Tuesday, May 26, 2009

And now I'm gone...

Not yet, really. But I will be going to New York this week for a yearly bookseller's convention. At BEA(Book Expo America) there are lots of things going on. Panels upon panels upon panels covering everything from the new books for Fall to social media(like blogs!) to ways to increase profit by selling a lot of sidelines/bizarre materials in no real way related to a bookstore.

We decided, from the beginning, that we would make it by selling actual books. Not gadgets like head-lamps for reading in bed. Not beanie babies or chewing gum or hand-towels with Shakespeare's face on them*. Not e-books. All of those things have a place in the American marketplace--we know that and do not want to seem snobbish in our regard to them. But books are what we know and love dearly. So I will head to the BIGAPPLE and try to remain focused on our task at hand--namely, getting good and different books into your hands.

So I will ignore the trinkets and madness that can accompany any trade meeting. I will go to meetings and listen to other booksellers talk about what has/has not worked for them. I will get some advance copies of books due in the coming months so we can talk to you about them. I will order more remainder books(discounted and foreign titles) that allow our customers to have some choices that are both cheap and interesting. I will talk to agents, sales reps, publishers, authors and booksellers. I will attend some cocktail parties and do my best at what I do worst--making small-talk. I will walk and walk and walk.

BEA will be different this year. Lots of publishers are scaling back the number of author appearances, parties and the size of their booths--the economy, of course, necessitates that. But I will continue to preach my gospel: the Midwest is not fly-over land. Small bookstores can still matter in a world of Costco's, Target's and a million on-line retailers. We have readers here. Readers who choose to select their own books. Readers who still depend on words printed on paper. Readers who, despite the trends, still read things beyond the national bestseller lists.

I also promise to collect some swag. The first five e-mailers to micawbers@popp.net will get some kind of gift I bring back from the convention. It might be a canvas bag. It could be some free books. It could be something I cannot even imagine. Just put free stuff in the subject line of your e-mail. Or call the store and tell them I promised something.

In any case, I'll be back around the 1st of June.

Until then....

Friday, May 15, 2009

Excuses are like opinions...

So, it's spring and I've been slacking on posting. One of the reasons is that I've been selling books at lots of events outside of the store. Author events are like anything else in life. They can seem exciting--but after time they aren't always so great. It's similar to the pizza joint your best friend worked at in high-school. At first, it's thrilling and wonderful. Then it becomes mundane and boring.

So after ten years and about 1,000 total events I'd recently become a bit jaded by events. You often hear the same questions from audience members(what time of day do you write/do you write on paper or the computer/what does it mean). And authors frequently read for far too long in my experience. Yet, in the past few weeks I've attended two events that were revelatory. Very different in many ways and similar in all the ways that are good.

Norah Labiner is a talented novelist whose style is all her own. She has published three amazingly creative novels with local Coffee House Press. I attended an event at the Loft Literary Center two weeks back--she read and was accompanied by her husband on pump organ. It was a fascinating evening and I really encourage you to see her read if at all possible. Two more chances are coming soon: 5/21/09 at the Hamline Midway Library at 7 p.m. and 6/30/09 at the Ridgedale Library also at 7 p.m. This is a great example of a small press working with a talented, if fairly unknown, author. Her novels are mind-blowing in their creativity and genre-bending ways.

This past Wednesday evening, we sold books at the Minneapolis Club for Graywolf Press and their author Elizabeth Alexander. She's now best known as the woman who read a poem at Obama's inauguration. Now a big name in the world of poetry--she has long been a stalwart at Graywolf. And only when she began to read the now famous poem did I realize that I was witnessing a truly historical moment--if on repeat. Her reading was measured and simple and powerful. She also discussed all of the pressure and madness that was involved with her writing the poem and getting it into print. Graywolf rushed a very beautiful chapbook edition of the poem into print and it is available for $8.

What these two events reminded me of was a pretty simple fact I had forgotten: events can make a powerful book or work even more powerful. Art, in person, is a very different thing than art on paper.

A bonus is that we got 20 copies of "Praise Song For the Day" signed by Elizabeth Alexander. We'll only be selling one copy per customer to limit dealers and collectors from hoarding them all. Available until they're gone.