Friday, August 31, 2007

Brooklyn Lit Life: Kate Christensen

I reviewed Kate Christensen's most recent novel The Great Man very briefly back in June, though not nearly enough to get across my enthusiasm for her witty, compassionate, sly, suspenseful story, with some jabs at the art world and the patriarchy to boot. I've also loved all her previous novels -- In the Drink, Jeremy Thrane, and The Epicure's Lament -- and I was thrilled to host her at a book party at McNally Robinson in mid-August. She graciously agreed to be a part of the Brooklyn Lit Life series, and her answers seem much like one of The Great Man's heroines, Teddy St. Cloud: basking in the uniquely vibrant isolation that's on offer in the borough of Brooklyn.

Brooklyn Lit Life
Kate Christensen

Why Brooklyn? What made you decide to live/work here, in both practical and emotional terms?

Brooklyn is the best place to live in the world, at least in terms of the places I’ve seen and visited and lived. I’ve lived in Greenpoint for almost 5 years, and before that I lived in Williamsburg – I moved to North Brooklyn in 1990 and except for a 3-year stint in the East Village, I have lived here ever since. North Brooklyn has low rooftops and big skies, cozy public hangouts, an undeveloped (until recently) waterfront, and a sense of scruffy, do-it-yourself, gritty, boho glamour. Of course that’s changing now, commercializing and verticalizing, but maybe, I hope, not as drastically as it appears on the surface. There’s plenty of neighborhood left here.

Is there a Brooklyn sensibility or character? How would you describe it? How does it differ from the character of New York City as a whole?

A Brooklyn sensibility… I don’t know – there are so many different neighborhoods here, so many different kinds of people – Brooklyn has a sense of community I didn’t find in Manhattan. Greenpoint is neighborhoody – but not in a small-town way, in a big-city, multicultural, mind-your-own-business way. Manhattan feels crowded and claustrophobic and touristy by comparison. I haven’t lived in any of the other boroughs, so I couldn’t compare it to Queens or the Bronx. There’s also an expectation that of course we’re all different races, religions, and ethnicities – a profound sense of tolerance for our own. Bu tin terms of the changes being wrought right now, there is also fierce, emotional, loud, organized resistance to incursions from corporate takeover of small businesses – opposition to the high-rises going up everywhere – but we can’t stop it.

What about your particular neighborhood? Does it have its own unique character? This can include the kinds of people you tend to find there, particular characters or places that epitomize the neighborhood, etc.

Greenpoint used to be a rough and tumble place, an immigrant waterfront community. Now it’s gentrifying, of course, because what isn’t, but it’s still got grit and edge – it used to be predominantly Irish and Italian, but now it’s become a Polish enclave. Many of the shop signs up on Manhattan Avenue are in Polish, a lot of the store clerks speak Polish. Polish food abounds up at the Associated, my local grocery store. But they also stock Matzoh and refrito. Over towards the Newtown Creek, it’s still very old-school, very rough. But the closer you get to McCarren Park, the more hipsters driving Priuses you see.

What do you think of the direction Brooklyn, or at least your neighborhood, is going? What does the future look like in terms of economics, demographics, culture, and other changes?

More corporate high-rise condos, less affordable housing, and everything that implies. It sucks. People in the neighborhood have fought hard and long and vocally against it, but it’s unstoppable, or so it seems.

Is there a Brooklyn literary sensibility? Which writers or works most emblematize Brooklyn for you? Which older writers set the tone? Which contemporary writers are you reading with interest?

I always think of Henry Miller as the quintessential Brooklyn writer -- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn as the quintessential Brooklyn novel. I read everything Jonathan Lethem writes. I loved Jami Attenberg’s forthcoming The Kept Man, which captures something essential about Williamsburg. I don’t think there’s a literary “sensibility” here per se at all –every Brooklyn writer I have read is a singular bird. I would say there’s an enormous concentration of talent and even brilliance here, though.

Why do you think Brooklyn has such a dense population of writers? Is there something particularly literary about Brooklyn? Where and how do people read here?

I don’t go to readings in Brooklyn. I once read at Millie’s in Ft Greene – years and years ago – it was my first public reading. But I haven’t read here since. I think writers love to live here because it’s New York City, but you can hear yourself think; you can walk the streets anonymously, lost in your thoughts, but you can also see the sky and have a sense of being enclosed in a neighborhood. It’s the best place in the world to live if you’re a writer, I think.

What events, series, readings, happenings, places, stores, publications, movements, etc. seem to you currently interesting or important in the Brooklyn literary world?

None – I am totally disconnected from whatever literary scene there may be here.

What do you think would make Brooklyn better as a literary place? What does the borough still need? What are the opportunities and challenges it faces?

We need a great bookstore right here in Greenpoint with a café, a bookstore with a neighborhoody feel where people can hang out and sit in armchairs, drink a cup of tea, attend low-key readings.

Imagine the ideal Brooklyn bookstore or literary venue, a place you'd like to read on your own or participate in literary community. What would it be like? What would it avoid?

It would have an inviting atmosphere – good music – tea and coffee – dog-friendly. Great books, old and new, major publishers and small presses – but chosen with a sense of real quality, a knowledge of what’s worthwhile, what’s important, and what’s just plain entertaining page-turning fun.

Note: After she submitted her interview, we had a great email exchange about Word Books, a six-months-old bookstore on Franklin Avenue in Greenpoint, which Kate promises to visit.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Wednesday Review: Castle Waiting (& extra thoughts)

Ya know, despite Monday's assertions, I'm not immune to the power of negative press. This blog got me so down and confused I considered taking a day off from writing my bookstore business plan. But on the other hand, there's this bookseller's blog, and all the stuff his Decatur bookstore has got going on. My favorite line:

"the “futureTense” panel is meant to be a humorous, tongue-in-cheek takedown of “the sky is falling/no, we built the sky” give-and-take dichotomy between old and new media"

Giggles trump blues once again. Ultimately, as we know, it ain't an internet-or-indies kind of world. Bread and roses, convenience and community, progress and tradition -- we're gonna have it all.

In the meantime, I've got like months worth of book reviews to catch up on. Here's a start.

Castle Waiting
by Linda Medley
(Fantagraphics, June 2006)

I feel like this book and I have been giving each other the eye for over a year -- we had the feeling that we'd like each other, but for some reason it took a while to take the plunge and get acquainted. When we did (thanks to a friend at Norton who scores me comics sometimes), it was love at first sight that just keeps getting better. It's a sort of a fairy tale graphic novel, as the title implies, and the first section (the book was originally published as single-issue black and white comics) is straight-up Sleeping Beauty. But once she takes off with the Handsome Prince, what happens to the castle staff she leaves behind?

As it turns out, they turn the castle into a kind of refuge or waystation, a calm good place in a world as chaotic as our own. And it attracts good characters, from the Ichabod Crane-like castle steward (he really IS a crane), and Chess, the womanizing horse-man, to Lady Jain, the pregnant refugee whose arrival gets the real story started. There are "poltersprites" (pesty magical infestations), magic of all sorts, and a whole subplot involving a convent of bearded women.

But that doesn't really tell you what this book is like, or what it's about. First of all, Linda Medley's drawings are a far cry from the wispy romantical creations of other fantasy comics like Sandman -- the thick, clean line drawings and authentically funny facial expressions of her characters are the first indication that this isn't a regular fantasy story. It unfolds like a novel-in-stories, in vignettes and overlapping, everyday plots, with a feel of real life in a community. One of the best storylines involves Lady Jain and the matron of the castle dying their hair with henna to drive away the blues, to the bewilderment of the male creatures of their acquaintance. And the resident nun, Sister Peace, a goofy, compassionate class clown, tells a long story-within-a-story that reveals that the pure joy of storytelling is the book's true subject matter. There are mysteries and revelations and developing relationships, and the sense of much more -- in a small, un-epic way -- that has yet to be revealed.

I've often read these stories described as "feminist" -- there are plenty of strong women, and a couple of nasty misogynist characters do get their comeuppance. But I think it's more accurate to think of it as humanist, or even transcendent. It's a world where fugitives are offered shelter, captives are rescued and avenged, sacrifice lives side by side with joy, and wildly different folks sit together around a table and become a community. It's a utopian vision, but if you can't have happily ever after in a fairy tale, then why tell it? And this is a book about happily ever after -- rainy days, moments of fear, dishwashing, squabbles and all. And it's beautiful. And did I mention darn funny?

If you can't tell, I've completely fallen in love with Linda Medley's world. I just bought the next two single issues at my local comics shop, and ordered everything else that exists from the Fantagraphics website. As Shelf Awareness puts it in their Book Brahmins interview series, this is a book I am an evangelist for. Don't wait for the right moment. Take the plunge. Fall in love.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Link-Mad Response: American Reading Habits Will Surprise You

Okay, so if you work in books or read a lot you've probably heard about this: the recent AP/Ipsos poll on American reading habits (the whole thing is downloadable from their website - click on the August 21 survey, then the "Topline results" button), commonly reported in the following way: "One in four adults read no books last year."

I met with a potential bookstore investor the other day, someone who loves reading but doesn't work in the industry, and even he had heard about it: "Didn't someone show that fewer people are reading now?" he asked. And that is how most people have interpreted these results.

(Why is the survey NOT described "Seventy-five percent of Americans read a book last year?")

John Freeman of the National Book Critics Circle, blogging at the Guardian, used the poll as a taking-off point (or evidence) for an unhappy piece about reading in America, apparently inspired by a trip to Vegas (which I admit, depresses me too). He, too, described the survey results as part of a trend: "Now a study has put a figure on the decline of reading in the US." I like John Freeman a lot -- I've worked with him on events, and he's an incredibly smart and well-read person and a great advocate for books, criticism and literacy. But this time I have to disagree, and admit his assumptions make me a little mad.

(Why didn't the survey ask how many books Americans read the year before?)

I've been hearing about the Ipsos poll all week, but I came to John Freeman's piece the back way, through this response from crime writer/blogger Meg Gardiner, and some of her objections got me thinking. (For example, there are apparently a number of bookstores in Las Vegas.)

Remember in 2004, when the National Endowment for the Arts led by Dana Gioia released the Reading at Risk survey, and everyone in the book world got really sad and scared? If you don't, you can read about it and download the whole thing here on the NEA site. The flap over that survey, which also made me a little mad, was probably part of why I started blogging. Along with its counterpoint, Kevin Smokler's fantastically smart and optimistic little collection Bookmark Now (brought to you here courtesy of Google Books), I started thinking that there ought to be more voices for the realistically bright side of change in the world of books.

But here's the thing that gets me, the realization that made me laugh out loud while I was cleaning the house this weekend:

The NEA survey states that 56% of Americans read any book in 2002 (that's ANY book, not just "literary works," which the survey focuses on.)

The AP/Ipsos survey say that 73% of Americans read any book last year (i.e. in 2006).

Therefore, if these two respected organizations are to be believed...


I'm going to repeat that, in case you missed it. The NEA declared that half of Americans had NOT read a book in 2002. AP/Ipsos declared that one in four Americans had NOT read a book in 2006. All the while, half of Americans DID read a book in 2002, and three quarters of Americans DID read a book in 2006.

Three-quarters is more than half.

Easy to miss, given the language of the two surveys, isn't it? This is why one gets so perturbed at media coverage of all things related to the book industry, and especially to independent bookstores. Doom and gloom stories are apparently sexier than healthy, prosperous stories.

Or perhaps, as one bookseller I know suggested, it's a combination of snobbery and fear on behalf of book people themselves that leads to such a bias. We want to believe that we're the guardians of culture in a country of hicks and philistines, that what we do by reading and writing and producing and selling and talking about books is special and brave and maybe tragically romantic. So we shake our heads at a culture in decline, rather than looking for something to celebrate in a world full of things to celebrate.

Obviously there's more to it than that. The numbers are still lower than one would like them to be. And there's a lot more depth and richness to the statistics in each poll than the headline-grabbing number of books read (for example, women tend to read more than men; older Americans read more; certain kinds of books are read more than others, etc.) These are numbers we should perhaps be looking at in order to know our best customers, as well as who we can reach out to in order to expand the audience for books. But first we have to look past the knee-jerk hell-in-a-handbasket interpretation of the numbers and see what they're really saying.

I'm glad I got that off my chest. Eager to hear your thoughts.

[Gawker-style update: I've taken another look at those Ipsos numbers; here's another interesting set of facts. Keep in mind that these percentages INCLUDE those who have not read a book in the past year.

Percentage polled who read 1 to 5 books in the last year: 30%
6 to 15 books: 23%
More than 15 books: 20%

So for every American who didn't read any books last year, there's another who read more than 15 books. The average (mean) number of books read in 2006 by all polled: 14.9 books per year.

There's a number worth chewing on.]

Comment: Blogging and other investments

There's a very nice piece in Bookselling This Week about booksellers who blog, which features yours truly, among others: namely Chuck Robinson of Village Books in Washington, the staff of River City Books in Minnesota, the folks at Harry W. Schwartz in Wisconsin, Arsen Kashkashian of Boulder Bookstore in Colorado, and Megan Sullivan of Harvard Bookstore in Massachusetts. Megan I knew already, of course, and I'd heard of a couple of the others, but I'm really impressed with what store owners and staff are doing with store blogs. I think the blogging "model" Megan and I follow is a different one from what the others are doing, and I'm intrigued by the difference.

The Written Nerd is less a promotional tool than a means of personal expression and connection-making -- my own personal mutual-interest-based social networking site, in a way, and an outlet for talking about the topics that are spilling out of my own head. Bookstore blogs are that too -- just booklovers talking about stuff that gets them excited -- but as in indie bookstores themselves, that excitement is "value added" and ultimately an asset to the store. As indie booksellers we trade (in the best cases) on our knowledge and passion, our ability to put books in the right hands, craft events and displays that make books irresistible, and our real love for the books dovetails beautifully into our need to sell them.

Though I can imagine how you could think that was a conflict of interest of some kind, I think it's the best-case scenario to have people pay you to do the thing you love: like an actor who loves acting, a hairdresser who loves chatting and beautifying, a chef who gets paid to indulge his joy of cooking. When you'd be doing it anyway, and you find a way to make it pay, it's a beautiful day for economic and psychic well-being. Some bloggers take pride in the fact that they "can't be bought," that they're doing it purely for the love of it. And some booksellers (okay, very few) take pride in the fact that it's "just business," that no personal feelings are going to get in the way of making a profitable enterprise. While sometimes emotion and ethics must take precedence, and sometimes business concerns have to be foremost, it seems to me that in any industry, but especially in the book industry, the best work is done when the investment of passion is remunerated, and love translates into food on the table.

Which is why I think it makes so much sense for bookstores to get their employees involved in a store blog. One of the issues the Emerging Leaders project aims to combat is the sense among a lot of young bookstore employees they're retail workers, not professional booksellers: that their love of books is just personal, and they don't have a lot to offer their store and their industry beyond ringing sales and shelving books. Asking employees to write about the books they love for a blog, as for a staff picks display, is a way of making them invested in the bookstore, so that they make a connection between their passion and their paycheck. And there's a lot more to write about on a blog than just beloved books, and all of that content makes for a store that draws readers.

Two of my favorite examples, aside from the ones mentioned in the article, are the blogs of Powell's Books in Portland, OR, and Atomic Books, in Baltimore, MD. The two couldn't be more different: Powell's is as massive as an independent can get, with several stores in the Portland area and an e-commerce site which actually rivals Amazon's (I'm seeing it linked more and more by those who'd like to support independents but need to make their book available online). Their blog contains not only staff picks, but original essays and interviews, book news, celebrity guest bloggers, podcasts, and lots and lots of other content. Atomic Books is a small store with a comics emphasis, which does e-commerce but not on the scale of Powell's. Their blog has a lot of local Baltimore news and gossip, information about upcoming events in the store and in the neighborhood, and excited announcements about what's just in or on its way. Powell's has a full-time staff devoted to its website content; Atomic is written by its two owners in between running the shop. I love checking into both of them for the richness of the content and the investment of time and energy that they obviously represent. Visiting Powell's in Portland was made more special because I felt like I'd spent time there through the voices on the blog. And I cannot wait to visit Atomic when I'm in Baltimore for NAIBA-Con, and see the people and the place in real life.

And I can't wait until I have a bookstore, and employees, and I can bring their unique voices into the project by having a blog that everyone can post to. There will be no stigma against being on the internet during work hours (unless there's a customer needing immediate help, or you're sending your one millionth personal email, or the shelving is out of control), because good booksellers need to use the tools of the internet to stay informed, and to keep their customers informed, just as they need to read the books they're selling. A blog is a way not only to get employees invested in the store, but a way to get customers invested as well. As Toby at Three Lives describes, people who walk in to a beautiful bookstore, who take in the atmosphere of stories and ideas and curiosity and freedom, want to belong to it somehow, want it to be theirs. They want to get invested. And the way they do that is to buy a book. Blogs can be another tool for creating that atmosphere, and that desire for investment. And investment is what keeps our projects going.

What do you think? What are other ways that booksellers can feel invested in the store where they work, and in the book industry as a whole? What are ways that customers can be made to feel like a bookstore has something worth investing in? What's the relationship between emotional and economic investment? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Link-Mad Monday: "There's good and bad in everything."

There's lots of good news and bad news in Bookselling This Week.

On the one hand, bookstore sales are apparently down over last year for the 12th month in a row. And there's another piece on the closing of Bennett Books.

On the other hand, eleven new independents opened in the month of July. And the California town of Stockton (named after some distant relative of mine, I've been told) successfully passed legislation that will keep out big-box stores. And there's also a piece on how bookstores are using MySpace for publicity and community building.

And the future just keeps on coming on. HarperCollins has announced that it will release free samples of new books in an electronic format that can be read on the Apple iPhone (I first came across this on a fellow LBC member's blog, but now I can't remember whose). You can download them here on the HarperCollins Browse Inside page. The language suggests the brief downloadable passages are meant to replicate the experience of browsing before buying, rather than being the precursor to entire books being available for iPhone reading. What do you think of that, readers?

In a more leisurely vein, novelist Nicole Krauss has a nice piece about walking in New York in the Times, and there are more where that came from. I came across this in the UrbanEye, the Times daily email newsletter, which always has great suggestions for what to do today (I'm always thrilled when McNally Robinson gets recommended). You can sign up for UrbanEye here.

And in Brooklyn this weekend: I was sad to miss the Fort Greene Summer Literary Festival on Saturday (I work late that day), but Brooklyn author and blogger Richard Grayson has a great write-up of the Festival on his blog.

On the agenda today: compile a SWOT analysis of bookstore competition in Brooklyn. The hard question: what exactly are the Weaknesses and Threats facing, say, Amazon, at least in the eyes of the financial professionals who will read this? Any suggestions welcome.

Hopefully some book reviews later this week. Happy reading!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Brooklyn Lit Life: Seth Kushner & Anthony LaSala

As I've been casting about trying to get a sense of the Brooklyn character, turns out the creators of a new book from Brooklyn art publisher powerHouse Books beat me to it. Photographer Seth Kushner and writer Anthony LaSala are the brains behind The Brooklynites, a gorgeous book of photographs, interviews and essays (coming out in October) on the diverse denizens of the best borough. The accompanying photography exhibition will be up at the powerHouse Arena (an amazing combination of "gallery, boutique, book store, performance, and events space" in the DUMBO neighborhood) from September 6 to September 30. Seth and Anthony kindly agreed to a joint email interview for Brooklyn Lit Life, in which they talked about the surprises and rewards of their project and their love for the place they grew up.

Describe your particular literary project, and your role in it.
Why Brooklyn? What made you decide to live/work here, in both practical and emotional terms?

Anthony: I had wanted to work on a long-term project about something I love for a while. Growing up in Brooklyn and living here my whole life (with the exception of four years spent away at college), I have always wanted to explore the borough through writing and photography. I have known Seth since high school (we both went to Abraham Lincoln High School on Ocean Parkway) and when I approached him with the idea, I knew we could really create something special. The design was to capture the words and faces of the people of Brooklyn within the varying neighborhoods of the borough.

Seth: Yeah, it really started with Anthony. I also had been looking for a long-term project to work on for a while, but couldn’t find anything to hold my attention for long enough. So, when Anthony mentioned Brooklyn, I thought, “That’s it.” Of course, I didn’t think it was going to go on for this long. It’s been over three years.

Anthony: We went around to some of our favorite spots in Brooklyn and began meeting people on the street. I would interview them about their experiences living and working in Brooklyn and Seth would photograph them on the spot.

Seth: We devised a system that would allow us to work fast. Anthony had a series of questions that he would ask each time, tailoring them a bit for each individual of course, which would lead them to give him a good quote about their experiences of living in Brooklyn. I would then do the shoot with only a Hasselblad, usually no tripod, and a hand-held flash on a long cord, so it would mimic a more complicated lighting set-up. Anthony always holds the flash and I tell him where to point it. Aside from being the writer on the project, he’s also the human light stand. Anyway, all this serves to help us to work quickly, with a minimum of equipment.

Anthony: Eventually we started making appointments with various people. We were trying to meet with every type of person in every neighborhood of the borough. This led to us meeting some famous people from here – Spike Lee, Steve Buscemi, Rosie Perez, Paul Auster, Jonathan Lethem, John Turturro, Fischerspooner, etc…. We also covered every major institution in Brooklyn – The Aquarium, B.A.M., Brooklyn College, The Prospect Park Zoo, The Botanic Gardens, Peter Luger’s, Greenwood Cemetery, The Brooklyn Museum, etc

Is there a Brooklyn sensibility or character? How would you describe it? How does it differ from the character of New York City as a whole?

Anthony: There is definitely a Brooklyn sensibilty. That is what we tried to convey with our project. It’s this unique mix of bravado, frankness and sincerity that you really don’t find anywhere else. I felt it was very important to convey the true emotions and stories of each and every subject. With some people it was easy to pull out their feelings about Brooklyn and their tales. With others it was a little tougher. But I think we did a good job of portraying each of our subjects.

Seth: We also did our best to try to cover every type of person, every nationality, every walk of life, in an attempt to show how incredibly diverse Brooklyn really is.

It’s very interesting to us to see what a particular subject is willing to reveal. Some of the most special moments came when we would approach strangers on the street and we wouldn’t know what they were going to say and then they would surprise us by basically spouting poetry. One such time we were in Bed Stuy and an older black gentleman in a suit danced up on us and said, “You know you wanna take my picture.” He was right, because I did. After the shoot, Anthony went into interview mode and asked his name, which was Billy T. Williams, and his age, to which he responded- ““I'm older than cold water and sweeter than salt.”

What about your particular neighborhood? Does it have its own unique character? This can include the kinds of people you tend to find there, particular characters or places that epitomize the neighborhood, etc.

We did begin the project in our own neighborhood, Bay Ridge. We were very interested in capturing it’s unique character, so one of our first subjects, was Dominick, the barber. For years we always passed by this old time barber shop on Third Avenue and thought how great it would be to photograph. Not only was the shop just classic looking, with old barber chairs, bird cages and an old cash register, but the barber always struck us as a great looking Bay Ridge character. He’s an older Italian gentleman, always dressed in doctor’s scrubs and always with a charming smile. So when we conceived of the project, we thought of him immediately.

What do you think of the direction Brooklyn, or at least your neighborhood, is going? What does the future look like in terms of economics, demographics, culture, and other changes?

Anthony: It’s inevitable to not see the huge transformations going on around Brooklyn. From Red Hook to East New York to Canarsie, the whole place is shifting with new immigrants coming in and huge buildings going up in months. It’s amazing. At the same time I think we both gravitated towards a lot of the places and people that have lingered here through all the metamorphosis’ that have taken place through the years. But it’s all exciting – the changes and the things that remain. It all makes this place special.

Is there a Brooklyn literary sensibility? Which writers or works most emblematize Brooklyn for you? Which older writers set the tone? Which contemporary writers are you reading with interest?

Seth: We actually got to met and work with many of our favorite writers - Jonathan Lethem, Rick Moody, Jonathan Ames, Jonathan Safran Foer Paula Fox and Paul Auster – they all appear in the book. Auster in particular was a “must-have” for us since the beginning. The only problem; he kept turning us down. He was simply too busy, he said, the first three times we contacted him.

Anthony: I even tried tracking him down at a book signing – he said no to the project, but did sign my book

Seth: With the project almost completed, we decided to take one more shot, sending him a letter where we basically pleaded with him by telling him the project “would never be complete without him.”

Anthony: He finally agreed to participate.

Seth: We were nervous entering his Park Slope brownstone on the day of the shoot, because of all the build-up. We didn’t have to be, it turned out, because Auster was gracious and charming. He said our endeavor was a “worthy project.”

Anthony: Meeting him and his wife, author Siri Hustvedt, in their overwhelming beautiful Park Slope home was a highlight for Seth and I. The photograph of him seated in his parlor reveals the architectural beauty inside one of Brooklyn’s famed brownstones as well as the intense eyes behind one of America’s most revered writers.

Why do you think Brooklyn has such a dense population of writers? Is there something particularly literary about Brooklyn? Where and how do people read here?

Anthony: Brooklyn is such an inspiration every single day. Just walking around the block can be stirring. There is always something going on to spur your imagination and your emotions. It’s the perfect place for writers.

What events, series, readings, happenings, places, stores, publications, movements, etc. seem to you currently interesting or important in the Brooklyn literary world?

Seth: I really enjoyed the Brooklyn Book Fest at Borough Hall last year. Anthony and I went for the day and heard some great readings. I think the organizers did a very nice job of bringing Brooklyn’s literary community together and creating an event/forum for everyone, including the readers to be involved. We’re going to be doing a signing there this year and we’re very excited to be a part of it.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Guest blogger: Carolyn Bennett

Carolyn Bennett is one of my favorite people in the book industry. She's a sales rep at BookStream, a youngish independent wholesaler (and sends out their great e-newsletter), and works part time at Oblong Books in upstate New York. She also belongs to a wonderful bookselling family: her sister Whitney works for HarperCollins, and her parents John and Betty Bennett are the proprietors of Bennett Books in Wyckoff, New Jersey. I've been lucky to get to know both John and Betty through NAIBA, and they're some of my bookselling role models.

Last week, Carolyn told me Bennett Books has made the decision to close at the end of September. The closing of an indie bookstore is always a hard thing to grapple with, and I think Carolyn's own words do it better than mine could. The following is also published in today's Shelf Awareness and on Carolyn's blog.

Epilogue: Nineteen Years Later

Back in 1988, my ten-year-old heart burst with a secret. My parents were going to open a bookstore. All they needed was a location, shelves, and books, and we were going to be in business! After harboring this secret for months, the plan finally came to fruition, and I was allowed to tell my friends that my town of Wyckoff, New Jersey was finally getting its own bookstore and my parents were opening it! Thus began two decades of an extremely successful bookstore.

In the past few days, my heart has been bursting with another piece of news. Because of recent rent increases, flat book sales, the explosion of the internet, and the high cost of much needed capital improvements, it is impossible for the store to remain in business. Bennett Books will be closed by September 30, 2007.

In the past nineteen years, I've been filled with pride for my parents' achievements. From the first book sold (The Art of the Deal by Donald Trump), to the day they finally had enough books to fill the shelves, and the two times that burgeoning stock allowed them to expand the size of the store, to the time they proudly sold and displayed The Satanic Verses, as well as Sex by Madonna despite threats of a boycott called for in a sermon given by a small-minded local pastor, to the time they found a loophole in Bergen County's blue laws which allowed them to sell books on Sundays when the chains on the highway closed (and still do) like the rest of the malls, and throughout their participation in the American Booksellers Association and the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association, The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression and the Chamber of Commerce, my parents, John and Betty Bennett, have been outstanding booksellers. It's deeply unfortunate that all great things cannot last, and while I'm devastated to see my favorite bookstore go, I remain confident that independent bookselling will remain an important part of our country and communities.

The world has changed by leaps and bounds since 1988, and I don't think that anything will stop the free distribution of information on the internet, which creates formidable competition for booksellers. Even I have downloaded recipes and travel instructions instead of looking them up in a book. Despite the competition, the traditional book is not dead, and some bookstores are finding creative ways to evolve with technology. But this is not the only obstacle booksellers face.

Recently, I had a conversation with my mother about where she purchased books before the store opened. Her answer was that she, like her neighbors, had to drive to other towns, or to the mall, or not purchase books at all. Now that Bennett Books is closing, residents will yet again have to drive long distances to buy books instead of making the short trip to the town center. In the past year, almost every publisher has released at least one book about the importance of buying locally for the sake of the environment and the economy. It would be a shame if they don't make the connection that they have the power to help prevent independent bookstores from closing, and keep these vital community businesses alive. With pricing and terms that would allow independents to compete with chains, it would prevent the ever centralization of book distribution and allow local businesses to stay in business. This would be good for communities, individuals and the publishing industry itself. Unfortunately, it's too late for the people of Wyckoff, NJ, because starting October 1st, they will no longer be be able to buy their books from a local retailer.

Carolyn Bennett

Monday, August 13, 2007

Mad Monday

Just madness, no links -- forgive my overworked state, I promise I'll have more later this week.

I suggest you spend Monday messing around with the Bookseller Wiki. Actually, you can only change it if you're an ABA member, but the accumulated knowledge (and they only just unveiled it), is fascinating. Especially the info on the order of kids' book series like Warriors -- I don't think that information is available anywhere else.

What's your favorite example of information sharing?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Brooklyn Lit Life: Peter Melman

Brooklyn Lit Life is a series of interviews with authors, publishers, retailers, bloggers, readers, and others involved in the literary life of my favorite borough. Questions are designed to spark conversation from a variety of perspectives on what characterizes Brooklyn and its neighborhoods as a cultural and literary place. If you'd like to take part or you know a great candidate for the series, email me: booknerdnyc at earthlink dot net.

Brooklyn Lit Life #2: Peter Melman
Peter Melman is a long-time Brooklynite and first-time novelist: his story of a Jewish Civil War soldier,
Landsman, was published by Counterpoint in June 2007. I met him at a charming dinner for Counterpoint authors and later hosted his reading at McNally Robinson, and was delighted to learn that he once worked at BookCourt, one of the borough's premier indie bookstores. His cheeky answers to my interview questions reveal a true Brooklyn spirit.

Describe your particular literary project, and your role in it.

Well, I tend to think of Landsman as an epic tale of love, brutality, and one man’s quest for morality in an otherwise indifferent world, framed against the unique backdrop of the Jewish Confederacy and the raunchy underbelly of Civil War-time New Orleans. And as a Jewish kid born in New York but raised in Louisiana, with an undergraduate degree in history and a doctorate in English-Creative Writing, with a bent toward crafting some fairly voluptuous prose, which lends itself well to period pieces, I knew at once I was the writer for this job. And there you have it. Utterly unrehearsed, too.

Why Brooklyn? What made you decide to live/work here, in both practical and emotional terms?

I initially chose Brooklyn because that’s where my wife, then girlfriend, was living at the time we decided to shack up together. My apartment in Manhattan was a rat-trap, literally; hers in Cobble Hill, delightful. It was a no-brainer. That she welcomed me into her life at all is proof-positive of just how fortunate I am.

Is there a Brooklyn sensibility or character? How would you describe it? How does it differ from the character of New York City as a whole?

I think Brooklyn’s so enormous – geographically, demographically, culturally – that any attempt to quantify the borough as a whole is a bit of a fool’s errand. Flatbush differs from Brooklyn Heights, Midwood from Bed-Stuy, and on and on. But what I’ve noticed it does have, collectively, is this: whereas it once possessed an immigrant population’s inferiority complex, an attempt to prove itself worthy of neighboring the more glamorized Manhattan across the river, it now actually seems proud of being the Other, a population distinct from that indigenous to that same glamorized Manhattan.

What about your particular neighborhood? Does it have its own unique character? This can include the kinds of people you tend to find there, particular characters or places that epitomize the neighborhood, etc.

My neighborhood of Cobble Hill/Carroll Gardens, once predominately immigrant Italian, is being as gentrified as anywhere else in the borough. It’s lovely, to be sure, but you see more folks like me and my wife running around the area these days than those who were actually born here. Now I’d be a hypocrite if I said my presence wasn’t part of the regrettable push toward ethnic sanitization. Today, we’ve got beautiful brownstones, boutique bars, quaint restaurants, and a marginally slower pace than you might find in Manhattan. It’s also become a veritable Romper Room, only the mommies and daddies all seem to have tattoos, angular eyewear, and degrees from any number of small, northeastern, liberal arts colleges. I can be so glib because I’m among them, trust me.

What do you think of the direction Brooklyn, or at least your neighborhood, is going? What does the future look like in terms of economics, demographics, culture, and other changes?

See above. Only, I envision it getting pricier, less ethnically diverse, and even fuller of toddlers in Metallikid t-shirts.

Is there a Brooklyn literary sensibility? Which writers or works most emblematize Brooklyn for you? Which older writers set the tone? Which contemporary writers are you reading with interest?

Henry and Arthur Miller wrote in the Heights, as did Thomas Wolfe and Truman Capote. Whitman set the first pages of Leaves of Grass on a borrowed printing press on Cranberry Street. Hubert Selby, Jr. was a Brooklynite. Mailer still is. So there’s certainly been an ethos of the sexualized rebel established out this way. Does it still exist? Not as far I can tell. Today you have an understandably younger feel, something more urban and smart, and yet at the same time it’s a bit more angsty in nature than truly rebellious. Of course, I’m generalizing, I know it. Then again, you asked me to.

Why do you think Brooklyn has such a dense population of writers? Is there something particularly literary about Brooklyn? Where and how do people read here?

Brooklyn gained a literary population in the early to mid 20th century because it was simply cheaper than Manhattan. Capote rented a basement on Willow Street, where he wrote Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood, for $90 a month. Today, that same home (not just the basement, to be fair) is renting for $40,000 a month. Times, as they say, have changed. So while there’s a slower pace to Brooklyn, which for me is helpful in getting the work done, I wouldn’t say that modern Brooklyn is particularly helpful for writing. That there are many of us, most who are fairly young, is nice in establishing a sense of community, sure. Then again, most of the writers I’ve met, myself included, aren’t particularly communal when it comes to their work.

What events, series, readings, happenings, places, stores, publications, movements, etc. seem to you currently interesting or important in the Brooklyn literary world?

Housing BEA’s booksellers in the Brooklyn Marriott this year was a terrific idea. I was privileged to lead a group of 25 of them on a walking tour of literary Brooklyn Heights, which, in my research, forced me to be more attuned to the bookish history of the place. Acquiring that knowledge alone made leading the tour worthwhile. Also, founding the Brooklyn Book Fair was a stroke of genius, and BookCourt, an establishment where I once worked but was eventually and deservedly fired, is a fine, fine independent bookstore.

Imagine the ideal Brooklyn bookstore or literary venue, a place you'd like to read on your own or participate in literary community. What would it be like?

Easy. It’d be precisely like McNally-Robinson in Soho, only it’d be located . . . well, you know where. And above the door would be the first line to Capote’s short story, “A House on the Heights,” which celebrates the beauty of the borough, as well as a kind of pride at being the Other I mentioned earlier: “I live in Brooklyn,” he begins. “By choice.”

Monday, August 06, 2007

Link-Mad Monday: Links on the fly

I'm trying really hard to buckle down on the business plan this morning, so here are some quickie links.

* HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman is optimistic about the future of publishing. Here's a sample of her interview in Forbes:
I think the book business is the healthiest I have seen it in a very long time. We are seeing a breadth of titles selling in many different channels of distribution. We are no longer publishing for the independents only, the chains only, the big box merchandisers only, the online sellers only. We are selling across the board. The health is the breadth, diversity and range. That's good for business, and more importantly, it's good for society.

*I so totally want to go the New York Public Library and print a free instant book on the Espresso Book Machine -- especially after the great stories about indie bookstores doing great business with Print on Demand I heard at the Digital Task Force.

*A victory for shopping local: thanks largely to the efforts of booksellers, Arizona has passed legislation which will penalize townships that give outlandish tax breaks and subsidies to massive retailers and big box stores. We could use a little of that playing-field-leveling around here.

*Independent booksellers are having a polite disagreement with National Public Radio over their Amazon affiliate program, which doesn't point NPR website-goers to Booksense despite indies strong support of NPR. Read a letter from ABA President (and Montana bookseller) Russ Lawrence about the issue here in Bookselling This Week.

* Huffington Post blogger Lissa Warren has a great piece on "voting independent" by supporting local bookstores (and she mentions McNally Robinson -- cool!)

* And the wonderful Maud Newton (who I get to meet next Friday!) is running a series of guest posts on favorite independent bookstores (you can read all the ones so far in the Bookstore archives). Great to read about beloved places -- consider contacting Maud to write up your own.

* Speaking of beloved local places, the ALP and I spent Sunday with some friends at Coney Island. With imminent development by Thor Equities (which sounds like a supervillain corporation from the Justice League cartoon), there's a sense that this may be the last summer to experience Coney as the slightly seedy, small-town boardwalk and midway of the big city that it's been for so long. The ALP took a lot of pictures yesterday and there are some great ones of the Wonder Wheel and other Coney classics, but it's this little picture (of a coin-op panorama of the park in the olden days) that serves as a charmingly poignant reminder of what stands to be lost. For a little while longer, it doesn't cost much to have a good time.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Brooklyn Lit Life: Johnny Temple

Today marks the first installment in an ongoing series I'm calling Brooklyn Lit Life: interviews with authors, publishers, retailers, bloggers, readers, and others involved in the literary life of my favorite borough. Questions are designed to spark conversation from a variety of perspectives on what characterizes Brooklyn and its neighborhoods as a cultural and literary place. If you'd like to take part or you know a great candidate for the series, email me: booknerdnyc at earthlink dot net.

Brooklyn Life Life #1: Johnny Temple

Johnny Temple is in some ways the face of Brooklyn literary life. He is the co-founder and publisher of independent press Akashic Books, and the chair of the Brooklyn Literary Council, which organizes the Brooklyn Book Festival. He is also the organizer for the Fort Greene Park Summer Literary Festival, and I've seen him selling books from a booth at the Atlantic Antic. And that's all when he's not touring with his band, Girls Against Boys. The following is an edited transcript of a phone interview with Johnny on July 27.

Why Brooklyn? What made you decide to live/work here, in both practical and emotional terms?

When I move to New York in 1990 from Washington D.C. where I was born and raised, I had a friend who lived in Fort Greene and had room open. I moved in with him and immediately took to the neighborhood. It was almost a bizarre coincidence, because the cultural life of Fort Greene syncs up so perfectly with my own interests -- literary, musical, cultural, everything. One of my favorite writers is Richard Wright – he was the first African American author to have a bestseller. That book [Native Son] had a major impact on me when I first read it in college, and got me into African American and literature and literature of the African Diaspora. Then I moved to Fort Greene and found out Wright had written parts of Native Son while sitting on benches in Fort Greene Park. I subsequently found out that Whitman and Steinbeck had also lived in the neighborhood. That opened the door to understanding and researching the literary history of Fort Greene and the borough in general. And I still live on the same street, though not in the same building.

Is there a Brooklyn sensibility or character? How would you describe it? How does it differ from the character of New York City as a whole?

Brooklyn is such an incredibly diverse place – as are Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx – though Brooklyn and Queens are probably the most racially, religiously, economically diverse boroughs. So as a result it's a little bit hard to generalize about a Brooklyn spirit or character. Though diversity is part of that character – perhaps its defining characteristic.

One of the things about literature coming out of Brooklyn – for example, in Brooklyn Noir [published by Akashic Books], which is the best anthology of Brooklyn literature out there – I say that as the publisher, but no one has ever disagreed with it… one of the things that characterizes it is a sort of rugged, working class aesthetic. That's not to imply that everyone in Brooklyn is working class – in fact it's rapidly gentrifying. But one of the things that draws people to the place is its everyman spirit, that working class aesthetic. Not that Jonathan Safran Foer is a working class hero (and I don't know Jonathan Safran Foer), but I bet that the rough edges of the borough is what attracted him and writers like him to the borough.

What about your particular neighborhood? Does it have its own unique character? This can include the kinds of people you tend to find there, particular characters or places that epitomize the neighborhood, etc.

Fort Greene is a wellspring of African American and Caribbean culture. The face of the neighborhood is certainly changing as gentrification happens. However, Fort Greene is the place where people like Spike Lee emerged from. In the neighborhood the streets are alive with sense that this is a culturally cutting edge location, partly with regards to black culture. It's no coincidence that you hear Fort Greene name checked in hip hop songs, that it shows up in Spike Lee movies… There's a well established history and legacy of African American culture here, and great writers like Nelson George, Colson Whitehead, Toure live in the neighborhood; these are some of our best black writers, or I should say some of our best writers, period. And there are also newer immigrants like Jhumpa Lahiri and Jennifer Egan who live here now.

What do you think of the direction Brooklyn, or at least your neighborhood, is going? What does the future look like in terms of economics, demographics, culture, and other changes?

I'm not an expert on urban development, so can't really predict where it's headed. When I moved into Fort Greene in 1990 there were crack dealers on the corner, but there was the sense that the neighborhood was on cusp of change. And when I spoke to folks who had lived here since the 70s, they said it had felt like it was on the cusp since the 1980s, though it didn't really start to happen until the mid-90s. The neighborhood has changed; you see more young white hipsters and there are lot more white homeowners. At the same time, it is still a majority black neighborhood, and in addition to white people moving in there are also new black homeowners. The gentrification process is happening, demographics are changing, but I wouldn't make the leap to say the cultural essence is being destroyed. There are still a lot of extremely creative people firmly rooted in the place, as well as families of all races and ethnicities.

The one real gentrification curveball is the Atlantic Yards project. If that arena goes up, along with the 15 skyscrapers or whatever that accompany it, that will certainly affect the neighborhood. But I can't say how. Some people say it will destroy the neighborhood, but I don't think so. It will change it, but who knows for better or worse. Urban development needs to be monitored, and citizens' groups need to have their voices heard. But at the same time I think that change is not inherently bad. Cities do evolve. I have mixed feelings about the changes underway, and I'm not as anti-Atlantic Yards as some of my close friends.

Is there a Brooklyn literary sensibility? Which writers or works most emblematize Brooklyn for you? Which older writers set the tone? Which contemporary writers are you reading with interest?

One writer that I feel I have to mention is Jonathan Lethem. Fortress of Solitude is the best novel addressing urban gentrification that I've ever read. Like I was saying, it's that rugged aesthetic – the book is very rugged and raw, and it's also a masterpiece. There's Walt Whitman in the mid 19th century, who was also crucial to the founding of Fort Greene Park – he argued in the Brooklyn Eagle for more public community space, which led directly to the development of the park. You can look at the path from his work, to Richard Wright writing here in the 1930s, and fast forward to Colson Whitehead in the present.

Why do you think Brooklyn has such a dense population of writers? Is there something particularly literary about Brooklyn?

For one thing, many writers can't afford to live in Manhattan. Most writers can't earn a living being writers, so they have to have day jobs. And if you're working a day job and trying to find time to write around it, you're probably not pulling in enough to live in Manhattan. But then why not Queens or Staten island? I think the answer is that New York is one of the cultural capitals of the world, and Brooklyn is as close as you can get to the center of that while still being somewhat affordable.

What events, series, readings, happenings, places, stores, publications, movements, etc. seem to you currently interesting or important in the Brooklyn literary world?

There's so much exciting stuff going on. One exciting new literary journal is A Public Space. In June, Book Expo America, the biggest annual book trade conference, was held in New York [and partly in Brooklyn]. A Public Space created a great Brooklyn-centric fanzine with groundbreaking Brooklyn authors. The challenge of any literary endeavor is to create something that didn't exist before. [Editor] Brigid [Hughes] was previously with the Paris Review, and while I haven't talked to her about this extensively, it seems that her goal was not replicating Paris Review, but creating a whole new entity.

There are other great publications like Tin House, and Harp and Altar, an online poetry magazine based in Brooklyn. There's so much bubbling up. And so many young Brooklyn publishing companies like Ig, along with Soft Skull and Akashic. It's exciting for me and [publisher] Richard Nash at Soft Skull, because seven or eight years ago we were the young upstarts. I think we still have a fresh creative energy, but there are also a lot of new literary entities in Brooklyn now.

What do you think would make Brooklyn better as a literary place? What does the borough still need? What are the opportunities and challenges it faces?

I think the main challenge – and this cuts to one of main goals of the Brooklyn Book Festival – is for people to recognize and embrace Brooklyn as the literary capital of New York City. Though so many people in the literary world live in Brooklyn, the big public literary events are so often still in Manhattan. I have no problem with Manhattan, but you'll go to a literary event in Manhattan with 50 people, and 40 of them are from Brooklyn. Why not save the subway fare and the time, and promote public events in Brooklyn? Certainly there are some, and it's changed from 2 or 3 years ago. The goal of the Brooklyn Book Festival is to connect the dots so everyone can see each other. Borough Hall hosts Literary Mingles, which I believe you've been to, so that people can see each other in public and realize they all live within three miles of each other.

What's lacking in Brooklyn is a thriving network of public events. I feel strongly that public events are crucial to the survival of literature. In the publishing industry you hear people talking about literature being on the decline, and how people don't read any more. To sit and complain – that energy would be better spent on trying to harvest new audiences for literature. And what better place than Brooklyn, with all these different and diverse groups? The publishing industry should be working to cultivate those readers.

Imagine the ideal Brooklyn bookstore or literary venue, a place you'd like to read on your own or participate in literary community. What would it be like? What would it avoid?

Are you familiar with a restaurant in Fort Greene called Habana Outpost? It's a Cuban restaurant with large patio. On weekends they have vendors, who make clothes or books or whatever, and these artisans show up and sell their goods in the patio where delicious food is being served. To me, if there was a bookstore/café entity somewhere centrally located, like Fort Greene, that was very public spirited, that invited people not only to attend and host events, but to set up their own corner to interact directly with public in a comfortable, creatively stimulating environment – that would be ideal.

Brooklyn could use a few more really great bookstores. There are some great ones, but we could use a few more. I have seen some open and close in Fort Greene, but the neighborhood needs something to water the literary garden that is here.

I think the thing to avoid is a literary snobbishness that you sometimes see in the New York publishing world – again, tying back to this issue of making literature more accessible. A great, public-spirited Brooklyn bookstore would steer clear of anything smacking of snooty New York snobbishness. Literature needs to be yanked down from the ivory tower. I don't think people need to be super well educated to appreciate a good book, a good novel. Obviously they need to be able to read and think critically, but I think a lot more people do that than the publishing industry recognizes. Multiculturalism is important to the future of publishing, not just for spirit of equality it embodies, but because publishing needs the energy, a new spirit, new approaches.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Thursday Extras: LBC, Graphic Lit

It's not blogging day, but these two links are too good to wait until Monday:

The Litblog Co-Op has announced it's new Read This! selection, and has posts on the winner as well as the two runners-up. They're all great books, and a great conversation is starting -- check it out!

And today my first column on graphic lit runs in Shelf Awareness! I'm delighted at the opportunity to write about comics for a wider audience, and I hope it proves helpful to bookstores trying to navigate what for many is a new category. Comments welcome!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Meeting Reports: DTF, NAIBA

Despite the purported summer doldrums, July was a busy month as booksellers came together for pooling our collective brains and planning for the future. My own brain is a bit fuzzy today as I seem to have contracted an icky summer cold, but I'll do my best to give you the scoop on the two meetings I attended this month.

Wednesday, July 11: American Booksellers Association Digital Task Force (ABA-DTF)
* Beck Anderson (Anderson’s Bookshops – Naperville, IL)
* Tom Campbell (Regulator Bookshop – Durham, NC)
* Dan Cullen (Director Information Department – American Booksellers Assoc.)
* Avin Domnitz (CEO – American Booksellers Assoc.)
* Kelly Justice (Fountain Bookstore – Richmond, VA)
* Russ Lawrence (Chapter One Books – Hamilton, MT)
* Ricky Leung (Technical Lead –
* Madeline MacIntosh (Senior VP and Publisher, Random House Audio Group)
* Jessica Stockon (McNally Robinson – New York, NY)
* Neil Strandberg (Tattered Cover – Denver, CO)
* Oren Teicher (COO – American Booksellers Assoc.)
* Len Vlahos (Director & Education – American Booksellers Assoc.)
* Dave Weich ( – Portland, OR)
* Jeff Wexler (IT Director – American Booksellers Assoc.)
* Eric Wilska (The Book Loft – Great Barrington, MA)

Thank goodness for emailed agendas -- while all of these booksellers and ABA staffers were insightful and fascinating, there's no way I would have remembered their names and associations without Len's helpful briefing. The Digital Task Force is a rotating group of booksellers and publishing folks convened occasionally by the ABA to address issues of emerging technology and how they relate to our industry -- and perhaps most importantly, to make sure independent booksellers have a seat at the table as the nature of the book changes in the internet age.

The meeting took place in the ABA offices in Tarrytown, New York, around a conference table littered with laptops, a Sony e-reader, and a projector to look at web pages on a large movie screen. Ideas were shared, theories were floated, experiences were analyzed, and jokes were made (the most memorable was one bookseller's suggestion that perhaps we needed to form a "Wake The F*** Up Task Force" for our still occasionally tech-phobic industry). I was especially fascinated by Eric Wilska's experience with an InstaBook machine, much like the Espresso Book Machine, which has added to his bottom line by printing books as a service and creating copies of out of print, public domain books that have a market in his region but are beneath the notice of any publishing company. It's just one of many opportunities indie bookstores have to take advantage of the redistribution of resources that the digital age portends, though of course these changes mean many challenges as well. The ABA, in my opinion and based on this meeting, is doing an excellent job of both keeping on top of developments in the tech world, and listening to its membership as they express how they think resources should be allocated in response.

We came up with a list of priorities, including bookseller education, BookSense developments, working with social networking sites (like Shelfari), monitoring trends in e-books, and more. I'm sure I'll be writing more about all these issues in future, and I'm looking forward to how they play out in the world of bookselling. Len Vlahos, who ran the meeting, is freshly married as of yesterday (CONGRATULATIONS!!), but he managed to contribute to a great rundown of the meeting for this article about the DTF in Bookselling This Week -- check it out for more details.

Monday, July 30: New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association Board of Directors Meeting
Joe Drabyak, President (Chester County Book Company, West Chest, PA)
Lucy Kogler, Vice President (Talking Leaves Inc., Buffalo, NY)
Pat Kutz, Secretary/Treasurer (Lift Bridge Book Shop, Brockport, NY)
Lynn Gonchar, Past President (Tudor Bookshop & Cafe, Kingston, PA)
Betty Bennett (Bennett Books, Wyckoff, NJ)
Carla Cohen (Politics & Prose, Washington, DC)
Paul Emberley (Walck Sales & Marketing, Wayne, PA)
Harvey Finkel (Clinton Bookshop, Clinton, NJ)
Tim Hepp (Simon & Schuster, Ardmore, PA)
Rob Stahl (Colgate University Bookstore)
Jessica Stockton Bagnulo (McNally Robinson Booksellers, New York, NY)
Eileen Dengler, Executive Director (NAIBA, Westbury, NY)

The board of our regional booksellers association met in the offices of Random House in New York (thanks again to RH for the use of the Dr. Seuss meeting room, and a few moments of wistful thinking about what it might have been like to end up on the publishing side of things in this posh, beautiful office, until I came to my senses.) There were some goodbyes (Carla Cohen and Jack Buckley of 9th Street Books in Wilmington, DE are leaving the board after much faithful service) and some hellos (we discussed nominations [secret, of course] for the next slate of board members, and it was my first meeting with my new last name, so there was some good natured teasing from my seniors on the board, as well as a David Mitchell-themed wedding gift).

Mostly, we talked about (what I like to call) NAIBA-Con: the NAIBA Fall Conference being held in Baltimore October 14 and 15. We still have a bit of evangelizing to do in bringing everyone in the industry around to the new format for the show: streamlined and scaled down, with an increased focus on publishers pitching the best of their list to help booksellers sell, and practical education for booksellers to improve their stores. But as the model is spreading to other regions across the country, excitement is running high about the potential for the new conference. Loads of fabulous regional authors are lined up for the Moveable Feast and other aspects of the show, the educational panels are looking stellar, awards for authors and others are in the works, and Eileen is (as always) working out the finest details for our weekend at the Baltimore Sheraton. Keep your eyes on the mailbox for the conference registration materials, which will be showing up soon.

I'm off to gargle with salt water again -- back with the first of the Brooklyn Lit Life interviews on Friday!