More on how booksellers around the country are faring at the beginning of the holiday season:
"Small Business Saturday was very, very busy," said Elena Hight, v-p and general manager of day-to-day operations for Best of Books in Edmond, Okla. In October, Hight and her parents, Joe and Nan Hight, bought the 23-year-old store. "It's been kind of steadily busy ever since."
This holiday season is the first that Hight has spent with the store. She reported that John Grisham's Gray Mountain, along with Revival by Stephen King and Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett, have done very well. And Emily St. John Mandel's National Book Award-nominated novel Station Eleven has been selling steadily since its publication. A pair of local titles, a memoir entitled The Nicest Nazi: Childhood Memories of World War II by Christiane Brandt Faris (a retired Oklahoma City University professor who grew up in Germany under the Nazi regime) and the true crime anthology Oklahoma's Most Notorious Cases by Kent Frates, have also been popular. "A lot of people are coming out to buy books by Oklahoma authors," Hight commented.
Hight plans to run a variety of promotions throughout the holiday season, including discounts on books by Oklahoma authors. Although she hasn't implemented it yet, Hight wants to run a promotion in which shoppers get a discount on children's books if they bring in their favorite childhood toy or stuffed animal. "We'll do things like that up until Christmas, just to get people excited," she explained.
For Anne Holman, the co-owner of the King's English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, Utah, the shopping season kicked off Thanksgiving week. "It really starts for us on Black Friday," said Holman. "We do a shift-your-spending week with our local first organization. We're at 15th and 15th here in Salt Lake City, so we do 15% off. It goes crazy all week, and Small Business Saturday adds to that."
Despite reports that overall retail sales were down for Black Friday and Thanksgiving weekend, Holman is optimistic about the season. "We're hoping it's not the case for us," she said. "It feels to us like the local first message is out there--people want to shop local."
The King's English has been selling Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See "hand over fist." Phil Klay's Redeployment and Fives and Twenty-Fives by Michael Pitre have also been selling well. "It seems like some of the books we love the most are some of the saddest," Holman remarked.
Over the past four or five years, Holman reported, the store's sales have been up every year. She hopes and expects to see the trend continue. "It seems like people are buying, and it seems like they're buying local."
At Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee, Wis., owner Daniel Goldin reported that so far, this year's holiday sales are below last year's. Despite the dip in sales from an astronomical 2013, though, he said that the season is going fine.
"We had an unusually large increase last year, so this year has brought us back to earth," explained Goldin. "And while we are down, we are beating 2012. This really wasn't an unexpected script, but it does make it difficult for us to compare number."
The holiday rush is on--weekends began to pick up noticeably throughout November, and December is usually three times as busy as a normal month. As far as particular titles go, David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks and Haruki Murakami's Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage have had staying power. His staff have been "aggressively handselling" Station Eleven and Sarah Water's The Paying Guests. Sales of Richard Flanagan's newest novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, have jumped appreciably since it won this year's Booker Prize, but Goldin noted that it has not seen as big of a jump as The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, which won the Booker Prize in 2013. Two titles from earlier in the year--Shotgun Lovesongs by Nicholas Butler and The Vacationers by Emma Straub--have returned as end-of-the-year favorites. Goldin, too, pointed to All the Light We Cannot See as the biggest novel of the season for his store. "Really, Anthony Doerr is blowing everything away," he said.
Sarah Bagby, the owner of Watermark Books in Wichita, Kan., reported that though the holiday weekend itself was a little underwhelming, things have steadily built since, and the shopping rush is now in full swing. She added that while there doesn't seem to be a book of the season like Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch last year, her store is selling "a little bit of everything." All the Light We Cannot See is a strong performer, as is Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. In the kid's section, B.J. Novak's Book with No Pictures has been flying off the shelves.
"The sales are really spread out," said Bagby. "Whoever's behind the counter is driving sales of whatever fiction we're selling today."
With the holiday rush in full swing, the store's event calendar has slowed down, but there are still a few big events planned before the end of the year. The standout, Bagby said, is an event with Christo Brand, author of Mandela: My Prisoner, My Friend. Brand was Nelson Mandela's guard for many years while Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island. Brand and Mandela gradually bonded and remained lifelong friends as apartheid ended and Mandela became president of South Africa. The event is an off-site one, hosted in conjunction with Wichita State University, and promises to be huge.
"It was the result of an official city visit to South Africa," Bagby explained. "They visited him and invited him. It's a great, great event for this time of year. It's all about empathy and conflict resolution."
Despite the slow build to the season, Bagby expects to be up over last year's holidays. "There are so many good books to sell," she said. "We have a local following that wants to support their local bookstore. More people this year are saying that they just don't want to shop on Amazon, and they're naming it this year instead of just saying online.... Every year the local support is more built up, more in the public mind." --Alex Mutter