Monthly Archives: April 2009

Let’s Hear It for the (British) Boys: Male Audiobook Narrators and the Bookseller Who Loves Them

Elizabeth Bluemle - April 16, 2009

We have a customer who’s an audiobook addict. She comes in every couple of weeks to perk up frequent road trips with something new, and I’m always delighted to leap around the counter and chat with her, because we tend to love (and, sadly, loathe) the same kinds of books, and – equally important with audiobooks – the same narrators.

Handselling is always key in indie bookstores; we estimate that about 80-85% of what we sell is directly recommended by one of our staff, either in person or via our newsletter or staff picks. When it comes to audiobooks, that number jumps to about 99%. Since most bookstores don’t have listening stations, it’s really helpful to have heard an audiobook yourself so you know if the narrator is going to make you want to jump out of the car window or not.

I like to recommend audiobooks as an accompaniment to the printed book for kids who struggle with reading. When I was a school librarian in New York City, I discovered how effective it was to have kids listen while they read; it seemed to help them make the connection between written and spoken forms of words, and lifted them out of the struggle enough for them to enjoy the experience of reading. This was a huge relief and delight for them, and once parents get past the idea that it’s “cheating,” it’s helpful for them, as well.

Over the years, I’ve discovered that pretty much anything narrated by a British guy is going to be good. If the stories they narrated were mediocre, or if the performances were dull, I might blame their supremacy on my shelves on the embarrassing phenomenon whereby American women turn into puddles of goo when an English man opens his mouth and says, well, pretty much anything.

But there’s quality as well as beauty there; the British men have it all. They just make everything sound wonderful, don’t they? And fascinating. If Philip Pullman, Simon Jones, Stephen Fry, Anton Lesser, Simon Prebble, and Derek Jacobi (narrators of The Golden Compass, The Amulet of Samarkand, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Ruby in the Smoke, The Daydreamer [OP, more’s the pity], and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, respectively), ran waste management seminars, I would absolutely sign up for Sewage 101.

Also, there’s something reassuring about these sonorous British voices — a sage, grandfatherly quality, a sense of the world as a place where small people can accomplish great tasks if they work hard enough and have big hearts and believe, truly believe. Graeme Malcolm, who narrates The Tale of Despereaux so beautifully, can pull up a chair and read me a bedtime story any day.

Neil Gaiman, who has a sort of Alan Rickman-esque voice, is one of those rare authors, like Pullman, who actually does justice to his own work. Try The Graveyard Book or Neverwhere. And yet he gives over the reins when another narrator can do better: his 2006 YALSA ALEX Award-winning adult novel, Anansi Boys, is performed by the fantastic British actor Lenny Henry, whose Jamaican parentage gives him a richness in the various voices and accents that Gaiman rightly must have known he could not equal. (By the way, this is my all-time favorite adult audiobook, our bestseller at the store for a couple of years now, and a phenomenally funny, lively listen — an adult book teens love, too. Anansi Boys also won the Mythopoeic Award for Best Novel 2006, was a 2006 ALA Best Audiobook, and earned enough votes for a Hugo nomination, though Gaiman declined it. It was also short-listed for the Booker Prize. See? I just can’t shut up about it. Put me out of my misery: listen to it., please. I’ve heard it twice and will doubtless listen again.)

And do I even need to mention Jim Dale, whose vocal wizardry (har har, get it? wizardry?) with the Harry Potter audiobooks led him to become the first inductee into the Audio Publishers Association’s “Golden Voices” Hall of Fame. See The Audies for more info, as well as terrific lists of award-winning audiobooks and samples for your listening enjoyment.

Out of our Top Ten All-Time (since 1996) Audiobook Bestsellers, eight are by Brits. (Okay, seven of those are Harry Potter titles, so maybe that’s not fair. That darned series skews all the curves.) The non-HP titles are, if you’re curious, are: David Sedaris, Live at Carnegie Hall; The Golden Compass; and Philadelphia Chickens. Going further down the list yields many more Brits, too. There’s just something about ’em.

I promise to give equal time in future posts to the wonderful women of audiobooks, and to the American men. But for now, I’m happy with this British wave, and I’ll be surfing it for a long, long time.

What are the audiobooks you’ve loved so much you’d listen to them again? Narrators you’ll listen to even if the book is on crab-fishing and you’re a mysteries-only kind of reader? Which audiobooks have you found that turned reluctant readers into avid book lovers? We’d love to hear.

Talk of Websites, Weddings, What-not

Alison Morris - April 15, 2009

In my first return to ShelfTalker in the role of "guest blogger" I had hoped to tackle the subject of electronic catalogs, in a sort of "counter punch" to Josie’s terrific post this week about the perks of ditching the old paper standbys. I am finding nary enough time this week, though, to wrap my brain around all the complicated nuances of this debate and type them all out for you, SO… I’m going to make you wait a few days more to hear my thoughts on that heady matter, and in the meantime I will entertain you with bits and pieces of other (lighter) things I’ve been stockpiling for guest-posting purposes.

First, I want to call your attention to a pair of fantastic author/illustrator websites I’ve enjoyed exploring of late. The first is the new online home of Catherine and Laurence Anholt, which is chockful of fun goodies, many of them hidden around the site, so I encourage you to poke your mouse into its many nooks and crannies and see what you can find there. Catherine and Laurence ran an actual, physical bookstore for a time called Chimp and Zee, Bookshop by the Sea in Lyme Regis, U.K. that I dearly wish I’d been able to see before they closed its doors. The store now exists in an online form on the couple’s website, which is very handy, of course, but doesn’t allow one to stare in wonder at the shop’s window displays, like the one in the video below, or at its colorful storefront, visible in one of the many great photos of the shop on the ACHUKA Children’s Books site. Be sure to click on them to view them full-size.

The other website I’ve been charmed by of late is that of illustrator Sophie Blackall, whose work I L-O-V-E. It figures that I would, though, given that I also love the quirky list of things she cites as her influences on the bio page of her site:

Oh, where to begin? Japanese woodblocks. Chinese packaging design. Old photographs. Maps. Scientific diagrams. Jellyfish. Moby Dick. Iridescent feathers. Train journeys. Figs. Postage stamps. Foxes and giant anteaters and sea otters and pipe fish. Anatomical drawings. Poems and pieces of string. Clouds and shadows. You know, that sort of thing.

I don’t know when I’ve seen a prettier navigation page, for which credit goes both to Sophie (for the art) and to Catherine Hnatov, who designed the entire site, as well as the websites of Carin Berger and Brett Helquist, which are also delightful.

Sophie also has a blog and (of course!) it’s lovely too. And while poking around on her website I discovered that she’s designed a very fun set of greeting cards you can order and send to your friends AND that (be still my heart) she has a store on Etsy from which you one might purchase an original piece of art if one wasn’t, say, saving money for a forthcoming wedding (damn!).

Speaking of weddings… Many of you, in your comments on my "exit post" or in your personal messages to me, said you hoped I would keep you posted on the plans for Gareth’s and mine. I will. In fact, I promise to one day provide you with a full wedding recap even more spectacular than the one I did for that fabulous To Kill a Mockingbird wedding so many of you enjoyed reading about! For the time being, though, I am keeping relatively mum on the subject, as we haven’t yet sent out our official invitations, and it seems only right that our friends and family know what’s happening before, well… the rest of the whole dang world. I will soonish, though, let you see the design we’ve created for our "Save the Date" cards, because I know that many of you also enjoy it when I share my artsy projects with you. Stay tuned!

Stay tuned also for the promised cereal contest winners post (See? I hadn’t forgotten!) and (GROAN…) a lengthy post in which I bemoan my very conflicted feelings about the rise of electronic catalogs. It’s not half as much fun to write about these "big, important" topics, you know, as it is to introduce you to fun t-shirts, like this one designed by the always entertaining Adam Rex who actually has a whole store of tshirt and posters designs on Zazzle. (Who knew?)

Thanks for giving Elizabeth and Josie such a warm welcome! It’s great fun to peruse what used to be "my" blog and find new and unexpected posts for me to read there. I promise you THAT never happened in the "old days"!

Why I Love E-catalogs

Josie Leavitt - April 13, 2009

I love the idea of electronic catalogs. I know I’m in the minority here, but what a great innovation whose time has come. I weighed six boxes of publisher catalogs I have at the store and it came to 60 pounds! Sixty pounds of paper that I’m going to recycle the moment those books are entered on my computer. Sixty pounds of paper whose journey to me was expensive, often redundant with needless multiple mailings and costly to the environment.

My store is small and only the two owners, Elizabeth and I, do the ordering for the kids’ and adult sections. We don’t have the organizational issue that many other stores have in terms of coordinating who needs to look at what catalogs. We just bring them home and share them. My biggest problem is remembering to bring the catalogs back to the store when it’s time for the meeting. Forgetting the catalogs at home and making the rep than run back to the car and scrounge another set of catalogs is not the best way to start a sales call.

There are two ways to find publisher catalogs on the web. The first is a website I stumbled on out of desperation when I needed a catalog I couldn’t find. is an amazing site for librarians that has a downloadable link for a pdf or a direct link to the publishers themselves, for this current season’s catalogs for 80% of the publishers I deal with. Knowing I can find catalogs on-line means I spend less time tearing up the office and my house trying to find where I’ve put catalogs. The downside is I can’t order from the site — the upside is you don’t have to sign up to use the service.
The second is a new innovation called Edelweiss, from the folks at Above the Treeline which offers more interactivity than, but you must sign up in advance to use it. John Rubin, CEO of Above the Treeline, is offering it as “an online, interactive catalog system that will work across participating publishers so that booksellers need learn only one system.” I have yet to play with this, but from all accounts it could revolutionize buying. So far, 13 publishers have signed up to have their catalogs in the program. You can create orders and have them in a downloadable form for your POS. If it works the way they hope, with Edelweiss you’ll look at the catalog, make and read notes and then create the order right there, without once duplicating your work by having to manually add titles to your POS.

What’s led me to easier ways to find catalogs online is when I lose them, which happens a lot, I would try to go to the publisher’s websites. You’d think it would be easy to find catalogs at the publisher’s sites — well, not so much. I’ve found that most publishers’ sites make it hard for booksellers to find the bookseller’s portion of the site; it’s as if we need a special code to get in that secret section. I’ve tried to find catalogs at Random House and their bookseller portion of the site has a link for catalogs, but it leads to a byzantine search screen, and there’s no listing for Summer 2009 catalogs. I’ve had similar results with most other publishers.

HarperCollins is the first publisher to eliminate paper catalogs. Beginning with its Fall 2009 list, Harper will offer a full-service website for digital catalogs instead of paper catalogs. I’ve spent a lot of time on the site and I like it. It’s got all the information of the catalog with more features. One of the good things about it is you can click on the book and add to your list, so when you’re ready to order you’ve got them right there without having to skip past pages of titles you’re not ordering. There is a notes section for each title, which is a great idea if multiple staff members are logging into the catalog to make comments. I particularly love the backlist feature, though it’s not. as deep I’d like to see, and would be perfect if the book links were live, so I could add the books to “my list” For stores without computer access Harper is offering a booklet that will have the catalog information.

For me, someone who is literally and happily, attached to my laptop, my iPhone and the workstation at the store, e-catalogs are a godsend. I always know where they are. My staff and I can make notes on titles and in the case of Edelweiss, I should be able to make an order that can be converted right into my POS, saving me hours of data entry. The digital catalogs I’m looking at online are totally current. No more add-on sheets with every meeting.

I don’t know how many trees are used to create the average fall catalogs or how much carbon is used to print and transport these catalogs, but the cost savings the publishers can realize by not shipping catalogs to every store could be enormous, which maybe could go into co-op. I know booksellers can be resistant to change, especially when technology is involved.  However, I think it’s time we started thinking about the waste our industry produces, and embrace technology that can ultimately help us be more efficient booksellers who can spend more time selling books.

Bad Poetry for a Good Friday

Elizabeth Bluemle - April 10, 2009

Just a quickie here. If you like bad-on-purpose poetry (and who doesn’t?), pop on over to author Lynn Hazen’s Imaginary Blog and vote for the worst! While you’re there, any intrepidly poor poets are welcome to try their hand at creating bad verse for the next round. The rules are here. Don’t feel intimidated, just because writers like M.T. Anderson have also contributed their wonderfully terrible tries.

Rep Speak

Josie Leavitt -

The summer buying season is in full swing at bookstores all over the country. Whether your sales reps are in-house, commission, come to you or you do it over the phone, there are certain things that don’t change, and I call these things “rep speak.” It’s the subtle, mostly non-verbal cues reps use to try and get us to buy more, or to steer us away from making some pretty bad mistakes. I’d like a share a few that I’ve noticed.

The first kind of rep speak isn’t speak, it’s the use of silence. There is something about total silence after you say, “I’ll get two of that,” that makes even the most seasoned buyer start thinking, “Hmm, three. I’ll get three.” Silence is unnerving. When we first opened 12 years ago and I would pass on a book from a certain publisher, the rep would slowly pick her head up and just ever so slightly, with no malice intended, stare me down until I capitulated and bought the title. It was on-the-job training. She doesn’t do that anymore and I know better what to buy and what to pass on.

Then there’s the hmm that’s quiet, almost just a hum, a somewhat thoughtful sound with just a hint of judgment. They’re just letting you know that they know you’ve just made a mistake in quantity. And this can work both ways: when they think you’ve under-ordered or when they think you’ve taken too many. 

The hmm is related to the cluck with an ever-so-slight nod of the head. Take tongue and gently, but quickly flick on the roof of mouth. This noise I call the gentle cluck of disapproval. Usually this is followed by a rep saying something like, ”Are you sure?” Once my rep clucked very loudly and said, "Are you kidding? That’s horrible. Don’t get it." Okay, maybe not the best way to work for your company, but a great way to work for the small store whose owner sometimes likes books about bears a little too much.

One other thing goes with the cluck is the "skip." We don’t sell a lot of mass merchandise-y stuff at our store, so that means we can pretty skip dozens of pages at a time of certain catalogs. "Skip, skip, skip, skip" is a little like music to my ears: I don’t have to decide and I’m being told it’s pretty yucky. This engenders trust when a rep is pushing hard on a title that I’m on the fence about.

The part of me that likes approval always enjoys the nods of agreement with an ordered book. I particularly enjoy the “good” that has a hint of surprise in it. Confirming what I already know, that this book is an undiscovered gem.  I always love the real joy on a rep’s face when they talk about their favorite book of the season.

One thing I don’t care for, and I suspect most picture book buyers will agree, is when I’m looking at the sample and the rep is telling me the story at the same time. I can’t listen, read and call up my inventory in my head to see if I need another book about a duck who’s afraid to swim. So, hand me the F&G and let me read, quietly. 

Most buyers would say there is a rhythm to every buying session, but who knew it was a really just a bad song: Hmm, cluck, cluck, good, hmm, cluck, good. It can also be a very long song with some publishers, so at least now we can tap our toes and sing along.

Lost in the Pixels of a Good Book: The E-book Problem

Elizabeth Bluemle - April 9, 2009

Like all brand-new iPhone users, I went a little crazy at the iTunes App Store (a magical land where you can find everything from tiny handheld games—Air Hockey! Flight Control!—to downloadable art collections, playable musical instruments, song identifiers, "productivity" tools, travel apps, and more). I subscribed to something called AppSniper, a program that tracks brand-new applications and notifies you when something on your wish list goes on sale.

And that’s when I discovered e-books – loads of them, libraries of them – being added by the 01010101-load to the appiverse. Fully two-thirds of the new apps on the market seemed to be books – from the Koran to Shakespeare — most costing around 99¢ per download, though in truth most of those titles can be had for nothing. (More on that later.) 

Suddenly I had instant access to pretty much anything in the public domain – for a small fee or for free. This felt like riches, largesse, Alexandria. Never read the Upanishads? Well, here ya go! Want The Complete Sherlock Holmes in 30 seconds? No problem! And look – plenty of shelf space.

I’d always dismissed e-books as handy tools for business travelers. No one would really want to read fiction in pixels, would they? Book lovers love the artifact. I even said as much, all calm and confident, to a customer last month. No way, José. Not for me. Not for anyone who loves the feel and smell of paper and ink, the textures of matte covers and deckled edges, the heft of a heavy tome or the personal goodness of a little smooth square hardcover.

But then something happened, something unexpected, embarrassing, and a little worrisome: I read Peter Pan on a cell-phone screen the size of a playing card, and I loved it. I read it because I’d wanted to revisit the original story but couldn’t justify the time in the face of all the new ARCs staring at me from every tabletop and bookshelf of my house. And because I couldn’t sleep one night and didn’t want to disturb my sweetie by turning on a light, I found myself switching on this bright little beacon of an iPhone and beginning to read. All of those circumstances had to combine for me to try pixie dust in pixels, but once I did, it was, quite frankly, a micro-revelation. It didn’t matter what format the book came in; once I was reeled in by a skillful writer, I was lost in Neverland.

Fellow readers, if a fierce book purist like me—someone who actually ate the page corners of my books as a child—can be lured into liking e-books, well, then, I suspect pretty much anybody can.

I had started tinkering around with this topic when the Association of American Publishers reported its 2008 statistics: amid an overall drop in book sales for 2008, with some modest growth (children’s and adult paperbacks), and downward dives (hardcovers, audiobooks, mass market and religion, among others), e-book sales grew by 68.4%. And it looks as though e-book sales in January 2009 trumped January 2008 sales by 173.6%. Let me repeat that number: 173.6%. It’s clear that the time has come for me to face the digital revolution.

E-books are a hot topic in the industry right now, and there are many actual experts out there writing thoughtful articles on the topic who know a lot more than I do. Like all of us booksellers, I want to know how this tiny revolution will affect my store. For one thing, it will add yet another lasagna layer to the deep dish of competition for book sales. From my humble perch on the Flying Pig stool, it seems to me that apocalyptic prophecies are premature, but there will be some fallout. People will always want and need real books, and as long as there are trees, books will continue to be made and sold and read and loved.

I also think we’ll ultimately be stocking our shelves a little differently, emphasizing the kinds of things no e-book can touch: in the children’s department, that means beautiful editions of classic and illustrated titles, poetry, and art. But for many bread-and-butter staples on our shelves, the in-store demand for those "real" books may be quite diluted; e-books are cheap, instant-gratification additions (or substitutes, depending on how you see it) for eager readers.

And herein lies the problem. Mobile phone e-readers are free, and easy [update: as of April 27, the e-reader Stanza has now been acquired by Amazon, so the top two iTunes apps are now owned by the online mega-store] . You just download them onto your cell and presto – you have access to hundreds of thousands of books – 50,000 alone in the public domain and available free of charge, as well as new and bestselling titles. The money, of course, is in the selling of the book content. So what’s in it for indies? Publishers offer options; on one site I visited, a bestselling title offered in e-book format leads to a long list of possible vendors—but guess how many of them are independent bookstores? Right. Everyone is getting into the act, it seems, but us. There are moves afoot to allow us to sell e-books to customers (most likely online), as in the program here, but if readers are tech-savvy enough to use e-readers, are they really likely to use an intermediary?

As one of those tech-savvy-ish types myself, I’m torn. I love the instant access to obscure books I’ve always wanted to read, the security blanket of having the complete plays and sonnets of Shakespeare with me everywhere I go, the unexpected delight of reading
< a href="">Alice in Wonderland on teensy pages. But as an independent bookseller, I’m concerned that, with more and more competition, a difficult economy, and less and less market to share, we are looking at a very steep mountain. Yet none of these other layers in the lasagna do quite what we do: notice and champion the treasures, both small and large; build blockbusters not by hype and hope, but by word-of-mouth; write thoughtful reviews to share with colleagues and customers; and put books directly in the hands of children and adults, teachers and librarians, saying, "You’ve got to read this!"

How can booksellers convert our handselling expertise to have a role in recommending and distributing e-books, too, so that instead of losing sales to publishers and online vendors, we might earn a small piece of this ever-growing pie?

What do you think? I really want to know. Especially if you have solutions, or any e-book confessions of your own. And bonus points if you can identify the 1974 first edition I chewed on as a kid — but don’t post the title! Just the endearment the character at the end of the book exchanges with her sweetheart upon first meeting.

When Is a Squiggle Not a Squiggle?

Josie Leavitt - April 8, 2009

When is a squiggle not a squiggle? When artist Harry Bliss is creating art from it. We had Harry come to the store last Saturday, and he invited folks to make a squiggle, one simple little line and he was off and running.

(Note to booksellers: Harry loved the poster board for the squiggle art, and I must say it looked a lot better than easel paper usually does.)

Are you looking at this? One line has led to this: a wave, a surfboard, clouds, and atmosphere all have been drawn while Harry answers questions about the process for illustrating Kate DiCamillo’s Louise, The Adventures of a Chicken.

Now we’ve got a surfing dog.  I asked Harry about the dogs in his cartoons and he said he liked how he could anthropomorphize them. I gotta say, that dog looks pretty darned happy. Here are four photos back to back so you can really see the genius behind what Harry can do. As someone who’s never been able to draw, I am in awe of an artist who take a line and make something recognizable from it. 

You can barely see this squiggle, but keep your eye on this spot.

A simple line becomes part of a frame…

Then the dog is at the museum, contemplating the art that’s unfolding before his eyes, and ours.

And doesn’t that look like a happy little dog.

He’s added an improbable dog bone to the museum piece, sure to please the little dog. What a lovely way to spend a Saturday morning. I forget how powerful sketch talks can be. The children in the audience were wide-mouthed and stunned at how quickly Harry not only made art, but also narrative, out of one simple line.

Twi-la-la-la-la-light + boys

Elizabeth Bluemle - April 7, 2009

Here’s a little funny for you on a grey afternoon. (Well, grey in Vermont, at least.) A group of wily youth has filmed an ongoing video series called Twilight the Musical, a spoof of, well, you know — and it’s really well done. Part 1 (watch in HD for much better quality) starts off a little slowly, but revs up, and Part 2 is utterly hilarious.

I found these on Twilight Guy: A Guy Reads the Twilight Saga, one of the very slick websites started by 20-year-old new YA author Kaleb Nation. The TwilightGuy site actually boasts a blurb from Stephenie Meyer herself: "…this new site made me laugh buckets." I agree; it’s a very funny look at the book from a young man’s perspective. He’s reading the books purely for research, of course; as he says, "At least, that is my alibi."

At our store, we find more and more boys asking for the series without sheepishness or apology. It’s pretty heartening, actually. Reminds me of a sixth-grade boy in my library — one of the cool kids, to boot — shrugging off the jeers of a few buddies who saw him reading Little Women. "It’s a really good book," he said. "You’re missing out." Now, the Twilight shift probably wouldn’t have happened without the movie, and without the natural curiosity of teenage boys who want to see why their competition (Edward Cullen) is making an entire generation of girls swoon. But I like to think some things are changing.

Are there any other formerly-known-as-chick-lit books you are finding boys gravitating toward? And which ones do you wish they’d pick up?

It Takes More Than Thumbs…

Josie Leavitt -

I don’t have a green thumb or a black thumb when it comes to gardening. I have a thumb busy doing other things. I’m a Jew originally from New York City; we don’t garden. Toiling in soil rife with bugs has never been my idea of fun. But for some reason this year, I have decided that I’m going to have a garden, damn it. I am approaching this venture with the usual vigor one has at the start of some new project that might become a lifelong hobby. I am reading books on how to garden.

Apparently, you can’t just throw seeds in the ground, pray for water and get tomatoes, corn and green beans. So, I’ve got some books. The Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch:  fabulous, chock-full of ways to garden organically and a dense 820 pages. Then there’s Lasagna Gardening: A New Layering System for Bountiful Gardens: No Digging, No Tilling, No Weeding, No Kidding! by Patricia Lanza. This book assumes that some people don’t have hours to spend toiling in the garden. A great book and only 244 pages. At least the page length is getting better. But you know what? I don’t like reading gardening books. Not that these and other books aren’t gorgeously written and beautifully illustrated and exactly what every real gardener is craving. I, however, don’t care about all the detail. I just want things to grow. So, I started looking at the kids’ section.

Now we’re talking! I found a great little sleeper book from last year, from Good Year Books: Ready, Set Grow! A Kid’s Guide to Gardening by Rebecca Spohn.   Full of pictures, simple ideas explained: just how does a seed grow? There’s no soil analysis, no lengthy discussion of what goes best with what, but a very simple credo: tall things in back, shorter things up front. This I can handle.

A new release from Lorenz,  The Ultimate Step-By-Step Kid’s First Gardening Book: Fantastic Gardening Ideas for 5–12 Year Olds, from Growing Fruit and Vegetables and Having Fun with Nature Projects by Jenny Handy promises to be just my speed. Do-able activities that promise success and fun things to do in the garden. And when I get confused about just what the row is supposed to look like, there are 900 photos to help guide me.

I live in Vermont and we aren’t supposed to plant anything until Memorial Day—theoretically, the chance of frost has finally passed by the end of May, and until then, things can die. And I’m not going to go cover plants with blankets, so I’ll wait. But I’m not a patient person, so to get me excited about the gardening idea, I’ve taken home the new kit from Chronicle:  Sprout Your Own Sweet Scents: Complete Mini-Garden Kit with Seeds, Peat Pellets and Planters. They sprout in 3–10 days and I’ll have scented leaves in two weeks. I’ll post again when things start smelling good.

Catching the Baton

Elizabeth Bluemle - April 6, 2009

Let’s face it, friends — Alison Morris was born to blog, as indubitably as Justin Morgan had a horse or Betsy was understood. No one can don A.M.’s unique cap-sleeved jersey (imagine stepping onto a pro b-ball court wearing #23), or hope to stride seven leagues in her magical elf shoes. Her book-loving, t-shirt-shopping, birdhouse-decoupaging posts managed to snare as a reader even this bookstore owner, overworked and boggled as I am by the vastness of the literary blogosphere. And now Josie and I are supposed to follow that legacy? Can’t be done. But we will do our thing, dawgs, and hope to amuse, inform, and engage you — and bring Alison back for several slam-dunks throughout the season.
To introduce myself: I’m co-owner of The Flying Pig Bookstore (est. 1996, wahoo!), and also an author with two picture books out, a third on the way, and a boatload of projects in various stages of completion (that I now learn from Alison can’t be finished while serving as resident ShelfTalker — whoops).
Before that, I was a school librarian in Manhattan (at the wonderful old City & Country School in the West Village), and studied English and American literature at UC Berkeley. In the 80s, I worked for a writer/producer in L.A. and started a small press in San Francisco for a wealthy lawyer (who wanted to write his memoirs but instead let me put together a book of poetry by Tenderloin-district kids as a fundraiser for their program).
In the early 90s, Josie and I met at Literacy Volunteers of New York City, me as a production manager for their publishing program, Josie in development, strong-arming wealthy patrons to contribute to a worthy cause (which, come to think of it, is sort of what she still does as an indie bookseller).
So my life has always revolved around books, kids, and writing — which means I am delighted to take on this very exciting challenge of talking with all of you about our favorite subjects: books and the people who create, cherish, and share them with readers of all ages. I can’t wait to hear from you all.