Ross, who is vacationing with family in Long Island, spoke to host Michael Feldman by phone. He discusses his brother's aura-reading ex-girlfriend, taking children to age-inappropriate movies, how to avoid sophomore slump, and of course, his new short-story collection Ladies and Gentlemen, the highly anticipated follow-up to his critically acclaimed literary debut Mr. Peanut.
You'll hear a lot of folks attribute Borders' death to Amazon, and I think that's true, though not in the simple, "Everyone went to Amazon instead of Borders" way you're hearing people say. In hindsight, Borders sealed its fate way back when it declined to develop its own online bookstore, instead farming their online presence out to Amazon so that Borders could concentrate on expanding its physical presence in expensive real estate. It'd be like Wal-Mart saying, "Oh, hey, Kmart! We're busy building new box stores. Could you guys run our online store?" In retrospect, the moment they conceded the job of selling Borders books to Amazon online, we should have known it was only a matter of time.
But I have to say, after sitting in an Apple store while on vacation, I am feeling like that might be a model for the future of the bookstore. You'd have physical copies of of a select, small number of books, curated either around a genre or all bestsellers or staff recommendations or however; a number of various ebook readers for purchase and for folks to try out. And (this is the crucial part, I think) someone there who can walk you through how to use your eReader or your preferred ebook app and to fix your reader when it breaks.
I mean, sure, for the kinds of folks who have eReaders now, if it breaks, you can just get a new one. But as they become more ubiquitous for students and people with lower incomes, having some place to go to get them fixed becomes more important. Some enterprising bookstore owners could do worse than to steal some ideas from Apple.
These are weird times, but I'm feeling kind of excited to see what a bookstore looks like in the next few years.
I got a library card last month.
And it's actually worse than that. I work in a heavily library-dependent industry. I have dreams of being a poorly selling author. And I did not have a library card until this June.
Sure, I've been in a few libraries around town to vote, and I've headed downtown to visit the Nashville Room in my quest to find out where Zora Neale Hurston lived when she was in Nashville. (The answer: with her brother on Lafayette, between the projects and the interstate.) But I just never had a library card. If I wanted to read something, I either bought it or, if I was particularly desperate, I got it from the library at work.
But then something happened, and I decided to get a library card. And may I just say, as someone so very late to the game, our library is really awesome. You can use the library's website to request any book from any library system-wide, and you can pick it up at the library most convenient to you. You can check yourself out, and if you repeatedly mess up, the people behind the desk will not snicker at you. You can download music from the library's website. And when you're waiting for, say, the Adam Ross Salon@615 to start, the staff will be delighted you are there, will make sure that you don't miss the announcement telling you to get your butt to the reception.
Our library is really great. And I was foolish for waiting so long to take advantage of it.
Libraries are normally associated with geriatric women and drab wallpaper, but the Library of Congress — perhaps only second in fame to the Library of Alexandria — puts that stereotype to shame. The Library’s traveling exhibition, Gateway to Knowledge, might as well have jumped out of a scene from National Treasure with its lot of historical goods, which includes facsimiles of drawings used in the Amazing Fantasy comic that first featured the now mega-famous superhero — a geeky boy named Peter Parker who moonlights as a web-slinging vigilante — and of Walt Whitman’s collection of poems Leaves of Grass. Whitman’s work was given the Hollywood treatment in the 1989 film Dead Poet’s Society, the grounds of which were supposedly modeled after Nashville’s own Montgomery Bell Academy. The exhibition — which is being housed in an 18-wheel truck — will also feature learning materials for students and teachers as well as historical information about the library itself.
At Chapter16.org — a project of Humanities Tennessee (which puts on the festival) and a goldmine for book lovers — Serenity Gerbman has posted a preliminary list of authors scheduled to attend this year's festival Oct. 14-16. Along with victory laps from authors who either live here or have strong local ties — Madison Smartt Bell, John Egerton, Jewly Hight, Ann Patchett, Adam Ross, Daniel Sharfstein, Michael Sims, Holly Tucker, Brenda R. Vantrease, to name just a few — the festival's breadth seems especially impressive this year.
Already we've heard excitement about the appearances of Walter Mosley, author of the Easy Rawlins mysteries, and genius paper engineer Matthew Reinhart, whose Star Wars: The Pop-Up Guide to the Galaxy provided countless hours of fascination for my 6-year-old Jedi-in-training. A quick glance through the 150-plus authors on the list suggests they're no fluke: this year's guests include Chris Bohjalian, Clyde Edgerton, Charles Frazier, Melissa Fay Greene, Josephine Humphreys, Bobbie Ann Mason, Stewart O'Nan, Tom Perrotta, Tom Piazza, Jim Shepard, George Singleton and Alexandra Styron, as well as an appearance by mysterious children's author Pseudonymous Bosch.
If there's a breakout author to watch for, it may be Donald Ray Pollock, the former Ohio paper-mill worker whose first book, the black-humored, grittier-than-grit 2008 short-story collection Knockemstiff, kicked in the doors as if to call out Denis Johnson and Hubert Selby Jr. as sissies. His first novel, The Devil All the Time, comes out today, and below you'll find a paragraph — practically a short story in itself — that will sidle up and sock you in the jaw.
In the meantime, check out the entire list so far.
Among those is Ladies and Gentlemen, the new short story collection by Nashville author Adam Ross, whose first novel Mr. Peanut was one of last year's most celebrated (and argued-about) literary debuts. Already Ross is amassing the kind of accolades that greeted his first book, including this rave from acclaimed author Steve Almond in The Boston Globe:
The title story captures the anguished musings of a celebrity journalist who meets an old flame on assignment and quickly finds herself on the brink of consummating an affair. In the space of a single, astonishingly efficient paragraph, our heroine, having retreated to a restaurant ladies room, takes stock of the exhausting daily routine that has brought her to this point: “get the boys ready for school; clean up the study enough to concentrate; conduct multiple phone interviews … eat her meals standing up; have no exercise whatsoever … put the boys to bed; wash her face and brush her teeth; burn with rage that she hasn’t had a single moment to herself in eons. Understand, as she now did in this bathroom, that she had a year, perhaps two, in which she might consider herself young.’’
These are the sort of devastating insights that most “literary thrillers’’ avoid at all costs. The point of such books is to keep the plot ticking along, of course, not to bog the reader down in excessive feeling. Which is what makes Ross’s work here feel quietly revolutionary. He has managed to wed the masterful plotting of Raymond Chandler with the exquisite characterization of Raymond Carver, to prove once and for all that exhibiting a deep empathy for your characters deepens the thrill as they, and we, barrel toward their fates.
Just back from literary duties in Paris, Ross — a Scene contributor whose story on the closing of Davis-Kidd drew some of the most impassioned reader response in memory — launches his book tour at 6:15 tonight as part of the downtown Nashville Public Library's "Salon@615" series, sponsored by Humanities Tennessee. (The tour reads like a roster of America's great bookstores: City Lights in San Francisco, The Strand in New York, Square Books in Oxford, Miss., etc.) He'll give a Q&A led by some halfwit — bring your own questions; you'll need 'em — and sign copies.
In the meantime, check out Ross' very funny interview from the Summer Reading Guide with Margaret Renkl of Chapter16.org.
Nashville, Tennessee, is still reeling from several bookstore closings, including a Borders and the more beloved Davis-Kidd. The result, as reported in the Nashville Scene, is an “object lesson in how truly awful it is to live in a town where used bookstores and the pitiful offerings of Books-a-Million are all we have.” The problem, however, is that no one seems willing to buy full-price books anymore. Campaigns to get people to buy books from their local bookstores — such as “Save Bookstores Day” on June 25th — miss the point. While there is demand for real bricks-and-mortar places to gather, drink coffee and read new books, such places can’t exist if the market can’t accommodate them.
Hey, remember my idea for National Bookstore Day? Anyway, something about this explode-y holiday must have got everyone thinking about ink and paper — we've had books on the brain lately, too — because this morning WPLN ran Nina Cardona's story "21st Century Bookselling," which touches on how the downtown library — through its Salon @ 615 series — has helped fill the power vacuum created when Davis-Kidd up and vanished, Bookman/Bookwoman's role in the buy-back trade and how Ann Patchett figures into all this. (Related: Barnes and Noble is teaming up with Vandy at the old Borders location on West End.)
Now that Nashville's up to speed with the national (depressing) trend, we have a chance to display some of that pluck and exceptionalism we're known for — we're off the charts in other areas involving talent and creativity. After all. There's an awful lot at stake.
The store will be operated by B&N, and will offer books and materials for a general audience, as well as typical campus bookstore items, textbooks, course materials, apparel, etc.
From the press release:
“A strong and thriving bookstore where a campus community can easily gather for literary and intellectual offerings is critically important to a university,” said Vanderbilt Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos. “This new location and partnership give us an even greater opportunity to advance our academic mission for the campus and the larger Nashville community.” ...
Several factors came into play in the university’s decision to relocate the existing bookstore. Because it is in the interior of campus, there is no adjacent and little nearby parking, making it difficult for off-campus patrons to reach. The 2525 West End location has access to a 200-space garage and 100 surface spaces. The Rand bookstore has limited hours of operation; the new one will be open evenings and through the weekend. Because the new store will be near Memorial Gym, Vanderbilt Stadium and other athletic venues, it will be more convenient for sports fans to purchase Vanderbilt apparel. ...
“We're honored to have formed this new partnership with Vanderbilt University and look forward to bringing them what’s next in educational content and retailing excellence,” said Max J. Roberts, president, Barnes & Noble College. “Our commitment to driving innovation, delivering advanced technology, understanding what students need and supporting the needs of higher education will help us to transform the Vanderbilt bookstore into a robust and vital part of the university and the surrounding greater West End community.”
In State of Wonder, Patchett returns to the jungle, this time to the central Amazon basin. But where Bel Canto was necessarily interior and psychological, State of Wonder unfolds across a vast but impenetrable landscape where the air "is heavy enough to be bitten and chewed," insects fly "with unimaginable velocity into the eyes and mouths and noses" of humans, and eagles swoop close enough that one can see "the expression on the face of the small monkey that dangled from its curving talons." There's a magnificent chapter set in an opera house, but the real point of this book is to get its protagonist, Dr. Marina Singh, out of suburbia, away from her phone, and into "the beating heart of nowhere" — a jungle teeming with spiders, snakes, quicksand and cannibals.
Marina conducts statin research for a giant pharmaceutical company named Vogel, but when Anders Eckman, her friend and officemate, dies during an expedition to find rogue Vogel researcher Annick Swenson, everything changes. Swenson's jungle lab is so secret that even the CEO of Vogel has no idea where it is, and Swenson hasn't been heard from at all in more than two years. Marina's assignment is to fly to Brazil, discover where Swenson is hiding, and find out what has really happened to both Anders and the fertility drug Swenson has spent decades developing.
If that's not enough Wonder for you, NPR has been on Patchett like fertility-granting bark on an Amazonian tree, reviewing the book on Fresh Air (Maureen Corrigan), All Things Considered (Alan Cheuse) and Weekend Edition Sunday (Liane Hansen). Nashville Public Radio's Nina Cardona provided the local review. Speaking of local, I know I heard Patchett on NPR last night talking about her plans to open a bookstore in Nashville, which we told you about a while back, but I can't seem to find a link to it. (Something about how she walks into empty buildings half-expecting the bookshelves to already be there, and that e-readers are cool and all, but we still need bookstores — just not 30,000-square-foot bookstores — and how her business partner Karen Hayes is great.)
Anyway: Ann Patchett, tonight, 6:15 p.m., downtown branch of the library.
Mt. Parnassus in Greek mythology is the home of literature, learning, and music. We will be Nashville’s Parnassus by providing a refuge for Nashvillians of all ages who share in the love of the written word. We will partner with and support local writers and artists, businesses and institutions. We will strive to bring readers the best books in literature, non-fiction, children’s books, local interest, and the arts in both printed and digital formats. We will provide venues for writers to connect with readers, and readers to connect with books. By doing this we hope to complement and add to the rich cultural character of the Athens of the South.
Read the Chapter 16 interview here.
Sᴛᴀʀᴛ ᴡᴏʀᴋɪɴɢ ғʀᴏᴍ ʜᴏᴍᴇ! Gʀᴇᴀᴛ ᴊᴏʙ ғᴏʀ sᴛᴜᴅᴇɴᴛs, sᴛᴀʏ-ᴀᴛ-ʜᴏᴍᴇ ᴍᴏᴍs ᴏʀ ᴀɴʏᴏɴᴇ ɴᴇᴇᴅɪɴɢ ᴀɴ ᴇxᴛʀᴀ…
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