Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

Friday, September 10th

Eff Yeah, Bookstores!: Pilot Books.

Pilot Store Summer

Very few book stores in the world are dedicated exclusively to independent presses. The number is something close to none. That’s what makes Seattle’s Pilot Books an amazing store. Co-creative director, Tom DeBeauchamp, took some time from helping proprietor Summer Robinson (pictured) to answer a few questions via email.

What’s Pilot’s origin story?

If you wanted indie-lit in Seattle two years ago you would have had to have driven to Portland. A few stores carried a few books, a few zines, but none in a really meaningful way. People in town asked themselves, “why don’t we have something like the Independent Book Room at Powell’s?” One of these people was Summer. She started Pilot as a few shelves in the window of the Anne Bonny (a sadly defunct oddity shop). When they moved into a smaller space, Pilot moved into a larger one. We’ve been open now for over a year.

What’s the curatorial process when choosing books to stock?

Out motto is 100% indie-lit, so everything we sell in the store and online is independently produced. We tend to stock new releases, typically produced by small houses in small runs, but that’s definitely not a rule. We love selling local work, but that’s not necessarily a rule either. We try to stock to our tastes, and, once upon a time, every book we sold had been read by one of us. Basically, we sell the most interesting fiction, poetry, and comics we can find in whatever language we find it in.

What’s the arts/literature scene in Seattle like and what role does Pilot play within it?

Hard to say what the arts/literature scene in Seattle is like: inter-flowing tribelets? The particles of one tribelet moving freely into the gases and matter of others? A lot of works are made in metal and fire. Readings happen often in many venues, a lot of them free. There’s a very strong book arts community, one of the largest Zine Archives in the world, and many active arts organizations and grant-granting organizations. There’s a feeling that we’re moving toward a more crystallized literary “scene”, but I’m not sure where we’re at in that transition, or if it’s over and we’re the cut gem we always hoped to grow up to be. Pilot, for our part, hosts about four readings a week, a writer’s group. In March, in honor of Small Press Month, we hosted a reading every single day. This summer we’ve hosted more than a dozen Micro-Residents. We will be publishing chapbooks for each of them this fall.

Pilot Store1

What helps a book sell? What’s been the most successful book at Pilot?

Readers with money and a sense of direction, and the willingness to use them. Having more than one of something in stock also seems to help. People don’t like to buy your last copy. I think saying, “Oh my god! You have to buy that book! It’s amazing” would help, but the data’s inconclusive.

How does a brick-and-mortar store not only survive, but maintain relevance in the age of Amazon?

By doing things differently, catering to a different kind of audience. The big companies do a good job of selling you exactly what you want, but I like to think Pilot provides an introduction and a context to something at least as meaningful and vibrant as Dan Brown’s fine novels. It’s hard to believe the death of Books, death of reading, death of bookstores Chicken-Littleing when you see the passionate work produced everyday. Selling those works, and championing them, helps us to stay relevant alongside Amazon. Really, you could probably start calling this the age of Pilot.

Please describe the cat that lives in your store. If you don’t have a bookstore cat, please explain why.

No cat, sadly. Pilot’s too small a space to keep a shop cat happy and healthy. Besides, kitty wouldn’t get a lick of toilet-time privacy.

Pilot_books Reader Board

Tuesday, September 7th

Eff Yeah, Bookstores!: Ada Books.


As if Rhode Island couldn’t get any more radder, it’s home to one of the best indie bookstores in the country, Ada Books. Humble owner and proprietor, Brent Legault, was kind enough to answer some questions over electronic mail.

What’s Ada’s origin story?

It started with the publication of Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle in 1969 (which is, coincidentally, the year I was born).  The book was not a hit with critics but it hit home with me after I first read it twenty-five or so years later. If I were the type to maintain a mountain of my favorite novels (I am not), Ada would likely sit at its summit. It seemed logical and fair-minded then to name the shop after it. Originally, I planned on calling it Ada or Ardor: A Family Bookshop but my wife wisely put a stop to that. (We’ve saved a bundle on signage.)

What’s the curatorial process when choosing books to stock?

The process, if you can whatever it is I do a process, is simple: I choose the books and magazines that I like or think I’ll like and hope that others agree with me. They don’t, usually, in spite of my excellent taste.

What’s the arts/literature scene in Rhode Island like and what role does Ada play within it?

The scene here is mostly serious, or artists taking themselves seriously. Humor comes in smirks rather than guffaws. My role in it is a minor one. I host a reading series, which is run by Kate Schapira (an excellent poet), where I often drink a little too much beer. I also eat more than my share of cashews or almonds and clap, politely but genuinely, when others clap.

What helps a book sell? What’s been the most successful book at Ada?

Though I’ve been selling books for more years than Justin Bieber has been alive, I still have no idea how to make a sale. I know that “weird” works, as does “obscure.” But those things sell themselves. I’m no salesman. I never “upsell” anything. I just put it on a shelf or a table and see what happens. (I will give out opinions when prompted.) The most successful book at Ada has been. . . oh, I don’t know. I don’t keep track. But I’ve probably sold more copies of Mat Brinkman’s Teratoid Heights than anything else. These days, it is shamefully out of print.

How does a brick-and-mortar store not only survive, but maintain relevance in the age of Amazon?

I don’t think my brick-and-mortar(and-paint-and-plaster) store is at all relevant “in the age of Amazon” except perhaps in a negative way. That is, I think that my customers reject or at least look down upon the Kindles and the iPads and ordering books online in general. Or perhaps they do those things but also feel a kinship with books and booksellers and want them to stick around for a little while longer.

Please describe the cat that lives in your store. If you don’t have a bookstore cat, please explain why.

My shop cat is a pure white American short hair with a pink nose and mismatched eyes. Her name is Paper and she is imaginary. I’m only at the shop 7 or 8 hours a day and I feel it would be neglectful to leave her alone for so long. Therefore, Ada Books is catless, although my wife and I have three cats at home named Ratsy, BeeBong and Pancake. They are adorable.


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Friday, September 3rd

Eff Yeah, Bookstores!: Carmichael’s Bookstore.


If you find yourself in Louisville, Kentucky any time soon be sure to stop by the best bookseller in town, Carmichael’s Bookstore. This interview was conducted with owner Michael Boggs via email.

What’s Carmichael’s origin story?

My wife, Carol Besse, and I started Carmichael’s in 1978 in Louisville with a little capital from a Small Business Administration loan and a hefty amount of bookstore experience. We had worked for 5 years for Barbara’s Bookstores in Chicago and learned most of the mechanics of the bookselling business there. We both had Kentucky ties and at that time Louisville had no urban bookstores.

What’s the curatorial process when choosing books to stock?

I wouldn’t call the process “curatorial” since bookselling is an exercise in commerce, and we have to be mindful of stocking books that will appeal to our customers. That said, the stock in our stores is comprised of about 70 % “backlist”, which are the titles that sell over and over, year in and year out, and 30 % “frontlist”, the titles that are newly published each year. Backlist titles change slowly as authors fall in and out of favor, and as interests change over the years. Because our stores are small, I have to select stock carefully and each publishing season I buy only a fraction of the thousands and thousands of new titles presented to me by publisher’s sales reps. The process is more art than science, with hundreds of factors going into each decision: Does the book fit with our customer’s taste? What is the quality of the publisher? Does the author have a track record? Is the subject of the book original? Does the sales rep have any helpful information? What does the cover look like? And on and on.

What’s the arts/literature scene like in Louisville? What’s Carmichael’s role in the lit/arts community?

From the beginning Carol and I conceived of Carmichael’s as a so-called “third place” — a locale ingrained in the community that isn’t home or work. We have anywhere from 75 to 100 author events a year, many with local poets and beginning writers. We have wonderful independent publisher in Louisville called Sarabande Books that has a first-rate list of poetry and fiction. And, in the region, we have number of nationally recognized authors with ties to our area: Wendell Berry, Bobbie Ann Mason, Barbara Kingsolver, Silas House, Sena Naslund and many others.


What helps books sell? What are the more successful books at Carmichael’s?

Word of mouth is the best seller for books–one reader recommends titles he loves, that person tells 3 people, and suddenly you have an exponential groundswell for a book. As for national media, NPR programs provide the publicity and interviews that our customers respond to best. Other venues that are good for us are The New Yorker, especially exerpts of Non Fiction, The New York Times, The New Yorker Review of Books, with most other magazines trailing behind. We get little play from blogs or internet sources.

How does a brick-and-mortar store not only survive, but maintain relevance in the age of Amazon?

When it comes to relevance and Amazon, that’s kind of a no brainer. In the world of books, Amazon is a place of commerce and little more. Books were simply an easy entre into creating a mail-order of WalMart. They don’t care much about books because so few people actually buy them–they really want to sell all the other stuff that large parts of the population desire and that have higher profit percentages. And that’s not books. And the Kindle is a toy that is unlikely to have more longevity than cassette tapes. Whatever the paradigm that lasts for 20 or 30 years, it defninitely isn’t Amazon or the Kindle.

Please describe the bookstore mascot.

We’ve had cats in the store over the years, but are currently without any mascot.  Maybe the closest we have to a mascot is local legend Hunter S. Thompson.

Screen shot 2010-09-03 at 12.27.06 PM

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Thursday, August 12th

Eff Yeah, Bookstores!: Subterranean Books.

aug 2010 ps

The following is the first part in an ongoing series highlighting those hidden caches of awesomeness, the independent bookstores that pepper this great land. Subterranean Books is one of the many rad bookstores inhabiting the St. Louis area, and not only are they surviving, but they’re thriving. This short interview with owner, Kelly von Plonski, was conducted via email.

What’s Subterranean’s origin story?
I was working at another bookstore and knew that I wanted to open my own store using my ideas and vision.  I had a business partner and together we borrowed money from relatives and opened Subterranean as a mixed-stock new and used bookstore, in October 2000.  Along the way I’ve transitioned the store from the mixed-stock to all new books, and shed my partner.  This year is our 10th anniversary and we’re still going strong.

What’s the curatorial process when choosing books to stock?
Short version: Gut.  Long version: Everyone on staff has input and the stock is reflective of our personalities. If anyone knows something or feels something about a book or a subject, we’ll stock it.  We also eavesdrop on our customers, pay attention to what’s being special ordered, read blogs, magazines, newspapers…everything to stay up on what would be interesting to carry.  We also carefully track what is already selling so that we are carrying what our customers want.  But especially, since we’re a small store we know our customers–we have conversations with them and we always take what they have to say to heart.  Many many books are on the shelves now because a customer told us about them.

What’s the arts/literature scene in St. Louis like and what role does Subterranean play within it?
The arts/literature scene is thriving.  There are so many small galleries operating right now.  So many drama troupes and poetry groups.  We’ve had an art gallery in the store pretty much since we opened and we’ve had exhibits by almost 100 different artists up.  We help out with Noir at the Bar, a semi-regular literary event that focuses on crime fiction and takes place…in a bar. We’ve hosted traveling authors from Melville House, Soft Skull, Akashic Books, Found vs PostSecret and other really cool edgy publishers.

aug 2010  2 ps
What helps a book sell? What’s been the most successful book at Subterranean?
A passionate bookseller.  People come to us because they trust us so when someone wants a recommendation they almost always take us up on the suggestion.  When one of us just loves loves a book, that excitement comes through and customers respond.  We have recommendation labels (shelf talkers) on a number of books and sales of those titles directly correlate.  Sales will all of a sudden spike for a title and I’ll check, and sure enough, someone has written a shelf talker for it.  By a landslide our bestselling title is ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’, second up is ‘Omnivore’s Dilemma’.

How does a brick-and-mortar store not only survive, but maintain relevance in the age of Amazon?

Because you can touch them, smell them, flip through the pages and hear that lovely page-flipping sound. Turn the cover over to see the back.  You can have a real live conversation, standing at the counter. You can run into someone you haven’t seen in a while or that lives next door. People really appreciate that we curate, that they don’t have to dig through the dreck to get to something good.  They like it that they can ride their bicylcle over, take a coffee break next door, and ride home with a book from the Staff Picks shelf.

Please describe the cat that lives in your store. If you don’t have a bookstore cat, please explain why.

My mom and grandmother were horribly allergic to cats so even though I don’t have allergies, I am very sensitive to those that do and we’ve never had a store cat for that reason.


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Monday, July 19th

The Blueprint for a Good Reading.


Last week I went to probably the best reading I’ve ever seen. Ladies and gentlemen, the graduation reading of Page 15’s Young Writer’s Camp 2010. In the reader’s chair here is Izabelle. She had a whip-smart piece about a couple of students competing for a marine biology scholarship. She dropped some serious wildlife science on a crowd.


This here’s Vincent. He wrote a story hot on the heels of the the biggest sporting event of the decade. It was about a fútbol player named Xavier who worked his way up from the bottom to win the World Cup. A dude literally gets kicked in the face in his story. Sports are rough.


Melik here unfolded an epic super hero tale about a dog named Dookie and his quest to defeat the evil Black I Peas. Have you ever written a story with sentient onions with the teeth of alligators? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Melik beat you to it.


The writing was phenominal, but here’s where most readings pale in comparison to this one: Pizza was served afterward. I’ll bet people would be a lot more interested in readings if ‘roni ‘za were involved.


Keep an eye out for these writers. Their imaginations are going to be making waves very soon. Thanks to Julia Young, Ryan Rivas, Jana Waring and all the volunteers for letting Annalemma be a part of Page 15’s 2010 Young Writers Camp.


And thanks for the card!

Monday, July 5th

Happy Birthday ‘Merica.


Happy Birthday,  USA.


I hope you did something yesterday to make you feel patriotic and I hope you didn’t work, like more than a few people did.


If you did work, you probably felt like you were in Communist Russia. And last time I checked, this was still America. Tell that Rooski boss of yours to quit treading on you.


I hope you ate some American food.


And saw some things that reminded you why this country does, on occasion, kick much ass.

Thursday, June 3rd

How to Sneak Into the Harvard Club.


It’s on 44th street in between 5th and 6th. Wear a sport coat (they won’t let you in without one) and slacks, preferably a dark color, with a button down shirt. You don’t have to wear a tie, in fact it’s probably better if you don’t. You don’t want to appear like you’re overcompensating by dressing too fancy.


The Harvard Club is also a hotel. There’s a front desk which you can’t avoid and the people working behind it are going to ask you if there’s anything they can help you with. Tell them you’re meeting someone at the bar. They will direct you to it. After you’ve breached the first line of security you’re free to roam the premises.


It’s important to walk around like you’ve got somewhere important to be. Or at least like you belong there. If you double-take or second guess your steps, they’ll get suspicious. There’s always someone watching.


There are secluded areas like this one. It is hard to imagine what these spaces, if anything, get used for anymore. It seems like anyone who’d be attending the Harvard Club would either confine themselves to the business room, a small bank of desktop PCs, or the bar.


If you wanted to you could probably sit here for hours, reading. Though that would probably spark suspicion since it’s unlikely anyone ever does this.


Take a picture of the debate fliers that your friend, Bob, would get a kick out of. Lift back one of these frames, find that it is a safe cover, find that the safe is unlocked, find that there is a key in the safe, find that there is a corresponding lock across the hallway in a secret wooden panel, find that the door leads you down into a secret fraternity spanking dungeon.


The Algonquin Hotel is two doors down. Stop in and take a picture. Try to feel a connection, to be moved or wowed by the legacy of New York writers bred by this place. Feel nothing.

Monday, January 25th



Did you do anything exciting this weekend?


Besides going to church?


We did.


We collected treasure the entire weekend.


Well, not the entire weekend.


It was broken up by occasional comments on a certain post.


It felt good and strange and weird and exciting.


And it gave me the feeling that this move to NY was starting to pay off a little bit.


Now if I could only convert all this attention into subscriptions.


Whatever. In a way, it’s just cool and satisfying to be connecting with some people I respect and admire.


But back to the treasures…


When you have someone special in town, everything you see becomes a treasure.


A 1970 Chevy Impala is always a treasure.


Treasure is all around you.

Thursday, January 14th

HIC Update.


Did you know that the deadline for Holiday in Cambodia is tomorrow?!? Holy shit, you better get your holiday story polished up right quick. Especially if you want to be included with the likes of Al Burian. That’s right, Al was good enough to submit a hum-dinger of an en essay that we’ll be posting an excerpt from in the coming weeks.

And in further goodness, Anne took some time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions about her ongoing work in Cambodia.

(All photos courtesy of Anne’s blog)

Annalemma: How’d you first get involved with the young women in Phnom Penh?

Anne Elizabeth Moore: After Punk Planet shut down—partially due to new governmental policies that made it harder and harder to create your own media—I started investigating places that, like, accidentally allowed the government to have undue control over freedom of speech and yet were still considered democracies. Cambodia is seen as having the freest press in Southeast Asia, but still reporters are threatened, harmed, go into hiding, or are killed all the time. So I started reading about the country and came across this dormitory, the Harpswell Foundation Dormitory and Leadership Center for University Women. Of course, I’ve also always been a feminist because in America, in my opinion, as a woman you become a feminist or you decide to hate yourself, so when they invited me to come be a “leadership resident” I was like, of course! So I go to Cambodia, and was like, ok: no literacy, but a lot of photocopies. No respect for copyright law, but a desperate need to communicate. And a small window in this very traditionally gendered society that might allow us to self-publish without government retribution because, since we’re girls, we’re probably not seen as capable of real harm. (Anyway, I only do one thing in the world, right, which is pretty much make zines, so I figured I’d do it there.)


A: Had any of them written about themselves/told their respective stories before?

AEM: Lord no, that is pretty much considered a massive waste of time in Cambodia culture. You gotta remember, though, 99% of the artists in the country—including Sinn Sinsomouk, the recording artist from whom Dengue Fever steals all their stuff—were killed under the Khmer Rouge. Also, the intellectuals, the engineers, former government employees, and anyone who spoke a different language or wore glasses. So, creativity, access to certain skills, all this stuff that might allow them the time and energy and even idea to create their own media is not accessible to them in any way. Also, partially because of the Khmer Rouge regime and also because this is just the traditional way of teaching, students are taught via rote memorization to repeat back what is told them—this is how writing is taught. As you can imagine, the critical capacity that it takes to decide to write your own story isn’t easy to come by.


A: Has it been a positive experience for them?

AEM: I don’t know. They seem happy to see me, but I also know that their cultural teachings are very strong. I think at first they felt very self-indulgent, to be women and to demand space in culture to tell their own stories, much less to distribute them out around the city. I think they’re getting used to it though. After all, they’re aiming to become the first generation of women leaders in the history of the country, so they’re gonna have to start demanding space sooner or later.


A: You’re there right now, how have things changed for the women since your first trip?

AEM: Enormously. I’m still getting my head around the changes to this city, much less to young college women in a rapidly developing country. For one thing, they’re no longer fresh from the countryside. They’re now women of the world, and some have even traveled outside of Cambodia (Although, still not very many of them, as visas are almost impossible to get for most Cambodians). For another, the KFC’s been completed, and so official Kentucky Fried Chicken signs adorn every fucking thing in town, which is eminently less charming than the hilarious and delightful old Khmer Fried Chicken stand-by. “Globalization,”one of the girls said the other night, and she’s right. So, they’re more comfortable out in the big bad world, which is great, but there are less exciting things for them to explore, which sucks. Now that they’ve been to the legendary Kentucky Fried Chicken, why go to America? I mean, I’m being cynical, for sure, but I think this culture’s taken a real hit lately. As if the secret bombing campaign in the 1970’s wasn’t enough! Now KFC too?


A: What’s you’re overall goal with this ongoing project?

AEM: Well, I learned to establish a voice and presence through self-publishing with very few resrouces, and my original goal was to simply see if that translated. It did, but now I guess the question is, what do we want to say with that voice? Especially when fear of governmental or peer retribution runs so high? I think that’s what we’re struggling with now, as we talk about how to proceed with this work. Can we be both strong and safe? People who speak up–the amazing Mu Sochua is just one example–are getting in a lot of trouble right now. So, as the Cambodians say, we go step by step. Step by step. They say it in a much cuter accent than I do, however.


A: You’ve remarked on your blog that there’s an inordinate amount of giggling that occurs between yourself and these women during the times you’ve encountered them. Please explain.

AEM: Well for one, I am hilarious, most particularly to myself, but also, when you don’t share a common comfortable language, you tend to do a lot of things to express yourself. I do a lot of practicing my Khmer on passing animals, for example. Most imnportantly, though, the thing about these young women–for they’re definitely women now and not girls anymore–is that they’re exactly like young adults anywhere else in the world. They talk about boys, try on makeup, want to be pop stars when they grow up, and giggle about anything. It’s just that they started out in rice fields, or houses on stilts in the countryside, and their parents are all genocide survivors. It gives a little bit of a different understanding to a makeup tip when, 35 years ago, makeup in this country was literally inconceivable.

Thanks Anne! As for the rest of you, send those submissions in soon! Also, thanks to Ryan Call for pumping this project up on HTMLgiant and to Matt Bell for doing the same.

Tuesday, December 22nd

Holiday Update.


Things over at the Holiday in Cambodia project are going along swimmingly. So far we’ve had contributions and submissions from lovely people like Todd Dills, Doug Bond, Liz Grover, and Roxane Gay.

All this participation brings our donation total up to $100, and now that I’ve decided to match all the donations this brings our grand total up to $200! That’s $200 going to teach young Cambodian women how to make zines. Which is the coolest fucking thing I’ve ever heard of.

The mother of all American holidays is coming up! All your crazy family members are going to be in one place driving each other nuts! You know that one Aunt or Uncle that ends up drinking way too much and saying something offensive/cringe-inducing/lie-exposing/overtly-racist to your girlfriend or boyfriend who is meeting your family for the first time? Well, now you can turn that uncomfortable moment into something positive by writing it down and sending it to us to publish in a zine, the proceeds of which will go to an amazing cause. Notepads and pens at the ready…and…GO!