Shelf Awareness for Monday, May 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


Bookstore Sales Fall 33.4% in March

For the first time, the Census Bureau's monthly retail sales data reflect public health measures taken to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. In March, as stay-in-place orders took effect and many bookstores had to close, bookstore sales dropped 33.4%, to $391 million, compared to March 2019, according to preliminary estimates from the Bureau. For the year to date, bookstore sales fell 11.1%, to $1.9 billion.

Total retail sales in March dropped 6.6%, to $481.5 billion. For the year to date, total retail sales rose 1.8%, to $1.4 trillion.

Note: under Census Bureau definitions, the bookstore category consists of "establishments primarily engaged in retailing new books." The Bureau also added this unusual caution: "Due to recent events surrounding Covid-19, many businesses are operating on a limited capacity or have ceased operations completely. The Census Bureau has monitored response and data quality and determined estimates in this release meet publication standards."

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

Indies Face Reopening Decisions

At Blue Cypress Books

As states continue to issue updated Covid-19 guidelines regarding the operation of retail businesses, independent booksellers must calibrate risk vs. reward in their reopening decisions. Here's a sampling of how some indies are approaching this dilemma:

Valley Bookseller, Stillwater, Minn.: "We're so happy to be able to welcome you back into our little bookstore beginning Monday, May 18. Owners, management and staff agree we will open slowly and cautiously to protect our beloved Booksellers and customers alike.... We ask for your understanding and patience as we navigate this next step, as it will most certainly be a work in progress."

At Penguin Bookshop

Penguin Bookshop, Sewickley, Pa.: "So far, so good! The guidelines we have in place worked very well this weekend. Outside it looked like a free-for-all; but inside the store all of our customers complied with our new policies and seemed to appreciate the care we were taking."

Bear Pond Books, Stowe, Vt.: "We are excited to announce we will open our doors beginning Monday from 9am to 5pm!!... It is our wish that all stay safe and healthy during this time. We hope you will observe social distancing during this period and although not required we wish all who visit the store to wear masks for the health of the staff and customers."

Blue Cypress Books, New Orleans, La.: "We're welcoming our bookworms back into the shop from 10 - 4 pm. We kindly ask for you to mask up as we are respecting social distance. We are still offering curbside service. Just give us a call!"

Viewpoint Books, Columbus, Ind.: "While we aren't quite ready to open our store completely, we have opened our front door for a new walk-up service, and we're excited to see your smiling faces in person!"

Not everyone who can is reopening yet, however.

Beaverdale Books, Des Moines, Iowa: "Governor Reynolds has allowed retail establishments across the state to re-open with certain guidelines effective tomorrow, but I want to let you know that we are choosing to remain CLOSED to the public for the time being."

Third Street Books, McMinnville, Ore.: "You may have heard that Yamhill County was approved for phase 1 of re-opening. And while that means that we could re-open to the public today, we have decided to stay closed to foot traffic until early June.... This was a hard decision to make and we hope you all understand."

Bennington Bookshop, Bennington, Vt.: "Although Governor Scott is allowing retail shops to open tomorrow with safety precautions in place, we have decided to stay closed to the public for now.... The health and safety of our employees and customers remain our priority and we will welcome you back to the bookshop when we are confident that reopening can be done safely. Be well."

The Book Nook, Saranac Lake, N.Y.: "Hello bibliophiles! N.Y. has entered phase one of re-opening. Meaning the shop isn't quite ready to be open to the public we would love to see everyone but we want it to be safe.... When N.Y. hits phase 2, we will reevaluate the situation and guidelines."

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

How Bookstores Are Coping: A Range of Choices

Despite many restrictions being lifted in the state of Arizona, Changing Hands Bookstores in Phoenix and Tempe, Ariz., remain closed, said CEO and co-owner Cindy Dach. Dach explained that she and her team feel that there is simply not enough information about how the novel coronavirus spreads, and they will not reopen to browsing until they can ensure that their staff and customers will be safe.

Dach said she doesn't have an idea yet of when the store might reopen. The governor lifted the state's stay-at-home order on Friday, and businesses like gyms, spas and dine-in restaurants are now able to reopen. She plans to wait and see if this results in a spike of cases and how well the city handles it. She added: "What happens in our cities will provide us a road map for reopening our space to the public."

When the store does eventually reopen, Dach and her team will make a variety of changes to the store. Dach has already ordered Plexiglas shields for the cash wraps, and they'll move benches out of the aisles so there's more room to browse safely and reduce seating throughout the store. Given the success of the store's care packages, Changing Hands is adding care package-making stations and putting in a few more desks for online order processing.

The community has been "incredibly supportive" so far of the bookstore's decision to remain closed. When the store posted about not opening yet, there was a great response online. While many customers have asked about starting an appointment system, Dach noted that in general her customers seem as concerned as she is about potentially lifting restrictions too soon.

Dach said the staff has been amazing. They've weathered all the ups and downs of the past few months and "coming up with really creative ideas to support the bookstore." They are adapting as best they can to the new reality, and although they miss having customers in store, "they also love the ability to wear what they want and blast dance music in the stores while we work."


In Omaha, Neb., The Bookworm has never had to close its doors to customers completely, but co-owners Phillip and Beth Black have followed local restrictions limiting the store to having no more than 10 customers in at a time. They and their staff members spend a lot more time cleaning, and they've closed the middle of the store's three cash registers to allow for greater distancing. There is signage on the floors, counters and doors reminding people to follow social distancing rules and to illustrate how far apart they should be standing, and some chairs, tables and other furniture have been moved to make more space.

For those who feel uncomfortable going in to browse or are unable to for health reasons, the store has added curbside pick-up and free delivery within the nearest six ZIP codes. Telephone and online orders have increased substantially, Black reported, as has the amount of books being shipped to customers. The Bookworm team has also done a fair amount of personal shopping for telephone customers, everything from books to sidelines and greeting cards.

Black said the staff is holding up well, but "like everyone else we are all ready for things to return to something resembling normal, whatever that may be." Several staff members who are considered more vulnerable to Covid-19 are staying home until things are safer. The store has not had to make any involuntary staff reductions, so pay has continued at normal levels.

Phillip and Beth Black applied for and received a PPP loan. They worked with their local bank and everything went smoothly, Black said, even allowing for the fact "that the SBA seemed to be writing the rules as it went along."

Black said that many of the store's reading groups have been doing Zoom sessions instead of meeting in person. The store also held a quarantine puzzle exchange, where customers could bring in their gently used jigsaw puzzles for other customers to take, so long as they made a donation to the Food Bank. Hundreds of puzzles were exchanged, Black said, and the store raised $3,875 for the Food Bank.


Bright Side Bookshop in Flagstaff, Ariz., reopened to browsing today after being closed to customers since March 17. Co-owner Lisa Lamberson said the store will be open to browsing only for limited hours and she'll restrict the number of customers that can be in the store at any one time. 

After closing in March, Lamberson and her team started doing curbside pick-up on March 20, and added a new IndieLite website on April 1. Since then, the store has been offering direct-to-home shipping in addition to pick-up. On March 22, after it became clear that the store wouldn't be able to reopen to customers for quite some time, Lamberson had to let everyone go except the store's general manager. In recent weeks, Lamberson has rehired a few staff members to help with reopening as well as curbside pick-up and shipping.

Lamberson received a PPP loan on April 16, and reported that while the process was a bit stressful, it helped to have a strong relationship with her local bank. The store has not been doing any virtual events, and Lamberson said she thinks those will be the last things to make a return, as they don't currently have a marketing manager or an events coordinator.

International Book Trade: Independent Bookshop Week Still On

Independent Bookshop Week will proceed as planned during the week of June 20-27, the Booksellers Association of the U.K. and Ireland confirmed. Sponsored by Hachette UK, this year's celebration will focus on indies' "resilient spirit during the current crisis with virtual author events, online story times, Twitter chats and more," the Bookseller reported, adding that the campaign will include indies being "twinned" with independent publishers, as a way of underlining how small businesses are supporting each other at the moment.

Emma Bradshaw, head of campaigns at the BA, said: "Independent Bookshop Week 2020 may not be taking the form we imagined, but as bookshops across the U.K. and Ireland have demonstrated during the past months: where there is a will, there is a way. We look forward to revealing plans for this year's IBW, and to working with publishers and authors on supporting bookshops, while tapping into their communities to bring books to readers. In the current landscape people are turning to books for escapism, entertainment and education, and we hope that IBW will help to remind book-lovers how important it is to support their local high street by choosing a bookshop when they buy a book."


"Can you spot the difference?" asked Canadian bookseller Munro's Books, Victoria, B.C.: "Protective plexiglass is just one of the safety measures we're putting in place as we eagerly work toward welcoming you through our doors again. We think the vibe around here can best be described as 'cheerful chaos' (the carpenter's drill is roaring away at this very moment), but as we brush the sawdust--and, er, regular dust--off our clothes at the end of each shift, we're filled with gratitude to be able to continue the fine work of bookselling. Thank you for continuing to support us through these strange times. We're in the home stretch now."


In China, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on bricks-and-mortar bookstores, "which have struggled to survive in the gap between the physical and the online world, is both long-term and direct," and has been magnified by the outbreak, CGTN reported.

With the pandemic waning in China, bookstores are opening, but still look deserted. Sun Xiaodi, co-owner of Lihe bookstore, said: "Because the book unit price is very low, the profit is also very low, if we cannot sell a large number of books, the low profit cannot support the bookstore at all." To enter the bookstore, customers need a reservation and must make an appointment a day ahead.


Bookstores in France were allowed to reopen May 11, "as the government tries to balance the need to resuscitate a crashing economy with the risk that the spread of the coronavirus accelerates once more," CNA reported, noting that at the Ici bookstore in Paris, wearing a mask is compulsory and hand sanitizer is readily available "to allow customers to pick up and flick through whichever book catches their eye."

"People are being careful not to touch the books too much. And we tell them that if they touch the books, they can but they must use the (sanitizing) gel each time," said co-founder Anne-Laure Vial. "The difficulty comes if we don't get enough business to cover our costs. We must hold on for several months. It's not a given."

During a visit to another bookstore last week, French finance minister Bruno Le Maire said booksellers "have very weak margins, very weak profits, and so they could have trouble finding the finances to pay back loans. We could have a string of bankrupt bookstores. That's exactly what we want to avoid."

For Sale: Norwich Bookstore in Vt.

The Norwich Bookstore, Norwich, Vt., has been put up for sale by co-owners Liza Bernard and Penny McConnel, who are looking to retire and sell the business after more than 25 years in operation. According to a notice in NEIBA News, "the bookstore, an anchor in the Norwich community, offers carefully curated selections in all categories for children and adults as well as an eclectic collection of greeting cards, toys, games and gift items. The business is located in the heart of Norwich, Vt., one of New England's most sought after and affluent communities, two miles from Dartmouth College."

For more information, contact Tammy Richards of Country Business, Inc. at or call 802-254-4504. 


Video: Breakfast Club Dancing Writers Support Volumes Bookcafe

Author Rebecca Makkai enlisted more than two dozen writers to put on their '80s movie dancing shoes to help raise funds for Volumes Bookcafe & Bookstore, Chicago, Ill., which is crowdfunding to stay in business during the Covid-19 crisis. Chicago filmmaker Steve Delahoyde edited clips of the writers dancing in isolation to "We Are Not Alone," from The Breakfast Club.

Makkai posted the video on social media over the weekend, tweeting: "One of Chicago's best indies, @volumesbooks, is in danger of losing their home. I coerced 27 other writers into recreating the Breakfast Club dance with me when the fundraiser reached $35k. To quote You've Got Mail, 'Save [the indies] and you will save your soul.' #WeAreNotAlone."

In addition to Makkai, the dancing authors include Kristen Arnett, Chloe Benjamin, Alexander Chee, Kevin Coval, Danielle Evans, Garth Greenwell, Andrew Sean Greer, Lauren Groff, Mira Jacob, Mitchell S. Jackson, Mary Robinette Kowal (and puppets), Jean Kwok, R.O. Kwon, Victor LaValle, Alex Marzano-Lesnevich, Laura Lippman, Lisa Lucas, Rebecca Makkai, Susan Orlean, Mary Laura Philpott, Maurice Carlos Ruffin, Amber Sparks, Megan Stielstra, Luis Alberto Urrea, Sarah Weinman and Michael Zapata.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Neil deGrasse Tyson on Wendy Williams

Wendy Williams repeat: Neil deGrasse Tyson, author of Letters from an Astrophysicist (Norton, $19.95, 9781324003311).

TV: Sweet Tooth

Robert Downey Jr. is adapting Sweet Tooth, a DC Comics series by Jeff Lemire, for Netflix. CBC Books reported that the Team Downey production company will develop the project as an eight-episode show, with the actor executive producing alongside his wife, Susan Downey, and others. DC Comics began publishing the comics series on a monthly basis in 2009.

Christian Convery is set to star alongside Will Forte, Nonso Anonzie and Adeel Akhtar, with James Brolin signed on as the narrator. Jim Mickle and Beth Schwartz are attached as writers and co-showrunners.

Downey tweeted: "The sweetest things are worth waiting for.... Susan and I are producing a @Netflix original series, Sweet Tooth, based on the comic by @JeffLemire. Can't wait to share it with you all."

Books & Authors

Awards: Plutarch Winner

A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II by Sonia Purnell (Viking) has won the 2020 Plutarch Award for the Best Biography of 2019. The award is sponsored by the Biographers International Organization.

Caroline Fraser, chair of the Plutarch Award Committee, commented: "The life of an obscure figure, Virginia Hall, rose to the top of the Plutarch list this year in Sonia Purnell's remarkable feat of research and storytelling. Combing Resistance files in Lyon and archives in London, Paris, and Washington, D.C., Purnell retraced Hall's well-concealed life, revealing the extreme perils and betrayals she faced, including the misogyny of handlers who nearly got her killed. Vulnerable, reckless, and ruthless, Hall emerges as a character of great complexity: an American woman who survived behind enemy lines in Nazi-occupied France with a wooden leg and a questionable French accent, setting up spy networks for Churchill's government and refusing to evacuate as the Gestapo closed in. With the propulsive power of an espionage thriller, A Woman of No Importance sheds new light on the role of women in warfare."

Top Library Recommended Titles for June

LibraryReads, the nationwide library staff-picks list, offers the top 10 June titles public library staff across the country love:

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Del Rey, $27, 9780525620785). "A perfect gothic mystery with an updated sensibility that will appeal to the modern reader. Noemí is a Mexico City socialite in the 1950s. When her father receives a disturbing letter from his niece, he sends Noemí to check on her cousin at the remote house where she is living--a grotesque and rotting English-style mansion, built on dirt imported from England by the colonialist eugenicist family she has married into. Lush descriptions and the creepy atmosphere make this a good choice for readers who liked The Witch Elm, The Little Stranger, or The Haunting of Hill House." --Lorena Neal, Evanston Public Library, Evanston, Ill.

The Boyfriend Project by Farrah Rochon (Forever, $14.99, 9781538716625). "In this contemporary romance, three women who were two-timed by the same man become friends. The unique, funny premise cleverly serves as a catalyst for why the women are trying to make changes in their lives. The romance is lovely and finds ways in which the couple struggles to be together. Give this to fans of Mia Sosa and Alisha Rai." --Ann Carpenter, Brooks Free Library, Harwich, Mass.

Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre by Max Brooks (Del Rey, $28, 9781984826787). "Nobody imagines the end of the world quite like Brooks! Here he takes a group of privileged idealists, sets them in a beautiful utopia where they can escape the headaches of the city but suffer none of the inconveniences, and then brutally removes all the comforts they expect to be delivered. Throw in some hungry Sasquatch and things get really interesting. For fans of Blake Crouch and Jeff VanderMeer." --Amy Hall, Jefferson County Public Library, Wheat Ridge, Colo.

The Empire of Gold: A Novel by S.A. Chakraborty (Harper Voyager, $28.99, 9780062678164). "This is a story about colonialism and cycles of trauma, giving an in-depth look at the politics and psychology of a land warred over by ethnic factions for centuries. Highly recommended to anyone looking for an imaginative fantasy with complex characters, well developed relationships, and insightful social commentary. For readers who enjoy N.K. Jemisin and Tasha Suri." --Lauren Mitchell, Neenah Public Library, Neenah, Wis.

The Girl from Widow Hills: A Novel by Megan Miranda (Simon & Schuster, $26.99, 9781501165429). "Miranda returns with another engrossing psychological thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat. The story is primarily told from Olivia's unreliable perspective. News reports, book excerpts, and other media are also used to fill out the story, which keeps the plot moving. For fans of Conviction (Mina) and The Other Mrs. (Kubica)." --Megan Coleman, Cecil County Public Library, Elkton, Md.

The Guest List: A Novel by Lucy Foley (Morrow, $27.99, 9780062868930). "A wedding celebration on a remote island off the coast of Ireland turns eerie and nightmarish in this gothic atmospheric mystery. A good choice for fans of Ruth Ware." --Bill Anderson, Scott County Public Library, Scottsburg, Ind.

The Last Flight: A Novel by Julie Clark (Sourcebooks Landmark, $26.99, 9781728215723). "Claire and Eva both have reasons for wanting to disappear, so when they happen upon each other at the airport, they decide to take the other person's flight. However, when one of the planes crashes, the danger they thought they were leaving isn't far behind. For readers who enjoyed The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine and The Passenger by Lisa Lutz." --Lora Bruggeman, Indian Prairie Public Library, Darien, Ill.

The Lies That Bind: A Novel by Emily Giffin (Ballantine, $28, 9780399178955). "Cecily is fresh off a break up and meets a 'too good to be true' stranger in a local dive bar. For fans of Me Before You by JoJo Moyes." --Stephanie Hall, Topeka Public Library, Topeka, Kan.

Take a Hint, Dani Brown: A Novel by Talia Hibbert (Avon, $15.99, 9780062941237). "Dani and Zaf have been low-key flirting forever when a gallant moment is turned into a viral video and the pressure is on for these two to become a couple. This is a fabulously fun and meta take on a classic romance trope, the fake relationship. For fans of The Wedding Date and The Kiss Quotient." --Jessica Trotter, Capital Area District Libraries, Lansing, Mich.

The Vanishing Half: A Novel by Brit Bennett (Riverhead, $27, 9780525536291). "Centering on two twin light-skinned black girls who grew up in a strange town in the Jim Crow South, this book explores racism, colorism, sexism, and familial relationships through the interweaving storylines of vivid and complicated characters. For fans of Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson." --Pamela Gardner, Medfield Public Library, Medfield, Mass.

Book Review

Review: The Only Good Indians

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones (Saga Press/Gallery, $26.99 hardcover, 320p., 9781982136451, July 14, 2020)

The hunters become the hunted in this taut horror thriller by Native American author Stephen Graham Jones (Mapping the Interior).

Ten years ago, on Thanksgiving, Gabe, Cass, Lewis and Ricky violated tribal regulations when they gunned down nine elk on hunting grounds reserved for Blackfeet Nation elders. When the game warden caught them, the young men forfeited their hunting rights in lieu of paying a fine none of them could afford. Months later, Ricky died in a bar fight after fleeing life on the Blackfeet reservation and "how boring, how nothing" it felt to him.

Friends and family accept the story at face value. No one knows Ricky saw an elk damage the other bar patrons' pickup trucks and run away, leaving Ricky looking guilty as sin. No one knows that before the vehicles' owners beat him to death, Ricky saw the "sea of green eyes" of the herd of elk blocking his escape route.

In the present day, Lewis has surprised himself by making it to age 36 with an intact marriage, no serious medical conditions,  no "car crashes and jail time and alcoholism on his cultural dance card." However, his carefully constructed life begins to unravel when he sees the young, pregnant elk cow he shot 10 years ago on his living room floor. The image disappears, but Lewis soon realizes something from the past has come back angry. It wants justice for what he and his friends stole, and not even their deaths will quench its thirst for retribution. 

By turns sardonic, suspenseful and pulse-pounding, this supernatural vengeance story shows its cast confronting the expectations and contradictions of modern Indigenous life. Each moment of their lives is suffused by their identity as Native Americans, their individuality compared to stereotypes and the conflict of living within a dominant culture that expects assimilation. Told largely from the perspectives of the four Blackfeet men and the spectral elk creature stalking them, the story hits its stride when following Denorah, Gabe's teen daughter. Her "finals girl" nickname comes from her basketball skills, but "if the only good Indian is a dead one, then she's going to be the worst Indian ever." Her strength and attitude carry this introspective but brutal narrative into a well-earned redemption arc that will leave readers satisfied though still deeply shaken by Jones's masterful atmospheric touch. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Shelf Talker: A ghost from the past comes back to take revenge in this taut Native American horror-thriller.

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