Tuesday, November 29, 2011

On the Creation of a New Section

It was one of those mornings where the phones were ringing long before the doors were even unlocked for business. I took a call from a young woman seeking a botany reference book. Nothing specific, which means having to physically scan the section, looking for what suited her request (basic, detailed, illustrations would be nice). I find two possibilities, one which seems perfect. I return to the phone, giving the caller a description. She doesn't want me to hold it for her, but will come in looking for it later if she's interested. I go to put the book back on the shelf, only to realize I can't, because the Gardening section is almost completely out of order.

So, I start to re-alphabetize (by author) the whole section.

While doing so, I notice other things - books that are shelved in the wrong section (in General Gardening but are about Landscaping) or perhaps labeled incorrectly (labeled as Vegetable Gardening, but is really more Garden Literature). I also start noticing a trend - one I'd casually noticed before but which had suddenly turned into Red Car Syndrome* - an abundance of books about growing food and raising chickens in urban environs, as well as guides for new homesteaders and memoirs from hobby farmers.

The more I think about this, I start recalling other similar titles I'd seen in other sections of the store, ranging from Memoir to Cooking to Nature. So, I propose to Jason that we merge them all into its own distinct section. We agree that if there's at least a dozen titles, it's probably a good idea.

So, the process begins of gathering up titles that seem to fit in the sort of section that addresses this new(ish) interest in self-sufficiency in small, urban spaces. Before each book can be relabeled, they need a category code, something to help booksellers shelve and then find sought-after books. They're all three letters and start with a letter that usually stands for the overarching subject (F for Fiction, I for Issues, etc.). We decide it should be peripheral to Gardening (G), but what should the other letters be and what should they stand for? We repeatedly brainstorm a few things but Sharon points out that Urban Farming, in Gardening would give us an acronym of GUF, which made Sharon giggle, so we couldn't not go with GUF.

Once that's settled, each book must be logged into the store's inventory database with its new code and then a label printed and put on the back of the book. Then, they are shelved all together in a happy new area all its own. Of course, this entire process takes all day since it's pretty detail-oriented and time-consuming, particularly when its done while also taking time out to help customers, answer phones, wrap books for gifts, etc.

The highlight of it all was when (and I am not making this up) at the end of the day, shortly before we closed, a young man came in and asked, "Where do you keep books on urban farming?" I smiled bigger than he probably expected so it might have seemed a little creepy, and led him to our brand new section.

What titles can you expect to find in GUF? Here's a sampling:

Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter
The Urban Homestead by Kelly Coyne & Erik Knutzen
Urban Homsteading: Heirloom Skills for Sustainable Living by Rachel Kaplan
The Bucolic Plague by Josh Kilmer-Purcell
The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food and Love by Kristin Kimball
Mini-Farming: Self Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre by Brett Markham
Homegrown & Handmade by Deborah Niemann
Your Farm in the City by Lisa Taylor

*Red Car Syndrome: When you own a red car, you notice all the red cars on the road and they seem to be everywhere.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Something About Childhood Memories, or, Snappy Title to be Determined.

A Blog Post from Mark

I was trying to come up with a list of my 5 favorite books from 2011 for our bookstore newsletter. After going over everything that I’d read during the year, I finally came up with my list. Some titles were fiction, some were memoirs but as I looked over the list, I saw a pattern emerge. A number of books such as We the Animals by Justin Torres, The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje, and It’s All Relative by Wade Rouse all had something to do with childhood, either from a child’s perspective of from recollections from childhood. Particularly from the vantage point of children from 11-13 years of age, which are particularly crazy and volatile years.

I even wrote a small anecdote about a book, by request of our friend John Eklund who is a rep for Harvard University Press regarding a new book called On Rereading by Patricia Meyer Spacks. I wrote about having reread a book that I’d been required to read in high school, a book that I hated at the time, but fell in love with when I read it years later. The book was The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, which is now I book that I cherish. Here was a story about a boy in his early teens setting out (although not exactly by choice) on an incredible, life-changing adventure. Yet as a young teen reading the story, I somehow was not able to appreciate it.

I think as we get older we not only look back fondly on our formative years, but only as adults are we able to evaluate it and put it into some kind of perspective that fits into who we are now. In an interview about her new book The End of Everything, Megan Abbott talks about her 13 year old protagonist and describes the world of a young teen as ‘big, terrifying, and thrilling’ and how everything takes on a heightened sense of drama.

There is something to that transitional point in our lives, in our early teens, when we are no longer ‘little kids’ but we are not yet grown-ups either. The world is full of mysteries and wonder and it is an exciting and scary time. As we read or write books that center on that time in our lives, it gives us an opportunity to connect once again with who we were then. Not to be there again necessarily, because of course we can’t go back, nor should we really want to. We all have to grow up, but maybe by connecting with stories about childhood, we as adults can rekindle some of the sense of wonder that we had, and the sense that anything in the world is possible.

(My apologies for listing the poster as Daniel, but we just set up Mark's account. It really was written by Mark.)