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Author Archives: jordanbascom
“I’ve Always Understood A Bookstore To Be Approximately Nothing Without Its Staff”: A Word With . . . Jeff Waxman
In this month’s A Word with You, we talked to Jeff Waxman, the partnerships director for the House of SpeakEasy’s bookmobile, serving books and book culture all over NYC. He’s also a bookseller, a marketing and promotions consultant for book and magazine publishers, and a co-creator of mutual aid projects The Bookstore at the End of the World and Open Borders Books. Next year, he plans to host BERNED, a roast of Thomas Bernhard on Zoom. You can find him at @FriendJeff.
So . . . how are you?
That’s an awfully rough start to a low-key interview! I’ve torn two ligaments and fractured my femur, I had a kidney stone, and I broke a tooth this year. But I didn’t catch coronavirus, I didn’t die in a hospital bed in Javits Center, and none of the accidents that befell me happened at the hands of the government thugs or right-wing goons, so let’s call that a win. How are you doing?
Can you talk about launching the Bookstore at the End of the World? What were your hopes for the project, and how has it been going?
The Bookstore at the End of the World came about to address a need and name a problem. Booksellers, dozens of us here in NY, but also in Portland, in Philadelphia, in Chicago, and all across the country, were let go when our shops closed. There were a lot of high-profile GoFundMe-type deals for those shops, but I’ve always understood a bookstore to be approximately nothing without its staff and there was not enough being done for those people who make bookstores great. BINC is admirable in many ways, but I don’t personally believe that booksellers or anyone else for that matter should have to prove their need to receive funds. The Bookstore at the End of the World was a collective that put an equal share in every participating bookseller’s pocket and we got that money by selling the books we love. Revolutionary, right?
What does business look like right now across your various roles? What community building efforts have you found to be effective during the pandemic?
My roles are always varied and so the challenges I’ve had to respond to have been pretty variable, too. In one sense, I’ve had to refashion what book publicity looks like in a world totally on fire. How do you compose an email to someone who is watching their business go to pieces and then pitch them a book event on Zoom? Is it kind to do so, to proceed with business as usual when their doors have been shut for two months or more?
How do you write a journalist and ask them to redirect their attention from actual secret police abductions and widespread state-sponsored violence to a late-career book about the craft of writing? Is it even ethical to do so?
If my role is to promote access to books in communities without bookstores—as it is sometimes—what steps can I take to do that when we’re in the midst of a public health crisis that spreads, as best we can tell, through airborne droplets from the face holes of nearly every human reader? How much risk/droplets should I personally absorb to get books back onto the street through the bookmobile I run for House of SpeakEasy or through the mutual aid bookstore, Open Borders Books, that I operate with my friends every Sunday?
I had always understood community to be the people I surrounded myself with, but sitting in my apartment with ambulances going by at all hours of day and night, I had to seriously reconfigure that notion. It’s every fucking person who needs anything I can give them. That’s where it ends in this forsaken year.
What are publishers or other bookstores doing right now that you are particularly excited about? Who is inspiring?
Chad Felix at Two Lines is an inspiration. That guy pitches books the way he does everything else—with verve and feeling and a moral clarity that I admire all day long. And if you’re looking at a Bookstore at the End of the World t-shirt, or reading Jean-Luc Persecuted (out recently from Deep Vellum), or gazing at the wall at Pilsen Community Books, you’ve seen his art. He’s one of the good ones who says what he means and means what he says.
Jisu Kim at Feminist Press is pretty badass. It helps that she’s pushing one of the best books of the year, Fiebre Tropical, and that the author, Juli Delgado Lopera, is a dream to work with, but Jisu has been deeply supportive of Open Borders Books in a variety of ways and she even arranged for Juli to come to our first book club meeting.
And, speaking of Open Borders—I’m always speaking of Open Borders—the folks who run this bookselling project are constantly inspiring me: Natasha Gilmore, Emmy Catedral, Terrie Akers, Dave McMullin, Thomas Evans, and Katherine McLeod. Every one of them has a thousand things to do at their day jobs making, selling, marketing, promoting, editing, archiving, and studying the printed word and they still spend four hours every Sunday making sure that our community has safe and friendly access to books. And half the proceeds go directly to local aid organizations like our community fridge, New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE), Make the Road, and Damayan while the other half is reinvested in bringing this community a permanent brick-and-mortar store.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Bookshop came to play at exactly the right time for bookselling. It isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to the problems of the digital age. It’s not a giant-slayer where Amazon is concerned. But the folks at Bookshop kept a lot of bookstores afloat when nothing else could have this year. And they hired five booksellers from The Bookstore at the End of the World to work customer service when their own shops had cut them loose—shout out to Genay, Amanda, Nathan, Justin, and Jacob!—so let’s give credit where it’s due and watch the next chapter unfold.
Do you have any new practices you hope to continue even after this crisis subsides?
Drink more water. Sleep at night. Continue developing a truly exceptional grip [that’s] worthy of the Captains of Crush certification.
What are your hopes for the future of bookselling and independent publishing?
Girrrrrl, you haven’t got time for me to answer this. I’ve got big dreams about building more collectivist bookselling and publishing schemes, book festivals without all the corporate logos, an artbookmobile, and a special adaptation of When Harry Met Sally starring Myriam Gurba and Hanif Abdurraqib.
What are you working on and what are you reading? Do you have anything you would pair it with (a food, a movie, another book, etc.)?
I’m working on all the above. But I’m reading Permafrost by Eva Baltasar in Julia Sanches’s translation. Add it to your TBR list for next year and remember to thank me when you get to it. It’s the caustic and queer confessional novel that readers of Sheila Heti, Maggie Nelson, Anne Garréta, or Max Frisch have been searching for. Also, for the record, the official drink of 2020 has been Gilka Kaiser-Kummel.
The New York Times Book Review‘s updated 2020 “Globetrotting” feature includes new fall releases from Charco Press, Deep Vellum Publishing, New Vessel Press, Open Letter, and World Editions.
Ms. Magazine’s September book picks include Burning Sugar by Cicely Belle Blain (Arsenal Pulp Press), Letters to a Young Brown Girl by Barbara Jane Reyes (BOA Editions), and Pink Mountain on Locust Island by Jamie Marina Lau (Coffee House Press).
Ancestry of Objects by Tatiana Ryckman (Deep Vellum Publishing) and Aseroë by François Dominique (trans. By Richard Sieburth; Bellevue Literary Press) were featured in Vol. 1 Brooklyn’s September book preview.
Literary Hub recommended How to Carry Water by Lucille Clifton (edit. By Aracelis Girmay; BOA Editions), Lecture by Mary Cappello (Transit Books), and Ancestry of Objects by Tatiana Ryckman (Deep Vellum Publishing) on September 8.
Actor and author Michael Imperioli (The Perfume Burned His Eyes, Akashic Books) was profiled in GQ on September 3, and on September 8 he was interviewed by the Writer’s Bone podcast about contributing to The Nicotine Chronicles (Akashic Books).
The Charco staff was featured in PW Daily as the Pic of the Day on September 1.
Joanna Stingray, co-author of Red Wave: An American in the Soviet Music Underground (Doppelhouse Press) was interviewed on NBN’s Russian and Eurasian Studies podcast on September 4.
Spirituality & Health Magazine featured an article by Sarah Bowen, author of Spiritual Rebel (Monkfish Book Publishing), on September 8. Paperback Paris featured Pink Mountain on Locust Island by Jamie Marina Lau (Coffee House Press) among exciting September debuts on September 8.
Villa of Delirium
Adrian Goetz, trans. Natasha Lehrer | New Vessel Press | 9781939931801 | August 2020
“What makes a perfect end-of-summer book? You need something short and bittersweet, set in a good location and usually featuring lots of booze … This year my book was Villa of Delirium by the French writer Adrien Goetz. It is the slow moving, translated historical fiction that offered everything I could ask for: set along the French Riviera during the early 20th century, the narrator finds himself unofficially adopted by the Reinachs, a wealthy Jewish family obsessed with ancient Greece who build the glorious Villa Kérylos near Nice. The family was real and the house still stands.”—Inside Hook
Hands and Heart Together
Patricia Hoolihan | Holy Cow! Press | 9781513645643 | November 2020
“In time for national Caregivers Month in November, this 400-page book is timely and important for the growing number of people who are caring for aged parents or the chronically ill.”—Pioneer Press
Aaron Lupton & Jeff Szpirglas | 1984 Publishing | 9781948221146 | October 2020
“Some readers may recall how high Decibel was on Aaron Lupton and Jeff Szpirglas’ jaw-droppingly gorgeous, revelatory metal-heavy tome on soundtracks from the dark side of cinema, Blood on Black Wax. Well, the dynamic duo have now followed up that triumph with the equally brilliantine Planet Wax: Sci-Fi/Fantasy Soundtracks on Vinyl from the insanely amazing 1984 Publishing.”—Decibel
“Finding solace in sound and celluloid is significantly important these days, and Planet Wax is a portal that will transport audiences to a better time, place, and feeling, all within its crisp, brightly colored pages. An epic trip down memory lane.”—Slash Film
“Planet Wax entombs undervalued masterpieces in one gigantic, thrilling read. Essentially, it’s like reading a massive collection of liner notes, which was always part of the fun when purchasing a new soundtrack.” —Coming Soon
The Readers’ Room
Antoine Laurain, trans. Emily Boyce, Jane Aitken, and Polly Mackintosh | Gallic Books | 9781910477977 | September 2020
“The Reader’s Room is a genuine masterpiece of literary mystery.”—Mystery Scene Magazine
Nelson George | Akashic Books | 9781617758096 | August 2020
“George’s passion for, and encyclopedic knowledge of, hip-hop suffuses every word of this smart, stylish novel. Although the author deftly deals with issues of predatory capitalism, government corruption, and the senseless murder of black men by America’s cops, it’s his handling of the tale’s sex trafficking and #MeToo subplots that deserves special acclaim.” —Mystery Scene Magazine
Sansei and Sensibility
Karen Tei Yamashita | Coffee House Press | 9781566895781 | May 2020
“Ironic, wry, playful, with bright, shimmering surfaces and undercurrents strong and political . . . Historical affliction is on every page of Sansei and Sensibility. But her moves are never rigid or simple, and the dance is one you want to join.”—The Rumpus
A Grave is a Given Supper
Mike Soto | Deep Vellum Publishing | 9781646050109 | July 2020
“Combines neoclassicism’s equal temperament, the incisive excesses of the metaphysical poets, and Jamie Sabines-like political sensibilities.”—Entropy Mag
Douglas A. Martin | Nightboat Books | 9781643620220 | June 2020
“Wolf utterly blew me away. It’s a novel told in poetic, yet conversational vignettes, that focuses on gender, masculinity, boyhood, and home.”—Luna Luna Magazine
We Want it All: An Anthology of Radical Trans Poetics
Edit. Andrea Abi-Karam & Kay Gabriel | Nightboat Books | 9781643620336 | October 2020
“This is an incredible and necessary collection of work that celebrates queerness and queer identity.” —Luna Luna Magazine
You Can Keep That to Yourself : A Comprehensive List of What Not to Say to Black People, for Well-Intentioned People of Pallor
Adam Smyer | Akashic Books | 9781617758966 | September 2020
“Using humor, Smyer relays harsh truths about U.S. race relations . . . With a tongue-in-cheek tone, Smyer offers an accessible critique of Whiteness in America . . . Smyer models for us how to use humor and candor to fight back against the microassaults, microinsults, and microinvalidations suffered by marginalized and racialized communities of color.”—Colors of Influence
C.F. Ramuz, trans. Olivia Baes | Deep Vellum Publishing | 9781646050161 | August 2020
“In simple, straightforward prose, Jean-Luc Persecuted tells a story as relevant today as it was over one hundred years ago . . . Ramuz genuinely portrays a heart-wrenching demise that fully envelops the reader.”—The Nerd Daily
Kathryn Nuernberger | BOA Editions Ltd. | 9781942683971 | April 2020
“What Rue shows, beyond its cathartic work, is that even under adverse conditions, Nuernberger’s drive for knowledge of both self and world cannot be extinguished.”—Full Stop
Addis Ababa Noir
Edit. Maaza Mengiste | Akashic Books | 9781617758201 | August 2020
“[The book’s] strength is these writer’s unflinching approach to reality . . . The other major plus is the opportunity to discover many accomplished Ethiopian writers. A book to definitely explore.”—Dispatches from Ethiopia
The Bishop’s Bedroom
Piero Chiara, trans. Jill Foulston | New Vessel Press | 9781939931740 | November 2019
“The Bishop’s Bedroom by Piero Chiara, published by the very selective and elegant New Vessel Press, in translation from Italian by Jill Foulston, will bring you back to reality with a better attitude about your dysthymia … The Bishop’s Bedroom is a respectful 150-page paperback priced right, and just mentioning it will improve your status at your Zoom book club meeting. It’s a gem of a book . . . Will enthrall and make you proud to be a reader of classic literary crime fiction.”—Durango Telegraph
Alejandro Frid | New Society Publishers | 9780865719095 | October 2019
“In Changing Tides, Frid does not offer us a way out of the Anthropocene—out of climate change and species extinction. Similarly, he does not offer us any straightforward manner of resolving the conflicts between industry and the land defenders who stand in its way. What he offers is the possibility that with a shift in perspective, we can better manage these challenges.”—Minding Nature Journal
Love & Peace: 37 Eternal Reflections
Alexandra Villard de Borchgrave | GILES | 9781911282587 | September 2020
“Love & Peace will surely inspire hope in many.”—Newsmax
“A heartening, emotive, and enchanting book, a wonderful gift that will bring comfort and hope.”—Quest Magazine
Maria Fernanda Ampuero, trans. Frances Riddle | The Feminist Press at CUNY | 9781936932825 | May 2020
“Through sparing prose and exacting detail, with no time for decoration or pomp, Ampuero delivers timeless feminist fiction that packs a punch and sticks with you like tar.”—Sounds and Colours
Being the Change
Peter Kalmus | New Society Publishers | 9780865718531 | July 2017
“Kalmus is thoughtful, passionate, and personal. And, he believes, as I do, that his actions make a difference.”—Treehugger
Doodle Cat is Bored
Kat Patrick, illus. Lauren Farrell | Scribble US | 9781950354344 | November 2020
“The book’s pages burst with colorful creatures, wild lines, and new adventures. Doodle Cat’s audience will be itching to unleash their own inner artists.”—Foreword Reviews