what’s a used bookshop to do?

Lacy, who owns a used bookshop, is having trouble with her inventory system. she needs to be able to easily list a large quantity of books on the internet, in a place where people are shopping for used books and likely to buy them. which means her two options are, really, ABE and Amazon. right? or are there other options? and as an indie bookstore owner, how squicky (if at all) should she feel about using Amazon/AMZ-related services? these are not rhetorical questions. thoughts? tips? tricks?

this made me sigh heavily, and i thought maybe it was worth…

this made me sigh heavily, and i thought maybe it was worth addressing. i’ll skip the obvious part about “basic human right” and go straight to why a local bookshop can’t possibly stock all local authors:

  • there may literally not be enough space! many local shops are small, and have to make every single book on their shelves count. 
  • making every book count means making sure that they are stocking topics and authors that appeal to their clientele. while you are, of course, very interested in your book, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your local bookshop’s average customer is. 
  • which leads me to, trusting local buyers. no bookstore DOESN’T want to make money. no bookstore in the world is intentionally turning down a potential bestseller, be it local or national. every bookstore in the world wants to stock awesome books. they read sales reports, they read trades, they labor over catalogs, they stay up at night worrying about their bottom line. they read EVERYTHING THEY CAN. i have worked for five of them, believe me — this is absolutely true.

so if your local passes on your book, it’s because they genuinely believe that that book will not work for their shop. stocking a book just to stock it means that the bookstore makes less money, the book doesn’t move, and then everyone is sad except for that initial five minutes in which the author is happy to see it on the shelf. that’s not a recipe for success, that’s a recipe for frustration. 

also frustrating: facing the intense indignation of local authors when you try to explain to them why you won’t be stocking their book.

bookrageous: What We’re Reading This Week! Jenn says: This is…


What We’re Reading This Week!

Jenn says: This is the Winter Institute edition, which means it has a lot of books in it because I knew I was going to be meeting certain authors and therefore read between 50 and 100 pages of as many of their books as I could. I didn’t get everyone, of course, BECAUSE THAT IS UNPOSSIBLE, but I did pretty well. Quickfire notes:

  • Rontel, Sam Pink: He was not at Winter Institute actually, this is Electric Literature’s first ebook! If you don’t know Electric Literature, you are missing out as a reader — their taste is exquisite and I’ve discovered several new favorite authors through them. They’re now an ebook publishers as well, CONGRATS YOU GUYS. Reading this book is so much like having a conversation with a certain person I know that it’s a little unnerving. 
  • A Marker to Measure Drift, Alexander Maksik: A novel about a female Liberian refugee wandering homeless on the island of Santorini. Incredibly vivid and visceral, but with this very dreamlike quality. We had a great conversation about race, gender, and voice, and Binyavanga Wainaina’s essay How To Write About Africa.
  • The Blood of Heaven, Kent Wascom: I spent all weekend describing this to people as True Grit meets The Devil All the Time (which obviously equals, I LOVE IT). I ran it by Wascom and he did not mind, so I feel safe in saying it to y’all! 
  • A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, Anthony Marra: Takes place in post-Soviet Chechnya; a man’s neighbor is taken away by soldiers, and he and his neighbor’s young daughter seek refuge in a nearby hospital where they’re put to work by the gloriously cranky sole doctor left in town. I only got a little way into this one but what I read was impressive — this is going to be a big one.
  • Equilateral, Ken Kalfus: The plot on this one is CRAZY PANTS in the best possible way. A scientist in the late 1800s hatches a plan to get the attention of the (presumably hyper-intelligent) inhabitants of Mars that consists of building a giant, visible-from-space equilateral triangle in the Sahara and then LIGHTING IT ON FIRE. I kid you not. (19th century astronomers were, in fact, obsessed with Mars!) I started it on the plane home and the book reads a bit like my favorite fiction from that time period — a bit stuffy, a bit tongue-in-cheek. There’s also a really epic ping-pong scene. If you are not sold on this book yet, we probably can’t be friends.
  • Unremembered, Jessica Brody: Jessica Brody turns out to have almost exactly the same taste as me (we obsessed together about Emma Donoghue’s Room for a good twenty minutes) and has written a new YA novel that explores weird science and time travel and deeply philosophical questions and also conspiracies and young love and the perils of being a teenager and I’m not done yet and don’t want to spoil anything for you in the meantime so I will just leave that there. I will probably need to go back and read all of her other books, too.

in one of the Winter Institute small group sessions, we got talking about fixed pricing vs the wholesale model, and i can’t stop wondering: what would happen to books if they didn’t have a price printed on the cover?

what would happen if publishers didn’t set the prices? what would happen if, instead of participating (or not) in the discount wars, bookstores could set their own book prices? SERIOUSLY, WHAT WOULD HAPPEN?

highlights of Winter Institute 8:

  • finally meeting Kenny Coble who pretty much won the conference. to meet him is to lurve him
  • realizing this was my fifth Institute, which explains why i couldn’t go two feet without finding someone to hug/high-five/exclaim “oh my god your hair is different!” at
  • having a weather-induced anxiety attack that resulted in my spending half the Author Reception on the phone with American Airlines in order to change flights and avoid the incoming storm (jk, that was NOT A HIGHLIGHT)
  • the many happy birthday wishes (and cupcakes)
  • conversing with Sherman Alexie and Kent Wascom about literary brawls
  • seeing all the lovely authors and in particular meeting Anthony Marra and Alex George and Jessica Brody and Ru Freeman and Morris Collins and Kent Wascom, and remeeting Alexander Maksik and Sherman Alexie, and half-meeting Matt Bell whose book comes highly recommended
  • the many many pages of notes i have to bring back to my coworkers. IDEAS, I HAVE SO MANY.








finished between March and December: 102 books (i had a spreadsheet on my phone for January – March, and when i lost my phone i lost the sheet even though theoretically it was backed up in the cloud, blurgh)

genre distribution*, 2011 v 2012: pretty much the same except i read less romance and nonfiction, and more sff and ya in 2012 (this is the influence ofmolly, without a doubt)

gender distribution, 2011 v 2012: still fairly even!

gender w/in genres, 2011 v 2012: everything is basically same with the notable exception of ya. in 2011, i didn’t finish a single novel in the genre by a dude. in 2012, split right down the middle. it wasn’t on purpose, but i’m glad to see it. there are some good dude-written ya books out there!

goals for 2013: i don’t usually make these but i REALLY want to add a “country of origin” column that is not just split between the US and the UK, so i hereby announce i am going to attempt to read “abroad” for next year.

addendum: this doesn’t count picture books, because i tend to read those on my lunch break and then forget to note them in my spreadsheet, but i did read some picture books this year. see my Bookrageous Top Ten for proof. last year i counted graphic novels/comics/manga as their own category, but i didn’t this year, they just ended up in their larger genre. no, i don’t have a good reason for this. yes, i know it’s not 2013 yet, but i am basically only going to have time to finish the two books i’m reading right now before New Year’s (SECRET HISTORY and MOBY-DICK, in case you’re wondering) so i figured it was good to go. here is 2011, in case you want to compare.


  • fic = fiction
  • nonfic = nonfiction
  • sff = science fiction/fantasy
  • ya = young adult
  • if you don’t know middle-reader, it’s books for ages 8 – 12 (ish)

upon reading JOSEPH ANTON

i first read THE SATANIC VERSES in high school. i remember this very well, because there was an unfortunate incident in which i lent my copy to a boy i very much wanted to impress and there was A GIANT DEAD ROACH inside it (i have absolutely no idea how it got there), and he thought i had done it on purpose and was mad. which revealed him to not have much of a sense of humor or a very stout heart, which was probably a good thing because i had no chance with him, roach notwithstanding.

but anyway, the end of the story is that THE SATANIC VERSES revealed to me that a novel could play with fantasy, with magic and surrealism and hocus pocus, and with words, and also with politics, which suited my burgeoning revolutionary ambitions very well (this was the same time in which i formed a giant crush on Zach de la Rocha). and that furthermore such a novel would be considered High Literature and would not be derided for escapism in the same way that my beloved genre novels were (and often still are) was hugely encouraging to me, and gave me hope for the future of my reading life.

and then my freshman Lit class had THE GROUND BENEATH HER FEET on the syllabus, and that was fantastic. and another time i got miserably sick, and another boy i very much wanted to impress stopped by and brought me HAROUN AND THE SEA OF STORIES, which he told me was his favorite book to read when he wasn’t feeling well. i fell in love with it, of course, before even turning the first page. i only fell half-in-love with the boy, which was good because although he was very nice he was also smitten with the dancer who lived across the hall, who was also very nice so i couldn’t hate her. and for Christmas that year my roommate got me JAGUAR SMILE, which pleased my ZdlR-loving-self to no end. and so i continued to buy Rushdie’s books over the years; i have most of them in hardcover editions, which live inside the special bookcase with the glass doors.

and then last month, when Hurricane Sandy was bearing down on New York and i was putting away all my technology in preparation for a blackout (which my building never had) and i was looking for a book to read, THE GROUND BENEATH HER FEET came off the shelf. it was safe, and familiar, and spoke to the moment in a very real way, and i knew i would love it all over again and be distracted.

so it’s inevitable that i would greet the publication of JOSEPH ANTON with huge anticipation. there are certain writers about whom i want to know nothing more than i already do (DFW), others i know from their memoirs as much as anything else (Andre Dubus III, Mary Carr), but few other authors have been so hugely influential, and being given a peek behind the curtain was both fascinating and a bit weird.

for example, the stories of his marriages. as someone who is divorced herself, i know well the perils of falling in love with the wrong person, sometimes with disastrous results. this passage is perhaps the best thing i’ve ever read about disastrous relationships:

When he looked back on those days through the disillusioned eyes of his post-divorce self he didn’t fully understand his own behavior. … At the time, however, he had a simpler answer. He stayed with her because he loved her. Because they loved each other. Because they were in love.

but again, as someone who is divorced herself, i know very well that there is a flip-side to every relationship. maybe some of those fights were not her fault but his, and maybe she wasn’t as crazy as all that, but in any case we rarely remember intense moments the same way as the people with whom we experienced them. suspension of disbelief applies just as much in memoir as it does in fiction, and LIFESPAN OF A FACT memorably taught me to read nonfiction with salt close to hand, and so that’s fine.

the true joys of reading JOSEPH ANTON might be particular to me. matching up my timeline to his — i was this old when this happened, i was at this job when this happened — was satisfying not only because i could also match up which of his books i was reading at the time, but because i sorted out what i was aware of and unaware of. there were these huge political moments that just passed me by (and i’d bet i’m not alone in that). it’s an example of the bigness of the world, and also the smallness of the world. it’s an important story of the fight for free speech, and what it was like to have your government telling you that you could be killed at any moment. what would you do? how would you live? this is what he did, this is how he lived.

and then learning that this scene in this novel was inspired by this incident, but that this character whom everyone assumes is this real life person is actually not that person, and that this is what was happening when he wrote this book, is also a joy. it makes me want to go back and reread the books, not so that i can compare but so that i can re-experience them and see what difference (if any) a little knowledge makes.

add to that that Rushdie remains one of the most playful, entertaining, skilled wordsmiths i have ever read, that JOSEPH ANTON is simply stuffed with passages as insightful as the one i quoted above on everything from love to literature, and well. i loved this book.

and i think that there is something in it for people who are not me. there are stories about famous people and foreign countries. there are scandalous moments and tragic moments and funny moments. it’s a rare opportunity to see how someone, about whom the entire world has an opinion, sees himself. i think you should read it.


p.s. everyone who knew i was reading it asked me if it was weird that it was written in the third person. i barely noticed.

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