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