Sunday, February 8, 2009

The First of Many Things to Say About Little Bee

A year and a half ago I read an advanced copy of a book for which I had boundless enthusiasm. It sure was an uphill battle getting reads, and in the end, our hardcover sales were disappointing. The book was The White Tiger. It turned out to be a pretty good book after all--it was awarded the Man Booker Prize.

If at first you don't succeed, try again. In fact, I'm trying even harder. In the past I shunned manuscripts. I just didn't think I got the best reading experience I could out of the book. There were several times I read a book very early on, and there were pages missing, or I later learned that entire swaths of plot were changed.

The rules keep changing. With web 2.0 and electronic distribution, independent bookstores need to be further out in front of the pack, chiming in when we think a book is great, and perhaps sometimes even offering criticism. I still believe I enjoy the experience of the finished book or reader's copy more; that's why when I read pages on a book that blow me away, I'm even more impressed.

Last fall I read just such a book that had me gushing. It's called Little Bee, and it's finally published. Simon and Schuster used some of my bookseller feedback when they did a galley mailing to member stores in the American Booksellers Association. At least one bookseller went to the marketing person and accused her of bribing me. She did not. And I stand by my gush.

One of my sales reps took my advice, read it, and was so over-the-top excited by this book, she called me from the road at night and left me a message that I wish I knew how to save. Alas, it's gone forever. Then Jason our buyer (he's following me to Boswell Book Company) read it. Then Lanora, our Mequon manager (the new proprietor of Next Chapter Bookshop). Both loved it.

By the time I got to Winter Institute, that bookseller education conference, the book made the Indie Next top 20 for February, recommended by the esteemed bookseller Valerie Koehler of Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston. The reads had been plentiful, and were about seven to one enthusiastically postive. Still, there were some naysayers--see my post on Cutting for Stone for why that happens. Oh, and if you read that post, you know I'm eating a bit of paper.

I said that Little Bee was the kind of book that could be a Man Booker shortlist, and guess what? It was nominated for the other big British prize, the Costa award, formerly the Whitbread. I have so much to say about this book that I'm saving it for other postings. For goodness sake, I haven't even mentioned what it is about.

The author is coming to our Downer Avenue shop to discuss his novel on Monday, March 2nd, at 7 PM. It's not a large tour, and this is his only stop in this area--no Chicago or Madison. Much like Linda Olsson's tour (hey, she's coming again for her new book, to Mequon on March 27th), this is pretty amazing. And we haven't even sold 2000 books yet.

More posts to come. Meanwhile, read Chris Cleave's blog. And show your support for Schwartz and the future Boswell Book Company by taking a chance on this book. This is what independent booksellers are for, helping you find a book that will rock your world.

Just an aside. Though it's hardly a copy, I think the cover treatment, which by the way I think is beautiful, is referencing What is the What. Hey, if Cleave could pick up just a fraction of Eggers' sales, he'd have quite the hit.

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