Hanukkah has begun and Christmas is just 10 days away, and as the holiday rush increasingly ramps up, booksellers from around the country have shared their thoughts on the season so far.
At Point Reyes Books in Point Reyes Station, Calif., booksellers Stephen Sparks and Molly Parent are approaching the end of their first year as the store's owners and are on track to have the store's best grossing year ever. The holiday season began with a great Thanksgiving weekend that saw sales nearly 40% higher than the previous year. The store's single bestselling title has been Obi Kaufmann's California Field Atlas, a richly illustrated guide to the ecology and environment of California. The book is currently out of stock, with a reprint set to arrive in mid-January, but Sparks and Parent ordered the book "aggressively" and in November it accounted for nearly 75% of the store's online orders. Other bestsellers include The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery, Other Minds by Peter Godfrey-Smith and The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman, while J.A. Baker's The Peregrine, originally published in 1967, was the store's bestselling title on Small Business Saturday. In fiction, strong sellers include Tenth of December by George Saunders, Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward and Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan.
In addition to California Field Atlas, several other books have been difficult to get back in stock, including Obama: An Intimate Portrait by Pete Souza, Lee Min Jin's Pachinko and Naomi Alderman's The Power. Sparks said that the store carries limited sidelines, but he and Parent "just got" Point Reyes Books-branded sweatshirts and T-shirts, and those are proving popular.
Josh Niesse and Megan Bell are the owners of two independent bookstores in Georgia: Underground Books in Carrollton, which Niesse opened in 2011, and Hills & Hamlets Bookshop in Palmetto, which he and Bell opened in 2016. Niesse reported that sales began growing in early to mid November, but things "really took off with a bang" on Small Business Saturday/Thanksgiving weekend. Underground Books and Hills & Hamlets were "incredibly busy" every day since then, until a "freak snowstorm" dropped more than 10 inches of snow in western Georgia for the first time since 1993. The storm essentially shut things down for an entire weekend but, according to Niesse, things seem to be bouncing back quickly.
For both stores, Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls has been the "standout seller" not just for the season but the entire year. At Underground Books, which is around 80% used or bargain, a ton of literary fiction has been selling, and the store's antiquarian stock, which is sold mostly online for the majority of the year, has seen a surge in in-store sales. At Hills & Hamlets, meanwhile, photography and art books have been popular, along with children's and young reader books. The store is also located within Serenbe, a small, planned community focused on sustainable urban living, environmentalism and the arts. Hills & Hamlets always carries signed stock of writers who are part of Serenbe's artist residency program, and those are moving well this time of year.
In Boston, Mass., Papercuts J.P. has celebrated its third anniversary and expanded, nearly doubling in size from just under 500 square feet to around 800. Owner Kate Layte said it was "great to have that in time for the holidays," and things have definitely picked up over the last few weeks. This fall also marked the anniversary of the launch of Cutlass Press, Papercuts J.P.'s own independent publishing imprint, and Layte reported that musician Rick Berlin's memoir The Paragraphs--the press's debut title--is also Papercuts's bestselling title of the year. Other popular titles include A Is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara, Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid and Eve L. Ewing's poetry collection Electric Arches, which Layte said was a "book for everyone." Several other Cutlass Press titles are among the store's bestsellers, such as A Dream Between Two Rivers by KL Pereira and Ragged by Christopher Irvin.
Layte added that among the surprises of the season are This Book Is a Planetarium: And Other Extraordinary Pop-Up Contraptions by Kelli Anderson, which can become a mini-planetarium when paired with a smartphone, and The Wild Book by Juan Villoro and Lawrence Schimel, which Layte called "a treasure for book lovers of every age." She said that it looks as though there's no chance of her getting Souza's Obama in before the end of the season, and things are getting "down to the wire" with Turtles All the Way Down by John Green and The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman.
At the Bookworm in Omaha, Neb., things have been "pleasantly busy," with November sales strong from the start and Small Business Saturday/Indies First marking the beginning of "serious holiday shopping," said co-owner Philip Black. In addition to a variety of local-interest books, strong holiday sellers include Obama: An Intimate Portrait, which Black agreed has been difficult to restock; Ron Chernow's Grant; and Sisters First: Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life by Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush; as well as another popular but tough to restock book, Oprah Winfrey's Wisdom of Sundays. When asked about surprises, Black said that there haven't really been any yet, except for Senator Al Franken's "fall from grace" and the resultant disappearance of any interest in Al Franken, Giant of the Senate. As for sidelines, Black said that almost all of them are doing well, with games and puzzles particularly strong.
The Bookworm has brought on extra gift-wrapping help for the holidays, but otherwise deals with the rush by having the staff work more hours. The store also continues to do author events after Thanksgiving, but with a more casual meet and greet format. And earlier this month the store held its 11th annual Santa Paws event, in which customers bring in their pets to be photographed with Santa and all proceeds from tickets go to a local animal shelter.
In Bozeman, Mont., the Country Bookshelf had a great Thanksgiving weekend, with the store's Black Friday sales up double over the previous year. Despite that, owner Ariana Paliobagis said that the holiday rush truly began on Friday, December 8, and some of Country Bookshelf's top sellers are Snow & Rose by Emily Winfield Martin, Emily R. Wilson's new translation of The Odyssey, Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell by David Yaffe, The Secret Lives of Color by Kassa St. Clair and Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich. Other standouts include Chernow's Grant, Walter Isaacson's Leonardo da Vinci and both volumes of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls.
In terms of surprises, Paliobagis said that even though Snow & Rose was in the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association holiday catalogue, which usually boosts a title's sales, it has sold far more copies than she would've thought. On a similar note, Paliobagis added that while she and her staff expected Reckless Daughter to sell well, they "didn't foresee the customers buying stacks of it." Several titles have been difficult to get back in stock, including Souza's Obama, Oprah Winfrey's Wisdom of Sundays and Pachinko. Among sidelines, posters from Cavallini Papers & Co. have been popular, along with mugs made by Meriwether of Montana (particularly one featuring a woman in a yoga pose with the caption "let that s**t go"), Conscious Step socks, enamel mugs from Gift Republic, and other assorted smaller items and stocking stuffers. --Alex Mutter