Friday, June 26, 2009

The Backlist

I have been thinking recently about backlist. For the uninitiated, backlist in a bookstore is all of the books that came out more than a month or two ago. So everything from Little Bee to Don Quixote is backlist. In these times of increased competition and economic downturn, many bookstores have reduced the amount of backlist they carry, relying instead on selling lots of what's new, and then moving on to the next new thing. And there is an argument to be made for this when one can go on to ebay and find a copy of The English Patient for 1 cent plus shipping. In fact, I went to an educational seminar recently where a buyer for a successful independent bookstore advocated returning any book that hadn't sold within six months.

We're definitely running a little tighter ship around here than we used to (we stocked roughly $25,000 in psychology books in 1999; now that number is $15,000, not taking inflation into account). But other sections are significantly larger than they were ten years ago, like graphic novels and cooking. We at Green Apple still think it is important to have a broad and unique selection of books to keep our browsing customers happy.

There are some books we'd be just plain embarrassed not to stock. We recently reordered Miss Lonelyhearts, even though it had taken two years to sell. So I got to wondering which new books have been here the longest, and I did some investigating. The winners are:

1) Forty Ouncer by Kurt Zapata has been here since February 1999. When I ran this report I thought that the winner would be some obscure French novel. The only reason I think this one has hung around so long is that we sold a lot of it way back when, and it has a cover image of a man face-down on a bar.
2) The Torrents of Spring by Hemingway. Maybe not an essential Hemingway book, but there it is.
3) That's Funny, You Don't Look Buddhist has been here since January of 2000. I'm shocked that this book by a popular local author hasn't sold in so long. Must be lots of used copies.
4) Failure to Zigzag. Another well-regarded book by a local author that is coming upon its tenth anniversary sitting on our shelves.
5) You Are Not I, a biography of Paul Bowles by Millicent Dillon.
And coming in at number 6 is my obscure French novel, Ballets Without Music by Celine.

So rest assured, as long as it remains viable, we will continue to use the blush test when determining which books we stock, which means that The Collected Prose of Robert Creeley (on our shelves since December 2001) is safe for now.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Graphic Novels 101

A lot of people roll their eyes when they hear the words "graphic novel", especially in a bookstore. The very idea seems to give people the idea that they're juvenile or disposable. Thanks to writers like Alan Moore (Watchmen, From Hell, V For Vendetta, all made into horrendous movies that he had nothing to do with), the graphic novel is a medium that can explore facets of storytelling that plain old literature, and even film, can't touch (note above, the movement from a tiny detail all the way up to the first line of dialogue).

And graphic novels in series format can go even further, like Robert Kirkman's zombie opus, The Walking Dead. Stretching nine volumes and still going, this zombie story isn't just your average shock fest. While being character-driven, it deals with the idea of humanity being stripped of money, government, and technology-- and right back into "survival of the fittest". Oh, and there's a lot of entrails. Think more early George Romero than Lucio Fulci.

Y: The Last Man is about an epidemic that kills the male population of the planet, and what happens when one man survives. It's not the cheesy porno set-up you might think it is. What follows is a ten-volume epic that's planned and executed brilliantly, jumping from comedy to drama and back again. There's a reason why the author, Brian K. Vaughan, is now an executive producer and writer for ABC's Lost.

And now for something completely different: Bone, by Jeff Smith, has been heralded as one of the greatest graphic novels of all time. Riding the line somewhere between cartoon and fantasy and action-adventure, Bone is a series that is deceiving at first glance-- it looks like a kids' book with its adorable protagonists and woodland creatures, but soon becomes covered in monsters, quests, wars, and all that good fantasy stuff. And I don't even like fantasy! I even dare to say this one manages to tug at the ol' heartstrings occasionally.

So there you go. Hopefully these get you started and then eventually addicted.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Take Me Out To a Library!

OH, my goodness! I've got to keep this entry short because I just returned from purchasing a major collection of baseball books from a collector in the South Bay and I want to price these tonight and get them onto the shelves for all of you! Signed Bob Feller or Joe Morgan books anyone? Hall of Famers both! Scads of classics: Ball Four, Ring Around the Bases, 1956 My Favorite Summer, Say Hey, The Giants of the Polo Grounds, etc. . . If you dig it, you should come.

And next Wednesday, July 1st I'll be bringing a different stack of tomes down to Hawthorne Lane for another appearance on the KFOG Morning Show. Tune your radio dial to 104.5fm at 7:15am (ugh, i know) and crank-up The Bookguy. If I'm too loud, you're too old...

Keep Reading!

Vote for Us!

Mad props to Isotope Comics' proprietor and part-time supervillain James Sime for nominating us for BEST USED BOOKSTORE in the SF Bay Guardian's upcoming Best of the Bay Readers' Poll.

It'd also be nice if you voted for us, too!!!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

How many works of fiction do YOU need?

According to Bowker, there were 3% fewer books published in 2008 than in 2007. Phew! A mere 275,232 new titles to contend with. 47,541 works of fiction. Had there not been a massive economic upheaval, I’m sure our remainder tables would now be piled high with all variety of Eat Pray Love-meets-vampire-pirate memoirs of recovery.

Green Apple has a wide selection, of course, but we estimate that we only order about 10,000 newly published books each year—3.6% of the grand total. In some ways, that seems tiny. But if you exclude romances, textbooks, and new books by V.C. Andrews (who died 23 years ago), there's only a few thousand left.

And still, according to USA Today (via GalleyCat), 16% of all books sold in the US in the first quarter of 2009 were by Stephanie Meyer.

And indeed, we sold a lot of Stephanie Meyer books that quarter: 223 to be precise. But we also sold 152 books by Haruki Murakami (and no movies based on Murakami books were released that quarter). We are probably prouder of that fact than we should be. Maybe even the tiniest bit smug. Our customers are pretty cool.

Not that we have anything against Stephanie Meyer. Every book we sell keeps the staff and rent paid and the doors open another day. So thanks, Stephanie, Haruki and the 10,000 other writers who keep us doing what we love. Here's to you. And to Dan Brown's forthcoming novel. . . .

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Battle With the Windmills...

After Sparks wrote about the books that have defeated him, we discussed a few of them & how sometimes it is almost embarrassing to admit out loud that you can’t finish a classic work of literature.
There are of course many classics out there that I have not read. I try to read as much as possible but it not easy to get around to everything. The one that came to mind first was Don Quixote. Though I am an avid reader & would like to consider myself a fairly intelligent reader when it comes to processing or discussing literature, this masterpiece has eluded me.
As far as Don Quixote is concerned I first tried to read it right after I read Moby-Dick. I thought following one epic sea tale with an epic Spanish novel about a delusional conquistador was going to be amazing…& it was at first. I made it probably about 200 pages before putting down the Cervantes & settling back into Melville with his short stories.
My next attempt was when I was in college & thought that perhaps Don Quixote had not been right because of my quick love for Melville & therefore had suffered for not being one of Melville’s books. Still I only managed to get about 300 pages in.
To make this story a little shorter I will say that I have tried at least four different translations, that anytime I see a copy I have a strong urge to buy it & read it.
The farthest I have read is about 400 pages in the Edith Grossman translation. I’m not completely sure what it is that makes this book so hard for me to read. It is not as difficult as many books that I have read, it is not the size, I’ve read plenty of Tolstoy & Dostoevsky, I just can’t seem to find my way to the end…

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Books I own, books that own me.

Last week's post about my summer of reading classics got me thinking about those books I've attempted to read that have defeated me. These are the books that I've taken up full of eagerness to scale the great peaks of literature, the canonical works capable of transforming me from an ordinary reader into one of the elect, a great reader, while simultaneously making me a better person. Instead, they owned me. These books are the schoolyard bullies among my library - they shattered my confidence, humiliated me, and kept me away from the playground for days.

These are not bad books - far from it. They are inarguable masterpieces. Why else would I attempt to read them? For various reasons, however, I have failed as a reader when it comes to the titles I hope to unveil over the following few weeks.

I present them in order of the psychological trauma they inflicted upon me, starting this week with the book that above all others torments me: Under the Volcano, by Malcolm Lowry. I have attempted to read this book five times.

The first time I began, I was seventeen. Something about the dissolution of the novel's main character enticed me. A straight-laced kid from the suburbs loves nothing more than reading about an alcoholic in an exotic place. I gave up 8 pages in, certain that I was not yet mature enough to "get" the book.

The second and third attempts were in my mid-twenties. I was living in a beach resort town. In the late afternoon, after work, I would sit on the deserted beach and plough through classic after classic: one summer alone I chased Moby-Dick with One Hundred Years of Solitude. I gulped down Murakami, Knut Hamsun, Thomas Mann without hesitation.

But not Malcolm Lowery. He proved himself a worthy nemesis two successive summers, insolently mocking my attempts to get further than page 37.

I tried another approach the fourth time - it was January. Maybe the reason I couldn't find my way into the labyrinth that is Under the Volcano was due to the fact that I was reading it in the wrong season? Not so. January proved no more amenable than June. Defeated again.

Finally, last summer I was traveling through the Mosquito Coast in Honduras. Among the obsessively chosen books I tossed in my backpack was, yes, Under the Volcano. If I couldn't read it on the beach or under the covers on a winter night, I would definitely be able to read it in the jungle, if for no other reason than that I would be forced to by my lack of options. Well, the jungle proved slightly more worthy - I got to page 50 this time, but no further.

Am I simply incompatible with Malcolm Lowery's book? Are we never to get along? It's still sitting on my shelf. After all of our hours together - I'm convinced the book has suffered along with me - we have yet to part ways. We're still hopeful that some day, in whatever imperfect circumstance and season, we will complete our journey.

And immediately after both will go our separate ways.