Wednesday, January 31, 2007


For once I've got an afternoon flight for my trip to Portland... which means time for breakfast, lazy packing, and a quick post.

The book blogging world is about to lose one of its best voices. Bookseller Chick is losing her job, as her West Coast store closes. Her posts pounded into my head the fact that chain store employees are booksellers too, and chain stores aren't immune to the tragedy of closing doors. In my opinion, few booksellers in any kind of store have the depth of insight, egalitarian spirit (i.e. romances get pride of place next to "literary" stuff), connection with both readers and authors, open-minded inquiry into why the book industry is the way it is, and skill at wryly expressing the bookstore life that this anonymous chick does. Check out her poignant postings on the closing process, and click through the archives for a wealth of conversations about books and bookstores. Hopefully, BS Chick will continue to blog about her future book world endeavors -- she's a force to be reckoned with.

On a lighter note, I would just like to point out to anyone who hasn't seen it yet that, because of a quirk of cell phone text messaging, book = cool. (Thanks Max, as usual the first on the book/tech beat.) Wait 'till the DTF hears this...

That's it. I'm off, wearing my Book Nerd (Cool Nerd?) T-shirt -- see you at Powell's tonight, or back on the blog next week!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Pre-Winter Institute check-in; Special Report Offer!

Suddenly, the long-awaited ABA Winter Institute is upon us. I feel like I've been so busy with work and other projects that I haven't had time to really get into thinking about the WI, but now I'm leaving in two days and I'm TOTALLY excited. There's going to be so much packed into this week -- in addition to the incredible ABA educational sessions and programming, there will be meetings with Emerging Leaders, DEFINITELY a visit to the famous Powell's, and lots of authors, booksellers, and others enjoying each others' company while learning what's going to take them into the future. And maybe some BEA style parties as well?...

I'll probably see many of you there -- be sure to say hi if you see a girl with her nerdy enthusiasm showing and "McNally Robinson Booksellers" on her badge. But if you're not going and you're curious, here's my offer to you:

What would you like to have your Book Nerd report back from Winter Institute?

I've got my own agenda of sessions I'd like to attend, but if you're particularly curious about an educational topic, an author, a vibe, a party, or anything else, I'll do my best to check it out and write about it, either here or via email. Get your requests in via comments or email before Wednesday at 10 a.m. (that's when I have to leave for the airport), and your embedded Book Nerd will bring you the scoop.

Until next week -- signing off!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Check it out: E-Commerce!

You approved it -- you got it! At long last, the fine folks at Brainiads (thanks, Max!) have hooked me up with my very own blog advertising. Right under my profile you'll see a rotating lineup of reader-friendly advertisements for stuff you, the readers, might actually be interested in. Click through and your Book Nerd might make a penny or two. Let me know what you think!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Contest Tip-Off; Reviews #51 and 52 (of 2006); Bonus: The Book That Changed My Life

Heads up: the Litblog Co-Op not only has a great interview with Valerie Trueblood, author of SEVEN LOVES, but we've got a little contest going on as well, with copies of the book as swag. Two inquiries: know a novel where a minor relationship is the key to the plot? and a novel with an unconventional structure? You describe yours, and best comments win a book. Come on! You know you've got some! (As a member I can't enter, and I've got the book, but... Cloud Atlas, anyone?)

As for the reviews: I know I'm pushing it with fitting these books into my last year's total but reviewing them this late in January, and it doesn't necessarily speak well for this year's total. Truth be told, I'm not resolving a book total this year. I'm getting married, darnit, and planning a bookstore to boot, and if I find myself reading under 50 titles, you'll know the reason why. I'll still talk about those I do read (and hear about) here -- no worries.

Review #51
Edited by Roxanne Coady and Joy Johanneson
(Gotham, October 2006)
Roxanne Coady is another one of my bookselling heroines. The force behind R.J. Julia Booksellers in Connecticut, she's met her share of literary luminaries. But the impetus for this collection of their writings didn't happen until she heard the stats on literacy in her home state. The numbers so appalled her that she figured she'd better do something. Coady founded Read to Grow, a non-profit that puts books in the hands of new mothers in every hospital in the state. All this to say, a chunk of the proceeds from THE BOOK THAT CHANGED MY LIFE go straight to Read to Grow -- thus giving this book the potential to actually change some lives.

But it wouldn't work if the book wasn't worth reading, and buying. Fortunately, it's both. (At an event we had at our store with Coady, I was a bit worried because the crowd was only about 10 people or so... but when I looked at the inventory the next morning we'd sold over 20 books! Part of this has to do with Coady's skills as a bookseller, and an inspiring philanthropist, but the book's worth buying, too.) The pieces, by 71 authors (from political nonfiction to thrillers to lit crit to tearjerkers), range in length from half a page to three pages or so, and of course some were more interesting to me than others. But every one was a fascinating look into someone else's reading history, the books that made them who they are. And of course I developed my own must-read list while reading it. The one I keep thinking of is Harold Bloom's pitch for -- no, not Shakespeare -- the American fantasy novel LITTLE, BIG. Gotta read that one.

To be honest, Coady's book has disappeared into the wilds of my overloaded bookshelves and I can't find it at the moment to review which pieces I found particularly interesting. But you know, that's not necessarily important for a book to change your life. I've talked to my fellow booksellers about books they continue to recommend year after year, though at this point that can't remember the names of most of the characters, or even exactly what happens. But they remember the impression the book left on them, the world that opened through those words. It's obviously something I believe in pretty strongly. I'm grateful to Coady for offering the chance for authors to reflect on their own reading journey, and for all of us to contribute to her efforts on behalf of literacy.

Review #52
by Mark Helprin
(Pocket Fiction, 1984)
I've been told for years that I would love this book, by the ALP and others who know my prediliction for literate fantasy and my love for my adopted city. Somehow I never got to it, until I came across an ancient mass market copy at Adam's Books, one of the best new additions to my neighborhood. I was about to leave for Christmas in California, and the pocket-sized book seemed meant for a winter's plane trip away from home.

For once, I didn't buy a trashy magazine for the plane, and I never cracked the American Way magazine. I was absorbed in the wild story of machinist and thief and time traveler Peter Lake, a huge white horse, a "Gangs of New York" style group of miscreants called the Short Tails, a wealthy family with a daughter dying of consumption and obsessed with the stars, a wall of cloud that cuts through the present into the future, a glowing newspaper building that runs like a well-oiled machine, couples who come together despite the odds, magical conspiring circumstances, a mystical bridge-builder, an utterly perfect winter-bound upstate New York town, and always, always, the wintry landscape of New York City, from the 19th century to the end of the 20th, where the uncontrollable chaos of contradictions might lead, in the end, to justice.

Forgive the headlong run-on sentence, but that's what my experience of the book was like, and naming it's details is the only way I can think to describe it. It seems to me that Helprin had a hugely ambitious philosophy behind this work of fiction that I still don't entirely understand, and when I came to the end I was a little baffled by what, exactly, had happened, and almost disappointed that events weren't more clearly resolved. But as I get a little distance from it, I realize the journey was one of the most memorable I've ever taken. I underlined dozens of lines and paragraphs, for their language or their imagery or their ideas. I'm going to be thinking about this book for a long time. Now that winter has finally hit New York, the book reminds me how loveable the city truly is, its great potential, as well as its great capacity for suffering. Read it now, while the weather is cold enough to make you sit up and take notice. It's going on my all-time favorites list.

Bonus: Roxanne Coady's question, What's the book that changed your life?, is an irresistable one. Here's my answer. I'd dearly love to hear yours.

The book(s) that changed my life were L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables series. Despite my argument to the contrary with my 10th grade English teacher, I don't think now I'd call it great literature. The perspective is too conventionally Edwardian, and the insights are the kind that are useful in everyday life and behavior, rather than searing and merciless. But it made me the person I am. The story of the awkward girl with the "imagination" and how she grew up, fell in love, studied and worked and had children and friends, was a great comfort to me in my own awkward adolescent days. I often felt that Anne had more to work with on Prince Edward Island than I did in Bakersfield, California, as far as food for the imagination, but she made me start trying. And she was an inspiration not only to poetic flights and good reading, but to that most nerdy of attributes, virtue. Looking for the best, in people and situations, became not a Pollyanna-ish delusion, but an act of both artistic creation and moral good faith. And with practice, it got easier, for her and for me.

I'm sure my obsession with Anne and her world (I read the entire series every summer of my teen years) had some negative effects too. Her long-suppressed but ultimately consummated romance with her best friend Gilbert certainly colored many of my relationships with guy friends, and gave me some weird expectations that the whole "why, I've loved you all this time!" thing was the only way to find true love. And since many of the stories of side characters in that series had an O. Henry-ish inevitable happy ending, reading them probably did nothing to help my often unrealistic romantic expectations. But in the end I did manage to find myself with a man who, as Anne preferred "could be wicked, but wouldn't." (Too much virtue is boring, obviously, and Anne understood the attraction to the bad boy, and its limitations.) So it can't have been too bad for me.

One of my favorite lines in the series is Montgomery's description of "long strings of days where nothing happens, like pearls slipping off a string." Anne of Green Gables taught me that fantasy and good faith can actually lead to great contentment in the midst of ordinary life. And she started me off on a lifetime of loving books with as great a passion as she did. Not bad for a red-haired orphan kid.

So: What's the book that changed your life?

Monday, January 22, 2007

Link-Mad Monday: Awards galore, Blog Roundup

I was too overbooked to attend the announcement party at Housing Works Used Book Cafe (which really has an awesome event lineup) on Saturday night, but the National Book Critics Circle has announced their award finalists; you can see the list here. If many of these look familiar, I think that's as it should be; the award is given to books that have received critical acclaim from NBCC members, so you've probably already read their glowing reviews.

Did anyone read this story in the NY Times a couple weeks ago? It's like American Idol (or maybe Project Greenlight) for writers: authors submit a manuscript, the online "audience" votes, and the winner gets a book contract with Simon & Schuster. I have mixed feelings -- is this mob rule by internet Philistines, shameless publisher pandering in a search for readers, or the new digital populism in response to outdated publishing traditions? -- but I'm curious to see how it goes.

I've accumulated an inbox-full of emails from other bloggers, writers and booksellers, many newbies, many of whom have great new projects going on. I don't feel comfortable linking to individual author's book sites -- it's like recommending a book I haven't read, and I fear I'll open the floodgates to authors who want me to promote them -- but everything else, including group blogs or writing communities, are fair game. I haven't read deeply into all of these sites, so I'm just providing you with the name of the proprietor(s) and their self-descriptions so you can find the ones that appeal to you. Here's the roundup -- enjoy!

Alive On Water Street
Prop. Christopher Tisdale
"Where good poetry lives well, and bad poetry dies a horrible death"

Bibliophile Bullpan
Prop. J. Godsey
"a whiff of old books with your coffee."

Independent Bookstore Photo Gallery

Prop. Bill Guffey
"Here you will find photographs of Independent Bookstores which have been submitted by their owners, with a short description of each. Make sure to note the location of each bookstore and visit them in person!"

Nancy Pearl's Book Lust Wiki
Props. Sara Walker (Wet Paint) and Nancy Pearl (author of Book Lust)
"A Community For People Who Love Books"
"Nancy Pearl's Book Lust recommended reading series-discover book club recommendations and online book reviews for hundreds of books."

Jumel Terrace Books
Prop. Kurt Thometz
"Local History, African and American, Harlem, New York

150 Thrillers
Props. International Thriller Writers
Win a signed library of some of the world's best thrillers"

Writer's Edge

Prop. Georganna Hancock
"A writer's journal about English words, books and writing"

Outside of a Dog
Props. Terry Murphy, Sandra Alonzo, Liz Goulet Dubois, Joe Kulka, Becky Hall, Barbara Johansen Newman, and Anne Bowen
"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read. -- Groucho Marx"
"We are eight writers and illustrators who came together in 2000 as an on-line writing group. Over the years we have shared stories and news and frustrations about the wonderful and sometimes scary business we are in: writing and illustrating books for youth. ...Between us we have a few dozen projects out, or coming out soon."

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Wednesday Catch-Up: Linkage, Day of ABA

Time gets away from one, doesn't it? Out of respect for your schedules which I'm sure are as busy as mine, let's do fun links first, then some chronicle reading.

Link Madness

- The Lit-Blog Co-Op has announced the winner of the Winter Read This! selection: the highly praised but sadly under-read novel WIZARD OF THE CROW by N'gugi wa Thiong'o! It's a meaty, surreal, hilarious, challenge of a novel, and the conversation promises to be a good one. In the meantime, the next few weeks on the LBC will be devoted to the discussions of the two runners-up: SEVEN LOVES by Valerie Trueblood and DEMON THEORY by Stephen Graham Jones. They're all irresistably interesting, if not universally beloved, so stop by the LBC website and take in the smarty-pants book club conversation, and even add your own two cents.

- My boss sent me a link to this article in the New York Sun. The often-conservative paper has a surprising article covering indie bookstore openings in the city this year, noting my home neighborhood's newest addition Adam's Books, as well as the new Taschen store and others. Encouraging news; check it out! (The Sun also, however, notes that NYC ranks "dead last nationally in 'bookselling stores per resident.'." Room for a few more indies, eh?)

- February seems to be conference season, and I'm totally geekin' out about it. First comes the ABA's Winter Institute in Portland, Oregon, February 1 and 2. (Workshops on lighting, design, magazines, merchandising! Author breakfasts and panels! The hometown of Powell's! More Emerging Leaders than you can shake a stick at!) I am so there -- send me an email if you're going and you want to try to meet up.

Then, at the end of February, New York hosts Comic Con! This year, along with the requisite oddballs-in-costumes vibe, there's a special emphasis on graphic novels. I'm hoping to go this year (last year tickets sold out before I got there) and learn a few things while getting all fangirl-giggly about Green Arrow and Brian K. Vaughn.

Chronicle: Day of ABA

As I mentioned, last Wednesday was a day of meetings with the American Booksellers Association at the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott (future Hotel ABA, and a cooler place every time I go there). I was one of the lucky ones who got to walk from my house to the hotel (booksellers were flown in from all over the country), and walked through the first brief snow of the winter in NYC -- hooray!

The first session was the Author Selection Committee for the breakfasts, lunches, and other events at Book Expo America. Our hosts were the Reed Business types in charge of running the show (since ABA sold the show to them a few years ago), who are sensible enough to want to keep booksellers on their advisory board in order to keep booksellers coming to BEA.

Unfortunately, I can't tell you anything about what we decided, who will be speaking/moderating/headlining, or how the decisions were made. Because it's all confidential until the BEA hosts announce it later this year, so as not to freak out authors and publishers or steal the drama of the media announcements. I can only describe the process as something like a combination of serving on a UN advisory council (lots of different interests, shouting good-naturedly and trying to find common ground) and the painful process of "pulling returns" in the bookstore (eliminating some books and authors to leave room for others to shine). It was tough, but exhilarating.

And boy oh boy, are you ever gonna like the way it turned out. =)

The second half of the day was the first-ever ABA DTF: the American Booksellers' Association Digital Task Force. This was made up of booksellers from bookstores all over: Spotty Dog in upstate New York, (the incredible website of the Powell's indie empire), older bookstores like Chapter One Books in Hamilton, MT and Changing Hands in Tempe, AZ, newer bookstores like Nomad Book House in Jackson, MI and my own McNally Robinson, along with Arches Book Company (Moab, UT), Shaman Drum (Ann Arbor, MI), and Tattered Cover (Denver, CO). Booksellers ranged in age from about 25 to over 60 (ABA CEO Avin Domnitz admitted to going to his first BEA the year I was born - impressive!).

What we all had in common was an interest in the direction technological innovations, especially the internet/iPod/digital "revolution", are taking the information industry and ultimately the book industry. We are bloggers, website salespeople, and wi fi cafes. We're interested in Second Life, the Sony Reader, Print On Demand, downloadable audiobooks, and networking in its various forms. Our job was to talk.

After a great overview and briefing (and lots of reading material) from Len Vlahos, Dan Cullen, and Avin Domnitz of the ABA, we did a lot of just that. We talked about how technology has already changed our stores. We talked about what we'd like ABA to do for bookstores as our industry changes. We got excited about some possibilities, and occasionally bleak about others. We talked about ways for us to take the unique community of booksellers, that learns something every time we get around a table together, and make our conversation possible over space and time through internet networking. We talked about how to stay at the table as the possibility of a viable e-reader looks imminent. We talked about how to keep talking. My only regret about the day was that I had to leave afterward to pack for my trip home, and didn't get to hang out at the hotel bar and continue the conversation.

While I was listening to the talk, a poem started running through my head, and I scribbled it down and handed it to Avin afterward. It was the epigraph of a book called CHEAT AND CHARMER by Elizabeth Frank (that I loved and handsold though it got mediocre reviews and not a ton of publisher support). It's by that old crank of a poet A.E. Housman, and it reads, in part:

The dreams of mortals
Are false and fleeting
Of lovers meeting
Or wealth or fame.

Mine were of trouble
And mine were steady
So I was ready
When trouble came.

It's an addictively catchy little poem, but a philosophy almost the opposite of mine -- if you spend all your time dreaming of trouble what will you do when joy comes? But I think Housman's implication is that you are ready for what you dream about, and the more you dream it the more likely that it will be part of your life.

So for me, the DTF was a chance to start dreaming in digital, so indie booksellers will be ready when digital comes. Personally, I'm excited about the dream.

What do you think? Any ideas about the implications of the digital future for bookselling? What do you think the DTF should be talking about (and we will be talking)?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Slight Delay; Airplane Reading Poll

Sorry, WN readers -- I had to go out of town unexpectedly for a funeral, and I'm just back and getting off to a slow start this week. Check back Wednesday for a full report on ABA meetings (minus the "strictly confidential" stuff I can't tell ya), book reviews, and other doings.

I'm slightly ashamed to report that on the plane I read half of a book I should have finished ages ago, and two brainless girl magazines, as is my wont. Question to the readership: what's your idea of a perfect airplane read?

Monday, January 08, 2007

Chronicle, Links, A Reader's Year

A lot to cram in today, because this Wednesday (typical posting day) is a day of ABA. In the morning I will have the honor of participating in the Author Selection Committee for Book Expo America -- examining, along with other booksellers, the list of authors submitted by publishers (strictly confidentially!) as potential speakers and participants in BEA 2006 to be held in New York in June. Then in the afternoon, I'll be part of the first first ABA DTF -- the American Booksellers Association Digital Task Force. This will be a group of forward-looking booksellers taking a look at all those technological developments that occupy our minds, and figuring out ways that independent booksellers can take advantage of them and develop along with them. I'll give you my full report on those meetings next Monday.

In the meantime... with the dozens of independent bookstore closings in the news, have you ever wondered how many independent bookstores OPENED in 2006? Ninety-seven. That's how many. The ABA reports in Bookselling This Week on new bookstore openings (actually UP from 2005!), and the innovative approaches of this new generation of indie booksellers. Told ya, didn't I?

And here at home, the Times finally takes a look at the wonderful plethora of surviving and thriving indie bookstores in New York City. My bookstore gets a mention, along with the wonderful and inimitable Books of Wonder, St. Mark's, Oscar Wilde, and many other favorites. And this isn't even the half of them. How lucky we are around here.

In the spirit of this joy in books, I humbly submit for your persusal: A Reader's Year. Here are all of the books your Book Nerd read and reviewed this year. Of course, as with all of you, this doesn't represent the entirety of my reading. I read any number of comic books and compilations. I've probably read this book (by my friend Stephanie) a dozen time or so, all told. I'm in the middle of probably half a dozen other books that I'll finish at some point. And then there's the periodical and blog reading. But these are the books I faithfully recorded and reviewed here on the blog. You'll be pleased to note that I made my goal of 52 books read this year (if you count the last one, which I finished on New Year's Day). (The ALP recently did a similar tally, with the same restrictions; his total was 97, the rotter. Hence the L in ALP.) The bold titles represent my personal Best Of 2006; you can click through the archives to read my reviews.

All in all, it was a good year for books.

Books Read in 2006

#1: THIS BOOK WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE by A.M. Homes (Viking, April 2006)
#2: BLACK SWAN GREEN by David Mitchell (Random House April 2006)
#3: CONSIDER THE LOBSTER by David Foster Wallace (Little, Brown, December 2005)
#4: THE HOUR OF THE STAR by Clarice Lispector (New Directions, 1992)
#5: THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU by Carolyn See (Random House, May 2006)
#6: THE QUITTER Written by Harvey Pekar, Art by Dean Haspiel (Vertigo, 2005)

#7: THE BIG MOO: STOP TRYING TO BE PERFECT AND START BEING REMARKABLE by The Group of 33, Edited by Seth Godin (Portfolio, 2005)
#8: THE UNFINISHED NOVEL AND OTHER STORIES by Valerie Martin (Vintage Books, May 2006)
#9: A CHILD AGAIN by Robert Coover (McSweeney's, 2005)
#10: MY LUCKY STAR by Joe Keenan (Little, Brown, January 2006)
#11: WHY I WAKE EARLY by Mary Oliver (Beacon Press, paperback April 2005)

#12: THE PEOPLE OF PAPER by Salvador Plasencia (McSweeney's, June 2005)
#13: THE HOUSE OF PAPER by Carlos Maria Dominguez, translated by Nick Caistor, illustrations by Peter Sis (Harcourt, November 2005)
#14: TRIANGLE by Katherine Weber (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, June 2006)
#15: FIRMIN: ADVENTURES OF A METROPOLITAN LOWLIFE by Sam Savage (Coffee House Press, April 2006)
#16: WHAT JESUS MEANT by Gary Wills (Viking, March 2006)
#17: THE BRIEF HISTORY OF THE DEAD by Kevin Brockmeier (Pantheon, February 2006)
#18: ADVERBS by Daniel Handler (Ecco, May 2006)

#19: VOYAGE ALONG THE HORIZON by Javier Marias (Believer Books, April 2006)
#20: BOOK BY BOOK: NOTES ON READING AND LIFE by Michael Dirda (Henry Holt, May 2006)

#21: FLY BY NIGHT by Francis Hardinge (HarperCollins, April 2006)
#22: THE LOST COLONY, BOOK 1: THE SNODGRASS CONSPIRACY by Grady Klein (First Second, May 2006)
#23: SACCO AND VANZETTI MUST DIE! by Mark Binelli (Dalkey Archive Press, July 2006)
#24: TOLSTOY LIED by Rachel Kadish (Houghton Mifflin, September 2006)

#25: ALL FOR LOVE by Dan Jacobson (Metropolitan/Holt, September 2006)
#26: WINDSHIFT by Andrea de Carlo (Rizzoli, August 2006)
#27: THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD by Agatha Christie (Black Dog and Leventhal, September 2006)
#28: THE TUESDAY CLUB MURDERS by Agatha Christie (Dell, 1961)

#29: CONVERSATIONS WITH MR. PRAIN by Joan Taylor (Melville House, June 2006)
#30: THE BEST OF SLATE: A 10TH ANNIVERSARY ANTHOLOGY Edited by David Plotz, Introduction by Jacob Weisberg, Foreword by Michael Kinsley
(Atlas Books, June 2006)

#31: BROOKLAND by Emily Barton (FSG, February 2006)
#32: CROOKED HOUSE by Agatha Christie (St. Martin's, August 2002 [originally published 1948])
#33: THREE PLAYS BY THORNTON WILDER: OUR TOWN, THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH, THE MATCHMAKER by Thornton Wilder (Bantam Pathfinder Editions, November 1972 [plays originally published 1938, 1942, and 1957, respectively)
#34: SPECIAL TOPICS IN CALAMITY PHYSICS by Marisha Pessl (Viking, August 2006)
#35: HALF LIFE by Shelley Jackson (HarperCollins, July 2006)

(none - guess I was too busy this month...)

#36: KOCKROACH by Tyler Knox (William Morrow, January 2007)
#37: MRS. DALLOWAY'S PARTY by Virginia Woolf; compiled and edited by Stella McNichol (Harvest edition, 1973)
#38: PRIDE OF BAGHDAD by Brian K. Vaughan; art by Niko Henrichon (Vertigo, September 2006)
#39: A LOVER IN PALESTINE by Selim Nassib; translated by Alison Anderson (Europa Editions, February 2007)

#40: THE KILLING JAR by Nicola Monaghan (Scribner, April 2007)
#41: KLEZMER BOOK ONE: TALES OF THE WILD EAST by Joann Sfar (First Second Books, September 2006)
#42: THE DISSIDENT by Nell Freudenberger (Ecco, September 2006)
#43: THE SUBWAY CHRONICLES Edited by Jacquelin Cangro (Plume, September 2006)
#44: MR. THUNDERMUG by Cornelius Medvei (HarperCollins, April 2007)
#45: VAMPIRE LOVES by Joann Sfar (First Second Books, June 2006)
#46: MARGHERITA DOLCE VITA by Stefano Benni (Europa Editions, November 2006)
#47: THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS by John Connolly (Atria Books, November 2006)
#48: THE LADIES OF GRACE ADIEU by Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury, October 2006)

#49: THE YELLOW-LIGHTED BOOKSTORE by Lewis Buzbee (Graywolf Press, June 2006)
#50: THE DEVIL IN THE BUSH by Matthew Head (Felony & Mayhem, December 2005)
#51: THE BOOK THAT CHANGED MY LIFE edited by Roxanne Coady (Gotham, October 2006) review to come
#52: WINTER'S TALE by Mark Helprin (Pocket, 1984) review to come

Do you have a list of what you read in 2006? What were your favorites of the year?

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

D'oh! Email screwup

Holy Cow. It has just now come to my attention that when I got my shiny new Mac, not all of my email accounts followed me from my old computer. So if you have emailed Book Nerd in the last month and have been puzzled and hurt by my lack of response, I've just gotten your email in my inbox, along with about 150 others. I'll respond as I can. Sorry for the technological screw-up -- I am a print media person, after all.

Wednesday reflections: Three owners, three perspectives on bookstores and loss

This should be the post where I list all the great books I've read in the past year, and rhapsodize about the great things in store for books and the book industry in the coming year. But I have to admit my enthusiasm and energy are at a bit of an ebb tide at the moment. Maybe it's post-holiday letdown (and our store had a wonderful, exhausting, expectation-exceeding holiday). Maybe it's that my energy has been drained by a too-long wrestle with the flu. Maybe it's just that Mercury is retrograde, as one bookstore customer always insisted was the cause when things were going wrong.

It's an easy time to get to feeling down. There are plenty of stories going around about the number of bookstores closed this year, or about to close. Interestingly, the New York Times has in-depth pieces about three of those closing stores: Coliseum, Micawber Books, and Murder Ink / Ivy's. I find the words of the proprietors of each of those stores rather illuminating regarding the different perspectives one might take toward a run of bad news, or just a case of the blues.

George Liebson of New York's Coliseum Books doesn't hold back in this article. In what is sure to become his most famous quote, he states "Running a bookstore is like running an insane asylum." Keeping the booksellers and customers from killing each other, while preventing "the great American public" from spilling coffee on books, has been his primary function, he says. I mean no disrespect to Mr. Liebson, but it seems to me that it's just as well he's getting out of this line of work. If one thinks of customers (and employees) as a sort of sinister force of nature to be contained, retail work is probably not going to be especially satisfying. One had better love people as well as books if bookselling is going to be a fulfilling life. This seems to me somewhat of a blaming response to misfortune: a completely natural response, but an unhappy one.

Logan Fox of Micawber Books is in a slightly different situation. He has managed to sell his Princeton bookstore at a profit (making way for Labyrinth Books to come in and fulfill the academic book needs of the town, in cooperation with the University). His implication is that this is a pre-emptive strike against a future bookstore failure. His quote: “The old days of browsing, the old days of a person coming in for three or four hours on a Saturday and slowly meandering, making a small pile of books, being very selective, coming away with six or seven gems they wanted, are pretty much over. If you go to the Strand or to Micawber Books today, it’s a whole different gear, where society wants satisfaction and fulfillment now.” Though he seems less angry that Liebson, Fox is saddened by the state of the culture, and worried that bookstores like his will have no place in it.

Jay Pearsall of Murder Ink and Ivy's Books speaks for himself in this opinion piece. Reflecting on 17 years of running the tiny pair of bookstores on the Upper West Side (one dedicated to death, one to life, as he observes), his memories are primarily happy, though tinged with wry humor, and observing that his shop invited thieves as well as famous authors and loyal neighbors. His quote: "S0 much about running a bookstore is about control. You order books, arrange them, straighten them, move them around. You create an environment, a place where people are comfortable and interested, and you try to do it all without it looking as if you did anything special." But he takes a quotation from his reading to explain his loss: "One can only do so much to control one’s life." Somehow, his response seems to be acceptance.

I still want to open a bookstore, despite the odds. And I'm still confident, underneath the blues, that I'll do it, and that it will be a success. But chances are it won't last forever. I only hope that after a good, long run, full of exciting events, building of friendships and alliances, long strings of days like pearls slipping off a string (to quote from my childhood favorite Anne of Green Gables), lots and lots of reading, many triumphs and losses -- after all that, if and when I close, I hope my attitude is like Mr. Pearsall's. I hope I can embrace the experience of a wonderful bookstore, and when the time has come to let it go, to let it go (Mary Oliver there -- it's a day of quotations).

The new year seems like an odd time to reflect on endings. Maybe it's because I've just finished Mark Helprin's WINTER'S TALE (review to come) that I'm thinking about balance, about the "justice" of opposing forces of creation and destruction. In any case, it can never hurt to observe that this, too, shall pass. If there's anything a lifetime of reading can teach us, perhaps it's that. We booksellers and readers would do well to absorb the wisdom of writers, and our own experience, and be grateful for our riches while accepting our losses.

Later this week I'll be back with some less philosophical stuff: reviews, a tally of the last year in the reading, and some more links. In the meantime, happy reading, and Happy New Year.