It’s not too late to start a challenge.

I tend to pull for the underdogs, for the ponderers, and for the procrastinators. Which is why I’m stating, mid-February, that it’s not too late for your bookstore to start a reading challenge for 2018. If you thought about launching one in January but just didn’t get around to it, I’ll tell you that there are readers out there with the same mindset.

I didn’t realize the benefit of a reading challenge until I was publicly shamed to participate in one on December 30, 2016. Suzanne Tobias, a reporter for my local newspaper shared the digital version of her reading challenge story on Facebook and tagged me, our local independent bookstore owner, and a gentleman she knew who always had a book in his hands. We all accepted and I thought, “This is going to be easy.”

Well, it was a true challenge because of the categories Suzanne selected. I had to keep reading new releases for my Marginalia podcast interviews, but I also had to read “a book you’ve owned forever but have never read” and “a book that was published before you were born” and “a book you should have read in school” and “a favorite book from childhood.” I have 20 items on my what-I’ve-read list from 2016. In 2017, that improved to 72. (And it took until December 31, 2017 for me to check off the last of 24 categories.)

One of the best things to come out of this challenge was how it got the community talking about books. The newspaper started a Facebook group and participants would post a image of the book they’d just finished along with the category they were checking off their list. Whenever Watermark Books would schedule another author visit, someone would post that information so participants could knock “a book by an author who is slated to visit Wichita in 2017” off their list. The 2017 Wichita Eagle Reading Challenge turned into a community affair. So much so that the Wichita Public Library partnered with the newspaper for the 2018 challenge. Both entities benefit from more readers.

Which is why I’m telling you that a procrastinator’s or second-chance reading challenge is worthwhile. Here’s how to get started:

  • Select 10 reading categories. If you launch on March 1, there are 10 months left in the year for 10 books. There are so many reading challenges out there from which you can “borrow” some categories. Suzanne shared this Master List of Reading Challenges which was pulled together by Or borrow from fellow bookstores already doing challenges. One of my favorites from Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge, Ontario, is “a book with non-human characters.” That will be a challenge for me.
  • Publish the categories… on your website, on a downloadable PDF, on a bookmark. And then share where to find the categories through your social media outlets.
  • Come up with a hashtag, and use it. 
  • Start and promote a Facebook group. When participants ask to join, let them. When participants post what they’ve read, “like” and comment on it. When participants ask for recommendations for a specific category, offer some. There are currently 872 members of the #ReadICT Challenge posting about books several times throughout the day. I’m sure you could join and hang out in this group for a few days if you’re still on the fence.
  • Start talking about the challenge in the store and encouraging readers. Most challenge accepters participate in multiple challenges, so a 10-book challenge shouldn’t be daunting. Some readers might be hesitant because they don’t read much. Encourage them to try just one of the categories and call that a victory.

If you have a category suggestion, please share it on this Facebook post.

It’s up to you whether or not you offer a reward. Maybe an end-of-year celebration? Suzanne let the first one to complete the challenge choose one of the next year’s categories. But I think one of the greatest rewards is the sense of community. Oh, and checking off the boxes. That’s huge for me.

My next challenge is deciding which book to read that was published the year I was born. One Hundred Years of Solitude or The Master and Margarita. Suggestions?

A little January 26 whatnot.

Remember to submit your display images for the January Books & Whatnot display contest. Email images to me at or text them to 316-208-3438. All entries will be posted in the display gallery. The winning bookstore–announced on February 1–will receive a $100 Visa or Mastercard.

And here are some sharable bits:

“Ursula K. Le Guin loved this world — among others! — and rather than flowers, we are making a donation in her name to the non-profit closest to her heart, the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.” – Gavin Grant, on the Small Beer Press blog. They are also donating specific dollar amounts for each print copy of Le Guin’s Words Are My Matter and her translation of Angélica Gorodischer’s Kalpa Imperial sold through their website in the first three months of this year.

“I love the challenge of taking on a project that makes me really think and then trying to do something unexpected.” – Jaya Miceli, art director at Scribner and freelance cover designer (think Little Fires Everywhere, The Girl on the Train, and Sing, Unburied Sing), in this piece about cover design on Bustle.

And speaking of book covers, check out The Book Cover Archive. Edited and maintained by Ben Pieratt and Eric Jacobsen, The Book Cover Archive site is for the appreciation and categorization of excellence in book cover design. (Hat tip to Mitchell Kaplan. Thanks for sharing.)

“Tell us about a moment in your life regarding love or relationships, and NPR’s Rachel Martin and author Kwame Alexander will find you a poem that captures that feeling.” – from For Valentine’s Day, NPR’s Morning Edition is offering a love poem request line. The form used to submit those life moments can be found here.

And I have a few more author interviews available on the Marginalia podcast. I spoke with Megan Hunter, Chloe Benjamin, Peter Heller, and Charles C. Mann in the last couple of weeks, and I’ll be talking with Jojo Moyes and Maggie O’Farrell next week. Stay tuned!

Postage Rates to Increase

Last year, the Postal Regulatory Commission approved a proposal by the United States Postal Service to increase rates. On Sunday, January 21, 2018, be prepared for these changes:

  • First Class Mail Letters (1 oz.) rates will increase from $0.49 to $0.50. Each additional ounce will cost $0.21.
  • The discounted “Metered Mail” category for First Class Mail Letters (1 oz.), which includes online postage providers and postage meters, will increase from $0.46 to $0.47. Each additional ounce will cost $0.21.
  • First Class Mail Flats (1 oz.) will increase from $0.98 to $1.00. Each additional ounce will cost $0.21.
  • Postcard rates will increase one cent to $0.35.
  • Priority Mail Express, Priority Mail, First Class Package Service, and Media Mail will all see an average rate increase of 3.9%. Media Mail rates will start at $2.66 (previously $2.63) and Library Mail will start at $2.53 (previously $2.50).

If you need to make any changes to the shipping component of your eCommerce site, you should plan on performing an update on Saturday evening, January 20. And if you’re a Forever® Stamp kind of epistolarian, you have about a week to stock up.

2018 Binc Foundation Scholarship Program

The Binc Foundation announced today that it will be accepting applications from January 14, 2018 until March 5, 2018 for the 2018 Binc Foundation Scholarship Program. The program will offer up to 27 higher education awards totaling $109,000 to eligible current bookstore employees/owners and their dependents as well as eligible former Borders Group employees and their dependents. As part of the scholarship program, awards may be used for tuition, fees, books, supplies, and room and board.

Awards will be given as follows:

  • Twenty-Four awards of $3,500 each.
  • Two awards of $10,000 each to the top two candidates overall. At least one (1) of the $10,000 awards will be granted to an Industry affiliated applicant.
  • One Karl Pohrt Tribute Award of $5,000 will be awarded to a independent bookseller who has overcome learning adversity or is a non-traditional student.

For more information or to apply, visit the Binc Foundation website here.

And more whatnot.

Looking for sharable whatnot?

Last week PBS NewsHour and the New York Times announced their joint bookclub, “Now Read This.” Today they published a list of discussion questions for bookclub participants to consider as they read the January selection, Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward.

Yesterday The Millions published “Most Anticipated: The Great 2018 Book Preview.”

“I’d like to start a book club/support group for folks who dog-ear their pages.” – Tweet from Rebecca Lang, publicity manager at St. Martin’s Press.

Atlas Obscura published this piece about the village of Hobart, NY, population 403: “A Tiny New York Town With Not One, But 5 Indie Bookstores

And finally, Jacqueline Woodson officially became the 6th National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature today. NPR’s Lynn Neary took a look at the current state of young people’s literature, and where Woodson would like to see it 2018.