Russo's newest work pays tribute to printed books

Associated Press + More

By CLARKE CANFIELD, Associated Press

CAMDEN, Maine (AP) — Readers can't survive on e-books alone, says author Richard Russo.

The latest work from the Pulitzer-winning Russo, "Interventions," is a tribute to the printed book, while taking a backhanded jab at electronic books and online bookselling.

"Interventions" is a collection of four separate volumes that are packaged in a slipcase, each work coming with a postcard-sized color print of a painting by Russo's daughter, Kate. The collection, three short stories and a novella, is published on high-quality sustainably harvested paper.

And in this age when e-book sales are booming, it's not for sale in electronic version.

"Interventions" is a celebration of printed books and independent bookstores, Russo said in an interview in his home in this Maine coastal town. The rapid rise of e-books and online sales of printed books pose threats to bookstores, the book publishing industry and the rise of new authors, he said.

But he's also confident that book readers are coming around to his way of thinking.

"It's the idea of buying locally," Russo said. "I think this particular book is part of that groundswell of people who are beginning to understand that buying all of your books through online booksellers is like buying everything from online sellers, whether it's flat-screen TVs or flowers or whatever. I think there's a groundswell of people who are beginning to understand the implications of that.

"And that's the only justification I have for saying print books are unlikely to disappear."

Russo, 62, is the author of seven novels, including "Bridge of Sighs," ''That Old Cape Magic" and "Empire Falls," which won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize.

"Interventions" brings together four short works that have the interconnecting theme of obsession and intervention. The stories explore the psyches of a real estate agent, a Belgian nun and a young professor as they obsess over different things to the point where somebody has to step in and intervene. The final piece is a short memoir exploring Russo's relationship with the town he grew up in, Gloversville, N.Y., and its decline with the fall of manufacturing.

The idea for the book was several years in the making, driven by lively wine-fueled discussions over the kitchen table with family about their favorite books, he said while sitting in the living room of his 166-year-old home, books filling floor-to-ceiling bookcases along one wall, with his daughter, Kate, and her husband, Tom Butler.

Russo, his daughter and her husband began discussing the idea of publishing a book that would pay tribute in some way to printed books.

Russo provided the writing, Kate provided the paintings that serve as illustrations, and Butler provided the design. Down East Books, which is located near Russo's home in Camden, published the book.

Russo has beaten the drum against Amazon and e-books in the past. He wrote an op-ed piece in The New York Times in December blasting Amazon's price-check app that allows shoppers to scan a product's bar code in a store and see how much they'd save by buying through Amazon.

He's also critical of the way online booksellers seem to market their books. When people search for books by key words on websites, the results usually direct them toward popular, older and best-selling authors, he said. In independent bookstores, employees can steer customers toward new books by new authors that people haven't heard of before.

His new book is intended to give readers a "book book" — as he calls printed books — experience.

At book signings and talks for "Interventions," Russo's seen people nodding in agreement when he talks about the importance of independent bookstores and the idea of buying local. He may be onto something — core membership of the American Booksellers Association has risen for three straight years after years of sharp declines brought on by online retailers and superstore chains.

Russo doesn't want to be known solely as an Amazon or e-book basher. After all, he reads books on his iPad when he's traveling.

Rather, he said, he's promoting the idea of diversity of how books are published, how they're sold and how they're read.

"I'm fine with online booksellers," he said. "I just don't want them to control the world."

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Online:

Down East Books: http://www.downeast.com

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