Readersforum's Blog

August 31, 2011

Why We Bought a Bookstore

Back in April, SecondAct ran an essay by former Washington Post journalist and author Bradley Graham and his wife Lissa Muscatine, a former speechwriter and advisor to Hillary Clinton, about their decision to embark upon a second career as independent booksellers. All in all, it was a bold move, considering that neither had worked in retail, and the bookstore business has become notoriously dicey due to competition from online booksellers and the rising popularity of downloadable e-books. Here’s the first of occasional progress reports on their adventure.

By Patrick J. Kiger

For Graham, who wrote a highly regarded 2009 book about former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, running Washington, D.C.’s Politics and Prose bookstore is a pleasant change so far from roaming the halls of the Pentagon and cajoling revelations out of tight-lipped government officials.

“When I come to the store in the morning, it doesn’t feel as if I’m going to work,” he says. “It’s like going to a community gathering. We see so many people we know, and everyone has been so welcoming to us.”

But Graham also has found that much of his journalistic skill set is transferable to running a retail business. “Reporting skills are very valuable, in terms of helping to identify what we don’t know about the business and figuring it out,” he explains. “As a reporter you learn to pay attention to detail, which is important to making a business work. And from working with sources, you develop skill in negotiating and interacting with people, and in understanding them and what they want.”

It also helps that both Graham and Muscatine are used to working long hours. Running a bookstore is easier in some ways, he says, because “we don’t feel so much at the mercy of the news cycle. When you’re a reporter on a regular beat, you can’t control when you’re pulled away from whatever you’re doing by breaking news. We haven’t had any emergencies like that in the bookstore, at least not yet.”

The couple took over Politics and Prose in June. Local bibliophiles are grateful to Graham and Muscatine for taking on the challenge, and for good reason. Since its inception in 1984, Politics and Prose has become a favorite gathering spot for literary-minded Washingtonians, who turn out in droves whenever one of the steady stream of visiting big-name authors gives a reading. (The store’s events have such a following that they’re often aired on C-Span.) Beyond that, however, with the gradual demise of other Washington-area independent bookstores and the recent bankruptcy and liquidation of the Borders chain, Politics and Prose is one of the last places in the city where you can peruse everything from a tome on ancient Chinese military history to the latest crime novel by D.C.-based author George Pelecanos, and then discuss the latest scandalous doings in Congress over a latte and a pastry in the basement cafe.

Although this recent Washington Post article reports that independent bookstores across the nation are enjoying a surprising resurgence, Politics and Prose’s future prospects depend on Graham’s and Muscatine’s ability to strike a deft balance between maintaining (and augmenting) the store’s traditional charms and adjusting to a trade increasingly dominated by the internet.

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A Spotify for books?

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , , , — Bookblurb @ 5:51 am


SMALL PRINT: BOOKSHOPS MAY HAVE suffered due to the online migration of book sales, but the book-publishing industry still manages to make good money from its content, unlike the film and music industries. The proliferation of electronic readers has seen consumers change the way they read, but most people continue to pay for books.

Now, though, a Norwegian website is trying out the Spotify model (whereby subscribers can stream music) for audiobooks., still in beta, is a collaborative project between a Norwegian publishing house and Aspiro, a Swedish company that works mainly with television and music streaming services. The service, which is focusing on Norwegian books for the time being, offers 150 audiobooks for free at the moment, and further titles are available for purchase.

Ordflyt (the site might want to come up with a catchier name if the service ends up going international) also plans to launch iPhone and Android apps in the next few months. more

For George Pelecanos, D.C. makes ‘The Cut’

Filed under: Crime Fiction — Tags: , , , — Bookblurb @ 5:50 am

By Carol Memmott

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– George Pelecanos, gearhead, movie buff and crime novelist, is rolling through Silver Spring, Md., in his 2008 Bullitt-replica Mustang.

The Highland Green fastback, one of only 7,700 built by Ford, was snagged by guys who love the iconic 1968 film starring Steve McQueen. In his role as police Lt. Frank Bullitt, the Mustang-driving “King of Cool” pursues a Tuxedo Black Dodge Charger through San Francisco in one of the greatest car-chase sequences in movie history.

“It’s kind of corny, but I bought my own Bullitt Mustang,” says Pelecanos, 54, who says the McQueen movie was one of his favorites growing up. “I sort of had to have it.” He points out, with obvious delight, that his was No. 28 off the line.

“I have a great love of films,” he says. “I went from being a movie freak to being a novelist, and it was very influential in my work.”

The author of 17 crime novels set in the gritty, “other” Washington and a writer/producer for HBO’s critically acclaimed series The Wire and now Treme steers the Mustang over the D.C. line toward his destination: a church parking lot that he says “is a good place to kill a guy.”

Pelecanos has been here several times before, either on his Trek bike or on foot. It’s how he scouts locations for scenes in his books. The Cut adds a new protagonist — a young Iraq War vet turned P.I. named Spero Lucas — to the stable of detectives, cops, criminals and honest everyday folk of all colors who people his novels. The Cut went on sale today.

While he drives, Pelecanos points out a house where he imagines Lucas lives and the local Safeway where one of his characters buys his morning coffee. “I’m always out on my bike,” says Pelecanos, who lives in Silver Spring, not far from the nation’s capital. “I found Lucas’ house. I found the house he breaks into. I did the walk from his house to the church one night. I wanted to see what it feels like to be walking at night in these places where there are not many people. I wanted to make sure you could kill a guy a half-block from the 4th District police station.”

This coplike knowledge of the streets gives his novels authenticity. They are, he says, “a combination of just being out there, being engaged with the city, because I’m not a person who has a huge imagination. I can’t sit in an office and make my stories up or dream up my characters — I have to go out there and find them. I’m just a firm believer in breathing the air and feeling the dirt between your fingers.”

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Half million print run for new Wimpy Kid

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , , — Bookblurb @ 5:46 am

       By  Katie Allen

Puffin is to release an initial print run of half a million copies of the new Wimpy Kid title, Cabin Fever, published on 16th November.

The print run is the largest in the history of the children’s publisher, and will be Penguin’s largest initial UK print run this autumn, exceeded only by Jamie Oliver.

“I am very excited to be pressing the button on this unprecedented initial print run,” said Penguin Children’s Books m.d. Francesca Dow. “The publication of Cabin Fever in November will be unmissable and will amount to a spectacular autumn for Puffin and for the Wimpy Kid series.”

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Madonna’s Sex most sought after out-of-print book

Madonna's Sex most sought after out-of-print book

Explicit coffee-table title continues to be in hot demand, according to Bookfinder research.

By Alison Flood

Madonna’s explicit book Sex is once again America’s most sought after out-of-print title of the year, according to BookFinder’s annual report.

The graphic coffee-table book, featuring – in the words of BookFinder, “photos of the Material Girl, without the material” – has been one of the most popular out-of-print titles in the US for years and a collector’s item since it was first published in 1992. “Since Madonna is never one to do something twice, and the fact that the once highly controversial book is less edgy than it once was leads us to guess that Sex will remain out of print,” predicted the book search engine, a subsidiary of AbeBooks, last year.

BookFinder has tracked the most searched for out-of-print titles in America over the last 12 months for its annual report, which sees romantic suspense author Nora Roberts’s novel Promise Me Tomorrow come in second.

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Of Bugs and Books

Filed under: Authors — Tags: , , — Bookblurb @ 5:35 am

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HERE in Nashville, the spring wasn’t so good. It was the season of the 13-year cicadas, which meant small holes opened up in the earth and the crisp-shelled, pasty-colored nymphs (that’s what they’re called) crawled up by the millions to party after 13 years spent below ground sucking sap from tree roots. Banners went up around town that said Sing, Mate, Die. A few days later the nymphs split their shells and emerged into full adulthood, the red-eyed, black-winged insects of the apocalypse. Their inescapable, screeching love songs filled my ears while they flew into my head and tangled in my hair. All the dogs in the neighborhood were sick from their constant cicada binging. It’s like being in a popcorn popper full of giant bugs for about six weeks, and no matter how many times you’ve seen them before, it’s always something of a shock.

The same could be said for a book tour, which I was set to embark on just about the time the insects would be winding down. As often as I’ve done this, it always feels as if I’m about to be shipped to Australia on a convict vessel. I wake up at 3 in the morning, empty out all the drawers in the kitchen, clean and reorganize them, then go back to bed. (My husband opens one eye upon my return. “Anxious?” he asks.) I am by nature a homebody, and while I like people just fine, I don’t necessarily like getting on a plane every day and going from city to city to meet them. But mine is a beautiful life, and for me this is the price of doing business.

And so I packed my bag and swept the morning’s haul of cicada corpses off the front walk and sallied forth to see America. more

Modern Steinbecks emerge to chronicle tough times

AP/iStockphoto Joseph Oeler Jr., 35, of Hollywood, Fla. waits in line at a job fair sponsored by National Career Fairs in Dania Beach, Fla.


A burgeoning literary movement is telling the story of the great recession through those hurting the most.

By Jeff Martin

Bill Maher once suggested that while he didn’t advocate the use of heroin, it certainly didn’t hurt his record collection. The same sentiment applies to American literary fiction in tough economic times. While no one would ever wish for high unemployment or a schizophrenic stock market, it’s always brought out the best in our writers.

Since the beginning of this “Great Recession,” a scattered collection of fresh new voices have emerged — call them the socio-economic realists. The most prominent might be Bonnie Jo Campbell, whose searing “American Salvage” was a finalist for the both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2009. Campbell’s first two books, while equally gritty as hell, never caught on – she didn’t change, the world did. (“American Salvage” was published by a university press; her latest novel, “Once Upon a River,” was published last month by W.W. Norton.)

Today is the publication date for Frank Bill’s “Crimes in Southern Indiana,” which puts his home on the literary map next to Cormac McCarthy’s eastern Tennessee and Daniel Woodrell’s Missouri Ozarks. It’s a blistering, vivid and flat-out fearless debut, both a wake-up call and a gut punch. Welcome to heartland America circa right about now, when the union jobs and family farms that kept the white on the picket fences have given way to meth labs, backwoods gunrunners and bare-knuckle brawling. more

Is the Screen Always Worse Than the Page?

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By Rachel Deahl

The critics have been rather unkind towards One Day (unfairly so, if you ask me), but all the hullabaloo about the tepidly-received adaptation of David Nicholls’s novel has made a favorite parlor game bubble to the surface: can movie versions of books ever compare to the original? (At many fans are talking about books that Hollywood shouldn’t touch;  The Atlantic took One Day as an opportunity to discuss some of the eternal problems with romance on screen.)

As Slate critic Dana Stevens noted in her (mostly positive reviews) of the current Graham Greene adaptation, Brighton Rock, there is “some pretty robust evidence” proving great literature does not usually become great films. Of course, as Stevens then goes onto explain, Graham Greene, and this thriller in particular, has proven unusually fertile ground for many filmmakers.

For awhile I had a theory that literary novels were the toughest to translate to film. Genre works—a dicey and tricky description in and of itself—were the way to go. This, I assumed, accounted for the fact that so many of my favorite science fiction films are based on Phillip K. Dick novels (Blade Runner, Minority Report, Total Recall); that a few of my favorite Hitchcock novels are based on Daphne Du Maurier works (Rebecca and The Birds); and that Anthony Minghella, a director who is no stranger to turning popular, bestselling literary works into films, was at his best working off of a Patricia Highsmith novel, with The Talented Mr. Ripley.
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Hersey’s “Hiroshima” and Hibakusha

Filed under: Today in Literature — Tags: , , — Bookblurb @ 5:13 am

John Hersey (1914 - 1993)

On this day in 1946 John Hersey’s “Hiroshima” was published in The New Yorker. The article took up almost all sixty-eight pages of text space, an unprecedented and unannounced step for the magazine, taken so “that everyone might well take time to consider.” When Hersey died in 1993, one obituary called “Hiroshima” the “most famous magazine article ever published.”

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August 30, 2011

The Slap adaptation for BBC Four

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|By Katie Allen

BBC Four has acquired an Australian adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas’ Man Booker-longlisted novel The Slap.

“Hotel Rwanda” actress Sophie Okenedo, Jonathan La Paglia and Melissa George will star in the series of eight one-hour episodes, described as a “very well made tale of our times” by the channel. BBC Four will broadcast in October.

The Slap follows the repercussions of a summer barbeque, where a man slaps a child who is not his own. Despite not making the shortlist for last year’s Man Booker, the Tuskar Rock/Atlantic title was one of the bestselling titles on the longlist, clocking up sales of 268,000 copies across all print editions through Nielsen BookScan data.

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