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THE BOOK: Everyone Loves You Back
PUBLISHED IN: October, 2016
THE AUTHOR: Louie Cronin.
THE EDITOR: Sean Carswell, Founder and Editor of Gorsky Press.
THE PUBLISHER: Gorsky Press in Los Angeles, CA
SUMMARY: Everyone Loves You Back is a coming of middle-age novel about love and class struggle in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The main character, Bob Boland, is a native Cantabrigian. He’s a mass of contradictions. He’s quirky, crazy about jazz, incapable of keeping a relationship going, and decidedly not ambitious. He’s just trying to keep his job at the radio station where he works, and get some sleep. But he is a kind soul, a good friend, and in his own way, a hero. He meets two very different Cambridge women, one a professor, the other a colleague at his radio station, and has to chose between them and two very different ways of life.
THE BACK STORY: I was inspired to write this book by watching the Cambridge I grew up in disappear. I had come back to Cambridge in the late 80s, after living in San Francisco and Brooklyn. It was still funky then. There was still rent control. There was an ashram on my street. Slowly but surely everything changed. Lots of people like me — artists, writers, bohemians — were priced out. All around me was the constant din of renovation. The book started out as a rant about all that noise and all that money flooding my neighborhood. For years, that’s all I had, this tirade in the voice of Bob Boland, a grumpy but heroic townie whose neighborhood was gentrifying.
Once I committed to it, it took me five short years to write the book, then five long years to get it published.
WHY THIS TITLE?: The title is taken from a line in the book. Bob Boland finds himself in the unfamiliar position of being in love and glowing from the inside. He thinks, in his sarcastic way, “When you’re in love, everyone loves you back. Even in Cambridge.” So the title sounds really sweet, but it’s actually making fun of Cambridge’s legendary standoffishness.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? I set this book in the 90s when Cambridge was going through intense gentrification. I worried that it might be dated by now, but in some sense it has only become more relevant. It’s all about the haves and the have-nots, the pressure that money and privilege create. What I once thought was a Cambridge-specific phenomenon is now countrywide, if not worldwide. For that reason, I think it has a broad appeal.
My target audience are people who enjoy literary fiction with a comic undertone. I meant the book to be serious and thoughtful, but I can never resist the temptation to make myself and others laugh. I always thought that people my age, baby boomers, would get this book. Bob is a sort of counter-cultural product of the 60s and 70s. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised that much younger people identify with it, too.
Also I hope fans of radio will enjoy it. There’s lots of behind-the-scenes action at a local radio station. I worked for years in the turbulent world of radio, both commercial and public, so I’ve mined my own work history of layoffs, buyouts, format change, and hostile takeovers to create what I hope is a fun and semi-realistic portrait of that world.
A radio engineer finds his life in Cambridge transformed thanks to tree huggers, job politics, and more in this debut novel.
Bob Boland, single, 48, lives in the Cambridge, Massachusetts, home he inherited from his recently deceased blue-collar parents. He works nights as an engineer at a local radio station, supporting a jazz show hosted by similarly aged Rif. He’s also writing an “unwieldy jazz manifesto” about the ways the current generation of players is “killing” jazz. Bob bristles when Abigail, one of the many academic/yuppie neighbors who surround him, asks him to cut down his Norway maples, claiming that they are an invasive species that is killing her arborist-curated trees. When he learns about a group protesting the uprooting of a perhaps ancient Japanese maple due to a condo construction, Bob attends their meeting, thinking he’ll get help for his situation. He is derailed, however, by his attraction to member Leonie Marshall, a Californian teaching dance at Harvard. They soon sleep together but only after Bob refuses Leonie’s request to do so without birth control because the recent divorcée is eager to have a child. The radio station switches Bob to the day shift, and he contends with a new station manager’s mandate to move to an all-news format. Cronin terms her own family “quirky Cantabridgians,” and such flavor infuses this amusing novel set within the Cambridge milieu. Bob’s wry observations of this world are particularly enjoyable, including that city hall workers are “people whose livelihoods depend on keeping their accents.” This character’s feeling stuck also wonderfully culminates with him being literally so near the end of novel. While somewhat overloaded with yuppie stereotypes (there’s also a meditation-guru neighbor, etc.), overall, this is a colorful, comic snapshot of a community—and a character’s serious growth within it. A funny, atmospheric exploration of midlife evolution.
VOL. 1 BROOKLYN
Inertia, Inner Lives, and Musical Immersion in Boston: A Review of Louie Cronin’s “Everyone Loves You Back”
By Michael T. Fournier
This one’s a gusher, so you might want to keep in mind, as you read, that I’m totally the target audience/demographic for Louie Cronin’s debut novel. Her book is set in Boston, where I lived for ten years. The locales and characters throughout Everyone Loves You Back are immediately recognizable, whether Cronin is referring to specific spots (like the pretentious restaurant with the thick wood door) or, alternately, dealing in archetypes (like Riff, the jazz gormandizer who walks around this book in a permanent cloud of pot smoke).
Main character Bob Boland is such an archetype: pushing fifty, entrenched in a radio production job he doesn’t think he deserves, living in an inherited house in a Cambridge neighborhood well beyond his means, opinionated to the point of being off-putting. At the start of this novel, Boland is sleeping through daylight, working as a nighttime producer for a freeform jazz radio show. He uses his spare time to peck at a Carducci-ish treatise on the State Of Jazz, though he doesn’t have the confidence to show it around.
One set of neighbors wants him to remove or prune a toxic tree in his yard; another wants access to a foot of his property. But rather than making these decisions–rather than making any decisions – Bob Boland repeatedly says he’ll “think about it” and reacts to decisions made by others, rather than proactively making his own. It’s in this narration that Louie Cronin shines. Boland’s repeated decisions to not decide are dealt by Cronin with a light, deft touch–she might easily have bludgeoned readers with Boland’s noncommittal nature. She doesn’t, though. It’s tough to write a character whose natural state is obliviousness, yet Cronin does so here, describing Boland’s thought process well enough to reveal the interior life which leads to his perpetual lack of commitment.
Her in-depth but detached narration allows readers first amusement and then frustration at Boland’s chain of non-decisions, giving readers the means to identify both with him and with the cast of characters that populates the book. Boland’s love interest Leonie bears the brunt of his indecision, and is a well-written, sympathetic character. She comes into the scene when a condo developer threatens to remove an
ancient neighborhood tree. She’s ready to have kids, says so, and deals with Boland’s indecision–but only to a point. Boland, of course, can’t see how his inactions and reactions impact Leonie, but readers can tell change is coming, adding to both sympathies and frustrations.
Living in Boston isn’t a requirement to enjoy this fantastic debut novel. Characters are recognizable and well-developed, and Cronin (whose name readers might recognize from the end credits of NPR’s Car Talk – she’s ‘the barbarian’ the hosts mention) boasts a pitch-perfect, wry comedic delivery throughout. I know people who are stuck inside their own heads, and the people who deal with those people. You probably do, too–making this one recommended for you.
SMALL PRESS PICKS
Everyone Loves You Back
Benjamin Disraeli once commented, “Change is inevitable. Change is constant.” Some advice that may be implied in that: “Adapt or fail”—a recommendation that can feel survival-of-the-fittest cruel, especially when the changes in question threaten to render you irrelevant, at best.
Changes of a threatening variety definitely conspire against Bob Boland, the protagonist of Louie Cronin’s funny, perceptive, and–dare I say–hopeful début novel, Everyone Loves You Back. A stubborn (and cranky) yet pragmatic rebel, Bob charts an entertaining course between thumbing his nose at these changes and adapting to them, so much as he is willing to do so, on his own terms. For that reason I consider him, and this novel, an inspiration, especially in these dark political times.
On the home front, Bob, a longtime resident of a down-on-its-heels house in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is facing growing pressures from an unrelenting drive toward gentrification. (As one example of such pressures, a well-to-do neighbor and her arborist [!] try to convince Bob to take down some maple trees in his yard, ones they claim are invasive species that are dooming the carefully selected, and no doubt expensive, trees in her own yard.)
On the job front, new management at the radio station where Bob works pulls the plug on the nighttime jazz show for which he has long served as engineer, pushing Bob and the show’s former host, Riff, into the dayshift, and into a format that’s unfamiliar to—and far from beloved by—both men: a talk/interview show aimed at boosting ratings. It doesn’t help that Bob has never gotten along with the colleague chosen to cohost the show, and that she’s engaged to the station’s new overlord, Anthony DiTucci. Worse, if Bob and Riff don’t succeed on the new show, it’s all but certain they’ll be shown the door.
When DiTucci takes the helm of the station and offers the first suggestion that, in Bob’s words, “jazz dinosaurs are on the way out,” Bob makes this observation about him, and himself:
“Anthony has a certain glow about him. He looks to be in his late thirties, early forties at the most, the age of the new conquerors. Bob’s generation has somehow skipped the In Charge phase, segueing directly from immature fuckups to over-the-hill budget busters. It’s humiliating really, but Bob can’t quite muster the indignation to protest. He never really wanted to be in charge.”
The novel is full of funny, frank, and perceptive passages like this one, which help us sympathize with Bob’s situation and share his sense of alienation from the forces of change all around him. The novel is also a great comic study of workplace conflict and dysfunction. In certain ways, it reminded me of Joshua Ferris’s darkly funny workplace novel Then We Came to the End. If you enjoyed that book, I’m fairly confident you’ll find Everyone Loves You Back an entertaining ride. (I should also point out that Louie Cronin is uniquely qualified to write from the perspective of a radio engineer and producer, having worked in the radio business for many years, including a ten-year stint producing “Car Talk.”)
I don’t want to reveal the particular ways in which Bob rebels against, or grudgingly adapts to, the changes foisted upon him, but I will say how much I admired the book’s exploration of how it can be possible to respond to change while not compromising on what’s most important to us, including seemingly far-fetched dreams.
As a writer, I was inspired by one of Bob ambitions: a years-long effort to complete a book-length manifesto about the new generation of jazz players who, according to Bob, are “killing” the form instead of reviving it. It turns out that this book has promise, as does Bob’s unlikely romance with a Harvard dance instructor who, along with other residents of Bob’s neighborhood, is trying to keep an old and storied Japanese maple from being uprooted by a condo developer.
In short, Everyone Loves You Back is just the kind of light-in-darkness read I need right now. For me, it is also a reminder that, at certain times, we may need to look to ourselves for hopefulness—by searching for and, if we’re lucky, finding real connections with others and by pressing forward despite what sometimes feel like long and discouraging odds.
AUTHOR PROFILE: I’ve been writing for a very long time, but this is my first novel. Before that I had published short stories and essays. A friend encouraged me to try to expand a shorter piece into a novel and it turned out, I loved the form! I loved the freedom to write long, to explore different paths, to let the story grow slowly. On the second draft of this book, I actually added 100 pages.
I’m a late bloomer. I didn’t start writing until I was 35, though I always knew I wanted to be a writer. And like Bob, I have taken the slow road to adulthood. These days I am writing my second novel and working at WGBH, the first place I ever worked, as a sound engineer for The World.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: What I hope people will take away from Everyone Loves You Back is that it’s possible to be decent and kind, like Bob, and still adapt to the massive changes we all face.
Bob Boland is surrounded. Yuppies everywhere. Goddamned professional women with their blunt cuts and power suits, their wimpy men, pale faced and narrow shouldered, their PhDs, MDs and JDs on proud display in their book-lined studies.
The neighborhood has always been full of snobs — half of it belongs to Harvard, the other half to Harvard professors, grads, and wannabes, the type who donate buildings and gymnasiums, who endow symphony chairs in perpetuity — but there used to be room for the little people, who deliver the mail, plow the driveways, clean the teeth, fix the burners. Now the new rich are crowding them out, throwing around so much money that the neighborhood is barely recognizable. Slate roofs, copper drains, specimen trees, heated driveways — nothing is too good for them. If there’s a beautiful front yard, they put up a fence. If there’s a fence, they tear it down
and put in a hedge. Blacktop becomes lawn; lawn becomes groundcover; groundcover becomes brick. And God forbid the house should peel. Bingo! An army of painters descends, airlifted from the latest Third World country in collapse, sanding, scraping, hanging like bats under the eaves, risking their lives to try out matching trim colors.
Bob never thought he’d be singing the praises of the horsefaces, stingy old bastards with their patched tweed jackets and homely gray-haired wives, wearing the same frayed shirts and resoled shoes year in and year out, living in their gloomy mansions, driving their ten-year-old Mercedes, riding their three-speed Raleighs with the cracked leather seats and rusty wire baskets, scarves wrapped around their necks like they were in merry old England, the motherland, the well from which their bottomless coldness must have sprung. But now he feels something approaching affection for them, for mannish old Pricilla Sutton, lurching down the street in her Wellingtons and worn flannel shirt, her white hair escaping from a headband. Even she looks a little uncomfortable now, unsure where she belongs in this new world of conspicuous consumption.
At eleven-thirty at night, when everyone else in the neighborhood is getting ready for bed, clicking off the TV after an IQ-lowering dose of local news, turning down the covers, slipping between the six-hundred-thread-count sheets, curling up with a New Yorker, a mystery, a spiritual how-to, Bob is heading to WJZY. His shift starts at midnight, but he likes to get to the station a few minutes early, pull some CDs, set up the breaks, clean up the studio after that pig BJ, who will watch him clean, never once getting up from his chair. BJ is so lazy he will roll to get another CD, to program the computer, to read the log. He has mastered the soundboard push off; he’s the gold medalist of the chairbound. Every night the trashcan overflows with fast food wrappers, crushed coffee cups, old newspapers, spent ketchup packets. And BJ has the body to show for it. He has grown into the chair; his hips and ass seep girlishly over the sides. Like nearly everyone in radio, BJ has a good voice, deep and round, with a butterscotch finish; you picture James Earl Jones, maybe Gregory Peck in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” but what you get is a pale, fat, thirty-five-going-on-fifty-five white guy who is obsessed with jazz.
Bob is obsessed with jazz too, but he doesn’t look the part. He still has the broad shoulders and muscled upper body of the athlete he was supposed to be. His sports career foundered his freshman year at UMass, when he discovered jazz and pot. The coach threw him off the team. His father stopped talking to him. His mother slipped him tuition money and he graduated with an individually crafted degree in Altered States of Consciousness and the Evolution of Bebop. Find a job with that.
Bob always gets to the station before Riff, who is out in the parking lot smoking a joint. Now that it is forbidden to smoke in the studio, Riff makes do with a before-show toke and a pick-me-up in the men’s room during breaks. Back when Bob started in radio everybody smoked, cigarettes and marijuana, ashtray right next to the microphone, helped your voice get that nice gravelly touch, gave men the balls they might lack, and women the balls they almost certainly did.
Riff is another little white guy pretending to be black, but at least he was one of the first. He’s been around forever, snuck into clubs to see Miles and Coltrane when he was a teen. He has a very low maintenance approach to his appearance: shaves his head once a year, ignores it for the rest. He wears nothing but jumpsuits, which he designs and his third young wife dutifully sews. His only regular upkeep is his pointy little goatee, a must for white guys pretending to be black. After twenty years in radio, Bob could write a treatise on white guys pretending to be black. Like you didn’t already fuck over black people, you have to steal their culture, appropriate their blue moods, envy them their suffering. Most of these white–black guys ended up with drug problems, the only surefire way to shed their middle class privilege and get down with the brothers.
But Bob respects Riff. Back when he decided to become a black man, it wasn’t the thing to do. And Riff still likes white people. He and Bob started working together when WJZY was mostly jazz; now it’s mostly news. They have been together for thirteen years, longer than any of Riff’s marriages, longer by far than any of Bob’s relationships. Occasionally they socialize on the weekends, getting together after midnight. Riff’s wife Sue cooks dinner, and they drink and talk until dawn. Riff always manages to find a woman who will cater to his schedule, breakfast at 4 p.m., lunch at 11 p.m. Sue is up when he rolls in. Maybe you were a little hard on the guy who didn’t know who Johnny Hodges was. You should have let the old lady finish. Riff does a kind of hybrid jazz / talk show. When he feels like it, he plays music; when he gets bored, he takes calls from the audience. Old people, insomniacs, sick people, shift workers, drug addicts, musicians — they’re the ones who are up all night, roaming their houses, spinning the radio dial. They talk about music, sleep, God, food, sex. Bob will cue up a CD — Pharaoh Sanders, Ron Carter — and sneak it in under the conversation. Some nights Riff awakes with a song or artist under his skin, and they play CDs all night, Riff’s head bopping, Bob’s foot tapping out the beat. He used to get stoned with Riff. It made a fairly easy job into a challenge. The control board turned into a cockpit, the On Air light a beacon, the music a message from the other side. But now pot makes him paranoid. He starts reconsidering everything. Why do men wear pants? What if his last relationship was his last relationship? What if there were no heaven and this life mattered? Now Riff smokes alone, and Bob relies on the roiling chemicals his own brain makes to keep up with him.
This fall has been hell for Bob. He can’t seem to sleep. The neighborhood comes back to life in the fall, after the relative quiet of the summer. Students return to their dorms, scientists to their labs, the goddamn squirrels start fighting, designer dogs barking, school kids singing and laughing. And worse, the renovations begin anew. Contractors, plumbers, roofers, landscapers arrive in a convoy of earthmovers and pickup trucks. Bob prefers the winter, the days as tight and silent as the night, the ground frozen, the air forbidding, doors and windows shuttered against the cold. Although snow is a mixed bag for the daytime sleeper. At first it muffles everything, swaddles you in a lovely white cocoon, but then the snow blowers start and plows crash onto the asphalt and roaming bands of kids ring your bell and ask if you want them to shovel. Snow is almost worse than fall.
Bob has tried sleeping pills, ear plugs, a mouth guard, room darkeners, a white noise machine, a fan, an air conditioner, a contoured neck pillow, melatonin, kava kava, St. John’s Wort, acupuncture, vodka, beer, wine, warm milk, and chamomile tea. Nothing works. He has asked the neighbors to keep their workers quiet. He has pleaded with the workers to have pity on a fellow working man. He has stayed up whole days to make himself tired. But something new is happening. Thirteen years on the overnight shift and he can no longer sleep.
Riff has no such problem. He and his wife live in the woods on their own ten acres and they sleep all day, stay up all night. Their house smells like mildew and is developing a mossy green tint. Vines grow over the windows; huge pine trees dwarf the front porch. The backyard has reverted to forest. Wisteria has wrapped itself around an entire patio set so that it is now green and impenetrable. On the weekends Riff will smoke a joint and go out in the yard in the late afternoon and think maybe he should hire someone to hack away at this jungle. Then the light will fade, and the place will morph into an enchanted fairytale of vines and primeval forest. Luckily they live in a rundown part of town. Their neighbors have cars up on blocks, boats that will never again float, motorcycles in pieces, and broken down refrigerators on their back lots. So they are not about to complain.
Riff glides into the control room a few minutes before air. “My man,” he says. “How’re things? You sleep?”
Bob shakes his head. “No. Today the city got into the act. They’re re-bricking the sidewalks. Do you have any idea how loud a brick cutter is?”
Riff shrugs. “That’s a drag, man.”
“Who the fuck wanted new bricks anyway? Some stupid historical commission, I’m sure. Did I tell you, this woman rang my bell the other day at eleven a.m.? Complaining that my trim color was not historically correct. Eleven in the morning!”
“Should be against the law. I think it is against the law.”
“And she had the nerve to give me the name of some historically correct painter, who will come over and do some founding fathers juju on the paint scheme. Probably cost a fortune. My neighbor Abigail’s probably behind it. She left me another message this afternoon.”
Riff is flipping through the CDs, pulling out Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae, Betty Carter. “You should sell that place, Bobby,” he says. “Move out with me and the masses. Relax. That neighborhood is taking years off your life, man, and between you and me, you haven’t got that many left.”
“I was there first. Why should I have to move?”
“Cuz there’s one of you and lots of them, and plenty more where they came from. Sell that place. You could buy a cool pad, doesn’t have to be out in the boonies with me. Could be in the city, Roxbury. Black people wouldn’t give you all that shit.”
Riff hands the CDs to Bob, walks into the studio, sits down at the mic, puts on his headphones, and waits for Bob’s cue.
“Thirty seconds,” Bob says into the talkback.
“Plus those ugly women in your neck of the woods.”
Bob cuts his mic, holds up his hand to silence him, watches the digital clock trip from 11:59:59 to 12:00:00. He starts Riff’s theme music and cues him in.
“Hey, Riff here, Oliver Nelson in the background, you’re up, you’re listening, we’re cool. It’s a nice night out there. Saw some deer on my ride in, heads down, grazing on the yellow line, felt like stopping my car and giving them a lecture, when will you boys learn about highways and automobiles, anyway the moon was pink, pink, that’s cool, the sky was kind of charcoal gray, and I got to thinking what would
it be like to be an animal, roaming around this messed up world that humans created, how are they supposed to know about yellow lines and why shouldn’t they snap the heads off all your tulips? They were here first.” He cuts his mic and motions for Bob to bring up the music. Then he speaks into the talkback. “You could make a lot of money on that old haunted house of yours, Bobby. You could live on a boat. You could buy yourself a penthouse. You could fucking retire.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Bob says into the talkback.
Riff cues him to lower the music. “Tonight we’re going play some Billie, and maybe some Ella, and whoever else you want to hear. If you feel like talking, give me a call. If you don’t, that’s cool. Me and Bob will just groove out for the whole evening.”
Irene, the overnight newscaster, bounds into the control room and hands Bob a script. “Hey, Bob, you hear about Omar?”
Bob spins his chair around to face her. “No.”
Irene leans against a tape deck, pushes a strand of dark hair off her face. “They caught him falsifying health insurance claims and fired him!”
“Omar? He seems like such a straightlaced guy.”
“Yeah. Well. Some insurance company dumped them when his wife got sick. So he was exacting his revenge. Took them for thousands and thousands of dollars over the years.”
“Really? Omar? But how’d they find out?”
“Kathy. Who else? Omar had lied about when she started here, so she could get covered sooner. Do you believe it? He did her a favor and the little bitch turned him in!”
“Doesn’t make sense. Why would she do that? ” “Beats me. Phase one in her scheme for total world domination? I tell you, though. You should never, ever, trust a woman who wears makeup in the middle of the night.”
Bob looks more closely at Irene. Is she wearing makeup? He doesn’t think so, but what does he know? Her cheeks and lips are pale. Her eyes are large and dark, but so are the circles under them. “She’ll be our boss some day,” he says, and turns to load the cuts for Irene’s newscast into the computer. Kathy is just like the people in his neighborhood, claiming the moral high ground as long as it keeps them on top and little fuckers like Omar on the bottom. “Her type always wins.”
Kathy is the new morning drive newscaster, imported from Cincinnati or Cleveland, some place in the Midwest, which she flies back to every three weeks to get her hair cut. She and Bob had gotten into it her first day on the job. She wanted him to record a spot. “Get O’Mara,” he said. “I’m off the clock.”
“News doesn’t follow a clock,” she said.
“But I do. And I get time-and-a-half plus night shift differential.”
She changed her tack, smiled at him, shook her carefully cut blonde hair. “Please? I don’t understand all that union stuff. I’m under the gun. And I don’t know O’Mara.”
He’d stayed and recorded the spot, then edited and mixed it before leaving. The next day he was called into his boss Mitch’s office. “What the fuck are you staying overtime for? No one okayed that.”
“Kathy was supposed to.”
“Well, she didn’t. And she filed a complaint about your attitude, said you were uncooperative, and slow.”
Oliver Nelson finishes. Riff hands off to Irene who starts her newscast. Riff gets up and wanders into the control room. “Something going on between you two?”
“Irene likes you, man. I can feel the pheromones right through the glass.”
“Who else is she going to go for, BJ?”
Bob shrugs. “We were talking about Omar. Did you hear they fired him?”
Riff smooths his goatee. “Bet Irene looks great without her clothes on.”
“There’s nothing going on between us. Believe me.”
Riff snorts. “You handsome guys are all the same. Never had to work hard to get women, so you never learned how to read them. But I did, and trust me, Irene likes you.”
Bob looks at Irene, her hand poised over the control board, ready to trigger a flood of haranguing ads for excess stomach acid, muscle aches, white sales, and spreadable cheese. She catches him watching her and breaks into a shy smile. Bob smiles back. For the first time in days he feels like he could sleep.
LOCAL OUTLETS: Available at several Boston area bookstores, including Porter Square Books, Harvard Book Store, Newtonville Books, Paper Cuts in Jamaica Plain, and Brookline Booksmith.
WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, Gorsky Press, Target.