Until Next Year; Adieu to Poetry Month

(Ms Mullins is owner of The Book Loft on Mission Drive in Solvang)

Let’s savor the last few days of April and sip some Valley wines at the festivals and tastings while reading and listening to poetry, all in the spirit of celebration of the waning of National Poetry Month.

Mid April marks The Book Loft’s 37th year in business. I was here at the start and have learned a few things about bookselling. For one, I knew that even with an unhappy ending, there would be considerable interest in books about the thoroughbred Barbaro, a triple crown racing contender whose fight to recover from a shattered leg and risky surgery captured the hearts of the nation.

At least three Barbaro books were published this spring: “Barbaro: A Nation’s Love Story” by Tom Philbin and Pamela Brodowsky; “Barbaro: America’s Horse” by Shelley Mickle and “Barbaro: The Horse that Captured America’s Heart” by Sean Clancy.

The first is a book suitable for horse lovers from 10 to 110-years-old. The second is for young reader’s ages six thru 12. The third, an Eclipse publication (from the book division of the thoroughbred industry’s prestigious magazine “The Blood Horse”) ,quickly sold out and may not be reprinted in time for the run up to the Kentucky Derby on May 5.

It would be foolhardy to second guess those Blood Horse experts; still, I think I could have told them that the quantity planned for the first printing of their Barbaro book would be way too low.

At The Book Loft we get excited about the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the arrival of the Rancheros Vistadores. They give us the chance to display some choice books on horses, ranching and Western history While insiders in the publishing industry may covet bestseller status for promising first novelists, the best they are usually willing to hope for or to predict are strong sales.

Early on, even before a hard cover edition arrives in stores, many of us book business veterans can foresee that certain novels will be best sellers when they come in paperback.

For example, I am predicting that the soft cover edition of “The God of Animals” by Aryn Kyle will not only be one of The Book Loft’s big books in 2008, but will sell very well throughout the West and perhaps the entire nation.

“God of the Animals” is a coming of age novel set on a horse ranch in small-town Colorado; probably mostly a women’s book, written for adults but may strongly appeal to horse-loving teens.

We hope we will sell several copies in hard cover, but are making no predictions. Booksellers are often asked, “When is it (a book they are anxious to read) coming in paper?” The stock answer: “About a year from when it was published.”

Though not always, we’d have been willing to bet that Cormac McCarthy’s fervent fans would have to wait a year or more for a paperback edition of “The Road,” published last September and sure enough it showed up, scheduled for September, in publisher Random House’s fall ’07 catalog.

For all she has done to stimulate reading and the book business, we are still confounded by Oprah. Until they are officially announced on her program, the titles for Oprah’s book club selections are a tightly guarded secret. Bookstores only know them by a 10-digit number or the new13-digit ISBN and as a consequence we must order blindly. No one we know knows what the book is and only a very few on the publisher’s end are in on the secret.

Oprah usually chooses books that have been out a while, sometimes a long while. How could we guess that her current pick would be a title that wouldn’t be out until September, a book we could expect to sell well no matter who recommended it and thus we ordered lightly. And what does Oprah’s new selection happen to be? Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” a widely acclaimed apocalyptic novel with a glimmer of hope at the end.

McCarthy would get thousands of votes as this country’s best contemporary novelist. His fans are devoted but his readership is limited. Oprah may change that.

The Book Loft now has a good supply of the new paperback edition of “The Road.” So they’ll be no waiting until September!

In the mean time, between time, mark your calendars, set your alarms and tune in to listen to Garrison Keillor read a poem written by my Poet Laureate nominee Dan Gerber on National Public Radio’s “The Writer Almanac” (KCBX 91.1) April 26 at 8:45 a.m. The show may be the adieu needed to end National Poetry Month.