Monthly Archives: April 2009

Sendak, Yorinks and Pilobolus: Ten Years Later

Elizabeth Bluemle - April 30, 2009

Several years ago, I saw a mesmerizing documentary on PBS about an eight-month collaboration (from November 1998 to June 1999) between Maurice Sendak, Arthur (Hey, Al) Yorinks, and the dance troupe Pilobolus. The dance was inspired—at least on Sendak’s part—by the true story of a fake "work camp," Terezín, built by Nazis to fool the international world into thinking that interned Jews were happy, healthy, productive, even artistically fulfilled, citizens. (More on that in a moment.)

I loved this film so much I wanted to see it again right away, but I hadn’t recorded it, and this was back in the early 2000s when semi-obscure documentaries were not widely available. "Last Dance" became my "lost chord" of films, the first title I looked for when I joined Netflix years ago, the movie I Googled whenever I had a hankering to revisit the creative genius and collisions of two brilliant, obsessive artistic forces. Back then, I was out of luck. But now—now, you lucky newcomers among us!—the film is back. Ten years later, you can see this film, evocative as the day it was released, on Netflix, either through the mail on DVD or right this minute (if you’re a Netflix member) via live streaming on your computer.

"Last Dance," directed by PBS filmmaker Mirra Bank, is as much about the head-butting and breakthroughs inherent in collaborative work as it is about the resulting performance piece. Maurice Sendak, consummate storyteller and then-co-director with Yorinks of The Night Kitchen Radio Theater, was accustomed to using art, words, actors, and voices to bring stories to life. Pilobolus, on the other hand, was accustomed to an almost opposite process: dancers and choreographers first create interesting movements and body shapes, and then find the story that grows out of them.

Otis Cook in "A Selection" The push-and-pull is fascinating to watch, especially because the work evolves despite (and perhaps because of) the artistic conflict. At one point, Pilobolus’s Jonathan Wolken casually mentions that he is not wedded even to the theme of the Holocaust—which, as anyone familiar with Maurice Sendak’s work will anticipate, is nearly a breaking point for Sendak and Yorinks. Fortunately, a story both consistent with and different from their original vision slowly blooms as the dancers begin to use movement to create characters. One dancer in particular, Otis Cook (pictured at right in a screen capture from "Last Dance"), is stunning, almost other-worldly, in his development of a hunched and twisted, yet sinuous and powerful, dark presence in the vignette.

The dance, eventually titled "A Selection," premiéred in 1999, to mixed reviews. You can judge it for yourself; much of the performance is included at the end of "Last Dance."

Sendak also collaborated on another project with the same theme, this time working with Angels in America playwright Tony Kushner. Kushner wrote the libretto and text and Sendak created the sets (example from the Berkeley Repertory Theatre performance is at left) for "Brundibar," based on a children’s opera composed in 1938 by Hans Krása, a Czech Jewish musician whose work was performed at Terezín before his final, fatal transport to Auschwitz.

Krása had actually composed the score for his opera as a free man and rehearsed it with boys in a Jewish orphanage in Prague before political turmoil interrupted the project. The orphans eventually performed it in 1941, but without Krása; by then, he had been deported to Terezín. When many of the children from the orphanage were also transported to Terezín, Krása used smuggled fragments of the musical score to reconstruct and adapt his opera for the camp, where it became part of a Nazi propoganda film. (The black-and-white photo above, owned by the Jewish Museum in Prague and found on the Terezín Memorial website, shows the children’s choir depicted in the film, "Theresienstadt.")

Brundibar means "bumblebee" in colloquial Czech, and Krása’s opera told the story of two children who manage to outwit a greedy, malicious bully with the help of a few wise animals and a multitude of fellow schoolchildren. The Nazi camp leaders didn’t seem to recognize the subversive irony of this production with a message about strength in numbers and good triumphing over evil, but the children (audience and performers alike) enjoyed the rare measure of hope and strength and solidarity the opera brought, even if briefly. The opera was performed 55 times in the camp with a cast that continually changed as children were shipped out to their various fates at Auschwitz and beyond.

One survivor, Ela Weissberger, played the cat in the production; her memories of that time are recounted in The Cat with the Yellow Star: Coming of Age in Terezín (co-written with Susan Goldman Rubin; Holiday House). Another survivor, Zuzana Justman, directed an award-winning documentary about the experience, called "Voices of the Children" (which, sadly, doesn’t seem to be available for viewing). And there’s an extraordinary book, I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Children’s Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942-1944 (Schocken), that was the basis for a play. (Odd coincidence: 27 years ago, my high-school friend Angela Price directed me in this play; I played Irena Synkova, a Terezín teacher who defied the Nazis by giving the children the gift of artistic expression, with contraband paper and paints, and songs. Yet another example of the way our lives circle around and around and connect up to themselves again, isn’t it?)

Brundibar in book form became Sendak’s third and final iteration of this Holocaust story, although where Maurice Sendak is concerned, there is never an end to the theme of good and evil wrestling against a backdrop of political corruption, or even wrestling within ourselves.

In a 2004 interview with Bill Moyers, he said,

"I was watching a channel on television. And they had Christa Ludwig who was a great opera singer…. And then, she had a surprising interview at the end of the concert where… [the interviewer] said, ‘But, why do you like Schubert? You always sing Schubert.’ And he sort of faintly condemned Schubert. ‘I mean, he’s so simple. He’s just Viennese waltzes.’ And she smiled. And she said, ‘Schubert is so big, so delicate, but what he did was pick a form that looked so humble and quiet so that he could crawl into that form and explode emotionally, find every way of expressing every emotion in this miniature form.’ And I got very excited. And I wondered, is it possible that’s why I do children’s books? I picked a modest form which was very modest back in the ’50s and ’40s. I mean, children’s books were the bottom end of the totem pole. We didn’t even get invited to grownup book parties at Harper’s…. And you were suspect the minute you were at a party, "What do you do?" "I do books with children." "Ah, I’m sure my wife would like to talk to you." It was always that way. It was always. And then when we succeeded, that’s when they dumped the women. Because once there’s money, the guys can come down and screw the whole thing up which is what they did. They ruined the whole business. I remember those days. And they were absolutely so beautiful. But, my thought was… that’s what I did. I didn’t have much confidence in myself… never. And so, I hid inside, like Christa was saying, this modest form called the children’s book and expressed myself entirely."

And this is where I think Sendak and Pilobolus finally found their common ground: in a form—the human body or a picture book—so seemingly humble and quiet, but so ready to explode emotionally. As Sendak says in "Last Dance": "You make the whole thing up anyway. You sit there, they sit there, we’re all making it up…. So if you’re making it up, make it up good."

If you want to know more about Terezín and Brundibar, or children and the Holocaust, PBS has a great website here. And the transcript of the interview with Bill Moyers is here.  And just for Sendakian fun, if you haven’t seen it yet, check out the trailer for the upcoming live-action movie of Where the Wild Things Are. I’m cautiously optimistic that the book’s integrity might not be completely shredded by the Hollywood machine.

UPDATE: In following up on Pamela Ross’s comment below, I discovered that the Rosenbach Museum did make a DVD about the now-closed Sendak exhibit that sounds well worth looking at:
IMG_4366[1].JPG Sendak on Sendak, DVD
This DVD is a a companion to the Sendak on Sendak Exhibit at the Rosenbach, 2008-2009. It includes interviews with Sendak from the exhibit, as well as additional stories, anecdotes, and memories from the artist himself, not included in the exhibit.
[Add to Cart]  [View Cart]

How about you? Any thoughts on Sendak? "Last Dance?" Brundibar? Wild Things?

The Scariest Place in the Bookstore

Josie Leavitt - April 29, 2009

We’ve just had inventory done at the store. This is all fine and dandy, but it forced me to confront the back room. The place my staff is scared of, the place from which few return unchanged, and the place toddlers love to discover when no one’s really paying attention to them.

The back room is supposed to be the office, the place for overstock and boxes of author event books, a place to close the door and have a moment of peace and quiet. A thoughtful place. Well, not so much at the Flying Pig. Our back room is a hazard. Oh, sure, there’s a computer and desk space, really just enough space for the keyboard and mouse, but there’s no chair. The chair is at my house and we’ve never gotten another one; we like the extra space, for the dog beds. Yes, we have two seemingly massive dog beds in the back for our two cocker spaniels, Theo and Inky. They only come to the store once a week or so, but I insist on keeping the beds in the office. Admittedly, they’re usually perched, pecariously at best, on a box, but at least they’re out of the way.

The desk is mounded by catalogs and books we have to look at that customers’ friends have published themselves, that they think "would do really well at the Flying Pig." (More on what to do about self-published books in another post.) Then there’s the fax machine that really just chirps when the automated people call about my healthcare needs.  

In a perfect world, if you need a book from overstock, you should be able to just walk in, find the shelf, then alphabetically find the book. Here’s what happens at the Flying Pig: the staff member goes back there, finds the shelf, which is too high for them to reach (for the most part all but one of our staff is under 5’2"), then they drag a footstool in and stand on that, rooting around the shelf. If I stand on the footstool, my head grazes the ceiling: the back of the store is only six feet two inches high. This height, or lack thereof, creates a lot of heat. So, we’ve taken out every alternating light bulb, but it’s still hot, so it feels like a darkish tanning bed in there. Back to finding the books. If you’re lucky it only takes a few minutes, if luck is not on your side, it’s a mystery. We try to keep to order, but it’s hard. And it seems most folks think I’m the reason for the chaos.  I must admit to this. I know where things are because I put them back wrong every day. I just don’t tell people, "Oh, that extra copy of Eragon is on the third shelf, behind the gardening books."

Rep meetings are a whole other story. The lack of chairs means we’re all perched on the fabric cubes we have throughout the store. These cubes are comfy for about 10 minutes and then the lack of a back starts to wear on everyone. Catalogs are sliding off laps, laptops are perched at very dangerous angles. And can I ask other booksellers: just how long does it take to find an outlet in your office in the back room? I’m forever bending under the counter secretly wishing I had one more lightbulb plugged in, so I could actually see where the damn outlet was. I always feel sorry for the reps, hauling their massive bags in the back that can absorb nothing more. After being in our new space for two years, I now have meetings in restuarants and the middle grade section. Really, it’s pathetic.

Toddlers love to sneak back. Some love to see the cash register as you have to pass it to get to the back room. I always indulge them by opening the register and saying, "Do you want to see the money?" Some toddlers do make it all the way to the back room. I love them. Toddlers are great. They don’t judge. Their mothers, however, take it all in with eye-widening horror and never quite look at us the same way again. 

C’mon, share your back room horror story. All of our reps say it’s not just us.


Authors and Amazon

Josie Leavitt - April 27, 2009

Okay, this seems to be my weekly advice for authors and independent bookstores. Today’s advice is born from frustration and anger. This is not as much as advice as a rant about, authors and indie bookstores.

Local authors, it seems, sometimes expect things of their local bookstore. They expect us to carry their books, to feature their books on a variety of applicable displays and to host events for them. In turn for this I get to carry their books, often treasures that thrill me to put in the hands of my customers; I get to design displays with their books in the hopes that more people will buy their books, and lastly, I have the pleasure of having a book release party for them or other celebration of their book. When all of this works well, it’s an exchange that everyone understands.

But then I go to the author’s website to fact check something for a press release and I see a "Buy This Book" link and it goes right to and often only Ouch. Straight to the place that seemingly makes it easier to buy the book. Straight to our biggest, most tenacious competitor that has let people believe that bricks and mortar stores are becoming a thing of the past. 

Authors, if your local indie bookstore has a website, link to it. Then your website visitors can click on it and within seconds be able to buy your book, just like they can at And you’ve supported a store that has supported you. Let’s face it, Amazon may discount, but they’re not going to herald your latest book with a wine and cheese party or a dumpling dinner, or handsell your book to someone looking for book group suggestions. No one is going do more for your book than your local store that has a good relationship with you and your book. So, you need to help us by getting your fans to buy the book either at your local independent or at

One more thing, last week I posted about what to do when you come to a store. Well, some of you don’t shop at your local indie. I’m not sure what causes this. But once we get over the initial shyness of meeting you, we’ll treat you like every other customer. The difference between authors and customers is they’re not asking me to host book launch parties or mention them in our newsletters, or angrily asking why they’re not listed on our website, etc. As booksellers, we’ve got a lot on our plates. 

So, the best author/bookstore relationship is one of mutual respect, with some keen business savvy thrown in. We need you as much as you need us. Promote your books on your website with links to local websites or Remember, your local store can also sell autographed books on their websites which Amazon cannot. We actually had a deal with a local author who had a link on his website to our email address so people could request personalized books which we would then fulfill by calling him in to sign. Patronize your local bookstore. Let us get to know you. The better we know you the better we are to help sell your books. If one day, you’re in and saying how much you’d like to work with schools or book groups, the next time someone comes in looking for a way to liven up their book group, you’ll pop immediately to mind. It’s these connections that build relationships that are mutually beneficial for all involved.

I’d like to end with applause to the authors I’ve confronted about the issue. Without exception, every author has responded graciously, if somewhat sheepishly, and very speedily added other links in addition to Amazon, or a few really supportive authors have removed altogether. As booksellers we can help the authors by knowing how to get links on websites. As booksellers, we should be on top of who our local authors are, invite them to the store regularly and continue to have an active "local author" section.  

The beauty of this is: you get to do what you love: write. And we get to do what we love: sell great books. It’s really a win-win.

Great Radio Episode Hints at Great Books

Alison Morris - April 24, 2009

We are in the midst of events insanity at the store, once again, so I’ve been putting in looooong hours, making my available "guest blogging time" scant, to say the least. BUT in between preparations for and execution of events with folks like Mary Ann Hoberman, Chris Bradford, Anna Alter, T.A. Barron, Harry Bliss, Rick Riordan and Megan McDonald (to name just a few of the talented people who have been at our store this week or who’ll be coming in the next few), I’ve been jotting down note after note about things I’d like to recommend to you or tell you about or simply "share." What follows is ONE. More will be forthcoming after some down time, which I’m hoping to find this weekend!

My tidbit for today is a plug for a great episode of my favorite radio show, This American Life."While TRYING to wait patiently for my turn with the Minute Man Library system’s ONLY copy of the audiobook edition of Under the Jolly Roger by L.A. Meyer (in a future post I will detail my obsession with this series on audio), I have been catching up on T.A.L. via podcast. The "Didn’t Ask to Be Born" episode that aired on March 20th of this year originally aired seven years prior (on March 29, 2002), but that doesn’t make it any less powerful now, and the timing is perfect for the world of publishing.

Following a theme that’s best summed up as "every parent’s worst nightmare," the first half of this episode features interviews with journalist/mother and now author Debra Gwartney and her two daughters, all of whom recount what happened before and after the girls (then ages 13 and 15) ran away from home. Their story is frightening, fascinating and heartbreaking in ways you might not expect. Reviews of Debra’s new book telling this story, Live Through This: A Mother’s Memoir of Runaway Daughters and Reclaimed Love, suggest it might very well be the same, and more. (They certainly make ME want to read it!) Here’s an excerpt from Booklist‘s starred review:

Gwartney deserves high praise for her clear and lacerating prose, her refusal to assign blame or make excuses, and the stunning candor with which she offers telling glimpses into her own, and her daughters’ father’s, youthful recklessness and parental flounderings. Everyone concerned about self-destructive teens, and every survivor of her or his own wild times, will find Gwartney’s searing chronicle of her resilient family’s runaway years deeply affecting.

As if the first isn’t moving enough, the second half of "Didn’t Ask to Be Born" features Brent Runyon reading an excerpt from his harrowing and beautiful memoir The Burn Journals. Listen to Brent tell the story of the day in eighth grade when he set himself on fire, then go hug your favorite teenager. THEN go buy them a copy of The Burn Journals. While you’re at it, you might also want to take a look at Brent’s new novel Surface Tension: A Novel in Four Summers. As is the case with Debra’s book, I haven’t yet read this one myself, but it is also racking up starred reviews from trusted sources like Kirkus, who said, "With sensitivity and candor, Runyon reveals how life changes us all and how these unavoidable changes can be full of both turmoil and wonder."

I love that an hour-long program on the radio can be full of these things too. I HIGHLY recommend devoting an hour to this episode, which you can listen to for free on the This American Life website. Just click on the little orange picture of a speaker beside the words "Full episode" on the left side of the screen and you’ll be on your way. (Be sure to come back and let me know what you thought of it!)

Despair Inc. — Cynical Snickers for (ex-)City Slickers

Elizabeth Bluemle - April 23, 2009

There’s just something about a witty, jaundiced point of view that warms the cockles of this ex-New Yorker’s heart. When we moved to Vermont from the city, I bought Josie a mug that said, "Please talk faster, I’m from NY." She used it.

So imagine my delight when Sharyn November posted a link on Facebook this morning to the Despair Inc. guy’s website. And in honor of Alison Morris and her most excellent t-shirt links, which I know are sorely missed, I decided to re-FB (the Facebook version of re-tweeting) this little tidbit.

I had seen these folks’ Demotivator posters, which are hilarious, but was not aware of the mugs or DespairWear t-shirts. I think I’m going to have to go get one of these blogging mugs.

Warning: a little cynicism goes a long way, so pace yourself! And have a great weekend. No irony.

On Beyond ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go’

Elizabeth Bluemle -

Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go! is the Goodnight Moon of graduation gifts: the sure thing, the go-to title, the book many graduates probably get two or three copies of at their graduation parties. There’s a reason it’s so popular, of course: it celebrates new beginnings and the possibilities ahead, all with Ted Geisel’s trademark whimsy and cheer. We always have a nice stash of copies on hand this time of year, but we also like to recommend books off the beaten path. We ask customers questions about the graduate to see if we can come up with a little something extra, something personal and special that will make the graduate feel the gift giver’s careful thought and consideration.

Some of our favorites are handsome editions of classic books, fit to grace a scholar’s lifetime bookshelf. The Riverside Shakespeare is fantastic for literature lovers with every play and sonnet in the canon, and remains a favorite from my own high school graduation. Mine was a boxed set with two volumes, and the tall, slim red-cloth books still have their (slightly worn now) gilt lettering that evokes the magic of the language inside. This is my favorite book in the world, my desert-island necessity, and a good-luck charm of sorts: I pressed Vermont fall leaves in it in 1990, years before I decided to move here. (I like to think the book knew before I did.) Though The Riverside Shakespeare no longer comes in two volumes, it’s still a great-looking book with endless worlds inside.

Another classic we sell oodles of for graduates is Homer’s The Odyssey, either alone or appealingly paired with The Iliad. What better way to acknowledge a new grad’s journey ahead than with the chronicle of an adventurer who perseveres despite every kind of pitfall and obstacle?

For sheer aesthetic pleasure, we also love love LOVE Pablo Neruda’s Odes to Common Things, which showcases 25 of Neruda’s beautiful odes in the loveliest book. Objects as common and essential as spoons and soap are celebrated bilingually on facing pages with paired exquisite pencil drawings. This might be our all-time bestselling graduation present.

For the energetic, service-oriented graduate who loves travel, hands-on work, and cultural exchange, Moritz Thomsen’s Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle, is a charming, honest, funny, and thoughtful chronicle of life in a small Ecuadorian village. This is another of our perennial bestsellers, and it’s almost literally off the beaten path. John F. Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Profiles in Courage is also fine inspiration for civic-minded individuals, and there is a very handsome hardcover edition available. I’d love for President Obama to write about his heroes — and heroines (P. in C. isn’t long on those).

Then there are the graduates who might want a little more assistance with their new lives. For the high-school graduate heading off to college, what could be better than The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College? And for college grads, there’s Lizzie Post’s How Do You Work This Life Thing? Advice for the Newly Independent on Roommates, Jobs, Sex, and Everything That Counts.

For those of us who appreciate the timeless delight that children’s books provide at gift-giving time, here are a few fun titles that, like Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, make terrific graduation gifts for any age student:

Walk On! — Marla Frazee’s hilarious metaphor for anyone learning to turn initially wobbly steps into a solid steady gait.

Harold and the Purple Crayon — you, too, are the agent and artist of your dreams.

Ish — for the perfectionist grad, encouragement to follow one’s joy and take pleasure in the process, not the product.

Finally, there’s a new little gem, Peep, about a small chick afraid to step off a curb — a perfect way to acknowledge those sma
steps that seem like giant leaps, the ones that mainly require a little support and a big leap of faith to accomplish.

What are your favorite books, especially children’s books, to give graduates?

Adult Readers in the Kids’ Section

Josie Leavitt - April 22, 2009

There’s a really good trend happening in our store right now. Adults are reading kids’ books. Not picture books, but novels written for young adults.  Slowly the awkwardness, the need to almost apologize for buying a kids’ book for themselves is dissipating.  Instead, it’s something the adults seem to be reveling in.  And really, isn’t it about time that adults realized the young adult section was chock full of riches, new and old, to read and enjoy?

There are several books this past year that seem to have spurred this trend. The first is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak — while not a new title, it continues to be an excellent seller for us to adults. At last count, five adult book groups have read The Book Thief. Several women have called me immediately upon finishing to say how much they just loved the book. There is still an occasional adult reader who resists even holding a kids’ book in their hands, as if something horrible will happen if they read the back cover.  I’ve actually had to place it in a customer’s hand with a declaration. “You will love this book. Just read it. Trust me.”

Elizabeth had the best handselling moment I’ve seen, ever.  Two women had overheard me talking about The Book Thief and they were resistant to buy the copy I placed before them. They looked to Elizabeth for a second opinion, and all she did was arch her eyebrows with eyes bright and alert and that said it all. They bought two. 

Grown women are marching straight up the counter and asking for “that book.” Admittedly, they are a little sheepish about buying the Twilight books by Stephenie Meyer. But I don’t think it’s because it’s written for young adults. It’s because they love it so much. They can’t wait to read more about Edward and Jacob, who they are more than happy to talk about, at great length with other women in the store. One thing I particularly enjoy about these Twilight women is they tend to buy the whole series at one time. Sure, they tell daughters to wait, space out their purchases, save some money, and maybe even borrow from a friend. There’s none of that with the adults. No borrowing, no waiting for the book at the library, no, they need it, they need it now and they’re going to pay for their immediate gratification. And I love them for it.

Another book that has adults happily clutching it is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  A real page-turner of a dystopian adventure set in a future society that deals with larger themes that adults are really sinking their teeth into.  This is a challenging book to book talk, as on the surface it deals with kids killing kids at the behest of the government. Adults look askance when I say that, but then I put the book in their hands and say, “Read it. It’s so much more than that.” Again, adults are proving to be less patient than kids. I had a woman who was actually whining about the release date of the sequel. “I’ve got to wait until September?!"

Lastly, there is an anecdote I must share. One of my favorite customers comes in every Monday to get her books for the week. Jill is the most vital, active, and vibrant 78-year-old I’ve ever met. She is a well-rounded reader with eclectic tastes. Last week she was struggling to choose a book when she went to the young adult section. There she saw I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. She had read the book when she was 19 and remembered loving it. Well, she took it with her last weekend and was still beaming when she came in Monday to tell me about reading it again. She sat in the sun in an Adirondack chair with Beethoven on in the background and a glass of Merlot nearby. She read the book she first loved 60 years ago. “It was just marvelous. Marvelous.”

IndieBound for the iPhone!

Elizabeth Bluemle - April 21, 2009

Well, pickle my gears and blow me sideways, indie bookstores have made it to the iTunes app store! Hoot! Holler! Spread the word! Right this minute, I am staring at my little cell phone screen, and there, by gum, is that little red-and-white scribbly heart-ish "i"con staring back at me with the name IndieBound typed right there underneath. Clickable, leading to orderable. It’s enough to make an independent bookseller swoon.

Forgive my excitement, but it’s not often we bricks-and-mortar stores are this quick to embrace new technology (notwithstanding Powells’ innovative film forays and Northshire’s print-on-demand machine, "Lurch"). Of course, I immediately downloaded the free app and took it for a test drive.

Here’s what you get when you open up the IndieBound app: an initial screen titled Book Lists, which features a menu of the following: The April 2009 Indie Next List (divided into April 2009 Great Reads and April 2009 Notables); the Indie Bestsellers for the week (in this case, April 16), separated into the usual bestseller categories; the Spring ’09 Kids Indie Next List, with links for the Top Ten, Ages 4-8, Ages 9-12, and Teen Readers; the Spring ’09 Poetry Indie Next List Top Ten; and a cornucopia of themed recommendations under the banner of Winter ’09 Reading Group Recs, including Outstanding Debuts, Great Graphic Novels, Contemporary Masters, Mystery Marvels, Memorable Memoirs, and several more. (This last group doesn’t seem to be offered on the IndieBound website, or else is not easily found.) That is a lot of fantastic reading at a browser’s fingertips, and it’s designed very cleanly, very intuitively — that is, extremely user-friendly.

What happens when you click on a list? Let’s take Children’s Interest in this week’s Indie Bestsellers, shall we? The first several books are (not surprisingly) all four volume of the Twilight series and two of the Wimpy Kid books. Then there are a couple of stand-alone titles: Sherman Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, recently out in paperback, followed by The Book Thief and several other goodies in the top 15.

Let’s say you click on the Sherman Alexie. Here’s what you see:

Scrolling down, you get more info: and options to either buy the book online or find a nearby bookstore.

Either way, you get a screen of bookstore choices near you: (this is the BRILLIANT aspect of the iPhone, Big Brother concerns aside — it knows your location through GPS if you "allow" that function, so can find the closest indie source).

If you decide to order online, just click on the bookstore link and you’ll taken right to that book’s info and ordering page! Wahoo!

This really is a full-service application for finding and buying books online, and because it is based on indie bookseller recommendations from around the country, it offers more guidance and expertise than many other online venues. At the bottom of the screen are additional buttons for Book Search, Store Finder, and About (which explains IndieBound and how to use it).

There’s a terrific article in Bookselling This Week with more info about the app. Two suggestions to the ABA and the marvelous app maker, Matt Supko: 1) make book covers clickable links, especially since the image is so deliciously large it fills the screen (at first, users might not be aware that there’s more info below the cover); 2) trumpet the new app on the home page!

I’m seeing all kinds of potential for this app, including regional recommendation lists, backlist promotions (like the ABC’s upcoming Summer Reading Recommendations), and links to book trailers. The ABA is already planning to add e-books — so we indies may have another chance at that piece of pie.

It’s a brave new world, and I have to say, I’m liking it. How about you? Comments? Concerns? Brainstorms?

When Authors Pop By

Josie Leavitt - April 20, 2009

This post is really for authors who come to bookstores. Authors tend to be readers and we love them for that. We love them for creating the works that we can so enthusiastically sell. But authors who just happen upon a bookstore act one of three ways: the upfront, the surreptitious and the sneaky.

Allow me to illustrate the upfront. The first summer we were open, in 1997, a very lovely man came into the store, strode right up to the counter, stuck out his hand and said, “I’m Steven Kellogg. Your store is lovely.”  I was trying to be a cool bookseller, as if picture book illustrating Gods just wander in every day. I kept my cool and we had a lovely chat. He was delightful and we’ve been friends ever since. Another upfront author was one other than Katherine Paterson. I had been cleaning the middle grade section on a slow day, and in walks this stately woman. She offered her hand and said, “I’m Katherine Paterson.” I was star struck immediately, responding with the cool of a seasoned bookseller, “Wow, I just dusted your face.” Perhaps this sort of thing should be kept to oneself. Katherine had a good laugh over that one and I stopped blathering and showed her around the store.

The surreptitious author drop-by takes place in two ways. The first is you have no idea the author is in the store or has even been to the store. This was the case with Daniel Handler about eight years ago. Elizabeth and I were at a BEA cocktail party and he read our nametags and said, “Oh,  I love your store.” To which, we both replied, “You’ve never been to our store.” He then proceeded to describe our store in amazing detail, having actually been there the weekend before. He was in town for his brother-in-law’s UVM graduation. Now, why he choose to be so quiet is beyond me. I would have loved for him to sign stock. Another surreptitious drop-by was Sandra Boynton who came in with a  large group. Her family was vacationing in Vermont. I have never seen a picture of Sandra before, but I sure did recognize her signature on her credit card slip. I gushed, “You’re Sandra Boynton!” She nodded politely. I asked if she had time to sign stock. She didn’t at that moment but vowed to come back after going to the Teddy Bear Factory. She returned several hours later and signed all our stock.

The second surreptitious drop-by is when authors just checks out the shelves for their book. Often times they will face out their book or somehow make them more prominent on the shelf. I don’t really mind this, except when family members take it upon themselves to actually re-arrange a whole area so the books can be seen better. I understand this urge, but it’s not really very considerate of how the store is set up at that particular moment. There’s nothing antagonistic about how we shelve — it’s often purely alphabetical, or seasonal, or local, or featuring upcoming events.

The sneak attack visit is my least favorite. This is when the author neither introduces themselves nor re-arranges. They come up to the counter and ask if you carry a certain book. So I look the book up and sometimes we have it and sometimes we don’t. I convey that information and then they say, “I’m the author.” Well, why didn’t you just say that upfront? This way, it’s just awkward all around. I’m put on the spot and the author is being disingenuous.

What’s worse are parents who come in, ask if you carry a book and then get mad at you for being out of the book. Or they berate you for not carrying it. This one is a no-win situation. I always get the book’s info and make sure they see me ordering it. Folks need to know that we try to carry as many books as we can, but it’s impossible to carry all books, and sometimes that means we don’t have your kid’s book, yet.

So, authors, please, please let us know who are. We love meeting you. Don’t be shy, just come on up to the counter and say Hi. If possible give us a head’s up that you might be in the area, so we can stock up on your titles, and bring a pen you like to sign with. Then we’ll sticker your book and shelve it more prominently as a signed book. You’ll be happy, I’ll be happy, and most importantly, your Mom will be happy.

Toddler Choices: When Kids Pick Books

Josie Leavitt - April 17, 2009

There has been an explosion of cute kids at the store this past week. The arrival of Spring has brought these little ones out from under the layers of winter, and they are ready to explore. Little kids and books are a lovely combination. One thing about kids in the store that is particularly amusing is how they marvel at us having some, if not all, of the books they have at home.

"I have that. I have that one. Look, Mommy, Curious George." The familiar is comforting and surprising when it’s out of context. Little kids are still learning about things like stores and don’t understand that we sell books. They seem to know all about taking books, though. From the shelf, from the library. We had one little guy, maybe three and three quarters, who very casually dropped Jon Scieszka’s Trucktown in his mom’s already full and paid-for bag and just kind of walked away. The mom and I laughed and she said, "Honey, we don’t steal. Daddy’s a state trooper and we just don’t do that."

Watching kids under five pick out books is a lesson in cover design and placement. I feel sorry for authors in the higher-up A-F section of the alphabet, because their books never get picked by tots. Little kids just can’t reach those shelves. Color seems to be a huge factor for kids. And as much as I hate divide along gender lines, girls to tend to for the pink and purple tones, while boys head for blue. We had a little girl about three years old who hauled a chair over to this one section so she could take a copy of Purplicious by Victoria Kahn off the top shelf of a display. The Tushy Book by Fran Manushkin had practically been mauled by kids under three. There’s something about a bottom that kids just seem to love. Another book that has kids —  and it’s the boys again — begging to hear it read aloud, is Harriet Zieffert’s Mighty Max

Two books are easily spanning gender difference. Mouse Was Mad by Linda Urban has been an enormously popular toddler pick. I think the cover really draws kids in. There’s nothing like a non-threatening mouse who’s angry to get kids’ attention. This is a great book about emotions that I’ve heard read aloud just about every day. Duck! Rabbit!  by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld is drawing kids in.
The slight optical illusion about it has kids, and more than a few adults (myself included), staring at the cover trying to see the duck and the rabbit. It’s interesting with this book — sometimes I see the duck and sometimes I just can’t.

Reallly, regardless of what they’re picking out, kids getting excited about books thrill me. There’s nothing as heartwarming as a toddler hugging a book. I know that a book-hugging child often turns into a voracious reader who keeps me on my toes with thoughtful recommendations for years to come.