In honor of Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year's, Kwanzaa and the Winter Solstice, this is the last issue of Shelf Awareness Pro for the year. We'll see you again on Tuesday, January 2, 2018!
In honor of Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year's, Kwanzaa and the Winter Solstice, this is the last issue of Shelf Awareness Pro for the year. We'll see you again on Tuesday, January 2, 2018!
"I always say that indie bookstores made me a reader and then a writer. I have been a huge, huge fan of indies as a consumer since I was young enough to read. I grew up in San Francisco in the Richmond District, so Green Apple Books was a place that we went all the time, as well as Books Inc. and the bookstore in the Haight, the Booksmith--really, there are so many amazing indies in San Francisco. No matter what neighborhood you're in, there's an incredible indie and I've probably shopped there.
"I think that, like with being a writer, you don't necessarily go into bookselling because you want to get rich on it, and so it really is such a labor of love and passion. I love just being able to enter, browse the aisles, and find something that I never thought I would. And I always had the dream of seeing a book of mine in one of those places, so to have this particular honor and to know that it comes from indie booksellers is enormous."
With Christmas Eve on the horizon and the end of the holiday rush in sight, booksellers from around the country took time out of their busy schedules to discuss the final weeks of the season.
|Gift wrapping at Third Place Books, Seward Park.|
In Seattle, Wash., all three Third Place Books locations are up for the month of December and, according to managing partner Robert Sindelar, things "pretty much started" right after Thanksgiving. The three stores have all been selling a "ton" of Kazuo Ishiguro since his Nobel win, and Sindelar said that Amor Towles's A Gentleman in Moscow has never slowed down since its release over a year ago, making it "this year's All the Light We Cannot See." Other strong sellers include Sing, Unburied, Sing and several other Jesmyn Ward titles, Walter Isaacson's Leonardo da Vinci and both volumes of Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls. Some older titles have seen recent boosts in sales, among them Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathizer; Atlas Obscura by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras and Ella Morton; and The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman.
Sindelar added that certain popular titles, such as Obama: An Intimate Portrait by Pete Souza and Min Jin Lee's Pachinko, have been unavailable and would be selling well if they were in stock. He cited a few titles that are currently in stock but once Third Place Books sells out of what they have, may be unavailable until after the holidays. In that group were Neil DeGrasse Tyson's Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, Kaibyo: The Supernatural Cats of Japan by Zack Davisson and Less by Andrew Sean Greer. Sindelar added that the stores have brought in help for gift-wrapping and working the register, so that the seasoned booksellers can be out on the floor, rather than "stuck behind the cash register."
At the King's English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, Utah, things have been "crazy busy." Co-owner Anne Holman reported that the selling season began on Black Friday, when the store starts an entire week offering 15% off to say "thanks for shopping local," and it has continued to be busy since. Some of the store's strongest sellers this year are nonfiction titles: Davin Grann's Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI; Ron Chernow's Grant; Walter Isaacson's Leonardo da Vinci; and Silence: In the Age of Noise by Erling Kagge and translated by Becky L. Crook. Holman added that she was sad to be out of Pete Souza's Obama and hopes "we'll have some sooner than February."
In terms of sidelines, an Alexander Hamilton-based card game called Deal or Duel, made by the Crown Publishing imprint Potter, has been especially popular. Explained Holman: "People are getting ready for the play to come to Salt Lake City next year!" The store has brought seasonal help to handle gift-wrapping, and last Saturday hosted its last event of the year, which was a visit from the Grinch.
Commonplace Books in Oklahoma City, Okla., is experiencing its first holiday season after opening in April 2017. Co-owner Benjamin Nockels said that though he has no past seasons for comparisons, he has seen increased activity in recent weeks. Small Business Saturday was "very significant" for the store, with sales double what they were on Black Friday, and that momentum has continued ever since, with this past Saturday, December 16, being the busiest single day, in terms of both traffic and sales, that the store has yet seen. Nockels pointed to Obama: An Intimate Portrait, Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks, Killers of the Flower Moon, When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown and Wedding Toasts I'll Never Give by Ada Calhoun, along with all of Anne Lamott's four most recent titles, as books that have been particularly popular.
Asked if the store had any trouble keeping any books in stock, Nockels replied that Souza's Obama was "backordered for some time," but that was the only one that could come to mind. In terms of sidelines, Nockels said that the store carries only one type of nonbook item: candles with a custom scent called Unhurried Wonder, which are doing well. The store is also still doing events, but instead of traditional author events they are now more like holiday parties, sometimes with live music.
For Nina Barrett, the owner of Bookends & Beginnings in Evanston, Ill., the holiday season began with a Small Business Saturday that constituted the "best single day of business" the four-year-old store has ever had. Likely a combination of four factors explained this, she said: one, that the shop local idea is getting more and more traction; two, that after a few years of trial and error Barrett has figured out the best type of events for SBS at her store; three, the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association holiday catalogue, which Barrett had 15,000 copies of inserted into a local newspaper; and four, with a theater company and property developer looking to demolish Barrett's building, along with several surrounding buildings, customers and neighborhood residents have rallied around the business.
Barrett reported that in past years, Thanksgiving weekend has sometimes been followed by a "kind of scary lull" that can last as long as two weeks, but this year the lull was brief and "wasn't scary." During the weekend of December 9 the store saw a "huge uptick," and as of Friday, December 15, it seems like the store is now "riding the rocket ship straight to Christmas," with things only getting busier. Bestsellers include Grant, Leonardo da Vinci, Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders and Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls. Barrett also expressed frustration with significant supply issues, which she said felt like a "much worse problem this year than in past years."
And in Clinton, N.J., the Clinton Book Shop had a strong Small Business Saturday and Indies First to begin the holidays, with manager Rob Dougherty calling it "probably our strongest [SBS] in five years." Dougherty has continued to do events since then, including an all-day event featuring local self-published authors, a signing with Good Morning America meteorologist Ginger Zee for her memoir, Natural Disaster: I Cover Them, I Am One, and a children's events featuring Greg Pizzoli, author and illustrator of The 12 Days of Christmas. The store still has some big events coming up: last night, Warren Bobrow, author of The Craft Cocktail Compendium, stopped by for a cocktail-themed event, and shortly before Christmas the Clinton Book Shop is bringing A.N. Kang, author and illustrator of the Papillon books, to a local school.
In addition to event-driven books, Dougherty reported that American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West by Nate Blakeslee, Leonardo da Vinci, Grant and Killers of the Flower Moon have all done well. Some of the fiction standouts, meanwhile, are The Power, Lincoln in the Bardo and Beartown by Fredrik Backman, along with much of Backman's backlist. Dougherty said that while he does bring in seasonal help for the holidays, it is not for gift-wrapping. He doesn't do any wrapping at Clinton Book Shop and instead has a deal with a local paper store that sells "the most amazing gift wrap." Customers can bring their purchases to that store and have them wrapped for just the price of a sheet of wrapping paper; Dougherty explained that wrapping takes a long time, and generally the customers who request it are people who come in only once per year. --Alex Mutter
The Association of American University Presses has changed its name to the Association of University Presses and is using the abbreviation AUPresses.
In June, membership voted for the name change as part of "a strategic assessment of the organization's identity, mission, and goals," it said. "The new logo and visual identity that are revealed today are vibrant expressions of the association's purpose and vision."
"What was once considered the 'American university press' model of editorial independence and rigor is a type of publishing that flourishes internationally," said AUPresses executive director Peter Berkery. "Updating our name is simultaneously a return to roots and a flowering outwards, embracing what makes our members so essential to scholarly, civic, and cultural life."
Eslite Spectrum Corp., which operates 44 bookstores in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China, plans to open four more stores next year, the Taipei Times reported. The new stores will be in Taiwan.
Eslite Spectrum v-p Lin Wan-ju said an Eslite survey has found that nearly 60% of local readers still visit physical bookstores every month. "There is still room for the company [to open more bookstores in the nation]," she said.
Eslite Spectrum also runs commercial centers, restaurants and hotels. Some of its newer properties have striking designs, including a hotel with books in rooms and the lobby; a bookstore on the 52nd and 53rd floors of the Shanghai Tower; and an "underground book street."
Clifford Irving, the notorious author "who perpetrated one of the biggest literary hoaxes of the 20th century in the early 1970s when he concocted a supposedly authorized autobiography of the billionaire Howard Hughes based on meetings and interviews that never took place," died December 19, the New York Times reported. He was 87.
Irving came up with the idea for The Autobiography of Howard Hughes after reading "The Case of the Invisible Billionaire," an article about the reclusive Hughes published in the December 1970 issue of Newsweek. Having recently published Fake!: The Story of Elmyr de Hory, the Greatest Art Forger of Our Time, Irving, "perhaps inspired by his subject," convinced editors at McGraw-Hill that Hughes had contacted him to express admiration for Fake! and propose collaborating on a similar project.
The rest is publishing history. Irving received a $750,000 advance from McGraw-Hill, Life magazine bought the serial rights for $250,000, and Dell obtained the paperback rights for $400,000. As publication neared, Irving "bluffed his way past editors, lawyers, handwriting experts and even skeptical journalists who had interviewed Hughes in the past," the Times wrote. Just as the book was ready to go to press, however, "the scheme began to unravel" and, as "the evidence piled up, the house of cards collapsed." Both Irving and his research assistant, Richard Suskind, served prison time, though the two later co-wrote Clifford Irving: What Really Happened in 1972.
Irving's many books include On a Darkling Plain; The Losers; The Valley; Daddy's Girl: The Campbell Murder Case; Trial; and Final Argument.
For one day only this holiday season, Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver, Colo., gave its customers a chance to get something that is usually reserved as a thank you for visiting authors: a special golden bookmark. On Wednesday, customers at Tattered Cover's Colfax Avenue, Historic LoDo and Aspen Grove locations could receive a golden bookmark with any book purchase, so long as they told their bookseller the secret password: "Rudolph."
The shop dogs of Parnassus Books, Nashville, Tenn., "have been hearing lots of talk about elves lately, and we’d like to set everyone straight about something. Those little guys from the North Pole may show up once a year to help with Christmas--which, nice try, elves, thanks for jumping in--but the critters who really make the book-joy happen all year long are right here on the floor of your neighborhood bookstore. So forget the elves on your shelves--you’ve got the dogs from this blog!... To express our thanks to the folks of Nashville, book lovers who visit from afar, and all our friends who call, e-mail, and order books online, we made this video."
Booksellers of the feline persuasion at Horton's Books & Gifts, Carrollton, Ga., petitioned for equal time, noting on Facebook: "Holiday crowds got you frazzled? Stop by to cuddle a cat and enjoy a moment of peace and quiet." And: "Coffee's hot--drop by for a 'cupa' and enjoy browsing our shelves for that perfect gift." And: "Santa's special helper stamping every letter so it is delivered on time."
Stephanie Hochschild, owner of the Book Stall, Winnetka, Ill., shared a photo of the bookshop's latest sidewalk chalkboard message, which reads:
Something you WANT
Something you NEED
Something to WEAR
Something to READ
We'll help you find a gift
For everyone on your list!
At Arsenal Pulp Press, former marketing manager Cynara Geissler has been promoted to director of marketing and publicity.
Steve Harvey repeat: Gene Simmons, author of On Power: My Journey Through the Corridors of Power and How You Can Get More Power (Dey Street, $15.99, 9780062694706).
The View repeat: Denis Leary, author of Why We Don't Suck: And How All of Us Need to Stop Being Such Partisan Little Bitches (Crown Archetype, $27, 9781524762735).
Watch What Happens Live repeat: Michael Rapaport, author of This Book Has Balls: Sports Rants from the MVP of Talking Trash (Touchstone, $26.99, 9781501160318).
Steve Harvey repeat: JB Smoove, co-author The Book of Leon: Philosophy of a Fool (Gallery, $25, 9781501180712).
Live with Kelly and Ryan: Oprah Winfrey, author of The Wisdom of Sundays: Life-Changing Insights from Super Soul Conversations (Flatiron, $27.99, 9781250138064). She will also appear on a repeat of Ellen.
Watch What Happens Live repeat: Tiffany Haddish, author of The Last Black Unicorn (Gallery, $26, 9781501181825).
Jimmy Kimmel Live repeat: Neil Patrick Harris, author of The Magic Misfits (Little, Brown, $16.99, 9780316391825).
Ellen repeat: Tiffany Haddish, author of The Last Black Unicorn (Gallery, $26, 9781501181825).
Live with Kelly and Ryan: Jimmy Fallon, author of Everything Is Mama (Feiwel & Friends, $16.99, 9781250125842).
The View repeat: Joe Biden, author of Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose (Flatiron, $27, 9781250171672).
Newcomer Ferdia Shaw will play the lead role in Disney's Artemis Fowl, the live-action adaptation of Eoin Colfer's children's books, Deadline reported. Disney auditioned 1,200 candidates for the role of Artemis before choosing Shaw, who will make his onscreen debut. Also joining the cast are Josh Gad as Mulch Diggums, Judi Dench (Commander Root), Lara McDonnell (Captain Holly Short )and Nonso Anozie (Butler). Kenneth Branagh is directing from Conor McPherson's script, with shooting set to begin early next year in the U.K.
The project was originally optioned by Miramax in 2000, but after the "Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment scandal surfaced in October, Disney removed him from his producer role," Deadline wrote. Branagh and Judy Hofflund are producing the film, which has an August 9, 2019 release date.
Lisa Robertson is the inaugural winner of the $40,000 C.D. Wright Award for Poetry, which recognizes "a poet over the age of 50 whose work exemplifies Wright's vibrant lyricism, seriousness, and striking originality." The Foundation for Contemporary Arts received a $1 million endowment gift from artists Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015) and Jack Shear to establish the prize, which will be presented annually and administered through FCA's Grants to Artists program.
Poets Tonya Foster and Peter Gizzi, the 2018 poetry advisors to FCA's selection process, said Robertson "has found a form, a force, a method and a voice distinctly and brilliantly her own. She does this by massing language that is at once percussive and rhythmic, archaic in its feel but deploying an utterly contemporary diction and mood. Her poems are compelling reads and never stint on intellection. They please as they muse and weave various affective philosophical speech acts." Her books of poetry include 3 Summers; Lisa Robertson's Magenta Soul Whip; Cinema of the Present; XEclogue; Debbie: An Epic; The Weather; The Men; and R’s Boat.
The C.D. Wright Award for Poetry was established in memory of the beloved poet, who died in 2016. Her husband, the poet Forrest Gander, said, "I've known that she was of signal importance to poets around the world--the first tribute/memorial organized for C.D. was in Stockholm--but the fact of this award coming from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, an advocate for all arts, that means the most to me."
Shear said that Kelly "was an avid reader--poetry, fiction, art books and exhibition catalogs were stacked on every table. I know the poetry of C.D. Wright and Forrest Gander could be found in those piles. The C.D. Wright Award for Poetry will support the poets whose books will cover a future reader's table, while honoring C.D.'s life's work and her support of other poets."
Stacy Tenenbaum Stark, executive director of the FCA commented: "The C.D. Wright Award for Poetry marks Ellsworth Kelly's and Jack Shear's second major contribution to FCA.Their deep understanding of the artist community has once again produced a visionary opportunity for artists. It is doubly meaningful that this award is named for C.D. Wright, a past grantee of the Foundation, and that it will support poetry, a vital and under-resourced artistic discipline. We are thrilled that the first C.D. Wright Award will be made to Lisa Robertson."
Selected new titles appearing on Tuesday, January 2:
The Nothing by Hanif Kureishi (Faber & Faber, $22, 9780571332014) follows an elderly filmmaker who suspects his younger wife is cheating.
Someone to Love by Melissa de la Cruz (Harlequin Teen, $18.99, 9780373212361) depicts a teen working to find self-acceptance as she deals with an eating disorder.
Escape from Aleppo by N. H. Senzai (Simon & Schuster, $16.99, 9781481472173) follows a family forced to flee Syria after the Arab Spring.
Coldwater by Samuel Parker (Revell, $14.99, 9780800727345).
|photo: Kevin Snyder Photography|
Finn Murphy is the author of The Long Haul: A Trucker's Tales of Life on the Road (Norton, June 6, 2017). More than 30 years ago, Murphy dropped out of college to become a long-haul trucker. Since then he's covered more than a million miles packing, loading and hauling people's belongings all over the United States. Known by his trucker handle as U-Turn, he spends his days (and many of his nights) in a 53-foot, 18-wheeler he calls Cassidy.
On your nightstand now:
Doktor Faustus by Thomas Mann is always there for its sheer intellectual power and breadth of subject. It's a book I can open to any page and get caught. It's an allegory about Germany's deal with the Devil. The Devil in the book is a very entertaining guy. I love it when he says: "It's not so easy to get into Hell."
Otherwise, I'm in a class/inequality vortex just now, so I also have Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Hochschild. I like this because a lefty goes to find the "deep story" of the righty. I think it's time for a righty to write a similar book about understanding lefties. President Obama said in his farewell speech for all of us to start listening to each other. Let's do that! I also have White Trash by Nancy Isenberg. I like this because it shows that manual labor has always been devalued in the United States. Top of the pile is A Legacy of Spies, John le Carré's new book. This is for pure fun. I flatter myself that I'm the world's foremost authority on le Carré.
Favorite book when you were a child:
Henri's Walk to Paris by Leonore Klein. Great illustrations by Saul Bass. Henri ends up where he started. Don't we all? Runner-up: My Side of the Mountain by Jean George. I wanted to run away and live in the woods, too.
Your top five authors:
George Orwell for his prescience; Barbara Tuchman for showing us that everything happens over and over again; Kurt Vonnegut for his cynicism; John McPhee because he can make watching paint dry a page-turner; Charles Mann for his perspective; and Stephen King for how everyday life can change on a dime. That's six.
Book you've faked reading:
Infinite Jest. I've tried it in book form and audio. Every sentence is brilliant, but I just don't like the guy.
Book you're an evangelist for:
1984. It perfectly describes not only how a police state works, but why oppression can be so attractive to certain individuals. Orwell is especially brilliant when it comes to how language can be used to restrict thought. In 1984, the Party destroys words, thereby eliminating the attached concepts while concurrently flipping the meanings of words to mean their opposites. Calling their Gestapo the Ministry of Love is particularly chilling.
Book you've bought for the cover:
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. Howard Roark just looked so heroic. Ayn sure knew how to make a hero. Too bad nobody's that perfect except that Howard liked his romps a little on the rough side.
Book you hid from your parents:
Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller. I heard my parents talking about the decline of American letters and naming Miller as a perfect example. Naturally, I had to get it and skim for the juicy bits. Anything found in the house by Norman Mailer would suffer the same fate as my Woodstock record album: immediate defenestration. My seven brothers and sisters all had some fun winding up my father in this regard. I think he enjoyed it, too.
Book that changed your life:
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Rather than oppress people through a dearth of food and goods, let's lull them into conformity by giving them everything they want. Great idea! No need for the Stasi or NKVD anymore. Let's just have a drone deliver the Valium and cupcakes through Amazon. Same-day service, guaranteed.
Favorite line from a book:
"Behind every fanatic, there is doubt." --John le Carré.
Five books you'll never part with:
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. It's an unbeatable dark thriller with unforgettable characters. Mrs. Danvers scares me to death. It's also a great primer on how to NOT communicate with your spouse. Nobody's Fool by Richard Russo because it's just so darn funny. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carré because betrayal is a very complicated business. A River Runs Through It by Norman MacLean for its simple beauty of family and nature. The Contested Plains by Elliott West for his counterintuitive explanation of the collision between Native Americans and white gold-seekers in 1859.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
The Lord of the Rings. Aragorn, the supposed hero, spends his time hanging around the Shire drinking in pubs, showing his broken sword to get free pints and boring the yokels with talk about the Dark Lord. It takes Frodo, who was mercilessly duped to take on the quest, to show him his destiny. As an aside, why didn't Tolkien save 2,000 pages of mayhem and simply have Gwaihir the Windlord Eagle drop the ring into Mount Doom after the Council of Elrond? It would have been no big deal. Gwaihir knew the way and eagles are immune to the ring's power.
Trends you've noticed in your own reading:
It's clear I have a thread of anti-totalitarianism in much of the above. What mystifies me is that apparently every generation needs to learn the lesson of freedom vs. control as if it never happened before. The risk is always the young being seduced by the promise of a future utopia. Democracy is messy. Anything by Arthur Koestler, Anna Seghers, Solzhenitsyn, Thomas Paine, Primo Levi, Solomon Northup will give some well-needed perspective about the efficacy of possible social panaceas and the motives of those who promulgate them. "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."
Need to Know by Karen Cleveland (Ballantine Books, $26 hardcover, 304p., 9781524797027, January 23, 2018)
Like the domestic drama it partly is, Karen Cleveland's accomplished first novel Need to Know opens with scenes of hectic suburban family life: kids' artwork on the fridge, runny noses and bickering over breakfast cereal. Vivian is the working mom of four children under eight, trying to balance maternal guilt with professional ambition. Fortunately, her love-at-first-sight husband of 10 years is a software engineer with flexible hours and a home office. Matt gets the kids off to school and daycare, rounds up groceries, prepares meals and does the before-bed reading.
But there are a few kinks in this seemingly satisfying life: one of their infant twins has an expensive congenital heart problem, the overpriced house they bought in Bethesda, Md., has them financially strapped--and Vivian is a veteran CIA counterintelligence analyst about to bust open a Russian sleeper cell with her own innovative algorithm. By the end of chapter one, runny noses are the least of Vivian's concerns. Her hack into a Russian handler's laptop reveals that one of his longtime agents is unquestionably her husband, Matt.
With eight years of experience in the CIA, Cleveland knows the ins and outs of its clandestine mysteries--the security clearance protocols, the need-to-know global computer access vault and the informal male dress code of "loafers and pressed khakis, a button-down that's buttoned a touch too close to the top." She also has done her thriller-writing homework, with end-of-chapter surprise reveals, flashback memories of now-suspect marital moments and conversations, potential moles in the office, burner phones and a Glock in a shoebox. More Robert Ludlum than John Le Carré, Need to Know is cinematic rather than cerebral (a film starring Charlize Theron is said to be under development). It plays on the popularity of shows like The Americans and Homeland, and on the voracious public appetite for conspiracy theories.
Despite its nonstop plot and what-can-go-wrong-next intrigue, Need to Know is at heart a story of a family coming apart under the shadow of subterfuge and fear. Vivian's struggle is as much with untangling her relationship with Matt as it is with uncovering a spy ring. Is her whole marriage built on lies? Are her kids merely pawns in a long game of Russian access to U.S. intelligence? Does her boss know of her discovery and impulsive cover-up?
As Cleveland accelerates the action from covert digital snooping to overt violence, Vivian becomes a mama bear protecting her cubs. When flash drives become semi-automatics, her loyalties to husband and country take a back seat. Cleveland's debut, however, is no backseat ride. Need to Know is for those who clamber into the front car of a roller coaster waving their arms and lusting for the next gut-sucking, high-speed drop. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Shelf Talker: Karen Cleveland's debut is a nonstop thriller tapping into a hot mix of contemporary digital counterintelligence, old-school spying and ageless family drama.
The magic of Christmas is that it gives the book trade a glimpse into another, almost [Philip] Pullman-esque, world: a place where non-book buyers buy books.
--Philip Jones, The Bookseller
There are some things I don't miss about working as a frontline bookseller during holiday season crunch time. For example, I don't miss this conversation:
I need to find a book for my uncle.
What kinds of books does he like?
Oh, he doesn't read.
Or variations on its theme, like this one (recorded on my blog Saturday, December 17, 2005): "This afternoon I heard a customer say: 'I want to get a book for my uncle. Have you read this (holds up copy of Bad Dog)? He doesn't have a dog, but....' "
And yet, against all odds, right now all over the world booksellers are handselling myriad titles as gifts for non-readers. Learning how to answer that bookish near-koan ("What's the best book gift for a non-reader?") is a rite of passage for new staff members. The question will come up, and this time of year it will come up a lot.
The media knows: "Gift Guide: 17 books for the non-reader" (Chicago Tribune) or "Books to give this Christmas to harassed mum, non-reading nephew, fulminating uncle--and 13 other headscratchers" (Telegraph). For another perspective, read David Barnett's Guardian column headlined "This Christmas, don't give books to non-readers."
"Books expand our minds and give us a greater understanding of the world around us; yet, a lot of readers persist in looking down on those who don't read. And there might be many, many reasons for why they don't," he wrote, adding: "Reading is important. Literacy skills are vital. Children's reading drops off massively after the age of eight, which can cause problems in adult life. But being literate and having a love of books are two different things. Books might furnish your walls... but this Christmas, don't buy books to 'fix' people who don't want them."
While Barnett's advice might work for amateur holiday gift-givers, it does not apply to booksellers, who are pressed to answer the question in real time, on bookstore sales floors, again and again by eager holiday season customers.
Booksellers have long met this challenge with grace and creativity. The December 17, 1876 edition of the New York Times proclaimed: "Then there are the bookstores! What wonderful things they have prepared for the holidays! Surely, there was never anything like it since printing and engraving were invented.... There are books for the learned and the unlearned, books for the aged and for the young, and for all the periods in between. Everybody may be satisfied with a book. And it would really appear as if those who provide books were perennially engaged in studying the human race in order to meet the requirements of those who may have been heretofore overlooked. At the very worst, there is no human creature so dull that he may not be moved by a beautiful binding of a book, or fail to respond to the universal language of pictures. This season we have some of the best works in the English language in dress that may be properly called high art."
What's the best book gift for a non-reader? The question sparks a couple of memories. In the early 1970s, I was student teaching at a high school. The assigned book for the class was Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac, but one boy flat-out refused to read it. On a whim, I handed him my copy of Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire and asked him to just check out the first few pages. Abbey's cranky voice worked. A decade later, I ran into this guy at an adult league softball game, and the first thing he said was how much he'd loved "that f***ing book you gave me." Said he still had his ragged copy somewhere. Maybe he hadn't read anything since, but he'd read that one.
And a few years ago, a friend having dinner at our house said he hated poetry because it made no sense to him. I grabbed a couple of books by Gary Snyder and David Budbill off my shelves, asked him to just give them a chance. "Now this," he said after sampling, "I like."
Sometimes the best gift book for a nonreader is simply... the right book. Often it's more complicated, but I've known many booksellers over the years who could unlock that mystery with just a question or two of their own. As Christmas Eve draws near, booksellers everywhere will spend the weekend saying variations on these magic words: "Tell me a little more about your uncle." Then they'll make a recommendation. It's a small Christmas miracle.