Last year we had fun comparing the U.S. and U.K. book cover designs of a sample of the Rooster contenders, so I decided to do it again with this year’s batch. There are all sorts of marketing considerations behind these designs, and it’s interesting to see how designing for these two similar markets can result in very different looks. The American covers are on the left, and clicking through takes you to a larger image. Your equally inexpert analysis is welcomed in the comments.
I happened across an odd little story today. Apparently, books made of gold are a fad among the super-rich in China. There is also concern that the books, which cost upwards of $1,000 are becoming a "means of bribery," according to a story from Xinhua, as they are given as gifts to public officials. None of the English-language stories had photos of the books so I did some searching to find out what they look like. You can see pics here and here.
**We're doing a version of this tour in May. Click here to get all the details.I. IntroductionBy the time our original "Walking Tour of New York's Independent Bookstores" hit the web in 2007, its first stop - the Gotham Book Mart - had closed its doors for good. As I type these words, stop number 5, Greenwich Village's venerable Oscar Wilde Bookshop, looks likely to join the Gotham on the honor roll of bookstores past. The Strand Annex in lower Manhattan is, as of last summer, no more.It would be belaboring the obvious to say the last two years have been tough times for the bookmen and bookwomen. And yet, despite the vagaries of the business, independent bookstores continue to open, and to serve as hubs for communities real and imagined. I'll spare you the exegesis on why I think this matters - we've covered that ground in the original post, and elsewhere. Instead, I'd like to offer you a new and improved edition of the Walking Tour.You can still find brief descriptions of many of the stops in our first "Islands in the Stream Post," but the route we've charted has changed, and we've added new stops, with new descriptions below. In addition, through the magic of modern technology, we've created an information-rich online map of the tour.The full-size version of this map contains all of our capsule reviews, plus directions and website links. [Update: You can also now add your own edits to the tour at our Collaborative Atlas of Book Stores and Literary Places.] Below we offer the step-by-step itinerary, including capsule reviews for the newly added stops.II. The TourStop 1: St. Mark's Bookshop (31 3rd Avenue at 9th Street).Stop 2: The Strand (828 Broadway at East 12th.)Stop 3: Partners & Crime Mystery Booksellers (44 Greenwich Avenue at Charles Street)This well-stocked half-basement shop in the heart of Greenwich Village is one of several area bookstores that specialize in mystery books. The staff is steeped in the store's chosen genre, making this an excellent place for suspense buffs to find new titles and old classics.Stop 4: Three Lives & Co. (154 West 10th Street at Waverly Place)The owners of Three Lives know that varnished wood and books go together like Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, and so the whole space has a uniquely warm atmosphere. The staff - one of the friendliest and most knowledgeable in the city - contributes to the sense of ease and comfort. Three Lives has also figured out how to maximize the number of titles placed face-up or face-out, which makes browsing easy. This is a particularly good spot to look for literature in translation; Ingo Schulze's New Lives was prominently displayed on a recent visit.Stop 5: Housing Works Used Book Cafe (126 Crosby St. between Prince and Houston)Stop 6: McNally Jackson (formerly McNally Robinson) (52 Prince St. between Mulberry and Lafayette)Stop 7: Bluestockings (172 Allen Street between Stanton and Rivington)Bluestockings, the venerable, cooperatively run Lower East Side institution, puts the independent back in independent bookstore. Of New York's many bibliophile haunts, this one boasts perhaps the most pronounced curatorial sensibility. Punk, feminist, progressive, culture-theoretical, and environmental sensibilities predominate, without domineering. With its extensive and esoteric periodical section, its frequent events, its adventurous front tables, and its terrific coffee, Bluestockings is a great place to make a discovery.Now, across the Brooklyn Bridge to Stop 8: Melville House Bookstore (145 Plymouth Street at Pearl Street, Brooklyn)Melville House HQ, as I like to think of it, is part publishing house, part bookstore. The daily operations of Dennis Loy Johnson's stalwart independent press take place in Bat-Cave-like secrecy behind a nifty set of pivoting bookshelves. Up front, shelves and tables are stocked with the Melville House catalog, as well as the wares of other Brooklyn-based independents and literary magazines, including Akashic Books, Ugly Ducking Presse, N+1, and A Public Space.Stop 9: BookCourt (163 Court St. between Pacific and Dean)Stop 10: Freebird Books & Goods (123 Columbia St. between Kane & Degraw)Stop 11: WORD (126 Franklin Street at Milton Street, Brooklyn)WORD, a new Brooklyn bookstore, seeks to bring the Three-Lives/BookCourt model of the cosy neighborhood bookstore to the off-the-beaten-path precincts of Greenpoint. In this case, WORD combines top-shelf contemporary literature with a great selection of kids' books. Frequent events and a terrific staff help cement the connection between store and neighborhood. With one of the more impressive internet efforts among NYC independents, WORD is doing online community-building, as well.III. The Future(s) of IndependentsNot just in the Big Apple, but all over America, the rapid technological and economic transformations of the last decade have profoundly altered the ecosystem in which independent bookstores exist. Far from solemnizing the end of an era, however, our Walking Tour seeks to illuminate some of the strategies that may help our favorite bookstores thrive in the 21st Century. A glance at our last three stops serves to illustrate the point.Since we first wrote about BookCourt (Stop 9), the store has expanded, nearly doubling its square-footage. This has allowed it to create a more generously apportioned area for children's books - a growth genre in this baby-booming neighborhood, and a turf BookCourt can now vigorously compete for with the Barnes & Noble down the street. Another advantage of expansion: the store can now book readings for big names such as Richard Price without fear of running out of space.Freebird Books (Stop 10), under new ownership, has expanded in a more metaphorical sense, building up its events calendar. Readings and screenings, post-apocalyptic book clubs, and back porch barbecues help attract readers over to quiet Columbia Street. Owner Peter Miller also maintains a lively, involving blog detailing his discoveries in the used-book trade.WORD (Stop 11) has nudged the events-plus-online-presence strategy even further toward the latter. With a frequently updated blog, a Twitter account, a facebook following and a highly functional website, Word involves even those readers who can make it to the store only infrequently. Millions alum Patrick Brown, now blogging for L.A.'s Vroman's Bookstore, has written perceptively and at length about how a bookstore's online dimension can become more than window-dressing. I'll be interested to see how aggressively, and how successfully, independent bookstores expand their online efforts in the coming years.More mapping fun: The Millions' Collaborative Atlas of Book Stores and Literary Places
The first moment I saw that one giant word “GIRLS” flash across the screen in all caps, I became utterly, hopelessly enamored of Lena Dunham’s HBO television show. Yes, I know the endless criticisms, both reasonable and totally unreasonable. No matter. The show speaks to me like no other television show currently on air, and I am beyond excited that it is back for a second season on Sunday. But while Dunham’s lady-centered wry comedy may be singular in today’s television line-up, the world of literature is home to a multitude of books with the same appeal as Girls, books that feature a certain kind of female protagonist (usually one coming of age) or a certain kind of female narrator (pointed, self-deprecating, and ultimately wise). These are books that -- like Girls -- explore what it is like to be young and hungry -- hungry for love and hungry for sex, but most of all, hungry for recognition and hungry for adulthood. Ultimately, the girls in these books, like the girls of Girls, are hungry to become the women they will one day be. And yes, of course, the girls in question here, both on the show and in these books, are privileged enough that they are not literally hungry. Many of them are also privileged enough to live on their own in New York and to be more concerned with opportunity costs than financial costs. And yes, the girls in these books -- like on the television show -- are all white. I am not white (or at least I’m only half), but these happen to be the books that have jumped out at me, that made me feel as if something of my own life had been understood and articulated in a way that was both illuminating and reassuring. I welcome your suggestions for other books in the comments. How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti: Many comparisons have been made between Heti’s novel and Girls, the most titillating of which obsess about both projects’ frank depictions of sex and shadows of autobiography. Less titillating but far more important are their shared concerns about the process of becoming an artist and also the intricacies of female friendship. The fictional Sheila and her best friend Margaux ostensibly fall out over a yellow dress, and Hannah and Marnie ostensibly fall out over the rent/Marnie buying a book by Hannah’s nemesis/which one of them is “the wound,” but really, both fights are ultimately about boundaries, both artistic and personal. It’s no surprise that Sheila and Margaux patch things up (though I won’t spoil how), and we have yet to see where things go for Hannah and Marnie, but both brutally honest portrayals do full justice to the complexity of a crumbling friendship, whether it’s eventually resuscitated or not. The Fallback Plan by Leigh Stein: After graduating from college (with an oh-so-useful theater degree), 22-year-old Esther Kohler moves back home with her parents in suburban Illinois, where she takes a gig babysitting for the neighbors in order to pay her parents rent on her childhood bedroom. She quickly becomes involved with her charge’s father (shades of Jessa), as well as a Very Handsome friend her own age (complete with awkward -- completely, terribly, realistically awkward -- sex scene). Stein’s wry voice shines through the entire short novel, especially in the pages involving the Littlest Panda, a creation of Esther’s imagination that she wants to turn into a Chronicles of Narnia-inspired screenplay. There is, of course, more to Esther’s lethargy and indecision than meets the eye, but her (and Stein’s) self-aware take on the self-pitying recession-grad generation is compelling reading even without the eventual reveal about Esther’s backstory. The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy: The protagonist of Dundy’s 1958 novel is Sally Jay Gorce, a 21-year-old American girl, straight out of college and living abroad for two years on her uncle’s dime. The cult classic was widely praised (by the disparate likes of Ernest Hemingway and Groucho Marx) when it was originally released, and attained cult status anew when NYRB Press reissued it in 2007 (and not just because of the nude figure on the cover). Of all the girls on this list, Gorce seems most like the proto-Girl -- a girl who is self-avowedly “hellbent on living,” getting herself into (and out of) escapade after escapade during her time in France. Many of Gorce’s misadventures involve a heavy dose of slapstick, starting on page one with our introduction to our heroine, who is sitting at a Parisian bar having a morning cocktail, wearing an evening dress because all her other clothes are at the cleaners. The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Volume 1: 1931-1934 by Anaïs Nin: When Hannah’s diary got her into a mess of trouble, she probably took comfort in the tradition of great literary diarists before her, of whom Anaïs Nin is the reigning queen. In Volume One (of the six expurgated adult diaries), Nin talks freely -- one might say obsessively -- about Henry Miller and his wife June, her psychoanalysis, and her relationship with her father. But you don’t read Nin’s diaries for the plot points so much as the arcs of emotion and insight, as well as the searing descriptions of her friends and their relationships, (sound familiar, Marnie and Charlie?). Still, Nin perhaps has more in common with Jessa than with Hannah, as in this entry, reminiscent of the Jessa-ism that is possibly the most famous line from Season One of Girls: “Psychoanalysis did save me because it allowed the birth of the real me, a most dangerous and painful one for a woman, filled with dangers; for no one has ever loved an adventurous woman as they have loved adventurous men…I may not become a saint, but I am very full and very rich. I cannot install myself anywhere yet; I must climb dizzier heights.” Then again, Jessa would never be caught dead “journaling.” The Lone Pilgrim by Laurie Colwin: In this collection of stories, the women are farther along the path to adulthood than Hannah and her crew -- many are married, own homes, have stable careers -- but they are no less lost. These are stories about new lovers and ex-lovers and the complexities of romantic love in all its forms, stories in which the women seek love as a form of stability but also rebel against the expectations of a relationship. In a turn that Jessa would appreciate, one of Colwin’s young female characters gets married in order to prove that she’s serious-minded, but meanwhile maintains a constant low-level high throughout the courtship and marriage. Beyond their thematic overlap, the stories are linked by Colwin’s diamond-sharp prose and emotional acuity. At the end of the collection’s eponymous story, Colwin writes of a woman who has married the man she loves and whose life appears to be in place, “Those days were spent in quest -- the quest to settle your own life, and now the search has ended. Your imagined happiness is yours…It is yours, but still you are afraid to enter it, wondering what you might find.” I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley: Crosley’s first collection of essays covers well-trodden 20-something-living-in-New-York ground, mostly having to do with a privileged class of horrors: the horrible first boss, the horrors of getting locked out of your apartment, the horrors of moving (from one Upper West Side apartment to another), the horrors of being a maid-of-honor. Still, Crosley’s sardonic and self-aware take on those seemingly unremarkable rites of passage elevates them to true moments of insight and recognition. Not to mention laugh-out-loud (or at least smile visibly) lines like: “People are less quick to applaud as you grow older. Life starts out with everyone clapping when you take a poo and goes downhill from there.” And as we know, Dunham loves a good bathroom scene. Hannah Horvath couldn’t have said it better herself. The Group by Mary McCarthy: When The Group was first published in 1963, Norman Podhoretz dismissed it as “a trivial lady writer’s novel,” the kind of criticism that has dogged female artists -- and has already, unsurprisingly, been hurled at Lena Dunham -- throughout time. Of course, McCarthy’s novel, which follows a group of eight female friends after they graduate from Vassar and move to New York City in the 1930s, is anything but trivial. At the time it was published, The Group was considered revolutionary -- it was banned in Australia while simultaneously spending two years on The New York Times bestseller list. A full 50 years after its publication (and 80 years after the story’s events), the novel’s satire-tinged account of the women’s lives offers a nuanced portrait of love and sex and birth control, marriage and divorce, childbirth and breastfeeding, professional ambition and thwarted dreams, and the fluctuations of female friendship. The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank: This collection of linked short stories centers around Jane Rosenal, who, like so many intelligent young female protagonists, works in publishing in New York City. The collection does not exactly follow Jane’s personal search for love, though her love life figures largely in the stories; instead, the stories act more like a romantic education, as Jane observes and interacts with different forms of love as she makes her way from teenager to young woman to adult. Last in the collection, the title story descends into rom-com territory, though Zosia Mamet might be able to work the same miracle with its one-dimensional material -- a discussion of The Rules and a final moral to Be Yourself -- as she has with the hilarious but terribly flat character of Shoshanna. Still, Bank’s sprightly prose and sympathetic voice run through all the stories, making for an engaging, enjoyable read. Emma by Jane Austen: Lena Dunham has said that Clueless ranks among her influences, and there would be no Clueless (and perhaps no Hannah Horvath) without Jane Austen’s original meddlesome, egotistic, incredibly flawed heroine, Emma. While Hollywood would have you read Emma as a straight rom-com -- and Emma as an unimpeachable heroine -- it’s better read the classic novel with the same lens of dramatic irony that the discerning viewer applies to Girls. Hannah is not supposed to be a character who makes all the right decisions; we root for Hannah, but we do not necessarily agree with her every move. In Emma’s case, the close reader cannot necessarily even root for her by the end; if you pay attention, Emma is revealed to be much closer to the original Mean Girl rather than the perfect innocent portrayed in the movies. Just like Hannah, Emma is clueless; we can only hope that by the end of Girls, Hannah will have grown up more than Austen’s beloved-but-actually-kind-of-terrible protagonist. Crazy Salad: Some Things About Women by Nora Ephron: Although a few of the essays in Ephron’s landmark collection are somewhat prohibitively dated (the ones concerning Watergate, in particular, rely on a detailed knowledge of the scandal that is unlikely in 2013), most are as relevant today as they were when Ephron wrote them 40 years ago. The best known in the collection, “A Few Words About Breasts,” tackles standards of female beauty that would ring all-too-true for Hannah (remember that cruel scene in which Jessa and Marnie bond by laughing about how small Hannah’s breasts are?). Ultimately, though, the collection’s real legacy is its examination of the Women’s Movement, a reminder -- all-too-relevant in today’s political atmosphere -- of the struggle for the gender equality (or at least semblance of it) that many 20-something women have simply grown up with. In the final essay of the collection, Ephron offers a piece of wisdom that might benefit the girls of Girls as they continue on with their belated coming-of-age: “I was no good at all at any of it, no good at being a girl; on the other hand, I am not half-bad at being a woman.” Image Credit: Wikipedia
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1. In May, after my novel manuscript had been read and rejected by a healthy number of editors, my husband rewrote my author bio. It read as follows: Edan Lepucki was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1981. He currently lives in East Bushwick. As an American woman living in an uncool neighborhood in Los Angeles, I thought this hilarious. I also wondered -- not entirely seriously, and not entirely in jest -- if the revision might help my situation. My situation being that my agent had begun submitting my book nine months prior (not that I was keeping track), and it remained unsold. Admittedly, there had been close calls with two different editors, but, as everyone knows, almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. I was in the same place I'd been back in September. That is, unpublished. The waiting game was starting to char my soul; if you drew a finger across it and put that finger to your tongue, it would taste bitter. Joking with my husband ("Now that I'm nursing, I'll send them a new author photo, cleavage and all!") was one of the few coping mechanisms I had left in me. Now that it's almost September ("If anyone in publishing actually worked in the summer, I would've sold my book by now!"), the jokes aren't as funny. The truth is, my novel isn't selling, and it probably won't. There, I've said it. Eventually, a writer must accept rejection, accept the death of her first true darling, and move on. Can I face that sobering reality? Can I put my first book into the drawer, and shut it? Others have done it before me. There's a long and rich history of successful writers whose first (second, third...) books didn't see the light of day. I remember when Myla Goldberg came to speak to the Creative Writing Department at Oberlin. She explained that Bee Season was actually her second novel. "My first," she told us wide-eyed undergraduates, "you'll never read." At twenty, I thought this terribly tragic. In the New York Times Sunday Book Review, Dan Kois wrote about novelists who abandoned books for one reason or another: Michael Chabon's infamously unfinished tome, Fountain City, for instance, and the burned pages of Gogol and Waugh. But the differences between these authors and myself are important. Firstly, they all had dazzling careers, failed book or not. I can't (yet...) say the same for myself. Secondly, these authors decided to kill their books, whereas my darling was murdered. Just let me be dramatic for a moment, okay? Murdered! My book was murdered! Or was she? A friend pointed out that I was waiting to sell my book to publishers, when I could sell it to readers, all by myself. That's true, of course. Self-publishing is as easy as it's ever been, and if done well, it can even be lucrative. But, in most cases, self-published authors spend money, not make it, and they have to be their own editor, copy editor, publicist, and book cover designer (which can lead to this and this and this). I certainly could self-publish my novel, but I don't have the cash, time, or talent to do it successfully. Plus, there's still a stigma to publishing your own writing. Though this is changing, I've never been an early adopter. (I used my AOL email account well into the new millennium, y'all; I leave the experiments to the innovative types.) The truth is, I want a reputable publishing house standing behind my book; I want them to tell you it's good so that I don't have to. So, okay, I'm willing to let my book die, if that's to be its fate. With all my talk of murder and barbecued souls, I'll be the first to admit I'm letting myself wallow. But can you blame me? I'm grieving nearly five years of hard work. I'm mourning sentences, characters, and scenes that I'm still proud of. Letting go hurts. A lot. A friend of mine once said she didn't want to write a novel because she couldn't stand the idea of working for years on a project that might fail. One of my writing students recently told me she's so afraid her book won't sell that the very thought makes her hyperventilate. Another friend said she might die if her novel wasn't published. I identified with all of these confessions. I felt them myself. Not-selling my novel was my biggest fear, and it's happening. It happened. (I was in natural, unmedicated labor with my child for 36 hours. For 24 of these hours, my cervix remained only 5 centimeters dilated. No matter how relaxed I remained, how deeply I breathed, there was no progress. None. More than once during the process, I thought, "This is like trying to sell a fucking novel!") (There's a moment, right before a newborn baby breaks into a wail, when his face wrinkles up, collapses in on itself like an imploding building, and sorrow, pure and clean sorrow, sweeps heavy across his features. I know this feeling.) Goodbye, goodbye, Novel #1. 2. The thing is, rejection is instructive. Over the past year I've learned that hearing "no" doesn't get easier if the stakes are higher. Reject my piddling short stories and I will barely flinch; mess with my dear book and I'm rendered immediately vulnerable: "immobilized, apologetic," as Alice Munro writes in her masterful story "Something I've Been Meaning to Tell You." I urge my students to go for it and send out their work, that they have to get used to a life of disappointment if they want to be writers. As if one can get used to such a thing. I've also learned, however, that a thoughtful rejection is a valuable one, especially coming from an overworked, underpaid editor. To have taken the time to read my work, and written feedback -- that's something I appreciate. This is called relationship-building, I am told. I have more than one friend who sold books to editors who rejected their previous one(s). Lastly, these months of rejection have taught me the difference between being tenacious and being stubborn -- and being stubborn and being desperate. My agent can continue to shop my novel around, but I have already attended its funeral. I've said my eulogy, eaten the casseroles, wept in the shower, screamed into my pillow. I have willed myself to move on. I must, in order to continue my life as a writer. I haven't lost my tenacity, I've simply refocused it on my next book, which I'm more than halfway done with. (This is the upside of a submission process that takes forever). Novel #2 deserves my full attention and care. Without it, my work -- and I -- will suffer. And this new book, it will be published. If it doesn't, well, I'll just die. Image credit: Evelyn Marin/Flickr
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