Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Homer (our book machine) ate a book a couple of days ago....very artistically. I dug it out of the machine with pliers and exacto knife, while repeating, "My, what sharp teeth you have..."

- Tera, EBM Operator

What's a “Ubie”?

What's a “Ubie”?

As folks involved in children's books know, the American Library Association's annual awards are the biggest deal in the business. The Newbery Medal, for “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children” covers novels, and the Caldecott Medal is for “the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.” Usually, once a book wins one of these awards, they fly off the shelves, whether we all love 'em or not. While we realize that ALA also stands for All Librarians are Awesome, and we do think the organization is incredible (among other things, they're tireless watchdogs cataloging all the annual episodes of book banning or censoring), it's basically a tradition to grumble about the award winners, simply because we each want to see our own favorites on a national stage, and only one book a year will get it.

Five or six years ago, we realized something- we could just make our own award, give it to our favorite book, and put it on display when the ALA awards came out. That way the bright spotlight of the ALA awards could also shed some light on our staff pick of the year. Each year since then it's been loads of fun to nominate, vote on, and crown our own Ubie Award winners. Last year, we joked that the Ubie Award had come full circle because there was now some debate over whether the book that won the Ubie was really the best or if the runner up was the better pick (it was Hunger Games versus Paper Towns, both fantastic young adult novels). But this year, we really have come full circle, because the book we chose as the Ubie novel, Rebecca Stead's amazing When You Reach Me, also won the Newbery Award. Yes, that's right- our super renegade indie award pick was the same as the big dogs. But it's okay, because we love it to death, and also because we now give out two Ubies: one for a novel and one for a picture book, and this year's picture book was a secret delight that nobody else seemed to know about. The Secret Plan (by Julia Sarcone-Roach) is the story of three cats and an elephant who come up with a plan to defeat the dreaded bedtime, and you have to come in and check it out. Just rebellious enough to win over your hip friends and just cute enough to win over your grandma (or the other way around, depending) it's fully deserving of being an award winner.


Cool Books for Women's History Month

Here are some great recommendations from Anna in our Kids' Department:

Read These Books! (Children's Dept. Edition)

It's Women's History Month, and it's time to recommend all those books that just weren't quite right for some other occasion. It's an excuse to pull out a biography of a famous woman at random and put it on display somewhere. I love all the ______ History Months, because it reminds us to fill up display cases with books that don't always get attention, mostly because great nonfiction is often just sitting around waiting for someone browsing for something to write a report on, or a teacher with a specific lesson plan. This month, come look at the following awesome, inspiring, totally-worth-owning titles:

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, by Phillip Hoose

If you haven't read this every-award-it-could-win-winner yet, you must. Somehow Claudette's story wasn't part of my history education, and I wish it had been. She's an inspiration to teen activists (and the rest of us) everywhere.

I'll Pass for Your Comrade: Women Soldiers in the Civil War, by Anita Silvey

Okay, so I haven't read this because I just discovered it on the shelf (yes, we discover things we've never seen here, too) but someone has got to come down and get this! I'm a sucker for books about women in history cross-dresssing to get ahead, and this looks like an awesome one.

Independent Dames: What You Never Knew About the Women and Girls of the American Revolution, by Laurie Halse Anderson, illustrated by Matt Faulkner

This is a picture book, so it'll work for five- to seven-year-olds, but the info is great even for older kids. Did you ever hear of “Mom” Rinker, who sat on a cliff and pretended to knit socks all day, but was really passing secret messages to American soldiers by rolling her ball of yarn down the cliff as they waited below? Or Sybil Ludington, who, at sixteen, rode forty miles to alert Americans of a British attack (the book reminds us that old Paul Revere only rode sixteen miles)?

Indie Girl: From Starting a Band to Launching a Fashion Company, Nine Ways to Turn Your Creative Talent into Reality, by Arne Johnson & Karen Macklin

Just a great book to give to your young adult who's itching to make, do, or be something new. Includes zines, slams, and most everything else you'd want to know how to put together.

My Little Red Book, by Rachel Kauder-Nalebuff

We looooove this book. Really, really, buy-multiple-copies-for-ourselves love this o

ne. It's a compilation of stories about getting your first period, told by women young and old. Is there one about running from Nazis? Yes, there is. How many people mention Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret? Probably a dozen. We all sat around recommending favorites to each other the other day, and it was a bonding experience for sure.

As always, if you have your own favorites, leave them in the comments!

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Ruminations on The Machine

Someone recently told me I'd have to become “one with the machine” if I wanted to solve the technical difficulties of binding a 776 page book properly. Very well. I realize that this will require facing my discomfort with all technology post-1901 (since all good, homey things were available then: the awl, gas lamps, the science of evolution, Seattle). I’ve always liked books as aesthetic objects, something to handle and display, though according to Ted Striphas, author of The Late Age of Print, I’m still being swayed by the middle class consumerist fantasy of stocked bookshelves as a sign of elevated society, a je ne sai quoi of prestige.

In Striphas' words:
“...the widespread private ownership of mass-produced printed books as home was crucial to the formation and professionalization of the middle class, its entrée into modernism.”

Sometime in the middle of the 20th century when Christmas really took off, the book industry benefited from the “conspicuous consumption”of educated households where books were part of the object-ambiance, not just for reading. There were even "mimic bookshelves" for those low of purse. Striphas acknowledges that this is a cynical picture; it does not do justice to the influence of those knowing, deep spines confronting us from across the room.

For instance, on my bookshelf Mr. Casaubon of Middlemarch (one of my favorite cautionary cranks) scowls at, on the one side, T. S. Eliot’s The Uses of Criticism and, on the other, hot-tempered Roberto Bolanos’s The Romantic Dogs, a lusty collection of poetry from his early twenties. Baroness Blixen of Kenya (Out of Africa) raises her eyebrows at the teenage Marguerite Duras of Cambodia (The Lover), while Mrs. Dalloway nervously arranges her flowers and sighs at the voracious appetites of the British Empire. Every few months my eye is caught by Walter Benjamin’s Berlin Childhood around 1900 and I wonder again why he couldn’t have born it one more day–a Jew escaping France before the German occupation gets stopped at the Spanish border and commits suicide in his hotel room, the night before Spain opens its borders to refugees–. Granted I could have looked this all up on Wikipedia in fifteen seconds flat, but the resonances would not be so tangibly stirring on the shelf in my living room all day long, catching my flighty thoughts and deepening them.

But we all have to admit the book industry is in a crisis and Striphas has a good point that it is no longer conspicuous consumption that will save the publishing industry (though we at the bookstore wouldn’t mind a good try!). Something like the music industry's horror-struck encounter with Napster in 2000 is happening to publishers who with the hurricane of new digital options are being forced to confront a longstanding problem: you can’t just sell a book once, watch lamely as it it passes from hand to hand, circulates in the library, and surfaces again and again in used bookstores and websites through the years without earning you one extra penny, and expect to pay your editor’s and production team’s bills. In order to survive, publishers have to find a way to capture those fees for use.

Striphas brings up an eerie example of a William Gibson novel, Agrippa (Book of the Dead), which was an early "electronic book", a physical book encasing a floppy disk which would erase itself upon the third reading or so. Luckily the targeted readers were nerdy enough to love that kind of thing. Not all of us will be so tickled by the future of "controlled consumption," as we learn to lease the contents, rather than own a book outright. What is the essence of "book" after all?

Perhaps the Espresso Book Machine is targeting savvy, (dare I say nerdy) readers in its own way. It is a neat hybridization of digital and glue-and-paper print technology, and I often like to have a good chat with a customer before I hand him/her their steaming, sizzling Print On Demand title (At which point we dutifully repeat “hot off the press” together. Every time.) But I am also curious what people think is going to happen next. Will we as readers be satisfied with the unreal pixels of E-books? How important is browsing in a physical space, bumping up against other readers, and stumbling on that new obsession with Serbian folk songs or the Googleification of Everything? And my burning question, how long is someone willing to wait for my glue pot to heat up so I can make the next damn book? More adventures in Print On Demand coming soon.

tell all your friends!