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We are happy to fulfill other orders, but will not be able to process them until at least May 4. Other options: try  or - keep it indie!
Shelf Stable: April 16
“Where is human nature so weak as in a bookstore.” – Henry Ward Beecher
Hello Friends,

I'm currently reading a book called The Dreamed Part by Rodrigo Fresan. I read a passage for a bedtime story a little while ago and I'm going to read another passage tomorrow. It is a wild, sprawling, ambitious book about dreams, books, love, stories, language, and probably a whole bunch of other things I haven't wrapped my head around yet. (And also a sequel to The Invented Part, which I have not read yet, but will.)

I bring it up here, because one character has an interesting philosophy. Penelope, who is an author, believes that every person has a specific single book that is for them, kind of like the books version of a soul mate. (Her book is Wuthering Heights , which she first read when she was nine after watching a telenovela version of it.) That idea has the same beauty and anxiety of the soul mates idea; the beautiful possibility that you'll find the person that completes you and the anxious possibility that you never will. As someone with several avatars for books tattooed on his arms, a part of me loves that idea, specifically the idea that there is something uniquely beautiful to spending your life with one book. (And there are many great books that support a life time of reading.)

What I find most interesting about this idea is that the truth of it is based more in possibility than in actuality. In some ways it doesn't really matter whether or not you have a specific book that is meant for you and you alone that you either find or don't in the course of your life, because you are able to treat any book you want as if it is that soul-book. The book doesn't care how you read it. The author isn't there to stop your from interpreting it. Even if it's a book you don't like, your inherent right to make meaning from its material, allows you to reclaim it. (Though, I personally wouldn't spend that much intellectual and emotional effort on a book I don't enjoy.)

Penelope's idea (I don't think it's Fresan's idea, but <shrug emoji>) is both wrong and right. In a whole ton of ways the idea of everyone having a book-mate doesn't make any sense at all and, at the same time, you can make it true for you. There are a lot of different ways to read Whitman's boast of contradicting himself, but I think this is the kind of contradiction he was celebrating; the contradictions that arise from the ambiguity inherent in language, the contradictions that arise from complex emotions, the contradictions that arise from changing circumstances, the contradictions that books and literature are uniquely able to capture for our consideration.

So, tonight, read whatever book you are reading as if it were your book-mate, as if it was written for you, and you alone. In a way, no matter how many other people have read it and are reading, it was.

Yours in Reading,
Josh @PSB
Events We Missed
Inadvertent Themes
Do you ever sit back and realize that you’ve inadvertently read in a theme? I’m not talking about a mystery series or research books about a particular subject. Rather, I refer to books that all of a sudden remind you of other books—otherwise unrelated tomes that nevertheless have things in common, that seem to be in conversation with each other.

I read K. M. Szpara’s Docile a few months ago, a speculative exploration of the ways in which capitalism and consent can be intertwined to no one’s benefit. More recently, I picked up The Fortress by S. A. Jones, wherein a man serves as a
supplicant within a walled city run and populated exclusively by women. Both books are disturbing and provocative—both books ruminate on questions of power and consent. Now they run together in my mind. I rarely think of one without feeling my attention drawn to the other.

Ling Ma’s Severance was widely acclaimed when it was first released, and is experiencing a resurgence due to its subject matter: that of a societal breakdown in the wake of an apocalyptic pandemic. But It’s also a story about the insecurity of living one’s twenties in an increasingly unstable world, where agreed-upon standards of adult life (a career, a house, a partner, children) seem simply out of reach. If you were drawn to the main character of Severance, might I suggest dipping into Alexandra Chang’s Days of Distraction ? Chang’s debut novel is less apocalyptic, but still very much concerned with the cultural expectations surrounding young adulthood—and, like Severance, it still manages to be funny and deeply engaging.

Have you been reading in a theme lately? Drop us a note on Twitter and tell us what!

Need some inspiration?
Bored? Gathering with friends then lapsing into awkward silence because all of you have been up to the same thing and that thing is nothing? Wishing there was a way to connect with your friends and actually engage your imaginations? Need a way to make your children (and yourself) do more math, but in a fun way? Missing those days when you could just play pretend, but since you can't go to a playground and declare the top of the slide your castle, not sure where to start? 

I have a solution. It's a solution that's been there for decades now, but one that's been ignored for far too long. One that only recently has started to gain popularity thanks to the swing of pop culture and, of course, certain podcasts .

That's right, I'm talking about Dungeons and Dragons . One of my long time favorite activities.

For those that failed their knowledge checks, Dungeons and Dragons is a tabletop roleplaying game. You make characters and roll dice and together with your friends, you tell a story. I love it because it's got all the fantasy and storytelling elements I love, complete with the social aspect that even introverts like me start to miss after a while. There's nothing like hanging out with your friends, making characters, rolling dice, then laughing because you critically failed (rolled a one) and accidentally tapped the goblin on the shoulder instead of punching them, or cheering when you roll a twenty-sided die (D20 in the nerd dialect) and it lands on the 20, ensuring an amazing success.
And then there's the stories. A good Game Master (the person who runs the game, known sometimes as a Dungeon Master or Storyteller) is a good writer, and like all good writers, they excel at making you feel. My longest running game is run by my friend Brooke, a Game Master so skilled at her craft that she's made every single one of us cry at some point or another. She's so good at it that she's also got a live show (that you can listen to as a podcast!) that she runs from her home in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

But wait, you say, Grand Rapids Michigan?? How does a bookseller in Cambridge play Dungeons and Dragons with someone in Michigan? That's a pretty big trek for a game, even one as fun as Dungeons and Dragons. True! Especially since some of my friends who play with me are in Indiana, Tennessee, Illinois, and even Australia. 

Fortunately, we have the magic of the internet. It's been letting us play since long before this quarantine, and hopefully will let us continue to play for a long time after. Using services like Zoom, Skype, or other chat services, and websites specifically designed for the purpose like Roll20 and Mythweavers , we've been meeting up and playing regularly. I've got a human gunslinger. We've got a handful of other magic users and fighters in the party, and then there's Brooke, who plays everyone else. She tells us what enemies and townsfolk and monsters are doing and then we tell her what we do. We roll the dice. If we get a high enough number, we succeed! 

Since the Quarantine started, I've joined a few other campaigns too. They're not all Dungeons and Dragons, either. I'm playing a scholar in Rise of the Runelords , a classic Pathfinder campaign. I'm a ratfolk mechanic with a giant drone I can ride in a Starfinder game. I've got a teenaged hick in the alternate 80s Tales from the Loop game. And that's just so far. 

If you want to play Dungeons and Dragons, or any other tabletop roleplaying game, well, it's going to take some dedication, but it's very worth it. You have to find people to play with, decide who's running it, what you're playing, and you have to make characters. There's never been a better time to get into it, though. In addition to there being more bored people than ever before, there are more resources, including a starter set that provides ready-made characters and an adventure to get your game off the ground as quickly as possible. Local gaming stores or comic stores might have resources too. Pandemonium Books and Games in Cambridge is running online games now. The fun and the opportunities are endless.

Heck, I might even be up for joining your campaign. But I'll have to check my schedule. I'm in enough games now that I'm actually busy. It's great.

Bedtime Stories
Don't think the exploits of a robot built to kill could be a bedtime story? Shana proves you wrong by reading from All Systems Red by Martha Wells.
Meet us over at our Instagram story at 8:45pm for tonight's live bedtime story with Kate!
Support Cafe Zing baristas!
Although Cafe Zing is its own business separate from ours, we really don't see it that way: Zing workers are part of the Porter Square Books family. They keep us well supplied - very well supplied - with caffeine, kindness, and some great tunes. Sometimes they give us staff picks; sometimes we give them exact change because we've bought the same, perfect, comforting, delicious beverage twice a day five days a week for how long, now?

They're our family, and they could use a hand. If you are able, please considering donating to the Cafe Zing GoFundMe; 100% of proceeds go to baristas. What might you have spent at Zing over the past weeks if it we were in normal times? If that $10 is still in your wallet, consider putting it in their tip jar. We love you, Zing!
Featured Staff Pick For Kids
The Deceivers by Kristen Simmons

Private academy for teenage con artists! What's not to love? Fast-paced, fun, diverting, and there's a sequel once you've finished this one!

We Want to Hear from You!
How do you pick out your next read?
Check social media & see what books everyone is talking about.
I ask my bookish friend/family member
Bookish media (NYT, NPR, LitHub, reviews in newspapers, etc.)
Whatever is at hand when I finish a book
I ask you.
Audio Book Of The Month
Deacon King Kong by James McBride

“Deacon King Kong is a quintessential New York story. Set in the Brooklyn projects in 1969, a perpetually inebriated deacon called Sportcoat aims a gun at the neighborhood’s main drug dealer in the public plaza and pulls the trigger. Incredibly well-constructed and hilarious at times, McBride’s story entwines a number of storylines that are kickstarted by this central event. The local Italian gangster, the veteran cop, the meddling churchgoers, and the drug pushers all have their own agendas, hopes, and dreams that are affected. And though Sportcoat doesn’t remember his actions and is always under the influence of gut-rot moonshine, I couldn’t help but root for him as I was reading this. His delightful ineptitude and absence of clarity made this book impossible for me to put down. If you’ve never read McBride before, this is a great introduction.”
--Stuart McCommon, Novel.
See you next time here at Shelf Stable!
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