at the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association trade show, held October 14-16 in Oakland, did not spend much time talking about whether
business was up or down (with flat being the new up); they seemed to have
become accustomed to the new reality. Instead, a steady number of attendees
went to the education sessions on IndieCommerce, co-op, sidelines, health-care
reform and other topics looking to get information on how to become better
booksellers. While e-books were discussed at some sessions and during
informal conversations throughout the event, printed
books (and the authors who love them) were very much front and center.
Of course, it never hurts to start with a little heartfelt
praise from Michael Cunningham, who said, "Every independent
bookseller is a hero to me. Blessings on you!" before settling into a
luncheon event in conversation about his latest, By Nightfall (FSG), with NCIBA president Michael Barnard of
Rakestraw Books in Danville. A self-described "cockeyed optimist,"
Cunningham said he always finds it surprising that people describe his
work as dark. Still, he did admit that he "only trusts a happy ending that
can survive the worst that can absolutely happen," and that he sees By Nightfall (about a middle-aged
man's obsession with his wife's much younger brother) as "the death card
from the Tarot deck." The death card, he pointed out, is a liberating card.
As for his recent reading, Cunningham said he tackled Proust this summer "finally,"
and Jonathan Franzen's Freedom. "Don't
hold it against him that he sells billions of copies," said Cunningham,
who loved the much-hyped novel.
"You guys are my heroes," said Lynne Almeida,
owner of Spellbinder Books in Bishop, as she accepted the Debi Echlin Award for
Community Bookselling. Spellbinder is celebrating 40 years in Bishop, Calif. Also
at the membership meeting, NCIBA presented its FIBS award--for the organization
or person recognized as a friend to the independent booksellers--to all of the
sales reps that serve the territory. "We know your future is no more
certain than ours is," said Barnard. "We're all in this together."
A stellar lineup of breakfast authors got the trade show
going. Brock Clarke (Exley,
Algonquin), Walter Mosley (The Last Days
of Ptolemy Grey and When the Thrill Is Gone, Riverhead) and Amy Sedaris (Simple
Times: Crafts for Poor People, Grand Central) were the adult authors
featured on Friday--although Sedaris did say children are welcome to try any
of the crafts in her new book. And on the bill Saturday morning for younger
readers (and the booksellers who love them and their books): Jon Scieszka (Spaceheadz: Book #1, S&S), Richard
Peck (Three Quarters Dead, Dial) and
Paul O. Zelinsky (Dust Devil, Random
NCIBA executive director Hut Landon said advance registration
was on par with the last couple of years, with more than 110 stores represented.
Where NCIBA did see growth, however, was in publisher-sponsored author events--especially
the popular Friday evening reception, which featured 30 authors (up
significantly from last year's 22.) "That shows me that the publishers are
supporting the show," Landon said.
to regionals most to hear about titles to handsell. Immediately preceding the author reception was the rep pick
session, which helped build the buzz factor. (And the Lonely Planet Blue
Hawaiians served during the picks didn't hurt.) That's why Sharon Jones,
who has a 500-sq.-ft. general store in Sausalito called Habitat Books, picked up
a signed copy of Bo Caldwell's City of
Tranquil Light (Holt).
But the book that all the other publishers were sneaking to grab was Infinite City: A
San Francisco Atlas (University of California Press), a printing and public
project done to coincide with the 75th anniversary of San Francisco's Museum of
Modern Art. A richly textured graphic book that no electronic format can master
yet, Infinite City features Rebecca
Solnit as cultural and historical tour guide through the city she calls
home. "Rebecca Solnit is the Susan Sontag of the West," observed Ken
White, from UCSF Bookstore (and ABA board member). "The book is literary,
accessible, gifty, weird and very San
Francisco. She's our public intellectual."
It's always fun to see what's on Book Passage buying
director Sheryl Cotleur's radar. Siobhan Fallon's collection of stories about families of servicemen in Fort Hood, Tex., called You Know When the Men Are Gone, came
highly praised, Cotleur said, "by people [i.e., booksellers] whose opinions
I really value." This title got a lot of NCIBA buzz, especially after Penguin
rep Wendy Pearl said that at a bookseller dinner the night before, editor Amy
Einhorn had told her that You Know When
the Men Are Gone was the only book in all of her years as an editor that did
not need a single word changed. "It came in ready," Pearl said.
An industry insider's take on titles can make booksellers
take note. At HarperCollins, Carl Lennertz was promoting the final book in
Joe Caldwell's Irish pig trilogy, The Pig
Goes to Hog Heaven--and he took out a full-page ad in the program noting
that California booksellers have sold hundreds of copies of the first book, The Pig Did It! Hachette's Tom
McIntyre said that with Jon Stewart, Amy and David Sedaris and two books coming
from Steve Martin, his company has the best humor-oriented list "in the
history of publishing." Random House is still basking in Stieg Larsson
glory, but Ruth Liebmann--who said NCIBA was her fifth show in four weeks--said The Tiger's Wife was her favorite
forthcoming title, for "the magic." And Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's
John Dally might have had the most interesting tag line at NCIBA: he described Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thompson
as "Harry Potter meets Bridget Jones, while being stalked by Stephen Hawking."
Finally, NCIBA paused to hoist a drink to the retirement of Craig
McCroskey, known for his quick wit, who has been a Book Travelers West rep
since 1978. Booksellers agreed that you never knew what McCroskey might say,
but you sure had a great time on that sales call.--Bridget Kinsella