For today’s celebration of National Bookstore Day, we hear from Franne Davis, the Assistant Director at Illini Union Bookstore at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In her 10th year of employment at her alma mater, Franne says she's got “a dream job for any English major.”
Describe your bookstore.
The Illini Union Bookstore at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is one of the largest independent college bookstores in the country and is a continuation of a book exchange organized in the early 1920s by students at the university. The current bookstore occupies 55,000 square feet and combines four major merchandise categories: textbooks; insignia apparel /souvenirs; office/school supplies/electronics; and a trade/general book department with over 40,000 titles in stock. Our General Book department also hosts or facilitates an average of 80-90 book and author events per year.
How did you come to work in the bookselling business?
Well, the book business was, and to a large degree still is, a dream job for any English major. My first job out of college was as a clerk in an independent bookstore and I guess I’ve been hooked on “indies” ever since. I’ve also been a professional buyer in the book business and in related industries. I’ve also tried my hand at a few other things, including teaching, and was lucky enough to land in my current position about a decade ago. I’ve felt wonderfully challenged and yet “at home” in the world of college bookselling ever since.
What is your favorite part of your job?
That’s easy: the people. I meet and learn daily from everyone I encounter—from our wonderful staff of bookstore professionals and our student employees to our customers: the students, faculty, staff, visitors and alums of a world-class university.
What makes the Illini Union Bookstore special?
Our staff and our patrons take pride, I think, in the fact that we are an independent bookstore and a part of a university that values its bookstore as a community center.
Our trade book collection is designed to reflect and anticipate the specific needs of a local clientele. We showcase real authors—from local authors to those who are internationally recognized. And as icing on the cake, our proceeds go to support student programs and activities.
What are you reading right now?
I’m almost finished with The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court by Jeffrey Toobin. Next up is The Moon, Come to Earth: Dispatches From Lisbon by Philip Graham, one of our many talented faculty authors.
What are your current top-selling books?
Most of the month’s top sellers are reflective of book and author events we’ve had either hosted at the bookstore or locally: Acts of Faith by Eboo Patel; I’ll Scream Later by Marlee Matlin; When You Are Engulfed In Flames by David Sedaris; For A Girl Becoming by Joy Harjo. And of course, our top sales also reflect the huge impact that Dan Brown and Stephenie Meyer have had on buyers of books lately.
What do independent bookstores offer that big-box stores don’t?
As independents, we are not bound by formulae. We are free to create environments that speak to the customers we serve. Our trade book selections, and all our merchandising, is literally built book by book, unit by unit, on what our individual customers tell us they want.
How has the emergence of e-publishing changed your business?
We’re not sure yet although we are studying this new revolution in reading very carefully. Our customers, including our current student patrons, still show a marked preference for “print on paper.”
The New York Times published their holiday movie guide over the weekend, and after giving it a thorough read, I am very excited for the upcoming movie season. . . especially because some of the best-looking picks are based on great books.
“Precious,” based on Sapphire’s 1996 novel, Push, will be in theaters tomorrow. The raw story of an abused African-American girl from Harlem is #1 on the NYT’s paperback trade fiction bestseller list, and the movie version received the prestigious Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The cast includes stars Mo’Nique, Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz.
Roald Dahl is one of my all-time favorite authors, and I have rarely been disappointed by the movie adaptations of his books – from Matilda, to The Witches, to both versions of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. On Nov. 13, you can bet I’ll be in line to see Fantastic Mr. Fox, a stop motion film directed by the great Wes Anderson. George Clooney voices Mr. Fox. See trailer below.
When The Lovely Bones came out in July 2002, BookPage reviewer Becky Ohlsen wrote that Alice Sebold found an “inventive way of expressing the universal alienation and powerlessness we all feel, trapped in our own small worlds apart from each other.” This bestseller will be on the big screen Dec. 11. Saoirse Ronan (nominated for an Academy Award in “Atonement”) stars as Susie, the murdered 14-year-old narrator.
These three are just a few of the upcoming literary adaptations. The biggest blockbuster of all needs no introduction: The film version of Stephenie Meyer’s New Moon hits theater Nov. 20.
Which books-to-movies are you going to see in the coming weeks?
Devil's Dream by Madison Smartt Bell
November 2009, Pantheon
Bell's novel about the Civil War experiences of General Nathan Bedford Forrest brings one of history's most gifted—and controversial—wartime leaders to life. Look for a Q&A with Madison Smartt Bell on BookPage.com later this month.
At dusk they gathered around a campfire Ginral Jerry had built in the lee of a snowbank, which did something, though not exactly enough, to cut the bitter rising wind. Forrest sat on a tripod camp stool, his long arms wrapped around his knees, reflected firelight flickering from the deep hollow of his eyes. Though he was in his shirtsleeves he didn't seem to feel the cold. Is he even human? Henri thought.
Publisher’s Weekly has named Saturday, Nov. 7, as the first-annual National Bookstore Day. To celebrate the important role that bookstores play in our communities, we are featuring bookstore-themed blog posts throughout the week.
Below, Steve Guynn, the owner of Sherlock’s Book Emporium in Lebanon, TN, answers questions about his 16,000 square-foot bookstore, his career and how e-books have not affected his business.
How did you come to work in the bookselling business?
Retired after the sale of my international software business in 2006. Thought it would be cool to have a rare bookstore (using my own collection) that was open on selected days or by appointment only. My neighbors heard what I was doing and asked if I would be able to get them NEW books instead of having to drive into Nashville. Checked into it and now have the largest independent bookstore and hobby shop in the entire South at 16,000 square feet.
What is your favorite part of your job?
Lived 30 years working in a cave writing software. I learned to read at the age of four, subscribe to 23 magazines a month, read 15-20 books a month and have a measured IQ of 186+. I have discovered that I am considered the local trivia king and can hold my own in a conversation with either the local mechanic or a university microbiologist. Absolutely love meeting the people who populate our little spot in the cosmos and steering them to a book that would be of interest after a 30 second interview.
Describe your bookstore. What makes it special?
My brother-in-law described it best: “It is like a bookstore inside a Hard Rock Café except that the entertainment memorabilia collection (models, posters, action figures, etc.) displayed in the store can actually be purchased unlike the guitars in a Hard Rock.”
What is the most memorable event you’ve hosted in your store?
We discovered Eric Wilson before anyone knew who he was. He was our first author signing. Two years later he was selected to write the novelization of “Fireproof.” They debuted the DVD release in our theater and the store was packed!!!
What are you reading right now?
This morning I just started a randomly selected action adventure entitled The Solomon Effect by C.S. Graham. It looks like it will get a four (out of five) star review rating.
Why is it important for a community to have a good independent bookstore?
First of all, a true independent upholds the full meaning of the First Amendment. That is, there is absolutely NO censorship of ANY kind. We don’t care what you read as long as it is legally published. Just read! It is also the only cultural conjunction for disparate income levels to gather and exchange ideas. People have their favorite bars, restaurants, country clubs, clothing stores, etc. where they feel “comfortable” among their economic peers. A bookstore on the other hand provides a “neutral” meeting ground. It is not unusual to see a beat-up plumbing van parked next to a brand new Jaguar in our parking lot.
What do independent bookstores offer that big-box stores don’t?
It is a tie between knowledge and service with no predictable winner. If you only read two or three books a year by the biggest names in publishing, then buy your book wherever the hell you can find the best price. If, however, you are looking for a sales staff that can recommend a title by a lesser-known author with a similar theme to the book you are buying, then you have been H.I.T. (Handsold Independent Title). We experience nearly a 60% HIT ratio in our store. That is, we sell a secondary title to almost everyone who buys one book.
How has the emergence of Kindle, ebooks, etc. changed your business?
Let’s be clear on this answer: IT HAS AFFECTED OUR BUSINESS IN ABSOLUTELY NO MANNER WHATSOEVER. SALES ARE UP 40 PERCENT FROM LAST YEAR.
Yes, it’s true—at BookPage, sometimes we get really, really excited about what has arrived in the day’s mail (see our fervor over the new Penguin Classics here).
Today the mail gods brought us a set of the latest Olive Editions from HarperPerennial—Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath and The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon.
Packaged in bright orange, purple and green (respectively), these paperbacks are billed as “small enough to fit in your pocket” and retail for only $10 a pop. I might argue that you’d need a pretty big pocket for the thick Fast Food Nation, but hey, fast food is inherently heavy.
HarperPerrennial launched their Olive Editions last year with the release of special edition novels by Michael Chabon, Jonathan Safran Foer and Milan Kundera. Both sets of books are billed as “limited editions” and while the Olive Editions website is very hip, it is not terrible informative.
I’d love to know when the next Olive Editions will be published—and what titles will be included. If you’d like to win our set of the 2009 Olives (which, I should mention, go on sale today), leave a comment by Friday, Nov. 6 at noon. Tell us what you think of the Olive idea or what books you would like to see Olive-ized. Good luck!
It seems like every time I walk into a bookstore or library, there is a new flavor-of-the-month political book or memoir on display (like David Plouffe’s The Audacity to Win or Sarah From Alaska, both out today). Although I enjoyed Dreams From My Father (and this behind-the-book blog post about how it got published), I’ll admit that books by or about politicians are usually not my thing.
Since today is Election Day, however, I thought I’d post about a couple political books from our archives that have caught my interest. Please add your own suggestions in the comments. (Anyone pre-ordered Going Rogue. . . or Going Rouge?)
Clinton and Me by Mark Katz
“Humor in political discourse is a more potent weapon than spite. Mark Katz, who held the unusual position of presidential joke writer in the Clinton administration, proves this point decisively and with great fun in Clinton and Me: A Real Life Political Comedy. Katz begins his story in early 1995, when he tried to convince an unamused President Clinton to use an egg timer as the centerpiece of his speech before a group of Washington insiders known as the Alfalfa Club. The egg timer would serve as a comic device, allowing the president to make fun of himself for delivering an overly long State of the Union address. Clinton rejected the idea and went on to give a speech filled with spiteful, personal invectives; the evening was judged a disaster for the president.”
The Conviction of Richard Nixon by James Reston Jr.
“Three years after his resignation, Nixon negotiated a large fee to do a series of interviews with British TV personality David Frost. In preparing for the encounter, Frost hired a team of researchers to supply him questions and background facts. One of that team was James Reston Jr. He chronicles the event in The Conviction of Richard Nixon.”
John Updike once said in an interview that he wrote every day because “the pleasures of not writing are so great that if you ever start indulging them you will never write again.”
In the spirit of diving into creative output (and not indulging the pleasures of procrastination), over 100,00 people will spend November pounding out nearly 2,000 words a day in order to complete their own 50,000-word (175-page) novels.
Chris Baty, a freelance writer from San Francisco, named November National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in 1999. There were 21 participants. Since then, NaNoWriMo has exploded. Last year, over 119,000 people signed up, and 21,720 writers completed 50,000 words by 11:59:59 p.m. on Nov. 30, 2008.
In 2004, Baty published a book called No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days. The first chapter explains the reasoning behind marathon writing:
What you need to write a novel, of course, is a deadline. . . Deadlines bring focus, forcing us to make time for the achievement we would otherwise postpone, encouraging us to reach beyond our conservative estimates of what we think possible, helping us to wrench victory from the jaws of sleep.
Since Nov. 1, I have enjoyed reading Twitter updates from hundreds of frenzied writers (search #NaNo for by-the-second tweets). As you might expect, some of them are flying (one woman posted that she’s finished 6,672 out of 50,000 words). Others are suffering from pesky distractions (one participant tweeted: “I have to stop getting distracted by facebook and twitter! If you see me, tell me to get back to writing!”). In the Stanford Department of English, students are writing for a grade; this school year, National Novel Writing Month is an official seminar.
Are any of you in the midst of writing a novel for NaNoWriMo? If so, will you share plot details? To play devil's advocate: Anyone wary of the month’s mission, which emphasizes quantity of prose over quality?
The publication earlier this month of The Red Book, Carl Jung's famous, near-mythic journal that has, until now, been seen by only a few dozen people, is a publishing coup, an incredibly valuable revelation for Jung's followers and a hugely important addition to the history of modern psychology and psychoanalysis. The book itself is remarkable, big (12" x 15 ¾"), heavy (8.8 lbs!) and printed on thick, ivory coated stock. It's an exact facsimile of the original that Jung worked on for 16 years, between 1914 and 1930. (The book is also expensive, with a suggested retail price of $195.)
A uniquely created, modern illuminated manuscript, each of the 205 pages is covered in exquisite calligraphy, with ornaments and drawings in the margins and borders and elaborately adorned initials. Full-page, tempura paintings of dreamscapes, mystical figures and creatures are interspersed throughout the text, featuring amazing detail and stylized graphic designs and mandalas in lush colors. The complete text was scanned one-tenth of a millimeter at a time with a 10,200-pixel scanner by technicians from DigitalFusion.
The journal describes his intense interior journey to refind his soul by breaking down the barriers between the conscious and unconscious that started in 1913 when Jung was visited by disturbing visions and inner voices. What began as a life-crisis (Jung himself said that he worried that he might be "doing a schizophrenia"), became a way for Jung to know and understand his spirit and to renew it. He went on to induce these hallucinations or "active imaginations," as he called them, for years (just think what a little LSD might have done). The Red Book was never published, though there's reason to think that Jung wanted it to be. It was kept in a closet in his Zurich home and ultimately, years after his death in 1961, secreted in an underground bank vault.
It took years of persuading to get the Jung family to agree to share The Red Book with the world. Now, edited and introduced by Sonu Shamdasani and translated from the German by Mark Kyburz, John Peck and Sonu Shamdasani, it can seen and studied by all. It has been called "possibly the most influential hitherto unpublished work in the history of psychology" and will surely shed new light on Jung's life and work for his followers and his critics.
—Sukey Howard, Contributing Editor
Variety announced recently that Philipp Meyer's critically acclaimed fiction debut, American Rust, will be adapted for film by Walter Salles and Jose Rivera. That's the same writer/director duo who worked on The Motorcycle Diaries and are just finishing up work on the film version of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (read our review of Oscar Wao here).
Scott Stuber, whose most recent project was the Vince Vaughn movie Couples Retreat (about the furthest thing from American Rust we can imagine!) bought the rights and will produce.
Book-to-film is always a risky transition, but the quiet, compelling American Rust, which follos two friends who both long to escape their dying Pennsylvania mining town, might make the jump better than most. If you've read the book, what do you think?
Halloween is tomorrow. In an attempt to forget that I still do not have my costume ready (might have to take our winning, and brilliant, "Charlotte's Web" idea!), I'm posting some of my favorite spooky reading selections.
Mo Hayder's The Devil of Nanking is more about the horrors that people do to one another rather than anything supernatural—but that just makes it all the more terrifying. The story of a troubled British woman who goes to Japan in pursuit of a rare film clip from the 1937 Nanking massacre finds herself on the wrong side of the Japanese yazuka. In his review, Bruce Tierney warned readers that "this is a disturbing book . . . that resonates long after the last page has been turned" and we couldn't agree more.
If it's a ghost story you're looking for, look no further than Australian writer John Harwood's The Ghost Writer. Unsettling, sleep-with-the-lights-on suspense is combined with a nod to the Victorian ghost story as a young Australian man goes to England to investigate his mother's mysterious past. I reviewed this book for BookPage back in 2004 and said it was "more than a literary thriller," if you read it, let me know if you agree!
It was hard to choose one Stephen King book, but for me, Skeleton Crew is the most nightmare-inducing of his works. Possibly because of the terrifying cannibalism story, possibly because of the creepy monkey on the cover, drawn from one of the collection's most frightening tales, possibly because I read it first at the tender age of 12 and couldn't go to sleep while the book was in the room with me...I could go on, but read it yourself and you'll find plenty of reasons to shiver (it also contains the novella "The Mist").
Scott Smith's The Ruins is another spooky Halloween selection. Smith is a master at creating an atmosphere of dread—you just know nothing good is going to happen to the characters, but you can't stop reading. As he told us in an interview about the book, "When it came to choices, I would always opt to push it further, because I have an instinct that if I'm uncomfortable with it, I should do it."
But books that keep you up at night don't have to be thrillers—our editor, Lynn Green, says when she first read the galleys of The Lovely Bones, the description of Susie's murder was so chilling she had second thoughts about assigning it for review . . . though we did end up covering it.
Do you have a favorite Halloween read? Tell us in the comments. And don't forget to check out our haunting Halloween selections on BookPage.com.