Category Archives: Featured

This Week’s News

Exiles of Eden by Ladan Osman (Coffee House Press), 1919 by Eve L. Ewing (Haymarket Books), A Tall History of Sugar by Curdella Forbes (Akashic Books), and Night Angler by Geffrey Davis (BOA Editions) were nominated for the Hurston Wright Legacy Award.

Katherine Hill was interviewed in Newsday on July 22 about her new novel, A Short Move (Ig Publishing).

Woodrow Phoenix, the author of Crash Course (Street Noise Books) was featured on The War on Cars on July 20.

Matthew Rohrer, author of The Sky Contains the Plans (Wave Books), chatted with Dobby Gibson in the summer edition of Rain Taxi.

Jonathan Hammond, author of The Shaman’s Mind (Monkfish Book Publishing), was interviewed by Michael Sandler on his Inspire Nation Show on July 24.

Brian Evenson was named a finalist for the 2020 World Fantasy Awards for Song for the Unraveling of the World (Coffee House Press).

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“2020 Is Turning Out to Be a Heck of a Year”: A Word with . . . Lily Tschudi-Campbell

In this week’s A Word with You, we talked to Lily Tschudi-Campbell, buyer and marketing coordinator at Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul, Minnesota, where she’s worked since 2015. She also has an MFAC from Hamline University and is writing children’s books of her own. You can find her at @lilywritesstuff

So . . . how are you?

I never know how to answer this question any more! I mean, good, mostly—I still have a job, my family is healthy, things are going about as well as can be expected. But that “can be expected” is a bit of a lower bar than it used to be, isn’t it? It’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the ways our world is changing, by the vast uncertainty of the future, by the many new stresses that have been piled on top of our already-stressful lives. 2020 is turning out to be a heck of a year, and we’re only halfway through. *insert Jake Peralta screaming guitar GIF here*

Has the crisis affected how you buy and think about books?

Oh, absolutely. As an indie bookseller, I’ve always known that the experience of buying/selling a book in person, face-to-face, is completely different than buying/selling a book online, but operating like this has really driven that point home. As a buyer, there are books I would have purchased for the store in the Before Times that I no longer think we can sell without the option of handselling or physical shelftalkers. This feels especially true for books for adults, since as a children’s bookstore, our grown-up section is quite small.

Hours & Directions | Red Balloon Bookshop

Additionally, one of the things I love best about indie bookselling is the way you can see the effect of an individual bookseller on a particular book’s sales. We’ve seen certain books that will be selling consistently and well at our store, and then go into returns six months after their champion bookseller(s) has left. But now that only a couple of our staff members are on phones and no one is coming into the store (yet), the books we sell are skewed towards those people’s tastes.

In losing those things—the power of a handsell, the full breadth of our staff’s taste and opinions and knowledge—I think we’re losing a lot of what makes indie bookselling so special, as well as losing many of our opportunities to promote smaller titles from smaller presses. I haven’t really come to terms with that, to be honest. It definitely means we’re going to need to shift the way we do our business/promotion. I’m not sure yet what that looks like. For now, it’s just another little thing to grieve, among the many changes and losses our society is experiencing.

What are publishers or bookstores doing now that you are particularly excited about? Who is inspiring?

I’m hugely inspired by the folks who immediately found ways to help. During the recent protests following the murder of George Floyd in the Twin Cities, Moon Palace immediately stepped up to be a source of community safety and support. I am amazed by their generosity and strength. The Raven Book Store has been a force for good on the interwebs for some time now, and they’ve only increased those efforts in the past few months. The owner, Danny Caine, even purchased some books from us so we could color in Kansas (with a crayon—we are a children’s bookstore) on our map of places we’ve shipped to since COVID (an idea I enthusiastically stole from them in the first place). I can’t even tell you how supported that made all of us feel.

And I’m in awe of the fortitude Black booksellers/bookstore owners have shown in dealing with massive orders of antiracist books from (white) customers who immediately turn around and demand impossibly instant delivery of books (and which those customers will absolutely still need to read in a month). Places like Loyalty Bookstore and Frugal Bookstore, among others, have been dealing with this entitled nonsense with incredible grace despite the frustration they must be feeling. Plus, last but not least, a brand new bookstore is going to open in the Twin Cities—Black Garnet Books—which will be the first Black-owned bookstore in Minnesota. I can’t wait to see what they do.

What has the switch to virtual storytimes and events been like? Do you think the experience of being read to changes when it’s virtual?

It has been so, so strange, especially as a children’s bookstore. I think the experience of being read to virtually is hugely different than being read to in person, especially the younger your audience gets. Just like the transition to online schooling has been generally harder for first graders than for high schoolers, moving our storytimes to video has completely changed the experience, both for the kids and for our storytellers. Kids learn differently through a screen than they do in person. Storytime for the very young is absolutely a form of education. It teaches listening, sitting with a group (which is obviously gone), following simple directions, and early reading comprehension. And for the storytellers, it becomes impossible to react and adapt to the audience—there’s no way to tell if they’re confused, excited, distracted, all of the above. Virtual events are slightly easier, as their audiences are older, but it’s still quite different from the kind of book parties we used to throw.  

Do you have any new practices you hope to continue doing even after this crisis subsides?

We just recently started having staff Zoom meetings where we can talk about book world and regular world issues, especially race and racism, but also more generally about representation, which authors we choose to support (or not), what constitutes support (carrying a book on our shelves vs. recommending it vs. hosting events around it), etc. I’m really excited to see where these conversations go—I’m hopeful it will make it possible for the store to more accurately represent all of us, and not just those who run the social media, choose which books to carry, or own the store. And much as I miss seeing all of my lovely coworkers together at once, Zoom makes the meetings a little bit more accessible for those with other commitments. I’d love for these to become a regular part of us being a bookstore.

What do you hope for the future of bookselling, and especially children’s books?

I hope that we can keep independent bookstores going strong, in whatever form that takes. In some ways, this feels like another 2008—a year when we’re going to lose a lot of indies and where the rest will need to find ways to adapt and change to survive.

I hope we can keep doing the work on making books and publishing more diverse. The difference in the Diversity in Children’s Books Reports between 2015 and 2018 is far too small for what should have been possible in three years. That data doesn’t even address the ways that, while the characters in children’s books have become slightly more diverse, their authors barely have. That’s a conversation that the whole of publishing needs to get involved with, and that white authors, publishers, and booksellers need to do the work to advance, instead of relying on their BIPOC counterparts. Our industry needs to be better, and independent booksellers need to involve themselves in that conversation as well.

What are you working on and what are you reading? Do you have anything you would pair it with (a food, a movie, another book, etc.?)

I’m all over the place in what I’m working on, to be honest! Writing is coming slowly for me right now—despite the romantic (and nonsense) ideal of the struggling artist, stress is actually very counter to creativity. I have been working on my own version of Jane Mount’s Ideal Bookshelf artworks, though, which I’m finding a very soothing project that still lets me connect with books. 

Reading wise, I’ve been working on our store’s summer reading bingo challenge. Some particularly stand-out titles have been A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow and The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed (coming in August)—both are excellently written books about anti-Black racism and police violence, and one of them has magic! I’d pair those books together, along with a lot of the other antiracist books that have been making the news.

I also recently read Desert Notebooks by Ben Ehrenreich, which was an incredible creative nonfiction combo of personal essays, history, philosophy, contemporary politics, and nature writing. It’s an intelligent and compassionate look at the way our world seems to be falling apart around us (though it does not mention COVID, as it was written before that began). And it’s been very hot in the Twin Cities lately, so I’d pair all of these books with some mango popsicles so you can have something cool and sweet while you read about hard times!


Looking for a way to support independent bookstores? Make a donation to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (BINC), purchase a book online from your favorite bookstore, or visit Bookshop.org.

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“There Are Always Market Constraints. But the Best Stores Kick Against Those Constraints”: A Word with . . . Brad Johnson!

For this week’s A Word With You we chatted with Brad Johnson, owner of East Bay Booksellers in Oakland, California. He was formerly a manager at DIESEL, A Bookstore in Oakland, which he purchased with the help of customers in 2017. Follow him @AhabLives.

So . . . how are you?

It’s unfair that “I’m tired”—that most mundane but necessary of human traits—is now a little clichéd. I don’t know a bookseller who’s been able to work during the past few months who hasn’t had some seriously exhausting, soul-searching, long nights during all this. In between the exhaustion I feel more engaged with the job than ever though, which in turn makes me work harder and get more exhausted. Feedback loops are fun. 

What’s some good advice you’ve received recently?

John Evans (my former employer at DIESEL, a Bookstore) made a point to remind me that I need to step away from the job from time to time, even when it doesn’t seem like I have the time. That sometimes the most responsible thing is NOT to do the work. It’ll make you that much sharper when you do step back into it. He didn’t use those exact words—John’s a poet, so it was both more succinct and enigmatic. But that was my takeaway, and it seemed right . . . even if I don’t always follow it really well.

What are publishers or bookstores doing now that you are particularly excited about? Who is inspiring?

I’m especially excited about the work being done on the university press level. The University of North Carolina Press, for example, consistently publishes some of the most interesting and radical BIPOC political theory. University of Texas really sinks their teeth into regional culinary and musical studies. What I love most about university presses are the riches their backlists offer readers (and buyers). Other publishers have great backlists too, but university presses are where worlds are upended & recreated. I’m a lover of the deep dive. I may not have the breath to get as deep as I’d like, but to know that others have, and to have that as a resource when I need it, is powerful and inspirational. 

The stores that excite me most are the ones that most clearly pursue a vision of what their store is about. I think we’re now—and maybe always have been— coming up against the limits of the “general bookstore” model that tries to be all things to all people. Being an indie, to me, means blazing a path that is truly independent. There are always market constraints. But the best stores kick against those constraints.

How is contactless bookselling going? How has the East Bay Booksellers community (writers, readers, patrons, etc.) responded to the pandemic?

For the most part our customers and community have appreciated our conservative approach to the pandemic. We haven’t set a time-table to open for browsing. Some will grumble, but more often than not, our customers have appreciated our position. I’ve been upfront about the fact that I think we’re only at the end of the beginning, and that the emergency (not just for the store) is a long one. If we’re in this together, then all things—including how we go about business—have to look and be different. 

Can you talk about the Surprise Me function on your site?

It grew out of a conviction early on that I wanted people to focus on buying things we already had in the store. What better way to showcase both your store’s & your booksellers’ tastes? We offer a $20 and $30 option, and ask people to give us a little description of what they’re looking for or what they’ve liked. The best are the most impressionistic. And then we try to find something that’s as far off the beaten path as we think our customer is willing to go. It’s sometimes hard, but it’s always exciting. We wish we had a chance to have face-to-face chats with people about the selections made. 

What does business look like right now?

We’re working to transition into a state that isn’t simply order fulfillment. This form of bookselling is exhausting on a spiritual and emotional level, and not at all what I signed up for. We want to devise better ways for people to engage our bookstore in a somewhat similar way to how they would when they were shopping inside it. Right now that means we’re reimagining how we convey “who we are” and “what we’re about” by way of what we actively try to sell. As an example, our Anti-Racist Literature display, which takes up the entirety of our front-window, is pretty politically radical and doesn’t shy away from being intellectual or theoretical. We make no bones about the ideological bones we’re picking and the world we want to help make happen.

Do you have any new practices you hope to continue doing even after this crisis subsides?

I really quite like the shortened hours. I talk to customers about embracing, not apologizing for, the human-scale of our retail. This means right now if you email us on a Friday at 7pm, you’re not likely to hear from us until Monday. I don’t know that I’ll have the conviction to sacrifice Saturday retail, whenever the dust settles on the pandemic. I think that kind of honesty is important and ultimately helpful. 

In addition, like it or not, e-commerce is going to be something we have to keep getting better at. Ideally this also means more variety in e-commerce platforms, different stores have different needs and aesthetics. We need platforms that work with us, rather than ones that we have to work around. 

What do you hope for the future of bookselling?

Think more radically than “we’re not Amazon.” To me, that’s just an extraordinarily low ethical bar. What I want to see from bookselling is a firmer embrace of independence and a more finely tuned resistance to corporate taste-making. If our independence is only in the regional interests section of our stores or staff recommendations shelves, how independent are we? And this isn’t just a matter of what books we buy, but in the convictions and personalities that motivate what books we’re actively trying to sell. There’s no way to get to this sort of independence without a full commitment to diversity; and there’s no true commitment to diversity without the hard (sometimes uncomfortable) work of transparency and honesty. 

What are you working on and what are you reading? Do you have anything you would pair it with (a food, a movie, another book, etc.?)

My co-worker, Elizabeth Freeman, and I recently started a bookselling podcast called Faced Out. It’s pretty raw and opinionated, but our ultimate aim is to be a sort of open door for fellow booksellers (and people in their orbit) to discuss important issues of our industry. Thus far we’ve featured interviews with Hannah Oliver Depp, owner of Loyalty Books, and Lisa Lucas, of the National Book Foundation. 

I’m on the National Book Award jury for Translated Lit, so I’m reading so much international fiction I can’t officially talk about! Frank Wilderson III’s Afropessimism, however, has completely rocked my world. Pair it with Joshua Bennett’s Being Property Once Myself, and very little about the world will look the same. 

Looking for a way to support independent bookstores? Make a donation to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (BINC), purchase a book online from your favorite bookstore, or visit Bookshop.org.

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This Week’s Reviews

The World’s Poorest President Speaks Out
edit. Yoshimi Kusaba, illus. Gaku Nakagawa, trans. Andrew Wong | Enchanted Lion Books | 9781592702893 | August 2020
“The illustrations accompanying the text play with design and perspective, capturing Mujica’s words in ways that give them great immediacy and vividness. An ideal vehicle to engage children in a discussion on the meanings of poverty, having enough, and social justice.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

The Tree and the Vine
Dola de Jong, trans. Kristen Gehrman | Transit Books | 9781945492341 | May 2020
“A careful and muted lament about the sorrow of restraint.”—Wall Street Journal

Skyland
Andrew Durbin | Nightboat Books | 9781643620275 | July 2020
“The book revels in its loose, unfinished quality, weaving tidbits from Guibert’s life and work together with more immediate impressions and anecdotes.”—Harper’s Magazine

The Sprawl
Jason Diamond | Coffee House Press | 9781566895828 | August 2020
“A decade ago, Arcade Fire sang of 1970s childhoods spent in ‘The Suburbs’: Meant nothing at all. Jason Diamond would beg to differ. . . . [He] argues in a series of essays that the suburbs are essential to the development of American art and culture.”—Chicago Tribune

Indigo
Ellen Bass | Copper Canyon Press | 9781556595752 | April 2020
“Reflects the unique perspective of an unusual poetic life and the complex traumas and pleasures of a thoughtful, observant sensibility. Indigo engages the reader with its willingness to face the contradictions of being a human being head-on.”—Los Angeles Review of Books

The Strange Birds of Flannery O’Connor
Amy Alznauer, illus. Ping Zhu | Enchanted Lion Books | 9781592702954 | June 2020

“Like little Flannery, the reader is enveloped by the spaces within these pages. Swathes of green, reds, yellow and blue. We are both in them, and also outside of them, in that often as a reader, we seem to be dwelling in the very mind of Flannery O’Connor herself. Certainly the beautiful paintings in this book, but also the beautiful words vibrate with energy. The pages reveal the vibrancy of this strange woman from Georgia.”—Dappled Things

Toxicon and Arachne
Joyelle McSweeney | Nightboat Books | 9781643620183 | April 2020
“McSweeney remains clever, far cleverer than I, but by the end of this masterful double-text⎯ in which even the unequal parts seem appropriate to staggering grief⎯ any sensitive reader should feel as if they’ve shared in the poet’s singular struggle: that of finding some form, some phrase, that might convey what’s inconceivable.”—Brooklyn Rail

“McSweeney’s poetry collection is a tour de force, forcing us to rethink everything: poetry, loss, language itself.”—Kenyon Review

DMZ Colony
Don Mee Choi | Wave Books | 9781940696959 | April 2020
“The more Choi commemorates the space between languages—that frontier of memory, replication, doubleness, mirrors—the more DMZ Colony’s structure disintegrates and its innovations begin.”—Rain Taxi

God’s Green Earth
Noelle Kocot | Wave Books | 9781950268023 | May 2020
“God’s Green Earth has a wonderful ability to soothe and slow its readers, offering a silent plenitude of spirit and luxuriating in depictions of solitude.”—White Review

Animal
Dorothea Lasky | Wave Books | 9781940696911 | October 2019
“While Lasky has undergone dramatic changes in her five books of poetry—a movement toward simpler, in-phase lineation at the same time that her range of fragmentation and references and masks has grown wider—an unmistakable continuity persists.”—Kenyon Review

Doomstead Days
Brian Teare | Nightboat Books | 9781643620022 | April 2019
“Composed of eight long poems, Doomstead Days is rooted, for the most part, in walking excursions through both natural and built environments… The length and formal intricacy of many of these poems engenders a discursive lyric that is sometimes diaristic, at other times documentary.”—Under a Warm Green Linen

Neotenica
Joon Oluchi Lee | Nightboat Books | 9781643620206 | June 2020
“A totally original narrative that could perhaps only be published by a dynamic, independent press.”— Asian American Literature Fans

Kimono Couture: The Beauty of Chiso
Vivian Li, Christine Starkman, contributions by Riyo Kikuchi and Yukio Lippit | GILES | 9781911282662 | June 2020
“An insightful guide to the intricacy, character, and artistry of kimono design. Kimono Couture embroidery textile art magazine.”—Embroidery: The Textile Art Magazine

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This Week’s News

Christina Ward, vice president of Feral House and author of American Advertising Cookbooks appeared on Padma Lakshmi’s new show, Taste the Nation

The Washington Post wrote about Signs Preceding the End of the World author Yuri Herrera’s new nonfiction book, A Silent Fury (And Other Stories), on June 18.

The NYTBR recommended The Park by John Freeman (Copper Canyon Press) and White Blood: A Lyric of Virginia (Sarabande Books) by Kiki Petrosino on June 9. Recommended on June 16 was DMZ Colony.

Pitchfork wrote about Alison Mosshart, author of Car Ma (Third Man Books), on June 17, as did Spin on June 16.

Facing the Climate Emergency by Margaret Klein Salamon (New Society Publishers) was recommended in Jacobin by the performer Raffi on June 14.

Spellbound by Bishakh Som (Street Noise Books) and How to Carry Water: Selected Poems of Lucille Clifton edited by Aracelis Girmay (BOA Editions) were named by Top Ten picks for Fall 2020 by Publishers Weekly on June 19.

Karen Tei Yamashita, author of Sansei and Senibility (Coffee House Press) wrote an essay for Guernica on June 23.

 Andrew Krivak, author of The Bear (Bellevue Literary Press), appeared on NPR’s Marginalia on June 23.

Marianne Chan talked to The Rumpus about All Heathens (Sarabande Books)the latest pick for their Poetry Book Club, on June 22.

A number of Consortium titles were finalists for CLMP Firecracker Awards, including Flowers of Mold by Ha Seong-nan, translated by Janet Hong (Open Letter); The Incompletes by Sergio Chejfec, translated by Heather Cleary (Open Letter); The Not Wives by Carley Moore (The Feminist Press at CUNY/Amethyst Editions); Axiomatic by Maria Tumarkin (Transit Books); Hatred of Translation by Nathanaël (Nightboat Books); Knitting the Fog by Claudia D. Hernández (The Feminist Press at CUNY); Socialist Realism by Trisha Low (Coffee House Press); We Both Laughed in Pleasure: The Selected Diaries of Lou Sullivan edited by Ellis Martin and Zach Ozma (Nightboat Books); Dunce by Mary Ruefle (Wave Books); Personal Volcano by Laura Moriarty (Nightboat Books); and SLINGSHOT by Cyrée Jarelle Johnson (Nightboat Books).

Iowa Public Radio’s annual summer books show recommended The Bear by Andrew Krivak (Bellevue Literary Press) on June 16.

An excerpt from American Follies by Norman Locke (Bellevue Literary Press) was shared at Big Other on June 15.

Spirituality & Health Magazine featured an article by Sarah Bowen, author of Spiritual Rebel on June 15.

Columbia Tribune interviewed Jill Orr about The Full Scoop (Prospect Park Books) on June 19.

Thorn by Anna Burke (Bywater Books) was named the Foreword Reviews Indies LGBTQ+ Adult Fiction Book of the Year. Have I Got a Cartoon for You edited by Bob Mankoff and The City of Light by Theodore Bikel and Aimee Ginsburg Bikel, illus. Noah Phillips (both Mandel Vilar/MomentBooks) won awards in Adult Nonfiction and Juvenile nonfiction, respectively. The City of Light also won an Honor Award from Skipping Stones Magazine.

And Go Like This by John Crowley was shortlisted for the 2020 Neukom Award.

Ashley Toliver won the 2020 Stafford/hall Award for Spectra (Coffee House Press).

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