Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Serendipity in Bookland

Or, It Just So Happened: Why I Love Being A Bookseller In New York
(to the tune of "Lullaby of Birdland")

On Monday night at McNally Jackson, we hosted one of our ongoing Author/Editor events, and I found out rather late in the game that I would need to moderate. So I did a bit of cramming on the novel over the weekend -- with events 4 or 5 or 6 nights a week, it's rare that I read many of the featured books.

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It just so happened that I love this book, Water Dogs by Lewis Robinson. I love the somewhat hapless narrator, the calmly skeptical girlfriend, the ridiculous male posturing, the snow, the sense of somewhat muted menace. I love that Mainers struggle with some of the same issues of authenticity that Brooklynites do -- are you a real [fill in the blank], are you one of us or an interloper? We had a great conversation with Lewis and his editor Laura Ford that night, and I'm still reading and loving the book.

It also just so happened that among Lewis' friends in attendance were Nathanael Bellows, who had been at the store for an event with his poetry collection Why Speak the year before; and Aaron Hamburger, who not only has his own excellent short story collection out, but is also one of the winner of our First Annual Children's Story-Writing Contest. So I got to chat with him about his story "The Dessert-Breathing Dragon," which he'll be reading on Saturday.


Last night several bookseller friends had arranged to meet up in a bar in Williamsburg to welcome to our borough Stephanie Anderson, who just started as a manager at Word in Greenpoint. Somehow in the 10 years I've lived in the city, I had never before been to a bar in Williamsburg, despite living there for one summer in college -- I was probably a little scared of the hipsters, and a little proud of living my youthful Brooklyn life without recourse to the standard stomping ground. But I trekked out on the L train after work, and it just so happened that on the way to the bar I passed Desert Island, a newish comic book shop I'd been dying to visit. I popped in and introduced myself to the owner, Gabriel, and chatted for a minute before hurrying on to meet the folks. When I arrived at the bar Stephanie was the only one there, and it just so happened she too had been meaning to visit Desert Island. So we went right back down Metropolitan Avenue and spent another 20 minutes talking with Gabriel about his year-old store (he made the shelves himself! He'd never worked in a bookstore before! He hangs a projector screen from hooks in the ceiling! He carries unique foreign and self-published comics that attract the afficianados, even if they end up buying Adrian Tomine!), our own stores' work with graphic novels, consignments, and other wonky book biz stuff. Far from being a scary hipster, it just so happened that Gabriel is a totally decent human being, and Stephanie and I made another friend in the book biz.

We returned to the bar, where our fellow book folks were waiting, and proceeded to have an uproariously enjoyable evening. It just so happened that two of the attendees were born quite near each other in upstate New York. It just so happened that three of us were separately scheming about BEA parties, and are now scheming together. It just so happened that my Random House rep gave me a galley that I'm as eager to read as she is to have me read it. It just so happened that some other folks joined us halfway through the night with their own connections to the book world. It just so happened that Kelly Amabile and I both had to take the L train home, and wove our way back to the subway together.

It's been a good week in New York. We spent part of the evening last night discussing our "hazing" experiences when we first moved here, and how the city can make you work for it. But in weeks like this, it's pretty obvious why we do it.