Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What is the what(?) and how do they get there?

I'm always interested in what I see displayed or otherwise "showcased" in small stores. I look at endcaps in co-ops or displays at the Electric Fetus. I stare at the piles of t-shirts, yarn or fountain pens. What were the steps or decisions that got them there? The answer for us is not one but many. The stocking of a store like ours is a grab-bag of decisions, non-decisions, chance and luck.

Now, for instance, we are meeting with sales reps from a variety of publishers and going through their catalogs for spring and summer. Relationships get formed over time and these reps are a very important part of what we do. They suggest, prod, beg and sometimes demand that we carry certain titles or that we should buy more and sometimes less than we first decided. We feel lucky to have great relationships with a huge number of the reps we see. They help us to have an informed, interesting and wide-ranging stock of books. And while this is the main way any book finds its way into our store it isn't the only manner by any means.

We get a surprising number of books onto our shelves after a customer has special ordered a book. We do look over all the books on order and many become things we sell multiple copies of. It's part of what makes this a community store--sometimes people give us valuable input without even knowing it.

We read reviews--constantly. A common misconception is that only reviews in the New York Times or London Review of Books makes an impact. Things pop-up in several of the small, local, papers as well as the Pioneer Press and Star Tribune. I, especially, do a lot of on-line reading and find new gems in lots of tiny places. Later this week I'm planning on focusing a post on some of these little corners of the internet where I find great stuff. Sometimes bad reviews even push to get a title. Reviews, after all, are just one man(or woman's) ideas. One of the great powers of books, to us, is that there is no gold standard. The whole "One man's treasure is another's trash" is certainly true in the world of books.

The bottom-line is that we fish with a relatively small net and know, painfully so at times, how much good stuff evades us. So our stock is an organic and constantly shifting thing.

As for our displays: nothing in Micawber's is paid placement which is outside the norm--even for small stores. And that is a fact we're very proud of. The books you see on the front tables or even faced-out on the shelves are that way because we like them or find them important It's never because a corporate department has given us money to show them off. The tables change frequently and the goal is to always showcase new and interesting things.

If you have ideas for us--whether it's one particular book you think we should carry or a section we should have--please let us know. Do we always take that advice and make it happen? No. But we very often do.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A room without books is like a body without a soul

In our most recent monthly e-mail I discussed, briefly, the onslaught against actual printed books and our response to that trend. Believe me, I have the utmost respect and regard for old-school stuff like letterpress, broadsides and hand-stitched book arts. But that is exactly what they are--forms of art. And a new world, if not a brave one, has already arrived and is constantly changing the face of what we booksellers must do if we want to survive.

So we get asked a lot: "How do you intend to deal with e-books, Kindle, e-readers..." Electronica, in all its forms, has become a steady and insistent form in our lives. I, and we at Micawber's and all other indie stores across the land, woul
d be fools not to acknowledge that simple fact. So things must change--but maybe only a little. Because, maybe, if you allow me to think a bit on the screen--that which endangers us can also make us stronger. 

As consumers become more aware and able to purchase books in different forms it also gives publishers and booksellers the chance to offer the old and tired book in new and different ways. Here are some recent examples: "Firmin" by Sam Savage is a novel about a rat living in a bookstore that eats other books. The trick here is that the cover has portions of its paper 'eaten' out if it. It was a brilliant decision to market the book this way and will catch the eyes of many readers--who see the actual book.

Second is a book entitled, "I Live Here" edited by Mia Kirshner(among others). There are four 84 page booklets encased in an old record album s
tyle binding. The book itself contains lots of important essays and ideas--but, again, it is the package itself which will grab most people in stores.

"Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat" by Lynne Jonell is a YA novel that has images running up and down each page that create a visual image to accompany the text from page to page.

"State by State" edited by Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey is an essay collection with one piece done for each state has endpapers done in a fantastic motif. 

There are now several books out with braille on the covers and within the books. Book jackets are, increasingly, becoming more textured and multi-faceted to fit the particular book. McSweeney's, always cutting-edge, in both design and content have lots of books with die-cuts, woodcuts and other imaginative design.

All of this encapsulates the importance of the book as physical object. Something to be held and touched and gazed upon/at. So will the book die? I don't have an answer for that with 100% certainty. For now--even with bombastic and unforeseen technology--it seems unlikely.

The Kindle apparently increased sales 300% over the past year. That means a few things: one, that there is an audience for this kind of thing. Two, not that many sold the year previous. And three, that we as people who love real and actual books, must continue to find new and improved ways to sell an old thing.

For now we're holding strong to old traditions at Micawber's. We aren't selling books on-line(because that can be done faster, cheaper, etc) at a million places. Second, that we sell books to people who want to read them. We'll continue to do this as best we can for as long as we can.

As always, feel free to let us know about your opinions either here or via e-mail at micawbers@popp.net or even via phone at 651.646.5506

until next...

p.s. subject line is from cicero

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Something wicked this way comes...

Subject lines are mostly mundane things. Time, place, general idea, etc. I prefer to use them a little more loosely. Most often, I use subject headings for e-mail and, now, the blog that have little to nothing to do with the actual post. Hope that's okay.

In this case, however, Micawber's-land has been hit with a little something wicked in terms of staff sickess so I'm a bit behind in getting this post done. Once we're back at full-strength and time isn't so limited I'll be back in the habit of posting 2-3 times per week.

This coming Saturday, 2/7/09 we have a very special event starting at 2 p.m. Our very own Dara Dokas will be reading from her newly published children's book, "Muriel's Red Sweater". This is her second published work and the first for anyone associated this directly with Micawber's. She will read, we'll have cake and she'll be happy to sign copies for you. Dara has really given the children's section a boost since she started last spring and we couldn't be happier for her. So join us for the fun.

I have a soft spot in my heart for fiction. It's my duty in life to help people find novels that could otherwise get lost in the massive tsunami of novels. It is especially hard right now for publishers, novelists and booksellers to sell hardcover fiction for reasons that are varied: cost, massive number of them available and lack of publicity to name a few. So here are four new ones that I think deserve some attention...

"The Vagrants" by Yiyun Li. I was captivated by this young woman's book of stories a few years back, "A Thousand Years of Good Prayers." This novel is China during the Cultural Revolution and Li has a way of making it seem both smaller and larger than it was. A quote from the back of the book states that Ezra Pound once said, "Literature is news that stays news." Perfect for this title. $25 Random House

"In Other Rooms, Other Wonders" by Daniyal Mueenuddin. This man was raised in Pakistan and Wisconsin which is a combination I cannot wrap my brain around. The stories within this book contain such a myriad of types of people and places that is almost impossible to believe that one human conjured them all. Lots of indie booksellers are touting this as one of their early 2009 favorites. I would love to see it get similar acclaim to "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle." $23.95 W.W Norton

"Cutting For Stone" by Abraham Verghese. He is Professor and Senior Associate Chair for the Theory and Practice of Medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine. I suppose that fact could be either intimidating or intriguing. Be that what it may be. This book is a 534 page-ripper set in Africa and America. Filled with patients and doctors. About both healing others and trying to heal yourself. Ultra-large novels often get lumped into groups as either pretentious or poorly-edited--this is neither. $26.95 Random House

"The Accordionist's Son" by Bernardo Atxaga. I have always loved the Basque region of Spain since I spent some time there when I was seventeen. It's like Texas on steroids and with a more beautiful language and lifestyle. Atxaga has wrapped all of that into a great story. This is published by our friends at Graywolf and--as always--they and the author deliver outstandingly. $25 Graywolf Press

I should also mention that each of these books have wonderful packing and could be seen as much as art objects as simple books. The Mueenuddin, as pictured above, is especially astounding and even moreso on the book that on a flat screen.

Finally, in fairness, I should attribute all subject lines. Today's, of course, comes from Ray Bradbury's fantastic work with the same name.