Help make today a literate (and literal) Super Tuesday! Today is the final day of the campaign to bring a new bookstore to Ft. Worth. You can be part of the story, invest in literacy...we certainly need more of that...and get a cool reward. Click here or on the green button at the right for details.
It's been too long since my last update on the progress of bringing a bookstore to Fort Worth, but this is a major one. Those of you who have supported the campaign or visited this site will notice that the goal has been lowered significantly. There are two very positive reasons for this: First, in the past month I have been able to devote all of my time to getting The Last Word off the ground. In the process I have found vendors that are ...able to supply things ranging from bookcases to a point-of-sale/inventory system at a much more reasonable cost than I had found previously. This lowered my start-up cost projection considerably.
Second, and most importantly, after talking to more banks than I ever want to again, I discovered a lender that truly believes in helping start-up businesses move from idea to reality. As a result, the amount that I have to bring to the table in order to get a start-up loan is much less than any other bank wanted.
I sincerely hope that this new goal, and the fact that we are already almost halfway there, will encourage anyone who was deterred by the previous goal to join us. Also, because I never intended for this campaign to go on indefinitely, it will end in 11 days, on the evening of March 15.
Thanks to everyone who has supported this endeavor with everything from financial contributions to encouraging words to sound advice. Please share the page with your friends one last time as we close things out strong. You can contribute by clicking the link here or by clicking the button at the top right of this page.
The Last Word is closer than ever to becoming a real place, a place where you can buy books, meet authors, and basically plug into a like-minded community. It's going to be one heck of a ride.
Despite the running joke that book clubs are little more than an excuse to sit around and drink wine (as pictured in the image above), book clubs are actually a great way to both discover new writers and develop new friendships. Many readers, however, do not have a book club they can easily join, and are unsure how to start one themselves. However, starting a book club is far easier than most would imagine.
All you really need to start a book club is two or more friends or acquaintances who share a love of books and reading. Co-workers, neighbors, and friends from church or other organizations are all people you can ask to join your book club, as long as they share your love of books. They do not have to love the same types of books, however; discovering new books, authors, and genres is part of the joy of being part of a group of fellow book lovers.
It is best to limit the group to a small number at the outset; no fewer than three and no more than eight is probably a good guideline. If there are too few it will be difficult to get a good discussion started, and with too many someone will invariably be a wallflower and never join the discussion. And the discussions will lead you in directions that will both surprise and enlighten you.
Once the membership of the book club has been determined, there a some logistical items than need to be taken care of, such as how often you will meet, where the meetings will be, and in what order people will choose the book the group will be reading. These may seem like insignificant issues, but they are actually critical for the club to run smoothly and keep members interested and engaged.
In most cases, meeting once a month will give time both for everyone to read the current selection and to arrange things like childcare for the meeting night. The order in which people will choose the book to be read can be done in any number of ways, from alphabetically by name to drawing names out of a hat. It may make sense for the person who organized to group to choose the first book, and then follow the decided upon order after that.
Book clubs can meet almost anywhere, from the house of the person who chose the current book to a restaurant or coffee shop. You can also take trips to museums or art galleries if they match up well with the subject matter of the book. Just be sure to leave plenty of time for discussion. The person who chose the current book should have questions prepared before the meeting in order to both stimulate the discussion and keep the conversation on topic.
Over time, usually during the first year, one or more people will drop out of the club and others will be added. As time goes on, you will have a feel for what the right size for your group is, and may choose to either expand it to more than the original number or to keep it at the same size. You will also learn what types of book will or will not work for your particular group.
Finally, while each person will tempted to choose a favorite book to share with the group, one they have already read (and should re-read when the group does), one of the most rewarding things about a book club is discovering new authors, especially ones you would never have chosen if left to pick for yourself. In this way book clubs open up new worlds of reading and expand your horizons, both in the literary sense and in our view of the world. There will inevitably be books most of the group hates, but even this can be a valuable experience, as knowing what you don’t like helps steer you toward what you do like.
So don’t be afraid to start your own book club. Reading is a solitary endeavor, but paradoxically one that can and should be shared with others. Discussing books with friends is a great way to strengthen the bonds of friendship and share something you all love.
Tonight the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos will face off in Super Bowl 50. Therefore it seems like an appropriate time to review the best football novel ever written, and one of the funniest books of any genre, Semi-Tough by Dan Jenkins.
The novel chronicles the journey to the Super Bowl of two Texas-born NFL players, Billy Clyde Puckett and Marvin "Shake" Tiller. Billy Clyde and Shake play for the New York Giants, who are battling their arch-rivals the "dog-ass" New York Jets in the Super Bowl in Los Angeles. In addition to being the Giants' star running back, Puckett has also been asked by a book publisher to keep a journal of events before, during, and after the big game, a journal that will later be turned into a book. Billy Clyde does a fine job of this, mainly because author Dan Jenkins (a Fort Worth native himself) has been a sportswriter for most of his life, and his description of in-game action is one of the highlights of this book.
First published in 1972, Semi-Tough is not just a book about football, and not simply a hilarious read throughout; it is also one of the least politically correct books you will ever read. It contains booze, drugs, sex, smoking, foul language, and humor that would certainly be considered both sexist and racist, especially today when we are actually censoring the language in classic books like Huckleberry Finn. Yet the book works, perhaps because rather in spite of the coarse humor; in Semi-Tough the humor is always honest and no one is spared, regardless of race, color, gender, or creed. In fact, Sports Illustrated named it one of the "Top 100 Sports Books of All Time."
It is likely that many more people have seen the film adaptation from 1977 staring Burt Reynolds than have read Dan Jenkins' novel. This is a shame, because the movie (as is usually the case) is nothing like the book, and nowhere near as good or as funny. Semi-Tough is a must-read for both football fans and fans of great books, and a great way to spend the long hours before kickoff tonight. So run to your closest bookstore (preferably an independent one) and pick up a copy of Semi-Tough. You'll be laughing so hard you just might miss kickoff.
For book lovers, there's just something about books about books, and in The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, San Francisco author Lewis Buzbee does something few writers would be able to: he makes the history of the book and the bookstore something you just can't put down. During his career, Buzbee has written both fiction and non-fiction, and he has the ability to paint a vivid picture with very few words. When he describes a favorite bookshop on a dark, rainy Tuesday in November, you can feel the biting wind and see the inviting warmth of the store beckoning.
The book is billed as both a memoir and a history, and perhaps that is what makes it work. Right at the moment the historical aspect could start to become tedious, Buzbee switches gears to the memoir side, giving readers a glimpse into the world of the bookseller that few knew existed. And he is no newcomer to the book world, having started as a clerk at a San Jose bookstore during his freshman year of college, and continuing in either book selling or as a publisher's sales rep for the next thirty years.
The history of the bookstore is obviously intertwined with the history of books and book making, and The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop takes the reader on a fascinating journey from the first papyrus scrolls and the great Library of Alexandria through the e-book and mega-chains like Borders and Barnes & Noble. Mixed throughout this 3000-year journey are Buzbee's own journey, his love of books, and some laugh-out-loud moments. By the time you finish the book, you will definitely want to sneak a peek into the back room of your local bookstore, hoping to see some of the things he has seen.
Buzbee makes a convincing case for how much we need bookstores, and he laments the decline in reading across America. Some may be surprised that a man who spent the better part of his life working in independent bookstores bears no grudges against the major chain retailers or Internet sites like Amazon. He does, however, have a few caustic words for the large discount and warehouse stores.
What is evident throughout The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop is that Buzbee is a man who has a reverence for books ("book lust" is the term he uses most often). And his book lust is contagious. When you have finished this slim, 216-page volume, you may find yourself more likely to slow down and rediscover the joy of wandering through rows and rows of shelves on a rainy afternoon, stumbling upon that perfect book you'd never even heard of before.
I have long planned to start posting reviews of my favorite books (some old and some new) and there is no better place to start than a book about bookstores by authors, a combination that goes together like bacon and eggs, Lennon and McCartney, gin and tonic...you get the picture. Thus, today I give you My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop.
It is an obvious truth that writers and bookstores have a symbiotic relationship; ultimately one cannot survive without the other. This relationship is explored in a most interesting and entertaining way in My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop. Edited by Ronald Rice and Booksellers Across America, with an introduction by Richard Russo, the book is a series of 81 essays by noted authors about bookstores that hold a special place in their hearts. Unlike the standard, generic "independent bookstores are good" comments you often hear, these vignettes are quite specific.
Between these covers you will read of Isabel Allende's love of Book Passage in Corte Madera, California; she sums it up nicely with the line "The only place as comforting as a friendly bookstore is probably your grandmother's kitchen." John Grisham writes of how, when he couldn't generate any interest in the first printing of A Time to Kill, Mary Gay Shipley of That Bookstore in Blytheville, Arkansas saw something in him and his work that others did not and enthusiastically pushed the book. Ann Patchett, now a bookseller herself as well as a novelist, writes of McLean and Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Michigan: "I walked into the bookstore of this dreamy little town and at that moment all the other bookstores I'd known in my life fell away." High praise indeed.
What becomes clear early on is that this book could just as easily been titled "My Bookseller." Far more is written about the people running these bookstores than the stores themselves, and this makes complete sense. The physical building houses the books, but it is the passionate and dedicated bookseller who makes readers aware of the treasures contained within their walls. And who better to seek out for guidance on which books are amazing and which are dreck than those Quixotic souls who devote their lives to a love of books, knowing full well they could make more money doing almost anything else.
In My Bookstore you will learn of shops like Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn and The King's English Bookshop in Salt Lake City. But you will also meet Greenlight's Rebecca Fitting and Jessica Stockton Bagnulo and The King's English's Betsy Burton. Just as there is no way to think of Shakespeare and Company Bookstore without also thinking of Sylvia Beach, these bookstores and their proprietors are virtually one and the same.
So pick up My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop and spend a quiet evening with some great writers and even greater bookstores and booksellers. But be sure to get it from your local independent bookseller; you might just start a relationship that will last a lifetime.
Far too many of us spend our days trapped in steel and glass coffins we call office buildings. Yet the melding of beauty and function is still alive in some places, as evidenced by the following three bookstores. If you're looking for a bookstore pilgrimage in 2016 (and who isn't?), try any, or all, of these three:
El Ateneo Bookstore originally opened in 1919 as a theater named Teatro Gran Splendid. In its configuration as a theater it seated over 1000 people, and was converted into a cinema in the late 1920s. In 2000 it was leased by a bookstore conglomerate and was renovated for used as a bookshop. It is estimated that over 1 million people visit the store each year. Interestingly, the former theater boxes now serve as small reading rooms. This may be the most beautiful bookstore on the planet, and is one of the many reasons to travel to Buenos Aires.
This amazing store is housed in an 800-year-old, former Dominican church that was being used to store bicycles. It is the perfect use for the building, transforming it into a Cathedral of Books and a must-see for book lovers traveling in the Netherlands.
Unlike the two previously mentioned bookstores, Livaria Lello is not in a building converted from other uses; it has been a bookshop since 1881. It has a beautiful staircase and more wood panels than you'll find in an English country manor. Definitely worth the trip if you're visiting Porto, or anywhere else within driving (or train) distance.
These breathtaking shops reinforce my belief that heaven will look a lot like a bookstore.
It is a simple fact that there are more books in print today than any of us will ever be able to read in one lifetime (and this doesn't even take into account the new books that have yet to be released). Faced with a finite amount of time in which to read, one question that must be asked is at what point is it acceptable to give up on a book and move on to another?
In an interview with the Toronto Globe and Mail, librarian and author Nancy Pearl (of "Book Lust" fame) gave the following suggestion:
"On the spur of the moment, with no particular psychological or literary theory in mind to justify it, I developed my Rule of 50: Give a book 50 pages. When you get to the bottom of Page 50, ask yourself if you're really liking the book. If you are, of course, then great, keep on reading. But if you're not, then put it down and look for another....
"This rule of 50 worked exceedingly well until I entered my own 50s. As I wended my way toward 60, and beyond, I could no longer avoid the realization that, while the reading time remaining in my life was growing shorter, the world of books that I wanted to read was, if anything, growing larger. In a flash of, if I do say so myself, brilliance, I realized that my Rule of 50 was incomplete. It needed an addendum. And here it is: When you are 51 years of age or older, subtract your age from 100, and the resulting number (which, of course, gets smaller every year) is the number of pages you should read before you can guiltlessly give up on a book. As the saying goes, 'Age has its privileges.' And the ultimate privilege of age, of course, is that when you turn 100, you are authorized (by the Rule of 50) to judge a book by its cover."
Certainly an interesting reading rule to live by, but I tend to know well before page 50 if I like a book or not. It's true that some only really get going once you reach the middle, but even those show enough glimpses of what is to come to make you want to keep reading. I live by more of a "Rule of 25" unless the book came highly recommended with advance warning that it starts slowly.
When it comes to abandoning a book, I actually find it harder with the "classics." Every year I start Ulysses again, hoping it will somehow click for me, and every year I bail before page 20. The thing is, I feel bad enough about quitting that I try again year after year; after all, Hemingway and Sylvia Beach loved it, so I must be missing something. But with the critically acclaimed books and/or bestsellers of today I feel no such guilt. I quit Gone Girl ten pages in, and have no regrets at all.
So what about you, dear reader? Do you slog your way through every book you start, out of principle as much as enjoyment, or do you bail after Chapter One if it's not a page turner? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.
(And for the record, I plan to have another go at Ulysses in February...hope springs eternal).
There are many aspects to opening a new bookstore, and I am currently working on one of the most critical: the store's opening-day inventory. Ingram Book Distributors provides a "recommended opening store inventory," but the percentages seem a bit off. Here's where you can help.
Below is a poll listing the seven most popular fiction genres. Please choose up to three of the ones you read, or are likely to read, most. This will be of great help in determining the accuracy of Ingram's recommendations. I will post a similar poll for non-fiction soon.
Thanks for being part of bringing The Last Word Bookstore to life.
Yesterday I posted The International Book Challenge, and after some consideration thought it only right that I also do one a little closer to home with an all-American challenge. Therefore I give you The USA Reading Challenge.
This challenge, like the international one, is fairly self-explanatory, but here are a few guidelines ("rules" sounds too strict; reading should be fun):
Here are the achievement levels, based on number of states "visited" between now and December 31, 2016:
In a best-case outcome you would read 50 books, roughly one per week. If you don't think that even 26 is an achievable number, remember that's just one book every 2 weeks. And consider the following partial list of novelists and their home states:
Keep in mind that each state only counts once; Mark Twain and Jim Butcher are both from Missouri, but if you read the entire Dresden series and Tom Sawyer it only counts as one state visited (even if you detoured into Kansas in between). But this also shows the flexibility of this challenge: fans of the classics and fans of Sci-Fi/Fantasy both have options in Missouri.
While there are no prizes for successfully completing this challenge, I can assure you that as a reader you will gain great satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. And as with the international challenge, I may post a list of the Lewis and Clark-level folks at the end of the year if you send me your names.