A Summer Reading Plea

March 18, 2012 at 9:40 am (General) (, , )

I know, I know, no one who has anything to do with Summer Reading wants to hear about it before most of the schools have even had Spring Break, but those lists are coming out soon, and whether you’re a teacher, a parent, or a student, I have something very important to ask you.

As soon as you make/get those lists, PLEASE let your bookstores know!

I’m going to assume that most bookstores are like mine in that we try desperately to get those lists before school gets out, and we try to get all the lists. It’s not because we’re trying to ruin kids’ summers with reminders of the homework they have to do. If we can get all of the lists, and if we can get them early, we can order the books in and have them sitting on a pretty Summer Reading shelf.

Know what that means?

It means no desperately ordering it from three different bookstores three days before classes start trying to get books.

It means no running around to three different bookstores trying to find all the books on the list before you go on vacation.

And, something we see more than you’d think: it means that if the teacher has assigned an out of print or print on demand book, he or she can be notified before school lets out, when there’s still a chance of either changing the assignment or making other arrangements.

When we have those lists, we make multiple copies so we can have them behind our registers with all the summer reading books- so even if you forget the list at home or have lost it, we can look up exactly which books your child needs (or that you need, if you’re the student). When we have those lists, we can replenish our supply regularly. Does it mean we won’t ever run out? No, because it does take time for the books to arrive from the warehouse and we might sell out in the meantime, but it does mean you shouldn’t ever have to wait more than a couple of days.

When we get those lists, we also go through to check for ebook availability and pricing, and we keeps track of those.

I know it’s only the middle of March, but most of those lists are going to start making their way into the world in six weeks. You don’t even have to make a trip to the bookstore to let us know. You can call us and read off the list. You can email it to us. You can fax it to us. You can stick it in an envelope and mail it to us.

Because here’s the selfish part: it isn’t just that this makes it awfully convenient for everyone running around trying to find the books. It makes life a LOT easier on the booksellers. When we have those books, we get yelled at a lot less.

And yes, people actually yell at booksellers for being sold out of a book. Crazy, right?

If we’re able to notify a teacher that an assigned book is out of print and that teacher passes that along to the students and parents, we don’t get the people accusing us of being lazy when we say that the title is out of print. Yes, there are teachers who assign out of print books, sometimes by accident and sometimes on purpose. It happens. I can tell you how to look for the book at that point, but I can’t actually get it for you.

Every year we send out emails and faxes to every single school in our district. With all the individual teachers and classes, that should amount to several hundred lists. We generally get back a little over a dozen. Through personal contacts- i.e. friends or neighbors that have children in school- we usually manage to get another five or ten. Granted, there’s some degree of overlap across high schools, for instance, but there are a lot of unique assignments as well.

So do yourselves, and your favorite local booksellers, a HUGE favor and take a minute or two to send them the lists when you make or get them. We’ll get the books in, find any problems with acquiring them, and everyone gets to be a little happier over the summer.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Ask Your Booksellers

August 21, 2011 at 9:00 am (Industry) (, , , , , )

I come from a rather specific viewpoint when it comes to books and the book industry. I’m an enthusiastic reader, I’m a hopeful writer, and I’m a bookseller. It looks a little bit like this:

The one thing that marks all three of these is passion. As a reader, as a writer, as a bookseller, I bring passion to what I do. The thing is, that same passion marks a lot of people within our industry, no matter what part of it they’re in. From the writer’s mind through so many other hands until it finally reaches the reader, it isn’t just a job. It’s a life. Even where there’s the coldly practical element of needing a job to pay the bills, we’re there because we want to be there, because we want to be working with books and the people who love to read them.

What that also means is that we have a tendency to get very excited when people attack a perceived flaw in our happy little world. Back in early June, the Wall Street Journal (always a dubious source when it comes to YA) published an article saying that YA was too dark. There were some excellent rebuttals, including that of Maureen Johnson , as well as an impromptu #YAsaves on twitter, wherein thousands of people, within the course of just a few hours, sent in personal, impassioned, brutally honest confessions of how reading YA has helped them in their lives. (To be fair, the WSJ did collect some of these to present as a slideshow on their site.)

When I read that article, I was pissed. Not at the writer- though I certainly had a few choice words about her opinion- because I’ve gotten used to the misconceptions most people have about YA. Even people who read YA sometimes voice the most appalling, ill-informed inanities until it’s all I can do to nod and smile and bite my tongue. It was actually the bookseller that really got me pissed. It isn’t remotely reasonable to expect that booksellers will know every book on the shelves. We all have certain types of books that we prefer to read.

The thing is, any bookseller worth his or her salt also knows what the other employees read. Everyone on staff knows that I’m the one to ask for anything kids, and they know I also read in Sci-fi/Fantasy, History, Science, writing reference, and skim through mystery, fiction, and some others. I don’t read horror but I know who does. I don’t read current events or business, but I know who does. If a customer asks me about something I don’t read, I know who to take them to. If that person isn’t there, I can pass along books I’ve heard them mention, and I give the customer their name so they can come back for more recs. My co-workers know to pass customers to me for middle grade or teen questions.

So why didn’t that bookseller do the same thing? When Amy Freeman of Bethesda, Maryland walked into her bookstore, why did the bookseller- who admitted she didn’t know the section- sit and pass uninformed judgments rather than handing the Ms. Freeman over to an employee who did know the section?

But the thing was done, and the furor eventually died down.

And then there’s a new article. It’s the New York Times this time. I made a post a while back talking about the difference between boys and girls where reading is concerned. By the time they become teenagers, boys are reading substantially less than girls. It’s largely a function of how reading is perceived by society as a whole and the fact that boys aren’t encouraged to read the way girls are. Can part of it be blamed on packaging? Absolutely. Girls don’t mind reading a book with a boy on the cover.

Most boys wouldn’t be caught dead reading a book with a girl on the cover, because to be seen with such a thing would, of course *insert sarcasm here*, be a grave insult to their masculinity and be the equivalent of committing social suicide. Saundra Mitchell has some great things to say about that.

To paraphrase probably more than I should, the new article basically says that boys aren’t reading YA because there are too many girls in it. Editors are purposefully seeking female-centric manuscripts at the expense of books that boys would read, publishers are marketing too much to girls at the expense of boys who might otherwise buy books, etc etc.

To which I say: SHENANIGANS.

Maureen Johnson – who really is an amazing person, and if you don’t follow her on twitter you should (the passionate defenses of reading are balanced by sheer insanity, it’s lovely)- pulled out a post from her blog archives that answered that beautifully. It speaks to the way we’re educated, the overwhelming mindset that forms the way we view books and reading and gender.

But this also goes back somewhat to the bookseller mentioned in the WSJ article. What this really highlights is the amount of people talking about the books in the teen section that have no idea what’s actually in the teen section.

Are there dark books in YA? Yes.

Are there a lot of female-centric books in YA? Yes.

And?

THERE ARE SO MANY OTHER KINDS OF BOOKS THERE AS WELL.

What about Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series? Or Charles Higson’s Young Bond? Or the Cherub series? All high-octane, high-action spy thrillers aimed towards teenage boys. Anything Orson Scott Card, John Green, David Levithan. How about Scott Westerfeld? How about Suzanne Collins? Boys are devouring The Hunger Games, and the fact that it’s written by a female doesn’t factor into that at all- her MG series, Gregor the Overlander, is also a boy favorite. How about Hannah Moskowitz’s books, which are by the way narrated by boys? Catherine Fisher’s books? Too many books about vampires? Vladimir Tod is a vampire, and his story has certainly sold- TO BOYS. He mentions Walter Dean Myers, but what about Christopher Paolini and Christopher Pike and Riggs Ransom? What about Sherman Alexie? Markus Zusak? James Dashner? Paolo Bacigalupi? How’s about Michael Scott? Want me to keep going? D.J. MacHale, Neal Shusterman, Joseph Delaney, Michael Grant? And that’s not even continuing the list of female authors who write strong, central male characters.

And you know what? If boys- and their parents and friends and teachers- didn’t get so hung up on what the covers look like, there’d be even more amazing stories for them to discover, books with strong stories and strong guys. Authors like Sarah Rees Brennan, Holly Black, Cassandra Clare offer stories that should not, under any circumstances, be limited to girls. Holly Black’s White Cate? It’s about a boy from a family of magical con artists. IT HAS A BOY ON THE COVER. I wouldn’t call that a female-centric book, never mind that it’s written by a female author or that it includes female characters.

It isn’t about the number of males writing in YA (male writers make up most of the adult fiction ranks and yet it’s mostly women who buy the books), it isn’t about the books that are out there. The books are there.

What we need to change is the attitude that keeps the boys- and the parents- from finding all of the amazing options that are already out there.

Teens, parents, as a bookseller, I am begging you: ASK US. Ask your booksellers. If you’re looking for books for boys, for younger precocious readers, if you’re looking for books that stay away from the magic or the vampires or the sex/drugs/angsty issues, ask your booksellers. Ask your school librarians, who work so hard to keep up to speed on what kids want to read. Ask the blogging community, ask twitter, but ask us. We’re out here. YA isn’t just my passion or hobby, it’s my JOB. Don’t be content with people who don’t actually know the section. If that bookseller doesn’t know, ask if there’s another employee who does, and when they’ll be there. Ask us.

It makes our day as well as yours.

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