Shelf Awareness for Friday, December 18, 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

Quotation of the Day

Robert Jones Jr.: 'I Love Booksellers!'

"I love booksellers! I actually used to work at the Scholastic Bookstore so I understand how challenging, how underappreciated and how rewarding the work of booksellers is. Indie bookstores are where my love for comic books (and thus my love for storytelling) was nurtured. Like libraries, indie bookstores serve a crucial role in the distribution of collective knowledge in the communities they serve. These sites become meeting places where one can listen to and engage writers and thinkers. The pandemic has unfortunately altered this, but I'm so happy that many of the independents have transitioned to virtual spaces and continue these necessary conversations and interactions. I have a particular and special love for the Black-owned indie bookstores, where works by Black artists are showcased in ways that push back against mainstream marginalization or minimization. It was at a Black-owned bookstore that I discovered Terry McMillan and James Earl Hardy, which led me to Toni Morrison and James Baldwin. I'm forever grateful."  

--Robert Jones Jr., whose novel The Prophets is the #1 pick for January's Indie Next List, in a q&a with Bookselling This Week

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


Bird Cage Book Store & Mercantile Relocates in Rapid City, S.Dak.

Bird Cage Book Store & Mercantile has moved to a new location in the heart of downtown Rapid City, S.Dak., that "gives Lily Mendoza more space to support education, advocate for other women, and promote Native American books and authors," the Journal reported.

In October, Mendoza relocated to 524 7th St. after four years in the Racing Magpie, which houses multiple businesses. The new space is "a hub from which her family runs a wholesale book business, Dakota West Books LLC, and online resource Word Carrier Trading Post, along with the brick-and-mortar book store and mercantile."

"There aren't very many Lakota-owned bookstores in the state of South Dakota, especially woman-owned, so (this new location) gives me an opportunity to put it out there that we're here," she said. "We really are a family-owned business.... It has been a really good move for us."

Mendoza learned the book business working in community relations and marketing for Borders. "What I began to see was the need for access to literature on the reservations. I had enough training and skill to go out on my own, so I decided to do Native American book fairs in schools," Mendoza said about launching Word Carrier Trading Post and taking book fairs to reservations. "Ours was Native American literature. We would go in with thousands of books and teachers could purchase resources for their classrooms. We did that all over the Northern Plains."

Bird Cage Book Store and Mercantile's new space gives Mendoza a place to promote causes she's passionate about. She believes in supporting other women entrepreneurs and uses her shop for that, as well. "One of the things I've wanted to do is create a space for women's cottage industries, so the (downtown location) allowed me to purchase items from women at a good rate and resell those items in my store. I have ribbon skirts and shirts, beautiful decorations made by local women, and masks."

Harpervia: Only Here, Only Now by Tom Newlands

Clues Unlimited in Tucson, Ariz., Closing This Month

Mystery bookstore Clues Unlimited in Tucson, Ariz., will close permanently at the end of the month. Owner Christine Burke wrote in a Facebook post that the store, which she's owned since 1996, is a casualty of "the global pandemic and advancing age."

Until the store closes, all new releases will be 20% off, and all used mass market paperbacks will be $2. Used trade paperbacks and hardcovers, will go for $5. The store will be open for appointments until Saturday, December 26.

"We have been selling the best mysteries and have presented some of the great writers of the genre for signings and events, including Tony Hillerman, Lee Child, Anne Perry, Laurie R. King, Michael McGarrity, Craig Johnson, and C.J. Box," wrote Burke. "Thank you all for your support over the years. You have become more than customers--you have become friends and allies."

How Bookstores Are Coping: Juggling 10 Balls at Once; 'Far from Normal'

In Seattle, Wash., Elliott Bay Book Company is limited to 25% capacity, reported general manager Tracy Taylor. For a store of Elliott Bay's size, that means a maximum of 56 people are allowed in at a time. In a normal year, at this point in December, the store would typically have 150-200 people in-store "at any given time"; Taylor noted that there are still long lines in the store, but that's because of social distancing.

The store hires around 10 seasonal workers each holiday season to help with things like gift wrapping, and normally they're "all packed into a tiny little room." Elliott Bay hired roughly the same number of seasonal workers this year, but the store's landlord has allowed Taylor and her team to use the empty retail space next door, which is about 12,000 square feet, for the month of December. That has become a gift-wrapping and shipping warehouse, and provides plenty of space for everyone to "distance out."

The bulk of the store's current business is online orders, which consume a "large portion of staff time." At the same time, they have to navigate customers calling in for curbside pickup or mail order, as well as customers browsing in-person. Remarked Taylor: "It's like juggling 10 balls in the air at once, and none of us are jugglers."

Elliott Bay Book Company encouraged customers to shop early, and Taylor noted that the same message was "going out across Seattle from all retailers." Shoppers were definitely receptive, with the store seeing much higher sales in early December than the same time last year. Taylor and her team have been watching stock levels very carefully, and though they haven't been able to get some titles back in stock, things haven't been too bad in that regard.

When it comes to popular titles, there haven't been too many surprises. Dessert Person by Claire Saffitz has been huge in cooking, and of course Barack Obama's A Promised Land has sold well. Megan Rapinoe's One Life has also moved very well, with Taylor noting that the author is local. On the subject of sidelines, Taylor said she bought similarly to past years, though they did beef up their selection of holiday cards, since they figured "people wouldn't be seeing each other as much." So far, they've sold a lot of boxed cards.

Elliott Bay's own jigsaw puzzle

Throughout the pandemic Elliott Bay has had a lot of success with its subscription boxes. While they've always had a first novel subscription, they've created poetry, true crime and graphic novel subscriptions, which have all "started to sell pretty well." The team also created themed book boxes that feature a selection of books and theme-appropriate sidelines. There is a Japanese Vacation Box, which features four Japanese books and three types of Japanese snacks, and the Whodunnit Box, which comes with four mystery novels, a canvas totebag and a mini magnifying glass, all wrapped in crime scene caution tape. Those have been doing really well, with people sometimes buying seven or eight at a time.

Jigsaw puzzles, Taylor added, have sold extremely well throughout the pandemic. Over the summer, after receiving so many e-mails from customers about how much they missed being in the store, Elliott Bay created a puzzle featuring the bookstore. That puzzle in particular has been "flying."


Carolyn Hutton, manager of Mrs. Dalloway's Literary and Garden Arts in Berkeley, Calif., reported that things are "far from normal" at the store. The bookshop was closed for four months before reopening in the late summer, and Mrs. Dalloway's was open for just two weeks before one of the store's staff members tested positive. The store closed again for two weeks, and "coincidentally had a pipe leak in our ceiling." 

Since reopening, Hutton and her team have allowed shopping by appointment only, as well as curbside sales and pickup, though the most recent round of restrictions in California has limited the store's appointment shopping even further.

The store revamped its online ordering system right before the pandemic hit, which put Hutton and her colleagues in a better place to handle the flood of web orders that has come in over the past nine months. Though things have been difficult, they've had remarkable support from the community, including the store's customers and its landlord.

Hutton praised the "incredible dedication" of the store's remaining staff, highlighting the way the team turned the store into an online fulfillment center on short notice. They've also become much more adept at online marketing, and they've had great success with online personal shopping forms for children and adults. The store's children's specialist, Hutton added, has developed an Instagram Saturday Storytime event that features appearances from bestselling authors and has been "widely watched."

The holiday rush began early, and the biggest sellers so far have included A Promised Land, Castle by David Macaulay, Ottolenghi Flavor by Ixta Belfrage and Yotam Ottolenghi, The 99% Invisible City by Kurt Kohlstedt and Roman Mars, Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell, The Searcher by Tana French and The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante. --Alex Mutter

Closed by PRH, Spiegel & Grau Is Launching as Indie Publisher

Spiegel & Grau is launching as an independent publisher with co-founders Cindy Spiegel and Julie Grau as co-CEOs. The company  plans to publish 15-20 titles a year with a business model "designed to support authors across multiple media formats," with books "at the center of the company."

Earlier founding editors and publishers of Riverhead Books, Spiegel and Grau founded Spiegel & Grau in 2005 as an imprint at Random House. Early last year, Penguin Random House announced that Spiegel & Grau would be closed and the founders would leave the company.

The revived Spiegel & Grau's staff includes president Liza Wachter, co-founder of the RWSG Literary Agency who will head the film & television side of the business; associate publisher Amy Metsch, formerly associate publisher and editorial director of PRH Audio, who will head audio; and COO Jacqueline Fischetti, who created Penguin's lecture bureau and led its international business development. Other founding members are Sam Nicholson, a former Random House editor; Aaron Robertson, a writer, translator, and former editor at Lit Hub; and digital director Sarah Kim.

In a joint statement, Spiegel and Grau said, "We are a team of hands-on editors and media professionals with decades of experience helping to shape, produce, and publish content. By enlisting strategic partners who share our values, vision, and sense of mission, we are able to take a holistic approach to content, creating a bespoke publishing plan that finds the best vehicles for storytelling, while always honoring the work's integrity. At a time when we need stories more than ever to elevate and transport us and to expand our sense of the possible, we bring a collaborative spirit to serving creators and their work."

At Spiegel & Grau, they published such bestsellers as Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Orange Is the New Black by Piper Kerman, Beastie Boys Book, Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, 21 Questions for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari, Women and Money by Suze Orman and Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick. At Riverhead Books, they launched the careers of many writers, including Khaled Hosseini, James McBride, Junot Díaz, Gary Shteyngart, ZZ Packer, Dan Pink and Sarah Waters.

The new Spiegel & Grau's first title is Fox and I: An Uncommon Friendship by Catherine Raven, which will be published in July 2021.

Spiegel & Grau will be distributed by Ingram's Two Rivers Distribution. Findaway will co-publish and distribute its audiobooks. The company has established a first-look deal with Amazon Studios and formed a partnership with Lemonada Media for original audio content.

Spiegel & Grau investors include Ian and Nancy Ashken, Emerson Collective, and William R. Hearst III. The board consists of chairman Ian Ashken, co-founder and vice chairman of Jarden; Nina Lorez Collins, a former literary agent and scout, a trustee of the Brooklyn Public Library, and the founder of the Woolfer; Julie Grau; Cindy Spiegel; and Liza Wachter.

Post Hill Press Forms Jewish Imprint, Wicked Son

Post Hill Press has launched an imprint, Wicked Son, that will publish "sharp-edged political and cultural commentary as well as history, fiction, philosophy and other books of Jewish interest." Wicked Son will feature "authors from across the Jewish world," particularly the U.S., Israel and Europe, and non-Jewish voices. The books aim to have appeal "beyond the Jewish readership."

Adam Bellow is publisher of Wicked Son, David S. Bernstein is executive editor and David Hazony, an independent editor in Tel Aviv, is acquiring books by Israeli authors. Wicked Son is particularly interested in "bringing the vibrancy of Israel's thriving literary and intellectual culture to American readers."

Bellow said that Wicked Son aims "to restore a level of cosmopolitan seriousness about the ideas and issues that was the norm during the heyday of postwar Jewish intellectual and literary culture." He continued: "The Wicked Son is everyone's favorite character in the Passover Haggadah, and it is easy to see why. He is irreverent, witty and sly, and while he reserves the right to evaluate Jewish tradition by his own lights, he also asks the most challenging question. Wicked Son will embody this contrarian spirit by publishing books that grapple with big questions, advance unconventional views, and promote greater Jewish engagement with history, culture, and ideas."

Wicked Son has already published several titles and will release a dozen more next year. Its first offerings include The Night Archer and Other Stories by historian and diplomat Michael Oren; Holocaust Holiday: One Family's Descent into Genocide Memory Hell by Shmuley Boteach; Free as a Jew, a memoir by Ruth R. Wisse; Isaac's Beacon, a novel of Israel's founding by David L. Robbins; Yossi Shain's The Israeli Century; Hesh Kestin's The Wrong Jew; Georgette Bennett's Thou Shalt Not Stand Idly By; and A Jew of Color by Hen Mazzig.

Obituary Note: Marvin Bell

Poet Marvin Bell, the first Poet Laureate of Iowa, a National Book Award Finalist and professor of literature, died on December 14 in Iowa City, Iowa, Copper Canyon Press reported. Bell was 83.

Over the course of his career Bell wrote more than 20 volumes of poetry. He published his first collection, Things We Dreamt We Died For, in 1966 with the Stone Wall Press. His most recent volume, Incarnate: The Collected Dead Man Poems, was published in 2019. His 1977 collection Stars Which See, Stars Which Do Not See, was a finalist for the National Book Award in Poetry.

His poems were known for "mining the intersection of philosophy and poetry," and they brought "meaning and discovery to daily life." His work featured a recurring character known as the Dead Man, an all-knowing trickster who addresses "the joys as well as the catastrophes of the personal and the political."

Michael Wieger, Bell's editor at Copper Canyon Press for more than 30 years, wrote: "He was one of the first poets I met when I started at the Press, and while I always recognized him as a tremendous and imaginative poet, he was also an unrelenting friend and advocate for poetry. Bell made certain to support the oddball originals and always strived to push poetry forward. I will miss his stories, his trivia and his faithful friendship. The Press is indebted to his generous influence."

Bell taught at the Iowa Writers' Workshop for 40 years and was the Flannery O'Connor Professor of Letters when he retired in 2005. He held a BA from Alfred University, an MA from the University of Chicago and an MFA from the University of Iowa. He was named the state's first ever Poet Laureate in 2000.


POTUS44's Reading List: Obama's Favorite Books of 2020

Former President Barack Obama tweeted a list of his favorite books from this year, noting: "As 2020 comes to a close, I wanted to share my annual lists of favorites. I’ll start by sharing my favorite books this year, deliberately omitting what I think is a pretty good book--A Promised Land--by a certain 44th president. I hope you enjoy reading these as much as I did." Obama's favorite books were:

Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar
Jack by Marilynne Robinson
Caste by Isabel Wilkerson
The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson
Luster by Raven Leilani
How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang
Long Bright River by Liz Moore
Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey
Twilight of Democracy by Anne Applebaum
Deacon King Kong by James McBride
The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker
The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson
Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn
Missionaries by Phil Klay

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Elton John on Fresh Air

Fresh Air: Elton John, author of Me: Elton John (St. Martin's Griffin, $19.99, 9781250770288).

Mazur Kaplan Co. Acquires His Only Wife


SK Global and the Mazur Kaplan Company have acquired rights to acclaimed Ghanaian writer and academic Peace Adzo Medie's novel His Only Wife "in a competitive situation," Deadline reported. They are looking into possibilities with the author for the book's development as either an English-language movie or TV series. The Mazur Kaplan principals are Paula Mazur and Mitchell Kaplan (owner of Books & Books in southern Florida and the Cayman Islands).

"After reading Peace's beautiful novel, we were driven to build on what she created. We're honored to take this journey with her and Mazur Kaplan," said SK Global president of television Marcy Ross.

Mazur added: "Peace brought to life a character and slice of Ghana that is unique and captivating. Mazur Kaplan is excited to bring a novel that has resonated deeply with so many readers to screen alongside SK Global."

Books & Authors

Awards: The Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry

David Constantine has been awarded the 2020 Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry, which was established by King George V in 1933 at the suggestion of the then Poet Laureate, John Masefield, and is awarded annually for excellence in poetry.

The medal committee, chaired by the Poet Laureate Simon Armitage, recommended Constantine on the basis of his 11 books of poetry, in particular his Collected Poems (2004), which spans three decades of his work. The committee noted that Constantine "has made significant contributions both to the European poetic tradition and to contemporary poetry, and the inspiration for his work ranges from the everyday, nature and our relationship with the planet, to the mythical world of Ancient Greece."

Armitage commented: "Above all, David Constantine is a 'humane' poet--a word often used in connection with his work, as if in noticing and detailing the ways of the world he is doing so on behalf of all that is best in us. For over 40 years he has shaped a body of work that stands in comparison with that of any of his contemporaries, not just at home but internationally, navigating and negotiating that space between everyday events and their metaphysical or spiritual 'otherness.' "

Reading with... Karen Powell

Karen Powell grew up in Rochester, Kent. She left school at 16 but returned to education in her mid-20s, reading English Literature at Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge. She lives with her family in York and works at York Minster Fund, a charity that raises money for the conservation and restoration of York Minster. Powell's debut novel, The River Within (Europa, December 1, 2020), was awarded a Northern Writers TLC New Fiction Prize. 

On your nightstand now:

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth MacNeal, Underland by Robert MacFarlane, Summerwater by Sarah Moss, The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel.

Favorite book when you were a child:

The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton is the first book I can remember reading for myself. I was enchanted by the idea of climbing into magical lands through the clouds that pulled up at the top of the tree, and by all of the characters who lived in the tree: Moonface, Dame Washalot, the Saucepan Man. I wanted nothing more than to sit on a cushion and slide down the Slippery Slip which ran down the middle of the trunk from Moonface's house at the top. When I was older, I was obsessed by the Anne of Green Gables books and am always happy to revisit them. The death of Matthew Cuthbert is one of the saddest scenes in literature! I also read the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder on repeat and all of the Swallows and Amazons books by Arthur Ransome. I maintain that I knew how to sail before I ever stepped into a boat because of Ransome's precise descriptions. One of the joys of living in the north of England is being able to go walking in the Lake District where most of the books are set.

Your top five authors:

I read mainly contemporary fiction these days, but I was brought up on the 19-century novel, and then came to Fitzgerald in my later teens, so these are my bedrock.

Thomas Hardy
Emily Brontë
Charlotte Brontë
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Jane Austen

Book you've faked reading:

I was going to say none; that I feel no compunction to have read anything in particular, but a supervisor at university once said, "You all read [Peter] Carey, of course," and all three in the room nodded sagely. At least one of them was lying.

Book you're an evangelist for:

The Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden. Not many people seem to read her these days, but to my mind this is one of the best coming-of-age novels, capturing that perilous period in life when you are on the cusp of adulthood but not yet fully equipped for its demands. Less obscure is the brilliant Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. I love his playfulness with form, the joyousness of abandoning a conventional or reverential treatment of a historical subject. It's a novel bursting with energy, managing to be funny and heartbreakingly sad at the same time. I am thinking in particular of a character who dies just as he has plucked up the courage to consummate his relationship with the woman he loves, and is doomed, forever, to hotfoot it around a graveyard in spirit form, weighed down by an enormous, priapic penis.

Book you've bought for the cover:

I loved the cover of Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams, though I thought it was a shame that it was pitched as a black Bridget Jones, it being a much more serious novel. (Helen Fielding is an excellent writer, too!)

Book you hid from your parents:

I can't remember hiding anything. It wasn't that kind of household though I'm sure my mother was horrified by the fact that I was as happy reading trashy airport novels as Austen and the Brontës.

Book that changed your life:

Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain. It's a desperately moving account of her life as a nurse in the First World War and the horrific losses she endured, but what affected me equally was her struggle to escape her life in genteel Buxton to study at Oxford. There were so many barriers in her way--her lack of a classical education, her parents' opposition, the expectations of society at that time--but she overcame all of them. Having ducked out of education early on and found myself, quite by my own failures, mired in a suburban life that I found deadening, this book gave me the courage to start again.

Favorite line from a book:

I'm not sure I have one in particular. It depends on my mood. What comes to mind is the devastating moment from Tess of the d'Urbervilles, when Hardy tells us, " 'Justice' was done, and the President of the Immortals (in Aeschylean phrase) had ended his sport with Tess." Being a bit of a misery-guts, I do love a bit of tragedy. On the flipside, I love this from Graham Greene: "He had an easy rapid insolence you had no time to resent before he had given fresh cause for annoyance." Until I read Our Man in a Havana, I had always thought Greene a bit dreary, had not realized how funny he could be.

Five books you'll never part with:

Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Jude the Obscure, Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, Tender Is the Night

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

I would love to discover Elena Ferrante's marvelous Neapolitan Quartet. Imagine meeting Lenu and Lila playing with their dolls in that courtyard for the first time again; having all of their intertwining histories stored up for the winter ahead.

Book Review

Review: The Rib King

The Rib King by Ladee Hubbard (Amistad, $27.99 hardcover, 384p., 9780062979063, January 19, 2021)

The Rib King is every bit as inventive and original as Ladee Hubbard's confident debut, The Talented Ribkins, finding the tragedy and the bitter humor contained within the American obsession with Black iconography. The novel begins in 1914 with Mr. Sitwell, a member of the all-Black staff that holds a wealthy white family's household together as their fortunes fade. The novel's interest in the connection of race and capitalism is evident at the outset, but the book is equally concerned with the ways narratives are shaped to disguise the sins of the past. Mr. Sitwell begins to lose his signature composure when he discovers a book recounting events disturbingly similar to a horrific incident in his childhood. What follows is one of the many unpredictable turns that makes The Rib King such an exciting read.

The second half of the novel picks up years later, when a caricature of Mr. Sitwell known as "The Rib King" has become the face of a wildly successful rib sauce. The "Rib King" iconography is reminiscent of many real-life examples of brands using racist archetypes like Aunt Jemima to sell products. Mr. Sitwell's transformation into caricature has made him an equivocal figure in the Black community. In one scene, a character argues that Sitwell is "just doing what he's got to, to survive," while another responds that "every time somebody acts a fool trying to slip in through a back door it makes it that much harder for all of us trying to get in through the front."

That tension--the lack of clear-cut moral choices for people living in a white supremacist, capitalist society--drives the book, but never resolves into simple dichotomies. Hubbard's book is jam-packed with plot and characters, schemes and conspiracies, all mixed up in a captivating eddy. Even Sitwell, who at first seems to have allowed himself to be exploited, has his own, shocking motivations.

The Rib King is a successful historical novel, full of period detail and sympathetic characters. The book's concerns, however, about how Black Americans "are all associated with the Rib King, whether we like it or not," do not lie solely in the past. Hubbard shows the monstrously strange methods through which capitalism perennially recasts suffering and injustice into profitable icons. --Hank Stephenson, the Sun magazine, manuscript reader 

Shelf Talker: The Rib King is a fascinating, unpredictable historical novel that examines the consequences of the American fixation on Black iconography.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Bookending a Bad Year with Moments of Light

How do I write the final column for #DevilYear2020? I couldn't decide. A "summing up" seemed impossible, and just depressing. A look ahead... implausible, even delusional. Late last week, however, I found wisdom in my e-mail inbox in the form of "A Note from Colum McCann," and my year had bookends at last.

The author began by quoting Dylan Thomas, from the essay "The Crumbs of One Man's Years" (1947): "And one man's year is like the country of a cloud, mapped on the sky, that soon will vanish into the watery, ordered wastes, into the spinning rule, into the dark which is light."

Noting that 2020 "was quite a year not just for crumbs, but for great big loaves of startling news coming fresh from the oven," McCann wrote: "It will be shaped and reshaped in our memories and while most of us will be happy to hear the clock tick over on midnight on December 31st, there have been some moments this year when, even in the ordered wastes, the darkness was tipped over into light."

After sharing a few his own moments of light, he observed: "It struck me, then, that there were so many other moments, created by others around me, people who have been prepared to take a chance this year on the possibility of hope in the face of all available evidence." And he shared some of those, too, noting: "I was grateful to be in a world where books have the capability of lifting us all out of our abulia."

Anne Holman of the King's English Bookshop in Salt Lake City with Colum McCann at MPIBA FallCon 2019

Where did I find my bookends in all this? Well, let's stretch the definition of year just a bit. In October 2019, McCann spoke about his great upcoming novel Apeirogon at the Gala Author Dinner Party during the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association's FallCon in Denver. "There's an Irish phrase--'You're in your granny's'--and tonight I'm in my granny's," he said. "Because what that means is, you're with your friends, you're with your family, you're in a safe space. I do feel like I'm in a safe space with people that I've been working with now for over 20 years. And I'm delighted to be here." After the dinner, I joined him and some other book folk for drinks and was delighted to be there.

Okay, let's move the bookends out a bit more. I first met McCann in 1996, after he read from his novel Songdogs at Misty Valley Books in Chester, Vt. The inscription in my signed copy reads: "Well-met in Chester on a winter evening, with great thanks for your supporting my work. Sláinte."

Shortly afterward, I received a note from him, thanking me for making the trek over snowy mountain roads to the event, and concluding: "Regards to all up there and with the hope that sometime we get a chance to have a pint of Guinness together." And so we did, a few times during my years as a bookseller when he came to Manchester for readings at the Northshire Bookstore.

Now the bookends draw closer together. I chatted with McCann briefly last January at ABA's Winter Institute in Baltimore. Although #DevilYear2020 was officially underway, we didn't quite know it yet. There were news stories about a virus in China, but we all gathered happily at Wi15 to celebrate the ongoing renaissance of indie bookselling and to look toward the future. We were still "casting with ferocious hope," as McCann describes a group of women "along the muddy side of a low-slung river wall" in his short story, "Fishing the Sloe-Black River."

Apeirogon was released on schedule in February, "which normally would have meant several trips to Ireland and Europe, but reality intruded," McCann noted. "The virus wanted us all like a war poster. My tour was cancelled. I froze in place. My work went online. Everything shifted. And the thought of home rang like a church bell in the back of my mind. Winter dissolved. Spring unsprung. Summer protested. Then autumn. Friends were losing family members. The news was grim. Things seemed to be unravelling in extraordinary ways."


And now here we are, in the final weeks of the year, bookended. This is not the first holiday season I've found myself sympathizing a little more than is probably good for me with Ebenezer Scrooge. In my Christmas Eve column in 2009, a #DevilYear of a different order, I wrote: "I do understand the generous spirit of that final, redemptive chapter in the Dickens tale, but I also get the gnarly, anxious businessman in Scrooge--the short-tempered SOB who confronts holiday well-wishers with a snarl.

"Hey, it's a down economy, the weather has been disruptive and who knows what the future will bring? And the fuel prices? Put down that lump of coal, Cratchit! If you're lucky, it'll be in your stocking on Christmas Day.... Here's to indie booksellers--and everyone in the book trade--who continue to sustain a Bob Cratchit spirit and focused, Scroogey business plan in the face of ghostly, ghastly visitations year after year. Bless us, every one."

--Robert Gray, editor

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