Video: Tad Hills’ Message for Independent Booksellers

In anticipation of Independent Bookstore Day, Tad Hills has this message for independent booksellers. (And Duck and Goose join him, of course.)

If you’d like to share it, here’s the embed code:

<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/o3uAApS0moA?rel=0″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

And here’s an extended version:

Multiple Displays Mean More Impressions

Multiple Displays Mean More Impressions

2016-04-12 10.38.52I attended the recent MIBA Pop-Up Marketing Spring Meeting. It was hosted by Bluebird Bookstore in Hutchinson, Kansas, which is a quick 45 minute drive for me.

When I arrived at the store, I was greeted just inside the front door with a lovely “April is National Poetry Month” display.

I mentioned the 45 minute drive, but I didn’t mention the bottle of water consumed along the way. Thus, my second stop in the store was the restroom, where I was greeted with this “April is National Poetry Month” display on the paper towel dispenser.

At the cafe counter few minutes later, I observed this “April is National Poetry Month” display.

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And then at the register, I see another one.

It turns out that Melanie Green, Bluebird’s owner, had poetry themed displays tucked all around the store, which is so smart, because the more impressions you can get in front of your customers, the more likely your message will be consciously received. And if your customers are especially observant, the multiple placements can become a scavenger hunt, of sorts.

The next time you create a display for your store, think about different places you can extend the theme. Windows, doors, restrooms, tables… they all are great options for display locations. How would they look tied together?

‘Zero K’ by Don DeLillo

ZeroK_9781501135392_215c8Zero K falls squarely into a hot publishing trend, yet it resembles none of its peers. DeLillo does dystopia, but we’re living in it right now, and there are no heroes or adrenaline-drenched action scenes. Nobody saves the world. Instead, the main character/narrator spends more time observing than doing; reacting more than acting. To him, life is often a series of puzzles whose solutions he must tease out for no special purpose, full of questions whose answers beget more questions.

Indeed, it is hard to connect with a character so disengaged. His obsession with names and word games represents a form of control so passive that it exerts no power outside of his mind. As a result, there are long stretches of Zero K that are glacially internal. Whether the wordplay is amusing or annoying is a matter of taste, but these passages often yield phrases and sentences of unusual beauty. Consider these lovely inefficiencies: “Emma came east,” “whatever there is of down deep,” and an imaginary game of cartographic striptease described as, “…my jacket for Gorki, her jeans for Kamchatka, moving slowly onward to Kharkov, Saratov, Omsk, Tomsk.” Has an author ever so prettily described sex that doesn’t happen?

That’s not all that isn’t happening. If undressing while staring at a map sounds oddly impersonal, that’s because it is, and that’s kind of the narrator’s thing. Zero K is in many ways a study in stylistic detachment and impersonality. Whether it’s the avoidance of question marks that flattens many of the book’s conversations or the unusual use of passive voice (“I am shamed by this,” rather than “I am ashamed of this,” or even “This shames me”); whether it’s the narrator’s habit of stopping and staring or the numerous carefully-arranged tableaux that line his path, there’s often a distinct lack of emotion despite the book containing many emotional scenes. What would you do if your fantastically wealthy, estranged father summoned you to a remote compound halfway across the world? And what if that compound was revealed to be a utopian community, cult, and cryogenic preservation facility all rolled into one? And then your father tells you he’s going to be frozen there–not when he dies, but right now? If you’re the narrator of Zero K, you wander down a corridor trying to open locked doors.

Clearly, DeLillo has philosophical points to address here. There are metaphors for Big Ideas, some of which are also directly addressed, and conversations about the faith born from the marriage of religion and science. Contemporary life, with its ever-present technology and endless conveniences that avert our eyes from the war, natural disaster, and famine unfolding everywhere around us, isn’t a pre-dystopia to which characters want to return but something to escape, wait out, and build over sometime in the distant future. This is much more than a novel about a father and a son, but that relationship is the most important in the book, and DeLillo’s approach to it is suffused with sadness and futility. Who can we be other than ourselves; other than senseless reactions to the past? This particular idea, and the narrator’s personal past, haunt many sections of the novel. It’s surely not an accident that the narrator’s stepmother is an archeologist.

The things that are not addressed–the things glossed over and passively received–might trouble some readers. It often appears that women exist to be lost and mourned by the men who quietly watch them. There is a scene featuring violent, depersonalized sex with a prostitute who is a “gift” that suggests transactional sex, if not sexual servitude, belongs in the utopian future. Is that DeLillo’s ideal, or is this just another example of the narrator’s detachment? The problem with stylistic devices that deny emotion and refuse value judgment is that they can cloud meaning.

Zero K is probably a book everyone will be talking about this summer, both because it’s by Don DeLillo and because of its ideas and subject matter. Commit to reading it cover to cover and be prepared to take notes if you begin it. Also, perhaps consider putting aside a little money each month to put towards having yourself–or at least your head–cryogenically frozen. If you accept that we are living in the drab, lonely world its narrator believes we are, suspended existence and an uncertain future will look very appealing.


Zero K by Don DeLillo (Scribner | 9781501135392 | May 3, 2016)

300 Seconds: Got Something On Your Mind?

This little tip is for those more likely to have a screen than a piece of note-taking paper in front of them. It’s a Chrome extension called Papier.

Once installed, you basically open a new tab and start typing. Whatever you type is backed up directly to Chrome and will appear each time you open a new tab, and it will stay there until you get rid of it. Because it backs up directly to Chrome, there’s no need for an account or for syncing.

Your notes do not have to stay in Chrome. You can print directly from the screen, or you can copy and paste your notes if you need them elsewhere. And you can format your text directly on the screen (bold, italics, underline, strikethrough) using commands or the hand menu in the lower left corner. Shift your eyes to the lower right corner and you’ll see a character count… for those who like to keep track. You can even choose between day and night mode.

I admit that this is more a productivity tip than a 300 Seconds task. But it takes less than 300 seconds to watch the video below, find it in the Chrome web store, and install the extension on your computer. (Or you can do all three here.) And it takes less than 300 seconds to open a tab and start typing.

You can spend the rest of the time contemplating what to do with all of those gathered thoughts.

The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

TheVersionsofUs_9780544634244_074c0You’ve heard this concept before. A seemingly insignificant detail can dramatically alter the course of a life. What would have happened if you’d had cereal for breakfast instead of a bagel? What if you wore the blue shirt last Tuesday instead of the green one? Chaos theory has been approached in various pop cultural forms over the past few decades, but The Versions of Us tackles the idea in a fresh way.

Whereas films like Sliding Doors present two different fates that hinge on the mundane, and the Donnie Darko approach suggests that love, sacrifice, and identifying the all-important moment can allow you to shape the future you desire, The Versions of Us tracks three possible timelines and takes a realist stance. In each timeline, the characters experience the kind of tradeoffs that most people face at some point. In one version, a character might have the partner they always wanted, but this means suffering bitter professional disappointment. Perhaps another character fulfills their ambitions, but it is at the cost of alienating their children. One version might mean finding happiness early in life to one character but never finding it at all to another, while a different version leads to happy golden years. Some readers may have trouble tracking the timelines, but Barnett is usually careful to overlap key scenes in a way that highlights their differences.

While it sometimes overexplains (how many times must we be told that marijuana was associated with counter-cultural youths in the 1960’s?), and while the dialog is over-dramatic in spots (have you ever exclaimed, “No regrets! Not now, not ever!” as you clutched your lover?), this is a well-structured novel with keen-eyed attention to detail. Moreover, it avoids predictability–a tall task when you’re not just telling a boy-meets-girl story but telling it three different ways. The Versions of Us is a good read for people who enjoy sweeping dramas and romantic characters but are looking for a book that makes you think a bit more and work a little harder than the standard airport novel.


The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | 9780544634244 | May 3, 2016)