A Bookseller’s Best Friend

Alison Morris - July 31, 2007

If there’s one thing booksellers and librarians seem to have scores of, it’s… totebags. (You thought I was going to say books, didn’t you?) My closet at home is cluttered with them, my car holds a stash for all my grocery runs (the eco-friendly bagging option), and my colleague Lorna and I keep a collection of ’em in our office for trips to the library and post office or those frequent occasions when we find ourselves lugging home a supply of books or catalogs for review. Each time we think we’ve got enough totebags to last us for all eternity, someone shows up and gives us another one, making our respective collections grow ever larger. Last week we acquired a totebag from Mariner Books, compliments of John Mendelson, our Houghton Mifflin rep. A few weeks ago I received one from the Bacon Free Library, with thanks for my recent book talk. Before that our supply was compounded by time spent at BEA, which might as well be called Bags Expo America given the number of totebags handed out at the show each year.

I’m not complaining about this surfeit of totes. On the contrary, I find totebags incredibly useful, as do most of us, which is why we have a hard time saying no to new ones, especially those featuring books (or bookstores!) we love. In my dream world I’d be offered a totebag that features To Kill a Mockingbird so I could walk around with Atticus on my arm. And wouldn’t a Clarice Bean bag be fun? (Or maybe a Clarice bean bag?).  How many Kiki Strike books would Bloomsbury have to sell to think it worth creating a Kiki Strike bag, to tote my essential spy supplies? And oh how I wish Kazu Kibuishi would create a Daisy Kutter tote, featuring my favorite gal gun-slinger! (I’ve got Kazu on the brain, as I just finished the galley of his forthcoming graphic novel Amulet and feel confident it’ll be a BIG hit with kids of all ages, mine included. You can see the process of inking and painting the book on the Amulet page of Kazu’s website.)

Our store sells a doozy of a children’s totebag, thanks to the wonderful Peter Reynolds who was kind enough to work with us to come up with a design, before he opened (and designed totebags for) his OWN lovely bookstore, The Blue Bunny. Here’s the bag Peter designed for us:

Our totebags are the traditional cloth variety, sold to us by the wonderful folks at Enviro-tote. In recent years, though, some publishers have switched to giving away bags made from a thinner, slicker material made out of (as best I can tell) some sort of plasticized paper, stitched together with cloth tape along the seams. Penguin created a lovely bag of this nature for their Puffin Modern Classics series and for last year’s Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road? Scholastic previously gave away bags of the same material promoting Captain Underpants (one side of the bag boldly announces, "Time for New Underpants!") and this year gave away plasticized paper bags featuring (what else?) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

These plasticky bags are bright, shiny, and I’m guessing a bit less expensive to produce than their cloth counterparts. (Perhaps someone reading this can tell me whether or not that’s the case?) They have the advantage of being (relatively) waterproof. Unfortunately they also have the disadvantage of holding up less well than the cloth variety. Hence the reason we wound up with two brand new …Deathly Hallows bags that were already coming apart along one seam. You might think it a sad circumstance to have two ripped totebags, but one bookseller’s trash is another bookseller’s treasure. I turned those two totebags into a Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows skirt that I wore at our big book launch party — a suitable substitute for wizarding robes, if you ask me. In my next post I’ll reveal the DIY magic behind my no-sew Harry Potter skirt, so y’all can make some of your own from the next plasticized totebags that come your way.

Of the non-Wellesley-Booksmith totebags in my collection, my personal favorite is one that Candlewick gave away a couple years ago, to promote The Tale of Despereaux. Like our store bag, it’s black with yellow ink, but it’s larger, much simpler design-wise, and quite sophisticated for a totebag, as it features only the words Candlewick Press and the silhouette of a small (but very brave) mouse. It may not advertise itself as boldly as most, but that’s part of the reason I use it so much. And my using it so much means it’s being seen by far more people than it would be otherwise — a suitable trade-off to the "screaming" marketing tactic, I think.

And you? What’s your favorite totebag? Or how about the ugliest totebag you’ve ever seen? Share your stories, fill us with totebag envy. Tell publishers whether you prefer a zipper, a pocket, long straps or short.

3 thoughts on “A Bookseller’s Best Friend

  1. emilyw.vox.com

    I love totebags! I think any true book lover does. 🙂 My favorites are my Strand totebags from the Strand bookstore in New York. I have many, and they are constantly getting new prints in. I just picked up a dinosaur print one yesterday that is super cute.

  2. Sam

    My favorite is neither canvas nor plastic, but thinner cloth with long straps, so it’s comfy to carry but can be stuffed into small spaces when empty. I only have one, from a German bookstore. It says “Buecher haben’s in sich!” (Books are in here!)

  3. Samantha

    I still mourn the loss of my favourite tote bag. It was canvas, with short, sturdy handles, a snap at the top, and a pocket inside. The bottom was blue-black to hide dirt, and it had the Crown logo on it. I lost it to a leaky laundry detergent bottle (it’s surprisingly hard to wash out soap).


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *