Monthly Archives: January 2014

Mother-Son Date at the Bookstore

Elizabeth Bluemle - January 10, 2014

beautiful_mother_embracing_and_hugging_her_child_a_son_0071-0904-3008-0326_SMUWe love it when the bookstore is a destination for a special occasion. We’ve held private birthday parties here, and even were honored to host a wedding after hours. Even the smallest and simplest celebrations make our day.
Recently, a mom came in with her six-year-old son. “We’re having a date today,” she said, her arm around his shoulder, “and you should know that the bookstore is a special part of our date.” Awwwwww, I love that!
While the young man browsed among the chapter books, his mom mentioned quietly to us that he had done his hair specially for the occasion — normally a regular cut, today it poked up in a cute ridge from front to back like a stylish mohawk without the shaved sides. Soon, he found a Geronimo Stilton book he wanted, and several other books and toys he was hoping for. Since they were only buying one book that day, we set up a wish list for him (ahh, the wish list, that wonderful tool for defusing disappointment) and as they were leaving, the mom said, “We’ll see you on our next date!”

But Is It a Classic?

Elizabeth Bluemle - January 9, 2014

laurel wreathOne of our booksellers, Darrilyn, was shelving Seamus Heaney’s version of Beowulf the other day when she held it up and said, “Poetry? Or Classics?” There ensued a brief, lively discussion; staffer Laura and I came down on the side of shelving it with the classics, where it usually lives, although of course an argument could be made for poetry. Neither is wrong; like many bookstore decisions, it’s booksellers’ choice, which mainly boils down to thinking about where customers are most likely to go looking for a title. “There’s a blog post for you,” Darrilyn said. “Where do we draw the line? What counts as a ‘classic?’ ”
This was a particularly relevant question, since we have been finding some odd things being shelved in our adult Classics section. We’re not sure how they are migrating over from Fiction. Kurt Vonnegut, for example. He’s a noteworthy author by any standard, but he shouldn’t be in Classics yet. P.G. Wodehouse often finds himself in the Classics case, as well, perhaps because he is inarguably delightful and the delicious matte hardcover editions we stock look and feel pleasingly classic. But does Wodehouse belong there? And if not, why not, exactly? Anthony Trollope lives in Classics, as does Twain, as does Aristophanes’ The Frogs, as do Shakespeare’s comedies, and so on, so the distinction is not about comic versus serious tone. Is Wodehouse simply too recently deceased (1975) to enter the canon fully as of yet?
Is one of the distinctions we make sheerly about literary prowess? If so, why do we have Twain and Dickens’ lighter fare and Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo in Classics, but keep Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca in Fiction? Is that an unconsciously sexist choice? Are we valuing du Maurier’s subject matter (gothic romance, ghost story) less than Dumas’ (betrayal, revenge, an epic potboiler) because she’s a woman? Some of our internal designations are hard to pin down; for something that we think of as nearly carved in stone, it’s a question that squirms around a little. What exactly IS a classic?
The dictionary defines a classic as a— just kidding! I couldn’t help invoking that stale staple opener of the high school essay. But it is worth noting that there is no hard-and-fast definition or rule about what qualifies a book to be a literary classic. It seems safe to say that, in order to reach “classic” status, a book needs to be widely considered — by thoughtful readers as well as the brightest intellects in the field — to be worthwhile, notable, extraordinary, a valuable addition to literature, resonant and striking to the mind (ideally also to the heart and spirit). A classic does not have to uplift the soul, but it must stretch, or deeply enrich, the human being. And it must endure the scrutiny of the ages. It must transcend its time. I believe all of this to be true for classic children’s books, as well.
The term “classic” is often used in relation to new books, and while those rare gems may certainly turn out to be classics, I don’t believe they have earned that august spot on the bookshelf just yet. To me, a book cannot be considered a classic before it has stood the test of generations of readers. Even Shakespeare’s plays wouldn’t have been “classics” while he was still alive.
Readers, what do you consider the salient determinant(s) of a classic children’s book? What makes a classic a classic, and when? And finally, which books published in our lifetime do you think will endure, to be considered classics in 50, 100, 400 years?

Status Update: Poetry Rocks!

Josie Leavitt - January 7, 2014

I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. I love that it can keep me connected to friends and family who live far away. I could do without the games, the quizzes, the ads, etc. But something happened to Facebook over the weekend that has been utterly delightful: a poetry explosion.
I have my friend Stephen Kiernan (author of one of my favorite books of last year: The Curiosity) to thank for alerting me to this. His post explained it all: Post a poem as your status update and then assign a poet for everyone who likes your update. I liked Stephen’s update and he assigned me William Stafford. I posted as my status Stafford’s poem Allegiances. Many of my friends, and surprisingly, friends who I don’t normally think of poetry lovers (some would actually put me in that camp), liked my update.
So, I spent much of Sunday evening trying to match my friends with poets I thought they would like or already love. It’s been really great fun to see all this poetry on Facebook. I’ve made the mistake of liking other posts, so now I’m in an infinite loop of liking and posting poetry. As the number of people posting grows, this is will expand over a large group of very disparate people and more and more people will be reading multiple poems a day.
And honestly, this can only be a good thing and a needed break from people posting about the weather.

We’ve Got a Jar for That

Josie Leavitt - January 6, 2014

Back in the early days of the bookstore in Charlotte, Vt., 16 and 17 years ago, we had a “swear jar.” Anytime someone said something off-color, especially that could be overheard by little ears, they had to put a quarter in the jar.
This system worked well for our customers who had a sense of fun and propriety. Sadly, I was often the largest contributor to the jar. It got to the point that some kids, or their parents, would just look at me and I’d pop a quarter or two in the jar, just in case. Now, 17 years later, the jar is long gone but it’s memory remains.
During the height of the holiday shopping season, Felicia flew in. She was one of the customers who was a regular visitor to the swear jar, back when her kids were two and four. I looked at her and knew she had a request that I would not be able to meet in the time she had allotted. Her daughter, Julia, now 19, was home for the holidays and was sick and she needed the “perfect book selected and wrapped” in less than two minutes. It seems Julia was in the car and feverish. I struggled briefly because everything I suggested Julia had already read or they had it at home. I politely suggested reading one of them. At the exact moment I lobbed a curse at Felicia’s indecision, her sick daughter walked in.
Julia heard me say a swear and turned to me and said, “We’ve got a jar for that at home.” I looked at her quizzically. She added that they had a “potty mouth jar” at their house that was modeled after our swear jar. The rules for their jar included anything that was base, not just curses.
I handed Julia a dollar to cover the rest of the day.

A Snowman Sleeping with a Person?

Josie Leavitt - January 3, 2014

Sometimes, it’s helpful to see all cards from a six-year-old’s perspective. We sell lots and lots of cards. Elizabeth is responsible for our card selections and clearly she enjoys buying the cards from the New Yorker. These cards are, hands down, are our bestsellers.
These cards are just plain funny. Kids, usually 10 and up, often get the sometimes adult humor. Often though, the captions go right over kids’ heads, and honestly, that’s a good thing because let’s not try and explain one of my favorite cards: One headless praying mantis says to the other: “You slept with her, didn’t you?”
What I noticed at the end of the year was younger and younger kids were not only noticing the cards, but reading them. One kid, clearly no older than four or five, read the following card out loud: “Why, you’re right, tonight’s not reading night, tonight is sex night.” Of course it was the only time in the last week of December the store was actually quiet. Quiet enough that everyone heard this. I cannot say how many heads whipped around when they heard a child’s voice uttering these words. I explained what had happened, and the customers looked visibly calmer.
The last little one to have an encounter with the cards was a gregarious, chatty five-year-old girl who saw the card with a woman in bed with a snowman and the following caption: “You’ll be gone in the morning, like all the rest.” She just kept repeating the impracticality of this sleeping arrangement: “A snowman sleeping with a person. That’s just weird. Why would a snowman do that?”
We all stifled laughs at her disbelief. Needless to say, I spent the next quiet moment moving all the racier cards to the top shelves of the card spinner.

A Resolute Year

Elizabeth Bluemle - January 2, 2014

As the globe spins into its bazillionth year (number approximate; adjust according to preferred calendar), some human New Year’s Resolutions seem eternal: eat healthier foods, exercise more, cut out X bad habit, improve self in various Y ways, face Z fear / try Z activity for the first time, blah-de-blah. Sincere efforts, each and every year. Some of these mountains will be scaled; others are destined to languish in the to-do pile of good intentions.
Indie bookstores have similar eternal resolutions, some of which I’ll bet are universal among at least our smaller, less numerously staffed branches: be better at tracking and collecting co-op*, plan events farther ahead, be quicker and more merciless about returns, better balance publisher and distributor orders, organize the back room, take advantage of publisher specials in a timely fashion, stay on top of ARCs, implement new programs/outreach/internal systems we’ve been considering. In other words, cut out X bad habit, improve self in various Y ways, try Z activity for the first time. Rinse and repeat.
*  For the unanointed: co-op is credit publishers extend for promoting certain titles at stores. Since we at the Flying Pig don’t choose our featured titles based on co-op, keeping track of the titles we love that are eligible for co-op requires an extra layer of effort.
I’ve got my own personal bookseller set of resolutions. This year marks the first I’ve really needed to set the goal of reading more. Booksellers read all the time, it seems, and yet, as I’ve blogged about before, we are also not immune to the sirens of competing media. I don’t spend much time on Facebook, but I do spend a little most days. I don’t have a television, but I do have screens and monitors, and lately have spent a lot of time baking while (don’t lose all respect) watching series marathons. Last year, I went through The West Wing, 30 Rock, Parks and Rec, and MI-5 (which is sort of like a British The Wire meets The West Wing meets James Bond meets something else current and espionage-y I can’t think of. It’s fabulous.). These are all shows I have seen before, and while I am attending to the excellent writing within, this is precious time I want to spend reading. So this year, now, and especially once I’m done with my Buffy marathon (ahem) I will be diving into books the way I used to, when they were cable and Netflix all in one. This year, NetGalley will be my Netflix, dagnabit!
I’ve already started; I’m reading Suzanne Young’s The Treatment, the follow-up to The Program. Nothing like a good dystopia to start out the new year! And I’ve got a stack of books compiled thanks to you wonderful people who responded to my vacation reading blog. I’ll let you know how those go.
What are YOUR reading resolutions, peeps? Anyone trying to branch out into new genres? Anyone deciding to broaden their international reading? Or delve into unread classics? Or read everything New Directions has ever published? Those are four reading groups right there waiting to happen for me.
What readerly changes will you wreak in 2014?