Wednesday, March 10, 2010

New Directions

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.

Spoiler alert*
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.

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