Shelf Awareness for Friday, July 17, 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

'Every Day the Mountain We're Climbing Seems to Get Steeper'

"Nothing I have described above will be easy. I honestly don't know how we will get to the end of this stretch of road ahead of us. Every day the mountain we're climbing seems to get steeper, and whenever we reach the top of one incline, we find a far more daunting pass ahead. I feel honored, regardless, to do this work every day with my esteemed peers and coworkers here at Powell's (as much as we would also be delighted to have the existential crisis of a global pandemic magically disappear). And I know that I speak for all of us when I say we feel tremendous gratitude for the faith and support you place in us. Thank you for staying with us, thank you for buying your books from us, thank you for your love of reading and writing, and thank you for all of the kindness you have shared with us over the past weeks and months. We hope to keep hearing from you, we hope to keep sending you books, and we hope to see you back in the stacks one day soon."

--Emily Powell, owner of Powell's Books, Portland, Ore., in a community update

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


Bookstore Sales Fall 59.9% in May

In the third month of data reflecting public health measures taken to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, including the closure of many stores, sales at bookstores in May dropped 59.9%, to $271 million, compared to May 2019, according to preliminary Census Bureau estimates. In the first five months of the year, bookstore sales fell 32.1%, to $2.36 billion. In March, bookstore sales had dropped 33.2%, to $392 million, and in April bookstore sales dropped 74.1%, to $163 million.

Total retail sales in May dropped 7.2%, to $507.5 billion. For the year to date, total retail sales fell 4.6%, to $2.47 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."

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

Ci8: Jerry Craft and Kwame Alexander in Conversation

On Thursday, the ABA's eighth annual Children's Institute closed with a wholly entertaining conversation between Newbery Award-winning authors Kwame Alexander (The Crossover; honor for The Undefeated, both HMH) and Jerry Craft (New Kid, HarperCollins) about "the roles booksellers played in their own success, how booksellers can encourage a love of reading" and "the importance of highlighting Black authors and illustrators."

After some discussion of writing styles and systems--"I'm living a writer's dream in the midst of a nightmare," Alexander said, "because I have nothing but time and solitude"--Alexander directed the conversation toward independent bookstores and bookselling. "You and I have been writing books since the '90s," he said, "Can you name... three independent bookstores... that you remember going into in the '90s, signing books at in the '90s, wishing you could sign books at in the '90s?" The first store that came to mind was the place where Craft and Alexander first met: the now-closed Hue Man Bookstore in Harlem.

Kwame Alexander (l.) and (r.) Jerry Craft (center: ASL interpreter)

On that day, Craft had been trying to sell his self-published book Mama's Boyz and Alexander went on to sell his first picture book, Acoustic Rooster and His Barnyard Band, to Sleeping Bear press. Craft also mentioned Nkiru Books, the "oldest African-American bookstore in Brooklyn," where he would regularly chat with a young bookseller, Talib Kweli, who now co-owns the renamed Nkiru Center for Education and Culture with Mos Def. "Bookstores are sacred places," Alexander noted, "that can really help mold and shape us into beautiful human beings.... You open us up to these worlds that we had no idea existed."

Craft and Alexander shared their very different childhood experiences with books when discussing how they grew into readers. "I grew up in a book desert," Craft said. Because teachers would always take away his comic books, he thought that fun reading was "illegal." "I never saw books with Black characters that weren't runaway slaves... or persecuted," he continued, "And those weren't fun." Alexander grew up with a bookseller father. "I loathed books," he said, because his father would make him work in the bookstore. "While I was an avid reader," he said, "I didn't necessarily like the books my father gave me.... So I sort of fell out of love with reading." But he "fell back in love" when he found The Greatest: My Own Story by Muhammad Ali. "What's interesting," Alexander pointed out regarding Craft's experience of not seeing himself in books, "is that those books were there. They were out there.... You had this plethora of books that featured Black characters, but you wouldn't know about it if your teacher or librarian or local bookseller wasn't putting them up front. That's why booksellers are so important."

Alexander finished the conversation by asking, "What do you think the role is of books and booksellers in this day and age" as we "look at the awakening of racial injustice?" Craft replied, "There are no non-readers or reluctant readers; there are just kids who haven't found their books." What booksellers need to do, he said, is "really know the kid and... match the kid with that book." --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor

International Update: Eason Closing Northern Ireland Stores; Mandatory Masks in U.K.

Bookstore chain Eason plans to close its seven stores in Northern Ireland. The Bookseller reported that on March 23 the company had shuttered bookshops in Belfast, Newtownabbey, Lisburn, Bangor, Enniskillen, Derry and Coleraine as the Covid-19 crisis hit, furloughing all 144 staff members. Eason has now launched a consultation process on shutting the locations permanently.

In a statement, the company cited the pandemic as well as Brexit for accelerating "ongoing challenges to a business that has seen revenues decline by more than 30% since 2016," the Bookseller noted.

Managing director Liam Hanly said: "Entering into consultation with our Northern Ireland colleagues about proposals to close the stores in the north of Ireland is very regrettable but it reflects the reality of the serious challenges and growing losses facing the business, which would be unsustainable. The retail sector has been one of the hardest hit by Covid-19 and for us it has made a very challenging situation in Northern Ireland considerably worse. We believe the actions we are taking are necessary at this time to ensure our wider business has a sustainable future and to create clarity for our employees in Northern Ireland as soon as possible."

The announcement has no impact on the firm's 53 stores in Ireland, most of which have now reopened, the Bookseller wrote. However, the company has already slashed around 100 jobs from the workforce there due to the impact of the pandemic. Eason said that since reopening, some smaller shops had seen an increase in sales of up to 30% over last year, but city center branches were experiencing shortfalls of 40%-50% due to social distancing measures, lack of footfall and public transport restrictions.


Booksellers in the U.K. are preparing for new rules, which were officially issued in the House of Commons on July 14, that make face masks compulsory in shops and supermarkets, beginning July 24. The Bookseller reported that some bookstores have expressed "misgivings, particularly should they be required to enforce the government's new rules."

Laura McCormack, head of policy and public affairs at the Booksellers Association, commented: "The BA welcomes measures from the government to keep bookshop staff and their customers safe. However urgent clarity is needed on how this measure will work in practice in order to allow for consistency across the high street. We would urge the government in Westminster to follow the approach of the Scottish government in allowing exemptions for staff who are able to operate with two meter physical distancing or who are serving behind Perspex screens."

Andy Barr, owner at Belgravia Books in London, said, "People willingly go to hand sanitize, but the people who come in asking, 'Do I need to wear a mask?', are visibly relieved when I say 'No'.... Another thing about this is that people don't really like being told what to do."

Richard Drake, owner of Drake the Bookshop in Stockton, observed: "In general people have been pretty good at self-policing when it comes to hand-sanitizer and even when asked they have politely complied. I'm hoping the same will happen when it comes to masks. We have a contact number from the council for any concerns and I will be getting in touch again to ensure someone on the other end of that number will be available still. Fingers crossed things will continue to be smooth, but only time will tell."

How Bookstores Are Coping: Science-based Decisions, Masking Up

Janet Geddis, owner of Avid Bookshop in Athens, Ga., reported that her store closed to traffic on March 16 and has been closed ever since. She and her team have decided to remain closed for browsing "until there's scientifically sound evidence that being open for browsing is safe for customers and staff." They did, however, start doing contactless pick-up in June, giving locals the option to pick up orders if they'd rather not wait to have them shipped.

Only a few booksellers work in the shop, and they've set up work stations around the store to maintain a safe distance from each other. Each weekday morning, a bookseller wheels the store's book trucks out to the sidewalk so customers can pick up their orders, and the trucks are brought back inside each afternoon. The only people who enter the store, aside from booksellers, are delivery people. Avid's booksellers have asked delivery people to wear masks while in store, and they've provided masks to those who did not have them already.

Generally speaking, Geddis added, the store's customers are on board with following social distancing guidelines and wearing face masks. But in Avid's neighborhood, a lot of passersby seem to be flouting the city's recent mask-wearing ordinance. 

When asked about the protests against systemic racism and police brutality that began in late May, Geddis noted that as a store Avid has long "stood up for human rights," but in June decided to publish an official statement on antiracism and the store's support of the Black Lives Matter movement.


In Seaside, Ore., Beach Books has been allowing a maximum of six people in store at a time for about a month now, owner Karen Emmerling said. Masks are required, and the store will provide a mask to anyone who doesn't have one. Hand sanitizer is also available at the door. 

Now that masks are required for all indoor shopping in Oregon, Emmerling continued, the store has not had to give out many masks lately. Even before that mandate, there was not a lot of resistance to the store's mask policy, though Emmerling could not say that is true for all of the businesses in town. There was a protest in Seaside demanding that beaches be reopened, but that amounted to very little, and some members of the business community have "wanted to move more quickly toward returning to normal."

Emmerling said that while her store was not directly affected by the recent Black Lives Matter protests, she and her team have been putting up displays of relevant, diverse titles since the protests again. And, like many stores, she added, Beach Books has seen a high demand for books about antiracism and social justice.


Hub City Bookshop in Spartanburg, S.C., is open for browsing Monday through Saturday with limited hours. Manager Anne Waters reported she and the bookstore team have installed plexiglass shields and signage, and staff members are required to wear masks and wash their hands routinely. They maintain social distancing while working and there is a regular schedule for cleaning store surfaces.

Up until this week, Waters continued, the store has asked customers to wear masks but allowed those without masks to enter. Now, though, all customers must wear masks, and the store has free masks and gloves readily available. On July 2, the city council passed an ordinance requiring masks in grocery stores and pharmacies, and while it didn't technically apply to Hub City, it has "helped set the tone for more usage." Most of the store's patrons wore masks already, and those without have been compliant so far.

Waters said that protests in Spartanburg have been peaceful, adding that on Black Out Tuesday the store issued the following statement: "The Hub City Writers Project unanimously supports Black Lives Matter. We pledge to practice self-awareness, to examine our biases, and to stand in solidarity with Black lives across our community in Spartanburg and around the world."

Karey Circosta Named Publisher, CEO of Ave Maria Press

Karey Circosta

Karey Circosta has been named publisher and CEO of Ave Maria Press, effective August 31. She succeeds Tom Grady, who is retiring after 15 years at the press.

Circosta joined Ave Maria Press in 2003 as institutional marketing coordinator, responsible for the press's high school textbook marketing and sales. She was promoted to manager, director and, in 2010, to v-p and director of sales and marketing. She added associate publisher to her role in 2018.

Rev. Anthony V. Szakaly, C.S.C., chairman of the board, said that Circosta "has proven herself as a long-time member of the leadership team of Ave and as associate publisher and director of sales and marketing. In addition to her wide variety of skills and accomplishments, she brings a great devotion to Ave's Catholic and Holy Cross mission of making God known, loved, and served."

Rev. William M. Lies, C.S.C., provincial superior of the Congregation of Holy Cross, United States Province of Priests and Brothers, added that Circosta "brings talent and enthusiasm as well as vast knowledge and extensive experience to this important apostolate of the U.S. Province. Ave is an integral part of Holy Cross's service to the Church and the life of faith and I know that Karey will help see that this important ministry continues to flourish. We look forward to Karey's contributions for many years to come."

Circosta said, "I've been very fortunate to have worked for and been mentored by Tom Grady these last 15 years, and while I have huge shoes to fill and we will all miss Tom tremendously, I am dedicated to making sure we continue the work and direction we have been under during Tom's leadership as well as advancing the Press and our mission in the years to come."


Personnel Changes at Workman Publishing

Nicole Higman has been promoted to associate director of digital marketing for the Workman Publishing imprint. She was formerly assistant director of digital marketing. Before joining Workman in 2018, she oversaw the voice and vision of, was social media editor at Independent Journal Review and worked in advertising and creative services at St. Martin's Press.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Josh Malerman on CBS This Morning, Weekend Edition

CBS This Morning: Josh Malerman, author of Malorie: A Bird Box Novel (Del Rey, $28, 9780593156858). He'll also be on NPR's Weekend Edition on Sunday.

TV: Quinn Colson Novels

The Quinn Colson novels by Ace Atkins are being developed as a TV series at HBO. Variety reported that there are currently 10 novels in the series, including The Ranger, The Lost Ones, The Broken Place, The Forsaken, The Redeemers, The Shameless and The Revelators.

Atkins also took over Robert B. Parker's Spenser character following Parker's death in 2010, and has written eight novels in that series since, including Wonderland, which was adapted into the Mark Wahlberg-Winston Duke film Spenser Confidential.

Books & Authors

Awards: Miles Franklin, ITW Thriller Winners

The Yield by Tara June Winch (Penguin Random House Australia) won the A$60,000 (about $US41,820) 2020 Miles Franklin Award, Australia's most prestigious literary award. Winch, who is Wiradjuri, is the fourth Indigenous author to win the Miles Franklin Award.

Judging chair Richard Neville said, "In English, 'yield' signifies what one takes from the land. In Wiradjuri, it is 'the things you give to, the movement, the space between things: baayanha.'

"The Yield explores the legacies of colonial violence, shame, intergenerational trauma and environmental destruction. Winch celebrates and amplifies the contemporary resurgence and relevance of the Wiradjuri language. The Yield, a story of pain, loss, resilience and hope, is a novel where the past is the present is the future."

Winch said, "I'm honoured to be among brilliant colleagues on the longlist and shortlist, our power is in the many stories and not only the one. The historical presence of both Tony Birch and myself on the shortlist signals to the publishing industry that we can write our own stories, and that we don't want to be spoken for. I hope this event also encourages the next generation of Indigenous voices, to know there is a space here for you in the industry, and in the minds and hearts of a new era of readers. We need to hear voices from across the nation to truly immerse ourselves in the song of Australia."


The winners of the 2020 ITW Thriller Awards, sponsored by the International Thriller Writers and announced during "Virtual" Thriller Fest XV, are:

Best Hardcover Novel: The Chain by Adrian McKinty (Mulholland Books)
Best First Novel: Miracle Creek by Angie Kim (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Best Paperback Original Novel: The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan (Penguin Books)
Best Short Story: "The Long-Term Tenant" by Tara Laskowski (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine)
Best Young Adult Novel: Keep This to Yourself by Tom Ryan (Albert Whitman & Company)
Best E-Book Original Novel: Close to You by Kerry Wilkinson (Bookouture)

Reading with... Stephen Graham Jones

photo: Gary Isaacs

Stephen Graham Jones is the recipient of an NEA fellowship, the Texas Institute of Letters Award for Fiction, the Independent Publishers Award for Multicultural Fiction, a Bram Stoker Award, four This Is Horror Awards, and he's been a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award and the World Fantasy Award. By day, he is the Ivena Baldwin Professor of English at the University of Colorado Boulder. His novel The Only Good Indians was just published by Saga Press/Gallery.

On your nightstand now:

Alma Katsu's The Deep, Rachel Harrison's The Return, Andy Davidson's The Boatman's Daughter, a stack of Justified scripts, Jay Faerber and Scott Godlewski's first volume of Copperhead, and a blurb book I'm really excited about.

Favorite book when you were a child:

To Tame a Land by Louis L'Amour. Which is pretty embarrassing. Worse? Knowing what I know now, I still like this book. It's this cowboy in the Old West who's an impossibly fast draw, but he's always ducking behind a rock to read some Plutarch. And in the final showdown, he uses reading Plutarch to win. I really liked, and like, I guess, the idea of someone who can read also being good with the actiony parts of life. Which is to say, I used to think there were going to be a lot more High Noons when I grew up. And, there are, of course, but they're over the phone, they're across a conference table, they're at a podium.

Your top five authors:

Louise Erdrich, Stephen King, Philip K. Dick, Joe R. Lansdale, Octavia Butler.

Book you've faked reading:

Does everybody say here that they've never done that? Oh, oh, wait, maybe I have. Alan Moore's From Hell. I mean, I'm crazy for Moore, I've read way into all the Whitechapel stuff, have read all of his other comics, I read comic books all the time, but I've still somehow never cracked this one open. I've been in discussions where people are talking about it, too--this is where the "faked" comes into play--and instead of volunteering that it's not in my head yet, I just drink my Dr. Pepper especially slowly, and try not to draw any attention.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Luigi Meneghello's The Outlaws. It's these kids in Italy during World War II, they're trying to be part of the resistance, but they're also kind of not into being mean, so they come down out of the hills to do raids and stuff, but they wrap their clubs in cloth so they won't actually hurt anybody. I'll forever proselytize for this book. Which is useless, as it's impossible to find. But it's worth the looking, too.

Book you've bought for the cover:

The Buzzing. I think that's what it was called. Can't seem to search it up now, though, and my copy's long gone. The cover was all jagged and colorful, but what really drew me--correct me if I'm wrong, anyone--was that it had a Thomas Pynchon blurb. This made this purchase compulsory. I used to drive six hours to pawn shops to pay too much for a magazine that might have a piece purported to have been written by or about Pynchon. So, reading text that he'd also read? That would practically be communion.

Book you hid from your parents:

Strange Stories, Amazing Facts. Not because it was illicit, but because, first, it was my bible growing up, it told me everything I needed to know, everything I would ever need to know, but, second--and this is why I had to hide it until after lights out--once I started reading it, no way was I ever going to sleep. I'd just read the entries over and over all night, scaring myself more and more.

Book that changed your life:

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. Took me four checkout periods to get through it in fourth grade. I picked it up because the librarian told me it was about hunting. I so clearly remember sitting in my classroom during free time and reading that last paragraph, then closing the book and holding it shut with my hand, and knowing that I could do that. I could stick an axe in a tree, hang a lantern on it long enough that the axe handle rots away, long enough that everything goes all rusty. That's when I knew I could write--I had a sense for how to end things. But I was always only going to be a farmer, an oil field worker or, if I was lucky, on the rodeo circuit, so I never had any actual plans to write. My life did change at the end of that book, though.

Favorite line from a book:

"I don't steal horses and anyhow you have a crummy horse." It's from Philip K. Dick's VALIS. I hope to someday write a line maybe a quarter as good.

Five books you'll never part with:

My school annual from eighth grade, because that's the only proof I have that that year ever happened. I've lost everybody I knew from then, I mean. The New Oxford Book of American Verse, because when I was 19, I wrote a letter in the back of it to the girl who would be my wife. Isaac Asimov's Neanderthals anthology, which I've actually given away once already, to Joe Lansdale. But I got another--a little mass-market sized hardback that might be a library binding. The Cemetery Dance big special hardback version of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child's Relic. I read and listen to and watch that one all the time, still. Have never gotten over it. Hope never to. And, fifth, Loeb and Sale's Batman: The Long Halloween. The big Absolute edition. That book brings it every single time I page through it.

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

Darwin's Radio by Greg Bear. For the wonder.

Book you still buy off any used shelf, even though you already have way too many:

The mass market paperbacks of The Crying of Lot 49. Because sometimes I can hold one of them and imagine what it must have been like to find this on a spinning rack, and walk away with it, crack it open in the parking lot, completely unaware of what's about to happen, and keep happening.

Book Review

Review: The Last Stargazers: The Enduring Story of Astronomy's Vanishing Explorers

The Last Stargazers: The Enduring Story of Astronomy's Vanishing Explorers by Emily Levesque (Sourcebooks, $25.99 hardcover, 336p., 9781492681076, August 4, 2020)

The popular image of an astronomer is a lone figure peering into a telescope, discovering brand-new stars or trying to make contact with aliens. Emily Levesque, astronomer and "weird star enthusiast," knows the reality is a little different. In her first nonfiction book, The Last Stargazers, Levesque charts a course through the rapidly evolving field of astronomy. With humor and heart, she explains the basics of what astronomers do while relating dozens of entertaining anecdotes about her chosen field. She also makes a strong case for why humans should continue to study the skies.

A dedicated backyard stargazer as a child, Levesque spent her undergraduate years at MIT, before earning her Ph.D. from the University of Hawaii. Like many astronomers, she has spent time observing the night skies at some of the world's most powerful telescopes, tucked away in remote locations such as the mountains of Chile, rural New Mexico and Hawaii's Big Island. These observatories function as small ecosystems (human and scientific), and Levesque gives readers an insider's tour of their protocols and quirks.

She discusses the challenges of keeping a nocturnal schedule, the prevalence of lucky observing socks and other common superstitions, and shares some of her most exciting--and daunting--experiences (including the time she wasn't sure if she had broken a 400-pound secondary telescope mirror). She also collects and retells incidents that have passed into astronomy lore, such as the time a black bear wandered into the Apache Point observatory in New Mexico, or when a Texas telescope sustained "extraordinarily small" damage from a crazed gunman in 1970. Like many branches of science, astronomy has historically been overwhelmingly white and male, and Levesque acknowledges the field's struggles with sexism and racism while celebrating the achievements of astronomers who are female or people of color.

Recent advances in telescope technology have allowed astronomers to observe the skies from the comfort of home and collect mind-boggling amounts of data, but the field still relies on human skills that can't be replicated by a machine. Perhaps more importantly, the study of the skies is predicated on wonder--and even the best telescopes can only note and demarcate data. Humans are necessary not only to aim and operate the machines, but to wrestle with the implications of what they find--and, sometimes, simply to gaze in awe at the complexities of the universe.

Warm, engaging and packed with highly accessible science, The Last Stargazers is thoroughly entertaining and an impetus for readers to take up a little stargazing of their own. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Shelf Talker: Astronomer Emily Levesque takes readers on an engaging tour of her field (and the skies) in a warm, informative work of popular science.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Empty-Beach Reads

Depending upon your state's Covid-19 restrictions (or lack thereof) as well as your own states of mind and health, your "beach reads" spectrum this summer has probably ranged from leisurely to death-defying.

Wherever you live, daily pandemic fluctuations are charted like dangerous storm fronts. In fact, the Weather Channel's website now has a "Track Coronavirus in Your County" link just above the one for "Hurricane Central." You may not need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, but if you're monitoring hurricanes and pandemics on the same website, it's kind of hard to get in a beach reads frame of mind.

Lift Bridge Bookshop, Brockport, N.Y., gets in the mood

And yet, the traditional flood of summer reading lists still arrived on schedule this year, even as beaches themselves became more and more problematic. What is it about this season that inspires endless variations on a theme reflected in media headlines like "29 of the Best Beach Reads of Summer 2020: Sand is optional with these page-turners" and "The Beach May Be Closed, But These Books Are Worth Opening?"

It's viral, of course, if I can still use that word in another context. Most of us catch beach read fever when the temperatures rise, and indie booksellers are not immune. For 2020, however, they've also had to adapt to the masked-up Terror on the Beach vibes of Covid Summer, though burying their heads in beach sand was never going to be an option.

Okay, I'll grant that one delightful exception to this sand submersion rule would be Portobello Bookshop in Edinburgh, Scotland, which shared a photo on Wednesday featuring one of its booksellers achieving the middle ground... underground: "We love the cover of Olivia Laing's Funny Weather so much we went down to Portobello Beach and recreated it. Because booksellers are intensely serious people."

Seasonally irresistible book jackets have long been an essential ingredient for beach read displays and sales. In 1888, the American Bookmaker reported: "Look which way one may the words 'Summer Reading,' 'Outdoor Books,' 'For Tourists,' 'Summer Series,' etc. meet the eye. It need hardly be said that these books are all complete in one volume, and mostly in paper or flexible covers.... But there is one thing which the book for summer reading should have and that is a cool cover. By cool cover is not necessarily meant a paper one. Some cloth covers have a trim and airy look about them, pleasant to the eye, agreeable to the touch."

We're fortunate, especially in the midst of Pandemic Summer '20, that actual beaches are not required for beach reading. Bestselling author Elin Hilderbrand, who sets many of her novels--including her latest, 28 Summers--on Nantucket, recalled a painful summer growing up when her father had died and the family's traditional summer outing was called off. Instead, she worked at a factory making Halloween costumes. "What I could have used that summer was a book to replace my summer beach vacation, something that would have let me escape," she said.

Mary Kay Andrews, whose most recent title is Hello, Summer, observed: "This year, maybe the beach read will be on somebody's back porch or hammock or in the corner of an apartment of wherever they're sheltering at home. What I hope to do is take them to the beach in their imagination."

Thoughts of summer books inevitably lead to memories of languorous browsing on a hot, hot day in an indie bookstore with the A/C cranking; or a beach bookshop with a gentle sea breeze sifting through window screens. This summer, however, it's a bit more complicated.

To meet the need for stay-at-home summer reading, Scrawl Books, Reston, Va., is offering a Beach Bag Bundle, noting: "Don't overthink it--let us surprise you with the perfect summer beach bag. Wherever you're celebrating summer, we've got the perfect bag for you. Each bundle comes with a Scrawl Books tote bag, jigsaw puzzle, an activity book and a selection of in-stock paperbacks. Keep it for yourself or gift it to a friend!"

My first official beach read of the non-comic book variety was, I think, The Great Gatsby. During the July swelter of 1968, I plunged in because it was on a required pre-semester reading list sent by the college I'd be attending in the fall. For the record, this was soon followed, in subsequent years, by William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist and Peter Benchley's Jaws, so my beach reads range was nutritionally balanced from the start.

"There is no season of the year in which there is more trash read than during the midsummer weeks or months, when nearly every one takes some kind of a vacation," Friends' Intelligencer & Journal reported in 1885. "People seem naturally and willingly to fall into a sort of literary demoralization then.... Hundreds of young people return from a summer vacation with their literary tastes perverted, filled with unwholesome fantasies, a morbid sentimentalism the result of their unguided summer reading. 'Where we go,' said a lady, 'one has to read trash or nothing.' " Sounds like we've evolved from empty beach reads to empty-beach reads. Progress of sorts, no?

--Robert Gray, editor

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