We have our choice of topics for today's broadcast. Review and discuss (yes, Ms Yatsa, this WILL be on the test) these two excellent novels by espionage writer Joseph Kanon; or gossip from the perilous world of bookselling.
Books or gossip? OK – gossip first.
ITEM The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression is holding an auction to raise funds to publicize efforts against banned books. Items include the mockup of a children's book, a hand-sewn dress, and a three-foot high Wimpy Kid. Get your paddles ready. I wish them luck, but these are same things found in any bookstore's back closet, leaning up against torn flyers, sweat-soaked costumes and Curious George paperweights.
ITEM Target stores will stop selling Kindles from Amazon.com, but keep on selling all the other book-reading devices. Does Target see Amazon as an enemy rather than a partner? asks the Christian Science Monitor.
"After all, everything sold in Target is also offered by Amazon," one news report noted. "Target is trying to distance themselves from Amazon as much as possible because they recognize they are losing sales to them... Amazon's practice of undercutting the prices of traditional retailers certainly can't help their case, either."
ITEM Another long-term beef with Amazon concerns the collection – or more specifically the willful failure to collect – state sales taxes. It appears that Amazon is beginning to lose the argument, and that's a good thing for suffering state treasuries everywhere. The latest development is a new agreement between the state of Texas and Amazon.
"The deal... will require the online retailer to begin collecting and remitting sales tax to the state for purchases by Texas residents beginning July 1, 2012. The agreement also calls for Amazon.com to create at least 2,500 jobs and to make at least $200 million in capital investments in the state... In other states where Amazon.com has facilities, the online retailer has managed to score extended sales tax exemptions of two or more years by threatening to close down facilities or not opening up new ones... Texas would have none of it. Comptroller Susan Combs (said) she 'was very emphatic and insistent' that Amazon get its computer system up within 60 days to begin collecting sales tax."
Amazon also reached a deal to collect sales tax in Nevada, beginning January 1, 2014, or sooner (be still my heart) if Congress enacts a national sales tax reporting requirement.
ITEM We continue to read about people opening new bookstores, or second stores. This flies in the face of the common sense consensus that bookstores are dinosaurs. Any time I walk into one of those delightful dinosaurs, I find happy people happily browsing – even buying – real books from real booksellers.
In Ottawa, Canada, David Robbins of Octopus Books is opening a second location. "I prefer 'bold' to 'crazy,'" he said.
ITEM Broadway Books in Portland, Oregon, celebrates 20 years in business... And in failed-chainstore news, the vacant headquarters of Borders Books & Music is on the market for $6.9 million... a new store named Let's Read in Spanish has opened in San Jose, California... the Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, PA, has been sold after 22 years, and will continue under new ownership... Left Bank Books in Searspoint, ME, is moving and expanding... In Minneapolis, Boneshaker Books, a volunteer-run progressive bookstore, has successfully completed a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to expand...
Although you can find gloomy publishing and bookselling news, it's much easier to find the uplifting and happy news. There is a lot of it.
And on the OTHER topic – you know, actual books, let me recommend writer Joseph Kanon with a "K". He writes with authority and "vivid sensory detail" as it says on the cover of Istanbul Passage, his latest. Kanon ranks with great spy novel authors such as John LeCarre and Alan Furst.
Scenes and characters linger in the mind long after closing the final pages. And that's one good way to judge a novel such as Kanon's Stardust, set in 1945 Hollywood. Do the characters last longer than spun sugar on a hot day? These books linger on the tongue.
Kanon's latest novel, Istanbul Passage, also set just after World War Two, begins:
"The first attempt had to be called off. It had taken days to arrange the boat and the safe house, and then, just a few hours before the pickup, the wind started, a poyraz, howling down from the northeast, scooping up water as it swept across the Black Sea. The Bosphorus waves, usually no higher than boat wakes by the time they reached the shuttered yalis along the shore, now churned and smashed against the landing docks. From the quay, Leon could barely make out the Asian side, strings of faint lights hidden behind a scrim of driving rain. Who would risk it? Even the workhorse ferries would be thrown off schedule, never mind a bribed fishing boat."
Gotta keep reading after that...
The CSM on Target and Amazon...
Alan Furst's home pages... And the same for Joseph Kanon ("where did you eat in Istanbul? and more)...
Stardust by Joseph Kanon. Washington Square Press paperback $15. ISBN 9781439156322.
Istanbul Passage by Joseph Kanon. Atria Books hard cover $26. ISBN 9781439156414.