Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Creativity we can't afford

Via one of my usual sources, Shelf Awareness, comes this story from China Daily, about some interesting bookstores in that country. Now I know full well that China has all kinds of problems - from the government to unethical management and more. I'm not singing the praises of China here. But I'm always amazed with what these newcomers to capitalism come up with in their businesses.

So for bookstores, for example:

*Sculpting in Time Cafe
Located near Renmin University, Diaoke Shiguang boasts a large customer base of college students. Combining the function of cafe and book bar, Diaoke Shiguang has books mainly for reading instead of buying.

It was founded in 1997 by a young couple who just graduated from college. That year they went to Xinjiang Autonomous Region and they were struck by the grandeur of the natural scenery. It was then that they decided to embrace a quiet life. That soon led to the idea of opening a café. They named it after an autobiography by former Russian movie director Andrei Tarkovsky. Sculpting in Time means that people are molded by the lapse of time, which is recorded in movies. The name is a reflection of the café’s humane ambiance.


*The Bookworm
A combination of a lending library, a café and a bar, The Bookworm is one of Beijing’s best places for people to find a quiet place to read with a rooftop terrace. Its library boasts over 16,000 English books. By paying 200 yuan for 6 months or 300 yuan for a year’s membership, readers can borrow books from this extensive selection.

In addition, The Bookworm readers can also attend lectures given by visiting authors as well as a number of other informative events. To know the latest upcoming activities, readers can check out its website at www.beijingbookworm.com.

Now Boston is a bit extreme, given real estate prices, but these could not fly. I guess the Athenaeum is a private library that one can join, but it definitely has a certain serious, even elitist sense about it - it's hardly some lending library. Having said that, it's a gorgeous space and well worth a visit.

I know there is some experimentation with bookstores going on here in the US, but Boston seems a bit more stagnant. Are there government subsidies going into these places, I wonder, or just owners willing to take a plunge? It is because of their version of capitalism that they can swing this? I'm no economist, admittedly.

And anyway, where's my Sculpting in Time?!

Friday, September 21, 2007

First siestas, now this

The Spanish are a very, very smart peoples - not to mention a beautiful peoples.

The latest evidence of the former is this wonderful quote from Francisco Puche, a bookseller, owner of Proteo-Prometo Bookshop in Malaga, Spain:
"A book with printed pages still has a great future, especially literature, because a book is a tangible object, something you can see, pick up and take with you wherever you go. . . . The thing is that books are great companions. They help us pass the test of being able to spend time alone. If we can achieve that, we can escape the anguish and stress surrounding us."

It was quoted in today's email from Shelf Awareness, taken from Franciso's article in SUR in English, "the newspaper for Southern Spain."

Earlier this week, as I watched a guy next to me play a game on his phone while listening to music on his headphones, and as some girl on the T anxiously played her phone, desperate for the train to get above ground so she could talk to someone, I was thinking something similar.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

You must know about Frey by now

But in case you don't, here's the article all about his new novel, which will come out next year and will be fiction fiction fiction.

His agent, featured heavily in this piece, comes across as very slimey, running a campaign to suggest that every editor in New York was positively clamoring for this proposal. I think potential readers, the market I suppose, are to understand that editors wanted it, so they should want it.

But then, unnamed editors who suggest otherwise. One told Leon Neyfakh, the reporter:
“When I called, I was talking to [Luke] Janklow [of agent Eric Simonoff’s employer, Janklow & Nesbit] about something else and asked him if, by the way, Eric really had Frey’s new novel,” said the publishing executive. “It wasn’t anything that struck me as so significant that I wanted to hunt it down. I was curious about it, if nothing else. Would I have stopped everything and read it? No.”


And the new novel will be called Bright Shiny Morning, which has a disturbingly - and mostly likely purposeful - cadence very similar to Million Little Pieces.

Do I care? Nah. Just idle gossip to pass along to anyone who finds themselves here...

Monday, September 17, 2007

Don't Cry for B&N

Everyone has to take a certain immediate pleasure in seeing the link from the main New York Times page to this article: "High Rent Chases Out Chain Bookstore." Of course, the details are less satisfying: B&N is closing their Astor Place store due to rent, but fear not! They're opening a new location in TriBeCa, so they will still have a total of 16 stores in New York City.

Eh. It was exciting for a minute there...

The opening of the article - blog post actually - is all about the recent high-profile closings of independent stores, making the reality of what they are reporting - that B&N is just fine - a bit more depressing. Thanks for nothing, Times...

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

More OJ

Sorry to do this, but there is an interesting article by Julie Hilden on FindLaw about the free speech issues surrounding the publication and subsequent boycott request of OJ's If I Did It.

I'm not entirely convinced by her argument that the publication and boycott offer a fine example of free speech at work - that the book should be published to allow the issue to be discussed, and a boycott is a good way to deal with our moral squeamishness about it. I appreciate her point that the trial and the leaking of the manuscript have allowed those with prurient interests to find out more about the murders already, but I'm uncomfortable with Hilden's casual dismissal of Denise Brown's argument in protection of the victim's children. I'm not one to cry "think of the children!" too quickly, but surely there is something to be said about good taste?

I'm conflicted. The free speech advocate in me agrees with Hilden - ultimately, I'm afraid I do think it can be published but should be boycotted - but the crassness and exploitative nature of the whole thing can't help but make me feel sick. I know the money is going to the Goldmans, but isn't this a bit like saying reality t.v. shows are okay because the people volunteered to be on them? That should not change one's opinion that something is distasteful and bad for our culture. This book is undoubtedly an embarassment to our culture.

I'd be curious to see where this book sells. I imagine there will be many online sales, and after that, chain bookstore sales, as customers will want some degree of anonymity. As we distance ourselves from the production of what we're buying, more danger lurks, it seems: more evil products get into our food, more bad things happen to make our cheap t-shirts, and more union busting occurs in car factories. What will it take for Americans to take responsibility for their consumption? I don't just mean buying less plastic or sweatshop clothes - though I do mean that - but also in terms of cultural consumption. I'm not calling for an embrace of the high brow, people, but can't we leave the OJ's and the Paris Hiltons alone, and stop watching all these VH1 graveyard shows on washed up actors?

My sympathies are with the Goldmans, of course, but I don't see this as a valuable way forward. I wouldn't vote to legally stop the publication, but I sure as hell won't secretly get online to buy the book or sneak a peek.

And I had to wonder, as Beaufort Books, the publisher of this atrocity, gets so much press, why was this news on Shelf Awareness this morning?

Effective September 17, Dave Nelson is joining Union Square Press, the Sterling Publishing imprint, as executive acquisitions editor, in which role he will focus on mind/body/spirit titles as well as health and self-improvement books. He is currently publisher of Beaufort Books, recently in the news for the impending publication of If I Did It by O.J. Simpson.

Union Square's Philip Turner commented: "I've known Dave Nelson more than 20 years, since he made a selling visit to the bookstore I owned then, and always admired his knowledge of the market and his creative approach to publishing quality authors and their books. As a senior sales executive who's created competitive strategies for marketing hundreds of notable books, Dave helped launch such bestselling authors as Garrison Keillor, Terry McMillan, Mary Karr, Geneen Roth, and Peter Kramer."

Did someone get uncomfortable with the direction of Beaufort?....

Friday, September 07, 2007

The Times Recycles

Surely we've all seen some version, at least, of this article before? No? Since it's listed under "most blogged about," so I shall.
It's an interesting concept that I'd be willing to test drive, this new Amazon e-book reader, the Kindle. I ain't looking to shell out $400 for it, but I'd like to see a demonstration. And downloading remotely is good - you can jump online and download a book without hooking up to a computer. I'm not convinced that it will gain wide acceptance, and see it more in line with past efforts at such innovation, but I can see we're moving slowly closer to this kind of thing being normalized.
It's real, real ugly though. Let's just say that right now. The Microsoft Reader is prettier.

I don't have much more to say as, again, much of the article sounds exactly like every article on this subject - some innovation, some problems, executives from places like B&N offering ambivalence...

Another link to a somewhat boring Fall List of Books from USA Today, with few if any surprises. The Boston Globe had a Fall Book article earlier this week by ubiquitous book guy David Mehegan. Nothing is exciting me, quite frankly, except maybe the graphic novel Shooting War by Anthony Lappe and Dan Goldman, being published by Grand Central, mention in the USA Today article. I guess Lawrence Hill's book, described by Mehegan as an "epic historical novel (Hill's first book published in the United States), told in the voice of an old African woman enslaved before the American Revolution," could be of interest, though I probably won't buy it, truth be told. I don't know the last time I bought an "epic historical novel." But really, these lists don't appeal to my sensibilities. I'd be more likely to buy something off a staff recommendation shelf at an independent.

But it must be an exciting fall for the person ready to pull out their Kindle and read the new Sebold novel on their flight to Tucson! That came out much bitchier than I meant it.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Irritating, very very irritating

It's like she opened my mind and found something incredibly frustrating, and posted on it.

Lissa Warren has this post on the Huffington Post about how publisher names don't matter anymore. (I came to it via The Reading Experience, btw, which includes a lively comment section about it.) ARGH! I don't know Lissa, but this post is infuriating.

Many readers appreciate small presses and know they can trust what they publish. My partner and I gave $100 to Soft Skull, before they were saved by Counterpoint and were desperate for funds. Soft Skull, in turn, sent us a fun box of books, a very nice assortment. McSweeney's had a similar plan. And McSweeney's, like David Godine and others, has a very recognizable look to it, and puts out books that are reliably consistent. If you love one, you can safely buy another.

If smart readers all agree to do away with any brand loyalty and just don't bother noticing that hey, this great environmental book came from Milkweed, then we can all just hand our money to corporate publishing giants - Random House, HarperCollins, etc.. Trust their editorial departments, sometimes run by marketing experts, to put out books we should read.

And if you're an author, watch where you're publishing. I just got Simon & Schuster's catalogs the other day in the mail, and they were typically schizophrenic. The imprints were interchangeable. And you could expect to have a steamy bit of fiction on one page next to a political thriller the next, followed by a book on dachsunds - this isn't literal, bien sur. As I said in my comment on the Reading Experience, if you as an author write a book that does well for one of these imprints, then you could be supporting the Rush Limbaughs who are having a bad year nationally but are still beloved by the moronic far Right. The far Right gets their offensive book with a limited print run but still priced reasonably, and the publisher doesn't lose money because your book sold through the print run. You could be supporting all kinds of things! It's worth considering.

So don't listen to the Lissa Warren's of the world, and watch independent brands, and support them. Take the article as a reminder to look at the spine and/or the title page, and show some loyalty. It'll mean good things for publishing and for your future reading lists.

Boston has (indie) Bookstores?

I'm not a big fan of the Phoenix, but this article nicely pairs independent bookstores with bars around Boston and Cambridge. I don't know that it would have killed them to include Brookline, so they could add the Brookline Booksmith and, I don't know, that bar down Harvard Ave that looks like - er, is a townie dive. Don't know the name but I believe it's Irish, unsurprisingly.

Stopped into the Yankee Bookshop in Woodstock, Vermont, this weekend, which is always pleasant, but I must confess to not buying a thing. Nothing grabbed me. I really should stick to that pledge to always buy something in an indie store...