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 “independant bookstores”

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/

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