BEG, BORROW, STEAL: A Writer’s Life by Michael Greenberg. New York: Other Press. 2009.

As I’m getting to know the stacks of the Marstons Mills Library here on Cape Cod, I’m picking up random titles that catch my eye and writing about them. This one is a memoir by writer Michael Greenberg, a New York writer. Since our time in New York overlapped somewhat, I felt guilty about not knowing him or his writing while I lived there.

The book is a series of chapters as memories — some are of his childhood, some are of incidents in contemporary time that spark trains of thoughts or send him on adventures, such as riding a subway on Christmas with a friend who got a job as a motorman or investigating Hart’s Island (aka Potter’s Field). There are very few chapters actually about writing — although one, about adventures as a for-hire writer, is hilarious and very telling to any of us who job out. Many of the chapters seem to be about NOT writing, doing other things.

But, really, isn’t that the “life” part of a writer’s life? Something catches your attention, your interest, you decide to follow it, and you find someone to pay you to write about it. A writer gets to live many lives, sometimes more than an actor. Actors often have to wait to be cast — a writer gets to write his own reality.

The writing is thoughtful, funny, and makes one think about all those places and people one passes every day, living in New York, without giving them a second thought.

If you’re in the Barnstable area, you can stop by Marstons Mills Library and check it out — who knows what else you’ll find in the stacks? The library’s jewel is its theatre collection. If you’re in CLAMS network — order it. If you’re far from the Cape — contact your local independent bookstore and order it!

Strand Books, New York City
by Devon Ellington

I considered calling this “Ode to Strand Books”. It would be appropriate to pen a sonnet singing this store’s praises, but since I can’t write sonnets, I’m writing an essay instead.

If you’re ever in New York, there’s an independent bookstore you MUST visit — Strand Books, at 828 Broadway, on the corner of Broadway and 12th Street. It is a bibliophile’s heaven, originally opened in 1927 on Fourth Avenue, part of the wonderful Book Row (that no longer exists, unfortunately).

Strand is now run by the granddaughter of the original owner, and has over 2.5 million books between its location on Broadway and 12th, and the kiosk near Central Park, at 5th Avenue and 60th Street. They also do business via their website — thank goodness, since I no longer live in New York. They sell both new and used books, handle some wonderful rare books, and hold an exciting calendar of events.

I became a customer of Strand’s back in 1981, when I first started attending NYU. It was like walking into paradise, a feeling I still get every time I walk into the store. The smell of the books, the sheer quantity of shelving and contents. I might walk in there thinking I know what I want, but I leave carrying treasures I didn’t know I needed.

The further I grew in my writing career, the more I needed Strand, especially for research. They could help me find essays, printed diaries, information on steam trains or costume or anything I needed. I could dig into the archives at libraries, historical societies, and special collections, and the Strand would help me hunt down books I needed to own during the writing of a particular piece. Those books then went into my personal research library, and I find myself turning to them time and time again. Sometimes they’ll even come up with something not on my list, but that pertains to a project and ask me if I want it (the answer is usually yes).

The staff both loves books and is knowledgeable about them. They’re happy to help you hunt for something, but equally happy to let you browse the tall shelves — for hours. I went through a period where I could only order by mail, because if I actually walked through the doors — well, let’s just say they had to help me carry the bags of books out the door and load them into the cab with me!

Now that I live on Cape Cod, I still turn to them first when I’m hunting down research books for the myriad of projects I work on. Yes, I frequent the Cape’s many independent book stores (you’ll be meeting some of them on this blog in the coming months). But I also count on Strand. Even when I’m not sure exactly what I’m looking for, or if I’ve forgotten a title or an author, they can interpret vague ramblings and find what I need. Their shipping costs are reasonable, and they are efficient — as well as being friendly and helpful.

They are everything that is best about a traditional book store, while embracing technological needs.

In MY book, Strand Books equals perfection.


Midnight Enchantments is a celebration of books, characters, and authors we love who use magic in their work.

Midnight Enchantments: Joanne Walker
By Devon Ellington

Another favorite character in the urban fantasy genre is Joanne Walker. She’s a mechanic for the Seattle police department AND a shaman. Murphy mixes the native American and Celtic elements beautifully.

In my opinion, there are two reasons the books work so well. The first is that the landscape is rich with emotional geography and the setting is an additional character. You can feel the land breathe and respond to Joanne, support her or fight her. There were a lot of things I loved about Murphy’s Negotiator series, such as the way she dealt with race, but she never captured New York’s emotional geography, and I never got a sense of place. As someone who lived in Manhattan for many years and has strong feelings about its emotional geography, I found it very frustrating. And then, of course, I felt guilty about that response, because I’m such a huge fan of Murphy’s writing!

I lived in Seattle, too (the unhappiest year of my life), but Walker’s Seattle is a wonderful, rich, vibrant place, even when it’s terrifying.

The second reason I feel the books work so well is that we get to experience Joanne’s learning curve WITH her. We’ve all been frustrated with characters who make the same mistakes over and over again. Joanne is smart enough to realize if she does that, she’ll be dead, and so will people she cares about. So, she makes the conscientious effort to learn and grow. It’s one of the many things I love about her, and one of the reasons she’s one of my favorite characters.

You can find out more about all of CE Murphy’s books on her website.

Devon Ellington publishes under a half a dozen names in both fiction and non-fiction. She writes the urban fantasy Jain Lazarus adventures, and her latest release, as Annabel Aidan, is the paranormal romantic suspense ASSUMPTION OF RIGHT. She will present her dialogue workshop at Write Angles on Oct. 22. www.devonellingtonwork.com