Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, 2009!

Here we are, once again, near the end of another year. It has been a strange, fun and interesting ride. The economy has been up, and down. Many books have hit the bestseller list and never left it, while others brushed with fame for a week or so, then disappeared quietly into the night (yeah, I'm talking about "The Gargoyle").

We have had some great authors visit this year, including: Robyn Scott (Twenty Chickens for a Saddle), Craig Johnson (Another Man's Moccasins), Pilar Pobil (My Kitchen Table: Sketches From My Life), Brandon Sanderson (Mistborn: Hero of Ages and Alcatraz vs. the Scrivener's Bones), Brandon Mull (Fablehaven), Stephen Dubner (Freakonomics), Charles Mann (1491), and more.

And most of all, we've appreciated having you, our blog readers and customers, share this year with us.

This is the last blog entry of 2008, but we will be back in 2009 with more to share with you, but here are some hints of some things to come- Sara Zarr (Story of a Girl and Sweethearts) will be here in February, Seth Davis, CBS Sports analyst and author of the forthcoming book "When March Went Mad" will be coming in March to talk about the 30th anniversary of the 1979 NCAA Basketball Championship game that pitted Larry Bird against Magic Johnson. Brandon Mull should be back with us in April or May, and we are working to get even more great authors here to make visits.

Keep an eye on the blog as we will have some guest postings by authors throughout the year and some contests that you will want to be part of to win some books. And of course, if you have ideas for what you'd like to see on the blog or in the store, please feel free to leave a comment or drop us an email.

And remember, have a very Merry Christmas and a fantastic New Year!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Buzzmachine.com Quotes The Bookmark at the U

Wow. The Bookmark at the U was quoted on Buzzmachine.com today for a post that I wrote about the book, "What Would Google Do?" a very interesting book by Jeff Jarvis, filled with ideas of how business should respond to a world where Google holds a prominent place and "nothing is faster than now." Check out the post on Buzzmachine.com.

Countdown. Three Days 'Til Christmas

It's the final push for shoppers this week, looking for the perfect gift to put under the tree for that special someone. Retail has been a roller coaster ride this year, and bookstores have not stayed out of that amusement park. But, it seems this morning that more people are looking for books in the store than have in the last week.

My own Christmas shopping is not done (I haven't really even started- I know, I know, give me grief later when I have time for it). But, one of the things that made me feel really good was that each of my kids specifically requested books this Christmas, and not just a book, but books. Multiple. More than one. I think I can accommodate that!

"Tales of Beedle the Bard" which started out slowly has continually picked up steam. I may just sell nearly all what I brought in for the store. I may even buy one.

The reissues of the Ian Flemining's James Bond books in the pulp fiction covers are suddenly catching some attention, along with the James Bond Encyclopedia.

Local author, and friend of the bookstore, Brandon Sanderson has written the Mistborn series which had helped our Sci-Fi/Fantasy section to have the best month we've ever had. And, we can't forget Brandon Mull, another local author who has parents coming to the store to find copies of his Fablehaven series. One of my daughters has been begging me for book four in the series (sorry, dear, it doesn't come out until March, and I don't think I'll be getting an advanced reading copy).

I'm almost out of the complete, 4 volume Twilight boxed set. Stephanie Meyers vampires are still hot (in the book and on the movie screen) and are still selling well. Even the reissued, hardcover, slipcased, collectors edition of "Twilight" is selling- most likely to all those Twilight fans who have already read the book.

One of our personal favorites around the store has been Monkton's "The Penguin of Death." This little gift-sized hardcover book is not only hilarious, "he can kill you in any 1 of 412 different ways," but is "One of the most bizarre and engaging stories ever written. This has been one of our favorites books to handsell to customers, mainly because it sells itself.

Well, here's to hoping you get all of your shopping done, especially you guys out there (yeah, it's always the guys, I know, I'm right there with you) and that you get to all your destinations safely.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Countdown. Nine Days 'Til Christmas

Here are a few of my observations with nine days to go until Christmas:

While the economy may be bad and book sales aren't where we'd like them to be, things could be worse. Customers are still buying, but are being judicious, weighing their purchasing decisions carefully. I am seeing far more paperbacks purchased as gifts this year than hardcover books.

Sadly, the books that are doing well in hardcover are the most difficult to get.

Hachette Book Group, where art thou? Only the hottest series since Harry Potter said farewell to his own children at platform 9 3/4, and both "Eclipse" and "Breaking Dawn" are missing in action. With "Twilight" being released as a movie, you'd think that the publisher would expect a little more attention to all the books in the series. If you can find a copy of these books out there right now, buy them and auction them off. They are worth their weight in gold.

O.K., I'm not trying to pick on Hachette, but this is getting crazy. "Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World," is no where to be seen either (just like a cat, isn't it?). People are asking constantly for this one as well, but, it too is hard to find. Fortunately, I found a small, secret stash and I should have more copies shortly. But, once those are gone, I only hope Hachette has some more ready to ship.

One book that has been doing well here, and we still are able to get more of, is "Grandma's Dead: Breaking Bad News With Baby Animals." This postcard book has a picture of the most adorable baby animals you'll find anywhere, imprinted with some of the worst news you can break to anyone. That cute, puppy dog, telling you that "Grandma's Dead," or the baby bunny letting you know "The Meteor Can't Be Stopped." It gets better. This is an absolutely hilarious book that's had us rolling in the aisles and customers picking them up for stocking stuffers.

One thing that seems to be lacking is one or two real "breakout" books (maybe the "Twilight" or "Dewey" books if we could get them). "Tales of Beedle the Bard" by J.K. Rowling while having steady sales, has been mostly underwhelming. Is it because Scholastic failed to promote it properly, or does everyone just have Harry Potter burnout?

With the lack of one or two big titles really taking off this year, it gives me the chance to handsell some of my favorite books. I love talking to people about books, so in a year like this, when customers are asking for suggestions, I love being there to help.

I'm suggesting several mystery authors that I have "discovered" and really enjoyed. Craig Johnson's Walt Longmire series and Sandi Ault's Jamaica Wild series have been two of my favorites this year. I love the characters, the settings in the West, and most of all, I love the writing. These are two talented authors who know, not only how to tell a story, but how to write really well.

I am still telling everyone about one of my favorite books from last year- now out in paperback. "The Meaning of Night" by Michael Cox has been described as Victorian mystery noir. It is historical, set in 1850's England. It is almost Dickensian. It is dark and brooding. It has everything; love, hate, murder, revenge, deceit, retribution, and then, it gets good. It is like "The Princess Bride," except everyone is bad and has an ulterior motive, oh, and its not so funny.

It hasn't been a great Christmas season so far, but it hasnt' been terrible either. It's just made me look a little harder to match great books to great customers.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

I've Been Googled. Is That A Bad Thing?

One of the things I love about my job is the fact that I constantly get advanced reading copies of books sent to me. Now, I 'm not complaining, but I get so many of these books sent to me, I can't read them all. So every month or so, I put them out in the employee break room and watch the book free-for-all that ensues.

I did this yesterday, mainly to get rid of the books that had been piling up in my office and that I didn't have time to read, and partially just for the entertainment value of watching people dig through the pile of books. Letting a greased pig go couldn't have been as much fun.

At the end of the day, few books remained on the table. There were some children's books left behind, which, I really can't blame anyone for not taking, as I wouldn't let my own children read a few of the titles. Not because of offensive content, but just because after a cursory look, the book was so badly written, I wouldn't want them subject to such poor writing.

One book that remained behind was a book that I had glanced at earlier, but put on the table because I just didn't feel I had the time to read it. Apparently, no one else wanted this book either. Just before leaving the store in the evening. I picked it up one more time, browsed the table of contents, flipped through a couple of chapters, then put it in my book bag. Yes, I have a book bag. What else am I supposed to carry my books in?

I ride the train to and from work each day, so I take the time to read and write, rather than stare out the windows at all the graffiti. I opened up this book and began to read. Wow.

"What Would Google Do?" by Jeff Jarvis is an enlightening look into what he calls both the Google Era and the post-link society. The book is a study of how Google has become the "the fastest growing company in the history of the world," by looking deeply into the practices of Google's success. But, he goes beyond Google. Jarvis asks us to imagine a world in which information is shared and collaborated on by businesses and their customers. For example, an open-source restaurant where feedback from customers about the food and dining experience is instant. Have the restaurant put their recipes online. Let their customers bake them at home, make changes, make suggestions. This doesn't, he argues, ultimately take the control out of the hands of the chef, but gives the chef and the restaurant the opportunity to change and adapt to their customers.

The scariest chapter for me, was when Jarvis re-imagined the book publishing and selling business. I work in a bookstore. I write books. As an author, you write books and hope people like your words enough to pay for them. As a bookseller, you help people find authors that appeal to them so that they will buy the books from your bookstore. What if my livelihood were suddenly changed by an influx of free books on the Internet, or offering only ebooks. Is this such a bad thing, Jarvis asks. I began the chapter by screaming "Yes." I ended the chapter by realizing that the Internet actually helps my business, both in writing and selling books. Collaborate with your community of book lovers, wherever they may be. True, they may get a book for free on the Internet, but as Paulo Coelho found out, free copies of his books on the Internet only increased the sales of books in the traditional format, therefore, making him money from those sales. Jarvis points out, and the book business is no different, that the world is no longer a place of "mass markets," it's a world of "markets of mass niches." Embrace what make you different, unique, and special. Take that to your community, take feedback, and improve. Find the community that already exists and offer them something that is indispensable to that community.

After reading the chapter on car manufacturers, I can only wonder: Would the big three American auto makers be in the situation they are in today, basically broke and looking for government handouts, if they quit operating like they were still in the middle of the twentieth century and recreated themselves in the twenty-first century, post-link world? No. In fact, they just might be flourishing, in a stronger position than ever.

Admittedly, I haven't finished the entire book, but what I have read has got me thinking. How can I find a community for my writing. How can I improve my bookstore in the post-link world? In short, What would Google do? If you have ideas for the University Campus Store Book Department, or bookstores anywhere, let's hear them in the comment section.

Jeff Jarvis is the author of the blog, Buzzmachine.com.

"What Would Google Do?" by Jeff Jarvis will be available for purchase on January 27, 2009, either in the Campus Store, or at our online fulfillment partner, Powells.com.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Hand-selling Books

Today's blog post is written by our buyer, Josh Clemens. You can also read his regular blog postings at J.A. Clemens.

Like Steve Carell’s character in “Dan in Real Life”, bookstore employees pride themselves on hand-selling books. Unlike Dan they do it for a living, but that doesn’t necessarily preclude romantic entanglements similar to the one that made the movie so enjoyable. The nature of hand-selling is getting to know the customer’s preferences and introducing them to a book they can fall in love with, after all! Sales reps from publishers provide the same service to bookstore employees, making recommendations based upon each store’s unique clientele. This requires developing a personal relationship that goes far beyond ad copy in a catalog. Some of our reps have forged those candid relationships with us, only to have them sundered by the current retail climate. Henry Hubert, the independent rep who shared with me The Irony of American History by Reinhold Niebuhr, was forced into another line of work when his expenses exceeded his income. It’s not just the independent reps who are cutting back, however. Scholastic cut Dawn Kehret’s position when they couldn’t get enough volunteers for early retirement. Larry Yoder was forced to retire a year early by MacMillan. We will get new reps who may be every bit as enthusiastic and capable as Henry, Dawn, and Yoder, but they won’t have the same rapport with us. They won’t have as much time to develop that relationship, either, now that they will have larger territories to cover. We still have John T. Lake as our Pearson rep, but he is now responsible for every account west of Chicago as a result of restructuring. This does not bode well for the publishing industry. Books need publishers, so the houses must be fiscally responsible, but bookselling needs the personal touch, too. Hand-selling books is absolutely critical in lean times, at every level. We’ll miss you, Henry, Dawn, and Yoder!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Christmas is for Children

As I was thinking about Christmases past the other night, some of the best memories I have are of receiving books and I still have nearly every book I ever got as a present. Over the next few weeks leading up to Christmas, I'll be making some recommendations on some great books to give for Christmas this year- books that will entertain, teach, and hopefully, be around for a lifetime.

We've all heard that famous saying, "Christmas is for children." This week, I've put together some of my favorite books for Middle Readers (ages 8-12) from this year. Hopefully, these suggestions might help you with some ideas for your children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, or even the paperboy.



I hope you like them.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Value of a Book

I was driving home this evening and saw some one's yard lit up with tiny lights on their trees and bushes. Believe it or not, it's that time of year once again, the Holiday Season.

It's the middle of November and here in Utah (home of the "Greatest Snow on Earth") the temperature was in the low 50's today and there is no snow on the ground. Thanksgiving (falling late in the month this year) is less than two weeks away. Christmas is close on its heels.

The stock market took another downturn today, retail sales figures for October were released showing the worst sales decline in 40 years. One company filed for bankruptcy and another warned its investors that sales in November and December will be dismal. Everyone wants a piece of the $700 billion bailout package and the government doesn't seem to have a clue as to what to do with it.

It COULD be a gloomy holiday season- but, it doesn't HAVE to be.

There will be no cars or boats in the driveway of my house on Christmas morning. The latest MP3 player or 56" flat panel LCD television may not be lying under the tree wrapped in festive paper. Appliances and jewelry may not find a place under those green boughs either. But, one thing certainly will.

Books. And that dispels the gloom.

As long as I can remember Christmas in my 39 years, there have always been books. Picture books when I was young, science fiction and adventure books when I was a teen, and mystery, history and biography as an adult. Those gifts from so long ago are with me now as I write this, surrounding me on my library shelves.

"The Hole Book," one of my favorites from the time my parents read it to me was given for Christmas when I was eight. I was thirteen when Santa slipped "Have Space Suit, Will Travel" into my stocking. Fourteen when I received "Dune." A autographed copy of "The Sign of the Book" came to me just a few years ago.

Yet, as I look around me, many things from those Christmases past are missing- clothes, piles and piles of them; the hand-held electronic football, basketball and hockey games long since went to the landfill; my Sony Walkman was tossed when cassette tapes became obsolete. Shoes have worn out, game pieces have been lost (or eaten by the dog), chocolates and hard candies quickly disappeared within days. But, books. My books remain with me.

No matter the economic times, good or bad, books are always a part of my Christmas. They are as valuable to me now, and more so, as when I unwrapped them on those cold winter mornings. They are some of the few presents that have come with me through my childhood, into the teen years, and on to marriage and children. They have helped define me, educate me, and entertain me. Year after year. Try getting that from a pair of socks or an iPod.

There is no assembly required late into the night on Christmas Eve. No batteries to be forgotten. No pieces to go missing. No "next generation" to make them go obsolete.

In times like these, when we watch every penny, books make the greatest gifts, because for every penny you invest in a book your dividends are years of joy and appreciation.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I Raise My Glass to Tony Hillerman

I woke to some sad news this morning- Tony Hillerman had died on Sunday, October 26, 2008 at age 83.

Hillerman's name was synonymous with fiction of the American Southwest. For many of us, his were the first mystery novels we'd read which were set in this beautiful, wild, and yes, mysterious place. In fact, if it hadn't been for Hillerman, I probably wouldn't have picked up other authors who wrote about the same general geographic area- Van Gieson, McGarrity, Jance, and Ault, just to name a few. I'd even be willing to bet that these authors would acknowledge a debt to Tony Hillerman for creating a readership in southwestern mysteries.

When you find an author who does just one of three things, 1) creates fascinating, complex characters, 2) tells a great story, and 3) writes beautifully, you read everything they write. When you find an author that can combine two of those traits, you read, relish, and read it again. When you find an author that does all three, well, you know you have found one of those rare jewels. There can't be enough books written to satisfy your cravings for more.

Hillerman did all three, every time, in every book.

That's why I always wanted more.

I think wanting more is one of the highest compliments you can pay an author.

So, Tony, I raise my glass to you and say, "I'll always want more, but, I'm extremely grateful for what I got. Thank you and Godspeed."

Thursday, September 11, 2008

What I Did During My Summer Vacation

Oh, yeah! The great and wonderful elementary school writing project.

"Write me an essay about what you did on your summer vacation; one page, single spaced," the teacher would say.

I dreaded that essay- yes, I wrote several over the years and I'm sure many of you did as well. One year I tried to fill the page by writing my essay in letters that were three inches high-

What I did during my summer vacation-
I WATCHED TELEVISION.

I didn't receive a grade, just a short phone call to my parents informing them I'd need to do the assignment over again.

So, I listed every TV show I watched. I got a C.

Now, that I do exciting things over the summer, no one ever asks me to write a summer vacation essay. Since such is the case, I am going to take it upon myself to write one for all of you:

What I Did During My Summer Vacation

During the summer of 2008 I traveled around the United States and to several areas in Europe and Africa. Despite high airfares and flight delays, my travels went off without a hitch.

I began with a short trip (from Utah) to Wyoming and spent a few days there. Then it was off to Chicago, North Carolina, Philadelphia, then across the pond to England and Ireland. From there, I headed to Africa- Botswana and South Africa (I've visited there once or twice before). Once finished there, I headed back to New York. I finished my summer vacation in the Hushlands.

I know, it seems a disjointed and eclectic trip, and no doubt you are now asking yourselves, "Where are the Hushlands?" Well, since I need to fill one full page, singled spaced for this essay, let me explain. I didn't fly, drive or walk to any of the aforementioned places. But, I did read some really great books that took me there.


Wyoming: "Another Man's Moccasins" by Craig Johnson
Chicago: "Chasing Vermeer," "The Wright 3," and "The Calder Game" by Blue Balliett
North Carolina: "Down River" by John Hart
Philadelphia: "Bitter Truth" and "Fatal Flaw" by William Lashner
England: "The Glass of Time" by Michael Cox
Ireland: "In The Woods" by Tana French
Africa: "Twenty Chickens for a Saddle" by Robyn Scott
New York: "The Hunter" by Richard Stark
The Hushlands: "Alcatraz vs. the Scrivener's Bones" by Brandon Sanderson

I even attempted a few side trips that were stopped short due to boring places, bland people and bad writing. Once or twice a new place to visit was suggested, but I had to put them on my list for future travel due to a full travel schedule. It was a great summer filled with intriguing people, amazing places and great books. And, I must say, it was far better than my childhood vacations to Televisionland.

Is that one page?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Why Bother Going To A Bookstore?

I go to a bookstore everyday- but, then, I'm strange like that. I work at a bookstore.

When I leave work, I go to different bookstores for fun- but, then, I'm strange like that. I love books.

I recently read a report that stated 70% of adults in the United States haven't been in a bookstore in the last five years. Are books boring? Are bookstores boring?

Books, like any commodity, have increased in price over the years. Does the price keep us from buying books?

If you do buy books, you are able to sit in your underwear at home, on the computer and buy books from the Internet. Is that more appealing than getting dressed and going to a bookstore? Is this convenience or laziness?

Many bookstores have built cafes and now serve food and coffee. Are books interesting only if they come with food and drink? Are bookstores now just coffee houses with a few books to sell?

Would more people come to bookstores if there were video games to play, movies to watch, roller coasters to ride? If these things were available at the bookstore, would the bookstore be a bookstore anymore?

I've been thinking about these questions quite a lot lately. I can't imagine my life without bookstores. To me, they are exciting places where I can buy books about nearly any subject imaginable. The books themselves are entertainment.

I realize there are many things vying for our time and attention these days- I too feel the pressures of the modern world. But, I make time to go to bookstores. I make time to read. I do it for work. I do it to learn. I do it for pleasure. But, then, I'm strange like that.

What then, would make bookstores exciting places? What would make you make time to visit a bookstore? An author signing their new book? A book club discussion group? A movie night?

What would make a bookstore THE place to be for you? Share your comments with us. Inquiring minds would like to know what YOU think about bookstores and what would make them more interesting, vibrant and fun places to be.

While you think about this, I'll be at the bookstore. But, then again, I'm strange like that.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Demise of the OED?

An article in the New York Times Magazine this week lamented the decision of Oxford University Press to not print another edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, at least for the foreseeable future. To be sure, the editors at Oxford continue to research out and add new words to this most venerable dictionary, but they are doing so online only. In my mind, this is a good use of technology, but also gives me a dire sense of foreboding.

The object of the OED has always been to gather together the words of the English language into one place and give them not only a definition, but a history. There are many words whose definitions have completely changed since their initial usage, and newly created words that are just being added to the official keeper of the language- the OED. They are not erased when the definitions change or the word falls out of use. They are recorded there for eternity- which creates a problem.

At one time, I owned my own copy of the OED, being the book junkie that I am. That collection of words came in 12 heavy volumes. I am sure that an entire tree was used in the production of that one set. Which brings me to a proper use of technology.

Oxford University Press continues to update the OED, but only online. This allows the dictionary to be revised and updated on-the-fly. In waiting for a print edition to be revised and printed, ever more words may be added to the language and definitions and usage may have changed. And, you don't have to kill a tree (or many trees) to print a new edition. This is a wonderful way in which technology is being used in publishing.

My lament is this. How many people go to the OED.com versus Wikipedia or Dictionary.com? My guess is, far fewer than you might suspect. The OED online requires a subscription fee that is the equivalent of a car payment, whereas Wikipedia or Dictionary.com are free. But, we have all heard of the problems that plague Wikipedia. Dictionary.com offers definitions, but there have been instances where I've tried to find a definition that I know belongs to a word, but Dictionary.com only offers the most current definition, not the most complete definition and I can't find what I'm looking for.

Are we dumbing down the language, allowing the general public to define meaning without any scholarly research, or by providing only the most recent and popular usage of a word? If the OED can slip quietly into the ether of the Internet, what is next? Webster's? Elements of Style? Charlotte's Web? Are we headed down the slippery slope beginning at the bastion of the English language? If the OED no longer has physical presence in our libraries or homes do all books have the same fate? Then what of our libraries, our educational system, our children, our future?

While the demise of the printed OED may not have the impact of, say, global warming, it may ultimately have a devastating effect on the future of our literacy.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Commencement Day Celebration

Tomorrow, May 2, 2008, Commencement ceremonies are being held for graduates of the University of Utah. To celebrate, the University Campus Store is holding a 20% store wide sales event (textbooks, computers, and electronics are excluded).

The Bookmark at the U will have all of its books and book accessories on sale that day. Looking for a great gift for your graduate? We have a few great suggestions.

A perennial graduation gift favorite is "Oh, the Places You'll Go" by Dr. Seuss. The book will be on sale, tomorrow only for $12.99 (Regular price $17.95). Oh, and you can take the extra 20% discount on the sale price.

Also, in the store tomorrow, will be Alan V. Funk, author of "Choosing Ethical Excellence." This is a book that not only talks about maintaining ethics in the workplace, but uses Funk's experience as an FBI Special Agent to give real world examples of how people have and haven't chosen the ethical way to act. He will be here tomorrow from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. signing copies of his book. This is a great gift for the new graduate headed out into the workforce.

I hope you get the chance to drop by the store tomorrow and get a chance to take part in our yearly Graduation Day Sale.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Guest Blogger | Robyn Scott

Note: Occasionally, I'll invite a guest to write a blog entry, giving insights into aspects of the book world outside my own. I am very pleased to have as my first guest blogger, Robyn Scott, author of Twenty Chickens for a Saddle. -Drew Goodman

The Art of Remembering

Strange, prickly times these are, in which to be publishing a memoir. “So how did you remember everything… all those details?” I’ve been asked meaningfully and on numerous occasions. Some are more direct: “In the light of the recent…”

It’s happened enough now that I no longer even feel indignant defensiveness of my own work. But each time it does strike me as an immense pity that a few scandals have so shaken faith in a genre – one in which the vast majority, at least, of stories are surely recounted sincerely and to the best of the narrator’s memory.

Herein too lies the intriguing irony of this new shadow of doubt and uncertainty. For, those unfortunate instances of falsified stories notwithstanding, the great scope for a divergence from “reality” in penned recollections lies disproportionally not in the hard facts, but in the (uncontroversial yet infinitely subjective) perspective of the memoirist.

So in my answers, having dealt with the generally assumed and accepted point that most dialogue is necessarily reconstructed, I’ll explain the process of gathering and testing the memories: I interviewed my family and many friends, and then later sent out the draft manuscript widely; for comment, dispute of any dialogue thought unreasonable, and general fact checking. At least for me, this – resolving the “facts” – was the easy part.

In book of more than four hundred pages, the single vehement objection from my father epitomises the treacherous and interesting territory of the much harder part. As he readily admits, he had a fraught relationship with his deeply eccentric, sometimes delightful, and profoundly difficult father. Nor will he dispute the fact that he and his father, living in two lonely houses opposite each other in the middle of the bush, did not speak to each other for more than year. Explaining this bizarre situation, I’d written that father and son had stopped speaking to each other. “That’s not how it happened,” protested my father, “He stopped talking to me.”

My mother, for her part, felt strongly about several sections in which I recount conversations involving her controversial decision to home school my brother, sister and I. Here, it was not what I referred to – my memories of her saying things like school stifles intellectual curiosity, constrains creativity et cetera – but of the contextual, qualifying details that I, as an eight year old, simply did not remember. “Robbie,” she’d say, “I may have said that, but I also would have said [vast complex paragraph of proposed dialogue]… and I might have said that then, but I didn’t always say it like that…”

It was also my mother who came up with one of the most insightful observations I’ve heard on this subject. At the time she was staying with me in London, and had spent many stressful hours helping me do a last minute fact check before I submitted the final manuscript. A natural pedant, the lengths she went to were great, sometimes to the point of absurdity – most memorably involving her reconstruction (with a wooden ruler, a drawing pin and a rubber band) of a catapult I’d described; to check if it really would fire accurately.

“It’s interesting,” she mused, “how one often remembers most the times a person acts out of character, how you don’t expect them to act.”

The same, I suppose, could be said for everything – we remember vividly and acutely not the usual. Nor do we remember predictably or statically; over time these haphazardly selected and catalogued memories take on subtly different meanings, wax or wane in significance, and shape the lens through which we both see and recall the world. Such is – and so is perhaps too often forgotten – both the limitation and attraction of the memoir; the chance to inhabit one person’s inherently flawed but richly human truth.


Purchase Twenty Chickens for a Saddle from the University Campus Store

Learn more about Twenty Chickens for a Saddle: The Story of an African Childhood

Contact Robyn Scott

Video Review of Twenty Chickens for a Saddle

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Are Books Still Relevant In The Internet Age?

Another article appeared yesterday, this time in the Wall Street Journal, once again sounding the death knell of the book and bookstore (I am referring to both as physical entities in the real world rather than wandering electrons on the information superhighway).

Are books still relevant in today's world of information on demand? Do bookstores still have a social role as gathering places, that so called, Third Place?

The Kindle, Sony's Reader, Microsoft's eReader, iPod's and even cell phones have become platforms for reading electronic editions of books. The book can go anywhere, be accessed anytime. With wireless access to the Internet, books can be downloaded as you wait for a flight in an airport or sip a latte at Starbucks. The digital genie is out of the fiber-optic bottle.

Yet, according to the Census Bureau, bookstore sales surged by 4.7% in January and 11.4% in February. Keep in mind the Census Bureau definition of bookstore sales: bookstore sales are of new books and do not include "electronic home shopping, mail-order, or direct sale" or used book sales. Although the age-old grocery store question may now apply to books, "Paper or plastic (enclosed electronic reading device?)," this simple question may be more difficult to answer when applied to books.

Lee Gomes, the author of the Wall Street Journal article, said in essence, that he didn't mind reading a book on his cellphone (or in this case his BlackBerry) after having discovered the ease and convenience of reading a book on a Sony Reader. He did draw the line at reading "Anna Karenina" on a wristwatch reader.

Interestingly enough, the other day on my way home, I walked down the aisle of the light rail car I was on and counted how many people were reading books, using cellphones, or listening to music. There are approximately 60 seats on the train, which were all filled, and another 15-20 people were standing. By my count, 33 people were reading books, 10 were using cellphones, 2 were using PDA's, and 15 were listening to music, leaving about 22 people staring out the window watching the graffiti roll by. Most cell phone users were talking while 3-4 were texting. I don't know if the PDA users were reading books; I didn't want to lean over their shoulders to find out.

My unscientific survey tells me reading actual books isn't dead quite yet. My gut feeling is that books still have a long way to go before we cast them off forever in favor of the digital domain.

In turn, bookstores still have relevance as a place to go to find books to read. Walmart and Costco may cut into bookstore sales, but how many books do they carry? Two or three hundred titles? Where do you go when they no longer carry the book you want? Amazon.com? Barnes & Noble.com? Borders.com? University Campus Store.com? Many people can and do. But how many of us walk, bike or drive to the local bookstore (independent or chain) to wander through aisles filled with books we might never otherwise see on-line? We go to a physical bookstore because that where the books AND the people are. The act of reading is mostly a solitary activity, but browsing, buying and sharing books is much more social. We look for recommendations, watch the bestseller lists for what others are reading, join book clubs, and look at what other people are picking up and reading at the bookstore.

Hunched over our internet devices, downloading and reading books, may be a matter of convenience (except for the eyestrain), but it is the social nature of books and the bookstore that will keep them relevant for years to come.

What do you think?

Friday, April 11, 2008

"Do You Wash Your Hands?"


"Who doesn't wash their hands after using a public restroom?" seemed a strange question to start the evening, but from that question througout the next hour, Stephen Dubner had the undivided attention of the large audience who had gathered at the University of Utah Union.

In response to that question, six people bravely raised their hands. Dubner congratulated the crowd on being so hygienic, or, on being a bunch of liars. He suspected most didn't wash their hands, but were just too embarrassed to admit it. He went on to explain that even doctors in hospitals, medical professionals who should know the risks of not washing after using the bathroom or working with patients, were guilty of the same thing. When doctors were asked to self report their hand washing habits, 73% responded that they washed after each interaction with patients. Little did they know that the nurses had been secretly pulled into this survey to report what they actually saw when it came to the doctors hand washing. Result: only 9% of the time did doctors wash their hands after working with each patient.

What does hand washing have to do with economics? This, my friends, is Freakonomics. This is the science of social and behavioral economics. It is how we perceive the world. It's the difference between perception and reality, and then in turn, how we react as human beings to these perceptions.

If we see a story on the news about a horrific murder, we assume the world is a very dangerous place. But, as Dubner made clear, news is news for a reason. It is something that happens that is out of the ordinary. If it were ordinary, we wouldn't report it. The perception- the world is an extremely violent and dangerous place and a murderer is lurking around every corner. The reality- most of us will never encounter a psychotic killer who will murder us horribly. The result- we act as if a murderer IS lurking around every corner and we act to protect ourselves from being murdered horribly.

Some of the examples that Stephen Dubner used to explain Freakonomics were laugh-out-loud funny and others were substantially more serious, yet each one showed how our actions, based on perceptions affect the way we live, act and work.

Dubner announced that he and Steven Levitt are working on a follow-up book to Freakonomics- Super Freakonomics (they should get Rick James to write the forward). I look forward to seeing the data collected from a whole new set of stories and examples.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Freakonomics at the University of Utah

Stephen J. Dubner, co-author of Freakonomics with Steven D. Levitt, will be speaking on Wednesday, April 9, 2008 at 7:00 p.m. in the Olpin Union Ballroom. We will be there with books available for purchase and Mr. Dubner will be signing copies of the book after his lecture. This is a great opportunity to get a signed copy of a book that has spent months on the bestseller lists.

Freakonomics is economics like you've never seen it before. Economics doesn't have to be boring, it doesn't have to be about crunching financial numbers either. Freakonomics is about the everyday, about questioning the mysteries of life all around us. Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? Why do drug dealers still live with their moms? How much do parents really matter? How did the legalization of abortion affect the rate of violent crime?

A fascinating book that will make you see the world around you in a totally different way.

If you would like a copy of Freakonomics signed by Stephen J. Dubner, click here. All orders for signed copies must be received by 5:00 p.m. on April 9, 2008.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Author, Author!

You know I love the book.

You know I really like the author.

What you may not know is that the book, "Twenty Chickens for a Saddle: The Story of an African Childhood," is now available and is on sale at the University Campus Store for 30% off the list price.
If you haven't picked up your copy, now is the time to do so, because...

On April 23, 2008, author Robyn Scott will be coming to Salt Lake City, Utah to speak about her experiences growing up in Botswana, seeing the devastating effects of AIDS in Africa, and how these experiences affected the way she wrote her book.

Robyn will be speaking in the Saltair Room at the University of Utah Union building on April 23, 2008 at 12:00 p.m (noon). Seated is limited, so arrive early. Books will be available for purchase at the event (books are available now at the Campus Store and on the website) and and Robyn will be signing copies after her speech.

I am very excited to have Robyn back in Salt Lake as she is an amazing person whom I am glad that many more of you will be able to meet this time around. Look for updates on Robyn's visit and for a very special blog coming on April 21, 2008.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

How I Became a Bookseller

Note: This blog is part of the American Bookseller Association's blog carnival, a collection of posts on a particular topic. Links to all the "How I Became A Bookseller" stories will be available on the ABA Omnibus on March 25, 2008.

I've always loved books. Some of my earliest memories are sitting on the couch or at the kitchen table learning how to read. Both of my parents began their careers as teachers, so books were an essential part of my upbringing. They had shelves filled with hundreds of books and I always was trying to read far above my reading level (in first grade I told my Dad I wanted to read his copy of James Michener's "Hawaii"). So, perhaps it was inevitable that books would become a important part of my life.

During my sophomore year at the University of Utah I chose to live on school loans and concentrate on school, but once summer came around it was time to get a job. I had worked in a variety of jobs over the years- landscaping (mainly digging ditches for sprinkler systems), bag boy at a grocery store, dishwasher at a restaurant, delivery driver, clerk in an office supply store, a library attendant in a genealogy library, and an order picker in a warehouse. There had to something out there, I thought, that was better than any of these previous jobs. The question was- what was I qualified for? What could I do?

I spent the next couple of weeks reading the newspaper help wanted ads, talking with friends and acquaintances, and wandering malls looking for the job that I would love, would work with a school schedule, and pay fabulous amounts of money. One day, while wandering through yet another mall, I saw a help wanted sign in the window of a local bookstore, Deseret Book. I ran through the door, waited impatiently at the counter for an associate to help me, then asked for an application. He handed me a sheet that had room for my name, phone number and my previous employer, really not much of an application. "Fill this out and the manager will call you for an interview later this week."

I filled out the "application" then continued my search through the mall. "Everyone must want a job at a bookstore," I thought. "There will be so many people who apply, that I'll never get a call." Meantime, I got a call- from another place I had left an application. I made an appointment for an interview the next day.

The next day, I sat through an interview for a job that would have been perfect. It was at the Union desk at the University of Utah. It was a student position. It didn't pay remarkably well, but it was better pay than at many other part time jobs I had investigated thus far, they would work around my school schedule, and I didn't have to leave campus and travel to another location. It was almost perfect. I walked out of the interview feeling pretty confident that I would get a job offer.

That evening I got a call from Deseret Book. "Can you come by for an interview tomorrow?" asked the manager. "Yes!" I nearly yelled into the phone. "Great. Be here at ten o'clock and ask for Scott."

The next morning at about nine o'clock I received a phone call. It was an offer of employment at the Union desk at the University. I thanked them for the offer and told them I had another job offer I was going to accept from a bookstore. It was a lie, combined with wishful thinking. Now I was going to hell for lying and the punishment would begin by getting turned down by the bookstore. Needless to say, by the time I got to the bookstore at ten, I was fairly nervous.

I asked for Scott at the front counter- and that is where the interview turned weird. Scott came out, shook my hand, and then instead of inviting me back to his office where he could conduct a quiet interview, he took me out to the center of the mall and sat down on a bench. He explained the position to me. "Does this still sound like something you're interested in?" he asked. I agreed that it was. He handed me a three page packet, a clipboard and a pen. "Please fill this out as best you can and I'll be back in about twenty minutes." He got up and left. I sat there looking at a test.

The test listed authors and wanted me to name books the authors had written. Then it listed books and asked me to name the authors. It wanted me to alphabetize a list of ten authors by last name. It gave me a title and author and asked me to match the book to the section of the store it belonged to. Then it gave me a scenario where I'd just sold a book for $13.83 and the customer gave me a twenty- how would you count back the change?

I felt pretty good. I knew the answer to almost all the questions and finished the test a few minutes before he returned. He quickly corrected the test, told me I had done pretty well, and talked with me a few more minutes about my retail experience. At the end of the conversation he told me that there were several candidate he was considering and would be calling each one by Friday to let them know if they were being offered a job or not. "If you haven't heard from me by Friday at noon, please call me." He pulled out a business card and handed it to me. I took it, looked at it, then looked again. My heart sank. "Your last name is Laga?" I asked. He got a big grin on his face. "It's been a long time, hasn't it, Drew?"

Scott Laga had been my second grade teacher.

He remembered me because I'd been such a hellion in his class. I had to take
daily status reports on my behavior from Mr. Laga to my Dad. I knew I wasn't going to get the job. I even considered calling the manager at the Union desk, confessing my sin of lying to him and begging for the job.

That Friday morning I received a phone call from Scott. "Drew, let's let bygones be bygones. Would you like a job at the bookstore?"

Friday, February 29, 2008

The Opposite of Hate

"Read me a book and I'll be entertained for a day, teach me to read and I'll have a nervous breakdown when I realize I can't read every book I see." There are more books in my life than there is time. I try to make up for that by taking a book with me wherever I go- movies (while standing in line), grocery stores (makes it hard to steer the cart), sporting events (look out for that home run ball), family parties (find a quiet corner and ignore everyone), and even church (where better to read a religious book?). If a book doesn't appeal to me quickly, I put it aside and find another. I don't have time to waste reading bad books.

Recently I had a short conversation with an author to whom I admitted, her book was displayed in the store, but I had not read it. Short story even shorter- I got a copy of "The Opposite of Love" by Julie Buxbaum, and promised her I would read it.

After reading a few pages I stopped. "Oh, man," I moaned. "This is chick lit!" Now, before I receive complaints from my readers, let me say, there is nothing wrong with chick lit. Many people enjoy this type of book- I don't. I occasionally enjoy a good "chick flick" (Notting Hill, You've Got Mail, etc.), but don't tell anyone. I don't want my masculine image destroyed.

So, what was I to do? I have a stack of books on my bedside table, on my desk at home, and behind my desk at work that I need to read. Do I forge ahead and finish the book regardless, or do I put it aside and lie to the author- "Nice book, good job, well written..."

First, I had promised to read it and second, I hate lying to authors about their books, so I continued reading. Only a few more pages in, my opinion changed, this wasn't "chick lit", and I finished the book in three days (keep in mind I am usually reading 3-4 books at a time or I would have had it finished in a day or two).

Emily Haxby is lost. She breaks up with her boyfriend of two years because she thinks he is going to propose (she's right, he was about to). Her job at a prestigious law firm is far less than satisfying, especially after one of the partners makes unwanted sexual advances. Her mother died when she was fourteen and she's never had an open relationship with her father (lying to each other about life is just what they do). The one person in life who has always been there for Emily is her Grandpa Jack and she is losing him to Alzheimer's. It seems the only way she can turn is inward, which sends her on a downward emotional spiral.

The appeal of "The Opposite of Love" is that most readers can identify with Emily Haxby in one way or another. I did. We all have those times when we feel lost and frustrated with life and Julie captures those emotions perfectly in Emily's character. How we choose to deal with being lost, either by staying lost or by finding ourselves again, is the story of life and is ultimately Emily's story. Nothing ever works out perfectly, loose ends are not all tied up nicely, and life may or may not go where we think it will.

Julie Buxbaum has written a wonderfully honest character surrounded by a host of quirky supporting characters that made what could have been just more "chick lit" into a refreshing look at what happens when we get lost and how we find ourselves.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Author Signing | Pilar Pobil

On Wednesday, February 13th Pilar Pobil was at the store signing copies of her book, "My Kitchen Table: Sketches From My Life" from our very own University of Utah Press. She is a wonderful lady whom we had a fantastic time talking with. Many people came by and spoke with her, got signed copies of her book, and even had their pictures taken with her.

Pilar is a highly talented Utah artist whose artwork is featured in her book alongside the fascinating story of her life and art. "My Kitchen Table" takes us along for a journey with her through Spain, Mallorca, Mexico and Salt Lake. It reveals not only who Pilar is, but illuminates her inspirations for her art.

We had a wonderful time with Pilar, and hope to do so again in the near future.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

How long, has this been going on?

I've had several of my readers question the Sacred Shelf of 10. Primarily the questions have been- when did I add a particular book to my Shelf, how long have these books been on my Shelf, and how often do they change?

Let me answer the last question first. The Shelf changes when I find a book that I know I want to read again and again. The new book must have made a tremendous impact on me, more so than at least one of the books that is currently on the Sacred Shelf (that impact may simply be personal appeal. I, in no way, make claim to any literary superiority).

So, here is the list, once again in no particular order of favorites (I do have one or two of these that would be at the top of the list) but this time, I am showing the date when a book was added to the Sacred Shelf. I am including the year only (sorry I can't remember the month and day, but I'm getting old and the memory is starting to go).

* Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson (1996)
* The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (1992)
* Booked to Die by John Dunning (1998)
* The Meaning of Night: A Confession by Michael Cox (2006)
* Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (1995)
* Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder (1992)
* Twenty Chickens for a Saddle: The Story of an African Childhood by Robyn Scott (2008)
* The Bookman’s Wake by John Dunning (1999)
* An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears (1998)
* On Writing by Stephen King (2000)

There have been, at my last and best count, a total of 21 books that have been on the Sacred Shelf at one time or another. Another time perhaps, I'll post the entire list.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

A Foggy Day in London Town... or A Dusty Day in Bethlehem

Wherever I go in the world, however far I may stray, I always return to my first love. She is both decorous and demure, beautiful and harsh, enticing and repelling. She satisfies my intelligence and my base instincts, nourishes and starves me. I have attempted a trial separation without success. A divorce is out of the question. I, my friends, am a mystery reader.

Those of you who have read about my Sacred Shelf of 10 know that about 50% of the books are true mystery (either literary or genre). Another ten to twenty percent may arguably be called a mystery.

There are mysteries that instantly draw me in and other that take a while to warm to. Mysteries set in locations where I have been, or are familiar with, are those to which I gravitate the most. For example, a favorite location is Seattle, and thus my collection of Lou Boldt mysteries by Ridley Pearson and the J.P. Beaumont mysteries by J.A. Jance. Many mysteries I read are set in either the United States or England (although I've never been, I plan to go someday soon), with a smattering of others set in Europe or the Far East. One setting that has never fully caught my interest are mysteries set in the Middle East (though the Amelia Peabody mysteries by Elizabeth Peters, set in Egypt, are highly engaging). Even when I was reading the Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell mysteries by Laurie King, the hardest book of the series to get through was "O, Jerusalem." I don't understand the lack of appeal, but to me the Middle East seems less mysterious than, say, a foggy London evening or a rainy Seattle night.

Yet, still I try to read all mysteries that I can. If I can't find something to intrigue me quickly and drag me deep into the depths of a story, I will put a book down and move on. On to the next! Honestly, this is what I expected to do when I picked up a copy of "The Collaborator of Bethlehem" by Matt Beynon Rees. It is not what happened.

Rees writes this novel with a knowledge of the area, its culture, politics and economics, having been the former Jerusalem bureau chief for Time magazine. This intimate knowledge is what gives the book its instant intrigue. You feel as if you are walking down the dusty streets with the protagonist, Omar Yussef, a school teacher who is forced into the role of investigator in an attempt to save the life of a former student accused of collaboration with the Israelis in the murder of a leader of the Palestinian Martyrs Brigade.

Where at least a sense of law and order appear in many mysteries, this book leaves you looking for order where there is none and law is only what the bully with the biggest gun in town says it is. Though Omar is confronted and threatened and an attempt on his life is made, he will stop only when he finds the truth. That search for truth will take him where friends may truly be enemies and knowing who to trust is impossible.

I finished this book with a greater appreciation for mysteries set in the Middle East. I may not search them out, but should one come along, I will certainly give it a chance to prove itself.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Update to the Sacred Shelf of 10

As my constant readers know, I have in my home library a special shelf, a shelf dedicated to those books I most enjoy reading, and the only books I ever reread- the Sacred Shelf of 10. So many books, so little time- I have time to read a book once, then move on. If a book is not on the Sacred Shelf of 10, it is shelved with the rest of my collection, not to be read again, but collected for collections sake (it goes to my bibliophilic predilection, so sue me).

Several nights ago, I found myself picking up a book that I had only recently finished and began to read it once again. When I found myself 50 pages into the book, I stopped to contemplate what I was doing. This violated my own personal rules about books. Now, I realized I had a decision to make. I was rereading this book because I enjoyed it immensely, enough to move it to the Sacred Shelf; but now I must remove one book from the shelf. Those are the rules- one goes on, one comes off.

So, my friends, the decision has been made. It was difficult. I did some soul searching (meaning I stared at the list for about five minutes). Off comes Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier and on goes Twenty Chickens for a Saddle: The Story of an African Childhood by Robyn Scott. You will notice that it is only the second non-fiction book on my Sacred Shelf, but there it belongs. If you have questions as to why, see my blog of several days ago about "Twenty Chickens."

Here again is the Sacred Shelf of 10 in no particular order:

* Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
* The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
* Booked to Die by John Dunning
* The Meaning of Night: A Confession by Michael Cox
* Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
* Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder
* Twenty Chickens for a Saddle: The Story of an African Childhood by Robyn Scott
* The Bookman’s Wake by John Dunning
* An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears
* On Writing by Stephen King

Friday, January 25, 2008

We're baaack...

It's been a while since I've been on the blog. With the Christmas season finished (and my subsequent recovery), I am once again back and ready to delve deeply into books and the book world.

The other evening, myself and a few other Salt Lake City booksellers had the opportunity to meet Robyn Scott, author of the forthcoming book "Twenty Chickens for a Saddle: The Story of An African Childhood." She is a charming, gracious, beautiful young woman whose book I had read previous to our meeting. I could easily see the personality that shone brightly throughout the memoir was the same that was sitting across from me at the table. There was no falseness or pretense about her. I was smitten- having met Robyn in person simply confirmed everything I had enjoyed while reading her book.

"Twenty Chickens for a Saddle" is not so much Robyn's story as it is the story of her entire family; her siblings, parents and grandparents, and the years they spent living in Africa. Her parents are somewhat eccentric in the approach they take to everything, including the children's education. Robyn and her brother and sister were home schooled by their mother; Robyn until she was fourteen. Self-discovery and exploration were more valued than tests, homework, and learning for the sake of social acceptance.

The book is filled with stories that explore the cultures of Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa, of humor (some of which left me laughing out loud while riding public transit), touching moments with both people and animals, of frustration with the left-over threads of apartheid still highly apparent near the South African border, and the tragedy of a nation struggling to cope with the AIDS epidemic. The cast of characters (and some are REAL characters) is an amazing group of people like none you have ever seen or met. Robyn has taken all these elements, and more, and woven a wonderful tapestry that takes us, heart and soul, into a land and family not our own.

I must admit, after reading the book and meeting Robyn, who is twenty-seven years old, I had to wonder- at thirty-eight, what have I done with my life? The answer: Not as much as I could, but I have been inspired to remember the quote, "It's never too late to be what you might have been."

"Twenty Chickens for a Saddle" will be available in stores March 27, 2008. Even if memoirs are not what you normally read, I would highly encourage you to pick up a copy of this book. Seeing how this wonderfully eccentric family lived, learned, loved and cared is an inspiration to all.

To learn more about "Twenty Chickens for a Saddle" visit Robyn Scott's website- www.twentychickensforasaddle.com