Sunday, June 26, 2011

Five conversations with booksellers at HBW, part 3

Parts 1 and 2.

But what of the smaller publishers? Was I only talking to the publishers who felt safe at Hebrew Book Week, those who knew they'd sell well no matter what? Did I forget those smaller booths, tucked away between the giants?

Nope. I didn't forget them.

Babel books
Babel is one of those publishers I only recently really discovered, once I noticed that they were Wolf Hall's publisher in Israel. I knew of them beforehand (my high school writing teacher published a poetry collection with them), but I'd never really paid attention. Suddenly, I became interested. Then I read Michel Houellebecq's Le Carte et le Territoire (not yet translated into English, but it's awesome). Suddenly I realized that maybe I should be paying them a little more mind.

It's somewhat cheap to include the Babel bookseller, because the conversation we had was exclusive. And pretentious. I pointed towards the books I'd liked, discussed Houellebecq's literary status, raved about Wolf Hall, dismissed The Patience Stone (one of those books I really disliked) and asked for advice regarding a few others. After a few moments, a middle-aged woman standing at the booth beside me turned and asked, "Excuse me, but did I hear you say earlier that you liked Wolf Hall?"

"Best book I've read in the last year, hands down," I told her. Together, the bookseller and I began to tell the woman about the brilliant storytelling, the wonderful characterization, the clever writing... As I turned to leave, the bookseller gave me a funny sort of look. "You're doing a lot of my job, you know?"

The kids at the Graph booth seemed genuinely pleased to see me. The younger, who was maybe ten or eleven, immediately said hello and stared up at me. The older, who was in his late teens (my guess would place him at sixteen or seventeen) likewise followed my movements closely. Despite publishing the translations of Rick Riordan's books, Graph is still relatively small, best known for its focus on sci-fi and fantasy.

Percy Jackson, on sale at Graph
I won't pretend that we had the most mind-blowing or witty conversation. It was mostly about the books on display, a few words about the popularity of Rick Riordan with kids and about the book I ultimately bought. What's worth noting is the use of kids as booksellers, a fairly common phenomenon at HBW. The younger was mostly just grinning at potential customers, while the older was a genuine lover of books. He opened up to talking quickly and easier, and this being a smaller publisher, had less of an agenda. We talked about sci-fi's status in Israel's book culture (completely sidelined) and about some of the authors Graph publish. A recent survey found that only 5% of HBW attendees are aged 14-17, implying, perhaps, that Israeli kids and teens don't read. It's always nice to see evidence to the contrary.

Even Hoshen
"I remember you from last year," the bookseller at Even Hoshen admitted. She handed me my purchase (adding several bookmarks and stickers with the awesome motto "I'm a bibliophile and I even know what that means" once she noted my enthusiasm for them). "Do you work for the publishers?" I asked her. "I'm the selector," she explained. "I pick which books we publish."

The whole booth
If there's one Israeli publisher I always want to tip my hat to, it's Even Hoshen. Literally one of the smallest booths in HBW, this small publisher sticks to its point: books for bibliophiles. Lovely editions, dedication and care make them different from most publishers, who seek blockbuster, bestselling titles. Furthermore, their focus on poetry make them, again, somewhat less standard.

"So what's it like?" I asked. "You guys are so small... isn't it hard?" The selector nodded. "Yeah. Well, Tsomet Sfarim [Book Juncture] is owned by [two of the biggest publishing companies in Israel], Steimatzky [the largest bookstore chain in Israel] works with the other major publishers. They push sales for those publishers. It's not that they don't sell us, but they're a lot more likely to move us to the back room and we're never part of the sales and the deals." She shrugged and smiled. "But it's okay, we make do."

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