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Showing posts from April, 2006

Comment: The Same Old Wild and the Long Tail

I have to admit I wasn't much interested in the OPAL MEHTA scandal. Kaavya Viswanathan's book (HOW OPAL MEHTA GOT KISSED, GOT WILD, AND GOT A LIFE, published by Little, Brown) , whether it contained plagiarized passages from Megan McCafferty's SLOPPY FIRSTS (published by Crown) or not, looked like just another chicklit book anyway, and I don't tend to have high expectations of originality from the books with the cute curvy dresses on the covers. I'm glad people buy them because it pays our bills, but I don't much care about them one way or another. Then Little, Brown issued its statement yesterday that it was recalling the books , and McNally Robinson NYC got a call from CBS, who wanted to film a talking heads segment about the story in our store. I called Sarah, my boss, who thought it was a great idea to have them come, and we talked a little about the issue. The one thing that interests me about the case is that both McCafferty and Viswanathan share the

Chronicle: Future Booksellers of America

The brilliant and ambitious Marcela Landres – editor, educator, writer, Latino authors' advocate, and really cool person – contacted me a few weeks ago to invite me to speak to her publishing class at City College. Since she was basically offering me a chance to talk about the stuff I talk about anyway, to a group of young people who might actually be interested, of course I jumped at the chance. As she described it, "The class I'm teaching is the introductory class, offering an overview of the book industry with the objective of helping the students identify what kind of position they’d be suited for, e.g. editor, agent, bookseller, etc. The mission of the publishing program overall is twofold--to launch careers for their graduates, and to increase diversity within publishing." I'd never been to the City College campus on 138th Street – it's really pretty impressive. Marcela had described the building as "labyrinthine," so I arrived early to find

Comment: Books Now For The Future (Another To-Be-Read List)

I can't count the number of times a customer has held up a juicy-looking paperback and asked "Have you read this?" and I've been forced to say "No… but I WANT to read it." The books that I manage to get to certainly aren't the only ones that deserve to be read – if I could read five times as fast I'm sure I'd have nearly five times as many books to recommend. But sometimes the best I can do is tell you why it seems like a book is worth reading – if you can put aside all of the other stuff worth reading, plus the food and sleep and work and socializing that compose the rest of your life. I do have some reviews to post soon, but in case I don't get to everything in my to-be-read pile (which seems likely), today I'm posting a list of what I WANT to read, and the reasons why. I'm doing them in alphabetical order by title, because obviously I can't choose between them. Maybe you'll get to them before I do, and you can give your ow

Chronicle: David Mitchell Rocks the House

Yesterday was a big red-letter day on the Book Nerd calendar: David Mitchell reading at Three Lives! I may have mentioned my slavering fanhood of the author of BLACK SWAN GREEN (see my January 16 post) – his previous visit on the book tour for CLOUD ATLAS was one of the highlights of my bookselling life. Mitchell is, unlikely as it sounds, exactly what you'd want an author to be – as kind and witty and compassionate and funny as his books, and so self-deprecating you wonder if he realizes how good he really is. The day's coolness started early for me, as Mitchell and his publicist, Gynne (pronounced like the alcohol, and she's just as refreshing) stopped by my bookstore to sign stock. I introduced myself as a former Three Lives employee who'd met him a few years back, and he not only remembered me but was up on my career. I told him I'd see him at the reading, since my former boss had asked me to help out with what was sure to be a big crowd, and we joked about bei

Comment: Beware of Snarks, Part 2: This Time, It's Personal

It's time to talk about the Snarks again, along with one or two new species that have emerged from the discussion about reviewers' responsibilities and failings. Because I've been absorbing so many insights from comments, emails, and articles, this post may sometimes resemble a Zagat guide. It's an experiment in essay-as-conversation, an attempt to bring all of your comments into contact with each other as part of a larger argument – see if you like it. (It also contains some salty language, as this is a subject about which people feel passionately, so turn on your internal censor beep if necessary.) Despite the danger that "spending time talking about things you hate is like feeding trolls on-line," (mwb), and that I risk becoming the equivalent of a book-hating Snark myself by dwelling on such an angry-making subject, I feel there's still more to be said. After all "I'm not above giving some good snark" (Lady T). And I think there is room

Comment: Spring & Prizes

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I'm too giddy about the actual arrival of spring to write anything very serious today - how can you sit in front of the computer and engage with cultural issues when this is what you see when you step out your front door: I will mention something in line with the general joyfulness: the Pulitzer Prizes have been announced , and the winner in fiction is a favorite of mine: Geraldine Brooks' (not to be confused with poet Gwendolyn Brooks) Civil War novel MARCH (not to be confused with E. L. Doctorow's Civil War novel of the same name, which was also nominated. Weird.) Brook's book (which I reviewed for Publishers Weekly) is a serious but accessible historical novel, which takes the absent father figure from Alcott's LITTLE WOMEN and imagines his unspoken wartime experiences, engaging him with good intentions, casual and purposeful racism, horrific violence, and the explosion of his dreamy idealism. It's a heavy one, but ultimately a satisfying narrative. I

Joint Review #18 and #19: Very Meta

Voyage Along the Horizon by Javier Marias (Believer Books, April 2006) Book by Book: Notes On Reading And Life by Michael Dirda (Henry Holt, May 2006) The last two books I read have a thematic unity: they are both, in different ways, books about reading. Marias' novel is a story-within-a-novel-within-a-novel about a novelist. Dirda's book is literally about what he's read: a commonplace book of quotations mixed with his own summaries of what he's learned from books. (This theme stuff seems to happen surprisingly often with my reading lately – or maybe you can find a link between any two works of art if you look hard enough, and since I've been reviewing them in pairs, I tend to look for the link. Go fig.) The other thing they have in common, unfortunately, is that I wasn't crazy about either one. Possibly my expectations were too high. The beautiful cover of VOYAGE is evocative of kids' adventure stories, sailor's drawings, maybe even Joseph Co

Comment: Beware of Snarks

Here's a totally brilliant idea: instead of choosing the best book of last year by an elite, overly political, always misunderstood panel -- let 'em go head to head! Yes, online magazine The Morning News and Powell's have invented The Tournament Of Books , now in its second year, and (apologies for being behind the times) almost over. It works like March Madness (or those speech competitions I did in high school): two books at a time are pitted against one other and judged by a single judge; the winner goes on to compete in the next round. This year it's come down to a final round face-off between Sam Lipsyte's HOMELAND and Ali Smith's THE ACCIDENTAL -- the winner is the undisputed champeen! Of course, as in those other competitions, a lot of the outcome can depend on the luck of the draw -- who you face in the first round, and who's judging. But it's not really any less arbitrary than the panel/committee method, and it's a lot more transparent. The

Chronicle: Emerging Leaders On The Rise in Phoenixville

Hoo boy! What a confab we had at the Emerging Leaders NAIBAhood meeting yesterday. About ten booksellers – new store owners, prospective owners, those new to the business, and young booksellers like me – met up in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania to ask questions, share ideas, express our hopes for the future, and just get to know our cohorts in the book biz. We sat around over sandwiches for about three hours, and talked up a storm! To give credit where credit is due, the event was primarily organized by the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association (NAIBA), and the eats were sponsored by Bookazine , an independent book distributor. I was lucky enough to hitch a ride to Phoenixville from NYC with Eileen Dengler, the secretary of NAIBA, who organized the trip. It's about a two-hour ride, and we chatted happily all the way. I've recently been asked to join the NAIBA board, a totally flattering offer which of course I've accepted – it will be wonderful to help with NA

Comment: The Luxury of Literary Magazines

My new coworkers rock. They're the kind of folks who, in between ordering, shelving, and returning, helping customers in need and making the store run effectively, will have a conversation with you about literary journals. The magazine guy at our store does a tremendous job of stocking art and style mags, fashion rags and tabloids, and hefty quarterlies and literary journals. I ran into him in the back room the other day sorting returns and asked if there were any leftover copies of the old Paris Review (shh, it's one of the perks of being a bookseller.) He handed over a stripped cover copy of the previous edition and told me he was glad to find someone who was interested in reading the literary magazines, since he'd almost given up on it himself. The phraseology we agreed on was that we couldn't often afford to spend the limited currency of our reading time on the luxury of literary magazines, when there's so much, well, literature out there demanding our at

Comment: Heroes and the Historical Record

I was thrilled to get ahold of a copy of EDGAR ALLEN POE & THE JUKE-BOX: UNCOLLECTED POEMS, DRAFTS, AND FRAGMENTS (FSG, March 2006), the new Elizabeth Bishop collection edited by New Yorker poetry editor (and Poetry Society of America president) Alice Quinn. Bishop is one of my favorite poets of all time; I love how plain spoken and unpretentious her poems are at first reading, and the riches they reveal as you examine them. I know she was famously a perfectionist, often spending years hanging on to a poem without publishing it as she waited for the perfect word to come to her; her COLLECTED POEMS is a very slim volume. So it's a fascinating treasure to have this wealth of scraps to pick through, these "rough gems" as the poet David Orr describes them in his review : the phrases born of that fierce and exacting and compassionate mind, even if they never made it into a final form that completely satisfied her. But not everyone feels the same way. A friend of mine at F