Thursday, March 29, 2007

Last Friday was the Pittsburgh release party for Dave Copeland's book "Blood and Volume", which I plan to start reading tomorrow. Dave is a good friend--he was in my wedding--and a fellow survivor of the newspaper industry. It was great to see him, and both my wife, Maggi, and I are very proud of him.

One strange note: When Dave was still in Pittsburgh, he did some work for the campaign of late Pittsburgh Mayor Bob O'Connor. In attendance at Dave's party was Dennis Regan, the former aide to O'Connor and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl who left city government under a cloud. He was there with his housemate, Marlene Cassidy--secretary to O'Connor and Ravenstahl and also at the center of controversy--and she presented Dave with a proclamation from the mayor designating Friday "Dave Copeland Day."

I follow city politics rather closely, and so it was just a little weird to be at the same function as the two of them. It goes to show just how small this town really is.

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Scott McLemee (who I met a few weeks ago when he visited Carnegie Mellon) writes in Inside Higher Ed about Borders restructuring, and a new documentary that examines the impact that chain bookstores have had on local, indepedent booksellers. Fortunately, according to Scott, the film gives Borders its due:

But the documentary also gives employees of Borders a chance to make their case — and it’s perhaps a stronger case than anyone on the indie side would want to admit.

Protesters complain that Borders is imposing cultural uniformity across the United States by destroying small businesses. (Some anti-corporate activists, as we are told by one person hostile to the chain, will go into a newly opened branch and quite literally vomit.)

The representatives from Borders respond that the stores are competitive for the simple reason that they are attractive and well-stocked. And they have a point. As with most bookstores, Borders makes a great deal of its money by selling whatever the public is demanding at the moment. But even its least well-stocked stores tend to have a decent selection of work that will only appeal to small audiences. Unlike certain other chains one could mention, Borders has (for example) a philosophy section where you can find Judith Butler and W.V. Quine, rather than gallons of “Chicken Soup for the Soul.”

As for me, I like the idea of independent bookstores better than I like the stores themselves. Yes, I'm a hypocrite, because I often preach the virtue of patronizing local merchants instead of the big-box chains, but I buy a lot of books and I like saving a few bucks when I do. Independent stores may carry hard-to-find titles that you might not get at one of the chains (I suspect Scott is taking a shot at Barnes & Noble when he refers to "certain other chains." I probably end up at Barnes & Noble more than Borders simply because there are more of them around here), but they also tend to reflect the tastes of the owner and a much smaller customer base. Borders and other chains might be flush with "The Da Vinci Code" but they have to carry a lot of other titles to appeal to a nationwide audience.

That said, I'd love to live in a neighborhood with its own independent bookstore.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Copeland talks about how to read if you're a writer.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

According to the Wall Street Journal, book publishers are cutting back on newspaper advertising, leading papers to shrink their book sections. Many, like the Post-Gazette here in Pittsburgh, are wrapping them into other sections.

So where are the best places to read good book reviews? The New Yorker does a great job, although its reviews often tend to be as much about the subject of the books as the books themselves. (Which is fine. Book reviews should be discussions of ideas, not just recommendations.) Esquire does some decent short reviews, and Slate now has an online book club. I have to admit I don't check out the New York Times book section all that often, nor the other major newspapers. I know from some freelance work I've done for Bookmarks Magazine, writing capsule summaries of newspaper reviews, that a lot of mid-size papers offer mediocre reviews.

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