Shelf Awareness for Friday, April 10, 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

Quotation of the Day

'Here's Cheers to the Resilience of Booksellers'

"Here's cheers to the resilience of Booksellers. It is so incredible to hear of the stories that are surfacing from booksellers around the country adapting to such an impossible situation. From shops pivoting almost instantaneously to online operations, local home delivery services, Zoom and YouTube storytimes and countless other ingenious ways to thread this impossible needle and stay trading.

"We are all suffering in one way or another at the moment. We all juggle the need to keep our staff, our families and our communities safe from the health risks of the virus while keeping our businesses alive to support those same people.

"To all of you who are working around the clock to keep bookselling alive as well as those who have made the heart-wrenching decision to completely close doors for a time, please stay safe, stay strong and we look forward to seeing you on the other side. Happy Easter."

--Jay Lansdown, owner of the Constant Reader, Sydney, and president of the Australian Bookellers Association, in a letter to members

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


Patty Wong Is President-Elect of ALA

Patty Wong

Patricia "Patty" M. Wong, city librarian at Santa Monica, Calif., Public Library, has been elected president-elect of the American Library Association. She will serve as president-elect for one year before stepping into her role as president at the close of the 2021 ALA Annual Conference in Chicago. Wong received 6,718 votes, while Steven Yates, assistant director of University of Alabama School of Library and Information Studies, had 2,448 votes.

"This is a great honor for me personally," Wong said. "This election has brought to fruition a longtime aspiration to serve my profession and my association as ALA president. I am both excited and eager to help lead the ALA with our great staff, member leaders, affiliate organizations, and allies.

"We all need to work together to advance and build on the success of our 143-year-old institution. Our immediate challenges rest with the impact of Covid-19 on libraries, library workers, advocates, and library users in this country and throughout the world. These outcomes remain to be determined, but ALA will continue to support our members and libraries everywhere through its continued support of innovation and the evolution of library service."

An ALA member for 35 years, Wong has served several terms as at-large councilor and as California Chapter councilor. She is currently in her second term on the ALA executive board, and has held numerous committee positions. She is an active member of Association for Library Service to Children, Library Leadership and Management Association, Public Library Association, United for Libraries, Young Adult Library Services Association, the Social Responsibilities Round Table, Ethnic and Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table and the Rainbow Round Table. She is a member of the Freedom to Read Foundation and, as an ALA executive board member, has worked with the Association's Intellectual Freedom Committee, Committee on Legislation and the Conference Committee.

Her many honors include the 2012 ALA Equality Award, CALA Distinguished Service Award (2014) and Member of the Year of the California Library Association (2012). She holds a BA in women's studies and an MLIS, both from the University of California, Berkeley.

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

Around the Regionals

Brian Juenemann, executive director of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association, said that what he hears from members stores "washes a pretty wide range," with some being able to adapt and implement new services on the fly, while others are struggling a bit more to make that leap. Thankfully, though, Juenemann said, he's "bolstered 10 times for every one time I file a note of elevated concern."

Juenemann and the PNBA team have created a Covid-19 Bookseller Resources page on the association's website, and he noted that the ABA has been essential in distilling much of the information that the PNBA is now passing along to member stores. PNBA donated $12,500 to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (Binc) in March, when Garth Stein and several other PNW authors announced they would match pledges. Through April, the association will also be paying $30 to member booksellers or librarians who have lost hours due to the pandemic for review blurbs that will appear on the Face Out feature on the NWBookLovers website.

The PNBA fall trade show is scheduled for September, and Juenemann and his colleagues are starting to put together a travel stipend program for the show, with more details coming in late spring or early summer. He added that PNBA had scheduled an exhibitor rate increase for this year's show, the first increase in a decade; the association has decided to delay the implementation and maintain the previous rate for an additional year.

Juenemann said the executive directors of the regionals have been in frequent conversations among themselves and with the ABA, mostly brainstorming and sharing ideas. The camaraderie has also been a huge boost. PNBA is also doing a little something for the publishing partners that are sticking with the association: all previously booked and newly added advertising will be billed at 20% discount for the month of April.


While not every state within the territory of the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association has issued a stay-at-home order, executive director Heather Duncan reported that the majority of member stores are closed for browsing, with a very few staying open on short hours while limiting the number of people inside.

Member stores that already had e-commerce of some kind have largely seen huge increases in online sales, and those who did not have those capabilities before have reached out to IndieCommerce or have created a site. Stores have shown "remarkable ingenuity and resilience" by creating virtual author events, online book clubs, livestreamed storytimes and all sorts of digital ways of connecting with their customers. Said Duncan: "Every single store that I've connected with reports amazing customer and community support for their store."

Duncan and her colleagues have been sending out a weekly Bookstore Bulletin full of information, success stories, important links and updates from vendors. The MPIBA website features a state-by-state listing of links and resources, and Duncan is reaching out to every store individually to gauge their situation and needs. The association is encouraging every bookseller to take advantage of all financial resources available, whether those resources come from state and federal governments or Binc. She and her colleagues are also hosting weekly coffee breaks on Zoom.

MPIBA has made a significant donation to the Binc general fund and is currently budgeting for another donation to the #SaveIndieBookstores fund. At the same time, they are finalizing a fund for "technology stipend" grants, which will reimburse booksellers for some of the expenses they've incurred in taking so much of their businesses online.

As for MPIBA's fall show and holiday marketing program, Duncan says the association hopes to make both as close to free as possible for booksellers, and she and her team are looking into adding virtual components to the trade show, as well as more online educational programming in general.

Find Waldo Local Goes Digital; Coffee House Writers Project; #SocialDistancingTheater

Find Waldo Local, Candlewick's program supporting independent bookstores and promoting the shop local movement, will take on a virtual form this July due to uncertainty surrounding the novel coronavirus restrictions. Bookselling This Week reported that Candlewick and the American Booksellers Association "are working together to create a turnkey digital Waldo scavenger hunt for independent bookstores to host this summer."

"We know how important this program has been to indies over the last eight years, so this was a very difficult decision to make, but it felt like the right one," said Elise Supovitz, executive director of independent retail and Canada sales for Candlewick. "We thank everyone for their ongoing support and look forward to rolling out a digital scavenger hunt to take place this July. It has been heartening to see the recent uptick in activity-oriented titles such as the Waldo books, and our hope is that this digital alternative will lead to even more sales through independent bookstores. The campaign is being designed to help stores increase both their customer engagement and their bottom line."

Booksellers can contact their Candlewick sales representative with questions and for information about a special offer on Waldo books.


Coffee House Press has launched a program called the Coffee House Writers Project. Inspired by the WPA's efforts to support artists during the Depression, the initiative will pay artists and booksellers for original work, which will be delivered directly to supporters of the project and go live to the public a few weeks later. Contributors will also receive the other perks of a CHP membership.

"The last few weeks had us feeling overwhelmed and helpless seeing booksellers lose their jobs and writers lose their gigs--we decided our resources, fundraising abilities, and editorial vision could go towards supporting writers and their new work even amidst difficult circumstances," Coffee House noted. "We aim to make a space for dynamic, fresh writing across all genres, and to pay as generously as we can manage. Eloisa Amezcua and Fernando A. Flores will be the first writers to contribute, and we're actively seeking other writers and booksellers in need who might be willing to work with us."

Coffee House is launching the project with a fundraiser to help "pay multiple commissions now, when things feel especially urgent; but we hope to continue the project well into the future, even if the situation for writers and booksellers becomes less dire (we all know it wasn't lucrative to begin with!)."


Josh Cook of Porter Square Books on Atria's #SocialDistancingTheater.

Indie booksellers are invited to be guests on #SocialDistancingTheater, a series of Twitter videos that, according to Atria deputy director of publicity David Brown, are being created "mostly to make folks aware that independent bookstores will ship and they're still in business. Doing mostly bookstores but will do some authors and personalities too. Trying to post one on each weekday while we're trapped! Takes under 5 minutes on Skype or FaceTime. They can coordinate with me at or on Twitter DM @atriamysterybus." Check out recent examples here and here.

How Bookstores Are Coping: Outreach, Subscriptions, Videos, Workspace Changes

Under the stay-at-home order issued in the state of Kansas, Watermark Books & Cafe in Wichita is classified as essential. The state was one of the first in the nation to close schools for the remainder of the year, and store owner Sarah Bagby said she's been working with teachers, parents and other educators.

Sarah Bagby on Watermark's Book Broadcast.

The store is doing curbside pickup and web orders, and Bagby and her team are taking orders via e-mail, over the phone, on Facebook and through text messages. They've also been trying to do handselling over the phone, and Bagby added that her customers have responded well to these options.

Watermark's cafe is closed, so 15 of her restaurant staff had to be furloughed, and the bookstore staff has been reduced from 11 to five. She and those who remain on staff are at the store from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day, and "there is not a moment we aren't working with customers." The team enjoys a Friday happy hour, and when people need a morale boost, Bagby has been baking chocolate chip cookies that were prepped for the cafe.

She said she is staying connected with all of her furloughed staff, and she has been aggressive in pursuing grants and loans. Her landlords have been "wonderful," and she is working with all of the store's service providers hopefully to get some relief paying bills. Sales generally have been down around 55%, and Bagby noted that things have been a bit slower this week, so that may change.

Bagby and her staff have only just now been able to focus on virtual events. She'll be attending the ABA's webinar on the subject today and will put together an online event system. The store is doing a major event with Grant Snider for his new book, I Will Judge You by Your Bookshelf, and they've started something called "The Book Broadcast." In it, staff members talk about favorite books and the broadcast is "blasted" on Facebook and Instagram.


Since closing its doors to the public, Rizzoli Books in New York City has been turning increasingly to its subscription box service, which the store launched late last year but is becoming quite popular now. 

Customers can sign up for one of several categories, including interiors and architecture, art and artists, fiction and literature, children's books, cooking and entertaining, fashion, and a mixed box option that samples from across all of the categories. Each month, Rizzoli's booksellers will hand-pick a book for each subscriber based on their preferences and send it in the mail.

At the same time, Rizzoli is taking its events online, including its Sunday Music Aperitivo series. And on Saturdays, the store is hosting readings for adults and children in English and Italian.

Rizzoli booksellers, meanwhile, are available by phone for book consultations.


Malaprop's Quarantine Conversations.

Malaprop's Bookstore/Café, Asheville, N.C., has started a YouTube channel that, "for now, is primarily going to be used for in-conversation videos," noted senior buyer and store manager Justin Souther. "Authors, translators and publishers have been calling in via Zoom with me to talk about life in quarantine, their work, and whatever we feel like chatting about. So far, we have two videos, one with Hernan Diaz, Pulitzer finalist for In the Distance, and Scott McClanahan, author of The Sarah Book and Crapalachia."


In a letter to customers with the subject line "Holy $&*+, we miss you!", Janet Geddis, owner of Avid Bookshop, Athens, Ga., offered an update on the new normal, noting that her booksellers "are doing such an incredible job filling web orders--keep 'em coming (and thanks). You should see the shop. It has morphed from a lovely, browsable bookshop into a magical, Willy-Wonka-esque book factory. In order to maintain a minimum distance of 6' from one another, the full-timers set up computer stations throughout the store. Huge empty boxes (that were once full of book orders) are in the kids' section alongside the boat like so much flotsam and jetsam. The center tables, usually stacked high with books and displays, have been transformed into wrapping and shipping stations. Because we try to doodle on every package we mail out, there are rainbows of markers next to the postal scales. Despite how different it looks in the shop, it still feels like Avid. The energy is usually high, even on tough days, and we are immensely grateful to have gainful employment during this rocky period....

"Much love to y'all. Thank you again for showing us again and again that books matter. That the conversations we have about and because of books are some of of the most important of our lives. That, despite our physical distance and the collective trauma we are suffering through right now, the written word can be a friend, a lifeline, a way to remind us of who we are and who we want to be once we emerge from this lonely time. Take care; we miss you."


Image of the Day: 'Sanitized for Your Protection'

Author Craig Pittman shared this photo from Tombolo Books, St. Petersburg, Fla.: "This is what a book-signing looks like in the age of coronavirus. I sat in a thoroughly cleaned bookstore--empty except for the owner and me and both of us wearing masks--and signed 45 copies of Cat Tale for online and phone-order customers to buy. I was tempted to add, under my signature, 'Sanitized for your protection.' "

Video: The Jonas Booksellers at One More Page Books

Yesterday afternoon, One More Page Books, Arlington, Va., tweeted: "Shakespeare wrote King Lear in quarantine. We did this. 'What A Man Gotta Do'--The Jonas Booksellers (Lovingly inspired by @jonasbrothers with @quainiac as @nickjonas, @SpeasySpice as @joejonas and @LeliaBean as @kevinjonas).... (Also known as the time we channeled @Ryality the best we could, the time you could see @MisterCaine's book on display, and the day we tested what @ShelfAwareness will put in their newsletter =P)."

Challenge accepted. Well done, Jonas Booksellers!

Kidlit Coronavirus-fighting Ideas

As shelter-in-place orders remain, the kidlit community continues to offer virtual resources for parents, educators and children stuck at home. (More ideas can be found here, here and here.) Children's publishers are rallying around the need for virtual materials and producing remarkable quantities of products to enlighten and entertain.

From Nosy Crow's Coronavirus: A Book for Children

Nosy Crow, an independent children's publishing company in the U.K., released a "free information book explaining the coronavirus to children." Charlesbridge, a Massachusetts children's publishing company, has an approachable Activities and Downloadables page for those seeking materials. National Geographic launched NatGeo@Home, "a homeschool hub for parents and teachers," which will also be featured as part of #DisneyMagicMoments, "Disney's family website that pulls together stories, videos and activities from across Disney's properties." Mac Kids has launched an interactive At Home Fun with InvestiGators page using characters from the InvestiGators mystery series; Simon & Schuster has created digital "learning at home" initiatives for parents; and Greystone Books is offering stay-at-home ideas in its newsletter. DK's Stay Home Hub has resources for those isolating at home "with a focus on home learning tasks for children," as well as some activities for adults. Sourcebooks has pulled together activity kits, story time reads and more on a resource page and has, like so many other publishers, opened up licensees to online story times.

Authors are also offering up their skills: Raj Haldar is running an online word game challenge on Instagram every day; Kristi Yamaguchi is holding story times on Facebook; and DJ Corchin is using Facebook to run a live drawing hour every day at 10:30 a.m. Central. And for people who really want to get hands-on, Jennifer George, author and Rube Goldberg's granddaughter, announced the Rube Goldberg Bar of Soap Challenge: "The contest asks participants to 'Drop a Bar of Soap into Someone's Hands' using 10-20 steps. The video entry deadline for participants is May 31, and three winners will be chosen by mid-June to win a Rube Goldberg Family Swag Bag." --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Media and Movies

TV: The Other Black Girl

Former Netflix executive Tara Duncan, who worked on series including Orange Is the New Black and Narcos, has struck an overall deal with Hulu and set an adaptation of The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris at the streamer, Deadline reported. The book will be published by Atria/S&S in 2021.

The project, which is in development, will be co-written by Harris, who will serve as an executive producer alongside Duncan and Temple Hill's Marty Bowen and Adam Fishbach. Laura Quicksilver and Julie Waters will also oversee for Temple Hill.

Books & Authors

Awards: Orwell Longlists

Longlists have been released for the £3,000 (about $3,870) Orwell Prize for Political Fiction as well as the Orwell Prize for Political Writing (nonfiction), both of which recognize works that "strive to meet Orwell's own ambition 'to make political writing into an art.' " Shortlists will be announced in mid-May and a winner named June 25. This year's longlists for all four Orwell Prize categories are available here.

Reading with... Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

photo: Heike Steinweg

Rowan Hisayo Buchanan is the author of Harmless Like You--the winner of The Authors' Club First Novel Award and a Betty Trask Award. It was a New York Times Editors' Choice and an NPR 2017 Great Read. Starling Days, her second novel, was recently published by Overlook. It is about a bridge at night, a new marriage, Ovid, wallpaper and trying to hold on to the people you love.

On your nightstand now:

I'm reading an early copy of Haleh Agar's Out of Touch. And I'm looking forward to reading Monique Truong's The Sweetest Fruits.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Childhood is long, and it was the time when I read the most hungrily. But the two books that I read over and over again were Totto-chan, The Little Girl at the Window by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi and Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian. There was something about the way joy and tragedy were so twinned in those books that I couldn't shake from my mind.

Your top five authors:

Yoko Ogawa
Zadie Smith
Tove Jansson
Vladimir Nabokov
Virginia Woolf

The last two feel almost like cheats. They're so loved and yet theirs are the books that made me understand on a bone-level what people mean when they say something is a classic.

Book you've faked reading:

The Confessions of Saint Augustine. It was an assignment for a class. I read the beginning, but I just couldn't get worked up about the pears. It was the only book on our assigned reading list I didn't finish, and I still have nerd-guilt about it.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Eileen Chang's Love in a Fallen City. I'm so much of an evangelist for it that I wrote about it here.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Yoko Tawada's The Last Children of Tokyo. I knew her work already and would have wanted to read it regardless. But seeing the British edition's apricot sky and glassy city meant that I hunted it down as fast as I could.

Book you hid from your parents:

My mother bought me Anaïs Nin's Eros Unbound, Nabokov's Lolita and Vice magazine. I'm not sure there's a book I can imagine having to hide from her. Though, admittedly, while the first two were her idea, I'm not sure she ever looked inside Vice.

Book that changed your life:

Lorrie Moore's Self-Help. The change was quite literal. It is all that book's fault that I lived in a place where the icicles were the length of my arm. Self-Help was the first book of hers that I read--chosen at random from Book Culture in New York City. I loved it so much I read all her others and eventually I moved to Wisconsin to study under her.

Favorite line from a book:

I am not by nature a quoter. Sometimes I wish I was. I'd make a better debater. For me a book is atmosphere, a flush of emotion and images that flash behind my eyes. The lines work together to create these effects. Alone, stripped of their bedfellows, they seem strangely lost.

So here is a stanza from Mary Ruefle's "Seven Postcards from Dover":

The cathedral was roofless.
It began to snow inside.
A half broken pillar in the nave
grew taller.

Five books you'll never part with:

The more I love a book, the more I'm apt to give it away. I have almost none of my first copies of any book that's been truly meaningful to me. I find myself putting them in other people's hands and saying, please read this!

T Kira Madden's Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls
Tove Jansson's Art in Nature
Mary Ruefle's Madness, Rack, and Honey
Anita Brookner's Look at Me
Sharlene Teo's Ponti

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

None. For the best books, the pleasure increases upon rereading and trying to see how it was all put together.

Book Review

Review: We Had No Rules

We Had No Rules by Corinne Manning (Arsenal Pulp Press, $15.95 paperback, 192p., 9781551527994, May 12, 2020)

"My family had no rules."
"There are certain rules you learn early."

Corinne Manning's nuanced debut short story collection is bookended by these two statements, both straightforward in concept but complex in execution. The first entry in We Had No Rules is a story of the same name and follows a queer teen girl as she runs away from home to live with her older sister in 1990s New York City. She recalls a childhood in which rules seemingly didn't exist--that is, until her sister broke them and was kicked out of their home for being queer. Then the rules are glaringly obvious, intrusive and oppressive. Only through leaving everything she's known does she find out what it truly means to live without rules--and how confusing that can be.

Each story is told in first person and approaches rules, identity and relationships in a different way. At first glance, these characters and their stories seem unconnected, but as the collection progresses, minor figures from earlier stories reappear in their own narratives or in those of their daughters, friends or ex-lovers. Rather than embracing the modern idea of the gay nuclear family, the characters in Manning's stories are messy and far from perfect. They are older and lived through the AIDS crisis, or younger and trying to reconcile their experiences with those of their uncles and parents. They've cheated on each other. They revile a parent for being gay, even while they find temporary comfort in the arms of a same-sex lover. They divorce, agree not to marry and often choose not to form a relationship at all.

Manning lets readers come to their own conclusions. Are rules good? Bad? Both? Sometimes the rules are set by the dominant culture and harm even without intent. For example, a gay man visiting a hospital where a friend is dying of AIDS is expected to ignore or forgive immediately any slights, even as he grieves: "Luke looked like the kind of person who was always forgiving someone. It was like he'd spent his whole life doing this, as an obligation."

These stories do not subscribe to the idea that to be properly queer one must live out loud, with a partner and within the framework built for them by modern codes of respectability--but they do not deny it, either. Manning's characters choose over and over which rules they care about and which they'll disregard. Unsurprisingly, most of them never find universally applicable rules, and thus muddle through. At times funny, sad and frustrating, We Had No Rules is a collection of modern queer stories that embraces ambiguity over order. --Suzanne Krohn, editor, Love in Panels

Shelf Talker: Corinne Manning's nuanced and interconnected short stories explore queerness through the lens of rules, and rules through the lens of queerness.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: It's a Small World; It's a Big World

It's a small world. It's a big world. Somehow those sentences are both true now. As I reach the end of another week of stay-at-home orders and doing my bit to flatten the curve, I keep thinking about how much this new lifestyle, which feels anything but temporary, blends A Journey Round My Room with a journey round my Zoom.

Okay, I should confess that I haven't actually been Zooming yet, though I've become more aware than ever of how much time I spend daily in virtual engagement with the book world from this secluded perch. It's my job, after all, to search the globe, checking on how other book people are weathering the coronavirus storm.

That I do so from a home office in upstate New York, with occasional forays into my yard or a walk down the road to get some air, makes me keenly aware that, not so long ago, I lived in a world where I could just get in my car and visit a bookstore, catch an Amtrak train to New York City or a plane to anywhere in the world for a book trade conference--like Wi15 in Baltimore, for example. Was that really just a couple months ago?

As readers, we practice a magic art, looking to books for moments of grace in the madness, whatever that madness may be. Music can do this for us, too. In a recent Guardian piece about writers on lockdown life, Julian Barnes noted that "a friend recently tipped me off about the Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson, so I have ordered his Debussy-Rameau disc, plus his Bach: Works and Reworks, thanking Amazon while cursing it at the same time. And they don't seem to be offering a plague discount." Ólafsson is playing round my room now as I write this.

The Bookshop Band at WI14.

And later today (8.30 p.m. British Summer Time), I'll be tuning into the live stream from Tattered Cover Book Store, Denver, Colo., of the Bookshop Band's "concert of book-recommendations for lockdown reading."

The band is teaming up with Mr. B's Emporium of Reading Delights (England); the Bookshop, the Wigtown Book Festival and the Open Book (Scotland); Tattered Cover (U.S.); and the Booksellers' Association of the U.K. and Ireland "to bring you a LIVE musical taster concert with songs inspired by five books we absolutely love that you may enjoy during lockdown." There will also be a tip jar, with 40% of everything raised going "to support two good causes--20% of all tips to the Book Trade Charity which has set up a hardship fund for independent booksellers affected by Corvid-19 and a further 20% will go to Help Musicians and their vital hardship fund."

Many of us heard and/or met the Bookshop Band (Ben Please and Beth Porter) in 2019 during their U.S. tour, which included several indie bookstores and culminated in wonderful daily performances at Wi14 in Albuquerque, N.Mex. Formed in England in connection with Mr. B's Emporium in Bath, the Bookshop Band writes and performs songs inspired by books and authors, from Shakespeare to Philip Pullman.

Why do we turn to music in times of crisis? The World Economic Forum posed the question on its website, citing numerous recent examples and noting that music "is an antidote to the growing sense of alienation and isolation in society in general--even more so now we are being asked to actively practice social distancing and isolation."

Given the horrific scale of the destruction being wrought by Covid-19, my sacrifices are tiny, but I'm human, a reader and prone to bouts of imagination. One of my survival skills is to place the unimaginable into slightly more bearable context by studying it as part of the journey round my room of books.

"It's not about going back. It's about going forward," Governor Cuomo said Wednesday at his daily press briefing. He was talking about people repeatedly asking when we will all go back to "normal" life again. "When do we get back to normal? I don't think we get back to normal. I think we get back or we get to a new normal. Our challenge is to make sure that transformation and change is positive not negative."

Words are music, too. You know that already. In one of my favorite novels of the year, The Immortals of Tehran (Melville House), author Ali Araghi writes: "When Sara had learned all the objects in the room, they set off on short journeys around the house and garden to find new things: kitchen, hallway, cauldron, soil, apple, fire. Back in Ahmad's small room, Sara would let her chador slip off her scarfed head and they practiced the words. Soon she started to read one of Ahmad's books. He marked the sounds of the words she stumbled over. With a satisfactory smile, Sara came to the periods: places where inanity gave way to meaning. With a period, words lost in confusion and whirling in the air like specs of dust convened and acceded; sap flowed up stems. Flowers budded."

It's a small world. It's a big world.

--Robert Gray, contributing editor

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