Monthly Archives: October 2013

Great Expectations

Elizabeth Bluemle - October 15, 2013

Hello there!  It’s resident New-Girl-at-the-Bookstore Laura, guest blogging for my lovely bosses Josie and Elizabeth. I’ve been working at the bookstore for two and a half months now and I thought it would be fun to share my bookstore expectations vs. bookstore experience with all of you.  Here are a number of observations I’ve made:
1.  People Want to Talk About What’s New
I recently graduated from college with a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing and I was thrilled to find a job in my field of study. But it turns out that my degree has nothing to do with bookselling at all! For what feels like my whole life, I’ve been studying the works emphasized in most curriculums—that have withstood the test of time. I haven’t had time to read new releases because I’ve been immersed in Ovid, the Bible, Thoreau, the original (and delightfully strange) Beauty and the Beast etc. If you try to convince a customer that she should purchase a copy of Gawain and the Green Knight because the poet’s subversive portrayal of gender and homoeroticism is so ahead of his time she will likely not be convinced that it is the right book for her. Of course! And while I didn’t think I would be selling copy after copy of Beowulf (though we do have the late Seamus Heaney’s wonderful translation on the shelf) I did sort of think that I was well on my way to reading many of the Great Works that people might come into a bookstore wanting to talk about. It turns out that people who are interested in classics have already read them—or at least don’t need my recommendation to know why they’re great. People want to know what’s new—what they couldn’t possibly have an opinion on yet—which brings me to my next point:
2.  It is Useful for Publishers to Send Free Books
Hallelujah! There are so many galleys in the back room that they’re stacked in double rows on the shelf. And while it feels a little bit like I’ve cheated the system or something, it turns out that I am much better at recommending a book if I’ve read it, and that I’m much better at reading it if it’s free and sent to me without my having to ask. I shouted for joy when the advance copy of the new Mollie Katzen cookbook came in the mail—and after trying it out, I’ve recommended it to everyone I’ve seen poking around the cookbook section. I think the technical term is symbiosis.
3.  There Are a Thousand Tiny Ways to Disappoint People
It turns out that much of the job is crisis-aversion. I told a customer who finds it difficult to read small print that I would order a book for her and later found out that it is published only in mass market. I’ve given a teacher a quote on a discount only to later discover that the particular book she was interested in purchasing couldn’t be discounted. I have looked up books in our inventory for customers over the phone and discovered that the copy is missing once they drive to the store. And worst of all is when you haven’t read any of the books a customer is interested in asking about. Once, after a customer asked me about three mysteries in a row that I had not read, she said “You haven’t read that either? Don’t you live in a bookstore?” much like a child might assume his teachers live in their classrooms. Having not read any mysteries since Nancy Drew, I struck out book after book after book. It seems like there are a thousand things to learn, and about a billion books to read and it can all be overwhelming, but it’s okay because:
4. People Are Generally Very Nice
People are really quite patient with me. When I’ve charged someone’s credit card for the incorrect amount and I have to call them up to fix it, or when the computer is taking a thousand years to look up the book they’re trying to order, or when I forget a customer’s name for the millionth time, everyone seems cheerful and ready to forgive me. And not only ready to forgive me but excited to talk to me about the talk that Billy Collins gave, or that hilarious interview we both saw on Jon Stewart. Despite all the chaos, and my being woefully underprepared for many aspects of the job, there is something very exciting about working here: I think it is the potential of all those beautiful sentences sleeping in their books waiting to be read by the person who will take them home.

A Talk with the Creator of the Gown Made of Golden Books

Elizabeth Bluemle - October 11, 2013

Ryan Jude Novelline – Golden Book Gown – Photo by Greg Brown (photo links to Drift Contemporary Art Gallery site, the source of this photo)

You may have read about the extraordinary Golden Books gown created by the gifted young designer, Ryan Jude Novelline (how do you like that last name for a man who creates beauty from books?). Novelline was only 20 years old in 2010, when he used illustrations from discarded Golden Books, stitched together with gold thread, to fashion the paper skirt. He made the bodice from the iconic golden spines of the books, and added puffed sleeve accents (shown in the photo below) filled with packing peanuts. Novelline is considered a “green” designer for his use of recycled and sustainable materials; this gown proves that green fashion can provide as rich a fantasia as can be imagined.
Two years ago, I contacted Ryan Jude Novelline to ask if I might blog about his glorious gown. We corresponded for a little while before I discovered that School Library Journal had already run an article about the gown, so I shelved it for a while.
Now, his gown is actually on display at Drift Contemporary Art Gallery in Portsmouth, N.H., as part of its Last Word exhibit through November 2, and I think ShelfTalker readers would LOVE to see it in person! I know I would.
Ryan graciously remembered our email correspondence and invited me to debut a new photograph of himself with the live model from the show opening. I unveil for your delight…

Photo Credits:
Pictured: Artist, Ryan Jude Novelline, model, Emily Grondine, and painting by Dennis Michael Jones.
Photo by Alicia Goodwin
Location: Drift Gallery, Portsmouth, N.H.

Below is my interview with Ryan from our first round of correspondence in 2011, updated with tidbits from our most recent round of emails. I am in awe of his imagination and talent, and thoroughly enjoyed his thoughtful responses to my questions. Please enjoy his words and, if you find yourself in New Hampshire, admire his gown up close!
Hi, Ryan. Can you tell ShelfTalker readers a little about yourself?
I am a fine artist and designer based out of Boston. I have worked as a Disney Imagineer and have also made pieces exclusively for GAP and Harvard University’s fashion show, Eleganza.
[Ed. note, an update: Novelline has also designed for Diane von Furstenberg. The Brazilian publishing house Editora Moderna is showcasing his work in Art Project – Vol. 5, a forthcoming book scheduled for release in 2014 designed to introduce children to the world of contemporary art.]
How did you come up with the idea for the Golden Book Gown?  
My mother and I were sitting in her writing room talking about how children’s books have such unfortunately short life spans. Books read at such a young age leave such long-lasting impressions on a person’s character, yet the physical books themselves barely last beyond one or two generations of use. The Golden Books series in particular was one that was passed down to me from my mother that heavily influenced my artistic identity. As a small child, I would tuck myself away and in silence passing hours attempting to perfectly replicate characters on printer paper to hang on my bedroom wall. Until I had conversation with my mother about the books, I had not reflected upon the many hours I spent admiring them as a child.
Can the emotional impact of these books endure beyond their initial use? This became my challenge. I was told I could never achieve such volume with paper, but in this case, I was stubborn and ignored arbitrary restrictions. Having said that, constructing the dress was a physically and emotionally exhaustive process unlike any other I have yet experienced as an artist. Creating the dress elapsed nine days around the clock from the newspaper mockup to the final piece.
The gold thread was a true challenge. It is regular cotton thread wrapped into a tiny metal-coil that caught itself in the machine every 10 inches or so and needed to be rethreaded about every 45 seconds. The whole ordeal was a massive undertaking that I never analyzed formally until much later. If I did not take the process photos myself, I would not believe I even created it. My body was so numb by the end, but the reactions immediately vindicated the effort. I am overwhelmed.
The skirt is made entirely out of the actual pages of the books, ~3000 that were sorted by color and ~2000 of the most vibrantly colored were sewed together using ~2200 yards of golden thread. There was no transfer process of the images onto fabric. The viewer is simultaneously seeing the inside of hundreds of actual Golden Books. When choosing which pages I wanted to include, I had to hold up the illustration and imagine it from 15 feet away at optimum viewing distance averaging at evaluating one page per second. Similar to how a painter must step away from his canvas to see the entire image he creates, I was imagining this illusion of distance as I worked. Each page was like a 5.5″ square tile in an epic paper mosaic. The covers themselves were not used in the dress beyond the foil spines that were pressed together against duct tape to form the bodice.
Has anyone ever worn it to an event and is it for sale?

A musician did contact me about borrowing it for an awards ceremony in New York City but ultimately could not wear it due to scheduling conflicts. While it is more a piece of sculpture, I designed it to be functional. 
The dress is not currently for sale. There is a plan in the works to display it, but the details are still top secret. Several people have tweeted me recommending that I donate it to the Metropolitan Museum where it could be properly stored and displayed long-term. I would love for it to be preserved for the enjoyment of future generations. It is currently in a storage facility outside of Boston away from the heat and sun where I do not need to worry about it. As of yet, the dress has no protective coating and the raw pages are exposed, so it would easily be ruined in the rain. When it comes back out of storage, I will spray a matte finish to assist preserving the colors. [Ed. note: at the time of this article, the gown is on display in New Hampshire at Drift Contemporary Art Gallery.]
The model in the photos, Emma Safir, is a printmaker friend of mine and was a great sport about wearing it. She had one fitting early on so I could properly adjust my form to her measurements, and I worked off that. Then she came once again for a muslin bodice fitting, and then once last time after the skirt was finished. “Wow! That was fast,” she said at the final fitting at the sight of the finished, strapless dress. It takes only a few minutes to put on, weighs about 15 pounds, and is held on entirely at the waist. I would hold the skirt up by the hip ties while she ran underneath and slid up through the opening. Then I would tie the back and stick on the bodice with velcro.
She wore the dress for about a half hour when we took the photos. We experimented with a lace crown that tied into a braid in her hair, but I chose not to develop it into a more finished piece. There are several unfinished Golden Books paper gloves lying on my studio floor that never made it to the runway. They may have been too gaudy. Although I feel like the fun of a piece like this one is it gaudiness, so maybe I will revisit them. This type of ongoing conversation with myself is always going on in regard to the work. It’s a living, breathing process.
Here is a link to the YouTube video, the only real footage I have of the dress.
The dress was also just showcased by Hewlett Packard in the promotional materials for the Frankfurt Book Fair happening this week. It has been fascinating to see how the piece has waltzed across different circles of interest and truly appealed to people of all ages. In the meantime, I am working on a new gown, a larger one, also inspired by classic literature. That is expected in spring 2014. I will keep you posted.
Thank you, Ryan! We look forward to that.

Moby Dick on a Poster and McCloskey Onesies

Elizabeth Bluemle - October 10, 2013

2013-10-08 08.05.24

The view from my hotel room in Providence. Lovely!

There’s so much booky goodness to share from the New England Indie Booksellers Association trade show, I’m going to parcel it out into a couple of posts. I need a little more time to gather my thoughts about the inspiring speakers we heard, so today, you get to hear about shopping. Not shopping for me, but a much more fun adventure: shopping for newfound treasures on the trade show floor.
I always find something different, unusual, and exciting for my store when I go to a trade show. NEIBA is tiny compared to BookExpo, and yet there were still new vendors (and vendors that were simply new to me).
Liberty Graphics
Liberty Graphics has been around in Maine for quite a while, but we’ve never seen or carried their T-shirts before. This year, their table caught my eye first with a lovely Miss Rumphius tee (a perfect teacher gift!), and then with the glorious Robert McCloskey graphics gracing toddler and youth tees and onesies made of organic cotton, with a parade from Make Way for Ducklings quacking across the front. These designs are so new to the company, I don’t think they’re even on the website yet. They are wonderful! Please excuse the poor quality of my phone photos.
2013-10-08 11.40.15 2013-10-08 11.46.14 2013-10-08 11.42.06 2013-10-08 11.41.59
Another discovery was almost hard to wrap one’s brain around: entire literary texts, printed onto an artistically designed poster you’d want to frame for your home. They’re so handsome! Created by a recent Penn grad, Danny Fein, and his brother, Corey, these Litographs posters (and soft cotton T-shirts and tote bags) are a brilliant idea, beautifully rendered. Bookselling pal Kenny Brechner (DDG Booksellers in Maine) and I spent way too long leafing through the folio of posters, guessing books from the graphics. I’m sure you can identify the books featured below. (Note: many of the books fit entirely on the 18″x 24″ posters, but those that do not are available in full on larger posters. War and Peace, not surprisingly, needed a larger home.) It continues to astonish me that entire BOOKS are contained in the posters and totes, and yet we are assured by Fein that they are indeed.
20000 leagues tote
Dan Fein

Fein with a fine T-shirt. Excuse the blur; it was a hurried trade show!

Those were two of my new discoveries. What literary treats have you discovered lately?

I’m Done Complaining

Josie Leavitt - October 9, 2013

This might come as a revelation to longtime readers of ShelfTalker, but I’m letting my complaints about the hurry towards each new holiday go. There will be no post in a month lamenting the rush to put out Christmas and Hanukkah books, because they will already be out, co-mingling with the books about turkeys and pilgrims.
We had a staff meeting last week, ironically in front of our Halloween display, and everyone thought the minute the last trick or treater had filled a bag of candy, we should put up the holiday books. Everyone looked at me. Last year there was a huge debate about when to put out the Christmas books. I lost, somewhat bitterly as I recall. It didn’t take much persuading this time for me to just give in to setting up the seasonal display November 1.
One of the things I love about owning a store is the freedom and flexibility to do what we think is the best thing for our store, for our customers, and for our staff. Putting out the ever-growing shelf of holiday books will help the overflowing back room which will feel like a new lease on life for the staffers who spend any time in there. (Honestly, isn’t every bookstore’s back room right now just chock full of fourth quarter goodness that can’t really go on the shelves yet?) Our customers will like it because they won’t have to ask where the holiday books are, and they’ll buy what they need. And it’ll be good for the store, because we won’t lose those early holiday sales.
So, this thing called compromise has finally entered my retail life. But never fear, I will still complain about other things, like how much it hurts to cut yourself on a cardboard box, or dumps that are impossible to put together, or why it is that the day your special orders really need to come, they’re stuck at the UPS facility in Connecticut.
One thing I promise that will not get rushed is the wearing of the Santa hat.

It’s All in the Curling Ribbon

Elizabeth Bluemle - October 7, 2013

Curling Ribbon

One cog in the mighty Carol Chittenden table decorating machine.

When I arrived last night at the annual New England indie bookseller trade show in Providence, R.I., I imagined some possible blog posts I might write while I’m here: recaps of the helpful educational sessions and special events, perhaps, and tips for both new and seasoned booksellers. But it’s long past 12:30 a.m. after a long day filled with conversation, and I find it’s curling ribbon I want to talk about.
The NEIBA trade show has always been a thermometer of the book business. The number of attendees fluctuates from year to year—one indicator of the health of regional bookselling—and the seminar topics do a pretty good job of reflecting current concerns. Back when Josie and I first came to NEIBA, in 1996, everyone was in an uproar about something mysterious (to us newbies, whose store hadn’t even opened yet) called the “vendor of record” program. The vendor of record debate peaked and subsided fairly quickly, only to be replaced by concerns about chain stores, then chain store pressure shutting down independents, then online vendors, then mega-online-opolies, then e-books. There is always something pushing independent bookselling up an ever-steepening slope.
And yet.
Something magical happens at the trade show. Surrounded by kindred spirits—folks who understand from the inside what it means to fight the good fight for great books and authors and artists, and for the vitality of community bookstores day after day—in each other’s company, we all light up. We are inspired by each other.
After a day filled with helpful sessions and a lovely keynote and an evening celebrating New England Book Award winner speeches, I found myself on the floor of Carol Chittenden’s hotel room unwinding and cutting and tying and curling spools of ribbon for the next morning’s author breakfast. Booksellers Jan Hall (co-chair of the New England Children’s Booksellers Association and co-owner of Partners Village Store in Westport, Ct.) and Sara Hines (Eight Cousins bookseller and NECBA member) were similarly occupied, and the four of us sat and worked and chatted about books and bookselling. (And gift wrapping. Surrounded by all that ribbon, we couldn’t help talking about it. You’d be surprised how much thought goes into bookstore gift-wrapping policies and procedures, and how useful it can be to compare notes.)
The thing is, we can’t get enough of this collegial talk. It’s like sparkling spring water, essential and delightful and necessary. What the trade shows provide us with, in addition to education and the chance to discover new titles and sidelines and services for our bookstores, is a place to sit on the porch together. We vent some, and share crazy anecdotes from our stores. We share book passions, titles from the year that blew our hair back, and we eagerly collect and share individual store “best practices” from the tribe on how other members streamline or maximize or emphasize or add value to everything that we all do, from handling consignment sales to doing school and teacher outreach to creating more effective displays to overhauling our websites. The veteran booksellers have invaluable experience and wisdom to share, and the younger ones have energy and enthusiasm and new ideas.
For the next two days, the Rhode Island Convention Center will be filled with chatter and laughter in every corner, and I will be soaking it all up. Sitting there tonight, curling ribbon after ribbon with my colleagues as we talked shop, the accumulation of years of this kind of sharing struck me as sweet and sharp as the scissors’ edge slooping along the underside of the strips. And what a bountiful curl it produces!

Non-Book Questions

Josie Leavitt - October 4, 2013

Booksellers in touristy communities get asked a lot of non-book questions every day. They usually range from the basic, “Where can I get lunch?” or “How do I get to the museum?”, etc. But every so often we get asked some very odd questions that presuppose that independent bookstore staff know everything. Of course, with Google and our knowledge of the area we are often encyclopedic in ways we can help.
Here are some examples of things I’ve been asked in the past few months.
– Where can I find a real estate agent? People smartly check out our town and see a thriving village filled with a bookstore, a great coffee shop, an antique store, a toy store, a country store, an upscale gift shop and a myriad of wonderful restaurants and start having fantasies of moving to our idyllic hamlet. I cannot remember how many people I’ve given my realtor’s name to, but I know at least eight of them have bought houses from her since we’ve been open. What’s great about this exchange, is these folks become good customers and eventually, friends.
– Where can my son get a haircut? This was asked by a woman at 4:30 on a Sunday for her adult son who was with her, standing awkwardly running his hands through his slightly shaggy hair. We did a little Internet search and sent her flying out of here to get the last appointment at the Supercuts up the road. Why her son, who really needed a comb more than anything, wasn’t in charge of his own hair was puzzling to me, but I don’t judge. They both seemed okay with the exchange and he happily got in the car to get that last haircut of the day.
– Where is the Shelburne Inn? We get asked this a lot because our store and surrounding apartments used to be a hotel. Even now, almost 10 years after the Inn closed, we get folks weekly, asking where they can check in. They come right up the counter, which is where the registration desk used to be, and ask for a room. Some even keep asking hoping against hope that keys to a room will magically appear. Folks have even asked, “Are you sure?” This leads to the inevitable “where else can I stay?” discussion. Sometimes, when it’s high season, we’ll call around to the various hotels and check availability just to save the heartbreak of driving around and not getting a room.
– I had someone call the store several years ago and ask where he could buy porn. It wasn’t a dirty call, he just needed some porn. I told him we didn’t really carry any porn and he asked if I knew where he could some. I didn’t and this one time I did not avail myself of the Internet to help.
– Giving directions seems to just be part of the job of anyone who works in a bookstore. It’s heartwarming how people will just stop when they see a bookstore and ask for help for just about every thing they need. It makes such sense because bookstores contain within them most everything you need to know. And that is beauty of books.
What’s the strangest question you’ve been asked in your store?

Favorite Picture Books of the Fall

Josie Leavitt - October 3, 2013

It’s that time of year again, when carton upon carton of new, yummy books stream into the store. As overwhelmed as we can get with trying to find the proper homes for all these lovely books, we all marvel at the stunning selection. This is just a brief round-up of a few of my favorites so far this fall.
crayonsOkay, my first book is from the summer. The Day the Crayons Quit came out in June and I’ve been meaning to write it up ever since it came. This book is just flat out funny. All 12 crayons leave letters for young Duncan about what’s going for them. Yellow and orange aren’t speaking anymore, white is just sad, grey can’t handle coloring in another elephant, peach is naked because Duncan peeled off the wrapper, etc. The examples are great and the text is quite funny. One of my favorite lines in from the publication info page where it says, “The art for this book was made with…um…crayons.”
Elisha Cooper’s book Train is an ode to joys of all types of train travel across the country.train Train lovers will revel in the details of all the different kinds of trains: commuters, freight, high speed, etc. It’s clear that Elisha has a love of trains and the translates that into something that little kids will enjoy. The reader can almost hear the gentle rhythm of the trains as they go about their journeys. This book would appeal to many adult train-lovers as well.
journeyEvery year there is a wordless book that takes my breath away. This year, Aaron Becker’s Journey is that book. The book begins with a washed-out palette, save for red. A young girl tries to get her family to play with her; the scooter, kite and ball are ignored by all. Finally she takes a red crayon and draws a door on the wall and enters a magical world full of color. What I absolutely adore about this book is the use of red and purple as the colors of her imagination, escape and friendship. I just “read” this book with a customer and we both got goosebumps. High praise indeed.
lifetimeLifetime: The Amazing Numbers in Animal Lives by Lola M. Schaefer, illustrated by Chirstopher Silas Neal, is a fact-filled beautifully illustrated book about animals. Kids who are nonfiction fans will enjoy learning that rattlesnakes add 40 beads to its rattle during its lifetime and that giraffes have 200 spots. The numbers get larger as the book progresses. This is a fun counting book with animals.
I’ll have another update of great picture books that come out in October. What are some of your favorite picture books this season? And, I’m going to start the Caldecott buzz now and just suggest that Journey should be right at the top of everyone’s list to win a shiny sticker.

Let’s Talk About Shipping

Josie Leavitt - October 2, 2013

Okay, I need to vent about shipping for just a moment. I get countless boxes a day and for the most part the books arrive packaged the way they should and there are few damages. And then there are the packages that make me wonder what’s going on in shipping departments.
photo-25There is a new phenomenon happening where tiny things, books, or puzzles are shipped in very large boxes surrounded by those pillow packs of air. This sort of packaging takes up a lot of space, in a box and in the store. And, after a confirmation call to my local solid waste department — they cannot be recycled. So, here’s an example of a poster being sent in a large box, surrounded by pillow packs of air. The photo-26irony here is, the poster is in its own hard cardboard tube that could easily have been shipped by itself. This sort of shipping decision makes me crazy. Not only is it wasteful, the packing material is so voluminous that it takes up half of my back room. I know I could find people who could use this material (and we do have a staffer, Darrilyn, who is amazing about finding homes for bubble wrap), but I don’t have the space to store it.
I wrote a blog post early on in my ShelfTalker time about hurting myself with a Baker and Taylor box. They had recently switched to a new box system that involved a lot of glue, very strong glue. Sadly, these boxes remain and they still can’t be recycled or reused easily because of the glue and the plastic wrap that’s permanently stuck to the bottom of the box. My heart sank the other day when I saw that a publisher had switched to this kind of box as well. The problem with this kind of box is they are very hard to break down and they don’t stack easily. I know this sounds like a minor problem, but when I get a six-box shipment and the boxes topple over the rest of the recycling because they can’t lay flat, it’s a problem. Okay, it’s a minor problem, but it’s still irritating.
One last vent and then I’m done, I promise. This has nothing to do with the packaging from publishers, but from the carriers themselves. Why are the boxes so dirty these days? I’m not sure what’s happening in the back of these trucks, but it’s so dusty that sometimes boxes that aren’t well sealed come in the store covered with a layer of grit and grime. And if I pick the box up the right way and use the “lift with your legs” method, my shirt gets dirty.
But, every day, a very large percentage of packages come unharmed, clean and ready to be put on the shelves, and let’s face it, any day where I get look at all the great books that come in is a pretty darned good day.