Monthly Archives: July 2010

An Ode to Sales Reps

Josie Leavitt - July 12, 2010

After another delicious breakfast meeting yesterday, (with Deb Woodward, one of the best reps around) I am reminded again how important sales reps can be to an independent bookstore. A good sales rep can act as an extension of the store with the publisher acting as an advocate for you with all publishing departments.
A sales rep’s job description  is to work hard on the publisher’s behalf to sell their books. Good reps make you feel like they’re working for you, not the publisher, and when this happens it’s a lovely, lovely thing. Meetings with good reps — and I feel blessed to only have good reps — should be fun, they should be informative, and the buyer should leave feeling great about their order. I am known for quick opinions and judgments and sometimes this gets the best of me. I love a rep who steers me clear of the “Oh, but it’s a cute bear picture book” fiasco I am about to embark on, and instead makes me read the book about the dog and monk that’s amazing. A rep’s job is tough, but the good ones make it look easy. They know what I’m likely to buy and what my customers are likely to respond to, so when he or she is excited about getting a book in my store, I trust them. And when they say, “You don’t need that”, I happily skip that book.
Reps go to bat for you with the publicity department to try and fight for you in getting authors to come to your store. I have some reps who automatically put in author requests for me when someone great is touring. This kind of inside pressure is often the thing that tips the scale in my favor in securing great authors. Some of my reps help me out even more by checking in with me two weeks before the event to make sure I’ve got enough stock, as sometimes even the most seasoned of us can forgot to order stock. We recently had an event scheduled for a Saturday for a local author’s book launch and by Thursday morning we had yet to get the books we ordered months earlier. I called my rep, somewhat frantic, and said, “Help! What should I do?” She overnighted a carton of the books, at the publisher’s expense, to ensure that I would have them for my event. I know some reps who carry a carton or two of hot books on midnight party release dates, just in case some accounts didn’t get their orders in time.
A good rep can help you navigate co-op. I love my reps because they email and call me with reminders about co-op deadlines that are rapidly approaching. This allows me to gather my info and send it in before I lose the money I’ve earned. They don’t have to do this, since the less co-op bookstores claim, the more money the publisher makes, but they do it anyway.  A few reminder emails can go a long way to make me be a better bookseller.
So, as my fall buying season winds down, I just want my reps to know that I rely on you more than I can say, and I appreciate you far more than you’ll ever know. I hope you all have a great season and I look forward to our next meal. This time, maybe I’ll treat.

Five Funny Finds

Alison Morris - July 9, 2010

I’ve been especially grateful for things that make me laugh this week, when temperatures have been soaring well into the 90’s and my patience with the heat has worn paper-thin. Thinking some of you may be feeling the same way, I’ve pulled together five funny things for you — all of them book-related, of course.
Laugh number 1 is a onesie. A ROCKIN’ onesie (and/or baby-sized t shirt) with a reading theme! Here, the logo for hard rock band ACDC and song title/tag line  “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)” are reinvented as “ABCD” and “For Those About to Read We Salute You.” I love it. Credit for this find goes to my Wellesley Booksmith coworker Pete Sampson, who spotted one of these beauties on a friend’s baby (thank you, Facebook) and called it to my attention. I then went online to find the source and discovered several. If you know a li’l rocker who needs one of these, you can order from MyRetroBaby or Rock’n Sprouts or Punky Lunky.
Laugh number 2 for today is a forthcoming book: The Taking Tree: A Selfish Parody written by Shrill Travesty (hmm… can’t help wondering who this REALLY is…) and illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins. Coming in October 2010 from Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing (though it’s arguably NOT for children), this is a WILDLY funny parody of Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. Regardless of how you feel about the original, you will laugh at the escalating tensions between the tree and boy in this book and cheer for the tree’s periodic (and minor) victories. This is one that adults will most definitely be buying for one another this fall. Expect to see this one displayed next to many a cash register!
Laugh number 3 has a great deal in common with laugh number 2. It, too, looks like a book for kids but isn’t. It, too, is guaranteed to get laughs from grown-ups. But this one you don’t have to wait to purchase. All My Friends Are Dead by Avery Monsen and Jory John was published in June by Chronicle Books. I must’ve brought about 6 or 7 different people over to Chronicle’s booth at BEA, just to have the pleasure of watching them read this outrageously funny (albeit slightly twisted) gem.
Laugh number 4 is another discovery from BEA: two new plush toys from MerryMakers (click to view them larger). I don’t know about you, but I love the idea of kids cozying up at night with either their plush Fly Guy (forthcoming!) or Chicken Butt! Doll (squeeze him and, yes, he says, “Chicken Butt!”). Kinda puts the old teddy bear routine to shame.
And finally, laugh number 5 is a video. A funny, funny video in which a very entertaining girl divines the thoughts (and voices) of the kittens featured in a non-fiction book called (you guessed it) Kittens. For some reason I’m unable to embed the video here, but you can get to it by following this handy link: \”kittens inspired by kittens\” on YouTube.
Here’s wishing you a weekend filled with laughs a’plenty, and a working air conditioner too!

Audiobooks So Good, You’d Listen Twice

Elizabeth Bluemle - July 8, 2010

For anyone who works in the book world, re-visiting books one has already read (or listened to) is a luxury rarely afforded. There are piles of new titles to be ordered, as well as that stack of last year’s darlings you meant to get around to, not to mention classics you can’t believe you haven’t read yet — and so on. Deciding to dive back into a favorite book feels like an act of secret rebellion; it’s extremely pleasurable, if only because it cannot be tied to work. The re-read is a tiny party of pure decadence.
The same is true for audiobooks, and more so. Because a narrator delivers the story at the pace of human speech, it takes much longer to experience a book aurally than to read it. Therefore, to listen to an audiobook twice means that book must be supernally good. (In my world, audiobooks exist always and only in the unabridged version; I’d rather skip one than listen to pieces of it, no matter how well-sewn- together it claims to be.)
There are only a few audiobooks I’ve succumbed to more than once. These are titles I read and loved in book form first, so in effect I’ve experienced these books fully at least three times. (O fabulous sin!) My guilty pleasures?

  • Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman. This is a nonstop ride of an adult book, funny and wild and fantastic. A middle-management schmo, inaccurately nicknamed Fat Charlie by his dynamic father, has been slogging through his boring work life and tepid romance (complete with virgin fiancee). Adventure comes knocking, literally, as a brother Charlie never knew existed pays a visit and drags him on a life-changing journey. The father they share, a ladies’ man who lives to have a good time, is none other than Anansi, the spider god, a trickster of the first degree. This feels more like a comic novel than a fantasy, though, appealing even to readers who prefer realism in their fiction. Lenny Henry, the actor narrator, does a beautiful job bringing the characters to life in all their variety, and with several authoritative dialects/accents. This is our bestselling audiobook at the store. Older teens love it, too.
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. How does anyone narrate a book this exquisite, funny and heartbreaking — and told, no less, from the point of view of Death itself? I don’t know, but narrator Allan Corduner pulls it off gloriously. A resonant (but never ponderous or pompous) British accent helps, as does a narrator who immerses himself so fully in the story that he seems to become the story, if that makes sense. His emotional range — wisdom, humor, anger, surprise, etc. — is as broad and deep as the wide human world of the book, but also manages to embody the sorrowful omniscience and necessary distance of Zusak’s storyteller, Death. A magnificent book, beautifully read. Truth be told? I’d listen to it again.
  • Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt; narrated by Jeff Woodman. I can’t remember when or where I first listened to this riveting real-life suspense story/Savannah moodpiece, but I enjoyed it so much that first time that I chose it again years later to be my car-ride companion at a difficult time, driving back and forth between one small town in Indiana and a hospital 45 minutes away in another. Something appealed to me about the oppressive heat in the book, the snobbish socialite parties and late-night impromptu honkeytonks, the gorgeous antiques and misfit dangerous young men, summer Georgia nights spent in cemeteries, the author’s brief foray into voodoo, the flirtatious, outrageous drag queen he befriends, the cafe characters and restless beauties he comes upon in his southern sojourn. Berendt is a little like the main character in Styron’s Sophie’s Choice: always an outsider, grateful to be included, an observant and literary satellite recounting tales of tawdry glamor and ruined lives. Good stuff.
  • David Sedaris’s Live at Carnegie Hall. This last is short enough that it may not officially count as an indulgence, but I can make an argument for it — and will, since I’ve listened to the entire CD at least ten times, usually when I walk the dogs. Sure, my neighbors think I’m a little odd, weeping with laughter in the farmer’s field while I march along and my dogs run around sniffing cow dung, but I don’t care; “Stadium Pal” alone is worth the reputation of eccentricity.

Audiobooks I’ve heard once and would love to hear again? Both Because of Winn-Dixie (narrator: the inimitable Cherry Jones) and The Tale of Despereaux (narrator: the marvelous Graeme Malcolm) by Kate DiCamillo; The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, narrated by Dean Robertson; The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx (the unabridged version narrated by Kimberly Schraf is now OP, sadly — it’s a pity, because this was a book I kept trying and failing to like, until I turned to the audio in desperation because of its near-universal accolades. I was so glad I did).
What do these books have in common, aside from marvelous writing and gifted narrators? What makes them worth experiencing, over many long hours, more than once? Anything hinging on surprise won’t cut it; most whodunits are a one-time read.  I suppose it has something to do with the human truths at the hearts of the stories, and the language that reveals, and revels, in them, that make me want to live in those worlds again.
Are there audiobooks you’ve listened to more than once? And any you’ve heard once that are beckoning to you for a second audience?

When Kids Say Hello

Josie Leavitt - July 7, 2010

The summer brings with it hordes of children I don’t often get see during the year. Sometimes these are kids I don’t see for a whole year, and sometimes these are kids I don’t see because school keeps them far too busy. And every once in a while, it’s a young regular who’s no longer shy. It’s been a great week for kid sightings and how these kids say hello makes my day.
Sunday, I was actually at the supermarket and a recent high school graduate came bounding up to me, arms wide open, huge smile on her face practically shouting, “Josie!! I graduated!” I beamed back and told her that I knew and was very proud of her.  Admittedly, I don’t get greeted like this every day, but I can say I got greeted like that yesterday.
One of my favorite summer families came in the store. I only saw them once last year and I was saddened to see that I had missed them during my fishing day last week, so I was elated to them walking in the door, escaping the heat. Faith and Jamie both ran up to me with arms wide. After a group hug, Faith said, “Enough, I need some books!” I set her up with a stack far too large and hugged the mom and got caught up on adult matters: How’s the divorce coming? Everyone healthy? What are the oldest children doing? This family represents for me one of the reasons I love my job. I have seen them grow up before my eyes. I remember when Faith wasn’t even born and the oldest daughter was in middle school – she’s now graduated from college.
I love the kids who I haven’t seen in a while come in and the boys say hello, and their voices have changed. So, what used to be a “hi” is now a bass-toned “Hey” with a slight wave. Boys don’t stop and hug as often as the girls and their moms. Boys like to get their books and I like their sense of purpose. The kids home from college for summer will stop and chat, filling me in on their lives, and asking far too late in the hiring season if there’s any work available.
While the older kids are always great to see, it’s the little ones who kill me. There’s one young boy, almost three, who now knows me well enough that he won’t hide behind his dad’s leg when I say hello to him. Now I get a heart-melting smile and a shy wave. Sometimes though, this little guy follows me around very quietly and taps my leg and then smiles up at me when I look down to see who’s tapping me.
Another little one, almost five, came in on Monday, and though she is still shy, she spoke up enough for me to hear her ask, “Funny Josie, do you have Swan Lake?”
I just gotta say, I love my job.

Characters You’d Let Your Daughter Date

Elizabeth Bluemle - July 6, 2010

My cousin and her family came to visit last week, and I kept thinking of great guys I wanted to introduce to my cousin’s 16-year-old daughter, Calyn. The problem was, most of the guys were fictional.
There are a lot of great guys in YA lit. I’d really love for Calyn to meet the wildly original, open-hearted, sweet Nawat from Tamora Pierce’s Trickster’s Choice, for instance. In fact, just about any of the male heroes in Pierce’s books would do; George, the robber king from The Song of the Lioness cycle is my other fave. I’d happily introduce Calyn to Owen from Sarah Dessen’s Just Listen, Max from Cecil Castellucci’s Boyproof, Zach from Nancy Werlin’s Impossible, John from Ellen Wittlinger’s Hard Love.
I’d support dates with Jasper from Jean Webster’s Daddy-Long-Legs, or Stephen from Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle. And I’d love to be in-laws with Hilary McKay’s Casson family, in case Calyn found herself pairing up with Indigo. Since I’m a generous soul, I’d even allow her to date my own first literary crush: Aragorn (do I need to explain that this is Tolkien’s character from The Lord of the Rings? I didn’t think so.) Ah, Aragorn. *sigh*
When I raised the question of literary dating with Calyn herself, she admitted to a current crush on Colin in John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines (I have a soft spot for his lazy, funny best friend, Hassan).
As for suitors I’d forbid from Calyn’s doorstep: at the top of the list is Heathcliff (who was my own weakness at 18; by 30, I knew better).
So let me ask you: What characters in literature would you want your daughter to date? And whom would you never let her near?

Bookish Birdhouses Make the Grade (6th Grade, That Is)

Alison Morris - July 2, 2010

Today is my last day at Wellesley Booksmith, which has me moping quite a bit and feeling a bit nostalgic. In order to boost my spirits I thought it’d be fitting to post one of the happiest things that’s happened to me in the last month of my time here: I’ve inspired kids (and their teachers) to be artistic.
I’ve sung the praises here before of Esther Frazee, school librarian at the Tenacre Country Day School here in Wellesley, and now I’m doing it again. Esther sees each of the classes in her (very small) school just once per week, but she does so many imaginative things with them in what little time they have together that you’d think she saw them a lot more often! Most of their visits focus, of course, on choosing books and enjoying one of Esther’s read-alouds, but she often does creative book-related projects with them too — projects that I think she REALLY ought to put in a book to inspire other teachers, because WOW are they great.
Last summer I offered a two-part workshop here at the store on making bookish birdhouses like those I’ve posted here on ShelfTalker. I had a GREAT time working with a group made up of my coworkers plus a handful of local teachers and librarians. Esther was one of those in attendance, and she did two birdhouses in the time that the rest of us each did one. (A clear indication that she’s accustomed to making the most of what little art time she’s got.)
Since that time Esther has made several more bookish birdhouses, and this spring she taught those birdhouse painting & pasting skills to Tenacre’s 6th grade class — the Class of 2010 who gradauted this spring from Tenacre and will soon be attending local middle schools. Their bookish birdhouses will remain in the library for future classes to admire and enjoy.
For this project, Esther asked each student to choose his or her favorite picture book. She then supplied the working materials for them, culling primarily from discarded library titles for the actual books. The students thought carefully about which pages they wanted to feature on each of the birdhouses’ sides and wrote explanations to be glued on the bottom of each birdhouse, explaining why they chose the book they did.
Esther invited Lorna and I to visit Tenacre’s (beautiful!) library to see the results, and we were both just bowled over by what a fantastic job these kids had done — even those who claimed they weren’t artistic.
To those of you out there claiming that you could never make one of these beauties, I offer these bookish birdhouses as proof that you most definitely CAN. Click on any of the photos below to see them larger and browse through the gallery.

What Booksellers Do When They Skip Work

Josie Leavitt - July 1, 2010

I know when kids see me outside of my store, they always look surprised. It’s as if they’re thinking, “But don’t you live at the bookstore?” Well, no, it just seems that way. But we do get out of the store and sometimes, if we’re lucky we get to go fishing. Living so close to Lake Champlain means there’s a giant lake full of fish.
I never fish except when our Indiana cousins come visiting for the last week of June. It helps that they tow their bass fishing boat from Indiana so all the boat-less Vermonters get out on the lake. It is wonderfully relaxing to be on the water. I got up early yesterday to fish at 6:15 a.m. What a splendid way to bring in the day. I forget that natural beauty is so restorative for the soul. It also helps to catch some fish. We came back in at 11 a.m and then I had another full day of meals with family and playing games, and catching some more fish.
It’s a little scary how easily I’m letting go of work this week. My staff is more than capable. In fact, I think they’re enjoying a break from the bosses, and I must say, the brief moment I popped in there the other day, the store looked sparkly and clean and they kept trying to usher me out of there.
I am taking a deep, deep breath and it’s been as good as the beer in the photo, which is really just there for contrast, so you can just how big that Small Mouth Bass really is.