Like highlighted passages in our favorite books, there are moments during the annual fall indie bookseller trade show season that we can recall (or, when memory is hazy, find scribbled in our notebooks) to remember the good vibes atmosphere these gatherings naturally engender. Business is business, but for a few heady days each autumn, we're truly living in BookWorld, a magical land (with room service) where every citizen reads and cares deeply about the printed word.
This year, I attended the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance trade show in New Orleans and the New England Independent Booksellers Association fall conference in Providence, R.I. Here are just a few highlighted passages from my journey to BookWorld:
"This is a great group. I just love you guys," said Nathaniel Philbrick in his acceptance speech at the Author Awards dinner, where Bunker Hill was honored with the New England Book Award for Nonfiction. "You don't know how much you mean to me.... Going to your stores; it's like an extended family."
|Wendy Hudson (owner of Nantucket Bookworks), Melissa Philbrick, Nathaniel Philbrick and Annie Philbrick (photo: Karl Krueger)
After Annie Philbrick, co-owner of Bank Square Books, Mystic, Conn., and outgoing NEIBA president, presented Wendell and Florence Minor with the President's Award for lifetime achievement, Wendell praised indie booksellers as "the heart and soul of the printed word; and it's coming back like I'd never imagined."
I noted last week that NEIBA director Steve Fischer said he kept running into new bookstore owners at the show. Among them was Katherine Osborne, a longtime Maine bookseller who is now co-owner and buyer at Letterpress Books in Portland, which will open this Monday. I had several conversations with Katherine and her parents, John Paul and Karen Bakshoian, who have teamed up to establish the family-owned indie. Those discussions became a highlighted passage of their own.
Here's another: "Please listen to your staff," advised Jamie Tan, events director at Brookline Booksmith during the "Trends and Best Practices for Successful Events" panel. Sound advice.
And David Wiesner (Mr. Wuffles!) said, "It is always great to speak to booksellers, the keepers of the flame" at the Author Breakfast on the final day of the NEIBA show.
Meanwhile, in New Orleans: "I am in my heart a bookseller," author Nick Bruel (Bad Kitty School Daze) told his audience during SIBA's Kick Off Lunch. "Up until doing what I do now, I was a bookseller." Recalling the eight years he'd spent at Shakespeare and Co. and seven at Books of Wonder in New York City, Bruel shared what he described as a well-kept industry secret: "There comes this moment in every day when you look at your inventory, all those incredible titles, and you look around just after closing and think, 'Wow, this place would be awesome if not for all those filthy customers who come in every day.' "
|Parapalooza at SIBA.
This year's SIBA show marked the debut of Parapalooza, during which the audience could "enjoy a cocktail while authors read, with meaning, feeling, and enthusiasm, a single favorite hand-picked paragraph from their book." I think it's a great concept, putting writers in the position of essentially highlighting passages from their own new works.
Emceed with humor and requisite enthusiasm by Tim Federle (Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist), the program featured a wide-ranging baker's dozen of alternately serious or funny--but always fascinating--literary voices, including Jesmyn Ward (Men We Reaped), Lisa Patton (Southern as a Second Language), Jeffrey Stepakoff (The Melody of Secrets) and Amalie Howard (Waterfell).
Somewhere in the middle of this event, we heard a different kind of voice. When Danny Ellis (The Boy at the Gate) was introduced, the singer-songwriter chose to perform, a cappella, "Tommy Bonner" (here's a 2009 instrumental version). While his memoir recounts a tough Dublin childhood and years he spent at the notorious Artane Industrial School orphanage for boys, his voice--on the page as well as in song--transcends those circumstances with a mischievous tone even as he faces them squarely:
Early Mass that first black Sunday, I'm not praying very hard
Then he sings the most beautiful solo Kyrie and rips my soul apart
And tears that I'd held back for days came pouring down like rain
It wasn't hard to let it all go
When Tommy Bonner sang
In BookWorld, and beyond, words can heal as well as sting, as we know so well. Ellis writes of a lesson from his mother, when he was a kid, on the proper use of a certain F-word: "I learnt a great lesson from Ma that evening. The right words, said properly, in the right place, make all the difference." And, yes, I highlighted that passage as well. --Robert Gray, contributing editor