Shelf Awareness for Friday, July 29, 2022


Disney Lucasfilm Press: Star Wars: The High Republic Path of Deceit by Tessa Gratton and Justina Ireland

Ballantine Books: Central Places by Delia Cai

MIT Press: Rethinking Gender: An Illustrated Exploration by Louie Läuger

Holiday House: Owl and Penguin (I Like to Read Comics) by Vikram Madan; Noodleheads Take it Easy by Tedd Arnold, Martha Hamilton, and Mitch Weiss

Blackstone Publishing: Ezra Exposed by Amy E. Feldman

Clavis: Fall Preview

News

Amazon Second Quarter: Sales Rise 7%, Another Net Loss

In the second quarter ended June 30, net sales at Amazon rose 7%, to $121.2 billion, and the net loss was $2 billion compared to net income of $7.8 billion in the same period a year earlier. The sales gain was well below the company's traditional gains in the 20% range, and the net loss marked the second quarter in a row Amazon has had a net loss. The first-quarter net loss was Amazon's first quarterly loss in seven years.

Despite the bad numbers, Amazon stock rose more than 10% in after-hours trading because results were better than analysts' forecasts and because Amazon predicts that third-quarter sales will grow 13%-17%, to $125 billion-$130 billion.

The company is consolidating much of its warehouse operations, which were greatly expanded after the pandemic started and consumers came to buy more and more online. But after lockdowns ended, more consumers are shopping in bricks-and-mortar stores again. For Amazon, that's meant major changes from its usual pattern of regular growth.

As the Wall Street Journal put it, "The company said that it had committed to too much warehouse space and had too many employees in its warehouses, which the company said would add $10 billion in costs through the second quarter. The company has worked to more aggressively sublease millions of square feet of excess warehouse space, defer construction of new facilities and find ways to end or renegotiate leases with outside warehouse owners while thinning out its hourly workforce through attrition."

The New York Times noted that "Amazon has closed, canceled or delayed openings for more than 35 warehouses across the country, according to MWPVL International, a consulting firm that closely tracks Amazon's operations."

At the same time, Amazon has been affected by consumer spending shifts as inflation rises and the costs of basic goods like food and fuel have increased. Amazon's online stores sales fell 4%, to $50.9 billion, in the quarter, the second quarter in a row that online stores sales have fallen.

Amazon's strongest businesses continue to be Amazon Web Services, its cloud-computing division, and advertising operations. The company's investment in Rivian Automotive, an electric car maker, resulted in "a pre-tax valuation loss of $3.9 billion included in non-operating expense."


Ebony Magazine Publishing: Black Hollywood: Reimagining Iconic Movie Moments by Carell Augustus


Sadie's Books & Beverages Opens in Middletown, N.Y.

Sadie's Books & Beverages, a new Black-owned bookstore in downtown Middleton, N.Y., opened last month during Juneteenth weekend, the Hudson Valley Press reported.

Owner Yaa Yaa Whaley-Williams sells a variety of books in 22 different categories with their own unusual hashtags. There's #adult-ish, for YA books; #the G.O.A.Ts, pertaining to bestsellers; #restinpower, titles by or about cultural figures who died last year; #make$en$e, covering personal finance; and more.

The store's nonbook offerings include card decks, games, apparel and merchandise, all of it with a focus on the African diaspora, and the beverage part of the store's name refers to Caribbean drinks such as sorrel and mauby. Whaley-Williams has also partnered with other Black-owned businesses that will sell their products in the store and host workshops in the evenings.

In addition to those workshops, Whaley-Williams's event plans include monthly jazz nights, a monthly paint party for children, candlemaking classes, courses on financial literacy, storytimes, and family fitness classes. Next month, Sadie's will be doing two Back to College giveaways for college students, and on September 3 the store will host a Back to School Party.

Whaley-Williams told the Press that she named the store after her grandmother Sadie, who moved to the U.S. from Jamaica. She "didn't have much formal education, but she was passionate about giving my mother and all of her grandkids rich experiences centered in community with a love of books."

Some of her grandmother's belongings, including her typewriter, shortwave radio, vintage Polaroid camera and a Nina Simone album, are displayed throughout the store. Part of the store, in fact, is an exhibition space devoted to signed books and vintage "artifacts," some donated by community members.

"We're a cultural hub," said Whaley-Williams. "We're a Youth Chamber of Commerce. We're a space for community organizations to meet."


University of California Press: Dictee (Second Edition, Reissue, Restored);  Exilee and Temps Morts: Selected Works (First Edition, Reissue) by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha


Buffalo, N.Y.'s Burning Books Celebrates Expansion

Burning Books Bookstore, Buffalo, N.Y., is hosting a groundbreaking ceremony, open house and block party tomorrow Saturday, July 30, to celebrate the radical bookstore's expansion into a neighboring space, according to ArtVoice. The groundbreaking ceremony will begin at 12:30 will include a tour of the expansion project. The block party will have a dunk tank featuring "notable politicians"; a bounce house; food & music; games for children, giant puppets and arts & crafts; a Zona Libre area for justice for migrant families; and organizational tables; as well as T-shirts, button making and a "cheap art table."

With the expansion, Burning Books will grow from 628 square feet to 2,378 square feet, allowing the bookstore to more than double its inventory and build a dedicated event space that can be used for readings, book club meetings, collaborations with activists and other community gatherings. The bookstore raised more than $16,000 to help pay for the expansion in a GoFundMe campaign.


Blair: A Girlhood: Letter to My Transgender Daughter by Carolyn Hays


Left Bank Books in St. Louis, Mo., Damaged by Flooding

Left Bank Books, St. Louis, Mo., suffered substantial flood damage from the torrential rains that hit the city earlier this week. Owner Kris Kleindienst posted on Facebook Tuesday that the shop "was more of a colander than a bookstore last night when 8.85 inches of rain fell in 9 hours, an all time record for the area. Intrepid booksellers that we are, arrived for our 8:30 staff meeting to a very wet lower level, aka basement. The 120 year old stone walls in backrooms leaked like they were springfed water sources and 4 storm sewer drains in 3 rooms also backed up. Submerged extension cords shorted out what was attached to them. Some fixtures and minor electronics (counting our new cat Orleans' fancy water fountain), some books, lots of paper products and display materials got drenched beyond saving. Storm sewer water can be especially nasty." In addition, the carpet on the sales floor was soaked. 

"We dutifully held our meeting and then rolled up our sleeves and got busy," Kleindienst added. "Special kudos to Anthony, Shane P. Mullen, Randy Schiller, and Cliff who handled a lot of nasty stuff w 'nary a complaint. We are lucky. Some St. Louisans were not so lucky. We will be able to recover with mostly inconvenience and hopefully some help from insurance etc. We are open and browsable. We are processing online orders. We may need to explore some new designs for furniture and fixtures on stilts! Because something tells me this is only the beginning of the superstorms." 

Yesterday, Left Bank posted an update: "The flood is taking us again.... We're closed for browsing until further notice. Feel free to shop online!" And: "Flood water has overtaken our lower level so we will be closed until further notice. You're welcome to browse and buy online! By the way... this is not normal. Climate change is real and things like this will only get worse."

Several indie booksellers showed their support on Twitter, including Raven Book Store, Lawrence, Kan. ("Our good friends (and Midwest bookselling legends) @LeftBankBooks are dealing with some nasty flooding right now. Today is a good day to: place an online order... tell your elected officials to pass meaningful climate legislation."); and Capitol Hill Books, Washington, D.C.: "Yo, send some love to @LeftBankBooks in St. Louis. They got rocked w a huge storm. Here's their website. Buy something."

Last night, Kleindienst shared pictures "of high tide this afternoon in the lower level of Left Bank Books when the rivers ran backwards and flooded much of St. Louis in a big ass hurry. Our lower level is likely a complete loss, though quick-moving booksellers sacrificed shoes and comfort to save books and electronics (and Orleans, our new cat) before scooping up books on lower shelves. This level has sales floor, including our used book department, all of our offices except receving and shipping, stock storage, our furnace and our all important server computer, and all the stuff a bookstore needs to operate. I *think* we are getting a break on the rain for a while at least, maybe long enough to get a return call from the insurance company or the flood remediation people. We'll be taking online orders and hope to have some part of the store open somehow at some point...."


Graphic Mundi - Psu Press: Hakim's Odyssey by Fabien Toulme and Hanna Chute


Authors Announce Matching Gift for Binc Campaign

 

Authors Kate DiCamillo, Ann Patchett, Will Schwalbe and Garth Stein have created a pool of funds to match new gifts (up to $15,000) to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation's #ReadLoveSupportBinc campaign. 

“Booksellers have handled my books with so much love and tenderness, this is a way for me to make sure they get love and tenderness when they need it," said DiCamillo.

“If you feel like the world is falling apart and you want to know how to help, help through Binc," Patchett wrote. "They get money to booksellers in crisis and they do it fast. The help Binc provides makes an enormous difference.”

Schwalbe wrote: "I'm honored to join with these authors to help Binc, an organization I admire tremendously because they are always there for booksellers in times of need, changing the lives of these community heroes I so respect and love.”

“Bookstores are like the air we breathe: we don’t recognize how vital they are to our survival until they’re gone," Stein commented. "As a lifelong reader and writer, supporting and advocating on behalf of the Binc Foundation is one of the ways I can ensure a vigorous, uninterrupted supply of air for my soul and the soul of our world. Booksellers and bookstores have played a significant role in my life and career--indeed, I cannot imagine a world without them. The dauntless work of Binc means that I never will have to, and for that, I am grateful."

The campaign launched on June 10 with a $100,000 fundraising goal and has so far raised more than $58,000.


Obituary Note: Stuart Woods

Stuart Woods

Stuart Woods, the bestselling and prolific author who "had an outsized personality, craved adventure, and gloried in the thrill of life," died July 22, according to his publisher  Putnam. He was 84. His 1981 fiction debut, Chiefs, established Woods as a novelist. He went on to publish more than 90 novels, writing five books a year. His memoir, An Extravagant Life, was published last month. Putnam will release Black Dog, the 62nd book in the detective-turned-lawyer-investigator Stone Barrington series, on August 2; and Distant Thunder, the 63rd book in the series, on October 11.

Born and raised in Georgia, Woods moved to New York in 1960 to pursue a career as a journalist, eventually landing at an advertising agency, where he worked for a decade before relocating to London for three years to work for a British ad agency. In 1973, he moved to Galway, Ireland, and began to write his first novel. "I was about a hundred pages into the book when I discovered sailing," Woods wrote on his website. "Everything went to hell. All I did was sail."

In 1976, he competed in the Observer Single-handed Trans-Atlantic Race, after which he returned to Georgia and wrote his first book--Blue Water, Green Skipper--a nonfiction account of his OSTAR experience. When Norton acquired the American rights to the book, it also agreed to publish Chiefs, which CBS eventually turned it into a six-hour TV movie starring Charlton Heston, Danny Glover and Billy Dee Williams. Chiefs also won the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. In 2010, Woods received the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière for Imperfect Strangers.

He continued to sail throughout his career and was a licensed, instrument-rated private pilot who flew regularly around the country on his many book tours. 

Woods was also committed to the Authors Guild, becoming a member in 1977, serving on the foundation board from 2004-2021 and the advisory board since 2021. The organization's president, Douglas Preston, said, "Stuart's support of young writers was legendary. Over 30 years ago, when I was an unknown writer with one modest book to my credit, Stuart took me under his wing, helped me find an agent, and was incredibly generous with advice and encouragement. He later dragged me, somewhat unwillingly, onto the board of the Authors Guild, which also transformed my life. He was a huge presence in the book world. We will deeply miss him."

Nick Taylor, Woods's long-time friend and past AG president, added: "Stuart was a dear friend, and one of the most generous people you'd ever hope to meet. He lived life on his own terms, and what a life!"


Notes

Image of the Day: Celebrating Half Price Books' 50th

On July 27, 1972, Pat Anderson and Ken Gjemre opened the first Half Price Books store in a converted laundromat in Dallas, Tex. They ran ads in the local paper, declaring "We Buy Books," and soon found themselves with a few thousand books and plenty of customers. The company now has more than 120 stores in 19 states that sell new and used books, DVDs, CDs, magazines, video games and more. The mayor of Dallas, Eric Johnson, declared Wednesday, July 27, "Half Price Books Day" in honor of the chain's 50th anniversary. Pictured: the Half Price corporate team.

Cool Idea of the Day: Novel Inspires Special Drinks

Posted by the Book & Cover, Chattanooga, Tenn., on Instagram: "Our friends @rosecombbar have outdone themselves again with these special drinks to accompany @gabriellezevin's Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow. Inspired by the Oregon Trail, cocktail bookclubbers could choose from these 4 horsemen: the snakebite, the river ford, cholera, or broken leg. Cheers to a really wonderful book and neighbors who really get us!"


Personnel Changes at BookPeople

Michelle Zhang, Gregory Day and Charley Rejsek

At BookPeople, Austin, Tex.:

Charley Rejsek has been named CEO and now sits on the board of directors. She started as general manager in December 2019.

Gregory Day has been named operations director. He started as a bookseller during the holidays of 2014 and became a book floor manager by the end of 2015. When the pandemic hit, he moved to operations.

Michelle Zhang has been named marketing & events manager. She started as a bookseller during the pandemic.


Media and Movies

Canal+ Group Bolsters Literary Adaptation Unit

The Canal+ Group has appointed Audrey Brugère as executive v-p of literary adaptations, effective September 1. Deadline reported that she will be responsible for "working on synergies between parent group Vivendi's publishing house Editis and subsidiaries Studiocanal and Canal+." Brugère has been with the Canal+ Group since 2009 and was previously director of its program units for foreign and youth series from 2017. 

Brugère will report to Studiocanal CEO Anna Marsh, who said, "Increasing the adaptation of successful literary works into films, series or documentaries is one of Studiocanal's ambitions for the coming years, as proved by the creation of this position. Audrey's experience within the Canal+ Group, as well as her knowledge of our activities, will be a valuable asset in achieving this."


TV: Eragon

Disney+ is developing a live-action TV series adaptation of Eragon, based on Christopher Paolini's popular YA book series the Inheritance Cycle, Deadline reported. Paolini will co-write and executive produce with Bert Salke executive producing via his Co-Lab 21 banner as part of his deal with Disney Television Studios. The studio is 20th Television.

"This has been a long time coming," said Paolini in a blog post. "I can't tell you how many conversations, meetings, and messages were needed in order to reach this point. And we're still just at the beginning! However, none of this would have been possible without everyone who has read the books, supported the tweetstorms, and participated in this fandom over the years. So a huge thank you from me to every Alagaësian out there. You brought the thunder."

Salke added: "It's thrilling  to be working with Christopher on a Disney + adaptation of Eragon. Like with Percy Jackson, 20th and D+ are providing a chance for us to translate these stories to film in the way their millions of fans deserve. We're incredibly excited to find the showrunner/partner who will help us bring the Eragon story to screens around the world." 



Books & Authors

Awards: Center for Fiction First Novel Longlist; Wainwright Nature Writing Shortlists

A longlist of 24 titles has been selected for the 2022 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, which honors the best debut fiction of the year. The winner receives $15,000, and each of the other shortlisted authors getting $1,000. The shortlisted titles will be announced this fall, and the winner will be named December 6 at the Center for Fiction's Annual Awards Benefit.

---

Shortlists in three categories (nature writing; writing on conservation; children's nature & conservation writing) have been released for the 2022 James Cropper Wainwright Prize for U.K. Nature Writing, which "celebrates the finest nature, travel and environmental writing; in particular, works that encourage exploration of the great outdoors and nurture respect for the natural world." The winners will be named September 7, with the £7,500 (about $8,870) prize fund shared between and presented to the authors of the three winning books. Check out this year's shortlisted titles here.


Reading with... Oscar Hokeah

photo: Dalton Perse

Oscar Hokeah is a citizen of Cherokee Nation and the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma from his mother's side and has Mexican heritage through his father. He holds an MA in English with a concentration in Native American Literature from the University of Oklahoma as well as a BFA in Creative Writing from the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), with a minor in Indigenous Liberal Studies. He is a recipient of the Truman Capote Scholarship Award through IAIA and is also a winner of the Native Writer Award through the Taos Summer Writers Conference. He works with Indian Child Welfare in Tahlequah, Okla. Calling for a Blanket Dance (Algonquin Books) is his debut, a multigenerational and deeply personal novel.

Handsell readers your book in 25 words or less:

Calling for a Blanket Dance follows a young man, Ever Geimausaddle, contending with the push and pull of Kiowa/Cherokee/Mexican identities, while transforming perceptions of manhood.

On your nightstand now:

I'm reading Velorio, the amazing debut novel by Xavier Navarro Aquino. I'm finding it to be a great depiction of the human condition, and it's giving me a new look at Puerto Rico. I might be drawn to the structure because it's also polyvocal and divides each chapter by characters--very similar to my own novel. I've always enjoyed polyvocal novels. I also respect Aquino's boldness in depicting scenes with brutal honesty.

Favorite book when you were a child:

I was a big fan of Dr. Seuss, my favorite of those books being Oh, the Thinks You Can Think! I'm drawn to the surrealism. I like odd and unique books. I think I've always been interested in the peculiar.

Your top five authors:

N. Scott Momaday, who taught me how to capture an entire era in one character and how to champion for the struggles and hardships of Indigenous peoples. Alice Munro, who taught me how to write genuine voice from the depths of a specific community. After reading her stories, I was able to look at my Kiowa and Cherokee communities with a lens for literature. Gabriel García Márquez, who taught me how to show readers an entire world in the breadth of a single sentence. His vivid diction gave me insight into how to capture taut vernacular from my tribal communities. Robert J. Conley, who taught me how to be aware that my ancestors are reading every word I write and to show my respect to a history of violence with beauty, grit and grace. Joy Harjo, who taught me how to broaden my Indigenous lens to include all Indigenous people of North and South America. She showed me how to write the way I dance, like I'm moving to the same rhythm and song as everyone in my communities.

Book you've faked reading:

There were a few in grad school (I hate to say), but it wasn't so much the content as it was the time. But there was one book--The Golden Bowl by Henry James--that was difficult for me to get through. It was written in such a way that it was really hard for me to find the rhythm, so it was hard for me to find a way into the book. It seemed a little erratic in sentence structure.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Right now I'm all about The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris. It's one of those books that gave me a great sense of validation. I think as people of color we run into these situations, and often our perspective is dismissed and overlooked. Also, the book was able to dazzle me. Meaning, I thought I had it figured out, but I didn't. And when I realized what it was, I was shocked that I didn't figure it out. Very savvy, Ms. Harris. She's a great writer, and I hope to see more books with the same theme in the future.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Many of Stephen King's books I bought for the cover. But I remember The Stand being oddly alluring to me. It was a simple design, nothing extravagant, but it lured me in. It was my first Stephen King book, and it was the uncut version. It turned out to be a hefty introduction to King's books. But I also was lured in by many fantasy books for the same reason, like the Forgotten Realms series. There was an offer of escape in those images.

Book you hid from your parents:

I was raised by a single mother who was too busy paying the bills to monitor my reading tastes. But I remember being reluctant to ask for Clive Barker books. She never asked about the contents. I just told her they were like Stephen King books. As we all know, Barker's writing is a little more sinister and grotesque. But when I was a teen, I was big into horror books and movies.

Book that changed your life:

I'm going to have to give it to Stephen King's The Stand. Largely because his writing inspired me to want to become a writer. I think there was a sense of empowerment, like I had just discovered my own agency and could write the worlds I wanted to explore. I wrote these odd Indigenous/horror/fantasy blend stories. They were Native characters who lived in magical worlds that I could create myself. So I'm going to have to give it to The Stand.

Favorite line from a book:

"They have assumed the names and gestures of their enemies, but have held on to their own, secret souls; and in this there is a resistance and an overcoming, a long outwaiting." --N. Scott Momaday, House Made of Dawn

Five books you'll never part with:

Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro, House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, Mountain Windsong by Robert J. Conley and The Way to Rainy Mountain by N. Scott Momaday.

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

It's a story called "Child's Play" in Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro. There is something deeply innocent and disturbing about the main character. Munro is known for being able to capture this underlying psychology of her characters. It shocked me the first time I read it. And I was immediately impressed at Munro's ability to capture all sides of human nature in such a sadistic character. I was amazed at her craft and hoped to be able to execute writing with the same depth.


Book Review

Review: I Dream with Open Eyes: A Memoir About Reimagining Home

I Dream with Open Eyes: A Memoir by George Prochnik (Counterpoint, $26 hardcover, 288p., 9781640095472, September 27, 2022)

George Prochnik's I Dream with Open Eyes: A Memoir About Reimagining Home, is a bookend to Home/Land: A Memoir of Departure and Return, the 2022 book written by his wife, New Yorker staff writer Rebecca Mead, about their decision to move with their teenage son from New York City to London in the summer of 2018. But where Mead's book focuses most of its attention on her reabsorption into the native land she'd left 30 years earlier, Prochnik chooses to wrestle with the moral dilemma of what it would mean to continue to live in a country that could elect Donald Trump as its president. The result is a thoughtful, if sometimes challenging, journey through that process.

Prochnik begins with an election night party he and Mead hosted in the brownstone they'd occupied in Brooklyn's Fort Greene neighborhood for more than two decades. What was to have been a quietly festive evening quickly turns grim as the smug expectation among this liberal coterie of a comfortable Hillary Clinton victory crumbles, and the realization that the "solipsistic master vandal-cum-predator" Donald Trump would become the 45th president of the United States hits home.

That cataclysmic event launches Prochnik on his exploration. While the intellectual tapestry he weaves is complex and variegated, the life and work of Sigmund Freud is one of its central themes. At the core of the memoir is an account of the early 20th-century debate between Prochnik's great-grandfather James Jackson Putnam, a distinguished psychologist and neurologist from Boston, and his mentor, Freud, which pitted Putnam's "idealistic faith in human nature" against Freud's "dark, worldly view, which despaired of humanity en masse and its respective experiments in civilization." As he has throughout his life, Prochnik finds himself "torn between these disjunctive perspectives" with increasing urgency

Prochnik (The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World) is a literary and artistic omnivore, whose previous books include a study of Gershom Scholem the scholar of Kabbalah. Whether he's dissecting Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents or analyzing Titian's 16th-century painting depicting the myth of Diana and Actaeon, he trusts that his readers possess the fortitude to follow him down some demanding trails.

Ultimately, Prochnik admits, his comfortable life in the U.S. came to feel "like a space capsule cut off from the mothership, hurtling through the darkness in freefall." The circumstance that proximately caused his departure turns out to be far more prosaic than the inspiration provided by any of the writers whose works inform his thinking, but that fact doesn't undermine the integrity or value of his quest. While the internal landscape many Americans traverse certainly will differ from his, with critical elections looming in 2022 and 2024, the decision he faced may become an equally pressing one for others. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Shelf Talker: George Prochnik ruminates on his family's complex decision to abandon New York City for London following the 2016 election.


Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: 'You've Got to Read This'--The Quiet Power of Staff Picks

Wherever you wander you'll find an introducing author stepping forward with something he or she is passionate about, giving you the news about the way we live now, and saying to you: Here. Take it. You've got to read this.

--Ron Hansen & Jim Shepard, You've Got to Read This

This anthology was published in 1994. I read and started handselling it immediately. I'd been told many times that short story collections were less than irresistible to bookshop customers (mostly by the customers themselves), but we sold the hell out of You've Got to Read This, a title that also happens to be the handseller's battle cry. 

While enthusiastic handselling is a powerful and fun superpower for indie booksellers to wield, it can also be a captive of its own mythology. Not every bookseller is a natural handselling conversationalist nor a #BookTok video star. Fortunately, however, any bookseller can be a Staff Picks section and shelf-talker superhero. 

I started thinking about this on Monday while reading the e-newsletter from McLean & Eakin Booksellers, Petoskey, Mich., which opened with co-owner Jessilynn Norcross introducing cool new staff mini-portraits, drawn by artist Betsy Petersen. 

"We updated our Staff Picks Page, and we've never looked better!," Norcross wrote. "As Matt and I looked at the faces on the page, we just kept thinking of how we were looking at the backbone of McLean and Eakin. This business doesn't run itself. From putting the books on the shelf, to cleaning the bathroom, to creating interesting displays, these booksellers work hard to make the store appealing, friendly, clean, and stocked with excellent titles. They are the rock that kept the store going through the pandemic. They keep our community of book lovers happily reading new titles and coming back through our red doors another day. They influence everything from our inventory, to keeping our passion for discovering new books alive. 

"As Matt so eloquently put it, 'They are the engine and the fuel.' Whether you're in our bookstore, or another retail establishment this week, we hope you are fortunate enough to have a friendly face like these to help you. We are lucky to work with such a talented group of kind-hearted, and truly lovely people. Have a great week!"

After reading this, I watched for bookstore Staff Pick posts on social media. Here are a few that popped up: 

At Powell's Books

Powell's Books, Portland, Ore.: "STAFF PICKS! STAFF PICKS! STAFF PICKS! The big table in the Green Room at Burnside recently got an update. Here's a glimpse...." 

Bookstore1, Sarasota, Fla.: "Since we love to recommend books for you, this week we took a look at our best selling staff picks. Here are the 10 that you found the most interesting in July."

The Willow Bookstore, Perham, Minn.: "Check out our bookstore staff picks! They have good taste. Obviously, look where they work!"

The King's English Bookshop, Salt Lake City, Utah: "Which bookseller recommendation do you look for in the store? All our booksellers have diverse but universally excellent taste in reading material!"

Hooked, Lansing, Mich.: "Don't miss our shelf talkers and staff picks--you're sure to find something good."

When I first interviewed for a bookseller position in 1992, I was surprised to learn that a significant part of my potential responsibilities would involve personally recommending books to customers looking for something to read. It seemed an odd prospect to me. I'd spent hours and hours in bookshops without ever really interacting with booksellers, except at the cash register.  

The prospect of handselling (a new word to me) was a little scary. I'm a shy person, and definitely not an adept salesman. The "you've got to read this" incantation seemed well beyond my range. Why, I wondered at the time, would any self-respecting reader want more than solitude and silence while browsing the stacks at a good bookstore? I learned the answer soon enough, of course. I even learned how to have those amazing conversations in which I'd recommend titles to customers and they would return the favor. 

But the best training wheels for me were shelf-talkers. I quickly discovered the power of a few well-chosen words on a piece of cardboard attached to a shelf or floor display, in front of favorite title. People started buying the books I recommended. Some of them sought me out for more suggestions. Bookish conversations developed that would carry on for years. 

The Internet gradually upped the ante, with Staff Picks pages escaping the confines of the sales floor. Sometimes tourists would introduce themselves to me years after they'd begun reading my staff picks online. It was like discovering an old friend you'd never met before.

Shelftalkers at Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Wrestling with the eternal bookseller's dilemma of how to summarize a book in two sentences on a shelf-talker encouraged both sharp writing and, strangely enough, improved my conversational handselling technique.

Maybe I couldn't sell anything else, but I could sell books. And what was the secret? Something I'd known all along as a reader and writer, but hadn't realized was also a bookseller's superpower: trusting the quiet potency of the written word. 

--Robert Gray, contributing editor

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