After an exhilarating, exhausting, and grits-and-bourbon-filled week in Memphis at Wi13, I returned to my little shop to work all weekend on the floor. It was great to be standing and moving around, and it felt good to hear the register ringing and have a staffer complain that we were “almost out of bags AGAIN… !” but the towering, teetering stack of mail and messages on my desk in the stock room simply demanded an office day.
You know about “office days,” right? Those six hour, no, four hour, no, surely-I-can-get-this-done-in-two-hours blocks that an owner/manager schedules herself off the sales floor, sternly reminding her staff not to interrupt while she makes phone calls, processes emails and reports, and fills the recycling bin with all manner of printed notices and marketing flotsam? So here I sit, looking at all this accumulated Very Important Paper, wondering if anyone has made tea, and studiously ignoring the boxes of ARCs that Fed Ex just delivered, my spoils from the show tempting me in all their unread possibility.
I filled in at the bookstore for a four-hour shift this past Friday. Because of travel and the flu, the store was severely short-staffed and I happily helped out, and took the 10-2 pm shift. From 10 to noon I was alone. I found myself enjoying the quiet Friday to myself just looking at the new books (so many yummy ones came in since my last shift!). I fielded special order calls, delighting in the surprise in customer’s voices to hear me on the other end of the phone, exclaiming “I thought you retired!” It was a fun morning.
And then I rang up my first customer. I went to put her credit card slip in the cash register drawer and the key, this simple little key that allows me to access all my register cash, checks, credit cards, etc, had broken clear in half. The remaining part of the key was stuck in the lock of the drawer.
This time of year, cheerful books filled with red and pink hearts pop up all around. And they’re often charming. But as sweet as they are, the picture many of those books paint of love is one-dimensional. Real love is anything but simplistic, a truth beautifully probed in Matt de la Peña and Loren Long’s new picture book Love. This past Saturday we were lucky enough to host Matt and Loren at the store to talk about all the facets of life they layered into their ode to love. It’s truly an incredible book, and one that draws equally from the tender, nuanced rhythms of the poem and the resonant moments brought to life in the art. The love they celebrate is one that’s there in the easy moments and the hard, and one that’s as important in moments of possibility and hope as in moments of loss and fear.
Matt de la Peña’s recent back and forth with Kate DiCamillo in the pages of Time about his journey with this story and his questions about how much to let the dark parts of the world into his writing for kids ended with Kate’s exhortation to writers to trust readers, to see and be seen, and to love and write the world for what it is. After reading those essays and listening to Matt and Loren talk, I have found myself reflecting on their profound testaments to the strength and depth, joy and sadness of love. And it made me think about some other books that go beyond cute hearts to capture something true about that wonderful, complicated feeling. Continue reading
I’ve been on many bookseller education panels over the years but none quite like Wednesday’s “Sensitivity Readers and Free Expression.” It was originally designed to consider an idea that had been proposed, having sensitivity readers in bookstores to inform frontlist buying and train staff. This evolved to more broadly considering free speech issues in the children’s bookselling community. The panel members evolved as well. It went from two booksellers leading an open discussion to a more formal panel with a moderator, that being Chris Finan, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship; Nadine Strassen, Professor of Law at New York Law School and former president of the ACLU; and three of us booksellers. One of the three booksellers left the panel to give a spot to Dhonielle Clayton, the COO of We Need Diverse Books and a noted sensitivity reader and author.
Immediately before the panel Junot Diaz delivered an impassioned keynote address describing the deep harm which the monolithic whiteness of books delivered to young readers of color. In the wake of Diaz’s speech the other bookseller resigned from the panel, leaving me as the lone bookseller.
I’m joining fellow ShelfTalker bloggers Kenny and Elizabeth (and 600 or so of our closest friends) in Memphis this week for Wi13, the annual family reunion of ABA booksellers, along with our kissing cousins from all the publishers and imprints that one could name, as well as speakers, consultants, and experts in subjects both literary and commercial. There will be sessions on topics ranging from social media to sidelines, romance to return strategies, indie commerce to indecision… and all manner of festive occasions as booksellers gather to celebrate, commiserate, strategize and socialize. It is a highlight of the year in our role as store owners, buyers, and booksellers, and comes for many of us in the bleak winter days of emptier stores, holiday invoices now due, and a ubiquitous layer of sidewalk salt crunching underfoot with every opened door of the shop. Just the right time, then, for a little inspiration and barbecue, with some galleys stacked on the floor beside our chair in the hotel lobby bar, where we gather for group therapy and sage advice.
Once the ABA’s Winter Institute for booksellers begins, there isn’t much time to explore the world outside the convention center. The conference is a fabulous whirlwind of educational sessions and panels for booksellers and a cornucopia of books, authors, publishers, and vendors, with back-to-back events from 7:45 am until around 11 pm. So I flew in a day early to sneak in a little discovery time. Memphis is a new city to me, so I spent time walking around downtown yesterday. This year marks a powerful anniversary, the 50th year since Martin Luther King, Jr., was murdered here in Memphis at the Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1968. The city has been preparing to honor his life and legacy in a number of ways.
With Winter Institute looming I decided to do some advanced level soul searching about what I absolutely need to do by way of preparing to go to Memphis while not leave a disaster at the bookstore unfolding in my wake. Here is a terrifyingly candid breakdown of what must be done and means of resolution.
Prevent a cataclysmic disaster in my absence
(Pay core utility bills, power, telephone, internet)
Don’t incur the wrath of the federal and state governments
(Do W2’s 940, 941 and quarterly and monthly taxes)
I dutifully attended a nearby Chamber of Commerce networking event last week, bringing a pocketful of business cards, and tucking both store brochures and event calendars in my bag, along with my cell phone with its alarm function set to ring in 55 minutes. (Did you know that you can make your alarm sound like a ringing phone? And that you can “take that call” after looking at the screen, immediately excusing yourself from any function? And that most reluctant networkers can be found in the foyer of such meetings, taking “calls” about 55 minutes in to these events?)
For most of the 13 years I’ve had my bookstore, I’ve been on a continual quest for affordable fixtures, scouring Craigslist and other classifieds for a deal. Anytime you’re looking to significantly increase your inventory, you first have to have a place to put all those new books. Preferably that place will be on sturdy commercial grade bookshelves, which can be incredibly expensive, especially once you factor in shipping something that large, bulky, and heavy. The shipping can cost as much as the fixtures! This is why most of Spellbound’s fixtures have been homemade, accented by occasional tables purchased at the local Goodwill. In November, however, I got an early Christmas present from a bookstore in a neighboring county. Blue Ridge Books, less than an hour away from my store, was moving into a beautiful new space just before the holidays and had some extra fixtures from the old space to sell. And not just any fixtures—these were custom-made, top-of-the-line bookcases from Franklin Fixtures. The kind of fixtures I’d window-shopped online and dreamed about for years but could never afford new. And they were all on wheels! Continue reading
I may have previously mentioned that my oldest son, Nikhil, started kindergarten this year. It’s been an adjustment for all of us. I work a lot with schools and librarians, but this is my first experience being a part of a school family. There are a lot of people and programs that all intersect to build a school community, and there are a lot of ways to get involved as a parent volunteer. It can all be a little overwhelming (and gives me new admiration for the dedicated PTA bookfair volunteer chairs that we work with around town).
One of the programs I’ve gotten involved in this first year, though, has been really rewarding. Our district participates in a literacy program that pairs volunteers with struggling readers for a reading session each week designed to give them a little practice and to make reading fun. I have been partnered with two second graders for the last few months, and I love it. I stop by the class every week, and each reader joins me in the hall for 15 minutes back-to-back. For each session, the first reader brings out a book he or she has been reading in class and reads it to me for about 6 minutes before we chat about it a little bit. Then I read from a book I’ve brought for about 6 minutes and then chat about it a bit. Then the kids switch and we do it again. The program has had great results for the school, giving kids who need a little extra one-on-one attention a boost, and I love doing it. I have also found the slightly tricky task of book selection stretches my bookselling brain in a neat way too. Continue reading