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Daniel Berrigan & 'Time as Verb'

Since Father Daniel Berrigan, S.J., died last weekend, there have been hundreds of beautiful reflections and obituaries published, many by people who knew him well. I add my small voice to this chorus only because I'm a reader, and his books have been nearby, wherever I might be, for more than half a century. And I met him once.

Another instance--
time as verb.

These are the concluding lines of a poem in Father Berrigan's Beyond Alchemy, a chapbook published in 2006 by Arrowsmith Press, a limited print run, labor-of-literary-love venture. The title was released simultaneously with an anthology, Conscience, Consequence: Reflections on Father Daniel Berrigan, edited by Arrowsmith founder Askold Melnyczuk (author most recently of Smedley's Secret Guide to World Literature).

I had contributed an essay to the anthology, and on December 2 of that year found myself at Friends Meeting House in Cambridge, Mass., for a launch celebration. During Arrowsmith's post-reading reception, I was asked to sit next to Father Berrigan and keep him company while he graciously and patiently signed books for a long line of... the best phrase that comes to mind is comrades in linked arms. So many stories were shared of past meetings, so many expressions of admiration and gratitude.

I've sat in "the chair beside the author" many times as a bookseller. I know the drill. I know how to be helpfully invisible while still keeping an author from feeling abandoned. I did my job, but I also observed Father Berrigan, who at 85 displayed remarkable grace, resilience and focus, engaging his devoted audience one by one while scribbling his name on proffered items (including, oddly enough, a baseball).

Occasionally he would turn to me and smile or make a small joke. He seemed to be--and there are few people, especially authors, in the world I can say this about--the person I'd always imagined he might be.

That singular day--when our paths crossed ever so briefly in a place where words, written as well as spoken, reflected action--also marked the beginning of an amazing moment in my life. Time, verb that it is, sent me to New York City for the rest of the week.

Ancients are writing with pencil stubs
scriptures in a cave.

So begins Father Berrigan's poem "The Prisoners, The Cave." Upon learning of his death last Sunday, I was able, miraculously, to extract some notes I'd scribbled in 2006 from the mysterious depths of my archives. Reading them, I found shadows of that brief stretch of days during which I'd engaged deeply with words and their meanings, sounds and their variations, icons and their spiritual resonance.

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I had wandered among apostles and kings at an exhibition called "Set in Stone: The Face in Medieval Sculpture." Some of the relics were survivors of a frenzied post-French Revolution iconoclasm that essentially drove men to "cleanse" Notre-Dame cathedral of its royal and religious icons by beheading statues. Time had done its damage as well, yet the weathered icons retained their eloquence.

While at the Met, I also saw "Brush and Ink: The Chinese Art of Writing," and was struck by the pleasure of writing as art, of the visual and textual blending seamlessly in graceful brush strokes from a thousand years ago.

Marking time.

My pilgrimage then took me to the Frick Collection, where an exhibition of 18th century artist Domenico Tiepolo's New Testament drawings made ancient words appear as visions.

One night, I moved back in time to the 16th century for a concert at St. Thomas Episcopal Church on 53rd Street and Fifth Avenue. The Tallis Scholars stood at the foot of an awe-inspiring altar and performed choral works by Renaissance masters.

Time as verb. Time travels. We ride along and, if we're very lucky, occasionally stop time for brief moments of grace, like the ones I experienced for a week in 2006 and was reminded of again by Father Berrigan's passing... and his poetry. Here are the opening lines of "Time as Verb":

This is the way
I describe it; what time does
To hands and face.
                   That old timer
shoots a glance that makes
like God in genesis, you--
a very image and withered

I have a treasured bit of memorabilia from 2006. Father Berrigan sent a postcard to Arrowsmith the summer before the anthology was published. On it he wrote something nice about my essay, and his brief message ended with humility: "Someday soon I'll start living up to his praise." But we all know that Father Berrigan earned every word of praise that came his way, and lived up to them for a lifetime. --Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2748


The Quotable Canadian Authors for Indies Day

Tomorrow, while booksellers across the U.S. host myriad events marking Independent Bookstore Day, their Canadian colleagues will be celebrating the second annual Authors for Indies Day, during which writers spend time on the sales floors of their favorite indie bookshops chatting with customers, signing books and even handselling a bit. More than 600 authors participated across Canada last year, giving bookstores an 18.5% sales boost for the day.

We'll have follow-up coverage next week, but in the spirit of bookish anticipation, I'm sharing a few words from participants on the meaning of #Authors4IndiesDay to them. In this case, actions do not speak louder than words; they band together for a common cause.

Guy Gavriel Kay, Authors for Indies spokeperson

"Every author I know is a reader.... For many of us, a local bookstore shaped our lives. Books can do that--and a bookstore can," Guy Gavriel Kay, author and #AFI2016's spokesperson, wrote in Shelf Awareness for Readers this week.

Linda Leith, who founded the Blue Metropolis Festival and heads Linda Leith Publishing, told the Montreal Gazette: "It's a close-knit world, the book world. We all depend on one another and need one another." She added that Authors for Indies Day "feels like a grassroots movement. A way for those of us who love reading and writing to thumb our noses at everything that's become impersonal and dehumanizing about the book world."

In a blog post, Vancouver's 32 Books & Gallery noted: "We are delighted to be hosting twice as many authors for 2016 and expect another enthusiastic response from our customers who thoroughly enjoyed the casual atmosphere and the chance to chat with some of their favorite writers without the hoopla or line-ups that are often par for the course at literary events. We added in some coffee and cookies in the morning, wine and cheese in the afternoon, and voila... what more could a bibliophile want?"

"For me, independent bookstores are like books themselves. They are places to go, for self-discovery, community, and, above all, connection," said author Anita Kushwawa, who will be at Octopus Books in Ottawa.

Barb Minett, owner of the Bookshelf in Guelph, Ontario, wrote: "This year we are inspired by Canada's growing awareness about the importance of building new and meaningful relationships with our First Nations, Metis and Inuit brothers and sisters. So it is with this in mind that we celebrate Authors for Indies Day with indigenous authors of all ages and their author allies. Our journey begins on Saturday April 30 at 10 a.m. and will follow traditional ceremonies which include land acknowledgment, smudging, drumming and song. We will be using an Indigenous traditional way of learning where there is time, a place and space for families to hear stories and discuss insights and teachings as a community. You may find young Indigenous writers reading in the art section or traditional drummers on the patio. If you go upstairs there may be Indigenous authors speaking of their experience with residential schools or the land they live on and love."

Author Karma Brown, who will be at Eat Your Words in Toronto, observed: "I have quite a long bucket list (one I've been keeping since I was 17 years old) and nestled amongst the 120-or-so items is 'own a little bookstore.' In reality (and understanding what it takes) I may never get further than a Little Free Library at the end of my driveway, so am grateful for indie owners who have opened their doors within our communities for the rest of us book lovers to gleefully escape for an hour or so."

Book City in Toronto "is thrilled to again host the visits of authors to each of our four stores. Last year, we shared the day with over 60 authors, and this year, the number of authors participating in Authors for Indies is even greater. The day has been fun to organize and has given us the opportunity to learn more about our favorite writers (and their reading habits, as we've asked them for their 'desert island' reads, a few books that they simply can't live without, to hand sell to 'their' customers on event day)."

But where do booksellers without a "home" spend Authors for Indies Day? Bibliobroads Kelly Beers and Julie Maynard shared their particularly bookish tale of dilemma and resolution: "We were booksellers without a home. Home is a bookstore to indie employees & The Avid Reader was closing after 21 great years. Yes, it was on happy terms but when Julie & I (a.k.a. Bibliobroads) were told that the final day would be March 31, our first response was, 'Oh No! What about Authors for Indies?!'  Not, 'I have no job!' or something responsible. We are fueled by bookselling passion and the thought that we would lose our store, all of the wonderful customers, a place for our book club and #AFI2016 was simply too much. The ol' Bibliobroads were broken-hearted booksellers.

"Then, it happened--the magic that's only found among independent bookstores. Mrs. Lou Pamenter, owner of Furby House Books, a gorgeous indie in the neighboring town of Port Hope, asked if we would collaborate with them for Authors for Indies. Further, they have given our beloved book club a new home--free of charge--and will stock our picks. This would never occur in the corporate book business world where reading is an afterthought and books are solely a commodity. Furby House Books knows that we are crazy about books, especially Canadian writers, and that we're fierce in our devotion to independent businesses. We read to live & live to read. The rest has become history in the making!"

And they have the video evidence to prove it. Happy Authors for Indies Day to our northern neighbors. --Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2743


Her Bookshop to Open in East Nashville

Sometimes it's just about being in the right place at the right time. In this case, the right place was Facebook and the right time was Tuesday, when I happened to notice a shared post that quietly announced the upcoming debut of Her Bookshop, a small independent bookstore scheduled to launch this June at the Shoppes on Fatherland in East Nashville, Tenn. Since the opening of another new indie is always my favorite breaking news, I had to investigate further.

The owner of Her Bookshop is Joelle Herr, who has worked in the publishing industry for two decades, holding editorial positions at several companies, including Running Press (where she was managing editor), Workman (senior production editor) and Sterling (senior editor). In 2011, "after a rather gypsy-like decade of moving around (including across the country and back), I returned to Nashville, where I grew up," Herr recalled. "For the past five years, I've been mostly freelance editing and writing, most recently a handful of literature-centric books for Running Press' One Sitting series and William Shakespeare Rewritten by You for Ulysses Press. Next up are a couple of Jane Austen books for Cider Mill Press. I also spent a year at BookPage, where, after years of 'creating' books, I was excited to have the opportunity to work more directly with readers, getting them excited about newly published books."

Long before she followed this bookish career path, Herr said she "harbored a desire to have my own bookstore, but I didn't give it serious consideration until very recently. I was looking to rent a small office for my freelance business, actually, and came across what seemed like the perfect spot for a bookstore. I mean, I walked into the room and had a moment. The vision was crystal clear. And it got the wheels turning. Could I do it? Was I brave enough to take such a huge risk? Would people come in and buy enough books for me to make a profit, a living? What if I failed? My mind was swirling." She subsequently reached out to former colleagues for guidance, "and the next thing I knew, I had quite a few highly esteemed industry veterans offering advice and lots and lots of encouragement."

Joelle Herr

Herr eventually determined that the space where she'd experienced her original vision of indie bookseller heaven was a little too big and expensive to start out, but she found what she described as "an even better spot" near Five Points, "which is the heart and hub of East Nashville.... It's less than a mile from where I live, a warm, absolutely wonderful neighborhood that is incredibly supportive of small, locally owned businesses. I am hopeful that Her Bookshop will be a welcome addition to the thriving community."

At 400 square feet, Her Bookshop will be compact, but the goal is "to carry a little bit of everything, with a slight focus on illustrated gift books, which have been the focus of my career," she noted. "This is where I intend to start, in any case. I'm perfectly aware that I may need to adapt my vision so that it corresponds with what my neighbors are interested in buying and reading. Thankfully, my boyfriend has been running his own business (a drum supply company) for more than 20 years and will be on hand to help me with the business side--and calming me down when I feel overwhelmed. I take over the lease on June 1 and am aiming to open later that month."

I asked Herr if there were particular indie booksellers she considered inspirations for her new venture? "Of course, Parnassus Books here in Nashville and Landmark Booksellers in nearby Franklin," she replied. "I also love Sundog Books in Seaside, Fla., Kramerbooks in Washington, D.C., and Powell's Books in Portland, Ore. These are all much, much larger spaces than I'll have, but they're inspiring nonetheless. The store I'd most like to emulate is powerHouse Books in Brooklyn. I love that most of their books are on tables--such a visual feast."

Herr's preparations for her new role include a road trip next month to a destination where she will be surrounded by hundreds of her bookselling peers: "I just made my plans to head to Chicago for BookExpo America in a few weeks. It's going to be a real pinch-me moment to see 'owner' on my bookseller badge and not 'editor!' " --Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2738


National Poetry Month, Random Lines

April is the coolest month for poetry, as officially designated even for those of us who mark the spirit of NPM on other calendars: National Poetry Year, National Poetry Decade, National Poetry Lifetime, National Poetry Century, National Poetry Era. Whew! For the moment, I'll restrain myself to sharing a few random lines from #NPM2016:

Bill Murray reads to construction workers at Poets House.

Bill Murray loves Lucille Clifton's poetry. Bill Murray also shared some of his favorite poems with Leigh Haber, O, the Oprah Magazine's books editor, in his room at Manhattan's Carlyle Hotel. "It was so funny," Haber said. "He had scraps of paper on which he'd scribbled notes and Xeroxes of poems. His love of poetry was obvious from how much pleasure he took in reading the poems aloud to us."

"And it is National Poetry Month!" the Twig Bookshop, San Antonio, Tex., noted in its e-newsletter last week. "As I gathered the poetry books for a display and decided to feature our local poets, I was surprised but proud that we have so many!" Also on display: City Lit Books, Chicago, Ill. ("National Poetry Month #truth #bookstore #bookstagram); Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, Mich. ("Happy National Poetry Month!"); and Diesel, A Bookstore, Oakland, Calif. ("#NationalPoetryMonth #ExclamationMark").

Diesel's Poetry Month display

Speaking of Diesel, co-manager Brad Johnson described NPM as "a sort of 'High Holy Month' " at the bookstore. "For the past several years now we've been doing our Video-Poem of the Day project during the month of April. We're always pretty proud to hear our friends and colleagues at Diesel reading. This year we've also solicited some original pieces from 5th graders at a local writing program in downtown Oakland, Chapter 510. Those have yet to debut, but they are so very good. Looking forward to their debut to the world."  

Most Likely to Succeed... at Poetry: Powell's Books, Portland, Ore., is hosting its annual Poetry Madness celebration, and this year "we're asking you, fellow poetry scholars, to take part in Powell's own yearbook superlative-style competition."

"April is National Poetry Month. Why should you care?" asked McLean & Eakin Bookstore, Petoskey, Mich. "1. Poetry improves your vocabulary and communication skills. 2. Poetry gives you new ideas and expands your imagination. 3. It's a small time investment for a large payoff. 4. Jim Morrison loved poetry, and everybody loves Jim Morrison."  

Celebrate #NPM April 25 with MashReads and NYC's the Strand bookstore, which will host "Writing and Resistance, a night of poetry readings and conversation featuring a bevy of talented New York poets.... Throughout the night, poets will read poems and discuss themes of resistance, struggle and the forces both internal and external that would prevent poetry," Mashable noted.

In Scientific American magazine, Evelyn Lamb wrote that as she celebrated Math Poetry Month, she "stumbled on an early example of mathematical poetry in the solution to the cubic equation." In terza rima, no less. A sample:

When the cube with the cose beside it
Equates itself to some other whole number,
Find two others, of which it is the difference.

For the first time, Canada will be part of Poem in Your Pocket Day April 21, Quillblog reported. Jennifer Benka, executive director of the Academy of American Poets, said, "We're thrilled to be working with the League of Canadian Poets this April to promote contemporary poets and poetry in both our countries and across borders. Seeing as we both introduced and organize National Poetry Month, collaboration makes sense."

Mrs. Dalloway's Literary & Garden Arts, Berkeley, Calif., is also sharing "pocket poems." Mary McCulloch Fox, the poetry buyer and poetry events coordinator, told Bookselling This Week she handles the formatting of each poem for printing, which is done by Minuteman Press in Berkeley. "The poems go out on April 1 and stay out on the floor for the whole month of April." she noted, adding that there were about 1,800 pocket poems placed around the store.

From the Red Balloon Bookshop, St. Paul, Minn.: "In honor of #NationalPoetryMonth we'll be tweeting haiku written by our staff for the month of April. Stay tuned!"

"I love National Poetry Month," wrote Sarah Bagby of Watermark Books, Wichita, Kans.: "This year marks the 20th anniversary of the initiative. Publishers and literary arts organizations are pulling out the stops this year in celebration. I love the Borzoi Reader newsletter. This one features Kevin Young, one of the best American poets at work today. Originally from Topeka, Kansas, educated at Stanford, He is heavily influenced by the poets Langston Hughes, John Berryman, and Emily Dickinson and by the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Here is the link to the Walt Whitman poem I tried to share last week. It's one of my favorites."

And, to close with perspective, here are a few not-so-random lines from "Plot Points" by Clive James as a little #NPM2016 reality check:

While you were reading this
Millions of stars moved closer
Towards their own extinction
So many years ago--
But let's believe our eyes:
They say it's all here now.

Happy National Poetry Eon!

Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2733


BA Releases Bookselling Manifesto

Earlier this week, the Booksellers Association of the U.K. & Ireland launched a lobbying campaign with the release of a manifesto, "Bookselling for Britain," which is designed to "emphasize the resilience of many bookshops in the face of great pressure, the importance of the sector to cultural life in the U.K. and the need for action to address the unfair anti-competitive advantage of multinational companies over U.K. high street bookshops."

Since booksellers speak an international language, I thought the BA's manifesto was worth sharing. Some of the demands may be region-specific, but many others are universal. The BA proposed a number of measures for consideration by the government, noting: "We believe they will help ensure we maintain a strong, prosperous book industry, capable of working with all interested parties in delivering a highly literate and skilled workforce, a well-supported academic and scientific research base, and globally recognized innovative businesses able to compete for Britain in the global race in the 21st Century." Here's a brief summary of the BA's proposals:

  • The government should initiate an inquiry into the online physical and e-book sectors in the U.K.
  • There must be No Tax On Reading.
  • Business Rates must be reviewed and made more competitive so they are fairer to businesses across the U.K. and flexible enough to respond to the economic cycle.
  • Booksellers support the development of our High Streets and Town Centres so that they further develop as attractive retail locations.
  • Government must support intellectual property in the public interest and give the Intellectual Property Office a statutory duty to support IP businesses and demonstrate the effects of its policies upon their--and the economy's--growth.
  • The Department of Education should look at ways in which more state-funded schools can enjoy the benefits of a school library with a library in every school.
  • As a country we need to invest in learning resources and encourage schools to maintain a minimum set percentage of expenditure on teaching and learning resources.
  • Booksellers believe in boosting reading for pleasure to help create a happier and more content society.
  • We believe in public libraries for all.
  • We must take the right steps forward for the Digital Single Market in the EU.

I'll just highlight two sections from the manifesto here. In "Developing Our High Streets and Town Centres," the BA noted that bookshops "are havens for everyone, building community character and contributing to the distinct flavor of a neighborhood as literary and cultural hubs. Booksellers give substantial support to local and national causes and events, including reading groups, schools, libraries, arts organizations, festivals and charities. Bookshop events are well known to attract consumers to the High Street, especially families, and they increase 'dwell time.' If we wish to retain vibrant High Streets, that are not mere 'clone towns' but act as the true heart of a community, then we need outlets that promote art, literacy and entertainment."

The BA suggested to the government that the following areas be addressed:

  • Action on parking charges (some free parking for an hour or two would help, as would a cap on charges).
  • More subsidized public transport and more park & ride schemes.
  • Development of partnerships with local authorities to plan a mixed use of cultural and leisure activities as well as just pure retail.
  • Use of empty shops to promote arts activities and artisan crafts--booksellers would be more than willing to offer support.
  • Local people to have a say in what kind of retailers they would like to have on their High Street.
  • Simply--less red tape.

Under the "Boost Reading for Pleasure" category, the BA noted that there "is a growing understanding among researchers and social scientists that reading for pleasure has a significant and positive impact on a range of measures, from literacy acquisition and cognitive development through to social mobility and employment prospects. In short, the more people in society who not only read but read for pleasure, the better off that society will be.... Booksellers have decades of strong engagement with the various literacy and reading for pleasure charities operating in the U.K., providing financial, material and in-kind support to their programs in schools, libraries, prisons and the wider community.... These efforts could be enhanced by even stronger engagement with government and public bodies and an improved understanding of the positive impacts of reading for pleasure--for example, since 2010, the Office for National Statistics has been collecting data in order to measure National Well Being, and yet does not measure levels of reading for pleasure."

In the introduction to its manifesto, the BA summed up its position succinctly: "Bookselling helps underpin excellence in education and research, promotes literacy and reading for pleasure, develops present and future authors and writers, while preserving those of the past, and helps drive innovation and excellence in new forms of reading. Books enrich our culture, and help inspire other creative sectors--like theatre, cinema, television and music.... Given the range of its impact across so many lives, the book industry is well placed to help government deliver its aims across a range of areas."

--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2728

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