© 2006 Susanna Hesselberg (click on image for artist website)
Like all book lovers who hold on to loved volumes, and who have moved many times, and have inherited books from family members, I struggle with keeping my collection — well, if not pared down, at least sane. And by “sane,” I mean mainly relegated to bookcases, instead of threatening to crush me under toppling stacks.
I have moved within cities, between states, and across the country, every time with dozens and dozens of book boxes. (I think Bekins and Booska have me on a banned customer list by now.) Recently, my sister and I inherited my father’s book collection, and his books number in the several thousand. He loved to read about magic, travel, photography, loved mysteries and books about words and wordplay. He had excellent taste in these categories, and his books are beautiful. But most of them are in storage, and I cannot figure out how, without building myself a house made entirely out of books, I will be able to keep them.
The great thing about being a bookseller: so many books to read! The terrible thing about being a bookseller: SO many books to read. They’re a mixed blessing, these stacks of advance reading copies and digital shelves filled with downloaded goodies from NetGalley and Edelweiss (booksellers’ treasure chests). With the sheer number of titles published every year, even the really good ones can start to blend together. Which makes the one-sitting reads — those books you cannot stop reading, the ones you make little bargains with yourself about trading task time for reading time, the ones you end up staying awake until 3 a.m. for — all the more memorable.
As you may have heard, venerable children’s bookseller Carol Chittenden of Eight Cousins in Falmouth, Mass., will be retiring in January. Carol is a close pal, and we have shared many confidential communiques over the years, but I suspected that some of her best stuff was still being held in close reserve. An exit interview seemed to be the perfect cover to lure Carol into making an astonishing disclosure or two.
Kenny: Dog years have a seven-year ratio with ordinary years. How does it work with bookstore years, would you say?
Carol: Drills, rather than dogs, are the correct metaphor here. Bookselling operates on variable speed calendars: fast when the customers are buying, endless when they’re not. To counteract this, I always feel we need to be twice as busy during the slow times, doing all the things that we won’t be able to take care of when we’re gift-wrapping and receiving and shelving double time.
We all have them, those loose ends of our lives that occasionally make us crazy, like trying to find an old roommate from college or trying to recall the name of the book that delighted us a child. While I can’t really help find someone’s old college buddy, part of my job is trying to decipher just what the book threads might be.
On Sunday a lovely woman and her daughter came to the store. The daughter, eight, sought spooky books, and lots of them. Laura, our in-house spook-meister, was on it, finding the girl lots to choose from. While the daughter might have been utterly thrilled, her mother was vaguely dissatisfied even after we’d found her a novel about biblical women (not my strong suit).
Okay, it’s come up again: what to actually say to customers when Amazon rears its head in the bookstore. Signage is one thing: you put it up and hope folks understand. (See Friday’s post for more on clever signs.) But having a discussion about Amazon (or big other online or big box competition) in the store can be very tricky. Emotions come on surprisingly fast from both sides and there is a very delicate balance between education and annoyance.
Amazon made news again yesterday when it unveiled its the Fire phone (read the announcement here). That Amazon has entered the smartphone arena seems fitting for Jeff Bezos’s ego, but I doubt it will make a dent in the iPhone or Android market. But this Fire phone has some scary technology that continues to cement the closed loop of Amazon users: “…a further means of locking consumers into the Amazon ecosystem” by allowing people to snap a photo, or a jacket blurb, or even part of the text on the page and then be taken right that product’s page on Amazon’s website where they can download the book in the store. Once again, Bezos and his merry band of players are trying to take it right to the heart of the indies, although, really, as my coworker Darrilyn aptly said: “Don’t you think people who get this phone don’t set foot in a bookstore, or any store anymore?”
The thing about established picture book series and holiday books is that there just doesn’t seem to be a stopping point. I mean at least with alcohol, the bartender might cut you off or a friend might say something. Sure, you think it’s just going to be one, one Christmas book and that’s it. No harm there. But then you don’t want to seem to be slighting Hanukkah, and there’s Easter to consider since you already have minor rabbit characters, and St. Patrick’s Day — nobody’s really tackled the snake-banishing element. The next thing you know, you’re binging on holidays and seasons and soon enough you are not even pretending to have any standards, you’re franchised.
Ever since his first guest post for ShelfTalker five years ago, DDG Booksellers owner Kenny Brechner has brought his creative, funny, irrepressible spirit—not to mention his considerable intellect and insight—to this blog. (You can find a full linked list of Kenny’s previous posts below.)
When Kenny stepped up several times this spring to contribute fabulous posts while your regular Shelftalker bloggers dealt with a family medical crisis, we decided it was high time to make his posts a regular treat for readers. It is with great glee that we announce Kenny as the newest official ShelfTalker blogger, providing one new post every week! Woot!!
There are certain books that make booksellers go a little bonkers. Often these crazy-making books are the ones that come with sound chips.
Who thought “Oh, hey, reading’s a quiet activity that can be shared with a child on your lap, let’s make it less about time together and more about NOISE?” Sure, books with sound chips make it easier for children to enjoy without a parent around, but as technology gets better, the chips get louder and the batteries seem to last forever. I recently ordered two potty training books (one for boys and one for girls) and they came with a sound chip of applause – lots of lots of applause and whooping and hollering. These books were faced-out (seems like every toddler is being toilet-trained this month) and they got a lot of attention. Am I missing something here? Why would reading a book about potty training need an applause track? Unless the book is being read in the bathroom by the toddler then, really, why? And even then, why?
The problem with noisy books is, as the bookseller who has them knows, you can’t then complain about a child getting a full-on standing ovation for 15 minutes playing with the book. Of course kids like the novelty of noisy books, but their appeal wears thin after just a few minutes to adult ears. If the clapping and whooping it up of the potty book weren’t bad enough, the truck books with the incessant back-up beeping noise is enough to make you homicidal. There’s always the one page that gets played over and over again.
All books with sound chips come with the plastic tab in the back to prevent the chip from going off until the book is taken home. I swear that kids, even newborns, today are smart enough to have figured out that the tab needs to go before the joy of the book can be savored. It’s easy to get that tab out, but for some reason, it’s really hard to put it back in. Very clever. And some days there are little tabs everywhere in the store. And here’s the thing: parents don’t like noisy books because they can’t take the noise either. I’ve often had aunts and uncles not buy books with sound chips “…because my sister will kill me.” So, why do these books continue to get made?
Lastly, it’s one thing to have two seconds of a noise when a certain page gets turned, but to have a full 10 seconds of noise is practically unbearable. I know 10 doesn’t sound like a long time, but count to 10 right now. Do it again and now imagine a concert hall of applause. Repeat this until you’ve lost your mind.
Earlier this week, I posted a call to gather titles to counter one writer’s Slate article dismissing YA books as not suitably literary or complex reading for adults. Suggestions poured in, and I’m posting the list of books below.
First, however, I wanted to share the first bit of my favorite response to the Ruth Graham article. Titled “A Young Adult Author’s Fantastic Crusade to Defend Literature’s Most Maligned Genre,” it was posted on Nerve.com by YA writer Kathleen Hale, and it begins this way:
Last week, I read Ruth Graham’s article “Against YA.” In it, Graham contends that adults should be embarrassed to read YA novels. Instead, grownups should focus their attention on serious, “literary fiction” that grapples with “big ideas about time and space and science and love.”
As a YA writer myself, I was understandably offended. I’m not some schlocky trash-peddler. I’m a serious author, capable of far more than maudlin plot twists and clichéd dialogue. That’s why I decided to confront Graham in person.
I picked her up outside the graveyard before nightfall.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” she said, as we stepped into my father’s beat up Chevy. We were going 70 miles an hour, two girls with different colored hair.
“Why did you say that about YA?” I asked, as tears streamed down my face like rain.
“Because it’s true!” she hissed. And I saw in the moonlight that her anger made her beautiful. This was before the war, when the oceans still had water, and the moon was still visible in the sky.
Hale’s post continues, hilariously, in this vein. It is clever, spooftastic fun, but also a glorious, smart reply to the issues raised in Ruth Graham’s article.
And now for the Anti-Anti-YA Book List of complex, rewarding young adult reads no one should be ashamed of reading and enjoying. The aim was to include only realistic YA, but a few fantasy, alternative reality, and graphic novels sneaked in. Thanks to all of the ShelfTalker readers who contributed:
13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
17 and Gone by Nova Ren Suma.
33 Snowfish by Adam Rapp
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Afterparty by Ann Redisch Stampler
anything by Sarah Dessen
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross
Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
Black Juice by Margo Lanagan
Bone Dance by Martha Brooks
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Breathe My Name by R.A. Nelson
Candy by Kevin Brooks
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Confessions of a Hater by Caprice Crane
Crossing Stones by Helen Frost
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Dark Dude by Oscar Hijuelos
Deerskin by Robin McKinley
The Diviners by Libba Bray
Downriver by Will Hobbs
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Every Day by David Levithan
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Fat Angie by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo
Fighting Ruben Wolfe by Markus Zusak
Finninkin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta
For the Win by Cory Doctorow
Gil Marsh by A.C.E. Bauer
Going Bovine by Libba Bray
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith
Grave Mercy by R.L. LaFevers
Gringolandia by Lyn Miller-Lachmann
Guy in Real Life by Steve Brezenoff
Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger
Heart’s Delight by Per Nilsson
how i live now by Meg Rosoff
How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford
Hush by Eishes Chayil
I Am J by Cris Beam
I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak
I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan
If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson
If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan.
The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson
In Darkness by Nick Lake
Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
Jumped by Rita Williams-Garcia
Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal
The Kings Are Already Here by Garret Freymann-Weyr
The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking trilogy) by Patrick Ness
Last Night I Sang to the Monster by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Lessons from a Dead Girl by Jo Knowles
Liar by Justine Larbalestier
Life as We Knew It (Mooncrash series) by Susan Beth Pfeffer
Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet
Like the Red Panda by Andrea Seigel
The List by Siobhan Vivian
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Looking for Alaska by John Green
Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan
Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaria
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
My Book of Life by Angel by Martine Leavitt
My Soon-to-be Sex Life by Judith Tewes
No Safe Place by Deborah Ellis
Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr
The Opposite of Hallelujah by Anna Jarzab
Paper Covers Rock by Jenny Hubbard
the perks of being a wallflower by stephen chbosky
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta
Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King
Pointe by Brandy Colbert
Postcards from No Man’s Land by Aidan Chambers
Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman
Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick
Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Sean Griswold’s Head by Lindsey Leavitt
The Secret Side of Empty by Maria E. Andreu
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
Served Anytime by Sarah Combs
Shine by Lauren Myracle
Since You Left Me by Allen Zadoff
Sister Mischief by Laura Goode
Skim by Mariko Tamaki (graphic novel)
Solace of the Road by Siobhan Dowd
Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron
Sorta Like a Rockstar by Matthew Quick
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Stick by Andrew Smith
Stoner and Spaz by Ron Koertge
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
Suckerpunch by David Hernandez
Tamar by Mal Peet
Taste of Salt by Frances Temple
Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan
The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
This is How I Find Her by Sara Polsky
Toning the Sweep by Angela Johnson
Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
The Tyrant’s Daugher by J. C. Carleson
Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
Whale Talk (and other novels) by Chris Crutcher
Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley
The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean
Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
Winger by Andrew Smith
With or Without You by Brian Farrey
Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina