Here are a few of my observations with nine days to go until Christmas:
While the economy may be bad and book sales aren't where we'd like them to be, things could be worse. Customers are still buying, but are being judicious, weighing their purchasing decisions carefully. I am seeing far more paperbacks purchased as gifts this year than hardcover books.
Sadly, the books that are doing well in hardcover are the most difficult to get.
Hachette Book Group, where art thou? Only the hottest series since Harry Potter said farewell to his own children at platform 9 3/4, and both "Eclipse" and "Breaking Dawn" are missing in action. With "Twilight" being released as a movie, you'd think that the publisher would expect a little more attention to all the books in the series. If you can find a copy of these books out there right now, buy them and auction them off. They are worth their weight in gold.
O.K., I'm not trying to pick on Hachette, but this is getting crazy. "Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World," is no where to be seen either (just like a cat, isn't it?). People are asking constantly for this one as well, but, it too is hard to find. Fortunately, I found a small, secret stash and I should have more copies shortly. But, once those are gone, I only hope Hachette has some more ready to ship.
One book that has been doing well here, and we still are able to get more of, is "Grandma's Dead: Breaking Bad News With Baby Animals." This postcard book has a picture of the most adorable baby animals you'll find anywhere, imprinted with some of the worst news you can break to anyone. That cute, puppy dog, telling you that "Grandma's Dead," or the baby bunny letting you know "The Meteor Can't Be Stopped." It gets better. This is an absolutely hilarious book that's had us rolling in the aisles and customers picking them up for stocking stuffers.
One thing that seems to be lacking is one or two real "breakout" books (maybe the "Twilight" or "Dewey" books if we could get them). "Tales of Beedle the Bard" by J.K. Rowling while having steady sales, has been mostly underwhelming. Is it because Scholastic failed to promote it properly, or does everyone just have Harry Potter burnout?
With the lack of one or two big titles really taking off this year, it gives me the chance to handsell some of my favorite books. I love talking to people about books, so in a year like this, when customers are asking for suggestions, I love being there to help.
I'm suggesting several mystery authors that I have "discovered" and really enjoyed. Craig Johnson's Walt Longmire series and Sandi Ault's Jamaica Wild series have been two of my favorites this year. I love the characters, the settings in the West, and most of all, I love the writing. These are two talented authors who know, not only how to tell a story, but how to write really well.
I am still telling everyone about one of my favorite books from last year- now out in paperback. "The Meaning of Night" by Michael Cox has been described as Victorian mystery noir. It is historical, set in 1850's England. It is almost Dickensian. It is dark and brooding. It has everything; love, hate, murder, revenge, deceit, retribution, and then, it gets good. It is like "The Princess Bride," except everyone is bad and has an ulterior motive, oh, and its not so funny.
It hasn't been a great Christmas season so far, but it hasnt' been terrible either. It's just made me look a little harder to match great books to great customers.