For the rest of the week, we're taking a break to give thanks for so many things. Best wishes to all booksellers this Friday! See you again on Monday, November 29.
For the rest of the week, we're taking a break to give thanks for so many things. Best wishes to all booksellers this Friday! See you again on Monday, November 29.
Some authors have the most devoted friends: here David Macintosh, a mechanical engineer in Hood River, Ore., demonstrated the extremes of his inability to put down a copy of Laura Hillenbrand's new book, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (Random House). The author of Seabiscuit, Hillenbrand in this book tells the story of Louie Zamperini, an Olympic runner who became a bombardier in the Army Air Corps, crashed in the Pacific, drifted for weeks, fought off sharks and then faced the biggest challenge of his life: surviving a Japanese POW camp.
Member stores of the Association of Booksellers for Children have voted overwhelmingly to merge with the American Booksellers Association, a move that has been considered and debated for two years.
Of the 157 ABC stores eligible to vote, 105 voted in favor and 23 opposed, an 82-18 ratio. Two-thirds of all ABC members approved the merger.
ABC has created a transitional committee composed of three board members--v-p Valerie Koehler, treasurer Antonia Squire and general advisor and immediate past-treasurer Dara Laporte--that will develop a transition plan and work with ABC's lawyer and the ABA to ensure that ABC's assets and programming make a smooth transition in the process. The ABA is forming its own transitional committee under the direction of board members Becky Anderson and Beth Puffer.
ABC executive director Kristen McLean will work with the ABA on a contingency basis while the ABA reviews staffing and appoints a primary contact for the new ABC Children's Group within the ABA.
Bookseller members of both organizations will be able to join the ABC Children's Group. ABC stores that are not currently ABA members will be offered a trial membership for the same cost as their ABC membership. All of ABC's current services will be maintained.
"We are in a time of unprecedented industry evolution, and I believe the independent booksellers of the ABC are sending a message that they can also evolve to meet the demands of the changing industry positively," ABC's McLean said. "I'm very excited that many more stores will have access to the expertise of ABC, and that children's issues will continue to be an important part of the ongoing dialogue that ABA is cultivating at the national level."
ABC president Elizabeth Bluemle echoed McLean, saying, "Children's bookselling continues to be one of the vital bright spots in a struggling industry, and we are delighted to share our collective knowledge and expertise with all of our colleagues at the ABA."
"The merger of ABC and ABA comes at a time when all independent booksellers need to unite their resources, passion, and expertise to build for our future," said Becky Anderson, current v-p of the ABA and past president of ABC. "Children's issues are a huge part of this future for all stores."
"Recognizing the rich history and many accomplishments of the Association of Booksellers for Children, coupled with all the enormous changes taking place in retail bookselling, we at ABA see this vote in favor of the merger of our two organizations as an opportunity to be able to accomplish more to serve the present and future needs of children's booksellers," ABA CEO Oren Teicher said. "We know that some struggled with the wisdom of our joining forces but we are confident that building on the thoughtful planning that led to the final vote, children's booksellers will continue to have the resources and support necessary to grow and prosper."
ABC was formed in 1984 to focus on children's issues. Membership hit a high of 600 in the early 1990s. About half of ABC's members are general bookstores, and almost all ABC member stores are members of the ABA.
Some 30-40 people took advantage of an offer by the Spirit of '76 Bookstore, Marblehead, Mass., to give a 20% discount on all purchases to people wearing pajamas in the store between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. last Saturday, the Salem News reported. Three other Marblehead stores participated in the pj promotion, which has been held for eight years on the Saturday before Thanksgiving and was begun by bookstore manager Hilary Emerson Lay.
Lay told the paper: "It's just something different. And people love it. Usually we see our best customers coming in wearing bathrobes and pajamas. People are always running into their neighbors here. I think it's fun to see your neighbors in their pajamas."
Amazon.com has launched amazon.it, an Italian-language website that offers more than two million books in Italian and other languages, 450,000 CDs and 120,000 DVDs as well as the rest of the usual Amazon stock, excluding kitchen sinks. The company is offering a celebratory 30% discount on most books and an Italian version of Amazon Prime: for €9.99 a year, the company guarantees free 2-3 day delivery.
In partnership with Egyptian publisher Dar El Shorouk, Penguin Group will publish Penguin Classics in the Arab world, a deal that resembles other Penguin Classic programs begun in the past several years in Brazil, South Korea and China, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Some titles are Arabic classics. The program will eventually include electronic editions of books. Penguin Classics represent about 5% of Penguin sales.
Ibrahim El Moallem, chairman of Dar El Shorouk, told the paper that the joint venture will make many classics available in up-to-date Arabic translations for the first time. "In Egypt, readership is rising, especially among the younger generation," he noted, saying that selling and distributing titles under the Penguin Classics name may ease censorship problems in some Middle Eastern countries.
In its report on Black Friday deals, USA Today took note of the adults' overall wish list from the Consumer Electronics Association's annual study of holiday purchasing, observing that "we're not sure whether to be thrilled that 'peace/happiness' tops the list (or for that matter, makes the list) or be appalled that 'family together' and even 'good health' rank well below iPads and e-readers."
NPR's Heller McAlpin recommended five books that "are not just great reads--books you put down reluctantly, not a slog among them--but meaty, serious stories that manage to provide a few laughs while raising controversial questions you'll want to discuss with others, whether they've read the book or not." The choices: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, So Much for That by Lionel Shriver, Room by Emma Donoghue, 36 Arguments for the Existence of God by Rebecca Goldstein and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.
Pop quiz of the day: The Guardian tested reader's knowledge of libraries in literature.
On her blog, Karen the Small Press Librarian tours Leopold's Books, Detroit, Mich., which opened a little over a year ago near the Detroit Institute of the Arts and Wayne State University and sells books, art books, graphic novels, zines and magazines. Leopold's has a philosophy like that of Copacetic Comics in Pittsburgh, she wrote, "Both stores run a very tight ship in a modest space, selling only books the owners know, love, and can personally recommend. They know their customer base and they play directly to that, offering a kind of specialized knowledge and personalized selection that chain stores and Amazon can't."
As Metropolis Books, Los Angeles, Calif., nears its fourth anniversary, blog downtown profiled the store, owned by Julie Swayze and Steven Bowie, wife and husband.
Swayze, who once launched stores for Pier 1 Imports and was a buyer for Robinsons-May, said that opening Metropolis was much more risky, based more on instinct.
"My dream is not to grow [Metropolis] into a box chain," she said. "It's to keep it small and boutique." She added that she is much less stressed running her own company. "It's funny, because being here is like being at home. It's like it is an extension of my living room. I feel really strange when I'm not here."
On his store's blog, Drew Goodman, general books sales manager at the University Campus Store at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, took exception to an item we reported on yesterday: Simba Information's survey that found, as Simba put it, "approximately 35% of iPad owners have not used the devices to read e-books."
Goodman wrote: "We could easily take this report and turn it on its head saying, '65% of iPad owners have used the iPad to read a book.' This is a higher percentage than the number of adults in the United States who said they have read a book in the last year.
"The problem with this survey is that it engages in making an implied comparison, which is, 'While 35% of iPad owners haven't read a book on the iPad, 100% of Kindle, Nook and Sony Reader owners have used their device to read a book.' "
He concluded: "Maybe Simba should conduct a new study informing us that '100% of physical book readers have used an amazing device to read. It's called a book.' "
Derek Lawrence, director of retail sales at Interweave Press, has been elected president of PubWest. He had been PubWest's v-p and has been involved in the association for 14 years. He commented: "During my time as president, we will work to strengthen PubWest and propel the viability of our member companies while enriching the careers of those who join us. I expect to see our conference earn recognition--as the best opportunity in publishing to learn, brainstorm, troubleshoot, and network with our peers. We plan to expand our member benefits and make the cost of membership a responsibility, not a burden, for all small- and medium-sized publishers."
Dave Trendler, marketing and publicity manager for VeloPress, has been elected v-p of PubWest, succeeding Lawrence.
Today on CBS's The Talk: Dallas Clayton, author of An Awesome Book of Thanks! (AmazonEncore, $17.95, 9781935597377/193559737X).
Friday morning on the Today Show: Justin Bieber, author of First Step 2 Forever (HarperCollins, $21.99, 9780062039743/0062039741).
Friday morning on the Rachael Ray Show: Buddy Valastro, author of Cake Boss: Stories and Recipes from Mia Famiglia (Free Press, $25.99, 9781439183519/1439183511).
Friday on Oprah: Liz Murray, author of Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard (Hyperion, $24.99, 9780786868919/0786868910).
Friday on a repeat of NPR's Diane Rehm Show: A.E. Hotchner, author of Paul and Me: Fifty-three Years of Adventures and Misadventures with My Pal Paul Newman (Nan A. Talese, $26.95, 9780385532334/0385532334).
Also on Diane Rehm Show: Helen Simonson, author of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand (Random House, $15, 9780812981223/0812981227).
Friday on the Doctors: Natalie Cole, author of Love Brought Me Back: A Journey of Loss and Gain (Simon & Schuster, $23, 9781451606058/1451606052).
Friday on a repeat of Tavis Smiley: Valerie Plame, author of Fair Game: How a Top CIA Agent Was Betrayed by Her Own Government (Simon & Schuster, $15, 1416537627), and her husband, Joseph Wilson, author of The Politics of Truth: A Diplomat's Memoir: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife's CIA Identity (PublicAffairs, $16.95, 9780786715510/0786715510).
Friday night on a repeat of the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson: Cornel West, author of Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud, A Memoir (Smiley Books, $15.95, 9781401921903/1401921906).
CBS Sunday Morning will run a story on A Secret Gift: How One Man's Kindness--and a Trove of Letters--Revealed the Hidden History of the Great Depression by Ted Gup (Penguin Press, $25.95, 9781594202704/1594202702).
Book TV airs on C-Span 2 this holiday week from 8 a.m. Thursday to 8 a.m. Monday and focuses on political and historical books as well as the book industry. The following are highlights for this coming weekend. For more information, go to Book TV's website.
Thursday, November 25
1 p.m. Jay Kirk, author of Kingdom Under Glass: A Tale of Obsession, Adventure, and One Man's Quest to Preserve the World's Great Animals (Holt, $27.50, 9780805092820/080509282X), recounts the life of taxidermist and conservationist Carl Akeley. (Re-airs Friday at 1 a.m. and Saturday at 8 a.m. and 4:15 p.m.)
Friday, November 26
6 a.m. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice discusses her book Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family (Crown Archetype, $27, 9780307587879/0307587878). (Re-airs Saturday at 9 p.m., Sunday at 11 a.m. and Monday at 1 a.m.)
9:15 a.m. Joseph Ellis, author of First Family: Abigail & John Adams (Knopf, $27.95, 9780307269621/0307269620), talks about the 1,200 letters that John and Abigail exchanged during their 50-year marriage. (Re-airs Friday at 5:15 p.m., Saturday at 1:15 a.m. and 2 p.m., and Sunday at 4 a.m.)
12 p.m. Angela Davis presents the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave--A New Critical Edition (City Lights, $12.95, 9780872865273/0872865274), and talks about the book with Toni Morrison. (Re-airs Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 4 a.m. and 11 a.m., and Sunday at 12 a.m.)
Saturday, November 27
1 p.m. Genevieve de Galard, author of Angel of Dien Bien Phu: The Lone French Woman at the Battle for Vietnam (Naval Institute Press, $23.95, 9781591142065/1591142067), recounts her time as a flight nurse for the French Air Force during the pivotal battle for the French in Vietnam. (Re-airs Saturday at 11 p.m. and Monday at 2 a.m.)
3 p.m. E. Stanly Godbold, author of Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter: The Georgia Years, 1924-1974 (Oxford University Press, $29.95, 9780199753444/019975344X), presents the first of a planned two-volume biography of the Carters. (Re-airs Sunday at 7 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.)
8 p.m. Jorge Enrique Botero, Victoria Bruce and Karin Hayes, authors of Hostage Nation: Colombia's Guerrilla Army and the Failed War on Drugs (Knopf, $26.95, 9780307271150/0307271153), examine the rise of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). (Re-airs Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 3 a.m. and 2 p.m.)
10 p.m. After Words. Barbara Slavin interviews James Zogby, author of Arab Voices: What They Are Saying to Us and Why it Matters (Palgrave Macmillan, $25, 9780230102996/0230102999). (Re-airs Sunday at 9 p.m. and Monday at 12 a.m. and 3 a.m.)
Another literary prize, another win for a small publisher. Amy Sackville's debut novel, The Still Point, won the £5,000 (US$7,885) John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, which honors the best work of literature by a U.K. or Commonwealth writer aged 35 or under.
Chair of judges Claire Allfree said The Still Point "has a huge imaginative scope. It tells its story in unexpected, subtle ways and her use of language took our breath away. She is a writer of seemingly limitless promise and, amid some tough competition, a thoroughly deserving winner."
The Still Point is published by Portobello Books, and "its win continues the trend which has seen independents take a number of high-profile prizes internationally this year, including, most recently, Canada's Giller prize and America's National Book Awards fiction prize," the Guardian wrote.
Christian Wiman was born and raised in West Texas. He is the editor of Poetry magazine and the author of two previous collections of poems, Hard Night (2005) and The Long Home (2007), and one collection of prose, Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet (2007). His new book of poetry, Every Riven Thing, is a November 2010 publication from Farrar, Straus & Giroux. He lives in Chicago with his family.
On your nightstand now:
Nadezhda Mandelstam's Hope Against Hope, a crisply written, devastating account of Osip Mandelstam's last years. Hounded by Stalin, half-destroyed by torture, he wrote his finest poetry in a final blaze of defiance, derangement and pure genius.
Favorite book when you were a child:
All of Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan books, no question. Not only did I read them all multiple times, I often did so while wearing a loincloth. I don't actually remember this aspect of the obsession, but my mother swears it's true and, alas, has the much-tattered but lovingly sewn evidence to support her case.
Your top five authors:
George Herbert: a contemporary of Shakespeare (who isn't on my list only because it seems so obvious) who wrote poems of such devotional intensity and questioning clarity that they come right through the centuries to speak to our times.
Marilynne Robinson: a genius of prose (see especially Housekeeping and Gilead), and a genius at assimilating huge masses of material either to distill (see her essay on the Gospels) or destroy (see the wonderful Absence of Mind).
Dietrich Bonhoeffer: mostly for Letters and Papers from Prison, which was written during the last year of World War II, before Bonhoeffer was shot by the Nazis.
Zbigniew Herbert: most great poets are ruined by translation, but even in English Herbert is a master of carefully modulated tones, historical tragedies and ironies, and just plain old-fashioned insight about what it means to be alive.
Fanny Howe: I'm astonished by her scope, her depth, and the scalding intensity of her--there's no other word for it--vision. For the novels, see Radical Love. For the poetry, see Selected Poems. And for the essays, try either The Wedding Dress or The Winter Sun.
Book you've faked reading:
Dickens! I've tried mightily, I've burrowed into one damn book after another, but there's nothing for it: he bores me. The fault is mine, I'm sure, but eventually one has to admit the fault is there for good, and move on.
Book you're an evangelist for:
Atsuro Riley's inventive, eccentric, sui generis new (and only) book of poems, Romey's Order. It's the sort of book you can feel the future reading in.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Well, my wife and I recently had twin girls, so we've bought about a thousand books with rainbow-clad covers promising peaceful sleep and stress-less days. We burned them in our fireplace, so they weren't completely useless.
Book that changed your life:
Simone Weil's Gravity and Grace. It seems a bit willful and austere to me now, but it gave me a language for a whole dimension of intellectual and spiritual experience through which I was desperately fumbling.
Favorite line from a book:
"Time rends the soul. Through the rent, eternity enters."--Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Robert Frost's Collected Poems. I have many of these by heart, which is wonderful in that they're always there for me and deeply embedded in my own history and experience. But they're so familiar by now, and I would love to have that first thrill (which I can't even recall) of coming across a poem like "To Earthward" or "The Most of It."
Under the Green Hill by Laura Sullivan (Henry Holt & Company, $16.99 Hardcover, 9780805089844, October 2010)
In this assured debut, Laura L. Sullivan updates fairy lore for modern times, threading in a bit of the selkie myth alongside the traditional glamour. When a life-threatening fever runs through America's East Coast, Tom and Glynnis Morgan decide to send their four children to Glynnis's great-aunt and uncle in England. Phyllida and Lysander Ash inherited the Rookery at Gladysmere from their ancestors, who aided the young Charles Stuart long before he was crowned King Charles II. The monarch remembered them with this estate. The Ashes gladly agree to take in the Morgans, despite their concern that the children will be staying with them over "Midsummer, on a seventh year." The Morgan children also wind up traveling with two additional passengers hoping to avoid the fever: self-important and wealthy young Finn Fachan, and Dickie Rhys, an asthmatic, studious child.
It turns out that Phyllida Ash, in addition to overseeing the Rookery, serves as Guardian to property that houses the Green Hill, home to two rival fairy courts. Rowan, Meg, Priscilla ("Silly") and James Morgan, at the taunting of bad-boy Finn, cannot resist going out on the night of their arrival, May 1, a night of revelry in the town--even though the Ashes have warned them to stay inside. An impish gent named Gul Ghillie offers to act as the children's guide to the festivities, and later leads them into the forbidden forest. Rowan comes under the glamour of the Fairy Queen, and pledges his life to represent her Seelie Court in the Midsummer War, which happens only every seven years, on June 20 (hence Phyllida's concerns). And that is just the beginning.
Sullivan possesses a gift for capturing a character in a line or two. For instance, when Finn suggests they break the rules and spy on the May 1 celebration, Meg is "keen for adventure, too, though she was the kind of person who would always think to bring water and wear sturdy shoes before the adventure." Rowan may be the oldest, but Meg is the responsible one. The author populates this alluring world with characters such as the Rookery brownie, Jenny Greenteeth--a carnivorous water nymph; a Wyrm (a snakelike being) who helps Dickie research the fairy world; the handsome Black Prince; and the breathtaking Fairy Queen herself. The often witty omniscient narrator parcels out information but never seems intrusive. The plot thickens as Rowan's rival in the Midsummer War comes to light, and Finn unwittingly inserts himself into this ages-old tradition. Sullivan fashions an unforgettable landscape and suggests that the line between the real and fairy worlds remains highly permeable. She pays tribute to time-honored fairy traditions while also introducing questions of free will, trust and loyalty in a refreshingly original tale.--Jennifer M. Brown
Although Sally Nurss wrote that with winter approaching, she wishes it were true, Our Town Books, the store that she and her husband, Jim, are opening in the spring, will be in Jacksonville, Ill., not Jacksonville, Fla., as we erroneously stated in Monday's issue. Our apologies for the confusion.
A feeling of gratitude has been welling up within me.
It began in Riverside Church one Saturday last month.
It was a religious experience, but not the usual kind.
It had to do with reading and writing.
More than 2500 teachers gathered
at the 79th reunion of Teachers College of Columbia University
on October 23rd.
Two vanloads of teachers had risen at 3:30 a.m.
to arrive in time for the 9:00 opening keynote.
A contingent from Los Angeles
had flown in the day before.
I was sitting next to Jon Scieszka,
the former (but forever inaugural)
National Ambassador for Young People's Literature
as a standing-room-only crowd
filed into the balconies of the massive church.
Jon turned to me and said,
"Look what she has built."
With her book The Art
of Teaching Writing,
Robinson Professor in Children's Literature, and
founding director of the Reading and Writing Project
at Columbia Teachers College,
revolutionized the way teachers teach.
She changed the way teachers see themselves
and, in turn, the way children see themselves.
All of us in the classroom who read her book changed
because of what Calkins believed we could do
with a room full of young minds eager to express themselves.
We read her books, we attended her workshops,
we became a growing tribe
committed to raising a generation of readers and writers.
And here we all were on a Saturday in October.
A congregation led by Lucy Calkins.
"Look what she has built."
In her introduction of keynote speaker Kate DiCamillo,
Lucy spoke of Donald Graves, her mentor from the age of 10,
whose funeral she had attended the weekend before.
"Don taught the world kids want to write," she said.
"Kate taught the world kids want to read."
Kate spoke of her lifelong friend, Tracey Bailey,
who read and reread Charlotte's Web.
Kate recently asked Tracey why she read and reread it.
"I knew that a terrible thing was going to happen,"
Tracey answered, "and I also knew
that it was going to be okay somehow.
I found out that I could…. bear it somehow."
And "what saved Wilbur's life?"
Kate posed, rhetorically.
"Words. Terrific. Humble. Some pig."
Kate spoke of how writing gets us through a dark time:
"Ray Bradbury said that living at risk,
living as an artist, writing a novel,
is like jumping off a cliff and
building wings on the way down.
But this time, in telling this story,
I discovered that it can work in the reverse, too.
The novel was not a set of wings that I constructed as I fell.
It was a ladder that I built as I climbed up."
And she spoke of Ian Frazier
offering a writing workshop in a homeless shelter
and a homeless man who was once a student of John Cheever
while he was in prison in Ossining, N.Y.
The homeless man explained to Frazier,
"[Cheever] told us when you writin',
you got this surface thing, you understan',
going on up here—he moved his left hand in a circle
with his fingers spread apart, as if rubbing a flat surface--
an' then you get that goin' on,
now you got to come up under it—
he brought his right hand under his left,
as if throwing an uppercut--
'come under this thing
that's goin' on up here, you understan'."
Cheever teaches the inmate,
the inmate teaches Ian Frazier,
Frazier teaches Kate DiCamillo,
DiCamillo teaches 2500 teachers
who carry these words into their classrooms
of 20 or 25 or 30 students.
The polished thing and the uppercut.
"What matters to us here,
is not what matters to the population at large"
Kate DiCamillo says.
"There is a supreme indifference to art,
to storytelling, to poetry in this culture,
in spite of the fact that,
in the words of the poet William Carlos Williams,
'It is difficult
To get the news from poems
Yet men die miserably every day
of what is found there.'"
Just last week,
on the opposite end of the isle of Manhattan,
Cornelius Eady, chair
of the 2010 National Book Award for Poetry,
introduced the poet finalists by citing this same quote
from Williams Carlos Williams,
the first recipient of the National Book Award for Poetry.
"A good picture book can almost be whistled,"
said Leonard S. Marcus,
quoting Margaret Wise Brown,
at the 39th Annual BookFest celebration
held on Saturday, October 30.
Founded by Frances Henne,
a faculty member of the School of Library Service
at Columbia University,
BookFest was also called "Velma Varner Day"
in honor of Henne's close friend
and editor of Viking Children's Books.
After the library school closed,
Columbia Teachers College took over BookFest,
then the New York Public Library.
This year, for the first time,
BookFest was held at the Bank Street College of Education,
the laboratory for Margaret Wise Brown,
author of Goodnight Moon.
Marcus, who wrote her biography, Awakened by the Moon,
also noted that because Brown was
"writing books for people too young to read them,"
she often had to "defend her profession
around the Thanksgiving table."
Jon Scieszka, speaking on a "Guys Read" panel at
together with Mac Barnett and David Yoo,
characterized the contributors
to the first Guys Read anthology, Funny Business, this way:
"We have a similar take to David Foster Wallace and Tom Pynchon.
We bring that sensibility to second-graders."
(You can see what he means from the book trailer.)
Scieszka writes of a Time Warp Trio and a Stinky Cheese Man.
He was the first National Ambassador for Young People's Literature.
But if you listen to him closely
you realize that his greatest passion is teaching.
Jon Scieszka wants kids to love reading.
He wants them to be lifelong readers.
He wants them to know that words matter.
What matters to us here
may not be what matters to the population at large.
But we are a committed tribe,
we teachers, librarians, booksellers, book makers and book lovers.
We are in the company of those who know that words matter.
For that I am truly grateful.--Jennifer M. Brown
Time is meaningless. For that I give thanks. While occupying a front-row seat as wary retailers and always excitable media outlets gear up for the biggest retail weekend of the year, I'm also immersed in the newly released Autobiography of Mark Twain, a book whose century-long embargo must be humbling to our contemporary publisher embargoes.
In 1906, Twain called Thanksgiving Day "a function which originated in New England two or three centuries ago when those people recognized that they really had something to be thankful for--annually, not oftener--if they had succeeded in exterminating their neighbors, the Indians, during the previous twelve months instead of getting exterminated by their neighbors the Indians. Thanksgiving became a habit, for the reason that in the course of time, as the years drifted on, it was perceived that the exterminating had ceased to be mutual and was all on the white man's side, consequently the Lord's side, consequently it was proper to thank the Lord for it and extend the usual annual compliments. The original reason for a Thanksgiving Day has long ago ceased to exist--the Indians have long ago been comprehensively and satisfactorily exterminated and the account closed with Heaven, with the thanks due. But, from old habit, Thanksgiving Day has remained with us...."
As I read that passage last weekend, I couldn't resist wondering what Twain would have thought of the retail battleground that now surrounds the holiday--the swarming masses of shoppers trampling one another to capture bargains; the panic-driven expansion of Black Friday's borders to what some are already labeling Black November; the rise of the online retail firestorm that is Cyber Monday.
Many years ago, I worked in the grocery industry, which has its own version of Black Friday on the day before Thanksgiving, when those same shopping hordes that will engulf malls and big box stores 48 hours later pillage supermarkets for provisions. Thanksgiving week can be, after all, a long and even bitter campaign. As far as I know, that day has never been honored with a proper name. How about Ravenous Wednesday?
I'm sure Twain would have been appalled, and yet mischievously pleased, by all this timeless human misbehavior and its limitless possibilities for satire.
Now we have a new holiday within the holiday: Small Business Saturday. The name is refreshingly low-key. The mission, as explained by sponsor American Express, is straightforward: "First there was Black Friday, then Cyber Monday. This year, November 27th is the first ever Small Business Saturday, a day to support the local businesses that create jobs, boost the economy and preserve neighborhoods around the country. Small Business Saturday is a national movement to drive shoppers to local merchants across the U.S. More than a dozen advocacy, public and private organizations have already joined American Express OPEN, the company’s small business unit, in declaring the Saturday after Thanksgiving as Small Business Saturday. Join the movement, spread the word!" SBS's Facebook page is approaching a million "likes."
While any promotion that calls attention to supporting local businesses is a victory (see Plaid Friday), SBS won't necessarily be perceived as a "win, win" for everyone. In a blog post titled "Small Business Saturday? No, Shop Local Everyday!" Aaron's Books, Lititz, Pa., declined to support the campaign and questioned AmEx's motivations, noting: "It is being sponsored by American Express for the sole purpose of getting people to use their AmEx card for shopping... and guess what... a vast majority of 'small' business CAN'T ACCEPT AMEX. American Express has a business model that has fees so outrageous that most small retailers can not afford to take the card... that $20 book you'd be buying from us with the AmEx would actually end up costing us money in order to pay the processing fees, machine rental, plus our cost for having the book."
We'd love to hear what you think of the Small Business Saturday effort, before or after it happens.
I wonder if the Sunday after Thanksgiving is feeling neglected now. Somewhere out there, at Black Friday HQ, possibilities are surely being considered for next year. May I suggest a day devoted to e-books--E-Sunday or Digital Sunday or, depending upon who wins a current skirmish, iSunday. The nature of marketing abhors an advertising vacuum.--Robert Gray (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)
The following were the bestselling books at independent bookstores in and around Chicago during the week ended Sunday, November 21:
1. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
2. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris
3. Crescent Dawn by Clive Cussler and Dirk Cussler
4. The Confession by John Grisham
5. Sunset Park by Paul Auster
1. Decision Points by George W. Bush
2. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
3. At Home by Bill Bryson
4. Life by Keith Richards
5. Barefoot Contessa by Ina Garten
1. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
2. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
3. The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
4. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
5. For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide by Ntozake Shange
1. Just Kids by Patti Smith
2. Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
3. When Everything Changed by Gail Collins
4. Too Big to Fail by Andrew Sorkin
5. Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris
1. Of Thee I Sing by Barack Obama
2. The Ugly Truth by Jeff Kinney
3. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
4. The Daughters by Joanna Philbin
5. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kenney
Reporting bookstores: Anderson's, Naperville and Downers Grove; Read Between the Lynes, Woodstock; the Book Table, Oak Park; the Book Cellar, Lincoln Square; Lake Forest Books, Lake Forest; the Bookstall at Chestnut Court, Winnetka; and 57th St. Books; Seminary Co-op; Women and Children First, Chicago.
[Many thanks to the booksellers and Carl Lennertz!]