An Eye on the Looking-glass: The Enduring Appeal of Lewis Carroll and Alice

Lewis Carroll's best-known and best-loved creation, Alice, is about to get a facelift.  Any fan of Tim Burton can tell you that his next major project is a typically Burton-ian approach to the children's classic. In his version, a 17-year-old Alice returns to Wonderland for the first time in 10 years and meets up again with all her old acquaintances. (In theatres on March 5, 2010, teaser trailer is here.)


Of course, the launch of a new movie adaptation is always a good reason to put together a display of the latest editions of Alice in Wonderland, and its related books.  Most stores can easily do an Alice display without breaking a sweat - there are always new editions coming out and evergreen classics that are usually in stock.

Here are three suggested books to add to the display that could take it through the looking-glass!

Alice in Wonderland
by Lewis Carroll
illustrated by Rodney Matthews
Templar Books (Candlewick Press) | 9780763645687 | $24.99 | Sept 2009

A CAUCUS RACE - 1994 (Rodney MatthewsThe relatively new-to-the-US Templar Books imprint at Candlewick Press is bringing out this lavishly illustrated edition, complete with bejeweled slipcase.  The illustrator is the legendary UK fantasy and SF artist Rodney Matthews (he's also a jazz and rock musician, album cover artist, and video game designer).  He may be best known for his illustrations for Michael Moorcock's Elric books.

AT THE MARCH HARE'S TABLE - 1990 (Rodney Matthews)Given his credentials as a painter of the fantastic, you can imagine just how over-the-top his Alice paintings would be.  Luckily, you don't need to imagine.  His web site hosts a gallery of past works and images from works in progress.  Check out these two illustrations from Alice in Wonderland, previously published in a series of calendars featuring his fantastic art and now repurposed as part of the suite of illustrations for the new book.


On to two books that look at the creator of Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll (or as he was known to his friends and colleagues at Christ Church college at the University of Oxford, Charles Dodgson) and the young girl who was his muse and friend, Alice Liddell.

Lewis Carroll
by Colin Ford
Thames & Hudson (Norton) | 9780500410981 | $15.95 | Sept 2009

Alice I Have Been
by Melanie Benjamin
Delacorte Press | 9780385344135 | $25 | Jan 2010

I've previously featured Lewis Carroll, edited by Colin Ford, in the "my3books x 3" post about three terrific series, which included the Photofile series from Thames & Hudson.  The newly released volume in that series is on the photography of Lewis Carroll.  In addition to being a lecturer in mathematics at Christ Church college, Carroll was a well-known local photographer, just years after the popularization of photography as a hobby. 

It was through his photography that Dodgson met Alice Liddell and the rest of her family. He famously befriended the young girls, Alice and her two sisters, and escorted them on many outings in the area around Oxford.  On one of those occasions, Dodgson invented the tale that would become Alice in Wonderland.

Alice Liddell as a beggar-maid. (photo by Lewis Carroll)The Photofile book of Dodgson/Carroll's photography features 59 of his pictures, most of them featuring the young girls that were his constant sources of inspiration and to some historians and observers, a possible source of some scandal.

Aside from Dodgson's perhaps questionable focus on young girls, his photography is timeless, and because of the fame of the man as an author, is particularly well-documented. 

Melanie Benjamin's marvelous upcoming novel, Alice I Have Been, covers the same ground from the perspective of Alice Liddell herself, drawing on the historical record and much research, but expands the story into the realm of the possible. 

Alice I Have Been opens in 1932 as an aged Alice Liddell Hargreaves looks back on her life: from the earliest years as the middle daughter of the Dean of Christ Church college, her friendship with Dodgson and the creation of Alice in Wonderland, to her (speculated upon) romance with Prince Leopold, the hemophiliac youngest son of Queen Victoria, and finally to her marriage in later years to Reginald Hargreaves, and the life they had together with their three sons.  

Benjamin has taken the well-worn cloth of the life of Alice Liddell and given the fabric new life with a richly imagined tale.  The crowded streets and gardens of Oxford are filled with vibrant characterizations of Alice and her family, celebrities of the day, and brings a fresh understanding of the possibilities and limitations of the life of one particular girl.


Fall Handselling Challenge picks: Geoffrey Jennings & Rainy Day Books

After the completion of our Independents Week Contest, Geoffrey told me that he had some other ideas in mind for the fall. Here's Geoffrey's invitation to indie booksellers to take part in our contest for this fall - the Fall Handselling Challenge.  It will be both a test of handselling prowess and a fund-raising opportunity for the winning bookstore's charity of choice.

I've known Geoffrey for many years, as a bookseller, a dinner companion, a good friend to talk to about the business of books. He's part of the core bookselling team at Rainy Day Books in Fairway, KS.

You can follow the progress of the Fall Handselling Challenge here at my3books, and on Twitter. Use the hashtag #RDBFHC to keep on top of the latest news.

Independent booksellers take books and become individual champions for them. Customer by customer, book by book, we build a sales record for the author. We personally match books to customers in face-to-face transactions. Unlike Wall Street, the media, and our online competitors, we are working in our communities every day to build more than just a stronger local economy: we are building relationship capital. This is the currency of our realm. When you build trust by selling something transformative, you make your community stronger.

Independent booksellers sell specific books and authors because we realize that there is a real human being behind the work. In fact, there's an entire chain of people that more of us should take the time to know personally. There's an author, an editor, a publicist, a publisher. Many of us stop at the sales rep, and many reps have so many titles now that they are truly dependent on independent booksellers to help them spread the word about what is good, why it's good, and how it can be great. We can do more, and I challenge you to do so.


Homer's Odyssey
by Gwen Cooper
Delacorte Press | 9780385343855 | $20 | Aug 2009
Caitlin Alexander at Random House is the editor. I've never met either author or editor as of this writing. I don't know who's handling publicity.

Homer's Odyssey is a book about a remarkable cat, told by a remarkable woman. Unlike many books it will be favorably and appropriately compared to, the author bio will tell you that this has a happy ending. It has parts that make you laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time. Homer's Odyssey is part spectacle, part case study in overcoming adversity. At a time when the world and our customers are demanding reassurance and hope, this book delivers. It is the type of book where people will return to tell me how much they loved it, some will buy it for friends.


Moonlight In Odessa: A Novel
by Janet Skeslien Charles
Bloomsbury Publishing | 9781596916722 | $25 | Sept 2009
Sara Mercurio is handling publicity. I've never met either the author or publicist as of this writing. I don't know who the editor is.

Moonlight In Odessa is a love story. It's about the yearning we all have for something meaningful in our lives. A bright and beautiful engineer named Daria narrates her tale of struggle in modern Ukraine. Unable to find a job in her field she works as a secretary, dodging the overt advances of her boss while she searches for a way out. In her off-hours, Daria assists at an international matchmaker, helping far more desperate women meet equally desperate Western men. Eventually, rivals appear for Daria and she must choose. Leave her country behind? Follow her heart? How do you know what the right thing is until you do it?


The Pig Did It
by Joseph Caldwell
Delphinum Books | 978188328534 | $13.99 | April 2009
I've never met the author. I don't know who the editor or publicist is.

The Pig Did It is a cozy Irish mystery featuring the inadvertent services of a porcine investigator. When I first read this in hardcover I had hoped there would be more in this charming series. To my delight, I just received word that there will be more.

For fans of procedural mystery who want something funny, check this out. Life in County Kerry, Ireland is just what you'd expect, or not. When a body is discovered by the (random?) diggings of a wandering pig, the hunt is on. All the while you're reading this whodunit filled with great characters and snappy dialogue you'll be asking yourself what everyone else in town is: what's the pig have to do with it?


Now the bigger question: why THESE three books? What they all have in common is that they all need someone to champion them. Someone to give them a helping hand, to build an audience, to push them to a tipping point where an army of satisfied readers will start spreading the word on their own. Along the way, I'll meet the people behind these books. Depending on how I do it, I might also meet other people who do what I do well: handsell books.

All of this was inspired by The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, coming in January from Harper. Learn more at


guest post: Micheal Fraser from Joseph-Beth Booksellers

Since I first began selling books to Joseph-Beth Booksellers as a sales rep for indie press distributor PGW, I was aware of Joseph-Beth's Master Bookseller program. Their stores' most experienced, knowledgeable booksellers are given that designation, embodying what we idealize about indie stores - voracious readers, tireless recommenders, making connections between customers and books. Our guest contributor, Micheal Fraser, is a Master Bookseller for Joseph-Beth and today he's brought his handselling powers to my3books.

Welcome, Micheal!


OK, its summer and it's hot and there are just some books that lend themselves to reading on those lethargic summer when a little mystery or fantasy is welcome as a cool breeze.  I have the urge to read To Kill a Mockingbird every summer, so for my3books I have chosen three books that also deal with that strange world of 11-12 year olds.


The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
by Alan Bradley
Delacorte Press | 9780385342308 | $23 | April 2009

It is the English country side of 1950 when we meet Flavia de Luce, an 11-year-old chemist and expert on poisons who is preoccupied with retaliating against her two older sisters' taunts. In the midst of this she finds a body in the cucumber patch and, rebuffed by the police as a nuisance, decides to solve the crime herself.

All of your defenses tumble and you are thrown headlong into an Agatha Christie mystery, a Harriet the Spy adventure and a delightful romp complete with odd neighbors, odder servants, a father with a mysterious past who is arrested for the murder and a wickedly funny heroine who merrily leads you on the chase. Pray you fall victim to this amazing mystery debut.


The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet
by Reif Larsen
Penguin Press | 9781594202179 | $27.95 | May 2009

T. S. is a 12-year-old genius at mapping the world. He maps his sister shucking corn or Moby Dick or his bedroom. He makes sense of the world by mapping it. Surprisingly he gets a call from the Smithsonian, informing him he has won a major prize (they are unaware that he is just a 12-year-old). He decides to accept and hops a freight near his parent's ranch in Montana for the cross-country trip to Washington D.C.

On the trip you fully inhabit his convoluted world, informed by sidebars and T. S.’s drawings in the margins and his very 12-year-old musings on why his father favored his brother who mysteriously died or just how detached his mother is or if he will, like the others in his family, never reach the potential they started out with. You are completely captivated by his young voice and for the summer you are 12 again, full of all the angst that trying to make sense of it all can bring.

Be sure to check out his web site which is visually as fun and amazing as the book.


The Earth Hums in B Flat
by Mari Strachan
Canongate US | 9781847671929 | $14 | June 2009

The first impression I got from reading Gwenni’s story - which grows stronger as it goes along - is "magical." The story just sucks you into this world of a small Welsh village with all its people and their stories. At the center of it all is an ordinary, normal family who has an extraordinary child.

What do you do when you are a normal family harboring an exotic bird not knowing what to do.? When you add the insanity of Gwenni’s mother trying to squash her daughter into something less embarrassing, it is amazing that she always calmly maintains her sense of self. This is a book which holds you until the end and then becomes one of those books you re-read, hoping to relive the joy of a first reading.