Catherine Chung's The Tenth Muse is coming soon to OTB!

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Hello Book Friends!

Team OTB is here to tell you about an upcoming book that we’re really excited about: The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung, which publishes this coming Tuesday, June 18, from HarperCollins. Chung’s second novel, The Tenth Muse centers on Katherine, a young math prodigy who spends her childhood in the 1950s midwest before traveling to Europe to further her education, in the process trying to solve the Riemann hypothesis, one of math’s great unsolved theorems, uncovering hidden truths about her family origins and her place in the world that had lain dormant in Germany since WWII, and becoming romantically involved with a professor. Katherine finds kinship in the stories she comes across of other women who had come before her in what advance publicity calls a “gorgeous, sweeping tale about legacy, identity, and the beautiful ways the mind can make us free.”

If our own enthusiasm and signed copies aren’t enough, here’s a summary of the many glowing reviews that The Tenth Muse has been getting:

“The cliché that boys are better at math collapses before the diamond-hard mind of a grad student whose relentless attempt to prove a legendary hypothesis exposes a deeper algorithm about herself. Chung spins her captivating novel from stories of actual women who, in her words, “posed as schoolboys, married tutors, and moved across continents, all to study and excel at mathematics.”

O, The Oprah Magazine

“Reading The Tenth Muse is like setting out on a boat for a short trip and finding the way back barred by waves that grow taller and taller. And then the boat itself turns out to be a riddle; a paper boat, each leaf bound to the other with equations of fearsome beauty. Arresting in scope and its treatment of time, its prose at turns crystalline and richly balletic, this story pulls puzzle from puzzle–human, historical, and all too contemporary.”

– Helen Oyeyemi, author of Boy, Snow, Bird and Gingerbread

The Tenth Muse is as ambitious and intriguing as the complex math problems Katherine, the protagonist of this remarkable novel, aims to solve. In this novel, the scope of which is staggering–Chung has crafted a story that is moving, elegant and richly written. Her prose, as it unfolds, becomes an elusive equation readers will yearn to solve.”

—Roxane Gay, author of Bad Feminist and Hunger

“A page-turning intellectual thriller, a family romance, an alternative history of twentieth-century math – I couldn’t put it down.”

– Elif Batuman, author of The Idiot

“This shimmering, gorgeous book grapples with the secrets in the world around us, and the one within us; Chung’s prose is electric, and this story is a provocative exploration of the puzzles that most need interrogating.”

Nylon

The Tenth Muse has also been starred by Kirkus Reviews, Publisher’s Weekly, and IndieNext.

Excited about all this buzz? We are too, and we can’t wait to talk about it with you, which is why we’ve made The Tenth Muse our July Old Town Book(s) Club pick! You can reserve your place in the club here (please note, due to the holiday weekend and the book’s release date, we’ll be hosting the club on Saturday, July 20th instead of our usual first Saturday of the month). You can take 15% off your purchase if you mention the book club in-store, and as an extra special bonus, the first order of the book that we’re stocking in is all signed copies! Pick up yours starting this coming Tuesday, right here at Old Town Books!

Happy Reading, and hope to see you in the shop soon!

-Team OTB

Allison's Pride Month Picks

Hello Book Friends!

June marks not only Pride month here at OTB, but also the launch of our two newest book clubs - the Bad Romance Book Club and True Story - A Nonfiction Book Club. To celebrate, we’re reading Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston for Bad Romance Book Club and The Stonewall Reader for True Story.

I’ve compiled some of my favorite LGBTQ lit below to celebrate Pride - come into the shop and pick them up!

Janet Mock’s Redefining Realness - Everyone should read this memoir of resilience and being proud of who you are. Janet does a wonderful job telling the story of her adolescence with grace and elegance. It is a deeply personal story, but she also contextualizes her experience growing up as a Black and Hawaiian transwoman of color very well, and frequently ties back to themes of sisterhood, oppression, and intersectionality. I couldn't put this book down.

Nicole Dennis-Benn’s Patsy - Nicole Dennis-Benn has an unparalleled ability to craft complex characters the reader both loves and hates in equal measure. I was deeply invested in the lives of Patsy and Tru as Dennis-Benn examines how the world has set these characters up to fail - simply because they are poor, queer, immigrant, Black, and dark-skinned. The book scrutinizes how these circumstances impact their personal relationships, and how they continue to seek freedom on their own terms.

Alexander Chee’s How To Write An Autobiographical Novel - These essays are masterfully crafted and touch beautifully on family, identity, sexuality, and living as a writer. I’m already desperate to reread it. “On Peter” made me cry. “The Guardians” made me cry. I appreciate Chee so much for sharing his stories about being an activist during the AIDS epidemic and how that shaped his experience as a young gay man. These stories need to be remembered.

Sarah McBride’s Tomorrow Will be Different - Sarah McBride’s memoir is so many wonderful things in one book - a story of bravely coming to terms with one’s identity, a fast-paced recounting of her work passing marriage equality and anti-trans discrimination laws in Delaware, a heartbreaking love story, a manifesto of hope, a love letter to the Obama era, and (hopefully someday) a campaign book! I also appreciated how often she checks her own privilege (“I knew more sitting US Senators than I knew trans people”). I was familiar with Sarah’s story of being widowed just weeks after her 24th birthday, and yet I still sobbed like a baby. This book was exactly what I needed - tears and hope in equal measure.

Gabby Rivera’s Juliet Takes a Breath - Gabby Rivera’s young adult novel follows Puerto Rican New Yorker Juliet through her journey coming out and moving across the country to work for a famous feminist in Portland. This book celebrates the value of self-care, includes some fantastic breathing exercises, and challenges you to make your feminism intersectional. Juliet’s voice is authentic, and you’ll fall in love with her while you learn how to develop your own identity and core values even in the midst of competing expectations from your friends, family, and society.

NEPANTLA: An Anthology Dedicated to Queer Poets of Color edited by Christopher Soto- this collection  is full of gorgeous, necessary poems about joy, resilience, love, struggle and more. It includes poets like June Jordan, Jericho Brown, Audre Lorde, Tommy Pico, Ocean Vuong, and the most incredible poem by Madison Johnson about the TV show Chopped. This collection is stunning and I'm so grateful I can return to it whenever I want.

Lastly, a few new releases that are on My TBR for this year’s Pride month…

  • Sissy by Jacob Tobia

  • In At the Deep End by Kate Davies - described as a “lesbian Bridget Jones”, this book sounds perfect for June days at the pool

  • On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

All these books and more are available this month and every month at Old Town Books, so make your way down and pick one up!

Happy Pride, and hope to see you in the shop soon!

-Allison

OTB in the News!

Hello Book Friends!

As some of you will no doubt already have seen, our little bookstore has been making a fair number of headlines in these first six months! If you’re one of our many customers who has come in for the first time after seeing our name in print, then you know just how grateful we are for this press. For those of you who may have missed it, here’s a roundup of the coverage our store has been getting!

First off, here’s a piece on us in the Alexandria Times, our local paper! This one focuses on our desire to be not only a place to buy books but also a community meeting space, as well as featuring a glimpse into how we choose books to stock.

This piece in Zebra Magazine is from when we were just a little baby store, not even open yet! It profiles our fearless leader Ally, and highlights the invaluable help we got starting up from the Alexandria Economic Development Partners’ ALX Pop-Ups program! We couldn’t have gotten off the ground without that help and Ally’s determination. Zebra checked back in with us in January, too! That piece has a great picture of Scout (!) as well as information on some of our cool gifty things like tote bags, socks, and mugs!

For more information on Ally’s vision for the store (and a little bit of the Ally/OTB origin story), be sure to check out Northern Virginia Magazine’s interview with her. Ally’s passion for and knowledge of books really shines through in this article, which also highlights our commitment to supporting new and emerging writers as well as serving our community through our events.

Forbes.com included us in this roundup of various recent and not-so recent indie bookstore openings. Indie bookstores are on the rise again (we certianly have been incerdibly happy with the enthusiastic response our store is getting!), and this article presents itself as a quasi-how-to guide if you’re interested in opening an indie of your own.

This mention in Alexandria Living Magazine highlights something our regular customers will know by now - we’re not just the little popup that could anymore, we’ve extended our lease and will be staying for at least another year in our home on Union!

Lastly, but certainly not least, no less an institution than the Washington Post included us in its DMV-wide look at indie bookstores old and new! We’re honored to have made the list as its newest entry, and we couldn’t agree more that the way we compete with corporate booksellers is on community engagement, a personalized experience, expertise, and atmosphere.

So, as you can see, we’ve been getting lots of good press already, which only reinforces the incredible response we’ve gotten from the local community - many of you are already our dearest and most loyal customers! However, we’d certainly like to note that all these articles have a massive and glaring omission, which hopefully whoever writes about us next will correct: nobody’s done a profile of Scout, everyone’s favorite public relations specialist/shop dog! “Woof! rrrrrr…,” says Scout, agreeing with us. Or possibly asking for a treat. Either way.

Happy reading, and hope to see you in the shop soon!

-Team OTB


Writer in Residence - High School Edition!

Our MFA in Residence program started this spring, with GMU Nonfiction master’s candidate Allison Tunstall in residence at the book store helping us out with events, blog posts, and her own staff picks. Now, we’re thrilled to welcome our first high school writer in residence, Klare Murray!

My name is Klare Murray, and I’m an 18-year-old book lover and lifelong resident of Alexandria. I’m interning at Old Town Books for my high school senior experience program and am so excited to be here!

I’ve been a reader my whole life. Books are very important to me—I love words and literature and storytelling with my whole heart, and I’ve always felt at peace in a bookstore. I started telling stories when I was a toddler and writing them down when I was about five years old. Ever since then, I’ve aimed for a career as an author. 

I graduate from T.C. Williams High School this June, and will take a gap year before starting my English major at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma. I plan on using the next year to read as many books as possible and focus on my writing. I’m pretty knowledgeable about Young Adult (YA) literature, but over the past few years I’ve gained a greater interest in reading from every genre to broaden my literary horizons and hone my own craft. My senior internship this year runs every weekday from the last two weeks of May through the first week of June. I’ll expanding the YA section and assisting with events, as well as doing anything else to gain experience and help out the store. 

Other than books, my interests include coffee, octopuses, and in-depth analyses of Pixar. I can be found on Instagram @klaramel.macchiato.

Our First MFA-in-Residence Blog Post: Meander, Spiral, Explode

Jane Allison and her book,  Meander, Spiral, Explode

Jane Allison and her book, Meander, Spiral, Explode

(Note from Team OTB: This review/meditation on Jane Alison’s Meander, Spiral, Explode is the work of Allie Tunstall, our MFA-in-Residence from George Mason University. Watch this space for more blog posts from Allie to come! Happy reading, and hope to see you in the shop soon!)

Jane Alison, author of Meander, Spiral, Explore: Design and Patterns in Narrative, is confidently deconstructing the traditional arch found in many narratives today, and I am sitting on a wooden bench, her book in my hands, and thinking about the dozens of drafts of essays on my computer told in the same structure.

It’s a Thursday night in Alexandria at Old Town Books, and Alison is doing a reading from her newest book that explores structures and patterns in stories that deviate from the traditional storytelling many of us read on a daily basis. She asserts that far too often the climatic arc has been the go-to technique to tell a story, a technique that has made stories structured and predictable. Her voice is confident, but is a little mischievous as well, her voice rising and falling with the questions she is reading from her text. It’s as if she is inviting the audience to not only ponder the very questions she is asking, but also to ponder the very person reading it.

Alison was born in Australia but traveled the world her entire life with her father, who was in the foreign service, and her family. In Meander, Spiral, Explore, Alison quickly touches on a story from her youth. Her parents and another couple switched partners for a period of time, an interesting event that continued to lead her around the world. It took her to D.C., to Princeton, to different programs she has taught in, to Germany, and everywhere under the sun. She has published six books in her career, including a memoir and four novels. It is a life that does not have a traditional pattern. It is a life that meanders, spirals, and explodes.

I admit that I never read really thought about these other structures. I loved to read growing up and spent any available time reading a book. Even if I didn’t have any available time, I was still reading. I remember sitting in my math class when I was a sophomore in high school, a stack of textbooks on the left corner of my desk that concealed the novel I had open next to them. The person in front of me acted as barrier as well. I read about 30 books a year (I wasn’t exactly a fast reader.) I absorbed novels my entire adolescence. From Harry Potter to Nora Roberts romance novels, I read whatever I could get my hands on. I wasn’t until I entered my junior year of college when I changed my major to Creative Writing that I was introduced to more experimental work that has stuck with me for years. Gabriel Urza’s debut novel, All That Followed, comes to mind. Told in three perspectives that lead you down multiple paths and revelations, creating a more nuanced understanding of the events. It’s not a straight, linear narrative; it circles and radiates from a point of tension.

Despite my introduction to experimental narratives, I had a difficult time translating it to my own writing. I could spot an experimental form when I read it, of course, but transferring those kinds of structures to my own writing never really happened. It’s now three years later and I am a second year MFA student with a concentration in nonfiction at George Mason University. It has been years since I have written fiction, years since I have had to create an entire world from scratch. For the past two years, I have focused on writing personal and research narrative essays for my classes. As I enter into my third and final year of my MFA, my thesis focuses on a mix of both personal and research essays that explore my roots in the Midwest. I’ve started writing these essays, which explore a number of topics like the polite science found in the Midwest, sexuality and foe-liberalism, road trips and economics, chronic illness and family, and more. But I’ve hit a road block. My writing has felt stunted for a period of time. The narrative too linear, too predictable. Everything seems to lead to a climactic moment, one that usually revolves around a something traumatic happening, followed by an attempt to understand it. It has worked in the past; I’ve written essays about chronic illness and stigma that culminate in a moment of tension when I am diagnosed. These essays have been successful. Those moments are traumatic and tense, exactly what I felt when it happened. But that was years ago, and I no longer feel that way. I’ve grown beyond the understanding that it was a traumatic thing that happened to me. It’s more complicated and nuanced, just like I am. So, shouldn’t my narrative and how I structure it reflect the same thing?

I was skeptical when Alison read from her book, I will admit. I still love those climatic arcs and the rising action it takes to get there. I love films that follow that narrative as well. Avengers: Endgame has been out for five days and I have seen it twice already. It relies on that rising action and climax in multiple scenes and it’s done well.

But then other movies rely on something more experimental. Arrival does this with its narrative and structure. Everything builds and radiates and offers new understanding of what we had just seen a moment or half an hour before. I think of Gabriel Urza’s book and how its structure takes you down different paths. I think of W.G. Sebald’s book Rings of Saturn and its meandering structure that builds off of what you read thirty pages ago, which brings new meaning to those pages.

Alison deconstructs a theory from a critic, Robert Scholes, who explains that “sophisticated” fiction “consists of delaying climax within the framework of desire in order to prolong the pleasurable act itself,” comparing it to sex and climax. She responds by saying, “Is this how I experience sex? It is not.”

I chuckle at this line, but I also ponder the larger implication it is offering. While dramatic arcs are entertaining and heart-stopping, do they really reflect the life they are trying to portray? In some cases, yes. Genre and form do affect the choice in structure. But for stories, does following a linear arc, complete with rising action, a climax, and falling action, allow us to come to a deeper understanding of the story itself? For my work right now, I would say no. That may not be true for everyone’s writing, of course. That’s why we have the pleasure of so many different structures and narratives to explore. But for me, in order to understand beyond the moment I am writing about, an experimental form like the Radius, Spiral, or Cell might be the perfect thing to open up my writing and exploration of my life. Because a well-told story is not just the narrative; it’s also how you tell it. And how you tell it allows for a greater truth to explore, question, or answer. It allows one to portray life as life is. Something that is not predictable. Something that has many climatic moments or doesn’t really have any at all. It’s something that meanders and spirals and explodes.

Get your copy of Jane Alison’s book Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Patterns in Narratives at Old Town Books in Alexandria.

Old Town Book(s) Club: Take 3, The Library Book!

The many lovely members of our book club - what a turnout!!

The many lovely members of our book club - what a turnout!!

Hello Book Friends!

This past Saturday morning, we held the third edition of our very own Old Town Book(s) Club, discussing Susan Orlean’s The Library Book, a beautifully-crafted work of nonfiction about the fire that devastated Los Angeles’ Central Library in 1986 which expands outwards into a celebration of the cultural role of libraries. We got 30-plus very enthusiastic readers and commenters in our store to talk about the book, and everyone, even those of the club who don’t normally read nonfiction, was blown away by Orlean’s powerful prose and deeply-researched narratives. Something that kept coming up was that her characters seem to step right off the page, which in my eyes is the mark of any great work of literature, whether fiction or fact! I’m always struck by how many people come and how thoughtful everyone’s comments are. It’s truly a great and welcoming group (as before, about half the group were first-timers), so if you’re unsure about joining the book club as a new member for May, don’t hesitate - everyone’s welcome (and we’ll have nametags this time)! It was my honor to host the club for the first time, and with this book club, it was hardly daunting at all. Hopefully I’ll get to host again soon!

Book Club Eventbrite Image - APR.png

Whether you’ve attended either of our first three book clubs or not, we’d love to have you for May’s club! We’ll be meeting to discuss Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black, a powerful, globe-spanning narrative which covers the (fictional) life of the titular Black, who is born into slavery in Barbados, eventually earning his freedom and traveling to London, Morocco, and Antarctica, among other places. Despite its fascinating portrait of the expanding forld of the 19th Century, the book is also a powerful meditation on the meaning of love and freedom. The club meets May 4 at 10:00 AM, and as always, it’s free to attend, if you buy the book from us you’ll get a 15% discount, and there will be coffee and donuts!

Happy reading, and hope to see you in the shop soon!

-Matt