Shelf Awareness for Friday, September 24, 2021

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: Perfectly Pegasus by Jessie Sima

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: Perfectly Pegasus by Jessie Sima

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: Perfectly Pegasus by Jessie Sima

Take a Storytime Adventure into the World of Jessie Sima

Quotation of the Day

NEIBA: 'Real Communication Really Does Happen Between Books & Readers'

"It is such an honor to be here with you and I wish so much we were in person. I wish I could see you all and I wish I could hug you all. Thank you so much for everything that you do for all of us. This is my sixth NEIBA, my sixth book, with you all.... First time not in person, but any traction that I've gotten in the book world is because of all of you booksellers and booklovers and readers. 

"It's really your readership and your enthusiasm and your steady, steady support that gets us all through. I know how hard you work and so much of it goes unrecognized and unseen, especially during this pandemic where you all, on a dime, created a Zoom studio and a shipping department. What you did for writers during the pandemic, and what you're still doing is so, so incredible. We are all so very grateful.  

"I don't think I've ever been more fearful in my life about our inability--in our country and in our world--to communicate with each other. I think that we've been cut off from each other in many ways because of all these devices that we're carrying around and our great political divides and this pandemic. And being here just reminds me that real communication really does happen between books and readers. That gives me a lot of hope and a lot of strength."

--Lily King, author of Five Tuesdays in Winter (Grove Press), speaking at yesterday's virtual Author Breakfast during NEIBA's Fall Conference

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: Perfectly Pegasus by Jessie Sima


'Warriors' Unite at NEIBA Annual Meeting

Despite the pandemic, the mood of the New England Independent Booksellers Association virtual annual meeting yesterday was buoyant and optimistic and congratulatory.

Beth Wagner

As president Beth Wagner of Phoenix Books, Essex Junction, Vt., said, "The past 18 months have strengthened our already acute pivoting skills. By definition, indie bookstores have always been masters of reinvention. It's what we do, and we're darn good at it. We make careful plans and when those plans no longer serve us, we adapt. We improvise. We do that as individuals, as stores, and in our NEIBA community."

She called meeting via Zoom rather than in person "not the same, but it is something. And that something is important. That something is community."

Beth Ineson

NEIBA executive director Beth Ineson said, "I sit before you all today in awe of what you've pulled off," which included dealing with lockdowns, reopenings, operating online and in person at once, and "navigating the personal stress of it all, and one final gift for 2021: flying totally blind into Q4 because of the state of the supply chain.

"In the words of Glennon Doyle, you're all goddamned warriors, and I have to say that in more than 30 years in the industry, I have never been more proud to have been associated with a group of people."

Allison Hill

And Allison Hill, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, echoed Ineson, saying, "You are all warriors." She applauded "all of you and everything you've been doing these past 18 months. It truly has been awesome and inspiring. We feel very honored to get to support you in all that."

In other good news, after forecasting a major budget shortfall, NEIBA ended the fiscal year "operating cash positive," Ineson said, in large part because of not having to put on in-person events (and thus paying for meeting space and food, etc.) and "extraordinary support" from publishers for its programs.

NEIBA had a range of online programming that has included regular Zoom meetings and Thursday happy hours. Unfortunately, the Masked Ball, scheduled to be in person October 21 in Providence, R.I., will be a virtual event, after a survey of members found most didn't want to meet IRL just yet.

Treasurer Emily Crowe of An Unlikely Story, Plainville, Mass., added that two new members of the NEIBA board were elected in electronic voting: Meghan Hayden of the River Bend Bookshop, Glastonbury, Conn., and Ben White of Macmillan.

One of two major NEIBA projects on the agenda in the coming year is creating a new strategic plan. As Ineson noted, the last strategic plan was formulated seven years ago, and "to say things have changed in the interim is an understatement."

The other big project is the launch of the NEIBA Foundation, a 503(c)(3) nonprofit, which Ineson said has several advantages. Donations to the Foundation will be tax deductible, and it will allow the association to use some of its "sizable nest egg" to do such things as make grants to bookstores to help them improve business. The Foundation will "not cross over into anything Binc does," she added.

In the ABA section, Hill talked about some association priorities, including antitrust work, where there is currently "momentum and opportunity," because of both political interest as well as a raised consciousness in the public. The ABA is engaged, for example, in working with members of Congress, encouraging them to move forward. She noted that antitrust efforts have sometimes been framed as "anti-Amazon" but should be reframed as "leveling the playing field."

Joy Dallanegra-Sanger

She cautioned that supply chain problems will likely be "worse than last year and probably the worst ever." COO Joy Dallanegra-Sanger urged booksellers to "stock up on the books you're behind and make sure you get them now." She added that in conversations with publishers, publishers' tones have become "progressively more dire" as they deal with myriad printing, paper supply, shipping and staffing problems.

Hill said that the association is continually improving the IndieCommerce platform and has also made an investment in "a significant, longer-term" upgrade that will roll out next year and "speak to the importance of e-commerce in the future. We all know we're not going back to the pre-pandemic days.... We now have hybrid customers who shop with you all the time in every way possible," and an improved IndieCommerce will be able to serve them better. --John Mutter

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima

Hachette Purchase of Workman Completed

Hachette Book Group's acquisition of Workman Publishing closed yesterday. The $240 million deal was announced August 17 and would close, said Hachette parent company Lagardère, when regulatory approval was received.

Hachette Book Group CEO Michael Pietsch said, "This is a significant and exciting milestone for Hachette Book Group, as we welcome an extraordinary publisher to HBG. We have deep admiration for Workman's publishing, its people, its authors and illustrators, its books, its commitment to backlist and its culture. The opportunity for HBG to join forces with Workman is one I believe will be enormously beneficial to both companies, and our goal is to provide a new home that will enable Workman to continue to thrive and grow in exciting ways."

Dan Reynolds

As was indicated last month, Workman CEO Dan Reynolds is heading Workman as Hachette's eighth publishing group, with the title senior v-p and publisher. He is also joining the executive management board.

Reynolds commented: "One glorious Workman era has ended today, and another, full of promise and opportunity, has begun. We are very excited to join the Hachette family of publishers and energized by the prospect of learning ways of working and finding new muscles to flex. But I also want to use this moment to thank [Workman executive chair and president] Carolan Workman for her wise leadership before and during this transition. I speak for everyone at Workman in wishing her a retirement filled with the joys of life, including getting lost in a good book."

Workman includes Workman Publishing, Workman Audio, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, Algonquin Young Readers, Artisan, Storey Publishing, and Timber Press. Among Workman's strongest categories are cookbooks, parenting/pregnancy guides, gardening, country living, humor, children's books, gift books, fiction, audio and calendars.

Busboys and Poets Opening in Columbia, Md., October 10

After two years of construction, a new Busboys and Poets location will open in Columbia, Md., on October 10, the Baltimore Sun reported. The bookstore and restaurant will be the ninth Busboy and Poets location and the largest yet, with 10,000 square feet of space spread across two floors.

There is an outdoor patio on the first floor and a large covered deck on the second floor, as well as an event space with its own bar on the second floor. Between the indoor and outdoor spaces, the Columbia location can seat around 700 people.

"We've never had an outdoor deck or terrace before," owner Andy Shallal told the Sun. "We've had a second floor but not to this extent."

Shallal started to think about opening a store in Columbia after a number of local friends encouraged him to do so. He then met with members of the Howard Hughes Corporation to hear about their plans for the Merriweather District, where the new Busboys and Poets is located. Work began well before the Covid-19 pandemic began, but it of course caused many challenges. Shallal added: "We are battle-hardened. Not only us, but our customers are used to changes and pushing on."

Idaho's Iconoclast Books & Gifts Hosts 'Eviction Party'

Iconoclast Books & Gifts, Hailey, Idaho, hosted an eviction party yesterday. Owner Sarah Hedrick had posted on Facebook Tuesday that her business "was served an eviction notice today, not because I have ever fallen behind on my rent, so I can't answer questions as to why. (Greed?) In July, the owner of the building was in town (he lives primarily in Miami) and told me he 'would always work with the bookstore and Java Hailey because we are valued tenants in his building.' Less than a month later he increased our rent by 55% and before I could even sign the lease I was evicted. So much for a vibrant retail space in Hailey.... No DiVine Wine Bar, @Sun Valley Ballet, International Cowboy Cocina Restaurant and now no bookstore! Good luck, Steve Holzman."

Last week, in an article headlined "Tight property inventory drives up commercial rent in Hailey," the Idaho Mountain Express reported that "the commercial real estate market--slackened for months by the Covid-19 pandemic--is beginning to look like the residential one, marked by slim inventory and rising prices."

Hedrick told the Express: "In August I was told they would have doubled my rent, but because [Holzman] valued my bookstore he would only raise it 55%. It felt like I was supposed to be grateful, but I was in shock. I have already lost a home and a car to my business. During the pandemic, I wasn't eligible for any relief."

Voice of the Heartland Award Goes to Louise Erdrich

Louise Erdrich
(Paul Emmel Photography)

Louise Erdrich is this year's recipient of the Voice of the Heartland Award. Sponsored by the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association and the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association, the honor is given "in recognition of individuals and organizations who uphold the value of independent bookselling and have made a significant contribution to bookselling in the Midwest." She will  receive the award at the Heartland Booksellers award ceremony on October 14.

As a bestselling author and owner of Birchbark Books and Native Arts, Minneapolis, Minn., Erdrich "is uniquely suited to win this award," GLIBA and MIBA noted, describing her as "one of the most important voices in American arts and letters and one of our own in the bookselling community."

Speaking on behalf of the award's nominating committee, Johanna Hynes, IPS sales manager, said Erdrich "has created a rich literary landscape celebrating a sense of place, and a sensibility common to our region. She has long made her home here and her literary work has consistently given a voice to those often neglected or poorly represented in literature. Equally meaningful to us, she is a fellow independent bookseller and Birchbark Books, known for its commitment to the importance of independent business, stands as a unique place of discovery and understanding, especially of Native peoples and their arts." 

Halee Kirkwood and Nadine Tiseberg, co-managers of Birchbark Books, observed that the bookshop "is a haven for Native American literature and art. We are constantly inspired by Louise and through her leadership, Birchbark Books has fostered relationships with many schools, libraries, reservations, artists and nonprofits. Louise reminds us why bookselling is one of the best jobs in the world and why bookstores remain integral to their communities." 

Danny Caine, owner of Raven Book Store, Lawrence, Kan., said: "I can think of nobody more deserving of the Voice of the Heartland Award than Louise Erdrich. In many ways, she is a guiding light for Midwestern and Great Lakes literature. Over the course of decades and dozens of novels, Erdrich has created perhaps the richest, funniest, most heartbreaking, and most ambitious fictional portrait of our region. When asked what I consider the essential Midwestern novel, my easy answer is The Round House. Erdrich has also created a truly magical space in Birchbark Books. Like the best bookstores, Birchbark is a welcoming place, a place with a strong point of view, and a place that allows the love of books to blossom in its community. That it does all this while being a fierce advocate for indigenous authors and artists is worthy of commendation and celebration." 

Theron O'Connor, co-owner of Apostle Islands Booksellers, Bayfield, Wis., added: "From the front door of our store we look out across a Lake Superior sound onto Madeline Island. That is the setting for Louise Erdrich's The Birchbark House. Our daughters and grandsons loved it and learned from it. Consistent with her adult work, she pulls no punches. Death is at the heart of it, but Heart is in the life of it."


Chalkboards: Greenlight Bookstore

Greenlight Bookstore, Brooklyn, N.Y., is maintaining capacity limits in its two stores to facilitate social distancing, so the Greenlight staff created these clever chalkboards to guide customers. The first chalkboard welcomes customers in, and the second one, with a drawing of Gandalf, warns, "You Shall Not Pass, We Are at Capacity."

Personnel Changes at Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing

Nia Todd is joining Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing as children's education assistant marketing manager. She was most recently with Media Source, Inc.

Media and Movies

Netflix Acquires Roald Dahl Story Company

Netflix has acquired the Roald Dahl Story Company, "giving it access to the full catalogue of works from the famed British author," Deadline reported, adding that the deal "extends a relationship between the two companies that began in 2018 with an initial pact that gave the streamer access to 16 titles for animation adaptations."

Netflix said it was exploring the creation of projects based on Dahl properties across animated and live action films and TV, publishing, games, immersive experiences, live theater and consumer products.

Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos wrote in a blog post: "There is a moment in James and the Giant Peach when the Ladybird says: 'We are now about to visit the most marvelous places and see the most wonderful things!' The Centipede replies, 'there is no knowing what we shall see!' Netflix and the Roald Dahl Story Company share a deep love of storytelling and a growing, global fan base. Together, we have an extraordinary opportunity to write multiple new chapters of these beloved stories, delighting children and adults around the world for generations to come."

Media Heat: Jennifer Rubin on Real Time with Bill Maher

HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher: Jennifer Rubin, author of Resistance: How Women Saved Democracy from Donald Trump (Morrow, $27.99, 9780062982131).

Books & Authors

Awards: FT/McKinsey & Co. Business Book Shortlist

A shortlist has been released for the 2021 Financial Times/McKinsey & Co. Business Book of the Year, which recognizes a work which provides the "most compelling and enjoyable insight into modern business issues." The winner, who will be named December 1, receives £30,000 (about $40,905) and authors of each of the remaining shortlisted books get £10,000 (about $13,635). This year's shortlisted titles are: 
The World for Sale: Money, Power and the Traders Who Barter the Earth's Resources by Javier Blas & Jack Farchy (Oxford University Press)
Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe (Doubleday )
The Conversation: How Talking Honestly About Racism Can Transform Individuals and Organizations by Robert Livingston (Currency/Crown)
The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet by Michael E. Mann (PublicAffairs)
This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends: The Cyberweapons Arms Race by Nicole Perlroth, (Bloomsbury)
The Aristocracy of Talent: How Meritocracy Made the Modern World by Adrian Wooldridge, (Skyhorse)

Reading with... José Vadi

photo: Bobby Gordon

José Vadi is an essayist, poet, playwright and film producer living in Oakland, Calif. A two-time national slam poetry champion, Vadi received the San Francisco Foundation's Shenson Performing Arts Award for his debut play, a eulogy for three, produced by Marc Bamuthi Joseph's Living Word Project. Vadi is the author of SoMa Lurk, a collection of photos and poems published by Project Kalahati. His writing has most recently appeared in Catapult, McSweeney's, the East Bay Express, New Life Quarterly, Amadeus, the Los Angeles Review of Books and SFMOMA's Open Space. Inter State (Soft Skull, September 14, 2021) is his debut collection of poetic, linked essays investigating the past and present state of California, its conflicting histories and its impact on a writer's family and life.

On your nightstand now:

Just finished The Hard Crowd by Rachel Kushner and The Most Fun Thing by Kyle Beachy, and reading the latest Hanif Abdurraqib collection, In the Distance by Hernan Diaz and the latest issues of Free Skate Mag.

Favorite book when you were a child:

No idea of the title but literally the first book I remember wanting was this book about insects and animals in the children's section of the Pomona Public Library. I remember it had cool diagrams on how to build chicken coops and whatnot. It had zero to little impact other than a desire to go the library. Actually, in fifth grade The Giver was great, kind of like a G-rated 1984. My local school district attempted to ban it.

Your top five authors:

Hard to name five, but I can say whenever I enter any bookstore, I pretty much look for César Aira and Percival Everett books first.

Book you've faked reading:

Probably all of Chuck Klosterman's books.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Alexander Chee's How to Write an Autobiographical Novel--I read this while writing Inter State and it had a profound impact on the way I could conceptualize what a collection of essays could look like, especially the way different essays speak to one another and create this world and tone throughout Chee's work.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Fernando Flores Tears of the Trufflepig--it's a gorgeously colorful cover that has a matte finish, and accurately acts as a magic door into this wild tale of genetically modified organisms, psychedelics, classism and violence lurking somewhere between south Texas, north Mexico and the world(s) Flores creates in his prose. I felt like I was on a hallucinogenic throughout the second half of the book. I'm looking forward to reading his first collection of stories, Death to the Bullshit Artists of South Texas.

Book you hid from your parents:

I pretty much pillaged their collection so nothing really to hide other than issues of Hit Parader.

Book that changed your life:

It's probably James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time or Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son. The books showcased how a writer can weave personal reflections, experiences, observations, analysis and more into profoundly urgent and necessary texts, ones that spark debates that he too would be ready to attend, defend and rearticulate the larger purposes behind his craft.

Relatedly, George Orwell's nonfiction, like Homage to Catalonia and Down and Out in Paris and London, left pretty impactful marks on my writing, even though I was mainly writing poetry at the time when I read it in high school.

Favorite line from a book:

"You got flies in your eyes" --from Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. It was a bit of a joke between my cousin and I growing up.

Five books you'll never part with:

César Aira, How I Became a Nun
William Attaway, Blood on the Forge
Roberto Bolaño, By Night in Chile
Percival Everett, Telephone
Federico García Lorca, Poeta en Nueva York

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

Seeing Red by Lina Meruane from Deep Vellum Press. I felt like I was buzzing and sweating the entire time I was reading it, the prose was so consuming, which is obviously the desired outcome of any literary experience.

Book Review

Review: The Days of Afrekete

The Days of Afrekete by Asali Solomon (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26 hardcover, 208p., 9780374140052, October 19, 2021)

What happens in The Days of Afrekete, the second novel by Asali Solomon (Disgruntled), takes just an evening: Liselle Belmont prepares for and hosts a dinner party to thank her husband Winn's loyal supporters, despite a failed political campaign. But Solomon deftly expands the defining event with backstories enhanced with sharp insights on race, class, privilege, shifting identities. Her cutting humor especially stings.

Liselle--"Liesl was a character in The Sound of Music. It's Liselle"--and Winn have been married for almost 15 years. She's West Philadelphia Black, he's Connecticut white; they met in New York but settled in Philadelphia. At Bryn Mawr, Liselle was known as "The Wolf" among the undergrad lesbians, but she eventually chose marriage to Winn. She's been teaching history at a private school, but is taking a break, ostensibly to help Winn's run for state representative. Liselle's mother especially disdains the "Win-Winn" campaign, acerbically living up to her truth-telling name, Verity: "You want to know if you should throw a party to thank these people who had nothing better to do with their money and time than to help you delude yourselves?"

Yes, indeed, "delusion" is all too real in Liselle's home. Xochitl (whose name Liselle can't pronounce) arrives to serve the gathering, replacing Liselle's usual help; aging bad-kneed Jimena has sent her Ph.D. student/immigrant rights activist daughter instead. Liselle won't allow teen son Patrice to stay home and shuttles him off to the house of "forced-family friends." Patrice's slammed-door exit, however, confirms Liselle's intention to protect her only child. Winn seems clueless, but Liselle is expecting a surprise guest: amidst the innocuous dinner conversation, "Liselle found herself wondering if the FBI used handcuffs and what she would say to Patrice as his father was led away." Meanwhile, another uninvited someone is en route.

Solomon, an English and creative writing professor at Haverford College--ready with well-aimed jabs and nods at academia--chooses her native Philadelphia as background as she did with her previous two titles. Her obvious familiarity with the setting grounds Liselle as she moves effortlessly through neighborhoods and situations, code-switching to adapt to her surroundings. Solomon's writing is a showcase of incisive exactness: "She felt her ever twoness as the Black mistress of a tiny plantation"; "He was unfailingly polite but not thoughtful"; "There was so much lying all the time, particularly when you got together with people who were not Black"; "a 3-D Black person trying to fit into a 2-D box." In a brilliant collage, Solomon's skillful sentences, paragraphs, chapters coalesce into formidable storytelling. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Shelf Talker: A dinner party hosted by the Black wife of a white would-be politician becomes a scathing examination of race, privilege, and identity in Asali Solomon's penetrating sophomore novel.  

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: 'Sustaining Online Sales'  

It's late February 2020. Booksellers everywhere are waking up, brewing a cup of tea or coffee, and contemplating the challenges of the day ahead. Chances are that fulfilling an unprecedented number of online orders isn't a front-burner item.

Fast forward 18 months, however, and e-commerce is an everyday focus as the industry approaches its second pandemic-tinged holiday season. How bookstores keep the online momentum going was the focus of "Sustaining Online Sales," an education session held earlier this week at NEIBA's Fall Conference. Moderated by Kelsy April of the Savoy Bookshop & Café, Westerly, R.I., and Bank Square Books, Mystic, Conn., the panel also featured Meghan Hayden of River Bend Bookshop in Glastonbury, Conn., Elisabeth Jewell of Gibson's Bookstore, Concord, N.H., and Nicola Orichola of I Am Books, Boston, Mass. Among the highlights:

Meghan Hayden

Hayden observed that "the one thing I wanted to share about our online sales experience and what we're doing to prepare for the fall has really very little to do with our website. We've been working very hard this summer to get out and about in the community and stay as relevant as possible to our customers. We're trying to be with them physically, wherever they are, and we have two major efforts to do that."

In addition to launching a book truck, River Bend ran a pop-up shop in the lobby of a nearby playhouse for summer productions. "They are in West Hartford, about 25 minutes away from us, but really a market that is not presently being served by another indie bookstore," Hayden noted, "so we took that as an opportunity to reach out to potential new customers who would never have met us before; to surprise and delight them in a place that they already love and they already find to be culturally relevant for them. And introduce ourselves and hopefully drive online sales through the fall."

Elisabeth Jewell

At Gibson's Bookstore, "one of the things we realized is that your online customer is not necessarily the same person as the person that you have walk through the store," Jewell said. "So we changed up the way we were looking at our marketing there. We're growing this audience with our social media. We find that we are gaining followers with memes, staff reviews, relatable content... but we have also been growing our newsletter lists and our social media following through events."

A 99-cent shipping promo proved to be a hit (Her March 2020 genesis conversation with owner Michael Herrmann was chronicled on Twitter). Jewell added: "The first few days of lockdown in March and we were asking how are we going to do this? What are we going to do to convince people to buy things?" Then the shipping promo "went viral, which was fantastic. We had people from all over the world who thought we were hilarious. Thousands and thousands of hits and so, so many orders. It was funny, it was relatable.... People aren't supporting a bookstore, they're supporting the people in a bookstore.... If you have fun on social media, people take notice, and they want to spend money with the fun store."

Nicola Orichola

Orichola recalled that I Am Books "went from being a brick-and-mortar that opened 2016 to closing in October of 2020 due to the pandemic, and we switched from zero sales online to 100% online and I'm happy to say that we'll be back in a new brick-and-mortar store at the end of October thanks to the online experience, which kind of kept us going. 

"One thing that I really want to emphasize that really helped us get over the hump is communication with our customers.... We really try to be consistent with the newsletters.... Before the pandemic, I was a bit reluctant to do that because I would feel like maybe we're pushing too much or sending too many e-mails, but in the end everyone's sending a million e-mails and you have to keep in mind that it's your community. They love you. They really want to hear from you and your e-mails are not going to be spam for them as opposed to a lot of other e-mails that they get."

Kelsy April

At Savoy Bookshop and Bank Square Books, "we also started looking to the future in terms of e-commerce," April said. "Something that I'd never really considered before in 2020 became this really big deal for us to pay attention to. We went from doing minimal business on our website to exponential business in 2020 and into 2021, which I'm sure a lot of you can relate to. And it kind of forced us to adopt these processes and procedures in store to handle the influx of web orders."

April added that it is crucial to remember "your online customers are just as important as your in-store customers, and it is a bit more of a challenge online because you're not face-to-face, you don't have that connection of being in the same space together, so making sure that you are paying attention to your Web orders and treating them with as much dignity and respect as you do your in-store customers.... If you're not pouring your energy and effort into online sales, then you're not going to see a return on it." 

--Robert Gray, contributing editor

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