Some find inspiration in the wilderness. Others find themselves hopelessly lost.

Monthly Archives: November 2013

Before they set sail for the New World, the pilgrims spent about a dozen years in the city of Leiden. In fact, by some accounts, the American Thanksgiving holiday, our recreation of a (perhaps mythical) harmonious harvest celebration shared by the pilgrims and Wampanoags, is actually an imitation of a Dutch feast day. Coincidentally, I’ll be in Leiden this coming Thanksgiving.

The pilgrims brought a number of Dutch ideas and practices to the Americas. From what I hear, we could still learn a few things from our friends in the low countries, especially about bicycle safety. Thanksgiving… cycling — you still with me?

The New York Times recently ran an opinion piece pointing out the enormous risks cyclists face on U.S. roadways, and the failure of our legal system to respond to bicycle fatalities. (Is it O.K. To Kill Cyclists?) As an individual in America, one might be wisest to forego cycling. Exercise on a stationary bike at the gym, not on the streets. Drive your kids to school instead of letting them make their own two-wheeled way. As a society, though, we’d be wise to make our roads, and laws, bike friendly.

45% of all trips in the Netherlands are taken by bike. 59% in cities. (so says Wikipedia) If we could replicate that in the U.S., we’d dramatically reduce traffic, air pollution, and, probably, obesity.

I’m all for feasting and thanks giving, but this year I aspire to pick up some new ideas in Leiden.  I’ll be checking out bike lanes and signals, thinking about the route from my house to my kids’ school back in the States, a distance of only a mile, along which there isn’t even a sidewalk, much less a bike lane.

Imagine if Americans put some Puritan style zeal to bicycle safety. We’d have one more reason to give thanks.



Public libraries are part of a great democratic tradition, increasing literacy, offering access to information, enhancing creativity, imagination, empathy, wonder… I buy all that. Libraries are enormously important. But what happens to them as more and more publications shift to e-versions? How do libraries preserve access? Should they clear out more shelves for computer terminals? Loan e-readers instead of print books? Can’t we convert those gorgeous old library buildings into condos now?

Part 3: Libraries

I’ve always believed that one of the best ways you can support your local public library is to use it. Thus, no series on socially conscious ebook purchasing can be complete without a conversation about libraries. Ebook borrowing is a great alternative to online ebook shopping.

Will bookshelves soon go the way of the card catalog?

Will bookshelves soon go the way of the card catalog?

The first bookless public libraries have already opened. Traditional libraries are rapidly expanding ebook holdings and most library card holders can now access an incredible array of free ebooks.

I am very excited that several members of the awesome staff of the Pima County Public Library system in Arizona (serving the Tucson area, where much of my novel, Drowning Cactusis set) agreed to answer my many questions about libraries and ebooks. Please welcome Kenya Johnson, Community Relations Manager, Karyn Prechtel, Deputy Director of Public Services, Richard DiRusso, Manager of the Collection Development Office, and Sherrie Baltes, Web Editor. Quite a line up!

You’ve probably heard that a bookless library has opened in the San Antonia area, the Bexar Bibliotech. This library provides stripped down e-readers to patrons and access to e0book holdings as well as computer terminals. Do you think we’ll see more bookless libraries in the future? I hear a lot of people bemoaning society’s move from contemplative reading of books and newspapers to quick data downloads via tweets and podcasts. Are people still reading books? Are ebooks helping or hurting society’s literacy?

Karyn: People are still reading books! Pima County Public Library customers have been checking out books at a consistent rate over the last 10 years – regardless of format. Some patrons are moving to reading electronic books exclusively, while many others will read either print or electronic books – whichever is available first.

In many ways, eBooks enhance literacy and learning opportunities. They are changing the way readers interact with the written word – many e-reader devices allow for note taking, underlining or highlighting of text, and have built-in dictionaries. Literacy in the digital age requires not only the ability to understand the printed word on paper. Visually literate students must be able to interpret, understand and communicate fluently through words in print and digital formats (“Keep Teens Reading for Information and Entertainment”, Library Media Connection, Nov/Dec 2013, vol. 32, Issue 3). Similarly, enhanced eBooks can engage young children with their interactive elements and can attract reluctant readers.

I understand the Pima County Library system opened a bookless library back in 2002, but that the experiment was short-lived. Can you tell me a bit about it? Did the bookless library focus on ebooks, or was it mostly a venue for computer usage and other library services?

Kenya: The Santa Rosa Learning Center Library was part of the HOPE VI Barrio Santa Rosa Neighborhood Center Project funded by the City of Tucson in the late 1990s. They initially planned and designed a state-of-the-art computer center for the adults who lived in the area to provide a comprehensive range of services, including computer literacy job training classes, Web-based resources, and access to the Internet. The library was not part of this original plan or design, so there weren’t any books when the facility opened in 2002. At that time, the library functioned as a place where our patrons could pick up reserves. That was it.

It was the community – the people who lived in the surrounding neighborhoods – that requested that print books be added to the library. They expected books, and they wanted books. Today, the Santa Rosa Branch Library provides everything you would want to see in your library.

Library shelvesMany people find books by browsing the shelves of the library or speaking with librarians. How do you suggest readers “shop” for ebooks in the Pima County library system?

Sherrie: There’s really not a big difference when it comes to looking for eBooks. It’s just a different format. If a friend recommends a book to you, or you see a book review in The New York Times, you can easily find out if we own it in the eBook format. We have two eBook services available to our patrons: OverDrive and OneClickdigital. People can start by taking a look at our eBooks and Digital Media page. From there you can access one of the services, and they both offer browsing and searching in their sites.

A lot of readers I speak to simply can’t figure out how to get ebooks from the library. Are librarians in Pima County offering assistance with this? Any tips?

Kenya: We know that ebooks aren’t easy for everyone to figure out, but we’re here to help. Our library offers free classes and drop-in sessions for using eReaders and downloading eBooks and audiobooks. Anyone can take a look at our online calendar to see where and when they can some help in-person.

Sherrie: If you can’t get into a class, contact your closest library and see what help they can offer in person. We also have a help page on our website that people can use if they can’t make it to one of our libraries.

Many of our staff members are eBook users themselves and can help walk you through the process.

Is one e-reading device easier to use at the Pima County Library than others? The Kindle, for example, or Nook?

Sherrie: It’s really a personal choice. However, things can change at a moment’s notice with technology. Right now, one e-reader may be easier to use than others. People like using their tablets and their smartphones for e-reading as well.

The downloading process for eBooks can be complicated and frustrating for people, but the classes that we offer might help you determine which device would be easier for you.

Libraries, of course, always have to work within budget constraints. Are ebooks an added burden for library systems, or are they a cost effective way of increasing library holdings? Should Pima County readers expect fewer books on shelves and more e-reader holdings in the coming years? Will we see another bookless library in the Tucson area?

Richard: I wouldn’t say that eBooks are a cost savings or a burden; they just are a format that people expect or want us to carry. When formats become obsolete or nearly obsolete that is when, in my opinion, they become a burden.

We no longer carry audiobooks on cassette or VHS videos. Maintaining those formats had become a burden since we couldn’t replace them, yet we still had to transport and house them.

Digital formats are the wave of the future. How we incorporate them into our existing collections will play a large role in keeping the library relevant to our communities.

Thank you, Kenya, Karyn, Richard and Sherrie.

Bexar Bibliotech is getting a lot of press for pioneering the bookless library, but, as far as I can tell, the Santa Rosa Learning Center was one of the very first. Here are some other library firsts (as claimed by the libraries listed below):

  • Boston Public Library, Boston, Massachusetts: first publicly supported free municipal library in the world.
  • Peterborough Public Library, Peterborough, New Hampshire: Oldest free public library in the world supported by taxation.
  • The Sturgis Library, Barnstable, Massachusetts: oldest building housing a public library in the United States.
  • Wayland Public Library, Wayland, Massachusetts: first public library in Massachusetts, second free public library in the United States, and first library to grant me a library card.

What your barista won't admit: It's oh-so-easy to make an entirely respectable cup.

What your barista won’t admit: It’s oh-so-easy to make an entirely respectable cup.

A $5 cup of filter coffee.  Shocking? Yes. But so many people told me the new filter coffee experience could be transcendent, so I tried it.  Twice.

Both times, the brew was carefully timed, the water temperature perfect (checked with a thermometer), the surroundings tastefully shabby. My handsome barista assured me I’d be impressed.

“Don’t use sugar,” he warned.  “You’ll want the pure experience.”

Um… tasted like filter coffee usually does, no better than the stuff at the local diner.  I tried it again at a different café in a different city (different country even).  More disappointment.

In fact, my high end filter coffee experiment pushed me over the edge, away from gourmet coffee altogether. I’ve gone instant.

For the past few years, mine was a French press kitchen, and before that we rocked a vintage Chemex. Now I learn all that equipment and effort was unnecessary.  I’m surprisingly satisfied with instant coffee.

OK, admittedly, I’m currently living in the U.K. where instant coffee is better than that on offer in the U.S.  But, still, I’m buying pedestrian stuff: Tesco brand coffee granules.  About as un-snobbish and un-foodie as you can get. I’m both a snob and a foodie, so I’ve truly shocked myself with this new allegiance.

Here’s what I love about instant coffee:

  1. It truly is instant.  Boil water.  Spoon in granules.  Coffee’s ready.  None of this grinding and measuring and waiting for miniscule drips to accumulate. Easier than tea, even.
  2. No clean up, no waste. No longer do I have to buy and trash filters, dispose of grounds, wash a coffee pot, take care not to shatter the French press while I wash it…
  3. It doesn’t taste bad.  In fact, with sugar and milk, it’s pretty delicious.
  4. Still caffeinated.
  5. Instant has retro charm. Forget filter. Instant coffee is 1950s stylish like deviled eggs and molded gelatin. (What? You’re not into deviled eggs and molded gelatin?)

My grandparents drank their liquor neat and liked their coffee instant. They worried more about the cake that accompanied their caffeine, the dinner that preceded it, and the card game that followed, than the act of coffee preparation.  I’m thinking they might have been on to something.

Thanks, Vincent Van Gogh, for the public domain artwork!  "The Night Cafe" 1888

Thanks, Vincent Van Gogh, for the public domain artwork! “The Night Cafe” 1888

You bought your unitard at American Apparel to support vertically integrated, fair wage manufacturing. Your single origin chocolate is shade grown, fair trade and even features an endangered animal on the wrapper. What about the books on your e-reader?

Can your e-book purchasing choices make a difference?  Absolutely.

In this series, I examine alternatives to the mega-online booksellers. We love them, too, but they don’t need the attention.


Part 2: Indie Presses

Recent years have seen massive changes in the publishing industry.

With the rise in self-publishing, the fiction market is flooded– and it can be difficult to sift the gems from the junk. Large presses are putting their dollars into fewer books. Books most likely to achieve commercial success get the most publicity. Yes, you’ll hear about the latest Julia Glass release (can’t wait!) and certainly the Hollywood sex addiction tell-all, but how do you learn about a new, fresh literary voice?

Enter the indie press. You can find their books on Amazon, if you know where to look, but search their websites directly to discover a universe of high-caliber writing. Many focus on special interests, so whether you read LGBT Civil War Romance, or socially conscious literary fiction, indie ebook publishers might offer more and better books to fit your interests than the big presses.

Who better to interview for this segment than Kelly Shorten, one of the leading forces behind Musa Publishing, the indie press that published my novel?

MusaThanks for joining us, Kelly.

It’s so easy to search for books on Amazon. Can you tell us why e-book readers might want to check out Musa and other small presses directly?

That’s a great question. The most direct answer is one that the average reader may not understand, but in Musa’s spirit of transparency, we will be blunt! Amazon is a huge tool and a necessary force in e-commerce—no doubt about that. But the reality is that Amazon is a business and they make money by selling their products—just as every business should.  When a reader purchases a book directly from the Musa website, Musa pays the author a higher amount because we don’t have to pay a third-party retailer like Amazon for their “store.” So simply put, you support small business and authors more directly when you buy from Musa.

You also won’t find boats and dishwashers and dog food sold on the Musa site.  We publish books and we only sell books, so if you want to connect with authors, discover new books, and shop in an e-bookstore, you might really enjoy what you find by visiting the Musa website directly.  We have specialized content on our site and our blog that you simply won’t find elsewhere.

We feel it’s important no matter where you buy your books, however, to acknowledge and thank our customers.  Authors and publishers truly would not survive without readers—we are in this business FOR readers!  And it’s very important to us to thank our customers and show our appreciation for that loyalty and trust, so we do periodically run specials, sales, and other promotions. All of that fun stuff can be found only by visiting our site, so we hope readers do visit us often.

What are small presses offering that big presses don’t?

Well, as a small press, we can provide our perspective on what we think we do well.  Musa is proud of our commitment to our authors.  When a reader buys a book from Musa, they are purchasing a book that has been a collaborative effort.  Editors, interns, artists, financial, IT, and creative professionals have all worked directly with the author to make that book a reality.  We educate our authors and believe in a community model of doing business.  Transparency, community, and education are our values.  Any author can reach any senior staff member by clicking an email, logging onto Skype, or even picking up the phone. Small companies are like families and we aren’t sure that many big presses make their senior staff and directors accessible to interns and authors alike.

Books make great gifts but what about e-books? Can people gift an e-book from Musa Publishing?

Absolutely, e-books make wonderful gifts! If you have an email address for the recipient, you can give an e-book as a gift in minutes! Talk about immediate delivery… and there are no shipping costs!

It’s very easy to gift a specific Musa book or to give a Musa a gift certificate. Our wonderful IT Director is accessible for any complications that may arise during the purchasing process, but our website is very user friendly.

The publishing world is changing.  Many publishers are bemoaning the changes, but Musa is constantly responding, anticipating what readers need and want. What can readers expect to see from Musa in the future?

Another great question! Without giving away any surprises, readers can expect Musa to consistently provide quality books at reasonable prices.  If you look at the prices our competitors charge, you’ll see that we price our books much lower. We do this not because our books are shorter or not as well written.  We have developed a business model based on value and quality. We would rather have a reader spend $12 on three or four Musa books than on one—or maybe not buy from us at all.  Whether the author has published their first book or their 30th best-seller, Musa will offer fantastic reads for prices that people can afford.

Buy your e-books from small publishers to support literary diversity, small businesses, and original voices, plus pay less.  Sounds like a plan.

Check out Musa’s website to see browse their fiction offerings or click here to buy my novel directly from Musa.

%d bloggers like this: