Shelf Awareness for Friday, December 11, 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

'Buying Books Is an Act of Community'

"You don't become a bookseller just to fulfill online and phone orders. A bookshop without customers begins feel like a warehouse. But behind every online order is a grandparent reading bedtime stories over Zoom. It's two friends drinking wine at a book club. It's someone's self-care, their promise to themselves to spend less time on their phone/laptop/in the spin cycle of bad news. Every time you handwrite 'thinking of you xxx' in a card to a customer's friend or family, know that they're also thinking of us. Independent bookshops that people want to exist in the future. Reading may be an act of solitude, but buying books is an act of community....

"Here in Melbourne, we've just opened the doors to customers for the first time since July. I've never felt more appreciated as a bookseller in my life. The gratitude for all the hard work from my colleagues in lockdown didn't go unappreciated, we just never heard about it. Every day back has been humbling and joyous. Now the cry of I'm so glad you're still here! is as ubiquitous as I love the smell of books. It may not feel like Christmas where you are, but I hope you can feel a little sparkle of Christmas spirit in the details of your orders that makes being a bookseller such a joy. Keep your tables pyramided, I promise your doors will open again."

--Emily Westmoreland, a bookseller at Avenue Bookstore, Melbourne, Australia, in a Books+Publishing piece headlined "A Christmas message to European bookshops"

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


Wyo.'s Valley Bookstore Reopening in New Location

Wendy Dodson, the new owner of Valley Bookstore in Jackson Hole, Wyo., is planning to reopen the store this weekend in its new home a few blocks from its old location, the Jackson Hole News & Guide reported.

Dodson purchased the store from longtime owner Steve Ashley in September, and she found the new space soon thereafter. The store was closed for the month of November while Dodson moved the business and renovated the new space, which is around 1,500 square feet.

She has retained all of Valley Bookstore's previous employees, and she told JHNG that she hopes to add some new children's sidelines like puzzles and games. She's also significantly upgraded the store's website, making it much easier for customers to buy books online.

"I hope the new store has the same charm as the old one but a little more room to roam," said Dodson. Prior to buying Valley Bookstore, Dodson worked in fundraising. When that largely dried up due to the Covid-19 pandemic, she decided to act on her dream of owning a bookstore. "I expect to keep most of what the store has had but to put my own stamp on it."

The bookstore's roots can be traced back to 1949, when Dick and Fran Lange founded The Valley Store in Jackson. At that time the store sold books, stationery and art supplies. It has changed locations several times over the decades, and previous owner Steve Ashley purchased it in 1977.

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

Jordan Smith Named NBF Interim Director

Jordan Smith

Effective December 18, Jordan Smith will become the interim executive director of the National Book Foundation. Currently the Foundation's deputy director, Smith will lead the organization as current executive director Lisa Lucas steps down to become senior v-p and publisher of Pantheon and Schocken Books at the end of the year. Lucas, meanwhile, will be joining the Foundation's board of directors.

"I am grateful to have worked closely with Lisa Lucas and the board of directors for the past five years, and to have gained firsthand experience overseeing the Foundation, and maximizing the reach and impact of the work we do," Smith said. "I am excited for the opportunity to help shepherd the Foundation during this important transition, and I'm especially pleased to have Lisa's continued input and connection to our work as part of our board."

Lucas said: "Having worked alongside Jordan for many, many years, I have complete faith in her ability to ensure that the Foundation’s programs and activities continue to run as smoothly as they are now. I look forward to seeing all the great work that is to come, and for the opportunity to participate in this next chapter as a member of the board of directors."

Smith has been with the NBF since 2016, when she started as director of education. She was promoted to deputy director in 2019, and throughout her tenure she's helped grow and expand programmatic activities, support fundraising initiatives, supervise program staff, develop systems related to program implementation and more. One of her biggest contributions was designing and launching Book Rich Environments, a program that has distributed 1.4 million books to young people and families in public housing committees over the past four years.

"Until we complete the formal search process to permanently fill the executive director position, we are very fortunate to have such an experienced and proven leader in deputy director Jordan Smith," said David Steinberger, chief of the board of directors, "and, of course, we are thrilled to welcome Lisa Lucas in her new capacity as a member of the Foundation's board."

SIBA Launches the Southern Bookseller Review

The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance has launched The Southern Bookseller Review, a website and weekly newsletter focused on reviews from Southern indie booksellers of titles they are most excited to handsell. These will be garnered from store websites, newsletters, social media and submissions to Edelweiss Plus.

SBR "introduces a new approach to SIBA's commitment to outreach and advocacy for its bookstore members with their customers, potential customers, and the general reading public," the organization said. The project is an evolution of several long-standing, consumer-facing SIBA programs, including Authors Round the South, Okra Picks, and The Lady Banks Commonplace Book newsletter.

"Indie booksellers know that getting the right book at the right time into the hands of the right reader is life-changing," said SIBA executive director Linda-Marie Barrett. "The Southern Bookseller Review is a unique and beautiful vehicle for making these connections happen. We are providing a thoughtfully curated selection of book reviews and more, from across our territory, that highlight the diverse literary tastes of our booksellers and their delight in bringing these books to readers everywhere."

SBR's website contains a searchable database of reviews from indie booksellers and a directory of Southern indie bookstores with links to their reviews.  It is also the new home of the Southern indie bestseller list and the Southern Book Prize. The newsletter features recently posted reviews and highlights titles that are receiving an exceptional amount of bookseller buzz. It will also offer profiles of Southern indie bookstores and booksellers.

How Bookstores Are Coping: Last-minute Shopping; Intentional Customers

Rebecca George, co-owner of Volumes Bookcafe in Chicago, Ill., reported that her store is open for limited browsing and offering curbside pick-up and shipping. The cafe is open for to-go coffee only, and has been operating at that level since reopening after spring closures; George added that the unused cafe has essentially become the shipping and fulfillment area for the store.

Capacity is capped at 10 people, which has not been a problem during the week but does result in some lines forming on the weekends. She and her team have had to "play bouncer" on busy days, and while there have been few issues with mask-wearing, George recalled, there have been a surprising number of people not wanting to use hand sanitizer.

Though the pandemic has been extremely difficult, it has shown George and her team how much the community really values the store. Normally there are a "ton" of tourists during the summer, but this year the store had only locals to rely on. The store's regular customers have been great, and she noted that Volumes has added "hundreds of new customers" over the course of the pandemic. More schools and other organizations in the community are partnering with the store as well, and Volumes is now doing "twice the amount of book fairs" that it used to.

The store's lease is up in March, and George is looking at the "very real possibility" that the store will have to move. Given what she and her team have learned during the pandemic about online sales, curbside service and virtual events, she feels fairly confident that they could manage if they had to "hole up" in a small pop-up or temporary location. "We could just keep trucking."

George explained that the store has a new building owner with whom they don't have much of a relationship and from whom they haven't received much help. The store launched a GoFundMe campaign back in April that was able to cover a few months' worth of rent. Rents in her neighborhood are extremely high, and with her cafe closed she's paying a lot for space that she can't truly utilize. And considering it may still be months before things return to normal, she is unsure how long she wants to keep doing that.

The store made a big push for early holiday shopping and especially for preorder campaigns of major holiday titles, but still, there are a "lot of last-minute shoppers right now." Some titles are already impossible to find, and George remarked that in past holiday seasons she would "panic" and try to do just about anything to get a book for a last-minute customer and pull off a Christmas miracle. This year, she's been a bit more pragmatic, essentially telling those customers to either "do an IOU or rethink your gift choice."

In addition to A Promised Land, major titles have included Ready Player Two and several cookbooks, including Milk Street: Cookish by Christopher Kimball and Ottolenghi Flavor by Yotam Ottolenghi. The biggest surprise for her has been the success of Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey, and she said she wished she could get more of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue back in stock.


In Little Rock, Ark., Pyramid Art, Books & Custom Framing has a sign on the front door saying the store is open by appointment only, but co-owner Garbo Hearn and her team will allow walk-ins if there are no scheduled appointments. There have been no issues with people refusing to wear masks, and customers have to either use hand sanitizer when they enter or immediately wash their hands at the store's bathrooms.

When the pandemic began, Hearn and her team were in the midst of revamping the store's website. Having to close in the spring accelerated that process, and they've continued to make improvements to the website and their order-fulfillment process over the past several months. All programming has been moved online, with all livestreamed events available on YouTube.

She noted that as a Black-owned bookstore, Pyramid has appeared on several prominent lists of Black-owned stores to support, which has certainly brought in new customers. Indie bookstores in general, she continued, have been getting much more attention lately, and it seems like people are starting to "really think about their purchases."

On the subject of holiday buying, Hearn said she "definitely bought less" this year. She took a closer look at what she did and didn't sell last holiday season and adjusted from there. In particular, she decided to work only with local merchants to source gifts and non-book items, and consequently ordered far fewer calendars and things of that nature. She added that the store did not make much of an early shopping push.

A Promised Land has been the store's top seller this holiday season, with Hearn pointing out that Pyramid ran a preorder special for the book, as well as an in-store special. Children's books are also "really doing well across the board"; stand-outs include I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes, Just Like Me by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, Undefeated by Kadir Nelson, and Kamala Harris's children's books. --Alex Mutter

Binc Extends Year-End Fundraising Goal, Announces New Matching Pledge


After reaching its year-end fundraising goal of $60,000 in "record time," the Book Industry Charitable Foundation has extended its goal by $20,000. Binc has also launched a new matching campaign, with authors Michael Loynd (All Things Irish), Leigh Bardugo (Shadow and Bone), Tom Watson (the Stick Dog series) and Chris Bohjalian (The Flight Attendant) teaming up to match donations up to $10,000.

"Thank you to Michael, Leigh, Tom and Chris for coming together to lead this new matching campaign," said Pamela French, Binc's executive director. “We know the pandemic has put pressure on many people, and we don't make this ask lightly. Making a gift will strengthen the book and comic industry's safety net and help us continue navigating this challenging time. Gifts of all amounts are valued and important, and we thank everyone who has given so far. Thank you.”

Since the pandemic began in March, Binc has helped more than 600 bookseller and comic retailer families and distributed more than $700,000. By comparison, through the first 10 months of 2019, Binc helped 88 families and distributed roughly $200,000.

Obituary Note: Karl Killian

Karl Killian

Karl Killian, founder of Brazos Bookstore and a "towering figure in Houston's literary and arts scene dating back to the 1970s," died December 9. He was 77. On Facebook, Brazos posted: "It is with profound sadness that we learned our founder, Karl Killian, passed away last night. Karl opened Brazos Bookstore in 1974. Although he left the store many years ago, his spirit has always been a part of everything we do. Thank you for a tremendous legacy."

In addition to running the bookstore, Killian co-founded the Inprint literary nonprofit in 1983 and "nurtured a scene that yielded the University of Houston's esteemed creative writing program," the Chronicle reported. He also created the Houston chapter of PEN.

"He was one of those people who was interested in making literary life in Houston something vibrant and interesting," said Rich Levy, executive director of Inprint, who worked with Killian dating back to the mid-'80s. "Karl just wanted to do whatever necessary to get folks into this amazing bookstore.... He loved what he did, and he loved the world of books.... An atmosphere of writers and writing permeated the place."

Mark Haber, operations manager at Brazos, said Killian's life and work "are just built into the literary DNA of Houston."

Although he grew up in Houston, Killian left for the Institute of Fine Arts in New York, where he eventually took a job as manager at an independent bookstore, the New Yorker. The Chronicle noted that during the mid-'70s, he moved back to Houston, "where he courted investors for a new bookstore located on Bissonnet." Later, Killian was involved in the expansion of Brazos from a one-room space on the north side of Bissonnet to a larger building on the south side of the street.

Haber noted that Brazos endured its struggles, particularly in the '90s as large chains moved in and online sales began to grow. "People forget this zeitgeist for independent things didn't always exist," he said. "Independent brewery or coffee shop or bookstore. There was a time that wasn't celebrated like it is today."

But Killian "promoted that shop local, customer-service model long before there were algorithms associated with book buying," said novelist Chris Cander. "He laid that groundwork for the beauty of in-person book buying. And curating, too. He was a curator of literature and art."

Killian retired from Brazos in 2006 to take a job as programs director for the Menil Collection, where he worked until 2016. His ties to the museum were established long before that. From the time it opened in 1987, he ran the Menil's bookstore as a satellite of Brazos. The Chronicle noted that "while Killian worked at the Menil, his first Houston institution was saved. A group of 27 investors banded together in 2006 to buy Brazos Bookstore."

Photographs of Killian with authors he brought to town still decorate the walls at Brazos. "Those photographs are a great reminder that he did this unbelievable thing," Haber said. "He built this great community, and we feel lucky to get to continue his work."


Bookshop Video: 'Shop Local, Save Christmas Rom-Coms'

A holiday season video PSA from the Book Shop of Beverly Farms in Beverly, Mass.: "I think the question is: What do you want your downtown to look like? Do you want it to look like your favorite Christmas movie, where you walk arm-in-arm with your sweetheart past quaint shops while snow falls lightly on your peacoat? Then shop local, because no one walks arm-in-arm to the Amazon warehouse, playfully starts a snowball fight and then warms up with a cup of hot chocolate. Shop Local: Save Christmas rom-coms."

Holiday Display Window: The Book Loft

The Book Loft, Solvang, Calif., shared a photo of its holiday season display window on Facebook, noting: "Have you seen our gingerbread wonderland window featuring the gorgeous Book Loft gingerbread house by @solvangbakery? The window design and all the cute gumdrops and gb people are by bookseller Ali with a bit of giant candy cane assistance from bookseller @heidihoneyman. Oh, and there are books in it too."

Personnel Changes at Macmillan Children's Publishing; Sourcebooks Fire

At Macmillan Children's Publishing Group:

Mary Van Akin has been promoted to director of publicity. Previously, she was associate director of publicity.

Kelsey Marrujo has been promoted to publicity manager. Previously, she was senior publicist.


Jackie Douglass has been promoted to marketing associate for Sourcebooks Fire.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Rachel Maddow, Mike Yarvitz on Fresh Air

Fresh Air: Rachel Maddow and Mike Yarvitz, authors of Bag Man: The Wild Crimes, Audacious Cover-up, and Spectacular Downfall of a Brazen Crook in the White House (Crown, $28, 9780593136683).

Movies: The Giver of Stars

Catalina Aguilar-Mastretta (Everybody Loves Somebody) will direct Universal Pictures' The Giver of Stars, based on the bestselling novel by Jojo Moyes, Deadline reported. Alison Owen and Debra Hayward are producing for their Monumental Pictures, with Ol Parker exec producing alongside Moyes.

Owen and Moyes previously collaborated on the film adaptation of Moyes's novel Me Before You. Deadline noted that after the success of that project, "Universal aggressively pursued the rights to The Giver of Stars once it was announced. It has become a high priority at the studio."

Books & Authors

Awards: Ruth Rendell Winner

Author, poet and hip hop artist Karl Nova won the Ruth Rendell Award for "his outstanding contribution to raising literacy levels in the U.K. in the last year," the Bookseller reported. Launched in 2016 by the National Literacy Trust and Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society in memory of Rendell, the prize celebrates "an author who has done outstanding work to champion literacy."

Author of Rhythm and Poetry, Nova was praised for his "unwavering commitment" to inspiring young readers and writers through creative writing workshops, talks and poetry. These continued during lockdown through digital channels, which enabled him to reach children and young people in the U.K. and beyond. During the past year, he made more than 75 visits to schools, organizations and festivals, in person and virtually.

NLT CEO Jonathan Douglas said: "Karl is a fantastic ambassador for poetry and literacy. He has such a warm and infectious energy, and he has inspired and continues to inspire so many children and young people through his writing, his workshops, his advocacy for equality. [His is] an especially powerful and positive voice in 2020. Like many writers this year, he hasn't let lockdown stop him: he has been incredibly busy doing everything he can to support so many across the U.K., and further, and working especially hard to support diverse and disadvantaged communities. Congratulations to Karl--a thoroughly deserving winner."

Nova commented: "I was so happy when Jonathan told me the news. I do what I do because I love to do it. I got into poetry through hip hop music and spoken-word slam poetry, and that was my door into the world of literacy. The beauty of poetry is that it is for everyone and anyone can do it. I have been working with young people for many years now, and to be recognized for it really does mean a lot."

Reading with... Michelle Gallen

photo: Declan Gallen

Michelle Gallen was born in County Tyrone in the mid 1970s and grew up during the Troubles a few miles from the border between what she was told was the "Free" State and the "United" Kingdom. She studied English literature at Trinity College Dublin and won several prestigious prizes as a young writer. Following a devastating brain injury in her mid-20s, she co-founded three award-winning companies and won international recognition for digital innovation. She lives in Dublin with her husband and kids. Big Girl, Small Town (Algonquin, December 1, 2020) is her first novel.

On your nightstand now:

I usually read myself to sleep, and then read some more when I wake in the middle of the night. I'm bouncing between two books. I'm reviewing a final draft of my second novel in reader, rather than writer, mode, trying to tighten up the manuscript before I submit it to my agent. When this melts my brain, I take refuge in the 2019 Booker Prize-winning novel Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. It's a funny, smart and energetic book that makes me miss London, the theatre, pubs and people. But it's also a comfort. The book transports me to pre-lockdown days, when I used to magic my way into a conversation with strangers who sometimes spilled their secrets and adventures as I listened, rapt. I try not to contrast my current manuscript to this work of genius!

Favorite book when you were a child:

I was a voracious and precocious reader as a child. I was 11 when I plucked Down All the Days from my mother's bookshelf. When she caught me reading it, she told me I was too young to read the likes of Christy Brown, and she confiscated the novel. Because nothing is as alluring as a forbidden book, I smuggled Down All the Days back off the shelf and read it in secret. This riotous, filthy, lyrical and heartbreaking book--written by someone almost completely paralyzed by cerebral palsy--seared itself into my consciousness and taught me lessons about endurance, joy and resilience that have helped me navigate my darkest days. Flawed, bawdy and brilliant--it's most definitely not a children's book--but I love the characters' zest for life despite incredibly tough circumstances.

Your top five authors:

Oh, I hate this question. Naming a top 5,000 authors wouldn't do the world of words justice. But if I must:

Elena Ferrante
Marieke Lucas Rijneveld
Alice Walker
Seamus Heaney

Book you've faked reading:

I am horrified by this question. People fake reading books?!? The closest I've come to that was when my book group voted on our next book after I'd sunk several glasses of wine. I woke the next day, fuzzy on which book we'd agreed on, but too embarrassed to admit I'd forgotten. I knew the title was 'American Something to Do with Weddings,' so I did a quick search and found An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. It seemed to tick all the boxes, so I quickly read it. Growing up, injustices such as the wrongful imprisonment of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four by the British were powerful reminders that Irish citizens could not rely on justice to be blind, so An American Marriage resonated with me. I bumped into a book group friend the day before our meet up. We then had an enormously strange conversation in which her opinion of An American Marriage was entirely different to mine. Towards the end of the conversation I realized that I'd read the wrong book--they were reading American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld! I had to speed read American Wife overnight. I guess I temporarily faked reading American Wife, but I did read it in the end. Fast.

Book you're an evangelist for:

I absolutely love Oona by Irish-American poet Alice Lyons. It's an account of a first-generation immigrant girl, growing up in an affluent New Jersey suburb. She loses her mother at an early age, and this void shapes her journey through adolescence and her development as an artist. Oona engages with white privilege and the conspicuous consumption of 1950s America in contrast with a much poorer, though culturally rich Ireland. The book is written without using the letter "O"--a technical feat that makes "normal" texts look oddly fat by comparison.

Book you've bought for the cover:

I read the e-book of Crissy Van Meter's gorgeous debut, Creatures, and because the cover was so beautiful, I had to buy a copy for my bookshelf. It's one of those rare covers that manages to capture the book's atmosphere. I suspect that if I licked the jacket, I'd taste salt.

Book you hid from your parents:

My uncle, a nurse, gave me I'm Done Crying by Louanne Ferris when I was around 12 years old. I kept it hidden because I'm Done Crying is an eye-opening account of Louanne's experience as a Black woman working as a nurse's aide in a hospital in Birmingham, Ala. The author was married at 15 years old to a rather feckless man, and raises her children in condemned housing while working at a hospital staffed by burnt out, indifferent medical staff. I will forever remember the scene where the narrator spots that her baby has something in his mouth. She hooks a finger inside to extract the object, and pulls out a live cockroach. The level of poverty and deprivation detailed in I'm Done Crying--as well as Louanne's dignity and devotion to others--reminds me of mother's stories of teaching in a deprived part of Derry city in the late 1960s.

Book that changed your life:

The summer before I started college, I read Robert McLiam Wilson's Ripley Bogle in one sitting. It was the first time I read a Northern Irish book that wasn't a cheap soap opera involving the IRA, the British army and a bomb or gun attack. The book unfurls over four days, during which a homeless former Cambridge student tramps London, remembering his childhood and education in West Belfast. Angry, funny, obscene and insistent--Ripley Bogle showed me that oddball narrators and the ordinary horror of Northern Irish life--are compelling.

Favorite line from a book:

"Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader, not the fact that it's raining, but the feeling of being rained upon." --E.L. Doctorow

Five books you'll never part with:

The Art of the Glimpse, edited by Sinéad Gleeson--a door-stopping collection of over 100 Irish short stories.

The Rattlebag, edited by Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney--an eclectic and wide-ranging collection of Hughes and Heaney's favorite poems.

Milkman by Anna Burns--I was taken hostage by this 2018 Booker Prize-winning novel. I could read it 10 times over and still find something extraordinary to mull over.

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys--a feminist and anti-colonial riposte to Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre that gives a voice, history and dignity to the madwoman in the attic.

Not Now, Bernard by David McKee--a children's classic that reminds me of chasm between my kids' wild and precious world view and my own blinkered experience.

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

I wish I could experience A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving for the first time again. I've never fallen so deeply in love with a character, and I've never cried so hard at a book's conclusion. I can't wait until my kids are old enough to read it.

Book Review

Review: At the Edge of the Haight

At the Edge of the Haight by Katherine Seligman (Algonquin Books, $26.95 hardcover, 304p., 9781643750231, January 19, 2021)

Katherine Seligman's gripping debut novel, At the Edge of the Haight, explores a community on the edge of a historic setting and on the edge of getting by, with a compelling protagonist and an array of issues to wrestle.

Twenty-year-old Maddy Donaldo lives in present-day Golden Gate Park, after Jerry Garcia and Janis Joplin are long gone, with a sort of chosen family. There's Ash, "a skinny upside-down triangle" of a young man, "the most no bullshit guy around" with a talent for effective design of cardboard panhandling signs. Quiet, gentle, strawberry-blond Fleet has a pet rat named Tiny. Spike-haired Hope talks to everyone; she's good with the tourists, but a bit of an instigator, too. And, most importantly, there's Root, Maddy's devoted dog. Together the friends scavenge food, find shelter, protect one another and navigate their tricky streets. It is Root who leads Maddy into the bushes in the first pages of this absorbing novel, where she stumbles upon a young man taking his last breath, and a man standing over him.

Maddy knows immediately that this sight will haunt her, that she is danger. She's been handed a problem she didn't earn; quickly the death of the boy named Shane follows her. The cops have questions. A man shows up at the local shelter and identifies himself as Shane's father and asks for Maddy's help. She gets to know Shane's parents, Dave and Marva, and finds her loyalties beginning to split. Dave is a birdwatcher; Maddy observes the creatures, human and nonhuman, who live with her in the park. She investigates Shane's murder, and along the way alienates her friends and finds herself nudged toward her own past, which she most wants to avoid.

At the Edge of the Haight is told in quiet prose from Maddy's first-person point of view, so the reader is privy to her thoughts and fears, including an interiority that both protects and isolates her. All other characters are secondary, but this is a novel captivating in both its story and its characters. It is concerned with the social ills of homelessness, including addiction, mental health challenges and economics, without becoming polemic. The mystery of Shane's death is a side plot, not the central focus; rather, it's the situation that pressures the tenuous life Maddy has set up in the park. Seligman's San Francisco is colorful and detailed. Readers are drawn into a challenging world with sympathetic characters, but it is Maddy's internal turmoil that makes this novel memorable. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Shelf Talker: In this quietly compassionate novel, a young homeless woman stumbles into a crime scene on the edge of Haight-Ashbury, and eventually reconsiders how she got there.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Shipping News--'Navigate this Storm & Make It to the Other Side'

Orders await at Bookworm of Omaha

With apologies to Annie Proulx ("From now on I want you to write a column, see? The Shipping News."), I'm going to write a Shipping/Receiving/Special Orders/Curbside Pickup News column for the age of Covid-19.

Oh, and it's also about secrets. In olden times, I used to be surprised by the naivete of bookstore customers who thought business was booming because whenever they visited the store--once a month on a Saturday afternoon--the place was packed. Booksellers did little to counter this impression. It was just part of the safe, cozy atmosphere I think we felt obliged to project at any cost. Never let'em see you sweat.

Thankfully this has changed, due in no small part to the direct communication options available through social media, not to mention crowdfunding sites like Indiegogo when needed. There are more ways to have those hard conversations without sacrificing bookshop magic. And now #DevilYear2020 has tossed a global pandemic into the mix, so honest communication online with customers is even more critical.

Which brings me to shipping news.

Kris Kleindienst

Last week Kris Kleindienst, co-owner of Left Bank Books, St. Louis, Mo., shared an amazing Facebook post that read, in part: "What did you do on your day off? If you are fortunate enough to have a job, that is. It's high season at the bookstore and I was on shipping duty. Nine hours on my feet, shuffling books through three computer programs, shelves, boxes, giftwrap, little notes at the request of the customer. The books on the shelves behind me are waiting for the rest of their order to arrive, be paired and packed. The awesome staff powered through so much today. And one of them even sprang for Insomnia Cookies which saved our lives at a crucial moment....

"All biz is online and about half do curbside, half want books mailed. This is extremely tech powered and also extremely physical. Business is up over last year, a godsend. But it takes about 10 times more work to process these orders and our biz model wasn't supposed to be a call center and warehouse. This is a totally different animal than the personal retail approach. I guess that was always our point about the A-word and their sweatshops. If I never see another rubberband, it will be too soon....

"I am so proud of how hard this crew is working, all masked up and doing their best to distance. On their feet eight-plus hours and gracious as all getout as they try to manage customer confusion with this remote experience, the ensuing delays because of supply chain slowdowns. Scheduling for safety is in direct conflict with scheduling for the work load we have. I am not complaining! But holy mother of god Covid is putting us through our paces."

At Madison Street Books, Chicago

In other shipping news, variations on a frank theme of "help us help you" abound online, including:

One More Page Books & More, Arlington, Va.: "Quick reminder to everyone as we work our way through orders: it is just us! Human beings! Doing our very best! This has been a PSA!"

Madison Street Books, Chicago, Ill.: "Friends! This is us begging you, please come pick up your orders! We're quickly running out of space!... Thank you!"

The Bookshop, East Nashville, Tenn.: "We're used to the holidays being crazy, but this year has truly been next-level (for which we're so very grateful, of course). Aside from doing our best to keep everyone safe, we're dealing with stock shortages and very overwhelmed shipping partners.... Please do not call us to place an order--because we are so tiny and with safety in mind, we have only one person working at a time, and that person is busy juggling appointments, orders, invoices, and so much more."

Mystery to Me, Madison, Wis.: "Is your special order in this video? Then come on down to Mystery to Me!"

Bookbar in Denver

BookBar, Denver, Colo.: "Tis the season to double check to see if you might have missed an e-mail from us letting you know your order is ready. We now have 2 (!) rooms serving as our storage for special orders, which means two things: one, we have the best and most supportive community ever; and two, we are running out of room!"

The Bookworm, Omaha, Neb.: "Can we just say 'WOW!' and 'thank you!' real quick? In today's episode of good problems to have, we've received such an outpouring of support--from customers near and far--that we had to acquire three bakers racks to hold more special orders."

And what would shipping news be without a nod to the shippers? From Browsers Bookshop, Olympia, Wash.: "Our workday kicks off when we see the sturdy and reliable UPS truck parked out front. Thanks Austin, Tara and all the other drivers who are getting us through this season; you always have a good word to spare! Seriously, UPS (and all the other carrier services out there): you folks deserve major props this year."

How do we chart the course ahead? I'll sail with Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, Mich.: "Thanks everyone for your patience, understanding, and support. To say this all has been a challenge is an understatement, but we are trying our best to navigate this storm and make it to the other side."

--Robert Gray, editor

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