Shelf Awareness for Friday, September 7, 2018


News

Waterstones Acquires Foyles

Waterstones has acquired the Foyles bookshops from the Foyle family for an undisclosed price. In addition to the Charing Cross Road flagship, Foyles has three shops in London--Royal Festival Hall, Waterloo and Westfield Stratford--and shops in Bristol, Birmingham and Chelmsford. The transaction is expected to be completed before the end of the year.

"We are honored to be entrusted with the Foyles business, and greatly look forward to joining forces with the Foyles bookselling team," said Waterstones managing director James Daunt. "Together, we will be stronger and better positioned to protect and champion the pleasures of real bookshops in the face of Amazon's siren call. It is an exciting and invigorating time in bookselling as good bookshops are rediscovering their purpose in the fight back against online and e-reading. At Waterstones, we see our future as responsible stewards of shops that strive to serve their customers each according to their own distinct personality.  This is nowhere more important than with those shops--Hatchards, Hodges Figgis and now Foyles--that have such singular heritages.

Daunt added that the Foyles booksellers "join a company that celebrates the traditional virtues of Foyles bookselling as equally as it does the illustrious history of Foyles itself. We take on this responsibility with pride and confidence and are committed to ensuring Foyles a future as bright as its past."

Christopher Foyle commented: "My family and I are delighted that Foyles is entering a new chapter, one which secures the brand's future and protects its personality. I look forward to witnessing the exciting times ahead for the company founded by my grandfather and his brother 115 years ago."

Speaking as "a fellow London bookseller" and owner of rival indie Daunt Books, Daunt told the Bookseller he is "excited and respectful of the history" of Foyles, but the opportunity to take advantage of Waterstones' buying power and centralized services would enable the bookseller to shore up its future. Daunt said he had been approached by Foyles to acquire the company, and would not seek to appoint a new managing director, but allow individual stores to manage themselves.

The Bookseller reported that Foyles CEO Paul Currie and finance director John Browne will leave the business once the sale is completed. 

This marks the second sale of a major U.K. bookseller in five months. In April, a majority interest in Waterstones itself was bought by hedge fund Elliott Advisors, the U.K. arm of Elliott Management Corp., the U.S. investment management firm headed by Paul Singer. Waterstones has some 275 stores in the U.K., Ireland, and continental Europe.


Longtime Employee Taking over The Lift in Houston, Tex.

Kelly Contello, a longtime employee of The Lift in Houston, Tex., is buying the eight-year-old store from current owner and founder Rhonda Rhodes, the Leader reported.

"I'm ready for my next chapter," Rhodes told the Leader. Before opening the bookstore in 2010, Rhodes was a novelist and an attorney at a Houston law firm. "This little shop has brought me, and, I hope to think, others, so many blessings. But now I'm ready to give it a big hug and let it go."

Contello will officially take over on September 24. Rhodes is currently in the process of reducing the store's inventory in order to give Contello some room to make the inventory her own. In addition to books, The Lift also sells jewelry, stationery, toys, home decor and other gift items.

Contello explained that while she doesn't plan to change very much, she does intend to host more in-store events, bring in a range of crystals and gemstones and add a wider variety of books and gifts that "help inspire balance, peace and grounding."

"This being the eight-year anniversary proves that small indie bookstores can not only survive, but can also thrive in today's retail brick and mortar landscape," Contello told the Leader. "That is why I fell in love with it!"


Bookstore Openings & Closings in Berkeley, Calif.

Sleepy Cat Books, a new and used bookstore with an emphasis on literary fiction, has opened on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, Calif., Berkeleyside reported. Sleepy Cat Books spent the last 10 years in Orinda, Calif., until owner Jeff Koren moved the store to Berkeley. The new location officially opened its doors on August 20.

"I love Berkeley, it's such an engaged community," Koren told Berkeleyside. The store resides in a space that once belonged to a boutique clothing store and has a "vintage charm."

Despite the emphasis on literary fiction, the store carries books across all genres. Customers can trade in books for cash or store credit, and Koren plans to host literary events such as regular open mic poetry nights.

Koren added that the store's name comes from his love of both cats and books. He said: "My two cats, Oliver and Lyla, are at the store, usually sleeping in their pet beds at the counter. They love meeting new people when they're awake."

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Berkeleyside is also reporting that Lewin's Metaphysical Books, an esoteric bookstore dating back to 1965, has closed and is up for sale. It hasn't been open for business since mid-January, after the death of the store's longtime owner Yvonne Lewis. Marlene Murphey, Lewin's niece, is reportedly the heir to the business. From 1985 to 2008, Lewis ran the shop with her partner Bennett "Bud" Hassink, a "well-known bohemian persona" who died in 2008.


B&N: CEO Search Won't Start for at Least a Month

Barnes & Noble will not begin a search for a new CEO until at least next month, chairman Len Riggio said during a conference call with analysts yesterday (transcript courtesy of seekingalpha.com), following the release of the company's first-quarter results.

After the annual meeting October, 3, Riggio stated, the board will "take up the subject of the search." For now, he said the focus is on "healing, fixing, putting us in a position to be able to go out and get a CEO, not as a matter of crisis, but as a matter of someone coming in to be a leader." He stressed that he's very happy with the interim team, which is "pulling together incredibly well, better than I've seen in many, many years. We have some additional new people here that are really pulling their weight and showing great promise for the company." He added that already there is "no shortage of people who are applying for the job."

Although much was discussed during the call, there was one glaring omission: B&N didn't address and no analyst asked about the part of former CEO Demos Parneros's lawsuit in which he said "a book retailer" had offered to buy B&N during the spring but withdrew the offer after due diligence. So that mystery remains a mystery.

Len Riggio

Riggio did mention the lawsuit, repeating the charge in the B&N official response that the suit is an attempt to extort money from the company. The suit contains, he continued, "outrageous lies in personal attacks against me, members of our board and members of our management team.... I've worked long and hard in business for 53 years to earn a reputation as a fair-minded owner and executive, always looked out for the interests of his good people and always cared deeply about the rights of others."

Among other news:

The company is optimistic that it will have "positive" sales at stores open at least a year and so is maintaining its prediction that fiscal 2019 earnings will be between $175 million and $200 million.

Book sales were down about 7% in the quarter, while non-book sales dropped about 3%. Some of that drop B&N executives attributed to a new emphasis in the quarter on allowing customers to buy books online and pick them up in stores. That function had floundered in the beginning because of technical problems that didn't allow consumers to search stores for titles. But once repaired, that program accounts for the positive trend in comp-store sales in the quarter. (The company also said that "calibrating" its new "store labor model" and adjusting inventory had cut into results.)

Several times B&N executives emphasized the importance of the "buy online, pick up in store" program. "The company has had for many, many years a problem integrating the retail stores and some online business," Riggio said. "We are not alone as a retailer having had that experience."

But now, he said, B&N has "a team" that can create a site "that is viewed favorably by our customers and compares favorably to the best sites out there." With an improved site, he continued, "We think that some of the customers that we've been bleeding over the past 15 years will begin to come back. And we believe that we can start to build on our online productivity. That's the big promise here--the big must for this company. We have to get there in order to build sales well into the future."

Chief merchandising officer Tim Mantel noted that the company is "remerchandising" key areas in stores, including removing Nook fixtures and adding hundreds of shelf talkers.

Concerning the fall and holiday season, Mantel said the sales should improve because of "a more robust publishing calendar than we had last year." He cited Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward ("for political junkies, it seems like there's a new book every week this fall."), Becoming by Michelle Obama, The Reckoning by John Grisham, Homebody by Joanna Gaines, Fire & Blood by George R.R. Martin, The Next Person You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom and Every Breath by Nicholas Sparks.

On the children's side, "Dork Diaries, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Dog Man are all back," Mantel said. "And customers are awaiting the screenplay to J.K. Rowling's Fantastic Beasts and the Crimes of Grindelwald." In addition, the company will sell an exclusive picture book, How to Catch a Snowman, done with Sourcebooks.

During the quarter, B&N closed one store and aims to open four new stores this quarter, which include three relocations. CFO Allen Lindstrom added that the company intends to have a net gain in stores during the fiscal year, which would be the first time that has happened in many years.

The company's new prototype stores are in the range of 10,000 to 14,000 square feet, and some might be as small as 8,000 to 10,000 square feet.

While acknowledging that the first of the five B&N new concept stores with full-service restaurants is wildly popular with customers, Riggio said that the company had very mixed results with restaurants in part because of a lack of experience in the business. "The top line on our restaurants is good," he said. "The bottom line is awful." At the same time, however, cafes will continue to be important in new concept stores.

When one analyst asked why B&N didn't take its $44 million in dividend payments and "put that back into your stores," including remodels or opening stores to help grow sales, Riggio said such a move may be considered, but noted "there are other ways to raise the money besides cutting the dividend."


Rebecca Smart Named M.D., Publishing at DK

Rebecca Smart is joining DK in the newly created role of managing director, publishing, effective January 2019, the Bookseller reported. Her responsibilities will include DK's five publishing divisions, design, U.K. marketing and PR, publishing operations and the Alpha business based in Indianapolis. Most recently, Smart has been managing director at Ebury, and prior to that was at Osprey Publishing.

Describing Smart's appointment as "an important step for the company," DK CEO Ian Hudson said: "Rebecca will join the DK executive board and play a key role in shaping our future strategy. With her mix of strategic leadership and commercial experience, combined with her vision, creativity and passion, she will lead the evolution of our global publishing, and seek out new digital and business development opportunities."

Penguin Random House UK CEO Tom Weldon commented: "I have so enjoyed working with Rebecca over the last four years. She is both a very talented publisher and a real leader, driving forward cultural change. She has contributed enormously not just to Ebury but PRH UK as a whole. I am sad she is leaving, but pleased nevertheless she is staying within the broader PRH group, and wish her much success and happiness at DK."


Obituary Note: Barbara Bailey

Barbara Bailey

Barbara Bailey, a former bookseller and community activist who ran Bailey/Coy Books in Seattle, Wash.'s Capitol Hill neighborhood for decades, died September 1 at the age of 74, the Seattle Times reported. The cause of death was a stroke.

Born and raised in Seattle, Bailey began her career in bookselling at a small bookstore in Sun Valley, Idaho. After returning to Seattle in the late 1970s, Bailey opened B. Bailey Books in Rainier Square, where she was one of the "first leaseholders." In 1982, she opened another, bigger store on Broadway called Bailey/Coy Books.

While both stores were general interest bookstores, they were, according to Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, "safe and welcoming spaces for the LGBTQ+ community, particularly for those just coming out and during the height of anti-LGBTQ+ actions." Bailey/Coy Books was also known for its "carefully curated inventory" and "friendly staff."

Throughout her life and career, Bailey was a champion of civil rights for both people of color and the LGBTQ+ community in Seattle, Durkan wrote. She added that were it not for Bailey, "no LGBTQ+ person would have been elected to any office in this region" and she was always "on the front lines helping in any way she could and was always leading with her energy and her heart."

In 2003, Bailey retired from the book industry and sold the store to Michael Wells. It closed in 2009 at the height of the financial crisis.

"She was such a connector, and had such a great head for business," her brother Thatcher Bailey told the Seattle Times. "She read like a fiend. She was part of the literary world in Seattle, but that was less important to her than just welcoming the community into her store, and making it a very comfortable place for everyone."


Notes

Teicher, Morrow Talk Bookstores & Politics

American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher and ABA board member Chris Morrow, owner of Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, Vt., & Saratoga Springs, N.Y., "recently considered the role of bookstores in our current political climate on WAMC's The Roundtable, hosted by Joe Donahue," Bookselling This Week reported. Listen to the full discussion here.


The Remarkable Story of a Mobile Little Free Library

Author Jane Green is a fan of Little Free Libraries, the kiosks or bookcases where people stock free books for passersby, but because she lives on a small private road in Westport, Conn., the usual arrangement didn't make sense. So she decided to create a mobile Little Free Library. She worked with Ryan Peterson, a recent high school graduate, to retrofit a three-wheeled cargo bike that was collecting dust in her garage. The result is what she calls the Remarkable Bookcycle, an homage to the beloved Remarkable Book Shop in Westport, which closed in 1994. (Although Green moved to town after the store was gone, owners Esther and Sidney Kramer were her neighbors, and she harbored a secret fantasy of re-opening the bright pink bookshop.)

Green shared photos of the store with Ryan, and her husband and lifelong Westport resident Ian Warburg talked about the shop. Local graphic artist Miggs Burroughs painted the sign and the well-known dancing man from the store's logo. (Burroughs had a special connection with the store: his mother, Esta Burroughs, worked at the store from its first to last day.) The Bookcycle also includes a stuffed Heathcliff the Cat in the stacks.

Green has toured Westport's Compo Beach with the Remarkable Bookcycle (pronounced bicycle), to which the community has responded. For Green, whose most recent book is The Sunshine Sisters, published by Berkley last year, that's the remarkable key to the whole venture: creating a sense of community.


Dover Editor Grafton Celebrates Golden Anniversary

John Grafton

Congratulations to Dover Publications senior editor John Grafton, who recently celebrated his golden anniversary with the publisher. After attending graduate school at New York University, he joined Dover in 1968 as assistant to the company's president and founder Hayward Cirker. Grafton, described by Dover as "the driving force behind our math and science publishing program," shared memories of his time with the publisher as well as his top-50 title list on the website.

"I still find the variety and new challenges as exciting today as I did 50 years ago," Grafton observed. "I sometimes say that I hope one day to figure it all out. Knowing what I do now, would I take this ride again if I could be that time-traveler walking into Dover's offices on Varick Street on August 12, 1968? Absolutely!"


Media and Movies

Media Heat: Finn Murphy on Fresh Air

Today:
Fresh Air: Finn Murphy, author of The Long Haul: A Trucker's Tales of Life on the Road (Norton, $16.95, 9780393355871).

Tomorrow:
CBS This Morning: Stephen Fried, author of Rush: Revolution, Madness, and the Visionary Doctor Who Became a Founding Father (Crown, $30, 9780804140065).

Sunday:
CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS: John Kerry, author of Every Day Is Extra (Simon & Schuster, $35, 9781501178955).

MSNBC Live: David A. Kaplan, author of The Most Dangerous Branch: Inside the Supreme Court's Assault on the Constitution (Crown, $30, 9781524759902).


Movies: Out of Blue; Dune

The first clip has been released for Out of Blue, which is based on the Martin Amis's novel Night Train, Deadline reported. Directed by Carol Morley (The Falling), the film stars Patricia Clarkson as Mike Hoolihan "in the neo-noir metaphysical mystery." The cast also includes Jacki Weaver, James Caan, Toby Jones, Aaron Tveit, Mamie Gummer, Jonathan Majors and Devyn A. Tyler.

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Rebecca Ferguson (Mission: Impossible--Fallout) "is in negotiations to join the Denis Villeneuve-directed adaptation of Frank Herbert's Dune," Deadline reported. Playing Lady Jessica, she would join a cast that includes Timothee Chalamet as Paul Atreides.

Legendary acquired film and TV rights to the novels in 2016 "with the intention of making multiple films," Deadline noted, adding that David Lynch directed a 1984 film version starring Kyle MacLachlan.



Books & Authors

Awards: Richell for Emerging Writers

A longlist of 19 writers has been unveiled for the 2018 Richell Prize for Emerging Writers, awarded in memory of Hachette Australia's former CEO Matt Richell, who died in a surfing accident in 2014. The shortlist will be announced on October 8, with the winner named in Sydney on November 7.

The winner will receive A$10,000 (about US$7,200) in prize money, to be donated by Hachette Australia, along with a 12-month mentorship with one of Hachette Australia's publishers. Hachette Australia will work with the winning writer to develop the manuscript with first option to consider the finished work and shortlisted entries for publication. As well as promoting the prize, the Guardian Australia will publish an extract of the first chapter of the winning work on its website. Check out the longlisted titles here.


Reading with... John Larison

John Larison was born in 1979, and spent much of his childhood in remote regions of Australia, the Caribbean, Canada, the South Pacific, Alaska and the American West before graduating high school in Ithaca, N.Y. He studied philosophy and literature at the University of Oregon, and became a fly fishing guide ahead of earning an MFA from Oregon State, where he stayed to teach while writing Whiskey When We're Dry (Viking, August 21, 2018). He lives (and reads) on a small farm in rural Oregon.
 
On your nightstand now:
 
The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker. I was lucky enough to score a pre-publication copy at a conference (the book comes out in January of 2019). I've only just started reading, but dang! The first pages have swept me into the dream.
 
Favorite book when you were a child:
 
Trout Bum by John Gierach. It's a book of fishing essays written by a philosophy major turned societal dropout. I doubt it would appeal widely, but as a kid who loved rivers and all things aquatic, I found the book to be an essential antidote to the pressures I felt to succeed in school.
 
Your top five authors:
 
My answer to this question changes with the season, but at the moment, I'm awestruck by Zadie Smith, Michael Ondaatje, Willa Cather, Marilynne Robinson and Colson Whitehead.
 
Book you've faked reading:
 
Absalom, Absalom by William Faulkner. It was assigned in two different classes in graduate school and I tried to read it both times but found my brain wasn't nimble enough to balance the page-long sentences. Somehow, I managed to earn an A- on a paper about the novel, mostly by repurposing the notes I'd taken during our classroom discussions. Every few years I take the book off my shelf and try again, mostly to assuage the guilt, only to find I'm still not smart enough for those sentences.
 
Book you're an evangelist for:
 
A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean. As a kid in the rural West, I was drawn to this book because of the Montana setting. As an adult, I reread it every couple of years for the heartbreaking story of a bookish man trying to save his charismatic, troubled little brother. Maclean wrote it and rewrote it for years near the end of his life; the story grows from the real-life loss of his kid brother to violence, and you can feel the protagonist's culpability and regret and search for meaning in every sentence. I'm a sucker for sibling stories, and this is--hands-down--the most breathtaking I've yet encountered. 
 
Book you've bought for the cover:
 
The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan. I was entranced first by the title, but when I saw the almost three-dimensional cover, I knew I had to read it. I was not disappointed. It is a stunning story that I think every American president should read.
 
Book you hid from your parents:
 
I didn't have to hide books from my parents; they encouraged me to read anything I wanted. But I will admit, at age seven, I stole the bra section from one of my mother's catalogues. I found it 10 years later still hiding in the pages of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Farmer Boy.
 
Book that changed your life:
 
Strangely, because I don't think this book was designed to change anyone's life, The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt. I admired the book, and after finishing it, I felt newfound energy to push through the hardships of writing my own take on the western, Whiskey When We're Dry.
 
Favorite line from a book:
 
From A River Runs Through It, here is a snippet of conversation between the narrator and his father, after the loss of the narrator's brother.
 
" 'You like to tell true stories, don't you?' he asked, and I answered, 'Yes, I like to tell stories that are true.' Then he asked, 'After you have finished your true stories sometime, why don't you make up a story and the people to go with it? Only then will you understand what happened and why.' "
 
Five books you'll never part with:
 
I have 500 books I can never part with, but here are a few I'll grab when the flood waters are rising:
 
The Book of Mormon by Joseph Smith. For this secular reader, the book feels like a great American novel that slipped through the cracks.
 
Close Range by Annie Proulx. The book contains the long story "Brokeback Mountain," which I consider a masterwork; I've read it dozens of times and always feel more, not less.
 
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. I've been reading this book on repeat for years, a few pages at a time, usually while waiting for my kids to finish soccer or choir practice.
 
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. One of America's finest novels, this Pulitzer winner delivers distilled, humble wisdom on every page.
 
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. I've read all of Ondaatje's published work, but this novel is one I reread every few years for its emotional weight and crystalline imagery. 
 
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
 
The River Why by David James Duncan. A coming-of-age novel that can only be properly appreciated in your own coming-of-age.
 
Describe your ideal reading experience:
 
Give me rainy day, a thick slab of oak in the woodstove and the sound of wind through the treetops.

Book Review

Review: The Twenty-Seventh Letter of the Alphabet

The Twenty-Seventh Letter of the Alphabet: A Memoir by Kim Adrian (Univ. of Nebraska Press, $19.95 paperback, 304p., 9781496201973, October 1, 2018)

The Twenty-Seventh Letter of the Alphabet is a memoir with an unusual structure to match its ever-shifting reality. "I've wanted to tell this story for as long as I can remember wanting anything at all," writes Kim Adrian (Sock): the story of her mentally ill mother, how she got this way and what Adrian can or should do about it.
 
Linda, Adrian's mother, has been diagnosed with a long list of ailments: borderline and narcissistic personality disorders, bipolar, psychosis, paranoia and more. Adrian's father is an alcoholic; his memories, his assertions that Linda wasn't always this crazy, "not like she is now," can't be trusted, because "he'd been drunk the whole time." Adrian's sister has few memories from their childhood. In constructing this narrative, then, she relies entirely on her own memory. But the trouble with remembering the truth of what happened is that Linda's lies, manipulations and her own troubles with reality created a wildly shifting experience for her oldest daughter. If Linda retold a story, the very truth of it changed for Adrian. Reconstructing the past now is therefore a fraught undertaking.
 
This troubled and troubling attempt to reorganize a life is organized alphabetically, beginning with an anecdote titled "Abecedarian" about an unexplained event in grade school, and ending not with "Zigzag" (Linda weaving down a city sidewalk), but with the entries under "&." "Until the mid-nineteenth century, the ampersand was considered the twenty-seventh letter of the alphabet," and for Adrian it offers inclusivity, "a verbal umbrella" under which she is both mother and daughter, both happy and sad.
 
This structure, the glossary, would feel contrived or awkward in less capable hands. The narrative of Adrian's childhood through her own motherhood and healthy, loving family life is told more-or-less chronologically, but in fragments, whose alphabetized titles emphasize the narrator's reliance on words, on the power of storytelling to restructure her experiences, perhaps to fix something. The glossary's entries are anecdotes, descriptions of family photographs or simple definitions. "Domesticity: A kind of faith, in my experience." Deceptively simple fragments add up to more than the sum of their parts.
 
Adrian's story is often horrifying. Both of her parents were violent; her mother's emotional and verbal abuse is ongoing and perhaps more shocking still. The older woman's circumstances, bouts of homelessness and hospitalization, and the younger woman's inability to extricate herself from the cycle of abuse, can be difficult to read. But, see "Hope: The 'only way of knowing a person,' said Walter Benjamin, is to love them without it."
 
The Twenty-Seventh Letter of the Alphabet is a feat on many levels. Adrian tells a harrowing story, surprisingly redeemed by her own sweet family, but in many ways also continuing. She gives it meaning without having answers to all the questions she still asks herself. Her work as glossator is astonishing and inventive. Her glossary is strangely gripping, with a momentum pulling the reader in and through. The result is whimsical, even darkly funny at times, brimming with compassion, terribly sad and deeply loving. Memoir readers should not miss this singular offering. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
 
Shelf Talker: A remarkable memoir, organized as a glossary of terms, that is part detective story, investigating a mother's mental illness.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Barefoot Bookselling on a Tropical Island

Imagine you've washed ashore on a tropical island. A castaway. Robinson Crusoe. Imagine palm trees, a gentle breeze, the sound of waves lapping the sand. Imagine you see a distant figure--human, animal, you can't tell at first--approach along the beach, a tiny dot that gradually becomes more defined. Another person! You're not alone! Imagine she is barefoot, dressed in shorts and a brilliant flowered shirt. She waves, comes forward. Help at last! She stops a few feet away and asks: "Do you stock that book with the blue cover that was advertised in the Sunday Times?"

Earlier this month, we highlighted a particularly intoxicating job notice reported by the Guardian: "Wanted: barefoot bibliophile willing to punt Daniel Defoe to rich, modern-day Robinson Crusoes at a luxury desert island resort." Philip Blackwell, founder of Ultimate Library and scion of the British bookstore chain family, was seeking a "Man Friday for possibly the world's most remote bookshop, based in the luxury eco resort of Soneva Fushi in the Maldives." The position is held for three months, and then a new barefoot bookseller takes over.

"The pay is derisory but the fringe benefits unparalleled," Blackwell said. "The role will evolve and it is in part up to you to make the most of this unique opportunity. It's a dream job for many people. If I was 25 again I would do it.... We want someone on the ground who is creative and inspiring and can maybe get more people to share the pleasure of reading, which is what people enjoy doing on holiday."

The ideal candidate will, according to Ultimate Library, "have a passion for books and the ability to engage guests of all ages. They will have excellent written and verbal English skills; a lively tone of voice to write an entertaining blog that captures the exhilarating life of a desert island bookseller, and the skills to host creative writing workshops. They must have the ability to fit in with the distinctive Soneva culture, as well as being an engaging children’s entertainer and storyteller."

Who among us hasn't worked passionately--and for somewhat "derisory" wages--to achieve lofty goals, even without the tropical island perk?

The ad went viral, of course. Thousands of CVs poured in and the application window closed quickly. Fifteen candidates have been shortlisted for the role and a decision will be made soon.

"We have had applicants from 18 to 83 years-old apply," Blackwell later told the Bookseller. "There have been TV directors, someone from the White House press team, journalists, people from Playboy, a German Viscount, a Syrian refugee, a juggler, literary agents, a 72-year-old 'Beach Poet'--actually remarkably few booksellers. The applications themselves have ranged from YouTube clips, people sending pictures in not wearing very much, people holding signs, there have been some very creative people apply.

"I think the job grabbed people's attention at a quiet news time, perhaps when they were dreaming about going on holiday. It has been picked up in the press all around the world, from the U.S., Mexico, Portugal, Italy--this morning there was a piece on the radio station in Perth (Australia). Unfortunately following the volume of interest, we have now closed the position for applications.... It has been entertaining but there has been a cost--we are a small company of 17 people and the interest nearly overwhelmed all our systems."

When the Guardian checked back, Blackwell said the experience has "been a bit like standing under a fire hydrant for the last week--we've had an extraordinary response.... We've even had the odd actual bookseller. I think people have been at their desks dreaming of sun, sea and sand, and suddenly there's this opportunity to have it for longer than a week.... I think we will hire someone for their potential, rather than necessarily their experience. This is very much a take it to the people kind of job."

So... let's all calm down for a moment and think about this, especially a pair of Blackwell's slightly bemused asides: "remarkably few booksellers" applied and they "even had the odd actual bookseller" expressing interest.

Why would experienced booksellers, of all people, be the exception? I suspect it's because bookshops and tropical islands have something in common. They seem like untroubled utopias from the outside, especially compared to the day-to-day grind so many people face. Travel guides often showcase the portion of an island that fits the ideal. Most destinations are more complex than that. And if you don't work in a bookstore, you see what you want to see--a bookseller reading quietly at the counter, a cat sleeping nearby, and every now and again a little bell tinkles over the door as a fascinating stranger, a lover of books, enters. These are perfectly understandable illusions, if viewed through the appropriate lens. We've all experienced versions of them. Nobody highlights island politics or inventory control. It's bad for the imagination.

"Picture finding yourself on the idyllic shores of a desert island in the Maldives, your profession; bookseller. Your role is to help enliven guests' holidays with well-chosen books that will entertain, educate and inspire them. Is there a more enviable job opportunity than this? We think not!" Just imagine... It is, after all, a key part of our job description.

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

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