Why “Nerd Lottery” Winner Andrew Kessler Opened “Monobookist” Bookstore Ed’s Martian Book Stocking 2,500 Copies of His First Book, Martian SummerBy Rachel Kramer Bussel
April 22, 2011
This week, I participated in a reading in New York City’s West Village. All I knew when I entered was that I was going to a new “science fiction” bookstore. That turned out only to be partially true. Ed’s Martian Book is indeed new, but what it stocks is nonfiction, namely author Andrew Kessler’s debut book, Martian Summer: Robot Arms, Cowboy Spacemen, and My 90 Days with the Phoenix Mars Mission (Pegasus). There’s something extremely surreal about being in a store where shelf after shelf, case after case, table after table only have one title. Perhaps that is science fiction-like. It’s mesmerizing, and I kept being tempted to open the books to make sure they weren’t blank inside (I gave in to temptation and, in fact, they were not blank inside). I emailed Kessler to find out more about his mission to Mars and his “crazy” bookstore brainstorm.
How much prior knowledge about space does one need to appreciate Martian Summer? In other words, just how geeky is it?
You don’t need to be a super geek or even a geek to love this book. As a master of the nerdly arts, it’s my job to engineer all the mission wonk out of mission control for you. You’re left with an amazingly insane adventure and super awesome people who do crazy work with none of the fuss. Martian Summer is for everyone.
How did you come up with the idea for the monobookist bookstore and how long did it take to get it up and running? How did you choose the West Village?
Here’s how it went down: I’m eating some meatballs at that restaurant in the Lower East Side that only sells meatballs. l’m thinking about how a guy like me is going to have a hard time getting people to care about a space book. Sure, I wrote it in a funny, accessible way and it’s hilarious. Even so, it’s hard to get people to care about books. And then I saw this thing about Borders going out of business. And I was like crap, I need a new model for a bookstore.
So you ask yourself who is really good at selling books? Bible salesmen! They manage to get their one book in religious institutions everywhere. So that was it. I stole my bookstore idea from religion. And then I applied the scientific method. And it became monobookist.
How much involvement and support did you have from your publisher? Were they totally on board or did they think it was a crazy idea—or both?
Pegasus, Open Road and Andrew Kessler are like peas in a pod and they also thought it was crazy.
What was the biggest challenge in getting the store set up and what’s been the most fun part?
Everyone telling me it was crazy.
How many copies of your book do you have in the store?
Thousands and thousands. About 2.5 thousands right now.
What’s been the reaction of people passing by on the street?
So the great thing about the store is that you can hear people talking from the street. There is a wide array of emotion from passersby. You get “One fucking book!? No way.” And then there’s the eye-roll that comes with “That’ll never work.” But there’s a lot of, “This is awesome!” and “Holy crap, Maude, someone made a bookstore with just one book. No really. Look. I love it.” When that happens you feel better than that guy who says, “I’m the king of the world,” in the movie where the boat sinks.
What kinds of events do you have planned for the store?
Readings. Cocktail parties. Naps. And general store business. We’d consider weddings and bar mitzvahs too.
Obviously my most important question: who is Ed?
You’ll have to come to the store and meet him. Won’t you?
New Yorker blog The Book Bench called Ed’s Martian Book “the latest experiment in saving bookstores.” How do you see the store as fitting into the current literary landscape of New York City? Do you think it’s vital for authors to step outside the box in some way to get the word out about their books?
Well, the thing they forgot to include—and I forgive them because they needed to tweet it and they only had 140 characters—is that I’m saving books and NASA. This store is doing a lot of work. If you want to save two institutions with one store in the West Village, you’ll have to step outside your box.
If you were to make it a duobookist store (I know, blasphemy!) what other book would you stock?
We do have one other book. It’s called “Pictures of Bacon for Karen: Volume 1.” But there are only a few copies.
You describe yourself as a “regular guy” who won the “nerd lottery.” How did you get access to the NASA Mission?
It’s a long long story. Come to the store, 547 Hudson. We’ll talk about it.
The store has only been open a week, but are there any lessons you can impart to other first-time authors about spreading the word about one’s book?
When you start thinking of ideas, the one that makes people the most nervous is the one you want. See you at Ed’s.
Martian Summer is out now. Find out more about the book and Andrew Kessler at kessleronmars.com. Ed’s Martian Book is open at 547 Hudson Street, New York City.