“Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.
“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” — Maya Angelou
People have been streaming into the bookstore, all with a common desire: to share worthwhile books with the people they care about. This passion is stronger than ever this year. We can feel a shift in shoppers’ priorities; families seem increasingly impatient with the consumer madness that overshadows what can be a warm, sparkly time at home with loved ones.
They want quality, not quantity, and this year, they are choosing content over entertainment. I don’t mean that people aren’t buying funny books, but snarky humor—often so popular this time of year—isn’t on their lists. People are looking for hope and greater understanding through books, and they want depth with their laughter.
In addition to the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World flying out of the store, we’ve had a lot of demand for things like I Heard God Laughing: Poems of Love and Joy, a lovely volume of poetry by Hafiz, and Mary Oliver’s newest collection of essays, Upstream: Selected Essays (pronounced “killer good!” by one of our staffers).
Customers buying books for children are especially interested when we recommend books that include hope and show resiliency of spirit in main characters. Since great books for children tend to excel at exploring those exact two things, there is no shortage of them to handsell. For instance, for middle grade kids, this means books like Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon, Jason Reynolds’ As Brave As You, Susan Beckhorn’s The Wolf’s Boy.
There’s also a different aspect to people’s thoughtfulness about books, more felt than articulated. It’s not as “light” a year in mood, not surprisingly, as it was last holiday season. We have felt the commitment to meaningful books from all quarters. This year, our Snowflake Giving Program, which helps provide new books to children and teens through three local food shelves and nonprofit agencies, had the most children in need ever: around 200. And while that was our largest-ever number of recipients, it was also the fastest completed drive we’ve ever had. Our generous customers (who receive a 20% discount off the books and the joy of sharing their own family favorites with their neighbors) seemed particularly moved to participate this year.
“Hope will never be silent,” said LGBT activist Harvey Milk, and I think we need to remember that Hope is always linked to action. Otherwise, it’s just a wish. Now, more than ever, we need hope, grit, and resiliency.
When the craziness of this season winds down a little, I’ll try to post a list of the books our customers have found most helpful, and most hopeful, in this season of change.
If you celebrate a holiday this season, what books are you giving for Chanukah or putting under your loved ones’ trees? Are the kinds of books you are choosing this year any different from prior years? And are you feeling especially connected to books right now?