Are you in New York for BookExpo America? Here's the low-down on how to connect with Beacon Press to meet our authors, get your hands on some galleys of upcoming books, and chat with Beacon publicists, editors, and other cool folks.
See below for more info on some of the authors and books we'll be featuring in Booth #2742.
For the second year, BookExpo America will open to the public for Power Reader Hours, Saturday, June 1st from 9am-1pm. Power Readers will have the chance to pick up copies of books at Beacon Presss booth #2742 that examine social issues such as interfaith cooperation, immigration reform, reproductive rights, and marriage equality. Come visit us and Read for Change!
Hunting Season: Immigration and Murder in an All-American Town by Mirta Ojito Featured Galley Giveaway at Beacon Press booth 2742 Thursday, May 30th, 9:00 am - 12:00 pm
Mirta will be at the booth signing copies of Hunting Season starting at 10:30 am.
"An account that is as unflinching as it is important. Both an incisive reconstruction of a heartbreaking murder and an unsparing diagnosis of a national malady . . . with HUNTING SEASON Ojito has done truth an invaluable service. Extraordinary." —Junot Díaz, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Labeled a "domestic terrorist" by the McCain campaign in 2008 and used by the radical right in an attempt to castigate Obama for "pallin' around with terrorists," Bill Ayers is in fact a dedicated teacher, father, and social justice advocate with a sharp memory and even sharper wit. Public Enemy tells his story from the moment he and his wife, Bernardine Dohrn, emerged from years on the run and rebuilt their lives as public figures, often celebrated for their community work and much hated by the radical right. In the face of defamation by conservative media, including a multimillion-dollar campaign aimed solely at demonizing Ayers, and in spite of frequent death threats, Bill and Bernardine stay true to their core beliefs in the power of protest, demonstration, and deep commitment. Ayers reveals how he has navigated the challenges and triumphs of this public life with steadfastness and a dash of good humor—from the red carpet at the Oscars, to prison vigils and airports (where he is often detained and where he finally "confesses" that he did write Dreams from My Father), and ultimately on the ground at Grant Park in 2008 and again in 2012.
Lauren Slater’s rocky childhood left her cold to the idea of ever creating a family of her own, but a husband, two dogs, two children, and three houses later, she came around to the challenges, trials, and unexpected rewards of playing house. Boldly honest, these biographical pieces reveal Slater at her wittiest and most deeply personal. She describes her journey from fiercely independent young woman to wife and mother, all while coping with mental illness. She tells of a chemical fire that rekindled the flame in her ailing relationship with her husband; she reflects on her decision to have an abortion, and then later to have children despite suffering from severe depression; she examines sex, love, mastectomies, and how nannies can be intrusive while dogs become family. Beautifully written, often humorous, and always revealing, these stories scrutinize the complex questions surrounding family life, offering up sometimes uncomfortable truths.
Christopher Finan is president of American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, which was established by the American Booksellers Association in 1990 to defend the First Amendment rights of booksellers and their customers. He is the author of From the Palmer Raids to the PATRIOT Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America, the winner of the American Library Association’s Eli M. Oboler Award for the best work on intellectual freedom published in 2006 and 2007.
Banned Books Week turned 30 this year, but this was not your
grandmother’s celebration of the freedom to read.
Since its founding, the centerpiece of Banned Books Week has
been the display of banned and challenged titles on tables in bookstores and
libraries around country. This year the celebration began on the Internet with
a tremendously creative two-minute video produced by Bookmans, an independent
bookstore with six locations in Arizona.
The Bookmans video was a contribution to a read-out of
banned books that was launched on the Internet last year. Most of the more than
1,000 videos that have been posted on YouTube feature people reading passages
from their favorite books. The Bookmans video shows a series of customers and
staff members reading a single line from different censored books. Each line
was carefully chosen to celebrate the importance of books, reading and free
The moving message of the video, combined with skillful
editing by Harrison Kressler, Bookmans’ video producer, helped it become the
hit of Banned Books Week. More than 17,000 people watched it on YouTube, making
it our most popular video to date.
City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco also joined the
read-out, producing a series of wonderful readings by writers and leading
members of the literary community, including Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the store’s founder. Director John Waters read from Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
Other bookstores who contributed to the read-out include
Chapter One Book Store, UConn Co-op, Vintage Books, Poor Richard’s Bookshoppe,
the King’s English Bookshop, the Book House and Bookmamas. The videos may be viewed here. (Some are exhibited on playlists.)
But the Internet read-out is only one of many new things
about Banned Books Week. The sponsors of Banned Books Week—the American
Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the American Library Association,
the Association of American Publishers, the National Association of College
Stores and the American Society of Journalists and Authors—have created a
steering committee to plan for the event throughout the year. The Internet
read-out was one of our first ideas.
The committee has also invited new groups to become sponsors,
including the National Coalition Against Censorship, the National Council of
Teachers of English, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and Project Censored.
As a result of these
organizational changes, Banned Books Week has grown. Press coverage of the
event doubled last year. We don’t have statistics for this year yet, but it
appears that coverage continues to increase. In the past, we have had trouble
placing opinion pieces in newspapers during Banned Books Week, but this year
the Louisville Courier-Journal approached us for a column. KPFA,
a radio station in San Francisco, devoted a full hour to Banned Books Week.
This doesn’t mean that displays of banned books are old hat. They
remain the most effective means of delivering our message that even in America
censorship is a problem. The “ah-ha!” moment occurs when bookstore customers
and library patrons see that some of their most beloved books have been
Banned Books Week continues to give booksellers a great
opportunity to bring customers into their stores. I saw this for myself this
year when I spent Banned Books Week in Durango, Colorado, at the invitation of
Peter Schertz and Andrea Avantaggio, the owners of Maria’s,
have been expanding their celebration of Banned Books Week for several years. It
happened that this year Banned Books Week coincided with the Durango Literary
Festival, and festival organizers were planning a program on censorship. Peter
invited me to join the panel, which included Ellen Hopkins, whose books are
frequently challenged. It seemed like a long way to go for one appearance, so I
asked him to see if anyone else might want to hear about banned books.
I was surprised when Libby Cowles, Maria’s community
relations manager, lined up three classroom talks at Ft. Lewis College, a radio
interview and a breakfast speech to the town’s booksellers and librarians. From
the first day in Durango, my visit got great coverage in the local newspaper,
which published a column I wrote on the front page of the Sunday
opinion section. The publisher even invited me to address his editors at their
While I want to believe that the warm reception in Durango
was a response to my rugged good looks, it was largely the result of Libby’s
efforts and Maria’s excellent relations with community leaders.
There was something else at work as well. The message of
Banned Books Week is that we only possess free speech as long as we are willing
to fight for it. When people are made aware of censorship, they are grateful to
the booksellers, librarians, teachers, parents and kids who are fighting back.
There is no danger that Banned Books Week will grow old
anytime soon. Our challenge is to continue to find new ways to carry the
always been a reader. I love to lose myself deep inside the pages—and the
capacity for observation and my ability to imagine alternate realities has not
always served me well. In the first standardized test I was given, I performed
badly. I was asked to circle the image that should come next in a series of
illustrations. In every scenario, I could imagine too many possibilities. There’s
one I remember: a girl has dropped a bottle of milk on the floor. What would
happen next? Would she clean up the spill? Summon her mother for help? Enjoy
her after-school snack? It seemed to me so much would depend on the character
of that girl. And the plot line of her life. What if her mother wasn’t there
when she got home from school? Did she have a cat who might lap up the milk? Was
she easy-going or a worrier? Is it possible that she dropped the bottle on
purpose because she didn’t like the taste of milk?
You can see
why I had trouble with this test. My results made me a Cub, a member of the
lowest, slowest reading group. Within weeks, I was a Bluebird. And I have still
never forgiven that first grade teacher—her name was Mrs. Cunningham—for
telling the rest of the class—that my climb from Cub to Squirrel to Rabbit to
Bluebird was a result of hard work.
matter, I kept on reading. Anything that was around the house—and there were
plenty of books. My mother was an English teacher and drama coach. I read books
that were not age-appropriate, and when I tired of the plays and novels on my
mother’s bookshelves, I read my way through my grandmother’s Book-of-the-Month
selections and her library of Reader’s Digest Condensed editions.
was in training to become a writer. It’s true I wrote along the way; in fact,
when I was in fourth-grade, Mrs. Cunningham retired, and I was asked to write
and recite a poem in her honor. It was my first unpublished fiction.
high, I was published in a magazine called, Insulators,
Crown Jewels of the Wire. I was too busy practicing my flute to do much
extra-curricular writing in high school or college. After graduation, I taught
flute lessons, waited tables, wrote greeting cards for Hallmark, and landed a
part-time job in a bookstore. As a bookseller—and later as a consultant to
booksellers—I wrote ad copy, radio commercials, blurbs for catalogues, features
and a column for American Bookseller.
writing. But I was not—in my mind—a
my dreams. That’s where I met Woody Allen.
time, I had seen just two Woody Allen movies—Crimes and Misdemeanors and Hannah
and Her Sisters. I did not love either one. Also—in case it is
relevant—this dream occurred before Mr. Allen began dating his sort-of
stepdaughter, now-wife of twenty years.
dream, I am one of maybe ten or fifteen students in a classroom. The teacher is
Woody Allen. Then the scene changes; we’re walking in the park—just me and Mr.
Allen. It’s fall; the leaves have color: a few are on the ground. The
temperature is chilly enough for my companion to be wearing a light overcoat.
Woody Allen turns to me, and says, “You know,
we share the same interests—as writers.” He elaborates: “We’re both fascinated
by relationships. We write from character. We want to know what motivates
people. Also, we wonder why we’re here.”
cannot tell you why my subconscious chose Woody Allen as my writing mentor. (Why
can’t I have Tolstoy?)
I can tell you that when I woke up, I thought
about what Mr. Allen had called me: a writer.
And how he’d treated me as an equal. How quickly I’d advanced from back of the
classroom to walking by his side. And in some strange way, dream-Woody Allen
got me thinking that I might be able to move from writing to writer.
turns out that the man whose movies I had not yet seen was pretty much right-on
about my interests as a writer. I do write from character. That’s not so
typical in a nonfiction writer. In the case of Cottage for Sale: the characters who led me to write were the leading
men of my house-moving adventure—a lot of guys with tool belts and a bossy gray
cat named Egypt.
I started writing Remembering the Music,
I thought I was writing a book about all the intriguing personalities in the
community band I’ve played in for almost twenty years. But my mother—who is
what might be called, in writerly terms, a strong character—seemed to be
showing up on every page. I realized I wasn’t writing a book about the band
with some bits about my mother in it, but rather that I needed to write a book
about my mother with some bits about the band in it.
Remembering the Music is often mistaken
for a book about Alzheimer’s. In fact, it’s a book about all the things that
interest me as a writer: people, relationships, what motivates us, and why we
are here. It’s about choices we make, the journeys we take, and the families we
create from friends. It’s about learning to forgive, and most of all—about
finding the willingness to forget. It’s also about the bridge and consolation
we find in music. And it’s about the things my mother taught me—not only in her
vibrant youth, but in her debilitated and forgetful aging. Not the least of
which was to sit still, be present and know that every moment—remembered or
forgotten—matters to the person sitting next to us.
readers who prefer plot to theme: this is a book about two women, alone in the
world. Both of them just a bit eccentric, odd in their own ways. Both of them
fighters who don’t give up or give in. Though they aren’t so different, they
aren’t so much the same either. And they don’t really get along for most of
their lives. And then—well something horrible happens. Which makes something
all that character and theme and plot, if someone still insists that Remembering the Music is about Alzheimer’s—well,
it’s about the upside of Alzheimer’s. Thisis not a book about an illness. It’s a book about a healing.
have suggested writing this book must have been a cathartic process, but
catharsis was not my motivation or my practice. I wrote this book because I
realized that I had to. That my mother—the version of her showing up on every
page of that band book—wasn’t going away. That she wanted this book—and that
she knew I would learn something in the writing.
we write for the same reasons that we read. To uncover the truth about
something; to learn. Sometimes as readers—and especially as writers—we need to
stand back from a story before we can understand its lessons. From the distance
of the writer, I can tell you what this story taught me: healing comes in most
mysterious ways; we grow through challenge and adversity; life is precious,
relationships—fragile, love—undiscriminating, and hope—never-ending.
It was lunch time, and several members of the Beacon Press staff headed out in a chilly April drizzle to Boston's Downtown Crossing--not for a tasty sandwich from Falafel King, but to take part in World Book Night. Each staffer had signed up to hand out twenty free books to perfect strangers walking by on a busy street corner. Director Helene Atwan summed it up by saying, "Lots of different people going in and out of the subway were puzzled, skeptical, and finally, curious and grateful. A wonderful way to spend the lunch hour. We're all already looking forward to World Book Night 2013."
We've loved hearing stories from other givers, and must admit that it gives us a particular thrill to hear about people giving away Kindred by Octavia Butler--Beacon's literary contribution to the project.
At the Silver Spring Metro station, Politics and Prose floor manager Susan Skirboll had a pretty straightforward strategy for her giveaway approach: “I’ll try to look respectable and not like a total freak.”
Skirboll calls the story she selected — “Kindred,” by the late science-fiction writer Octavia Butler — a book “everyone should read.” Though it contains a little bit of science fiction and fantasy, “it’s done in a way that’s kind of believable,” Skirboll said. “It talks about the slavery experience in a way I had never read before.” --Washington Post
And on Twitter...
Have given out my 4th copy of Kindred by OctaviaButler for #wbnamerica & am excited that #4 is drinking her coffee and reading the book!!!! -- @misscecil
Learned during #wbnamerica: let them see what you're offering. know your book. saying "it's one of the best books i've ever read" helps. -- @corpuslibris
Our favorite story, hands down, involves a very unconventional delivery vehicle. (Photos by Shmuel Thaler of the Santa Cruz Sentinel. Used by permission.)
Handing out free books to surfers while paddling out in waters off Cowell Beach doesn't seem logical.
But Hilary Bryant made it look easy, if not natural, Monday when the wet-suit clad vice mayor took several copies of the novel "Kindred" into the surf wrapped in Ziploc bags. Not green - she knows - but how else could she keep the books dry?
"They were very appreciative," Bryant said of the effort, which was part of the World Book Night celebration in the U.S. and Europe. "It was easier to start the conversation on the water than on the cliff. You have a captive audience." --Santa Cruz Sentinel
And now onto our staff and their experiences at Downtown Crossing in Boston.
Tom Hallock: Associate Publisher and Director of Sales and Marketing
Pictured right: Helene Atwan, Director of Beacon Press, with Tom Hallock.
So how did World Book Night, or World Book Lunchtime, go for you?
It was great, just great. We went to Downtown Crossing, the historic heart of the Boston retail district. There were a lot of people there at lunch time. There used to be a lot of retail bookstores there: a Globe Corner Bookstore, a Lauriat’s, a Barnes and Noble and a Borders—none of them are there now. And we just thought it would be a place where we would find some people who are not exposed to books regularly, and we were right.
People would come up with wary looks on their faces. I think maybe they thought we were handing out religious tracts or political propaganda or something, and we would assure them that they were really good books, and people got really excited about it.
In a sense, you were espousing the religion of reading.
Exactly, and I think we got a lot of converts.The best thing was seeing the expression on people's faces change as you got into the conversation, and you could see them open up to the idea that a stranger was about to hand them a book that they would really enjoy reading.
How do you feel about Kindred by Octavia Butler being included in the giveaway?
We were really proud of that and so glad thatCarl Lennertz and the people at World Book Night made it possible for Kindred to be part of the program. It's a great book that can be read by all ages, and it‘s been wonderful to hear stories from around the country about people introducing it to new readers.
Marcy Barnes, Production Manager
Pictured right: Kate Noe, Will Myers, and Marcy Barnes.
There were a couple of really enthusiastic people who came up to us, and a lot of people were really grateful. To choose people to give books to, I basically just chose anyone who wasn't wearing headphones. I wasn't thinking, "Is that a reader or not a reader?" I felt that it was more a celebration of reading and saving books, and a lot of people were really appreciative of the concept.
Ryan Mita, Digital Marketing Assistant
Here’s what went through my mind, and what happened while I was giving away World Book Night Books:
I thought giving away books on a wet, windy day would be a difficult, but it wasn’t!
I gave a jeweler something to occupy his interest on his lunch break.
I interested a groups of teenagers in picking up a book.
I felt really good sharing a great book with strangers and supporting an activity I love to do.
Will Myers, Editorial Assistant
It was nice to see people light up when they were given a free book. We had the World Book Night lanyard, so I think people thought we were from Oxfam or something along those lines. But once they knew we weren't asking for an email address, they were less suspicious.
At the Lambert's outdoor fruit stand--they were big boosters of World Book Night, and they were cheering us on. They kept asking, "Do you have this book? Do you have this book?" That was cool. It was a great experience, and I would absolutely do it again.
Kate Noe, Production Assistant
I got involved because my friend works for a counseling center for young mothers, and she was really excited for World Book Night because she was able to get free books for these young women who don't ever read. So she inspired me to reach out, too.
I would definitely do it again, but it was frustrating being rejected. Going up to strangers and having them ignore you... But those moments when people were curious and wanted to learn more, that was cool.
Crystal Paul, Assistant to the Director
Pictured right: Helene Atwan, Ryan Mita, and Crystal Paul.
I'm glad that we were handing out Junot Diaz and Zeitoun—multicultural literature that is applicable to everyone. I think it's great that there were such a wide variety of authors and types of books, because it encourages you to reach out to all kinds of people. And I was excited that Kindred was part of World Book Night. I love Octavia Butler.
I've always said that books sort of raised me. I grew up in a house where there wasn't a strong parental figure, so I turned to books not because I just wanted stories or escapism. But, literally, because I was looking for how I'm supposed to live life, the things I'm supposed to do. A lot of young adult literature in particular is about these orphan children, and then I started reading Sci-Fi. Octavia Butler was one of the first authors I read-- Xenogenesis which is now called Lilith's Brood And it was about a black woman going out into the world and being abducted by aliens. Basically, just completely abandoned and on her own, and how she navigated this totally new world.
Today's post is from Caitlin Meyer, a publicist here at Beacon Press, who was recently quoted in Publisher's Weekly.
On Friday I returned from New York where I had been attending 2010's BEA (BookExpo America) conference. After taking the long weekend to recuperate from all the activity, I wanted to share the experience with our Beacon Broadside readers. Last week, I, along with our Director, Helene Atwan, our Publicity Director, Pam MacColl, and our Executive Editors, Amy Caldwell and Gayatri Patnaik, came together with friends and colleagues from the book world to celebrate the past, present, and future of publishing. Here are some highlights from our four days in New York:
This year the event was held at the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan. Beacon Press was one of 1,500 exhibitors in attendance, with an estimated 22,000 people in attendance.
The conference kicked off on Tuesday with a plenary meeting for the exhibitors titled, "The Value of a Book." Everyone gathered to watch a heated discussion about the current state of publishing and how upcoming changes to the industry will affect agents, authors, and publishers alike.
When it was over we headed straight upstairs to the exhibit hall to set up our booth.
We were promoting some of our most anticipated titles for the fall, including Swan, the twentieth poetry collection from Mary Oliver, and our very first graphic novel, an adaptation with Jamar Nicholas of Geoffrey Canada's memoir, Fist Stick Knife Gun. Our booth was well positioned near our new distributor, Random House.
Later that morning Pam and I attended the panel discussion, "Building Online Reader Communities with an Eye on ROI." The entire conference, including this panel, was being live tweeted all week. The benefit of social networking has been an ongoing conversation in the publishing world for quite some time now. This panel included a discussion about how authors, bookstores, and publishers can use these new technologies to their advantage.
Things were in full swing by Wednesday. Everyone was busy taking meetings with agents, authors, editors, producers, and booksellers.
Across the aisle from us, new author, Vordak, was trying to lure people in with his plans to take over the world. Helene took a moment to pose for a photo with him. I couldn't hear what they were talking about, but I assume they were comparing notes on world domination tactics.
Later in the afternoon, C-SPAN BookTV stopped by to talk to Pam about our
new fall list. She did an amazing job discussing our upcoming books. The producers even stopped back the next day to compliment her, (we'll be sure to share a link when the video airs).
In fact, she did such a great job that Mr. Bananagrams himself agreed to have his photo taken with her.
On Thursday we started the day out at the "Adult Book & Author Breakfast," hosted by Jon Stewart.
Stewart was a part of an author panel, along with John Grisham, Condoleezza Rice, and Mary Roach. Each of the authors gave a tease for their upcoming book and took part in a Q&A with the audience. Stewart made it clear that he was less than pleased with the direction of the audience's somewhat self-serving questions, but we didn't mind his blunt approach. After all, "The Daily Show" has been a friend to Beacon this year.
The rest of the day was spent much like Wednesday had been: taking meetings, connecting with the media and booksellers, and continuing to spread the word about Beacon Press. The view from our booth did change that day though. Vordak was gone and replaced by this guy...
...who I believe comes from Middleworld. He was the strong and silent type, but was nice enough to pose with me. The picture is blurry because everyone was rushing around the exhibit hall to make sure they took it all in before the end of the day. I think my photographer might have gotten jostled by a passing book enthusiast.
As the day wound down I really began to appreciate everything I'd seen and done during the week. This was my first BEA and I felt very grateful for and inspired by my wonderful and knowledgeable colleagues.
I was also honored to be a part of the thriving community of publishing professionals and book lovers. Each year we hear more and more about the fast approaching "death of print." Yet, each year Beacon Press and other publishers around the globe bring in new and exciting writers who help us to keep books alive in the marketplace. Yes, there was much discussion about ebooks and Twitter accounts. Yes, the print industry, from books to newspapers, is facing new challenges. And yes, publishing will need to continue to evolve in order to keep up with changing technologies. But one of the most valuable lessons I took away from BEA was that there are still few things that excite people as much as the prospect of writing, publishing, or reading a good book. If the community and enthusiasm of this year's attendees is any indication of our publishing future, I think we'll be ok.
Oh…and while I was in NYC, I also went to the Museum of Natural History. It can't be all work all the time!
Today's post is from Tom Hallock, Associate Publisher of Beacon Press.
Last week, Beacon announced a change in its distribution from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to Random House Publisher Services which will be effective July 1, 2010.
It's a big change and one we’re excited about. The new partnership encompasses all formats and channels. Random House will be selling Beacon books, audios, eBooks and audio downloads to US, Canada (as of 1/1/11), and other English language markets. We will also have the support of Random House in the academic, library, school and special sales areas. We think this new partnership will serve our authors and their books-- and enable us to reach a wide audience through a variety of channels in a variety of formats. We also think this will enable us to focus on building our lists and exploring the new publishing and marketing opportunities of the digital age.
Although we won't start shipping books until July 1, our work with RHPS started in December and it's been exciting to see things take shape. We launched our fall 2010 list, including our first graphic book (an adaptation of Geoff Canada's Fist Stick Knife Gun), at sales conference last week. We've already started working with our new distributor on Book Expo, ALA, and the London Book fair and are especially excited about their support in bringing Eboo Patel (Acts of Faith) to the Freshman Year Experience conference in January 11.
The change also means we’re saying goodbye to two distributors who have served us well over the past decade. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has been with us-- and looked out for our interests-- through some tough times, including the recent economic downturn. They helped us launch Michael Patrick MacDonald's All Souls, Meredith Hall's Without a Map and many new titles by Mary Oliver including her first audios. We'll miss having a distributor across the Boston Common, with whom we could talk through the issues of the day over lunch at the Beacon Hill Bistro. We'll also miss working with Beth Ineson and the all the great reps at HMH. We leave with a sense of gratitude to them and to Gary Gentel, Laurie Brown and the HMH management team for all they've done for the press in the past ten years.
We'll also be saying goodbye six months later to our wonderfully independent Canadian distributor, Fitzhenry and Whiteside. Among the things I have loved about working with them is that I can always get their President, Sharon Fitzhenry, on the phone and that I was greeted at the door by their resident cats. (It reminds me of my days at FSG when a monstrously ill-tempered cat named Maizy inhabited the sales and marketing floor. The Fitz cats always treated me well, however.) And I want to give special thanks to Fitz's Michael Davis who educated me about many things Canadian and did yeoman’s work on our list.
We enter this period of change with a sense of excitement and optimism about the future. We think technology is giving us ways to reach new readers and fulfill our mission in new ways. And we feel like we've found the right partner for these times in Random House Publisher Services.
Why should booksellers care about what happens to Robert J. Stevens?
Stevens is a Virginia man who has been convicted of creating videos that contain scenes of dogfighting. I'm sure there are many people, including some booksellers, who would applaud the fact that he was sentenced to three years in jail.
But U.S. v. Stevens is now before the U.S. Supreme Court, and it could become the most important First Amendment case in a generation. Civil libertarians are deeply concerned that the Court may use the case to begin dismantling the protections for free speech that have been built up over the last 70 years. If that happens, booksellers will find themselves facing a government armed with a broad new power to censor speech.
Stevens was prosecuted under a federal law that was passed in an effort to suppress the sale of so-called "crush" videos. These videos are a genre of fetish films that depicts small animals being crushed to death by women's feet. When the bill was introduced in Congress in 1999, it faced little opposition because it appeared to be focused on a very specific type of material that bordered on obscenity. Obscenity is not protected by the First Amendment.
In fact, however, the law applies to a much broader range of material. It makes it a felony to create or sell a depiction of animal cruelty, including a photograph, film, or audio recording of an animal being intentionally harmed or killed. President Bill Clinton acknowledged the breadth of the bill when he signed it into law by promising that the Justice Department would only enforce it against producers and distributors of crush videos.
There have been three prosecutions under the law -- none involving crush videos. Stevens was indicted for producing three videos extolling the virtues of pit bulls. The films do contain scenes of pit bulls fighting and attacking other animals, but Stevens opposes dogfighting in a self-published book, Dogs of Velvet and Steel: Pitbulls: A Manual for Owners. Stevens did not stage or film the fights. Some of the footage was more than 30 years old and some came from Japan, where dogfighting is legal.
It is clear that the law applies even more broadly. Since it covers any depiction of animal cruelty in whatever country it may have occurred, including countries where the acts are legal, it could apply to books and films about bullfighting. In overturning the law in 2008, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals observed that even depictions of killing deer or catching fish could fall within the act. It might also be used against animal rights activists who attempt to shock the public with graphic depictions of slaughterhouse practices or the inhumane treatment of farm animals.
"It has all the hallmarks of suppression of speech:
incitement of fear, intimidation of well-meaning folks, mob rule." So said
Bill Ayers in response to the cancellation of a scheduled talk he
was to give to high school students, whose parents would have been required to
sign permission slips for them to attend, in Naperville, Ill.
This is not the first time venues hosting speaking engagements
featuring Ayers have come under fire. Officials at the University of
a lecture last fall, citing safety concerns. Countless events, however, have gone on in spite of attempts to suppress Ayers' speech. In October of 2001, when the
late A. David Schwartz of Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops stood firm in the face
of calls and letters urging him to cancel an event tied to the original release
of Fugitive Days, he offered this eloquent defense to his
"I myself grew up in Wisconsin during the McCarthy era and
witnessed firsthand the attack on civil liberties and civic life that crippled
America at that time. My father was accused of running a Communist bookshop by
many people just because he thought it important to stock and promote books
which were unpopular in the political climate of the time. I also was engaged
in the movement against the Vietnam War and had some opportunities to view the
Weathermen in action. I decided that I was politically and intellectually
opposed to their positions on most matters.
Now to the specific issue of whether or not Bill Ayers should be
allowed to be one of the 26 authors who will visit our shops in October. It
seems to me this is what America is about: listening to many freely expressed
viewpoints so we can decide for ourselves the truth. America's brilliance and
enormous distinction from other democracies is that it truly believes in the
democratic process. Letting Bill Ayers speak is a part of that process. I hope
customers who disagree with Bill Ayers and his views will attend this book
reading so you can question him about this ideas. That's another part of the
(Incidentally and on a sad note, Schwartz Bookshops very recently closed its
doors for good after 82 years. Two of the chain's four locations will reopen soon under
new names, and we wish the new owners all the best.)
Helene Atwan, director of Beacon Press, offers these thoughts on
"Like most of our colleagues in the publishing and media
communities, we deplore a climate in which schools, universities and bookstores
are made fearful of having any author--or indeed any one--speak in their
venues. As the management of Anderson's Bookshop put it:
'Bookstores play an integral part in the process by which ideas
are disseminated and debated. Debate is essential in our society, and we take
seriously our responsibility to promote ideas, including those that we
personally do not endorse or condone. This week freedom of speech was
For all of us involved in the work of publishing ideas, the
suppression of speech is a blow to democracy. It impoverishes us all to live in
a climate where ideas are suppressed rather than discussed and debated, where
anger overtakes discourse. We remain hopeful that the fear-mongering that
led to these cancellations can be staunched by the many individuals and organizations
dedicated to protecting the free speech rights so integral to our national
Some people will yawn at hearing that Saturday was the beginning of the 27th Annual Banned Books Week.
The story is the same every year, isn't it? Hundreds of titles are challenged in schools and libraries around the country. In 2007, the number was 420. This is fewer than the year before, but the number has fluctuated widely since the launch of Banned Books Week in 1982. The average is around 500.
Even the book at the top of the hit list is the same as last year–And Tango Makes Three, a childrens book that has been condemned as "pro-homosexual" and "anti-family" because it tells the story of two male penguins caring for an egg.
But this apparent sameness masks what is really going on. Behind the numbers are a lot of angry people–censors demanding the removal of books that offend them; teachers and librarians upset at finding themselves accused of trying to hurt kids, and the kids themselves caught in the crossfire.
Book banning is an old story, but it is new and often intensely painful for the people who experience it for the first time.
Helene Atwan began her career in publishing at Random House in 1976; she worked at A.A.Knopf, Viking Press, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and Simon and Schuster, before being named director of Beacon Press in 1995. She served for eight years on the board of PEN-New England and is the Administrator of the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award.
I'm proud to note that Beacon Broadside is celebrating its first birthday this week—what a milestone. All our metrics are strong—measures I didn't even know existed a year ago but which I now follow avidly. Thanks to a dedicated and very talented blog editor, Jessie Bennett, and especially to a tremendously creative and generous list of house authors and friends, we have a very deep archive of posts on almost any subject of interest to Americans who are drawing breath in the 21st century. This fall also happens to mark my 32nd year in book publishing, and my 13th as director of Beacon. I think I value the blog so much because it is so radically different from anything I could imagine back when I was banging out letters to authors on a Selectric, with white-out smudges betraying my all-too-frequent typos.
When I first started in publishing, dinosaurs roamed the industry. Actually, they were giants. Among them, in my second job, was Alfred A. Knopf, who greeted one of my banal pleasantries about the weather one fine morning by styling it "a stinker," but who was otherwise quite civil, especially to his heir apparent, Bob Gottlieb, a giant-in-training. Random House already owned Knopf, and was owned itself at the time by RCA, but RH was still very much run by "gentleman publishers" with Bob Bernstein at the helm. I also had the opportunity to work at The Viking Press when Tom Guinzburg was still president. As good as they were, all were warm up acts for the men I was about to encounter when I went to work at Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 1983.
Pat Strachan, currently of Little, Brown, and one of Bob Giroux's most illustrious mentees, Bob, and Helene Atwan, 2004
A great deal has been written about Roger Straus by some very fine writers. He was far more outrageous and colorful than they let on. (His wonderful wife, Dorothea Straus, has never received the press she deserves, and her death last month passed without enough comment. No one who knew them will ever forget them.) But of all the giant figures in the industry, the most impressive to me was Bob Giroux, whose death this month leaves a gaping hole in the industry. His obituaries (in the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, and elsewhere) deserve to be studied, but they don't tell the whole story. I don't think I know anyone who worked with Mr. Giroux who didn't love him as much as they admired him. In addition to his considerable achievements as an editor, he was also a great mentor, an avid amateur Shakespeare scholar, and wonderful company. In my first weeks at Farrar, Straus and Giroux (and once I knew him I would never again abbreviate the firm's name by omitting his!), he invited me to lunch at his beloved Player's Club, where he took obvious relish in showing me around. The Booth room—the assassin's brother, of course—preserved lovingly, was a point of particular pride and pleasure. He enjoyed ordering our lunch—invariably awful in those days, watery soups and limp vegetables; pale, beaten down slabs of meat swimming in gray gravy—which he cheerfully consumed. He had a way of laughing—and he laughed a lot in good company—which made his distinguished face suddenly round and positively babyish. He took delight in things, and loved springing a surprise. One afternoon, he came striding down the hall out of his small, darkish office at the extreme end of the back hall to announce that he'd just received a new ms. from Walker Percy so we'd better add it to the next list. The catalogue, if memory serves, had to be called back from the printer. He loved good collections of letters—Flannery O'Connor's were often to him—and biographies. I hope to high heaven that someone will collect his letters and write a very long, detailed and juicy biography of Bob. Until then, we are very lucky to have the books he brought into the world, so many of them classics already, and for those lucky enough to have shared an overcooked meal or two with him, our fond memories.
Patricia E. Bauer posts a memorial to Melissa Riggio, the daughter of Barnes & Nobel CEO Steve Riggio. who died of leukemia recently at the age of 20. "Ms. Riggio, who had Down syndrome, was the inspiration for Barnes &
Noble’s creation of a special section of books about children with
Wendy Kaminer on the lawsuit pending in Indiana that requires bookstores that sell "sexuality explicit material" to register with the state.
Boston recently hosted an assembly of smart and passionate people focused hard on the buzzword "change." The event wasn’t a political rally, but the 2008 Nieman Conference on Narrative Journalism, themed "Storytelling in Many Voices, Many Media." The three-day conference ably met one of the goals of new Director Constance Hale: “Showcasing journalists who are creating exciting work in digital forms while at the same time celebrating those whose work reflects the intelligence, integrity, depth, and creativity that have long been the hallmarks of the best of traditional media.”
From the Pulitzer-Prize winning veterans to J-school students, there was an undercurrent of job anxiety, peppered with optimism, at the conference. Speakers and attendees together tackled tough issues including declining print subscriptions, rapidly evolving technology, and what exactly today’s consumers of news want. There were few definitive answers to that question, but some exquisitely well-informed guesses. Senior Producer at nytimes.com Derrick Henry helpfully pointed to the concise and prescient report, "Creative Destruction: An Exploratory Look at News on the Internet" (pdf). Henry spoke on a panel alongside Russell Contreras, multimedia reporter for the Boston Globe, who also hosts the Globe podcast on minority issues called "Across the Divide." Both Henry and Contreras are doing amazing audiovisual work online and, most importantly, training others--which is crucial to satisfying twenty-first century news' consumers. It seems today that slideshows and sound are important tools in storytelling that are only starting to be used to full advantage.
I was struck by how often I saw the ID "multimedia journalist"--Jane Ellen Stevens was one prominent example--and how many of the speakers’ bios began with a website, like Jessie Scanlon, senior writer for BusinessWeek.com. I think it’s a powerful sign when the nation's top journalists say that they regard their stories placement on the home page as the equivalent to front page, above the fold. And I was excited by the wide range of online work I saw, impressive and varied content beyond the static page--including James Pindell's politicker.com; Josh Benton’s blog; and Brian Storm's multimedia production studio.
Like everyone in book publishing, I think often about the future of the written word, and the viability of our current forms of print. As a book editor, I go to conferences like the Nieman to look for potential projects, and I find journalists--who are working with shorter and shorter word counts as print editions are trimmed--invariably attracted by the length and depth that a book can offer. I'm most encouraged by the journalists who are adapting to new technology with integrity, but who also overwhelmingly continue to find value in what is still one of the fullest and most satisfying forms of storytelling--the printed book.
Tom Hallock, Beacon's Associate Publisher, spent last weekend in the company of 500 booksellers at the American Booksellers Associations' third Annual Winter Institute in Louisville, Kentucky.
by Tom Hallock
Independent booksellers, like independent retailers in other industries, have long been under siege by big box and online retailers. In searching for ways to survive, they've found solutions that place them in the vanguard of Americans who are reclaiming their downtown areas, restoring the environment and creating community.
Amidst the workshops on inventory management, loss control, hand selling, and a hilarious one on consumer behavior led by Len Vlahos, were others on green retailing and presentations linking buy local campaigns to national movements on sustainability and climate change. Bill McKibben, author of Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future (Holtzbrinck), spoke about "the special role bookstores and booksellers have to play, as they provide the place "where the community can think about itself". Gary Hirshberg, President and CEO of Stonyfield Farm, author of Stirring It Up: How to Make Money and Save the World (Hyperion), grew his business from a "7 cow start up" to a $300 million dollar a year company by incorporating environmentalism principals and practices. He found it both increased customer loyalty and reduced costs. He encouraged booksellers to think not only about how they lit and heated their stores, but also to examine the supply chain. He mentioned that UPS had saved ten million dollars a year by re-routing their trucks to minimize energy-consuming left turns. He left me thinking about not only our manufacturing practices, but also issues like returns. The ABA has embraced these messages, not only in programming, but by providing conference materials that were so green as to be almost edible. They've also developed a great list of books on community and sustainability [pdf].
Booksellers have taken the lead in developing independent business associations in their communities, educating their customers about the economic and environmental benefits of shopping locally. ABA COO Oren Teicher, a leading advocate of this approach, spoke about a study of 2007 holiday sales which showed that stores in areas that had independent business alliances averaged sales increases of 2.1%, whereas those in areas that lacked them had declines of .3%. In a business famous for its 2% profit margins, the difference is significant. Booksellers such as Steve Bercu, owner of BookPeople in Austin Texas; Betsy Burton, owner of The King's English Bookshop in Salt Lake City (and author of The King's English: Adventures of an Independent Bookseller); Carla Jimenez, co-owner of Inkwood Books in Tampa FL; and Clark Kepler, president of Kepler's Books in Menlo Park, shared their knowledge about creating these alliances. Beacon author Stacy Mitchell (Big Box Swindle) joined McKibben and Michael Shuman (The Small-Mart Revolution, Berrett-Koehler) in a wide ranging conversation about the transformative power of local economies, a talk that brought us all to our feet and which ABA hopes to broadcast on Book TV.
Banned Books Week has us thinking about censorship and free speech, but the recent controversy over book banning in prisons also got us fired up (along with Chris W. over at Philocrites). Fortunately, the public outcry over this egregious violation of the First Amendment made the government back off for now. It just goes to show that in order to protect speech, you've got to speak up! Of course, there's still more to come on this story, so we'll keep an eye on any future developments.
Independent bookstores have something special to offer readers, particularly in this age of information overload, and many of us have a favorite neighborhood store where we like to relax and browse. Over at Maud Newton Joel Turnipseed has a great piece on Micawber's Books in St. Paul. It's a celebration of what sets this small, exceptional bookstore apart. John Freeman at Critical Mass talks about how a good bookstore can get even a cynical reviewer crushed under a mountain of free galleys to plunk down a few dollars for a good read. And Books & Books in Miami is getting ready to celebrate twenty-five years—mazel tov!
How about you? Do you have a favorite neighborhood bookstore you'd like to plug? Use the comments and sound off!