After Donald Trump made headlines last week for reportedly referring to Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries” during a meeting with lawmakers, an indie bookstore in Michigan seized on the news as a cheeky, and politically charged, way to promote books.
Over the weekend, McLean and Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Mich., began pushing books via social media by authors from the countries that Trump had supposedly derided. (Since news initially broke about the comments, the President has denied using the phrase “shithole countries.”) The effort, which went viral, also wound up impacting sales. Bookstore co-owner Matt Norcross said that, over the weekend, sales in-store and online climbed by more than 10% over the same holiday weekend last year. The bookseller also noted that many of the sales came from first-time customers.
On Friday, the store set up a dedicated page on its website featuring a list of five books under the headline “Shithole Country Reading.” The list included titles by, among others, Nigerian expat Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie and Haitian expat Edwidge Danticat.
On social media, McLean and Eakin asked: “What’s your favorite book from a ‘shithole’ country?” The retailer said it was compiling a list and welcomed suggestions from its followers. At press time, the list on the bookstore’s website had grown to nearly 30 titles.
Norcross said the store has received primarily positive feedback on the promotion. Since the social media push, the indie has lost eight Facebook followers but gained over 250. An in-store display is also in the process of being created, and it will highlight select titles from the list that is being crowdsourced. The display will not, though, feature the phrase “shithole,” because Norcross does not want to “offend” any customers.
Concern about angering customers by using the President’s supposed language is something booksellers do need to consider. At least two other indies have, within 24 hours of set up, removed in-store displays featuring Trump’s supposed off-color comments.
On Saturday, a photograph of a book display at Rough Draft Bar Books in Kingston, N.Y., went viral after the writer Michele Filgate (who has 4,000 Facebook friends and 27,500 Twitter followers) posted it on her social media accounts. The photo featured a table of books by writers like Junot Díaz and Mohsin Hamid with a sign stating in all-caps: “Writers from Sh#thole Countries.” Although celebrities like J.K. Rowling and Patton Oswalt re-tweeted Filgate’s photo, the bookstore changed the sign on Saturday evening. The sign now reads “E Pluribus Unum.”
Owner Amanda Stromoski said that her husband came up with the idea on Thursday evening. “We heard the news and it was really a gut reaction. We were angry and frustrated,” Stromoski said. The sign was taken down, however, after the store received complaints from customers who identified themselves as immigrants and said the sign was insulting to them and their homelands. (Filgate has also since deleted her tweets about the display from her social media accounts. In a comment she posted on Sunday afternoon, Filgate disclosed that she did so after “many people I respect” complained to her that the photo, as well as the Rough Draft display itself, offended them.)
The Portland, Me., shop Print: A Bookstore had a similar experience with a sign it put up over the weekend. After sharing a photo on social media of a table of books under a sign reading: “Books from S***hole Countries,” the store has since removed the sign from the display. When PW contacted the store about the situation, bookstore owner Emily Russo declined comment.