Also published on this date: Wednesday, March 18, 2020: Maximum Shelf: The Mirror & the Light

Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, March 18, 2020

William Morrow & Company: Polostan: Volume One of Bomb Light by Neal Stephenson

Shadow Mountain: The Legend of the Last Library by Frank L Cole

Atlantic Monthly Press: The Elements of Marie Curie: How the Glow of Radium Lit a Path for Women in Science by Dava Sobel

Ace Books: Dungeon Crawler Carl by Matt Dinniman

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers: The Millicent Quibb School of Etiquette for Young Ladies of Mad Science by Kate McKinnon

Annick Press: Bog Myrtle by Sid Sharp

Minotaur Books: Betrayal at Blackthorn Park: A Mystery (Evelyne Redfern #2) by Julia Kelly


COVID-19 Update: Record Binc Requests; Help for Indies; Indie Layoffs

In the past few days, the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (Binc) has had the highest number of requests for financial assistance in the history of the organization--which was founded in 1996--with an average of several booksellers an hour requesting help. With layoffs taking place as bookstores shut their doors, booksellers are concerned about not being able to buy food, pay rent, and other essential living expenses such as medication and medical treatments. They are also worried about being able to continue the work they love and the survival of their bookstores.

At the same time, the book community is making major contributions to Binc, which helps booksellers, bookstores and comic bookstores in need. On Monday, in less than 24 hours, supporters donated $44,000, when Friends of Binc, literary agent Steven Malk of Writers House and Beacon Press offered a matching gift challenge--matching all gifts dollar for dollar up to $12,500.

Now there is a second matching gift challenge: authors Garth Stein, Tui Sutherland, and Amor Towles have combined their gifts and will match donations dollar for dollar up to a total of $41,000. Sutherland said: "I am so grateful for bookstores and the booksellers who have supported me--as an author, a reader, and above all as a mom of two bookworms--so we want to do anything we can to show them our love and support right now, when so many really need it."

Binc executive director Pam French commented: "We are incredibly grateful to these authors--for their generosity, industry leadership, and desire to help booksellers right now."

Binc noted that its experience during 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the California wildfires has been "invaluable in preparing for this public health emergency. With your help, Binc will be part of the solution for these booksellers, relieving some of the stress and worry in these increasingly unsure times."


In the past week, 70 stores have signed up for Bookshop, creating storefronts to continue to serve their customers despite having to close their doors due to coronavirus restrictions, founder Andy Hunter reported. There are now more than 300 stores on the platform, although most aren't active yet.

For the next eight weeks, to help support them, indie stores using Bookshop will receive 30% of the cover price of any sale, up from 25%. Bookshop will earn no revenue from those sales.


Penguin Random House has created a temporary open license for booksellers, librarians and educators to stream its story time, read-aloud videos and live events. The license is "an immediate measure to directly connect our books with students and readers while protecting the long-term value of our authors' and illustrators' intellectual property." For details, click here.

The company added: "Thank you for your shared commitment to storytelling and reading, and to our collective belief in the power of books to connect us--especially during times like these."


Schiffer Publishing is offering a "We're in This Together" Program for bookstores effective immediately. The program runs through April 30, and is for titles published before that date. Booksellers can buy 10-plus units (mix or match) at 50% with net 60 (extended dating for customers in good credit standing). All orders ship free freight. Promo code is Schiff20.


Yale University Press is featuring an indie-supporting contest on Twitter: "Local bookstores are going to need all of us in the coming weeks. Let's show them some love. Retweet this and tag your favorite local bookstore by Sunday and we’ll randomly chose 25 to receive a $25 gift card to the independent bookstore of your choice."


The 2020 Minnesota Book Awards ceremony, scheduled for next month in Minneapolis, has been canceled. Noting that they did not "make this decision lightly, the health of our community is our most important consideration," organizers said, "We remain committed to lifting up the voices of Minnesota authors and to celebrating the best in local literature. The in-person gathering may be canceled, but our team is working on other creative ideas to announce this year's winners on the ceremony's scheduled date of April 28."


Powell's Books, which has temporarily closed its five stores in and around Portland, Ore., has laid off at least 340 union employees, according to the Oregonian. Powell's said it will take "several months" to restore normal operations and some layoffs may be permanent. Health insurance will last only through the end of the month of last employment.

In a statement, the union, ILWU Local 5, said that it understands the decision to close Powell's bricks-and-mortar locations in the interests of public and employee health and safety, but added, "As with most emergencies, those that suffer the most are workers and marginalized communities. We do not believe this to be appropriate or fair and in this moment we continue to urge all employers, including Powell's Books, to continue to support workers in any and every way possible. The loss of profit is nothing compared to the lifelong trauma such a loss of income and benefits are likely to have for individuals. ILWU has a long-time saying we live by: 'An injury to one is an injury to all.' We call upon all to make this moment count and support everyone in our community in every way we can."

The union has set up a "Coronavirus Worker Relief Fund" that accepts direct donations. People can also contribute to the fund by buying books through the union's Powell's Partner Link (7.5% of sales, excluding gift cards, virtual credit and subscriptions, go to the fund).


WORD Bookstores in Jersey City, N.J., and Brooklyn, N.Y., have both been closed to the public since the weekend, with owner Christine Onorati and her team doing online and phone orders only. No shoppers are allowed in, and orders are being shipped or picked up at the front door.

"It's just feeling dark and so bizarre," said Onorati, who has already had to lay off a lot of staff members, particularly part-timers. She and her team are trying their best to keep full-timers paid even as things get worse, and they're sending part-timers to Binc and decreasing their shifts to one, if possible.

When she announced the decision to close the stores to the public, she also gave her community a list of ways they can continue to support the bookstore. WORD started a VIP gift card program that costs $500 and gives the customer 10% off any item in the store. WORD has sold a few of those. Onorati also set up a PayPal donation link, which drew steady donations over the first few days, but Onorati is already trying to make plans in the event that the "altruistic instinct" slows down.


Margot Sage-EL, owner of Watchung Booksellers in Montclair, N.J., said her community has been "amazingly supportive," with the bookstore seeing "banner days" leading up to and through the weekend. From now on, however, Sage-EL has limited store hours to 1-6 p.m., and she and her staff are doing only deliveries and curbside pickups. They are encouraging customers to order online, over the phone, through text or via e-mail.

Sage-EL reported that the town's libraries are closed and parents are struggling with in-home learning and perfunctory worksheets. "They want books to keep their kids learning and growing. So we are here as much as we can to get books into their hands." She added that thick classics and escapist reads have also been popular.

"The reality is we have payroll to meet, rent to pay and the publishers' invoices," Sage-EL said. "There is no cushion. That is the scary part."

Running Press Kids: Your Magical Life: A Young Witch's Guide to Becoming Happy, Confident, and Powerful by Amanda Lovelace

Bookstore Sales Down 4.8% in January

In January, bookstore sales fell 4.8%, to $1.08 billion, according to preliminary estimates from the Census Bureau.

By comparison, independent bookstores have done better than the Census Bureau average, which includes a range of retailers that sell books. Through February 12, a slightly longer period than measured by the Census Bureau, sales at ABA member stores, as reported to the weekly bestseller lists, were down 2.7% compared to the same period in 2019.

Total retail sales in January rose 5.3%, to $483.3 billion.

Note: under Census Bureau definitions, the bookstore category consists of "establishments primarily engaged in retailing new books."

G.P. Putnam's Sons: William by Mason Coile

International Book Trade Adapts to 'Strange Times'

The worldwide impact of COVID-19 has compelled the international book trade to adapt--or sometimes just cope--on the fly to the unfolding crisis.

The Booksellers Association of the U.K. and Ireland "is calling on customers and the trade to rally behind retailers and support bookshops, as the coronavirus outbreak hits the high street," the Bookseller reported.

In an open letter, BA managing director Meryl Halls wrote, in part: "It's unfortunate that the hallmarks of the crisis management--self-isolation, social distancing and avoiding people and gatherings--are the very opposite of what bookshops pride themselves on offering to their communities, and what have become the positive emblems of the renaissance of bookselling recently. They also, unfortunately, play to the strengths of multinational online retailers, and we want to ensure that we are reminding consumers that they can still use their local bookshop to buy books even if they are practicing social distancing. We have created a range of resources available for BA members, including social media assets to help reinforce that point. Many, many booksellers are using those messages and amplifying with their own.

"We are very keen for publishers and authors to help reinforce this message too –not to default to Amazon as the de facto buying option, but to link to bookshops and to reiterate the importance of shopping locally, supporting their local community and emphasizing the contribution of bookshops to safe, nourishing and mutually supportive neighborhoods.... We know how resourceful and resilient booksellers are in the face of adversity, and we will do everything we can to support them during this difficult time, and encourage the publishing industry, the government and consumers to do the same."

The Australian Booksellers Association has postponed its National Conference, due to take place June 21-22, as well as the APA's BookUp Conference, set for the following day. In a letter to members, ABA CEO Robbie Egan and president Jay Lansdown wrote: "As frustrating as this is, with all the work that has gone into putting such a great program together, we have made the unavoidable decision.... We will keep you all as up-to-date and informed as possible, and as soon as we have clarity on the virus we will put a plan into action. We must hold an AGM by September 30 and will inform you of how that will proceed.

"In the end we are all in this together. At an industry level we need to work together just as we must work together as a nation. We must retain our humanity and reach inside for our better selves. This will be hard, but booksellers are a resilient bunch. We will get through this. We will endure. We will thrive."

Australian indie booksellers "are getting on their bikes and taking out their 'bookmobiles' to deliver purchases for free to readers who are in isolation at home due to the ongoing spread of COVID-19," SmartCompany reported.

Deb Force, who has operated the Sun Bookshop in Melbourne for almost 22 years, said she was "not being completely altruistic" when she thought to offer her customers home delivery. "I was envisaging a time quite soon where lots of people are in isolation and need to read. I thought it could be a way for the shop to keep taking a little money and help keep my staff employed.... We will keep doing deliveries until things are more normal; strange times are here and everything needs to be flexible."

In New Zealand, Twizel Bookshop, "measuring only 12 square meters [about 130 square feet], has also introduced new social distancing measures including reduced hours and limiting customer numbers so no more than three people including staff are in the store at any time," Stuff reported.

Owner Renee Rowland said: "I'm just trying to stay ahead of the curve and help people realize how big an issue this is and just to stay really safe.... I don't want people to jeopardize the health of the community by coming into the bookstore when they should be at home but also it's the perfect conditions to stay at home for two weeks and read heaps of books or do puzzles or knit a jumper--it doesn't have to be a horrible stay at home and where you can't do anything. For me, I have to keep on selling books or there will be no bookshop so you have to adapt to stay viable but also to support the community in any way you can."

Legendary Paris bookshop Shakespeare & Company tweeted Monday: "We're now unable to dispatch online orders immediately. Like businesses everywhere, we're taking a kicking. If you'd like to support S&Co, please consider placing an order for later delivery, subscribing to a Year of Reading, or purchasing a gift voucher." Galley Beggar Press quickly responded: "Buying myself a voucher to spend when things are open again. Thinking of it as an investment in hope."

LBF Update: Director Resigns; Publishers Donate Books

Jacks Thomas

Jacks Thomas, director of the London Book Fair, has announced that she'll step down after seven years with Reed Exhibitions, the Bookseller reported.

Thomas submitted her resignation last September and had planned to announce her decision during the London Book Fair, scheduled for last week, but the fair was canceled by Reed two weeks ago.

"It is of course bittersweet to be making this announcement public after 2020 LBF was canceled, instead of--as I had anticipated--during the course of another successful fair," Thomas said. "Whenever I look back at the last seven years I am astonished by how much the Book Fair has evolved."

Since joining LBF in 2013, Thomas has helped expand the show's international reach, introduced a number of book fair features such as Author of the Day and launched the Building Inclusivity in Publishing conference. Prior to 2013, Thomas worked for a variety of organizations including the BBC, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and Reader's Digest.

Thomas will officially step down in the summer, and Reed will announce plans for the London Book Fair over the coming weeks.

Last year's LBF

In other LBF news, several publishers, including Penguin Random House, Pearson, Bonnier Books UK and Macmillan Education, have donated books they had planned to use at the canceled London Book Fair to the Book Trade Charity, which supports people from the book trade with grants and housing, the Bookseller reported.

Noting that "quite a few" LBF exhibitors had chosen to go this route, David Hicks, the charity's CEO, said, "We normally collect about 13 pallets of books, and this is a huge contribution to our fundraising--we hold six sales to the general public each year and these contribute over £50,000 [about $64,510]. We do receive donations from publishers, distributors etc. throughout the year--often office clearances, or just spare stock--but the single biggest source is LBF. When it was canceled, we thought we would miss out badly, but I am delighted to say that the kindness of many of the publishers has meant it will not be a total disaster for us."

PRH marketing operations director Tora Orde-Powlett commented: "We know the London Book Fair is an important moment for the Book Trade Charity to get book donations for fundraising sales, so we were keen to honor that despite the fair being canceled. We have donated all books that both Penguin Random House and DK were planning on using at the fair, including titles from Charlie Mackesy, Peppa Pig, DKfindout! and Bernardine Evaristo."

Amazon Prioritizing 'High-Demand' Items, Hiring 100,000 Workers

Amazon will prioritize household staples, medical supplies, pet supplies and other high-demand products at its fulfillment centers, resulting in reduced purchase orders and extended delivery windows for low priority items such as books, as outlined on its Seller Central page. This will be in effect through at least April 5.

The company added: "For products other than these, we have temporarily disabled shipment creation. We are taking a similar approach with retail vendors."

At the same time, Amazon plans to hire 100,000 additional workers to help keep up with the surge in online orders brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, the AP reported.

The new job openings are for a mix of full-time and part-time positions, including everything from delivery drivers to warehouse workers. Amazon also plans to temporarily raise pay for its hourly employees by $2 per hour through the end of April, with hourly workers in the U.K. and parts of Europe set to get similar increases.

The announcement comes after Amazon adjusted its time-off policy for hourly workers last week, allowing them to take as much time off in March as desired, with the caveat that they would be paid only for earned time off. Amazon announced, too, that it would pay hourly workers for up to two weeks if they become ill with the virus or needed to be quarantined.

The surge in online shopping has put significant strain on Amazon's operations, with an Amazon higher-up saying that current demand is "unprecedented" for this time of year.


Image of the Day: Bookstore Bootcamp

Prospective bookstore owners from 26 communities around the country--and one from Russia--attended Paz & Associates' two recent "bookstore bootcamps" to learn the business of bookselling. Workshops were held at Story & Song Bookstore Bistro in Fernandina Beach, Fla., opened two years ago by Donna Paz Kaufman and Mark Kaufman.

More than half of those in attendance have already secured locations--in major cities like Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles, as well as Wetumpka, Ala., and Belgrade, Maine--while others are still searching for the ideal spot. Concepts for stores ranged from general interest to specialties like children and families, military history, even a bookstore with a cat lounge.

The next training program will be held August 16-19. For more information, call 904-277-2664 or visit

Coronavirus-Fighting Ideas of the Day

At Bookmarks, Winston-Salem, N.C., store mascot Karl the Kraken picks up an order.

In addition to services like free delivery and curbside pickup, many temporarily shuttered indie bookstores are finding innovative ways to serve their customers, spark engagement and keep lines of communication open during this challenging time.

In response to the suspension, for now, of in-person author events, Politics and Prose, Washington D.C., is introducing P&P Live "to keep the conversation going between authors and readers and reinforce our bonds as a community. Starting today with Michael Signer, you'll be able to watch P&P author talks live from your own house. While the rest of our March schedule of in-store events has been cancelled, we now plan to stream a number of author appearances online using the platform Crowdcast. These virtual events will follow the same format as the in-store ones did--that is, the author will speak first, then take questions from those watching. One benefit of this Internet set-up is that you won't have to be in the DC area to participate. Anyone with access to the Internet will be able to join in."

Trident Booksellers and Café, Boston, Mass., is offering a free ARC with food delivery or takeout, and recommended that customers "consider buying a gift card online as a gift for someone else stuck at home or to use when the Coronavirus is behind us. It's an easy way to support our independent business!"

"We are offering coffee, tea, and books TO GO!! Order at the window and one of our amazing staff will help you," BookBar, Denver, Colo., posted on Facebook. "Thank you to Conner and our regular Lila for participating in our impromptu photo shoot. And a big thank you to our community for all of your support. It is so so appreciated and it is making a difference. We love you."

"Home alone? Send us a letter. No kidding," Old Town Open Book, Warrenton, Va., posted on Facebook. "We'll reply. Hagrid the Bear will write to your kiddos but loneliness is a real thing and we're in this together. We love writing. We love writing to you. It will be lonely in the store too so really, write to me. Am I begging? Until we meet again."

Curious Iguana, Frederick, Md., expressed gratitude to the community for its concern and support "during these uncertain times. Here's one way you can help us--and at the same time help some of Frederick County's fabulous non-profits. These nonprofits--Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership (COIPP), Housing Authority of the City of Frederick, I Believe in Me, On Our Own, and the new Day Center partnership between Salvation Army and Frederick Rescue Mission--use books in their programming during the year. Through our website, you can purchase selected titles for these organizations, and we will deliver the books to them. It's a safe and easy way to 'Share the Love' for Curious Iguana and the nonprofits who positively impact the lives of our neighbors."

More Notes of Hope, Determination & Appreciation

In the midst of all the COVID-19 distress, indie booksellers continue to share messages of hope, determination and appreciation.

Earlier this month, the building that was home to Fairytales Bookstore and Pied Piper Creamery in Nashville, Tenn., was damaged in a devastating tornado and the business has been without a bricks and mortar site ever since. Last week, thanks to the generosity of other small businesses in the neighborhood, Fairytales was able to open for a few days as a pop-up store under borrowed tents in the parking lot at the Shops at Porter East and as a weekend table at the Getalong. The store is  also rushing to get its inventory online and is offering curbside pickup.

"March has been an especially tough month for us and we're so grateful for your continued support," the bookseller posted on Facebook. "When you buy a book or toy through Fairytales, you are supporting a small business that has been in our neighborhood for almost 12 years. You are supporting the place where John and Tammy's daughters grew up; where Katie D's son took his first steps and fell in love with books; where Michelle whispered to customers about books while wearing her sleeping baby. The late Tammy Derr dreamed big when she dreamed of Fairytales Bookstore, and we all feel so lucky to be part of that now. As your neighbors, thank you from the bottom of our hearts for continuing to support Fairytales Bookstore."

Odd Bird Books, Columbia, S.C., noted: "Several people have already asked how they can help, which is really appreciated. The bookstore will be fine, but hopefully we all come away from this with a reminder of just how vital it is to look out for those in vulnerable or precarious positions in our community."

Greedy Reads, Baltimore, Md.: "Thank you x1000 to everyone who has phoned, e-mailed, and otherwise placed orders with us over the past two days. It warms our anxious hearts to see how people everywhere are showing up for another.... But mostly, I just want to say thank you. I knew you were the best, but thank you for confirming it!"

Chalkboard: Elliott Bay Book Company

Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, Wash., shared a photo of its store chalkboard ("We love our readers! Stay safe, stay healthy") on Facebook, noting: "Warm well wishes from Elliott Bay! For those hoping to hunker down with a stack of books, you can call or order online and have great reads shipped to your door! Your support means the world to us."

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Jesse Wegman on Fresh Air

Fresh Air: Jesse Wegman, author of Let the People Pick the President: The Case for Abolishing the Electoral College (St. Martin's Press, $27.99, 9781250221971).

Movies: Beast and Bethany

Warner Bros. has acquired the rights to the upcoming novel The Beast and Bethany by Jack Meggitt-Phillips, with producer David Heyman attached to the project. Variety reported that although the debut novel will not be published until 2021, it "has already sparked interest from several suitors after debuting at the Frankfurt Book Fair."

Heyman and Warner Bros. "have a strong relationship dating back to the multi-billion-dollar Harry Potter franchise and the Oscar-winning Gravity," Variety added. Their collaborations also includes Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Heyman recently had two best picture Oscar nominations for producing Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story. He is currently in pre-production on the third installment in the Fantastic Beasts series.

Books & Authors

Awards: Lukas Prize Project, Wingate Literary Winners

The winners and finalists of the 2020 Lukas Prize Project Awards, sponsored by the Columbia Journalism School and the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard, are:

The J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Awards
Bartow J. Elmore, author of Seed Money: Monsanto's Past and the Future of Food (Norton)
Shahan Mufti, author of American Caliph: The True Story of the Hanafi Siege, America's First Homegrown Islamic Terror Attack (FSG)

The J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize
Winner: Alex Kotlowitz, author of An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday)
Finalist: Emily Bazelon, author of Charged: The New Movement to Transform American Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration (Random House)

The Mark Lynton History Prize
Winner: Kerri K. Greenidge, author of Black Radical: The Life and Times of William Monroe Trotter (Liveright)
Finalist: Daniel Immerwahr, author of How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States (FSG)


Linda Grant won the £4,000 (about $5,160) Wingate Literary Prize, which recognizes "the best book, fiction or nonfiction, to translate the idea of Jewishness to the general reader," for her novel A Stranger City.

Chair of judges Clive Lawton commented: "A Stranger City is a superb piece of writing about London life and its complexity. Within a diverse and impressive short-list of books, all of which would have been worthy winners of the Wingate prize, A Stranger City very much felt like a work for the 21st Century and a coming of age for Jews in Britain.... As judges, we were looking for excellence in writing and we all agreed this was a beautifully written book. It managed a complex narrative, juggling a rich variety of characters, all portrayed within a London we all readily recognized."

Reading with... Derrick Barnes

photo: Victoria Blackshear

Derrick Barnes won the 2018 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award for outstanding new writer, and his picture book Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut took home four honors at the 2018 American Library Association's Youth Media Awards: the Coretta Scott King Author Honor and Illustrator Honor, the Newbery Honor and the Caldecott Honor. Barnes is also the author of The King of Kindergarten and the chapter book series Ruby and the Booker Boys. His new book is Who Got Game?: Baseball: Amazing but True Stories! (Workman). He lives in Charlotte, N.C., with his wife, Dr. Tinka Barnes, and their four sons, all of whom play sports.

On your nightstand now:

Just Like Me by Vanessa Brantley-Newton is a great celebration of girl power. The fun and rhythmic poetry and lovely artwork make for what I think is going to be a classic for years to come.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor. This story reminded me of my roots. Although I was born and raised in the Midwest--Kansas City, Mo.--my family is from Clarksdale and Lexington, Miss., the setting for the novel. I spent multiple summers down south playing in creeks and collecting red clay in my sneakers, curious about those that came before me and all of the hardships that they endured.

Your top five authors:

So many to name. Depends on when I'm asked and how recently I finished one of their books. But these five--I love their voices immensely: Derek Walcott, Ibi Zoboi, Renée Watson, Jacqueline Woodson and Kiese Laymon.

Book you've faked reading:

The Bluest Eye. I just remember trying to impress a girl in my freshman year in college, an "older woman," attempting to book talk the works of Toni Morrison. I wasn't ready. I might as well have tried to solve a few advanced Calculus II equations.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass. In my opinion, the greatest American ever. He fought, physically fought his oppressor and won. He was an intellectual, a self-taught man, a gentleman.... I feel he is the epitome of resistance in the face of opposition. I keep a copy in my backpack wherever I go.

Book you've bought for the cover:

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. The color scheme, the afro... the whole package. I was seeing the cover everywhere in 2018 and then she ended up winning a ton of awards. I ordered it and the interior matches the beauty, authenticity and passion on the cover.

Book you hid from your parents (as a teen):

The Spook Who Sat by the Door by Sam Greenlee. I only hid it because it was recommended by my history teacher when I was a junior in high school and I'd be reading it instead of doing my homework. Powerful read about revolution.

Book that changed your life:

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut. I mean like literally changed my life.

Favorite line from a book:

One of my favorite lines is from one of my all-time favorite protagonists, Holden Caulfield:

"What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff--I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be."

Five books you'll never part with:

1) Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass (See question five.)

2) The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935 by James D. Anderson. Taught me a lot about the disparity in education as it relates to race and class.

3) Raising Black Boys by Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu. Legendary educator and social scientist that has given his life to provide better education for Black children, Black boys in particular.

4) The Sweet Flypaper of Life by Langston Hughes. The master poet, one of my homeboys (we're both from Missouri), the official and lead scribe from the Harlem Renaissance.

5) A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane's Signature Album by Ashley Kahn, foreword by Elvin Jones. My favorite artist of all time from any creative genre.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. I was an avid reader between the ages of six and 12. Stopped reading for pleasure when I became a teen--only read for information and academics in high school and the first two years of college. I started reading again for pleasure in my junior year of college. This was the first book I chose to revitalize my early love for fiction. Classic material.

Book Review

Children's Review: The Cat Man of Aleppo

The Cat Man of Aleppo by Irene Latham, Karim Shamsi-Basha, illus. by Yuko Shimizu (Putnam, $17.99 hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9781984813787, April 14, 2020)

Poet Irene Latham (Can I Touch Your Hair?) joins forces with Syrian American photojournalist Karim Shamsi-Basha to tell the heartening true story of an ambulance driver who is making war-torn Syria a better place. Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel's selfless work and immeasurable kindness have inspired people around the world, including the book's authors, whose collaboration with illustrator Yuko Shimizu befittingly spotlights Alaa's heroism for readers of all ages.

The Cat Man of Aleppo is the moving tale of a paramedic and ambulance driver who opts not to flee his homeland when the country's civil war destroys his beloved Aleppo. "He continues his work as an ambulance driver. He swerves through rubbled streets and carries the wounded to safety. He comforts and holds them. Alaa has a big heart." When people are forced to flee the war's violence, most can't take their pets along. The helpless animals are left to fend for themselves on the streets. But Alaa's heart has room for the four-legged victims as well as the two-legged ones--in addition to aiding the wounded humans, Alaa embraces the multitude of abandoned cats throughout the city. He starts out feeding the felines and showering them with love, and ultimately creates a sanctuary to keep them all safe. "Bombs may still fall, and his loved ones may never come back to Aleppo. But there is something he can do: he can look after the cats."

Latham and Shamsi-Basha simply and charmingly relate Alaa's deeds, enabling young readers to connect closely with their subject. Alaa's admirable actions offer the audience an excellent example of how simple acts of kindness can create large ripples of change. Shimizu's accompanying digital and black ink on watercolor paper illustrations carry readers directly into Alaa's world. Most children picking up the book won't have first-hand knowledge of Syria, but Shimizu's colors and textures create an authentic environment, her thorough research showing in the bright, highly detailed art. Shimizu's use of blank space and perspective are particularly effective: one double-page spread shows Alaa standing in front of a window with his head in his hands. Through the window, there is fire and smoke. All around is blackness. The desolation and terror of war reaches deep down in the reader through the darkness and expertly executed body language. Another spread takes Alaa's point of view and shows the reader his hands as he reaches reassuringly up into a tree to rescue stranded cats.

Despite the challenging subject of war, in both words and illustrations, a sense of hope permeates the whole book. Alaa's story is one of faith in humanity, the power of compassion and the benefits of altruism. "Alaa's big heart is happy. All he did was love the cats, and that love multiplied and multiplied again." At the book's conclusion, readers are sure to be eager to help, their own hearts bursting with happiness, making Alaa's love multiply even further still. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Shelf Talker: A humble hero makes an extraordinary difference in war-torn Syria when he attempts to take care of all the city's orphaned cats.

Deeper Understanding

'Finding Books is a Kind of Wayfaring'

Patrica Nelson

Patricia Nelson, a sales representative with University Press Sales Associates who is based in Santa Fe, N.Mex., sent the following note to her booksellers Monday under the subject line "Reading out the Window":

As we take in the impossible news of bookstores cancelling their calendars and closing their doors for a prudent interim, I feel the hum of book hives quieting. Extraordinarily dear places. As a sales rep, my GPS is bookstores--I triangulate any travel by proximity to bookstores, those in my circuit and those I know elsewhere. All are virtually present in a memory palace, how they are laid out, an odd corner, an intriguingly curated category, what I found there.

Hardly a week ago, in San Diego, I recognized a book was waiting for me on a lovely table at the Book Catapult. Fenton Johnson's At the Center of All Beauty, on "solitude and the creative life." I found Fenton Johnson a while back, intertwined with Thomas Merton and Kentucky. He asks, apropos of the solitaries he studies here, "But does ascetic practice require bricks and mortar?"

Even at the very precipice of this sudden abyss, I did not realize we would face immediate social distancing. At the CALIBA Spring Meeting in San Diego, I enjoyed being with booksellers together, appreciating authors, sharing the struggles and rewards of small business concerns, not recognizing so incipient a threat. Now, finding ourselves at home, separated from our ordinary lives out and about, I am thinking about our reading practice beyond brick and mortar.

Finding books is a kind of wayfaring. With our experience of favorite book terrains, we comfortably and trustingly can "virtually" visit our bookstores. We can share the enthusiasms of our favorite booksellers, their staff picks and book news, we can imaginatively search their shelves, even write or call for distance bibliotherapy. At home, hunkering down, we more deeply recognize the gift of gathering so generously bestowed. As we recognize the myriad ways bookstores animate our community, and offer the astonishing presence of writers, let us recognize the actual object of these unique encounters.  That we can actually bring home the book, possess the object. I am reading through postponed events calendars which literally picture a season of delights unfolding. As a rep, the reply to "what are you reading now?" is always something out ahead. I'm looking at my notes. Order the book!

Let us find ways to sing our reading out the window together. All of us, as publishers and book travelers, as booksellers, as readers, can share in the generosity of bookstores as places in mind. May you all stay safe and well.

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