Friday, January 31, 2020

AUTHOR IN CHIEF, by Craig Fehrman

Author In Chief, by Craig Fehrman
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Regular readers know about my journey to visit and document independent bookstores across the country.  This entry is not about a bookstore, but a soon to be released (Feb 11, 2020) book about presidents, their books, presidential history, and some mention of historical bookstores.  Craig Fehrman discovered my blog and kindly asked if I would read his advance reader's copy and interview him about his new book.  For all you booksellers, I encourage to read the interview and prepare to hand-sell this great book when it's released.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book and can strongly recommend it.  Read on.

This is a nineteenth-century engraving of an independent bookstore in Baltimore.  This picture looks like many I've taken on my tour, the view from the front entrance looking into the store perhaps.  

The Indie Bob Spot:  Thank you for the advance opportunity to read this book and dialogue a bit with you about it.  I cannot even fathom the overwhelming amount of research you did for this book.  But before you read a single sentence of research, what was the spark that ignited your interest in this subject of presidents, their books, and many things related to books?

Craig Fehrman:  Believe it or not, this all started back in 2008. Like a lot of people, I was following the election obsessively, and I noticed that Barack Obama's books were really good and really resonating with voters. Not a very original observation! Still, I found myself wondering if there was a history here, a history of other books making this kind of impact. By 2009 I was digging into that history, and I discovered a story that was far richer than I expected -- rich not just in new insights into our presidents but in new details about old bookstores, steam-powered printing presses, and the lives of regular readers.

A young John Kennedy already writing.  
TIBS:  Some of the presidents you chose to feature were obvious candidates.  The Founding Fathers, Lincoln, the Roosevelts, JFK, and Obama.  Yet many presidents were omitted (Tyler, Polk, Fillmore, Arthur, Cleveland, e.g., just to name a few).  Not as prolific writers or you simply had to limit your material?

CF:  I felt like I had a real story to tell here -- the evolution from the first campaign book (Jefferson) and the first presidential memoir (Adams) to our current moment of political publishing. So many presidential books were big and important titles in their own times. One way to see this is that lots of presidents read other presidents. (Adams, for instance, carefully perused Jefferson's book.) C

Anyway, I wanted to keep my book fun and focused in order to tell that story. That was the most important thing to me. I spent several days in Kansas, for example, doing research at the Eisenhower library. I found some fascinating material, but it overlapped with the Truman chapter, and I wanted to keep the narrative moving. In the final book there's only a half a page on Eisenhower, but I hope that made Author in Chief a better book.

TIBS:  What would be some suggestions you could give booksellers in promoting your books to their readers?

CF:  I believe booksellers are the real experts here -- they know their customers better than I do. That's why it was so amazing to see Author in Chief on the February Indie Next list. I love the blurb from the list, from a wonderful San Francisco bookseller named Katerina. She said my book offers "a perfect combination of history, politics, and bibliophilia," and I hope she's right! Author in Chief is a book for history buffs, but it's also a book for any serious reader. The stuff on reading practices and old bookstores can show those serious readers the history of themselves. 

TIBS:  Do you have another book project in mind and/or are you working on something now?

CF:  I spent ten years on this one, so I better be really, really sure before I try another one! Right now I am spending a lot of time watching my kids, who are three and one, and getting ready for the book tour. Maybe a new idea will come to me on the road -- there's no better place to get inspired than at an independent bookstore!

TIBS:  I absolutely loved your mentions of some of our country’s earliest independent bookstores.  In many ways, they sounded much like what we see today.  Did your research reveal any additional info about early bookstores and/or can you tell us more about the ones you did mention?

CF:  I'm so glad you felt there were similarities. One of my favorite things about books, and book people, is that they haven't changed all that much. Abraham Lincoln's belief in the power of print -- to preserve ideas, to inspire critical thinking -- sounds a lot like what passionate readers would say today. (And Lincoln's belief is what inspired him to write a bestselling book of his own.)

Even at early bookstores, they sold sidelines.  
In terms of actual stores, I feature more than a dozen in my book. One favorite is the London Bookstore in Boston, which John Adams often shopped at. While there are no surviving images of the London Bookstore, here's one of a similar store that was also open in Boston in the eighteenth century: (see photo on right)

Stores like this didn't just sell books -- they sold quill pens and ink and even bottles of British beer to supplement their book sales. That reminds me a lot of indie bookstores today, which curate beautiful stationery or hand-made cards. A good bookstore teems with all kinds of culture, and bookstores also respond to that culture. The owner of the London Bookstore got run out of Boston during the buildup to the Revolutionary War!

TIBS:  You curiously did not include much about the current president.  Was the research you wanted just not there?  A limited body of work?

CF:  I think it's clear that Trump is not as literary as, say, Obama. (Honestly, very few presidents are as literary as Obama -- John Quincy Adams is the only real parallel in terms of bookish ambition.) But the biggest reason I didn't do, say, a Trump chapter was the desire to tell a real story I mentioned above. Trump does show up for a couple pages when I'm talking about blockbuster publishing -- the system that emerged in the 1980s and prioritized celebrity hardcover books, books that would show up not just in independent bookstores but in national chains and even at grocery stores and other retailers. The Art of the Deal is a perfect example of this system -- Trump did multiple book signings at Waldenbooks -- and I interviewed the book's editor to get the behind-the-scenes story about it.

Crazy detail: this editor, Peter Osnos, didn't just publish Trump's book -- he published Obama's Dreams from my Father too!

TIBS:  Thank you so much for the opportunity to read AUTHOR IN CHIEF.  Good luck on your bookstore tour and good luck on the release.  

CF:  Thanks for these thoughtful questions, and for a chance to talk to your audience. (I found out about your site from another smart bookseller in Cincinnati.) 

I am as much a book person as I am a history person, and I hope my book reflects this. If someone loves independent bookstores or reading in general, I think they will really enjoy Author in Chief!

Monday, January 27, 2020

Novel Ideas Books & Gifts - Decatur, IL

Novel Ideas Books & Gifts, Decatur, IL
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Kim S. is the owner at Novel Ideas Books & Gifts and her story will sound very familiar to other indie owners.  Kim was in the corporate world before Novel Ideas was born when she met her future husband Mike who had a used book store in Arlington, VA.  A series of events, including marriage, led them to the heartland and Decatur, IL where they founded Novel Ideas Books & Gifts which has been enjoying a successful run for 25 years, 18 years in its current location.  As Kim told me, when they began the business it started out as an experiment (sound familiar, indie owners?).  And now 25 years later, Decatur enjoys a wonderful book and gift shop, the only one of its kind in a town of 70,000+.  After seeing this terrific shop, I'll go out on a limb and say the experiment is a success.

This one-level store with an expansive parking lot is in the near downtown area.  The store offers 20,000 new and used books and there are another 20,000 in the upstairs storage area.  Customers are offered trade or cash for the good used books they bring in.  They also offer a strong inventory of collectible and vintage editions that can be purchased in-store or on their online site.  The sidelines here were impressive and are definitely an important part of the business.  Everything from candles to jewelry and all that stuff in-between that you only see at independent bookstores.  The variety and volume of socks are outstanding.  Not only are these socks one of their bestsellers, but Kim told me socks sales saved the business during the recession.  The store doesn't have the available space for events but they have great options off-site at the Decatur Public Library right next door or at nearby Millikin University.

The store's success has come in part due to a famous local department store that closed and offered many of the items you can now find here including books and gifts.  They also enjoy the advantage of owning the building.  Their regular customer base is strong and they see lots of traffic from out-of-town customers as well.  What began as an experiment is now a solid member of the retail community in Decatur.  Enjoy a visit to this super indie and take time to congratulate Kim on an accomplishment that deserves to be recognized and acknowledged.  Congratulations Kim and Mike!  Go to an indie and buy a book.  Bonsoir.

JUST FINISHED:  Golden Hill, Francis Spufford.  Didn't finish, couldn't get into it.  The story might be good but the writing style didn't work for me.  Set in 18th century Manhattan and the writing style was as if written during that time.

CURRENTLY READING:  The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey.

RECENTLY PURCHASED:  Some Autumn Days In Iowa, Frederick John Lazell.

Just outside one of the entrances is a great gathering space to use during nice weather.

There are two entrances to the bookstore.  The entrance seen in the picture at the top of this blog entry and the one pictured below.  The entrance pictured here has a great handicap accessible ramp.  Perfect for those customers as well as the UPS deliveries!
This is the other entrance.  The nice thing about this entrance is you'll be walking right into the room with $1 bargain books.  

An incredible exterior mural designed by a Millikin University student.  All are welcome here.  

This is the view from the entrance by the mural.  This is the bargain book room.

You might as well take this.  You're going to need it.  

After entering and walking through the bargain book room, this is the view looking into the remainder of the store.  

Looking to the left after coming through the bargain room.  

Lots of stuff for kids besides the games and toys.  

Appropriate winter wear.  

This is only a fraction of the socks available here.  

An incredibly comfy sofa to sample a book.  

Again, this wall of socks are only some that are available here.  They also have socks for kids.  

The store offers a variety of jewelry.  

I love these artistic figurines.  

From the above figurines, this one is called Treasure Chest for obvious reasons.  Clever.  

Lots of candles.

Just a few of the greeting cards offered.  

This would be a great catch for Charles Dickens fans.  

Nothing like a long wall of books!

Surely there must be some horticulture fans interested in these editions?  

You'll notice in this display a good selection of Packers items.  Kim is a huge Packer fan and you can be sure that she has curated these sidelines diligently.  

Well said.  

Music CDs can be found here.  

This beautiful ceramic horse sculpture is available for sale.  

Of course they have jigsaw puzzles.  

Kim has set up a great area to play with the games and activities.  Kids will love this store.  

View looking into the store from the patio/ramp entrance.  Some readers may recognize devoted staffer Michelle T. on the right pondering her purchase.  

With Kim, the fine owner at Novel Ideas Books & Gifts.  Thanks for a great visit.  

Friday, January 17, 2020

Forever Books - St. Joseph, MI

Forever Books, St. Joseph, MI
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"Humans, I command you to bow in my presence and pet me."  
The original intent of this project and blog was to feature this country's many wonderful and unique independent bookstores.  So yes, this will be one of those blurbs but I could EASILY spin this off about a charming bookstore dog who works here.  Clearly, the star of the show here is Poppy, a smallish, energetic (when he's working the floor) bundle of curly fur.  His duties include participating in children's story time; being available to greet his many human fans who stop in to pet him (Uh, don't forget the BOOKS, people); stocking his own display of popcorn for purchase; maintaining an active presence as the store's social media darling; and playing with his friend Kevin, a similar breed of dog who visits there.  I could hardly focus on the store with Poppy roaming everywhere.  What I noticed in between my episodes with Poppy was one attractive and quaint bookstore in a quaint town.  

Congratulations to Forever Books and owner Robin A. who are beginning their 21st year in business, still in its original location in downtown St. Joseph.  Robin began this venture with no experience and never thought she'd make it this long.  But there's a reason she's been successful.  She's smart, with a great staff (like Diana and Poppy), and thank goodness for the tourists.  As she told me, make your money during the summer season and holiday season and pray you can hold on until the tourists return.  Forever Books offers all new books (the store is very well-curated) and a variety of sidelines including book thongs and other literary-themed items.  One of their best events is a top 20 book symposium held three times a year.  The staff talks about a few of their favorite books and the attendees usually respond by buying some of the featured books.  The events are so popular that customers need to make a reservation.  I think this sounds like a great event idea.  

I could've talked to Robin, Diana, and Poppy all day.  These three couldn't have been nicer and I'm alway so appreciative of their time and talents.  I'm troubled only that more locals don't frequent this cute bookstore.  So I'm going to implore the regulars, when you return to the store, bring a friend with you.  Even if they're not a reader, they'll have lots of other items to browse.  Or they can certainly get some gift ideas.  But be warned, the importance of buy local, shop local is critical to a vibrant and healthy community.  Don't leave it to the tourists, lead the way St. Joseph.  Go to an indie and buy a book.  Bonsoir.

JUST FINISHED:  Run Away, Harlan Coben.  If you haven't read this author I would encourage you to do so.  This mystery focuses on a couple's adult daughter who has become addicted to drugs and attached to the wrong crowd.  Their problem is they want to find her but don't know where she is until dad spots her in a park strumming Beatles tunes on a guitar.  Let the chase begin.  This one is a page-turner.  Recommended.

CURRENTLY READING:  Golden Hill, Francis Spufford.  

RECENTLY PURCHASED:  Another Good Dog: One Family And Fifty Foster Dogs, Cara Sue Achterberg.  

Step right in and let your adventure begin.  

Wonderful front window display.  

A nice courtesy in all bookstores.  

View looking to the left from the front entrance.  

The perfect book display for after the holidays.  

A great place near the front of the store to sit and sample a book.  Or wait for Poppy.  

I always enjoy seeing the staff favorites displays.  Have you read any of these yet?  

Typical picture of Poppy on the go to greet a customer.  Receive Indie Bob bonus points if you can identify which end is which.   

In addition to his other talents, Poppy can also arrange a mean display of Poppy Popcorn.  

You know you're going to get a few books so you might as well get a tote to put them in.  

As with every other bookstore I visit, the socks sell well.  

An obvious award-winning bookstore business.  Congratulations Robin and gang!

The non-fiction staff favorites.  

Some of the games and activities available.  

The store offers a nice and varied assortment of sidelines.  

A few of the greeting cards available.  

A great place to sit your friends and take a post card picture.  

I've seen this in a few indies but not as many as you might think.  A book holder for your lap.  

A small portion of the items of local and regional interest.  

View looking back toward the children's section.  

An example of the creativity in the children's section.  

It's never too early to foster a love for books and reading.  

Ask your bookstore about this.  

And this!

Overview looking from the back of the store toward the front entrance.  

Who wouldn't enjoy petting and meeting this cutie?!

This is the before picture.  Diana prepping Poppy for a photoshoot, something he's very used to.  

With Robin in front and Diana and Poppy in back, some of the fine folks you'll meet at Forever Books.  Thanks for a great visit.