Monthly Archives: March 2012

Exercise and the Bookstore

Josie Leavitt - March 12, 2012

I came to work early yesterday so that I could walk before I opened. It was a glorious day and I’ve been trying to get back in shape. I set out on my journey with exactly 40 minutes before I needed to hang the Open flag and get the money in the drawer.
I had barely made it down the street before someone coming out of a store wanted to ask about their special order. I couldn’t remember their order, and honestly, I was having a really hard time remembering their name. I punted and told them I would check when I got back to work.
One thing I noticed about walking a two-mile loop near the bookstore is every passing car is full of customers who all want to beep a hello. While this is lovely and actually very sweet, it can be a little unnerving when I’m deep in thought about how I can walk faster or trying to remember that customer’s name so I can look up their order.
I wasn’t going to do the two-mile loop, because, well, I’m not in the best shape and I didn’t want to have to hustle to get to work. But something about the sunshine and the warmth in the air made me go right rather than turn around. I was walking a steep hill when I checked the time. I had less than 15 minutes to make it to the store. I hustled. I kept a good rhythm in my head and suddenly out of nowhere I practically shouted, “Greenway!”  I somehow remembered the customer’s name. Feeling happy about that I walked faster. Each beep and wave spurring me on to a finish line that only I could see.
I must say, little kids waving hello from cars are adorable. They are so vigorous in their attempts to get my attention that I fear for their elbows. One little girl had a bulldog on her lap and waved and then raised her dog’s ears and waved them. I burst out laughing and was grateful for the extra speed the chuckle gave me.
So, with barely a moment to spare I arrived at the store ready to work. Luckily, the first customers came in after I had caught my breath. I remembered to call Greenway and had a great day knowing that I’d walked two miles before work. All in all, a good day.

Kids and Books: A Happy Pairing

Josie Leavitt - March 9, 2012

It has been a great week for cute kids, and cute kid stories, in and around the bookstore. Last week was vacation so now I think we’re on the regular schedule of children who are too young to attend school. These little moppets are all about reading and having fun.
The first story centers on humor. A lovely mom came in with her bright-eyed, ready to smile four-year-old. After less than a minute in the store, they were ensconced on the floor surrounded by books. The boy sat close to his mom’s lap and they read stories. They were there for some time when I heard the laughter. Peals and peals of laughter emanating from the boy. Honestly, I have never heard a child laugh that hard at anything in my store. He just couldn’t stop. The more the mom read, the more he laughed and the more the mom was trying not to laugh as she read, which of course led to more laughter.

I found myself chuckling the whole time, but I was also dying to find out what they had read. I brought a stack of shelving with me and headed to the picture books. They were done reading and I asked what was so hilarious and the mom held up Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake.  All the kids who’ve read this book love its humor. It feels like a long time since there was a picture book that made children laugh this much.
On Tuesday, two identical twin girls came in. They were almost three and they were very friendly. They came right to the counter, and with the help of their au pair, asked if we had any Fancy Nancy. I brought them over to where it was and gave each girl a book. They did not want the books for themselves. We have two stuffed animal dragons in the picture book area along with two child-sized chairs. These twins got a dragon, put it in a chair, and started reading to him. They took turns “reading” to the dragon. One of the girls made sure to hold the book the right way  and the other very loudly let her know when it was time to turn the page. They read for several minutes and as they left they patted the dragon’s head and said bye-bye.
These two incidents remind me why I do this. All three children had a great experience with a book in my store. I suspect these kids might have good experiences with books a lot; they seem like the kind of kids who already deeply love books, and it was a pleasure to be part of it.

Great Beginnings

Elizabeth Bluemle - March 8, 2012

Last year, I did a blog post on terrific first lines in books, plundering ARCs to uncover some of the best of the 2011 January-June season. That was such a fun exercise, I couldn’t resist doing it again with this year’s crop.
A few things I noticed as I combed the stacks:
1) Some of my favorite books this spring turned out to have surprisingly quiet or deceptively ordinary, non-blockbuster openings, so they aren’t represented here. I suppose that leads us to the maxim that not only should one not judge a book by its cover, but by its first line(s), as well. (That said, a good first line is an endless delight.)
2) Prologues are in. There are loads of prologues, especially (but not only) in fantasy novels. Prologues are not uncommon, but there seem to be more of them this year.
3) Epigraphs are extra in. So many authors are starting their books with tasty quotes from their writerly forbears, and while there can be too much of a good thing, this is a literary device that usually adds richness and resonance to a story. I’m a sucker for a good epigraph.
4) Most of my ARCs at home (where I blog) are from a few major houses. I’m certain there are fantastic first lines in books I don’t have on hand, and I’ll be inviting you to share your favorites at the end of this post.
Without further ado, here are some of the gems – opening lines that grabbed my attention, for one reason or another –  from this season’s middle grade and YA releases:
January releases
Pete Hautman, What Boys Really Want (Scholastic):

Miz Fitz, My boyfriend is always saying stupid stuff. How can I fix him? —Angie

Miz Fitz sez: Get a dog. Fixing a dog is easier.

Marissa Meyer, Cinder (Feiwel and Friends):

The screw through Cinder’s ankle had rusted, the engraved cross marks worn to a mangled circle.

February releases (February seems to be witch month this year, judging by these first lines)

Alex Flinn, Bewitching (HarperTeen):

If you read fairy tales, and who doesn’t, you might believe there are witches all over the place—witches baking children into gingerbread, making princesses sleep hundreds of years, even turning normal teenage boys into hideous beasts to teach them a lesson. But, actually, there are only a few of us.

Jessica Spotswood, Born Wicked (Putnam):

Our mother was a witch, too, but she hid it better.

Kathryn Littlewood, Bliss (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books):

It was the summer Rosemary Bliss turned ten that she saw her mother fold a lightning bolt into a bowl of batter and learned – beyond the shadow of a doubt – that her parents made magic in the Bliss bakery.

March releases
Carl Hiaasen, Chomp (Knopf):

Mickey Cray had been out of work ever since a dead iguana fell from a palm tree and hit him on the head.

Melissa Marr, Faery Tales & Nightmares (Harper):

The green glow of eyes and sulfurous breath shimmer in the fog as the Nightmares come into range.

Carley Moore, The Stalker Chronicles (FSG):

It’s not like I wanted to be a stalker.

April releases
Saundra Mitchell, The Springsweet (Harcourt):

That I went a little mad, I could not deny.

May releases
Cornelia Funke, trans. by Oliver Latsch, Ghost Knight (Little, Brown):

I was eleven when my mother sent me to boarding school in Salisbury. Yes, granted, she did have tears in her eyes as she brought me to the station. But she still put me on that train.

Alethea Kontis, Enchanted (Harcourt):

My name is Sunday Woodcutter, and I am doomed to a happy life.

Jo Knowles, See You at Harry’s (Candlewick):

The very best day of my life, I threw up four times and had a fever of 103 degrees.

Anna Waggener, Grim (Scholastic):

[from the Prologue] I love my youngest child more than the other two, and God bless them but they all know it.

Philip Pullman, Two Crafty Criminals! And How They Were Captured by the Daring Detectives of the New Cut Gang (Knopf):

[from “Thunderbolt’s Waxwork”] The criminal career of Thunderbolt Dobney began on a foggy November evening outside the Waxwork Museum.

[from “The Gas-Fitter’s Ball”] There was a terrible shortage of crime in Lambeth in the summer of 1895, and the New Cut Gang were lamenting the fact, loudly.

Christopher Healy, The Hero’s Guide to Saving the Kingdom (Walden Pond Press):

Prince Charming is afraid of old ladies. Didn’t know that, did you?

Martha Brockenbrough, Devine Intervention (Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine):
This one has two great openings: First is a reproduction of a document titled “The Guardian Angels’ Handbook: Soul Rehab Edition,” which begins:

“Congratulations! You have been selected for membership in SRPNT, the Soul Rehabilitation Program for Nefarious Teens (Deceased).

And then Chapter One:

One Monday morning, a couple years before my cousin Mike shot me in the forehead with an arrow, my eighth-grade homeroom teacher brought two cartons of raw eggs to school.

Readers, what 2012 titles releasing in January-June have opening lines that suck you in like water on a hot pumice stone?

When a Bookstore Closes

Josie Leavitt - March 6, 2012

I got the most interesting call from a customer yesterday morning. She’s an excellent customer who I knew was in Key West until April. I thought she was calling to order a book or to talk about a new book she just loves. But no, she was calling to let me know that her favorite bookstore down there, Voltaire Books, had closed.
At first I didn’t understand why she was telling me. Then she said, “I just had to tell you, because you’d understand how sad I am.” She was really sad. I could hear the edge of tears in her voice. Honestly, by the time we got off the phone, I was close to tears myself. To hear from a customer the real void that was left with the store’s closing really got to me.
Barbara has spent six weeks a year in Key West for years. Voltaire Books was her place to go. She loved everything about it. From its eclectic selection to its being off the beaten path, Barbara adored going to the store and it made her trips to Key West even more special. She even told me before she went away how much she was looking forward to visiting the store during her time in Key West.
The store appears to have closed in July of last year and according to an article in, co-owner Peter Rogers blamed the closure on a combination of factors. “Of course, e-books are hurting us, the Kindle and the Nook,” he said. “But you’ve also got selling a $28 book for $9.99.” It’s shocking to me that a place with a literary tradition as rich as Key West cannot support an independent bookstore that sells only new books.
What touched me the most about the phone call was the need to share to news with someone. Okay, there was one other motive for her call; Barbara wanted to make sure that we were not in any peril of closing before she came home. I reassured her our plan was to remain open for a long time.
The ripple effect of a store closing is vast. It’s like an expert has skimmed a rock on a pond. Every bounce caused distress to all involved. So, a store closing in Key West affects folks as far away as Vermont. I don’t know Voltaire Books, but I’m sad for them. We all fight the same fights and I hope that all bookstores can win, but it’s unrealistic to think that all of us will come out on top.
So, the moral of this story is sometimes you never know what’s going to close or when, and the best way to ensure that the store you love stays open is to keep shopping there for all your books, in all formats.


When Galleys Find a Home

Josie Leavitt - March 5, 2012

I know some folks think it’s wonderful to get galleys and I agree. But every so often I stand in my office amid the galleys and I want to scream, just a little. Over the weekend I was confronted by the sheer number of books I have in my house. I have galleys from 2009 forward, and that’s a lot of books.
Galleys are truly one of the best perks of working at a bookstore. I get these yummy books months before they come out. They’re like great secret candies. The problem is every season there seems to be hundreds of galleys. These galleys need a home, and often that’s my house. But before the land in my office they have a long life at the bookstore.
Galleys come into the store in droves this time of year. I just got a box of galleys for books that are coming out in November and December. I feel as if I’ve barely read the galleys for books that came out in January. We have a stack of boxes five feet high with all the galleys arranged by month, just through May. Each staffer initials when she’s looked through the box. So, now I’m stuck with boxes that have books that either they didn’t want to read, or have read and returned.
Sometimes we take galley boxes to the store basement after everyone has looked at them. I’m trying not to do this, as the basement seems to be the place where things go to die. Because galleys can’t be sold, and I refuse to recycle or throw out books, the galleys can hang around for quite some time.
I literally had no place to put the newest crop of galleys anywhere other than my dining room table. After a week of that, I couldn’t bear it anymore. I took boxes from the store and cleaned out my office of any galleys that weren’t 2012. First, I moved all the galleys from the dining room table to the kitchen counter. While not my first choice for storing the books, it had the advantage of being in a place I wanted restored to its original use, so I knew I wouldn’t drag my feet on this project.
It took my trips to and from the office to empty the spinner (we had one extra when we moved, so brought the store case home, a lovely benefit of owning a bookstore). Finally, I was done. I was looking an entire dining room table covered entirely by books. Elizabeth and I sorted them by age and then put a bookplate in them that reminded folks the books couldn’t be sold or placed in a circulating library (this step is the slowest part of the whole process). Then we boxed them up by age and labeled them for various schools, prisons and hospitals. I feel good about giving galleys to charitable organizations; they have limited resources and almost always desperately need books. The Ronald McDonald House is a great place for a box mixed with all kinds of books. Some for the kids and some for the parents. Six boxes later and we’re still not done with the young adult books, which seem to be 65% of our galleys.
I then got to set the spinner by publication month. I’ve left plenty of room for more galleys, but the case is surprisingly full already. It is so nice to have the all galleys in one place and thoughtfully organized. If I were truly organized, they’d be organized by publisher for every month. But honestly, I don’t have that kind of time.
So, now as I admire my handiwork, the hardest part of this process is going to be choosing what to read, as there a lot of exciting books coming out this year. What books are you excited about this year?

Children on the Phone

Josie Leavitt - March 2, 2012

As Elizabeth mentioned in her post yesterday, this is vacation week for most of our customers. Curious things happen during vacation week. Kids are home more and parents are often looking for things to do. One thing that kids do during this time off is call the bookstore. Part of it is because they have time on their hands, and part of it parents are getting them used to using the phone.
These phone calls vary greatly, usually by age. Obviously, the younger the child, the cuter the call and the less information conveyed. I’ve learned that calls with heavy breathing are not necessarily dirty in nature, it’s usually a small child making her first call to a store.
I answer the phone, “Flying Pig Bookstore.” If I’m greeted by silence with breathing in the background, I usually repeat the name of store. Sometimes I hear a parent in the background urging the child to ask for their book.
“Um, hi. Um, do you have Fancy Nancy?” The voice is impossibly high pitched and  I say yes and then the inevitable happens, the child has no idea how to end a phone call, so we’re back to the breathing. “Would you like me to hold it for you?” As soon as the words are out of my mouth I realize this four-year-old moppet has no idea what I mean. I try not to resort to asking for their parent, so I ask the little one her name and as sure as the sun rises in the east, I cannot understand what she said, so I just leave the on the counter with a note: for the child who called in.
The calls from eight-to-ten year-olds involve fast breathing and often shouting. I answer the phone, “Flying Pig Bookstore,”  and am greeted by fast talking kids searching for a particular book. “Hi, doyouhavetheWimpyKidbook?” It takes my brain a few seconds to parse that sentence, as the only thing I’ve heard is Kid and book. I ask the boy to repeat himself and he says it just as fast. But this time I’m prepared for the speed of the question. “Yes, we’ve got that.” This is the moment I never remember to move the phone away from my ear because the next thing I hear is a shout, directly into the phone, “MOM THEY HAVE THE BOOK.”
And then, they hang up.

Scenes from a Saturday

Elizabeth Bluemle - March 1, 2012

Whether it’s a crazy summer Saturday packed with Shelburne Museum-goers, or a slow holiday-week Saturday where half the town has gone skiing or left the state in search of fun, Saturdays at the bookstore are always fun and full of surprises. I thought I’d give readers a few highlights from last weekend.
1) Most Enthusiastic Reader Award

Flying Pig bookseller Sandy First has been telling me for a while about an adorable three-year-old girl who has been coming to the store for the Mercy Watson series one at a time (do click that link, if you get a chance; Mercy has her own website, and it is adorable!). “I wish you could see her,” Sandy said. “I’ve never seen a child so happy to get a book.” Apparently, she jumps up and down and practically levitates with joy when handed the next volume of the buttered-toast-loving pig’s latest adventures. When I came to work at 11, Sandy said, “That little girl you passed on her way out is the Mercy Watson fan I’ve been telling you about.” I zipped back outside and watched this blonde-ringleted little tyke “reading” the book as she walked, chattering, clearly narrating the story as she walked on the deck between her parents, who carefully guarded her on either side, tall swans around their happy duckling.
2) Most Confusing Customer Call
One of our longtime customers is a fantastic, sharp woman who always orders interesting books. Her father was in publishing, in fact, and she has excellent taste. Rarely, therefore, does a discussion with her go as awry as the one we had this Saturday morning, when she sent her (adult) son in to pick up The Company They Kept: Writers on Unforgettable Friendships, Volume 1. Our customer called us when her son arrived home. “This isn’t the right book,” she said. “I’m looking for The Company We Keep. I’ve already got The Company They Kept.” I remembered having been able to get volume 2 of this series from the distributor, but needing to order volume 1 directly from the New York Review of Books. I was sure I had the title correct. As I scurried around online checking our records and the NYRB website, our phone call became a veritable “Who’s on First” sketch. It didn’t help that the NYRB site doesn’t do a great job of linking the two books; not only are the book jackets dissimilar in style and tone, but the web pages for each title don’t refer to or link to each other. And there is a red herring of a book called The Company We Keep from another publisher altogether, which has nothing to do with these two. It turned out that we had in fact sent home the right book, but it was a pretty funny 15 minutes. (Wonderful books, though. I recommend them!)
3) Blast from the Past
Three tall teenagers came to the store, looking for a photographic book on Vermont to send home with an exchange student. We helped them find a lovely one, and when they came to the register, we asked what name we should ring it up under so that they would get their book club credit. The tallest of the kids, who must have been about 6’2″, gave his parents’ names. I gasped. “You’re baby Oliver?!” I said, making him blush to the tips of his ears. He is now 15, but used to come to the bookstore all the time as a teeny tot when our store was in its old location, within walking distance from his house. We talked for a bit, and what was so extra-wonderful about seeing this grown-up version of the baby/toddler/little boy we had known those years ago was not only that he was a smiling, confident young man, but that he seemed absolutely delighted to be recognized. He could have hunched into himself, mortified beyond reckoning, at being called baby Oliver — I mean, who could have blamed him?! — but instead, he warmed to the pleasure of being known and remembered.
4) Teachers Stocking Up
School break is this week, and often teachers use some of their found time to come in and fill gaps in their classroom collections. We love this; they plant themselves in a section and raid the shelves. Sometimes they want help and suggestions; other times, they come in with a list and get right to it. We have a lot of very slightly psychic moments at The Flying Pig: thinking of a customer we haven’t seen in a few years, only to have them pop in the next day; guessing a kid’s name we’ve never met; suddenly deciding to restock a particular author we’ve been out of for a while, only to get a request for their books. This Saturday was Leo Lionni day. I hadn’t sold a Lionni title in a few months (I know; sacrilege!), but restocked everything this week, and on Saturday, a teacher marched up to the counter asking for — yep — Leo Lionni. She bought the entire collection. Kismet!
5) Busy Budding Readers, New Friends
Two 16-month-old cartoon toddlers, strangers to one another, rushing busily through the store, one followed by grandpa, the other by mom, both toddlers following each other around. There were the usual toddler events, pulling multiple balls out of a ball display and knocking everything else off the shelf, exuberantly spinning card racks, (supervised) climbing on our soft cubes in the picture book section.
6) The Book Aunt
A woman came up to the counter with a stack of picture books. I so love to see a stack of books at the counter, I must say. I said, “You found great books. Are you a teacher?” (She had chosen some authors who aren’t mainstream for the general public but are well-known and beloved in school circles.) “Nope,” she said, “I’m just the ‘book aunt.’ ” “I’m one of those,” I said. “Isn’t it the best?” We agreed that it was, and I expressed admiration for her excellent choices. “You’re all set?” I asked. She nodded, then said, “Unless you have some must-have books for four-year-old boys.” I got that gleam in my eye and showed her Chris Barton’s Shark vs. Train, Kevin Sherry’s I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean, William Steig’s Pete’s a Pizza, and Mini Grey’s Traction Man Meets Turbo Dog. That stack grew by four books, and she left having earned a canvas tote bag.
7) Long-Distance Regulars
Another growing child pleased to be recognized was Lauren, the granddaughter of a customer who moved out of state but has recently returned. That’s great news for us, because our customer’s family is wonderful and we have missed seeing them! One of her sons came in with his daughter (Lauren), who shyly came up to the counter, smiled, and was so happy we knew who she was. Now in sixth grade, she’s still an avid reader, and we had a blast going through books, talking about which ones she’d read and loved, and finding new ones for her to take back home after the weekend. (Princess Academy, Ice, and Chalice.)
Then came another family, who visit once or twice a year. Mom, Dad, a son and a daughter — all of them science fanatics who also love books. Our conversation ranged from comparing chemistry flash cards to sharing favorite science-y websites (I pointed them toward the video of Theodore Gray’s making of The Elements for the iPad, and told them about the Elements Vault: Treasures of the Periodic Table with Removable Archival Documents and Real Element Samples (which we were out of stock on, but which led Sandy to show them
Solar System: A Visual Exploration of All the Planets, Moons and Other Heavenly Bodies That Orbit Our Sun (also published by Black Dog & Leventhal), which they happily bought, along with Ronia the Robber’s Daughter, Emmy & the Incredible Shrinking Rat, Cool Science stuff and The True Meaning of Smekday. One of the kids said, “We were going to the museum [the wonderful ECHO Center in Burlington] but the bookstore turned out to be so much more fun today!” And the best moment may have been when the mom said, “You changed our family’s lives several years ago,” telling me about recommending audiobooks the whole family would love, which changed long car trips for them forever.
It was a good Saturday, fairly quiet (lots of locals fled town for school break) but very fulfilling. Plenty of time for chatting with every customer (and leaving alone the folks who like to browse in peace, of course). Our lowest dollar sale was $3.71; our highest, $153.11. People bought as little as one item and as many as 20. But what lingers long after the day’s reconciliation are those conversations; those are the sparks, the fuel, the grist for our mills that keep us opening Saturday after Saturday, all year long.