Shelf Awareness for Friday, March 6, 2015

Little Brown and Company: This Bird Has Flown by Susanna Hoffs

St. Martin's Press: Hello Stranger by Katherine Center

Dundurn Press: Chasing the Black Eagle by Bruce Geddes

W by Wattpad Books: Hazel Fine Sings Along by Katie Wicks

St. Martin's Press: The Girls of Summer by Katie Bishop

Soho Crime: The Rope Artist by Fuminori Nakamura, transl. by Sam Bett

Flatiron Books: Once Upon a Prime: The Wondrous Connections Between Mathematics and Literature by Sarah Hart

Grand Central Publishing: Goodbye Earl: A Revenge Novel by Leesa Cross-Smith

Quotation of the Day

Supporting Indies: 'For Our Sakes as Well as Theirs'

"It was in Oxford, Miss., that it come to me so clearly. I knew it, of course. I had known it since I was a child skirted in gingham innocence and trimmed with inexperience.... A recent sojourn to the small towns of Greenwood and Oxford, reminded me strongly and clearly of the joy of bookstores for these two places have excellent independents. In Greenwood, you'll find the amazing Turnrow and in Oxford, you can shop all day at Square Books and its two offshoots--Off Square and Square, Jr.

"When it comes to brick-and-mortar bookstores, what's gone is gone. But those that remain, need our support and patronage. For our sakes as well as theirs."

--Ronda Rich in her Forsyth County News column headlined "The joy of shopping for books in person"

Parallax Press: Radical Love: From Separation to Connection with the Earth, Each Other, and Ourselves by Satish Kumar


Politics and Prose Takes Ownership of Its Coffeehouse

Politics and Prose has taken over ownership and management of its coffeehouse, which is in the basement of the store and will now be known as P&P Coffeehouse, owners Bradley Graham and Lissa Muscatine said yesterday in the store's newsletter. Formerly called Modern Times Coffeehouse, the coffeehouse had been run by Javier Rivas, who will serve as a consultant for the rest of the year while he focuses on building up La Mano Coffee Bar, which he and his business partner, Anna Petrillo, opened in Takoma last year. The P&P Coffeehouse staff is staying on under the leadership of manager Matt Davis.

Politics and Prose plans to renovate the space and expand the food and drink menu. Graham and Muscatine wrote: "We don't have a schedule yet for that but we'll keep you posted as our ideas take shape. So please continue to enjoy the coffeehouse and be assured it will remain a vital part of the store." They also expressed their "deep appreciation publicly to Javier for all he did to develop the coffeehouse."

Politics and Prose first opened a coffeehouse in 1993. Eventually owners Carla Cohen and Barbara Meade had others run it. In 2006, three partners, including Javier Rivas, took over responsibility for the operation and named it Modern Times Coffeehouse. The other partners left in 2009.

William Morrow & Company: The God of Good Looks by Breanne Mc Ivor

General Retail Sales in February: Slight Gain

For the month of February, sales at stores open at least a year increased 0.6% at the eight retailers tracked by Thomson Reuters, compared with projections of 1.5% growth and a 0.3% jump a year earlier.

Retail Metrics cited the "work slowdown at West Coast ports, bad weather in parts of the country and foreign exchange effects to be a drag on February sales," 24/7 Wall St. reported.

Shelf Awareness Job Board: Click Here to Post Your Job

European Court Upholds Higher VAT for E-Books--For Now

The European Court of Justice ruled yesterday that for tax purposes an e-book is not a book, the Wall Street Journal reported. The decision is is another step in closing loopholes that, among other things, have allowed Amazon to sell products for lower prices than rivals in parts of the European Union.

While printed books in France and Luxembourg have a value-added tax of 5.5% and 3%, respectively, e-books--considered "electronically supplied services," and not goods--have the prevalent VAT rates of 20% and 17%, respectively. Since 2012, France and Luxembourg have allowed e-books to be sold with the lower VAT rates, which until this year were available to any customers in the EU, giving sellers a tax advantage.

In January, new rules came into effect that required residents of a country to pay that country's VAT rates.

France and Luxembourg are now calling for VAT rates on print and e-books to conform, and the EU has said it may address the issue in a current overhaul of EU VAT policies.

A spokesperson for Amazon said the company and "many of our customers" support changes in VAT rules as applied to e-books, adding, "The cultural and educational significance of a book is in the content of the author's work, not its format, be it digital or physical."

Solomon Is PEN American Center Board President


Andrew Solomon has been elected president of the PEN American Center's board of trustees. A writer and lecturer on politics, culture and psychology, Solomon's most recent book, Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity (2012), won the National Book Critics Circle award for nonfiction. He succeeds Peter Godwin, who led the board for the past three years.

"This is an urgent time for issues of free expression, and a critical time for PEN," said Solomon. "In the wake of Charlie Hebdo, revelations about surveillance in the United States, international assaults on open dialogue for gay people, and restrictions on press and Internet in many countries worldwide, our mission could not be more clear: free speech is under siege and its defenders cannot rest. PEN has expanded dramatically under the inspired presidency of Peter Godwin and the brilliant leadership of executive director Suzanne Nossel. It is better placed than ever before to remind the world that when discourse is curtailed, there can be no other liberty. I am proud to step in as president of this increasingly crucial organization as it strives to construct a nobler, more just world."

New Format for Children's Indie Bestsellers List

Effective with this week's National Indie Bestseller List, the list formerly titled "Children's Interest" has been expanded into two categories: Early & Middle Grade Readers and Young Adult, Bookselling This Week reported. The Children's Illustrated and Children's Fiction Series lists remain unchanged. The Fiction Series list features 10 titles, while the other three offer 15 each.

"With the creation of these new lists, the National Indie Bestseller List better conforms to other major national lists and creates the opportunity for twice as many titles to be showcased in appropriate age categories," said ABA development officer Mark Nichols.  "We are giving exposure to additional titles with the goal of increasing overall sales in our member stores."

Bank Street Bookstore's Grand Opening

photo: Cheryl Simon

Tomorrow, Saturday, March 7, the Bank Street Bookstore will celebrate its grand opening at its new location at 2780 Broadway, on the northeast corner of 107th Street. The bookstore had to move five blocks south from its West 112th Street location due to rising rent costs. The smaller space and lower rent makes the enterprise more affordable.

In the windows, patrons and passersby can see an exhibit of work by students in Bank Street's School for Children, and greeting them as they walk in are shelves of Children's Book Award winners, Irma Black Award and Cook Prize finalists, books by Writers Lab members, and other themed displays. The bookstore has a dedicated space for its daily storytime and pillow-filled window seats.

"Bank Street anchors a robust community of children's authors," said bookstore manager Andy Laties. "From the days of Margaret Wise Brown and Maurice Sendak, Bank Street has been an institution that supports creators of innovative children's literature."

Bank Street Writers Lab members and neighborhood author friends.

Tomorrow's event, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., will feature readings by a bevy of authors, including Jerry Pinkney, Peter Lerangis, Amy Hest, Deborah Heiligman, Robie Harris, Rebecca Stead, Chris Raschka, Susan Kuklin, Monica Edinger, Carol Weston, Betsy Bird, Yvonne Dennis, Chris Grabenstein, Patricia Lakin and Tim Federle.

The bookstore held a soft opening with authors and the college community late last month, and New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña visited last week to share her views on education, interspersed with her read-aloud rendition of Dr. Seuss's Hooray for Diffendoofer Day (with a little help from Jack Prelutsky and Lane Smith).

New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña at the new Bank Street Bookstore.

Fariña said that in her 22 years as a teacher, "I introduced trade books over basal readers." She was a frequent visitor to the Bank Street Bookstore. "These were people that didn't just sell books, they knew books." She believes "what kids remember about us as teachers are the things we do. It's not as hard to teach the skill of reading as it is to teach a love of reading."

Next Wednesday, March 11, at 6 p.m., the bookstore will host a reception and signing for Ann M. Martin, winner of the 2015 Josette Frank Award (for fiction), and Susan Kuklin, winner of the 2015 Flora Straus Award (for nonfiction), on the eve of the Bank Street Children's Book Awards ceremony, to be held on March 12 at 9:30 a.m.

G.L.O.W. - Galley Love of the Week
Be the first to have an advance copy!
The Wisdom of Morrie:
Living and Aging Creatively and Joyfully
by Morrie Schwartz, edited by Rob Schwartz
GLOW: Blackstone Publishing: The Wisdom of Morrie: Living and Aging Creatively and Joyfully by Morrie Schwartz, edited by Rob Schwartz

Twenty-five years ago, Mitch Albom immortalized his former college professor in Tuesdays with Morrie, the blockbuster memoir that shared Morrie Schwartz's profound insights about life as he was dying of ALS. In The Wisdom of Morrie, Rob Schwartz, Morrie's son, resurrects his father's voice, sharing Morrie's philosophical wisdom and humor about the aging process--what can be an emboldening period filled with meaning and purpose. "This book is invaluable to anyone interested in improving their quality of life," says Rick Bleiweiss, head of new business development at Blackstone Publishing. "Readers who enjoy[ed] The Last Lecture and When Breath Becomes Air will expand their awareness and find new ideas and insights into living more fully." Schwartz's musings are timeless, and inspirational for readers of all ages. --Kathleen Gerard

(Blackstone Publishing, $25.99 hardcover, 9798200813452,
April 18, 2023)


Shelf vetted, publisher supported


Image of the Day: Whatcom Reads

Daniel James Brown, author of The Boys in the Boat, was the featured author for the 2015 Whatcom Reads countywide reading and discussion program; Village Books in Bellingham, Wash., is a community partner. (Authors in previous years include Sherman Alexie, Tobias Wolff, Jim Lynch, Elizabeth George, David Guterson and Cheryl Strayed.) More than 950 people attended "An Evening with Daniel James Brown" at the Mount Baker Theater, and some 200 enjoyed his afternoon book talk, among other program events. Ruth Ozeki will be the 2016 Whatcom Reads author, for her book A Tale for the Time Being.

Here, Brown narrates a clip from Leni Riefenstahl's film Olympia, showing the final 8-oar race at the Olympics in Berlin in 1936.

Happy 35th Birthday, the Bookshelf/Hidden Closet!

The Bookshelf/Hidden Closet, McPherson, Kans., celebrated 35 years in business last Sunday. The Sentinel reported that owner Linda Rounds "took over and expanded" Ackley's Bookstore on March 1, 1980, and changed the name to the Bookshelf in 1981. In 2009, she moved to her current location at 206 N. Main St. and added the Hidden Closet, a consignment shop.

"Through the years, Rounds has prided herself in providing excellent customer service to her clients," the Sentinel wrote. "She has championed Kansas writers, hosting many book signings at her store through the years."

GBO Picks Blood Brothers

The German Book Office New York has chosen Blood Brothers by Ernst Haffner, translated by Michael Hofmann (Other Press, $14.95, 9781590517048) as its March Book of the Month.

Originally published in 1932 and then suppressed a year later by the Nazis, Blood Brothers became a surprise international hit when it was republished in Germany in 2013. The GBO said, "Told in stark, unsparing detail, Haffner's story deftly narrates how the blood brothers move from one petty crime to the next in a desperate bid to survive. They spend their nights in underground bars and makeshift hostels, struggling together to live on despite the harsh realities of gang life, and all the while trying to maintain some kind of moral code. They find in one another the legitimacy that greater society denies them, as they chase the evasive joy of a warm meal or cigarette through monotonous days and debaucherous nights. As well as painting a portrait of the very specific experiences of young men in Berlin prior to World War II, the novel takes a surprisingly contemporary critical look at the impact of the city on the individual, the inescapable effects of poverty, and the inadequacies of the legal system."

Ernst Haffner was a journalist and social worker. In the 1940s, all records of Haffner disappeared. His fate during World War II remains unknown. Blood Brothers was his only known novel.

Hofmann has translated the works of many writers, including Franz Kafka, Joseph Roth, Peter Stamm and Peter Stephan Jungk. He is the author of several books of poems and a book of essays, Behind the Lines, and is the editor of the anthology Twentieth-Century German Poetry.

Personnel Changes at Scribner, 57th Street Books

At Scribner, Kara Watson has been promoted to editor/associate marketing director. She has been senior marketing manager and associate editor and joined the imprint in 2006 as publishing associate. In a memo to staff, publisher Nan Graham said that Watson's "dual title represents her dual talents: she has an innovative, resourceful, agile marketing mind and she is a superb, authoritative editor and ally for writers."


Kevin Elliott has joined the 57th Street Books branch of the Seminary Co-op Bookstores in Chicago as manager. He has more than a dozen years of experience in the book industry, most recently as store manager of Open Books.

Book Trailer of the Day: Cat Out of Hell

Cat Out of Hell: A Novel by Lynn Truss (Melville House), a trailer that features a fake investigative news report shot at the Meow Parlour, which is the cat cafe located on Hester Street in New York City. In it, some very cute Cats Rights Activists protest the book, because it portrays cats as evil--until the author herself arrives to quell their anger.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Robert Putnam on NPR's Weekend Edition

Tomorrow on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered: Antonio Ruiz-Camacho, author of Barefoot Dogs: Stories (Scribner, $23, 9781476784960).


Tomorrow on NPR's Weekend Edition: Robert Putnam, author of Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis (Simon & Schuster, $28, 9781476769899).


Sunday on OWN's Super Soul Sunday: Pico Iyer, author of The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere (Simon & Schuster/TED, $14.99, 9781476784724). 

Now Playing in Ann Arbor: Noir Movies & Books

A weekly series of classic noir movies based on books is currently running at the Michigan Theater, an 87-year-old Ann Arbor landmark, in partnership with Nicola's Books bookstore. On average, 170 viewers have attended screenings every Monday since January 12, beginning with The Maltese Falcon (adapted from Dashiell Hammett's novel), and planned to run until April 27. Nicola's Books sells copies of each film's book inspiration (assuming they're still in print) and other noir titles at every show.

The idea for the series came to Nicola's Books event manager Lynn Pellerito Riehl during a Michigan Theater screening of The Godfather. "Before screenings, they play the theater's original Barton pipe organ and the organist played the theme song to the 1944 noir film Laura," Riehl said. "I love that film and the first thought that popped into my mind was, wouldn't it be great to see that film, then that morphed into wouldn't it be great to have a film noir series that was based on noir novels."

Two years later, Riehl and Michigan Theater senior programmer Brian Hunter created Noir: Seventeen Stories of Sex, Suspense and Murder. "We're excited to offer this series and hope to give viewers the opportunity to step back in time and see these classic films in the setting they were originally shown, a real movie house," said Hunter. "Nicola's partnership offers a great way for film goers to appreciate the original source from which the screenplay was adapted."

The series has been a boon for Nicola's. "We are selling books at both the theater and the bookstore," Riehl said. "I hear a lot of people talking about Nicola's Books and how they shop there and when someone is looking at a book, but you can tell they just are not sure if they want to buy it, I tell them that we have the exact same titles at the store, so they could always buy it there--one time the customer said, 'Oh great, I have an order to pick up tomorrow so I will do it then.' The goodwill and exposure that we are getting from this series is priceless and it is really exciting to be part of something that has a real buzz going on in the community."

Nicola's and the Michigan Theater are no strangers to successful partnerships. "We have a long standing relationship with them and have done many large scale author events with them too (Neil Gaiman, Malcolm Gladwell, Anthony Bourdain to name a few) as well as sponsor the Not Just For Kids series (live performances of childhood favorite books and characters), where we also sell books," said Riehl. "They are our go-to venue when we have a possible large event."

She hopes to have another film series with the Theater, "another noir series, maybe foreign films," with tentative planning underway for this summer. "We are currently discussing doing a screening of To Kill a Mockingbird and the documentary Hey Boo in July when Go Set a Watchman comes out."

In addition to booksellers from Nicola's Books, the Michigan Theater invites film experts to speak before each show. Next Monday's movie, 1947's The Lady from Shanghai starring Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth, based on the 1938 novel If I Die Before I Wake by Sherwood King, will be introduced by University of Michigan Screen Arts and Cultures field librarian Phil Hallman. --Tobias Mutter

Books & Authors

Awards: Blue Peter; Kitschies; Ted Hughes

Winners of this year's Blue Peter Book Awards, "which celebrate the best authors, most creative illustrators and the greatest reads for children," are The Spy Who Loved School Dinners by Pamela Butchart, illustrated by Thomas Flintham (best story); and The Silly Book of Side-Splitting Stuff by Andy Seed, illustrated by Scott Garrett (best book with facts). 


Winners were announced for the Kitschies, which honor "the year's most progressive, intelligent and entertaining works that contain elements of the speculative or fantastic." Andrew Smith won the £1,000 (about $1,525.) Red Tentacle award for his YA novel Grasshopper Jungle. The Golden Tentacle for a debut novel went to Hermione Eyre's Viper Wine; the Inky Tentacle (cover) to Glenn O'Neill for Nick Harkaway's Tigerman; the inaugural Invisible Tentacle for "natively digital fiction" to Cardboard Computer for its game Kentucky Route Zero: Act III; and the Black Tentacle, a judges' discretionary award, to children's illustrator and writer Sarah McIntyre "for her outstanding support of genre literature and her fellow artists." They each received £500 (about $762).


A shortlist was unveiled for the Poetry Society's £5,000 (about $7,625) Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry, which "seeks to recognize excellence in new poetry and highlight exciting and outstanding contributions made by poets to our cultural life in 2014." The winner will be announced April 2. The shortlisted titles are:

Telling Tales by Patience Agbabi
Over the Moon by Imtiaz Dharker
Imagined Sons by Carrie Etter
Coming Home by Andrew Motion
Tithonus by Alice Oswald

Book Brahmin: Samuél L. Barrantes

Samuél L. Barrantes grew up in North Carolina and fell in love with Paris, France, where he has lived since 2010. Slim and the Beast (Inkshares, February 3, 2015) is his first novel, the narrator, based on Sam Elliott's cowboy in the The Big Lebowski, recounts the story of the Beast, a college basketball star with a proclivity for cooking; Slim, a disillusioned war veteran with a brutal neck scar; and Sgt. Dykes, a maniac who haunts Lockart's Bar and raves about tragedy and his estranged cadet--Slim. 

On your nightstand now:

I'm always a fan of reading fiction and nonfiction at the same time, and usually have a short paperback that can fit in my pocket for the metro. The rule of three is a great rule in life, so I'm slogging through David Foster Wallace's The Pale King for the second time (on the first attempt I only got through 300 pages). I've just started Christopher Clark's The Sleepwalkers, which has blown a lot of historians' faces off apparently. And I am rereading Steven Pressfield's The War of Art for the fourth or fifth time (I always reread this book before starting a new project).

Favorite book when you were a child:

Shel Silverstein's Falling Up was always a favorite of mine, hence my hilarious second-grade attempt at a book of poetry--Funk Backwards--which made no sense at all either then or now.

Your top five authors:

J.K. Rowling (there, I said it): I have never been more lost in a fictional world than with Harry Potter. David Foster Wallace: his essays are shockingly well written, and even if his fiction takes work, it's the most rewarding I've ever read. Viktor Frankl: his philosophy changed the way I approach the world. Dave Eggers: his journalistic approach to novels changed the way I think about the relationship between fiction and nonfiction. Finally, Gary Larson: I remember being oddly excited to go to the dentist's office as a kid because there were multiple collections of The Far Side in the waiting room.

Book you've faked reading:

I can't say I've ever faked reading a book--it seems silly and obnoxious and sad at the same time. Fake-reading a book defeats the point of reading in the first place, and it makes you feel and look like a jackass in the long run.

Book you're an evangelist for:

As far as nonfiction goes, Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. It's the least pretentious and most human book I've ever read. Also, everyone should read Steven Pressfield's The War of Art. For fiction, it's tough because fiction is so subjective. Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay comes to mind, but I don't think you can evangelize for something that is inherently subjective; that "click" you feel with a great work can only come from the inside.

Book that changed your life:

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace. This was the book that got me into writing, and it helped me realize that philosophy doesn't have to be independent from fiction. Philosophy is simply dialogue (at least according to Plato) and the structure of the "interviews" is genius in my opinion. When he isn't showing off and goading you into reading with a dictionary, there's no comparison for DFW's ability to use prose to reveal something fundamental about the human condition.

Favorite line from a book:

There are far too many, of course--I always read with a pen and put all of my favorite lines in a Word document for reference. I also believe that if you write the same sentences that Steinbeck or Vonnegut first penned--like playing an Oscar Peterson piano solo over and over again--somehow osmosis will get the juices going. In any case, this line from Dave Eggers's A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius has stuck with me throughout the years:

"I like the dark part of the night, after midnight and before four-thirty, when it's hollow, when ceilings are harder and farther away. Then I can breathe, and can think while others are sleeping, in a way can stop time, can have it so--this has always been my dream--so that while everyone else is frozen, I can work busily about them, doing whatever it is that needs to be done, like the elves who make the shoes while children sleep."

Which character you most relate to:

Oh, boy. That's like asking, "What's your favorite song?" I'm going to have to go with Kramer from Seinfeld, and I'll let the reader decide what that suggests. It's true, Seinfeld isn't a book, but it's an interesting assumption that writers most relate to characters in novels. Paintings and songs and all other art have "character," too--there's a painting by René Magritte, for example,called The Empire of Lights that I feel much more connected to than any character in a novel. Since this is about books, however, I'll play ball and say Hans, the protagonist in Andrés Neuman's outstanding Traveler of the Century.

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

Nonfiction: Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. I would like to know what life felt like before discovering his theory of "the will to meaning."

Fiction: J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. It was in the third book of the series that something shifted for me, when I realized Harry Potter was no longer (and could no longer be) a simplistic fantasy series. I had one of those "Oh, boy, here we go" moments, and that feeling is awesome.

Book Review

Review: Prayers for the Living

Prayers for the Living by Alan Cheuse (Fig Tree, $15.95 trade paper, 9781941493007, March 17, 2015)

The new publishing house Fig Tree Books, whose stated mission is to "chronicle and enlighten the unique American Jewish Experience," has revised and reissued NPR critic Alan Cheuse's 1986 novel The Grandmothers' Club as Prayers for the Living. If this morally complex saga of one man's rise and spectacular fall in late 20th century America is typical of the quality of the publisher's titles, its future is promising.

Minnie Bloch, who provides the novel's voice, isn't the typical narrator, and her son, Manny Bloch, isn't the typical Reform rabbi. Immigrants to the Lower East Side in the 1930s, their lives are upended by a tragedy that propels Manny into the rabbinate and simultaneously connects him with the woman who will become his wife. Through her family he becomes involved in a business career that for a time he pursues alongside his religious duties, but that ultimately seduces this man who had a "calling for one kind of life and a yen for another kind of life" to become someone "slipping out of one life like a snake from its skin and taking on another."

Cheuse's novel is based on the story of Eli Black, a rabbi turned businessman who became enmeshed in scandal in the 1970s, when he was accused of bribing Honduran government officials to benefit his business, United Brands. But Cheuse (A Trance After Breakfast and Other Passages) is less interested in the precise details of that story, or the intricacies of Manny's business machinations, than he is in considering how idealism and integrity can give way under the pressure of pursuing outsized financial rewards.

Though this wouldn't be a Jewish mother's narrative without the occasional "oi," one of Cheuse's signal achievements is his avoidance of caricature in the way he captures Minnie's distinctive voice--a blend of pride, worry and ultimately deep sorrow--as she chronicles the unraveling of her beloved son's world. In spooling out this tale to an audience that includes, at various points, her friends and fellow bubbies, along with her son's mistress (a Holocaust survivor), she's keenly attuned to the toll the drive for success inflicts not only on Manny but on his troubled wife and rebellious daughter. She's a capable storyteller, effectively employing foreshadowing and even a dash of magical realism that evokes the work of Bernard Malamud.

While all of its principal characters are contemporary American Jews, Prayers for the Living possesses the feel of a Greek tragedy. Readers share Minnie's apprehension as the story marches toward its seemingly preordained conclusion, hoping for a different ending while knowing one is impossible. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Shelf Talker: This revised version of Alan Cheuse's 1986 novel The Grandmothers' Club is the powerful saga of a rabbi turned businessman's rise and spectacular fall.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Help Wanted--A Bookseller's Reality Check

How did you get your first bookselling job? In 1992, I answered a small classified ad that said a position was available (in a bookstore 30 miles away) and applications were being accepted. I knew how to be a bookstore customer, but had no idea what being a bookseller might entail. Naturally, I applied.

Perhaps that blind tumble into booksellerdom is why I loved a Help Wanted notice that hit my e-mail inbox Wednesday. It was part of an e-newsletter from the Twig Book Shop, San Antonio, Tex., and store manager Claudia Maceo. I immediately knew it was worth sharing. Here's the ad:


Able-bodied, book smart, people-friendly, industrious, technologically savvy, part-time employee willing to work for peanuts and a few perks.

Book-selling is hard! If you are not ringing up sales for customers, you are researching titles and authors for customer requests, dusting shelves, mopping floors, shelving and alphabetizing books, calling customers, sleuthing the whereabouts of elusive books, moving heavy (35-50 lb.) boxes of books, arranging cards and envelopes, and setting up chairs for author events.

Sometimes you even go to offsite sales where you must not only find the location, but you must lug books in to the site, conduct sales involving making change from a cash box, and then repack the remaining books to lug back to the store. Once back, the sales must be reported and books accounted for.

After all that (and more), you end up spending your meager wages on books that you cannot possibly live without and at the fabulous restaurants and other fabulous retail establishments that continue to spring up at Pearl.  

If I have not burst your romanticized bubble of a bookseller's life, please e-mail me your resume.... I will e-mail you back regarding the possibility of an interview.  

Hiring soon!

Claudia Maceo

I had to know more, so I asked Maceo what inspired her to craft the best bookseller Help Wanted ad I've ever seen. She replied that her first bookselling job, like mine, had come from a more standard classified: "That is pretty much the kind of e-mail I responded to about six and a half years ago, when I had retired from teaching. Our sister store, Viva Bookstore, e-mailed that they were accepting applications, and I responded. The manager had not been very specific and had received a huge number of applicants. It was the memory of her being overwhelmed that motivated me to make it realistic enough to deter the curmudgeonly, the faint of heart and weak in muscle."
Making the real job of bookselling irresistible meant a preemptive strike against naiveté. "As you are aware, many people still cling to the image of a bookseller sitting at the counter reading. Ha!" Maceo said. "My intent was also to educate about the complexity of the a bookseller's life in this day and age of bookselling. Again, as you know, bookselling is not like other kinds of retail. Can you imagine posting the bottom line of our need to hire in a more serious tone? We would attract the people who would expect to sit at the counter reading.

"On the other side of this Help Wanted ad, I have also beefed up our application process. During Winter Institute, I attended a session on customer service that gave me some concrete ideas about starting with the application process in hiring people who innately have good customer service skills. The presenters were from Malaprop's, Tattered Cover and Elliott Bay bookstores. Much thanks go to these bookselling goddesses."

I wondered what she would consider the prime attributes of an "ideal" bookseller--acknowledging, of course, that we're by definition quirky individuals with a pronounced tendency not to fit any molds.

"Hyper-attentive to details, like where books might be (emphasis on might), while being interrupted and always being cheerful and accommodating," Maceo replied. "We must be an agile, curious, inquiring, resourceful bunch who are ever ready to share our creativity. I used to pray that God not put me in retail. I really do not enjoy shopping. Well, God no doubt wears that omniscient smile now with a gotcha wink as I enjoy my retirement job as a bookseller, and a manager at that!"

Finally, I asked her whether there are specific booksellers nationally she looks to for inspiration or guidance. Maceo's response strikes a familiar chord for most of us: "Of course, my cohorts in the Mountains and Plains Independent Bookselling Association are my go-to resource people most often, but that is one of the amazing things at the national level. Always, every time, there are complete strangers who are willing to stop and share their experiences and wisdom."

Sounds like a great job to me. --Robert Gray, contributing editor (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)

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