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Central Booking

The Reader's Resource

Kevin Smokler is reading like crazy, and he hopes you will, too.

Founder and publisher of the ultimate reader's resource, Central Booking, Smokler operates under the premise that his site's visitors share a "nagging deference to the idea that reading, the world's most private act, matters so much more when celebrated in public." To that end, he has created a community not for literary hermits, but for readers who want to share the ideas books have fostered within them.

Central Booking's goal is not to pump up the latest indie and alternative releases, but to share wonderful books the site's volunteers love. "'Alternative' books have their own audience and resources," Smokler says, "We love all books, and we love talking about them."

The site's forum is testament to this love -- registered members can hop online and voice their opinions not only on books, authors and the publishing industry, but also on the physical challenges of being book lover: one recent discussion focused on how to store and shelve books when you have just too many of them.

Central Booking's forum also hosts live author chats and sponsors events at local bookstores, including San Francisco's esteemed A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books, where Smokler recently emceed luminaries such as Jonathan Safran Foer and George P. Pelecanos. Other community efforts include working with The Grotto (of which Smokler is a member) to produce Grotto Nights at the Main, the writing collective's literature, film and art series at the San Francisco Public Library's Main Branch.

In existence since 1998, Central Booking operates solely on grant funds and volunteer labor. When pressed for revenue-making ideas to sustain the site after the grant funds run out, Smokler seems stumped. "I guess we'll have to look into that," he says, a refreshing change from money-grubbing dot-com sensibility of recent times.

The site does not reflect this lack of hard-business savvy: simply designed with a professional, yet accessible, veneer, Central Booking's reader-friendly graphics, tagline ("Read Like Crazy...") and navigation bars invite visitors to browse through book reviews and excerpts, author interviews and profiles, essays, biographies, resources and publishing news.

"We want to make buying a book as easy as buying a quart of milk," Smokler says. "Our goal is to give readers a list of great books, so that whenever they walk into a bookstore, they don't think 'what am I going to buy?,' but 'what am I going to buy first?'"