let the abbey stones be the envoys sent to seek the king. let the hurtfew beck be the path by which the king shall come. let the fruit from the orchard trees be the handsel the king will recieve. and let the moment of this flame’s death be the time the king shall appear.
IMPORTANT NOTE: This bedding set includes a duvet cover for quilt/duvet/comforter but WITHOUT any quilt/duvet/comforter/blanket inside, just COVER, and you can put your own duvet/comforter into the cover.
Symbol: The Twins Ruling Planet: Mercury — the planet of communication Body Part: Shoulders, arms, hands Element: Air Good Days: Fascinating, original, resourceful, charming, wise, adventurous Bad Days: Restless, distracted, two-faced, judgmental, depressed, overwhelmed Favorite Things: Cell phones, fast cars, trendy clothes, obscure music, guitars, books, comedy clubs What they Hate: Small-minded people, dress codes, authority figures, silence, routines Secret wish: To have all the answers How to Spot Them: Mischievous twinkle in their eyes, reading, talking with their hands.
The “Booksellers Are Badass” essay I wrote for the 2011 holiday season…on price wars, digital media competition, and the merits of bookselling.
All my life, it’s been about some character or other. Maybe they were real, maybe they were born of a stranger’s big mind. Scout Finch’s earnest, “Atticus, are we poor?” was a phrase I wasn’t keen enough to mutter to my parents at her age. But despite our lack of fiscal solvency, my mother managed to ply me with books in my early years that continued to propel my lust for a literary life to this day. She wasn’t much of a reader herself, but she thought it would be a good idea if I were.
One of my most memorable books as a kid was The Mysterious Star, about a boy named Jamie in search of friendship and faith. Long out of print, I recently re-discovered it, and found it as I remembered, but from the eyes of someone with an extra twenty-five years behind them. I’m convinced it taught me something of empathy. I moved on to Nancy Drew, Anne of Green Gables, and all the titles I could fit in my small white bookshelf by my bed. We didn’t live in a place that had any bookstores. My mom and I would drive an hour to Pennsylvania to buy books, in stores which, at the time, served as both the internet and marketing tool shed for the very industry itself. If you don’t get the big newspapers or live someplace grand, the bookstore is your best bet to see what else you should know about.
Some time has passed since my entree into the written word. I’ve worked in New York City, Salt Lake, Seattle, and have studied and traveled in Denver, L.A., Portland, London, Paris, Berlin, Istanbul, Prague and countless other cities. Whenever the next destination presents itself, the first thing I do is Google bookstore options–it’s Krakow next. Though I can easily get whatever I’m looking for online or where I live, I have never walked into a bookstore and not discovered something completely new. I’ve never walked out empty handed, and I’ve always used bookstores to get a feel for the city I’m about to uncover. I’ll pay for that education.
I don’t care about cars or big houses. I prefer the bus, and a stack of non-fiction. I prefer gorgeous coffee table books full of art and photography, history and design, to fancy jewelry or electronics. I like to be in the company of kings and colonels of the old wars, Orwell and Lahiri, eloquent Brecht and edgy Ferlinghetti. And at the end of the day, I want to choose from a whole pile of options, whether to go to bed with romance or high adventure, Steinbeck or pie recipes.
On the days I fret about the future of publishing, and the life of the book, I comfort myself with my personal and professional experience in reading and writing. It won’t dissipate through the advent of technology or stratified content classifications on the one million blogs and e-mags that live online, vying for the notice of the attention deficit lot of us. As long as people thirst for literature or Richard Avedon’s fashion photography, or the phrasing of Mark Strand, books will find their way to shelves, both physically and virtually. The will of the reader will continue.
For the hand sellers, the peddlers, the librarians, and the bookshop owners around the world, now in the company of bloggers, Iphone apps, and e-readers—your job is still paramount. You are the bridge between what gets published and what people actually read. You are the window and the gateway for all the stories that deserve a good audience. You host the writers who inspire the readers. You sell the gardening books that make your neighbor’s flowers brighten the community where you pay rent. You introduce Shel Silverstein and Maurice Sendak to budding young eyes and ears, and you provide a refuge of knowledge, culture, art, and power that is the nucleus and the fuel for our democracy today and tomorrow. You care about the content of your shelves and the people who populate them more than the wealth of your bottom line. You deal more in client relationships than “client relations.” And if you took a poll of travelers around the world, the smart ones would say bookstores are on their list of “monuments” wherever they’re headed. May you sell stacks of wonder and words into the new year, and may your house of books serve communities of people as long as there is a light with which to read. If content is king, it will always somehow have a crown. And if you go to bed with Hemingway, you’ll wake up looking for his Paris.
Customer: “Hi, I’m looking for a book for a 3rd grade girl.”
Bookseller: “Sure! Has she read the Humphrey series by Betty Birney? It’s about a classroom hamster who has lots of adventures and gets to go home with a different student every weekend.”
Customer: “Um, no. That’s a boy book.”
Bookseller: “Well, the hamster is a boy, but the kids in the classroom are a mix of boys and girls.”
Customer: “No, I want a girl book. How about this book about fairy unicorns?”
This happens ALL THE TIME in our bookstore. Last week, one of our booksellers had a customer turn down a board book about an owl because obviously owls are only in boy books.
As booksellers, we want our customers to go home with the perfect book for their child, but we also feel a responsibility to expand kids’ minds and expose them to stories about a broad range of experiences. The books you read as a kid help shape who you will be as an adult. How can you become an empathetic, well-rounded person when you’ve only read about people just like you?
We make a concerted effort to stock books for all readers across the gender spectrum and strongly believe there is no such thing as a “boy” or “girl” book. Unfortunately, there are times when it’s not that simple.
There is definitely more pushback when trying to sell a book with a girl protagonist to a parent of a boy than vice versa. Actually, many boys are happy to read books about girls, but their parents can be hesitant to buy these books for them. I try to find creative ways to handsell “girl books” to the parents of boys. Instead of describing the book as being about a “girl,” I will say it’s about a “kid.” I’m sure my gender neutral word doesn’t fool them once they’ve picked up the book, but it does seem to have some subliminal impact.
Handselling YA books is harder, because so often their covers look intensely feminine or masculine, which can really impact the appeal to certain readers. I do see this getting slightly better as I am buying publishers’ 2016 lists - there seems to be a shift toward covers that are more about typeface and bold design choices and less about girls in big ballgowns.
Of course there are books that transcend the gender of their characters to become massively popular among kids of all stripes (thank you, Rick Riordan, Raina Telgemeier, & Marie Lu!) but these are the exceptions, not the rules. Luckily these books act as touchstones for parents, and can be used to persuade them to buy something outside their comfort zone. Oh, your son loves Percy Jackson? Has he read the Pegasus series?
Progress is slowly being made, and in the meantime I’ll just keep selling El Deafo to every 11-year-old kid who walks through our doors, regardless of their gender. Just you try and stop me.
Suzanna Hermans is a second generation bookseller and co-owner of Oblong Books & Music in Millerton & Rhinebeck, NY. She was recently completed her term as President of the New England Independent Booksellers Association, and serves on the Advisory Council of American Booksellers for Free Expression. Follow her on Twitter: @oblongirl.