Did Gene Luen Yang Make Me Love Basketball?

Meghan Dietsche Goel -- January 17th, 2020

I’ve already written about how Gene Luen Yang’s Reading Without Walls Challenge made me love comics and graphic novels. Is it possible that he could make me love basketball as well?

I have to be honest, basketball is not my game. It all happens too fast, and I’m not really a sports person to begin with. In fact, this is my second semester with a kid on a basketball team, and I pretty much watch the games without really “watching” the games. Needless to say, I didn’t expect to be completely enthralled by a 400 page basketball story. Nonetheless, I planned to at least dip into Dragon Hoops because I love Gene Luen Yang’s books, and I wanted to be able to talk about this new one.

I read the whole thing in one straight shot. Full of fascinating characters whose individual stories build one on top of the other to form the rich backstory of a team with a chance—a team on the verge of doing something great together. Set at the Oakland Catholic high school school where Yang used to teach math, this is the story of an elite team chasing a championship that could change the futures of their star players and bring their dedicated coach long-awaited redemption. Hitting all those classic emotional notes of a great sports narrative and offering plenty of thrilling on-the-court action, this ambitious graphic novel interweaves the personal stories of the players with the history of the game itself and Yang’s own creative journey as an author, a teacher, and a parent along the way. Continue reading

The Politics of Prioritization and Curation

Kenny Brechner -- January 16th, 2020

The time period from the day after Christmas until Winter Institute is probably tied for first with the holiday season itself as the most bruisingly busy period of the year for me personally. Why? It is  a combination of pressing tasks that have been put off till the holiday season is over, an array of specialized, time-sensitive year-end tasks, and finally Winter Institute prep. For example, we do some course adoptions for the local University of Maine at Farmington, and those course books all need to be put on a spreadsheet, put in purchase orders, ordered, and put up on our website course adoption pages asap. The clock is ticking on a rogue’s gallery of W-2’s, quarterly and annual taxes, frontlist buying appointments looming on the immediate horizon, the giant project of weeding through the holiday sales inventory report for replenishment. The clock, for delegation-challenged small-store owners such as myself, is ticking.

At points, something has to give. Take today, where one of my tasks is writing this blog. Something of a break in a sense but what is being displaced?

Dear Publisher Credit Representative, I know you would like to be paid today but I had to write a ShelfTalker post, which I hope you will accept as adequate compensation?
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Sideline Refreshers

Cynthia Compton -- January 15th, 2020

If you are like me, by this time in January, you are sick to death of all your store’s sidelines. Frankly, as the midwestern winter gloom makes my store a depressing monochromatic gray at opening time, and darkness descends at 4:00 p.m. each day (thank you, Daylight Savings Time), I’m just sick to death of the whole shebang. To make matters worse, I tend to skip the January gift shows in favor of attending Winter Institute, and Toy Fair is a full month away. My impulse bins near the register look sparse, and the game samples are all missing pieces after the holidays. Inventory chores loom overhead like a pack of circling vultures, blocking out the meager Indiana winter sun….. it’s time to order some fun little stuff to cheer everyone up!

Here are a few of the best sideline items that we’ve received in the last two weeks, and perhaps you can share your finds, too, in the comments below. We ordered all of these items through, a veritable Aladdin’s cave full of interesting specialty vendors, who ship quickly and have low, low, low minimums,  allowing tentative post-holiday retailers to sample small amounts of very fun merchandise.

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Can You Outread a Puppy?

Elizabeth Bluemle -- January 14th, 2020

My puppy, Lola, listens to the reading challenge I set for her. She is skeptical, but game.

Oh, I can’t help it; it’s January, so I can’t resist writing about — if not resolutions, then aspirations. The readerly kind. Every year, I think about what I’ve taken in over the past 12 months, how much of it was work reading, how much pleasure, how diverse in country and culture it was, and whether I managed to sneak in any re-reading of beloved books from the past (almost impossible as a bookseller).

For the past several years, I’ve done a 50-50 Read, where at least 50% of my books are #OwnVoices titles. It has gotten so much easier in just the past two years to make towering piles of possible books! The 50-50 Read is a foundation; any reading goal that tempts me has to include that criterion.

One of my customers told me she was aiming to read 20 books this year. At first, I was secretly surprised by that number, which seemed on the modest side. I always think of bookstore shoppers as reading addicts who devour a book every few days. But of course many things in life compete with reading, even for booksellers, and 20 great books? That’s a wonderful goal, and far above the national average. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2018, Americans read 12 books a year (that was the mean), and the typical American (the median) read just four. Continue reading

Return of the Jaded

Cynthia Compton -- January 13th, 2020


With a nod to George Lucas, J.J. Abrams, and Disney, this is the time of the bookselling year that I summon the inner strength of Rey, the wisdom of Yoda, and the near-constant smirk of Lando Calrissian while I face the dark side of my customer base, as they slink into my store like Admiral Piett, bags in hand, ready to return, return, return the things they purchased in December.

There is nothing quite as disturbing to the retailer force in the morning (when the register sits at zero) as to have the first three or four customers visit only to return items, shooting a hole in the day’s sales report that may not climb back into positive numbers until late afternoon. Payroll, of course, fires away with hour after hour missiles of employee time and wages during these dark days of limited sales. Even my most energetic and sales-savvy staff can rarely encourage enough exchanges vs. outright returns to make the transactions even, and the constant barrage of X-wing minivans and mom-mobile gauntlet fighters with our store bags in back make us feel like rebel forces hiding behind the sheltering moon of our front counter.

I piloted the ship at the store all weekend, and here’s a few of the return sorties that we saw: Continue reading

Wrangling the Chaos: A Bookseller’s 2020 Resolutions

Meghan Dietsche Goel -- January 10th, 2020

Yes, it’s a resolution post. Here’s the truth. I am not actually a New Year’s Resolution person. But all week my colleague Eugenia keeps making jokes about “2020 Meghan,” because I guess I’m unleashing a clean-out-the-closets perspective on the world. I don’t know, I guess maybe I am just a walking cliché, but it’s true that after the bustling immediacy of the holiday rush, January tends to feel wide open. So why not embrace a dewy, wide-eyed optimism? So what’s on deck for this (probably brief) window of 2020 energy?

Find a few extra minutes: At last year’s Winter Institute I went to a fantastic session that Cindy Dach from Changing Hands presented about how to be a better owner, manager, buyer, or bookseller, and I came away determined to be more intentional about my time. Time so easily disappears in the manic crush of all the things that have to be done “right now” or slips away into all-consuming projects that could be accomplished more quickly with a bit more structure—while bigger-picture, needle-moving efforts get pushed off the priority list. I’ve found that blocking out time on the calendar for that bigger picture work this past year has been an valuable tool for finding focus. Next up this year is undergoing a time audit to take a deeper look at the balance. Continue reading

An Interview with the Year 2020

Kenny Brechner -- January 9th, 2020

I have made my way over to the glade of Years many times to interview successive new Years. This time around, after I stepped forth from the portal and into the glade I saw a site that was unexampled despite my long experience here. The field had withered and rows of ancient ship’s anchors were set before me. High above the glade a house now stood. I made my way through the anchors and entered the house. On the top floor I found The Year 2020. Her finger was resting on a page in a small book.

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Quick Cash Flow Ideas for January

Cynthia Compton -- January 8th, 2020

I’m hoping that holiday sales were record-setting for all my indie bookselling friends, and that all of that gift buying is now being followed by happy first-time customers visiting your stores with newly unwrapped gift cards in hand, fully prepared to overspend the generosity of their present, join all your book clubs, and sign up for every author event you have scheduled this quarter.

For some of us, though, the crowded floorspace of December and the never-ending pages of daily restock reports will be followed by a case of January loneliness, with few visitors and sad sales numbers. It’s difficult to adjust to the slower pace of the first quarter, especially after the adrenaline rush of holiday sales, in which every day was packed full of commerce. Happily, all those bills for inventory are now paid, and while we are certainly feeling a bit more flush, the rent, payroll and utilities expenses march on, and we can quickly deplete those reserves in this low spot of the roller coaster ride that is retail.

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Dear Publishers: A Bookseller Wish List

Cynthia Compton -- January 6th, 2020

It’s early in the bookselling year, and while tomorrow (January 7) will be a big day in book releases, there’s still time, I think, to put in a “wish list” to our publisher partners for things that would make bookselling their titles so much easier and more profitable for everyone. Christmas and holiday sales are behind us, everyone is (mostly) back in the office, and we can still request a few minor concessions before everyone boards a flight to Baltimore for Winter Institute, or gambles with putting their name into the Book Expo Booth Duty lottery (for surely that exists, as no one really wants to work 12-hour days at Javits keeping their hands and feet clear of the pyramid of ARCs that will disappear in minutes after the stampeding horde of freebie grabbers at 9 a.m., or avoid the line of celebrity autograph seekers that wrap around every tangential booth and aisle like a hungry python, obliterating displays and preventing productive meetings with actual booksellers?).

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What Austin Teens Want Publishers to Know in 2020

Meghan Dietsche Goel -- January 3rd, 2020

I always love checking in with BookPeople’s trusty Teen Press Corps at the end of each year just to see what they’re looking for going into the next one. So what’s on their minds for 2020? Well, they don’t always agree, but from frustration with trends to protectiveness over favorite covers they don’t think need changing, they’re heading into the next decade as opinionated as ever. Take a look at what they’re loving (and hating) below, and make sure you stop by their carefully curated year-round display of recommended reads if you’re ever in town.

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