When I arrived for my annual interview with the new Year I was a bit startled by an unexpected sight. Here, see for yourself.
Kenny: Thank you. Umm. Hold on. (Checks his glasses) Hmmn. I notice that there are two of you. Are you both The Year 2018?
Year 2018: Yes.
Year 2018: No.
Kenny: Hmmn. these are deep waters I see.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
After a week of subzero temps and frigid winds keeping everyone home for the first days of the new year, today we are treated to a milder high of 40 degrees in Indiana, so the icicles are melting off the overhang in the front of my store. I can hear them melting (drip, drip, drip) because it’s quiet in here. Winter Break is finished, the kids went back to school today, story time ended four hours ago, and there was no noon rush of adults picking up a quick gift on their lunch hour. Now it’s nap time for the preschool crowd, and we hope we’ll see some middle school students after school, or parents on their way home from the office, but right now the parking lot is empty.
Drip, drip, drip.
Once upon a time, there lived an innocent bookseller who skipped along the path with a basketful of flowers, singing “Inventory will soon be done / Counting the books, one by one.” She was dreaming of a store perfectly organized, each title in its place, with accurate numbers in the point-of-sale system’s on-hand quantity column. “No more negative numbers!” she crowed. “No more mystery copies of unfindable Milk & Honeys and Dog Man! We will know where every single book lives!”
Coming out of the holidays, there’s always a sense of putting the house back in order as we busily turn over displays, schedule returns, and update our notes of Christmas past to save our future selves future headaches. But I always also feel a marked mental shift this week every year, as I pull my brain out of the year-end bustle and refocus on the books coming out in the new year.
This is the hardest season to read deeply for in advance, with the Winter / Spring buying season embedded within our busiest months. I always start the season feeling behind, so I try to hit the books as soon as January hits (which actually feels like a treat after the holiday whirlwind). One of the best books I’ve picked up recently has been Love, Hate, & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed, which not only offers a vibrant, memorable voice but also ended on a note that resonated with me in unexpected ways. Continue reading
The last week of the holiday season has its own peculiar atmospheric pressure, one that has been building, geometrically, in the hearts and mind of last-minute book buyers. This pressure results in unusual customer proclamations, which range from the amusing to the revealing and then back to the amusing again.
What called this to mind was an unusually memorable question that was asked here on Christmas Eve. A man looked around the store for a bit and then marched up to me.
Customer: “Do you have regular books too? Like James Patterson?”
We had a copy of the book he was looking for, Sixteenth Seduction, and he left happy, with his Patterson gift wrapped and tree ready. And I? I was buoyed by Charles II’s assurance that “God will not damn a man for taking a little unregular pleasure along the way.” Phew!
My heart goes out to publishers this time of year. Here it is, January — bookstore inventory time, heading-into-the-lean-retail-season time, time to return excess inventory and pay our bills. If we booksellers dread seeing customers return books to the store, I can only imagine how publishers feel, waiting to see how many copies of which titles will come pouring unsold back to their care and keeping.
Our staffer Laura (our returns czar) called a publisher yesterday to get some returns approved and found herself transferred to their warehouse. The voice at the other end said wearily, “And how many pallets will you be delivering?” Laura laughed and said, “It’s just one box.” It made us think how grateful we are that customers, while they might bring back a book or two, never show up at the door with hundreds of returns for us.
I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. Good grief, I’m an indie children’s bookseller. I have just survived the tidal wave that was Christmas, keeping my sanity (mostly) and my staff together in our little shop sailboat, tossed in the stormy water by a torrent of demanding customers, the unrelenting winds of late hours followed by overnight shelf stocking, receiving, and event prep, and the unpredictable lightning flashes of “out of stocks” and the rumbling thunder of shipping woes. Are we not deserving of rest, champagne, and gentle congratulations? (And perhaps some kind person who would come in at night and buff the floors?) Now, we are required to be introspective, soul-searching and identify ways we can IMPROVE, too? And put all that in a LIST? With desired outcomes, and checkpoints, and GOALS? Yikes. I’m doing well just let the echoes of the incessant holiday music subside in my head, and only barely avoiding the shakes when I see a customer exit their car in the parking lot, heading toward our door with ONE OF OUR BAGS IN THEIR HANDS, and I spy (no, tell me it’s not) our own Christmas wrap peeking out of the bag. Let’s handle returns before resolutions, shall we?