Saturday, February 3, 2018

Winter Institute, Part 2: Memphis downtown, Burke's, Novel.

Spending three and a half days crammed with booksellers, authors, and publishers is an amazing thing. As I mentioned in the last post, I'm very excited for what spring and summer have to offer and we're hoping you as readers will be equally enthusiastic. But being in a hotel in downtown Memphis, where not even a chain bookstore was murmuring left me feeling a little at sea.

Walking around downtown, it seemed like the development energy was on the other side of the central business district, and there did not seem to be much spiffed up, save the Bass Pro Shop at the pyramid (inside at right), which was formerly a basketball arena. It was an impressive space by the way (Of course we went! It's retail.) but the city has to do a much better job of connecting it to the grid. It was very difficult to get down there without a car and considering how much government investment there was likely in getting them to open, what's the point if there's no spill off into neighboring blocks?

One evening Penguin Random House and Grove/Atlantic hosted a dinner at Sweet Grass, a farm-to-table restaurant in the Cooper Young District which had a very nice, familiar neighborhood vibe. Very familiar! I walked to the corner and my brain unlocked that I had stood on this very corner 20 years ago when I last came to Memphis and asked to go to an interesting neighborhood to walk around. But I swear that 20 years ago the legendary Burke's Books was not on this block. And indeed, they moved to this location in 2006, per this Memphis Magazine article.

Though it was closed when we were at dinner, Jason and I decided to go back before leaving town. And to be fair, the store is now open until 9 pm on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. And that was particularly interesting to me, because we would generally do more business on a weekday evening than a Saturday night. But I digress.

The store's been around since 1875 and had a number of owners. It started on Main Street downtown, the pedestrian mall I walked up and down during the show, that seemed like maybe could use a demalling. Most cities have found (New York's Times Square and Boulder excluded) that narrowing the sidewalks and opening the street up to limited traffic might help a bit. But that's up to them. But I was so sad to see several tall office towers abandoned downtown, both the tallest, 100 Main Street (which has a twin in Milwaukee) and oh my gosh, the Sterick Building, an art deco beauty that supposedly has been boarded up for 30 years. How could this be? Isn't there anyone who made a jillion dollars and has an emotional investment in Memphis who wants to spend a whole mess of money? Would this do more good than space tourism? Apparently it has a land lease issue. But still.

But Burke's had the good sense to move to Cooper Street and they serve each other well. The book is definitely a second-hand store that has some new books, not vice versa, with large cases on either side of a relatively narrow aisle. Many used bookstores have been hurt by the internet because rare book websites have brought prices down and taken some of the fun out of the hunt, but for the lay reader, the store has a great sense of discovery. It also seems, from when I occasionally do pricing, that the best market now is in more esoteric titles, particularly illustrated volumes, which are hard to reprint and don't work well as ebooks.

I rarely visit a second-hand store and say I loved the displays but at Burke's there were a lot of nice touches, from the Schulzian chalkboard to the three dimensional Read window to a Larry Brown's actual fire fighter's suit.

I wound up making a purchase too, Helen Wells's Cherry Ames, Student Nurse. It's the first in a series books that I thought were from the Stratemeyer Syndicate, but were not, even though they were published by Grosset and Dunlop. My friend Mary Heather has mentioned them upon occasion so I thought it would be an interesting experience. Cherry (short for Charity, but that isn't spelled out in the first book) starts nursing school and is eager to earn her cap. She learns that a stand-offish fellow student and at least one doctor are not as bad as they appear to be, and has a crush, Dr. Jim Clayton, but fortunately (he seems too old for her) is mostly wistful.

Of course they are of a different time but aside from noting certain ethnicities but not others (Jewish, Italian, Puerto Rican), the only thing that we'd probably never note was her Chinese fellow student who wants to go back to the mainland to help her fellow citizens who were victims of the Chinese. The book was written in 1943. Oh, and signaling that a doctor had a thick New England drawl -  I just can't imagine that in a contemporary story. More interesting was to see how they handed serial commas (no!), an S after an apostrophe for personal names ending in S (yes!) and using the apostrophe s for a date - 1860's vs. 1860s. Have you caught that I have to do a lot of proofreading?

As an aside, this neighborhood also once boasted a store that only sold books from Random House (and that is before the mergers with Bantam Doubleday Dell/Bertelsmann and Penguin). It lasted for a few years.

Being that we had some time before a meeting, Jason and I headed to Novel, a bookstore that I visited 20 years ago when it was a branch of Davis Kidd. I'm pretty sure it was before the store was bought by Joseph Beth, so I'm thinking 1996. After Joseph Beth went bankrupt, the store was rebranded The Booksellers of Laurelwood, and it was recently born again as novel. I read a lot about the store before visiting - a group of local investors (and bookstore fans) got together to help reopen the store and hired back a number of the veteran booksellers. I like the typeface of the new store a lot - it is typewriter-esque but cleaner than the old typewriter face I used on some of our signage before I realized I would have to buy this special type for each of our computers and gave up and went to the more universally available Century. I also was doing that thing of putting periods after fragments and even words. Our of my bookseller editors talked me out of it after a while but I still like it.

The store is a more 10,000 square feet of selling space, plus an additional 3,000 square feet in the restaurant. It was nice to see that one of the booksellers was a fan of Nick Petrie's mysteries. I was hoping to leave him a box of Light it Up matches, but I'd given them all out at Winter Institute.

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