We know all too well that the horrific events of September 11, 2001, took thousands of lives. While slashing open the American landscape in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania, they also left behind less visible scars on a grieving nation. We know as well that when the trauma and shock grew into a need for solace and understanding, books of wisdom and advice were there to be tapped.
We've already noted in some detail how the children's book community and religion publishers have continued to address the effects of the terrorist attacks. We've also covered many of the titles telling us who the enemies are and why they feel the way they do, books that became bestsellers, such as Islam: A Short History by Karen Armstrong (Modern Library) and Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America by Yossef Bodansky (Prima).
Now we're wondering how greatly has the public relied on books about loss and grieving, about recovery and renewal, about the tragedy itself? And what books are available? While we were in the midst of answering these questions, a number of September 11 books landed on bestseller lists. Many books, in addition to the documentaries of the day itself, help reveal the national mood, and a selection of new, backlist and forthcoming titles that continue to do so is provided on the pages that follow.
We spoke with several booksellers and publishers about their perceptions of the effects of September 11. At R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, Conn., owner Roxanne Coady cites three books concerned with mourning and overcoming sorrow that have exhibited an increase in sales since that day: Midstream: An Intimate Journal of Loss and Discovery by Le Anne Schreiber (Lyons Press); To Begin Again: The Journey Toward Comfort, Strength and Faith in Difficult Times by Naomi Levy (Ballantine); and In Lieu of Flowers: A Conversation for the Living by Nancy Cobb (Pantheon).
"We have a huge display of these books," says Nancy Perkins, buyer at Book Passage in Corte Madera, Calif. "We also have a large section in the store, a lot of them from the backlist that we hadn't sold all that well until September 11." Among the dozen titles she mentions are The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times by Pema Chödrön (Shambhala); A Year to Live: How to Live This Year as If It Were Your Last by Stephen Levine (Three Rivers); After the Darkest Hour: How Suffering Begins the Journey to Wisdom by Kathleen Brehony (Holt/Owl); and the perennial book of comfort, When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold Kushner (Quill, Avon and Pantheon).
"I haven't seen as much an increase in the sale of grief titles as in the area of life lessons, how to live more consciously," says David Wood, owner of Jean Barnes Gifts and Books in Oklahoma City, Okla. "The unique thing about us is that 80% of our books are psychology-based. Almost everything here relates to psychology or spirituality, but we haven't wanted to capitalize on what happened, so we didn't buy any September 11 books. We've seen a rise in sales in our children's issues section as well. That would be the second largest area of increase." Among the dozens of titles Wood recommends are Parenting Through Crisis: Helping Kids in Times of Loss, Grief and Change by Barbara Coloroso (HarperResource); Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief by Pauline Boss (Harvard Univ. Press); and Good Grief by Granger Westberg (Fortress).
There was an immediate uptick in sales of books dealing with loss and recovery after the tragedy, reports Margaret Noteman, buyer at Denver's Tattered Cover. "Then they slowed," she says. "But as the holidays approached, they began rising again. One book that surprised me with its sales was Grief Therapy [by Karen Katafiasz, illus. by R.W. Alley], which is in the Elf-Help Book series from Abbey Press. It's a little book with a saying on each page, something you might want to give to someone else." In addition to several books already mentioned above, Noteman calls attention to Healing Grief: Reclaiming Life After Any Loss by James van Praagh (Signet); Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations for Working Through Grief by Martha W. Hickman (Quill); and How to Survive the Loss of a Love by Melba Cosgrove et al. (Prelude Press). The last was originally published over 25 years ago, and Noteman comments, "When you suffer a loss, you often go back to old friends like that who are tried and true." Also at the Tattered Cover, Barbara Reed, who buys history titles, says, "Day of Terror [American Products Publishing] is doing well, and so is September 11, 2001, from Andrews McMeel. Because We Are Americans from Warner is already on reorder."
A large percentage of booksellers surveyed report that customers ask for books on the Middle East, Islam and terrorism and demonstrate less interest in self-help books. "I haven't noticed a big surge in sales for books on grieving," says Stan Hynds, buyer at Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, Vt., "except for When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Harold Kushner's new book, Living a Life That Matters [Knopf], is also doing well, but it would anyway. The thing that took me by surprise was how well the picture books are selling, and that's across the board." (See the sidebar in "Pitching in to Help".)
Closer to ground zero, those are the books that do indeed seem to be garnering the most interest as New Yorkers and the city's visitors pay tribute to heroes and loss. "All of the picture books are selling at bestseller levels for us," says Bob Contant, co-owner of St. Mark's Bookstore. "We have a whole window of them, and they're featured on a display table too. I ordered them in quantity because I suspected they might do well, but it is still kind of surprising." Floyd Sykes, buyer at Coliseum Books, concurs. "Generally speaking, the picture books are doing very well. We sold out of the Abrams book [September 11, 2001], but when they started selling, they all started selling at the same time."
From Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C., co-owner Barbara Meade says, "We always sell books on grieving and recovery in fair amounts, but the only book that's really standing out for us right now is Poems to Live By in Uncertain Times [Beacon]."
At the Publishing Houses
Peanut Butter and Jelly Press, a small house with a staff of three, found itself overwhelmed by the clamor for its September release Terrorism and Kids: Comforting Your Child by Fern Reiss. So many telephone calls came pouring in to the Newton, Mass., office that its switchboard was virtually closed down, and no one could get through. "We've been flooded by e-mails and telephone calls," says manager Alyza Harris. "It's safe to say they've come in by the thousands." Terrorism and Kids was being written for Americans who had moved to Israel and similar dangerous places, but after September 11, it was quickly rewritten, she reports. "It had been submitted to 12 or 13 New York publishers, and everyone told the author that a book like this was unmarketable. We've had the opposite experience and have gotten a tremendous reception from independent booksellers and librarians." The first printing was 3,000, the second was 3,000 and a third 3,000 is now in the works. The press is selling the $14.95 books on a nonreturnable basis because the orders were so large that Harris feared possible returns would also be overwhelming.
"We saw a big spike in books dealing with anxiety," says Kitt Allan, director of marketing and editorial development at John Wiley, "books like The Anxiety Cure and Self-Coaching: How to Heal Anxiety and Depression. Joe Luciani, the author of the latter title, happened to be coming into Manhattan on September 11, and he could see it happening. Now, when he's on the radio, he's able to talk about having tools of his own to cope with what he saw." Wiley prepared a list of appropriate books for booksellers to let them know what books on grief and recovery were available. "Self-improvement and psychology books have always been important for us," Allan reports, "and I think the public's interest in them will be ongoing. People are over-stressed, and what happened brought home to most Americans that we live in a very, very complicated world."
At Perseus, associate publisher and marketing v-p Elizabeth Carduff says, "Many stores reordered our books on psychology and self-help in significant quantities after September 11, and immediately we posted articles by T. Berry Brazelton [author of Touchpoints Three to Six] on our Web site about talking to children. We had to reprint almost all of the books like Life After Loss and Widow to Widow. Both independents and the chains have gone out of their way to have books on how to cope available in their communities. We've also looked at some of the key authors on our list, experts in psychology and child care, to see what they may have to offer. That's where [next May's] The Secure Child came from. Stanley Greenspan [author, with Brazelton, of The Irreducible Needs of Children] had been out talking to the media about all this. Luckily, he's able to write very quickly. My guess is that there'll be a long-term need for books on grief."
"We had a dramatic spike in our October trade sales of Remembering with Love: Messages of Hope for the First Year of Grieving," says Steve Deger, sales and marketing manager of Fairview Press. "[Author] Elizabeth Levang is a grief counselor, and her book gives daily readings, a page a day, for a year of counseling." Now in its sixth printing, the book has sold 30,000 copies. "I think the market will remain strong for books like this, with an aging population. As baby boomers age and as their parents age, we'll all be facing this eventually."
The folks at HarperCollins, too, reacted quickly. "We provided a list of grief and recovery titles immediately after September 11," says Mary Ellen Curley, group marketing director of HC's General Books Group, "because both we and our bookseller customers wanted to make them available to consumers. We shipped a lot of these books right away and have seen strong sales on a few classics, such as When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Rabbi Kushner and A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis. Wayne Dyer had just begun touring for his new book, There's A Spiritual Solution to Every Problem, and the aftermath of 9/11 found him right on the message. We've seen really strong sales throughout the fall, and right now he's in the middle of a PBS pledge drive to nearly 20 markets around the country." The September catastrophe also had a direct effect on HarperCollins's publishing program. "ReganBooks had long ago scheduled The Lost Son, the autobiography of New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, for fall publication, and then at the last minute added a new chapter about his experiences during and after the terror attacks. We've published several 'instant books,' like In the Line of Duty [ReganBooks], a photographic tribute to the heroic efforts of police and firefighters, which is moving at bestseller levels."
Summing it all up, Curley remarks, "There is, was, and ever shall be a market for titles on grief, recovery and loss because, whether for themselves or their loved ones, readers will always look to books for comfort."