Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Don't Swear in the Bookstore: A Discussion of E-readers, Part One

By Kasey Cox

A friend of mine who lives just outside Denver recently visited her nearby Borders bookstore, just after the July 18th announcement of Borders’ liquidation. She emailed me a poignant photo – not of mobs of people looking for rock-bottom prices, nor of employees packing up, but of a sign on the bathroom door. The sign read: NO PUBLIC RESTROOMS. TRY AMAZON.COM.

When we co-host our regular game nights at the bookstore, facilitator Julian Stam keeps the atmosphere family-friendly by asking that participants use G-rated language. In a spirit of fun, those who forget their tongues must do five push-ups for every infraction. Over the last year, as more bookstore visitors have mentioned their Kindles, we have considered instituting a similar policy as the no-swearing-at-game-night. When we hear potential customers say, “I bought that book for my Kindle,” we often reply – only half in jest – “please, don’t swear in the bookstore.”

People assume, then, that we as independent bookstore owners, are automatically and vehemently, against any form of e-reader. Certainly, there are reasons that bookstore owners may dislike the new electronic readers, or feel concerned about their effect on the publishing industry. Nevertheless, if you ask many people who make their living selling books what they think of the new trend of electronic books, you may be surprised at the answers you’d hear.

The American Booksellers’ Association (the “ABA”) is a national group, linking member independent bookstores for cooperative advocacy and education, so that these bookstores might continue to better serve their communities and foster the love of reading and books. Seeing the increased consumer demand for adding electronic books, or “e-books”, to the repertoire of ways to enjoy books, the ABA partnered with Google e-books to allow independent bookstores to sell e-books on member stores’ individual websites. In an article announcing this partnership launch in December of 2010, the ABA explained how “a Google eBook is a new form of cloud-based digital book that allows readers to access their libraries on almost any device from one single repository, regardless of where the e-book was purchased. ABA has partnered with Google because of its open and accessible platform, which allows ABA member bookstores to provide an easy way for their customers to discover, read, and buy e-books at competitive prices.”

Sam Droke-Dickinson, at Aaron’s Books, in Lititz, PA, explained it well in a recent newsletter to their customers. “[Independent bookstores have partnered with] Google eBooks [because they] can be viewed in any Web browser, through Google reading apps for multi-function devices, and most dedicated e-book devices, such as the Sony Reader and the Nook (but not the Kindle). The Kindle is a proprietary device made by Amazon. The only e-books that can be read on a Kindle are Kindle format books. Only Amazon sells Kindle format books, and [if you buy a Kindle] you will be restricted to buying your e-books for your Kindle e-reader ONLY from Amazon. As your local, independent bookstore, we would love to help you find the reading selections you'll enjoy most in any format — including e-books!” Google eBooks, as well as any other e-reading application or device, allows you more flexibility in your choices.

This article, then, is part one of a three-part series we’ll publish to help clarify this exciting, complicated, and confusing time of a huge leap forward in technology as a part of the publishing world. Certainly, as owners of an independent bookstore, we have biases. I’ll be as clear as possible about those biases and our reasoning for them, beyond the obvious reason of wanting to preserve our business model. In my next article, I’ll address frequently asked questions about the differences between e-readers and other electronic devices; the differences between the variety of e-readers available; and the pros and cons of electronic books. Our hope is that you’ll follow this series of articles, share the information with your friends and family, and join in a discussion of the many changes and options available to us as e-readers and e-books join the repertoire of ways to enjoy reading.

Paper or plastic? Tell Hobo your opinions on electronic readers versus paper books, at Want to scroll through Hobo’s electronic archives? Follow his blog at, or follow him on facebook at Hobo tried to take his Nook in his little hobo sack, because it was lighter than taking a bunch of books, but it got wet when he fell in the pond. Read all about it in Hobo’s book, “Hobo Finds a Home” – proudly not available on the Kindle.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Pennsylvania Disasters

Kevin Coolidge

Where were you the morning of September 11, 2001? I was at work when I received the first vague news report of a plane crash in New York City. Along with the world, I learned of the nightmare unfolding at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Horrified, I couldn’t stop watching. Meanwhile, an unknown life and death struggle was taking place in the skies over western Pennsylvania. A fourth hijacked plane had reversed course and was believed to be heading to Washington D.C. The passengers of United Flight 93 decided take action against the four terrorists who had commandeered their plane.

The heroic decision to fight back came with a cost. Flight 93 plowed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, just short of a school filled with nearly 500 students. At the time, my cousin was attending school in Pittsburgh. I received a call from my aunt. She was frantic with worry. There wasn’t enough information; New York City was far away, but her little girl was close, too close to this calamity. The events of 911 touched my life. It is now a part of me.

Nevertheless, I am fascinated by disasters. Acts of nature; acts of men…these tragic events touch our lives and scar our hearts. It becomes part of who we are. It becomes our history. One journalist that understands this is Karen Ivory. She’s the author of Pennsylvania Disasters. She takes us back to some of Pennsylvania’s most catastrophic events, vividly recreating moments that changed the Keystone State forever. There are twenty-two true stories arranged chronologically from The Yellow Fever Epidemic in 1793 to the Quecreek Mine Rescue in 2002. There’s an account of Three Mile Island—the most serious accident to take place at an American commercial nuclear power plant, and there’s information on the Johnstown flood that killed more than 2,000 people. Shanksville and Flight 93 are there, too, along with other stories that are a chilling reminder to expect the unexpected.

Disaster touches us all. It was a childhood experience of seeing a broken dam that first interested a young boy in the Austin Disaster of 1911. The fifty-foot-high Austin dam was built in 1910 to provide water for the Bayless Pulp and Paper Mill. Bayless often ignored the recommendations of the civil engineer he hired, and opted for cheaper methods of construction. The results were tragic. When it was over, seventy-eight people were dead, hundreds injured, and much of the town destroyed. That young boy was Gale Largey and he grew up to write a book called The Austin Disaster, 1911: as reported in the media before Radio, Television, the Internet…

Today there is instant communication. We learned of the downed helicopter in Afghanistan minutes after it happens, even though it is a war zone. But in 1911 there was no satellite network. News could take days to reach international papers. Gayle’s book focuses on what was reported about the disaster.

Many of the accounts of the Austin disaster reflect what is known as yellow journalism. Yellow journalism is journalism that exploits, distorts, or exaggerates the news to create sensations and attract readers. For some readers what happened in Austin was described as a “fiery holocaust” in which hundred were engulfed in flames, while readers of the San Francisco Chronicle were first told “…850 Drowned, 1000 Maimed,” then on the following day “…300 Perished, then “…150,”, but never the official figure of seventy-eight. Gale’s book is the result of twenty years of research, and to a large extent a continuation of his work done for his documentary he directed and produced in 1997.

Another book recently published about the Austin catastrophe is 1911 The Austin Flood by Paul W. Heimel. His book examines why the dam broke, who’s really to blame, and ultimately what lessons can be learned about this tragedy. Could it have been prevented? Did indifference and greed cause unnecessary deaths? Paul’s book comes with a list of those who died and poignant first-hand accounts of more than three dozen people who witnessed the flood and lived to tell about it. Paul’s great-grandfather was among the constables dispatched to Austin to assist in the rescue and recovery, and keep order in the stricken community.

Human tragedy…it touches us all—throwing us together, tearing us apart. Disaster may be in our DNA, but history and humanity endures…

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Still Klutzy After All These Years

Read the Printed Word!

Grandpa, what’s that? Over there! It’s a … craft kit! No, it’s a game! Is it a toy? It looks like a book, but … what is it?

It’s a Klutz kit!

For over thirty years, Klutz Press has been offering a little education and a whole lot of fun with its unique “multimedia” approach, combining reading, crafts, outdoor activities, old-fashioned games, trivia, family fun, science, and silliness. Each Klutz book gives simple but detailed instructions for activities as diverse as making clay beads, playing Pick Up Sticks, building a solar car, using face paints, creating rubber band-powered flying machines, and learning to juggle. Attached to almost every Klutz book is a kit of all the materials needed to embark on the specified project, be it a bubble wand, marbles, safety pins, embroidery floss, bean bags, or watercolor paints. Current bestsellers at our bookstore are Body Crayons, Capsters, Paper Stained Glass, and Foam Gliders. My nephew’s new favorites are the Sling-Chute, and Boom! Splat! Kablooey!, while my niece adores Make Your Own Twinkly Tiaras.

It all started as a student teacher’s attempt to keep his tenth grade remedial-reading class engaged. In 1977, John Cassidy, English and education major at Stanford University, tried to keep his sophomore reading class from falling asleep by throwing tennis balls out at them, following them with printed instructions on how to juggle. Not only did it help Cassidy determine how much his students were able to read when they were motivated, but his class had fun and most students learned to juggle quite capably. Inspired by this success, Cassidy asked two friends to help him earn money by offering sidewalk juggling lessons and selling Cassidy’s book, Juggling for the Complete Klutz, along with three beanbags. The first 3,000 copies of the book-with-beanbags sold from backpacks and the back of bicycles, within weeks; by the end of 1978, they had sold 50,000 copies. Darrell Lorentzen, the business major, wrote the official business plan; B.C. Rimbeaux, the psychology major, asked the bank for a loan. The three friends incorporated as Klutz Press, in Palo Alto, California, at the end of 1978.

Sales continued to be “steady [but] unspectacular”, says John Cassidy, on the “About Us” section of Klutz’s official website. In 1982, the group published their second book, The Hacky Sack Book, with instructions for several different ways to play the bean-bag kicking game which was growing in popularity. The how-to guide included, of course, a hacky sack, and buyers responded in a big way. Obviously, people liked having the fun, simple guides that came with the “equipment” needed to play. At this point, Cassidy committed himself to the company in earnest.

Since that auspicious point, Klutz has created more than 200 different kits, encompassing such broad categories as crafts, art (drawing, painting, sculpture), games and puzzles (remember Cat’s Cradle? Cootie Catchers? Jacks?), travel activities, science (solar cars, rockets, constellation guides and charts, battery activities) and so much more. In 1995, seven years before Scholastic, Inc. bought Klutz, Klutz was selling nearly 5 million books a year without spending money on advertising.

These days, Klutz continues to sell fun and learning to people of all ages. When Explorabook was first published in 1991 in conjunction with the San Francisco Exploratorium science museum, general manager Kurt Feichtmeir hoped to eventually sell 100,000 copies. Feichtmeir was stunned when, less than four years later, it had sold more than 800,000 copies. Many books appeal to adults as well as to children – for example, Watercolor for the Artistically Undiscovered sells extremely well with the retired population. At our store, when we issue monthly reminders for our Klutz craft and activity night, I joke that “children under 10 should be accompanied by an adult. Adults need not be accompanied by children.” Following the spirit of John Cassidy and the crew at Klutz, I love to invite the child in all of us to play.