Happy Columbus Day
In honor of the Columbus Day holiday, this is our last issue until Tuesday, October 12. See you then!
In honor of the Columbus Day holiday, this is our last issue until Tuesday, October 12. See you then!
For her new book, Is It Just Me? Or Is It Nuts Out There (Hyperion),
Whoopi Goldberg signed at Bookends, Ridgewood, N.J., on Tuesday. Here
she appears with bookstore owners Pat and Walter Boyer.
Photo: Blair M. Relyea
Has the golden age of the picture book for children passed? The New York Times reported that the "picture book, a mainstay of children's literature with its lavish illustrations, cheerful colors and large print wrapped in a glossy jacket, has been fading.... publishers have scaled back the number of titles they have released in the last several years, and booksellers across the country say sales have been suffering."
"So many of them just die a sad little death, and we never see them again," said Terri Schmitz, owner of the Children's Book Shop, Brookline, Mass.
Justin Chanda, publisher of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, observed: "Parents are saying, 'My kid doesn't need books with pictures anymore.' There's a real push with parents and schools to have kids start reading big-kid books earlier. We've accelerated the graduation rate out of picture books."
At Politics and Prose bookstore, Washington, D.C., children's department manager Dara La Porte said, "They're four years old, and their parents are getting them Stuart Little. I see children pick up picture books, and then the parents say, 'You can do better than this, you can do more than this.' It's a terrible pressure parents are feeling--that somehow, I shouldn't let my child have this picture book because she won't get into Harvard."
Picture books have earned their place in children's reading lives. Karen Lotz, publisher of Candlewick Press, suggested that, "To some degree, picture books force an analog way of thinking. From picture to picture, as the reader interacts with the book, their imagination is filling in the missing themes."
And Kris Vreeland, a book buyer at Vroman’s Bookstore, Pasadena, Calif., noted that "Some of the vocabulary in a picture book is much more challenging than in a chapter book. The words themselves, and the concepts, can be very sophisticated in a picture book."
The Times reported, however, that over the last three years, Scholastic has published 5% to 10% percent fewer hardcover picture books and Don Weisberg, the president of the Penguin Young Readers Group, "said that two and a half years ago, the company began publishing fewer titles but that it had devoted more attention to marketing and promoting the ones that remain. Of all the children's books published by Simon & Schuster, about 20% are picture books, down from 35% a few years ago."
On September 29, Chicago-area booksellers Ann Christophersen of Women & Children First bookstore, Roberta Rubin of the Book Stall at Chestnut Court and Jeff Waxman of 57th Street Books "appeared before an Illinois General Assembly Revenue & Finance Committee Subject Matter hearing on sales tax fairness legislation that is modeled after the New York State sales tax fairness law," Bookselling This Week reported.
Christophersen told BTW "the state legislators had paid close attention to the testimony and had asked follow-up questions 'to get clarification.' She noted that she and her fellow booksellers had stressed that their businesses were definitely being affected by some online retailers' failure to collect state sales tax. 'The problem is getting worse and worse,' said Christophersen, 'in Illinois, online businesses automatically have a 10% advantage over us.' "
The new downtown location for Sam Weller's Bookstore, Salt Lake City, Utah, will soon be known, according to co-owner Tony Weller, who "is cautiously optimistic that they are close to finalizing a deal to purchase a new location," the Salt Lake Tribune reported.
"I don't want to say too much about it. Some weeks ago we also thought that we were getting close to signing a lease for a new location," Weller said. "And that [deal] went sour on us." Nonetheless, Weller hopes to make an announcement about a new location before Christmas, but he concedes "we are going to have to remain in our current location through another holiday season.”
Weller is still uncertain whether they will lease or purchase space: "For me, the idea of leasing kind of challenges the spirit, but it would be a little easier to deal with financially. In the back of my mind, though, I'd prefer to purchase a property, but that means there would be more expenses involved."
He does have a wish list: "The monthly overhead is going to have to fit with our most careful sales projects, and there has to be free parking that I own. We'd also like to be close to the convention center, Temple Square, the downtown hotels and a TRAX station." He also needs enough space to remain the city's largest indie. "So we're looking at a minimum of 10,000 square feet."
ABA president Michael Tucker and Margie Scott Tucker, co-owners of Books Inc., San Francisco, Calif., were guest speakers on a "Bookstore of Tomorrow" panel during the Gothenburg Book Fair in Gothenburg, Sweden, last month.
Bookselling This Week reported that the Tuckers were invited by the Swedish Booksellers Association and by Lasse Winkler, editor of Svensk Bokhandel (Swedish Bookseller), "to speak at the Book Fair about changes facing booksellers in an increasingly digital market. Attending the fair, meeting with the Swedish Booksellers Association--along with many other international booksellers--and seeing how the Buy Local movement is being adopted in various countries was 'extraordinary,' said Tucker. 'It was really encouraging to see communication and dialogue happening internationally among booksellers.' "
This Sunday, Staples will begin selling Amazon's Kindle and Kindle 3G (for $139 and $189, respectively). The company announced last month that it would sell the e-reader sometime this fall (Shelf Awareness, September 1). CNET reported that Staples will also offer "the 9.7-inch Kindle DX for $379 starting in mid-November. In addition, Staples will be selling a variety of Kindle accessories, but it didn't say exactly what would be available."
Dubbing the trend "Stieg's hot streak," USA Today reported that Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo "was the top seller in the third quarter, just as it was in the second. (He also holds two of the other top four spots.) And, Dragon Tattoo starts off the fourth quarter at number one." The top five USA Today bestsellers for the third quarter also included Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert at number two, followed by The Girl Who Played with Fire, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins and Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer.
Nicole Krauss, author most recently of Great House, suggested "four new and unconventional novels that you shouldn't miss" in the Daily Beast. Her recommendations: C by Tom McCarthy, The Last Jew by Yoram Kaniuk, Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck and Sepharad by Antonio Muñoz Molina.
On NPR's Morning Edition, Nancy Pearl--whose latest is Book Lust to Go: Recommended Reading for Travelers, Vagabonds, and Dreamers--recommended tales for the traveler. "I travel, primarily for work, but I am not a Happy Traveler, and most everything about the experience makes me extremely anxious, including the seemingly simple event of leaving home," said Pearl. "So, in one way of looking at it, I am the entirely wrong person to write a book recommending travel books. But, in fact, I am probably one of the best people to write this kind of book, because all my life I have been a virtual traveler--through books--to places far and near."
Pearl's suggestions include Adele & Simon by Barbara McClintock, Map of the Invisible World by Tash Aw, The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman, Into Thick Air: Biking to the Bellybutton of Six Continents by Jim Malusa, Berlin: City of Stones and Berlin: City of Smoke by Jason Lutes, Dark Star Safari: Overland trom Cairo to Cape Town by Paul Theroux and Territory by Emma Bull.
Nicholas Royle, author of Quilt, selected his "top 10 writers on the telephone" for the Guardian, which noted: "From an essential plot device for Chandler to the voice of God in Muriel Spark, the author explains how the telephone has wormed its way into literature, and why the novel is itself a kind of phonecall."
A mini-documentary from Imaginary Forces explores our complex relationship with the desk. Among the featured desk aficionados is author and journalist Kurt Anderson, who observed: "I would say that it's sacred to me or it's central to my life in the way the hearth is."
Ever wondered exactly how people make secret, hollowed-out books? Boing Boing showcased John Park's DIY tutorial.
Book trailer of the day: Fish Out of Agua: My Life on Neither Side of the (Subway) Tracks by Michele Carlo (Citadel).
Suggesting that australopithecines could become the next big YA reading focus "now that the vampire craze has died down," Ruben Bolling's Tom the Dancing Bug comic offered a "humble proposal" to publishers.
Some of the information about Claire Gaudiani's Generosity Unbound: How American Philanthropy Can Strengthen the Economy and Expand the Middle Class in our Book TV schedule earlier this week was incorrect. She will appear on C-Span 2 Saturday at 8:30 p.m., Sunday at 9:30 a.m. and Monday at 4 a.m. The book is available from Broadway Publications in both hardcover ($25, 9781931764186/1931764182) and paperback ($15, 9781931764193/1931764190) editions.
General retail sales last month were up as consumers "finally got around to their back-to-school shopping in September, inspired by plenty of promotions," the Wall Street Journal reported. Sales at stores open at least a year rose 2.8% in September, as measured by Thomson Reuters, compared to a 0.6% gain a year ago and higher than the 2.1% projected by analysts.
"Consumers remained highly value-centric and purchased largely only with coupon in hand or because of special offers," said Thomas Filandro, retail analyst at Susquehanna Financial Group.
The Journal also noted that Mike Berry, director of industry research for SpendingPulse, observed that the year-earlier gain may have been small, but there was psychological significance in beating a positive number. "Anything that can perhaps be viewed as positive news can perhaps make a difference," Berry said, while adding a note of caution: "We're seeing a continuation of consumers buying close to their needs, in this case back to school."
Ken Perkins, president of Retail Metrics, told the New York Times: "I don’t think we will be back to 2005 levels, but I think it is going to be a decent season, with consumers retrenching to save for the upcoming holiday season."
"What we have been seeing, particularly because of the downturn, is consumers are holding on to their money and buying closer to when they are actually going to need the product, so fall purchases appear to have been delayed," added John Long, a retail strategist at Kurt Salmon Associates.
At a press conference in Manhattan yesterday, newly crowned Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa said he "thought a semester teaching at Princeton would give him some time off from the attention he attracts in Lima and Madrid," the New York Times reported. But the 150-plus journalists in attendance proved this will not be the case. Vargas Llosa "answered questions in Spanish, English and French. He spoke about winning the prize, about the relationship between his writing and his politics and about Latin American literature. He concluded to spirited applause, a crowd rushing the podium and at least one attendant shouting 'Viva Peru!' " Audio excerpts from his comments are available on the Times website.
"On Thursday October 7, Peruvians woke up to what has been called the 'News of the Year': Mario Vargas Llosa was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature by the Swedish Academy," Global Voices reported, noting that "the Peruvian blogosphere is abuzz with the news."
The Guardian featured a slide show depicting "a Nobel winner's life" in pictures as well as "five essential novels" by the author, including The Time of the Hero, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, The War of the End of the World, The Feast of the Goat and The Bad Girl .
In the New York Times, Michiko Kakutani offered an appraisal of his work, including "two related themes" in the novels: "a fascination with the human craving for freedom (be it political, social or creative) and the liberation conferred by art and imagination. Indeed, storytelling itself remains a central concern in the author’s work, in both his taste for willfully complicated narratives and his philosophical preoccupation with the ways in which subjectivity acts as a distorting prism for our apprehension of the world."
"Sometimes the Swedish Academy surprises by making the obvious choice," Boyd Tonkin wrote in the Independent. "For all the pre-announcement buzz around the names of both Cormac MacCarthy and the Kenyan Ngugi wa Thiong'o, this year's winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature should have looked a much safer bet than either."
Nobel pugilists. "It's not too often that a future winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature has decked another soon-to-be Nobel laureate, leaving him bleeding and with a black-eye at a red carpet event," the Wall Street Journal recalled. "That's exactly what happened three decades ago between Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature on Thursday, and Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez, who won the Nobel in 1982.... Whatever the cause, the incident ended the close friendship between two heavyweights of Latin American letters. The two are believed to have never exchanged a word since then."
For speed readers, the Daily Beast featured a "60-Second Guide to the Nobel Lit Winner."
Children's author Brian Lies wrote in response to yesterday's piece about literary tattoos (Shelf Awareness, October 7, 2010):
I enjoyed reading your piece on literary tattoos this morning, and I think I may be able one-up the Eric Carle caterpillar tattoo: about a year ago, I received an e-mail from a Ukranian copywriter and translator, asking if I'd give her permission to put the jacket image for my NY Times bestselling picture book, Bats at the Library, on her arm. Several months later, she sent me photos of the final tattoo--her entire left arm from elbow to shoulder! Her tattoo artist did a remarkable job of recreating the strong colors on my book jacket.
This morning on the Today Show: Dr. Susan Love, author of Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book (Merloyd Lawrence/Da Capo Lifelong Books, $22, 9780738213590/0738213594), now in its fifth edition.
Tonight on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon: Alton Brown, author of Good Eats 2: The Middle Years (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $37.50, 9781584798576/1584798572), who will demo his Blow Hard Beef Jerky.
Twenty-five years after Ridley Scott directed Blade Runner, he will return to Philip K. Dick's work to produce a four-hour BBC miniseries based on The Man in the High Castle. Deadline.com reported that British playwright Howard Brenton is adapting the Hugo Award-winning novel and "Headline Pictures is also producing with Electric Shepherd Productions, the production arm of Philip K. Dick's estate.... Fremantle Media, which handles The X Factor, will sell the 4 hour-long episodes overseas."
Author Stephenie Meyer confirmed on Facebook that nine-year-old Mackenzie Foy (FlashForward and 'Til Death) has joined the cast of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn. She'll play Bella's (Kristen Stewart) and Edward's (Robert Pattinson) daughter, Renesmee.
"Very excited about our new Renesmee, Mackenzie Foy," wrote Meyer. "She's an amazing young actress and I'm excited to work with her."
Director Bill Condon "is expected to use similar special effects as David Fincher in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to show Foy aging 17 years over the span of seven years."
Now that wagering for the Nobel Prize in literature has been settled by Mario Vargas Llosa's longshot victory yesterday, literary punters in the U.K., may have thought they could turn their full attention to the upcoming Man Booker Prize. But the Guardian reported that Ladbrokes suspended wagering "after a flurry of bets supporting Tom McCarthy's novel C. The bookmaker's spokesperson David Williams said £15,000 [US$23,897]-worth of bets were placed on C on Wednesday morning, completely outstripping all earlier betting on the prize, which had previously totaled just £10,000 since the announcement of the longlist in July."
"This year there wasn't really a standout name among the six shortlisted candidates, no Rushdie or Banville, so you'd expect to see a good spread of business, with a few people having a £10 bet on him or her," Williams said. "That's what we saw up until yesterday. But on Wednesday morning five of the candidates were absolutely friendless and every single bet started striking on one man. It wouldn't be so surprising if there were a Rushdie in the race, but with respect, in this case it was borderline inexplicable and we decided to pull the plug." Also shortlisted for the Booker are Emma Donoghue, Damon Galgut, Andrea Levy, Peter Carey and Howard Jacobson.
Tom Franklin is the author of Poachers: Stories and the novels Hell at the Breech and Smonk. In October 2010, Morrow published his new novel, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. Winner of a 2001 Guggenheim Fellowship, Franklin teaches in the University of Mississippi's MFA program and lives in Oxford, Miss., with his wife, the poet Beth Ann Fennelly, and their children.
On your nightstand now:
The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall, knee brace, hot sports cream, Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, galley of Dennis Lehane's new novel, Moonlight Mile.
Favorite book when you were a child:
Tarzan of the Apes.
Your top five authors:
Beth Ann Fennelly, Cormac McCarthy, Philip Roth, William Gay, Barry Hannah.
Book you've faked reading:
Every John Barth I ever "read" except The Floating Opera, which was good.
Book you're an evangelist for:
All of William Gay and True Grit by Charles Portis. Oh, and Jack Pendarvis's books.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Tarzan of the Apes. Paperback. Neal Adams cover. I was 12 or so and Jane was busty.
Book that changed your life:
Rick Bass's The Watch. That book is filled with unforgettable, booming voices that still boom in my imagination 20 years later. Bass showed me that writing is a way of looking at life. He'd be describing a field in Mississippi and make it so magical I wanted to go there. Then I'd realize I was in a field in Alabama, and they're almost the same. It was how Bass looked at things that made me look at them again.
Favorite line from a book:
I've always loved this description of John Grady Cole in Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses: "All his reverence and all his fondness and all the leanings of his life were for the ardenthearted and they would always be so and never be otherwise." Or this from Tom McGuane in The Bushwhacked Piano: "They'd known each other for the better part of quite some time." Or this from Dr. Seuss: "All the Whos down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot. But the Grinch, who lived north of Whoville, did not."
Best story title:
"Was," William Faulkner.
Favorite song lyric:
"Bomba of the Jungle was everyone's bwana/ but only jazz musicians were smoking marijuana"--Jimmy Buffet, "Pencil Thin Mustache"
Book you've read that almost nobody else has:
Alnilam by James Dickey.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
What do the Midwest Booksellers Association trade show, marathon runners and the Dead Sea Scrolls have in common? If you answered St. Paul, Minn., you receive partial credit, but the correct response is a bit more complicated.
Certain themes inevitably emerge when you talk with booksellers and publishers over the course of a weekend. By the time the MBA show ended, two words seemed preeminent for me. While one--community--is familiar, the other is a concept we haven't talked about as much during recent, often perilous, times for our industry--longevity. I kept hearing about plans for the future, not just plans for survival, and this is a significant change.
Outgoing executive director Susan Walker said that although attendance was down slightly compared to last year, traffic in Saturday's exhibit hall "was interesting in that it stayed quite steady all day long. We had comments from both booksellers and vendors that it was a much more productive show. People were there to do business. It was an industrious show."
I'll write in more detail about some of the MBA panels in future columns, but one of them spoke directly to the potential breadth of a bookstore's reach and responsibility: "Beyond Customer Loyalty: Creating a Community of Customers."
"We realized there was a limit to what you could do with customer loyalty within the four walls of your store," said Geoffrey Jennings of Rainy Day Books, Fairway, Kan. "The ultimate goal is to become the voice of books in your community. The more you knit the fabric of your community together, the stronger it gets."
"The essential part of my business plan is to have these partnerships with the community," added Lanora Hurley of Next Chapter Bookshop, Mequon, Wis.
Authors spoke of their connection to indie booksellers. At Friday's book and author breakfast, Laurie Hertzel (News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist) recalled her childhood affection for a local bookshop where she "learned the joys of a small, well-edited bookstore and that never went away."
Jonathan Evison, author West of Here, expressed his deep appreciation for independent bookstores ("You're the people who are feeding my kids!") and read his short essay, "A Booksellers Love Story," which ends "Now, ask yourself: where else are you gonna' get this kind of service but an indie bookstore?"
During the "Moveable Feast" author lunch, Joan Steffend (...and she sparkled) observed: "I know people come in for books, but I also know people are looking for connections."
And at the Midwest Booksellers' Choice Awards reception, Ethan Rutherford, marketing/publicity manager for Milkweed Editions, accepted an award on behalf of the late Bill Holm for The Chain Letter of the Soul: New and Selected Poems. "Bill received a number of awards over the course of his life," Rutherford said, "but he would have found this one particularly satisfying for just this reason. Bill knew better than most writers that we're all in this together: writers and readers, publishers and booksellers. And in this case, we have a writer, a publisher, and booksellers who are all fiercely independent."
Kathy Jo-Worgin, one of the editors of Beloved on the Earth: 150 Poems of Grief and Gratitude, agreed: "The indie bookseller is, without a doubt, the sustaining heartbeat of a community."
The acceptance speeches were still resonating when Chris Livingston, MBA president and owner of the Book Shelf, Winona, Minn., paid tribute to Susan Walker by invoking the heart again: "Susan has been the heart and blood of this organization."
After the show, Susan and I talked about her time with MBA since her first day in the autumn of 1987. "Over the years of running the association, I think we've been able to create something that's been genuinely useful to the members," she said. "I'm really proud of what we've accomplished as an association. I think the MBA has a lot of integrity. They work well together."
Independence and community; heart and the long haul.
|At MBA: Susan Walker, flanked by authors Suzanne Collins and Tony DiTerlizzi.|
The answer to my original question is that St. Paul also hosted the Twin Cities Marathon last weekend, and the streets and hotel lobbies were filled with a community of runners preparing for Sunday's race. Meanwhile, just across the street from the RiverCentre at the Science Museum of Minnesota, an exhibition featuring fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls also included a new Saint John's Bible, "the first complete, handwritten and illuminated Bible to be commissioned in 500 years."
Spending the weekend surrounded by book people, long distance runners, the Dead Sea Scrolls and a new illuminated Bible, I couldn't resist considering the implications in terms of history and longevity. Booksellers and publishers, like the marathon runners who kept leaving me in the dust as I walked to the RiverCentre, are in this for the long haul.
Longevity is the result of imagination and hard work. I keep thinking of the Saint John's Bible, which Fr. Eric Hollas--in a short film accompanying the exhibition--called "the one thing that we'll probably be remembered for 500 years from now. The buildings will go... and oddly enough this one piece of artistic achievement will probably still be here." Books defy time and foster community.--Robert Gray (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)