Shelf Awareness for Friday, January 21, 2022


Little Brown and Company: Haven by Emma Donoghue

Berkley Books: The Rewind by Allison Winn Scotch

Sourcebooks: Helltown: The Untold Story of a Serial Killer on Cape Cod by Casey Sherman

Candlewick Press (MA): Arab Arab All Year Long! by Cathy Camper, illustrated by Sawsan Chalabi

Jy: Enemies (Berrybrook Middle School #5) by Svetlana Chmakova

Entangled Publishing: Stealing Infinity by Alyson Noël

St. Martin's Press: The Matchmaker's Gift by Lynda Cohen Loigman

Legendary Comics YA: Enola Holmes: Mycroft's Dangerous Game by Nancy Springer, illustrated by Giorgia Sposito

News

New Co-owner for Beaverdale Books in Des Moines, Iowa

Hunter Gillum has become a co-owner of Beaverdale Books in Des Moines, Iowa, joining Alice Meyer, who founded the bookshop in 2006. The Register reported that regular customers "will likely already recognize the local bookshop's new co-owner... who not only worked at the store for years but has his own book club." Gillum became store manager in 2017 and was officially instated in his new role effective January 1.

Born in nearby Indianola, Gillum "moved to Iowa City for college before graduating in 2015 and making his way back to central Iowa, where he eventually began working at the local bookstore," the Register noted. 

"I was a book person before coming here, and it's just like... kind of a book person's dream, doing all this stuff, like reorganizing your books, or sorting your books and stuff like that, stuff that I would be doing at my home," Gillum said.

Beaverdale Books owners Alice Meyer and Hunter Gillum

Meyer recalled that sometime last year Gillum "took over the buying for the store. Because at the time, I think I was doing the buying, the events and the accounting. He just developed great relationships with our sales representatives, and just really amped up the titles that we carried in the store just by virtue of being able to meet with them and increase our inventory."

The ownership transition had been in the works for some time. "I always had a time frame for me," Meyer said, "and just recognizing that (Hunter) is the right person for the job.... We actually were aiming to do it last fall, but things were still kind of crazy and it just didn't get done.... I think that the first thing I always look for when hiring somebody is their reading habits. I knew that that was there. And he's so good with the customers and people rely on him for recommendations... and (him) taking over the buying was a godsend for me."


W. W. Norton & Company: Dinosaurs by Lydia Millet


Deb Sundin Leaving An Unlikely Story, Plainville, Mass.

Deb Sundin

Deb Sundin, general manager of An Unlikely Story in Plainville, Mass., is leaving the bookstore to take on a new role developing a downtown revitalization project in Plainville. 

Sundin has been with An Unlikely Story since its founding in 2015, helping owners Jeff and Julie Kinney build the store from the ground up. She will continue to work with the Kinneys in her new role--the couple has purchased several properties in Plainville's Bacon Square, where An Unlikely Story is also located, and they have plans to revitalize the downtown with the bookstore serving as the cornerstone.

Sundin said it was an "honor and a privilege" to work with the team at An Unlikely Story over the years, adding: "It gives me great joy to pass along a thriving and vibrant independent bookstore to the next general manager."

"Deb helped us to create a vision for An Unlikely Story and staff it with experienced and passionate booksellers," said Jeff Kinney. "So much of our recognition as a quality independent bookstore is due to Deb's hard work."

Julie Kinney said: "An Unlikely Story’s next leader has a great foundation on which to build. While Deb will be missed, we are thrilled that her next chapter will ensure that our bookstore and our town will be a premier destination for future generations of book-lovers."

A search is already underway for the store's next general manager.


Harper Voyager: Bindle Punk Bruja by Desideria Mesa


La Vie Est Belle Librairie Broadening Horizons in Larchmont, N.Y.

La Vie Est Belle Librairie, a children's bookstore with an emphasis on diversity and multilingual titles, has opened in Larchmont, N.Y., Lohud reported.

Store owner Evanice Pineda-Delgado carries books in English, German, French, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish and Portuguese. By opening the bookstore, which is located in downtown Larchmont, she hopes to "uplift a diverse community" and "curate empathy through language." She noted that Larchmont is one of the whitest communities in Westchester County, at about 80% white, and the books she displays are meant to broaden the community's horizons.

"I lovingly curate them," Pineda-Delgado said of the books she carries. "What would I want my children to learn, and what valuable lessons are there?"

Prior to opening La Vie Est Belle Librairie last September, Pineda-Delgado was a chemistry teacher. She's drawn on that background for some of the store's event offerings, including its STEAM yoga camp. For her store, Pineda-Delgado has changed the meaning of STEAM to "science, technology, empathy, art and music." She's also brought in local authors for readings. "The concept at the end is still supporting different people, bringing in different people, and expanding the network."

Pineda-Delgado, who identifies as Indigenous Ecuadorian and grew up in Parkchester in the Bronx, named the store after the Italian film La Vita È Bella, about a "Jewish Italian bookshop owner who protects his son from the Holocaust through storytelling."

She built the bookshelves that line the store's walls, and her daughter's old playhouse rests in one corner. For each book she sells at her own store, Pineda-Delgado donates a book to the mobile bookstore Bronx Bound Books.


KidsBuzz for the Week of 05.23.22


NAIBA and SIBA Reimagine Conference

The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance and New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association are moving their fall conference to the summer and adding a spring event to provide crucial title introductions for publishers and booksellers. 

While creating New Voices New Rooms, the virtual meeting space for SIBA and NAIBA, the two organizations took the opportunity to ask questions and reinvent their regional conferences. Covid protocols had stripped away business habits and patterns. The result is a reimagined conference initiative.

"Summer is when booksellers are focused on their holiday buying, and it made sense to host an event at that critical time in the process," said NAIBA executive director Eileen Dengler. "Once we shared this idea with booksellers and publishers, people started nodding their heads and wondering why we hadn't done this a long time ago." 

Linda-Marie Barrett, executive director of SIBA, commented: "A summer conference is ideal for SIBA booksellers, who live in a region where football and challenging weather, along with bookfairs and the holiday season, compete for attention. Summer can be slow for southern booksellers, so our new timing could bring even greater attendance."

The two 2022 conference events are scheduled for May 17-18 and the week of August 8. Each conference will be structured differently. The May event focuses on bookseller/author connections, introducing booksellers to authors through panel programs, keynote presentations and breakout rooms where authors and small groups of booksellers will enjoy get-to-know-you talks. The pick of the list and editor buzz sessions return, and publishers' studio spaces will promote their upcoming releases, provide galleys and share promotion details. This information will remain available to booksellers for an extended period after the two-day event.

The August conference will feature a week of education, bookseller retreats, author presentations, new and upcoming titles and publisher studios, similar to NVNR from the past two years.

The VIndies awards, recognizing store-made videos that embody the spirit and voice of indie bookstores, will be a stand-alone event on October 13. Michael Triebwasser, director of operations at Politics & Prose Bookstore, Washington, D.C., returns as the master of ceremonies.

NAIBA and SIBA, on their NVNR platform, will also host publicity speed dating March 1-4 and a new owners retreat October 25-27. Separately, both organizations are planning in-person events in April and October, if pandemic protocols permit.


International Update: EIBF on 2021 for Central European Markets, WH Smith on Its 'Good Performance' During Holiday Season

The European & International Booksellers Federation released an analysis of preliminary sales figures from the past 12 months, taking a closer look at nine bookselling markets in central Europe
 
"The international bookselling markets underwent significant changes in 2021, impacted by the ongoing pandemic, subsequent sanitary restrictions and pandemic-induced challenges," EIBF wrote. "All of the markets analyzed experienced some sort of lockdown measures during the course of 2021. In almost all cases, these movement restrictions resulted in an increase in online shopping. Nevertheless, while some national bookselling markets experienced growth (e.g., Austria, Germany, and Switzerland), others saw bricks and mortar, and mainly independent, bookshops closing and their market shrinking (e.g., Czech Republic and Poland)." 

Online strategy has become crucial for driving the growth of book markets. Tanja Messerli, managing director at the Swiss Booksellers and Publishers Association (SBVV), said a national lockdown contributed to increased online sales: "Almost every second book was sold online in 2021. Not only did the large booksellers benefit from this trend; due to the Covid-19 pandemic, small bookshops also expanded their online shops and many customers remained virtually loyal to their stores."

Physical store retail sales were drastically impacted by the pandemic. EIBF reported that in Germany, bricks-and-mortar bookstore business "was unable to make up the shortfall from the months of store closures in spring," while in Austria sales in stationary bookstores lost almost 2% compared to 2020 and dropped 13% compared to 2019. Many bricks-and-mortar bookshops in Poland closed in 2021. There aren’t any recent sales numbers available for the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia or Slovenia, but "the 2020 reports from these countries don’t look too encouraging for booksellers." In addition, a paper shortage and increased shipping delays in 2021 "are continuing to wreak havoc on the bookselling industry."

Looking forward to 2022, EIBF cited the 2020 Slovenian Book Fair, during which "book trade experts dived into the post-pandemic future, exploring what the trade can learn from the pandemic. Many of the topics discussed remain crucial for the bookselling market going forward, including potential weaker customer purchasing power, increased market share of audiobooks, need to develop new distribution channels to reach new customers and supporting the increased digitization of the book market."

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WH Smith reported a "good performance" for the 20-week period ending January 15, with total group revenue at 85% of 2019 levels. The Bookseller reported that the company "said its High Street business was at 87% of 2019 levels for the period, while Travel averaged 83%. December's High Street trading was slightly higher at 90% of 2019 levels."

Group CEO Carl Cowling said he was "pleased" with the progress made in the period--the High Street business performed "in line with expectations," and the retailer was seeing "a small impact from the Omicron variant" but anticipated a resumption in the recovery of its travel markets in the coming months.

North America "continued to see an improvement in air passenger numbers over the period and through the holiday season, with overall revenue at 92% of 2019 levels," the Bookseller wrote. "The impact from Omicron was 'small' and is believed to be short term. In the period, the retailer won a further 13 new stores, including three InMotion stores and a significant tender at Kansas City airport. WH Smith now has more than 60 stores won and due to open in North America over the next three years." 

Cowling observed: "As we enter our 230th year since the company's founding in 1792, I would like to thank our entire team across the globe. In particular, my thanks go to our store colleagues who have worked tirelessly over the past number of weeks throughout such a busy trading period. We have an exceptionally strong team at WH Smith and we look forward to building on the strong foundations we have in place."

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"Ever walk by an independent bookstore and stop to stare longingly at their window display? Us too!" the Canadian Independent Booksellers Association noted in debuting a new feature on its Facebook page: "Introducing a new monthly social series: Window Shopping. Every month, we'll share a window or in-store display that fills us with bookish joy. 

"First up is this beautiful display at Perfect Books Ottawa. With their recent expansion, the team has more space than ever to show off some of their favourite new titles. And this is only one section of their display! Have you created or come across some amazing indie bookstore displays? DM us or tag us in photos so we can shine a spotlight next time around." --Robert Gray


Notes

'John Updike's Ghost': New Podcast from the Book Shop of Beverly Farms

The Book Shop of Beverly Farms, Beverly, Mass., has launched a biweekly podcast, John Updike's Ghost, that features casual discussions between the store owners--siblings Hannah Harlow and Sam Pfeifle--about what they're reading, running the store, how they match books with readers and more. Harlow and Pfeifle bought the store two years ago.

"These are the kinds of conversations we have with people who come into the shop all the time," said Pfeifle. "They want to know what we're reading, how we read, why we read what we read. Since we're always having these kinds of conversations with each other anyway, we figured why not hit the record button so people can hear how we talk about books."

Harlow added, "There are a lot of weird ideas about reading out there. People think you have to read hard books, or that you have to finish everything you start, or that long books are too intimidating. We want them to hear that we read romances and mysteries, too, and that we think some books aren't working for us at all and just put them down all the time. And reading books should be fun! It shouldn't feel like work!"

The owners have backgrounds in education, journalism, the publishing industry, creative writing and bookselling, giving them a useful perspective on books and their role in society, which they hope to pass on, along with their enthusiasm and joy for books and reading, to listeners. They also hope to act as a filter, they said:  "With so many books being released each week, it can be hard to know what to take a chance on."

The podcast is named after John Updike because the store thinks of him as its "patron saint." The owners explained: "As a long-time resident of Beverly Farms, the Book Shop was his local source for books, and he frequented the spot, which first opened in 1968. As Harlow and Pfeifle learn more and more about his role in the community, his philosophy on reading and writing, and the way his catalog stands up to contemporary scrutiny, Updike's presence really seems to resonate through the Shop."


Personnel Changes at Bloomsbury USA; Grand Central

At Bloomsbury USA:

Rosie Mahorter has been promoted to publicity manager in the adult trade division. She was previously senior publicist.

Daniel O'Connor has been appointed to the newly created position of senior commercial & financial planning analyst, trade & special interest. He was previously senior sales manager.

Chantal Ezoua has joined the company as sales manager for the trade division. Ezoua previously was account manager at the American Physical Society and, before that, was account manager at Springer Nature.

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Estelle Hallick has been promoted to publicity and marketing director, Forever, at Grand Central.


Book Trailer of the Day: Vladimir

Vladimir: A Novel by Julia May Jonas (Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster), a frank, funny and informative video hosted by S&S president and CEO Jonathan Karp about how Vladimir's "great book cover was created"--outlining the process and considerations as well as shining light on the role of designers Alison Forner and Rodrigo Corral.


Media and Movies

Media Heat: Kristen Glosserman on the Today Show

Today:
Today Show: Kristen Glosserman, author of If It's Not Right, Go Left: Practical and Inspirational Lessons to Move You in a Positive Direction (The Collective Book Studio, $24.95, 9781951412173).


TV: The Crossover

Disney+ has given a series order to The Crossover, based on the novel in verse by Kwame Alexander. Deadline reported that LeBron James, Maverick Carter and Jamal Henderson of the SpringHill Company are joining as executive producers of the Disney Branded Television series produced by 20th Television.

The cast includes Jalyn Hall, Amir O'Neil, Derek Luke, Sabrina Revelle, Skyla I'Lece, Deja Monique Cruz and Trevor Raine Bush. Production on the series starts in February. Alexander and Damani Johnson wrote the pilot, which was directed by George Tillman, Jr.

"We're honored to bring Kwame Alexander's poignant, emotional and poetic story to our Disney+ audience in partnership with this outstanding group of creative talent," said Ayo Davis, president, Disney Branded Television.



Books & Authors

Awards: Walter Dean Myers Winners; NBCC Finalists

The winners and honorees for the seventh annual Walter Dean Myers Awards and Honor Books for Outstanding Children's Literature, sponsored by We Need Diverse Books, are:

Walter teen category winner:
Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley (Holt)

Walter teen category honors:
Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo (Dutton Books for Young Readers)
Revolution in Our Time by Kekla Magoon (Candlewick)

Walter young readers category winner:
Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocca (Quill Tree Books)

Walter young readers category honors:
Borders by Thomas King, illustrated by Natasha Donovan (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
Root Magic by Eden Royce (Walden Pond Press)

The Walter Awards ceremony, to be held March 11, will include a symposium on children's literature, followed by the awards presentations. The event will be livestreamed and tentatively held in person at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C. The final decision will consider the Covid-19 situation and align with recommended CDC guidelines for indoor gatherings. 

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The finalists in six categories for the 2021 National Book Critics Circle Awards and the John Leonard Prize for First Book have been announced and can be seen here. In addition, Percival Everett is receiving the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, Merve Emre has won the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, and the winner of the inaugural Toni Morrison Achievement Award, recognizing "institutions that have made lasting and meaningful contributions to book culture," is the Cave Canem Foundation.

Sandrof prize committee chair Jacob Appel said, "The Sandrof Life Achievement Award generally honors a literary figure who has either had a transformative impact upon book culture or who has contributed to book culture in ways that deserve more attention and recognition. Percival Everett is the rare figure who merits the prize for both reasons. Profound and prolific, Everett isn't just brilliant--but he is brilliant over and over and over again, novel after novel, story after story, each successively more original and thought-provoking. There are two kinds of readers in America: those who are reading Percival Everett and those who are missing out."

Balakian prize committee chair Colette Bancroft said, "In Emre's elegantly written essay about Leonora Carrington's The Hearing Trumpet, she offers rich context about the life and times of the Surrealist author and artist, always weaving the biography into her insightful consideration of Carrington's novel."

Jacob Appel, who also chaired the Morrison prize committee, said, "In naming Cave Canem as the first Morrison honoree, the NBCC has chosen an organization that embodies the deep commitment to literary and social justice, equity in publishing and excellence in writing that distinguished Morrison's career. Since its founding by Cornelius Eady and Toi Derricotte 25 years ago, Cave Canem has become both the premier body for cultivating and promoting Black poetic voices and has left a truly indelible mark on the broader literary landscape. No institution has played such a definitive role in shaping the poetry of the 21st century. Cave Canem consistently represents the best that the literary world has to offer."

Winners of the awards will be announced and celebrated during a virtual ceremony on Thursday, March 17.


Reading with... Shauna Robinson

 (Rachel E.H. Photography)

Shauna Robinson's love of books led her to try a career in publishing before deciding she'd rather write books instead. Originally from San Diego, she now lives in Virginia with her husband and their sleepy greyhound. An introvert at heart, Robinson spends most of her time reading, baking and figuring out the politest way to avoid social interaction. Must Love Books (Sourcebooks, January 18, 2022) is her debut novel about an editorial assistant at a publishing company who starts working for a rival publisher to make ends meet, and falls for an author no one can afford to lose.

Handsell readers your book in 25 words or less:

Must Love Books is about the unglamorous side of publishing, realizing dream jobs are a lie, and figuring out how to be happy.

On your nightstand now:

I just finished Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym today, and next up, I'm excited to dive into The Stand-In by Lily Chu and The Undead Truth of Us by Britney Lewis. I'm in a blissful two-week period between writing deadlines and I'm trying to get in as much reading as I can!

Favorite book when you were a child:

I think Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein was my first-ever favorite book. It's silly and funny yet profound, which are all things I gravitate towards. This book is the reason why, for a brief spell at the age of six, I wanted to be a poet. (And then I moved on to reading chapter books and decided I'd rather write prose--it turns out I have a terrible understanding of poetry!)

Your top five authors:

The authors whose writing has shaped me the most (for a variety of reasons) have been John Steinbeck, Mark Twain, Kazuo Ishiguro, Richard Wright, and Shirley Jackson. These authors cover heavy topics beautifully and have a sense of humor I'm drawn to.

Book you've faked reading:

I never made it all the way through Emma by Jane Austen. One night during finals week in my freshman year of college, I had a paper due in 12 hours and I didn't have time to finish reading Emma. In the interest of time, I stopped reading and wrote my paper on Emma even though I'd only read the first half. But, I mean, I've seen Clueless several times. I feel like that counts for something.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Know My Name by Chanel Miller is a powerful memoir about sexual assault and trying to seek justice through the court system. It's written beautifully as well. I would love to see what she writes next.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Small Admissions by Amy Poeppel has such a colorful, whimsical cover, with a bright teal background and an ornate golden gate full of curlicues. When I saw it in a bookstore, it reeled me in instantly.

Book you hid from your parents:

Luckily, I never had to hide any books from my parents--I always felt free to read whatever I wanted.

Book that changed your life:

I read The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck as a teenager, in a period when I was mostly reading YA. I loved that this book explored morality and honesty, and through the lens of a character who puts up a front of silliness (I do love silliness!). Reading this made me realize adult literature was more accessible than I thought, and it led me to go beyond YA and start reading the classics I'd only ever heard about. I started to understand who these renowned authors are, my own literary tastes and the writing styles that interest me the most.

Favorite line from a book:

"I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude." --Henry David Thoreau, Walden. As an introvert who loves being alone, I definitely wrote down that quote the first time I read it! There's another quote I love in Walden in which Thoreau compares people to musty cheese, which is extremely relatable.

Five books you'll never part with:

The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck

Native Son by Richard Wright

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Kindred by Octavia Butler

These books are among my all-time favorites. I even own multiple copies of a couple of them (paperback and hardcover) because I just can't help myself! Some of these books lean humorous and others lean more serious, but they all cover topics that resonate with me, and there's a through line of sincerity in each of them.

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

I had the best time reading Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. It's so ridiculous and funny, and yet the relationships between the characters feel sincere and real. I was completely glued to that book the first time I read it. It's still fun to reread, but it's lovely to experience the delightful surprise of discovering your new favorite book.


Book Review

Review: Ocean State

Ocean State by Stewart O'Nan (Grove Press, $27 hardcover, 240p., 9780802159274, March 8, 2022)

"When I was in eighth grade my sister helped kill another girl. She was in love, my mother said, like it was an excuse." So opens Ocean State by Stewart O'Nan (West of Sunset; City of Secrets; The Odds: A Love Story). If this were a murder mystery, the killer's identity is immediately known. But it's not the crime itself that occupies the novel's spotlight so much as the challenges faced by its four central characters.

They are four women, closely connected but very different. Angel is a popular high school student. Carol, her mother, is a nurse and stressed-out single mother, a bit preoccupied by her dating woes. Marie is Angel's younger sister, forever watching other people's lives as if they were movies and waiting for hers to begin. Birdy is Angel's classmate. They both want the same boy, a rich kid who inevitably will leave their small town behind. Angel is his girlfriend of three years, Birdy his secret. The way these lives converge will change all of them forever. O'Nan presents the four women's perspectives in turn, so that readers watch them build and crescendo to a violent crime and then tumble through its aftermath. The events are horrifying, and not only in terms of that final violence, the writing is lovely, glimmering. O'Nan evokes Ocean State's setting, the blue-collar Rhode Island town of Ashaway, with equal care: perhaps unbeautiful, but rendered with detail and tenderness.

O'Nan's greatest accomplishment is in the compassionate portrayal of characters who are each guilty of smaller and larger wrongs, but whose motivations, concerns and battles always feel of real concern. Marie desperately wants to connect, with anyone. Carol wants the best for her daughters but can scarcely keep her head above water. Birdy has strong family ties but has succumbed to a dangerous infatuation. Angel is gripped by a version of love that contains a large dose of possessive rage. Interestingly, the boy that these girls focus on does not have his perspective revealed; readers meet him only as Birdy and Angel see him.

Because of how the book begins, readers always see the crime coming. Somehow, this does not reduce the suspense, as tension builds toward the unavoidable climax. Ocean State is a compelling, propulsive read: easy to inhale but difficult in some ways to stomach. This is a story less about love than about obsession and family connections and disconnections, and about the devastations of hardscrabble lives. The ugly turns beautiful in O'Nan's scintillating prose, and his four main characters will linger with readers long after their stories end. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Shelf Talker: In this unforgettable novel--disturbing, gorgeously written and poignant--working-class women and girls are pushed to extremes.


Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Gallup Finds Americans Are Reading Fewer Books, but I Have Questions

My friends, we've got work to do. It's hard to look at what's happening in the world around us and think that as a population we should be reading less.

--Jason Gay, in his recent Wall Street Journal column

It seems like only yesterday (though it was 2017) that we ran the headline "Gallup: 'Most Americans Are Still Reading Books.' " Back then, Americans were "consuming books at nearly the same rate that they were when Gallup last asked this question in 2002--before smartphones, Facebook or Twitter became ubiquitous. More than one in three (35%) appear to be heavy readers, reading 11 or more books in the past year, while close to half (48%) read between one and 10 and just 16% read none."

Ah, but that was yesteryear. Earlier this month, Gallup released new survey results under a less encouraging banner ("Americans Reading Fewer Books Than in Past"), noting that respondents said they had read an average of 12.6 books during the past year, a lower number than Gallup had measured in any prior survey dating back to 1990. U.S. adults were reading two or three fewer books per year than they had between 2001 and 2016.

The stats were based on a poll, conducted December 1-16, that asked 811 adult Americans how many books they'd read, either all or part of the way through, during the past year, including print, e-books and audiobooks.

Gallup noted that the decline was primarily a function of the total number of books read, as opposed to fewer readers. The 17% of people who said they did not read any books in the past year was similar to the 16% to 18% measured in 2002 to 2016 surveys, though higher than in the 1999 to 2001 polls. The overall drop, however, was "fueled by a decline in the percentage of Americans reading more than 10 books in the past year. Currently, 27% report that they read more than 10, down eight percentage points since 2016 and lower than every prior measure by at least four points."

My favorite sentence from Gallup's press release: "The reasons for the decline in book reading are unclear, with Americans perhaps finding other ways to entertain themselves." Sound familiar? Public concerns about distracting entertainment alternatives to books have historically landed on a convenient list of villains, depending on the era (magazines, movies, radio, TV, personal computers, Internet, gaming, smartphones, social media, etc.). 

Curiously, while Gallup found Americans in most major subgroups were reading fewer books, the decline was greater among more avid readers, particularly college graduates, who read an average of about six fewer books in 2021 than they did between 2002 and 2016 (14.6 versus 21.1), as well as women (15.7 versus 19.3) and "older Americans" (12 versus 16.7). Men, on the other hand, kept their already low bar steady (9.5 versus 10.5). 

Gallup offered what it called a Bottom Line: "Reading appears to be in decline as a favorite way for Americans to spend their free time. In 2020, a few months into the Covid-19 pandemic, when many Americans were still reluctant to leave their homes, Gallup found 6% of U.S. adults naming reading as their favorite way to spend an evening, down from 12% in 2016."

The pollster contended its new data reinforces the idea that the popularity of reading is waning, adding it "is also uncertain at this point whether the declines in book reading mark a temporary change or a more permanent one."

I have questions, of course. How many books do I read a year? That seems like a simple one, but it leads down the rabbit hole of followups: How many books do I start? How many books do I finish? Should unfinished books still count as having been read? Is there a page limit for Gallup? Does finishing a 120-page poetry or story collection count the same as reading half of an 800-page biography? How do we factor reading picture books into the equation?

WSJ's Jason Gay considered that last factor in his recent column: "I do read to my kids every night, but I'm not sure if reading to your kids counts. Somebody ask Gallup: Does it count as a book if it's 12 pages about an anxious dinosaur who really wants to open a patisserie?" He also offered a handy guide for reading more books in 2022: 

  • Get a book.
  • Accept the fact that the book you will read will not be the book on your bedside table.
  • Get yourself a "reading chair." 
  • Bury your phone.
  • Stop reading this. You could be riveted to Melville right now, and instead, you're still staring at this dopey paragraph.

In response to the Gallup poll, the Book Shop of Beverly Farms in Beverly, Mass., tweeted: "So strange. The Gallup numbers say reading is down. Sales numbers say people read more books now than they did in 2004. Maybe we just don't lie to pollsters as much anymore?"

As is often the case with these kinds of surveys, I don't know what to think. It's easy to be cynical or unsettled, but Gallup's 27% (down from 34% in 2016) number for respondents who read 11-plus books doesn't really scare me. Maybe I just have a gambler's hunch, factoring in the uncertainties created by margin for error, random sampling and vague questions. But I'm wagering the numbers will rise again next time Gallup checks in, hopefully not during a pandemic when all bets are off the table.

--Robert Gray, contributing editor

KidsBuzz: Schiffer Kids: Big P Takes a Fall (and That's Not All) by Pamela Jane, illus. by Hina Imtiaz
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