The typical star who drives women so crazy that they hurl their panties onstage falls into one of two categories: rock star or iconic hunk. Yet in the world of Rebecca Joines Schinsky, better known as the Book Lady, "panty worthy" stars also include a less obvious contingent: authors.
On the Book Lady's Blog, the most coveted honor is being dubbed "panty worthy": praise for the books and authors whose cadence, sentences and dialogue hit us in deep, almost primal ways. It's the subject of rigorous debate and even extends to female authors, because, well, don't female authors deserve to have underwear hurled at them too?
It's this endearing blend of silliness and sincerity, along with a love of books, that's made Joines Schinsky's blog a popular destination for book lovers in Richmond and nationwide (it gets about 40,000 hits a month). The Book Lady's Blog features reviews, serves as glue for local writers and has attracted attention from all of the major New York publishing houses, as well as some small presses.
Joines Schinsky is unconcerned with being an industry phenomenon, or with treating reading as a stuffy pursuit. "We don't have to take everything so seriously," she says. "The last few years have been full of such doom and gloom in publishing. ... People talking about how books are dead." (She makes these remarks, as it happens, on the same day that Borders bookstore files for bankruptcy.)
She says her philosophy is built on "a healthy sense of play and humor. We can be serious about books without being serious all the time." Author Karl Marlantes, who set his novel "Matterhorn" in the Vietnam War, no doubt learned this when she arrived at his Washington signing with a book and a pair of military-green panties.
She's a bit of celebrity on the local book scene, a fixture at workshops, readings and other events here and nationwide, serving as a link between publishers, independent retailers and the book-buying public. She's fond of smart stunts: To highlight her Get in Bed with a Book Blogger campaign, she and friend Kelly Justice — owner of the Fountain Bookstore in Shockoe Slip — were photographed seemingly topless under the covers of a bed, holding books in the windows at La Difference. She's a pinup girl with a reading fetish.
The blog began in 2007, when her husband's job brought the couple from Kansas City to Richmond. Working at a big-box bookstore, she longed for a sense of community around her similar reading interests. "No one in the store was reading what I was reading," she says. (She enjoys fiction and narrative nonfiction.) So she started a blog, posting reviews and accounts of crazy things that happened in the store, keeping her identity hidden at work.
By 2009 she'd left her job, but noticed that her traffic was rising steadily. "I could see how many people were reading what posts and what they were paying the most attention to." That's when she began working with Fountain, creating links to her blog, customers and authors. Publishers took notice, sending her advance copies to help build buzz. She's been featured in the Los Angeles Times and Publishers Weekly, among others. She says her blog extends the publicity cycle. "It's one more reason to send authors to Richmond," she says. "We can say, 'You have this store that has an audience and a blog with a national audience.'"
By spring of last year, Joines Schinsky, a member of the National Book Critics Circle, worked with the Southern Independent Bookseller Alliance and pioneered the Get in Bed campaign, an effort to educate sellers about what bloggers do. Her skill at maximizing social media to build business morphed into a side career.
But it's all in flux. The industry faces big challenges — the increasing lack of popular interest in books not the least of them. Weakened by the recession, it took another wallop with the advent of e-readers and then, with the iPad, really had to come to terms with its new reality. Review copies slowed. "A year into the blog," she says, "bloggers had access to anything. But as the economy tightened, publishers got more selective, and began relying more on existing relationships."
Lucky for her, she'd already secured them. Though she acknowledges the book industry is having growing pains, she's not fearful. She's showing that books and technology can co-exist. "Technology is certainly changing the industry," she says. "There's a big difference between getting a book for $9.99 [on a device] versus paying $25 for a hardcover." Ironic isn't it? Using technology to connect people through a mode of communication largely considered to be dying a slow death.
But, as the Book Lady's Blog shows, books aren't going anywhere, especially if you know how to unite the people who love them. "I don't think I will ever give up books," she says: "I love the smell, to be able to turn the pages. Now I'm in conversation with people I didn't know personally or from my community. Enjoying the literary community is not limited to geography, and I'm really excited."
Excited enough, at least, to throw a pair of panties. S
The Book Lady's Blog is online at thebookladysblog.com.