Thursday, July 31, 2008

New York Bookstore News

My thrice-weekly email from the fabulous folks at Brooklyn Based was both exciting and chagrining this morning: a new bookstore in Brooklyn! With comic books and art installations by great local comics! That I'd NEVER HEARD OF before!

Desert Island (dude, also a great name), according to BB,

"is one of those places that shines in the consumer retail rough. Proprietor Gabriel Fowler opened the Williamsburg store in February of this year, with nothing more than a bank loan, a small community of artist friends, and a desire to share some of his favorite comics, zines and books. Fowler grew up around indie record and comic shops in Florida, which “were the only exciting places to hang out in a cultural wasteland.” Powered by his professed “obliviousness” of the weak bookselling market, Fowler built and decorated the store entirely by hand, with a few key installations from his friends: Marie Lorenz, who made a delicate and intricate paper chandelier, and Chris Patch, who made the store’s very first window display, an ice cave scene made out of cardboard and masking tape (a new installation by Williamsburg cartoonist Lauren Weinstein has just taken its place). Independent comics and graphic novels make up the bulk of the store’s inventory. The biggies, like Adrian Tomine and R. Crumb, share space with cult favorites Julie Doucet and Michael Kupperman, as well as occasional mainstream hits, like Watchmen. Local New York comics are also featured, including self-published work like “Paping,” whose creator John Mejias is organizing the Brooklyn Heights Soapbox Derby on August 23."

Damn, I'm jealous. And I MUST go there ASAP. The store is at 540 Metropolitan Avenue, in Williamsburg -- which is probably why I haven't run across it, as my inner nerd is still a little terrified of the hipster headquarters that is Williamsburg. I think I can brave it for the installations alone, though...

In news closer to home -- is there anyone I haven't talked to yet about the fact that McNally Robinson is changing its name to McNally Jackson? This may seem sudden and confusing -- but in fact, it's been a long time coming, and it should actually ELIMINATE confusion. See, Sarah McNally named her (independent, locally owned) bookstore after the McNally Robinson stores that her parents, Paul and Holly, own in Canada. She didn't mind the association -- the New York store is certainly modeled on those stores, and Sarah's definitely a Canadian. The problem was that folks kept ending up on the Canadian website when they were looking for us (if they forgot the "nyc" at the end of "mcnallyrobinson") and trying to order Canadian books from us (which we don't have and can't easily get), and kept asking us whether we were a Canadian chain. (NO, WE'RE NOT.) So Sarah was in the market for a new name to make our independent, local status clear, and make it less confusing for people to find us online.

At the same time, Sarah and her husband Chris Jackson (who's an editor at Random House imprint Spiegel & Grau) were expecting their first child. His last name, of course, will take from both his mother and father: McNally Jackson. And inspiration struck. Sarah could change just 5 letters of the name, and make it clear that this is her store, New York's store, and have a snappy name as well. So plans were made to change the name.

In addition to changing the store awnings, event posters, bookmarks, bags, website, etc., etc. -- we're marking the change by throwing a party on Thursday, August 7. It's also a great occasion to celebrate that McNally has been thriving and growing for nearly 4 years (since December 2004), succeeding beyond anyone's expectations and becoming part of NYC's literary fabric. (And we're celebrating the birth of the littlest McNally Jackson, who was born on Sunday!)

We've got a bunch of our favorite authors featured at the event -- and in the spirit of changing identities, they will be acting as bookstore staff for the night! Kate Christensen is working the cash register, Peter Sis is helping out in the kids section, Colson Whitehead is pouring champagne, Daniel Pinchbeck is recommending books in the culture section, and lots more. All of our customers and supporters are welcome -- you just have to RSVP via email before the party.

So all in all, it's a good time to be a lover of bookstores in New York City. (And just wait until you see what the Independent Booksellers of New York City have been working on!...)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Link-Mad Monday: TitleWave and Corpus Libris

As you may know, I spent a brief but producctive stint working for BookStream, an independent book wholesaler for the northeast and mid-Atlantic regions. It's a company staffed by smart, passionate, book-savvy folks, and dedicated to raising the level of discourse and profitability across the book industry.

To that end, BookStream geniuses Carolyn and Ken have once again cooked up a fabulous TitleWave event: author readings, staff picks, lunch, and free galleys! They've got some fabulous authors lined up for the August 4 event in Princeton, NJ. It's almost a mini-trade show or Winter Institute, and a chance for booksellers to get a look at the books coming out in the next season and learn how to sell them better. I've included Carolyn's press release below with all the details. I'm encouraging all of my colleagues to go, to support BookStream's efforts, and to take advantage of this chance for professional development. And there's no arguing with a free lunch!

BookStream's second TitleWave Event to be held on August 4

Following on the heels of the success of its first TitleWave on February 27, 2008, BookStream has announced a second TitleWave to be held on August 4, 2008, from 10:00am – 4:00pm at the Nassau Inn, in Princeton, NJ.

The purpose of the event is to familiarize booksellers with up-and-coming authors and titles using both author appearances and a presentation of picks-of-the-lists selected and presented by BookStream staff. The event is free and open to all employees of independent bookstores so that they may be part of an information exchange that will lead to more successful hand selling and knowledge of new titles.

Featured authors will be David Ebershoff (The 19th Wife, Random House), Laurie Albanese and Laura Morowitz (The Miracles of Prato, William Morrow) and Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito (Baked, Stewart, Tabori & Chang). After each author’s appearance, booksellers will have a chance to meet them and receive signed copies of their books (and in the case of the Baked authors, samples of their delicious deserts!).

The rest of the day will include lunch, presentations, and a forum for booksellers to have peer-to-peer interaction, including a discussion of favorite titles and ideas that have succeeded in their stores. With this in mind, BookStream asks that booksellers arrive prepared to share at least one title that they’ve enjoyed reading recently.

The Nassau Inn, centrally located in Princeton, NJ, can be accessed easily by train or car. For directions, information on carpooling, and to RSVP for this free event, please contact Carolyn Bennett at or (866) 416-1112 x209.

* * *

And for your Monday afternoon cute/weird/clever dosage, check out the new blog Corpus Libris. That's my fellow Emerging Leaders Council member Emily Pullen with the fist in the inaugural post, demonstrating once again that Skylight Books is one of the coolest places in L.A. I may have to bust out the digital camera at work and send some photos to them myself. Have fun!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Upcoming: Emerging Leaders, IndieBound, NAIBA

Okay, heads up! I know it feels like the part of summer that will go on forever (and thank goodness for that, on an at-last-gorgeous day like today after a week of rainy 90 degrees). But the fall is on it's way, and there are a couple of major events coming up you'll want to know about.

Emerging Leaders Night Out, NYC: IndieBound!
On Tuesday, August 19, at 7 PM, Emerging Leaders NYC -- which welcomes young people in bookselling and publishing in the greater New York area -- is hosting a new Emerging Leaders Night Out. That means you come, you drink, you chat with passionate book folks your age, you learn some things, you make new friends. And at this one, you'll learn more about IndieBound, the ABA's buy local revolution. We'll have lots of IndieBound materials available for everyone, and for booksellers who RSVP, free IndieBound t-shirts! These are just for booksellers, and you've got to get in touch fast in order to get your t-shirt at the gathering.

The other great thing is that this gathering will take place at Bar(n) at Flatbush Farm, a beautiful, brilliant Brooklyn bar and restaurant that is committed to using local, sustainable products whenever possible, and has an awesome funky home-grown Brooklyn design. It's the perfect partner for our IndieBound themed gathering, and I'm grateful to the owners for hosting us.

This is a great opportunity for publishers to learn more about what IndieBound is and how they can support it, and for booksellers to learn how they can use it effectively in their stores. We are the generation that can take the local, sustainable, independent movement forward and make it viable -- come talk about the exciting possibilities!

Email me now if you're interested in going, and start passing the word to fellow NYC Emerging Leaders. We'll be sending out invitations to our email lists soon, but you heard it here first!

NAIBA Con 2008
Yeah yeah, ComicCon in San Diego was great and all that, but there's nothing to compare to the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association Fall Trade Show in Cherry Hill, New Jersey! I came from our board meeting on Monday psyched (yes I said psyched) about the jam-packed schedule of education, author lunches, discussion sessions, publisher booths, morning yoga (!) and plain old book parties that are on the schedule for this year. You can find more info and download the schedule here (though keep in mind it's still being adjusted). The show runs from the evening of Saturday, September 20, till the afternoon of Monday, September 22. There will be an Early Bird Dinner AND an Emerging Leaders Gathering on Saturday night, so it's worth coming for that.

And, for the first time ever, NAIBA is offering a FREE BUS from New York City to the convention hotel. It's a hugely generous offer for those of us unlikely to own cars (Cherry Hill is a bit hard to get to by public transportation), and another part of NAIBA's partnership with New York City bookstores. My own boss has declared that any bookseller at our store who wishes to go she will send, in part because of that free transportation, and also because it's an especially great opportunity for younger booksellers.

I went to my first NAIBA trade show in 2004, as a wee baby bookseller. And I can honestly say that it changed my life -- it set me on the career path I'm on now. I can't remember any specific author or panel or event that did it, but suddenly I realized that I was part of a wider professional community, that there were all these resources and all these passions out there -- such a different experience than the day-to-day life of a bookstore. The regional show is more affordable and more intimate than Book Expo, and a perfect stepping stone into that larger world. We all go to these things to get reconnected and recharged about our bookselling life by learning and befriending and having fun -- by coming together as a community. I highly recommend it for booksellers both emerging and seasoned. It might change your life.

You can email Eileen Dengler for more information about NAIBA, or sign up for the Con on the NAIBA website. Hope to see you there!

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Handsell: The Book of Other People

Readers, forgive me, for I have slacked: it's been over a week since my last post. Summer lethargy and typical busy-ness means things may continue like this for a while, though I've got chronicles of publishing panels and NAIBA board meetings to report. In the meantime, here's a little rec for your short-attention span summer reading.

The Book of Other People edited by Zadie Smith (Penguin paper original, January 2008)
Anthologies are typically hit and miss, but when you've got Zadie Smith and all her friends writing short stories that are each a character sketch, it's hard to miss. My favorite "other people" are (of course) David Mitchell's insufferable/funny/sad matron looking for love, and Jonathan Lethem's savant/otaku/eccentric Perkus Tooth (whom I'm told features in his upcoming novel). Wonderful for dipping into over a period of time, and for the beautiful/creepy Charles Burns cover.

Friday, July 11, 2008

New York City Booksellers: Gettin' it together.

So it's happened at last: the independet booksellers of my city -- erroneously considered extinct by some, occasionally considered competitive by each other, often considered a powerful, untapped resource by a few Pollyannas such as myself -- have formed an alliance.

The Independent Booksellers of New York City -- IBNYC for you acronym lovers -- declared itself an official organization at a meeting on June 26, and set about using their collective smarts to work together for good.

IBNYC has no formal legal structure -- our dues and financial admin is being handled by our regional association, NAIBA, under the good supervision of Eileen Dengler. (Hopefully this will mean that more NYC booksellers become NAIBA members!)

What we have the potential to do is to make our voice heard, and educate New York publishers and consumers about the existence and advantages of independent bookstores in their town and their neighborhood.

There are some committees making this happen now: working on a map of all indie bookstores in the city, on relations with publishers, and on other projects in the works.

The real mastermind of the project is Kelly Amabile, the author events coordinator up at Book Culture. Kelly joined the bookselling community only a short time ago, but already has discovered it's her passion, and her talent and enthusiasm is helping to make this project a success.

You can see Kelly in the bookstore, or find her on her blog, Lost in Place. We're lucky to have her at the helm of this new venture, and I have high hopes for what's to come.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Handsell: Agatha Christie Twofer

The A.B.C. Murders
by Agatha Christie
(Penguin paperback, 1991 reissue)
Agatha Christie is my guilty pleasure, though I secretly think she's got a lot more serious stuff going on than is commonly acknowledged; if I ever go back to grad school I'll write about her sly sophistication about class conflict, ageism, xenophobia, etc. This Hercule Poirot case, involving a series of murders in alphabetical order, takes on class assumptions, the fine line between homicidal mania and just being a bit nutty, and some unexpected romance as well. Read in an afternoon, then ponder or discuss.

A Murder Is Announced
by Agatha Christie
(Signet paperback, 2001 reissue)
Another sign of my weakness for Christie, this mystery celebrates small town life while skewering it mercilessly. It's also yet another instance of the impossibility of guessing the culprit -- I once read Christie would write the novel almost to the end, decide who was the most unlikely suspect, then go back and "frame" that person in her edits. However she did it, it's always a treat for the lover of old-fashioned puzzles.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Link-Mad Monday: Catchup!

After a deliciously long Fourth of July weekend (barbecue with friends, watching fireworks from a rooftop, spending a long Sunday shopping, browsing and drinking in Brooklyn), it's back to the working week. I'm way behind on link posting, so here's a sampling of the best I've come across from the last month or so -- pretty unrelated.

- Thanks to the ALP for pointing out the Salon article on the books that have influenced Barack Obama, from fiction to philosophy to politics. Fascinating stuff. Key quotes:
"If Obama is elected, he'll be one of the most literary presidents in recent memory."
"All presidential candidates would like to be seen as resembling Lincoln -- even those who aren't gangly master orators from Illinois."
"Obama the reader and writer has already shown an affinity for pragmatism, whether it's the Cabinet-level maneuverings of Lincoln or the "Let's make a deal" activism of Alinsky or the "a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do" geopolitical realism of Niebuhr."
- Here's something to add to my collection of bookish T-shirts.

- Comics in the Classroom is a great resource for teachers AND the rest of us comics geeks.

- Tech-minded book buddy Steve Colca pointed me to PersonaNonData, another great blog on tech and publishing.

- And PersonaNonData led me to Zoomlii, a site that lets one "browse" "bookshelves" online, then buy interesting-looking titles from Put this into the don't-know-how-I-feel-about-this category -- browsing has always been one of the things (among many) we tout as the advantage of real-live, brick-and-mortar stores, yet Zoomlii is doing a pretty fair job of simulating that experience virtually. It's pretty fun to use, but on one level it makes me feel a bit sick -- just one more thing we don't have to leave the house for, and one more advantage to buying from Amazon. But you still can't recreate those booksellers hanging out, making recommendations, or helping you find "that one about the monster in Italy..." What would be REALLY cool would be if indie bookstores themselves could use this technology to let customers browse their hand-picked, highly curated bookshelves in virtual format -- and have the sales go to indies rather than corporations.

- Steve's all into taking advantage of tech from the indie perspective. He's putting out news on new titles, events, news, and giveaways from W. W. Norton through Twitter. Despite my misgivings, one doesn't have to be a Twitter subscriber or read tweets on cell phones to see it -- you just subscribe to the RSS like a regular blog, and get 140 characters of distilled info for your trouble. Good deal.

- And finally, here's a bookstore I'd love to visit... mmm, yummy. A husband-and-wife team (one a former Brooklynite) are the proprietors of Rabelais, a bookstore in Portland, Maine dedicated to books on food, wine, farming, etc. As you might guess, they frequently have delicious foodie book events, like Mark Kurlansky signing The Last Fish Tale, all manner of wine tastings, a cookie swap, and more. A great ideal for a store incorporating some of the things that make life worthwhile.

That's all for today. Have a great week, and happy reading!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Handsell: You Don't Love Me Yet

Here's a tip for a great read from a great American author for the long Independence Day weekend. It's also one of my staff picks at McNally Robinson right now, which means you can get it there for 10% off all month. Happy 4th!

The Handsell #2:
You Don't Love Me Yet
by Jonathan Lethem

(Vintage paperback, April 2008)

I picked this up after meeting Jonathan Lethem in the store, and it's the perfect intellectual summer read: witty, topical, sexy, and light enough that you can read it in a weekend. Lethem's story of would-be musicians in contemporary Los Angeles deals with issues of intellectual property and creative commons, and the fine line between artistic/daring and pretentious/exploitative -- but you'll gobble it up for the great rock set pieces, sexual shenanigans, and sun-soaked hipness.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Who says people don't talk about books? (Ugh...)

I have yet to read the really important Washington Post article everyone is blogging about. But I always find time for Overheard In New York (it's on my Google desktop). OINY, which also inspired a book, posts the irresistably funny, gross, weird, and unbelievable things people hear other people saying in New York. Wednesday the site gathers lots of short quotes together around a theme, with often exponentially hilarious results.

Today, people are talking about books.

If you are a book person, try not to bang your head against the wall after reading these. After all, if you overheard people talking intelligently about books (and there are plenty of those in New York too), it wouldn't be funny enough for Wednesday One-Liners.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

New Feature: The Handsell

It's been tough to find blogging time around here lately. With meetings both business and social, I feel like I'm only home to eat and sleep (and debrief with the ALP). So I'm instituting a new little feature that I hope will be interesting -- and importantly, that I can almost do in my sleep.

It's called The Handsell, and it's basically the bookseller's job distilled. Not quite a review, this is more like the 30-second version of my experience reading the book, pitched toward the kind of reader I think might enjoy it. It's what we do when a customer asks for a recommendation, and what we do when writing staff picks for displays. I think it's perfectly suited to the blog format. So, you'll be seeing more of them around here, in between longer and more in-depth posts. I've got a serious backlog of books I've read this year, so it will be a while before I catch up to my current reads. Hope you find these interesting -- maybe you'll find your next read here.

The Handsell #1
(read January 2008)
by Michael Chabon
I can't believe it took me so long to get to the book that Chabon won the Pulitzer for – I've loved everything of his I've ever read, including his jacket blurbs. This has the added benefit of being about the near-mythical Golden Age of Comics, which in Chabon's hands links to the issues of the 1940s as well as the thrills of superheroes and mystery solving. And it's rich with character, language, wit, and great set pieces that I went back to read again. A huge and wonderful novel, especially for those with a taste for adventure and no objection to pop culture as a literary subject.