Tag Archives: David McCullough

Should Book Stores Charge for Author Events?

Yesterday’s New York Times business section, had an article about independent book stores charging people to attend author events, Come Meet the Author, but Open Your Wallet. I hadn’t thought of this as a trend even though I’ve coughed up more than a few dollars to see authors in person.  It’s usually an experience that goes well beyond a sales spiel about a book.

For example, I went to an event last week with David McCullough who gave an hour-plus

David McCullough, out to promote his new book, The Greater Journey. Is it worth it to pay to attend author events?

talk about his book The Greater Journey and his career in general.  The Bookcase, an independent bookseller in Wayzata, Minnesota, held the event at a local church to accommodate the large crowd. The tab: $20 per ticket, with $10 of that going toward the purchase of the book.  I left the event having had the pleasure of hearing McCullough speak and I walked out with a new hardcover copy of the book.  I was a happy camper. From the looks of it, the hundreds of people in attendance (who also left with copies of the book, many signed by the author) were equally happy, and it seems as a result The Bookcase and the author must have been pleased as well.

According to the New York Times article, “Bookstore owners say they are charging for author events because too many people regularly come to see authors having already bought a book online or planning to do so later. Consumers now see the bookstore merely as another library — a place to browse, do informal research and pick up staff recommendations.”

“They type titles into their iPhones and go home,” Nancy Salmon, the floor manager at Kepler’s, an indie bookstore in Menlo Park, Calif., told the paper.  “We know what they’re doing, and it has tested my patience.” (I have to confess I’ve been a lurker at these events and left the store empty handed.)

The downside of charging is that it may discourage people from attending author events and thus diminish the sense of a readers’ community that bookstores create.  That’s one thing that sets indies apart from the online booksellers, live interconnectedness, serving as a sort of cultural center.  The article quotes novelist Ann Patchett, who is currently touring to promote her new book, State of Wonder and who says she is concerned that people who do not have enough money to buy a hardcover book — especially students or the elderly — might be left out. “I wouldn’t want the people who have no idea who I am and have nothing else to do on a Wednesday night shut out,” she said. “Those are your readers.”

Yet for every Ann Patchett or David McCullough, authors who can attract a crowd to events because they’re already well known, there are little-known authors who booksellers could never charge you to see.  It’s every new author’s nightmare to stand alone in the back of the store with no one except the store manager to hear her presentation.

I say it’s okay for bookstores to charge for the big names that will draw people in and spur them to buy books, especially if a portion of the fee can go toward book purchases. It might even make more author events seem like a “hot ticket.”

A Literary and Culinary Trip Across the Brooklyn Bridge, New York City

Brooklyn Bridge
Manhattan to Brooklyn over the Brooklyn Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the most famous landmarks in New York City and  walking its span over the East River (just over a mile) is one of my favorite things to do there. A dedicated pedestrian walkway, the Promenade, runs over the center of the bridge and below an estimated one hundred forty-four thousand vehicles cross the bridge every day, which makes it hard to imagine what it was like before the bridge connected the two cities of New York and Brooklyn.  How did the Brooklyn hipsters get to the other side? By boat.

Hike along the wooden Promenade… Cables composed of 3600 miles of steel wire weaving like a spider web around you, the 276½ feet foot towers rising above, the Statue of Liberty standing guard over the harbor to one side, and the view of the city’s massive skyscrapers all around combine for an experience that makes you feel humming with energy.

Reading David McCullough’s book The Great Bridge – The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge, adds an extra dimension to a walk across the bridge. McCullough tells the story of the fourteen-year effort of building the bridge, which finally opened in 1883. It was at the time an unimaginably daring feat of engineering, exemplary of America’s Age of Optimism. As someone who lives not too far from the I-35W bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis four years ago, the enduring solidity of the Brooklyn Bridge seems even more impressive.

I was particularly fascinated by McCullough’s description of how caissons (used to plant the footings of the huge towers) work.  But, The Great Bridge is more than an explanation of civil engineering. McCullough also weaves in the politics and personalities of New York’s movers and shakers at the end of the Gilded Age, particularly the remarkable designers of the bridge, John Roebling and his son Washington Roebling, who was tragically debilitated by “the bends,” known as caisson’s disease, during the building of the bridge. For a nice discussion of the book, see the Past as Prologue blog.

Bridge-walkers disagree about which is the best way to go, Manhattan to Brooklyn or vice

Street art in DUMBO

versa.  Some recommend taking the subway to Brooklyn and walking back to Manhattan, which offers fantastic views of the Manhattan skyline.  However, I enjoy going the Manhattan-to-Brooklyn route, with the incentive of all the great food that awaits near the end of the bridge on the other side. So, find the pedestrian walkway near City Hall in Manhattan and stroll across the bridge to the DUMBO neighborhood. That’s an acronym for “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass” but DUMBO is also under the Brooklyn Bridge.

From the end of the bridge it’s a short walk to Grimaldi’s Pizzeria, under the Brooklyn Bridge at 19 Old Fulton Street.  There’s almost always a wait, but it’s worth it.   Then, it’s time for more carb-loading, which you can justify with all that exercise you’ve done walking across the bridge. Almondine Bakery, 85 Water Street, which New York magazine calls the best bakery in the city, is a great place to stop in for coffee and pastry.  It’s especially cozy when the weather’s bad.  Or, pick up amazing chocolate-packed cookies, or homemade ice cream sandwiches at Jacques Torres  at 66 Water Street and head over to Brooklyn Bridge Park.  The Cove section of the park lies between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridge and offers an terrific Manhattan view.  It’s also one of the few places on the New York City waterfront where visitors can actually get down to the water. Its a rich habitat for fish, crabs, and birds of the New York Harbor Estuary.

New York, bridges and chocolate…what could be better?