23 January 2012

Nawlins Day One: As the Crowe Flies and Read and Eats and Drinks

Our first full day at Winter Institute (and thus New Orleans) could start off in only one way: a visit to Cafe Du Monde.  Touristy? To be sure. But you'll also find plenty of locals here, and the staff are kind to the homeless of New Orleans, so consider that the next time you're looking for a reason to go.   But despite the the fact that it's touristy, Cafe Du Monde's prices are decidedly not.  Breakfast for three, including three plates of beignets, two cafe au laits, and once hot chocolate came to just under $20.  My roommate, Marika McCoola, and I met up with Ann Kingman, one of our terrific Random House sales reps (and whom some of my readers might know for her Books on the Nightstand podcast with Michael Kindness), at 8:00 Wednesday morning to walk to CDM from our hotel, the Crowne Plaza on Canal & Bourbon. 
Each order of three beignets comes absolutely drenched in powdered sugar, but you have to do that in order to balance out the fat from the fried dough.  Add in coffee for a completely nutritional breakfast. You have to trust me on that.
It was a beautiful morning, sunny & bright, made all the more welcome by the wintry weather all three of us had left behind. All three of us were in high spirits as we walked back to the hotel, just in time to be addressed by Ann Patchett, America's favorite new bookseller.  That's right--for those of you who haven't heard, Patchett was dismayed when all of the bookstores in her hometown of Nashville closed; when nobody else stepped forward to open one, she did it herself.  She's an amazing speaker who can talk engagingly off the cuff quite at length and she held us all spellbound telling us of her early book tour and the challenges it presented (her publisher gave her $3000 to cover a 30-city book tour).  Inspirational is not a word I use lightly, but she really was.  And if I admit that I was on the verge of tears more than once during her talk, it's because she's tapped into that collective feeling we had of the urgency of our situation as indie booksellers, on the edge of big changes, opportunities, and challenges. I clearly wasn't the only one who felt that way because she is the only speaker from Winter Institute that I recall receiving a standing ovation from all of us. Here's a photo from the New York Times showing Ms Patchett and Karen Hayes, her business partner (and incidentally my old sales rep for Bantam Doubleday Dell when I used to work at Lemuria).
Not my image: it's from the NYTimes
Later that day we got to sit back and listen while USA Today writer Bob Minzenheimer interviewed eminent historian and writer Douglas Brinkley, author of The Great Deluge, his book about the experience of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.  He and his family actually were stranded in the city during the ordeal, so unlike the subject of most of his books, he has firsthand knowledge of just exactly how terrible those days and weeks were.  Like with Patchett's talk, my eyes watered a bit listening to Brinkley describe in detail the everyday acts of heroism he witnessed at the hands of the disenfranchised, those with nothing to lose who acted with strength and grace while those the city should have been able to count on, including former Mayor Nagin and former President George W. Bush, sequestered themselves away in cowardly fashion.

That night Algonquin  (one of my favorite publishers) partnered with local New Orleans bookseller Britton Trice to host a gathering of booksellers, and Joan and I were extremely fortunate to have been included.  Britton owns the Garden District Bookshop and his home is in the same district; I'm not sure what the publisher folks had to do to convince him and his wife to host us, but it had to have been a pretty sweet deal because his place is amazing.  Check out the size of these bookshelves, which line the entire room that Karen is standing in (I asked her to stay there to give the photo some scale):
We basically could have just enjoyed ourselves by reading his bookshelves, but no! Algonquin provided authors from their 2012 list for our entertainment AND some amazing truck food to feed us all.  Brandon Jones, Kris D'Agostino, and John T. Edge, authors of All Woman and Springtime and The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac, and Truck Food, respectively, signed books for the thirty or so of us and between times we noshed on the amazing food provided by Que Crawl (pulled pork and shrimp po-boys, boudin balls, Krispy Kreme bread pudding--need I say more?).  Here's bookseller extraordinaire, Stan Hynds, who hails from Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT, in front of the food truck, followed by a photo of Brandon Jones as he was about to sign my book:

The night ended relatively early for Winter Institute dinners, so I did what any self-respecting bookseller would do: I texted Emily from Lemuria to see if she and her roommate, Kelly, wanted to meet up for a drink.  45 minutes later, we were walking through the Quarter looking for a good place to go.  They in turn texted their local host, who recommended a few places in Maurigny or on the far end of the Quarter, and we ended up at a place called Molly's for a round of beers and dishing about the bidness.  I'm pretty sure we solved most of our bookstores' problems.  If only we remembered the solutions by light of day!  I thought it was a late night, almost shutting down Molly's and getting in around 2:00 am, but apparently that was just child's play compared to the following evening, but that will have to wait for another telling...


  1. Ann Patchett's just the best. I want her to be my wise neighbor who drops by with tea when I've had a bad day.

    This all looks awesome! I am totes looking forward to the other days.

  2. I love that Pratchett took up the cause. We don't have a bookstore in our town and I have to drive an hour away to find one. There's nothing like walking into a place that smells of pages.

  3. Yay for Cafe du Monde!

    It's nice to see the Book Blogger Hop up and running again. I'm using it now to track my wishlist reading progress. I hope you stop by.


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