Saturday, October 17, 2009

Today's Booksellers: Walmart vs. Amazon?

I probably shouldn't share this depressing article in The New York Times this morning about how Wal-Mart is poised to define the book publishing industry. I'm not a frequenter of Wal-Mart; however, my one visit in the last year was utterly disturbing, largely because of its book section. I could not believe my eyes when I walked the aisles. Brand-new books were already selling in paperback for something like $4.95. I bought an older one for the same price - Julia Child's My Life in France - but I felt a little like I was committing a crime doing it. It wasn't just the cheap price but the cheap cover art. Meryl Streep was sprawled across the cover as if she were actually Julia Child, and not just the actress who played her in a film recently. Perhaps even more disturbing was the fact that Barack Obama's books were turned so that their covers faced the wall. I almost missed them altogether. Someone had come through and methodically turned them so as to erase them from the shelves (I should note here that this Wal-Mart was not in Nashville).

Here is a snippet from the article titled "Price War Over Books Worries Industry," linked above:

Independent booksellers have long struggled to compete with discounts offered by Barnes & Noble, Amazon and Wal-Mart. William Petrocelli, an owner of Book Passage, an independent company that has stores in San Francisco and suburban Corte Madera, Calif., said that for now he was relying on the loyalty of customers who valued staff recommendations and author events as much as prices. But, he said, if the low prices siphoned off too many customers and put independent stores out of business, it would ultimately affect what would get published.

“What this does is accentuate the trend towards best sellers dominating the market,” Mr. Petrocelli said. Without independents, decisions about what books to put on store shelves would reside in the hands of a few corporate executives rather than hundreds of idiosyncratic booksellers, he said.

“You have a choke point where millions of writers are trying to reach millions of readers,” Mr. Petrocelli said, “but if it all has to go through a narrow funnel where there are only four or five buyers deciding what’s going to get published, the business is in trouble.”

By the way, I never read that Wal-Mart paperback that I bought. Couldn't ever bring myself to pick it up. There is something about reading for me that includes the physical aesthetics of a book, and not just the words on the page.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Best line from Bright Star

It sounds more fabulous in the context of the film, but worth posting anyway:

"A poem needs understanding through the senses. The point of diving in a lake is not immediately to swim to the shore; it's to be in the lake, to luxuriate in the sensation of water. You do not work the lake out. It is an experience beyond thought. Poetry soothes and emboldens the soul to accept mystery."

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Homemade Life

I've read several books recently that I loved and failed to blog about. I had grand plans to write a long essay about faith in Kathryn Stockett's The Help. (What I actually wanted to say about this topic utterly escapes me now.) While in Maine this summer I devoured The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, and I remember furiously pushing this book on everyone I could think of via text message. I was convinced that my book club not only needed to read it, but we also needed to travel up to Massachusetts to ... well, I can't remember. But it seemed urgent and a very good idea at the time. All this to say that this blog is a way to combat my short-term memory when it comes to books, and when I don't record my thoughts right away, they disappear altogether.

So, before I forget or move on to the next thing, I am writing this morning to say that I am really, really enjoying Molly Wizenberg's A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table. Wizenberg is the creator of Orangette, a spirited and whimsical blog about her life as a thirty-something foodie. I found her blog a couple of summers ago through my friend Maura's blog (Paperbluebird), and I went on a tear making these insanely good chocolate chip cookies a la Orangette that are topped with fleur de sel or kosher salt - can't remember which. Anyway, they were divine. I'm pretty sure The New York Times thought so, too, and featured the recipe online. I made batches and batches and ate them for breakfast. And then I forgot all about Orangette for awhile until I happened upon Molly Wizenberg's new book last weekend.

In A Homemade Life, Wizenberg chronicles significant moments, places, and people in her life through stories about food. This project seems to have begun as a way for her to celebrate her father, Burg, who passed away before she began this writing project and who influenced her appreciation for a good homemade recipe.

The chapters are organized chronologically, but each stands fully on its own as a vignette or snapshot. I've been opening the book at random and reading it both backwards and forwards, and this method has worked wonderfully for me. The recipes that close each chapter evolve out of Wizenberg's life experiences, and they express the same sort of whimsy and creativity with which she seems to live her life. Listen to some of these recipe titles and then go buy the book:

Radishes and Butter with Fleur de Sel
Red Cabbage Salad with Lemon and Black Pepper
Custard-Filled Corn Bread
Pistachio Cake with Honeyed Apricots

and, my personal favorite:

Bread and Chocolate