HarperCollins’ 200th Anniversary


It’s my company’s 200th anniversary so we’re doing a little crowing. From its beginning in 1817 as a printing company started by two twenty-something brothers from Long Island to the global presence it is today, HarperCollins has a storied history–and counts among its authors some of the brightest lights in literature including Charlotte Bronte, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Aldous Huxley, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, Harper Lee, Louise Erdrich, Ann Patchett and Barbara Kingsolver.

Check out the website below to learn more. It’s fun (and likely to improve your performance at Pub Quiz). 🙂


From Literati Newsletter: Ideas Are Contageous

Like so many of us, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about “alternative facts.” It’s hard to avoid the issue these days when the president of the country can breathe life into any patent falsehood by tweeting it out thus giving it media life for days and weeks–even if that attention is in service of refuting it.

Later this year Harper will publishing a book called Strange Contagion about the science behind “social viruses” a phenomenon that has been ramped into overdrive by social media and given daily given more fuel by an administration that thrives on suspicion and fear, often untethered to facts.

How to cope? One way is to ground your reality in actual facts and analysis–in the frustrating nuance, contradiction and complexity of them. This week Michael Gustafson, co-owner of Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, wrote a great piece about bookstores and the role they can play in grounding our lives. I repeat it below in its entirety and invite you to to sign up for the store’s newsletter. Mike’s column “Letters from Literati” is one of my faithful reading pleasures.

Letters from Literati: Ideas are contagious…

“Ideas are contagious; emotion is contagious; hope is contagious; courage is contagious.” These were Rebecca Solnit’s words as she spoke to Rackham Auditorium last month. Solnit, a staff favorite here at Literati, left many in the audience feeling hopeful and courageous.
Since then, I’ve thought a lot about Solnit’s words:
Ideas are contagious.
If that’s true, what kind of ideas are spreading right now? These spreading, contagious ideas — are they making people feel like they are important, valued, and good?
Books are ideas, too. Every book, from board books to history books, contain ideas. Being independent, we’re free to feature any book we want. In other words: You know where you’re getting your ideas from. When you read through our shelf talkers and see a book review signed by “Jeanne,” you know this review is coming from someone who has lived in Ann Arbor and who has nearly 30 years of bookselling experience, someone who worked for the original State Street Borders.
This is a far different experience than shopping online for books. Often, when I shop online, I feel like there are a multitude of websites tracking my shopping behavior. An algorithm takes me to a product I’d never want. It’s virtually impossible to find something new or to surprise myself or to expand my horizons. And when I shop online, I never know where, exactly, that money is disappearing to.
It’s important, these days, to know where ideas are coming from (and where money is going). Because there are many kinds of contagious ideas: Bad ideas can spread as quickly as good ones. Ideas of fear can spread as quickly as ideas of hope. Ideas of isolation can spread as quickly as ideas of inclusion.
Maybe more than ever before, I ask myself: Where are my ideas coming from? Did I see that on a news program? Who owns that network? Who is selling me this idea? What is in it for them?
I’m biased, of course, but I believe one of the best shelves in our bookstore to get ideas from is our staff picks wall. We never tell any staff member what to feature, or what book to review. They can review whatever book they want.
Because of this, we always feature a broad array of ideas: Fiction, nonfiction, memoir, cookbooks, essays, picture books, poetry. They are ideas I’d never find on my own, from a broad range of booksellers. They are books from a full spectrum of writers with vastly different backgrounds, both mainstream and independent, both celebrated and new.
Ideas are contagious.
So, what ideas are spreading now?
Where are you getting your ideas from?

On Curation and Diversity

Roxane Gay, well known for her provocative and insightful writing, walked the walk last week when she pulled her next book from Simon & Schuster in protest of that publisher’s book deal with Milo Yiannopoulos. Was this “censorship” as some claim?

Of course not. For right now at least anyone in the U.S. is welcome to publish pretty much whatever they want. But publishers, like booksellers, are gatekeepers and curators. In a country where literally well over a million books are published every year, anyone can find a platform to be heard. Bookstores and publishers gain credibility to the degree that they offer a “quality filter” for readers looking to educate and entertain themselves. The bookstores I love best do the heavy lifting of getting great writing and thinking in front of me.

I expect publishers and bookstores to find ideas that will challenge me–not just reinforce my bubble. Increasingly, I understand that I need to read a variety of well-argued viewpoints if I’m to play my part in healing America’s divides. So I look for bookstores to find the very best writing on a range of opinions.

What Gay is saying is that writers also curate in the way they choose to be aligned—with other writers, with ideas, with publishers. While honoring freedom of speech, she doesn’t have to align herself with Yiannopoulos, what he says and what he stands for. She decided it’s is a bridge to far. Good for her.

What made me think of this was reading PW’s coverage of Gay’s opening remarks at Winter Institute. While she didn’t specifically mention her decision to pull her book from S&S, she did say, “Language matters, and sometimes, like diversity, it becomes an empty container.” She invited booksellers to “get uncomfortable” around building bridges. She pointed out that it isn’t the job of minorities—racial, sexual and economic—to school the largely liberal, largely white gatekeepers of bookselling and publishing. It’s up to booksellers and publishers to seek out diverse audiences and invite them in.

I think of that often when I’m selling a book with an African-American theme and a buyer says, “You know, we just don’t have that audience. I wish we did.” I don’t doubt that. But I do wonder the degree to which one’s curation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. In her speech Gay pointed out “Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee, where owner Daniel Goldin reached out to the black community when she made an appearance there so that every face in the audience was not white.” I’d be willing to bet Daniel’s inventory collection reflects that welcome.

This isn’t a beat-down of booksellers. I can flip through Harper’s catalogs and show you the ways in which what we publish still appeals in large part to a pretty narrow audience of middle and upper-middle class white readers. But we’re trying. We’re all trying. Now it’s time to try harder. Negotiating the line between commerce and ideas has always been tricky. Our livelihoods depend on giving people things they want. Now it’s time to help them—to help all of us—want better.

Some Holiday Thoughts about Bookstores and Giving

img_4680A funny thing happened the other day. There was a small pile of brand new gloves on our dining room table and I asked my wife if they were presents for her family. She said they were the gloves she’d bought for street people in our town.

I was impressed and asked, “When did you decide to do that?” I wasn’t totally surprised when she told me she’d been doing it for years. I can be pretty oblivious.

But later it occurred to me this is how compassion works. People make a point of noticing and then they do something. Small or big, it starts with the noticing.

It happens all the time; it’s even institutionalized at this time of year. A gift card for the postman, cookies for your child’s teacher, financial gifts to the charities reaching out for help… Maybe some of it feels like duty or mere tradition but drill down and one feels the spirit which animates the tradition.

It’s remarkable to see that spirit of gratitude in the bookselling community. So many of the stores I work with actively partner with charities and nonprofits in their communities 365 days a year.

This holiday some, Like Parnassus Books, linked to a list of their favorite partners locally and nationwide. Skimming over that list, I was moved by The Compassion Collective, a group of authors, filmmakers and activists who have organized to feed, clothe and shelter both refugee and homeless U.S. children. Check them out—100% of donated money goes directly to the children. (And they have a kickass manifesto reclaiming Mother’s Day.  🙂 )

Speaking of authors, James Patterson once again gave a quarter million dollars in holiday bonuses to frontline booksellers across the country. Seeing so many really remarkable booksellers get that kind of thanks and recognition truly touched me. Patterson looked around and saw what kind of gloves he could give.

Patterson, who along with Ann Patchett is an ambassador for The Book Industry Charitable Foundation, also invites readers everywhere to support their local bookstores mindfully and with a spirit of gratitude.

He suggests there are lots of ways to support your local bookstore: 1. Buy a book. 2. Give a book and encourage a love of reading. 3. Donate to Binc to help your local bookseller.



I hope you have a wonderful holiday. Give away some gloves.










Know More Than a Bookseller? Probably Not.

I’m sort on hiatus till the new year while publishers slow down new releases and booksellers get a chance to concentrate on putting great reads into the hands of holiday shoppers.

But  just for fun I offer an interactive quiz I bumped across in the NYT the other day.

It’s an employment test that The Strand Bookstore uses for prospective hires. Give it a shot–it’s harder than you’d think.

My takeaway? I’d probably only be hired to do returns and receiving. And I need to work on my Greek and the Russian classics. 🙂

Props to you, my bookseller pals!



Giving Tuesday – Consider The Book Industry Charitable Foundation

Started in 2012 as a response to Black Friday, it’s been wonderful to see how strongly Giving Tuesday has taken hold in just four years.

If you read this blog, you care about books and book culture. One of my favorite charitable organizations helps keep that culture vital by helping booksellers in need.

Here’s The Book Industry Charitable Foundation’s inaugural ambassador Ann Patchett explaining what Binc does to help booksellers stay on the job and in careers they are passionate about.


Full disclosure: I’m on the board of Binc. So I could give you a bunch of stats about how much money has been given away and the number of people Binc has helped over the years–but this thank you note from a bookseller explains it so much better.

Earlier this year I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. This isn’t easy to diagnose, I learned, and the process required many expensive tests and expensive visits with specialists, as well as a hospital stay and time off work. I paid what I could, but I don’t know what I would have done without Binc to help with the remainder. They made the process of applying very easy, even in my exhausted and mentally foggy state, and paid my outstanding bills promptly. The person assisting me even sent me a book on living with chronic illness, and this small kindness meant so much to me. This organization is a true blessing for people in the book business and I can’t thank them enough.”

Please consider Binc in your year-end giving plans. This is a great day to do it–and through the end of the year the Binc Board of Directors will match your gift!

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Shop Local This Weekend–and Year Round!

introTomorrow is Small Business Saturday–I’m sure you’ve seen the American Express ad. It gives you a vague warm fuzzy, right?

Well, the specifics about the good shopping local does for your community should make you feel even better. Check out this fun infographic by one of my favorite writers and cartoonists–Mary Laura Philpott of Parnassus Books. (If you like her illustrations check out her book Penguins with People Problems. )

You’ll come out the other end feeling even better about buying books (and shoes and hammers and lattes) from the local merchants who make your town a place you want to live!

Mary Laura allowed me to be grab a few images here–but get the whole story by going to Musing–a laid back lit journal.