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Indie Bookstores Upbeat

Indie Bookstores Have Big Holiday Sales
by Judith Rosen, Claire Kirch, Wendy Werris & Paige Crutcher
2nd January, 2012 Publisher’s Weekly

Despite an economic backdrop filled with talk of a fiscal cliff and no single hot holiday title like last year’s Steve Jobs biography, independent booksellers who took part in PW Daily’s Christmas 2012 survey were surprisingly upbeat. “We beat last year and last year was a stellar year. We are very happy,” said Dana Brigham, manager and co-owner of Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, Mass. Similarly, Suzy Takacs, owner of The Book Cellar in Chicago, which saw 2011 sales rise 38% in the wake of Borders’s closing, was pleased to have last year’s increase stick. Holiday sales for 2012 were “terrific,” she said, “up a whisker.” And Michael Boggs, co-owner of Carmichael’s Bookstore, with two stores in Louisville, Ky., was satisfied with being down 6% at one store and 4% at the other. “Both were up 38% from the year before. The new level is 30% more than pre-Borders. It’s an enormously big figure for a store that’s 35 years old to have.”

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In Des Moines, Alice Meyer, owner of 6-year-old Beaverdale Books, was “exuberant.” Her store was up 10% last month and 29% for the year. Two-year-old Wakefield Books in Wakefield, R.I., one of a few indies to open in a Waldenbooks location, also held its own. “We had another very solid year here,” said manager Bob Ryan. “December started off a little slower than we like, but those last few days from December 21 made up a lot of ground we had lost.”

The last few days were crucial for many stores this season. Lisa Baudoin, owner of Books & Company in Oconomowoc, Wis., described the final three days as “huge,” with the store’s highest sales ever on Saturday, December 22. “This year for the retailer it was a five-day holiday,” said Steven Baum, co-owner of Greetings and Readings in Hunt Valley, Md. “But it couldn’t make up for November and December.” His store was down for the year.

Other stores experienced a stronger build up to Christmas, including some affected by late October’s “Frankenstorm,” Hurricane Sandy. “It has been a good year even taking into account that we were closed for two weeks with the hurricane,” said Karen Rumage, co-owner of River Road Books in Fair Haven, Ct. Broadway and Brookline Books, which both do a big Hanukkah business, reported an early sales boost from having the holiday fall in the first half of December.

In most of the country weather was not an issue. In Houston, Blue Willow Bookshop owner Valerie Koehler, speaking for many, said “we have been very fortunate.” Christmas Eve was in the 70s. A blizzard in Oregon the week before Christmas did play havoc with restocking for bookstores there. But national events were a greater impediment elsewhere. The Newtown shootings reverberated at some bookstores in mid-December with weakened sales. Readers who normally shop at Books of Wonder in New York City to Eso Won Books in Los Angeles stayed home with their families as they watched the tragedy unfold. Books & Company’s Baudoin was one of the few to report flat sales in December, which she attributed to “the politicians. You didn’t hear much in the news about the fiscal cliff until after Thanksgiving. And that’s when things went flat.”

Although the number of independents has been growing since 2010, when the American Booksellers Association reported 1,410 members, indies and chains continue to close. In addition to Cokesbury announcing the closing of 38 stores and 19 seminary stores, bookstores like Puddn’head Books in St. Louis, Mo.; Archiva Books in New York City; St. Helens Book Shop in St. Helens, Ore.; Rainy Day Books in Tillamook, Ore.; and Yawn’s Books & More in Canton, Ga., all closed last month.

Not all closings are necessarily a bad thing. Marva Allen, co-owner of Hue-Man Bookstore in Harlem, which shuttered its bricks-and-mortar operation over the summer, said, “we are totally loving the flexibility of our online store, which allows us to offer our customers a wider selection. We continue to do pop-ups and special events. I am conceiving a reading room concept [in lieu of a bookstore] that’s not yet fleshed out.”

Many adult titles that were cited as top sellers came out early in the season, like Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl (June), Cheryl Strayed’s Wild (March) and Tiny Beautiful Things (July). A few hit in November like John Meachem’s Thomas Jefferson, or December, Adam Makos and Larry Alexander’s A Higher Call, which Kris Kleindienst, co-owner of Left Bank Books in St. Louis, said, “came out of nowhere the week before Christmas.” While it got a boost from The Diane Rehm Show, another December release got an even bigger boost from media attention. Ayana Mathis’s The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, originally slated for 2013, was moved up after Oprah selected it for her book club.

Read complete story and others at Publisher’s Weekly

Opera’s Lessons

After hosting her TV show (The Oprah Winfrey Show) for 25 years, Oprah’s final show and words were as golden and true as they have been all along. If you took the words and teachings of Dr. Maya Angelou, Rev. Debra Johnson and President Barack Obama and rolled them into one, it would sound similar to Oprah.

The reason Oprah connects so well with people she meets (on her show and otherwise) and her TV audience, is because she continues to practice and live by a number of tenets that hold true for us all. These include: honesty/authenticity, acknowledgment, compassion, listening, self-worth/self-acceptance, reflection/meditation, understanding, gratitude, forgiveness and validation. All the necessary qualities for being a good counselor, good friend, parent, lover, teacher… or simply a good human being.

She talked about these lessons and insights on her last “farewell” show (love letter) and held us all close to her heart. Her new network, OWN, will be a continued extension of putting these qualities on television and looking at our inner and outer adventures and journeys, in order to learn and grow.

Oprah has, is and will continue to be a treasured and valued teacher for us all.

I Am by Tom Shadyac

Went and saw I Am, a documentary by Tom Shadyac, with a friend yesterday. Very important, insightful and challenging film. The theater was packed when we got there, as the film is becoming more well known. The movie and director were both featured on Oprah last week.

In some respects, I Am is similar to What the Bleep Do We Know?. It takes different scientific studies and scientists, to explain how connected all life on the planet is (not just theoretically, but actually). He also interviews various philosophers, spiritual leaders and thinkers to get their views on “What is wrong with the world and what can we do to make it better?”

I Am is different from What the…, because it is much more personal, well photographed and edited (he had more money to do so) and it also looks closely at the cancer of consumption and wanting “more” as symptoms of the human race which may be our demise, if we do not wake up and take another path.

Mr. Shadyac doesn’t preach, but shares the insights he had after accumulating a great deal of wealth (from making movies like Ace Ventura, Bruce Almighty, Patch Adams, etc.), having an accident and re-evaluating his life purpose. He also explores how other biological systems interact, cooperate and communicate. Most people leave this movie with a good feeling and a desire to do good.

The following words from the films website provides an accurate summary.

“Shadyac’s enthusiasm and optimism are contagious. Whether conducting an interview with an intellectual giant, or offering himself as a flawed character in the narrative of the film, Shadyac is an engaging and persuasive guide as we experience the remarkable journey that is I AM. With great wit, warmth, curiosity, and masterful storytelling skills, he reveals what science now tells us is one of the principal truths of the universe, a message that is as simple as it is significant: We are all connected – connected to each other and to everything around us.”

Show On Oprah Hits Home

The promo for the story that was on Oprah yesterday reads, “In an instant, a car accident shattered their lives. And then, one year later, an absolutely miraculous twist of fate you have to see to believe.” The show highlighted the Cobles, who three and a half years ago had all 3 of their young children (Kyle, Emma and Katie) killed in a car accident and then a year later had triplets (2 girls and a boy). If they had simply talked about the tragedy and then jumped to them having the identical number of kids a year later, it would have been disappointing and misleading, but it wasn’t.

Lori and Chris Coble shared there journey (so far) with honesty, integrity and clarity. They let themselves be raw in the places that are raw and talked about the struggles, thoughts of giving up and most importantly, what they have found works for them to survive such a tragedy. They didn’t tip-toe around any subject. They have not, in any form or fashion, tried to replace their children who died with those now living. They’ve done what many find difficult, which is to keep those who have died in there lives and honor them by living the best they can and nurturing the children now in their care.

Oprah did a good job of compassionate listening and asking them to express themselves without telling them or the audience, what they should or shouldn’t feel or trying to rescue them and put some positive spin on their every word. The only comment that was made which seemed slightly off the mark and which continues to be propagated, was the idea of “stages”, as if you go through one at a time and then at a certain point in time you have “recovered”. It wasn’t portrayed that way strongly, but still somewhat implied.

A lot of what the Cobles have gone through seems so similar to the people I interviewed around the country for Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call. Over half the people I spoke with had lost children and they had all had to deal with despair, depression, anger, anxiety, terror and frustration. They also all ended up doing something to help others (as a result of there loss).

People aren’t all so altruistic and in many respects, it is quite amazing that anybody can keep living and moving forward when they have experienced the kind of loss that the Cobles have. The ultimate message seems to be that you can survive the worst that can happen and keep walking ahead, even if it’s just one step at a time, getting out of the chair or off the floor.

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