Saturday, March 11, 2006


Booksellers pray for rainy weekends

Today it's sunny and in the 40s for the first time in weeks, so apart from a few die-hard regulars (Thanks Hal! Thanks Ali!), I've had a very quiet day here at the shop. Which is just fine with me - the last few shop days have been too busy for my liking. I tend to get flustered if I have too much business, hence too much to do. This was catch-up morning: balancing checkbooks and returning phone calls and dispersing the books that pile up on my desk like snowdrifts over the course of a given week (keep? read? sell? shelve? take home? save for a certain customer? on and on it goes). And to catch up here, there are a few things I wanted to comment on from the week just past:

Author and used & rare book dealer Larry McMurtry's Oscar acceptance speech (co-writer of the screenplay adaptation of the E. Annie Proulx story that became the film Brokeback Mountain) thanked the booksellers of the world. I didn't see it because I only watched the first fifteen minutes of the Oscars and then got bored and went in the other room to read, but one of my sisters saw McMurtry's speech and said she felt a glow of pride for me and my kind ("That's my sister he's talking about!"). First bookseller to win a Golden Globe (for same) and first to win an Oscar, and what a fine writer he is, and champion of the book. Someday soon I want to visit McMurtry's bookshop in his hometown of Archer City, Texas. Anyone been there? I hear the half-million or so books are good, very very good.

After my David Foster Wallace reading jag I came across an article that referred to his style of writing as Hysterical Realism. DFW and Jonathan Safran Foer and Rick Moody and Jonathan Franzen and sometimes Dave Eggers tell all at an often frantic written pace, and what a perfect and funny literary term for these wordy guys. And how refreshing to have a group of men be called hysterical, for a change. Then I read a wiki article that says that a literary critic first coined this term more than five years ago in a review of a Zadie Smith novel. Oh well. Why be gender-specific here (or anywhere). I'm years behind the times. I still like it. Maximalism!

Finally, this statement from the Authors Guild about the Google free-books-for-all project was mighty interesting, and it is worth reading for figuring out the distinctions in what Google is proposing (and is actually doing). I'm going to be watching with interest to see what happens with this; it could have far-reaching effects on both new and used book businesses. And here I am using Google's great free blog service, which I love, what's a girl to do.

McMurtry's speech was one of the few highlights of the Oscars(not to mention the man had the guts to wear blue jeans) and it was cool to have bookseller get their props.

I read the AG statements-thank you for the link-and I really feel that this whole mess is a wake-up call to the publishing industry to catch up to the computer age much faster than they've done. Online companies are not going to stand on ceremony while publishers get their act together and decide how they want to proceed.
I'm not sure I want the publishing industry to catch up. Instead, I want the online companies (Google, in this case) to slow down. I'm not a neo-Luddite (here I am blogging on my darling notebook), I believe in growth and progress, but I would like to see authors and other artists in all areas of creative endeavor be able to retain their traditional rights to their own work, no matter what happens with technological evolution.

There's a great Gillian Welch song about this very point called "Everything is Free" - about how as an artist you have to give everything away, because the current demand is for immediacy, and corporations know that an artist will continue to produce art, whether they are paid for it or not, so why should they pay... "The consumer wants what he/she wants, NOW, and let's give it to them," kind of thing. But the book world has always been slow and steady, thank god. I think in many ways it's still a refuge.
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