With just over two weeks to go until Christmas and the start of Hanukkah, the holiday shopping season is in full swing, and booksellers from around the country report here on what's been selling, what hasn't, and whether the 2016 presidential election has had an effect on sales.
University Book Store in Seattle, Wash., has been in the thick of the holiday selling season since Thanksgiving. Pam Cady, manager of the general book department, said that things were "eerily quiet on the book front" for a few weeks before the election and for a couple of days immediately afterward, but now customers are back and buying books. Some of the store's bestsellers, Cady noted, are certainly related to the election and understanding what happened: those include Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance, Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In by Bernie Sanders, and Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi, among others. Cady also reported a large amount of requests for "literary fiction that uplifts," such as Zadie Smith's Swing Time or Fredrik Backman's A Man Called Ove, and that Mary Oliver's newest collection, Upstream, and the memoir Lab Girl by Hope Jahren, were selling particularly well. And on the non-book front, the Washington Huskies are the #4 college football team in the country, and according to Cady "our entire store is benefiting from their historic season. Everyone is jazzed."
In Madison, Ind., Nathan Montoya, co-owner of Village Lights Bookstore, reported a strong start to the holiday season. Helped by two weekend events--Indies First/Small Business Saturday and Madison's annual Christmas parade--sales at Village Lights are up over last year. The Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association's holiday catalogue, which the store runs as an insert in the local paper, has also helped bring people into the store. Montoya said that since the election, demand for The Dictator's Handbook: Why Bad Behavior Is Almost Always Good by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith has skyrocketed, so much so that he's been unable to fulfill a special order placed weeks ago. Hillbilly Elegy has been a strong seller, as has Mary Roach's newest book, Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War. One surprise so far has been the relatively low demand for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: The Illustrated Edition by J.K. Rowling and Jim Kay, compared to demand for the illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone last holiday season. Montoya said he's hopeful that as Christmas Eve nears and the "panic shopping" begins in earnest, demand will go up.
For Barbara Peters, owner of the Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale, Ariz., the holiday season has become extremely busy, but in a way that's atypical for the majority of bookstores. The Poisoned Pen is the "home" bookstore for many major genre authors, including Diana Gabaldon, Douglas Preston and Clive Cussler, and during the holidays, Peters is swamped not with droves of customers in store but with fulfilling literally thousands of special orders for signed, hardcover books. The last major event of the year for the Poisoned Pen will be for James Rollins's thriller The Seventh Plague, coming out on December 15. The British Library Crime Classics series, including Serpents in Eden, Silent Nights and Death in the Tunnel, has sold well for Peters, as has The Champagne Conspiracy: A Wine Country Mystery by Ellen Crosby. And though Poisoned Pen began as a genre-only store, it has increasingly diversified its inventory: recently Peters has been pushing Michael Lewis's The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds and Phaidon's Plant: Exploring the Botanical World, while the children's book Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet has also been popular. And since the election, Peters said, she's seen a rise in "comfort books," such as cozy mysteries.
At Oblong Books and Music in Rhinebeck and Millerton, N.Y., a bigger-than-usual Black Friday kicked off the holiday season, with Small Business Saturday and the rest of Thanksgiving weekend being a little bit down. Suzanna Hermans, co-owner of Oblong, said that Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad might end up being the stores' book of the year, while Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras and Ella Morton, has been Hermans's number one gift pick; she's reordering "cases" of it. Among other bestsellers: A Man Called Ove, Hillbilly Elegy, Paul Beatty's The Sellout and The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate--Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben. In terms of sidelines, Blue Q socks are selling "hand-over-fist insane." Hermans also noted less demand than expected for both the illustrated Chamber of Secrets and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay by J.K. Rowling. Though she hasn't seen an uptick in "true political books" since the election, Hermans did note that Yuge!: 30 Years of Doonesbury on Trump by G.B. Trudeau and Michael Ian Black's A Child's First Book of Trump have been selling very well.
In Ann Arbor, Mich., Literati Bookstore has seen surprisingly strong sales this season of nonfiction titles. Fiction and poetry tend to be the store's bestsellers, co-owner Hilary Gustafson explained, adding that it was good to see Trevor Noah's memoir Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood as the store's bestseller for the first week of December. Books on social and political issues have been doing particularly well, including Hillbilly Elegy, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild brought "record turnout" for a book club discussion. Fiction bestsellers include The Mothers by Brit Bennett, Swing Time and Moonglow by Michael Chabon, and award winners like The Underground Railroad and The Sellout. Among gift books, Atlas Obscura and In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs by Grace Bonney and Appetites: A Cookbook by Anthony Bourdain are shaping up to be hits.
Erica Luttrell, the general manager of Chevalier's Books in Los Angeles, Calif., reported having a great Small Business Saturday and an influx of shoppers following Thanksgiving. Atlas Obscura and the photography book On Reading by Steve McCurry have proven to be strong gift books, along with the local-history book Larchmont (Images of America) by Patricia Lombard. As for surprises, Luttrell said she was thrilled by the success of Hidden Life of Trees, and that there was a sudden post-election spike in popularity for Chinua Achebe's classic Things Fall Apart. She added that after the election, there was a run on My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, while books like Between the World and Me, Hillbilly Elegy and anything that helps people "better understand and communicate" have been popular. Like other booksellers mentioned above, Luttrell too has noticed a relatively low demand for the illustrated Harry Potter books, and wondered whether the original screenplay for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them might be dividing Potter fans' attention. Said Luttrell: "It may do better as we get to the actual day."
At the Learned Owl Book Shop in Hudson, Ohio, the season actually began the week before Thanksgiving, with many people coming in to shop early. According to owner Kate Schlademan, bestsellers include the children's book Mother Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins, Diary of a Wimpy Kid #11: Double Down by Jeff Kinney, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill by Candice Millard and John Grisham's The Whistler. Schlademan said that the store's sales have picked up in general since the election, but aside from the success of Our Revolution there hasn't been a surge in political books. Overall, Schlademan continued, the store is trending toward a "prosperous holiday season," and every year more customers declare "their desire to shop local." --Alex Mutter