Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Signed Encounters of the Firsts Kind: Richard Russo in New York City, June 4, 2012

A horse but personable Richard Russo discussed and signed his new collection Interventions (DownEast, 2012), along with his daughter, the artist Kate Russo, last night at the wonderful Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn, NY. The book is actually 4 slight paper booklets in a more substantial slip case, and is meant to be a tribute to the printed book; in other words a book that is not e-bookable. The collection features a new novella, "Intervention," and three previously published works, "Horseman," The Whore's Child," and "High and Dry." Each volume has laid in a postcard size reproduction of a Kate Russo painting inspired by and encapsulating the story inside.

The Russos spent the discussion period advocating for independent bookstores and allowing new or young novelists the chance to be browsed. They also talked briefly about the art behind the book itself. Russo argued that depending on the algorithms of the Amazons of the world--the "you may like" phenomenon-- or the selection of a big box store--where you can find mostly authors with "names"--has the pernicious effect of undermining (sometimes quite purposefully) not only the independent book store, but also a significant process of discovery. Without curated indies, readers will not be able to happen upon many less established authors and we will all suffer. This is all well and good, but doesn't tell the whole story which is far more complicated to my mind. One of the things not addressed was embodied in Russo's book project to keep books alive; a copy of Interventions will run you $40, a price out of reach for many people. As a book fetishist who struggles not to spend his entire disposable income on books at independent stores (I rarely buy fiction from Amazon as first printings cannot be guaranteed), I am keenly aware that while I do my personal best to keep them in business, these stores generally charge much more for books. That's fine for people with money.

Personally, I think (and hope) physical books are more like blue jeans than LPs. I like to see signed first editions as a little democratic works of art.

On a more selfish note, I also think this whole discussion is why independents should (and often do) nurture readers who like to collect books and get their books signed. By nurture, I mean host as many author readings and signings as possible. Author appearances can create a bond between readers and writers and energize a local reading community. They are relatively low cost ways to make a store a cultural center. And Amazon doesn't sell signed books. By nurture, I also mean do not get uptight when collectors or dealers buy multiple copies or bring their own to get signed and fall into the trap of making up rules to restrict signings. I always spend more freely in stores that don't hassle me for getting my own books signed and I am convinced that the store makes more money short term, from the traffic that readings bring in and, more long term, from the good will established by letting me get my books signed without bs. Don't make me buy a book AND prevent me from getting back titles signed at the same time. This is why I will patronize warm, inviting stores like Greenlight, McNally Jackson and Book Court, and avoid the Strand to the extent that that is possible. I'm talking to you Strand.

Anyhow, getting down off my soap box, below is Russo's current signature.

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