…in this season of plenty, when somehow October mysteriously disappeared like the best of the trick-or-treat candy does after bedtime, when November has sailed by on autumn wind carrying left-behind signs from protest marches and polling places and plans for the holidays that are suddenly, alarmingly HERE….
…to ask our publisher partners for extended credit terms, faster shipping, an extra two percent if we buy the display, and oh! please add another case or two of catalog titles, perhaps cushioned to prevent damage with a little extra bubble…
…wrap “in birthday, Hanukkah, or Christmas?” as we inquire of each customer as they bring their purchases to the register, and watch their smile of delight as we gesture toward the giant rolls of…
We always see a resurgence of interest in the classics come holiday time. Hardcover copies of The Wind in the Willows and Now We Are Six tumble out of the store with renewed vigor, along withThe Sword in the Stone, Treasure Island, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (perhaps my favorite version is this one, a lovely small book with gilded page edges which used to have a silver-edged companion, Through the Looking-Glass), The Hobbit (which has about six handsome hardcover versions and I love them all for different reasons), Eloise, Uncle Wiggily’s Story Book, and on and on and on. Suddenly poetry sells again for both children and adults, especially (and unsurprisingly) Shel Silverstein. The Nutshell Library fills many a stocking, and Zlateh the Goat heads into Hanukkah homes. There are countless classic favorites that find new life at the holidays—and yet there are two big holes in the list, books I’d love to be able to offer my customers, but can’t. Continue reading
Last week I had the pleasure of co-hosting a fundraiser for a local nonprofit that’s responsible for implementing the Dolly Parton Imagination Library program in our county. As most of you are probably aware, this fantastic program mails free books to enrolled children every month between the time of their birth until age 5. It began in Dolly’s home state of Tennessee and now distributes books to kids all over the country and overseas as well. Continue reading
I had one of those personal and poignant bookselling moments yesterday, when in conversation with a customer she mentioned that her seven-year-old daughter has been diagnosed with selective mutism. You may be a little bit familiar with this term, as I was, from Christina Collins’s powerful debut middle grade novel AFTER ZERO, which was published by Sourcebooks in September. In the book, eighth grader Elise moves into public school after an isolated childhood in which she was homeschooled by a mother coping with crippling depression. Struggling to understand the complicated social cues of middle school, Elise makes a few blunders that are heartbreaking in both their honesty and her subsequent shame, leading her to conclude that maintaining absolute silence is her only safety. She begins to tally the words she speaks aloud each day, with the goal of reducing that number of utterances to a perfect zero, the absolute silence of anonymity and safety. In spite of gentle prodding from teachers, concern and then avoidance by classmates, and well meaning but ineffective intervention from the adults in her life, Elise desperately tries to take control by abandoning speech entirely, and committing to voicelessness. A quote from Sakya Pandita, which Elise taped to the inside cover of her school notebook, reminds her that “Silence is the means of avoiding misfortune. The talkative parrot is shut up in a cage. Other birds, without speech, fly freely about.”
Christina’s Collins’s powerful middle grade novel about voice.
As has been reported elsewhere, Amazon has chosen to locate its new Headquarters in an area stretching from Queens, New York to Arlington, Virginia. This vast new campus will cross six states, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia.
The geographical extent of Amazon’s Headquarters raised some initial concerns about such issues as conflicting municipal, payroll and property taxation rates, interstate commerce, eminent domain, scale of political influence, and employee citizenship. These concerns have been resolved by the unusual step of granting the new campus District status, making it the nation’s second District, along with the District of Columbia.
Our wonderful customer, Anne, begins her holiday gathering by bringing in book reviews, clippings, and interviews.
As a retailer, I’m supposed to deck my halls for the holiday season pretty much the moment the first autumn leaf flutters to the ground. Fourth quarter makes or breaks our year as a business, so it’s vital to attend to “the season.” But as a human being, I dislike the relentless consumer madness our culture has created around the holidays. So I strike compromises at the store, reluctantly setting up a couple of low shelves with holiday books just after Halloween—people start asking for them in August and I’ll bring them out from the back but cannot bring myself to create a display that early—and I also relent by setting out the holiday boxed cards in early November, putting two shelves of Hanukkah cards in the top spots because, even though we don’t sell many, Christmas tends to drown out all the other seasonal holidays, and I’m striving for at least a little equity. But there’s one thing I do love about early holiday prep, and that’s the influx of aunts, uncles, and grandparents coming in with their lists of family members, eager to match each reader with the perfect book.
As booksellers, our primary job is to curate book selections and displays that welcome readers from all backgrounds and create moments of recognition, discovery, and delight for anyone who enters. Fostering that environment is both a big responsibility and a big job. We wrestle with whose voices to include and lift up, and the truth is that the good isn’t as easy to separate from the bad as we would all like for it to be. Not for nothing, the blog post that my ShelfTalker colleague, Cynthia Compton, wrote during Banned Books Week was the most eloquent, authentic expression of that particular bookseller conundrum that I’ve seen. And ShelfTalker’s Kenny Brechner and a group of college students thoughtfully explored the question of how to handle books by authors facing real world accusations very recently as well.
But the more important challenge is less about dealing with the repercussions of bestselling authors’ behavior and more about making sure no community feels that all their stories have been entrusted or restricted to a few lone stewards. As much as the Kid Lit community has truly dug into overdue and heartfelt conversations about inclusion and representation over the last few years, we can all agree we’re still working to fully live up to our goals, especially, perhaps, when it comes to Indigenous and Native voices.
I have seen a lot of holiday seasons come and go at this point. The total number, you will say, would not have impressed Hanako, a scarlet koi fish who lived to be 226 years old. I get that. Nonetheless Hanako, who was born in 1751, died in 1977 and is no longer here to be unimpressed. Be that as it may, many elements of the retail season up here in Maine have taken on the feel of longstanding traditions. One of my favorites is downtown Farmington’s Early Bird Sale.
Meteorologists are forecasting that the first flakes of snow will fall this week in Indiana. They won’t stick, and the roads will be fine, so this is a welcome weather phenomenon in specialty retail. There is nothing like the swirl of flurries on a gray November day to get customers excited about shopping for the holidays, and to add a little magic to the scene outside our cozy shop windows. Boxes of merchandise are stacking up in the stock room, the rolls of wrapping paper have been delivered (although there seems to be a national shortage of the perfect color of forest green curling ribbon, a modest cause for alarm at this stage of the season), and the annual rumors of shipping strikes, online price slashing, and pop-up retail inside every big box store have begun to sneak under the doors like drafts of cold air.
I’m distracting myself from the nail-biting anticipation of today, November 6’s, election results, with a post (almost) completely unrelated to politics. I hope it distracts you, too.
We have a 17-year-old customer—we’ll call him Nicholas—who is obsessed with orchids. Apparently, his mom recently found a family video from when Nick was three which showed him, arms spread wide, proclaiming, “I LOVE ORCHIDS!” Now, Nick has blossomed (pardon me) into quite an orchid expert. His parents, avid hikers, can only get Nick to join them if there’s a chance to spot orchids in the wild. This precocious autodidact receives several emails a day from people in the Northeast looking for his assistance identifying rare specimens.
Interestingly, Nick hasn’t read Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief, a book I listened to and loved several years ago. “The wrong orchid is on the cover,” he said, proving once again that many readers pay attention to accuracy gaps between interior content and cover design. “I’m also not interested in theft as subject matter,” he said. “Also, who needs another book about love and betrayal?” I sort of love that the Northeast’s top expert on orchids hasn’t read the ONLY BOOK ON ORCHIDS that the general public has ever heard of (which may be part of why he didn’t bother, but honestly, it’s a terrific book and a gripping audiobook, so I hope he does dip in at some point).