Shelf Awareness for Friday, January 31, 2020


Scribner Book Company:  Bear Necessity by James Gould-Bourn

Del Rey Books: Malorie: A Bird Box Novel by Josh Malerman

Norton: New Reads for the Summer!

Roaring Brook Press: Kind of a Big Deal by Shannon Hale

HP Piazza: Regain Control of Your Publishing Content - Register Now

Minotaur Books: A Brotherhood Betrayed: The Man Behind the Rise and Fall of Murder, Inc. by Michael Cannell

News

Amazon Fourth Quarter: Sales, Profits Jump

In the fourth quarter ended December 31, sales at Amazon.com rose 20.7%, to $87.4 billion, and net profits rose 10%, to $3.3 billion.

The biggest news was that the company was more profitable than analysts had expected (the company earned $6.47 a share rather than the expected $4.04 a share). As a result, Amazon stock jumped some 10%, to almost $2,100 a share, in after-hours trading, pushing the company's market capitalization above $1 trillion again.

For the full year, net sales rose 20.4%, to $280.5 billion, and net income rose 14.9%, to $11.6 billion.

The New York Times observed that while Prime membership had expanded to 150 million and delivery times cut even more, the company was able not only to manage costs for the expensive services, but to make money. Advertising has also become lucrative. "The possibility that 'fast' is so valued by convenience-loving shoppers that they will bind themselves even more tightly to Amazon made investors giddy," the Times wrote. "Amazon ads for Amazon products delivered in Amazon trucks to Amazon households, where Amazon cameras alert residents that their new toys have already arrived. This is the Amazon flywheel, and the earnings report said it was working well."


AuthorBuzz for the Week of 05.25.20


Bookshop Launches; Details from Wi15

Bookshop, the online book-buying platform designed to benefit independent bookstores, is now live.

Founded by Andy Hunter of Electric Literature, LitHub and Catapult, Bookshop is a B-corp and affiliate of the American Booksellers Association. The platform's plan is to build "a network of publishers, authors, bookstagrammers, celebrity book clubs, and other media sites to target socially-conscious online consumers who are not yet buying their books online through an indepndent bookstore," and keep them from going to Amazon.

Orders are fulfilled via Ingram, and Bookshop will contribute 10% of sales to a pool that will be distributed evenly to independent bookstores every six months. Individual stores can also become affiliates and earn a 25% commission on sales.

Although the service is up and running, it is still in beta, and several features, including preorders, backorders, a mobile-friendly checkout process, and e-book and audiobook services are still on the way. The company said it expects more than 100 bookstores to join the platform over the next few weeks.

At a session at Wi15, Hunter went into detail about many aspects of Bookshop. He said that the idea for Bookshop came about at Wi13, when an ABA board member asked him to look at IndieBound and see how it might be made more effective. That led to many discussions with the ABA and the realization that "there were some things the ABA can't do as a trade association," and "the only way this would work if it were set up as a separate company."

Concerning its B-corp structure, Hunter noted that Bookshop has only individual investors and "no corporate hedge fund." The company's bylaws don't allow it to be sold to Amazon or a large retailer. "The idea is to keep Bookshop part of the community from which it sprang," he said. To much laughter he added, "I just want you to know I'm not a budding Jeff Bezos, and if I was, I wouldn't be here right now."

Hunter emphasized that Amazon's percentage of BookScan sales has risen to 52% from 37% in four years and that e-commerce is growing 15% year over year; "Amazon is capturing a vast majority of sales." He called the two trends potentially "devastating" and said, "Indie bookstores need to participate in e-commerce to survive." He estimated that if indies capture "just 1% of the books Amazon is currently selling, that would be $36 million a year," which is Bookshop's sales goal for 2023.

He said that the New York Times and the New York Review of Books are "on board" and will link every book review and bestseller list title with Bookshop. "Most editorial staff" at magazines, newspapers and literary sites "would rather not link with Amazon," he added.

Because people who regularly buy online are accustomed to discounts, Bookshelf is discounting books on average 8%. Hunter explained that customers used to Amazon "will bounce away" if they see that titles are selling for full price: "By offering a small discount we aim to prevent this."

Hunter stressed to indie booksellers that Bookshop aims to capture customers "who are not in your channel."


GLOW: Bloomsbury Publishing: Piranesi by Susanna Clarke


Vroman's Wine Bar Set for February Opening

The 1894, a new beer and wine bar located in Vroman's flagship store in Pasadena, Calif., is on track for a February opening, Pasadena Star-News reported.

The bar is named after the year in which Vroman's originally opened, and can seat around 40 people. In addition to craft beer, food and wine, The 1894 will also serve a selection of literary-themed session cocktails, which are cocktails that use things like sake, vermouth or sherry as a base rather than hard alcohol.

Bar manager Bentley Hale, who has some 20 years of experience in the bar and restaurant business and founded a company specializing in wine education events, told PSN that she plans to focus on local beer and wine, and emphasize tastings.

"I really want to focus a lot on wine flights and offering the tasting pours instead of full glasses so people can really taste and be able to explore the wine list and not have to commit to just one glass," explained Hale.

The 1894 will also be used as a space for some bookstore events, including book clubs and literary trivia.

Vroman's announced its wine bar plans last year, and had intended the opening to coincide with the store's 125th anniversary last November.


Stonewall Award Winners: Kyle Lukoff, Kaylani Juanita: When Aidan Became a Brother

Kyle Lukoff
(photo: Charles Ludeke)

Earlier this week, school librarian and author Kyle Lukoff won the Stonewall Book Award, given to titles that display "exceptional merit relating to the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender experience," for his picture book When Aidan Became a Brother, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita and published by Lee & Low Books.

Congratulations! Thank you so much for chatting with Shelf. To ask the broadest of questions: How are you feeling?

So many different feelings! The Stonewall has been a goal of mine for probably seven years now, when I first started trying to write a young adult novel. For it to actually happen is this hard-to-describe combination of "I can't believe it!" and "I completely believe it." I got more emotional putting the Stonewall sticker on George the year Alex Gino won but, in some ways, I think it's because the feelings are just too big to touch.

I will say that working with young children is great for keeping the ego in check. One of my second graders was literally hanging over my shoulder as Wanda Brown announced my name, asking if I could help him check out a book, and when I was like, "Do you hear those people applauding? They're clapping for me," he just said, "Oh. How many books do I still have checked out?"

When Aidan Became a Brother was, as your author's note describes, a book very close to your heart. Why did you want to write it? And why did you want to write it for a child audience? How does it feel to win this award for it?

For a long time, I didn't want to write it. I knew that I should write a picture book about a trans boy, because there weren't any that had been traditionally published, and I had already sold two picture books and so knew how the process worked. But I didn't like feeling obligated to tell a specific story and felt constrained by simplistic, reductive expectations that seemed to restrict the kinds of trans stories that would be allowed. And then one day, after two different librarians tweeted about the complete dearth of trans boy representation, I had a brainstorm, and what turned into Aidan became a driving force in my career.

Winning the Stonewall seems like what my life has been heading towards for years. I started working in bookstores when I was 16 and came out as queer a year later, so those two themes have been at the center of my life for almost two decades. I'm so lucky that my entire life is basically being gay and reading books.

Did you have a feeling while writing that this book could have a significant impact?

Is it profoundly arrogant of me to say "yes"? Don't get me wrong, I have very low self-esteem and my New Year's resolution was to believe ~15% of the nice things people say about my work (because I hover at around 5%). But I also know that Aidan was something special. For one, while I was working on it, I didn't know of any other picture books about trans boys, with very few self- or micro-published exceptions. I knew that people were desperate for something--anything--and would even take something that was only okay.

But I also knew that Aidan was more than just an okay picture book explaining what trans boys are. When Mom says, "You taught us how important it is to love someone for exactly who they are. This baby is so lucky to have you, and so are we," that was what I wanted trans kids (and their families, and all kids) to hear: that the world is a better place for having you in it. That you are not someone to accept, or to tolerate, or to deal with, but someone to celebrate and welcome with joy and gratitude.

How did it feel when you saw Kaylani Juanita's illustrations of what had been, until then, visions only in your mind?

I'm not a visually oriented person, so I didn't have a clear vision of what the book would look like. And once I saw early sketches, I knew that it would be... well, perfect. The tiny, intricate details I could pore over for hours, but it's also clear where the emotional core of each scene lies. I'm so glad that everyone is recognizing her brilliance, I want Kaylani's career to take off.

What do you hope readers take with them when they finish Aidan? What kind of future would you like to see for this Stonewall-awarded book of yours?

I want readers to leave all of my books with more questions than answers. I'm hoping that with this story, though, those questions aren't, "What did Aidan's name used to be?" or "Is the baby a boy or a girl?" Maybe more like, "I wonder why we don't learn what Aidan's name used to be," and "Why do I care if this baby is a boy or a girl?" Questions that encourage reflection, self-awareness and expanded empathy.

I love that Aidan has a future and I hope the award increases the title's reach in bookstores and schools! I'm also aiming to visit schools all over the country and it would be great if the award helps with that.

Is there anything else you'd like to tell Shelf readers?

The author's note says, "I don't know what the future holds for Aidan, but I hope he lives in a world that supports and believes in him. Thank you for helping to create that world." Every word of that.

---

Kaylani Juanita
(photo: Justin Luke)

Illustrator Kaylani Juanita won the Stonewall Book Award, given to titles that display "exceptional merit relating to the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender experience," for her picture book When Aidan Became a Brother, written by Kyle Kukoff and published by Lee & Low Books.

Congratulations! What was it that drew you to Lukoff's text--that made you think, "I would love to illustrate this"?

After reading the manuscript, my heart completely melted. Kyle's manuscript was a fresh take on an underrepresented identity. The story focuses on Aidan's goals as a future big brother and how his being trans shapes that experience. Overall, it's an amazingly written story that talks about the nuances of being a young trans boy who wants to be the best big brother he can be.

How did you approach the story aesthetically? Did you have certain palettes, textures, images, etc. that you really wanted to include in Aidan's story?

Kyle's writing style and the tone of the story felt very light, airy and gentle. I wanted the color palette to match that. I felt like it was important to include fun patterns and lots of colors to show how expressive and confident Aidan is.

Did you know from the beginning exactly how you wanted this book to look? Or was it a process of discussion and discovery?

I knew I wanted it to look colorful and welcoming. Most of the world-building and overall book design revolved around how I designed Aidan, and there were lots of ongoing conversations and feedback about his character exploration. Kyle was always super supportive of Aidan's clothing and style being fun and colorful--I wanted to avoid making his style and color choices too neutral, dull or stereotypically masculine. I wanted the confidence of his style and identity to radiate throughout the book.

Did you and Kyle talk as you each worked on your own sections of the book? Or was there the standard line of quiet between author and illustrator?

We didn't get to speak until the book was completely finished. All his feedback and suggestions were filtered through editors and the art director. We just met in person toward the end of last year! It was awesome and surreal to see him and hear him in person!

What does it mean to you--and to books like this--to receive this award?

This award means so much to me, and I think it's important that books like this get support and recognition. There needs to be more books written, illustrated and published by POC, QTPOC and LGBTQ+ folks. I am enthused about the award but recognize that it is just the beginning of many things I'd like to accomplish as a black, biracial, queer, woman and illustrator.

Is there anything else you'd like to tell ​Shelf​ readers?

Check out the statistics from the ​Cooperative Children's Book Center School of Education about diversity and inclusivity within picture books. There aren't enough picture books being published that are illustrated and/or written by POCs. Which means there are even less being published about and by queer and trans people of color. We need to make space and support stories for underrepresented people. Inclusive and diverse picture books can help shape a better future for all of us.

Thank you and congratulations again!

Thank you so much for your time and platform!! Also, please check out Magnificent Homespun Brown: A Celebration Book by Samara Cole Doyon and illustrated by me, Kaylani Juanita.

--Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Wi15: Training General Booksellers in Kids' Book Sales

At Winter Institute 15 in Baltimore, Md., last week, a group of four independent booksellers participated in a workshop and roundtable discussion on teaching general booksellers how to handsell children's books. 

Cathy Berner, children's and young adult specialist at Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, Tex.; Mariana Calderon, manager at Second Star to the Right in Denver, Colo.; Susan Kusel, children's book buyer at [words] Bookstore in Maplewood, N.J.; and Ariana Paliobagis, owner of Country Bookshelf in Bozeman, Mont., led the session.

They began with a brief overview of the children's book market, noting that between 2016 and 2018, the category saw 3% growth, with children's books making up about 36% of the overall print market in 2018. From 2017 to 2018, children's audiobook sales increased by 37%, and over the last 12 years, sales of children's and YA graphic novels have increased 44%, while sales of adult graphic novels have decreased.

On the subject of picture books, Calderon pointed out that they can cover a wide age range, with some meant to be read to two-year-olds while others are meant for seven-year-olds. When handselling picture books, she suggested booksellers flip through books with customers, adding that you can often tell from the look on a parent's face whether "they believe this is the book they want to be reading to their child."

When discussing early reader books and middle grade novels, Kosel, who was a librarian, brought up "reference interviews." She explained that the term refers to the questions librarians ask to find out what books a reader is interested in, and she noted that booksellers essentially do the same thing when handselling.

With early reader and middle grade titles, she continued, booksellers may have to do two reference interviews at the same time: one with the parent or guardian who will pay for the book and another with the child who will actually be reading the book. Sometimes, parent and child may have very different ideas about what they're looking for. At other times shoppers may not know the intended reader at all. Calderon said she likes to give children a selection of books and let them sit down and read, while Kusel suggested giving a few options each to both the child and the shopper.

For YA books, Berner noted that it can be hard to get an immediate sense of how mature a title is, but, generally, books that are meant for ages 12 and up probably won't have much swearing or many adult situations, while 14 and up will probably have more adult situations but may not be explicit, and 15 and up can sometimes include explicit adult experiences.

On the topic of appropriateness, a bookseller in attendance recommended the website Common Sense Media, which offers age-based media reviews for books, movies, games and more. Kusel responded that while it can be helpful, the reviews should always be taken with a grain of salt--the website's review for Anne of Green Gables, for example, mentions "wild alcohol use."

The session also touched on the difficulty of assessing a child's reading level. Kusel brought up what she calls the "five finger rule": if a child encounters five words on the first page that he or she doesn't understand, the book is too advanced for them. She also offered a warning about publishers' suggested reading levels. A Scholastic level 2, she said, is different from a Penguin Random House level 2, which is different from a HarperCollins level 2, and those ratings are only helpful when comparing titles published by the same company.

For "narrowing down the wide range of new kids' books," Paliobagis suggested consulting the Kids' Indie Next List as well as the ABC Best Books for Young Readers catalog. Other booksellers' Edelweiss reviews can also be very helpful, and Paliobagis added that while she doesn't want her booksellers to read adult books on the job, she does encourage them to read picture books while straightening out the kids' section or shelving children's titles in order to become more familiar with the category. --Alex Mutter


BookExpo Again Makes It Easier for Booksellers to Attend

BookExpo is again making it easier for independent booksellers to attend BookExpo, which this year will be held May 27-29 at the Javits Center in New York City.

The 2020 BookExpo Bestsellers Grant Program will offer some 200 booksellers a complimentary three-night stay at the Wyndham New Yorker, the ABA's official hotel, and $150 in "BookExpo Bucks," which can be used with the more than 100 UnBound sidelines and gift exhibitors at the show. Bookstore members of the ABA are eligible to apply and should do so online here.

Jenny Martin, event director of BookExpo, noted that BookExpo was making the program "more user friendly and easier for recipients." The program was announced last week at Winter Institute, and so far the response has been "very good," Martin added.


Notes

Image of the Day: Booksellers Abroad

A group of U.S. booksellers gathered in Kolkata, India, after the Jaipur Literature Festival and visited the offices of Seagull Books. Pictured: (l.-r.) Naveen Kishore, Seagull Books; Shuchi Saraswat, Brookline Booksmith, Brookline, Mass.; Jeff Deutsch, Seminary Co-op, Chicago, Ill.; Sunandini Banerjee, Seagull Books; Rick Simonson, Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, Wash.


Blue Willow Bookshop Endorses IBD Ambassador

Blue Willow Bookshop, Houston, Tex., lost a friendly wager with D.C.'s East City Bookshop when their beloved Astros were defeated in the 2019 World Series by the Washington Nationals. Nevertheless, Blue Willow has made the ultimate sacrifice and issued an enthusiastic endorsement of this years Independent Bookstore Day Ambassador.

"All booksellers can agree that Washington Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle is a great ball player!" Blue Willow posted on Facebook. "We may have #LostTheBet with East City Bookshop last season, but we're thrilled to be on the same team as Sean now--he's this year's Indie Bookstore Day Ambassador! Congrats, Sean, and thanks for your incredible support of independent bookstores across the nation."


Peter Osnos on Print Books, All Formats, Imprints

Food for thought: in a Book Thoughts 2020 column on Medium.com, Peter Osnos, founder of PublicAffairs, revisits his prescient model for book publishing and retailing from a dozen years ago that would allow readers to obtain a book in whatever format or formats they want, when they want. There's still a lot of work to do in this area--the possible expansion of in-store POD and bundling of print and digital versions of the same book, for example--but at least the printed book is a key part of the equation, despite many predictions to the contrary.

Another of his points: the importance of imprints in general mentions of books to readers who, as he points out, "tend to associate themselves with purveyors more than they did in the past.... It would be a service to readers--and I think potentially add to sales--to know whether the source is one of 'theirs' as other forms of presentation now are. I'm thinking here of the difference, say, between W.W. Norton and Regnery."

He concludes: "It is demonstrable based on the 21st century so far that books will not be undone by technology as so many pundits predicted... We can again affirm with confidence that books, analog and digital, are part of our lives. Thank goodness."


Personnel Changes at Simon & Schuster

Effective February 3, Kim Gray is joining Simon & Schuster in the newly created position of v-p, distribution client sales, heading the Distribution Client Sales Group, which was established in December. She was most recently v-p, director of trade sales & marketing, at Reader's Digest and earlier was a national account manager at John Wiley & Sons.


Media and Movies

Media Heat: Joe Yonan on CBS This Morning

Tomorrow:
CBS This Morning: Joe Yonan, author of Cool Beans: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking with the World's Most Versatile Plant-Based Protein, with 125 Recipes (Ten Speed Press, $30, 9780399581489).

TV: The Plot Against America

HBO has released teaser trailer for its upcoming limited series The Plot Against America, based on Philp Roth's novel, IndieWire reported. From executive producers and longtime collaborators David Simon and Ed Burns (The Wire, Generation Kill), the six-part series stars Ben Cole, Zoe Kazan, Morgan Spector, Winona Ryder and John Turturro. The Plot Against America premieres March 16 on HBO.



Books & Authors

Awards: Portico Literature Winner

Jessica Andrews won the £10,000 (about $13,070) Portico Prize for Literature, which recognizes "outstanding literature that best evokes the spirit of the North," for her debut novel Saltwater, the Bookseller reported.

Simon Savidge, one of the judges, commented: "Saltwater shows the 'spirit of the North' is diverse and multifaceted. The North is not just around us, or a particular location to visit--but a place within us. It's something we take with us when we set out to find our space in the world and when we spread Northern stoicism, joy, grit, humor and hope wherever we go. Saltwater celebrates all this in a powerful, provocative and poignant tale."

Lynne Allan, chair of the Portico Library, added: "The Portico Prize aims to shine a spotlight on the very best writing about the North and the voices that deserve to be heard. We are more than proud to award this year's prize to Jessica Andrews whose remarkable debut is full of optimism. It is a tender tribute to women across generations and an important exploration of women's lives today."


Reading with... Trevor Naylor

photo: Ester Nader

Trevor Naylor is sales and marketing director of the American University in Cairo Press and Bookstores (there are six of them). His new book, Egypt Inside Out (AUC Press, January 21, 2020), explores Egypt off the beaten path. Naylor was previously global sales and marketing director for Thames and Hudson in London, where he also ran an independent bookstore. His writing combines his enthusiasm for Egypt, living and traveling there for more than 30 years, and his skills as a veteran publisher and bookseller. He is also the author of Cairo Inside Out, now in paperback.

On your nightstand now:

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith. Galbraith's series of thrillers entertains on multiple levels and, set in a part of London where I once worked, makes me slightly nostalgic.

The Call of the Weird: Travels in American Subcultures by Louis Theroux. Illustrating the hidden side of the U.S. not visible when I visit as a tourist, Theroux has a disarming charm both in his writing and on his TV series, which captivated both me and my children.  

Favourite book when you were a child:

Dracula by Bram Stoker. I read this when I was about 12 years old and loved it, as I lived not far from Whitby. I would read and then dangerously walk the Dracula Trail.

Your top five authors:

Ray Bradbury. Norman Mailer. George Orwell. Naguib Mahfouz. Tom Wolfe.

Book you've faked reading:

Good question. Does that include books I've never finished? Unfortunately, that would include anything by Salman Rushdie.

Book you're an evangelist for:

At the moment I am urging everyone to read Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. The characters are excellent: quirky and believable, and the structure of the book sustains it to the final pages. If I were ever to write that "first novel," this is the book I would use as my roadmap.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Shōgun by James Clavell. It turned out to be one of my favourite books ever.

Book you hid from your parents:

Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence. For obvious reasons, it would have been too complicated to explain.

Book that changed your life:

Western Europe on a Shoestring by Tony Wheeler, the co-founder of Lonely Planet. I was managing a travel bookshop at the time, and this book told me it was time to get out myself. I've now visited over 90 countries, and travel is a huge part of my life and writing.

Favorite line from a book:

"I think little of people who will deny their history because it doesn't present the picture they would like." --George MacDonald, Flashman

Five books you'll never part with:

Beyond the Blue Horizon: On the Track of Imperial Airways by Alexander Frater, an amazing book of travel writing, also The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer and The Story of Art by E.H. Gombrich.

Book you most want to read again for the first time

The Last King of Scotland by Giles Foden. This book cemented my fascination with Africa.

Why we read and why we have the urge to write:

Because there is no medium which both gives and takes creatively from us in such equal measure. It is the ultimate love/hate relationship that we have with books and the written word.


Book Review

Review: Red Letter Days

Red Letter Days by Sarah-Jane Stratford (Berkley, $17 paperback, 400p., 9780451475572, February 25, 2020)

Young, ambitious and talented, Phoebe Adler is slowly building a career for herself as a New York television screenwriter in the 1950s. Her work doesn't just pay the bills: it represents the next rung on the ladder to success. It also pays for her sister's medical care at an expensive sanitarium. But when the House Un-American Activities Committee begins blacklisting writers and directors, Phoebe receives a subpoena and must make the split-second decision to abandon her life in Greenwich Village and flee to London. In her second novel, Red Letter Days, Sarah-Jane Stratford tells Phoebe's story, and traces its intersection with that of fellow exiled American Hannah Wolfson.

Stratford (Radio Girls) has created a cast of strong women, from Phoebe and her whip-smart, wheelchair-bound sister, Mona, to Hannah Wolfson's cadre of American exiles and their colleagues in London. A successful writer and director, Hannah has set up her own production company, creating a new take on The Adventures of Robin Hood with a roster of entirely blacklisted writers (all working under aliases). Once Phoebe arrives in London, she lands a job as Hannah's script supervisor by day, and spends her evenings working on a script of her own for Robin Hood. Meanwhile, both women are dealing with romantic complications and trying to avoid the attention of the FBI, which reaches across the ocean in ways they didn't expect. Hannah, a mother to two young girls, must also contend with her husband's professional jealousy and the stresses of managing a production company full of secrets. (Her two closest colleagues at the studio, both Scottish and brilliant, are among the book's most vivid, entertaining characters.)

Stratford has a keen eye for everyday historical details, including black Bakelite phones (often tapped by the FBI) and the different brands of cigarettes smoked on both sides of the Atlantic. She also explores the most insidious effect of the blacklist: the constant fear and mistrust, which affects not only those pursued by HUAC, but also their colleagues, families and friends. Phoebe and Hannah, whose experiences are drawn from those of real-life Americans affected by the blacklist, both wonder if they'll ever be able to go home again or live without fear. They keep working, as they must, but both women will find their resolve sorely tested by the actions of their pursuers and by other personal struggles. 

Well plotted and moving, with witty characters and an unnervingly timely storyline, Red Letter Days is smart, satisfying historical fiction at its best. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Shelf Talker: Sarah-Jane Stratford's second novel explores the lives of blacklisted female American writers working in London during the McCarthy era.


Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Wi15--'Managing Events in a Politically Challenging Climate'

"We all know how the landscape is out there. It's highly charged," said moderator Dave Grogan, director of ABFE, advocacy and public policy, to open the Wi15 education session "Managing Events in a Politically Challenging Climate." Panelists were Elisa Thomas of Cellar Door Bookstore, Riverside, Calif.; Reiko Redmonde of Revolution Books, Berkeley, Calif.; and Bradley Graham of Politics and Prose Bookstore, Washington, D.C.

"It's very challenging at author events, and even non-author events have become a flashpoint," Grogan added. "So managing and pre-planning for potential event disruptions by fully understanding your community, your audience and your guests can go a long way to creating solutions."

Dave Grogan, Bradley Graham, Elisa Thomas, Reiko Redmonde

Graham chronicled several disturbances at Politics and Prose since last spring that had "made us aware times were changing, situations were changing, and the tensions in our society were creating new conditions for our author talks that was going to cause us to plan and prepare differently. We do many, many events and we'd never really had much of an issue over the years, and then there was this spate of disruptions and disturbances by various groups across the spectrum that caught us totally by surprise."

The situation at Cellar Door was "a little bit different," Thomas noted. "We had our first Drag Queen Story Hour in June of 2017 and that went off without a hitch. Then we decided to do another for Halloween and somehow a very far right hate group found out about it and targeted us. We had two protesters who came into the store. One of them was livestreaming onto Facebook directly, getting video of these kids.... So that was really scary for us."

Subsequently, the bookstore received hate e-mails and phone calls, including calls directly to the owner's house. "From there we decided that we were not going to let them dictate what we did, so we decided to do a holiday Drag Queen Story Hour, but we got in contact with our local authorities and had undercover cops at our next event to make sure there were no disruptions," Thomas added. Cellar Door now alerts two detectives ahead of time and tickets are required to attend Drag Queen Story Hour. By purchasing tickets, attendees agree to comply with the code of conduct. "We have had other protesters, but outside the store. No one has come in. We're very, very careful. If they don't have a ticket, we don't let them in."

Redmonde said attacks by white supremacists against Revolution Books "have been pretty sustained.... We were very shocked when it first happened and we were yelling back at them and stuff. But quickly what we did was we mobilized people around our community to come to the store. We do not call the police." For events, Revolution had to put up a curtain so protesters wouldn't livestream people in the audience. There is also a sign posted that says 'fascists and white supremacists are not welcome in Revolution Books. This is a fascist-free zone.' "

Sometimes the issue can be staff reluctance toward certain author events. "We've had some internal discussions and debates over certain figures," Graham said. "I'm sure there are some that we had that some staff would have preferred we didn't have.... But the most intense discussions we've had were in the wake of those demonstrations I described and were over issues of how to deal with the incidents.... So we decided we couldn't simply stand by and wait and see what happened."

Politics and Prose has developed a protocol and talks with staff about various scenarios and how to handle them during a protest. "We also faced head-on this question of what to do about the police. What do you do about providing security? We looked at a number of options. We ended up finding some off-duty police officers who we have periodically at our events," Graham said.

Stressing that "the safety of our employees is first and foremost on our minds," he added that "what's important when things start going crazy is to remain calm. You have a certain situational awareness and remind yourself where the exit locations are. We have panic buttons in the store hidden away.... We issue guidelines and then we go over them periodically with the floor staff, events staff and anybody else who might be involved in one way or another."

Redmonde agreed, noting that for the all-volunteer staff at Revolution Books "what we developed was not to freak out and yell back but actually represent the kind of society, the kind of future that we want to bring about.... We do send a couple people out, like me, to actually stand in front of the store when this happens. And the people in the store basically talk to people about why these fascists are targeting Revolution Books because we represent the hope of a different and better future."

The detailed preparations "seem to be working," Graham said. "We haven't had any more protests, fortunately, but the year is young." --Robert Gray, contributing editor


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