Posts filed under ‘What are you reading?’
I’m originally from a small town in California outside of Yosemite National Park in the Sierras. I’ve worked in bookselling for 8 years. In college, I worked seasonally at a small independent in my hometown. I came on as a manager for Book Culture in August of 2013.
What is your role as a Manager for Book Culture?
I’m the Event Coordinator for Book Culture, and help with managing the periodicals, floor managing, and help coordinate web content. I’m a semi-pro gift wrapper, and I also occasionally wear shorts and flip-flops.
How did you come to join the Book Culture family?
I moved to NYC in September of 2011 for graduate school. While waiting to board my plane in California, I sent an email to Book Culture to see if they might be hiring. On a layover in Denver, I received a reply from Chris asking if I could come in for temporary work for the coursebook rush. I got to Manhattan around 3am Sunday morning, and by 11am I was working for Book Culture. I’ve been here in some capacity ever since.
What are your areas of expertise?
I read a little all over the place. I studied cultural anthropology in school, so I can speak to that body of work. I read more contemporary fiction now, with a Tennessee Williams play thrown in every couple of books. I enjoy ‘History of the Book’ books. I read samples of most of the magazines we stock, so I can recommend the heck out of a number of those titles.
What are you currently reading?
I’ve been reading The World According to Garp for a while with some friends from college. It’s definitely something. I also recently just read Prelude to Bruise by Saeed Jones. I’ve started to read more stories, fiction and nonfiction, told from the perspective of non-American women. Some of my favorite authors in this vein are Chinelo Okparanta, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Margery Wolf, and Lisa See. I also follow APOGEE and Hello Mr. magazines for their writing.
What’s your favorite part of working for a bookstore?
The community. Bookselling seems to attract wonderful, insightful, collaborative people. I’ve made lifelong friends through my work in bookstores, and for that I’m especially grateful. My quality of life has been forever enriched. (The discount, advanced copies, and BEA are nice perks, too.)
We are thrilled to have MB Caschetta launch her debut novel, Miracle Girls, at our Columbus store this Sunday, January 18th, at 3pm. MB Caschetta is the recipient of a W.K. Rose Fellowship for Emerging Artists, a Sherwood Anderson Foundation Writing Award, and a Seattle Review Fiction Prize. Her work has appeared in the Mississippi Review, Del Sol Review,3:AM Magazine, New York Times, and Chronicle of Higher Education, among others.
We’d like to thank her for taking the time to share her work with us and hope you enjoy the Q&A!
How did you come to write Miracle Girls?
I was actually writing a very different novel when Miracle Girls emerged and took over. It’s been quite a long and unexpected process; I’ve been writing the novel since my last book (a short story collection) was published in 1996. It’s not at all the novel I expected it to be, which is kind of amazing. And it took me on a kind of surprising spiritual journey, which is a lofty way of saying it was rejected a lot! The lesson I learned about novels (and maybe life) is that you have to accept it on its own terms. Resisting just makes for a lot of unhappiness and road blocks. Mostly, this book has taught me to go with the flow and to not give up hope. It’s a happy ending for me, since the book has been so graciously received with wonderful reviews from Kirkus and People Magazine.
Do you have a personal favorite book of all time? If so, can you share it and tell us why?
I have so many favorite books, it’s difficult to say. My favorite book of all time is probably a tie between Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, which I somehow read in part in Russian in college, though I couldn’t do that now, and Nabokov’s Lolita. But more importantly my current favorite book is Elizabeth McCracken’s new short story collection, THUNDERSTRUCK. I think I’m going to read it a second time. I feel like I loved the experience of reading it so much that I went too fast. I think I can take it in more deeply on a second read.
What’s next? Any upcoming book projects in the works that you can tell us about?
I am writing a non-fiction book about the experience and the cultural phenomenon of disinheritance. A few years ago I published a personal essay in the New York Times about having found out as a surprise that I was disinherited by my father (nyti.ms/vmZcxa). It’s been a difficult book to write; I am on a third draft, and still struggling to get the right even-handed tone and a voice that is more deeply my own. My family is unhappy about my writing on the topic, so that adds another layer of complication. Like Miracle Girls, though, it feels like a book I have to write: I have no choice in the matter, since it won’t leave me alone otherwise. After that, though, I hope I get to write a fun book. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
I’m from Chicago by way of Worcester, Massachusetts. I moved here a few months ago for grad school and when I’m not at Book Culture, I am teaching second grade.
What is your role as a bookseller for Book Culture?
On top of having store hours, I also work as the accounting assistant. I wouldn’t necessarily say I control all the money for the new store, but…
How did you come to be join the Book Culture family?
I recently graduated and was looking for a job that would be flexible as I pursue my graduate degree in Special Education and Social Work at Bank Street/Columbia.
What are your areas of expertise?
Children and middle reader books. If you want your kid to be the next Junie B. Jones or Nate the Great, I got you.
What are you looking forward to most at Book Culture on Columbus?
The comfy chairs.
I’ve been working at Book Culture for almost two years now—one year at the 112th St. location and one at Broadway. I’m a refugee from academia (with a PhD in Archaeology) and have taken quite a shine to bookslinging. Oh, and I also play rugby with the New York Rugby Club women’s team.
What is your role as the manager for Book Culture?
Behind the scenes, I do the backlist buying for Broadway and help order sidelines and cards for both Broadway and Columbus. On the floor, I’m a Jill of All Trades—customer service, merchandizing, restocking, receiving, &c. &c.
How did you come to join the Book Culture family?
I moved to New York three years ago and started at Book Culture as a way to structure my time during the final stages of my dissertation. Fast forward to now, and I’m still here! I love learning the ins and outs of the book business, and it’s been an exciting experience to help open a new store.
What are your areas of expertise?
Academically speaking, you can come to me for questions about Ancient History, Classics and Archaeology. In my spare time, I read a lot of Sci-Fi & Fantasy, and I’ve been working to catch up on the years of literary fiction I missed out on during the PhD slog.
What are you currently reading?
The Peripheral, William Gibson’s latest—it’s fantastic!
What you’re looking forward to most at Book Culture on Columbus?
I’m a total sales numbers nerd, so I’m excited to get to know our new neighbors and learn about the kinds of things they like or dislike. Buying is a lot like gambling, and I’m looking forward to seeing how our bets are going to play out!
Stay tuned for more staff Q&As!
Vica Miller launched her latest book, Inga’s Zigzags, at our store in May. She took the time to answer some questions about her reading. We would like to thank Vica for spending time and sharing her work with us.
1) What are you currently reading?
I’m reading Where I’m Calling From, short stories by Raymond Carver. I have also embarked on Empty Without You (intimate letters of Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok). I recently finished This is How You Lose Her by Juno Diaz, which was brilliant, and next on my TBR list is The Land of Steady Habits by Ted Thompson.
2) Is there anything you’re particularly looking forward to the publication of?
3) Are there standard titles or writers you like to recommend, either within or outside of your field?
I love everything by Jeanette Winterson, especially Written on the Body. Anais Nin’s diaries, Fire. I read and re-read Vladimir Nabokov. I think Laughter in the Dark (Camera Obscura) is the most outstanding novel ever written about an affair (besides Anna Karenina). My other literary heroes are Joan Didion, Toni Morrison, Ludmila Ulitskaya, Sarah Waters, Susan Sontag & Mary Gaitskill. Simon Van Booy’s writing is pure magic, especially his short stories. I think I’ve read everything by J. M. Coetzee, Michael Cunningham and Jeffrey Eugenides. And of course the Russian classics I grew up with, Dostoyevsky and Chekhov.
4) Do you have a personal favorite book of all time? If so, can you share it and tell us why?
It’s hard to name one book for all time, as time always changes and so do we.
I wanted to say Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, but how can I favor it over The Idiot by Dostoyevsky? And of course Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
5) What’s next? Any upcoming book projects in the works that you can tell us about?
I’m revising my second novel, The Shadow of a Blue Doll, and I have a few short stories in the works.
Vica Miller grew up in St. Petersburg (Russia) and has been a New Yorker for over two decades. George Plimpton called her a writer, and she believed him. Her first novel, Inga’s Zigzags, was published on May 14, 2014 by Ladno Books.
Vica also hosts the Vica Miller Literary Salon. The salons provide a platform for fresh voices in literature, who are serious about the craft of writing. They present new work from a mix of established and emerging writers, with the ultimate goal of supporting the literary arts and creating a loyal community of followers. Each salon features four writers and is set in a private gallery or art space.
“If you’re going to read one bisexual management consulting Russian novel this year, please, dear god, make it this one.” ~ Gary Shteyngart
As the World Cup begins, it is hard not to see in its popularity certain narratives about how the world is changing. In America, soccer is no longer just something we remember playing as kids — MLS attendance rates now surpass those of the NHL and NBA, European club soccer is exported to the States in lucrative cable deals, and seemingly every male under the age of 25 has played a game of FIFA. In the U.K., Saudi Arabian oil barons body check their way into the upper echelons of club soccer with record-setting transfer fees for players. Across leagues, the very best talent is increasingly concentrated on superstar teams. Globally, it seems fans are watching less out of parochial loyalty and more out of a thirst for quality entertainment. What are these trends if not the evidence of how we are losing hold on our imagined communities? Of inequality, pluralism, and globalization?
The World Cup works as a sort of historicizing punctuation: every four years it prompts us to reevaluate our international relationships. When West Germany dominated the stage in the 60s and 70s, it felt like a moral point was being made about the Cold War. When the United States languishes internationally, it feels revolutionary. Of course, these storylines are often effaced by the thoroughly visceral action of the game. (Who cares about the British Commonwealth when Tim Cahill scores a volley off the crossbar?) But it’s clear that soccer invites and fulfills these narratives about peoples, nations, and the world.
It comes as no surprise, then, that there are so many fantastic books about it. Literature, international studies, politics, economics — these are a few of the many lenses through which authors have approached the game. To help you find more stories for your World Cup experience, Book Culture has come up with the following spotlight.
Before the Aztecs were conquered by the Spanish, they played Ōllamaliztli, bumping rubber balls off their knees and hips into stone hoops. Though often played for sport, the game was also used as a proxy for warfare and sometimes preceded human sacrifice. This is where Andreas Campomar begins his history of fútbol in Latin America — and it is quite appropriate, because it seems that, at least in its relationship to ball games, not much has changed in Latin America since the 15th century, where bitter sporting rivalries have fueled political developments and roaming bands of hooligans have been known to attack one each other after matches. Interweaving the history of club soccer with that of international play, and setting it to the backdrop of colonial influence and political upheaval, Campomar’s history will certainly be relevant as the World Cup opens in Brazil and other Latin American powerhouses like Uruguay and Argentina vie for the cup.
Argentinian writer Eduardo Sacheri is already quite famous in his country of origin for his four earlier collections of short stories. In the States, he is best known for The Secret in Their Eyes, his first novel, which was adapted for the screen and won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2009. His new book tells of a hapless ex-investor, Alejandro “Mono” Raguzzi, who spent his severance package on the transfer fee for Mario Pittilanga, an up-and-coming forward in the lower club leagues. Pittilanga inevitably performs poorly, and as he languishes Mono is diagnosed with cancer. After Mono passes away, it is up to his brother and two best friends — all equally hapless — to dump off the forward’s contract on another ill-fated investor. Part comedy-of-errors in the vein of The Big Lebowski, part mystery-of-personality in the vein of The Savage Detectives, Papers in the Wind is a book that should be welcome to literary soccer fans tired of all the commercial hoo-ha surrounding the World Cup and more interested in the emotional bonds that tie fans together.
What list of soccer books could be complete without David Peace, the author best-known for his controversial book The Damned UTD, a fictionalized account of Brian Clough’s 44-day stint as manager of Leeds football club in 1974. In this story of a troubled anti-hero struggling with alcoholism and the lingering effects of his predecessor, Peace weaves together fiction and rumor with documented facts to produce “a fiction based on fact.” A minor classic in the U.K., where it was published by Faber & Faber in 2006, the book has just been released in the States by Melville House, which also picked up Peace’s new, equally World-Cup-relevant novel, Red or Dead. In Red or Dead, Peace turns his attention to another U.K. club manager of 1974, Bill Shankly, who over 15 years transformed Liverpool from perpetual Second Division underachievers into one of the biggest powerhouse clubs in the U.K. — winners of two F.A. cups and one UEFA during his tenure. In these two books about tough-minded Brits dealing with the injustices of upper level sporting management, it is hard not to recognize the similarities to the American incarnations in books like Moneyball — and, perhaps, to find a salve for England’s poor international results.
And some backlist Extras:
Kuper, who wrote a lengthy piece in the most recent Harper’s about the globalization of soccer, explores in this book how economics influence the performance of club and international teams. Why do the English perform so poorly internationally? Why are the Italians so poor at relocating their players? The answers lie in this book, just re-released this April.
Also focused on the intersections of economics and soccer, Franklin Foer’s How Soccer Explains the World looks at the increasing globalization of the game and how it parallels the “flattening” of the global economy.
A poetic history of the game and its political undercurrents, Soccer in Sun and Shadow is Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano’s lyrical masterpiece about his cherished childhood sport. Written in 1995, it was just translated into English this past August.
1) First of all, tell us a little bit about your name. What’s the connection with the fairy tale, and what’s the story behind that extra “e”?
A: A very fitting start, as our name is a source of constant explanation. The name arose when the original founders were in college, and it has a bit of the feeling of a band name that is chosen on a whim, and ends up dogging the group for years. If you wanted to look at it more seriously, the reference to the fairy tale could be seen as a statement of position in relation to the poetic canon and the publishing industry at large. It is our goal to never become that beautiful swan. A couple other things about the name: in recent years, some members of the collective have taken to favoring the nom de plume UDP over Ugly Duckling Presse; the abbreviation brings a pleasingly material and abstract flavor. Also, we make it a point to never call ourselves Ugly Duckling, it is always Ugly Duckling Presse. We are rather insistent on that fact.
As for the famed ‘e’ on the end of our name…the closest specific reference is Kafka- or K-Presse, a small German publishing house that a number of the founders were taken with. The ‘e’ denotes the fact that our range of activities/interests extends beyond just publishing and just poetry; it tells you that we care about criticism, performance, essays, and fiction; it tells you that we are interested in the event as a source of poetic activity beyond the page.
2) Ugly Duckling has been around in one form or another since 1993. Based on the history of the press available on your website, it seems like a remarkable success story–a xeroxed college zine spawns one of the most well-known independent presses in Brooklyn–and it all took place during a time when publishing as an industry was experiencing a much-publicized downturn. How do you account for the success of the project over the past two decades?
A: It’s rather inexplicable isn’t it? But it goes to show the power of dedication, and it speaks to the virtues of a loose-knit collective as an organizational principle. Seriously, our capacity for inefficiency becomes a virtue of longevity, as well as ulcers for our office managers. It all comes back to one premise: the love of the book and of collaboration. UDP grew out of that premise, and we continue to refine and repurpose our rules and guidelines to suit it. Everything must go back to the premise.
Also, the very smallness of poetry has allowed us to carry on. At this small size, it doesn’t take much to grow. Or, perhaps—speaking of fairy tales—you can think of UDP, and of poetry in general, as the tortoise. It is never going to move fast, is never going to sell those huge numbers, but it endures, it keeps pushing forward, borne on by the passion of its participants. That’s the thing: small numbers, big feelings.
3) It’s no surprise after reading about some of the publishing experiments that UDP has undertaken that the press began as a zine devoted to absurdist literature. Here are some phrases I pulled off your website: “an accordion book in a custom-made felt pajama top”; “from subversive postcard art to teabag-size magazines to zines printed on tree bark”; “‘LAPA’ by Daniil Kharms–UDP’s first paperless book–is performed during a snowstorm”; “a readable ice-cream sandwich.” To what extent is this type of innovation part of UDP’s raison d’etre, and has it become easier or more difficult to pull off these kinds of experiments as the organization has expanded?
A: This type of innovation is the zest in UDP’s drink. It is the rug that ties the room together. UDP believes firmly that the boundaries of the book can and must be tested by prodding them with this absurdity. That being said, our efforts have shifted over the years to a concentration on the type of material we publish, as opposed to big, crazy gestures like our Anti-Readings (ooh, we miss those so much). Now, this tendency is more likely to emerge in the decision to publish a piece that would have no chance at another publishing house. Or in our decision to take on big projects that stretch our capacities, such as the Emergency Index periodical, which is unwieldy, but wonderful, and, we think, a vital project. Or the Digital Proofs Program on our website.
UDP has always had a love affair with the event, and so this attitude to innovation manifests in our approach to readings and fundraisers. As regards the latter, our Ready Made Flea was almost more concerned with affording a unique, enjoyable experience for the community than it was with raking in the big dollars. But it ended up being so much fun! When it comes down to it, UDP will always choose absurdity.
4) Poetry in translation is a big part of UDP’s catalogue. Can you say a little bit about how the press goes about commissioning those translations, choosing which poets to publish, and how closely you work with the original poets?
A: Translation is one of the crucial planks in our platform, along with bringing out emerging voices and uncovering important lost works. A number of our editors are translators, so they bring personal experience and a deeper scholarly perspective to the decision making process. Our Eastern European Poets Series is a great example (it now has 34 titles). It was spearheaded by Matvei Yankelevich, who is the series editor. He works through his own interests, and his own knowledge of that milieu, to decide what will come out under that series, and if possible he works directly with the author, as in the case of Tomaz Salamun’s Poker, and On The Tracks of Wild Game. In a situation where the author is deceased, he works directly with the translators to determine the size and scope of the project. This is how Vsevolod Nekrasov’s I Live I See came into being. (Bela Shayevich and Ainsley Morse are two of the most wonderful writers/translators/performers in the world!)
UDP editors have a very wide latitude in determining the types of projects they engage, so every case is different. However, there is a consistent ratio of projects begun because an author/translator approached us with a proposal, and projects begun because an editor pursued an idea.
5) It seems like interns and volunteers are an integral part of Ugly Duckling Presse. How do you seek out interns, and what level of involvement do they have in your organization?
Interns. Are. Essential. We love our interns, and we couldn’t do this without them. Applications mainly come from university students in the US and abroad. Interns conduct many of the day-to-day operations of the presse, from social media to shipping; in these they have a large degree of freedom and responsibility. UDP is keenly aware of the potentially exploitative nature of internships—many collective members were former interns themselves—so we take care to make sure that the internship is a positive and meaningful experience. Funnily enough, this often comes in the form of giving interns more responsibilities: drafting press releases, reading submissions, typesetting, proofing. This is the work that the type of person who wants to intern at UDP is interested in doing, and so our goal is to make sure that there is real learning happening. And it goes both ways, being open to interns having a voice means that we hear new perspectives. Trying to cut down on the hierarchy (all editorial work at UDP is unpaid), and focusing on creating an atmosphere where everyone is working together to achieve the common goal of making the books happen.
6) Say a little bit about the economics of UDP. How do you keep the business viable? You have 501(c)(3) tax-exempt (nonprofit) status. What exactly does that mean, for anyone who might not know, and how important has it been for the press?
A: If you abandon the idea of big profits, your organization can live for years. Anyone interested in pursuing a small-press poetry venture would do well to mull that advice. It’s about subsistence, focusing on recouping expenses, and being dogged in tracking them down.
It’s not possible to talk about the economics of UDP without saying that we can only afford to do it because the labor is volunteer-based; the editorial work and day-to-day tasks are spread among the group, which make it a part-time labor of love rather than a job. In some ways, this is problematic and we’re not quite sure how sustainable it is. But there’s no way to explain our functioning without making this clear.
Nonprofit status relieves us of the burden of having to pay taxes on the merchandise that we sell. It is also an important organizational status that grants us validity in the eyes of the state. It allows UDP to exist in a word. There’s a stack of paperwork in our files as thick as the bible that is necessary to document and confirm this status.
UDP draws revenue from four main different sources: Our direct sales (sales through our website), sales to bookstores (through distributors like SPD and to partner bookstores like Book Culture (Thanks Book Culture!)), subscriptions (around 80-100 per year + 5-10 libraries), and grants. (Our largest supporters are the NEA, NYSCA and the DCA. They have supported us consistently for years and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude.) Grants make up between 35-50 percent of our operating budget in any given year, and those grants are only available because of our nonprofit status. So without it, we wouldn’t be here talking.
Nonprofit status also helps us innumerably throughout the year, by cutting down on things like office and events expenses; it is also an important ideological marker, which conveys a double message: 1) that we are basically wards of the state, meaning that we are not a business, and that our concerns are allowed to be other than profit-pursuit, and 2) that we are hard-nosed realists, who understand the mechanics by which an impractical venture such as ours can circumnavigate the vagaries of the market, i.e. we do what we have to do to get by.
UDP is a volunteer editorial collective, and as such has no one unified voice or set of opinions, even about itself. The answers to these questions came from editor Michael Newton, and they are his opinions about the Presse.