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 Weekly Words about New Books in
Independent Bookstores

July 21, 2019

Colson Whitehead Provides Another Scathing Look at Racism in the Jim Crow South
 
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. Thanks to a massive outpouring of rave reviews and media attention this past week, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of
The Underground Railroad has another well deserved hit on his hands. His new novel is not a sequel, although many of its themes of racism are the same. That's sadly telling in that the settings of the two books are a century apart. The Nickel 
Boys follows the lives of two boys sentenced to a hellish reform school in Florida in the 1960s. College-bound Elwood, a disciple of Dr. Martin Luther King, is mistakenly detained by police and sent to the infamous Nickel Academy, where near-starvation, sexual abuse and violence are the norm. Stunned to find himself in such a vicious environment, Elwood tries somehow to hold onto Dr. King's principles. He is befriended by the more worldly and cynical Turner - an unlikely ally to be sure - and the two struggle together to survive their captivity.
  
Whitehead's story is made all the more chilling by the fact that it's inspired by the real-life history of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, also known as the Florida School for Boys, which operated from 1900 to 2011 in Tallahassee, Florida. In 2009, the St.Petersburg Times published "For Their Own Good," a series about the school that revealed a long history of beatings, rapes, and unexplained deaths. The series was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and led to investigations into Dozier.
The Art of Chalkboards
In addition to all forms of social media and online communication, many independent bookstores across the country also reach out to customers with decidedly old school messages on sidewalk chalkboards. In addition to promoting new titles, the signs also often showcase booksellers' artistic talent and creative writing skills. Recently, the independent audiobook company Libro.fm posted on its blog a series of some of its favorite chalkboard photos. Four of my favorites (as in, I wish I'd thought of that) are pictured below.  

A quick plug for Libro.fm, which has partnered with hundreds of local  bookstores to provide an audio alternative to Amazon-owned Audible books: By choosing Libro.fm, you support your local bookstore and invest i n your local community. Libro offers over 125,000 titles and gives you bookseller recommendations for great audiobooks. Great customer service as well, by the way. If interested, click on its logo above for details. If you sign up, your first selection is free.
 
 

Assured First Novel About a String Quartet Is Music to the Eyes 
 
 
The Ensemble by Aja Gabel. An Indie Next pick last year, this rich debut set in the world of classical music is now in paperback. The story centers on four young music conservatory students who decide to forgo solo careers in favor of forming a string quartet. Over the course of 18 years, the four navigate feelings of ambition and love through the failures and successes of their lives - as individuals, as friends, and as members of the Van Ness Quartet.

Here's one bookseller's enthusiastic review:
"My goodness, I love the quartet of flawed and wonderful characters Aja Gabel brings to life. I felt the heartbreak and triumph each time the ensemble performed. The Ensemble captures everything from the relentless rehearsals to the particular hand injuries musicians worry over to the conflict within the group. Henry, Daniel, Jana, and Britt are each characters unto themselves, but together they create a fifth character: the quartet itself. An inventive novel about the lives of musicians and the world they inhabit, full of tension, ambition, confusion, and loyalty. The Ensemble is a remarkable achievement."
- Sarah Bagby, Watermark Books, Wichita, KS
WHERE TO FIND 
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WHY THE COLUMN?
Hi, I'm Hut Landon, and I work as a bookseller in an independent bookstore in BerkeIey, California.

My goal with this newsletter is to keep readers up to date about new books hitting the shelves, share what indie booksellers are recommending in their stores, and pass on occasional news about the book world.

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