Shelf Awareness for Friday, June 12, 2020


Harper Perennial: Barely Functional Adult: It'll All Make Sense Eventually by Meichi Ng

Berkley Books: In the Garden of Spite: A Novel of the Black Widow of La Porte by Camilla Bruce

Candlewick Press (MA): Stink and the Hairy, Scary Spider by Megan McDonald, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

Scholastic Press:  The Captive Kingdom (the Ascendance Series, Book 4) by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Big Picture Press: Maps: Deluxe Edition by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinska

Candlewick Press: Evelyn del Rey Is Moving Away by Meg Medina, illustrated by Sonia Sanchez

Disney-Hyperion: The Mirror Broken Wish (Mirror #1) by Julie C. Dao

News

ABA Annual Meeting and Town Hall

At the American Booksellers Association's annual meeting and town meeting, held virtually yesterday, questions pertaining to diversity and inclusion--from what constitutes diversity to the ABA to creating safer spaces for booksellers who are Black, Indigenous and People of Color--were major, recurring topics of discussion.

On the ABA's commitment to diversifying the board, ABA CEO Allison Hill and president Jamie Fiocco, owner of Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C., reiterated that the association has realized that its previous approach was ultimately too slow and too passive. Everything about the nomination process is being looked at, and "breaking it all down" and rebuilding it is not off the table. Hill added that when it comes to all of the ABA's diversity initiatives, the plan is "not to wait a year" to give updates but rather to communicate in real time the steps the association is taking.

ABA Board: (l.-r.) Kris Kleindienst, Tegan Tigani, Kelly Estep, Kenny Brechner, Pete Mulvihill, Chris Morrow, Christine Onorati, Bradley Graham, Jenny Cohen; front Jamie Fiocco; (not pictured) Angela Maria Spring

On the association's definition of diversity, Fiocco said its old definition, which had more to do with store size, location and specialty and whether the board member was male or female, was clearly too limited. At July's board meeting, this is one of many things that the board will re-examine, with Fiocco noting that they are trying to step away from putting the diversity "tag" on everything. Hill emphasized that antiracism needs to go hand-in-hand with whatever conclusion the board arrives at. Board member Angela Maria Spring, owner of Duende District Bookstore in Washington, D.C., suggested putting aside the word diversity entirely and saying "what you actually mean." She also emphasized that anyone talking about these issues first needs to look at who they are talking about them with, and the "first step to anything" is speaking with minority communities and listening to what they actually need.

After a bookseller questioned whether carrying and selling books that espouse discriminatory or hateful beliefs constitutes a breach of the ABA's code of ethics, a long discussion ensued about free speech, the ABA's limits as a trade association and how the ABA can make BIPOC members feel safe. Fiocco said that the ABA cannot tell members what to do, but if something is harmful from a civil or human rights point of view, there's "no contest there." The association can also empower and support other folks within the industry. And while she said she didn't have any firmer answers, Fiocco gave her word that this will be discussed again at the board meeting in July.

When one bookseller asked what he could do to try to attract more diverse job applicants, another bookseller suggested that the actual place to start would be making sure the store is safe for and welcoming to BIPOC members of the community. Through doing that work, a store might eventually be able to get more applicants, but it has to start there.

Of course, the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic were also a major topic. Board members and Allison Hill emphasized that despite financial challenges, the ABA is in a strong position to help and support its members. Among the initiatives it's taking are a series of marketing campaigns that began with #SaveIndieBookstores; continues now, "piggybacking" on #ReadIndieForward (sponsored by Sourcebooks and Shelf Awareness); and will go on to include a "back to business" campaign this summer and, in the fourth quarter, a campaign that will have a theme of "buy early, buy local." (Booksellers and others in the business are concerned that the vital holiday season may experience greater disruptions than those of past holidays and the early part of pandemic, particularly as holiday sales tend to "hit harder and hit later" in December.)

The organization is also emphasizing education, including its online coffee breaks, meetups and webinars, as well as advocacy efforts and discussions with publishers and wholesalers. It is making, Hill said, "an actionable commitment to diversity and anti-racism and following through."

The ABA is also aiming to make IndieCommerce, which has proven especially important to booksellers that have had to close their doors, as efficient and robust as possible.

Allison Hill: 'A Period of Crisis'
Noting that her first day as the new CEO of the ABA was March 2, just as the Covid-19 pandemic was hitting the U.S., Hill said that her first three months on the job were "not what I expected. I know that the first three months of my job weren't what any of you expected. The world has not been what we expected, and this moment is no different."

Despite not being able to greet members in person at an annual meeting at BookExpo, she said, "I'm so happy that we're all together in this moment, even virtually. I feel honored to be leading ABA at this extraordinary time and I feel very lucky to not be doing it alone." She thanked the ABA staff, naming each, and particularly COO Joy Dellanegra-Sanger, who was acting executive director following Oren Teicher's retirement October 31 and "steered the ship for many months."

Hill continued: "The last 90 days have been a period of crisis for our industry like we've never seen before. The first crisis was this unexpected pandemic--although I have to say if anyone should have seen it coming, it's booksellers who are used to reading dystopian novels. The second crisis was hundreds of years in the making, the tipping point for our country around racism and around police violence. It has been heartbreaking and hard these last few weeks for our country. It has been challenging for our booksellers of color, but most important for me is to acknowledge especially how hard and painful for our black booksellers and our black-owned bookstores."

Booksellers have been amazing, she went on. "The past few months have proven what everyone always says about all of you: you are innovative, nimble, creative, committed, passionate, intelligent, hardworking--and I'm going to guess very, very, very tired at this point.

"But during this challenging time, you have done something seemingly impossible: in an economic shutdown, you have kept your stores going. You've at least kept them running in place, and I think in place has been the new forward. You have continued to be of service. You've been sharing books and supporting customers. You've reminded people how vital independent bookstores are. And most moving to me, you've continued to support one another through all of this, which has always been one of our industry's greatest strengths."

Budget Hit
Bradley Graham, ABA v-p and secretary and co-owner of Politics and Prose, Washington, D.C., outlined the hit that the ABA has taken because of the Covid-19 pandemic, although he noted that some "challenges to the ABA budget" existed before the pandemic.

Association revenues are down more than 20%--about $1.4 million--from the annual budget of more than $7 million because of the cancelation of BookExpo and Children's Institute (at least in their in-person iterations), as well as drops in publisher support, membership and marketing income. (In response to the pandemic, the ABA dropped dues and some IndieCommerce fees temporarily to help member stores.) In addition, the ABA contributed $100,000 to the SaveIndieBookstores campaign done with the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (Binc). Savings in the travel budget and unused membership and marketing expenses helped slightly, but in no way made up for the loss of revenue.

Graham noted that the ABA's endowment of $27.5 million provides income that's "necessary to support the organization" because  dues and other revenue "doesn't come close" to the amount that's needed.

There are "tough choices ahead," Graham continued, and they concern how best to use staff, which numbers more than three dozen, and financial resources. Among budgetary focuses are helping stores recover from the pandemic; assisting black-owned bookstores and mentoring booksellers of color; education programs; and improving and more equitably financing IndieCommerce.

Although the association usually gives information about membership numbers at the annual meeting, this year it had none because, as Jamie Fiocco said, the ABA was in the middle of annual renewals when the pandemic hit, and dues were suspended. Membership numbers will be released as soon as the association has them.

In the same vein, the annual ABACUS survey was cancelled in part as a cost-cutting measure but also because at the time the information would have been gathered from members, many booksellers would not have been able to compile the necessary data.

ABACUS has not been cancelled permanently, however. Allison Hill emphasized that the association had already been looking at the survey and was considering expanding what is surveyed. She added that there may be a survey in near future with questions "that might shed light on where stores are at now and what they need.

In some good news, Andy Hunter of Bookshop.org said that in early July, the organization will be distributing more than $1 million from its profit-sharing pool to independent bookstores.


University of California Press:  Republican Jesus: How the Right Has Rewritten the Gospels by Tony Keddie


AAP Sales: Down 3.5% in April

Reflecting the first full month when much of the country was under stay-at-home orders because of the Covid-19 pandemic, total net book sales in April in the U.S. fell 3.5%, to $756.8 million, compared to April 2019, representing sales of 1,361 publishers and distributed clients as reported to the Association of American Publishers. For the year to date, total net book sales rose 0.7%, to $3.37 billion.

In many categories, particularly Higher Ed, returns were much lower than in April 2019, because of the closing or severe slowdowns in book distribution. As the AAP noted in connection with Higher Ed sales, it "expects an increase in returns in future months as stores, distributors, colleges and universities re-open." Those returns could make industry net sales drop significantly more than April's 3.5%.

Total trade sales in April dropped 6.6%, to $548.8 million, and print formats were down 11%, to $385.6 million. At the same time, downloaded audio rose 8%--continuing its regular growth--while e-book sales were up 10.7%, reversing its declines of recent years.

Sales by category in April 2020 compared to April 2019:


GLOW: Erewhon: The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk


How Bookstores Are Coping: Strong Customer Support, Sense of Mission

In the Bronx, N.Y., bookstore owner Noëlle Santos reported that the financial picture for her store, The Lit. Bar, has taken a "complete 360" since the start of the protests and the nation's new commitment to getting an antiracist education. Orders have come in from all over the country, and people from around the world have been sending messages of support through e-mail or on social media. The level of support has been "mindblowing," and over the past two weeks she's reached nearly $850,000 in sales. That money has "healed" the store after it was closed for so long--so much so that she donated the most recent grant that she received. 

"Now that I can breathe again, it's good to be in a position to support others," Santos said.

As soon as it became clear that she'd have to close her doors a few months ago, Santos partnered with Bookshop, which she calls a "lifesaver." While she's not making quite as much through Bookshop commissions as she would be if she were processing everything in-house, it's close when factoring in how much she would have had to spend on overhead.

She hasn't opened Lit. Bar for pickup and, with her time not taken up packing and shipping orders, she's instead reconfiguring the store and training staff on the new safety measures that will be in place once the store is open for browsing again. The store was only about 10 months old when the pandemic started, she continued, and this has also given her the opportunity to tackle some projects that have been on the back burner pretty much since the store opened.

Santos said she's very interested to see how this movement plays out and "how sincere this long-term support is," especially once the world returns to some semblance of normalcy. In her experience, the world tends to move on pretty quickly. "A lot of this movement is genuine, but some of it is white guilt, some of it is people being shamed into speaking." But, she noted, there's a "new energy" around this movement that makes it feel different from any other that she's witnessed.

Santos has also made a point of taking time for self-care. This experience has been traumatic, she said, and being in the Bronx during the pandemic has been like "being in the epicenter of the epicenter." While New York City is recovering as a whole, disparities in the Bronx are contributing to rates of infections that are still high. "There have been some weeks where I've been paralyzed," she said. "Not only do I have the regular anxiety about coronavirus, I have the anxiety of owning a small business in New York, and on top of that I'm in a black body. It's a lot to process."

One coping mechanism has been humor. She and her team have been "laughing and calling it all my reparations. But it's not funny. It's not actually funny. It's just dark humor."

She and The Lit. Bar have received an unprecedented amount of media attention recently, including many requests to talk about race. While she has volunteered to make resources available, Santos explained, she's not interested in "going on every morning talk show to talk to white people about this topic." And in publishing, she doesn't want to be invited to speak on stages or sit on panels. She wants to see actual changes in leadership. While it's been great to see publishers and other institutions donating to organizations that help Black communities, she wants "to see a picture of your executive team, what it looks like next year."

With her store now in a safe place, Santos plans to concentrate not only on giving back to her community in the Bronx but also on being more involved in the bookselling world at large. She said: "It's not enough for just me to make it."

---

In Jersey City, N.J., and Brooklyn, N.Y., both WORD Bookstore locations are doing contactless curbside pickup, with one bookseller in each store every weekday. Owner Christine Onorati has kept the stores closed on weekends to help lessen staff needs, but that is starting to change. Noting that many of her staff are reliant on public transportation, Onorati said she has no plans to reopen for browsing until she knows that her staff can feel comfortable getting into work and dealing with people in person. She added: "Hopefully in the next couple of weeks we can start seeing our way to Phase 2."

She and her staff haven't made many changes to the store, aside from making the window displays much more browsable and highlighting some non-book items like jigsaw puzzles. Her booksellers are working on making more face-out displays and figuring out the best way for traffic in each store to flow. Whenever WORD does reopen for browsing, the bathrooms will be closed and the stores will probably allow only one or two families in at a time, with facemasks mandatory.

Onorati reported that there were several days of very peaceful protests outside the Jersey City location, and many of her staff and the extended WORD family took part in protests throughout New York and New Jersey. Over the past two weeks, a percentage of the stores' sales have gone to bailout.org, and through the WORD Association program she's been donating the proceeds from books by specific authors to a variety of causes.

"I believe that we make our mission very clear every day, not only in times of crisis but through the books and authors we support, the events we host and the staff we hire," said Onorati. "We will always be vocal about what we know is right and I know our customers have grown to recognize us as a trusted source. We are constantly learning and striving to do better every single day."


G.P. Putnam's Sons: Little Threats by Emily Schultz


B&N College and Follett 'Exchange' Several Locations

Barnes & Noble is leaving its location at New Mexico State University and will be replaced by Follett, KRWG reported. The transition will begin in late June and is expected to be completed by July 1.

In a statement, the university said Follett "will support faculty in adoptions for Summer II and fall 2020 with the assistance of the current provider. There will be some changes in process and programs, but all product availability will remain throughout the transition, and faculty and staff familiar with the 'FirstDay' program will be able to continue to use the program moving forward.... Other exciting opportunities available through the Follett partnership will be announced as the transition continues."

---

Idaho State University has selected Barnes & Noble College to manage its in-store and online bookstore operations for the Pocatello and Idaho Falls campuses, effective June 29. The ISU Bookstore was previously managed by Follett Corp.

"We are excited about the ISU/Barnes & Noble College partnership and the opportunities it will bring to our campus community," said Lowell Richards, associate v-p of ISU student affairs, adding that the company "has the extensive experience and vision to enhance our bookstore as a campus destination, enrich the book-buying experience, expand affordable resources for ISU students and support the university's overall mission."

Lisa Malat, president, B&N College, said ISU "is well regarded for its excellent education programs, and we are proud to support the ongoing academic success of the campus communities by increasing access to affordable course materials. We look forward to delivering a dynamic retail experience and innovative learning tools, all while providing great value to the students, faculty, staff and alumni of ISU."


Peachtree Publishing Company: The Candy Mafia by Lavie Tidhar, illustrated by Daniel Duncan


Nubble Books in Biddeford, Maine, to Close

Nubble Books, Biddeford, Maine, will close later this summer. In a Facebook post, store owner Jon Platt wrote: "Due to the 10-week shutdown we are closing our store. We would like to thank all of our dedicated staff, customers, and community for their support over the past 20 years.... Our sale will be ongoing throughout June and July."


University of California Press: A People's Guide to the San Francisco Bay Area, Volume 3 by Rachel Brahinsky, Alexander Tarr, Bruce Rinehart


Notes

Chalkboard: NovelTea Bookstore Cafe

Canadian bookseller NovelTea Bookstore Café, Truro, N.S., reopened Tuesday and welcomed customers back with a colorful chalkboard to its socially distanced and sanitized space, noting: "What a great first day back with our people! Thank you Truro. All the feels. You can enter at our Prince St. door or order from our take out door at Pleasant St. Lots of plexiglass and social distancing inside!"


Pennie Picks: The Keeper of Lost Things

Pennie Clark Ianniciello, Costco's book buyer, has chosen The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan (Morrow, $16.99, 9780062473554) as her pick of the month for June. In Costco Connection, which goes to many of the warehouse club's members, she wrote:

"Have you ever seen a lost item and wondered how it got there and to whom it belongs? If so, this month's book buyer's pick, Ruth Hogan's The Keeper of Lost Things, is for you.

"Forty years ago, Anthony Peardew lost a keepsake from his beloved fiancée. When she died on the same day, he became the keeper of lost things. As Andrew nears the end of his life, he leaves his house--including a cranky ghost--and all of the lost things he's rescued to his assistant, Laura. Soon she takes up the work of reuniting the objects with their rightful owners."


Media and Movies

TV: All Boys Aren't Blue

Gabrielle Union's I'll Have Another Productions has optioned the television rights to George M. Johnson's bestselling memoir All Boys Aren't Blue to develop as a series with Sony Pictures TV, Deadline reported. The company is currently in development on several series set at HBO Max, Apple and Quibi, among others. Union recently wrapped production on season 2 of Spectrum's hit series LA's Finest.

"Queer black existence has been here forever yet rarely has that experience been shown in literature or film and television," Union said. "Being a parent to a queer identifying daughter has given me the platform to make sure that these stories are being told in a truthful and authentic way and George's memoir gives you the blueprint for that and more. What I love about this book is that it not only offers a space for queer kids of color to be seen and heard but it also offers those who see themselves outside of that standpoint to be held accountable and help them better understand what it takes to truly have acceptance with someone who is considered other."

Johnson said working with Union and her production company "makes me incredibly excited. She's someone who is not only a champion in the fight for supporting marginalized communities of color but the work she's doing as a storyteller and producer is lifting every voice who hasn't had the opportunity to be heard."



Books & Authors

Awards: Wainwright Longlists

The longlist has been released for the £5,000 (about $6,335) Wainwright Prize for U.K. Nature Writing, which recognizes a book that "most successfully inspires readers to explore the outdoors and to nurture a respect for the natural world." Presented in association with the National Trust, this year's prize has been extended to include a second category for books about global conservation and climate change. The shortlists will be released July 30 and winners named August 30.


Reading with... Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II

photo: Don Usner

The Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II is the author of We Are Called to Be a Movement (Workman, June 9, 2020), a powerful and poetic sermon demanding an end to poverty in the wealthiest nation in the world. Picking up the unfinished work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Barber serves as president of Repairers of the Breach and co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, uniting poor communities across the country to affect policies and elections at every level of government, and build power for the 140 million poor and low-income people in the United States. On June 20, 2020, the campaign's virtual Poor People’s National Assembly and Moral March, with more than 100 organizations, Al Gore, Jane Fonda, Wanda Sykes and others, will focus on the lack of police accountability, voter suppression, poverty and the voices of the poor.

On your nightstand now:

I'm on the road for nine months, crisscrossing the nation to connect with poor and low-wealth people who are building the Poor People's Campaign together. I keep my Bible on the bed stand, and I keep reading the prophets--especially Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah and Jesus--alongside a couple of reports on the crisis of poverty: Healing Our Divided Society, edited by Fred Harris and Alan Curtis, and The Souls of Poor Folks, edited by Saurav Sarkar and Shailly Gupta-Barnes.

Favorite book when you were a child:

My father used to ask me to read from Clarence Jordan's Cotton Patch Gospels in church before he preached. I loved the way Jordan, a Greek scholar, translated the Bible's ancient stories into a context and a language that was familiar to me. I also loved James Weldon Johnson's God's Trombones, which trained my ear to believe that words make worlds.

Your top five authors:

Wow, that's hard. On economics, I always read Joseph Stiglitz, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics. His The Cost of Inequality is essential reading. On history, I've got several favorites: John Hope Franklin's From Slavery to Freedom, Kevin Kruse's One Nation Under God, Nancy MacLean's Democracy in Chains and Ibram Kendi's Stamped from the Beginning. In theological and biblical studies, I come back again and again to Howard Thurman, Ched Myers and Renita Weems. But there are so many good ones.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Liz Theoharis, my co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign, has a brilliant book called Always with Us? And Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, who is a scribe for our movement, has a book called Revolution of Values that lifts up the moral narrative we think is needed to revive the heart of democracy. A couple of other new books I'm encouraging people to read: Jeff Madrick's Invisible Americans, on child poverty in America, and Katherine Stewart's The Power Worshippers, which exposes the danger of religious nationalism in America today.

Book you never part with:

My father wrote a book on the history of our denomination in North Carolina, and I treasure its wisdom about the nature of moral fusion movements and their capacity to change this nation. I also always keep close to me a copy of Dr. King's Where Do We Go from Here; Roland Rolheiser's Sacred Fire; and Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals that offers a prayer for morning, midday and evening each day.

Book that changed your life:

Howard Thurman's Jesus and the Disinherited. I hold in great esteem everything Thurman wrote, but that single book crystalizes the message of Jesus in a way that has defined my life and ministry.

Favorite line from a book:

William Turner, who was my preaching professor in seminary, wrote, "However you describe your spiritual experience--saved, born again, filled with the Spirit--if it does not produce a quarrel with the world then your claim to spirituality is terribly suspect."


Book Review

Review: Axiom's End

Axiom's End by Lindsay Ellis (St. Martin's Press, $27.99 hardcover, 384p., 9781250256737, July 21, 2020)

Video essayist and Hugo finalist Lindsay Ellis's debut science fiction novel is an intriguing entry in the lengthy tradition of first-contact stories, where humans meet alien lifeforms for the first time. Axiom's End features hallmarks of the genre--struggling to communicate, fear giving way to understanding, etc.--with at least one major difference: Ellis's close encounter is set in 2007. Axiom's End therefore also functions as an alternate history, imagining a governmental cover-up of alien life during the Bush administration. The novel's reflections on paranoia and secrecy have undeniable resonance in an era embroiled in controversies over surveillance and national security overreach.

Cora Sabino is a young woman reeling from the unwanted attention her father's celebrity as an anti-secrecy activist in hiding has earned her. Her father is painted as ideologically rigid and obsessed with his own fame--it's difficult not to draw comparisons to Julian Assange. She's not concerned about her father's leaks suggesting the U.S. government engaged in first contact until the truth lands on her doorstep, and Cora is forced into an awkward alliance with an alien being she calls Ampersand. From here, the novel goes in surprising directions. Suffice it to say, Cora's bond with Ampersand grows as she serves as their interpreter, despite learning frightening truths about Ampersand's past and the threats facing Earth. Ellis weaves all of this into an alternate vision of 2007, where even the coming financial crisis is alien-related.

Perhaps because Cora is young and somewhat cheeky, the novel sometimes takes on a lightly comic tone, filled with sarcasm and nerdy Easter eggs. And Ellis doesn't stint on the 2007-specific jokes: at one point, Cora changes into "jeans and a My Chemical Romance T-shirt on clearance. Which, okay. Fine. At least it wasn't Nickelback." This can make for a pleasantly breezy read, even given apocalyptically high stakes. At the same time, Ellis geeks out over every detail of the aliens' physiology, culture, history, even the structure of their language, providing an imaginative and coherent picture of alien society. At its core, Axiom's End is warm-hearted, even--very cautiously--optimistic, more Carl Sagan's Contact than War of the Worlds. For all of its drama and philosophical conundrums, Ellis's book is ultimately about the power of empathy and kindness in a universe that never has enough of either. --Hank Stephenson, manuscript reader, the Sun magazine

Shelf Talker: An alternate history set in 2007 provides a peculiar, entertaining take on first contact.


Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Covid-19 & the In-Store Book Browsing Phase

I think people are worried if they can pick up a book off the shelf. No more than going into a supermarket, you might pick up a product and put it back because you don't want it: you have to be able to do that. It is impossible to have a customer experience and not be able to lift the books and browse and put them back. --Sarah Kenny of Kenny's Bookshop, Galway, Ireland (Irish Times)

As indie bookstores gradually reopen after months of restrictions and adaptations due to the Covid-19 pandemic, one thing seems clear: nothing is clear. The word "phase" has upped its lexicon ante considerably. Many states in the U.S. are in Phase 1 or Phase 2 or Phase 3 of their reopening plans, while other states never used the word and some have been unphased, if not uninfected, from the start.

Plexiglass protection at the Golden Notebook.

Indie booksellers, however, have done a great job thus far sorting through the bureaucratic clutter and finding a way to keep doing business, even when it is decidedly not-as-usual. As bookshops cautiously start reopening their doors to the public--with plexiglass shields, masks, six-foot distance markers, hand sanitizer stations and other precautions in place--one question in particular still resists a clear answer: How, in a time of plague, do they address one of the sacred rights of browsing, the physical handling of individual titles?

Touch-free retail (online, curbside pickup, local delivery) has been challenging, but now things get more complicated as real people enter bookshops again. Even with limits on the number of customers allowed inside, the idea of blithely wandering the stacks seems fraught at the moment. Having spent months hyper-focused on not touching their faces because of Covid-19, will booklovers and booksellers now have to obsess over who touched a book before they did?

The Financial Times recently noted that "while bookshops are eager to welcome customers back across their thresholds, they are apprehensive about when--and critically, how--to do so. There are questions about how to handle the number of customers in what are often small or craggy spaces, personal protection for customers and staff, and--not least--what to do about that most elemental bookish experience: holding and leafing through a volume."

Solutions are destined to be an ongoing real-time R&D project worldwide. In the U.K., Waterstones is providing carts in stores for customers to place items they've handled. These are quarantined for 72 hours before returning to the sales floor. Barnes & Noble stores that have reopened in the U.S. offer designated spaces marked for customers to deposit any books they browse, which will then to be taken out of circulation for sanitizing.

"When you start unpicking this, it can start to look like a very dystopian version of bookshops," British bookseller Nic Bottomley, co-owner of Mr. B's Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath, told the Financial Times.

But indie bookshops are well-schooled in dystopian retail, thanks to years battling the Amazon Death Star. Now they are adjusting to another "new-normal," from Rakestraw Books in Danville, Calif. ("Please DO-NOT re-shelve books. Please leave them on the bench.") to Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, Tex. ("Customers that have an appointment can touch any books they want but are asked to put books aside that they have touched.") to Buttonwood Books & Toys in Cohasset, Mass. ("Please minimize touching and handling of merchandise.").

Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville, Ill., reopened last Friday morning and customer Ruth Reynolds told the Chicago Tribune: "This is the biggest thing that has happened to me in two months. I have to keep reminding myself not touch the books until I'm sure I'm going to buy them. But, other than that, I am just so happy."

The Wild Detectives, Dallas, Tex., hasn't reopened yet, and co-owner Javier García del Moral told NBC DFW, "For a bookstore, it's very challenging in terms of our space isn't so big, then you're talking about books that most people, including myself I typically touch a book before I buy it. So, we're thinking about all these things to see how we can implement a safe environment for everyone and at the same time make it sustainable."

Powell's Books, Portland, Ore., is also taking a cautious approach. In a New York Times interview, owner Emily Powell said: "You have to be comfortable touching a book, pulling it off a shelf and putting it back and lingering in an aisle. And that's going to take quite a bit of work on our part, which we're happy to do, but we have to be able to pay our bills at the same time. So that's the essential struggle: How do you exist in this modern business retail environment at a time when your sales have returned to a level you maybe haven't seen in 20 or 30 years? We will figure it out, but it will be a very different business and it's going to take us some time."

Bookstores will never become "look, but don't touch" spaces; that's not the mission. For now, however, all they can do is try to follow ever-shifting local, state and national guidelines, taking a little cold comfort in the knowledge that this, too, is just a phase.

--Robert Gray, contributing editor

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