Archive for the ‘book thoughts’ Category

Reviews of books you’ve already read

Over the holidays and even a bit after them, I took refuge in books with proven track records. The problem with mostly reading new books is that about half the time, I’m disappointed. And for the sake of my mental health, I needed the tried and true to get to mid-January unscathed. Unsurprisingly, I loved many of the classic books I read! Because the reason they’re classic is that many people have already loved them!

I feel a bit silly writing reviews for them, because they’re none of them very new (well, most of them), and in some cases I am literally a century behind the times. But indulge me. Perhaps you just need one more person to tell you to read one of the titles below. Let me be the catalyst, because these books all deserve as many eyes as possible.

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall (Knopf). If you’ve been in my store at any point in the last month, I have probably thrust this book at you with the eerie vigor of a recent convert. That’s because I am one. This book has changed my life. Well, it’s changed my exercise habits. Which is now changing my life. I have gone from really wanting to enjoy running but secretly loathing it to actually lacing up my shoes on purpose and finding an odd zen in my own wheezing.

If you have no interest in running, have no fear, this book is also a fantastic adventure story of the highest caliber. Just don’t be surprised if you start wondering if you, too, could run an ultramarathon. (A thing I have begun to wonder every day.)

The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I’m not sure what else remains to be said about a book so beloved that multiple people have told me that they re-read it on an annual basis.  Maybe you, like me, shy away from books with one or more precocious teenage narrators. Try to swallow back your bile for this one. I promise.

As a side note, I read this book on a dark and cold winter night. And, because I was so drawn into the story, I drank an entire bottle of cheap sweet red wine while doing so, much too quickly. I cannot recommend this experience highly enough.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book One: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. When Bookdwarf said that this series might be better than the Harry Potter books, I thought she was crazy. Now I no longer think that she is crazy.

Moby-Dick: Or, The Whale by Herman Melville. People have been trying to get me to read this book for years and I have ignored them every time. I am not interested in whales or how they used to be killed, and every time I opened to a random page to get a feel for the writing, I got an eyeful of Melville pontificating on the nature of whiteness and purity or a whale chase.

If only someone had thought to tell me that it is FUNNY! (And that the pontificating on whiteness is actually genius, and the whale chases are actually enthralling.) I could have loved it years ago! If only I had listened to the people who told me that those random chapters on Melville spouting (ha! oh, c’mon, it’s funny) off about random ideas were, in fact the gems of the book. I hope you are not so stupid as me and have already read this book.

The Curse of the Appropriate Man by Lynn Freed (Harcourt). It breaks my heart that the only reason I picked up this book was because it was a remainder at Idlewild Books. I really should have paid full price for it. This is one of the finest short story collections I have read in maybe ever. I’ve already read it twice. Be aware going into it that it’s set in apartheid-era South Africa and so, is incredibly painful to read in places. The racism of the characters is so thick at times that I was cringing and squinting my eyes at the pages. But find it within yourself to accept the injustices of the time and place in order to read through the book, because at its heart this book gets closer to the dark and stormy and perverted parts of the female soul than most.

Also, I think we can all agree that is one of the top ten book titles of all time.

The Prisoner by Thomas Disch (Penguin). Like most thinking human beings, I love the original Prisoner TV series, even the stupid episodes like “Living in Harmony,” and found AMC’s recent attempts to remake the series tragic. However, after reading Disch’s novelization of the original show, I kind of understand where they were going with the remake. It is still horrible. But I see where they were going.

If only they had just remade Disch’s book exactly! I would have gotten cable so that I could watch it over and over. This is the first book I’ve read by Disch, but I’ll be going back for more. I ignored my family for a large portion of Boxing Day to read this book instead (and I actually like my family). I actually wish I had saved it for the train ride home, because this is the epitome of the perfect novel for traveling.

The Untouchable by John Banville (Vintage). Another writer who doesn’t really need my help, but here I am, giving it anyway. I love a good spy novel, so of course I loved an even better disgraced-spy-unmasked-and-hiding-in-his-house novel. Also, it is British. I find that novels about social disgrace are about ten times better when they are British (hi, Anne Perry and Penny Vincenzi!).

Written Lives by Javier Marias (New Directions Press). It is one thing when a book is laugh-out-loud funny. It is another when a book repeatedly makes you laugh out of SHEER JOY. I read parts of this while traveling and kept wanting to read paragraphs out loud to the other people in my train car (I did not, not that they would have heard me over their insanely loud phone conversations).

This book is, for those who love authors, the reading equivalent of dancing a sloppy tango in someone’s backyard after one too many beers on a cool summer night, the wind in your hair and all the good things about life floating around you. If you are a writer—or, through some fluke of nature, a person obsessed with books who is NOT a writer—you should call out sick, go get this book, and read it right away. Right away, I said!

The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross (Picador). If Written Lives is a tango, The Rest is Noise is a sandwich on thick pumpernickel. Delicious! But very, very chewy, and almost certainly not something to be finished in one sitting. It might be different if you know anything about classical music and its history. I did not, except that I knew I really liked string quartets and Bach and cellos. So it took me two weeks to read through this, one chapter at a time. More than one chapter and my brain closed up shop for the day.

This is the first book I’ve ever read that I think might have been improved by being digital. As it was, I often stopped to go on Youtube and listen to songs and composers Ross recommends (for some reason I missed the fact that the book has a fantastic website until I got to the end). And then, using the music I liked, over time built a Pandora station with all the stuff I liked. I recommend doing this as well. It’s helping me to remember things about the book that I would probably have forgotten otherwise, and has also made my homelife much nicer-sounding.

So, that is the end of me telling you to read books you’ve probably already read. Hopefully you haven’t already read all of them. (But if you have: call me!) And then tell me what book I should read that I have probably already read.


Help us, fun, you’re our only hope

Last night at this event, I gave a short talk. The focus was optimism about publishing and so on. Below, I have posted said talk in its most recent incarnation (it has been altered several times, including 5 minutes before I was on stage, so it might change here again). The point of the sort of talk it was, namely Pecha Kucha, is to talk for exactly 7 minutes with 20 PowerPoint slides in the background advancing every 21 seconds. This should, in theory, lead to a number of visual jokes, but because I am more of the narrative sort, my slides were simply pictures of WORD’s basketball league. So I’ve posted a few in the text to give you the flavor of the thing.

ETA: There is also video available if you prefer listening to reading, which I will try not to judge you for.

Without further ado:

Continue reading

Review: You Are Not A Gadget

You Are Not A Gadget: A Manifesto by Jaron Lanier (Knopf, 1/10).

Let’s just get this out of the way: I really like this book. This book changed the way I think about the Internet and intellectual property, and I think could change a lot of minds, but only if a critical mass of people start reading it and talking about it. So this is my Queen’s Gambit. (I apologize in advance for not citing page numbers with quotes, but as I was reading a review copy, I have no idea what the actual page numbers will be.) This review is long, so if you are in a rush and have some faith in my book recommendations, just go out and buy it in January and meet me back here when you’re done.

Okay! There are too many ideas in this book that I underlined and starred and ?ed and yes!ed to count. I’m just going to touch on a few, and especially the ones that made me think of books and publishing.

Probably the most interesting idea in this book, especially for the book world, is how the Internet’s push towards the hive mind (also known as the noosphere, a word so creepy that I almost become a Luddite every time I read it) has already damaged and threatens to essentially destroy art as we now experience it. As Lanier puts it:

“The central mistake of recent digital culture is to chop up a network of individuals so finely that you end up with a mush.”

A thing, I’m sure we can all agree, that is not great for writing, which pretty much lives and dies by things like the strength and believability of an author’s individual voice.

A he writes, “Authorship—the very idea from the individual point of view—is not a priority of the new ideology.” Which is pretty well borne out by a quick glance at Wikipedia (an entity to which I am not opposed, by the way). The argument on behalf of the hive mind is that many many people working together will come up with a better answer, and faster, than individuals working alone. Lanier pretty conclusively demonstrates that this is not always the case, even for things to which humanity already knows the answer. And what about novels, of which there is no clear question, let alone a clear answer? Continue reading

In which I get frustrated and plead with authors

You’re on notice, authors. You are totally harshing my winter-is-here-curl-up-and-read-a-lot mellow and it has got to stop. How? I’m so glad you asked!

1. Please, for the love of Pete, STOP only mentioning the race of a character if that race is not white. I know you are trying to embrace diversity and create a more realistic world, but the fact of the matter is this. If I meet five characters (say, your main character, her mom, her sister, her best friend, and her other best friend) and you describe them but DON’T mention their race, and that is followed in the next few chapters by a black teacher, or a cute boy who’s Hispanic, that doesn’t prove to me that you embrace diversity. It proves to me that you assume all characters are white unless otherwise announced; that white is, in other words, the default race in your fictional world and by extension, the world in general.

More importantly, it annoys me so greatly that it yanks me right out of your book and then I spend five minutes reading the back cover again and wondering how much more time I really want to devote to your book, and frankly I am sick of wasting my time that way. From now on whenever it happens I’m just going to stop reading, period.

I’ve been thinking about writing this for awhile, especially ever since I read The Lost Symbol a few months ago (Dan Brown is so proud of his decision to include noble characters of color that it practically drips off the page into your lap), but it’s really come to a head recently, since this has happened in the last five books I have picked up. So, authors, quit it. Either create for me a completely colorblind world, or, create for me a world in which race is a noticeable detail because it’s a very basic physical descriptor of a human being, but in which ALL races are a noticeable detail. Otherwise it’s just uncomfortable and weird.

I feel like this problem could be really easily solved in almost every book I’ve ever read if authors would ask themselves these questions when they finish a manuscript:

  1. have I mentioned race in my book at any point? If so, then
  2. have I mentioned the race of my protagonist?

Make sure that if your answer to a. is yes, that your answer to b. is also yes.

2. This one is for YA authors in particular, and I am begging you, all of you, please, please, before I have to give up on YA as a genre because really I am on the verge of breaking a window with all the books I am flinging around my apartment sometimes:


(And while you’re at it, STOP MAKING ALL BEST FRIENDS REDHEADS. Let me tell you something: if there was a secret cabal of awesomesauce adolescent redheads, I would have gotten wind of it at some point in the last decade. There is not. So stop using red hair to stand in for actual character development.)

To go a bit further: look, I know WHY you create these mythical best friends, these girls who wave their hands in the air like they just don’t care, who pair Converse with tutus, who play viola in the morning and varsity soccer at night. It’s because they make your protagonists seem normal and relatable. Of course we all think other people are cooler than us (especially when we’re 14) and of course this is a good way to impress upon your reader that your main character is “JUST LIKE YOU!”

But if you read as much YA fiction as I do, you must have started to wonder something: why don’t these jaw-dropping doyennes of girlhood ever get their own freakin’ books? They seem a lot more interesting than the seventy plain-Jane-hiding-I’m-just-me girls I’ve read about so far this year.

Let me answer my own question, actually. First, I know that a few of them DO have their own books, but man oh man is the balance ever out of whack. But the real reason is that most of these best friend characters are completely over-the-top and two-dimensional, and therefore could not support their own books without veering heavily into the realm of the melodramatic and unrealistic. And supporting character or not, that sort of flat character creation is going to bring a book down every time, which is what keeps happening in books I am picking up.

All I’m saying is, I’m starting to get to a lot of third chapters and wondering if maybe the author chose to write about the wrong character in the story.  And I’m starting to get to a lot of seventh chapters and wondering if it is actually possible that there are this many people involved in the writing and editing of books who are painfully clueless about race. I wish that would stop happening. Authors, please make it so. I don’t like it when reading makes me this cranky.

Thank you!

Obituary for a chain bookstore

This is not an indie bookseller dancing on a chain bookstore grave. This is me pouring one out for the folks who taught me to love bookselling.

Borders Group announced last week that, by the end of January 2010, they expect to have closed 200 Waldenbooks bookstores (most of which at this point have been branded as Borders Express, actually). One of them is located at 268 Montgomery Mall, and it’s where a young Bookavore got her start.

As soon as I got my working papers, the Montgomery Mall Waldens was my first stop. My mom had worked there before her writing career took off, so it was easy to get hired. And, like most new hires in a bookstore, I was pretty sure I knew the drill: look at the books, read behind the counter, occasionally shelve when there was a cart of books around, have witty conversations about new fiction with cute guys, take home a stack of books at the end of the night purchased with massive employee discount.

(Here I pause so any bookseller reading can giggle a bit.)

Instead, here is what the drill was: Work hard. Enjoy yourself. Read on your own time.

A short list of bookselling skills I learned there would begin with the first lesson I learned on my first day (“if the book is in stock, then by God, you walk over to the section and you take the book off the shelf and you put it in the customer’s hands”) and would also include:

1. Every customer should be treated with respect, regardless of what they’re buying.

2. If you’re going to have to say the same spiel to every customer, practice until it’s 100% natural, and that way you won’t sound like a robot. (One of the managers would actually give us regular breaks in her office (by which I mean the mall hallway) to practice talking about the reader discount program, the special order process, etc.)

3. It’s okay not to like every book you read, and it’s double okay to tell customers when you don’t like a book, just don’t be an asshat about it.

4. You have to read to be a good bookseller, and you have to be familiar with what your co-workers read as well.

5. Chocolate truffles are a valuable bribery tool.

6. There are many, many creative ways in which to stack 400 copies of the same new hardcover.

7. Always double-check with someone before you say a book is out of stock. People often have their information wrong and it takes two people to figure out what the deal is. Also, the computer will be wrong half the time no matter what you do, so it’s worth it to look again.

8. Though computers make things more efficient in some ways, sometimes you just have to go with your gut when you’re ordering.

9. It doesn’t always matter how much foot traffic you have or how famous an author is: sometimes book signings just go terribly wrong.

10. People like their bookstores to have personality.

Does the last one sound like I shouldn’t have learned it under the corporate bookstore wingspan? I probably shouldn’t have. But I had a rogue manager. She ordered books from Koen when they weren’t available at the Waldens warehouse. She ordered books directly from Arcadia, stacked them on a table at the entrance because there was no section in the store in which to shelve them, and got an award from the Home Office for increasing “Local” sales by ridiculous amounts. She ignored mandated endcaps in order to keep a permanent endcap of her staff picks, which sold out the door in stacks. And she squished fiction to the side so that our receiver could have his own section. I think it was called “Weird Reads”—it was my introduction to The Sandman and Palahniuk and House of Leaves before those all became cool.

In their press release, in addition to using the reprehensible word “right-sizing,” Borders Group assures us that most of the 1500 people losing their jobs are part-timers. But that’s not true of most of the folks who taught me a lot of what I know about my job and, even more kindly, put up with me as a teenager. Not only are they full-time booksellers, but they’ve been working there for years and years, and they’re important to the community they serve despite the fact that they work for people whose ideas about bookselling I disagree with, and I am just as sad about their loss as I am when I read about an independent bookstore shutting its doors.

So this one’s for you, Sharon, Karen, Lisa, Laurie, Eric, and all the rest. I haven’t seen you in a few years, but I think of you every day at work, and I wish you all the best as another era in bookselling comes to an end.

A potential future for indie bookselling

Just quick post regarding this item in today’s Shelf Awareness:

“The French National Book Centre awarded more than 400 independent bookstores the new three-year quality label. reported that booksellers ‘had to respond to a number of criteria to qualify for the LIR, or librairies indépendantes de référence. These included deriving at least half their turnover from the sale of books, proof of independence, diversity of stock, the quality of staff and services, and a strong programme of events.

‘In exchange, they are entitled to exoneration from the payroll tax, or taxe professionnelle (TP), that is levied by local authorities, starting from next year. The label, which was officially launched last April, was one of the proposals in the ‘Plan Livre’ that was adopted by the cabinet in November 2007 to bolster the book business.'”

Ever since someone told me that in Switzerland, booksellers are required to be certified, I’ve been thinking that US booksellers should hop on the bandwagon. (NB: I have no idea if that’s actually true about the certification, but it got the wheels turning anyway.)

Bookselling, in our culture and for the average person, is a retail job. A slightly more interesting retail job, and maybe even a cool one? Certainly. But it’s also a job you take while finishing your MFA. There is very little professional credibility in working full-time for a bookstore outside of the book industry.

Now, you and I and the lamppost know that this is ridiculous. Most people in bookselling are woefully over-educated, and in addition, have a strange skillset that makes them good at their job. We tend to know too much about a few select types of books (collections of 18th century love letters, Russian literature of the mid-1970s, books about the cultivation of oranges, etc). We also tend to know enough to get by while talking about almost any book, and enough to bullshit when talking about the rest. Some of this we learned while completing useless bachelor’s degrees, but the rest we obtained honestly, through hours and days and weeks of time logged behind the counter and on the floor, the way you learn any trade.

So I think we should have a certificate or something, I don’t know what. A school. A quality label. Whatever! Something that would make materially clear what we already know to be true. Would it be very hard to quantify what makes a good bookstore and a good bookseller? Probably. Would it lead to squabbling? Almost certainly. But it’d be worth it, I think.

This is all scrabble-dash, though. What do you think? Would people be reassured to see a pretty certificate in a frame when they walked in the shop? Could it lead to a greater awareness of the greatest asset of the indie bookseller—knowledge—which currently does not seem to resonate with the wider public? Discuss.

Does the Sony Reader taste as good as a physical book and other e-book thoughts

I have brought my blog back from the dead! Did you miss me?

I’m just going to jump back into it with a random list of thoughts about a Sony Reader 505 that I won in a contest about a month ago (thanks, Unbridled Books, Firebrand Technologies, and Emily St. John Mandel!). In no particular order:

It is super irritating that the Reader doesn’t work with my MacBook unless I download software someone had to write in order to basically trick it into working with a Mac. (Calibre is, though, a good program.) No wonder nobody in Brooklyn has one.

E-reading is not a strain on the eyes. I had no problem reading for hours on the Reader. I also did not really feel as though I was comprehending the books any differently, though I guess an MRI scan would be a better judge of that.

If you are a fast reader, which I am, you will probably also be annoyed by the weird blinky thing it does between pages. Do other e-readers do that? What the hell is that?

DRM sucks and, though I have on more than one occasion set out EXPRESSLY to spend money on an e-book, I have yet to do it. This is mostly because of DRM and the fact that, because I have a Mac and the Reader won’t make nice with it, I can’t do whatever magic wand waving nonsense I need to do in order to put DRM-encrypted files on the Reader. I probably would have bought a few e-books by now if not for that. The other thing holding me back has been the umpteen formats in which one can buy an e-book. It’s confusing and stupid and I find it impossible to believe that whoever it is who needs to make the decision to release all e-books in the same format hasn’t done it yet. In the case of both DRM and formats, it’s got to be either the publishers or the tech people who are making these mistakes, which I find funny because they’re the same people who send out press releases about how e-books are the future. Not if you make them complicated and annoying, they’re not.

And for that matter, if I had spent money on e-books, I damn sure would have claimed them as a business expense, because frankly right now e-books are so ugly that I’d feel silly spending money on them if I couldn’t even get a break on my taxes. I like what Emily said in this post—I think the industry does, to some extent, need to start thinking about e-reading as a medium, not just a format. Nobody knows better than me how much it costs to put a book together, but frankly, an e-book just does not seem worth the same amount of money as a physical one.

I am glad I didn’t buy the Reader, it’s absurdly over-priced for what it does. If I made twice as much money as I do now, I’d still feel that way.

Partially this is because it’s really poorly-designed. I try not to be too negative on this site, but I think Sony can take it. As a Mac user I know I’m predisposed to expect my hardware to be elegant, but this thing is just blegh. I have no idea why it has to have so many buttons. Sony, for a minimal consulting fee I’d be glad to show you how you could have easily gained an inch of reading space on this thing. My only consolation is that the Kindle is just as ugly, and also white, so over time it will be ugly AND covered in fingerprints.

I love using it to read ARCs. I love getting them in my inbox and plopping them on the Reader and not adding to the stacks all over my bedroom.

I downloaded some free public domain books from the Gutenberg Project, and finally read Mark Twain for the first time in my life. I am sure you will all be shocked to hear that the man was very funny and a great writer! It’s all about timeliness here at

The thing the Reader is best for, in my life, is my commute. It takes me 20-25 minutes to walk to work. I like to read for much of that walk so the time isn’t wasted. And, though everybody mocked Jeff Bezos for pointing out that an advantage of the Kindle is reading one-handed, the fact is that reading one-handed is pretty useful for a number of non-perverted reasons. One of them is walking. I love walking and reading on this thing at the same time.

If the Reader worked like a Kindle and downloaded my blog reader and newspaper and magazine subscriptions, it would probably be one of the first things I picked up every day. But it doesn’t, so I can go days without using it.

So those are some random thoughts on the Sony Reader. As I mentioned in a forthcoming Shelf Awareness column (link TK), I wouldn’t recommend spending your money on an e-reader—yet. I’m holding out for something that has way more uses. But in terms of plain old reading experience, it is pretty useful, and I think booksellers need to become more familiar with the technology. Mostly because it is probably going to become part of our jobs, but also, I think many booksellers might actually enjoy the damn things a little bit.

There’s so much information out there on e-reading, I don’t know if there are any questions people have about it. Are there? Do you have any questions or thoughts? I have a question, and it’s probably the most important one there is when I think about my relationship to the Reader.

Do I look more or less fetching with an e-reader in my mouth as compared to a physical book?

Nom nom nom nom

Nom nom nom nom

(insert theme music from Brazil here)

(In which I present another possibility for the future of the physical book, because I felt there just wasn’t enough talk about the whole thing.)

Friday and Saturday, the stars aligned and I had—wait for it—two days off in a row.  I know! It was heavenly! And on the second day, I made a trip to the farmers’ market and read (the Contract With God trilogy, fantastic) in the park. Beautiful day, yummy apples, great book.

And then my phone said, “doodle doodle doo.” I looked at it, of course. 2 new emails, neither important, and about 80 tweets in the last hour from people I follow.  Started reading them, but my heart wasn’t really in it.  Maybe I should check my blog reader, I thought.  Then I thought, what the hell is wrong with me? I’m outside on a great day reading a great book and I’m feeling obligated to keep up with the 140-character thoughts of over 200 people?  No offense to the folks I follow on Twitter, all of whom are incredibly fascinating, of course, I just couldn’t believe the extent to which I was freaked out about “missing something” on a Saturday morning.  Same thing with email. I’ve always been a habitual email refresher, and my phone just aids & abets. It sits in my purse and whenever it makes a little noise, I excuse myself from whatever I’m doing, and check what is, half the time, an advertisement.

So I took the day off from the internet on Saturday. I put my phone away and disabled my internet access and just…had a day. Read some more, cleaned, watched Adam’s Rib and began to wonder if in fact Katherine Hepburn is secretly my great-aunt or something. Invented the umpteenth variation on my basic couscous recipe.  It wasn’t the perfect day, but it was nice. And a piece of that was disengaging from the ever-present Internet on purpose. The more of the day I spent not with the Internet, the more I spent not giving a shit about it. So what if another #amazonfail was happening? I was reading, don’t bother me.

This experiment wasn’t perfect; for example, my inattention to the phone for 12 hours caused family members to worry and even call the store to see what was going on. (In future, I will be sure to announce my days off so nobody worries that I am dead.) But I will definitely do it again.

Of course, even on my days off I can’t stop thinking about <serious voice> THE FUTURE OF THE PRINTED BOOK </serious voice>. So I was wondering at the end of my disconnected day, could this be a future trend, people taking the day off from connectivity? I think we all know the stress that comes from being too plugged-in.  I’m feeling it, and I’m a member of the connected generation, the generation with thumb calluses from texting, the generation that feels in emoticons, the generation with ethernet cables for veins. Despite my well-documented enthusiam for technology, some days I feel like checking email and Twitter and blogs any time after 10am is like trying to merge onto I-95 at 75 mph without slowing down.  I can imagine a near future where people say, “hey, just so you know, Friday I’m disconnecting for the day.” And that’s that.

And what will people do on the days they choose to disconnect? Probably the same things I did. Watch a movie, clean the house, make couscous, and maybe even…read a book! A real book. Not connected to anything! With paper and glue and even that o-so-worshiped book smell that is everybody’s first reason to defend physical books.  I still think e-books will be part of the future and that as booksellers we need to understand them, but I also think e-books and physical books will come to serve different purposes in our lives, different delivery for different types of content.

To that end, I think an important part of the physical book’s future will be a refuge from the always-on, always-running digital culture.  I love digital culture, I’m happy to be a part of it—I love connecting with people I wouldn’t know otherwise, I love how quickly we’re beginning to come up with ideas, I love the sheer number of new things I learn everyday (even if it’s making my TBR pile more unwieldy than usual).  But it can wear me down. I’m sure I’m not the only one.  And I bet books will be a place to which we turn to stop and breathe and enjoy the feeling of devoting all our attention to just one person telling us one story at a time.

Get back to where you once belonged

A small conversation on Twitter sparked this question: what books are now out of print that you would sell the hell out of if they were still in print?

I’ll start with three of mine.  They’re all kids’ books, I’m guessing in part because I’m too young to have loved grown-up books that are now OP, and in part because it’s the books I grew up with that really imprinted themselves on me and follow me around all day.

1. The A. I. Gang trilogy by Bruce Coville (originally published by Minstrel Books, part of S&S).  Fantastic work of sci-fi for older middle grade that I was completely obsessed with.  I have no idea why this isn’t available anymore, especially because I thought it was a given that Coville rocks, but I’m really glad I still have my copies.  Great characters, includes fantastic female characters and characters of color without being tokenist, hilarious, and so, so smart. This is a series that made me seriously think about nuclear war and the stupidity of Mutually Assured Destruction when I was all of, like, 10. Still re-read them everytime I move and have to re-pack them.  This series has perhaps the highest badge of honor I can give it: as a kid, I regularly pretended I was one of the characters and/or had extensive daydreams in which I re-wrote myself into the story.  I can say that about maybe two other books (The Dark is Rising series and The Egypt Game).  I really wish it was still around, I think it would delight fans of The Mysterious Benedict Society and E. L. Konigsberg but would also be great for reluctant readers, male or female.

2. Nobodies and Somebodies by Doris Orgel (originally published by Viking). This book was YA before YA was cool and before I was old enough to know what YA was.  Actually, I guess nowadays it would be high MG as well.  No matter, it is still great.  Story of a girl who moves to a new area and new school and gets caught up in the craziness of the cool and the uncool, but that looks at several points of view rather than walking the well-trod “man, those popular girls sure are bitchy” route. Would love to be able to sell this book again.  One character lies about having swum with dolphins to be cool, and the popular girls paint their nails in a really weird way that’s actually impossible, and there’s lots of kicking heels against the heater to protest popular girls even though it disrupts the class pet. This should be re-released as a TPO as MG so I can sell it to tweens who want a more sophisticated read.

3. Ash by Lisa Rowe Fraustino (originally published by Orchard Books). Another book that would still be in print if it had been published after the onset of YA madness. A very real look at what life is like when your sibling is mentally ill and your family is just a normal family.  I love this book so much, I can’t count how many times I’ve re-read it.  (Full disclosure, I think my mom and she were once in the same writer’s group, but as it happened so long ago that I can’t remember for sure, I doubt it’s influencing my mentioning it here.)  In voice, it’s an early King Dork, but telling a totally different story.  You know what, I’m going to type out the prologue so you can hear the voice, see if you get drawn into it the way I get every time I read it:

“The Last Will and Testament of Wesley Willian Libby, age 15 (cause you never know when a truck’s gonna hit you)

“Being of sound mind and body, not counting pigeon toes and baby flab, I hereby declare this my 1st and last will and testament so far.

“To my beloved month Bonnie Lynn Tibbetts Libby I leave my Bible. But 1st my best friend Merle R. Daigle’s gotta go through and erase some stuff. Merle, you know what I’m talking about.

“To my beloved father Stefan Edward Libby, known to the rest of creation as Steve, I leave the violin you never wanted to buy me. Sell it and buy the CB you was always after us to pitch in and get you for Christmas. And if you dig deep in my closet you’re gonna find an old G.I. Joe wearing them army medals of yours you LOST a few years ago. Don’t get all mad that I didn’t confess this when I was alive.  You woulda killed me.

“To my once-in-a-great-while beloved sister Deena T. Libby, OFFICIALLY known on her birth certificate as Dayna Theresa, which I personally think is a better name, I don’t leave nothing.

“No, just kidding Deena–you get the dust balls under my bed and the snotty handkerchief in my pants pocket when I die.”

“No, no, DEENA, just kidding! You can have my breadbox. Guess I should cross that out and write “CD-radio,” but Mama told me it was a breadbox under the Christmas tree and now that’s what it is. Also, my entire CD collection, except for the Roy Boys Grammy Ethyl give me for my birthdays, and Grammy had better take them back cause Deena would overreact if she had to share her room with Acuff, Rogers, Orbison & Clark.

“To the aforementioned best friend Merle R. Daigle, who’d get embarrassed if I called him beloved so I won’t, I leave my entire comic book collection except for the 1961 Green Honet and the ’62 Wonder Woman and the ’65 Superman cause them’s worth money and Mama & Daddy can sell them to pay for my funeral. Better clean out my college account at the Fleet Bank of Maine and use that for the funeral too. Only about $142.67 in there, so don’t get no expensive casket. Cremate me. But that don’t mean to keep my ashes around the house in no sicko urn. Bury them out back next to Togo, or put them in the cemetery with Grampy Libby. Even better, use them to fertilize Millard Worcester’s blueberry field, which’s got sentimental value to me but I can’t say why cause it’s Merle’s secret too.

“Merle also gets the personal effects in my locker if I die during the school year, but DON’T let NOBODY else in the locker, Merle, or I’ll haunt you, I swear.

“To the Calvary Bible Church I leave all my clothes to put in a gar(b)age sale or to give to the homeless cause Mama wouldn’t have the heart to do it herself. Except my Knights of Sisyphus T-shirt—that goes back to Ash. The church can also have my baseball equipment, Scrabble, books and junk so the kids will finally have something to do when the parents are fellowshipping at covered dish suppers.

“To my beloved brother Ashton Allen Libby I leave a composition book with some stuff written in it ONLY for him. Merle, you gotta get it for Ash out of the Shibboleth, and nobody else nag Merle to find out what the Shibboleth is cause that’s just between him & me. Now Merle, don’t get all mad, but the book’s in a secret compartment that YOU don’t know about. Take a hammer and pull up that floorboard with the big knothole, the one you always call Mrs. Fish-Lips’ belly button. Then paw around in there till you find the book, but don’t you dare read it or I’ll haunt you WITH CHAINS, I swear. If it ain’t there, that means I changed my mind and already give Ash the composition book.

“If there’s anything I left out then it ain’t important and Deena can have it.

“Just kidding! I didn’t leave nothing out.”

So, there’s my tribute to some books I wish were still around so I could sell them all over the place. What about you? What books do you try to recommend or sell but they’re out of print? Include the publisher name if you have it, maybe one of these days someone will stumble across this post and try to bring the book back.


It’s all over these interwebs, and my store has a response! Cutting and pasting the whole thing here, since I was the author and I give myself permission.  You should click the link to see the picture of our bestseller list with IndieBound logo hovering above, though.

Over the weekend, you may have heard something about a controversy over recent changes to Amazon’s ranking system that are primarily affecting books with sexual content, and especially books with GLBT content, by removing their rankings and thus impacting their visibility on the site.  More information is easy to find, as the internet has basically exploded about the whole thing.

Though it’s not clear yet what’s happened, here at WORD, we wanted to take this opportunity to assure our customers that the problem of books with “adult content” not being ranked is not endemic across the book industry. In the interests of transparency, our bestseller list is calculated as follows:

1. On first day of new month, run sales report for previous month.

2. Type top ten bestselling titles on a list.

3. Print out list on yellow paper.

(Possible glitch: the manager forgets how to count.  If this happens, we’ll be the first people to let you know.)

As you can see, it is a simple process and any book can be a part. We invite customers to test this assertion by buying dozens of copies of whichever adult title they like best to drive it to the top of our bestseller list.  No one would be more amused than we by an April bestseller list composed of gay erotica and perennial bestseller Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.

This should clarify our position nicely, but if you have any other questions, you are welcome to email us at, call at 718 383 0096 (no extension, no phone tree, and definitely no hold music), or for direct human contact, visit us in person at 126 Franklin Street.