Category Archives: Uncategorized

Vermont Bibliophile Heaven

Josie Leavitt -- April 27th, 2015

All of us at most bookstores do more than our regular jobs. I am the newest member of the board of the Pride Center of Vermont and our annual celebration is on May 8th. I have been working hard to gather auction prizes. This year the auction is decidedly bookish and totally fun for bibliophiles.

I reached out to Chris Bohjalian (one of the truly lovely things about Vermont are the great writers we goinghave here and how easy it is to get to know them) to see if he would donate a visit to a book group as a prize. He responded with an enthusiastic yes, but offered up a different idea. “How would you like to auction off: Be a character in a bestselling novel?” I thought that was a fabulous idea and so did the rest of the board. This item is going to be the grande finale of the live auction. Can you imagine having a character named after you in any book? Let alone a book that, if Chris’s track record holds, will not only be on the best seller list for months, but will never go out of print?  What a great tribute to a loved one or something fun to do for yourself.

But the book donations don’t stop with Chris. Kim Fountain, executive director of the Center, had a good idea for a Vermont Bookstore Tour as a package. There are so many wonderful independent bookstores in Vermont that this seemed like a great idea. Of course the Flying Pig donated a gift certificate, and then I reached out to my friends. I had a storytelling gig at Bridgeside Books in Waterbury, and Hiata happily donated a gift certificate. Then I got smart and posted my query on the NECBA listserv and Village Square Books way down in Bellows Falls donated. Northshire responded immediately by mailing a sizable gift certificate the very next day!

I hadn’t heard from some stores and didn’t really think anything of it other than they were busy or had maxed out on their charitable giving for the month of May. Geographically, to complete the loop we had already, I really needed a store in Rutland or Middlebury. Vermont Book Shop in Middlebury was my choice, but I hadn’t heard from them. So I ordered a gift card online and paid for it myself (I’m learning that board members do this) designating the “from” part to be the bookstore itself. When Becky Dayton, the owner of the store, saw that she called me immediately. I explained what I was doing and she said,”Of course we’ll donate a gift card.” She refunded my $50 and mailed the donated card to the Pride Center that very day.

I have been heartened by the response from Norwich Bookshop as well. Liza Bernard emailed yesterday and asked if it was too late. I replied back a very happy, No!. And she’s mailing her gift card tomorrow. Everyone has been so wonderful about this package. Supporting the largest LGBTQ organization in Vermont while supporting independent bookstores just seems like a win-win for all involved. And, add to this the number of inns and cafes who have also donated along the indie tour route, this package is just amazing.

I’ll be wearing my auctioneer’s hat at the benefit and will be smiling the whole time as I try very hard to create a bidding war for these two book-related lots.

 

Getting a Yes

Josie Leavitt -- April 24th, 2015

It’s finally spring here, and with that comes two things: fundraisers for just about every cause under the sun, and folks asking for donations. During this season of benefits, if our store is typical of all indies, bookstores get asked to give something just about every day. This year has found me on the other side of the counter asking for donations as I’m newly on the board of the Pride Center of Vermont and our benefit is in May. As I’ve approached businesses for donations I’ve noticed several things and thought I’d share. Continue reading

Anatomy of a Great Community Read Launch

Kenny Brechner -- April 23rd, 2015

This was the inaugural year for the Kingfield School Community Read and they came up with a great plan for launching it! The book being used was kept an absolute secret. Excitement in the gymnasium was running high. The first thing to do was to figure out the name of the book!

Kingfield’s wonderful English teacher, Maggie Adams, had been the driving force behind the community read. A group of area seniors were invited to the launch. Then, grades 3-8 formed lines and teams were made up of one child from each grade and one senior. Maggie projected a group of Scrabble titles onto a screen, showing the letters to be found in the title. The first team to solve the anagram would be picked to reveal the books and hand them out.

 

A team solved it with only one hint, the first word being: The. Then the lights went out and the music came on. Principal Kim Ramharter and an able assistant wheeled out the books on a display wrapped as a present!

 The winning team tore it open and revealed 175 copies of Megan Frazer Blakemore’s great book, The Water Castle. Each winning team member grabbed a pile of books.

Then the team hit the stands and gave everyone in the room a copy The Water Castle. Huzzah!

I was up next, to tell everyone a bit about why The Water Castle is such a great book, and such a great choice for their Community Read, particularly one launched with mystery and puzzle solving.

After that, principal Kim Ramharter sat down and read everyone the first chapter.

Many people followed along in their copies.

There were still 10 minutes left for everyone to read more on their own before it was time to get ready for the bus. The Community Read launch mission was a giant success!

 

A Note to the Shipping Department

Josie Leavitt -- April 21st, 2015

Dear Big Five Publishing House Shipping Department,

I am writing today because I can’t take it anymore. Every day I receive books from your company and every day I despair a little more. No, not because the books are damaged (I’m actually surprised at how infrequently this happens, so yay, you!) but at the sheer waste that has been happening lately. I know you’re busy with therightpig merger and dealing with the kinks of combining two shipping departments, but this is crazy.

The bubble wrap to the right (I put the foot-high flying pig penny holder in the photo for perspective) represents the bubble wrap I got for three boxes of books. Here’s where my real issue takes hold: all of this bubble wrap came to protect five books.

I’m sure you’re scratching your collective heads right now, thinking surely, five books did not come in three boxes. Yes, yes, they did. Five books, picture books at that, came in three fairly large boxes. I understand why there was need for protection as we all know books packed in large boxes without copious amounts of bubble wrap or air pillows are far more likely to get bounced around and damaged during shipping. But I have a suggestion: why not combine the shipments into ONE box?  Books are friendly things and they like being together with other books.

And I cannot recycle this kind of bubble wrap where I live, so now I have to throw it out or somehow save it in my already crowded back room, where I currently have six feet of bubble wrap waiting for someone in town to move who wants free packing materials. And while it looks like it should stack well, it doesn’t ,and is forever falling to block our access to our restocking shelves. While I didn’t have to pay for shipping on these (thank goodness for that, or I’d have written a far less pleasant note) I didn’t actually order these books. They were complimentary copies. Please don’t get me wrong, I love getting your books and particularly love getting free books from you, but not in three separate shipments that create more work than necessary for my already overworked staff.

So, since you’re probably still shaking out the kinks since you merged, I have a few ideas that you might want to start adapting.

- Use the right-sized box for shipments. It feels like the folks in charge of printing boxes with your name company name only have made HUGE and LARGE boxes and no mailers or small boxes. If you forward me the name of the person, I will write to them as well.

- Perhaps ask stores if they want these free books before you send them out. Not all freebies are created equal (this is what no one will tell you, so you can thank me for my honesty later). Again, if I get the name of the person to speak to about that, I will draft a note post-haste.

- Maybe it’s because I live in Vermont, and we care about landfills here, but to not use material that can be easily recycled seems very 20th century, and isn’t your new company supposed to be an industry leader? Lord knows you’re big enough to be setting a better example.

Thanks so much for your time and I hope you all have a great day.

Sincerely,

Josie Leavitt

“A Bookstore Is for Forever Books”

Elizabeth Bluemle -- April 20th, 2015

Trinity CLiF EventWhen you visit a school filled with exuberant toddlers and little kids, you never know what gems might pop out of their mouths. Last week, I had the happy occasion to visit with 65 children ages 2 1/2 to 5 years at a bright, open, cheerful school that had won a grant from the Children’s Literacy Foundation to supplement their library and send new books home with the kids. Every surface in the bright, clean, vibrant classroom was covered with books donated by the folks at CLiF, who provide a terrific curated list to teachers and invite them to choose from the list and add any other requests the teachers may have. 

every hero has a story

One of the celebration’s guests was Rebecca, head of Youth Services at Burlington’s Fletcher Free Library, who told the children about the library’s summer reading program, which is newly open to children below kindergarten age. Every participant not only gets to read great books and do fun activities all summer long, but also receives a free Jarrett Krosoczka-designed “Every Hero Has a Story” Platypus Police Squad T-shirt! Very exciting. I totally want one.

As a lifelong avid reader, public library patron, and former school librarian, I have always been a huge fan of libraries. They are – even more so than our beloved and important community bookstores – absolutely vital to a community’s survival (not to mention thrival). After my author story time at the CLiF celebration, there was a little Q&A with the children. I asked if they knew the difference between a library and a bookstore. One little girl, age 4 or so, raised her hand. Here’s what she said:

“A library is where you can go and get as many books as you would like and you take them home and then bring them back. You can take them out again, though, but then you have to bring them back. A bookstore is for forever books. It’s where you can take a book home and keep it forever.”

I couldn’t have put it better myself. A bookstore is for forever books! *sniffle* And a library is that magical place where you can take as many books out as you like, over and over again. It occurred to me that nonprofit literacy organizations like CLiF, First Book, and so many others are the perfect intersection of bookstores and libraries: they provide free books children can take home and keep.

CLiF booksAfter the presentations, the children were invited to eat some of the tasty and beautiful snacks the school had set up for them and their families, and – best of all – they got to choose two books each to take home and keep from the many treasures the CLiF grant provided. I wish I could show you pictures of the happy, well-controlled chaos of 65 little children gazing with delight and concentration at the tabletops filled with wonderful books to choose from, trying to pick the very most enticing ones to take home, clutching their riches in their arms as the party dispersed and teachers led the little groups back to cheerful, bright, book-filled classrooms and the prospect of going home with their brand-new forever books.

Events like these make me so grateful to be part of a field that brings kids not just knowledge and entertainment and inspiration, but sheer joy. We are lucky!

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The Darker Side of Déjà Vu

Kenny Brechner -- April 16th, 2015

Derivation affects us as book buyers and readers in powerful and complex ways. Most of the time it involves aspects that are relatively straightforward and overt, or at least well established. Read-alikes of popular books, for examples, are done on purpose and bookstore buyers are entirely at liberty to separate out personal and professional sensibilities and put a number in the order box if they feel well advised or obligated to do so.

Though the range of derivation varies widely, of course, nonetheless read-alikes, retellings of classics, books that share genre plot underpinnings, and so forth, are essentially advertised as such in the design, marketing and promotional departments. Every now and then, though, one encounters something which comes across as more of a blindside, and which elicits a more visceral, emotional response from us.

First of all I’d like to say that this is very subjective stuff, and should be treated with a great deal of perspective and discretion. I admit to being a bit of a princess and the pea here, and will make sure to correct that impulse by talking about what I think is important, but not getting into specifics here.

louiseAll right, so supposing that there are instances of derivation which fall into a special category of being on the other side of acceptable convention, how would one identify them constructively? More importantly if so identified what then?  For me, I associate the identification experience as having a déjà vu element. For example I was reading a picture book f&g some months ago when all of a sudden a strong thought flashed across my mind, a premonition that core elements of Harriet the Spy were about to appear in the book, that a diary filled with honest creative observation was about to be accidentally left behind and discovered by schoolmates, and so forth. This premonition was borne out entirely and in multiple instances.

Harriet the Spy is an all-time favorite book of mine and I feel both strong attachment and even oddly protective of it. Nonetheless, anything that stimulates self-righteousness should be examined closely and critically. And so I ask other buyers, what’s your take on this issue? Is there a responsibility to truth, fair play, and beloved dead authors that justifies outward discussion, or is it simply a matter of private reaction and not ordering any copies?

Coloring Books Are All the Rage

Josie Leavitt -- April 14th, 2015

There is lots of fun to be had at the bookstore for adults and I am not talking about Fifty Shades of Grey. I’m talking about a coloring book. Yes, a coloring book. The Inky Treasures series of coloring books are designed for children. But their complexity of art and grown up images have made this a bestseller among our adult customers. There’s more to do than just color. Creatures and treasures can be found on the pages, and  there are hidden objects and symbols to be discovered to complete a puzzle at the end.

These books are fun. Silly, old-fashioned fun, and I cannot keep them on shelves. And it’s not just me. Ingram Distributors has almost 13,000 on order for the two books combined.maureen I have to confess I knew nothing of these books, Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book or its companion, the newest one in the series, Enchanted Forest: An Inky Quest & Coloring Book. But more customers sure did. Within a week, I had more than six special orders for them. Today, I finally learned about these books from an extremely happy customer.

Maureen came in yesterday fresh from the first nice day we’ve had and asked for her special order. She orders often enough that inkyshe really couldn’t remember what had come in. I handed the book and she started smiling from ear to ear. “Do you know about this?” I said that I didn’t. “It’s a coloring book for grownups. I can color again!” Her enthusiasm was utterly contagious. Maureen missed coloring with her now teenaged sons. She explained about the joy of colored pencils and just taking some time and filling in a beautiful drawing with the colors of your imagination. She left clutching the book to her chest.

And then, I ordered a coloring book for myself.

 

If Someone Only Knew: Inviting Hurting Teens to Talk

Elizabeth Bluemle -- April 13th, 2015

If Someone Only KnewAnyone familiar with the creative and advocacy efforts of YA author e.E. Charlton-Trujillo and her writing colleague Carrie Gordon Watson will know about their Never Counted Out initiative, which strives to empower teens—especially at-risk teens—by encouraging them to share their stories and believe in themselves despite being dismissed, stifled, bullied, or belittled.

The Never Counted Out folks have created a new project in reaction to recent suicides by transgender teens like Ash Haffner and Blake Brockington. Frustrated by the slow pace of tolerance in this country for kids and teens who are different from their peers, Charlton-Trujillo, Watson, and their team dreamed up the idea of a shared public blog for teens called If Someone Only Knew, which invites young people to share writings on that topic in an effort to support one another.

Charlton-Trujillo felt that her childhood and teen years growing up in a small Texas town, where she “felt counted out more often than [she] was counted in,” would have been vastly different if she had been able to connect to people like her in other towns and cities, sharing ideas and offering encouraging words and supporting the fierce belief in freedom and self-expression.

If Someone Only Knew invites teens to share their stories anonymously. It’s an opportunity to tell people what’s really going on in their lives—the good, the bad, and the ugly—which, Charlton-Trujillo and Watson hope, might just help other teens make it through the roughest patches. “We are now asking young people to be heard via writing and art rather than in a suicide note,” Charlton-Trujillo writes.

Submissions to the blog can take the form of photography, video, writing, poetry slam, and music, and the comments section will be moderated to keep internet trolling at bay.

The Never Counted Out website has a great clip from At-Risk Summer, the short documentary film sparked by Charlton-Trujillo’s novel, Fat Angie. The video shows Charlton-Trujillo working with teens. Her workshops are lively and funny, and clearly draw out teens who may not have many respectful, relatable adults in their lives.

Some of the contributions to If Someone Only Knew will eventually be published in a paperback anthology, likely to come out in 2016. “Monies from the publication,” Charlton-Trujillo says, “will be directed to programs sponsored by Never Counted Out.”

Kudos to an inspired and inspiring project!!

Outgoing Message Advice

Josie Leavitt -- April 10th, 2015

Part of every day at the bookstore is spent calling customers to tell them their books have arrived. This means that I get to hear a lot of outgoing voice mail or answering machine messages. With this in mind, I’ve created a helpful list to make this part of my job easier.

installation-gui-2- Animals have no business being on a message. Barking dogs and squawking parrots are not fun to hear on the phone. I have called people and had to listen to 30 seconds of barking because someone thought that was funny. It’s not. It’s 30 seconds of a dog barking at me.

- I don’t speak another language, so if you do, just know that I’m thrilled and jealous about your bilingual ability, and I’m just waiting for the beep and silently hoping I’ve called the right number.

- Singing on your outgoing message should also be avoided. Some folks actually have lovely voices, but the singing messages tend to be long and there’s no way to fast forward to the beep.

- Do try to identify yourself in the message. So often I feel like I’m just hoping I’ve gotten the number right and messages like, “Leave a message.” or “Congratulations, you’ve reached me,” do little to allay those fears.

- Don’t give me directions. Lately, I’ve called people and been urged to “just breathe” or “slow down and enjoy the music.” I’m working. I have enough to do without being told how to manage my time.

- Lastly, if your outgoing message contains your kids laughing because they’ve messed up the outgoing message, please leave that. While I might not always enjoy the messages the kids leave on the answering machine if I can hear them being coached by parents, kids just losing it in fits of giggles delights me. And if it’s a particularly infectious laugh, I might just call back so I can keep laughing.

A Movie Debut Of Unusual Interest

Kenny Brechner -- April 9th, 2015

On April 18th the independent film Tumbledown, starring Jason Sudeikis and Rebecca Hall, will debut at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. The film is the first joint project by the tumbledinnerhusband and wife team of scriptwriter Desi Van Til and director Sean Mewshaw. Tumbledown is set in Desi’s hometown of Farmington, Maine, and the film is in fact fraught with interest for my bookstore for a number of reasons.

Here are a few of them. Desi worked for me at DDG for three years when she was in high school (and is still a pal). DDG is literally a setting in the film (which was shot in Concord, Mass, where a doppelganger of DDG was constructed). The owner of DDG is a character in the movie, played by Griffin Dunne, and is Desi’s version of me.

Apart from talent, Desi and Sean have shown big character and perseverance in bringing this project to culmination and I am extremely proud of them. Obviously getting Desi’s thoughts on the independent-bookselling-related angles of the movie was an errand of moment.

Kenny: I don’t have the exact date at hand, but it must be at least nine years since you first began this film project. If you could write yourself a letter that would arrive back on the day you first sat down to write the script what would it say?

Desi: I think there are two basic categories of advice that older selves give our younger versions, and it’s either ‘work harder’ or ‘work less hard.’ I would put your question in the ‘work less hard’ department. I would say to my younger self: Don’t get so attached. Don’t fall too in love with any given moment or line or scene. Over the process of making the leap from script to film, it will and must change significantly. Whole scenes won’t get shot because you’ll run out of time, or favorite lines will end up on the cutting room floor to help with pacing, or jokes that work all too well will get diced for the blushing ears of the MPAA. The lesson is: enjoy your favorite bits of dialogue or action in the moment as you write them, but recognize they are ephemeral. Once your draft leaves the theoretical space of screenplay and becomes the actual thing of film, it will have evolved into a different beast. Therefore don’t worry so much about getting all the details exactly right the first time; focus on the story and keep your expectations fluid.

Kenny: Still, all things considered, I daresay that you feel at least somewhat like King Eric the Victorious of Sweden when ‘The King was like a man that hath borne over long time a difficult burden and, casting it down at length where he would have it, breatheth free and seeth all fair before him.’” 

Desi: Maybe somewhat, at least when I am sitting on an Ikea chair. But perhaps I feel a little more like Sisyphus, except now we can finally stop rolling the boulder up the hill. Or, more likely, we can look for another boulder to roll. Or another hill up which to roll it. Hopefully whatever comes next won’t take seven years to make! 

Kenny: Now I know that Griffin Dunne, the actor who portrays your version of me, is a terrific actor with a rich background in the book world.  I do understand that he did a fabulous job. Still, I also note that my two suggestions for that role, Charles Laughton and Leslie Howard, were both disregarded by you. I suppose you made the right call but I can’t help wondering why not one of them? 

Desi: Naturally we approached Charles Laughton per your request, but his agent informed us that he was unavailable on account of his death in 1962, and there was nothing we could say to convince him otherwise. We did consider having Griffin yell “Sanctuary! Sanctuary” in the middle of the second bookstore scene, but somehow it seemed just a touch over-dramatic. As for Leslie Howard, the casting of a Henry Higgins character seemed, frankly, a little on the nose. Luckily, Griffin does a tremendous job channeling the inner Brechner.

Kenny: Apart from capturing your own memories of youthly bookselling at DDG, did you use the presence of an independent bookstore in Tumbledown to express your more contemporary thinking about the role of community based-bookselling?
Desi: All cheekiness aside, the entire art department of Tumbledown worked its tail off to re-create DDG, not merely in its look and style, but in its warmth, its coziness, its density of amazing books and interesting things per square foot. The film tries to celebrate DDG’s creative energy, its thoughtful playfulness, its commitment to the community it serves as a nexus of intellectual and cultural life. In the movie, as in real life, DDG is a pulsing, vital, brilliantly curated place!

Kenny: Suppose a friend who had been asleep for 10 years knocked on your door and asked to borrow four books: your two favorite recent novels, and your two favorite read-alouds. What would you hand them?

Desi: I was afraid you’d ask me that. I am bad with favorites. But I’ll tell you two novels I’ve adored in the past year: the rapturous Euphoria by Lily King, and David Gilbert’s very funny &Sons. As for read-aloud books, I’d be lying not to mention Abby Hanlon’s Dory Fantasmagory (which I just bought at your store, and which my six-year-old daughter Arden already loves) and any of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle books, which if read aloud, might feel like someone were narrating the entirety of their lives in real time. But if you were to ask me which book I would most want Bill Roorbach to read aloud to me, it would be a hard choice between Life Among Giants or Remedy for Love.

Kenny: Thanks, Desi

Desi: Thanks for having me here, Kenny! I still remember fondly the time a customer came in looking for a book on the rules of writing, and you hand-sold him A Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf. And now it’s commemorated in the film.