Thursday, December 10, 2009

The holiday book drive you've been waiting for!

There is a joy in giving books. And if that joy can be combined with 1) getting rid of your old books so you can get new books, and 2) passing along the gift of literacy and literature to those who might not receive it otherwise -- well, that's some serious book giving joy.

This year the church I attend, Old First Reformed, is holding a book drive for a community of West African refugees on Staten Island, many of whom struggle with English and therefore with school and employment. The organization, African Refuge, is a more than worthy cause to unburden your groaning shelves, especially if you've got some children's or YA books amongst them. Details are below. The ALP and I will be schlepping a couple of boxes over there on Sunday; hope to see you there!

Book Drive!
To Benefit African Refuge After‐School
Please donate your ‘gently read’ or brand new books to help West African refugee
children who are now living on Staten Island.
For readers ages 5 – 17
Sunday, December 13th, 3:00 – 7:00 pm
Drop off at Old First Reformed Church,
7th Ave. & Carroll St., Park Slope, Brooklyn.
For more information: (718) 638‐8300
If you can’t make it on the 13th, bring books to the church office; use entrance on
Carroll St. Hours: Mon. – Thurs., 9:00 am – 5:00 pm, December 7th – 10th.

• The mission of African Refuge, a non‐profit organization, is to aid West African refugees currently residing in Staten Island. Because of the devastating civil war in Liberia, many of these refugee youths have missed one or more years of school, yet they are placed in classes in the NYC public school system based on their age rather than academic level. This has made it difficult for many of them to succeed in school. In response, African Refuge has set up an after‐school program. Go to to find out more.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Other Giving Thanks Post.

On the Greenlight blog today we've posted a list of the people we have to thank for the opening of the bookstore.

It's a very, very long list.

Here on my own blog I wanted to say thanks to a few of those who helped me, myself, personally, get to this wonderful moment. These are the people I haven't thanked regularly in interviews -- the ones outside of the primary business development story, who nonetheless are the reasons I am here.

To my mom, of course, for reading to me when I still just wanted to chew on the pages; for letting me check out the maximum number of library books every week; for telling me I could go to college anywhere I could get a scholarship, and sticking to that even when it meant going 3,000 miles away; for giving me a chunk of my inheritance early as seed money for the store; for talking to me on the phone every week, as I planned and cried and hyperventilated and obsessed and pondered and worked toward this dream; for being the first reader in my life, and still one of the most important.

To my two younger sisters, for spending our childhood acting out our own stories (and putting up with me always having to be the king, president, or boss); for our own secret language made up of references to books, movies and inside jokes; for still getting excited about new books with me.

To Miss Rumphius, for teaching me that you must do something to make the world more beautiful.

To Anne Shirley, for teaching me that imagination creates the world.

To my high school English teachers and principals, for making me enter speech contests (I got good at it) and write essays (that too) -- so that I could be a good spokesperson, a good host, a good writer, and a good reader.

To my coworkers at Dean and Deluca on Rockefeller Center, for accepting me as a shift boss even though I was younger than most of them and we didn't all speak the same language (Wolof, Spanish, Gujarti, French), and teaching me what it's like to direct a team in a workplace.

To L.B. Thompson, my favorite poetry teacher at NYU, for casually asking me if I needed a summer job, and landing me at Three Lives, the best bookstore on earth. (Also, for being the best critical reader of my poetry, while I was writing it.)

To Jill Dunbar and Jenny Feder, the founders of Three Lives, for forgiving me when I was late (or forgot to show up at all, addle-headed college student that I was); for giving me my first taste of working at an independent bookstore; for showing me what a partnership could look like.

To Rebecca, for being the partner I didn't know I needed, but totally did; for having all the strengths I don't (task planning, merchandising, negotiating, reordering, etc...); for always picking up the ball when I'm about to drop it; for telling me when my hair looks good or I've lost weight (but not the opposite); for teaching me more about being a bookseller every day; for calling me on my shit; for working and working on a relationship that's as tough as a marriage, and just as strong, and just about as important; for becoming my friend as well as my partner.

And last, most, and always, to the ALP, Michael, husband for two years, partner for more than eight, for dating me even though I was an addle-headed book nerd; for always reading more books than I do; for that night when I was moaning over not getting into grad school, when he pointed out that the career I really loved was being a bookseller; for working office jobs he didn't love so I could do what I loved; for waking me up with coffee in bed every morning (every morning! even when I'm totally cranky!); for talking over the day over a glass of wine at night; for standing by me through every false start, every setback, every tough decision, every unbelievable success; for dealing with my weird schedule and frequent work emergencies; for being there when I walk home from the bookstore every night, so that my walk home is one of the happiest parts of the day: from the work I love, to the man I love, in the town I love, in this life I love.

Thanks, all of you. I am incredibly blessed. If I can live up to your inspiration, I hope I may be a blessing in return.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Upcoming Event: Breakout

I don't often include pitches for others' events on this blog, but I've been thinking lately about the necessity of giving back, in light of all the support I've received for my own dreams. If you're a New Yorker, consider attending this event on Monday -- it's a great literary lineup, and a shot at hope for those most in need of it.

The Jerome L. Greene Performance Space at WNYC Presents


A partnership between PEN’s Prison Writing Program and WNYC’s The Greene Space

Presented as part of “The NEXT New York Conversation” Series

John Turturro, Lemon Andersen, Mary Gaitskill, Eric Bogosian, Jamal Joseph, and Sean Wilsey among others to read works authored by participants of PEN’s Prison Writing Program

Monday, November 9th, 2009 at 7pm

For more than 30 years, PEN’s Prison Writing Program has been dedicated to helping make the harsh realities of American imprisonment part of our social justice dialogue. PEN’s program has also been on the front-lines of prison reform, helping inmates in federal, state and local penitentiaries cope with life behind bars, gain skills and have a voice while they are there. The Prison Writing Program accomplishes all this through mentorships and an annual writing competition that receives between 20-30 entries per day from local, state and federal prisons—including from prisoners on death row.

On Monday, November 9, 2009 at 7pm, WNYC Radio’s The Jerome L. Greene Performance Space’s monthly dialogue series, “The NEXT New York Conversation” partners with PEN to present BREAKOUT: VOICES FROM THE INSIDE, a night of literature and conversation. Luminaries from the New York cultural landscape – writers Mary Gaitskill, Eric Bogosian and Patricia Smith, along with actor John Turturro and writer/performer Lemon Andersen, among others–will read pieces chosen from the best of the winning manuscripts of the Prison Writing Contest, and from the extraordinarily moving diaries that men and women have written as part of PEN’s collaboration with the Anne Frank Center, USA.

Proceeds from the evening will benefit PEN’s Prison Writing Program. The event will be streamed live on the web at

The United States has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world; there are hundreds and hundreds of prisons across the country and, as of 2007, these institutions housed more than 2,300,000 inmates—70% of whom are non-white. Nearly 1 million of those in prison are serving time for committing non-violent crimes. Sadly, the situation is not improving.

The second-annual Prison Writing Benefit Reading will help to raise much-needed funds to enable this important program to continue into the future, but also to help the prisoners see themselves in a new way: as writers.

The NEXT New York Conversation, sponsored by HSBC, “The World’s Local Bank,” is WNYC’s The Greene Space’s multiplatform dialogue series featuring a collective of changemakers, newsmakers, tastemakers and New Yorkers, sharing their values about interesting topics that are reshaping, redefining, and re-imagining our world in the 21st century.

Monday, November 9, 2009 at 07:00 PM
Duration: 2 hours

Tickets can be purchased at Ovation Tix (

Collaborator: $75

Friend: $50

Collaborator ticket covers the expenses of one-on-one mentoring services between a PEN member and an incarcerated man or woman for one year. This premier ticket includes the best views and a reception following the program.

Friend ticket covers the postage and printing costs to provide eight incarcerated men and women with a free copy PEN’s Handbooks for Writers in Prison. This ticket includes a reception following the program.

WNYC Radio is New York's premier public radio station, comprising WNYC 93.9 FM, WNYC AM 820 and As America's most listened-to AM/FM public radio stations, reaching more than one million listeners every week, WNYC extends New York City's cultural riches to the entire country on-air and online, and presents the best national offerings from networks National Public Radio, Public Radio International and American Public Media. WNYC 93.9 FM broadcasts a wide range of daily news, talk, cultural and classical music programming, while WNYC AM 820 maintains a stronger focus on breaking news and international news reporting. In addition, WNYC produces content for live, radio and web audiences from The Jerome L. Greene Performance Space, the station’s street-level multipurpose, multiplatform broadcast studio and performance space. For more information about WNYC, visit

Sunday, September 27, 2009

An Open Letter to IBNYC Bookstores: NAIBA: It's Not Just for the Suburbs Anymore

The NAIBA fall conference is a week away -- and lucky you, it's not too late to register. Stephanie Anderson (Bookavore) and I recently sent a joint open letter to NYC bookstores about the value of the conference -- it's reproduced below. Hope to see you in Baltimore!

As two NYC booksellers just starting our careers, we've recently observed two things:

1) Attending the fall regional booksellers conference hosted by NAIBA (New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association) has been incredibly good for our professional development and for our bookstores.

2) Very few New York City bookstores ever send booksellers to the NAIBA conference.

Why this contradiction? We speculated about the possible reasons that New York City bookstore owners have not been attending the regional conference or sending their employees, and thought about some answers. The result is an expression of what we've found worthwhile about the NAIBA conference, and a modest proposal to NYC stores to consider sending a bookseller to the conference this year.

"It's too expensive."
This is an understandable reaction, especially in this economic climate. But as we all know, it takes money to make money. And more importantly, the education offered at the NAIBA conference can literally add money to your bottom line. For example, the session on "Capturing Coop" (Sunday, 3:45) alone could make your store enough money in a year to cover the cost of transportation, hotel, and conference registration for one bookseller or more, depending on your store. The " Online Right Now" lounge (Sunday and Monday), where experienced booksellers offer free one-on-one help with blogs, Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media, could grow your customer base exponentially. The Pick of the Lists sessions (throughout the conference) could give you the tools to handsell dozens of books that might otherwise languish on your shelves.

You could save the $100 registration fee (which admits up to 8 booksellers) by not going. But that would mean you're accepting the much greater loss of the potential profits the NAIBA educations sessions can create for your store.

"I already know this stuff."
Send your staff instead! If you've been in the business for 5 or 10 or 20 years, you might feel like you have nothing new to learn. But chances are you have younger booksellers working in your store who would benefit hugely from participating in this forum for professional development and community. Both of us (Stephanie and Jessica) found that our first NAIBA conference literally changed our lives: we went from being retail employees to feeling like members of a professional community, and our subsequent involvement in our stores and in our industry was the result. If we want our bookstores to prosper for years to come, it's worth investing in our frontline staff – the Emerging Leaders of our industry. You might find you have an incredibly talented and motivated bookseller right under your nose.

"I can't take the time away from the store."
The NAIBA conference is two days of being able to think about your store overall: the Big Picture. It's a time to talk to your colleagues and realize that your problems are similar and that you can share solutions. It's a chance to step away from the daily sales and profit margin, and think about where your store is and where it's going. It can be hard to justify carving out time from your daily routine. But it may be the only way to keep your store from stagnating. Without time to look at your bookstore from a different perspective, you risk making the same unconscious mistakes over and over again.

"Going to the conference is a luxury, for successful stores with lots of time and money."

Actually, the stores that attend NAIBA regularly tend to be prosperous bookstores because they invest the time and money in education and development. The conference rejuvenates them, gives them ideas, and makes them better bookstores. Your store can be one of those prosperous stores too.

"NAIBA isn't for me – my New York store has nothing in common with bookstores in small towns and suburbs."
This is perhaps the most entrenched reason for not attending the NAIBA conference – and there are so many reasons why it's counter-productive! First, the education offered at the conference is universally applicable: urban stores as well as rural ones need to understand co-op, create community, learn about books from graphic novels to children's books, and use technology to reach their customers. And when you begin to talk with your colleagues from upstate New York, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., New Jersey, and Maryland, you will probably find that you have even more in common with them than you do with the other retail stores on your city block. Independent booksellers are colleagues, no matter where their stores are located, and always have something to offer each other – New York City stores do themselves a disservice when they refuse to take advantage of that community.

Feel like the mix of titles and authors at the conference doesn't reflect what sells in your store? Well, not attending the conference is a little bit like not voting in an election – you can't then complain that you're not represented. NAIBA has the potential to be a powerful force with publishers, attracting major talent and funding and making indie bookstores' voices heard – but not until a higher percentage of bookstores in the region attend and participate.

So not only does the NAIBA conference offer a huge number of benefits to New York City stores, your participation has the potential to make it even better. We'll both be there this fall – we hope to see you there too!

Best Regards,

Stephanie Anderson, WORD (Greenpoint, Brooklyn, NY)

Jessica Stockton Bagnulo, Greenlight Bookstore (Fort Greene, Brooklyn, NY)

The NAIBA Fall Conference will be held October 3 to 5 in Baltimore, MD.

For more information and to register, visit

or contact executive secretary Eileen Dengler, 516.333.0681 or

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Bookselling Generations

This is all related to Greenlight Bookstore, but it's more a personal observation than a business one -- and it's all a bit scattered -- so I'm relating it here.

Greenlight Boosktore feels to me like the "next generation" of bookselling, in the best way. This is driven home by how involved the "parents" -- the generation that precedes us -- have been in helping the store come together.

Over the last few weekends, Betty and John Bennett (formerly of Bennett Books) and Susan Avery (formerly of Ariel Booksellers) have come to the store to help us with painting, book receiving, etc. These are folks Rebecca and I think of as our "bookseller parents" -- they've mentored us, counseled us, taught us, and set us an example of what a great bookstore can be. Though both of their stores are now closed and the owners have moved on to other literary projects, it felt like a seamless passing of the torch.

In addition, Cynthia of Archivia Books and other New York City booksellers have come out to volunteer and teach us what's what, helping to add another store to their ranks and building our community.

Last week Toby Cox of Three Lives -- my former boss at the first bookstore where I ever worked, the store where I fell in love with bookselling -- came to check on our progress. Three Lives will always feel a bit like home to me -- it's where I come from as a bookseller, and Toby has been one of my greatest mentors. He's a Fort Greene resident too, and has advised Rebecca and I a great deal, so his opinion means a lot. To see him get excited about the progress at Greenlight is kind of like having your dad congratulate you on a personal project -- though Toby's not really old enough to be my dad, he's a bookselling father figure in the best way.

And it gets even better. All of our wonderful staff have worked in bookstores in the past, and two of them worked in stores founded by their parents. It turns out that Jesse's mom, who owns Wild Rumpus, and Eleanor's mom, who runs Inkwood Books, are friends, and have found out with delight that their offspring are now both working at Greenlight. We joke that they're the "bookstore brats," having grown up in the business, and it's great to have the connection to two such wonderful stores. And the other stores that our employees come from -- Legacy Books, Bluestockings, Goehrings, others -- have taught them the skills that make them the awesome team of booksellers that our store needs.

All of this adds to the sense that our bookstore is in so many ways the child of the stores that have come before us. Some of those stores are still going strong, some have changed or closed for various reasons, but all of them have been sources of inspiration to us, and have created the world that Greenlight is being born into. This isn't to suggest that the older stores are on the way out -- on the contrary, many of them are still teaching us new innovations, and we're delighted to join them. It's merely to reflect with gratitude on the legacy of those who have laid the groundwork for what we're doing, who have helped to bring us into the world.

Thanks, folks. We hope to do you proud.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Taking stock, setting off

Okay, so it's officially been over a month since I last posted here: my first and longest-running blog. I suspect anyone who's ever read The Written Nerd knows the reason why: my efforts have been shifted almost entirely over to the Greenlight Bookstore blog, and all the attendant activities and responsibilities of getting the bookstore off the ground.

I thought maybe I'd have more time for blogging now that I don't have a "day job" -- but it turns out there's not a lot of down time in entrepreneurship. I haven't yet succumbed to the dreaded "bookstore owners have no time to read" syndrome (just finished A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book, now working on Zadie Smith's Changing My Mind and China Mieville's The City And The City) -- but it does seem to be the case that bookstore owners have no time for personal blogging.

For a little while I thought about officially retiring this blog. In a way, it's served it's purpose: I needed a way to work out my thoughts about books, bookselling as a business, the community of booksellers and publishers, etc. Now I'm on the verge of achieving the goal I confessed to in my very first post, back in 2005: owning my own store.

This blog has played a surprisingly big part in all of that. Someone asked me recently "do you do all your own publicity?" The answer is that I don't do publicity; I just talk about the store all the time in all kinds of forums, and The Written Nerd was the first. It introduced me to the folks at NAIBA, who asked me to join the board and brought me into a circle of smart and dedicated booksellers; it brought me to the attention of publishers who mailed me books for review and now are enthusiastically supporting Greenlight; it somehow gave me the status of "expert" on social media, author events and graphic novels, and I've gotten the opportunity to speak on panels about those topics and meet all kinds of new smart people. I haven't done a lot of chasing down reporters to get them to write about Greenlight Bookstore; the coverage we've gotten has come about in large part from the previous connections and visibility that's happened through The Written Nerd, and for that I'm surprised and grateful.

And this blog has also helped me to keep my focus through the last 4 or 5 years of wanting to open a bookstore, through the times when that seemed unlikely or impossible. I recently wrote a piece for the AOL small business feature The Startup about facing setbacks, where I quoted Laura Miller's recent book The Magician's Book (a critical study of C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia) about the power of stories to turn hardship into adventure. And what is a blog but a never-ending story? Here's some more from Miller's book, which I've been thinking about a lot lately:

I was, of course, being sheltered by the traditional conventions of children's stories, in which the good are rewarded, the evil defeated, and the ending is at least partially happy. But getting to that happy ending was no picnic; along with the child heroes, I vicariously slogged through trackless forests and snowy wastes, took up arms against monsters, and wrangled with menacing adults. I was stirred by how much was epxected of the Pevensies. I wanted to be challenged in the same way. I wanted to be asked to give my all for a cause I could be sure was worthy. (And even at that tender age, I had an inkling that finding such a cause would be the hardest part of the quest.)

I was the same kind of child as Miller: longing for a quest, a great battle or a cause to give my all for. This blog, and the last five years of my life, have been about discovering that I've done the hardest part: I've found the cause. Now I'm dealing (mostly) cheerfully with the trackless forests, snowy wastes, monsters, and menacing adults, on the grand and Quixotic adventure of opening a bookstore.

But despite the fact that this blog has done great and noble service and could justifiably deserve an honorable retirement, I'm not going to shut it down just yet. It's nice to have a place to talk about books and stories that's not Greenlight -- that's just, still, my own. I noticed I have half a dozen posts in draft form that could go up any time, and I've got half a dozen more ideas for posts. I can't promise you'll see those here any time soon -- we're really in the final countdown to opening now and I think life is going to get more busy, not less. But I just wanted to check in, to reflect on what this blog has done and meant to me, and to let you know that it's not done yet. I've still got some more nerdy, overenthusiastic things to say for which this is still the best forum.

Really, the adventure is just beginning.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Link-mad Monday

* The Guardian notes various methods of organizing your bookshelves. (The ALP and I tend toward the author's own methodology, "according to where I can jam them.") (via Bookninja, who always leads me to the cool Guardian articles)

* Literature In the Internet Age category, #1: I'd normally be skeptical of a trailer for a short story -- but the story is by Jim Shepard, the publisher is the very intriguing new multi-format literary journal Electric Literature, and the video itself is somewhat breathtaking. Watch.

* Literature in the Internet Age category, #2: our Brooklyn visionary of the literary future, Richard Nash, writes in Publishers Weekly about Cursor, the new print/digital, publisher/community hybrid creature he's working on creating. I'm still wrapping my head around it, but it seems to come down to the fact that writers are readers and vice versa, and thus offering tools for refining and publishing one's writing while also selling the written works (and the rights thereto). Looking forward to seeing how it all plays out -- like ours, I imagine the business plan evolves constantly, and I trust Richard to come out with something fabulous.

* Literature in the Internet Age category, #3: another visionary, Kevin Smokler (his anthology Bookmark Now! was one of the reasons I started blogging, AND thinking that bookstores have the potential to be viable and progressive) announces a leap forward for his brainchild, BookTour: author tour listings on BookTour will be automatically listed on the author's A****n page. I've had some interesting email volleys with Kevin and other indie booksellers this week about what this new feature, undeniably a publicity boon for authors, means for indies, and how we can continue to work together. Importantly, BookTour's partnership with site-which-shall-not-be-named does NOT prevent them from also showing this info in other places. And at the moment, indie bookstore data compiled from IndieCommerce sites does NOT appear (partly because they have to figure out how to filter out the "Jane Austen" and "Barack Obama" listings when a bookclub is listed; partly because the booksellers aren't sure they want them to). At some point they may reappear on Amazon, which would delight authors; at some further point, BookTour data may show up on IndieBound in some form, which would delight bookstores (cross your fingers for that). I'm impressed with Kevin's grasp of all the various stakeholders in this situation, and his commitment to continue to serve indie bookstores, as well as authors and readers.

* Didja notice -- Greenlight Bookstore is now on IndieBound! Also, our storefront is turning green.

* And finally: my scarily witty ex-colleague/successor Dustin Kurtz does some terrible things to books in the video below. If you notice the camerawork is a bit shaky and there are some snorty, chokey sounds in the background, it's because he let me hold the Flip camera and I was kinda laughing. He seriously did eat those book pages. Buy him a drink sometime. (And don't try this at home.) As he put it on Twitter, "booksellers are the new circus freaks." Long may we live in passionate weirdness.

Okay -- back to the daily round (emails, faxes, applications, inquiries, catalogs, breaks for iced tea...)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Link-Mad Monday: Booksellers at it again!

I was at a NAIBA board meeting most of today, discussing exciting plans for the fall trade show in Baltimore (hope to give you the full report later this week). So it's rather late, but here's some Monday linkage I've been collecting. (I'm hoping to be a more regular blogger now that I'm officially self-employed -- cross your fingers for me.)

* A delicious irony in the Brave New World of e-books: Amazon sneaks into your Kindle and takes back your 1984. (via @beverlyqueery on Twitter, aka sweet pea of King's Books.)

* And, since we're feeling rather 1950s paranoid, a fantastically propagandistic video about the environmental effects of shopping local from the fine folks at Regulator Bookshop (via Bookselling This Week):

* I love the long-running feature on the music/culture blog Largehearted Boy in which "authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book." The most recent entry is by Joan Silber, one of my top 5 favorite authors, about her most recent novel The Size of the World (just out in paperback and PERFECT for smart, exotic, moving summer reading, by the way). I'm currently listening to The Mighty Clouds of Joy on her recommendation - weird awesome disco gospel.

* If anyone speaks French, I would appreciate your thoughts on this video from the if:book website (via Steve at Norton, @norton_fiction on Twitter). I think I really like the vision of the future with ebooks, ereaders, print books, and bookstores coexisting. (All I can tell for sure is that woman is way too cute to be with that dude, even if he is French.)

Okay, that's enough for today. I'm going to continue organizing my publisher catalogs (and exercising my Gmail Ninja skills) in preparation for tomorrow: First Full Day As Full Time Proprietor, Knocking it Outta The Park!

Signing off, chum!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Goodbye to all that

Today is my last day at McNally Jackson Books. Tomorrow I will be the full-time proprietor of Greenlight Bookstore.

It feels weirdly like the last day of high school.

Remember that? If you were like me, you knew exactly where you were headed, and you were excited to be going there, stomach full of butterflies for the unknown adventure ahead. But there was also an almost unbearable nostalgia-in-the-making for all you were about to leave behind: the place, the people, the quirks, the routine. There's so much you learned here, both practical and philosophical, and so much you loved. It makes for a pretty intense set of emotions. (Which run the risk of sounding incredibly sappy when articulated.)

There's something about working in an indie bookstore which makes for a much more emotionally heightened workplace atmosphere than, say, working in an office. Some of us call it the "Empire Records phenomenon" (which is the best silly '90s movie about indie retail life ever -- highly recommended if you are of a certain age and sensibility, though I take no responsibility for it.) I've noticed a similar sense of cameraderie working in a restaurant -- the amount of physical work you do together makes for a set of shared jokes, systemic quirks, annoyances, and ways of working with and around each other that tends to bond coworkers pretty quickly.
But I think it's even more pronounced in a bookstore (and maybe a record store) -- there's a shared intellectual life as well as a shared physical experience. Not that we sit around and talk about Literature all day, but we're all doing this because we love books in our own particular way, and our engagement with books is part of our engagement with each other.

Additionally, I've never worked anywhere that the employees were as engaged and invested in the life of the bookstore as they are at McNally Jackson. This is primarily Sarah McNally's doing: she is both a visionary and an expert delegator, finding for each person the area of expertise where they can excel and giving them a great deal of autonomy in running it. Displays, signage, section maintenance, book clubs, and yes, author events are in a constant state of tweaking and improving, because they are run by booksellers who have the opportunity to figure out how to make things work better. This, too, makes for a strong bond to the store itself, since we all have a very real role in its existence and identity.

There are a million other reasons why working at McNally Jackson has been a rewarding and affecting experience -- but I'm running out of time.

Allison, John T., Katie, Dustin, Adjua, Yvette, David, Cheryl, Erin, Rebecca, Stewart, Angela, Doug, Brook, Eddie, Darrell, Sam, Jane, Byron, Gabi, Eva, Sandy, Keala, Caroline, John M., Yvonne, Javier -- you are damn fine booksellers and friends of mine, and I will miss you.

After tonight's author event, we're going out to a local watering hole for a proper drunken sendoff. I'm grateful for a moment to savor what has been, before turning my eyes to what's ahead.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Summer Friday

It is far too beautiful outside for blogging. I'm making chicken salad sandwiches for a picnic in the park.

If you are inside in New York City, I suggest you get outside as soon as possible. Happy Friday!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Linkage for laughs

On Monday, I was part of an amazing panel discussion as part of NYU's Summer Publishing Institute. It was inspiring and thought provoking, and I plan to write up some notes and thoughts that came out of that soon.

But not today.

Today I would like to point out two things that made me laugh out loud in my bathrobe, and caused the ALP to shake his head at the wonder and ridiculousness of it all. They involve two of the things I love the most: books and Brooklyn.

First, Shelf Awareness linked to the Green Apple Core, the blog of the amazing Green Apple Books in San Francisco. It seems Green Apple has a fantastic program wherein they recommend one book a month, guaranteed good or your money back. And every month, they shoot a two-minute video promo for the book -- every one of which is freaking hilarious. This month's book is Werner Herzog's Conquest of the Useless, but my favorite video (I watched them all) is for Little Bee.

This cracks me up. What's most awesome is how much fun the booksellers are having making these -- their goofy enthusiasm is infectious, and I can only imagine leads to sales of the featured books. I may have to steal this idea for Greenlight Bookstore someday.

Second, this weekend, as everyone knows, marks that important occasion: the Coney Island hot dog eating contest. The irrepressible Gersh Kuntzman of our beloved local rag The Brooklyn Paper helps to psych us up for the showdown by rocking out with "The Bard of Coney Island" singing that American classic, "Hot Dog Time." (Warning: this is very silly, and if you are not in New York may be totally uninteresting to you. But it is kind of catchy -- I think I may have it stuck in my head all day.)

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Handsell: The Good Thief

Shop Indie Bookstores

The Good Thief
by Hannah Tinti (Random House, $25.00)
This novel contains an orphan, a con man, a giant zombie, a mad doctor, a dwarf, and a sinister factory. If that laundry list excites you with prospects of strange and uncanny adventure, or reminds you of childhood afternoons curled up with Robert Louis Stevenson, this is the book for you. For me, it's a reminder of when I was very young and my mom used to read "chapter books" to me before bedtime, chapter by excruciatingly suspenseful chapter. Now, my husband and I have been reading The Good Thief aloud to each other. It's the first time as an adult I can recall saying "please, just one more chapter."

It takes a pretty incredible writer to write a 19th century boy's adventure story with a wry 21st century sensibility. Hannah Tinti gets everything right, sketching scenes with the smallest of telling details, letting the character's moral evolution reveal itself in their actions. The orphan Ren is a conflicted hero for all time, and Benjamin Nab is a confidence man whose stories are as satisfying as they are implausible. Highly recommended for smart, suspenseful summer reading for all ages, and especially for sharing with like-minded adventurers.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Linguistical musings: Bookish, Bibliophilic, Literary

It's sometimes illuminating to work in a neighborhood where a large percentage of our customers speak languages other than English -- that is, SoHo, a major shopping destination for European tourists. (Why they buy books in English when they don't seem to speak it fluently is something I've always wondered -- but we're not complaining.)

Recently I noted, not for the first time, the tendency for Spanish speakers to call the bookstore a "library" (leading to a certain amount of confusion since there is a New York Public Library around the corner). This makes sense, though, since the Spanish word for bookstore is libreria. The word for book is libro, and -eria is where an item is sold (zapateria for shoes, tabaqueria for smokes, etc.) The Spanish word for library, on the other hand, is biblioteca -- which also sounds familiar and logically related to books, for its similarity to bibliophile or bibliography.

So what, I asked the ALP (Adorably Literate Partner), is up with the split between libro and biblio? And where does the word "book" itself come into all of this? Surprisingly, he didn't know the answer off the top of his head (he often does), but the trusty internet revealed a backstory both logical and suggestive.

Liber, we find, is a Latin root word meaning "to peel." The reference is to the tree bark first used as a writing surface -- the pages which made up the first scrolls and books. Literary is also Latin, from littera, meaning a letter of the alphabet.

Biblio, on the other hand, is the Greek word for book (hence Bible, etc.) If you want to go even further down the wormhole, one online etymology dictionary suggests the word is

originally a dim. of byblos "Egyptian papyrus," possibly so called from the name of the Phoenician port from which Egyptian papyrus was exported to Greece. The port's name is a Gk. corruption of Phoenician Gebhal (modern Jbeil, Lebanon), said to mean lit. "frontier town" (cf. Heb. gebhul "frontier, boundary," Arabic jabal "mountain")

Book, on the other hand, is pure barbarian Old English. It's also from a tree word, "bōc", which is similar to the Slavic words for "beech" -- probably the kind of tree most often used as a surface to carve or write words. I feel you can hear Old English it in the sound of the word -- the blunt beginning and hard ending, the weird two letters to make one sound in the middle. It's not as elegant as the Greek and Latin, but perhaps more down-to-earth.

So when we talk about literati, bibliophiles, and booklovers, or libraries, bibliographies, and bookstores, we're drawing on the entire rich mongrel history of the English language and its Latin, Greek, and Germanic ancestors. We're talking about trees, ports, and mountains; peeled bark and carved codex.

For some reason, I love this so much it almost makes me choke up. Think how long we've been talking about books, in how many languages, and how many different things writing and reading have meant and been to us. Think of all the weird unlikely clashes and interminglings of culture that gave us these many options to talk about these items and how they work and how we interact with them. Think of the roots of abstract ideas in the ancient, physical world.

What a story (Latin) there is in words (Old English).

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Handsell: Lake Overturn

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Lake Overturn
by Vestal McIntyre (HarperCollins, $24.99)

This book was put into my hands by one of my mentors and favorite booksellers, Toby Cox at Three Lives & Co. It took me a couple of weeks to get to it, but when I did it proved the rule that you should always trust your local indie bookseller when they tell you you're going to love something. This is the best straight-up novel I've read in a long time. No fantasy, nothing meta, no structural trickery or experimentation -- just character, story, place, metaphor, incredibly well-observed and perfectly described, so that you sink deeper and deeper into the author's world, and your heart aches for the story's people long after you've left them.

Vestal McIntyre is a contemporary George Eliot (this book reminded me more than once of Middlemarch), capable of capturing the truths about a community and an entire society in individual moments and interactions. McIntyre understands each of the characters that populate Eula, Idaho so intimately it's sometimes startling to get so close. Adultery, race and class relations, infertility, drug addiction, child abuse, autism, homosexuality, fundamentalist religion -- there's hardly a contemporary issue that isn't seething underneath the surface of this small place. But somehow, it all feels universal and brand-new and quietly powerful. This is the kind of book that makes you look at your fellow human beings with new interest, and new compassion.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Handsell: Chicken With Plums

I have two reasons for starting a new series of The Handsell today.

1) I have less than a month left as an employee at McNally Jackson, so I feel I ought to poach my own staff picks from the store website before I'm no longer a MacJack (as we call ourselves in uninhibited moments).

2) If you're like me, the situation in Iran at the moment is incredibly compelling, filling us with hope and fear. Marjane Satrapi is, I'll admit, the one Iranian writer I really know, and she's been involved in speaking out for the opposition movement. It seems like a good time to revisit her work.

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Chicken With Plums

by Marjane Satrapi (Pantheon, $12.95)

I waited a long time before picking up the newest work by the author of Persepolis, fearing she was just cashing in on her fame with a fluff followup. But it's wonderful, of course; I actually think this book is even more nuanced, moving and illuminating about Iranian life than Marjane Satrapi's original memoir. It's the half-mythologized story of Satrapi's uncle Nasser, a musician who decides to die for reasons that are simpler and more complex than they seem. It moves quietly, but it will break your heart.

The images are simple but eloquent, in Satrapi's heavy-line style, and evoke both the absurdity and pathos of the situation. I don't want to say more about just what happens, because the small revelations, circling backward and forward through time and perceptions, are what give this book (novel?) its power. It's now out in paperback, and highly recommended if you feel like immersing yourself in Iranian culture on a small scale, or or if you appreciate stories of the strange specifics and inescapable universality of human romantic and family life. I'm thankful for these kinds of stories.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

New Audio Awesomeness!

I don' t often use this blog to plug stuff going on at McNally Jackson, but sometimes it's just too good. Thanks to the diligent efforts of mixmaster Steve and blogmaster Dustin (who, incidentally, will be ably taking over my job as McJ events coordinator as I move on to Greenlight), the McNally Jackson blog is now a talkie.

It's our inaugural event podcast!

We've been sound recording author events for months now, hoping to preserve some of the great live conversations for posterity. At last, we've edited and hosted one of the best -- the star-studded March 30 poetry event with Robert Pinsky, Sharon Olds, Mark Strand, and Philip Schultz.

Click over to the McNally Jackson blog -- if only to see the awesome picture of Dustin attempting to stuff a book into his ear. The audio sounds great -- all those resonant poet voices! Leave lots of comments so we know you're listening, and we'll feel all motivated to do some more.

Friday, June 05, 2009

One Bookseller's BEA

Maybe I'm just lucky.

But this was the best BEA I've ever attended.

I was lucky, in a way, that it was in New York this year, which made it easy for me to attend on my own dime as the new owner of Greenlight Bookstore... but that did mean I had to work some shifts at my day job at McNally Jackson so that other booksellers could make the show. So keep in mind that there's a lot of stuff that I missed.

On Wednesday I was lucky to attend my last Emerging Leaders Council meeting. The national council representing frontline booksellers under 40 has finally gotten a rep from each of the 9 bookselling regions, and there's a lot of talent there. Perhaps we toot our own horn, but we like to think that some of the education the ABA offered this year was partly at our instigation (and there were EL booksellers on a large percentage of the panels), and that the increasing presence and visibility of young frontline booksellers at Winter Institute and regional shows can be traced back partially to our efforts as well. We met with folks from Unbridled Press and Ingram Book Distributors, both of whom are interested in supporting our work of mentoring and networking for younger frontline booksellers. This not only creates the professional booksellers of the future (I know my first sponsored visit to the NAIBA regional show is probably what made me choose this as my career), but it gives publishers the opportunity to put their books in front of the kids who actually hand books to customers on the sales floor.

That night I was lucky to attend the Emerging Leaders Party, sponsored again by Book Expo itself, at the behest of the wonderful, inimitable BEA events director (and former indie bookseller) Lance Fensterman -- who was instrumental, obviously, in everything that made this show great. There were 250 RSVPs, both publishers and booksellers, and Last Exit Bar was packed. Dennis Johnson, the publisher of Brooklyn indie Melville House, attended along with his author, and wrote to me afterward "Who sez the book biz is dead? It was really energizing, so my thanks to you." Being a room full of young career booksellers has a way of making the future seem possible.

I know galleys were missed at the rest of the show, but we had no shortage of book giveaways to accompany the featured authors. That list read like a who's who of up and coming talent: Margot Berwin (Pantheon), Ben Greenman (Melville House), Phil Gelatt & Rick Lacy (Oni Press), Hillary Jordan (Algonquin), Maaza Mengiste (W. W. Norton), and Peter Terzian (HarperCollins). When I got up to say thanks to the assembled youngsters, I told them about my new bookstore plans (the luckiest break of them all), and emphasized how much this network had been instrumental in making that happen: teaching me, supporting me, providing resources. I'm glad to move on to the next (emerged?) part of my career (and happy to hand my Council badge over to Stephanie Anderson), but it's been great to help to foster the future of bookselling, and great to know there are lots more book nerds still coming up through the ranks.

I was lucky on Thursday to attend a couple of fantastic panels at the ABA Day of Education, one on book clubs and one on "the bookstore as a third place." I was speaking on the latter, but I took way more notes than I offered information. The ABA education staff seems to have mastered both curation and crowd sourcing: both panels had smart speakers up front to establish some best practices and set the tone, and then tapped into the collective wisdom in the room as booksellers offered their own good ideas and answered each others' questions. I came away with a notebook full of ideas to implement in Greenlight Bookstore and renewed respect, as always, for my bookselling colleagues. As an ABA staffer and I discussed in the booksellers' lounge later, indie booksellers are used to operating on a shoestring and turning on a dime -- some of us are struggling, but there's no end to the creativity and resourcefulness of these business people, and in some ways it's our moment to shine. Consumers understand the value of shopping local more than ever, and indie booksellers have lots of resources at our disposal to offer them the best bookstore experience possible.

On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, I considered myself lucky that this year, when it was really important for my partner Rebecca and I to focus on business and not get distracted by partying, that this was a show where partying had been scaled back, and everyone was serious about the business. We talked to point of sale vendors, wholesale distributors, and lots of publishers, getting the information and contacts we'll need to open our store in the fall. We have a lot of work ahead of us, and the timing couldn't have been better: right now is exactly when we needed to see all of these vendors to get the ball rolling.

(An aside: though commentary has lamented the lack of free books at the show, I was impressed by publishers like W. W. Norton, who focused on one or two great fall releases -- in their case, David Small's amazing graphic novel Stitches -- and promoted the heck out of it. This kind of focused marketing is what we've been encouraging publishers to do at the NAIBA regional trade show, and it makes for a less overwhelming, more productive show experience in terms of the upcoming books themselves. I was a little disappointed that more publishers didn't do this -- there is a lot of gold in the fall list and I would have loved to have gathered up a few more nuggets -- but some, like Norton, clearly are turning the smaller/focused model to their advantage.)

Speaking of timing, we are lucky that the American Booksellers Association has made such great strides with their e-commerce platform, and that it looks like it will be in shape to sell e-books by the time Rebecca and I open Greenlight Bookstore in the fall. We sat down with Ricky of the ABA to have him walk us through the website platform (Rebecca also attended a couple of the e-content panels as well and came away impressed), and felt like we were in good hands and we have good options. While many are throwing up their hands about online sales and electronic books, the ABA is working overtime to make sure indie booksellers have the tools they need to make e-commerce of print books and downloadable e-books another part of our revenue stream. As Rebecca and I agreed, we're not paper sellers, we're booksellers, and we're glad for the opportunity we will have to sell books in many forms and many places.

I was lucky to be invited to a dinner on Saturday night with Diamond Comics Distributors and Image Comics, for a couple of reasons. First, it's always a treat for me to talk comics with fellow geeks (it's kind of especially fun when I'm the only girl), and I learned a great deal about Image, a creator-owned press that publishes some of the best and most innovative comics out there. And I was reminded once again that I can't afford to blindly demonize anyone in this industry, because there are smart and professional and good people working in every corner of it. I spent half the night talking to a vendor manager from the Amazon Kindle store, and despite my intention to be icily polite (proprietary platform! anti-competitive practices! the death of the print book!), found myself talking animatedly and with a surprising amount of agreement about electronic formats, consumer interest in digital content, and the Amazon guy's insistence that there is, and should be, room for multiple channels for buying electronic books. Along with the Barnes and Noble buyer and the Hudson News guy, he couldn't get enough of the news about my new bookstore opening in Brooklyn, and they all gave me their cards to be put on the mailing list. I learned once again that pretty much all of us just love books and bookstores, and the sinister motives we imagine for our competitors are almost always oversimplified and don't take into account that we're all just trying to make an honest living getting books in people's hands (or electronic devices.)

I was incredibly lucky to be walking the floor all three days with a fantastic business partner, with whom I see so eye-to-eye that we can almost finish each other's sentences at this point (except when she's teaching me something new). "Do you think...?" "Yeah, totally," seemed to be the refrain as Rebecca and I navigated the riches of the publishing world. And as we got to introduce each other to all of the people we respectively know, the refrain became, "I've heard so much about you!" How lucky to work in a business of such cameraderie and enthusiasm, and with someone who has the same passion for books and readers, as well as good instincts about nearly everything. I seriously couldn't have handled this show -- or the entire bookstore startup process -- without Rebecca.

I felt almost guiltily lucky every time I had my badge scanned to come into the exclusive-to-booksellers ABA lounge. We may be the lowest-paid segment of the industry, but we booksellers had free coffee, lemonade, snacks, internet access, and comfy couches to retreat to whenever we needed. And whenever I stopped in I was sure to run into a colleague I knew and loved, and especially my core group of bookfriends: Amanda, Steve, Kelly, Stephanie, Christine, Dustin, Sarah, Toby, Emily, Sweet Pea, Jenn, among others. These are people who are passionate about what they do, creative and energetic beyond belief, and awfully fun to be around. I have a sense that they're the ones I'll still be talking to in twenty years, through all the changes of our industry and our careers. Maybe we'll look back on this BEA as one of the last good ones, or as a quiet moment before things got big again, or as the beginning of a long-term change for the better.

All I know now is that it was a hell of a show.

P.S. Okay, one last geeky lucky break: as I trolled the aisles on my last day looking for last-minute book swag, someone at the Dark Horse booth took pity on me and handed me possibly the Best. Giveaway. Ever. So along with a handful of books, a ton of information and contacts, and a renewed appreciation for book people, here's what I took home from BEA:

If you haven't read Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba's trippy, funny dysfunctional superhero family graphic novel The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite, it's highly recommended. Dude, I have the action figures.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


Hi all,

As you may have noticed, it's Book Expo America time. This year is a very working (vs. partying) oriented BEA for me, which is all good but very intense.

It's also a very intense time with Greenlight Bookstore stuff, so what with the one and the other, I haven't even found time to blog my plans.

BUT! I have finally figured out how to Twitter from my phone, so I'll be posting occasional updates on the #BEA2009 hashtag as @booknerdnyc. Lots of other cool folks Twittering too, so hopefully those updates will suffice until we have time for something more substantial.

More soon, I promise!

Friday, May 08, 2009

Emerging Leaders Party, plus publishers (and a panel!)

Young booksellers of Emerging Leaders, we're partying at BEA again! This time we're expanding our community to include the young publishers of the Young Publishing Group of the AAP. And we're expanding the day's activities to include a cool panel discussion that's of particular interest to our generation.

The invitation is being "deployed" today by the fine folks at Reed/Book Expo, so you may see it in your inbox. But allow me to reiterate:

The Panel:
"How To Get A Job Like Ours (…in 63 Easy Steps)"
Wednesday, May 27th 5:30 pm
Marriott Hotel at Brooklyn Bridge
Metrotech Room
333 Adams Street, Brooklyn, NY

Geoff Kloske, Vice President and Publisher of Riverhead Books
Geoff Shandler, Editor-In-Chief of Little, Brown & Company
Moderated by Ed Nawotka from Publishers Weekly

The panelists convey their opinions about book publishing today, in an era of ongoing digitization and changing retail landscapes. Among the topics addressed: Are big author advances so yesterday? What are your best agent flirting techniques? Kindle: Hot? Or Not?
Are you a twit if you don’t Tweet? Just how long does it take to make it to publishing’s big time? And why did your folks choose spell your name with a “G” instead of a “J”?

The Party:
Wednesday, May 27, 2009, 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm
Last Exit Bar
136 Atlantic Ave
Brooklyn, N.Y. 11201

Open Bar
Schmoozing with peers in publishing and bookselling
Free stuff: books, buttons, and other swag
Information about Emerging Leaders that you can take back to your store/region
Chatting with authors:
Peter Terzian, editor of Heavy Rotation: Twenty Writers on the Albums That Changed Their Lives (HarperCollins).
Margot Berwin, author of Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire (Pantheon)
Ben Greenman, author of Please Step Back (Melville House)

You can RSVP for one or both by emailing Make sure to do it by 5pm Wednesday, May 20, 2009, or Lance Fensterman gets first dibs on your drinks...

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Hanami in Brooklyn

After the chaos of selling books at the PEN Festival (a week of 12-hour days organizing, hefting boxes of books, ringing in hundreds of sales by hand, and processing returns), I'm finally getting my wish:

A day with no obligations.

If the weather holds, here's where I'm going this afternoon.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Indie Love: #buyindieday

"And can you imagine 50 people a day, I said 50 people a day walking into an indie bookstore, buying a book and walking out? Friends, they may think it’s a movement."

Robert Gray's column in Shelf Awareness today about Buy Indie Day (that's today, May 1, folks!) made me choke up a little. With Arlo Guthrie on NPR this morning (singing a very old song about an auto bailout...), the reference to "Alice's Restaurant" is even more prescient, and it seems like everything old is new again. We've regained our skepticism of The Man, and we've got a new strategy for fighting 'em (supporting local, sustainable economies) and we've got some new tools: Twitter (#buyindieday) and Facebook (International "Buy Indie Day).

I suspect that telling readers of this blog to buy books at an indie bookstore is something like preaching to the choir. But if you possibly can, do find your local indie bookstore, go there, and buy a book today. Even if you're a publisher or a bookseller and you get books for free, spend a couple of bucks for something you've been meaning to get. Make it a movement.

And if you're still feeling the indie love tomorrow, don't miss The Millions NYC Indie Bookstore Walking Tour. Even if you're familiar with the bookstores in question, what better way to spend a Saturday than in the company of fellow book (and bookstore) lovers, hooking up online to spend time in the best brick-and-mortar stores in the city?

It's May 1, traditionally a day of renewed idealism and optimism. Make it happen, be part of it, get yourself into an indie bookstore today.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Link-Mad Wednesday: Comics, ebooks, and a semi-hiatus

Blogging has been, and is likely to remain, sparse... as Greenlight Bookstore prep ramps up, the rest of life ain't going anywhere, and your friendly neighborhood Book Nerd is feeling a bit under the gun. I'll try to get up here once a week or so, but forgive me my semi-absence, okay?

Still, there's time for a few links.

In e-reader news:

The IndieBound iPhone app makes me long even more for that lovely little piece of hardware. Props to the ABA for rolling this out so fast! The IndieBound app means that you can use the iPhone to find bookstores and other indie shops, search books, buy books online -- along with reading books and emailing and making calls (and, as I learned at a delicious early summer barbecue this weekend, mapping the stars... )

In the meantime, not only does your Kindle become a brick if you lose your Amazon account, but rumors persist that Apple is coming out with a more book-friendly device. E-reader enthusiasts, start your engines!

In comics news:

This Saturday, May 2, is Free Comic Book Day! Find yourself a local comic shop (there's a great locator tool on the FCBD website) and get yourself some free comics action. And buy something while you're there, why don't ya? (When, by the way, are bookstores going to instigate Free Galley Day? How about it, book industry?)

If you happen to be in my part of the world, you've got some pretty awesome options: Rocketship is hosting a signing by Wolverine writer Fred Van Lente (along with giving away a new comic about the spiky-knuckled guy), and Bergen Street Comics is hosting a showing of original art from ("where every day is free comics day!")

And, while I'm hoping to have time to stop in to one or both of these stores, I'll be spending most of my day at another venue for comics love: the PEN World Voices Festival. At Cooper Union on Saturday, McNally Jackson will be selling books for events with Neil Gaiman, Emmanuel Guibert, David Polonsky, Shaun Tan, Jonathan Ames, Yoshihiro Tatsumi, and Adrian Tomine. And of course, the Festival hosts wonderful literary events happening all week long.

It's a good week for books! Happy reading!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Handsell: The Manual of Detection and The Secret Currency of Love

Some of the good stuff I've been reading lately...

The Manual of Detection
by Jedediah Berry
(Penguin Press)

If you like your mysteries with a bit of meta, but still insist on being richly entertained, you are so in luck -- this is the book for you. Rain-slicked streets and wood-paneled halls, sinister carnivals and decaying mansions, trench coats and fedoras and femmes fatales -- the iconography of the genre makes up the dreamlike landscape of this tightly structured and chaotically effulgent novel. Yet it's also a moving story of a humble Everyman trying to make his way in an incomprehensible system of institutions and obligations, and filled with both pathos and humor. My tagline: Chandler meets Kafka for whiskey-laced tea at G.K. Chesterton's house.

I'm one of two booksellers at my store who LOVE this book to the point of obsession. And now I'm starting to see fedoras and pin-curls, mysterious briefcases and memorable umbrellas on my rainy commute to work. It's one of those books whose dreamlife seems to seep into real life, rendering the whole world more wonderfully mysterious.

(Author Jedediah Berry reads with fellow genre transcendentalist Benjamin Rosenbaum at McNally Jackson on May 27. If you're not partying with Emerging Leaders at BEA, I highly recommend attending.)

(Update: do not fail to check out the book's website, complete with atmospheric music and dossiers on agency operatives and suspects.)

The Secret Currency of Love
The Unabashed Truth about Women, Money, and Relationships
By Hilary Black
(William Morrow & Company)

I thought this anthology might be a little fluffy for my tastes -- but after hearing some of the contributors read, I was open-mouthed in admiration and recognition, and totally hooked. (Some of my smartest girlfriends were equally intrigued --we're now reading it in anticipation of a drink-fueled book club discussion at some point.) As "traditionally" the non-wage earning gender, bearing the weight of all those Jane Austen marry-for-money-AND-love expectations even as we now have the power to make our own living, women have an especially fraught relationship with money. And that relationship affects our other relationships: with our parents, our friends, our romantic partners (especially those), and eventually our kids.

The women writing here are married and single, come from wealth or poverty, have found financial success or still struggle to make ends meet -- and the questions they have to answer sound very familiar to me and my generation of women. What's necessity and what's luxury, and who decides? What's worth doing for money? What's the cost -- monetary and emotional -- of giving and receiving generosity? Who is rich and how do you know? What is financial equality -- both partners paying half, or both paying according to what they earn? The questions and experiences are intense, and I recognized myself, my friends, my enemies, and every relationship in my life in these stories. It's not often that a non-fiction book absorbs me like good fiction, but this one kept me rapt through every single essay, and gave me both new insights and new questions. Can't wait to discuss it with my girlfriends (and maybe even with my mom, my business partner, and my husband.) Compelling reading and definitely worth recommending, especially for women struggling anew with these questions in an uncertain economy.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Blog proliferation... and pirates.

How many blogs can one bookseller blog?

Here's yesterday's Greenlight post...

... about the New York Times Local post that went up on Wednesday (a profile of FG resident / food book editor extraordinaire Emily Takoudes)...

... and here's Wednesday's post on McNally Jackson's blog The Common Reader (recommendations for great books by overlooked women writers sent in by Deirdre Shaw, who reads at the store next Wednesday)...

... and here's today's post on the Emerging Leaders blog (about EL Council members at the day of education, and free passes to BEA). (Email here if you want in.)

But after all this blithe blogging, it's time to address some real issues. There's been a lot of news about pirates these days, from the Somali coast to the music downloaders of Sweden to the DRM fears of publishers. (Would this make Amazon the British Navy, then?... but never mind.) It's all fun and games, as long as you're not the one being keelhauled. Luckily, (former) newswoman Tina Fey brings our attention to an aspect of this issue that should be taken very, very seriously: book pirates.

This may actually replace The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything as my favorite pirate song ever. Thanks to Bookavore for the tip via Twitter, and have a beautiful Friday!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Friday Fishmen

Lots of work to do today, so I'll just share with you some of the random tunes stuck in my head.

I love that the fans of early 20th century horror writer H.P. Lovecraft -- purple-prose writing, misanthropic, paranoid, and kinda racist (check out his descriptions of the "swarthy races" of Brooklyn if you doubt me) -- are themselves such a fun-loving and cheeky bunch. On the McNally Jackson blog the other day, Dustin posted a video touting the benefits of "Eldritch Sign", a product designed to thwart, um, some sort of floaty Lovecraft monsters, much to the bewilderment of the customer/participants. It's pretty funny. But my favorite Lovecraft homage will always be this:

Good luck getting that (or its Christmassy counterpart) out of your head. Ha! Happy Friday.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Talking about e-readers with smart booksellers

Sometimes these days I feel a little like I did at my high school and college graduations, watching my best buddies up on stage or leading the procession: man, my friends are some smart people. (True, I did get to hold the NYU banner for a moment to relieve the brutally hungover valedictorian, one of my best friends, but I was only a Magna, not a Summa, myself.)

I feel that way this week listening to the conversation about e-readers and ARCreaders, let by my bookselling colleagues/buddies Stephanie Anderson (WORD, Brooklyn) and Jenn Northington (King's English, Salt Lake City). Both are fellow Emerging Leaders types, and they're leading the charge in embracing the possibilities and pushing the boundaries and fostering the conversation.

That conversation has been going on for a while on Twitter. Jenn made a modest proposal on her blog a couple of weeks ago. And Stephanie brought it together with today's column in Shelf Awareness. The question is, generally: would it make sense for booksellers to read ARCs on e-readers? And who's gonna get them for us?

I haven't jumped in before now because 1) I've been preoccupied and 2) I wanted to get the lay of the land. I still have a bit of catching up to do on this conversation (I just signed up for netGalley, finally, today), but I'm ready to venture a tentative opinion or two. I want to talk a little about ebooks and e-readers in general, and why it makes sense for booksellers to start reading ebooks. The question of how and from whom we'll get those expensive ereaders is one that will have to be hashed out at length in many forums, so I'm not going there quite yet.

To me, one of the most important things for booksellers (and readers and publishers) to realize now is that e-reader DOES NOT EQUAL Kindle. A bit that stuck out for me in Stephanie's column: "A side benefit to such a program could be to increase interest on the part of customers in e-readers that aren't the Kindle--booksellers have already noticed some of their best customers are switching some reading to the Kindle because it's the reader that's most familiar to them right now."

I think for a lot of booksellers right now, the idea of an e-reader provokes growls of hostility because it's associated with the Kindle, which is a proprietary platform sold and administered by Amazon, our primary competitor. We indies can't sell ebooks for the Kindle, so if readers buy a Kindle in means, on some level, lost sales for us. But the Kindle is not the only e-reader, nor even necessarily the best! The Sony Reader, the iPhone, the Google phone, and other electronic devices can also be used to read ebooks -- and those platforms are wide open for ebook sales from indie bookstores, provided our ecommerce technology is up to par.

Just as we have to educate our customers (and ourselves) that Amazon is not the only option for buying online, we'll have to make some efforts to make sure those who want to read ebooks know that they have options besides the Kindle, and that they can still "read indie while reading e" (feel free to steal that tagline). And ebook-reading booksellers are the perfect group to start spreading that word, to make sure that we can make ebooks a part of our business model rather than just more competition.

Here's the next most important issue: E-readers make sense for people who read in massive quantities. Many of our sales reps are already reading on Sony readers, and it makes sense for booksellers too. We'll all most likely still be reading plenty of pbooks (that's print, or "real" books), but since it's in our job description to read widely and quickly, carrying around many on one device makes sense.

Our best customers probably buy books from us, from other indies, from chain stores, online, and borrow from the library too. We hope to have them buy the majority from us, but we know the biggest readers are getting books from many different places. Chances are, some of them are going to start reading ebooks as a part of their book addiction. This pretty obviously doesn't mean they're going to stop buying print books. But it does mean we have a chance to sell them something additional. If we start familiarizing ourselves with the products, the formats, etc., we'll be better handsellers of ebooks. And isn't that what we do?

One thing that also seems clear to me, and that will be important as this conversation goes on: we need a standard format for ebooks. At this point there are a number of different file types for ebooks floating around, and they don't all work on all devices. If publishers can agree on a standard file format (like .mp3s for music), that will go a long way toward making ebooks more accessible, and toward enabling indies, among other channels, to sell them effectively. The Association of American Publishers supports the .epub format, and it would be great if this could get codified pretty soon.

Personally, I'd love to have a publisher (or the ABA, funded by a group of publishers, or whoever) buy me an iPhone. (This gets a bold because buying me stuff is important. I'd also love it if someone could send me to the Digital Book 2009 conference, which costs about as much as an ereader....)

Okay, in all seriousness, I've seen some of the various platforms for ereaders on the iPhone, and it's pretty exciting -- I'd love to spend more time with it. Along with some of my other smart buddies, I can see the iPhone (and other multi-use devices) becoming the primary method of reading ebooks in future. It kind of reminds me of the "orison" in the central chapter of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas -- a communicator, a recorder and player of print and visual information, a mapping device, etc. -- technology so advanced it feels like magic. It doesn't feel anti-literature; it feels like a very literary vision of the future.

As you can probably tell, I'm still pretty new to this conversation, and I've got a lot to learn. I get a lot of mynews and opinions on ebook stuff on the Teleread blog, which I recommend. And you can follow the conversation of those smart kids on Twitter by searching #ereader, #digiARCs, or #ARCreader. I'm delighted to get to hobnob with these smarties, and excited about where the conversation will go.

Update: I must also mention (and link) the other smart booksellers whose ebook musings I've been reading lately: Rich Rennicks (Malaprops), Arsen Kashkashian (Boulder Bookstore), and Patrick (Vroman's), among others.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Literature and race

Been thinking about literature and race today. I noted on the Greenlight Bookstore blog that Nelson George writes in the Times today about the changing racial demographics of Fort Greene, and how that changes the artistic scene -- in his view, for the worse, though I'm not sure I agree. Tonight at McNally Jackson we're hosting a panel discussion about the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., with some amazing experts in the field, and good writers, too. I'd like to have today's National Poetry Month Twitter entry reflect something about that, but I can't think of anything appropriate except for maybe Langston Hughes, and the old folk song about Martin and John.

What can literature do against racism? Or is it more useful in forming racial identities? What do I, a white person, have to do with literature by black writers? Am I meant to appreciate it apart from the writers' identities, or is it meant to allow me to identify with someone other than myself? Can I share in the Lent-like suffering in observance of King's death, or does it not belong to me as well?

These are old, old questions, of course, and I don't have clever answers today. Just what I'm pondering amongst the petty tasks of a busy morning.

Friday, April 03, 2009

A Word from IndieBound at 1 year

I'm posting here an email announcement from Paige Poe, the liaison for IndieBound at the ABA, and Meg Smith, the marketing guru. Bloggers, booksellers, and readers: spread the word, and share your ideas! (You can click on their names below to email them directly, or share ideas on the forums they mention.)


It’s hard to believe IndieBound is nearly a year old. But in that time it’s been adopted by hundreds of indie bookstores, recognized by thousands of consumers, and commented on by countless bloggers and others. Check out the attached stats and examples for the evidence!

IndieBound has potential to grow even more, and so much of that growth can—and should—come from you and other ABA members. We would love to visit every store in person, see how we can help, explore the DIY, but it’s just not possible. (We do hope to offer a series of webinars to chat with members…)

Booksellers like you are talking—whether online, at conferences, even visiting each others’ stores. All of you I’ve spoken with before have been tremendously helpful in getting us this far, and the few of you I haven’t met or spoken to I’m very eager to get to know. So I’m asking for your help.

A few requests and questions:
- Perhaps you know about stores using IndieBound that are under our radar? Who are you talking to? As you talk with each other, keep us in the loop, and if you can, bring us in on the conversation.
- Do you know any stores who are struggling, that could really use marketing help? We’re attempting to find these stores and give them personalized help with DIY, community integration, and social media.
- One thing I’ve stressed this past year is that IndieBound is always open to new ideas, new features, new everything. What is your ideal IndieBound? Send us your ideas.
We started a forum on that we’re opening up to all of you ( Come here to discuss anything IndieBound-related, share news, ask questions—anything! Feel free to start discussions on topics you feel need some extra light. If any booksellers you talk to want to be part of the forum, let me know.
- One idea we’ve been discussing is a bookseller-only/trade-only group on Facebook, to disseminate info and get you guys talking. Would you participate in such a group? Or would the forum be sufficient? If you’re already spending time on Facebook, maybe that would be the place to meet. Let me know!
- We’re always available through email, and you can call us anytime at our office numbers. Of course you’ll run into us on Facebook and twitter, too. The point is, get in touch with us!

Eagerly awaiting your response…

Paige Poe - IndieBound Outreach Liaison

Meg Smith - Chief Marketing Officer