Shelf Awareness for Friday, October 8, 2021

Margaret K. McElderry Books: Tender Beasts by Liselle Sambury

Scholastic Press: Heroes: A Novel of Pearl Harbor by Alan Gratz

Flatiron Books: Anita de Monte Laughs Last by Xochitl Gonzalez

Peachtree Publishers: King & Kayla and the Case of the Downstairs Ghost (King & Kayla) by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Nancy Meyers

Doubleday Books: The Husbands by Holly Gramazio

Editors' Note

Happy Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples Day!

Because of the Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples Day holiday, this is the last issue of Shelf Awareness until Tuesday, October 12. See you then!

Holiday House: The Five Impossible Tasks of Eden Smith by Tom Llewellyn; The Selkie's Daughter by Linda Crotta Brennan


Pillow-Cat Books Opens in NYC's East Village

Pillow-Cat Books, "the first animal themed bookshop in New York," opened recently at 328 East 9th St., in the East Village. On the store's website, owner Cleo Le-Tan, who grew up in France, describes the 200-square-foot space as "small, green, and filled with used, new, vintage and antique books of all types and in all languages. We have books about art, photography, design, fashion, and literature--as well as comics and, of course, children's favorites. The only common denominator: an animal or animal character must be present."

"All my favorite characters are animals," she told the New York Times. "I do have all these technical books on poodle grooming and it just makes me want a poodle.... We always had pets in the family, and now I'm waiting for my kids to be old enough to choose one. 

Fictional animals are omnipresent in the shop, the Times noted. "Pillow-Cat is a cat in the shape of a pillow or a pillow in the shape of a cat," said Le-Tan of the store's mascot. "I've always been surrounded by books, and I wrote a whole book about bookshops. I thought it would be so nice to have my own." Her books include A Booklover's Guide to New York and Une Famille, roman à clef published in France. 

Her sister, Olympia Le-Tan, "the accessories designer known for small clutch bags embroidered to look like books, designed the store's logo and mascot--a cat that wears glasses and a pussy bow. The logo now adorns totes, hats, shirts, key chains and matchbooks. Olympia will also illustrate a series of Pillow-Cat stories that Ms. Le-Tan has written," the Times wrote.

Cleo Le-Tan, who moved to New York City from France 10 years ago, wants to make Pillow-Cat Books "like an old French shop where you can find something that's been on the shelf for 59 years. But I also had to have some neon and modern stuff for New York." The shelves are organized by species, as is the website. The grassy green color on the walls and shelves is a tribute to the walls in the Paris living room of her father, the late illustrator and regular New Yorker cover artist Pierre Le-Tan. 

Cleo Le-Tan feels she still has species gaps to fill in her inventory: "There might just be one sea horse book. I didn't know what a manatee was, and then this little girl came in who wanted flamingo books. I feel stressed out now that I might be missing animals."

Amistad Press: The Survivors of the Clotilda: The Lost Stories of the Last Captives of the American Slave Trade by Hannah Durkin

Midwest Bookseller of the Year: A Room of One's Own Staff

The staff at A Room of One's Own in Madison, Wis., won this year's Midwest Bookseller of the Year award, given by the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association, which noted: "During a period of nationwide crisis, the staff at Room has kept the store running and their customers reading while also expanding their profile as one of the Midwest's most empowered, political, and feisty bookstores." MIBA will celebrate A Room of One's Own at its membership meeting, which will be held virtually October 27.

"This is an award that reflects our collective experiences," said MIBA's executive director Carrie Obry. "A bookstore like A Room of One's Own is mission-driven, so when the world is in a state of crisis, the business becomes even more of a demonstration of the store's values."

A Room of One's Own's new location.

Describing A Room of One's Own as "one of the Midwest's proudly queer-owned bookstores," MIBA said the shop "found a voice in 2021 as a staunch defender of trans rights and a vocal advocate for queer, trans and BIPOC people everywhere. This commitment to uplifting historically unrepresented communities is present in everything they do--social media, events, custom merchandise, the books they stock and promote--and has been especially uplifting during a year of isolation and political strife."

In a long citation showcasing the bookstore's achievements, MIBA noted that when co-owners Gretchen Treu and Wes Lukes were contacted about this year's award, "they expressed heartfelt dedication to their team and described how it's the collective force of their entire staff that allows them to thrive. 'Many times, especially in times of high stress like when fielding blowback for standing up for trans people, some of the work--emotional and practical--has fallen on the staff as a whole. We run most major decisions past them and take their input and encourage their leadership and investment in the store. Our involvement as Room's co-owners is sometimes an intentional stepping back and inviting our staff to take on ownership of the voice of the store to honor and bolster our presence.' "

Author Chloe Benjamin (The Immortalists) said: "I can think of no worthier recipient for this award than A Room of One's Own, a place that truly embodies the notion of a community bookstore. Room's passion for books is indivisible from their moral compass and inclusive ethic. In creating a safe, supportive space for every reader, they perform radical book magic."

Cara Nesi, a sales rep for Simon & Schuster, observed: "A Room of One's Own is such a shining example of inclusivity, activism, solidarity and curation, and their social media presence takes that even further. This award is so well deserved."

Penguin Random House sales manager Jason Gobble said the staff at A Room of One's Own "truly believes books can make a difference, not only in individual lives but in the larger world. They talk the talk and walk the walk, as does their whole team of booksellers.... With the store finally established in its gorgeous new space, the sky really is the limit."

MPIBA: Breakfast with Children's Authors and Illustrators

Breakfast speakers Frank Morrison, Yuyi Morales and Lilliam Rivera

MPIBA's FallCon kicked off in Denver, Colo., yesterday with the Children's Author & Illustrator Keynote Breakfast. All of the book creators emphasized the need for children to feel connected and to pursue their hearts' desire.

Frank Morrison explained that his book Kick Push (Bloomsbury, March 29, 2022) was inspired by his son T.J.'s passion for skateboarding (T.J. now tours with Little Wayne, skateboarding in his videos). Morrison himself was a break dancer and toured with the Sugar Hill Gang before becoming a graffiti artist and winning the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Illustrator Award for Jazzy Miz Mozetta by Brenda C. Roberts. With this book, Morrison said, he wanted to tell children, "Believe in yourself and success will follow."

Yuyi Morales said that when she has questions, she finds answers by making a book. Bright Star (Neal Porter Books), which she both wrote and illustrated, explores how walls at the border affect not just the families seeking asylum in the U.S. but also the animals whose migration paths are blocked. "We must bring down the walls, the ones we build with materials and the ones we build with ourselves," said Morales. She wanted Bright Star to be a story children could take with them when they needed it most. "We are not alone, we are very connected," she said.

Megan Bomgaars (center, front), with her family and (at right) Peter H. Reynolds. (photo: Abbey Dankoff)

Lilliam Rivera's We Light Up the Sky (Bloomsbury, October 26, 2021) features an alien invasion and stars three Los Angeles teens of color "who want to save the world, in a city that doesn't want to save them." Rivera said she grew up "obsessed with alien invasion stories," such as The Martian Chronicles and The War of the Worlds. She reflected on the paradoxes of Los Angeles culture, with homeless encampments outside of glistening shopping malls, and movie dance scenes that shut down highways while patrol cars burned in the streets. For Rivera, tragedy and laughter sit next to each other.

Megan Bomgaars's Born to Sparkle (Flowerpot Press) celebrates her own determination and her advocacy for others like her who live with Down syndrome and other challenges. "From a very young age, I knew I wanted to sparkle," Bomgaars said, as her sequined dress glittered beneath the lights. She starred in the Emmy Award-winning series Born This Way on A&E, and has raised awareness and millions of dollars for the Global Down Syndrome Foundation. "We changed the way people see those with Down syndrome and educated the world about the possibilities and potential," she said.

"We are together but not together, due to technology," said Peter H. Reynolds, reflecting on the events of these past 18 months. He recalled his school visit on the West Coast the day before travel ceased, and returning home to Massachusetts to quarantine for two weeks. He spoke of closing down his Blue Bunny Bookshop in Dedham [it's reopened now] and starting to fulfill orders for his books. In his picture book Our Table (Orchard/Scholastic, November 2, 2021), Violet is the only one in her family who has not abandoned the ritual of sitting at the family table. Each day, the table shrinks a little more, until Violet finds a way to rally her family members and return to the traditions and togetherness she values. Reynolds brought the room full circle, in a moment of gratitude that everyone was joined again around the tables, celebrating books and being together. --Jennifer M. Brown  

MPIBA's Feast of Fiction

Twelve authors spoke for up to four minutes each at MPIBA's Feast of Fiction: Author Lunch yesterday. Topics and themes ranged from Kim Fu's collection of sci-fi stories inspired by everything from a quote by Elizabeth McCracken to a poem from Adrienne Rich to an "autobiography disguised as fiction," as Luai Qubain characterized his The Kingdom's Sandcastle, about leaving the Middle East in order to save his life.

Pictured: (front row, l.-r.) Kim Fu (Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century, Tin House); Jordan Ifeuko (Redemptor, Abrams); Scarlett St. Clair (King of Battle and Blood, Bloom Books); Brigid Kemmerer (Defy the Night, Bloomsbury); Shauna Robinson (Must Love Books, Sourcebooks); Luai Qubain (The Kingdom's Sandcastle, Rare Bird); Alison Stine (Trashlands, Mira). Back row: Matt Mikalatos (The Story King, Wander); Margot Wood (Fresh, Abrams); Phil Stamper (Golden Boys, Bloomsbury YA); Jodi Thomas (Dinner on Primrose Hill, Zebra/Kensington); David Slayton (Trailer Park Trickster, Blackstone). (photo: Abbey Dankoff)

Watershed Books Moving to Larger Space in Brookville, Pa.

Watershed Books and Literary Arts Center in Brookville, Pa., is moving down the block to a new, larger space at 194 Main Street. Explore Jefferson reported that the business "is approaching its one-year anniversary as a brick-and-mortar location on Main Street," and because of "the support from the community, and especially the generosity of local property owners," Watershed will be able to expand its retail area and literary arts center. The new location also offers more community space--a reading lounge, a self-serve coffee and tea station, and a meeting room with public computers.

The bookstore "is a culmination of the support for the Watershed Journal Literary Group, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering and elevating regional authorship and readership in the western Pennsylvania Wilds," Explore Jefferson wrote. The nonprofit has been publishing literary magazines, hosting literary events and workshops for more than three years. 

"Expanding our bookstore and Literary Arts Center is a key component of the Watershed Journal's mission to support the storytellers of our region--voices not often heard otherwise; voices with heartfelt stories to tell," said TWJ board president Jo Scheier Bugay. A grand reopening celebration is scheduled for October 9.

Obituary Note: Paul Reizin

Paul Reizin

Paul Reizin, the author of five novels and one work of nonfiction, died October 1, the Bookseller reported. He was 67. He began his career in the press and radio before moving to TV, working in front of the camera and as a producer in factual entertainment programming.

Most recently, Reizin found success as an author with two novels written as P.Z. Reizin: Happiness for Humans and Ask Me Anything, both  of whiich were published in the U.S. by Grand Central. Screen adaptations of the books are in development, the Bookseller noted.

"Paul became my client and friend at the beginning of the millennium and our professional and personal relationship turned out to be a wild and crazy ride," said Clare Alexander, his agent at Aitken Alexander. "He started out writing 'lad lit' for Headline before moving to Transworld with first a rom-com and then a work of nonfiction about his many misadventures on the dating scene before finally finding 'the one' and having a baby. 'The one' was his wife Ruth and she and Rachel, his beloved daughter, were able to be with him at home until the end.

"His most recent incarnation as an author was as P.Z. Reizin, writing two clever, funny, big-hearted novels that were immediately snapped up for film and TV. I look forward to the day when one or both make it to the screen and the books become the international bestsellers they deserve to be. I will miss Paul very much indeed."


Image of the Day: YA Authors in Denver

Second Star to the Right Books in Denver, Colo., hosted three YA authors for an in-person event at Duffeyroll Bakery Café, where the authors discussed and signed their new and upcoming books. The authors were also in town for the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association's FallCon. Pictured, left to right: Brigid Kemmerer (Defy the Night), Phil Stamper (As Far As You'll Take Me) and Lilliam Rivera (We Light Up the Sky), all published by Bloomsbury.

Battenkill Books Hosts "First Actual Event in Ever So Long" for Brad Kessler's North

(photo: Eve MacNeil)

Battenkill Books, Cambridge, N.Y., hosted its "first actual event in ever so long" on Wednesday night (postponed from Monday due to rain), featuring author Brad Kessler discussing and signing copies "of his new gorgeous novel," North (the Overlook Press).

"It was so amazing to be able to gather in literary community in the open autumnal air with Brad Kessler and his beautiful new novel North, said bookseller and buyer Eve MacNeil. "We feel honored to help kick off Brad’s book tour and to welcome our customers back for our very first in-person event in over a year and a half. With the backdrop of Cambridge’s historic buildings in the waning light of day, we basked in the glow of literature and we're so full of bookish joy, we have no words."

'Mad As Hell' Floor Display at Powell's Books

Powell's Books, Portland, Ore., shared a photo of the store's "Mad as Hell" display on Instagram, advising readers to "channel your anger with these recommended reads now on display in the Red Room or online."

Bookseller Katherine M. observed: "The idea for this display came after the Senate Bill 8, which bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy in Texas, went into effect on September 1, 2021. Most women don't even know that they're pregnant in that time frame, which made me so angry. I figured that if I'm angry, then countless other women must be mad as hell too. Every book on this display either discusses women's anger or it presents a subject matter that all women--actually, make that EVERYONE--should be angry about. From Black girls being discriminated against in the classroom to being harassed--sexually or otherwise--on the street, there's no better time to stand up, get angry, and do something about it."

Costco Picks: The Beatles: Get Back

Alex Kanenwisher, book buyer at Costco, has selected The Beatles: Get Back by The Beatles, edited by John Harris (‎Callaway Arts & Entertainment, $60, 9780935112962) as the pick for October. In Costco Connection, which goes to many of the warehouse club's members, Kanenwisher writes:

"I have been a fan of the Beatles for as long as I can remember. So much has been written about them that it's exciting when a truly new title is released.

"The Beatles: Get Back looks beyond the mythology surrounding the recording of the Let It Be album to explore what happened.

"The book is a fascinating combination of transcribed conversations from more than 120 hours of recordings, movie stills and many candid photos."

Personnel Changes at Chronicle; Tom Doherty Associates; Little, Brown; Macmillan

Leslie Davisson has been hired as director, special sales at Chronicle Books.


Julia Bergen has been promoted to marketing manager at Tom Doherty Associates.


At Little, Brown:

Gabby Leporati is promoted to associate publicist.

Mariah Dwyer joins the company as publicity assistant. She formerly worked at Fortier Public Relations.


At Macmillan:

Jeanette Zwart is being promoted to director, Canada sales and Raincoast on the trade sales team.

Jasmine Key is being promoted to associate national account manager, Target on the trade sales team.

Kathleen McCutcheon is being promoted to associate national account manager, Bookazine adult and airports on the trade sales team.

Amanda Roundtree is being promoted to manager, library marketing.

Emily Day is being promoted to associate manager, library marketing.

Brad Wood is being promoted to senior director, Amazon on the trade sales team.

Taylor Armstrong will be promoted to the newly created position of associate director, custom sales and subscription boxes on the trade sales team.

Kara Warschausky is being promoted to the newly created position of retail marketing manager on the trade sales team.

Trish Madson is being promoted to senior national account manager, RDS and Costco on the trade sales team.

Hannah Phillips has joined the trade sales department as sales assistant.

Media and Movies

TV: Former Brewster Book Store Bookseller on Jeopardy!

Yesterday, the Brewster Book Store, Brewster, Mass., shared the great news that former bookseller "and Brewster's own @maddiemaew [Maddie Williamswill be on Jeopardy tonight. We can’t wait to cheer her on! Let’s get excited Brewster! Your book store family and your hometown are so proud Maddie (and not just because of the whole Jeopardy thing)."

Studio Acquires TV Rights for Sue Grafton's Alphabet Books

A+E Studios has acquired exclusive rights to Sue Grafton's book series featuring private investigator protagonist Kinsey Millhone "in a competitive situation with multiple bidders," Deadline reported. Under the deal, the studio can develop and produce the entire library of the author's alphabet mysteries for TV. 

Grafton died in 2017. This marks the first time screen rights to the book series have been made available, Deadline noted. Steve Humphrey, Grafton's husband for more than 40 years, is serving as executive producer on the adaptations.

"We are actively speaking with interested platforms and seeking a showrunner for the series, as well as the perfect actress to embody the coveted lead role of Kinsey Millhone," said A+E Studios president Barry Jossen. "Sue Grafton is the ultimate storyteller who spent decades entertaining readers through her rich characters and spellbinding mysteries."

Humphrey commented: "We are thrilled to be joining with A+E Studios to introduce Kinsey Millhone to a new and wider audience. The success of Sue's mysteries has always centered around her compelling characters, and, with the support of her family and children, we are committed to maintaining the tone and tenor of Sue's books that fans love. Working with the team at A+E Studios is the perfect partnership to making this a reality."

Books & Authors

Awards: Goldsmiths Shortlist

A shortlist was released for the £10,000 (about $13,610) Goldsmiths Prize, which recognizes "fiction that breaks the mold or extends the possibilities of the novel form." The winner will be named November 10. This year's finalists are:

Checkout 19 by Claire-Louise Bennett
Assembly by Natasha Brown
A Shock by Keith Ridgway
This One Sky Day by Leone Ross
Sterling Karat Gold by Isabel Waidner
little scratch by Rebecca Watson

Reading with... Steven Reigns

photo: Gabriel Goldberg

Steven Reigns, Los Angeles poet and educator, was appointed the first Poet Laureate of West Hollywood. He is the author of two collections, Inheritance and Your Dead Body Is My Welcome Mat, and more than a dozen chapbooks. Reigns edited My Life Is Poetry, showcasing his students' work from the first autobiographical poetry workshop for LGBTQ seniors. Reigns has lectured and taught writing workshops around the country to LGBTQ youth and people living with HIV. He is touring The Gay Rub, an exhibition of rubbings from LGBTQ landmarks around the world, and has a private practice as a psychotherapist. His latest book is A Quilt for David (City Lights, September 14, 2021), the hidden history of a gay doctor whose life and death were turned into tabloid fodder in the beginning of the AIDS epidemic.

On your nightstand now:

Firebrat by Mike Diana. I know, I know, it's not the book one might expect a poet to have on their nightstand. Diana's work is wonderfully outrageous and unexpected and bizarre. It's also fascinating that he's the only artist in America to receive a criminal conviction for artistic obscenity. The book I'm reading after is Amy Gerstler's Index of Women.

Favorite book when you were a child:

I dearly loved The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. I now owe so many personal therapy hours to deprogramming the terrible codependent messaging it implanted.

Your top five authors:

Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore--I can always count on Mattilda's writing to spark new thoughts, ideas and recalibrate my emotions.

Natalie Goldberg--we were all introduced to her through her breakout book Writing Down the Bones. While that has continually been in print and still selling wildly, she's been writing these incredible memoirs and other books about writing and painting. Check out Long Quiet Highway, Wild Mind and her brand new book, Three Simple Lines

David Trinidad--David's poetry is loaded with pop culture but well-crafted and with heart. He's also a great champion of writers, editing and publishing poets who have passed too early or gone out of print. The poetry community is better because of him.

Collin Kelley--I feel like we share so many sensibilities and interests, his poems are a joy to read. He's been threatening a new and selected collection, which I'd love to happen.

Anaïs Nin--the world opened to me when I first discovered her writing.

Book you've faked reading:

Moby-Dick. I never finished it. At page 90 they hadn't even left port. I didn't have the patience for it 25 years ago and haven't picked it up since. In Pam Houston's debut, Cowboys Are My Weakness, there's a character who falsely tells men at bars about how she once rode a mechanical bull and won. She's told the story so many times she almost believes it to be true. I feel that way about Moby-Dick. It's easy to forget I haven't read the entire thing.

Book you're an evangelist for:

The most recent book I've preached is Julie E. Bloemeke's Slide to Unlock. It's a collection about love and longing without being overly sentimental or sappy. During the pandemic I kept giving it out as gifts.

Book you've bought for the cover:

The Hound of Heaven by Francis Thompson, published by the Peter Pauper Press in the late '50s. On the cover and throughout are these beautiful red/orange inked woodcuts by Jeff Hill. They have such a midcentury modern feel to them and could easily be framed artwork on the wall.

Book you hid from your parents:

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (but Were Afraid to Ask) by Dr. David Reuben. I bought it at a used book sale at age 15. The title was appealing, but more than sex itself, I really wanted to know about being gay and gay sex. Homosexuals had over 40 entries in the index. At home, in my bedroom, I went directly to page 129, the section on homosexuals. The book had lines like "The homosexual who prefers to use his penis must find an anus. Many look in the refrigerator. The most common masturbatory object for this purpose is a melon. Cantaloupes are usual, but where it is available, papaya is popular." Gay men regularly have sex with fruit?!?! This book is where I got the biggest miseducation on gay life that I could have ever received.

Book that changed your life:

Sapphire's American Dreams really rocked my world. Her honesty, daringness and ability to hold complexities was refreshing. She used different forms and told hard truths. That book still holds up, and so do her subsequent books.

Favorite line from a book:

"The truth is simple, you do not die from love. You only wish you did." --Erica Jong from Becoming Light

Five books you'll never part with:

The Diary of Anaïs Nin by Anaïs Nin
Love Poems by Anne Sexton
Meditations in an Emergency by Frank O'Hara
How to Love a Country by Richard Blanco
Truth Serum by Bernard Cooper

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

I would love to again feel the awe and exhilaration I felt when first reading the anthology High Risk: An Anthology of Forbidden Writings, edited by Amy Scholder and Ira Silverberg. What's thrilling is that Amy Scholder is my editor for A Quilt for David. The publishing of this book feels very full circle for me. I remember picking up High Risk from the St. Louis Public Library and devouring it in the living room on a papasan chair (didn't everyone have one of those chairs in the '90s?). I wanted to be a writer like those in the book I was holding.

Book Review

Review: Wholehearted Faith

Wholehearted Faith by Rachel Held Evans, Jeff Chu (HarperOne, $26.99 hardcover, 224p., 9780062894472, November 2, 2021)

Rachel Held Evans (Searching for Sunday; Inspired) was well known among evangelical and "ex-vangelical" American Christians for her passionate, thoughtful writing and her wrestling with difficult questions. In Wholehearted Faith, her final, posthumous book for adults, Evans (who died after a brief illness in 2019) shares familiar and new material relating to faith, doubt and her ongoing struggle to live a life of compassion and grace (despite the Twitter haters). Ably edited by Evans's colleague Jeff Chu (Does Jesus Really Love Me?), the essays in Wholehearted Faith present a warm, generous, kaleidoscopic view of Evans's spiritual journey over the past two decades.

Readers of Evans's previous books will find familiar themes here: she returned again and again to questions about inclusion, the role of women in the church, the validity of doubt, and the wild, ungraspable love of God. She gets personal at times, detailing her upbringing in small-town Alabama and later Tennessee, praising her parents for their grace-filled approach to life and spirituality, and admitting her own desperate need to be the "best" Christian. She also touches on some events that shook her former certainties: the execution of a young Muslim woman after 9/11, her friendships with LGBTQ+ people (Christian and otherwise), the difficulty of living up to the ideals she was trying to follow. The result is a broad and deep look at the evolution of Evans's faith (harking back to the original title of her first memoir, Evolving in Monkey Town).

Often self-deprecating, Evans pokes gentle fun at her younger self and fesses up to her own weaknesses, but she's not interested in castigating anyone else (except the folks who insult her on social media). She admits to harboring lots of questions, even insisting that doubts are a necessary part of a healthy spiritual life. She wrestles with the often-sprawling gap between the person of Jesus and the ways conservative evangelical churches have interpreted his life and teachings. And she insists--in every chapter, if not on every page--that if there is a God, God's love is for everyone, with absolutely no asterisks or exceptions. She also insists on the corollary: that anyone claiming to love God must also show true compassion toward their fellow human beings and the earth we all share.

With thoughtful introductions by Chu and by Rachel's husband, Dan Evans, and a poignant epilogue by pastor and author Nadia Bolz-Weber, Wholehearted Faith is "not the book that Rachel would have written," as Chu reminds readers. But it is still a genuine, curious, openhearted collection from a woman who spent her life struggling to balance questions and love. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Shelf Talker: Rachel Held Evans's posthumous memoir is a warm, generous exploration of faith, doubt and the challenges of living a Christian life.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Yes, Virginia, There Is a Black Friday... Sort Of

If it's never too early to start publicizing Black Friday promotions, then I guess it's never too early to write about the concept. On Monday, 11 weeks before Christmas, Amazon gleefully announced that customers "can shop early and save big with Black Friday-worthy deals available today." (I'll give myself a little credit for anticipating this in our April Fools' Day issue four years ago: "Amazon Starting Black Friday Sales on Good Friday") The onlne retailer did not mention global supply chain issues in its press release. 

In the true retail spirit of the season, Amazon crowed about its holiday gift guides, Holiday Prep Shop and the new Holiday Gift List "to let customers share gift ideas for everyone in their household with relatives and friends, conveniently organized by recipient. For the first time ever, Prime members in the U.S. using the Amazon mobile shopping app can send gifts with just an e-mail or mobile phone number--no need to know the recipient's address."

Could this last option also be called a stalking stuffer? Alexa, can you say "bah, humbug"? 

"Amazon is counting on Christmas coming early this year," Pamela N. Danziger wrote in Forbes. "It sorta tried last year when it moved Prime Day from July to October 13 and 14, hoping to kick off early holiday shopping, though it was only tangentially positioned around the coming holiday season. But this year it is going full-tilt into the holiday gifting season early by stretching Black Friday from a single day--the Friday after Thanksgiving--to a two-month sales event."

Coincidentally, on the same day Amazon pulled the plug on whatever shreds were left of Black Friday as we once knew (and hated/loved) it, my wife and I were driving back to upstate New York from a wedding we had attended in Bethlehem, Pa., aka Christmas City. On the N.Y. State Thruway I was struck by a memory. Almost 15 years ago, on the morning after a Thanksgiving spent with friends in New Jersey, we were rushing north on the same highway because I was scheduled to work the Black Friday late shift at the Northshire Bookstore.

I'd allotted plenty of travel time, but suddenly, inexplicably, we were stuck in what felt like a three-lane parking lot and the mystery wasn't solved for an hour. Eventually, nearing an exit just south of the toll booths, we spotted the gridlock culprit: Woodbury Common Premium Outlets. Black Friday had officially begun, and I was still hours from home. By the time I finally reached the bookstore sales floor that afternoon, the frenzied book buyers were a nice change of pace, walking much faster than I'd been driving.

This past Monday, however, I wasn't in a rush to get home. There were no lines--or toll booths--near that exit. Black Friday was weeks away and of little consequence to me; I'm an Indies First/Small Business Saturday guy now. 

Once upon a time, though...

I went through my first Black Friday bookstore frenzy in 1992, before Amazon or online sales even existed. More than a decade later, in 2004, I could still write a bookseller's blog post that began: "Is anybody ever ready for Black Friday? Ready is not the word. It's more a kind of constructive paranoia--generously mixed with terror--that propels us to take every precaution we can think of to insure success. The bean counters upstairs will hold their breath because so much is riding on this day and so many things can go wrong. They can't prepare. They can only add up the damage afterward."

A couple of years after that, I wrote in Shelf Awareness that on a national scale, Black Friday is always what it pretends to be in its spectacular influence on consumer behavior. It also happens just a day after the annual debut of Santa Claus in Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Retail-inspired myths are the best, aren't they?

Since then, Amazon and its biggest competitors have been gradually devaluing the Black Friday experience, if such a thing is possible. So maybe the fact that we continue to expand timeframe exponentially (Remember when people used to say, "Wouldn't it be nice if the Christmas spirit lasted all year long?" Like that, only much worse.) is just the natural devolution of an unnatural "holiday." In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic effectively put a lockdown on any remnants of the traditional "mad rush through the doors" Black Friday early morning festivities. It's just different now.

As everyone knows, in 1897 eight-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon wrote a letter to The Sun. She was deeply concerned that some of her friends were saying there's no Santa Claus. Her father, in an odd bit of paternal logic, offered reassurance of sorts: "If you see it in The Sun it's so." She asked the editor: "Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?" Francis Pharcellus Church's response has since become the most reprinted newspaper editorial in history.

Though Black Friday doesn't lend itself to sentimentality, there's a moment every year when I recall the pure adrenaline rush of being a bookseller on that one day each year, as it used to be. Yes, Virginia, there once was a Black Friday, and it was only 24 hours long, no matter what Amazon tells you now.

--Robert Gray, contributing editor

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