Shelf Awareness for Friday, February 12, 2021

Union Square Kids: Julia and the Shark by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, illustrated by Tom de Freston

Tor Teen: Into the Light by Mark Oshiro

Peachtree Teen: Junkyard Dogs by Katherine Higgs-Coulthard

Blackstone Publishing: The Wisdom of Morrie: Living and Aging Creatively and Joyfully by Morrie Schwartz and Rob Schwartz

Neal Porter Books: All the Beating Hearts by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Cátia Chien

Editors' Note

Quotation of the Day

'Just Thinking About Connecting with People in Person Again Is Uplifting'

"I'm feeling a glimmer of hope and optimism lately--it's not because we've had very little snow! I love the white scenery. It's because vaccines are becoming more available. Yes, it's too slow, but I think that will improve by the end of this month. I'm hopeful!

"We are going back to in-store socially distanced meetings for our book clubs this month, and I have been chatting with publicists about in-store author events starting in June. Just thinking about connecting with people in person again is uplifting."

--Melissa DeMotte, owner of the Well-Read Moose, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, in the bookshop's e-newsletter 

GLOW: Tordotcom: The Crane Husband by Kelly Barnhill


D.C.'s MahoganyBooks to Open Second Location, in Maryland

MahoganyBooks, which began as an online store in 2007 and opened a bricks-and-mortar location in the Anacostia Arts Center in the Anacostia neighborhood in Washington, D.C., in 2018, plans to open a second store, at National Harbor in Prince George's County, in Maryland, on Juneteenth, June 19. The new store will have 1,400 square feet of space, nearly triple the size of its D.C. store, according to the Washington Business Journal. National Harbor, just south of Washington and across the Potomac from Alexandria, Va., is a multi-use development that includes 160 stores, 40 restaurants, office space, entertainment, housing, hotels and the Capital Wheel. MahoganyBooks specializes in books written for, by or about people of the African Diaspora.

Derrick and Ramunda Young

"Growing up in Prince George's County, this has become a full circle moment for me," said co-owner and co-founder Derrick Young. "MahoganyBooks is excited to open our doors to the visitors of National Harbor, and the residents of Prince George's County. Opening on Juneteenth reminds us that we carry forward the rich history and legacy of our community."

Co-owner and co-founder Ramunda Young said, "This is truly a testament to the support of our MahoganyBooks family. Throughout the pandemic and the 13 years prior, our community has rallied around us. Our mission is more clearer than ever. We will continue to provide a space that elevates Black authors and Black voices of the diaspora."

Kent Digby, executive v-p and senior asset manager at National Harbor, welcomed MahoganyBooks, saying, "This unique bookstore, with its regional and quickly growing national following, is the perfect complement to our retail portfolio of national brands and one-of-a-kind boutiques. National Harbor has quickly become a haven for successful retail entrepreneurs and well-loved brands."

Having run an online bookstore for 11 years before opening their storefront, the Youngs were well-prepared for the shift to e-commerce in book retailing when the pandemic hit last year. They have taken leadership roles in the African American community by "promoting reading, writing, and cultural awareness as tools to improve self-esteem, self-love and ultimately our communities to enrich the lives of motivated individuals." In late January, the store made national news when President Obama was the surprise visitor to a virtual meeting of the MahoganyBooks & Very Smart Brothas Book Club, the book club created by MahoganyBooks and Panama Jackson, writer for the band The Roots.

Soho Press: Black Dove by Colin McAdam

How Bookstores Are Coping: 'Very, Very Fortunate'; 'Laser-Focused'

Jamie Hope Anderson, owner of Downtown Books in Manteo, N.C., and Duck's Cottage Coffee & Books in Duck, N.C., reported that things are "pretty normal" at both of her stores on North Carolina's Outer Banks. Masks are required, of course, and Anderson and her team have implemented a number of other safety precautions. 

There is an occupancy limit, but aside from Thanksgiving weekend and Small Business Saturday, she has not had to worry about that very much at Downtown Books. Early in the pandemic Downtown Books moved into a smaller space next door that is about "half the size and half the price," which has been "an incredible silver lining."

At Duck's Cottage, which is also a coffee shop, the occupancy limit has had more of an impact. Anderson and the team there had to do a lot of rearranging to change traffic patterns in the store and reduce seating. Only six people are allowed in at a time, and at Duck's the limit is reached much more often.

Anderson said both stores had their best years ever in 2020. Perhaps the biggest contributing factor, she continued, was their location on the Outer Banks, which served as a kind of "sanctuary site" during the pandemic. Many second-home owners decamped there for months at a time, and she and her team have had many conversations with customers over the past year who mentioned they were visiting the area for the first time or visiting out of season for the first time.

After the mandatory shutdown in the spring, the summer was as busy as ever. The fall was "just as strong," and the fourth quarter was record-setting, with Downtown Books up by 80% over the previous year, and that was without any school fairs. Remarked Anderson: "We're very, very, very fortunate to be where we are."

January "wasn't slow at all," Anderson said, with both stores up "tremendously" compared to the same time last year. February has so far been "more of what we're used to for the winter months," but Anderson thinks things will pick up again in March. The local tourism board, meanwhile, predicts strong numbers through the third quarter, "until people start flying again." That said, so many people have visited the stores for the first time in the last year they could have a "whole new customer field."


In Grand Rapids and Okemos, Mich., Schuler Books has settled into a "hybrid" of pre-pandemic and pandemic operations, operations manager Tim Smith reported. The store is open for in-person shopping with limited capacity and the team is still processing a large number of web orders, so there is an order-fulfillment system running in tandem with normal bookstore operations. Smith added that some form of this hybrid approach will probably stick around even after the pandemic, and all of the work the team did reinventing aspects of the business should help in the future.

All told, Smith has been "generally pleased" with how 2020 ended up. The surge in web orders helped offset some of what was lost in-store, and some of the brightest spots from last year included the national buy local campaigns and the quality of titles that came out in the fall. These strong titles, Smith continued, really helped drive holiday sales at the store.

The bookstore team remains optimistic about 2021, though they will continue to be "laser-focused" on how things are going and willing to make adjustments when necessary. --Alex Mutter

Weiser Books: Mexican Sorcery: A Practical Guide to Brujeria de Rancho by Laura Davila

International Update: Waterstones Cautions Government on Rates, Taxes, Publisher Commits Profits to BLM TO

Waterstones is one of several major retailers that have signed a letter warning British Chancellor Rishi Sunak that "the business rates burden on shops is risking thousands of high street jobs," the Bookseller reported. It also called for online retailers to pay their "fair share" of tax.

"We urge you to use the upcoming budget to commit to fundamental reform of business rates focused on reducing the burden on retailers and levelling the playing field between bricks and mortar and online businesses," the letter stated. 

Daunt told the Sunday Times that 80 of the 290 Waterstones branches could close when leases expire unless business rates fall, adding: "It is clearly a cliff-edge and some businesses will fail if nothing is done. The government's failure to do anything on business rates is mind-boggling... how long can they go on year after year, wringing their hands and saying, 'We're thinking about it?' It's pathetic.”

The letter "comes after reports over the weekend that the Treasury is exploring an online sales tax to 'shift the balance' away from online retailers like Amazon and back towards the high street," the Bookseller wrote.


Last June, the University of Toronto Press committed 100% of the profits in 2020 from the sale of its Black Studies books, "a list that puts the challenges that Black people face every day in context and directly confronts the sociopolitical underpinnings of systemic racism," to support the Toronto chapter of Black Lives Matter. UTP recently announced it had raised and donated C$2,000 (about US$1,565) to BLM TO.

"Many of these books emerged from the activist work of academics," said Jane Kelly, UTP's director, sales and marketing. "By underwriting that work with funds raised by the sales of those books, we're ultimately contributing to the growth of a Black literary ecosystem.... As Canada's largest scholarly press, we believe that words carry weight. Books can foster understanding and shape how people think, plan, and govern. They also inform and inspire our ongoing work towards equity, inclusion and justice."


Google showcased Italian bookseller Mattia Garavaglia, who has been "hand-delivering books from his shop La Libreria del Golem to dozens of house-bound customers around Turin. When Covid-19 hit Italy, his dreams of owning his own bookshop were nearly shattered. With a little help from Google Maps and a passion for cycling, he found a way to keep the story alive."

Garavaglia had posted a picture of himself and his bike on social media last February, with the caption, "I'll come to you."

"A small idea makes a big change," he said. "I found out that with Google Maps, I could just save the locations I needed to get to.... It became the backbone of my daily delivery existence."

His girlfriend, Gida, a local chef, "would sometimes make her signature tiramisu and package each book with a sweet surprise," Google noted. "Their book bundles sparked joy across the city, inspiring Mattia's partnership with Denise Cappadonia, owner of the LGBTQ+ bookshop NORA Book & Coffee. Rather than competing for business, they worked together to reach more customers and support each other.... Now, Mattia, Gida and Nora are looking for more ways to help their community and independent booksellers across Turin."


In an Outlook Traveller piece headlined "Exploring Bookstores Across the World via Bookstagram," Nakshatra Shah wrote: "With the many restrictions on travel at the moment, bibliophiles have been missing hanging out at bookstores, or libraries and book cafes. But an online book-loving community have been scrolling away furiously, to get their fill of such spaces across the world.  

"I am talking about Bookstagram which is perceived to be a content spinning platform. This community of bibliophiles and book appreciators have assembled together to share the delight that books are, with people all over the world. And it has made staying at home an easier experience." --Robert Gray

Amazon Adding Warehouse in Tennessee

Amazon plans to open a 634,812-square-foot fulfillment center in Alcoa, Tenn., near Knoxville. The facility, which is anticipated to launch in 2022, joins the company's other fulfillment and sortation centers in Charleston, Chattanooga, Lebanon, Murfreesboro, Memphis and Nashville.

Holly Sullivan, Amazon's head of worldwide economic development, said, "Tennessee is a great state for business and we are excited to have the opportunity to partner, grow and better serve our customers throughout this region."

Obituary Note: Robert L. Herbert

Robert L. Herbert, the "pioneering scholar of 19th-century art" who transformed the study of Impressionism, died on December 17 at the age of 91, the New York Times reported. The cause of death was a stroke.

Over the course of a teaching career lasting more than 60 years, Herbert curated numerous exhibitions and published books prolifically. They included studies on the work of artists like David, Seurat, Monet and Renoir, and his magnum opus was Impressionism: Art, Leisure and Parisian Society.

Published by Yale University Press in 1988, it "interweaves sociology of class and gender relationships with close readings of canonical painting" and took Herbert 20 years to write. Immediately hailed as a landmark in the field, Impressionism "vaulted him into the ranks of exalted socially minded art historians."

Herbert spent 34 years at Yale before joining his wife, Eugenia Herbert, at Mount Holyoke College, where she was a history professor. He became the Andrew W. Mellon professor of humanities there, and both retired in 1997.

He earned many honors throughout his career, including a Guggenheim fellowship in 1970-71 and the Distinguished Service Award from the College Art Association in 2008. In 1991 the French government awarded him the Legion of Honor.


Masking Up: Literati Bookstore

Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, Mich., featured a "note left on our virtual typewriter" that shared a powerful personal request to others from a "one of those vulnerable people who has had to wear a mask for years." The letter concluded: "I just want to spend a few more years with my family before I go. You've got your whole life to eat at restaurants and travel the world. Be patient. Be kind."

Media and Movies

TV: The Essex Serpent

Claire Danes (Homeland) will play the lead role in the upcoming Apple drama series The Essex Serpent, based on the book by Sarah Perry. She is taking over "the role from Keira Knightley, whose exit from the project was reported back in October," according to Variety.

The project will be directed by Clio Bernard, with Anna Symon serving as head writer. Both will also executive produce along with Jamie Laurenson, Hakan Kousetta, Patrick Walters, Iain Canning, and Emile Sherman. Andrea Cornwell will serve as producer. See-Saw Films will produce for Apple. 

Books & Authors

Awards: Rathbones Folio Shortlist

The shortlist has been released for the £30,000 (about $41,190) Rathbones Folio Prize, which recognizes "works of literature in which the subjects being explored achieve their most perfect and thrilling expression." The winner will be named March 24 in a digital ceremony hosted with the British Library. This year's shortlisted titles are: 

handiwork by Sara Baume 
Indelicacy by Amina Cain 
As You Were by Elaine Feeney 
Poor by Caleb Femi 
My Darling from the Lions by Rachel Long 
In the Dream House: A Memoir by Carmen Maria Machado 
A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa
The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey 

Reading with... Eliza Jane Brazier

photo: Beverly Brooks

Eliza Jane Brazier is an author, screenwriter and journalist. Her debut adult novel, If I Disappear (Berkley, January 26, 2021), is about a true crime fan who turns detective when her favorite podcast host goes missing. Brazier, who writes YA novels under the name Eliza Wass, lives in California, where she is developing If I Disappear for television.

On your nightstand now:

Fleabag: The Scriptures by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. I love reading scripts, and Fleabag has some really good ones. Her musing on the size of her bum hole in Act 1 is unforgettable (perhaps unfortunately!) I am also super-lucky to have many 2021 debuts friends, which means I have their books in the queue. Nekesa Afia's Dead Dead Girls and Lyn Liao Butler's Tiger Mom's Tale are two I've been waiting for!

Favorite book when you were a child:

Tough question! First of all, define child because I'm sure I acted like one yesterday. Second, like most authors, I read so many books and loved them all. I'm a huge animal lover so anything with animals was my jam. Off the top of my head, Bonnie Bryant's the Saddle Club series. I worked at a horse stable from the age of eight (child labor laws do not apply when there are horses), but whenever I wasn't at the stables, I was reading about people at the stables.

Your top five authors:

Michelle McNamara for making me believe there are good people in the darkest places. Gillian Flynn for her perfect precision. Megan Abbott for her wild ambition. Donna Tartt for making me laugh. And Louise O'Neill for inspiring me to speak in my own voice.

Book you've faked reading:

Um, excuse you, but I will read anything you put in front of me. Free pamphlets, textbooks, even the Bible. Anything is fair game.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Louise O'Neill's Only Ever Yours. It's about women who are raised for the pleasure of men and it's set in an alternate universe. Allegedly.

Book you've bought for the cover:

So many! Off the top of my head, Chloe Benjamin's The Immortalists and Tara Conklin's The Last Romantics, which basically have the same cover. I confused them for each other.

Book you hid from your parents:

Fan fiction. One that I should also hide from you is that I read Snowqueen IceDragon's Master of the Universe, which later became Fifty Shades of Grey. I like to read anything that is popular because it can teach you so much about the world.

Book that changed your life:

Cecily Von Ziegesar's Gossip Girl. In the first book, Serena Van Der Woodson is dumped by all of her friends. The same thing happened to me in middle school (although I'm pretty sure it was *not* because they were jealous of me--sorry, Mom!) So, Serena goes to a party by herself and ends up having the most magical time with a bunch of strangers. It was a revelation to me and led to a life of befriending strangers. I legit used to tell people my name was Serena. It's an example of how books can infiltrate your identity and empower you.

Favorite line from a book:

"The best of all possible worlds"

Okay, so, it's technically not the invention of the author of the book wherein I encountered it (Voltaire's Candide), but it has definitely stayed with me because it's infinitely relevant. The phrase was coined by Gottfried Leibniz as part of a theory that purported that God is good and God created the world, therefore this is the best of all possible worlds. Voltaire didn't agree.  

Five books you'll never part with:

I've moved around a lot so these are books I've bought multiple times. Gillian Flynn's Sharp Objects. Every single line and character and scenario in that book says something about what it means to be a woman in the world. It's a perfectly calibrated story. Donna Tartt's The Secret History. The section where they all go to Bunny's funeral offers this frightening accurate depiction of the humor and mundanity in tragedy. Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle. Spoiler alert, no one gets what they want--except the reader. Megan Abbott's Dare Me is the definition of wildly ambitious. Abbott managed to write a book about cheerleaders as an Epic Tragedy and it absolutely works. Louise O'Neill's Only Ever Yours. Louise allows this obsessive, constant comparison to infiltrate the first-person narrative in an unsettlingly accurate depiction of the mind of a teenager. (And an adult, if you spend too much time on social media!)

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

So many! I love the ones that make you think you wrote them. Where the author disappears and you see yourself on the page, living in this carefully reconstructed world where even pain is beautiful and everything is meaningful.

Your desert island book:

Anything by Donald Trump. I'll need to start a fire.

Book Review

Review: The Smash-Up

The Smash-Up by Ali Benjamin (Random House, $27 hardcover, 352p., 9780593229651, February 23, 2021)

The Smash-Up, Ali Benjamin's first novel for adults, is an eviscerating, hilarious and gutting look at the destabilizing effect of 2018's confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh on a marriage--not one of political opposites, but of ostensibly like-minded liberals.

Ethan and Zenobia Frome live in small-town Starkfield, Mass. (Benjamin will gesture several times toward Edith Wharton's novel.) Fifteen years earlier, they left Brooklyn so that "Zo could make her films in peace" and "Ethan could write novels, maybe a screenplay or two." It hasn't worked out that way. Ethan and Zo's 11-year-old daughter, Alex, who delivers a daily apocalypse of mood swings, routinely complicates their lives. But that's not their only problem.

After Zo attended the Women's March with some local women, they formed All Them Witches, which meets regularly at the Frome house, "half of them wearing pink hats," observes Ethan, from whose perspective the bulk of the novel is told, and "all wearing their wrath like a suit of armor." Ethan understands their outrage, especially during the confirmation hearings, but he's noticed that Zo's anger seems to be keeping her from her work on a big freelance project for ESPN.

Ethan has been patiently awaiting the money owed to him by Bränd, the guerrilla marketing firm that he and his college buddy Randy started two decades earlier, but there's a clog in the cash pipeline: as the novel opens, Ethan learns that Randy has been publicly called out for the sort of behavior that would make All Them Witches want to see the man's head on a pike. Worse, Randy is appealing to Ethan to fix the problem.

The Smash-Up covers a four-day span during which Ethan finds himself considering Randy's request, chasing down Alex's Adderall prescription, returning the high-end furnishings that Zo keeps impulse-buying, dealing with his attraction to a young woman and wondering, on the heels of witnessing Zo do something underhanded in the name of social justice, where he stands in the culture wars.

Perhaps a novel fueled by 2018's emotions-churning confirmation hearings was inevitable; what wasn't inevitable was that the book would be this good. Although much of The Smash-Up's humor derives from scenes spotlighting the indulgent parenting and so-called political correctness associated with educated white liberals, Benjamin (The Thing About Jellyfish) punches neither up nor down but to the side--both sides. Her novel skewers a distinctly contemporary attitude that would have flummoxed Edith Wharton. As one of Benjamin's characters puts it, "When did we all fall so in love with our own opinions?" --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Shelf Talker: In this funny, withering and devastating novel, the fallout from 2018's Supreme Court confirmation hearings takes a toll on a marriage.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Love for Absent Customers on Valentine's Day

These new themes represent a broader pivot happening in many U.S. cities this Valentine's Day. Cities and institutions still reeling from a year of loss and isolation brought on by Covid-19 are retrofitting the holiday the same way they've modified everything from sidewalks to office interiors. What has emerged is a new focus on love that goes beyond the romantic: Platonic love, love for the places we call home, and for the communities that inhabit them.

--Bloomberg CityLab

While getting words of Valentine's Day wisdom from Bloomberg may not seem like the most romantic way to start the weekend, everything's a little different in 2021. Encountering the paragraph above made me consider the fact that, in this most isolated of years, love for customers who are still largely absent from bookshops is a tangible emotion. However loyal they may be with online orders and curbside pickups, the bookseller/customer relationship is still missing something. There is an absence at the heart of bookstores now.

But we can still share words, a key aspect of Valentine's Day, though select enhancements are also welcome. As BookBar, Denver, Colo., reminds us: "Reading poetry with fantastic wine, yummy chocolate, and your loved one sounds like the perfect way to spend Valentine's Day. Get your Duo bundle or Solo (for those who love themselves)."  

Mabel at Mabel's Fables in Toronto has some Valentine's ideas.

Three particular words (I love you) tend to dominate the holiday, of course. They have been used--and misused--since we were kids. Remember the cryptic messages on candy hearts (Fast Company just revealed a terrifying AI version of those devil treats); the anticipatory joy and fear of grammar school Valentine cards for everybody in the class (but you always knew which ones really mattered, right?)

"I love you." It's a fine sentence, simple yet infinitely complex, filled with emotion and history and danger, yet also... declarative. Readers, and by readers I mean in this case indie bookstore fans, love reading, love books, love their favorite authors and love their local bookshops. Indie booksellers love them back, and know the best ways to tempt patrons with Valentine's treats, even in times of pandemic. A sampling from this year would include:

Suggestions from Bank Square Books in Mystic, Conn.

"Books to Fall in Love With," a series of videos--DIESEL, A Bookstore, Brentwood & Del Mar, Calif.
"Swipe Right on a Good Book"--This Is a Bookstore & Bookbug, Kalamazoo, Mich.
"Book Advice for Lovers"--Powell's Books, Portland, Ore.
"Win a Date in a Bookshop"--Wheatberry Books Book Store, Chillicothe, Ohio
"Boozy (or not) Blind Date with a Book"--Little Shop of Stories, Decatur, Ga.
"Romance Book Bundles"--Mysterious Galaxy, San Diego, Calif.
"Valentine's Pottery Date Night"--Main Street Books, Hattiesburg, Miss.
"Curated gift boxes"--Kismet Books, Verona, Wis.
"Which Novel Is Your Book Valentine?"--Watermark Books, Wichita, Kan.
"Shop Where Your Heart Is"--Francie & Finch Bookshop, Lincoln, Neb.

Internationally, Valentine's Day book love is also in the air, from New Zealand ("Have you seen our Valentine's GIVEAWAY post????") to Ireland ("This year, we're embracing the kind of Valentine's Day we had as kids... and a total disregard for romance."); from the Philippines ("Please reserve for your loved ones.") to, well, the whole virtual world. ("Cosy up on Valentine's Day... with the Bookshop Band and multi-award winning illustrator Chris Riddell for an evening of books, music, poetry and drawing.").

I've even collected some words of Valentine's Day wisdom from indie booksellers to their customers through the oracle machine that is social media:

RoscoeBooks, Chicago, Ill.: "It's almost Valentine's Day, and love is in the air! But try not to breathe in too deeply--we're in the middle of a pandemic, remember."

Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, Wash.: "Roses are red,/ Violets are blue,/ If you need something to read,/ These new releases are for you! We're not quitting our day jobs to become poets anytime soon, but you get the picture...."

Anderson's Bookshop, Naperville & Downers Grove, Ill.: "Love comes in many different forms and February is a month to toast them all! To celebrate all the ways we experience love as humans, we put together a list of titles that explore love from angles besides romance."

Stirling Books & Brew, Albion, Mich.: "Love is a lot like coffee, there's nothing better than the warm feeling inside it gives you."

Vivien Jennings at Rainy Day Books

Sometimes it's just a random act of kindness and appreciation that wins the day, especially now. One of my favorite recent examples appeared in the newsletter from Rainy Day Books, Kansas City, Mo.: "A Valentine's Day Surprise! One of our longtime customers gave Valentine's Day gifts to our entire staff with a note that reads 'You're #1 in my Book'. Thank You wholeheartedly Martha! We are always so grateful for our Customers!"

A few years ago, Kenny Leck, owner of BooksActually in Singapore, sent me a copy of Loh Guan Liang's excellent collection Transparent Strangers (Math Paper Press), which includes the poem, "Dancing in the Bookstore." I was thinking about it this week, especially the concluding lines. They seem a perfect complement for a holiday celebrating love, the seductive power of bookshops and, for now, the painful absence of customers wandering through them: 

How this gathering has become
a communal feasting of glances, books
changing hands, magazines flipping,
jumping, exchanging partners
as they twirl us round the shelves.
Take this waltz, this everyday waltz
with its narrow waist in your hand.

--Robert Gray, editor 

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