Wow, What A Whirlwind !

Wow, what a whirlwind!  My last email was sent out on May 1 and you will not believe everything that has happened since then. 

In the first week of May we hosted The Inaugural West Feliciana Children’s Book Festival.  The weather was beautiful, we had a fabulous group of authors, illustrators and story tellers as well as wonderful community volunteers that all pulled together to make the event a success.  I can hardly wait until Saturday May 5, 2018 when we will host our SECOND ANNUAL WEST FELICIANA CHILDREN’S BOOK FESTIVAL .   To see pictures and news articles from the event and to stay up to date on plans for next year’s event be sure to follow our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/WFCBF/ .

Soon after wrapping up the children’s book festival I was able to check a whole bunch of things off of my bucket list.  It all started several years ago when my husband, who of course knows what a fan I have become of gardening and all things British, started talking about going to see the Chelsea Flower show.  We have talked about it for several years but when he floated the idea of going last year I refused because the dates of the show fall the week before The Walker Percy Weekend .  Over the course of the year I have finally come to realize that life is short and we have to grab hold of experiences like this when they are available because they may not ever come around again.  So just before Christmas time last year we made a plan and started to get things in line and I tried to come up with something I could add on as a Christmas surprise for Rob.  As luck and coincidence would have it when I looked up information on touring Highclere Castle (we are both huge Downton Abbey fans) there was a notice on the website about a special event which happened to be taking place while we would be in England.  Did you know both Jane Austen and Henry James had once lived within 10 miles of Highclere?  Well they did and in celebration of this fact Highclere was staging a “Landscapes and Literature” tour where you would tour the gardens, the house, have tea and hear a lecture on the great age of British Literature.  The lecture we attended was titled Women Behaving Badly .  It was delivered in the main hall of Highclere Castle (yes the room with the staircase and the stone pillars and arches encasing the upstairs gallery – yes, where the annual Christmas party is held in Downton Abbey!) .  The talk focused on the impropriety of the heroines in Jane Austen’s  : it was shocking that women would walk alone, speak up for themselves, basically have a backbone.  It was a fabulous day.  The flower show was Absolutely Amazing – I can’t even begin to try to describe it but if you are ever given a chance to attend TAKE IT !   And in between the two my sweet husband arranged a spontaneous Saturday for me where we went down to Nottinghill, wandered through the  Portabello Road Market and best of all paid a visit to The Nottinghill Bookshop.    But eventually we had to return to reality and home sweet home.

No sooner were we home than it was one week out from The Walker Percy Weekend.  This event is my favorite annual event in St. Francisville, it has been since the first year when I was an attendee not at all involved in the planning or staging of theweekend.  This year’s event did not disappoint – even though it rained cats and dogs!  And the best part of this year’s event was hearing people making plans to come back next year and what friends and family they were inviting to join them here in St. Francisville.  We are already underway making plans for the 2018 event which will be held June 1 – 3, 2018.  Mark your calendars and make plans to be here – you won’t want to miss our Fifth Annual Walker Percy Weekend.   Get more information on The Walker Percy Weekend at www.walkerpercyweekend.org or on Facebook at : https://www.facebook.com/walkerpercyweekend/

So now it’s time to breathe, restock the shelves, play in my garden, chat with people about books and basically live the dream.  Why don’t  you come visit Buster and I at The Conundrum some day ? Tell us about what you are reading, or what you think we should be reading, or just grab a seat and visit a bit?  See you soon!

 

 

The Birth of a Book Festival

Just three short months ago I travelled to snowy Minneapolis to attend the American Bookseller’s Association’s Winter Institute.  It was my first association meeting as a newly minted Bookseller, and it was a truly transformative week.  I’ve told you all about the meeting before – met bookstore owners from round the world who shared their advice, found new vendors for the shop and met Lots of authors including Andrew McCarthy – remember?  Well, among the sessions I chose to attend was one on hosting a Children’s Book Festival.   Before the session was even over I had written emails to a couple of my favorite Children’s Book authors that said something like “I am sitting in this session about starting a Children’s Book Festival and I want to do this, I thought you might have advice on what works and what doesn’t since you have taken part in book festivals in the past.  I wonder if we can meet so I can pick your brain”.   Then in early February I arrived back in the south and early in the next week I sent off another email, this one to Glenna Fallin of the West Feliciana Parish Library.  “Glenna, can we meet I have an idea I want to talk to you about.“  the email said.  And off I went to the Library.  I told Glenna of my idea and asked if the library wanted to be involved and guess what?  They did! 

Then we put a notice out on Facebook asking if there was interest from the community, and guess what?  There was!  Before too much time passed we had our first volunteers meeting and we were off to the races.  Our fabulous volunteers designed and developed a logo , gathered loaner tents from generous community members, signed up to man tents and organize face painters and the sidewalk chalk art contest and so much more.  We simply could not have done this and particularly not so quickly without these fabulous folks.

I got busy contacting authors and publishers, Glenna got busy contacting and organizing storytellers and more presenters and everyone started spreading the word.  And the First Annual West Feliciana Children’s Book festival was born.

All told we will have more than 15 authors, illustrators and storytellers taking part in the day’s events and another 16 authors and illustrators joining us in our Author’s Corner to talk about, sign and sell their books.

In addition to this we are lucky enough to have our local cheerleaders who will be doing face painting at the park grounds, a movie presentation, a birthday celebration for the 75th birthday of The Little Golden Books (happy Birthday poky little puppy), lots of book sales including a bargain book table, and of course the much anticipated town-wide sidewalk chalk art competition. 

One week to go before our first event is in the books and we already have authors, illustrators and storytellers inquiring about participating next year!

They say it takes a Village to raise a child, I say “It takes a ‘Ville to raise a Children’s Book Festival”.  This would not happen without all the help we have had so far and the help of those signed up to volunteer next weekend both setting up tents and running the actual festival.  To all of you I want to send out a HUGE THANK YOU in advance. 

And we are not done yet.  We can still use help spreading the word.  The newspaper and blog , website and Facebook coverage has been unbelievable ( Thank you, thank you, thank you) , and this week   Glenna and I will be on the WAFB morning news.   Keep on sharing the good news and spreading the word.  We have got everything in place, now we just need a park full of children to enjoy it!  I hope to see you on Saturday May 6, 2017 !

What a Pleasant Surprise!

Early this week I was greeted by a very happy surprise.  You see I am one of those people who love to read lists and plan my travels accordingly.  Where are the best vacation spots?  Surely I should go there.  What are the best hotels in the world?  A girl like me absolutely needs to stay there.  Well what a surprise to see a list of the Top 10 Book Stores in Louisiana and to find that my little bookstore- only in business now for a bit over a year- actually made the list!  I did not even know we had been nominated.  And then to read the article accompanying our listing  and see what a nice write up they had done we are just so excited and flattered.   Now I think all of the other list lovers out there should take a grand tour of the 10 Best Bookstores in Louisiana and come by and see us!

So while our reputation grows in a state wide kind of way,  the reputation of one of our friends and favorite authors grew in major nationwide ways this week. 

Rod Dreher has written a new book called The Benedict Option.  Since it’s release less than two weeks ago Rod has appeared on national interview shows like Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News .  There have been articles all over the place including The National Review.  David Brooks has written an op-ed piece about it for The New York Times calling The Benedict Option “already the most discussed and most important religious book of the decade”, and now we have news that the book has made it’s debut this week on The New York Times Best Seller list at # 7.   And yet with all this fame Rod was kind enough to meet me and personally signbooks while he was home between stops on his book tour,  signing amidst the pollen of a south Louisiana March afternoon. Because we are the only provider of signed copies currently on the internet  we have orders coming in through our web site  from such diverse places as Texas, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Missouri and of course, Louisiana.

Congratulations and thanks to Rod, we can’t wait to see where you end up next in this whirlwind!

And finally;  in my last blog I mentioned that we are expanding our borders as we do more and more pop-up book sales at events.  Since then we had such fun selling bird and plantation books at the John James Audubon exhibit of the Audubon Pilgrimage, then we traveled a few miles east to bring The Asphodel Cookbook  and my brother-in-law’s novel The Face of his Brother  to the Jackson Assembly.  For those of you who did not  know my mother-in-law she  was very active in promoting tourism to the Feliciana’s and this year’s event  was particularly appropriate for us to make the cookbook  available as The Levy House (the building that housed her restaurant at Asphodel Village ) was on tour.  Pair that with Mark’s book being set partially in Clinton,  and as you can imagine,  we were very warmly received.  We spent the days hearing stories of Nootsie and her brood from days gone by. 

 So where will we “pop – up” next you may ask?  Well the Dave Fest of course, the annual celebration of writer  James Lee Burke’s  favorite character Dave Robicheaux which is being held this year on Saturday April 1, 2017 in New Iberia – No Fooling, ma chere, we will see you there !

 

Giving Thanks and Reflecting on the Year that has Gone By

One year ago this weekend we hosted our first storytime.  We had booked the author earlier in the year and since we had originally thought we would open our shop in late October 2015 we figured booking authors for late November was no problem.  Well, if you have ever opened a shop, or indeed expected any project to go according to schedule you know that did not happen.  We were delayed by leaks , causing the painting to be delayed and of course if the painting is delayed you can’t install the bookshelves, and if the bookshelves are delayed you postpone delivery of the inventory.  So the last weekend of November and the scheduled date for the first storytime arrives and we open the doors, smelling strongly of paint and with empty bookshelves most of which did not even have the shelves installed yet.  But we opened the doors and actually held a very successful event as Steven Spires the author of the children’s books Three Little Shrimp and The Oak Tree read his delightful books and entertained the children while I bustled around and tried to get some things organized.   For your understanding that first day we are Thankful.

A lot has changed since that day.  Most notably the bookshelves that on that first day seemed to swallow the books we had ordered whole and appeared empty no matter how many I added are today fully stocked and I am actually bringing in additional shelves to make room for even more inventory. 

We have been blessed with support both local, and by authors (and by local authors) that has helped us to grow and granted us their patience while we learned.  The parade of authors to grace our doorways over the past year is unbelievable to me.  We have been visited by Jeffrey Marx, Mark Couhig, Rod Dreher ,  Leif Pederson, CC Lockwood , Shelley Tomlinson, Anne Butler, Gail Chisum, Chere Dastugue Coen, Michael H. Rubin, Gwen Roland,  Martin Hawkins, Mona Lisa Saloy, Margaret McMullan, Philip Gould, Jason Berry,  Johnette Downing, Cynthia LeJeune Nobles, Laurie Parker, and Mrs. Genevieve Trimble.  (and I am quite sure I am forgetting to list someone, and my apologies for that even if you are not listed I am thankful you visited).   And we are not done yet!  Before we reach our One year Anniversary Celebration during Christmas in the Country we will have also hosted children’s authors Tracey Koch  and illustrator Lauren Hawthorn and Susie Marie PhD; as well as Kathy Finn with her new Tom Benson book , Marie Constantin who will bring her beautiful book of photographs of Mother Theresa , and a joint signing with CC Lockwood and Cyril Vetter.  And for every one of you we are Thankful. 

I mentioned that the community has been supportive and really that is an understatement!  This community has welcomed us with open arms, participated in book clubs, attended signings, brought their children to storytime (and let’s be honest, I am most thankful for an excuse to wear a crown and call myself “Missy the Story Telling Princess”) and invited us to participate in their events both literary and otherwise.   They have recommended books, sent us their summer reading lists and welcomed us into their daily lives.   They have even come out to eat Harry Potter’s  birthday cake and drink butter beer while awaiting  the midnight release of The Cursed Child – and I actually stayed awake the entire time! And for all of these things we are Thankful.

Most of all I realize almost daily that I am actually living the dream.  I spend my days in my own independent bookstore meeting authors and ordering new books.  Every day I get to open a new box of books and for a moment pretend they are all coming home with me.  I get to hang out among book shelves with my dog while he greets customers and I get to talk about what book I am reading.  For all of this unbelievableness I am so Thankful .

Thank you for being a part of year one.  I, for one, can’t wait to see what year two will bring.

You know you are now in the retail business when…

I am an extremely organized person…usually .  But there is one glaring exception.  I love Christmas and all things Christmas but I am a horrible Christmas procrastinator.  I mean terrible.  I have been known to be out buying wine, groceries and even Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve.  And this has not happened just once but instead it is a normal course of events every year.  Just ask my family.  I love to host the annual Christmas Day gathering for our large clan but drive my Aunts crazy by not sending out invitations or announcements early or circulating a list of what foods everyone is bringing or what is needed.  It has gotten so late that on occasion my Aunts have taken matters into their own hands and started circulating the list for me!  So as you may assume though I love Christmas I have a hard and fast rule that there can be no Christmas music played or decoration hung before the day after Thanksgiving.

Well,  Welcome to The Retail World!   Suddenly I found myself browsing catalogs of book relatedChristmas gifts and decorations in the 100 degree heat of summer!!! How am I supposed to be in the mood for this?  And what am  supposed to do in December ?  I mean in my mind half the fun of December is the stressful run to the Christmas Day finish line!

Here I am thinking “What puzzles would people like to give as gifts?” (I decided on Fine Art Reproductions – even included The Last Supper!) , and “what books will make nice gifts?” (we have a lovely embossed boxed copy of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol on the way.  – Which reminds methose who know of my husband’s favorite Christmas night activity will understand when I suddenly realize I must immediately order copies of Shakespeare’s Henry V).  We just received new South Louisiana styled blank cards perfect for holiday greetings and lots of story books and coloring books with Louisiana Christmas themes. 

So life has changed, but it was bound to happen eventually so I guess I may as well join the crowd and let you knowTHERE ARE ONLY 58 DAYS LEFT UNTIL CHRISTMAS!  (I’m sorry that still sounds like forever to me, I’ll get there – but you better start shopping!)

P.S.:  As if Christmas planning in September and October isn’t weird, enough guess what arrived today?  Oh, that’s right, it was 2017 planners.  (Actually some really cool ones with inspirational quotes and others that are adult coloring books made into planners so you can “Color me Organized” every day of the year…but I digress.) .  Anyway, yes, so not only am I planning Christmas while still wearing sleeveless blouses but I actually have a planner before New Years Day – and you can too!

The Asphodel Cook Box and Cookbook Comes Home

This is an odyssey that began before we even opened our bookstore.  It started in much the same way the bookstore itself started.  It started as a “what if” conversation, not much more than a day dream that we were willing to put some effort behind.  You know those conversations:  “What if we open our own independent bookstore”, “What if we choose every book in our shop individually”, and “What if we re-acquire the rights to your Mom’s cookbook and bring it back as the cornerstone for our cookbook section”.   You see  my husband Rob’s mother,  Marcelle Reese Couhig (Nootisie),  ran a very well known restaurant at The Asphodel Plantation here in The Felicianas and she had written a Cook Book originally sold as recipe cards in a Cook Box which contained her most popular recipes complete with dinner recommendations, and tips on hosting a dinner parties, brunches etc.  Well it took more than a little bit of effort and a whole lot of time but a bit over a year after our first inquiry to the publisher The Asphodel Cook Book , The Asphodel Cook Box and all of the remaining inventory held by the publisher has come home to The Conundrum. 

 

This Cook Book / Box is not simply a list of ingredients.  Every card starts with a few sentences about how Ms. Nootise found the recipe, why she likes it or how to use it.  It is written very much in her voice so that as you read the card you feel like you are having a conversation with a friend about what to serve for dinner.  I particularly appreciate this because I never had the privilege of knowing my Mother-in-Law and since I was taught to cook by my Italian Mother I did not have a whole lot of French or Creole cooking in my repertoire when I first married.  It became almost humorous (almost) at first.  In the first year or two of our marriage every time we had anyone over for dinner, it was always commented that they were so surprised I did not serve Asphodel Bread.  Twice, I came home from work to find copies of The Asphodel Cookbook or Box on my front porch with notes saying things like “Thought Rob might like this”.  So the recipes from Ms. Nootsie’s cookbook became part of my life as well.  I cannot tell you how many people over the years have contacted me to ask for the recipe for Asphodel Bread or Ida’s Biscuits.  Now we have the entire collection in its original, unique format. 

When the inventory first arrived I was a bit daunted.  The boxes were printed 40 or more years ago and sat in a warehouse for the intervening years.  When we received them I seriously doubted we would have anything salvageable in the bunch.  I unpacked every box and book and wiped down each item individually.  I inspected and cleaned every Cook Box and re-packaged them in new tissue.  I organized them and brought a few to the shop to see what would happen.  Many of the boxes were damaged and we could not salvage every piece but we did end up with some Cook Boxes and a number of Cook Books which I considered to be in first rate “vintage” condition and ready for sale.  I say vintage because the recipe cards in the Cook Boxes are a bit yellowed at the edges due to age and I thought of this as a negative.  Well , immediately upon showing them to others in the shop,  everyone let me know Vintage and a bit yellow at the edges is cool! 

On Friday I brought a few boxes to the shop.   I had one sitting on a table when a publisher’s rep came in for a visit.  The rep remembered Ms. Nootisie’s book and cookbox from many years ago and predicted that our supply of the boxes would be 60% sold in less than 2 weeks.  He was a bit off.  Sixty percent of the boxes were sold or promised out in just over one week. 

So if you want a Vintage Cook Box or one of The Asphodel Cook Books from the last printing (Boxes last published in the 70’s;  the Cook Books we have were published in the mid 1980’s) get it soon either in store or online at www.conundrumbooks.com/shop  quantities are EXTREMELY limited and moving quickly!   So glad to have this little piece of Rob’s family history and Feliciana tradition home at The Conundrum.