The Flying Pig has had remarkably low turnover in our 19-year history. We hire carefully, relying both on our interview process and gut instinct (and past experience) to tell us whether or not someone will be a good fit for the store, customers, and co-workers. We have had the most wonderful people at the Flying Pig, and so it’s always a joy to welcome a new member of the team.
I’m so pleased to introduce Lizzy, a college student and avid reader. We knew right away that she would be great with customers, terrific with kids, fun to work with, and knowledgeable about books. Golden combination!
On Sunday, I worked with Lizzy and our other college student staffer, David. I’d shown David one of my recent favorite picture books, Stick and Stone by Beth Ferris and Tom Lichtenheld, and David – a 19-year-old baritone sax player who gravitates to fantasy, science fiction, and books about jazz greats – fell in love with it. He started telling Lizzy the plot, and was so animated and charming about it that I grabbed my iPhone and said, “Wait, wait!”
I’d own a bookstore over a giving tree any day. Real giving is, after all, not unilateral. It is a dialectical growth that enriches everyone involved. A bookstore is all about real giving.
What first woke me up to the power and importance of children’s books in the bookstore was having a child, 22 years ago. The bookstore has been an integral, dynamic element in our relationship ever since.
Once in a while in retail, you have a charmed day. Every customer who comes in is pleasant and in a good mood, and there are customers who surprise you with extra charm. I recently had a day like that, and the highlight was a young tourist from New Jersey.
He was a little short for his age, so at first I pegged him at around 7th grade. He had brown hair and a husky voice, and he came striding up to the counter with purpose.
I was in D.C. last week visiting a friend and I stumbled on Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe. There is nothing I enjoy more than traveling and finding a great independent bookstore. I happened to come to the store around 10 in the morning, usually a quiet time for most bookstores. Instead, I found a bustling store with a nearly full cafe serving breakfast to what looked like regulars who were reading, eating and enjoying a bookish start to their day. Continue reading
We booksellers assume ourselves to be fluent in the language of blurbs. This is hubris. The fragility of our blurb command in particular, and our sanity in general, become apparent when we have occasion to stray beyond the fields we know and enter those remarkable meadows where poetry blurbs are found.
Poetry blurbs are clearly a language of their own. To the untuned reader, their purpose appears to be overshadowing the poetry collection they are reviewing with abstruse but athletic hyperbole. This can hardly be the case, of course, and only accentuates the layman’s lack of understanding in this uniquely cultivated world.
For example, in preparing materials for a poetry reading, I recently encountered the following sentence. “Book of thisness, book of withness, book of now.” I had no idea what any of those terms meant, and, not wanting to deprive myself of the potent pleasures which surely attend becoming fluent in poetry blurbs, I pondered on a means for achieving enlightenment that wouldn’t involve actually engaging in poetry.
Every day I get galleys in the mail. And every day I make the decision of what to read and what not to read. The way I make that decision is decidedly haphazard. Some books I’ve been desperate to get and dive into because there’s already a buzz about them, others grab me as I read the back cover, and then there are the books that languish partly because I don’t know the author or it’s the wrong genre for my mood, etc. Occasionally, someone from the publishing house will follow up with an email. This generally is not that effective because I get so many of these emails a day. But yesterday I got the best follow-up email, ever, that has me ready to find this galley and read it.
The first thing that struck me about this email was the subject line: “A book for Allie”. Allie happens to be my dog, who I blogged about in May. I was fairly stunned that a publisher would be sending a book to the dog, needless to say I opened that email immediately. It was funny, thoughtful and even included a link to the book’s information via Edelweiss. This was a brilliant email. The book is The Dog Walker: An Anarchist’s Encounters with the Good, the Bad, and the Canine. I’ll be honest: while I have a dog, I’m not normally a fan of reading dog books, but the first thing I will do when I get to the store today is look for this galley and take a look at it.
The sense of playfulness about the book is what grabbed me. Liam from Melville House, who said he sent the book to Allie, ended his email with this charming sentence. “Of course, Allie’s encouraged to share with the rest of the staff, but I wanted to make sure it got into the right paws first.” Perhaps I’m easily charmed, but this was fabulous. That someone read the blog in May and thought that I might actually want to read this book, then sent a clever email to follow up, is a surefire way to get me to pick up the book. I realize this kind of personal touch can’t be had for all galleys (no one would get anything done, ever, if this were the case) but wow, it sure worked for this one.
Today is a sad day for the Flying Pig family. Michel Mahe, chef/owner of the Bearded Frog restaurant next door to the bookstore, passed away quite suddenly last week. His memorial is today. Michel was only 51 and it seems he died in his sleep after a night of working at one of his five restaurants. Working in a small town provides ample opportunities to get to know people and with this comes the risk of loss. We lose people and it hurts. This is the first time we’ve lost another business owner who we counted as a friend. Continue reading
Recently, I went to see the movie Inside Out. I was charmed by its cleverness and intrigued throughout by the way it followed, raveled and unraveled its themes. What I didn’t love was the heartwrenching little four- or five-year-old’s voice piping up the movie theater aisle for an hour and a half, asking his dad again and again, “Is this Inside Out? Is this Inside Out?” He was confused by the movie, and a little freaked out, and clearly kept wondering when the kids’ movie he was excited to watch would finally come onto the screen.
I have no problem with Disney, Pixar, and co. making animated films for older audiences. Genre expansion and exploration, huzzah! But there are a couple of things going on here that do frustrate me.
In Clark Ashton Smith’s The End of the Story, a book-loving young man, Christophe, finds himself in the library of the learned monk Hilaire who, discovering in Christophe a rapt audience, “pressed a hidden spring in one of the library tables and drew out a long drawer, in which… were certain treasures that he did not care to bring forth for the edification or delectation of many, and whose very existence was undreamed of by the monks.
‘Here,’ he continued, ‘are three odes by Catullus which you will not find in any published edition of his works. Here, also, is an original manuscript of Sappho — a complete copy of a poem otherwise extant only in brief fragments; here are two of the lost tales of Miletus, a letter of Perides to Aspasia, an unknown dialogue of Plato and an old Arabian work on astronomy, by some anonymous author, in which the theories of Copernicus are anticipated. And, lastly, here is the somewhat infamous Histoire d’Amour, by Bernard de Vaillantcoeur, which was destroyed immediately upon publication, and of which only one other copy is known to exist.’”
Illustration used with permission. © Eliza Wheeler
The book world – the commerce end of it, at any rate – has changed so much in the past 20 years, it’s almost unrecognizable. When we opened the Flying Pig in 1996, the big issue causing a stir among booksellers was something (long gone now) called “vendor of record.” Barnes & Noble was only just starting to be a big threat, putting indies out of business by the score. Now, nearly 20 years later, B&N has somehow come to seem like an underdog (!) in the shadow of that other online behemoth, and internet sales and e-readers have further morphed the face of the bookselling landscape.
Now authors are looking at their contracts in the face of these changes. The Authors Guild – the nation’s largest and most effective advocacy group for authors – has begun to address some of these issues through its Fair Contract Initiative (https://www.authorsguild.org/where-we-stand/fair-contracts/).