Friday, December 28, 2007

Holiday Bookselling


I work retail, so the holiday season is massively important to our bottom line. Things were tough this year, with high gas prices, high temperatures (nobody wants to buy Christmas presents when it's 80 degrees outside), and no breakout bestseller, but we held our own.

Years with no breakout books really should be a boon to indy bookstores: instead of everyone coming in knowing exactly what they want (and not being able to get it because the publisher ran out and won't be reprinting until frickin' January. Not that I'm bitter.), people come in knowing they want something, but not necessarily what that something is. This opens the door for all of those handselling fools you've got running around on the floor to suggest their own favorites to the befuddled masses (this works best just before Christmas Eve--people will buy anything just before Christmas Eve). This cadre of book proselytizers is the biggest thing that sets us apart from the big chain stores; we're all readers, and part of being a reader is the desire to tell others about this great book you just read.

And it doesn't stop with customers. I do some of my hardest handselling to my friends and co-workers. Heck, I handsell to the reps who come in to sell books to me!

Being a buyer as well as a bookseller lends an odd perspective to the holidays. When great big stacks of something you took a chance on fly out the door, there's nothing sweeter. And when other stacks just sit there, it can drive you crazy. Why isn't that selling? We sold tons of that other book last year, and this one seems tailor made to appeal to the same audience, but it just sits there. Staring at you. Mocking you with its enormous stacks. Bastard!

Ah, well, at least I have something to get me through the post-holiday doldrums: P.Craig Russell's Coraline graphic novel, Ann & Jeff VanderMeer's anthology The New Weird, which joins the line-up of amazing books coming out in February 2008: The Somnambulist, The Resurrectionist, Charlatan, The Monsters of Templeton, and The Outlaw Demon Wails. What is it with February, anyway? There weren't this many good books for Christmas!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Gobsmacked


God, sometimes I love my job! I commute two hours to and from work every day, and given current traffic conditions in the Austin area, you can go ahead and add at least another half hour to my drive home. I'll sometimes stop and grab a burger for dinner, going through the drive-through and then sitting in the parking lot to eat. I always have a book in the car, so this gives me a little uninterrupted reading time while I finish my burger.

Most times, this takes 20-30 minutes. But every once in a while I hit a book that grabs hold and won't let go. Currently, that's Lauren Groff's debut novel The Monsters of Templeton.

I loved the cover as soon as I saw it, and when I read the catalog copy, I knew I had to read it. A couple of chapters in and I was gone, completely caught up in Templeton and its denizens, past and present. I was as eager as Willie to unravel her tangled family history, and logic lost all hold on me:

[Logic] You should get going.

[Me] (muttered while reading) Um hmm.

[Logic] You've still got 75 miles to go.

[Me] Um hmm.

[Logic] You can read the book when you get home.

[Me] Um hmm.

[Logic] You're not even listening to me, are you. You're just going to keep reading until you finish the book, and we won't get home until eleven o'clock. The cats are gonna be pissed, you know.

[Me] Um hmm.

[Logic] *sigh*

I came to myself an hour later, with tears in my eyes and a big, goofy grin on my face, thinking that I couldn't wait to tell someone about this amazing book.

It's part domestic novel, part historical fiction, and part mystery, with a dash of the supernatural for flavor. It's sad and funny and sweet and somehow realistic and dreamy at the same time. Stephen King compares the book to Ray Bradbury's work, and I have to agree. There's something in this story that just slips past my logic and connects with me, and Bradbury has that same effect.

As if this wasn't enough, it's also closely tied in to the works of James Fenimore Cooper (Templeton was a pseudonym that Cooper himself used for Cooperstown). I'm not familiar enough with Cooper's work to judge the accuracy with which this material is tied in, but I can say that for someone unfamiliar with Cooper, it worked just fine.

This is the fourth book I've read recently that's knocked me for a loop, and oddly, they're all coming out next February: The Somnambulist, The Resurrectionist, Charlatan, and now The Monsters of Templeton. I have no idea why February 2008 holds such an embarrassment of riches, but I'm grateful.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Re-reading Books


A bookselling friend of mine recently asked me for a recommendation for something new to read. As we were talking about various books we'd read recently, he mentioned that he'd just re-read Robert R. McCammon's Boy's Life. Man, that took me back. I love that book, and recommend it whenever I can. There was a time a few years back when I would re-read Boy's Life at least once a year.

Now I realize that this is unusual. Most of my friends re-read books rarely if at all. Heck, given the sheer number of books I manage to acquire, I could read a new book every day and never run out. But sometimes something about a book just speaks to me, and instead of picking up something new and exciting, I return to the comfort of old friends: Boy's Life, Dune, The Sparrow, City of Saints and Madmen.

I'm not sure what draws me back time and time again; plot? characters? style? Probably a combination of each. But maybe the more important question isn't why I re-read these books, but how I re-read them: avidly, openly, feeling every high point and despairing in every low. For whatever reason, I can re-experience these books and retain some of whatever magic in them made me love them in the first place.

This made my suggestion for my bookselling friend pretty easy: Have you ever read The Sparrow? No? Well let me tell you about it....

Friday, December 7, 2007

Putting the "Selling" Back in Bookselling


In yesterday's Shelf Awareness, Robert Gray offered up some tips on the art of handselling a book that you don't personally like.

His suggestions are all workable (my personal favorite is "I'm so behind on my too-be-read stack that I haven't gotten to this one."), but I think the key to his essay is the idea of not making someone feel bad or uncomfortable about their reading choices, however different from yours they might be.

So many people come to bookselling because of their own love of books and reading. Knowledgeable, passionate employees are any bookstore's greatest strength. But there is a tendency among booksellers to see their job as kind of a sacred calling: rescuing obscure titles and authors and leading readers to the True Light of Literature. Now I'm not saying that this isn't a fabulous goal, and I'm certainly not claiming that I'm not guilty of the same thing. But as a business model, it's quite a challenge.

We booksellers need to always remember that this is, in fact, a business, and if we want to have the freedom to stock those obscure titles and authors that we desperately want to sell, then we have to have the popular selections that people want to buy. You may personally despise Deepak Chopra, or think that Patricia Cornwell is an over-rated hack, or even rail against the teeming hoards who rush out to buy whatever book Oprah talked about today, but the fact that you can sell multiple copies of these books allows you to bring in some titles from Dalkey Archive or Monkeybrain Books and keep them around long enough for your fervent prosyletizing to convince your customers to give them a shot.

The customer may not always be right, but he or she is trying to give you money, so try not to make him or her regret that decision.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Ballsy


In February, 2008, Crown will publish a book called Charlatan: America's Most Dangerous Huckster, The Man Who Pursued Him, And the Age of Flimflam. I wanted to read it from the moment I saw the cover, which I swear they must have cooked up just for me, because my picking up the book was a foregone conclusion once I saw the goat.

The huckster in question, John Romulus Brinkley, pioneered the implantation of goat naughty bits into both men and women to reinvigorate them (both generally and sexually). Morris Fishbein, head of the nascent AMA, waged a 25-year war against Brinkley to try to stop him. Brinkley was unrepentant and all but unstoppable because he was always at least a step ahead.

When there was no mass media, being denounced by one newspaper was no big deal. Brinkley bought himself a radio station and was the first person to use the airwaves as advertising and promotion, creating in the process the first radio variety show. The show featured singers and musicians and storytellers and preachers and Brinkley himself and everything was a not-so-subtle plug for Brinkley, his clinic, and his elixirs. He had a knack for convincing the common folk that he was one of them.

When Fishbein had him before an AMA board and very publically revoked both of Brinkley's medical licenses, Brinkley's response was a late entry into the Kansas governor's race. He proved so popular with the people that it took a last minute finagling of election laws to keep him out of office.

While waiting to run again, he became disenchanted with the restrictions on broadcasting power for his radio station, so he convinced the Mexican government to give him free land and build him the most powerful radio station on the planet across the border from Del Rio, Texas. He used the same format, so people like Gene Autrey and The Carter Family went from regional acts to national treasures. (Long after Brinkley was no longer involved, XERA hired a DJ named Wolfman Jack.)

The book's got a little bit of everything, including world travel, H.L. Mencken, a courtroom showdown, and Nazis. Yeah, that's right, I said Nazis.

The tone of the book is wildly uneven, with Fishbein mostly absent and Brinkley so larger-than-life that you have to admire the chutzpah, if not the man. This makes the epilogue, where Brinkley is suddenly America's worst mass murderer a bit jarring.

But the book is worth the read, and a great jumping off point for further reading like Border Radio by Gene Fowler and Bill Crawford.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Novels About Books


You’ve been very patient (or maybe you’re just ignoring me). But I did promise a supplemental list of my favorite novels focused on books, so here ya go. It's not comprehensive, but it's mine:

Last year a book came out of Spain that blew my socks off: Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind. Although the plot does revolve around a particular book, I lost my heart in the prologue, with the introduction of the Cemetary of Forgotten Books.

Another favorite of mine was Thomas Wharton’s Salamander, which is a fantastical story involving a quest for a never-ending book.

I’m putting Cold Comfort Farm on the list for a couple of reasons: 1. The main character is planning to use her experiences with the Starkadders as fodder for her novel, 2. It’s a dead on parody of a particular style of book that any English major would be familiar with, and 3. It’s one of my very favorite books, and it’s my list, so nyah!

The Thursday Next novels of Jasper Fforde (The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots, Something Rotten, and Thursday Next: First Among Sequels) Combine a bookish childhood with an antic sense of the absurd and a serious sense of humor and you get Jasper Fforde. He has created a booklover’s paradise in his little alternate corner of the world, and it’s a treat to spend time there. How can you resist a device that allows the villain to kidnap Jane Eyre (yes, the Jane Eyre)? Or a vast library of book plots overseen by the Cheshire Cat? Or a villain named Jack Schitt? Puns, wordplay, gentle mockery of beloved literary characters; it’s a bookish delight.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Random Interlude


My review of Michael Moorcock's newest, The Metatemporal Detective is up at Revolution SF.

Currently Reading: an ARC of Jack O'Connell's upcoming The Resurrectionist, which was sent to me by Craig Popelars at Algonquin. Thus far? Very strange and very fascinating: kind of the feel of darker early Jonathan Lethem.

Currently listening: Soma FM's "Xmas in Frisco" stream. When they say adults only, they mean it, and not everything here floats my holiday boat (like that damnable "Cat Carol"), but give me South Park's "Dreidel Song" and Ru Paul's "Santa Baby" and I'm a happy camper. Don't forget to donate a little sumpin'sumpin' to keep the music stream flowing.

Monday, November 26, 2007

For the Booklover Who Has Everything



It’s that time of year again, when we consider those nearest and dearest to us and contemplate the perfect gift to show them we care. If you’re like me, then you have at least one rampant biblioholic on your gift list, so I thought I’d share a list of books guaranteed to soothe that book-loving soul.

Number one is a gimme, given the name of this blog: Biblioholism by Tom Raabe. In this veritable bible for the book-obsessed Raabe is able to illuminate the joys and pitfalls of being biblioholic with great good humor.

Next is an old favorite of mine: Where Books Fall Open by Bascove. This is a beautiful little treasury of quotes, essays, and stories about books and reading with gorgeous art throughout by Bascove.

What could be better for the booklover who has everything than a book about all of the books that can never be had? Stuart Kelly’s The Book of Lost Books: An Incomplete History Of All the Great Books You’ll Never Read is both fascinating and a bit painful as he describes great works talked about in history that have not survived to our time.

The History of Reading by Alberto Manguel is, as the title says, a lively celebration of the written word in the past 4000 years.

Every booklover should treat themselves to Paul Collins and his tribute to the Welsh town of Hay-On-Wye, Sixpence House. 1500 residents, 40 or so bookstores, mostly used. Sounds like heaven.

If your biblioholic is a mystery lover, it would be worth your while to track down a couple of out of print gems by Bill Pronzini: Gun in Cheek and Son of Gun in Cheek. You can find them pretty cheap on Half.com, and they’re a hoot. Pronzini crafts a loving and readable tribute to the truly awful book and authors in mystery fiction and it’s hysterical. Western lovers should note volume 3 of the series: Six Gun in Cheek.

And yes, I realize my “short little list” has rapidly gotten out of control. I’m a biblioholic. Sue me. If you're good, I'll post some more suggestions, including fiction.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Shameless Plug



My review of Frank Darabont's The Mist is up over at Revolution SF.

I got to go to a press screening, which was in a little metal building out in the middle of what used to be the Austin airport. There were only about 20-25 people there, most of whom knew each other. It was fun to see a movie and not have to worry about talking or cell phones and such, and for the most part these critics were able to let loose and really try to enjoy the movie. From the conversations I heard afterwards, some really enjoyed it. I did not.

But coming out of our little quonset hut surrounded by concrete and near a military base to an overcast day with, you guessed it, mist in the distance was quite an interesting experience.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Book of the Moment


The End of the Alphabet by C.S. Richardson is one of those small, perfect books that say so much more than the page space they use. Richardson takes the "one month to live" cliche and uses it to meditate on life and love and loss in a gentle and humorous way. It's sad without being mawkish, cute without being twee, and spare without being simple.

It's also gorgeous, from the cover to the interior to the font, which is perhaps not surprising, given that the first-time novelist has 20+ years of publishing experience as a book designer.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Coming February 2008 to a Bookstore Near You



I’ve been a reader all my life. I majored in English in college and grad school, and I’ve worked in bookstores since 1992, most of that as a buyer. I’m surrounded by books at home and work and I see new ones every day. It’s sometimes difficult to quantify why certain books speak to us; why we pick up this book, but not that one.

Other times, it’s not difficult at all:

Be warned. This book has no literary merit whatsoever. It is a lurid piece of nonsense, convoluted, implausible, peopled by unconvincing characters, written in drearily pedestrian prose, frequently ridiculous and willfully bizarre. Needless to say, I doubt you’ll believe a word of it.

I don’t know about you, but I’m in love.

With an opening like that, how can I not climb on board for the ride? Sure, I understand that this kind of narrator turns some people off (well, I know that; I don’t really understand it). But for me, it’s the sign of an author who wants to play--who wants me as the reader to take a more active role in the story, and I love that. It’s both clever and witty (and neatly kneecaps disgruntled reviewers: I told you it was implausible people, so no complaints!) and nicely sets the tone for the tale to come.

The story itself is everything the narrator promises (with the exception of pedestrian prose--I really liked the writing). You’ve got Edward Moon, stage magician and detective, and his silent partner in both endeavors, the Somnambulist, a giant of a man who never speaks and holds many secrets. You’ve got warm-hearted housekeepers, sybaritic layabouts, spiritualists, gung-ho police inspectors, and freakshow prostitutes. You’ve got grizzly murders, mysterious disappearances, secret societies, shadowy government organizations, the poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and the shadow of past mistakes.

It’s a generous, sprawling, maddeningly convoluted story. I just finished it, and I’m still not sure exactly what happened. I can’t wait to read it again and find out, though.

One For the Good Guys




If you've never read Michael Perry's books Population 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren At a Time or Truck: A Love Story, then you're missing out. Perry writes about small-town midwestern life with empathy and humor. He's got an "aw, shucks" writerly voice that really draws you in and gives depth to the stories he tells.

I really can't recommend him highly enough, and thankfully, I am not alone. Truck recently won the Midwest Booksellers Association Book of the Year Award. Perry had a prior commitment and couldn't attend, so he sent a pre-recorded acceptance speech:



Thanks to Carl Lennertz and Shelf Awareness for the heads up.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Those Were the Days


I was talking to my friend The Nooge the other night, and he mentioned that his recent DVD viewing choices were all pre-1950s, and he was really enjoying spending time in a different era, time-travelling, if you will. I felt (as I often do when I talk to The Nooge) like I had found a kindred spirit. My movie/TV choices are more modern, but my CD collection is dominated by the singers and bands of the 20s, 30s, and 40s.

I'm not sure why these songs and singers speak to me so clearly, but my mother did play the piano, so she had songbooks with all the old standards. Maybe she used to play and sing when I was small, but I don't remember it. I do remember the car radio set unwaveringly on 102.3, the easy listening station out of San Antonio, and my absolute hatred of that station. As I got older she started playing for weddings and receptions and church functions, but although she could play a variety of styles, given her druthers, she tended towards the more easy listening side of things. But occasionally she'd play something like "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" or "Darktown Strutter's Ball," and I was enchanted. I would beg her to teach me to play "St. Louis Blues," or "The Entertainer," (I took piano lessons as a child, but never practiced because I hated the songs I had to play) and she would patiently play through it until I could make enough sense of the notes on the page and where my fingers were supposed to go to sit at the piano on my own and obsessively practice till I got it right. To this day I'm a sucker for the sound of piano boogie, and when I regret not trying harder to learn the piano, rather than some songs, this is the kind of music I'm wishing I could play.

Although I still love my ragtime and boogie, I've grown to appreciate the standards she used to enjoy as well, as evidenced by the proliferation of CDs by Peggy Lee, Rosemary Clooney, and Ella Fitzgerald in my collection. I've bought tribute albums to Cole Porter and Irving Berlin. I've got Fats Waller and early Bing Crosby and enough Glenn Miller to choke a horse. I can (and often do) spend days listening to nothing but pre-1950s recordings.

I never really associated my love of this kind of music with my Mom--I listen more often and to a much wider variety than she did--but every so often I hit a song like "Goody, Goody" and all I can remember is hearing her playing that song on the Genie Magic Organ as background music at some function or another, and I realize how much influence she really did have. Even though it didn't start out that way, maybe my continued love of the genre is a way to feel close to her. She's been gone for a couple of years now, but as long as I have the music (and the Genie Magic Organ), a part of her will always be with me.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Catching Up


My review of Chris Roberson's expanded version of Set the Seas On Fire is up at Revolution SF. Unsurprisingly, I liked it.

Currently Reading: The House That George Built: With A Little Help From Irving, Cole, and a Crew of About 50 by Wilfred Sheed. It's a breezy, conversational book and that makes it an easy read, but it definitely calls for a soundtrack, so:

Currently Listening: Capitol Sings Cole Porter: Anything Goes, Rosemary Clooney Dedicated to Nelson, Spotlight on Peggy Lee, Bing Crosby: The Definitive Collection, Capitol Sings George Gershwin: Fascinatin' Rhythm.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Whatever Happened To...


If you're a reader, then I know this has happened to you. You read something: book, story, article, whatever, and it's fantastic. It really blows you away. So you try to track down other things by the same author, and you eagerly await the next appearance. And wait. And wait.

Years go by, but the story never quite fades away--something always reminds you of it. You even re-read it, because by now you're wondering if maybe you were wrong, and the story wasn't that good to begin with. But it really is that good, so you harness the power of the internet to see if maybe you just missed something, but you haven't; there's nothing out there that you didn't find the first time you looked, all those years ago.

Personal tragedy? Career change? Writer's block? The possibilities are endless. We let our guard down when we read, allowing someone we've never met to access and manipulate our emotions. We form relationships with writers, most of whom we'll never meet, but whose latest work we look forward to with the eagerness of a lover's kiss. It's only natural to wonder what happened when the communication suddenly stops, and to mourn the loss of a relationship sundered.

But like other bereft lovers, we have keepsakes to help us remember the good times in the form of the stories themselves that touched us so much in the first place. These stories deserve to be read and celebrated and shared, even if we never hear another word from the author, so I'm going to share one of my old loves with you.

Back in the 80s, I read a lot of horror. Of course I read Stephen King (heck, everybody did), but I had just discovered Joe R. Lansdale and Clive Barker and I was seduced by the Splatterpunks. I happened upon an anthology called Silver Scream, edited by David J. Schow. It held a lot of fine stories, including Robert R. McCammon's "Night Calls the Green Falcon" and Joe Lansdale's "The Night They Missed the Horror Show." But for me, the star of the whole shebang was a gem from a guy named Mark Arnold called "Pilgrims To the Cathedral." It's funny, sad, violent, touching, and buzzing with righteous anger. I was blown away, and I've never forgotten the story or its impact on me. I looked around online and found some stuff Mark Arnold wrote for Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine and a couple of anthologies that he co-edited with Terri Windling, but nothing post-1988.

So what happened? Did he give up? Burn out? Find a new calling? I don't know, and it really doesn't matter. But I'll always have the words, and if my joy in that story has to be tempered with the realization that there won't be any more, then I guess maybe that poignancy will deepen the flavor.

Friday, November 2, 2007

New Moment, New Book


Some days, you just get lucky. In today's mail, I received this little gem, and I can't wait to give it a spin.

I am an absolute sucker for odd titles. A quick glance at my bookshelves reveals such enticing nuggets as Night of the Avenging Blowfish: A Novel of Covert Operations, Love, and Luncheon Meat, Bimbos of the Death Sun, and my all-time favorite (and possibly the greatest pulp title ever): Honey From A Dark Hive. While it may be true that you can't judge a book by its cover, a great title can make someone pick up an otherwise unappealing book, just to see what it could possibly be about.

This jewel of entertaining infomation would be perfect for the book-lover on your shopping list, especially if paired with the recently released Scouts in Bondage: And Other Literary Improprieties. I know I'd squeal with glee if I got a copy in my Christmas stocking.

Random Interlude


Currently in my CD player at home: Marcia Ball, Live! Down the Road, James Brown, 20 All Time Greatest Hits, Abba, Gold: Greates Hits, The Gourds, Heavy Ornamentals, and Johnny Mercer, The Capitol Collectors Series, on repeat shuffle.

You?

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Book of the Moment


I realize that, on a site called Rampant Biblioholism, one of the things I should be doing is telling you about my favorite books. The problem is, that's an ever-changing list, akin to picking out my favorite grains of sand at the beach. I get all excited about something I've read (or read about) and just before I tell you all about it, my inner crow sees something else new and shiny and I'm off on another tangent. So quick, while the bird is distracted, let me tell you about The Deep: Extraordinary Creatures of the Abyss.

Those of you who know me know of my fondness for (some might say obsession with) sea creatures. One of my favorite childhood books was Jacques Cousteau's The Shark: Spendid Savage of the Sea, and there are currently roughly 12 different cephalopods staring at me from the end of my desk. When I saw this in the catalog I immediately reverted to a wide-eyed 10-year-old. I couldn't wait to actually see the book, because it sounded gorgeous. And then I actually saw the book, and realized that the description hadn't done it justice.

Even if you have no interest in ocean-going fauna, even if you are not aware of how much we don't know about life in the oceanic depths, you should take a look at this book for the sheer beauty of it. The first deep sea book I read was Deep Atlantic: Life, Death, and Exploration in the Abyss by Richard Ellis, and what drew me to the book was the crazy-cool white-on-black pictures of the denizens of the deep. To now see some of these same creatures in lush full color is amazing and just about the coolest thing ever.

My Christmas Wish List Just Got a Little Bit Longer

Thanks to the good folks over at Deep Sea News, who come bearing tales (with pictures, even!) of official currency and stamps featuring my favorite cephalapod. Sometimes I love the world.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Basking in the Awesome


Sarah Bunting's Tomato Nation has raised $101,280 dollars for an organization called Donors Choose in the last month. Check that number, people: $101,280. That, my friends, is the very definition of "awesome."

Let me give you a little background. Donors Choose is an organization that helps US teachers fund projects for their classrooms that they otherwise could not afford. The teacher comes up with a project, researches the costs, then writes up a proposal and sends it in to Donors Choose. Someone at Donors Choose vets the proposal (they ask teachers to include a 15% Project Fullfillment in their proposals to cover their own labor and costs, but they do not require it), then puts the proposal up on the website. Anyone can then click on that propsal (there are many ways to search for projects on the site) and make a donation to fund all or part of that specific project. All donors get a thank you email from the teacher once a project is funded, and donors who fully fund a project (or donate $100 or more to a specific project) get a box of thank you letters from the class that they've just helped. Once a project is funded, Donors Choose buys the materials from the proposal and sends the materials directly to the teacher, so you know that your donation is going for exactly what you intended it for.

Last October, Donors Choose beta-tested a Blogger's Challenge, asking prominent bloggers to pick some projects and challenge their readers to fund them. Sars set her initial goal at $25,000, and promised to shave her head if they made it to $30,000. Crazy-wonderful Tomato Nation readers raised the money in a week, and Sars dutifully shaved her head. This year, the contest ran full out, and Sars outdid herself: the initial goal was $35,000; at $40,000, she agreed to go to work all day (she works at 30 Rock in New York), do a dance at lunchtime in the courtyard (the Angela post-kiss dance from My So Called Life), and go out for drinks after work all while wearing a tomato costume (and being filmed for posterity); at $45,000, she'd throw in another $5,000 herself. Claire Danes (who has supported Donors Choose in the past) contacted Sars and said if the donations reached $55,000, she would also donate $5,000, bringing the total to $60,000. It took the Tomato Nation 3 1/2 days to break all these goals, forcing Sars to up her goal for the month to $100,000. On October 24th, the final project in her challenge was funded.

Let's think about that for a minute, shall we? Over 15,000 students across the US have been directly affected by the generosity of 1099 individuals, all in 24 days. I get teary-eyed just thinking about it. It was so much fun that I was inspired to start this blog, simply for the privelege of joining the challenge next year and pitting my Geek Nation up against the mighty Tomato Nation.

So get ready, Bunting. Next October, it's a Donors Choose throwdown!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Shameless Plug (tm Rick)



I've got a couple of book reviews up over on Revolution SF, one for Joe Hill's 20th Century Ghosts, and one for Norm Partridge's Dark Harvest. Both books were excellent and are highly recommended.

I've also compiled a list of the top 6.66 ghosts, with one on devils still to come, so keep checking back there for more Halloween-y goodness. These lists are always fun, because inevitably someone's absolute favorite gets left off the list, causing great consternation. And what could be better for Halloween Eve than a healthy dose of consternation?

I hope I managed to list your faves, and if I didn't, let me know what I left off, and why it should be there.

The Science of Selling Books (part 1)

That faint sound of grinding gears that you hear is retailers ramping up for the holiday season (yes, I know it's not even Halloween yet, but that's not going to stop the creeping holiday-ism from spreading). I've spent the last 15 holiday seasons on the sales floor of a bookstore, and I've learned a few things: 1) don't go for the leopard-trimmed santa hat unless you can pull it off, 2)it ain't Christmas if Eartha Kitt ain't singing "Santa Baby," and 3) people always wait till the last minute and are therefore desperate for you to suggest books for them to buy.

Now, we've all got our favorites, but the key to handselling on the sales floor is listening, not talking. You need to cater your responses to the needs of the customer; Max Brooks's World War Z might be the best book you've ever read, but if the last book your customer read was by Nicholas Sparks, then a zombie book just isn't going to cut it, no matter how awesome it is. So you need to ask some questions: What kind of books do you like? Who's your favorite author? Is this book a gift for someone else?

It seems obvious, but you'd be surprised how many sales opportunities are missed because the clerk doesn't take the time to find out what the customer really wants.