Saturday, December 2, 2006

POP CULTURE. POP POP. POP CULTURE.

Much as I like writing my little essays, I'm beginning to realize that might be some heavy going for casual visitors. I'm going to split this blog into two parts every day. The first will be about what's going on in my business (or my life, which is usually the same thing.) The second part will be one of many of my hobby horses. Anyone who has been a customer of mine for long has probably already heard my screed.

The fun thing that is happening at the store, is that I have been adding NEW books. I've got limited space, so I'm picking the very best books I can; books I've read and loved, books that get enthusiastic recommendations from readers, books that have a cult following. I've established accounts with a couple of new distributers, which has opened up a whole new world of possibilites.

I've always been partial to fantasy art, from the first time I saw the Frazetta cover of a Conan book and the first Hildebrant Lord of the Rings Calendar. But it used to be extremely difficult to find much. I slowly accumulated about 500 coffee table art books, which sold rarely, and once sold were difficult if not impossible to replace. Suddenly, with access to mainstream book distributers, the floodgates have opened.

I moved from fantasy art to pin-up art, to pulp fiction art, to retro-futuristic art, pop-bot art, to cartoonists like Edward Gorey and Charles Addams, to children's books, and so on. I've got a category of books that I've been trying to figure out a name for: goth books, funky books, whimsy? My best selling series right now, for instance, is ME WRITE BOOK, and IN ME OWN WORDS, by Bigfoot. I just know what I like when I see it, or hear about it.

Impossible to organize. By artist? By category? By author? By publishing imprint?

I've been trying to be intuitive about it, but most of the material is being overlooked even by customers who I know would like it. Having a store four times my size would be one answer, but I'm reluctant to leave downtown now that is actually works as a retail center. So the vast majority of this wonderful pop-culture material is sitting on my shelves, spine out, being ignored by my regulars and by casual browsers alike. Frustrating.

I'm noticing an interesting reaction by the customers. New books like LISEY'S STORY, by Stephen King, THE RUINS, by Scott Smith, and THE ROAD, by Cormac McCarthy are considered mainstream by most people, although by any real definition they are genre books.

For instance, I was talking to a customer yesterday about JONATHON STRANGE AND MR. NORRELL, a book which she loved, and which I was lukewarm about. But when I called it a fantasy, she objected. "I don't read fantasy."

So: I don't read fantasy.

I read JONATHON STRANGE.

Therefore JONATHON STRANGE isn't fantasy.

I've been trying for years to break through these pre-conceptions, without much success. As far as I'm concerned, it is all one big continuum, from books with all words and no pictures, to books with all pictures and no words, to everything in between. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, is as great a read for an open-minded adult as it is for a kid. The Carl Bark's UNCLE SCROOGES read almost better for an adult than for a kid; in any event, it is pure overlooked genius.

So I try to convince people to being open-minded, and at the same time try to remind myself to be open-minded.

4 comments:

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

Hi. Yours is the shop with the L Ron Hubbard books always in the window, isn't it? Same street as the book barn? I have never stopped by. And I'm a book person... but also female w/ young kids so I'm not your demographic.

What an interesting blog. Next time I'm downtown I'll check out the shop : )

dunc said...

L.Ron Hubbard? Not on purpose! Anyway, we carry all kinds of used books, and we are starting to carry all kinds of new books. Mostly fiction, but definately meant for everyone.

I've been morphing into a bookstore with graphics, rather than a graphics store with books for some time now.

Please come in and look around.

Randy said...

What an odd comment, both of you... And why not display L. Ron Hubbard books? He's an excellent author. How very prejudiced of you both and typical. And we guarantee to never shop at your store again.

Steven said...

Dunc,

After reading all of your posts, from today to the inaugural post, I now feel like I have a moral debt to come and buy something. I'd dropped in exactly once a year ago, strolled around, but left - not to return - when nothing caught my eye. But then, I'm not really a "shopper."

I'm a software guy telecommuting out of Bend to the SF Bay Area. When I'm down there, I occasionally drop into The Other Change of Hobbit in Berkeley, on the premise that I need to support the independent SF stores. But those occasions are few and far between, alas.

Most of the time, I buy used and new from Amazon and its resellers. Might be something to consider, and the start-up costs to sellers are exactly zero. You have to give Amazon a cut, which isn't terrific, but you get access to a market outside of the limited Bend area.

See you soon,
Steven