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Seven Years On, Saying Bye Again to my Brother, Joel Turner

Just before it popped in to my Facebook feed today, this photo of my late brother Joel, a career bookseller—which ran with a Cleveland Plain Dealer obituary of him on this date in 2009—I happened to have only a moment earlier responded to a bookselling-related job posting. Unlike Joel, I branched in to editing and publishing after being in the stores together starting in 1978, but I’ve remained tied to bookselling, too. In 2015, I worked for Rizzoli and helped them reopen in New York City, after the wrecking ball took their midtown store. Undercover Books, the small bookstore chain that Joel and I—and our sister Pamela Turner, and our late parents Earl and Sylvia—founded and ran in Cleveland beginning in 1978 really gave me my career and allowed me, in 1985, to move to NY.
You want to know something kind of amazing? For a long time, the number of years I lived in Cleveland always exceeded my briefer term in NY, but a couple years ago that began to turn over, as I have now lived in NYC more than half my life. Here’s the math: I was born in 1954, and moved from Cleveland to NY when I was 30, in 1985. When the calendar turned to 2015 and 2016, after I’d turned sixty, it occurred to me one day that NY had now been my home for more than half my life. Does that mean I’m not a Clevelander anymore? Sort of, but then there are still my sports team preferences (Go CAVs!). Am I a New Yorker? More and more, but not fully that either (I still can’t believe the way people in the tri-state area drive, like in the Midwest no one will ever drive on the shoulder of a highway amid a long jam and construction backup; here in the NY area, people do it all the time!)  
 The photo of Joel—who died unexpectedly, age 58, on December 8, seven years ago—popped up today in one of Facebook’s memories reminders, a feature which I am of at least two minds about. I don’t like that it tempts me to look to the past too often, but it also reminds me of the precious. Here’s the eulogy that I wrote about him on December 9, 2009, the day after my sister and I learned he’d died, and screenshots of that post as it appears elsewhere on this blog. 

Anticipating a New Way to Sell the Books I Write About to Readers of My Blogs

For book industry pals like me, who’d read and wondered this week about the import of national book distributor Ingram’s acquisition of the digital company Aer.io, I was excited tonight to read this analysis by friend and industry observer Mike Shatzkin, which anticipates potentially a very dynamic platform, one that could provide thousands of website managers and Internet publishers tools to help them sell books—print and digital editions—directly to their visitors. For my part, I see that it could provide bloggers who write about books, including me, the ability to sell titles directly from our websites to our readers and visitors. I currently affiliate with Powell’s Books of Portland, OR, but that arrangement has long been limited to print copies, with no prospect for selling ebooks, which is the format more likely to be preferred by blog readers, with rapid availability of digital content, and no shipping involved. As a retail bookseller before I was an editor and blogger, with a career-long penchant for sharing my enthusiasms, I’m eager to learn about these new options, and from an industry perspective, I anticipate significant interest from bloggers like me.
Shatzkin speculates that the new platform, combining Aer.io’s tools with Ingram’s capacity, has the potential to dramatically increase the sheer volume of online bookselling, with the potential to bring along many new types of Web publishers; it could also represent competition for Amazon, hence the title, “Can crowd-sourced retailing give Amazon a run for its money?”
Here you’ll find 1) a screenshot of Ingram’s announcement; 2) a portion of Aer.io founder Ron Martinez’s optimistic interview with The Bookseller, explaining what the platform provides now, and what it may offer in the future; and 3) some paragraphs from Shatzkin’s cogent analysis. You can read these screenshots by clicking Pause at the upper right corner, and read them in their entirety on the respective websites:  1)  /  2)  /  3).  Ron Martinez

Happy to be Back in Bookselling with the New Rizzoli Bookstore

To longtime readers of this blog, and many, many friends in the book business, I’m excited to announce a new venture I’m going to be part of. I’ll be working as a bookseller in the soon-to-be-reopening Rizzoli Bookstore here in New York City. You may recall that last year Rizzoli lost its prior location on W. 57th St when their lease there ended. They’ve found a fabulous new location in the St. James, a landmark building on Broadway between 25th St and 26th St in the booming Manhattan neighborhood of NoMad (north of Madison Park). The Wall St Journal’s Ralph Gardner wrote about Rizzoli’s plans in a story here. Earlier this month, Rizzoli sent out this fact sheet. Decorated handsomely with elegant fixtures in a museum-like setting, the new 5,000 square foot store will offer a stellar inventory of illustrated books in art, photography, architecture, interior design, fashion, film, theater, dance, music, and cooking, along with current releases and classics in fiction and nonfiction, and childrens books. The selection of titles will be fabulous.

The store will have a soft opening, apt for our sultry summer weather, starting July 27. While I’m already spending lots of my time there to help get the store opened and underway, and will continue working many hours in the early weeks once it opens, my longterm schedule will nonetheless permit me to continue operating Philip Turner Book Productions, my editorial service and publishing consultancy, and in fact have completed work on two manuscripts for author clients this month.

I am really excited with this opportunity to be back working on the floor of a well-stocked bookstore, which brings my career full circle. It all began for me with Undercover Books, the three-store indie chain I ran with my family in Cleveland, a business I worked in from 1978 until 1985, when I came to NYC and began working in publishing. I worked for big publishing houses from 1986 until 2009, when I began my consultancy. Now, thirty years after leaving Undercover Books, I’m back as a bookseller. I look forward to seeing NY friends and visitors to the city in the new Rizzoli Bookstore, at 1133 Broadway.

Flashing Back to the Past–Me at Undercover Books in 1983

Undercover Books, the bookstore operated by my two siblings, Joel and Pamela, and our parents, Earl and Sylvia, opened for business on May 4, 1978. Five years later, we were enough of a fixture in the community that a local newspaper was arranging interviews with us, to talk about books, and the business. They did one on me, and one on Pam. When I visited her in Cleveland last month, I was surprised to see them preserved in a scrapbook she had. Here’s the one they did on me. To read the entire column, click on the image and pause the slideshow as it comes on-screen.

Sun Press profile

Previewing Fall 2014 Books with NY State and NJ Booksellers


Audience at July 15 NAIBA eventHad a great time last night at the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in Soho, where a preview of two important Fall titles was put on by the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association (NAIBA). As soon as I arrived I saw Eileen Dengler, Executive Director of NAIBA, whom I’ve known since my days with Undercover Books in Cleveland. Among many booksellers on hand, I met Heidi Shira Tannenbaum, manager of the Housing Works store; Margot Sage-El, Watchung Booksellers, Montclair, NJ*; two female staff members from Word Bookstore‘s Jersey City location; Todd Dickinson, of Aaron’s Books in Lititz, PA; Ezra Goldstein of Community Bookstore in Brooklyn; Roy Solomon of Village Bookstore in Pleasantville, NY; and Bill Reilly of River’s End Bookstore in Oswego, NY, site of the US Army camp where during WWII nearly 1,000 refugees were brought for sanctuary by Ruth Gruber, then a member of the FDR administration. She chronicled this in her book HAVEN: The Dramatic Story of 1,000 WWII Refugees and How They Came to America (out first in 1985), which I republished in trade paper in 1999, when I was with Crown Publishing. Bill told me that HAVENwhich along with four other books by Gruber is now available from Open Road Media—is his store’s top-selling book of local history; indeed I found the Open Road edition featured on the left-hand rail of the store’s website. Though Bill’s store is in upstate NY, near Lake Ontario, he hadn’t even traveled the farthest to be at this gathering: that recognition went to a bookseller from Buffalo. I was also delighted to see longtime Random House sales rep Ruth Liebmann in the audience. A nicely stocked bar with appetizers was generously provided by book distributor Baker & Taylor.

The first writer to speak was Robert W. Snyder, Director of the American Studies Program at Rutgers. His forthcoming book is CROSSING BROADWAY: Washington Heights and the Promise of New York City, to be published in December by Cornell University Press. My first five years in NYC I lived in Washington Heights, on Bennett Avenue at 186th Street, on the west side of Broadway—still the defining artery of the neighborhood—so I very much enjoyed meeting Snyder, then hearing his presentation on the book. It chronicles the evolution of this northern Manhattan neighborhood over the past century, and how it stands todayas quite a stellar example of diverse urban populations living successfully side-by-side, even while it more and more faces the price of its own success, with gentrification, rising home prices, and distortions to the social weave that may already be diminishing its richness. I recall that when I lived up there my NY State Assemblyman was J. Brian Murtagh, a voluble Irish pol who was proud of saying that his constituents spoke some astonishing number of languages among themselves—more than fifty, I recall. The dominant groups had long been Irish, German-Jewish, and Dominican, but with many other nationalities, too. Separately, we spoke about upper Manhattan, which has been important in NY history since the Revolutionary War. I told him I cover it often here writing about the Little Red Lighthouse, underneath the eastern arch of the George Washington Bridge, aka the Great Gray Bridge, and High Bridge, where an original foot-bridge between Manhattan and the Bronx is being restored.

I appreciated that in introducing Snyder my longtime book biz friend, Christopher Kerr, who reps Cornell University Press, voiced a brief shout-out to me, evoking the years I lived in Washington Heights, when amid the ravages of the crack epidemic, the nabe was too often known most for its high crime rate. Actually, my part of the Heights had little crime, and I was able to pay less than $600 per month rent, in 1985, for a comfortable 2nd floor apartment in a 6-story building. I also had the good fortune to buy furniture and bookcases from the daughter of the German-Jewish woman who’d brought them from Germany decades earlier. I still have the bookcases today, though I moved to the upper west side of Manhattan in 1990.

The second author last night was Emily St. John Mandel, a novelist with Canadian roots, having grown up in western BC, who then lived in Montreal. I met her briefly during BEA in 2013, at a Greenwich Village reception sponsored by the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC). I recalled last night that she said then she was finishing a manuscript, now completed, titled Station Eleven. Each of her three previous novels has received great reviews, like this comment about her debut book, from an erudite bookseller/reader at Rainy Day Books, a top indie bookstore in Kansas City, KS.

Last Night in Montreal took me by surprise in the most wonderful ways….From the very first chapter, I was drawn in to her provocative, delicately grim world full of wanderlust, betrayal, and the quest for answers. Each of [Mandel’s] deliciously real characters are searching for answers to the questions of their lives, compelled to hunt them out no matter how shocking or painful those answers may be. Mandel’s novel, though relatively short, amazed me with its intricacies and complexities. As days go by, I find myself thinking of more and more reasons I so loved [it].”—Elizabeth Lewis, Rainy Day Books

St. John Mandel’s new novel will be published September 9 by Knopf in the US, then separately in North America by Harper Canada, and Picador in the UK.  I’d expect there will also be foreign language editions. It’s a very impressive book, and she spoke about it beautifully. St. John Mandel began by explaining that she’s always loved reading post-apocalyptic fiction, like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and she wrote her new novel as a kind of love letter to the present, a meditation on what we would miss most if all that we’re used to went away, and what we would long for most keenly. In literature, she imagined that the sudden subtraction from our midst of the works of Shakespeare would be one of our greatest losses, so she conceived a traveling theater troupe who continue performing Shakespeare’s plays, even while the world around them is withering away. She had me at theatre troupe, as I quickly remembered novels I’ve enjoyed, like Robertson Davies’ early book Tempest-Tost, about a community group putting on “The Tempest,” and the funny, ribald, and wrenching Canadian TV series Slings & Arrows, which features recurring characters in a theater company staging “Hamlet,” “Macbeth,” and “King Lear” over three seasons. For the apocalyptic part, on the subway downtown, I’d been reading a battered copy of Nevil Shute’s post-nuclear classic, On the Beach, so you can imagine I was immediately eager to begin Emily’s book, leaving Shute’s book in my knapsack on the ride home. Station Eleven was a Buzz Book at BEA in May but I had missed the presentation given about it then by her Knopf editor, Jennifer Jackson, who introduced her author last night and has written an eloquent ode to the book for booksellers that’s printed in the ARC. On the subway I found myself immediately captured by the wistful voice and St. John Mandel’s exquisite sentence-making, where prop snowflakes stand in for the creeping coldness falling all around us.

Here are pictures from last night’s enjoyable reception, with thanks to all the booksellers, publishers, reps, sponsors, hosts, and authors.

* I was excited to discover on the Wachtung Booksellers’ website that NY Times reporter Harvey Araton—whose novel Cold Type I picked up at BEA, and which I loved reading, making it my #FridayReads on June 14—will be at the store in Montclair for a signing on July 23. I hear Montclair is a great town for books and reading.

Announcing a Great Gray Bridge Bookselling Partnership With Powell’s Books of Portland, Oregon

Some readers of The Great Gray Bridge will recall that I ran a bookstore for many years, Undercover Books of Cleveland, Ohio, which I operated with my two siblings and our parents. I worked in the store from 1978-85, before moving to New York City and beginning to work as an editor and publisher. It was a great way to begin a career in the book business, instilling in me the passion to share my favorite books and authors with other readers. I worked as an in-house editor and publisher until 2009, when I began working as an independent provider of editorial and publishing services, which has now grown to the point where I offer quite a broad menu of services. The new role was immediately fulfilling, though I soon realized that there was something I missed about editing and publishing a full list of 20-25 books each year–that was the act and process of curation, in which I chose and sifted and assembled a coherent list.

It was with curation in mind that I started this site–I envisioned it like a garden that I would tend, a venue where I could share with friends and readers my enthusiasms for books and authors (and musicians and music, and the endless variety of urban life). I hoped it would be a very personal sort of curation, and indeed, I’ve relished doing it every day since I began the site in October 2011.

However, as a former bookseller, I sometimes felt as if something were missing–that was the opportunity to actually sell the books I was writing about it here. It could have been  books I had once published, contemporary classics such as Barack Obama’s Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance; Edward Robb Ellis’s A Diary of the Century: Tales From America’s Great Diarist; and Peter Hopkirk’s The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia, or more recent titles, ones that I didn’t have a role in publishing, but which I’ve ardently recommended on this site, such as Richard Ford’s hypnotic novel Canada; James Kunen’s memoir of the recession Diary of a Company Man: Losing a Job, Finding a Life; or Dan Fesperman’s ingenious spy novel, The Double Game.

At last, I’m excited to announce that even that gap in curation will now be filled, as I have found a bookselling partner: Powell’s Books, the great independent bookstore of Portland, Oregon. As shown in Powell’s promo that I’ve placed near the upper right corner of this site, you can now click through to Powell’s website to purchase books I’ve written about that have intrigued you, or really any book at all. Please note that Powell’s stock is vast, and includes new books, as well as really hard-to-find used titles. In their partnership program, a portion of the money that Great Gray Bridge readers pay to Powell’s will then be remitted to me, which I will use to help maintain the site. It’s a win-win-win–Powell’s get a referral of new business; you get books you want to own and read; and I get to recommend books that I know you, my readers, will appreciate, while your purchases help me maintain and improve this website. As the message at the upper right corner of this site explains, you can use that little search window to look up a book, research that will take you directly to Powell’s website. In addition, from now on whenever I include book titles in a blog post, as I so often do, a click on any of those titles will reveal them to be live links that are going to take you to that book’s page on Powell’s site. See the above paragraph, as an example.

I will also be creating what Powell’s calls Partner Bookshelves, curated book lists of up to 100 titles, so please watch for those, too. In short, this is an ingenious program and I couldn’t be happier now that it’s installed and ready for use. Please note that I will be updating older posts where books are mentioned to make the titles into live links. However, this will take time, as my archive currently contains more than 540 posts published since the site began 16 months ago. So if you read an older post with a book you’re interested in and it hasn’t been updated yet, please just enter that title in the search window and a click will take you through to Powell’s website.

Thanks for trying out this new system with me. No doubt I will be tweaking it in the weeks ahead, so please let me know of any questions you may have, or suggestions, particularly if you encounter any glitches. It’s great to be back in the bookselling business!

The President and His Daughters Enjoy Buying Books

Just like last year around this time, President Obama and his daughters went shopping at a local bookstore today, on what is known as #SmallBizSat. They shopped at One More Page Books in Arlington, VA. No word yet from the White House, who tweeted out this picture, about which bookstore they were at (in Arlington, VA), nor what books the bookselling staff are wrapping up here. It sure is great to see the First Family buying books like this, a shot of high-profile bookbuying the book industry can really use.

Here are more photos from the Obamas’ visit to the bookstore. Photo credit for all these photos is “AP PHOTO/J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE”

 

Chabon’s Hyperbole Undermines his Fair Critique

I suggest that the book industry view the cost savings from the diminishment of print as a kind of “peace dividend” for authors and publishers and other stakeholders like retail booksellers. Parties should share fairly in whatever windfall is to come. I would accuse the major publishers of being shortsighted and dumb and in thrall to old ways, but I fear that hyperbole like Chabon’s will only further degrade the debate and discussion that must proceed between publishers and authors, lest Amazon eventually become the monopoly publisher and bookseller many bookpeople nowadays fear is looming in our collective future. //more