Saturday, May 19, 2007

Just When You Thought Big Business Was On The Side Of The Little Guy...

I sometimes wonder why blogs post links to articles like this, warning unpublished authors what to be wary of should Simon & Schuster come calling. Let's be realistic, the only thing unpublished writers really need to be concerned with on that dream-a-little-dream day when S&S comes after their mildewing manuscript is that they don't accidentally stomp the dog/baby/roomba while they run to the door to sign their lives away.
Yes, what Simon & Schuster is attempting to do -- 1.retain control of books even after they have gone out of print, 2.consider a book in print, and under its exclusive control, so long as it's available in any form, including through its own in-house database -- even if no copies are available to be ordered by traditional bookstores, able stop printing a book and prevent the author from publishing it with any other house -- bears all the ugly hallmarks of corporate greed, but guess what? They're a corporate enterprise! If you want to avoid the evils of big business, avoid big business.You don't send Disney your ideas for an updated Mickey Mouse (five fingers and a post-pubescent voice!) and expect a fair shake, do you? Beggars can be choosers. The alternate phrasing of this cliche was birthed in a boardroom.

Daniel Gilbert's Hints To Finding Happiness (For Answers You'll Have To Buy His Book)

Earlier this week, Daniel Gilbert was awarded some sort of cash-heavy statuette for his book, Stumbling on Happiness. In this video interview, the author speaks to nobel laureate Harold Varmus about the science and philosophy behind turning a frown upside down.

(Interview appears roughly halfway through the program. First up is a brief chat with Robert Altman and Garrison Keillor.)

Friday, May 18, 2007

When The Inkwell Talks, Oprah Listens

It's being rumorously reported on the infallible internet that Oprah's next book club pick will be Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Now, I know a lot of folks assume that this choice was strongly influenced by the novel having won the Pulitzer Prize and its almost universal critical acclaim, but I ain't buying it. The timing is just a little too convenient to be coincidental, as these links will verify. (Go on, check 'em out. We'll still be here when you return.)

You see what we're talking about?

No, not the recent release of Chabon's new novel. We're referring to the fact that the Inkwell blog just dedicated a whole day's posts to promoting The Yiddish Policemen's Union and the curly-locked dreamboat who wrote it. Yeah, it seemed a little fishy to us, too, so we made a couple of calls to find out the gossip behind the gossip. Our first call was to Harpo Productions, Oprah's multi-million dollar company. Identifying ourselves as her beau, Steadman, we were rudely brushed off by an underling. On our second attempt, we deepened our voice and claimed to be Gayle King, Oprah's best friend and personal 'Johnny Drama.' This time our call was immediately forwarded to the Big O herself, who, after laughing with us about having just avoided a call from 'clingy Steadman,' confirmed that it was indeed the Inkwell's blog that was the tipping point in selecting her newest book club choice. She said that if it wasn't for those three posts, she would've probably chosen Chuck Palahniuck's new novel, Rant, and held her book club at some crappy cold cereal cafe in Park Slope with Sarah Vowell and the girl from as her guest co-hosts. Close call, no? Forward all letters of thanks to the comments section below.

Initial tip via: The Comics Reporter

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Had He Lost, His Next Book Could've Been About Sadness

Besides the Oscars, there's only one other awards ceremony I'll religiously tune in to in hopes of seeing someone's naughty bits through their see-through gowns -- the annual Royal Society For Science Books gala. Not only is there all of the usual cattiness and back-biting one normally associates with competition, there are people seriously discussing hovercars on the red carpet, too! Last night's festivities went off with minimal fire damage and public indecency arrests, and after much drunken speechifying, the grand prize (and appr. $20,000 in cash) was awarded to Daniel Gilbert's Stumbling on Happiness.

From the BBC report:

Discussing the winner, Professor Colin Pillinger said: "Daniel Gilbert's voice provides a witty companion throughout this exploration of the science behind the pursuit of happiness. He uses cognitive science and psychology to provide intriguing insights into human nature, helping us to understand why we make the decisions we do."

Gilbert himself was thrilled to take the book prize. "I'm absolutely delighted to receive this tremendous honour from the world's oldest learned society," said the Harvard University psychology professor. There are very few countries (including my own - the US) where a somewhat cheeky book about happiness could win a science prize - but the British invented intellectual humour and have always understood that enlightenment and entertainment are natural friends. So God bless the empire!"

Easy, tiger. You already won. Oh, that's right -- happiness is your shtick, innit?

Poetry Contest Scandal Rocks Japan! Toilet Themed Haiku Robbed Of First Place Prize!

via: Guardian UK:

Heated toilet seats, pension worries, nagging wives and neglected children were among the most popular themes among this year's offerings of "senryu", haiku-like verse that take a sideways look at the fears and foibles of the put-upon Japanese white-collar worker, or salaryman.

The Dai-ichi life insurance firm, which has run an annual salaryman senryu contest for the past 20 years, today awarded first prize to a verse that alluded to Japan's collective fear of growing old with a reference to the popular Nintendo brain training games:

Nou nenrei
Nenkin sudeni

Or, roughly translated: My brain age is already old enough for a pension.

The second-place entry was a tribute to the ubiquitous "washlet" lavatory, tinged with a melancholy only a salaryman can know: The only warmth in my life is the toilet seat.

Third prize went to a bitter commentary on Japanese society's relative affections for middle-aged men and pets. Referring to the widely televised rescue of a stranded dog last November, it laments: How good it is to be a dog: even when trapped on a cliff, someone saves you.

The contest is open to all, although most of the entries are either written by salarymen themselves, or by others who draw on demanding bosses, distant families and money worries for inspiration.

To read the whole article, click here.

Speaking of Award Winners, Here's a Shoe-In for Next Year's Top Honors

Disappointed by the fact that they had to finally bury her body and could no longer parade it around for photo-ops and beyond the grave interviews, the folks who brought you the paternity case of the 2007 now bring you the book of 2008. Bookstores can expect it to be delivered by four horsemen dressed in apocalypticly themed attire.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Our thoughts on BEA - Because Everyone is Asking

"Are you going to BEA?" I'm sure every bookseller out there has been asked that question a dozen times. For those not in the business, BEA stands for Book Expo America. It is the second largest show devoted to books, after the Frankfurt Book Fair. 30,000 people in the business of publishing and selling books gather to network, party, promote, and connect during a long weekend in early June.

So are we attending? The short answer is no. The long answer includes varying reasons why not:

  • 1. We don't like to leave our store at the beginning of our busy tourist season.

  • 2. Because we rely on our visiting sales reps to show us the important books we may miss when reviewing the seasonal catalogs, we don't need to browse the enormous sales floor at the convention. So although walking the gauntlet of publishers is fun (who doesn't love the occasional free book offered up by those running the show tables?), it's not necessary.

  • 3. The cost of getting there, staying there, eating there, is prohibitive.

  • 4. I really hate getting up early!

  • 5. We are a smallish new store, and that makes us feel invisible (and slightly ridiculous) at such a huge event. Our regional trade show (NEIBA) fits us better.
Now the question no one asks, "Do you want to go?"
The obvious answer is yes, and here are our reasons:
  • 3. To meet kindred spirits who share their insights and travails with you is our third favorite part of trade shows.

  • 2. The educational programming provides us with tools and new ideas to bring back to our store.

  • 1. Celebrating the world of books and the incredible passion of everyone involved in this industry is a tonic which has the power to renew our flagging energy. Running a small business (and reading in general) is a solitary business.
So even if you aren't going, live BEA vicariously by checking out the blog by BEA director, Lance Fensterman, here.

Monday, May 14, 2007

In Hopes of Selling Lots of Copies of Michael Chabon's Newest Novel, 'The Yiddish Policemen's Union,' We're Going to Drown You in His Internet Hype

Reprinted in whole from

In an essay about the 1958 travel guide "Say It in Yiddish" in Civilization magazine, Michael Chabon contemplated a country where "I'd do well to have a copy of 'Say It in Yiddish' in my pocket." Of course, not only had Chabon not found such a place but, he pointed out, "I don't believe anyone has."

Chabon, it seems, couldn't get this phantom Yiddish-speaking nation out of his head, and now he's gone and created the place himself. Welcome to Sitka, Alaska, the setting for his new novel, "The Yiddish Policemen's Union," where the only "American" spoken is swear words. In this imaginary world without Israel, Sitka plays temporary home to Big Macher department stores, a thriving Chassid mafia, and some 3 million very cold Jews.

If less epic than "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay," for which Chabon won the Pulitzer in 2001, "The Yiddish Policemen's Union" is no less ambitious. In addition to being a Chandleresque murder mystery, it deals with the Messiah, a secretive cabal not unlike the apocryphal Elders of Zion, Jewish-American relations and the perennial question of what it means to be a Jew. If all this sounds like too much, you may be right. But, as is the case in most of Chabon's novels, it is his characters, at once absurd and entirely familiar, that hold the story together. Here we have Meyer Landsman, a secular policeman with a bad case of the shakes, whose favorite daydream is to imagine the many ways he could take his own life; and his half-Indian partner Berko Shemets, a hammer-wielding gumshoe more devout than most of Sitka's Yids. "These are weird times to be a Jew" is the refrain of those in Sitka, and so, one feels, has it always been. Coming from Chabon, it is perhaps unsurprising that a fiction set in a fantastical place, told in a dying language, poses some of the most poignant, difficult questions about the Jewish homeland.

Salon caught up with Chabon in New York, a place he still fancies as "'Kavalier and Clay' land," where he spoke about why he likes being called anti-Semitic, what it's like being married to another writer, and why he's obsessed with Barack Obama.

For the full interview, click here.

You're Too Discerning to be Swayed by an Interview? How About Some Unbiased Reviews?

The New York Times seems to dig the new novel, praising his imaginative setting, characters, and metaphors (always the tipping point in a book's purchase, no?).

New York Magazine likes it, although they, too, feel that Chabon was "limited by the detective story’s familiar machinery."

The Boston Globe is a little less effusive, complaining that "too often Chabon's affections -- for the elegant enigmas of chess, for the modern tragedy of the Jews, for verbal acrobatics and literary shenanigans -- turn into a wild display of warring talents, compromising the structural integrity of the novel and turning its hair pin plot twists into a drive off a cliff." Keep in mind, though, that this 'structural integrity' complaint is made in a fifty-one word sentence.

The LA Times gives it a 'thumbs-up', saying that it is "a spiritual descendant of (Chabon's Pulitzer prize winning novel) Kavalier & Clay," and "a book that expands on the sensibility of the earlier novel and its roots in Jewish storytelling."

Still Undecided?

Let the author himself read you a chapter.
(appr. 25 minutes)