Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Book Reviews: A Two-fer

MOLOKA’I by Alan Brennert. $13.95 in paperback

This compelling novel follows the life of Rachel Kalama from her girlhood on Oahu through her lifelong exile at the leper colony on Moloka’i, and consequently it follows the history of Hawai’i itself from the US’s unconstitutional overthrow of the monarchy through the attack on Pearl Harbor. The reader feels the same anguish, fear, and isolation as Rachel faces one hardship after another, with a heartwarming reunion with her lost family as a final reward for her hard-earned self-reliance.

HONOLULU by Alan Brennert $24.95 in hardcover

Like his previous book Moloka’i, Brennert’s new novel takes a sweeping and probing look at a little-known period of US history. Jin is a young Korean “picture bride” who, in 1915, risks everything to leave her homeland for Hawai’i in order to marry a man she has never met. When his bitterness and cruelty drive her to run away, she makes her way to Honolulu, finding support and friendship in the most unlikely sources. Brennert takes a hard look at the hardships of being a woman in the early 20th century and at the racism that almost destroyed what is now one of the most thriving multicultural metropolises in the world.

Both books are satisfying reads, but what sets them apart is Brennert’s ability to plumb the mysteries of the human heart, exploring the heights and the depths of our emotional spectrum. What I particularly love is the fine balance he creates between hope and despair without seeming melodramatic. Fans of The Secret Life of Bees, Ellen Foster, or The Kite Runner (or anybody who is drawn to stories of overcoming social, cultural, or religious constrictions) will find much to appreciate in his novels.

Emily Crowe

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I Need to Learn How to Speed Read

It's currently my favorite time of year. The birds are chirping, the leaves are just starting to come out, the temperature is in the mid-70s (ok, today actually hit an uncomfortable 90), I can wear flip-flops again, and Fall catalogs have arrived.

Ah, Fall catalogs.

I had heard rumor that Fall 2009 is going to be a stellar season for books, but oh my lord, the line-up is simply astounding! The Random House Publishing Group alone has a list that will keep me reading well into late adulthood.

How on earth am I going to be able to read all these books? Most of my spare time is devoted to reading and yet I only average about 35 pages an hour. Oy. Double Oy.

Just to give you a sense of how wonderful it's going to be, here is a list, in no particular order:

Audrey Niffenegger -- HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY
Thomas Trofimuk -- WAITING FOR COLUMBUS (this is a debut, but supposedly masterful. I always trust Ann Kingman's, one of our Random House reps, recommendations.)
Jonathan Lethem -- CHRONIC CITY
Pat Conroy -- SOUTH OF BROAD
Margaret Atwood -- THE YEAR OF THE FLOOD
Stephen L. Carter -- JERICHO'S FALL
Kazuo Ishiguro -- NOCTURNES
Lorrie Moore -- A GATE AT THE STAIRS
Philip Caputo -- CROSSERS
Richard Russo (a.k.a. "Papa Russo") -- THAT OLD CAPE MAGIC
Sarah Dunant -- SACRED HEARTS
Barbara Kingsolver -- THE LACUNA
Mary Karr -- LIT: A MEMOIR
Joyce Carol Oates -- LITTLE BIRD OF HEAVEN

Alright, now:

A)That's already nearly 30 books by authors I know and love.
B) Only two publishing houses have been fully covered here. I still haven't been through half of the catalogs!
C) I also have not included debut authors (save that recommendation from Ann Kingman), which I need to concentrate on for our Breakout Fiction Program.

I don't know how I'm going to do all of this, but I sure am going to have fun trying. Better start the caffeine injections now. Steve, honey, I apologize in advance.

Emily Russo Murtagh

Monday, April 27, 2009

Independent Bookstores in NYC

Let me start by saying this: I am a bit ashamed of myself.

Before moving to western Massachusetts to join the Odyssey as their events coordinator, I lived in Brooklyn and worked as an assistant literary agent for a small boutique agency in the Gramercy Park area of Manhattan.

For those not looking closely (and I was one of those), New York City appears to be, on the surface, primarily a "Barnes and Noble" kind of town. There is one in just about every neighborhood of the five boroughs-- if not more -- and, from what I can remember, only a handful of Borders (which I've always disliked). The closest B&N to where I worked is the GIANT store in Union Square (14th and Park Avenue). It has four floors of books, an enormous, inviting cafe to read in during lunch breaks or after a long day at the office, and a fiction section to make just about anyone drool -- regardless of how you feel about the chains.

I've always tried to support as many locally-owned indie bookstores as possible. Every time I go home to Camden, ME, I make sure to stop into the Owl and Turtle Bookshop. On the few occasions my husband and I can make it to Martha's Vineyard for a few cherished days, I stop into both Edgartown Books and the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore in Vineyard Haven. The Bunch of Grapes is, and will always be, near and dear to my heart. It is the bookstore that made me want to be a bookseller since I was ten, and when I first heard the news that it nearly burned down last year -- I was truly devastated. They are, however, reopening this summer and my husband and I are joining my parents for the re-opening celebration!

I apologize, I've gotten a tad off-track.

So, yes, I try and shop locally, but I don't think I really "got" why it was so important until I started working at the Odyssey because admittedly, I didn't exactly "seek out" indies in NYC. If I found one, terrific, but did I go out of my way? No. I walked past that same B&N everyday to and from work and I succumbed their convenience and four floors.

I could easily go on for several pages and extrapalate on why we should all shop locally, but it's been done by others more eloquent than I am, so instead, I will link to the IndieBound page for those interested, as I have another purpose for this particular post.

Since working at the Odyssey, I've joined many of the social networking sites to help promote the store and connect with other booksellers across the country. As I do so, I'm finding more and more thriving (and by thriving I mean keep their heads above water) and wonderful independent bookstores in Manhattan and Brooklyn that I am ashamed to say I never knew of or took advantage of. I only wish that my upcoming trip to BEA this May was a day or two longer so that I could spend some time wandering around what I am sure are some terrific stores.

These stores are (and are not limited to):

Word; Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
McNally-Jackson; Soho, Manhattan (actually, I've visited this store twice, but I love it, so I had to include it.)
BookCourt; Cobble Hill, Brooklyn (my first apartment in Brooklyn was no more than 8 blocks away from BookCourt. Did I visit it often? Stupidly, no.)
BookCulture; Morningside Heights, Manhattan
The Corner Bookstore; Upper East Side, Manhattan

So, to these indie bookstores in Manhattan and Brooklyn (and the many others I've missed), my sincere apologies for not being your patron often enough during my five years in NYC and I hope to visit you all soon --- probably not all at the same time, however, cause I tend to by 1 or 2 new books for each store I visit and my husband WILL NOT be happy with me if I blow $200 on books in New York when I could have ordered them from the Odyssey with my staff discount.

Does he have a point? Absolutely. Do I care? Not really. I'm supporting my local indies! (I swear, if we ever get divorced, it'll be over my book addiction.)

Emily Russo Murtagh

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Procrastination Reviews #2: The Amaranth Enchantment by Julie Berry

The Amaranth Enchantment by Julie Berry
Hardcover, 9781599903347, $16.99

The second book in the exciting "Procrastination Reviews" series, I picked this one up off the shelf when I was searching for an appropriate book to send to the 14/15 year-old girl in the Odyssey Bookshop's Gift of Reading Program. This is a program where people sign up a child in their life to receive a book that has been hand-picked for them. I do the hand picking. This is one of my favorite, and one of the most challenging, aspects of my job. I have 20 children each month whose reading history I review, personal preferences I review, and then I make an age-appropriate, genre-appropriate book choice for them. Occasionally, I throw something different into the mix; reading too much of the same thing isn't good for anyone. This book can be exhibit A in my case - it's hardly my usual "for myself" reading, but it was entertaining nonetheless. Sort of like a teenage version of a Harlequin romance novel, only without any of the sex or violence.

Lucinda Chapdelaine used to be the only child in a wealthy family that was close to the king. Orphaned by a carriage accident that killed her parents on their way home from a ball, Lucinda has grown up in her uncle's jewelry shop, hated and made to work as a servant by her step-aunt. Lucinda doesn't remember much of her life before the shop, though the grief of her parents' death is still with her. Then, in one day, a beautiful woman visits the shop, an enchanted stone makes its way into Lucinda's care, and Lucinda meets Prince Gregor for the first time since childhood. Soon Lucinda is off on an adventure involving a thief named Peter, an immortal woman named Beryl, the Amaranth Witch, and the truth behind her parents' death.

It turns out the enchanted stone holds Beryl's soul and someone is out to steal it in order to rule the world. Lucinda is drawn to the stone, and so tries to keep it safe, only to have it stolen by Peter, a street thief, who is unaware of its true value. Peter sells it to Prince Gregor, who is looking for the perfect betrothal gift for the Princess he has never met, but who is soon to be his bride. Lucinda makes a deal with Beryl - in return for getting back her soul, Beryl will restore her parents' lands to Lucinda, making her a woman of wealth and property again. On her quest for the stone, Luncinda is caught as a thief, meets her parents' murderer, is almost hanged but manages to escapes, dances several dances with Prince Gregor (is she falling in love?), gets saved more than once by her trusty goat sidekick she calls Dog, and unveils more than one person's true identity.

(See what I mean about the Harlequin romance novel plot-line? Throw some duels and hot sex in there and you've got yourself a whole different type of book contract.) It all works out in the end, and the right people marry their true loves without any awkwardness or bruised feelings. A quick read, the book is plot heavy with fairly little character development. Perfect breezy book for a teen summer read. - Rebecca

Procrastination Reviews #1: The Compound by S.A. Boden

The key to successful procrastination: do something that is halfway legitimate; extra points if you can turn that something halfway legitimate into more work because of its very pseudo-legitimacy. Case in point: in order to procrastinate the three papers I have hanging over my head, I've read two teen novels (for my job, not for school) in the last three days, thus creating the need to blog about them so that my reading will not have been for my pleasure only; the act of blogging my reviews puts these novels firmly in the "for work" category. So, review #1.

The Compound by S.A. Bodeen
Hardcover: 9780312370152, $16.95
Paperback: 9780312578602, $8.99 - due out September 2009

I have my Macmillan rep, Bob, to thank for this book. He dropped off a box of ARCs (advanced reader copies, pre-published books), with this book in it because "the paperback is coming out soon." ARCs I can take or leave, to be honest. I find I don't read nearly as many of them as I should, and then whenever there's a new round of releases, I devour 10 books in 2 weeks to catch up on all the reading I should have done in ARC form 6 weeks earlier. Now, normally, I'm also not one for the inside flap, dust jacket description, whatever the little phrase is that's supposed to give you a taste of the book. I much prefer to read the first chapter. That said, I admit to being sucked in by the mini-blurb of this book. It reads: "Eli and his family have lived in the Compound for six years. The world they know is gone. Eli's father built the Compound to keep them safe. Now, they can't get out. He won't let them." Creepy, right? It's not boogy-man, jump in the dark sort of scary, but just twisted enough that it takes your mind a minute to put two and two together because it just doesn't want to see it.

So what's the basic story? Billionaire dad, mom, older son Eli, daughter Lexie, and daughter Terese all make it into the underground Compound, seconds before the world is blown apart by a nuclear war. Eli's twin brother Eddy and the grandmother (mom's mom) didn't make it. Or so Dad tells them... *cue creepy foreshadowing music here* Flash forward six years: Meat ran out. Fish ran out. Flour is low and going bad. Each family member is holding it together and slowly losing it in their own unique way. Lexie's the perfect Daddy's girl. Terese speaks only in a British accent. Eli refuses to let anyone touch him. Dad's gotten increasingly controlling. Mom's gotten increasingly suspicious. They're all beginning to suspect they're not going to make it the number of years they have left until it will be safe for them to try the world outside. Eli begins questioning what he knows, what he thinks he knows, and what he's been told - some things aren't adding up. When he begins searching the Compound for clues, Eli begins uncovering secrets that shouldn't exist. Like the internet - if there was nuclear war, how is there a wireless signal? Why has his dad written a note to his accountant, if he accountant should now be dead? Where is all the new music coming from that his dad keeps giving him? It seems not everyone on the outside was killed by that nuclear war, if there even was one. If Dad was lying about nuclear war, what else was he lying about? Why did he build the Compound? And why won't he let them out, now that things have started to go really wrong?

Now, I mean this complimentary (I know, not a promising beginning), but one of the things I liked best about this book was once I thought I knew where it was going, it went there. My guess about what the "Supplements" really were? Dead on. My hunch about where Eli's missing twin brother might be? Got it. I liked that. It's satisfying. There was enough twisted about the story in general, that it wasn't one of those, "Hell, I could have written this," sort of feelings. It was more of a relief that the author didn't suddenly throw some weird plot twist in for the hell of it, just to mess with your head. The twists in this story were logical, made sense to the plot, and though things wrap up well at the end, there's a suggestion of unease under the surface that leaves you satisfied nothing's ever quite as perfect as it seems. A solid read, with nothing too kinky that a 13 or 14-year-old couldn't handle. - Rebecca

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Fire by Kristin Cashore
Publication date: October 2009
Hardcover: 9780803734616, $17.99

First of all, let me just say that, particularly as first novels, Graceling and Fire (and Kristin Cashore, for writing them) are an inspiration.

I really enjoyed Graceling, and despite the fact that I'm apparently reviewing primarily fantasy books recently, I don't read much fantasy (honest!), so this is saying a lot. The premise - that there are these beings called Gracelings, who have eyes of two different colors, and who are gifted with some sort of enhanced ability - struck me as intriguing. Katsa and Po, the two main characters, were compelling in their development as individuals, as was the plot as it twisted its way through the world of the seven kingdoms.

In Fire, the companion prequel to Graceling, Cashore has created an equally original world of beautiful "monsters": animals, plants, and occasionally people who are irresistably beautiful and extremely dangerous. Fire, the last living human monster, lives in near-isolation, protecting herself from those who want to harm her because of the way her father, also a monster, harmed them. Her father was the advisor to the previous king in the land of the Dells - a land over the mountains from the seven kingdoms in Graceling, a land on the brink of war. He was a cruel and twisted man who could control people's minds and make them suffer in unimaginable ways. While Fire has inherited his abilities, but not his cruelty, sadly there are many people who would rather condemn or kill her first, and ask questions later. When her abilities are needed to help fight to keep the rightful rulers on the thrown, Fire has to face her own inner monsters in order to make the best use of her gift. She is afraid of the way people's minds open to her; all except for the mind of Prince Brigan, the commander of the royal army, and an increasingly fascinating man. By exploring the depths of her abilities, and how far she is willing to go for this kingdom she is beginning to love, Fire carves a place for herself. Much like a phoenix (sorry, the metaphor had to be used), Fire rises from the ashes of her father's universal betrayal to form her own solid reputation of self-discipline, courage, and love.

How is this a prequel to Graceling? The bad guy, Leck, in Graceling is introduced as a boy in Fire. Clearly rotten from the beginning, he plays a deceptively minor role until a pivotal moment of the book. Though it was nice to see some sort of connection between Graceling and Fire, I actually thought that the connection hindering on Leck was the weakest part of the plot. His apperance as a character didn't add much (in my opinion) to my pre-existing knowledge of him, based on Graceling. There was no deeper understanding of him, or explanation as to how he got to be the evil man he was. He was apparently born that way. So, it was a connection, but not a meaningful one, for me. I hope to read more of Fire and Prince Brigan in Cashore's third work, Bitterblue.

Though the stories of both books offer (relatively) resolved endings, Cashore doesn't hold her punches, writing difficult (as in, sad) story developments with sensitivity and grace, making them understandable and necessary, despite being hard to read. Her strong female leads discover their own strengths and weaknesses. They are matched by the men in their lives, but not sheltered, led, or protected by them.

This is a good series to give to that difficult group of 10-13 year-old-readers, the ones who read above their level, but who may not be ready for scenes of graphic sex or violence. There are some references to sex, particularly in Graceling, and of course some violence, but it is never gratuitious, and the sexual references alluded-to, more than shown.

I wish you all had early copies of the book, too, because I can't wait to gush about it with other people who have read it!


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Poetry Post

In the secret life and times of me, it will be discovered that I love poetry.

I don't always understand it, I don't always know how to read it, but for some reason I feel it in a way that is pretty unexpected to me. Is poetry like that for most people? I feel that it's one of those secretive things, though I have no idea why it should be. How many people do you actually know who read poetry? Maybe a lot, but that's the point right, you (o
r I) don't know for sure because it's never discussed because it's a secret.

April is Poetry Month.

(20% off poetry books at the Odyssey in case you're interested.)

In honor of this, I've picked up some old favorites and discovered some new-to-me, and have decided to step out of the poetry closet, declare to be a poetry-lover, and shar
e some of my favorites with you.

In exploring the history of my love affair with poetry, I've discovered it began much earlier than I expected. In 6th grade, I was attending a public school program for the Gifte
d and Talented (a piece of irony that never escaped my mother - she often called it a program for the Precocious and Naughty); one of the yearly assignments was to memorize a piece of something and then perform it in front of some select group of people (it may have been the whole school or just the whole grade, I don't remember). At the ripe old age of 11, guess what I chose to recite. No, not Dr. Seuss, as did the girl who won the contest (oh, did I not mention that part? Yes, it was a contest). Instead, I memorized and recited, to the snores of the entire audience, Robert Louis Stevenson's "To Minnie" from his A Child's Garden of Verses. I still remember some of it:

The red room with the giant bed
Where none but elders laid their head;
The little room where you and I
Did for awhile together lie
And, simple suitor, I your hand
In decent marriage did demand...

Why on earth did I choose this poem?!? I remember several people - teachers, parents - try to talk me out of it, but that was the one I wanted. Reading back over it now, I know for sure I didn't understand half of what I was saying. But I was so obstinate! I gave a thoroughly boring performance, I'm sure, and I even think it might have be
en captured on video somewhere (probably mildewing in a box of VHS tapes forgotten in someone's basement in southern Indiana). Needless to say, I did not even place among the contest winners, but I'm so glad I stuck with what spoke to me. See, my bullheadedness began way back in the day.

The next poem to fascinate me was by William Blake, and he remains one of my favorites to this day:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

I give myself extra points for loving this poem even before it was used in a Tomb Raider movie starring Angelina Jolie.

Next came e.e. cummings, who I have to admit, I didn't discover until college:

Kisses are a better fate than wisdom.

And now, only recently have I read Nikki Giovanni. Her book Bicycles: Love Poems was featured at the Odyssey for both February and April, but I didn't read it until last week (or maybe the week before?). I am in love all over again (figuratively, not with someone in particular), and I blame this book for my recent mood swings, odd dreams, and minor bouts of love-lorn depression. Dear Nikki Giovanni, I was doing just fine until you came along to stir up all those old feelings again! Must mean you're doing something right, dammit.

If Only

If I had never been in your arms
Never danced that dance
Never inhaled your slightly sweaty odor

Maybe I could sleep at night

If I had never held your hand
Never been so close
To the most kissable lips in the universe
Never wanted ever so much
To rest my tongue in your dimple

Maybe I could sleep at night

If I wasn't so curious
About whether or not you snore
And when you sleep do you cuddle your pillow
What you say when you wake up
And if I tickle you
Will you heartedly laugh

If this enchantment
This bewilderment
This longing
Could cease

If this question I ache to ask
could be answered

If only I could stop dreaming
of you

Maybe I could sleep
at night.


Friday, April 10, 2009

BEA-- Here we come!

If I haven't already mentioned it, I love book conferences, LOVE them. I can't get enough of them and I've reached the point of annoying my bosses with the ever-persistent question -- can I go, can I go, can I, can I?!

Last year, when I found out I would be missing the September NEIBA (New England Independent Booksellers Association) conference, I was bummed for days. The reason I was missing the conference was because I was going to be on my honeymoon, and yet the thought of postponing the honeymoon to the following week almost, almost, crossed my mind. I did not, however, take my book addiction that far and my husband and I had a marvelous time in Italy. Yes, my husband is fully-aware of my addiction and, thank god, finds it endearing. Bless his heart.

For independent bookstores, there are three big conferences a year. In the Fall are the regional conferences. In our case, NEIBA, as previously mentioned. In the winter, the American Booksellers Association offers a free weekend of educational classes for booksellers where we meet to talk about new industry trends and how we can all work together to keep independent bookstores thriving. This past year, the conference was in Salt Lake City. Next year, it's in San Jose, CA.

But, the third, Book Expo America (hereafter referred to as BEA), is the biggest and the most ostentatious. For many booksellers, the sheer size of the conference is enough to deter them. Thousands upon thousands of booksellers walking the floor at the same time -- many of them clamoring to get to the same booths at Random House for that must-have galley -- and I admit, it can be entirely overwhelming and very, very stressful.

But, here's the thing...I don't care; I LOVE IT!

I don't know what this year's conference holds for me, so I'll give you the details of last year's conference and with any luck, you'll see why this is so exciting. If I fail in this endeavor, please see Bookdwarf's blog and search for her BEA posts. That should do it.

Day 1: For independent bookstores, the first day of the conference is usually the "Day of Education." Here, booksellers attend hour-long "mini-classes" catered to different aspects of book-selling. Since I work as the events coordinator for the Odyssey, I attended the majority of the sessions focusing on publicity, e-marketing, blogging, social media networking, etc. In general, these classes are incredibly informative, though at times, I felt like either I was a) already doing the things mentioned or that b) the ideas were catered to stores with more than 50 people on staff and while I'd love to implement some of them, I'm only one person and I have no assistant.

Lunch lecture was given by Amy Goodman, host of "Democracy Now!"(amazing).

Awards ceremony that evening included meeting Khaled Hossieni whose novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, won that year as the indies' favorite work of fiction.

After the awards ceremony, Joan and I caught a cab to a very swanky Hollywood hotel (where the seating/lounging area included beds instead of couches or chairs) for a cocktail party with Dennis Lehane to celebrate the upcoming publication of The Given Day. I had finished most of the novel on the plane ride to L.A., but admittedly was reading the last 20 pages in the cab ride over to the party. In short, it was an excellent shin-dig where I got to meet oodles of terrific booksellers from the west coast, many of whom ended up in one car, piled on top of each other, on our way back to the hotel for dinner.

Day Two: The Conference Center
Walking into the Los Angeles Conference Center was like walking into heaven with serious traffic problems. Booths upon booths upon booths of books as far as the eye can see and no way to get to them. Instead of "Dead End" and "No Left Turn" signs, crowds of people blocked your way --- effectively serving the same purpose. Nevertheless, Joan and I plowed through, making a few people angry along the way, I'm sure.

We walked for what felt like miles (maybe it was) among the different publisher's booths, meeting with publicists and marketing coordinators to talk up the Odyssey and the store's strengths and ask them about up-and-coming authors to possibly send our way. And, of course, grabbing galleys. Joan is much better about galley grabbing than I am. She'll politely give the marketing coordinator her card and ask her to mail the copy after the conference is over. I, however, think to myself, "but what if I want to start reading it tonight" or "what if I have a few spare minutes between meetings and I need something to read?". I say this to myself with every copy and it doesn't matter that I already have twelve in my bag. Maybe I'll want #13 the most, and I know, I know, I'll want to thumb through every single copy when I get back to the hotel. Therefore, I carry more than my frame can handle and am in pain after two hours. Worth it? Heck yes.

That day's lunch, hosted by the ABA, gave us the opportunity to have lunch with old and new authors coming out with books that Fall. Joan got to talk with Jennifer Haigh (Mrs. Kimble) while I got to see Dennis Lehane, again, who told some marvelous stories about the time when he was a bookseller.
Evening: Joan and I were extraordinarily lucky to be invited to the Knopf cocktail party and dinner. We met Barbara Walters, Anne Rice, Nam Le (one of my new favorite writers) and some other tremendous book people.

Day Three:
Walking the "floor" on Day 3 was much like walking the floor on Day Two. More meetings with publicists, more galleys in my bag, more meeting great booksellers/contacts from around the country and getting new ideas for the store! That afternoon we met John Hodgman and he promised to come to our store!

Evening: This final event of BEA (for us anyway) was hosted by HarperCollins in the Fox Studios movie lot. Simply getting to the party itself was more difficult than getting through security at the airport. They check your ID before you get on the shuttle and then again before entering the lot. Not on the invite list? You are escorted out by some seriously large dudes with what I can only assume to be real guns. Harper hired some unknown actors to "act" as though we were the movie stars coming in on the red carpet. It was cute, but I can't help thinking the money they spent on this could be better used, you know, promoting their books.

The highlight of my evening was spending time with the great, wonderful, David Wroblewski. We had already selected his novel, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, as our First Edition Club pick for that June, and keep in mind this was before the book was officially published. Independent booksellers were in a tizzy about this one, and I got to have a wonderful conversation with David and his terrific agent, Eleanor, who (wouldn't you know) went to Colby College and took classes with Jennifer Finney Boylan and my dad. Small world. It was a great end to a great conference.

So, can you see why I might want to go again? I'm counting the days until the end of May when I pack my bags (and an empty suitcase) and board that train headed for New York with Joan, Vanessa and Rebeeca, and I can take in the literary treats galore!!!

Emily R.

The supposedly non-existent demographic...

I had an interesting experience earlier this week at work. You know how over the first sales quarter of 2009 that sales of e-books have jumped something like 110%? And you know how our trade organization and various booksellers tell us to calm down, that everything's okay, we're not going to be going the way of the independent music store anytime soon? 'Cause it's only the younger generation (which doesn't read much anyway), the folks who go ga-ga over gadgets, who are going to be buying the Kindle? That e-book sales can continue at the rate they're going and still be a relatively low percentage of book sales?

Codswallop. Malarkey. Stuff-and-nonsense.

Folks, I met the supposedly non-existent demographic this week. A woman came into the store to browse our fiction section. By her own admission she is nearly an octogenarian (!), and she was busily taking notes. When I asked her if I could help her, she said (politely) no. That she was looking for new titles to download to her Kindle. She loves independent bookstores--she loves the feel of them, their selection, their staff picks, the way they engage the community. She even said she's been missing her indie bookstores since she bought the Kindle. But she's still coming in to our store to take advantage of our expertise and love of books and careful selection and walking out without a purchase, choosing instead to spend her money with Amazon. She seemed mildly regretful that she was supporting us only in theory, not in practice.

Bookstores, both indie and chain alike, need to be able to compete on this playing field. And we need to be able to do it yesterday, not two years from now. What can possibly happen to us when even 80 year old women who really value what independent bookstores bring to them choose to shop at Amazon? I'm no fan of chain bookstores (nor of any chain stores, really) but I think that in this instance it might be a good idea to work together to make the publishers aware of a missed opportunity. By not working with bookstores to make e-books widely available, not just in the Kindle format, publishers are effectively making Amazon their biggest competitor.

I know this economy is tough, folks. Though I'm still fortunate enough to have my job, I have friends and family members and colleagues who have lost their jobs and are counting every penny. But *where* you spend your money is just as important as *how much* you spend. Think about what you want in your community and for your community when you're deciding what to purchase. And I can assure that Amazon does precious little for that community, no matter how many dollars you spend with them.

~Emily C

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Books & Zombies & Whatnot

So, it always seems I get my best reading done when I'm traveling and this past weekend was no exception.  I went down to Memphis to visit my two best friends and over the course of the weekend I got a few books read.  I read Zoe Klein's forthcoming Drawing in the Dust from Pocket Books on the way down there.  It's a story that combines archaeology, religious fundamentalism, romance, and ghost stories in modern day Israel.  Fun, frothy, and easy to read, it made my day of travel much less tedious than if I hadn't read it.  Don't worry--the cover of the advance reading copy is quite pretty, showing a woman's hair blowing in the breeze with the desert blurred and faded in the background.  I'm not sure why it's not been "unveiled" yet, but there you go.  Fans of The Red Tent and People of the Book will probably find much to enjoy in this debut novel.

Random House sent me a copy copy of Olive Kitteridge that I finally read this weekend.  I hadn't realized that it's actually a novel of connected short stories where the titular character may or may not be the protagonist.  This way we get a fuller version of Olive, a woman of a certain age who lives in a small coastal town in Maine--she's complicated and ornery, smart & sharp spoken, weary of fools and wary of change.  Her influence over the town is both distant and far-reaching, as she taught seventh-grade math to most of its denizens.  She's respected but not well liked, but she surprises everyone, including the reader, with her periodic bursts of insight and compassion.  Definitely an interesting read, this book should please both short story readers and those who prefer novel-length fiction.

 In other news I'm also really excited about an unexpected new book published by Quirk Books this week-- Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, by Seth Grahame-Smith. At first I wondered why the author didn't choose a classic more suited to the gothic & the macabre to introduce zombies. Wuthering Heights seemed the most natural choice. Even Jane Eyre had the nifty plot device of the mad woman in the attic. If you're going to start with Austen, Northanger Abbey might seem more logical. But then I read what prompted the author: why was the regiment stationed in Meryton when they were actually needed to fight on the continent? Could it be...that zombies had invaded the town and that the residents' lives were in danger?

I'm eagerly awaiting the comp copy that my sales rep promised. But if it doesn't arrive by the week
end you can bet that one of the store's copies will be going home with me!

Interested in ordering any of these books?  Click Here!

~Emily C.