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Showing posts from 2005

Comment: Over and Out

A kind friend offered the ALP and I rides in to work today, very early because he had to get to his own job. The bookstore is operating on reduced hours because of the transit strike, so I'm the only one here this morning. It's kind of cool -- reminds me of being at my high school after hours when I was working on the literary magazine, the sense of the institution in its sleepy, mysterious other life. We're headed out of town tomorrow for about a week, and I probably won't get a chance to post from Denver, so you won't hear from me for a little while. I do have book-related plans while I'm there, though -- I'm hoping to break away from the family festivities briefly for a visit to The Tattered Cover, Denver's famous (and huge) independent bookstore. I've heard a lot about the place, and I can't wait to check it out -- I'll report on the visit when I get back. After that, it's time to look forward to 2006. There are so many things

Comment: Odds and Ends, On the Shelf

I'm stranded in Brooklyn today, as a result of the New York City transit workers strike. Many brave souls have managed to get in to work anyway, but as I don't know anyone with a car and my bookstore is about as far away in the five boroughs as one can get from my house, I'm really stuck without the subway. I'll have to find some way to find a carpool or otherwise make it to work tomorrow, but I'm pretty sure the store can make it through one day without me. And I have to confess I'm enjoying the "snow day" -- I've been working at two busy stores every day for weeks, and I'm feeling a little burnt out. So I'm spending the morning on odds and ends, and looking forward to reading and a nap in the afternoon. In the odds and ends vein, thanks so much to those of you who have posted comments and sent emails – I've replied to some (including the anonymous commenter who pointed out that I had mistakenly listed Powell's Books as being

Chronicle: New York Bookseller / Sales Rep Soiree

This past Monday night I attended a get-together of booksellers and publisher sales reps at Kettle of Fish in the West Village. This social event of the season was organized by the owner of Penn Concessions, the bookstore inside Pennsylvania Station -- an incredibly exuberant guy named Rusel with a talent for getting people together. He sent out an email invite, the bookselling and publishing networks started buzzing, and there was a great turnout of folks from both sides of the catalog drinking the night away and talking books, like we like to do. Kettle of Fish is a great old divey bar on Christopher Street -- it was a frequent haunt of mine when I worked around there, and I still seek it out for the cheapest drinks and comfiest couches south of 14th Street. It's been around for ages -- there are pictures of Jack Kerouac hanging out in front of the place, next to the neon "BAR" sign (which was eventually brought indoors as the gentrifying neighbors complained about lig

Comment: Celebrations

Yesterday was my birthday -- 27 big ones. The day was celebrated in suitable fashion, and I have the feeling that it's going to be a good year, full of big doings in the book world. In the spirit of celebration, I'm devoting this post to some good news about booksellers. I've run across a number of references lately to new and old stores and young and old booksellers that are making a go of it, with new ideas, great business models, and the passion for books and people that makes indie bookstore magic. I've pasted the best parts of their stories below, with links to where they appeared whenever possible. Enjoy! --- "Greta Kanne and her husband, Chris Harper, recently purchased the Book Juggler, a 22-year-old used and new bookstore in Willits, Calif., about halfway between San Francisco and Eureka. Kanne wrote to Shelf Awareness that she worked at the store as a teenager before going to work at Chaucer's Books in Santa Barbara, where she met Harper. '

Chronicle: A Customer Remembered

Last Friday night, something reminded me of my friend Betty, and I resolved to call her and invite her to tea as soon as I got a chance. On Saturday afternoon, my former coworkers at the West Village bookstore called to tell me that Betty had died in her sleep in early November. She was 92. Betty had been a loyal customer of the bookstore since long before I started working there. She had been a friend of the woman who handled the poetry section, and when I came along with similar interests I got to know her too. She came in almost every Saturday, sometimes more often, even when her legs started hurting her and she had to rest often. Once in a while when she was feeling too ill to make it to the store, we would run a book or two over to her apartment, and she'd pay by check. Her book interests were primarily poetry (which I was happy to help with) and Buddhist philosophy (which our resident meditation maven ably handled). She had great taste, and read widely, though I imag

Review: Book Nerd's Favorite Books of 2005

Yeah, everybody's got a year-end list, from the New York Times' powerful top 10 to every little indie bookstore's table of Bests or Favorites or Notables or Picks. It may be a clich̩, but it's really fun, and it can be valuable to would-be readers and gift buyers who can't very well get through every book in the world. So I've had a look over my "book of books" Рthe little notebook where I keep a record of every book I've read during the year Рto take my own stock of the best and the brightest. This certainly isn't every book I think was important or worth looking at this year Рit's just an arbitrary little collection of the ones I got all the way through, and added to my memories of rich and enjoyable reads. I'm not getting co-op or reimbursement from anyone for these, and they don't represent the views of the bookstore(s) where I work. These are just what I'd hand you if you walked into my store and asked me whether I

Comment: New York Neighborhoods and Rush Relativity

The independent bookstore where I now work is primarily an academic bookstore. We serve a large Ivy League university, and we were founded to compete with the university's own official bookstore, which is run by Barnes and Noble. Many professors prefer giving their coursebook orders to an independent, and we do a very good job of supplying the books to their students. Even outside the coursebook season, our events tend to focus on scholarly texts and debates, and our customers are primarily students and professors. But we are also located in a fairly well-off New York neighborhood, so we are a general bookstore as well. While we don't bother with cookbooks, kid's books, or some of the fluffier of the new hot titles, we do carry a large and thoughtful selection of new literature, poetry, memoir, pop nonfiction, etc. This tends to be my area of expertise, as I come from a general bookstore background and can be counted on to geek out about the next big thing, or the nex

Chronicle: California and Catchup

Your friendly neighborhood BookNerd is back in Brooklyn after a lovely relaxing week in California, and newly energized to jump back into the ongoing conversation about books and bookselling. I've responded to several of your posts, so see below for my thoughts -- I'm grateful for your input and your words of encouragement. I'll be responding to your emails as I have time to give them the attention they deserve -- please bear with me as I deal with the surprising amount of backlog! I'm still working on my HTML skills too (woefully inadequate, due to my non-tech humanities education), so links may take some time to appear, and the format will hopefully only improve with time. Talk about encouragement -- I was floored to find myself mentioned in the daily email of Shelf Awareness , an extremely well-researched summary of events in the literary world geared toward booksellers. Thanks to everyone for the publicity -- I feel like an institution! Actually, I feel like m

Brief Hiatus

It seems like a silly time to take a break -- there are so many great conversations starting here! But I'm off to California until Saturday, and as it's the only time I get to see my family during the year, I probably won't have time for blogging. Please continue your interesting comments -- I look forward to engaging with all of you when I return next weekend (and I'll reveal who made the plane-reading cut). Happy reading!

Comment/Review: Airplane reading

For book people, the biggest question when taking a trip isn't What should I wear? What should I pack? Which suitcase should I bring? No, of course the vital question is, What am I going to read on the plane? I'm leaving pretty soon to spend Thanksgiving week with my family in California -- a six-hour flight, plenty of time to get into something good. I love recommending plane books to customers -- it's a chance for them to spend a big chunk of time reading, and a good way to sink deeply into books that would suffer from short bursts of reading time. I tend to favor books that are rich and meaty, but not too heavy -- you don't want someone to get off the plane in a blue funk. It all depends on the taste and mood of the reader, of course -- some people want a beach read, and some want to tackle the Dostoyevsky they've been meaning to read since high school. It's highly ideosyncratic, different every time, and lots of fun if you happen to be a book nerd. Si

Comment: My People

So, I somewhat tentatively sent out an email about this blog to a long list of the folks in my address book on Thursday morning. The response already has been embarassingly wonderful. Everyone from my high school English teacher to Larry Portzline of Bookstore Tourism has commented or emailed to say that they're reading and enjoying. And best of all for me, I've heard from a bunch of my fellow booksellers with notes of enthusiasm and encouragement. Thanks, guys. This last couple of days made me think of a time when I worked in a neighborhood where two independent coffee shops opened up around the same time. (Bear with me, this is relevant in the end.) As things settled out, they ended up serving very different clientele: one was the haunt of the older neighborhood denizens, and one was the hangout of a high-powered telecommuter crowd. But unfortunately, there was an intense amount of unfriendly competition between the two. The proprietors of the two shops were in print

Comment: Vollman and the National Book Awards

I was making coffee and listening to NPR this morning when my partner (and several surrounding apartments) might have heard me say "WHAT?!?" I had just heard that William Vollman's EUROPE CENTRAL had won the National Book Award for fiction. The announcement was made as a kind of footnote to Joan Didion's win in nonfiction for THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING (which was almost a foregone conclusion, and must make things strange for her, as the award comes at the cost of the deaths of her husband and daughter). To be honest, I had forgotten that Vollman had even been nominated for the award -- I had glanced at EUROPE CENTRAL when it came out in hardcover and shuddered at how difficult it looked, filled with respect for those who would tackle its 800 pages. And my surprise (and initial indignation) came from the fact that he's not only difficult, but very little known, and it seemed like a purposefully pretentious choice on the part of the judges. But as I look ba

Chronicle and Comments: KGB & J.T.

(Disclaimer: Today's post was written in a hurry and contains some pretentious New York City namedropping. Read at your own risk of annoyance.) Last night I made an appearance at KGB Bar on East 4th Street for a goodbye party for an editor. She's graciously accepted my book reviews (and paid me) for a couple of years, and is now migrating west to work on her already-sold novel, so I thought it would be nice to stop by and show my face, since we'd never met in person. I hadn't been to KGB in a couple of years -- I used to go often when I was at NYU, since a professor of mine ran the Monday night poetry reading series. There's a gigantic neon "KGB" sign outside, and a set of stairs just inside the door. The first floor is a small theater, and the bar is on the second. It's just one room, all read, decorated with old Soviet propaganda posters and stencils of Lenin. Strangely cozy, in an ironic sort of way. My former editor introduced me to my new edit

Review: The Brooklyn Follies

THE BROOKLYN FOLLIES by Paul Auster Henry Holt Publication Date: January 2006 I'm sorry to be reviewing something that isn't available to most outside the publishing community for a couple of months, but I wanted to get my thoughts down before they fade. This is a book I read in one day -- an extremely rare thing, and like the books that make you miss your subway stop, a good indicator of how compelling this novel was for me. I'm a Paul Auster fan, though I started late with THE BOOK OF ILLUSIONS and ORACLE NIGHT, and am only now coming to some of his earlier work (I have yet to find the time to sit down with the NEW YORK TRILOGY, though it's high on the list of non-new releases I want to read). He seems to me an eloquent storyteller of the city, with plots that sometimes seem modeled after New York streets; he's unafraid of lots of plot, and he sometimes lets his characters get stuck down a dark alley or around an unexpected corner. He's the kind of "

Response: Why Amazon Is Not the Best Thing to Happen to Bookselling

On Halloween, Bookslut provided a link to an article by Alison Rowat in the Glasgow Herald titled "Why Amazon is the best thing to happen to bookselling." (It's now been archived; here is a link to the abstract, and I'm happy to email the entire article to anyone who requests it.) I forwarded it to my local booksellers listserve immediately for consideration, but I've been stewing about it ever since. My first reaction to Rowat's complete dismissal of independent booksellers as "fantasy merchants" and "dated as ration books" was so dumbfounded, so full of personal righteous indignation, that I didn't feel capable of gathering my thoughts for a reasoned response. Tonight, however, serving my quiet shift at the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company (another quixotic venture I'll expand upon later), I feel ready to marshal my passion into the service of logic and offer my refutation of the points Rowat has put forward. (To some, it ma

Cubicle vs. Sale Floor

It's been more than a week since my last confession... er, post, and it's likely to be a while before I can post again. The reason for this isnt' that I've got nothing to say or I've lost interest in saying it -- it's that I do not work in a place that is conducive to self-expression in this form. I lasted a scant ten months in the corporate world (and it was a college publisher, so it wasn't THAT corporate) after I graduated from college, before fleeing back to the world of bookselling, where I'd worked part time as a student. Cubicle life made me weepy and itchy and filled with loathing for self and others, and it was an incredible relief to leave it. But there are two things I do envy the office worker: privacy, and free time. Not to say they don't work hard -- I know many do. But there's a difference between working at your desk to edit a manuscript, and being available to customers every minute of the day. Even if I do have a long-t

Chronicle: The NAIBA 2005 Fall Trade Show

So last weekend I went to the fall trade show of the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association, held in the beautiful (gah) Tropicana in Atlantic City. Not being a gambler, I have the usual appalled reaction to people who don't look like they can afford it throwing their money down machines in an imitation colonial port where the light never changes. Worse than the fake insides of the giant casino/hotels – or just bad in a complimentary way – is the outside world of Atlantic City: boarded up storefronts, pawn shops, by-the-hour hotels, and the inevitably jaded Jitney bus drivers. The boardwalk I do like – its cheerful seediness reminds me of Coney Island – but the rest of the city depresses the heck out of me. I actually saw one giant used-book-store-slash-antique-shop on the bus ride to the hotel, but I've never heard of the independent bookstores of Atlantic City. Certainly none were represented at the show. At the show itself, however – in our set of meeting and

First Installment: My Overenthusiasm

Here's the thing: I struggle with the dichotomy of hipness when it comes to books and bookselling and the literary world. I've spent time in publishing (trade and college), literary agenting, book reviewing, and independent bookselling on both large and small scales, and I've been reading since before I could pronounce my "r"s, so I know a lot of books and authors and folks in the biz. I work now in a well-established bookstore in New York City, the throbbing center of the American publishing industry. I've gone to posh author dinners and shaken hands with big name authors and I know the buzz on books that will be published six months from now. So that makes me kind of hip, I guess, in my very small world. But I suffer from that killer of coolness, overenthusiasm. I am so crazy about literature that authors are my rock stars: I speculate about their lives, get all goofy when they're around, talk endlessly about their influences and comparative merits. I co