Sunday, October 28, 2012
I'm thrilled to have an essay in The Weeklings about a very wild, very young, time in my life when I actually did get picked up hitching by the Beach Boys.
Friday, October 26, 2012
Micawber's Books talks about their fiercely devoted customers, making a website that means something, and so much more
Micawber's Books is one of those indies that has a fiercely devoted fan base. And it's no wonder. Called "Everyone's neighborhood bookstore," the store caters to both readers and writers and it has a real community feel to it. I'm thrilled that co-owner Hans Weyandt let me pepper him with questions. Thank you, Hans!
2238 Carter Ave.St. Paul, MN 55108
The writers I know speak about Micawber's with a kind of fierce devotion. How do you keep authors (and readers) so devoted to you? And how can authors return the favor (other than buying lots and lots of books from you, of course!)
Way more important to us, or any store, than authors buying lots of books from us is to have them talk about the importance of indie stores. One frustration for me is hearing about the increasingly small percentage of total books that indies sell. It's a number that, I feel, doesn't accurately reflect what is happening. Those numbers are never tallied properly. Anyhow, I'd like to think we keep all kinds of people devoted and coming back because we offer a range of services people enjoy. Atmosphere and ambiance are well and good but, like any restaurant, that only works if the entire experience is good. We try to support local presses. We try to search out interesting titles and series and feature them.
Micawber's been around since 1972, which means you're doing something really right to be flourishing today. I keep hearing people talk about the death of reading, but I refuse to believe it. I personally think we're hard-wired to love story. Would you agree?|
I do tend to agree. People have been talking about the death of reading since it started. It is changing, without doubt, and the number of forms reading takes on today is probably more varied than before but it isn't on its deathbed. Kids and teens are the ones most often accused of being obsessed by screen culture and I know that is a falacy spread by adults.
So, it says your'e reworking your website and making changes. Can we get a preview of coming attractions? What's going to be different?
To be honest, I'm not exactly sure. I want something fun and informative and different to be there. We've never had a shopping cart on the site and it's been mostly used as an info dump(directions, events, staff picks, phone number, etc.) and it seemed like that wasn't enough to keep it being what it was. I've never been overly concerned in doing what we're 'supposed' to be doing. So while I know its part of the cultural currency for any business, large or small, to have a website I also know that I want it to mean something. We have a store blog (www.micawbers.blogspot.com) and a tumblr (mrmicawbers.tumblr.com) and we have a pretty active Facebook page with events, updates and all sorts of book miscellany. So we're still figuring out what it's going to be.
What three titles do you find yourself pressing into everyone's hands these days?
Joan Wickersham's "The News From Spain", Eduardo Halfon's "The Polish Boxer" and "The Mile-End Cookbook." Halfon's book is one that I just keep thinking about and wondering about. It's not possible to describe it neatly other than to say that its shape-shifting and without one genre and written beatifully. The Wickersham was handed to me by Jason Gobble--one of our Random House reps--and he told me it was the best collection of stories he'd read in some time. I agree with that and think it shows the story collection--as a concept--in its strongest form. It is still true that bands can make good records and ignore the enticing hit single. And Mile End is just so much fun to lose yourself in. Its two kids, really, who come from different locales(Montreal and New Jersey). Their marriage joins some great family history via food and culture.
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Ah. There it is. My book title. Just seeing it up there with the name Algonquin makes me joyful...and terrified. Because you never know what's going to happen to your baby once it's out in the world. You hope it takes its first steps and then breaks into a confidant run. You hope it finds lots of friends that will love it. But just like any parent, there's nothing you can do but let it go and tend to your new child, you know the one that's only 150 pages right now and having a mite bit of trouble teething on character arcs.
Monday, October 22, 2012
I talk about why it's sometimes good to be an irritant (think of how a grain of sand creates pearls!)
Many thanks to the Virginia Quarterly Review for asking me to write about "What is feminism?" Yup, nobody puts Leavitt in a binder.
How can you not love a bookstore that has a beagle in its name? Jill and Deane Johnson and their beagle, Kallie, opened Beagle Books & Bindery in 2001, after deciding Park Rapids needed a year-round independent bookstore. In 2007, the Johnsons sold Beagle Books to Bob and Sally Wills, the owners of Sister Wolf Books, a seasonal bookstore in nearby Dorset. Managed by Wills' daughter Jen, Kallie will still make regular appearances--and the dog's birthday is celebrated every August! I loved this smart, funny interview, and my thanks to Beagle Books are profound.
Beagle Books & Bindery 112 Third Street West
Park Rapids, MN 56470
I think I speak for my fellow writers when I ask, what things can we authors do to make things easier for you when we read or do events?
The biggest fear for both of us (author and bookstore) is that no one will show up. If that happens, both of us feel bad and feel like it's "our fault". So anything the author can do to spread the word about an event is so appreciated. I know this is sometimes awkward for an author, but you just never really know what's going to catch the attention of the public out there - you never know "the right person" will learn about an event......
What's the best thing an author ever did?
This may sound silly, but Kevin Kling walked into my little bookstore and gushed with sincere enthusiasm, "WOW!!! WHAT A GREAT BOOKSTORE!"
You offer writers' salons, classes, and all kinds of wonderful things that give your store a real community feel. Can you talk a bit about all of this? What's next up for you?
We don't directly offer classes, etc, but we DO whole-heartedly support our local writers group, local museum, library (which thanks to Legacy funding has been able to offer all kinds of fantastic programming), and a group in our community called Headwaters Center for Lifelong Learning. We feel like our community looks to us to help connect them with workshops, classes, etc. I think sometimes people are surprised to see/hear us promote library events. The library is not our enemy or competition. We feel it's important for members of the community to support both the local, independent bookstore and the library. (In fact, Jen is a member of the Friends of the Library and recently finished a term as President).
Please can you tell us about the original Beagle of Beagle books?
Yes! The original beagle is named Kallie. She is still alive, but she is retired :) We keep pictures of her posted in the store. While Kallie was working full time, she often liked to sneak out of the bookstore and visit the meat market. Kallie belongs to the original owners and stayed on at the bookstore for some time after the Johnsons sold Beagle Books to its current owners. While I was working alone one day, Kallie snuck out - to my horror (visions of Kallie getting hit by a car; headlines like: New Management Kills Beloved Mascot). In my panic, I ran next door to the coffee shop and hollered for help. Immediately, customers leaped up and began searching - including some on bike. It wasn't long before Kallie was back in the store. While Kallie no longer regularly comes to Beagle anymore, there is almost always a dog here. Also, dog visitors are welcome.
What three books are you wildly suggesting that everyone read?
Right now, we're crazy about Peter Geye (Safe from the Sea, Lighthouse Road), Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro, and Round House by Louise Erdrich.
What's obsessing you now, and why?
Hmm, not sure if this is what you're looking for - but I'm really pushing to get caught up in the bindery. Once I do, I can start to create book art to sell in the store.
What question didn't I ask that I should have?
I bet you're wondering what my favorite author event we held was ;) The former owners of Beagle, the Johnsons, wrote a book called Little Minnesota, published by Adventure. When we held a book signing/release party, it was the biggest day Beagle Books has EVER had (and yes, that means it beat out Harry Potter and we didn't have to do it at midnight :)) It was just so fun to have the Johnsons on the other side of the counter as authors, to be able to serve as host. The Johnsons have been such great mentors to us. P.S. Little Minnesota outsold 50 Shades this summer ;)
Sunday, October 21, 2012
Pete Mulvihill, co-owner of Green Apple Books gets a chance to be funny, even as he talks about books, authors, and so much more
Another great indie bookstore co-owner, Pete Mulvihill, weighs in on why the store wasn't called Honey Crisp Books, good loser novels and why he has a cookbook problem. Love this interview. Thank you so, so much, Pete!
Green Apple Books started way back in the sixties, when San Francisco was deep in the Summer of Love, and "logging $3.42 in receipts" the day the store opened. How do you think the store has changed with the times?
Well, if we only logged $3.42 for a day even once a year, we'd probably have to close the doors. The store has changed in many ways. We have expanded sideways and back and up, and even a few doors down the street, from about 500 square feet to around 8,000. Our product mix has evolved over time (LPs came and went and came back, e.g.), and the balance between new and used books has shifted back and forth. Staff members, regular customers, store cats, computer systems have all come and gone. They've died, gotten married, become obsolete. But something or someone always bring fresh life to the store. And the books themselves change, of course. With hundreds of fresh used books coming in the door every day, Green Apple is never the same store two visits in a row. There are also many behind-the-scenes changes, from the store's ownership to our union contract, from our use of videos to changing advertising practices, from our service to organizations (SFLOMA, NCIBA, Litquake) to our "Cafe Green Apple" model of selling used books on consignment to local cafe owners. And we've adapt by selling eBooks (and soon Kobos), by starting a subscription service, exploring partnerships with Goodreads, and by partnering with a vendor at SFO airport to bring our book selections to international travelers. We really do try everything we can to stay relevant and dynamic. But it's ultimately up to our customers. If enough people walk in the door (or shop our website) each day, we'll stay at it.
Beyond all this change, though, the consistency and timelessness of Green Apple is obvious to anyone who has been to the store more than once. We (the owners and staff) are passionate about books, and we love connecting books and people, be it in-store, online, at out-of-store events, etc.
If you prefer the 2-minute video version, it's here.
Just out of curiosity, where did the name come from?
That's less easy to answer, as the previous owner never seemed to answer this directly. To the best of my knowledge, it stems (sorry!) from the Adam and Eve story, wherein the apple represents the acquisition of knowledge. Why it's green, I have no idea. Perhaps it just has a better ring to it than HoneyCrisp Books. . . .
Indie stores have a passionate fan base. What's the main thing you do to ensure the community finds even more community in your store, and what can readers and writers do to thank you for this?
We're fiercely proud of our indie-ness, of course, and consistently impressed by our many worthy peers in the indie bookselling community. The vibrancy of this tapestry of bookstores is inspiring in the increasingly homogeneous retail landscape of America. As for ensuring community, we just do what comes natural--connecting books and people--and try everything else, from selling eBooks to supporting local schools, charities, literary festivals, etc. As far as reaching beyond our walls, we've tried GroupOn, Living Social, singles night, selling books at block parties, and so on. Our goal is to take that indie "mindshare" and turn it into indie marketshare. We're not here, after all, to break even.
And no one needs to thank us for what we do. We're not a charity, we're a business. So to keep Green Apple thriving, it's pretty simple: readers need to actually buy books from us (not just like us). And the entire publishing ecosystem needs to remain healthy enough to nourish good writing. We hope authors will list us (and other indies) as an option when pitching their book directly to readers. And we always LOVE when an author drops by to sign books--it's something our, um, major online competitor can't offer. Without good books, we've got nothing to connect all these good readers to.
I love that you have on your website, the three books you are liking. What other books do you tend to want to press into every customer's hands?
Ask that of 28 different Green Applers and get 28 different answers. We recently tried an experiment on Facebook (see the 10/17 Book Valet string) that was too successful to stay on top of. We asked readers to list the last 3 books they liked, and we pitched them what to read next. We do this in-person every day. Personally, my favorite books of the last few years are Wild by Cheryl Strayed, The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt, The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee, and Nudge by Thaler and Sunstein. One of my favorite perennial handsells is A Fan's Notes by Exley. I love a good loser novel. I also have a cookbook problem, but let's not go there.
What's obsessing you now about the book business and why?
I guess it's the consistent doom-and-gloom, despite hope and success everywhere. Maybe I read too much about the industry, as almost every bookseller I know had a great 2011, a good 2012, and has real hope. Not that's it's not a struggle, or that thousands of stores have not gone out of business over the last 20 years. But many have opened, too, and many are thriving. And Green Apple is healthy, thanks to several hundred customers still walking in every day and buying real books from real people in this real place.
What question didn't I ask that I should have?
Ooh, this is my chance to be funny! But whatever I say will likely make my wife roll her eyes, so I best stay earnest here. How about "What advice would you give to someone considering opening their own bookstore?" My answers is: have partners. Getting away from the store is essential, be it for vacation, active parenting, exercise, or a cold beer, and good business partners make that happen.
Thanks for asking (and reading and writing!).
Pete Mulvihill, co-owner
Charles Salzberg's last novel Swann's Last Song was nominated for a Shamus Award for Best First PI first novel. Devil in the Hole will be published spring, 2013. I'm honored to have Charles write an essay here about his new novel, Swann Dives In, which is hot off the presses--and wonderful. Thank you, Charles.
It started out as pure lack of imagination. I was trying to think of a name for a character in Swann Dives In, a disbarred lawyer of well, let’s say questionable repute. For some reason, my friend, Mark Goldblatt’s name popped into my mind. I thought, sure, why not use his name as a place holder, until I came up with something better.
As often happens, the Goldblatt character took on a life of his own. He grew literally and figuratively. Mark is of average weight and normal appetite; Goldblatt is an overweight glutton. Mark is always on the straight and narrow. Goldblatt plays every angle there is, and not always well. The character was terrific fun to write. And, after a while the name, well, it not only seemed right, it seemed inevitable. He was a keeper. So much so, that when I was asked to contribute a story to Long Island Noir, I chose to make Swann the protagonist, but added Goldblatt as the other main character.
Since it was a nice, little inside joke to use Mark’s name, I thought, hell, it might be fun to use other names of people I knew.
And so when I wanted to create a character that was an expert on rare books, because that’s the world Swann finds himself thrust into as part of his search for the daughter of a wealthy attorney, I used my friend and fellow writer, Ross Klavan, even giving the character some of Ross’s physical qualities. Swann’s search takes him up to Syracuse University, where he meets an unconventional English professor. This became Richard Dubin, a professor friend of mine, who teaches film and television at the Newhouse School, where I once taught. As with Klavan, it seemed quite natural to give this character some of Dubin’s physical traits.
I didn’t bother asking permission of any of these friends, knowing I could always change the names once the book was finished. But when I mentioned it to them, none of them seemed disturbed. In fact, they were pleased. What I didn’t expect, though, was that each of them wanted to be a villain. Another surprise was that not one of them asked to read the manuscript. They didn’t care how they were portrayed, just that I spelled their names right.
I’d be lying if I didn’t think about the potential promotional possibilities of using real names. They’d tell their friends about the book. They’d Facebook and Twitter about it. Something like, “Hey, guess what, friends, I’m a character in a new detective novel.” And, of course, all their friends would rush out to their local bookstore and purchase the book. One unexpected benefit is that Richard Dubin has invited me up to Syracuse University to interview me, one on one, in front of the Newhouse students and faculty. My only question is, which Dubin will show up? The real one or the one I created?
Sam Barry, marketing manager of Book Passage talks about his resemblance to Brad Pitt, building community and so much more
Book Passage is truly one of the great indies, and I was thrilled to be able to talk to Sam Berry, who is as hilarious as he's knowledgeable. So thank you, Sam, and thank you Book Passage.
I think I speak for my fellow writers when I ask, what things can we authors do to make things easier for you when we read or do events? What's the best thing an author ever did? And without naming names, what might be something we should all never, ever even think of doing?
- When appearing at a bookstore the primary job of the author is to show up for your event on time, prepared and willing to do your level best to charm your audience. And remember, the bookstore employees are an important part of your audience, because they can talk you up and hand sell your books.
- There are many great things authors have done, but your question begs for a specific answer, so here goes: Book Passage’s General Manager Calvin Crosby has never forgotten the time when author Lisa See bought every employee in the store a copy of her book.
- Never, ever give away the ending of your mystery. Yes, it’s true: a mystery writer once read the end of his book, which included the solution to the mystery.
You offer writers' salons, classes, and all kinds of wonderful things that give your store a real community feel. Can you talk a bit about the California Writers Club and the other classes? What's next up for Book Passage?
Community is the right word. I am amazed at all the offerings at both stores: literary luncheons, book club meetings, and of course the extraordinary array of author events, put together by Event Director Karen West; the writing, art, culture, and language classes; and the events for children and teens. On October 12 the Marin School of the Arts celebrated its 10th anniversary at the Corte Madera store. There was music, performing, readings, and a general party atmosphere happening all around the store—it was a very fun night.
The California Writers Club Marin Branch has been meeting at the store since 1999 and is a perfect example of the community nature of Book Passage. On October 28 the California Writers Club is presenting “Writing Groups: Lessons from North 24th Writers,” which is open to non-members as well as members. CWC is an excellent resource for professionals or aspiring writers.Every day there’s something great going on in our two locations, but we also host events outside the stores.
On November 4th Tom Douglas, who was named 2012’s “Outstanding Restauranteur” by the James Beard Foundation, will be at the Left Bank restaurant in Larkspur as part of our Cooks with Books series. And looking down the road, next summer we have the Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference in June, the Mystery Writers Conference in July, and the Travel Writers and Photographers Conference in August.
You've been around for thirty years--and actually, my husband, Jeff Tamarkin, read at your store ten years or so ago! (Great experience.) You also have two stores. So, do each have their own personality?
Being at the Corte Madera store is really like walking around in a village of smart, nice people who love books. The San Francisco Ferry Building store has more of a traditional retail feel because the customer base is a mix of commuters, local residents, adults and families, and tourists. But there are great events and a strong sense of community at the Ferry Building store as well, which I attribute to store manager Ama Wertz and her fabulous staff.
What three books are you wildly suggesting that everyone read?
- Sutton, by Pulitzer Prize-winner J.R. Moehringer (A Book Passage Signed First-Edition Club pick)
- The Round House, by Louise Erdrich
- A Hologram for the King, by Dave Eggers
What's obsessing you now, and why?
- Finding time to read and write. I know, it’s ridiculous, I work in a bookstore—but there really isn’t enough time. I found it was the same when I worked for HarperCollins.
What question didn't I ask that I should have?
- Yes, people do routinely mistake me for Brad Pitt. It’s my cross to bear.
Sam Barry, Marketing Director
51 Tamal Vista Blvd.
Corte Madera, CA 94925
(415) 927-0960, ext. 256
51 Tamal Vista Blvd.
Corte Madera, CA 94925
(415) 927-0960, ext. 256
Saturday, October 20, 2012
Alex Green talks about Waltham's Back Pages Books, the care and feeding of authors, going into publishing, and so much more
Waltham's my home town (and my novel coming out this May, Is This Tomorrow, is set in 1950s Waltham), I went to Brandeis, and I love bookstores. Those three components all figure in with Back Pages Books, one of my favorite places on earth. Brandeis grad Alex Green is absolutely wonderful--he fearlessly opened a bookstore with Ezra Sternstein (now practicing law) at a time when some were closing, and he made it a place authors talk about with reverence. And no wonder. I love this interview and adore Alex and Back Pages was chosen as Boston's Best New Bookstore in 2005. And praise goes to store manager and exceptional writer Robin Beaudoin and fabulous writer and events person Ian Ross. Thanks so much, Alex for letting me nag you with questions.
So, how did a Brandeis grad start a bookstore?
A dangerous first question! Folks ask this often, and it gets scarier each time I hear it, because it suggests, more than anything in my life, how fine the line is between a moment and a memory. So let me start with one far extreme and get to the other. We were broke. All of us from college. And we didn’t want to go back to school. I studied archaeology—not something that you can do without more than a BA. I was at a barbeque. It was September. A friend from college and I were talking about how miserable we were (he was an English major). I was doing contract archaeology work, digging in the rocks of rural New England. He was working in data entry. We talked about how much we had liked Waltham, and how it was missing just a few things when we were students that would have drawn us into the town center. I said, “We needed a bookstore.” [long pause]. “We should open a bookstore.” And then I went to sleep. Two weeks later we were driving somewhere and he said, “We’re opening the bookstore, right?” So we did it.
He left after a year, and I kept going, and I love it. And it’s terrifying. There’s not a week that goes by where there’s a moment in which I think, “What the hell am I doing?” That how I know I still love it, still cherish it, still care for it. My girlfriend is teaching Emily Dickinson to her students, and I think Dickinson’s a great access point to that kind of fear. The shop is so small, and we do so much, and so many people, myself obviously among us, believe in it so deeply that you can’t help but realize at points that this tiny little compressed room is this dangerously prismatic thing that takes in light and casts it in different ways every single day. Some days you know it’s a diamond. Some days it’s as fragile as crystal. True for all of us, I hope . .
So can, you talk about the care and feeding of authors? How do you do what you do so well?
The Care and Feeding of Authors! That’s a book title, if ever there was one! You know, Emerson’s earliest speaker fees included four quarts of oats for his horse. I suspect he actually drove a mule.
In short, I’m a writer, too. I’m aware that the “circuit” for authors can be an awful thing. Authors, as I see it, are writers because writing is the best way for them to communicate. In our celebrity-driven culture, we say to them, “look, that’s all fine and good, but now get up in front of 200 people (or 2 people) and read.” I’m aware that it’s as much a blessing as a curse for many writers. I’m also aware that some of the smallest events can be the most meaningful for authors, and that the best thing, at the end of the day is that whoever shows up to hear them, and whoever shows up to read, both feel comfortable enough to be honest with each other."
What authors often don’t realize is how hard it is for audience members to come to a reading because most folks don’t know what one is! I remember hand-wringing over what an awful word “reading” is, with my father. He said, “Well, yeah, it’s about as exciting as calling sex ‘intercourse’.” But we don’t have a better word. So the best thing I can do is play off of all the uncertainty that exists for an author and an audience member and make them realize that it’s all about feeling good. That’s where we’re blessed by having a small store. It’s easier to get people to feel comfortable. Last week I hosted a reading for the author of the classic book “Raising Cain,” about how to raise young boys. I can’t help but feel that so much of encouraging positive interactions between adults is the same as getting two terrified kids to play together on the playground. I was at least one of those kids, if my recollection is correct.
It would have be mortifying if nobody had come to your reading, (NOTE: Alex hosted a fabulous, packed reading for me, which was equal parts, delight, surprise and pure pleasure) but that wasn’t the case, and this is one of those areas where being a somewhat more tech savvy (somewhere my staff are laughing) bookstore owner helps. We do a lot of legwork for our events, and over the years, of course, you get more entrenched and it gets easier to reach out and spread the word. But we also use a lot of RSVPs, we bust it out on Facebook, and we try really hard to represent a presence equal in our own way to the big giant online beast out there. There’s increasingly little difference between us and them, if we want there to be. Our goal is to use the same tech they do, to the same aptitude for what we want, in a way that gets folks to feel good justifying an extra few bucks here or there. That’s also why I sell used books on top of the new ones. It’s an integrated approach that requires a lot of energy and a lot of calibration, but we even keep notes on what RSVP rates translate into with actual audience size. At this point, I’ve peeled back enough of the curtain that I should probably stop talking.
What can devoted readers and writers do to make booksellers' lives easier?
As for making my life easier, it’s a big question. There’s a book length for the history of authors making booksellers’ lives worse. And there a book vice versa. And there’s a book of hope. They sit on a shelf next to Dante’s Divine Comedy in my office.
I have thought for some time about teaching some of this, or consulting on it, but I’m not sure I want to open that box. In short, authors, like all of us, need to think and be savvy, and when they’re not able to, they need to ask for help. I say this knowing that truly, it’s one of the hardest things to do in life. How do say you don’t know something? And what if the answer, as it often is, is really big and scary? You’ve talked about your editorial process—going through dozens of edits with your editor. I write very closely for someone who I encourage to beat the crap out of me. And he does. My premise is, I’d rather be embarrassed in front of him than in front of everyone else, and we only have one opportunity to make that happen. But it hurts to hear that you’ve really blown it sometimes. And then to have to get up and do it again?
“Easier’s” a hard word to get at, but many authors could do a better job of fostering a sense of camaraderie with booksellers. We’re the group of people who they first encountered, by and large, when they fell in love with books. We share their sense of wonder. And quite frankly on a crass commercial basis, there’s almost never been a print bestseller that hasn’t first been championed by an indie bookseller. I think all we want to know is that they value and respect what we do, even if they don’t know how it’s done, just as much as we try to care about what they do.
The problem, of course, with this ideal, is that plenty of authors don’t have local booksellers anymore (just like readers don’t), and plenty of authors have jerks for local booksellers. This shatters my ideal. But it doesn’t mean we can’t all do the National Geographic think of approaching each other slowly, throwing out a bone, stepping away skittishly, and eventually getting to the point of a nice pat on the head in both directions.
In a much more concrete way, I would love it if authors would tell other authors about our store, and to come read at it. Simple word of mouth among authors can save a bookstore. After the first few years of running my store, I really hit the skids because I didn’t know what I was doing when I opened. I wrote to Junot Diaz and said, “I’ve really hit the skids because I didn’t know what I was doing. If you came a read at my bookstore, it would provide enough revenue to keep us open for a month.” And he came. And he was somewhere on the spectrum between gracious and badass about it. And I wasn’t lying. Junot Diaz saved the bookstore. Plenty of authors have. It’s why I love authors.
Just think of it. If you want to have an old-school little bookstore in your hometown and keep it open, it takes one major author a month, and all they have to do is spread the word. I think that’s one of the greatest things in the world.
So what's next for the store?
In recent years we’ve gotten into publishing bit by bit. I grew up with City Lights Books, and with the sense that if someone asked for something and it didn’t exist (still possible in the world of books), then your bookseller should publish it. And that’s what was done right up until the 20th century. Booksellers were publishers and bookbinders and whatnot. At this scale it can be awesome and really, really creative. With the technology available, it no longer has to be such a loss, which small publishing used to be.
We’ve already published one of Howard Zinn’s last books (a little book), and chapbook by Pulitzer winning-poet Franz Wright. We now have all sorts of chapbooks on the way, by young, up and coming poets like Jonathan Weinert and Gregory Lawless. We have an IL Peretz story translation by a young woman named Rose Waldman, who is a native Yiddish speaker from Brooklyn. An illustrated poem by a mathematician named Mike Shapiro and Dan Wuenschel, former manager of the Grolier Poetry Workshop, and the list goes on. I think the biggest one is a memoir that is the only account by a Jew available in English of life in the Soviet Union during World War II. It’s one of the great things I’ll ever come across in my lifetime.
I also set type by hand, on an old letterpress. It’s tremendously calming and we produce small runs of fine press works. We’ve put out poems by Louise Gluck and Robert Bly, and we have a forthcoming piece by Denis Johnson among others. As for Ian Ross, who also works at the store, it’s tremendously exciting. All three of us are writers. Robin is tremendous, and also phenomenal editor—one of the most gifted I’ve seen, heard of read of, or anything else. A patient, visionary figure. Ian – to have written a full-length novel at this age, of this dimension, it’s tremendous. What’s next for them? Hopefully long and flourishing careers as writers. They’re already the antidote to any such, “books are dead,” nonsense.
What two books are you insisting your customers read?
That’s difficult. I loved David Kaiser’s “How the Hippies Save Physics”. Freaking fantastic counterculture, a bit of science (without being Stephen Hawking) . . . just wonderful. I’m tremendously enjoying Roger Owen’s “The Rise and Fall of Arab Presidents for Life”, and I just spent a day tearing through “Trout Fishing in America” by Richard Brautigan, in a sitting. “ The Subversives” was another great one . . . I’m way over two. I’ll just quickly also say that Robin picked, “I was told there’d be cake” by Sloane Crosley a few months back in our staff picks. I’ve been going through it ever so slowly, and it’s completely phenomenal. I think I really am an essay junkie and the book is fantastic.
What questions didn't I ask that I should have?
I was reading your last question to Jackie Blem about getting someone to open a bookstore and while I like her response, because Ann Patchett is freaking amazing, I think your best answer for where you are might come from Sarah McNally, the young and completely awe-inspiring owner of McNally-Jackson books in lower Manhattan. Sarah doesn’t run a used bookshop, but she runs one of the most fantastic bookstores in America, opened it just a few years ago, is (I imagine) under 35, and a driving force for all of us in the book world. Paul Yamazaki, the guru book-buyer for City Lights Books has said correctly (I think) that nobody in a bookstore in America puts books out on display quite like Sarah McNally. Sounds simple. It’s not. And that store is elegant. I have my own thoughts, of course, but they’re rambling and rough hewn . . .