On the Magic of Reading Aloud

When I was little, both my parents read to me. They even read in a couple of different languages that they were fluent in. I had a couple of children’s books in French, which my mom read to me. My dad read us a couple of children’s books in German and in Russian. When I was in early elementary school, I liked when the teachers read stories because they would show the pictures, they would alter their voices slightly to indicate different characters and moods. Even when my fourth grade teacher read A Wrinkle in Time, with hardly any pictures, she still made it interesting. When I hit sixth grade and my teacher read aloud, I came to hate it. There were no pictures anymore. She read straight off the page – no inflections, no animated intonation, just boring. And I could read for myself much faster than I could listen to her read. Blah.

Skip ahead to me working in various child care settings. I *love* to read stories with little kids. I worked in a variety of child care settings for the better part of 15 years. I now work in a county-based special education preschool program as a speech-language pathologist. I do a ton of stuff with children’s books. The fact that I can write a lot of these books off for work on my taxes helps out enormously, as good-quality picture books are pretty much my crack habit.

Even better, my partner is happy to read these picture books to me sometimes at bedtime. He does voices and everything!  Once in a while, when we’re feeling up to the commitment, we’ll find a grown-up book for him to read over several nights. We rarely do this on consecutive nights due to our schedules, so it can take us a long time to finish a book. But even when it’s a grown-up book, he’ll do inflection and intonation to make it interesting. And we’ve found we’ll talk about the book the next day or two as well, so it makes for some good conversation. It’s one of my favorite forms of “together time” with him.

As we head into the holiday week, here’s a suggestion for when your flight is delayed, or you just can’t possibly watch any more football. Get a book and read out loud.

But don’t just gather the kids and the grandkids.

Tonight, beloved children’s book author Kate DiCamillo shares her humble opinion on the universal and age-defying magic of listening to a shared story.

Check out the video

(you can also read the transcript here)

10 Publishing Secrets That Will Make You a Smarter Reader

10 Publishing Secrets That Will Make You a Smarter Reader

by Joe Biel, Dec 4, 2018     From PowellsBooks.Blog

As the founder of Microcosm Publishing, which I’ve owned for the past 23 years, my greatest joys have been explaining and debunking industry myths to devout readers. I frequently meet people in public or on a cross-country train whose idea of the book industry is broken and backwards. My favorite encounter was when I told two New Yorkers that I am a book publisher and they immediately responded with, “I’m so sorry.” To which I could only say, “Why? We just finished our best year ever.” I could see how after a year of only reading New York Times op-eds you’d be left with the impression that our industry is tanking off the rails. And to be sure, publishing is changing. But not in the ways that you might think.

Here are my top 10 party tricks to impress book lovers everywhere:

10. The U.S. price of the book is hidden in the bar code.
Pick up the book closest to you. Look at the back cover and find the bar code. If it’s less than 10 years old, you’ll see a string of 13 numbers hugging a bar code. On most books published in the U.S., to the right of that you’ll see a second bar code with only five numbers. Normally the numbers begin with the numeral “5,” which indicates to the computer “U.S. price.” The next four numbers are the publisher’s list price. So if the second bar code segment reads 51995 that means that in the U.S. the price is $19.95!

9. Book sales and the publishing industry are growing year over year since the recession ended. 
This is normally the detail where I get the most pushback. Certainly we could argue about the causes for it all day long. Publishing received a large boon in the form of bestselling books by YouTube stars and adult coloring books. But it’s more than that. From 2009 to 2015,  the number of indie bookstores increased by 35% and sales at those bookstores grew as well. My childhood bookstore, Mac’s Backs Paperbacks, reported their best sales years ever when the competing Borders store closed. This is a common story as customers shift from Barnes & Noble and Borders to indie bookstores.

8. Most books are no longer sold in bookstores. 

In most markets, gift and specialty shops, like boutique stores, gardening supply shops, craft stores, airport gift shops, grocery stores, and record stores, are actually selling more books than bookstores. Combined, industry-wide, these two channels comprise around 51% of books sold. For comparison, Amazon comprises around 30% of book sales for most publishers. Of course, it’s unlikely that gift and specialty would comprise 51% of sales for most memoir, fiction, or poetry. And that is partly why these subjects are seeing their sales decrease while adult trade nonfiction continues to rise.

7. The reason that book sales appear to be shrinking is because there are more books in print today than at any point in the history of the world. 
Today, 8,000 new books will be published. Likewise with tomorrow. And the day after. The majority of these are self-published memoir or fiction books from authors who decided to self-publish after a handful of publisher rejections or based on faulty promises of major corporations exploiting their emotions. This volume of competition is unsustainable and leaves even the most impassioned readers to throw up their hands because it would be more than a full-time job to even keep inventory of the new fantasy books being published every hour.

6. Most books fail because of improper title development.
Sure, some books don’t succeed because the value simply isn’t there or the work was rushed and haphazard, but for the most part books fail to sell because it’s impossible for readers to understand why they would read the book. This reality becomes abundantly clear as soon as a roomful of industry professionals begin looking at a collection of a publisher’s flops. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen a book wrapped in a beautiful painting that gives absolutely no idea of what the content might be or why someone might read this book. Similarly, I’ve seen plenty of subtitles or cover designs where I can narrow a book down to one of three possibilities of what it might be about. Is it fiction or nonfiction? Is it about transgender history or is it a self-effacing memoir? One of my favorite examples of this is Eric Schlosser’s Reefer Madness. It’s an amazing book about the history of products in the black market, from strawberries to pornography. But looking at the title and cover, you’d assume it’s a throwback to the 1970s fear of cannabis infecting the minds of our children. I can see what probably happened. Schlosser’s previous book, Fast Food Nation, was highly successful and adapted into a Hollywood film. It has a very clear emotional payoff to the reader. The publisher must have been very excited to continue this trajectory. Whenever I even try to loan my copy to friends with a ringing endorsement they say, “No thanks. That’s okay. Not interested.”

5. Bestseller lists are cooked, not organic.
These lists are purely marketing rather than demonstrating a proven sales record, as a reader might imagine. You can read many blogs that will instruct you on how to hack your way onto the New York Times bestseller list or other ways of manipulating these calculations. The Bell Curve, a book premised on classist, ableist, and racist pseudoscience about education, landed numerous daytime talk show appearances for the author, anticipating release. As a result, the advance orders for the book were very substantial. These advance sales landed The Bell Curve on numerous bestseller lists. Of course, while the launch was one of legendary marketing genius, there were problems. While its “merits” are still being debated today, the book largely went unread and many copies of the book were returned unsold. I encountered more copies in remainder bins than in bookstores.

4. Supporting your local independent bookstore over an online platform supports the entire ecosystem better.
In most industries, the owner of the intellectual or physical property sets a wholesale price that stores purchase their products for. This is called “net pricing.” However, with books, publishers set a fixed “list price.”  Different kinds of vendors receive various discounts, depending how much work is involved and how they handle the books. A certain online retailer has effectively argued that it is entitled to the largest discount of all due to the supposed “marketing” that it offers. As a result, publishers (and often authors) are paid more money when they walk into your favorite independent bookstore and purchase their books. Publishing is a volume business with very small margins. Microcosm’s books have a margin of 3.01% after printing, royalties, paying our staff, promoting, and shipping the books. As a result, we’d much rather work in a happy and healthy partnership with a local bookstore that is willing to collaborate with us than an abusive corporation that imposes terms upon us. Please consider that when shopping.

3. Your public endorsement as a reader of a book that you love is the greatest gift that you can give to the author and publisher. 
The only reliable method to sell books is getting readers to “buzz” about them. Major houses launch hip new divisions or small presses to operate as imprints in order to figure out how to commodify what is cool. Even the most successful authors are almost always too close to their subject matter to understand how to talk about it or communicate its emotional payoff to the reader. They need your help! If you can give an authentic statement about what you like about a book on social media that will not only make someone’s day but it will coalesce with other voices to create sustained life for a wonderful book.

2. Digital is dead.
Any way that you slice it — no matter whose numbers you trust — print books are outselling ebooks by somewhere from 3:1 to 24:1. As recently as 2011, I amused myself by attending sensationalist talks like “Saving Print Book Sales.” The fear was that digital would completely cannibalize print. Launched during the recession, ebooks never took off like anyone hoped or feared. And they have already plummeted and flatlined around their current figures for the past few  years. Of course, there are exceptions for romance novels, throwaway fiction, business books, or things you’d be embarrassed to be seen reading on the bus, but for the most part humans prefer reading a paper book. For Microcosm, digital sales are around 1% of our net sales. The other 99% is print. Of course, we’ll have some books where it’s closer to 33% digital and others where we never sell a single ebook. As far as I can determine, and including gift, institutional, technical, textbook, and special sales, ebooks probably hover around 4% of books sold. One reason for this might be that people who feel quite comfortable stealing an ebook would never feel comfortable putting a book under their trench coat and walking out of a bookstore. There is little reason to believe that eBooks will see growth until there are significant cost increases to paper book production and supply chains. Sales have diminished so much that we no longer hyphenate “ebooks” or even capitalize the “b.”

1. Sixty-six percent of books sold in the U.S. are from an independent press, not from a Big Five “Major” House. 
Partly this has to do with the explosion in the number of independent presses, going from 3,000 indies in 1970 to hundreds of thousands of small presses today. There’s also been a tremendous change in technology as digital typesetting and digital printing eliminate the cost and risk to publishers with a firm hand in professional development and reaching an audience. But this is the statistic that is most staggering to process for people outside of the industry. To be clear, the “Big Five” aren’t going anywhere. They own rights to publish books that sell hundreds of thousands or millions of copies each year and pay for each of their new titles. They have offices across the globe and access to the smartest, most experienced people in the job market. But still, isn’t it a bit reassuring that a small publisher with a lot of heart can get the sale over companies with all of these resources?

÷ ÷ ÷

Joe Biel is a self-made autistic publisher and filmmaker who draws origins, inspiration, and methods from punk rock. He is the founder/manager of Microcosm Publishing and cofounder of the Portland Zine Symposium. He has been featured in Time Magazine, Publishers Weekly, Utne Reader, Portland Mercury, Oregonian, Broken Pencil, Readymade, Punk Planet, Profane Existence, Spectator (Japan), G33K (Korea), and Maximum Rocknroll. He is the author of A People’s Guide to Publishing: Building a Successful, Sustainable, Meaningful Book Business; Good Trouble: Building a Successful Life and Business on the Spectrum; Manspressions: Decoding Men’s Behavior; Make a Zine; The CIA Makes Science Fiction Unexciting; Beyond the Music; Bamboozled; Bipedal; By Pedal, and more.

Whose Boat is This Boat?

One of the teachers I work with gave me a present the other day. whose boat.jpg

Whose Boat Is This Boat? Comments That Don’t Help in the Aftermath of a Hurricane is a picture book made entirely of quotations from President Donald Trump in the wake of Hurricane Florence. It is the first children’s book that demonstrates what not to say after a natural disaster. This book is not currently in the Division92 little free library – I just had to share it, as it’s so silly.

From the publisher Simon and Schuster’s webpage:

On September 19, 2018, Donald Trump paid a visit to New Bern, North Carolina, one of the towns ravaged by Hurricane Florence. It was there he showed deep concern for a boat that washed ashore. “At least you got a nice boat out of the deal,” said President Trump to hurricane victims. “Have a good time!” he told them. The only way his comments would be appropriate is in the context of a children’s book—and now you can experience them that way, thanks to the staff of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

Proceeds from sales of this book go to charitable organizations that support victims of Hurricanes Florence and Michael.

This book is not currently in the Division92 little free library – I just had to share it, as it’s so silly!

8 Clever Ways to Celebrate the Holidays with Books

8 Clever Ways to Celebrate the Holidays with Books

by Jennifer Ridgway

from Brightly

If you’re looking for more ways to incorporate books into your holiday celebrations, here are a few fun ideas. Some of these may require DIY work (although many can also be found on Etsy). Some will be great for your kids to help you make.

These ideas are but the tip of the snowflake; if you have other ideas for making your holiday more literary, please share in the comments below!

1.  Books As Gifts

books-as-giftsThis is probably the most straightforward idea. There is a book out there for pretty much everyone, even if they’re not readers. You can create a themed gift around a book: a cookbook with an oven mitt, cookie cutters, and cookie sheet; a photography book with a memory card and gift card to print photos; a picture book with a coordinating stuffed animal. Use your imagination! You could also do a book swap in place of Secret Santa or host a book swap party with your friends.

2.  Book Advent Calendar

book-advent-calendarsaw this idea online and started doing it for my twins. Choose 24 books, wrap them, and stack them. Have your child choose one every night in December leading up to Christmas. You can use all holiday/winter themed books or not. You don’t have to buy all new books; I mostly use books we already own. I try to put The Night Before Christmas at the bottom and save it for December 24.

3.  Eight Nights of Books

hanukkah-calendarYou can also adapt the above idea for Hanukkah, doing one book for each of the eight nights.

4.  Books As a Christmas Tree
Grab a bunch of books and stack them up so that they look like a Christmas Tree! You can place a star on top or use a book propped up as a topper. This will save you money on a tree and the trimmings, as well as being environmentally friendly. Note: This idea is better for those with older children, or you may find your baby/toddler constantly pulling out books. For a smaller tree, you can open books and stack them with the widest at the bottom.

5.  OrnamentsOrnaments, Ornaments
There are a quite a few ways to decorate your tree with bookish flair. Here are a few ideas:

  • Cut the pages of an old book into strips. Grab some clear ball ornaments. Open the top, and curl some of the strips of type inside. Close up and hang on the tree.
  • Make your favorite characters or authors into ornaments. This is a great craft to do with your kids using paper or felt.
  • Print out mini covers and glue them onto cardboard or thick card stock. Your kids can also help with this.
  • You can also create garland with some of these ideas (made by stringing book covers/characters/authors together).

6.  Wrapping Presents
book-page-bowYou can add a bookish aesthetic under your tree with how your wrap your presents. Wrap in monogram colors that have a library/old book appeal (think burgundy, brown, and cream colored papers without shine). Then, print out a paragraph or quote from the wrapped book (or snap a photo) and tape it to the outside. Find wrapping paper with books, book titles, authors, etc. as the print (these can be found at bookstores and on Etsy). Etsy is also a great resource for book washi tape, which you could use in conjunction with single-color paper. There are tutorials online to make bows from book pages. Bonus points for using books such as A Christmas Carol for any of these!

7.  Bookmarks As Holiday Cards

bookmark-holiday-cardRather than sending out holiday cards, make bookmarks! You could still use a family photo, but also include a quote from a book.

8.  Adopt Iceland’s Tradition
In Iceland, most people receive a book as a gift on Christmas Eve. The whole family then tucks into bed to read their new book that night.

Visiting Other SE PDX Libraries

This Little Free Library, #26048, is in right off SE Woodstock,IMG_8334.jpg in the low 40s. It’s right near Otto’s Sausage Kitchen & Meat Market and Laughing Planet. Another lovely little neighborhood with access to some great neighborhood businesses.  The LFL definitely matches the house, and they painted song lyrics on the garage door. Neat!IMG_8335.jpg




I made sure to note it in the Little Library Locator. Hey, did you notice that the Little Library Locator’s background changed right after Halloween? It’s kind of a nice touch.

Visiting Seattle LFLs

I stayed in Seattle for the weekend recently. I didn’t get to see many Little Free Libraries – I was too busy going to Archie McPhee’s Rubber Chicken Museum and picking up little boxes of art from the sole Art-O-Mat host in the entirety of the state of Washington – but I did get to see one. Maybe two. I’m unclear.

Between errands and visiting, I didn’t really have any time until the very end of my trip. With an hour to kill before boarding my train, I used the Little Library Locator app to see what was nearby. I found one, LFL #11041, inside an Irish-style pub, O’Donnell’s.

The hostess told me they try to keep the library stocked with books on Irish history and travel and such. I highly suspect that they do not lend out anything but the books. play.jpg

I’m not as sure about the other, LFL #17872. Either it’s part of this Seattle Parks “Play” project, or it no longer exists. The project brings a ton of toys and a couple of racks of books to city parks to share with anyone who wants. All of the books I saw had stickers marking them as from this city initiative, so I’m not sure if they’re for giving away or if you have to read them on the premises. I left a couple of children’s books on the rack anyway, just because.

Hoping to see some more Little Free Libraries next trip!

Recent Reads

Books I’ve recently read

Image result for make me lee childMake Me, by Lee Child – I’m a big fan of action books, especially spy/thrillers and police procedurals, and I’m really liking Child’s writing. I’ve read a lot of those, and I’ll freely admit I had not guessed the twist. Looking forward to more of his work.

Image result for red dragon book

Red Dragon, by Thomas Harris – I’ve had this book on my shelf for 20 years, and I finally got around to reading it. In fact, I ended up staying up late reading it without realizing it. I don’t know if I’ll be able to watch the movie – I’m an anti-fan of gross-outs and slashers, so it’ll depend a lot on how the moviemakers decided to handle it. Seriously considering reading the third novel in the set, Manhunter.

Image result for a moveable feast

A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway – How is it possible, that as an English major, I never read any Hemingway? Maybe one short story. Possibly. But nothing else?  I found this one at the Little Library in one of the grocery stores I frequent and thought what the heck. Apparently I’d misunderstood all the descriptions of his writing I’d seen, too. While he uses fairly spare vocabulary, his sentences and messages are anything but. I find I can only read a short bit before having to stop and take a break from his writing style, but that’s okay. I usually have a couple of books going at once anyway. It’s especially interesting to read right now, having been to Paris this summer. He writes of the Jardin du Luxembourg, and we walked all through it; he strolls along the Boulevard St. Michel, and we walked up and down it, watching the boats on the Seine. In addition to being an interesting recount of his time there – spent with authors I’m familiar with too – t’s an especially nice reminder of that trip.Image result for serenity the shepherd's tale

Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale – I can’t remember where I got this one. Maybe from a friend who went to a Comic Con, maybe from Michael’s Firefly Loot Crate. It took me a bit to adapt to the narrative style, and I don’t know that it actually answered any of the questions I’d had about this character from Firefly, but it was a good read and did provide some interesting info on his backstory. Plus it was a good reminder to find some more graphic novels.

Image result for lab girl hope jahrenLab Girl, by Hope Jahren – autobiography/memoir of Dr. Hope Jahren, geochemist & geobiologist that’s as much memoir as it is some of the best scientific writing for the layperson I’ve seen in a while. Wikipedia says this better than I can:

Jahren is an advocate for raising public awareness of science and has been working to lift the stereotype surrounding women and girls in science. One such example included the repurposing of the Twitter hashtag#ManicureMondays.  Seventeen magazine originally came up with the hashtag, but focused mainly on manicured and painted fingernails. Subsequently, Jahren encouraged fellow scientists, specifically girls, to tweet pictures of their hands conducting scientific experiments. The idea behind this was to raise awareness of scientific research and to increase the profile of women working in science.

Jahren has also written compellingly about the sexual harassment of women in science. She recommends that people draw strong professional boundaries, and that they carefully document what occurs, beginning with the first occasion of harassment.

Anyone who’s been read the “About” link on this site or my Recent Reads posts will know I’m a fan of biographies. This book did not disappoint. She writes about the best parts, the worst parts, and all the realities along the spectrum, of being a woman in the self-perpetuating male-dominated world of science, as well as how this country supports (not) and values (not) science, especially when there’s no sellable or weaponizable product to show for the work put in.


What are you reading these days? What do you think of it?

Visiting Little Free Libraries in Eugene

I went to Eugene for the weekend a few weeks ago, for the first time in close to 20 years. I spent 5 years working and going to school there a long time back while at the University of Oregon, so I knew it fairly well then, but hadn’t kept up with much of anything since. Most of my time this trip was either spent with friends or just walking around. Of course a ton had changed since I was there last. Still, knowing that and seeing the changes are different things. Little Free Libraries as such, for example, weren’t around then. You’d see a small shelf of books and games for anyone at a bar or coffee shop, but not the Official Little Free Library movement there is now.  This trip, I also dropped a few books off in the LFLs I found via BookCrossing.

On the first day, a friend and I went out IMG_8161.jpgto Lane Community College to find the Art-o-mat machine.  It’s a refurbished cigarette machine from the 60s/70s/80s that now dispenses cigarette-pack sized art. This is one of three in the whole state of Oregon. The machines are stocked with all sorts of art, from poetry to ceramic or wire sculptures, glass pieces to mini-notebooks, photography to jewelry, paintings on mini canvases and lino prints and everything else that could possibly fit in a box the size of a pack of cigarettes. Everything sells for $5 each. This one was located, appropriately, in the community college’s art gallery. I love everything about Art-o-mats – I love that the cigarette machines are getting new lives, I love that they sell affordable and easily stored/displayed art for the masses, I love that Art-o-mats works with individual artists – famous and not – and art collectives such as teen programs, I love that you only get the barest bit of information from the tags on the machine – it’s a bit of gambling. I collect the pieces – I have around 30 pieces right now.  Here’s what I got this trip:  A woodland scene made from paper piecing (there’s even a cardstock easel on the back to stand it up), a painted block with a heart in a speech balloon, hand-drawn pen art with typed words on paper strips done by a teen, and a word made from photos, plus all the packaging the pieces came in/with.


Once done with the Art-o-mats, we tracked LCC 18400.jpgdown the Little Free Library right outside the community college’s preschool, #18400. It’s even got its own page on the Lane Community College website! I don’t know why it was so empty. Maybe they empty it for weekends and just have books in it when the preschoolers are at school.



The next day, I was on my own. The Little Free Library map is kind of unwieldy even on a regular-size computer, and downright useless on a smart phone. Fortunately for me, I also had access to the Little Library Locator app – really, a website – to help me find the LFLs near me as I walked. The weather was beautiful, the trees still green and super-leafy, and there was hardly any traffic as I started out on this early Saturday morning.

5083 LFL.jpgThe first one I stopped by was LFL #5083.



Not too many books in it, but I did find this gem:


It reminds me of books and materials we used to build for the preschool kids where I worked in the late 80s/early 90s at the UofO childcare centers.

10252 LFL.jpg

Next up was was LFL #10252. Again, not too many books, but a lovely little yard. I’m pretty sure this is near one of the apartments I lived in while going to school. I never did find that apartment building on this trip – it’s entirely possible it’s been torn down to build a higher density apartment building or a business.






Further down the street was LFL #10465. Such a pretty yard! Also, a well-stocked LFL! I took one book from this library.

10465 LFL.jpg

I met one of the neighbors as I walked. Very friendly, not my cat.jpgnot much of a talker.






LFL #16774 had a nice little note on the window


I tried to find LFL #4202 – especially because which one is missing.jpgof its low number – but it’s not there anymore. So I sat at the park across the street for a bit to log it’s absence in the Little Library Locator, enjoy the trees and fall leaves, and to decide which direction to go.

no number.jpg


To make up for it, I found a little library with no LFL designation or number. (Yes, I added it to the Little Library locator)

I passed a couple of garage sales, some nice yards, ski lift chair.jpga few more cats, and this ski lift chair mounted on someone’s porch.  I love it!

Last one for the day, LFL #21177. Easily tied with #10465 for the best stocked LFL I saw the whole trip. I 21177 LFL.jpgthink I took two books from this library.



After that, much catching up over dinner with friends, some well-deserved reading time in my motel, then back home I went. The nice thing about taking the train – I got to read the whole way home!