Within Reason

As far as requests go, Unnameable Books in Prospect Heights makes a reasonable one.


The Bookstores of Sanibel Island



Today I spent the day bike riding around Sanibel Island, some thirty minutes off Florida’s west coast. It’s a touristy happy place, with colorful restaurants, miles of beaches and an infinity of seashell souvenirs.

But, what impressed me the most about this quiet coastal village is the number of independent bookstores it has. Three. Three solid bookstores. 

Last summer, I spent four days wondering through the streets of Hong Kong on the lookout for cool bookstores and could find none. When I finally used Google to locate one, it was in the desolate corner of an otherwise busy mall and was part of a multinational chain. 

Above is Gene’s Books, specializing in mystery. I decided to support the efforts of these local book lovers and purchased two. One is a classic French mystery by prolific writer Charles Simenon and the other is part of a new series of Turkish mysteries by Mehmet Murat Somer, whose main character is a drag queen detective.


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Then, there was the Sanibel Bookshop, with a respectable collection of hardcover children and adult classics. I went with “Othello”, as I’ve never read this seriously forward-thinking Shakespearean play.


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Finally, MacIntosh Books & Paper, where a sizable young adult section caught my eye. The very helpful sales clerk suggested I take a copy of best-seller Sarah Dessen’s “That Summer.”  She said it was a good show of “what the genre is doing these days.”



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In all, I spent less than thirty dollars on four great books. Perhaps this is the Sanibel secret: cheap books makes for more readers. Because the quality of the bookshops in Sanibel is as equally unbelievable as the quantity of their patrons. All three bookstores were full of good books and people who were actually buying them.

Ivy League Sex Education

Taylor Mali slam poetryOn a recent trip to New York City I made an obligatory stop at The Strand bookstore, quite possible the world’s best. Their poetry section is so rich with options that it is almost impossible not to make an interesting discovery.

Among the discoveries I made is Taylor Mali’s book “What Learning Leaves.” I picked it because the cover looks like a classic composition book, a classic drugstore notebook.
I also chose it because Mali is a four-time National Poetry Slam Champion, an original member of HBO’s Def Poetry Jam and a teacher. Good thing I did because his work is fun, casual and intimate.

Here is one of my favorite poems from the collection, photographed above in, what else, a New York City yellow cab. The formatting is original:



Dad, this one’s for you. Because everything you told me about sex turned out to be true. 


Because you could speak of sex and the penis
as if they both went to Yale,
were, in fact classmates of yours –
the vagina, a dear old childhood friend
from Holy Cross who used to come
visit on weekends religiously –
because you could do this, it was you
who sat me one day on the hearth
and gave me my Ivy League sex education.


On the hearth beneath the chimney,
fashioned out of local rock
except for the gravestones that you found
abandoned in the back field in ’66
and brought to the mason, who crossed himself
and asked forgiveness before he sat them in stone:
of the stones themselves,
from Moses Grant, beloved husband and father,
and from the white stone with no name,
only the willow tree in bas relief,
pressing itself out.
Sex and death, linked in my mind from the get go.


And like we were jumping into the fire
to teach ourselves to swim,
you gave me the facts of life
as later you would give me the car keys,
teaching me how to drive
when all I knew about the family car
was how to turn her on,
what to press to make her go faster.


You called orgasm the ‘sneezy feeling’
and to this day I sneeze when I get turned on.
Is it you I have to thank for that?
And is it your face I think I see
beyond the darkness of my headlights?
Or is ti the gravestones in the chimney
that have cemented grief into every act
of intimacy so that it’s barely noticeable,
like a willow tree in bas relief,
pressing itself out of white stone?