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BY LAURIE HERTZEL
(Minneapolis) Star Tribune
Last fall, Chris Fischbach suggested to Hans Weyandt that his blog might make
Fischbach was on his way to Germany to attend the Frankfurt Book Fair, and Weyandt joked, "If you bring me back some gummy bears, we'll call it a deal."
Fischbach showed up again, holding a sticky bag of gummy bears.
That is the short version of how Weyandt's blog, "Mr. Micawber Enters the Internets," turned into "Read This! Handpicked Favorites From America's Indie Bookstores," which has quickly become one of Coffee House Press' hottest books of the season.
Weyandt has been co-owner of Micawber's Bookstore in St. Paul, Minn., for nine years, but he's been in the book business much longer. He understands the importance of hand-selling books--booksellers suggesting beloved or obscure books to customers. It's one of the things indie bookstores are most known and loved for. So last year, when a customer asked Weyandt for his top 100 recommendations, he started thinking. This would be a good blog entry, he figured. (The store's blog is at micawbers.blogspot.com.)
"I went with 50 because I knew 100 was going to be a challenge," he said. "I wrote mine down by hand in 20 minutes. It was just sort of off-the-cuff--stuff I really loved and like to hand-sell."
His is a wide, wide-ranging list, with E.B. White and T.J. Stiles, Tim O'Brien and Amy Hempel; fairly obscure titles such as "The Book of Fathers," by Miklos Vamos, and beloved old favorites such as "My Ántonia," by Willa Cather.
Other booksellers must have lists, too, he thought. Wouldn't it be interesting to know what they are? So he picked up the phone.
Weyandt called booksellers he knew and invited them to contribute lists to his blog. Then he started calling booksellers he didn't know. He sent emails, too.
"My original thing was, I'll do 20 lists of 50, and that will be 1,000 books," he said. "And then it got a little out of control."
The first blog post went up on Aug. 31, 2011. A writer for Shelf Awareness, an Internet newsletter about the book business, wrote about it three days later, "and the email inbox just exploded" with messages from people all over the country who wanted to take part.