Shelf Awareness for Friday, October 1, 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

News

NVNR: NAIBA and SIBA Annual Meetings

At the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association annual meeting, held yesterday during New Voices, New Rooms, the mood was positive--concerning both all that has happened since the beginning of the pandemic 18 months ago as well as the challenges ahead, particularly this coming holiday season.

NAIBA president Rebecca Fitting (Greenlight Bookstores, Brooklyn, N.Y.) recounted the many accomplishments of the association and its member stores in the past year. NAIBA "worked hard to advocate for and support our members through tried and true programming and also through new methods." Among its many activities were three multiday virtual retreats--for social media, book buyers and new owners--publicity speed dating, which lasted a week and was attended by 63 bookstores who connected with 117 publicists, and an in-person social in Philadelphia. NAIBA also collaborated with other regionals, including the "fight Amazon" event, various sessions, and the connection with SIBA, with which it has conducted the second New Voices, New Rooms virtual conference. The association is also creating a relationship manager position to focus even more on the region's needs.

NAIBA's bookseller certification program had 20 graduates from its first module on events management. Currently 50 booksellers are participating in the inventory management module, and the store operations module launches in January.

As for NAIBA booksellers, Fitting asked everyone to "think back and reflect on and recognize all that you and your stores have accomplished and all you reinvented while still carrying the ball forward. What you've done this past year is truly phenomenal." She also looked ahead to "the wild ride in the holiday season," which "will begin early and be very messy" and include many supply chain problems. She called it a time "to get creative. We can think of this as an opportunity to really let our bookselling skills shine." She urged all booksellers to shift into "holiday planning mode" as soon as possible. Bookstores can "have great holiday seasons," she said, "if we're creative. The supply chain issues and the ongoing shifts in people's shopping patterns can continue to benefit your stores." She added that if customers want certain unavailable titles, "we can exercise our muscles with handselling in helping customers understand that if they can't get exactly the thing they were looking for, we have so many other things."

Fitting also addressed "compassion fatigue," which has been "nonstop," and can make it "hard to really show up every day in a way your bookstores and your businesses need. It can also be deeply rewarding. Remember that you're part of your communities. Remember to be kind to yourselves and your staff, to your customers--as easy or hard as that may be--to your vendors, the publishers, their warehouses, our package delivery people."

Treasurer Erin Matthews (The Last Word, Glenwood, Md.) said the association had "quite a good year" financially, with net income for the year of $34,000. She thanked executive director Eileen Dengler for keeping the association's finances solid, with "her many, many initiatives." (Dengler was repeatedly praised for all her work leading the association through such a difficult time.) NAIBA is planning on adding new scholarships and wants to increase accessibility to stores that have not been able to attend events in person or virtually--something the new relationship manager should be able to help with.

Dengler said that NAIBA now has 178 paying member bookstores, up from a usual 140. In the past year, 25 stores opened in the association's region, some of which have become members. NAIBA is reaching out to all of them, and Dengler, noting the number of new stores in the last year, added, "I've never had a year like that."

Bill Reilly (the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.) said that most officers are continuing in their positions, and the new secretary is Amanda Zirn Hudson (Bethany Beach Books, Bethany Beach, Del.). The newest board member is Adlai Yeomans (White Whale Bookstore, Pittsburgh, Pa.).

---

During the annual meeting of the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, held virtually as part New Voices, New Rooms yesterday afternoon, SIBA board present John Cavalier (Cavalier House Books, Denham Springs, La.) shared some statistics about the alliance.

Membership stands at 152 members, which is roughly equal to the membership in 2019 (in 2020 SIBA automatically enrolled Southern bookstores, which created an outlier bump in membership), and 86% of SIBA member stores were represented at NVNR, with a total of 446 SIBA members participating.

Cavalier also reported that the alliance is "very much in a healthy financial position" and will meet all budgeted targets for 2021. While advertising revenue is down compared to pre-Covid years, he pointed out, that has been balanced by decreased expenses. The PPP loans that SIBA received over the course of the pandemic have been forgiven, and recently SIBA switched from Bank of America to a regional bank called Hometrust, which has a much greater emphasis on local communities. He noted, too, that 2021 has been the year of DEI--diversity, equity and inclusion--and that emphasis will continue.

SIBA also rebranded and redesigned much of its consumer-facing promotions. The Lady Banks newsletter has become the Southern Bookseller Review, with a focus on being more contemporary and inclusive, while the alliance's Okra Picks has become the Read This Next! List, which is no longer limited to books written by Southern authors or about the South.

During the meeting's town hall portion, Jill Hendrix (Fiction Addiction, Greenville, S.C.) challenged SIBA members to sign up for Batch and encourage publishers who are not yet on Batch to join the service. Candice Huber (Tubby & Coo's Mid-City Bookshop, New Orleans, La.) asked that SIBA open up membership to stores with more nontraditional models, and Cavalier noted that that is "number one on the agenda" for the next board meeting. There were also calls for initiatives around reporting pre-sales and succession planning and mentoring.


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


New Owners for Mrs. Dalloway's in Berkeley, Calif.

Mrs. Dalloway's Literary & Garden Arts Bookstore in Berkeley, Calif., which was put up for sale last spring by Marion Abbott and Ann Leyhe after 17 years at the helm, has been purchased by Eric and Jessica Green, who will assume ownership November 1.

"We are delighted to be handing over the reins to Eric and Jessica, who share many years of experience in bookselling, publishing, distribution and merchandising," said Leyhe. 

Eric Green began his 30-plus-year career in the book industry managing an independent bookstore in Westwood, Calif. Since 1992, he has held several positions, primarily in sales, at Publishers Group West, continuing following its purchase by Perseus and then Ingram.

Eric and Jessica Green signing the purchase agreement this week.

Jessica Green brings more than 12 years of buying and merchandising experience from positions held at national retailers in the home decor and art supply industries.

"The Greens' backgrounds, combined with their dedication to community, make them ideal stewards for the next phase of Mrs. Dalloway's," added Abbott. "We look forward to seeing how they carry the store to the next level."

Ann Leyhe (l.) and Marion Abbott

"We are so excited to have the opportunity to continue the legacy built by Ann and Marion in Mrs. Dalloway's Literary and Garden Arts," Eric Green noted. "We've dreamt of this chance in our lives when we'd be able to take such a momentous step and can't wait to start working with the seasoned team at Mrs. Dalloway's to move the business forward into its new chapter."

Jessica Green added: "It's clear that Marion and Ann have built a special and well-loved place. We will do our very best to continue and enhance what they've started. We are looking forward to joining the Elmwood neighborhood and greater bookseller community."


GLOW: Tordotcom: The Crane Husband by Kelly Barnhill


B&N's New Coral Springs, Fla., Store Opens Next Week

Barnes & Noble will open its smaller footprint store at The Walk in Coral Springs, Fla., on October 6, the company said Monday. Coral Springs Talk reported that the location will focus more on books, but will have a café and sell an assortment of sidelines.

In July, Amelia Mulinder, head of public relations at B&N, said the company was planning for a late September opening for the store, which closed in February 2020. After the closure, Amera Properties said they intended to work with B&N to reopen a smaller store at the same location, matching the chain's new business model and format. 

"The expectation--pre-Covid-19--was that the new location would be ready in just six months. A lengthier delay has ensued," Coral Springs Talk noted, adding that the former 27,000-square-foot location at 2790 N University Drive was split into two, with Trader Joe's leasing the north side at 2796 N. University Dr and B&N now relocated next door in a 14,000-square-foot space.


Soho Press: Black Dove by Colin McAdam


Application Period Extended for Two Binc Initiatives

The Booksellers Industry Charitable Foundation has extended the application deadline for the Indies with Impact award and the Carla Gray Memorial Scholarship for Emerging Bookseller-Activists. Applications for both will be accepted through October 11, 2021.

The Indies with Impact award is granted to an independent bookstore to work in tandem with a community nonprofit or organization of its choice to strengthen their local community and encourage a passion for reading. 

The Carla Gray Memorial Scholarship for Emerging Bookseller-Activists is a year-long professional development scholarship intended to help a bookseller with fewer than five years of experience connect with other booksellers, publishers, and authors by attending their regional fall trade show and Winter Institute and to establish a community outreach project for their store.


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


Shelf Awareness Delivers Indie Pre-Order E-Blast

On Wednesday, Shelf Awareness sent our monthly pre-order e-blast to more than 850,000 of the country's best book readers. The e-blast went to 851,120 customers of 182 participating independent bookstores.

The mailing features eight upcoming titles selected by Shelf Awareness editors and a sponsored title. Customers can buy these books via "pre-order" buttons that lead directly to the purchase page for the title on each sending store's website. A key feature is that bookstore partners can easily change title selections to best reflect the tastes of their customers and can customize the mailing with links, images and promotional copy of their own.

The pre-order e-blasts are sent the last Wednesday of each month; the next will go out on Wednesday, October 27. Stores interested in learning more can visit our program registration page or contact our partner program team via e-mail.

For a sample of September's pre-order e-blast, see this one from Books Inc., which has 10 locations in the San Francisco Bay Area.


Obituary Note: Candace Smith

Candace Smith

Candace Smith, the founder and longtime owner of the Garland of Letters Bookstore in Philadelphia, Pa., died earlier this month at her home, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. The cause of death was atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.

Located on South Street in Philadelphia, Garland of Letters has sold New Age and spiritual titles as well as incense, tarot cards, jewelry, crystals and candles since the 1970s. The shop features a life-size lion statue in the entrance way and has been known for its elaborate window displays.

Smith was an early and devoted yoga practitioner and helped found the SKY Foundation and Yoga Research Society; Garland of Letters has hosted SKY yoga classes for years. Longtime friend Marc Goldberg called the store a "complete reflection of who she was." Philadelphia magazine described the store as a "metaphysical oasis."

Throughout the 1970s and '80s, Smith filmed commercials and radio advertisements for the Philadelphia Phillies and represented the team at promotional events. Dennis Lehman, the director of marketing for the Phillies during that span, wrote of Smith that "she was professional, personable and just plain fun. I can also speak for the crew at Channel 17; she lit up the studio."

Victor Sonder, an advertising executive who hired Smith in the 1970s for voice-overs and film work, said her legacy was "one of beauty, spirituality and love." Chris Wheeler, a former broadcaster for the Phillies, called her the "ultimate professional," noting that she would arrive for work "looking like a flower child," before becoming a "glamorous model" while always being a "down-to-earth, good person."


Notes

NVNR: VIndie Award Winners Celebrated

Winners were announced last night for the inaugural VIndie Awards, a celebration of independent bookstore videos presented during the New Voices, New Rooms Fall Conference, hosted jointly by SIBA and NEIBA.

The virtual ceremony was emceed by Michael Triebwasser of Politics & Prose Bookstore, Washington, D.C. A panel of judges drawn from book industry partners in publishing, bookselling and media had reviewed more than 50 bookstore videos from two dozen indie bookstores, narrowing them down to 16 finalists. This year's VIndies winners are:

Animated
Eagle Eye Bookshop, Decatur, Ga.; What Happens in the Bookstore After Hours

Covid-Related
NAIBA: One More Page Books, Arlington, Va.; Sea Shanty
SIBA: Givens Books & Little Dickens, Lynchburg, Va.; The Mask, a Silent Film

Comedy
NAIBA: East City Bookshop, Washington, D.C.; Randomly Generated Recommendations
SIBA: Scuppernong Books, Greensboro, N.C.; Poetry Night

Drama 
NAIBA: Charm City Books, Baltimore, Md.; Weaver Award Application Video
SIBA: Midtown Reader, Tallahassee, Fla.; There's No Place Like Home

In addition, publisher/bookstore hybrid the Historic New Orleans Collection received a VIndie Special Mention honor for its long-format video, We Are the Holy Ones, a favorite of all the judges.


Print: A Bookstore's Josh Christie on Combining Work and Passions

Josh Christie

A long BBC piece about the complications of "turning a passion into a job" focuses on Josh Christie, co-owner of Print: A Bookstore in Portland, Maine, who also writes about books, beer and skiing for newspapers and magazines and has written several books on beer and on skiing.

Reflecting on how his interests and work life are combined, Christie said, "It's hard to figure out how I would pull my writing out of either beer or skiing, or pull my bookstore business brain out of my enjoyment of reading books and talking about books."

He recalled writing his first book about beer while working full-time as a bookseller, writing early in the morning before working full days. "In the evening, the hardest part was going to a bar, having a beer and thinking, 'Is this something that I'm going to write about, or is this just a beer that I'm enjoying?' "

He admits to having struggled to draw boundaries between work and passion, but he can't imagine doing anything else for a living because "in a lot of cases, I still enjoy the activity as well as enjoying the work. The bookstore and writing about things I love is an incredible creative outlet. I'm really grateful for that."

He's also developed another passion, but one he's not planning to write about: baking, which helps him relax. "I decided this is something that I purely do for myself. I realized now that I want to keep something sacred."


Personnel Changes at Sourcebooks

At Sourcebooks:

Keri Haddrill has joined the company as sales coordinator.

Cana Clark has joined the company as marketing assistant for the Kids and Fire teams.


Media and Movies

Media Heat: Stevie Van Zandt on Real Time with Bill Maher

Today:
HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher: Stevie Van Zandt, author of Unrequited Infatuations: A Memoir (Hachette Books, $31, 9780306925429).

Tomorrow:
NPR's Weekend Edition: Myriam J.A. Chancy, author of What Storm, What Thunder (Tin House, $27.95, 9781951142766).


TV: Crossroads

Michael Ellenberg's Media Res studio has acquired the rights to Jonathan Franzen's new novel Crossroads in a highly competitive bidding war. The first book in Franzen's "Key to All Mythologies" trilogy, Crossroads will be released October 5 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Media Res studio has the second season of acclaimed drama The Morning Show, starring Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell, on AppleTV+; and the HBO limited series Scenes from a Marriage, starring Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac, which premiered at the recent Venice International Film Festival. The studio also has Pachinko, based on Min Jin Lee's international bestseller, set to premiere on AppleTV+ in 2022.  



Books & Authors

Awards: Mo Siewcharran Winner

Santanu Bhattacharya won Hachette's Mo Siewcharran Prize for his novel He Doesn't Live Here Anymore, the Bookseller reported. The award was launched in 2019 "to help discover unpublished fiction writers from Black, Asian and marginalized ethnic backgrounds." The winner receives £2,500 (about $3,365) plus the offer of a publishing deal, subject to contract, with Little, Brown/Abacus. 

Ndelei by Memuna Konteh finished in second place, winning £1,500 (about $2,020) as well as a book hamper. Jimmy the Food Thief by Rose Chen was third, receiving £750 (about $1,010) alongside a book hamper.

"The judges were hugely impressed with the skillful characterization, vivid language and vast ambition on display in Santanu Bhattacharya's writing," said publishing director and judge Anna Kelly. "He is an exciting talent and we are delighted to see him named as this year's winner of the Mo Siewcharran prize."

The award was named in memory of Nielsen Book's former director of marketing and communications.


Reading with... Brandon Webb & John David Mann

Brandon Webb

Brandon Webb and John David Mann are the coauthors of six nonfiction titles, including Webb's memoir, The Red Circle. Webb is a former Navy SEAL sniper; Mann is an award-winning author. Their first novel is Steel Fear (Bantam), about a disgraced Navy SEAL sniper tracking a serial killer aboard a ship in the Persian Gulf. Cold Fear, the sequel, is scheduled for release in 2022.

On your nightstand now:

BW: Just finished reading Dune again; on my nightstand now is Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. An incredible book, should be required reading for all middle schoolers. Yuval Noah Harari does an impossible job of distilling a massive amount of science and data on humanity in a very simple, Gladwell-like, entertaining read.

JDM: Just finished devouring the entire Inspector Erlendur series, started as research for our next thriller (which takes place in Iceland) and fell in love. Now reading Stacey Abrams's thriller While Justice Sleeps. On deck: The Sinner by Petra Hammesfahr.

John David Mann

Favorite book when you were a child:

BW: I was a profuse reader as a kid living on a sailboat with no television. Oh the torture! Hah! Actually an experience I wouldn't trade for anything. Favorite for sure is The Hobbit. Tolkien gave us something special with Middle Earth.

JDM: Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik, first book I ever read (age 5) and still one of my favorites. The first story, "What Will Little Bear Wear?" has all the elements of a great novel: mystery, suspense, adventure, love. And C.S. Lewis's The Last Battle. The whole Narnia series changed my view of reality and showed me what profound impact a story can have.

Your top five authors:

BW: Tolkien for what I said above. Steinbeck, for his plain-English that most can identify with (Tortilla Flats is LOL funny). Ayn Rand for her amazing ability to weave personal philosophy into an exciting page ripper (Atlas Shrugged a top pick). James Michener and his massive historical novels; Hawaii is a favorite. Clancy for his relentless attention to detail. I was in the military at the time and still learned things about the Department of Defense from Clancy I couldn't learn on active duty!

JDM: Kate Atkinson, for the humanity of her characters. Raymond Chandler and Lee Child, who for me stand like bookends of the modern thriller craft, for showing how effective it can be to alternate lean, blunt language with florid passages that verge on poetry. Tana French: the language, ye Gods, the language! Arnaldur Indridason; the Erlendur stories are acts of levitation: they float above the ground, holding your attention without all the usual visible means of support--copious action, grisly deaths, patently malevolent villains, spine-tingling suspense. Finally, Harry Bingham. Harry's brilliant, profoundly troubled Welsh policewoman Fiona Griffiths had more to do with the invention of Finn than any other character, living or fictional.

Book you're an evangelist for:

BW: The Tree of Knowledge by Maturana and Varela. Like Sapiens, it's a gift to humanity. A really hard read because of the unfamiliar vocabulary, but read it with a dictionary by your elbow and you'll be a better person for it.

JDM: Kate Atkinson's magnificent debut novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum. My favorite novel of all time. It's a master class in fiction-writing. There are bigger books, but none so fully capture the human comedy in all its range and depth.

Book you've bought for the cover:

BW: Whoever said don't judge a book by its cover was an idiot. A cover is SO important. Recently I rebought and read Dune for the cover. Incredible book.

JDM: Fluke: Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings. I had no idea who Christopher Moore was when I saw this on a bookshop shelf. First, the subtitle, and then the illustration, a whale mid-dive, just its tail showing, inscribed with the words BITE ME. How do you not buy that?

Book you hid from your parents:

BW: My Dungeons & Dragons books and modules. I was an avid D&D player as a young teen and my grandmother thought I was going to hell for reading and playing, so my mom would buy them for me (with Grandma X-mas money) and I'd have to hide from plain view. So technically, it's a grandparent hide!

JDM: They were both huge advocates of reading everything and anything, though they leaned toward searching out the best. When I was 10, I asked my mom if she'd read me The Odyssey, Fitzgerald translation, and she did, a chapter a night, till we got through the whole damn thing. I wish they'd both lived long enough to read Steel Fear.

Book that changed your life:

BW: Tree of Knowledge by Maturana & Varela taught me to respect everyone's views, the importance of environment in our lives and that nothing is certain. We must in fact resist, taking a lesson from scholars who were convinced the Earth was flat and the universe was Earth-centric, the temptation of certainty.

JDM: As a kid, C.S. Lewis's The Last Battle, which introduced me to the idea that there is an unseen world beyond the realm of our limited senses. As an adult writer, John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany and Steinbeck's East of Eden, which showed me the scope and majesty a novel is capable of.

Favorite line from a book:

BW: Excellence Matters, from the last page of The Red Circle, the first book John and I did together. I try and live this every day. Thank you, John, for pulling that out of me.

JDM: The first line of Behind the Scenes at the Museum, "I exist!" coupled with that book's last line: "I am alive. I am a precious jewel. I am a drop of blood. I am Ruby Lennox." I can't even type the words without tearing up.

Five books you'll never part with:

BW: Atlas Shrugged; The Tree of Knowledge; Reality in Advertising (the mentor of Ogilvy); The Flame and the Flower, an old romance novel; my mom named me after the lead character, a swashbuckling pirate captain. A few years ago she gave me her original edition. Sapiens, a new favorite.

JDM: Behind the Scenes at the Museum, Kate Atkinson. The Enemy, Lee Child. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho. The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis. Little Bear, Else Holmelund Minarik. Reasons all given above!

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

BW: I would love to read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy again. I'm excited just thinking about it as I type this in my hotel lobby in Kyiv.

JDM: Kate Atkinson's Life After Life. And honestly, I'd love to be able to read Steel Fear from day one having no idea what happens next!

Books and/or experiences that most directly inspired you to write Steel Fear:

BW: My own personal experience on board the USS Abraham Lincoln. Thomas Harris's Silence of the Lambs and Clancy's Hunt for Red October, both equally thrilling!

JDM: Talking to the Dead, the first of Harry Bingham's Fiona Griffiths series, and Dean Koontz's Odd Thomas both had a huge impact on the invention of Finn. And Another Great Day at Sea, Geoff Dyer's enormously entertaining chronicle of his time on an American aircraft carrier, was extremely helpful in bringing the USS Abraham Lincoln to life.


Book Review

Review: The Uninnocent: Notes on Violence and Mercy

The Uninnocent: Notes on Violence and Mercy by Katharine Blake (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $17 paperback, 224p., 9780374538521, November 2, 2021)

Inspired by a shocking family crime, Katharine Blake's The Uninnocent: Notes on Violence and Mercy is a wise and moving reflection on some of the most vexing aspects of the American criminal justice system. Paramount among her concerns are sentencing practices that treat juveniles who commit serious offenses as adults.

Blake, an adjunct professor at Vermont Law School's Center for Justice Reform, takes as her point of departure an unspeakable act: her 16-year-old cousin Scott's random murder of a nine-year-old boy in his home state of Louisiana in 2010. At the time, Blake had just completed her first year at Stanford Law School, and the shock of the event influences her career path, eventually leading her to a job with the Children's Defense Fund in Washington, D.C., and a stint teaching writing to inmates at San Quentin State Prison. At first communicating with Scott only to provide him with reading material, as the years of his incarceration stretch on, she begins a revealing correspondence that culminates in a visit at Louisiana's notorious Angola Prison.

But this book is much more than a memoir of personal transformation or family dynamics. Devastated by Scott's crime, Blake takes the opportunity to explore a range of topics that emanate from it, including the insanity defense and the notion of criminal responsibility, as well as draconian sentencing practices that reject the idea of rehabilitation, what she calls a "condemnation of possibility." Widening her lens even further, Blake returns again and again to an exploration of the word "heartbreak," stalking its meaning like a tiger seeking its prey: "Heartbreak was a word for the pain I saw in families and systems, homelessness and violence, courtrooms and prisons," she writes, elsewhere describing it as "not a deviation from the script. It's a chapter in love's ongoingness through time."

Blake is an evocative writer whose familiarity with sources that include Shakespeare, contemporary penology, and even the insights of neuroscience and cardiology lends color and depth to her meditations. She's especially influenced by the work of Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of the book Just Mercy, which argued, among other things, against life sentences without parole for juveniles, the punishment applied to her cousin.

Blake is keenly attuned to the tensions and shortcomings inherent in a legal system she knows as both a professional and a family member of someone who became enmeshed in what often seems like an implacable machine. Despite its brevity, The Uninnocent invites readers to ponder some large and difficult questions. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Shelf Talker: Inspired by a family member's heinous crime, Katharine Blake thoughtfully explores problematic aspects of the juvenile justice system.


Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: NVNR's 'Look Who's In Town' Author Event--Magic in the Virtual Air

There have always been special moments at indie bookseller conferences, though after a long 18 months of virtual book events, the magic is a bit harder to detect in the air sometimes (maybe we need an app for that). But magic did happen Tuesday at SIBA/NAIBA's New Voices, New Rooms author event "Look Who's in Town." Hosted by Kimberly Daniel Taws of the Country Bookshop, Southern Pines, N.C., the panel featured authors Lily King, Tyler Merritt, Delia Ephron, Elie Mystal and Karen Joy Fowler.

"Mentorship, education and camaraderie are some of the things that I truly value the most about my experience as a part of SIBA, and I'm sure those of y'all from NAIBA do as well," Taws said, adding, with some prescience: "I'd like to encourage y'all to participate in the chat, bump around, and try to make it reflective of the community that we really are."

King (Five Tuesdays in Winter, Grove Press, November), whose collection includes a short story about booksellers, said, "I'm so honored to be here with these great writers and great booksellers who are invaluable to our lives. I've been a bookseller in many, many different places and so I had to write the bookseller love story."

Clockwise from top left: Delia Ephron, Tyler Merritt, Karen Joy Fowler, Elie Mystal, Lily King, Kimberley Daniel Taws.

Noting that what he "tried to do is I took a bet on proximity with this book," Merritt (I Take My Coffee Black: Reflections on Tupac, Musical Theater, Faith and Being Black in America, Worthy Books) said, "If I can allow you in as close as possible, then maybe, just maybe, that closeness will allow for you to spark empathy.... And in the midst of that, I do my best to try to make you laugh."

Ephron (Left on Tenth: A Second Chance at Life: A Memoir, Little, Brown; April 2022) observed that she "really related to what Tyler was saying about the honesty because my friends tell me I'm shockingly honest." She added later: "I think I can make almost anything funny and my book is funny but there are so many tears in it as well."

"Thank you to the booksellers," Mystal (Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy's Guide to the Constitution, the New Press, January 2022) said, offering a shelving tip: "Put mine, like, if you've got your new Tucker Carlson book and you've got your new Josh Hawley I'm running for president book, put my book next to it so I can be staring at that dude the entire time because that's what the book is about. The operative word in that title is retort, not Constitution."

Although she is a writer, Fowler (Booth, Putnam, March 2022) said, "I identify myself even more strongly as a reader. I am so grateful to the people who are keeping bookstores alive and the books I've heard about tonight just sound incredible. There was a lot of passion in the presentations."

Taws agreed: "There are so many pieces in these books that connect together.... Your books deal with, to take something that's at the core of Tyler's book, 'proximity brings understanding.' Every single one of these books deals with how a context changes someone's understanding."

Merritt responded: "I loved how you used my example of proximity. There's something about these books that is bringing us all together in a way.... There's an excitement, especially within this group of authors, that connects us, and I just think it's beautiful."

As the event was about to end, Taws thanked the panelists and "all of you booksellers for letting me be your moderator, probably for the last time in a virtual space." But no one seemed anxious to leave, so she added: "I'll keep talking, I mean people are still watching.... Y'all keep talking." And they did, authors with each other, booksellers in chat,  for another 15 minutes. 

Magic was in the virtual air. 

Noting that Fowler lives in Santa Cruz, Merritt said much of his book takes place in Scotts Valley and that when he first saw the title Booth he thought it was about a kissing booth. Fowler suggested that might indeed become her next book. Mystal joked that when they started talking about kissing booth, he wondered if it was another new app he'd missed out on. 

Merritt said to Ephron: "Delia, I just want to tell you, I am so glad you're here. As a cancer survivor as well.... hearing your story, I'm just so glad you're here now in this room. You have been like chicken soup for my soul, man. You've made me feel better about Elie's hair being cooler than mine. Everybody's been asking if I'm going to write about my cancer experience because I'm like you, I put so much humor into everything. And I think I just decided on this call that I'm going to."

It's impossible to really capture the event's atmosphere here, but its title, "Look Who's in Town," turned out to be apt. This really did feel like a group of strangers meeting in an unfamiliar city and finding some connection. 

Taws concluded: "What's really special about us chatting, and I really appreciate y'all just sitting here and shooting the crap with us for 15 minutes, is that part of the joy of these conferences is what we learn at the bar or all the downtime in between these official events. And I noticed in the chat that we got to do that a little bit here, which I think makes it super special." 

--Robert Gray, contributing editor

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