by Dick Loftin
There are few things I enjoy more than going to book signings. I love the opportunity to interact with the author of a book and having it signed is a particular thrill for me. I love books for their art, the feel of the pages, the knowledge they hold. I love authors for their ability to create careers out of words and I am particularly admirable of writers who can create a heavy volume of work, collected in one-thousand page bricks. I am a fan of books and authors and was absolutely star struck when David McCullough signed my copy of “1776,” after his speech at the Harry Truman Presidential Museum and Library in Independence, Kansas, in 2007. I practically chased him up a flight of stairs to ask him to sign my book. He said, “Sure, but, let’s step inside [the library] where it’s a little cooler.” It was summer and had to be a hundred degrees. He signed my book, I shook his hand, and from that moment, signed books became a passion. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, we have Booksmart Tulsa, operated by Jeff Martin. Jeff and his team have presented several readings by celebrated authors. The readings are fun, not too formal, the authors are polite and take the time to visit with you, sign your book and take a picture if you want. Blake Bailey signed my copies of “Cheever” and his biography of Richard Yates, “A Tragic Honesty,” but I can’t believe I forgot to have my picture taken with him. Maybe he’ll come back for his next book. I wanted to know more about Booksmart Tulsa so I asked Jeff if I could send him some questions. Here is his response.
Endpaper Review: Define your role in the book business. What do you do?
Jeff Martin: I started at the lowest possible level, working part-time in a bookstore. I eventually took an interest in book-related events and worked my way up the chain until I handled book events and began bringing in all sorts of authors to Tulsa through the bookstore. Everyone from Mike Huckabee to David Sedaris and every possible variety between, and that is a big gap. In the spring of 2009, after leaving the retail world, I started Booksmart Tulsa and since then we have made it our mission to turn Tulsa, perhaps even Oklahoma, into a more literary and literate place.
ER: With Booksmart Tulsa, are you finding the market changing for books? [Larger crowds for certain types of books, smaller crowds for others? Are you surprised by the turnout for some books? Are people asking about “e-book versions” of books you present?]
JM: It seems that with my audience, the focus remains heavily focused on the traditional book. Although, we do have the occasional person have their e-reader case signed with a sharpie.
ER: Do you think e-books will take on an “introductory role” in book selling by offering an avenue for emerging writers to be introduced to the book buying public? Could e-books be the appetizer, with a traditional book follow-up release being the entrée?
JM: I honestly feel that e-books will become more than just an “appetizer.” When you factor in the interactive possibilities (audio, video) the real question becomes, is this a book at all. In my mind, books will always be books. These are something else. We just haven’t figured out what to call them.
ER: How is social media impacting the book business? As e-books grow in popularity, could “online author chats” replace book signings?
JM: I think about this often. In much the same way that musicians have had to refocus their efforts on live performance and getting out on the road, it is my belief that authors will more than ever be forced out of the shadows. Booksignings, or at least public events of some sort, will become more important in making that connection to an audience.
ER: How do writers stay current as the culture of book buying and selling changes?
JM: While it’s not always the case, because some things do get lost, for the most part I believe that good is good no matter the format or time. New, original ideas and voices will find a way into a marketplace, via the printed page, the screen, or whatever else may come along.
ER: How can books stay current with the number of entertainment choices available today [iPhone, online games, web surfing]?
JM: Following up with what I was saying earlier, books don’t need to be current, they just need to be. The biggest mistake is thinking that books need to change at all. They’ve been around much longer than almost any piece of technology we have. There has to be a reason for this.
ER: While e-books may be a more convenient way to read and enjoy books, there is no true “product” to buy and own. There are no books to shelve, no book “collection.” Do you think we will still be able to buy a “book” in ten years, or do you think the book as we know it will go the way of the vinyl record?
JM: The vinyl comparison is one I make often. I was recently at Best Buy and was pleased to see a nice collection of new vinyl for sale. Not a huge amount, but decent. And this was not just old reprints of Dylan and The Beatles. These were new records by Jay-Z, etc… If there weren’t a market of some size for these, Best Buy wouldn’t be selling them. If you had asked me 5 years ago if this would be happening, I would have said you were crazy. But these things find a way. So books, may have a moment of panic, but they will come back and always be around.
ER: Is there anything you would like to add?
JM: People talk about the “death of books” as if books, like the Mayans, will simple vanish. But books, because they are a physical object, are all around us. How many books are there in this world for each of the now 7 billion people on the planet. I would guess at least a few. If we were to never print another book again, there is no way that books will cease to be a part of our lives in this tactile world. It’s not going to happen.
ER: Thank you.
Sources: Booksmart Tulsa website Here. BooksmartTulsa.com image from Booksmart Tulsa.
by Dick Loftin
Winston Churchill once wrote if you don’t have time to read all of the books you buy, at least be acquainted with them. While cleaning out some bookshelves—to move out some impulsive purchases at book fairs and yard sales—I discovered some lost treasures. It is fun to be surprised by a book you forgot you had. Buried deep in the bookshelf is a forgotten volume, rediscovered like an old friend. “Oh, there, you are!” it shouts to you.
My main interests are history and biography, so finding books that I had purchased months or years ago in the back of a bookshelf was like taking a walk down memory lane. There was, “As I See It,” an autobiography of J. Paul Getty, the great oilman. I learned from Getty that thinking is probably the most important skill to develop in business. Bennett Cerf’s “At Random,” a book about his time at Random House, is a great book about the book business and his relationship with the authors he published. I lost my first copy of it years ago, but was overjoyed to find it online.
There are biographies of the Rockefellers, and a couple of books about the Empire State Building in New York. The Empire State Building was built in the middle of the depression by men glad to have a job and a hand in building an architectural icon. It is quite possibly the greatest building in the world.
I find some political figures interesting. I have several books by and about Richard Nixon, a couple by Eisenhower, there are books on Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton (an avid reader and fascinating figure no matter what your politics.) There are books by and about by JFK, Teddy Roosevelt, and one of my favorites, Harry Truman.
Faith and one’s “inner life” is interesting to me, so I have several books by C.S. Lewis (I found myself saying, ‘Yes!’ out loud numerous times while reading ‘Mere Christianity.’) I have a few by Billy Graham and a collection of Martin Luther’s writings. There is the massive “Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years,” by Diarmaid MacCullough, which I was pleased to discover was on the bookshelf of the late Christopher Hitchens.
I have Thoreau’s “Walden,” (who doesn’t?), a sad biography of Edgar Allen Poe, written by Julian Sumons in 1976, called, “The Tell Tale Heart.” I was delighted to find some old book reviews and other clippings tucked inside the book. There was an Associated Press story about the individual who left a bottle of cognac and roses on Poe’s grave in Baltimore, and had done so for 33 years. It is a tradition that continued for decades, but I read in the Wall Street Journal, that the person who held up the tribute to Poe failed to show up for the third year in a row. The “Poe Toasters,” as they are called, now believe this great literary tradition for a giant of the written word, is over.* But, finding the clippings took me back to the time when I bought the book. Try that with a Kindle!
Michael Wallis’ fine biography, “David Crockett, The Lion of the West,” is a great read. Early in the book, Mr. Wallis makes clear, it is “David,” not “Davy” Crockett. I have several of Mr. Wallis’ books. He is a terrific writer and historian. I have Richard D. White, Jr’s., well-received “Will Rogers: A Political Life,” a new biography of the beloved Oklahomans life as a political humorist and writer.
The classic business book by John Kenneth Galbraith on the Stock Market Crash of 1929, which I found at a book festival, is among biographies of Conrad Hilton and the early books of Donald Trump, when he was more interested in real estate than being a celebrity.
I rediscovered various memoirs, several volumes of poetry (Robert Lowell, Langston Hughes, Wallace Stevens) and essays I absolutely love. They come from everywhere, book fairs, flea markets, antique shops, estate and garage sales, and I will haunt every bookstore in every town I visit. I once bought a book by Christopher Hitchens and Billy Graham on the same night. The young lady behind the counter gave me a puzzled look as I paid for them. I had to smile at the irony.
It is very easy to get attached to your books. They are your history. They provide a background and a place for the memories of your life. You remember when and where you bought them, who your friends were at the time, where you lived, who you loved and who loved you. You remember what you thought and how your thinking has changed over the years, quite possibly by the books you read. Your books are about your life as much as the person who wrote it. Your books are your “relivable past.”
Books are quiet reminders of who you were, and could very well represent what you are today. I bought the eleven volume “Story of Civilization” by Will and Ariel Durant when I was in my late twenties, fully intending to begin reading when I was fifty. I’m several years behind schedule. But that is the beautiful thing about books. Even as the years pass, the books remain. And books, better and more reliable than some friends, will wait for you. Whenever you are ready to get reacquainted. Which proves Winston Churchill was a wise man. Very wise.