Reading 'Will Never Do Any Harm'
"Let us read and let us dance . . . two amusements that will never do any harm to the world."--Voltaire, quoted on his birthday by Garrison Keillor during today's edition of the Writer's Almanac.
"Let us read and let us dance . . . two amusements that will never do any harm to the world."--Voltaire, quoted on his birthday by Garrison Keillor during today's edition of the Writer's Almanac.
Tomorrow is America Unchained Day, the annual campaign organized by the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA) to promote locally-owned businesses nationwide. Indie bookstores, as well as organizations like the Independent Booksellers of New York City, will join forces with other businesses in their communities to celebrate the benefits of shopping locally.
"Our personal choice to spend our money with independent businesses helps create better paying jobs, opportunity for local economic development, and keeps money circulating in the local economy for the benefit of every citizen," said Jeff Milchen, AMIBA co-founder. "America's independent businesses live or die by providing real goods and services, not accounting trickery--they’re the foundation of a more vital and sustainable economy for our communities."
The mayor of Rutland, Vt., has officially declared today a "plastic-bag-free" day for downtown retailers. According to the Herald, "When you reach the checkout line on Friday, Sustainable Rutland would like you to stop and think before taking that plastic bag. The group, an initiative of the Creative Economy, is challenging merchants and customers alike to choose reusable instead of paper or plastic, a small adjustment that could eventually have a major impact on the green movement."
"Localism is really what our community should be all about," said Book King bookstore's owner Steve Eddy, who originally came up with the idea for the "Rutland-themed, locally designed and printed organic cotton bags" that are a key component of today's Bag the Bag Challenge.
In reporting that Bookstop, Austin, Tex., will close at the end of the year, the American-Statesman called the bookstore, which was sold to Barnes & Noble in 1989 and served as a prototype for chain superstores, "a one-time hotbed of local literary activity." But David Deason, v-p of development for B&N, observed that "the lease has come to the end of its term, and we were unsuccessful in negotiating a new lease term at rents that would allow the store to be financially successful."
The American-Statesman used the closing announcement to take a reading of the economic climate for other bookshops in the city during this economic downturn. Susan Post, owner of BookWoman, commented, "I would say everything is down. It was an awful summer for everyone."
BookPeople's owner Steve Bercu said recent sales were slightly down, "but we're pretty much on track for the year. We are, fortunately, a locally owned business, and people in Austin understand the value of shopping at locally owned businesses."
IndieBound.org has introduced a new E-Card feature. According to Bookselling this Week, "Visitors to IndieBound.org can now send electronic greetings featuring one of four animations based on IndieBound Holiday designs. Anyone can create and send an E-Card, but community members can also include a link to their Wish List--a nice hint for the holidays! Each card can include a custom greeting as well as a personal message."
BTW also reported that the Emerging Leaders Council has named the recipients of Ingram scholarships to the ABA's Fourth Annual Winter Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah, January 29-February 1. The winners are:
"There's no more essential element to our industry than the independent bookseller," said Dan Sheehan, v-p of sales for Ingram Book Company/Ingram Publisher Services. "For young booksellers who are passionate about their career path, the teaching and mentoring opportunities of [the Winter Institute] can truly be life-changing. Emerging Leaders is dedicated to supporting the finest talents at the early stage of their career and, quite frankly, we wanted to help."
Congratulations to the student employees of Columbia University Library, who won this year's Pimp my Bookcart contest, sponsored by Unshelved.com and Smith System. Nearly 100 submissions came from schools, libraries, a bookstore and a jail. To see the highly amusing winners and runners up, click here.
The New York Times reported that many online retailers are waging price wars as the holiday season approaches, "trying to navigate what is shaping up to be the first truly dreary holiday shopping season ever on the Web. . . . Free shipping is becoming a painful imperative for all e-commerce sites."
Noting that "E-commerce giants like Amazon.com . . . can easily absorb shipping costs," the Times added that for many vendors that isn't a realistic option. As an example, it was noted that "Powell's Books, a bookstore in Portland, Ore. with a site that competes for customers with Amazon.com, offers free shipping on orders over $50."
"In our business model, we could not afford to give free shipping on every package. It just would not work," said Dave Weich, Powell's director of marketing.
Boulder Book Store, Boulder, Colo., will hold its sixth annual donation of 20,000 books to Boulder County teachers this week. The Daily Camera noted that David Bolduc, the bookshop's owner, "expects hundreds of educators to partake in the event, filling boxes with books to add to school libraries, use in classrooms, and even give to students."
"[Books] make knowledge more accessible," he said. "And it's not some exclusive thing. For many [students], it's the first book in their household. And it's important to have books that are special and meaningful to you."
A list making the Internet rounds this week names dozens of major retailers that are closing stores across the U.S., yet still selling gift cards during the holiday season. While FOX23-News, Albany, N.Y., questioneded the viral e-mail's accuracy, Susan Novotny, owner of the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, offered the most practical last word on the subject.
FOX-23 suggested that "independent stores, like the Book House [of] Stuyvesant Plaza, have been a part of the community for years and don't plan on leaving anytime soon."
"The gift cards are always going to be good here," said Novotny. "You can always track me down and I'm the owner. It's as simple as that."
Shoppers in the Minneapolis area will be buying more books this holiday season, according to a survey conducted by the University of St. Thomas. WCCO-TV reported that the generally downward shift in spending "should come as good news to owners of area book stores. Shoppers said they'll be giving more books this holiday season, as well as clothing, gift certificates and gifts of cash."
Vanity Fair's Society & Style blog covered the National Book Award After Party--sponsored by Morgan Entrekin of Grove/Atlantic and Harvey Weinstein of Weinstein Books--at Socialista, where "New York’s young intelligentsia did their best to prove that books are not dead." VF also observed that authors Nick McDonnell and Joshua Ferris "welcomed editorial assistants, bloggers, and literary buffs, who eventually filled both floors of the venue."
"Morgan's idea was simply to get the younger arts crowd out to celebrate books--stretch the party beyond those invited to the actual ceremony," said Claire Howorth, an event co-host and VF staff member. "And to have a little (maybe too much) fun. Especially in this climate that's been so tough on publishing.”
Effective December 1, Corinne Helman will become v-p of digital publishing and business development at HarperCollins Children's Books, a new position, where she will be responsible for "developing online revenue strategies and a range of new digital opportunities that encompass product development, marketing and sales for current successful projects and newly-created, wholly-owned intellectual property. In addition, she will recommend partnerships and investment opportunities that augment the Group's current and future business."
Most recently she was v-p of business development for Scholastic Trade and earlier was v-p of business development at Primedia.
Obituary note: In today's New York Times, Donald Finkel, who died last week at the age of 79, is praised as "a noted American poet whose work teemed with curious juxtapositions, which in their unorthodoxy helped illuminate the function of poetry itself."
Sales at Barnes & Noble in the third quarter ended November 1 fell 4.4% to $1.1 billion, and the net loss was $18.4 million compared to a net gain of $4.4 million in the same period in 2007. Sales at stores open at least a year fell 7.4%. Sales at B&N.com rose 2% to $109 million.
The company also lowered predictions for the fourth quarter, saying it expects comp-store sales to decline 6%-9% and for the full year to drop 5%-6%.
The results were below analysts' expectations, and on another down day on Wall Street B&N shares closed at $12.25, off 6.5%. In the past year, B&N stock has traded for as high as almost $40 a share. In the past month, the stock has lost more than half its value.
In a statement, B&N CEO Steve Riggio blamed the sales decline on "a significant drop off in customer traffic and consumer spending." Still, he said that the company has "aggressively managed expenses to operate profitably. Furthermore, the company is taking measures to reduce expenses for the balance of this year and next."
Part of that effort has included the reduction of inventory by $107 million compared to last year. According to the Wall Street Journal, Riggio said in a conference call that the company is stocking as many titles as in the past but in fewer quantities.
Books-A-Million reports its third quarter results later today, and Borders reports next Wednesday. Borders stock fell yesterday to $1.37 a share, down 23%--and it's down 83% for the year. The situation has gotten so bizarre that Borders's market capitalization is only $82 million, meaning that theoretically one could buy the company for about $164,000 per superstore--much less than the inventory in it.
And, of course, rumors are flying. One predicts Baker & Taylor, which itself has had significant layoffs, will buy Borders.
Staffing news from publishers is not good. Recently some houses have made layoffs, including Doubleday and Rodale, and in another sign of belt tightening, Random House has made changes with its pension plan, joining many other U.S. corporations in relying more on 401(k)s than traditional defined-benefit pensions. As the AP reported, Random has frozen benefits for current employees and as of the new year, will no longer enroll new employees in the plan. The company does offer matching funds up to 6% for 401(k) plans.
As "a tribute to American booksellers, librarians and educators who supported" The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, Penguin Group recently built and opened a primary school in Arababshirali, Afghanistan, about 150 miles from Kabul. Penguin worked in partnership with the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR and the U.S. Association for UNHCR. Some 270 students in grades one through six are attending the school. Before it was completed, the students, a third of whom are girls, were taught outside.
Hosseini, who spent some of his childhood in Afghanistan and has lived in the U.S. since age 15, was honored two years ago by the UN Refugee Agency and named a U.S. envoy to UNHCR. He said, "Over the past few years, I have been humbled by the outpouring of empathy and compassion from my readers for the people of my homeland. It is a great honor to me when readers write me to say that they have found a personal connection to Afghanistan and the suffering of its people through my novels. To me, this school is the physical expression of that connection."
Susan Petersen Kennedy, president of Penguin Group (USA), commented: "Changing the world can sometimes start with a single act of kindness. Our hope is that this new school is one of those acts."
Universal Pictures has reached an agreement with Robert Ludlum's estate "that gives the studio exclusive rights to the Jason Bourne character and first look at other Ludlum novels," Variety reported. "The deal with Ludlum Entertainment paves the way for more installments in the Bourne saga, which was originally envisioned as a three-picture series but has become Universal's answer to James Bond." The first three Bourne movies grossed more than $1 billion worldwide, and a fourth is scheduled for summer release in 2010.
"Universal has done such an excellent job with the first three films that they deserve the opportunity to keep Jason Bourne at the studio forever," said Ludlum Entertainment chairman-CEO Jeffrey Weiner, who had been the author's accountant for 16 years. "There is a deep Ludlum library. Over 25 of his novels have never been exploited in movies."
Simon Hopkinson is a partner, director and founding chef of Bibendum, the London restaurant. His column for the Independent received multiple André Simon and Glenfiddich awards. Hopkinson is the author of Roast Chicken and Other Stories, which knocked Harry Potter off Amazon.com's British bestseller list when it was named the most useful cookbook of all time by a panel of chefs, home cooks and food writers. His new cookbook, Second Helpings of Roast Chicken, was published October 7 by Hyperion.
On your nightstand now:
Re-reading Patrick Gale's Rough Music.
Favorite book when you were a child:
The "Uncle" trio of books by J. P. Martin, illustrated by Quentin Blake, who has also illustrated all Roald Dahl's books. Uncle is an elephant.
Your top five authors:
Patrick Gale, Joanna Trollope, Patricia Highsmith, Bart Yates, Richard Olney.
Book you've faked reading:
Book you're an evangelist for:
Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman.
Book you've bought for the cover:
I don't think I have ever knowingly done this. Maybe Spiderman comics, a long time ago.
Book that changed your life:
Richard Olney's The French Menu Cookbook.
Favorite line from a book:
"Alternate the sensations. Burn your mouth with a crackling sausage. Soothe your burns with a cool oyster. Continue until all the sausages and oysters have disappeared. White wine, of course." From Edouard de Pomiane's Cooking in Ten Minutes.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith.
Dark Tower: The Long Road Home (Direct) by Stan Lee (Marvel Comics, $24.99 Hardcover, 9780785127093, October 2008)
I came to this book as a novice--I haven't read much Stephen King (the horror!) and even fewer graphic novels. So this was a bit of an experiment: would I like it; ergo, might other newbies like it? The Long Road Home has an additional difficulty--it's the second volume in a comic book series directed by King, but written by David and Furth. So I was a bit at sea. What's a ka-tet? Who are Alain and Cuthbert? But after a few pages I was completely hooked, even though the plot remains somewhat murky. Good guys, bad guys, heartbreak, horses, robots . . . The dialogue is dramatic, with a dry wit. As Alain and Cuthbert try to get away from the murderous posse of Hambry, carrying Roland, who's in a coma, Bert says, "Alain, I think less ponderings on the irony of their moral stance and more aggressive actions in our own defense are in order, don't you?" The narration is chilling, as when simple-minded Sheemie is about to be transformed by a terrifying robot: "What is it about war that it always winds up with the children suffering the most? I don't kennit it at all, I purely don't. While men in far off dark towers render decisions of life and death, it's somehow always children who're getting caught in the crossfire, which is kind of odd considering they're the ones whose futures are supposedly being fought for."
The artwork is spectacular. Reds and blacks predominate, with occasional foggy grays. The grotesquery of the lord who is the face of evil, black and twisted with a red third eye, arms expanded into spider arms, is unnerving. Of course, there are wolves with slavering fangs and a terrifying crow. The robot and Sheemie at the moment of the boy's transformation is electrifying and sorrowful, and the quiet palette of blue-green and brick underscores the wary relief when Roland returns home to his father. The details are as superb as the color. The faces of Alain, Bert, Sheemie and the hero Roland, are sometimes beautiful, sometimes distorted into visages of men who have seen too much.
At the book's end, there are many variant cover sketches and completed covers by the inkers and color artists, which is a nice bonus. Notes from Robin Furth and Peter David describe scripting and writing in Stephen King's voice. As for my experiment, I was drawn into the book almost immediately and would say that a neophyte graphic book reader or a die-hard King fan would be entranced. Caveat: there is a parental advisory on the back. Don't give this to a child.--Marilyn Dahl
Shelf Talker: A chilling, spectacular vision and continuation of Stephen King's the Dark Tower series, this graphic novel will hook you and thrill you.
The Peculiar Life of Sundays by Stephen Miller (Harvard University Press, $27.95 Hardcover, 9780674031685, November 2008)
Even if Sunday no longer has a religious implication for many, the idea of Sunday as a special day permeates our culture and is still charged with meaning. Elizabeth Bishop's "Sunday, 4 A. M." is a gloomy poem about a disturbing dream, but more disturbing dreamed on Sunday than Tuesday. Or take Kris Kristofferson's loneliness and despair in "Sunday Morning Coming Down." As a young child, in her first book Laura Ingalls Wilder said, "I hate Sunday!" Indeed, many have written or spoken about the dread of Sundays, from enforced church attendance to the Sunday blues; others have written about the joys of Sunday, whether church, family or individually-oriented.
To see how we got to the various legacies of Sundays, Stephen Miller traces the history of the day. He focuses on the Christian West--England, Scotland and the U.S.--but starts with Sunday in antiquity. Romans regarded Saturday as the day of rest because it was an unlucky day, when no business should be conducted. After his conversion, Constantine decreed that Sunday be the day of rest, but it was dedicated to the sun god, not his new Christian god (Michael Grant says his beliefs "were in a bit of a muddle."). The author proceeds to Elizabethan England, Boswell and Johnson and the rise and decline of Victorian Sundays. In England, the subject of Sunday observance was debated in Parliament for six centuries. "In 1388 [Parliament] prohibited Sunday tennis and football, but it encouraged Sunday archery. In 1688 it allowed 'the Sunday sale of mackerel before and after divine service.'" U.S. legislatures frequently debated the same issue, particularly the question of postal service on Sunday, which stopped in 1912. Miller discusses American writers like Walt Whitman, Wallace Stevens and Robert Lowell in the chapter "Sunday Nostalgia, Sunday Despair." Citing many writers (Emily Dickinson, Martin Marty, Walt Whitman, Claire Messud), he examines practicing, non-practicing and lapsed Christians, looking at their "Sunday lives."
The effects of the commercialization of Sunday, the debate between secularism and religion, varieties of Sunday worship from churches to individual Emersonian transcendence at the beach or in the mountains, even religious services on cell phones--all are examined through changes in Western religion and culture. Reflecting on the possibiity that the transformation of Sunday has contributed to anger in the U.S., Miller mentions Wendell Berry's "Sunday Morning," saying, "The loss of a day of rest . . . damages our psyche, so we become impatient and angry. We need a sabbath to keep order in our soul." The loss of a sabbath is, as Berry says, inescapable.--Marilyn Dahl
Shelf Talker: Whether Sunday is seen as a church day, a chore day or a day to relax, whether it's viewed with melancholy or joy, we consider it a special day, and Stephen Miller explains all the reasons why and why we need Sunday.