Monday, December 21, 2009

It's a steal

There have been a number of articles recently on stolen books...that is, the books people steal from bookstores. I'm not sure why people steal anything, and I'm more unsure as to why anyone would steal a book. Books, at least to this bookseller, are sacred and should never be stolen, abused, burned or even have their corners bent to mark a page -- that is what a bookmark is for.

Book stealers are usually book resellers, usually on a street corner (if in a large metro area), a flea market or to an unscrupulous bookstore that buys stolen merchandise. Over the past 40 years, I've worked in bookstores only to learn that no book is impossible to heist. A pile of Herman Wouk's "War and Remembrance" took a hike one afternoon with a fellow who simply put his raincoat around a stack and walked out of one Manhattan store. We found him hawking them two blocks away for $2 a pop. I have also handed a customer an expensive book, turned my back for a moment and ... poof!...he was gone; I caught up with him a couple minutes ... and blocks ... later.

An article in the London Times earlier this year had a bookseller claiming that London A-Z was the most stolen book in the world. Maybe for him, or for his time selling books, but I'd like to see proof. Maybe it only holds true if you sell books in London, but I'd think it would be the Harry Potter books in England.

I put the whole book-stealing thing on '60s radical Abbie Hoffman who titled his tome Steal This Book, thereby encouraging rampant bibliocrime.

Of course, if one were to steal a book you'd think it would be something rare and valuable -- some first edition of some antique manuscript that was worth a fortune. But in my experience, the most-often pilfered book is the Holy Bible (King James version). Whether it has been from a small independent or a large chain store, it always seems that the most taken is the (supposedly) most sacred.

One wonders whether the people who steal bibles actually get around to reading them,. They might want to check out Exodus 20: 2-17. There are a bunch of Thou Shall Nots they should probably become acquainted with.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Fen for yourself

It seems that everybody wants to know what the latest and greatest mystery books are...and here I sit reading Edmund Crispin's The Moving Toyshop, the third book in the Gervase Fen series. While I rave that The Girl Who Played With Fire is the most exciting book of the year, I have to admit that Crispin's 1946 entertainment remains a corker.

While the mystery (about a poet who stumbles upon a body in a toy shop only to return with the police to discover the body gone and the toy shop nonexistent) is clever enough (think Bryant and May at its most droll), it is decidedly an entertainment, one in which Crispin even breaks the "fourth wall" -- while locked in a closet, Fen speculates on what title Crispin will give this new adventure and comes up with several possibilities that place him in an heroic light.

Crispin, who wrote his first Fen mystery while he was still an undergraduate at Oxford, is so funny and so fey that one expects his novels to offer guest appearances by Bertie Wooster and his valet Jeeves. While he was a composer (he did music for the Carry On series, written under his real name Bruce Montgomery), book editor and crime fiction reviewer for the Sunday Times, it is for the Fen books that he is most remembered.

There are a total of nine delightful Gervase Fen novels and several dozen short stories. Felony and Mayhem Press has reissued six in the series so far, but The Moving Toyshop remains among the missing. Still, you can find it in some shops who have imported it (it is published by Vintage, a British imprint of Random House). It may not be a Christmas story but it certainly is a holiday treat.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Change of habit

Once we dismiss the unfortunate cover of this week's Publisher's Weekly -- Afro Picks!, which features an African-American model wearing a forest of afro picks displaying Black Power fists (o, my) -- and head inside the issue, it turns out that there is some good news for book lovers.

When I say "book lovers," I mean those people who actually have a fondness for real books with paper pages...i.e., traditional bound books, not plastic screens tailored to the tactile impaired. As reported in PW, Simon and Schuster has joined a growing number of publishers who are questioning the logic of publishing titles as books and e-books simultaneously.

Simon will delay several dozen e-book titles to give the paper-and-print variety some time on the shelves. HarperCollins and Hachette Book Group are also toying with different ways to save traditional printing from the fangs of discounted e-books.

While some are quoted in the article as saying that this kind of delay is what hurt the film industry, you don't see movies like Avatar or Blind Sided coming out on video the week they hit the big screen. Those who want to see the film immediately must go to a movie theater; others wait the three to six months before they can buy it (or rent it) from a video store.

Publishers need to protect their books, their authors and the industry. My suggestion to publishers: If you are going to retail an e-book for under $10, wait until it is published in mass market paperback form for under $10. Instead of caving in to the Nook and the Kindle, do the smart thing before people start copying book titles as easily as they share music.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tempest in a 'Teaglass'

Bibliophiles love mysteries, so what better mystery could there be than the tale of bibliophiles plunged into murder and romance? The Broken Teaglass is a wonderful find -- a literary mystery. Among the dusty files of a dictionary publishing house, editors pore over new entries and investigate meaning and origin. But it looks as if someone has left a cache of coded clues to an unsolved murder.

Author Emily Arsenault explores words and how we define ourselves, as coworkers Billy Webb and Mona Minot puzzle out a mystery of wit and intelligence.

And luckily, author Arensault recently dropped by to sign copies for the store.