I’m a Gullible Sap After All–or–How to Sell Books to Cynics

Yesterday’s Indiespensible delivery was its usual treasure trove of literary fun. The main attraction was Naomi Benaron’s Running the Rift; and judging from the two pages I’ve been able to read since it arrived, I anticipate an emotional but engrossing journey. The dust-jacket describes the book as the story of Jean Patrick Nkuba, “a Tutsi in a world that has become increasingly restrictive and violent for his people.” The novel “follows the progress of Jean Patrick from the day he knows that running will be his life to the moment he must run to save his life.” It doesn’t sound like it will be a light and easy read, but I’m certain it will be an enriching one.

Of most interest to me thus far in the shipment has been The Algonquin Reader, Volume 1 Issue 1, from Algonquin Books. When I first caught sight of the small, creamy, cardstock-covered folio I thought it was a new literary magazine and my heart leaped with joy. Upon perusal I discovered that it was not a literary magazine after all, but a “periodical in which [Algonquin] authors introduce their new work in their own words.” My initial response upon reading this was to be disappointed; after all, I already get too many e-mails and ads from everybody and their brother trying to sell me something. This marketing overload has made me cynical and wary of every sales pitch, even the ones from the publishers I like! As I read that first page of The Algonquin Reader my jaded cynicism reared its ugly head and whispered we aren’t gullible enough to get trapped by this clever bit of marketing.

But gullible I was, because I kept right on reading; and trapped I am, because it turns out The Algonquin Reader focused on the authors, not just the books–a strategy which sucked me in completely. The Reader contains excerpts from five forthcoming Algonquin books, with each excerpt preceded by an essay written by the author, in which the author gives some background about how the book was conceived, the process of writing it, how it relates to other books or life events, etc. Because these essays are written by the authors, they are much more interesting than a dust-jacket, and are somewhat reminiscent of The Paris Review interviews (although not nearly as long, and not quite as focused or in-depth.)

What was particularly interesting to me was to read what subjects the author considered important and chose to address, rather than what subjects an interviewer might choose to address. Robert Goolrick’s essay about “The Passion of Place, The Place of Passion” made me think of William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County. Brandon W. Jones’ untitled essay about his growing interest in how Westerners view North Korean society resonated with my own recent curiosity about the strictness and sadness of that same country. And Ted Heller’s description of his addiction to online poker had me utterly fascinated.

At the end of the day, The Algonquin Reader is just a very interesting and well-done marketing tool, so I’m not sure I would pay money for it; but I did find myself enjoying it very much, and ruminating on it after I finished. I suspect it has paid for itself, because I am already resolved to purchase Ted Heller’s Pocket Kings and Robert Goolrick’s Heading Out to Wonderful when they come out in March and June, respectively; and I’m on the fence about Kris D’Agostino’s The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac, but liable to be easily persuaded by a good review when it comes out in March.

Getting back to the Indiespensible shipment, I was delighted by the little notions pertaining to the forthcoming Glaciers by Alexis M. Smith: scraps of pretty cotton cloth, a bag of Earl Grey tea, and some lovely vintage postcards of Amsterdam (which I have already decided to send to my brother-in-law, who lived there for a while.)

And so the shelf of TBR books groans under the weight of yet another new book or two. If only I could read them as fast as these evil and crafty publishers are able to sell them to me, my shelves–and my pocketbook–would be so much healthier.

Happy Reading!

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2 thoughts on “I’m a Gullible Sap After All–or–How to Sell Books to Cynics

  1. Wonderful, as always, Jenni! I totally get what you mean about the Reader, both the cynicism and the interest in what authors have to say. Sounds really good! One of my favorite pieces on NPR is when authors tell about their favorite reads, or their guilty pleasures. 🙂 Oh, and really, it's just not fair how fast they come out with new books. I have SO much catching up to do!

  2. Laurie is that a regular podcast or column on NPR? I'd love to know where to find that! It's too bad we don't live next door to each other, we could split our libraries and buy twice as many books. 😉

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