Thursday, February 26, 2009

Shifting focus

The lack of posting around here should not be construed as a lack of activity. This has turned out to be a week with high demands from other aspects of my bookish life: Emerging Leaders, McNally Jackson (we -- by which I mean me -- are on Facebook AND Twitter now), a new blogging project (info TK), and mostly, working on Greenlight Bookstore. I've tidied up that other blog of mine (and Rebecca's) to reflect the evolving reality of our project, and in hopes that we'll be seeing some more traffic soon. We've also got a real estate lead that involves so many unknowns I can't even explain it right now, but it's potentially really exciting. So I've been kinda distracted.

I do, however, have a pile of recently read graphic novels I want to write about, and not one but TWO thrilling not-yet-published books in my bag: the new Kate Christensen, Trouble (out in June) and the new Jonathan Lethem, Chronic City (out so long from now I don't even know the date -- the book is still in manuscript form). So as soon as I'm done frantically tearing through those two I'll be posting frenzied fangirl reports. I'm also meeting one of my contemporary author heroes Jim Lynch, author of The Highest Tide and Border Songs, tomorrow afternoon, so I hope to report on that as well.

So with renewed promises I beg your forgiveness, and hope you can be satisfied with more to come. Happy reading!

Friday, February 20, 2009

LinkIndie: Change Has Come to Book Linking

Lucky us that Bookavore has joined the ranks of booksellers and bloggers. She's kick-started a campaign I've been meaning to launch for ages:

Litblogs linking to indie bookstores.

It's long been a tenet of mine that bloggers and indie booksellers have a lot in common. We're the independent voice that's an alternative to corporate culture. We're beholden to no one but our own opinions of what's worth reading and recommending. We don't do it (just) for the money -- we do it for the love. So why shouldn't we support each other?

Now that indie bookstores have figured out that blogging and reading blogs is good for them, it's time for bloggers to return the favor. When discussing a beloved book, rather than linking to you-know-what behemoth of online retail, why not link to your local indie bookstore, or a network of indie bookstores, instead?

In the past, you could have linked to the book page of an indie store, but it would have involved a fair amount of HTML knowledge, and you wouldn't have gotten credit for the clicks that resulted. Then came the advent of IndieBound, and its wonderful affiliate program, which meant you could sign up to easily create links using text or book covers, and have the potential to make a little cash off of the resulting clicks. But your readers still had to go through another layer of clicking choices: once they clicked the book cover, they had to enter their zip code, then choose and indie store's website on which to view the books.

This was a decision the ABA, which runs these stores' e-commerce sites, had made in the past in order to avoid competition amongst its member stores -- a well-intentioned move that unfortunately made internet denizens less likely to click through to any store when they just wanted the information, and thus made bloggers less likely to use it.

But it's a whole new era now. IndieBound and its user-generated, responsive model means that we ask, we got. Now you can find a book on IndieBound (without having to first look up the ISBN) and create an affiliate link directly the book info page. When a reader of your blog clicks on the link, they get taken straight back to the book information page. Only when they decide they'd like to buy it do they need to choose a bookstore -- a much more logical path. This means that you can have a book cover image on your site that's a direct link to the publisher's information about the book, and you can get paid for it, and you can support an indie at the same time.

So there's no excuse anymore. Bloggers, you know you're indie. Step up and support your local bookstores by using IndieBound links in your book reviews. It's easier and better looking than ever. As President Obama, our first web-savvy commander-in-chief, observed, it's a new era of responsibility. If you care about having bookstores in your community, support them in the internet community.

I'm demonstrating and celebrating today with a link to my favorite contemporary novel, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. Click on it! Check it out! Then get over to IndieBound and start making your own links.

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(Update: Okay, so it looks like when I create an affiliate link, it still asks for a zip code and wants you to choose a store. In the link below, I pasted the book page link into the code, which eliminates my affiliate ID but goes directly to the book info page. So it's still a work in progress. But the ABA and IndieBound deserve major kudos for taking these steps. Here's hoping for more to come -- and the more of us are using these features, the more likely they are to be adapted to our needs.)

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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.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Guest blogger: The ALP on Black Lizard and Joe Lansdale

Happy holiday Monday, everyone (unless you work in retail, of course). I'm taking the day off from blogging and ceding book review duties to everyone's favorite, the ALP.

* * *

Back when I was in high school, I somehow stumbled across the Black Lizard edition of Jim Thompson's After Dark, My Sweet. I don't know how I came across it. I may have thought the book was about vampires or something. Anyway, back then, most of the Black Lizard books had a uniform look: a blurry black and white cover photo with bars of vivid color criss-crossing the photo. The covers had a matte finish that gave them a pleasingly thick and slightly pebbled feel, like really high-quality old paper. The look was distinct and badass. It had a lurid and pulpy edge, appropriate to the contents, but the quality of presentation also suggested something lasting and enduring. As physical objects, these books were a perfect manifestation of the publisher's philosophy that these unjustly neglected genre "hacks" were actually under-recognized geniuses worthy of the full-on quality lit giant treatment. Because the BL books looked so classy were clearly meant to outlast mass-market paperbacks, I developed a peculiar prejudice against non-BL crime lit. Authors on the BL list were, somehow, on a different playing field than "regular" crime/mystery authors. I felt that BL treatment was something a writer graduated into if they were good enough.

This is, of course, silly. There are several authors on the BL list that are curious exemplars of the hardboiled style, but honestly aren't that awesome. More importantly, there's just too much good stuff out there to limit yourself like that. After years of collecting BL novels, I eventually lost my Black Lizard snobbishness.

But, still, when I notice a writer gets the BL treatment, I can't help but think that he's somehow made the big leagues.

Which brings us to Joe R. Lansdale, a prolific master of just about any genre you could care to mention (except, perhaps, bodice rippers – but he's still got a ton of books in him, give him time), whose backlist is getting the BL treatment. Recently, his long-running Hap and Leonard series made the jump and the first two novels in the series - Savage Season and Mucho Mojo - are available in BL editions.

My recommendation: skip the intro and jump right into the second book.

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The former, which introduces of to Hap, a ex-hippie turned manual laborer, and his buddy Leonard, a gay African American Vietnam War vet, is marred by very uneven pacing and unseemly self-congratulatory streak regarding Leonard. For their maiden adventure, Hap's ex-wife, a Southern siren who ditched when Hap was serving time for refusing to be drafted, convinces Hap and Leonard to join up with an odd batch of over-the-hill radicals to find a gangster's missing loot. The premise is promising and, when he's on the case, Lansdale's unique mix of aw-shucks tall-tale country boy language and hardboiled chops make for fun reading. Unfortunately, after a short set up, the novel loses its way for nearly 80 pages, spinning its wheels in navel-gazing reassessments of the 1960s. There's also something distracting about Lansdale's use of Leonard. It's like Lansdale is worried that readers won't give him credit enough for having a black gay character. Too often he functions solely as the book's "have you met my black gay friend" token.

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Savage Season is an inauspicious opener, but Mucho Mojo rewards you amply for keeping the faith. We still get the nifty country noir narration, but the plot – involving a serial child murderer who may be connected to events in Leonard's past – is tightly constructed, the pacing excellent, and the mystery genuinely engaging. A subplot involving a feud with the gang that runs the local crack house and a romantic entanglement between Hap and a forceful but cynical young lawyer are entertaining, but never derail the main story. Even the characterization is much improved: Hap and Leonard act like friends who have known one another for years and not a narrator and his PC sidekick. A tougher, smarter, better executed work on almost every level, Mucho Mojo is a real treat.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Word (and pictures) from New York Comic Con

You can read my (somewhat abridged) report from New York Comic Con in today's Shelf Awareness. I had a great time, but I know I only saw a tiny "swath" of what was going on over the weekend, and some of the other 77,000 fans who attended have been reporting back as well.

Douglas Wolk & crew report on Scott Pilgrim #5 and other "big books" that were selling at NYCC in the fabulously titled Publishers Weekly piece "Scott Pilgrim Wins the Convention!"

MediaBistro's GalleyCat blog asks "Can You Sell Comic Books In This Economy?" -- and the answer from the Con seems to be yes. (Great wookie picture, too.) They've also got a video interview about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies with an editor from Quirk Books, and some other vids from the Con.

Show director Lance Fensterman has, of course, tons of good links on his blog. (I got a kick out of running into Lance on Thursday and giving him a big hug, though he was deep in serious conversation with a muckety-muck from DC comics...)

Via Journalista (which has TONS of comics links), an thought-provoking piece on the Con and the comics industry that evokes Gifted and Talented class on the blog The Factual Opinion.

I'm sure there's more out there, but this should give you a little comics fix for today. Below, my favorite picture from Comic Con: a member of the Black Hawk Squadron. This series is a favorite of the ALP's dad, so I ran up to the guy and asked if I could take his picture; he calmly obliged by posing in appropriate fashion for a WWII flying ace. Comics makes the world a cooler place.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Stepped Out. Back Soon

Having one of those weeks -- so much going on -- NYCC, NAIBA, industry stuff, store stuff, etc.... I'll be back when I can, promise...

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Book Nerd vs. The Universe!

Guess what comes out in comic shops today?


As you may have noticed, I am somewhat obsessed with this Canadian comic book series by Bryan Lee O'Malley. It's got everything you could want in a comic, or any book really: rock and roll, hapless hero, true love, kung fu, running gags, mysterious backstories, you name it. I've been one of the legions waiting breathlessly for the 5th and second-to-last installment, and early reports indicate that the wait has been worthwhile -- Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe delivers the goods.

I wasn't able to make it to last night's midnight release party with O'Malley at Jim Hanley's Universe, nor will I be able to attend this evening's book party with the author at Rocketship (I blame "making a living", which often interferes with my comic book reading.) But you can bet I'm jetting over to Rocketship as soon as they open this morning to pick up the copy the supernice owner Alex has set aside for me. And I harbor hopes of bumping into O'Malley at ComicCon this weekend and getting all fangirly. In any case, I will probably have read SPvTU by the end of today. Hooray for the joys of anticipation!

(Just a note: because of the weirdness of the comics distribution system, bookstores won't get copies of SP#5 for a couple of weeks, even though comics shops have them today -- even Amazon doesn't have it yet. So you'd best seek out your local comics-centric retailer if you want to get your hands on the book before the 18th.)

Monday, February 02, 2009

The Handsell: Jonathan Howard & Jim Lynch

I've spent an amazingly satisfactory day cleaning house, cooking soup, and enjoying the sunlight through the windows. Before I go in to the bookstore to host tonight's event, and while I wait for booksellers' reports on WI4, there's time for a book review or two. Neither of these books have been published yet, but they were both miss-my-subway-stop compelling January reading, so I wanted to talk about them now while they're still fresh in my mind.

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Johannes Cabal the Necromancer
by Jonathan L. Howard
(Doubleday, July 2009)
The jacket copy on this beautifully designed ARC (it looks like a Mexican Day of the Dead woodcut, very creepy/fun) suggests that Johannes Cabal should be compared to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell or Wicked. After we both read it, the ALP and I agreed that a more apt comparison would be Good Omens, the apocalypse comedy collaboration between Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. You've got your self-important forces of evil arrayed, cocky mortals playing around with forces beyond their control, and most importantly, a very British dark humor based on double takes, slapstick, self-and-other-deprecation, and merciless wit. It's basically a "deal with the devil" story crossed with an "evil carnival" story, and the vaguely German titular necromancer, along with his reluctant vampire brother (who turns out to be one of the few decent people in the story), may just be clever enough to outwit Old Scratch. My only quibble with the book was that it sometimes seemed that as a novel it had some gaps, or could have used more backstory or motivation; the episodic chapters seemed like they'd make for an ideal long-running comic book series or TV show. But it's a hell of a carnival ride, and well worth the price of admission for any fan of the clever, literary end of the genre fiction spectrum. Can't wait to staff pick it when it comes out this summer. (The ALP reviews it much more extensively here.)

Border Songs
by Jim Lynch
(Knopf, June 2009
Jim Lynch's previous novel, The Highest Tide, was one of those books I loved obsessively that never seemed to find its audience on a large scale (though I believe it got Book of the Year from the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association, and it is a very Pacific Northwest book). It was kind of a liminal book, somewhere between a powerful YA coming-of-age story and a thoughtful grown-up novel, and inflected with a knowledge and passion for nature so strong it made you want to learn the names of every animal and plant you saw. I think this new novel is going to get Jim Lynch the attention he deserves. Like Miles, the teenage protagonist of The Highest Tide, Border Songs' central figure Brandon Vanderkool is an awkward kid with a profound connection to nature. Where 13-year-old Miles' marine life obsessions were rewarded by the discovery of a strange creature washed up on the shores of Puget Sound, six-food-eight Brandon's possibly autistic birdwatching makes him the best Border Patrol agent on the America-Canada border, which mostly embarrasses him. Brandon is heartbreakingly lovable, but the novel is really an ensemble piece about the idiosyncratic farmers, academics, pot dealers, lost souls, illegal immigrants, and observers in a contentious border town in a present day much like our own. I suspect I'll be writing and talking a lot about this book in the months to come, so I won't try to articulate all my thoughts here; I just finished the book and it's still throbbing in my head and heart. Look out for it, though -- it will probably be sparking many conversations about authorial voice, about outsiders, about birds and other fellow creatures, about artists and originality, about government and media, about working class anxieties and dreams deferred. It's also one of those rare literary books you can recommend when someone says, "I just want something with a happy ending."

I wish I could show you the beautiful bird-saturated cover design, but Knopf hasn't made the image available online yet. It was fun, though, reading the ecstatic bookseller comments on the ARC and seeing names I know -- Mark at Politics and Prose, Dave at Powells, Rick at Elliot Bay. And just when I was feeling a teensy bit sorry for myself that I hadn't been one of those offered an early read, I came across my own words -- the PW review of The Highest Tide that I wrote back in 2005.* Full circle, eh? I'm grateful to still be reading and writing about books -- a happy ending in itself.

* Please excuse the out-of-date nature of the rest of the website where the PW review is posted -- I created it ages ago with free software from Earthlink that doesn't seem to be available anymore, so I can't change anything, but it's nice to see the old reviews I scanned and posted. Guess I should get a real resume / clip file up online somewhere one of these days.