Monthly Archives: November 2012

Got Books? Create Gifts

Elizabeth Bluemle - November 30, 2012

It isn’t always easy choosing gift books for well-read friends. You want to pick something they haven’t read but that – preferably – you have, so that your gift is personal and meaningful. One way to celebrate a literary friendship in a unique way is to choose some favorite books and make snazzy gifts out of them. Handcrafted presents are especially precious and appreciated these days, when most of us seem too busy even to handwrite a letter, much less make our gifts. And homemade gifts can be easier on strained pocketbooks – a not insignificant point in this economy. Best of all, anything made with or from books just looks terrific.
If, like me, you aren’t entirely sure you’re the craftastic sort, you can browse through a couple of recent titles for ideas and step-by-step instructions for projects from vases and lamps to purses and totes to wall art – all made out of books.
Playing with Books: The Art of Upcycling, Deconstructing, & Reimagining the Book, by Jason Thompson (Quarry Books)
This is a beautiful book! The publisher’s marketing info describes it perfectly: “In these pages, Jason Thompson has curated an extensive and artistic range of both achievable upcycled crafts made from books and book pages and an amazing gallery that contains thought-provoking and beautiful works that transform books into art. The content encompasses a wide range of techniques and step-by-step projects that deconstruct and rebuild books and their parts into unique, upcycled objects. The book combines in equal measure bookbinding, woodworking, paper crafting, origami, and textile and decorative arts techniques, along with a healthy dose of experimentation and fun.”
Another book along these lines came to my attention via an artistic customer, who recently ordered it from us:
The Repurposed Library: 33 Craft Projects That Give Old Books New Life, by Lisa Occhipinti (Stewart, Tabori & Chang). This one has instructions for “homier” items, including a kitchen utensil holder made out of an old cookbook, a wall-mounted shelf made of books to hold small treasures, and a real-book holder to house an e-reader. There’s even a paper wreath project – perfect for gracing the doors of booklovers’ homes during the holidays.
If you want to actually make a handcrafted book instead of making things out of books, there are lots of terrific resources out there for bookbinding. Here’s another title from Quarry Books, with a little twist:
Re-Bound: Creating Handmade Books from Recycled and Repurposed Materials, by Jeannine Stein (Quarry Books). The author shows folks how to use items from flea markets, thrift shops, even hardware stores and your house, and turn them into beautiful little books.

I must say that Quarry puts out some gorgeous books about books! Tonight, while grabbing cover images for this post, I came upon 1000 Artists’ Books: Exploring the Book As Art, by Sandra Salamony, Peter Thomas, and Donna Thomas (Quarry Books):

A delicate canoe with page tufts lofting from its bed? Teeny leather books in a bell jar?! The cover of this book alone makes me drool. I cannot wait to order it for the Flying Pig (and a copy for myself). The art objects in this collection are surely beyond the talents of many of us (or perhaps just me), but could provide inspiration – and simply delight – for decades.
Readers, what’s the best gift you’ve ever received or made out of a book?

Impulse Control During the Holidays

Josie Leavitt - November 29, 2012

As we approach the holiday season I often think of Christmases of my youth. I was raised by a single mom with an impulse control problem. This often resulted in the holidays starting as early as October with Christmas carols being sung around the house and stacks of holiday books being brought out. Part of this rush to the season was, back when I was a kid, it actually got colder earlier and there was the subtle cue of the seasonal shift.
While I like to think I can blame the rush to the holidays on the weather, the push really does rest with my mother. She would holiday shop early and then hide presents, for a day or two. Then she would bounce around like a little kid practically bursting with “I’ve got a secret” on the tip of her tongue. Often, by December 1st, she would be unable to contain herself and she’d offer, “Would you like to open a present?” And what kid can say no to that? Certainly not me. What I loved about these presents is they were often books. Sometimes I’d get the newest Stephen King in hardcover, or a great Judy Blume that would be reread for the whole upcoming year.
I remember one year I yearned for an ET doll that was astoundingly hard to get. My mom did manage to get one and she was so proud of herself that I came home from school on December 3rd and she practically flung him at me all the while doing a song and dance about how awesome she was. I loved the doll and still have it to this day. It was the really nice leather one that sits up by itself. The irony is I’ve never seen the movie, but I loved ET.
The real kicker of the early holiday was the year that all the Christmas shopping was done by December 15th. Our cat, Mittens, had decided to shimmy up the tree and knock it down. This pretty much made my mom think that we should just start opening presents right then and there. I was 13 and my mom was 35 and we dove into our presents like three-year-olds. We even opened our stockings. It was fun. Grand fun. Until December 25th came.
It was quite a sad little morning when we realized there was nothing to open. Mom had decided that since it was just the two of us we didn’t really need a big meal. So we had a tiny chicken and some mashed potatoes. While it was sad to have nothing to open on Christmas Day itself, we did have our books. After our quiet meal, we changed into our jammies and just read, all day. And it was bliss.

The Value of People

Josie Leavitt - November 28, 2012

Every once in a while I am reminded that people do matter in business. In this age of electronic ordering, cost savings, and a single-minded focus on the bottom line, real people can get lost in the shuffle. I’m happy to report that our local library has revived my faith in people.
This past year the Charlotte Library got a new director, Margaret. Margaret has been a customer of our store pretty much since we opened. I remember when she was a volunteer at the library and have seen work her way up to being the director. When our store was across the street from the library, they would order books. Not a ton of books, but a few a week. They would often walk over and grab a book two they had forgotten to order. They had a budget to adhere to and would do the bulk of their purchasing with a jobber. I totally understand that as the budget has to be publicly defended at the annual Town Meeting.
This year we have a seen a huge increase in the number of books the library buys from us. In fact we fulfill almost all of the library book orders. Every week we get an email from Margaret or the Cheryl, the children’s librarian, with a book list. As much as I love getting these emails, what I love best is that all of the ISBNs are included. Some weeks we order up to 30 books for the library. We provide a small town service for the library, we deliver the book orders when they arrive.
I asked Margaret why we’ve been getting so many orders. She explained that while they might save a little more with a library jobber, they decided to shop local. Plus, they decided that dealing with real people might be ultimately more cost-effective because mistakes are more easily remedied and there is a chance at a real conversation about books when they call us.
Obviously, I have loved the library orders for the income they generate, but I also love knowing what my library is ordering for the folks in town. This gives me a real heads up as to what might sell well at the store. I like knowing that my neighbors, some of whom might not be bookstore patrons, are reading books from my store. I feel more invested in my town because of the library orders.
And, they love getting our old galleys, so really, what’s not to love?

I Want One of These! (And Who Wouldn’t?)

Elizabeth Bluemle - November 26, 2012

 We all complain about Facebook — either as a time drain or a chronicle of the overly quotidian — but I must admit, it can lead to interesting places. Just this week I learned about a Kickstarter campaign by a gardening environmentalist that looks fabulous, and followed someone’s link on that site to a great design and architecture blog called to look at photos of a rocking chair built to power an iPad (over-the-shoulder speakers included), which in turn led me to today’s blog post featured item: a gorgeous storytime rocking chair that seats one big person and two or three little ones.

Hal Taylor’s award-winning Story Time Rocking Chair, from

Designed by Hal Taylor, a Virginia woodworker specializing in custom rocking chairs, this one was built to accommodate his growing family. As his website says: “When our third child, Rose, was born, she was certain she wanted to be part of the ‘reading crowd’ at about nine months old. Well, I did not have a lap large enough for three children so I had to come up with something! This, my StoryTime Rocking Chair, is what I came up with. A ‘four passenger’ rocking chair.”

Hal Taylor demonstrates the Story Time Rocker. From

I love how the two side seats are built up high to allow littler folks to perch at perfect book-sharing height. I also love what Mr. Taylor says about reading at the top of the web page dedicated to this chair: “It is my sincere belief that one of the most important things you can do for your children is to read to them. I read to my children from the time they could listen to a story until they could read better than I could. We read everything, C.S. Lewis, Mark Twain, Uncle Remus, J.R.R. Tolkien and my personal favorite, ‘Snoozeroo.’ I read to them until they were asleep every night.”
This is such a thoughtful, charming piece of furniture. It looks glossy, smooth, comfortable, and beautifully made, the kind of chair passed down through generations. It is a chair for very lucky households, or a memorable fixture that would make innumerable bookstore and library patrons beam with delight. Hint. Hint.
So Santa, if you’re listening, one of these for Christmas?
P.S. I was curious about his favorite book. It looks to be a 1968 title called Snoozeroo, the Sandman’s Helper, by Eileen Daly, illustrated by Leslie Gray. It looks very cute, and with that title, I can imagine why it would appeal to a busy dad with three young children!

A Different Kind of Black Friday

Josie Leavitt - November 23, 2012

Today is the day that marks the beginning of the retail sprint to Christmas. Many stores have outrageous sales and promise that if you showed up 5 am you’d save more than if you went after lunch. These sales require stores to bring on extra security because of the risk of people being trampled. Often people get hurt in the maddening rush to be among the first to storm the aisles.
Shopping at independent bookstores on Black Friday is a very different experience. A bookstore is a different kind of sales animal. We make our sales not by creating chaos but by talking about our love of books. This makes for a very special and personal shopping experience. We are not selling electronics, or clothes, we’re selling an experience or a journey.
Reading, while a solitary act, is, at its best a shared experience. When people talk about books they love, they do it with passion. Hearing anyone to talk about a favorite book in their lives they become animated and the listeners can’t help but be drawn in. I love the holiday season because I get to talk to folks about books I love.
Unlike regular book buying times, the holidays brings customers in who are overwhelmed by the books they have to buy, but still very selective. This is the indies’ time to shine. The passion we all have books makes shopping fun, and sometimes inspiring. Plus our joy at matching the right books for the right readers is really what we live for.
So, when you crave a different shopping experience, come to an indie. We’ll recommend great books and in most stores, you’ll walk away happier than when you walked in.

An Advent Calendar — in Books

Elizabeth Bluemle - November 21, 2012

A longtime friend and customer brought one of her friends to the store for the first time today. There’s almost nothing more heartening than hearing our loyal Flying Pig folk introduce the bookstore to their friends and family. They say the nicest things about how our small business has been part of their lives, and their enthusiasm and appreciation sends a glow through us that last through long hours. Our sense of being part of the fabric of our community is strongest at these moments. Meeting new people at the store has benefits far beyond just the potential to forge a new relationship with a happy customer; often, we learn about new authors and pick up great ideas. Today’s serendipitous encounter was with Allison, whose preschool-aged son loves books. She was in, she said, looking for some holiday books to add to their under-tree Advent calendar.
“Your…?” I said.
She laughed. “We’re doing a book every night for the 24 nights of December. They’ll be wrapped under the tree, and our son can choose whatever package he’d like that night, and we’ll read it to him before bed.”
I love this idea! A book Advent calendar! Brilliant!! Admittedly, this is a plan that could get expensive, and Allison did confide that what gave her the idea originally was a book club flyer from her son’s preschool that offered 10 books for $14.95. She’s buying the rest of the 14 books at local bookstores. That’s a compromise I can understand.
This is an idea that could also work for the eight days of Hanukkah, and the seven days of Kwanzaa. Of course, book fanatics like me would enjoy the book-a-day-all-year-round plan, but that’s neither practical nor possible (which is why we own bookstores), so this could be a good compromise.
I’ve had fun thinking of what books I might choose for my 24-day book Advent calendar, if they were all books with a strong Christmas theme. Many of mine are long-held loves, some from childhood, others from more recent days. This list is a little fluid; I’m sure I’ve forgotten some beloved favorites. But for now, here’s my Advent-calendar 24-book round-up:
The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden, A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote, A Christmas Miracle by Peter Collington, Eloise at Christmastime by Kay Thompson, The Tree of the Dancing Goats by Patricia Polacco, Christmas Crocodile by Bonny Becker, A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost (the version illustrated by Susan Jeffers has a Christmas surprise), The Christmas Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, The Night Tree by Eve Bunting, Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree by Robert Barry, Twelve Kinds of Ice by Ellen Bryan Obed, How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss, The Worst Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson, The Gift of Nothing by Patrick McDonnell, Santa Claus: The World’s Number One Toy Expert by Marla Frazee, The Snowman by Raymond Briggs, The Littlest Angel by Charles Tazewell (my very first childhood Christmas favorite), The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry, The Night Before Christmas Pop-Up by Robert Sabuda, Christmas with Ida Early by Robert Burch, and Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris (hey, I don’t have kids, and this is my personal advent calendar, so the Macy’s elf story makes the tree!).
What Christmas books would be must-reads on your Advent calendar list?

Is It a Husband Book?

Josie Leavitt - November 19, 2012

Every day I lament that there are parents and kids who view all books along gender lines. If there’s a girl on the cover, most boys (please don’t get mad at my sweeping generalization, but it’s true) won’t pick it up, let alone read it. I think all books can be read happily by any gender. But I was giving this some thought and realized that the gender issue is coming from the parents.
Two women were shopping for their husbands and one of them showed the other The Tiger’s Wife, and the friend asked, “Is this a husband book?” The other woman shook her head and said no, it was more of a chick book. Here’s the thing: if adults won’t read across gender lines, how are we supposed to get kids too? Someone could easily say that The Tender Bar is really a guy book, and it could well be, but it’s also damned good. And to skip it because it’s about a boy and his growing up, really prevents those women from experiencing a great read.
This has always been a pet peeve of mine. Everyone benefits from reading books that are not thought of as books for their gender. We have a lovely male customer who comes in six times a year sheepishly asking for Nicholas Sparks type books. There is no reason for him to feel bad about liking love stories. But every time he comes in he explains why he likes those kinds of books. He shouldn’t have to explain. He should be able to read what he wants without feeling like he might be judged for what he likes.
So, here’s what I want folks to think about during the holidays as they buy books. Get one person, be it a kid or an adult, a book that is not a book thought of for their gender. Because here’s the thing: a good book is a good book. My brother loved Mrs. Piggle Wiggle as much as I did, and I loved The Great Brain just as much as he did. And if my mom had steered us away from those books, we both would have missed out.

Preparing for Battle

Josie Leavitt - November 16, 2012

I feel like today is the calm before the storm, the week before Black Friday. The Friday after Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the ever-increasing insanity of the holiday season. This year we have five weeks to work late, process hundreds upon hundreds special orders, booktalk until we’re hoarse, wrap and remain cheery, if haggard by Christmas Eve.
Our only concession to Black Friday is opening at 9:00, not 10:00. We will have our sugar plum candy that we give out, at the ready. My Santa hat is clean and ready to go. Getting ready for the last five weeks of the year is much like preparing for war. You have to be well armed, well fed, and not totally exhausted to make it through. Five weeks makes a difference. And if what I’m sensing to be is the case, we will not slowly build up to crazy sales, we’ll be hit hard the last week of November. Having an extra week to shop just means more of the folks who plan ahead will be coming before the beginning of December.
We will field, with politeness and kindness, the special order requests that come in on Sunday with the expectation of Monday delivery. We will try, within 30 seconds of talking to you, to know what books you’d like best. We will decipher as fast as possible botched title requests. This skill is so honed by the week before Christmas that one year a customer hadn’t even opened her mouth and I said, “The Help” and handed her a copy. She was stunned and we made a fast sale and a customer for life.
So on this the last weekend before Small Business Saturday (which has truly been a huge boon to small businesses), I am taking a deep breath. I plan on eating fueling food and drinking lots of water and getting as much sleep as I can, because something tells me this year will be one of the best holiday seasons for independent bookstores in a long while. Customers seems extremely appreciative of indie stores at the moment. Everyday we get new customers who say they want to shop local this season. Mail orders have already increased.
The season will be a blur and that’s just how it should be. It should end with us ragged, out of breath, and proud of a job done well.

Book Bling for the Kitchen

Elizabeth Bluemle - November 15, 2012

Looking for festive literary accoutrement for the holiday kitchen? You can wow your Thanksgiving guests with something out of the ordinary, bookish and bright. I found some great aprons — and for those of you who scoff at the old-fashionedy fussiness of aprons, I will tell you that, while I once thought aprons were only for people on, say, The Waltons, I have come to appreciate their usefulness. There is a REASON aprons were invented, people, and I think I am that reason. Well, I and people like me, people with good intentions and a touch of the klutz.
There are oodles of book-related aprons at, some on Etsy, and a little Googling will get you additional results. Here are a few of the goodies I stumbled upon:

Marvel Comics Action Heroes apron from ApronsByVittoria on

And another comic-book inspired apron, this one for men:

Avengers Apron for guys from the melrowe shop on

“I will read until they tear the books from my arms. And woe betide the wretch who tries it.” from

Star Wars comic book apron from HauteMessThreads on

A literary boxing match we might like to see:

In the “Writer Fighter” series, James Joyce and Thomas Pynchon square off. Designed by strangerstuff on

Proudly proclaim your prowess:

Created by jobshirt on

This one cracks me up. Tuck an axe in the pocket:

Designed by annabells at

And finally, one for the kids:

Eric Carle caterpillar apron for kids, from

I’ll bet some of you crafty folks have made your own book-related aprons. Anyone?

No One Gives Me Books

Josie Leavitt - November 14, 2012

Today is my birthday. I’ve owned a bookstore for 16 years and for 16 years, I have not received a book as a gift. Everyone just assumes I can get all the books I want. While this is true, there is something so lovely about getting a book as a gift.
There is nothing quite like a good friend shopping for a book for you. I see tremendous thought go into book purchases by my customers. When you give a book you’re really thinking about someone. What do they like? What mood are they in and how can a book help that? Too often it is assumed that I know all the books in the land, therefore it’s pointless to get me a book. Oh, reader, this is not so.
I love being introduced to a book by a friend. Someone introducing me to their favorite author is a privilege. I like learning about my friends by what their book passions are. Why do they like Neruda? How come I’d never read Kaye Gibbons until Elizabeth handed me Ellen Foster? It’s not enough to tell me about these authors, I can’t remember names these days. But a book I’ll remember.
Some of my best book birthdays include my sixth when I got a copy of the Dr. Seuss book, My Book About Me. A gift of Mrs. Piggle Wiggle when I was nine made my Christmas vacation.  A tenth birthday present of Julie of the Wolves and I remember so clearly sitting in my room, practically transfixed as I read the book one weekend. I can’t believe I still remember these books.
But also remember a Christmas present in my 20s of The Secret History and Wicked. Gone are the days of someone giving me a cookbook. I still have my Silver Palate Cookbook from 20 years ago. Books create memories for the giver and the receiver. So, remember, just because a bookseller works in a bookstore, doesn’t mean she wouldn’t like a book now and again.
What are some of the books you remember the most being given?