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31 July 2011

Art as Commentary or Just Plain Fun

Terry Border's Bent Objects: The Secret Life of Everyday Things is a fun art book in which there's a piece called "Gulliver's Travel."  It's a Kindle being tied up with twine by little printed bound books a la Jonathan Swift's encounter with the Lilliputians. I tried to find it on his website to show here, but found a different commentary on printed bound books instead.

Border's art also relies on a certain amount of wordplay as well as allusion.  One of the most clever (probably inspired by staring at the spice rack while making a no-recipe-but-always-good spaghetti sauce) is the two-part sculpture, the first part featuring a jar of Basil Leaves on a toy motorcycle and the second, a jar of Crushed Rosemary surrounded by spent tissues.  And, I like how his website allows the visitor to find an IndieBound store to patronize. Rock on, Terry.

30 July 2011

Distinctive Gardens IS the Small Biz Ready for a Big Break

Distinctive Gardens WINS a Big Break!
Facebook American Express OPEN Big Break
Smallest community in Facebook American Express OPEN Big Break national competition pulls out all stops to win Distinctive Gardens Grand Prize

It's Gardenstock style!  Bring a cooler, chair or blanket.
Come celebrate with us!


DIXON, IL – It was a long shot, but the wee town of Dixon, IL and the Sauk Valley region now have bragging rights.  This town (pop. 16,000) pulled out all the stops, voting Distinctive Gardens into the top 5 Grand Prize winners for the Facebook American Express Big Break for Small Business competition.  Distinctive Gardens, co-owners, Bud LeFevre and Lisa Higby LeFevre will fly out August 3rd to Palo Alto, CA for a two day, one on one business makeover and receive a check for $20,000 to help grow Distinctive Gardens with social media.  

Like never before, social media can help small businesses like, Distinctive Gardens reach more customers. That’s why in April 2011, American Express OPEN teamed up with Facebook to give five small businesses a Big Break—a trip to Facebook headquarters for a two-day, one-on-one business makeover and $20K to help grow their business with social media.  After an arduous two-week voting period the results are in, from over 11,000 businesses entered, and competing against those in large cities such as Boulder, L.A., and Chicago, Distinctive Gardens wins a Big Break. 

It “took a village” to propel Distinctive Gardens into one of the top 5 winning slots.  On July 6, two days into the competition, Distinctive Gardens held a Big Surprise Bash at the business to announce to the community and rally the troops.  The people went back home, and for two weeks voted, shared, and spread the word on the Big Break to all of their friends and relatives around the globe.

States Lisa Higby LeFevre, co-owner of Distinctive Gardens,

Distinctive Gardens would not be here without this community.  They relentlessly shared and got the word out, every, single, day for two entire weeks.”

The word spread in several ways.  A Distinctive Gardens Big Break event on Facebook inviting people to vote and invite their friends to vote spawned upwards of 15,000 invitations.  This reach came only through the sustained efforts by the community and their friends across the country.

The community outpouring of support overwhelmed Lisa.  In the first few days after the announcement, Distinctive Gardens Facebook page exploded with activity.  In between normal job duties, she stayed at her computer for two weeks trying to personally thank each and every person she could directly see on her page who was voting, sharing, spreading the word, and providing personal testimony on Distinctive Gardens.  There were hundreds she couldn’t even see who were sharing.  The communities work paid off.

The Distinctive Gardens website saw a whopping 2106% spike in traffic over the first fours days of competition.  By the time it was over, the website showed an overall increase of 808% in traffic compared to the same period before Big Break.  Distinctive Gardens Facebook page saw action too.  In the first four days, post viewers rose by 1740%.  After voting, active monthly users had risen by 1077%.  Before the end of the voting, Distinctive Gardens received hits to its Facebook voting tab from every single continent on the globe.

While Lisa was living in front of the computer, co-owner, Bud LeFevre was out hitting the streets in between doing full time landscape jobs during record heat.  He walked the downtowns of Sterling and Dixon handing out vote cards and talking to people.  At night, he hit the local bars asking people to vote.  He managed to crack off thirteen TV and Radio appearances before and after landscaping.  Even his landscape crew, son, Quin LeFevre and Sawyer Hagen passed out vote cards at night and spread the word on Facebook to all their friends.  Co-owner, Jim Brown handed out some vote cards.  At the shop and on personal time, Peggy Renne and Shannon Godby rallied their Facebook friends while managing normal duties at Distinctive Gardens.

Distinctive Gardens employees and the community were not the only ones stepping up.  Area businesses, such as Hicks Insurance and Flower’s Etc. helped spread the word.  Greg Hicks of Hicks Insurance donated advertising time.  Carla Knack Brooks, of Flower’s Etc put up the Big Break vote link on her business sign.  Dixon radio station, WIXN’s Kathy Cecchetti , and Sterling radio stations’ WSDR’s Jay Pauley, and WZZT’s Ryan Zschiesche helped promote by having Bud LeFevre on air.  Businesses from outside the immediate community jumped in.  Rockford’s WREX-TV had Bud on twice and promoted the Big Break throughout the week.  Quad Cities’, KWQC-TV Paula Sands had Bud on the Paula Sands Live Show to talk about Big Break.  Business social media company, SocialPie, ran a blog series on Distinctive Gardens experience and is conducting a case study on the Big Break impact.   The entire community rallied. 

Big Break voting ended July 19th.  In the afternoon, on July 20th, Bud took a call from Tom Monahan of American Express.  Online was Cynthia Spaulding of Electric Artists, facilitator and contact for Big Break.  Tom played it up as if bad news was coming.  Bud braced himself for disappointment.  After a breathless moment, Tom announced Distinctive Gardens just won the Big Break.  After three months worth of work on the Big Break and two weeks of crazy voting and no sleep, Bud and Lisa both broke down.  Here are some notes from the big phone call, as recalled by Bud:

“We at American Express and Facebook were very impressed with all you did to get the votes”….  ”We know how hard you have worked”…..   “We’re so very happy you won.   We really, really like what you are doing”…..   “Bud you’re a star”…. (Bud’s response through the tears), “That’s what the kids say, but I’m just Bud.”

The community rally paid off.  Now, Bud and Lisa LeFevre head out to Palo Alto, CA to Facebook headquarters for a two day Facebook make over on August 3rd.  During this time, they will meet the other four winners to work in groups to learn what did and did not work for each.  Next, the one on one consultation will focus on specific uses of social media.  A Facebook team will tailor instruction to help Distinctive Gardens implement two of their specific goals: socially integrated online sales and increasing exposure of community projects, such as Gardenstock Art & Music Festival benefit for Sinnissippi Centers and Second Saturdays Art Happenings.  As part of their commitment to the community, Bud and Lisa plan to come back and share the knowledge gained.  There will be scheduled public gatherings where the two share what they’ve learned while out in Palo Alto.

States Bud,

“The community gave all they had for us.  Now it’s time for us to pay back the community.”

Information on those classes will be posted on the Distinctive Gardens Facebook page.

As a thank you to the community, Distinctive Gardens invites all who participated to a celebration out at Distinctive Gardens, Saturday, July 30, 2011 at 6 p.m.  It will be “Gardenstock style”, which means, bring a cooler, chair, or blanket. 

27 July 2011

Bound, Printed, Non-Streaming Media Artifacts

John Keilman wrote in Tuesday's Chicago Tribune: Here's betting that books will have a much longer shelf life than bookstores. I do not bet on sure things, being quirky in that way. Of course, "books" will last longer than bookstores, but the key is what kind of books? With a vote towards printed bound [paper] books, Keilman has cited a few negatives about electronic books, like the imposition of "a tyrannical inflexibility on the act of reading." He explains,
If you want to go backward to refresh your memory about a character or jump ahead to consult the endnotes, you either endure an annoying bout of button-mashing or give up. That can make reading anything more complicated than an airport thriller a frustrating experience.
Reading that reminds me of the late Charles Dunphy who loved reading and lost the sight of one eye to a botched operation and sight in the other in a near-death illness which included renal failure and a host of other problems just as awful as becoming blind. Even while he had decent sight in one eye, it was tiring to read.  People thought that audiobooks would be the way to go for such an ardent booklover. He rejected them as Keilman rejects electronic books, also saying that it was difficult to go back and re-read a previous part that might help explain something in the here and now (even while it was a CD, I could almost imagine the frustration of stopping and starting to just the right point, like we did with the old reel-to-reel recording machine my father had when I was young and we were recording songs and messages for the grandparents in Hong Kong and for posterity (imagine that)). It was difficult to see how much further (longer?) until the end of the chapter or to imagine when a good stopping point was approaching. He much preferred a human being (preferably wife Frances) reading a printed bound book to him, whom he can ask, "Can you go back to when ..." or "How many pages until the end of the chapter? I going to have to get up and stretch my legs." Additionally, when one person reads aloud to another, there is an engagement of minds in a shared activity that is lost when two people are listening together to an audio book.

Keilman also cites a study in which electronic books with their wonderfully engineered uniformity in print could lull us, like easy listening music, into an intolerance for anything difficult or needing thoughtful response. And why should a book only do one thing? Even Amazon.com concedes it needs to develop a tablet-type device for reading books, newspapers and websites. Of course, he also cites the difficulty in focusing on reading an e-book like War and Peace when one could so easily switch over to a game of Angry Birds. This is completely the opposite the lauding of interactive books for children as a way to extend the attention to and enjoyment in reading books to those growing up in this digital age (as I referenced in a previous blog post).

Books in some form (cloud, electronic impulses, MP3, paper, papyrus, stone) or another will be here for a good long time.  What bookstores do (usually) is sell new books, both newly published and newly discovered -- say, recommending War and Peace to a young adult who tells you he's ready to go beyond James Patterson.  As newer books get distributed by download and older books are relegated to the antiquarian shops, perhaps booksellers will morph totally into providing a service and not a tangible product, being paid to filter, remember and recommend.

26 July 2011

Three Graces

Sometimes, if done correctly, it's actually more difficult to write fiction than non-fiction, especially if the genre is historical.  The author must be meticulous in wording, so that characters in the 15th century do not speak like they do today or even like Shakespeare (which was turn of the 17th century England).  The dates and events must be in tune.  What happens in the novel must be possible in the reader's mind.  One of the differences between historical fiction of twenty to fifty years ago and those written today is the sex.  Jean Plaidy, Grace Ingram and Georgette Heyer managed to write historically accurate, riveting and fun stories about royals, nobles and peasants, lovers and frenemies without much more than heavy breathing and cutting repartee.  Because readers today expect it, there are certainly more explicit, although maybe romanticized, sex scenes. And, the bawdiness of the times can now be more revealed, although sometimes response to it is written with a 21st century sensibility.

All of this is evident in Jennifer Blake's new series Three Graces, with a mid-15th century England timeframe when the "War of Roses" was settling to an end and Henry II was upon the throne.  The first in the series is By His Majesty's Grace and the first of Blake's published works which I recall ever reading.  The narrative is absorbing.  Without being mired in too many historical references, I can feel the sense of place and time.  Most writers have a word which they cannot help but use often.  Blake's is "divers."  I have seen it before, but still needed to figure out (which one could from context -- another sign of a confidently good writer) that it means something like "various," "plentiful" or "all kinds of."

Authors put characters in all sorts of situations to set up the romance of two strangers marrying each other, but nothing beats royal mandate, which is quite interesting if historically accurate (Henry II claiming guardianship of orphaned daughters of landed nobles and then, presenting them as brides to loyal comrades-in-arms).  I say, " if historically accurate," only because I cannot prove or disprove it.  I in fact have never heard of this royal prerogative before.  It's difficult to believe, though, that Blake would base an entirely wonderfully written novel on a false premise.  So, I am taking on faith that piece of information as historically true, which readers must do all the time.  And, mistresses of the king, bastards, resentful half-brothers, court intrigue and traitors add to good storytelling.

The name of the series "Three Graces" refers to the three Milton sisters, Isabel, Catherine and Marguerite, to whom a curse had been attached, through the invention of Isabel, to protect the three in a world that does not look upon high-born women as anything but bargaining chips and stepping bridges to inherited wealth and family networks.  And the curse is: Death and disaster would befall any man who attempts to join in loveless union with one of the Three Graces of Graydon.  This works well, because back in the 15th century, who married for love?  Not anyone who knew what was good for him (or her)?

And, just as readers suspect and hope, Sir Randall Braesford, bastard son and a nobody, might just be the answer to that curse for Isabel.  I look forward to Cate's and Marguerite's stories.

(It's too bad Grace Ingram's Red Adam's Lady is out of print.  I could have hand-sold that book.  That too had an arranged marriage and a lot of historical colour before winding up with a satisfyingly romantic ending.)

16 July 2011

IndieBound Recommendations for Summer Reading

The Summer 2011 list of recommendations for reading groups is out and includes some staff picks:
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is recommended by both proprietor/manager and myself to different kinds of readers and we have had nothing but raves.

Room seems plucked out of the headlines, but author Emma Donoghue wrote this only vaguely aware of the Elizabeth Smart case, or so she said in her interview with Radio Q (as covered in a previous blogpost).

Proprietor/manager Larry is reading Karl Marlantes's Matterhorn.  Although he has yet to read about a hundred pages, this is the first book he has enthusiastically recommended to customers without having completely finished.

And, we have recommended Beth Hoffman's Saving CeeCee Honeycutt as a great choice for mother/grandmother - daughter reading groups.  What an interesting view of the 1960s still dealing with the after-effects of the oh-so-perfect (not!) 1950s.

10 July 2011

Journey Through Spain III - Los Misterios de Laura, and Truth Versus Non-Fiction

We had two Mondays in Spain and I got hooked on a late-night program, "Los Misterios de Laura," which is the foreign daughter-in-spirit of "Columbo."

Laura wears a trenchcoat everywhere (even to attend a champagne-filled awards dinner, but not thankfully, to afternoon weddings).  She's clumsy; she's persistent; she's totally oblivious or maybe not caring of committing social faux pas.  She picks up on tiny little nuances and inconsistencies.  And, then, in the end, she puts it all together and the handcuffs are put on the true criminal, usually by current boss and now ex-husband Jacobo, who smiles bemusedly as she does that presentation to the gathering of suspects which seems to be a staple of the formula television detective stories if not real-life ones.

Peter Falk can rest in peace with such an able offspring as Maria Pujalte as Laura.

My Spanish is still extremely rusty and I still haven't figured out what happened to cause the rift and ultimate divorce of Laura and Jacobo while they maintain a very good working professional relationship (he clearly respects her intuitive way of investigating crime, even while he believes the same woman Laura is trying to help is dangerous and crazy).  I'm sure there are not a few of us still rooting for Jacobo and Laura to get back together and be that model professional family with those adorable but patience-trying twins Carlos & Javi and equally exasperating mother/mother-in-law Mirabel.

What is rather puzzling (a mystery!) on the dates of the programs -- I was in Spain on Monday, 25 April and Monday, 2 May.  On the program's website, they have all these episodes listed by date order.  And, while I recall seeing the one said to be from 2 May on 25 April, the one I saw on 2 May is nowhere to be found.  A repeat (or what did they call them? --  a re-broadcast)?   This is problematic, because I was going to describe the episode in detail (and link to the episode) to illustrate the difference between truth and belief.  If a person truly believes something, is it true?  And, because I can't find the episode, did I really see it?  Can I still describe it in this blog?

An old man dies after drinking some sangria offered at his neighbors' backyard grilling party. The suspicions all focus on those neighbors -- three professional, upper middle class couples.  Uncomfortable with the scrutiny, they came en masse into the police station and insisted upon taking lie detector tests.  All six were ultimately asked, "Did you kill _______ ?"  Each said, no, and at no time did the machine detect a lie.  That is because each one person could truly believe he or she did not do it, did not strike the fatal blow that killed the man.  It turns out they all did it -- first doing a six-glass monty on the poisoned wine, so no one knew who held the fatal glass.  Then, they all poured their glasses of wine into the pitcher of sangria and no one drank from it but the unfortunate old neighbor.  With this all-for-one and one-for-all commitment, each could kid himself into truly believing he was not the culprit.  I never could figure out why his neighbors believed he had to die.
The writers of the television show put some irony into it, showing that it works the other way, also.  If one feels something may be technically true and really is a matter for interpretation, the subsequent guilt can wreck the detector.  Laura's estranged husband wanting to reconcile but is found with a fairly incriminating gift from a woman (a buttoned-down shirt no less) insists she ask him questions while strapped to a lie detector test.  I couldn't figure out what she was asking, but however she worded it, the needle on the machine went berserk.  He felt guilty, and so the machine picked up on that through his pulse rate, his sweat rate and whatever else a "lie detecting" machine uses, even when he truly felt true to her.  That was that; he couldn't prove it.  By the end of the episode, he had granted her a divorce.
Quite interestingly, I now have the title for a book I can use to illustrate that same phenomenon, from the other side.  Instead of calling it sincerity in the face of truth, Carol Tavris would call it denial, justification or even hypocrisy.  But, is it truth?

As a P.S., I found the episode I described, which was a re-broadcast.  I also discovered that no one knows why Jacobo and Laura separated.  The only backstory is that the marriage wore out.  Is that an acceptable reason for divorce?
Here's another mystery (to me). The website announces, here's the last 54 episodes of the show, but a) there are not 54 full episodes (unless they're counting the fragments and the one-minute trailers, and b) what happened to 2010?  There are 2009 episodes (which I have figured out was the first year) and 2011, but none in 2010.  Are they part of the missing or was there a lapse in production (lack of sponsors, what have you)?

09 July 2011

Quilting in America

Quilting made a big comeback in the late 20th century and is still quite popular in some pockets.  It is an artform, and contrary to popular belief does not merely use leftover scraps of cloth (although to do so is a real artform).  As functional art, there is a conundrum -- use it on the bed and risk ruining a beautiful, irreplaceable piece or render it sterile by putting it in a stretcher or behind glass on the wall.
To somewhat relieve the dilemma and the wallet, we have some gorgeously made books which have suffered from that lack of pigeonhole nature that musicians with "crossover" sound always had at the record, no, CD, no, MP3 shop.  50% off such treasures as Quilts in America, Amish Crib Quilts from the Midwest: The Sara Miller Collection and The American Quilt: A History of Cloth and Comfort 1750-1950.  Actually, Roderick Kiracofe's American Quilt is out-of-stock-indefinitely-at-the-publisher and you know what that means.  It's even a bigger treasure for collectors of quilts and artbooks while being an operational drag on a bookstore.

06 July 2011

Harry Potter Through the Years

The print Wall Street Journal has great pen & ink drawings that many times do not make it to the razzle dazzle of the online world which seems to demand color photos, interactive graphs and on-demand videos.

Exhibit A: Harry Potter through the ages (11 to 17):
What I notice is that Harry goes from an almost cherubic round-faced tweener proudly wearing his school uniform to an almost gaunt, serious-looking young man whose uniform is T-shirt under an open button down.  His glasses haven't changed, though.  I wonder why he hasn't gotten on-board with the square-frame craze.  Good for someone --- Rowling?  the movies' wardrobe mistress?

The last film in the series (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II) marks the end of an era.  A customer just said, 'I thought the last film would be "Harry Potter Applies for Social Security".'  The era that has ended is not children reading about Harry, but the wonderful excitement of anticipating the next book and then, anticipating the next movie.  Now, the excitement is being generated by J.K. Rowling's next venture, totally online, with the sale of e-books, uploading of backstories and more.

04 July 2011

When "pb&j" Does Not Mean "Peanut Butter and Jelly"

In the publisher/librarian/bookseller parlance, "pb" means "paperback."  It is usually further divided into "mass market" or "pocket book" and "trade paper."

As discussed previously in this blog and elsewhere, paperbacks get no respect, or get very little, especially if it is the first published medium. Paperbacks have historical baggage that electronic books just don't have, which is too bad.

For the well-read or at least the well-informed on all-things-possible, parlor games or games played around the kitchen table with plenty of wine, beer or port still flowing are still a preferred way to keep the mind well lubricated with creative juices.  From commercial board games like Scrabble or Boggle using words to books full of probing questions to standardize "Truth or Dare" (which BoF has sold many to the boggle-ment of yours truly) to simply using a book to provide the basis for competitive q&a.

Dwight Garner in a New York Times article describes some literary games as well as his own recommended "paperback game," showcasing the desirability of not simply (mass market) paperbacks as a medium that gets shared or left behind in rental cabins, but also the value added by a publisher -- cover art and back-of-the-book publisher's marketing. How gratified both Johanna Lindsey (who continues to write and publish in the romance genre, in paperback and hardcover as well as in CDs and MP3) and the 1981 mass market publisher (unknown to me as the book is now out-of-print) must be.  The only point that sticks out, because it doesn't stick, is Garner's last comment.  He very kindly gives us Lindsey's first line in Paradise Wild and then, writes, "It’s the kind of stuff you can’t make up. Or can you?."  This is obviously a a poor wrap-up for a well-researched and well-prepared but mediocrely written article.  Of course, "you" can't make it up, but obviously Johanna Lindsey did and so, too, perhaps the other 3-9 persons playing the paperback game with you, Mr Garner.  I thank you, however, for presenting a joyful use of old paperbacks left at rental cabins (besides reading them).

For your reference, there are other books which can inspire great games for the non-literary.  I had always recommended Les Beletsky's Bird Songs: 250 North American Birds in Song, done in conjunction with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and brought to us by Chronicle Books. It is a delightful way to play "Name That Bird," because the "picker" can choose a wonderfully illustrated bird, dial up the corresponding audio and watch those well-lubricated game participants go at it. Unfortunately, what this book has in common with Johanna Lindsey's Paradise Wild is that it is also no longer available.  (Oh, c'mon, Chronicle Books!! Bring it back!  Bring it back!  [stomp] [stomp]) 

So, in the meanwhile, I can offer you Donald Kroodsma's The Backyard Birdsong Guide, two tomes divided neatly into Eastern and Western United States, with the same kind of audio apparatus, also with Cornell and from Chronicle Books (which must have the patent on that "dial-a-birdsong" thingy).  I assure you that adults, children, dogs and cats will all go wild for the mourning dove, the chickadee and the whippoorwill.  This is one book, however, you will not be wanting leave behind at the rental cabin to share with the next tenant.  Tell them to bring their own. 

01 July 2011

Happy Independence Day Weekend!

This year, 4 July falls on a Monday, creating the quintessential American holiday weekend.  Celebrate the IndieBound independent booksellers.  Come in to purchase a book now before we close to enjoy some time off.

And Now, Hankerchiefs, Please...
Eric Felten published a commentary on wsj.com about the usefulness of book publishers and how we will miss them when they're gone.  Amen.
Now, could someone get one written and published on bricks-and-mortar booksellers for both book publishers and readers?