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The King's English, Adventures of an Independent Bookseller Hardcover – March 21, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Burton, owner of The King's English Bookshop (TKE) in Salt Lake City, has pursued a simple objective since the store's inception in 1977: "Pick good books, pass them on. That's all that counts in the end." Indeed, the fulfillment she derives from reading is matched only by the joy and satisfaction she feels when she pairs customers with quality books. In this lively history of the independent bookstore, she recounts her experiences working with various employees and partners and adjusting to sophisticated alarm systems and computerized inventories, but her anecdotes involving well-known authors are the most engrossing. She describes how Isabel Allende pitched in good-naturedly when the dinner Burton was preparing in her honor got out of control, and how John Mortimer giggled gleefully when Burton encountered troubles getting his luggage out of the car that she had borrowed to pick him up from the airport. It's clear that Burton's life is profoundly and inextricably linked to TKE: she believes her literary recommendations to an old boyfriend, whom she later married, sparked their initial reconnection, and writes that the shop was her "necessary anchor" when her son was born with brain damage. This delightful book is largely a heartfelt "thank you" to all who have contributed to The King's English, from gracious authors to friends and colleagues. Avid readers will be charmed by this intimate look at the bookselling business and will especially appreciate the many book lists (25 Thrillers with Moral Heft, 25 Non-Fiction Titles from the West, etc.) included in these pages.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
In 1977 Burton opened a bookstore called the King's English in Salt Lake City. This is a vivacious and spirited account of the ensuing years, and it encompasses a few tragicomedies, life with partners, author appearances, and the joy of reading. Burton really does love to read, and her book is chock-full of lists, not only of authors and titles but idiosyncratic lists like "25 Thrillers with Moral Heft" or "25 Books on Reading Books." She is preternaturally articulate and enthusiastic, whether she is recounting the pleasures of hosting Isabel Allende or Tony Hillerman, Mark Strand or Sir John Mortimer. The hilarious and terrifying incident of what happened when the fifth Harry Potter novel didn't arrive on time is worth the price of admission. She is also keenly aware of what has an impact on independent booksellers, from local needs to the Patriot Act. Along the way, we learn a small bit about being divorced and remarried, the life of a parent with a disabled child, and what to look for in a business partner. GraceAnne DeCandido
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
I have always had a secret hankering to run a bookstore myself, and The King's English both reassured and alarmed me. Burton has had the pleasure of dealing with many wonderful, charming people as employees, partners, authors, and customers over the years. She has also had to deal with viccisitudes like dealing with business partners she doesn't agree or get along with, authors who really prefer not to waste their time with the vulgar people who actually sell and buy their books, and employees and customers who are dishonest or outright criminals. But even the low points as described in The King's English are enjoyable to read about because Burton is naturally witty and a born writer.
Burton waxes most profoundly and enjoyably when writing on three subjects: her private struggle dealing with a handicapped child, the tendency of some people to try to censor/ban books which upset them, and the growth of the superchain bookstores and the dot-coms which have threatened her business over the years. I found this last subject particularly interesting since I am still mourning the loss of one of the great independent bookstores, Oxford Books of Atlanta, which died nearly ten years ago.
Somehow or other when I've passed through Salt Lake City I've overlooked a visit to The King's English. Now that I've met the store's proprietor through this book I intend to put it at the top of my agenda, and will hope to see the bookstore alive and well and to find Betsy Burton hard at work within.
For the person who wants to learn more about the book industry, you'll learn about sales reps and what goes into getting on to various bestseller lists. For the person concerned about protecting our rights, you'll learn about some of the threats that have been made to bookstores, from both individuals and the government. For the person who simply adores reading, you'll learn a bit about how your precious books make it into your hands, and if you took the process for granted, you will take it for granted no longer.
You'll also learn some of the pitfalls of opening a business with little (or no) experience, how to deal (or perhaps how not to deal) with the press, and how to work (or not work) with partners and employees, and last, but not least, how to maintain conviction in the face of cut-throat competition (where the competition is likewise mysteriously cutting its own throat).
Finally, you will enjoy Betsy Burton, and the way she barrels down on problems. I laughed out loud when I read about how she could not get a key to open the trunk of a car (a problem I have also experienced - glad to see I'm not alone) and how she dealt with a Harry Potter crisis.
Well worth reading!
It was a delightful trip down memory lane as I reminisced about the great people who worked there sharing their love of books as well as the wonderful readings by visiting authors sharing their words. It will always stand as one of the best times of my life.
Thanks to Betsy for reminding me of that time, and for the best bookstore in the universe.
The behind-the-scenes guided tour is sure to fascinate customers of independent bookstores as well as those who aspire to own such establishments. How does the owner decide which books to buy for the store and whom to employ? How knowledgeable do the employees need to be and how do they build a rapport with customers of diverse literary tastes? What is it really like to host a famous or little-known author to conduct a reading at your bookstore? How does the management deal with controversial books? Burton addresses all these and many more issues in her book, her narrative deftly covering the intricate interplay of her professional and personal lives.
In an age of un-innocence, when writers are all too eager to unburden their existential angst and analyze yet another malaise of modern society, it is refreshing to read a book such as The King's English. It is not only the saga of a bookstore, but a story of a woman's dream brought to fruition by hard work, intuition and faith in her goal.
I am an avid reader and am somewhat familar with the operations of a bookstore.
This book gives the reader a chance to peek inside an independent bookstore. You become privy to the travils that face an independent bookseller in the era of the big bookstores and the internet.
There are reading lists for just about every interest.
Finally, it is a joy to see a book that is printed on top quality paper.