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Saturday
Jul162016

Pokémon Go... Find Waldo!

Rumor has it that we have a Pokémon. Only one way to find out! --Tales of the Lonesome Pine Bookstore, Big Stone Gap, Va.

At Main Street Books, St. Charles, Mo.

I see myself as the kind of guy who would never write about something like Pokémon Go. And then, quite suddenly.... Sure, I used to sell the card packs when I was a bookseller. Well, to be honest, I usually asked customers to point directly at the versions they wanted or, when Pokémon complexities arose, deferred to a younger colleague.

Then July hit, a time I assumed would be all about the fifth annual Find Waldo Local campaign. And while Waldo is hiding and being found with his usual flair nationwide, recent headlines have been dominated by Pokémon Go. (What is it? I cede the podium to Vox, which explains the game "in fewer than 400 words," and answers "9 questions about the game you were too embarrassed to ask.")

There can be compromises, of course: Cindi Whittemore of Ink Spell Books, Half Moon Bay, Calif., told the Review: "The kids are having a blast. While they're catching their Pokémon Go they are looking for Waldo."

Earlier this week, we highlighted a couple of indie booksellers on the Pokémon Go hunt. Books & Books in Coral Gables was listed as one of the "10 best places in Miami to play"; and Main Street Books, St. Charles, Mo., was "going to do everything we can to help out those intrepid future Pokémon Masters down here on Main Street."

Well, that's just the tip of the Pokémon Go augmented reality bookseller iceberg. While I won't be searching for Pikachu anytime soon, I did embark on a brief virtual hunt to capture Pokémon Go bookstore emanations:

Politics and Prose, Washington, D.C., "is a bit of a hotspot for Pokémon Go players," Fox5 reported. On Facebook, P&P noted: "Pokémon Go isn't just an excuse to get off the couch. Turns out it's good for local business."

On Instagram, Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park, Wash., posted: "On trend, as usual. #pokemongo #pokemon #booksellerlife #indiebookstores #bookstore #lakeforestpark#getem #pokebomb."

via National Book Foundation

Bryan Samsone, manager of BookPeople, Austin, Tex., told Entertainment Weekly: "We expect it to be a part of what we do, if it's not too disruptive. We facilitate folks who are here in Austin looking for entertainment. I would not be surprised if BookPeople ended up with a Pokémon display sometime in the next couple weeks."

In the same EW piece, John Valentine, co-owner of the Regulator Bookshop, Durham, N.C., noted that Pokémon books "are starting to sell again. It's an interesting thing, because you have both young people discovering it and older people who knew it back in the '90s. They really scored a hit on this one. People are talking about it; it is really popular."

And Tattered Cover Book Store, Denver, Colo., asked the big question: "Want an egg? We have eggs! Plus, look at all these Pokémon hanging out in our stacks! Rattata even found the VIB table! #pokemongo #gottacatchemall."

"What happened after the Strand Book Store was listed as a Pokémon Go destination?" PRWeek asked, noting that communications director Whitney Hu, a self-described "avid Pokémon fan," made the connection right away and planned ways the Strand could capitalize on the situation.

"We are such a cultural institution in the city, and we have such a large footprint that this gives us another way to work with our community and bring in some new faces, people who might just walk right by us," Hu said. The Strand also put together "Your Definitive Pokémon Go Reading List."

Themed display at Joseph-Beth Booksellers

In Lexington, Ken., Joseph-Beth Booksellers "is an avid purveyor of Pokemon goods and markets its four PokéStops and 'gym' where players gather to battle each other," the Herald-Leader noted. Merchandise manager Travis Rison said, "We're all for it, if it helps us get foot traffic in the door. It allows us to better serve customers who may not have come in before."

A sidewalk "Gotta Read'em All" chalkboard beckoned Pokémon Go players to enter Curious Iguana Books, Frederick, Md.

Coldwater Books, Tuscumbia, Ala., is a PokéStop "and we're loving it! Each day a different team will be randomly chosen (so as not to show any bias towards our own teams) to receive a special discount! Today the team we've chosen is Team Valor! Look out for lures at our PokéStop on a regular basis and feel free to stop in for some ice cold drinks as a reprieve from the heat. And of course, enjoy your journey towards becoming The Very Best!"

Nicole Sullivan of the BookBar, Denver, Colo., told us: "Wanted to share what we're doing to participate in Pokémon Go. I'm just now starting to figure this thing out. BookBar is lucky to be a PokéStop so we're encouraging people to come in and drop lures (whatever that means)."

Amy Reynolds of Horizon Books, Traverse City, Mich., and her colleagues "are trying to wrap their minds around this whole Pokémon Go phenomenon, but they figured out pretty quickly that the bookstore is a PokéStop," IPR reported. Reynolds said: "Yes, I did know that. Because I have a son playing, and my grandson's playing, as well."

A challenging literary alternative was suggested by Brookline Booksmith, Brookline, Mass.: "I've got so many Adichies, Atwoods and Murakamis, but check it out, there's a Beckett! So hard to capture Becketts. Don't know what I'm talking about? That's okay, it's probably for the best."

An observation by the Strand's Whitney Hu speaks to the challenge many booksellers are facing: "I am trying to figure out the best way to market it without seeming gimmicky. We want to organically connect with current trends; we never want to seem like the old person in the room trying to hop on, not accurately using a meme."

--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2796

Friday
Jul082016

Shore to Shore Poets: 'We Are Human Together'

Poetry "doesn't have to show its passport," British poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy told the Guardian in May for a piece promoting Shore to Shore: Celebrating Poetry and Community. The campaign, presented by Picador and Book-ish Bookshop, was tied to Independent Bookshop Week. Beginning June 19, Duffy traveled across Britain and performed with "three of the fellow poets whom she most admires: Gillian Clarke, Imtiaz Dharker and, the new Makar, National Poet for Scotland, Jackie Kay." Each evening featured a guest poet and music from instrumentalist and composer John Sampson.

Through their Guardian diary, I tracked the pilgrimage because I care about poetry and booksellers, but soon found myself swept up in the approach and cresting of a dangerous wave--the controversial Brexit referendum to leave the European Union. The poets' journal entries were a compelling, deeply personal response to a moment most of us experienced as headlines:

Carol Ann Duffy
Imtiaz Dharker
Jackie Kay
Gillian Clarke

June 20 (written by Duffy): "Sometimes at poetry readings, it's possible to take the pulse of how people who love poetry are feeling. Today, the air seems bruised with hurt--perhaps because of Orlando, or the murder of Jo Cox, or the gathering tsunami of the referendum. In this moment, these events seem linked, at least in the public hurt shared by the hundreds here. And although we poets have no agenda--I am reading poems written 30 years ago--the poetry has been live-wired to this present and this public."

June 21 (Imtiaz Dharker): "Carol Ann Duffy has devised a game to keep us occupied on this four-hour journey. We have to decide which (dead) poets would choose to Leave, and which Remain, with opinions backed by quotes from the work. It all begins well enough: Donne ('No man is an island'), Larkin ('Get out as quickly as you can'), Stevie Smith, ('I was much too far out all my life'), but quickly descends to 'Brexit, pursued by a bear.' The conversation turns to Shakespeare instead."

June 22 (Gillian Clarke): "Again laughter, silent listening, a tear or two, applause. People are ready for poetry in these times. (I think I might have gone mad at home alone this week.)"

June 23 (Jackie Kay): "Our voices have now started to merge like the fields, ceding and giving way one to the other.... By the end of the night some of our eyes are tear-stained. We just don't know what this next day will bring, this day of changing or staying the same."

June 24 (Duffy): "Referendum Day. As I write, it's approaching 6 a.m. and J.K. Rowling has tweeted that Cameron's legacy will be the breaking of two unions. His unleashed genie has indeed given us our country back--torn in two like a bad poem."

June 27 (Dharker): "I wake in the same bed, expelled to another country overnight.... All of us shift our readings slightly. Gillian reads Lament, Jackie In My Country, Carol Ann Weasel Words: all poems written years ago, but relevant today. There are no overt political statements but the choices are fierce. The people who come to speak to us at the signing tell us that the poetry has helped."

June 29 (Duffy): "Arriving in West Didsbury, where we'll stay for an event in Bramhall, Cheshire, we pass an unusually huge funeral cortege approaching the cemetery. 'Who are they burying?' wonders Imtiaz Dharker. 'Our hopes,' says Gillian Clarke."

June 30 (Dharker): "The readings have become more and more like conversations between one poem and another, seeming to respond to the bizarre turns of events and the messages on Facebook.... The map of the country I thought I lived in is changing from one day to the next, before my eyes."

July 1 (Clarke): "Subtly, subversively, words speak to the heart, the hurt, the anxiety of a nation in crisis. We see it, and hear it, in every audience, every town, every stopping-place on this journey that has brought us so far from Cornwall to Corbridge, gratitude at the signing table from people who can speak to us and to each other at last. It is the best of times, it is the worst of times. Those who have broken Britain should hear their words."

July 2 (Kay): "We listen to each other's poems now, and realize we are comforting each other.... At the end the whole audience are on their feet--they stand clapping and cheering for so long it makes some of us cry. Someone says, 'You were like a building, each one of you held a different bit up. You lifted us.' "

July 4 (Kay): "Our bookshop partner tonight is the Mainstreet Trading Company, a winner of the independent bookshop of the year award--and deli of the year. It's been amazing to see how each bookshop in each place has felt so appreciative of our venture, Carol Ann Duffy's brilliant idea."

July 5 (Dharker): "Our bookshop here is Atkinson-Pryce, which sits at the center of Biggar among centuries-old houses. It is the kind of place that draws people in as if it were a village well."

July 7 (Duffy): "We started this tour in a chorus of celebration, but the key has changed from major to minor and we end in a psalm of consolation--poetry as the music of being human. We're up and off early next morning and part fondly at Edinburgh airport for London, Cambridge, Cardiff and Manchester. Home will be different when we get there... God bless us, every one."

Best, perhaps, to end with words from Clarke's June 27 entry: "Yet the people rise to the evening, poetry and music do their work, and we are human together."

--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2791

Saturday
Jul022016

The Beat Goes On for Booksellers

You know how sometimes, when you're listening to an album and the right song comes on (well, to be precise, Neil Young's "Tonight's the Night"), and you just keep hitting replay? Maybe--in a Twilight Zone kind of way--this is what's happening now, though instead of an album it's my column, and instead of one song it's an ongoing theme--booksellers and music. The beat goes on.

I loved the recent blog post by Daniel Goldin, owner of Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee, Wisc., on his personal history with vinyl records. "Now there's a vinyl resurgence, but a lot of folks have sold off, or even dumped their collections, and some people want them back," he wrote. "I can understand this, though I kept a good bit of mine. I'm a hoarder. But I still took to Eric Spitznagel's new memoir, Old Records Never Die: One Man's Quest for His Vinyl and His Past. Spitznagel, who decided that he was not only going to rebuild his collection, he was going to find the exact copies he lost. He thought it was possible. Whether it was possible is beside the point. It's all about the quest."

And this week, in a Wall Street Journal review of physicist John Powell's Why You Love Music, Peter Pesic noted that he found himself "intrigued by many of the studies he summarizes. Certain kinds of background music in stores measurably induces people to buy more: Classical music increases high-end buying by making people feel 'posh,' as Mr. Powell puts it.... What is more, playing French music will stimulate the purchase of French wine, as German music does for German wine. Using this effect in reverse, city officials in Sydney repelled teenage loiterers by playing 'uncool' music--the songs of Barry Manilow, to be precise; one wonders what would have happened had they chosen Mozart."

Which leads nicely to an e-mail I received from Angela Cozad, owner of Real Books, in response to my piped music columns: "I used to be a manager for Tower Books, a division of Tower records, in Concord, Calif. We had unlimited music to play, as you can imagine, because of the record stores. We used music to move our customers. During the day, we played classical, Bach, Beethoven and the boys as it was. In the afternoons we played light rock as our clientele started to shift to a younger crowd. In the evening, we sometimes played jazz or metal on the weekends but when we wanted to close the store at night--Mantovani cleared the store every night."

Speaking of clearing the store, John Evans, co-owner of DIESEL, A Bookstore, in Oakland, Brentwood and Larkspur, Calif., recalled that his first bookseller job was at Pellucidar, the original of the Berkeley Pegasus bookstores: "I would work Friday nights with Gerry Kleier. We sold records in that store, mostly used, and we would have duels with music. He had particular dislike of Reggae which I would slip in occasionally, hoping he would like some of it. We were really trying to blow each other's minds, not torture each other. But he always had the trump card: William Shatner's psychological renditions of pop songs, illustrating psychological states! 'Mr. Tambourine Man' won every duel."

To which I could only reply: "Ah, Mr. Shatner's golden tones. I do remember. I, however, cannot be too cynical, since in the 1960s I was the proud owner of two albums featuring David McCallum (of Man from U.N.C.L.E. fame). So there..." I never shared Illya Kuryakin's symphonic rendition of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" with my bookstore patrons, however.

"I've been enjoying the music focus in your Shelf Awareness pieces," Evans also observed, "It's a sideways kind of solidarity with the booksellers around the country, through the music played in their stores; the ASCAP ridiculousness (yes we pay them for the music we now play through Spotify); and the changes in customer preference, bookseller choice, and technological apparatus.

"We had vinyl in our Oakland store from 1989 to around 2005; switched to CDs and tapes throughout that decade; and then to Spotify (and the occasional tape!) today. We've never allowed opera or very 'out' jazz (too compelling, attention-grabbing). Our store in Santa Monica plays no music, but there is music outside that is a curated list by an independent DJ and which is often as good as we ever would choose on our own. Our Larkspur store uses Pandora, largely overseen by our manager there Rod Froke, but expanded by contributions from other booksellers.

"Personally, I liked most the periods of both my first years in bookselling at Pellucidar in Berkeley (which also sold LPs and so had a vast range of options) and the first years of DIESEL when personal choice, carefully chosen, ruled the airwaves and where compliments from customers were common. The interplay of music and books was part of a fading cultural time of more open conversation about these two vital parts of our everyday imaginations--unmediated by other personal devices and cultural trends now dominating how we live.

"I still love music as a part of the everyday of our bookstores and know that for some of our customers this just one of the many pleasures of shopping at indie bookstores." Who says you can't get no satisfaction?

--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2787

Friday
Jun242016

Independent Bookshop Week in U.K. & Ireland

When the world feels senseless, idiotic and unreasonable... the only answer is to go to a bookshop. --Lauren Laverne

Although they may be nursing a Brexit Vote hangover today, along with some uncertainty regarding how the referendum vote to leave the E.U. will affect business, nearly 400 booksellers in the U.K. and Ireland have been celebrating the 10th annual Independent Bookshop Week (June 18-25). The Booksellers Association noted that IBW2016 is being held at a time of "increased optimism and a more buoyant market for independent bookshops.... [Bookshops] are creating incredible social and cultural spaces on their high streets--offering events, literary lunches, children's storytelling, schools outreach, reading groups, festivals and meeting spaces." Here are a few highlights from #IBW2016:

Favorite bookshop stories: In a video, Jen Campbell, author of The Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops and The Bookshop Book, shared anecdotes from her life in bookselling.

Inevitable Brexit vote reference: "Take a break from #EUref and join @TwoRoadsBooks on our #IBW2016 tour." Hodder & Stoughton imprint Two Roads Books is chronicling its Indie Bookshop Tour, "celebrating independent bookshops and their booksellers."

Mr. B's Emporium of Reading Delights, Bath: "It's indie bookshop week #IBW2016. Us bookshops have huge independent spirit, but we love being members of the same wider tribe. Just saying."

The Bookshop Kibworth: "Here's one of our @BookshopWindows combining @UEFAEURO, @KibBookFest AND #IBW2016! @booksaremybag @BAbooksellers."

The Gifts of Reading: Robert Macfarlane's specially commissioned essay is being sold by indies, with proceeds going to his nominated charity. He told the Bookseller: "Our bookshops--like our libraries--are simply vital to the reading life of this country. I know from my own meetings up and down the country, and over the years, what passion, knowledge and expertise gets shown and shared in independent bookshops. To write an essay in praise of the book-as-gift, to have the essay published by Penguin and sold in all indie bookshops, and to have all profits going to the Migrant Offshore Aid Station is just a huge privilege and pleasure."

Bookshop Crawl: @booksaremybag: "Saturday 27th June, the annual IndieBound UK Independent Bookshop Week #‎bookshopcrawl. Put it in your diary!"

Making #IBW2016 lists:

Anne Enright: Ireland's fiction laureate and Independent Bookshop Week Award winner for The Green Road said, "It was such an honor to be selected for this award by my favorite people--booksellers. Long may they remain. Four or five years ago, we were all in a panic that the internet would eat booksellers and paper. But they've battled on and they're starting to flourish."

Booksellers as movie action heroes: London Review Bookshop tweeted: "To celebrate #IndependentBookshopWeek, here's our bookselling team matched against Independence Day characters."

Oxford University: "It's #IndependentBookshopWeek! Oxford is bookshop heaven, we especially love @albionbeatnik."

Emily MacKenzie: winner of the IBW Award for children's picture book: "I love visiting independents because each shopping experience feels unique. Cozy and welcoming, I love that independent bookshops give you a glimpse into the personality and passions of the booksellers behind them. I always leave an independent bookshop with an unexpected find, feeling recharged and inspired, which is a wonderful thing."

Chicken & Frog Bookshop, Brentwood, Essex: "Rocking our #IBW2016 t-shirts today! @BAbooksellers."

Shore to Shore Poetry Tour Diary: "Embarking on a nationwide poetry tour, Carol Ann Duffy and her fellow poets Gillian Clarke, Imtiaz Dharker, Jackie Kay and John Sampson document what they see as they travel and share poetry around the U.K."

Authors' fave indies: @simonschusterUK: "This week we're asking our authors about their fave independent bookshops. We'd love to know yours, too! #IBW2016."

Finding the perfect book: Canongate: "Looking for your next reading material? Let us find your perfect book, using this simple matchmaking tool. #IBW2016"

A Love Letter to Bookshops: in an IBW essay, Veronica Henry wrote that the title of her latest novel, How to Find Love in a Bookshop, "is not just about finding romantic love. It's about the love of books: something that can sustain you throughout your life, and provide escape, entertainment, education, comfort, wonder. And it's a love you can share. There is nothing more satisfying than recommending something you have read to someone else, knowing they will love it as much as you do.... But if we are to keep bookshops alive, we need to use them, and to encourage the next generation to make them part of their life and view bookshops as a treat, a pleasure, an adventure, a gateway. So they become a necessity. Something we can't live without."

And... words to live by for readers worldwide.

--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2782

Sunday
Jun192016

Retail Music Redux: What's that Sound?

Among the responses I received to last week's column about piped music in bookshops was this one from a bookseller who wished to remain anonymous: "ASCAP is chasing us for our open mic programs. We have one for poets and one for songwriters; it's hard to fathom their complaint. I'd love to hear from others on that issue."

ASCAP's beef concerns "live music": "They want a general contract for musical venue. Supposedly, this would mean the Beatles would get a couple pennies if someone covered 'Hey Jude,' but in reality they wouldn't even know whose songs might be covered, so I doubt anyone would be paid except ASCAP. Our open mic is a songwriter's forum however, so local no-names are trying out their new compositions. We announce at every monthly session that only original tunes can be played, but ASCAP still worries some songwriter might make an allusion to 'Jude.' We're still working it out, but if we can't, I'll just cancel all live music."

Any other booksellers running into that challenge?

from Dancers Among Us (Workman) by Jordan Matter

On a lighter note, I also heard from legendary book-biz music guru (and PGW Party at BEA icon) Keith Arsenault, director of sales, Canada for Ingram Content Group. He recalled that the highlight of his early bookselling career was "the Christmas mix we played at College Hill Bookstore (RIP), which featured this classic track: Ren and Stimpy--'Fleck The Walls', courtesy of Mike Katz."

Renee Barker of The Bookstore in Glen Ellyn, Ill., told me: "We have music playing often, but certainly not always. Some of the employees try to keep music going, but some choose quiet. Years ago we had a cassette player, so we played and sold some cassettes of a particular pianist. Now we use an old donated iPod with a limited amount of music on it (that we are all getting tired of), mostly classical and mostly baroque, almost all instrumental only. For fun, we put on the waltzes or ragtime or klezmer playlists. We do play Christmas songs, usually without singers, and some Celtic music in March."

She added that the bookstore is considering changing to Spotify, and she would like to hear from other bookstores about that option. "There are two playlists that I like to use sparingly, but deliberately. One is The Killers Strings (for 25- to 30-year-olds; they nearly always perk up at one point and say out loud 'Wait, is that what I think it is?') and the other is orchestrated versions of the Disney movie theme songs, which the teenagers-to-20s in particular seem to love."

Karen Bakshoian of Letterpress Books, Portland, Maine, noted: "Well, after reading your article about Waterstones (an opinion leader if I ever knew one!), I feel guilty about playing our Celtic music however softly... and we don't even sell CDs. Several customers have remarked that they enjoy the music. When we play the Beatles on Tuesday, our Senior Discount Day, the customers whistle, dance and sing along."

Pageturners Bookstore in Indianola, Iowa, opts for Pandora radio. "I get to choose favorite artists (as many as I like) and Pandora Business plays those and similar artists and takes care of the pesky copyright fees too," said Kathy Magruder. "My store is too small to sell music, so this seemed the best option. Today we've had John Prine, the Oysterband, Yo-Yo Ma and the Nadas. Oh, and Great Big Sea singing 'Never trust a fella with a helmet on his head' (words to live by!)."

Charles Bottomley of the Northshire Bookstore, Manchester Center, Vt., recalled that a few years ago, they "switched from the floor manager's iPod to Pandora. We appear to have settled on a baroque playlist which is now played at an almost negligible volume--clarinets are burbling right now as I type this. This arrangement has brought a certain degree of peace to the bookstore. During the iPod years, there would be periodic revolts against the playlist, which usually involved a dose of Leo Kottke that was perhaps too robust for most people--some of the new age pudding that seeped out from the speakers on a daily basis may never leave my ears. The drawback of Pandora is that now when customers ask what CD is playing, we have to explain it's a streaming service--and often even when we identify a track and performer for them, we don't have the music in the store to handsell to them."

Noting that music "is a common subject of discussion for us, in part because my mother, who works occasionally in the store, has a limited tolerance of many genres," Harriett Logan of Loganberry Books, Shaker Heights, Ohio, observed: "In general, we have a wide collection to choose from, including classical, early music, jazz, world, folk, singer-songwriter, and a speck of pop. We give albums or songs a color code for emotional power (yellow is sunny, red is spirited or even angry, blue is, well, blue), a star-rating, and notes like Staff Picks or Mom-fail, so we can create closely curated playlists. Sometimes we'll spend a whole day on Celtic music, another day we might flit widely from Dvorak to didgeridoo to dulcimer. I like mixing it up (the color coding helps avoid really jarring transitions, but they still might be surprising). And it doesn't always work for my mother, who calls Mary Chapin Carpenter rap, and who can get angry at Mozart quartets if they play in the energy-lull of late afternoon. So it's a work in progress, and requires attention.

"I never tune out the background music, and I'm the first to complain if it stops. I don't like the empty silence, the way it makes people whisper like they're in a library, and the lack of energy pulse that good music provides. Of course people have different tastes, just like in books and bookstores. But we create an environment uniquely our own."

As I write this on Wednesday night in my office, I'm working without a soundtrack. No... wait, I do hear distant music after all. Not piped music. Live. Just over the hill from my house, Mumford & Sons are playing to a sold-out crowd at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. I stare at my computer screen, wondering if that muted sound is "White Blank Page."

--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2777