They call it The Big Easy, one of several nicknames for New Orleans. And that’s where Bobbi and I, along with 498 other indie booksellers from North America, will gather today for our annual three days of learning about how to survive the economy in the moment while adapting to the technological mindset of the future. It’s called Winter Institute and this one, wi7, is my fourth in a row. We’ll basically be in school from Café au Lait-infused morning until Etoufee-earned eve on various topics (including “Bookselling in Resort Communities”) but some of the most valuable learning happens in between sessions while clutching the wi7-logoed Moleskine notebooks and yapping in grandiose hallways that crisscross a labyrinth of grand ballrooms. The very best beta however surfaces when the notebooks are left in hotel rooms and the sun has set. Put the classroom and night school into a blender and it’s a well spent 72 hours.
Last January, wi6 was held in Washington DC and it highlighted the legislative aspects connected to bookselling: censorship and book bans (yes, they still occur on a regular basis), debit card swipe fee reform, and the extension of the Patriot Act (emphasis on searches of business records, an important point in a Civil Liberties Safe Zone like Telluride). We also got the chance to speak one-on-one to legislators or their aides about upping the support of a sustainable Main Street America. Hilary (owner of the cafe in the back of the bookstore: High Alpine Coffee Bar) and I and seven other Colorado booksellers visited the office of Senator Michael Bennett to voice these concerns. In addition to a sunset reception at the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress (Mecca for book nerds), and keynotes by Jim Lehrer, Small Business Administration head Karen Mills, and then-president and CEO of National Public Radio Vivian Schiller, wi6 gave us the opportunity to speak our minds in person, a very empowering feeling regardless of the outcome or how rural a zip code.
This year, the New Orleans location will point a spotlight on the city’s robust literary heritage. Regular sellers of New Orleans-based fiction at BTC include The Awakening by Kate Chopin, A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, Junkie by William S. Burroughs, The Moviegoer by Walker Percy, A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams, and of course, Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins. As a special treat, all wi7 attendees were sent a complimentary copy of the 1947 Pulitzer Prize winning novel All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren from publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. It was accompanied by a letter from the CEO of the American Booksellers Association which stated that, in his opinion, this Louisiana classic is “very probably the best novel written about America politics.” Although I haven’t finished the saga of the Starks, within its 650+ pages are lines that just stop-sign the reader, begging for reverse so it can be read again for the first time. I smell a Staff Pick coming on … (and if you’re interested in seeing more Pulitzer winners from years gone by, check out our website’s Award Winners list under Extra Credit: http://www.between-the-covers.com/award-winners). In person, we’ll hear from several big hitters: bestselling authors James Patterson and Ann Patchett (Author of Bel Canto and now also an independent bookstore owner in Memphis, Tennessee), and award-winning historian Douglas Brinkley. In addition to this mega-3, we’ll rub elbows with more than 60 other authors, from the well-known to the up-and-coming. To us, it’s a candy shop, from which we’ll stock our shelves with the sweet, the gooey, and the downright tart titles you’ve come to love.
So, a quick January jaunt to The Big Easy: We’ll see how easy it is to pull our tourist selves out of bed after a literary pub crawl the night before; we’ll see how easy it is not to get another round of doughy beignets; we’ll see how easy it is not to think about the fresh snow we’ll be missing. The easiest thing in The Big Easy will surely be the ability to swiftly make solid friends with like-minded colleagues that are simultaneously trying to stay afloat as a brick-and-mortar shop in a sea of choices.
If time allows, we’ll post updates on Facebook and Between the Lines, BTC’s blog. In the meantime, keep reading late into the night, and as they say in NOLA: “Laissez les bon temps rouler!” And leave us a patch or two of pow, even though we know it won’t be easy …