Today’s Spotlight on Bookstores post is written by Jillian Medoff, author of Good Girls Gone Bad, Hunger Point, and her most recent novel - I Couldn’t Love You More.
I Couldn’t Love You More has garnered rave reviews from readers and media, including this knock-it-out-of-the-park blurb from Kirkus Reviews:
Medoff’s talent for characterization is evident in her latest novel, a richly layered tale about that complicated thing called family…Medoff’s fully realized novel beautifully explores the most important relationships we create: as parent, as sibling, as spouse.
In the novel, a family in suburban Atlanta is torn apart when a shocking chain of events ends in a split-second decision that may place the ‘value’ of one child above another. This decision of course, has the potential to change the dynamic of the family forever.
Curious about what happens, how the family was led to this point? Read I Couldn’t Love You More, then keep in touch with Jillian Medoff via Facebook and Twitter. She’s eager to meet with book groups in person or via video chat; this can be arranged via her publicist.
Read on to learn about Jillian’s yoyo-like relationship with Barnes and Noble. Fortunately, it ends on a high note!
My Love-Hate-Love Affair with Barnes & NobleAs a long-time resident of Manhattan and Brooklyn, I’ll probably be exiled from New York for selecting big, boxy Barnes & Noble as my most special bookstore. Maybe I’d be forgiven if I was talking about one rogue location that offers a safe haven for working writers, but I’m not. I want to honor the entire Barnes & Noble chain.
Falling in LoveLike many novelists, my relationship with Barnes & Noble spans decades. I first became aware of the name “Barnes & Noble” in the 1980’s when I was a student at Barnard. Back then, B&N was just a scrappy college bookstore, so I wasn’t terribly interested; rather, the store didn’t leave much of an impression. It was where I bought textbooks, my favorite Columbia t-shirt (a worn and faded black crew neck), novels to read after exams, and stationary supplies (calendars, maybe? Maps? Who remembers?). In the years that followed, as I went to work and to graduate school where I wrote my first novel, Barnes & Noble continued to expand, acquiring new locations, launching a website, and gaining clout and prestige. By the late 1990’s Barnes & Noble had become the biggest bookseller on the block. The one-time scrappy college store had changed, but I had changed too.
My first novel, Hunger Point, was published to great fanfare in 1997. Back then, B&N stores were everywhere, and as a rising literary star, Barnes & Noble was an integral part of my book tour. Along with readings at locations in several cities along the east coast, I also signed books at three stores in New York: by myself at the Astor Place location and as part of group readings at the 23rd street and Lincoln Center locations. (None of these locations exist anymore, but that’s part of the story, too.)
Over the years, Barnes & Noble has been criticized for contributing to the decline of local and independent bookstores. This may be true. But as a first-time novelist, what could be better than seeing your picture in the window and your brand-new hardcover stacked fifty copies high? The stores were well-stocked and well-lit. Most had cafes with coffee and muffins. Who cared if the coffee was weak and the muffins dry? I was living on 24th street, ten blocks from the multi-story Union Square location. With its enormous music section (now gone), vast selection of stationary supplies (fifty different kinds of journals!), and floors and floors of books, the 14th street store became my go-to after-dinner destination. I spent hours strolling through the aisles, picking out cards, and moving all the copies of Hunger Point from the 4th floor Fiction section to the 1st Floor tables. I was young, a newly minted novelist, and in love with Barnes & Noble. And then things took a turn…
The Difficult YearsBy the time my second novel, Good Girls Gone Bad came out in 2002, Barnes & Noble and I were at odds. The company, now gargantuan and overextended, was fighting wars on all fronts (the rise of amazn.com and the e-book explosion, falling profits, a new CEO, vicious and expensive lawsuits). These internal management issues were compounded by lousy customer service policies, particularly for authors, particularly for authors whose second novels weren’t getting the same wide reception as their first. Despite Hunger Point’s success, Barnes & Noble wasn’t interested in promoting Good Girls. Several locations had closed (see above), and I wasn’t asked to appear at any that remained. I was now living in Brooklyn, so after much cajoling, I was finally offered a night: Sunday, November 3rd at the 7th Avenue store in Park Slope. But I this invitation came with a caveat: I could not have any other author events in Brooklyn.
My second book experience was nothing like my first. Having spent five years working on a novel that the largest retailer in the world wouldn’t actively promote left me defeated and frustrated. Money was tight, and my publisher would only pay for a very limited time in the coveted front-of-the-floor tables. I was eight months pregnant, still working a day job, and didn’t have the time or resources to go from store to store around the country, moving Good Girls from the Fiction section in the back to the front tables. Barnes & Noble, I decided, was everything people claimed: obnoxious, indifferent to writers, and dismissive of communities, especially local business. But what could I do? I was an author with a failing novel. I needed Barnes & Noble even if Barnes & Noble no longer needed me. Stuck in a no-win situation, I watched my book tank. And yet, I did have one small moment of vindication: My daughter, Mollie, arrived two weeks early. I went into labor on a blustery morning in November, and was forced to cancel my one and only Barnes & Noble event.
The past decade has been hard, and humbling, for Barnes & Noble. It’s also been hard, and humbling, for me. And while it took a lot of effort on both our parts, Barnes & Noble and I have made our way back to each other—mostly because of my daughter. Despite my last-minute 2002 cancellation, B& N forgave me, and over time, I forgave B&N. In fact, for the past ten years, the 7th Avenue Park Slope location has become Mollie’s second home. I can’t count how many afternoons I spent with her as an infant, then a toddler, and now a big kid, sitting on the little stage in the children’s section, reading—and not buying—book after book after book. I’ve met friends in the café for coffee (not as weak anymore now that it’s Starbucks) and muffins (still dry, sadly). And now, after ten years of rejections, I’ll finally be promoting a third novel, I Couldn’t Love You More. Thankfully, Barnes & Noble likes the book, and has ordered multiple copies. Although I won’t be reading at the 7th Avenue store, (authors can appear at B&N only if that reading will be their sole event in New York City, or if they’re a well-known celebrity, which God knows I’m not), I still love Barnes& Noble, and I believe in its own way, Barnes & Noble still loves me. Everyone knows that for any long-term relationship to work, you have to accept your partner’s foibles, however maddening they may be.