Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “Borders”

Happy 60th Birthday to City Lights Bookstore

I find the death of the bookstore to be sad. I have found myself taking my sons to my local independent bookstores and even having pit stops when we are on the road at a Barnes and Noble. It makes sense – B&N have good bathrooms, passable coffee, and we can walk around.

I am as much to blame for the demise of the bookstore as anyone. I deny any connection to my first public author signing at a Borders and their announcement the next day that they were closing all stores.

Borders 0211I buy most of my books online and as ebooks. It is not just a matter of convenience or price: I genuinely believe in the environmental necessity of ebooks. As an author, my focus is on creating an online platform and this translates (outside the first week or so of a book launch) into consistently selling more ebooks than tree books.

But I realize that I am increasingly treating these trips to a bookstore like a visit to a museum. I will tell my children how you can make spontaneous choices this way, ask advice from staff who are always genuine book lovers (they would not work there I assume otherwise), and enjoy the smell of the bookstore.

My kids know that I am not exactly telling the truth. We rarely buy books on these visits, scouring the bargain bins perhaps, and I often resort to their please to purchase something that I will look it up used online.

I recently went to a book launch of a friend and bought her book at the store, standing in line to get her autograph. It is the actions of a good friend showing up for someone they care about. The book was one-third more expensive than it was new on Amazon. But this is a friend and, in a strange sense, I felt an appreciation for the staff of the bookstore for hosting her.

But one bookstore stands alone, at least in my stomping grounds. Last month City Lights celebrated its 60th birthday. There is a great article here and I don’t want to simply hash out the same story.

imgres-3When I first came to the US and told someone that I dreamed about using fiction as social activism and commentary on our society, they smiled: “You gonna be another Kerouac?”

I could see the disappointment on their face when I asked: “Who?” I looked around, half expecting the immigration police to appear, tear up my green card, and deport me to Canada.

Patriotically, I devoured On The Road and The Dharma Bums, and this began a long and wonderful journey into the beat movement. I feel privileged to still meet men and women who were beatniks. The sequel to Unwanted Heroes is a modern day tribute to the beat generation.

When I told someone of my new interest, they promptly sent me to City Lights (and the Jack Kerouac Alley, and the museum, and oh those delicious Italian pastries in North Beach!).

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I often return to City Lights and always buy a book. I stand in reverence on the top floor, which is dedicated to the beatniks who gathered there under Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I wrote a scene in the sequel to Unwanted Heroes, which I really witnessed as an elderly couple came upstairs and were looking through a coffee table-type book of the beatniks in Paris. They found a photo that included the old man. We spent a wonderful hour together as he reminisced. It was a very special hour and one I will never forget.

That doesn’t happen at an online bookstore. Even if this gentleman had crafted a well-written article about his time in Paris, it could never compare to sitting and listening to him telling it in his own voice.

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It was a magical moment – so thank you to City Lights for still being around. I will bring my sons to the bookstore and they can buy any darn book they want!

Happy 60th birthday.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of GalbriethAlon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter. For more about the author, check out his website.

The Power of Paolini – Thank You Christopher

Last week, Christopher Paolini released the fourth book in the Inheritance Trilogy (sorry Christopher – even though we (fantasy readers) are all thrilled there are another 800 pages of Eragon, we all remember the moment somewhere in the third book when we realized it was not going to end here.

Our copy of Inheritance arrived in the next couple of days and my 12-year-old is devouring it, hopefully passing it on to me to read during the Thanksgiving vacation. The Inheritance series has been a wonderful bonding experience. Whether it is Harry Potter to Eragon (or most likely both) who are responsible for his leap in reading ability and desire is immaterial, I am eternally grateful to both Paolini and J.K. Rowling.

My son and I spent endless hours reading the books, listening to the audio version, watching the (only!!!!) movie, and discussing how it will end in Brisingr, the third and not final book of the trilogy, and then doing the same for Inheritance.

When Paolini released Brisingr, my then 10-year-old stood defiantly at the front of the line in our local Borders, literally falling asleep on his feet as the clock approached midnight. I remember the lady who was working there, encouraging him to stay awake and hang on. At exactly midnight, she put a copy that she had hidden under the counter into his hands and whispered that he should buy that very copy. It was the only book in the store that Christopher Paolini had personally signed.

Fan For Life

Five minutes later, my son was fast asleep in the car clutching his autographed copy by his hero who was barely ten years older than him.

Paolini has proved a number of important points:

1. The young generation will read 400-page novels if the material is gripping enough.

2. They will read rich descriptions, convoluted plots, and identify with characters that are deep, vulnerable, and profoundly human (or elf or dwarf).

3.  They will thrive on a high level of language.

4. Tolkien might still be king, but he has good company. Paolini is young. His level of craft is only going to improve and that is an exciting prospect.

The Master

Two years later, my son and I wrote our first 90,000-word fantasy novel. The seeds were sown in the land of Alagaesia, on the wings of dragons, and in the art of an incredibly talented young man

As the excitement grew for my eldest son and I as the release date for Inheritance neared, my youngest son, eight-years-old, has quietly read more than 250 pages of Eragon.

The Complete Trilogy

So Christopher, if by any chance you ever read this: Thank you, as a reader, a fan, and a father.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

A Look Back At Borders

There is a great article on CNN about the demise of Borders, great as in one of historical value and a look behind the ethos of the company. Although I wrote a tribute to Borders after my final author appearance there, I want to share this story. Employees talk of the pride and mission they felt working there, and the original owners vision.

A sad sight to any eyes

Truth is, I miss my Borders. There were two situated near my home and office respectively, both with convenient parking and I used to peruse when I wanted to buy books for my staff at Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Passover. I created a tradition where I give a gift of a book to each of them that I hope will be meaningful or timely for them and I used to deliberating in a store. This year, I did my search online.

But it is my fault that they collapsed. I am the typical customer who rarely purchased a new book. I often picked up something from the bargain bins for myself or a friend, but that never paid salaries. And yes, I admit that I often used Borders to research books that I then bought used, often on Amazon.

Now I have my kindle (or I will when it gets fixed) and I am truly committed to the ebook revolution, primarily for environmental reasons. I believe the most expensive ebook that I have bought new in a while is $7.99. I bought a couple of YA books for my son (Rick Riordan and J.K. Rowlings) new and in tree book form (we are a one e-reader family), but this is not the pace that the remaining bookstores need.

Joe Gable, right, manage a 1st Borders. Robert Teicher, left, the chain's longtime fiction buyer.

Still, though I have no cause to complain, I miss the sensory experience of Borders: the clean store (and bathrooms), the color, choice, smell, armchairs, and conversations with their committed staff (read my son’s Eragon experience – he will remember that moment forever).

As I mentioned, I am firmly behind the ebook revolution, but I will miss the disappearance of the bookstore if this is their destiny. I understand that my children’s life will be more screen based, but I would like them to share this experience. And yes, I get a kick out of seeing my books on their bookshelves.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

An Optimistic Independent Bookstore.

It seems that everything you read about Independent Bookstores is all gloom and doom, and I must share the blame. My friend Rhoda received this email from her favorite bookstore, The Booksmith in the Haight.

Rather than paraphrase and potentially dilute it, I would like to share the whole email. I am, however, allowing myself to insert a few relevant pictures. All I want to add is to wish them all the best. I believe that those bookstores who carve out a niche, who offer good service, and who see themselves as an integral part of the community, can survive. The Booksmith owners sound like they understand that.

A Message from The Booksmith

As you know, the book world is being rocked by a number of radical changes: the growing size and power of Amazon, the advent of eBooks, and just this week, the bankruptcy of Borders which would shut 200 stores across the US, including their San Francisco Union Square & Market Street stores. We’d like to take this opportunity to let you know what’s going on at the Booksmith.

Three and a half years ago, when we assumed stewardship of Booksmith, we knew it was going to be impossible for independent bookstores to survive without reinventing themselves.  We took it as a personal challenge.
PraveenChristin

We have revamped & expanded our literary events program, built and trained a team of passionate and knowledgeable booksellers, added to our book selection, and made significant operational improvements.  In the middle of the recession of 2008-09, we made a significant investment to remodel the Booksmith to improve your browsing experience.  Through our expanded community giving program we have partnered with dozens of local schools and not-for-profit organizations to help them raise money for their causes.  Last fall we became the first bookstore in the country to livestream our author events, and were early adopters of new e-commerce technologies including the addition of Google Editions ebook service to booksmith.com, and this spring we are installing a new computer system to further improve our ability to offer personalized service to our readers.

The results speak for themselves – Booksmith’s popularity is at a new high!   Your favorite independent bookstore has won a number of awards including Best Author Appearances by SF Weekly and the Best Read by 7×7 Magazine.   While some in the publishing world are bemoaning the loss of younger generations of readers to the internet, we are seeing a resurgence of interest from young and old alike who are attracted by our unique programs like the Bookswap, Literary Clown Foolery and Found in Translation.  Local Bay Area authors increasingly consider the Booksmith the best place in San Francisco to host their book talks, and nationally in-demand authors are asking their publishers to send them the Booksmith.  Our long-term customer Karen Crommie recently wrote about the Booksmith in a local newsletter calling it “a vital center of intellectual life.”

Our view of the future is simple.  Nobody knows to what extent printed books will survive the technological future into which we are all headed.  But that’s ok because at the Booskmith our focus has always been on the cultural experience and community which surrounds books.  Whether people choose to read ebooks or print books, people will always need help telling and selling their stories, people will always need help finding great stories to read, and literature lovers will always want to meet other literature lovers.   Author Jonathan Franzen has said that fiction is the most fundamental human art because it’s about storytelling and that our reality arguably consists of the stories we tell about ourselves.   And the most fundamental human art isn’t going away.  In fact it’s going through explosive growth as more and more people become writers, and more and more books are published every year.

So, we go on reinventing ourselves in little ways every day to maintain the diverse, eclectic, smart outpost of culture that you have come to expect from us.  We plan to continue listening to our community, to keep experimenting with new ideas and services, and to continue helping everyone with whom we cross paths.  We plan to keep reading, keep discovering, and keep presenting great books and authors for you that you might not find otherwise in the mass media and we hope you will continue to patronize us against all the competing temptations that come your way.  Our priority is to continue maintaining the Booksmith as a dynamic, engaging, changing and vital component of our neighborhood and our city, and we’re able to do this because of the continuing loyalty and support of our customers.  You have made Booksmith your community bookstore by participating in our adventures by making recommendations about books to carry, attending events and suggesting authors to host. We will continue to be here, good books will be here, and with your support, we plan to be here for many more years to come.

Our sincere thanks,
Christin, Praveen & all the Booksmith Staff

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/

 

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Not My Fault

On Saturday, I made my debut appearance at a Borders bookstore. I was part of a panel of local authors featuring JoAnn Smith Ainsworth, Karin Ireland, and Christine London.

On Monday, Borders filed for bankruptcy. I have been assured that nothing I said on Saturday precipitated the decline of this multinational company despite the content of my books.

Truth is, although I am first and foremost a supporter of the independent bookstores, I have an admiration for Borders and Barnes & Noble. I enjoy spending time in their stores perusing and drinking coffee and writing.

Most importantly however, I feel for the people who work at these stores. Sure, they are there for the money, but they love working around books. They love the excitement of the public when a new Harry Potter comes out. When they hit the job market, they most probably won’t be able to stay in the book industry. Around 200 Borders are slated to close.

This isn’t the time to theorize about the advent of the e-book, or the archaic business principles of the industry. Neither is it the time to explain why, as a not-yet-on-the-A-list of authors, it doesn’t make business sense to expect to sell your book when it sits on a shelf alongside 100,000 other books.

Right now, I am feeling for those who work at Borders, who kept the place clean and orderly, who help you find a book. When Christopher Paolini released the third of his 4-book trilogy, my then 10-year-old stood defiantly at the front of the line in our local Borders, falling asleep on his feet literally as the clock approached midnight. I remember the lady who was working there, encouraging him to stay awake and hang in there. At exactly midnight, she put a copy that she had hidden under the counter into his hand and whispered that he should buy that very copy. It was the only book in the store that Christopher Paolini had personally signed.


Five minutes later, my son was fast asleep in the car clutching his autographed copy by his hero who was barely ten years older than him. Two years later, my son and I wrote a 90,000-word fantasy novel. The seed might not have been sown in Borders that night, but I have no doubt it was well-watered and nurtured.

To that lady and others who may well lose their job – Thank you. I hope you find something fast to help you on your way.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/

Independent Bookstores – Looking for Ways to Survive

Last month, more than 500 independent bookstore owners got together for a conference to discuss creative ways of generating more income. Julie Bosman covered the event in the New York Times.

What was clear was a consensus that just selling books wasn’t going to be enough. Even the giants, Borders and Barnes & Noble are struggling. There were optimistic voices:“We know now that in the world of physical book selling, bigness is no longer viewed as an asset,” said Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books & Books, which has independent stores in South Florida, Westhampton Beach and the Cayman Islands. “It’s about selection and service and ambiance. Now we’re finding a situation where the marketplace is getting back to reality.”

But there were also calls for changing the rules. “We have to figure out how we stay in the game,” said Beth Puffer, the director of the Bank Street Bookstore in Manhattan. “You have to rethink your whole business model, because the old ways really aren’t going to cut it anymore.”

There was a lot of focus on taking the bookstore to the customer and harnessing websites, social media, and even selling e-books.

Matt Norcross, the owner of McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Mich., led a workshop on creating a store Web site and market both tree and e-books. The chosen host seems to be Google, perhaps seeking a bigger ally to fight Amazon.com. So far, they seem to be struggling to get their names out there on the web.

Naftali Rottenstreich, who is an  owner of Red Fox Books in Glens Falls, N.Y., said it it would be a huge challenge to accustom customers to the idea of buying books online through the independent bookstores.

“The mindset right now is, that’s Amazon or that’s Barnes and Noble.com,” he said. “There’s a transformation that has to take place, and I think it will happen in time.”

The idea is difficult. Their customers are willing to pay more for the privilege of perusing in an intimate environment, with staff that are familiar or them. The online idea loses all of this.

Other ideas include adding wine bars, cafes, and selling other products such as toys, baked goods or gourmet products.

Last October, I heard a lot of fear at the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association conference. While I am sure there was fear aplenty at this conference, there seems to be a strong desire to adapt and survive.

Do we really want our Main Streets devoid of a bookstore? What does this say about our values and what message is it passing on to our children? Or is Main Street even going to be relevant to the next generation’s buying experiences?

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

Help an Author over Thanksgiving

From Thanksgiving through December is a period of great festivities and socializing. We give gifts to our dear ones for whatever holiday(s) we celebrate. We are invited to people’s houses for dinner or a party, and often we go stay with relatives.

Now I admit that I love receiving a good bottle of wine or a special box of chocolates since these are rare purchases in our tight family budget. But I want to suggest that you look at the gift buying as a double opportunity. Provide a nice, meaningful gift, and help support a struggling author.

From this thought came a list of 10 easy ways you can do to help the author. I would like to share 3 of them that would be easy to do during this season of goodwill. Moreover, I firmly believe that what goes around comes around – when we help someone, we are in turn helped by others.

1. Buy your friend’s book, and if you enjoy it, buy it as a gift in the situations mentioned above.

2. Where should you buy the book? There has been a lot of discussion about where to buy books. Your local independent bookstore is probably struggling to survive. If it is important to you that such businesses survive, now is as good a time as any to patronize them. This is also good for the author as the bookstore will often order 2-3 copies.

The same actually goes for both Barnes & Noble and Borders. They are struggling and closing stores. Also when one store orders a specific book, there is a good chance that other branches in the region might buy it as well – you could start a chain reaction (pun intended!).

First choice: the independent bookstore nearest you (that will help your friend get her book into that store on a regular basis). Second choice: a chain bookstore like Borders or Barnes & Noble (if they start selling the book locally, they might buy books for more stores in the chain). Third choice: the author’s website (the author makes the most money when selling direct). Fourth choice: buy direct from the author. Fifth choice: Buy from Amazon.com (preferably from the link on the author’s website).

3. Recommend your friend’s book. If you like the book, recommend it to friends. Blog about it. Tweet a review or mention. Share a note on Facebook. Recommend the book to your book group. Post a review on Amazon.com, and other reader social networks. People do read them before making a purchase.

Word-of-mouth remains the most effective form of marketing. So when you are standing at that family get together by the fireplace with Uncle Moe, swirling your wine glass and trying to think of something you have in common beyond shared genes, how about this for a great conversation starter:

My friend just wrote this great book…” And you never knew that old Uncle Moe’s friend at the golf club has a son who works for Random House and is looking to discover the next John Grisham to impress his boss and save his job.

Happy Thanksgiving,

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

 

The Seismic Upheavals We All Knew Would Happen (the Book Industry)

One needs to be careful writing headlines with seismic in the Bay Area – hence the clarification at the end. We all know that the book business is suffering and that brick-and-mortar shops are closing. I am sure that most of us mourn for an independent bookstore that has nostalgic memories.

So I am not sure why I am so surprised to hear the latest news out about Borders and Barnes & Noble. I prefer to walk into an independent bookstore when given the choice, but I need to admit, I also enjoy the inevitable comforts of a parking lot, a big bargain bin of hard covers that I could never afford otherwise, the bathrooms, and the occasional amazing deal. My local Barnes & Noble even has a fake fireplace that I enjoy sitting near in winter as I write.

But Barnes & Noble has now been put up for sale. I cannot help but wonder who would want to invest in such an industry. You can only assume that they would have quite a strategic business plan in place.

Borders have already closed all their stores in the UK and apparently came close to bankruptcy in the US. Both companies have entered the digital market with the Nook and Kobo respectively, so even a change of strategy suggests a move away from brick-and-mortar.

As an author, I have not had many opportunities to read at a bookstore. I find more interest at community centers, writer’s meetings and political groups. I rarely sell a book through a bookstore. So I am not sure why I mourn the possible extinction of the bookstore.

There are/were two legendary bookstores in the Bay Area. Cody’s was an untouchable institution and when I first came to live in Berkeley, I was surprised how when going out for a coffee with a friend, we would often spend a part of that evening talking while browsing through the shelves. Cody’s was mourned by the enlightened peoples of Berkeley when it closed its’ doors a few years ago, but apparently not enough to keep it open.

City Lights survives in San Francisco. It hit the headlines as a beacon for the beatnik writers who used the shop and publishing arm, and sat next door writing their works at Vesuvio. I love the store and seek an excuse to go in when I am in the vicinity. I almost always buy a book – even on my limited budget – because I don’t want to see it fall. There is something immensely valuable in the history and energy amassed there. I’m sure it was like that at Cody’s, but energy and nostalgia doesn’t pay the bills.

Not that I understand the stock market, but I believe that one of the few companies whose stock has steadily risen over the last two years is Amazon.com.

Is the writing on wall, the screen, and in the stock portfolio?

Good Writing,
Alon
http://www.alonshalev.com/

The Seismic Upheavals We All Knew Would Happen (the Book Industry)

One needs to be careful writing headlines with seismic in the Bay Area — hence the clarification at the end. We all know that the book business is suffering and that brick-and-mortar shops are closing. I am sure that most of us mourn for an independent bookstore that has nostalgic memories.

So I am not sure why I am so surprised to hear the latest news out about Borders and Barnes & Noble. I prefer to walk into an independent bookstore when given the choice, but I need to admit, I also enjoy the inevitable comforts of a parking lot, a big bargain bin of hard covers that I could never afford otherwise, the bathrooms, and the occasional amazing deal. My local Barnes & Noble even has a fake fireplace that I enjoy sitting near in winter as I write.

But Barnes & Noble has now been put up for sale. I cannot help but wonder who would want to invest in such an industry. You can only assume that they would have quite a strategic business plan in place.

Borders have already closed all their stores in the UK and apparently came close to bankruptcy in the US. Both companies have entered the digital market with the Nook and Kobo respectively, so even a change of strategy suggests a move away from brick-and-mortar.

As an author, I have not had many opportunities to read at a bookstore. I find more interest at community centers, writer’s meetings and political groups. I rarely sell a book through a bookstore. So I am not sure why I mourn the possible extinction of the bookstore.

There are/were two legendary bookstores in the Bay Area. Cody’s was an untouchable institution and when I first came to live in Berkeley, I was surprised how when going out for a coffee with a friend, we would often spend a part of that evening talking while browsing through the shelves. Cody’s was mourned by the enlightened peoples of Berkeley when it closed its’ doors a few years ago, but apparently not enough to keep it open.

City Lights survives in San Francisco. It hit the headlines as a beacon for the beatnik writers who used the shop and publishing arm, and sat next door writing their works at Vesuvio. I love the store and seek an excuse to go in when I am in the vicinity. I almost always buy a book – even on my limited budget – because I don’t want to see it fall. There is something immensely valuable in the history and energy amassed there. I’m sure it was like that at Cody’s, but energy and nostalgia doesn’t pay the bills.

Not that I understand the stock market, but I believe that one of the few companies whose stock has steadily risen over the last two years is Amazon.com.

Is the writing on wall, the screen, and in the stock portfolio?

Good Writing,
Alon
http://www.alonshalev.com/

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