Also published on this date: Monday, May 4, 2020: YA Maximum Shelf: You Brought Me the Ocean

Shelf Awareness for Monday, May 4, 2020

 Kokila: Everything We Never Had by Randy Ribay

Nancy Paulsen Books: Sync by Ellen Hopkins

Running Press Adult: Cat People by Hannah Hillam

Beaming Books: Must-Have Autumn Reads for Your Shelf!

Dial Press: Like Mother, Like Mother by Susan Rieger

Severn House: A Messy Murder (Main) (The Decluttering Mysteries #4) by Simon Brett

Forge: My Three Dogs by Bruce W Cameron


Decision Time: Some Indies Are Reopening

As many states begin to alter or lift restrictions on retailers shuttered by the Covid-19 crisis, indie booksellers are facing complicated decisions regarding when to reopen safely and how to do business in a substantially altered environment.

Two Sisters Bookery, Wilmington, N.C., reopened May 2 with the following safety precautions: "Hand sanitizer provided at the door; one mask per person will be provided, but not required; touchless checkout; four customers in store at a time; NO children at this time; continual use of disinfectant wipes before, during and after hours; the gate is open with free parking."

Co-owners Wendy Withers and Denean Wisely launched Books Are Awesome, Parker, Colo., earlier this year, but "their venture had to close its doors to a bookstore's bread and butter--foot traffic and browsers," the Sun reported. Now reopened, they are "prepared, masks in place and spray disinfectant in hand, to welcome back a public that's still learning they exist." Withers said: "I think people are going to come out when they feel safe, and I'm not sure they feel safe yet.... I think we'll see a little growth, but as far as families coming in, I don't think they'll be knocking down the door yet. How long will it take? This could last a while."

The Book Bungalow, St. George, Utah, is reopening today, though events will continue to be held virtually for the time being. In the shop's e-newsletter, owner Tanya Parker Mills wrote: "As we open, we would greatly appreciate your continued support by: wearing masks when in the store (we will be); waiting patiently on the porch if too many are already inside browsing; using hand sanitizer (we'll have some in each room) before handling books."

Griffon Books and Games, South Bend, Ind., also reopened, noting that it "will be following the CDC's guidelines as well as the governor's. No more than 12 people at a time in the store to help maintain social distancing guidelines, staff will be wearing masks and we encourage our customers to wear them as well. We will not turn anyone away for not wearing one but we again encourage you to do so for your safety and ours. There will be hand sanitizer at the counter for staff and customer use. We will continue to evaluate and make appropriate changes as deemed necessary."

Books ready for curbside pickup at Vero Beach Book Center.

The Vero Beach Book Center, Vero Beach, Fla., is back in business, but "we need everyone to follow the Phase One Opening Guidance: If you have been sick within the past two weeks, please don't come into the store.... If you have been in contact with someone who was sick within the past two weeks, please don't come into the store.... Once inside the store, please maintain at least 6 feet between yourself, staff, and other customers.... [F]or the time being we can't have children in the store for just playtime."

Sassafras on Sutton, Black Mountain, N.C., will reopen May 9 "(as long as our Stay at Home order is not extended).... We will be following all safety guidelines including limited number of customers in the store. For now, customers will be asked to wear a mask and use our hand sanitizer prior to entering. We will be cleaning and disinfecting to protect us all. Stay home if you're sick or have been exposed to someone sick. We want to be back open, but we also want to stay healthy! Practice social distancing. All the things to keep us all well."

Curbside pick-up at Gottwals Books.

Gottwals Books had an update on stores in Georgia: "We're back to normal hours this week in Macon and Warner Robins. We hope to have Byron and Perry up and running soon. Book trades are now being accepted again, too!"

Other booksellers are holding off reopening for the moment. In Memphis, Tenn., novel. posted on Facebook: "Hey guys! Lots of you are asking if we will be open for browsing/shopping on Monday, and while we would love to see your faces, we are not quite ready to open the doors yet. We are sourcing extra supplies and working with others in our industry to take a careful look at operations to ensure that when we do open, we are doing everything we can to keep our customers and employees safe."

Bruce and Laura DeLaney, co-owners of Rediscovered Books, Boise, Idaho, wrote: "We are taking it slow. Although the state has allowed retail stores to open in a limited fashion to the public, we are not changing our operations at this time.... We are a small staff, and the exposure of just one of our booksellers would have a significant impact on all of our operations. We also feel strongly that we need to reduce risk as much as possible for our customers who shop here."

Yesterday, in an e-mail to customers, Tom Holbrook of RiverRun Bookstore, Portsmouth, N.H., noted that the store could open as early as May 11, "but it is unlikely we will be doing it that soon. Our inventory of over 10,000 individual items means that ensuring that each of them is sanitary and safe would be very difficult if people could simply walk in and browse around."

Noting that most people he saw outside in Portsmouth on Saturday weren't wearing masks, he added, "I don't think this is going to be over any time soon, and I think it's going to come back hard again in the fall." Still, depending on case trends in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, which has been particularly hard hit, he might open on June 1, "but even then, coming into the store will be a radically different experience than it has been in the past," he wrote.

G.P. Putnam's Sons: The Restaurant of Lost Recipes (A Kamogawa Food Detectives Novel) by Hisashi Kashiwai, Translated by Jesse Kirkwood

Tattered Cover's LoDo Location to Move into New, Nearby Multiuse Development

Tattered Cover is moving its store in historic lower downtown Denver, Colo., to McGregor Square, a new multiuse development being built next to Coors Field, sometime in the first quarter of next year. The store hopes to be closed for only a day or two to move.

The McGregor Square Tattered Cover will be on the first two levels of the private residence building, located at 20th and Wazee, just four blocks from the current LoDo Tattered Cover. With 6,000 square feet of space, the new store will feature a grand staircase, "harkening back to both the original LoDo store and the legendary former Tattered Cover location in Cherry Creek," Tattered Cover said. "The store will be warm and inviting with significant natural light, and a full selection of books and gifts. This new location will also present a robust calendar of events. 1ine Studio is creating the design."

Currently under construction and set to open in early 2021, McGregor Square will have 655,000 square feet of residential and commercial space that will include restaurant and retail tenants, a hotel and commercial offices. Three buildings will surround a 29,000-square-foot open plaza that will offer events year-round.

"The McGregor Square project will be a boon to the ballpark and LoDo neighborhoods, and, given the strong local flavor of the project, is a great fit for Tattered Cover," said co-owner and CEO Len Vlahos. "This move, when combined with our existing satellite store in Union Station, will insure we continue to have a significant presence downtown for many years to come."

"This was nothing less than perfect timing," said Dick Monfort, chairman and CEO of the McGregor Square development group and owner, chairman and CEO of the Colorado Rockies, who play in Coors Field. "Tattered Cover has been quintessentially Denver for 50 years and it is exactly the type of retail partner we were hoping to have at McGregor Square. We always wanted a diverse mix of offerings, and we couldn't be more proud to have locally-owned, family-owned Tattered Cover be one of our first public announcements. And, from a personal standpoint, we are very much looking forward to having such a beloved destination in the first two levels of the McGregor Square Residences building. I am sure my wife and I will be frequent visitors."

The original LoDo Tattered Cover opened in 1994, at the corner of 16th and Wynkoop. It was one of the first businesses to open a new location in what had become a neglected part of the city, and it played a key role in the revitalization of lower downtown Denver.

Tattered Cover has four stores in the Denver area, with a fifth scheduled to open this summer, and three satellite stores at Denver International Airport.

Harpervia: Only Here, Only Now by Tom Newlands

Future of U.K. Wholesaler Bertrams in Doubt

The future of Bertrams, one of two major wholesalers in the U.K., is in doubt and the company has said it is under "strategic review," the Bookseller reported.

The revelation follows the sale last week of the company's online bookshop Wordery to Elliott Advisors, owner of Barnes & Noble and Waterstones, as well as the temporary closing of its book supply business, a backlog of unpaid bills and a Sunday Times of London report that Bertrams is appointing an administrator as part of a bankruptcy action.

As the Bookseller noted: "The loss of Bertrams will be a major blow to the trade, leaving close competitor Gardners in pole position to pick up new business and dominate the marketplace. There are also significant debts, which publishers may look to ameliorate by reclaiming stock, though that will be complicated by the current lockdown."

As for Wordery, managing director Rob Moss told the Bookseller that the online bookshop would be run independently from Waterstones, and that he would report directly to Elliott Advisors. Moss said: "It's a strategic move that we are very excited about, it is a great thing for Wordery moving forward."

In Seattle, Finding Books Online--at Indies

Seattle's Elliott Bay Book Company

In the city where Amazon headquarters is located, indie bookstores are selling many more books online--and have the chance to cut into Amazon's dominance in online sales because it's putting a priority on non-book items and is generally overwhelmed.

As Shelf Awareness's own Jenn Risko put it in a feature in the Stranger, the Seattle newspaper, "We have an incredibly rare opportunity here to have our indies seize more of the online book-buying market. If I had a giant pot of money, I'd spend it all on an ad campaign that would teach book buyers about this. Something like: 'Welcome to the upside down world, where right now, you can get a book faster from your local indie than you can from our hometown giant internet retailer.' "

"You absolutely can get a book way quicker from us than on Amazon," University Book Store manager Pam Cady told the Stranger. "I had a customer the other day who ordered a puzzle we had in stock, and we sent it the same day, and she got it the next day, and she emailed me and was like: 'Are you kidding me? I can't believe I got this puzzle already.' Now, she lives in the Seattle area. It's not like she lives in Michigan. But yeah, she got it the next day."

Janis Segress, manager and co-owner of Queen Anne Book Company, said that the store's "web orders have gone up dramatically. We used to get 3 to 5 orders online a day. Now we're averaging 25 to 30. All of us indies here in Seattle have website presence, but it's interesting because a lot of our regular customers before this didn't realize we had a website where they could order 24 hours a day."

Peter Aaron, owner of Elliott Bay Book Company, said that the bookseller is "subsisting on online orders. Thank goodness there is a steady enough flow of them coming in because we have a core of extraordinarily supportive customers."

Robert Sindelar, managing partner of Third Place Books, said that the Third Place stores were "relatively well positioned [before the crisis] because we'd been doing online sales for years. A lot of our events--those sales for years went through our website." When the lockdowns occurred, "It wasn't a surprise to our customers that they could order books from Third Place Books online."

Still, indies' biggest strength continues to be what they offer offline. As Risko put it: "I'd like to think we've never taken for granted what makes an indie bookstore special, but just in case some of us have, you cannot replace a bookseller with an algorithm or by perusing a hundred online comments of folks who are perturbed that a book is about a dog instead of their beloved cat. You cannot replicate the experience of being at a live reading of an author, surrounded by like-minded souls who cherish the written word as you do. Indie bookstores galvanize two critical things: the power of books and community. And we know a whole lot of people cannot wait for them to re-open."

How Bookstores Are Coping: Window Displays; 'Working Twice as Hard for 30% of Revenue'; Silver Linings

Cover to Cover Books for Young Readers in Columbus, Ohio, will remain closed to browsing until the state's shelter-in-place order is lifted. The store is currently providing free delivery on all orders shipping to central Ohio, and media mail shipping anywhere in the continental U.S. for only $5, manager Bryan Loar reported. Loar and his team are offering consultations over the phone and via e-mail, as well as creating curated online selections.

The store is in a part of Columbus that gets a lot of foot traffic, Loar said, and the team frequently creates tailored window displays that face the street. With customers unable to stop in and browse, they've added QR codes to the displays, so people going by can still shop. The same displays are also re-created virtually. Loar noted that it has "definitely been a challenge," with online orders taking up to three times as much effort as in-person handselling.

Loar reported the store has had to limit staff to the bare minimum while it's closed to the public. Still, they remain positive and are looking forward to being able to connect in person with customers again.

Loar and his team have not hosted any online events, instead concentrating on maintaining a high level of service for online customers. They have, however, participated in a Zoom happy hour hosted by a local writers' group, and have promoted some authors' online events.

Since the store's closure on March 14, Loar said, it's been "absolutely amazing" to see how supportive both readers and authors have been. The store has been embraced by local, regional and national authors, and has seen an increase in new customers while enhancing its e-commerce capabilities.


In Hoboken, N.J., Little City Books is closed to the public. Co-owner Donna Garban reported that while the store--which turned five years old this past Saturday--is offering curbside pick-up on Wednesday and Saturday mornings, the vast majority of their work involves processing orders for shipping. She said she and her team are now "basically mail-order clerks," and noted that it seems they're working about twice as hard to make 30% of the revenue.

Almost all of the bookstore's 20 part-time staff members have been furloughed, although some are working limited hours each week doing things like processing orders. Garban and her team are staying in touch with them through Zoom and via e-mail. For the most part they've been applying for unemployment, but success has been spotty on that front.

The store received some money from the second round of the PPP, Garban continued, but it was only about 20% of what she'd asked for. She said the initial application process and the documentation process were both pretty easy, but a filing error caused her to miss the first round. She is hoping to get a staffer back on payroll to start preparing returns for when the post office reopens.

Little City Books has not hosted virtual events so far, but Garban and her team will be hosting one next Thursday with author Peggy Rowe and her son Mike Rowe. The event will celebrate both Mother's Day and the launch of Peggy Rowe's book About Your Father (And Other Celebrities I Have Known).

A pleasant surprise, Garban said, was finding out the store was actually better positioned to handle the transition to online sales and web orders than she and her team might have expected. She added that her customers have been very supportive of the store, and for the most part people seem to be "really trying to be nice to each other."


Barb Minett, co-founder of The Bookshelf in Geulph, Ontario, which features a bookstore, bar and movie theater, reported that her store has been closed since March 15. Immediately, she and her team tried to ramp up online sales by offering free delivery within Guleph, along with phone orders and curbside pick-up.

Just last week, the bookstore began offering same-day delivery of Organized Crime wines to people in the Guelph community. As an added bonus, complimentary movie popcorn is included with wine orders. Since the deliveries began on April 30, Minett said, they've "sold a huge number of bottles of wine."

Since the store closed about a month and a half ago, Minett continued, most of the work has been handled by herself; her two children, Ben and Hannah (who now own the bookstore); Ben's wife, Stephanie; and another employee. Minett's partner, a retired surgeon, has also joined the bookstore's "legion" of delivery people. Some of the store's staff who are out of work, she added, are receiving C$2,000 (about US$1,400) per month, and "are a bit fearful of catching the virus."

The Bookshelf applied for a US$40,000 (about US$28,000) interest-free loan, which Minett said "appeared in our bank account almost immediately." Wages are also being subsidized, with the government paying 75% of the store's payroll for March, April, May and June.

As for virtual events, Minett said the store will be partnering with the Eden Mills Writers' Festival, and will be the online bookseller for an event with Emily St. John Mandel on June 25.

On the subject of pleasant surprises, Minett explained that before starting delivery, they assumed that most of the store's clientele were located in Guelph's downtown. But in the last month and a half, they've delivered to "every nook and cranny of Guelph," and shipping many orders outside of town. At the same time, it's been nice to see people using the store's website for more than looking up movies, and Minett and her team have been expanding the site's capabilities.

"We are so grateful for the support of our community," Minett said. "There is so much love and encouragement on Facebook and Twitter. It makes it all worth it."

'Positive Response' to New Harlequin Larger Mass Market Formats

On March 24, Harlequin published its first books in its new mass market paperback Max format (MMP Max), and a second group was published on April 21. The company said that the format, with a slightly larger trim size than standard and premium mass markets, has been "positively received by retailers and consumers."

Harlequin is publishing four titles a month in MMP (Max) format, all priced at $9.99, over the next several months and will have a full rollout across all Harlequin mass market titles in September (August on-sale dates). Series are not included in the rollout. A division of HarperCollins, Harlequin publishes 100 titles a month in print and digital formats.

The first four titles appearing in MMP Max format were The View from Alameda Island by Robyn Carr (Mira), White Pine Summer by Sherryl Woods (Mira), Heartbreaker by BJ Daniels (HQN) and The Heart of Home by Nora Roberts (Silhouette Single Title).

Harlequin created the larger MMP Max format in fall 2019 and found through consumer research that readers preferred the reading experience: "The larger, more comfortable size that fit better in hands, the higher quality paper, the larger font and more space on the page, and the fact that the book lays flat during the read, without the spine cracking, akin to a trade paperback."

Harlequin CEO Craig Swinwood said, "We knew there was a need for an innovation in mass market paperbacks. From our consumer research and early discussions with authors, agents, and retailers, we were confident that MMP Max would be received positively when we launched, but the feedback in the last month is even better than expected. Readers are choosing this format because it's standing out on shelves and has a premium look and feel."

Dennis Abboud, CEO of ReaderLink, said, "Consumer interest in the traditional mass market format has been fading for the last several years. We applaud Harlequin's innovation, and we believe that the new MMP Max format will reinvigorate mass market book interest. Initial results have been very promising, and we expect that more growth will occur as consumers gain more understanding of the MMP Max format's considerable attributes and value."

Literary agent Liza Dawson of Liza Dawson Associates called the new format "a game changer. It's a series of seemingly small changes, but overall, the reading experience is far more satisfying. I think readers will be reaching for these books and will be very comfortable giving them as gifts."

Obituary Note: Ralph Malcolm Titcomb

Ralph Titcomb

Ralph Malcolm Titcomb, who co-founded Titcomb's Bookshop, East Sandwich, Mass., died on April 26. He was 93.

After a career in engineering, Titcomb delved full-time into bookselling, an interest that began when, as his official obituary recounted, his children "unearthed a collection of old papers and books tucked away in the barn when they were living in Canterbury, Conn. This discovery led to the opening (in their spare time) of a small bookstore adjacent to their home 52 years ago.

"The bookstore became Ralph and [wife] Nancy's full-time endeavor after Ralph's retirement.... His sons, Ted and Paul, crafted the three story barn that houses the bookshop as it is today as well as a life-size statue of a colonial man. In recent years, Ralph could be found sitting in a chair outside, greeting customers with his radiant smile and striking up conversations, his face lighting up with any mention of the state of Maine," where he was born and raised.

"Ralph was a gentle man; the words 'wait until your father gets home' never held much sway with his eight children. A loving grandfather, he will be remembered for bouncing each new grandchild on his knee while singing the song his own grandfather sang to him as a young boy. Teaching by example, he touched the lives of many with honesty, humbleness, and gentle kindness."

In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to First Lutheran Church in West Barnstable and to the Thornton Burgess Society Green Briar Nature Center in East Sandwich.

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, there will be a memorial celebration at a later date.


Image of the Day: A Landmark Effort for Tennessee Indie

Author Karen Kingsbury is rallying her readers around independent bookstore Landmark Booksellers in Franklin, Tenn. Landmark is the store that inspired Kingsbury's bestselling 2016 novel (and Hallmark movie) The Bridge, about a town that unites to save a small bookstore when inventory is completely ruined in a flood.

"When I wrote The Bridge, I couldn't imagine anything more devastating to a small bookstore than a flood, " Kingsbury said. "I never dreamed an invisible virus would have the power to wipe out iconic stores like Landmark."

"This effort by Karen Kingsbury and her readers is singlehandedly going to keep our store going through this shutdown," said Joel Tomlin, who owns Landmark Booksellers with his wife, Carol. "We will reopen one day and we will stay open because of the way her readers are rallying around us." 

Kingsbury's effort to assist Landmark Booksellers began when she was on Facebook Live with a thousand of her closest readers. "Let's do what we can to save Landmark Booksellers," Kingsbury told them. "It's the least we can do." Kingsbury decided to use the publication of her new novel, Someone Like You (Atria), to help. She and her family have pitched in to help Landmark box up and ship nearly 4,000 signed books. "What's happening because of Karen's readers is unreal," Carol Tomlin said. "We simply can't believe it."

Happy Fifth Birthday, Pages Bookshop!

Congratulations to Pages Bookshop, Detroit, Mich., which is celebrating its fifth anniversary in the midst of the Covid-19 shutdown. In a Facebook post Saturday, owner Susan Murphy noted: "Today marks five years since our Grand Opening. To each and every person who has come in, sat around our table or in the audience, gave Pip a pet, and gotten lost in our shelves: thank you. To all the authors who have filled our space (and hearts) with their stories, thank you. To the businesses and organizations who have partnered with us, shared our story, and encouraged us in ways big and small: thank you. To Grandmont Rosedale, our neighorhood, and Detroit, our home: thank you. Here's to another five years on Grand River."

The bookstore's 2015 soft opening took place on Independent Bookstore Day, and this year on April 25 Pages Bookshop marked the postponed 2020 IBD by noting: "Today is a hard one for us. For the last five years, today is a day we look forward to all year long. A day we spend months preparing for and counting down the minutes to. It's the day we open our doors to tons of smiling faces coming to celebrate the magic of indie bookstores, which is to say: it's a day about community. It's about sharing our collective passion for books and words, for stories and the people who tell them; it's a day when we get to be in a big room full of people who GET us. Book people. Readers. You.

"Yes, Independent Bookstore Day is about celebrating and supporting bookstores, but it's also about you. It's about all of us, together. So even if we can't gather, let's still make this day a celebration. Tell us what's on your TBR and what recipes you're trying; send us a selfie or a picture of your cat (or dog or rabbit or pet lizard); tag your favorite book buddy and let them know that when the re-scheduled Independent Bookstore Day happens (Aug. 29), you've got a date."

Several authors shared their happy birthday wishes for Pages Bookshop in a video.

Chalkboard: Penguin Bookshop

"We miss you... See you soon, we hope. Stay Safe. Stay Healthy" was the message on a store chalkboard shared by Penguin Bookshop, Sewickley, Pa., which noted: "Our penguins have a message for you: #saveindiebookstores (thanks to @jamespattersonbooks and many others) AND thanks to all of you who have been helping us survive by shopping with us online and through our new partner"

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Melissa Alcantara on Good Morning America

Fox Radio's Brian Kilmeade: Brad Meltzer, co-author of The Lincoln Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill America's 16th President--and Why It Failed (Flatiron, $29.99, 9781250317476). He will also appear tomorrow on Fox & Friends.

Good Morning America: Melissa Alcantara, author of Fit Gurl: The Total-Body Turnaround Program (HarperOne, $29.99, 9780062959485).

Watch What Happens Live: Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, author of Hustle Harder, Hustle Smarter (Amistad, $27.99, 9780062953803).

Books & Authors

Awards: Triangle, Wolff Translator's Winners

Winners of the 2020 Triangle Awards, honoring the best LGBTQ fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and trans literature published in 2019 and sponsored by the Publishing Triangle, are:

The Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBTQ Fiction: On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong (Penguin Press)
The Publishing Triangle's Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction: Shut Up You're Pretty by Téa Mutonji (Arsenal Pulp Press)
The Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry: Company by Sam Ross (Four Way Books)
The Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry: Odes to Lithium by Shira Erlichman (Alice James Books)
The Publishing Triangle Award for Trans and Gender-Variant Literature: I Hope We Choose Love by Kai Cheng Thom (Arsenal Pulp Press)
The Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction (two winners):
In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado (Graywolf Press)
Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women, and Queer Radicals by Saidiya Hartman (Norton)
The Randy Shilts Award for Gay Nonfiction: How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones (Simon & Schuster)


Philip Boehm has won the $10,000 2020 Helen & Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize for his translation of The Fox and Dr. Shimamura by Christine Wunnicke (New Directions). Boehm also received the Wolff Prize in 2013 for his translation of An Ermine in Czernopol by Gregor von Rezzori (New York Review Books Classics), making him the only translator to be awarded the prize twice. The prize is administered by the Goethe-Institut New York.

The jury said, in part, "Boehm's sensitive and versatile translation, making admirable choices of both tone and vocabulary throughout, captures all the sparkle and slanting energy of this fresh, original, and very modern novel. The jury is especially pleased to honor Boehm as a translator this year since his superb retranslation of Arthur Koestler's gripping masterpiece Darkness at Noon (Scribner) was a strong contender for the prize as well. Boehm has given English-language readers the many kinds of beauty, terror, and quiet flashes of wit and insight in these extraordinary works of literature."

Derf Backderf and Deborah Wiles: Kent State, 50 Years Later

On May 4, 1970, members of the Ohio National Guard opened fire on unarmed students protesting the Vietnam War at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. Nine students were injured and four--19-year-olds Allison B. Krause and William Knox Schroeder and 20-year-olds Jeffrey Glenn Miller and Sandra Lee Scheuer--were killed. Here Derf Backderf and Deborah Wiles, authors with titles being published during the 50th anniversary year of the Kent State massacre, discuss about how they approached telling this story and what it might mean to a modern audience.

Derf Backderf is the award-winning author of My Friend Dahmer and Trashed. His graphic novel Kent State (Abrams ComicArts) goes on sale September 4. He lives in Cleveland, Ohio.

Deborah Wiles is a two-time National Book Award finalist and author of three documentary novels about the Sixties: Countdown, Revolution and Anthem. Her YA novel Kent State (Scholastic), goes on sale April 21. She lives in Atlanta, Ga.

Backderf: Hi, Deborah. It's a pleasure to meet you.

Wiles: Hi, Derf, the pleasure is mine. I loved your book. Your research is meticulous, thorough and familiar to me. I loved the backmatter notes. We used many of the same resources, even as we told the story from different angles. How did you decide on your storytelling frame?

Backderf: Well, you know how it is when you start a book. You have to first sit down and ponder it for awhile. What is my book about? Right away I decided to focus on the Four and show this entirely through their eyes and their experiences. I thought that would make the story very personal. When they're cut down, it's a gut punch. Then I added the Anonymous Guardsman, whose account was in the Kent State archive, so it became five threads. I also zeroed in on those four days of protest. There's so much backstory, I could have easily doubled the size of the book, but I thought that would bog down the story. I strive to make page-turners, because it's such a compelling tale.

When I read your book, the mental image it conjures up is theatrical, as if there's a spotlight illuminating the different players as they speak on a stage, or on Blanket Hill itself. It's very effective. Was that something you intended?

Deborah Wiles

Wiles: I struggled with a structure for the story. In talking with my editor, we both mentioned how much we'd loved Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, and a light went on--those disembodied, nameless voices from so many different walks of life, along with the collective memory of those days. I already knew I wanted all voices heard--students, National Guard, townies--even if their points of view were different or facts were incorrect (because there are some things we'll never know), and it made sense to let them speak to one another in conversation. I purposely decided to make the book as quietly eloquent as possible, but I didn't shy away from the gut-punches (as you call them), either. And yes, there is a theatrical element here. The book could be performed as a play or reader's theater, with many voices telling the story.

I loved your prologue, where the reader sees you as a kid watching the unrest begin to unfold before May 1. When and how did you decide to write about the Kent State killings?

Derf Backderf

Backderf: It's been on a list of potential books for quite some time. I'm an Ohio boy, and spent a lot of weekends in Kent, going to the clubs and bars when I was young. I considered studying at Kent State, too, but it was the lingering bad vibes from the shootings that sent me elsewhere.

Frankly, I didn't have the art chops to tackle this project before now. I came to long-form comics very late, having spent 25 years doing newspaper cartoons. That's a different skill set. This is the most difficult drawing I've ever attempted. I needed to make a few other books first and learn the craft a little better.

What specifically brought you to this story?

Wiles: I was 16 years old on May 4, 1970, a high school junior in Charleston, S.C., and I could not believe this had happened--no one could. It was all we could talk about, and the visceral feeling of it--the realization that this could happen in America, when we have constitutional First Amendment rights to assemble, to protest, to petition--has stayed with me. When I was writing my Sixties trilogy, Kent State kept appearing in my research, and finally I thought, "I have to write about this, especially for young people, who are on the cusp of decision and choice."

The shootings on May 4 were the defining moment for me when I was 16. Can you talk about your decision-making in your storytelling of that section? Those panels left me breathless.

Backderf: Yeah, those are tough scenes. I spare the reader nothing. I never hesitated on that. It's my belief that this story has been somewhat visually sanitized over the years. I know that sounds odd, given the horrific images that were published. In the section you describe, the images of the actual shootings simply don't exist, not until now. We have iconic photos of the Guard turning and opening fire, and then there's a gap until the photo of Jeff lying dead on the pavement with that ghastly river of blood running from his head. The reason for that is that all the photographers, smartly, hit the dirt when the Guard started firing.

The power of my art form is I can create those images, based on accounts and known facts, and show exactly what it looks like when copper-jacketed bullets over an inch long go tearing through flesh and bone, fired from a rifle so powerful it can send one of those bullets clean through a tree trunk a foot thick. Showing the violence of this, I hope, silences those who insist this was just an "accident," or that the students had it coming. Think the Guard should have shot more of them, as many did then, and many still do? OK, pal, here's what it looks like!

As we head into a year of off-the-charts political rancor, how close do you think we are to another Kent State?

Wiles: I draw stark parallels in Kent State between the state killing its children and today's shootings by lone gunmen in places like Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. I think we are there. Tell me how you see your book's relevance to today.

Backderf: I fear we've circled back around to 1970 and have learned absolutely nothing as a society in those 50 years. If we enter another period of mass street protest, and it seems we're moving in that direction, but now with a militarized police force that is far more heavily armed than the National Guard was, we'd do well to remember that when you seriously threaten those in power, the cost can be bitterly high.

Wiles: I hope, with both our books about Kent State, which I think make great partners for this story, that young people will be galvanized! It's the young who change the world. I want them to see that facts matter, that everyone's story is important, that listening is vital, that memory is malleable, opinion is emotional and thinking critically is crucial. I want them to vote. I want them to understand citizenship, to define democracy, to shape history. I want them to be the change they wish to see.

Book Review

Review: The Vanishing Half

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (Riverhead, $27 hardcover, 352p., 9780525536291, June 2, 2020)

Like The Mothers, Brit Bennett's second novel, The Vanishing Half, is deeply emotional and compelling, with evocative prose and deep characterization.

Spanning 30 years and two generations, The Vanishing Half follows twin sisters Desiree and Stella as they run away from home in the 1950s and follow dramatically different paths in life. Their hometown of Mallard, La., is intentionally populated exclusively by light-skinned black people, and Stella disappears from Desiree's life when she decides to cross over, passing as white and starting a white family.

The story begins in 1968, when Desiree and her very dark-skinned daughter, Jude, come back to Mallard, fleeing years of escalating domestic violence. Returning to the town where her father was brutally murdered by white men is the last thing Desiree ever expected to do after so many years away, but she still feels the pull of home and the cold comfort of the mother and community who raised her.

"A town always looked different once you'd returned, like a house where all the furniture had shifted three inches. You wouldn't mistake it for a stranger's house but you'd keep banging your shins on the table corners."

Meanwhile, Stella is living as a wealthy white woman, avoiding all black people, as she's convinced they'll be able to discern her secret. She goes so far as to teach her white, blonde daughter that she shouldn't play with their new black neighbors' child.

Internalized racism, deeply buried secrets and the complicated gender and racial upheavals of the 1960s-1980s saturate the novel. These tensions build to the inevitable moment when Stella's carefully constructed house of cards begins to collapse: "At first, passing seemed so simple, she couldn't understand why her parents hadn't done it. But she was young then. She hadn't realized how long it takes to become somebody else, or how lonely it can be living in a world not meant for you."

While shifting points of view and alternating timelines can become confusing, Bennett skillfully carries readers through three decades and seven narrators, and she gives each character a distinctive voice and motivation. The Vanishing Half handles subjects such as post-traumatic stress disorder, domestic violence, grief and colorism, exploring them within the context of complicated and messy family and romantic relationships. Bennett exposes the myriad ways people can hurt those they love best--or heal generational trauma. --Suzanne Krohn, editor, Love in Panels

Shelf Talker: This multi-generational saga explores a complex tangle of familial bonds, racism, hope and a future that clings to its past.

The Bestsellers Bestsellers in April

The bestselling audiobooks at independent bookstores during April:

1. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (HarperAudio)
2. The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel (Penguin Random House Audio)
3. Seveneves by Neal Stephenson (Brilliance Audio)
4. The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin (Hachette Audio)
5. American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins (Macmillan Audio)
6. Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson (HarperAudio)
7. In Five Years by Rebecca Serle (Simon & Schuster Audio)
8. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (Penguin Random House Audio)
9. Circe by Madeline Miller (Hachette Audio)
10. Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid (Penguin Random House Audio)

1. Untamed by Glennon Doyle (Penguin Random House Audio)
2. Wow, No Thank You. by Samantha Irby (Penguin Random House Audio)
3. The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson (Penguin Random House Audio)
4. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson (Brilliance Audio)
5. Open Book by Jessica Simpson (HarperAudio)
6. Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell (Hachette Audio)
7. Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker (Penguin Random House Audio)
8. Becoming by Michelle Obama (Penguin Random House Audio)
9. Educated by Tara Westover (Penguin Random House Audio)
10. The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang (Brilliance Audio)

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