Saturday, August 1, 2009

Self-Published Authors

We're going to take a short time-out from our Kindle smackdown to return to our regularly scheduled blog, but be sure to check back on Monday for episode 4 comparing the joys of settling onto the couch with a book or a Kindle.

As the new book buyer, one of my responsibilities is to talk to self-published authors who want Green Apple to stock their book. If you ask buyers from other stores, I think you'll find that this is one of the least favorite parts of their job: having to deal with some pushy, self-promoting author who drops in without an appointment and expects you to stop whatever you're doing to meet with them.

I'll admit, I sometimes grumble when I get paged to the front counter for this purpose. And if I'm in an appointment, I'll give them The Heisman (i.e. politely ask them to come back at a better time).

However, I know that it is important for me to be open to these interactions for several reasons. For one, independent bookstores, I feel, have an obligation to stock books from local authors, assuming the books are reasonably well-produced and have some potential for selling. Two, pushy and self-promoting is the only way to get it done if you want to get your book into a store. And three, it's amazing how often I am pleasantly surprised by the author and/or their book.

The most recent example is when Rauf Naqishbendi dropped in to see if I would carry his book "The Garden of the Poets." Rauf is from Halabja, in Kurdistan, which was famously the victim of a chemical gas attack by Saddam Hussein in 1988, killing 5000 inhabitants. Here is a review of the book. I haven't read it, but it just makes you wonder at the people who walk into your store, and what stories they have to tell. This is one of them. Here are a few more.

Camp Quest has one of the worst covers, but two of the nicest authors I've ever met. Written by two former San Francisco teachers, it is set in a fictionalized Bay area locale during the years 1984-2028, and is about a science teacher who invents a drug that turns gifted but underachieving adolescents into dedicated students (what teachers fantasize about in their spare time, no doubt). The Shankels must have a lot of dedicated former students, because we've sold 36 copies so far.

Bill Lee's Chinese Playground, the story of his involvement with local Chinese gangs, earned him some death threats upon publication, but it is the best-selling consignment book in Green Apple history and has been course-adopted by some schools in San Francisco.

San Francisco has a long and sometimes bloody history of labor strife (the 75th anniversary of the Longshoreman's strike is this year). When The San Francisco Labor Landmarks Guide Book was presented to me, I knew we'd sell a few, but is has done much better than that, selling almost 40 copies in 6 months. A very different kind of tour guide.

A final word to all you self-published authors who are going to rush to the store- we are pretty strict about only carrying books by local authors, i.e. living on the west side of the city. And the books have to have a spine. And please call and make an appointment before coming by.

Friday, July 31, 2009

The Book vs. the Kindle, Round 3: Sharing

Here's Round 3 of the smackdown between The Book and Amazon's Kindle e-reader. To see the first two episodes, as well as other Green Apple videos, go here.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Book vs. the Kindle, Round 2: buying a book

Here's Round 2 of the smackdown between The Book and Amazon's Kindle e-reader. An intro to the series is here, as is Round 1.

Enjoy, and check back tomorrow for Round 3.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Book vs. the Kindle, Part 1 of 10

People keep asking me, as an owner of an old-fashioned brick-and-mortar independent bookstore, what I think of the Amazon Kindle, one of the many “e-readers” available. So I bought one.

I admit, I was curious. The buzz is nearly screeching; and there must be a reason we don’t sell as many John Grisham novels as we did when I started 16 years ago; and who can resist the appeal of a new gadget dedicated to one of life’s necessary pleasures: reading.

Sure, I had heard some bad stories: there’s the class-action lawsuit against Amazon concerning screens that crack. And the recent brouhaha about Amazon silently removing 1984, Animal Farm, and other titles from Kindles (albeit for a good reason—they had sold pirated copies). And having seen Amazon founder Jeff Bezos laughing on Jon Stewart's Daily Show is enough to make anyone scared.

And while there are some thoughtful, balanced articles out there, like Nicholson Baker’s piece in the current New Yorker, I wanted to see for myself.

So Green Apple's crack video crew came at it with an open mind, pitting “The Book” against the Kindle in a smack-down of the most literary sort. We had plenty of help from some, um, "talented" folks, as you'll see.

What follows over the next ten days are ten short videos, taking a careful, if tongue-in-cheek, look at each “format.”

Enjoy Episode 1, and check back tomorrow for Episode 2.

Monday, July 27, 2009

I Will Spend the Rest of My Life in Transit

Not long ago we did a little rearranging on our landing. Some long standing books were removed from display, tossed over to God knows where now probably, and replaced with some things that we thought would freshen up the shelves a bit. Now I'm a big fan of Sparks' (RIP) LITERARY FEUD shelf, and the dark truths revealed on the DRINKING shelf deserve a place in the store of course. Sadly though we had to sacrifice old displays to make way for the new and one that I enjoyed very much was lost, the LIGHT RAIL READS display.

To tell the truth I do
n't really remember what was on the original LIGHT RAIL READS shelf, but the idea of it was something that struck me as a good one. I spend a lot of time on BART, MUNI, that stupid way too expensive ferry that takes me to Vallejo when I want to go visit my mom, etc, and I've long since discovered the hard way that getting lost in some Leo Tolstoy flim-flam is a bad idea. I've missed a lot of stops and seated myself next to a lot of googly eyed, cussing at something not real type psychos just because I didn't want to lose my place. Ugh.

Maybe not as rewarding as a dense rea
d but certainly more practical, let's take a minute to give it up for those pick up/put down/girl on the go books that keep us entertained on the bus, reel in craigslist missed connections, and make us glad we left Blindness at home. I suggest:

Not just any poetry though. So many poems are needy for interpretation, require too much idyllic pondering and wouldn't suit the occasion of commuting. Things along the lines of Joe Brainard's I Remember, or James Tate's Memoir of the Hawk are perfect. They're both very straightforward, often waxing h
umorous with a bit of nostalgia. I feel Charles Simic's The Monster Loves His Labyrinth falls in to this category as well.

Collected Correspondence
Robert Crumb's Your Vigour for Life Appalls Me got me through a long Seattle winter a couple of years back, taking the 11 bus downtown to work every day. Something about a candid look in to the life of someone you admire seems very appropriate to me as a vehicle, fully out of your control, is moving you forward to somewhere.

A good comic (narroglyphic-picto-assemblage) is something that makes sense to read just about any time if you ask me, but it almost goes without saying that by nature of their layout a stopping point is never further away than a panel or two. I revisited Dan Clowes' Ice Haven on my most recent trip to the East Bay and, because it is a series of short vignettes that pull together a larger story, it drive homes my point perfectly. Page 10:

Hmm... maybe I'll lobby to get this shelf reinstated.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Go on, beat it.

I wanted to look sullen. FAIL.

The Green Apple Core blog has been chugging along for six months now and barring any sudden reversal of fortune or tragedy, this is the first departure of one of our regular bloggers. Um, that's me. I'm leaving not only Green Apple, but San Francisco entirely at the end of the week. Rather than attempting a grand summation of what I have or haven't accomplished here, I'm going to let my Sunday night posts dissolve not with a bang but a whimper.

The picture above is that whimper, taken from a feature in the Chronicle on a light news day a few years ago. My smile belies my true feelings about being the center of attention of a photo shoot that took place in the store (complete with backdrop and professional photographer), but I am preemptively posting it in the fear that one of my co-workers may feel the urge to use it later on. (See this.) Yes, that's me. A baseball-playing playwright?


I can't entirely forsake the compulsion to sum up, but I'll keep it simple: of all the reasons to love Green Apple - the well-selected books, creaky stairs and labyrinthine second-floor being a few compelling examples - one stands above all others for me: the people. I have had the pleasure of working (and sometimes only "working," i.e., making "Book of the Month" commercials) with amazing, funny, and intelligent booksellers. It is because of them that I will miss this job and this city as much as I will.

I leave you with this quote from Alec Baldwin's character Jack on "30 Rock" (thanks for the reminder, Roman). It says all that I cannot:

"Lemon, there was once a great American called George Henderson. He met a woodland ape, or Sasquatch, and despite its dangerous message of environmentalism, became his friend. When the time came to do the hard thing and send it back into the forest where it belonged, and birds could perch on its shoulder because it was gentle, George Henderson summoned the strength and, by God, he did it. Did it hurt? You bet it hurt. Like a bastard. But he did it because it was the right thing to do. For the woodland ape. You think about that."