The Morning News

The Morning News Tournament of Books

The Tournament of Books is an annual battle royale between 16 of the best novels published in the previous year.

A new match is played here each weekday in March.

The 2009 ToB Contenders List

The 2009 Judges & Brackets

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Previous years: 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

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Kevin: Hmm. You know I’m getting a familiar feeling in my abdomen now and it’s making me kind of uncomfortable.

Last year, when Mark Sarvas was a judge, you and I took issue with something in his judgment—his tone or something, I don’t really remember what it was, and at the moment I don’t feel like going back and cringing while I read it. But we ganged up on him a little bit and it caused a bit of a controversy. We talked it out on Mark’s blog and more extensively in private emails and I’m pretty sure the whole thing was long over as far as the three of us were concerned.

Then last week you and I responded to something in Jonah Lehrer’s judgment about Mark’s book—not that he was advancing it, necessarily, but we had an issue with one of his reasons why. And I should have anticipated this, but I’ve received comments to the effect that I really must have HATED Harry, Revised, which was not the impression I wanted to leave. I like upsets in this tournament. It highlights the total arbitrariness of literary awards, the very thing we are both embracing and making fun of.

And now we have David Rees’s judgment on Harry, Revised and I have to bring up, well, the tone of it again. Because I really don’t want it to look like we’re ganging up on Mark Sarvas. We’re not. And even though David Rees didn’t start this fire I think it’s time for us to give Harry, Revised a break.

Sarvas is actually trying to do something in this novel. He’s trying to put a 19th-century storytelling lattice over a modern novel with modern concerns. And we can argue about whether we think he’s always successful—Jonah Lehrer thinks he mostly is, David Rees thinks he isn’t—but I don’t think any of us so far have given him enough credit for the attempt. This book is a little more ambitious than any of us have said.

And I think parts of it really do work. One of the main themes is about how small lies beget big lies and how lies of any size eventually become unsustainable. That part of the novel is really moving and true. It’s also never boring—Harry’s story zips along quite pleasantly. There are people who will really enjoy this book and I don’t mean for the sometimes pack mentality of the ToB to put those readers off it.

As for City of Refuge, this is a hard book not to like. I don’t know if anybody has thought of a novel this way before, but I might call it tournament-ready. The kind of book that, when you start comparing it directly to another novel, is going to make a strong impression. It’s going to face some difficult hurdles, including the Bolañosaurus in the next round, so I don’t know realistically how far it can go (and this is way premature), but if City of Refuge can somehow get to that final match where 17 people are going to vote up or down, you’d have to think it has a shot. If City of Refuge went to your high school, it would probably be homecoming king, is what I’m saying.

A homecoming king with a real somber streak, no doubt, but you’d find it hard not to vote for him.

John: So, David Rees disliked Harry, Revised enough to smash Mark Sarvas’s glass slipper into sand, which is indeed sad because, like you said, despite some qualms about how Mark’s vision turned out, I was rooting for the underdog to come out on top. But Rees has the only vote that counts, meaning City of Refuge emerges as champion of the Susan Sontag regional to face 2666, winner of the George Plimpton regional, in the next round.

(Something we’ve failed to note is that for this year’s tournament we’ve named each regional after a recently departed literary figure, with David Foster Wallace and John Updike being our additional honorees.)

Since you so ably sum up the actual substance of today’s battle, in this comment I thought I’d continue the story of my adventures in trying to acquire a copy of City of Refuge to read for the tournament.

When last we left off, I had described the futility of trying to acquire a copy of the physical book despite trips to more than a half-dozen bookstores (chain and indie) a mere four months after the book’s release. Yes, I considered the library, but our local at the time did not have a copy listed, and as I mentioned, I was aware that online options such as tourney sponsor Powell’s as well as Amazon could put the book in my hands within a few days, but I also already had a dozen other titles lined up and it became a low priority. If not for the tournament and more importantly, if not for City of Refuge advancing in the first round, there is no chance I ever would’ve come back to actually read the book as that passing desire would’ve quickly been buried under the avalanche of new books that made it onto my radar.

Our tale ended with me downloading a copy of City of Refuge to my wife’s newly arrived Kindle 2 and the Kindle “app” to my iPod Touch.

I’ve now read City of Refuge, and while I have some things to say about the book itself, I’m going to save them for the next round so I can stop talking about 2666, which mostly seems to annoy our readers.

Instead, I’m going to talk about the experience of reading City of Refuge on my iPod and the Kindle. Here’s the headline: Bookstores Are Screwed Unless They Adapt.

People have no idea how much it pains me to say this. I was, quite literally, raised in an independent bookstore that my mother founded with her partners when I was a year old. She was one of the owners until the year I graduated from college and the store still exists today a couple of storefronts down from its original location. The number of hours I spent reading in a special seating area in the children’s section cannot be calculated. I was practically a human display. Going back to do a reading at the store when Fondling Your Muse came out was one of the highlights of my career as a writer.

I love books, physical books. When I left Chicago for graduate school in Louisiana, the only things in my car were my dog, my guitar, and my books. As I type this, I am surrounded by books and if my office were bigger, I’d be surrounded by even more of them because I have easily twice as many stowed away in boxes. I can look at my shelves and remember the time and the place I read each book.

But now that I’ve read City of Refuge on a digital device (70% on the iPod/30% on the Kindle), I can now see the future and it looks very, very different for publishers, writers, and booksellers.

Prior to the experience, I imagined that reading on one of these devices is, for sure, inferior to reading a good, old-fashioned book. I was especially dubious about the iPod, since I’d found the device totally frustrating and unacceptable for reading online newspapers or articles. But I have to tell you, I actually found reading on the iPod totally pleasurable. In fact, I think it’s entirely possible that I read with deeper engagement and absorption than I would’ve had I been reading the physical hard copy.

I know, blasphemy.

Rather than being a liability, the small screen is an asset because it makes it almost impossible to skim since there’s not enough text on the screen to bother skimming. If I lose focus while I’m reading a physical book, I often find myself skipping down the page, looking for a fresh point of purchase into the text. With the iPod, it was remarkably easy to stay absorbed in the text. (That City of Refuge is an absorbing book likely had something to do with it.) On the Kindle itself I had much the same sensation. Plus, whenever I switched between the two devices, thanks to some sort of magic fairy dust sent through the ether between them, each device always knew where I was in the book.

In the end, my experience reinforced what I think we all know, but are perhaps afraid to admit because it means reconciling with the change that’s going to come: it’s the content that’s important, not the container. I’m not saying that digital technology is going to wipe out printed books or bookstores altogether, but in an industry already in decline and needing very little to topple it over the edge, it is going to cause radical changes.

The good news is that I think most of them, ultimately, will be for the good. I don’t think anyone believes the Shamrock Shake limited-time-only hardcover release-and-return policy is viable. I also think books are a product that deserve and demand the chance to live beyond that three-month window that the current publishing model is tied to.

I think I know all the objections most people have to e-book platforms because I would’ve agreed with them until I actually tried them. The distribution system that’s tied to the Kindle is simply and literally killer. One of the commenters on the round where I offered my initial rant called my expectations to be able to acquire a book in less than three days at a price below list “ridiculous,” and while I’ll admit that those wishes have more than a whiff of entitlement, they exist because they are the reality of the marketplace as it exists right now. People almost never pay full-price for books, particularly hardcover books, and on-demand isn’t just a service on my cable, it’s the prevailing attitude of the American consumer. We can bemoan the prevalence of this attitude all we want, but those lamentations aren’t going to save publishing. We are where we are and trying to talk book buyers out of their wishes isn’t going to help much.

Now, I’ve got all kinds of qualms about Amazon’s digital rights management policy and the potential for them to choke out the e-distribution market. I’d love to see some kind of universal distribution format that would allow someone like tourney-sponsor Powell’s to compete on equal footing in this arena, because, in reality, even with a different distribution model, we’re still going to find most of our reading via good old-fashioned word-of-mouth (even if the mouth is the Internet, as illustrated below) and a company like Powell’s that is tied into readers and offers additional value to the book selection process in ways Amazon doesn’t and can’t, like Brockman’s blog or their staff picks can be plenty competitive. One of the reasons I’m so exercised about this stuff is because I desperately want to sound the alarm so we can all get on the train before the whistle blows and it leaves the station with just Amazon on board.

If the bookstores we love are going to survive, they’re going to have to change to meet the new reality. I think the additional good news is that independent stores are in much better position to adapt to the technology than the big-box chains. The advantage Barnes & Noble has over most independents is the amount of inventory. With changes in distribution, this is no advantage at all. We already see Borders essentially circling the drain and Barnes & Noble suffering significant declines in sales. We’re still going to need places that support and nurture book culture and that’s what independent stores can do in a way that Barnes & Noble can’t. Independent stores that experiment and find a niche in the changing landscape will not only survive, but thrive, as long as they don’t bury their heads in the sand and try to wish away reality.

One last anecdote to reinforce how and why I think change is going to come. Some months ago, on Jessa Crispin’s Bookslut I read a short piece about the reissuing of Raven: The Untold Story about Jim Jones and His People to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the Jonestown Massacre. At the time, I filed this nugget away in my mental rolodex, thinking it sounded like a cool book that I should look for some time. As luck would have it, I literally tripped across it in the store about a week later and bought it, even though I knew that I had tons of reading for the ToB ahead of me because I also knew it was entirely possible, or even probable that when I did want to try to read it, I wouldn’t be able to find a copy.

Last night, for the first time since I started reading for the tournament I found myself looking for a new book and I chose Raven. As my wife clicked away happily on her Kindle next to me (she’s reading Trevor Corson’s The Secret Life of Lobsters), I cracked Raven and learned that the book had been out of print for many, many years since its original publication in 1982, something that would never have happened with digitally available books. I also realized that this monster is close to two pounds with big pages and small print and I could not comfortably balance it in on my chest with one hand.

Kevin: Yeah, all of us who live for books are in for changes, brother.

What doesn’t change is the current contenders for the Zombie round. Harry, Revised doesn’t crack the top four vote-getters among the eliminated novels and so our list of potential Zombie Round resurrectees remains the same. Only two will return, but as of today the potential books are (in alphabetical order):
  • The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
  • Netherland
  • Steer Toward Rock
  • Unaccustomed Earth

Reader Comments

On March 20, 2009 at 11:07 AM Travis said…

What I gained from this review is a suspicion that David Rees is not quite as clever as he wanted to appear. That was very bad. Very. Oh so bad. Not clever. Not cute. If this review were a book, I would hurl it across the room. If I used a Kindle, and this review were an e-book, I would seriously consider hurling my Kindle across the room until I'd remember that it holds my whole library and is very expensive, and so instead I'd delete the file with a righteous but decidedly less-satisfying push of a button. And then would I go tell my psychiatrist about it? No.

On March 20, 2009 at 11:17 AM Drew Johnson said…

I would like to begin by offering three rather lengthy quotes from judgments rendered in this contest (Witold Riedel on Home, Kate Schlegel on Netherland vs. A Partisan's Daughter, and David Rees on Harry, Revised).

Pay careful attention to how the first two readers (Riedel & Schlegel) put forward a concept of emotion as a kind of currency in a transparent exchange between characters and--by extension--real people.

Then, read David Rees cogently ranting about emotion as the baseline, the currency, the lingua franca of fiction.

Then, if you're not bored and/or done with this line of thought, read the few lines I've put at the end.

Witold Riedel on Home:

"I imagine the book can feel comforting to some, especially those who understand how calming it can be to cry and pray and to make sure that those around them are not exposed to that dirty unholy truth inside. (He knows who you are.) But those who feel that their lives are enriched because they are able to share more or less genuine secrets of themselves with other human beings will find the novel very challenging, at times barely moving, and pretty frustrating to read."

Kate Schlegel on Netherland:

"In certain circles these days it is in fashion to admire stories whose main characters make their rounds in hard-to-believe worlds. They build entire apartment houses just to force the occupants to do what they want, they find their needle-in-a-haystack birth-father living just across town, or—like Hans—they bump heads with the mob and live to, um, NOT tell their wives about it. It’s that disconnect, not the existence of these tales themselves, that makes these books tough for me to read: The people in these books almost invariably never realize how special they are, nor do their friends and relatives ever bother to point it out to them. Netherland is a book of this sort. It’s well-written and entertaining, but it requires a suspension of disbelief that is just beyond me.

So Partisan’s Daughter is going to the next round. Its characters are believable as real people: When Chris thinks he’s caught Roza in a falsehood, when he’s confused about something she’s said, or when she can’t decide how to answer a question he’s posed, they tell the reader of their suspicions. The simpler plot and characters let the lovely writing and story shine through. And that makes all the difference."

David Rees on Harry, Revised:

"For instance, it’s about one dude’s grief, and how it compels him to undertake this crazy project with this random waitress, and every page is filled with descriptions of emotions—emotions, emotions, emotions, he’s having so many emotions, each one is articulated and described by the author and pinned to the butterfly board or whatever, and eventually you want shake the author and say, 'Get out of the way of your characters and their emotions and let them breathe for a minute and let me come to my own conclusions about their emotions!' Which is too bad, because there actually is an interesting issue at the heart of the book. About resentment and class. But I wanted to yank that issue out of this novel and let it live on its own…

…Listen to this blurb: 'Rich with earned emotion.' See, that sounds great—in that weird, book-jacket-y way—but it’s exactly wrong, because this novel is such a hermetically sealed celebration of its own novelishness, the reader never has to stretch or risk or earn anything."

There. Now, if you're still with me.

A little while ago I was teaching a class in which we read the story of a man who, in the immediate aftermath of being attacked, refuses the chance to forgive/help his (now dying) attacker. I was caught off-guard by the reaction of some members of the class: they regarded the characters failure to forgive the attacker as morally reprehensible and judged it entirely in those terms. They didn't see it as human and they didn't seem to see it as realistic OR unrealistic.

I asked them if they could--in real life--see themselves forgiving their attacker while they were still bleeding in the hospital? I think that may have made a few of them back off their original point. But to me the way they came at the situation spoke volumes about how we regard fictional characters as transparent beings filled--like fishbowls--with their emotions.

And those emotions, to which we're only privy through the miracle of fiction, had better be spotless because your characters will be JUDGED on the basis of their emotional purity--and their forthrightness in communicating those emotions to you and to others.

The character as fishbowl. I don't think that this is TOO far from what Schlegel or Riedel put forward. Good characters conduct transparent transactions in emotional currency. Bad or badly written or unsympathetic characters are inscrutable.

For my part, I look up and realize that by these standards I'm surrounded by bad characters. Real people are inscrutable and behave in unsympathetic ways without becoming irrevocably unsympathetic.

Less and less do we afford characters this basic freedom or allow them to reflect what seems to me a basic human truth.

When novelists trade in emotion every character makes sense. More and more I encounter readers whose complaints boil down to a dislike of the way someone behaved when any rational person would have told their mother/brother/sister/lover exactly what was bothering them.

I haven't read enough of Harry, Revised to strongly endorse Rees's opinion of the book--although I will say that the portion of the book I happened to hear Sarvas read more or less conformed to what Rees puts forward.

But, in general, I wonder if it would help if--for a while, to help the door swing back the other way--writers were encouraged to regard people as phenomena: sometimes easily explicable and sometimes not. AND, most importantly, if we try to encourage writers to not always move through a scene via how their characters feel.

Schlegel's last paragraph (that I quoted) seems to point to what I regard as a really impoverished, simplistic, monotonous fictional account of the world. Riedel's seems to point to a world in which people interact with ease and understanding.

Whereas Rees refers to NPR and I think that's pretty spot-on. Schlegel and Riedel seem to have a kind of NPR worldview. A worldview where the communication of emotion leads to an understanding and that transaction can be readily communicated to a third person.

I don't recognize that world and wish that I read fewer novels that cheerfully took place entirely within it.

It occurs to me that this might be the best defense of Bolano and/or Netherland I can offer. They don't reduce the world to a series of scrutable emotional transactions.

Okay, apologies, shutting up now.

On March 20, 2009 at 12:10 PM John Warner said…

I think I pretty much agree with your overall gist in the sense that I think what you're arguing for is characters that are fully "organic" that their "realness" not only be of the "warts and all variety," but of the, "we can never fully know anyone, which makes them an object of interest," variety.

I'm not sure there's a writer today that doesn't hold this up as a kind of ideal for their characters.

However, your character as fishbowl metaphor, which I too have experienced in teaching undergraduate writing and literature and I think is a function of how literature tends to get taught in high school isn't really in evidence in either of the examples you cite. You say you don't think you're TOO far off, but I think you're way off.

In fact, I think Kate Schlegel's objections to Netherland are housed entirely in the critical structure you'd prefer. Maybe I read it that way because it's the same objections I had, but in essence, I think her issue (and mine) with Netherland is that it is entirely inorganic. To me, Hans is a construct where the author's hand is far too apparent on the steering wheel, right down to the sentence level. This is not a moral judgment on the behavior of the character, but an aesthetic judgment at the level of craft.

I'm sure there's lots of readers whose complaints about books "boil down to a dislike of the way someone behaved when any rational person would have told their mother/brother/sister/lover exactly what was bothering them," but I don't think either example you've offered here illustrates your point. (At least as I understand it.)

On March 20, 2009 at 1:02 PM Drew Johnson said…

That's interesting. I admit that neither is a smoking gun, although I find it hard to read Riedel any other way. Here's how I read Schlegel--her second paragraph is the key in this case; I felt obligated to quote the first in order for the second to make sense. Her line:

"When Chris thinks he’s caught Roza in a falsehood, when he’s confused about something she’s said, or when she can’t decide how to answer a question he’s posed, they tell the reader of their suspicions."

Doesn't that presume a character who has not only adequately digested their own situation, but is willing and able to communicate anything and everything to the reader? Whose way of understanding the world has a more-or-less one-to-one relationship with the reader's? And doesn't that also mean a character more acting than acted upon? Thus excluding the vast majority of people from ever being characters in a novel?

In line with that, I'd bring up an excellent (and often disliked) character in Netherland: not Hans, but his wife. She's often described as unsympathetic, yet I would say that she simply makes reasonable choices that in the world of the book turn out to be quite believably unpleasant for her. In a first person novel, she doesn't have the ability to communicate this to us directly and she doesn't choose to communicate much of this to Hans, her husband, the narrator.

As I--perhaps incorrectly--read Riedel and Schlegel, unless she fesses up her inner life, she has no business being a character in a novel.

However, she seems hugely real to me--precisely because her behavior hasn't been filed away in the sort of Dear Reader confessions Schlegel seems to be saying she requires.

I think every writer agrees to the idea of unknowable characters in the abstract, but I'd say that in practice they rarely hew to that ideal.

Hans tells us a great many things--some of them, as you have said, too poetic for some tastes--but he never is able to entirely account for himself. This is an increasingly rare feat in a first person novel.

Maybe that's a better way to make this distinction: I think what I'm arguing against is a character that can be entirely accounted for. Which is different from saying that we can't ever know anyone fully.

The latter implies that knowing or not knowing a character is a question of degree--and that I know a character more or better when they tell me a secret and less when they do not.

What I'm trying to put forward is that I rarely read about characters who do things that they almost certainly couldn't articulate if they tried to...who are acting believably but outside of the ability of normal 1st or 3rd person narration to account for. When an action is outside of the range of that sort of narration, it becomes far less frequent in fiction than it is in the real world. AND, consequently disproportionately judged when it does occur.

There's this dead German, Lichtenberg, who I'm going to quote here--only because he says this better than I seem to be able to:

"Prejudices are so to speak the mechanical instincts of men: through their prejudices they do without any effort many things they would find too difficult to think through to the point of resolving to do them."

I don't think you can reconcile Schlegel or Riedel with this statement and I want fiction to be able to stray into the territory Lichtenberg is talking about--if only because people spend so much of their lives living mired within it.

On March 21, 2009 at 8:55 AM John Warner said…

In this quote from Kate Schlegel's review:

"When Chris thinks he’s caught Roza in a falsehood, when he’s confused about something she’s said, or when she can’t decide how to answer a question he’s posed, they tell the reader of their suspicions." leave out the the previous sentence, which is they key to its meaning.

"Its characters are believable as real people:"

In context the paragraph is juxtaposed to the criticism of Hans as hard-to-shallow construct. Now there may be a dispute over what makes someone "believable," but I don't think there's anything in the review that says adherence to the reader's preferred moral code is one of the pre-requisites. We're talking about two first person narratives here, so to some degree the books are going to be about the character "digesting" their situation. I guess you prefer it when the narrator does less digesting and more living. Netherland strikes me as 90% digesting of the cow chewing its cud variety as there isn't a single thing Hans' life that he thinks isn't worth heavy rumination.

I think if you'd read A Partisan's Daughter you'd find far more similarities than differences between the books in terms of how the first person narrator is used to mediate the story. I think Schlegel simply thinks De Bernieres simply does it more skillfully.

(I happen to disagree. For all my issues with Netherland, I would've picked it over A Partisan's Daughter.)

"What I'm trying to put forward is that I rarely read about characters who do things that they almost certainly couldn't articulate if they tried to...who are acting believably but outside of the ability of normal 1st or 3rd person narration to account for. When an action is outside of the range of that sort of narration, it becomes far less frequent in fiction than it is in the real world. AND, consequently disproportionately judged when it does occur."

Without examples, this just reads like a straw man. Because you say you rarely read about characters like this doesn't make it true. I'd have to consider examples where characters that fit this profile are disproportionately judged to figure out the degree to which I agree with this. I don't think you've made your case here that Reidel or Schlegel are acting out of the moralism you say they are.

On March 20, 2009 at 11:25 AM Tim said…

I'm from New Orleans, and I didn't like City of Refuge as much as many reviewers. I got hung up in some of the characterizations of New Orleans and its people that just were not true. That said, it is a very powerful book. for those that enjoyed City of Refuge, check out Dan Baum's Nine Lives. It's about real people and is a much better book IMHO.

On March 20, 2009 at 12:47 PM Kim said…

While I don't really like my Kindle (although I'm going to try it again on my next vacation to prevent a backache from lugging books), I completely agree that bookstores have to work to incorporate it into their inventory. People are sounding that alarm that the Kindle will be the final death of independent bookstores, but I don't believe it. I think bookstores must experiment with finding ways of selling them. Some publishers are starting programs already, HarperStudio will offer the audiobook and/or the e-book for $2 if the paper book has been purchased. NelsonFree will give both away for free if the paper book is purchased. It is my understanding (the first books aren't out yet) that the audio and e-book will be acquired from the bookseller with the book, the bookseller will give the customer a code to obtain the other formats. I write a blog primarily dedicated to independent bookstores, I truly love them, but I agree with John, booksellers who fight the e-book or ignore it, will do it at their peril.

On March 20, 2009 at 12:50 PM Sara said…

Re: Tim-- That's my fear about reading City of Refuge. All it would take is one misguided attempt at dialect on page one or some kind of patronizing canonization of a citizen who in real life would be an asshat. I would be put off for the entire book and probably spend the rest of my week complaining to my husband about it. I already have to deal with enough of that crap at work. Despite my fears, the glowing reviews here make me want to give it a chance. Hopefully these reviews glow because of real literary merit and not out of pity.

On March 20, 2009 at 3:10 PM Alicia Neary said…

"What I gained from this review is a suspicion that David Rees is not quite as clever as he wanted to appear. That was very bad. Very. Oh so bad. Not clever. Not cute."

Ah, but isn't clever in the eye of the beholder? I sure chuckled.

On March 20, 2009 at 4:56 PM elizabeth said…

I think David Rees' review was clever and very funny. I also think I wouldn't want him reviewing anything I had written.

On March 20, 2009 at 8:26 PM Brandon said…

Every time I begin to feel pity for Mark Sarvas and his own “slight” book, I recall how cruelly and relentlessly he bashed Steve Almond when he was himself up-and-coming, before Candyfreak made him a New York Times bestselling author.

On March 23, 2009 at 10:48 AM Matt Evans said…


I'm with you on this, Brandon. Almond is a friend, and I've had a hard time separating my strong partisan outrage from anything like an objective assessment of Sarvas or his /Harry Revised/. (I'll take Rees's cue and drop the comma.)

On March 22, 2009 at 12:14 AM Stephan said…

See now, the word "partner" has been so corrupted that when John writes, "I was, quite literally, raised in an independent bookstore that my mother founded with her partners," I don't know if he was raised by an entrepreneur with multiple business partners or by a Fundamentalist Mormon into plural marriage.

On March 22, 2009 at 12:18 AM Daniel said…

The independent bookstore should use e-books to gain some kind of level playing field against larger bookseller chains. The more bookstores try to define themselves by any kind of format, the more they stand to become similar to what might have once been called a VHS-store, instead of a video entertainment store, or a CD-store, instead of music store. I don't have a Kindle yet, but I actually do look forward where information, knowledge and art can be so freely transmitted, and what we now consider "bookstores" simply have to adapt to become something more than a romanticized notion.

On March 22, 2009 at 10:16 AM John Warner said…

I'm chagrined to say that I don't have any specific recommendations on how to proceed on this front, but I totally agree with this kind of "bookstore" rethink. As commerce moves more and more online, any industry is going to be faced with the reality that their status as a place to buy things is no longer sufficient.

For bookstores, I think they need to figure out how to become a location of "book culture," a place where readers congregate in order to share their interests in a communal space. Maybe this means readings or book clubs or other events that draw people in and put them in a position to spend money.

The hard, maybe impossible, part of the equation is figuring out how to make money as that kind of space, but my A-1 recommendation is two words, "liquor license."

On March 27, 2009 at 11:07 PM Deirdre said…

Minor correction, gentlemen - Candyfreak, Almond's hit book, came out in April 2005. Sarvas started the Elegant Variation in October 2005.

On March 27, 2009 at 11:09 PM Deirdre said…

Actually, I'm wrong. The book Almond had out was Life in Heavy Metal. Looks like EV started in October 2003. My mistake, guess I should keep quiet ... Sorry.