Shelf Awareness for Friday, January 18, 2013

Basic Books: What We Owe the Future by William Macaskill

Citadel Press: Tiny Buddha's Inner Strength Journal: Creative Prompts and Challenges to Help You Get Through Anything by Lori Deschene

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers: The Baby-Changing Station by Rhett Miller, illustrated by Dan Santat

Candlewick Press (MA): The Patron Thief of Bread by Lindsay Eagar

Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr): Don't Look Back: A Memoir of War, Survival, and My Journey from Sudan to America by Achut Deng and Keely Hutton

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: A Wilderness of Stars by Shea Ernshaw

Mandala Publishing: The Journey: Big Panda and Tiny Dragon by James Norbury

Simon & Schuster: Defend Banned Books

Editors' Note


DBW: Discovery to Conversion

The concept of discovery was one of the leading themes of Digital Book World's programming yesterday.

Discovery plus conversion ("Is the book interesting enough to buy?") plus availability equals new book sales, explained Peter Hildick-Smith, founder and CEO, Codex Group, which surveys about 3,000 unique book buyers monthly.

In the past, he said, physical stores delivered significant discovery, but now there is a "decoupling" of availability and discovery. In June 2010, 32% cited physical bookstores as a main discovery source; by December 2012, that percentage had dropped to 20%. However, he noted, the online retail space is just not helping readers discover books, even though the large players (Google, iBooks, etc.) have spent an enormous amount--$1.4 billion--in advertising to move book buyers into digital.

According to Codex, bookstores' share of purchases has declined significantly: 65% in November 2010; in December 2012, 39% of purchases were in physical stores. However, at the same time, there is a "massive online discovery gap": online retailers' discovery percentage is only 7%, compared to 20% for physical stores.

Codex's surveys show that 53% of people who shop at a physical store go to find new books and new authors. Physical stores sell a more balanced mix of fiction and nonfiction, while e-book bestsellers skew toward general fiction and genre fiction.

"Physical retail works if you protect it. Movie producers do [protect theaters]. I would argue publishers are not doing enough to help bookstores," Hildick-Smith said.

Jim Hilt, B&N's v-p of e-books, noted that the "explosion of players in the tablet marketplace has fundamentally changed the way we sell books." He said that 20% of readers--"power readers"--drive the marketplace.

He, too, talked about the discovery challenge: "There are millions of books and millions of pieces of content competing for the attention of the reader. Our biggest challenge... is that the mindset of the consumer is distracted.... With 3.5-4 million books out there, how do we shift the paradigm of book discovery? Discovery is about interest, not category. What are you interested in? And how do I put those books in front of you?

"So much is new that is old," he said; "much of what we know about bookselling can be applied to digital." For example:

  • Literary fiction = not so easy to read
  • Recommendations from friends make the sale
  • Fantasy readers can read endlessly. They are always engaged, discovering new content, and their behavior is the same online as in stores. "Our task here is to help them sift through content."

Hilt said, "There is still nothing better than going in to a bookstore and talking to someone who knows books. But how do we translate that to the digital space?"

Sharon Lubrano, Bowker general manager and v-p, discussed results from Bowker's survey of 6,000 unique book buyers each month.

  • 23% of all books purchased were e-books; in fiction, 40% of purchases were e-books
  • 24% of all book buyers purchased an e-book
  • 29% of e-books purchased were bought by people under 30
  • 11% of e-books bought were romance
  • 35% of all romance books bought were in e-book format
  • E-books represented just 15% of children's but 23% of YA

She noted that Borders's customers have moved largely online, with Amazon the biggest beneficiary, according to the study. Over a quarter of all books are purchased at Amazon, accounting for 30% of all dollars spent.

Respondents to Bowker's survey also said in-store display is the key awareness factor for printed books; for e-books, it's personal recommendations.

BISG executive director Len Vlahos reiterated a phenomenon Hilt discussed: when someone becomes a digital reader, there is a burst of intense bookbuying activity as they load up their new devices with content. They then go back to more typical behavior: going to bookstores, getting recommendations from friends.

He suggested that we can chart the future based on the behavior of e-book "power buyers"; the typical "power buyer," Vlahos said, is an urban female, 30-44 years old.

"The e-book market is maturing and becoming more predictable," Vlahos asserted, concluding with a series of points based on BISG studies:

  • Power buyers still drive a lot of the market
  • The longer someone is in the market, the more predictable his or her behavior becomes
  • Tablets are overtaking e-readers
  • And Amazon still dominates ("Amazomadominance").


The conversation about discovery continued in an afternoon panel, "Closing the New Book Discovery Gap," moderated by Codex Group's Peter Hildick-Smith.


Though no single strategy emerged, everyone's trying to figure out how to measure the value of social networking. Allison Underwood, senior marketing manager at Open Road Integrated Media, said, "It's challenging to figure out what's working... social media is huge, but how huge?" "We need better yardsticks to measure what is working," agreed Angela Tribelli, chief marketing officer for HarperCollins. She added, "There's been an explosion in the number of channels people engage in"--Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.--"and you can't take one message and spread it across all channels. It's essential to optimize the message for each."


When it comes to discovery, Matthew C. Baldacci, v-p, associate publisher, St. Martin's Press, asked, "What do we trust? Causality is hard to measure." On Goodreads, said Patrick Brown, director of community, the moment of discovery is when a user adds a title to his or her Want to Read shelf.

But how can publishers get readers to that point, and then on to "conversion?"

Baldacci noted, "Discovery is not a new concept, though it has evolved.... If booksellers aren't there to recommend to the masses, what can replace that?


"What we're missing," he added, "are powerful book review vehicles," as newspapers cut back on book reviews. "We need more powerful reviews, bloggers, etc., on line--the role booksellers used to take." Brown agreed: "Bloggers are handselling books."

Baldacci recalled that "Steve Shapiro at Rainy Day Books [Fairway, Kan.] used to put together bags of books for customers who'd just come in to pick them up. They trusted him. We need the equivalent."


Underwood said, "Reader reviews are a priority--affirmation from other readers that this book is worth their time." She continued: "It's important to have relationships with influencers, and it takes a lot of research and legwork to find them."

Brown noted that influencers have a strong interest in backlist, particularly in genre. His example was actress/geek Felicia Day: "When she mentions a book on her hangout group, you can see the bump on Goodreads."

Tribelli said, "The path from discovery to conversion should be a 100-yard dash, but too often it's the hurdles--there are too many barricades between discovery and conversion." --Robin Lenz

Disney-Hyperion: Drizzle, Dreams, and Lovestruck Things by Maya Prasad

ABA: 40 New Member Stores Opened in 2012

Some 40 independent bookstores opened in 24 states during 2012, the American Booksellers Association reported. Five are branches of existing businesses and seven sell primarily used books. Bookselling This Week featured a complete list of the new indies.

"We're here to support our community, support people who like to read, and be a part of the revitalization of our area," said Bill Funderburk, who opened Books on Broad, Camden, S.C., June 12 with his wife, Laurie Slade Funderburk. "We're following a passion, and we're trying to foster that in the community."

Linda Nurick, owner of Cellar Door Books, Riverside, Calif., offers a "a 1,745-square-foot general bookstore with a hand-selected inventory and big plans to engage the area's entire community of readers," BTW noted.

"I knew my city needed an independent bookstore, and I saw that this was happening nationwide," she said. "People were starting to regret, perhaps, the demise of the indie bookstore."

Chris and Gina Jones, owners of Monte Cristo Bookshop, New London, Conn., are off to a good start with their new venture: "Sales were triple our expectations, considering we have only marketed ourselves through social networking," said Chris. "We were welcomed with open arms."

G.P. Putnam's Sons: All I Want for Christmas by Maggie Knox

Bookstore in the Grove Relocating

The Bookstore in the Grove, Coconut Grove, Fla., has been forced out of its Mayfair in the Grove location to make room for office space for Sapient Corporation, but "luckily, the iconic local spot isn't closing entirely, just relocating," Miami New Times reported. A "re-Grand Opening" celebration will take place next month.

Sandy Francis, the bookstore's co-owner, expressed some concern about her new location at 3390 Mary Street: "There's no retail traffic where we're going, so we are afraid that it ends up being a business killer. We don't know if we're going to survive once we're off the main drag.... We're going to do the best we can. I wish I could say to you we've grown out of our space, but we're doing what we have to do. We're making the best of our situation because we don't have any choices."

Francis decided against another, higher-traffic site because she couldn't have continued with the bookstore's café. "What makes the bookstore special is the fact that it is a community bookstore where you can come in with your child after school and have a snack in the café," she said. "You can come in after a movie and have a cappuccino or glass of wine and sit down and talk with friends. That's what made us successful. If we didn't have the cafe, then what difference is there between the bookstore and Waldenbooks, which is long out of business?"

Five Stone Kids Bookstore Opens in Lebanon Valley

photo: Jeremy Long/Lebanon Daily News

Bryan Foster, owner of the eight-month-old Five Stone Bookstore, Lebanon Valley, Pa., will host a grand opening for Five Stone Kids, his new branch in the Lebanon Valley Mall, tomorrow. The children's bookstore and indoor play area occupies the former Club Kid space at the mall's west end, the Lebanon Daily News reported. Susie Barnhart, who had been director of operations for Club Kid, will be working with the new store, in partnership with Foster.

Men's and Women's Nights at Bookpeople of Moscow

Last month, Bookpeople of Moscow, in the university town of Moscow, Idaho, hosted a pair of events that are unusual in the book world: a Women's Night party, held December 6, and a Men's Night party, held December 20.

The idea for the events came from, of all things, a nearby building supply store, according to Bookpeople employee Jesica Dehart. "It was a total gimmick," she said, describing how, after weeks of advertising and publicity, the hardware store managed to draw crowds of people, including hundreds of women, to a warehouse on a weekday night, despite offering only lackluster deals and giveaways. "We figured, if they could do it, we could do it too," explained Dehart. "And we could make it actually fun."

Both the Women's Night and Men's Night parties featured "celebrity appearances" by local authors Mary Jane Butters and Peter Vincent, respectively, as well as craft activities, beer and wine tastings and food sold on consignment by local vendors. Jewelry making was the craft of choice for Women's Night, and free chair massages were available. Men's Night featured a table adorned with copies of Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction: Build Implements of Spitball Warfare by John Austin (Chicago Review Press), a how-to guide for creating things like trebuchets and darts from household items such as paper clips and rubber bands.

The events also featured raffles of galley copies for upcoming books. Customers were given raffle tickets as they entered the store, and everyone with a ticket was guaranteed to win a book. Women could attend the Men's Night party and vice versa.

Both events went very well, Dehart reported, although Women's Night was much better attended than its later counterpart. She did, however, attribute part of the decline in attendance to the University of Idaho no longer being in session by late December.

Dehart, who previously worked with Bookpeople of Moscow's co-owner and manager Carol Spurling as part of the outreach team for the Moscow Food Co-op, stated that they plan to revisit the events, especially Women's Night. (And Men's Night "if attendance holds up.")

When asked what she might change at future such events, Dehart replied immediately: "I would add music to it, make it even more of a party." --Alex Mutter

Obituary Note: Jakob Arjouni

German author Jakob Arjouni, whose first book, Happy Birthday, Turk!, was published when he was 20, died yesterday. He was 48. At Mobylives, Dennis Johnson--whose Melville House has published four of his books--observed that Arjouni "employed all the tropes of the genre that [Raymond] Chandler basically invented. But the element that was all his own was the blistering reality of the socio-economic boulder he put on his detective's shoulders."


Image of the Day: School Daze at Vero Beach Book Center

On Tuesday, Vero Beach Book Center, Vero Beach, Fla., hosted an event for Nick Bruel, whose new book is Bad Kitty: School Daze (Roaring Brook Press), at which he mesmerized students from a local school. Check out the store's cool stage behind Bruel.

Bookstore Weather Report of the Day: 'Stay Home'

Yesterday's winter weather report on the Facebook page for Tales of The Lonesome Pine bookstore, Big Stone Gap, Va.: "Technically, the bookstore is open--we live here, and we're certainly not going out in THAT--but we advise all customers to stay home, pop some corn, and enjoy a good book, perhaps with some nice cocoa. It's a good afternoon for a cat, a fire, and a cuppa."

Books Inc. Bookseller Is Children's Book Author

Congratulations to Maggie Tokuda-Hall, a bookseller and children's department director at Books Inc., San Francisco, Calif. She has sold the manuscript for her children's picture book, And Also an Octopus, to Candlewick Press, Bookselling This Week reported.

"To me, writing and being a bookseller go hand in hand," Tokuda-Hall said. "I can't be one without the other--I am constantly inspired and excited by reading what's current, and talking to kids about books and reading. The more I'm around kids, the more inspired I am to write."

Cool Idea of the Day: Bookstore Brings in the Pros

R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, Conn., is holding a workshop on Wednesday, February 6, 6-7:30 p.m., on How to Publicize and Promote Your New Book featuring two marketing mavens from Yale University Press: Heather K. D'Auria, director of marketing and promotion, and Ivan Lett, online marketing manager.

The store wrote: "Did you write something you're really proud of? Can't wait to start spreading the word, but don't know how? Self-promoting your work the right way--with the right tools--is a skill authors new and old need to learn in this rapidly changing industry. Join our workshop … to learn exactly how to spread the word about your newest novel." Cost is $35.

Bookseller Home of the Year

On his Advance Reading Copy blog, PGW and Perseus Books Group rep Jon Mayes features pictures of the beautiful home of Jamie and Kelly Kornegay, owners of Turnrow Books, Greenwood, Miss. Ah, the joys of living in an historic area far from the high prices of real estate in many other parts of the country!

Haut and Adamo Promoted at RH Children's

At Random House Children's Books, Judith Haut, senior v-p, communications and marketing, director, digital publishing will assume the duties of senior v-p, associate publisher. In this newly created position, she will work with the editorial, art, marketing and sales teams to set the long-term publishing strategy and processes for the division, and will be in charge of the division's paperback program, as well as oversee digital publishing and communications strategy.  

John Adamo, senior v-p, marketing, will now oversee all marketing activities for the company. Adamo's new responsibilities include digital marketing and school and library marketing. He will continue to create and execute marketing campaigns to launch the company's titles and programs into the marketplace via traditional and emerging platforms, to consumers, librarians, educators, accounts and licensors.

"Both Judith and John have been vital and longstanding contributors to the success of Random House Children's Books," said Barbara Marcus, president and publisher of Random House Children's Books. "These expanded roles will allow them to continue to strengthen and innovate within the division and position RHCB well for continued growth."

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Taylor Branch on The King Years

This morning on MSNBC's Morning Joe: John Mackey, co-author of Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business (Harvard Business Review Press, $27, 9781422144206).


Tomorrow on CBS This Morning: Taylor Branch, author of The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement (Simon & Schuster, $26, 9781451678970). He also appears on Face the Nation.


Tomorrow on PRI's Studio 360: Julia Rothman, author of The Where, the Why, and the How: 75 Artists Illustrate Wondrous Mysteries of Science (Chronicle, $24.95, 9781452108223).


Sunday on Weekend Today: Hoda Kotb, author of Ten Years Later: Six People Who Faced Adversity and Transformed Their Lives (Simon & Schuster, $25, 9781451656039). On Monday she'll be on Bravo's Watch What Happens Live.


Monday on Good Morning America: Paul Carrick Brunson, author of It's Complicated (But It Doesn't Have to Be): A Modern Guide to Finding and Keeping Love (Gotham, $22.50, 9781592407699).


Monday on Imus in the Morning: Dari Alexander, author of The Quick & Clean Diet: Lose the Weight, Feel Great, and Stay Lean for Life (Skirt/Globe Pequot, $24.95, 9780762781720).


Monday on E! News: 50 Cent, co-author of Formula 50: A 6-Week Workout and Nutrition Plan That Will Transform Your Life (Avery, $30, 9781583335024).

Books & Authors

Awards: Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation

Roger Allen won the £3,000 (US$4,799) Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation for his translation of A Muslim Suicide by Bensalem Himmich (Syracuse University Press). The judges praised the book as "a highly challenging, yet deeply enriching read in its English translation. This is chiefly due, however, to the immense insight and long and hard-earned cultural and linguistic awareness of its translator. It is very hard indeed to imagine anyone besides Roger Allen capable of bringing this serious book alive to English readers. All those able, even briefly, to browse a little of the Arabic original would quickly recognize the translation as a major achievement."

Southern Comfort: Winter/Spring Okra Picks

The Southern Indie Booksellers Alliance has announced its Okra picks--a dozen fresh titles, usually southern in nature, that SIBA Indie Bookstores want to handsell--for the 2013 winter/spring season:

A Long Day at the End of the World by Brent Hendricks (FSG)
Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler (St. Martin's)
Hope's Gift by Kelly Starling Lyons (Putnam)
The House Girl by Tara Conklin (Morrow)
The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen by Ted and Matt Lee (Clarkson N. Potter)
Life After Life by Jill McCorkle (Shannon Ravenel Books)
The Next Time You See Me by Holly Goddard Jones (Touchstone)
Nothing Gold Can Stay: Stories by Ron Rash (Ecco)
Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys (Philomel)
Wash by Margaret Wrinkle (Atlantic Monthly Press)
Wings of Glass by Gina Holmes (Tyndale House)
The Wisdom of Hair by Kim Boykin (Berkley)

Book Brahmin: R.S. Belcher

photo: David Hungate/Dominion Images

Newspaper and magazine writer and editor R.S. (Rod) Belcher won the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds contest in 2006. His debut novel, The Six-Gun Tarot (Tor, January 22, 2013), has been described as "High Noon meets H.P. Lovecraft." He is finishing his second novel, The Greenway--which the author describes as "Harry Dresden mashed up with Raymond Chandler, The Story of O and Trainspotting"--and is working on a sequel to The Six-Gun Tarot. He lives in Roanoke, Va., where he runs the Cosmic Castle comics shop.

On your nightstand now:

Flesh and Blood: A History of the Cannibal Complex by Reay Tannahill, From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell, Supergods by Grant Morrison, Smack by Melvin Burgess, a roll of pink duct tape.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Two of my earliest memories are of my dad reading me the encyclopedia (Mom says he did it every night) and my mom reading me an Avengers comic book. I loved the Encyclopedia Brown series by Donald J. Sobol.

Your top five authors:

Roger Zelazny, Grant Morrison, Thomas Harris, Robert Parker, Ernest Hemingway.

Book you've faked reading:

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Pretty much everything by J.R.R. Tolkien ("and then they stopped and had lunch and this is what they had..."), but I haven't given up on reading them yet!

Book you're an evangelist for:

Read anything/everything by Rumi. Please. Same goes for Paulo Coelho (especially The Alchemist).

Book you've bought for the cover:

She by H. Rider Haggard. It had the painting The Sin by Franz von Stuck on the cover. It is one of the most powerful sexual images I have ever encountered. Good book, too, by the way.

Books that changed your life:

The Princess Bride by William Goldman. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway.

Favorite line from a book:

"Life's not fair; it's just fairer than death." --William Goldman, The Princess Bride.

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

Neuromancer by William Gibson. Blew my mind! His style was a huge influence on me as a writer.

Book Review

Review: Revenge

Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales by Yoko Ogawa, trans. by Stephen Snyder (Picador, $14 paperback, 9780312674465, January 29, 2013)

Yoko Ogawa's Revenge is a delicious mosaic that concerns much more than its titular subject, as the messy human emotional spectrum gets exposed in 11 compulsively readable tales that become increasingly multilayered and interlocked. Ogawa's style is so spare and simple, so everyday and true, that her set-ups slide past your defenses and explode on target. These elegant, literate tales are unvarnished outtakes from reality, disturbing glimpses under the veneer of life at the inescapable calamities of urban existence.

Every story is told by a different unnamed character. A woman stops into a bakery that appears to be momentarily untended and waits for a clerk who never appears. A shy, lonely girl asks her school friend to accompany her on a lunch date with the wealthy father she's never known. A writer takes a room in an old apartment house where the widow who owns it is growing five-pronged carrots that look remarkably like human hands. A beautiful nurse gets tired of waiting for a married doctor to tell his pregnant wife that he wants a divorce. A woman born with her heart outside her chest offers an unusual commission to a leather bag-maker. A woman gets lost on the way to confronting her husband's mistress. A man checks into his hotel only to find his room already occupied. An elderly woman finances a young composer's education in exchange for his visits every two weeks.

Ogawa's characters are subtle and quirky; they have real-world jobs and notice different kinds of details. Their literary landscape is a precise, polite one until she unleashes her simple, devastating thunderbolts and the stories unexpectedly dovetail. The narrator of one story, for example, is the mother of another's narrator. A dead pet discarded in one story shows up in a garbage can later on. The murder that concludes one story is in the next overheard in the apartment directly below. These are tragedies within tragedies, so that an accident on the highway that slows down traffic in one story becomes the subject of the following one.

By the end, Revenge has circled around to its own beginning in an elaborate spiderweb of storylines, and the reader is left facing the terrifying interconnectedness of life, where our narratives all crisscross and our pivotal moments are merely plot bumps in everyone else's stories. --Nick DiMartino

Shelf Talker: An accidental tragedy and several murders are entangled in a byzantine mesh of interlocking stories in Yoko Ogawa's very human palette of life's darknesses.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Recommender-In-Chief

"Lesson: not to travel with so many books. I bought more yesterday, unable to resist the bookstores of San Francisco."--The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton

While the latest episode in this story occurred last Saturday at Battenkill Books, Cambridge, N.Y., it began almost 15 years ago, when I was a frontline bookseller answering the phone one day at the Northshire Bookstore, Manchester, Vt.

A man's voice asked if we carried any books by Thomas Merton and that question led, as bookseller conversations sometimes do, into a discussion of Merton's life and work. The caller, author Jon Katz, was researching a project that would eventually become Running to the Mountain: A Journey of Faith and Change (the paperback subtitle is "A Midlife Adventure"). The conversation has continued, off and on, for a long time now.

Jon Katz and Red on duty at Battenkill Books last Saturday.

Katz has written many books--Dancing Dogs is his latest--and eloquently chronicles his life in the country at When I learned he would be working at Battenkill Books for three hours every Saturday as the store's "Recommender-in-Chief," I had to stop by. We talked about old times and new. He handsold me John Banville's Ancient Light and Jonathan Tropper's One Last Thing Before I Go.

I wasn't the only one.

"I was very happy with my first day," Katz told me afterward. He had prepared for his shift by scanning the bookshop's inventory and "had a long list of books I had read and heard about." SInce then, the bookstore has continued to receive e-mails and Facebook messages "asking for recommendations apart from the Saturday hours." He invited Battenkill Books owner Connie Brooks to "just pass them on. Monday she e-mailed me that the orders were flying in, and I made e-mail recommendations for her. This is really worth doing."

Noting that Katz "is hugely supportive of the store, and that has let us be creative about ways we can work together," Brooks cited as an example his 2011 book Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die. When it was published, she was able to offer signed and personalized copies to customers: "This proved to be hugely popular, and we still take requests almost every day for signed, personalized copies of Jon's books. We ship them around the country, and even around the world."

Thus, when Katz suggested "serving as a 'book concierge,' or as we call him, 'Recommender-in-Chief,' " Brooks embraced the idea. "He knows how busy I am with the day-to-day running of the store, and this role allows him to share his love of reading. Jon's an avid reader: he's reading about a book per day--and he relishes what all booksellers do--matching up a person with a book he feels they will love. For us, it is a completely new way to involve an author with our store. We've had great feedback on it from customers both near and far."

Recalling his first day on the job, Katz said he "was touched mostly by people's need and eagerness--a starvation almost--to talk to a human about the books they might consider reading. I was aware of three kinds of visitors and callers. E-book readers were not prepared to order on the spot, some people only wanted paperbacks, others just wanted a recommendation for some topical hardcovers. I had to suss out who was who. When I did, it was exciting, chemical really: The Art Forger to a woman whose late husband was an art historian, Little Wolves to a woman born in Minnesota, The Stockholm Octavio to a lover of gentle historical mysteries. It was good that I was prepared, because I needed to be. There are so many people with a passion for books and they seemed so eager to talk with someone who shared the passion."

The Recommender-in-Chief concept "seems to grow and take on its own life," he observed. Noting the challenge booksellers face keeping up with the increasing volume of published titles, he added "it is imperative that this hole be filled while the country is wanting to buy local, as this is something nothing but a good independent bookstore can do and readers--like bookstore people--are struggling with so many choices and an overload of hyper-media."

Brooks agreed: "I hear all the time from folks around the country who have lost their local bookstore, so by proxy, we've become their 'local' store even if they are half way around the country. They gain a personal relationship with a store--real book recommendations and super service, and we gain a broader customer base that helps us to survive."

This is a story that doesn't end, but continues as it began, with conversations and connections, and with the enduring image of Thomas Merton, a mutual literary friend who was also "unable to resist the bookstores."--Robert Gray, contributing editor (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)

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