Thursday, February 11, 2016

Valentine's Day 2016: card roundup, "Worm Loves Worm," plus Simon Van Booy's Boswell reference in "Tales of Accidental Genius."

Valentine's Day 2016.

I was talking to Jason, as I do every year, about holiday books, and he noted that despite publisher's best efforts, it is a rare adult trade book that takes off for Valentine's Day. Kids books, sure! I was just reading Worm Loves Worm, a picture book by J.J. Austrian with illustrations by Mike Curato, which posits the thesis that worms should be the spokes-insects for marriage equality. The cricket explains to the two worms in love how to have a marriage, but which is to be the bride and which the groom? In the end, they mix it up. Mike Curato's illustrations are as adorable as they are for the Little Elliot books, most recently Little Elliot in the Big City.

Our gift trade is not exactly made for Valentine's either. One tricky thing about seasonal merchandise is that you have to be all in to make it work, and there are plenty of other stores in town that do this well. We have our lovely Polish boxes with heart designs and some heart-shaped coin purses and that seems good enough for me.

But cards! Our card sales for Valentine's Day are hardly Christmas levels, but they are better than Mother's Day and Father's Day. More than half the cards we get are not Valentine specific, so we cycle through leftovers in the friendship section over the course of the year.

Last year I was talking to Eugenia Cheng, author of How to Bake Pi, and I asked her why her book in Great Britain is called Cakes, Custard + Category Theory (note that I've left out the serial comma, being that Brits are not as fond of it as we are). She told me that one thing that Brits are definitely not fond of is puns, but they apparently are quite jolly on alliteration.

In the world of greeting cards, it's all about puns nowadays. The days of a rhyming couplet or quatrain are alas, are akin to bloomers and bow ties. Wait, bow ties are back. OK, so one day we'll be rhyming again, but for now, this Maginating card with kauai typewriter saying "Just my type" to me says it all. Previously Maginating was doing letterpress out of California. Their new cards are offset out of Missouri, and that means the price is lower. There are lines like Good Paper and Hello Lucky that completely thrive on puns, and getting that pun first before the other card lines could mean a hit card, which I think in the indie world means one that is picked up in Paper Source.

Speaking of price, I am going to generalize about gender, and this does not mean that it is true for everyone. There's an old adage in marketing that women are more price sensitive than men, perhaps because in past ages, women had less control of their checkbooks (what's a checkbook?) and no-less-old-fashioned take that said a higher percentage of women than men enjoy shopping and part of the joy of shopping is finding a bargain. But if I have offended anyone here, let me right that by saying in general, men seem to be more price conscious about card buying than women. I am much more likely to see a man come to the register with a $3 card, and if the card is $5, it's probably being bought by a woman. I'm not sure why, but perhaps women value cards in higher numbers than men too - this reinforces the old generalization about women being more relationship oriented. So for you cheap guys, this Madison Park Valentine's Day card might be for you. The illustration is by Sara Walsh. It's cute, but not too cute for a guy insecure about his masculinity. It's got lots of blue and gray and yellow, and only a little pink.

It would be nice to have a movement called #weneeddiversegreetingcards as I must confess that when I'm looking for inclusive images, they are harder to find than I'd hope. I found several new baby cards with all kinds of kids, and I now have several kid-friendly birthday cards groups of kids of different ethnicities. But a wedding card? It's tough. There are card lines specifically for African Americans, but the minimums are too high to pick and choose. That's why I was excited to find this card from Retrospect. It's a reproduction of a Harlem Renaissance painting "Jitterbugs," by artist William H. Johnson. Retrospect is not known for their copy, but I am amused that the inside message is Barry White's "You're The First, My Last, My Everything." Technically this is not the lyric but the title, so it's not in copyright. Clever, huh?

As always, I've gone to a lot of vendors to find our cards, 18 altogether. And as such, this blog could go on for pages and pages. I could yammer on about how exciting it was to find a card that used the word "canoodling," as we refer to the couch in the right rear of the store as the canoodling couch. I could tell you the top ten puns, and how I have to be very careful or I will bring in the same clever card from two different lines, as there's a lot of stealing of card copy in the industry...or maybe it's not stealing, but just like in math, where multiple people will be trying to solve the same problem simultaneously. But instead I will show this Ghost Academy card which highlights another trend, the self-reflexive, break the fourth wall card. I am sending you a card about sending you a card. I like their art, and I like that their cards are block prints. But most of all I like that you're sending a card complaining about the holiday, but you're still sending it. My sentiments exactly!

Speaking of Valentines, last fall Boswell Book Company received one from Simon Van Booy. Sharon read the book right away, but it took me a while to get it to the top of my pile. In his new collection, Tales of Accidental Genius, Boswell was referenced! It's the first time I can think of this happening in a work of fiction from a traditional publisher. In the story "Infidelity," a couple recalls going to Milwaukee. She attended a conference while he went to a book signing of one of his authors. It truly warmed my heart!

As Van Booy notes, "the stories in this collection are concerned with the manifestation of genius through acts of kindness and feelings of compassion of others, and the characters in these stories serve but are not subservient." I'd like to say that "Infidelity" is the highlight, but there's no question that the star of the show is "Golden Helper II: An Epic Fable of Wealth, Loneliness, and Cycling," which itself is supposed to be the film treatment of another story, Private Life of a Famous Chinese Film Director." It's the story of a lonely man, Weng, who adapts his father's invention into a clever device to speed up his tricycle which he uses to go back and forth from his vegetable stand. Weng's discovery is discovered, but more than that, his good deeds change the lives of all around him. And yes, maybe he even finds love. In many ways, there are similar themes here to The Illusion of Separateness, but Van Booy really immerses himself into Chinese culture (and was himself inspired by learning about his Chinese grandfather) such that even the style of the story, told in short incidents, reinforces the theme and the mood of the story. Sharon calls the prose "spare and beautiful" and that's absolutely true, but don't think you're going to zip through the story. I found myself moving slowly and rereading parts. Van Booy also has this talent for being heartwarming without being saccharine. And yes, I would go see this film.

Thanks for the Valentine, Mr. Booy. Here's one back at ya!

No comments: