5 Poems for People Who Don’t Like Poetry

April is National Poetry Month. Now, I happen to love poetry. It is fascinating to me that you can say so much by saying so little, while really delving into the psyche through an honest display of emotion.  However, I have found that not everyone enjoys poetry the way I do. For some, even the word poetry drags up boring lectures about how a butterfly represents the metamorphosis of existence in the temporal field. (Yeah, I don’t even know what I just said.)

If this sounds like you, don’t despair. Here are five poets and their poems that I guarantee even people who hate poetry will like and understand. These are poems that are easy to read, tell a wonderful story and will maybe even make you laugh.

1. The Man from Snowy River, by Banjo Paterson

“The Man from Snowy River” tells the story of a group of men who are following a mob of wild bush horses to recover the colt from Old Regret, who was worth a thousand pounds.  Though they don’t think much of the Man from Snowy River who comes to help them or his small mountain bred pony, this mountain man chases the horses relentlessly and brings them in singlehandedly.  The ballads and poetry of Andrew Barton “Banjo” Paterson are said to have captured the spirit of the Australian Outback.  His ballad “Waltzing Matilda” is Australia’s unofficial national anthem and “The Man from Snowy River” was turned into a film in 1982, starring Kirk Douglas.

2. Entertaining her Big Sister’s Beau, by Bret Harte

“Entertaining her Big Sister’s Beau” is a funny, one-sided conversation a precocious little girl has with her big sister’s date, reminding you that kids do indeed say the darndest things.  I first read this poem in an old English textbook that my mother kept, and I used the poem for poetry readings at dramatic competitions.  Now, I wish I had kept that old textbook, as this poem is very difficult to find.  Thank goodness I made a copy of it.  Now, I just have to remember where I put it.

3.  she being brand new, by e.e. cummings

Anyone who believes that poetry has too many rules should read e.e. cummings, the ultimate rebel poet, and of course, the world’s best poetic metaphor, “she being brand new.”  Don’t be discouraged by the fact that the poem is a metaphor.  Read it once and if you don’t get it right away (due to e.e.’s odd use of punctuation), have someone read it to you.  Believe me, you won’t be able to stop smiling.

4. Another Reason Why I Don’t Keep a Gun in the House, by Billy Collins

If that title won’t get you to read this poem, then I don’t know what will.  “Another Reason Why I Don’t Keep a Gun in the House” is a fun poem about the neighbor’s dog that will not stop barking and what the narrator does to counteract this disturbance. Billy Collins uses his dry sense of humor to make his poetry not only amusing, but also relatable. No wonder he was the Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003.

5.  Fleas, by Ogden Nash

The complete poetic genius of “Fleas” can only be understood by looking at the entire poem.


That’s it. What more can you say? Ogden rocks.

So, if you felt animosity
Toward any type of poetry,
I hope these poems helped you see

You don’t have to be vexed
At all the subtext
Sometimes a flea is a flea.

— Julie

Top Female Jazz Artists: Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald

This month, we celebrate the birthdays of two of the greatest vocalists in all popular music: Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald.  It’s a good time to honor these two, who were so different from each other but were, with Louis Armstrong, the major influences on every popular music vocalist thereafter.


I recently got the 2-CD set Lady in Autumn: The Best of the Verve Years, which collects Billie Holiday recordings made between 1946 and 1959.  There are many, many classics here, including “I Cover the Waterfront,” “My Man,” and “Yesterdays.”  One song I think about a lot is “Don’t Explain.”  I couldn’t remember whether Billie Holiday had written the lyrics to this gorgeous, desperate song.  She did.  The person the words are directed to is asked not to explain who he’s been fooling around with.  “I’m glad you’re back–don’t explain.”  It seems incredibly revealing and tragic as I listen to it now.  The lack of respect she got from men and from wrong-headed American social mores and laws may have helped make her who she was as an artist.

The autobiography Lady Sings the Blues, written with William Dufty in 1956, is very frank and revealing for a bio of its time, with candid commentary on Billie’s addictions and brief stint in prostitution.  Shortly after the book’s publication, Billie declined precipitously till her death in 1959, and her last recordings display the ravages of her lifestyle. 

A great piece of fanciful writing about Billie Holiday and her best music buddy Lester Young appears in Geoff Dyer’s excellent book But Beautiful, which imagines episodes in the lives of various jazz musicians.


Ella Fitzgerald’s masterworks are her “American Songbooks,” 2-disc albums of songs by great songwriters like the Gershwins, Rodgers and Hart, and Ellington.  My favorite is the Cole Porter collection, but they are all worthwhile (unless, like my wife, you inexplicably can’t stand Ella).  I got to see the aging, almost-blind singer perform at the Venetian Room at the Fairmont in Dallas in the mid-seventies and she still sounded like a choir girl (a choir girl with a lot of soul).  From the Cole Porter collection, check out the musical questions: “Why Can’t You Behave?” or “What Is This Thing Called Love?”

I have one bio of Ella, Ella Fitzgerald: A Biography of the First Lady of Jazz, by Stuart Nicholson (1994).  It’s a well-written bio, but Ella’s life story isn’t quite as provocative as Lady Day’s.

Another interesting bio of Ella is a kid’s book that focuses on her pioneering scat singing: Skit Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald (2010), written by Roxane Orgill and illustrated by Sean Qualls.  It’s a fun book for adults to read to kids.  (Along the same lines, don’t miss Charlie Parker Played Be Bop by Christopher Raschka (1997).)

I collect books about jazz singers, and I think it’s fitting that two of the best of them feature one of these ladies on the cover: Will Friedwald’s Jazz Singing: America’s Great Voices from Bessie Smith to Bebop and Beyond (Ella, with Nat King Cole) and Crowther and Pinfold’s Singing Jazz: The Singers and their Styles (Billie).

Celebrate these great jazz innovators by listening to some of their very special music.

Who’s your favorite jazz artist?

— Steve

5 Nature Books for Kids

Gearing up for Earth Day this Sunday (April 22) and need a way for kids to get involved and excited about nature? Start with these five children’s picks and dig in!

1) 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth by The Earthworks Group – An optimistic look at the future, offering straightforward ideas for kids to reduce their resource consumption and start taking better care of Mother Nature.

2) Ecoart!: Earth-Friendly Art and Craft Experiences for 3-To 9-Year-Olds by Laurie Carlson– Great for younger kids (with parent supervision), this eco-conscious guide suggests dozens of fun and easy crafts that can be created with items lying around the house – or around the yard. Not sure what do with that empty milk jug? Want to try something new with the weeds you pulled last weekend? This book has ideas for everyone.

3) Recycle! by Gail Gibbons – This book makes the sometimes-confusing concept of recycling easy to understand for elementary age kids. Pictures and straightforward explanations detail the process of recycling from sorting used cans, bottles and paper to the new products these reused materials eventually create. Focusing on five major types of recyclables, Recycle! teaches kids what types of items they can help save from landfills.

4) The Kids’ Nature Book: 365 Indoor/Outdoor Activities and Experiences by Susan Milord – Organized in calendar format, this book offers children and parents great ideas for getting outside and observing what’s going on around them no matter the time of year. Learn about and watch birds flying south for the winter, and discover why many plants bloom in the spring while studying the saplings at the local park.

5) Fun With Nature: Take Along Guide by Mel Boring – A beginner’s field guide for kids, this book is great to take along on a family walk, camping in the woods, or even to the museum. Children can look up the types of worms, frogs, and squirrels (oh my!) they spot outside and learn more about what these animals eat and their preferred habitat. Also sprinkled throughout are several project ideas – from building rabbit refuges to making a stained glass animal.

Do you remember your favorite nature books from your childhood, or know of any great books to teach kids about the importance of our Earth? Let us know in the comments!

Also… don’t miss your chance to have a tree named in honor of a booklover you love. Learn more about our Plant It for the Planet event and how you can nominate someone. Get your green thumbs on the keyboard and enter now. Deadline is Monday!

— Kate

Buy Guy Files: 40 Years of Buying II

I chose another five tales from our buy areas, out of the many weird and wonderful transactions we’ve made at our stores since 1972.  Here’s the second installment of forty memorable buys we’ve made over the years.

1. Femme Mimics

A few years ago, I was contacted by author Carlton Winford, who had an interesting offer:

“I am the author and publisher of FEMME MIMICS, Winford Co., 1954 (three printings), hard cover, perfect condition (unread), first edition, first printing, 164 pages, 350 photographic illustrations.”

He added a little more info about Femme Mimics. The book is an illustrated study of cross dressing, and originally sold in book stores for $5.00.  After three printings, in 1962, Winford sold the book to a New York publisher.  Around 1975, he saw a second printing copy for sale in a Galveston antique store for $90, and other copies since then have sold for as much as $1,000, depending on condition.  Winford quotes filmmaker John Waters: “I think this book at $850 is such a rare book, it’s worth every penny.” 

The author continues the tale of Femme Mimics:
“In 1956 the widow of a Hollywood, Florida, bookseller, upon death of her husband, asked me to buy back five remaining copies of Femme Mimics from the store’s inventory.  I did.  The five were still packed in one five-book carton, unopened from the original order of three cartons (15).  I left them in the carton and stored them in my stock room.  They were forgotten until I recently discovered the carton while seeking remaining inventory of another book.  The five books are mint condition, unread.  I gave two of them to my grandson and granddaughter.  I have three copies left, which I will sell.”

Winford showed up later that week at our Dallas Flagship store, but with only one copy.  “I’ll bring in the other two, but I’m in no hurry,” he said.  Store Assistant Manager Daniel Baugh had the idea to get Mr. Winford to sign the book, thereby making it a unique item: a signed, mint copy of a rare and unusual “classic in its field.”

2. All About Bette

A buyer at our store in Paradise Valley, Arizona, made a nice discovery there.  It involves a little something extra found in a pretty common book, a beat-up copy of The Films of Bette Davis by Gene Ringgold.

The buyer, fortunately, decided to look through the book.  It appeared that this was Mae Clarke’s copy of the book, since author Ringgold’s inscription was to her.

OK, an inscription and nice note from the author to Ms. Clarke, who appeared in The Front Page, Frankenstein, and, as the recipient of a grapefruit to the face, courtesy James Cagney, in The Public Enemy.  That’s pretty neat.

But then the buyer found the real treasure, clipped to page 17: a letter to Mae Clarke from Bette Davis, written on her personal stationery!  So, it’s a triple-association copy, with an author inscription to a minor actress and a letter to that actress from one of the greatest Hollywood stars.

Quite a special one-of-a-kind item!

3. Letters as Bookmarks

Sometimes the stuff inside the books is more interesting than the books themselves.  Among other things—receipts, tickets, summonses—we often get letters used as bookmarks.  There was one forlorn fellow who brought in several plastic trash buckets of books, many holding letters he had evidently received from a former girlfriend.  Donations Manager Scott Ward, a buyer at the time, says, “We told him we didn’t want his personal papers, so he took them to the parking lot and set them on fire, just a few feet away from a line of employees’ cars!  The boss told the guy we were knocking $20 off his offer to recharge the fire extinguishers we had to use to put out his fire.” 

On top of that, the guy’s truck got high-centered on a curb as he was trying to leave and a tow truck was required to extricate the vehicle.

4. Stride Toward Freedom

The first book published by civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was Stride Toward Freedom.  King, one of the greatest heroes of our times, laid out the basic philosophies of the civil rights movement in this important book.  When this signed first edition was brought in to the University District store in Seattle, the buyers were awestruck.  The seller was a nice lady who had received the book as a gift a long time ago, and the store staff was able to authenticate the signature. What a wonderful opportunity for the employees of that store to be able to look at this great man’s signature up close while handling the buy!

5. Military History—and How!

It began with an e-mail sent to The Buy Guy, in which a Twin Cities-area seller said he had a collection, mostly military history, of 15,000 books. Minnesota Assistant District Manager Michael Miller, who undertook the buy, along with a stalwart crew, commented, “Sellers do exaggerate sometimes how much they have to sell but rarely do they exaggerate by thousands. In this case it turned out to be a bit of an underestimation.”

Michael went to the house with store manager Jim Walker and two of his staff, Jay Henderson and Dave Harrison, who were knowledgeable buyers. After being overwhelmed by the quality as well as the quantity of books being offered, the crew calmed down enough to make their offer—the highest by far they’d ever made on a buy.  And they told the seller that they’d do a little more research to see about raising the offer.  More research indeed led to more money.   

Michael adds, “We knew there were others looking at the collection, some from out of town, so we didn’t really expect to get the books. A couple of weeks passed before the seller contacted me, saying his family had been favorably impressed by Half Price Books and by my having stated we would be able to remove the books in one day.”

A team of eleven returned on the hottest day of the year to remove the 17,000 books in 560 boxes, on sixteen-and-a-half pallets, from the house.  “In spite of the speed, heavy labor and heat,” Michael notes, “everyone’s attitude was really first-rate, so it was a very gratifying day on several counts.”

You never know just what you’re going to come across in a Half Price Books buy area!  Watch for another batch of tales from the buy area next month!

Think you might have some noteworthy books to sell? Check out my video on How to Spot a First Edition!

— Steve, The Buy Guy

Sacré Bleu: A Comedy D’Art by Christopher Moore

As several others have said, nothing is sacred to Christopher Moore. In his newest novel he has completely ripped apart art. All at once, Moore is offensive, profane, outrageous and hilarious in his newest novel, Sacré Bleu: A Comedy D’Art.
Vincent Van Gogh was mysteriously shot in a field around Paris in the 1890s. Was it suicide or was it murder? Lucien Lessard, bread maker and aspiring painter, thinks it’s murder. After receiving a special tube of blue paint from a mysterious and twisted little man, Lucien’s paintings become outstanding, he falls in love with a woman named Juliette, and his life turns into a wreck. Lucien starts to put the pieces together and realizes that all of his problems (and other artists like Van Gogh’s problems) have to do with this particular shade of blue, called sacré blue. In the end, Lucien is determined to stop this twisted little man from selling anymore of the paint and wrecking the lives of artists.
There were several times that I laughed out loud while reading this novel. Moore has a very fresh fantastical look at the lives of the impressionist artists, including Manet, Pissaro, Renoir and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. So while Moore wrote in his usual kooky, ridiculous style, the actual story in Sacré Bleu was full of real life artists and real stories. In the intriguing afterward, Moore writes about how much research he did on the different artists and the snippets of the novel that were based off of true life events.
If books were rated like movies, Sacré Bleu would have an R-rating for its language and sexual references. Moore’s humor is not for everyone. If you haven’t read one of his books before, check out the first two chapters on his blog to get a sense of it. If you do enjoy it, be sure to get one of the first editions of this novel, as it is the only edition that will be printed in full color. The words on the page are blue, and the story also includes full color copies of actual artwork done by the artists. The visual impact that this has on the novel is stunning. I love just flipping through the pages to see the different shades of blue, the different font types and the photos of the artists’ work.
If you’ve got a good sense of humor and a love for satire, next time you’re at your local Half Price Books be on the lookout for some of Christopher Moore’s other most popular novels:

Thanks to the publisher, William Morrow, for sending me a copy to review.

— Kristen B.

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Habits. That word often conjures up negative associations. Likely, because it brings to mind the bad habits you’ve acquired and want to be rid of… Vices, if you will. But, let’s not forget to think about the power of a good habit. How, with lots of practice and repetition, you can become skilled at complex behaviors. Your mind and body work together to establish patterns, which over time, make even the most complicated tasks easier.

What if we could tap into that power? Could you learn a new language? Play the guitar? Write a book? Exercise more regularly? Could you transform your life?

Charles Duhigg (@cduhigg on Twitter), an investigative reporter for The New York Times, wrote an entertaining and enlightening book to explore that notion –- The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.

First thing to note about this book: it’s not a self-help book. The Power of Habit dives into the topics of social psychology, clinical psychology and neuroscience. It uncovers real stories of successful leaders like Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz, former NFL coach Tony Dungy, civil-rights icon Rosa Parks, and how they channeled the power of habits.

In the simplest terms: Charles Duhigg’s book demonstrates how habits work — the equation containing cue, routine behavior and reward. You can read The Power of Habit, in the hopes that by studying and understanding habits, you can better create the ones you want.

A first step, Duhigg says, is belief. Believe that change is possible. – Meredith

Meredith is Associate Creative Director at Half Price Books Corporate.
You can follow her on Twitter at @msquare21.

April’s New Releases on DVD & Blu-Ray

War Horse  (April 3 release)

The Narracott family is short on money and has to pay rent or be evicted. To make matters worse, Ted Narracott has just bought a thoroughbred horse instead of a sturdy plow horse for the farming season. Ted’s son Albert develops a bond with the horse and names him Joey. Desperately needing money, the family is forced to sell Joey to the British Calvary as WWI is about to break out. Once Albert is of age, he enlists and joins the forces to help fight the war, always thinking and keeping an eye out for Joey, wanting nothing more than to see him again. Does Albert get his wish?

Still unsure about watching it? Just consider its director Steven Spielberg and its nomination for Best Picture of the Year. War Horse does not offer brilliant performances by its cast and has a few “family movie clichés” in it, but it has beautiful cinematography, direction, and overall offers a wonderful story. You can’t go wrong sitting down to watch this one.
Iron Lady
  (April 10 release)

Denis Thatcher passed away, leaving Margaret all alone. As she packs away her late husband’s things, she reflects back on her life. Remembering back to the days when she first met Denis, how he supported her clear up through becoming the first female Prime Minister in Great Britain.
Meryl Streep won her third Academy Award this year for her performance in Iron Lady (although I personally thought Viola Davis or Michelle Williams deserved it more.) Iron Lady also won an Oscar for Best Make-Up – most definitely deserved. Meryl Streep appeared to be a mirror image of Margaret Thatcher. The film as a whole was a bit disappointing, but it is worth watching just for the performances.
A Trip to The Moon  (April 10 release)

Remember the movie Hugo last year? If you saw it, or saw a Smashing Pumpkins music video for “Tonight, Tonight,” then this movie may look familiar to you. A Trip to the Moon is a film by Georges Melies. The memorable shot of the rocket crash landing on the moon graces the cover of this re-mastered limited edition. At the time this film was considered to be one of the most technically innovative films out there. Of course, that was 1902, and we have come quite a ways in movie-making technology since then.

I am very interested to see what is done with the restoration with this film– both the black and white and hand colored versions. I’ll be getting a copy for sure, since I don’t yet own this film on DVD or Laserdisc.
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol  (April 17 release)

In a botched attempt to stop a terrorist with nuclear launch codes, a bomb has accidentally gone off, leaving the Kremlin in ruins with the IMF being implicated. The President of the United States has evoked Ghost Protocol, the disavowing of knowledge of any member of the IMF. Ethan Hunt, played by Tom Cruise, is forced to track and catch the terrorist to prove their innocence. Their adventure takes them to Dubai, where there are some great action sequences, one on top of a skyscraper and the other in a sandstorm.

Simon Pegg is back as Benji, and new to the team is recent Academy Award nominee Jeremy Renner. If you liked the previous Mission Impossible movies, this Tom Cruise action film falls right in line. It will not disappoint.

Pop some popcorn and enjoy the feature presentation! — Jim

Top Three Jazz Artists Interpreting the Great American Songbook

Now who wouldn’t already know that Jim Swayze’s a “jazzer?” I’m always looking for it at HPB!

The Great American Songbook, recognized as the very best of American music of the 20th century, has always been the backbone and indispensable part of the repertoire of jazz musicians.  Ella Fitzgerald, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker and all the giants of jazz fraternity found their inspiration in this music, which has become known as the “jazz standards.”  A few of my favorite contemporary artists interpreting The Great American Songbook include Tierney Sutton, John Pizzarelli and Dee Dee Bridgewater. 

Tierney Sutton is truly a treasure.  With a voice of clarity, subtlety and  control, she turns every song into a unique work of art.  The arrangements, made  in collaboration with her band (Christian Jacob on piano, Kevin Axt on bass and Ray Brinker on drums), are complex and often thrilling.  Every recent recording has earned Miss Sutton a deserving Grammy nomination, each is well worth exploring.  Her just released CD “The American Road” would be the perfect introduction to this wonderful artist.

John Pizzarelli, son of jazz guitar great Bucky Pizzarelli, is not only a technically proficient fretman in his own right, but a compelling vocalist as well.  His song selection is sophisticated but is often whimsical as well.  He can be described as “hip with a wink.”  His extended version of “I like Jersey Best” is a comedic gem.  Pick up any of his CDs to get an introduction to this artist.  It is really a treat when he is working in collaboration with his equally talented wife, Jessica Molaskey.

Dee Dee Bridgewater’s name may be familiar as the host of NPR’s program “JazzSet,” where she interviews jazz artists from around the world.  This Paris-based singer is an energetic performer who gives a fresh interpretation to every jazz standard she records.  Dee Dee has won a Tony Award (as Best Featured Actress in the Broadway production “The Wiz”) and has also won three Grammy Awards.  To experience the talent of Miss Bridgewater, may I recommend her tribute album “Dear Ella,” winner of the Best Jazz Vocal Album of 1997, or my favorite, “Live at Yoshi’s.”

The Great American Songbook is alive and well in the hand of these talented three. 

Give them a listen.  It will be time well spent!

— Jim Swayze

Half Pint Library Giveaway Events!

Last week, we kicked off our 2012 Half Pint Library giveaway events that are going on across the country throughout the month of April. After collecting more than 341,000 children’s books with the help of our wonderful customers during our six-week drive (a new record!), we scheduled 34 events to give them all away to local schools and nonprofit organizations.

The festivities began in Milwaukee, Wisconsin last week where 15,000 books donated by customers and our Milwaukee area stores were distributed to community organizations and schools in need of children’s literature. Events in Indiana, Iowa and South Texas followed – and that’s just the beginning! Check out our complete calendar of events to find a giveaway event near you and to learn more about how you can get involved. 

Half Pint Library giveaway display at our Concord, CA store, expertly done by employee Michelle Kendall-Alwrie.

San Antonio/San Marcos district trainer Paul Adams loading boxes of books into a recipients’ truck.

Milwaukee giveaway event at the Wauwatosa warehouse — over 15,000 books were given away!

Boxes of books stacked and ready to be handed out at our Fort Wayne, Indiana giveaway event!

Half Pint Schools Winners!

Earlier this year, schools across the country registered to be part of the annual Half Pint Library Book Drive by hosting their own drives March 19-23, 2012. More than 9,000 books were collected from participating classrooms around the country. The three winning Half Pint Schools will receive an HPB Gift Card for their school library. The 2012 winning schools are:

1st – $200 HPB Gift Card – Big Bend Elementary – Big Bend, WI – 1,300 books
2nd – $100 HPB Gift Card – Oakstone Academy Preschool – Columbus, OH – 788 books
3rd – $50 HPB Gift Card – Holy Spirit Catholic School – Appleton, WI – 778 books

A huge thanks to all of the schools and classrooms that participated and helped us to collect more children’s books than ever before for nonprofit organizations and schools in need. All books donated through Half Pint Schools will be given away at local Half Pint Library Giveaway events throughout April.

Check out our complete Calendar of Events for details!

— Kate (and BW)

40 Books You Won’t Be Able to Put Down

You know that book. The one you read in one or two sittings. The one you practically swallowed whole. What an exhilarating experience –– to be so captivated by a book that you cannot bear to do anything until you get to the last page!

I polled our ~3,000 HPB Bibliomaniacs around the country about which books they devoured. And they had much to say on the topic. So, if you’ve never read them, give these books a try. Without further ado, here are 40 Books You Won’t Be Able to Put Down.

There seems to be something for everyone on this list — mystery, romance, biography, contemporary literature, classics, even paranormal. So, did your favorite quick read make the list? Add yours to our list by making a quick comment below.

— Julie