Shelf Awareness for Monday, August 16, 2021

Scholastic Press: Beastly Beauty by Jennifer Donnelly

St. Martin's Essentials: Build Like a Woman: The Blueprint for Creating a Business and Life You Love by Kathleen Griffith

Margaret Ferguson Books: Not a Smiley Guy by Polly Horvath, Illustrated by Boris Kulikov

Bramble: Pen Pal Special Edition by J.T. Geissinger

Sourcebooks Landmark: Long After We Are Gone by Terah Shelton Harris

Soho Crime: Broiler by Eli Cranor

Berkley Books: We Love the Nightlife by Rachel Koller Croft


Indigo First Quarter: Sales Jump 27.4%, Net Loss Reduced by a Third

In the first quarter ended July 3, revenue at Indigo Books & Music rose 27.4%, to C$172.1 million (about US$137.5 million), and the net loss declined by a third to C$21.9 million (US$17.5 million).

The company said that the gain in sales occurred "as many regions within the company's retail channel rebounded, driving double-digit growth in both the company's book and general merchandise businesses. Notably, the company experienced a surge in demand for its book business from a younger demographic, fueled by the popularity of reading on TikTok (#BookTok). Revenue was further buoyed by the success of an expanded assortment under the company's proprietary lifestyle brand OUI, showcasing customers' affinity for both core categories and new product assortment. These results were achieved despite Ontario closures, with over 50% of the company's store locations impacted by mandatory closures in the first nine weeks."

Indigo described itself as "well-positioned with an omnichannel strategy" that includes online sales that were "three times its pre-COVID fiscal '20 levels and revenues through store-pick up capabilities [that] grew nearly five times from the same period last year."

Commenting on the results, CEO Heather Reisman said: "Our strong first quarter sales performance reflects the beginning of a welcomed recovery in retail, the continued strength of online and the Indigo brand in general. In addition, it is a testament to our teams' successful management of store re-openings for over half our retail fleet and thoughtful inventory management."

University of California Press: May Contain Lies: How Stories, Statistics, and Studies Exploit Our Biases--And What We Can Do about It by Alex Edmans

Portkey Books in Safety Harbor, Fla., Launches Fundraiser

Crystel Calderon, owner of Portkey Books in Safety Harbor, Fla., has launched a $2,000 GoFundMe campaign to help the bookshop "upgrade to a book-specific POS system." The store opened in early 2020 as a pop-up bookstore, coinciding with the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic and business shutdowns.

"While the future may have looked uncertain, I was inspired by fellow established booksellers across the country," Calderon wrote. "Instead of giving up, they persevered with creativity and determination. As I followed these stories, it became clear that many of the bookstores attributed their survival to a strong website and Point of Sale (POS) system. Even though I was just starting out, I knew that a strong POS and e-commerce website was something that I needed to invest in for the success of Portkey Books. Based on bookseller recommendations, there was one system that stood out. Although the wait was very long and the price steep for a bookstore in its early stage, I asked to join the waitlist and began saving the store's bi-annual Bookshop payouts. If you've purchased a book through Bookshop, thank you so much for supporting independent bookstores!"

Effective today, Portkey Books will begin transitioning to its new POS system. "While Portkey Books has saved the Bookshop payouts over the last year, we still need $2,000 for equipment and the remaining balance by October 15," Calderon noted. "I started Portkey Books first as a pop-up to help verify that Safety Harbor wanted a bookstore. I am so grateful for everyone who said 'Yes!' with each and every purchase. Because of you, Portkey Books now has a storefront right on Safety Harbor's Main Street! Starting small without taking on large business debt has allowed Portkey Books to grow without fear of a disastrous failure in these unpredictable times."

GLOW: becker&mayer! kids: The Juneteenth Cookbook: Recipes and Activities for Kids and Families to Celebrate by Alliah L. Agostini and Taffy Elrod, illus. by Sawyer Cloud

Free Comic Book Day: 'People Need Comic Books More than Ever'

Free Comic Book Day marked its 20th anniversary Saturday even as the Covid-19 pandemic continued to challenge retailers. Speeding Bullet Comics, Norman, Okla., summed up the spirit of the moment well: "We feel in these challenging times, people need comic books more than ever. Due to the Covid variant tearing through Oklahoma, we are going to distribute the free comics outside, while saving the store interior for those who want to shop.... Despite our many challenges, we love bringing you comic books! We want to bring you your comics in a safe and fun way, and to continue to do so for many years."

At Monarch Comics, Toledo, Ohio

On Twitter, comic book writer Matthew Rosenberg posted a "short thread of friendly reminders before you head out to your local comic shop," including: 

  1. Stores pay for those books. They do it to bring people into the store, to get new readers excited about comics, and they do it as a thanks for their customers. You (probably) wouldn't go to a restaurant and just eat the free breadsticks. Buy some stuff while you're there.
  2. It's the first time in a comic shop for a lot of people. And if not the first, many don't go often. So be a good ambassador of comics. Be respectful, give people space, be kind, be clean and safe. We want people more people to get into comics. It's better for everyone.
  3. It's the hardest day of the year for shop staff. This year it will be especially hard. So be nice. Maybe buy some donuts and coffee for the staff. Ask them if they need anything. Thank them profusely. But more than anything listen to them and follow instructions.
  4. Wear a mask. Doesn't matter if it's not the law, or store policy, or you're vaccinated, or you don't believe in germs, or other people aren't doing it. It protects the people around you and makes them feel safer. It's just a good neighborly thing to do.

Many comic book shops shared their #FCBD excitement on social media, including:

Jetpack Comics, Rochester, N.H.: "Stay hydrated Rochester! We need you all alive for tomorrow's Free Comic Book Day Festival!" And on #FCBD: "People with bags loaded with free comics pouring out of the Megastore!"

Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse, Philadelphia, Pa.: "Is it Christmas? No! Is it Life Day!? No! IT'S FREE COMIC BOOK DAY! Today is the big day! Free Comic Book Day is here and we're counting down the minutes to see all of you!... Get in nerds, we're going to read tons of comics today!"

The Adventure Begins Comics, Games & More, Conroe, Tex.: "Batman and friends are ready for pictures until 4 p.m. during our @freecomicbookday event going on today! Come on down and grab some awesome #fcbd titles for your collection. Thanks to our cosplayers and the @houstonbatmobile for coming out!"

The Wizard's Wagon, University City, Mo.: "FREE COMIC BOOK DAY IS FINALLY HERE! Come join us as we open at 10AM! First person in line gets every #FCBD title. The next 9 people get 12! If you come in costume, you get 8! Everyone else gets 6!"

Galactic Quest, Lawrenceville, Ga.: "We had an amazing Free Comic Book Day!" And: "A huge thank you to all that came out for Free Comic Book Day 2021!"

Arsenal Comics & Games, Newbury Park & Ventura, Calif.: "And that's a wrap on the biggest, best, and most fun Free Comic Book Day yet! What an incredible great day! We are in awe of the support and turnout from today! It was the most time, energy and investment we ever made into the event and you all showed us it was not for nothing! THANK YOU!!!!.... We love our community so much! Comics forever!!!!"

G.P. Putnam's Sons: Assassins Anonymous by Rob Hart

How Bookstores Are Coping: Increased Precautions; Closed for 17 Months

In Oxford, Miss., Square Books is once again asking all customers to wear masks in-store, general manager Lyn Roberts reported. The decision came after the state of Mississippi announced its highest single-day new case count on Thursday. Prior to that, Roberts and the bookstore team, who are all vaccinated, were wearing masks while working but had held off on requiring customers to do so.

When the store relaxed its mask requirement in the spring, Roberts recalled, it was a "huge relief" for the staff, since no one had to wait by the door and potentially "do battle with recalcitrant customers." While encounters with those sorts of customers were not the norm, they took an "emotional toll" on the staff, and Roberts did not want to put her staff in that position again. But with vaccination rates in Mississippi among the lowest in the country and case rates skyrocketing, the choice was necessary.

She noted that in recent weeks more customers were voluntarily wearing masks in-store, after a stretch in the late spring and early summer when masks were a bit of a rarity. Roberts added that they've never stopped doing things like delivery and curbside pick-up, as some customers have not felt comfortable returning to the store.

The big question mark going forward, Roberts continued, is events. The Mississippi Book Festival, scheduled for August 21, has already been canceled, and she is not sure what will become of events slated for the end of summer and early fall. While the store would do these events with reduced capacity, things are still a "little bit up in the air."

Square Books, meanwhile, is trying to put out "positive messaging about vaccines whenever we can." One example involves the Ole Miss football team. After the players and coaching staff became 100% vaccinated, Square Books put out a social media post saying "our team is also 100% vaccinated." Roberts remarked: "We're trying to do our part to encourage people."


Sally Bradshaw, owner of Midtown Reader in Tallahassee, Fla., reported that the store has returned to "mandatory masks for our staff." While masks are not required for customers, they are encouraged, and she noted that the team is trying to be "sensitive to social distancing." They are also sanitizing work spaces regularly and offering free masks and hand sanitizer to customers.

The store will likely put its "Kidtown Reader" story hours on hold until later this fall, when, hopefully, it will be safer to have children together in an indoor space. Bradshaw and the team are hosting in-person adult events with limited seating and will continue to provide Facebook Live and Zoom options for people who prefer not to attend in person. She noted that the greater access that digital events provide was one of the "positive unintended consequences" of the last year. Delivery, online orders and curbside pick-up are also still options for customers who don't want to venture inside the store.

For the most part, Bradshaw continued, customers have been "appreciative and respectful of our team and fellow customers."


Tubby & Coo's Mid-City Bookshop in New Orleans, La., has been closed to browsing for 17 months now, owner Candice Huber reported. With Louisiana being an "extreme hotspot" for Covid-19, both early in the pandemic and now with the Delta variant, Huber has kept the store closed for the safety of staff and customers.

As a "niche genre fiction store," Huber said, their customers are "online all the time anyway," so the store was uniquely positioned to pivot to online business, curbside pick-up and virtual events. This new way of doing business has "been working out very well for us," Huber added, and the store will continue to operate that way until it seems safe to reopen for both staff and customers.

While customers do sometimes ask Huber when they plan to reopen, there hasn't been any pushback to the decision to remain closed. Tubby & Coo's customers "understand that we're being as safe as possible, and seem happy ordering online." --Alex Mutter

G.P. Putnam's Sons: Summer Romance by Annabel Monaghan

Obituary Note: Anne Marie Spitzer

Anne Marie Spitzer

Anne Marie Spitzer, a former sales rep and sales manager for Avon Books, died July 28 of cancer. She was 67.

Spitzer began her publishing career working for Brentano's in the Prudential Center in Boston, Mass., before becoming a sales rep at Avon, covering parts of New England and New York State. After demonstrating "a skill for not only selling books but identifying potential bestsellers," she was transferred to Chicago and covered major accounts in the Midwest. After three years in the Midwest, she transferred to New England as a regional manager. In the fall of 1978, she and another book rep, Michel Spitzer, met while waiting for their respective appointments with the owner of the Ben Franklin Bookstore in Worcester, Mass. They married five years later.

Her family remembered: "Throughout her professional career, first in the book business and then as an events coordinator and fundraiser for two local independent schools, she gained the love and respect of her co-workers for her willingness to do the heavy lifting. Her family, friends, and neighbors sought her out regularly for solid, caring, and helpful advice. Anne had an ability to instantly connect with people on a deep level. She was always considerate of those with less or in distress and her full and charitable heart compelled her to help them. Anne had a keen eye for design and would not hesitate to offer ideas to her friends if asked. She would even change your living room around and transform it into something more comfortable and pleasing to the eye... but only if asked. She loved music, singing with her family, especially her sisters & brothers and cousins at their many gatherings. She loved her family and was an intrepid matriarch, leading the charge for family vacations, gatherings, and the annual Christmas Eve party for the extended family with her signature flair and biting sense of humor. She was a deeply devoted daughter, and principal caretaker for her parents in their final years. She was a beloved Auntie to her nieces and nephews, to them she was brilliant, often outrageous, and so kind. She traveled in style and was able to enjoy trips to Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal, and Canada." She was also a devoted mother and grandmother.

The family has suggested donations be made in her honor to the Cholangiocarcinoma Foundation.


Bookstore Moment: Future Bookseller

Rachael Johnson shared this adorable photo from Valley Bookseller, Stillwater, Minn.: "This is Poppy, and she would like to work at a bookstore one day."

Personnel Changes at Little, Brown Young Readers

Andie Divelbiss has joined Little, Brown Young Readers as marketing assistant. A graduate of the Columbia Publishing Course, she interned with Pippin Properties and Sterling Publishing and most recently was manager of a Covid-19 testing site and a bookseller at Barnes & Noble.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Adam Harris on Fresh Air

Good Morning America: Kirk Herbstreit, co-author of Out of the Pocket: Football, Fatherhood, and College GameDay Saturdays (Atria, $30, 9781982171018).

Fresh Air: Adam Harris, author of The State Must Provide: Why America's Colleges Have Always Been Unequal--and How to Set Them Right (Ecco, $27.99, 9780062976482).

The Real repeat: Ilyasah Shabazz, co-author of The Awakening of Malcolm X: A Novel (‎Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $17.99, 9780374313296).

The View repeat: Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman (ret.), author of Here, Right Matters: An American Story (Harper, $26.99, 9780063079427).

Good Morning America: Billie Jean King, co-author of All In: An Autobiography (‎Knopf, $30, 9781101947333).

Also on GMA: Chandler Baker, author of The Husbands: A Novel (Flatiron Books, $26.99, 9781250319517).

Also on GMA: Kathy Iandoli, author of Baby Girl: Better Known as Aaliyah (Atria Books, $27, 9781982156848).

Kelly Clarkson Show repeat: Yvonne Orji, author of Bamboozled by Jesus: How God Tricked Me into the Life of My Dreams (Worthy Books, $26, 9781546012672).

Late Show with Stephen Colbert: Roger Bennett, author of Reborn in the USA: An Englishman's Love Letter to His Chosen Home (‎Dey Street, $27.99, 9780062958693).

Movies: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, the Hunger Games prequel film based on Susan Collins's novel, should begin production in the first half of 2022. Yahoo Entertainment reported that Lionsgate motion picture group chairman Joe Drake revealed the plans during the company's recent quarterly earnings call with Wall Street analysts, noting that the film's release would be in in either late fiscal 2023 or early 2024, and pre-production is "moving along really, really well."

Lionsgate had previously announced that Francis Lawrence, who directed the last three Hunger Games movies (Catching Fire, Mockingjay Part 1Mockingjay Part 2), would helm The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Casting has not yet been revealed. Collins will be an executive producer and write the film's treatment, with Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine), who was one of the writers of Catching Fire, adapting the screenplay.

Books & Authors

Awards: New American Voices Finalists; Gordon Burn Shortlist

Finalists for the fourth annual Institute for Immigration Research New American Voices Award, honoring the work of immigrant authors, are:

Patricia Engel, author of Infinite Country
Daisy Hernández, author of The Kissing Bug
Anthony Veasna So, author of Afterparties

A virtual award ceremony will held on October 15 during Fall for the Book, which be held October 14-31. Director Jim Witte said that the finalists' "work provides examples of how immigrants contribute to the nation's culture, while they provide new perspectives on what it means to be American."


The shortlist for the Gordon Burn Prize 2021, which honors literature that is "fearless in both ambition and execution... dazzlingly bold and forward-thinking," has been announced. The winner will receive £5000 (about $6,930) and a writing retreat at Gordon Burn's cottage in the Scottish Borders. The shortlist consists of:

Come Join Our Disease by Sam Byers
A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa
A Little Devil in America by Hanif Abdurraqib
Luckenbooth by Jenni Fagan
Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden
Sea State by Tabitha Lasley

Book Review

Review: Matrix

Matrix by Lauren Groff (Riverhead, $28 hardcover, 272p., 9781594634499, September 7, 2021)

Lauren Groff has built a significant career crafting novels and stories featuring sharp observations by and about modern women. In a surprising feat of time travel, the two-time National Book Award finalist (for Fates and Furies and Florida) leaps back to 12th-century England in Matrix and fictionalizes the life of Marie de France, believed to be the first woman to write poetry in French. Groff finds narrative inspiration in one of Marie's possible identities: Marie, Abbess of Shaftesbury, who was also King Henry II's half-sister. From minimal details, Groff produces a sublime examination of a woman's subversive refusal--almost a millennium ago--to be constrained by what society deemed forbidden.

In 1158, 17-year-old "poor illegitimate Marie from nowhere in Le Maine had at last been made prioress of a royal abbey." Marie was born in France to a 15-year-old raped by a royal, and purged from her home after surviving two years without family following her mother's death. She presents herself to Empress Matilda, wife of her rapist father, who sends Marie to be civilized "across the channel to her legitimate half-sibling's royal court at Westminster." Yet Queen Eleanor, the half-sister-in-law for whom Marie will always yearn, deems Marie "three heads too tall... a creature absent of beauty" and "anyone with eyes could see she had always been meant for holy virginity." Marie needs no man: she's already proven herself capable of running her family estate as a tetra-lingual polyglot with accounting skills. Marie finds religion "vaguely foolish," even "senseless," but can't escape "the desire of both god and the queen." At the royal abbey, Marie is confronted with poverty and plague, yet she will miraculously multiply her community, their wealth, their power, their joy.

Groff's imagined Marie is a "giantess" in accomplishments, who creates a scriptorium filled with literate women; elevates "the daughter of her spirit" as public bailiffess; engineers a labyrinth of secret passages for protection from outsiders; feminizes verbs and nouns in missals and psalters when she can't sleep; and dares to preside over Mass. In an environment of suffocating control, Marie--and her "always underestimated" sisters--continuously assert themselves. Groff, like Marie, adapts her language in repeated acts of empowerment. She reclaims her title word from the Latin--mater/matr for mother, -(t)rix for feminizing--and builds her sorority with cantrix, infirmatrix, cellatrix, scrutatrix. Beauty, Marie realizes, would have damned her to marriage, childbirth, anonymity and early death. Instead, through Groff's glorious imagination, Marie is forever "made great... the holiest of holy women on the island, venerated and beloved." --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Shelf Talker: Lauren Groff hauntingly, brilliantly imagines the life of 12th-century Marie de France, who subversively led a royal abbey in England from poverty and plague to vast wealth and power.

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