Trip to a “real” bookstore

One of my assignments this month is to put together a formal nonfiction book proposal, which—aside from a few chapters of the book, of course—includes several elements that are a bit outside my normal journalism purview. The rules for this proposal game are still a bit vague to me, but I’m going off a no-nonsense two-page outline a friend sent me, Elizabeth Lyon’s Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write, which annoys me because it is so formulaic and strips all of the art out of publishing a book, and Nathan Bransford’s blog which is sarcastic and cocky enough to provide a good antidote to Lyon.

For this proposal, I need to consider the market for my book, draft a basic marketing plan and assess the competition. I’ve been monitoring immigration-related books for a while now, trying to read as much as I can, but I finally got over to Barnes and Noble in Boise last weekend and had a surprisingly good time. First of all, the place was packed on a Sunday afternoon. The coffee shop was full of people going through stacks of books, there was a steady line at the cash register and I came across some interesting reads.

So did my almost 6-year-old daughter. She spent an hour with a picture book of U.S. presidents (so far she only knows George Washington and Barack Obama, but I made her look up Lincoln and Roosevelt (Teddy) and she told me the relative era of each based on the clothing styles and modern conveniences depicted). My first experiment was to ask a clerk where the immigration books were. He sent me to “Current Affairs” where I immediately spied several books by Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin. Current Affairs is a dumping ground for books by politicians and pundits, which probably sell pretty well, but I’m not sure if that’s where my book will belong. [Strangely enough there is no Current Affairs section online at … perhaps it only has relevance in a dead tree context, whereas everything online is current?]

In Current Affairs I found a wave of new books on human trafficking (The Slave Next Door and Disposable People, both with Kevin Bales of the NGO Free the Slaves and Not for Sale by David Batstone). These books all argue strongly against human trafficking—not a very difficult position to take, and perhaps it’s their strong point of view that lands them beside Beck and Palin.

My book—called Amor and Exile for now, a working title—will have several strong points of view. My own, of course, those of the couples I’m profiling and the strong, first-person views of one heretofore source with whom I’m discussing a potential collaboration (more on that soon, when the proposal is done). After mulling it over, I do like the idea of appearing as a counter to Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin (my wife points out it will be closer to Sean Hannity because of that pesky alphabetical order thing)—offering a mountain of truth, personal experiences and facts to counter their emotional ideologizing.

There are some great looking immigration books in Current Affairs as well, including The Devil’s Highway, by Luis Alberto Urrea (Humingbird’s Daughter) a border crossing tale that I have yet to read. (I read two books in this genre a while ago: The Death of Josseline, a worthwhile investigation by a fellow reporter into the death of a young migrant in the Arizona desert and Border Crosser, a mendacious—he claims to have crossed illegally, but never actually does so—and self-absorbed book by a guy calling himself Johnny Rico.)

[Notice in the right hand sidebar appears growing list of books that I need to read and that you are most welcome to buy for me if you are ever in the mood.]

Another book in Current Affairs is Charles Bowden’s Murder City, which is top of my reading list since my return from Juarez. Bowden and I have some mutual friends there and I readily admit he has much larger cojones [scary read, behind a paywall] than I.

There are a ton of immigration/latino studies books in “Cultural Studies,” another section that at first blush does not appeal to me because of it’s overly academic tone. The book Hispanic Nation by Geoffrey Fox is 15 years old, but still appears on the shelves here … it looks a bit outdated, and has one of those über-academic subtitles: Culture, Politics and the Constructing of Identity. Mexican Enough by Stephanie Griest, a memoir by a bi-cultural journalist who covers immigration and Latino Affairs looks good as does Mexican Lives by Judith Hellman, another 15-year-old book that is still on the shelves (the publisher intrigued me as well, a nonprofit publishing house called The New Press).

Jesus this is a long post … I hope it’s helpful to someone out there. It’s definitely helping me out …

There is a fat book in the “History” section called Imperial, about the generations of migrants in California’s Imperial County. I should probably read it, but probably will save it for my graduate school backup plan. I picked up two books in “Journalism,” which might be a good fit (it’s right next to Current Affairs): Samantha Powers Chasing the Flame because I like her writing and her point of view, and Our Patchwork Nation, a demographic study that got a lot of press when it came out.

That’s what I found at Barnes and Noble. I did not find books about immigration outside the Mexican context, an unfortunate gap. I did not find books about mixed-immigration status families, though I’m sure some of the above do mention the phenomenon. Again, this is just what was available on a given day at a chain bookstore in Boise, Idaho. There are plenty of other good reads out there (any suggestions?), but it did make me want to buy a book (I bought one for my kid—Barbie related—ugh).

Frankly, I was not sure if people were still buying paper books in chain bookstores. I have not done that for many, many years, preferring local used bookstores or the convenience of (usually to find used books).

I’m curious how many blog readers regularly browse for titles at their local chain bookstore (or any brick and mortar bookstore) and come home with an actual book?

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