Shelf Awareness for Friday, October 7, 2016


Chooseco: Chimera (Weregirl #2) by C.D. Bell

Riverhead Books: My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

Barron's Educational Series: Dear Dinosaur: With Real Letters to Read! by Chae Strathie, illustrated by Nicola O'Byrne

Timber Press: Saving Tarboo Creek: One Family's Quest to Heal the Land by Scott Freeman

HarperCollins: Laura's Album: A Remembrance Scrapbook of Laura Ingalls Wilder by William Anderson

Editors' Note

News

October Indie Next List E-Newsletter Delivered

Yesterday, the ABA's e-newsletter edition of the Indie Next List for October was delivered to nearly a quarter million of the country's best book customers.

In the last month, 36 independent bookstores have signed up to have the free e-newsletter sent to their customers, in addition to the 15 pilot stores. Altogether, the 51 stores have 225,648 subscribers.

The e-newsletter, powered by Shelf Awareness, features all of the month's Indie Next List titles, with bookseller quotes and "buy now" buttons that lead directly to the purchase page for the title on the sending store's website. The newsletter, which is branded with each store's logo, includes an interview (from Bookselling This Week) with the author of that month's number-one title. (Click here to see an example of October's newsletter.) Interested bookstores can sign up on bookweb.org or stop by the ABA booth at the fall booksellers association shows or e-mail ABA senior program officer Joy Dallanegra-Sanger.


Soho Teen: No Saints in Kansas by Amy Brashear


Sarah Jessica Parker Heading New Imprint at Hogarth

Sarah Jessica Parker

Sarah Jessica Parker, the actress, producer and entrepreneur best known for playing Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City, is now also editorial director of SJP, a new imprint at Crown's Hogarth line, where, according to the New York Times, she will "help to find, edit and publish three or four new novels a year." The paper added that "the head of Hogarth, Molly Stern, met Parker at a luncheon three years ago and offered her the role over dinner this past spring. Parker said yes in a second."

Parker aims to publish "great stories" and "global voices," and said, "I have always loved to read for the same reason I love to act, which is that other people’s stories are more interesting to me than my own."

Parker comes from a family of readers and writers. Her father was a poet and journalist. Her mother is a retired nursery school teacher and "lifelong, compulsive reader," who, the paper wrote, "made sure a young Sarah Jessica was never without a library book in her school bag."

Parker is starring in Divorce, a new HBO series that premieres this Sunday.


She Writes Press: Things Unsaid by Diana Y. Paul


Doug Jones Promoted at HarperCollins

Doug Jones has been promoted to senior v-p/deputy publisher of the Harper group, a new position in which he will work with HarperCollins senior v-p and publisher Jonathan Burnham to oversee publishing for Harper, Harper Business, Harper Wave, Harper Design, Amistad, Broadside, Harper Perennial and Harper Paperbacks. All marketing and publicity for the Harper imprints and lines will report to him.

Jones was formerly senior v-p, sales at HarperCollins, where he oversaw sales for all adult imprints and led the teams dealing with Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Prior to joining HarperCollins, Jones held marketing positions at Putnam and Riverhead, worked at Random House for 12 years, and was v-p, sales director at Crown Publishing Group. His first book industry job was as manager for Brazos Bookstore in Houston, Tex.

Burnham commented: "Doug's deep knowledge of the book trade and experience in sales and marketing make him uniquely qualified to bring a holistic approach to the Harper publishing program."

With this change, senior v-p/associate publisher Kathy Schneider is leaving HarperCollins. Burnham thanked her for her "remarkable work during her time at Harper."


DK Publishing: Star Wars Coding Projects by Jon Woodcock


National Reading Group Month: Great Group Reads

The National Reading Group Month/Great Group Reads Committee of the Women's National Book Association has chosen 21 books as this year's list:

Blackass by A. Igoni Barrett (Graywolf Press)
The Book of Harlan by Bernice L. McFadden (Akashic)
Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman (Atria)
Charmed Particles by Chrissy Kolaya (Dzanc)
The Cosmopolitans by Sarah Schulman (Feminist Press at CUNY)
The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick (MIRA/Harlequin)
The Drone Eats with Me: A Gaza Diary by Atef Abu Saif (Beacon Press)
A Hard and Heavy Thing by Matthew J. Hefti (Tyrus Books/F+W)
Heat and Light by Jennifer Haigh (Ecco)
The Honeymoon by Dinitia Smith (Other Press)
The Measure of Darkness by Liam Durcan (Bellevue Literary Press)
Miss Jane by Brad Watson (Norton)
A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold (Crown)
Orhan's Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian (Algonquin)
Over the Plain Houses by Julia Franks (Hub City Press)
The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald (Sourcebooks Landmark)
This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! by Jonathan Evison (Algonquin)
This Side of Providence by Rachel M. Harper (Prospect Park Books)
300 Days of Sun by Deborah Lawrenson (Harper Paperbacks)
The Tsar of Love and Techno: Stories by Anthony Marra (Hogarth)
What Comes Next and How to Like It: A Memoir by Abigail Thomas (Scribner)

The 25-member committee of writers, reviewers, booksellers, librarians, publicists and dedicated readers selected titles "on the basis of their appeal to reading groups, which seek books that open up lively conversations about a myriad of timely and provocative and diverse topics, from the intimate dynamics of family and personal relationships to major cultural and world issues."

Great Group Reads Selection Committee chair Kristen Knox said: "The breadth and diversity of books the Selection Committee has chosen this year delights me--novels and memoirs exemplifying global perspectives which inform and challenge readers. Any and every book club will be able to find wonderful options that work for them no matter what type of book they want to read."

The organization is providing downloadable shelf talkers, table-top posters and other display material. Find the National Reading Group Month Marketing Toolkit at Get Involved. For more general information, go to NationalReadingGroupMonth.org and wnba-books.org.


Berkley Books: The French Girl by Lexie Elliott



Notes

Image of the Day: Talking Books on NEIBA Show's Exhibit Floor

On the trade show floor at the New England Independent Booksellers Association fall conference in Providence, R.I.: (from l.): University of Chicago Press sales rep Blake Delodder; Churchill Pitts of Harvard Book Store, Cambridge, Mass.; Dan Chartrand, owner of Water Street Books, Exeter, N.H. For much more about the NEIBA show, see Robert Gray's column below and his column from last week.


Happy 40th Birthday, Waucoma Bookstore!

via

Congratulations to Waucoma Bookstore, Hood River, Ore., which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this Saturday, October 8, 12-4 p.m., the Hood River News reported. Festivities include book signings with local writers Joe O'Neill, author of Thieves of the Black Sea, and Vikki Claflin, author of Who Left the Cork Out of My Lunch?; cake; roll the dice for discounts; a free Waucoma Bookstore bag with a purchase of $40 or more; and prizes.

Owners Muir and Jenny Cohen purchased the store in 2008 from longtime owner Sally Laventure. The store was Muir Cohen's childhood bookstore, "and his favorite memory of the bookstore is walking back to the children's section and smelling the freshly ground coffee," according to the store's website.


Omnivore Books: 'A Look Inside'

Since 2008, Omnivore Books, San Francisco, Calif., "has been selling both new and antiquarian culinary books. Despite fierce retail competition with online booksellers, it's still managed to maintain its niche in the neighborhood," Hoodline reported.

"I think that people realize that they are sort of subsidizing my business by buying from me. They're keeping me here so that they can attend these free talks," said owner Celia Sack, adding: "I would hardly say that people aren't cooking anymore. So many people come in excited about books that are coming out."


Media and Movies

Media Heat: Bryan Cranston on 60 Minutes

Today:
Fresh Air: Henry Marsh, author of Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery (Picador, $16, 9781250090133).

This Weekend:
PRI's Living on Earth: Peter Wohlleben, author of The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate--Discoveries From a Secret World (Greystone Books, $24.95, 9781771642484).

Sunday:

CBS Sunday Morning: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, author of My Own Words (Simon & Schuster, $30, 9781501145247). On Monday, she will also be on CBS This Morning, PBS's Newshour and Charlie Rose.

60 Minutes: Bryan Cranston, author of A Life in Parts (Scribner, $27, 9781476793856).

Monday:
CBS This Morning: Jennifer Weiner, author of Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing (Atria, $27, 9781476723402).

Tonight Show: Taraji P. Henson, co-author of Around the Way Girl: A Memoir (Atria/37 INK, $26, 9781501125997).

Late Show with Stephen Colbert repeat: Amy Schumer, author of The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo (Gallery, $28, 9781501139888).


TV: In the Country We Love

Diane Guerrero, a recurring guest star on Jane the Virgin, "has partnered with three key auspices behind the CW dramedy--executive producer/showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman, executive producer Ben Silverman and co-executive producer Paul Sciarrotta--for In the Country We Love, a drama project that has been set up at CBS," Deadline reported.

Guerrero will star in the show, which is based on her memoir In the Country We Love: My Family Divided, co-written with Michelle Burford. Guerrero is also known for her role as Maritza Ramos on Netflix's Orange Is the New Black.


Movies: Disobedience; The Children Act

Rachel Weisz (Denial) will star in and produce the film adaptation of Naomi Alderman's novel Disobedience, Variety reported. Sebastian Lelio is directing the film, based on a script he co-wrote with Rebecca Lenkiewicz.

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Stanley Tucci and Fionn Whitehead have been cast alongside Emma Thompson in The Children Act, based on Ian McEwan's novel, Deadline reported. Richard Eyre (Notes on a Scandal) will direct the project, with filming is set to begin in London this month.


Books & Authors

Awards: National Book Award; PNBA BuzzBook; Cundill; Whiting Creative Nonfiction

The National Book Foundation announced the finalists for this year's National Book Awards. The winners will be named November 16 at the 67th NBA benefit dinner and ceremony at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City. This year's shortlisted titles are:

Fiction
The Throwback Special by Chris Bachelder (Norton)
News of the World by Paulette Jiles (Morrow)
The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan (Viking)
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday)
Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson (Amistad)

Nonfiction
Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild (The New Press)
Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi (Nation Books)
Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Harvard University Press)
The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America by Andrés Reséndez (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy by Heather Ann Thompson (Pantheon)

Poetry
The Performance of Becoming Human by Daniel Borzutzky (Brooklyn Arts Press)
Collected Poems 1974-2004 by Rita Dove (Norton)
Archeophonics by Peter Gizzi (Wesleyan University Press)
The Abridged History of Rainfall by Jay Hopler (McSweeney's)
Look by Solmaz Sharif (Graywolf Press)

Young People's Literature
Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick)
March: Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell (Top Shelf Productions)
When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin (Little, Brown)
Ghost by Jason Reynolds (Atheneum)
The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon (Delacorte)

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Norse Mythology
by Neil Gaiman (to be published by Norton in February 2017) won the BuzzBooks contest this past weekend at the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association annual trade show. Nearly 200 punch cards were handed out to attendees who visited eight publishers for quick pitches on nine recent and upcoming titles across multiple genres. The booksellers and librarians then voted for the book they were "most excited to recommend to patrons of Northwest libraries and bookstores."

Norton describes Norse Mythology this way: "Neil Gaiman has long been inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction. Now he turns his attention back to the source, presenting a bravura rendition of the great northern tales--fashioning the primeval stories into a novelistic arc."

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The shortlist for the $75,000 Cundill Prize in Historical Literature, administered by McGill University in Montreal, consists of:

Thomas W. Laqueur for The Work of the Dead: A Cultural History of Mortal Remain (Princeton University Press)
David Wootton for The Invention of Science: A New History of the Scientific Revolution (Stuart Proffitt)
Andrea Wulf for The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt's New World (Knopf, John Murray Publishers)

The winner will be announced on November 17.

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The six inaugural Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant winners, each of whom receives $35,000 to complete their books in progress, are:

Deborah Baker, for The Last Englishman: Love, War and the End of Empire (forthcoming from Graywolf Press)
Sarah M. Broom, for The Yellow House (Grove Press)
Timothy N. Golden, for Nowhere Land: America and Its Enemies at Guantánamo (Penguin Press)
Joshua Roebke, for The Invisible World: The Story of Physics in the 20th Century (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Sarah Elizabeth Ruden, for The Confessions of Augustine: A New Translation (Random House)
John Jeremiah Sullivan, for The Prime Minister of Paradise: Christian Gottlieb Priber and the Search for a Lost American Enlightenment (Random House)


Reading with... Katie McKenna

photo: Sai Mokhtari

Katie McKenna is a professional fund-raiser and stand-up comedian living in Brooklyn, N.Y. She writes a blog called Small Bites and Little Victories and is an expert on the best date spots in New York City. How to Get Run over by a Truck (Inkshares, October 4, 2016) is her first memoir.

On your nightstand now:

I've just begun reading A Course in Miracles by Dr. Helen Schucman, because during a conversation with a friend he told me that it changed his entire outlook on life, and then another friend mentioned how meaningful the book was to her. When I get two recommendations on one book, I need to start reading it! I just finished reading Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler, and I loved it so much that I'm not ready to put it back on my bookshelf. I also have my journal on my nightstand. I have been keeping a diary since I was in second grade, and I love having it close by, either to write in or to read. Reading what was happening in my life a few months or a year ago always gives me such wonderful perspective.

Favorite book when you were a child:

I loved Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I would read it at least once a year during the winter. It is such an incredibly cozy book. I remember reading it and then cuddling into my covers, feeling safe and warm.

Your top five authors:

David Sedaris is an incredible storyteller, and is so hilarious. I've seen him live a few times, and he is as charming in person as he is in print. I adore Junot Díaz. The footnotes in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao are brilliant, and his main characters' voices are always so clear and engaging. I am blown away by how Erik Larson is able to take moments in history and make them feel like they're fiction. I love that his work makes me gasp, and educates me about a period of time. Cheryl Strayed's writings have changed my life for the better, not only her memoir Wild, but also her compilation of "Dear Sugar" advice columns, Tiny Beautiful Things. Her writing makes me want to live a more beautiful life. Lastly, I'm in awe of the creativity that lives in Haruki Murakami's writing. I always feel transported when I read his work.

Book you've faked reading:

I've tried reading The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien about five times, but I just could never get into it. When asked by a first date if I had read it, I nervously blurted out that I had! Luckily it didn't work out with that guy so I didn't have to fake reading it for too long.

Book you're an evangelist for:

I recommend Wild by Cheryl Strayed to anyone looking for a good book. I think that she's an incredibly raw and honest writer, and her prose is stunning. Reading about her struggles, perseverance and spiritual awakenings while pushing herself beyond her limits is so inspiring.

Book you've bought for the cover:

I bought What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman. It was a combination of the beautiful photo from an airplane window, and the title, which made me laugh out loud. I love travel, and as a woman in her 30s who hasn't had any children, I knew that this book was right up my alley!

Book you hid from your parents:

I read Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews when I was in sixth grade. There was an ungodly amount of inappropriate material for an 11-year-old, and it was the best!

Book that changed your life:

I bought Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris when I was living in Ireland, and while I was reading I thought maybe I could take my comedic writings and make them into short stories. It was the first time I had really thought that I could be a writer.

Favorite line from a book:

I read this line from "Dear Sugar" by Cheryl Strayed while on the L train and immediately started to cry: "Let whatever mysterious starlight that guided you this far guide you onwards into whatever crazy beauty awaits." Being reminded to lean into life is something that I want to be reminded of all of the time.

Five books you'll never part with:

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett was the book that gave me hope while I was in the hospital recovering from being run over by a truck. For some reason I thought that if Colin could find the strength to get up and out of his wheelchair, that so could I.

I have reread Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott about six times now, because every time that I read it I feel reaffirmed in my own faith life. It reminds me that it's okay to not be perfect.

I read Great Expectations by Charles Dickens when I was in fifth grade, and it was the first time that I felt like I was getting a glimpse into the kind of books that adults read. It felt like I had achieved something by reading it, and every time I hold that book in my hands, I get that same feeling.

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami was such an excellent book that I actually cancelled plans so I could stay in and read it. If a book does that to you, you can't let it go!

The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis opened up a world of fantasy and beauty that made me feel like anything was possible. Any time I need that feeling, I open it up again and start reading.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff. It was so fascinating and so dense with information I was delighted with every page. I couldn't stop myself from talking about it all of the time.


Book Review

Review: Faithful

Faithful by Alice Hoffman (Simon & Schuster, $26 hardcover, 272p., 9781476799209, November 1, 2016)

Since the night of the car accident that left her best friend Helene in a coma, Shelby Richmond doesn't believe she deserves to live. Though her physical injuries are minor, Shelby drifts through her days in a state of agonized, drug-addled limbo, paralyzed by the events of that night, feeling both unworthy and unable to start living a life beyond the accident. Alice Hoffman unfolds the slow, rich, heartbreaking story of how Shelby finds her way in Faithful, her 26th novel for adults.

Hoffman (The Marriage of Opposites; The Museum of Extraordinary Things) begins her story in February, when everything is cold, hard and gray on Long Island. The setting matches Shelby's inner life: bruised by her time in a psychiatric ward and shattered by grief and guilt, she hides out in her parents' basement, emerging occasionally to meet a high school acquaintance turned drug dealer, Ben Mink. Despite this bleak beginning, Hoffman gradually draws Shelby out of her deep despair into a life she isn't sure she wants, but comes, over time, to cherish.

Ben, an amateur philosopher, becomes Shelby's boyfriend and her ticket out of their hometown; when the two move to Manhattan together, Shelby begins working at a pet store and, to her surprise, finds herself truly caring for the animals she tends. Visits from Shelby's stalwart mother, the no-nonsense friendship offered by Shelby's coworker Maravelle and her children, and postcards from a mysterious "angel" who witnessed Shelby's accident, also help to tug her forward. The cards arrive at irregular intervals, each one bearing only a pen-and-ink drawing and a two-word phrase: "Say something." "Want something." "Love someone."

Grief and recovery are not linear processes, and Shelby's journey twists and winds like that of any survivor. Hoffman is gentle yet unflinching in her narration of Shelby's triumphs and setbacks: learning to love Maravelle's children, falling head over heels for an unavailable man, taking in several stray dogs, sabotaging her own progress over and over again. Back at home, there are rumors that Helene, lying still in her hospital bed, has acquired mystical healing powers. People travel from miles away to beg for Helene's help, but Shelby knows her friend can't offer the one thing she craves: absolution.

Bittersweet and luminous, Hoffman's novel is a testament to the quiet power of small gestures and gradual redemption. Shelby, Maravelle, Shelby's mother and the postcard-sending "angel" (whose identity is eventually revealed) are deeply flawed and gloriously, achingly human. Hoffman's characters may struggle to believe in themselves, but they find strength--and give it--in their refusal to give up on each other. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Shelf Talker: Alice Hoffman's luminous, bittersweet novel follows a young woman struggling to find her way after a shattering car accident.


Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: NEIBA Fall Conference--'These Relationships Matter'

These relationships matter. These relationships are relationships that matter to me, they matter to my family, they matter to my sons, and I want them to matter. I love the fact that I live in a town that has an independent bookstore.... I believe in our relationship. And I believe in what you do. --Dawn Tripp, author of Georgia, speaking at NEIBA's fall conference about the great relationships she and her family have had with independent bookstores

Along with the keynotes, the author breakfasts, the cocktail reception, the awards banquet and conversations in the exhibit hall, the New England Independent Booksellers Association Fall Conference also provided a valuable forum for learning with its education sessions. They were all, in various ways, about relationship-building among booksellers, customers, publishers, sales reps and authors.

"Maybe the best attended session was What Reps See [Check out BPRNE's online photo album from store visits]. People were sitting in the hall! And the room holds 90!" said NEIBA executive director Steve Fischer. "Kudos to two excellent NECBA sessions. And my personal wish for more attention paid to nonfiction was realized in a well-attended panel that included a plea to publishers to push for more Indie Next nonfiction candidates. Even our first shot at an Open Forum with round tables set up so anyone could talk about anything turned out to be lively and informative."

Annie Philbrick, Matt Shaw, Liza Bernard & Dana Brigham

Since it is one of my favorite topics, I couldn't resist the Customer Service session, which featured a panel of "fellow evangelists for superior customer service" that included Annie Philbrick of Bank Square Books, Mystic, Conn., & Savoy Bookshop & Cafe, Westerley, R.I.; Matt Shaw of Oblong Books & Music, Rhinebeck, N.Y.; Liza Bernard of the Norwich Bookstore, Norwich, Vt.; and Dana Brigham of Brookline Booksmith, Brookline, Mass.

Topics ranged from staff training/retraining to store atmosphere to phone etiquette and more, including how to handle difficult customers (Brigham: "One thing I always tell staff is: 'Think of the person in front of you as your beloved grandmother.' ") or the perennial frontline bookseller nametag/T-shirt/apron debate (Philbrick: "Name tags are a little bit tricky.... I don't really care as long as you have something that shows you work here.").

At Brookline Booksmith, each new employee is paired with a trainer for a couple of days to focus on "all things bookstore, with a hefty emphasis on customer service," said Brigham. "All of us look to customer service skills as we're reviewing résumés and as we're interviewing to get a sense of who's likely to be a good customer service person.... In the end, if we don't have the customer service, we don't have the customer. If we don't have the customer, we're in trouble."

Bernard noted that while Norwich Bookstore does have a handbook, "I found that until somebody's been in the store for two or three weeks, it doesn't really make any sense. So they're supposed to read it, and then go back and read it again." She also employs the mentoring technique for new hires: "I don't just have them watch. There's a narrative behind the reason we do things the way we do," she said, citing examples such as why they hold books at the front desk rather than the register, and why they don't give a title when notifying customers by phone that their book is in.

"We hire a lot based on our gut, and feeling whether this person is going to be part of who we are and be able to interact with customers on the floor," said Philbrick, noting that new booksellers begin with shelving. "We found there's so many little things to learn. We tend to teach them when that incident comes up. All the time, we are emphasizing to them that the most important thing is customer service.... You're in a very public space, and you need to be able to greet people and take care of them." 

One question generated a lot of discussion: Is the customer always right?

"I think the customer is right in that from their perspective they have a valid whatever-it-is, and our job as customer service providers is to try and get into their head or their heart or their anger, whatever it is that they're giving you, and take it and then massage it and get rid of it," said Bernard, adding that one of the best ways to respond is: "Thank you, I didn't realize this was a problem. Can you say more about it? Okay, I will deal with this.' That's a validation. So while they may not be right, they're valid.... Actually, some of those really high conflict situations, after they're resolved, are more rewarding than some of the easy ones."

Noting that the customer "is right in their experience," but may not be right "in the totality of the situation," Shaw said that "all you can really do is apologize to them for a negative encounter.... And then check in with your booksellers for details."

The idea of store atmosphere as customer service was brought up by Shaw, who observed that "something I always think about in relation to customer service is actually just how the store looks... the general upkeep and maintenance that is so important to how the store looks and feels and, a lot of customers would say, smells when they come in.... That welcoming atmosphere and living room atmosphere that will translate into making a better customer service atmosphere."

"A lot of customers feel this ownership of the store. And you want it to be a comforting place that's clean and light and not too dusty," Philbrick added.

While the patience-testing "parenting styles of some of our customers" can be a challenge in children's sections, Brigham said: "We just go through on an hourly basis... make it a clean, welcoming space again.... That requires quite a lot of tongue biting by our booksellers, but it's important to be nonjudgmental."

Shaw added that "these sweeps through the stores are an excellent way to engage with customers."

Brigham ultimately offered the simplest formula for great bookstore customer relationships: "We want every customer to have a better than expected experience."

--Robert Gray, contributing editor (Column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)

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