Archive for the ‘meta’ Category

Bookseller jokes

Are there any? If so, I don’t know them. I know a good author joke:

Q: “How many authors does it take to change a lightbulb?”

A: “But why do I have to CHAAAAANGE it?”

but no bookseller jokes. This ends today, because you are all a clever lot.

So, when I say:

“How many booksellers does it take to change a lightbulb?”

You say:


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

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.

Cookbookavore returns: Butternut squash and black bean soup

ETA: This soup has a new name. It has been re-named Mysterious Benedict Society Soup by the delightful Nora of I’ve Bean Thinking (due to, I believe, my mention that I was reading it during the first incarnation of this soup, but frankly that is such a good book that way more recipes should be named after it). Thanks, Nora!

Yesterday on Twitter I mentioned a delicious soup and was asked for the recipe, so here it is. Sort of. I made it up as I went along and didn’t measure anything, so it’s my best guess. Luckily, it is really difficult to mess up soup.

You’ll need:

—one butternut squash that’s 8-9 inches long and not too fat on the bulb end

—one can of black beans (I used Goya)

—vegetable broth (I use the stuff in a carton from Trader Joe’s, and highly recommend keeping vegetable broth around all the time if you don’t already. It is GREAT for making rice/couscous/quinoa)


—cayenne powder

And then you:

Cut the squash down the middle, scrape out all the seeds and whatnot, and put it on aluminum foil on a baking pan. Put it in the oven at 380 (Bittman calls for 375, I don’t think there’s a huge difference). I didn’t add any butter or oil, though you can. I am honestly not sure how long I baked it for because I was reading (The Mysterious Benedict Society!) and just kept peeking at it. Probably 45 minutes or so? In any event, you’ll know it’s ready when the skin is puffy on the outsides and the flesh looks sort of dry. Poke it with a fork. If the fork goes right through, you’re probably set. Take it out and let it cool. This is a good chance to read some more.

After it’s cool enough to hold, peel the skin off. It should come off very easily. Slice the squash up into chunks, whatever size you like, and put in a saucepan. Add the beans. Cover with broth plus another half-inch or so of broth (though you could do more). Turn the heat on medium and let it warm up a bit (aka: read some more) and then put in honey. I think I made three or four spirals worth, but add to taste. Then just 2 or 3 shakes of cayenne, but you could do more. Mix it up, put the lid on, let it simmer for awhile, and voila! Delicious soup.

You could probably double this and make it in a bigger pot. Also, I think next time I might soften an onion in some oil in the pot before I add in the squash. Or maybe some potatoes. So many options!

Review: When Everything Changed

It’s been a long time since I wrote a book review here, mostly because I’ve moved the bulk of my book commentary to Twitter. But I just finished a book I need more than 140, 280, or even 560 characters to talk about.

Over the last three days I’ve been devouring When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to Present, by Gail Collins (Little, Brown; just released). And I think it might have changed my life.

Let’s get something clear at the outset: I am, in almost every way, the grateful heir of the hard work of generations of American women who imagined a better life for their daughters and granddaughters. I was raised with flat-footed real-proportioned fake Barbies, and a subscription to New Moon magazine, and a healthy appreciation for women’s history, both in general and in my personal genealogy. In my senior year of college, asked to produce a utopia, dystopia or manifesto for a political science class, I wrote “A Womb of One’s Own: The Muliebrity Manifesto,” complete with grrrl power soundtrack. (Yes, really!)

And so I approached When Everything Changed with excitement, because I have the utmost respect for Gail Collins, but did not expect to be surprised by it. I certainly did not expect it to make me cry.

But I was, and it did.

What Collins has done is taken things that we all know—women used to need their husband’s permission to buy a car, and the Pill was revolutionary, and fifty years ago for a woman to go in front of a judge wearing slacks was completely impermissible, and the story of the Equal Rights Amendment, and so on—and created out of them a narrative above and beyond the typical history-book regurgitation. By weaving the experiences of average women into her chronology of the social and political upheavals, Collins molds the changes of the last five decades into an entirely new creation. God, I found myself thinking over and over, my great-grandmothers and grandmothers really put up with this nonsense? And didn’t snap once? Suddenly, the story of women’s liberation, which had always intellectually resonated with me as a woman, began to feel like a part of me down to my very bones.

I found myself welling up at the oddest places in the book. Sometimes I would be moved by the story of a woman Collins interviewed. When reading the section about Billie Jean King defeating Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes, I remembered my mom telling me when I was younger about how she had been riveted to the TV set for the match, and how proud she’d been when Billie Jean won. Shuttling between soccer, basketball, and softball practices, I had just thought she was a weirdo. Now I realize an entire generation of women (and men!) had been perched in front of the TV that day as well. When reading about the increase of women attending college and looking at the years in which it became allowed for women to attend various graduate programs, I suddenly realized that there was more behind my Nana and Yia-Yia’s incessant harping about my grades than maternal concern. They were also trying to make sure I could take advantage of the opportunities they’d been denied. Both of them would have made very good lawyers. And each time I felt like I would cry—from sadness, from guilt, from the sheer amount of wasted opportunity on display—underneath it all like a heartbeat I could hear my brain: you are so lucky, you are so lucky, you are so, so, so lucky.

I knew many of these things before I started the book, but Collins has taken them and infused them with a passion and an importance that cannot be ignored. The book is perfectly paced, so it’s easy to get a sense of both the slowness and the speed at which many issues of the last few decades have unfolded. And because her aim is to tell a story, rather than to try to make a larger point, the point makes itself: things aren’t perfect, but my God, how they’ve gotten better.

Collins addresses my generation’s blessed amnesia about the gains of women since the 1960s at the end of the book, and the ways in which it’s both proof that the women’s movement has made true gains, and also problematic for the concerns of women that are still unaddressed. It’s my hope that this book can be a partial corrective for that. It can act as a reminder for women my age of what, if not for the tireless and in many cases unrewarded work of thousands of American women before us, could have been.

For me, it certainly has. Reading the book has put my life and its possibilities into sharp relief. I have woken up the last two mornings feeling luckier than I ever have, determined to do something good with my life simply because I can. I hope to feel that way tomorrow morning and again the day after that—and if the feeling ever fades, I will return to this incredible volume to be re-inspired.

Football and independent bookselling

As begun on Facebook after a fun conversation with my co-worker: what if independent bookselling were more like (or anything like) professional football?

Being Eagles-centric, I thought that if I were the McNabb of bookselling, I would forget the alphabet from 2-5pm everyday and thus be incapable of shelving or doing my job properly.

My co-worker, our events coordinator, would get a bonus every time she signed a bestselling author for an event.

No matter what new releases came in on Tuesday, there’d be twenty blog posts up by Wednesday morning on fan blogs talking about how we were idiots to only go with four of the new Pynchon,and wondering if that new book from Featherproof was really going to prove itself or if we had just been snookered.

Kelly then chimed in: “And we’d still get paid the big bucks for all sick days due to paper cuts and box cutting injuries.”

John Mutter of Shelf Awareness: “How about an annual draft of the top bookseller prospects eligible for full-time jobs? C-Span could televise it. The stores down the most the previous year would have the top picks and could trade them. The major choices would have press conferences with their store managers and owners wearing store T-shirts or caps. Oh,and booksellers would have agents!”

Laurie Halse Anderson: “I will look forward to the inquiries and scandals when the news leaks out that you were recruited by the deep-pockets world of bookselling when you were an innocent teen with an astounding ability to read fast and naive parents who didn’t realize what that meant for your future career. And then the coaches came calling… in the dark….”

My boss: “So I guess I’m like the Jerry Maguire of bookselling. SHOW ME THE BOOK SALES!!!!!!”

Terra Elan McVoy, author of PURE and manager of Little Shop of Stories: “You’d want a quarterback who had more than one handsell in her–not always going to the same Audrey Niffeneger handoff: one who could stay in the pocket and not panic but still dole out some Andrea Barrett, a little Zadie Smith, maybe fake with some Chuck Klosterman, but who could also fire off one or two big, beautiful hail marys like selling that copy of Drood you’ve been hoping to get rid of before it comes out in PB next month.”

This is a game that had to be extended to the greater world, naturally. Post your best ideas about how to make indie bookselling more like the NFL while I try to get Roger Goodell on the phone.

Bookavore sighting!

There are so few of us bookavores, we who eat books, that I feel a clan obligation to post any and all sightings of them.

Via the lovely Emily Pullen, please go watch this video of Blake Butler eating the first page of his book. I think he intends to eat the whole thing, so please also go recommend to him ways to make that a little easier.

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

BEA must-do

Make room for one more awesome event during BEA!






What? The title wasn’t clear enough for you? I think the purpose and content of this trip are obvious enough.

Where? Again, see title. 126 Franklin St, Brooklyn, NY 11222.

Why? Because there is only so much show floor you can walk before you get sick of ugly carpet and the feeling of your arms going slowly numb under the weight of four overloaded tote bags. Because you like donuts, or at least are curious about these donuts I talk about all the time. Because you have always secretly wondered if I do, in fact, really eat books for meals. Because all purchases at WORD are 10% off this weekend when you show your BEA badge. Because I have to work all day so I want to bring BEA to me!

When? Saturday, May 30, 11am-9pm.

Who? You! Me. Donuts. Cat pictures. Books.

How? Follow these insanely-detailed directions from Javitz to WORD (hey, I get lost all the time, don’t want that to happen to anyone else):

1. Walk east on W35th towards 10th Ave (those of you without a compass, this means walk out the front doors and in the direction of the construction. They’re still doing construction there, right?). At the corner of 35th and 8th, descend into the subway station.

2. Take the E train heading UPTOWN. Get off at 23rd St/Ely Ave (this is the stop after Lexington Ave/53rd St).

3. Walk through the station toward the G train. At some point it will stop being the 23rd/Ely station and start being the Court Square station, for reasons that have never been made clear to me. Get on the G heading to Smith and 9th St. Almost inevitably, wait for awhile. Wait a little longer. Keep waiting! This is good, you’re getting the real Brooklyn experience.

4. Take the G to Greenpoint Ave. When you get off the train and go through the turnstiles, don’t take the exit immediately to your right, take the one further back on the right.

5. Go up the stairs and immediately turn right. You’ll walk down Manhattan Avenue for a hot minute and then reach Milton St. Make a right on Milton. Walk down it. Then you’ll be at the corner of Franklin and Milton. More importantly, then you’ll be at WORD! Good on ya. If you get lost, you can call me at 718 383 0096.

So there you go. When you need a break from the craziness of BEA, come visit your friendly neighborhood Bookavore for a donut and a smile. And cat pictures.

e-ARC follow-up

After this article in Shelf Awareness last month, about the potential of e-ARCS for reviewing and especially indie bookstores, I got a number of very thoughtful responses. Several people wrote in to affirm that they definitely were not interested in e-ARCs at all and have concerns that for booksellers to start to work with e-books puts the future of the book at greater risk.  Several others wrote in to say they were very interested in e-readers, even though they love physical books.  And a few introduced thoughts that had never entered my mind! Below is a selection of voices that I think are crucial to the discussion:

Let me say I would dearly love an e-reader for ARC’s!! I will be anyone’s guinea pig on this! I find the amount of paper products in my office overwhelming.  Publisher’s catalogs, toy catalogs and then what-have-you catalogs. I have been known to purge so severely that my new catalogs are recycled with the old! (My reps just bring them now.)  The book sorting and sharing is never ending, as you say.  But you forgot to mention the book that has been out on the floor for 3 months and the ARC mysteriously reappears on the shelf to be re-sorted and weeded.”  —Andrea Vuleta, General Manager, Mrs. Nelson’s Toy and Book Shop (CA)

The aspect that isn’t being discussed is that, as a collector, I like having ARCs in my collection. Yes, fewer of them are printed and, to me, that makes them more interesting. There are often changes in the art between the ARC and the finished book and I like having those differences represented- often I prefer the artwork of the ARC. There can be changes to the story or some other aspect of the text between the ARC and the finished book and, to me, that’s worth keeping. Being in the bookworld, I am lucky enough to be able to be many of them signed by the visiting author, so I have sets – the ARC and the hardcover – and I like that. Makes my shelves jammed, but I like it. In fact, if there are gaps in my collection, they are the ARCs of author’s earlier books that I don’t have.

“I recall one author bemoaning how some faceless copy editor decided that the last three paragraphs in the author’s book really weren’t necessary so they were omitted from the finished book. Until the paperback, the only way to read the full book, as written by the author, was in the ARC.

“In another case, an author was horrified to find that an earlier and inferior version of the manuscript was mistakenly issued as the ARC and thought reviews and reactions to the book were hurt by it. He wanted anyone who had read the ARC to read the book again, in hardcover. Otherwise, you hadn’t really read ‘his book’.

“These kinds of stories, along with the artifact itself, makes me value ARCs as a collector. And, for that reason, I’d hate to see them go.”  —JB Dickey, owner, Seattle Mystery Bookshop (WA)

“Being one who tends to see both sides of an issue simultaneously, I can certainly support your reasoning about reducing waste and being more ‘green.’ But I’m also concerned that booksellers need to ‘walk the talk.’ If they’re reading books — even if in galley form — on an e-reader, why shouldn’t more customers do the same?

One alternative solution that came to me is for publishers to use the same model with booksellers as agents do with acquisitions editors: present a one or two page summary, along with a sample chapter. Since we can’t possibly read all the ARCs that we get anyway, we could at least get a feel for the content, style of writing, and whether any of our customers would like the book. Publishers could then produce galleys with print-on-demand technology, should there be some requests for the book.”  —Mark Kaufman, Paz & Associates

The moment I heard of e-readers I thought they would be an excellent tool for me as a bookseller. Imagine seeing a book promoted on a television show, website or actually meeting the author that interested me. I could IMMEDIATELY go to the publisher website, enter my super secret spidey code and download a copy to start reading. If I didn’t like it… no problem… delete it. If I DID like it… start the buzz.”  —Deb Hunter, Chicklet Books (NJ)

And here’s a helpful link from Brian O’Leary of Magellan Media Partners, about a study they did for netGalley that looks at the costs to publishers of making e-ARCs available.

Any other voices out there in the ether that want to chime in?