Monthly Archives: May 2021

On Houghton Mifflin Fading Away

Kenny Brechner - May 26, 2021

With the acquisition of Houghton Mifflin by HarperCollins, it has been noted that the century-and-a-half-old name of Houghton Mifflin will now fade away. To understand what that will mean, I turned to the people who clearly have the greatest appreciation of the loss, namely the characters from The Lord of the Rings, Houghton’s signature franchise.

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Weight of the Under Toad

Cynthia Compton - May 24, 2021

My missive is a bit scattered and hiccupy this week, dear colleagues, for I’m rather overwhelmed with the state of the world, and I fear that in the words of young Walt in John Irving’s The World According to Garp, “the under toad is winning.”

On the eve of the first anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, I look around my little bookstore and see shelves of face-out covers of Black Lives Matter titles. I see picture books and middle grade titles and YA novels featuring BIPOC characters, and analysis of our sales in the last year shows much higher numbers of those featured books than in years past, and my staff can tell anecdotes of customers of all backgrounds looking to diversify the shelves of their young readers. We are trying to do the work of antiracism in the small ways that we can, and we are trying to be present for those who lead us. And yet, last month, more than 300 parents in our community attended a school board meeting to protest the hiring of a DEI officer by the district. I have written and erased at least five different sentences to conclude this paragraph, and there’s simply nothing I can produce to say that’s helpful or wise. There is so much more to do.

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Fie on Thee, O CDC

Kenny Brechner - May 19, 2021

A father and his 10-year-old son were in the store the other day, both of them big readers and good customers. The young lad and I had the following conversation.

Lad: I’m looking for What Is the Story of Dracula. Your website said you had a copy in stock.

Kenny: Sure. It should be over here in the Who Was spinner.

Lad: There it is!

Kenny: (Ducks out and grabs a book a few displays down) If you’re interested in vampires you might like Threads of Magic. I just finished it and, aside from being kind of sensational, it had some great evil in it. There are Specters who are kind of soul-consuming cousins of vampires.

Lad: Is that fiction? I really prefer non-fiction.

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Cicadas and Spreadsheets

Cynthia Compton - May 10, 2021

Our team at 4 Kids Books is spreadsheet-friendly, to say the least. With remote staffers managing customer service issues, online orders, and inventory levels (how many backlist orders are due this month? All. Of. Them.), curbside pickups, delivery routes and social media campaigns, the amount of hourly communication between workers at home and workers on the shop floor would wear out our texting thumbs by Tuesday of each week. So instead, every single category of bookseller tasks in our store, it seems, is logged into a separate shared document with fields for everything from receiving (Ingram is delayed again, call the special orders) to damages (three cartons of bruised random titles from four publishers awaiting credit or call tags at the back door), gift wrapping instructions (all of the Mulhaney bag is for a 4 year old girl who likes green), and special order requests (someone please source 28 copies of an early reader about summer for a teacher who needs end-of-year gifts, and who has a total budget of $30). It all works remarkably well for the staff, and they rarely flinch as a customer pulls up outside in their car, honks, and texts, “I’m here to pick up my order” to the store phone with no other identifying info. (“Oh, that’s Olsen. See the dog sitting in the car seat? It’s a beagle named Larry Bird, look on the sheet. Here’s her bag, but be sure that you staple it. One of the items is a birthday gift for their son from his grandma – that’s a secret.”)

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Book Remembrances

Kenny Brechner - May 6, 2021

The present, left to its own devices, has all the innate narcissism of a toddler.  A healthy, progressive present requires a bit of parenting from the past. With that in mind, I called for book remembrances from our customers to help mark DDG’s 30th anniversary. Here are some remembrances that were sent in and what I learned from them.

Long-term relationships help frame pressing current events. Consider this comment from Maine’s Governor, and 30-year DDG customer, Janet Mills.

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Whistling While We Work

Cynthia Compton - May 3, 2021

Heigh ho! If your store or office is re-opening this month, welcome back. If you are expanding services to reach customers in some new or additional way, I salute your unflagging energy and commitment to bookselling. If, however, you’re one of us approaching a first-year anniversary (or six-month celebration, or three-month star on your calendar) of this Grimm model of retail which involves marketing and delivering books on every platform INCLUDING in-store sales, then this post is mostly for you, and you might nod ruefully, and add your own cringeworthy comments from customers as I reveal the SEVEN DWARVES OF CUSTOMERS (and a few of the spells… er, I mean happy tunes I whistle behind my mask in response).

Our first customer of the day, whom we’ll call Dopey, leads with: “Oh, you’re still here!” This brilliant observation is often followed by the well-intentioned but equally tone-deaf: “I was worried that businesses like this wouldn’t survive!” Thanks, buddy. Yes, we’re still here, and while we understand your worry, we seemed to have somehow managed. How can we be of help today? I’m sure that what our short-on-tact friend means is “Oh, thank goodness, you survived without me, and I don’t have to be inconvenienced or feel guilty, but I still get to shop locally and be part of the recovery (and the free gift wrap).”

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