Friday, February 29, 2008

"Switchblades, bicycle chains and adventuresome tailors": Colson Whitehead on Brooklyn literary culture

As a last treat before you start your weekend, you gotta read this brilliant piece by Colson Whitehead about being a writer in Brooklyn. He lives here (in Fort Greene), he loves it, but he hilariously pierces the hype about "Brooklyn writers."

Sometimes it's a relief to admit it's just the same here as everywhere else.

And Whitehead ends with an extended metaphor from The Warriors. What could be better?

Enjoy, you kooky literati borough-dwellers. And happy reading.

TitleWave rocks!

Well, our first TitleWave event at BookStream was a smashing success. I'm working on writing up the press release now, but I can tell you informally here that the whole thing was awesome. Around 30 booksellers, plus sales reps and other folks, were in attendance. Our three authors -- Richard Price, Steve Toltz, and Hillary Jordan -- were each completely compelling in different ways. And Ken Abramson did a bang-up job of presenting his "pick of the lists" for great literary fiction and nonfiction from all publishers for the spring and summer seasons. You'll be hearing more about it from me and Carolyn Bennett in the days to come. If you're a bookseller who was there, I'd particularly love to hear from you! Thanks to everyone who made this possible, and who attended and enjoyed. On to the next event!

Monday, February 25, 2008

TitleWave on the horizon!

This morning I'm scrambling, along with my BookStream colleagues, to pull together the final details for our fabulous TitleWave event this Wednesday, February 27, in Hartford, CT. If somehow you've failed to hear all about it, here's what several dozen lucky booksellers have to look forward to:

10:00-10:15 arrive at the Sheraton East Hartford (free parking! TitleWave is in the Junior Ballroom)

10:15-10:30 introduction by BookStream CEO Jack Herr

10:30-11:00 Pick of the spring lists by sales rep extraordinaire Ken Abramson

11:00-11:30 Picks from the rest of the BookStream staff, presented by Carolyn Bennett and Jessica Stockton Bagnulo

11:30-12:00 Pick of the summer lists by Ken Abramson

12:00-12:30 Presentation by Richard Price, author of Lush Life (Farrar, Straus, Giroux)

12:30-12:45 short break for book signing & galley pickup

12:45-1:30 Lunch

1:30-2:00 Presentation by Steve Toltz, author of A Fraction of the Whole (Spiegel & Grau)

2:00-2:30 Presentation by Hillary Jordan, author of Mudbound (Algonquin)

2:30-2:45 short break for book signing and galley pickup

2:45-3:45 Bookseller picks of the list: the best of what YOU’VE been reading!

3:45-4:00 Closing remarks & evaluations

A full day, eh? And it's all FREE, courtesy of BookStream and sponsoring publishers! An RSVP is the only requirement. We've got a full house of booksellers, but if you contact Carolyn TODAY, there's still a chance we might squeeze you in. I'll be absent the rest of this week, but if you mosey on over to Hartford, you'll know just where to find me!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Join the Book Nerd posse!

This definitely comes under the listing of tooting my own horn, but I'm hoping some of you will get a kick out of it. Thanks to the graphic design help of my brilliant sister Sarah...

You can now purchase your own Book Nerd T-shirt!

Just imagine -- bookish types walking around, all over the country, with their hair-band/L.A. gangster/motorcycle-mob typeface t-shirts, proclaiming their unrepentant book nerdism. It's a beautiful thing.

The Cafe Press thing is something I've been thinking about for a while, for a couple of reasons:

1) Several people have asked where they could get their own Book Nerd shirt like the one in my profile photo. Since that was something the ALP had custom-made for me, I didn't have anywhere to send them. Now I do.

1) I'll make a couple of bucks on the sale of each t-shirt, which will go straight into the Future Bookstore Fund. It's not likely to be a major source of funding, but the overhead price is right (i.e. nothing), and I figure it can't hurt to put it out there.

I know the prices are a little steep for t-shirts. The base price for Cafe Press apparel is high, but they do provide all of the infrastructure and product, and they've got a good reputation.

And hey -- you can get a shirt for just about the price of a hardcover book.

You've got your classic white-on-black option, and an organic white shirt with black lettering. Either one looks pretty darn cool.

Do let me know what you think, and especially if you've got ideas for other designs or products I should be offering. Hope you enjoy, my fellow book nerds!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Getcha used books in Brooklyn this weekend

A couple of summers ago, on a weekend ramble through the neighborhood, the ALP and I stumbled on signs directing us to a used book sale at the Methodist Church. We followed them, of course, and found ourselves in a basement full of the best castoffs Park Slope had to offer. The ALP, who has an astounding memory, remembers purchasing Death Ship by B. Travern (author of Treasure of the Sierra Madre), and a hardcover edition of a little-known Victor Hugo novel called 'Ninety-Three; I think I bought an early Joan Silber novel whose title I can't remember (holy cow, get your hands on a galley of her new novel if you can, or reserve it for when it comes out in June), and another find or two.

So I was delighted to get an email from book sale coordinator Nancy letting me know that it's Methodist Book Sale time again! I'm just pasting the whole press release below. If you're a Brooklynite or can make it out here this weekend, it's a great chance not only to find some great treasures, but actually to cull your own book collection. Maybe we'll see you there!

* * *

The fabulous 15th annual BOOK SALE at Park Slope United Methodist Church is almost here!

* SATURDAY, Feb. 23 (8:30am to 4pm)

* SUNDAY, Feb. 24 (afternoon only – 1pm to 4pm)

As always, there will be thousands of new & used books as well as DVDs, CDs, records & tapes. Also a terrific Children’s Corner with books, games, videos & puzzles.

Books will be replenished throughout the day. This year we have a special collection of hundreds of early 20th century German language books (fiction & nonfiction), numerous French books, and lots of first editions of English and American fiction, drama & poetry. A browsers paradise!

Great prices! Cash only.

The church is on 6th Avenue at the corner of 8th Street in Park Slope.

We are still accepting donations (excellent condition only), on the following days:
* Monday, Feb. 18: noon to 7pm (Presidents Day)
* Thurs., Feb. 21: 7pm to 10pm
* Friday, Feb. 22: 10am to 9pm

No magazines or textbooks, please! To arrange a car pickup (Park Slope & vicinity only), please call Rick at 347.538.7604.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Bookstores in the Black; Bookshop Blog

It's not even blogging day (but I was gone Monday at the NAIBA meeting), so here are a few quick make-up links.

According to Shelf Awareness, "Bookstore sales last December were $2.113 billion, up 2.7% from $2.057 billion in December 2006, according to preliminary estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. The year ended on a good note, with sales at $16.768 billion, up 1.1% from $16.589 billion in 2006. During the first half of the year, sales were below the previous year's levels, but stronger results in the second half of 2007 helped pull bookstore sales into the black for the full year." Hooray!

And yours truly is beginning a series over at the Bookshop Blog, telling the story of this crazy dream of opening an indie bookstore. There's lots more going on at BB, so if you get bored with the story of my life there's plenty of links, advice, and personality to keep you there.

I'm off to a morning meeting, then I gotta do some grocery shopping for V-Day dinner with the ALP. If you're in the city and looking for something to do tonight, making books is a nice (free!) option. Insider tip: collage is one of our book decorating options, and I've repurposed a bunch of beautiful publisher catalogs to be snipped up for the purpose. Should be fun. Enjoy the day, however you spend it, and happy reading!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

TitleWave on the horizon...

The momentum is building for TitleWave, the awesome (free!) event for booksellers I've been helping to put together at BookStream!

Bookselling This Week has a nice writeup of the event...

Today's Shelf Awareness mentions TitleWave (though I can't seem to link to today's issue in the archive yet)...

And Megan at Bookdwarf gives it a mention as well...

For myself, I spent the last week missing subway stops reading Mudbound by Hillary Jordan, one of the authors who will be speaking at TitleWave. I was trying to explain to myself its addictive appeal -- it's not unusual structurally or formally, and the setup is almost Greek or Shakespearean in its simplicity: struggling farm, stoic husband, unhappy wife, charming brother, plus nasty racist father, plus bright black WWII vet, plus resourceful midwife and preacher husband, and a big storm on the way. But I couldn't put it down, nor predict just what would happen. Jordan writes effectively in every voice (except the father's, thankfully) and builds her story so carefully but so inevitably that you're panting for more.

I know Carolyn at BookStream is a huge fan too (see today's BookStream Current), and Jordan was buzzed about at Winter Institute. Don't miss your chance to hear her speak and share lunch with her.

And if that's not enough, you'll also have the chance to meet Steve Toltz, the Australian author of Fraction of the Whole (an early offering for brilliant upstart Random House imprint Spiegel & Grau), and the inimitable Richard Price (Clockers, anyone?), whose new novel Lush Life brings him back to a gentrifying New York City (the ALP gives that one his stamp of approval).

And if that's not enough, you also get to hear the one and only Ken Abramson, sales rep extraordinaire, talk up the very best titles coming out this February to June. And Carolyn Bennett and yours truly talking about the pop culture side of the things. AND more galleys than you can shake a stick at, plus bags to carry them home. AND free lunch. AND free parking. Honestly, what more could you ask?

It's all happening February 27 in Hartford, Connecticut -- it's free to any bookseller, but you do have to RSVP (and space is limited!). Click the links to email me or email Carolyn or email Ken for more info or to sign up. Hope to see you there!

Friday, February 08, 2008

Friday time wasting

Today is a busy day as usual, with the added delight that the internet is acting screwy in our house. The ALP and I are taking turns cursing at wireless and trying to find work to do that doesn't involve the network (not much). So while it's pointless to try to write a long blog today, I would like to share:

some very good (at least for me) news: I'm going to BEA! As most of you know, it's being held May 28 to June 1 in Los Angeles this year -- close to where I grew up but far from where I work -- and I'm grateful to my bookstore for deciding it's worthwhile to send me. You may see me on a panel or two -- I'll keep you posted. I can't wait to meet, confer, and otherwise hobnob with my fellow wizards -- er, booksellers -- and learn a thing or two. Anybody else got BEA plans?

And speaking of a gathering of bookstores -- my buddy Steve sent me a link to this wonderful set of photos of bookstores. Some look like UK stores; many are in New York; some I know by name but not by sight. It's a delightful tour, and a perfect Friday time waster -- my gift to you. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Comment: On Misperception and Making The World

Can I rant for just a tiny minute?

I guess I must have been actually reading back posts of my favorite blogs, because I came across this one on the blog of Lance Fensterman, conference director extraordinaire (BEA *and* Comic Con -- that's right, baby!) and generally funny and observant guy. He's got a link to this story in the MinnPost about Birch Bark Books in Minneapolis, owned by well-to-do and respected author Louise Erdrich but apparently not doing terribly well financially. Here's the opener:

"Most writers believe in independent bookstores. But is a belief in past worlds enough to bring them back to life? The answer is yes, if author and store owner Louise Erdrich has anything to say about it.
The renowned author of "Love Medicine" and "Beet Queen" opened BirchBark Books in 2001, while independent booksellers everywhere were closing. The 800-square-foot shop, on a quiet street in Minneapolis' Kenwood neighborhood, is a proper book lover's hideaway, with reading spaces, a knowledgeable staff and a lovingly handpicked inventory.
Naturally, it has been losing money since the day it opened."

"Naturally," huh? Thankfully, several booksellers, including Erdrich, take the journalist to task for not only the tone of the article, but a number of factual errors and misquotes. The first commenter expresses my primary objection, and if you'll allow me to take off from there, here's my rant:

When a restaurant closes, it doesn't usually occur to anyone to say, "well, that's because people just don't go to restaurants to eat anymore," or "this just reflects the sad decline of the food industry, and we should all be better people and go out to eat more." More likely, their comments reflect on what might have caused the failure of this specific business: a less-than-prime location, poor business planning, sub-par service, unexciting food, or just bad luck. Yes, everyone knows that lots of restaurants close -- but lots also open. Success and failure happen on the individual business level, not on the industry level -- there's no shortage of restaurants, and many still provide wonderful experiences while remaining profitable ventures.

So why, I ask you, is it that whenever a bookstore closes, it's because bookstores are a thing of the past, and no one buys books or read anymore, and those who do buy their books online, and if we were all better people we would support those quaint indie stores (whether or not they're doing a good job)? And why, when a new bookstore opens, is it seen as a wonderfully naive venture, suitable for Don Quixotes or those who have money to "prop up" such a business? And why, when a bookstore is successful and has been around for 3, 10, 30 years, is it always a surprising exception to an otherwise sad state of affairs?

I've been lucky enough to be the subject of a couple of interviews lately (I'll let you know when they run) because of my PowerUp win, and I chortle secretly at the chance to "spread the gospel" to interviewers about this widespread misapprehension. One reporter asked me flat-out why I thought it was a good idea to open a bookstore in Brooklyn, when everyone knows independent bookstores are on the decline.

"Actually, that is incorrect," I said, and talked for a bit about the 115 new stores that opened last year and the 97 the year before that, about the drop in indie booktore numbers in the 1990s when chains and big box stores rose to prominence, but the rising numbers since then as new indie bookstore owners, savvy about the new realities of retail, open and prosper.

"Wow, I guess the 90s was when I stopped paying attention," said the admirably humble reporter.

It's a new world, and not in the way you often hear it. Click here for a publisher talking about having his eyes opened by the resurgent indies at Winter Institute. Tom Hallock of Beacon Books writes:

"Like any good publisher I had come to Winter Institute to promote our books and authors. I came away in awe of the vision, values and commitment that are transforming this organization and its members. In finding their place in their local communities, they have also found their place in the world --and we are all the richer for it."

And here are two booksellers who express my point even better. Karl Pohrt of eminent bookstore Shamen Drum writes on his MySpace blog about witnessing a frustrating presentation about "the future of books":

"The speakers talk about their "fierce attachment" to the "lovely culture" of books, using words like "old" and "charming" and "enchanting". They talk about their "deep affinity for the physical book" and mention the smell and feel of books. They talk about the "bittersweet aspect" of what is about to happen.
Then the vocabulary switches and the beloved old uncle is hustled off stage. It is "inevitable" that the vast majority of reading will be done on digital devices. The speakers say things like "Kindle is really pretty cool" and "on-line social networks will have to substitute for the pleasure of bookstores" because we're going to have to "forget about bookstores, they're not going to be around." Instead of lamenting this loss, he tells us "we should focus on the positive side." Oh, maybe some small independent bookstores might still survive as gathering places for people who love the physical book.
The reason this bothers me is that if an audience takes the speaker too seriously, it will establish the boundaries for what people imagine is possible in their futures. I don't think this is such a good thing."

And on the Rediscovered blog, Bruce has discovered and been inspired by Andy Laties' Rebel Bookseller (one of my own inspirations), and he quotes his somewhat counterintuitive response to conventional wisdom:

"The point is, you can focus on the fact that your independant bookstore is doomed and then let this reality prevent you from launching the thing. Or you can focus on your doom and use this foreknowledge to help you plan for your business's reincarnation.

That's what the Buddhists call death energy. Every moment, you think about your possibly imminent death. This gives you the courage to take chances. After all, what's the point in fear or delay? You might not live ten more seconds" (p. 33)

As Karl concludes (in a quotation from a book of poems), "The world you have to live in is / The world that you have made." Not to get all The Secret on you, but the way we think about things affects the way they are.

Some bookstores fail. Some bookstores succeed. But the indie bookstore business is not doomed, not at the moment. Restaurants still exist because people gotta eat, and they love eating well and in a beautiful place. And books are like food, aren't they? Hooray for the bookstores that feed us well.

I'd love to hear what you think -- your own stories of misperceptions, exceptions, or change. Do comment if you have the time.

Monday, February 04, 2008

What I'd Like To Do, When I Have Time

- Read the complete results of the latest ABACUS Survey from the ABA -- those stats from indie bookstores nationwide were a big factor in my business plan

- Read bookseller Tova Beiser's account of WI3

- Catch up with my Brooklyn blog reading! I just met Myka of MotherSister Brooklyn this weekend (look for a chronicle of meeting with the amazingly wonderful Fort Greene Association soon), and I think I have a lot of back posts to read. There's always Louise Crawfords indispensible Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn, which will also lead you to almost every other Brooklyn blog worth reading (and she also had a supernice congrats on my PowerUp win). And I've recently discovered Brooklynometry, and specifically the write-up of a new Brooklyn bookstore practically in my backyard that I didn't know existed: Babbo's Books on Prospect Park West. Exciting news!

- Post book reviews! Here's what I read in January but haven't yet found time to write about (and they're all GREAT, in different ways):
THE BOOK OF OTHER PEOPLE, edited by Zadie Smith
A GOLDEN AGE by Tahmima Anam
THE ESCAPISTS by Brian K. Vaughan
LAIKA by Nick Abadzis
and currently reading MUDBOUND by Hillary Jordan, which has now officially made me miss a subway stop -- the sign of an irresistibly great read.

- tell you lots of details about the TitleWave event I've beeen working on putting together that BookStream is hosting on February 27, with Richard Price, Steve Toltz, Hillary Jordan, and sales rep extraordinaire Ken Abramson. If you haven't heard the details in Publishers Weekly, Shelf Awareness, Bookselling This Week, the NAIBA and NEIBA newsletters, or the blogs, then email me or Carolyn Bennett and we'll tell you all about it. Remember, it's free, but you DO have to RSVP!

- find out if I can vote in the primary on Tuesday even though I'm registered as an independent... when my sweet mom, who's a Republican from California, and New York City bookish type like me can agree on a candidate, it's clearly a good time to vote.

What's hanging over your head, dear readers? There are always too many books to read -- but that means we'll never run out!