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Announcing Our New Director

September 30th, 2013

After several months of searching, we are pleased to announce that we have a new Director at the Georgia Center for the Book!

Alison Weissinger, Director of the DeKalb County Public Library sent this e-mail to her staff and the Georgia Center for the Book Advisory Council on 9/24 announcing the name of the new Director:

“I am pleased to announce that Joe Davich has been hired as the new Director of the Georgia Center for the Book. As many of you know, Joe has worked for the GCB/DCPL in a merit-exempt position for the past eight years. He is a fixture in the metro-Atlanta literary scene and I look forward to seeing the Center for the Book grow and flourish under his leadership. Please join me in welcoming Joe in his new role!”

The Last Bill Blog

April 6th, 2013

Endings are really just another way of beginning. And as another end looms for me, so another beginning awaits. And very soon.

After more than 10 wonderfully satisfying, fun-filled years as executive director of the Georgia Center for the Book, I am  departing for an eagerly anticipated reward: a life and time close to kids and grandkids. Call it a retirement if you like, but to me it’s just the next step on a continuing, memorable journey.

Of course, the Center for the Book has been its own reward in many ways. The opportunity to connect tens of thousands of readers to an amazing variety of writers in my native state over the last decade has been a formidable and consistently delightful challenge. And I’ve gotten paid for it — how lucky is that? To be able to read books for a living, talk about them and share their authors has been an endeavor for which I shall always be grateful.

And I will always be grateful for the many people I have come to know, a lot and a little, in the process. Our paths have crossed frequently, and I have always been the beneficiary of an affectionate support that I cannot begin to repay. Everything that I accomplished  would have meant nothing  had there been no one there to share it with. Fortunately, there were many, and I thank you all.

I’ve learned lots of things over the last 10 years. Foremost among them  has been an unabashed admiration for the gift of public libraries and the dedicated work of librarians. We should all honor them.

So it’s time to hit the road. Lots more thrills and chills ahead. Besides, I hope to have the time now to figure out what it is I really want to do when I grow up.

Blessings to all of you. And thanks, too.

 

Bill

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Goblinproofing And Other Books

March 27th, 2013

I love peculiar book titles. Remember “Ship Building for Couples” and “Bombproof Your Horse?What was that about anyway?

And now we have some new entries, courtesy of the Diagram Prize from Great Britain, awarded to the oddest book titles of the year. The winner, you’ll be thrilled to know, is what surely is destined to become a classic, and I kid you not: “Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop.” Yes, who hasn’t been worried sick over how to be absolutely certain none of these little creatures disturbs the chicks? It’s not enough to worry about cats, rats, hawks, foxes and snakes — it’s the goblins that will get ya.

The administrator of the prize, Horace Bent, says this of the book: “It is perhaps no coincidence that in these austere times that a book aimed to assist members of the public frugally farming their own produce proved the most popular title on our six-strong shortlist. It also illustrates that the public at large is afflicted by an incredible amount of paranoia regarding the threat foreign invaders pose to their property.” I couldn’t have put it better myself. The book strikes a signal blow against the dangers posed by the fairy kingdom to our fowls.

Of course, if “Goblinproofing” was the winner, who came close but failed to win the prize? The shortlist includes these appealing (or is it appaling?) titles:

“How Tea Cosies Changed the World”

God’s Doodle: The Life and Times of the Penis”

“How to Shaepen Pencils”

“Was Hitler Ill?”

“Lofts of North America: Pigeon Lofts”

That’s a strong list, to be sure — who couldn’t profit from reading those? — and they join a list of quasi-distinguished previous winners and nomnineers that includes “Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers,” “Highlights in the History of Concrete” and “A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian.” And yes, those are all real books. Look ‘em up.

And you thought there was nothing good to read out there ……

 

 

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Selling E-Books

March 18th, 2013

If you had any doubts about the rise of the e-book — and you didn’t really, did you? — Publishers Weekly has come up with some statistics that are pretty solidly convincing. The magazine has completed a survey that uncovered the information that more than 1,000 e-books published in 2011 and 2012 sold at least 25,000 copies (or whatever you want to call e-books). That’s a heap o’ digital, folks.

It is no surprise — publishers tell us that the popularity of e-books has been on the rise for the last five years — but it documents a higher degree of bestsellerdom for the digitally produced books. And it probably goes a long way in explaining why mass markets paperbacks — the least expensive and traditionally the biggest selling paperbacks — have seen declining interest and sales over the last couple of years.

[It doesn't however, go quite far enough to explain why the prices for the e-book versions of those mass market paperbacks remain so high -- high enough that for many purchasers, still, it makes no sense to pay a similar, higher or perhaps only slightly lower price for the electronic version of the costly-to-produce paper edition.]

The e-book bestseller list contains the usual suspects. In fact, you could probably come up with your own guesses and be pretty much spot-on. The biggest selling e-book with over 15-million sold has been the “50 Shades of Grey” trilogy written by the British author E.L. James (evidence, as if we needed it, that not everything the Brits write is deserving of a Man Booker Prize). Next is “The Hunger Games” followed by Nora Roberts, James Patterson and more very familiar names. In other words, the majority of readers of e-books aren’t straining their brains any more than their print-paperback colleagues.

So, does it make any difference? The short term answer is likely nope, none. You want to buy a paperback, it will be there. Prefer the e-book version? It’s there, too. I can’t imagine that landscape getting altered much over the next several years. After that? Well, anyone’s guess is a pretty good one. My only surmise is that the industry won’t disappear; readers aren’t going anywhere, in spite of the lures of the internet, television, NASCAR, twitter, sequestration, and all the other things that want to seize our attention spans these days.

Award winners and Philip Roth

March 4th, 2013

What did you think of the National Book Critics Circle Awards announced late last week? They seemed to me representative of the rather self-conscious choices the NBCC board makes nearly every year. As a former member of that august body, and probably its least member, I recall that deliberations tended to be focused on what titles weren’t getting awards anywhere else and whose favorites had been ignored.  The higher up you were on the literary ladder of prominence, the more your choices counted (and conversely how little they mattered when the lowest rung on the ladder spoke up, which was more often than some preferred). However, that begins to sound rather whiny on my part, and I don’t intend that at all. Whatever might be said about their final decisions, the board members, I can attest, took the deliberations with the utmost seriousness and occasionally with considerable tension in the discussion. I respect them all.

This year’s winners were “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” by Ben Fountain (fiction), “Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity” by Andrew Solomon (nonfiction), “The Passage of Power” by Robert A. Caro (biography), “Swimming Studies” by Leanne Shapton (autobiography), “Useless Landscape, Or a Guide for Boys” by D.A. Powell (poetry), and “Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights” by Marina Warner (criticism). Interesting choices which for the most part eschew bestellerdom, as might be expected from the NBCC. I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that few of you have read more than one of those titles if any. For the record, I have read only one, Caro’s fourth volume of his biography of President Lyndon B. Johnson.

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And on the subject of literary things you might have missed recently, a poll of some noted writers reported in the British newspaper The Manchester Guardian found that more 77% thought the greatest living American writer is Philip Roth. And the largest number of writers polled — 24% — thought “Sabbath’s Theater” is Roth’s best book. runner-up was Don DeLillo with 7% of the votes.

Cormac McCarthy? Out of the running. Salman Rushdie? He was one of the voters. Nicholas Sparks? Just wanted to se if you were paying attention.

Feel free to add your own choice to the short list.

 

Recalling 1963

February 20th, 2013

We seem to be reveling in another nostalgic moment what with the big to-do over Michael Jordan’s 50th birthday and the accompanying look backs at his remarkable career. In that sort of spirit, I decided to look back 50 years ago to see what was happening in the literary world. I was just finishing up in college at the time and don’t believe that anything literary had much of an impact on my life. My, how times do change us.

For one thing in 1963, William Faulkner was still alive, so that meant that what would become his final novel, “The Reivers,” was the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. It wasn’t the biggest bestseller of the year in fiction, however; that honor was shared by a pair of books, “The Shoes of the Fisherman” by Morris West and “The Group” by Mary McCarthy. McCarthy’s name and work survive in some fashion to this day, not sure that many remember Morris West. (If you’re curious, he was an Australian author who died in 1999. And “Fisherman” does have an odd connection to today’s events — it’s about the election of a new Pope.)

The other Pulitzer Prize-winning books of the year were Leon Edel’s multi-volume biography of Henry James — a set that remains the most comprehensive account of the author’s life 50 years after it’s appearance — and Barbara Tuchman’s book about World War I, “The Guns of August,” another title that still shows up on current reader’s lists.

The Pulitzer for Poetry went to William Carlos Williams for his collection “Pictures from Brueghel.” But it was a sad year for poetry, because not only was 1963 the year of the death of Williams and Sylvia Plath but also the year that Robert Frost, arguably America’s greatest poet, died. Frost’s death was universally mourned, and half a century after his passing his work remains as vital and read as it was during his lifetime. I can think of no poet whose work has touched me more personally over the years than Frost.

 

And finally, 1963 marked the debut of a remarkable young novelist about whom almost nothing is known to this day, and no I’m not referring to J.D. Salinger.  The young author is Thomas Pynchon, whose “V” was published that year, heralding a career of great promise — and mystery.

1963 was indeed a most interesting literary year. Sorry if you happened to miss it.

 

 

Bookselling News

February 5th, 2013

Word got out recently that the bookselling behemoth Barnes & Noble plans to close about 300 stores over the next 10 years. That’s about one-third of its outlets nationally. The surprise news set off a new round of teeth-gnashing and chest-thumping from both supporters and opponents of the giant chain. Both responses seem perhaps a little over the top.

First, any news of book outlets closing cannot be considered good news by any stretch of the imagination. Our country has been in a book crisis for at least the last decade with hundreds of stores closing, independents and chains alike. Remembers Borders? Remember your local independent? Their loss has saddened those of us who hold the the somewhat outdated belief that a bookstore on every corner is the least mark of a flourishing civilization. And we still believe in dinosaurs, too, most of us.

Second, there inevitably will be the unpleasant reality that people will lose their jobs when these B&N outlets shut down. Since it’s supposed to be a gradual series of closings, perhaps there will be lots of warnings, but even so no one who is employed now and faces unemployment can be cheered by this news. It’s not good for anyone.

Of course, some will point to the aggressive moves of Barnes & Noble in the past, taking over communities where long-surviving independent book shops found themselves pushed out of business, crushed by B&N’s gigantic scale and a certain degree of corporate avariciousness. At the least, this has been unfortunate. And the retort to B&N is simply this: “you’re getting done to you what you did to us.” But while there may be a measure of satisfaction in that, this kind of revenge is hardly very agreeable nor desirable.

Over this last difficult decade, a lot of independent bookstores have learned how to survive. They taken the hard times, grasped them and grown from them, staking out a place for themselves a welcome and necessary position in their local communities. And honestly, many of the ones that have survived so far are far stronger than before. They have adapted some of the good things about B&N, and they are not likely to disappear, no matter what happens to their huge competitor.

Someone suggested that the real bad guy in all this is Starbucks. Why? Well, because it was the presence of the coffee giant inside the book giant that made the chain Barnes & Noble so increasingly desirable a stop for so a lot of people, many of them who cared little for books or magazines or anything else found on the shelves of B&N. There might be something to that; I know that if Dunkin Donuts had placed their shops inside B&N, I would be visiting far more B&N’s than I do these days.

And then there’s Amazon. The online bookseller (and seller of everything else) poses major challenges to brick and mortar stores, without question. Amazon’s sales impact chains and independents alike, though it’s difficult for me to see how the lack of more places to see books first-hand can easily translate into additional online sales.

The bottom line here seems to be not a very happy one. In my ideal world, we’d have more bookstores, not fewer. We’d have more readers, not fewer. We’d have more choices, not fewer. And Democrats and Republicans would get along in a “country first” determination. Call me a silly dreamer.

Out of Print Lists

January 22nd, 2013

To continue my fetish for book lists with a rather unusual entry …

The folks at BookFinder have come up with a decidedly offbeat list for you — it’s the 100 most searched-for out-of-print books. Yes, this is a compilation of the most popular books that you can’t easy locate that people nonetheless are trying to find. When you see the entire list, you may be forgiven for wondering why anyone would want to waste time trying to find one of these books under any circumstances, but then let us remember that we all have our own fetishes.

The number one most searched-for title — betcha’ won’t guess this, either — is Madonna’s “Sex.” Yep, that mostly picture book that most bookstores kept under wraps a few years ago. Apparently while it may have gone out of print it has never gone out of the mind of a lot of people. Number two on the list is the Stephen King/Richard Bachman book “Rage” followed by Nora Roberts’ “My Pretty Pony.” I’m guessing you didn’t guess those two titles either, right?

I don’t have the space or the inclination to publish the complete list (you can find it at BookFinder), but it includes the steamy slavery era novel “Mandingo” by Kyle Onstott, Johnny Cash’s “Man inBlack,” the largely indecipherable “Codex Seraphinianus” by the Italian artist/visionary Luigi Serafini, “The Jerusalem Bible” illustrated by Salvador Dali, “Collector’s Guide to Colt .45 Service Pistols,” a steamy slavery era novel by Kyle Onstott “Drum,” “102 Favorite Paintings” by Norman Rockwell, “Sisters,” the erotic novel by Lynne Cheney, wife of former Vice President Dick Cheney, “Murmurs of Earth” by Carl Sagan, “Practical Gunsmithing,” “Basic Medical Laboratory Subjects” and finally a steamy slavery era novel by Kyle Onstott, “The Black Sun.”

See any patterns there?

Well, maybe you’re wondering who the heck Kyle Onstott is? Actually, it’s WAS. He died at the age of 79 in 1966, nine years after “Mandingo” was published. He was originally a dog breeder whose later books — that is, the posthumously published ones — were mostly written by somebody else but which apparently still resonate with some readers.

If you have a chance, check out the entire list. It might have something you’d care about in it.

2012 Bestsellers

January 11th, 2013

Even occasional readers of this slog … er, blog … will hardly have failed to notice that I am fond of lists. And the sillier the list the better. So what could possibly be goofier than a list of what books Americans bought most often in the year 2012? I’m not sure much could, frankly, and when you see the list you might concur.

As reported by BookScan, about half of the top 20 bestselling books last year were either — drum roll, please — Fifty Shades of Gray titles or Hunger Games titles. Meaning, I think, that Americans are totally absorbed with softly sadomasochistic, post-apocalyptic worlds. And did anyone mention vampires?

This revelation undoubtedly says something about this country, but I think I’m afraid to ask exactly what that might be. But on the theory that reading something is better than reading nothing, I’ll let it drop.

While neither Suzanne Collins nor E.L. James, both of whom seem to be quite pleasant people, is going to enter the pantheon of great writers on the basis of their books so far, it is instructive and almost amusing to look at the other half of the top 20 list of bestselling books, none of whose authors would particularly seem destined for greatness either.

Bill O’Reilly, the TV commentator, is represented with two books, “Killing Lincoln” and “Killing Kennedy,” of which there are a lot of jakes to be made. Feel free to make up your own. I haven’t read either since I defer to real historians when it comes to reading history, but I’m clearly in the minority. John Grisham’s “The Racketeer” is on the list, and so is J.K. Rowling’s post-Harry Potter grown-up novel, “The Casual Vacancy.”

The rest of the list that isn’t Fifty Shades of Gray or Hunger Games includes, in no particular order, “No Easy Day” by Mark Owen, “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young, “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn and Diary of a Wimpy Kid” by Jeff Kinney. I wonder if there’s someone out there who has actually read all of those books? If so, I’d be delighted to award you the gift of Bill O’Reilly’s next book, ‘Killing Fillmore.”

But we’re in a new year filled with new hope, so whatever your reading desires, may you find and devour whatever tastes good.

Making Resolutions

December 29th, 2012

The arrival of a new year invariably brings with it a desire to do something differently. It usually comes in the form of a resolution, and that is usually framed in terms of getting something right in your life. Like losing weight. Or saving money. Or spending more time with family. Or washing the cat.

I’m one of those people who occasionally used to come up with a resolution or two every January 1 but who has in recent years — make that the last four decades or so — abandoned the idea. Partly because I never seem to keep them, and partly because I keep forgetting to make them. Americans as a bunch seem to have similar issues with consistency. A study by researchers at the University of Scranton — who might consider resolving to spend their time in better ways — turned up evidence that 45% of Americans usually make new year’s resolutions. Not surprising. But they also found that 39% NEVER make resolutions. In other words, we are a divided people.

This, of course, is hardly a headline. Some Democrats and many Republicans these days seem divided by everything including logic, good sense and well being. I doubt the two major political parties could even agree on a need for resolutions much less what they ought to be. So it’s up to the rest of us — that is, those of us who don’t serve in Congress — to come up with some resolutions if we are to preserve new year’s traditions. Of course, as I mentioned, I’m on the side of no resolutions, so I’ll have to cross the aisle, so to speak, in an effort to come up with anything.

In a desire to further compromise — a word politicians can no longer even spell, apparently — I offer my own resolutions for 2013, admittedly a very short list but one I’ll actually make an effort to fulfill:

1. I will not seek election to Congress.

2. I will read more good books.

3. I will stop eating so many potato chips.

4. I will take longer vacations (seriously).

5. I will stop buying watches (seriously).

6. I will not use any of my digits to communicate with idiots behind the wheel of other cars.

7. I will continue support for the Boston Red Sox no matter what stupid things management does.

There. I must confess i do feel a little better. A little more determined. Resolved. You can check back with me later in the year so see how things are working out. Although if you cut me off in traffic you may not have to wait long.

Happy New Year. See you in ’13.