Vox Pop, Sander, and Me -- Chapter 4

More jolly tales from the saga of Vox Pop! Enjoy. --Andy Laties

Chapter 4

When he released me from his embrace, Shelly Drobny reached into the air, strained upwards with his fingers, grasped something invisible, and shouted, “You’ve got the brass ring!”

The plan was a million dollars to begin with; more when we’d launched at least three new storefronts. The money would come in two-hundred-fifty-thousand-dollar tranches. Locations should be college-towns in markets where Air America Radio had broadcast affiliates. In fact, Vox Pop was to be the public face of Air America in dozens of towns being served by the progressive talk-radio network founded by Shelly and Anita Drobny a few years before.

I had driven in from Amherst on this October 2005 evening expecting a first conversation on this subject, but Sander Hicks’s friendship with the Drobnys was further along than I’d realized. I’d first met them at Vox Pop back in June, just prior to the BEA convention, when Shelly had done a book signing of his memoir Road To Air America. I hadn’t realized that in the meantime he’d agreed to have Vox Pop issue the paperback edition of the book.

Drobny was evidently impressed with Sander’s political and media activism, and with Vox Pop’s business plan and first year’s activity. Our first book, American Assassination: The Strange Death of Senator Paul Wellstone, published back in November of 2004, had sold through its entire two-thousand copy print-run in one month. Our second title, Sander’s own book, The Big Wedding: 9/11, The Conspiracy and The Cover-Up, had also sold through its entire print-run—twenty-five hundred copies—in one month. My book Rebel Bookseller had only sold one-thousand copies at first, but the reorders were still coming, and we’d gotten a starred review in Publishers Weekly. In addition, on that evening in October, just before dinner with the Drobnys, I watched Sander demonstrate our Instabook machine. It was quite an intriguing device, popping out a paperback book in a matter of minutes. Unfortunately, I personally knew a bit too much back-story after a year of Instabook wrangling to be relaxed during a session of promoting the virtues of in-house book printing. The miraculous machine had a propensity for embarrassing breakdowns. Sander was lucky this time though, and the Instabook performed on cue.

Thus the dinner meeting was the culmination of months of courtship, and its outcome augured well for Vox Pop’s ambitious growth plan.

We’d opened the storefront one year before, in November of 2004, and our mix of musical performance, open mikes, political debates and book-signings--along with Holley’s café development and book-buying and Sander and Holley’s engaged, personable presence in the store--had quickly elicited a pleased neighborhood following. It turned out that people had been waiting for us: The Village Voice informed the city that we were straight out of Greenwich Village in the 60s. The New York Times reported that our arrival in Ditmas Park meant real estate values would soon be climbing. Sander and Holley had taken the apartment upstairs from the café, and with the arrival of their son in April, they looked the model young entrepreneurial success story.

Unfortunately our café product mix was rather inexpensive, we didn’t have very much seating, and there wasn’t enough space for a robust book inventory to be displayed. Monthly sales were at less than half break-even levels. Sander and Holley soon realized they would need a more extensive menu to satisfy their patrons and earn adequate income, but with no space for a kitchen this was problematic. Vox Pop applied for a beer and wine license, increased its selection of prepared-food items, and struggled with the mounting pile of bills.

Vox Pop had launched with very little capital. I had encouraged this: my mantra was, “You can’t get yourself out of trouble until you get into trouble.” I felt that when people saw how great we were, we’d find funding somehow. The first actual funders, perhaps unsurprisingly, though, were family and friends. Holley’s family, primarily, and Sander’s friends.

In particular, though, I was quite intrigued at Sander’s ability to convince our customers to buy stock in the company. When it came time for Rebel Bookseller to go to the printer, for instance, it was a neighbor who provided the six thousand dollars to buy three thousand copies.

Not that all of the neighbors were so happy about our presence. At the firehouse down the block some firemen referred to us as “commie coffee” and refused to patronize us. Apparently Sander’s activism in the 9/11 Truth Movement was perceived as unpatriotic. I told him our slogan should be “9/11, 24/7” in honor of the prominent display of 9/11 literature near the front door. Of course, he’d done serious, original research, traveling around the country to interview a variety of unusual individuals and learn their disturbing stories, so I never questioned his learning or his passion on the subject. And the success of his book showed that many others felt the same way about the importance of unveiling the entire story behind the 9/11 disaster.

After Shelly Drobny’s momentous announcement of impending venture investment, Sander and I began to wrestle with the operational implications. How would Vox Pop manage a rapid expansion? I felt that our successful public relations work in New York City meant we had to launch our first round of expansion in the region, even though the Drobnys had expressed an interest in college-towns around the country. As a compromise, we pinpointed collegiate neighborhoods: Greenwich Village, for New York University, and The Bronx, for Fordham University. Sander made appointments with real estate brokers and we spent several days together location-hunting. By January 2006, with little by way of follow-up contact from the Drobnys, we concluded that we might be able to elicit the first promised two-hundred-fifty thousand dollars by committing to a high-profile location in Greenwich Village. Village Comics, a longstanding bookstore on Sullivan Street one block from NYU, was closing down. Their twenty-one-hundred square foot storefront seemed perfect for a bookstore-café. The rent was high at seven thousand dollars per month, but I felt such a hot location with a full program of special events could earn enough to justify it.

We were heavy into negotiations with the landlord and needed cash to seal the deal. Sander tried to put Shelly Drobny on the spot. The bad news came: Air America Radio was suddenly in financial turmoil and the Drobnys were not liquid. Their Vox Pop investment would need to be postponed.

Our Greenwich Village deal was abandoned.

Meanwhile, we’d heard that the owners of a record-store and café in Williamsburg, Brooklyn wanted out, and were looking for someone to assume ownership. They were open to creative financing. Sander and I went over there one evening. The place was packed. It looked appealing, but the fixturing was restaurant-like and we worried that the space could not be configured for concerts or book-signings. As we browsed the CD racks in the attached record-store, the clerk asked Sander, “Are you the guy in that movie?”

Horns and Halos? Yes, that’s me.”

The clerk straightened up a bit. “You’re Sander Hicks? That movie was awesome!”

We walked out of the store, and I said, “People recognize you in the street? You should run for office!” He gave me a sidelong glance.

A few days later I opened an email. Sander was being encouraged by friends to run for Governor of New York on the Green Party ticket.

Vox Pop, Sander, and Me -- Chapter 2

Here is another chapter of the forthcoming book.

Vox Pop, Sander, and Me -- Chapter 2

Mid-sentence the photographer across the street entered my awareness. How long had he been standing there? Sunglasses, khaki jacket, muscular, bulky camera, snapping photos of me? Me and Holley, rather, chatting about our big plans.

The Vox Pop lease had been signed. It was September 2004 and I’d come down to Brooklyn for my third visit with Sander and Holley. We’d driven to Williamsburg to wander through cafes and discuss what we liked and where we’d innovate. Now, sitting on the bench outside a used-bookstore/café, Holley and I had been immersed in a detailed exploration of the business strategy.

When had the photographer taken up his post? Directly across the street, surely he’d been there for at least five minutes I now realized. I thought about my Eric Carle Museum logo t-shirt. Surely it wasn’t me he was following.

“Holley, how long has that guy been taking pictures of us?”

She laughed. “You just noticed him? Half an hour at least.”

Holley had been among tens of thousands of protestors the day before at the Republican National Convention. She’d been held overnight at a former chemical warehouse dubbed Guantanamo on the Hudson, along with hundreds of other anti-Iraq-war activists: elderly priests, children, pregnant women. Some had received chemical burns or touched asbestos or slept in oil patches on the concrete. “The craziest thing is we were following their route between plastic netting strips down the sidewalk when they wrapped the plastic around us all and took everyone away.” Holley gestured at the photographer, who was looking at us over the top of his camera. “They don’t even care if you know what they’re doing. Look at him. He just wants to intimidate us.”

For me, having driven in from Amherst with my wife and daughter for a fun day in New York filled with business planning and shopping, this experience was disorienting. The idea that hostility toward a protestor at the RNC would extend to assigning a cop to follow her around after her release from illegal overnight detention--nonsensical.

One of the first things that Holley’s boyfriend Sander Hicks and I had established during our email exchange eight months before was that we shared some rather unorthodox views of how the world worked and how it should be lived in. We both agreed with Gandhi that life should be a succession of experiments with truth: it was important to align your actions with your ideals. However, this might mean coming into conflict with people who seemed to be living by received wisdom or blind dogmatism. Although most people thought of Sander Hicks as a leftist, in fact he’d been vocal in opposition to any party line, and had even been voted out of the International Socialist Organization in 1997. Both Sander and I had been businessmen for years, and neither of us had much patience for knee-jerk anti-business attitudes among people active in social change movements. My own recourse was to remind my radical friends that Emma Goldman had once owned an ice-cream store, and William Godwin was a bookstore owner and publisher. The problem I saw wasn’t with marketplaces, but rather capital accumulation among particular market participants unrelated to the real purposes of that market, creating what Fernand Braudel called anti-markets. This was how monopoly power worked: one player used a chunk of capital to under-price all competitors, driving them out of business and raising prices once the field was clear.

Beyond our shared bias in favor of business as a form of social activism, Sander and I had a more specific point of agreement. We both felt the Bush presidency had been stolen at the voting booth in 2000, and we were worried about a repeat of that electoral theft, come November 2004. Vox Pop, founded during this election year, was designed in part as a politically-oriented investment opportunity attractive to anti-Bush activists by virtue of our business’s intent to express political ideas and foster debate.

Finally, Sander and I had discovered we shared a complete disbelief in the official narratives about the 9/11 attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. On the morning of September 11, 2001, as I watched on TV as the towers fell, I concluded that like the Iran/Contra affair, this was a black ops action involving elements of the American power system. I felt that just as Ronald Reagan had not been informed of exactly what was being done in the 1980s, so the inexperienced George W. Bush surely had not himself been told about the attacks, but this was only to ensure his deniability, positioning him to state that he’d known nothing about it. The intent of the attacks was obvious: they’d be used as an excuse to launch wars wherever the Bush Administration and its handlers wished. In the ensuing chaos, resource prices would be raised, fortunes would be assembled, and another generation of American youth would be trained and indoctrinated in the science of imperial warfare, helping ensure the competent and lucrative perpetuation of the military/industrial state.

Holley took these ideas for granted too, as--by 2004--did many of our friends. Still, for me, being stalked by a cop brought home a reality she’d become accustomed to since arriving in New York with Sander a few months before. After all, Sander’s activism in the New York alternative media and the 9/11 Truth Movement had picked up right where he’d left it before moving to Taos where he and Holley had met; Holley’s street-based activism was happening in parallel with Sander’s journalistic approach. Hence her lack of surprise at being followed, post-release.

I really shouldn’t have been surprised either. I did know the kind of lives Sander and Holley were leading. When my wife and I had first visited them back in July, shortly after their arrival in Brooklyn, we’d found them living rent-free in a basement apartment of a building owned by the co-founder of the radical alternative news organization INN World Report, for which Sander was working as on-air reporter and fundraiser. INN’s studio in Chinatown was the address my wife and I had first arrived at that day, but being an hour late for our appointment we were sorry to find that Sander had already left. Still, a co-owner had shown us the studios and talked us through the INN project. Free-lancers around the world did first hand reporting and submitted via FTP to the INN servers in New York. The weekly hour-long broadcast, appearing on Free Speech TV’s satellite channel on Dish Network, had the format of an ordinary television newsmagazine. The kind of facts and tone of analysis however were decidedly unusual. Whether the subject was climate change, peak oil, clandestine CIA operations, political malfeasance, or insider trading, high-quality journalism was stating simple facts. This honesty was astonishing to watch as a telecast. It was like living in an alternate universe where TV told the truth.

We’d driven from the INN studio in Manhattan over to meet Sander and Holley for the first time in their apartment in Brooklyn, and then out to lunch, where my wife had asked Sander his motivation for launching a chain of politically-oriented cafes. Sander had surprised us by earnestly launching into a disquisition on the revolutionary presence of the truth of Christ in human history. For me the Gandhian approach to this motive was more familiar, but I did know of Gandhi’s study of Christ. Although afterwards my wife expressed bafflement, I had already had the chance to become comfortable with Sander’s heterodox Catholicism: it was directly out of Ivan Illich and Dorothy Day. In an email earlier in the year I’d asked him whether he was a Liberation Theologist of the kind that got excommunicated by the pope. He’d responded in a one-word email, “Yah!”

Under the police photographer’s watchful lens, in early September, I asked Holley about her own hopes for Vox Pop. She said, “Honestly, I’m just interested in launching this café. If we can open all the others, that’s great, but for me it’s about this community.”

They’d scouted Brooklyn’s neighborhoods and storefronts for two months. I’d talked them out of a location on the edge of Park Slope that I thought was too small to successfully host performances, but when they’d taken me to a rough-seeming neighborhood south of Prospect Park called Ditmas Park, and showed me a closed video store on a Cortelyou Road block with many boarded up storefronts but lots of Asian, African and Caribbean families filling the sidewalks, I was immediately impressed with the corner building’s setback from the curb. I asked the landlord, “Do you own this sidewalk frontage?”

He nodded. “All the way out to here.”

I got excited. “So, we could punch out from the window and build an enclosed awning for exterior seating?”

“Sure, if you want to pay for heating in winter--but what kind of business is this? I thought you were opening a--bookstore?”

Sander explained, “We’re the next generation of media. We speak truth to power.”

Holley clarified, “It’s a café, too.”

The landlord was concerned. “Any cooking is a problem. There’s no space for a kitchen.”

Holley continued, “No kitchen. I’ve managed cafes. We know what we’re doing.”

The landlord was gesturing around the space. “You could rent my storefront around the corner too. They connect through the back wall by the bathroom.”

Sander said, “The ceiling is high enough to build an office loft back there.”
I added, “You could have a children’s play area underneath. And, maybe put a stage in this window?”

Sander responded, “Stage goes in the corner.”

I asked, “Is there a basement?”

The landlord answered, “Basement’s included if you want. It’s not very high.”

So, he’d just offered us a downstairs office and warehouse. Having a full basement would provide space for Sander’s media operation, including the Instabook machine we’d signed a contract for in July. At $2500 per month, this twelve-hundred square foot storefront seemed a bargain.

The landlord was concerned about references and I went to my car and pulled out a notebook of press clippings, showing him the USA Today article from 1991 with color photo of me reading to kids in The Children’s Bookstore in Chicago. “I’ve been running this kind of place for twenty years. We know how to do this.”

Sander convinced his INN World Report friend to co-sign the lease and front the security deposit, and the storefront was ours. On a busy corner in the most diverse census tract in the United States we were ready to launch what Sander Hicks and I thought of as our demonstration store, designed to impress investors with the impact we could have on a target community.

Holley Anderson had more modest ambitions: she wanted this particular café to thrive. But Holley’s vision was to be subordinated to our more ambitious one, leading to ongoing disagreements.

As for me, my key personal goal was to ensure that my novel bookselling ideas were tried, despite the fact that I was living three hours away. So my September afternoon chat with Holley strayed in and out of bookselling theory. That is: I had realized she, not I, would be the one on the ground who’d be attempting to implement the café-bookstore strategy I’d championed for Vox Pop.

"An Industry Gone Mad"

Here's another installment from my forthcoming book. (I won't post every chapter, only occassional ones.)

VoxPop, Sander and Me -- Chapter 3

“Fifty thousand in cash! Fifty thousand in cash to launch your new indie bookstore! Get your free fifty thousand!” I was passing out translucent envelopes containing banknotes, stickers and silver coins to attendees strolling the aisles of Book Expo America, in the cavernous halls of the Javits Center, New York, June 2005. Two professional women approached the Vox Pop booth and accepted the packets.

I continued, “Yes, it’s fifty thousand in real money, actually more--let’s see--you’ve got a fifty thousand lira coin--that’s from Turkey, plus a one thousand cruzado banknote from Brazil. On the front is Antonio de Machado, the father of Brazilian literature. You can afford to open a nice bookstore with this fifty-one thousand in capital. Now all you need is my book.” I handed them each the review copies I’d had printed back in Amherst--there were only thirty, which I’d have to hoard and distribute carefully. “I’m afraid I can’t give you those, but the actual book ships in August. You can order it from SCB Distributors.” I gestured at the main area of our group of small press booths, where the marketer of us all was headquartered.

The women examined their books. One read the title aloud to the other. Rebel Bookseller: How To Improvise Your Own Indie Store And Beat Back The Chains. She looked back at me and asked, “So, how do you do that?”

I answered, “Well, you have the capital I just gave you, so that will help.”

They looked at each other. I continued, “No--the book is designed to convince chainstore employees to quit and open their own independent bookstores. I tell about how thousands of us chain bookstore employees of the 80s did that, and it damaged Dalton, Walden and Crown. I’m saying it could happen again, and we could destabilize Barnes & Noble and Borders.” They were looking at me and nodding and smiling. They handed me the books back and drifted away chatting. They had lost interest, lost focus, and probably not even realized they were being rude.

I began calling out again, “Fifty thousand in cash, fifty thousand, free, in capital to underwrite your new indie store,” brandishing my envelopes, leaning forward to press these into the hands of glaze-eyed, slack-jawed passers-by.

This was my industry?

I had attended the old American Booksellers Association trade show for most of the years between 1985 and 1997 when my Chicago bookstores were actively engaged in industry affairs, back when I was looking to buy remainders, sell advertising in my catalog, line up author visits, and build relationships. For eight years since, though, I had been in self-imposed exile. I’d dropped out of ABA in 1998. I had barely noticed the ABA lawsuits against Barnes & Noble and Borders. When the ABA school program and education department had been dismantled, I hadn’t cared. Maybe closing The Children’s Bookstore had sapped my political energy. Maybe I didn’t have time for volunteering once our store at Chicago Children’s Museum had hits its crazy stride: eighty hour workweeks don’t leave much time for industry politics.

In 2003 though, after moving to Amherst to launch Eric Carle Museum’s bookstore, I’d started writing about my 1980s period immersed in ABA committee work. The process of telling this tale had helped me front my opinions and notice the overarching patterns I’d been living inside. My research began to teach me about the world I’d gained and lost since my first job at B. Dalton Bookseller in 1979.

In 1959, the year I was born, there were ten thousand independent bookstores selling new trade books. By 1979, with the growth of the chains, this number had dropped to two thousand. Yet by 1991, there were over five thousand indies nationwide. I realized that I had played a part in this renaissance, as an innovative marketer and then as a writer and educator. I'd assisted in the destruction of that era’s chainstore corporations.

Hence, Rebel Bookseller’s focus: to revive the revolution for the next generation.

But was it too late? Here at Book Expo America, the ABA Convention’s successor tradeshow, not many blue-badged booksellers were in evidence. Rather the majority of attendees had yellow or red badges: they worked for publishing houses large and small, or support industries. They were authors, agents, librarians or members of the media. The fact that only sixteen hundred independent bookstores remained in the entire country dramatically changed the mood of the show. All these publishers, with all their books, and few bookstore-owners to sell to!

This was my first time manning a publisher’s booth. The book industry tradeshow from this fixed-in-place perspective was repetitive and boring. Keeping up appearances was the issue. Making sure my pitch to passers-by sounded enthusiastic was critical. Somehow, I needed to sell--and no-one, not even those occasional booksellers, was placing any orders.

I’d started the show elated, because The Wall Street Journal had printed a front-page article using my arguments, theories and proofs about how superstore chains’ excessive ordering and returning were forcing prices up, depressing book sales. I’d first spoken to the WSJ book industry reporter in January 2005, after reading his article documenting the steady book price inflation of recent decades. That article offered no explanation for the phenomenon. When I’d emailed him with my assertion that superstore returns practices were responsible for the inflation, he’d challenged me to prove it. I’d done a round of research and sent him PDFs of Publishers Weekly articles from years past. I’d demonstrated how in the 90s, leading industry players had fretted that this very thing was happening. So, one could assume that the current high prices were the predicted and predictable outcome of the returns crisis of the 90s.

I’d also showed him Rebel Bookseller’s “9th Rant,” called “Publish, Perish,” about a fictionalized book whose bad timing resulted in being shipped and returned, shipped and returned, ultimately to be remaindered and put out of print.

Most importantly, I’d warned him that when he wrote the story, he should seriously consider leaving any mention of me and my book out. I expected Barnes & Noble to hate me for doing Rebel Bookseller, and I knew the company could be extremely hostile and vindictive toward critics. I told him about his predecessor at WSJ, Meg Cox, who he said he didn’t know (he’d been on the book industry beat there for eighteen months, he said).

I’d spoken with Meg Cox in 2003. I’d wanted to know if Wall Street Journal had stood up for her during the 1992 spat over her article "Risky Plot: Barnes & Noble's Boss Has Big Growth Plans That Booksellers Fear," about B&N CEO Len Riggio. She’d told me Wall Street Journal hadn’t caved in. They’d refused to apologize to Riggio for the "tone" of her article. They’d treated Meg fairly. But her work definitely got harder because for the rest of her time in the job, Len Riggio refused to give her an interview. Writing on the book industry for Wall Street Journal and never having access to the boss of Barnes & Noble was tricky.

On June 3, 2005, the Friday of the BEA show, when WSJ’s article "An Industry Gone Mad" appeared--all about the returns crisis and its impact driving book prices up, including the tale of a single book being shipped back and forth across the country only to end up remaindered--of course I read it fast to see if Rebel Bookseller or I were credited. We were not. Still, I bought five copies of the newspaper, and showed them around all weekend.

I brought a copy to the Publishers Weekly booth and pitched my old friend Dick Donahue on reviewing Rebel Bookseller. “Look, the Journal’s book reporter talked with me in January and he’s assembled all this quantitative research confirming my book’s central thesis. Superstores are hurting book sales growth.”

Dick wasn’t very surprised, or aroused.

In fact, industry people--longtimers, insiders--none of them were surprised or aroused by me, by Rebel Bookseller, or by the conclusions in The Wall Street Journal. They liked Barnes & Noble. Anyway, Barnes & Noble was a fact of life. The old publishing gang looked beaten down and past their prime.

I figured it out. Back in the day, tons of ABA show attendees were independent business people. They owned their own operations, and their presence at the show was exciting and risky for them. They’d come in from all over the country at great personal expense, and they were placing orders, getting specials deals, collecting free swag galore, scouting new opportunities, taking classes, and participating in lively roundtables. But now, in 2005, most of these BEA attendees were working for large corporations. Only a small proportion owned their own businesses--and indeed plenty of these business owners weren’t booksellers, but rather small press people who were suffering from the fact of having paid for an expensive booth only to experience the same absence of buyers for bookstores that I was dealing with myself.

I’d started the day telling anyone and everyone that they should quit their jobs and open bookstores to sell all the books everyone at this show was pitching. But by the end of the first day I was pretty tired of giving my handouts to publishing employees. No one took me seriously. They knew you should never open an independent bookstore. I was a lunatic.

A team from CSPAN-2’s show Book TV was prowling the aisles. They stopped and asked,

“What’s your book about?”

“I tell how the chains destroyed the book-reading culture in this country, and how we can destroy the chains by working together.”

They asked, “But if the chains are so bad, why did customers choose them over other bookstores?”

“Customers didn’t decide. It was all a hoax played on Wall Street investors. Len Riggio noticed that private stores are capitalized at about five times earnings. But publicly held companies can be valued at ten or even thirty times earnings. So--if you’ve got an operation big enough to go public, and you can pitch the promise of unending sales growth, you can get access to enough capital to over-buy unsustainably on buildout and fixturing. It’s true the customers were entranced by the superstores' buildouts and fixturing. But they didn’t buy enough for all the superstores to be really profitable on a year-after-year basis. The company shares' inflated price-to-earning ratio would only hold up while the company was putting on a fancy show, building lots of new superstores every year— and that couldn’t go on forever. Bookstores aren’t a good sector to invest in, compared to other industries. Bookstore companies shouldn’t be listed on Wall Street.”

They asked, “Then why are you trying to get people to open their own bookstore if they’re not a good place to invest?”

“Because when people like me tie up our personal capital in a bookstore we realize additional intangible benefits. Our lives become more important--we sacrifice some opportunities of potential financial return on investment, but we are more satisfied with our lives as community members.”

“Any last thoughts?”

“Yes. Barnes & Noble is going down!”

Breaking The Rules

I recently gave this very good (and very naughty) advice to a bookstore owner:

I'm always so sorry when I read of a bookstore that is closing after two or three years.  I had to actually lose my first store before I permitted myself to violate the "rules" you learn when you enter the industry.  I think lots of people never learn to violate the rules.
For instance, I still get blank stares when I tell people they need to be set up as a C-Corporation and make sure they are buying from vendors inside of that official identity, so that they will be able to walk away from their accumulated debt if necessary.  I tell them they can get away scot-free and start again.  Big companies of course do this all the time!  But small businesspeople often set up as sole proprieterships or S-Corps or partnerships and thus when bad things happen (like when we closed The Children's Bookstore, which was a partnership) they are saddled with personally paying down the company debt (we had to clear $250,000 in debt from that business).
But C-corps like my second store -- Children's Museum Store -- can walk away from major debt and I had no personal liability!
It was my lawyer (my SECOND lawyer) who had insisted that a C-corp be the entity that signed with Chicago Children's Museum.
Now -- applying this FURTHER to your current situation....and using the additional "two-company" approach...  which is a complication.....

You could at this moment set up a C-Corp to be your micro-publishing company, called "Bookstore House Press"
Then, you could contact all the SMALL publishers you are currently dealing with (that is: small publishers first, then, after you've done it with small lenient presses, move to bigger houses), tell these publishers that your new publishing arm is going to be doing wholesale distribution as well as publishing, and thus you need to set up a whole new set of WHOLESALER accounts (55%-60% discount).  BUT don't sign a personal guarantee.  Don't.  Just submit the orders, with the new tax ID.  If they send you a form that asks for a personal signature, simply do not sign, and return the requested business info.
Over the course of time, you should be able to slide yourself into a situation where you have a completely new set of accounts with many vendors -- these new accounts will be WHOLESALE accounts where you're getting 55%+ discounts, and with a C-Corp that can if necessary simply DISSOLVE and you can walk away from the debt if necessary.  (You would be proceeding to illegitimately transfer books bought through the wholesale arm into your bookstore, and selling these at retail -- that's the point of the project -- to get higher discounts for books that you will ultimately sell through your retail store directly to the public).

Unethical???  (because "WHOLESALE" accounts are specifically designed by publishers for only companies that sell onward to retailers -- these accounts aren't supposed to be used by companies selling to the public directly)
I have given this advice in public fora and the other booksellers give me HORRIFIED looks!!!  And, this is exactly how Borders worked for years!!   (They had a company called Book Inventory Systems that bought at wholesale and this company "sold" to the Borders chain owned by BIS wholesale company)

I feel that if your competitors are acting "unethically" then you have NO CHOICE but to compete "unethically" as well.  If the publishers fail to police their "ethical" systems, then only the "moral" among us will be punished, and we will go out of business, and meanwhile it is OUR CAPITAL that is propping up the publishers and thereby we are paying for the big corporate bookstore companies to grow, since we are the source of profits for the publishers engaged in giveaways to the big corporate bookstore companies!! 

Indies in the 90s paid for the deals publishers gave to B&N, and indies today who accept 40% discounts from publishers are subsidizing the 55%+ discounts those publishers are giving Amazon....  So -- TAKE THE MONEY.

(It is also possible to get better discounts from publishers by setting up non-returnable "gift accounts" -- that's an "ethical" way to get a better profit margin.)

(As to whether merely buying inside of a C-Corporation and then if necessary dissolving the company or going bankrupt is ethical or not: Yes.  It's ethical and legal.  No ambiguity about this at all.)

Vox Pop, Sander, and Me -- Chapter One

Vox Pop, Sander, and Me


Chapter One



“Who will screw the chains? How will they screw the chains? When will they screw the chains?”

The entire email response to my book query for Screw The Chains: A Free-Jazz Improvising Radical Children’s Bookseller Gets Chewed Up And Spat Out Of Sweet Home Superstore Hell, Chicago. Featuring Dada Buddha’s Guide To Theatrical Bookselling.

This response seemed to show that its writer hadn’t read my query.

So, why was he responding?

And yet, his response was the most positive I’d received in months. So many editors, agents, publishers, former colleagues, book industry acquaintances had received my manuscript. So few had acknowledged the huge package. And here’s this guy responding. 

I’d found him using a technique I’d read about in Writer’s Market. Find a book that’s similar to the book you’ve written. Search the acknowledgements page for the name of an agent or editor. Write to this person that you have done a book similar to one they’ve worked on, and would they look at your book, too?

In the case of Sander Hicks, his name showed up on the Internet as publisher of a book I’d found at Broadside Bookshop by Bertell Ollman called Ballbuster? True Confessions of a Marxist Businessman. That sounded like me.

I answered Hicks: “Chain-store employees will quit and open their own stores. They will overwhelm the market and crowd the big stores out of business. In the next ten years.”

Thus began our dialogue of mutual action. Our unspoken pact was to each pretend that whatever we said would happen, and when things didn’t turn out right, we’d cover for each other.

That is, we had in common a theatrical bent. We’d both been successful in the past through assertion, demanding reality play the part we’d written. Failures were written off to a recalcitrance of the real. Fake it till you make it. Keep the faith.

My book was about refusing to accept the judgment of the world. Neglecting to accept that things had gone wrong. Keeping with it after everyone else had given up. Perseverance to the point of perseveration. The beating-a-dead-horse-till-it-leaps-to-life approach to business.

Hicks was early in a venture capital fundraising campaign. He was launching a national chain. Four hundred muckraking media production offices doubling as coffee shops. These gonzo micro-publishing centers—staffed by journalist/baristas and activist café customers—would feed their best locally-distributed works onward to an over-arching media company for national distribution. That Hicks would consider publishing a book attacking chain-stores while striving mightily to launch a chain himself might have been some sort of tipoff to me.

But I refused to be tipped off. I wanted a publisher, and my chosen one, 81-year-old Lyle Stuart—publisher of Anarchist Cookbook—had already said no. So I needed Hicks: he was the younger generation’s Lyle Stuart. Fearless founder of Soft Skull Press, publisher of Fortunate Son, featured star in Horns & Halos movie—Hicks was my last chance, shy of taking Daniel Pinkwater’s advice and publishing myself.

When I told Sander I’d earned a $200,000 salary out of a $900,000 per year store, he bit. He’d publish my book….would I help him re-write his business plan?

I sent my manuscript by mail, and read his emailed plan. Starbucks was huge, why shouldn’t there be a unionized anti-Starbucks? The plan talked up religion and social justice while promising huge profits. It was light on techniques and budgets. No proprietary systems or technology. Rewriting would be work. But I needed additional income, and came up with a proposal. What if these coffee-shop-cum-publishing-centers had bookstores inside, and I became the national buyer?  I’d work from home in Amherst.

The answer was yes. Since Hicks was arranging meetings with venture capitalists—in particular a left-wing heavyweight who’d made money with George Soros in currency trading—I busied myself conceptualizing bookstores inside alternative coffeehouses. I spent eight weeks poring over publisher catalogs and websites. I reviewed hundreds of thousands of titles, as I’d recently done while developing my store at Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. I created twenty-five categories that matched the themes of Sander’s coffeehouses. Every book would be unusual and amazing. A thousand title inventory was perfect.

I peppered Hicks with emails. We should buy the recently released Instabook machine for each location so our plan had technology. We should produce lots of literary events. Café-tables should have built-in book displays so coffee drinkers would find themselves looking at books to buy. A TV channel, a music booking agency, a dog-and-pony show.

Sometimes Hicks answered, sometimes he didn’t. No comment on my book. But we scheduled a phone call and talked about the business plan and how to raise five million dollars.

I got worried in May when he stopped responding to email. For five weeks I heard nothing and I concluded reluctantly that I’d made another of my idiotic misjudgments and my book didn’t have a publisher. My café-bookstore inventory list had been an excuse to pretend I was opening another store of my own. I had to start looking for a publisher again. I was depressed.

He finally wrote back. He and coffee-shop-expert partner Holley Anderson had been driving cross-country. Five times. It would be a national chain; they were laying groundwork. They’d been trying to meet with venture capitalists, assessing locations for future coffeeshops, beating the bushes. He hadn’t had a chance to read my book, but we needed to rewrite the business plan. They were moving to New York in July and the first store would be there, maybe Brooklyn.

            My wife was the voice of doubt. Sander Hicks would not publish my book. No-one would because it was self-congratulatory and uninteresting. She’d forbidden me to include her in it, and (luckily) she refused to read it or have passages read aloud.

Things had turned out badly. We’d lost a valuable business, lost our friends, traded our townhouse on the Near North Side of Chicago for a ranch house in the suburbs of Amherst, blown through our retirement savings (with penalty for early withdrawal), ruined our credit, taken a seventy-five percent pay cut. The kids seemed to have adjusted ok, but that was the best that could be said. At least by her to me.

            I knew that couples whose businesses went south often ended up divorced, and I didn’t want that. My plan was to write a bestseller, make a bunch of money, restore my status, and extract us from our ignominious situation. 

So, landing on Hicks as my only possible publisher was an ominous turn of events. Sure, he’d published some hot-selling books, but he’d recently lost his company just like I’d lost mine, in turmoil and recrimination. Would this new company, crazily called Drench Kiss Media Corporation, be a success? My wife’s assessment couldn’t be dismissed. Most likely I was wasting time. My book and Sander’s company would fail to materialize. My distractedness during my first year at Eric Carle Museum might even get me fired.

            Luckily, my wife’s was not the only voice on the subject of my book. Eric Carle—the most successful children’s book writer alive—offered to write me a blurb. Norton Juster—another of the most successful children’s authors—told me which were his favorite chapters. Daniel Pinkwater—leading author and National Public Radio star—had written that normally he couldn’t make it past a few pages when someone sent him a manuscript, but with mine he’d been unable to put it down, and on flipping the pages, no matter where he stopped, he enjoyed what he was reading. None of these men had any idea how I would get my book published, though, since in it I attacked Len Riggio, owner of Barnes & Noble—America’s most popular corporation—accusing him of damaging the culture of reading and driving book prices sky high.

            Which, again, brought me, inevitably, to this man Sander Hicks. He’d published the biography of George W. Bush that told of a 1972 arrest for cocaine use while driving—an arrest all record of which was quashed and expunged by father George H.W. Bush. The book, Fortunate Son, written by James Hatfield, was first printed in a seventy-five thousand copy print-run, then recalled and incinerated by its publisher. Hicks’s company Soft Skull Press had obtained the rights after this recall, and republished the book, surviving lawsuits and publicity debacles in order to see the information distributed. (The key anecdote’s source turned out to be close Bush friend Karl Rove who’d told Jim Hatfield the story personally, and never denied having done so. However Hatfield ended up a suicide.)

            If anyone was qualified to handle my book, it was surely this man who’d seen an unpublishable book into print, even though he’d lost control of his company while doing so. My wife’s skepticism didn’t jibe with the facts. I was certain that if I remained focused on it, Sander would indeed publish my book, and his coffee-shops, to be called Vox Pop, would come into being as well.



[Andy Laties’s book—Rebel Bookseller: How To Improvise Your Own Indie Store And Beat Back The Chains—was published by Vox Pop in 2005 and won the 2006 Independent Publisher Award for Best Book on the Subject of Writing and Publishing.]


Booksellers Who Publish: An Old Role Made New

IIn England, in prior centuries, there were no publishers. “Booksellers” produced books. Over the years, the role split. Booksellers who’d produced many titles ceased storefront operation, becoming “publishers.” Booksellers who’d concentrated on enlarging their storefront “stationer” businesses left the job of publishing to their former colleagues.

In his 1959 memoir, “An Occupation for Gentlemen,” Frederic Warburg—courageous publisher of George Orwell’s “1984” and “Animal Farm”—recalls his formative years when every London publisher was a bookseller. On bookshop shelves, readers would find books of that house as well as works from competing houses. Books were swapped among houses: Warburg describes apprentices’ daily rounds trudging shop to shop, sacks on backs, delivering new titles and filling reorders while collecting books for sale at their home stores.

The House of Stecker and Warburg is gone: the British George Orwell books are published by multinational conglomerates Pearson/Penguin and Bertelsmann, while colossal bookselling monopolist Amazon.com unilaterally adds and subtracts “1984” from reading appliances (as we saw last month).

But dangerous, courageous books are still written, though mega-corporations dare not publish them. And so it falls to Frederic Warburgs of today, individuals who defy government, stand trial, endure bankruptcy, to ensure that courageous authors meet voracious readers.

We independent bookstore operators are learning to accept this publishing challenge. Well-run indie bookstores have always excelled at promoting unusual books. We’ve specialized in convincing readers to expand their interests and their minds. Now we’re finding we can apply these traditional bookselling skills to publishing.

In New York’s Hudson Valley, bookstore owners Susan Novotny and Eric Wilska are offering local authors print-on-demand access to prospective readers through Troy Bookmakers. In Vermont, self-publishing writers can use Northshire Bookstore Publishing Services, home of the Espresso Book Machine. And the store I co-founded in Brooklyn—Vox Pop—operates Vox Pop Publishing. We handle authors’ print-on-demand projects, having proven ourselves with my Independent Publisher Award-winning title Rebel Bookseller, and my partner Sander Hicks’s controversial 9/11 analysis, The Big Wedding.

The historical separation of bookselling from publishing has hurt authors and readers. With the coming of corporate publishers’ profit-driven approach to copyright use, non-bestselling authors have been left without fully committed marketing and distribution services from the companies controlling their books. But now that socially conscious independent bookstore owners are retaking our roles as publishers, we are learning to provide services to authors superior to those of mega-corporations that are uninterested—by virtue their very business models—in persuading readers to experiment with daringly original authorial voices.

For my part, I hope we bookstores that publish will work together at promoting our authors, just as our forbears did, so our era’s George Orwells get the benefit of independent booksellers’ collective efforts at finding and encouraging passionately courageous readers.


Strategy & Tactics for Financials And Inventory

Sometimes readers of Rebel Bookseller complain that there's not enough about the nuts and bolts of opening a store. While I did leave that out, because I'm afraid of hobbling the creativity of new owners, I thought maybe now I'd post a longer version of chapter two: this version more fully recounts aspects of the development of The Children's Bookstore, in 1984 and 1985.

Best, Andy


In June of 1984, Chris attended the American Booksellers Association three-day intensive Booksellers School in Boston. I wasn’t able to go along for the whole program, as I was working a six-week tour with Child’s Play in the Catskills, but I did my part by sitting in on the final day on financial planning, and then that Summer practically memorizing the ABA’s Financial Profile – a comprehensive analysis of the financial structures and profitability of 500 bookstores coast to coast.

For instance, I knew that very few bookstores with less that $250K per year in sales were making enough money to provide more than 4% per year in salary for their owners. Whereas stores that did between $250K and $500K regularly yielded 10% in owners salary. But – stores that did between $500K and $1.5 million per year saw a drop in owners salary to 5%. That is, mid-sized stores were more profitable than smaller or larger stores. In absolute dollar terms, running a $500K store provided the same amount of owner income as running a $1 million store, since the former paid at 10% of the gross, while the latter paid at 5% of the gross! Owner dollar income actually dropped between $500K and $1 million.

The Financial Profile did not provide an explanation, and it took me years to understand this fact. When stores approach $500K per year in sales, their owners are stretched to maximum capacity and become much more productive. Above $500K the owners cannot do it anymore and a new layer of managers must be brought in. Productivity drops dramatically. Only approaching $1.5 million does this new layer of managers fully begin to pay for itself.

Also, we learned that in our 1200 square foot store we should shoot for between $250 and $350 dollars in sales per square foot: $300K to $420K per year.

We learned that in order to obtain sales of $400K per year we’d need an average on-hand inventory of about one-third this total: $133K. And that the cost of this $133K in inventory would be about 60% of its retail value, so, $80K. And that these averages actually concealed the seasonal nature of the book business, where 30% of sales took place during November and December. Thus, an inventory of $110K might be required in December, versus an inventory of $60K much of the rest of the year.

We learned that average staffing levels for a $400K/year store were about 15% of the gross -- $60K. Or, perhaps two full-timers and two part-timers (not including the working owners).

Average advertising and marketing expenses should be about 2% of the gross: $8K.

Although at the time I didn’t understand the basis or inevitability for many of the averages, choke-points, benchmarks and trends revealed in the ABA materials, I memorized them anyway, and relied on them heavily.

Financial management certainly was our weak point, as neither of us had a business education. The ABA materials were invaluable.

With our change of plans, it was now clear to me that starting our larger bookstore would cost at least $100K. This still seemed viable to me, and despite my father’s uneasiness he didn’t try to dissuade me, since we had changed our plans based on advice from bookselling experts, and were doing our financial homework.


Back in 1977, when Chris was pursuing a Masters in Art History in Milwaukee, she’d worked at a B. Dalton and become friends with a co-worker named Carol Grossmeyer. Chris had later interviewed for a managerial job with David Schwartz, who owned the Harry W. Schwartz Bookstores – with which Dalton competed.

David had offered Chris the job, but she’d instead accepted an offer from B. Dalton to move to Chicago and become a Manager-In-Training at their new 5000 square-foot Michigan Avenue store.

However Carol Grossmeyer had gone on to become a manager at one of the Schwartz bookstores -- and a few years later Carol and David had gotten married.

In August of 1984, Chris called Carol to see about us coming up to Milwaukee to get advice from David about our bookstore plans.

David grilled us Portabello mushrooms for dinner. Then he told us -- with as much energy as Howard had displayed on the subject of our Galapagos Books And Maps location -- that we could NOT open a Travel & Children’s Bookstore, because the two category clienteles were too different from one another.

He said we should open a children’s-only bookstore.

This was hard to accept. We had recently spent two years living out of the country. We wanted to somehow keep our minds functioning on an international level. The U.S.A. in 1984, during the stunningly conservative Reagan years, was frustrating for us. The whole Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous culture was self-congratulatory, and oblivious to what was really going on in the world. We’d enjoyed being foreigners. We’d seen the U.S. through the world’s eyes and had developed our own ideas about what was good about the U.S. – and what needed changing. We believed in the power of travel to change the culture of the U.S. – by opening American minds. We’d been in over 80 countries between us. We had lots of ideas for would-be voyagers – especially young ones like ourselves.

But – David was talking from a strong knowledge base. Bookselling had been his life. At the time, he was even the Treasurer of the American Booksellers Association – he’d recently helped lead a sort of Young Bookseller takeover of the ABA, since the association had become moribund and the chains were killing lots of independents.

David was especially passionate on the seemingly dry subject of shipping costs. Publishers frequently ship books in small quantities to booksellers, and the mailing cost is tacked onto the bill. A book with a retail price of $10 OFTEN arrives in a little envelope, with a bill from the publisher that lists $6 as the wholesale cost of the book PLUS a $4 charge for the shipping cost! It costs the bookstore $10 to get the book, and then they have to sell it for $10! How can you survive and make money if your books are costing you the same as your selling price? And yet no amount of arguing with publishers has been able to eliminate this imbecilic practice despite one hundred years of organized booksellers complaining to publishers!

After a long evening talking the ins and outs of the arcane but fascinating vagaries of bookselling, we decided once again to take our chosen expert’s advice.


Unfortunately, we knew zilch about children’s books.

Reading tens of thousands of stories written by children hadn’t taught me anything about children’s literature. Working in a dozen general bookstores had taught Chris SOME – but not enough to competently fill a complete children’s bookstore.

So, typically, Chris started doing research, and she discovered that there was a special library at the University of Chicago -- associated somehow with their doctoral program in children’s literature -- called the Center for Children’s Books.

This library was operated by someone we’d never heard of named Zena Sutherland.

One day in late 1984 Chris and I went down to the University of Chicago Library and buzzed the intercom of the Center for Children’s Books. We hadn’t made an appointment.

Someone answered the intercom and let us in.

We went up the elevator.

A short, fierce-looking 60-something woman with blond-white hair admitted us to the Center. She asked why we’d come. We explained we were preparing to open a children’s bookstore in a few months, and hoped to browse this library for ideas about what books to sell.

Zena Sutherland scrutinized us.

She began asking questions. I felt like I was back in Third Grade, but Chris was sturdier.

Once Zena had determined that we knew very little about the field of Children’s Literature, she said, “Come into my office.”

Seated behind her desk, she announced, “The first thing you should do is read my book.”

I said, “What book?”

Her eyes widened, and she said, “Children And Books.” She produced a copy of a full-scale official-looking college textbook and handed it to Chris. It was in its sixth edition.

At this point I realized we should have called for an appointment.

Chris was undaunted, and started asking questions. I was relieved to see Zena realizing that Chris wasn’t a novice bookseller. Zena said, “You’re going to get a lot of support for this project. Many people have been waiting for this for a long time. You should join the Children’s Reading Round Table right away. There are 150 members – authors, librarians, teachers -- they’ll want to be involved, and they’ll provide good advice and send you business. You may even be able to hire some of them to work for you. When will you open?”

I was startled by this sudden shift – from challenging to welcoming. Perhaps she wasn’t a dragon about to eat us alive, after all?

After we left, Chris said Zena reminded her of her mother.

Again we did exactly what our Expert told us to. We bought Zena’s book and worked our way through it. We already had requested sales catalogs from more than 200 publishers. Over the next several months we compared the publisher booklists, author by author, title by title, with the Index of “Children And Books”. Flipping back and forth between catalogs and textbook, we taught ourselves Children’s Literature, and in the process compiled the opening order for The Children’s Bookstore.


Our plan had come a long way since Konorak: in four years, we’d moved from a newsstand in Paris to a children’s bookstore in Chicago. By the time we focused seriously on imagining a highly detailed plan for The Children’s Bookstore we’d spent several years immersed in the world of bookstore creation. Chris’s final job before we started work full-time on creating The Children’s Bookstore was as manager of the Kohl Children’s Museum Store, in Wilmette. That position, which lasted 5 months, gave her a good handle on customer children’s book preferences and buying patterns.

We visited the children’s book departments of every Chicago general bookstore – chains and independents. We decided that there was very little focus being given to non-fiction. Our future competitors seemed to be entirely focused on picture books, baby books and fiction. In Zena’s book there were whole sections devoted to History and Biography, Science, Arts – it was clear that the whole gamut of categories in a General Bookstore could be replicated in a Children’s Bookstore.

We also discovered that mainstream children’s literature had some gaping holes. For instance there were any number of books about Ancient Egypt, Knights and Castles, Outer Space and Dinosaurs, but only a very few about the Renaissance, the History of Music, Antarctica, or Marsupials. Only school-library publishers had the specialty titles covering more obscure subjects, and their books weren’t described in Zena’s book and were evidently outside the scope of “children’s literature” implying they simply weren’t very high quality books.

It was a puzzling decision for us about whether to buck the publishing trends. How should we choose which of the hundreds of dinosaur books from mainstream trade book publishers to carry? Should we carry the one book about marsupials, which was from a school-library publisher and was clearly undistinguished and pedestrian in design and content?

That is – to what extent should we stock the store like a school library?

We decided that the school library approach was the correct one – because no-one else was doing it.

Chris went to Toronto to visit a store she’d heard about there – The Children’s Book Store. This huge store had been started ten years before by the former head of the school library system of the Toronto Public Schools – Judy Sarick. Judy gave Chris advice, and also told her that we could buy Canadian and British books from her at a 20% discount. Because of the 25% difference in value between U.S. and Canadian currencies, we would be able to sell these books at the marked Canadian Dollar price and thereby see a 45% margin on these books.

The Children’s Book Store had implemented the idea of having strong coverage of all non-fiction areas. They also had designed special fixtures that allowed face-out display of books more efficiently than ordinary bookcases. Chris took photos of The Children’s Book Store that we used in determining how we would fixture our store.

We visited Sylvia Rosten’s bookstore in Glencoe -- The Children’s Reading Corner. Sylvia ran a full reading-tutoring program for groups of children every weekday, right in the store. She charged a fee for her classes. Since Sylvia had been an elementary school teacher for 25 years, she had quite a following. She had a marvelous store, on two levels, and I found her programming quite impressive. We didn’t talk with Sylvia at the time, but when we did meet her personally a few years later, she was very friendly with us.

We’d spent almost a year waiting for the previous tenant at the prime storefront we leased on Lincoln to move out. There were three other bookstores on the block, as well as three jazz and folk music clubs and a famous movie theatre, The Biograph – where John Dillinger the gangster was betrayed by the Lady In Red, and shot to death by the FBI, in the 30s. The Biograph was the best screen in town for high quality art movies. It was owned and operated by our new landlord, Larry Edwards. It drew terrific crowds, benefiting the booksellers in Larry’s other buildings.

We measured our space, and drew many possible layouts of bookcases. We calculated the number of bookshelves and the number of feet available on each bookshelf for books. We counted the number of books per feet on bookcases in bookstores around Chicago. We figured out in this way about how many books and how many titles we could fit into our space. The number – 20,000 volumes, representing 10,000 different titles, figured at $5-wholesale per book, came out very close to the ABA benchmarks for total inventory allowable in our size of store.

We had decided to keep the store’s feel low-key and serious – not colorful and loud. We wanted a setting where adults would browse for long periods of time, and where children would feel calm, not over-stimulated. To build our store we hired Chip Devenport, who had done the bookcases for Howard Cohen’s Booksellers Row store, and also for Seminary Co-op’s new general bookstore in Hyde Park, 57th Street Books. Besides being elegant, Chip’s simple pine cases were significantly cheaper than the standard bookstore fixtures available from the major national bookcase manufacturers – and Chip also had many ideas for how to maximize display space.

Chip arranged for us to hire a friend of his, Peter Amato-Von Hemert, who specialized in vintage house restoration, to manage bookcase installation – a complex task since the hundred-year-old building our storefront was in had a floor which sloped a good deal. Peter would have to create a footing structure for the bookcases that would yield level cases. I also wanted Peter to build a stage for use in running children’s performances. He developed a two-step platform structure for the back quarter of the space.

We carefully constructed our initial inventory and opening orders using the Booklog computer inventory system we’d bought from our acquaintance Jean Fishbeck. Jean had developed her pioneering low-end software during a test-period with Anne Christopherson and Linda Bubon over at Women and Children First Bookstore. We were Jean’s first paying customers. A thousand dollars felt like a lot, to us – but the only competitors in the bookstore inventory system marketplace were charging ten times as much. Our IBM computer had cost us $2700, and it had already broken down a few times, requiring us to mail the 10 kilobyte Seagate hard-drive off to be repaired.

The decision to operate our store as a General Bookstore for children clarified our title-selection task considerably. We created lists of categories one would expect to find in any general bookstore for adults, and then as we added titles we wanted to buy from each publishers catalog to our database, we coded it by the category to which it belonged. We ended up creating many additional categories and sub-categories as we assessed each book. Many books could have been put in several different categories. We would select the one we felt was most basic. For instance a Fairy Tale book would always go into the Fairy Tale category, never into a simple Picture Book category.

As we accumulated more and more titles in our database we realized that we wouldn’t be able to buy all the books we wanted. We would need some help weeding them out – ideally from someone with a lot of experience actually selling children’s books. Chris took out an ad in the newsletter of the Children’s Reading Round Table, as Zena had advised us to do, and a children’s librarian named Karen Rizzo gave us a call. She had recently moved to Chicago from Madison, Wisconsin, as her husband was in school in Chicago. She was working at the Chicago Public Library. In Madison, she’d worked both at the Co-operative Center for Children’s Books – under Ginny Moore Kruse – and at Pooh’s Corner, a children’s bookstore there.

We hired Karen to review our category-by-category print-outs, to help us decide which titles we should definitely carry and which we could safely cut, and she also gave us an introduction to one of the owners of Pooh’s Corner: Anne Irish. We made an appointment, drove up to Madison, and plied Anne with questions. We tried to be fairly brief – I think we kept her talking about an hour. She was extremely generous with advice and information – although I think she was uneasy since she knew some children’s booksellers in Chicago.

We also visited Co-operative Children’s Book Center, which had an outstanding collection, specializing in small press children’s books. We wrote down a fair number of titles and publishers.


Another early decision of ours was to develop an inventory of science toys that would heighten and call attention to our non-fiction book sections. There was no science toy store in Chicago with the exception of the museum shop at the Museum Of Science and Industry, about 15 miles away from us. That store was not well bought at the time.

Howard Cohen vigorously recommended that we go to New York and visit a new store on lower Broadway called Star Magic, and ask them for their supplier list. We thought it was highly unlikely that they would talk with us – but we decided to go, and we called ahead just in case we could in fact arrange a visit with the owner. The person who answered said the owner was Justin Moreau, and that he certainly would not give us a vendor list, but that if we wanted the name of one supplier he might be willing to tell us.

We decided this would not work for us – we needed much more information. We went to Star Magic and surreptitiously copied down addresses from the labels on the backs of toys we thought would do well in Chicago. We also bought about $100 of toys, all of which had addresses on their labels. In some cases only a company name and a zip code were on the label.

When we got back to Chicago we called information in the towns with those zip codes, and got the phone numbers of the companies. We requested catalogs, and many of the companies had additional interesting products we’d never seen before.

On our trip to San Francisco for the American Booksellers Association convention we took the same approach there with two stores -- the store at The Exploratorium – an astonishing science museum – and the store at the Lawrence Hall of Science, in Berkeley. By secretly copying vendor addresses and buying products we suspected might have their manufacturers’ addresses on package inserts or instruction sheets, we obtained even more unusual, small vendors.


We wanted to establish accounts with as many publishers as possible, so that we wouldn’t have to lay out much cash to buy our initial stock of books. However all publishers required prepayment of initial orders. We came up with the idea of attending the American Booksellers Association convention with our entire initial order all printed out and ready to place. We would visit the booth of each publisher and hand our opening orders personally to the highest-ranking person at each booth, along with printed materials detailing our strategy, credentials, and financial position – plus our credit sheet listing Motilal Banarsidas and Random House as references. In this way we hoped to by-pass the credit department people who would insist on prepayment.

By late May we’d completed our initial inventory, and printed out the orders for about 150 different publishers. We arranged to sleep on the floor of my friend Debbie Taylor’s apartment – we’d worked together at the Yale Children’s Theatre, and she’d lived with us in Paris for a few weeks. Now she was living in San Francisco working as a sign language interpreter. We arrived in late May, a day or two before the convention.

Each morning we’d get all dressed up in our convention clothes and make our way from the Mission district down to the Moscone Center.

On the Saturday morning that kicked off the convention, we attended the annual Book And Author Breakfast. An award was presented to some booksellers who had run innovative in-store programming: The Lucille Micheels Pannell Award, sponsored through the Women’s National Book Association. The winners in 1985 had run a storytelling and creative writing program of a type I considered fairly modest, given my experience with the Yale Dramat Children’s Theatre and Child’s Play Touring Theatre.

I realized that the special programs I was planning for our bookstore ought to be able to win this award.

We spent the next few days explaining our plans and placing our orders. Most of the publishers did in fact extend us extended payment terms right away. They were impressed with the amount of work we’d put in – and also with Chris’s resume. When they looked at our opening orders they noted that we’d ordered broadly and intelligently from their lists, and several said that they took this as a good indicator of future success.

At a number of booths authors were lined up to autograph books during the convention. We placed orders for quantities of autographed books. At the end of each day we collected the books we’d requested, paid for them with a check, and brought them over to the mail-out area of the convention center, where we send them back to Chicago.

We also approached several publishers with the offer to buy the books on display at their booth if they’d give us a reduced price. In particular we were taken with the books at the booth of a small publisher called Alphabet Press, which specialized in books illustrated by Lizbeth Zwerger. Later renamed Picture Book Studio, this seemed to be, even though it was a small press, an industry leader in publishing picture books as art.

We left the convention with a huge number of new acquaintances inside the book industry who were to help us for the next decade.


By this time we’d become aware that we had specialty-children’s-bookstore colleagues, who would be our future competitors. Although these stores were much smaller than the one we were planning to open, so, not to be taken too seriously as a problem to us, they obviously didn’t agree with this assessment: we represented a terrible threat to them.

Isabel B. had opened Children’s Book Center two years earlier in a storefront on Lake Shore Drive. We had never heard of this store as we were zeroing in on our specialty, but Chris attended a lecture Isabel gave on children’s book selection, after our planning was well under way -- at a local toy store, Saturday’s Child. Chris approached Isabel after the talk to ask her questions, and found out that Isabel was not only a local children’s literature expert, but was actually running her own children’s bookstore. Isabel offered Chris a job. Chris declined, and did not tell Isabel that we were in the process of opening our own store.

When Isabel found out a few months later through a friend that a new children’s bookstore was going up on the North Side, and that we’d just put up an awning with the name The Children’s Bookstore on it, she wrote us a threatening letter. She said our name was too similar to hers, and she would sue us if we didn’t change it. We wrote back saying that she didn’t own the words “The Children’s Book” as elements of the name of a children’s specialty bookstore, and that we wouldn’t change the name. We did not hear from her again, although we heard later from customers that she was telling her customers we were awful people and had stolen her idea from her.

We also heard of another children’s bookstore on the North Side – The Book Worm. This store was on the first floor of a house on Hermitage – a residential street. It was open Tuesdays and Thursdays. We decided to visit and see if we could talk with the owner. The store was the front room of the house, and when we entered, the owner was on the phone. We browsed for 30 minutes, and the owner never got off the phone to greet us. We finally left. Once again, when we’d opened, we heard that the owner was telling people that we’d stolen her idea for a bookstore and that we were terrible people.

Both of these stores were right in being worried about us – we damaged their businesses and they each moved to the suburbs within the next few years. Years later I kept this in mind as our own store came under assault from the superstores. No matter what complaints I made in public during those years, I always felt that if we were unable to survive that it was simply a What Goes Around Comes Around phenomenon. Or – live by the sword die by the sword. We couldn’t base our business decisions on the fact that other businesses would be hurt – as long as those business-people are also playing by the rules of the marketplace. Chicago is a business town. Everyone knows the rules. There’s no protection from competition. It’s fine to complain to your customers about this – but that doesn’t work. You have to win your customers by fighting for them in some way that works. Good luck to all.


I mentioned before [IN A PREVIOUS CHAPTER, CUT FROM THE FINAL BOOK--AGL] a comment made to me when I’d first moved to Chicago, that at base it’s just a big country town. The negative responses we received from other booksellers who would be our future competitors fit right into this assessment. In a city of 3 million people, there was clearly plenty of market share to go around among small bookstores. The Near North Side of Chicago is one of the most densely populated areas in the world – 1 million people live in a few square miles. But people in Chicago do really feel connected to each other closely – the neighborhoods have long-term integrity, in general. Many people spend their whole lives in Chicago, living in the same areas. The jealousy our project elicited was just a part of this close-knit mentality. Ultimately it was a good sign. We were not opening in an anonymous-feeling place, but in a neighborhood that had character, and local characters. We became a couple of those local characters.

The Children’s Bookstore reflected who we were – it was a Personality Bookstore. That’s why people liked it. Our book selection and our approach to bookselling reflected our experience traveling, studying art history, playing music, doing theatre, working in libraries, reading extensively, living in Japan and France, and, especially, shopping in hundreds of other bookstores all over the world.

Warning to New Bookstore Owners: Embezzlement is Real

Amazingly I am now in contact with two readers of Rebel Bookseller who are in the process of opening new bookstores. When I think about the various risks and dangers they will be facing, I remember the chapter I cut from R.B. on the subject of internal theft. The idea of publishing this chapter made me queasy because it seems to imply that your employees are people you should be suspecting of wishing you harm. I didn't want that message in R.B. But -- I do think that bookstore owners need to be warned to keep an eye out for this kind of thing, because it does happen to so many owners. So, here's the chapter on Embezzlement (written in mid-2002).

Good Luck, Andy

Chapter 21 – Embezzling Andy


On Monday, August 4th, 1998 I was visiting Rochester with Sam and Sarah when my Mom called me to the phone. It was Chris, in Chicago.

“We’ve been robbed.”

“When? Was there a gun? Is everyone OK?”

“Nobody saw it happen – someone got into the back room and took Sunday’s deposit from the safe.”

This was really bad news – Summer weekends were very busy. “How much did they get?”

She hesitated. “It was about a $4000 day. I’d picked up Friday and Saturday when I was working there yesterday, but I didn’t work last night and I didn’t make it back down today. I’m sorry – I meant to go, but there were four people staffed already so I knew they didn’t really need me.”

“OK – wait a minute. Half that money must have been in charges, right? So that’s all right anyway – we’ll get that money electronically. Probably they got $2000 in cash and a couple of hundred dollars worth of checks or something. The main thing is the staff is OK. We’ve got to make it clear to them that we don’t suspect them – that’s what will be freaking them out right now. When did it happen?”

She said, “About half an hour ago.”

It was early evening in Rochester – so the theft had happened about 5pm in Chicago.

“What? So we had four people there and someone ran a back-room theft right when the museum was closing, and none of our people saw it?”

“I know. They can’t figure it out. Jen said she had just gone to the bathroom, and when she came back she stopped in the office and the safe door was open – the register reads were on the ground.”

There wasn’t anything we could do. “Did they file a police report?”

“Nikki called security, and the police came over. So, yes. Oh, they also took Leslie’s wallet out of her purse. She’s kind of upset.”

Leslie was the daughter of Alice Gueno, one of our Sunday crew who’d been an independent bookseller herself -- her store Adventures In Reading had closed a few years before. Since Leslie was a teenager, I thought she must not have had too much in the purse. But it would still have been upsetting. “Well, don’t worry about it. I’ll be back tomorrow. We’ll try to sort through things then. Can you go down tonight and pick up the deposit right when we close, though?”


We returned on the plane next morning. I felt helpless – when I talked with the staff they had no more information than what they’d told Chris. The theft was impossible.

Nikki said, “You should talk with Don. He knows an awful lot about this sort of thing.”

Don Bennett was Nikki Buckman’s boyfriend. He was a well-known, outstanding jazz pianist – a musician’s musician, like Jimmy Rowles or Howard Levy. But he was making his living now as an expert in Security.

Don and Nikki had lived together in Amsterdam for a couple of years. Nikki had given up her decades-long career as a leading bookstore manager – most recently she’d been running the huge new Borders Books & Music in Deerfield -- to help Don jump-start his jazz career in Europe. They hadn’t been able to make enough money for both of them to stay in Europe though – so she’d come back to Chicago back in 1996, which was the first time she’d worked for us. She’d been one of the managers who hadn’t survived our first year of arguments and infighting, but I’d hired her back in 1998. Don had followed her back, and was once again working Security jobs -- playing jazz in nightclubs on the side.

“What do you think Don could tell me that you already haven’t?”

“I don’t know – but he has a really good eye. You’ve got to talk with him about this.” I agreed, and Nikki arranged for Don to come over on Thursday.

The first thing Don said when he looked into our tiny back room and considered the concealed location of the safe was, “This was an inside job.”

“What are you talking about? Even if one of my people did it, why would they have stolen this money in this way? They could have easily done it more discretely.”

Don was walking back and forth. “Look at where that safe is. Tucked underneath the table – no one who didn’t know it was there would even see it. How did they open it?”

I was sheepish. “The lock was broken. It’s been broken for a year. I never fixed it because when you close the safe door it sort of seals like a vacuum – so you’d have to know the lock was broken to even try to pry the door open.”

He was staring at me. “Andy, you better buy a new safe, right?”

“Yeah, OK.”

“Well – so whoever stole the money knew to pry the door open, right?”

I could see he was right. It had to be someone who knew not only the location of the safe, but also that you wouldn’t have to fiddle around with a combination. Just a quick in and out.

“Say – why don’t you just look at the video?” He was staring up at the video camera above the front gate.

“That’s not our camera – it’s part of the museum’s system.”

“Well – look at the tape.”

I said, “I’m not even sure it’s hooked up. Chris did get a tour of their security system back in 1995 – and they said back then that it worked – but I’ve never even been up there. Do you really think it works?”

“Does your staff think it works?” he asked.

I considered this. “No. I think I’ve told everyone that I think it’s just a dummy camera.”

“Andy, go and find out if it’s hooked up. It looks live to me.”

I called upstairs to the museum’s building supervisor. “Hey, Ron, we’ve had a robbery a few days ago – I was wondering if the video camera in our store would have maybe captured it.”

“Sure thing, Andy. What day was it? When would you like to look?”

I was startled. “So – you have it?”

“Yeah, sure. When did it happen?”

“Monday the 4th – right around 5 o’clock, just when the museum was closing.”

Since Nikki was working the register, I thanked Don and went right upstairs. Ron had tapes going back a long way – he found the right tape, and popped it into a VCR player. There were video cameras for lots of different areas of the museum – and the tape alternated among the various cameras. There was our store – running in a quadrant of the screen alongside three other areas of the museum – hallways, the admissions desk, back rooms. Then every couple of minutes the screen jumped to four other areas, then back to the screen with our store.

I fast-forwarded and backtracked the tape for quite a while – there was a clock-timer along the bottom of the screen, so I could see which scenes corresponded with what time of day.

It was a strange movie – no plot really – just people drifting around through the field of view of the camera. The wide angle made it possible to see most of the store, but everyone looked very small. As I watched the same footage over and over though, I gradually understood that this teeny person was browsing this section, and this teeny person was Leslie and that one was Rebecca, and that one was Nikki, and that one was Jen. I saw that Leslie had gone into the back room and then left the store, exiting underneath the camera mounted high above the front gate. Then, Jen had left, going up into the museum – I picked her up on a museum hallway camera. She’d gone to the bathroom inside the museum. Right at about 5, only Rebecca and Nikki had been in the store.

They were both behind the cash register. There was a guy and his wife and their two children at the register – and then Rebecca had come out from behind the register and gone into the adjacent museum gallery. A case of sculptures from Oaxaca we were responsible for selling on behalf of the museum was in that gallery. The man went with her. He seemed to be trying to decide which sculpture to buy. His wife was talking with Nikki at the register.

I kept rewinding the tape and looking at it over and over, trying to construct a plotline. OK – only two employees in the store – one’s distracted over in the gallery, another’s distracted talking with the guy’s wife. What’s happening by the office door?

The door was visible. Nothing seemed to be happening there. There was a problem with the tape – the scenes with our store vanished and were replaced with the alternate four scenes inside the museum during a crucial minute. I had to look more closely at the second right before the video cut out. Some kind of movement had happened then.

The VCR had a freeze frame function. I kept freezing the frame at the wrong moment. But I was gradually realizing that someone was browsing at a bookcase right next to the back office door, and then in the next frame this person was gone.

Then I realized that there was another person, at another bookcase on the opposite side of the office door.

I found a frame where the two of them had moved from their separate locations and could be seen, in this one frame to be crowding through the office door together. Right at a moment Rebecca was selling a sculpture in the next door gallery, and Nikki was talking to the woman. At that moment, both the man and the woman were facing the office door, while both Nikki and Rebecca had their backs to the office door.

I realized this had been a big operation – requiring all four of those people. And the kids – though I guessed the kids hadn’t known what was being done.

Because the video cut away from our store at this moment, there was no frame of the two people coming out of the back office. But now that I knew which two teeny figures were the thieves, I started backtracking to see if I could see them enter the store. I found this – they appeared right underneath the camera, together, veered rapidly together all the way behind the cash desk, around to the back of the store, positioned themselves on either side of the office door, and then went in.

Now I fast-forwarded to the point where the video came back to our store. A few seconds afterward, two people came back around that same far side of the cash desk, and exited directly beneath the video camera. Their faces were fully visible. They were both wearing bulging fanny packs. A woman and a man.

I knew the woman. She was my former bookkeeper’s sister in law.


My bookkeeper had embezzled $22,000 during the Summer of 1997. I had been working so much and so hard that when strange things started happening with our bank account I hadn’t taken the time to figure them out. Our bank statements had started looking messed up. I’d asked the bookkeeper about this, and she’d come up with all sorts of odd ideas – bank policy changes, perhaps? I’d come up with some of my own explanations. Perhaps the bank was now crediting checks and cash as separate discrete deposits on our statements?

It wasn’t until October – when a huge tax check had bounced -- that I had actually taken the time to gather up the paperwork at the office on Armitage, and figure out what had happened. The bookkeeper had been taking cash all Summer, and making false entries into the computer bookkeeping system. She knew I wasn’t keeping up with reconciling the bank statements, but was relying for my information on our internal systems.

When I figured out what had happened, I called our lawyer, who walked me through the steps I needed to take to avoid being sued by her – which was the main risk. Being charged with slander if I couldn’t prove what had happened. Chris and I did a meeting with the bookkeeper where she’d told us she was just borrowing. My analysis of the pattern of her theft had indeed shown that she’d taken $35,000 by the end of August, but had actually returned $13,000 during September – so her “borrowing” explanation showed that she had been lying to herself about what she was really doing.

She requested that we allow her to use her salary earnings over the next four years to pay us back. Luckily this was impossible for us even to discuss because we were under supervision by the Small Business Administration. Making such a loan to an employee would have violated the terms of our SBA Loan. We had refused.

She’d signed a confession, and agreed to a rapid payback schedule. She’d defaulted, and we’d gone to the police in December. The State’s Attorney had gotten a Felony Conviction against her, and she was put on probation, sentenced to pay us back. I’d spoken with her probation officer who’d assured me that we’d get the money back, even if it took ten years.

August 1st was the date for her first payment.

Clearly the backroom theft by her family – I’d realized the fat man and woman were also her relatives – I’d met the whole family two years before at a Christmas party at her apartment – was in retaliation for the conviction. Jen and Nikki had both told me they’d received phone calls from the bookkeeper out of the blue in which she’d told them I’d fired her without cause – she’d told them I’d gotten angry at her for a buying decision she’d made. Similarly she must have lied to her family about her theft and her conviction, and brought them into this back-room robbery scheme to attack me.

The man had even, for the sculpture purchase that he made while keeping Rebecca busy, chosen a Wasp. To symbolize Stinging, of course. And, a few days later, the post office had called Leslie – her wallet had been tossed into a mailbox, intact – even with the money in it.

Pure revenge against me was the only motive. They’d actually made an effort not to hurt Leslie. It was probably the Man who’d been with the Sister-In-Law who’d taken Leslie’s wallet out of instinct. He would have just been some professional small-time sleazeball brought in to help out on the big heist.

I brought the police up to Ron’s VCR in the museum’s back room and showed them the tape. They said they couldn’t make a still photo from it, because they didn’t have the right equipment – so I found a video outfit that could. I brought the still photos -- clearly showing the Sister-In-Law’s face -- to the police detective I’d been assigned.

I visited him repeatedly over a period of months. He found a number of people with her name – a common name -- but none of them seemed like the right person to me. The buyer of the Wasp had left his name and address to have the Wasp shipped to him, but his direct involvement was clearly harder to demonstrate – I didn’t want to try going after him.

Finally, I was fortunate enough to have a conversation with my bookkeeper’s probation officer – she knew I was looking for a lead to this Sister-in-Law woman. My bookkeeper had casually mentioned to the probation officer the name of her brother’s sports bar. I told the detective, and he drove out there, and left his card.

But the probation officer had also told me something that led me to abandon the inquiry and prosecution. If we followed up any further, and if this went to court, my bookkeeper would definitely be found in violation of her probation agreement. She would absolutely go to jail for ten years.

The probation officer pointed out that in this case, my bookkeeper wouldn’t be able to pay me back.

And, while I found my bookkeeper’s actions to be reprehensible, I didn’t want her in jail for ten years. In addition, I felt some responsibility for the embezzlement because I really hadn’t been paying close enough attention to her activity in the Summer of 1997. I’d first noticed peculiarities in the bank statement in May, and hadn’t acted until October. If I’d intervened earlier, the bookkeeper wouldn’t have had an opportunity to steal during the extremely busy months of July and August.

Also, 1997 had been an extremely good year for us, and I’d taken the theft as a tax loss. If I’d actually pocketed the amount she stole as profit, I would have had to pay 43% of it in Federal and State taxes. So – it wasn’t as large a loss to me as it looked.

The cash loss from the back-room theft in August of 1998 was $3,000. The bookkeeper was supposed to be repaying me at the rate of $500 per month. If the probation officer kept her at that schedule – the cash impact wouldn’t be too bad for the year.

I understood she’d been trying to save face with her family. I didn’t want the whole family dragged down because my bookkeeper had lied to them about her embezzlement. Who knows what she’d told them? Surely something like I’d stolen money and made her take the blame and she’d selflessly done so.

I was really extremely fortunate she’d left such an elaborate paper trail of her theft. I’m sure the State’s Attorney wouldn’t have gotten the conviction if there hadn’t been so much, clear, elaborate documentation, assembled by her, while she was taking the money. Bank deposit slips, hand-written records, bank records, computer records.

As I write this – it’s only four and a half years since the backroom theft. The statute of limitations runs out after six years. We received two checks from the bookkeeper for $500 total last month. She’s got about $8,000 of the original $22,000 left to repay.

I’m not going to go after this close-knit, perverse family for conspiracy and theft. Belief in money does strange things to people – and to our society. I’m part of this picture.

Bill Ayers And Me

There's a smear campaign targeting Barack Obama by attempting to link him with the "terrorist" Bill Ayers. But the real smear is against Bill himself. Since I've known Bill for 17 years, and since he encouraged me to write "Rebel Bookseller" and gave me editorial advice, I thought I would post this piece, below. It's a chapter that I cut from the final book. It tells the story of Bill's appearance at the bookstore of my bookselling hero, David Schwartz, in Milwaukee, a week after the 9/11 attacks.


In mid-September 2001 Chris and I drove to Milwaukee to see David Schwartz and Carol Grossmeyer again – to provide moral support against the terrified media and citizenry who were demanding that the Harry W. Schwartz bookstore cancel its author autographing event for Bill Ayers.

Bill had the misfortune of receiving a full-page hatchet-job review of his memoir, “Fugitive Days” printed in the New York Times on September 11th – the very morning of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The Times reporter had taken passages from his book completely out of context to try to show Bill was still a violent revolutionary bent on bombing government buildings – when in fact what Bill had written were energetic statements opposed to the U.S. bombing of Vietnam, striving to recapture the emotion and flavor of the 60s antiwar movement. While Bill and his wife Bernardine Dohrn had in fact been the leaders of the Weather Underground movement in the early 70s, they had both long-since turned to mainstream social activism.

I’d known Bill for ten years as Distinguished Professor of Education at University of Illinois. He’d brought his graduate students to The Children’s Bookstore and The Children’s Museum Store every year so I could talk with them about the history of children’s literature, and advise them on using books with groups of children.

When I opened the New York Times to the article about Bill, on September 11th, I immediately recognized the reporter had misrepresented him because I’d experienced this sort of misrepresentation myself in the New York Times several years before – as had a number of my friends.

That Times reporter had called me to “find out” my opinion of bibliotherapy books – that is, didactic books written specifically for use by children’s therapists. I’d made it quite clear that I thought high-quality children’s literature written by excellent authors was more appropriate for helping children cope with their fears and worries.

But the reporter hadn’t been satisfied with this response – I could tell that I hadn’t said what she wanted me to say for her article. She’d pressed me repeatedly on whether I thought bibliotherapy books had any merit at all. I’d finally conceded that they weren’t all that bad, and might have some merits. When the article had actually appeared in the Times I was dismayed to see that I’d been “quoted” in a way suggesting I endorsed bibliotherapy books as useful and good. What’s more, four other people in the children’s book field were also “quoted” in the article – and they just happened to all be people I knew pretty well. None of the “quotes” sounded at all like things that these friends of mine believed!

The negative coverage Bill received in the Times caused a stunning and disgusting backlash against him – it was as if, in the absence of anyone to blame locally for the September 11th attacks, the media decided that Bill would be the ideal whipping boy. Newspaper editorials and radio commentary excoriated him. Clearly none of the reporters had even bothered to read his thoughtful reflection on the origin, nature and long-term meaning of his and his friends’ frantic and passionate efforts to end the Vietnam War.

Now this backlash against Bill was threatening David Schwartz. We’d heard there was a street protest planned, designed to stop David from hosting Bill’s author event. Although we’d already attended Bill’s presentation at Barbara’s Bookstore in Chicago, we decided a second helping would be just fine – and certainly it seemed that David and Carol might need as many pro-Free-Speech bodies in attendance as they could get.

We arrived at 7pm – a few minutes before Bill’s event started. David told us he’d received dozens of angry calls and radio commentators were demanding a boycott of his stores. He was being accused of being a profiteer – only out to make money by selling Bill’s book!

There was no street protest, thank goodness, and the sixty people who came to the event had ALL, just like us, come in support of David’s decision not to back down in the face of the angry Bill-banners.

As a prelude to Bill’s reading, David gave an impassioned defense of the importance of free speech in a democratic society. He said that even though he personally had worked against the Vietnam War, he’d been opposed to the actions of the Weather Underground, and had never met Bill Ayers before. But even so, no matter what Bill might have done or written, he stood by every author’s right to speak, and would never bow to demands that he cancel a duly scheduled and publicized author autograph event merely because the author had suddenly become unpopular. He was especially upset at being called a profiteer, emphasizing the challenge his stores had been facing down during the super-storing of Milwaukee, and stating that he’d never brought more than 2% of the gross to the bottom line as net profit.

Bill’s talk focused initially on clarifying exactly how the New York Times had misquoted and misrepresented him. The article had led with a quote from Bill’s book about how from a distance, a bomber aircraft releasing a bomb over the jungle in Vietnam appeared graceful and elegant – and that only by really seeing the effect of the bomb could the horrific reality be understood. But the reporter had made it seem as if Bill thought bombs were beautiful – and had straightforwardly implied that Bill was now in favor of bombing things.

As I’ve said before, the media needs nice clear stories to tell. In choosing to give major coverage to Bill Ayers in 2001, the Times had decided to demonize him. When he turned out to be not a demon, but a brilliant, courageous social activist who is dedicating his life to helping young people become highly motivated and effective teachers in urban public schools – the Times just went ahead and made up its own demon. And the readers believed.

The whole truth and nothing but

Here's an early draft of a chapter that all my friends told me I'd better not publish!  But, what's the internet for??  This is a picture of me at age 42 channelling me at age 25.




Despite the outward success, Chris and I were increasingly isolated personally.  While we were surrounded by new customers and new employees, we had lost our privacy.  We’d both had very small circles of long-time friends, and we had no time to see them.  Instead we spent all our time keeping up a front. 


Our first newspaper interview was with Sarah Zesmer, who wrote about us for the Chicago Reader.  We were completely honest with her about the way we’d stumbled into children’s bookselling – and when she reported what we’d said in print, it looked awful.  We shaped up fast, and started telling people a story that went something like: “Take one tablespoon of Chris’s bookstore experience and one tablespoon of Andy’s children’s theatre background, and poof, The Children’s Bookstore appeared.”  Everyone loved this fairy tale.  It matched the apparent existence of the store as an entity. 


I never really perceived the store as an entity.  When I looked around the space, all I saw was a million independent decisions, many of them somewhat erroneous, all of them arbitrary.  But customers were constantly asking, “Is this a chain?  Where are the other stores?”  If I said, “My wife and I own this store.”  They’d say, “You OWN this?  Did you buy it?”  If I said, “We opened it,” they’d say, “You OPENED it?  Is it a franchise?”


Every few weeks someone would ask us to tell them how to open their own children’s bookstore.  Again, we had to learn how to answer this question, since it made so much less sense that the questioners could possibly understand.  Typically, such a query came from someone who’d never even worked in a bookstore.  When we started saying, “First thing, get a job in a bookstore to see if you like working in a bookstore,” they’d say, “Oh, I don’t want to WORK in a bookstore.  I want to OWN a bookstore.”  If we’d ask why they were thinking about opening a children’s bookstore, they’d say, “I just love children’s books and I’d like to have my own store so I can just read the books all day.”


In fact, there was no time to read, once we’d opened.  The number of piddling little tasks was astonishing.  People were slobs.  You could make a swell display, and it would be a wreck in ten minutes.  You could alphabetize a section, and in a day the titles would all be subtly re-arranged. 


And the PAPERWORK!  I spent the first Fall on the sales floor non-stop, while Chris and Sharon Martin, a former assistant manager of Chris’s from our B. Dalton days, worked downstairs – Chris managing staffing and systems and business operations, and Sharon recording invoices in a manual book-keeping register.  On December 31 we had over $50,000 in the bank – pretty exciting!  Somehow we imagined it was profit. 


In January I happened to open a desk drawer filled with invoices.  Neatly filed.  All unpaid.  $39,000 of them.


Then we discovered that WOOPS we hadn’t filed any Sales Tax forms – and when we went back to calculate we discovered we had $12,000 in back Sales taxes.


Creditors were calling non-stop demanding money. 


We brought in a professional inventory team and they discovered that WOOPS a lot of books just weren’t there.  When we started doing our own book-by-book inventory we realized that there had been THEFT.  A lot of those wonderful customers had been helping themselves while I had been recommending books to their friends.  Cassettes, science toys, baby books, stuffed animals had just walked out the door, hidden in peoples’ coats.


Of course we’d been worried about theft – but there’s only so much you can get done when you’re overwhelmed with customers.  You’ve got to sell, sell, sell, right?  Who would have thought that so MUCH would be stolen?!  It was disgusting and depressing.


(I STILL believe that Property Is Theft – mind you.  I’ve never stopped believing it.  I told you -- I’m a philosophical anarchist.  But in a store, those books don’t belong to the store operator.  They’re just a figment of the world’s economic imagination.  If I can’t pay my debt to the company that sent me those books, using the transfer of those books from my hands to yours to enact this fancy numerical footwork, I have to close the store – and then YOU LOSE A BOOKSTORE IN YOUR WORLD.  If you do not want this bookstore to exist, then fine, steal from it.  If you WANT this bookstore to exist, don’t steal from it.  You decide.)


Our plan had been for Chris and me to launch the store together, and then for me to gradually pull back out and go into children’s theatre again, or possible pursue an inter-disciplinary degree in History of Jazz and History of Religion.  I would work part-time at the store. 


This clearly would not be happening.  Things were way over the top. 


There was no time to reflect.  Every minute the phone was ringing.  Customers – demanding, demanding, demanding.  Look up this book to see if it’s in print.  Thanks, good bye.  How can I get in contact with an author for my school?  How much should I pay?  Oh, thanks – bye.


We had become a fantastic community resource, and we were losing a huge amount of money.  How were we supposed to make it all work?  The American Booksellers Association materials had told us what a stable bookstore was like, during normal operating circumstances.  But we were riding a runaway train.  Zena Sutherland was right – there were a lot of people who wanted the services we were offering them, and no-one wanted to PAY for those services.  They took everything they could get for free.  And even though we were selling a ton of books, the cost of processing those books, of staffing the store, and of absorbing the cost of theft, meant there was very little margin for error. 


And, evidently, we were making plenty of errors.  In 1985, from September through December, we did $150,000 in business, and when we finally got our bookkeeping done for that year we figured out that our wholesale cost – including in-bound freight costs and theft, was $121,000.   That left only $29,000 for all other expenses – and we’d had a lot of staff, and then there was the cost of Chris and me, living our lives.  Shopping bags, printed bookmarks, newsletters plus postage, newspaper ads, rent, yellow pages, heat…. 


Terrible.   We booked a big loss.


These kinds of “business problems” or “start-up expenses” are standard, right?  Everyone has them, right? 


Wrong – not us.  We weren’t business majors.  We hadn’t made this life decision in order to be wrapped up in cash flow management and budgetary fine-tuning. 


That’s why people loved our store!  Because Who We Were was written all over it.  Not business people – rather, arts and culture people, with a full-scale social agenda.


I got mad at Chris.  Chris got mad at me.  We traded places.  Chris started supervising management, operations, staff, merchandising, and the sales floor.  I moved downstairs and became the business manager.  I’d gone through calculus in high school.  I hadn’t taken a math course in 8 years – but I knew I’d have an easier time swimming in the numbers than Chris had.  After all I’d been the one who’d been studying the ABA financial materials anyway, and I’d been the one who’d constructed the original financial plans two years before.     


The other plus for me of moving downstairs was that I’d developed a loathing for our customers.  They didn’t know this of course.  They thought I loved them.  I was courteous, upbeat, knowledgeable, friendly, witty, on my toes, eager to please.  My Customers Were Always Right, I always Gave The Lady What She Wanted. 


But I couldn’t stand it.  Why?  Consider, here I am, a guy who loved working with children, and I’m stuck working with their parents!  These people were of absolutely no interest to me.  Where were their kids?  They came to The Children’s Bookstore and left their kids at home!  Then they’d ask, “What can you recommend for a three-year-old?”  Give me a break.  There were literally thousands of terrific books for three-year-olds in that store.  Why couldn’t people make their own decisions? 


I was just shocked at how poorly read people were.  And these were people who THOUGHT to enter a children’s bookstore!  Imagine all those people in the world who wouldn’t even consider stepping into such a place.  I’d read the statistics of course – each year, only 27% of Americans bought at least ONE BOOK.  So, 73% of Americans did not buy even one book in a year.  But what I didn’t know was that of the 27%, so many were so totally clueless.  And I was stuck helping them.  They had no powers of judgment.  They honestly didn’t know whether a book was appropriate for their very own child.


I used to tell people that they didn’t need to buy Goodnight Moon – all they had to do was pick up the telephone book, and read out the names and numbers in a rhythmic, reassuring, musical way, and their baby would love it.  It took me a while to learn not to say stuff like that.


Books were completely unnecessary -- so you could buy ANY book!  Besides, why didn’t people make up their own stories?!  Why didn’t they read aloud from the newspaper?  Or the labels on cans?  Babies loved to hear their parents declaim any old thing!  What was the big deal with dumb old Mother Goose?  That was just a bunch of raggedy leftovers – fodder for cultural historians, sure, but for 6-month-olds it was only as beautiful as any other nonsensical text. 


Read the Bible!  Read the Koran!  Sing tunes from old television commercials!




No.  The customers at The Children’s Bookstore were fixated on purchasing The Correct Children’s Book, with The Most Beautiful Art, that had won The Fanciest Award, with The Nicest Gold Sticker.  They were buying from us because we were the highly publicized, newly touted, well-praised, endorsed-by-the-fashionable-neighbor The Children’s Bookstore.  We had classy bookcases, a pretty awning, Full Service. 


How could I respect adults who hadn’t made the kinds of insistent demands of themselves I’d made of myself? 


At that point in my life – aged 25 -- I could list, and I mean this, LIST several hundred bookstores I had personally visited and browsed in.  I had read thousands of books – of all sorts.


And here I was talking with parents who couldn’t decide between Goodnight Moon and Runaway Bunny for their baby.


Everything had to pass the one big test in order to be purchased:  Was It CUTE?


The exclamations:  “It’s SOO CUUUUTE!”   Over and over and over – revolving among customers as they showed each other some ordinary object. 


Perhaps you think I was alone in this sort of total irritation with the people in a store.  Not at all.  Every retailer, every restauranteur, every salesperson HATES THE CUSTOMER.  That’s why there are signs posted in every back-room that say things like: “Remember – Without Our Customers, We’re Out Of Business, And You’re Out Of A Job.”  Or some such gobbledygook.  It’s brutally difficult to be nice to those god-damned customers.  So stupid.  So simpering.  So ecstatic.  So proud of themselves for having found This Store.  So whiny to have missed That Special Sale by just one day.  So flaunting of Their Famous Acquaintance. 


Now – mind you, after work, each night, closing at 10pm, exhausted after a roaring day of business, Chris and I would head off down the street to the fabulous restaurant Fricano’s, and eat, and drink wine, and have dessert – and I didn’t give a hoot what the waiter or the cook or the hostess or the bus-boy or the guy who cleaned the toilets or Mr. Fricano Himself secretly thought of ME!  All I wanted was the great food and the great atmosphere and the great service.


To paraphrase Pogo – “We have met the Customer, and he is Us.”




But what I hadn’t understood in advance of opening the bookstore was exactly what it would feel like to have a Private Self of the kind that emerged inside me, and how far divorced that version of me would be from the Public Self I’d be enacting for the Customers. 


I was lucky in one aspect of my preparation, though.  I was a theatre person.  I knew how to act.  I knew how to improvise.  I knew how to construct a character.  I knew the difference between the character you play for an audience, and the actor, underneath, constructing the character. 


Being the owner of The Children’s Bookstore, though, was a matter of playing this character I came up with for ten to twelve hours every day.


At night, it was hard to come down.  Every night, I would smoke cigarettes, drink beer, get stoned.  I couldn’t get to sleep before 1am.  I didn’t want to get up in the morning. 


Chris and I would argue in the car going to work.  Fierce arguments, mostly about our employees.  Then – Boom – there they were -- our employees.  How we hated them.  But we couldn’t run the place without them. 


And then, the phone.  Customers through the door.  Suddenly, we’re Cheerful Me and Cheerful You and Let’s All Be Happy Here.


Chris and I each took steps to salvage our precarious sanity:  Chris escaped into creating systems, designing beautiful displays, supervising operations.  I fled into programming, publicity and performance.  We dealt with the day-to-day customers by hiring that great staff.  We spent little enough time actually working with customers that by the end of 1986 lots of people didn’t know we were the owners – they thought Kathy Larkin was.  Chris and I were hiding out in the basement.


And, even there we hadn’t really escaped, because we had employees down there with us, helping with operations – opening boxes, recording data in computers – and gossiping, chatting, complaining, needing, needing, needing.


So we still didn’t have our hour-to-hour privacy once we’d found a strong sales staff -- but being able to escape from the sales floor did allow us to feel a bit more in control. 


Since the store was open 12 hours a day, seven days a week, the truth was we were each on the sales floor about 30 hours every week – evenings and weekends. 


At least we had daytimes away from the most annoying customers, though – the unaccompanied mothers whose kids were in school, the ones who would go on and on about how Gifted their child was, and how far above grade level they were reading.


I do apologize my dear lady.  I read “The Autobiography Of Malcolm X” when I was 10.


You put your child in the Best Private Preschool so they could get into the Best Private Elementary School so they could get into the Best Private High School so they could go to Yale?  Well I went to a public school, K-12, and I went to Yale, and I DROPPED OUT, SO THERE WITH YOUR GOD-DAMNED IVY LEAGUE FUTURE FOR YOUR KID! 




No men on weekday afternoons.  No African-Americans on weekday afternoons.  Just upper-middle-class unemployed White Women. 


And the complaints.  My husband blah, blah, blah.  My son’s teacher blah, blah, blah…


I needed her money though, I tell you.  When she actually spent $100 for a stack of hardcover books, I was glad she’d done it.  She’d call me by name – she KNEW my name.  And I could never for the life of me remember hers.  Thousands of such customers, and I couldn’t remember a single name. 


Because it wasn’t ME they were talking to.  Their relationship wasn’t with ME.  They were so convinced they knew who they were chatting with.  They were so comfortable.  Couldn’t they see through the house of cards Chris and I had so elaborately constructed?  Couldn’t they grasp how increasingly exposed to disaster we were as each day went by?  Couldn’t they understand what it feels like to know that every tenth person you talk with is in the active process of taking books from you, stuffed in their coat?


No, they couldn’t.  Their lives were dreams, as mine had been when I was a Yale student – lives built of lies.  We must have been ciphers to them.  Did they envy us our freedom?


And those sad, sad employees.  I dreamt of a collectivist work-life, like the Yale Children’s Theatre.  But the people we hired were so ruined already – gossipy, whiny, chirpy one minute and growling the next.  WITH EXCEPTIONS I must say here, with some real honest exceptions.  A few sturdy, marvelous individuals came into our lives, who enacted their roles as employees in The Children’s Bookstore with wry humor, while remaining their own, committed individual, artistic, socially-critical selves.  Not enough of them. 


Out of the 300 or so employees we had over the 11 years – what, 60 people fell into that category?  80% of the people who worked for us at The Children’s Bookstore were pinned inside of Smaller Selves.


Did we pin them there?  Were we bad employers?  Sure.  Terrible.  We didn’t give people job descriptions.  We had no employee handbook.  We didn’t tell them what to do every second.  They didn’t have official titles.  They were on their own.  Most couldn’t handle this.  They flipped out.


It seems like I met everyone in Chicago and lots of people from around the country -- from all walks of life.  My absolute knowledge that there will be no beautiful, sharing and caring, imaginatively ecstatic anarchist transformation for our society was certainly confirmed by meeting those frightfully deadly repetitively same millions.  Only thousands of possible people among millions of bodies.  Why don’t people try to invent their own special lives?  Why is everyone so desperately trying to be the same as everyone else? 


I became positively misanthropic. 


In private.  In private.


In public, I was a Boy Wonder, a Whirlwind.  I was Famous.  I was On Top.


People used to say, “You must be making So Much Money!”  No – LOSING So Much Money you FOOL.


People used to say, “You must just love working in such a wonderful place.”  Yes – that’s true – but it would be a lot better without any grown-ups like you to be weirdly jealous of what you don’t know, saying stuff like this that is so dumb.


Because I didn’t Love Working There the way they thought. 


First -- I wasn’t Working.  I was doing it because it was Real.  It had Happenned.  It was Fate.  It was My Path. 


All I had it in my power to do was make art out of whatever Self Sacrifice I was capable of enacting -- and it just happened that I had, collaboratively with Chris, created THIS particular Pyre Of Art, which we were moment by moment keeping lit feeding flammable books to flaming children.


Sound sick?  All art is Sick – to those who don’t live to make art.  Do you live to make Art?  Then you know how absurd it is to Give Yourself Up Completely for those total imbeciles who can only Clap and Clap and say “How Wonderful” when they don’t have a CLUE what the cost is and how all you want is to escape the confines of reality and even that desire subverts the dream.


Second – the subject of this Art Act, and its object too, was Anarchist Direct Action for Social Transformation and Personal Liberation. 


My inspiration was William Godwin the utopian anarchist bookseller and novelist, husband of Mary Woolstonecraft who wrote “A Vindication Of The Rights Of Women” -- father of Mary Woolstonecraft Shelley who wrote “Frankenstein.” 


William Godwin, the brilliant philosophical theorist who ran an important and popular bookstore, and, of course, as a necessary corollary, was chronically in debt, even dying with creditors at the door.  As Rembrandt died a pauper.  As Daniel Defoe died in a back alley fleeing creditors.  As open-handed Alexandre Dumas died mired in debt. 


You can take your Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous.  I say the exceeding wealth our society worships is a signal of lives lived uselessly, lives of decay, lives debauched, lives of destruction. 


Humanity gains in creative freedom from generation to generation only through the lives and actions of those who despise the accumulation of wealth.  


But no-one who sacrifices his or her life for society’s transformation escapes their society’s most characteristic punishment – and in the Modern West, this is financial castration to ensure impotence.   


To maintain indefinite suppression of their creative acts, society reserves even worse treatment for These Spirited Lives after physical death, when Horrible Hagiography is used to freeze the seed. 


Sainthood -- a more deviously hypocritical punishment even than life’s Debtor’s Prison.


Sainthood for the Noble Dead Artist, attracting Disciples of Death, chasing away the Free Spirited, hopelessly encrypting That Life’s meaning. 


Except for those who live to pierce these Social Veils and see, still energetically active and smiling, completely intact and steadily at work (although definitely physically dead), the Absolute, Everyday, Person of the Past, patiently weighed down beneath the crushingly iconic weight of Honor, Fame, and History, but nevertheless, projecting for all who visit them, through all human time, a straightforward welcoming, open-hearted Wish that All Humanity Join The Enterprise Of Becoming Fully, Creatively, Imaginatively, Collaboratively, Individually Human.


Come One, Come All, Past, Present, Future, Now Certifiably Living, Putatively Dead, And With A Special Invitation To The Potentially Incipient, Uncontrollably Unconditioned, Dodeca-dodeca-dodeca-decillions Of Possible Babies-To-Be.


That is -- I had discovered, that of all professions, this one -- unsanctioned, uncertified, unavailable only to those who did not freely claim it – the Profession of Bookseller -- most leant itself to the collectivist ethos – since in this alone of all the world’s free and fetid mulching marketplaces – the bookstore -- could be nurtured and dispersed the emergent, organic turmoil of arts and ideas escaping uncontrollably from bodies of books to minds and lives of readers who themselves helplessly passed these forward to root, regenerate, and decay, enriching forever the social soil for future Realizing Selves. 


But I also knew -- significantly, powerfully, secretly -- that children – those most uninhibited, uninhibitable members of society -- were the true chokepoints for social transformation, generation to generation. 


I knew there was no position of greater influence than that of Children’s Culture Worker -- I had discovered this as an undergraduate at Yale, immersed in wildly imaginative free-form drama workshops for 8-year-olds inside decrepit New Haven housing projects.


Once in the middle of a drama game with a group of children at Quinnapiac Valley Housing Project, in 1978, an 8-year-old unexpectedly pulled a large knife from his pocket.  Another boy countered with his own – the two began circling rapidly.  I leapt between them and, continuing the drama game, nudged their characters toward a resolution they improvised – a plotline that credibly permitted them to put knives away and shake hands.  Then I shifted the group smoothly to another game (I did insist they hand me their knives before continuing, which they both did voluntarily).


As a self-proclaimed Professional Children’s Bookseller, I knew every time I sold a copy of Goodnight Moon – written by Margaret Wise Brown whose mother was a Theosophical follower of Hermeticism -- I was handing that book’s one-year-old reader a Power-Packed Manual Of Magical Spells empowering this Baby Hermes Trismegistus to Take Command of the Cosmos – Going Not Gentle Into That Good Night.


Crying Out:  “Goodnight Moon!!!!”  Asserting Power over the World’s Night Light – the Face of the Universe – the Center of the Sky – Oh Moon O’ Mine. 


“Goodnight Room!!!”  Relaxing back the walls of the Great Green Room to reveal the Truly Roomy Universe. 


“Goodnight Bears and Goodnight Chairs!!!”  Exorcising the Ownership-Power of those hoarding Three Bears, asserting the Goldilocks-squatter’s Fair Use claim over unused Chairs. 


“Goodnight Comb and Goodnight Brush!!!” Discarding concern for Social Nicety, Ending presentation of self to world, attaining Invisibility.


“Goodnight Nobody!!!”  Emptying the restless subconscious of unformed images that otherwise might rise to embody obsessive fears, compulsive guilts, addictive shames. 


“Goodnight Mush!!!”  Disdaining external nourishment, Freeing self-nourishing Mind from external dependency and the false constriction of Physical Embodiment.


“Goodnight to the Old Lady Whispering Hush!!!!”  Banishing the all-controlling Mother, smashing her Power by rendering her unconscious, deflecting the Witch’s Spell of Hushing to strengthen the outward Rushing of Hyperbolically expansive macrocosmic Baby Mind. 


“Goodnight Stars!!!”  Eyes tight shut spark infinite stars in dark – the Universe taken in no longer existing without – “The Brain Is Wider Than The Sky.” 


“Goodnight Air!!!”  Rhythmically Inhaling/Exhaling Night, transmuting the Texture of Spacetime to a substance engulfed and extruded by Creator Baby’s Body. 


“Goodnight Noises Everywhere!!!”  Extending Ultimate Authority over All Event, All Sensation, All Action, All Consequence.  “The Brain is just the weight of God/For heft them, pound by pound/And they will differ, if they do/As syllable from sound.”


You see, though repelled by those all-consuming customers-cum-parents, I did take enormous pleasure and pride acting the Agent of that Secret Society of revolutionaries – the authors and illustrators of our era’s incendiary children’s literature – propagandizing subversion of pea-brained parental authority by deceptively shipping those unwitting “grown-ups” back to their children’s nurseries nursing the very Fuel I knew would burn bright to incite the macrocosmic minds of those recklessly romantic babies to rip-roaring rebellion.  Which fuel was: “Where The Wild Things Are,” “Madeline,” “Alice Through The Looking Glass,” “Peter Rabbit,” “Yertle The Turtle,” “The Phantom Tollbooth,” “Curious George,” “Charlotte’s Web,” “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.”