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Bringing Your Home Library Identity to BEA

Binnie Klein

How I arranged my books kind of felt like the Holy Grail to my identity.

I recently heard these words spoken by Binnie Klein during an episode of WPKN radio's Home Page program, which she co-hosts with Duo Dickinson. The show focused on "Living with Books" and was recorded live at the Institute Library of New Haven, Conn. Audience members were encouraged to "bring a treasured book that has followed you everywhere."

"What's on the shelf defines you," guest Robin Black, author of Life Drawing, observed during the show, adding: "Books give your history, but they're also aspirational."

I needed to be reminded of this. Next week, we bookish folk will infiltrate New York City for BookExpo America, each of us covertly bringing our own home library identity with us, along with our book trade identity (bookseller, publisher, author, etc.).

For almost a decade, I've written pre-BEA columns for Shelf Awareness. Many of them have necessarily been about the uncertain future of the industry, especially when things looked grim. From 2007: "BookExpo America, which reminds us every spring that a promising future always trumps a muddled present." Or from 2010: "Same as it ever was. And now we're headed back to BookExpo. Handselling and handwringing will continue unabated."

This year, however, I've been reminded by the "Living with Books" broadcast of something that struck me during my first book trade show, at the moment I walked into the Miami Beach Convention Center in 1993 for ABA's annual event. I'd been a bookseller for less than a year, but knew at once I belonged there. Maybe that was just my home library identity overcompensating, but it was a useful survival tool nonetheless.

Listening to "Living with Books" has helped me prepare for yet another BEA, where the seeming infinity of potential reads can reach Borgesian levels. Even the limitless imagination of Borges might have struggled to conjure the bookish sensory overload that is Javits Center during BEA.

But I digress. In addition to Home Page, Binnie Klein also hosts A Miniature World, a music and interview show (upcoming guests include Elizabeth Alexander and Jonathan Galassi) and is a writer. Her 2010 book, Blows to the Head: How Boxing Changed My Mind, is a great read.

After hearing the "Living with Books" segment, I wondered if she'd ever been to BEA. Then I stopped wondering and simply asked her.

"I found myself at BookExpo in the spring of 2010, as the guest of SUNY Press, who had just published my book," Klein replied. "I felt like I should have arrived with my ISBN tattooed somewhere on my body--that's how excited and proud I was, especially as a 'late-bloomer.'  Instead I arrived with an immediate concern--was I wearing comfortable enough shoes? I'd been warned that there would be a fair amount of walking. The place was huge, and everyone looked like a celebrity or near-celebrity to me." Afterward, she recalled that the "designated shuttle back to Grand Central, with its nametag-wearing passengers, felt like the camp bus home. We'd all been through something, and now we were going home with bags of book swag. My shoes had done their job."

Dickinson, Klein & Black during WKPN's Home Page "Living With Books" live broadcast (photo: Brian Slattery/NewHavenIndependent.org)

I reminded Klein of what she and Robin Black had said in discussing the role books played in forming identity and self-definition. Noting that even when I'm in the middle of the BookExpo free-for-all next week, there will still be a part of my own home library identity that gives me needed perspective, I asked: Do you take your home library identity "on the road" when you travel, too?

"We carry within us the memories of phrases, characters, surprise endings, narrative drive that keeps us up at night, multiple insights within sentences that astonish," Klein replied. "My home library identity (Shall we dub it HLI?) is vast and thoroughly incomplete. It starts in childhood with Eloise and Golden Books and Rudyard Kipling and meanders through adolescence with Salinger and Hesse and poetry journals and lands more recently, at Tana French, George Hodgman, Paul Auster, Daniel Menaker, Walter Kirn, Will Wiles and the stack of new authors on my desk waiting, like little soldiers, to be called into service. I am very lucky to be a radio interviewer who can both read them and sometimes 'meet' them. We meet at the borders of their interests and mine, and when the magic happens, I'm again that little girl with crooked bangs reading Eloise in my room."

And that has now become my BEA 2015 goal: to "meet at the borders of their interests and mine," and hope for a few key moments "when the magic happens." Hope to see you, and your own wonderful HLIs, next week. --Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2513


Canadian 'BookManager Academy' Set for June

The inaugural BookManager Academy will be held June 12-14 in Kelowna, B.C. That may seem like a simple announcement, but the backstory for this event, which features BookManager and general bookselling education programs, roundtable discussions and brainstorming sessions, along with social events and networking opportunities, is considerably more intricate.  

Michael Neill, president/head programmer of BookManager and owner of Mosaic Books, said his company "has been a smaller part of some previous Western Book Reps Association fairs. When they mentioned the idea of holding the fair in our hometown of Kelowna, I thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to expand the audience and include everyone using BookManager. Part of the draw for any conference is the location and what to do after the meetings. Kelowna is a pretty amazing medium-size city to explore."

Michael Neill

Thus far, BMA has received "an overwhelmingly positive response from booksellers across the country," noted Diana O'Neill, who handles sales and technical/data support for the company. "We currently have just over 100 booksellers registered, with 50-plus stores taking part. Besides all the B.C. stores coming, there are booksellers flying in from across the country--and there are even a handful coming from Oregon and California. What started out as a small initiative has grown into something that is going to be really great."

The American Booksellers Association's Winter Institute played a significant role in the genesis of BMA 2015. "Diana and I attended the [2014] Seattle event to introduce BookManager to U.S. booksellers," said Neill. "My daughter, Alicia, manages our bookstore and she has also attended past Winter Institutes, including Asheville. The different perspectives and experiences from people who share similar passions and challenges is the most significant take-away."

O'Neill recalled a pivotal WI9 moment for her: "One thing that really resonates with me still to this day, from Seattle's 2014 WI, is an International Booksellers Workshop that Michael and I stumbled into. This room was filled with the minds of what could easily be considered a tiny snapshot of a 'who's who' of the American bookselling industry, but we didn't know that at the time. We simply thought the discussion would be somewhat relevant to us, seeing as we're a part of the Canadian bookselling community.

"In this room chowing down on sandwiches and throwing ideas around were Mitchell Kaplan of Books & Books, BookPeople's Steve Bercu, Chuck Robinson from Village Books and a handful of others. As cheesy as this sounds--and I admittedly lack a better description--I left that room optimistically fired up from the exchanging of the 'big picture' ideas. And not just that, but I felt really lucky to be a sponge soaking it all up.

Diana O'Neill

"So what I ultimately took away is we have booksellers just like that here in Canada. And in my job, I'm so very fortunate to speak to loads of them, day after day. A few years ago the Canadian bookselling industry felt all doom and gloom, but we have some strong, smart booksellers up here doing solid work and turning things around. So this BMA is our opportunity to have sessions just like that, with booksellers from across the country to hopefully inspire each other and keep us on this steady, forward-thinking, positive track."

She added that BMA's organizers "are essentially testing the waters with this event in June; we are striving for a mini (or modest) Canadian WI of sorts, possibly something to grow along the lines of what the ABA successfully does each year. We are even copying what the ABA did this past year with their 'Town Hall' type forum, which we are going to open up to reps and booksellers. The staff here and all booksellers we have talked to are very excited about what this is shaping up to be. Depending on how everything goes, we are essentially looking at this as a pilot project for possible future events designed to inspire booksellers to start thinking about the brighter future that is currently upon us."

When I asked Neill what he hoped to accomplish with the inaugural BMA, he replied: "Too many of us no longer communicate face-to-face with our peers. The BookManager education will be valuable for many, but it will also be a catalyst for discussion during the social events where ideas for change really happen. The book industry had been fighting a few years of erosion both in numbers and morale. Many stores have since turned things around and I hope to see those booksellers sharing their enthusiasm and thirst for change." --Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2508


A Booktopia Thank You Note

Something amazing is happening right now at independent bookstores all over the world. These moments range from the private--a child reading quietly in the children's department, or an extraordinary handselling session between bookseller and reader--to the very public, like an unforgettable author event. Last weekend, in the midst of the Independent Store Day frenzy, I had to miss Booktopia Vermont, one of these wonderful, bookish moments, but I don't want it to pass unremarked upon.

In Manchester Center, home of the Northshire Bookstore, Random House sales reps and Books on the Nightstand co-hosts Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness held their next-to-last Booktopia event. I covered their first Booktopia in 2011, and since then Booktopias have been held in several cities in partnership with some great indie booksellers. After the inaugural event, Ann told me: "We started with the reader. Every plan we made, every idea we had, started with the reader in mind. We did this for them, not for the authors and not for the bookstore. I didn't realize this really until one of our guests said, 'It was a reader's retreat, not an author's retreat.' "

Ann Kingman (l.) and Michael Kindness (r.) bookend the authors who participated in last weekend's Booktopia Vermont

I liked her words then and I like them now. Thank you notes are in order. One came in a video by Ryan Ludman, a multiple-time/multiple location Booktopia attendee. Another can be found in the words of Northshire buyer Stan Hynds, who spoke on behalf of the bookstore to open Saturday night's Celebration of Authors event. I'd like to share the transcript of his thank you note:

"We are going to try to say thank you now which is going to be very difficult to do. I can't come up with a few well-constructed sentences, string them together in one lovely paragraph and adequately express how grateful we are to Ann and Michael.... The best I can do is make a list. Maybe the cumulative effect of a detailed list will come close to being adequate. First, Thank You. For the podcast. That's a good place to start. We certainly wouldn't be here if it weren't for that. You started with a great idea. You have executed it well and it is a pleasure to listen to every week.

"Thank You also for all the hard work and countless hours it takes in creating that podcast. Among ourselves, we always say we don't know how you have time to do everything you do. Somehow you do it plus your regular more-than-full-time job. I, too, have a full-time job and wonder what would happen if I told my boss and family that in addition to the bookstore, I'm going to create an audio product about my interest in books, baseball and 70s pop music. I'll do one every week and put it out there and see if anybody listens. Well, I'd never do that. But you do. So we're making headway but we're not there yet because...

"Thank You. For simply having the idea of a Books on the Nightstand retreat and having the guts to give wings to it. And talk about your hard work. 'Hey boss and family. In addition to the audio product, I'm going to invite 80 of my best listeners to a weekend--no, weekends--around the country in towns with baseball stadiums. I'll plan the programs, catering and lodging. It'll be great.' Never. But you do.

"Thank You--and we say this at the Northshire all the time--for having Booktopia here. You bring wonderful authors and dream customers into our store. Yes, the sales are much appreciated, especially this time of year, but the energy and passion of the Booktopia crowd is absolutely inspiring to us and we are extremely grateful. Maybe we're getting close but we're still not there because...

"Thank You. For helping create a community. With a good idea, hard work and a little technology…look what you did. Communities come in all shapes and sizes and this is definitely one. I know at this point Ann and Michael would prefer to deflect the praise, credit others, and have me stop talking but we can't just yet because, finally...

"Thank You. For being the kind of people you are. Good-hearted, decent, book-loving human beings. If it weren't for that I know we wouldn't be here. They wouldn't want to come and, frankly, we wouldn't want to host you. From the bottom of our hearts and the bottom of this list, we thank you, Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness."

Amazing things are happening in the book world right now; and I mean right now... everywhere. All we have to do is pay attention... and occasionally say thank you. --Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2503


Interdependent Bookstore Day... Citywide

"We are proudly independent, but over these dozen-plus years, we've learned how much small businesses like ours also rely on connections," Steve Costa and Kate Levinson, co-owners of Point Reyes Books, observed this week in sharing their Independent Bookstore Day "Declaration of Interdependence."

The rapid evolution of California Bookstore Day into IBD (and, in Canada, Authors for Indies Day) is another indicator of the resilience and creativity indie booksellers continue to exhibit in their collaborative efforts on both a national and local scale. We've been highlighting some of the many IBD partnerships booksellers have forged with other local businesses--bakeries, cafes, craft stores, bike shops and more. I just wanted to offer a reminder that booksellers in several U.S. cities have also found imaginative ways to showcase their interdependence tomorrow:

In the Seattle area, 17 bookstores teamed up to create the Indie Bookstore Challenge, with the winning customers receiving year-long 25% discounts at all participating stores--plus the title of Indie Bookstore Champ. The Stranger noted "one of the benefits of the project is the sense of solidarity among the participants."

"We feel a bond with other indies," said Open Books co-owner John Marshall. "Heck, Amazon has even made Barnes & Noble seem like a relative--what dark magic does that? We are pleased to celebrate shared DNA with our sibling stores."

"I love what Seattle is doing," said Pete Mulvihill, co-owner of Green Apple Books in San Francisco and a driving force behind the first California Bookstore Day last year. "Stores that would normally be competing with each other are cooperating. I can't think of anything else like it. I don't think, for example, coffee shops get together and share their best techniques."

Many booksellers in the San Francisco region are honoring the Bay Area Bookstore Passport as a way to inspire informal bookshop crawls. Customers who make a purchase at three or more bookstores tomorrow can ask for a stamp in their passports. Each time they reach three new stamps, they qualify for a prize.

Sign at Main Street Books, St. Charles, Mo.

"We're looking at it as a customer appreciation day," Stephanie Hochschild, owner of the Book Stall at Chestnut Court, told the Tribune regarding Chicago Independent Bookstore Day, in which 12 indies are banding together to celebrate. "They're the reason we flourish and it's a way to thank them. We hope to remind people of the importance of shopping local, not just at the Book Stall, but for everyone."

For Independent Bookstore Day NYC, two dozen Big Apple indies teamed up to collectively publicize IBD's citywide events, which will culminate with a Bookstore Day NYC afterparty at powerHouse Arena in Brooklyn. "Show your local bookstores some love this weekend," DNAInfo New York advised.

"I think that in many neighborhoods a bookstore is an inherent part of the community," Lexi Beach, owner of Astoria Bookshop in Queens, noted. "Having that kind of space where people can come together and collectively form a community around their love of books--I think is something that is still really important."

"Of course, we have to do things differently in New Orleans," said Tom Lowenburg, co-owner of Octavia Books, which will team up with Garden District Book Shop and Tubby & Coo's Mid-City Book Shop to celebrate IBD next Saturday, May 9, in order to avoid conflicting with the legendary Jazz Fest, at which NOLA indies work together to operate the book tent. Among the special activities planned for their delayed version of IBD is the chance to win $75 in gift certificates for book lovers who visit all three participating bookstores as part of a scavenger hunt. 

For some of us who've been observing the book business over the past couple of decades, the notion of such a large-scale Independent Bookstore Day is still a little, well, stunning.

Trying on some of the exclusive IBD merchandise at Harvard Book Store.

Hut Landon, executive director of the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, told Berkleyside: "Five years ago, we couldn't have done this event because the bookstores wouldn't have been involved. They would have said, 'There's too much going on and we're just trying to get by.' The idea of organizing this big thing would have sounded too overwhelming."

Landon's comment reminded me of a blog post I wrote in 2006, when the outlook for indies seemed much bleaker than it does today. "Independence and dependence are not unlike Yin and Yang, dual forces that make the world work only when they are in harmony," I noted then. "Indies are dependent. Indies depend upon their communities to value and sustain them. Their claims to independence are a meaningless whimper without the support of local residents and businesses.... Indies depend upon other bookstores, through personal friendships as well as regional and national organizations, to give them a sense that they are not fighting this battle alone and that the war is not lost."

Nine years later, I like the Point Reyes Books word much better. Here's to a brilliantly successful Interdependent Bookstore Day tomorrow for everyone. --Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2498


Expletives Undeleted

I wasn't going to write about Clean Reader. Nope. I tried to forget. I really did. But then the good folks organizing Banned Books Week announced Wednesday that this year's focus will be on young adult titles. In recent years, the majority of challenged books have been in the YA category, including several on the recently released American Library Association's Top Ten Most Challenged Books of 2014 list.

And that's when I thought again about Jared and Kirsten Maughan's Clean Reader app, which they launched earlier this year after their daughter apparently came home from school complaining a library book she had read contained a few "swear words."

Here's the pitch: "Prevent profanity in books from being displayed on your screen with Clean Reader; the only e-reader that gives you the power to hide swear words in any e-book. Simply select from three settings to determine how clean you want your books to appear. Clean Reader then scans your book and prevents offensive words and phrases from showing up on the screen as you read. Every time a swear word is blocked from display a less offensive alternative with the same general meaning can be displayed."

Things got a little dicey almost immediately for the word-numbing startup, with many authors objecting to their books being tampered with. In a particularly scathing post on her blog, Joanne Harris wrote: "Anyone who works with words understands their power. Words, if used correctly, can achieve almost anything. To tamper with what is written--however much we may dislike certain words and phrases--is to embrace censorship."

By late March, @CleanReader was tweeting a slight change of course: "In response to authors wishes that we not sell their books, we have asked @pagefoundry to remove the bookstore from our app."

In the Los Angeles Times, David Ulin observed that he "was almost sorry" to see the developers remove books from their catalogue: "Not because I want my literature tampered with, but because the issues raised, about who owns a piece of writing, remain pressing and relevant."

When I first read about Clean Reader, I'll confess I thought it was a joke (like Dirty Reader, which "launched" on April Fool's Day with the slogan "Read Books, Enjoy Profanity!"), but the app also nudged me to consider what "control" means for us as readers. Do we really need more? We already have the upper hand when it comes to books because, well, we can read--or not read--whatever we choose to.

Beyond questions of text cleansing or copyright issues, Clean Reader prompted me to ask: Where the hell are we headed? For me, news stories about strange, redacting apps and seemingly endless YA book challenges evoke the dystopian vision of a future in which people will still be reading, but may only want to read about themselves. Why should reading be an escape from the narrow confines of your world when it can be a duplication of it? Why read at all? Why not just stand for hours staring into a mirror and telling yourself stories?

Selfie Lit, anyone?

"How much of this novel is based on your real life?" an author is being asked at this moment somewhere on the planet. It's sad to think that we might be heading toward a day when we can ask readers the same question.

When I was a bookseller, sometimes I offered this advice to customers: Make a quick list of all your personal data--age, sex, region, etc.--and then find novels that match absolutely none of those details. You are what you read is a much better motto than you only read what you are.

Last January, in the first flush of startup optimism, Clean Reader featured a curious deal on Twitter: "Game of Thrones 5 book bundle 50% off for the next 4 hours.... #GameOfThrones #cleanbooks." Even if the app does promise "the power to hide swear words," George R.R. Martin must have presented them with a challenge comparable to uniting the Seven Kingdoms.  

In fact, I'd say Tyrion Lannister nicely sums up my thoughts about the Clean Reader app: "My mind is my weapon. My brother has his sword, King Robert has his warhammer, and I have my mind... and a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.... That's why I read so much." May all your expletives be undeleted. --Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2493