Saturday, June 2, 2007

Weekend Links

The BEA -- Book Expo America -- takes place this week in New York City. For those of you not lucky enough to find yourself in the humid confines of the Big Apple hustling your thinly veiled memoirs to uninterested agents, publishers and booksellers, BookExpoCast is posting podcasts (audio interviews) featuring some of the authors and media mavens who will be attending. A few of the folks included are...

Khaled Hosseini, author of the best-selling The Kite Runner as well as the new book A Thousand Splendid Suns. In this podcast, he discusses the pressure to follow-up a successful debut novel, as well as the excitement leading up to his first BEA.

Chris Anderson,the editor-in-chief of WIRED and the author of The Long Tail. In this podcast, Anderson gives a preview of the two sessions he’ll be involved with at BEA. “Giving it Away: Free Lunch or Unrealized Opportunity” addresses the pros and cons of supplementing the sale of a book with free content. During “Upfront & Unscripted: Ken Lombard, President, Starbucks Entertainment,” Anderson and Lombard will discuss how the innovative coffee seller has moved into the realm of book and music retail.

Alice Sebold, best-selling author of Lucky and The Lovely Bones. In this podcast, she discusses her new book, The Almost Moon.

Still in a New York state of mind? Don DeLillo's new 9-11 novel, Falling Man, is positively reviewed in the New York Times, as well as the Guardian UK. To read the first chapter yourself, click here.

via Wired:
On the other side of the country, the San Francisco Asian Art Museum opens its exhibit, Tezuka: Marvel of Manga, this weekend. The exhibit "features more than 200 of Tezuka's original drawings, as well as a manga lounge for browsing shelves of cartoons, photos of cosplay events (where participants dress as their favorite characters) and musical performances of popular anime and video game music." This article by Lisa Katayama delves briefly into the genius of Osamu Tezuka, the "quirky intellectual who had a near photographic memory, a medical degree and an obsession with classic Disney movies" who, through the mediums of comics and cartoons, "explored profound themes that were often way ahead of their time -- pacifism, civil rights, man versus machine, artificial intelligence and urban high-rise architecture." All this, and he created Astro Boy, too!

Friday, June 1, 2007

Lies, Damned Lies, and ...

While I was browsing around looking for some statistics on per capita book sales by state, I discovered Para Publishing (click here for all the statistics), which features a fun accumulation of book related statistics.
Here are a few listed below:

Only 32% of the U.S. population has ever been in a bookstore.
--David Godine, Publisher

58% of the US adult population never reads another book after high school.
42% of college graduates never read another book.
80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year.
70% of US adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
57% of new books are not read to completion.
--Jerrold Jenkins

Women buy 68% of all books.
--Lou Aronica

81% of the population feels they have a book inside them
6 million have written a manuscript.
6 million manuscripts are making the rounds.
Out of every 10,000 children's books, 3 get published
--Jerrold Jenkins

On the average, a book store browser spends eight seconds looking at the front cover and 15 seconds looking at the back cover.

Book Purchases by Store Type:
24.6% Large chain stores
17.7% Book Clubs
15.2% Smaller chains and independent stores.
5.4% Internet such as

59% of the customers plan to purchase a specific book when entering a bookstore.
--Book Industry Study Group.

A successful fiction book sells 5,000 copies.
A successful nonfiction book sells 7,500 copies.
--Authors Guild

Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Library Thing - You Are What You Read

Karen, a member of my book club, was recently enthusing about The Library Thing. Anyone who loves books, and feels a measure of pride when they look at their own collection of books will immediately adore the usefulness of this online catalog of your personal library.

"LibraryThing appears poised to turn the cataloging of books into a form of communal recreation."
- Christian Science Monitor

What exactly is The Library Thing and how much does it cost?
"Library Thing is an online service to help people catalog their books easily. You can access your catalog from anywhere—even on your mobile phone. Because everyone catalogs together, LibraryThing also connects people with the same books, comes up with suggestions for what to read next, and so forth. A free account allows you to catalog up to 200 books. A paid account allows you to catalog any number of books. Paid personal accounts cost $10 for a year or $25 for a lifetime."

There are additional features to the program. It's cool to use the book suggester/unsuggester. You simply enter a book title, and up pops a screen of how many people also have that book in their library, what other similar titles they own, books with similar tags, and additional reading suggestions. It's addictive!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Choosing the Correct Gang Color for your Writers' Group (and other tips)

Before Inkwell Michelle would let me post on her blog, she, um...strongly suggested...that I join a writers' group in an effort to make my spellin's more better. As a staunch advocate of Groucho Marx's old axiom about 'not wanting to be a part of any group that would have me as a member,' it was, needless to say, the first time I'd ever attended such a soiree. So's not to appear unprepared, I brought an old Smith Corona typewriter, some cigarettes, a green tinted visor and some cheap whiskey. Oh, and a story I'd written the night before about a psycho that joins a writers' group only to then kill each writer one by one in a manner reminiscent of the stories they'd read there (its title: Deadly Dull). Imagine my surprise when the group turned out to hate my ideas, the smoke from my smokes and the fact that the whiskey made me physically sick. It's not like their stories were much better. The young guys were all writing variations of Fight Club, only with more video game references, and the girls were all trying to blend their favorite episodes of Sex & The City with their one unsuccessful suicide attempt from their teens. Only the old people's stories were interesting. I had no idea that they were all so dirty-minded (or was I mentally making unintended metaphors of all of their innocent flowering garden and railroad worker short stories?).
Anyway, the point of today's post is to highlight a few websites that offer suggestions on how to better start and/or run a writers' group. There's another old axiom I'd like to toss out, the one that claims 'you can choose your friends, but not your family.' When running a writers' group, no such excuses are accepted. You are responsible for every choice made: the members, the setting, the style of critique offered, the way the discussion flows, etc, etc, etc. If this is the sort of thankless, profitless power you crave, then explore the links below:

The 6' Ferrets Writers' Group -- A good place to visit for anyone starting from scratch. They've broken their site down into bite sized portions: Starting A Group, Writing Exercises, Special Events and Suggested Reading.

Man Bytes Hollywood -- This guy has been running a writers' group for a while, and boils down the secrets to making it successful into three seemingly obvious, but clearly hard won tips.

Argh Ink -- The woman that runs this site had been a part of many disappointing writers' groups before finally starting her own. She opens her piece by discussing the pitfalls that many groups fall into (discussing anything and everything besides writing -- publishing, in particular) before outlining quite a long list of ideas for keeping your group on track without garnering resentment and/or villains crafted in your likeness.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Scientists Agree: Homework Sucks

Boing Boing's Cory Doctorow has posted a positive review of Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish's 2006 book, The Case Against Homework. An excerpt:

"All the credible research on homework suggests that for younger kids, homework has no connection with positive learning outcomes, and for older kids, the benefits of homework level off sharply after the first couple assignments. Not that most teachers would know this -- homework theory and design isn't on the curriculum at most teachers' colleges, and most teachers surveyed report that they have never received any training on designing and assessing homework.

"The book is composed of equal measures of interviews with kids, parents and teachers; hard research numbers from respected institutions; and strategies for convincing your kids' teachers to ease back on homework. One thing the authors keep coming back to is the way that excessive homework eats into kids' playtime and family time, stressing them out, contributing to sedentary obesity, and depriving them of a childhood's measure of doing nothing, daydreaming and thinking. They quote ten-year-olds like Sophia from Brooklyn, saying things like 'I have to rush, rush, rush, rush, rush, rush through my day, actually through my seven days, and that's seven days wasted in my life.'"

While we at the Inkwell Bookstore in no way believe that this applies to summer reading assignments, we do feel such arguments negate the need for most other forms of after-school schooling. Our younger readers may post their letters of praise and thanks in the comments section below.

Your School's Commencement Speech Will Surely Pale In Comparison

To read David Foster Wallace's (Infinite Jest, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again) fond farewell to the kids at Kenyon University click here. Your valedictorian's Robert Frost references will seem rather run-of-the-mill in retrospect.

Monday, May 28, 2007

You've Only Twenty-Four Hours Of Vacation Left. Stay Lazy 'Til The Last.

Today's Inkwell Bookstore blog post is a movie recommendation, but for a film that basks in its love of literature: A Love Song for Bobby Long. Reprinted below is Roger Ebert's original review of the film:

There is a lazy, seductive appeal to the lives of the two boozers in "A Love Song for Bobby Long." The notion of moving to New Orleans and drinking yourself to death is the sort of escape plan only an alcoholic could come up with, involving the principle of surrender to the enemy. If you are a writer and a failed English professor like Bobby Long, you can even wrap yourself in the legend of other literary drunks. It's all wonderfully romantic, especially in the movies, where a little groaning in the morning replaces nausea, headaches, killer hangovers and panic attacks. A realistic portrait of suicidal drinking would contain more terror and confusion, but never mind. "Leaving Las Vegas" did that, and this is a different movie.

Bobby Long is played by John Travolta like a living demonstration of one of those artist's conceptions of what Elvis would look like at 70. White-haired, unshaven, probably smelly, he lives on Magazine Street with a former student named Lawson Pines (Gabriel Macht), who thinks he is a genius. Years ago, Bobby was a legend on campus, Lawson's charismatic mentor. Then something happened, which we are pretty sure we will find out about, and here he is without wife or family, living on the sofa surrounded by piles of books. He and Lawson spend a lot of time quoting literature to each other. Ben Franklin, Charles Dickens, the usual 20th century gods. This is entertaining all by itself, apart from the good it does for the characters. It reminded me of Alan Bennett's new play "The History Boys," in which memorizing literary quotations is recommended as a means of fertilizing the mind. Bobby and Lawson are well fertilized, but too disorganized to plant anything; an unfinished novel and a would-be memoir languish in the shadows. In "Sideways," when Miles (Paul Giamatti) says he can't commit suicide because he has a responsibility to his unpublished novel, his buddy Jack (Thomas Hayden Church) helpfully points out that the New Orleans legend John Kennedy Toole killed himself before A Confederacy of Dunces was published. So there is a precedent. Bobby and Lawson seem prepared to keep on drinking and quoting and smoking forever, when a sudden change occurs in their lives. Their housemate, a jazz singer named Lorraine, has died. Now her daughter Pursy (Scarlett Johansson) materializes, too late for the funeral. Pursy is a discontented and suspicious 18-year-old, who will soon prove to be the most mature member of the household. The boys tell Pursy her mother left her a third of the house, which is sort of true; actually, her mother left Pursy all of the house, but information like that could only confuse Pursy about the right of Bobby and Lawson to continue living there forever. Pursy moves in, creating a form of family in which she is both the child and the adult, and Bobby and Lawson drift in between. At one point Lawson's halfway girlfriend Georgianna (Deborah Kara Unger) asks, "They know you're not going to school?" Pursy: "Yeah, it ranks right up there with being out of vodka and cigarettes." The revelations in "A Love Song for Bobby Long" are not too hard to spot coming. There are only a few fictional developments that seem possible, and it turns out that they are. The movie is not about plot anyway, but about characters and a way of living. Pursy acts as a catalyst to create moments of truth and revelation, and those in turn help Bobby find a limited kind of peace with his past, and Lawson to find a tentative hope in his own possible future. What can be said is that the three actors inhabit this material with ease and gratitude: It is good to act on a simmer sometimes, instead of at a fast boil. It's unusual to find an American movie that takes its time. It's remarkable to listen to dialogue that assumes the audience is well-read. It is refreshing to hear literate conversation. These are modest pleasures, but real enough. The movie tries for tragedy and reaches only pathos, but then Bobby lost his chance to be a tragic hero by living this long in the first place. Travolta has an innate likability quotient that works with characters like this; you can sense why a student would follow him to New Orleans and join him in foggy melancholy. There doesn't have to be a scene explaining that. You can also sense how Pursy would change things, just by acting as a witness. Alcoholics get uncomfortable when they're surrounded by people with insights. They like to control the times and conditions of their performances, and don't want an audience to wander backstage. Just by seeing them, Pursy forces them to see themselves. Once they do that, something has to give.

One more thing: A Love Song for Bobby Long was filmed almost entirely in the French Quarter and lower precincts of New Orleans less than two years before Hurricane Katrina would sweep through the area, changing it irrevocably. This film serves as a lasting document of the buildings, streets, foliage and, most importantly, the people that once made up the historic (and never to be recreated) area.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Running A Book Club - What To Do When Everyone Hates The Book, And It's Your Fault

I've been running a book club for 9 years. In the early days, I would get nervous and prepare pages of notes, research backround information about the author, and collect book reviews. Now, the group is so comfortable that we just show up and let the conversation roll.

We've had temporary members who show up for a meeting or two, but then disappear. We wonder idly about those drifting souls, where are they now? At the Inkwell, many people express interest in joining one of our book clubs, they even purchase the next book, but then don't show up for the meeting. What isn't factored in is the truth that a book club is a commitment. Reading a book a month shouldn't be so hard, but it's like a homework assignment. You'll find yourself reading everything under the sun, except the book club selection. (A brief apology is due to Cristin who has been running the Uncommon Caliber book club - I've yet to complete the reading for the club meetings!)

When I started our club, of course I found reading material for suggestions and tips on how to run a successful club. The Inkwell has books on how to run a club, analyze literature, lists of good reading choices, and journals for recording your thoughts about the books. I recommend The Book Club Companion by Diany Loevy, The Reading Group Handbook by Rachel Jacobsohn, and How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster.

There is support in the aforementioned books about how to handle the dreaded moment when the entire club revolts against a book. It does happen, and if the blame rests on your shoulders for selecting the book, don't take the abuse personally! Remember, they hate the book, not you. Just make sure that you pick a crowd-pleaser next time!