Shelf Awareness for Friday, June 18, 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

Quotation of the Day

'Bookselling Consists of an Unending Stream of Esoteric Questions'

Photo: Charlotte Anderson/Fine Books Magazine

"When you have specific interests, you sometimes wonder if anyone else cares about those things. In the book world, you find out.... That's the kind of unique synchronicity I don't think happens in too many other lines of work, but it's central to the sense I've heard others describe of the book world as a community. Practically speaking, bookselling consists of an unending stream of esoteric questions you try to answer as best you can. As part of the trade, you can join the existing conversations and benefit from the other sellers, collectors and librarians who have the pieces of the puzzle you are missing."

--Andrew Lenoir, proprietor of Ellipsis Rare Books in New York City, in a "Bright Young Booksellers" q&a with Fine Books & Collections magazine

G.P. Putnam's Sons: Loyalty by Lisa Scottoline


ABA Brings Back #BoxedOut Campaign for Amazon Prime Day

With Amazon Prime Day scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, June 21 and 22, the American Booksellers Association is relaunching the #BoxedOut campaign that made its debut last fall.

The key parts of last fall's campaign--which began in mid-October, to coincide with Amazon Prime Days on October 14 and 15--were social media initiatives, posters and other material, as well as major #BoxedOut displays at indie bookstores. Several indie storefronts were covered with cardboard facades--meant to remind the public of Amazon brown boxes on porches and in lobbies across the country--displaying quotes such as "Don't box out bookstores" and "Books curated by a real person, not a creepy algorithm." #BoxedOut received widespread media coverage, including in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the Associated Press and CNN, among others.

This year's campaign aims to emphasize, as the ABA put it, that "while the hopeful signs of a post-pandemic life are growing, many small businesses are still struggling to recover. And while the United States faced the worst economic crisis in almost a century, Amazon's operating income increased from $4.0 billion in Q1 2020 to $8.9 billion in Q1 2021, a 123% increase."

The ABA noted that by contrast, "more than one independent bookstore a week has closed during the pandemic. Others were able to survive and, in some cases, thrive through resilience, innovation, and community support. Bookstores launched virtual event series, FaceTime personalized shopping, and Facebook Live storytimes; started local delivery and subscription services; opened pop-up locations and shifted their businesses online; and offered community support through book drives, hotlines, food pantries, voter registration, COVID testing, antiracism resources, and more. Thirty-two independent bookstores have opened so far this year and thousands of readers are going to and every day to find their local bookstore. But bookstores, like many small businesses, are on precarious ground coming out of the pandemic: they are facing unprecedented expenses, supply chain disruption, and safety concerns continue, and in the weeks and months ahead they will be challenged by inflation, the labor shortage, and more uncertainty."

The ABA also noted the growing backlash against the power of Big Tech companies, including Amazon, that has bipartisan federal support. As the association recounted, "In the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, legislation has been introduced that would curb the monopoly power of Amazon and other dominant Big Tech corporations. District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine has launched an antitrust lawsuit against Amazon to end practices that have raised prices for shoppers, stifled innovation, and limited choice for consumers, and the Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, California, New York, and Washington State attorneys general are reported to be conducting investigations into potential antitrust violations by Amazon. And this week, the Biden Administration announced that the most prominent legal voice for effective antitrust enforcement in the 21st century--Lina Khan--has been appointed as chair of the Federal Trade Commission, the agency charged with enforcement of civil U.S. antitrust law and the promotion of consumer protection."

ABA CEO Allison Hill recently stated, "This is a crucial moment in history. As the pandemic subsides and we return to the social spaces that bring us together, we will decide whether we want to be commoditized or recognized as individuals. Independent businesses all across the country add diversity, character, and humanity to our communities and they need our support. Without them, we're just another brown box."

GLOW: Tordotcom: The Crane Husband by Kelly Barnhill

Harper's Books, Lebanon, Tenn., Reopens After Flood

New shelving in place at Harper's Books

Harper's Books in Lebanon, Tenn., reopened on Wednesday, June 16, roughly two and a half months after a flood damaged the store's inventory, flooring and shelving. The bookstore is stocked at about 60% capacity and is using temporary shelves and tables in the middle aisles.

In a Facebook post announcing the reopening, store owner James Kamer reported that the new perimeter shelves have been delivered and the new interior shelves will arrive in another few weeks.

"Thank you so much to everyone who has supported us through this trying time," Kamer wrote. "I am grateful to all of you, and I hope to see you in the upcoming weeks."

Heavy rainfall on March 27-28 led to floodwaters as high as 32 inches, and Harper's Books was one of several Lebanon Square businesses damaged. Despite having insurance for water damage, the store was not covered for flooding, so Kamer launched a GoFundMe campaign to help with the recovery. To date it has raised more than $13,600.

Soho Press: Black Dove by Colin McAdam

International Update: Korean Bookstore Chain Files for Bankruptcy, LBF Releases Online Book Fair Program

Bandi & Luni's, South Korea's third-largest bookstore chain, has filed for bankruptcy. The Korea Herald reported that Seoul Mungo, the company behind the chain, sent an emergency letter regarding the decision to "members of a local publishers' association on Wednesday. The company reportedly failed to pay a promissory note due the previous day." An official from the Korean Publishers' Association said they "understand that Seoul Mungo failed to pay a 160 million won (about $141,720) promissory note."

Bandi & Luni's posted a notification on its website telling customers that orders will no longer be available from its online and mobile channels. The company, which had closed some of its retail outlets due to the pandemic, operated eight stores in the capital, excluding its headquarters and logistics center.

Established in 1988, Seoul Mungo "is the third-biggest bookstore chain in terms of in-person store revenue after Kyobo Book Center and Youngpoong Bookstore. In terms of combined revenue, including sales from both online and in-person channels, it is the sixth-biggest franchise after Kyobo, Yes 24, Aladin, Interpark and Youngpoong," the Korea Herald noted. 


The London Book Fair has unveiled its full program for the Online Book Fair, with seminars, panel debates and author events taking place from June 21-July 1, the Bookseller reported.

"We are so excited to announce the incredible program for the Online Book Fair, featuring bestselling authors, award-winning journalists, publishing experts and many more wonderful speakers," said Hannah Brewer, LBF conference manager. "With panels, seminars and talks on topics ranging from censorship to environmental sustainability, literary translation to accessibility, this year's program tackles the key issues facing the publishing world today, and we look forward to hearing the vital insights being shared at these sessions."


"We're so excited to tell you about Once Upon a Bookstore in Kelowna, B.C.," the Canadian Independent Booksellers Association noted in showcasing a q&a with owner Melissa Bourdon-King, who opened the bookshop in 2019. Among the highlights:

Being connected to your community in Kelowna is a core value for the store. Though the pandemic has likely altered plans, how have you been able to forge relationships with local families? 
This has truly been the biggest learning curve, and one I am still navigating. Social media has absolutely played a role, and I cannot discount the value of positive word of mouth. For me, developing personal relationships is essential in creating the kind of business I want to run. Personally, I can be terrible with remembering names (especially now with face masks), but I will remember the books that you (or your children) bought and be able to help you build your library.

As a children's bookseller, do you feel a responsibility to stock and promote anti-bias books? How do you manage this responsibility?
I have felt this responsibility since I was 16/17 starting out at Mabel's Fables. It is amazing how often casual bias creeps in for people. It requires daily work to a) check my own bias and not make assumptions about the kinds of books people will want and b) gently challenge people's ideas about what children will or won't like (gender comes up most frequently). So much is about making the customer feel comfortable so that they trust what you are recommending.

What is your favorite thing about the work that you do?
I'm a traditionalist. My favorite thing after 18 years as a bookseller (and I'm not that old) is to put a book in someone's hand that I know they will love forever. --Robert Gray

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

B&N College to Open at Glenville State College in W.Va.

This fall, Barnes & Noble College will open an on-campus retail location at Glenville State College, Glenville, W.Va., the school has announced. The store will sell books, Glenville State-branded merchandise and other supplies.

Glenville State v-p for administration Rita Hedrick-Helmick said, "I believe that having a bookstore on campus will enhance the student experience which will ultimately improve recruitment and retention of students."

The school is also planning to implement B&N College's BNC First Day Complete, a course material delivery model. Before the start of the term, students will receive an e-mail from the bookstore prompting them to select their preferred delivery method. The bookstore will prepare the materials for each student and notify them when the materials are available. Digital materials will be delivered directly through students' learning management system.

Glenville State College President Dr. Mark A. Manchin commented: "The First Day Complete model will be very beneficial to our students, allowing them to have all of their books ready to go on day one of classes. We are equally excited to be welcoming a physical bookstore back to campus this fall."

Obituary Note: Janet Malcolm

Janet Malcolm

Janet Malcolm, "a longtime writer for the New Yorker who was known for her piercing judgments, her novel-like nonfiction and a provocative moral certainty that cast a cold eye on journalism and its practitioners," died June 16,the New York Times reported. She was 86. Malcolm "produced an avalanche of deeply reported, exquisitely crafted articles, essays and books, most devoted to her special interests in literature, biography, photography, psychoanalysis and true crime. Her writing was precise and analytical; her unflinching gaze missed nothing."

One of her best known works was The Journalist and the Murderer, a forensic examination of the relationship between author Joe McGinniss and convicted murderer Jeffrey MacDonald, which was published as a two-part essay in the New Yorker in 1989 and as a book the following year. The Times noted: "One of the through lines in her work was a merciless view of journalism, never mind that she was one of its most prominent practitioners." 

Malcolm's books include Diana & Nikon: Essays on the Aesthetic of Photography; The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath & Ted Hughes; Reading Chekhov: A Critical Journey; Iphigenia in Forest Hills: Anatomy of a Murder Trial; The Purloined Clinic: Selected Writings; and Nobody's Looking at You: Essays. Among her honors are the 2008 PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography for Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice; and the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award (Criticism) shortlist for Forty-One False Starts.

Describing Malcolm as "a dear friend," New Yorker editor David Remnick wrote in a tribute: "From her early pieces on the world of psychoanalysis to her most recent Profiles, her reputation often seemed to rest as much on her razor-sharp acuity as on the enormous intelligence of her prose. And yet she was immensely kind, full of scrupulous self-questioning about all acts of definitive judgment. Tilting her head slightly, her eyes narrowing, she seemed, catlike, to take everything in. And, when she sat down to write, the instrument of her prose was equal to the intelligence and range of her mind.... 

"In the coming days, you'll be able to read many obituaries and appreciations of Janet's work here and elsewhere. But, in the immediate hours and days after her death, we hope that you'll read her work.... Her sentences, clear as gin, spare as arrows, are like no one else's. And her considerations--of psychoanalysis, of biography, and of journalism itself--are all examples of a rare and utterly free mind at work."

Writer Nathan Heller tweeted: "No greater feat for a nonfiction writer than to invent a way of seeing and saying that renders a whole constellation of illuminating, not obvious, and previously unrenderable relationships--and to do it in a way that's utterly distinctive but unoccluded by ego. RIP Janet Malcolm."

New Yorker writer Alec Wilkinson observed: "A person as exceptional as Malcolm was something like an archive of sensibility and thought, one that is irreplaceable, and when such a person dies it is, as John Updike said, of William Maxwell, as if a library has burned. People such as Malcolm, who appear to be so much themselves, are rare and inspiring, and the loss of such a person is an impoverishment."

"We are each of us an endangered species," Malcolm wrote in a 2018 New Yorker piece. "When we die, our species disappears with us. Nobody like us will ever exist again."


'The Great Reveal' at Sausalito Books by the Bay

Sausalito Books by the Bay staff with big smiles that can finally be seen again: Evan Angle, Cheryl Popp, Jeff Battis.

As California unmasked and officially re-opened this week, Sausalito Books by the Bay, Sausalito, Calif., staged an unmasking party "to toast everyone's long lost faces." They called the event The Great Reveal. Sausalito has one California's highest rates of vaccination.

"After 15 months of pandemic restrictions, it's almost business as usual again," said owner Cheryl Popp. "While we are still being Covid-conscious, we are migrating back to live author events on site this week and are encouraged by the number of visitors returning to our iconic waterfront community. In almost every instance, masks are no longer required for patrons at retail and restaurant establishments. It's a lot more fun."

Personnel Changes at Macmillan

At Macmillan:

Jessica Brigman has been promoted to senior national accounts manager for Barnes & Noble and Scholastic.

Kaitlyn Herbet has been promoted to sales coordinator.

Lisa Huang has been promoted to associate, sales strategy.

Kristin Janecek has been promoted to sales coordinator in the sales group.

Jasmine Key has been promoted to sales coordinator for B&N, Scholastic, Target and Amazon.

Walter Mazurak has been promoted to senior manager, digital distribution.

Alexandra Quill has been promoted to academic marketing manager.

Amanda Rountree has been promoted to associate manager, digital media, library marketing.

Samantha Slavin has been promoted to library marketing coordinator.

Media and Movies

TV: Station Eleven

HBO Max's Station Eleven, based on Emily St. John Mandel's novel and starring Mackenzie Davis and Himesh Patel, has added several cast members to the 10-episode limited drama series, Deadline reported. The project is written and executive produced by Patrick Somerville, who also serves as showrunner. Hiro Murai directs and executive produces. Paramount TV Studios is the studio.

Set for recurring roles are Luca Villacis, Prince Amponsah, Dylan Taylor, Joe Pingue, Maxwell McCabe-Lokos, Ajahnis Charley, Milton Barnes and Kate Moyer. They join previously announced series regulars David Wilmot, Matilda Lawler, Nabhaan Rizwan, Philippine Velge, Daniel Zovatto and Lori Petty, as well as recurring cast including Andy McQueen, David Cross, Enrico Colantoni, Julian Obradors and Deborah Cox.

Books & Authors

Awards: Walter Scott, Trillium Winners

Hilary Mantel has won the £25,000 (about $34,485) Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction for The Mirror and the Light, the final novel in her Thomas Cromwell trilogy. The honor comes 11 years after Wolf Hall won the inaugural Walter Scott Prize in 2010. Mantel will take part in a Borders Book Festival event later in the year to celebrate her win and mark Walter Scott's 250th anniversary.

The judges said, in part: "With The Mirror and the Light, Hilary Mantel has achieved the almost unachievable: she offers readers a novel that both closes a trilogy and also stands magnificently alone.... In 2010 Wolf Hall bowled the Walter Scott Prize judges clean over. This year The Mirror and the Light did the same. How lucky we are to live in the age of Hilary Mantel."

Mantel commented: "When my publisher called to tell me I'd won the Walter Scott Prize, I was amazed and truly delighted. The prize has brought great hope to writers of fiction about the past. It's rewarded some interesting and distinguished books, and it's helped the reading public see the variety and the strength of the discipline."


Souvankham Thammavongsa's How to Pronounce Knife won the C$20,000 (about US$16,560) English-language fiction Trillium Book Award, which is given to "recognize excellence, support marketing and foster increased public awareness of the quality and diversity of Ontario writers and writing." Jody Chan took the C$10,000 (US$8,280) prize in the poetry category for sick

The winner of the C$20,000 French-language Trillium Book Award was Danièle Vallée for Sept nuits dans la vie de Chérie and the C$10,000 French-language children's literature prize went to and Éric Mathieu for Capitaine Boudu et les enfants de la Cédill.

Lisa MacLeod, minister of heritage, sport, tourism and cultural industries, said: "The 2021 Trillium Book Award winners reflect the diverse talent of Ontario's authors, each of whom brings a unique lens to their storytelling--creating masterpieces that resonate both at home and around the world. On behalf of the province and the people of Ontario, I congratulate these award-winning authors, and give thanks to their publishers for ensuring that these great works will continue to garner the global recognition and audience that they deserve."

Reading with... Annette Gordon-Reed

photo: Tony Rinaldo

Annette Gordon-Reed is the Carl M. Loeb University Professor at Harvard University. She won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family. Her latest work, On Juneteenth (Liveright, May 4, 2021), is a memoir of growing up in Texas and a history of the state.

On your nightstand now:

Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory by Claudio Saunt. I had intended to read this when it first came out, but got swamped with work. It won the Bancroft Prize for History this year. It's a brilliant account of Indian Removal, a story that all Americans should know. I am also going through The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Vol. 17, March to November 1821. I'm on the advisory board of The Papers, and they send me each volume as they finish. This one has what is called his "Autobiography." It's much, much less than that. He stops writing when he gets to 1790, and he has just arrived in New York to begin his time as Secretary of State in George Washington's cabinet. He claimed that he just got tired of talking about himself, but that's when the fun really begins.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Big Tree by Conrad Buff and May Buff was one of my favorite books when I was a small child. It was about the life story of a giant sequoia, thousands of years old, told by the tree itself. The narrative of all the tree had witnessed over its span of life captivated me. It made me love trees even more than I already did. It was such a treat the first time I went to Yosemite National Park with my husband, a native Californian, and saw actual sequoias for the first time. I also loved The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander, and all the other books in the series.

Your top five authors:

James Baldwin, Octavia Butler, W.E.B Du Bois, Gore Vidal, Christopher Hitchens. These are the people that I have most looked forward to reading over the years. I read all of them with such pleasure. I generally prefer essays to novels and, in particular, I prefer the essays of Baldwin and Vidal to their fiction. I know it's common to say that, but that's how I feel. They were such keen observers; extremely intelligent and excellent stylists. Butler was marvelously inventive. I am not one for science fiction outside of film, which I love. But I took an immediate liking to her work. Hitchens wrote with such verve and wit and so prolifically. Du Bois's erudition was off the charts, and his work ethic was almost supernatural. He was the ultimate scholar.

Book you've faked reading:

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce. I started reading it, but could not finish it. This was the book that kicked it all off for Joyce, and I felt guilty about abandoning it. At the time, I just didn't care enough about Stephen Dedalus and his people. Perhaps I'll pick it up again and finish it.

Book you're an evangelist for:

The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X, Les Payne and Tamara Payne. An amazing piece of work, decades in the making. The book is based on interviews done with people who knew Malcolm X, and contains lots of information that was not known. Payne was a first rate journalist, and his eye for detail comes through in the book.

Book you've bought for the cover:

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats--I bought the book when my daughter was small, and I read it to my son, too. They both loved it. The cover and the illustrations are just lovely. They are so evocative of mood the text creates.

Book you hid from your parents:

Myra Breckinridge by Gore Vidal--I wasn't sure my parents were ready for Vidal's polymorphously perverse work. I'm not sure that I really was, either.

Book that changed your life:

I have to mention two books because they are so closely related as influences: White over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro: 1550-1812 by Winthrop Jordan and Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History by Fawn Brodie. Jordan's chapter in White over Black, "Thomas Jefferson Self and Society," introduced me, at age 12, to Sally Hemings. I read Brodie a couple of years later. That book introduced me to the "Recollections of Madison Hemings," which initiated my interest in how scholars wrote about Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson. It amazed me that she took him seriously about something that was so important. She was the first person to really nail Jefferson's personality, I think. She noticed things about him--patterns of behavior--that others did not, and some of her observations are now commonplace in Jefferson scholarship. I should also say about Jordan that his book was a model for me about how to write history. I don't have a Ph.D., but reading that book showed me how to do history the way I wanted to do it.

Favorite line from a book:

"But armed and warned by all this, and fortified by long study of the facts, I stand at the end of this writing, literally aghast at what American historians have done to this field." --W.E.B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880.

I used this as an epigraph in my first book, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy. I tried to write a book about Du Bois some years before that--it's sitting in a box in my apartment now-- and I remembered this quote when it came time to write TJ and SH. It was just perfect for what I was trying to do in the book.

Five books you'll never part with:

The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois, Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin, the Bible, Those Who Labor for My Happiness: Slavery at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello by Lucia Stanton and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.

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

The Man Who Cried I Am by John A. Williams. I read this book in college and loved it. It was a roman à clef, with Richard Wright and James Baldwin as characters. A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood. The first time I read this I was stunned by the clarity of the prose and emotional intensity conveyed so simply.

Autobiographical works you have admired over the years:

Experiment in Autobiography: The Autobiography of H.G. Wells; The Quality of Hurt: The Early Years: The Autobiography of Chester Himes; I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. Wells's book, written from 1932 through 1934, is wonderfully modern and quirky. His voice is so clear. I remember thinking I wanted to have that kind of freedom in writing and observing people and the world. Himes's book details his fascinating life. It's especially interesting to read about ambitious Black people when there were laws limiting their ability to move and advance in the world. Despite the oppression, and some mistakes of his own, Himes managed to become a writer and to make a life for himself outside of the United States. Although he was the subject of a first-rate biography in 2017 by Lawrence P. Jackson, he's a figure who should be better known. Angelou's may have been the first autobiography that I read cover to cover. While I did not identify with the personal traumas she described, I did identify with her love of reading and loved the lyricism of her prose.

Book Review

Review: Sword Stone Table: Old Legends, New Voices

Sword Stone Table: Old Legends, New Voices by Swapna Krishna and Jenn Northington, editor (Vintage, $17 paperback, 480p., 9780593081891, July 13, 2021)

Why does the legend of King Arthur continue to captivate people after so many centuries? The authors featured in Sword Stone Table: Old Legends, New Voices offer 16 compelling reasons. The collection takes readers across time and cultures, breathing new life into one of the oldest Western myths. Editors Swapna Krishna and Jenn Northington pull together a diverse take on the mythos in Sword Stone Table. Stories feature queer characters, BIPOC protagonists, fresh perspectives on characters that readers will recognize, as well as several who are usually at the margins or barely mentioned.

The anthology is organized by time period in three groups: past, present and future, but even in the same era, they vary widely. Maria Dahvana Headley's "Mayday" is a satisfying, intriguing mystery told via a collection of items and documents found in an abandoned lighthouse--by the FBI. Sive Doyle's "Do, by All Due Means" is a sapphic adventure, funny in a way reminiscent of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Sarah MacLean brings the passionate romance she's known for to "The Bladesmith Queen," a take on the Lady of the Lake that gives the Lady an adventure of her own. Some entries are more of a straightforward retelling, like Waubgeshig Rice's "Heartbeat," which has a modern Anishinaabe boy, Art, as the protagonist who finds a sacred item under a seemingly unmovable stone. Anthony Rapp's "Jack and Brad and the Magician" brings Merlin to New York City during the AIDS crisis, in a story full of hope and despair. One of the most unexpected stories is the baseball-themed "Black Diamond" from Alex Segura.

Arthur in these stories is Art, Arjun, Arturo and more. He's old, young, humble, brash, at the center and in the background. He's also completely absent from several. In "Little Green Men," Alexander Chee closes the anthology with a rather sweet take on Arthur and Gawain set in a space-age future. With nods to the original, Chee's story epitomizes the breadth and universality of Arthurian themes as showcased in these stories. The futuristic setting feels as natural as those in the past and present, with characters both true to the source material and entirely new.

Fans of Arthurian legends are certain to find a few stories to love in Sword Stone Table--and they just might see themselves in the pages, too. --Suzanne Krohn, editor, Love in Panels

Shelf Talker: Sword Stone Table: Old Legends, New Voices collects 16 compelling short stories across time, culture and genre in an anthology sure to please fans of Arthurian legend.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Documentary The Bookstour Asks: 'Why Should We Shop Indie?'

Have you heard the story about the filmmaker and self-published author who went on a cross-country road trip to introduce himself and his new sci-fi novel to independent bookstores, even though the book had been published through Amazon's Createspace service? Spoiler alert: This story has a surprise happy ending. 

"The past two summers I've lived out of my car and interviewed dozens of indie booksellers around the country, asking a simple question: Why should we shop indie?" Mason Engel said. "I made a documentary about the answer, and it's called The Bookstour. We're selling digital rentals of the film from now until July 7, as well as tickets to the virtual premier, and all of the money we raise goes straight to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation." 

Binc executive director Pam French said: "As the pandemic took hold last year, so many people like Mason in the book and comic industries came together to support Binc. We continue to be humbled by the generosity and goodwill of book people, and we thank Mason for using his voice to amplify the importance of bookstores to the communities they serve."

Engel's story began in 2019, when he set off on a road trip from Indiana to California and back to promote his novel 2084. "When I first started out on the first trip, that was pure self-promotion," he recalled. "I was traveling to 50 independent bookstores in 50 days, giving away a copy of my book at each store I went to and basically just trying to get the booksellers to sell the book."

Engel had visited about eight bookstores by the time he reached Lawrence, Kans. In the window of the Raven Book Store, he spotted owner Danny Caine's zine How to Resist Amazon and Why: "I saw that, and I saw the title, and I looked down at the book in my hand, and I realized what I was doing for the first time. I just hadn't thought of it from the booksellers' perspective. I was approaching them with a product that was available only through their direct competitor. So from that moment forward on the trip, it changed things for me. It was less about promoting myself and more about asking for feedback on the writing and also just trying to understand what the industry was about. The first booksellers I talked to were so incredibly kind. They very easily could have been just pissed off, frankly, about what I was doing, but they were still enthusiastic, excited and supportive. And that meant something to me. And I remembered that through the rest of my trip."

Last August, Engel and his cameraman took a second trip, this time around the East Coast, to interview more than 30 indie booksellers. Traveling in the midst of pandemic restrictions--not to mention a hurricane that nearly paralleled their route up the coast--was challenging, "but luckily the booksellers I contacted about being interviewed were very supportive. They knew that we were taking as many precautions as humanly possible and they wanted to support the project....

"We tried throughout the film not to focus too much on the pandemic and how it had affected the industry because it's not our goal to guilt people into donating or shopping indie. We want them to shop indie because they want to. We want them to fall in love with the stores. So we focused on the positive aspect of the indie experience much more so than Covid."

Among the highlights from the trip, Engel recalled visiting Avid Bookshop in Athens, Ga. "We interviewed Janet Geddis, and at the end of our interview, she actually asked if she could turn the tables and interview me. So my camera guy pivoted to her side and she whipped out her phone and conducted her own interview of me, asking about the trip, why I was doing it, what the mission was, and all of that." 

In North Carolina, a scheduled stop had to be canceled at the last minute, and Engel took a shot at contacting a bookstore he'd visited before,  Scuppernong Books in Greensboro. Although it was late afternoon, co-owner Steve Mitchell agreed to be interviewed. "By the time we got everything set up, we had 12 minutes to talk to Steve," Engel said. "But I'm so glad we drove there and scrambled to get set up because those 12 minutes are some of my favorite of the film. Obviously, we couldn't put all 12 in, but it was so worth the drive and I'm still grateful to Steve for making time for us, especially on such short notice."

Until his recent travels on the road to indie enlightenment, Engel had somehow resisted the call, even when he was growing up: "Viewpoint Books has been the main independent bookstore in Columbus for years, but somehow I usually ended up at Waldenbooks in the local mall. Which in hindsight doesn't make much sense, because I had an aunt who worked at Viewpoint. Whatever the reason for my family's non-indie choice, I was a voracious reader, especially with the Redwall and Ender's Game series (and Harry Potter, but that goes without saying). Now when I need to buy a book, I find the nearest independent shop. In Columbus I go to Viewpoint, and now that I'm in Los Angeles I pick a different store every time." Seems like a happy ending to me. 

--Robert Gray, editor

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