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Showing posts from 2007

Year-End Thoughts: On Dreams and Roles

I've been feeling like a bit of a bad blogger lately. As my RSS feed clearly indicates, the blogosphere is filled with retrospectives, best-of lists, summaries of the year in reading, analyses of the state of literacy, bookstores, publishing, etc. in the year that's just ending. Last year I posted a list of all the books I'd read; this year I can't even do that, because I've lost track. (Resolution #1 for 2008: write down all books read, preferably on paper, so I can look back at them.) While I find myself unable to offer a sweeping, overarching point on the year in books, I have been having, rather typically, some personal year-end sorts of thoughts – about where I (and things) have been, where we're going, why are we doing this again, etc. (As Little Pete from Pete & Pete , the cult TV series of my youth, says in the New Year's Eve episode, "Everybody gets all wiggily on New Year's Eve thinking next year they're going to be better.

The busiest time of the year...

Forgive the lack of blogging around here lately. If you're a retailer, or a moonlighter, or a newlywed, you'll understand. I'm working on Christmas Eve at the bookstore this year for the first time ever. Somehow, in seven years of working in bookstores in New York, I've always managed to get out of it, because I was flying cross-country to see family. This year it's the ALP and I in the city, so I'm on Christmas Eve shift. I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to it. Yesterday was nearly eight hours at the cash register, interspersed with running briskly with piles of books to restock in sections and tables. In the last hour and a half I started to droop a bit, but for the most part it was so fun. I've gotten some teasing for my incessant cheeriness, and for being the most "Christmassy" person anyone knows. Apparently I'm a Christmas nerd as well as a book nerd. I love looking forward to things. It's part of being

Good Friday news

Here's a bit of good news, from PW via GalleyCat : "Bookstore sales increased for the fourth consecutive month in October, rising 8.0%, to $1.10 billion. The increase was the second largest this year, trailing only the 9.3% gain posted in August. Despite the string of increases, sales through the first 10 months of the year were still virtually flat with sales up 0.3%, to $13.47 billion, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. For the entire retail segment, sales were up 6.2% in October and 4.0% for the first 10 months." Feels good, doesn't it? Especially that first bit. Another blow to the old doom-and-gloom, no-one-reads-books, no-one-buys-books brigade. Case in point: I have on my desk at work a copy of the NEA's newest study , which, while it undoubtedly points up real problems in education systems, always irks me with its apocalyptic, hopeless language. If/when I get a chance, I'll read through it and share some thoughts. In the mean

Oh no.

I've just been informed by a fellow Brooklyn litblogger -- and have since confirmed with the man himself -- that Larry Portzline has decided to quit the bookstore tourism business. Don't try to find his noted Bookstore Tourism blog -- it's not there anymore. In fact, Larry's taken down all of his related sites. Here's an article about his project in the New York Sun if you're curious. Larry was trying to raise funds for a nationwide indie bookstore tour -- he had lined up media, made a massive itinerary of indie bookstores across the country, and had appealed to the ABA and the regional associations and other organizations in publishing to help fund the tour. Apparently, not enough folks stepped up. After five years of appearing at trade shows, running Bookstore Tourism buses in New York and California, writing a book, and enjoying the approval of the indie community.... Larry found that no one wanted to put their money behind his project. I'm disapp

A Joke, A Pageant

From Dickens' A Christmas Carol , which the ALP and I have been reading aloud: "The brightness of the shops where holly sprigs and berries crackled in the lamp heat of the windows, made pale faces ruddy as they passed. Poulterers' and grocers' trades became a splendid joke: a glorious pageant, with which it was next to impossible to believe that such dull principles as bargain and sale had anything to do." I love the splendid joke of Christmas in retail. Impossibly busy, we nevertheless find more time than we do at any other part of the year to give recommendations, to have a little human interaction with our customers. And it's glorious. Though we depend on it to pay our rent, it does seem to have less to do with making a buck and more with the pageantry of generosity and abundance. I spend a lot of time in the back office these days, but it's wonderful to have Christmas come along so I get to be a bookseller again. Here's wishing all of you book

Do you love to read books but hate reading books?

I just about fell out of my chair cracking up over this . It may not be the most sophisticated critique of the Kindle, but it's possibly the funniest, and maybe the most satisfying. I came across by way of Chip Kidd on A Brief Message , by way of GalleyCat . Everyone's sure talking about this thing.

LBC & Me

When I took on the second job at BookStream, I had a couple of wild-eyed moments of realizing that I literally didn't have time for all the things I've committed to in my life. Several calmer, more balanced individuals suggested making a list of all of my projects, and figuring out which I could cut out. Making an actual list, of course, would take too much precious time, but I did ponder the various options in my head over several weeks. Something (or somethings) had to give. Sadly, among the projects left behind was participation in the Litblog Co-Op . Though I haven't yet been moved from "participating weblogs" to "members emeritus" yet (because EVERYONE in the LBC is probably at least as busy as I am), I've officially given notice to the group. It sucks, because there are so many smart folks blogging there, and I've gotten to read so many great books (that I might never have discovered otherwise) and had some great online conversations

Friday Odds & Ends

I love that people send me articles about books, bookstores, book technology, and other stuff they know I might be interested in for the blog. My friend Steve sends me the best of the gazillion articles he reads about ebooks. The ALP sends me articles about comics . And sometimes my mom sends me articles about bookstores . Thanks, guys -- I read them all, though I don't always have time to talk about them. Speaking of time, if you've got any this Saturday and Sunday, check out the Indie & Small Press Book Fair at the New York Center for Independent Publishing . As the Times notes , the sessions include musicians as well as authors and publishers, and the conversations should be as wide-ranging as the books on offer. And speaking of a wide range of great books, check out the new project of the National Book Critics Circle: a monthly Best Recommended list , compiled from the favorites of lots of great authors and critics. It's sure to be an extremely well-curat

Mini-Review: Gentlemen of the Road

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I've resolved to do more book reviewing around here, if in smaller snippets. Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon (Del Rey, October 2007) I spent the holiday weekend with Michael Chabon's brief novel Gentlemen of the Road , and it was the perfect curl-up-in-bad-weather sort of book: bloody and daring adventures in exotic lands are immensely appealing when you are avoiding bad weather and extremely comfortable and cozy yourself. Though I'm one of those few odd souls who has never read the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, I've been a fan of Mr. Chabon since he edited the McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales and asserted that there's no shame and indeed some honor in literary writers working with genre fiction -- that is, with plot and action, as well as realism and character and all that stuff. He's also one of the few authors whose blurbs I trust -- every book he has bothered to endorse has become a fa

Graphic lit, gifts

My occasional column in Shelf Awareness on "graphic lit" ('cause they're not all comics, and they're not all novels... but I'm pretty okay with all terms, interchangeably) ran yesterday, with my suggestions for gift-worthy graphic lit . There's an abundance of delicious new and collected comics out there this season, and this is just a small sampling. One of the titles I didn't get to include is the first and second collection of Moomin , the comic strip by Tove Jansson featuring an endearing hippo-like creature and friends. Whimsical and surreal, childlike and socially conscious, bizarre and totally intuitive, the strip has tremendous appeal -- but since I've only read it in bits and pieces (while I probably should have been doing other things) on the sales floor, I can't say I've experienced the whole thing. It's one of the gifty new collectios that works for kids and adults, so I thought I'd throw it in as a bonus for you blog

Good News, and An ELNO Invitation

So maybe you remember me mentioning the Brooklyn Business Library's business plan competition , which I entered with a crazy plan for an independent bookstore in Brooklyn. The winner of the competition gets $15,000 to use toward starting up their business, and runners-up get lesser financial prizes or service packages from local vendors. Well, late last week I got a call to tell me I'm a finalist. (!!!) I still have a presentation to make to a panel of judges on the 28th (which sounds like a cross between a dissertation defense and those prepared speeches I did in junior high), and there's no guarantee I'll take home the prize or even a secondary one. But what an incredible confidence booster it has been to realize that it's not just fellow book nerds who are enthusiastic about this idea. There are some Brooklynites out there who don't think I'm completely nuts, too, and allow for the possibility that I might have something to bring to our community. I

The Kindle, and all that that implies

Thanks to Shelf Awareness (a great electronic resource for those of us in the print industry, as many of you know), I spent all morning reading this article in Newsweek about the Kindle , the new e-reader just released by the same company that runs Amazon. I know that name -- and often, the concept of internet book sales and digital books -- is likely to incur hisses from the bricks and mortar booksellers. I admit to feeling some stirrings of indignation myself at the sometimes smug sense of inevitability with which the author (as most journalists, seemingly) wrote about the increasing viability of digital tools for reading. But, as is my habit, I'm trying not to make this an us-vs.-them thing (i.e., those vapid digital people vs. us serious print people, or those hopelessly old-fashioned meatspace people vs. us progressive connected people). Because as usual, I don't think a viable e-reader and a healthy book market are necessarily mutually exclusive. (For example, I us

Brooklyn Lit Life: Edwidge Danticat

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Haitian novelist and memoirist extraordinaire Edwidge Danticat was a finalist for the 2007 National Book Award for her most recent book Brother, I'm Dying ; you can read an interview about her book and the nomination here . A few weeks before the awards, however, Danticat was gracious enough to talk a bit about her childhood in Brooklyn. Though Danticat no longer lives here, the borough's literary culture is a little bit richer for having her. Brooklyn Lit Life Edwidge Danticat Describe your particular literary project, and your role in it. It’s a book called Brother, I’m Dying , a family memoir. Why Brooklyn? What made you decide to live/work here, in both practical and emotional terms? My father moved here when I was 2 and my mother when I was 4. They left me in Haiti with my aunt and uncle while getting settled here. With immigration red tape it took us 8 years to be reunited in Brooklyn when I was twelve years old. Is there a Brooklyn sensibility or character?

Events, Past & Upcoming

Thanks so much to Jay Baron Nicorvo for inviting me to participate in the CLMP/LWC this weekend (that's Council of Literary Magazines and Presses - Literary Writers Conference for you acronym buffs). I had a great time in the "Power of Blogging" panel with Ron Hogan (of Beatrice and GalleyCat ) and BethAnne Patrick (of PW's BookMaven). Though I felt a bit outclassed -- I found out Ron has been blogging since the dark old days of 1995, and BethAnne actually gets paid to blog (though I wouldn't recommend anyone try to make her conform to some corporate idea of what she ought to be writing -- she's got opinions and chutzpah to spare!) I'm tickled to have had the opportunity to talk with them, and I hope we were of some help to the writers in attendance, who struggle (just like booksellers) with how to incorporate blogging into the world of the written word. If you don't have plans for this evening, and you're in the New York area, may I recommend

Link-slightly-wacky Monday

Greetings, fellow book nerds! I'm back from sabbatical, more or less, but I've realized the new schedule with BookStream et al. means that my blogging habits may need to change. Lucky for me this morning's Shelf Awareness led me to Booktrix , a book consulting company with a mandate as wide-ranging and hazy as mine at times, and to this post on the Booktrix blog , with the valuable advice: "Blog often, blog short, blog with pictures." I spent half of the "Digital Tools" panel at NAIBA telling booksellers that not every blog has to be the same format, length, or frequency, and that this doesn't have to take up all of your time. So I'm taking my own advice. I'll be posting (hopefully) a bit more, but in smaller bites. I've got a couple of Brooklyn Lit Life interviews in the pipeline, and a folder full of links and ideas to post. Today I'll pick just one. I was thrilled to get an email from Lauretta Nagel of Constellation Books

A Sabbatical, Of Sorts

As some of you have pointed out, I tend to take on a lot of projects. And what with NAIBA and various shift switches, I haven't had a full day off from the bookstore in nearly three weeks. Earlier this week it got to that critical mass of tiredness -- panicky tired, teary tired, veering between lashing out and zoning out tired. As I'm about to jump in to another, perhaps more intense work time in my life, I feel that now is the time to get a little rest and get ready. So, until sometime in early November, I'm letting some things slide a little and doing like other professional readers (i.e. academics) do: giving myself a sabbatical. No blogging, only emergency emails (so forgive me if I owe you a reply). Lots of sleeping in, lots of long meals with the ALP, lots of reading for pleasure. It's only for a week or two , but I think it will help. Right now, I'm going to run a bath, pour a glass of red wine, and find my place in Night Train to Lisbon . I'll s

Book Nerd and BookStream

No link madness today, folks. Instead, as promised, here's the big news: On Sunday night at NAIBA, I sat in the hotel bar with Jack Herr, the president of BookStream , and my friend Carolyn Bennett, a BookStream sales rep, and hammered out the details of an arrangement that had been in the air for a while, by which this independent bookseller will become an employee of the independent wholesaler. So what does this mean, and why am I doing it? It doesn’t mean I'm leaving the bookstore. It doesn’t mean I'm leaving Brooklyn. It doesn't mean I've abandoned my dream of having my own store, or that I'm selling out on my indie ideology. In fact, it's a way to get a little closer to the dream, and a way to work and learn and connect more with the indie bookstore community. First, just in case you don't work in the book industry or you're not familiar with this particular company, let's talk about book wholesalers. In addition to ordering books di

NAIBA wrap-up/run-down

It seems to me that the chronicling of this past weekend's NAIBA Con in Baltimore has been done very effectively by other folks! For very good overall descriptions of the action, the vibe, and the major players (authors, publishers, and booksellers) at the Baltimore Sheraton, I recommend: Susan L. Weis and Shannon McKenna Schmidt writing in today's Shelf Awareness . Their article "NAIBA's New Conference Format Draws Raves" does a great job of summarizing the whole show, describing some of the highlights with quotations from booksellers who were there. Kelley Drahushuk of Spotty Dog Books & Ale in Hudson, New York, with a piece titled "Booksellers Win Big at NAIBA Fall Conference" in Bookselling this week. I love that both pieces include as a highlight the booksellers' own "Pick of the Lists", the impromptu result of a suggestion by Carla Cohen after the sales reps' Pick of the Lists (perhaps we should officially include Bookse

The ALP is famous!

NAIBA was a blast -- I promise plenty of write-ups and run-downs later this week. In the meantime, though, and more importantly, I find that I am the proud wife of a published author. The ALP has had his first story published! It's published online, not in print -- in the fiction section of a Special Report from Forbes.com on "The Future". But who am I to discriminate between web content and paper and ink? Especially because he definitely got paid for it. And it's a darn good story (witty, allusive, funny dialogue). And it's at the top of a list of authors that includes Max Barry, Cory Doctorow, and Warren Ellis. I'll just be basking in the reflected glory if you need me...

NAIBA Con!

Killing two birds with one stone, I'm making my plans for this weekend's NAIBA -Con (also known as the NAIBA fall conference) in Baltimore and blogging as well! Ha! Today: Pack. Print out handouts for Internet panel and Emerging Leaders meeting Saturday: 10:00 Meet my colleague Adjua at Penn Station to take the train to Baltimore. Afternoon: visit Baltimore bookstores, including breathe books and Atomic Books . Can't wait to talk to these great booksellers and check out their stores -- honestly, this is one of the main reasons I've advocated to have the conference in Baltimore! 6:30 NAIBA board reception 8:00 Early Bird buffet supper 9:30 Quiz Bowl! This was way too much fun last year, mostly thanks to Quiz Master Joe Drabyak -- hopefully Arthur Phillips won't be there to show up all the booksellers' literary knowledge. I'm hoping to round up an Emerging Leaders team to show what the young'uns know... Sunday: 8:00 (if I'm ambitious) Walk do

Link-Mad Wednesday

On Friday I'll be gearing up for NAIBA Con this weekend, and I'll give you the rundown on my schedule and what there is to look forward too. (Amazingly, registration is still open, so if there's any way you can make it to Baltimore Sunday or Monday -- come, come, come!) In the meantime, here are some links that just won't wait. - Today was the first time I've ever seen a book-related blog first thing when I logged in to my Blogger account, and it makes perfect sense: it's Robert Warren's amazing PostSecret blog . The latest book, A Lifetime of Secrets , just came out, and there's a pretty well-done YouTube video about it (except for that tagline at the end -- a tad cheesy.) - Backlash is an inevitable result of prominence, I guess. Melvin Charles Bukiet has a Brooklyn-hating article in The American Scholar , in which he accuses J.S. Foer, Myla Goldberg, and Nicole Krauss, as well as Dave Eggers and Alice Sebold (who don't actually live in Br

Brooklyn Lit Life: Sarah Weinman

This might sound silly, but maybe not all Brooklynites live in Brooklyn. I know Sarah Weinman, subject of today's interview, from the blogging world -- she's a member emeritus of the Litblog Co-Op -- but over the past year we've had coffee at Gorilla and run into each other at various Brooklyn and Manhattan events, and had great discussions about the possibilities for literature (and bookstores) in the borough. As a crime fiction critic, I feel she's got a great sense of place and atmosphere, and I'm proud to include her in the Brooklyn Lit Life project under her moniker of choice: "Sarah Weinman, faux-Brooklynite." Brooklyn Lit Life Interview Sarah Weinman Describe your particular literary project, and your role in it. I'm a freelance writer and wear a number of hats. I co-edit GalleyCat , mediabistro.com's publishing industry news blog; I write monthly crime fiction columns for the LA Times Book Review and the Baltimore Sun ; I contrib

"I guess I should stop reading this book and put some pants on."

"The story of your life," said the ALP, sympathetically. This is the book that's taken over my life, that I'm so morose at having to put down in order to leave the house. Sorry no post today.

Wednesday Reviews: Diaz, Shepard

Two brief reviews of books that deserve much more -- links to further coverage provided. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (Riverhead, September 2007) You've never heard of this book before, right? Diaz' first book since his class short story collection Drown has turned out to be a huge publishing event, inspiring everyone from Michiko Kakutani to bloggers galore to heights of praise. I can't give you much more -- just my own little story. I read the short story that formed the foundation for BWL of OW in an anthology the ALP picked up called Rotten English -- a collection of prose and poetry written in non-standard or dialect English. Diaz was probably the most famous of the lot, but he certainly fits the bill -- Oscar Wao is studded with Spanish and Spanglish words and construction, and, my favorite, often uses the word "dude" as the subject (first example I can find in the novel, in a footnote, in parentheses: "(dude had bomb

Monday Chronicle: NEIBA Trade Show

Friday morning I boarded the Amtrak train (such a blissful way to travel!) for Providence, RI, to join the New England Independent Booksellers Association for their fall trade show. I was sorry to miss Thursday, which judging by the trade show schedule had a ton of excellent educational programming, but since my panel on bookstores and digital tools was on Friday, I was only there for Friday and Saturday morning. But as usual at the fall shows, a lot got packed in! I stepped out of the cab and into the Providence convention center, made a beeline for the show floor. NEIBA is operating under a similar strategy to NAIBA's show this year, with a smaller, more streamlined trade show floor focused on "pick of the lists" and helping booksellers sell more books, rather than trying to showcase every title from every publisher. The show floor was therefore smallish and felt very manageable, even in the few hours I had to spare, but I still found myself coming away with a ba