Category Archives: Bookselling

6-Second Classics, Litbait, and Commas

If you’re familiar with the classic novels featured in these six second videos, you’ll get the joke. Ad agencies have produced several of these quick takes by YouTube’s request in pursuit of a new, flash ad format to be displayed before other videos. At six seconds each, the ads can’t be skipped past.

In a similar vein, The Wild Detectives bookstore in Dallas is trying to “troll people into reading classic books through clickbait.” They call them “litbaits.” Headlines read, “British guy dies after selfie gone wrong” for The Picture of Dorian Grey. The links led to blog posts with the all of the book’s content included. That wouldn’t turn anyone away, would it?

And chalk another one up for the Oxford comma under reasons it is saving the world. A group of Maine dairy drivers took their company to court to win overtime pay. The law defining exactly what was excluded from overtime lists many things, but it lacks one thing: an Oxford comma.

The law states, “The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: (1) Agricultural produce;
(2) Meat and fish products; and
(3) Perishable foods.”

The drivers argued that while they do distribute food, they don’t pack it, so the exemption applies to “packing for shipment or distribution” and not to the distribution. The Circuit Court judge began his decision, writing, “For want of a comma, we have this case.”

The Window Says Welcome, but the Door Says Closed

Family Christian Stores are closing. The company president said they could not compete in today’s market.

B&N sales are slumping. They report having success with educational toys and games, but still need to grow sales in general. The CEO says they are testing many ideas and some newly designed stores are working well. “He said B&N is ‘on the eve’ of developing a new prototype store ‘that we think will carry us well into the future,'” reports Publishers Weekly.

What do you think about the physical bookstores? Are they yesterday’s shopping venue? Will they go the way of Woolworth? What would you like to see in a local bookstore that would attract your business?

My only thought is that if a company like B&N could gain the reputation (reality aside) of having the book you want when you want it, readers would run to that. That may be too much. Perhaps making the shopping process as easy as walking through the store with your smart phone, but complications will always abound there.

But those are big store ideas. Blue Bunny Books in Dedham, Massachusetts, hopes its unique personal touch will sustain it in the shadow of a brick-and-mortar Amazon store. Its customers seem to think so.

St. Petersburg Has a Luxury Library

In St. Petersburg, Russia, publisher Alfaret has opened a Gothic-style library that is more a book-themed experience than a place to read or check out books. In fact, I don’t think you can check out anything from Book Cappela‘s over 5,000 edition collection.

What you can do is pay about £100 for a four-hour visit to study the collection or buy an annual card, making you a “Book Apostle,” for £3,209. Life-long members are also available.

For these prices, you can review Alfaret’s collection of Russian and international masterpieces in leather chairs under the kind gaze of the apostles.

“Book Capella is not a library in the traditional sense, and it is not a museum, although elements of the museum are presented. It’s also not the bookstore, although you can buy our books here. [It] is a new way for people to communicate with rare books,” Irina Khoteshova, the project director, told the Guardian.

The Tribe of Readers Increases

Gallup says a majority of Americans are still reading.

The research group says over a third of Americans are heavy readers, meaning they read more than eleven books in a year, and about half of Americans read at least one but not more than ten books in a year. Only sixteen percent say they did not read a book last year, which is a percentage that hasn’t changed significantly since 1990.

Three-fourth of all readers surveyed said they read printed books most often. That’s far more printed books than they apparently expected to be reading, according to this Book Boon survey from 2013 showing over fifty-seven percent of US readers thought they would be reading mostly eBooks by now.

Maybe great shops around the corner like Blue Willow Bookshop encourage us to keep reading printed books.

I don’t know if we do anything better than other bookstores but I doubt any of them has ever changed out a customer’s vacuum cleaner bag for them. When the Oreck store across the street closed, we had a customer come in distraught because she didn’t know how to change the bag. We have an Oreck so a staffer went out to her car, brought it in, and we changed it. Now that is customer service! We like to think of ourselves as the neighbourhood bookshop with a citywide reach. We do tons of events throughout Houston. We are most proud of our three festivals: Bookworm Bookfest (for picture book and emerging readers), Tweens Read, and TeenBookCon. It’s our mission to connect families to reading.

Lessons in Opening a Bookstore

Ms. Bagnulo said there were two major questions to consider when deciding where to open a bookstore: Which city neighborhoods are in need of one, and which can support one.

“It’s sort of joking, but the rule of thumb is, if the neighborhood can support a farmers market, the neighborhood can support a bookstore,” she said.

Jessica Bagnulo is one of the owners of two bookstores in Brooklyn, New York. They sold 500 books in their opening weekend.

Down in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, a local publisher is opening a speciality store with rotating literary and local-interest themes.

Nothing in here is set in stone, and that’s why the community curation part of this is so vital,” Easty Lambert-Brown, who owns Borgo Publishing, said of her new store, Ernest & Hadley Booksellers. “If you can provide me a good, rounded set of people that had a major influence on how we think, let me have it! I’m not an expert in all this, and my goal is to learn something here. If I’m not learning from it, I’m just taking up space.”

The Girl with the Bestselling Novel

Why do so many bestselling novels have “girl” in their title? Maybe it was inspired by Larsson’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and such. But author Emily St. John Mandel says the trend in titles started before Larsson’s books were released. Perhaps it’s a natural phenomenon. Mandel notes this interesting data point:

The “girl” in the title is much more likely to be a woman than an actual girl, and the author of the book is more likely to be a woman. But if a book with “girl” in the title was written by a man, the girl is significantly more likely to end up dead.

Breathless drama in the library

It’s the roughest week of the year for this librarian.

First week of school. I’ve already done my orientations (a lecture and walk-through for Bible school students, a walk-through for seminarians). I’m training two new assistants (most years I have a junior and a senior assistant, so there’s only one to train at a time. But things happen). And I have a lecture to do on writing academic papers, tomorrow (I’ll be doing that with less practice than I hoped). And I’m putting together an article on the Reformation in Norway, for the Georg Sverdrup Society newsletter, deadline coming up.

Oh yes, I sell textbooks, too.

I’m not complaining. The days go quickly, and I’m not bored.

I also agreed, in a preliminary way, to tutor a seminary student in Norwegian. But that won’t happen (if it happens at all) until next year.

Oh yes, the Viking Age Club will be at the Nordic Music Festival in Victoria, Minnesota this Saturday. I’ll be there if I have any strength left.

A Great Literary Mystery

“Why waste those cute little tricks that the Army taught us just because it’s sort of peaceful now.”

On a day in 1993, David Mason had possession of books and letters by and between writers F.S. Fitzgerald, E. Hemingway, and Morley Callaghan about a boxing match in Paris 1929. Callaghan leveled Hemingway, and whether it was for that reason alone or for many others as well, their friendship broke up. The whole story of the match has yet to be told, but it’s apparently all in the papers Mason locked in his safe one night in 1993.

The next morning, those papers were gone, making the great Hemingway Heist one of the literary world’s great mysteries. Mason tells some of what he knows to The Guardian. (via Prufrock News)

“Hello, this is a recording. You’ve dialed the right number; now hang up, and don’t do it again.”

Jonathan Edwards Wanted Nice, Expensive Editions

Jonathan Yeager tells Thomas Kidd about the great puritan preacher’s desires for the appearance of his work in print. No doubt, he would have loved today’s world of easy publishing.

Edwards was a meticulous author, and wanted his books to look a certain way. He was not the best judge on how his books should be printed, if the purpose was for them to sell well. Edwards wanted his books to have wide margins, generous line spacing, and to be printed on fine paper, with good type, and priced affordably. The model for Edwards was his book Misrepresentations Corrected, published in 1752. Ironically, Misrepresentations Corrected was his worst-selling book! A key reason, I believe, was that it was not economically printed. If a printer allows the use of wide margins and generous line spacing, it follows that it would require more pages, and therefore would be more costly.

Edwards vocalized his disgust with the way that his book Religious Affections was published in 1746, probably because it was concisely printed, with tightly cropped margins and line spacing. Despite his complaints, the printer for this book feared that he had not printed enough copies to meet public demand. In an advertisement at the end of the book, the Boston printer Samuel Kneeland remarked that some 1,300 subscriptions had been taken for Religious Affections, at a time when a colonial author would have rejoiced if 500 copies of a book sold.

To Work at the Strand

You have to complete a literary quiz. New York City’s Strand Book Store wants their employees to know something about books, so they ask job applicants who out of ten names wrote Infinite Jest or The Sound and the Fury.

Fred Bass, who with his daughter, Nancy Bass Wyden, owns the Strand, called the quiz “a very good way to find good employees,” regardless of their duties.

“Without good people,” Mr. Bass said, “you don’t have anything going.”

See if you have what it takes.

How Significant Is a Book’s Truth Claim?

According to Geoff Dyer, who says his next book is “a mixture of both fiction and non- but will be published as non-”, the strength of the distinction in anglophone culture has waxed and waned. “Orwell’s biographer Bernard Crick points out that ‘12 of the 14 pieces in Penguin New Writing in 1940’ – which included Orwell’s Shooting an Elephant – ‘were of a then fashionable genre that blurred the line between fact and fiction,’” Dyer explains. The nonfiction novels of Truman Capote and Norman Mailer blurred the lines again in the 1960s, he continues, and the boundary is “perhaps going through another porous phase right now.”

At first glance, this article on the demerits of the labels “fiction” and “non-fiction” seems to disparage the need to state whether a book claims to reflect reality or to be a work of imagination. Quoting  a translator, Richard Lea writes:

The division between “the writing of imagination and the writing of fact” that seems so obvious to the anglophone readers “doesn’t seem straightforward at all to much of the rest of the world.”

But how many non-fiction books do not represent the truth, because of shoddy research or editorial bias? How many fiction works have taught us profoundly deep truths (isn’t that what we love so much about some novels)? Perhaps claims of truthfulness should be done in ways other than publisher brands or bookseller shelving, but the reason we say truth is stranger than fiction is because when something bizarre actually happens, it doesn’t have to be as believable as something we make up. You might say, “That could never happen,” but if it in fact happened, that’s all the rationale you need.

Is Free Shipping Killing Amazon?

Hey, did you hear Amazon may be opening several brick-and-mortar bookstores? Someone said it, but whether it’s true is another thing.

Is the free two-day shipping available to Amazon Prime members hurting the company? When customers buy something small, like a jar of Nutella, and choose their free two-day shipping option as Prime members can, it costs the company a good bit. Amazon is working on multiple schemes for getting their products in your hands quickly, but their current schemes are soaking them. Perhaps if they can only drown all of their competition, they’ll start making money.

The CT 2016 Book Awards

Christianity Today has released the results of their annual book awards. Many attractive titles, including this one:

Science Fiction Theology: Beauty and the Transformation of the Sublime by Alan P. R. Gregory (Baylor University Press)

“Our culture is awash in science fiction. From post-apocalyptic young-adult blockbusters to hard sci-fi novels, the genre’s star has never burned more brightly. Science Fiction Theology demonstrates a masterful understanding of what makes it all tick. While the casual fan may find the book’s density off-putting, others will find themselves deeply edified by Gregory’s rigorous tracing of the dialogue between science fiction and Christianity. The dialogue, it turns out, is very lively, even when trafficking in distortions. The chapter on Philip K. Dick, an author criminally ignored by religious readers, is itself worth the price of admission.” —David Zahl, director of Mockingbird Ministries

(via Hunter Baker, who was a judge for these awards)

Be Not Inhospitable to Strangers

Paris (II) '09

Last Friday night during the attacks on Paris, twenty or more people nestled down at Shakespeare & Co. as safe-harbor against the violence. Shelf Awareness noted, “the store embodied its own prominent sign, a verse from the Bible: ‘Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise.'”

Canadian writer Harriet Alida Lye was there. At the time, she told reporters what they were saying inside the bookstore. “We’re saying it feels like this must be part of something bigger, like we are being senselessly attacked. It feels really close to home, because Paris is just so small and the attacks are all over the city.”