Wednesday, May 30, 2007

BEA Wednesday: Forecasted Schedule & Special Bonus Feature!

Holy Cow, it's BEA! Despite all my anticipation I still feel like the biggest industry event of the year has snuck up on me, and I'm still scrambling to prepare. For my own benefit as well as yours, please find below where I expect to be for the next three or four days. I'll try to blog daily about the experience, and if you're in town for the show, you'll know where to look for me. At the end you'll find a special extra bonus for Written Nerd readers...

Wednesday, May 30:
morning: at my house, frantically preparing for tonight's party and trying to get done everything else I'd usually do this week...
2:00 - 5:00 Brooklyn walking tours sponsored by BEA. I'm headed for Fort Greene -- it's the Brooklyn neighborhood I'm most fascinated by and know the least about, though I'd love to go on every one of these tours.
5:00-6:30 ABA Brooklyn author reception -- a chance to grab some snacks and meet up with Brooklyn authors as well as all of my favorite booksellers from out of town!
7:00- ??? YOUNG BOOKSELLERS PARTY AT FLOYD!
Seriously, y'all gotta come out for this. Bocce, open bar, your fellow booksellers, open bar, hip young authors from Tin House, Soft Skull, and Knopf , open bar -- what's not to love? Plus you'll get to be part of the burgeoning Emerging Leaders Project, and take home (or back to the hotel) some super-useful info on getting the most out of BEA. And rumor has it BEA Big Man Lance Fensterman Himself will be there at some point in the evening, so you can get the inside dope on the whole shebang. Booksellers, come at 7; publishers, come at 9. I'll be there with a button on...


Thursday, May 31
10:00 - 6:00 It's a regular workday at McNally Robinson for me. If you're in town and have free time to visit the local bookstores, I'd love to say hi -- be sure to ask for Jessica if you stop in!
6:00-8:00 Reception for Canadian booksellers at McNally Robinson -- it's nice to be a venue as well as a partygoer.
8:00 - 11:00 Litblog Co-Op Party at Kettle of Fish. Official invites have already gone out, but if you feel like you'd like to see the real face of Dan Wickett of the EWN, Ed of the Rants, Megan of the Bookdwarf, and the rest of the motley crew that make up the LitBlog Co-Op, you officially have my permission to crash. This one's a cash bar, so you won't be making any money off of us, unless you happen to pick up a blogger's business card and sign on the next big thing...

Friday, June 1
8:00-9:30 (ha!) Children's Book and Author Breakfast -- I may or may not make it to this one, though it sounds like a great lineup, with hometown (Brooklyn) boy Mo Willems as well as my favorite indie bookstore supporter Libba Bray.
10:00 - 11:00 Blogs: Is Their Growing Influence a Tastemakers Dilemma? The Crossover Huurdle - Several of my fellow bloggers are participating in this mouthful of a panel, and I'm excited to support them with my presence AND hear what they have to say.
11:00 Meeting with the Emerging Leaders Council, to debrief on Wednesday night and talk about our strategy for the next year.
12:00 - 3:00 This may be where I have actually have some time to visit the show floor -- I'm hoping to do the practical long-term stuff (like checking out potential point-of-sale systems for my future store) as well as the fun stuff (DC and Marvel, here I come!) Though there's a great session on Book Industry Trends at 1:00...
3:00 Bookselling Demand Today - a panel where we get to get back the data from a bookstore survey we participated in earlier this year, and learn how our store compares to the industry overall -- exciting if you're a wonk like me.
4:00 - 10:30 Another work day at the bookstore. Forgive me if I don't make it to the big party at the Powerhouse Arena tonight -- I was looking forward to it, but a girl's gotta sleep sometimes...

Saturday, June 2
8:00-9:30 Book and Author Breakfast -- Ken Burns, Stephen Colbert, and Khaled Hosseini in one room? -- hard to imagine, but impossible to miss...
10:00 - 12:00 A bit more show floor time
12:00-2:00 Book and Author Luncheon - Spies (Valerie Plame), Impresarios (Russell Simmons), Pundits (Paul Krugman), and Alan Alda.
2:00 - 3:00 Graphic Novels 360 (or The Graphic Novel Pandemic, depending on which version of the program you read) -- MY panel! I'm lucky enough to sit next to Allison Bechdel (author of Fun Home), Mark Siegel (publisher of First Second) and other comics movers and shakers and babble about what lil' ol' me thinks about the state of graphic novels. Come by to point and laugh, or ask thoughtful questions -- it's in Room 1E03.
4:00 Screening of the Ian McEwan Out of the Book film -- I'd love to preview it (since my face is in it, apparently briefly) before we host our screening later this month.
5:00 - 6:00 More show floor, or a nap.
6:00 - 9:00 Independent Press Party at the China Club. Several of my favorite indie presses (Melville House, Europa, Seven Stories, etc.) are represented here, and I've got to make up for missing Friday night.
Late Night -- If I can score a ticket (I'm looking at you, Bill Getz), I am so going to the PGW party this year. I've heard that Sharon Jones, who fronts the Dap-Kings, could sing in a hurricane, and I'd like to hear that. Plus it's the traditional Saturday night bacchanalian climax to the all-pro weekend, and who am I to mess with tradition?

Sunday, June 3
I'm taking Sunday off. There's only so much BEA you can do in your hometown. And that will give me time to blog, right?

* * *
Now, the special WN reader bennie I promised. Below you'll find a reproduction of the handout we'll be supplying at the Emerging Leaders party tonight: a guide to getting the most out of BEA. My intrepid fellow bookseller Amanda Lydon and I banged it out over breakfast based on the input of our mentors in the Emerging Leaders project, who had prescient and hilarious advice. It's geared toward young first-time BEA booksellers, but I think there's a lot here that could be helpful to many a veteran. Hope you find it helpful -- have fun, and see you at the show!

HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF BEA

Sit next to someone you don't know!
At meals, sessions, and any other aspect of BEA, split up from your bookstore coworkers. One of the most valuable parts of BEA is meeting people with new and different ideas, and you won't do it if you're sitting with people you already know.

Talk to booksellers!
Remind yourself that just like you, the person or people you walk up to may be looking to meet new people too. Here are some ideas for conversation starters:
Ask people what their plans are for the evening – which parties are they planning to attend?
Ask people about their specific job; most people love to talk about what they do.
Ask people about their store – how big is it, where is it, what kind of books do they sell?

Talk to publishers!
This is the easy part. Publisher sales reps make their living talking to booksellers – they'd love to meet you! Here are some ways to approach publisher booths.
Jot down a list of names of frontline booksellers at your store who couldn't make it to BEA. Bring it to a publisher's booth and ask what they'd recommend for your coworkers.
Ask any publisher what the big book on their list is this season, or which is their favorite new title.

Get educated!
Attend the ABA education sessions on Thursday in any and all topics that interest you. Go up to the panelists afterwards to say thanks or ask questions. Talk to those sitting next to you about how they plan to use the information at their store.

Represent!
Wear your EL button – it's a great conversation starter. Publishers and booksellers are very interested in the Emerging Leaders project, so identify yourself as an Emerging Leader. Your new ideas and fresh perspective are valuable and sought after throughout the book industry.

Think long term!
Attend ABA sessions on skills you may not need now, but may in the job you aspire to have. If you'd like to be an events coordinator, talk to publicists. If you'd like to be a buyer, talk to sales reps.

Go out!
If you don't have an invitation to a gathering, find an Emerging Leader who does and tag along. Or round up a group of people with EL buttons and make your own plans.

Check out something new!
Go to areas on the show floor that sell books or sidelines you've never seen. Visit small and independent publishers – they often have time to give you more attention. You might pick up information or samples that will be valuable for your store back home.

Choose your take-homes wisely!
You DON'T have to take home every galley or ARC that looks interesting. Get the sales rep's card, or give them yours, and have them mail you a copy. Don't weigh down your luggage or slow down your progress during the day with a million books.

Don't get stuck!
If you find yourself held hostage by someone who's talking too long, don't be afraid to say "Well, it was really nice meeting you – I'd better keep making the rounds."

Friday, May 25, 2007

Comment: My Two Cents on Book Reviews

Though I fear it has been too long in coming and will be a bit underwhelming, I'd like to try to articulate my own thoughts on the nature and evolution of book reviews: mainstream media, blogs, print, internet, etc.

And it turns out living read girl's Lady T (who ought to have a paying gig as a cultural critic) got there first. To put it in a nutshell, she writes

It's like public school funding, the arts are the first ones to take the hit, while the football team gets their new uniforms. It's all about money to the corporations who run the newspaper/magazine industry,not quality vs. quantity.

Essentially, we (that is, bloggers and professional book reviewers, the internet and the newspaper) are not each other's enemy.

I mentioned some time ago the Wall Street Journal article which observed that publishers' allocation of advertising funds -- that is, spending money to get stacks of bestsellers front and center in chain stores, rather than on advertising in book review pages -- was linked to the demise of the book review pages. I think that factor, and its implication about the increasing consolidation of media companies, has more to do with the struggles of newspaper book review sections than does the emergence of literary blogs. Both the NBCC's campaign to save book editors and the Litblog Co-Op are reactions against the same trend. As a recent author in our store asserted (Eric Klinkenberg, author of Fighting For Air), the trend toward homogenization leads to a counter-trend of fragmentation and uber-indie underground culture. What suffers is the middle ground, the culture that you don't have to be a bourgeois zombie or a hipster of the arcane to desire and consume.

With the blame out of the way, I'd love to talk about the strengths and weaknesses of blogs and print.

I tend to think of things in terms of bookstores. Both a newspaper book review and a blog review could be said to be more browsable, or more findable, as I've described methods of shelving books. If you're a newspaper subscriber, you might find yourself reading a book review just because it's there, physically in front of you. If you're a web surfer, you might find a literary blog linked from some semi-related site, or you might search for a review of one book and find reviews of another. But you might also find a blogger whose tastes correspond to yours, and read every review they write and buy books based on their recommendations. Or you might read the New York Times or your local paper every week and set your habits by what is recommended there.

As the responses to my question seem to indicate, many (if not most) readers find their reviews of books they want to read from a variety of sources, both print and online, professional and amateur and utterly accidental. They find information about books wherever they can. If print options are available and credible, they'll go there. If a blog is speaking their language, they'll listen.

I feel unfortunately the "conflict" between bloggers and professional print reviewers has been couched in terms of Elitist Snobs versus Uninformed Masses. That seems pretty stereotypical and unlikely to be true, and I squirm uncomfortably whenever an author or a blogger makes an assertion in such terms. Though the debate may fairly be described as Amateur vs. Professional, the perspective and talent of someone talking about books can really only be accurately discussed on a case-by-case basis. Right?

I read a review of a biography of Virginia Woolf in the New York Times where the famous author cutely admitted she had never read any works by Virginia Woolf. (Okay, disclosure: I wrote my undergrad thesis on Woolf, so I'm a little sensitive.) And I've read some impeccably written but sneering blog reviews that cast aspersions on the education and intelligence of an author, their editor, and any reviewer who would dare to praise them. So the Elitist Snob thing and the Uninformed Masses thing can obviously go both ways.

There is a difference between getting paid for something and doing it for free. The difference isn't always one of quality, but it is one of filtering. As Andy Laties points out, "because the individual litbloggers don't have the institutional structure within which to operate, their resistance to co-optation by publishers will be less dependable." Having an editor, a format, and a wage makes for a level of impartiality that leads to the "credibility factor" that many authors cited for print reviews. It doesn't always work – lots of writers and reviewers are friends or enemies, of course, on account of they're people who live in the world, and no institution can or should eliminate all personal interest from a book review.

Blogs, on the other hand, have the benefits that come from no filter: their passion for or against a book, or their complex thoughts about it, are subject to no one's editing but their own. Most of the litblogs whose reviews are worth reading know more or less what they like and don't tend to write reviews hoping for another free book or a mention in the publisher's catalog. There's no reason for them to write unless they want to, and there's no reason for anyone to read them unless they like what they're writing. That can make for some crazies or duds, but it can also make for some powerful and impassioned writing and some creative ways of talking about books that can't happen in the slower-moving systems of an institution.

Finally, I want to address the assertion I've heard, even within the book industry, that people who read blogs don't read newspapers, or even that they don't read books. (I have to try to be articulate and careful, because this statement strike me as so ignorant I can start to see red.) Some people who read blogs on non-book issues perhaps do not read books or newspapers. That is because they are not particularly interested in books, and would be unlikely to read a book review section even if they found it under their plate at a restaurant. But people who read book-related blogs tend to be people who like to read in general. They are unlikely to read blogs about books and then not read books. And they are very likely to read about books wherever they are able, because that's what they care about.

If Web 2.0 means anything, it means less creation of content and more facilitating of conversation, on whatever topic one wishes. The conversation about books on the web is growing louder and more powerful and refining itself and throwing out new branches daily, and it is undeniably having an effect on the world.

The strength of newspaper, print, and magazine reviews is not that they are "better" than amateur reviews, but that they take that conversation into another portion of the world. They make the cultural dialogue about books important enough to exist alongside the news and the sports page. They give us touchstones, as the booksellers who responded can attest, that cross demographics and genres and levels of technological comfort. They give legitimacy and structure to the rich thoughts and words about literature that are happening in people's minds and mouths and on their computer screens.

Both the existence of literary blogs created by amateurs and the existence of book reviews written by professionals are necessary to a rich literary culture. To put it simplistically, blogs build audiences; print builds credibility. Both would be the poorer without the other. The more we talk about it, the harder it will be for any corporation looking to their bottom line to ignore it. It's all part of the conversation.

It may seem a bit Pollyanna-ish of me, but my wish is that reviewers of all stripes would band together like booksellers of all stripes, hanging together so that we do not hang separately. The more we snark about who is more talented or professional and who is undermining who, the more we make book reviewing a vicious and ineffectual backwater in the larger culture, and the less it becomes about the books. If we build on each other to enrich the conversation about literature, we combine grassroots and institutional foundations to create a rich and growing world.

There's lots more to say, and I hope it will get said. Feel free to share your agreement, disagreement, or expansion on these thoughts in the comments.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Comment Roundup: Where You Get Your Reviews, And Why

Okay, this is the lazy girl's version of a Wednesday post. Below you'll find your comments and those of your fellow WN readers on reviews, in semi-abbreviated form, broken up by category: book industry, authors, and general readers (though of course there is some overlap). It's a bit long, but I thought it might be useful to see how people with different relationships to books are thinking about this issue. I'll have my thoughts on the issue on Friday.

From the Book Industry:

As a person who works in a bookstore, I find that a lot of customers still come in looking for a book that they read about in the Times (NPR being a close second in popularity.) Often, they don't remember the title or the author, so I try and read the Times book review so I can remember the name of the book based on their plot summary.

(Noelle)

Hi, I work in the bookselling industry so a lot of the books that I end up reading are just books which I've stumbled across while receiving books, putting books away, selling to a customer. I DO get some of my books through blogs - not so much reviews in blogs but books which are brought up in conversation. Periodically I read the NYTBR but, if I get a book from a print review it normally comes from Entertainment Weekly. I'm constantly amazed at how often I'll find a book reviewed there which you would never expect to find in such a mainstream publication.
I also get a lot of recommendations from friends and readers of one of my blogs.
I would like to say that I think that, while blogs are daily becoming a better place to find great reviews of books, print reviews still hold more credibility to me - possibly because the reviewers have seemingly more reason to be listened to. The downside of print reviewers - at least in some circumstances - is that many of them are turning into the very thing they are accusing the blog reviewers of being: partial judges who you can expect a certain responce to a certain kind of book.
(Ragu)

I participated in a rather raucous exchange on this subject last month, on Roger Sutton's blog (Horn Book Magazine). The angle of attack Roger chose for framing the debate concerned impartiality and niceness and publishers' marketing efforts. That is: Isn't professional reviewing a better means of obtaining "juried" or "impartial" reviews? I took Roger's side, and a LOT of litbloggers got quite irritated when I argued that now that marketing departments are clued in to the importance of getting books reviewed on major litblogs, they're working hard to manipulate the litblogosphere, and that since these marketers are pros, and under enormous pressure to get results, therefore, major litbloggers are now, and will be, subject to the same pressures as the major book reviews always have been -- but because the individual litbloggers don't have the institutional structure within which to operate, their resistance to co-optation by publishers will be less dependable. (Talking about very popular, widely read litblogs -- the ones that cause book-sales to jump when a book is reviewed there.)
Hence, print reviewing is important because of the established checks-and-balances that go into the publication of such.
(Andy Laties)


From Authors
Hi - I'm replying from the perspective of an artist/writer/cartoonist who has recently published (via print-on-demand) a book, which started life as a comic strip on my blog. The decision to publish this edition myself via POD, rather than submitting it first to mainstream publishers, was influenced by the enthusiastic response I got from visitors to my blog who kept asking when the comic strip would be a book.Now that the book is out, it has received more reader-reviews (on the lulu.com site where it is on sale) than most new books would get from the mainstream press. Yet, because we live in a world where success is determined by media coverage, I find myself compelled to seek media "validation" and to spend vast amounts of time trying to get reviews for my book in the press - in other words, tilting at windmills. My hope is that a mainstream publisher will take it on but I've taken this roundabout route so of course I have to accept its difficulties. The excellent reviews I've had from bloggers/writers has encouraged and supported me but there is still this ingrained belief that unless your name is up in lights (ie in black ink on newsprint in the quality press and/or the A-list top-hit litblogs) you ain't worth a look-in. How to change this perception?
(Natalie)

As a recent debut author whose first novel, Radiant Days, came out with an independent press (Shoemaker & Hoard), the reviews and press about my book has exclusively come from traditional print media (NYTBR, Washington Post, SF Chronicle and a few others). While I'm insanely grateful and happy about the coverage, even the negative, this has been surprising to me. I always thought my book was more 'a bloggers' book since I'm with an independent press and more or less unknown. My day-job is as a computer developer so I’m online and reading the blogs pretty religiously—probably way more than is heathly. And I guess, and I realize this is totally ridiculous, I felt I was somehow part of that community, just because I’d been reading them since way before my book came out.
But man.. if there hadn't been print reviews...
I should also point out that while the reviews resulted in a slight and temporary sales bumps, they’ve been nothing compared to announcements of readings (spam to friend’s email lists). And I’ve corresponded with other authors about this, and it seems to be agreed that unless it’s a glowing review on the front page of the NYBR, print reviews don’t directly correspond to large sales. But what they do give you, and this is invaluable, is some sort of “legitimacy” and a starting point for getting your book in the literary discourse. People I work with suddenly wanted to talk to me about the publishing process. Reading series began to answer my emails. My parents concluded I might actually be serious about writing (despite doing making the regular sacrifices for over 15 years in order to do it) once the book was mentioned in the NYTimes. etc... This might seem petty, but they’ve all been landmark events for me.
(Michael)


From Readers
I'm replying from the perspective of someone who just reads a lot - not in the industry in any way, I don't have a blog and I don't do any reviews - other than suggestions to friends/family.
I read reviews everywhere - blogs, magazines, Bookmarks magazine - and then I go to Amazon. I look at the reviews there and the brief description of the book and add to my wishlist if it's something I want. Often I don't purchase there - I go to the library or a local store, but I think it's a great resource.
I will say that I have found a few blogs where I realized I have very similar tastes to the reviewer - and I'm more likely to just get a book that is raved about there without much more consideration.
I assume if I subscribed to a newspaper, I might do the same.
(Kate)

I find most of my books by reading a story in a magazine or lit. journal and then further investigating the author, or through lit. blogs. The lit blog co-op and EWN, in particular, have been very influential. I've bought at least a dozen books this year that I've found through blogs. The only print reviews I regularly read are the NYTBR, some lit. journals that run reviews, and our local weekly, the Boise Weekly. I also get recommendations from other writers who know my personal tastes.
I should add that my town (boise) doesn't have a very strong independent bookstore presence, but when we lived in Missoula, I regularly when to Fact & Fiction or and the stellar Shakespeare & Company for suggestions.
(Michael)


ok, we have to give a summary of where we fit in? former bookdealer, has sold some short stories recently, no novels yet. Reader first and last though.
It's probably important that I'm also not American; we do have newspaper and magazine reviews of books here (South Africa), but very few and seldomly along the lines that I like. We mostly only get leadlist, or at least top selling authors since it's all imported, so it's frustrating not knowing what's happening in the writing world in that sense.
So, I can't really comment too much on the value of your newspaper and mgazine reveiws, although it seems as if people look to it for validation more than suggested reading.
Blogging and online forums has changed that for me, a lot - interacting with other writers and readers from different countries has opened up a whole new realm of options regarding authors.
It's the word of mouth thing, in the long run nothing beats word of mouth, I remember this from the time I spent as a bookdealer as well - people would come looking for books that friends recommended, none of them read reviews in newspapers.
For myself - there's a few online sites that I like, and a number of fiction magazines do regular reviews. I've found these official reviews helpful; blogging is a boost, IMO, not a detriment. It creates more dialogue, and I've learned about interesting books and writers much faster than I would have.
I do have a preference for a one-man/ woman blog - whether reviews/ commentary, whatever.
The reason I'm not sure of, but I feel more at ease measuring the advice and tastes of single person against my own. Easier to follow and understand in some ways; maybe too a belief that bloggers are a bit more honest since they don't get paid for reviews? I don't know, but I'm comfortable reading blogs.
Like I said, to me it's a bonus, not meant as a replacement to official paper or online reviews -I read and compare as many as I can before I make a choice.
I do value my money, and don't like to spend it on too many long-shots. That, is what it comes down to.
The more discourse about books the better, IMO.
(David de Beer)

I am a former bookseller, but have always been and continue to be an avid reader. When I worked in a bookstore, I was immersed in book culture and was constantly talking books with other employees, reps, and customers. Once that conversation ended, along with my employment (by my choice, to pursue a different line of work), I had to become more reliant upon reviews.
I find most of the books I read through word-of-mouth, via friends, or through print reviews, via newspapers or magazines.
I use to rely rather heavily upon The New York Times Book Review until they decided to become weighted more heavily toward the non-fiction end of the book spectrum. I still read them occasionally, along with The New York Review of Books to see what is being published regarding books about current events, politics, and history.
I also tend to trust the essays and book reviews in The Believer, to which I subscribe. And, I subscribe to the daily email book reviews of Powell's City of Books, which culls reviews from their own newsletter as well as many national publications.
All of that being said, I have recently begun to switch to the reviews and recommendations found on blogs such as yours. I picked up the spring 2007 Read This! recommendation due to the link from your blog to the LitBlog Co-op site. I have picked up a couple of other books via reviews on blogs.
I will also "research" a book via personal reviews on Amazon.com and on other sites to get a "feel" for whether or not a book and I are a good match, although I tend to oftentimes discount those reviews because they seem to tend toward unbound fanaticism or vile hatred.
So, I do use print reviews, although I seem to be trending away from a reliance upon them.
(Troy)

Yes i agree with u now a days many book reviews are suffering because blogs are cheaper and easier to produce.However i found many interesting things to read,gathered information
(Alin)

New Yorker, NY Times, Chicago Tribune, Bookworm. Steal info off Newsweek, time, BookForum, NYRB, LRB, New Republic, GQ, Esquire, Harper's, Atlantic Monthly, I forget!
(bhadd)

I've written about this subject at my blog,and while I feel for those print reviewers who are being pink slipped and undercut,I don't buy that it is all due to blogs. It's like public school funding,the arts are the first ones to take the hit,while the football team gets their new uniforms. It's all about money to the corporations who run the newspaper/magazine industry,not quality vs. quantity.
I also find it peeving that there are folks who insist that most of the litbloggers out there are rank amatuers,who only put biased reviews or sarcastic ones. I've read plenty of reviews in the NYT(both the Sunday and weekly book section)that are downright nasty and actually give away the ending of the book,which is horrible to me. Even If I don't like a book/movie/TV show,I wouldn't ruin it for someone else. Also,I've seen many litblogs that are just as crafted and well thought out(Maud Newton,for one)as any newspaper or magazine section.
The bottom line is,this should not be either/or. We all want the same goal,which is to help good books get the attention that they deserve. Instead of fighting each other like Jerry Springer guests,we should team up and see if we can help each other out.
Oh,and as for where I get my reviews,I check both the internet and blogs such as Buzz Girl for the latest in books. I also read EW's book section(which gives a nice mix of high and low brow). I'm a former bookseller who believes in word of mouth when it comes to great books,be it in person or online.
(lady t)

Monday, May 21, 2007

Link-Mad Monday: Brooklyn Local Edition

I can't wait until all my fellow booksellers converge on Brooklyn for BEA starting May 30! You may have noticed my major passions are books and Brooklyn, and I'm giddy with excitement as the two get lots of attention this season.

Bookselling This Week has Brooklyn restaurant recommendations from local writer Pat Willard. I have a special soft spot for Convivium, which is where the ALP proposed, and 5th Avenue in Park Slope is becoming a real foodie's paradise -- in addition to Pat's choices, I'd also highly recommend Bogota for exciting Latin American food, and Biscuit for mouth-watering barbecue. But Smith Street is even closer to Hotel ABA, and you can't miss with the strip's array of restaurants. I love Bar Tabac for the sweet Gypsy jazz often being played by a live band, as well as for their juicy burgers, and have to add to Willard's list my favorite pan-Asian restaurant Faan -- the ALP and I love ordering a couple of sushi rolls, some Pad Thai and a glass or two from their sake menu while sitting in the open-air patio. Nothing better on a summer evening.

But it's not just a restaurant town -- BTW also has a great piece on longstanding bookstore success story Brownstone Books in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. I admit I haven't yet been there (though I once got scammed out of an apartment in Bed-Stuy -- long story...), but I'm delighted at the prosperity and community engagement demonstrated by the bookstore's owners. It's a big borough -- it's good to dig into our neighborhoods.

I was lucky enough to go to the Brooklyn Literary Mingle a few Fridays ago, kicking off the preparations for this year's Brooklyn Book Festival. In addition to chatting with Brooklyn literary stalwarts Johnny Temple of Akashic, Tom Roberge of A Public Space, Rob Spillman of Tin House, and others, I got to hear about plans for this year's festival, which will be even bigger and better than last year's unexpected success. The date is September 16, 2007, so mark your calendars -- it does NOT conflict with NAIBA-Con this year (which is October 14-15 in Baltimore, another great book town -- hooray!), so I will be there with bells on in one capacity or another.

But you probably have love for your hometown too, and places that make it unique. I'm excited about attending the Localism session at BEA (Saturday at 1:30), hosted by Bill McKibben, author of Deep Economy, which will focus attention on Shop Local movements around the country. I've been saying for some time to anyone who would listen that the backlash against corporate homogenization is happening, as consumers learn to value unique local culture, and apparently Bill McKibben agrees with me. It's a great thing for independent bookstores, and for communities, and I can't wait to hear more.

In the meantime, I spent a lazy but semi-productive weekend in my own neighborhood with the ALP, and picked up (at my local comic shop Rocketship) the latest issue of Local, Brian Wood's brilliant experiment in realistic, serialized storytelling. Every issue is set in a different town (including #6, set in Park Slope, Brooklyn), following a single character through the episodes of her nomadic life, and filled with unique local scenes and details. It's a celebration of the diverse and fascinating characters of American communities, and a good story too. But as I savored the issue over a Sunday afternoon pint at the Brazen Head, the ALP reading Jonah Hex next to me, it was hard to imagine any place as great as Brooklyn.

Friday, May 18, 2007

TGIF: Bookstores to celebrate; ELNO-BEA!

I've been thrilled and intrigued by the answers to my questions about where you read reviews, and why. I want to keep the question open for a couple of days longer to get some more feedback and refine my thoughts on the subject. Look for a synthesis of your responses and my thoughts on the matter by Wednesday, and in the meantime, if you haven't responded I'd love to hear from you. (It's the end of Fundraising Drive Week at WNYC, which I listen to every morning, so forgive me if I sound like I'm soliciting pledges...)

Instead, today I want to point out joyfully two major articles about independent bookstores that are NOT playing the same, sad "too bad independent bookstores are doomed" tune. Thanks to Shelf Awareness for the link to these two:

The Colorado Springs Business Journal allows as how there are fewer indie bookstores in Colorado Springs than there used to be, but demonstrates that those that remain are growing and thriving because they have adapted to the changing marketplace. Poor Richards and Covered Treasures (which doesn't have a website yet) are highlighted as stores that have diversified their inventory (PR has a restaurant, wine bar, and toy store, and CT carries unique stationary), and created community gathering places through author readings and other events. Now that's what I'm talkin' about!

The LA Weekly magazine has a whole string of articles on their local indie bookstore scene, which is as diverse and sprawling and sometimes kooky as the city itself. Bookstores admired include Book Soup, Vromans, Skylight, Family, Diesel, A&M Book Cellars, Alias Books, Counterpoint Records and Books, The Daily Planet, David Kaye Books & Memorabilia, Equator, The Iliad Bookshop, Metropolis, Small World Books, and Tia Chucha’s Cafe Cultural.

The cool bookstore names alone are worth savoring, and the LA Weekly highlights not only the stores' unique aesthetics but the staff that give them their personality. My favorite was reading about Book Soup's events coordinator Tyson Cornell, since we have basically the same job on opposite coasts, and Book Soup and my bookstore have a lot of overlap in the authors that we host... but Cornell has had drinks with Johnny Depp, and his photo indicates he is clearly far cooler than me.... still, it's nice to find oneself in such hip company. Kudos to LA for focusing on what's great in its literary scene, and honoring the booksellers as a major part of that.

* * *

So while you're in the celebratory mood, I'd like to announce that the Emerging Leaders Party at BEA is in full effect. We'll be hanging out at 7:00 on Wednesday night, May 30, at a cool Brooklyn bar with good music, some young authors, and a whole bunch of hot young booksellers. Under 40-ness will be [semi-]strictly enforced -- this is for the youngsters who don't necessarily get invited to all the big BEA parties, and it's just for us. We'll have some practical information to hand out to help the kids get the most out of BEA and our bookselling careers, and the drinks are on BEA (thanks a zillion again, Lance Fensterman!). Email me (booknerdnyc, earthlink) if you didn't get an invite yet and you want to come, and I'll send you the info. Hope to see lots of you there!

Addendum: Okay, here's the deal, because obviously I was unclear before. The party is at Floyd in Brooklyn from 7 to 9 on Wednesday, May 30. But not only is it limited to under-40s, it's also limited to JUST BOOKSELLERS. I love meeting young people in publishing (and I think it's often valuable for young booksellers), but this time BEA is only springing for free drinks for those on the retail side of the catalog. It's a time for us to build our professional community, get some feedback about the future possibilities of the Emerging Leaders project, and remind each other that there are other people like us out there.

However, if you're in publishing and you want to show up around 9:00 -- well, the free drinks will be gone, but I'm pretty sure some of us (ahem, me) will still be around, and we can say hi then. And we'll be sure to see lots of each other throughout the weekend -- there are some mysterious buttons in the works that will let you know a bookselling Emerging Leader when you see one. Sorry about the confusion -- hope to see you all around!

(We now return to our regularly scheduled Friday programming. In Brooklyn today bookstore and wedding compete for the Book Nerd's attention...)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Question: What Reviews Do You Read, and Why?

In case you don't read any blogs but mine, let me first clumsily sketch the current issues raging in the blogosphere at the moment, and in the world of book culture at large.

The National Book Critics Circle has launched a campaign to preserve newspaper book review sections, beginning with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which recently fired its full-time book section editor. You can read their reasons and their strategies here on the NBCC blog, Critical Mass.

Some periodicals (like the New York Times) and many bloggers, have picked up the story and interpreted it in terms of the rise of literary blogs. Some opinions (with which I risk offending someone even by summarizing):

- book reviews are suffering because blogs are cheaper and easier to produce.
- blogs represent contemporary, passionate criticism, while mainstream media reviews have gotten staid, elitist, boring, or irrelevant.
- professional reviewers represent an educated opinion on books, while bloggers are often amateurish, reactionary, uninformed, etc.
- the elimination of book review sections has more to do with the flagging fortunes of newspapers, and/or with corporate policies, than with literary blogs.

At this point, the roars of debate are dying down a bit, but the issues remain. I have opinions, of course, but I have a horror of going off half-cocked, and I need to process them a little more.

So first I'd like to ask you, readers, what you think. Especially if you're NOT in the book industry, or a reviewer (professional or amateur) yourself -- though I'd love to hear from everyone, I've been wondering what book readers in particular think. Since you're reading this blog, you're obviously a specific subset of the reading population, but I still think it's worth asking.

Where do you get book reviews -- if at all? Blogs? (What kind?) Newspapers? TV? Magazines? Online versions of "mainstream media"? Bookstores? The opinions of readerly friends (the "Trusted Fellow Reader", as one of my commenters cleverly calls them)?

Which of those, if any, makes a difference in what books you're interested in, and what books you buy?

What effect, if any, has the emergence of literary blogs had on your reading of other sources? What other changes have affected what you read in the last couple of years?

What do YOU think is the reason for cutbacks in newspaper book reviews? What do you think will be the effects? Do you think it's important?


This is one reader poll/question I'd really, really like to hear from you all upon -- a sentence from you would be worth more than a lot of time spent in my head. Respond anonymously if you like, or let me know exactly where you fit in the literary world. I'll attempt to summarize and synthesize your responses in the coming days.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Link-Mad Monday

Back in blogland again, after a great weekend of eating, drinking and dancing, like you oughta. Still recovering a bit, but I've managed to pull together a link or two. But not many, because I'm sleepy.

Michelle of The Inkwell Bookstore in Falmouth, Mass, suggests that indie booksellers tend to be obsessed with bookcovers -- she sites her store's link to Book By Its Cover, a blog by a designer here in Brooklyn whose posts are mostly just pictures of beautiful book images. Beware -- it's strangely addicting... Thanks, Michelle!

The discussion of Alan De Niro's Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead at the Litblog Co-Op has spilled over into this week -- there's a lot going on in those stories, so you've got time to read more.

Speaking of the LBC, I want to send a signed book and publicity poster for Sacco and Vanzetti Must Die! to contest winner Ed Vick, but I can't seem to get ahold of him by email. Anyone know him, tell him to email me with his mailing address so he can get his swag.

Even though (or because) I live here, I want to be first on the list to sign up for the Brooklyn Walking Tours by great Brooklyn authors sponsored by the ABA on the Wednesday before BEA. Only trouble is they're all at once so I can't go to them all! If anyone else is going, let me know so we can compare notes after.

I personally have been totally lame about spending time on Shelfari, but some cool kids have been making the BEA Lit Insiders group into something kinda special. Check out what they're talking about here...

I unfortunately deleted the genius email I got from Algonquin with the "13 BEA Hazards to Avoid", but fortunately Lance Fensterman reproduces it here. Beware, booksellers...

Okay, back to wrestling with the wedding budget and schedule spreadsheets. Please email me if you've been reading exciting stories in the book world I've been missing -- I feel a bit like I've fallen off the map these days. Luckily I'm reading the new Michael Ondaatje book, which allows me to fall IN to another sensual world. Hope you all are having similarly luscious reading experiences as the weather turns warmer. Happy reading!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Thursday?

Dude, I totally flaked on posting yesterday, didn't I? Well, I was working in the Book Nerd cause -- attending a special session at the fabulous Brooklyn Public Library on starting a small business. Look out for more on that here in future.

But I'm hoping all that good info for the future bookstore can marinate in my head and my notebook for a while, because I'm having a hard time concentrating for long on anything but marrying the ALP in June, and all that that implies in the meantime. He's headed out of town this weekend for some mysterious bachelor activity, while I've got my college girlfriends coming in to town for esoteric girl stuff (like champagne and dancing). So you probably won't hear from me tomorrow either... too much to do.

I'll be back next week, though. There's still BEA and Emerging Leaders to keep me in the book world. And the Litblog Co-Op is still going strong with READ THIS!, focusing on Alan De Niro's Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead this week. Check it out, but write me off for the week -- see you Monday. I should have some big news for you then...

Monday, May 07, 2007

Monday, Link-Mad Monday

Oh right -- blogging day. Where was I again?

Folks, BEA is less than four weeks away -- do you know where your parties are?? I can tell you definitively about two: Emerging Leaders of Bookselling is planning a killer shindig from 7 to 9 on Wednesday May 30, and the Litblog Co-Op will work their usual magic on Thursday night. Stay tuned (or email me) for further details. And you can make your BEA plans and schedules at the BEA site, and the ABA site (check out the Brooklyn walking tours on Wednesday). Seriously, I expect to see you all there!

BTW reports that two lucky young booksellers will be going to BEA for free, thanks to the ABA's "twice as nice" Emerging Leaders Scholarships: Mark Bradshaw of Watermark Books & Cafe in Wichita, Kansas, and Angela K. Sherrill of 57th Street Books, a branch of the Seminary Co-op Bookstore in Chicago. Major congrats, guys -- hope to meet you here in Brooklyn!

And for all of you Emerging types thinking about opening a bookstore someday -- the Prospective Booksellers School still has openings. Come a day early for the show and you can get the benefit of Donna Paz' and co.'s years of experience to give you confidence for your future venture. Definitely worth the price of admission.

What else... my graphic design oriented coworker Adjua directed me to this great blog, The Book Design Review, about book cover design -- something we obsess about at the bookstore, and fascinating for arts, literature, and culture junkies alike.

In local news, don't read this article from the Village Voice if you don't want to get depressed about the loss of some more Brooklyn history. Even accounting for the Voice's typical anti-establishment tone, things look grim for Coney Island. I could be wrong, but I think we'd better get out there and have our seedy boardwalk fun while we still can.

Then, to cheer yourself up, head over to the LBC and check out last week's great interactions with Cottagers author Marshal Klimasewiski, including his discussion of interstitial fiction. This week heats up with the actual winner of the Spring READ THIS!, Alan DeNiro and Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead.

Enjoy the book talk -- I'm off with miles to go before I... go to work. Happy reading!

Friday, May 04, 2007

Friday Reviews: Three Graphic Novels

Folks, let's not forget tomorrow is Free Comic Book Day! Click on the link and enter your zip code to find a shop giving out yummy cartoon goodies near you.

And in honor of that (and because I've had an astonishingly good run of comics reading lately), I'd like to present my take on three great recent graphic novels.

(Please note I'm starting a new convention of linking to the publisher pages for books I review. That way you can take a look and find out more about the book, and you don't even have to go to Amazon. If you want to get yourself one AND make me happy, I recommend clicking over to Booksense.com to find your local indie bookstore.)

American Elf: Book Two
by James Kochalka
(Top Shelf Productions, February 2007)
At the panel on comics and interstitiality at MoCCA the other day, the question of web comics came up (they do kind of fall between your traditional publishing categories, yeah?) and I realized that two of my favorite comics of the last year started out as web comics. One was Nick Bertozzi's The Salon, originally serialized on serializer.net (it's not there now, but the book is out from Griffin). And James Kochalka's American Elf: Book Two is the second collection of his daily diary comics, published every single day at americanelf.com. Being a book person, I tend to prefer reading the stuff in book form than on the web (there's enough to read on the web already!). And this collection was certainly worth the purchase price. (Seriously, I bought this one, with my own money, at full retail price, from the Top Shelf booth at ComicCon... causing faux-astonishment to the ALP, who says that booksellers are notorious cheapskates when it comes to buying books.)

James Kochalka is a rock star and cartoonist, both on a small indie scale but getting bigger all the time. I admit, I'm not a huge fan of much of his work -- the frog character with a permanent erection, the story of a bizarre superhero team titled "Super F*ckers", the somewhat sentimental reflections he published on the birth of his son -- the combination of frat boy gross and cutesy just doesn't work for my tastes. But when it comes to documenting the moments of real life -- often gross, or cutesy, or sentimental, or unlikely or embarassing or oddly beautiful -- Kochalka totally rocks.

The comic came from his commitment to making a four-panel comic about something that happened to him, every day. Except he draws himself as an elf, and some of his friends as animals or aliens. It makes for a long, oddly wonderful story. I read the book all the way through over a couple of days. But I like to open it at random, too -- every page has a day that makes me laugh out loud. Here, randomly, is February 26, 2004:

[picture of Eli, infant son, holding James' head]
James: Hey!
James: Eli stuck my nose in his eye. Now my nose is going to get pink-eye!
Amy [James' wife]: That's the second time you said that today.
James: Well, it's contagious.

I don't know why so many of these strike me funny -- it's like the things your family says that crack you up. The simple, quirky drawings are perfect for this kind of real-life whimsy. The subjects are primarily James, his wife and his kid -- the centers of his universe -- and then comics conventions, rock shows, drunken nights with friends, writers' block, chores.

I like to tell people this is a book about after happily ever after -- about living a good life, every day of it. It is thoroughly rich and delightful. I hope he's able to keep doing this for another dozen books.

Aya
by Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie

(Drawn and Quarterly, February 2007)
This one I admit I didn't buy. I didn't even take it home. I read the entire thing while staffing a book table at the PEN Festival, during that boring period for the bookseller when the panel is actually speaking and you can't hear it, as opposed to before and after when people buy the books. But I feel lucky for the downtime, because I got to read this unexpected and charming story.

Set in Abidjan, the major city of the African nation of Ivory Coast, in the 1960s, the story is set in an atmosphere of prosperity. The introduction helpfully outlines the period, as well as the country's later decline, in simple terms: corruption, ecological irresponsibility, the usual. But in the time the story occupies, it's a place where teenage girls can get up to no good in the same way any in Western nations might do.

Aya, the title character, is the bookish one of her group; despite her conservative father's objections, she's studying hard and means to be a doctor. Her best friends Adjoua and Bintou, however, are into partying and boys, and their entanglement with a rich businessman's son and other playboys (not to mention each other's fathers -- ew!) leads to major drama. It's all light-hearted but believable, even when things get serious. And the last panel of the book changes everything!

I've been told there's a sequel in the works. I've also heard that Aya has potential to be a crossover hit. I believe it. This could work as an older teen novel, and also serves as a needed counterpart to prevailing perceptions about African life in fiction and nonfiction. I'm selling it and recommending it daily -- definitely worth a look.

Shutterbug Follies
by Jason Little
(Doubleday, October 2002)
Jason Little was the sole cartoonist on Monday's MoCCA panel, and he graciously gave me a copy of his book (autographed with an on-the-spot drawing of the main character) after the show. I'm amazed I hadn't come across the book before -- I read it on the subway home, and totally loved it.

It seems to me what Little has done is successfully update Tintin (the stories of the intrepid boy reporter by Herge, which I used to get in my stocking every Christmas and read greedily, instantly -- my first introduction to graphic novels, though I didn't think too much about it at the time).

Little's hero, Bee, is a female amateur photographer who works at a 1-hour photoprocessing lab (and actually works, unlike Tintin, who never seemed to find the time to make a living as a reporter in between solving mysteries). The violence is more realistic, as Bee (invading her clients' privacy, of course) stumbles on some mysteriously fresh photographs of murder victims and follows her nose down a dangerous path. And the ending is much more ambiguous than in the old adventure comics, allowing for the collateral damage that such heroics leave behind.

But it's still a rip-roaring story: suspense, mystery, (awkward) romance, and some truly sinister bad guys. And the clear-line style is very Herge-esque, with lots of fun color effects with the photo negatives.

Obviously, Jason Little is a major talent I somehow missed the first time around -- I blame my relatively recent entry into the world of comics. Shutterbug Follies is still available in hardcover -- I'll be ordering some for my store's graphic novel section, and I'll sell ya one if you stop by.

That's all I got today. Enjoy Free Comic Book Day -- see you in the comic shop!

Friday Frantic

Guys, I promise I'm gonna try to post later today -- have to run out the door, but I've got a stack of graphic novels waiting to be reviewed if I can find some time later. In the meantime -- happy Friday!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Wednesday Stuff: Book Talk

I've got books to review, too, but I'm behind on my links, so let's try to keep up!

- In big book world/blog world news, the National Book Critics Circle led by John Freeman has launched a campaign to save the newspaper book section -- specifically, to keep the Atlanta Journal-Constitution from firing its book review editor and eliminating the section. The campaign has sparked interest everywhere, including this article in the New York Times positing that reviews may be moving from mainstream print media to blogs (and everyone's got an opinion on that one). The Times article mentions a bunch of my fellow Litblog Co-Op members -- major congrats, guys!

I think many folks ultimately agree that newspaper book review sections and amateur literary blogs both are (or can be) vital parts of the nation's literary culture and conversation -- it's not an either/or thing. There's something to be said both for the professional editorial "filtered" atmosphere of a book review section (and its power to reach masses of readers who might not have been looking for books but find themselves interested), and for the "free-wheeling" passionate amateurism (by which I only mean unpaid, not poor quality) nature of litblogs, which attract a niche audience based on a writer's voice and have some freedoms mainstream media doesn't.

As I've mentioned before, I think book review sections are super important to keep books in the forefront of our cultural conversation, and I'm signing the NBCC's petition to keep them around. Take a look around at the conversation swirling around this issue and make up your own mind; I'd be curious to hear what you think.

- Speaking of the conversation and the internet, I've finally broken down and joined Shelfari, thanks to a personal invite from BEA director Lance Fensterman. And y'all are right -- it's super addictive, and super easy. Had I but world enough and time (sorry, Marvell), I'd be spending many an hour cataloguing my book holdings for interest and discussion. As is, I'm going to just try to make sure the books I review here on the blog are on my virtual "shelf". I'm booknerdnyc, of course -- feel free to befriend me in the big Borgesian library in cyberspace. Good book-nerdy fun!

- And speaking of conversations between nerds, I was thrilled to be a part of a panel at New York's Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art this past Monday, as part of their ongoing MoCCA Mondays series. The subject was "Interstitiality and the Comic Book Industry," hosted by the Interstitial Arts Foundation. (It's a fancy word that means "in between", in case you wondered -- kind of like "liminal".) Since I'd just finished reading the IAF's new anthology Interfictions, and the ALP and I have spent way too many hours talking about comics and genre and where to shelve things in the bookstore, I was full of thoughts. The audience was small, but engaged, and it was great to share the conversation with a comics creator, a publisher, and a comics critic and explore the notion of betwixt-and-between that defines the interstitial. I'd highly recommend checking out any further projects coming from MoCCA and the IAF -- good thinkers about the flux-y state of things in the postmodern book world.

That about wears me out for today. See you here on Friday -- happy reading!