Shelf Awareness for Friday, June 19, 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

Wear the Mask, Stay 'Alive to Complain'

"Reminder. While I encourage customers and browsers to have any opinion they want about wearing masks, you must wear one in the book store. Today I had a customer in her 90s say, 'I can't wait until this [mask-wearing] nonsense is over!' But she was wearing one--which may be why she is in her 90s and is alive to complain. Thank you for your cooperation!"

--Whistlestop Bookshop, Carlisle, Pa., in a Facebook post yesterday that included a link to Governor Tom Wolf's official statement on the state's mask-wearing requirements


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


New Owners for the Spiral Bookcase

Victoria Mier and Jordon Kellett have purchased The Spiral Bookcase in Philadelphia, Pa., from original owner Ann Tetreault, who opened the store with her husband in 2010. Located in Philadelphia's Manayunk neighborhood, the store sells a mix of new and used titles, as well as a variety of nonbook items, and has a focus on spirituality and witchcraft.

Before she became the store's co-owner, Mier was the store's manager for a little over three years. She said she's always wanted a bookshop of her own and she first approached Tetreault about buying the store last summer. "We've been working our way toward that goal ever since."

While Mier intends to keep the store a "cozy, magical place full of new books, used books, strange books and wonder," she does plan to make a few changes, including adding more local vendors, bringing in a larger selection of new books and refreshing the store's appearance. And when it becomes safe to hold in-store events again, she intends to create some new ones like workshops and "gatherings for strange souls." The store will stay in its current location, and there won't be any disruptions to service as Mier and Kellett officially take the reins.

Added Mier: "Our goals are to strengthen Spiral's foothold as a community bookshop and bring more magic to the world--after all, stories are the truest form of magic."

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

Berkeley's University Press Books Closes Physical Store

University Press Books, Berkeley, Calif., which "has struggled financially for years despite trying many different approaches to stay in business," has closed after 46 years "of serving up an array of books from university presses around the globe, and hosting thousands of author talks, book clubs and gatherings," Berkeleyside reported. The bookstore had struggled for years to pay its $10,000 monthly rent and saw sales decline with the rise of Amazon, but the Covid-19 virus was the final straw. Its sister business next door, the Musical Offering Café, is still open.

"Before the virus and the shuttering of the store we were suffering from the crushing burden of this rent for a space that was much bigger than we needed. [The pandemic] provoked a realistic decision to close an operation we couldn't afford to run," said William McClung, a founder and the general partner of both businesses.

While the physical bookstore is closed, McClung said that UPB will move most of its 30,000 books, an inventory worth $300,000, to Wilsted and Taylor Publishing Services, one of the store's original partners, on 40th Street in Oakland. In addition to beefing up its ability to sell books online, UPB will sell the rare titles as well as scholarly collections it has acquired in recent years.

McClung said UPB will also move some books next door to the Musical Offering Café. In about a year, he hopes to find a new, smaller space in Berkeley, one with a much lower rent. "There are, and there are going to be, lots of vacancies," he said.

When University Press Books launched in 1974, "it was a novelty of sorts, and McClung has tried to apply that innovative spirit to the business over the years, with mixed results," Berkeleyside wrote, adding that initially, 25 people had formed a partnership and raised $35,000 to set up a store devoted just to books published by English-language university presses, but over the years, "the store expanded its inventory to stock titles from general presses. It increased its cultural offerings too and hosted numerous author talks, book groups, movies and classes, as well as dinners centered around a book or topic where guests might read a poem. It also rented the store out for popup events." These efforts, as well as many other initiatives, were not enough to keep the bookstore going in its present location.

Bookstores Plan for Juneteenth

Loganberry Books, Shaker Heights, Ohio,  is hosting a Juneteenth fundraiser for BLM Cleveland

Independent bookstores around the U.S. are doing a variety of things to celebrate and honor Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the end of slavery, Bookselling This Week reported. Among the celebrations:

Pan African Connections Bookstore, Art Gallery and Resource Center in Dallas, Tex., has organized a community bike ride that will depart from the store at 6 p.m. tonight, and on Saturday, the store is hosting the Free-ish Juneteenth Virtual Fitness Fest, called so because "after being 'freed' they faced Jim Crow laws, mass incarceration of black men, amongst other forms of systemic racism that we still are experiencing and fighting for to this day."

In Southfield, Mich., Detroit Book City is hosting a virtual book fair focused on Black authors working in many genres, including history, fiction, memoir, poetry and more.

Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Mass., will host Stop & Frisk: A Juneteenth Poetry Reading, a virtual event featuring poets Porsha Olayiwola and Jabari Asim. 

At the Dock Bookshop in Fort Worth, Tex., author, educational consultant and speaker Rickie Clark will be featured in a live-streamed event on Saturday night.

And in Kew Gardens, Queens, N.Y., Kew & Willow Books has been donating 10% of all proceeds over the past few weeks to organizations like the NAACP, the Bail Project and Your Rights Camp.

How Bookstores Are Coping: 'Mini-Warehouse'; New Bookseller Role: 'Bouncer'

Danny Caine, owner of The Raven Book Store in Lawrence, Kan., reported that his store has been operating in largely the same way since early April. The store is closed to browsing, and Caine and his team are fulfilling online orders through USPS, curbside pick-up and local delivery. While Caine could technically reopen the store, his booksellers are largely against it and he agrees with them.

The store has been able to do enough online business to keep the booksellers and bills paid, Caine explained, so he is not in a huge rush to reopen. While it's possible that they might see stronger sales if they reopen for browsing, Caine does not want that to come at the cost of a more dangerous and stressful environment for his team. He also doesn't want to put his staff in a situation where they may have to argue with customers about masks and distancing rules.

He added that the store has essentially been turned into a mini-warehouse, and "merchandising has gone out the window in favor of creating an efficient order-processing setup" that allows for distancing. Allowing customers in to browse again would not only result in an unpleasant shopping experience but also in unsafe conditions for his staff. He said: "I'm going to try my hardest not to make working here more dangerous or stressful."

Caine said he's been inspired by the ingenuity of his staff during the pandemic, and without such a "dedicated and talented team," he doubted the Raven could have made it through. At the same time, things have been very stressful and the transition to becoming essentially a mail-order business has been a constant challenge. But, all things considered, "everyone has done amazing work."

In the roughly three weeks since protests began in response to the murder of George Floyd, Caine has been using the store's Twitter account to try to hammer home the message that "reading is only a first step in working toward justice." As a store, the Raven donated a percentage of sales on May 31, June 1 and June 2 to two community bail funds as well as to Ibram X. Kendi's Antiracism Center and, thanks to a generous anonymous donor who matched their donation, they were able to give more than $1,700.

The team worked with a customer to give a copy of Rise of the Warrior Cop by Radley Balko to each Lawrence city commissioner and to the city manager, and one of Caine's booksellers has curated a Black Power Reading List on the store's website. They've also put up window displays and, like many stores, sold a lot of books about racism and antiracism.

"But there's always more to do," said Caine. "Every day I ask myself what more I can do to use this business and its platform to advance the cause of justice."


In Los Altos, Calif., Linden Tree Children's Books reopened for browsing this past Saturday, co-owner Chris Saccheri reported. The store, which he owns with Flo Grosskurth, is now open five days a week for two hours each day, and is continuing to do curbside pick-up, local delivery and shipping. While they're excited to have customers in store once again, Saccheri added, they want to be cautious and make sure their safety procedures are working effectively.

There are plexiglass shields at the registers, all interior seating and the store's toy table is gone, and puppets and stuffed animals are now out of reach of children. All customers are required to wear masks and use hand sanitizer when they enter. No more than eight customers are allowed in at a time, and any books that people pick up but don't buy have to be left on a separate cart. Those are then wiped down by a staff member and reshelved. And for the moment, bathrooms are for staff only.

Grosskurth and Saccheri have also added a new staff role, which they've dubbed the "bouncer." The bouncer manages the line outside the store and reviews safety guidelines with customers before they enter. All customers are being asked to "browse purposefully" and avoid touching books they don't plan to buy. So far, the store's customers have been "wonderfully compliant and understanding," and many of them have said their trip to the store was their first big outing since shelter-in-place began.

When it comes to maintaining social distancing while having small children in the store, families are asked to stay together while they move through the store, and so far parents have been very understanding.

On the subject of his staff, Saccheri said they've been amazing, and over time he and Grosskurth have been able to bring back more booksellers to help with fulfillment, receiving, deliveries and finally handselling again. The store does have a few staff members at higher risk of the coronavirus who haven't been able to come back yet. They host regular staff meetings over Zoom and will continue to do so until it's safe for everyone to be back together again.

Over the past few weeks, the store has been "happily overwhelmed" with orders for antiracist books and books by black authors, and Saccheri said it was awesome to see so many of his customers buying these titles for children. He and his staff have also been making recommendations via the store's online and social media platforms and in person since reopening.

B&N College to Manage U. of Nevada, Reno Bookstore

University of Nevada, Reno has selected Barnes & Noble College to manage the in-store and online Nevada Wolf Shop operations, effective June 29. The partnership was recently approved by the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents. B&N College currently operates more than 770 campus stores nationwide.

"ASUN has owned and operated the Nevada Wolf Shop for 67 years," said Dominique Hall, president of the Associated Students of the University of Nevada. "Despite concerted efforts, this model was challenging to maintain. Given these realities, a change in our operations needed to occur. A partnership like this one, will again allow us to serve the best interest of University students."

B&N College president Lisa Malat commented: "The University of Nevada, Reno is highly regarded for its top-tier education and world-class research, and we are proud to support the ongoing academic success of the campus community by increasing access to affordable learning 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 the university."

Obituary Note: Jesse Blackadder

Australian author Jesse Blackadder, whose award-winning work ranged from historical fiction to books for children, died June 10. She was 56. The Byron Writers Festival, where she was a board member, made the announcement "with much grief" on Facebook, noting that Blackadder "had a generosity of spirit that was unparalleled, a cheeky sense of humor and a great love for the Northern Rivers, her writing community, her family and her partner Andi. Jesse was the driving force behind the Storyboard program that has touched so many young lives. She was a teacher, mentor, and contributed to the wider literary community in roles such as peer assessor for the Australia Council and Create NSW, and author ambassador for Room to Read."

Blackadder's work includes her debut After the Party (2005), The Raven's Heart (2011)--which won the 2013 Benjamin Franklin award for historical fiction--and Chasing the Light (2013), about the first women to land on Antarctica. Her most recent novel, Sixty Seconds (2017), "drew on personal tragedy: the drowning of her two-year-old sister Lucy when Jesse was 12," the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Mary Rennie, Blackadder's publisher at HarperCollins, said the novel was "incredibly powerful.... She was admired for so many reasons, and one was that she was such a beautiful, polished writer who could tell a compelling story in the most lyrical way. But then there's the generosity, the passion, the cheekiness, the support for other people; she was sort of just an exceptional package."

Rennie added that Blackadder "did everything she could to support Australian literature.... She took every opportunity that came her way. She contributed back to the community in so many ways....You can tell by the outpouring on social media just how much she meant to people. She was too young to have been taken like this."


Happy 40th Birthday, Village Books and Paper Dreams!

Congratulations to Village Books and Paper Dreams, Bellingham and Lynden, Wash., which celebrates its 40th anniversary tomorrow. Although the store noted that "we can't host our annual party (YET), we CAN continue the tradition of our Anniversary Sale"--20% off most items at both stores and online Saturday and Sunday.

Village Books opened under Phase 2 last week, and "we have enjoyed seeing your smiling faces so much. (We know you're smiling under those masks! We can see it in your eyes!)"

Village Books was founded by Chuck and Dee Robinson, who sold it in 2016 to current owners Sarah Hutton, Kelly Evert and Paul Hanson. Congratulations, all!

Bookshop Dog of the Day: 'Pipit Gives a Tour!'

Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore, Middletown, Conn., shared a reopening video, Woof Wednesday: Pipit Gives a Tour!, conducted by the shop's canine bookseller: "To say Pipit is excited that we are reopen is an understatement! Join him for a tour around the new layout, which is set up to meet Covid-19 safety protocols and allows you to safely browse in the store."

Media and Movies

Movies: The Halloween Tree

Will Dunn has been hired by Warner Bros. to adapt Ray Bradbury's 1972 fantasy novel The Halloween Tree. Deadline reported that Bradbury "wrote and narrated Hanna-Barbera's 1993 feature-length animated version of the novel for television, for which he won the 1994 Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing in an Animated Program."

Production company 42 is producing the film adaptation, with Charlie Morrison overseeing the project. Dunn was a member of 20th Century Fox's Feature Writer Program, Deadline wrote, adding that his "spec feature The Fisherman was featured on the Black List, and he has worked on features for Disney, Sony, eOne and Warner Bros."

Books & Authors

Awards: Miles Franklin Shortlist; Gordon Burn Longlist

The shortlist for the 2020 Miles Franklin Literary Award, Australia's most prestigious literary prize, consists of:

The White Girl by Tony Birch
Islands by Peggy Frew
No One by John Hughes
The Returns by Philip Salom
Exploded View by Carrie Tiffany
The Yield by Tara June Winch

The winner of the A$60,000 (about US$41,070) prize will be announced July 16.


A 12-title longlist has been released for the Gordon Burn Prize, which recognizes "works that stand out in the scale of their endeavor, often challenging readers' expectations or pushing perceived boundaries of genre, sensibility or even the role of literature itself." The winner, who will be announced October 15 at the Durham Book Festival, receives £5,000 (about $6,265) and the chance to undertake a writing retreat of up to three months at Gordon Burn's cottage in Berwickshire in the Scottish Borders. This year's longlisted titles are:

Notes Made While Falling by Jenn Ashworth
Theft by Luke Brown
Cleanness by Garth Greenwell
Scabby Queen by Kirstin Innes
Sing Backwards and Weep by Mark Lanegan
Godspeed by Casey Legler
Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez
Weather by Jenny Offill
Motherwell by Deborah Orr
This Is Not Propaganda by Peter Pomerantsev
My Name Is Why by Lemn Sissay
Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

Reading with... Kendra Atleework

photo: Amy Leist

Kendra Atleework was born and raised on the dry edge of California at the eastern base of the Sierra Nevada mountains. She moved away for 11 years, mostly spent being homesick and researching the perilous place she left behind--the product of which is her debut memoir. Miracle Country (Algonquin, July 14, 2020) is a family's story of flight and return, bounty and emptiness, and the meaning of home, set in California's high desert, a place ravaged by drought, winds and wildfire. Atleework is the recipient of the Ellen Meloy Desert Writers Award and was selected for The Best American Essays, edited by Ariel Levy. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Minnesota and lives in her hometown of Bishop, Calif. 

On your nightstand now:

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich--my quarantine book club just finished reading this. It's a massive novel that hits just about every note, from bizarre love triangles to the stranger aspects of Minnesota culture to a history of broken treaties and a look at 1950s reservation life.

I'm halfway through Home Baked by Alia Volz, a memoir about the author's parents' weed brownie business in San Francisco in the 1970s.

A couple of recent novels from my publisher I'm excited about: Everywhere You Don't Belong by Gabriel Bump (a dark, funny, coming-of-age story set in Chicago's South Side) and The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai (Vietnam history in the form of a family saga).

I'm excited to start reading All Things Left Wild by James Wade. I love finding fellow books about the West.

Also reading Njáls Saga, set during the Viking Age, written by an anonymous Icelander circa 1270. The battles are many and bloody, and everyone has names like Gunnar the Unwashed. Can't put it down.

Favorite book when you were a child:

This is absolutely impossible to answer, but I distinctly remember getting my hands on Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game when I was about nine, which soon led to half the elementary school getting roped into a mildly violent reenactment. I'm sure the yard duty staff was disturbed.

Your top five authors:

Also impossible, but here are the five that most deeply influenced my book Miracle Country:

Richard Rodriguez helped me expand my interpretation of the West, as well as my relationship to family, culture, history and landscape.

Ellen Meloy comforted me when I was living in Minnesota and terribly homesick for the desert. She helped me articulate the preciousness of landscapes at risk of being dismissed as worthless.

Rebecca Solnit taught me to tell nuanced stories about the past that help me imagine different ways of inhabiting the present.

Robin Wall Kimmerer expanded my understanding of reciprocity with homeplaces and living with respect for beings beyond my own species.

Wallace Stegner helped me understand my relationship to the rest of the world as a being shaped by where I come from.

Book you've faked reading:

I was raised halfway up a mountain. My parents didn't believe in television. Instead they gave us lessons on how to not get eaten by a mountain lion. So I've had to do most of my faking when it comes to popular culture and general knowledge of the human world. College roommates easily convinced me that Elton John really was singing "hold me closer, Tony Danza."

Book you're an evangelist for:

Days of Obligation by Richard Rodriguez. I just counted and I own four of this book--people keep buying signed copies off eBay and giving them to me because I won't shut up about it. It's an essay collection in large part about California's complicated relationship to its own history. And Rodriguez's voice is just dazzling, hilarious and heartbreaking.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Creatures by Crissy Van Meter. The cover, wriggling with sea anemones, suits the content. It's a lush, dark novel about a father and a daughter and a mythical island off the coast of California.

Book you hid from your parents:

My paternal grandmother had a scheme to write a book called Sex After Seventy. It would be easier for me to tell you all the books I wish my family had hidden from me.

Book that changed your life:

Ian Frazier's Great Plains. I read this book right after graduating from college when I knew I wanted to write and was casting about for my muse. I was selling tickets at a haunted house in San Diego and when the shop was empty, I'd creep into the back room and reread this book. I'd spent years running away from my own bizarre little home region and its painful history--it had never occurred to me that I needed to write about home until I read this book.

Favorite lines from a book:

From Mary Austin's Land of Little Rain, 1903. Her thoughts in the desert on the stars:

"They look large and near and palpitant; as if they moved on some stately service not needful to declare. Wheeling to their station in the sky, they make the poor world-fret of no account. Of no account you who lie out there watching, nor the lean coyote that stands off in the scrub from you and howls and howls."

Five books you'll never part with:

The Hummingbird's Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea. This book is pure magic and I could read it a million times. Urrea signed my copy and drew a hummingbird on the title page--if my house catches on fire, you can bet this book is getting rescued.

The Anthropology of Turquoise by Ellen Meloy. In 2015, it accompanied me on a research/camping trip through drought-stricken California, a trip that showed me at once the ugliness and beauty of my home state.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. This is a sweet novel about a bookseller that made me cry, but the way I got my copy makes it extra special. On the day I was deciding which publisher should have my book, I walked over to my local indie bookstore, Spellbinder, here in Bishop, distraught. The folks at Spellbinder stayed open late for me, gave me this book, and sang the praises of the people who became my publisher: Algonquin.

West with the Night by Beryl Markham. My dad, a pilot, gave me this book when I was little and wanted to be a pilot myself. When I write, I'm trying to do justice to the feeling of flight and this huge California sky.

Land of Little Rain by Mary Austin. This short book of lyric essays, published in 1903, describes this weird desert woman in her wanderings around my own beloved Owens Valley, California.

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

The Florist's Daughter by Patricia Hampl. I read this memoir of working-class St. Paul when I was 22, living in a tiny sweltering apartment in San Diego, and it transported me into Minnesota's snow silence. The voice was so alive and so intimate and so distinct. Reading this book was like meeting a person you just know is going to be an important friend.

Book that makes you want to write:

Gunnar's Daughter by Sigrid Undset. Written by a young Norwegian woman in the style of the Icelandic sagas, it's icy hot, the prose spare, the violence loaded with historical and political subtext. I read this book twice cover-to-cover the week I got it. It's launched me on a whole new path of research and thinking and a new project to chase around the globe.

Book Review

Review: It Is Wood, It Is Stone

It Is Wood, It Is Stone by Gabriella Burnham (One World, $26 hardcover, 224p., 9781984855831, July 28, 2020)

A restless young woman struggles to find agency in Brazilian American author Gabriella Burnham's novel, It Is Wood, It Is Stone. Linda's husband, Dennis, announces that he's been awarded a temporary professorship in São Paulo, Brazil, on the day she meant to tell him she was leaving him. She never shares her intention and decides to go, leading to a crisis she explains through a brutally honest monologue to Dennis. Her plan to leave "was less a solution and more like a heartbeat trying to break free from its rib cage," she tells him.

But São Paulo, instead of freeing her, creates even more claustrophobia. Unable to be truly independent because of language barriers and her own insecurities, Linda feels trapped in her apartment with Marta, their day maid, who seems to have "a quiet, solitary bubble inside her mind." Marta is an enigma to Linda, who, for a time, stops leaving the apartment "for fear that Marta might grow roots in our bedroom and reorganize the air so that I could no longer breathe."

Linda sees Dennis as conventional and predictable: "You approached life as a series of strategic decisions.... I saw life as the unavoidable consequence of a system much larger than me." Yet she wishes for his pragmatism, saying, "My goal was to find a wormhole, a channel to escape the odds, so that I too could achieve those things." Linda's escape comes through Celia, a captivating Brazilian woman. "I've thought many times about how I should explain this part of my story to you," she tells Dennis. "I was ready to grow. And I now know, this type of growth can only be learned through an emotional apprenticeship from another woman who has learned the same." Linda's brief affair with Celia simultaneously gives her freedom and creates a tipping point in their marriage. She assures Dennis, "I wasn't looking to turn away from you; I wasn't looking to replace you; I was searching for another version of myself."

Linda does return to their apartment, where Marta's solid presence creates a path to reconstitute the marriage. "We were beginning to dissolve," Linda reminds Dennis. "We had turned stone to liquid; we were shaping our broken branch into a boat that, eventually, would float us down the river, toward forgiveness." This debut novel is striking in its confident, close study of a complex woman in a fragile marriage. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.

Shelf Talker: A discontented young woman moves to Brazil with her husband, exposing her insecurities and leading to a crisis that tests her marriage.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Measuring Customer Service by the Foot

What's the difference between three feet and six feet? If you answered 25 years... well, you wouldn't, but I might. "Space" has long been a critical word in the bookselling world--sales floor space, shelf space, community space, cozy space. We think about space often, though we were not always compelled to measure it for every personal encounter. Until now, that is, as we normalize the Covid-19 era of six-foot spacing.

In the mid-1990s, one of our most loyal bookstore customers was a corporate consultant for the hotel, cruise ship and restaurant industry. He routinely flew all over the planet to hold seminars for, primarily, frontline and middle management staff. A great believer in the importance of "the last three feet," he focused on that critical moment when a member of the company's staff personally, physically, psychologically and emotionally transfers "product"--a meal, a room key, an entertainment recommendation--across the unfathomable gap between the corporation and an individual consumer/guest.

At Changing Hands, Phoenix, Ariz

If that sounds a little cold, the last three feet for book people is a much more cordial distance, bridged when an indie bookseller reaches out to offer a book to a reader. It's a ceremonial moment and remains blessedly "unplugged," defying algorithms, especially when the title in question falls under the "You've got to read this!" category. Handselling is, at its best, a private conversation between one bookseller and one reader at a time within that magical last three feet.

For decades three feet has been my preferred retail metric, but over the past few months the prevailing measurement has suddenly doubled to six feet. Thanks, Covid-19.

This week I've been thinking even more about retail footage and social/physical distancing for a couple of reasons. The first prompt came from learning that Amazon has launched a creepy personnel tracking system that "applies artificial intelligence and machine learning to the camera footage in our buildings to help site leaders identify high traffic areas and implement additional measures to improve social distancing."

Called Distance Assistant, the system uses augmented reality "to create a magic-mirror-like tool that helps associates see their physical distancing from others. Working backwards from a concept of immediate visual feedback, and inspired by existing examples like radar speed check signs, our 'Distance Assistant' provides employees with live feedback on social distancing via a 50 inch monitor, a camera, and a local computing device. The standalone unit uses machine learning models to differentiate people from their surroundings. Combined with depth sensors, it creates an accurate distance measurement between associates."

Privacy activists have... raised concerns.

At Third Place Books, Seattle

In addition, I've been monitoring the gradual but steady move toward reopening of independent bookstores as lockdown restrictions are lifted haphazardly state by state, nation by nation. Masks, appointment shopping, limits on number of customers allowed inside, plexiglass POS shields, hand sanitizer stations everywhere and so many other precautions have effectively put the "last three feet" ceremony on hold for the future, foreseeable or otherwise.

In fact, the traditional handselling ritual is hard to re-imagine right now. Masked up, you sanitize your hands, take a book off a shelf or display, offer it toward a physically distanced patron while spinning your brief tale about what makes this an irresistible read, then place the book on an antiseptic surface nearby. The masked customer, hands also freshly sanitized, picks up the book, studies the jacket, makes a quicker-than-usual decision, then either returns it to the neutral space or rushes off toward a cashier.

I'm certain bookstores are already figuring out how to bring magic to physically-distanced handselling because that's what great booksellers do. After all, for the past three months, they've found a way to make online ordering, curbside pickup and local deliveries exciting and personal.

The Seattle Times reported not long ago that bookseller Tegan Tigani of the Queen Anne Book Company had been working from home since March 25: "During a typical shift at the bookstore, Tigani would talk books with customers all day long. Pivoting to online retailing was not in her life plan, but she's spent most of April and May processing online orders and taking phone calls from the many die-hard QABC customers who are sticking with their neighborhood shop."

Tigani said: "I try to always add a little personality," citing as an example a personal note she had written to a regular customer who was sending books to her children back east. "Even though we are doing this in a way that is no-touch, we still have a way to touch."

British booksellers Leanne and Dan Fridd just reopened their shop Bookbugs and Dragon Tales in Norwich, and are hoping to make social distancing less scary for children with "a giant Snakes and Ladders game on the floor with two-meter squares made of foam," Eastern Daily Press reported.

Scuppernong Books, Greensboro, N.C., reopened earlier this month by appointment only to assure social distancing, and co-owner Steve Mitchell told the News & Record: "If people walk in and they have a mask and we haven't reached that 6 to 8 limit, we'll let them in. We're just trying to give everyone adequate space."

Maybe adequate space--respecting six-foot boundaries--will just have to do for now.

--Robert Gray, contributing editor

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