PBS’s The Great American Read is an interesting beast. Of course any platform with broad reach whose reason for being is to explore and share the power of reading requires our promotional love and respect. Absolutely! Also, let us recognize at the outset that any top 100 books list will by necessity have grievous omissions and will please some people more than others. Yet here among our book industry selves it is still well worth considering the enterprise more critically.
My mother celebrated her 91st birthday last month at her assisted living senior residence. She’s lived there for almost four years now, initially going for a “brief stay, maybe a month or two” to recover from pneumonia. A couple of other illnesses followed, some arthritis gathered in her knees and shoulders, and then she found that she appreciated having others around for company, after living alone for some years after my dad died.
We kept their condominium nearby, all this time, just in case she decided to move back home with some visiting nursing as support. Each day or two, I drop by the empty residence and pick up the mail, run the water in the sink, and in the warmer weather, I water the hostas around the patio. But on her birthday last month, Mother decided that it was “all too much, really” and asked me to put the unit on the market. I began the process of finding all the documents, listing the property, and sorting through furniture and clothes, files and boxes of pictures, setting things aside for donation, to keep for someday grandchildren, or to move into my house for now. Some of it was easy: box up the dishes for college-aged kids moving into apartments, send the towels and sheets to the women’s shelter for folks starting over from scratch, and carry all those albums of black and white photographs home to spread out in the dining room at home and try to identify the generations of relatives and neighbors, birthdays and graduations.
This year’s ABA Children’s Institute is being held June 19-21 in New Orleans. An offshoot of the very popular Winter Institute, Children’s Institute is full of educational and networking opportunities tailored to booksellers specializing in children’s and young adult books. This is the sixth annual “kidstute,” and I’m excited to be attending for the first time this year. It will also be my first time visiting New Orleans, so I reached out to a few current and former NOLA residents to find out what I absolutely have to see in the limited time I’ll have to explore the city.
A couple of weeks ago, Austin author Chris Barton emailed to see if we could use a fresh infusion of signed stock and to let us know that he had proofs of Ekua Holmes’ gorgeous art for their upcoming Barbara Jordan picture book biography What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? to show us. Of course we were thrilled! We love seeing what Chris is working on. We’ve gotten to know Chris really well over the years, hosting him for release parties, educator panels, and even collaborating on a diverse book curation program together.
His email actually reminded me of the very first time I met Chris. Years ago, he came up to me at an event for a fellow SCBWI author to see if I wanted to look at an f&g of his first book, The Day-Glo Brothers, the story of the brothers who invented paint that glowed. I started thinking about different ways we have first connected with authors and how we might help make that interaction easier for local authors who are debuts or just new to town.
When you’ve owned a bookstore for what Dr. Phibes would have termed “some considerable time,” you have the mixed blessing of hiring many new booksellers along the way. I say mixed because it is often as Legolas described. “For such is the way of it: to find and lose, as it seems to those whose boat is on the running stream.” You see Farmington is a college town, being home to a small branch of the University of Maine, and I have had many great students work here for a time and then move on. Recently I had the pleasure of hiring someone who is a book person to her core, the delightful Clare Fournier! No need to take my word on that; here she is to answer a few questions for us.
Kenny: What is the first book you remember reading on your own and when was the last time you read it?
Clare: I remember reading The Horse and His Boy in fourth grade for school and my classmates and I, in the spirit of rebellion, found it very distasteful in every respect until we were nearing the end of the book. By then we were fully invested, loathe though we were to admit it. I remember making the excuse of “I guess if I had read this on my own I would have liked it better” and one of my closest friends observed “In my opinion the other Narnia books are much better”, but nevertheless we finished it. Looking back I smile at our determination to hate such an undeniably amiable book. I reread The Horse and His Boy just a few months ago for the millionth time and I found it as moving, enlightened and adventurous as ever.
Kenny:The book you recommended to the most people before coming to DDG?
Clare I have been lucky enough to find myself on the receiving end of many recommendations and consequently I am thankful to have experienced countless lovely books. But of course I do try to return the favor and recently I have recommended Crime and Punishment to some friends. I recommend it because it is truly fascinating to contemplate the madness and dissatisfaction of a man who committed an inexplicable crime in an effort to further understand himself and the world. The book is gripping, horrific and thought-provoking throughout, and at the end I found myself questioning the nature of redemption and feeling great pity for the protagonist. Although frightfully consuming at times, Dostoyevsky’s novel is worth the emotional journey!
Kenny: We’re thrilled to have you at the store, Clare!
Clare: I am overjoyed to be working alongside such kind and inspiring co-workers and helping the good people of Farmington and elsewhere find fulfilling and interesting books! I am so grateful for the opportunity to expand my own literary background and help others in this noble endeavor.
There was a brisk discussion among some retail colleagues online yesterday about merchandise returns at our stores. One shopkeeper inquired about other businesses’ refund and exchange policies, and after a back and forth of standard policies copied from everyone’s receipt printer, the conversation evolved, as it often does, into a “craziest customer returns” contest of anecdotes. As a distraction from a dreary midwestern spring in which sales are weak, freezing rain is a daily occurrence, and a sense of humor essential, I’m going to do a quick roundup of the best of these for your entertainment. (Please note that only the customer quotes were uttered out loud. The italicized responses are strictly from my flippant imagination, and were not actually verbalized.)
Readers outside the publishing world may not know that Tuesday is almost always the official release day for most traditionally published books. It’s the perfect day to release new books, because booksellers have one last chance (Monday) to order from our overnight distributors any great new releases that have slipped past our radar up to that point. It also allows any lagging shipments one extra day in the new week to catch up.
Since today’s book release news will be entirely focused on James Comey’s A Higher Loyalty, I’d like to take this opportunity to trumpet the children’s books born today that may not hit news channels quite as notoriously.
We got up our annual bookmark contest on our cafe art wall last week, which is one of my favorite times of year. The prompt encourages kids grades K-6 to create a bookmark inspired by their favorite book. And what we get back are hundreds of colorful, hand-drawn tributes to books that when viewed together generate an entirely kid-driven buzz list. Of course you get a fair few cats in hats, boy wizards, and elephant-piggie pairs every year. It’s definitely interesting to track trends up and down, which tells us that Pokemon is on the rise and that Dog Man is catching up to Captain Underpants. Those trends are no big surprise, but it’s still fun to see what kids are buzzing about. You also get a few entries that have clearly been done by friends sitting together and collaborating on similar designs.
You can see the influence of community events too. Last year’s musical in the park was devoted to The Wizard of Oz, and lots of schools around town coordinated with performances of their own, so it’s no surprise to see a surge in representation there. But even among odes to the trendiest of characters, some artists manage to stand out with interpretations that offer just a little something extra, whether that’s personality or humor or good old artistic talent. Take a look at the joyful energy in this elephant and piggie as they go for a drive, the valor of this Dog Man, the charisma of a particularly well-drawn Harry Potter, or the hopefulness of this Tin Man (dreaming of his heart perhaps?). Sometimes it’s the composition itself that catches our eye. Can you feel the danger lurking along Little Red Riding Hood’s journey through the woods as she glimpses the safety of Grandmother’s house ahead? Continue reading
A dark epiphany has occurred! What to do if we are suddenly made aware that the allotted time in the sun of an exceptional book, published a few seasons ago, is ending in an untimely fashion, without its quality and value having been recognized? Three years after publication one has suddenly discovered that routine wholesaler backorders of our beloved book are not being filled. Its discount has been marked down to an ignominious 30%. No paperback is scheduled. The book has been all but abandoned as an enterprise, left to be swept into darkness, unmarked, hidden amidst the other literary detritus accompanying it into oblivion.
Oh, how I love the geeky girl books. Not the books that are geeky, but those with female main characters who are just different. Those interesting, quirky, smarter-than-the-average-bear girls who say what they think, and think about everything. They are my favorite characters in each genre, from Matilda to Calpurnia to Emika to Rosalind*, an eclectic sisterhood of smart and edgy and sometimes awkward young women, lovable yet often isolated by intellect and left alone by peers of their own age. They stand out at every level, but perhaps never more so than in middle grade fiction, especially those titles set in middle school, that Hunger Games of the American education system, when fitting in and keeping your head down may equate directly to survival.