Publishers take on cookbooks not because they expect a fast hit, but because good ones can produce slow but steady sales over the course of several years.
At least that's the theory. But Kent Sturgis of Epicenter Press has been learning it's not always the reality. "The Fishes & Dishes Cookbook: Seafood Recipes and Salty Stories from Alaska's Commercial Fisherwomen" has been a "surprise bestseller" for the Seattle-based company.
"It was published in April," Sturgis said. "We just ordered the third printing." He reported, with some astonishment, that earlier this month the American Booksellers Association included it in its "Top 20 great reads for 2010" list.
"Whoever heard of a cookbook being a 'great read?' " he said.
Well, the critics, for starters. "It's hard to say which is more enticing, the recipes or the tales," wrote one. "It all combines with photographs, art, a few haiku, and sidebars about such things as sailors' superstitions into a wonderful book about Alaska fishing, strong women and delicious food."
"Fishes & Dishes" will be featured at Epicenter's kiosk starting next Friday when the Anchorage Museum hosts its annual Crafts Weekend and Read Alaska Book Fair.
The event combines more than 40 local artists selling gift-type items that can range from beads to blankets in the ground floor of the Atrium, with dozens of Alaska authors and publishers of Alaskana meeting readers on the second level.
Bazaars abound this time of year. In school gyms, church basements, shopping centers and sports arenas, fold-out tables are laden with pretty or practical items calculated to draw in the potential purchaser of holiday gifts.
What sets the 22nd Annual Crafts Weekend apart is that it's one of the very few juried craft fairs in our area. Presenters must go through the hoops of submitting their artwork to a museum panel that then chooses which artists will be asked to participate.
Thus the crafts people selling their work this year, for instance, will include Wendy Smith-Wood, who won an award in the recent statewide Earth, Fire and Fiber show. Her silk scarves can be worn, but one may also be tempted to frame them.
The clay tile art of Ed Mighell and fused glass of Tamara Johannes are likewise considered museum pieces in many quarters. Guitta Corey, perhaps best noted for her collage-like mosaic style of painting, will be selling glass plates.
As a contemporary artist, Sonya Kelliher-Combs has her fine art exhibited all over the country; one of her large installations is on display in the new museum expansion section. She will be selling more personal (and affordable) jewelry at the fair.
Kelliher-Combs described herself as "a big fan of all things unique and different" and is drawn to hand-made one-of-a-kind things.
"As a visual artist I create fine art, paintings, sculpture and installation," she said. "But I also make utilitarian objects, jewelry, hide purses, scarves, sea otter neck rings, etc. I find the two bodies of work influence each other. Often a breakthrough in my fine art is made working on small- scale pieces."
The craft process also lets her maximize her materials, which can be the same in both genres. "Growing up in Nome, people don't throw things away -- you never know when someone might need something. With this philosophy in mind I collect objects and materials. They might be in plastic containers for years but at some point they often end up in a painting, sculpture or jewelry."
Art and literature meld in many instances. Painter Teresa Ascone is involved with the Read Alaska side of things, with two books from her "berry fairy" series, "The Berry Fairies of Alaska" and "Lizzie Scarlet." But she also has "note cards, crystal ornaments, bookmarks, magnets, mints and chocolate bars, and tempered glass kitchen art," many of which feature images or characters from the books.
The practical side of publishing is also noted at Greatland Graphics' table, where there are Alaska calendars, prints, note cards and posters, in addition to books.
"It's the biggest collection of Alaska publishers and authors anywhere," said Greatland's Edward Bovey, one of the coordinators and founders of the book fair, now in its 18th year.
"We've been taking part since the beginning," said Bovey's partner Alissa Crandall, whose photographs are showcased in many of the company's products.
Among the books that Greatland has published is Shannon Cartwright's award-winning "Finding Alaska." The popular illustrator also will be at the book fair and, if last year is anything to go by, her table will be mobbed.
Highly illustrated books and books for children, like Gina Edwards' "If We Hopped on Our Bike," are generally good bets for drawing a crowd. But the serious-minded can also pick up the whole history of Alaska from the grand politics to more intimate personal stories.
For instance, J. Pennelope Goforth's "Sailing the Mail in Alaska: The Maritime Years of Alaskan Photographer John E. Thwaites 1905-1912" is the only biography of the mysterious photographer, who documented life during the boom in Southwest Alaska 100 years ago, getting caught in shipwrecks and volcanic eruptions in the process.
While such an effort of scholarship and persistence is mainly a labor of love, Goforth notes that the book "has been quite popular, with thousands of copies sold over the past few years."
Its success has let Goforth help other writers, like Mike Rostad, who also will be there with his new memoir published by her CybrrCat Productions, "Close to My Heart: Writing and Living Stories on Kodiak Island."
While Read Alaska reading varies from fiction and poetry to photo albums and how-to books, first-person recollections of Alaska make up a big part of writing about the 49th state.
One of the newest books at the fair, fresh from the printers in fact, is Northbooks' "The Chosen Place," by Darlene Halverson, who was 7 years old when her family homesteaded in the Chugiak area (the land where the Peters Creek American Legion Hall now stands." She will be present Friday and Saturday, according to Northbooks' Ray Holmsen.
Like many of the publishers at the book fair, Northbooks will be offering discounts on books purchased there. And, with authors rotating in and out over the three days, it will be easy to get gift volumes personalized for the receiver.
Northbooks' top authors will be present for all three days. Jean Persons' "From Dog Teams to Float Planes -- Adventures in Alaska Medicine: True Stories of a Woman Physician in 1950s Remote Alaska" recounts her years in Tanana and Anchorage.
And, to sort of close the circle by returning to the cookbook genre, Suzette Lord Weldon, of "Suzette's Alaskan Cooking" and an earlier book, "Suzette's International Cooking," will not only sign copies of her books but hand out samples.
"It's been a crowd-pleaser for many years," said Holmsen.
Find Mike Dunham online at adn.com/contact/mdunham or call 257-4332.