Shelf Awareness for Monday, March 16, 2020


Harper: A Crooked Tree by Una Mannion

Algonquin Books: Let's Get Back to the Party by Zak Salih

Simon & Schuster: Unicorns Are the Worst! by Alex Willan

Candlewick Press: In the Half Room by Carson Ellis

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers: Kondo & Kezumi Visit Giant Island by David Goodner, illustrated by Andrea Tsurumi

Candlewick Press: A Polar Bear in the Snow by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Shawn Harris

Editors' Note

This Difficult, Uncharted Time

We at Shelf Awareness wish the best to all our readers, who are trying to carry on despite fear and uncertainty about an invisible assailant that can have such serious consequences. We're especially concerned about booksellers, who are in many ways the most vulnerable in the business, both financially and because of one of the qualities that make them so important: most of them regularly interact with the reading public.

Today and in the coming days and weeks, we'll be providing all kinds of coverage about how the industry--and bookstores in particular--are dealing with this unprecedented situation, and will share as many ideas, insights and lessons from people in the business as we can. At the same time, we aim to keep calm and offer the kind of news and information that we're all more used to--and hope that somewhat normal times return soon and we all get through this together with the least damage possible.

We hope all of our readers and their loved ones are safe and healthy--and stay that way!


Sourcebooks Explore: No Reading Allowed: The Worst Read-Aloud Book Ever by Raj Haldar and Chris Carpenter, illustrated by Bryce Gladfelter


News

Preparations and ABA Initiatives

As you can see from today's news stories, this is an extraordinary time. Preventive measures related to COVID-19 have been like a gut punch to one of independent booksellers' biggest strengths in differentiating themselves from the online competition: the personal touch, whether it be handselling or the store experience or events. Stores are closing temporarily (we have listed some below), and most stores have cancelled events through the month and well into April.

"Stay calm and read books!" was the apt headline used by the Book House, St. Louis, Mo., in an e-mail to customers. And, in fact, some stores reported customers stocking up on books as well as games and puzzles, preparing for an indefinite amount of time at home. As Britton Trice of Garden District Book Shop, New Orleans, La., said, "Sales have been brisk. I think people have some extra time and are stocking up."

Some stores aren't closing to the public but are cutting opening hours or changing how customers interact with staff--and the books. For example, Paulina Springs Books, Sisters, Ore., which is staying open, is taking a variety of unusual measures, including "limiting browsing and asking customers to check in with staff at the counter to find titles, get recommendations, etc. Whenever possible, we encourage you to call or e-mail in your order ahead of time so that we can have it ready to be picked up."

And at temporarily closed stores, booksellers will continue to work, at the least processing orders, making recommendations via phone and online, delivering books curbside or to customers' homes--and often much more. As Jonah Zimiles, owner of [words] Bookstore, Maplewood, N.J., put it: "We hope to take this opportunity to complete all of the many projects that we never get a chance to finish and to re-open to the public better and stronger than ever once we get the 'all clear' from town officials!"

In a letter to members, American Booksellers Association CEO Allison Hill discussed steps stores can take immediately, as well as initiatives the association is working on to support members. They include:

  • Asking landlords for rent relief
  • Promoting their e-commerce site (if stores don't have one, they can sign up for ABA's IndieLite e-commerce for free through May 31 or become an affiliate of Bookshop)
  • Asking publishers sales reps for help with extended dating, a billing grace period, the removal of a return cap
  • Lobbying local government officials for loans, grants, and other support for small businesses.

And, Hill emphasized, booksellers should come to the ABA for assistance and advice, and notify the ABA if their stores have closed "so we have critical info for our lobbying and advocacy efforts."

The ABA is also working, Hill wrote, on initiatives that include advocating for bookseller support from publishers and vendors; exploring funding support for both bookstores and booksellers who are furloughed or laid off; lobbying federal officials on the needs of small business as they draft legislation to address the COVID-19 outbreak; publishing a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal (compliments of HarperCollins) promoting shopping local with indie bookstores; offering setup of IndieLite for free through May 31; and sharing best practices.

She concluded: "ABA is here to support you; please reach out if there is anything we can do to help. We are an incredibly creative, resilient, supportive industry. We'll get through this, together."


Soho Press: The Revolution According to Raymundo Mata by Gina Apostol


Cancellations and Postponements

The growing list of book-related cancellations includes the New England Independent Booksellers Association Spring Forum, which was scheduled for April 7-8 in Portland, Maine. The Spring Forum is being postponed until June 10-11, and will be held at the same hotel in Portland. NEIBA noted that it's planning "to bookend this newly-scheduled event with two All About the Books sessions--one on the morning of June 10 and one on the afternoon of June 11. We're pleased to report that many of our April authors will still be able to join us in June, and we'll add new authors to the mix for twice the fun."

The California Independent Booksellers Alliance has canceled its second Spring Workshop, which was scheduled to take place on March 29 in San Francisco. Executive director Calvin Crosby explained that the decision was made out of concern "for the safety and well being of our invited authors, publishing partners and our valued members." Crosby plans to host a town hall in San Francisco later this spring, and any authors confirmed for the Spring Workshop will be given placement priority for spots at CALIBA's fall trade show in San Francisco or the Los Angeles-area Fall Workshop.

The Midwest Independent Booksellers Association's Spring Roadtrip, which was going to be held April 5-6 in Bayfield, Wis., is being postponed until June 1-2. MIBA wrote: "We're looking forward to seeing you all in Bayfield and continue to plan for an excellent event."

The Book Industry Study Group's annual meeting, which was scheduled for April 24 in New York City, has been postponed to September 11. The site--the Harvard Club--and program remain unchanged, and B&N CEO James Daunt will deliver the closing keynote.

The Independent Book Publishers Association has cancelled the 2020 IBPA Publishing University, scheduled for April 3-4 in Redondo Beach, Calif. That meeting, too, was to feature a keynote by James Daunt.

The New Orleans Book Festival, scheduled for March 19-21, and the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, scheduled March 25-29, have been cancelled this year. Garden District Book Shop and Octavia Books were scheduled to sell books at the New Orleans Book Festival, and Garden District was to do the same at the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival.

The Booksellers Association of the U.K. and Ireland has postponed the Scottish Book Trade Conference, which was set for April 21. The BA hopes to "confirm a revised date for the conference later in the year, and we will let you know that date as soon as we can. In the meantime, wishing you well in these challenging times."

The MacDowell Colony, Peterborough, N.H., has closed temporarily, the first time the artist residency program has closed since the Hurricane of 1938.


University of Minnesota Press: My Life in the Purple Kingdom by Brownmark and Cynthia M Uhrich


More Temporary Bookstore Closings

Since Thursday, a range of bookstores have announced temporary closings because of the pandemic. Among them:

Powell's Books is closing its five stores in and near Portland, Ore., through March 31, at which time the company will evaluate whether to extend the closure. Powells.com will ontinue operations. In announcing the change, president and owner Emily Powell said in part that "we feel that we cannot honor the social distancing guidelines presented by the CDC."

The Strand Bookstore, New York, N.Y., is closing "for the time being" in an effort "to put the safety and welfare of our employees, our customers, and our community first." In its announcement, the store promised regular updates and concluded, "Be safe. And we hope you find solace in one of the books on your bookshelf."

WORD Bookstores in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Jersey City, N.J., are closed today and WORD said in an announcement to customers that it "will monitor the situation daily and keep you posted if anything changes. This will allow us to keep our staff busy and safe." It added: "We have plenty of books, puzzles and games in stock to keep you and your family busy (including our homeWORDbound Mystery Boxes.) So please don't be shy. Our amazing staff is ready and waiting to help you get through this."

Riffraff, the bookstore and bar in Providence, R.I., said that it is closing, effective today, "for who knows how long." Owners Emma Ramadan and Tom Roberge described the situation as "painful and precarious... We feel a moral imperative to close Riffraff for the sake of the greater community, and are disappointed that the government has not taken a stronger response or offered any tangible assistance to small businesses. It puts the burden on us and others to decide how best to proceed."

The Doylestown and Lahaska Bookshops in Doylestown and Lahaska, Pa., closed yesterday until March 29 or "until otherwise notified."

Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, Mich., has closed "indefinitely, effective immediately. We are concerned about our community and our staff safety. We will continue to fulfill web orders at this time at LiteratiBookstore.com with $1 shipping. Your support online helps us immeasurably. Please stay tuned to social media and our newsletter for updates to come."

Joelle Herr, owner of the Bookshop, East Nashville, Tenn., has decided to temporarily suspend the store's regular hours, noting on Facebook: "Today was a busy day--TOO busy. While a bustling, packed shop usually makes me giddy, today it made me anxious. Your health and safety--along with that of my booksellers--is priority #1.... Thank you for your support and understanding during these Station Eleven-ish days. This was a difficult decision but most definitely the right one."

Harvard Book Store, Cambridge, Mass., is closing through March 28, but "staff will continue 'behind the scenes' during this time, fulfilling online (harvard.com) and phone orders, recommending books online and by phone, and brainstorming creative ways to safely have our community access the books and book knowledge of Harvard Book Store and its staff," general manager Alex W. Meriwether said in an e-mail to customers. "We feel we must do our part to 'flatten the curve' while fulfilling our mission--to the best of our ability during uncertain times--to provide books to our customers, in a safe and responsible manner, and to support the community in any ways that we can."

Wellesley Books, Wellesley, Mass., is closing through March 29, but like many stores, will continue offering a variety of online and delivery services. "As always," the store wrote, "we deeply appreciate your continuing support as we all move together through this difficult time. Stay safe and stay healthy."

Newtonville Books, Newton, Mass., posted on Facebook: "Customers often liken the bookstore to a community center, an emblem we endeavor to earn and take pride in. But in this specific instance, the idea of a community center is a liability in terms of virus spread. So for that reason, Newtonville Books is now closed for the rest of March and, like the rest of the world, we'll take it day by day after that. Thanks for your understanding and patience about this. We didn't undertake the decision lightly, but public health is too important to us."

Avid Bookshop, Athens, Ga., is closing through March 29. In addition to mentioning the many ways it will continue to serve customers, the store wrote: "We have so many creative ideas on how we're going to continue to share our love for reading and Athens while staying safe. Be on the lookout for some fun surprises!"

Noting that the store "had a great weekend," Books to Be Red, Ocracoke, N.C., wrote: "I thank everyone that came in to say hello and support my shop and the island. I am heartbroken to say that I am going to close my shop while we are dealing with the COVID-19 virus. Maybe this should have been an easy decision to make but it has not been. We are all dealing with fallout from the virus and we are all making sacrifices. I do hope to be able to re-open within the next couple of weeks. Thank you for understanding."

Word Up Community Bookshop/Librería Comunitaria in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City will be closed until at least March 31, and all events scheduled through April 13 have been canceled or postponed. In a message to community members, founder Veronica Liu encouraged customers to consider buying books from the store's website or joining its membership program. Liu, who has done a lot of work this spring getting the word out about the 2020 Census, also reminded community members that they can now take the census online, even while social distancing.

This weekend, Papercuts JP in Jamaica Plain, Mass., was open for only limited hours and going forward will be open by appointment only, which shoppers can arrange by phone or via e-mail. In the meantime, customers can still buy books from the store's website as well as audiobooks through Libro.fm. In an e-mail to customers announcing the change, owner Kate Layte wrote: "Please look out for one another. Please look out for your friends and neighbors. If there is a particular need that you have and you don't know where to look, please reach out to us and we will do our best to point you in the right direction."

Bookends & Beginnings in Evanston, Ill., has temporarily suspended its in-store business. At the same time, owner Nina Barrett and her team are now offering $1 same day delivery on any size order to customers in Evanston and three other nearby communities, and will continue to offer 99¢ shipping to anywhere in the continental U.S., which is a policy that Barrett implemented just last week. And with many people home from work and school, Barrett is increasing her inventory of puzzles, games, flash cards, activity books and other sidelines. To help ride things out smoothly, Barrett is hoping to have 20-25 customers per day place an average order of $50, and is looking to enlist her community's help.

Solid State Books, Washington, D.C., is closing "indefinitely," but plans to be on call at the store from 10-6 every day. "This is not a decision that we've made lightly, as we cherish the role we play as a community hub and third place, and because our business depends so heavily upon foot traffic, but we feel it is the responsible step to take as we all attempt to practice 'social distancing.' We hope to reopen in a week or two, but do not have an exact date in mind at this point."

Reads & Company, Phoenixville, Pa., has decided "to take the financial hit and close our storefront" through March 29 because "We want to do our part to keep you safe. We want to keep our staff safe. We want to keep our families healthy. We want you to stay home. Take care of each other. Read to each other, especially to kids. Let the kids read to you. And remember to take care of yourself too." The store concluded: "All in this together. Our community. Always on our mind. Always."

Between the Covers, Harbor Springs, Mich., is closing temporarily because of what owner Katie Capaldi called "many factors working against us," including that for much of the staff, "it is not advisable to work due to recent travel, chronic health concerns, or because of their roles as caretakers for elderly parents" and because Capaldi brings "a 14-month old toddler to work."

For Capaldi, "Ultimately, however, it came down to this: which bad decision would I rather make? Close for a week or more and lose some of our bottom line, or remain open and know that we potentially contributed to the spread of this pandemic? My conscience chose the former."


Storey Publishing: Wake Up Grateful: The Transformative Practice of Taking Nothing for Granted by Kristi Nelson


Help from Binc, Steven Malk, Beacon Press, Chronicle Books

We can't praise the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (Binc) enough. It regularly comes through for booksellers, bookstores and comic bookstores in need and is already helping in this emergency.

Binc said over the weekend that it "will continue to help booksellers according to our policy for public health emergencies. Assistance may be available for the medical expenses of booksellers and to help booksellers in specific cases where store closure and/or loss of scheduled pay leads to the inability to pay essential household bills for an individual or family." Those circumstances include if a bookseller or member of a bookseller's household contracts an illness and can't go to work or must be quarantined; a bookseller loses more than 50% of scheduled work hours because residents are told by authorities not to go to work or a mandatory quarantine; if a bookstore loses a significant amount of business due to forced store closure or restrictions on residents' movement and the store is unable to pay store rent and/or utility expenses.

Not surprisingly, Binc is hoping to raise more funds for the growing emergency. Development director Kathy Bartson said, "Renewing, increasing, or pledging your support right now will be critical to our decisions moving forward and allow us to help every qualifying bookseller and comic retailer that comes to Binc for help. This is a critical time for booksellers as business slows, schools close, and they are canceling months' worth of events. Booksellers need to know that Binc will be here for them so they can weather these scary circumstances and come out on the other side."

Binc is now running a matching grant challenge that totals $12,500 per gift. It consists of matches from two sources. One is literary agent Steven Malk of Writers House, who is matching every gift dollar for dollar up to $7,500. He told Binc: "As the son and grandson of independent booksellers and a former independent bookseller myself, I understand how vulnerable booksellers are during times like these. Booksellers are the lifeblood of our business, and it's incumbent upon all of us in the publishing community to do what we can to help protect them and ensure their ongoing success during times of crisis."

The other matching grant is for $5,000 and is from Beacon Press. Helene Atwan, director of Beacon Press, said: "This is an unprecedented time and while we still don't know the full impact of this pandemic, we do know that many booksellers will be affected. Booksellers are very important to a small independent press like Beacon and so it is especially meaningful for us to be able to support Binc. I would like to encourage everyone who can to donate, so Binc can strengthen the booksellers' safety net."

---

To help support independent booksellers, Chronicle Books is offering a special for indie and gift retailers that features an extra 5% discount and 90-day dating at the standard 24-unit minimum. It's valid effective immediately through June 1 for titles published before May 31. The promotion applies to all Chronicle Books, Galison/Mudpuppy/Lacroix, Laurence King, Princeton Architectural Press, Creative Co., Twirl, Quadrille, Hardie Grant titles. All orders ship free freight.

The company stated: "We know there is nothing better than a good story, a comforting meal, and a game or puzzle to keep the family entertained and occupied. Many people will be turning to their local independent shops for books and games that bring them joy and will help make time at home more enjoyable."


Rick Riordan Presents: City of the Plague God by Sarwat Chadda


Notes of Hope

In the midst of all the COVID-19 distress, independent bookstores are offering messages of hope to their customers that go well beyond cautionary hygiene and self-isolation updates.

Zenith Bookstore, Duluth, Minn., shared a message it received "from a beloved customer: 'I don't know what will happen, but please know, if you guys need anything-if staff is out or you just need help--I am here! I can shelve books, pull orders, organize shelves, vacuum, dust, whatever you need. And really, not just now, any time. Free of charge. When the weather is better I can even deliver books on my bike!' "

In a letter to patrons, Casey Coonerty Protti of Bookshop Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, Calif., observed: "After the 1989 earthquake, when the downtown was mostly destroyed, the streets were unpaved and shops operated out of tents, Santa Cruzans rallied together to help save the businesses that they loved. It is precisely because people value local businesses in Santa Cruz that makes this place a great place to do business. I know we can rally together to support our local stores, the stores we love. All of us in local business thank you for being there for us as we try to be there for you."

At Books & Books, Key West, Fla., Judy Blume is ready to deliver.

Mitchell Kaplan of Books and Books, with stores in Southern Florida & the Cayman Islands, observed: "One of our friends even went so far as to buy gift cards from us for future purchases. He said that he was putting his projected holiday spending to good use now."

The rivers end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.: "[T]here is no giving up! Let us keep in mind what Charlie Chaplin said, 'Nothing is permanent in this wicked world, not even our troubles.' The big lesson from this virus is that we are all connected. We need each other. We are a global community--hopefully out of this mess can come a renewed appreciation for our shared humanity. We are here for you."


Seattle's Elliott Bay Book Company Unionizes

Late last week, much of the staff of Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, Wash., announced the creation of a union called the Book Workers Union, which was quickly recognized by owner Peter Aaron.

Organizer Tony Manno with Elliott Bay staff.

The union aims, it said, "to build a more just and equitable workplace through collective action... The union's members believe a bookstore is much more than a retail space, and they will work to make sure Elliott Bay's role in the community reflects the values and character of its staff. The union hopes to make Elliott Bay a more diverse and democratic workplace that offers its employees trust and transparency, a place where going above-and-beyond is not simply expected but encouraged and rewarded, a place where ideas are implemented and talents utilized. It will bargain for strong health insurance, paid parental leave, and competitive wages so that the bookstore can lower the turnover rate, spend less time running to catch up with business demands, and spend more time finding ways to increase customer and employee engagement.

"The booksellers are also seeking increased retirement benefits so those who choose to spend decades enriching our workplace can one day pass the torch without fear of destitution."

In a statement, Aaron said, "I acknowledge and support the right of workers to organize, and as such recognized the Book Workers Union without hesitation or reluctance. As we prepare to going the process of negotiating in a collective bargaining agreement, I am looking toward positive outcomes. The booksellers are unified and a unified staff is a good thing for the store, our customers and the community at large. Additionally, the union has expressed a strong devotion to the wellbeing of the store. Since we share this dedication, I have every reason to believe that we can proceed amicably toward a mutually-satisfactory agreement which will ensure and enhance the vitality of the store. I'm looking forward to working with the union's representatives toward reaching that destination."

The official announcement of the union was made on Friday, when an excited crowd of more than 60 congregated outside the store on a characteristically drizzly Friday morning. The weather wasn't a buzzkill--although the recent WHO announcement classifying coronavirus as a pandemic, and related social distancing and business closures in Seattle were on everyone's mind.

Bookseller Lara Kaminoff, part of the union organizing committee for the last six months, told Shelf Awareness, "We obviously did not anticipate [the pandemic], no one could see this crisis coming, but now more than ever it's important that workers collaborate with leadership in order to ensure continued protection of our jobs and our health and the livelihood of the bookstore, as well. We're really excited to work together toward a productive and happy future."

At the press conference, Tony Manno, another bookseller who had been helping organize the union, began a short statement about the new union and its near immediate recognition. "We're very encouraged by this move. We work very closely with managers at Elliott Bay. We all take on many of the tasks at the store. And we're very excited that they recognize what a thoughtful and talented staff they have, who keep every corner and aspect of the store running. Our goal with this union is to achieve a contract that allows us to survive in Seattle, a city where workers are continuing to be squeezed more and more. We're looking for an increase in pay. We're looking for better healthcare. And we're looking for more democratic decision-making within the business. We also want this to allow us to demonstrate a full creative potential at this store to better serve the community at large."

He talked, too, about income inequality in Seattle, characterized by increasing homelessness at the same that "companies like Amazon... are reaping billions in profits and paying nothing in taxes." He ended by saying, "Buy a book online, if you're in self-quarantine. We'll be pushing online sales as much as we can. Please just support our beloved bookstore. All the booksellers here love this place so much, and we want to keep it running absolutely for as long as possible into the future. The Book Workers Union is digging in our heels here, and Elliott Bay is here to stay." --Dave Wheeler


Notes

Image of the Day: 'Churchill Fellow' Erik Larson at Rainy Day Books

Rainy Day Books, Fairway, Kan., hosted Erik Larson (center) at the Unity Temple in Kansas City for The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz (Crown). The event was co-presented with the National Churchill Museum and the National World War I Museum and Memorial. Timothy Riley, director of the Churchill Museum, presented Larson with a "Churchill Fellow" Medal of Honor. Vivien Jennings (r.), founder and president, Rainy Day Books, welcomed Larson on stage with an "elbow bump," as did some of the customers in the book signing line, because of coronavirus concerns. The store sold 605 advance admission packages (one or two tickets plus an autographed book) and, said Rainy Day COO Roger Doeren (l.), "Midwesterners are hearty & healthy people, and most everyone attended, and were happy that they were there."


Coronavirus-Fighting Ideas of the Day

Square Books, Oxford, Miss.

In addition to services like free delivery and curbside pickup, many indie bookstores are finding other ways to spark engagement and keep the lines of communication open with their patrons during this challenging time.

Chevalier's Books, Los Angeles, Calif., which is staying open "to serve the Larchmont community for the foreseeable future," has suggested to customers a list of "non-depressing books... for these seemingly end-times":

Less by Andrew Sean Greer
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman
Trouble Is What I Do by Walter Mosley
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

For its part, Tattered Cover, Denver, Colo., which is also remaining open, has two recommended book lists for customers, chosen by store buyers. One focuses on the coronavirus as well as previous real and fictional pandemics and contagions. The other is for those who "may want a break from the news."

Brazos Bookstore, Houston, Tex., suggests customers who do come to the store limit their hands-on interaction with stock: "We also ask that you do your research before you shop! We'd like to limit the number of hands on our merchandise (and thus the spread of germs!), so research your picks before you come in, or ask a staff member for suggestions before you handle our books. We are proud to serve the literary community of Houston and wish health and wellness to our readers and their loved ones. Wash your paws and pick up a good book in-store or via our online book shop."

Because the local library system is closed indefinitely, RiverRun Bookstore, Portsmouth, N.H., is offering the $2 books "we usually save for Market Square Day. Hopefully this will help provide cheap books to those who generally borrow from the library. If $2 is still too expensive, talk to Tom [Holbrook] and I'm sure he will make you a deal."

In a list of three items offering "a little taste of the Outer Banks delivered to your door" and to ensure customers "have plenty to read," Duck's Cottage and Downtown Books, Duck and Manteo, N.C., offers the stores' Book Lover's Grab Bag (in sizes small, medium or large) "with a special book hand-picked for its high level of readability & entertainment! Jamie's Blind Date Book selections are super popular with customers and we know you'll love the books she picks out for your Grab Bag... come on, she's been doing this for 17 years... don't you trust her yet? Is your answer YES? then order your... Book Lover's Grab Bag!"


Personnel Changes at Smith Publicity

Sarah Miniaci has been promoted to director, literary strategy, at Smith Publicity. She has been a senior account executive and business development associate.



Media and Movies

Media Heat: Judith Heumann, Mikki Kendall on the Daily Show

Today:
Tamron Hall Show repeat: Jonathan and Drew Scott, authors of Builder Brothers: Better Together (HarperCollins, $17.99, 9780062846655).

Daily Show repeat: Judith Heumann, co-author of Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist (Beacon Press, $25.95, 9780807019290).

Tomorrow:
Daily Show repeat: Mikki Kendall, author of Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot (Viking, $26, 9780525560548).


Movies: The True History of the Kelly Gang

A trailer has been released for The True History of the Kelly Gang, based on the novel by Peter Carey. Directed by Justin Kurzel (Macbeth), the film's screenplay is by Shaun Grant, "who penned Kurzel's horrific and unforgettable 2011 feature debut The Snowtown Murders," IndieWire reported. IFC Films is set to open The True History of the Kelly Gang in theaters and on VOD April 24. The cast includes George MacKay (1917), Essie Davis and Russell Crowe.


Books & Authors

Awards: Blue Peter Book 20th Anniversary Winner

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone won the Blue Peter Book Awards 20th Anniversary Prize. The British children's TV program asked its audience to vote for their favorite Blue Peter Book Award book from the last two decades, and thousands of viewers voted.

Blue Peter editor Ellen Evans commented: "Through the Blue Peter Book Awards we want to show how reading is fun and enjoyable, can help you feel better, can help you empathize, find out new facts and, through imagination, experience something beyond everyday life! J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is truly a wonderful and worthy winner. I loved reading our audience's comments online talking about their favorite books and sharing their love of reading."


Book Review

Review: Sin Eater

Sin Eater by Megan Campisi (Atria, $27 hardcover, 304p., 9781982124106, April 7, 2020)

Megan Campisi's Sin Eater opens with a 14-year-old girl named May being arrested for stealing a loaf of bread, in an alternate version of Elizabethan England. The royal family of Angland is entangled in court intrigue and murders, including of babes, to secure favored heirs to the throne, even considering marriage to the hated Northern lords. Common people work hard for a meager living; some starve unless given special permission from the queen to beg in the street. The penalties for petty crimes are high: vagrants have a hole "burned through the gristle of [the] ear with a hot iron as thick as a man's thumb." The penalty for a second offense is death.

In this cruel world, below even dung men and woad dyers in the social order, lies a cursed role: that of the Sin Eater. "It's always women who eat sins, since it was Eve who first ate a sin: the Forbidden Fruit." Marked by the iron collar locked around her neck and her tattooed tongue, she may be neither seen nor heard. She is called to deathbeds to hear the Recitation, a confession of sins; she translates these sins into foods, which the family will prepare for the Eating. By taking the sins of others into herself, the Sin Eater absolves the deceased. Every child in the street knows the basics. "Salt for pride. Mustard seed for lies. Barley for curses." When a deer's heart appears on a noblewoman's coffin, the city's older Sin Eater will not eat it, for the terrible sin it refers to was never confessed. She is tortured and killed, leaving May on her own to wrestle with a deadly royal plot.

Recently orphaned and terribly talkative, May is now forbidden to speak. Her apprenticeship as Sin Eater was both silent and short; she's still learning which foods match the more esoteric crimes. In her favor, May discovers the strange power of the Sin Eater: afraid to touch her, people move out of her way, granting her access to prison cells and royal bedchambers. Chance introduces her to a group of fellow misfits, including a disfigured man, a leper and a roguish theater player. But she must solve the royal mystery alone and, just maybe, create a new fate for herself.

Sin Eater is a fully fleshed work of speculative fiction, abundant with the fine details of Elizabethan life and, of course, food. May is a damaged and sympathetic heroine, at once intelligent and innocent. This is an opulently imagined debut, horrific and weirdly beautiful, filled with earnest feeling as well as cruelty. Set aside time to read this engrossing novel in one go. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Shelf Talker: In this enchanting alternate history, a Sin Eater consumes the misdeeds of others, and may have a chance to right some wrongs.


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