Saturday, February 23, 2013

Traipsing (No, That's Too Negative, Despite the Snow--Frolicking)Through Iowa City in the Snow--Mostly at Prairie Lights and Iowa Book.

One of the reasons I was happy about driving to Winter Institute is that we' would be able to spend more time in Iowa City. I hadn't been there in over twenty years, since I drove down to see a college friend when he was in grad school. I think at that point there was still some department store viewing--I think I went to my first Von Maur store in the quad cities, though I think at that time it was still called Petersen Harned Von Maur, transitioning from its original nameplate of Petersens.

We think that the last time I visited Prairie Lights, it was already in its current location. The only major change I knew of was the coffee/wine bar. We visited both in the evening and the next morning, and there was a good crowd on both occasions. The store is three floors, which of course makes it a bit of a pain to staff. That means that even though it's comparable in size to Boswell, it probably always needs four people on a shift, and we can make do with three, two in an emergency for short periods. My sympathies!

The first thing you notice when you come in the store are the power tables, which in PL's case are their new releases, discounted 25%. That's a solid incentive, though when I thought about it, pretty similar to Boswell, as we are 20%, plus 5% on a loyalty program. I asked some of the booksellers (the first night we had nice conversation with Tim) if they had a loyalty program and the response was "We've talked about it" and I certainly know how it feels. We've talked about a first edition club a lot, and lately we've been talking about putting the Kobo display out. Next week, I promise.

Paco Underhill would be pleased with the front of the store. As Jason noted, they had the right books and sections that set the tone for the rest of the store just as you arrived. And the Prairie Lights swag was quite tempting. Both Jason and I bought their fine tote bag, which had that sometimes elusive pocket. Boswell is on the market for a new tote (yes, we finally sold through), but I haven't decided what we're going to do. And we need a coffee mug. And a baseball cap. 

Jason and I wandered the floors, looking at the charming kids' area in the basement, a nice discrete space that while without windows, was still bright and inviting, and the second floor, which had about half the nonfiction sections, science fiction/fantasy, and assorted bookmarks and journals. There was also a gift gallery on the 1st floor. One of the funny things was that both stores we visited featured Flower Farm bookmarks from Mequon, which we've never carried.

We had to go back the next morning to see Paul Ingram, who once ran around Boswell hand-selling titles for what seemed like an hour, as a side note to seeing the quilt exhibit at the art museum. I am sad to say I sold nothing to nobody in my run, and am the worse for it. We asked Paul to chat about books for a while. "Hey, Paul. Hold up some books you're excited about." He went with Speaking from Among the Bones, by Alan Bradley (who seemingly broke out onto the New York Times top ten with his new installment) and Next of Kin, by Rilla Askew, previously featured here.

I always like seeing different ideas at stores, and wondering how these might work at Boswell. Paul keeps the back selections of his in-store book club on the shelf, and Jason and I were more than intrigued with that. We liked their staff recs, but thought they could have more space, and we were glad to see an Indie Next display, and were amused that they, like us, have to make their own shelf talkers because the ABA versions don't quite work, alas.

The night before we had dinner with Matt at an Italian pasta place the night before named Giovanni's, which we both enjoyed. the next morning we went to this vegetarian cafe and coffee place called Fair Grounds and Howling Dog Bakery. Excellent waffles--it's so rare that restaurants vary their waffle selection with different kinds of batter. As Jason would say, "they just put schmack on it." Jason had a lemon blueberry waffle while mine was potato dill. And yes, there were chunks of potato in my waffle. Delicious with a bit of sour cream on top. But I digress.

Matt works at Iowa Book, and the next day we visited him at the store (yes, I know that the picture is of Paul holding Rilla Askew, but I just got the feeling Matt wasn't going to pose for a photo. I tilted the photo Batman style, but I don't want anyone to think that Paul is villainous. In fact he is heroic).

Matt was excited that they had just picked up the Unemployed Philosophers Guild plush, and I told him we called them "literary taxonomy" and he's thinking of using that. It's a classic college bookstore, only with a nice trade section in the basement. Matt's a great reader, and I've heard from visitors that he's got a very good selection of sale books. I saw his touch on at least one shelf, where I spotted Alan Hollinghurst, David Leavitt, and Andrew Sean Greer. For some reason, I'd missed Leavitt's Collected Stories when it came out some years ago. Not sure how I felt about $24.95 paperback price point, but at bargain, it worked for me. We learned Leavitt's got a new book this fall--Jason read and enjoyed The Indian Clerk, so we were both enthused.

Speaking of new books, we chatted a bit about Andrew Sean Greer, who is teaching at Iowa this semester. He's got a new book as well, The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, and I thought "How great for you all." One catch--the book comes out after his term finishes. No such problems for Ayana Mathis, whose novel, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, has been a huge seller for Prairie Lights, and is one of Matt's picks at Iowa Book. "Spectacular," enthused Matt, though it made have been a word just like spectacular, as I wasn't taking notes.I should note that Matt and I had vowed to never meet. I broke the vow and apologize, but honestly I have no regrets.

I love a good college bookstore, and good thing, as ABA is hot on us visiting the CAMEX show tomorrow. But our voyage southwest was only halfway done. But I have to get to a Winter Institute lunch, so I'll stop here.

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