Monday, March 29, 2010
Last Friday, the 26th, was the anniversary of Walt Whitman's death. With April, and National Poetry Month, just around the corner, I just wanted to share these famous images of our first, unofficial, poet laureate.
from Song of Myself--
"I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you."
It's almost silly to try and quote just a few lines from Mr. Whitman but those do as well as anything else, I suppose.
I should also mention that Jude Nutter's superbly titled and written collection of poems "I Wish I Had a Heart Like Yours, Walt Whitman" is a finalist for this year's MN Book Award.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
One of the biggest perks of the job for lots of booksellers is the fact that we got advance copies of books. It's a feeling of wonder to be able to read a book before it is actually available to the general public. Yet it is also a double-edged sword. We need to read these books so we can talk about them when they do become available. It does, however, sometimes make the question of: "What are you reading/loving right now" more difficult. It can seem snobby or aloof to discuss a book that we can't actually sell yet.
Right now, I'm dealing with this very scenario. Last week I got an advance copy of Jon Clinch's "Kings of the Earth" in the mail. The book isn't due into stores until July 6, 2010 so it seems a little foolish to talk about it right now. In any case, I'm going to do so with a couple bonus hooks. First, several of us here loved his first novel, "Finn." It's dangerous ground to take on such a mythical and beloved book or character. Clinch used his debut book to look at Huck's father and how historical fiction can both stay true to an original story and re-create it at the same time.
"Kings of the Earth" does something similar--though not in dealing with a treasured novel--but rather using the story of a real family and jumping off from there. The Ward brothers were a fairly well-known, if misunderstood, family in Munnsville, NY. Delbert, Roscoe, Lyman and Bill were life-long farmers and were left to their own, simple, devices, until Bill died. Then the story gets really bizarre. A fine quasi-documentary called "Brother's Keeper" was done in 1992. It is a moving portrait of family and of what kind of lives exist outside the cultural norm. The fictionalized family portrait is something I'm excited to sell. The movie is something I wish I would have seen long ago.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Rainy days in bookstores can bring some zany adventures. People browse longer. Relax and sit and simply peruse. Customers ask more questions and others help to provide answers. But we got stuck today and it seemed like a fun thing to share.
A customer couldn't remember the name of a particular Javier Marias title. Karen went to the New Directions website and that's where the real fun began. At the top of the page are eleven small photos of people related to New Directions. See how many of them you can name. The two Micawber's employees and a couple customers did pretty well but were absolutely stumped on a couple. Number Nine, if going from left to right, especially had us guessing. So I called our Norton rep because she sells us ND and she gave me the name of "who to talk to." Sadly, that woman is on vacation, but a very kind intern told me she'd do the legwork and get back to me.
New Directions has gotten some buzz in the past few years due, mostly, to Roberto Bolaño's resurgence in popularity. Buzz is an odd word to use in regards to them, though, because it is antithetical to what they've been doing for over seventy years. If there is one thing I could change about the entire mess the book world is in it would be this: backlist. That important, but so largely ignored, part of any great publisher. These are the hits and misses of yesteryear. The gems that maybe don't have huge text adoptions or sell 2,500 copies a year. It costs money for publishers to keep things in print and warehoused. But it also costs something else--care, attention, willingness to concede that sales numbers are not the only way to judge the success of a book.
And if you want good backlist New Directions has it in spades. I'd also like to point your attention to this article I found about these good book people. What is not to like? They have fruit trees on the terrace in the middle of New York City. So for their new books(check out Cesar Aira) and their dedication to their older books and their baking of pies I wish blessings upon them.
Big thanks to Aaron, Judy, Karen, Johanna and the unnamed intern who joined me on this excursion. It was great fun.
The images(from l to r) are: James Laughlin(founder of the press), William Carlos Williams, Denise Levertov, W.G. Sebald, Tennessee Williams, Djuna Barnes, Ezra Pound, Roberto Bolaño, Clarice Lispector, Vladimir Nabokov and Jorge Luis Borges.
Saturday, March 6, 2010
One of the wonderful things that books, and reading, can do is to take us on trips through a particular category. I recently went on a whaling spree(via books) and I've written about it here.
The blog this piece is posted on is run by a wonderful sales rep named John Mesjak. His love for quirky and intelligent and outside-the-box reading is contagious. I always find some great things I didn't know about on his site.