' attention!



Boy in the
Cuba 15


in Cuban

Banner in
the Sky

Before We
Were Free

The Hours

My Louisiana

A Thousand
Splendid Suns

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Tuesday Trivia

  1. Which well-known 20th century, British author held his first civilian job after WWI was at the offices of the Oxford English Dictionary as an etymologist?
  2. How many years did it take for the Guinness Book of World Records take to “get into itself” by setting a record as the fastest-selling book in the world?
  3. Who is the top-selling English-language author of all time?
  4. Which classical Roman poet left instructions to burn his masterwork when he died because he didn’t have time to polish it?
  5. Which Jerzy Kosinski novel is based on his unexpected stopover in New York on a flight from Los Angeles to Paris?

Last Week’s Answers

Who is the most successful textbook author of all time?

Elements, by Euclid, was written circa 300 B.C. and has gone through more than 1,000 editions since the invention of printing.

When was the first cookbook published?

In 62 A.D., De Re Coquinaria was published by the Roman Apicius and described the feasts enjoyed by the Emperor Claudius.

Who, according to popular opinion at the time, was the most famous and important playwright in the Elizabethian age?

Thomas Watson was one of the most popular and important playwrights in the Elizabethan age, but sadly, none of his works survive today.

The moons of all planets except for Uranus are named after Greek gods. What are the moons of Uranus named after?

The moons of Uranus named after literary characters. Ariel, Umbriel, and Belinda from Pope’s The Rape of the Lock, and a variety of Shakespeare characters including Titania, Oberon, and Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Ariel, Miranda, Caliban, Sycorax, Prospero, Setebos, Stephano, Trinculo, Francisco, and Ferdinand from The Tempest, Cordelia from King Lear, Ophelia from Hamlet, Bianca from The Taming of the Shrew, Cressida from Troilus and Cressida, Juliet and Mab from Romeo and Juliet, Portia from The Merchant of Venice, Rosalind from As You Like It, Margaret from Much Ado About Nothing, Perdita from The Winter’s Tale, and Cupid from Timon of Athens.

Where does A.A. Milne’s classic children’s character, Winnie-the-Pooh, get his name?

Winnie-the-Pooh is based on a real bear. In 1914, Harry Colebourn, a Canadian soldier and veterinarian purchased an orphaned black bear cub in White River, Ontario, which he named Winnipeg, or “Winnie” for short. During his service in World War I, Colebourn loaned Winnie to the London Zoo, where she became the zoo's top attraction.

In the 1920's, Milne often took his son, Christopher Robin, to the zoo, so it was no surprise when Christopher named his teddy bear "Winnie-the-Pooh" after Winnie. And thus, A. A. Milne went on to write several well-loved children's books about Christopher Robin and Winnie-the-Pooh.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

A few weeks ago, General Manager, Keith Bergstrom had an idea for a blog post surrounding a little annual event called the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. I had never heard of it, but after doing a little research, I am a little bit in love with this quirky, tongue-in-cheek literary competition.

The line, "It was a dark and stormy night...," a facet of pop culture that is found everywhere from Charles Schultz's classic Peanuts cartoons to the "LOLcats" of, was written by Bulwer-Lytton. It is arguably one of the worst opening lines for a story in the history of mankind, and this contest is a chance for contestants to see if they can come up with a one-sentence opener that is more awful than the original.

To give you an idea of what a submission might look like, here are a few of the winners from 2008.

“Theirs was a New York love, a checkered taxi ride burning rubber, and like the city their passion was opne 24/7, steam rising from their bodies like slick streets exhaling warm, moist, white breath through manhole covers stamped 'Forged by DeLaney Bros. Piscataway, N.J."

Garrison Spik
Washington, D.C.

"Leopold looked up at the arrow piercing the skin of the dirigible with a sort of wondrous dismay -- the wheezy shriek was just the sort of sound he always imagined a baby moose being beaten with a pair of accordions might make.”

Shannon Wedge
New Hampshire

“Mike Hummer had been a private detective so long he could remember Preparation A, his hair reminded everyone of a rat who'd bitten into an electrical cord, but he could still run faster than greased owl snot when he was on a bad guy's trail, and they said his friskings were a lot like getting a vasectomy at Sears.”

Robert B. Robeson
Lincoln, Nebraska

“Bill swore the affair had ended, but Louise knew he was lying, after discovering Tupperware containers under the seat of his car, which were not the off-brand containers that she bought to save money, but authentic, burpable, lidded Tupperware; and she knew he would see that woman again, because unlike the flimsy, fake containers that should always be recycled responsibly, real Tupperware must be returned to its rightful owner.”

Jeanne Villa
Novato, CA

Since the first call for entries in 1982, the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest has been sponsored by the English Department at San Jose State University including creator Professor Scott Rice.

Rice first came across Bulwer-Lytton’s “dark and stormy night” line during graduate school research and after being “Conscripted numerous times to be a judge in writing contests that were, in effect, bad writing contests but with prolix, overlong, and generally lengthy submissions, he [Rice] struck upon the idea of holding a competition that would be honest and -- best of all -- invite brief entries. Furthermore, it had the ancillary advantage of one day allowing him to write about himself in the third person."

So in the spirit of Bulwer-Lytton, a handful of Prestwick House employees (myself included) ahve created a few openers of our own.

“There is the outer space that contains moons, stars, planets, black holes and such that we are all familiar with from watching TV, but there is also an outer space of the soul, with its own collection of emotional COMSATs and frozen cosmonaut urine in decaying orbit around our superego planets, and it was into this inner outer space that Crosby Lamont Burlingame was about to step, leaving the airlock of his daily routine, with only about ten minutes of emotional oxygen.”

Jason Scott


“On the first day, the teacher announced to her freshman, ‘In your English compositions while in my class, there will be no vulgarity, pornographic words, cursing, scatological references, smuttiness, indecencies, profanity, swearing, expletives, crude sexual comments, or redundancies unless you want to fail your English compositions while in my class.’”

Paul Moliken

Senior Editor

“Dobek Matthews—who had spent his entire life dreaming about creating a cinematic masterpiece titled Man Under Parasol, composed of exactly one hour and forty-three minutes of mental patients strolling with umbrellas in the midst of epileptic seizures, convulsing like banana-wielding raptor machines to the soothing sounds of classical music—was wholly disheartened when the big-shot producer, after insinuating that the only artistic endeavor Dobek was fit for was either drawing Hitler moustaches in permanent marker on unsuspecting victims or portraying the rear end of a panto cow, didn’t even take time to draw breath before launching into a pitch for own his stellar idea for a live-action, role-playing game entitled Sideburns Optional in which participants hobble through college campuses in paisley skirts posing as one-legged male prostitutes.”

Annie Rizzuto


“It was love at first site as I watched, LeRoy, the Marlboro Man look-alike stuff his cheek and gums with Redman and reveal to me his jail house tattoo of a rebel flag that waved on the side of his leather like neck as he mounted his swayed backed, geriatric, brood mare and made way to my single wide trailer with the polyester curtains to fill my golden harvest refrigerator with Pabst Blue Ribbon beer for me and my kids with his newly pilfered food stamps.”

Teri Mannering

Financial Operations Manager

“Johan McDougherty shivered, pulling a dirty cashmere sweater, the color of a lilacs trampled by a swarm of well-meaning toddlers trying to help in the garden, around his shoulders, as he realized that his two-week river safari down America’s most polluted river with the girl of his dreams was bound to be a disaster now that his flatulence had offended three of the four obsessive-compulsive personalities that shared a morbidly obese body with her.”

Keith Bergstrom

General Manager

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Death to the Classics?

Do classics like Shakespeare and Dickens deserve the top spot in your curriculum year after year, or should you be making room for more progressive authors like Hosseini and Myers? And in our technology-obsessed culture, how far do you stretch what is considered classic literature to keep your students interested in what they’re reading?

In Melissa Slager’s article entitled Death to the Classics! Is it time to update the reading list? at, she ponders whether or not it is time to take a good, hard look at teacher’s steadfast choices and replace them with something more accessible to today’s students — but how does one chose between the time-tested anthology of titles and more contemporary fare?

According to the article, “…[the] base [of the canon] has been slowly shifting alongside cultural and educational fads,” citing the tendency towards foundational Western classics in the eighties and the more recent push for the addition of more female and multicultural writers. With this movement, curriculum has grown to include many authors that starkly contrast the English/Caucasian/Male standard that has held for the last few hundred years. Such influential contributors include the aforementioned Khalid Hosseini, along with various others such as Amy Tan, Julia Alvarez, Toni Morrison, Pam Munoz Ryan, Alice Walker, Ralph Ellison, Sandra Cisneros, James McBride, and Chinua Achebe — just to name a few.

Staff Writer, Stephanie Polukis, agrees that, “More books should be added into the canon, but I think it’s very important that teachers evaluate new books critically and make sure that they are up to the same standards as Macbeth and Great Expectations. The books and plays mentioned below, I think, examples of great literature… books like Twilight and Harry Potter, I’m sorry to say, are not. Teachers shouldn’t add easier texts into their curriculum, but they could add books that cover some ideas and topics that appeal to modern-day students.”

Between the call to diversify authorship of texts beyond the traditional standard, and the need to keep students interested in a culture where attention spans are short, mixing up your reading list a bit doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.

To get you started, here’s a few of my non-traditional favorites:

In the Time of Butterflies

Julia Alvarez

“Three decades after the mysterious death of the three beautiful daughters of Trujillo's most outspoken rivals a daughter of the Dominican Republic long-haunted by these sisters immerses us in a tangled and dangerous moment in Hispanic Caribbean history to tell their story in the only way it can truly be understood — through fiction. Your students will be entranced by this glimpse into a world much different from their own.”

I read this one over our “winter break” this year and just couldn’t put it down. Although it is fiction, this book is based in the history of the Trujillo’s 30-year reign in the Dominican Republic — one of the bloodiest eras in their history. The personal accounts of four sisters who lived through this dark time lend an air of credibility to the history they describe as they fight for the freedoms they know they deserve.

The Joy Luck Club

Amy Tan

“This story about four women born and raised in China and their four American-born daughters deals with cultural, as well as generational, conflicts. The Joy Luck Club is a mother-daughter story that gives the reader a fascinating look into Chinese culture and heritage; it is a glimpse into the special mysteries and bonds between mothers and daughters.”

This book is spectacular for so many reasons…

There is culture clash, children striving for an identity separate from their parents’, and the idea of "hav[ing] American circumstances and Chinese character," as Amy Tan states in her March 1989 interview with the Los Angeles Times. I found it easy to identify with Tan’s style of writing, and think it’s a highly accessible book with a lot of content for discussion in a classroom setting. Although I would imagine this particular novel would be more meaningful for girls, I read this book for the first time in a freshman year mixed-gender class, and seem to remember that it was enjoyed equally by both genders.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

Tom Stoppard

“Acclaimed as a modern dramatic masterpiece, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is the fabulously inventive retelling of Hamlet as told from the worm's-eye view of the bewildered Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

In Tom Stoppard's best-known work, this Shakespearean Laurel and Hardy finally get a chance to take the leading roles, but do so in a world where echoes of Waiting for Godot resound, where reality and illusion intermix, and where fate leads our two heroes to a tragic but inevitable end.”

Although I didn’t read it this way, this quirky, offbeat play about the fate of two of Shakepeare’s most minor characters would be a great way to follow up Hamlet to give some modern perspective to an old faithful classic.

Maus and Maus II

Art Spiegelman

“Spiegelman's narrative of his father's life in Eastern Europe during the Nazi occupation, although done in comic book graphics, is treated as serious literature and is becoming increasingly popular in high school classrooms where, I'm told, it has been extremely well-received by students.

Our teacher/reviewer found Maus not only effective for teaching about the Holocaust as a personal experience, but also as a great tool for teaching various literary techniques. Irony abounds, understatement and sarcasm permeate the pages, and, through it all, Spiegelman never changes tone, loses his point of view or perspective, or diminishes the horrors of the Holocaust.”

This pair of graphic novels is a great way to supplement readings such as my favorite book, Elie Wiesel’s Night, or other holocaust literature such as The Diary of Anne Frank, The Devil’s Arithmetic, or even more modern choices such as Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.

A Prayer for Owen Meany

John Irving

“This is easily John Irving’s most comic novel and is filled with some truly hilarious scenes, but it does not fail to take on the weighty issues of spirituality, the importance of faith, social justice, and fate. Filled with eccentric characters and sprinkled with amusing and poignant chapter titles, Owen Meany is a book that students will truly enjoy.”

Although I would venture to say that you need to have a slightly offbeat sense of humor to enjoy this one, it is definitely worth teaching because it is rich with themes and symbolic imagery. And may I just say that you’ll never look at a manger scene the same way again after reading it…

Some great additional picks from Steph include:

Nectar in a Sieve - Kamala Markanday

Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden

The Secret Life of Bees - Sue Monk Kidd

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tuesday Trivia

  1. Who is the most successful textbook author of all time?
  2. When was the first cookbook published?
  3. Who, according to popular opinion at the time, was the most famous and important playwright in the Elizabethian age?
  4. The moons of all planets except for Uranus are named after Greek gods. What are the moons of Uranus named after?
  5. Where does A. A. Milne's classic children’s character, Winnie-the-Pooh, get his name?

Last Week’s Answers

How many US States have names that contain only one syllable?

Maine is the only state whose name is just one syllable.

How many of Shakespeare's heroines disguise themselves as males?

Seven. Julia in Two Gentlemen of Verona; Portia, Nerissa, and Shylock’s daughter Jessica in The Merchant of Venice; Imogen in Cymbeline; Viola as Cesario in Twelfth Night;Rosalind as Ganymede in As You Like It.

Which Polish novelist contemporary to Melville is quoted as saying, “Melville knows nothing of the sea” in response to the 1851 classic novel, Moby Dick?

Heart of Darkness author, Joseph Conrad.

Which Robert Louis Stevenson work originated from a game he played with his stepson?

Treasure Island originated from a game Stevenson played with his stepson. Drawing a treasure map for his stepson on a rainy day, Stevenson was urged by the child to make up stories to go along with the drawings. Stevenson liked the stories so much that he wrote them down, and they became the basis for his novel.

What is the longest word in the English language that does not contain a vowel (a,e,i,o,u)?

“Rhythm” and "syzygy" are the longest English words without a vowel.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Happy Birthday, L. Frank Baum!

In honor of L. Frank Baum's birthday, Senior Editor, Paul Moliken, has compiled some trivia about this famous author's life and his most famous work turned movie. How much do you know about L. Frank Baum and The Wizard of Oz?

1.True or False: Baum was born before the Civil War.

True or False:
The correct title to his most famous work is Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz.

3. True or False: The setting for what we call The Wizard of Oz is based on Baum’s time in South Dakota.

4. True or False: Baum never denied that political references were intended to be read into his famous book.

5. True or False: Baum wrote more than a dozen more books dealing with Oz.

6. True or False: Prior to writing about Oz, Baum praised the attempt at the “extermination” of Native Americans.

7. True or False: Baum’s last words were, "Now we can cross the Shifting Sands."

8. True or False: Baum used at least three female pseudonyms.

9. True or False: Baum never refers to the Munchkins as dwarf-like in height in the book.

10. True or False: The munchkins, as a group, have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

11. True or False: The dog who played Toto in the movie’s actual name was Otto.

12. True or False: The person originally cast as the Tin Man became famous on a TV sitcom.

13. True or False: The movie won only one Academy Award in the year of its release: Best Picture.

14. True or False: In the book, as opposed to the movie, Dorothy rescues her friends instead of merely being a damsel in distress.


1. True. L. Frank Baum was born in 1856 in Chittenango, New York, the seventh of nine children born to Cynthia Stanton and Benjamin Ward Baum.

2. False. The title of L. Frank Baum’s most well known work is The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

3. True. The setting for what we call The Wizard of Oz is based on Baum’s time in South Dakota where he owned an unsuccessful store called “Baum’s Bazaar.”

4. False. Baum persistently denied that political references were intended to be read into his famous book saying it was intended for the enjoyment of children and nothing more.

5. True. Baum wrote more than a dozen books dealing with Oz including The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Marvelous Land of Oz, Ozma of Oz, Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, The Road to Oz, The Emerald City of Oz, The Patchwork Girl of Oz, Tik-Tok of Oz, The Scarecrow of Oz, Rinkitink in Oz, The Lost Princess of Oz, The Tin Woodman of Oz, The Magic of Oz, Glinda of Oz, Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz, and Little Wizard Stories of Oz.

6. True. Prior to writing about Oz, Baum praised the attempt at the “extermination” of Native Americans.

7. True. Baum’s last words were, "Now we can cross the Shifting Sands."

8. True. Baum used at least three female pseudonyms including Edith Van Dyne, Suzanne Metcalf, and Laura Bancroft.

9. True. Baum never refers to the Munchkins as dwarf-like in height in the book. Instead he writes, they are “…not as big as the grown folk she had always been used to; but neither were they very small. In fact, they seemed about as tall as Dorothy, who was a well-grown child for her age…”

10. True. The Munchkins, as a group, have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

11. False. The dog that played Toto was named Terry. Her name was changed to Toto posthumously.

12. True. Buddy Ebsen, the man originally cast as the Tin Man became famous for his role on The Beverly Hillbillies as Jed Clampett.

13. False. “Gone With the Wind” Won Best Picture. The Wizard of Oz won for music and Best Song. Judy Garland won a special juvenile Oscar.

14. True. In the book, as opposed to the movie, Dorothy rescues her friends instead of merely being a damsel in distress.