Monthly Archives: August 2010

Is the Autograph Stamp the Next Thing?

Suzanne Collins' stamp is very appealing.

In my nearly three decades of bookselling I have seen many booksignings and many, many author’s signatures. There are the legible and illegible; the large, the small; the “best wishes” and the book specific clever remark; and variations on all of these.  Illustrators of children’s books are fun, because they often draw in each book, though that makes their lines go slowly.

Over the years, there have been some especially unusual signatures. Ken Kesey, who took a very long time to autograph – actually all night long—used an assortment of colored markers from our art department and boldly decorated the front page of each book. Da Chen combined his traditional Chinese signature stamp with brush calligraphy (plus a few songs on his flute!). Allen Ginsberg drew his ‘ass hole” symbol, a circle around a dot.  And probably most unexpectedly, Alexander Cockburn turned the tables, and asked us sign the book he read from, so that at the end of a tour, he would have a memory of all his hosts (I took this as inspiration when I went on the road for Clay and did the same).

Last night Suzanne Collins, who is suffering from a hand strain, used a specially designed stamp to autograph for her fans.  No one objected that it wasn’t a “real” signature. The stamp is quite stunning and includes her name in her perfect penmanship and a mockingjay bird. Once her limited tour is over, the stamps will be retired (she had 3 so that she always had enough ink), making the stamped books collectible.

One of the nice things about stamping instead of autographing is that it eliminated the sometimes-awkward moments of personalizing and, even better, made the lines go quickly. Best of all, the moments each guest had at the autograph table with Suzanne, were now spent in individual interaction. Suzanne actually had time to chat with the boy who read Mockingjay in Braille.

I still like hand-signed books. I can’t imagine every author commissioning stamps. But in this case, it worked beautifully. Bravo. Posted by Suzy

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Classics You Want to Pick Up

Publishers are giving classics a new look.

Today, you can get just about any classic you want to read for free. The Gutenberg project boasts 33,000 titles available as e-books. Their top one hundred downloads are almost entirely classics including Pride and Prejudice, Huckleberry Finn, Sherlock Holmes, Grimm’s Fairy Tales and such. Other sites, like Page by Page and Classic Reader also offer extensive catalogs of classics for free download.

So it is interesting to me that with all these free e-book editions, and the much-predicted demise of the book as we know it, publishers are offering us numerous editions of the classics in newly designed – I hate to use the word – packages. For decades, the classics were graced with images of old masters. Now we are seeing unexpectedly new and often vibrant art on the covers.

I particularly like the Penguin Deluxe Classics with Ruben Toledo covers and French flaps. They have a very appealing surreal, high fashion, urban look to them. Young. Fresh. Maybe a little rebellious.

Vintage is using some Katherine Wolkoff photographs. The cover of Jane Eyre is a moody black and white silhouette of a woman’s head; her wispy hair tied back, her face turned slightly down. Quiet. Suggestive of the hidden.

I also love the tiny hardcovers with gilt edges and bound-in ribbon markers from the British Collector’s Library. They fit in your hand and are inexpensive. It feels good to hold one.

These books look great. They draw you to them. You want to pick them up. And, in ways markedly different from the old masters style covers, they are evocative of the stories within.

Modernly old-fashioned, they are a pleasure to behold. And read. I am pleased that in this era of the great rush to the library in the cloud, publishers are still making attractive editions of our favorite books. Posted by Suzy.

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Super Sad True Love Story

I recently finished Gary Shteyngart’s new book, Super Sad True Love Story. I have been a fan of his work ever since I read Absurdistan, and later the Russian Debutante’s Handbook. This is by far Shteyngart’s  most accomplished, most daring, and most fully realized novel. It was a joy to read, and it has stuck with me since I finished reading the galley version a couple of weeks ago. I was a little intimidated to write about it actually–mainly because the famous Michiko Kakutani (of the New York Times), gave it this beautifully written (and uncharacteristically) GLOWING review:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/27/books/27book.html

I couldn’t in a million years have said it better myself. However, I will say that  while the issues of Super Sad True Love Story are serious:  aging, death, love, sense of self,  and the apocalyptic collapse of the United States–Shteyngart’s prose is effortless, and deftly written with a dark humor that makes it all believable, immensely enjoyable, and even… a little Russian sounding. I love everything about it.

— Bonnie

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