Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Posts Tagged ‘The Book Table

A father’s case for physical books

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The Book Table in Oak Park

Over the weekend, I brought my daughter Beatrix to her first bookstore, the Book Table in Oak Park, which is arguably the best independent bookshop in the Chicago area. I love it, first of all, because they keep plenty of my own novels in stock, but also because their selection is fascinating and thoughtfully curated. Every table is covered in modestly discounted copies of new releases, many of which I’d never seen before, with an emphasis on art, design, and books from speciality publishers like Taschen and NYRB Classics. I never leave without making a few wonderful discoveries—or at least adding some potential items to my holiday wish list—and I always emerge with a newfound appreciation of the social importance of independent bookstores. Jason, the owner, has been a good friend and supporter, and I was perfectly honest when I told him that I expect to bring Beatrix back for years to come.

Yet the visit also got me thinking about the role that books will play both in my daughter’s life and in the lives of other children the same age. Bookstores, as we all know, are disappearing across the country; so, too, are bookshelves in private homes, as readers increasingly begin to rely on devices like the Kindle. I’m not against electronic books in any way, and they’re clearly a great option for a lot of adult readers. But I think there’s a risk here. As I’ve said elsewhere, I owe much of my education and my love of reading to scrounging for books on my own parents’ bookshelves. These weren’t books that I was asked, or even permitted, to read; they were simply there, lined up alluringly, and it was only a matter of time before I was reading well over my head. Now, however, we’re looking at the prospect of a generation of children raised in the households of parents who may love reading, but lack an environment of physical books that kids can discover on their own. And I’m concerned about this.

The Amazon Kindle

I’ve spoken before about the end of browsing, in which astonishing online resources can give us instant access to the exact book we want, but aren’t nearly as good at giving us books we never knew we needed. For adults, recommendations and social networks go part of the way toward solving the problem, but they aren’t a perfect answer. Time and again, they tend to return to the same handful of established classics or recent books—nearly every reading thread on Reddit seems to center on Vonnegut, Infinite Jest, or House of Leaves—and they rarely find time for the neglected, the unfairly forgotten, or the out of print. It’s an even greater problem for children, who tend to be steered toward approved or required reading, and lack the resources to seek out other books on their own. The tricky thing about buying books for kids is that you never quite know when they’ll make the next big leap. Usually, it happens on its own. And the first step, at least for me, was rummaging unsupervised through an adult bookshelf.

In my case, I’m not too worried about Beatrix, who will inevitably grow up in a house crammed with books, and who has a father who will probably be delighted the first time he catches her reading George Orwell or Stephen King. But I’m still of the mind that the decline of printed books in many homes has consequences that can’t be entirely addressed by reading aloud or stocking the house with books for kids. A Kindle is a beautiful thing, but it doesn’t evoke the same kind of curiosity—or access to randomness—that a fully stocked bookshelf can, and it can’t compete with other kinds of screens. One solution, of course, is to bring children to bookstores or libraries and just let them wander: the moment I first ventured into the grownup section of my hometown library is still one of my most exciting memories. But the best answer is also the simplest one: to keep buying physical books, not for your children, but for yourself.

Written by nevalalee

March 26, 2013 at 9:45 am

A long-expected party

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So what do you do when you’re a debut novelist and your book has finally been published? If you’re me, you spent most of the release date wandering around Chicago, popping randomly into bookstores to make sure that your novel was really on shelves. I ended up visiting three stores altogether, and yes, it was actually there. After politely harassing the helpful staff at the customer service desk, I was even able to sign a few books. So if you’re in the Chicago area and at all interested, you should be able to pick up autographed copies of The Icon Thief at the Barnes & Noble stores at 1 East Jackson and 1130 North State Street; at Unabridged Books in Lakeview; and at the Book Table here in Oak Park. You can also buy copies at a discount from the Book Table online, and I strongly encourage you to support these independent bookstores—they’re some of my favorite places in the city.

In particular, you should drop by the lovely After-Words bookstore at 23 East Illinois St., where I’m going to be reading from The Icon Thief and signing a few copies starting at 6:30 pm on March 29. It’s my first reading for this novel, or any novel, so please stay tuned for more details. Beverly, the very cool owner of After-Words, was also kind enough to help sell a few copies at my launch party last night at Hubbard Inn, which was a blast: I had the chance to see a lot of old friends, meet some new ones, and thank everyone for their support. This has been a strange, amazing week without much occasion for savoring the moment—on Wednesday morning, I started writing the first draft of The Scythian—but last night, for a few hours, I was able to enjoy it. More than three years after I wrote the first chapter, the book is out in stores. It feels good. Now it’s time to get back to work.

Written by nevalalee

March 9, 2012 at 10:00 am

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