Pandemic, Survival, Racial Justice, Books of the Day, and Now We Are 91
By Tony Weller
This is the first newsletter we’ve produced since the world was changed by pandemic earlier this year and writing it was not easy. Our culture is stretched with conflict, insecurity and division and I have lost faith in national and local leaders and the ability of American institutions to steward us sanely through this turmoil.

The doors of our bookstore have been closed to browsers since March 28 th and present infection rates for CoViD19 would make the so called “peak” measured in April and Utah’s responses laughable if they weren’t so tragic. For April and May, Catherine and I worked six days a week, without pay, simply to fill phone and internet orders for curbside pick-up or mail to keep the bookstore viable. In June, we increased staffing, first with the help of our daughter Lila, and shortly thereafter with one or two others each day. We have maintained these slim staffing levels with several staff members returning one or two days weekly noon - 5:00, seven days each week. We have succeeded in keeping staff healthy and we are determined to keep expenses within prudent ratio of our reduced sales.

We have been grateful for the support you have given us in letting us serve your book needs in this most extraordinary and uncertain time. We monitor the advance of the coronavirus and are not predicting when our doors may reopen. What is certain, is that our decisions will built around safety of staff and customers based on epidemiological and medical metrics. Independent bookstores, like most independent businesses, operate on slim margins under shadows of large corporations whose discounts are subsidized by complexities of stock trading versus genuine operational profits. While we are eager to readmit browsers into our bookstore, we will be careful to not permit expenses to overwhelm the sales we will be able to receive. We are recipients of a PPP loan but those funds will be exhausted quickly if we increase staffing and hours and are not compensated with sales. You are reading this because you are a supporter as evidenced by being on our mailing list. I do not enjoy asking, but if stores like ours are to survive the pandemic and post-pandemic period, we need support. We urge you to help acquaintances who buy from non-local online sources to redirect their purchasing to us and other local businesses. It may be the difference between our failure and our survival.

In August we will mark – can’t say celebrate at this time – our 91 st Anniversary! I am so distracted by the worries of the era that we haven’t planned particular commemorative events – surviving is the highest hope we presently hold. I am enveloped in the heritage of our bookstore and enjoy being a member of the tribe of readers whose culture is not constrained by geography and time. By the age of 30, I was no longer able to account for myself or my beliefs without reference to the books that shaped me. When asked whence I come, I have taken to answering, “Bookstore” as though it is a place on a map. With the vast knowledge of the human race reminding me daily of things I don’t know well, confidence in my knowledge grew slowly. After 40 years in this environment, I accept that we booksellers do not sell only books, we are vendors of knowledge, history and dreams; purveyors of story, art and progress; catalysts for ideals, justice and maybe revolution. As I watch over-confident culturally narrow leaders bungle the concerns of our time, I lose fear of promoting honest principles of progress. The ones I espouse are built on the wisdom of well-chosen books from broad fields.

Positive change must be envisioned before it becomes real. The best thinkers’ ideas propagate by mediums that contain their discoveries and hopes. There are reasons why empowered members of society punish writers and educators; and ban and burn books.

Not enough of us read books. Fran Lebowitz’s quote reproduced in the 2016 Indie Bookstore Day stencil expressed the idea well: “Think before you speak. Read before you think.” There is no better way to refine your sensibilities than by reading. Readers choose their influences from the most refined versions of humanities' best thinkers and boldest dreamers.

Reading trends since the outbreak of CoViD 19 has been fascinating and encouraging to watch. If the books read by too few of us say anything about the future, I we can be hopeful. Older minds lose flexibility but reading, meditation, travel and psychedelics help to counter the trend. Nonetheless, adults should listen well to the voices of young adults. Their flexible minds and stakes in the future must direct solutions to our present crises in particular, racial justice, climate change and economic disparity. If you defend a principle simply because you held it 25 years ago, you are possibly part of the problem.

I haven’t read all the following books, but here is a short list of books that have been most requested in the CoViD19 era. Some of these may shape society of our near future. Besides these, we have seen surges of interest in books on gardening, raising chickens, baking and fermentation. Topics such as economics, especially Marxism and socialism have sold well too. While the pandemic dominates our concerns, the urgency of justice in race relations has reached heights that hopefully will lead to changes that will enables us to finally overcome the toxic prejudices of our history.

CoVid 19 (we are tired of it)

Albert Camus’ 1947 novel, The Plague has recaptured readers’ attention as we confront our own pandemic. It is a novel and for those of you don’t read fiction, I remind you that all fiction is made by nonfictional humans. Literature enables each of our otherwise isolated experiences to grow by exposure to insights and feelings of persons who are not ourselves.

My mother lost her mother in the second phase of The Great Influenza pandemic of 1918 and 1919. John M. Barry’s 2004 book subtitled The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History is helping readers grapple with the present mess. Too bad we all get to suffer for the ignorant choices of the uniformed, particularly ones who hold political offices.

Toddlers (they must lead the world one day)

A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara , teaches emergent readers principles of activism and liberation. “C is for Co-op; Cooperating Cultures; Creating Counter to Corporate vultures. Oh, and Cats. Can you find the Cats?” This board book was designed for toddlers but is healthy for all ages.
Racial Justice (an older and deeper problem than the coronavirus which has been exacerbated by the pandemic; people of color bear the brunt of of the pandemic fallout, both economically and health-wise, due to structural inequity.)
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin Diangelo . A detailed look at White resistance to revision of colonial beliefs, structural inequality, and the myths we inherit from our cultures.

 The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon . Quoting our bookseller, Holden Rasmussen, Fanon’s 1961 book describes “Colonial Revolt for White Dummies” (read his blog about this and White Fragility on our website)

 How to Be Less Stupid about Race by Crystal M. Fleming accessibly dispels myths about the systemic heritage of racism in our cultures.

Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall criticizes class and race constrained feminism and promotes needs-based inclusive revolution for food security, education, safety, equitable pay and medical care.

 How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi is a broad and nuanced look at the concept and practice of anti-racism, and a vision of liberation that our ancestors would not understand.

So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo is a book for everyone. It uses intersectionality to desimplify the assumptions that prevent the nuanced understanding required to transcend present racist problems.

Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad . A four week program to improve white people that urges us to:

  • Examine our own white privilege
  • Consider what allyship really means
  • Unpack anti-Blackness, racial stereotypes, and cultural appropriation
  • Change the way we view & respond to race
  • Learn new way to continue the work to create social change

From the Rare Book Room...

Since March we have not purchased many books. Between safety concerns and resultant financial worries, sales are down and we have reduced capacity for buying and processing books. But we are fielding all calls about buying second hand and rare collections in order to learn which can be postponed until safer times, which are of no interest and which contain items so scarce or desirable that we must make time for them. During the period I have spoken to a few hundred sellers and made a few deals to purchase. In this work, the flow of books excites our interests and we are not happy doing business this way but we are determined to weather the CoViD 19 pandemic without becoming ill and without harming our future viability. Here is a list of six valuable books acquired during our partial shutdown that were special enough let through our doors.

A very nice 1 st edition of A. Conan Doyle’s most famous Sherlock Holmes novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles housed in a beautiful red leather clamshell box. $3500
A great copy of the 1 st edition of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and illustrated by Charles Robinson . This copy was signed by Burnett four years after publication. It is housed in an excellent green leather clamshell box. Signed copies are quite uncommon. $4750

A great jacketed 1 st printing of John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath contained in a handsome deep blue leather clamshell. $3500
A good 1 st edition copy of L. Frank Baum’s 5th Oz title, The Road to Oz , in the darker green cloth. The sections of this book were printed on different pale colored papers. A bit soiled but sturdy. $450

A near fine copy of the signed presentation edition of Eleanor Roosevelt’s memoir, On My Own . $700
An unsophisticated ¾ leather bound 1 st edition of James Linforth and Frederick Piercy’s monumental 1855 guidebook, Route from Liverpool to Great Salt Lake Valley with especially clean engravings. It is priced well at $18,000.
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We look forward to seeing you more when it’s again possible

 Bookseller Thoughts and Reviews
By N.K. Jemisin
The first title in the Great Cities trilogy
Hardcover $28.00

Reviewed by Tamsen Maloy

While I read this, New York City was being pummeled. The daily new cases of COVID-19 and daily death tolls were horrific and traumatizing. For the first time in its history, the NYC Subway stopped running nights so trains could be cleaned. Places like Times Square, which is usually so full of tourists and advertisements--it is the worst place in the city--stood empty. And neighborhoods populated by lower income and black or brown citizens bore the brunt of infections and economic downfall. 

In The City We Became , New York City is also under attack, albeit by a monstrous and otherworldly entity known as the Enemy trying to prevent the city from being born.

In Jemisin’s Great Cities , cities are alive. Not only alive with culture and energy and people, although those things are true as well, but cities are living, breathing souls born into human avatars who become personifications and guardians of their respective cities.

When the NYC avatar falls into a supernatural coma and is hidden in a mysterious yet safe location, avatars for each of the city’s boroughs--Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island--awaken. The boroughs are tasked to unite and find the city’s avatar before the Enemy does, and before the city is torn apart. 

The City We Became is an original and vivacious love letter to New York City. It’s as much a social commentary as it is a fantastical tale, with richly developed characters and a world with a sense of urgency and hope. 

This is a book for all people, but is particularly special for readers who are from or who have lived in New York City. You can practically taste an egg and cheese everything bagel from the corner deli as you turn each page.

By Louise Erdrich 
Hardcover $28.99

Reviewed by José Knighton

Since Independence the American Dream, codified in the nation's Constitution, has been hostage to a self-selected elite. Why else did that famous document require immediate emendation by the Bill of Rights, as well as continual corrective amendments? Even the hyperbolic declaration, "all men are created equal," was burdened with an unspoken subtext disqualifying all surviving men native to the land America occupied, all men kidnapped as slaves to the self-selected elite, and, of course, half the human population who didn't happen to be men. 

How much has really changed in two and a half centuries? American women still wait for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment; Black Americans are still murdered in public by the police, compelling citizens to confront those armed forces in mass protests across the nation; and, if Indian reservations "were counted as states," as the New York Times reported, in May while that city was the epicenter of the global pandemic, the "five most infected states" would be Native American lands. 

In the mid 1950's, during McCarthyism's blacklisting of liberal Americans, Arthur V. Watkins, eminent member of the self-selected elite and Republican Senator from Utah, introduced legislation in the U.S. Congress for the "termination" of Indian reservations.   The Night Watchman , seventeenth novel by renowned Native American author, Louise Erdrich , is a fictionalized account of her grandfather's personal battle against a legalized final solution to the Indian problem. In the mind of main character, Thomas Wazhashk, "Termination." was "Missing,"only the prefix. The ex.

As is usual in Erdrich's fiction readers are immersed in the intimate daily struggles of a family and its community of marginalized, interwoven lives. After all, isn't such familiarity, with—for instance—other versions of the American Dream, an overriding purpose of great fiction, as well as the only way to begin to supersede indifference of and exclusion by a self-selected elite. Can Thomas succeed in his attempt to organize and finance a group trip to Washington, D.C. to defend his people from ultimate dispossession? There's only one way to find out.

By Jenny Zhang
Tin House Books
Paperback $15.95

Reviewed by Lila Ann Weller

This powerfully angry and intimate collection rips apart illusions of existence self set by American colonialism and coloniality, ferociously bearing realities of being a woman of a colonized culture in the contemporary United States.

My Baby First Birthday  will seize you and roughly lick at your sense of what is natural, what is sexual, and the personal. Zhang fiercely rewrites definitions set by white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy through embracing mistakes, the parts--psychological and physical--of humans that are considered nasty and obscene, and the intense mutual loneliness and connection of being alive.

Zhang's dark, dreamy collection is lovingly body-oriented; the body is a holy portal through generations, birth an endless cyclical process that connects us to each human-birthing and -nourishing person before us as we are metaphorically reborn, and rebirth our mothers, our ancestors.

There are many moments in My Baby First Birthday that are so intimate that you might feel like you're experiencing something not meant to be felt, a feeling so tastily delinquent that you're nervous to let it wash over you.

It's beautiful and uncomfortable, a combination that seems necessary for significant growth and change more often than not. We're not talking discomfort that comes from oppressive structures-- we're talking discomfort that comes from living radically within them, tearing their seeds from within ourselves, and embracing the parts of life and self that that have been misnamed and mistreated. The power in ripping those mis-definitions from yourself is absolutely delicious.
Community space is one of the most wonderful parts of a brick-and-mortar indie bookstore, but while we need to practice our social distancing, keep in mind that you can always give us a call to check on and purchase books , call us to provide delivery if you're nearby , and visit us online.


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All of our in-person events have been postponed in accordance with CDC COVID-19 recommendations.

We're working with authors and publishers to create digital events will get you details as soon as possible!

Remember Independent Bookstore Day ...? The day we celebrate indie bookstores and you, the people who make our existence possible? It was scheduled for the end of April and was postponed due to the COVID outbreak. Well mark your calendars! Independent Bookstore Day will be Saturday, August 29 . You'll be able to purchase exclusive IBD merch like the chapbook of Elena Ferrante's latest, Lying Life of Adults on our website, and attend virtual events with authors like Amor Towles and Tayari Jones . Check our website or the August issue of Word from Wellers for more details!
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