Thursday, January 31, 2008

Be A Rebel, Own a Business

My latest foray into reading around the bookstore led me to the business case, where I picked up a book I had been planning to read for a while, "Rebel Bookseller, How to Improvise Your Own Indie Store and Beat Back the Chains" by Andrew Laties.

Andrew founded several independant bookstores, the most recent being the bookstore at the Eric Carle museum in Amherst, Mass. He was active in the American Bookseller's Association during the time when the big book chains like Border's were on the rise. And he succeded in keeping his stores vibrant and open, when the popular wisdom said that he was crazy to do what Laura and I have decided to do with our lives, own a bookstore that our customers would treasure.

You can understand the appeal of this book to someone like me, who owns a bookstore. But I wanted to see if it would be something that would apply to businesses outside the bookstore field.

The answer is yes. Laties has no set formula, no specific plan of attack. But he is firm in his belief that it is possible to succeed as an independant store no matter who the big competitors are.

Laties goes back and forth between his story of sucess, failure and rebirth and small "rants" where he lays out his thoughts on how you can succeed in the face of competition. His three rules of Rebel Bookselling (Adapt Don't Adopt, Sell More of What's Selling and Buy Low, Sell High) are things that you know as a busness owner but need to be reminded of, often. And Laties is strident in his belief that the large chains are unable to innovate, and the fact that you can innovate is your greatist strength.

I will end with a quote that as soon as I read it I read to our staff. This follows a section where he is discribing how tough it can be to run a business and how conventional wisdom has you doomed to failure, so you should never start. And when I was finised with this book I knew that I could recommend it to anyone who wants to better focus their business to compete, no matter what their field.

"The point is, you can focus on the fact that your independant bookstore is doomed and then let this reality prevent you from launching the thing. Or you can focus on your doom and use this foreknowledge to help you plan for your business's reincarnation.

That's what the Buddhists call death energy. Every moment, you think about your possibly imminent death. This gives you the courage to take chances. After all, what's the point in fear or delay? You might not live ten more seconds" (p. 33)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Big Bad Wolf, Oh My

I read a lot of manga and graphic novels. And one of my favorite series is the Fables series by Bill Willingham. I just finished Volume 8: Wolves last night and the series continues to impress me.

The background for this series is that the characters in the old fairy tales are all real. They have been driven out of their ancestral home (called appropriately enough "Homeland") by the armies of an evil tyrant who is bent on ruling the Homelands and making all the characters into his slaves. Those who have been lucky enough to escape have come to New York city (for those who have a human form) or a farm in upstate New York (for those like the three little pigs who cannot live in human society). All the fables live in secret in a small part of New York called fabletown.

The stories revolve around the efforts of the various fables to fit into our world. Old King Cole and Prince Charming are running for mayor of Fabletown, the Big Bad wolf is the town sherrif, the former frog prince cleans buildings and Frau Totenkinder advises them all on ways to fit in and fight to regain their homes in the Homelands.

In the volume "Wolves", the big bad wolf is recruited for a secret mission back to the Homelands to stike a blow for freedom and pay back "The Adversary" for a recent incursion into fabletown. The Wolf travels through the cloud kingdom of the giants and ends up fighting the forces of The Adversary, who turns out to be another well known fable personage.

I like the directions that the author takes this series. It is interesting to see Prince Charming dealing with his ex-wives, the relationship between Rose Red and Snow White, how the fables themselves deal with the fact that some of them want to fit into our world while others want nothing more than to re-invade the Homelands and ultimately go home.

This is not a graphic novel for children. There are adult issues of relationships, betrayal, violence and nudity in the series. It is a great story and if you like graphic novels at all you should try the first issue of this series.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Laura's January Reading

Okay, so it's been awhile. I've been reading around the store and here are the tidbits for what I've read so far. In Literature, I've just finished Crybaby Ranch by Tina Welling. This was a satisfying read about a lady who leaves her marriage and finds her life. There were many moments when I saw how the wisdom she gained could be applied in my own life. So this book went to live on our book club wall. In scifi, I read Orphans of Chaos and found myself mesmerized by the quantum mechanics and other explanations of physical phenomenon. The characters were engaging as well. I'll try to make it to the scifi club this month so that I can talk to the others about what I liked about the book. More to come . . . . . Laura

Revisit the Pulps with Doc Savage

I have a collection of books that I reserve for those times when I am feeling somewhat down. Winter. Cold. Snowy. Blehh. The Doc Savage Series by Kenneth Robeson have a place on hthis shelf.

For me the Doc Savage books always takes me back to being 12 years old, sitting around the house in the summer and reading comic books and adventure novels with my best friend Tom. We took turns buying the Doc Savage books, which were avaiable at a local used bookstore for a quarter, and shared most of the series.

As the years went by I lost most of these books in various moves, but last year one of our customers asked if I knew anyone who would be interested in a set of books that he no longer wanted, which turned out to be an almost complete set (over 160 books) of Doc Savage. I jumped at the chance to acquire them.

For those of you who didn't read these, either in the 30s and 40s when they rivaled Superman and the Shadow as heroes for the american teenager or in the 70s and 80s when Bantam re-released them, Doc Savage and his 5 companions travelled the world, using their brains and skills to right wrongs.

The books definitely hark back to a more innocent time. Doc Savage is not a superman with special powers, but a highly trained man who spends time training his mind and body to fight crime. Trained from a young age to build his mental and physical powers, he also has mysterious sources of wealth and a host of cool gagets. His 5 companions are masters of Chemistry, Law, Engineering, Archeology and Electricity.

I just finished #28, The Deadly Dwarf. An evil criminal mastermind lures Doc and his men to a tropical island where a new, undiscovered element that counteracts the force of gravity is uncovered. After losing out on the initial race to posses this element, Doc has to devise a way to protect the world from the distruction that awaits. High adventure, toppling buildings, beautiful women and of course, good triumphing in the end are all part of the story.

We always try to have at least a few Doc Savage books in the store, and at around 120 pages they are a quick and fun read.


Monday, January 28, 2008

One for the Gamers: Dork Decade

Those of you who know me know that I have two hobbies, reading and playing games. The collection that I read yesterday combines these two. Dork Decade, a Dork Tower 10 Year Anniversary Color Collection by John Kovalic.

Dork Tower chronicles a group of gamers, who live out their "real" lives as a link between their games of Dungeons and Dragons, Vamipre role playing, and gaming conventions.

As in any cartoon that has as its source of humor a subset of society, the cartoons are much funnier if you are on the inside. If you have ever played D&D or been part of a misunderstood group, you will find the humor here.

I like the way that Kovalic obviously loves the people and hobby that he draws. When he has his characters discuss, seriously, the differences between the X-files and Scooby Doo, or try to find obscure game books at a bookstore only to be asked about playing in the sewers I laughed out loud.

I must not be the only one, as there are reviews from USA today as well as gary Gygax on the back cover. I hope that Kovalic makes it another 10 years.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Reading Shakespeare - Two Gentlemen of Verona

I moved into our Drama section yesterday, and picked up a copy of Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen of Verona.

I have to admit that I have not read a play since highschool english class, so more than 25 years have passed. I am much more used to seeing plays in the theater. And since Boise has an excellent Shakespeare festival I have been treated to productions from Shakespear's plays every summer since Laura and I moved to Boise in 1990.

It was different reading Shakespeare rather than seeing the plays. I found that while I was reading I could hear the voies of the actors from the Shakespeare festival. Oddly, this helped. There is so much that I feel is lost going from the stage to the page that being able to close my eyes and see the players, to hear their voiecs speak the lines, to treat the reading of this play more as a performance than a dry read made it a fun read.

After I finished reading the play I took a look at "With Our Good Will", Doug Copsey's history of the Idaho Shakespeare festival. And it is interesting that the voiecs that I heard when reading, and the scenes that I drew in my mind while reading, did not match up to the actors or costuming from the last performance of this play, which I know that I attended. I can't explain this, it just is.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Osprey Graphic Novels

I have a bit of a change of pace today, and will be reviewing "Island of Terror, the Battle of Iwo Jima" from Osprey Publishing.

I am a big fan of Osprey in general. For those not familiar with Osprey, they publish a series of books on military history focusing on specific battles or units from across the historical spectrum. I have several of their books on various British or Scots battles or armies, almost all from the time period of 1000-1600AD. So when I got a copy of a graphic novel from Osprey aimed at middle school readers dealing with Iwo Jima I knew I had to give it a look.

Like all the Osprey publications this was well researched, giving detail on not just the battle iteself but on individuals on both sides who fought there. It does a good job of putting Iwo Jima into the larger context of WWII in the pacific, explaining why this tiny island was important not only to the Americans who invaded but to the Japanese defenders.

All too often in my opinion books deling with battles such as this tend to downplay the human tragedy involved, instead filling up with dry facts and figures that end up more like laundry lists with attached maps than telling the stories of bravery and sacrafice that seem to resonate with the readers at the middle school level. The authors here succeed in humanizing both sides of the conflict, preferring to focus on the stories of a few soldiers on both sides of the lines.

I also learned things that I did not know from this book. I was unaware that a group of young Japanese students arrived on the island shortly before the battle, and not having a way to return to Japan were given weapons and lost during the fighting. I was also unaware of the individual stories of the American marines who, after the battle, were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions.

The graphics well drawn but not gory, so perfect for the target readers. There are sugestions for further reading in the back should anyone decide to dig deeper into the stories. There are also a dozen other titles in the series, all dealing with battles from WWII or the American Civil War.

This will not make it into my perminant collection, but I think that middle school librarians would do well to look at books in this series for their students.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Science Fiction Club Book for Feb.

I am going to write a more detailed review of Orphans of Chaos by John C. Wright than appears in the Feb. newsletter today in the Blog. I will warn you now, if you plan to read the book and want to have the same sense of discovery that I had while reading it, don't read anything other than this paragraph. There will be spoilers in the rest of the review. And I think the book is best read cold. It is full of mythology, magic and likable characters.

Ok, on with the review. Wright has created a world where the Greek Gods have gone to war with each other, and Zeus is dead (long live the king...). As the book opens, 5 children are being raised in an Engligh boarding school, and we find out that they are the children of the Titans, given to the surviving gods as hostages until the factions of the gods get things sorted out. The major gods stay mostly off screen, and the adults in the school are gradually revealed as minor gods and spirits.

The children know none of this at the start of the book, just that they are different and possibly not human. They are restless, however, and as they discover their powers they plot thier escape. They have cool powers, such as the ability to see into and manipulate more than 3 dimensions or the ability to find secret pasages where none exist.

I thought that the book was wonderfully plotted, with each chapter revealing just enough new information on what was going on to keep me interested and going. I read the book in 2 sittings, and would have read it in 1 had I started it earlier in the day.

This is not a book for action fans. I am interested in how our store Science Fiction club members will like it, as there is a lot of dialog and not much "doing". But I am happily reading book 2 in the series and looking forward already to book 3.

Still, if you like mythology and/or character development you should give it a try. And stop by for our Science Fiction club and tell me what you thought.


Friday, January 18, 2008

Reading Romance

Part of the reason that Laura and I decided to try and read one book from every bookcase in the store this year was to give us the opportunity to move outside of our reading comfort zones and try new books, authors and genres. So with this in mind I picked up my first book from the Romance Cases, "To Distraction" by Stephanie Laurens.

I had been tempted to grab something that I suspected I would like more, one of the paranormal romance titles for example. Something that would be closer to my normal science fiction/fantasy genre preference. But in the end I decided to try something that looked as much like the sterotype of romance novel that I carried in my head as possible, so the pink cover with its bodice ripper insert picture was just the thing.

I liked it. That's right, I liked it. The characters were, if not quite 3 dimensional, at least not the cardboard cutouts that I expected. The plot moved me through Regency England at a steady pace, with the parties and entertainments of the upper class main characters interspersed with the work of Phoebe (the heroine) rescuing chambermaids and household servants from the clutches of their lecherous employers.

The book had no unexpected twists. Deverell (the hero) is a handsome ex-spy come home from France to inherit his estate and to find a wife. Phoebe is demure but not unwilling to be manuvered into the arms and bed of Deverell. And their is a happy marriage waiting at the end of the book.

This book is part of a larger series from Laurens. I may not rush out to get the rest of the series, but I can see returning to Laurens in the future if I get the fancy for a love story


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Peter Hamilton - Reality Disfunction

I confess, I have been wanting to read something by Peter Hamilton for a while, so when our store science fiction club picked him as our January author, I picked up the first book in his Reality Disfuntion duality with with a good deal of anticipation.

I wanted to like this book. I have several customers who love Hamilton, and his series seem to be popular.

There were a number of things about this book that I did love. The division of the human race into those who believe in bioengineering as a way to improve the human race (the Edenists) and those who believe the human race should not be altered (The Adamists) creates interesting dramatic tension. The bioengineered, sentient spaceships and planets were a cool concept. The mystery of the alien race that dissappeared/committed mass suicide intregues me. And there are many of the characters and storylines that Hamilton weaves into his book are well developed and likable.

However, I think that in reaching to make a galactic spanning epic, Hamilton tries to tell too many stories. I got bogged down in the switching from storyline to storyline. Everytime the storys started to get interesting, Hamilton would switch to a different set of characters. I am sure that in the 5 books that follow these storylines will be woven together. But I am sometimes impatient, and this is one of those times. If Hamilton had limited the storylines to 2, switching back and forth, I would be digging into the second book right now. However I am going to put aside this series and find something to read that is less epic and more compact.


Monday, January 14, 2008

I just finished Slipknot, a mystery by Northwest author Gary McKinney. I liked it, but not for the reasons that I has expected.

The reason that I picked up Slipknot was that the main character is a small town sheriff who is also a fan of the Grateful Dead. I like the Dead, as a matter of fact the music that I play in my office while I work is often one of the Dead concerts that are on line at the Grateful Dead concert archives. From the book cover and blurbs on the back I expected the music and Grateful Dead fan culture to be central to the mystery.

Instead I found myself cought up in a controversy over logging an old growth stand of trees in Washington state, a murdered scientist and various small town charcters interacting with the logging companies and environmentalists who had axes to grind over the proposed logging. The Grateful dead were in the story as a small amount of color for one character, nothing more.

I did like the book. I thought the mystery was well plotted, there were numerous twists and turns and once I was about halfway through I had to stay up and finish the book. So don't pick it up because you are a music fan, pick it up becasue it is an enjoyable mystery.


Friday, January 11, 2008

Starting to read through the store

I finished the first book from my effort to read 1 book from each bookcase in the store last night, and since I am starting at the front of Rediscovered Bookshop I was reading from the current events case.

War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning by Chris Hedges is a compelling read. Chris covered the wars in El Slavador, Bosnia and Iraq. He uses his wartime experience to examine what sort of effects War has on culture and peoples.

His main thrust is that we need to do a better job of stripping away the romanticized version of war that is fed to us by the media, politicians and history. War is ugly, corrupt, brutal and tragic. It is often fought for reasons that are not honestly faced by the warring nations, especially when the wars are fought for economic gain that will not touch the people effected most, those on the ground who get in the way of the conflicts. It brings about selective memory when people do not want to face the reality of what happens in the heat of battle.

For all this, Hedges also faces the fact that war is exciting, leading to a live for the moment mentality in those who are cought up in the conflicts. He talks bout feeling more alive amidst the bullets and bombs than is possible anywhere else.

If you choose to read Hedges work be prepared for graphic descriptions of the effects of war, but also be prepared to be forced to think about your own notions of war and its' aftermath.


Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Reading around the store Take 1

Here we are reading around the store. I'm starting with Idaho History and reading Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose because it's been on my stack since Jock Summers at Mary McPherson recomended it to me 2 years ago. So this has been an excellent excuse to pick it up and read it. Those of you who have discovered Stephen Ambrose before will not be surprised when I say it is very readable history. This will take me awhile to finish, but it will be worth the effort.


Monday, January 7, 2008

Happy New Year

Hello everyone. Christmas and New Year's are already past. Thank you for a truly wonderful year of books in the Treasure Valley.

Bruce and I have a new year's resolution to read 1 book each from every case in the store this year in addition to our regular reading. This should provide a lot of interesting conversation not to mention that it will be tough to choose what to read off of some cases.