Wednesday, October 31, 2012

How a Bookstore Selects the Books It Sells

I think anyone who's ever browsed a bookstore has wondered why certain books were on store shelves and others weren't. As Sam Sacks, a book clerk for Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, explains it in the New Yorker, it all comes down to the personal bias of those who run the bookstore. "Bookstores are human places," Sacks says. "They are extensions of the personalities of the men and women who operate them." What about the customers? A longtime bookseller confided to Sacks: "We do this for the books, not for the customers."

The interior of Housing Works Bookstore Cafe.
Image via e.j.i./flickr

If you've been a customer at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, located at 126 Crosby Street in New York's SoHo neighborhood, you were undoubtedly surrounded by its sizable and eclectic selection of books. Where did they come from? According to Sacks, they're "from publishers or magazines getting rid of their overflow, from the apartments of lifelong readers who have died, or simply from the shelves of New Yorkers who need to clear the space." So, how do certain titles reach store shelves? There is a method, despite the personal bias that's inherent in picking inventory. Sacks illustrates this in his New Yorker piece.

At Housing Works, Sacks sifts through all the boxes and bags of donated books and selects what the store will sell, both at its brick-and-mortar location and on its website. He admits to a preference for certain genres: "I have always thought that the backbone of a good used-book store is formed by its fiction and history sections, so whenever possible I separated these books for the floor. Naturally, there were exceptions," he says. "Specialized histories with a narrowly scholarly focus are better sold online - so a history of the Punic Wars makes it to the store; a study of urinals during the reign of Hadrian doesn't."

Just as Sacks has a propensity for particular genres, affecting what is sold at Housing Works, he also has a fierce aversion to certain book forms, like the hardcover. "I do not like hardcover books," he discloses. "They are needlessly bulky and cumbersome, far less attractive or readable than their svelte paperback siblings. Unless the hardcover was of a perennial seller (your Doris Kearns Goodwins or John Irvings), I didn't allow them to eat up the limited shelf space."

It's interesting to read about what goes on behind the scenes at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe and the other bookstores where Sacks has worked, including The Strand and Barnes & Noble, the latter of which he says is "unjustly maligned. It's true that the mind governing these stores is corporate, but the staff tends to be far better read and more informed than detractors allow, and the selection is large and egalitarian." For more insider information on the bookstores whose selections are not as large as Barnes & Noble's and are much more curated, see Sam Sacks' article for the New Yorker, "The Bookstore Brain: How Bookstores Choose Their Books," at THIS LINK.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

NPR Librarian Talks Radio, New Book

I think working as a librarian at a radio station is one of the coolest jobs a person could have. Kee Malesky has that job. For more than 20 years, she's worked as a librarian at National Public Radio (NPR), headquartered in Washington, DC. 

Research librarian Kee Malesky finds the answers for NPR hosts, editors, and reporters.
Image via

Malesky recently came to New York to promote her new book at an event hosted by METRO, a nonprofit organization that works to develop and maintain essential library services in New York City and Westchester County, New York. When not discussing Learn Something New Every Day: 365 Facts to Fulfill Your Life, which hit bookstores earlier this month, Malesky delivered tidbits about being a research librarian at NPR to an eager and inquisitive audience.

Image via

Since 1984, Malesky has been on staff at NPR, which actually doesn't have a centralized library. She and her colleagues - 14 full-time librarians in all - are embedded in various bureaus throughout the media organization, such as the News and Science desks. There, they field questions from NPR hosts, editors, and reporters. Some of the questions that she and the other librarians are asked have to do with proper pronunciation, while others concern statistics and research. Together, they answer more than 11,000 reference questions a year. Although NPR staffers can be demanding, Malesky said that "for the most part, they're very appreciative of our efforts."

On being a librarian, Malesky said, "We read all the time. We're constantly looking at new sources, at websites, at all kinds of things that are happening in the world. We're all very proactive. It's really a part of the proper job of a librarian."

In July, Kee Malesky was named the 2012 recipient of the Dow Jones Leadership Award, which "recognizes exemplary leadership as an information professional through personal and professional achievements," according the SLA Blog. Congratulations, Kee!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Cleveland Public Library Honors Harvey Pekar

I first heard of Harvey Pekar in 2003, thanks to the publicity surrounding American Splendor, a film based in part on Pekar's graphic novel series of the same name. Intrigued, I went to the local movie theater and, for a little more than an hour and a half, sat absorbed in the story of the Cleveland, Ohio, native. Despite his dark outlook on life, Harvey Pekar shone brightly as a star of the underground comic scene and as an accidental celebrity in the entertainment industry, first as a repeat guest on David Letterman's late-night talk show, then as the subject of a successful comedy-drama loosely based on his life.

A clip from the credit sequence of the 2003 film American Splendor.
Image from
In 2010, Pekar passed away at the age of 70 from what was later determined to be an accidental overdose from a combination of antidepressants. A year later, in 2011, his widow Joyce Brabner spearheaded a Kickstarter campaign to fund the "Harvey Pekar Library Statue: Comics as Art & Literature Desk." The online campaign was a huge success, raising more than $38,000 for the memorial to the late graphic novelist. This month, the memorial was unveiled on the second floor of the Lee Road Branch of the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library, which Harvey Pekar often visited.

On October 14, nearly 200 fans, friends, and family of Pekar attended the unveiling, which was part of a program titled "Harvey Pekar: A Literary, Library Life." Among those present was Joyce Brabner, who gazed at the 2 1/2-foot bronze likeness of her late husband emerging, palms turned upward, from a fiberglass replica of a page from one of his graphic novels. Sculptor Justin Coultor created the statue, which he based on drawings by J.T. Waldman, an illustrator who collaborated with Pekar on the book Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me, which was published this year by Hill & Wang's Novel Graphics imprint.
The limited-editon library card featuring a likeness of Pekar.
Image via
In addition to the dedication of the statue, Cleveland Public Library issued a limited-edition library card that depicts Pekar entering its main branch. The illustration on the card is based on a drawing from Harvey Pekar's Cleveland, a collaboration between Pekar and artist Joe Remnant that was released this year by Zip Comics/Top Shelf. It's the first in a series of library cards bearing the likenesses of famous people from Cleveland. Explaining why he chose Pekar to be the first Clevelander celebrated in this way, Felton Thomas, director of Cleveland Public Library, said, "He brought Cleveland to life through his work and was a loyal patron of CPL. It's our pleasure to offer this card to our patrons in his honor."

For library patrons in Cleveland, Ohio, who want to get their hands on the limited-edition card featuring Harvey Pekar, all that's necessary is to go to a local branch and ask for it - the usual $1 replacement fee will be waived.

Speaking earlier at the statue dedication ceremony, Brabner said, "Ours was a family that believed a library card was a lot more important than a charge card," a statement that drew the day's greatest applause.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Twenty-Seven Small Presses to Follow on Twitter

I've a confession to make: I am not on Twitter. My reluctance to becoming too "plugged in" has kept me from joining the popular microblogging service. But learning that so many of my favorite small publishers have a presence on Twitter has me seriously reconsidering my stance. How could I not, after poring over these captivating tweets from The Overlook Press?

New York City-based Overlook Press is not the only indie publisher worth following on Twitter. Poets & Writers, a nonprofit literary organization, points to twenty-six more, including Akashic Books, Beacon Press, The Feminist Press, Grove/Atlantic, McSweeney's Books, YesYes Books, and Melville House. Who knew that these small literary establishments were among the Twitterati?

To see the twenty-seven that have succinctly melded book culture with social media, see Poets & Writers' post HERE.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Excitement Gathers for Grace Coddington's Memoir

Ever since I saw The September Issue, the 2009 documentary on the making of the 2007 fall-fashion issue of Vogue, I've had a soft spot for Grace Coddington, who is the magazine's flame-haired and refreshingly down-to-earth creative director.

Vogue magazine's Grace Coddington (in the center) is at last releasing a memoir.
Image from

Watching her fearlessly go toe-to-toe with Vogue's steely eyed editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, warmly comfort those on the receiving end of Wintour's wrath, and superbly weave together fantastical fashion sets and ensembles endeared her to me. The segment of the documentary where Coddington reflects on her earlier years as a successful model in Swinging London intrigued me so much that I swore if she ever wrote a memoir of those years, I'd snatch it up. Those in the publishing world must have realized that such a book would be a hit because, barely a year after the theatrical release of The September Issue, Coddington was "approached by agents and publishers looking to translate her September Issue fame into a bestseller," reported on August 22, 2010. According to, the book would cover "her modeling days in Sixties London, the car accident that changed her career path, and her ascendancy through fashion's ranks as a stylist and editor at British Vogue and, later, its American counterpart." It would be cowritten with Jay Fielden, the former editor-in-chief of Men's Vogue, and published by Random House. Fast-forward to two years later, and Fielden has been replaced by Vogue writer Michael Roberts and the book is given a release date.

Image from

Grace: A Memoir will at last be released by Random House on November 20, 2012. The 416-page memoir promises to "introduce readers to the colorful designers, hairstylists, makeup artists, photographers, models, and celebrities with whom Grace has created her signature images," according to the book's description on The memoir also "reveals her private world with equal candor - the car accident that almost derailed her modeling career, her two marriages, the untimely death of her sister, Rosemary, her friendship with Harper's Bazaar editor-in-chief Liz Tilberis, and her thirty-year romance with Didier Malige. Finally, Grace describes her abiding relationship with Anna Wintour, and the evolving mastery by which she has come to define the height of fashion." posted an excerpt from Grace: A Memoir. Here is a snippet:

My contemporaries were girls like Bronwen Pugh; Sandra Paul, a classic English beauty who married a politician; and Enid Boulting, whose daughter, Ingrid, also became a famous model and went on to marry John Barry, a composer of much of the music for the James Bond films. Another contemporary, Tania Mallet, was cast in a Bond movie herself (only to be killed off after a fleeting appearance), and many of the other girls ended up marrying lords. There was a kind of "Upstairs, Downstairs" feeling to things at the time. I suppose that's why my mother didn't object to my going to modeling school. But the models-pursued-by-aristocrats phenomenon was not destined to last. The Profumo affair, a sex scandal that hit the British headlines in 1963, was a sordid sensation involving government ministers, aristocrats, Soviet spies, and two good-time girls, Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies. They were referred to in the popular press as "models" - which gave our profession a terrible name because, to the British public, the word "model" became pretty much synonymous with "prostitute."

To read much more of the excerpt from Grace: A Memoir, go HERE.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Awesome Tumblr of Awesome People Reading

In the eyes of many, picking up a book is not a cool activity. Just think about the connotations of "bookworm," a term that's usually not given as a compliment. To say that someone is a "bookworm" is pretty much the same as calling that person a "geek," "nerd," or "nerdlinger." Reading just isn't cool ... or is it? Take a look at the Tumblr Awesome People Reading.

Bettie Page curls up with a magazine amid the comforts of home.
Image via

Awesome People Reading is a Tumblr comprised of tons of photographs of, well, awesome people reading. There are movie stars and directors, graphic artists and painters, musicians and athletes, activists and philosophers, heads of state and astronauts, models and photographers, magicians and Muppets, all caught on camera reading. And they're not always reading books. Some, like Albert Camus and Lenny Bruce, are holding newspapers. Others, like Boris Karloff and Paul Newman, are poring over film scripts. Then you have some, like Muhammad Ali and Tom Waits, gripping comics. While others, such as Beck Hansen and Charlotte Gainsbourg, are eyeing pages of song lyrics. And many, including, Richard Avedon and James Dean, are absorbed in magazines.

There are currently 125 pages filled with black-and-white and color photographs of Awesome People Reading. (The prolific person behind this Tumblr has obvious favorites, as there are many different images of Marilyn Monroe, Gregory Peck, Neil Gaiman, Bettie Page, Bridget Bardot, David Bowie, Louise Brooks, Patti Smith, Bob Marley, Michael Caine, Elvis, and various Stones and Beatles reading.) You can check them out HERE.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Visit to the Zine Library at VCU

If you love zines and ever find yourself in Richmond, Virginia, you should really swing by Virginia Commonwealth University. The university's James Branch Cabell Library, at 901 Park Avenue, houses a wealth of local and national zines.

VCU's zine library is part of the Special Collections and Archives at Cabell Library.
Photo via Matt Carman on Flickr
Just prior to the Richmond Zine Fest, held earlier this month, the people behind the Brooklyn Zine Fest decided to visit VCU to check out these zines. The zine collection is part of VCU's Special Collections and Archives, located on the fourth floor of Cabell Library. Two smiley librarians, Leila Prasertwaitaya and Celina Williams (who also helped organize the Richmond Zine Fest), gave the people of the Brooklyn Zine Fest a grand tour of the Special Collections and Archives, which, in addition to zines, also includes comics, artist books, and even a sword(!).

Librarians Leila Prasertwaitaya (at left) and Celina Williams are happy to help.
Photo via Matt Carman on Flickr
The zine library at VCU currently encompasses more than 700 zines, which tend to focus on feminist and socio-political issues, art and punk rock topics, and personal/autobiographical matters. Many are also of the mini comic variety. The collection also contains resource materials on the history of underground publishing and ephemera from past Richmond Zine Fests.

Gotta keep things organized! Zine files at Cabell Library's Special Collections and Archives.
Photo via Matt Carman on Flickr
Coinciding with this year's Richmond Zine Fest is an exhibit of the work of Aijung Kim. The creative output of the Richmond-based artist and zine collector will be on display on the fourth floor of Cabell Library until November 2012. 

You can see the zine collection and the Aijung Kim exhibit at Cabell Library Monday through Friday, 9AM to 5PM or by appointment. If you'd like more information on either, you can reach someone at the Special Collections and Archives by email, at, or by phone, at (804) 828-1108. I'm sure they would love to assist you...and appreciate donations to the zine library!

Representatives from VCU's zine library man a table at this year's Richmond Zine Fest.
Photo via Matt Carman on Flickr
Also look out for zine nights at VCU's Special Collections and Archives. These collaborative workshops on zine making are free and open to the general public.

Friday, October 5, 2012

John Waters Reads from 'Lady Chatterley's Lover'

On the occasion of Banned Books Week, which runs from September 30 through October 6 this year, John Waters appeared at a San Francisco bookstore to read from an often-banned book, D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover.

John Waters with more wholesome reading.
Photo source:

The cult filmmaker, compiler of quirky CD collections, and occasional voice actor was at City Lights Bookstore, itself no stranger to controversy over books deemed obscene. (In the most famous instance, City Lights was targeted by both local and federal authorities in the late 1950s for printing and selling Howl, a slender and subversive book of poetry by countercultural icon Allen Ginsberg.) On Wednesday, October 3, 2012, Waters sat down to read from Lawrence's sexually frank literary masterpiece at City Lights. You can watch a video of the in-store reading below.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Meet the 'Boardwalk Empire' Librarian

In 2006, when Heather Halpin Perez began working at the Atlantic City Free Public Library in New Jersey, little did she know her name would one day be connected to one of the most critically acclaimed shows in cable television history.

Image source: via HBO

Perez works as an archivist in the library's local history section, the Alfred M. Heston Collection. In the course of a usual day, she assists people in piecing together their family histories, helps authors who are doing research for their books, and answers research questions asked by city officials. But then she gets a phone call from Ed McGinty, a native of Atlantic City and the lead historical researcher for the HBO show Boardwalk Empire.

"The archive is an incredible resource," McGinty told the Press of Atlantic City. "Heather is just so knowledgeable about what's in there. Whenever I need some specifics, say a photograph...anything I can't find anywhere else, I call her."

Heather Halpin Perez, at right, offers her expertise for HBO's Boardwalk Empire.
Image source:

Perez is often called on to locate a photograph or provide a newspaper article or historical account so that McGinty and others on the Boardwalk Empire staff can make the show as historically accurate as possible. But "it's historical fiction," Perez told the News & Advance. "So they've taken some liberties."

For her contributions to Boardwalk Empire, Perez sees her name among the show's end credits; she's listed as "historical consultant." However, she insists that she's not on the show's payroll and that she "doesn't do anything for Boardwalk Empire that she wouldn't do for anyone else who calls or visits the library with questions on Atlantic City's past," according to the Press of Atlantic City.

When Perez decided to go into library science, she "didn't do it for the glamour," she told the News & Advance. "I've always been interested in old stories and working with old photographs and scrap booking. It was an opportunity to do something I really enjoy."

On assisting the makers of Boardwalk Empire, Perez said, "It was a chance to let Atlantic City shine, and that's really what my job is about."

To read more on Perez, the "Boardwalk Empire Librarian," go HERE and HERE.