As my bookstore’s sideline buyer — one of about 15 hats I wear on any given day as proprietor of a wee small store — I love nothing more than stumbling across a new gift item that is book-related, has a great price point, and holds appeal for kids, teens, and adults.
Storytimes at the bookstore are always a hoot, and always different. We do them three times a week, every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday morning. Regularly attracting between 30 and 60 people for an average reading and surging into the hundreds for some of our most popular events, they bring both delightful, essential energy into the store and a whirlwind of chaos that leaves trails of books and toys in its wake.
The core of our storytime program centers around our multi-talented bookselling team, which includes the renowned “BookPeople Preposterous Puppet Show Players,” but we also love turning over the stage to all kinds of guests who bring their own love of books and unique approaches to the art of storytelling. Sometimes it’s a theater previewing a children’s literary adaptation, a Baby Signs instructor engaging with the tots, or a music school doing monthly class demos. Our partners see it as a great platform for connecting with new families, and our readers get free samples of fantastic local programming available for kids.
The inauguration tomorrow has commanded our attention to the point that it would be out of touch to write about anything else. Such singularity hearkens to Tolkien’s One Ring, the nature of whose power Galadrial showed Frodo when “She lifted up her hand and from the ring that she wore there issued a great light that illuminated her alone and left all else dark.” This is the essential nature of the will to power: it robs us of a multiplicity of worlds.
As every fantasy reader knows, multiple worlds and parallel dimensions are a core principle of both fantasy and science fiction, whether navigated by a physics box as in Blake Crouch’s recent Dark Matter or a nine lived enchanter as in Diana Wynne Jones’s classic Chrestomanci, the movement between adjacent worlds is intrinsic to reading because it is a metaphor for it. The operation of Crouch’s box, the power of Chrestomanci, is an extension of the reader’s power to choose and navigate between the parallel interrelated worlds which is literature. The hero’s journey is the reader’s journey, one might say. Not only is that journey worth fighting for but is related to and informs real world struggles against its suppression.
Our astute staffer, Sandy, often makes casual remarks at work that lead to blog posts. (Lucky for me!) Recently, she’s implemented a new system for organizing Advance Reading Copies (ARCs) in our office bookcase: instead of simply arranging them by publication date, Sandy looks up reviews and arranges them in stacks by starred reviews received. One star, two stars, three stars, on the top shelf, followed by the books that have yet to receive stars.
There are some flaws in the system: books continue to earn stars over the course of weeks and months, of course, so no stack of ARCs is guaranteed to be accurate past the moment of shelving. And there’s very little time in the bookselling day to revisit ARC placement. Still, when the timing works out, it’s a very helpful way to make sure critically acclaimed books are seen and read by staff before publication.
Today, when we were receiving a batch of new ARCs, Sandy remarked, “I wish there were an app that would ding whenever a book got a starred review.” My world lit up.
It is a fair question. The obvious one, I mean. Here it is January 12 and my annual interview with the new Year has not appeared yet. Why? What happened? Until this morning I had no idea myself. My interview was scheduled for New Year’s Eve, as usual, when I received this terse note.
It was with some trepidation that I approached the Glade of Years for my rescheduled interview. Here is what I discovered.
In almost eight years of blogging and twenty years of bookselling, this is a first: I’ve never written a post as sole proprietor of the store. My Flying Pig co-founder, Josie, has officially stepped into her new full-time role at Pride Center of VT. This transition has been a year and a half in the making, but it became final on December 31. Over the past year, I’ve been learning the pieces of the business that Josie used to handle, especially since August when I took over almost all of her duties. It’s given me extra appreciation and gratitude for all of the tasks she used to do that I never had to think about.
I also have newfound admiration for bookstores with sole owners—especially those with a small staff. There is SO much to do, all the time! This has always been true about running a small business, of course, but jeeminy, it becomes critical to strive for laser focus, crystal-clear priorities, and streamlined efficiency. It’s its own extreme sport. Here’s what I’ve learned so far: Continue reading
[Today’s post is brought to you by Leslie Hawkins, owner of Spellbound Children’s Bookshop in Asheville NC. And the letter Y.]
Last night, film fans around the world had their eyes glued to the 74th Annual Golden Globe Awards ceremony and the red carpet hoopla beforehand. Today, I’d like to turn our collective kid-lit-loving attention to another exciting film event: the Sixth Annual 90-Second Newbery Film Festival.
A few years ago, Elizabeth Bluemle interviewed the festival’s founder, author James Kennedy. (You can read that wonderful post about the festival’s origins here.) I’m revisiting the topic in this, my first post for ShelfTalker, because I’ve had the great pleasure of being part of a community effort to bring an official 90-Second Newbery Film Festival screening to Asheville, N.C., for the first time. That’s right—we’re going to have a glamorous red carpet event of our own, Asheville Kid Style!
As the newest member of the ShelfTalker team, I wanted to say a quick hello. I’ve been lucky enough to buy books for BookPeople’s children’s book department in Austin for the last 10 years, and I’m really looking forward to exploring our ongoing adventures in bookselling with you and my fellow ShelfTalker contributors in the upcoming year!
I am a big lad for Amazon antitrust issues. Given their onerous impact on both bookselling and the human condition we need all the perspective we can get. In the past, for example, I’ve interviewed both John D. Rockefeller and John Locke to gain further insight into various stages of the malady’s morbid growth. Given these past interviews it would be shameful on my part not to mark the recent release of the powerful and vitally important new report by the Institute for Local Self Reliance, Amazon’s Stranglehold: How the Company’s Tightening Grip is Stifling Competition, Eroding Jobs, and Threatening Communities, by interviewing an even more august person, the ILSR’s Stacy Mitchell, one of the report’s co-authors.
Kenny: If getting the attention of the Justice Department and garnering public interest and public will to effect change regarding the Amazon anttrust issues has been challenging in the current political landscape, how do you see the issue changing under the Trump administration where economic regulation seems sure to be far more lax than it already is?
Stacy: Polls show that there’s widespread antagonism toward big business, on both the left and the right. There is a pervasive sense that corporate consolidation has left most Americans worse off, with fewer job prospects, lower wages, and less opportunity. And a growing body of economic research confirms that this is in fact true. When you have a few big retailers, Wall Street banks, and agribusiness giants running everything, it’s harder for people to find good jobs, start businesses, and move into the middle class.
Trump’s rhetoric taps into this anxiety. The trouble is, there is no indication so far that he is actually going to do anything about it. Quite the opposite. The point person for antitrust on his transition team, Joshua Wright, is an academic who has helped Google fend off accusations of violating antitrust laws and recently argued against stepped up antitrust scrutiny in a piece for the New York Times on the grounds that “concentration in an industry simply does not mean the industry lacks competition.”
So, the good news is that there is a convergence of scholarship and popular opinion around the idea that companies like Amazon have too much power and that they are using that power in ways that harm the economy and our democracy. The challenge is that doing something about this is going to take a bottom-up, grassroots movement. That’s really always been the case, though. It was a grassroots movement that fought the power of the East India Company by dumping a bunch of the company’s tea in Boston’s harbor. It was a grassroots movement that ultimately led government to break up and constrain the big trusts of the last Gilded Age. There are moments in history when we are called upon to protect our liberty and our democracy from concentrated economic power. This is one of those moments.
Kenny: You have written that Amazon is relatively invisible considering the depth and dimension of its social and economic impact. If you were designing a potion to increase its visibility, what would you put in it?
Stacy: More and better reporting. In terms of local news, Amazon is having an impact on virtually every community in the country. Its expansion is leaving most places with fewer businesses and jobs, and less tax revenue to support local services. And yet, because Amazon has no physical presence in most of our cities and towns, it’s not on the radar of local news outlets as something they should be covering. But while Amazon may not be in these places, its reach certainly is.
At the national level, there’s been very little investigative reporting of how Amazon manipulates us as consumers: how its algorithms determine what products we’re exposed to; how it steers our choices in ways that make it less likely that we’ll encounter certain authors, creators, and products; and how it uses the vast trove of data it has on our browsing habits to continuously adjust its prices and exploit its information advantage over shoppers. Surely these are topics worthy of the front pages.
Kenny: If Amazon were a sports team, what would its mascot be?
Stacy: A giant octopus.
Kenny: Your new report details Amazon’s monopolization of the economy, its undermining of jobs and wages, and its weakening of communities. Given the scope and scale of the problem, along with the vastly greater efficiency of preserving existing businesses as opposed to trying to re-grow a brick and mortal retail sector, how can booksellers help translate this urgency into effective outreach?
Stacy: We have to find ways to illustrate to people what’s a stake, what their Amazon shopping habit stands to cost them and their communities in the long run. One thing I think is key is to remind people that they have, as we say in the report, “needs and wants from the economy that go beyond the one-click checkout.” Many booksellers have been doing an excellent job of this. Their stores are about so much more than transactions. They are places where the community gathers, where ideas are discussed and authors give readings. They are places that create jobs and support local services and nonprofits. Their owners are our neighbors and they have staked their future on the places we call home. If you are thinking as a citizen and a community member, the choice to shop on Amazon has more costs than benefits.
We also have to find ways to transform the “buy local” movement, which so many people now identify with and support, from a purely consumer cause into a political movement. We need to call for an end to the many subsidies and tax advantages that are propelling Amazon growth. (The data we present in the report show that half of Amazon’s big fulfillment facilities have been built with taxpayer handouts and that the company has used a questionable overseas tax haven to cut its federal tax rate to less than one-third of what other retailers pay.) We need to resurrect antitrust policy, which prior to the last few decades, had a strong commitment to market diversity and entrepreneurship. We need labor policies to protect workers in the digital economy and local development policies that take into account the value local brick-and-mortar businesses bring to their communities.
Kenny: If you could pick one novel and one children’s book for a nationwide community read that would help its readers engage with the issues at the heart of your report, what would they be?
Stacy: Oh, my, that’s a tall order. Let me suggest a different approach, for adults at least. First, make time to read our report; it’s engaging and full of anecdotes and interviews that give the analysis dimension. And then follow it with a short, yummy chaser. I’d recommend P.G. Wodehouse’s The Code of the Woosters, or Muriel Spark’s Symposium, or Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader.
Kenny: Fabulous advice, Stacy. Since we’re talking chasers here we have to go with that ultimate refresher, The Code of the Woosters! Thanks so much.
Stacy: My pleasure!
A New Year promises change, and nowhere is change more dynamically an issue than in the static interior landscape of an OCD sufferer’s mind. It is hard to imagine that the unique potential of an OCD first-person narrator to expand on the concept of interior world building will ever be more powerfully realized than it is in Louise Gornall’s Under Rose Tainted Skies. Gornall channeled her own struggles with OCD into the book’s narrator Norah, and the breathtaking intensity of the reading experience is a tribute both to its authenticity and to Gornall’s skill as a writer. Norah’s derailed quest for normalcy, and the insertion of change into her regulated world, has dramatic consequences which both mirror and explore more traditional notions of thriller-like action and the interplay of fantasy realms with the real world.
Louise was kind enough to answer a few questions for us to help explore the dimensions of her fabulous debut novel, which is out today!
Kenny: It was highly engaging to have simple plot elements, such as Norah’s mother’s hospital stay, or getting a package into the house, transmuted into a thriller – like scenario due to her OCD. Do you think of the book as a thriller in any sense?
Louise: Funnily enough, this isn’t the first, second, or even third time I’ve heard this, though it still comes as a surprise. I never considered Rose to be a thriller, but then I was heavily focused on the embarrassment that came with spilling all my real-life secrets. See, most of what Norah goes through, I’ve been through myself, and my quirks/rituals were something I’d kept guarded, under lock and key. For a long time, it never occurred to me that my behaviors were anything more than embarrassingly absurd.