Tuesday, May 31, 2011

How to Make a Difference

A couple of months ago, I wrote a piece in our newsletter expressing our concerns with weathering the lean spring we were having at the store. We cut back hours, apologizing to our incredible and understanding staff, and hunkered down. I also asked everybody who reads our newsletter to consider buying just one more book per month.

I’d like to thank all of our customers who took me up on that challenge. We have been doing better and better, and it’s all thanks to you!! We have always known that we have wonderful, loyal customers, and that Fort Collins is one of the best places to have an independent bookstore. You really proved it to us, and we couldn’t be more grateful. Thank you for taking the time to shop with us- it really did make a difference.

We do our best to give back to you and our community, as well. Here are the things that we are doing to try to make a difference for you:

  1. We frequently donate books to the many community causes that ask, to help at fundraising raffles and silent auctions. Sometimes we run out of books that we can donate! But we are always happy to help if we can.
  2. We give you a free membership program that gives you back a $5 Reader’s Reward- all you have to do is give your name! We don’t charge a membership fee for our rewards program, unlike some other stores. We want to give back to our customers.
  3. We give a 20% discount to book clubs that let us know their reading list. You can call or email it to us, and we’ll make sure to stock your selections and give you your discount.
  4. On the hunt for an elusive used book? We can put you on a list and call you as soon as that book comes in used.
  5. We sell e-Books! All you have to do is go to our website: www.oldfirehousebooks.com/search/gbook and you can buy our e-Books directly from us. Google e-Books work with all types of e-readers except the Kindle, which is proprietary.
  6. We take your used books in trade! Any books that we are unable to take may be donated to the American Association of University Women. We are their biggest donor! They hold a book sale for scholarships every February in Foothills Fashion Mall.
  7. We are now offering a Book Bounty for our most sought-after used books. If you bring in one of these books, you can use 10% of the book’s price, same as cash, in the store on new books, used books, candy bars, cards- whatever you like.
  8. Do you have a lot of credit built up? We are letting customers with more than $100 in credit (you know who you are!) convert that credit to cash at 10% of full value to use in the store. $100 in credit gets you $10 in cash to spend in the store, for example. On the weekend on June 11 and 12, we are offering this to our customers to help them use up credit and start over, if they like.
  9. We do lots of community events- local authors like the photography book launch on June 3, for example. We also bring in great authors like Sandra Dallas, Diane Mott Davidson, and C.J. Box, just to name a few. Our events room is open for rental if you have a class or event for which you need a space. And book clubs get the room for free!
  10. Speaking of book clubs, we have four of our own which anyone is welcome to attend! Plus, we’ll be starting a graphic novel club in the next few months- keep an eye out.
  11. Finally, everyone who works here is a member of the local community. Buying your books at an independent book store puts 40% more of your dollars back into the community than spending money at a chain. And it puts 99% more back into the community than online sales do.

Once again, thank you for supporting us. We intend to stay here for many years to come, providing a great community space, exciting events, and, of course, a great book selection with a knowledgeable staff to help you with your shopping. You are the reason we’re here!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Why I'm mad at George R.R. Martin...

George R.R. Martin, as many of you know, is the creator of the series A Song of Ice and Fire, which consists of four of the best fantasy novels I've ever had the pleasure of reading. Due to the impending release of his next book, I've been inspired to write about why I'm really, really mad at Martin.
To begin, I'll quote Martin's blog entry:

"As for me, I am getting back to work. There's good news on that front too -- A DANCE WITH DRAGONS is half-done!!!"
-George R.R. Martin, May 29th, 2005

Let me just point out that this was written just after A Feast for Crows was released. In 2005. In 2005, the next book (A Dance with Dragons) was, to quote, "half-done"(!!!) Through my expert use of math, I've deduced that it has taken around six years to write the next book. It has taken six years for the next installment of this book. And I take issue with this.
Which isn't to say I'm not going to read it, because I've been looking forward to it for at least four of those six years (The first book was recommended to me by a friend my freshman year of college.) I understand that it's quite the process to write a book, especially one as monstrous as Dance with Dragons. I don't really even have a problem with his work ethic (which author Neil Gaiman defended quite eloquently and succinctly in his blog: http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2009/05/entitlement-issues.html.)
No--my only issue with Martin is that, deep down inside, I'm still five years old. And like any five-year-old, I enjoy a good story more than anything else. To my five-year-old self, a good story is like a playground; I can spend hours swinging from the monkey-bars of syntax, playing tag with the characters and winding my way through the Plot Pipes. George R.R. Martin's series is no different, except for the fact that it's bigger and better than most other playgrounds. It's like one of those playgrounds that covers a good quarter of a city block, from the days before brightly colored plastic and rounded safety-corners. One of the playgrounds that rises above the gravel like a mountain, where you can get lost for hours climbing through the scaffolding or exploring the concrete tube tunnels that wind their way for what seems like miles beneath the splintering wood and scorching-hot tin of the best gosh-darn playground ever.
And, like any other self-respecting five-year-old at the best playground ever, I never want to leave. My parents could be promising three pounds of mint chocolate chip ice-cream and clawing at my ankles as they drag me bodily from the covered slide, but still I would hang on until my skinny arms were reduced to limp noodles.
To extend this metaphor far, far beyond the point at which it maintains coherency, George R.R. Martin is like the curator of the playground, who has decided that it would be so much cooler with an ultra-double-super-slide. So he's closed down the playground for renovation. And now all I want to do is go back and play on that playground.
This is where the metaphor breaks down: see, unlike a playground under construction, I can still go back and re-read the previous books in the series. And I have. At least twice. But I keep hearing so much about this ultra-double-super-slide that the rest of the series just makes me want to experience it firsthand that much more.
These books are like candy. These books are like waking up on Christmas morning to a living-room full of presents. These books are awesome.
What I'm trying to say with all of this, is that George R.R. Martin has created something that I enjoy so much that I find myself angry he's taken so long to give me more of it. The story that Martin has created in A Game of Thrones and the subsequent books is so viscerally real and so much fun that the world has been twisting its hands for six years waiting for the next one to come out. And, like any five-year-old hiding in a college graduate's body, it is very difficult for me to wait for that long.
But! The good news? The next book comes out on the twelfth of July.
And I am so excited.


Friday, May 13, 2011

FREE AT LAST- Continued Tales of an English Major

For those of you who pay attention, I (your wonderful bookseller, Kelsey) haven't been posting too much lately. This task has been left to my co-workers over the past few months as I let myself get distracted once again with school. One day, maybe I'll graduate and move on in the world, being able to focus solely on blogging for you. The irony of this is that when that day finally (hopefully) comes, I'll lose much of the material I blog about. If I hadn't gone to school this semester, for example, how could I tell you about reading almost 20 plays in three months?

That's right. 20 plays, 3 months. Just about a play and a half a week. Half of those plays were Shakespeare, and the other half were contemporary plays from all across Europe. The Fall semester's theme was adolescent lit (about 4,000 pages of it in 3 months) and this semester we focus on plays! Only plays! I picked up The Help the second I finished reading The Tempest and was so relieved to see that old familiar narrative style again.

Immersing myself in scripts has had an interesting effect, though. Reading a play presents many challenges that you don't find in normal narrative styles. For example, while a normal book certainly calls on your imagination, a script does so in ways you might not expect. Not only do you imagine what the character/actor would look like, you have to imagine the set, set dressing, props, and all of those other little things. This is still not too different from reading a normal book. Where the difference lies is that a play is intended to be performed in front of a live audience. No CGI allowed. This means when the character hangs himself or chops off someone's hand (we read a lot of violent plays,) this has to be performed in a semi-convincing way. This pushes the imagination to an entirely new level because the reader must consider not only what things would look like, but how they would be accomplished in a real-life setting.

And now my challenge to you: Read a play! We have a great selection of dramas in the store, and most of them are used! You don't necessarily have to go with Shakespeare, but if you do, remember that there is no shame in Spark Notes as long as you're reading the original text, too. You might want to read a script of a play set to come to Fort Collins in the next year! To check out what the local theater companies have planned, you can start at http://www.openstagetheatre.org/ or http://www.basbleu.org/ among others. Then call us up at the Old Firehouse and we'll order a copy of the script for you!

It's like reading the book before the movie comes out, but it makes you even cooler.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Book Club Picks

One of our favorite things to do is to help book clubs make their selections for the year. We'll be meeting with the AAUW (American Association of University Women) next weekend to give a book talk for their book club. We've done this in the store a couple of times, and are happy to do it for your book club, too!

I've found that good book club books have a couple of characteristics:

1. It needs to have something to discuss. This might seem obvious, but several times we've selected perfectly lovely books that everyone has enjoyed reading, only to have the discussion go something like: "Well, we all liked it." Blank looks as everyone wonders what to say next. So a good romance novel, unless you like gossiping about fictional characters, is probably going to leave you at a loss for discussion unless it deals with other issues, like mother-daughter relationships, adoption, the hardships of uprooting a family for a move, etc. A novel like Baking Cakes in Kigali,on the other hand, opens up discussion about rebuilding after the Rwandan genocides, the differences in African culture, how people help each other, and, of course, cake. Speaking of which...
2. Food is a plus. That's both within the book and at the book group. It's fun to hang out with your buddies and nosh on some treats while you talk books! So a book like The School of Essential Ingredients, set in a cooking school, can give you a springboard to talk about what foods were important for you growing up, and why. What is familiar and comforting, and how do you take a bit of risk?
3. Too depressing is just too depressing. We started our first book club as a way to get away from the "Oprah books" that were sweeping the nation. Nothing against Oprah, but she sure does like downers. One memorable book dealt with the Indian partition and showed in graphic detail all the misery, disease, poverty and filth of India. A dog was even run over by a bus at the end, just to make sure that depression escaped no reader. I just don't have it in me to read that all the time. Deep doesn't have to mean depressing. Isn't hope a powerful emotion? Aren't redemption and wisdom worthy topics? For example, The Help certainly deals with a weighty topic, but manages to do it in a way that won't make you feel like downing a bottle of Jack Daniels in order to deal with it.
4. Change it up. Try books by men and women, of all nationalities and cultures, in order to get that different perspective that can make for a great discussion. Recently, I've loved Tea Obreht,who hails from the former Yugoslavia, and her book The Tiger's Wife. I also am a big fan of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell, set in 19th century Japan. Or how about Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth for a perspective into the Indian immigration experience?
5. Think about length. We usually cut our book selections off at about 400 pages unless we've got a really good reason to want to read, say, Anna Kerenina. Everyone's lives are busy, and many people want to read more than their book club selection during a month, so we try to be respectful of their time. We also usually go with paperbacks, to be sensitive to the costs of books. We do offer a 20% discount to book club selections for your book club if someone lets us know what the selection is at least 1 month ahead of time.
6. Ask a bookseller! Want something different than what everyone else is reading? Need a jump on the next book club blockbuster? We are happy to help with off-beat books, up-and-comers, and whatever you need for a great meeting. I think The Paris Wife is going to be a huge book club book, for example, and I love recommending Garden Spells (a great little book which somehow got overlooked) for folk hunting for good suggestions.

I hope this gave you some thoughts for your group, and hopefully some great books to read!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Beating the Indie Drum Again!

So, today I happened on this piece on how South Carolina and Amazon are getting along these days. The short answer: not well. When you read the following piece, notice all of the perks that Amazon was getting before they raised a stink about having to pay state taxes. Small businesses don't get any of these advantages, and they certainly don't get much understanding about pricing either.

Even George Will felt compelled to weigh in on business taxes this weekend, after a Chicago newspaper wrote an op-ed piece about how nationally, it is time to pay attention to sales tax on internet sales. Will, naturally, is against any such thing. But, in this tough economy, doesn't it make sense to tax profitable businesses just as much as it makes sense to tax individuals? Again, all brick-and-mortar stores are paying their fair share. Amazon deliveries take place on Colorado roads, don't they?

Here's South Carolina:

A Tale of Two States: Sales Tax Incentives in S.C. & Tenn.
Speaking at the Free Enterprise Foundation awards luncheon Thursday, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley contended that the proposed tax break for Amazon--which was defeated in the House of Representatives last Wednesday--would have destroyed her economic development message, the Charleston Regional Business Journal reported. When she talks with companies about coming to the state, Haley tells them, "We are going to give you a fair, competitive marketplace to do business, and we are always going to take care of the businesses we already have. By allowing Amazon to get a tax break, when you are not giving it to any other business in our state, destroys what I am saying and immediately disputes everything that we say South Carolina is."

While she wanted Amazon to build a distribution center in the state, she noted that the company already had received competitive advantages: "They got free property, they got tax incentives, they got plenty of things. Don't ask us to give you sales tax relief when we're not giving it to the bookstore down the street, when we're not giving it to the other stores on the other side of town. It's just not a level playing field."

She added, "You will not see an Amazon situation in the Haley administration. We don't want that. We don't want to be known as the state that is desperate to grab anybody and anything at the sake of the rest of our businesses. That's what that was about. Retail in general is very different from manufacturing. Retail by nature has a high turnover, retail by nature is a lower priced job, and retail by nature is not solid and invested. It is not a Boeing, it is not a BMW, manufacturing, high technology is very different."

Brian Flynn, a spokesman for the South Carolina Alliance for Main Street Fairness, told WLTX-TV the decision was "a victory for small businesses and retailers across the state. It's a shame that Amazon is choosing to leave the state and it's obvious that they wanted this special deal and if they didn't get it they were going to leave."