Shelf Awareness for Friday, July 22, 2016

Algonquin Young Readers: The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhill

St. Martin's Press: Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner

Atria Books: The Summer Place by Jennifer Weiner

Carolrhoda Books (R): Today Is Different by Doua Moua, illustrated by Kim Holt

Tor Teen: Victories Greater Than Death (Unstoppable #1) by Charlie Jane Anders and Tor Teen: Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak (Unstoppable #2) by Charlie Jane Anders

Sourcebooks Landmark: Her Hidden Genius by Marie Benedict

Tordotcom: Seasonal Fears by Seanan McGuire

Quotation of the Day

Indie Bookstores: 'You Get to Meet a New Community at Each One'

"I don't think I've ever been at an indie bookstore I didn't like. One of the things I like is that they are so different in so many ways, but at the same time they are similar: you get to meet people who really care and know about books, and you get to meet a new community at each one."

--Jacqueline Woodson, whose novel Another Brooklyn is August's #1 Indie Next List Pick, in a Bookselling This Week interview

Atlantic Monthly Press: Beyond Innocence: The Life Sentence of Darryl Hunt by Phoebe Zerwick


Another Bookseller Runs for Mayor

Karin Wilson, owner of Page & Palette bookstore, Fairhope, Ala., is running for mayor, opposing incumbent Tim Kant, who has been mayor for 16 years, according to WBRC.

Wilson also owns Latte Da Coffee Shop and the Book Cellar Bar and Event Venue and is the founder of Fairhope Local and the Good Life Foundation, which has donated more than $360,000 to local schools since 2003, according to Lagniappe Weekly. Wilson is the third-generation owner of Page & Palette, which was founded in 1968.

If she wins the election, which will be held August 23, Wilson will join the distinguished ranks of bookseller-mayors who include Richard Howorth, co-owner of Square Books, Oxford, Miss.; Neal Coonerty, former owner of Bookshop Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, Calif.; Eric Papenfuse, owner of the Midtown Scholar bookstore, Harrisburg, Pa.; Tom Lowry of Lowry's Books in Three Rivers and Sturgis, Mich.; and David Gronbach, co-owner of Bank Street Book Nook, New Milford, Conn.

Wilson told WBRC that she is concerned about "irresponsible development," adding, "When you see things that are happening in your area that could jeopardize the quality of life that we have, you have to stand up. You can't be quiet anymore. I thought about this long and hard and after a lot of soul searching I felt it was time. The next four years are critical. The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became."

Tonight the Book Cellar at Page & Palette is hosting Wilson's campaign kickoff event from 5-7 p.m. that will offer wine, beer and hors d'oeuvres and plenty of yard signs, decals, stickers and other campaign gear. The e-mail to customers about the event featured an endorsement by author Fannie Flagg, who wrote in part, "As many of you may know, I love my adopted hometown of Fairhope, and I am absolutely thrilled to hear that Karin Wilson is running for Mayor. I have known her entire family all my life and she has been like a daughter to me. And like a proud mother, I have watched Karin grow into the fabulous, smart and capable woman she is today. My admiration for her is endless... Karin has managed to keep our local Fairhope bookstore open, and not only open, but thriving. And unlike most other small towns in America, thanks to people like Karin, Fairhope still has a downtown."

Ingram Booklove: An Exclusive Rewards Program for Indie Booksellers

800-CEO-READ Change of Leadership

Carol Grossmeyer
Rebecca Schwartz

At 800-CEO-READ, Rebecca Schwartz and Carol Grossmeyer, the daughter and wife of David Schwartz, the late co-founder of the business book company, are switching positions. Effective September 1, Grossmeyer is retiring as CEO and becoming chair of the board of directors. At the same time, Schwartz is relinquishing her position as chair of the board and becoming CEO.

Founded in 1984 with Jack Covert and with headquarters in Milwaukee, Wis., 800-CEO-READ was born out of the Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops and remains the last Schwartz company in business following the closing of the stores in 2009. The company specializes in business and bulk book sales, high-touch fulfillment, and corporate reading programs, including being the order and fulfillment service for the J.P. Morgan Summer and Holiday Reading programs.

"800-CEO-READ is as much a reflection of the kind of company that David Schwartz intended as were the bookshops. David would be proud," Grossmeyer said. "It was an honor to accompany Jack and all the wonderful people at 800-CEO-READ on this journey of regrowth, and I am pleased to be able to pass the mantle into the capable hands of Rebecca Schwartz."

Rebecca Schwartz commented: "I am very much looking forward to this next chapter in my professional life, returning to the world in which I grew up and that my grandparents and father devoted their lives. Working with the smart and experienced people at 800-CEO-READ is an exciting and wonderful opportunity to continue the Schwartz legacy of bookselling."

Schwartz retired in June after teaching English at University School of Milwaukee for 14 years. She had earlier taught for eight years at Shorewood High School.

AuthorBuzz for the Week of 01.17.22

Amazon Leases Warehouse in Teterboro, N.J.

Amazon has signed a 10-year lease for a 617,000-square-foot warehouse at 698 Route 46 West in Teterboro, "as it continues to expand in New Jersey in its drive to make speedy deliveries in the densely populated New York metropolitan area," reported, adding that the lease "is believed to be Amazon's second in Bergen County. The company also quietly leased a 75,000-square-foot warehouse at 2 Empire Boulevard in Moonachie last year." The new facility is across the road from Teterboro Airport.

In addition, the online retailer has a 1.2-million-square-foot distribution center in Robbinsville, a 1-million-square-foot center in Carteret and a warehouse in Woodbridge. Amazon plans to open two more fulfillment centers in the state: a second site in Carteret and one in Florence.

Atheneum Books for Young Readers: Some Questions about Trees by Toni Yuly

Executive Changes at Quarto Group

Ken Fund

The Quarto Group has added three new positions to its leadership structure, including a promotion for Ken Fund to chief operating officer, the Bookseller reported. Fund has worked at the company for 15 years, most recently as president and CEO of Quarto Publishing Group USA.

In other changes, David Breuer, currently director of Quarto International Co-editions Group, is becoming chief creative officer of the Quarto Group. David Inman will be managing director of the company's entrepreneurial business, Quarto Partners, overseeing Quarto's distribution services in the U.S. and U.K., and managing the publisher's joint ventures around the world

Marcus Leaver, CEO of the Quarto Group, said: "Ken, David and David have been trusted senior leaders of Quarto for many years and I have every faith in them to make these new roles a success. These changes all support the next chapter of Quarto's story, which we will fully unveil later this year."

Since its formation in 2004, Quarto Publishing Group USA has expanded significantly; this year alone, it has bought Harvard Common Press, Burgess Lea Press and Whitehorse Press.

Higher Minimum Wages: Booksellers Prepare, Part 2

Shelf Awareness continues our multi-part series on how booksellers are reacting to a range of laws boosting the minimum wage that have been enacted in various states and municipalities around the country. Yesterday, we examined how booksellers in California are dealing with a new state law and several local laws. Today we talk with booksellers in Washington, D.C., about the District's new minimum wage laws and get the American Booksellers Association's perspective on the issue. More next week on how bookstores in New York and Seattle are responding to minimum wage hikes.

In June, Washington, D.C.'s city government passed legislation calling for a minimum wage of $15 per hour by 2020, joining New York, California and Seattle. Earlier this month, the wage rose from $10.50 per hour to $11.50, and over the next four years will increase by about a dollar per hour each year. Over the course of five years, D.C.'s minimum wage will have increased more than 50%.

"We're just trying even harder to find ways to economize," said Bradley Graham, the co-owner of Politics & Prose. "It's especially tricky for us because we're also trying to expand and hire additional staff to handle our new satellite operations inside Busboys and Poets restaurants."

Graham and Muscatine at Politics & Prose

In the five years since Graham and his wife, Lissa Muscatine, took ownership of Politics & Prose, they've been actively working to increase sidelines. Though the percentage of sidelines has grown relative to total sales, Graham said it was still "well below average" for many bookstores. Even before the wage increases, P&P had been trying to expand revenue streams and carry more items with better margins. During that same time, sales and overall revenue have increased.

"Fortunately we've had some cushion," Graham said. "But that cushion is going to run out well before we get to $15 an hour."

Barring any sudden "game changers" in the next few years, Graham continued, he said that something had to give, whether that be a reduction in staff or a reduction in inventory offerings. In his recent talks with publishers, Graham reported, he has tried to convey that despite reports of an indie recovery and growing sales for independent bookstores, indies are still facing very serious budget challenges and the industry is not necessarily on firm financial footing for the foreseeable future.

"It's not just raising wages--it's rising rents in urban areas, it's rising medical costs, even with the Affordable Care Act," said Graham. "To be able to weather the storm, it would be great to have more favorable terms from major publishers."

Publishers, he noted, seem sympathetic, though a clear strategy going ahead remains elusive. Removing the prices from books, he said, is one option under more consideration by both publishers and booksellers. "I'm certainly willing to experiment with that," he added, acknowledging that the idea has some significant pros and cons. "But I have my doubts that that's going to be the long-term solution."

Anna Thorn at Upshur Street Books

Anna Thorn has been the manager of Upshur Street Books since its opening in D.C. in November 2014. Thorn, like many other booksellers, reported having conflicting feelings about raising the minimum wage. On a philosophical level, Thorn said, she is fully supportive. Still, she has deep concerns about how such a quick wage increase will affect small businesses and especially bookstores.

"[The deadline] went to 2020 to allow small businesses to adapt," said Thorn. Though that is certainly better than having to do it all at once, "it doesn't totally change things. You can't completely change the nature of your business or your margins in four years."

Thorn has worked to increase Upshur Street's sidelines offerings since the store opened and plans to continue doing so. She is wary of carrying too many sidelines relative to the store's total size, wanting to avoid stocking so many sidelines that the store starts to feel like "a toy shop with some books."

Considering the high cost of living in Washington, D.C., Thorn was skeptical that the minimum wage increase would give more people more money to buy more books. The increase to minimum wage, she said, feels much more like the city is trying to catch up with the cost of the bare necessities. Despite struggles in the short term, Thorn is cautiously optimistic that this could be a very positive thing for bookstores in the future. Higher wages could draw more skilled, knowledgeable staff members and could help retain those staff members.

Though she has not had any conversations with publishers about the minimum wage increase, she did note that small and independent publishers can be a bit more adaptable and flexible. A number of them already don't put prices on books and allow indies effectively to set those margins, she pointed out.

"It might be a little hard to adapt and there may be some casualties," she said. "But ultimately it's something that could work to a bookstore's advantage."


For the American Booksellers Association, the enactment of new laws boosting the minimum wage significantly has been a major concern, beginning with the bill-writing process.

Oren Teicher

"It's critical for booksellers, and other small business people, to be at the table with elected officials because there is no guarantee the perspective of small business people will even be considered," said Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association. In conversations with member bookstores, Teicher reported, the ABA has stressed the need for booksellers to get involved in any discussions with elected officials regarding wage increases as early as possible. He also stressed that booksellers should not assume that community or state officials have a small business background, or even understand the financial realities of small business or what kind of net profits a bookstore typically earns.

"While many booksellers favor minimum wage increases, I do think there is a consensus among our members that those increases ought to be phased in over time, and that government officials need to also be looking at other ways to support small business," Teicher continued.

To help booksellers navigate the minimum wage debate, the ABA has created a few online tools for booksellers to use, including a downloadable minimum wage calculator booksellers can use to see how a hypothetical wage increase would impact their bottom line; an indie retail fact sheet to give to elected officials and lawmakers; and tips for meeting with elected officials. At the same time, the ABA is advocating on behalf of indies with elected officials and educating booksellers on best practices for building a stronger financial foundation. It's also mindful of the help publishers might offer.

"I think our publishing colleagues understand the myriad challenges facing bookstores, including having to pay higher wages," Teicher added. "And, I believe there is a renewed willingness to work together to insure that we all are operating as efficiently as possible." --Alex Mutter

In regard to yesterday's story about how booksellers are responding to laws in California boosting the minimum wage, Praveen Madan, co-owner of the Booksmith and Kepler's, wrote to amplify: "The current starting wage at Kepler's is $13 per hour. For the last three years, we have also shared store profits with all staff and for the recent year finished on June 30, 2016, the profit share for each staff member was $1.08 per hour, bringing the effective starting wage to $14.08. By law, the minimum wage in Menlo Park is the state of California minimum wage of $10 per hour. As far as I know, Kepler's is already paying a better starting wage than any other bookstore in the entire country. Kepler's is also on track to raise our starting wage to $15 per hour by this fall. We think even $15 per hour is not going to be enough and a living wage at current living costs in the San Francisco bay area probably needs to be closer to $20 per hour.

"Improving staff wages and benefits has been a key driver behind the strategy of transforming Kepler's into a model bookstore of the future. I have been 150% convinced for a long time that the current economic model of traditional retail bookselling can't generate enough profit to pay decent living wages to our staff. Thus the need to rethink and reinvent the model. At Kepler's, we have been working on this for four years and just in recent months we have been quite public about our commitment to get to $15 per hour by this fall."

Obituary Note: Judy Feiffer

Photographer, novelist and book editor Judy Feiffer, "who fostered bestselling memoirs by two fledgling authors, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou and Mommie Dearest by Christina Crawford," died on June 27, the New York Times reported. She was 87. In 1963, she married legendary author and cartoonist Jules Feiffer (they divorced in 1971), who praised her last Friday for her ability to "spot things before other people did. In another life, she could have made herself very wealthy as an agent." She wrote four novels, including A Hot Property and My Passionate Mother.

G.L.O.W. - Galley Love of the Week
Be the first to have an advance copy!
by Jennifer Ziegler

GLOW: Margaret Ferguson Books: Worser by Jennifer ZieglerSeventh grader Will Orser is exacting and precise with his words, which makes the grammatically incorrect nickname "Worser" especially frustrating. Introverted Worser hides out in a bookstore, where he expands his lexicon and finds new friends. Veteran author Jennifer Ziegler compassionately conveys Will's transformation; her storytelling voice led publisher and editor Margaret Ferguson to acquire the title: "[Will] is a flawed character who comes to understand that many of his perceptions about life and people aren't true and by the end of the book, he is richer for that knowledge." With tenderness and authenticity, Ziegler delivers an emotional gut-punch for language-loving readers. --Kit Ballenger

(Margaret Ferguson Books, $17.99 hardcover, ages 9-12, 9780823449569, March 15, 2022)


Shelf vetted, publisher supported



Image of the Day: Happy Retirement, Mark Ingraham!

Last Saturday, the staff of Powell's Books, Portland, Ore., and assorted sales reps celebrated the retirement on July 29 of Mark Ingraham, who's been the frontlist buyer for Powell's for 31 years. Top left: Christine Foye, Simon & Schuster sales rep. Bottom from l.: Reed Oros, Macmillan sales rep; Kathi Kirby, Powell's purchasing manager; and Ingraham.

'Best Indie Bookstores in Los Angeles'

"What is a great city without great bookstores?" asked LAist in showcasing its choices for the best independent bookstores in the City of Angels. "Luckily, here in Los Angeles we don't have to wonder. Our city abounds with a wealth of places to browse and devour all kinds of books. We are particularly fond our town's indie bookstores, each which has their own utterly unique atmosphere and human-scale curated selection. Here are 11 of our favorite indie book stores, along with a staff recommendation from each store for our LAist readers."

Among the best stores: Book Soup, Children's Book World, DIESEL, Eso Won, the Last Bookstore, Stories and Skylight Books.

Personnel Changes at Little, Brown, S&S, Crown

Effective August 1, Jackie Engel will join Little, Brown Books for Young Readers as v-p, associate publisher. She has worked at Penguin Random House for some 20 years, most recently as v-p and group sales director at Penguin Books for Young Readers.


Dana Trocker has been promoted to associate director of marketing of Simon & Schuster. She has been associate marketing manager and joined the company three years ago.


At Crown Publishing Group, Danielle Crabtree has been promoted to senior marketing manager for the Crown, Hogarth, Broadway and Tim Duggan Books imprints.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Penn Jillette on Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon

Fresh Air: Ari Berman, author of Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America (Picador, $18, 9781250094728).

Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon: Penn Jillette, author of Presto!: How I Made Over 100 Pounds Disappear and Other Magical Tales (Simon & Schuster, $26, 9781501140181).

Movies: The Girl on the Train; The Wee Free Men

The Girl on the Train, based on the bestselling novel by Paula Hawkins, "continues to evoke Gone Girl in this latest, steamier trailer," Vanity Fair reported. Directed by Tate Taylor, the film stars Emily Blunt, Allison Janney, Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans and Rebecca Ferguson. The Girl on the Train will premiere October 7. The paperback version was released just last week.


Terry Pratchett's 2003 Discworld series novel The Wee Free Men "is getting a film adaptation from the Jim Henson Company," which will work with writer's company Narrativia, created to monitor the rights of the late author's books, to bring the story to the big screen. Pratchett's daughter Rhianna, who took over the company after his death, is writing the script.

Books & Authors

Awards: Blackwell's Book of the Year; Harper Lee Legal FIction

Mary Beard's SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome has been named Blackwell's 2016 Book of the Year, the Bookseller reported. The U.K. company's employees were asked to nominate and then vote for their winning title from a shortlist of six, which also included The Silk Roads: A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan; Andrew Michael Hurley's The Loney; Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee; Katherine Rundell's The Wolf Wilder; and The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf. Oxford University Press was their choice for Publisher of the Year.

Gareth Hardy, head of commercial at the bookseller, said Beard "has produced another brilliant accessible history title, she brings ancient history alive and our booksellers loved recommending this to our customers. Moreover, she is an author who gives great support to bookshops wherever she can."


Attica Locke won the 2016 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction, presented by the University of Alabama School of Law and the ABA Journal, for Pleasantville. The award "is given annually to a book-length work of fiction that best illuminates the role of lawyers in society and their power to effect change." Locke will be honored with a signed special edition of To Kill a Mockingbird, a $3,000 cash award and a feature article in the ABA Journal.

"I clearly recall the summer I read To Kill a Mockingbird, and wrote my first stories on the back of my dad's legal stationery," Locke said. "There could be no higher praise for me than winning this prize. I am deeply moved."

Reading with... Deborah Levy

photo: Sheila Burnett

Deborah Levy has written six novels: Hot Milk (Bloomsbury, July 12, 2016); the Man Booker shortlisted Swimming Home; Beautiful Mutants; Swallowing Geography; The Unloved; and Billy and Girl. She has also written Things I Don't Want to Know, a long-form essay response to George Orwell's Why I Write and Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own. Her 2012 story collection, Black Vodka, was shortlisted for the Frank O'Connor Award and the BBC International Short Story Award.

On your nightstand now:

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson. For its ideas about creating self, its exploration of the many dimensions of love and kinship. Also enjoying Dreams of Youth: The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald, edited by Andrew Turnbull. Part of the fascination is just reading about a jobbing writer. I like all the everyday stuff about money, editing, moving house, marriage. In one letter, he remembers an interesting conversation with Gertrude Stein: "she (Stein) said that we struggle against most of our exceptional qualities until we're about forty and then, too late, find out that they compose the real us. They were the most intimate self which we should have cherished and nourished."

Favorite book when you were a child:

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It's about sour, sickly, unloved Mary Lennox, 10 years old, who finds the key to a locked garden in the grounds of a mansion in Yorkshire; she unravels a few mysteries, makes some chums and takes up skipping. A magical novel about her transformation into everyday happiness.

Your top five authors:

Hey, I can't do that! Here are some of the writers I will always re-read: Virginia Woolf; J.G. Ballard; Susan Sontag; Marguerite Duras; and James Baldwin. I am a great admirer of Baldwin for the reach of the subjects he took on in all his novels. Of these writers, Baldwin is definitely the one I'd most like to go out with for dinner, and then on to a party.

Book you've faked reading:

I got fed up with the irritating, long-winded dialogue in Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence and watched the Ken Russell film instead.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Playing and Reality by Donald Winnicott. Winnicott was a British psychoanalyst working mostly with children--he asked such moving, delicate and practical questions about what it is that children need in order to be creative and have something to live for.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Picasso by Gertrude Stein. An intuitive account of Picasso's development as an artist. Stein knew him for decades. I have a copy of the fourth printing, published by Batsford Books.

Book you hid from your parents:

I did not have to hide books from my parents--more like having to pretend that I didn't love glossy fashion magazines and reading my horoscope.

Book that changed your life:

And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos by John Berger. Berger invented a whole new form of writing--a blend of intimate art criticism, poetry, love letters, thoughts on mortality, animals, time, light and much more.

Favorite line from a book:

Well, because I'm into Fitz at the moment, this one is pretty darn good:
"In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars." -- from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Five books you'll never part with:

The Vagabond, Colette; The Bloody Chamber, Angela Carter; Civilization and Its Discontents, Sigmund Freud; Beloved, Toni Morrison; Ulysses, James Joyce

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

The Lover by Marguerite Duras and Jealousy by Alain Robbe-Grillet. Both these books blew my mind at the time--deceptively simple, elegant prose and an electric, emotional depth charge.

Book Review

Review: The Art of Rivalry

The Art of Rivalry: Four Friendships, Betrayals, and Breakthroughs in Modern Art by Sebastian Smee (Random House, $28 hardcover, 416p., 9780812994803, August 16, 2016)

Titans in the art world often have titanic egos to go along with their extraordinary talent. In The Art of Rivalry, Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe art critic Sebastian Smee focuses on the outsized self-esteem, vulnerabilities and principal works of four pairs of contemporary artists who form the bedrock of modern art. With an enlightening blend of biography, anecdote, history and art criticism, Smee explores the relationships between Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon, Édouard Manet and Edgar Degas, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, and Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning--sometimes fraught relationships based on what he calls "the restless, twitching battle to get closer to someone... balanced with the battle to remain unique."

The artists were rivals as much as friends, more canny observers of their peers' skills than sycophantic disciples, and often personally transformed by the other's behavioral idiosyncrasies. Manet, the dandy and flâneur, drew the reclusive, deliberate Degas out of his garret into the social life of Second Empire Paris, where he learned to "see the attractions, in art as well as in life, of insouciance, improvisation, and brevity." De Kooning overlooked Pollock's debauchery, violent temper, alcoholism and weak drawing skills to see the value of his exuberance and love of paint's texture. Always ambitious and energetic, Picasso took cues on color and figure from the very successful Matisse, and ran with them in his own original breakthrough works where "sex, death, and creative fecundity were ineluctably connected." Freud's labored painting ("unflinching realism, prolonged scrutiny, a beady-eyed focus on humid, blotched skin and sagging flesh.... You could almost smell it") evolved under the influence of Bacon's distorted figures with their "wide-open mouths, screams, snarls."

Smee's selection of artists captures different eras in the rise of modern art, and he enriches his narrative with numerous references to the critics, gallerists, lovers, spouses and collectors of the time. Without Gertrude Stein's preference for his work over that of Matisse, for example, Picasso might not have achieved such success in the competitive Paris art market. Smee quotes Peggy Guggenheim's reaction to Pollock's early work ("This young man has serious problems... and painting is one of them"), noting that the critic Clement Greenberg's enthusiasm for Pollock overpowered Guggenheim's reservations and a show at her gallery put the painter on the map. Whether rivals or friends, these artists were better for their relationships--no matter how much their egos got in the way. The Art of Rivalry is a captivating story of eight artists at the top of their game and how they got there by climbing each other's ladders. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Shelf Talker: Encompassing history, biography and criticism, The Art of Rivalry is the engaging story of four pairs of modern artists and their complicated but meaningful relationships with each other.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: You're Hired! Prospective Bookseller Quiz

Earlier this week we highlighted a New York Times piece on hiring practices at the Strand in Manhattan that focused particularly on "a final hurdle to enter its ranks: the literary matching quiz." While I don't recall whether I took a book quiz as part of my application process to become a bookseller long ago, there were certainly general questions that probed my relative bookishness. A quick scan of online indie bookstore applications yields examples that probably are close to the ones I faced:

  • Who is your favorite author? Why?
  • Can you name an author from each of these genres: Scifi, Mystery, Western, Romance, Classic Literature?
  • What is your definition of customer service?
  • In the past year, what two books have you read that you didn't like or that disappointed you? Why?
  • What do you know about us?

I was impressed by the questions Left Bank Books, St. Louis, Mo., asks its applicants:

  • It's the weekend and you want to make plans. How do you get the information you need to plan your weekend?
  • I just read Cutting for Stone, an epic novel that spans three generations of an Indian expatriate family in Ethiopia. I really loved the sweeping family saga and the political intrigue. What should I read next?
  • What do you look for in a good bookseller?
  • What are three things a retail sales associate should be able to do?
  • Please tell us about your last customer service experience with Left Bank Books. Do you have any ideas about how to make it better?

We live in an age of online quizzes. Readers are used to being grilled daily about their book knowledge: The page 69 quiz--Can you identify the classic book from a single paragraph?; Name the book titles without vowels or spaces; Do you actually have good taste in books? Even booksellers aren't immune to the siren call of the quiz: Which independent Brooklyn bookstore are you?; Which independent Berkeley bookstore are you?

The Strand article prompted my interest in the prospective bookseller q&a, and then I stumbled across a Financial Review piece that featured a selection of "banned Google interview questions: can you answer them?" Well, no I couldn't. Google's interview brain teasers are the stuff of Silicon Valley legend, but they prompted me to consider some indie bookseller job interview alternatives. With apologies to Google, here's what I've got thus far:

  • If all of the books you own were placed end to end, in what country would the last one be put down?
  • What super power would you like to have? How would you apply it to bookselling?
  • Where do you see yourself in a century? (specifically for writers applying to be booksellers)
  • If you could choose different songs to play every time you walk into various sections of the bookshop, what would your songlist be? Give reasons for your picks.
  • How much would you charge for all the books in the store?
  • If you were to get a book-inspired tattoo (assuming you don't already have one), what and where would it be?
  • What is your least favorite section of the bookstore, and how would you improve it?
  • If unsold hardbacks are returned to the publisher after six months and paperbacks after a year, then why are there so many old books on the shelves?
  • Assume you were hired, but as a bookstore cat. Which book section would be ideal for undisturbed sleeping?
  • If you didn't have to work at all, what would you do instead besides read?
  • Explain why you love reading to someone who hates reading in a way that doesn't make them feel bad.
  • If the inventory system showed a book in stock, but it isn't on the shelf, what is your next step? Assume the customer is waiting impatiently.
  • What do you think your reason would be if you left this job after three years.
  • What is the sound of an author event when no one shows up?
  • Where is the nonfiction section in this store?
  • What scares you about bookselling?
  • How would you answer this question: "Do you have that book with the red cover and there's a woman's leg on it and it's by the same author who wrote that dog mystery whose name is Smith or Crowley or something with a D in it?"
  • Have you ever been in this bookstore before in your life?

Or... maybe the most basic question is still the most challenging. From the online application of Oblong Books & Music in Millerton and Rhinebeck, N/Y.: "Why do you want to work in a bookstore?"

--Robert Gray, contributing editor (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)

AuthorBuzz: Morgan James Publishing: Racing with Aloha: An Inspiring Journey from Humble Barefoot Maui Boy to Champion in the Water by Fred Haywood
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