Saturday, November 07, 2015

Amazon Bookstore Opens, Call Me Ishmael Phone, The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin and Remembering Laughter by Wallace Stegner

There's been quite a kerfuffle over Amazon, the online retailing behemoth, opening a bricks and mortar store here in Seattle. Amazon has put a number of bookstores out of business, so for many, this seems like yet another strike against independent bookstores and the important role they play in the community. From what I've been able to gather, the store is actually more geared toward getting people to buy Amazon's e-reading devices, and that they've got a paucity of books on the shelves that seem to be more for show than anything.The following is from Shelf Awareness, who also got some indie bookstore reactions to the opening.

A Visit to Amazon Books

Isn't it ironic that Amazon started 20 years ago offering the millions
of titles a physical bookstore couldn't, and its first bookstore has
mere thousands of titles on its shelves? The newly opened Amazon Books
is a small space that stocks fewer titles than most other bookstores. It
is sleek and elegant, and its literal bricks-and-mortar fa├žade
fits nicely in the upscale University Village neighborhood. But at its
grand opening, the store seems to have embraced the showroom culture
that the company initially developed by foisting it upon competitors.

With news cameras rolling, the store opened at 9:30 a.m. yesterday,
after a line had formed outside. When the doors opened, a handful of
people applauded, several of whom turned out to be Amazon employees.

In many ways the store feels like a late-era Borders: a clean, appealing
space, with a scant number of popular books on the shelves, faced out
for greater visibility, while the center of the store is devoted to
technology. Kindles are featured throughout the store, including Kids'
Fires displayed in the children's section and Kindles stationed in each
section for customers to "explore books in this aisle."

In the Seattle Times report on the store's opening, Jennifer Cast, v-p
of Amazon Books, stated that "we felt sorry for the books that were
spine out" in other stores. The solution? Stock fewer titles,
effectively eliminating those that would have been spine-out at more
robust bookshops.

Titles from the many imprints Amazon publishes are represented on the
shelves, though not prominently or overwhelmingly. Notably, Penny
Marshall's memoir My Mother Was Nuts--which Amazon reportedly paid
$800,000 to publish--couldn't be found. For titles the store doesn't
stock, customers are encouraged to "check out our website."

Each of the mere 5,000-6,000 titles featured in the store rests in
stacks of roughly 10 copies, above an Amazon review shelf-talker and
barcode. Customers can use their mobile devices to check the price of
each item using the Amazon app, or carry the book to one of many
price-check stations throughout the store. This is necessary since books
in the store are priced as they are online, steeply discounted but
variably so.

In every way, Amazon has tried to package its online experience into a
bricks-and-mortar retail outlet, begging the question, why? For book
lovers, the appeal of exploring a favorite bookstore or a new one is the
adventure of finding something you might not have discovered otherwise.
Readers like to spend hours even in a small bookstore and still walk
away feeling like there is more to see next time. With its small
inventory and clinical approach to a bookshop aesthetic, Amazon Books
fails to cultivate that atmosphere of endless possibility. After an
hour, you've seen it all. For all the fanfare about Amazon's first
physical bookshop, Amazon customers might soon realize that it's just
easier to get it online. --Dave Wheeler
              **    **
Booksellers React to Amazon Books

"With only 5,000 titles in a space in which Waterstones would put over
10 times that number, it appears to be a tentative dip of the toe into
physical bookselling waters. Clearly, however, a skim of the bestsellers
away from true bookshops would be very damaging: we very much hope that
it falls flat on its face."

managing director of U.K. bookshop chain Waterstones, in the Bookseller

 "Seattle has some of the most concentrated competition for booksellers
in the country, both with other independents and with Amazon. The
University Book Store has already carved out a significant niche for
itself within the local community. We're as close to being a nonprofit
organization as you can get without being one; dollars spent at our
store support not only the University of Washington community through
scholarships and various educational programs but also greater Seattle.
We are a cultural hub that hosts more than 500 events a year, brings
more than 60 book fairs into Puget Sound schools, and supports a number
of literacy programs. People are smart--they know who their real
community partners are. We will continue to find new ways to serve our
community. It's in our DNA."

--Pam Cady, manager of general books, University Book Store, Seattle

I seriously want one of these. Even to just listen to it once. Such a GREAT idea!

Cool Idea of the Day: The Call Me Ishmael Phone

 A Kickstarter campaign has been launched for the Call Me Ishmael Phone
which creators Logan Smalley and Steph Kent describe as "a way for
readers around the world to leave voicemail messages about the books
they love. Thousands of bibliophiles have called and over a million
readers have listened to our library of stories, but until now, we've
only been able to share the stories online []

Call Me Ishmael Phone is a way to bring Ishmael's entire library to
booklovers in search of their next great read. We've hacked a replica of
a vintage payphone and created a new literary device that gives
libraries, independent bookstores and readers like you an entirely new
way to celebrate and discover great books."

The first beta test of the Call Me Ishmael Phone was at Avid Bookshop
features prominently in the Kickstarter video. Owner Janet Geddis said
Smalley is originally from Athens and "a few months ago, one of our
mutual friends (former mayor Heidi Davison, a longtime Avid supporter
and someone famous for many things, including painting Avid's bathroom
when we were setting up shop!) introduced me to Logan via e-mail. I had
heard of Call Me Ishmael before and was interested to hear about this
mysterious new project he wanted to share with me."

She asked Smalley if he would be interested in joining her bookshop team
for a staff meeting. "At Avid that afternoon during our meeting, he told
us all about the Call Me Ishmael phone," Geddis recalled. "We could
hardly hold back our enthusiasm. Later that week, he brought in a
prototype and let my customers and employees try it out while he
gathered feedback and even filmed some folks using the phone.  

"In any case, I really feel strongly about this and am wanting to let my
indie bookseller friends know about it. It's not gimmicky, and it's
totally worth people's time to watch the video even if they have no
ability to contribute monetarily. All of us at Avid have watched the
video and looked at the Kickstarter page, and not one of us avoided
getting goosebumps. That speaks volumes to me." 

The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin is November's book in my library book group. It is quite a huge tome, and I'd imagine it is considered "literary fiction" because of its scope. However, I found it difficult to get into, and I almost gave up on reading it after page 50, and then again around page 129. But I persevered, and I finally finished it this past week. Here's a blurb from Publisher's Weekly:
The implacable hand of fate, and the efforts of a quiet, reclusive man to reclaim two young sisters from their harrowing past, are the major forces at play in this immensely affecting first novel. In a verdant valley in the Pacific Northwest during the early years of the 20th century, middle-aged Talmadge tends his orchards of plum, apricot, and apples, content with his solitary life and the seasonal changes of the landscape he loves. Two barely pubescent sisters, Jane and Della, both pregnant by an opium-addicted, violent brothel owner from whom they have escaped, touch Talmadge’s otherwise stoic heart, and he shelters and protects them until the arrival of the girls’ pursuers precipitates tragic consequences. Talmadge is left with one of the sisters, the baby daughter of the other, and an ardent wish to bring harmony to the lives entrusted to his care. Coplin relates the story with appropriate restraint, given Talmadge’s reserved personality, and yet manages to evoke a world where the effects of two dramatic losses play out within a strikingly beautiful natural landscape. In contrast to the brothel owner, Michaelson, the other characters in Talmadge’s community—an insightful, pragmatic midwife; a sensitive Nez Perce horse trader; a kindly judge—conduct their lives with dignity and wisdom. When Della fails to transcend the psychological trauma she’s endured, and becomes determined to wreak revenge on Michaelson, Talmadge turns unlikely hero, ready to sacrifice his freedom to save her. But no miracles occur, as Coplin refuses to sentimentalize. Instead, she demonstrates that courage and compassion can transform unremarkable lives and redeem damaged souls. In the end, “three graves side by side,” yet this eloquent, moving novel concludes on a note of affirmation. Agent: Bill Clegg, WME Entertainment.
 If you get the idea that this is something of a depressing book, you're right. I kept hoping that Della would kill Michaelson, because the horrible pedophilic bastard deserved it, but in the end, he just dies because he's sick with some disease (probably an STD).  Della falls to her death in an accident, and Jane's daughter is left to care for Talmadge until his death. The air of melancholy and pain in this book is almost too much to take, but the prose is often stellar, which makes up for it, in a sense. It would have been nice to know that the daughter of these two ill fated women had a wonderful and productive life, but we never get to know that. I'd give this book a B-, and recommend it to anyone who isn't depressed or stressed, as this book will send you over the edge if you are either one.
Remembering Laughter by Wallace Stegner is a short novel that won Wallace the Little, Brown Publisher's literary prize of $2,500 in 1937, which was a huge sum back then. It is a taut little novel, filled with the glorious prose Stegner's noted for, but still rather sad overall. Here's the blurb:
Margaret Stuart, the proud wife of a prosperous Iowa farmer, sets high standards for herself and others. Happy in her marriage, she tries to look the other way when her genial husband, Alec, takes to the bottle. When Elspeth, Margaret's sister, comes to live with them, the young woman is immediately captivated by the beauty and vitality of the farm, and by the affection she receives from those around her. But as summer turns into fall, and the friendship between Alec and Elspeth deepens, Margaret finds her spirit tested by a series of events that seem as cruel and inevitable as the endless prairie winters.
Long out of print, Remembering Laughter (1937) marked Wallace Stegner's brilliant literary debut.
I couldn't resist a book about Iowa farmers, of course, but I was unaware that there were dutch/norwegian farming families in Iowa, as most of the farmers I knew were of German or Irish or Scottish heritage. The horrible effects of guilt and shame and love are all on display here, except they're seen as enervating, depressing and as removing all the life and laughter (and body weight) from the two sisters. Yet for some reason, Alec, the husband who starts all of this, and impregnates his wife's sister, gets something of a free pass. He doesn't become a dessicated, dried up horror dressed in black mourning clothing. He goes on about his life, perpetuating the lie that the son born to his sister in law is actually his nephew, and that his wife and sister in law are the boy's aunts. I felt this was unfair at the least. He was the one who seduced the younger sister, if he was so unhappy with his harpy of a wife, who only seemed to care for how everything "looked" to society, then he should have divorced her and married the younger sister. Keeping the secret of his conception and birth just poisoned the whole household, and the boy figured it out before he left home anyway. But this could all be how things were done in the 30s, I don't know. I'd give the book a B, and recommend it to anyone who is interested in Stegner's early prose.

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