the book business

a photo shoot for Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

 

 

I know selling books, especially if you are the owner of a small, indie bookshop, is though. Several times I lay awake at night, stare at the dark ceiling and wonder another way out of another new maze. Like it or not, I have found myself lost in mazes. It’s been over a year since I started my small online bookstore, and the mazes I have gone through are countless (sometimes I had to detour the same problems – amazingly they led to different exit!).

I can always sit and give up, but I enjoy it so much I don’t want to stop. I know this might take forever, but because I think it’s important to look back and count your accomplishment, no matter how small it is, I feel that I already carry out so many miniscule goals (I don’t care, they are still my goals!).

Just like my solo journey to Japan, where I don’t have anyone but me, I made new friends along the way, this happens too on my journey in book business. I have met lots of wonderful people who support me along the way. My customers who are nice enough to keep me up to date with their little ones’ reading habit, my distributors who are extra nice to hold books for me until I can pay for them, people on instagram, young talented illustrators that willing to do some project with the bookstore *excited* and many more. I feel, in a way, a bit braver.

For that, I thank my little bookshop. Probably not the biggest and the best bookstore ever (not yet!), but it certainly makes me feel I’m a better person!

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The Secret History

If my friend Rob hadn’t mentioned the author, Donna Tart,  I wouldn’t have known her or read her books. One interesting fact that Rob mentioned was she writes a book in every ten years, the first one (and also the first that I read) was ‘ The Secret History‘. Set in New England, in an elite college, the book tells about six students and one of them, Richard Papen, is the narrator of the story. His role as the observer in this story reminds me so much of Nick Carraway in ‘The Great Gatsby’.

The story starts with one of the six students’ death. Bunny. The others had killed him and after the prologue the story went backward to the day Richard decided to go to New England, ran away from his unhappy life in California. He found himself a scholarship to this elite college in the other side of his world.  He had chosen biology but then he changed his mind and studied Classics and determined to continue his study of Ancient Greeks, where he met the charismatic professor, Julian Morrow, and his five students. Bunny, Henry, the twins Camilla and Charles, and Francis.

Before he was in the group (and he really wanted to be in their little elite group), he kept imagining how exciting it would be. And even after he got in, he still tried hard to be accepted. For me, it was really interesting to see how each characters revealed (or at least from Richard’s point of view) to their truly selves. I guess they are always like that, but it took Richard time and incidents to see who they really were.

As the story went, unfolding each events that lead to Bunny’s dead, I kept turning every pages and asked ‘why? how? when?’ and then, “will they ever get caught? how did they live with it?’. I have never seen this book in our local bookstores (Rob brought his from the UK) and this was written 20 years ago, so I was glad I could get my hands on it. I think to lend someone a really good book to read is the nicest thing a friend can do to another.

At the moment, I’m reading her second book, ‘The Little Friend’. I’ll write what I think about it soon.

alf and lou bookstore

earlier this year, my obsession toward children’s books is growing stronger and stronger. I kept posting and talking about it. And obviously I couldn’t stop buying them! One day I was talking to H about an illustrator and her book when he said: you should sell them.

I replied enthusiastically : that has been my dream!!!

but starting a bookstore seemed like something impossible. I mean, people do that but we have big competitors like Amazon (and their affiliated online bookstore around the world), we have big chain stores as well, you can easily spot them in every malls. How can I compete with them?

I thought about it and thought some more. I did my research, talked to lots of people in the business, correspondent with publishers abroad, and then did some simple mind map. The result was: this is entirely possible. When I decided I was gonna do it, I felt an adrenaline rush and I was filled with excitement. I knew this won’t be easy but I was ready to sail the ship!

It was 5 or 6 months ago, and we decided to start slow. we don’t know anything about the business and we want to be careful. So far, this is what we’ve got:

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a logo

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a Facebook page

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an instagram account

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a pop up bookstore

not bad 🙂

those are things I had never thought I could do before. The amount of support I’ve been receiving from people around me has helped me a lot. I know these are too small to be called a goal, but they are my little ‘hooray I did It!’.

on my bookshelf

I have literally thousand of books in my house, they’re everywhere, filling every shelves, cabinet, and corners of our house. I’m an avid reader, so do my two sisters and my father. Problem is, this drives my mother crazy, being the manager of the house, she finds it irritating that books are often neglected everywhere after or during reading. She finally made an ultimatum: either we sort all of the books or she’s going to give all of them as a donation to our local non-profit organization. Not that I didn’t want to contribute but the fear of losing my books are bothering me that I put book-sorting into my schedule. I put most of the manga and translated fiction books in donation boxes, and surprisingly, I only have few books that I consider worth to keep.

I tried to arrange them based on their colors, but when I showed it to my sister, she didn’t recall any color coordination whatsoever. Oh well. But I like how tidy it was.

here are some of my favorites:

  1. How The World Works, pop up children book, by Christian Dorion and illustrated byBeverley Young
  2. The Absolutely Essential Eloise by Kay Thompson and Hillary Knight
  3. All Harry Potter series by JK Rowling
  4. Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
  5. Children World Dictionary (the illustrations were ah-mah-zing)
  6. The Unknown Error of Our Lives by Jumpa Lahiri
  7. Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman
  8. The Umbrella Man by Roald Dahl
  9. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
  10. Flavian De Luce series by Alan Bradley
  11. The Man In The Moon, beautifully illustrated children book by William Joyce
  12. Psych 101 by Paul Kleinman
  13. The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith
  14. How To Kill A Mockingbir by Harper Lee
  15. Tamar by Mal Peet
  16. The Daring Book For Girls by Andrea J.Buchanan
  17. The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk
  18. The Marriage Plot by Jefrey Euginides
  19. Little Bee by Chris Cleave
  20. When You’re Engulfed in Flame by David Sedaris

My babies, *sigh*, I dusted my shelves and thinking I will definitely do the sorting again when I move to my new place, but that’s not until next year. The first thing that I was worried about when I had another big fight with my boyfriend was: Darn! I left my unfinished No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency in his bedside table! and made mental plan how to extract the book without him around. (Thank God, we made up before I commit breaking and entering).

 

Casual Vacancy, filled.

Finally. I’ve finished Casual Vacancy and yes, finally, I can put the book on my shelves and stop the depressive vibe it emitted.  When I got the book in my hand, I didn’t expect this one to be better than Potter series, I think it’s very hard to top an international super mega best selling series Rowling created, but what I was looking forward her style in writing that so rich in detail and yes, I found it.

Casual Vacancy was a story about a little town in England which had been having a conflict that lasted many years, the man that was trusted to overcome the conflict, the hero in this book, died in the first chapter. He was the parish councilor so naturally, there will be a vote to fill his vacant  seat. Many people, including his opponent side, his friends, an opportunist saw this vacant seat as something that could be beneficial for their own interests. This was the root of all the problems that kept growing in each chapter, each of the characters have their own issues and it collided in events and chances, their stories tangled in a web bigger than the first problem.

I always think that Rowling has the rare ability of storytelling. When she tells hers, it’s already finished. She knows the end -and not only that- she keeps some of the information for later, she spills enough in the right moment, and opens another surprises when we least expect it. It always makes me go, “ohh! now it makes sense..” when actually even before I open the box of surprises, the story already makes sense! She’s a genius. I could see in this new book that she pushed it, she made this little web so delicate and complex it was beautiful.

You wouldn’t find Harry here, not a trace of Gryfindor’s bravery or Slytherin’s wickedness, you wouldn’t know whose bad and whose not. There was no clear line between noble and malevolent, because you could find those in each personality of the characters. You would be in their head, knowing their steps, their thoughts, their fear, their ambitions, and their secret desire. It was crazy but in a thrilling-crazy way. You realized something when you’re in their head : they were you. those people were as real as you.

I didn’t say my ride when cruising every page was delightful, the contrary perhaps. I found the book very depressive and sad, I found it bleak and dark, and I couldn’t help but wonder as I reaching the end of it, what would be the final blow? You saw teachers, mothers, daughters and sons, each in their lowest point and you couldn’t help but just saw it as it was. How can a book be so gloomy and grim yet I managed to finish it enthusiastically? Maybe because Rowling drew the curtain and let people see what was inside, things that most people avoid to see. I guess I knew why this book was so devastating: all the problems in the world was there, in a little town called Pagford: Junkie, rebellious teenagers, heartbroken widow, abusive dad, a teacher with mental-illness, racism, self doubt, affairs, bullying, the-have versus the-not, they were blundered into one story it made me depressed that I had to took two days off from work to finish this book! LOL.

If somebody asked would I read the book again, probably I said no – aside that I rarely re-read books I’ve read- I don’t think this book tops Harry Potter series, but it’s just different kind of genre. I can see Rowling in every sentences and paragraphs, but not Harry, and I think that’s wonderful. I think the biggest enemy a great novelist should defeat wasn’t the popularity of the first book, but themselves. Yes, this book wouldn’t be as good as Harry and if this was her first, probably it wouldn’t be in the “pre-order list” my bookstore made, but still only skilled artist could produce a story as complicated and dark as Casual Vacancy.