Thursday, July 8, 2010

Micro and Macro trends

I'm not one of those booksellers that hates the question, "What is the one book I have to read right now?" I do know lots of my comrades who find this question difficult for its wide open possibilities. I love working with that kind of search. The one I find most difficult isn't about a particular book at all--it's more about the industry in general. Frequently customers will ask me about what is working in books and the real truth is that I don't know.

I've come, over time, to see what lots of indie bookstores are doing as akin to farmer's markets compared to general grocery stores. Are we doing the same thing in general? Of course. But the essence of what we're doing is much different and really is apples to oranges. How bad was that?

So while I can give general ideas about things or tell people that 2008 was the year of the pirate/fairy, it isn't anything better or more informed than the average book buyer. I only know about the very micro trends that we see at Micawber's and that I know about from discussions with other bookselling friends. I'll say, "Is it just me or are there a lot of books right now with big black and yellow jackets?" There are. Or a friend will say, "Hardcover fiction seems to have really picked up in the last 3-6 months." But that's just chatter and it doesn't mean a thing relative to the book world at large.

Having said all of that, I do think I'm starting to get a grasp on some larger themes at work. Now these are all things that have zero scientific data to back me up. Here are a few little thoughts that have come to me over the past year.

1.)Political books are becoming a tough sell. Right, left, middle. Doesn't matter. I'm not sure if talk radio and the constant media cycle have numbed people or what. But beware all of these books no matter how big a name the author or subject is.

2.) It used to be true that books sold well by category like memoir or self-help. Now things seem to be getting published in groups by topic. Happiness had a handful of books last year.

3.)Big review attention is not what it once was. That's not like I'm breaking some huge story. Book blogs and all kinds of other media have crept into the space that has been left by papers abandoning their book coverage. Overall, I think that's a very good thing for books--especially those from smaller presses. A mention in the NY Times Book Review is still something to be fought over--but there are lots of other ways for books to get press that matters.

4.) The biggest thing I've witnessed in the last year is this bizarre dichotomy that exists not just in books but in our culture on a larger scale. It's the 'back to the land' versus super technology battle. It's not at all strange to see people looking for info on their i-phones regarding boutique shopping. We have become enthralled with both the hyper-local and world at our fingertips possibilities. So cookbooks, gardening, crafts and other DIY topics compete with books like "Hamlet's Blackberry" which is a book on how to create a meaningful life amidst the tech buzz. Books on hoarding, addiction to shopping, substances and stuff in general abound.

The modern consumer is often not an easily predictable commodity. It makes any kind of retail a trickier and more quickly changing enterprise. I'm happy to be a small part of that. All the while trying to anticipate a trend before it slips into the ether.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Big poetry news

Today W.S. Merwin has been named the new U.S. Poet Laureate and the 17th overall poet to hold the position. His first collection was published in 1952 and since then he has translated, written over 30 collections of poems and become an advocate for the wilds of Hawaii, his adopted home. A nice article on the news is here and more biographical info along with some of his work and reading is here.

Although this little prose poem is not a great representation of his usual style I love it for its simple beauty.


Certain words now in our knowledge we will not use again, and we will never forget them. We need them. Like the back of the picture. Like our marrow, and the color in our veins. We shine the lantern of our sleep on them, to make sure, and there they are, trembling already for the day of witness. They will be buried with us, and rise with the rest.

The picture at top is obviously older since Merwin is now 82 years old. But what a great, rugged, photo.