22
Jul
10

Finding “it,” right here

I often fall victim to an ailment common in twenty-year-old people: the delusion that I am much more worldly than I really am. The goal of my two decades has been, so far, to become as cultured as possible. I can immediately locate my favorite art pieces in the MFA, recite Shakespeare by rote and carry on a (pitiful) conversation in French. I have done my fair share of traveling to far off lands seeking to find art, local traditions— anything unique. Unfortunately, I learned that chain stores trump all, as I stared sadly into a McDonalds 4,000 miles away from my place of origin.

It was with the attitude of a disillusioned romantic (or, a kid growing up) that I began working at Cornerstone Books. To my astonishment, slowly but surely, color began to seep back into the world. It all began with the in-store events. While shelving books I would hear authors read exerpts from their books and riveting discussions would pop up out of nowhere. I started to meet local characters with fascinating stories to tell. Just last Saturday I was taken by complete surprise and delight when Fretless
 Capella serenaded the entire bookstore for a very memorable hour.

 I would say that the eureka came when I worked a Thursday shift and discovered the charming clutter of Salem’s Farmer’s Market, where all the
artists and craftspeople come out to play. While walking around on my lunch break I realized that I had been to Salem many times before, but I had never really experienced it. In this charmingly vintage area usually devoted to witch trial history I found what most of us as starving for in our world of perpetual Walmarts: one-of-a-kind artisans! Food, clothing and artwork that came from inspiration, almost literally made with love. “Charming” and “unique” are too condescending to describe what downtown Salem really is.

To put it simply, Salem is where it’s at.

Of course I would learn such a lesson at Cornerstone Books. I tell friends who have not yet experienced its delight that it is indeed a bookstore, but it double-functions as a local hangout spot—the living room of Salem, if you will. I am obliged to Cornerstone for my new obsession with and patronage of everything local. Perhaps if my nose hadn’t been so preoccupied with the aroma of what lies abroad, it would have been able to sniff out the creative hubbub that was directly underneath it.

Citizens of Salem, learn from my mistakes. You need not purchase that
1,000 dollar ticket to experience a novel world, for it thrives in your
own backyard.

Rozena Crossman joined the wonderful world of Cornerstone Books this past May. She attends college at Queen’s University in Ontario and is working towards a BAH in world religions. Although she’s usually reading fancy adult novels, her true passion lies in the children’s section.

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10
Jul
10

Revaluing the marketplace

by Jonathan Simcosky – originally published on ArtThrob

This past Thursday I sat at the Salem Farmers’ Market community table representing Cornerstone Books and had the opportunity to participate in a marketplace that gives me hope for humanity’s future – if not America’s economic supremacy.

Gathered in Derby Square were hordes interested in eating seasonally and organically.  They wanted to know where their food was coming from and to develop relationships with those folks responsible for bringing it into the world.  They were looking for good value, though not necessarily an unbelievable bargain.

It occurs to me that the role mass-industrialization of food production and distribution has had on the way we eat and buy groceries is analagous to what’s been happening in my own world of publishing with global distribution chains and volume driven pricing determining what we read and how much we pay for it.

Generations of consumers have now been trained to consider value synonymous with cheap; if it can be had faster and for less money elsewhere, it must be better.

What the farmers’ market showed me, though, was that there is a marketplace where other values come in to play.  There are consumers who are as interested in supporting innovative producers as holding out for the lowest price.

Just as we would never buy a work of art without developing a relationship with the artist or working with an established gallery, we’re learning that we eat much better when intimately connected with our food’s supply chain.  To wit, most of us are now willing to pay a premium for the assurance of that heightened experience.

Why then when shopping for literary art – i.e. books, our soul’s nourishment – are we comfortable anonymously searching online for the best price? What values are informing this transaction?  What values should?

As an independent bookseller and lover I’m especially interested in cultivating a revolution in the literary arts like what we’re experiencing in the culinary arts: re-thinking methods of creation and distribution that value originality and beauty over volume and discount.

We should read at least as well as we eat, right?

27
Feb
10

Meet Joe Hill

By Dinah Cardin – Originally published at Art Throb

So, there I was. Practically alone in a room with Stephen King’s son. We booksellers at Salem’s Cornerstone Books had made Joe Hill comfortable. We gave him a cup of tea and stacks of clean hardcover editions of his latest highly acclaimed book “Horns” to sign, as well as purchased books with sticky notes containing the personal and often spooky messages his fans wanted inscribed.

An employee went on her break, the store cleared and it was just us.

The author was feeling bad about canceling his highly publicized appearance the day before due to his being “volcanically ill,” as he put it on his blog. There were waiting fans who had driven as far as Pennsylvania. They had come in with their own Joe Hill books tucked under their arms and with memories of him as a 10-year-old in the 1982 film “Creepshow,” written by his father, where he played a boy being punished for reading horror comics. And now here he was in one of his favorite places – an independent bookstore, in a city known for the spooky and the magical.

This is the son of one of the world’s best-selling authors. Stephen King, the king of horror and writer of a memoir on the craft of writing. And yet, like his dad, the 37-year-old writer was so unassuming — jeans, untucked shirt, unfashionable glasses and the impossibly straight dark hair of his father.

Not only did he grow up in the 70s and 80s as one of the most rich and famous kids in Maine and now was building a huge fan base as a horror writer in his own right, he was just so…nice. A woman called from Oklahoma City to buy seven new copies of his book for her stay-at-home-mom book club. He took the phone right out of my hand and said “Hi Lisa, it’s Joe.” After their conversation, it took a full three minutes for her jackpot like screaming to subside.

For years, Joseph Hillstrom King tried to be Joe Hill. The name, he says, comes from a Joan Baez song…”I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night.” His dad and mom, the writer Tabitha King, are just “big liberals from the 60s,” he said. He eventually failed, however, at concealing the relationship with his famous father — something my brother has known for several years since he, a published horror writer, is deeply immersed in that genre and, of course, worships Stephen King.

I sat across from the writer and watched him doodle devil horns on the clean title pages and pressed him to talk about growing up in Bangor. He loved the size of it, not too big or small, but “just right.” If someone walked into the well-known deli, Hill said, and asked boldly where Stephen King lives, the guy behind the counter would ask, “Who wants to know?”

He became a writer, he said, partly because he had two great role models. “At a pretty young age, I knew what I wanted to do because I realized I could be by myself and play make believe all day. My parents did it and their friends did it. This is something people do. It’s work like any other work.”

He did not start out in the horror genre.

“My initial response was to run away from it,” he said.

After college he wrote short fiction, but steered clear of the scary stuff. He got rejection letters. Although editors liked his writing style, they claimed the subject matter wasn’t exciting. All fiction is fantasy, he said, noting that Phillip Roth’s New Jersey is his own perception of the place, just as much a fantasy as Alice’s Wonderland.

As soon as he wrote a story called “Pop Art” that was pure fantasy, about an inflatable young boy, it sold quickly. Suspense is the one thing that will keep people from putting a book down, he said.

“To push suspense to the limit is horror.”

Signed copies of Joe Hill’s books are available at Cornerstone Books in Salem.

04
Dec
09

Technology, ereaders and Plain Ol’ Books

From all reports this holiday season, electronics will be the big purchase item this year — cell phones, new computers, xboxes, wii’s and yes, ereaders. So many folks have come into the store and asked about how they think the ereader will affect us this year that I thought it might be a good idea to sit down and really think this thing out!

Having come from a technology background myself (web design) and far from a luddite, I’ll be the first one to admit that I really like technology and gadgets. I really love my iPhone; the simplicity is great, and it does pretty much everything I would ever want and more. What I really love about it is the fact that I could get rid of 3 other gadgets.

I would guess that if I wanted to read books online, I would want to do it with my iphone; I really hate carrying around extra weight that needs a plug or could break. That said, I can really understand why folks might want to buy an ereader. Especially if you are a student and have 300 pounds worth of textbooks, I would imagine that having a single reader that allows you to search on text and weighs a fraction of that would be a real boon. I can also see folks who travel frequently (and who have only short periods of “down time”) liking a single device to put all their various texts on might satisfy that requirement for simplicity. I myself do like to read newspapers and short magazine articles online (another problem for the periodical industry to solve), and electronic, real-time access is a key attraction to reading news. Blogs, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter – all short content – are perfect online reading and viewing.

For the life of me, however, I cannot get excited about reading a full-length novel in an electronic format. In the same way that I like getting short news stories or articles quickly online and then getting back to multitasking, I love the immersive experience of a physical book. Reading books is an escape from the millions of distractions we have in this twitterfied, gadget-centric world, and when I do read, I choose to put aside the technology and let my mind focus on the story. And the tactile experience of the paper, the cover art, the lettering, the smell of the book is every bit as much a part of falling into the story.

Not everyone thinks the way I do obviously, as ereaders have been selling like hotcakes this year. Still, I wonder if down the road, after the newness has worn off, some of those folks will find themselves yearning again for the physical book.

It’s interesting – in a few conversations I’ve had about downloadable music lately, I think this feeling is already occurring. We have access to more music than ever, and can get new albums with a push of the button. But I keep hearing people say that they listen to music less now. That they forget they have an album buried deep in their hard drive somewhere. That they miss the cover art, the liner notes of an old LP, the special care they took with the record when they pulled it out of the sleeve, the excitement they feel as they take the record out the packaging. They miss the tactile experience of the music. And vinyl records are even staging something of a comeback. 

Strange, eh? You’d think, “it’s music – there is no tactile experience – the only thing you’re using is your ears.” Wrong. Any rock concert goer will tell you that the light show, the art, the video screens, the stage performance of the musicians, the clothes they are wearing, the sweat you feel as you bounce up and down is every bit as much a part of the experience as listening to that album.

As human beings, I think we yearn to use all our senses, and as much as I like gadgets, I have to say that sometimes, for some things, gadgets create an antiseptic experience that frustrates that need. If we were robots and needed “just the facts ma’am,” the ereader would be perfect. The worst part about an ereader is that you can’t just throw it against the wall when the book really sucks.

But back to the original question about how it will affect us. I’m guessing that ereaders will fall into line with the rest of the ways we have of getting books, which is a good thing. We now have ereaders, audio books (downloadable and on CD), and just plain ol’ books – all great ways to read.  At the end of the day, however, I think the paper book will be with us for a good long while.

 Happy Holidays all!

 Gilbert Pili

18
Nov
09

The Importance of Shopping Local This Holiday Season

As the holidays approach and we hear news stories about a price war on books between Amazon, Wal-Mart and Target, I’d like to take a moment and remind folks about the value of shopping locally.

And special emphasis on the word “value.”

I sometimes wonder if we too often get so caught up in “bargains,” especially when we shop at large big box retailers that we forget about the value of supporting our local downtown retailers.

We seem to have made the transition in thinking when we talk about buying food locally. The farmer’s market in downtown Salem has proven to be a huge success, and folks often go out of their way (and even pay more) to get quality food that has been produced on local farms. But when it comes to shopping at other local retailers, price suddenly becomes king.

So what is the “value” in shopping locally?

I’ll argue any day, that like our new farmer’s market, there is “nutritional value” in shopping local, and that spending a bit more in your local shops contributes much more to the health of our community than sending your dollars to huge corporate retailers. Dollars spent in Salem stay in Salem; by shopping here, you are investing in a thriving downtown. Conversely, dollars spent outside Salem contribute to the erosion of our city. It’s a pretty simple principle, but easy, I think to forget, when times are tough.

So, how exactly do dollars spent downtown stay in Salem? Well, it means that our business spends money regularly with 2 local printers, a bakery and a local hardware store. We give a percentage of sales to local organizations and schools when we host book fairs and offsites. It means we frequently donate books to local fundraisers. Our employees frequent local restaurants. And our tax dollars go to improving Salem.

In a nutshell, when you shop at an independently owned business, your entire community benefits:

The Economy

 

 

  • Spend $100 at a local and $68 of that stays in your community. Spend the same $100 at a national chain, and your community only sees $43.
  • Local businesses create higher-paying jobs for our neighbors.
  • More of your taxes are reinvested in your community–where they belong.
The Environment

 

 

  • Buying local means less packaging, less transportation, and a smaller carbon footprint.
  • Shopping in a local business district means less infrastructure, less maintenance, and more money to beautify your community.
The Community

 

 

  • Local retailers are your friends and neighbors—support them and they’ll support you.
  • Local businesses donate to charities at more than twice the rate of national chains.
  • More independents means more choice, more diversity, and a truly unique community.

We believe there is immense value in providing great customer service, folks who know what kinds of books you like, and who simply know you. We work hard to provide a venue for local book clubs and community meetings. We sponsor many free events, including local authors, childrens events, music, and seminars. We are a primary sponsor of the Salem Literary Festival — the first of its kind in Salem. We regularly reach out and staff book fairs with local schools. For you, our customers, we believe there is great value in not having to drive to the mall, being able to order any book not in our physical store, including used and out-of-print titles.

Times are tough, make no mistake. We completely understand people’s concern about overspending, and I can even identify with those who say that Wal-Mart can be a lifeline when money is tight. So let me take a minute to remind folks that we have lots of ways to save at Cornerstone Books:

  • Now through Christmas (while supplies last!), we’re having super specials on great stocking stuffers like DVDs, boardgames, music and video games at $5, $10 and $20.
  • For the post-Thanksgiving weekend (Friday through Sunday), we’re throwing our always-popular 10-20-30-40 Sale. That means 10% off your first purchased item, 20% off your 2nd, 30% off your third and 40% off your fourth. These discounts apply to items not already discounted, and can only be applied to books. Come take advantage of big savings on the post-Thanksgiving weekend!
  • We print coupons in our email and printed newsletter, and accept valid Borders and Barnes & Noble Coupons as well
  • The top 5 hardcover bestsellers are always 20% off in the store, and you can find great deals on the discount cart.
  • Most hardcovers and trade paperbacks are 20% off on our website, and books ship directly from the warehouse to your home — our website is as easy to use as Amazon, and has the added benefit of supporting your local bookstore.
  • The Lucky 13 frequent buyer card becomes worth $30 if you shop with us regularly.
  • Military (with ID), students (with ID) and teachers (with ID), and local schools get regular discounts at cornerstone, as do book club members on their club picks.

So as the holiday shopping heats up, and the urge to go on a bargain-hunting spree, please remember those local stores who are contributing to Salem. We ask that you choose to shop with us and avoid the big box bargain siren call. Those corporation can afford a drop in Christmas sales and will be around no matter what. We need you more than ever this year, and we want to be here for the community for years to come.

Next week, we’ll talk about the many things we are thankful for in this difficult year, and first on our list is you, our loyal customers.

Best to all our families this holiday season and joy to you all,

Gilbert Pili

30
Apr
09

Veteran Journalist Becomes Debut Novelist

Chicago Bureau Chief for the Wall Street Journal, Bryan Gruley is an award-winning reporter whose outstanding work includes one of the front-page stories about the 9/11 terrorist attacks that won the Journal a 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News. In addition to newspaper writing, Gruley loves hockey, and he loves small towns. He brings these three things together in the mystery Starvation Lake.

Starvation Lake is an Indie Next pick for April 2009, and has won Gruley comparison to Dennis Lehane by Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Set in wintery northern Michigan, it is a tale of small towns and their secrets, of hockey and of friendships, and of what it means to be a journalist. Cornerstone Books welcomes Bryan Gruley for a reading and book signing of Friday May 8th at 7pm.  Because I couldn’t wait until then to find out more about him and the book, he was kind enough to answer a few questions in advance.

The town of Starvation Lake is so fully imagined; I feel like I could walk down its streets and chat with all its residents.  Was it difficult using what you knew from real life and keeping it fictional?
Thanks. I didn’t really feel like I had to make a distinction. Some is strictly invented; some has its roots in things I’ve seen, heard, smelled and tasted; very little is a factual reproduction. It was more difficult getting the tone right so that I didn’t create a stereotype of a small town, something that some writers, especially newspaper writers, are prone to doing.

Are there things that do or don’t make Gus Carpenter a good journalist, in your view?  Why did it take him so long to look in the damn file cabinet?
Overall, Gus is a good journalist. He goes where he has to go, sees whom he has to see, and asks the questions he has to ask. His flaw here is his reluctance to confront the past, partly because of the pain it dredges up, partly because he innately (and rightly) discerns that nobody cares to hear about it anyway. Joanie’s persistence helps to focus him.

Were there any surprises for you in writing and publishing your first novel?

Plenty. On the practical side, I was flummoxed by how hard it would be to keep everything straight. Funny, but you forget some of what you wrote eight chapters and six months ago. But more important, I was surprised at how the characters exerted their will over what happened. I was not surprised to get rejections from publishing houses, but 26, well, I guess I hoped I’d get a deal before they became so numerous. But I was lucky because those rejections made it possible for me to join with my gifted editor at Touchstone, Trish Grader.

What are you reading now?  What’s your favorite book ever?
I am reading Michael Harvey’s second novel, The Fifth Floor. It’s great (and Michael, as you probably know, is from Boston, though his novels are set in Chicago). Favorite novel ever? That’s a toughie. Loved The Catcher in the Rye, Sophie’s Choice, The Old Man and the Sea, and many others. One I will never forget is The Crisscross Shadow, a Hardy Boys book that was the first book-length fiction I ever read, as a boy.

I hope you’ll join me in welcoming Bryan to Salem next Friday!

Beth

15
Apr
09

Life with Lynne Griffin

This Saturday at 1pm, we welcome Lynne Griffin, author of the new novel Life Without Summer (St. Martin’s Press 2009). Lynne is a nationally recognized family life expert, whose book Negotiation Generation provides a welcome roadmap for parents who are learning to set appropriate limits with children. Her turn to fiction presents plenty of fraught family moments, as well: Life Without Summer draws a haunting portrait of two women whose lives converge after a hit and run accident outside a school. Lynne was kind enough to talk to me about her book.

Where did you start with this book…story or character? How did it come to you at first?

I was working on another novel when the idea for Life Without Summer came to me. From day one, I knew the first line and the last line of the story, and they’ve never changed. I also knew right from the beginning who was responsible for the accident. Though from early readers I did get feedback that this was a difficult character to assign the role to, I’ve never wavered in my commitment to tell the story as it came to me.

Tessa and Celia at first seem to have few similarities, but as their relationships unfolds, we see that they are not entirely different. Do you like one character more than the other? Understand one more? Did you enjoy writing one more?

Honestly, I connect with each woman’s story, but for different reasons. I really get Tessa’s fierce edgy way of coping. I’m a bit intense myself, so I understand why at times she goes for shock value. Celia says at one point, “…Tessa is a staircase of emotion, one minute up, the next minute down.” I’m sensitive and emotional, so I respect these personality traits and don’t shy away from those who express their emotions in big ways.

As for Celia, I have a lot of compassion for her. I can see how easily a woman torn apart by loss might make a few missteps, suddenly finding herself on a road she wouldn’t be on if grief hadn’t toyed with her sensibilities. Celia even says to Tessa in one session, “…women often take different roads toward healing after a loss…just be careful not to get so far…that you can’t find your way back.” I have great empathy for her inability to take her own advice. It’s one thing to know the right thing to do, it’s another entirely to do the right thing, especially in a situation like hers.

Did your experience as a parenting educator come into play at all?

I’ve been a family life expert for more than twenty years, and there’s so much about my work counseling parents, observing children, and teaching educators about families that I use in writing fiction. In many ways, my knowledge of human behavior is the vital ingredient for writing good stories. When I’m creating characters, I use what I know about personality and temperament research to be sure each one has the proverbial it factor. It doesn’t have anything to do with the set of physical traits I chose, though sometimes those can help. I don’t like certain characters because they’re nice, either.

In fact, whether I’m reading or writing, I like my characters to be deeply flawed. To be honest, the more flawed, the more I seem to like them. For me, character likeability comes with a tight connection between plausibility of behavior and empathy. When a character acts in a way I personally object to, moral or spiritually, I’m able to cast judgment aside if I can identify with what he or she did, or understand his or her motivations.

What did you learn in writing this first novel that surprised you the most?

How happy I am when I have a means of creative expression. After graduating from high school, I had aspirations to attend college for theater arts, but in the seventies girls were still strongly encouraged to choose teaching, nursing, or business occupations. So, I attended nursing school and later earned a Master’s degree in counseling. Though I was an actress in high school and college, sang professionally for a time, and have always journaled as a means of personal reflection, I’m a relative newcomer to writing stories. I began writing fiction five years ago and was part of a wonderful writers’ group with Amy MacKinnon, author of Tethered. I wasn’t half-way through a draft of Life Without Summer when I realized I’d found the artistic outlet I’d always been searching for. I am completely at home writing fiction.

What’s next for you?

My next novel also deals with family life. In it I explore the impact secrets have on the closeness family members can share. I’ve always been intrigued by the power of truth on healing and the complexities of grief. I imagine all of my fiction will deal with these themes in some way.

Beth