Shelf Awareness for Friday, February 10, 2017


Mira Books: The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff

Workman Publishing: Flow

Center Street: Death Need Not Be Fatal by Malachy McCourt and Brian McDonald

RosettaBooks: Gratitude in Low Voices: A Memoir by Dawit Gebremichael Habte

Doubleday Books: Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan

Walden Pond Press: York: The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby

Quotation of the Day

'It Seems to Me There's Nothing We Can't Do'

"Day by day my optimism grew along with my pride at being a part of all this: Part of a dedicated, visionary board while the equally amazing BAC [Booksellers Advisory Council] was also hard at work, not to mention the inspired and dedicated ABA staff, who bend their collective will and expend their amazing energy on our behalf. All of that and all of you. It seems to me there's nothing we can't do. As we sat there at the Town Hall, sometimes angry but always respectful, always visionary in the best sense, as, panel by panel, audience by audience, we mulled, made sense of, found useful nuggets of knowledge or technique or truth, our voices pooling and coming together.... We are an amazing group of people: booksellers, ABA staff, publishers, authors, all fashioning a life around books. I can't imagine a better one."

--Betsy Burton, American Booksellers Association president and co-owner of the King's English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, in her post-Wi12 letter, published in Bookselling This Week

ECW Press: The Dhow House by Jean McNeil


News

Vt.'s Phoenix Books Buys Yankee Bookshop in Woodstock

Left to right: Kristian Preylowski, Kari Meutsch, Susan Morgan, Michael DeSanto and Renee Reiner

Michael DeSanto and Renee Reiner, co-owners of the Phoenix Books family of bookstores in Vermont, have purchased the historic Yankee Bookshop in Woodstock from Susan Morgan. Yankee Bookshop opened in 1935, making it the state's oldest continuously operated indie. Phoenix operates bookstores in Essex, Burlington, Rutland and Chester.

"After 15 years of 24/7 ownership doing everything, including cleaning the toilet, I realized the bookshop needs fresh eyes and fresh passion to continue to be one of Woodstock's keystone businesses," said Morgan, who will stay on for a few months to help with the transition and be available for consultation after that. "I'm tuckered out! Yankee Bookshop deserves owners who are media savvy. I want to see the Yankee Bookshop hit its 100-year mark and still be going strong. I know it can't happen with me as its owner, but when it happens, I hope I'm here to see it."

While a few alterations may be made, DeSanto said there will not be any drastic changes: "We've signed a lease for the next 3-6 years, so we are not moving. We're keeping the name, Yankee Bookshop. Susan Morgan has passed on a thriving and successful bookstore; our job is to keep that going."

For day-to-day operations and on-site owner-management, DeSanto and Reiner have teamed up with Kari Meutsch, their assistant manager, and her fiance, Kristian Preylowski. Meutsch has worked for Phoenix Books for five years and always wanted to own her own bookstore.

"From the beginning, Mike and I were impressed by Kari's ability to make customers feel welcome, her determination to make sure she always did the best job possible, her intelligence and creativity in facing the challenges of a retail business, and her genuine love for books and bookselling," said Reiner.

DeSanto added that the company is "excited to support our local owner-managers by providing both the stability of being associated with an established group of businesses and access our management group. As excited as we are that Kari and Kristian will be in Woodstock as our business partners, we will all miss her pretty desperately in Burlington and Essex."

Preylowski and Meutsch have close to 20 years of bookselling experience between them. "We've both spent our lives working in the service industry, and understand what it means to serve our community," said Meutsch. "Woodstock has a beauty and vibe that we find inspiring. We are excited to continue the work of an existing business that has so much history within the community and the state; both of us have a deep respect for independent businesses that have survived and thrived over time, and we cannot wait to do our part to keep the tradition of the Yankee Bookshop alive for years to come."

DeSanto observed: "We believe that local bricks-and-mortar bookshops offer something very important to a community--a physical place to go to discover and exchange ideas, to have conversations with neighbors, and to gather as community members. It is part of our mission at Phoenix Books to ensure that local bookshops continue to be a vital part of Vermont's communities--and to engage with and serve the communities where we do business."


DK Publishing: Out of the Box by Jemma Westing


February Indie Next List E-Newsletter Delivered

Last Thursday, February 2, the American Booksellers Association's e-newsletter edition of the Indie Next List for February was delivered to more than a third of a million of the country's best book readers. The newsletter was sent to customers of 90 independent bookstores, a combined total of 370,000 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, also includes an interview (from Bookselling This Week) with the author whose book was chosen by booksellers as the number-one Indie Next List pick for the month, in this case Elan Mastai, author of All Our Wrong Todays (Dutton).

For a sample of the February newsletter, see this one from Page 158 Books, Wake Forest, N.C., which just began sending the e-version of the Indie Next List.


G.P. Putnam's Sons: Touch by Courtney Maum


Amazon Adding Two More California Facilities

Amazon plans to add fulfillment centers in Eastvale and Redlands, Calif., to the company's nine existing warehouses in the state. The one-million-square foot facility in Eastvale will handle smaller-sized items, while the 750,000-square-foot Redlands facility will pick, pack and ship larger items. A fulfillment center in Sacramento is currently under construction and is expected to open in 2017.

Akash Chauhan, Amazon's v-p of North America operations, said 2017 "marks the five-year-anniversary of Amazon beginning to operate fulfillment centers in California."

Redlands Mayor Paul Foster said his city, "as well as the region and the state as a whole, have all benefited from the economic growth Amazon has generated here." Eastvale Mayor Joseph Tessari said the company "has helped revitalize the Inland Empire and we are excited to see its growth in Eastvale."


Soho Crime: The Second Day of the Renaissance (Inspector Trotti #6) by Timothy Williams


Wi12: Training Staff to Be Backlist Experts

The Winter Institute panel "Training Staff to Be Backlist Experts" was moderated by Betsy Burton, co-owner of the King's English Bookshop, Salt Lake City, Utah, and included Russell Chesley, Vroman's Bookstore, Pasadena, Calif., Sarah Goddin, Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh, N.C., and Adam Waterreus, Politics & Prose Bookstore, Washington, D.C.

Burton began by calling for publishers to work with booksellers to promote backlist as they do frontlist, emphasizing that indies market frontlist now in ways that "increase sales across the industry," something that could happen with backlist, too. She called for backlist programs that involve "simplicity, absolute choice, and enough discount so we can do the kind of marketing it deserves."

In order to measure the store's ability to sell backlist like frontlist, the King's English did an experiment for six weeks late last year, picking backlist titles from a medium-sized publisher and doing what Burton called "our frontlist shtick on them," which included book blurbs, displays and newsletter mentions. The results were striking: sales of each title increased between four and 20 times, and for one book grew 30 times.

The King's English promotes backlist on a regular basis in several ways. It has a display of favorite backlist titles on a table with bookmarks--one from each bookseller--in the books, often with several in a title. This creates what she called a "porcupine effect" of books "bristling with recommendations." The store also uses a spinner rack for staff favorites, primarily backlist.

Quail Ridge promotes backlist in a variety of ways, Sarah Goddin said. (She observed that backlist gives "a lot of depth and credibility to your store.") Quail Ridge has booksellers share their favorite backlist titles at staff meetings and morning shift meetings, and the store encourages them to choose backlist titles for staff picks, book club recommendations, theme displays, e-mail newsletter picks--and "basically almost all in-store displays and promotions," she said.

The store has a regular, rotating display of the favorite titles of the late founder, Nancy Olson, which are all backlist and "sell tons."

When promoting new titles by popular authors, Quail Ridge displays their backlist titles along with the new "and sells lots of backlist," Goddin said.

Quail Ridge also highlights award-winning books, "featuring older winners as well as the newest," including major awards and genre awards, 37 in total.

As part of its small press of the month promotion that is done in-store and online, Quail Ridge promotes each press's best-known backlist along with its new titles (as well as the press's history and background).

Quail Ridge also displays the "next few months' selections" for its 12 in-store book clubs, most of which are backlist.

At Politics & Prose, attention to backlist begins with employment interviews, when candidates are asked for a list of their favorite books--and interviewers look to hear about backlist titles among those, Adam Waterreus said.

Once hired, Politics & Prose booksellers are encouraged to include favorite backlist titles that the store hasn't stocked. Booksellers need then to support the titles by "talking about them with everyone they can, and writing them up." In his case, Wattereus said, he recommended "an old sci-fi classic" that Politics & Prose hadn't carried--which is still selling after nine years. He noted, too, that the children's department's weekly newsletters always highlight two titles, one new and one "blast from the past."

Russell Chesley said that Vroman's "really emphasizes" backlist, in part because "it's fun" but also because "it's where booksellers shine" and "it get to the core of what independent bookstores do best and what no algorithm can do. It gets you face to face with your customers and engaged over ideas... and allows us to engage most with our best customers, our repeat customer and the customer who buys the most."

He noted that the store assigns sections to booksellers and "expects mastery" of the sections, especially of the core books, the backlist titles. The store also emphasizes employee picks, the store's "best tool" for selling titles, including many backlist books.

He observed that booksellers "have to think on your feet" when dealing with backlist and remembering, for example, recommendations from other booksellers for titles they wouldn't ordinarily know about. He stressed that stores need to "control inventory in backlist" and need to know what customers are asking for; at Vroman's, it's mandatory that booksellers keep track of customer requests, which "helps you find those books you need to order that you didn't even know you needed to have." In the same vein, Vroman's tracks special orders.

And last but not least the panelists each recommended one of their own favorite backlist titles:

Betsy Burton: A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
Russell Chesley: The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
Sarah Goddin: A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana by Haven Kimmel
Adam Waterreus: The Wet Collection: A Field Guide to Iridescence and Memory by Joni Tevis

 


Spiegel & Grau: Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown


Obituary Note: Barbara Gelb

Author, playwright and journalist Barbara Gelb, "who, with her husband, Arthur Gelb, produced the first full-scale biography of the playwright Eugene O'Neill, then followed it decades later with two volumes that reconsidered his life," has died, the New York Times reported. She was 91. The Gelbs published their original biography, O'Neill, in 1962 and it became a bestseller. Decades later, when they were in their 70s, they "undertook two new volumes that clarified some psychological mysteries, dealt more charitably with O'Neill's parents and judged O'Neill's drinking and other self-destructive excesses more harshly," the Times noted.

O'Neill: Life with Monte Cristo was released in 2000, and they had written almost all of a second volume, By Women Possessed: A Life of Eugene O'Neill, when Arthur Gelb died in 2014. Barbara Gelb completed the book, which was released in 2016. Her other books include So Short a Time: A Biography of John Reed & Louise Bryant; Varnished Brass: The Decade After Serpico; and On the Track of Murder.


Shelf Awareness Sign-up Giveaway: The Greatest Story Ever Told--So Far: Why Are We Here? by Lawrence M. Krauss



Notes

Image of the Day: Robb Goes Big

St. Martin's is the publisher of J.D. Robb's new book, Echoes of Death, so in addition to featuring the Flatiron Building--which houses the company's offices--on the book jacket, it projected a gigantic image of the author on the side of the building. Robb's husband, Bruce Wilder, owns Turn the Page Bookstore in Boonsboro, Md., and her signing there last weekend drew more than 500 fans.


Cool Idea of the Day: Browseabout Teams with Cape Bookmobile

Browseabout Books, Rehoboth Beach, Del., has created a partnership with the Cape Readiness Team and the Cape Henlopen School District Bookmobile, which "visits high-need neighborhoods during the summer months to provide books to children from birth to fifth grade," the Cape Gazette reported.

When the Cape Readiness Team's state funding was recently cut for this program and the bookshop's general manager Susan Kehoe "learned of this void, she knew Browseabout could meet the needs of the bookmobile. Browseabout plans to provide new board books, Spanish language books and many other books to supply to Cape students," the Cape Gazette wrote. To launch the partnership, Cape and Browseabout are holding a bookmark design contest. 

On its Facebook page, Browseabout noted: "We are passionate about books, of course. We are REALLY passionate about providing EVERY child in our community with the opportunity to have books of their very own. We are thrilled to be given the opportunity to support the Cape Henlopen School District Bookmobile! Would you like to help, too? We are accepting gently used (or new) children's books for this worthy cause!"


Personnel Changes at Picador

At Picador:

Executive director of publicity James Meader is now also v-p and is ending his role as publicist at large at Henry Holt to focus on Picador's original and reprint programs.

Molly Fessenden has been promoted to marketing associate. She was previously marketing coordinator.


Media and Movies

Movies: The Circle; In Dubious Battle

The latest trailer has been released for The Circle, based on Dave Eggers's 2013 novel and featuring a cast that includes Tom Hanks, Emma Watson, John Boyega, Ellar Coltrane, Bill Paxton, Karen Gillan and Patton Oswalt. Deadline reported that the film "underwent reshoots about four weeks ago, but STX/EuropaCorp is still sticking to their April 28, 2017 release date." The movie was written and directed by James Ponsoldt.

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A clip has been released for the film adaptation of John Steinbeck's In Dubious Battle, directed by James Franco. Deadline reported that Matt Rager wrote the screenplay for the project, "which after opening at Venice and making the fest circuit hits theaters and VOD on February 17." The cast includes Franco, Robert Duvall, Ed Harris, Sam Shepard, Vincent D'Onofrio, Bryan Cranston, Nat Wolff, Ashley Greene, Selena Gomez, Josh Hutcherson and Zach Braff.


Books & Authors

Awards: International Bookstore; RoNAs; Int'l Dylan Thomas

In the London Book Fair International Excellence Awards shortlist, the three finalists in the Bookstore of the Year category are:

Exclusive Books, multiple locations in South Africa
Shakespeare & Company, Paris, France
Time Out Bookstore, Auckland, New Zealand

Winners will be announced on March 14, during the London Book Fair.

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Finalists for the 2017 Romantic Novelists' Association Awards have been named. For the first time in the awards' history, the shortlist includes both traditionally and independently published authors. The seven category winners, who will be announced March 13 in London, will go on to compete for the overall £5,000 (about $6,255) Goldsboro Books Romantic Novel of the Year Award. See the complete RoNA shortlist here.

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A 12-book longlist has been announced for the £30,000 (about $37,530) International Dylan Thomas Prize, which is sponsored by Swansea University and recognizes the "best published literary work in the English language, written by an author aged 39 or under." This year's list features six novels, four short story collections and two volumes of poetry. A shortlist will be released in March, and a winner unveiled May 10. The longlisted titles are:

The Story of a Brief Marriage by Anuk Arudpragasm
Pigeon by Alys Conran
Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
The Fat Artist and Other Stories by Benjamin Hale
Cain by Luke Kennard
The Outside Lands by Hannah Kohler
The High Places by Fiona McFarlane
What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
Cannibal by Safiya Sinclair
Dog Run Moon: Stories by Callan Wink


Reading with... Abeer Y. Hoque

photo: Josh Steinbauer
Abeer Y. Hoque is a Nigerian-born Bangladeshi American writer and photographer. She has published a book of travel photographs and poems called The Long Way Home (Ogro Dhaka, 2013) and a book of linked stories, photographs and poems, The Lovers and the Leavers (Bengal Lights, 2014; HarperCollins India, 2015). She is a Fulbright Scholar and has received several other fellowships and grants. Her writing and photography have been published in Guernica, Outlook Traveller, Wasafi ri, ZYZZYVA, India Today and the Daily Star. She has degrees from the Wharton School of Business and an MFA in writing from the University of San Francisco. Her memoir, Olive Witch, is published by Harper360 (February 7, 2017).

On your nightstand now:

The Permanent Resident by Roanna Gonsalves, an assured debut collection about the Goan diaspora in Australia. Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto, a wise wry Bombay novel about madness. The Sellout by Paul Beatty, only a few pages in, but it's so funny and sharp. The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob, a sensitive, warm novel about families, illness and loss. And the Walls Come Crumbling Down by Tania de Rozario, a beautiful hybrid poetic memoir about relationships and home.

Favorite book when you were a child:

The Book of Enchantments and Curses by Ruth Manning-Sanders--a collection of fairytales and folk tales from around the world. I cannot imagine my moral universe or my character without some of these stories. When I was a teenager and for years after, I loved Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card with its thrilling, all-encompassing underdog story.

Your top five authors:

David Mitchell (a cerebral and gorgeous writer), Toni Morrison (every book of hers wrecks me with truth and beauty), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (my brilliant old soul Nsukka homegirl), Rumi (the first time I appreciated joy in poetry), Margaret Atwood (the smartest psychological fiction out there).

Book you've faked reading:

David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. I started it a few times and couldn't get into it. Also I think I'd need to sign up for a course to read Ulysses by James Joyce. Or anything by Thomas Pynchon.

Book you're an evangelist for:

So many! Here's a few recent books, and some older gems:
Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss: about how the food industry and government conspired to change American diets and lifestyle, mostly successfully, and mostly for the worse.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Katherine Boo's nonfiction book is set in the Mumbai slums, and I feel like it changed how I looked at the world and my privileges.
Island of a Thousand Mirrors: this novel by Nayomi Munaweera is a heartbreaking and luscious education in Sri Lankan history.
Roots by Alex Haley: the first American slavery story I read, and it wrecked me and blew me away.
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck: a brilliant and sweeping story about a farming family in 1920s China.

Book you've bought for the cover:

This might sound terrible but I can't remember the last time I picked a book by its cover! I have such a long reading list that I don't always feel I have the so-called luxury. But I know I giggled when I saw the cover for Amy Schumer's memoir, The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, but that was more for the title.

Book you hid from your parents:

A book of stories simply called Erotica. I used to sometimes read books from my dad's enormous library in Nigeria, and this item was actually from his shelves. I somehow knew I had to hide it (I was about 8, I think). I read it furtively, when it wasn't hidden under my mattress, until one day it wasn't there, and of course I couldn't say anything at all.

Book that changed your life:

Every book I love changes my life. I'll mention the latest one: Shrill by Lindy West, which is a funny memoir by a fat feminist comedian and writer. It made me understand anew the cruelty we mete out to fat people, and addresses many of the awful things that are on the rise today (online/offline acts of hatred, prejudice against women and women in comedy, and more), all while making me laugh.

Favorite line from a book:

"Morning is wiser than the evening." This line is from the Russian fairytale "Vasilisa Most Lovely" from the Enchantments and Curses book of folktales that I loved as a child. When I was younger, I was in thrall to the sexy night, to its potential and dimension and dark, and I hated the morning with all its harsh lit mundane ways. It took me many years to understand the gifts of morning, and the power of a good night's sleep.

Five books you'll never part with:

This question is interesting these days, because you can borrow anything from libraries, save a thousand books on your e-reader, or buy books for pennies online. I've become less beholden to the physical book in recent years, and the ones I keep turning to, in either e-book and paper form, are mostly poetry:

The Essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks (Rumi was a 13th-century Sufi philosopher and ecstatic, and my all-time favourite poet).
A Happy Farewell by Kaiser Haq (a contemporary Bangladeshi poet, professor and freedom fighter who writes witty wise wry poems).
Collected Poems by Adrienne Rich (a fierce and feminist poet and philosopher--essential reading for the heart and mind).
Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed (her collected columns of unendingly compassionate and wise advice).
New and Selected Poems by Mary Oliver (wild and deep poetry, intrinsically tied to both natural and psychological worlds).

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

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. I found this book to be such a complicated pleasure, like a set of nested puzzle boxes, each one written in its own dialect and set in a different world, and this secret refrain running through them all, like the barest smoke signal--missable if you blink, so satisfying if you don't.

How reading has changed for you as a writer and adult:

I was a huge reader when I was young. I'd read the back or the first few pages to see if it was interesting to me and then devour it. I used to read 5-10 books a week. I was obsessed with everything British writer Enid Blyton wrote, and then Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys and Judy Blume when we got American books in our little Nigerian children's library. When we moved to the States, I was a teenager and I started reading fantasy and science fiction, stories about outer space and dragons and elves and aliens. I also went through the entire YA section at the marvelous Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh.

I stopped reading so voraciously when I became an adult, and even when I became a writer in my late 20s, I still wasn't reading that much. My reading had become slower, more labourious. This wasn't intentional, but more a combination of subconsciously trying to see how writers were doing their thing, and selecting books because they were critically acclaimed, or some such criteria. I added more filters to my to-read list that included prioritizing translations and writing from countries and authors not ordinarily included in the Western white male canon. This is all good, but I wasn't having as much fun reading as I did when I was young, let alone how little I was reading.

Doris Lessing once said that time was too short to read books you didn't like, and that, sometimes, it just wasn't the right time for the book and reader. So I adjusted a bit. I stop reading if I'm not enjoying a book, no guilt. And every so often, I browse the old way, without looking at the title or author to see if it's something I "should" be reading. I'm reading more now, especially as phones and e-readers are so handy, and more importantly, I'm back to loving reading again.

Book Review

Review: Ill Will

Ill Will by Dan Chaon (Ballantine Books, $28 hardcover, 480p., 9780345476043, March 7, 2017)

At one point in Dan Chaon's novel Ill Will, his protagonist, Dustin Tillman, alludes to a phenomenon known as scopaesthesia, "the prickle on the back of your neck when you sense that someone you can't see is looking at you." Whether or not there's a scientific basis for that sensation, you may well experience it as you read this murder mystery that's also a chilling investigation of the fallibility of memory and the damage inflicted by family secrets.

As in his previous novels, You Remind Me of Me and Await Your Reply, Chaon relies here on a nonlinear narrative. The story moves from the near present in Cleveland, where Dustin works as a psychologist in private practice, back to a terrifying night in June 1983, when his parents, aunt and uncle are murdered in a small Nebraska town on the eve of a family vacation. Thirteen-year-old Dustin's testimony is instrumental in convicting his adopted older brother, Rusty, but after nearly 30 years in prison Rusty is freed by DNA evidence. His release coincides with the appearance in Dustin's office of Aqil Ozorowski, a suspended police officer who's convinced he's tracking a serial killer preying on inebriated male college students in the area.

"What do you call it when someone can't tell the difference between what's real and what's not real?" asks Dustin's 18-year-old son, Aaron, a troubled young man who's slipping deeper into drug addiction and whose friend may be a victim of the Ohio killer. Dustin, a sometime expert witness on the subject of repressed memory, has to face that question squarely, as Rusty's release dredges up his recollection of the long-ago murders. Floundering in an emotional abyss after the death of his wife from cancer, and quickly losing what little remains of his connection to Aaron, Dustin also questions his self-portrait of their contented family life.

Employing several narrative voices, Chaon faithfully carries out his responsibility to keep the mystery plots--who killed Dustin's family members and whether the contemporary serial killer is real or a creature conjured out of his patient's imagination--simmering in a pressure cooker of suspense and emotion. While doing so, he manages to summon the atmospheres of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood and Thomas Harris's The Silence of the Lambs. In the complexity of its characters and the evocativeness of its themes, Ill Will successfully slips over the wall some would erect between literary fiction and the mystery genre. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Shelf Talker: Dan Chaon's third novel is both a chilling murder mystery and an exploration of the pain inflicted by long-buried family secrets.


Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Valentine's Day Bookshop Sampler

My favorite headline for the 2017 edition of Bookshop Valentine's Day: "Kim Kardashian skips Super Bowl fun to shop for 'Valentine's Day books for Northie' in deserted store." Actually, my real favorite is not bookish at all: "Love is in the air at the Valentine's Day Digester Egg Tour at the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant."

Bookworm of Edwards, Edwards, Colorado, displays VD merchandise.

Am I a cynic? Maybe, just a little, though I'm also fascinated by the varieties of Valentine's Day experience that indie booksellers take advantage of during what is actually the cruelest month (apologies to T.S. Eliot). Merchandising cards, gifts, candy, "blind dates with books," rugs and more keeps the registers ringing for a "holiday" that, as the American Independent Business Alliance noted, "is a big deal for many indie businesses.... Go Local for Valentine's Day! About 60% of people in North America make Valentine's Day purchases each year, totaling about $20 billion."

There's also a political edge to Valentine's Day 2017 in the book world, including the Leaders Are Readers project: "This Valentine's Day, share our love of literature and hopes for a better world by burying the Oval Office in a mountain of great books. In the process, we'll support local bookstores and the publishing industry."

Avid Bookshop, Athens, Ga., invited people to stop by its Prince Ave. store "during the next week to decorate Valentines for refugees! You write it, we'll mail it to Jubilee Partners, a group in Comer, Ga., that has provided over 3,000 refugees from war-torn countries a safe place to learn English and adjust to their new home. #refugeesarewelcome #allarewelcome #jubileepartners #avidloves #valentines #avidactivism #avidonprince #avidgivesback #refugeeswelcome".

In a letter e-mailed to customers yesterday, Annie Philbrick, owner of Bank Square Books in Mystic, Conn., and Savoy Bookshop & Café in Westerly, observed: "As Valentine's Day approaches, our bookstores are more determined than ever to show support and love for everyone in our community, no matter their opinions, background, race or national origin. In this spirit, we will be donating 20% of all sales this weekend to the ACLU of Connecticut and Rhode Island, WARM Center of Westerly, and the New London Homeless Hospitality Center. We believe that this support will show our love for our country and its freedoms."

At Malaprop's Bookstore/Café, Asheville, N.C., where "book valentines are now taking over our computers," a sidewalk sandwich board asked: "Need something for a love? Feeling frustrated with the Gov.?"

Good stuff. And here's a sampler of what some other indie bookstores are up to this Valentine's Day:

"Did someone say open bar?" asked WORD Bookstore, Brooklyn, N.Y. "Come out to Villain for our second annual Galentine's Day Romance Bash featuring raffle giveaways, drinking games, hilarious conversation, and more with authors Sarah Maclean, Maya Rodale, Suleikha Snyder, and Damon Suede. This panel will be moderated by WORD's Romance Book Group leader Madeline Caldwell. It's going to be a PARTY."

McLean & Eakin Bookstore, Petoskey, Mich., noted: "Let's face it, Valentine's Day is not for everyone.... It is, after all, an arbitrary day that is supposed to be fun. If it's not fun for you, forget about it! Lots of other historical things happened on February 14th. The state of Oregon became the 33rd state, the first personal computer was revealed, and the first GPS went into orbit. All of those have a lot more impact on your life today than whether or not you celebrate Valentine's Day this year. Here are some traditional, and not-so-traditional Valentine's picks for you to peruse."

For the Tattered Cover Book Store, Denver, Colo., "every day is a love affair with authors and stories of every genre, and in honor of that, we are dedicating the month of February to the authors we love. Throughout the month we will be sharing letters written by our staff and booksellers to express their respect, adoration and affection for the writers who have lifted them up, inspired them, and propelled them down the path to becoming the wonderful and passionate bibliophiles they are today."

"With Valentine's Day coming up, we thought it might be an appropriate time of year to share some of our staff members' favorite love stories," Brilliant Books, Traverse City, Mich., observed. "Of course, we've got a very eclectic group of readers on staff, so their selections are just as unique. From adorable and charming to heartbreakingly beautiful, these love stories span the full spectrum of relationships. What better gift for your special someone this February 14th?"

Speaking of staff picks, New Zealand's Wardini Books, Havelock North, asked: "How about this for Valentine's Day guys and gals? You can't really go past Amy's succinct description!" And another Kiwi shop, Time Out Bookstore in Auckland, offered an alternative strategy with a balloon that says: "Screw Valentine's Day. Go to bed with a good book."

Ultimately, however, I think Greenlight Bookstore summed up Valentine's Day best in its e-newsletter this week: "And whether you love the holiday or hate it, books make everything better."

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

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