Santa apparently was set to drop off plenty of books on Christmas for those deemed "nice," judging from the activity of his human acolytes at Missoula’s bookstores.
“I’m doing last-minute shopping for my mom, and I love local bookstores,” said Maureen McCourt of Oakland, in Missoula for the holidays. She opted for "The Book of Hygge" by Louisa Thomsen Brits. “It is this book from Denmark about being consciously cozy,” she explained — a philosophy she and her mother discuss a lot.
A few other people were milling around Fact & Fiction around midday Tuesday. The Higgins Avenue bookstore was scheduled to be open until 4 p.m. — or later, if demand warranted — to meet a final surge in book-buying.
“As it gets closer and closer, it gets busier,” said bookseller Bryn Agnew, working the counter. “Yesterday was nuts, (and) the Sunday before that was crazy.”
He and bookseller Chris La Tray said popular titles included "Montana Quick Facts," by Josh Quick; "Down from the Mountain: The Life and Death of a Grizzly Bear," by Bryce Andrews; "The Overstory," by Richard Powers; and La Tray’s own "One-Sentence Journal."
La Tray said that this year, eight of the store’s 10 best sellers have been local titles. “I think that’s a great indication of how community supports our local writers,” he said.
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Across the river, Shakespeare & Co. was also moving a lot of books, and Simon Hipgrave of Melbourne, Australia, was there to stock up. He’s come to Missoula regularly over the past 15 years to visit his wife’s family, and he liked how it lined up with the white Christmas ideal. “This is the real Christmas,” he said. “In Australia, it’s very hot and sunny” this time of year.
Local titles at Shakespeare & Co. were also selling well. Owner Garth Whitson named "Six Hundred Generations: An Archaeological History of Montana," written by retired Forest Service archaeologist Carl Davis, as a popular item. "The Overstory" — also a Pulitzer Prize-winning environmental novel — was a big one there as well.
At The Book Exchange, owner Rami Haddad said Montana-interest books were popular. But “the kids books have been really crazy sellers for us,” he said, identifying the "Dog Man" graphic novel series as a big hit. Haddad explained that in recent years, the used bookstore has expanded its sales of “sidelines” — puzzles, games and other non-book items — and that move was paying off. “We’ve really picked up on sideline sales,” he said.
And the business as a whole was booming. In a typical day, Haddad said, The Book Exchange brings in about 300 customers. On the 23rd, it had set an all-time record of 720 — and still more were working on some final shopping midday Tuesday.
The used bookstore’s price points, Haddad ventured, play well in a market like Missoula.
“I think Montanans are real practical with their buying sense,” Haddad said. “I think we’re rewarded with their good sense.”