Friday, April 25, 2008

Friday miscellany: Make your plans...

Read through for some random interesting links, or scroll to the end for a special invitation for NYC booksellers...

* The L.A. Times has a cool article on the future of physical/electronic books, from the perspective of some rare books librarians, with some ideas after my own heart:

"Our library is very heavily used," said director Judith Nadler. "The digital and the print-based will continue to coexist. We don't want the electronic instead of the book. We want the electronic and the book."


* The New York Observer has taken on the ambitious task of picking the Brooklyn Literary 100: the most important figures in the Brooklyn literary community, including authors, publishers, editors, etc. (What I like about the map is that it also points out the bookish places in Brooklyn, including bookstores and coffee shops). It's obviously a tad arbitrary, but not enough so for New York Magazine, which has taken the Observer's list and edited it down to the top 50, 25, and ultimately 1.

My take: This list is probably going to both obsess and annoy people, but I feel the best response is to peruse it curiously and take it with a large helping of salt. It's arbitrary (see the comments for lots who got left out), and the very idea of a Brooklyn community of writers seems antithetical to the idea of picking the important ones. Still, I admit I did delight in calculating how many of these folks are in my email archives, or one degree removed -- I could tap into the literary power of Brooklyn with a few keystrokes, mwa ha ha! Anyway, lots of ideas for the Brooklyn Lit Life series...

* On a much more serious note, the PEN American Center, which advocates for international literature in various ways, is using the approaching Olympics to launch the We Are Ready campaign, calling on China to release writers imprisoned for their writings. (There seems to be some hope that this sort of thing is working.) It's easy to sign the petition, which I did (Tom Stoppard's complex take on "moral exhibitionism" in Rock 'N' Roll, which I've just read, notwithstanding.)

And next week, PEN launches its amazing annual World Voices Festival, with six days of incredible readings, films, discussions, etc. by writers from all over the world. McNally Robinson will be selling books at some of these events, so if you're local, peruse the schedule and make plans to attend one or two.

* And finally, another item just for locals. Below is the email we sent to over 50 indie booksellers in the city; if you didn't get yours, consider this your official invitation. All of the city's indie booksellers in a room -- what an exciting possibility!

April 22, 2008

Dear Bookseller,

As independent booksellers in the five boroughs of New York City, we face unique challenges, as well as unique opportunities. Though you may sometimes feel isolated in your struggle to compete with online book sales, chain stores, and New York rents, there are over 75 other independent bookstores in our city facing the same problems, and finding new solutions.

We think we have something to offer each other as independent bookstores in New York: community, idea sharing, the possibility of making our collective voice heard. How these things might be accomplished, and what other goals we might set and achieve, is up to all of us together.

We'd like to invite you to a meeting of New York independent booksellers, to discuss and explore the possibility of forming a trade alliance/coalition/association of independent bookstores in the five boroughs of NYC. Here are the details:

When & Where:
Wednesday, May 21st, 10:30 am
Ralph Ellison Room
14th Floor of the Random House Building
1745 Broadway

We hope you will join us! We have some specific ideas that we will share, and we look forward to hearing yours too. Please consider sending a representative (or two) from your bookstore to this historic meeting, to help all of us help each other, and ourselves.

Please RSVP by May 10th with your bookstore name and the names of booksellers attending to Kelly Amabile at shoplocal@bookculture.com or (212) 865-1588. (Please note that for building security reasons, we must have your name on a list in advance of the meeting date if you plan on attending.)

We did our best to gather emails for as many independent bookshops in the five boroughs as we could. But we know this initial email announcement may not reach everyone, so please help us spread the word, and forward to other booksellers we may have missed, or whom you think may be interested.

Let's take the great tradition of bookselling in New York City into the future! We look forward to seeing you on May 21.

Sincerely,

Chris Doeblin, Annie Shapiro and Kelly Amabile, Book Culture
Sarah McNally and Jessica Stockton Bagnulo, McNally Robinson Booksellers

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Book Communities (Happy World Book Day!)

Just a reminder for the book nerds of New York: in celebration of World Book Day or Book & Lovers Day, today from 5 to 8 is the impromptu World Book Party is happening at the southwest corner of Washington Square Park. I'll be working at the bookstore, but if you're free, show up with a book to swap, and make a friend.

Speaking of book nerds coming together, I'm launching a new little experiment in social networking. I've now joined three book sites: Shelfari, Goodreads, and LibraryThing. If you want to befriend me, you can find me as "booknerdnyc" on all three sites. I've loaded up just the books I've read this year (Shelfari has more, as I've been a member there longer). I'm weighing my impressions of all three sites for a future writeup here. And it's also good practice for me to start keeping better track of what I've read. I plan to seriously start doing some book reviewing around here pretty soon.

And I'd also like to get back into chronicling the Brooklyn book community by restarting my Brooklyn Lit Life series. If you have suggestions for folks I should contact for interviews who are somehow involved in the literary life of Brooklyn -- booksellers, publishers, editors, authors, etc. -- or if you are one yourself, zing me an email and we'll get it started.

And for one last excercise in community building: thanks to the technological prowess of my buddy Steve, I've created a Book Nerd mailing list, which you can join by clicking at right. I'll be using this as I work toward creating my bookstore to let interested folks know about progress, events, etc. -- and eventually (Lord willing and the creek don't rise, Mom) it will become the bookstore mailing list. Check it out!

Enjoy the beautiful spring day, and consider giving a book to someone you love to celebrate. It's a great way to come together.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Link-Mad Monday: Good Days

I was at the New York Comic Con on Friday (hence my lack of posting), to appear on a panel on "Helping Bookstores Buy and Shelve Comics for KIDS". Since it was industry-only hours, there were about as many folks on the panel as in the audience, and I probably learned more from my fellow panelists than I really contributed. Still, it was a good conversation... and it meant I got a nice speaker badge so I could wander the floor of Comic Con for free. It was still a bit too early for the Storm Troopers and Power Girls to be strutting their stuff, so I had a much milder experience than last year. But still, I:

-got an awesome slap bracelet from Ari at Del Rey Manga
-caught up with the incomparable Gina Gagliano at First Second
-talked with the Oni Press guys about the trade edition of Local by Brian Wood
-picked up a catalog with action figures from The Warriors
-got some cool buttons from the DC Comics booth
-experience a little bit of sensory overload -- practice for BEA!
- did not see con coordinator extraordinaire Lance Fensterman -- luckily he posed on his blog...

Despite the always grueling walk to and from the Javitz Center, it was a good day.

Being there also reminded me of another cool day coming up: Free Comic Book Day! Saturday, May 3, at a comic shop near you, they'll be handing out grab bags of free issues, so you can read more of your favorites and discover something new. As I mentioned two years ago -- I think bookstores should do this too. What about Galley Giveaway Day?

Ann Kingman over at Books on the Nightstand has another idea for bookstores taken from another industry. Friday the 19th, I've just learned, was also Record Store Day: a collective day of celebration and consciousness-raising for independent record stores, with performances, sales, signings, and other promos. The New York Times had an article on the phenomenon -- see if any of this sounds familiar:

“Record stores as we know them are dying,” said Josh Madell of Other Music. “On the other hand, there is still a space in the culture for what a record store does, being a hub of the music community and a place to find out about new music.”...

[Regina] Spektor, who started off selling homemade CDs and is now signed to a major label, Sire, said that independent stores had been the first to carry her music, and that their support helped her career take off. And though she said she now feels contrite that for years her music collection was made up mainly of items copied from friends — “I just had no money” — she is supporting the stores out of gratitude.“I’m the record label-slash-store nightmare,” Ms. Spektor said. “Everything I had was a mixtape or a burned CD. But I don’t like the idea of all the record stores where people actually know what they’re talking about going out of business. They have their own art form.”...

Although many have been shuttered, more than 2,400 independent shops still exist around the country.... Products that aren’t fundamentally made up of ones and zeros — vinyl records, for instance, which have a habit of turning casual fans into collectors — have proved a salvation for many retailers."


Full disclosure: I adore Regina Spektor (I bought her first album at indie Rebel Rebel on Bleecker Street), and I totally forgive her for making copies of CDs, just like I totally get all of the struggling artists buying used books online or borrowing them or going to the library. And I admire her for getting clued in to what indie music stores have done for her, just as many authors have done. I think the un-digitizable appeal of vinyl has something to teach us as book purveyors. I think the winnowing down of the indie record store industry, and also its persistence due to its irreplaceable offerings, has a lot of parallels with bookstores. And I think this industry wide day of celebration, education, and showcasing what's great about indie music stores is something we could all learn from.

Happy reading -- happy listening!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

I just can't help it...

... gloating a little, that is, over this tidbit in Shelf Awareness:

"Following a rise of 4.7% in January, bookstore sales in February surged 11.4% to $1.1 billion from $1 billion in February 2007, according to preliminary estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. For the year to date, bookstore sales rose 6.7% to $3.4 billion.

By comparison, total retail sales in February rose 6.9% to $314.7 billion. For the year to date, total retail sales were up 5.8% to $627.8 billion.

Note: under Census Bureau definitions, bookstore sales are of new books and do not include "electronic home shopping, mail-order, or direct sale" or used book sales."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Books on the Nightstand, Book Nerd on Epiphanies

I'm deeply immersed in a fact-finding mission this morning -- gathering contact names and emails for every bookstore in the five boroughs, in hopes of getting a critical mass of us together to talk about forming some sort of alliance/association/co-op/cabal/something. I'm working with the awesome Kelly Amabile at Book Culture and our respective bosses -- more details to come. (And if you're an NYC bookseller and you want in, you could email me to make it easier...) So for the sake of quickness, let me just put up two links that should give you plenty of reading today.

Random House sales reps extraordinaire Michael Kindness and Ann Kingman have created a blog called Books On The Nightstand -- but it's not a Random House blog. Instead, Michael and Ann have created a space to talk about all the books they love, from any publisher, both in written and podcasted form. The powers-that-be at RH have okay'ed the project, but this is all Michael and Ann, as true a pair of book nerds as you could find. I'm downloading the podcasts to listen to on the subway -- I'm so excited about this cool project!

And for a glimpse into another life in the book biz, Part 2 of my ongoing saga (it's being called the "dreaming of a bookstore series") is up on the Bookshop Blog. Read on for the story of how the ALP is really responsible for all of this.

Happy Wednesday!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Thursday tidbits: Surveys, World Book Day

Good ol' Max Magee at the Millions has a bit about American reading habits surveys; a new one from polling firm Harris has found that ninety percent of Americans read at least one book last year, and over a third of those polled read 10 books or more. I'd be tempted to crow triumphantly about these numbers, but at this point it seems every survey on reading habits comes to totally different conclusions, so what do they really mean? As Max asks, "Can anything be made of these surveys other than that they are a little silly?" Still it means the nay-sayers are no more right than anybody else...

(Note to self: beware of developing a catchphrase for those you disagree with. Snarks and nay-sayers may come to have the same knee-jerk resonance as feminazis or the liberal media. As I tend to mistrust anyone who uses the phrase "those people", I may need to acknowledge that there are many of diverse opinions who do not always share my own knee-jerk optimism, and that they can hardly be lumped under one category description. Apologies for my previous use of blanket terms.)

On a totally unrelated note... Toby at Three Lives was the first to introduce me to the concept of Book and Lovers Day, April 23 -- the traditional birthdate of both Cervantes and Shakespeare, and the feast day of St. George, which is celebrated with gifts of books and flowers in Barcelona. Some bookstores (notably Tattered Cover) have embraced this bookish sort-of-holiday with flower giveaways with book purchases, and the date has also been codified as World Book and Copyright Day or just World Book Day.

It took me a minute to make the connection to this event. I found out about it in one of those random emails from an organization you don't know that you usually tend to delete, but something caught my eye. And though it means no sales whatsoever for bookstores, I think I'm in love with this idea, copied verbatim from the email:

WORLD BOOK PARTY, Wednesday, April 23, 5-8 pm, Washington Square Park.

No readings by famous authors. No corporate sponsorship. No mega-stores making a buck. No registration or reservations.

Just one reader giving a favorite book to another reader.

Show up with a book to give to someone. You can coordinate with a friend, and swap books. Or you can bring a book to give someone you don't know.

Please pass this along, and reserve April 23, 2008, 5-8 pm for the World Book Party. At the southwest corner of Washington Square Park (corner of Washington Square South and McDougal Street, one block from West 4th Street subway stop).

Everyone is welcome---and it's free.

For more information, see atlanticwritersworkshop.org or email
worldbookparty@yahoo.com.



So, if you're in New York, mark your calendars for a truly Quixotic book experience.

Anyone know of any other plans to celebrate World Book Day?

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Blank spot on the map

For some combination of reasons, I'm having a week where I can't get anything done. There's so much to do that it's induced a kind of paralysis manifested in sleeping late, watching DVDs, and obsessively/apathetically web surfing, as opposed to blogging or writing or acting on the one million future bookstore items on my to-do list.

My apologies for a psychic profile that's the equivalent of a blank stare at the moment. My only thought is that maybe I need a bit of down time, and nothing is going to break if I drop out for a couple of days. Hopefully I'll be up to speed next week.

In the meantime, look at this, and find a copy of this -- enough beauty and complexity to keep even the blank-minded enthralled.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Friday Nips, or, The Difference Between Him and Me

The ALP and I rarely read the same books. This is both practical (because we talk about everything we read, it's like reading twice as much) and a matter of taste (mine tend toward mainstream-ish literary fiction, his toward the weirder ends of the spectrum, from tales of con men to experimental novels to mass-market horror. Go fig.) But there is occasionally some overlap, often with books that fit into more than one category. One recent example was Toby Barlow's werewolf-novel-in-free-verse, Sharp Teeth. (Check out the very cool animations on the book's website -- props to HarperCollins for a job well done).

We were both intrigued. My enthusiasm for the book led to a paragraph-long staff pick.

The ALP was inspired to write an exploration of experimentation in genre fiction using metaphors from evolutionary theory. I kid you not. And it's good reading.

My boy's wicked smart.

What's your relationship to books and your loved ones? All the same books, all different, or the same books with different takes?

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The problems of (author event) abundance

One of the best parts about my job as an events coordinator is that I get to go to at least three cultural events a week, and get paid for it.

One of the worst parts is that I can't go to all of the other events that are happening at the same time.

Bookstores in New York have a different issue when it comes to author events than stores in most other places. For us, it's not so hard getting good authors to appear; the hard part is competing with the million other great things that are going on at the same time in the same city.

Tonight (Wednesday), I'm thrilled to meet Meg Wolitzer as she reads from her new book The Ten-Year Nap -- she's one of our sharpest observers of women's lives and Western culture, and totally funny, too.

But if I wasn't at my store, I'd be at Rocketship in Brooklyn for a book party with Jonathan Lethem and Farel Dalrymple for their collaboration on the new Omega The Unknown comics. Two of my favorite creators in one place! -- not fair!

And tomorrow night (Thursday), we've got not only a party for an amazing Russian poetry anthology, with authors actually flown in from Russia and local translators and food and wine... we've ALSO got the brilliant and charming Simon Van Booy, one of our store's favorite authors, doing an intimate reading and conversation about his brand-new cult classic genius short story collection The Secret Lives of People In Love. (We recently did some renovation at the bookstore that allow us to have one event going on upstairs and another one downstairs -- more authors! more choices! Luckily I get to go to both of these, at least for a little bit at a time...)

But, at the same time, my buddy and fellow entrepreneur David Del Vecchio is inaugerating his BRAND NEW INDIE BOOKSTORE, Idlewild Books, with a reading, discussion and reception for Murat Kurnaz's book, Five Years Of My Life, about his internment in Guantanamo. I can't wait to see David's dream come true, and the book sounds amazing.

But lucky you -- YOU get to choose which of these events to attend. Good luck, and welcome to the trials of book nerd life in New York City!