Dec 31, 2013

Not Loving the Book Everyone Loves

Eleanor and Park is making almost every best YA of 2013 list and I hated it. I read it because of the awesome cover, where the kids are sharing music. I have really enjoyed books that featured music in the past. I also read this because I started seeing in on so many best of the year lists. 

I also found a great piece by Kit Steinkellner over on Book Riot defending Eleanor and Park. Her post got me thinking about my experiences reading the book. How was the book for me as an adult verses how it would have been if I was still a teen?

I had mixed feelings about Eleanor and Park the whole way through. I liked how well Rowell showed that silence that happens in a home of abuse. I like how even Park's seemingly good life still had uncomfortable moments. But I hated Eleanor. I hated her for being like me and I hated for all the choices she could have made that would make her better than me, but she was still wallowing in the sad parts of her life. I hated that I never really felt like she was a character, but merely a caricature. And maybe that is too harsh. Maybe I want more out of my YA heroines. 

I think the role of YA is more difficult than ever. We want girls to be presented with strong characters with good body image. Yet these type of characters will also be unrealistic. How do we strike the balance between the two. This balance is the difference between a good book and perfect book. Every time I read I am looking for a perfect book. That may not be fair to the authors or other readers, but it is the only way I can be fair to myself.

In other books that are connected with music I find this element to be charming. Maybe I was just in a bad mood when I was reading Eleanor and Park because so many things annoyed me about it. I love that Eleanor and Park bonded over music and comics, but I didn't feel connected personally with either of those things. They didn't make me want to stop reading and go put some music on. Again this may be a lack on my part, but the whole thing was missing a spark. And how it had more language than I personally enjoy.

This being said, I want Eleanor and Park to exist. I think it is a great story for teens to connect with. I just happened not to.

The other important note I should make is that I did the book on audio and the narrator just had a certain snark in her voice that really grated on me. Maybe this is a perfect representation of Eleanor, but either way I didn't like it.

Dec 22, 2013

The Sunday Salon - Future

The Sunday

My whole life my father owned his own business and it was it's own kind of annoyance. He could come pick me up from school when I was sick as long as he didn't have a meeting. But he couldn't go with me to visit family on Thanksgiving. I remember thinking to myself, he is the boss, he can do whatever he wants. But know I own  my own business and I understand all the things I never did when I was younger. Getting an hour or two off in the middle of the day is easy. Asking your staff to work the day after Thanksgiving is hard.

I work at the bookstore 6 days a week. I love being there, but the days start to run together. I can no longer remember who was present for which conversation and I tell one person the same thing 4 times and another never hears wind of something I am planning. This is what it means to be a grown up. It is official. In the past year I have left childish things behind and I am officially a big person.

Today was a great week in the store. Lots of people browsing and milling. Lots of people wanting recommendations. This is the part of my job that I love. We are a tourist town and the summer is where retail makes its bread and butter. We are always very busy. But that means I don't always have the time to talk with people about the books they would like or the presents they are getting. The Christmas season is the perfect balance of busy enough while I still get the time to speak with customers.

Since we carry both new and used books we face particular challenges. We aren't carrying that political book that came out this summer and if we do have The Grinch Who Stole Christmas I will be asked why it isn't used. About 2 months ago it occurred that no one really understands how my business works. I can't have a used copy of a certain book if no one has ever traded it into me. It has  taken me over a year to realize that customers think we ORDER used books to put in the store. At least once a day people ask me how I get books even though they just watched someone bring in three boxes to trade.

When I bought the bookstore last May most people who considered themselves "regulars" came in every six to eight months. I understand that people are busy. But I have started reminding people that they don't come in as often as they think. The hope is they will come more often and help keep us in business. My bookstore has been around for twenty years, so people think I bought a sure thing. A little over 4 years ago the store moved into a new location. This new location provided it with much of its charm, but it also raised the stakes when it came to viability for the future.

Last week I found out that an independent bookstore in Bakersfield, CA will be going out of business at the end of January. I found out about the bookstore through a local author. She had made contact with the manager of the store and put us in touch with each other. Over the past year and a half we occasionally send messages about the progress of things. But I heard no murmurings on the wind before the announcement that the shop would close.

Since the announcement we have been discussing the place of community in matters of business. When I bought the bookstore the previous owner told me the most important piece of business advice I have gotten. He said, "It is not your bookstore; it is the community's bookstore." But how do you stay viable if your community isn't willing to support you?

Every day people tell me that they will order a new book on Amazon rather than through me because it is cheaper or easier. And part of me fully understands that and the other part is very concerned about what that means for my futures. I am trying to come up with what I can say to these people to help them understand that if they place that order through me for even just a little more money then they are showing support for my continued success. I am very lucky. I have many many customers who are loyal to me. But winter is always hard. Winter means that if locals were the only ones ever buying we would have never stayed in business. And this does worry me a little bit. I support the community, but does the community support me?

As a book reader and buyer what factors keep you going local and not buying more cheaply online?

Dec 17, 2013

Do No Harm

Today when I was in the bookstore a book on the shelf caught my eye.

The first reason it caught my eye was that it looked like it was in the wrong section. I saw it in Fiction and Literature and I was wondering if it may belong in Mystery & Action or Science Fiction & Fantasy. One of the many, many things I have learned since buying a bookstore is that more often than not you can tell the genre of the book by the look of the cover. There are always outliers, but certain colors and fonts lend themselves to different places in the bookstore.

The first give away with this book was the title, Harm. The second give away was the color scheme. And the third thing was that I was pretty sure I knew the name Aldiss before. Another thing I have noticed about books is all the ways that the book itself is marketed. There are so many elements that go into the packaging and branding of book. But understanding on an intellectual level is different from really experiencing.

For over a decade I have been buying book on the promises a book made to me. It was all about instinct. Title, author, cover, blubs, awards. Each of these things are their own promise to the reader. When you see a book blurbed by an author you love you can't help but want to read it too. This silent seal of approval can be the deciding factor when looking at the "face value" of a book.

Now I see every day the visceral responses people have to books and the ways that publishers can persuade you to buy a book. Sometimes changing a cover is enough to get a customer to buy a book for the second time. Because we are a mostly used bookstore customer mistakes like these are easy to fix. But when you impulse buy a book from Barnes and Nobel and then go home and see that you already have it, how many times do you go back and return it?

There was something about the spine of this book that demanded my attention. It said to me, "This is the type of book you like to read." When I pulled the book off the shelf the feeling continued. I really like the artwork of the cover. So many of the motifs in the image connect with me. Both the prison bars and barbed wire made me think of the types of stories of I have been reading and researching lately. I also like the way the hands are holding each of these things. The color scheme is both muted and engaging. And the way that the image interacts with the title itself had my mind turning.

If I saw this as a piece of artwork, without the details that make it the cover of a book, I think I would want it hanging in my house. It speaks to both my aesthetic and thematic sensibilities.

Every part of me was screaming that I take this book home. But when I read the blurb at the top, I wasn't able to resist anymore. "Part Kafka, part political roar, riveting, and, most of all, disturbing as hell." These words made the promise that I needed. 13 words inside quotation marks decided that this was not only a book I wanted in my collection, but a book that I wanted to start reading immediately.

Do you notice the ways that you responding to the promises, marketing, and branding of a book?

So far I am about 20 pages into the book and I neither love it nor hate it. I am interesting in it, but only in a vague way. Interestingly enough, while it is yet to be determined if the book lives up to the promise, I am happy with my choice to bring it home with me.

Lately I have had a hard time connecting with the books I have been trying to read. It is possible it is an occupational hazard. The fact that I made it 20 pages into a book is like a special kind of triumph. What do you do when you get a reading block?

Dec 14, 2013

Sunday Salon - The Perfect Fit

The Sunday

I have been working on a blog post to mark, in part, my triumphant return to blogging. But it is being more challenging the originally expected. I have been working on the the top ten books that have influenced me. I think it could be easy to throw a list together, but I don't think I could really do an honest defendable very quickly. So I decided I want to do more than list some books on Facebook, I wanted to try and defend it. As you may have guessed, this was probably a mistake. I am determined to both stick with it and not let it hold me back!

The timing could not be better for me to do a salon post as interim. It has been occuring to me more and more how many things have changed for me and how much time has passed since I was blogging regularly. I have been exploring all the things that drew me to blogging in the first place and found that I am having a deep desire to reconnect with some of those things. I especially want to reconnect with what blogging does for me and not any kind of obligation that I may have to others. Interestingly enough I have seen in passing a few other people resurrecting their blogs. What can a blog post give me that Facebook can't?

When I was in the bath earlier I realized how little time we have left to our own thoughts anymore. Usually when I take a bath I bring both my phone and my tablet into the bathroom with me. I plan on reading or listening to an audiobook but I also end up checking Facebook and playing Draw Something. Sometimes I know that I do these things because I am scared of the stress and sadness that can come from time alone with my thoughts, but I know that I am also robbing myself of precious ponderings.

Blogging for me isn't about jamming keys as quickly as possible. It is about the thinking and developing an idea for a post. And typing it up and having it not work. Reworking it. Editing it. Finding the right image to match. Blogging is one of the only things in my life that is honoring my ponderings.

I want you to know that owning a bookstore is still amazing. It still presents many challenges for me. It is much like taking one step forward and two steps back. I figure one thing out just to have other things stop working for me. One of my hardest struggles is finding both the time and energy to read. Reading is what got me into this industry in the first place and now I barely have time for it. I have been too concerned with how many books I finish in a year to really explore the written word. Next year I am planning on starting more books than I ever have before and finishing much less.

In 2014 I am setting a goal to read 10 books. Not only is that significantly less than any goal I have ever set before, but I have also picked out what specific ten titles I am planning on reading. If you know me in person or have ever read the blog before you know that Cindy Pon is one of my favorite authors. Knowing that I could share Silver Phoenix with more people was part of why I wanted to buy a bookstore. When I saw HER list of 10 books I decided THOSE would be the books I would read in 2014. Here is that list:

1. A Little Princess
2. Island of the Blue Dolphins
3. Dancing Shoes
4. Wild Seed
5. Tipping the Velvet
6. The King of Attolia
7. The Tombs of Atuan
8. The Vampire Lestat
9. Dream of the Red Chamber
10. IT

I have only read one book on this list. I am trying to decide if I am going to reread it or not. I generally don't reread books, but I am starting to wonder if I should also reconsider that. Also some of the books on this list are not the first book in a series and I haven't read the previous one. So if I stick with my goal I will get past 10 books for the year. This is part of my plan. I have been feeling a lot of PRESSURE to stick with my reading goals. It effects the books I decide to read. I skip books with higher page counts if I don't feel like they can help me in the goal. I want to read with whimsy again. I don't want to feel like I have to over think my reading choices.

The other thing my bath afforded me was this overwhelming desire to reread Ready Player One. When I was reading it the first time I LOVED it. But when I was done I started to see a lot of the problems in the narrative. I still consider this type of book successful because you don't question them until the end! I want to read it again with a more critical eye this time and find out how I really feel about it. I don't like rereading some of the books that I love because I know they won't hold up to a second reading. There is this part of me that just wants to start doing everything differently when it comes to reading.

Do you usually set a reading goal for the year?

Dec 9, 2013

I sat down to write a blog post the other day and I COULD NOT REMEMBER my password.

That is when you know it has been too long! Well, as you can see I got it figured out.

This is just a quick post to say "Hi" and let you know that I am hoping to be blogging a little bit more. Expect to see new items about the bookstore and my dystopian research.

I remember all the times I hated myself for having a blog because I couldn't find the content to update it. But over the past few months living without the blog has felt like living without one of my arms.

Now if only I can actually stick to sitting down and actually writing. Figuring out the password was step one.
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