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The literary novel praised by respected critics at numerous news outlets languished on your nightstand. But the book with an eye-catching cover that didn’t get much ink, but came recommended by a friend in a sci-fi book club, kept you riveted. That’s one of many reasons best-sellers and buzzworthy books don’t always match up. We consider the cultural factors that bring a book to readers’ attention and what it takes for a title to keep it.
- Ron Charles Editor of Book World, The Washington Post
- Eileen McGervey Owner, One More Page Books in Arlington, VA.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. When facing stacks of books in a store or library or perusing countless lists online, how do you choose what to read? Do you reach for the best seller, a staff recommendation, an award winner you've never heard of or the latest from your favorite author whose work you've read a dozen times already?
MR. KOJO NNAMDIMaybe you go for the book reviewed in the paper that morning because the critic has steered you right in the past or just maybe you reach for the one whose author you heard on the radio. With so many choices, deciding which to bet on, going all in to spend your time and money can be a gamble for even the savviest reader. Here to help us gain the odds is Ron Charles. He is the editor of Book World at The Washington Post. Ron, good to see you again.
MR. RON CHARLESThanks for having me.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Eileen McGervey, owner of One More Page Books in Arlington, Va. Eileen McGervey, thank you for joining us.
MS. EILEEN MCGERVEYThanks, it's great to be here.
NNAMDIYou too can join the conversation. Give us a call, 800-433-8850 or you can go to our website, kojoshow.org, join the conversation there where you can also take our survey and you can give us a call with your points of view. You'll find all kinds of other links at our website, kojoshow.org, links to what Ron's been up to recently at the Washington Post. Links to One More Page's Shop, the IndieBound Bestseller list, the National Book Festival, Fall for the Book, Gaithersburg Book Festival. It's a book-fest, kojoshow.org. And you can also ask a comment -- or ask a question or make a comment there.
NNAMDILet's start with the Best Seller list. Each is compiled differently and as an author, once you make it on one, you might have it made. Ron, last summer "Gone Girl," marked a year on the Post list and right now, "The Goldfinch" is closing in on that milestone. What does it take to get onto a Best Seller list and stay there?
CHARLESIf we knew that we would be millionaire's, wouldn't we? You've got to sell a number of books in a particular week and that's the math that plays into this. You could sell a thousand books every week but never make the list, even if you did that for the whole century because your sales have to take place in a particular week. So the publisher spins a lot of time and money trying to make sure that the reviews come out at once, that feature shows on radio and television. They all take place at one-time to boost the sales during that seven day period, to get on that list, because as you suggest, it's a sticky list. Once you get on, you tend to stay on.
NNAMDIAnd is there a difference between lists, the New York Times list, the Washington Post list, the Independent Book stores list? What's the difference?
MCGERVEYThere are definitely differences between those lists. You know, the differences mainly come from who does the reporting. You know, where's the information coming from? The New York Times and the Washington Post, to some degree, are using information from a lot of different sources and retailers, including, you know, Barnes and Noble, Amazon and things like that.
MCGERVEYThere's also, what we frequently refer to as our Indie Bound list and that is made up of all the sales from independent book sellers throughout the country. So while there's definitely overlap between those lists, there's also some unique things on each one of those lists that you won't see on the other ones.
NNAMDIDo you ever compare the lists?
NNAMDII thought you did, to see what gets where and what stays on longer. Do you run across people who refuse to read certain titles whether best sellers or buzz-y titles, simply because of all the hype?
CHARLESYou do hear that as sort of snobbery about the list. It's a best seller, you hear that about the Oprah books, which is completely ridiculous. A lot of sophisticated books get on the list. Oprah has recommended a lot of very find, sophisticated books. I think that snobbery is too broad and not intelligent.
NNAMDIRon, if you are a student of the best seller list and you track them regularly, you might start to notice that pretty often books that makes the list, make the list aren't necessarily the ones reviewed in major newspapers or, well, discussed on public radio. What does it mean when the books, people read, aren't necessarily the ones being talked about in media outlets?
CHARLESIt is true. For instance, this coming Sunday, I can reveal here, this coming Sunday, the number one best seller on the Washington Post best seller list will be Sandra Brown's "Mean Streak," and the number 10 book, at the end of that list, will be Danielle Steele's "A Perfect Life." We will not review either of those books. They're probably perfectly entertaining books but we tend not to review Danielle Steele's books or Sandra Brown's. In a sense, I think, they're like TV shows, very entertaining, they have their regular audiences but would you really want to read a review of every episode of "Modern Family?"
CHARLESEven though it's a great show, you don't need that. You know this authors, you go back to them. You see the characters you like and we have nothing against that but we don't know what -- we don't know how to cover that in 900 words.
NNAMDIHow long would it take for you to explain to our listeners the process by which you decide which books to read? Do we have enough time here for you to do that?
CHARLESOh, you know, it's the covers and the bribes. It's just -- it is an art. I mean, we're trying to create a variety of our -- for our coverage. We want to make sure, with certain authors, are going to be reviewed, of course, Donna Tartt, Jonathan Franzen, those giant authors will always be reviewed. But then we also want to make sure that we're covering lots of different tastes, that we have some variety in genders, in races and different forms. We're getting better and better at this.
CHARLESThis year, to make sure we were doing this, I introduced a monthly column on romance because we were never getting to romance and people like to read it, so I thought we should cover it. So we do that every month now. We did the same for Sci-Fi because we would say we want to cover it but it just kept falling through the cracks. And once we built it into our schedule every month, then we were doing a much better job at it.
NNAMDII'm glad you limited it to less than an hour. Eileen, what do you hear from customers about what draws them to the books that they buy?
MCGERVEYWell, it's kind of interesting because when we first opened this store, we did feature a lot of the best sellers on the New York Times and Washington Post and that really wasn't what people gravitated to. They gravitated towards something new. And I think that's one of the things that they look for in the store as well as when they're reading reviews, is, you know, something new that may be they hadn't heard of before or that catches their eye. And sometimes it can just be that it's got a really great book cover that entices them to pick it up.
NNAMDIWe'll talk about covers later in the broadcast. In case you're just joining us, we're talking with Ron Charles, he is the editor of Book World at the Washington Post. Eileen McGervey is the owner of One More Page Books in Arlington, Va. We're talking about best sellers and critical darlings and inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Do you look the best seller list to decide what to read or what to avoid? Tell us which one you use and how you use it, 800-433-8850. You can also send us email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
NNAMDIRon, you mentioned Donna Tartt, we also talked about "The Goldfinch" a bit earlier. It won her the Pulitzer for fiction, this year. It's created something of a rift in the critical literary community. Some, including somebody named Ron Charles, have lauded it while others have panned it, decried the awards it received. Why do you think some titles create such heated debate among professional critics and in what ways is that debate useful?
CHARLESIt is useful because most books don't get talked about at all. So when a book starts to create some controversy, even if it's in a very artificial way, like this, it's fun and I'm, you know, I'm all for it. But the idea that there's some sort of rift between high-brow and low-brow critics over "The Goldfinch" is just ridiculous. There are high-brow critics who love this book and there are low-brow critics who hated the book.
CHARLESYou know, it's a great book. It had, it elicited a lot of different kinds of reactions. And the Vanity Fair piece, you know, was a fun piece but I thought it was a tempest in a tea pot in a, sort of, artificial conflict.
NNAMDIEileen, care to comment on this?
MCGERVEYWe were talking about that a little bit earlier. You know, it is great for bringing attention to the book. But, you know, we all like to read different things and we all like to spend, I don't know, our time reading either for pleasure or relaxation or to learn something. And I think people take their reviews with a grain of salt based on what the person's reviewed before. "The Goldfinch" has sold well in our store, partially because of all the attention it got but also 'cause one of our staff members read it and loved it, slapped a note on it and said how great it was and we all, you know, ran with it from there.
NNAMDIOnto the telephones. Don, oh you both have your headphones on already, so you're ready to listen to Paul in Arlington, Va. Paul, your turn.
PAULHi, I wanted to talk about my book buying preferences. And I know this isn't great for authors but I have a fondness for the remainders. And, I mean, because the price is great and partly also because I’m kind of a contrarian and I figure that if the book aroused widespread lack of interest, then maybe there's something great about it. And one of my favorite novels of all time is one I discovered in the remainders at Border's, it's "Love in a Dead Language" by a professor of Asian studies at the University of Hawaii. It's just an amazing, hilarious novel.
NNAMDIAnd where do you say that you find your books again?
PAULOh, the remainders, the bargain area.
NNAMDIHow often do you hear that, Eileen?
MCGERVEYNot that often but I used to buy a lot of remainders myself when I was young and didn't have any money.
NNAMDISee, thank you very much for your call. Ron, back to the issue we're discussing, the New York Times has recently fostered some debate about whether the middle-brow is disappearing and if high, middle and low-brow labels still resonate in today's art culture. Do you find those notions relevant or that they resonate with readers, today?
CHARLESI think people would be shocked at how little, even the books they think of, are being read by everyone, are actually being read. For instance, that number one best seller on this coming Sunday's best seller book, list, sold 360 copies. That's not a lot of copies. And number 10, so to get on our list, number 10 is 150 copies. The middle-brow, I mean, those are authors who are selling, you know, 7,000, 10,000 copies across the country in a year.
CHARLESThat's a very small number of copies. And why not, I mean, look at what you're asking someone to do. You want them to spend 15 to 25 hours, alone, thinking hard, concentrating, reading a book that demands some attention. Of course, the number of people who want to do that, you know, will be relatively small.
NNAMDIYour reviews, Ron, while thoughtful, can sometimes be playful, often have more of a sense of humor then some might expect from critics. Do you think there's a tendency to take all of this too seriously?
NNAMDI'Cause I take your writing very seriously.
CHARLESI am well aware that we are a dying breed and that we have to fight for our readers. That, as critics, have to fight for their readers, paragraph by paragraph. So if I can get their attention with humor, I will take that chance.
NNAMDIOnto the telephones again. Here now, Meg, in Washington, D.C. Meg, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MEGHi. Thanks for taking my call.
MEGI just, I'm a former book seller and I currently work in a library, I've been doing this for about 10 years now and I tell people, go to Goodreads.com because it's an excellent website and if you're on it long enough, giving reviews for books that you do like or books that you don't like. The algorithms actually help you find similar books or similar authors or people you might not know about.
MEGI've found a lot of really good books that way. As well as, you know, being fortunate enough to get some of the pre-released copies that book sellers might get. It's -- you really need to utilize your book sellers and your librarians and, you know, all of these websites where you can look up books and rate them and stuff like that, so.
NNAMDIEllen (sic) McGervey, to what extent do you find that your customers come on the basis of recommendations they've gotten from sites like Goodreads, online?
MCGERVEYVery often we also use Goodreads our self. And sometimes we'll let customers put little notes on books that they particularly love, just to make sure that it's not just our opinion that people are seeing. Just to jump back to something that Ron said earlier, you know, he thinks he's a dying breed but as I was telling him, you know, he's a rock star to us. And I think to other book sellers as well and people who loves book, so take heart.
CHARLESThank you very much.
NNAMDIWell, we would like to see more of his totally hip video book reviews.
CHARLESBut you know, that Goodreads, that’s a sign of the future, not the future, the present. Everyone is reviewing books now and getting their opinion out there and that's a wonderful thing to democratize criticism like that. I don't -- even though, it has a certain effect on my own profession, it is, I think, on balance a great thing. People able to express their ideas and share books they like.
NNAMDIEarlier this year, we saw a big push for more diversity in children's books and many including authors like Junot Diaz are calling for the same across the board in publishing. Is this an industry the -- is this an issue that the industry is actively engaging on and what role do you see critics having in this effort, Ron?
CHARLESI think critics, particularly for children's books, you know, to bring books to parents' attention, to alert them to other kinds of books than the few fantasy titles they might be hearing about, are very important. But the venues for that are shrinking all the time. You know, the newspaper book sections are closing around the country or have closed around the country. So I think critics play an important role in diversifying the books that people are buying, which will have an effect on what's being published.
NNAMDIRebecca in Laurel, Md. You're on the air, Rebecca. Go ahead, please.
REBECCAHi. I'm asked what do I use? And I'm a Nookinator. I have a Nook and we bought my Nook based on the fact that I could possibly get a lot of good free reads. Well, through that, I was able to hook mine up to my Facebook account. And so they have a section on the Nook where titles suggested for you based on what you've already read. And through free reads and things like that I found, you know, obscure authors like D. Dalton "All Things Impossible" and a whole bunch of other authors that I've never read before. And also books by some of my favorite authors that I didn't know existed, like Piers Anthony who writes apparently a million books a year.
REBECCAJust it's an incredible resource to be able to hook my Nook with Facebook, talk to my friends about it and then pull those authors into my world and my kids' world.
NNAMDIHave you been getting a lot of free reads?
REBECCAOh yeah, oh yeah. There's a lot of free reads. One of the things that the authors do, they'll put out a free book. And then it'll be like a short version. So then if you want to read further they'll put out a very inexpensive continuation. And then what you get basically instead of getting like a 1200-page book, you're getting an 800-page book. And then the series continues and it's in smaller monetary increments. And I personally feel like that works for me.
NNAMDIHey, thank you very much. It doesn't do much help to you, Eileen McGervey but it clearly works for Rebecca. Rebecca, thank you for your call. We're going to take a short break. If you'd like to call us, 800-433-8850 is the number. Are you more inclined or less inclined to read a book generating a lot of buzz among critics? What about one all of your friends are talking about? Tell us, 800-433-8850 or send email to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're talking books, best-sellers and critical darlings in which readers tend to prefer. Eileen McGervey is the owner of One More Page Books in Arlington, Va. She joins us in studio along with Ron Charles. He is the editor of Book World at the Washington Post. You can join the conversation by calling 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIThere is perhaps more truth in the cliché about not judging a book by its cover than we realize when it comes to actual, well, books. What kind of trends have you noticed and how much does a good cover matter to readers, Eileen?
MCGERVEYIt's sad to say but a good cover is critical, I think, to getting new readers for a book. You know, there's so much attention -- only so much attention that we have. When you walk into a bookstore or you're online or something, the first thing that you do is you're going to look at something and you're going to see it and it's going to grab your attention. Because what we want somebody to do or what an author wants someone to do is to pick up their book and look at it. And the cover is what drives them to do that.
MCGERVEYWe kind of laugh because of how important that is. A lot of the publishers tend to have different genres that they go through. And you'll see five or six books that have very similar covers. And they may be totally different books but it's proven to work. So the marketing people decide to take advantage of that.
NNAMDIRon, covers -- book covers?
CHARLESThat's true. The trend of the woman in the big dress turning her head to look back...
MCGERVEY...over her shoulder.
CHARLES...yeah, over her shoulder or the exploding flowers. That's on at least six different books now. We pick our books without the covers because we get them three months in advance and they just have blank covers. So the covers are not influencing us at all. But I do talk to designers and publicists and they tell me a lot of attention goes into that. And the books are now being designed to show up on the computer screen because they know, you know, half the buyers are buying these things online. They've got to look good in that little postage size stamp on your computer, not just in the bookstore. So that has a whole new element design.
NNAMDII read a piece awhile ago noting that basically every book about Africa has the same tree on the cover of the book. That's how they get you there. Here is William in Washington, D.C. William, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
WILLIAMHi. Thanks for taking my call. I just want to point out a trend that's kind of unfortunate but also I think sardonically funny. And it came from the experience I had with an online dating site. Now just for some information about me, I'm the definition of a yuppie. I go to a small liberal arts school in Massachusetts. And I have a lot of friends who think they're smart. And, like myself, I probably think I'm too smart. And it's really popular on these online dating sites that I've used to, like, say you've read a lot of long, famous, hard books.
CHARLESYeah, it's the same in Washington.
WILLIAMI'm talking books like, let's say "Ulysses" or "Moby Dick," "Anna Karenina," books that are hard to read, and rewarding if you finish them. But, like, not many people do finish them.
WILLIAMBut people on some of these dating sites have long, long lists. And at the same time, every statistic -- and so people say they've read these books yet every gallop poll, Pew survey, whatever, not to mention economic market data, shows that people in my demographic and in my circles are reading less and less. And I wonder if that has to do with somehow like high school making long books seem un-fun and reading becoming not fun for people in my generation. So I'm wondering what your contributors had to say about that and how maybe we can make reading more fun so people actually do read the long books that they say in their profiles that they are reading.
NNAMDIWhat leads you to think that it was different in previous generations of high school students? Do you think it's just your generation that had to go through "Moby Dick?" Come on.
CHARLESI bet you went to some fancy prep school, right, William?
WILLIAMMaybe my generation is just more vocal about trying to make themselves seem smart. I don't know.
CHARLESYeah, most high schoolers are not reading long books, I'm sorry to say. And with the Core curriculum coming in, they'll be reading shorter and shorter -- what they refer to as excerpts of nonfiction books. People are not being driven through "Moby Dick" in high school.
NNAMDIAnd is this why the statistics according to William indicate that readership is declining?
MCGERVEYI guess working in a bookstore I wouldn't see that quite as obviously as some other people do. It's interesting on the -- you know, the young adult side, that is actually a huge genre of books that's out there. And we did our first ever NoVaTEEN. It was a young adult book festival and we had over 300 kids that showed up for that who spent all their money and carefully counted out their pennies to buy as many books as they possibly could get. So I think that there are some people who are really, you know, avid readers and will read all kinds of everything. But I can definitely say there -- some people who get turned off from the classics and things like that because they think that that's all it is.
NNAMDIWell, I've read stories that said that it may have appeared that readership is declining or that reading books is declining but it isn't really. What do you say, Ron?
CHARLESThe NEA brings out statistics. I did not think reading was declining. I thought it was holding steady, but that data is a few years old.
NNAMDIOnto Fred in Frederick, Md. Fred, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
FREDWell, at 86 years I've read an awful lot of books. And I was really sorry to see the Washington Post condense their Book World into a shorter version because that's the first thing I used to turn to when the Sunday paper came out. And I always took it as viable that when they reviewed a book, it was good. And I -- they reviewed one book. It was about Gatling who invented the Gatling gun. And I read the book and it was like repetition after repetition. The author would repeat himself time and time again. And I thought, what a terrible book.
FREDAnd I wrote the reviewer and I said, I want you to know that is a terrible book that was reviewed. And he emailed back and he said, I didn't tell you it was good. It's a lesson learned. But I really loved that Book World. I wish they reviewed more books because -- and as far as the best -- you know, the ten best read books, well, it's interesting to look at that. But what the hell do you get out of that, best book list, if it doesn't mean anything? The review was what I look for and I really enjoy it.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. There are still people who want Book World in its original format to come back, Ron.
CHARLESThe formats of things change I'm afraid. We are reviewing about the same number of books we ever did. It's about 85 percent. We do about 17 books a week with more coverage online of books. Book coverage is still very vital and important to the Washington Post.
NNAMDIRunaway hits might seem like they've come out nowhere but very often buzz starts to build in book clubs. Just how influential are these groups when it comes to sales, Eileen?
MCGERVEYThey're definitely influential because they not only just create buzz within their group and within their friends. But when people come into the store and see our displays of the books that our book clubs are reading, it gets them to pick it up and look at it because they think, well, this has got to be a book that's got some substance, something to talk about and that people like it. So we always sell two or three times more books of a book club than are people actually in the club.
NNAMDIRon, what do you think about the influence of book clubs?
CHARLESIt's been transformational starting, I don't know, maybe 20 years ago when this really took off. And then Oprah just gave it tremendous boost with her television show and her own club and created a phenomenon now. And women have always driven the sale of fiction in this country but they do predominantly still. And it's largely through those book clubs, I think. And even if you don't belong to a book club, you know other people who do belong to a book club. And you need some kind of recommendation. And why not?
CHARLESI mean, look what readers are up against. We're giving 150 books a day. You walk into a bookstore and it may have 80,000, 150,000 titles. How would you choose except by relying on one of your friends? That seems like a perfectly reliable way to decide how you're going to spend 15 to 25 hours of your time.
NNAMDIRon Charles. He is the editor of Book World at the Washington Post. He joins us in studio for this conversation about best-sellers and critical darlings. Also Eileen McGervey. She is the owner of One More Page Books in Alexandria, Va. You can call us at 800-433-8850. Do you think there's a disconnect between what's reviewed and what sells? If you're part of a book club, tell us how your group decides on a title, 800-433-8850 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Here is Jill in Silver Spring, Md. Hi, Jill.
JILLHi, Kojo. thanks for taking my call. I just wanted to comment on my favorite way to actually find new books because I'm one of those people that -- I seem like I'm always struggling to find something new, looking for new authors. I look at book reviews, I ask friends. But I found that it's most successful when I hear something on NPR. And not just a review on NPR but actually hearing the author on NPR.
JILLSo I can give you an example of -- never heard of Colum McCann or never read anything by him. One time, heard him on NPR. Didn't know anything about Trans Atlantic. That was around the time that I think Trans Atlantic came out and he was being interviewed. And something about the author spoke to me. So I picked it up and found that it was an incredible book. And I was really thrilled with it. And I do the same with nonfiction as well.
JILLI mean, I heard Jennifer Senior possibly had been on your show, I can't remember, on somebody's show -- and thought she was interesting, liked the material she was presenting and went and got her book as well. So I find actually hearing the author promote their own work and talk about what they're writing about to be the most effective way to bring me to a new author.
CHARLESHey, I reviewed that book too, you know.
NNAMDIHey, thank you so much for your call, Jill. We move on to Sam in Champaign. Do a lot of the people who come into your store, they heard the author first on the radio?
MCGERVEYAll the time.
NNAMDIThank you. Here is Sam in Champaign-Urbana. Sam, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SAMYeah, thank you, Kojo. I do love your show. One of the authors I like, and you talked a bit about what it takes to get youth engaged and sell media to them is John Green, the author of "Looking for Alaska" and "The Fault in Our Stars." And the way he really got engaged with me is through his online Nerdfighters community, which I am part. He -- you know, it gives you a good way to know the author, learn more about him, much like you'd know from radio and it -- he gets to talk about his books and teaches many other great things, plus introduce other people's books, too, so you always know what to read.
NNAMDIOh, good. Thank you for sharing that with us. Care to comment, Ron?
CHARLESYeah, John Green is a saint. He's just a wonderful, wonderful guy who has written books that have moved millions of people. But he's also really, really personable and really good on social media. Not all authors are. And the kind of culture we've created now gives tremendous preference to authors who can sell themselves online.
CHARLESA lot of authors are shy, reclusive people and they write because, you know, they're introverts. And they spend all their time alone at home writing. And then to ask them to go out into the world and promote themselves in a, you know, happy outgoing way, that's something that a lot of authors just can't do.
NNAMDII was about to ask, what do you hear from writers about how much of their publicity they now have to handle themselves, how much pressure they feel to boost sales, to participate in the online environment, to make themselves available for book group discussions either in person or online?
CHARLESThey feel tremendous pressure. And some of them are great at it, like Jodi Picoult, very, very popular author, wonderful subjects, very, you know, exciting, entertaining books. She's a rock star. She does it really, really well. I've been at some of her events and she could've been a performer if she weren't a writer. But other authors can't do that. They're just not any good at it. And I think, you know, they feel the pressure and they don't like it. And the touring exhausts them and it takes them away from their writing. And I hear a lot of complaints from authors.
NNAMDIIt's a lonely profession being a writer. And when that writer becomes an author, all of a sudden that individual is expected to be highly sociable, comfortable in public, to be Truman Capote or Norman Mailer or somebody like that. What do you hear from writers who come to the store?
MCGERVEYWe hear a very similar thing. There's a lot of pressure, you know, to be out on social media, to be out touring. And they don't get as much support, the middle tier writers, from their publishers as they used to. And they have to pick up a lot of burden itself. And it really does impact their ability to write because they're spending a couple hours a day on social media interacting.
CHARLESRight. And we have -- we're so spoiled here in D.C. You know, you got to Politics and Prose and even some author you never heard of, 120 people show up. But most of the bookstores around the country, that author will draw three people. And two of them work for the bookstore. And you do that every day for three months and you -- it really crushes your soul.
NNAMDIYeah, it really warps our impression here when you go over to Politics and Books (sic) and you see a crowded room and every town that the author goes to that's what's...
NNAMDINo. That is not what's happening. On now to Jackson in Chevy Chase, Md. Jackson, your turn.
JACKSONYeah, hi, Kojo. This is Jackson Copley. And I'm a newly published author myself. So it actually goes to what was just said about man, you have to be a marketer as well as a writer. And my question is a little bit more toward that marketeering. As a newly author I found a lot of new authors out there who are in the self-publishing game. And there's what I call the underground network of authors and readers. And I've been discovering more and more of these, things like Good Reads where people read a lot of books, many of them that you may not even find on the shelf of your local store.
JACKSONAnd I just wanted to get some commentary from the folks there about what they think about these other online media that's available like Good Reads and how much that is drawing people to read books that they might not see on the shelf.
CHARLESI don't know exactly. Good Reads does have a huge community of self-published authors and they're very supportive. And I think it's a way for you to have friends in the same, you know, boat you're in and to get good advice. Because there's a whole industry out there waiting to prey on self-published authors, either to get their books published or to market them or to edit them for them. And, you know, you have to be really savvy and love these -- you know, these first time self-published authors are not savvy and they can lose a lot of money fast. As far as finding rears, I don't know. I mean, there's only so many readers in this country. And how many ways can that pie be cut?
NNAMDIEileen, care to comment?
MCGERVEYWe actually use Good Reads ourselves in the store and look at it. I think that places where the content is generated by readers have a lot of power in terms of feeling very real in their reviews that this is a person just like me reading and reviewing this. There's definitely, with all the social media out there, kind of a flattening of, you know, where we get our information as opposed to be kind of hierarchical, you know, from the reviewer down to the bookstore down to us. It can come from so many different places right now that people can find little niches that are perfect for the kind of reading that they want to do.
NNAMDII was about to say, how does a bookstore, an independent bookstore deal with self-published authors?
MCGERVEYThat's really challenging because there are so many of them out there. So it's kind of an exponential increase in the number of books that are available for us to have in the store. You know, the major publishers put out, you know, thousands of books every season. And, you know, we at least have the benefit of somebody having, you know, read through them and, you know, kind of vetted them. And when we sit down with the publishers they know that we're not going to order all the books that they have. And, you know, based on what we've sold before and done have helped us kind of gravitate towards what fits for our store.
MCGERVEYAnd with self-published authors it's difficult because you don't have anybody behind them pushing it, but you also don't know the quality of the work. You know, has it been reviewed by someone? Has it been proofread? You know, what does the binding look like? How are they going to promote the book? Because with so many books available within a store, what's going to make somebody come in and pick up that book?
NNAMDIAnd on that question we're going to take a short break. Hopefully somebody out there has an answer to it. You can call us at 800-433-8850. When we return, we will be continuing our conversation about books, best-sellers and books that are critically reviewed or books that are loved by critics and the difference between them. You can call us at 800-433-8850. Have you been to the national book festival or other similar events in this region? What draws you to those events? Or if you're part of an online book community, how do you participate, 800-433-8850? I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with Ron Charles and Eileen McGervey about best-sellers and books that critics like. Ron Charles is the editor of Book World at the Washington Post. Eileen McGervey is the owner of One More Page Books in Arlington, Va. Ron, book festivals seem to have really taken off in this region, giving readers an opportunity to hear from and to connect with many authors in one place. The 14th National Book Festival is coming up this weekend with some pretty big changes. What can we expect this year that's different from years past...
CHARLESI'm glad you're...
NNAMDI...starting with location?
CHARLESYes, please, pay attention. The book festival is three weeks early. It's this Saturday, August 30. It is not on the mall. Do not go to the mall. Go to the Washington Convention Center. It's 12 hours, 10:00 in the morning until 10:00 at night. That's one of the new things. We have nighttime hours for the first time. And we've got new pavilions, or rooms we're calling them now. There's one about great books turned into great movies. We've got cookbook demonstrations in the festival this year for the first time. There's lots of great new stuff.
CHARLESAnd it's my favorite day of the year because, you know, you're out there with 200,000 enthusiastic readers. And for someone who, you know, spends their time in an office typing away, it's a great, great day.
NNAMDIThe Washington Post is a chartered sponsor of the National Book Festival. Full disclosure, WAMU is a contributing media sponsor of the event. And, by the way, the fall for the book festival is coming up September 11 through 18 of this year. That one is organized by George Mason University and the City of Fairfax. And Gaithersburg's book festival will be back next year May 16, 2015. Do these book festivals mean anything at all to stores like One More Page Books?
MCGERVEYOh, sure. Well, one of the great things about it is it means the authors are in the area.
NNAMDIAuthors in town.
NNAMDIIt means the same thing to us.
MCGERVEYSo we try to take advantage of that.
NNAMDIYes. Authors in town. Emee emails, "I made a lot of decisions by reading critics. Ron Charles, Marie Arana, James Wood, Michael Dirda, Maureen Corrigan. And I read them often enough that I figure I know what my favorite critics like that I won't like. Also I recommend the novel "A Biography" by Michael Smith. By the way, I always buy the Wednesday and Sunday Post for the reviews."
NNAMDIOur kind of reader. On now to Steven in Washington, D.C. Steven, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
STEVENHi. Very quickly, an older book that I really, really loved and, you know, when a really good book is always too short. Well, "A Suitable Boy" will not disappoint. And I recommend it by Vikram Seth. Especially if you're just into current politics.
NNAMDIA Suitable -- what...
STEVEN"A Suitable Boy."
NNAMDI"A Suitable Boy" and you say you recommend it especially if people are interested in current politics?
STEVENWell, it takes place during partition of India, so it's kind of at the beginning of what we're going through today.
NNAMDIWell, this is Washington. I suspect there are a few people here who are interested in current politics. So thank you very much for your recommendation.
STEVENSo it's a really, really good read. And even though it's really long, it goes fast. It goes too fast.
NNAMDIMy kind of review. Thank you very much for your call, Steven.
STEVENIt's a great, great book.
NNAMDIWe move on to Duane in Alexandria, Va. Duane, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DUANEYes. Good afternoon, Kojo. Love what you do.
DUANEYeah, and I just wanted to recommend a -- look, I'm a fan of biography and memoir. And one of the books that I've read recently "Postcards from Cookie" is an incredible story about the author Caroline Clark who discovers that her birth mother is the daughter of Nat King Cole. And it just has a -- you know, I thought that there would've been a lot more kind of buzz about it because it's an incredible story. And it reads like, I mean, truth being stranger than fiction. Have either of your guests heard of it or are they aware of it?
NNAMDII have not -- I have heard of it, now that you mention it. I haven't read it.
MCGERVEYI was going to say, I'm not familiar with it.
NNAMDINot familiar with it, but you liked it, Duane?
DUANEOh, yes. It was an incredible read. And I highly recommend it for individuals who are fans of biography but also, you know, just the uncovering and the un-layering of the mystery of her discovery is excellently told.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. We got a tweet from Dara who says she wants to tell us how she finds her reads. Dara says, "I listen to this show and others at NPR. There's some great shows on authors and books. I also learn to mix it up fiction, nonfiction, mystery, bios, sci-fi, poems, etcetera. Keeps you interested." Yes. Well, if you read just about every genre that there is, I suspect that that would keep you interested.
NNAMDIGiven the dramatic changes that we have seen in the publishing industry, is the bottom line, is that however they decide what to read that a lot of people are still reading? I was looking at some statistics here a little while ago. But in the meantime as I look for them again, Ron, what do you think? Ah, here it is. 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts says in a report that it now believes a quarter century of precipitous decline in fiction reading has reversed. According to the New York Times, among its chief findings is that for the first time since 1982 when the bureau began collecting such data, the proportion of adults 18 and older who said they had read at least one novel, short story, poem or play in the previous 12 months had risen.
CHARLESYes, that's what I was trying to recall.
NNAMDIThat's the one you were talking about.
CHARLESIt is good news.
NNAMDIYes, about people still reading.
CHARLESYeah, but I know my wife, you know, is a high school teacher here in town and she tells her students, your minds are students, that about half the adults never read a book after college again.
NNAMDIThat is still the situation? Never again?
CHARLESNever again. So we lose a lot of people.
MCGERVEYWell, you know, people say that. It's very funny. I have a friend who says that he doesn't read. And then when I talk to him and, you know, probe a little bit further, they actually are reading, some of them. It may not be, you know...
CHARLESThere are good journals, magazines, newspapers.
MCGERVEYYeah, and I think people don't necessarily -- you know, some of us -- those of us that love books, you know, we read every day. But, you know, a lot of people don't have the time or the luxury to do that. And maybe they read once a month or so or when they're on vacation. But they still do -- a lot of people still do read. I just think they don't think of themselves as readers.
NNAMDIOn to Nicky in Cabin John, Md. Nicky, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NICKYYes, hi. Thank you for taking my call, Kojo. I love your show.
NICKYI just wanted to say that I've been in a book club since 1998 and we have a lot of different ways for choosing our books. And we're pretty eclectic in our choices. We've read a lot of foreign authors and American authors. And we read -- we listen to your show for recommendations. We listen -- go on book -- Good Reads. And we also check the Post reading guide.
NNAMDIWell, what is the nature of the democracy that you use to select what books to read? Do you decide by consensus? Is there someone who makes a final decision who breaks a tie?
NICKYWell, we're -- it's kind of -- it's almost a free for all. We try -- sometimes -- oh, and also sometimes someone has read the book or someone they know has read the book. So we'll take recommendations based on all those different varying recommending spots -- people. And occasionally we have changed our minds. We have chosen a book and a few people got into it and said, oh my gosh, I can't finish this book. And then we'll have a backup.
NICKYBut we just kind of throw out a bunch of titles and we try to -- that's the other thing that we do. We go on Amazon or we go on the public library site and try to find out what the books are about.
NNAMDIThis is a very complicated process that you have. Do you emphasize fiction, nonfiction? Is there a particular genre that you tend to focus on in the club?
NICKYWe have no focus whatsoever. And that's one of the things that I love about it because we have read things that I would never have picked up.
MCGERVEY...never read, yep.
CHARLESRight. That's the benefit.
NNAMDISo you're completely eclectic about this.
NICKYVery much so. The only thing we try to do is choose a classic novel two or three times a year.
NICKYAnd the only thing that our particular club has found is that the writing tends to be -- and we go way back. It tends to be a lot slower than the more modern novels. It's very -- a lot of ladies will say, oh my gosh, it's so plodding, I barely got through it. And it's -- the only thing I can think of is that it was a slower time then so the stories moved slower. I don't know.
NNAMDI...neither do I but Ron Charles might.
CHARLESYeah, the pacing was different, let's face it. It was a different style. The styles tend to be more complicated, more complex. But you can find authors now who are writing essentially plotless novels that are just very introspective in which nothing seems to happen as far as activity. But everything's happening with the themes or the ideas of the book. So, you know, it depends on what you're picking.
NNAMDIEileen McGervey, what is the profile of somebody who is a customer of One More Page Books, and what's the challenge on expanding that profile and bringing people into an independent bookstore?
MCGERVEYWow, that's tough because it's a fairly diverse group of people that come in. But they are people generally who obviously like to read a lot. And they like to read all kinds of different things, so they're very open to reading an author that they have not read before. I think one of the challenges in getting new people in there is that people don't think of themselves as book people, so they don't know that they would like to come and hear an author talk. But once they come and hear it, you know, they're hooked on that.
MCGERVEYAnd I liked what, you know, the caller just talked about is, you know, book clubs and coming to hear an author talk or walking into a bookstore are ways of getting you to pick up something that maybe, you know, outside of your comfort zone or something that you might not have picked up before.
NNAMDIHow about people like me who show up at 9:00 in the morning and at 3:00 we're still there. We haven't bought anything yet. We're still reading books, finishing entire books during the course of our stay there.
NNAMDIYou have to kick us out?
MCGERVEYNo, no. You're probably talking to one of my staff members because we love to talk books. And, you know, one of the things I love is, you know, we start talking books with one customer and then the other customers, you know, they kind of join in because book people like to talk about books and share the books they love.
CHARLESI'm sure they're tweeting, Kojo's in the store. Kojo's in the store.
MCGERVEYYeah, that would definitely happen.
NNAMDIHe'll be here for awhile. Here's Kathryn in Chevy Chase, Md. Kathryn, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KATHRYNHi, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call.
KATHRYNI just wanted to say that for me with limited time to read, as lots of people, my book choices are really important. And I have found Good Reads to be a great resource because it gives me a much broader range of recommendations than my iPad, you know, iTunes or Amazon. And it'll say, you know, because you read this World War I novel, here are other World War I novels. Because you read this romance novel, here are other romance novels you might like.
KATHRYNAnd then I can check if my friends on Good Read have read it and then I check -- go online and Google it and see what critics have said before I make a selection. But it's usually (unintelligible) ...
NNAMDIWell, how do you make a decision to go outside of your comfort zone, dystopian novels for instance?
KATHRYNThere was (unintelligible) novel, but there was a book called "Americanah" that I had actually heard the author was talking to Diane Rehm. And so once it was recommended to me on Good Reads, it sort of sparked that memory and I saw the reviews. And so I read it. And I read since, another one by the same author because I really like it.
NNAMDII got to tell you, I must've really been sounding like Diane Rehm that day because this was the show that that author was on.
NNAMDIThank you very...
CHARLESThat's a great book.
KATHRYNI do confuse your voices sometimes.
NNAMDIWe do mimic one another from time to time. But actually that was a great book, wasn't it, Ron?
CHARLESYeah, everybody in my family read and loved that.
KATHRYNYeah, it really was.
NNAMDIYeah, everybody loved that book. Here is Ana in Easton, Md. Ana, you're on the air. You only have about a minute left. Go ahead, please.
ANAOkay. Thank you for taking my call. I, in my previous job, had 160-mile commute roundtrip. So I spend quite a bit of time in the car. And I really got into audio books. So I was curious as to what your critics thought about how audio books have maybe changed our perception and maybe allows us to access books that we wouldn't be able to take the time to read kind of sitting down on the couch at night.
NNAMDIHere's Eileen McGervey.
MCGERVEYAna, as soon as I heard you say that, I raised my hand because I wanted to say something about that. I read a lot of mystery and a lot of fiction. I have difficulty reading nonfiction books but I have found that when I listen to a nonfiction book, I really enjoy it. And those are books that I otherwise would not have picked up. So audio books are great for me.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. You know, actually you may have heard Mamanda Ngozi on "The Diane Rehm Show" when she was discussing another book, "Half of a Yellow Sun." So...
CHARLESHer earlier book.
NNAMDIHer earlier book, so you probably heard her on both shows. But I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Ron Charles is the editor of Book World at the Washington Post. Ron, thank you for joining us.
CHARLESThat's great fun to be here.
NNAMDIEileen McGervey is the owner of One More Page Books in Arlington, Va. Thank you for joining us.
MCGERVEYOh, thank you. It's been wonderful.
NNAMDI"The Kojo Nnamdi Show" is produced by Michael Martinez, Ingalisa Schrobsdorff, Tayla Burney, Kathy Goldgeier, Elizabeth Weinstein and Andrew Katz-Moses. Brendan Sweeney is the managing producer. Our engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker is on the phones. Podcasts of all shows, audio archives and free transcripts are available at our website kojoshow.org. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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