Books that meet the gold standard

Cover art from Kettle Bottom, Diane Gilliam Fisher, Perugia Press, 2004

*

Books remaindered, books destroyed.

When I was a Girl Scout, we used to sing a round, “Make new friends but keep the old/ One is silver the other’s gold.” My sentiment about books, as well as people. But, except for continuing best sellers, commercial publishers are into selling this year’s books, in part in response to inventory depreciation rules established in Thor Power Tool Company v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, 439 U.S. 522 (1979). And the mainsteam media buys into this model, only reviewing recent titles.

Literary presses, in contrast, maintain a backlist, keep their authors’ works in print. And alternative media can, in books, as well as other matters, inform their readers about other than the latest frenzy. Below, I’ve listed some of my favorites from years past, old friends I revisit again and again. All are still available from their presses.

You can buy directly: the wellbeing of these publishers affects their authors. As Jonathan Greene of Gnomon Press explained to Meredith Sue Wilson for her September 10, 2007 Books for Readers Newsletter,

mall Press Distribution and Consortium that distribute books for many small presses return even less to small presses that Amazon: they normally sell books to stores or chains at 40% – 55% then take half of the gross receipts of any payment and put the amount due the publisher in escrow for three months. And Consortium charges the publisher a re-stocking fee for any books stores or distributors return [sometimes in unsellable condition.]

And support your local independent bookseller: Chapters Book Shop in Galax and The Easy Chair in Blacksburg special order any books that are not in stock. Anne Holbach at The Easy Chair says,

We definitely place special orders for customers. Usually, turnaround time is 2-3 days, and there is no charge for shipping. We also offer free membership in our frequent buyer’s club. Customers earn a $10 coupon for every $100 they spend, including special order items.

And you can order from that great family-run bookstore for three generations, Powell’s Books of Portland, Oregon , which increasingly relies on its national internet trade to stay in business. While Powell’s doesn’t offer the deep discounts of the chain stores which view books as just another commodity, Mike Powell explained to Scott Timberg for his December 3 Los Angeles Times story, “Powells turns the page,” that his customers are charged

market price because we pay market wages, market benefits, market rents.

(The store is unionized.)

So here’s my list:

  1. Kettle Bottom: Diane Gilliam Fisher’s (now just plain Diane Gilliam) 2004 series of poems imagines first person accounts of coal camp lives and deaths during the mines wars of 1920-1921. http://www.perugiapress.com/books2004_kettle.html
  2. One Good Hand: Dana Wildsmith 2005 poetry collection chronicles a year in the Georgia mountains and has the single best poem I’ve read addressed to the beloved late poet Jim Wayne Miller, who for years taught summers at Hindman Settlement School. http://www.irisbooks.com/Wildsmith/One_Good_Hand.html
  3. Coal, A Poetry Anthology: Disclosure–I was in this 2006 collection, but that’s not why I’m suggesting it. Look at life in coal country as told by poets ranging from Don West, Jim Wayne Miller and James Still to Grace Cavalieri, Jay Parini, Dick Hague and Bob Henry Baber. http://www.blairmtp.com/CoalAnthology.htm
  4. Shell Shaker LeAnne Howe’s 2001 novel both hilarious and heartbreaking, juxtaposes the murders of two Choctows, one contemporary and one from the Trail of Tears era. http://www.auntlute.com/shellshaker.htm.
  5. Sabbath Sabbath Night in the Church of the Piranha: Blacksburg author Edward Falco’s graceful 2005 short story collection combines compelling plots with engrossing characters. http://www.unbridledbooks.com/sabbathnight.html
  6. Insect Dreams, The Half Life of Gregor Samsa: Intellectually ambition and funny, Mark Estrin’s 2005 novel imagines Kafka’s Gregor Samsa rescued only to be sold to a freak show, which he leaves to wend his way through the first half of 20th century U.S. history, ending up as a risk management consultant for the Manhattan Project. http://www.unbridledbooks.com/insectdreams.html
  7. Rehearsing With the Gods: Ronald T. Simon’s black and white photographs and Marc Estrin’s text, published in 2004, give you the insiders’ look at Bread and Puppet Theater. http://www.chelseagreen.com/2004/items/rehearsingwithgods/AssociatedArticles
  8. If You Return Home with Food: Shawsville writer Mary Crockett Hill’s award-winning 1998 poetry vivid and quirky collection speaks to hope and dread. http://www.emporia.edu/bluestem/hill.htm
  9. Divine Right’s Trip: Gurney Norman’s novel with Ed McClannahan, spins the tale of a hippie traveling home from California to rescue his Kentucky homestead from the effects of stripmining. If you’re old enough, you’ll remember the novel as a seris of installments on the pages of the Last Whole Earth Catalog. Kinfolks, Norman’s linked short stories, evoke loyalty to family and the close ties of community in the coming of age of Wilgus Collier and end in a stalemated correspondence between a sister who wants to return to Kentucky and her brother who wants to join her in Arizona because the mountains are now what they had been. Both were reissued by Gnomon Press, 329 W Broadway in Frankfort, 502-223-1858.
  10. The Lie that Tells the Truth: John Dufresne’s 2003 guide to writing fiction ranks as the most generous spirted and useful book on the writing craft since poet Bill Stafford’s Writing the Australian Crawl and You Must Revise Your Life. Also, check out any fiction by Dufresne. You won’t be disappointed. http://www.wwnorton.com/catalog/spring04/032581.htm

UPDATE: A version of this post was published by New River Voice December 13. The owner did not post a link to that issue on his website and ironically lists the books I recommened by their Amazon links. Is that why the version that appeared on newsstands eliminated my links or even the names of the publishing houses and any reference to my blog in the author’s note?)

Happily, I just found a link to the article in the books section posted December 18, but that version, while linking to the publishers, omits my mention of Powell’s as an alternative to Amazon or a link to my blog. I added a comment January 13.

Thank you for posting the links to the original publishers. I notice that you have advertisements for your Amazon shop to the right. Have you looked into whether Powell’s Books has a co-marketing plan. Wouldn’t it be better to support an independent bookseller on line, as well?

That great family-run bookstore for three generations, of Portland, Oregon , inceasingly relies on its national internet trade to stay in business. While Powell’s doesn’t offer the deep discounts of the chain stores which view books as just another commodity, Mike Powell explained to Scott Timberg for his December 3 Los Angeles Times story, “Powells turns the page,” that his customers are charged

market price because we pay market wages, market benefits, market rents.

(The store is unionized.)

I got back the comment,

Your comment is awaiting moderation.

Let’s see if it gets posted. If it does, I’ll post a link. If not, as Tony Soprano said,

forgedaboutit!

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