This year's Mid-South Independent Booksellers Association/Mid-South Independent Booksellers for Children regional convention marked a milestone in MSIBA's evolution. Previously an umbrella for bookseller alliances in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas-West Tennessee and the New Orleans-Gulf South area that united to put on annual trade shows, MSIBA became a membership organization last year. The show in Little Rock, held Sept. 9“12, was the first under the new auspices.
Although MSIBA president Mary Gay Shipley, owner of That Bookstore in Blytheville, Ark., noted that its 284 members represent 8% of ABA's national membership, the turnout was a bit weak, with bookseller attendance down to 80 this year from 155 last year. This seemed to validate the assertion by a non-attending store owner (requesting anonymity), who said,: "When Mid-South gets away from its usual rotation between New Orleans and a Texas city, it's in trouble."
Vendor numbers were also lower (77, down from 88 last year), a decline trade show coordinator Alan Robinson of Faubourg Marigney Bookstore, New Orleans, attributed to ongoing publisher mergers.
Factoring in more than 30 participating authors, a few librarians and miscellaneous others, outgoing interim executive director Barbara Duld cited "between 250 and 275" as the total turnout. Downplaying vendors complaints about writing few orders, she pointed out that "more than 300" raffle tickets were collected for publisher-donated book assortments. Raffle tickets were given out to each bookseller placing an order.
The prize drawing at show's end by new executive director J Holmes, a former Doubleday rep, awarded stacks of books to 10 winners. The grand prize of $500 went to New Orleans's Afro-American Book Stop owner Michele Lewis. At another raffle, held at Bill McClung & Associates, nine additional booksellers won copies of Stewart, Tabori & Chang's Blue Dog Man by Cajun artist George Rodrique, who may have been the busiest man in Little Rock on Saturday.
Beginning the day as an Author Breakfast speaker, together with Little Rock-reared E. Lynn Harris (Abide with Me) and steel magnolia Ronda Rich (What Southern Women Know), Rodrique spent the rest of the morning as a meet-and-greet attraction at the Texas-based rep group's exhibit. In the afternoon, he signed 100 copies of his anecdotal retrospective at the booth of new MSIBA board member David Cockcroft's WordsWorth Books & Co.
Rodrique's cheerfulness throughout reflected the show's refreshingly upbeat tone, due to bookseller's growing excitement over BookSense, which had staffers on hand to begin its full-court press at this year's regionals.
Phillip Smith, of Brace Books & More in Ponca City, Okla., was the inaugural winner of the Mark Zumpe scholarship, which funds show attendance for a beginning bookseller in the region. Smith won for his essay, "Issues Facing Independent Bookstores." Zumpe, who owned the Uptown Square Book Shop in New Orleans, died earlier this year of AIDS. The scholarship, Shipley told PW, memorialized Zumpe's pioneering Mid-South leadership: "Mark and Alan Robinson pretty much held us together over the years."
The show's most energizing component was the varied Book Sense activity. On Friday, Len Vlahos and Carl Lennertz conducted well-attended workshops on the ABA's branding and marketing campaign in tandem with Booksense.com, which will be operational soon. This was followed on Saturday and Sunday by a more detailed "user" workshop and further informational opportunities in the exhibit hall. While the first "Book Sense 76" handout of stocking recommendations was widely distributed and appreciated, Vlahos and Lennertz may have better gauged the region's enthusiasm for the program from the three additional contracts they received in Little Rock.
There was also some encouraging Book Sense buzz at the Big Bash, held at the Doubletree Saturday evening, which was sponsored by Ingram and the Five Points Publisher Group (August House, Black Belt, Blair, Crane Hill and Menasha Ridge). It featured hors d'ouevres, a cash bar and live music, with autographing authors bordering the hotel ballroom. Far more memorable was the previous evening's lively event at the city's public library. The MSIBC's second annual Humpty Dumpty Award was given to Patricia Polacco for her lifetime achievement as a critically acclaimed and bestselling children's author.
All other events were held at the Arkansas Excelsior, which proclaims itself as the "Official Hotel of the Clinton/Gore Campaign." Clinton books garnered little notice in the exhibits. The program's sole reference to the state's ex-governor was The Hunting of the President (St. Martin's) co-authored by Arkansas Democrat Gazette columnist Gene Lyons, who joined Sara Jeter Nashlund (Ahab's Wife) and Lewis Nordan (Boy with Loaded Gun, Jan.) as Sunday's breakfast speakers.
First time attendees D.C. Comics and Harlequin Enterprises didn't get much attention, though neither was disappointed. "We're just trying to become better acquainted with the regionals," said Andrew Lis of D.C. Comics. Local books that grabbed booksellers' attention included New Orleans's restaurateur-Food Network star Emeril Lagasse's Every Day's a Party (Morrow, Dec.) and LSU Press's two popular titles: The Booklover's Guide to New Orleans (see sidebar below) and William Greiner's The Reposed, a collection of photographs from the area's cemeteries.
University of Mississippi Press showcased Rick Olivier and Ben Sandmel's Zydeco!, Barry Jean Ancelet's Cajun and Creole Music Makers and Greg Cowman's Secrets of a New Orleans Chef. Hill Street's Literary New Orleans anthology was a highlight at distributor LPC's tables, while Pelican was writing orders for New Orleans Then and Now by Richard and Marina Campanella. And there was spice from University of North Carolina's Hot Peppers: The Story of Cajuns and Capsicum by Richard Schweid, and Pontalba Press's salty Adventures While a Broad, Honey van Campe's follow-up to The Drag Queen's Cookbook & Guide to Sensible Living.
There was a dose of industry-ribbing after Friday's membership meeting with a satiric skit starring Sally Jordan, owner of Jeremy's Books & Toys, Webster, Tex., as the Evil Queen and Jean Brace, owner of Brace Books & More, Ponca City, Okla. as the Psychic Telemarketer. But the show-stopper was Cynthia Forsyth, of Jeremy's, singing a ditty she composed to the tune of Patsy Cline's Crazy:
I'm crazy for being a bookseller,
I'm crazy, crazy for loving it too.
I knew that reps would see me
as long as they wanted
And then someday I'd be
Why do I let myself worry?
Wonderin' what B&N's going to do.
Crazy, I'm crazy for owning a
I'm crazy for tryin'
Crazy for buyin'
But that's what we booksellers do.
New Orleans Booklovers's Guide
New Orleans Times-Picayune book editor Susan Larson is locally renowned as a champion of the popular destination city's independent booksellers, but she expands her celebration of them to a wider audience in The Booklover's Guide to New Orleans (LSU Press, Nov.).
Among the simultaneous hard- and soft-cover release's literary gumbo is a replete catalogue of the Big Easy's flavorful array of general and specialty independents. Entries, highlighted by in-store photographs including Mary Price Dunbar's Beaucoup Books, Britton Trice's Garden Street Book Shop, and Rhoda Faust's Maple Street Book Shop, include addresses, phone numbers and owner names, plus thumbnail descriptions of store backgrounds and strengths. Chain store are included too, but with less prominence.
Larson's sensitivity to local booksellers, however, is more than that of a self-styled "passionate New Orleans convert" who's fascinated by the literary past and present of her adopted hometown. Prior to joining the paper in 1988, the former moonlighting reviewer was herself a bookseller at now-defunct independents in Texas and Arkansas as well as at the University of New Orleans Bookstore, where she was trade books manager and a board member of the New Orleans Gulf South Booksellers Association. And Kevin McCaffery, who assisted in research, is a longtime New Orleans bookseller, most recently as owner of Children's Hour Book Emporium, which closed last year.
Other sections are also spiced with bookselling history, from the 1808 opening of the initial shop operated by a "marchand libraire" to the legendary Tess Crager's Basement Book Shop that hosted signings for such luminaries as Gertrude Stein, W.H. Auden and Stephen Spender.
Indeed the guide was spawned by frequent phone requests she has gotten "from people everywhere, wanting information, historical and otherwise, on writers and sites here related to them or their work, recommendations for New Orleans books, and bookshops," she said. "Happily we still have an extraordinary variety of shops -- African-American, gay and lesbian, rare, you name it -- to point them to."
-- Bob Summer