Staff Musings

February 18, 2008

Negative Reviews and Dark Alleys

Filed under: Uncategorized — carricee @ 8:14 pm

So sometimes when I am bored, or waiting around for something, or thinking about books, I read reviews of some of my favorite books on Amazon. Now, I don’t usually read the good reviews of books I’ve already read – if I like them, I already know why they are good. Instead, I like to read the bad reviews.

And it’s not like I’m going in there reading the bad reviews for a scholarly discussion in my mind. I’m not looking for valid viewpoints that are contrary to my own, or a point to make me think with a little more objectivity about the quality of the book. No, I like to read them because I am SURE the people who wrote them are incredibly stupid and it’s about the closest I can come to watching Jerry Springer or professional wrestling without cringing (much). I love reading people’s negative opinions and declaring (in my head) how wrong they are – it’s probably similar to how fashionistas look at my clothes and think how pleased they are that their clothes only have the holes that they paid extra for.

But also, I honestly think that a lot of people who write negative reviews on places like Amazon are mostly doing it for the wrong reasons. Personally, if I don’t like a book, I just don’t recommend it and don’t read any more titles by that author. Everyone has different tastes and different ideas of what makes a book good, and just because I think all Ayn Rand books are nothing but narcissistic diatribes doesn’t mean that they aren’t meaningful and valuable to a lot of narcissistic people. So who am I to go on a public website (meaning one that people besides my friends, Hi Katie! actually read) and say nasty things about a book that someone has worked their fingers to the bone on? Most of the time, negative reviews on reader generated content sites come from people with bad attitudes and too much time on their hands, in my opinion.

Let’s look at an example! I have already raved about Patrick Rothfuss‘ debut fantasy novel, The Name of the Wind. It’s a fantasy epic that’s cut from a little bit of a different cloth than most. It feels fresh, fun, sad, and both gritty and idealistic at the same time, which is quite a feat. On top of that, Pat seems like a great guy, is clearly intelligent and a wonderful speaker; he loves to connect with his fans, and he understands his fans – since he’s been a fantasy reader and a fan for most of his life.

His Amazon reviews are actually pretty amazing – in fact, there are only 2 one-star reviews compared to 173 5-star reviews. And what do these people have to say? What about the book made them hate it badly enough to actually spend the time to sit down, click their way over to Amazon, sign in, and compose something negative about something someone else has poured their heart and soul into?

The first guy seems to be mad that the book is too long. Apparently, he can’t tell how long a book is when he picks it up – I guess he thought all the pages at the end were pictures, coloring pages, or pornography. Really, I think he’s one of the people who was upset about the next book in the series being delayed a year, because he complains that he won’t remember the book by then and won’t have time to reread the 900 pages.

Wait, what? 900 pages?

The hardcover edition of this book is 662 pages long. Admittedly long, but it is, after all, a fantasy epic and I believe that the word epic has long in its definition. If I recall correctly though, the ARC, or advanced reading copy given out to booksellers and reviewers (which I read first) was around 900 pages. So, this guy didn’t even buy a copy of the book, he got an uncorrected proof for free, and then drags down Pat’s rating by complaining about its length? And, the last sentence of his review is, “Sorry bud, get an editor.”

That’s why you should read the book AFTER it’s been edited! That is so awful to me. I just don’t get it! That guy is SO STUPID! I’d be throwing chairs at him on Jerry Springer. Jerry would have a broken nose and a concussion trying to stop me. The audience would be cheering and that guy would be cowering in the corner, holding his 900-page ARC in front of his face for defense. THEN he’d appreciate it.

The sheer audacity of giving a ONE STAR review to a book that you LIKED, that you got for FREE, because it was too LONG, except you didn’t actually read the fully edited SHORTER version because likely you’d have to PAY for it, is astounding to me. It makes me really, really angry, but in that righteous anger way that almost makes you feel good about yourself.

The other one-star reviewer at least didn’t like the book. I can’t say I understand that, but it is better than liking it and giving it one star. However, the reason they didn’t like it, they said, was because there was no climax. But they said that right after they admitted that they did not finish the book. How do they know it didn’t have a climax if they didn’t finish the book, you ask? I don’t know. But it makes me angry.

I know that there are legitimate reasons for some negative reviews – if it is inappropriate for the age group it was marketed towards, if it has bad grammar, if it is truly poorly written – and I do look at reviews at times when I am considering purchasing a book. But somehow, it seems like the dregs of society have moved from the dark alleys and street corners, from the daytime talk shows and reality shows, to Amazon’s one-star review section. It seems to be a place people use to feel superior, to say to a writer, “I can affect you, I can make your day a little bit worse.”

But then, really, am I any better if I go there and point my finger and laugh, or fume and write about it on the bookstore’s blog while I’m working? Probably not, especially since I look at them in order to find things to jeer at. But I doubt I’ll stop doing it. Hey, I have to read them, ordering books is part of my job!


November 27, 2007

Store News

Filed under: Store News and Events,Uncategorized — carricee @ 9:57 pm

Lots of store news to share this week – first of all, Don’s Books won 1st Place in the Gingerbread House competition in the Local Landmark Category at the Howard County Historical Society! Woohoo! We KNOW we are the best local landmark! We got a ribbon and everything! If you didn’t get a chance to check out the house at the lighting ceremony at the Seiberling, stop in and see it. We’ve got it on display.

Another big piece of news – we are having a t-shirt sale. All of our t-shirts can now be purchased for only $5. I know you are saying to yourselves, Why, what great holiday gifts those will make! Lark even made a beautiful display so that you get to see them immediately upon walking in the door. What does the display look like? I’m not going to tell you! You’ll have to come in and see for yourself.

More news: Don’t forget that Tuesday, December 4th at 6 p.m. will be the next installment of our book discussion group; we’ll be talking about A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf. If you’ve never read Woolf, you are in for a serious treat. She weaves common sense logic with stunning prose, and she does it so well that even people who disagree with her view (that a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction) don’t feel particularly offended by it. Some people say that this work is no longer relevant;, personally I believe people who say that haven’t been paying attention. Ooooh! Look, already disagreement and dissension! It’ll be a lively talk on Tuesday, that’s for sure.

What else is going on? The comic book and graphic novel discussion group will be reading The Watchmen by Alan Moore for their December discussion. The Watchmen is the classic graphic novel. It is the graphic novel that made it possible for graphic novels to be considered literature. It was listed by Time magazine as one of the best books of the 20th century. So yes, it’s that good. Come hear what everyone has to say about it on Tuesday, December 11th at 6 p.m.

October 20, 2007

Cozying up to Mysteries

Filed under: Mystery & Suspense,Uncategorized — carricee @ 11:33 pm

Today at the store we got in a ton of cozy mysteries, and while I was shelving them I was thinking about why I love them so much. Of course, I love lots of books, so it’s really not surpising that I love the cozy mystery genre, but let me ensure you know what a cozy is before I leap into why they’re great.

A cozy usually has an amateur sleuth, rather than a PI or a police detective. These sleuths are quite often women, and they usually end up investigating the death of a neighbor, co-worker, friend, or enemy quite often while running their own business or working a particularly appealing job. These jobs or businesses usually (but not always) have something to do with food, flowers, drink, or cleaning – thus giving the author the opportunity to package recipes and tips along with her story. These mysteries are most often marketed towards women.

Now why does this grizzled veteran of thousands of science fiction books adore cozy mysteries? Easy! First of all, sometimes science fiction is just too hard. If I come home, after a long annoying day of work and just want to fall in bed – and especially if I’ve just finished a book and am starting a new one – I don’t want to pick up a science fiction novel and have to understand an alien culture! As much as I enjoy it, I frankly don’t always have the energy for it. Cozies, on the other hand, are incredibly easy to digest and get into.

Also, cozies are not gritty or gory. Hardly ever. Sometimes mystery novels freak me out, not many of them, but some of them, sometimes. I know I can read a cozy even if I’m home by myself at night during a thunderstorm and everyone in the prison just escaped. No problem! They might have murderers and and violence, but there’s always some sort of charm that glosses over all the really gross stuff. Plus, the killers in cozies usually end up being pretty pathetic – after all, the mystery is always solved by removing a stain or realizing someone added a new flower bed!

Another reason I love cozies is that they have to be the least pretentious books in the world. People who read cozies know that they are reading for pure escapism, and maybe they like the stain-busting tips or recipes that go along with the mystery. Though I do enjoy reading literary fiction, non-fiction and other esoteric such things, sometimes it’s just as fun to know that you aren’t getting anything extra out of a book. Who needs enlightenment when you can learn how to make a perfect cup of coffee? In fact, isn’t it near to being the same thing?

Hmmm…I hope I’m not veering towards learning something from a cozy…that would take away some of the joy. Well anyway, let me give you a short list of some of the cozies that I enjoy, and for once, ones that we have in stock in the store!

Coffeehouse Mysteries – by Cleo Coyle. If you like coffee, you will LOVE these mysteries. The protagonist manages a fantastic historic coffeehouse in New York City, and all too often finds herself in a mess of trouble with some type of murder or other threatening her business. Add to the mix delicious gourmet coffee tips, believable and likable characters, a fun and interesting backdrop, and an acceptable and pleasing amount of romance, and you’ve got yourself the perfect cozy!

Death on Demand Mysteries – by Carolyn Hart. Running a mystery bookstore in the small-knit, idyllic island community of Broward’s Rock, Annie Darling has the perfect setting (and name) for the cozy genre. And who loves books who doesn’t love reading about people who run bookstores?

Toadfern Mysteries – by Sharon Short. Josie Toadfern runs her small Ohio town’s only laundromat, and has become something of a stain expert, leading her to be one of the few people who can figure out what the mysterious markings on a silk blouse or handkerchief actually are. The characters in Short’s series are wacky and fun, and the setting is believable and interesting, making for a perfectly satisfying read for me.

The one downside I’ve found with cozies is at times the characters are very stereotyped and the plot can be incredibly formulaic – not with all, but definitely with some. Sometimes, the authors work so hard to be acceptable to as broad an audience as possible that in the course of trying not to offend anyone they offend most people – or at least me. But when you know you’re only reading for fun, those things really don’t seem that important. Come in and ask about cozies, everyone here will be more than happy to lead you to the best of the bunch.

October 18, 2007

Space / Time Continuum Errors

Filed under: Sci Fi & Fantasy,Store News and Events,Uncategorized — carricee @ 3:09 pm

Wow, I could have sworn we were still blogging all this time. Gee whiz, has it really been since July? I think that it’s not my fault, there must have been something going on with that darn space/time continuum doodad again.

Regardless, it’s been a great couple of months at Don’s Books. We have successfully started our monthly book discussion group, led by former IU Kokomo professor Dr. John Rudy. In November we’ll be discussing Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki. Make sure to come early, we’ve been running out of chairs! Surely it’s not due to the striking resemblance our discussion leader bears to Brad Pitt?

I personally spent some time down at GenCon in August, which, for those of you unfamiliar, is a convention for role-playing gamers. The geeky ones with pencils and paper and funny shaped dice. It was huge and actually quite overwhelming. The BEST part was meeting one of my favorite new writers, Patrick Rothfuss. Rothfuss is writing one of the most compelling and beautifully written epic fantasy series out there. The initial title, The Name of the Wind, is just out in hardcover right now, so we don’t generally carry it, but we are more than happy to order it. The paperback (and the next volume in the series) is coming out in April of next year. Not only is it a great book, it was written by a GNOME.

Carri and Patrick Rothfuss, Name of the Wind author, at Gencon

Now, I honestly can’t say enough about the quality of this book. Especially as a first novel, it makes the fantasy epic seem brand-new. If you have EVER enjoyed reading fantasy, pick it up. If you are disappointed you can blame me, but I can’t imagine how you could be, and I would probably question your taste and perhaps your character. Rothfuss won the Quill award for best Science Fiction / Fantasy novel this year, and you can watch him accept the award on NBC Saturday, October 27th. I’m sure he’ll say something delightful and witty, because he’s just that kind of guy.

July 18, 2007

Working at Don’s Books

Filed under: Uncategorized — carricee @ 9:31 pm

Today I was told I need to talk more about how great it is to work here.

Despite the draconian insistence on publishing positive press, it is a great place for me to work. I’ve worked at one other bookstore, a Barnes and Nobles – and I worked in the cafe. The cafe was the lowest of the low in the Barnes and Nobles caste system; I never did understand why, and I liked my actual work and customers. It was management that was whacko. I think they all had thought they would do great things with their English degrees when they grew up…

BUT, on to THIS store. I love working here because:

1. I get cheap books.

2. I love to help people find new authors and get them to read great books.

3. I love working for an independent bookstore.

4. I love that I’m allowed to squeeze all my hours into 4 days a week so I get three days off

5. I love it when we have a rare book that someone’s been looking for for years

6. I love our customers

7. I love having authors come in

8. I love having the flexibility to be creative and implement new ideas

9. I love that people ask me about books and I get PAID for it

10. I love being surrounded by books all day

11. I love working with our staff

12. I love being paid to stay current on trends in the book world

13. I love learning about the book industry

I think my very, very favorite part about working here though, is being able to recommend books, and the helping people find things to read part of the job. It’s fun how I get paid to be a book-pusher, when it used to just be an annoying quirk of mine. I mean, I still try to push books on friends and family, but not nearly as often as I used to. It’s almost as if a person with OCD got a job cleaning tile floors with a toothbrush, or a drug addict got a job…err…doing dugs, I guess.

Of course, I also love the cheap books part. I usually end up taking one to three books home on a daily basis. As I said, I work four days a week, so that ends up being 4 to twelve books on a weekly basis, or 16 to 48 books on a monthly basis. Not that I read all of them, but I like to think that someday I might.

July 17, 2007

Books and Movies and Movies and Books

Filed under: Uncategorized — carricee @ 10:31 pm

I just had a child ask me if the Nancy Drew graphic novel we had on display was based on the movie.

It was fun to watch her eyes widen when I explained to her that, in fact, Nancy Drew books were being written before someone as old as ME was born. At least with Harry Potter, people – well, the vast majority of people –¬† know that Harry existed in print before he was on screen

Speaking of Harry Potter, the new book comes out on Saturday. We will be open at 11:30 in order to sell the book at 12:01. As Robert said in his email, we may not be the cheapest¬† place in town to get it, but we’ll probably have the shortest lines!

Back to books and movies – there are so many good books being made into movies right now. You should check them out when you come to pick up your copy of Harry potter! Here’s a short list:

Stardust, by Neil Gaiman – A beautifully rendered fairytale, told by the master of myth who brought us Sandman, American Gods, and of course, the funniest novel on the apocalypse ever, Good Omens.

The Golden Compass, by Phillip Pullman – If you’ve been to the movies lately, you’ve seen the previews for this one. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve yet to read it – despite the many great things I’ve heard about it in the last few years. It’s supposed to be brilliant, and the movie looks dazzling.

The Nanny Diaries, by Emma Mclaughlin and Nicola Kraus – This was a guilty pleasure of mine, and it definitely kept my attention. Who knew how crazy incredibly rich New York housewives were?

July 10, 2007

Of Potters and Poets

Filed under: Uncategorized — carricee @ 9:39 pm

Harold Bloom reviews Barack Obama’s poetry (published in 1981, while Obama was in college) in the New Yorker. It comes as no surprise that Bloom said he would not have encouraged Obama to pursue poetry as a career; I’m not sure I’ve ever read a positive review from Bloom on anything written in the last century. He at least says, that Obama’s poetry is better than some of other politicians he has read.

Speaking of things Harold Bloom doesn’t like, the Harry Potter movie comes out at midnight! I’m excited about this one, since this is (at least in the book) the one in which Harry and friends stop reacting (and whining) so much and begin taking action. Though I probably won’t go tonight at midnight (I have a tendency to fall asleep during movies no matter what time they are played) I may see it tomorrow.

“Did you guys get more lights?”

Filed under: Uncategorized — carricee @ 12:01 am

Yesterday at the store we got an incredible amount of stuff done. Recently I wrote about how I ripped up the nasty old carpet back by fiction and science fiction; well yesterday Robert, Monique and Chris painted the boring gray cement floors back there, and they look great! Seriously, it almost looks like a different store.

I managed, somehow, to paint the shelves where horror USED to be (it’s been moved to live closer to the rest of fiction). Even though I stepped off the ladder onto the paint can, flipping paint and can in every direction (most of the former onto me or the drop cloth, thank goodness), I still got more paint on the shelves than anywhere else. Yay!
Stop in and take a look!

July 6, 2007

We Matter!

Filed under: Uncategorized — carricee @ 6:05 pm

What is it about this area of the country that breeds so few independent bookstores? It could be the attitude of consumers, being more comfortable with the familiar big-box bookstore feel and business folk are likely spending more time on manufacturing or other areas with more profit. Investors surely see little need in spending their money on a project that is on such shaky ground.

But guess what? We matter! That is, according to Larry Portzline, an innovator, writer, and professor, who created a concept called Bookstore Tourism. In celebration of independent bookstores, he is planning a 10-week trek across all fifty states to visit 200 independent bookstores and ask them why they matter. He’ll post videos and interviews on his website, and is encouraging readers to join him for a day or two on his tour bus to visit stores. He’s done several successful smaller tours to areas like Greenwich Village and Washington D.C.

Personally, I’d like to think that we, at Don’s Books, matter a great deal. If you think so too, feel free to email Mr. Portzline and let him know that we’re a more than worthy stop on his tour. When I emailed him, he replied that he wasn’t sure what route he was taking through Indiana yet, but that he’d keep us in mind. Friends, we should DEFINE his route through Indiana. How many independent bookstores are there around here that wouldn’t necessitate him to take some back roads? A few, but not enough. He asks for bookstore suggestions, donations, and ideas for sponsorship to be emailed to him, and you can get his email address at his website.

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