Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Man Who Invented Christmas

At this time of year we think of Charles Dickens because of the well-known tale A Christmas Carol. So it is not surprising that Maud Newton chose yesterday to discuss her visit to the Charles Dickens Museum at 48 Doughty Street where Dickens lived from April 1837 to December 1839, while completing The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, and Nicholas Nickleby.

The Doughty Street residence is the only surviving home of Dickens so, as Newton says:

So, apart from the all-kitsch-all-the-time Dickens World, it is now the flagship tourist destination for fans of A Christmas Carol, or even Great Expectations or Bleak House.

But I don't think she is overly impressed:

Although the memorabilia housed there is extensive — it could be, as the museum site contends, “the world’s most important collection of material relating to the great Victorian novelist and social commentator” — the place itself feels incidental.
She does recommend the museum's virtual tour. What better activity could there be for a Christmas afternoon?

If you are a fan of The Christmas Carol, NPR has an excerpt from the book The Man Who Invented Christmas, by Les Standiford.

The Man Who Invented Christmas
By Les Standiford
Hardcover, 256 pages
Crown Publishing
List price: $19.95

For all the strengths that are evident to the modern eye in A Christmas Carol, and despite his own confidence in the power of his tale, Dickens had at least two good reasons to be apprehensive as publication day for his story approached. One had to do with the nature of the holiday itself, and the other with the dire financial straits he found himself in.

As for the first, Christmas in 1843 was not at all the premier occasion that it is today, when Christmas stories and their Grinches and elves and Santas abound, when "Christmas stores" purvey Yule decorations the four seasons round, and a marketing effort that begins sometime in mid-October is said to determine the fate of an entire year for retailers.

There were no Christmas cards in 1843 England, no Christmas trees at royal residences or White Houses, no Christmas turkeys, no department-store Santa or his million clones, no outpouring of "Yuletide greetings," no weeklong cessation of business affairs through the New Year, no orgy of gift-giving, no ubiquitous public display of nativity scenes (or court fights regarding them), no holiday lighting extravaganzas, and no plethora of midnight services celebrating the birth of a savior. In fact, despite all of Dickens's enthusiasms, the holiday was a relatively minor affair that ranked far below Easter, causing little more stir than Memorial Day or St. George's Day does today. In the eyes of the relatively enlightened Anglican Church, moreover, the entire enterprise of celebrating Christmas smacked vaguely of paganism, and were there Puritans still around, acknowledging the holiday might have landed one in the stocks.

I am glad I live now and not in the good olde days.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Merry Christmas from Mutts (via Rob Nixon)

Merry Christmas to All!

Rob Nixon posted this on the SPI Forum and I couldn't resist sharing it here.

Take some time to read a Christmas story aloud as a family activity. If you already have a Christmas reading tradition in your family I would love to hear about it. If not, why not give it a try this holiday season.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Shop the Island on South Padre Island

I am excited about having the opportunity to participate in the first Shop the Island being held on South Padre Island, TX. The Saturday event will showcase our local businesses and artists as they collaborate to give residents and visitors a unique chance to find that one of a kind Christmas gift for someone special.

Paragraphs is especially honored to have the internationally recognized master sand sculptor, Lucinda Wierenga, sharing our parking lot on Saturday where she will be doing some small sculptures and have copies of her book "Sandcastles Made Easy" available along with sand sculpting tools and gift certificates for lessons. Combine some or all of these to make a perfect gift for that hard to buy for beach lover on your list.

Also spending the day with us is Wade Dunkin, of WD Dunkin Photography. He is an outstanding artist and his photos of South Padre Island, the Gulf of Mexico and the Laguna Madre area are absolutely beautiful. He features sunsets, landscapes, and some awesome surfing shots. You can view his online gallery here.

Paragraphs, Lucinda and Wade are all members of

Please, stop by, say hello and spend some time with us tomorrow. I look forward to meeting my new neighbors and I think you will find something of interest to make it worth your while. Paragraphs will have a small selection of titles and for that book lover on your list consider a gift certificate which can be redeemed when we formally open early next year. But most of all I just want to have the opportunity to take part in what I think is a great activity.

See you tomorrow. And remember when you shop locally you benefit your community in many ways. So do something good, support your friends and neighbors, and have fun.

1. You keep dollars in our economy

For every $100 you spend at one of our local businesses, $68 will stay in the community. What happens when you spend that same $100 at a national chain? Only $43 stays in the community.

2. You embrace what makes us unique

You wouldn’t want your house to look like everyone else’s in the U.S. So why would you want your community to look that way?

3. You nurture community

We know you, and you know us. Studies have shown that local businesses donate to community causes at more than twice the rate of chains.

4. You create more choice

We pick the books and gifts we sell based on what we know you like and want. Local businesses carry a wider array of unique products because we buy for our own individual market.

5. You invest in entrepreneurship

Creativity and entrepreneurship are what the American economy is founded upon. Nurturing local business ensures a strong community.

6.You make us a destination

The more interesting and unique we are as a community, the more we will attract new neighbors, visitors and guests. This benefits everyone!

Bestseller Mysteries

The following were the bestselling titles at member stores of the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association during November:


1. The Private Patient by P.D. James (Knopf)
2. The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown)
3. Six Geese A-Slaying by Donna Andrews (St. Martin's)
4. The Given Day by Dennis Lehane (Morrow)
5. The Bodies Left Behind by Jeffery Deaver (Simon & Schuster)
5. Extreme Measures by Vince Flynn (Atria)
7. The Fire by Katherine Neville (Ballantine)
7. Arctic Drift by Clive Cussler (Putnam)
9. The Price of Butcher's Meat by Reginald Hill (Harper)
10. Santa Clawed by Rita Mae Brown (Bantam)


1. Murder with All the Trimmings by Elaine Viets (Obsidian)
2. Bright Hair About the Bone by Barbara Cleverly (Delta)
3. Kissing Christmas Goodbye by M.C. Beaton (St. Martin's)
4. Christmas Is Murder by C.S. Challinor (Midnight Ink)
5. Fatal Fixer-Upper by Jennie Bentley (Berkley)
5. The Serpent and the Scorpion by Clare Langley-Hawthorne (Penguin)
5. Indigo Christmas by Jeanne Dams (Perseverance Press)
8. Down River by John Hart (St. Martin's)
8. The House Without a Key by Earl Derr Biggers (Academy Chicago Press)
10. Ringing in Murder by Kate Kingsbury (Berkley)
10. Chat by Archer Mayor (Grand Central)
10. Murder Packs a Suitcase by Cynthia Baxter (Bantam)
10. Shrouds of Holy by Kate Kingsbury (Berkley)

[Many thanks to the IMBA!]

You can shop for any of these titles from a local independent bookseller and a portion of the proceeds will benefit Paragraphs by clicking on the Shop Indie link in the sidebar. Remember, books make great Christmas gifts and if ordered by the 15th should reach your Christmas tree in time to make someone's day.

Monday, December 8, 2008

First Half of Move -- Accomplished!!

It seems like ages ago when we were in New York packing those treasures which I felt I would not want to live without. I remember thinking how fun it was going to be to dig into these boxes and find things I haven't seen or used in years and set up housekeeping like a couple of newlyweds, using all those wedding presents which we hadn't had the opportunity to enjoy before. (Photos from June 23 blog post)

And, then there were those stacks of books I had been collecting for years....

That was then, and now six months later, while still excited the magnitude of what I am undertaking is sinking in. The same question I have asked myself at least a million times was on my mind this morning when I saw this moving van drive up Padre Boulevard...

What in the world am I doing?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

New Pictures of Paragraphs

The other day I promised some updated photos of Paragraphs but it seemed I just couldn't get camera or phone together at the time when I was at the site or driving by. I finally remembered this morning, so

Ta Da, drum roll, please.....

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Looking Back!

I started this blog a year ago on December 15 although it doesn't seem like that long ago.

In the first post I listed my reason for blogging as follows:
I want to share my experiences as I go through the process of building and opening an independent bookstore on South Padre Island. It will be a way of keeping family and friends informed about what I am up to and may be interesting to others who have the dream of opening a small business.

I also want to introduce myself to the SPI community and get a virtual dialogue started which can be continued in person once Paragraphs on Padre Boulevard opens next fall.
I'm not sure I completely accomplished all that I had hoped, but I have met some good people and have had a modest amount of interaction with my readers. I hope those faithful readers will stay with me as we enter the final phase of getting this bookstore open and operating.

Thank you to everyone who has been so kind over the past year and offered me so much wonderful advice and encouragement.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Bookseller Stories - National Feral Cat Day

In my never ending research for the opening of Paragraphs, I love reading stories from other booksellers and I will occasionally share some of these experiences with my readers.

I have been catching up on my twitter and blog reading this evening and found this post that I thought was relevant to the Island. My understanding is that at times South Padre Island has had a problem with feral cats although I believe the situation is much better now.

From The Booklady's Blog

(Phone rings)

Me: “Good morning, this is Rebecca.”

Caller: “Hi, my name is Blah Blahblah, and I’m a publicist for Gobbledygook Books” (clearly, I’m changing names to protect the innocent…or ignorant…or, nevermind). “I work with an author from your area who has written a book about cats, and she’s interested in doing a signing in your store.”

So far, this seems pretty normal. I get calls and drop-in visits like this all the time.

Me: “Okay, can you tell me more about the book? Is it a children’s book or a book about pets? How would you describe it?”

She proceeds to describe the book, which is apparently written for adults, but classified as Christian/Inspiration, and is written entirely from the perspective of the cats. Okay. For adults. Really?

Me: “Well, I generally do one or two signings per month, and I’m all booked up in September and December. What timeline were you thinking about?”

Caller: “She can really come anytime, but she would really like to do it on October 16th to coincide with National Feral Cat Day. We were you thinking you could tie that into your marketing and get the audience really excited about it.”

Internal Monologue (National Feral Cat Day? WTF? How am I supposed to market that? “Have you hugged your feral cat today?” “Come celebrate feral cats–bring yours and join the party!” “Buy a book, get a free rabies vaccine!”)

I rein in my snarkiness, request a review copy of the book and a publicity package (a word to the wise: never schedule a book signing without having actually seen and read the book. Bad things happen.), and tell her I’ll get back to her. Then I immediately hit Google to look for publicity ideas.

RGV Social Media Club

I am definitely a newbie to the whole social media arena but I can see the potential for reaching a much wider audience without spending a fortune in advertising dollars. Not only is the potential to reach more people attractive, but the idea of building a community instead of merely selling something intrigues me. As the owner of a bookstore one of my goals is to welcome discussion and interaction among my customers and supporters and I think being more involved and fluent in the use of social media can only help broaden the diversity of those who find Paragraphs a place where ideas are welcome.

So I was pleased to see that Shaine Mata is planning to start a Social Media Club for the Rio Grande Valley.

From Shaine's blog:

I thought I’d join the conversation for kicks, only to find out that it was not led by Connie, but by Kristie Wells, co-founder of Social Media Club. I spoke with her exclusively for a few minutes. Everything since then has started falling into place, from conference calls to messages expressing interest from other folks in the region.

Here we are 24 hours later and there is a Facebook group and SMC RGV wiki page. I am really excited about the support that has come from Social Media Club and local chapters. I don’t want to give you the impression that it’s an automated process. One crucial part is missing. Social Media Club RGV will not get off the ground without a team. You don’t have to be an expert; you just have to be interested in social media.

Here are some of the leadership/volunteer positions we need:

  • Programming Director
  • Partnership Director
  • Promotions Director
  • Production Director
  • Membership Director

You can find more details by visiting the SMC RGV Wiki. It is quite possible for one person to fill dual roles. Even with all the outside support, we can be sure that this will be a labor of love. I won’t lie to you. It will require some work. I hope you are interested in being a part of something groundbreaking for the Rio Grande Valley. Join me in launching Social Media Club RGV.

Any of you South Padre Island or Port Isabel computer gurus willing to give Shaine a hand?

It would then give us the knowledge and credibility to work with our local businesses to improve our visibility online. The attendance at the recent RGV tweet-up, which was held at The Padre Island Brewing Company, shows that there is a fairly strong interest in the area and it would be great for SPI/PI to be a part of this growing community. I plan to stay as informed of their activities as possible and learn more about how Paragraphs can become part of the social media world.

Shop the Island

Thanks to Lucinda and Nancy, two of South Padre Island's ambassadors of good will, I have signed up to participate in Shop the Island, which sounds like a fun event giving retailers, craftsmen and artisans a chance to share the sidewalks, spill onto the streets and provide the local residents and visitors with a festive day of shopping.

Word is a mover will be delivering boxes of household items, books, some tables, beds and my rolltop desk, from New York, at 9:00 a.m. Monday morning. The building inspector was kind enough to allow me to have this stored in the new building, as long as I do not block their access to electrical outlets or anything else they need to observe before issuing an occupancy permit.

I am not sure when they will be actually finished and ready to hand over the keys, but I should be able to have enough access that the parking lot at Paragraphs can be a welcoming spot for anyone cruising Padre Boulevard next Saturday. Used books for sale out of the box will be the primary offering of the day but I will spend the week working to spice up what visitors will find at 5505 Padre Boulevard!

Rumor is there may even be a sandcastle in a box! If Sandyfeet chooses the parking lot at Paragraphs to exhibit her sandcarving expertise, can the Saturn Street Strummers be far behind?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Need Christmas Gift Ideas?

Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness love books and believe they make the best gifts. I happen to agree! At times when we are looking to make our dollars go farther we like to find those gifts which communicate the feelings behind the gesture. This is where books excel. They are a thoughtful expression of your feelings and you can find something that meets the interests of everyone on your list.

As a part of their blog Books on the Nightstand Ann and Michael have written a series of blog posts highlighting those books that they think would make good gifts and also some ideas for how to include a book and make an everyday present that much more special. In addition to the series of posts they have a free e-book PDF file which can easily be read on-line complete with a checklist which can easily be printed and used to shop at your local store or on-line.

There is something for everyone on your list--the mystery lover, history buff, or serious foodie. Also included are ideas for those who love photography or are movie and film fans. Ann and Michael have also identified those items which can be purchased for under $20.

The idea that books are the perfect gift has taken on new life this holiday season. This video is an example of those celebrities who have taken time this year to celebrate the joy that giving or receiving a book can spread.

You can support Paragraphs by shopping online at a local independent bookstore using the link on the sidebar.

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Back To The Island

I finally got everything in order for the move and to leave Denver for South Padre Island. We left Wednesday and arrived on the Island Sunday afternoon. I must admit my heart was in my throat while driving down Padre Blvd. and wondering what Paragraphs would look like. The main surprise is that there is more work to be done than I anticipated. Other than that I was pleasantly surprised with the end result. I will get some pictures and post them here tomorrow.

One side of the building, which is located on the property line and therefore couldn't have any windows or other variation, is going to need some type of decoration or ornamentation. Right now it is just a big green wall--and not terribly exciting. It will be a nice backdrop for some kind of mural highlighting the joys of reading.

I am thrilled with the space for Paragraphs. I was surprised with the size of the space and the amount of light and feeling of openness. The elevated ceilings and a second level of windows makes the area seem much larger than it is. There is plenty of room for comfy chairs and some tables where people will be free to sit and read, chat, or use their laptops via the store's WiFi.

I took my husband, Griff, to the airport this morning and then the rest of us finished getting settled in to a room at the La Quinta, which has been our SPI winter home for several years. A few familiar faces have already arrived from places north where winter has arrived.

While we don't have our normal large beachside room with wet bar and jacuzzi tub, I don't mind the sacrifice and hope to be relocated into our new home soon. I am revising my to-do list and tomorrow will be a busy day!

It is a glorious day as I sit here with the open door and listen to the surf. This is the view from my window. Enjoy!