Shelf Awareness for Friday, May 22, 2020
Quotation of the Day
'Buy a Book from an Independent Bookstore Right Now'
"I want to encourage readers to buy a book from an independent bookstore right now. One of the silver linings of this moment is that my local bookstore can be any bookstore in the country. I’ve found it really special and enlightening and fun to go to the websites of bookstores that I’ve never actually visited in cities far away from New York and see what their staff picks are and buy from them."
Harvard, Yale University Presses Offer New Terms for Indies
Harvard University Press and Yale University Press, through their distributor Triliteral/LSC in Cumberland, R.I., have made new promotional terms available for independent retailers in the U.S. For orders completed by June 30, 2020, accounts in good standing can receive 120 days dating, free freight, and +2 points in discount (minimum 15 units). Only available titles qualify; no NYP’s, and any backorders will cancel.
Amazon Bumps Prime Day to September
Seeking a return to pre-pandemic business operations, Amazon is taking a number of steps, including a shift to September for Prime Day, the online retailer's annual shopping promotion usually held in July. Citing "people familiar with the matter," the Wall Street Journal reported that "strains on the company’s warehouses due to surging demand caused Amazon to postpone the event."
Amazon is also allowing unlimited shipments of nonessential goods to warehouses, laying the groundwork "for shipments of a wider variety of products, the people said. It indicates that the company is now in a position to process orders more quickly in its warehouses and create room for more inventory," the Journal wrote.
The company had for a time limited buying and selling of "non-essential" products, including books. It also hired many temporary workers and has been faulted by some workers for not making their health the highest priority.
How Bookstores Are Coping: Community Support, Increased Online Sales
Jan Weissmiller, owner of Prairie Lights in Iowa City, Iowa, has not reopened her store to walk-in traffic, and does not plan to do so until Iowa sees a significant decline in new cases of novel coronavirus. Weissmiller closed her doors on March 19, but she and a small staff of booksellers have been "busy every minute" filling phone and online orders for free local delivery as well as curbside pick-up and free media mail shipping. Only five people are allowed to work in the store at any one time, Weissmiller said, and because the space is 10,000 square feet, it is easy to work safely and distantly.
Should case numbers start to decline over the summer, Weissmiller and her team may offer browsing by appointment. Then, if it looks like the store would be able to reopen safely in the early fall, Prairie Lights would close for a short time to renovate and rearrange the store.
Weissmiller said her furloughed booksellers have all been able to get unemployment benefits, as she closed the store before the state mandate was issued. Even though Iowa has allowed businesses to reopen, Weissmiller doesn't plan to bring back more employees until they feel safe. The store has maintained its health insurance coverage and will continue to do so.
Over the past six weeks or so, Prairie Lights has hosted frequent virtual events. The first was with Carmen Maria Machado and Evan James. Since then the store has done at least one per week, including a very successful event on Mother's Day with Honor Moore reading Our Revolution: A Mother and Daughter at Midcentury. The event was recorded, and Prairie Lights will post an edited version on Facebook. And next week, the store will host a virtual reading with John Grisham.
Weissmiller said the community is very supportive, and while her customers miss having Prairie Lights as a community gathering place, they are "thoughtful, responsible people who understand how imperative it is that we stay safe, and that our economy will be stronger in the long run if we prioritize health and well-being." Calls are coming in every day from people not only in the Iowa City area but also further afield. She added: "We are privileged to live in a community where people read broadly and constantly. Books are a solace we are proud to provide."
|Checkout at Octavia Books|
In New Orleans, La., Octavia Books held a soft reopening last Saturday. To enter the store, customers must be symptom free and wearing a mask, and there is hand sanitizer available at the entrance. Co-owner Tom Lowenburg and his team have installed a sneeze guard at the checkout counter, where there is now a lane that goes in only one direction. All booksellers are wearing masks and the store is no longer accepting cash payments. Restrooms are off-limits to customers, the water dispenser has been removed, and they are limiting the number of people in store at a time.
Lowenburg said he's been lucky in that he and his staff have all stayed very busy. When doors were locked and the store could sell books only online or over the phone, all of their jobs became much more labor intensive. They've been doing virtual events as well, including a very successful event last week in partnership with the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans. It was both a lecture by author/geographer Richard Campanella and a launch party for his new book, The West Bank of Greater New Orleans. Some 500 people participated and the store sold more than 120 copies of the book; the author also stopped by the store the day before to sign stock.
John Barry's The Great Influenza, about the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, has been on the store's bestseller list for weeks. Other standouts include locally themed titles like the cookbook Mosquito Supper Club by Melissa M. Martin and the aforementioned The West Bank of Greater New Orleans, as well as nationwide hits like The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson and The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel. Sales of jigsaw puzzles, meanwhile, have "shot through the roof," and it's been a challenge to maintain a good supply.
Lowenburg reported that his community has been very supportive of social distancing and other efforts to flatten the curve, noting that at one point New Orleans had the highest per capita incidences of Covid-19 in the U.S. His customers have seemed very grateful that the store has put so much focus on health and safety, and earlier this week New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell gave Octavia Books a shoutout on Twitter for putting safety first.
Little City Books in Hoboken, N.J., opened for curbside pick-up earlier this week after being closed since March. Co-owner Kate Jacob and her team are offering pick-up between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. daily. All orders must be completed online, and bags are then arranged on a table in the doorway for contactless pick-up. Jacob noted that Hoboken is a "walking town," so the store doesn't do actual curbside pick-up. There are also some puzzles and cards displayed outside, along with information about paying via Venmo or Paypal. The Little City team has also painted clever markers along the length of the sidewalk around the store indicating proper social distance, and the markers are labeled Mystery, Cooking, Fiction, etcs., like sections of the store.
International Update: Book Trade's 'Baffling' Absence from U.K. Cultural Renewal Taskforce
Book trade leaders said they were baffled that no current representative of the industry has been appointed to the U.K.'s Cultural Renewal Taskforce, which was recently formed "to help the creative sector bounce back from the coronavirus crisis," the Bookseller reported. The group is chaired by Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport.
Describing the lack of representation as "baffling," Meryl Halls, managing director of the Booksellers Association, said: "Given how crucial books and reading are to the cultural landscape of the U.K., and how essential reading has become to the mental health and well-being of the country during lockdown, we're surprised and disappointed--as is the rest of the book industry--not to see any book trade organizations included in the taskforce. With the publishing industry accounting for over 10% of U.K. creative industries employment, and contributing over £11 billion [about $13.6 billion] per year to the U.K. economy (with bookshops contributing over £1.9 billion [about $2.4 billion]), it is a vital part of the cultural economy in the U.K., and a significant employer.
"We have a good working relationship with the Arts Council and government departments, and with our fellow book trade bodies and will continue to feed into all and any work in order to ensure that bookshops come out of the pandemic in as strong a position as possible. The BA is actively working with BEIS on its consultations about safer working guidance for shops, and will continue to respond to all and any input from government--but the lack of books in the DCMS task force is baffling and disheartening."
Isobel Dixon, president of the Association of Authors' Agents, observed: "The last few months have seen an escalated level of shared experience and communication between publishing trade associations like the Association of Authors' Agents, the PA, IPG and BA, also with the Society of Authors and other author organizations--and we've all been sending information to Government and DCMS, and lobbying around trade issues.... but I was taken aback to see no direct publishing, agenting or bookselling experience represented on the taskforce now."
Posted on Facebook by the English Bookshop in Uppsala and Stockholm, Sweden: "One thing that has quietly struck us these last couple of months has been the fact that you are placing more orders with us than ever before. Both orders for books to be delivered and order for books to be picked up at the shop. This feels to us like a very conscious act of support and love that you are showing. We cannot stress enough how much this means and how grateful we are for this.
"It seems like a seismic shift in values from the large-scale logistics monsters to the small scale personal 'little shops on the corners.' Please understand how grateful we are and by all means please keep the orders coming--they are our lifeblood. YOU are our lifeblood."
The Bookworm in Kennewick, Wash., to Close
The Bookworm, Kennewick, Wash., is closing its doors after 46 years in business. In a Facebook post this week, the store said: "Due to the ever changing Covid-19 pandemic, we have made the decision to close The Bookworm and retire from the business. Our last day of business will be July 31, 2020. We will be selling everything in the store at discounted pricing. We are selling all of our bookcases as well. We will be allowing our customers to come in and shop 'BY APPOINTMENT ONLY' starting Monday, May 25, 2020."
The Bookworm opened in Richland in 1974. Cindy Bitzer joined the staff in 2005 before purchasing the business with her husband, Mark, in 2009 when the previous owner decided to retire. They relocated in 2015 to a larger space at 731 N. Columbia Center Blvd. in Kennewick.
On Facebook, the owners wrote: "It has been our sincere pleasure to offer excellent customer service to our loyal customers and we hope we were successful in this endeavor. It has been our joy to serve this community for the last 46 years and our customers will be greatly missed."
Obituary Note: Tom Low
Tom Low, CEO and co-founder of Lee & Low Books, has died, the company announced.
After running his own temporary personnel agency, Low founded Lee & Low in 1991 with Philip Lee to publish multicultural literature for children.
Philip Lee, who left the company in 2004, said, "It was a joy and privilege to be his partner in starting Lee & Low. He was a great friend, mentor, and visionary. It meant a lot to him to build a company that would promote diversity, encourage new voices, and nurture a new generation of publishing professionals."
The company said, "Tom was an out-of-the-box thinker who helped forge a unique path for Lee & Low when there was no obvious model to follow. Coming from outside the industry enabled him to look at every facet of book publishing from a fresh perspective, which made it easier to depart from traditional norms. His sharp business acumen and entrepreneurial spirit guided Lee & Low's growth and helped the company continue to adapt through many changes in the industry.
"Tom was especially proud of Lee & Low's work supporting new talent, particularly creators of color, and always had a special place in his heart for debut books. Some notable authors who got their start with Lee & Low include Caldecott Medalist Javaka Steptoe, Pura Belpré Author Award winner Guadalupe Garcia McCall, and six-time Coretta Scott King Honor recipient R. Gregory Christie, to name a few. Tom was also instrumental in the creation of the company's New Voices Award, an annual writing contest for unpublished authors of color, now in its 21st year."
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, there will be no memorial service in the near future. Well-wishers are encouraged to send a donation to one of Low's favorite charities: The Fresh Air Fund, Scenic Hudson, or North Shore Animal League America. Condolence cards can be sent to the Low Family c/o Lee & Low Books, 95 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016.
Video: Laura Hankin's 'Indoor Book Tour'
When Laura Hankin's original in-person book tour for her new novel, Happy and You Know It (Berkley), was canceled due to the Covid-19 crisis, she staged her own Indoor Book Tour.
Blast from the Past: Brookline Booksmith in 1984
"Would you like to take a look inside your favorite bookstore in 1984? Your wish is our command!" Brookline Booksmith, Brookline, Mass., tweeted, along with a link to raw footage for a 1984 news report on location at Paperback Booksmith in Brookline, including exterior shots of the front window display, interior shots of books on tables and shelves, and people in the store browsing (with close-ups of some book covers).
Storefront Window: Mystery to Me
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all.
Book Trailer of the Day: The Tourist Attraction
The Tourist Attraction by Sarah Morgenthaler (Sourcebooks Casablanca).
Media and Movies
Media Heat: Michele McPhee on Coast to Coast AM
Coast to Coast AM: Michele McPhee, author of Mayhem: Unanswered Questions About the Tsarnaev Brothers, the U.S. Government and the Boston Marathon Bombing (Steerforth Press, $17, 9781586422615).
Movies: The Hawkline Monster
Tony McNamara, the Oscar-nominated co-writer of The Favourite, is in negotiations to team up again with the film's director, Yorgos Lanthimos, to adapt Richard Brautigan's novel The Hawkline Monster, according to the Hollywood Reporter. New Regency is behind the project, "which also has a bevy of producers on board."
First published in 1974, the novel "has a decades-in-the-making history that saw Hal Ashby try to mount an adaptation for Jack Nicholson and Dustin Hoffman, and later Jeff and Beau Bridges, to star. Tim Burton also tried his hand at an adaptation," THR noted.
Books & Authors
Awards: Orwell Shortlists
Shortlists have been released for the £3,000 (about $3,805) Orwell Prize for Political Fiction as well as the Orwell Prize for Political Writing (nonfiction), both of which recognize works that "strive to meet Orwell's own ambition 'to make political writing into an art.' " The winners will be named June 25. Shortlists for all four Orwell Prize categories are available here. The finalists are:
Political Fiction Book
Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
The Wall by John Lanchester
Heaven, My Home by Attica Locke
Girl by Edna O'Brien
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
Political Writing Book
Appeasing Hitler: Chamberlain, Churchill and the Road to War by Tim Bouverie
Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me by Kate Clanchy
Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez
The Windrush Betrayal: Exposing the Hostile Environment by Amelia Gentleman
Underland: A Deep Time Journey by Robert Macfarlane
Margaret Thatcher--Herself Alone: The Authorized Biography Vol. 3 by Charles Moore
The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff
Reading with...Lisa Braxton
|photo: Adrienne Albrecht|
Lisa Braxton is an Emmy-nominated former television journalist, essayist, short story writer and novelist. She is a fellow of the Kimbilio Fiction Writers Program. Her stories and essays have appeared in Vermont Literary Review, Black Lives Have Always Mattered, Chicken Soup for the Soul and The Book of Hope. Her debut novel, The Talking Drum (Inanna Publications, May 30, 2020), is the story of three young couples in the 1970s, with a backdrop of racial, class and political tensions.
On your nightstand now:
Ta-Nehisi Coates's The Water Dancer. I enjoyed his nonfiction book Between the World and Me, and was anticipating that his debut novel would be a good read as well. I'm halfway through it and am not disappointed. I'm also halfway through The House Girl by Tara Conklin. I enjoy novels that unfold with alternating chapters focusing on different eras. I'm always curious as to how the story lines will link as the story proceeds. I also have on my nightstand Pleasantville by Attica Locke. I've been wanting to read her for a while now. I love a good mystery.
Favorite book when you were a child:
Freedom Train by Dorothy Sterling, the story of Harriet Tubman. I read that book in the fourth grade. When I told mom that I had finished it, she said, to me, "You know, our ancestors were slaves." I was stunned, I'd had no idea. But I was thrilled that I had gotten a sense of what their lives were like from the book. I still have that copy.
Little Women was another favorite that I also read in the fourth grade. I felt as if I was right there in the house with the March family experiencing their joys, adventures and sorrows. While reading Little Women, I decided I wanted to be a writer, to bring that kind of enjoyment to readers. Other favorites: Harriet the Spy, Charlotte's Web, Black Beauty and The Call of the Wild.
Your top five authors:
Langston Hughes. I have his collection of short stories and some of them tug at my emotions to the point that I have to grab a tissue to dab at tears. James Baldwin, who deftly explored racial and sexual themes in his writing. Tayari Jones, Louise Penny and Liane Moriarty.
Book you've faked reading:
A Separate Peace by John Knowles and Lord of the Flies by William Golding. I had both books in my home library for years and planned to read them because I thought they were books I was supposed to read.
Book you're an evangelist for:
A Chance in the World by Steve Pemberton. It is a heartbreaking memoir about his years of being physically and psychologically abused in the foster care system. Steve and his family used to attend the same church as me. He's a highly successful corporate executive, which is astonishing and inspiring considering what happened to him as a child.
Book you've bought for the cover:
The Hideaway by Lauren Denton. The image of the white rocking chairs on the porch of the bed and breakfast drew me in.
Book you hid from your parents:
Wifey by Judy Blume.
Book that changed your life:
Our Bodies, Ourselves by the Boston Women's Health Book Collective. When I was a teenager, I had so many questions about my body, some I didn't feel comfortable asking mom. Our Bodies, Ourselves filled in the blanks for me.
Favorite line from a book:
From Freedom Train, the story of Harriet Tubman, the last line in the book: "It was dusk and the North Star was shining in the darkening sky, when her eyes closed for the last time." My nine-year-old self felt sad reading this line. I'd spent so much time reading about Harriet, I didn't want to part with her and I wanted her story to continue. But I was pleased that she left the world peacefully.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I like the way this story unfolds of a couple, young and in love in Nigeria and the directions their lives take them in.
Review: The Buddhist on Death Row: How One Man Found Light in the Darkest Place
The Buddhist on Death Row: How One Man Found Light in the Darkest Place by David Sheff (Simon & Schuster, $27 hardcover, 272p., 9781982128456, August 4, 2020)
For 30 years, Jarvis Jay Masters has been a resident of San Quentin State Prison's death row, some two decades of them in solitary confinement. As one of 700 inmates currently in that grim status, his story would not be remarkable, but for the fact that during his long imprisonment he's become an esteemed Buddhist teacher, and a confidant of the well-known writer and teacher Pema Chödrön.
In The Buddhist on Death Row: How One Man Found Light in the Darkest Place, journalist David Sheff (Beautiful Boy) renders Masters's story in highly sympathetic fashion, tracing his transformation, and describing the efforts of Chödrön and a growing cadre of supporters to overturn what they believe is his unjust death sentence.
Masters's childhood in the home of a drug-addicted mother who worked as a prostitute and subjected him and his siblings to abuse at the hands of a constantly shifting cast of men set his troubled life on a downward trajectory at an early age. By age 19, in 1981, he was imprisoned at San Quentin, sentenced to 20 years for a series of armed robberies. A few years later, Sheff reports, Masters was implicated as one of the co-conspirators in the murder of a correctional officer. His compatriots, including the guard's murderer, were sentenced to life without parole, while Masters received a death sentence in 1990.
At the suggestion of an investigator hired by his legal team to write a social history of his life in the hope of mitigating his punishment, Masters began to explore the practice of mindfulness meditation. A combination of his diligent application to the practice and some happy accidents--including his connection to Tibetan monk Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche--eventually led him to Chödrön, who became a frequent visitor and a champion of his cause. During his time in prison, Masters has written two books, and has drawn on Buddhism to help his fellow inmates and even a prison guard contemplating suicide--to whom he "radiated a kind of power"--survive in San Quentin's perilous confines.
Though he seems to share a belief in Masters's innocence of the conspiracy charge, Sheff is less concerned with the machinations of his subject's multiple (and so far unsuccessful) legal appeals than he is with the way Buddhist practices have helped him to cope with his dire circumstances. Through his deep engagement with these teachings, he explains, Masters has come to understand that "when his mind was free, he was free," and that many who live their lives outside the walls of a prison are themselves in chains.
For all its hardship and heartbreak, The Buddhist on Death Row is an inspiring story of one man's ability to surmount suffering by applying the power of his mind. Anyone who's been tempted to explore meditation and mindfulness but who hasn't taken the first step should find encouragement in Jarvis Masters's far more difficult journey. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer
Shelf Talker: The moving story of a death row inmate who has transformed his life through insights gained from Buddhist teachings and practices.
Robert Gray: Alice Through the Plexiglass
Well then, the books are something like our books, only the words go the wrong way; I know that, because I've held one of our books to the glass, and then they hold up one in the other room.
--Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass
First, a confession. When I was a bookseller, there were occasions when I would have appreciated a plexiglass shield between myself and some customers at the POS/Information counter. Be careful what you wish for.
A few years ago, I ventured the theory that most prospective booksellers underestimate the amount of time they'll spend as cashiers. That duty tends to be soft-pedaled during the interview process, since in this vow-of-poverty, passion-driven profession, accentuating the positive is the rule. It just makes sense to showcase the glories of handselling, the avalanche of unlimited ARCS and the distinguished company of well-read colleagues, while the interviewee clings to sugar plum visions of a dream job, featuring serene hours lost in the stacks that are occasionally, yet gently, interrupted to handsell the perfect book to its perfect reader.
Now the rules have changed again, or more accurately they seem to change every damn day. We've all become Alice, stubbornly pursuing logic in a time of absurdity ("Today, the Coronavirus Task Force issued the following guidelines: 'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves/ Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;/ All mimsy were the borogoves,/ And the mome raths outgrabe....' ").
|At the Book Keeper, Sarnia, Ontario|
As booksellers tentatively explore this alternative land of retail protocols for masked handselling ("We aren't sure which sci-fi novel we are in at the moment but we will be ready!"), antiseptic sales floors and minimal-contact POS transactions, I've been particularly intrigued by the sudden appearance of plexiglass shields near cashier stations. They are likely to be with us for a while. We'll be spending a lot of time looking at each other through windows.
Earlier this month, Canadian bookseller Munro's Books, Victoria, B.C., posted: "Can you spot the difference? Protective plexiglass is just one of the safety measures we're putting in place as we eagerly work toward welcoming you through our doors again. We think the vibe around here can best be described as 'cheerful chaos' (the carpenter's drill is roaring away at this very moment), but as we brush the sawdust--and, er, regular dust--off our clothes at the end of each shift, we're filled with gratitude to be able to continue the fine work of bookselling. Thank you for continuing to support us through these strange times."
Strange times, indeed. In the Covid Age, deflector shields may be going up everywhere, including extreme alternatives like dining pods, iSpheres and Isolate. And if these or the literary madness raging in Alice's Looking-glass house aren't enough for you, try DEVO-inspired Energy Dome face shields. Sold by DEVO!
As part of their strategy to reopen as safely as possible, many bookstores have opted for POS shields. At Books to Be Red, Okracoke, N.C., the "blue X's are down, the plexiglass is up, and we are open for business. Please wear your mask and stop in. If we have too many people, you may have to wait a bit. I am also available to take appointments if you would like to go that route."
|At Main Street Books|
Some New York State regions have now entered Phase 1 of reopening. "Though we are not a part of that we are working to make our store safe for our employees and customers," the Golden Notebook in Woodstock said. "We like to think our new plexi-glassed front counter will be reminiscent of an old train station or bank. Movie theater? Or maybe back to the pharmacy we were over 40 years ago. See you soon again."
|At the Golden Notebook|
POS shields are also up at Wheatberry Books, Chillicothe, Ohio ("One of the ways we are working to keep your shopping experience safe is by limiting contact during checkout."), Book Buyers, Charlotte, N.C. ("Lee is smiling (honest!) behind the mask and the counter shield.") and Tatnuck Booksellers, Westborough, Mass. ("Plexiglass partitions have been installed at all cash registers.").
Are we becoming a nation of window shoppers at every phase of the retail transaction? No one knows yet. Unlike Alice, we don't have the option of going back through the Looking-glass to a world before Covid-19. So here we remain, exploring our Jabberwockian "new normal" through a plexiglass lens.
"It seems very pretty," she said when she had finished it, "but it's rather hard to understand!" (You see she didn't like to confess, even to herself, that she couldn't make it out at all.)