Wednesday, June 27, 2012


(Liz) I've been in New York all week attending the Random House sales conference.  Sales conference, as I'm sure we've mentioned before, is an all day affair, an invigorating and grueling combination of long hours and lots and lots of books.  We begin at 8 am and finish the day varies, but let's just say 10 pm.  For days on end.  Yesterday was one of those days--the thrill of sitting in the room with some of publishing's elite editors, the awareness that we were in New York (where great books are born, where the Victoria's Secret building is across the street, where Rod Stewart lives upstairs), the excitement of a new list of books.  Last night, after a day that I probably took too much for granted, I was chatting in the hotel bar with my boss and a couple of colleagues, and I received an email.  I glanced down and saw the alert that Nora Ephron had died.

No doubt you've seen the news; it's difficult to miss today.  Like most people, I appreciated Ephron's wit and works.  She was a woman who believed in standing up for women, and she chose to do so while maintaining her sense of humor.  My college roommate decorated our room with the posters for When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle; I looked at them every day for a year, and that was really the first time I ever picked up on her name.  The movie Julie & Julia was responsible for the incredible Julia Child renaissance of the last few years.

And then there was Nora Ephron the writer.  Being a book buyer, as I was while working at BookPeople, often was a job of educated risk-taking.  I don't think I ever missed so wildly as I did in underestimating the appeal of Ephron's I Feel Bad About My Neck. Oops.  What made yesterday's surprise announcement particularly shocking to me, though, was the knowledge that people in the room where we were sitting and discussing new titles, these people knew Nora Ephron personally.  They published her and they loved her.  As Gianna posted on Facebook yesterday, "Nora Ephron was rare; she actually mentored other women in Hollywood. She also for some reason, felt it important to remind people that women still matter after the age of 18. I know my old colleagues at RH who are gathered in NYC for conference must be lifting a glass to her right now. Cheers Nora, you will be missed."

This morning, before our morning meeting began, Random House COO Madeline McIntosh began our day by remarking on the news of Ephron's passing.  (Allow me to take a moment to digress and state how proud I am to work for a company and sales department with such strong women leaders such as Madeline.  While women are still paid on average significantly less for the same work and have to work harder for promotions, many of us on the RH sales force note the high-ranking women in our company.  It's cool.)  She said that after hearing the news last night, she searched for an appropriate Nora Ephron quote to share with us, but came up short after some furious Googling.  This morning, though, another colleague passed along one resonated.  Hearing it, I considered why I chose to enter the book business, and most probably why my colleagues--smart, funny, creative, talented people who could do any number of other things--work here too.

Nora Ephron had a talent for stating what she was thinking, and making statements that made you think.  And she had a gift for entertaining.  She was a remarkable talent and a role model.  She was a friend of my colleagues.  I'm sorry that she's gone.

This is the quote that Madeline read:

“Reading is everything. Reading makes me feel like I've accomplished something, learned something, become a better person. Reading makes me smarter. Reading gives me something to talk about later on. Reading is the unbelievably healthy way my attention deficit disorder medicates itself. Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it's a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it's a way of making contact with someone else's imagination after a day that's all too real. Reading is grist. Reading is bliss.” --Nora Ephron

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Summer Reading 2012: Gone Girl

I know you. You are just like Liz when it comes to your summer reading. You want love: you want a bit of sex, wrapped in a bit more violence, with just a touch of regret, and a few tears. And if it’s a weekend…you want a vampire thrown in for good measure (and you know what I mean by good measure, right ladies!). [Is she talking about another Liz here? I just read a novel about an old man dying of cancer and coping with his regrets. I don't remember any vampires.] And you know, we can suggest books like that by the truckload [no we can't], but for fun we thought this summer we would suggest some books a bit higher on the literary ladder.

I am going to start with what I think is going to be the book of the season, and the one book you really will not be able to put down.  Yep, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn will be the best book you read this summer, I promise. It has everything that our beloved Liz likes in her books: sex, lies, twists, and turns, and plenty of vampires. Okay no vampires, but you don’t really want vampires anyway. Stop saying you do, you don’t! [Gianna has pneumonia right now.  She may be delirious.]

Author Gillian Flynn. There's a twisted mind inside
that head.  Excellent.
Gone Girl is incredibly well written (fans of Dan Chaon and Kate Atkinson alike will not be disappointed), and while Dark Places was fantastic, and Sharp Objects was truly original…this one is better. This is it; this is the book you want to have your summer affair with. But you know, treat it right, and bring it to the beach or home for the weekend to meet your parents.  

One last thing; you will want to talk about this book to anyone who will listen, but you sort of can’t lest you spoil it. My advice is to buy two copies, one for you and one for the person who will ditch a day of work with you to dissect this read.  You should always have a friend like that. 

[I loved this book too. It's the Scott Peterson trial mixed with Double Indemnity.  And Gillian Flynn owns a fat cat and likes to write about twisted, dark women.  My kind of author.]

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Generally Horrible Questions: Sara Glassman

Sara Glassman
(Liz) I called on independent bookstores in Alabama for about a year before my territory shifted westward. Alabama too often has to overcome the "South is scary" stereotyping--squeal like a pig, Forrest Gump, the KKK, and more recently this guy, Tim James the Xenophobe, who was running for governor.  I want to be clear that I never had that sort of experience in Alabama, and I enjoyed going to Birmingham in particular.  Birmingham has a giant statue of Vulcan, quality restaurants and attractions, hills, and cultural diversity.  Yes, Alabama has a legacy of racial intolerance, but it's also the home of the civil rights movement.  Birmingham was a part of that past, but it's also a city with a distinctly urban feel.  And it has bookstores.

Little Professor Book Center.
I ALWAYS tripped on that
spiral staircase.  Always.
Birmingham is the corporate headquarters of Books-A-Million, but I was there to sell books to the independent bookstores, including Little Professor Book Center.  There are stores you walk into and the employees are clerks, and there are stores where the employees are booksellers.  Sara Glassman of Little Professor is a bookseller.  She wants to talk books, she wants to tell you how much she loves books, and, well, she isn't afraid to mock the bad ones.  The store's buyer also is her significant other, and Sara's certainly not afraid to give him a hard time.  Of course I was all in favor of that.  So here you go--generally horrible questions for avid book lover, crafter, and woman who gets the joke, Sara Glassman.  Enjoy.

Generally Horrible Questions: Sara Glassman

1. How did you get in the book business?
I was always a big reader and Little Professor was the bookstore I used the most when I was in high school. When I moved to Birmingham it was the first job I applied for here. Paul (the owner) gave me the job on the spot and I've been working here ever since. [So you're saying that you were a loiterer and it was either call the cops or put you to work.  Got it.]

2. What’s your favorite thing about Little Professor?
All the power they give me. Mwahahahaha. Um... Wait. I didn't mean that. I meant hand selling. I love talking to people about a book and convincing them to buy it. Then if they come back and tell me if they liked it or not, that makes it better! [And the power, right?]

3. Make fun of Drew’s (in)ability to buy romance novels. And feel free to take pictures of him wearing a kilt since no one reads this blog. [Drew is Sara's significant other and the store's buyer.  Sometimes buyers have to order books about which they are clueless.  Drew has a "gift" when it comes to romance.]
Sadly, there are no pictures of Drew in a kilt. He thinks they're stupid Scottish propaganda. Actually, he, being Irish, has a huge problem with romance novels. It's always Scottish men getting the girls and if there are any Irish guys they're usually villains. Or drunk. Or drunk villains.

But his strategy for buying romance novels is this: He'll buy anything with a Viking, a kilt, or a title on the cover. So, the Viking duke displayed in a kilt would be his idea of the perfect romance novel for the store. We've taken bets on this. Viking Heat from Berkley Sensation was a book he bought against my recommendation. We had a $20 bet that it wouldn't sell in 6 months. He cheated and got one of our coworkers to buy it.
 [See, we could add snarky comments about this answer, but it's already both hilarious and sad.  We're sending the hate mail from the Scottish propagandists your way, though.]

 4. Have you ever posed for pictures with the Vulcan statue in Birmingham? How much would we have to pay you to make this happen?
I haven't posed for pictures, but I have knitted a scarf that is more than 4 times the height of Vulcan (including base). I'm special like that. As for payment to get a photo... get me a signed Nick Harkaway anything and I'll get you as many pictures as you want. [...Where the hell would you wear a scarf that long? We secretly think you just learned to cast off yet and so just kept knitting.  We love Nick Harkaway too.]

5. I’ve never read _____________________ and I’m so ashamed.
Hmm, there are tons of "great classics" that I've never read, but I don't actually feel that bad about it. I guess the thing that causes the most consternation when I tell people I haven't read it is The Hunger Games. [At some point Liz will lose it and turn this blog into a site entirely dedicated to what is wrong with adults reading children's and young adult books. High five for this answer.  Gianna: Um...we're supposed to be encouraging reading here?  Liz: No one reads this blog.  Gianna: Oh, right.  Rant away, my elitist snob pal.]
Fifty Shades fans,
wanna read something
REALLY dirty?

6. I’ve read ___________________ and I’m so ashamed.
I'm not really ashamed of anything I've read. I'm sometimes very very regretful that I wasted my time, but I'll own up to anything. Probably the most scandalous thing I've ever read was the Sleeping Beauty porn that Anne Rice wrote. I was waaaaaaaaaaaay too young to be reading that stuff and didn't have any idea what I was getting into with the first book. But after that I had to know how far she'd take it. Let me tell you, the Fifty Shades fans have no idea how far it can go. [You got that right.]

7. Liz or Gianna?
Always Liz! As a side note, we miss you!!!! [Excellent answer.]

8. What book(s) changed your life?
This one is difficult. On one level, I don't know that any book has absolutely changed my life. On the other side of things, I've read books that have become huge parts of my life in other ways. I read Robert Heinlein and became obsessed with him. Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry is probably the book that has had the most roundabout influence on my life. I read it and loved it. Then I contacted the author to do an interview for the LP website. He was very cordial and I decided to go to DragonCon (a huge sci-fi convention in Atlanta) because he was going to be there. Flash forward a couple of years and a few more DragonCons and I'm now one of the artists in this year's art show. So that's kind of awesome.
9. What’s the strangest question you’ve ever been asked by a customer?
"Do you have Shakespeare in English?" is probably my favorite. Although, "Can we borrow these or do we have to buy them?" is another good one.

10. What are you reading now?
An interesting question. I'm reading I Don't Want to Kill You by Dan Wells in hardcopy, The Cat Who Went Up a Creek by Lillian Jackson Braun on my phone, and I'm listening to An Unmarked Grave by Jacqueline Winspear on my iPod. [You get multi-tasking bonus points if you're doing all three at the same time.]

11. Alabama or Auburn? (There is a correct answer to this question, that’s related to the school Liz’s grandfather attended.)
In so much as this question usually applies to sports and I don't care about sports, neither. However, in that I hold a degree from one of them as does my mother, and both my maternal grandparents - Alabama. [The correct answer is Auburn.  Sorry.]
A fat cat, a naughty read, and red sheets.
Sorry Sara, we already have a fat cat
lounging in our blog boudoir.
12. Have you read Fifty Shades of Grey? If not, how much are you willing to pay Gianna not to read it to you?
I haven't. And I'm willing to pay at the very least everything in Drew's wallet to avoid Gianna reading it to me. If that's not enough, I've got a sizable cat I could throw in to sweeten the deal. 22lbs of fuzzy, purry, Fifty Shades avoiding feline... that's got to be worth something right? [Gianna: Wait--how much is in Drew's wallet?  I'm getting out my copy right now....]

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It...

It's summer reading season, and we're going to be featuring some of our top recommendations though out the month.  As far as we're concerned summer reading should be: A) engaging, sink-into-a-story reading, and B) cheap.  If you're taking a book to a beach, you don't want to risk getting sand in the binding of the autographed, first edition of Proust.  I'm pretty sure that Gianna rubs all beach books in the sea life that washes onto shore just for the hell of it.  This is why I don't go to the beach with her.

First up, Ready Player One by Ernie Cline.  It's new in paperback this week, and the book is just plain fun.  Ernie is the biggest geek you'll ever meet, and he's happy to talk to any and everyone about 80's pop trivia and classic video games.  He loves them.  Ernie's love is evident in his novel, too.

A futuristic tale with a decidedly retro twist, Ready Player One is the story of Wade, an overweight, unattractive, poor kid who spends all of his free time looking for the Easter Eggs left by the eccentric, Bill Gates-esque, billionaire who passed away.  For the undorky, Easter Eggs are hidden clues buried in games that take you to special features, places, etc, within the game.  The billionaire in Ready Player One was obsessed with 80's lore, so amid the virtual reality worlds he created are send-ups to his favorite 80's games, movies, and culture.  You'll never watch War Games the same way again, I promise.  Find the Easter Eggs and beat the challenges, win the money.  Years go by, though, and the scoreboard remains blank until the day that Wade finds the first clue....

Ernie and his car
Ready Player One is a book that sucks you in, the same way that the original Legend of Zelda hooked us long ago, when it was too hot to play outside.  I still have my original NES and all of the games, and when I bought a Wii a couple of years ago, one of the first things I did was purchase a bunch of classic games--Super Mario Bros 1-3, Zelda, Galaga, Rygar, Final Fantasy I.  If you ever wished for a quest along the lines of The Neverending Story, or dreamed of playing "Thermonuclear War" with JOSHUA from War Games, or loved your Atari, you are going to love this book.

Need an added incentive to read it?  Okay.  Here's the bonus.  Ernie Cline bought a DeLorean with his advance money from Ready Player One.  Now he's revealed that he hid an Easter Egg in the print versions of his book (both hardcover and paperback), and the person who finds the egg and successfully completes his/her own quest will also win a DeLorean.  You can drive 88 mph and just dare a cop to pull you over.  I recommend doing so on Gianna's street, since there are always cops over there.  Win the car and I'll give you Gianna's address.
Ernie's car, Ecto88

And while I have no idea if the Easter Egg is buried in the audio edition, I want to give a shout out to it as well.  If you've got a book this jubilantly geeky, is there any question whatsoever who should read the audio book should be?  That's right--Wil Wheaton.  Love him.  This was one of two favorite audio books from last year (the other was Tina Fey's Bossypants).  Wil Wheaton was destined to read this book.  It's delightful.

Here's the video of Ernie explaining his Easter Egg contest: