Shelf Awareness for Friday, January 8, 2021

Simon & Schuster: The Lightning Bottles by Marissa Stapley

Minotaur Books: The Dark Wives: A Vera Stanhope Novel (Vera Stanhope #11) by Ann Cleeves

Soho Crime: Exposure (A Rita Todacheene Novel) by Ramona Emerson

Wednesday Books: When Haru Was Here by Dustin Thao

Tommy Nelson: Up Toward the Light by Granger Smith, Illustrated by Laura Watkins

Tor Nightfire: Devils Kill Devils by Johnny Compton


The Salt Eaters Bookshop Eyes February Opening

Asha Grant, founder of The Salt Eaters Bookshop, is eyeing a February opening for the store's bricks-and-mortar location in Inglewood, Calif., NBC Los Angeles reported.

Last summer, Grant launched a GoFundMe campaign to help her bring The Salt Eaters Bookshop to Inglewood. Her plan is to emphasize books by and about Black women ad girls, femmes and non-binary folks, and she hopes for the bookstore to become a feminist literary hub. Whenever in-person events are viable again, she'd like to host children's events, poetry readings, author talks, teach-ins and watch parties.

Asha Grant

Grant's GoFundMe campaign opened with an initial goal of $65,000. Within a week the campaign had all but exceeded that goal, and Grant received support from people like actor Mandy Patinkin and author Roxane Gay. All told, the campaign has brought in over $83,000. 

"When I was growing up, reading was a really huge part of how I got to understand myself," Grand told NBC Los Angeles. "There's a huge disservice that our entire community gets when there is an entire group of people who are missing from that narrative."

BINC: Do Good All Year - Click to Donate!

Simon & Schuster Cancels Senator Josh Hawley's Upcoming Book

Simon & Schuster has canceled Missouri Republican Senator Josh Hawley's upcoming book, The Tyranny of Big Tech, which was scheduled to be released in June. A leader in the Senate of efforts to overturn the results of the presidential election despite no evidence of fraud--continuing even after the insurrection--Hawley has also been accused of helping to incite the mob that stormed the Capitol building Wednesday. Among other things, before the attack, he waved, gave thumbs up signals and raised his fist in solidarity with the crowd that was gathering.

In a statement, Simon & Schuster said the company had made its decision "after witnessing the disturbing, deadly insurrection that took place on Wednesday in Washington, D.C.... We did not come to this decision lightly. As a publisher it will always be our mission to amplify a variety of voices and viewpoints: at the same time we take seriously our larger public responsibility as citizens, and cannot support Senator Hawley after his role in what became a dangerous threat to our democracy and freedom."

Hawley responded by calling the move "Orwellian," arguing that he was simply "representing my constituents, leading a debate on the Senate floor on voter integrity, which they have now decided to redefine as sedition." He also called the move "a direct assault on the First Amendment. Only approved speech can now be published. This is the Left looking to cancel everyone they don't approve of. I will fight this cancel culture with everything I have. We'll see you in court." (Several observers have pointed out that the First Amendment is more concerned with government regulation of speech, not about a dispute between an author and a publishing house.)

S&S later issued this one-sentence statement: "We are confident that we are acting fully within our contractual rights to cancel publication of Josh Hawley's The Tyranny of Big Tech."

Graphic Universe (Tm): Hotelitor: Luxury-Class Defense and Hospitality Unit by Josh Hicks

Holiday and 2020 Sales:,, IndieCommerce

Initial indications are that general holiday sales increased slightly in 2020 compared to 2019, while, unsurprisingly, there were big shifts in sales channels and some categories. According to MasterCard SpendingPulse (reported by Seeking Alpha), holiday sales rose 3%, and Internet sales jumped 49% between October 11 and December 24. E-commerce accounted for 19.7% of overall sales, up from 13.4% in 2019. Reflecting more people working and spending more time at home, home furnishings and home improvement product sales were up 16.2% and 14.1%, respectively, while clothing dropped 19.1%.

During the holiday season and the year, and its indie bookstore partners continued to benefit from the growth of downloadable audio, which accelerated because of the pandemic. (The company has 1,321 bookstore partners, up 48% during the year; 1,212 are in the U.S. It also has increased its catalogue by 51%, to 215,000 titles.)

Units sold rose 200% in 2020 compared to 2019, and bookstore audiobook earnings increased 398% in 2020. New monthly memberships rose 202% during the year, and listeners rose 213%. And in the fourth quarter, audiobook gift membership sales grew more than 262% over the same period in 2019.


At, sales in December were "strong," founder and CEO Andy Hunter reported, and rose 15% from November. Bookshop now has more than 1,000 indie bookstores on the platform and another 100 signed up for the profit-sharing pool. The pool is over $2 million and is being distributed this month. Altogether, since starting early last year, Bookshop has raised more than $10.5 million for indie bookstores.


In 2020, IndieCommerce sales rose more than 680% over the previous year, aided by "impressive" holiday sales, according to Bookselling This Week.

A major factor in the sales gain last year was the e-commerce conversion rate (the percentage of online customers who completed an online purchase), which jumped to 5.75% in 2020 from 1.59% in 2019, representing a 261% increase. Online traffic overall increased by 101.24% in 2020.

Shelf Awareness Job Board: Click Here to Post Your Job

International Update: French Booksellers Report Sales Dip in 2020, British Indies Highlighted

Bricks-and-mortar booksellers in France reported a year-on-year sales decline of only 3.3% in 2020, "despite a total of three months closure across two lockdowns, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic," the Bookseller reported.

The French Booksellers Association (Syndicat de la Librairie Française) noted sales increased 32% in June and 35% in September, thus "avoiding a catastrophe," but one in five booksellers had an annual sales drop of more than 10%. Larger outlets were hit harder. According to the SLF, fiction, comic books and practical books had overall sales increases, while social science, children's, art and tourism books, as well as textbooks, declined.

SLF president Anne Martelle, co-director of the Librairie Martelle in Amiens, said she is "optimistic, but realistic" about 2021. Noting that French booksellers adapted to distance selling in the second lockdown, she fears there will be a third lockdown and that books will again be classified as nonessential items. She added, however, that "customers have shown a real wish to buy locally rather than online, and have become aware of the importance of bookshops to the community."

Martelle also said she was unaware of any French indies that had closed because of Covid-19, but "the crunch could come in April and May, when the government-backed loans granted at the beginning of the crisis will have to be reimbursed," the Bookseller wrote.


Penguin highlighted "how indie bookshops across Britain [and Ireland] are responding to lockdown" with great local initiatives, noting that "as we prepare to hunker down for a third lockdown this week, independent bookshops up and down Britain are rallying to get books to those who need them most." Among the shops mentioned:

Books Upstairs, Dublin, Ireland, "is offering specially curated book bundles to help readers through the lockdown. Just tell them a theme you're interested in, from feminism to fiction, poetry to Irish history, and staff will select three books they think you'll like and post them out. And if they send you a book you've already read, they'll swap it for another for free."

The Big Green Bookshop, Hastings, England, "has earned a strong online following for its #buyastrangerabook initiative, in which followers are offered the chance to either ask for a book or offer to buy one for somebody else. Such random acts of kindness seem as important now as they did during the first lockdown."

The Stripey Badger, Grassington, England: "This gorgeous little bookshop, cafe and kitchen in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales is offering to post, deliver locally or arrange for click and collect for anyone who can get to the shop itself during the lockdown."

Pages of Hackney, London: "This charming little indie in the heart of east London will send online book orders locally by bike, or further afield by post, while continuing its popular programme of virtual events, including author interviews and discussions, through its website." --Robert Gray

Publishers Lunch and ABA to Host Buzz Books Editors Panel

On Wednesday, January 27, at 7 p.m. Eastern, Publishers Lunch and the American Booksellers Association will host a virtual Buzz Books Editors Panel. Seven "breakout authors" will talk with their editors, and the event will be co-hosted by Roz Chast and Patricia Marx; the moderator is Jake Cumsky-Whitlock, co-owner of Solid State Books, Washington, D.C.

The authors and editors of the featured titles are:

Flynn Berry, author of Northern Spy (Viking), edited by Lindsey Schwoeri
Kaitlyn Greenidge, author of Libertie (Algonquin), edited by Kathy Pories
Gabriela Garcia, author of Of Women and Salt (Flatiron Books), edited by Megan Lynch
Miranda Cowley Heller, author of The Paper Palace (Riverhead), edited by Sarah McGrath
Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, author of The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois (Harper), edited by Erin Wicks
Carolyn Ferrell, author of Dear Miss Metropolitan (Holt), edited by Retha Powers
Erin French, author of Finding Freedom (Celadon), edited by Deb Futter

Booktrix's David Wilk Launches

As podcasts become ever more popular, Booktrix founder David Wilk is launching, a podcasting website that curates a collection of podcasts for readers, authors and publishers. In addition, Livewriters provides news and resources about podcasting for the book community, a forum for industry discussion, access to podcasting and audio experts in the field and more. Livewriters officially launches next Tuesday, January 12, with new features to be added to the site over the next several weeks.

Booktrix has been providing services and guidance to publishers and authors since 2007, and Wilk has been podcasting at since 2008.

"Now for the first time," Wilk said, "the book industry will have a single website to discover new podcasts, find the resources needed to launch or improve their own podcasts, and share work with a community of podcasters excited about this new phase in book industry development."

Obituary Note: Duryan Bhagat-Clark

Duryan Bhagat-Clark

Duryan Bhagat-Clark, senior director of planning at Scholastic Trade, died on January 2 after a battle with cancer. She was 49.

Bhagat-Clark joined Scholastic in 1995 as an assistant managing editor, focusing on school market and book fair paperbacks. She spent four years at Disney as global managing editor before rejoining Scholastic in 2005. She spent the rest of her career there, and her responsibilities included overseeing financial analysis for the Scholastic Trade division and serving as the division liaison for multiple publishing database systems.

"Everyone at Scholastic knew Duryan," said JoAnne Mojica, v-p of publishing operations and sales planning for Scholastic Trade. "Her uncanny ability to answer all questions thrown at her; her willingness to help with any issue (I don't think the words 'that’s not my job' would even register as an option); and her stubbornness to ensure every task was done correctly. This was all about her love of making the books and not just a job to be done."

Prior to joining Scholastic, Duryan was an editorial coordinator for Unique Homes magazine and she was a graduate of the University of Southern California.

Mojica added: "It was Duryan's ability to retain that one personal detail about the person she was speaking to that showed how much she listened and cared. But most of all, her one-of-a-kind infectious laugh--you always knew Duryan was there--you couldn't help but laugh along."

Colleagues at Scholastic have created a college fund for Duryan's daughter, Nansi.


Booksellers Among 'Nine People to Watch in Denver's Culture Scene'

"Denver's arts and music scene is rich with talented, busy people working to make this city a better place," Westword noted in featuring "nine people to watch in Denver's culture scene," including two independent booksellers.

Kwame Spearman

Kwame Spearman, the new CEO at Tattered Cover Book Store, said, "I think people may be surprised by my unfettered optimism about the potential success in brick-and-mortar retail, given some necessary evolutions of course." He added that after the Covid-19 pandemic is over, "bookstores will become a gathering place where we can finally reunite as a society. I'm a believer that the night is darkest before dawn. Still, in 2021, we need to be safe, caring and respectful of one another while we beat this virus. And then let's get back to rebuilding our community."

Nicole Sullivan

BookBar owner Nicole Sullivan said, "I hope that we find more ways to be together that break down our previous barriers of fear, intolerance or simple hesitance. I hope we are all able to meet each other in a new way that comes from a place of knowing that we've all just been through a collective political and public-health hell, and that we will make space for each other with patience and acceptance. With so many burdens beginning to be lightened, I look forward to a whole lot of silliness, art for art's sake, absurdity 'cause we can, and socializing because we want. I hope the scene will feel like a collective sigh of relief."

'Washington's Secret to the Perfect Zoom Bookshelf'

Books by the Foot, a service run by Wonder Book, Frederick, Md., "has become a go-to curator of Washington bookshelves, offering precisely what its name sounds like it does," Politico reported. "And this year, the company has seen a twist: When the coronavirus pandemic arrived, Books by the Foot had to adapt to a downturn in office- and hotel-decor business--and an uptick in home-office Zoom backdrops for the talking-head class.... When workplaces went remote and suddenly Zoom allowed co-workers new glimpses into one another's homes, what New York Times writer Amanda Hess dubbed the 'credibility bookcase' became the hot-ticket item."

Wonder Book president Chuck Roberts said: "We can sort of, you know, guess, or read between the lines, and we've had an uptick in smaller quantities. If your typical bookcase is three feet wide, and you just want to have the background from your shoulders up, then you might order nine feet of history, or nine feet of literature. That way, you put them on your home set... [and] nobody can zoom in on these books and say, Oh my God, he's reading... you know, something offensive, or tacky. Nothing embarrassing."

Personnel Changes at Kensington; BenBella Books; Phaidon Press

At Kensington Publishing:

Matt Johnson has joined the company as associate director of library & indie bookstore marketing. He formerly worked at Macmillan for 17 years, most recently as associate director and senior field manager of administration, marketing & operations.

Kristen Vega has been promoted from marketing assistant to assistant manager, marketing & influencer outreach.


Mallory Hyde, formerly at Sourcebooks, has officially joined BenBella Books as the senior marketing manager for the Matt Holt Books imprint.


Alex Coumbis has joined Phaidon Press as a publicity manager.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Robert Jones, Jr., on Weekend Edition Saturday

NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday: Robert Jones, Jr., author of The Prophets (Putnam, $27, 9780593085684).

TV: The Girl Before

Gugu Mbatha-Raw (The Morning Show) will be cast as the lead in a BBC adaptation of J.P. Delaney's The Girl Before. Deadline reported that U.K. production company 42 (The English Game, Watership Down) "is behind the four-part BBC One series, which will shoot this year. The Girl Before originally was optioned for a feature by Universal Pictures in 2015, with Ron Howard attached to direct, but now looks set to make its screen debut on television in 2021."

Delaney is overseeing the adaptation, with Marissa Lestrade (Deep State, Casualty) co-writing episodes. Lisa Brühlmann (Killing Eve) will direct. Deadline added that 42 "is in the advanced stages of bringing onboard a U.S. co-production partner, and sources said that HBO Max is the front-runner."

Books & Authors

Reading with... Jenn Bane and Trin Garritano

photo: Wes Taylor

Jenn Bane and Trin Garritano are the coauthors of Friendshipping: The Art of Finding Friends, Being Friends, and Keeping Friends (Workman, December 22, 2020), and the cohosts of the Friendshipping podcast, a feel-good advice show about making friends.

Bane is a writer, editor and producer who has received three Shorty Awards and a Clio Award for her work in comedy writing and production. Garritano is a writer and game developer. Most recently, she has contributed to Asmadi Games' tabletop roleplaying game 1001 Odysseys and the Victorian dating simulator Max Gentlemen: Sexy Business. 

On your nightstand now: 

Jenn Bane: I just finished Luster by Raven Leilani in two sittings. It's so addicting and so uncomfortable. I can't wait to see what the author does next. I also just picked up All Adults Here by Emma Straub. Contemporary fiction is my favorite genre and I have no doubt I'll love this book. 

Trin Garritano: I've been slowly nibbling at Written in Stone: Evolution, the Fossil Record, and Our Place in Nature over the past while. For whatever reason, knowing that we're living in just a teeny-tiny slice of Earth's vast history quells my existential dread (temporarily). 

Favorite book when you were a child:

Bane: I loved Goodnight Moon because my mom read it to me and that meant I got to delay bedtime. Also, it was the first time I ever noticed that words and art could evoke "loneliness." I wasn't a particularly lonely kid, but the book made me feel that way when I read it. That really got me thinking.

Garritano: Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time series knocked my socks off when I was 10. Experiencing science fiction that is empathetic, optimistic and deeply spiritual was absolutely brain-changing for me. Also, there's a girl in it, which blew my mind. 

Your top five authors:

Bane: Curtis Sittenfeld, Roxane Gay, David Sedaris, Maya Angelou, Jane Austen, Joan Didion, Laura Lippman, Tana French and I know I'm over five here but I can't help it. 

Garritano: Ray Bradbury, Bill Bryson, Madeleine L'Engle, Garth Nix and David Sedaris, I think? I am basing this entirely on the number of books per author on my shelf. 

Book you've faked reading:

Bane: Tess of the d'Urbervilles in English class sophomore year of high school. I just couldn't do it, I still can't and I never will.

Garritano: Moby-Dick. I've been assigned to read it three separate times in school and I've gotten away with completely ignoring it every single time. In a way, I am Moby-Dick's white whale. I will never read it. I will never be captured and turned into perfume.

Book you're an evangelist for: 

Bane: The Secret History by Donna Tartt. The tension! The quiet chaotic group dynamics! How it all unravels! I'm just forever searching for another book like this one.

Garritano: How Not to Kill Your Houseplant by Veronica Peerless is a great resource for anyone who keeps plants in their home. It's clear and concise, and it gives a solid overview of care for 119 different houseplants. 

Book you've bought for the cover:

Bane: I enjoyed Mary Shelley's Frankenstein when I read it, but I specifically bought a copy when I saw it with the blue cloth cover with anatomical hearts all over it. So morbid.

Garritano: I grew up on webcomics, but Fables by Bill Willingham was the first printed comic I ever got into. Mark Buckingham drew me in with the cover of issue 67, The Good Prince. There's something about a person with a sword in their hands facing impossible odds that speaks to me.

Book you hid from your parents:

Bane: I didn't need to hide books from my parents, actually. I did hide video games. I secretly played my older brother's violent fantasy games on the computer and they did not love that.

Garritano: Please see my next answer. 

Book that changed your life:

Bane: Probably To Kill a Mockingbird, which is the cliche but truthful answer. Thank goodness for that book. 

Garritano: My eighth grade English teacher once loaned me a copy of Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, and I stayed up all night reading it so I could hide it from my parents. In retrospect, I don't think they would have cared. But it was so dark and so different than anything I'd ever read, it felt like contraband. Anyway, it melted my brain and turned me into the weird nerd I am today. Thanks, Mrs. C.

Favorite line from a book:

Bane: From Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass:
"This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown, or to any man or number of men--go freely with powerful uneducated persons, and with the young, and with the mothers of families--re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul."

I used this in my wedding vows. Great advice in 1855, great advice now.

Garritano: From Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth
"Whatever we learn has a purpose and whatever we do affects everything and everyone else, if even in the tiniest way. Whenever you learn something new, the whole world becomes that much richer." 

This has been my guiding light for decades. Learn everything, love everyone and tread gently on the world. 

Five books you'll never part with:

Bane: Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld (which is completely worn down and torn up from being reread so many times), A Separate Peace by John Knowles and Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie. "All children, except one, grow up." That has to be of the best opening lines ever.

Garritano: Code Name "Mary": Memoirs of an American Woman in the Austrian Underground by Muriel Gardiner, The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury, A Testament of Revolution by Bela Liptak, National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Fossils, and Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. I like to think Jenn is the Neil Gaiman of our partnership (tight, solid writing with a dry wit) and I am the Terry Pratchett (ridiculous human being, the wettest possible wit). 

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

Bane: The Giver by Lois Lowry. The moment when you realize as the reader that Jonas is seeing color for the very first time--I want to experience that again.

Garritano: Goodbye, Chunky Rice by Craig Thompson spoke directly to the loneliness and misery of my early 20s. I finished it lying on the floor, weeping. I'm not exactly interested in an hours-long crying session again, but it meant so much to feel understood. 

Book Review

Review: Sophomores

Sophomores by Sean Desmond (Putnam, $27 hardcover, 384p., 9780525542681, January 26, 2021)

With Sophomores, Sean Desmond (Adam's Fall) evokes late-1980s Dallas and its suburbs with eerie precision. A nuclear family--father, mother, son--and the worlds they navigate are full of anxieties, choices and possibilities. Spanning just one school year, this is a novel to get lost in.

In the fall of 1987, Dan Malone is a sophomore at the Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas. He belongs to a tight foursome of boys who support each other at school and in their forays with the girls of Ursuline Academy. A bit tortured by his shyness in both areas, Dan's interior workings are self-consciously earnest but endearingly real. "Dan felt a sudden awareness, a shimmering sense of discovery, that his journal, the newspaper, music, writing, reading, it was all connected with some hidden purpose... The hour when he would take part in the life of the world seemed to be drawing closer, and Dan wanted to think and write and listen to his heart and find out what it felt."

Dan's father, Pat, is an airline executive facing a serious industry downturn, culturally Irish Catholic and miserably estranged by his displacement (for work) from his native Bronx. He drinks too much and hides it poorly from his family. He struggles with a recent diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.

Mother and wife Anne provides an essential counterpoint to Dan and Pat's heavily male worlds. As a devout young woman, Anne had been a novice at Sisters of Charity, but she grew into a worldly, quietly feminist woman, inclined to be contrary in her internal monologues. Still a serious Catholic, Anne argues with the pastor both in her head and via anonymous phone calls.

These three perspectives triangulate to offer a rich, subtle story of family grief and love, teenaged seeking and adult angst. Desmond places crises in the classroom, where Dan strives for growth and recognition from a teacher "legendary for rigor and Socratic curveballs," on equal footing with the murder trial where Anne serves as juror. Flashbacks to Anne's and Pat's pasts illuminate their characters and provide nuance and empathy. Events vary from the absurd (an ill-fated swim team trip) to the profane (one particularly colorful episode in Pat's fall from grace), but throughout this narrative there is a sense that all of this is somehow serious, important, holy.

Sophomores is a sharp, crystalline look at a few months in the lives of a "regular" family. With a keen gaze, it captures a city in transition and a boy just coming of age. Dan and his parents will stay with the reader long after the story is finished. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Shelf Talker: A boy begins to find himself as his parents face private battles of their own in this poignant and searching novel.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Survive, Thrive, Pivot & Other Words to Live By

Last fall, the Oxford English Dictionary chose not to name a word of the year, saying 2020 "cannot be neatly accommodated in one single word" and opting instead to highlight "words of an 'unprecedented' year," the Guardian reported. OED's lexicographers revealed what the dictionary described as "seismic shifts in language data and precipitous frequency rises in new coinage" over the previous 12 months.

Coronavirus was, of course, one of those words. Also pandemic (which had a usage increase of more than 57,000% over 2019), circuit breaker, lockdown, shelter-in-place, bubbles, face masks and key workers. Then there were phrases like flatten the curve, community transmission and following the science (which rose in frequency more than 1,000%). In the workplace, remote and remotely had jumped 300% in usage since March, and were joined by on mute and unmute (up 500%), workation (up 500%) and staycation (up 380%).

In its report, OED noted that "Oxford Languages' monitor corpus of English shows a huge upsurge in usage of each of those phrases compared to 2019. Though what was genuinely unprecedented this year was the hyper-speed at which the English-speaking world amassed a new collective vocabulary relating to the coronavirus, and how quickly it became, in many instances, a core part of the language."

Oxford Dictionaries president Casper Grathwohl said, "I've never witnessed a year in language like the one we've just had. The team at Oxford were identifying hundreds of significant new words and usages as the year unfolded, dozens of which would have been a slam dunk for word of the year at any other time. It's both unprecedented and a little ironic--in a year that left us speechless, 2020 has been filled with new words unlike any other."

For booksellers, the word/phrase of the year may have been pivot because that's what most indies had to do, beginning last March and continuing every damn day since then. Now 2021 has landed, with its own slew of harrowing words probably lurking in the weeds, ready to pounce on our frayed attention. Can you say insurrection?

Last April, I noted that ever since Covid-19 had compelled indie booksellers to reinvent their business models overnight, "the new watchword has been pivot." As 2020 devolved, another word that became common currency was essential, particularly in the case of bookshops worldwide that had to contend with official policies deeming their services nonessential.

Just for nostalgia's sake, I should remind you that even at last January's ABA Winter Institute in Baltimore we still thought the predominant independent bookstore watchwords were survive, even thrive as the indie bookstore renaissance continued. Then 2020 slapped the words right out of our mouths.

With 2021 only a few, deeply unsettling days old, I'll resist the temptation to predict that sh*tshow is already a strong contender for word of the year. Instead, I offer a couple of temporary alternatives, placeholders if you will.

First, let's consider handsel, which is not, as it might seem, a cousin of one of our most beloved keywords--handsell, though I could make a case for them being distant relatives.

Traditionally, in parts of the British Isles, the first Monday of the New Year was Handsel Monday, "a day to give a small gift or good luck charm to children or to those who have served you well," according to Merriam-Webster. "As long ago as the year 1200, English speakers were using the ancestor of handsel for any good luck charm, especially one given at the start of some new situation or condition. By the 1500s, traders were using handsel for the first cash they earned in the morning--to them, an omen of good things to follow. Nowadays, it can also be used for the first use or experience of something, especially when such a use gives a taste of things to come." Historians tell us that Handsel was eventually consigned to the holiday scrap heap in most regions with the adoption of New Year's Day.

Nevertheless, I'm officially tossing Handsel Monday back into the ring as a possible independent bookstore celebration day for 2022. I can see the lineup now. First we have Black Friday, then Indies First/Small Business Saturday, then Cyber Monday, and finally launch the new retail year with Handsel Monday. Imagine calendar and greeting card discounts; and handsellers, dressed in traditional costumes (well, dressed as themselves, but...), recommending great new books for a brand new year.

My second offering comes from the sports world. I watch a lot of British soccer (okay, Premier League football), and there is a phrase broadcasters often use that seems relevant to the daily challenges/crises in the book trade now. During a game, when one team is consistently pressing the other and spending a majority of its time on offense, the play-by-play announcer will inevitably say, for example, "Manchester United is asking all the questions now." This will be followed by another analyst noting that the defense is responding: "Chelsea has found the answers thus far."

Well, Covid-19 has been asking booksellers all the questions for nearly a year, and it has been inspiring to witness indies coming up with one answer after another. Maybe 2021's phrase of the year will be: questions answered.

--Robert Gray, editor

Powered by: Xtenit