Bookbanter Column: The Book Dump, or What People Are Reading (January 11, 2013)

From February through July of this year, a good solid six-month period, I worked in the book department at Dimple Records in Sacramento.  Most of my job consisted of unboxing, sorting and shelving thousands and thousands of books that had been purchased for the company through their used book buyback program, available at all of their retail stores.  There were literally boxes and boxes of books coming into the warehouse each day from the various stores, and it was my job to organize them and get them put on the shelf in the right sections.

Raiders of The Lost Ark, Alex C. Telander

Another warehouse consisted of many rows of shelves all sectioned and organized by subject and genre.  For the first few months I quickly filled up these shelves, and then when they were full and all set to go, the books and shelves were taken to the Citrus Heights store location, which was remodeled and organized to accommodate all these new books.  There were approximately 15,000 used books made available at the Citrus Heights store.

And then my work began again from scratch, as I began filling up all news shelves for what would eventually become the first (of hopefully many) Dimple Books book stores which opened its doors in July.  At this store there were over 30,000 used books.  In my time with Dimple I sorted through and organized over 50,000 books.

Alex C. Telander, Used Books, Bestsellers,

In the six-month period I became an observer as well as a book worker, noticing what titles, authors, names, genres kept appearing and reappearing; who are the bestsellers of the used book world, and what are people reading most when they buy books, be they new or used.  I collected my rough data together and below are the interesting results.

They are organized by genre and subject and are roughly in order of most copies of books by the same author and/or most multiple copies of the same book by an author.

  • Fiction: Nicholas Sparks, Jodi Picoult, Jonathan Franzen, Sara Gruen, Khaled Hosseini, Kathryn Stockett, Barbara Kingsolver, Tim Lahaye, Anita Shreve, Mitch Albom, Alice Sebold, Alice Walker.
  • Mystery: James Patterson, John Grisham, Patricia Cornwall, John Sandford, Janet Evanovich, Michael Crichton, Iris Johansen, Charlaine Harris.
  • Romance: Nora Roberts, Debbie Macomber, Mary Balogh, Danielle Steel.
  • Science Fiction/Fantasy: Piers Paul Anthony, Orson Scott Card, Douglas Adams, Frank Herbert/Brian Herbert, Robert Jordan, Anne McCaffrey, J. R. R. Tolkien, Star Trek series, Star Wars series.
  • Children’s Books: J. K. Rowling, Brian Jacques, Lemony Snicket, Eoin Colfer.
  • Young Adult: Stephenie Meyer, P. C. Cast, Ann Brashares, Christopher Paolini.
  • Biography: Elizabeth Gilbert, Frank McCourt.
  • Politics: Al Franken, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Moore, Michael Savage, Bill O’Reilly.
  • History: Tom Brokaw.
  • True Crime: Anne Rule, John Grisham.
  • Religion: Sylvia Browne, Rhonda Byrne, Rick Warren.
  • Psychology: Jack Canfield, Phil McGraw.
  • Animals: John Grogan.
  • Health: Kevin Trudeau.

The question perhaps remains as to whether it is a good thing that there are so many multiple copies of the same book, and so many books of a particular author; or whether it is a bad thing.  On the one hand people ultimately bought these many books and helped make said book and author a bestseller, they presumably enjoyed the book and recommended it to friends and family; perhaps bought copies as gifts.

But on the other hand, they also chose at some point to get rid of the book they didn’t consider worth keeping.  Was it a book received as a gift that they had no interest in reading and got rid of; was it something they started reading and didn’t enjoy?  Or did they finish it and felt they had no need to keep it or to read it again, and got rid of it?

Alex C. Telander

When one brings books in for buybacks at Dimple, one can choose whether to receive cash, or store credit, which one can use to either buy more books, or anything else that Dimple sells (except gift cards).  This is simply part of the world of used book buying and reading: when one is done with the book and doesn’t want to keep it, they sell it back at a used bookstore for credit or money to buy more books.

So perhaps all these copies that were bought back were just part of this used book buying and buying back cycle.  But this then possibly adds fuel to the question of whether these books can truly be considered “bestsellers,” since many of them ended up at the Dimple used bookstore.  And one will see the same if they go to other used bookstores, with large sections of many of these authors, as well as at thrift stores like Goodwill and Salvation Army.

These books became a bestseller by the selling of a certain number of copies in stores and online as tracked by the particular publisher.  But when so many of the copies were not kept by the owner for not being enjoyable enough or worth keeping for any particular reason, it seems that while they may have been bestsellers at the time of release, they weren’t necessarily deemed to be very good books.

Perhaps at a future point in time in addition to the tracking of book sales and determining whether they are bestsellers or not, there will be a contrasting tracking system used in bookstores as well as online tracking to record just how many of these “bestsellers” ended up being bought back at used bookstores, and how soon after said book was released, and applied to a different kind of scale that determines whether the book deserved to be a bestseller for either being a genuinely good book, or one with a popular author listed on the cover that simply sold a lot of copies.

Originally published on Forces of Geek.

“Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” by Robin Sloan (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012)

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
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For any fan of books and reading, it sounds like a dream come true: a twenty-four hour bookstore, where you can show up anytime and be willingly accepted to browse the stacks and be surrounded by thousands of books and breathe in the literary scents.  But then there are some weird things going on at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore during the early hours of the morning, as well as some very strange characters coming in.

Clay Jannon is unemployed and looking for anything that will bring in some money, after being dumped out of the web-design world with the tough recession; and it ain’t cheap living in San Francisco.  And then one day he sees the help wanted sign at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.  After having the interview and experimenting with going up the ladders that stretch high up the stacks of the three-story tall bookstore, he gets the job.  He works the nightshift from 10PM until 6AM, where Mr. Penumbra greets him in the early morning.  It seems like an easy job for okay pay, since there are hardly ever any customers.  At the front of the store is a small selection of regular selling books, but most of the store is taken up by unique and strange books all written in code.  Occasionally Clay gets customers coming into the story in the early hours of the morning, returning a book and borrowing a new one.  His job is to record the details and condition of these strange people in the great bookstore log.

As the story progresses, the curiosity grows and grows, for both Clay and the reader, wanting to know who these people are, what these coded books are all about, and what exactly it all means.  Clay wonders how a bookstore like this even stays in business.  And as he begins to dig deeper and deeper, he opens up the mystery and learns answers that lead to more questions and more curiosity.  The bookstore appears to be just the tip of the iceberg.

Robin Sloan’s debut novel plays well on the enjoyment of the reader, as well as slowly unraveling the mystery, in addition to taking the reader around San Francisco and into the heart of the Googleplex, and then across the country and back in time through a hidden history, all on the subject of books and their meaning.  Readers will be hooked with Sloan’s easy reading style and curious tale until the very end.

Originally written on November 10, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Libriomancer” by Jim C. Hines (DAW, 2012)

Libriomancer
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Libriomancer is one of those books that feels like it should’ve been written a lot sooner, given its subject matter, and yet when one is done reading it, one is left wishing they could read it over again for the first time.  From the author of The Princess novels, Libriomancer is the first in the Magic Ex Libris series that will hopefully make Jim C. Hines the well-respected and appreciated author that he already is.

In a unique world that blends books with magic and fantasy, Isaac Vainio is a libriomancer, a unique person with unique powers to be able to reach into books and draw out objects of power (so long as they can fit through the pages); as a libriomancer he is part of a clandestine group that has existed for half a millennium beginning with the great Johannes Gutenberg.  Only now there are vampires that have leaked out of books attacking people, particularly other libriomancers, and the great Gutenberg has been kidnapped.  Vainio thought he was done as a libriomancer, but when his friends start getting killed, he knows it’s up to him to find out who’s behind it all.

Libriomancer is simply a fun book, featuring a great story and some fantastic characters.  Hines has plenty of fun throwing in many nerdy book references, as well as the books libriomancers choose to use to gain special objects.  With a diverse cast of interesting people, Libriomancer is an addicting read that will leave readers impatiently wanting more.

Originally written on November 10, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Libriomancer from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The Historian” by Elizabeth Kostova (Little, Brown and Company, 2005)

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Welcome to a retelling of Dracula for the twenty-first century, only think much better and more interesting; less of the weak and pitiful women and demanding men; more history and research.  Elizabeth Kostova, while no doubt being a very well off person who went to the best schools for writing, has nevertheless spent a long time researching and writing The Historian with the resulting book being little about vampires and undead and more about books and history and researching and following the trail; it’s an academic adventure novel.

Our narrator is a young girl in her teens traveling through Europe, following the letters of her father from his travels in the 1950s, who was following the letters of his mentor from his travels in the 1930s.  While most of the book is in letter form – with speech quotes framing just about every sentence – Kostova forgoes the accuracy of the letter form and, like Bram Stoker in Dracula, makes the letters part of the novel with action, emotion, and character reaction – attributes that would not usually be in a letter, but for the sake of this book, need to be.

The premise is that Dracula, or Drakulya, better known as Vlad the Impaler, who was killed in battle in the fifteenth century is still alive and well in the twentieth century.  The three story lines of the narrator, her father, and his professor all have an event in common: they each received a copy of an ancient book with an elaborate woodcut of a dragon, the symbol and emblem of Drakulya.  Each of them travel throughout the many cities of Europe tracking Dracula and tracking each other through their letters; clearly Kostova herself traveled to each of this cities, for the book is partially a travel log of Europe, written in exquisite detail.

At the end of the book, when each person finally confronts Dracula in their time, it is revealed that Dracula himself is a lover of history and books and has been building up his library for hundreds of years with the hope of having every old book and important piece of writing in history at his finger tips, all he needs is a librarian to maintain it, of course they need to be turned undead so that their duties as librarian will last as long as Dracula is alive.  The professor is turned and when this is discovered, is staked, while the narrator’s father leaves due to the loss of his wife – the narrator’s mother – thinking her dead.  It is at the very end when the narrator finds Dracula, she also finds her father on the trail, and then her mother who all play a part in killing Dracula once and for all; the family united at last.

While this review may make The Historian seem trivial and “tied in a big red bow,” the author clearly worked very hard and long in her research of books and places; the result is a lengthy tome that takes you on a long journey through a well-described Europe, through old documents and journals, to an adversary we have read and written about for hundreds of years.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on January 21st, 2007 ©Alex C. Telander.