Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Have Bugs, Will Travel






A few years ago, I wrote a book about earthworms and I brought worms with me on the book tour. This was easier than you might think; they lived in a little plastic container filled with dirt and seemed very content to ride around in my carry-on.  They even made it through airport security without a hitch. (I called the airline before I traveled with them to ask if there was any prohibition against bringing live worms on a plane.  After a long pause, the guy said, "Are they, like--man-eating worms?" He thought they would be fine, and they were.)

So the worms were nice.  People liked them.  I got them out at every event and dropped them into audience members' outstretched hands.   Then I'd take the worm back and give them a little hand wipe in a foil packet. It was a nice touch, I thought--a little bit of extra customer service.

Naturally, people assumed I'd bring bugs with me on the Wicked Bugs tour as well.  This was not so easy.  I tried to imagine myself boarding airplanes with live black widows, bed bugs, and scorpions. I wasn't sure how I'd keep them alive (well, I guess I know how I would have kept the bed bugs alive) and I didn't think bookstore audiences would be so happy to see them.

Instead, I contacted a freelance entomologist whose company, God of Insects, supplies bugs for photo shoots, movies, and television shows. I sent them my species list, and they sent me a box of bugs.  Dead bugs.

So far, I've had no trouble getting them through airport security, and there's no need for the little foil-wrapped hand wipes.  That alone should be reason enough for you to come out to my event on October 21, but if you need an extra incentive, I promise any number of spine-tingling tales, just in time for Halloween, of bugs gone bad.  I hope to see you there.

Just My Type Author Simon Garfield on the Porter Square Books Logo.

Just My Type is a delightful and inquisitive tour of the rich history and subtle power of type. Simon Garfield looks into the world of fonts, meets the designers behind the typefaces, and takes an in-depth look at the best and worst font through the ages. Here's what Simon had to say about the font in our very own logo:


“It's somehow fitting that this indie emporium in learned collegiate Cambridge should choose such a British institution as Times New Roman for its ID. The typeface has always been associated with knowledge and elucidation, and even though it can be criticised for being a bit old-world, it can't be faulted for its clarity or purpose. Originated by Stanley Morison in the early 1930s, it was intended to provide a crisper way of presenting the London Times, but it was a modernisation rooted in traditional values even then. It has certainly stood the test of time - not a bad symbol for a well-established book store in challenging times.”

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Letters of Ernest Hemingway 1907-1922

Cambridge University Press released today the first volume of The Letters of Ernest Hemingway covering the years 1907 to 1922. They've made available a short promotional video with Hemingway's son Patrick and the General Editor, Sandra Spaniel, that I think serves as a useful introduction to this important new collection.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What is a Book Worth?

Some time in college I read Ishmael by Daniel Quinn and everything changed. The way I saw humanity, the world, and how the two go together was completely different. Pretty much the same thing happened when I read A People’s History of the United States. It wasn’t just learning about events and people that weren’t taught in school, but learning that history is a story that changes depending on who is narrating. What do you think those books are worth to me?

What is it worth to parents to see their children finally turn off the TV for a few hours because they simply have to find out what happens to Harry, Hermione, and Ron? What about a really good book club discussion? Looking up at the clock and realizing you’ve been in a different world for three hours? How about a dessert serving of entertaining escapism that picks you up after a terrible week at work? Or that moment when your friend tells you they absolutely loved the book you gave them? That it changed their life? That it saved their life?

I started thinking about this after a brief, exchange on Twitter about the price of ebooks. Someone voiced what I think is a pretty common sentiment; publishers are going to struggle as long as they insist on charging more than $10 for what is essentially a computer file. I responded that you don’t really buy a file when you buy an ebook, in the exact same way that you don’t buy a bunch of paper and some ink when you buy a book. You buy the efforts of an author, editor, and publisher and all the infrastructure it takes to get a book out of an author’s head and into a reader’s hands.

But it occurred to me that I’ve been spending way too much time explaining how much books cost and not nearly enough time talking about much books are worth. What is the value you get for the money you spend? Many people are willing to spend hundreds of dollars on devices they are going to replace in a year or less. Or $25-250 or even more on dinner and drinks with friends. When two hours of movie entertainment costs $10-15 (or more) why should we be taken aback by $15 for an experience that will last at least ten times as long. (That you can give away or sell to someone else if you don’t like. Try giving a movie ticket to a friend of yours who you think is more likely to appreciate the style of the film.) Check out this post at Beyond the Margins by Randy Sue Meyers for a similar discussion, complete with research.

The point is that what a book costs in terms of money and what a book is worth are very different things. I’m not saying everyone should drop everything and spend hundreds of dollars on books or that books and ebooks should be more expensive, but that we should think of the price of the book second. So if you find yourself in a bookstore considering buying a book, remember that rainy Saturday afternoon you spent as a child reading Treasure Island, or your own child jumping around for joy with the latest Harry Potter, or passing along A Grief Observed to a friend who needs it, and then check the price. Whatever it is, you’re holding one of the best bargains around.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

On the E-Horizon

There are some fun things coming up in the world of ebooks and Porter Square Books.

First of all, Random House is running an ebooks sale through September. Twelve titles are specially priced including Lisa See’s Shanghai Girls, and Alice Hoffman’s The Story Sisters. They’ve also specially priced some children’s ebooks for the first time including The Magic Tree House Dinosaurs before Dark and The Penderwicks. Click here for the full list of featured ebooks.

Algonquin Books is offering an ebooks bundle in October. With the purchase of a hardcover copy of Hilary Jordon’s new novel When She Woke, (being released on October 1) you can get a postcard with a URL, promotion code and instructions for downloading the ebook edition. When She Woke is a retelling of The Scarlett Letter, except instead of wearing a big red letter “A” as Hester Prynne does, Hannah Payne is red herself, for the crime of murder. The victim, says the state of Texas, was her unborn child, and Hannah is determined to protect the identity of the father, a public figure with whom she shared a fierce and forbidden love. Inspired by The Scarlet Letter, When She Woke is a dark fable about a stigmatized woman struggling to navigate a dystopian, theocratic America of the not-too-distant future, where convicted felons are no longer imprisoned and rehabilitated, but “chromed” and released back into the population to survive as best they can. This ebooks bundle is perfect for those of you who like to keep your hardcover books in pristine condition but still want to read it. Having cake and eating it too. The promotion lasts until October 31.

The American Booksellers Association is working on a reader app for Android and Apple tablets. The app will integrate with your Google Account and, on Android platforms, will allow you to shop for ebooks from Porter Square Books within the app. It is based on the well-regarded BlueFire Reader app and will update automatically whenever BlueFire does. You can check out BlueFire to get a preview of IndieBound Reader.

Finally, in the even more distant future, Random House is teaming up with Politico to provide real-time, in-depth, insider narratives of the 2012 election, as it unfolds. The series will be written by Mike Allen, Politico's chief White House Correspondent and author of the renowned dailytip-sheet, Playbook, and Evan Thomas, award-winning writer and author. The first installment is scheduled for release on November 28, 2011 and will be a $2.99 ebook. This will be a unique resource for political junkies.

As always, you can get more info about ebooks from our Ebooks Resource Page.

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