Shelf Awareness for Friday, February 19, 2021

Random House Worlds: Damsel by Evelyn Skye

St. Martin's Press: The Girls of Summer by Katie Bishop

Soho Crime: The Rope Artist by Fuminori Nakamura, transl. by Sam Bett

Flatiron Books: Once Upon a Prime: The Wondrous Connections Between Mathematics and Literature by Sarah Hart

Grand Central Publishing: Goodbye Earl: A Revenge Novel by Leesa Cross-Smith

Texas Bookman Presents Texas Remainder Expo

Steve Madden Ltd: The Cobbler: How I Disrupted an Industry, Fell from Grace, and Came Back Stronger Than Ever by Steve Madden and Jodi Lipper

St. Martin's Griffin: The Bookshop by the Bay by Pamela M. Kelley


Wi16: A Heartfelt Opening

The American Booksellers Association's Winter Institute 16 began yesterday with a slide show depicting the roller-coaster ride life and bookselling has been in the year since Wi15, in Baltimore, Md.--the last in-person event attended by many in the book business. The parade of images recounted the arrival of the pandemic, the early lockdowns, slow and limited reopenings, the Black Lives Matter movement and booksellers' many ways of combating racism, the ABA's ways of helping booksellers cope, and the hopeful ending to a year full of challenges no one could have predicted. Many in the virtual crowd, joining from around the country and the world, were brought to tears--or at least mighty choked up.

And then, via video, President Obama welcomed the group and thanked them for their work "selling knowledge, discovery, wisdom, empathy, access to thoughts and worlds that readers have never experienced before" (see full text below). There were more tears.

Allison Hill

ABA CEO Allison Hill followed by welcoming participants to Wi16, recalling that a year ago, before taking her job at the ABA, "I spoke to many of you" in Baltimore. "I had a very clear vision of what I wanted to accomplish my first year at ABA." But, of course, with a start date of March 2, 2020, "this year did not go according to plan for any of us."

She said that this year's virtual Winter Institute aims to "honor and acknowledge this extraordinary journey that we've all been on this last year, and we wanted to move us all forward. We've been in this kind of Groundhog Day limbo through 2020, but things are shifting and opening up, and now seems the perfect time to move forcefully and fearlessly into what comes next.

This year's Wi program features brief poetry interludes. First up was Amanda Gorman, who read from her forthcoming Change Sings (Viking Young Readers).

"We move forward knowing that we are stronger and more resilient as a channel than we ever imagined. We move forward with the knowledge that your communities need you more than you even knew, and we move forward knowing that what we do this transition year of 2021 will define the years to come.

"Our industry moves forward in this new year with a renewed commitment to representation, antiracism and inclusivity. As colleagues we have a renewed understanding of what it means to take care of one another and how that relates to taking care of our businesses. And we move forward with a new humble appreciation for e-commerce." In March, she said she would share ABA priorities for the future.

Hill then thanked many people and companies who have supported Wi16 and indies in general as well as ABA members, its board and its staff.

And then participants dove into the first-day schedule, maybe happier than ever to "see" each other on the comments screen, sharing ideas, celebrating bookselling and all they've accomplished, and making the first virtual Winter Institute so far as vibrant and educational as any of the 15 before it.

Blackstone Publishing: What Remains by Wendy Walker

Wi16: President Obama Thanks Booksellers for 'Everything'

At the opening of the 2021 Winter Institute yesterday, President Obama sent this grateful message via video to booksellers:

Growing up, whenever I was nagging my mom, whenever I told her I was bored or distracted her while she was at work, she'd tell me to pick up a book. And over time, reading became my refuge, a world I could escape to no matter what else was going on in my life. Now as a teenager, there were a few years when I spent more time bouncing basketballs and chasing romance than exploring literature, as my grades attested. But one of the most formative moments in my life came around 10th grade, when my grandparents took me to a rummage sale and I found myself in front of a bin of old hardcover books. As I write about it in A Promised Land, for some reason I started pulling out titles that appealed to me or sounded vaguely familiar. There were books by Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes, Robert Penn Warren, and Dostoevsky, D.H. Lawrence and Ralph Waldo Emerson. My grandfather gave me a confused look when I walked up with my box full of books. He joked, 'What, you planning on opening a library?' My grandmother shushed him. She was happy that I was reading. Though she did say I might want to finish my homework before digging into Crime and Punishment.

And so I read all those books and found that they were expanding my mind and filling my spirit and broadening my sense of possibility and helping me sort through a budding identity, who I was and how I might want to live. And I went on to pick up a lot more books, at rummage sales and libraries and bookstores like yours. And that's why I want to record this video for all of you. Because what happened to me you're providing to so many other kids and teenagers and adults around the world, the same thing that those rummage sales first provided me.

You aren't selling books. You're selling knowledge, discovery, wisdom, empathy, access to thoughts and worlds that readers have never experienced before. And by virtue of them experiencing the lives of others through books, they start understanding themselves better. So as a reader and as an author, I couldn't be more grateful for the work that all of you do every single day, especially during such a tough year. Thank you all for everything. I hope to see some of you again in person soon, in bookstores or libraries in your community.

GLOW: Flatiron Books: Bad Summer People by Emma Rosenblum

Wi16: How to Think Like a Futurist

Brian David Johnson, futurist and author of The Future You: Break Through the Fear and Build the Life You Want (HarperOne), opened Winter Institute 16 in conversation with American Booksellers Association CEO Allison Hill. Johnson talked about his personal history with independent bookstores and his work as a futurist, and gave the booksellers in attendance practical tips for planning and working toward the future they want to see.

Johnson remarked that he could trace "every step of my life" through bookstores, starting with BJ's Books in Warrenton, Va., where he grew up, to New York City staples like The Strand and Shakespeare and Co., to Powell's Books in Portland, Ore., and finally Cannon Beach Book Co. on the Oregon Coast, near where he lives now.

He explained that as a futurist, he works with individuals and organizations to model both positive and negative futures and come up with practical steps for either ensuring or avoiding those outcomes. Perhaps the biggest mistake people make when planning for the future, he continued, is imagining the future as a "fixed point on the horizon." The future isn't set--it's built by people, and "we can all build our futures." The future is also "very local," and in that regard booksellers and small business owners have a "unique super power."

Noting that "human beings are story-believing machines," Johnson said he employs a story-driven approach to planning for the future. He told booksellers to start with questions like "who is the future you?" and "who do you want to be?" and encouraged them to write the answers down and "tell yourself that story." From there, you have to figure out ways to "make that story manifest," which includes identifying future outcomes you want to avoid as well as people and resources who could either help or hinder you.

If a particular goal "feels like it's really far away," you can "backcast" and figure out what sorts of things will get you halfway there, and then what will get you part way there. The final piece, Johnson said, is figuring out what you do next Monday.

He advised booksellers to ask themselves these same sorts of questions about their stores, such as whether they want to sell only books, books as well as merchandise, or even things like beer and wine along with books. At the same time they should think about what they want their community to look like in the future and what role they want their store to play in it. Writing a story about the bookstore will also help pull employees in and make them part of those plans. Said Johnson: "Bookseller, know thyself."

Beyond that, Johnson continued, booksellers should ask themselves tough questions like their biggest fear involving their bookstore. When it was pointed out that for most booksellers the biggest fear is closing, he replied that booksellers should try to unpack that fear by identifying what they think the biggest dangers are to their stores.

Asked about the possibility of publishers instituting a model similar to that of the U.K., where hardcover and paperback versions of books are issued simultaneously, Johnson answered that he couldn't make those sorts of predictions about the book industry, but he suggested booksellers should ask themselves whether that is a future they want to be a part of, and if they do, they should try to identify steps they could take to set themselves up for success. Using the U.K. model as an example, Johnson recommended finding "thriving booksellers and bookstores" in the U.K. and seeing what their operations look like.

On the subject of trends to be aware of, Johnson said the pandemic has resulted in a lot of "pent-up capital" and "pent-up energy," and once enough people are vaccinated and things truly start to reopen, there is going to be a boom. Booksellers should start to think about what they want to do with that boom, because the "opportunity is not going to last forever." --Alex Mutter

William Morrow & Company: The God of Good Looks by Breanne Mc Ivor

The Irreverent Bookworm in Minneapolis Suffers Flood Damage

The Irreverent Bookworm, Minneapolis, Minn., which carries new and used titles, suffered flood damage to its inventory Wednesday night. In a Facebook post yesterday, the bookstore noted: "Water + Books = Bad News. We are incredibly sad to report that during the night, a mainline water pipe burst in the ceiling of our basement, resulting in the loss of about 80% of our fiction backstock. As book lovers, we can't quite put into words how it feels to look at shelves upon shelves of ruined literature. We're rather heartbroken. Anyway pity party over (kindof), so here's the rundown....

"We are still taking a full inventory of the books ruined by the leak, so if you order secondhand fiction titles from us, there is a chance that some of them were among the souls gone to their watery, pulpy grave. We ask for your patience as we catalogue the lost books.... We are saddened by the loss of so many lovely books, and will need funds to help us rebuild our backstock.... We are going to need lots of help to recover from this inventory loss, and we are unsure of how much our insurance will cover."

G.P. Putnam's Sons: The Celebrants by Steven Rowley

How Bookstores Are Coping: Bookseller Camaraderie; Far from Normal

In Zionsville, Ind., 4 Kids Books & Toys is seeing "almost normal" customer traffic, along with orders for curbside pick-up and home delivery, owner Cynthia Compton reported. Compton's staff alternate between working in the store and working from home. No more than two staffers are in the shop at a time and are supported by those working remotely.

Frankly, Compton continued, the situation is hard. While remote staff can certainly respond to things like customer texts, messages and online orders, all of that product still needs to be processed at the store before it is delivered to customers' homes. In addition to all of that extra work, the usual work of bookselling still needs to get done, and Compton said she and her staff are "stretched thin in terms of both attention and hours."

The store has been receiving fewer complaints lately about mask wearing and social distancing, but the team still sees customers' general frustration with the ongoing restrictions. The team is seeing a lot of "garage birthday party" gift shopping and, with spring break coming up, parents are buying more travel distractions for kids. Noted Compton: "Vaccine distribution cannot come fast enough."

Asked how the store fared last year, Compton answered that 4 Kid sold its way out of 2020. Numbers were good, and having to suddenly sell books in so many different ways helped. The store's delivery and order-tracking spreadsheets were frequently "as long as our daily wholesaler orders," and her team figured out new ways to stay in touch with customers. The single biggest bright spot last year, she added, was that "realization of our elasticity as a business."

So far in 2021, Compton is "cautiously optimistic" about the first quarter. "A cold midwestern winter serves bookstores well," Compton pointed out, and the year opened up with some strong new releases. Being a children's bookstore also helps, as they have two markets: kids who read, and the adults who need their children entertained and educated.

Reflecting on the pandemic, Compton said she has never felt more a part of the bookselling community. She's taken so much inspiration and "borrowed so many good ideas" from her bookstore colleagues, and there is a camaraderie that has been built through facing adversity. She hopes this new sense of togetherness carries forward into "whatever our new normal looks like."


Stephanie Crowe, co-owner of Page & Palette in Fairhope, Ala., said "things are not normal at our store." Since the beginning of February, staff has been at a minimum, with only one person working at a time and two shifts occurring per day. Sales have been down about 35%-40% since the beginning of the pandemic, and while holiday sales improved, they were not back to normal. And as an events-driven store, the lack of events for almost a year has hurt quite a bit.

Sales in January and February were slow, but that's normal for the beginning of the year, and Crowe said she feels positive about things getting better. Normally the town hosts a huge arts festival in the spring, and although it was canceled last year there are plans for a smaller version this year. And while the vaccine rollout is slow, it is happening, and Crowe has increased some of her spring and summer buying. --Alex Mutter

Kit Rocha Named Bookstore Romance Day 2021 Ambassador

Bree Bridges and Donna Herren, aka Kit Rocha

Kit Rocha, the pseudonym for bestselling writers Bree Bridges and Donna Herren, has been named Bookstore Romance Day 2021 ambassador. Their most recent book, Deal with the Devil, was published by Tor last July; and its follow-up, The Devil You Know, will be released in August.

Rocha was selected "because their books are a strong representation of the focus of this year's celebrations, which will be on books that cross boundaries between genres--romance, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, thriller, and more," organizers said. Rocha is promoting Bookstore Romance Day in the months leading up to the August 21 celebration, and will be featured in a special spotlight panel during the day's virtual events.

"I couldn't be more excited to have Kit Rocha as this year's Ambassador," said Billie Bloebaum, Bookstore Romance Day's founder. "Deal with the Devil is already an indie bookstore favorite and a great starting place for stores who want to delve into romance but are uncertain about the books traditionally thought to comprise the genre. And Kit Rocha has a huge following among romance readers and we hope having the Kits as Ambassador will raise awareness in those readers of the romance-friendly independent bookstores out there."

Obituary Note: David Cully

David Cully

David Cully, former president of Baker & Taylor, died on February 16 at age 68 following a battle with cancer.

Cully joined B&T in 2008, heading retail and merchandising before being appointed president in 2017, a year after Follett bought the company. He retired in 2019. Earlier he worked at Barnes & Noble, where he was president of B&N Distribution, Simon & Schuster, Putnam Berkley Publishing Group and Waldenbooks.

Follett commented: "Many of us at Follett and Baker & Taylor worked closely with David and knew him to be one of the most caring, humorous, pragmatic, interesting and happy people we've ever met, so this loss is felt very deeply.

"David was a voracious reader and believed children thrive when they have exposure to books and reading early in their lives. He spent time visiting various schools and adored reading to young kids to get them engaged in literacy. It was this passion for reading that led to his 11-year career at Baker & Taylor with a focus on improving literacy for public library patrons of all ages.

"David will be greatly missed by his friends and colleagues at Follett and Baker & Taylor, and everyone who knew him."

Last year, the Book Industry Study Group awarded him the Sally Dedecker Award for Lifetime Service, and he was honored by Goddard Riverside in 2017.

His wife is Lynn Cully, v-p, publisher, at Kensington Publishing. Our deepest condolences to her and the rest of the family.


Image of the Day: AdventureKeen's Shop Local, Live Local Donation to Binc

Richard Hunt, president of AdventureKEEN, virtually presented Binc executive director Pamela French with a check for $4,332 from the 2020 Shop Local, Live Local campaign. The presentation took place yesterday in Binc's booth at Winter Institute. A matching $4,332 is being distributed to the 261 independent bookstores that participated in the Shop Local, Live Local campaign last year.

Deadline Extended for ABA's Trivia Game to Support Binc

The deadline has been extended to sign up for the ABA Trivia Night Fundraiser for the Binc Foundation, which will take place this Saturday, February 20, 5:10-6:25 p.m. Eastern, as part of the closing program for this year's Winter Institute.

The new deadline to sign up is February 20 at 5 p.m. Eastern. Players can purchase a ticket here. Donations may also be made using that link, regardless of whether one plays the game. Tickets are $5 per participant, and all proceeds benefit the Binc Foundation. Participants will receive a Zoom link via e-mail prior to the event.

Trivia enthusiasts do not have to be booksellers to participate in the event, nor do they have to be registered for Wi16 to take part. Teams will be organized by the quiz master at the beginning of the event.

Personnel Changes at Putnam; Chronicle Books

Katie McKee has been promoted to assistant director of publicity at Putnam. She was previously executive publicity manager.


At Chronicle Books:

Cythnia Shannon has been promoted to senior marketing manager, food & lifestyle.

Kathleen Miller has been promoted to sales manager, specialty.

Emily Malter has been promoted to associate sales manager, specialty.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Kerri K. Greenidge on Fresh Air

Fresh Air: Kerri K. Greenidge, author of Black Radical: The Life and Times of William Monroe Trotter ($19.95, Liveright, 9781631498756).

TV: The Overstory; Conversations with Friends

David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (Game of Thrones) are developing a series adaptation of the Richard Powers novel The Overstory at Netflix, Variety reported. Richard Robbins (12 MonkeysGood Girls Revolt) wrote the pilot script and serves as executive producer. Benioff and Weiss will executive produce, alongside Hugh Jackman and Bernie Caulfield of Bighead Littlehead Production Co. Powers is set to serve as co-executive producer.


The BBC and Hulu have set the cast for the 12-part series Conversations with Friends, based on Sally Rooney's novel, Deadline reported. Joe Alwyn (The Favourite) and Jemima Kirke (Girls) will headline the series, which also stars Sasha Lane (Utopia) and Alison Oliver.

Lenny Abrahamson (RoomNormal People) is lead director, with Alice Birch (Normal People) on board as a writer alongside Mark O'Halloran (Rialto), Meadhbh McHugh (Asking for It), and Susan Soon He Stanton (Succession). Leanne Welham (His Dark Materials) is the other director.

Production is set to begin this year in Dublin, Belfast and other locations, with the series scheduled to premiere in 2022 on Hulu in the U.S. and BBC Three/BBC One in the U.K.

Books & Authors

Awards: Frost Medal Winner; CILIP Carnegie, Kate Greenaway Longlists

N. Scott Momaday is the 2021 recipient of the Frost Medal for distinguished lifetime achievement in poetry, given by the Poetry Society of America and named for Robert Frost.

The Society's board of governors called Momaday "a critically acclaimed poet, novelist, and essayist. He spent his early years in the Southwest where his parents taught on Navajo, Apache, and Jemez Pueblo reservations. In his childhood, in his words, his 'mother [who was well versed in English literature] taught me how to discover the wealth within books' and his father, 'who was Native American of the Kiowa tribe and whose first language was unwritten, told me stories from the Kiowa oral tradition.' Such early influences guided his life, whether formal education or aesthetic choices. Indeed, his poems, often meditations on mortality, love, and loss, as well as reflections on the American landscape, evoke the essence of human experience. He is also a much beloved teacher who built his reputation specializing in Native American oral traditions. Current U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo writes of his 2020 collection The Death of Sitting Bear: New and Selected Poems: 'When you read these poems, you will learn to hear deeply the sound a soul makes as it sings about the mystery of dreaming and becoming.' "

Momaday is the author of many collections of poetry: besides The Death of Sitting Bear, they include In the Bear's House (1999), In the Presence of the Sun: Stories and Poems, 1961-1991 (1992), and The Gourd Dancer (1976). His first novel, House Made of Dawn, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1969. He is author of several other novels and prose collections, including Earth Keeper: Reflections on the American Land (2020).


The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals has released longlists for the 2021 Carnegie Medal (author of a book for children & young people) and Kate Greenaway Medal (illustrator). CILIP noted that the awards "are unique in being judged by children's librarians, with the Shadowers' Choice Award voted for by children and young people.

Shortlists will be announced March 18 and winners named June 16. Covid-19 guidelines permitting, a socially distanced special daytime event will be held at the British Library and live-streamed online.

Winners each receive £500 (about $690) worth of books to donate to their local library, a specially commissioned golden medal and a £5,000 (about $6,920) Colin Mears Award cash prize. Now in its third year, the Shadowers' Choice Award will be announced alongside the two medal winners. You can find the complete CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway longlists here.

Reading with... Cherie S.A. Jones

photo: Brooks LaTouche

Cherie S.A. Jones is a lawyer based in Barbados. She won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize in 1999. Her stories have been published in PANK, Cadenza, Eclectica, the Feminist Wire and broadcast on BBC Radio 4. She received a fellowship from the Vermont Studio Centre and her MA from Sheffield Hallam University, where she won the Archie Markham Award and the A.M Heath Prize. How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House (Little, Brown, February 2, 2021), set in Barbados, is her first novel.

On your nightstand now:

90, a book of poems by Kevin Devaney. I met Kevin when he visited Barbados and was hosted by Limegrove Lifestyle Centre, and I bought one of his beautifully bound chapbooks. I used to write poems (badly!) when I was much younger, and now I relish beautiful poetry because I know how hard it is to do well! I do not swallow poems whole. I savor them in small bites and a chapbook can take me several months to get through.

I never have just one book on my nightstand, though! Currently I'm also reading Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo and The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré. I feel a little late to the party with these two books, I've heard so many good things, and I'm enjoying them both immensely.

Favorite book when you were a child:

When I was very young, it was the Secret Seven series by Enid Blyton. I remember literally falling off a chair when the crew solved one of the mysteries in the series, I was that absorbed in the story. When I started secondary school, I read The Chrysalids by John Wyndham and it changed my life. It taught me that there's no such thing as "normal"--everything that is is normal--and if differences exist they are to be celebrated (provided no-one else is being hurt). I've been a very happy Fringe-dweller ever since then!

Your top five authors:

V.S. Naipaul--Miguel Street is one of my absolute favourite books of all time. I admire Naipaul for the strength and subtly of his early work.

Earl Lovelace--The Wine of Astonishment was required reading at school and I have re-read and enjoyed this book so many times, I've lost count. I love his sense of (Caribbean) place and people.

Chimamanda Adichie--I love everything Adiche, fiction and otherwise. I admire her work and her quiet, thoughtful, incisive intelligence.

Toni Morrison--Beloved moved me deeply and woke me up in so many ways, as did Song of Solomon. I adore Morrison's work and her dignity in writing about difficult things.

Jamaica Kincaid--I consider Jamaica Kincaid a real regal badass and the queen of revolutionary Caribbean writing, in both subject matter and style. I was a different person after I read Annie John.

Book you've faked reading:

I've never faked reading a book!! If I've encountered books I don't like, I don't finish them, but does watching the movie of King Lear (instead of reading the play) for A-Level English exams count?

Book you're an evangelist for:

Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry by Leanne Shapton. I never looked at writing a novel the same after I read this book! It is pure genius in form and style and a prime example of how much can be said by not saying.

Book you've bought for the cover:

A Thousand Years of Good Prayers by Yiyun Li. This book was actually on the booklist when I did my MA at Sheffield Hallam University, but unlike some of the others, which I was fine to borrow from the library, I bought my own copy of this to keep--the cover is gorgeous!

Book you hid from your parents:

When I was much, much younger than any child should be allowed to read V.C. Andrews, I got a copy of Flowers in the Attic from a schoolmate and smuggled it home, where I happily devoured it in several lengthy trips to the toilet.

Book that changed your life:

Do I have to choose just one? There are so many! The Chrysalids by John Wyndham and Banana Bottom by Claude McKay are definitely on that list, but so is every other book I've talked about here and hundreds of others I haven't!

Favorite line from a book:

It's actually a few lines from a poem "Poem for the Breasts" by Sharon Olds. For over a year her book Stag's Leap was the poetry collection I kept returning to, and it remains one of my favorites. These lines spoke to me at a visceral level, and I wrote a flash fiction piece called "Mammaries" which was inspired by them:

And some men loved them the way one would want oneself to be loved
All year they have been calling to my husband,
Singing to him, like a pair of soaking sirens on a scaled rock,
They cannot believe he could leave them

My micro-fiction story starts with the main character's breasts running away to rejoin her husband.

Five books you'll never part with:

Miguel Street by V.S. Naipaul: I have at least three copies of this book, the latter two were bought in a panic, thinking I'd lost the first one.

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys: I'm fascinated by "madness" and this book explored it wonderfully.

My grandmother's Bible: it has her handwritten notes of her grandchildren's births and her observations on various bible verses. I was extremely close to my granny up to her death in 1992, and she's one of the ancestors I remain closest to, to this day. Having her Bible is a gift and it travels everywhere with me.  

NW by Zadie Smith: In terms of content I loved her portrayal of immigrant experience and in terms of style, it contains one of the best contemporary examples of writing in the first person plural.

The Peerage Books compilation of the work of Oscar Wilde, including The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Complete Short Stories and The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays: it was presented to me for good work in A-Level English exams by my secondary school in 1991--that copy is almost 30 years old and I still treasure it!

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

There's more than one of these as well: The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender for its sheer inventiveness, imagination and skillful storytelling.

My Mother Was an Upright Piano by Tania Hershman. Reading this was my first example of the supreme skill required for good flash and started my exploration of the genre, it opened up a whole new world in my writing practice.

Animal Farm by George Orwell. The first time I read this book it was my Dad's copy, when I was still a teenager. It opened up my political thinking in a new way and I examined authority and social systems and ideals much more critically after that.

Only Animal Farm is still in my possession. I gifted the others to friends when moving back to Barbados to spare myself shipping charges. I know I'll be buying them again.

Book Review

Review: Forget Me Not

Forget Me Not by Alexandra Oliva (Ballantine Books, $28 hardcover, 352p., 9781101966846, March 2, 2021)

In Forget Me Not, Alexandra Oliva (The Last One) introduces a strong, damaged protagonist in a near-future world very similar to our own. Captivating characters carry this absorbing cautionary tale.

It's been six years since the pandemic. Everyone wears a Sheath around their forearm that links them into social networks, maps, business reviews and details about the people they pass on the street. But Linda didn't grow up in this world: she was 12 years old when she climbed over the walls that circumscribed the only world she'd ever known. Twelve years old when she was thrust into a never-ending spotlight, because of where she's come from and who she is.

Now, as an adult, she lives alone in an apartment in Seattle, terrified to step outside, to make eye contact, to interact. "People bemoan the inhumanity of her childhood, but the outside world is so much worse." That childhood remains an enigma for much of the book, but Linda remembers running barefoot and relying on herself, a life that seems more natural and straightforward than the one she knows now. "She was limber and determined and not once in her life had someone ever asked her, Are you okay? She knew no other way but to keep going."

Then an unusual woman moves in down the hall. Anvi seems open, forthright; Linda knows better than to trust anyone, but Anvi captivates her. She's persistent. And she introduces Linda to a virtual reality gaming world where she feels, perhaps paradoxically, a bit more real. Reality itself begins to look less certain: "Could her whole existence simply be someone else's side quest? She can feel the urgency with which she wants some version of this to be true. To wipe herself of responsibility--to claim it wasn't fear but an algorithm that made her run...." When Linda's past resurfaces, Anvi accompanies her back to the place where she grew up, to search for answers she may regret finding. Linda's shaky understanding of her very existence is thrown into question.

Forget Me Not explores humans' relationships with the natural world, with technology and with each other. It is far from polemic, however, with affecting characters, a real sense of urgency for their various plights and a thriller's racing plot. Linda is deeply troubled and deeply sympathetic; Anvi is a dear, quirky young woman with insecurities of her own. This is a poignant novel of isolation, terror, misperceptions and, ultimately, empathy. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Shelf Talker: A woman with a strange past struggles with a near-future reality in this riveting, moving masterpiece of both character and plot.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Remembering Wi15--What Were We Thinking?

The opening reception at Winter Institute in Baltimore

Consider the last five locations for the American Booksellers Association's annual Winter Institute: Minneapolis, Minn.; Memphis, Tenn.; Albuquerque, N.Mex.; Baltimore, Md.; and, for Wi16, my home office in upstate New York.

Yesterday morning, as I watched the inspiring bookseller tribute video, the welcome message from President Obama, and ABA CEO Allison Hill's introductory remarks, it was hard not to think back to Wi15 and how little we knew about what lay in wait for us in a matter of weeks. Despite a tough, tough year, however, here we are again, if virtually.

In his Wi15 breakfast keynote, "Reinventing the Store: Achieving Growth in the Face of New Business Risks," Ryan Raffaelli had told us: "History is littered with winners and losers of reinvention.... For the past 15 years, I have been working with companies that have been faced with technological shock, but they've had to step back and say, how are we going to reinvent when the world tells us that we either have to hold on or let go."

Ryan Raffaelli at Wi15 (photo:

Business risks? Shock? Reinvention? Fuhgeddaboudit. By January 2020, the world was already whispering threats in our ears. We weren't quite ready to listen yet, but our ears were ringing soon enough. 

"Exploration is about learning," Raffaelli continued. "For many organizations it's difficult to do both because the folks who live on the exploitation curve start to resent the people who are thinking about the new curve."

By March, everybody was suddenly careening around a blind "new curve" called Covid-19. Quickly shedding the fashionable theme that indies were "not just surviving, but thriving," all energy and attention focused back on survival. At Wi15, there had been no keynotes about coping with a global pandemic; no roundtable discussions on transitioning to full-time online operations with home deliveries and curbside pickups; no education sessions on face mask enforcement or plexiglass shield construction.

When Raffaelli discussed his upcoming white paper, "Reinventing Retail: The Novel Resurgence of Independent Bookstores," this wasn't quite what he had in mind. Or maybe it was.

Earlier this week, Brilliant Books, Traverse City, Mich., shared a glimpse back at that time from an indie bookseller's perspective: "In the process of reorganizing articles on our website recently, we rediscovered an article from last February, written about a month before the pandemic changed everything. In hindsight, it's almost cute.

"We talked about the slow days of winter after the holidays without any idea that soon, days with no in-store customers and only website and phone orders were about to become the norm. While that adjustment was hard enough for us, the bigger and scarier change was the abrupt extension of the uncertainty we usually only feel in winter. Now, here we are again, a year older and wiser and with no more certainty about what's next, and a whole new concept of what a slow winter's day can feel like.

"Today, as a business, we're still okay. Today, the lights are on, the staff are all employed, and we're still shipping books around the country. Tomorrow, we'll probably be okay, too. But there's no room for error. We talk sometimes about the pandemic being a marathon rather than a sprint, but even a marathon has a clear endpoint. This doesn't. The best we can hope for is a slow return to something a bit more normal, and throughout it all, we need you to stick with us."

At last year's WI, Emily Russo, co-owner of Print: A Bookstore in Portland, Maine, introduced Jennifer Finney Boylan.

On the final day of Wi15, keynote speaker Jennifer Finney Boylan advised that if "you want to open people's hearts, if you want to inspire passion and fire and resistance, there's no other way to go about it than by writing books, by publishing books, by selling books. I would be shocked if there were not plenty of days when many of you, many of us, have simply felt worn down by our working lives....

"I'm here to remind you that sometimes the frustrating work that we do makes a huge difference. In a world of bullshit, it is an act of defiance, an act of resistance and an act of love. So, from the bottom of my heart, on behalf of all the authors who are represented by the thousands and thousands of books all of you help to bring into the world, I just want to say thank you. The work we do may not seem glamorous sometimes, but truly, on a good day, we really are all in the business of saving souls."

In 2007, around the time of Wi2 in Portland, Ore., I wrote: "Publishing industry headlines are still rife with closing indie bookstores and evolving technology that may threaten the very existence of 'fiber-based' texts. Should we be afraid, like medieval peasants terrified by the prospect of what army or disease might be coming over the hill to annihilate their village next? I don't think that way. It is, as it always has been, the end of some worlds and the beginning of other worlds. The peasants adapt to survive."

I can't help thinking that even Mr. Raffaelli might have underestimated indie booksellers' ability to reinvent their retail model again and again and again.

With that in mind, Happy Wi16!

--Robert Gray, editor

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