Monthly Archives: December 2012

Happy New Year!

Josie Leavitt - December 31, 2012

This is a quick post to wish all our readers a very Happy New Year! I hope 2013 is full of great books that are discovered like magic. Picking up a book, any book, is an invitation to another place: a chance to make new friends, learn something, to be moved and just to enjoy.
There are so many books I’m looking forward to reading in 2013 that I can’t really begin to name them all. But a few things have me excited for the coming year. The return of beloved-long-out-of-print Ruth Chew titles in August should make for a great summer. Inhuman, the new dystopian novel from Kat Falls. The newest book from last year’s Caldecott Honoree, Chris Raschka, Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bike, looks to be another winner. Really, the list is huge. The new Chris Lynch novel looks great, there’s a new Fancy Nancy that some kids have already asked about.
What books are you most excited about in the coming year? And, did you get the books you wanted for the holidays?
Have a safe and Happy New Year!

Under the Tree

Elizabeth Bluemle - December 28, 2012

Hello from snowy Vermont! Josie and I had our first completely relaxing day in months, and it felt wonderfully decadent to have a leisurely brunch, hang out with the dogs, and do nothing more strenuous than make cookie dough and write thank-you notes. Ahhhh.
It’s not often my family can completely surprise me with a book-related gift I’ve never seen before, but my sister outdid herself this year by finding a Booksi, which is an iPhone charger made from a book. The one she chose for me was Houghton’s handsome green-and-blue hardcover of The Hobbit with J.R.R. Tolkien’s original cover art and design — the exact version our mom read to us when we were young. This was such a fantastic present! It will sit on my bedside table, acting as charger and stand for my phone so unobtrusively you wouldn’t even realize it isn’t a book unless you caught sight of the slim white USB cord exiting the pages.

My new Booksi!

My sister discovered it in the Rich Neeley Designs shop on That website is such a great source of book-related arts and crafts!
The other booky gift was a happy flying pig painting made for me by a student from my last picture-book-writing workshop. I was so touched by the thoughtfulness of this painting and its fun details:

The book the pig is reading?

And the little tag at the bottom reads:
Thanks, Kristen Littlefield, for the painting, and thanks, Tiff, for the Booksi!
And now to settle in with some of the books I wrapped for myself (since few dare to give booksellers actual books)….
What books and book-related gifts were you delighted to find under your tree or at your Chanukah celebration?

Christmas Eve at the Bookstore

Josie Leavitt - December 27, 2012

Monday was Christmas Eve and as usual there was a massive flurry of last-minute shopping. Along with the craziness, there were some desperate requests.
– Someone called up asking for a handbook on Saab repair. Not just a general book, but one for a 1984 car. Now, I know we’re a general bookstore, but really, that’s a little specific. When I mentioned we didn’t have that he wondered if he could order it in time for Christmas. I told him that no one ships on Christmas and he just kept asking if we could order it. I tried repeatedly to explain that everyone was closed and he just muttered, “I have to have it,” and hung up.
– An anxious man came in for a specific Joseph Roth book which we did not have. He left in a huff when we told him we’d have to order it. He called two hours later to see if the book was in. It wasn’t. On the static-filled cell phone call he also decreed that we find three books for three different people. He didn’t want a selection. “Just pick something.”
– Someone called just before closing and asked, “I know you sell books for kids, but do you sell books for children under two?” This one mystified me. I almost wanted to say no, just to tease them, but the caller sounded so harried, I just couldn’t. I asked what they were looking for and they said rather deadpan, “Something for a kid under two.”
– Several dads came in on Christmas Eve day and really didn’t understand how we could be out of a certain book they wanted. As someone who doesn’t save my shopping until the last possible minute, I don’t have a ton of sympathy for people being unpleasant to me because they didn’t plan ahead. I just don’t understand how Christmas can sneak up on people; it’s the same date every year. But I helped them regroup and found similar titles to what they wanted and I know the kids will love the books. And, they can always get the books they really wanted for Valentine’s or Easter, if they remember.

Happy Holidays!!

Josie Leavitt - December 24, 2012

I just want to take a moment and wish everyone a very happy holiday. I hope all of our readers can be with their families and friends enjoying time together.
This holiday season my bookstore was short-staffed. Darrilyn, the staffer who most enjoys working during December, fell and broke her wrist, in several places. Consequently, everyone else had to work that much harder. I cannot thank everyone enough for giving up so much of their time to make the store’s holiday season truly great. Our wrapping friend, Sue, kept commenting on Saturday how great our staff was to work with. I couldn’t agree more. Their hard work makes me look good every single day. And I’m also grateful to work with them.
I’m also very curious what books folks got as presents. So, if you got a great book, please share. I’m hoping I get a book, but I doubt that I will. This still saddens me, but it does give me permission to get myself a special book to read during the week the store is closed.
Merry Christmas!

Hot Holiday Titles

Josie Leavitt - December 20, 2012

I dashed this post off during a rare lull in sales yesterday. The store was full of holiday shoppers, mostly all of whom were in good moods finding all that they wanted and more. As I run the numbers for what’s been selling, I am surprised anew at how well regional titles do during this time of year.
Our bestselling titles (after the now infamous parrot pen) are skewed towards local authors. The beloved neighborhood vet’s memoir Exotic Tails has sold more than 20 copies since the beginning of December. The Spare Room by Jenny Land is a great Vermont historical fiction title for kids that has enjoyed brisk sales since it came out after Thanksgiving. The last regional title, Steamboats and Subchasers: The History of the Shelburne Shipyard, has found a niche with older customers who remember the author from his days running the shipyard.
In the kids’ world the bestselling books continue to be Diary of a Wimpy Kid #7 and Jasper Fforde’s The Last Dragonslayer, which is literally flying off the shelves. The Mercy Watson series has been a great go-to book for early readers. It’s actually been really sweet to see kids recommend them for cousins who are learning to read. A sleeper hit has been Natalie Babbitt’s Jack Plank Tells Tales, which is a popular favorite for the eight-year-old set.
The hot book for older kids is John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars which needs a bit of hand-selling to skeptical adults, who think a book about kids with cancer isn’t a great gift. To which I respond,,”Oh, but it’s sooooo good.”  Last year’s runaway bestselling Daughter of Smoke and Bone is doing even better in paperback with the sequel enjoying a similar run.
There are no clear bestselling picture books this year. This section always has the most range as picture books are not quite as bestseller driven. I have found that picture books tend to be much more individual than books for older kids. Perhaps because the depth of our selection allows for a book for just about every passion a kid might have. And folks really try to get picture books based on interest more than anything else. Having said that, Jon Klassen’s books have done quite well this holiday season as has Mr. Willowby’s Christmas.
As we head toward the final weekend before Christmas it will be interesting to see how, or if, this lists changes. Here’s hoping everyone find the right books for all the people on their lists.

The Crazy Guesswork of the Week Before Christmas

Elizabeth Bluemle - December 19, 2012

December 17-24 is the most harrowing week of the year at the bookstore. Gone are the leisurely shopping ventures of recent weeks; now customers start pouring through the doors with an air of stress and exhaustion. (We’ve all been those customers, haven’t we?) It’s the start of the full-blown panic mode that strikes shoppers when they realize they only have six more days to get their shopping and wrapping and cooking and prepping done.
This is an indie bookseller’s strength; this is what we’re here for, to help. But we’re getting down to the wire here in terms of being able to order what isn’t on the shelf, and customers want specific books, often books that have been touted on NPR and are subsequently in such high demand that warehouses have run out and titles aren’t due back in until — December 26. Or January 3. At any rate, too late for under the tree. (Note to publishers: next fourth quarter, if your book is due to be on NPR, or in the New York Times Book Review, or has six or seven starred reviews, it might be in demand at holiday time, so take a chance and print up a few extries! Pretty please. Okay, okay, I know no one can predict what will catch fire and what will sit unsold. But guess better, wouldja? There must be book psychics out there somewhere, right?)
This is the week we play cat and mouse with inventory, checking the popular titles and bestsellers and indie bookseller recommendations and staff picks and local bestsellers several times a day to see what we’re likely to need to restock before the weekend. Since some restocking orders reach us overnight while others take two or three days to arrive, today is essentially our last day to make those best guesses about quantities. Do we have enough of The Art Forger? The Last Lion? Behind the Beautiful Forevers? The Meacham Jefferson biography? The Smitten Kitchen? Help, Thanks, Wow? How about The Fault in Our Stars? The Last Dragonslayer? Malcolm at Midnight? SeraphinaThis Is Not My Hat? Forget about Code Name Verity; that was one of the NPR casualties. Which is GREAT news for that fabulous book; not as much fun for the booksellers who have to disappoint customers. Now, we pride ourselves on being able to suggest great substitute titles for anything out of stock, but — especially this last week before Christmas — people want what they want. I can understand that. My best hope is that I can also fulfill it.
So I’m signing off. Time to go make our last, our almost last, orders before weekend.
Good luck, everyone! And may you have the joy and luxury–amid all this craziness–of slowing down, taking time off, being with family and friends, and doing memorable, fun, meaningful things together.

Wrapping it Up

Josie Leavitt - December 17, 2012

I must confess something. I don’t really like wrapping books. Of course we offer wrapping, you have to this time of year. As much as I don’t like to wrap, I do like to see the look of utter relief on customers’ faces when we offer to wrap their books. I wrap quickly, somewhat sloppily, and am forever not doing enough curling ribbon. This year I got smart and finally took up the offer from a friend to come in and wrap on the weekends.
Sue not only likes to wrap, she’s good at it. She came in at 9 on Saturday to wrap the books that folks bought to give to kids who are getting food shelf baskets. There were two completely full-to-the-brim boxes of books that customers had picked for a range of kids from babies to teenagers. I have to confess she did something that in the 16 years I’ve had the store has never occurred to me. She pre-cut sheets of paper. Our “wrapping station” is not one where the paper is hung on the wall in a cutting dispenser looking all tidy with ribbon hanging off a dowel ready to measured out — no, that would be too easy. Our wrapping station consists of massive rolls of wrap on the back counter and the floor that you need scissors to cut. Sue just cut about 20 sheets of the snowflake wrap, and then cut them in half (gift wrap often comes in 24-inch widths, which make it very wide for books) and set about to wrap in a very efficient way. I marveled at this and shook my head. It’s shocking to me how often the utterly obvious can just escape me. Pre-cutting and then cutting in half the too-wide paper made wrapping go very quickly. What took her an hour would have taken me at least twice that.
We’ve never had someone at the store whose main job was to wrap. So this weekend every customer was asked, “Would you like that wrapped?” and just about every customer said yes. Sue was flying most of the day. Having her wrap freed the rest of us to handsell books, which is really what we do best. I know I love getting my presents wrapped before I leave a store. It’s just one less thing to do during this very busy time of year. One thing I’ve heard over and over this year is how time seems to be sneaking up on people. Maybe it’s the lack of real winter weather, but folks appear to be behind this year. People are scrambling, and being able to help them get on with the rest of their shopping knowing that the presents are ready to go under the tree is a lovely thing.
David, our high school staffer, just learned how to wrap and he’s getting good at it. We were all talking about wrapping and he said in response to me saying I’ve been wrapping books for 16 years, “I’m 17. I’ve been wrapping since Wednesday.” That might have the best laugh I’ve had in weeks.

A Plea to Publishers and Distributors

Elizabeth Bluemle - December 14, 2012

Dear Publishers and Distributors,
We know you’re logging crazy hours like we are this time of year. We know your warehouses are bulging and your fulfillment tasks are beyond imagining. We understand that you’re probably understaffed and overworked, and that you may have needed to call in extra seasonal help that isn’t as experienced and well-trained as your regular employees. We empathize with you about the ridiculous amount of stress the last few weeks of the year bring all retailers and wholesalers. And understanding all of that, we still need for you to take greater, not less, care with your shipments right now. At the moment we can least afford it, we are getting the highest number of damages.
This time of year, it’s safe to assume most orders from bookstores are full of titles intended to be given as gifts. Customers come in and special order expensive coffee table books, beautiful hardcover versions of classics, and sleek  new editions of fiction and nonfiction titles. They expect pristine copies, suitable for gift giving. So when shipments arrive with damaged books at holiday time, we booksellers are, to put it lightly, hosed. We can’t afford to order two or three copies of a $65 book to have “backup” in case one comes with smushed corners or a creased jacket or an unerasable smudge of who-knows-what across the cover art. A bent edge that might pass muster with a customer in May will not be purchased in December. So we are stuck with duds we have to return and replace, which costs time and money for both us and you.
Every day now, heaps of cartons of books are delivered, and in every shipment, there are damages. It takes precious staff time to replace these books; calling about damages leaches long minutes from your businesses and ours in a season where time is precious, not to mention the phone calls we must make to inform customers that the book they expected, say, to mail to Aunt Veronica on Thursday now won’t be in before next week, and may not make it to her by Christmas after all.
These book damages damage us, most notably our reputation for speedy, reliable service.
So please, dear colleagues in this detail-laden business of ours, please remind your warehouse folks to pick only undamaged books, and to pack them with extra care. That will be a holiday gift with benefits for all.
Thank you, and may your sales be brisk, voluminous, and final. Cheers!

Little Girl Pirates

Elizabeth Bluemle - December 13, 2012

A customer came in yesterday, brandishing a holiday card with a photo of two adorable girls. “I can’t help showing this around,” said our customer. “You must get this all the time.” We don’t, actually, but it is always a happy occasion when we do. “I need books,” she continued. “Cora and Emiline have decided they’re pirates.”
Opening the card, she showed us two self-portraits the little girls had drawn. The five-year-old had done an impressive job in ballpoint pen, rendering herself with an eye patch, a huge grin, and a twinkly gold tooth. The three-year-old’s picture was understandably more free-form, but it was definitely human-shaped, with a face and hair, and you could see that one eye had been drawn with a fiercer pen pressure: her piratey eye patch.
We happen to have quite a few pirate books, in our section labeled “Fairies, Princesses, Mermaids, Ballerinas, Pirates, Knights, Dragons, Trucks.” And there happen to be several that feature or at least include female pirates. Hooray for progress! So I pulled out a big stack for our customer to look at; some, I explained, would be a little beyond the girls’ current ages. “That’s the beauty,” she said. “They can grow into them!” Have I mentioned how delightful a customer she is?
She settled down on one of our soft cube chairs to look over the stack, and I headed off to help another customer find a book about the Red Sox. Next time I saw our Pirate Aunt, she was at the counter, ready to be rung up. She handed a few titles to Sandy at the register. “These aren’t quite right for the girls just yet,” she said politely, then handed Sandy another stack. “These are perfect.”
And which were the perfect plunder? Well, thanks to their thoughtful and fun aunt, Cora and Emiline will be swashbuckling their way through Christmas with Lilly and the Pirates by Phyllis Root, illus. by Rob Shepperson, Violet and the Mean & Rotten Pirates by Richard Hamilton, illus. by Sam Hearn, The Barefoot Book of Pirates by Richard Walker, illus. by Olwyn Whelan, and Pirate Handbook, by Monica Carretero. I can’t wait to see what next year’s holiday card will bring.
I’m thinking ninjas….

He Grew Up Local

Josie Leavitt - December 12, 2012

Yesterday, I got an email from a lovely young man, Jeff, who had been a customer of ours until he moved to NYC after college two years ago. Jeff had been been shopping at our store more than a decade before his move. He and I even wound up taking Chinese at the same time at the University of Vermont. I suspected, like most young folks who move to the big city, that we’d only really see him on the few occasions he was home visiting his folks and happened by the bookstore.
We’ve always made good book recommendations to Jeff, and his mother usually lets me know how he’s liked a book. His email yesterday was for book ideas to make the subway to work easier  “…need to get immersed to distract me from the terribleness that is the nyc subway. I can’t thank you enough for all the good books over the years.” I need to point out that he’s only 23. What a lovely note to get. He had just finished and loved Lev Grossman’s The Magicians (recommended by Elizabeth when he was in town over Labor Day) saying, “Magic College is for real.” I adore this kid. I emailed back with suggestions.
I really thought about what a young guy starting out would want to read while on the subway. Having lived in New York and commuted on the subway myself, I thought for a while about what to suggest to him.
Clearly, he liked magic and fantasy. I mentioned there was a sequel, The Magician King. I also thought he would enjoy The Passage, Discovery of Witches and Brooklyn Follies. That’s all I wrote back because I didn’t want to overwhelm him with choices, as I can do sometimes. He wrote back almost immediately — clearly, the book need was strong — and said he was going to space out reading the sequel and venture to something new. He’d already read The Passage and The Twelve. He liked the sound of the two other books and said he would order them.
My heart sank reading that last line. I just assumed he meant he would order from Amazon. He didn’t. Twenty minutes later (clearly Jeff was having a slow day at work) an order for Discovery of Witches and Brooklyn Follies came in on our website. I fulfilled the order and shipped it out today. I was so touched that this young guy living in New York, with access to a myriad of bookstores and on-line sources, chooses to stay in contact with his childhood store for his books. It reminded me that making a personal connection with someone over a shared love of books and the joy of reading can be a very lasting one.
And, Jeff has already let me know he’ll be home for Christmas and is in need of more books.