On a recent sunny Sunday three Massachusetts booksellers piled into a car and drove the 75 miles to help Annie Philbrick unpack stock for her new store, Savoy Books, in Westerly, R.I. All along the winding road, book and management talk bobbed to the surface again and again, never interrupted for long by stunning views of little harbors, long stone walls, and varied mansions. “Have you read …?” “Didn’t you love …?” “What do you think about that new one by the guy who wrote …?” “Have you ever had to fire anybody? How did you do it?” “Is a café really worth the extra stress?” Jan Hall, recently retired from Partners Village Store in Westport, Mass.; Vicky Titcomb, manager of Titcomb’s Bookshop in Sandwich, Mass.; and Carol Chittenden, former owner of Eight Cousins Books, Falmouth, Mass., were on the road again.
Sundays at the bookstore are often fun. Usually, I am alone at the store and I always enjoy that as the rhythm of day is slower and easily handled by one person. Yesterday, I brought my dog to the store with me after letting her pick out a new toy at the pet store. This was a mistake, but a funny one later in the day. Cute children, mostly out with their fathers, abounded. There is something lovely about Sundays at the store. People have more time to browse or read to their kids, and kids are very relaxed.
Like many bookstores, we get a lot of business from customers who special order books. This is the life blood of many stores. Special orders keep people coming into the store and that’s always a good thing. My favorite part about special orders is being introduced to books that I might not know about. Often special ordered books are then ordered by us to stock. It’s like having 100 book buyers a week helping curate the inventory. There is a rhythm to orders that feels natural to booksellers, but not necessarily to customers. So I’ve created a list to help with how the cycle works.
– The very first part of ordering a book for a customer is often helping them remember what book they want. Usually they have part of a title and often remember the book cover was blue. It seems the majority of covers on adult fiction titles are, in fact, blue, so that’s not as helpful as it could be. But it does tell me they’re not thinking of a mystery whose covers are often black.
– Once the correct book is verified, we order it. Special orders, especially time sensitive ones, go on distributor orders because we can get them in two days, sometimes even the next day if the timing is right. We have next-day shipping with our distributors, so they get the order, process it and pack the books up for delivery. Then UPS and Fed Ex work their magic and the next day cartons of books arrive.
– Then depending on which distributor is fulfilling the order we either get the books before noon the following day or after five. There is a huge disparity with delivery times that actually affects our business. Getting a shipment in before noon allows us to receive it and call all the special orders before two. This allows folks time to pick up their books the day they come and that’s always fun. I still marvel at how excited folks are when their books come in. I totally understand this because when I order books for myself I’m just as excited when they arrive.
– Books ordered at 10 in the morning are not likely to come by the end of the day they were ordered. While I love this kind of enthusiasm, it’s physically impossible for a book to come in the day it was ordered. I still have customers who call seven hours after their books were ordered wondering why they’re not in.
– We always call our special order customers the minute the order is fully received. We tag the books for the right people, call them and then put the books on the special order shelf.
– Calling to check on an order is always okay, but there is no need to call every day. Bookstores ask for your phone number so we can contact you.
– Murphy’s Law also dictates that the more time critical a book is for a customer, the more likely it is to hit a shipping snafu. At least once a week, we are missing a box from a shipment. Why that one box didn’t make it on the truck, no one really knows. All I know is that I don’t have the box that contains the book that someone is absolutely desperate for. And no matter how deftly we explain the shipping issue, it’s always our fault in the customer’s eyes.
– The special order process is complete once the customer comes to pick up their book. Usually, this is extremely timely. Although, periodically we go through the special order shelves and call folks who’ve had books for a month that haven’t been picked up. Often, people are just busy and forget and are happy to have the reminder. Occasionally, someone will say that they got the book elsewhere and while that stings a tiny bit, it’s also very human and speaks to really needing a book right now.
So, dear readers, please keep special ordering books! We love it and love getting to hear about different books.
Issue books do their part to make the bookselling world a little bit better place to be sure. Nonetheless it is a rare issue book that transforms its subject into something relevant to every reader. Loss is universal, of course, but a transcendent issue book embodies that universality by making a story applicable to readers not currently experiencing the issue.
I love being surprised by customers. A couple in their sixties wandered into the bookstore last weekend and spent quite a bit of time in the mystery section. The male half of the couple eventually approached the counter in search of a new author to try. He’d had to take one off his ‘list of twenty,’ he said, because that author’s books had declined over the past several, and this gentleman was finally giving up on him.
“Your list of 20?” I was intrigued. If there’s anything I like, it’s hearing how different minds process information, or organize themselves.
I have a new friend and we were having lunch Saturday. The conversation turned from her cheese-making venture (if you want delicious cheese try Fairy Tale Farms cheeses, they’re amazing) to favorite books. I often get this question and usually my mind goes blank almost immediately. But I did manage to pull a list together after I was flooded with favorite book covers. It’s always hard to talk to adults about favorite books because so many of mine of are young adult novels. I presented my list and Lisa’s face dropped with the mention of one title. Continue reading
During an event at the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington, Vt., last night, author M.T. Anderson revealed to the audience a little-known fact about his recent award-winning nonfiction title, Symphony for the City of the Dead.
“Most people think this book is about the composer Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad,” Anderson told the packed house of nearly 100 listeners. “But in fact, it is actually about a very different subject altogether.”
What is that subject? You’d never guess.
The skull of William Shakespeare, recently determined to have been removed in the 18th century, has been found encasing the brain of prolific novelist James Patterson. Patterson’s dentist, Martha Barkleim, noted an abnormality in the author’s cranium during a recent series of bite wing x-rays. “The tooth was normal but I could see clear signs that the mandible itself was at least four hundred years old.” Barkleim surreptitiously took a full x-ray of Patterson’s skull, sending her result to archaeologist Kevin Colls from Staffordshire University, who was part of the team which scanned Shakespeare’s tomb recently. Colls confirmed that Patterson’s skull not only dated from the early 17th century, but was an exact match with Shakespeare’s skeletal remains.
Patterson declared himself to have no idea how the Bard’s cranium ended up in his body, saying, “As far as I know I’ve had the same skull my entire life.” Neurosurgeon and author Atul Gawande, however, called that unlikely. “There is just no plausible way that that particular skull could have fit in an infant’s head and then expanded normally during a child’s growing years. The skull in question was almost certainly put into the place it is now housed as the result of cranium replacement surgery.”
Has the bard’s skull had any impact on Patterson’s work? “I don’t think we’ll ever know the answer to that question,” Professor of literary and forensic theory at Columbia University Karen Batson observed. “Patterson is noted for his tremendous output. If there were to be a correlation the skull of Dumas or Asimov would have been a likelier causative agent, I think.”
As to the growing calls for Shakespeare’s skull to be returned to its rightful resting place at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Stratford-upon-Avon, Patterson seems determined to keep Shakespeare’s skull right where it is. “I don’t know how it got here, but here it is, and here it is staying,” said Patterson, pointing at his forehead.
Patterson also rejected suggestions that he had capitalized on the controversy by using it as creative fodder for his fall 2016 frontlist. “My fall titles such as The Skull Traders, Bardbrain: A Graphic Novel, The Angel’s Skull, A Maximum Ride Prequel, I Funny in the Head: A Middle School Story, 16th Lobe, A Cranium in Copenhagen, Confessions: The Theft of a Skull, Treasure Hunters: Tomb Raiding Rampage, Private: Stratford-upon-Avon, Cross Craniums, and House of Robots: Robots Don’t Swap Skulls, are totally unrelated to this real-world story.”
Don’t miss more Shelftalker April first news coverage in M.T. Anderson Reveals Hidden Code in Book
Books provide the best point of reference regarding the advent of virtual reality headsets. That is not a surprising observation coming from a bookseller, of course, but the development team of Oculus Rift, the first virtual reality platform on the market, feels that way too. Ernest Kline’s Ready Player One was required reading for everyone involved.
I got the mail yesterday on my way out for lunch. I wasn’t intending to go back in to the store until after I’d picked up my lunch, but something very curious made me head right to the store with the mail. No, there wasn’t a large check that needed immediate depositing. No, there wasn’t a personal note from a customer saying thanks for a great book recommendation. But rather, there was a coconut. Or what seemed like a coconut. I walked back into the store smiling and shaking the mail. It’s not every day that we get an unwrapped fruit in the mail. The coconut had a label on it that said, “Can you mail a coconut?” This was either a genius marketing idea from National Geographic or the strangest thing to ever arrive via USPS. Continue reading