Saturday, December 22, 2012

We are open 12/22 10-6
12/23 11-5
12/24 10-3
12/25 closed
12/26 10-8

We will also be open from 10-3 on 12/31 and closed New Year's Day.

I hope you have a relaxing, fun and safe next week.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Shipping News(problem)

Of all the problems facing the book industry there is one area that isn't discussed very often. Shipping/freight has become a competitive edge and contest. I'm certain it's dealt with frequently behind closed office doors at publishers and distributors but I've never had a conversation with other booksellers about shipping.

Within the past decade it's become a necessity for large publishers to offer free freight on orders and, in some cases, returns. Off the top of our collective heads here at Micawber's we couldn't think of one major publisher that charges freight on orders. Of course that causes problems for smaller publishers who cannot offer the same. It might less direct orders. It might mean none at all from certain stores who only order from suppliers offering no shipping charges. It's enticing, no doubt about it. Yet someone pays those bills. And they must be gargantuan.

Like everything in every business the ground is constantly shifting. Promotions and offers come and go. Trucking companies undercut one another. FedEx and UPS do battle daily and other places try to get in the game(like DHL). I probably see 50-75 UPS and FedEx trucks go down Como Ave. every day. As our world has gotten 'smaller' and we ship more things than ever before this business has expanded tenfold. John McPhee has a great piece about the inner workings of shipping complexes. There are so many factors that are in the mix. We periodically get notices about fees due to gas prices. Everything fluctuates.

This morning I opened a single box from a prominent University Press. It contained one copy of a book that is listed at $19.95 Our total is $10.97 and the shipping charge was $8.60(which was waived for us). It's pretty clear to see how an awful lot of money can be lost. There are other examples where we do pay that freight and then opposite is true: even if we sell the book the result is that we've made one dollar--not taking into consideration any fees we might pay for it being bought via credit/debit card.

I'm not exactly sure what I'm trying to say. It isn't a problem with any one company or person. It's a matter that affects all of us in fairly significant ways.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Some ?'s and Answers with Patrick Coleman

What is your official position with MN Historical Society? How long have you worked

PC:Officially, I am the Acquisitions Librarian. I usually introduce myself as the Minnesota Historical Society’s Book Curator or Rare Book Librarian. I get fewer blank stares that way. I started here when Moses was a baby.

How and when did the idea for the 10,000 Books blog get going?

PC: The 10,000 Books Blog is a project of our Publications Department (sorry if that was who you really wanted to talk to) and my blog is titled The 150 Best Minnesota Books. Many states have published reference books identifying their best 100 books. Over the years, several people suggested that I to do the same for Minnesota. One day as I was leaving work, I counted out one hundred 3 by 5 cards, stuck them in my pocket,and over the next several nights filled out a few cards as I was falling asleep. I kept those cards listing of my choices of the 100 best Minnesota books for years. I would occasionally share them with knowledgeable folks, like Trish Hampl, soliciting feedback. When Minnesota turned 150 and everyone was thinking in that number, I thought about releasing my list slowly, in blog format, adding room for fifty more books. This was both to conform to the sesquicentennial and, more importantly, to allow reader input about titles they would like to see identified as Minnesota’s best. Truthfully, I am disappointed that the blog hasn’t become more of an electric water cooler for people to gather around and debate the merits of Minnesota books.

Sometimes it can be hard to keep a long-running program like this one going? What
helps you guys keep going and doing it well?

PC: Good question. I obviously have trouble rolling out books for my blog on a regular timetable because it is a low priority on my work schedule. I am sometimes prompted by readers who either post a message on an older entry or are tired of waiting for my next selection; sometimes I am shamed into writing by my colleagues. Naming a book to this list works best if I can piggy back on another project. If I am lecturing about an author, say Margaret Banning, I can use my notes to add one of her titles to the list.

I know that one major part of your job is acquiring stuff for the permanent collection there(or I think that's true, please do correct me if not). Where do you get things from? Has there been one or two most exciting books you've gotten?

PC: You are correct. My most important duty is to acquire books related to Minnesota history and culture for the Society’s reference library and thus for posterity. I try to get all of my books at Micawber’s but sometimes need to go farther afield. Several times a year the MHS finds something so remarkable that it is hard to believe it was out there in the world. One such item was the poignant hand written manuscript “Treaty of Washington,1858” between the Yankton Sioux and the U. S. As a typical example, we were also recently given a copy of one of my favorite Sinclair Lewis novels, Cass Timberlane. This copy was presented to a lefty labor Judge in Duluth, Mark Nolan, with an inscription noting that the protagonist was modeled on him! There were photos of Lewis and Nolan picnicking on the North Shore included in the gift. I have ten thousand other great
acquisition stories.

Most MN book very few people know about?

PC: Tough question. Take a look at the growing list of Best books… …and pick one
you may have not known was a Minnesota book. Perhaps Ignatius Donnelly’s Caesar’s
Column: a Story of the Twentieth Century. Chicago: Schulte and Company, 1890.

What is the size of the collection?

PC:The Minnesota Historical Society’s library contains approximately 500,000 volumes
covering every aspect of Minnesota history and culture. I am especially proud of our
collection of Minnesota literature. We have important collections on other topics such as the Mississippi River, Native Americans, the Civil War, Canada, books about books, and many other subjects. The library is free and open to everyone. It is a research library so you do have to use the books in the library.

Do things ever get retired due to condition or other issues?

PC: Yes we “weed” the collections all the time. I once sold a collection of 5,000 books on Shakespeare that had been cataloged in our library. Obviously, very few researchers thought of coming to Minnesota Historical library to study the Bard.

Do you have the only key to the secret vault?

PC: No they don’t trust me that much.

And, finally, do you ever get tired of hearing, "Say, isn't you brother...?"

PC: …Norm?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The cut

Much chatter has been generated by the recent announcement that Penguin and Random House will soon be joining corporate forces. I don't know enough about the details or what will become of it to say anything other than it is another(big) symptom of the book industry being very ill. Another(smaller) point to illustrate this fact has popped up for us in the past month.

Sometimes a publisher will offer signed copies to stores if they pre-order in carton quantity. This works for the publisher because stores will order a larger number than they normally would and it works for stores in offering their customers a bonus of sorts. We've sold more copies of Michael Chabon's new novel because we participated in this type of offer. When we bought copies of Louise Erdrich's "Round House" we bought cartons of signed copies. When the release date came we didn't have our copies and had several customers in the store/calling us to purchase the book. We called HarperCollins, the publisher, and were told that they had over-sold the signed copies. Our order, in industry terms, had been cut. We weren't notified and were left with no copies the first few days the book was available.

Last week a customer inquired about a book entitled "The Where, The Why, and the How." Tom had bought seven copies of the book based on the catalog and what our sales rep told him about the book. It was well-priced and seemed like the type of book we could sell pretty well through the holidays and end of year. When Karen checked Ingram's Ipage all the warehouses were out of stock. I guessed, incorrectly, that the book had been delayed. That happens, from time to time, with books that have a lot of production and color and, frequently, come from Korea or China. The very next day I found myself at the Mall of America and wandered into Urban Outfitters. Among their great stacks of books were copies of the book. I resisted the urge to grab five copies and run. We, again, checked with our sales rep and the publisher and were told that the book had been over-sold.

Our seven copy order had been cut and, again, we were not told of this. Seven copies, for us as a small store, signifies some kind of optimism and support for a book. It means we will display it and, most likely, actively try to sell it. In the larger scheme of things it is a small order. Chronicle Books saw it in another way. They took orders from a lot of other places(Anthropologie? Urban Outfitters? Other gift-type stores) and had placed copies with places that ordered larger numbers.

The problems regarding this are numerous. First, we didn't have the copies we had ordered and potentially could have sold. The second is akin to airline seating--meaning things get sold not always in line with what is available. And I understand the need for publishers to sell as much as they can to whomever they can. More upsetting to me is the fact that, in both cases, they saw no need to notify us of this fact. Intended or not the effect is that our orders don't matter. The reality is that if they hadn't pre-sold books in huge numbers we would have gotten our expected orders.

It leaves me to wonder: how many other stores had orders cut? Why should we trust that orders from these publishers, in similar situations, will actually arrive? All too often small stores are told that the overall numbers of their sales are dropping. Part of that is the availability of books in other stores and in various(and often cheaper) formats. But how can we attempt to compete when we aren't given the opportunity to sell what we ordered? The simple fact is that many customers who don't find what they're looking for at a store will turn to Amazon(who, I've been told, is also out of stock on "The Where, the Why, and the How) to get a copy.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Some questions and answers with the Revolver Mafia

Revolver is the newest of the new literary journal/mag kids on the block. Their electronic home is here

1) I know a little about the reasons behind starting Revolver but the question still must be asked: why start a literary magazine right now?

We started Revolver because we had a fire in our collective gut about writers and artists with a certain energy.

Why start now? Why not? Some of the best things in life come to those who recklessly pursue. It only took us a year of hard work to get it ready for the public.

2) How do you see the digital-you fitting together with the print-you?

The internet is a place that can be more open to experimentation, to failure, to surprise--we have a strong brand, but we don't let it get in the way of a good piece. The internet is a great place to do that flexing. The print publication will be a perfected version of that experimentation, failure, surprise.

3) You had 700+ people at the launch party--how do you try to continue to bring those people(and more) into the mix?

We won't do another blow-out party for a while, and our next event in the spring is going to be even better. More visceral, more intense, more story-focused--but smaller. We’re really excited. All we can say now is that we’re calling it Confess.

We're also looking to cultivate an online reading and writing community. Every two weeks, our home page will have entirely new content, and we want to create a space for people to participate, to write with Revolver, while we continue to publish high-quality work.

Two ways we are doing that: Shots with Strangers, which has already launched with a few pieces, and WANTED, our micro-writing contest, which launched last month. We have quite a few other experiments in the works. Think trust-falls into a bookstore moshpit.

4) Outside of the Twin Cities (with Paper Darts and thirty two doing similar--yet not the same--things) are there any journals you look to for inspiration? Or is this a totally new thing?

Both Paper Darts and 32 are great, as well as the amazing small presses in town. There is a groundswell around the lit scene here in the Twin Cities. The music scene hit its stride a while ago, and now the lit scene is becoming bolder, too.

In terms of publications we enjoy, Vice, A Public Space, N+1 are great. McSweeney's is obviously influential. The New Inquiry and Thought Catalog are two younger publications we enjoy.

But honestly, we didn't look too hard at any publication as a model. We didn’t want to end up copying something that already exists. New whiskey into new whiskey barrels, we say. We’re doing our damndest to retool the magazine for a new century.

5) Is there a clear division for Revolver in terms of poetry/fiction/non-fiction/reportage? Or will it change with every issue?

No. It's Short Range (under 1000 words) and Long Range (over 1000 words). Readers will be able to sort by genre, but we don't want that to be the focus. Revolver is gunning for the art and beauty of writing, and we're working hard to tear down the artificial distinctions that get in the way of that.

6) The demographic you seem to be aiming for is one that is accustomed to free content--how do you get these people to pay?

We'll have various options for different sorts of readers and writers: electronic and print subscriptions, events, T-shirts, journals, writing contests, etc. People will want to support the publication in different ways and we want to be ready for that.

We're also in discussion with a number of businesses who want to advertise on Revolver. Currently, the site is self-sustaining on Google Ads, thanks to our readers clicking on the weird stuff Google dumps into the slots we give them. We’re excited about moving toward advertising businesses we have a relationship with.

7) Publishing, in general, is in a great sea change. How do you guys fit into this sea of madness?

We want to blaze a new trail. We’re going to experiment and publish a lot of audacious writing. Some experiments will be wildly successful. Some will be soul-crushing failures. This is a good thing.

We hope our approach to the publishing elements--print, online, social media, etc.--will keep our readers at the edge of their seats (and/or continually refreshing on their smartphones).

This ride is going to be wild, and part of the rush is that we don’t know where we’ll all end up.

8.) A boxing gym? How? Why? Will the relationship continue?

It had that special sort of energy we were looking for. Seemed right.

Maybe we'll return for our 10th Anniversary Party.

- Revolver Crew

Alexander Helmke, Ben Barnhart, Emilie Robinson, Esther Porter, Luke Finsaas, Marcus Anthony Downs, Ross Nervig, Thorwald Esbensen

Monday, October 15, 2012

Go Your Own Way, or Createspace and the new Frontier

Micro. Artisanal. Indie. These have all become trendy names for beer or cheese or any number of other goods. They suggest something made with care in small batches. They suggest a back-to-the-land ethos or philosophy. Yet labels on food, and many other things, can be tricky.

And I guess I should start this by saying that this isn't meant to be an anti-Amazon screed or soapbox. It's more about an issue that is becoming more prevalent and is difficult for bookstores to deal with. Twice, in the past month, books published by authors via Createspace have popped up on our radar. Createspace is labeled as 'an Amazon company.'

The first time involved Lorna Landvik's new novel "Mayor of the Universe." Landvik is an author whose books, traditionally, had been published by Ballantine(an imprint of Random House). For whatever reasons, she decided to do this new one on her own. She has local ties and is quite popular throughout Minnesota. Despite the fact that the book comes to us with a lower discount than usual and is offered only as non-returnable we knew we wanted to offer it to our customers. By blindly avoiding an Amazon title we felt we would be doing a disservice to our customers and ourselves. So we have sold it and do currently have it in stock.

More recently, we received an e-mail from Jon Clinch regarding a new book he would be publishing. I loved his first novels, "Finn" and "Kings of the Earth",and very much look forward to reading the newest one entitled "The Thief of Auschwitz." He is masterful at taking real life characters(or fictional in the case of Huck's father) and weaving them into his own storylines. Ron Charles, who does great book stuff for The Washington Post, did a little story about some of the hows and whys.

Like I said, I'm not here to bash Clinch or Landvik in particular. But there are some specific issues I have regarding these books and some of the very real issues we must deal with regarding them.

Clinch talks about his first Createspace adventure in which he published a book under the name of Sam Winston and sold 10,000 copies. That is a solid showing regardless of who publishes it. But he also talks about creating a Twitter account for Winston and then re-tweeting various things under his own name. It seems, to me, to be very similar to writing anonymous reviews on Amazon. He would then ask Facebook fans to write reviews on Amazon. All of that is well and good, I suppose, but it does start to bring into question the validity of some of what is being said or 'reviewed.' All authors are required to do more self-promotion of their own work now regardless of whom publishes their work, but this makes me uneasy. He goes on to speak of himself as a version of micro-brewery(or publisher). That simply is as much the case as if Starbucks put together roadside coffee stands--under a different name--and called it locavore coffee. It's not true.

He also speaks of this being a time of possible revolution in the publishing industry. That's something I agree with. But Budweiser and Miller are not leading a beer revolution--small breweries are. M. Allen Cunningham is a novelist and short story writer whose previous work I have also liked. He recently decided to publish a collection of stories called "date of disappearance" under Atelier26 This, in spirit and actual fact, is micro-publishing. So far as I know, there is no corporate financial backing running the show.

Createspace might be doing more for its authors than lots of other self-publishing ventures in that they show prospective authors all(or most) of the facts up-front. Directly off of their mainpage an author can find details regarding royalties, editing, promo, distribution and much more. Here again, though, are some slippery facts. They have a calculator that shows royalties based on total pages and trim size. They claim to have professional editors at work yet all of the pricing is based on total word-count. For example, if your finished manuscript runs 75,000 words or less they promise edits within a month. The time is less for shorter works. This kind of rote pricing by page, word and physical book size goes against most of what is good about the world of book publishing. It's impossible, I'd say, to give an exact turnaround time for a manuscript solely based on total number of words written. It might make it seem more quick and clean and easy but that's not how good books are published. Each book is its own thing and necessitates different kinds of work.

Clinch himself states some his feelings about all of this when saying, “I hate that it’s part of Amazon because I love indie bookstores,” he says. “But there’s only one good way I can get books self-published now. And you know what? They do a great job. The books look good. They ship promptly.”

I've spoken with lots of other booksellers and stores about their feelings regarding these issues both specifically and in general. The answers, as one might guess, have quite a range. There are stores that strictly won't carry any Createspace titles and others who will carry as requested by customers, or on a limited basis, but won't do a lot of publicity or events for books that they see coming from a competitor who is actively trying to hurt them.

To borrow from common usage, many authors right now might "have to do what they have to do" to support their books and careers. Likewise, bookstores, have to do the same. Right now I'm just not sure what that is.

There very well could be a part 2 of this as I'm fairly certain I'll get some feedback from authors, publishers, booksellers and the general public. We shall see.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A little Q+A with Caroline Casey and Michael Taeckens

Caroline and Michael(formerly of Sarabande and Algonquin) are two great additions to the local book scene--what follows includes a teaser about celebrity editing and proper usage of the word epiphanic.

So, the two of you have been in the book biz for some time: why the move to mn?

CC:I've pulled up stakes a lot of times (this is my fifteenth move), so moving to Minnesota seemed an eminently sensible thing to do: super job, big, cheerfully competitive literary community, and finally, a real winter again. There were so many reasons to come here, so while I loved Kentucky, and my last press, this was so obviously, if unexpectedly, a good thing. And it's proven me more right than I could have predicted. 

MT: I worked at Algonquin Books, located in Chapel Hill, NC, for the past 11 1/2 years, and at Duke University Press and UNC Press the 4 years previous. Fiona McCrae, Graywolf's publisher and director, offered me the marketing director position at Graywolf and it was impossible to resist. Graywolf has been one of my favorite publishers since the late 80s, when I first read Linda Gregg's TOO BRIGHT TO SEE. And I've always heard such wonderful things about the Twin Cities. It was a win/win situation.

If there is such a thing as a 'normal' workday what does it entail?

CC: A normal workday is not something I have — there are always piles of email to answer, but my job concerns itself with so many different pats of the life of a book (from design, marketing, and publicity, to managing stock in our warehouses) that a routine is something that I can only superimpose on what I'd call pleasant unpredictability. It forces me to work ahead of the calendar, which I like. 

Favorite book from old press/new press?

CC: Favorite books is too dangerous a road to go down! I will say that I'm very much looking forward to a couple of releases from Sarabande — Moth, by Thomas Heise, and October's Let Me Clear My Throat, by Elena Passarello. And I'm totally sweaty palms for Karen Tei Yamashita

MT:Algonquin: An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England, by Brock Clarke
Graywolf: Since I already listed Linda Gregg's book, I'm going to go with Claudia Rankine's Don’t Let Me Be Lonely

Is the physical book dead?(trick question) and/or what is its future?

CC: The physical book isn't dead. I don't think that seeing an either/or future for books is helpful, or realistic, but so often people in this world are looking for a magic bullet, whether it's the platform or the marketing (Pinterest will save us all!), when really it's a matter of divorcing means from ends. That cliché that railroads got in trouble because they thought they were in the trains business, when really they were in the transportation business?

It's true of us too. People want to access writing in lots of different ways, and ebooks are another delivery mechanism. So are chapbooks. Look at how successful Ugly Duckling Presse is — some people want books that are even more objecty than your fancy Penguin Classics. And one could argue that someone like Kenneth Goldsmith is taking literature out of the realm or reading entirely, or that he's turning books into conceptual art not even meant to be read — all of that is exciting! It's not like Day functions like Mobile (a favorite of mine), nor should it. Those are both recordings in a way, but very different, and entirely different from say, Anna Karenina. Which is the book I always suggest to less than enthusiastic readers because it is such a ripping story and the chapters are so short (makes you feel like you're accomplishing something). All of that to say, it's fun to work at a press like Coffee House that comes from letterpress and embraces literature as a good that can be enjoyed in so many ways. We're of a more-is-more mindset, and I like that. Possibilities are fun; retooling out of desperation is not. 

MT: The death of the physical book has been greatly exaggerated! It’s true that physical books (or p-books, as some people are starting to call them; sigh) are on the decline while ebooks are on the rise, but I don't see ebooks ever replacing physical books. And it’s important to note that there are no ebooks for poetry collections yet—and poetry titles comprise about one-third of Graywolf’s list each year. I do think that fewer and fewer hardback books will be printed, but we'll continue to see deluxe editions of hardbacks with fancier design and exclusive material.

Do you read reviews of books you edited/worked on? if so, which ones matter to you?

CC: I definitely read reviews, because it is my job to. And I think that anyone who does pay attention to criticism more generally knows where they're going to find opinions that interest them. So those are the reviews that matter to me as a reader. As a person in publishing, I would say that they all matter, because they all matter to the author. How much they make a difference in terms of sales is hard to quantify. I just want our books to find the audiences that will have a charged relationship with them — and the New York Times, as august a venue as that is, might not actually be the most direct route there. So we try to be thoughtful about the places we send our books (in addition to the Times, etcetera). What are the venues that this book's reader will trust? 

MT: I read reviews from a wide variety of places--The New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker, the Star-Tribune, the Millions, etc. I believe that all reviews matter and I love reading as many as I can. It's interesting to see that sometimes a review from an online venue (e.g., BoingBoing) can have a great impact (i.e., sell more copies) than a review in the Gray Lady.

What is your favorite bookstore in the United States?

CC: Three Lives and Company. Hands down. I always walk out with a bunch of books, and none of them are things I ever knew I wanted. I also invariably gush at the counter and embarrass myself. 

MT: I'd have to say Prairie Lights. I went to University of Iowa as an undergrad and grad student, and Prairie Lights was like a magical land of wonders. You can't go wrong with three stories of books and a great cafe to boot.

Best fiction/non-fiction read in last year?

CC: My favorite novel of the last year was Jenny Erpenbeck's Visitation. Just crazy gorgeous and brilliant and unexpected (I use that word a lot). It was recommended to me by Paul Yoon, and has sold me forever on his taste. As for nonfiction, I'm partial to the project of a friend of mine — T Fleischmann's Syzygy, Beauty. People don't even know what to call it, but I l call it sly and natural and epiphanic.

MT: Fiction: THE THIN PLACE, Kathryn Davis
Nonfiction: ORPHANS: ESSAYS, by Charles D'Ambrosio

Do local pubs compete or accentuate one another?

MT: Accentuate! I love that the Twin Cities have three nationally recognized presses that publish creative fiction and nonfiction, and I think there's more than enough room for all of us.

Is there one book for fall 2012 you are excited about?

MT: Graywolf: FAMILIAR, J. Robert Lennon
non-Graywolf: NW, by Zadie Smith

One thing/job you do that you would not have guessed you would do--

MT:Well, this is more of a one-of-a-kind thing, but I’m going to include it anyway: Read a manuscript by a famous celebrity. (Details to come!)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A little Q+A with Patrick Thomas: Milkweed Editions

Patrick is an editor and Program Manager at Milkweed Editions. This discussion specifically came from some questions I had regarding Amy Leach and working with her writing. Some thoughts I had about her reading(and calling it that rather than a performance seems rather flat and unfair) are here.

More importantly, Milkweed is currently having a contest to win a signed copy of "Things That Are."

Every time I've seen Amy Leach's book "Things That Are" mentioned or reviewed people use words like quirky or singular or odd. Most of that is meant as a compliment--but several questions come out of this: Was major-reworking of the book done? How long ago did Milkweed sign the book? How were decisions made to have illustrations accompany the text?

PT: The 'major work' I did on the book related almost entirely to ordering. As you and many have noted, these essays are different sorts of beasts than most are used to, so Amy and I worked together to ensure that the reader's entrance into the world of Things That Are wasn't too jarring. Thus the progression from the more immediate and tangible world in the first half of the book to the more fantastic and distant worlds of the universe and the mind in the second. The decision to illustrate the text was similar: We knew that once someone opened the book, they would be entranced and buy it without a second thought, but as you know, getting a reader to open a collection of essays by a debut author is close to impossible. So the illustrations and the construction of the book were an invitation to the reader to take a chance as much as they were a celebration of the beauty of the contents and Milkweed's love of bookmaking.

A random grouping of other thoughts/?'s follow. Feel free to answer as you wish. How was editing this book different(or similar) to others you've worked on? I imagine it might be easy to simply drift into reading mode rather than working on the text? Is that so?

PT: It was terrible. I'd reread pages again and again, reminding myself throughout I was supposed to be working, but it was so hard to resist falling into the essays and leaving the markings behind. And yet, at this point, the difference between reading and editing for me (whether I'm reading for enjoyment or for work) is hard to discern. So I know that if something is working so well that I'm not making marks, it's time to stop making marks and call it 'done.' And for the most part, Amy's work was done before I even considered the majority of these pieces.

You had mentioned that you fell in love with her writing after reading something in A Public Space(I think). Was that piece something that is in the book. Is it different in significant ways now?

PT: "Please Do Not Yell at the Sea Cucumber" was the piece, and no, it wasn't changed drastically.

A customer gave me a new comp. last night which was A.A. Milne with Mary Ruefle with Annie Dillard(thanks, Jennifer) Who are some of the writers you find comparable?

PT: Amy's style is so unique that I've resisted comparing the words and sentences themselves to other writers. For me it's the feeling I had upon first reading that I can relate to other writers. So, the first time I read Dillard, or Solnit, maybe David James Duncan--the way those writers called me to reconsider the world and my relationship to it without actually asking me to do anything, that's what I'd compare the experience of Amy's work to. Pick this book up if you'd like to alter your perception in an enriching way.

To a reader who might be scared by 'philosophical nature essays' what could you tell them?

PT: Don't be scared? Kidding, but seriously, this is why I hate labels: Readers are led to believe that if they haven't studied poetry/philosophy/nature they can't read books with those or other categories listed on the back. And yet they're all just narratives (unless you're talking about academic philosophy I suppose) about life as we know it; narratives meant to be reinterpreted and understood personally by every reader who comes to them. Sure there's some core of meaning there that most readers will see in something like the same light, but it's up to each reader to see it in their own way. What would I say to an intimidated reader? Don't think about meaning or the author's intent when you pick up the book. Don't think about anything. If you enjoy what happens in your brain as you read the first sentences, then buy the book and prepare to have your mind properly blown.

If there is one major difference in your thought process of editing fiction vs. non what is it?

PT: Not really. In nonfiction you're more beholden to reality, but you still need to tell stories that resonate emotionally.

Given your job at a small publisher--which means juggling several jobs--what kind of books do you gravitate towards on your own or in your free-time?

PT: I'm reading The Dog Stars right now, which brings my childhood love for My Side of the Mountain, my adult fascination with ecology, and my general grim interest with apocalypse together in a wonderful way. In general though, my reading is all over the place. I've got that novel going, but also some nonfiction on the evolution of religion over the past 40,000 or so years, William Souder's biography of Rachel Carson, which is amazing, and a few other books all in the mix. In general, I'm looking for books, whether for enjoyment or for acquisition, that make the world feel bigger, more full of possibility.

Finally, this book sent me towards other sources(dictionaries, the internet, assorted natural history books) to look up definitions and get some background on certain references or simply to find out which words were simply made up. How often were you scrambling for similar info?

PT: Almost every line. If you want to spark someone's interest in etymology and entomology at the same time (thus ensuring a lifelong battle to explain the difference between the two to others), sending them to the OED and Peterson Field guides simultaneously, this is the book for it.

Friday, August 31, 2012

A Little Q+A with Nicole Baxter and Connie Kuhnz: BookMobile

Bookmobile does a little bit(or a lot) of a lot of different things related to books. Besides their current jobs, they both have covered numerous other parts of the book world.

How long have you worked at Bookmobile and what book world positions did you previously have?

NB: I'm Manager of Marketing & Publisher Services at BookMobile and I've worked here for 14 years. Previously, I was at Hungry Mind Press, an intern at Milkweed, a bookseller at the Borders in Uptown Minneapolis, and a bunch of academic press and bookstore part-part-part time jobs in Bloomington, IN, where I went to college.

CK: I'm a production coordinator for the Bookmobile's Design and Publishing Services department. I've worked here for 6 years; previously employed as a bookseller at six different bookstores including Hungry Mind, and Rag and Bone Books, which was my husband's store. I've also worked as a key-liner/typesetter and as a proofreader.

How many books are published yearly by Bookmobile?

NB: BookMobile works with over 500 publishers and we print A LOT of books. In short, BookMobile provides: short run digital printing; automatic replenishment programs; true print-on-demand; Direct-to-Consumer services; eBook conversion; app development; website development; design and typesetting; content management; and eBook and print distribution.

CK: My department handles production for a variety of publishers including Milkweed Editions and Graywolf Press. Each publisher uses our services a bit differently, but we have a wealth to offer: cover and interior design, layout, distribution... We also convert and distribute eBooks and the company is now offering app and web development services.

If there is such a thing as a normal workday what does it look like?

NB: Me sitting at my desk and emailing all day. I get a lot of email. I do quotes, answer questions, track jobs through production, write blog entries (, and market our services. Oh and I look at Twitter a lot(@OkToPrint).

CK: On any given day I may be working on an interior text design for one book, laying out another, and entering corrections to the files for a third. I contact offset printers for pricing, send files back and forth between printers and publishers (lots of time on email), and try to keep schedules on track.

Are there times when, after working with books all day, relaxing with a book that night doesn't sound relaxing?

NB: Never, really! A long time ago I tried doing editorial work and I didn't like it. But I think I was born to do book production. I frequently forget my mother's birthday, but I'll remember a book title we printed three years ago.

CK: No, I always love reading; my work on laying out books doesn't allow for a beginning-to-end read, so often I'll get caught up in the drama of chapter 22, and have to go back and read the whole thing once the book is in print.

Technology is killing the book? Or helping more people have access to writing and publishing them?

NB: Absolutely not. I think it helps more people to have access to more books, and different books. I like all the small presses that have come about, because it's easier to get books out there. One of my favorite new presses is Atticus Books--they put out great fiction (and yes, we print them).

CK: It is definitely not killing the book, just adding more forms and more choice. So far book-as-object people have nothing to fear, and eBook readers can expect more selection. More writers are able to bypass traditional gatekeepers and have access to getting their work out there, for better or for worse. Print-on-demand may allow publishers to provide more and better content with their savings.

Silly dinner party question. Three writers, living or dead, that you get to dine with. Who are they?

NB:Lorrie Moore, Virginia Woolf, and Donald Barthelme. All at the same time please. Lorrie and Donald would cheer up Virginia.

CK: I have to skip this one, the idea is a bit overwhelming(maybe we could just do lunch?)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A little Q+A with Katie Dublinski: Associate Publisher at Graywolf Press

This is the first in a little series of pretty informal electronic discussions I've had with some local people. Her answers are in italics below. All kinds of Graywolf Press info is here

When did you start working at Graywolf? What was your initial position?

I started working at Graywolf in September 1997, as a part-time administrative assistant.

Do you remember the first GW book you read?

I took a class on the contemporary American short story in college, and my professor recommended the old Graywolf annuals (which weren't so old then). I remember checking Graywolf Annual 2: Short Stories by Women out of the library and browsing through it. I think that was probably the first. The first book Graywolf book I remember reading after starting at Graywolf was our reissue of William Maxwell's lovely book of essays, The Outermost Dream.

Is it harder or easier to edit a book you really love?

I think this has become less difficult for me over time and with experience.I know that I made some missteps early on when I was trying to edit books I loved - it was hard to see beyond the love. Luckily I had expert editors and generous mentors like our publisher Fiona McCrae and former executive editor Anne Czarniecki to watch and learn from.

If there is such a thing as a typical workday what does it look like?

There isn't really a typical workday, which is part of what makes my job fun. Some days I spend huge swaths of time on production projects - cleaning up manuscripts or page proofs after they've been reviewed by a copyeditor or proofreader and the author. Other times I get to spend a whole day at home reading and editing. More often the days are filled with meetings with my colleagues and with managing a lot little tasks, mostly via email.

I know you are a big fiction reader--what are 2 or 3 of your favorite novels(not GW titles)

Two long-time favorites are The Great Gatsby and Crossing to Safety.

How often do people say to you, "I've got this idea for a book..."

Not that often, actually, unless I'm in a situation like a conference where I've invited that kind of conversation. I feel like that used to happen to me a lot more. Now when people find out that I work in publishing they want to know what I think about ebooks and the future.

You travel to lots of other places for book shows/fairs. What's your favorite place you've visited?

Good question. I love traveling anywhere new, and most places are pretty interesting to visit at least once. I don't know if it's a new favorite, exactly, and this probably isn't an answer you were expecting, but I went to Detroit for the first time last summer, for a conference, and was completely fascinated. The arts scene there is tight knit and energized (and energizing), and I found the streetscapes beautiful and haunting. The city surprised me. In some odd way, it reminded me of Berlin, which is probably my favorite place that I've been on Graywolf business. They're places that don't hide all their scars, and where interesting and unpredictable things seem to be happening. I'd like to go back to both.

And I always like visiting New York, for all of the obvious reasons related to books. And food.

Is most of your communication with authors now done over e-mail? How has that(or has not) changed the relationship?

A lot of the more day-to-day communication happens via email, but for me the primary editorial work usually happens via pencil on paper and editorial letters. I don't really know how email has changed the relationship, to be honest. I end up talking to most of our authors - even if I'm just managing production and art direction for their books, not actually their editor - on the phone at some point in the process.

What is one thing you do for work, with some regularity, that you never would have guessed you'd be doing?

I never in a million years would have pictured myself going to the book fairs in Frankfurt and London as a rights director and pitching books to foreign editors. And, not only that, actually preferring that role to being an editor on the receiving end of the pitch. I also never thought I'd read manuscripts on an e-reader.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

An event is an event is an event...

Until it isn't. It is a sad fact that I've come to realize that I don't really enjoy most author readings/events. We move tables and set up chairs and lug boxes around and, if the event is off-site, deal with parking. Events, even good ones, are a situation of bang-boom action and then sit and wait.

I've worked in bookstores for 13 years now and a general guess is that I have worked about 1,000 events. Of course that covers the good, the bad and the ugly. In any profession it is easy to become jaded about certain aspects of the job. I know chefs and waiters who no longer are excited by the very good food they are offered for free. Apathy is not a good thing, but it happens.

So it was a pleasant surprise to work an event last night that rejuvenated me and reminded my as to why author events are both important and worth something beyond attendance numbers and total sales.

It is worth mentioning, at this point, that author events have changed over the past decade or so. For one, there are so many going on that drawing a crowd has become increasingly difficult. A 'crowd' of five is not fun for the author, the publisher or the store. Sales have also dropped dramatically. There was a time when stores had a solid formula. X number of people would, generally, equal X number of sales. That is longer the case. With Amazon and e-books and every Target, Sam's Club, Costco and you name it selling books the numbers have become very muddy. In the past few years we have sold books at events with over 1,000 people yet sold less than 25 books. That math isn't good.

Back to last night. Amy Leach read from her debut book, "Things That Are". The book has a number of things going for it. It is a beautiful object and is priced at silly low price of $18 in hardcover. The illustrations are a super bonus and were done by Nate Christopherson(a St. Paul native). Amy read four small pieces book for a total of 20-25 minutes which is the perfect amount of time. She took questions and was witty. Even when I asked, "What would call these pieces? Personal essay? Nature essay?" She simply responded, "I don't know."

The book itself is something I have been talking to customers about for the past month or so. It is hard to classify. A wonderful review review was recently done by Susannah Schouweiler and she does a better job of trying to explain it than I ever could.

In the end, the event was well-attended and Amy brought her own particular style to it. It was, dare I say it, fun.

If you happen to read this today(7/19) and are in the Twin Cities you should definitely find time to go listen to her read tonight

Monday, June 18, 2012

For some insight from a different direction

The bookselling world both is and isn't that big. There are lots of us out there and we cover a lot of bases. Yet, at the same time, it can easily(and happily) become a game of 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon.

In the world of book blogs there are dozens upon dozens I could recommend. Doing different things, taking different angles, talking in ways that are humorous, serious and both at the same time.

One I return to, again and again, is the blog run by Daniel at Boswell and Books

He covers so much territory in a way that is refreshingly honest and real.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Little Brown Mushroom

It's important to us to bring in as many oddball products as we can. Odd alone, of course, is not enough. So we're very happy to say that we have, in stock, copies of Alec Soth and Brad Zellar's latest project "Ohio." Odd and high-quality.

To say these local boys are doing well is quite the understatement.

The price is $18. We also have 2nd edition copies of their book "House of Coates".

Can't wait to see what comes next from this duo.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

milk-to-the-weed and Katrina Vandenberg and more

Katrina Vandenberg will be reading here at 7 p.m. on Tuesday June 5th with her friend Michael Downs. Downs' collection "The Greatest Show" won Louisiana State University Press' Yellow Shoe Fiction Prize.

Katrina's second collection of poems "The Alphabet Not Unlike the World" is a wonder in terms of its design, structure and writing.

Here is a quick one titled "Detroit."

So here we are--white tablecloth and a window,
the sweat of our water glasses, shy twirl of noodles

against a spoon. His body, ten years later, now
thickened into a stranger's. I hear, in the heart

of my old hometown, Detroit, some buildings
and blocks have been abandoned so long, wildness

is coming back to the city. I hear men
have begun to stalk pheasants again in the vines.

Milkweed Editions has also been putting up some great stuff on their blog lately. You can read about Deni BĂ©chard, which you should, and his two cool new books. And you can read about the art behind Amy Leach's book(she reads here 7/18 at 7 p.m.)which is amazing. And you can read about the Milkweed staff and their bike plans for the summer.

Please do join us for Katrina's event.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

A reminder to myself

I met with my book club last night at the The Local--where we always meet in a cool little room. Aside from meeting in a bar, this club is different like any book club is different. But the main real differences are that the group is all men and only reads fiction. The only rules are that is has to be 350 pages or less and that none of the six of us can have read the book previously.

It's been good for me in a number of ways. Giving up control of my reading life and having discussions that otherwise wouldn't take place. I always come away feeling like I understand the book better and best of all it is fun. Reading gets pushed at people for any number of reasons: continued growth/education, interacting with a somewhat silent object, it's good for you, etc. Yet it should be fun--maybe not always--but mostly, in my opinion.

Last night's discussion involved Steve Erickson's "These Dreams Of You." Europa has a reputation of publishing international fiction and books that are a bit outside the norm. While I wouldn't really term this book experimental, it does do some interesting things in both its form and telling. I kept thinking, "This book is messy." And it is for both better, and sometimes, worse. Yet its emotion and contemporary cultural themes are very strong. Adoption, race, the housing crisis and music are just a few of its main themes.

While walking back to catch the lightrail I was reminded that some of the best discussions about books go so far beyond, "It was good." Or, "I didn't like it very much." The differences in opinion lead to discussion and the personal things we all bring to the book and its reading twist things up.

Before joining this group I didn't get the appeal of these groups. Many become set times to drink wine or catch up on the kids. And that's fine. Moreso, I was wrong in some of my assumptions. I enjoy all of our meetings regardless of how much I liked the book, which I almost always have. It's a common reading experience that I gain from. I can't wait to hear what our next book will be.

It's easy to pigeon-hole things you know next to nothing about. Are there lots of groups reading the same stuff because other people are? Sure. Are there groups where people don't read the books? Sure. I also get to see all the great stuff the book clubs we deal with are reading. The range and scope is broad. The time periods encompass most of the last 100 years. Poetry, fiction and all kinds of non-fiction. It's a good thing for Micawber's, to be sure. It is also good for many of the readers and it's been very good to me.

One meeting I missed was held at one member's house because Bruce Machart, the author of the book we read, skyped into the meeting to discuss the book and people loved it. I always tell people to mix it up--read a book and watch the film. Pair two similar or dissimilar books. Read a classic followed by something contemporary. Read something in translation. Do it all for the fun that can be had.

Europa's design department is always on point but this cover is striking. Many people asked me what I was reading at the park or on the train. Our server last night went home with my copy. Maybe she'll read it with her book club.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Field Notes National Crop Edition(and on inspiration for the entire brand) This is a link to a video done by the good people at Field Notes. Totally going against the grain of electronic notes and messages, these notebooks have great design with some actual history behind them. Aaron Drapin is quite an interesting fellow but do be warned that his language isn't always pg-rated.

Field Notes entire collection can be perused here.

We'll have the Crop Edition in next week and currently do have in stock most of the 50 states editions. $3 each.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Last week's Besties

Hardcover Non-Fiction

Passage of Power-Robert Caro
Are You My Mother?-Alison Bechdel
The Republican Brain-Chris Mooney
Behind the Beautiful Forevers-Katherine Boo
Rez Life-David Treuer
Quiet-Susan Cain
Why Nations Fail-Daron Acemoglu
Breasts-Florence Williams
Prague Winter-Madeleine Albright
Turn Here Sweet Corn-Altina Diffley

Paperback Non-Fiction

Rhubarb Renaissance-Kim Ode
In the Garden of Beasts-Erik Larson
Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey-Fiona Carnarvon
The Wilder Life-Wendy McClure
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down-Anne Fadiman
The Hare With Amber Eyes-Edmund De Waal
The Happiness Project-Gretchen Rubin
Stand Up!: The Story of Minnesota's Protest Tradition-Rhoda Gilman
Triumph of the City-Edward Glaeser
Lost in Shangri-La-Mitchell Zuckoff

Hardcover Fiction
Bring Up The Bodies-Hilary Mantel
I Am a Pole-Stephen Colbert
Train Dreams-Denis Johnson
Rules of Civility-Amor Towles
Beginner's Goodbye-Anne Tyler
Death Comes To Pemberley-P.D. James
The Lifeboat-Charlotte Rogan
The Year of the Gadfly-Jennifer Miller
City of Bohane-Kevin Barry
I Am An Executioner-Rajesh Parameswaran

Paperback Fiction
Open City-Teju Cole
The Tiger's Wife-Tea Obreht
Half-Blood Blues-Esi Edugyan
State of Wonder-Ann Patchett
South of Superior-Ellen Airgood
Sisters Brothers-Patrick DeWitt
The Art of Fielding-Chad Harbach
The Last Warner Woman-Kei Miller
Ashes to Dust-Yrsa Sigurdardottir
The Confederacy of Dunces-John Kennedy Toole

Thursday, May 10, 2012

It Comes and Goes in Waves

My wife and I are expecting our third child in about 40 days. As that number begins to dwindle and the reality of that becomes more real it is a time of joy and waiting and nerves. That last emotion is, of course, about the new child but it also is about the change that will soon impact my reading life. For the first few months my free-time(reading) will shrink considerably. So I'm trying to crash through some books before that happens.

There are times when I get in a reading rut which, I assume, is akin to writer's block. Nothing appeals to me or grabs me and forces me to sit down with it. Luckily, my more usual problem is that of too many good things. The following five books of fiction are things I've just finished or am almost done with. They are dissimilar in too many ways to count but they do share some commonality as well. Good historical themes. Good looks at modern culture. Beautiful sentences with some humor thrown into the mix. They will forever, for me, form an odd fiction gumbo of a particular time in my life--pre-baby-numero-tres.

I don't often review books per se on this blog. That's not really my goal--just more of a small taste of what these books contain and, hopefully, whet the appetite of some of you out there.

Ben Fountain had a book of stories, "Brief Encounters With Che Guevara" a few years ago. One of the things I enjoyed was how well Fountain dealt with the variety of locales the stories took place in. Myanmar, Ghana and Haiti to name a few. He was also the focus of a great Malcolm Gladwell piece in the New Yorker. So I've been waiting on "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" with great anticipation. It's told in one day at, off all places, a Dallas Cowboys game. Soldiers who have returned from Iraq are the central characters and they are bold and funny and changed by what they've gone through. The novel in one day is no new trick but it's done rather well here.

Christopher Tilghman is an author I got to meet this past winter in New Orleans. He and Lydia Netzer(author of forthcoming "Shine Shine Shine" 07/12) had dinner with a dozen or so booksellers. Just being around him for that short period of time gave me an understanding of his storytelling ability, wit and charm. His historical look at a Chesapeake Bay estate in the 1920's is evocative and compelling. "The Right-Hand Shore" is a book to be savored while sitting on the porch. It deliberately doesn't move quickly and the rewards along the way are many.

I've been a fan of Emily St. John Mandel since other booksellers got me to read "Last Night in Montreal". Her third book with Unbridled Books is "The Lola Quartet" and she fully displays her ability to mix mystery with varied points of view. All three of her books make it seem simple for a novel to fun while not being simplistic--a trick not easily accomplished.

Nell Freudenberger is another author whose previous work compelled me to look at hew newest, "The Newlyweds." It comes with a pretty, colorful, jacket with birds. So it looks good, yes, but reads even better. She manages to tell a story about 'elsewhere' yet never gets heavy-handed in the telling. She was on the most recent list of twenty under forty writers to watch and it's easy to see why. It got a very nice review from Maureen Corrigan, who, for my money is one of the best reviewers at it.

Finally, we've got Rajesh Parameswaran's "I Am An Executioner: Love Stories." As Jason, one of our Random House sales reps, explained to a group of Twin Cities booksellers this past weekend, they are love stories but with varying twists. Surprise is the one element that joins the stories together. With each one I found myself guessing at what would occur and found myself being proved incorrect again and again. It's a book that is a little difficult to discuss briefly because it is an odd mish-mash. Walter Mosley did it well in saying, "Pitch-perfect stories that recalibrate the notion of love and power with dark humor and unbearable tenderness."

"Comes and Goes(in Waves)" is a song written by Greg Laswell. He's pretty neat.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

I'm sorry. Maybe next time.

How to decide what to read? The big question for any of us. As a reader by profession and persuasion this is a daily battle. I pick things up, skim a few pages, and move onto something else. As a rule I try to only read two novels at one time or my brain scrambles the characters and plots into one bizarre mess. Generally I am reading 2-4 non-fiction titles at a time. Lately, however, everything has gone haywire. In the past few weeks I have finished novels by Peter Geye, Joshua Henkin, Lou Berney, Esi Edugyan(for the second time) and Michel Houellebecq. There are dozens of others I have stared at and thought, "I really should read that soon. Maybe when I'm done with the next one." Karl Taro Greenfeld's "Triburbia" is the novel I currently read 10-15 pages a day of. Piles and stacks of books consume my life--and I'm happy with that fact.

There are several novels from Clarice Lispector that I just got in the mail from my friends at New Directions. I want to read Jesmyn Ward's amazing "Salvage The Bones" again because it throttled me the first time. Re-reading, depressing as it is, seems like three steps back for me. I promise myself no more new books until I finish the current group. But that promise is empty as the 'current' pile never really gets to an end. In the non-fiction world I am currently reading David Halberstam's NBA classic "The Breaks of the Game" despite the current woes of the Minnesota Timberwolves. I am also very, very, close to finishing Douglas Brinkley's "The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast" which is a beast of 768 pages of pure sorrow. I love it and it terrifies me. I've just begun to stick my toes into Benjamin Busch's "Dust To Dust" which was recommended by several customers and I loved many of his father's, Frederick's, books. Maureen Stanton and Cheryl Strayed are two writers I keep taking glances at despite the fact that I've read their most recent work. Every single day a customer says something along the lines of, "I really don't need to buy this because I have a stack at home." I get this sentiment and feel it myself.

But the waves of things we(or I) must/should/could read always keeps moving. All of this goes without mentioning the collections of poems I've been perusing for National Poetry Month. It's, I've been told, a fairly good problem to have. Too many good books and ideas. Too many pretty pictures. Sometimes, I must admit, it drives me a little crazy. What to read next? How to decide? I am, in the end, just like every other reader out there--choosing randomly and hoping the pile goes in the right direction. Which way that is I'm not entirely sure of. I really try not to discuss books that aren't available to the public yet but I do need to post one blurb regarding Peter Geye's "The Lighthouse Road" which comes out 10/16/2012. "THE LIGHTHOUSE ROAD is a small marvel of a book. The story is set in northern Minnesota in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and Geye's expert rendering of a time long past -- the brutality of backwoods logging camps, the heartbreak of an era when immigration meant never going home again, the logistics of whiskey-running -- is matched by the complexity and depth of his characters. A beautifully written, elegantly constructed novel." - Emily St. John Mandel I've got one free copy to the first person who responds to this post.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Mutually Exclusive(but both A+)

I'm a big fan of pairing books together--even books that, on the face of it, have very little to do with one another.

My newest duo is Kirby Gann's "Ghosting" and Kevin Barry's "City of Bohane".

Gann is the managing editor of Sarabande Books. Sarabande is a place that discovers new talent and works with them to develop their skills. Very frequently when I look at major award winners it turns out that one of their first books was published with Sarabande. So he knows talent. Apparently, he can also write it. "Ghosting" is a thriller with a literary bent. The characters are compelling and real and a list of other words might come up with to appeal to readers. It's about drugs, sure, but also about choices and the lives we end up with.

Kevin Barry is a new, refreshing, voice in the world of Irish fiction. Graywolf Press, my dear friend, has again hit the jackpot. This review gives it better praise than I can. Set in the future, yet dealing with the currently real, this novel is a crash through it type of work.

Both of these books reminded me of why I enjoy fiction. They create new worlds--old, current, future--that take me away from my life and make me consider it in new ways.

God Bless those folks who continue to toil in the shadows--the editors and writers--who make us feel life in new ways.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

When I Was a Child I Read Books

Marilynne Robinson is considered to be one our finest living novelists. I'm not trying to make this a back-handed compliment, but I think she is a better essayist. Her new book is a look at art and books in an uncertain artistic time. She is all over the map in her interests and she's not the kind of person whose opinions are predictable. She challenges the reader to think and re-think. She dazzles in a very quiet manner.

In the preface alone she uses canard, magnanimity and shibboleth. She's cool like that.

does a good job summing it up.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Kawamata Chiaki and some nice additions

The name Kawamata Chiaki, right now, doesn't mean much to many American readers. The University of Minnesota Press, having just published "Death Sentences," is trying to change that. The book comes with a William Gibson blurb, "A hardboiled, sharply surreal fable about the power of the written word." This is sci-fi meets police detective meets horror in a traditionally unorthadox Japanese manner.

Chiaki was kind enough to personalize some bookplates for the American audience. In the photos above you can see one of these far from pedestrian items with his script down in fine, black, ink. The note he sent to the press included the modern and ancient characters which mean 'dream' and 'nightmare.' They are very cool.

Thanks go to Erik Anderson at the University of MN Press for sharing this backstory with me and getting us bookplates. We have one inserted in all of our copies and have a few extra if anyone would like one.

Score another win for physical objects and handmade art.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


There is very little celebrity or fame in the world of book design. Chip Kidd is the one big fish and even he is known mostly to collectors and book geeks. So it was with some surprise and a great deal of excitement when Tom realized that the jacket art on David Benioff's "City of Thieves"(which we've both hand-sold for years) and Eowyn Ivey's "Snow Child" was done by the same person.

Alessandro Gottardo creates art under the pen-name or alter-ego SHOUT. His work is well-respected in several areas of the design world. He combines clean work and simple lines with some playfulness.

Just last week Tom showed me another book in a catalog for next Fall that seemed to be done by SHOUT but we couldn't find any info in the catalog and I, of course, can no longer remember the title.

In a similar vein, we've noticed lots of birch trees on book covers. Coincidence? New marketing trend? Who knows. One we've had displayed on our front table of late is Ramona Ausubel's "No One Is Here Except All Of Us".

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Swings and misses

It's fairly easy for stores to look back once a year comes to an end and see the things that worked. We all want to see those things and pat ourselves on the back a little. Harder to see are the mistakes--those things we tried and that failed. Maybe a book didn't get the media attention that was anticipated. Or we didn't display it properly have someone hand-selling it. There are a lot of factors that come into play for the hits and misses. Here's a sampling of the ways in which I made a mess of things in the last six weeks of 2011. I own all of this--no blaming sales reps or publishers.

There are two books that I didn't buy enough of. "Leaving Atocha Station" by Ben Lerner is a book we started to sell fairly well right out of the gate. But it wasn't going bonkers. Then some wild reviews hit from some biggies--Jonathan Franzen and James Wood, to name two--and we ended up chasing stock on this for the rest of the season. Lesson: I had an inkling this could do well but no idea how well. Listen to gut.

The second book was "Twelve Owls" by Betsy Bowen and Laura Erickson. To be fair, I couldn't tell how great this book was going to be until I first held it in my hands. Seeing it in the catalog didn't do it justice. It had many things working in its favor. Priced just under $20, two local artists working with a local topic and something that hadn't been done before. It was unique. Once we started selling it I was overly cautious and didn't do what I should have done. I should have simply ordered 75 copies and rolled with it. We did really well with this book but could have done much better. Lesson: Cautious is often good but sometimes foolish.

I had the opposite problem with "Pale Fire: A Poem in Four Cantos by John Shade" which was a boxed-gift edition of the famous Nabokov work. Published by Gingko Press and priced fairly, I thought, at $35. Our sales rep, Tim, has always helped decide what books of theirs to go for. They do great art, design, grafitti, urban studies. We agreed that I was being sensible in my order. We had, after all, done well a couple years back with another Nabokov book("Alphabet in Color") done by the same people. We had it displayed it and didn't move. Lesson: I'm not entirely certain. Possibly, never be certain.

Finally, and this is admittedly the toughest one to gauge, I didn't have enough remainders(sale-price) books in the store. The ebb and flow of these sales are determined, I'm convinced, by rising tides, voodoo and unicorns. There is no telling. One simple fact is that more people in the store equals more sales of these books. How many more is harder to figure. Our business was up in 2011 and we definitely had more foot traffic in December. The mild weather was a major factor in that. By the time I realized we were selling so many sale books it was too late to get more in time. These books aren't shipped via UPS or Fed Ex and seem to come by slow boat. So we were basically stuck around the 10th or 12th of December when I saw what had happened in the previous two weeks. All in all it's a decent problem to have but I wish I would have ordered more different books and a larger quantity of the things we had. Lesson: Pray to the snow gods and know we will sell whatever quality discount books we have.

Talking about being smart is well and good, but learning from my mistakes is better for me, Micawber's and our customers.

Monday, January 30, 2012

List #36 Greg Danz

Greg Danz: Zandbroz Variety. Fargo, ND. 58102

1. The English Patient -- Michael Ondaatje
2. The Things They Carried -- Tim O’Brien
3. Ursula Under -- Ingrid Hill
4. Independent People -- Halldor Kilijan Laxness
5. Baltasar and Blimunda -- Jose Saramago
6. Orlando -- Virginia Woolf
7. Time and Again -- Jack Finney
8. The Sea, The Sea -- Iris Murdoch
9. Collected Stories of Lydia Davis -- Lydia Davis
10. The Heart is a Loney Hunter -- Carson McCullers
11. Mating - Norman Rush
12. Geek Love -- Katherine Dunn
13. Dalva -- Jim Harrison
14. My Dark Places -- James Ellroy
15. Crazy Woman -- Kate Horsley
16. Suttree -- Cormac McCarthy
17. Slaughterhouse-Five -- Kurt Vonnegut
18. To Kill a Mocking Bird -- Harper Lee
19. Crime and Punishment -- Fyodor M Dostoevsky
20. Rabbit, Run - John Updike
21. Herb ‘n’ Lorna: A Love Story -- Eric Kraft
22. White Teeth -- Zadie Smith
23. Accordian Crimes -- Annie Proulx
24. The Lost Report of the Miracles at Little No Horse -- Louise Erdrich
25. A Life of Her Own - Emilie Carles
26. Antarctic Navigation -- Elizabeth Arthur
27. Middlemarch -- George Eliot
28. The Book of Disquiet -- Fernando Pessoa
29. Collected Poems -- Philip Larkin
30. New and Selected Poems Vol. 1 & 2 -- Mary Oliver
31. The Best of It -- Kay Ryan
32. Waterland -- Grahm Swift
33. The Collected Stories of Russell Banks -- Russel Banks
34. Miss Lonelyhearts -- Nathaniel West
35. The Runaway Bunny -- Margaret Wise Brown
36. Jacob Have I Loved -- Katherine Paterson
37. Adam of the Road -- Elizabeth Janet Gray
38. Undiscovered Country -- Lin Enger
39. The Unbearable Lightness of Being -- Milan Kundera
40. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption -- Laura
41. Peace Like a River -- Leif Enger
42. A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories -- Flannery O’Connor
43. God Bless You Mr. Rosewater -- Kurt Vonnegut
44. Pierre: A Cautionary Tale -- Maurice Sendak
45. Franny and Zooey -- J D Salinger
46. How I Work as a Poet -- Lew Welch
47. Siddhartha -- Hermann Hesse
48. In the Spirit of Crazy Horse -- Peter Matthiessen
49. Death Comes for the Archbishop -- Willa Cather
50. And the Pursuit of Happiness -- Maira Kalman

Minnesotans have dealt with the blessing/curse of the Coen bros. film since 1996. And we take heat for talking funny. But Fargo is a really cool town and Zandbroz is one cog in that wheel.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Kids, YA, Poetry, Cookbooks and Gift

1. The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson
2. MN Hidden Alphabet by David LaRochelle
3. Press Here by Herve Tullet
4. I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
5. Every Thing On It by Shel Silverstein
6. The Construction Alphabet by Jerry Pallotta
7. The Chronicles of Harris Burdick Edited by Chris Van Allsburg
8. Big Little Brother by Kevin Kling
9. Kiki's Hats by Warren Hanson
10. Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site by Sherri Rinker

1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
2. Wildwood by Colin Meloy
3. Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
4. Cabin Fever by Jeff Kinney
5. The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan
6. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
7. The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak
8. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
9. The Inheritance by Christopher Paolini
10. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

1. The Superior Life by Jean Larson
2. Invisible Strings by Jim Moore
3. What Work Is by Philip Levine
4. Yellowrocket by Todd Boss
5. Low Down and Coming On edited by James Lenfestey
6. Pretend the World by Kathryn Kysar
7. The Great Enigma by Tomas Transtromer
8. The Best of It by Kay Ryan
9. The Half-Finished Heaven by Tomas Transtromer
10. What the Living Do by Marie Howe

1. The Splendid Table How To Eat Weekends by Lynne Rosetto Kasper and Sally Swift
2. How To Cook Everything by Mark Bittman
3. Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois
4. Cooking Up the Good Life by Jenny Breen and Susan Thurston
5. Essential Pepin by Jacques Pepin
6. Trout Caviar by Brett Laidlaw
7. Rotis by Stephane Reynaud
8. Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook by Beth Hensperger
9. How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman
10. The Northern Heartland Kitchen by Beth Dooley

Gift and Misc.
1. Go The Fuck to Sleep by Adam Mansbach
2. F in Exams by Richard Benson
3. Pocket Neighborhoods by Russ Chapin
4. Once There Were Castles by Larry Millett
5. Everything Is Its Own Reward by Paul Madonna
6. The Twin Cities Bike Map
7. All My Friends Are Dead by Avery Monsen
8. Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky
9. The 50 Funniest American Writers edited by Andy Borowitz
10. Drink Me from Potter Style

The bestseller cont

Paperback Fiction

1. Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese
2. Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
3. True Grit by Charles Portis
4. Vestments by John Reimringer
5. Mr. White's Confession by Robert Clark
6. The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachmann
7. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
8. Butcher's Crossing by John Williams
9. All the Living by C.E. Morgan
10. The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht
11. Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell
12. In Caddis Wood by Mary Rockcastle
13. The Room by Emma Donoghue
14. In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin
15. Wingshooters by Nina Revoyr

Paperback Non-Fiction
1. Through No Fault Of My Own by Coco Irvine
2. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
3. The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal
4. A Whole New Mind by Daniel H. Pink
5. Cleopatra by Stacey Schiff
6. The Tiger by John Vaillant
7. The Grace of Silence by Michelle Norris
8. Sheepish by Catherine Friend
9. Just Kids by Patti Smith
10. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
11. Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell
12. At Home by Bill Bryson
13. 1491 by Charles Mann
14. Wicked River by Lee Sandlin
15. The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore

Friday, January 6, 2012

2011 Bestsellers by Category

Hardcover Fiction
1. The Long-Shining Waters by Danielle Sosin
2. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
3. Gryphon by Charles Baxter
4. Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
5. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
6. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
7. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
8. Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James
9. The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje
10. The Pale King by David Foster Wallace
11. Open City by Teju Cole
12. Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
13. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
14. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
15. Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell

Hardcover Non-Fiction

1. The Social Animal by David Brooks
2. In The Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson
3. Twelve Owls by Betsy Bowen and Laura Erickson
4. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
5. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
6. The Greater Journey by David McCullough
7. Bossypants by Tina Fey
8. Rin Tin Tin by Susan Orlean
9. Destiny of the Republic by Candace Millard
10. Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
11. 1493 by Charles Mann
12. Blood Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
13. The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt
14. Blue Nights by Joan Didion
15. Voyageur Skies by Don Brenneman and Mark Seeley

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Out with the old and in with the very old

Tomorrow I'll be posting our bestselling titles from 2011 as we're finishing off inventory and year-end miscellany today. However, on Monday the 2nd of 2012 we had a customer redeem a gift certificate that was issued on 12/19/1997. That's almost six years before we took over this store. And over fourteen years past the issue date.