Wednesday, September 30, 2009

SIBA Notes II: The Books

Last Saturday morning at the SIBA Convention a sales rep passed on to me a comment from a bookseller that probably reflected the mood of a lot of us: "I'm tired of talking about business. Let's talk about books!"

It's easy to understand why this would be the case: as I've noted here several times before, the fall lineup of new titles is one of the strongest I've seen in years, and therefore much more fun to talk about than the gloom-and-doom financial scene. This was certainly in evidence at SIBA, where a multitude of authors generously shared their time and enthusiasm to talk about their new works. With apologies to those authors left out (I enjoyed and appreciated all their presentations), here are a few of what were the highlights for me:

-- Kevin Salwen added a note of hope and inspiration to the SIBA annual meeting talking about The Power of Half, his story of how his family decided to downsize their lives, and use the money they saved to get involved in community development work overseas.
-- The great children's book author Richard Peck shared with us both the latest adventures of his classic character Grandma Dowdel, and his own delightfully grumpy attitude towards all things that he sees threatening the world of books. (Do not ask this man to endorse video games, Kindles or social networking.)
-- A panel called "Before We Were Authors" featured three writers --Erica Eisdorfer, Joseph Kanon and George Stewart -- who became writers after pursuing various book-related careers, and a fourth -- Winton Porter -- whose new book is based on his experiences following his dream of opening a supply store on the Appalachian Trail. Porter good-naturedly accepted the moniker supplied him by an audience member of "the hiking guy," and all four offered evidence that it's never too late to start a writing career.
-- Friday night, esteemed novelist Elizabeth Kostova (The Historian) talked about her forthcoming book, The Swan Thieves, and announced that she had moved back to Asheville, in her words, "the center of the universe." (Welcome back, Elizabeth!)
-- Speaking of Western North Carolina, Ron Rash was one of the writers who opened our eyes with readings Saturday morning. He read from Serena, Padgett Powell read from The Interrogative Mood, and Jess Walter read from The Financial Lives of Poets. Powell's book, by the way, is written entirely in the form of questions.

As great as all these authors were, to me the most compelling speaker was one that came as a bit of a surprise. It was Robert Edsel, talking about his book, The Monuments Men. In this book, Edsel tells the remarkable -- and, until now, almost unknown -- story of a group of men and women who set out to recover the various art works and other cultural treasures stolen by the Nazis during World War II. For Robert Edsel, telling this story has become more than just a literary project: it has become a life mission, as he continues to get the word out about these amazing individuals and the continuing efforts to complete the work they began. Edsel spoke with a quiet but spellbinding conviction that was gripping and moving.

It was, all in all, a great lineup of authors, both the well-known to reconnect with, and the less well-known to discover for the first time. I look forward to sharing their works with those who love good books.

Monday, September 28, 2009

SIBA Notes I: The Business

As members of the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance gathered in Greenville, SC last Friday morning for the organization's annual membership meeting, it was in an atmosphere where realism demanded that huge challenges be faced. The economic turmoil has been tough on independent businesses in general and bookstores in particular. And the economic difficulties faced by the member bookstores were mirrored, in a way, by the health challenges faced by SIBA's invaluable Executive Director, Wanda Jewell. Yet, just as Wanda was there, presiding over a complex and rewarding convention, so were scores of booksellers, determined to continue their mission of connecting books with readers, despite the economic environment.

The workshops I attended during Friday's "Day of Education" proposed new ways of accomplishing traditional tasks. Whether the topic was social media or author events, the key word was "relationship." While they are certainly no substitute for in person, "real world" interaction, social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter (and blogs!) provide new ways for booksellers to make contact with new customers and continue to interact with those whose business and friendship we already value. And in-store author events are the result of -- and the impetus for -- relationships going in two directions: with authors and publishers on the one hand, and members of the local community attending the events on the other.

The publisher exhibits -- the heart of any SIBA convention -- opened on Saturday and here, too, it was a process of reaffirming present relationships and connections, and establishing new ones. Whether it was greeting old friends or meeting those who offered products and services I was not previously familiar with, relationships form a starting point for helping Accent on Books provide an even better experience for our customers than we already do.

Of course, for all of us, in the end, it's all about the books. More on that in my next post.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Off to SIBA!

I seem to have unintentionally gotten this segue thing going with the last few posts (except for the oh-ye-gods-I-made-a-mistake post). From Oprah to Okra, and now from Okra to SIBA. "SIBA" is the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, which devised the "Okra picks" program and they are having their annual convention this coming weekend. I'll be headed down to South Carolina tomorrow after work to hobnob with my fellow Southern booksellers for a few days. It's always a great occasion with a wide variety of activities: workshops and seminars; a trade show with various publishers and other vendors showing their wares; loads of authors talking about and signing copies of their latest books; banquets and parties; and who knows what else.

And funny hats? Do book industry conventioneers wear funny hats? Well, I don't know of any official funny hats, but booksellers, sales reps and publishers are all a bunch of Wild And Crazy People, so you never know.

I'll let you know how it all goes down after I get back.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Oprah? No, Okra!

We all know the tremendous clout Ms Winfrey wields in the publishing and bookselling world, but the clever folks at our trade organization, the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, have come up with a way to put a decidedly regional twist on the idea of recommending books. Presenting: the first Okra Picks. These are books with a Southern bent due to be published this fall that have garnered praise and enthusiasm from Southern booksellers. Thirteen books made the final list, which can be found here, but we'd like to offer special congratulations to Grateful Steps Publishing, a relatively new company right here in Asheville, who made the list with their beautiful new volume, The Soul Tree: Poems and Photos of the Southern Appalachians.

All the books either are now or soon will be available at Accent on Books. So come on in, and chow down on some choice, specially picked Okra.

It's Been Corrected!

The previous post contained a terrible mistake which has been corrected. It wasn't intentional and wasn't even a "Freudian slip" (I hope). Just a goof from someone who wasn't paying full attention to what he was doing.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Book Club You Probably Don't Want to Join

Yesterday, Oprah Winfrey announced the 63rd choice in her on-air book club: Say You're One of Them, the acclaimed and harrowing book of stories by Uwem Akpan published last year. We currently have a few copies on hand at Accent on Books, and can order more if we sell out.

Meanwhile, a much less admired public figure has evidently issued his own recommended reading list. An audio recording purportedly by Osama Bin Laden appeared on the Web last week and, according to the New York Times, suggested three books for Americans to read that he said would help them better understand their own country. Although the information about the books was somewhat garbled the recommended titles seemed to be:

The Israel Lobby and U S Foreign Policy, by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer. A highly controversial book whose thesis was that pro-Israel lobbies in the United States had a disproportionate -- and damaging -- influence on U S foreign policy.

Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, by Jimmy Carter. Obama simply called it the book by "your former President, Carter." Carter's analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict caused much controversy simply by his use of the word, "apartheid," in describing the situation.

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, by John Perkins. This is the suggestion that Obama was most vague about, but he seems to have meant this memoir, by a man who has described all sorts of nefarious undertakings on behalf of the U S government. (The State Department insists the book is nonsense.)

In what the Times referred to as the "blurb from Hell," the reputed Bin Laden said, "After you read the suggested books, you will know the truth, and you will be greatly shocked by the scale of concealment that has been exercised on you." While we don't have any copies of these books on hand we could order them for you. So far at least, we have not had any requests from the mountainous region on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Friday, 9/18, at Accent on Books: Bobbie Pell

Accent on Books will be getting a slight touch of early Halloween this coming Friday evening, and it should be loads of fun. One of our favorite people, local writer/storyteller/musician/artist Bobbie Pell will be here to talk about her contribution to the new volume, The August House Book of Scary Stories. August House is beyond question the nation's leading publisher when it comes to promoting and providing resources for storytelling, and we are delighted that they are including Bobbie in this volume, which also has contributions from the likes of Robert San Souci, Michael Caduto and Richard and Judy Dockery Young.

Since Bobbie is a professional storyteller, I'm sure she'll be doing a lot more than simply reading from this book. We hope you can be with us Friday evening beginning at 6:00 as we celebrate this latest achievement from one of Western North Carolina's most talented creative artists.

More on Bobbie Pell can be found at her website.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Library Is Getting Rid of Its Books -- All of Them

As we all know, the internet and electronic publishing are having a huge effect on the bookselling/publishing industry. Still, there was a news item earlier this week in the Boston Globe which I found shocking and a bit frightening:

A 144-year-old prep school is getting rid of every book in its library -- more than 20,000 in all -- and going completely electronic.

This was not the idea of some rogue librarian or teacher at Cushing Academy, the school in question. The decision was made by the headmaster, James Tracy, who was quoted as saying, "When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books."Check Spelling

So what will be in the new $500,000 "learning center" that will replace the library?
-- Three large flat-screen TVs that will project data from the internet
-- "Laptop friendly" study carrels
-- A $50,000 coffee shop with a $12,000 cappuccino machine

Also, eighteen electronic readers will be given to students "looking to spend more time with literature." The newspaper article doesn't say who these students are or how they will be chosen. And the rest of the students? They're on their own to find what they're looking for any way they can.

Is this the start of a trend? The executive director of the American Library Association is quoted in the article as saying he doesn't know of any other library that has taken this action. Teachers at Cushing Academy seem overall to be quite dubious. Of course the library -- excuse me, "learning center" -- in the end is for the students, and they may be perfectly happy with the arrangement.

Meanwhile, we will continue to sell items as we always have here at Accent on Scrolls.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Booker Shortlist

The shortlist (finalists) has been announced for the Man Booker Prize, generally considered the top fiction prize in the British Commonwealth. The six titles are:

The Children's Book, by A. S. Byatt
Summertime, by J. M. Coetzee
The Quickening Maze, by Adam Foulds
Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel
The Glass Room, by Simon Mawer
The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters

Of the six, the only one presently available in this country is The Little Stranger. The titles by Byatt, Coetzee and Mantel are due out in the United States later this fall. No word on American editions of The Quickening Maze or The Glass Room.

The winner of the 2009 Man Booker Prize will be announced October 6. More information here.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Big Lineup

Here at Page 854 we have talked about all the new books coming out this fall, and we undoubtedly will talk about them again. However, in the meantime, here is a helpful page from USA Today that allows you to look up -- and keep up with -- the major fall arrivals in a variety of ways. You can look up books by title, author, or publication date; or by using the two arrows at the top of the left-hand column you can click through each title chronologically by on-sale date.

Have a great Labor Day weekend. And you can look forward to new books coming out next week from Sue Monk Kidd, Anita Diamant and Nicholas Sparks, as well as the companion volume to Ken Burns' upcoming PBS series on the national parks. (Nicholas Sparks and national parks!)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Friday, 9/4, at Accent on Books: Mindi Meltz

Nature is sentimentalized only by those who don't know it well. That is one possible lesson to be drawn from Beauty, the new novel by Hendersonville's Mindi Meltz. A poetic, at times dark tale, it concerns a naturalist who finds connections between the wildness of the world she works in, and the wildness of her heart during the course of a romance.

Our fall series of author events at Accent on Books kicks off this Friday, beginning at 6:00 PM with Mindi Meltz talking about, and reading from her acclaimed novel. We hope you'll be able to join us and this author whose debut novel has created such excitement.

More about Mindi Meltz and Beauty can be found here.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

It's Always New Years Somewhere

At Accent on Books we "celebrated" the beginning of our fiscal year this morning by finishing the process of taking inventory -- and we survived to tell the tale. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, we can look forward to another month with an amazing roster of new books. Among the titles which should be arriving in our store before the month is over:

Traveling With Pomegranates, by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor. The author of Secret Life of Bees collaborates with her daughter for this dual biography of two very different women searching for meaning and serenity.

Hands in Harmony, by Tim Barnwell. The nationally acclaimed Asheville photographer here portrays those who create music and handicrafts in Appalachia. A CD of traditional music will be packaged with the book.

The Year of the Flood, by Margaret Atwood. This versatile and tremendously gifted author returns to the territory of The Handmaid's Tale and Oryx and Crake with another cautionary dystopia tale.

Homer and Langley, by E. L. Doctorow. Another historical novel by the author of Ragtime, this one dealing with two eccentric New York brothers.

The Anthologist, by Nicholson Baker. A novel about a poet, and a meditation on poetry by one of the country's most innovative and controversial writers.

Echo in the Bone, by Diana Gabaldon. The seventh novel in the wildly popular "Outlander" series.

And, oh yes, The Lost Symbol, by one Dan Brown. You may remember his last book; went by the name of The DaVinci Code.