Showing posts with label bookstores. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bookstores. Show all posts

Friday, August 4, 2017

WITMonth Day 4 | Visibility and women in translation

One of my original goals for WITMonth was introducing more readers (and industry folk) to the very problem of women in translation. As more and more readers, reviewers, media outlets, translators, publishers, bookstores, and libraries join in the efforts, we're getting that done. Every tweet, every review, every post that references WITMonth means one more person learning about the cause.

This is huge, because WITMonth largely began as an obscure, minor blogging event. And while most readers still probably don't know that only ~30% of books translated into English are by women writers (and some probably don't care all that much...), more and more are discovering this - and their own reading biases - daily. And they are working to fix it.

But this post isn't just about how it's great to see more readers becoming exposed to the issue. It's more about visibility at large, and how impossible it is for any movement to advance without those who ensure that people can even be exposed to the issue. I've long hoped for greater bookstore/library involvement in WITMonth, out of a belief that the overwhelming majority of readers are introduced to books not necessarily through Twitter, but through literal visibility.

Readers - particularly younger readers - walk into the bookstore or library, and typically gravitate towards the books that are clearly labeled. This is how I do most of my bookshopping/library-hunting: I first check to see what's exposed on the display tables, then I look for the little bookseller recommendation tabs, and then aimlessly browse. The uncomfortable truth is that there are far too many books in the world for every reader to be exposed to every single one. Most of us need some sort of guidance - whether capitalistic/publisher-guided or genuine/word-of-mouth - to find good books.

WITMonth 2017 has seen a notable rise in bookstore and library involvement. This is wonderful. Even as most bookstores highlight a select collection of books that are probably familiar to hardcore readers of translated literature, they are opening the door for countless readers who haven't heard of the cause and didn't necessarily know about the publishing imbalance. Furthermore, a significant portion of literature in translation (and especially women in translation) is published by independent or lesser-known publishers. By placing these books front and center, bookstores and libraries are able to introduce readers to an entire world of literature that they might never have considered previously.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Ireland, in bookstores

So Marie (the Boston Bibliophile) kindly requested I post about my recent trip to Ireland. Simply put: it was fun. But more than the vacation itself, I had the opportunity to visit a few Irish bookstores, get some bookmarks, and experience the general Irish bookish-ness. A nice vacation, in other words.

Unsurprisingly, the big chain Eason was the most common bookstore (that I saw), and to be honest it was fairly disappointing in all its forms. Big and shiny like the best of them, the collections were fairly limited, predictable and oddly American*. The only interesting aspect in the Eason stores I encountered was their support of Sony Readers - a rare sight indeed.

Next up was Dubray, which was a significant improvement. Also a chain, Dubray actually had a lot of books (and much less noise) as compared to Eason. I visited one in Dublin and one in Galway, and both impressed me with the amount of books they managed to fit into their relatively smaller space. The Galway one (where I spent significantly more time) also had a dedicated Irish fiction bookcase that went beyond the expected hits and included several poetry collections and independently published Irish books. And though their fiction section was very Anglo-centric (little translated literature, a lot of American books), their sci-fi/fantasy section was overflowing with classics and newer titles. Quite impressive.

Lastly, I had hoped to visit the recommended Kennys Books (also in Galway). What ended up happening, however, was that I noticed a young man (reading a graphic novel, by the way - V for Vendetta, I believe? I might be mis-remembering) wearing a sign with an arrow towards Charlie Byrne's Bookshop. I followed it rather on a whim, and discovered one of those rare, astonishing bookstores. We're talking big collection - an incredibly packed bookcase lining the outer wall of the store, as well as shelves upon shelves of used and new books inside. The staff recommendations shelf came as a particular surprise, containing all sorts of unexpected and exciting books - I picked up a Peirene novella off the shelf, and in addition to my used purchases, I also snagged a new, ridiculously cheap copy of Matterhorn. I spent a long time in the store, and could have easily kept browsing for several more hours. I never did make it to Kennys (I had apparently used up my "bookstore quota" for the vacation. As if.). Next time, I suppose. But I'll definitely be returning to Charlie Byrne's as well.

As for bookmarks: I got extraordinarily lucky this trip. Rather than hunting down tacky souvenir bookmarks for purchase, lovely bookmarks kept finding me - I got two handmade bookmarks at the Celtic and Prehistoric Museum in Dingle, as well as a couple gifts from family friends. All in all, a successfully trip, both for the traveling itself and the general book buying and book appreciation. Too bad I hardly got any reading done.

* Though for the most part I'm referring to books originating in the U.S., American in this case also includes Canada... yes, I am well aware of how inaccurate a name it is.

Friday, December 9, 2011

How we buy books

I unfortunately can't remember the hat-tip, but someone linked to this article on the habit of book-browsing in corporeal bookstores and then buying the books online, which definitely qualifies as a thought-provoker.
According to the survey, conducted in October by the Codex Group, a book market research and consulting company, 24 percent of people who said they had bought books from an online retailer in the last month also said they had seen the book in a brick-and-mortar bookstore first. Thirty-nine percent of people who bought books from Amazon in the same period said they had looked at the book in a bookstore before buying it from Amazon, the survey said.
I know I shouldn't be surprised but I am. My own use of Amazon today is completely contrary to this one. As I've mentioned in the past, one of the first things I do before considering a book is check its Amazon reviews (negative first, then positive). This is not because it's Amazon, per se, but rather because Amazon has the greatest collection of user reviews (which is one of the only remaining advantages to using the site, other than the obviously lower prices but I'll discuss that at length another time). I look at a book, investigate it, learn about it, and then decide whether or not I want to buy it. From there, I have a few options. I can order the book online or I can go to a bookstore I like and buy the book. In recent years, the most likely outcome has been the latter.

But it's much easier to go about it the "normal" way. You find a book in the flesh, you want to investigate it, you go online. Once online, you make your decision. Then you're just one click away from buying the book. And it's cheaper... so why not buy it like that? Even this thing that you go into a bookstore, look up a book on your cell-phone, realize that it's cheaper elsewhere... I understand even if I don't agree with it (and certainly don't like it). Maybe if my situation was different, I too would  be tempted to approach book-buying this way. Living abroad and having a yearly buffer zone between my book-buying sprees means I can afford to do my homework ahead of time. Today, Amazon is no more convenient to me than a bricks-and-mortar bookstore.

I know one thing, though. Indies will survive because they provide what Amazon never will - personal service, author readings, a type of convenience that can only be found in corporeal form, and provide customers with the joy of spontaneous book-buying. And I hope for one more thing: that for every customer who walks in, looks at a book and ends up buying it later on Amazon.com for a discount, there's another like me who first looks the books up on Amazon, and then goes out to the local bookstore to buy it. Because really, the feeling is much better this way.

Update: Oh, and while this "deal" in which a customer uses their cell-phone to scan the bar-code of a product and then get a discount on Amazon (instead of buying it at the store the customer is currently standing in) doesn't include books, it's still pretty despicable (via The Book Catapult). Just saying.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The story of the bookseller who knew nothing

I spent the other evening browsing for books at the bookstore. This being a standard chain bookstore, the selection was limited (to say the least). I browsed through the books on sale, looking for one or two that seemed slightly more interesting than the standard. After about half an hour of indecisiveness, I decided to ask a bookseller for help. The young woman who came to my assistance seemed like she sincerely wanted to help the various customers in need, myself included.

I posed her a tough question: in a stack of predictable, popular choices, I asked for something a bit different. Something original. And I guess she tried. I mean, she spent some time trying to figure it out. The only problem was... she had no idea what she was doing.

Book after book was offered while she hurriedly glanced at the back, getting an impression of the subject matter before handing it off to me. When I asked her if she'd read the offered book, the answer was consistently, "No, not yet..." She had no idea if books were translated (and even less what language they were translated from...) and wasn't really clear on anything beyond the general, "Well, this one's a bestseller..."

Which got me thinking. How much should we expect our booksellers to know what they're selling us? Books aren't like TVs - you can't memorize a bunch of statistics and product details to spout off in front of a potential customer. To understand a book, you have to read it. You have to experience it. And this bookseller... she had no understanding of what she was selling, nor of what kind of reader she was selling to. In the end, I left the store without a single book, only deciding later (at home, with the aid of the internet and some reviews) which books I would get.

It's pretty disappointing, actually. I'm not saying I didn't stump her a bit (which is typically what happens when I ask for a bookseller's assistance...), but a passionate reader will know how to help. A passionate reader will understand and appreciate a specific customer's desire for something a little original, a little different and will do everything possible to find the right match. It won't always be easy, and it might even be impossible, but at least they'll try. They won't just rely on publisher blurbs and apparent popularity.

No, I don't expect every bookseller to have read every book in the store. It's impossible, I know. But I guess I'd like my booksellers to have a little more of an understanding of what books they're trying to push, and also of their customers. I'd like my booksellers to at least know as much about the newly published books as I do, and certainly not to simply recommend them to me based on the back-cover blurb. But sadly, it seems like more and more booksellers these days don't actually read the books and recommend only based on general information. A shame, really. Conversations with booksellers who know what they're talking about can be so much fun.