Confessions of a booklover

Looking at my book purchases over the past few years, I’m finding that most of them are ebooks. The new paperbooks in my collection are mostly gifts, gratefully received, augmented by a few used volumes purchased online.

Cost is a factor, admittedly, but so is shelf space. We still have a thousand or more titles to cull from our collections before moving the remainder up here, and keeping them in storage ain’t cheap. My own practice of the past decade requires me to say adios to one copy every time I get a new one, and I find the swapping to be heart-rending. Books really are personal, and who ever wants to let go of a friend?

Among the harder aspects of putting our old house on the market was one we hadn’t anticipated. Our Realtor told us the bookshelves couldn’t be jammed, as ours were, but that buyers were entranced when shelves were only half full. We didn’t want to repulse them but, well, we had several walls to go through on that point.

That meant buying a lot of boxes from U-Haul to pack. Buy boxes? They stack better, for both transport and storage. Worth the price.

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When it comes to how I’m now reading, I do find a distinction between ebooks and paper.

If it’s a page-turner being devoured quickly for pleasure or else an authority I’m using for background reference, I prefer digital. The digital search function’s very helpful, believe me – much better than relying on an index – and if I’m quoting something in a writing project, cut-and-paste beats keyboarding any day and is less likely to include typos. On the other hand, if the text requires slow reflection and digestion, traditional paper moves to the fore. Krista Tippett’s Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living is a prime example, along with Robert Alter’s The Art of Biblical Poetry and The Art of Biblical Narrative.

Maybe the divide even comes down to whether it’s something I want to read hands-free or hands-on.

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These also play into my considerations in my own publishing strategies.

As I looked to outlets for my big nonfiction project, Quaking Dover, I realized it was the kind of volume most readers would want to have in their hands or even wrap as a present.

It was one I’d want to place in bookstores and libraries, but that became a big hurdle.

If I put it the book up at Amazon’s KDP, the bookstores would back off. As for libraries? Dunno.

The alternatives I saw were prohibitively expensive for what would be a niche item, unless it magically took off on the charts, even as print-on-demand.

The plot thickened when my ebook haven, Smashwords, announced it was being absorbed by Draft2Digital. Yeah, the promises of no changes were there, but really?

Yet from what I’m seeing, maybe not. Maybe this is the big challenge to the Amazon juggernaut.

Upshot is, that’s where I’m planning to place my print version.

Pennamaquan falls and fish ladder

During their three-week run each year, 30,000 alewives a day press up this fast-moving fish ladder beside the small dam and waterfalls on their way to breeding grounds upstream.
The current is strong but the six-inch fish are stronger.
The added touch of the birdhouse makes me smile.
The Pembroke United Methodist Church overlooks the lake just above the dam, with some much bigger ones miles ahead.

What’s the future of retail after Covid?

We all know the boost the Covid shutdown gave to online shopping and delivery. Ordering from the comfort of home, when everything went well, could be a pleasure. For some of us, it even meant being able to find exactly what we wanted, even after we had tried without success to find the item in a bricks-and-mortar store.

Of course, it could also be exasperating, as I discovered when a promised item failed to arrive before Christmas, even though it had been ordered more than a month before, and cancellation and refund weren’t available, due to the fine print that the product was being shipped from an independent source rather than the classy brand name. It was finally delivered in February, even after I had finally got the retailer to cancel the purchase.

As we also know, not every website is easily navigated, either.

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I think about that when I look at the vacant storefronts in Eastport’s historic and charming downtown. Just what would fit in here efficaciously? Retail, of course, is the heart of it, along with a mix of offices and studios.

It’s a situation we share with many other communities, where the pleasures of being able to stroll from one option to another are countered by the expectation of easy parking. Just what do we really want or need, actually? More possessions? Services? Treats for the eyes or taste buds?

If you open a store, you’re not going to get rich at it, even though retailing requires a special insight and savvy. To be successful, you’ll also need value-added lines in ways the online rivals can’t compare. Think of the personal touch as a shopper when you’re not quite sure what you’re looking for to fix a particular problem.

Eastport has the additional complications of a small year-round population that swells in the summer, meaning the retail season can boil down to half-dozen prime weeks with a long slowdown in between.

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You’ll hear people talk fondly of the old Woolworth’s or Newberry’s, with their lunch counters and swivel chairs or their extensive fabric selection or whatever, or the way these emporiums anchored the block. Not so for the dollar stores or Walmart.

I’m well into a stage of de-collection and downsizing, so I hesitate to add more possessions. Still, when I walk into a place like the Rock & Art store in Ellsworth or Bangor, I can be tempted.

Obviously, I don’t have the answer for what will revitalize the district, but my guess is that it will be an array of things not currently in our vision. Who would have thought of brewpubs a decade or two ago, for instance?

Or, as they used to say in the days of black-and-white television, “Please stay tuned.”

A few life lessons

Pack light, run, get out of the way.
I learned that in Boy Scouts.

Much later, that you have to take care of yourself first
before all the complications in whatever role as a parent.

Much less the seed catalogue
midterms or finals.

Porcupine climbing a tree at Quoddy Head State Park. Seems to embody a few life lessons too.

Other red barns out there

Somehow, a red barn is iconic. Little wonder I latched onto it in naming this blog. My posts have already mentioned Tuttle’s and Red’s Shoe Barn in Dover, New Hampshire, and the Red Barn Motel in Millbridge, Maine.

As for others? Not all of them are on farms.

  1. There’s the fast-food restaurant chain that originated in Springfield, Ohio.
  2. A market and deli in South Burlington, Vermont.
  3. A feed and pet store in the San Fernando Valley of California.
  4. A flea market in Bradenton, Florida.
  5. A home décor store in Wisconsin.
  6. A convention center in Adams County, Ohio.
  7. A trailer dealership in Texas and New Mexico.
  8. A medical marijuana producer and dispensary in New Mexico.
  9. Amish in Maine, who not only allow them but make them their bright signature color while keeping the houses plain white.
  10. And let’s not overlook Tom Waits, singing “There was a murder in the red barn” as the chorus.

When Irish lights are shining

Living in New England, I’ve gained a fondness for lighthouses, an appreciation that has been heightened by my relocation to Way DownEast Maine. This state alone has more than 60 still in working order.

My research regarding the towers and their beams has, however, had me admitting that the bulk of the world’s most glorious examples are to be found on the rugged Atlantic coastline of France. Some of them resemble small castles, and many are built in grand style, no expense spared.

The English, in contrast, appear stuffy and uninspired. (Sorry about the pun there.)

What I wasn’t expecting was the discovery that Ireland also has some stunning examples.

If I ever get to the Emerald Isle, they’ll be high on my list of sites to visit.

What’s on your travel bucket list?

When the alewives run

Around mid-May across the New England coast, the alewives migrate en masse upstream to freshwater breeding grounds. Sometimes identified as river herring, they have played a role in the region’s heritage, from Indigenous peoples on.

They’ve made it halfway up the ladder. They’re also quite strong, considering the speed and force of the rushing water.

They still attract fishermen to the riverbanks and bridges, as well as eagles and osprey overhead.

And here’s a bald eagle that’s about to catch another of them. The osprey weren’t about at the moment.

And though bony, many folks consider them a seasonal delicacy, often worked into an appetizer. More commonly, they’re a common lobster bait.

Here comes the paperbook edition!

A history book seems like a natural for a print edition, but it can be a risky deal for a publisher.

After all, few titles are of the bestseller scope aimed at a nationwide readership.

My Quaking Dover is a prime example of the niche appeal that can arise when you zero in on a small community and then further refine it to a crucial minority. Even when it becomes a microcosm of a much bigger picture, as I believe mine does, the hard reality is that it’s hard to break even in traditionally publishing such a work.

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Independently producing at Kindle Direct Publishing was one alternative, but it wouldn’t get copies into brick-and-mortar bookstores, which would have to buy the books at full price from Amazon and then add an additional fee, or into many public libraries – and I do see those as essential outlets for this work.

I looked into several other services but concluded that the costs to me would have been prohibitive, no matter how attractive the result.

Now, however, I have good news to share.

Quaking Dover is appearing as a print-on-demand edition from Draft2Digital, available through its affiliated traditional retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

D2D first came to my attention when it acquired Smashwords.com, the pioneering ebook enterprise that’s been my literary haven for nearly a decade now. The more I learned of it, the more I sensed that releasing my print editions there was no-brainer.

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See what you think. Like the ebook edition I’ve previously announced, the paperbook is being offered at a reduced price in a pre-release – in this case up till its October 8 release.

You can help me prime the pump by requesting your own physical copy at your favorite bookstore or library.

Check out my author page at Books2Read for details.

Let’s shake things up!