Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Five 2009 Best Lists

Best Books Read (not necessarily published) 2009

1. Your Face Tomorrow- Javier Marias
2. Every Man Dies Alone- Hans Fallada
3. The Gate at the Stairs- Lorrie Moore
4. Strangers- Anita Brookner
5. Oblomov- Ivan Goncharov
6. Collected Stories- Lydia Davis
7. The Bauhaus Group- Nicholas Fox Weber
8. Little Bee- Chris Cleave
9. Complete Fiction- Francis Wyndham
10. Wolf Hall- Hillary Mantel

Best Movies Seen (not necessarily released) 2009

1. Tulpan
2. 35 Shots of Rum
3. The Class
4. O’Horton
5. The Limits of Control
6. The Grocer’s Son
7. A Serious Man
8. Still Walking
9. Che
10. Three Monkeys

Best Music Heard (not necessarily current) 2009

1. Teena Marie
2. Dirty Projectors
3. Arthur Russell
4. Dizzee Rascal
5. Golem
6. Asa
7. Massive Attack
8. Herman Dune
9. The Rural Alberta Advantage
10. Brian Wheat

Best Road Meals Eaten 2009

1. Da Lat (Denver, with Tattered Cover pals)
2. Betty’s (Buffalo, with Talking Leaves Books pals)
3. Tokyo Garden (Seattle, U district, cheap teriyaki to die for)
4. Il Casale (Belmont MA, HUP sales conference dinner)
5. Rozzelle Court restaurant, Nelson Atkins Museum (Kansas City)
6. Bistro Zinc (Chicago, with Jack & Laura from Seminary Coop)
7. Muffalletta (St Paul MN, near Micawber’s, with Tom Bielenberg)
8. Corky & Lenny’s (Beechwood Ohio, old line delicatessen in strip mall)
9. One Twenty Six (Iowa City, with Paul Ingram from Prairie Lights)
10. Wegman’s Supermarket (Ithaca, NY, great comfort food takeout)

Best Hotels Slept in 2009

1. The Study at Yale (New Haven, YUP sales conference)
2. Inn at Northrup Station (Portland OR)
3. Leo House (NYC)
4. Burnsley Hotel (Denver)
5. Springhill Suites Lawrence (Kansas)
6. University Inn (Seattle)
7. Indiana Union (Bloomington)
8. Best Western Hawthorne (Chicago)
9. Aloft (Minneapolis)
10. Oberlin Inn (Ohio)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Bookstore Xmas Memories

The other day I ran into a bookseller while I was sitting in a coffee shop reading a book (Isherwood’s A Single Man). “Wow, I wish I could have a rep’s job,” said the exhausted bookseller. Immediately defensive, I started sputtering about how busy I was last month and how busy I’d be next month. But in truth, December is a relatively slow time for us “two seasons a year” book reps.

Even after ten years, it’s still a hard thing to adjust to if you come out of book retailing. To me, December should mean long days and high anxiety. Idleness in December- even if I will pay for it with three months of upcoming travel and appointments- feels unnatural.

Having managed the flagship downtown Harry W Schwartz store in the late 80’s and early 90’s, I have vivid memories of Decembers. And occasional nightmares.

Here are some things that have probably not changed too much:

Good booksellers still obsess over having the right books in the right quantities. Every bookseller will face the moment of truth on Dec 26 when he wanders through the shop looking at unsold stacks. Some will prompt a feeling of “how could I have been so stupid as to bet on that one,” while others will just prompt sadness, or maybe even a little guilt. “That’s such a great book, why couldn't I make more people see that?”

There’s still the rush that comes with matching book and customer, especially when it’s a challenge. I always especially enjoyed witnessing tag-team help among staff when they were thrown an oddball or very incomplete request. (Thankfully, this still happens all the time in stores.)

Which is tougher? The customer in search of a gift for a person with incredibly narrow, specific interests, who knows a subject inside out and will likely be disappointed with anything you suggest? Or the maddeningly vague customer? (Bookseller: “What does she like to read?” Customer: “Oh she reads everything!”. “Everything” is never helpful but people seem to think it is somehow.)

I always so loved the few days before Christmas when it was too late to fulfill any requests for books we didn’t have on the shelves. We had hundreds- thousands!- of great titles to choose from, and though it might be frustrating to a customer who was shocked/shocked that we were out of the title everybody wanted, it was liberating for us to be able to focus on all the wonderful stock we did have.

People met up in the shop. The in-store reunions and chance meetings were always a vicarious thrill for the booksellers. We often bragged about our status as a “third place” gathering space, but in December it really seemed that way. And still does.

We worked hard at jazzing up the staff and keeping morale high. I remember many December days where staff mood swings and meltdowns- mine included- added to the overall anxiety level, and I suspect that continues.

And there is the endless monitoring of weather, which can so cruelly break a streak of good sales just when you were getting complacent. Surely that hasn’t changed. I’ve yet to hear a convincing explanation of where those phantom sales go when a couple snow days keep people from the stores. Now the seductively glowing computer screen is the culprit, but fifteen years ago, the sales seemed to just evaporate.

But it seems as if a lot has changed:

Customers, of course, have one huge option they didn’t have fifteen years ago, i.e. internet retailers. In addition to offering what seems like every book in the world, they’ve managed to alter the perception of how long you should have to wait for a book. And how much you should pay for it.

Technology has changed for the better. I remember our early computer system breaking down remarkably often. Each credit card transaction involved a phone call for verbal authorization. Gift certificates were hand-written in lovely gold marker, entered in a Dickensian log book, and crossed out as they were redeemed.

One December- I don’t remember which but it must have been one of the good years, so probably late eighties- David Schwartz came down to the store around 5:00 on Christmas Eve. We’d just sent the last staff home and closed the doors. We opened a bottle of port that a customer had brought as a gift (customers giving thank you gifts to their booksellers, that’s a tradition that I hope endures) and drank a toast to making it through the month.

I got a little misty eyed and started riffing on how great it is to imagine all the books we’d sold and wrapped, and how they’d be opened in 24 hours by all those people. Typically, David immediately started calculating how many there would be exactly, and if memory serves he estimated that we’d sold around 90,000 individual books that month. Granted, these were not all gifts, but most of them probably were.

And for now, that’s something that hasn’t really changed either. Every bookseller is a little farmer sowing seeds far and wide, and some of the ideas in the books they sold will hopefully take root. They should take a huge amount of satisfaction out of making this happen.

But the future makes me nervous. The Kindle is a clever little gadget and I’m sure it would be a fine thing to receive as a gift. But do individual digital books lend themselves to the exchange of books as we've come to know it? A gift card is the likely solution, so you will be able to give a piece of plastic which will entitle the recipient to access "content" on another piece of plastic.

A customer goes into a bookstore and tells a bookseller about her friend’s reading interests, and leaves the store with a customized, gift-wrapped, and possibly quite beautiful physical object. Customer, bookseller, and, one hopes, recipient are all delighted. This routine scenario happened thousands of times this month, and it’s hard to see how it could be replaced by downloads.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Boswell Book Company

I just finished reading an interesting book on the upcoming MIT Press list about the artist Michael Asher (Situation Aesthetics: The Work of Michael Asher). Believing that works of art can refer to activities, not just to material objects, Asher creates "situations" in art museums and public spaces rather than what we normally think of as works of art. For instance, he arranged for a group of high school students to re-install the galleries in a California museum. They completely upended the way the collection was displayed, disregarding the institutional categories. They even produced their own catalog. (“We hope we please you and do not frighten you,” they charmingly wrote.)

One of the installations for which Asher is best known was his intervention at the Claire Copley Gallery in Los Angeles in the seventies. An early proponent- some would say the godfather- of the practice now known as “institutional critique,” Asher tore down the walls- literally, not figuratively- separating the exhibition spaces of the museum from the curatorial and administrative offices. Museum visitors were able to see and hear the mundane back-office workings of the museum, not just view the end results displayed on white walls.

I was reminded of this Asher piece when I sat down with Jason Kennedy at Boswell Book Company the other day. For one thing, I think there’s a lot of similarity between stocking a great bookstore and curating great exhibitions. For another, the Boswell buyers see their reps in a prominent public space on the floor of the bookshop- no walls here between back office and public face.

I see some buyers “off the floor,” and indeed spent most of my time in that job with a dedicated private space. There are some advantages to having meetings away from the retail floor. Distractions are less likely, and it’s more possible to develop a flow as we go through the catalog book by book. Meetings on the selling floor almost always invite interruptions- customers, phone calls, booksellers needing answers.

But what you give up in flow is more than balanced by what you gain in soaking up atmosphere. The actual store is where book sales are made and lost. Customers should be able to eavesdrop on how carefully these stocking decisions are made, and they should be impressed. I probably see a couple dozen accounts where we meet “on stage,” and it’s not unusual for customers to jump right into our conversation. And why not? I’ve learned more about what’s selling by spending a couple hours overhearing real, live customers asking booksellers questions than I do by asking buyers to look up sales figures on computers.

But back to Jason. I used to say that there are as many bookseller buying styles as there are buyers. But I think I was wrong. It’s true to the extent that every buyer makes decisions based on individual taste. But buying styles? I think there are only five or six. For instance, there are very detail-oriented advance planners who pore through catalogs ahead of time and have largely made their decisions by the time I see them, making me feel a little superfluous. On the other hand, there are people who haven’t so much as glanced at the catalogs (which I dutifully mailed to them weeks ahead of time) and say things like “Just tell me what I need.” (You’d think such carte blanche would be welcome. It is not.)

Jason is something of a dream buyer. He’s read the catalogs in advance, has definite ideas about what books he’s most interested in, but is happy to hear me out about them anyway. He reads history books, and is full of ideas about how to sell more. (“I’ve been thinking it’s time we broke out Spanish History. It was such an important time.”) He knows the customers for these books, often by name.

Best of all, Jason reacts. That this is something reps are thankful for might seem a little puzzling, but the non-reaction on the part of some buyers is one of the more disappointing aspects of appointments. Am I talking too much? Am I telling them what they need? Did they hate that book or are are they just tired?

With Jason, just about every page elicits some observation. My notes from our meeting included phrases like:

Great price point
That’s really cool
What an awful cover, what were they thinking?
This is hilarious
We can really promote this
That’s awesome
We’ll display these together
Birding is so hot right now
I used to write sonnets (!)
Looks cool but would need handselling
Why not pub a Black history title in Black history month?
Ann (another bookseller) is resident Shakespearean
Public radio will love this
Anthropology is picking up lately
I know exactly who will buy this
I don’t get it.
Oh. My. God. (re The American Department Store Transformed. Wonder who might like that…)

Though no customers joined the conversation this time, the meeting felt productive, collaboration more than just order-taking.

I should have acknowledged at the outset that I have no objectivity whatsoever about this shop or its staff. For one thing, I worked with owner Daniel Goldin at Schwartz Bookshops for years and he is my friend; for another, I managed the Schwartz store when it opened in this very location just before I left to become a rep. I was one of the most persistent lobbyists in the company for opening a store there, so some of my cheer-leading for Boswell may be partly to vindicate the position I staked out so long ago and to show David Schwartz I was right after all.

But my attachment to a Downer store goes back farther still. That area of the east side was my favorite escape when playing hooky from Riverside High School (especially on gym days). There were various bookstores- before Boswell, and before Schwartz, and before Webster’s, that site had a sort of religious bookstore. Around the corner (the Henry’s space currently) was the fantastic Jeanette Schaeffer Books- a little carriage trade holdover, quirky selection and display, cats, a wonderful book woman who didn’t throw you out for being a high school student. Later, the Book Bay, a great kids store, operated on the east side of the street in one of those storefronts near Breadsmith. And let us not forget the short but glorious reign of “Harry’s Penguin,” the boutique experiment in a fiction-only shop run by Schwartz in the back of the late, lamented Coffee Trader.

The bookstore pedigree of these two Milwaukee blocks is pretty sound, but running a viable new shop there in the current climate will be no cakewalk. I remember some real estate consultant once warning us that “half of your catchment area is Lake Michigan.”

But Daniel is doing it. He’s got a smart mix of books, a great staff, one of the most interesting blogs in the book industry, a robust network of contacts with other local businesses, an exhausting roster of author appearances, some extremely imaginative events (opera, the indoor farmer’s market, poetry slams), and such a charming and goofy collection of non-book items that even a sidelines cynic like myself has surrendered. How many blue robots do you need? More than you think.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Seminary Coop

I believe we can trace our contemporary notion of what a good general bookstore should look like to a Newsweek article that appeared sometime in the mid-eighties. As far as I know, it was the first national media report on the amazing things Joyce Meskis and her staff were doing at the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver.

The store was operating on three levels in a former department store, business was booming, and the number of titles on the shelves was hard to believe. In the days before big box retailing, 40,000 square feet of books was a revelation. (Such a revelation that the big chains promptly stole the idea and over the next couple decades rolled out hundreds of inferior carbon copies using the Tattered Cover as a prototype.)

But the other thing that Newsweek found so innovative was the idea of giving patrons a place to sit. This bookstore had chairs and sofas scattered throughout the shop! Brilliant!

Though big business always takes the soul out of an idea when they co-opt it, it’s been hard to argue with what that initial TC model has wrought. If you think about what constitutes a typical good bookstore today, elements that come to mind probably include lots of parking, lots of space, lots of natural light, soothing music, a coffee bar, lots of interesting sidelines, bold signage inside and out, power aisles that direct you to bestsellers, deals and come-ons galore, and plenty of places to sit and strew magazines and newspapers about.

I just had my spring appointment with the finest academic bookshop in the country, and, paradoxically, it is the design antithesis of the model store described above. A true cooperative with 35,000 member owners from all over the world, the Coop is housed in the basement of the lovely old Chicago Theological Seminary building on the University of Chicago campus.

The outside signage is, well, subdued. Once inside, you head down a steep, narrow flight of stairs and enter a space that puts me in mind of a new spring title on the Yale list, Churchill’s Bunker. You are surrounded by twisting aisles encased in floor to ceiling bookshelves.

Speaking of ceiling, watch your head! Have you seen “Being John Malkovich?” Enough said. A bookseller once mentioned that former Chicago Superintendent of Schools (and current Education Secretary) Arne Duncan, who is a 6’5” former pro basketball player and a store regular, “sometimes had to stoop a little” when he came in. A little?

But any slight physical challenges are quickly forgiven if you are a booklover. Seminary Coop is a shrine to books, and books alone. There are no sidelines whatsoever. Their absence makes you realize how accustomed we’ve become to seeing bookstores loaded up with “non-book product.” (Though I reserve the right to be inconsistent and to celebrate some clever examples thereof in future posts). Well-organized, extremely tidy, this is not some dusty eccentric bookshop with piles of unsorted mess all over the floor.

It can be a tight squeeze at times, no getting around that. I remember a bookstore consultant once at Schwartz Bookshops who warned us about “ass brush factor.” Yes, this is an actual term of art among retail design pros. It refers to the problem of making a customer feel comfortable browsing a shelf when there are too many people trying to get past him or her from behind. It becomes psychologically intolerable and the customer moves on. Alas, the Coop fails the ass brush standard completely, but customers are willing to pay that price.

The quality of natural light? Moot point, because there is none. There are no windows at all. But the artificial light is of excellent quality, a subject more stores should be paying better attention to as the average age of their customers continues to climb. And even on a frigid Chicago morning, the space is toasty warm and cozy.

But the essential thing is the books. On offer: scholarly titles, new and old, from everywhere on every subject, intelligently arranged and smartly displayed.

With all the energy retailers put into brain-storming and playing with merchandising schemes, it’s wonderful to see the old school charm and power of simple stacks of books on a large wooden table. Aside from a selection of quirky, small format, brainy impulse titles at the checkout, the main book display- “the Front Table”- is the focus of the store. (It’s cleverly replicated and regularly updated on the semcoop website) Anyone who doubts whether any creative publishing is being done anymore should spend an hour perusing this table.

The other essential ingredient in the store’s success is Jack Cella and his staff, beginning with his wife Laura Prail, who has her own long career in the book business. Jack has been buying books for the Coop for decades, and his quiet, scholarly demeanor perfectly matches the store ambience.

He knows two big things extremely well: his customers and his inventory. As we go through our season’s offerings in the catalogs, I’m struck by how many authors he recognizes as Coop members; how often a book triggers an idea about which specific customers might be interested in a title; and, probably most key, how often Jack employs his vast institutional memory in making book decisions.

There have been lots of veteran book people who have retired or left the business over the last couple decades, and one thing we’ve collectively lost with them is the memory. I have a number of books on these new lists that ask buyers to remember an author’s track record. With younger booksellers, a strong title even just five years earlier can draw a blank. Not their fault, it’s just that the institutional memory isn’t there yet. Seminary Coop is the beneficiary of Jack Cella’s exhaustive one.

No sidelines, no coffee, no place to sit, no music, but you are able to hold, browse, caress, smell (sounds weird, but I do it, and I’ve seen others do it) and consider an actual physical book as opposed to looking at an image of it on a screen. Seminary is a destination bookstore, and I know people who will spend precious found time when stranded in Chicago by making the trip to Hyde Park. I know several Milwaukeeans who make regular Saturday day trips to the Coop.

You may have heard something about Seminary Coop’s sister store, 57th Street Books, when it was widely noted last year that a couple of its best customers and their book-loving daughters had moved to Washington DC. Only a block north of the Coop, 57th Street retains some of the charming aesthetic features of the main store- the basement, the low ceilings, the brick walls. (though it has a couple windows!)

This is a more general neighborhood store, with kids books, cookbooks and magazines and (yes) a couple intelligent sidelines (calendars). The store also hosts events, readings, and is usually a buzz of activity. Jeff Waxman, under whose guidance the semcoop website is becoming an original and interesting literary magazine, selects the books for the store with a keen eye for what sets them apart from the Coop.

As if this isn’t enough, the Coop operates a beautiful shop in the Newberry Library, with an extensive specialty in history, book arts, maps, Native American studies, Shakespeare, and Chicago books.

Sorry, do I sound a little starry-eyed about these stores? Guilty.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Mark Gates

I lost a friend and book reps lost a mentor this week when Mark Gates died.

I first became acquainted with him in the early nineties when I was a buyer at Schwartz Bookshops. Mark had moved to the Midwest to rep for FSG, and oddly- given the Mark Gates I came to know- my first impression of him was that he was a little stuffy. He wore a jacket and tie, his demeanor was all business, and his book presentations were completely professional. He was nervous.

Although this image was over-written as I got to know him by the jester persona so many of us came to adore, it should be noted that he always took his profession quite seriously. Beneath all the jokes and ribald shenanigans there lived a true, old-school bookman.

Mark believed in writers. He read the books he sold, and when something touched him he insisted that booksellers read it, and they took his advice. He approached our job- linking authors and readers via booksellers- with laughs, imagination and heart.

Mark appreciated that a key part of what a good rep does is story-telling. It helped that he was a natural. I was on the bill with him for a couple rep night presentations to booksellers, and there is nothing more terrifying than the idea of following Mark Gates onstage.

Although booksellers in recent years have gotten better at networking and speaking to each other, one of the great unsung services rendered by travelling book reps through the years has been gossip dissemination. Booksellers across the country who have perhaps never actually met each other feel a kind of solidarity when reps drop anecdotes and tidbits about other stores.

Mark nailed this. Like a busy bee pollinating a lavish garden, Mark buzzed from one bookshop to another dropping gossipy morsels, reporting on merchandising ideas, and telling outrageously funny stories.

Somehow he managed to be malicious without malice. He allowed us to revel in the naughty schadenfreude that comes with hearing someone else’s (highly exaggerated, probably) misfortunes, without actually feeling shame. We aspired to be the butt of one of his absurd tall tales, even if the grain of truth about us sometimes bit a little.

In Mark’s clever hands, malicious gossip retained the prickly barbs it needed to be entertaining, but nobody really got hurt. That’s because he didn’t employ his gossip the way most gossips do, i.e. to divide people. On the contrary, his stories linked people up. The more ridiculous things you heard about your colleagues, the more sympathetic they became.

I think he was able to do this because, in the end, there was always the self-deprecating zinger, and nobody can be too offended when the story-teller himself is implicated. Mark really believed that not taking yourself too seriously is what it’s all about, and the only people I ever heard him really go after with genuine disdain were self-important, pompous politicians.

Full of heart, king of the thoughtful, surprising gesture, Mark was a mensch.

I know I am not the only rep who used Mark as a go-to guy after a particularly challenging appointment, or a travel snafu, or just to vent a bit of existential angst. He knew all the players, and he’d probably been there. “Why do we do this?” I asked him last year in a bout of drama queen self-doubt. He replied by suggesting that I pull myself together and concentrate on a cause, such as his long-term project, the “Foundation for the Old Tired Reps Home,” to be funded through jars placed on bookstore counters across the land. I’m thinking this might be the perfect memorial.

Selfishly, I will miss Mark’s “Ann Landers for Reps” wisdom. I see no plausible replacements on the horizon. My Gates email folder goes back five years, and I periodically re-read these often hilarious missives just to put things in perspective. Though I knew this day would come since taking that ugly phone call from him while driving back from Ann Arbor two Decembers ago, I am despondent to think there will be no more messages signed “your pal, mgatesrep” in my inbox.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


My appointment with the Follett chain is always a little nerve-wracking. Not because of the buyers- they are incredibly nice people, if a bit over-worked (especially since their numbers were reduced by half this year). There are other reasons for angst.

For one thing, the importance of this account looms large. They have 700 stores! These include super-important academic bookstores like Berkeley, Stanford, Georgetown, George Washington, and Notre Dame. Even though our books only make it into a fraction of that number, I feel responsible for making sure the right books get into the right stores. Note that this is one of those open-ended, self-imposed standards where you can only end up feeling bad since there’s no objective way to really measure it.

Secondly, the buying style. Reps pride ourselves on our ability to adapt to the myriad systems which booksellers have evolved to stock their shelves. On one extreme, I meet with some buyers on the sales floor as they handle customer inquiries, phone calls, and staff spats while I’m trying to interest them in why our Trotsky biography is better than Harper’s. On the other extreme, I have some lengthy appointments in quiet offices with erudite booksellers who have stayed up all night studying my catalogs in detail and sometimes seem to know more about the books than I do. These buyers are also apt to toss surprise (but excellent) questions my way just when I’ve felt that I’ve “got” a book and can relax a little. As a former bookseller and buyer, I tended toward this second style.

Follett, like most chains, is a different story. I make my pitch to individual buyers based on their subject category assignments. I am assigned a time slot, and there is a sense of the clock always ticking. I have many books to get through, and the challenge is to somehow give the buyer the perfect one or two sentence handle on each title that will help him and her decide which stores need it. Though some of these decisions are made by computer algorithms, there’s a surprising amount of human decision-making and store knowledge involved.

Which leads me to my third source of anxiety: my selling season has only just begun and I am a long way from making friends with these new spring titles. (By April I will love some of them, know all of them, and be more than ready to say goodbye to a few of them.) Although we are inundated with useful information from our presses, the truly useful selling points about a book usually emerge serendipitously from booksellers in the course of the selling season. By the time I’ve pitched a book for the fiftieth time, I’ve shamelessly stolen and incorporated all the great spontaneous one-liners I’ve heard from buyers. (“This book reminds me of…” is especially useful). But Follett, where this deep knowledge would come in especially handy, is my first appointment! I have no quirky one-liners. Some of the books are still strangers. The pressure was on.

But the meetings always go better than feared. The buyers are smart, I got some good feedback, (don’t think I won’t use Les’ great anecdote about Moses Montefiore at future appointments) and they are always amenable to suggestions once I get actual orders. It still seems somehow out of proportion that I should accomplish such a great percentage of my seasonal sales with one afternoon in Oak Brook, but so it goes.

On the way home, I stopped at the O’Hare oasis on the tri-state for a snack. I recognized the sandwichista at Subway and I thought she recognized me, though she may have just been good at her job. Knowing the personnel at the highway rest stops- surely a sign of a road warrior at work. Another reminder of Walter Kirn’s Up in the Air, which has been haunting me since I finished it last week.

The eating area stretches across eight lanes of traffic. I sat at a counter directly above the southbound left lane while I ate my sub. With the bright southern sun shining in their faces, I was able to watch what these drivers were doing as they passed beneath me at 75-80 mph. You don’t want to know.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Snow Day (not)

The first selling day of a new season is important in the life of a rep.

October sales conferences, with their erudite editorial presentations and creative marketing plans on the new titles, seems like a distant memory. I have reduced my voluminous notes to a manageable set of talking points on each title. The jigsaw puzzle that is schedule-making for the next four months is largely accomplished. I have confirmed reservations on planes, and in hotels from Buffalo to Seattle. Catalogs have been mailed, order forms are in the house (well, two out of three), and I’m ready to go.

As has been my custom for a long time, I try to make Seminary Coop Bookstore and 57th Street Books my first appointments every season. The reason for this is that these are the premier academic booksellers in the country, and we are eager to hear how our new titles will be received by them. I almost always learn more than I bring. It’s also a fun appointment, especially since I can take the train to Chicago rather than driving.

I was psyched to go, but then I made the mistake of listening to the over the top alarmist weather media. The dire warnings yesterday made it sound as if only a fool would venture out in the midwest today, and although I am really not afraid to call myself one, rescheduling until next week seemed like the sane and safe thing to do.

Unfortunately, the twelve inches of blizzardy snow which had been promised arrived in the form of one slushy inch of easily navigable mess. Why oh why didn’t I trust my own skepticism and keep the appointment? These desperate early storm forecasts are notoriously exaggerated to attract eyeballs.

With a true snow day, there’s a feeling of celebration, and the joy of found time. It should be a day dedicated to reading and the sipping of hot chocolate laced with peppermint schnapps. Instead, this snow day interruptus has just left me feeling ornery and tense. Rather than relaxing, I’m using the found time to ruminate and obsess over the state of the book business, over what else I could or should be doing to sell books, and over why I still don’t have a convincing pitch for Guy Hocquenghem’s The Screwball Asses.