Politics, Picture Books, Hippies and Novels -- And Oh Right, the Constitution: What We Read in 2018.


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Rob @ Story Kitchen

You'd expect Michelle Obama. And Bob Woodward. But the book that sold more than any other this year at The Yankee Bookshop in Woodstock?

It was a picture book about a runaway baby steer.

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You can think of book-buying as a window into a literate community's soul, and I was curious: What did Woodstock go for in 2018? So Kari Meutsch and Kristian Preylowski, the bookshop's co-owners, pulled their numbers for the year. The results? 

Well, Kari put it pretty nicely when she said, "Looking at the mix of books made me really happy. You don’t want it to be all New York Times bestsellers, because then what character does your bookstore have?"

The book that outstripped all others was a local favorite, Kristina Rodanas's Huck's Way Home. It's about one of a pair of working steers delivered to Billings Farm & Museum last year who ran away within minutes of arriving. The book's sales "destroyed everything else," says Kari. "Which makes sense, because it happened right up the road." And, come to think of it, all around town, which means that any number of the people who bought multiple copies might actually have seen Huck on his explorations.

A page from "Huck's Way Home"

The top two sellers among books for adults were more predictable: Michelle Obama's Becoming and Bob Woodward's Fear. "Those are the two books everyone was crazy about this year," says Kari. "There’s a lot of discontent. We may be a small Vermont community, but people are aware of what’s happening out in the world, and they want to be part of it, too."

This we're-not-hicks-when-it-comes-to-national-issues trend wasn't limited to books for grownups. A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, the political parody for children by John Oliver's team detailing Vice President Mike Pence's rabbit's same-sex romance, got bought by a lot of grownups. Younger readers, meanwhile, flocked to The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas's bestseller about a girl trying to navigate police brutality, her poor, black neighborhood and the privileged, mostly white private school she attends. More locally, they also went for Hanover writer Lindsey Stoddard's middle-grade book, Just Like Jackie, about a young white girl being raised in Vermont by a black grandfather going through the beginning stages of dementia.

There was plenty of local interest among adults, as well. Yvonne Daley's new book, Going Up the Country: When the Hippies, Dreamers, Freaks, and Radicals Moved to Vermont, did a brisk business (maybe because Jeff Kahn appears in it -- he founded the Baloney Brothers commune in Sharon before going on to start the Unicorn gift shop in Woodstock). 

So, unexpectedly, did The Farm in the Green Mountains, which was originally published in 1949 then re-issued in 2017. It's Alice Herdan-Zuckmayer's memoir of her urbane German family, who fled the Nazis and wound up on a 193-acre farm in Barnard. "That story just resonates, with immigration and the refugee crisis," says Kristian. "It's a reminder that what happened back then is still happening."

In fiction, nationwide book-group favorites like Pachinko and The Woman in the Window had plenty of buyers,  but so did Vermont writer Stephen Kiernan's The Baker's Secret, set in a Normandy village on the eve of D-Day. "I think Kiernan's on the verge of breaking out -- his next novel will take him over," says Kristian.

"One thing that surprises me and makes me really happy," says Kari, "is that some of my favorite books for the year sold well--they're the ones I would point people to because I loved them." Case in point? Julian is a Mermaid, about a little boy who wants to dress up as a mermaid after seeing the Coney Island Mermaid Parade. "When we see a gem of a book," Kari says, "people do listen, and it's nice to see that in the numbers."

A page from "Julian is a Mermaid"

The numbers held one other surprise. The U.S. Constitution, in an edition annotated for modern times by Ray Raphael, sold steadily throughout the year. Make of that what you will.

A book for our times

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