Tag Archives: Amazon

The Monday Book – 21 DOG YEARS: doing time @amazon.com by MIKE DAISEY

I picked this book up at my friend Tina’s independent bookstore in Neenah, Wisconsin (home of the late lamented and dearly loved Annaboo-Bookstore Kitty).Daisey

The book appealed to me on that same guilty pleasure level one feels when a high school friend e-mails that she has news of your ex: he’s fat and just lost his job and moved back in with his parents. That kind of thing.

21 Dog Years isn’t so much kiss and tell as kiss and punch. Daisey, a stand-up comic, leaves very little to the imagination on how weird it was to work for Amazon in the late 1990s. And how little respect he has for the company. So of course I loved it. :]

But beyond that, Daisey has a unique way of cramming too many words into a sentence; this makes you read them in a kind of fascinated concentration with the way he writes. His constructions are magnificent. Perhaps too magnificent, as the book (which is sold on Amazon – HA!) has been described as “truthy” at best. It’s a combination of monologue, wishful thinking, and things nobody says aloud. It’s not all factual, but oh so much of it is accurate.

His timing is a little strange, and that’s saying something for a stand-up comic, I suppose. You can’t always tell WHEN he is in his book, or sometimes what he’s talking about in specifics, but clearly coming through are the feelings of frustration and workaholic dedication for no reason to someone and something that isn’t dedicated to you. And you get some really, really funny vignettes. It’s easy to tell this book grew from a comedy show.

Then, in the last few chapters, all the vignettes and snarky comments and fun “take THAT ya bastard” humor hits its stride–like watching Stephen Colbert take down a pontificating guest so well, the guest doesn’t even know he’s being done. Daisey nails the twenty-first century work ethic, the Rise of Big Corporations, and a few other things about being a wage slave that just sing. He writes emails to Jeff Bezos (never sent) that ask such good questions, you long for a response. “What’s the line between irrational exuberance and fraud? (pg 170)” “Would it have been so hard to build a cool and quirky bookstore instead of a soulless virtual megamall? (pg 208)”

Those who like humor close to the white-hot fire of “Hey, that’s not funny” truthiness and sarcasm rapier-sharp–not to mention those of us sick to death of Bigger is Better B.S.–will enjoy Daisey’s take on life behind the walls of Corporatedotcom.

PS If you’re interested, here’s a rebuttal about Daisey: http://gawker.com/5894525/what-else-has-mike-daisey-lied-about

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, post-apocalypse fiction, publishing, reading, Sarah Nelson, Uncategorized, writing

“Is That the Bookstore?”

crazy bookstoreMaybe it’s that blood moon. Maybe it’s the pollen count making us all high on Sudafed. Or maybe I just happened to catch the best moments, but this week has produced some absolute classics in “funniest things ever said in a bookstore.” Here are three of my recent favorites:

*phone rings*

“Hello, is that the bookstore? I am downsizing and have a truckload of books for you.”
“Oh, lovely…” Oh, sh———
“These are all that’s left. I’ve burned about as many as are still here, but I can’t burn fast enough. Would you come and get these?”

 

*door opens, two women enter*
First woman: “We heard you could tell us how to market a book.”

Me: “Pardon?”
First woman: “We wrote a book. It’s a mystery, set ’round here. We’ve sold a lot to our family and friends, people that know us, but we want to sell it to more people.”

Second woman (to first): “Maybe she could sell it in here.”

First woman (looking around, shakes head): “Nah. Too many books in here, it’d get lost. (to me) Can you give us any ideas on how to sell it?”

 

*phone rings*

“Is that the bookstore that has the book about it?”

Me (bracing for impact): “Yes?”

Person: “I’ve written a book. Would you sell it?”

Me: “Sure! We like to promote books by local authors, but we can’t do any specific special promo because we don’t have the space. We have a shelf first thing when you come into the store, and we will put it there with the others. If you want to put a sign up on top of the shelf or hang it from the ceiling, we do that for the first six months your book is out.”

Person: “Well, my book is only available on Amazon. Could you put up a sign telling people to buy it there?”

Y’all come on down. We’re here, bricks, mortar, books, sense of humor and all.

 

 

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Malaprop’s Sweet Malaprop’s

One of the fun things about running around touring a book is all the great bookslingers you meet in shops you’ve not seen before: Ann at Spiral Bookcase, Ruth of Book People.

Then there are the old familiars, like Malaprop’s.

I’ve been going to Malaprop’s since college, when I discovered the South’s San Francisco in Asheville, North Carolina. For those who haven’t been, Asheville is a city full of hats, dogs and same sex couples. It’s one of the best places to eat for 400 miles. And it’s got Malaprop’s.

Thirty years old this year, Malaprop’s is one of those Dr. Who bookstores that’s bigger inside than out. It’s got a cafe that serves things with long names ending in “o” made by guys who take their work waaaay too seriously. It’s got floor-to-ceiling wooden shelves in old dark wood, and cool staff. You can buy just about any snarky magnet or bumper sticker you ever imagined.

It’s got style.

Malaprop’s was a book talk I really looked forward to giving, and it did not disappoint–not even when I arrived to find myself advertised (next to Barbara Kingsolver and Ron Rash) for NOVEMBER 28th. See the woman between Jack and me? That’s Elizabeth. She runs events at Malaprop’s. That’s why she’s grinning like that.

Elizabeth was lovely, and that one piece of card had the only errant date. Their copious mailing list, the flyers on the windows, even the one on the back of the toilet stall door, gave the correct date, and I am pleased to say we had a capacity crowd: a new author whose book debuts in February, an Atlanta businessman retiring to the mountains, two couples from the town, some bookstore lovers, and–wonder of wonders–our dear friends the Volks from Big Stone Gap! They’d decided to surprise us and make a weekend of it in Asheville.

Jack and I talked about the world we live in now, full of convenience over community, one-click shopping and easy choices whose consequences lay buried behind time and media messages. I repeated my mantra that I don’t object to Amazon wanting to be the biggest, but to their wanting to be the only. We talked about Malaprop’s online service–one click, but still part of the big picture, not its whole. And we reminded ourselves, as an audience in the Q&A afterward, that what Malaprop’s and the other independents offer is a sense of place, an anchor for the place to go and enjoy oneself on a Saturday. Take away Malaprop’s and the yarn store next door, the chocolate shop across the street, the Himalayan Imports store will lose business, and wither. Malaprop’s is big and strong. It pulls customers up the street past other enticing store windows, creating commerce: commerce that sustains the heart of a downtown community.

Convenience is nice, the assembly agreed, but it’s a commodity, not a virtue. It behooves us as American bibliophiles to remember that.

Thanks, Malaprop’s (and Elizabeth) for having me there, and for being there.

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Two Square Inches of Fame

This is PEOPLE Magazine from Oct. 22. It has a two inch square recommending my book as a Great Non-fiction Read. And while it doesn’t change much of anything I think about myself, it’s changed the way some people think about my book.

A couple of people who weren’t interested in buying the book when I was in their local bookstore hawking it saw that lying open on the table, and suddenly Little Bookstore got a whole lot more interesting. Same thing with Walmart; some friends found out the Big W was stocking me, and my life changed in their eyes.

Might we just dial back a second here? A book that talks about the value of community, how people can take charge of their own lives, not “rent inside their own skins” but really enjoy and examine the decisions they make about why, how, and where they buy books–is embraced by mainstream commercialism, and that makes people like it more?

Irony, thy name is marketing. It’s the small version of what’s on the front cover of the People my two square inches are in. Adele is pictured on the cover, and it says, just below her face on this 2-million circulation magazine, “How and why the singing sensation lives outside the spotlight.”

Ummm…..

Don’t get the wrong idea. I’m more grateful than words can express that people are embracing this book (which they couldn’t do if they didn’t know about it via the media), that they like how it describes life in small towns, that some neighbors from down the street and across state lines have emailed to say “You’re describing what it felt like when I moved to a small town/ got a divorce and started over/ quit my job to start an art studio/ lost my daughter.” There’s just nothing like life in the slow lane to solidify watching the strangeness of mainstream media and its effect on what people think you are.

I am delighted that people identify with, take pleasure from, even repeat what I said about small towns, books, cats and life. And it pleases me no end that the quote people are starting to come up to me at book signings and reel off, with a big grin, is,”I’ll put the kettle on.” (Plus, they ask after Beulah. She’s well, thank you.)

But at the bottom of two square inches of fame, Walmart, Amazon and the rest of the pile-up, Jack and I run a small bookstore in a rural part of Coalfields Appalachia for people who like to read. We are happy. We like our friends, we like our church, we like our store, we’re lucky, we’re careful, and we work hard.

Good enough, gang!

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The Day the Borders Opened and Closed at the Same Time

Last year, my husband Jack and I  decided to take a vacation in celebration of two things: 1) five years of keeping Tales of the Lonesome Pine Used Books open despite e-readers, a tanking economy, and online sellers; and 2) that an agent had agreed to represent my book about our bookstore–a woman whose kind heart, spot-on instincts and amazing brain got my book proposal shored up and out the door in three short months.

The day after the proposal ambled off to make its way in the world, we did what any small-town small-business owners would do: hopped on the Internet to hunt 1/2-price vacation deals. (We had a lot to celebrate, but not much to do it with.)

Chicago proved affordable; off we flew for a week of forgetting we were poor. Our last day there, I awoke to an email from Agent Pamela; two publishing houses wanted to talk. On holiday herself, Pamela nevertheless called me, her voice exuberant as she explained, “We have sold this book, Wendy; it’s just a question of to whom.”

Jack and I did the happy dance around our hotel room, pelting each other with pillows.  We half-waltzed, half-floated down the stairs and around the corner to our usual breakfast nook–

–where the newspaper on the table lay open to a story that all remaining Borders Bookstores were closing.

Human hearts can sing with joy even as they crack open.

“Bookstores are doomed” blared the op-ed, while the news story gave facts and figures. Jack and I both cried while reading; here we were, on vacation from our solvent-enough shop, giddy with happiness that a book about our bookstore would be published, and one of the big guys was going down for the last time. Drowning, not waving.

Jack looked at me. “We passed a Borders yesterday, near the hotel.” Off we went, coffees unfinished.

Some of the staff were dismantling computers, pulling wires out of walls. One was crying. I heard customers asking if the books were half-off now.

I don’t know that I can convey this well, but in that moment “my book” became a book honoring we happy few, we band of booksellers who make sure people have access to not just the best-sellers, but the quiet wonders as well.

What we booksellers do is important, more than nostalgia, more than casual access to retail. Social Justice, All God’s Critters Got a Voice in the Choir, Equality, Education: take your pick. We represent an open market of free ideas, with value tied to meaning more than money. We have to be in our children’s future, or more will be lost than the feel and smell of pages. So much will be lost that the next generation won’t be able to count it. Worse, they won’t even be able to name it.

So Jack and I came home from Chicago with a book deal, and 20 books we’d bought at Borders–plus Unabridged, Myopic and After-Words. And we came home with an unabashed–and unquenchable–fire in our bellies, determined to be lifelong advocates for books and the people who sell them. That impractical, improbable trip to Chicago has been on my mind lately, as Little Bookstore prepares to launch Oct. 2

Because bookstores are more than important; they are irreplaceable.

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“Of Course You Are”

As it is sometimes wont to do, our phone died at the bookshop. We jiggled some wires and then called The Phone Company. They dispatched someone. He arrived 37 hours after they promised he would.

A nice guy, “Steve” smiled at us, jiggled something, went outside, came back and jiggled something again, then said, “Fixed.”

And it was. Steve asked to wash his hands (whatever he’d jiggled was dusty) and be pointed to Peter Straub.

“You like horror?” asked my husband, leading him through the maze that used to be our kitchen, and is now an intricate system of one-way tunnels walled by books.

“I am the author of a horror novel,” said Steve, hauling a card from his shirt pocket and handing it to Jack. “Self-published my first this month! It’s 99 cents on Amazon this weekend if you download it to Kindle.” He then bought four Straubs.

So now we have several spaces in our horror shelf inventory, someone to lead this October’s adult scary stories night, and a phone that works. Hey ho, just another day in the bookshop.

Don’t forget to enter Caption Contest V! You can see the picture by scrolling down to yesterday’s blog; leave your caption entry under “Comments.” First prize is a free copy of ‘The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap.’

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Why I am a Bookshoptimist

We hear a lot these days about how bricks and mortar bookstores are closing, the big ones often taken down by Amazonians shooting fiery economic spread sheets. But below the radar, humming along in strip malls and back corners and converted garages, people are still selling books: like Debbie out in Buffalo, Missouri, who took $800 from her life’s savings, bought a dormer and set it on a concrete slab, then called her friends to bring their cast-offs. That’s how she opened. She’s still there.

So is Ann in Philadelphia, who just celebrated her second anniversary as a new-and-used store AND just adopted Amelia, the first shop staff-cat. And Joe in Tupelo, who went down to his Barnes and Noble with flyers announcing the opening hours and trade credit policies of his independent used bookstore, and stuck them to the windshields of the cars parked there.

Over Christmas 2011 Jack and I visited 42 independent bookstores in 10 states; the trip is in my book, but the day-by-day visits make up the BOOKING DOWN THE ROAD TRIP section of this blog site. Some incredible, resilient people out there are running bookshops.

They know, as Jack and I do, that bookstores are so much more than retail concerns: intellectual pubs, the place where people find someone to talk to; quiet places in which to catch your breath for fifteen browsing minutes; where you can find the books that will never be made into movies, never make landfall on a top ten list, but whose gentle stories deserve notice; the watering hole of human spirits that may not even be all that like-minded, but unite in believing that commercial viability isn’t the sole criterion for ranking an idea’s importance.

Plus, bookstores are part of that diminishing “third space” network made up of neighborhood diners, family greenhouses, little yarn shops, and the other places not run from a national office or housed in a box store–those “third spaces” where we are not part of the office staff, nor fulfilling a designated role in a family, but being ourselves. Just ourselves.

Remember when farmers markets made a comeback? A backlash erupted against the fast food lifestyle: too much sodium, too little quality. I think American consumers are beginning to feel the same about bookstores. Readers have returned to awareness of how much more fun it is to shop with real people than online. Realization is dawning that—like breaded, fried fast food versus a slow-cooked home supper—faster and cheaper is not always better (and that the price difference might not be as high as one might think, either).

A growing number of customers eschew the “savings” of buying online, recognizing that “bargain” hides costs too dear to pay–losing a lifestyle of strolling to the corner shop and talking to other bibliophiles browsing the shelves, severing human connections. It makes us happy to know that Flossie (Union Ave), Cheryl (Burke’s), Jennifer (Wise Old Owl) and the rest are out there offering access, ambiance and advice. I’ll pay more to keep them there, because what they do for us is priceless. I think other people will, too.

Just call us bookshoptimists.

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