Friday, May 28, 2010

Variety is the spice of book life

Last week was the annual gathering of publishers, booksellers, editors and lots of others involved in the book world. Book Expo America is an event that's a lot more exciting than its name or location(the Javits Center in the ugliest part of Hell's Kitchen in NYC). None of us went for a variety of reasons this year. But I'm starting to hear good things from those present. A sense of optimism about the future of the indie book world. We don't all believe the sky is falling. It's just changing a bit and a fun part will be figuring out new ways to deliver the same things booksellers always have: new and challenging ideas, the perfect little gift or just a nice book to spend a long, holiday, weekend with.

One of the great joys of working in a small store is that we have the ability to change things up fairly quickly. One section selling well and another dragging? No problem--we can create more space. All our display is based on our personal whimsy and what we find important. No one pays us anything to display so we have no hard and set rules. Merchandising is an unattractive word--but it is a fun part of this work. Just this week we replaced an event display with a table of little, quirky, books. The range of titles is wild. Everything from dominion theology to an anthology of poets from WWII to "The Little Book of Beards" which is a gifty book on facial hair design. 33 1/3 is a great series of titles that focus on a particular album or band and, right now, we have Christopher Weingarten's "It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back" about Public Enemy on display. A nice book of photos of cowboy boots and a book on architectural sculpture in New York City. If none of that interests you, we've got more little books that have a tendency to get lost--even in a store of our size.

Enjoy your long weekend...

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Some thoughts on National Poetry Month

Every month and day or week, for that matter, has now been claimed by some kind of group or cause. In an attempt to bring attention to important causes, ideas or illnesses we have labeled all as 'something.' April has long been known in the book circles as National Poetry Month. It's quite possible, I think, that a once good idea has very little traction in the wider world.

This is a very small sample size, I admit. But we had very few readings in April due to the fact that my wife was due to have a child on 4-17-10. We have a small staff and I didn't feel like setting up lots of events was fair to the rest of the Micawber's crew while I was not going to be working. I expected a lot of criticism and backlash from this decision. The result, in reality, was crickets. Nothing.

I'm not certain what to make of this. It could be any number of things. Authors and publishers respecting my need for some time with my family. Or that there were poetry events taking place elsewhere. More likely, though, is that this month doesn't drive poetry sales like it once did. And before the poets and poetry-lovers start to hate on me--just listen to what I have to say. I might be right or I might be wrong.

There are bookstores who still specialize in poetry. Grolier, for example. Other than those who specialize, poetry has become a very difficult category for general bookstores to deal with. You want to represent a wide variety of voices and styles. Often the money does not follow those desires to do right. And, ultimately, no real bookstore can sustain any category that does not carry its weight. Having poetry for the sake of poetry might be noble--but it can also be foolish. Any retail establishment is not a gallery. It is a venue to sell some product. My main thought is that there are too many awards now. Readers see a sticker or tag on a book and no longer pay attention to it like they once did. The awards mean almost nothing. There are simply too many.

This might be a post that holds more interest for other buyers and indie stores as opposed to the general reading public. But what does National Poetry Month mean for stores right now? And does it make sense to display large numbers of volumes of poetry that do not sell? Billy Collins, Mary Oliver and Pablo Neruda are the three biggies that sell, I'm guessing, most everywhere. Outside of them it becomes a game of locality and strong reviews. So, tell me people, what this means in the grand scheme of things. Because I truly do not know.

Just so I don't seem like a total nay-sayer I want to post an image and idea about the one book we're selling very well. "Timmy the Tug" is a gorgeous book that is set for both adults and children. Thames and Hudson did a fabulous job with the package. At $19.95 I think it is a steal in terms of content and design.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Post by Emily St. John Mandel

Someday I’d like to see the Twin Cities in daylight. I’ve only visited Minnesota once, for ten or eleven hours of winter darkness, and I’ll confess that I was a reluctant guest; on the way back home from a booksellers convention in San Jose a few months back, I landed in Minneapolis-St. Paul for what was supposed to be a half-hour stopover. But air travel in winter is always a little dicey, and the northeast was in the grips of a winter storm—by the time I landed in Minnesota, my connecting flight home to New York had been cancelled. Delta’s solution? A 6 a.m. flight to Detroit the following morning. (This, in a nutshell, is why I don’t like Delta very much, but that’s a topic for an entirely different blog post.)

I took the airport train to a friend’s house and spent a far-too-brief night on an air mattress. Long before sunrise I was outside again, walking back through the snow to the train station. It took a long time to get from the Minneapolis transit station to my front door in Brooklyn, and later on those two days that I spent trying to get from San Jose to New York seemed like a long, strange, sleep-deprived dream: moving through the pale light of terminals in San Jose and Minneapolis and Detroit, waiting at train stations in the snow, looking down at grey-and-white winter cities through airplane windows, drifting in and out of sleep at 30,000 feet.

In retrospect, though, none of it was especially unpleasant, because I had a good book with me. I was reading a novel that I’d picked up at the conference in San Jose (Elise Blackwell’s An Unfinished Score; we’re published by the same press, and we’d swapped galleys at the signing table), and throughout that long interval of travel I was lost in the story. I don’t mean to imply that having a good book to read cancelled out everything—I was tired and there’d been way too many airplanes and I wanted very much to be home—but the book was the common thread throughout the whole complicated mess of cancelled flights and crowded airports and ever-changing seat assignments. It was nice to have a world I could slip into when I needed an escape from whichever airport or plane I was in.

I hope someday to visit Minneapolis-St. Paul on purpose, this time perhaps not in the middle of winter. In the meantime, I’m careful never to travel without extra reading material.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Our big May event plus a guest posting

I've wanted to feature some writing and book-related thoughts on our blog for some time now so this doesn't simply become a personal soap-box. I've chatted with some writer friends. And editors, reps and agents. All of them have very kindly said "Thanks but no thanks. That's your thing." Maybe my approach needs some work. In any case, I'm happy to report that later today or tomorrow at the latest I'll be putting up a little piece by novelist Emily St. John Mandel. Her second book, "The Singer's Gun" has just come out and it is the #1 pick for the May Indie Next List. The book is a little mysteryish and a lot of good writing and characters. Her debut novel "Last Night in Montreal" just released in paperback and it got heavy attention from indie bloggers and booksellers. Both have been published by the good people at Unbridled Books. I'll put up a little more info on them with Emily's post but you can check out their entire list in the meantime.

I also want to give another push to Brady Udall and his new novel "The Lonely Polygamist". He's reading at the store 5/19/10 at 7 p.m. and it was a major coup for us to land this event. The book is amazing. Amazing--a word so frequently used that it has come to mean almost nothing. But this book will bring amazement. I'm very proud to be among a list of some of the finest stores in the country to host Mr. Udall--here is his site. That event is two weeks from today. And, speaking of today, Happy Cinco de Mayo y'all.