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Bookstore Pits Harper Lee Against Ta-Nehisi Coates in Sales Competition

By Nicole Levy | July 16, 2015 7:42am
 Sales of
Sales of "Go Set a Watchman" and "Between the World and Me" were neck and neck at Greenlight Bookstore.
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Book Culture

Harper Lee's "Go Set a Watchman," out Tuesday, is selling out at bookstores around the city. 

But it wasn't the only hardcover with a racial dimension to hit shelves that day. Ta-Nehisi Coates' new book, "Between the World and Me," a meditation on what it's like to be black in America, made its debut at independent bookstores alongside the "To Kill a Mockingbird" prequel. And it's held its own. (Coates was prepared for a spirited match, tweeting that he was "bout to roll up on Harper Lee like" these boys in "Charlie Brown."

At Fort Greene's Greenlight Bookstore, sales of the novel and the non-fiction book, which is written as a letter to Coates' 15-year-old son, were in a close race throughout day one. The bookstore kept score on its Twitter account:

By the day's end, it was Lee 33, Coates 32. Greenlight co-owner Rebecca Fitting predicts that Coates' book will keep pace with Lee's through the weekend.

"Harper Lee and the publication of her book has been so written (overwritten?) about in the media, but in my mind here, the real story is about how Ta-Nehisi Coates' book, which Toni Morrison calls 'required reading,' is pacing her book," Fitting told DNAinfo in an email. 

"Between the World and Me," as she pointed out, speaks to recent events like the killing of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina. The shooting and buzz around Coates' book prompted his publisher, Random House, to move its publication date up by two months.

In Manhattan, Book Culture's three locations sold a total of 97 copies of Lee's book in-store. Coates' book "we also sold out immediately," said Book Culture manager Ryan Jaworski. "We ordered 15 and sold them all within, like, five hours." The store stocked 20 more copies Wednesday.

Over in Park Slope, Community Bookstore has ordered two shipments of Coates' book so far, co-owner Ezra Goldstein said. The store sold 20 copies Tuesday and has 48 copies on back-order. As for of "Go Set a Watchman," the store sold 40 on Tuesday.

It was at Strand Bookstore in Greenwich Village that Harper Lee's book pulled far ahead. Sales of "Go Set a Watchman" were "pretty baller," as marketing manager Whitney Hu put it, with 157 copies moving off the shelves by closing time Tuesday. (To put that in perspective, the bookstore sold 200 copies of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" on its first day out.)

But Coates' book didn't go gently into that good night: customers bought 24 copies Tuesday.

UPDATE: "Between the World and Me" has a double-digit lead over Lee's novel as of Thursday morning, Greenlight Bookstore tweeted