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Friday
Aug182017

#LoveYourBookshopDay Down Under

''I think that you can feel at home in any bookstore if it's got a good bookseller.'' --Geraldine Brooks, author and Love Your Bookshop Day ambassador on the magic of bookshops.

For 2017, the Australian Booksellers Association rebranded National Bookshop Day as Love Your Bookshop Day, and last Saturday booksellers across the country celebrated. "Think balloons, bunting, streamers, fairy lights, cake, dressing up, discounts and prizes--the sky's the limit just as long as it's a party for your shop," the ABA had said when it officially launched LYBD during its annual conference in June. One bookseller noted that the name change made it sound "less like a government program and more like a fun event."

And so it was. More than 100 bookshops registered details about their in-store events on the LYBD website, and then documented the fun on FacebookInstagram and Twitter with the #LoveYourBookshopDayhashtag. Customers were also invited to post #WhyILoveMyBookshop notes. Here's a small sampling from the festivities:

Continuous storytime at the Little Bookroom in Carlton North

Display windows
"The #loveyourbookshopday graffiti window at Farrells Bookshop is for book lovers of ALL ages."

Beachside Bookshop, Sydney: "Show us your bookshop love. Love our beaches' authors (check out our window showcase of this talent)...."

Fairfield Books, Fairfield: "Favorite books covering the window except for the part where Scott Edgar #supermooper ed!! Harry Potter featured rather prominently but there were some interesting inclusions as well."

Cake!
Mary Who? Bookshop, Townsville: "We have Love Your Bookshop Day... CAKE... thanks for the love Townsville readers and to Text Publishing for the yummy stuff... and their GREAT books.--with Jessica Gautherot."

The Bookshop Darlinghurst, Sydney: "Let them eat cake! It's our 35th Birthday! Hip hip hoorah! #loveyourbookshopday--attending Love Your Bookshop Day--and celebrate our 35th Birthday!"

'Wall of Love'
Sun Bookshop, Yarraville: "This might be one of our favorite reasons on the wall of love!"

In character at Berkelouw Books

Characters
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney: "Today we're celebrating #LoveYourBookshopDay at the Gallery Shop! There's a full day of excitement planned.... Plus, see which literary personalities the Gallery Shop staff have dressed up as!"

Berkelouw Books Hornsby: "To celebrate Love Your Bookshop Day, our staff dressed as their favorite book characters. Can you recognize who they could be?"

Sidewalk chalkboards
"What will you discover today under the Book Tree at Potts Point Bookshop?"

Balloons
"Oh my word, Avenue Bookstore is literally packed to the rafters with balloons for #loveyourbookshopday."

"Better Read Than Dead are ready for #loveyourbookshopday & they have Catherine Moreland at the door ready to greet book/Austen lovers!"

LYBD balloons in Farrell's Bookshop Mornington

Debate
'Bookshops are an unnecessary indulgence: A debate between local authors" at Blarney Books & Art: "Port Fairy (and surrounds)--you are awesome!!! THANK YOU for such a great turnout!... Of course the team who argued in favor of bookshops (or dens of iniquity, as the dark side suggested) won the debate, but it was frighteningly close. P.S.: we have also received some very eloquent love letters!"

Dog selfies
Dillons Norwood Bookshop: "Our Dog Selfie spot is open!! Bring your doggo or pupper in to our store, take a photo in the spot, show us on your phone or camera and we'll enter you into the draw to win an amazing hamper!!"

Music
Books for Cooks, Melbourne: "Our bookstore is now complete--live jazz in store:)#nevergoinghome #lovemybookstore #loveyourbookshop day @vicmarket #jazz #melbournemoment #next generationinjazz #heavenly...."

LYBD-themed nails
"Ok, @booksandmanicures wins hands down for best #loveyourbookshopday themed nails! Also for best color coordination with Beachside Bookshop."

Politicians
Senator Penny Wong‏: "It was great to visit @Mostly_Books on Love Your Bookshop Day. Get out and support the champions of the written word."

Authors
"Who loves books? Text does!" Text Publishing asked some of its authors "to tell us about their favorite bookshops." 

Sarah Ridout‏: "Happy #LoveYourBookshopDay no2 & everything else advice from the Fabulous Cass M #partingwords @avidreader4101 September 1! Go Cass."

Frané Lessac‏: "Everyone loves a good book! #loveyourbookshopday @beaufortstbooks @WalkerBooksAus #aisforaustraliananimals."

Sidewalk art at Book & Paper Williamstown

Gratitude
Farrells Bookshop, Mornington: "Wow, what a day it's been!! A huge thank you to all our wonderful customers young & old that joined in with us celebrating Love Your Bookshop today!! A great big thank you to the local Authors and our face painter for giving your time! Fantastic day all round."

Squishy Minnie Bookstore, Kyneton: "Holy moly, we had the most awesome dayyesterday and we're feeling very loved (and very tired!). Thank you so so SO much to everyone that came and showed their support to us. We've been open for about 4 months and in that time, we've gotten to know so many wonderful and kind folks.... We hope everyone's experiences yesterday give yet another reason to love reading and to Love their Book Shop."

New Leaves, Melbourne: "Wow what a weekend! A HUGE thanks to everyone who came in store and joined in the fun of Love Your Bookshop Day!

Happy Reading!
From the LYBD organizers: "Book lovers & booksellers, you've officially outdone yourselves!A huge THANK YOU to everyone who participated in #loveyourbookshopday. The amount of love and pure bookish joy we've seen across all corners of the internet today has been staggering. We truly believe that you can and should love your bookshop EVERYDAY but you've really made today something to remember. You earned a nice cup of tea, a pat on the back & reading time with all your new purchases! Happy reading."

--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #3068

Friday
Aug112017

Selling a Bookshop, Moving to Scotland

My first encounter with Wendy Welch occurred in August of 2012, when she e-mailed me with a potential news item idea that "just might be weird enough to interest your readers." She and her husband, Jack Beck, were looking for a "bookshop-sitter" to run their Tales of the Lonesome Pineshop in Big Stone Gap, Va., for a couple of months, "someone who is thinking about starting a bookstore 'someday' [and] would benefit from two months at no risk; or someone who doesn't want to own one but always thought it sounded fun to work there could have the experience for their bucket list." I wrote a column about it and, well, it all worked out

Later that year, I met Wendy at the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance fall trade show in Naples, Fla. She was on a panel as well as promoting her soon-to-be-published book, The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: A Memoir of Friendship, Community and the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good Book.

In the years since, we've continued to correspond (often about her extraordinary, lit-themed cat rescue efforts). Earlier this week, Wendy informed me that they've decided to sell the bookstore and move to Scotland. As she put it, "We're headed home. It's time."

Wendy and Jack have a friend in Northern Ireland, Liz Weir, who runs a storytelling and ceilidh barn. "We are going to stay with her once we sell our bookstore and look around for the right property to run our bookstore and ceilidh place in Scotland," Wendy said. "That just means an event center where we can host workshops in music weekends and have some places for people to do Airbnb."

But first, they will be selling all 3,514 square feet of Tales of the Lonesome Pine. The asking price is $199,000 "if we leave the furnishings and such," Wendy noted. "You probably already know this, but if you live inside your business, the floor space equivalent to your living space is tax-deductible from your utility and mortgage bills in Virginia. In other words, the bookstore paid us to live inside it. We've lived upstairs and in the basement, and liked both."

Included with the house are the bookshelves and stock, all appliances "and if they want the beds and bedroom furniture and the cafe tables, that's fine," she added. "It could be fully ready to move into as we're leaving the blinds and stuff like that, but our stuff is from thrift stores, so 'cozy' rather than 'elegant' describes most of the store. Except the front three rooms with the oak and the upstairs sitting room--Jack redecorated those in the style of the 1903 time when the house was built. He wouldn't even use pre-pasted wallpaper; everything had to be of the period. And it is gorgeous....

Jack & Wendy

"I suppose one of my favorite memories of the house itself was when we cleaned out the upstairs apartment and discovered a crack in the wallpaper. Since Jack is a painter and decorator by trade, he started 'excavating' the paper and explaining the trends of the time as stripes gave way to fish gave way to flowers, each in more hideous color combos. We finally got down to wood—solid wood. This shop has great bones." (Jack offered a video tour in 2012)

Beyond the bookshop's physical attributes, however, Wendy cited "the intangible stuff that sounds cheesy when you try to quantify it. We've got a big cheerful supportive community that spins around the bookstore, and they're going to want to like whoever comes next to run it. They will support them as they did us, and help them get things done and make things go, and bring wine and laugh. It's not for sale; it's priceless and free at the same time. If the new owners want to inherit, they can, and if they want to forge a new path, the way is open for big changes. They're going to own the place, all four floors of it." She also said they "walk everywhere" due to the shop's convenient location. 

One of their favorite memories as booksellers occurred "the first Christmas we were here, broke and scared," Wendy recalled, "and Glenn came walking in the door two minutes before closing, snow on his cowboy hat, and handed Jack a bottle of really good Scotch that we could never have afforded back then. He said, 'I don't know what we did for fun before y'all got here.' And the tag said something like an old treasure for our town's newest treasure. After he left we cried. And Jack drank the whisky." 

Conceding that stories about their "first lean hard year might not be the way to sell the place," she stressed that Tales of the Lonesome Pine "does come with a good reputation now, and expectations from the community. We've also been part of a cat rescue that would welcome the next group continuing if they wanted to. Make fun stuff happen. Recommend books. And have fun doing it. That's what we want for the new owners. That and $199K." 

For more information, contact Wendy and Jack via Facebook, the Tales of the Lonesome Pine blog or by e-mail at jbeck69087@aol.com. They have written a great story in Big Stone Gap, and now it's time for the sequel.

--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #3063

Friday
Aug042017

My 'Summer of Love'

During the Summer of Love 50 years ago, I was 17 and out of it. I watched nightly news snippets about SoL on our black and white TV, which considerably diminished the moment's tie-dyed, surrealistic charms. I read Ian Fleming, not Jack Kerouac.

For me, it was the Summer of the A&P and Summer of Soccer. I stocked shelves, ran the cash register and waited on customers. My co-workers, all much older, loved me because I was efficient, customer-friendly and had short hair. Per regulations, I wore dark slacks, white shirt, brown snap-on bowtie and apron. I was the societal antidote to Flower Power.

I didn't go to San Francisco until 1987, but by then the damage had been done. I'd inhaled the works of Ferlinghetti, Snyder, Ginsberg, Kerouac and the gang. Naturally, I made the requisite pilgrimage to City Lights Books. It occurs to me now that I might have even said hi to buyer Paul Yamazaki in the bookstore then. Who knows? But it would be another decade-plus before we were officially introduced as fellow booksellers of a certain age at a publisher dinner at BEA in Chicago, of all places (shades of the Summer of '68).

"No bookstore was more influential during that time than City Lights, and it's one of the reasons the bookstore continues to endure today, influencing a new generation in the North Beach neighborhood," San Francisco Travel noted this spring in featuring "six essential books recommended by the staff at City Lights to relive the Summer of Love."

I hadn't thought about SoL for a long time until I read and bookmarked that piece, which was soon followed by a cascade of headlines popping up on Google News: San Francisco, 50 years on from the Summer of LoveHippies are occupying the museums of San Francisco right nowSummer of Love from the vantage of a participantSummer of Love and Rage; The secret messages of San Francisco's Summer of LoveSummer of Love lost on those living in Summer of Discontent.

Head-spinning, perhaps even groovy.

Summer of Love display at Politics & Prose

A couple of weeks ago, I saw that Politics and Prose Bookstore, Washington, D.C., was showcasing the highs and lows of SoL. P&P created a book display to commemorate the anniversary, featuring "recent works about the 1960s as well as some writings from that era"; and limited edition tie-dye P&P t-shirts. The bookstore also noted that a half-century later, "a public activism of a different sort is emerging this summer, reflected in a number of books being released on such hotly debated topics as civil rights, women's rights and immigration."

And then I noticed this: "Did you know that Green Apple Books and the Summer of Love share a birthday? That's right, it's fifty years since we opened our doors.... In case you haven't yet been to the De Young exhibit or seen the Conservatory illuminated, this week we've compiled a list of books to help you fully get into the spirit of the Summer of Love. So crank up the Janis and the Jimi and dig in!"

A few days ago, caught up in my SoL reveries, I recalled that when I was a bookseller in Vermont during the late 1990s, I sold stock at an off-site poetry reading by Ed Sanders, the legendary Sixties figure who co-founded the Fugs and has written: "1967! Yes. It saw a swelling of hope in America. The culture seemed like the swelling bug of a flower of instant promise." (Sanders wrote the song "Summer of Love" for a 20th anniversary concert). Unhip confession: It was only when I met Sanders at that poetry reading, which occurred around the time of SoL's 30th anniversary, that I discovered his historical significance. Still out of it after all those years.  

Yesterday, I looked up the Friday, August 4, 1967 edition of the New York Times and saw this headline: "45,000 More Men to Go to Vietnam; Goal Now 525,000." And above Roger Jellinek's review of Robert Conot's Rivers of Blood, Years of Darkness: "Books of the Times: Burn Baby Burn." No mention of hippies or Haight-Ashbury flower children that day. 

During my Summer of Love, I played right wing on a summer soccer league team that included college and high school players, along with a handful of Italian and Polish immigrants who worked at the local marble mill. Soccer was my first love. I still recall the precise feel of the ball when I caught it with my instep just right on a corner kick and sent it arcing toward the crowded goal area, as if I were tossing chum into a pool of sharks.

Sometimes a teammate would execute a perfectly timed leap above the roiling surface to meet the ball as it descended, and with a flick of his head deflect it into the upper corner of the goal, beyond the outstretched arms of the flailing goalie. A mad celebration would erupt, with hugs and laughter, almost unbridled joy and, just for an instant in a crazy SoL way, with love.

--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #3058

Friday
Jul282017

I Read the Retail News Today, Oh Boy...

I read that a Wisconsin technology company is offering employees "rice-sized" microchip implants between the thumb and forefinger "that can be used to scan into the building and purchase food at work," according to USA Today. "Whether or not to get a chip is up to the employee to decide." Would you?

This was just one of several articles I read in July that have prompted me to consider (not "imagine," because we're well beyond sci-fi here) the orientation of frontline indie booksellers in a tech-obsessed business world. This is not about e-books, which are so early 21st century. Despite all the essential technological advances that have made indie bookstores more efficient and profitable, the relationship status between frontline booksellers and the future of retail is still... complicated.

This is particularly true at the "last three feet" of the process, the precious seconds when a book finally crosses the unfathomable gap between sellers and consumers, creators and readers. That crucial moment remains unplugged, defying algorithms--just one human talking to another about a book.

So where do microchip implants fit in that exchange? What if the chips were connected directly to a bookstore's POS and inventory management systems? A frontline cyborgian bookseller of the near future could process credit card purchases with a properly microchipped index finger by just tapping fingertips with the customer. Even cyborgian booksellers are people. 

I read that in the late 19th century, people didn't like waiters. To remedy the situation, vending machine inventor Max Sielaff teamed up with a candy company to open the first Automat in 1896. Atlas Obscura explained the basic concept: "The walls inside each store were lined with a series of small windows, each of which contained an item of food. Customers inserted a coin, and the window unlocked, allowing them to pull out a meal. There were no waiters, no tips, and food came fast."

Are you imagining a 19th-century version of an Amazon bricks-and-mortar bookshop? Go ahead, but like Amazon Books, Automats "were anything but automatic.... In New York, thousands of Automat employees prepared meals in a secret kitchen, then slipped them on to a 'rotating pivot'... Yet customers were so enthralled by the idea of an automatic restaurant that they often failed to understand that these 'waiterless' eateries were staffed by waiters in all but name."

I read on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's blog that the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union is criticizing Amazon's $13.7 billion deal to buy Whole Foods Market, "saying that the deal could hurt customers and workers and lead to significant automation of jobs." Amazon... declined to comment.

Softbank's Pepper, "a revolutionary tool that enhances your customers' experience."

I read a New York Times piece about Amazon Prime Day, that nascent CyberBlackFriday-in-July tribute to greed, in which John Hermann observed that he "didn't lay eyes on a single Amazon employee during Prime Day, except for the home-shopping-marathon talent, leaving the onus on me to wonder what was going on behind the scenes. Aside from the 'origin scan' on my track-your-shipment page, I won't know a thing about where my package came from, or be reminded of how it got to me.... Amazon need not bother to tell a story; in fact, its goal is to reduce the retail story to a single button, an instant, an unprecedentedly complex process taken for granted."

I read a Forbes magazine take on Prime Day that suggested going to the store or the mall has become "a discretionary diversion undertaken primarily when people want a shopping experience, as opposed to a buying experience, in which online often proves to be the best option.... For just about every product category, Americans simply don't need to go to the store in order to shop, so going to the store becomes the experience."

I read that Amazon is hiring people "to #Work From Home as #Customer Service Associatesthrough the company's Virtual Contact Center. The job requires employees to answer customers' questions by phone or when they contact #Amazon through its website. Amazon will pay to train applicants so they will know what to say when shoppers need assistance." One of the primary qualifications "is for people to be able to have pleasant conversations on the telephone and know how to use a computer."

Wait, doesn't Alexa already do that? Pay no attention to the men and women behind the curtain.

I read that 98% of all retailers have fewer than 100 employees, according to the National Retail Foundation: "With a smaller workforce, every employee has an outsized impact on business results, and can therefore be a persistent challenge."

In the world of independent bookselling, we already know about individual booksellers' "outsized impact on business" because it's people--whether visible or behind the scenes--who are still making our retail news. They're the ones who are telling stories, having conversations, and creating experiences for readers at the last three feet. At least that's what I've read.

--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #3053

Saturday
Jul222017

Slow Art & Seeing Bookshelves

"But slowness is also essential to grasping the experience of modernity--if only because the hallmark of modernity is speed." --Arden Reed, Slow Art: The Experience of looking, Sacred Images to James Turrell

I'm reading Slow Art, which has somehow inspired me to think about bookshops, or more specifically the walls and aisles of shelves lined with titles and how we interact with them. Slowly, with focus. 

Bookshop as a museum? Bookshelves as art? Why not?

The genesis of Slow Art was Reed's personal response, over the course of eight years, to Édouard Manet's painting "Young Lady in 1866": "Gradually I came to understand that the image displayed--or, better, performed--a certain mystery. Not the hidden, but the visible.... I found myself drawn to the picture, resisted by it, and then drawn back. How long, I mused, could I sustain this conversation? I hardly thought about where I was being led, and certainly never imagined how often I would return to the spot, whether in my imagination or in fact."

Again, I think of bookshops. As a bookseller, I seldom had the luxury of engaging with the stacks in such a conversation. My encounters were often brief, practical chats about shelving, dusting, straightening, ordering or culling.

But in the decade since I reclaimed my role as bookstore customer, I've also regained the ability to slow time in the presence of a wall of books; see the whole; move in for a closer look at the spines, scanning titles with that signature head-tilt; pull a book from the installation and examine it; sit in a nearby chair and read a passage before returning it to the shelf; step back and see the broader canvas again.

"When life is tumbling out of control, I go to my happy place, where I can dream, remember and find order in chaos: I gaze upon my bookshelves," Patrick Barkham wrote this week in the Guardian.

This slow engagement can also be focused on a single book. In a recent Quartz essay, Thu-Huong Ha made the case for "the ultra slow site-specific read," observing that "the active ritual of reading one book extremely slowly, patiently, in the same place, over an unreasonably long time, has changed the way I see. It's a measured meting out of a book, like nibbling one piece of chocolate each night in the same chair over a year. It's a refusal to hurry up or to turn reading into a life hack; it's the anti-summer reading, the anti-binge read. It's site-specific, intensely slow reading, for no other reason than to bask in what's good."

By contrast, the Wall Street Journal reported last week that "speed listening" to podcasts is now a thing, with impatient listeners bumping programs up 1.5x, 2x and even 3x normal speaking pace: "The average podcast listener gets through five a week, says Edison Research, which studies media. People who listen most, the 21% squeezing in six or more, tend to listen fastest."

Slow down, you're moving too fast. Summer may be the best time to make a case for taking your foot off the reading pedal. Isn't languor a synonym for "summer read"?

Another question: "What happens when we run out of time?" asked Mads Holmen in Monday's edition of the Bookseller. "This might sound like a philosophical question, but with the explosion in content and entertainment offerings such as social media and freemium games, we are rapidly approaching a state of peak attention. I define peak attention as the moment where the competition for our attention reaches a saturated point--when there is no more time to spare and something else must miss out."

WWDD? (What would DeLillo do?) Near the end of Point Omega, a woman and a man study Douglas Gordon's video installation "24 Hour Psycho," which projects the Hitchcock classic film on a translucent screen and slows it down to the duration of a full day. "She told him she was standing a million miles outside the fact of whatever's happening on the screen," DeLillo writes. "She liked that. She told him she liked the idea of slowness in general. So many things go fast, she said. We need time to lose interest in things."

I saw Gordon's work at MoMA in 2006, the same year I happened upon Carsten Höller's "Amusement Park" at MASSMoCA. That installation featured refurbished carnival rides moving at barely discernible speeds. Museum director Joseph Thompson said: "Although this work is experienced through sight and sound, our staff has been surprised how visceral and physical the effect can be. Your body enters a space of shifting times and places, and your mind follows."

In Slow Art, Reed asks: "Is there a particular kind of art, whether still or moving, that compels rapt attention, or at least cultivates patience, that can lead us to look carefully, indulgently--even, [Peter] Sellars would say, with love?"

Yes.

I'm no art critic; I barely know what I like. But I do know there's a deep connection between the art and the books in my life. Whenever I'm in a bookshop, I turn my attention to book installations and the slow conversation begins again. 

--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #3048

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