Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Written Nerd Link Added

I've added Jessica Stockton's Written Nerd to my links.

Not only is the Written Nerd a great resource for all things happening in the book world, and not only have I been reading it for a couple of years and feel silly for not including it in my links in the first place, but she has picked up the Larry Portzline story (see my version below) and is running with it. She has quite the readership and hopefully can get something done or at least make the proper people feel guilty for their inaction.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Read This Long Entry Because It's Important!!! Bookstore Tourism, or The Death of a Great Idea

Larry Portzline is a great guy from Harrisburg, PA who I met at the beginning of this year at an Opening Your Own Bookstore conference on Amelia Islannd in north Florida. He's one of the friendliest, smartest guys I've ever met and we had a great time hanging out drinking beers talking about our ideas on stores and books, the whole nine. Larry thought up a great idea a couple of years back: what if he chartered a bus, sold tickets, and went to New York City to visit as many independent bookstores as possible in a day? Well, he tried it, sold out the bus far more quickly (far more quicklier?) than he expected, and the trip was a huge success. That first trip focused on bookstores in Greenwich Village--Three Lives & Co., Partners & Crime, Biography Bookshop, and so on.

Since then Larry has been working his ass off to promote Bookstore Tourism all across the country on his Friends of Indie Bookstores blog, writing guidebooks for how to run your own bookstore tours, doing interviews (here's a good one with LitMinds), shaking hands and kissing babies with all the powers that be in the independent bookstore world. They loved the idea. OF COURSE they did, they were getting customers bussed to their front doors, people pre-disposed to buy books who were giddy with the thought of not shopping in a Barnes & Noble or Borders. (Sidebar: I happen to like Borders, some of them anyway, and have found myself plenty of times shopping at the fantastic B&N at Union Square simply because I couldn't find a book somewhere else and because I hate ordering books online, but let's be honest: shopping in an independent bookstore is about a gazillion times better than any megachain experience, hands down, no arguing, and it always will be.)

One busload of shoppers coming into your store on a Saturday or Sunday if you're a small indie store can make not just your day but your week and possibly even your month. It's a landfall on wheels.

THEN, Larry got an even better idea. He decided to tour the country to visit independent bookstores. An On the Road of independent bookstore shopping. He was going to try to hit 200 stores in 50 days (or 60, can't remember and it doesn't matter, it was definitely 200 stores) and blog the entire experience, get stories into newspapers, on local tv, all that. He even had two reporters lined up who were going to travel in the van with him for the first four or five days to kick the whole things off. I was going to fly out west somewhere and join him for a week or two just because it sounded like a kick-ass idea and a hell of a lot of fun and I like road trips.

He had the support of the ABA and the various regional booksellers associations. The ABA--or American Booksellers Association--is the trade group that fights for and represents as a whole independent bookstores to the publishers. And they are a good thing. There are more member stores in the ABA across the country than there are Barnes & Nobles and Borders stores put together, though you'd never know it from the media because of the way the publishing industry operates right now. The two big chains, along with Amazon and increasingly the discount clubs likes Sams and Costco, hold all the power in publishing. In fact, there's one buyer at Barnes & Noble who--if she doesn't like a book or decides B&N isn't going to carry or make a big buy--can single-handedly get a book canceled or otherwise change a publishers whole plan for a book. (This is not an exaggeration, it's common knowledge at the NY publishing houses, especially in the editorial and sales departments, and I could give you her name but I don't want Len Riggio's henchmen coming after me.) The ABA does not have that kind of power because they have no influence on the buying patterns of their member stores. They can't guarantee, as B&N can, a buy of 20,000 copies of a books. So while the ABA does incredibly wonderful things, (for example, they brought the class-action lawsuit against the publishers a few years back when the publishers were giving unfair and illegal discounts to the chain stores which they weren't giving to the indies,) and while they're run by wonderful people, they don't necessarily have much foresight and even when they do, they can't put any money into their initiatives because membership dues are low.

Why am I going on about this? Explaining all this? Because Larry has finally given up on getting any help whatsoever from the insanely short-sighted ABA or the regional associations like North Atlantic Independent Booksellers Associations, SouthEastern Booksellers Associations, the Mountains & Plains Booksellers Association, and so on. There are 7 or 8 of them and they're even less organized and less forward-thinking than their parent organization. Why has Larry given up? Because earlier this week someone finally told him that no help was coming. They LOVE the Book Tour, they LOVE Bookstore Tourism, but they can't put any $$$ behind it because they have all these other concerns. (I guess that's why, I'm speculating at this point.)

So guess what? Not only is the Tour off--and I'm pissed because I was really looking forward to driving around in a van with another big hairy man visiting bookstore after bookstore day after day; I mean, seriously, is that a frickin' dream trip or what?--bur Larry has gotten so frustrated with these people, justifiably, that he's quit the Bookstore Tourism effort entirely! And who can blame him!?! When the very people who would benefit most, when the amount of publicity that could be generated for something like this outweighs anything any single one of these indie stores could do for themselves, when this Tour makes so much frickin' sense and would generate so much frickin' business, well that's definitely when they should pull their support and not lift a goddamn finger to help... to help themselves...

Great thinking, guys! Hey, let's just let all the independent bookstores shutter their doors and we'll all buy whatever the fuck that one B&N buyer thinks we should read. Sounds good to me.

(Wondering why there's no links to any of Larry's websites? That's because he's already shut them down.)

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Jen Ferguson's Art in Chaos

Jen Ferguson is a really talented artist and she happens to be one of our friends. Her work falls into three categories: whimsical and fun watercolor and ink sketches; whimsical but slightly more serious oils; big, sprawling and "serious" architectural painting. All of it is fantastic. Here's a link to an example from her site: Jen Ferguson's brilliant art. It's called Roasting Marshmallows in Hell. (I would have it show up here but I haven't quite figured that out about Blogger yet.)

Bad Elves

Anyway, her web site is called Art in Chaos and it's a lot of fun to look around. Jen is incredibly friendly and if you're interested in any of her pieces I'm sure she'd be more than happy to help.


(Both of these are pieces Margaret and I own and my lame attempts to photograph them should in no way influence your opinion of her stuff.)

If you want to see a piece in person, I'm told there's one hanging near the bar at Bar Great Harry.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Fish Prints

Yesterday Margaret and I got to meet Annie Sessler of East End Fish Prints. Annie does this amazing thing with fish, real fish, and it ends up looking like this:

According to her website, fish printing--or gyotaku--was developed by Japanese fishermen as a way to record their catch in the days before photography. Annie's husband knew about it and showed her how it works and now she makes her living doing this while her husband goes out and catches the fish, which they then eat for dinner. It's a very economical and efficient system.

We first learned about them on CBS' Sunday Morning news show which is one of our favorites. The story aired a couple weekends ago and I looked her up, found out she would be in town yesterday at the Holiday Crafts Park Avenue show. When we got to her booth, she was in the back breastfeeding her seven-week-old boy. Though this flustered me, she wasn't bothered by my presence and wanted to carry on an extensive conversation en media feed. I acted cool and we talked fish and I told her about the time a five-foot barracuda tried to jump into my boat while fishing in the Bahamas. Anyway, after deciding we were spending way too much money, we ended up getting a print of a mahi-mahi and the green grouper above (both of which I've caught numerous times in Florida and both of which are delicious to eat). One of them is a gift for my father and the other is a gift probably for us.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Bar Great Harry--TONIGHT

So, the readership here is pretty much fictional. Or imaginary. Take your pick, because it's both. What that means is immaterial in the grand scheme of things, but if there were people reading they would want to come to this thing I'm about to tell them/you about. When you read this entry in the archives boy are you gonna be pissed you didn't know about this...

Bar Great Harry, that wonderfully cozy neighborhood bar just down the street in Brooklyn at the corner of Smith and Sackett, are having a BEER EVENT tonight at the bar with Stoudt's Brewery. I'll be there starting around 5 o'clock and encourage everyone to check it out. Partly because I like the bar, and partly because yesterday, due to totally random circumstances having to do with me needing lunch and eating at another neighborhood place, Downtown Bar & Grill, I met Mrs. Stoudt herself, Carol, , and she seems like a totally cool lady.

Go drink her beer.

2 Awesome Blogs

No poems this time. I’ve been meaning to brag on a couple of people close to me, and specifically brag on their blogs.

#1: The first is my wife, Margaret. Not only is she incredibly cool personally, and hilarious, and a very talented actress, her blog is really funny. It’s called Cynical Liar. She’s a liar, see, and she’s cynical. Some of her entries are true, some aren’t, some are partially true with exaggerations. It’s all hilarious.

That's Margaret holding up our gurudaughter Samantha. Samantha happens to be #2's daughter.

#2: My oldest best friend, Adam Booher. We've known each other since we met taking swimming lessons when we were like 4 years old. I have no memory of this important event, but it's what Adam keeps telling me happened. Not only is he incredibly cool personally, and hilarious, and a very talented father and improv sketch comic, he tells funny stories. His wesbite/blog is called Xanaboo. Adam’s stuff is funny--and occasionally scary--because it’s all true.

This is Adam and his wife Lisa underwater at the amazing Atlanta Aquarium. Adam's the one on the right.

I highly recommend both of these sites and encourage you to go there and read and leaves lots of comments.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Links to Things That Are Good

So I promised some links to various places mentioned in the last post:

Mo Shoshin's blog post describing the Night of the Reading and her awesome Thanksgiving dinner: Mo's Blog
(I don't know if you have to log in to My Space to read it, but I hope not because it's a great read.)

Lauren Balthrop performing at the Sea Change opening night: Lauren (with Ryan's head in foreground) . That's Mo's flickr page.
And that's her in there as part of the band: Balthrop, Alabama who we go to see a lot and whose music we really dig.

This is the bar down the block where we spend a lot of time-- Bar Great Harry. Ben and Mike are good people and the night of the Sea Change opening that's where we went for me to stock up on liquid courage. Unfortunately, I forgot just how nice Ben and Mike are and Ben made me a Hendrick's gin and tonic double in a pint glass that in any other bar would be a triple or quadruple. I finished that one and had another... before the reading.

I could do ten entries on Bar Great Harry alone... and might yet. Keep an eye out for their third Monday of the month trivia night, co-sponsored by Rocketship . We were there for the first one and it was awesome. The team of Therese and David that asked us to join them but we didn't because they were sitting at the table by the door and I would have been in the way of the door and so we stayed at the bar where we were and tried to answer all the questions ourselves... well David and Therese won. Which, as I tried to tell them, is only because we didn't join them... which would have put them at a severe disadvantage. So it's almost like I'm taking credit for them winning.

I've Been Away... And I Didn't Even Notice

You know that old Zen koan that has become a punchline for futility: if a tree falls in a forest and there's no one there to hear it, does it make a sound? (Quit bugging, that's close enough.) Well, that's what this blog is like. A tree falling. In a vast forest of blogs. And I can promise you, it doesn't make a sound.

Mostly, of course, because there's only two people I've told about the blog. When I started I wanted to put lots of content on it before I told anyone it existed so that when they got here there would be lots to explore.

But then I got bored and lazy and stopped adding content. And now it's much much later and I'm coming back to it.

Part of the reason I'm coming back is that Mo has tagged me to reveal 7 Really Personal and Weird Things About Myself. Which I'll do in the next day or two, as soon as I think of some. The other reason is that Mo (again with the Mo) got me to read at the opening party for her show at The Fall Cafe the Saturday before Thanksgiving. And... I had a great time. I don't remember all of it because I went way way WAY overboard with my anti-anxiety medication (double gin and tonics courtesy of Bar Great Harry) and was barely coherent when I began reading. At least I think I was. I did recover somewhat because I had to focus so hard on the words on the page and not slurring them that I sobered myself up a bit. By the end, people clapped and there may have been cheering--though the cheering might have been coming from me for finshing the reading upright.

The point is, it was a good experience. The rest of the evening was amazing, with Lauren Balthrop performing her first solo show which was pretty incredible. (If there aren't links in this post I'll come back and link later... or link in the next entry. Check there.) In preparation for the reading I spent about a month writing new material and read almost exclusively new poems, some of which turned out pretty good. In fact, a couple of people even told me that they don't like poetry but they liked my poetry. Which is a strange thing to have said to you--if you're totally paranoid like me. Does that mean I'm onto something that might be new or accessible or otherwise refreshing? Or does it mean I'm so off base I should quit now? Obviously, I'm going with the first interpretation.

Here's one of the new poems:

The Physics of Sweaters

The sweater that blonde is wearing is gorgeous.
Well, not the sweater so much, not really, it’s nice,
an ivory wool blend, off the shoulders, whatever,
it’s a sweater, but the form that sweater implies
is gorgeous. Of course I can’t know about that form
with any certainty but I’m certain it’s doing things
for my morale no pill could. The curves that give
the sweater its shape, they’re something to write
home about. I assume they are, again, we live in a
quantum mechanical world, where we can assign
formulas and data without ever being sure those
equations are the ones bolstering the universe.
The beams and joists of the universal frame aren’t
going to collapse if we’re wrong, the universe will
go on in much the same shape it’s in now, we’d just
like to know—like, you know, for funs ya’ll. You can
change the shape but not the value! Beaten into me,
the mantra that explains the constancy of matter and
one or more principles of physics, somebody’s laws
of motion or energy, something. So we can’t know,
so what? Some people would say that not knowing
is half the fun, especially when it comes to sweaters.
Let me set one thing straight here: I’m married, happily,
and my wife’s sweaters are enough for me, they raise
my morale plenty. It’s just, when it comes to knowing
or not, I know…and the unknown is so inherently
dazzling…which, evidently, is the appeal of quantum
mechanics. Some sweaters are known, some are not,
we can assign formulas all we want and never understand
any more than we do right now in this moment. And as
gorgeous as they may or may not be, or the forms that
give them form, it doesn’t hurt when the jeans that
go with the ivory wool blend look like that, when they
imply legs the shape of which no mathematical formula
could hope to explain and which, applied in the proper
proportion, could boost the morale of an entire army
of lonely scientists.

(Nov. 2007)

Friday, September 14, 2007

Messing with Blogger

So, here I am, messing with Blogger to see if I can learn how to link things to things.

Ahem. For example, I spend a lot of time at this site because I'm an English Premier League junkie. My wife and I are West Ham fans.

This was one of our favorite pubs when we were in London last October. It's called Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. We tried to steal a bar towel but there weren't enough around because other people had already stolen them.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Prop List, a newish poem

This is one I wrote this year at some point. I really need to start dating these things. It's not perfect or anything but I like the run-on sentence-ness of it.

Prop List

Have the strains of someone’s tenor sax and high-hat
tapping the air above us. Have the smell of onions
burnt in the toaster, have the ring of the register
and the warp of a humid afternoon, Hurricane Cindy’s
tantrums up from the south and the wet sizzle of tires
down the road. Have a girl in red boots. Have a guy
in headphones like a DJ reading Dostoevsky, a cool
breeze, a cappuccino, a coffee cake. Go on,
have a whole coffee cake. Have the leg
of the guy next to you bouncing as he thinks,
the leg saying Make something happen Make
something happen Make something.
Whatever it is it better be good because today
we’re all soggy, our shoes soaked through,
the bags on our shoulders sagging with ideas with
promise with the weight of what we’ve already.
Today it better be good because today, in spite of
everything, everything we touch turns to gold.

I don't know. It was just one of those days that seemed full of possibility even though it was a grey and nasty day.