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Posts Tagged ‘bookstore’


Photo: Lucy Young/Evening Standard
Jonathan Privett, co-owner of Word On The Water inside the barge.

I love stories about unusual libraries and unusual bookstores. Here’s one from the New York Times about a bookselling endeavor powered by the famed eccentricity of Englishmen.

Rod Nordland writes, “The two men who run London’s only floating bookstore, Word on the Water, are living proof that there really is something you can do in life with an English lit degree, other than teach English literature.

“The store — a 50-foot-long canalboat stuffed to its bulkheads and overflowing onto the towpath with books — has a permanent berth on the Regent’s Canal, around the corner from the British Library. This comes after years of its owners staying one step ahead of eviction from the canals, by relocating fortnightly.

“It is doing so well that Paddy Screech, 51, an Oxford-educated Cornishman with a close-trimmed beard and a soft-spoken manner, and Jonathan Privett, 52, a gaptoothed Yorkshireman who has trouble staying still for long (except with a book), finally took their dream vacations this year. …

“The men got the idea for the store from a book, of course — ‘Children of Ol’ Man River,’ in which Billy Bryant recounts how his British immigrant family arrived on the Mississippi River, homeless, living on a floating board, which they built into a theater, and then into the showboat craze of the late 1800s.

“When they met, Mr. Privett was living on a canalboat, part of a subculture of boat dwellers who berth on London’s canals for free — as long as they keep moving periodically. Mr. Screech had been working with homeless people and drug addicts, while caring for an alcoholic mother at home. ‘Overnight, she stopped drinking and turned into a little old lady who only drank tea,’ he said. …

“Mr. Privett had the book-business experience. Before settling on his canalboat, he had at times been a homeless squatter who supported himself selling used books from street stalls.

“A French friend, Stephane Chaudat, provided a boat big enough to be a store, a 1920s-era Dutch barge; he remains their partner.

“Mr. Privett had a stock of used books. Mr. Screech borrowed 2,000 pounds from his then-sober mother as capital, and their business was born in early 2010. …

“Things went downstream fast. Forced by the berthing laws to move every fortnight, they often found themselves on parts of the nine-mile-long Regent’s Canal with industrial buildings and no customers. …

“Mr. Screech said. ‘For years, it just felt like it was going to sink.’

“Then it did. A friend used the sea toilet on the book barge and left an inlet open, and the boat sank to the bottom; even their prized copy of ‘Ol’ Man River’ was lost. Shortly later, the boat Mr. Privett lived on sunk as well, and he lost all of his family photographs.

“ ‘[We] were just sitting there on the towpath, crying,’ Mr. Screech said. …

“As the canal trust peppered them with legal notices, fines and threats to have the boat barge lifted out of the water and broken up, their supporters got busy, too. One rallying cry of a Twitter post, from the science-fiction author Cory Doctorow, was retweeted a million times, Mr. Screech said.”

Read the whole saga here.

As small blurbs filling out New Yorker magazine columns were once titled, “There’ll always be an England.”

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Photo: City of Asylum
City of Asylum Books specializes in translation and world literature. 

With Amazon opening retail bookstores in Greater Boston and elsewhere, the independent bookstores we all love are more threatened than ever. What new models will help them survive?

The Nonprofit Quarterly discusses one idea.

Louis Altman writes, “Conventional wisdom is that the goliath Amazon, the dominant and diversified Internet retailer of everything from books to 7-string zithers has, with unbeatable pricing and almost infinite selection, crushed all brick-and-mortar booksellers in its path. …

“The truth is that independent booksellers are thriving, with 30 percent growth in the number of these stores from 2009–2016, to 2,311 as of 2016. Between 2014 and 2015, independent booksellers saw their market share actually grow from 7 percent of all book sales in 2014 to 10 percent in 2015. …

“The answer may lie with niche-filling shops like Pittsburgh’s new City of Asylum Books, part of a nascent multipurpose cultural center on the city’s North Side called Alphabet City Center. Alphabet City is a consolidated space recently acquired by City of Asylum, a nonprofit arts organization providing sanctuary and forums of expression for exiled writers of all genres from other countries, introducing many unsung voices to the Pittsburgh public through literary community events. …

“The nonprofit bookstore opened … January 14th, offering some 10,000 titles on a wide range of subjects, specializing in translated works and world literature, in 1,200 square feet of space in the Alphabet City building, which includes a bar, restaurant and a venue for readings, performances and workshops. The bookstore sells everything from cookbooks to children’s books to poetry and harbors a giving library, where patrons can take—and give—books for free. …

“Kepler’s Books of Menlo Park, California, [restructured] as a community-owned bookstore, creating a ‘hybrid model’ maintaining operation of the for-profit bookstore, connecting it with a nonprofit arm housing and sponsoring local literary events and presentations for local schools and the community.” More here.

Whether the independent bookstore will find salvation in nonprofit approaches remains to be seen, but creative thinking is sure to be a requirement for longevity. I myself think independents will need to provide services that many used bookstores, particularly nonprofit used bookstores like the Bryn Mawr Book Store in Cambridge, Mass., provide — for example, tracking down out-of-print books for a fee.

My local independent doesn’t offer many extras. It won’t order self-published books for customers, so I am forced to use Amazon if I want one. “Self-published” can include popular books published in England but not yet available in the US through normal channels. Amazon will provide. Why not independents?

There are other issues with my local independent such as shelving two of my three ordered books when they are all the same title, not offering delivery for a fee, and having a website they know is not worth using. But I want the shop to survive, so I order anything from there that it is willing to get for me.

I’d be interested in other people’s experiences and advice for independents.

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Photo: Kate Holt for the Guardian
Juma’a Ali, 34, centre, a Christian from the Nuba mountains in Sudan, who fled to Malakal in South Sudan. Here, he is pictured in his bookshop in Malakal’s camp. 

Sometimes refugees take it upon themselves to improve life in the camps where they hope to live only temporarily. I have read in the past about adults who teach the children who are missing out on school. In fact, I once met a man who did that in a Nepalese camp in India. In this story, a refugee offers books.

Ben Quinn writes at the Guardian, “Juma’a Ali glances fondly at the ceiling-high stacks of titles in his makeshift bookshop, a collection that ranges from Virginia Woolf to Canadian Tax Law (1995 edition).

“Just over three years ago, carrying as many books as he could bring, he sought refuge in war-torn South Sudan following the persecution that he says he experienced as a Christian, across the border in Sudan’s Nuba mountains.

“The books were gathered along the way in Sudan and South Sudan. Most are second-hand copies from libraries in South Sudan and donations from abroad. He wasn’t a bookseller in his home country; he worked with his local church. …

“He sells the books at the camp for very small amounts of money, and is fiercely proud of his role as the bookseller of Malakal. His little shop stands as a source of education and distraction from the often unbearable conditions the camp’s residents live with on a daily basis. …

“Among the most sought-after titles by the more than 33,000 residents of the camp are the Bible and the Oxford English Dictionary, although collections of love poems also find takers. ‘Whenever there is conflict or war, people are reading books about politics and religion. When there is peace, there is also more love,’ says Ali…

“Some day, he says, he wants to leave the camp, adding: ‘Europe is a place I think about, but how to get there? It’s locked up and is closed off to us. I want to be positive and I hope for peace here some day. The problem is how to bring people together after so much has happened.’ ”

Although this story was published as recently at January 4, even more recent news about impending famine in South Sudan has me fearful for Ali and those he serves with his books. I will try to find a follow-up story.

More here.

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The independent bookstore where I live is assuming the whole town knows that the publisher Hachette is fighting with Amazon. I say that because it has devoted a whole window to Hachette books, with a statement about carrying any book you want but no statement about the Amazon fight.

Amazon may finally have gone too far. People are fighting back against its absolute power. Asakiyume, for example, is practically a one-woman campaign to get its warehouse staff better working conditions.

And there are other initiatives. Jennifer Rankin writes at the Guardian, “Independent booksellers are being sent reinforcements in the battle against Amazon …

“My Independent Bookshop, a social network for book lovers from Penguin Random House, [is] an online space where anyone can review their favourite books and show off their good taste on virtual shelves.

“Crucially, readers can also buy books from the site, with a small proportion of takings going to support scores of local independent book stores. …

“A reader’s nominated home store – which doesn’t have to be geographically close – will get 5% of the revenues from every physical book they buy and 8% on an ebook. The site is a tie-up with the e-commerce website Hive, which has been offering a similar service to local shops since 2011.”

Read more at the Guardian, here. Check out the lively comments there, too.

Photo: Sarah Lee for the Guardian
The new Penguin Random House may give independent booksellers a boost in online sales. 

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A while back I wrote about stealth — in particular about a sculptor of paper dragons leaving works of art in libraries around the UK. I also mentioned a few of my own stealth projects.

Here is a stealth project I haven’t yet tried. It requires a camera. The idea is to move a book in bookstore to a shelf that you think suits the topic better, then take a picture of what you have done and post it to the “reshelving” group on Flickr. For example, an especially opaque tax-preparation book might go in the poetry section. A wildly imagined novel about, say, Jane Austen could get moved to biography. And a nonfiction book by a politician you don’t admire could be moved to the fantasy section.

You probably don’t want to mess things up in libraries, but just one book in bookstore … how bad can it be? Come to think of it, when my friend Paul Nagel’s biography of John Quincy Adams kept being put in a less prominent location than David McCollough’s book on John Adams, a malignant spirit took hold of me every time I entered that shop, and by the time I left, the Nagel cover was facing outward on the top shelf.

Even if you don’t sign up to post stealth photos of reshelved books, at least take a look at the Ministry of Reshelving site here.

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