It’s time again, fellow bookish tribe, to gather around the table and avoid sensitive topics of conversation in favor of fellowship and pie — and to give thanks for the many things we are grateful for. Before you pass the cranberry sauce and set up the Scrabble board, I want to pause and offer these thoughts of gratitude and accompanying petitions for the year to come:
….that while we may not be “booming” in the bookstore business, another year has passed and we are still here. Our bookstores are at the hearts of our communities, and provide an important reason that other businesses and homeowners choose to rent spaces and buy houses, and we continue to offer the haven of the third place to our fellow citizens. May we fill that role with dignity and full understanding of its importance, and may we wear the title of bookseller with pride.
Growing up in Los Angeles, I was used to celebrities. Harvey Korman came to our school plays (booming his lovely loud laugh at every comical line), and Michael Landon’s daughter was in my Spanish class. Bridget Fonda was my classmate, as was Engelbert Humperdinck’s sweet daughter, Louise. Most kids at my all-girl’s school seemed to be the daughter of somebody famous, or seemed destined to be famous themselves.
We were scholarship kids, my sister and I, and while our mom was also a talented actress, she wasn’t famous. But celebrities were all around us and were normalized because of that giant crazy swimming pool called Los Angeles. In middle school I once sat at a Malibu beach house dinner table having a burger with just Mick Jagger and my seventh-grade best friend Alex, another famous actor’s child, while her nanny puttered about in the kitchen. That was just the way it was, and no big deal.
Long days in the shop followed by longer evenings at offsite events have left me just exhausted the last few weeks, and I’m sure my fellow retailers understand. It seems selfish and shortsighted to complain, of course, for the long cold stretch of January will make us wish for a calendar this full, or at least make me forget about aching feet and a constant sense that I have forgotten some task, neglected some special order, or failed to tell a staff member about where to find the extra printer ink cartridges. A few nights ago I came home and fell into bed too tired to even read, and instead indulged in some Julie Andrews therapy, and fell asleep to the classic film The Sound of Music. I woke up humming parts of the score, which I’ll invite you to sing along with me (I might have changed a few words, with apologies to Oscar Hammerstein):
Raindrops on boxes of plush dogs and kittens,
Carrying trash out again without mittens,
No-invoice-boxes the UPS brings –
These are a few of my least favorite things.
Jon Klassen joins a class of third grade art critics.
Take a close look at this painting. Do you see a king and his leonine pet, a costumed lad’s accidental run-in with a lion, or someone trying to steal a crown? If you could turn the page and create the next scene without any context, what would you consider? I don’t know if you can tell, but that lion seems like he’s trying to say an awful lot with his eyes. And where one viewer might just see a royal portrait, another might see an image pulsing with the threat of a coup or even murder in the offing—which were some of the theories debated by one group of third graders at a recent event with Jon Klassen at the Blanton Museum of Art.
My annual task of producing The Holiday 20, DDG’s annotated picks of the season, 20 books in 10 different categories, is such a longstanding annual tradition that even writing about the task here in ShelfTalker has become a bit of a seasonal tradition. Danger lurks therefore. In treading back over familiar ground one might easily step upon the toes of the past if one doesn’t take care. Glancing back I see that I have previously compared the task of sifting through the year’s books for the Holiday 20 to such things as cleaning out the attic and preparing for a long hike. This year will be different, though, because it is ironically all about being haunted by differences. Indeed, The Ghost of Holidays 20 Past has joined us to hold me accountable for how this year’s list has parted ways with its forebears.
Our store is getting busier, and I’m sure that yours is, too. Lots of regular customers have stopped by with their children to fill out their holiday wish lists, and parents return in the evening hours sans kiddos to start or finish their gift shopping. We love to see all these families, of course, and it’s gratifying to be part of their annual holiday traditions. Some kids keep lists “on file” with us, so that we know just where they are in a favorite series, and some send us notes or text us* about books they want to read. Some parents (on our advice) snap pictures of their children’s bookshelves on their smartphones, or send emails to their children’s classroom teachers for clues about books that their kids are really excited about. Grandparents often carry in lists clipped from newspapers, magazines, and printed out from websites, with titles carefully circled based on age recommendations from the lists. All of these methods are great, and demonstrate not only commitment to keeping their kids excited about reading, but an ongoing partnership with us to be their personal bookish elves.
One of our best-loved and most brilliant staffers snorts derisively every time one of those little square feel-good or funny hardcovers comes into the store featuring a fuzzy kitten or a leering raccoon on the cover. She cannot believe anyone in their right mind would buy these books, and in fact she placed a bet with me last summer when I brought in three copies of Cats on Catnip from Running Press. She was receiving a Hachette order, came upon them, and just held one up to me, eyebrow cocked as if to say, “This? Really?” I eyebrowed her right back and said, “We will sell all three in a week and a half.” The bet was born and I won.
It’s that time of year when “Best Books of 2019” lists are as rampant as holiday bazaars, and every retailer in the country, it seems, has added an endcap display of bestsellers. Yesterday, on my way to staff our booth at our local Junior League Holiday Mart, I stopped at the hardware store for a package of AA batteries and some packing tape for today’s tear-down. Right next to the register was a book rack — not manuals on home repair and the many miracle uses of caulk, but an honest-to-goodness NYT bestseller display.
The delightful Kevan Atteberry drew this for us several years ago. We just keep updating the cake!
In a week and a half, on November 23rd—the very day that children’s book legends Susan Cooper and Steven Kellogg are scheduled to grace the store for an author event, in fact—the Flying Pig will turn 23 years old.
It’s hard to believe we’ve been around that long, although many betraying silver strands in my brown hair say otherwise. My then-partner Josie Leavitt and I were just 32 years old on that chilly but exciting opening day, and we had only been in Vermont for five months. The bookstore was an impulse
, a potential hobby (ha!) we would run while pursuing our creative writing.
Nearly a quarter of a century later, here we are, a few miles north of where we started and still part of a vibrant, connected community. We’ve had the great good fortune of being part of our customers’ lives, seeing children grow up and bring in children of their own, seeing friends and neighbors through difficult times in their lives, and sometimes saying goodbye, always too soon. It’s an honor to be a longtime staple in a community. People trust us with confidences and questions, worries and wonders, deep sorrows and great joys. Bookstores are special places, and while bookselling is a questionable business (financially speaking), it is a wonderful vocation.
“We’re going to read some Thanksgiving stories today, my friends. Do you know what we do on Thanksgiving?”
“Have some Grandmas.”
“We have a Grandma, too. She brings presents and she doesn’t like our dog.”
“OUR GRANDMA IS DEAD.” “Oh, honey. I’m sorry. Do you think about her sometimes? “No, she’s dead. We went to the saddery and everything.” “The cemetery? That’s a nice place to go remember people.” “And then we had ice cream and I like ice cream but mostly cake.”