Book reviews off the beaten track
By Paige Terneur

Enormous book stores chains have sprung up all over North America over the past few years, offering comfy chairs and coffee bars to enhance our book-buying experience.

Reading is hip, in vogue. But has this trend helped the small presses, who turn out a few titles per year? Have things become easier for the first-time author who doesn't have a major publisher to do the publicity necessary to boost the title into the public eye?

The answer is no, according to Anvil Press publisher Brian Kaufman, a 15-year veteran of the small press scene in Vancouver, Canada. "An ongoing source of frustration for independent publishers is that the 'big-box' book stores might order one or two books per store, but if those sell, the store will rarely reorder," says Kaufman.

While brave consumers might ask the store to order a particular title, they are usually advised that the publisher will deliver within "four to six weeks." In a society where instant gratification is expected, only the most persistent will go through with the order.

"It's annoying, because if a downtown book store calls us with an order, we can have it to them the next day," says Kaufman. "People tend to buy what's in stock, and if your book isn't there, something else will catch their eye and wind up in their shopping basket."

The situation leaves big booksellers in the position of deciding what the consumer should read. "If people don't start asking for the books they want, soon they won't find those books anywhere," warns Kaufman. "People have to take a proactive approach."

The consumer should also understand that some of the book-world giants have wild inconsistencies in their computer systems. "I once asked for a book of ours at a large book store," says Kaufman. "Their computer indicated it hadn't been published yet. I told the clerk, 'That's odd. I'm the publisher, and I have a copy right here in my bag.'"

The purpose of this monthly column is to review some of the books that you won't see on Kelly Ripa's list. Some of the fine little books that don't sport Oprah's seal of approval. Some of the expertly crafted gems that have evaded the reviews in the major dailies.

If my review inspires you to want to read the book, your mission is to arm yourself with the ISBN, title, publisher's name - all of which I'll give you - and march into your nearest bookstore to order it. Four to six weeks? Maybe, maybe not. But you'll be doing something for the love of reading, not for the hype of the bestseller list.

You'll also be doing something for yourself, for the independent publishers and for the excellent writers who haven't yet clawed their way to the top of the publishing food chain. Let's begin. You'll find the latest review here.

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