Filling the void…

A new name, an new look and a slew of half written pieces that I hope to share soon. Excuses aside, I am very bothered by the fact that while my reading has persisted all summer long, I have virtually disappeared from the world of writing. Not good for me, not good for my career, and not good for anyone interested in what I have to say. I am sorry.

I will keep this brief, as  I have so many things to catch up on and I can’t wait to share them with you. One of things I will be starting with is the decline and demise of Borders (and the Big Box Bookstore as we know it.)

I was on a Facebook page for Borders employees today and I stumbled upon a posting from a fellow employee from San Diego that linked to the most interesting look at the economy and the survival of literacy amongst the “poor” of our nation.

Please read over the following article and feel free to share your thoughts on the sentiments expressed both here and on Facebook.

Across the Digital Divide–lets talk about poverty. by Seanan McGuire

Thanks for reading and sticking by through the lack of writing. It’s good to be back.

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Day 14: Awesome Books

If you find yourself in the Bloomfield/Garfield/Friendship section of Penn Avenue, you will no doubt see this sign looming outside a small shop next to SPAK BROS. PizzaIf you have not seen the sign, you can’t miss the spot where this little artist owned bookstore, Awesome Books, is hiding. Nestled between two of Penn Avenue’s brightest attractions this new little gem is not to be missed. With scads and scads of used books on site, and a thousand more in storage, Awesome Books is everything that the modern book industry is missing.

As I have said before, I work for Borders, and I just about died when I got the job, I was so excited. I remember when I interviewed, the manager that I met with told me the pay–$6.25/hour to start, as a cashier, and I was crushed. I wasn’t going to leave a $16+/hour job as a waitress to work for $6/ hour as a cashier. I had a degree! I had retail experience! I was a manager damn it! (Lucky for me I put that out there and got hired at a bit higher of a rate, as a supervisor.) But I really wanted to work in a bookstore. Something she said to me when she told me my wage has stuck with me for all of these years and although I still find it as pretentious now as I did that day, it still rings true–to some extent. She said to me, “People don’t work here for the money; they work here because they love books.” And that is true. The pay sucks, the benefits suck, and often your discount sucks, BUT the people who work there love books.

Now I am sure you have all seen the news spewing the terror that is besetting Borders Inc. It often makes me sad to think that the company is in such dire straights and there is the looming risk of closure. But in toady’s reader market, small business is where the money is. More often than not our store is treated more like a restaurant, a library, a school, a concert hall, and a phone booth than it is a bookstore. People don’t buy any more. Thousands of titles sit on the shelves to be skimmed over, spilled on, spines broken, and pages folded never to be purchased because online venues can sell it to them cheaper or they can downloaded it for practically free. Places like Borders are used by the masses to get out of the house for the night and get a cup of coffee for $1.85.

However, since the money problems really started to show at Borders, I have been telling my co-workers that their saving grace is going to be stock reduction and specialization. Focus on what is really selling in your area, reduce the quantities of stock that is not selling, and get rid of the music, movies, and cafe. Do what you are there to do–sell books. And that, my friends is what Awesome Books is doing.

You can see Gillian, the attendant that helped me today, working on a mosaic in the back.

When you walk into Awesome Books it feels like you are walking into someone’s home library. You can smell the paper, and the cloth, and the dust, and the wood of the floors, not burnt coffee and Chlorox. It is quiet, like a bookshop should be and warm. The homeyness is amplified by the cats  playing in the corner and under your feet, and the single employee sitting on the couch working on some art project or another.

The selection is small, but comprehensive, and everything is used. They have new and old titles alike in everything from falling apart to like new condition. And like any corporate books store out there, they can get you anything you want, if you are willing to wait a bit. Quick story. A few weeks back I went in with a list of books I needed for my book club and began to hit the shelves. They had none of them, and I was surprised, because many of them were popular or classic titles. That day Laura Jean McLaughlin, one of the owners, was working, and I began to ask her about some of the titles. She was so kind. She took down the titles and authors that I was looking for and took my number and told me she would give me a call if any of them came in. I wrote it off as never going to happen and began looking elsewhere for the titles. Wouldn’t you know it, just under a week later, she called me back to tell me she had two of them in stock! I couldn’t get it from Amazon that fast! And what struck me was that she remembered and actually called back. In a big corporate bookstore, even with computers reminding us everyday of who needs a phone call, we are lucky if we can remember to email. And here this woman was offering me personal service for a used book, from a list she had written down on some scrap of paper.

This is what is missing from chain stores, and it is something that they will never have…heart. The employees have it, but the store never will, because there are a thousand clones of it all around the world. And with the pressures of big business, and contracted coffee shops, and political correctness, and looming foreclosures, all the book loving people in the country could work in your storefront and you won’t have the warmth you feel at a small privately owned shop.This is where the business needs to move to, they need to de-evolve. Borders, you have taken on too much, and you need to step down. Let go of what is not selling and stick to what you are good at–selling BOOKS.

Here is a quick tour of Awesome Books, on Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh:

Window seat one,

Windows seat two. Oh, and that is poetry hiding on that little bookshelf.

Fiction, Bios and new arrivals (the rolling cart and top shelf boxes down the center aisle)

Art, Children's , Poli-Sci and others...

Psychology and Sociology there on the right and that little shelf had VERY OLD books on it along with music titles and an portrait of Walt Whitman on the wall.

Ms. McLaughlin's studio in the back

The cats.

I want to say I am not completely knocking where I work…I really do love that place, but in this day and age, when so many people are clinging to their e-books, those of us who need the touch, the taste, the smell, the heart of a real, live book–and it truly is a need–we need a place like Awesome Books. We crave a place where our friends, enemies, lovers, and muses can live, and thrive and have their adventures in a place that is just for them. No music, no movies, no download kiosks and no coffee shops. If you want coffee, buy a book at Awesome Books. You get a free cup from Oh Yeah! Ice Cream with every purchase.

Go mooch off them for a place to hang out.

Day 8: Your chick card is showing–Spoiler Alert

I really try not to fall into the chick lit out there, I really do, but occasionally I find myself in denial.  And they say when you have an addiction, the first step to over coming it is admitting you have a problem, so here it goes.

My name is Ellē, and I am a Twihard. Yes, it is true. I remember when I finally gave in and became and addict; it was 9:00 pm on August 1, 2008.

I was helping run the Breaking Dawn release party at my Borders. Before then I had never even touched the series to shelve it.  I knew nothing about it except that it was an obsessive love story about a girl and a vampire. I did know that one of my co-workers who is a teacher steered parents of younger children away from it due to the obsessive nature. And I was definitely one of those people who got all defensive about the Vampires or Wizards argument (ok so my nerd card is showing too…) because nothing, NOTHING in the children’s/YA vampire category beats Harry Potter. I stand by that statement. There is no comparison. If I had to choose, Potter will always win over vampires. ALWAYS!!

Any whoozle, I was working this party because I always worked the midnight release parties [they are so much fun] and on my break I decided to pick up Twilight and give it a skim. I figured it would be nice to see what it was that I was here to promote. Now, I am not going to go into a full on review, today, but while the writing was not fantabulous in the first novel, the voice sucked you in instantly and the story kept the heart and the blood pumping.  I was hooked. I read all 4 books in 10 days.  It consumed my life for a week and a half, and then I re-read it at a slower pace.

Actually, funny story, while I was reading Eclipse–I have a very distinct memory of reading this one as it is my favorite of the four– at some point I had a day off work. That day I remember I got up and had breakfast with my husband and the minute he walked out the door I plopped on the couch and starting reading. When I couldn’t hold it anymore I got up to go to the bathroom and looked at the clock and it was 11:45 am! My husband [fiance at the time] had left at 9:00 and would be home for lunch in 15 minutes! I rushed through getting ready for the day and was just coming out from getting dressed (I had been in my pjs) when he walked in the door, Eek! Now a normal person would say to themselves, “ok you have wasted your entire morning, make it up this afternoon.” But no, I went right back to the book the minute he walked out the door. I finally tore myself away  in time to make dinner, but only for an hour. At the time we [my husband] were building a retaining wall in our backyard. Immediately after dinner he went out to work on the wall, while I did the dishes. 3 hours later he came in to wash up and get ready for bed and I was still working on the dishes! I had a rhythm..was three dishes, read a chapter, wash three dishes, read a chapter–this was before we had a dish washer–it is embarrassing to think about even now…

And so obsession was born. The movies are not as big of a deal, however, I have been to the midnight release of them all, and they were good enough [I am not going to review them all at this time] that my husband is addicted at well. However, the movies are what I am here to talk about–Breaking Dawn Part I to be precise. Has anyone not seen this trailer yet??? If you haven’:

Now I need to ask you, as readers not viewers, what do you think? As a fan of the books and a reluctant movie lover [I like the films, but they don’t do the books justice,] I feel like they are giving EVERYTHING away. While I understand the idea with movies is to bring in ALL viewers, for those of us committed to the story, this feels like a total jip [I guess my age is showing too…who says jip anymore?]  Before I actually read the first sentence of Twilight I heard the opening chapter of Breaking Dawn, at the party. I remember the swooning and the shrieking of the teens, and the undeniable romance of the story in their reactions to telling Charlie about the engagement.  [Spoiler alert…NOW] But with this trailer, telling Charlie about the engagement, telling Renee about the engagement, the wedding, the honeymoon, and the pregnancy are THE BIG ITEMS ON THE LIST when it come to Breaking Dawn. And they are all ALL covered in the TEASER!!!!!!!!!!! What is left for the trailer, better yet what is left for the MOVIE!?!?!?!? Yes we are waiting on the details, but everything has been given away…well almost everything.  I guess I wanted some mystery. I have been waiting and waiting for this trailer and here it is, disappointment at every turn. And they are splitting this book into two. What is left besides the birth for the second one? The film looks great, but…I wanted somethings to be a surprise and they are giving everything away! I am just so…what is the word…disheartened? by this trailer, I just don’t know what to say besides see the movie anyway… fingers crossed it will be more comprehensive…

A new book or two, or four for Benji

I am slowly forcing my book obsession on my son. This weekend was employee appreciation weekend for Borders employees (which is one of the few reasons I work those 4 little hours every week,) So with my extra 17% discount I went a little book crazy[er.] I got myself a new copy of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, mine has long ago gone missing, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare which I have been fighting reading, and Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer–she’s an up-and-comer who is getting great reviews.  All these YA titles, I know, but summer is around the corner and I am gonna need some light reads to balance out the heavy ones we are doing in my book club.

Benji is the one who made out like a bandit. He got Little Quack, two new Elephant and Piggie Books, Time For Bed, and Otis by Loren Long. Otis the one  I am truly excited about. The artwork in this book is so beautiful and full of contrast that it easily holds Benji’s attention and the story of the little tractor and his best friend the calf is something that he will be able to enjoy and learn from well into his kindergarten years.

I was going to get the board book version of it simply for it’s sturdy build but after talking with a friend about it, she convinced me that this is a book that I am going to want to have in hardcover as a keepsake after he out grows it. She was right. After just one read through of this book, I am in love with it. It’s sweet and sad and uplifting and delightful to the eye and I think is a must have for any baby boy collection, although I think this a necessity for every picture book lover out there too.