Shelf Awareness for Friday, September 4, 2009


HarperCollins: On a Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Alemagna

Johns Hopkins University Ptess: Playboys and Mayfair Men by Angus McLaren / A Year of Writing Dangerously by Keith Gandal

Atlantic Monthly Press: The Prague Sonata by Bradford Morrow

Balzer & Bray/Harperteen: I Love You Like a Pig by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Greg Pizzoli

Editors' Note

News

August General Retail Sales: Ready to Rise?

General retail sales in August fell 2.9% compared to August 2008, according to Thomson Reuters, marking the 12th consecutive month of comparative sales declines, the New York Times reported.

Back-to-school merchandise didn't sell as well as hoped; stores with the largest drops "specialize in teenage clothing and gear," the Times noted. Discounters generally did better than other types of retailers. Sales were helped by tax holidays in some states.

Craig R. Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, told the Times: "We're seeing this really continued and resounding reluctance of consumers to pay full price."

Still, some stores reported higher traffic. As the Wall Street Journal put it: "The rising visits, said analysts, show the first hints of successful retail strategies emerging from the recession. Moderately-priced chains emphasizing value and quality are seeing an uptick as sales gains slow at discounters."

Matthew Katz, a consultant specializing in company turnarounds, said, "Consumers are showing they want to shop but retailers are needing to find clever ways of getting them into the stores by having the right product at the right price."

Another reason for a bit of optimism: consumer spending is "gradually firming following steep declines beginning in the second half of 2008," the Journal wrote. "Such spending, the biggest component of U.S. gross domestic product, is on track to rise about 2% in the quarter ending Sept. 30, after being roughly flat during the first half of this year."


Zondervan: To Wager Her Heart (Belle Meade Plantation) by Tamera Alexander


Notes: Stocking Up on True Compass; Ode to Subway Reading

Bookstores on Cape Cod are stocking up on True Compass, the memoir by late Senator Edward Kennedy, which goes on sale on September 14, the Cape Cod Times reported. For example, Market Street Bookshop, Mashpee, has ordered several cases, an amount owner Cynthia O'Brien usually reserves only for phenomena like the Twilight series.

Other Kennedy-related books have been selling well, and most buyers are locals, said Michelle Lemay, an owner of the Inkwell Bookstore, Falmouth. "We have all felt [the Kennedys] have been part of the community all these years," she told the paper.

Vicky Uminowicz, manager of Titcomb's Bookshop, East Sandwich, predicted True Compass will continue to sell after the first sales burst.

In a story that broke the embargo on True Compass, the New York Times wrote: "The book does not shy from the [Chappaquiddick] accident, or from some other less savory aspects of the senator’s life, including a notorious 1991 drinking episode in Palm Beach, Fla., or the years of heavy drinking and women-chasing that followed his 1982 divorce from his first wife, Joan.

"But it also offers rich detail on his relationships with his father, siblings and children that round out a portrait of a man who lived the most public of lives and yet remained something of a mystery. Among other things, it says that in 1984 he decided against seeking the presidency after hearing the emotional objections of his children, who, it says, feared for his life."

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To promote Carol Buckley’s Travels with Tarra and Just for Elephants, Tilbury House is conducting a virtual "trunk" tour. Every day through September 8, a different website is featuring things like reviews, interviews, an exclusive elephant video, giveaways and a sneak peek at Buckley's forthcoming book, Tarra & Bella: The Elephant and Dog Who Became Best Friends (Putnam). Tweet about the tour (#TrunkTour) for a chance to win a prize. And readers can help the residents of the Elephant Sanctuary, co-founded by Buckley, in Hohenwald, Tenn. Until December 31, for every 100 copies sold of Travels with Tarra and Just for Elephants, Tilbury House will sponsor a much-needed item for the sanctuary--including 100 lbs. of peanut butter, one of the elephants' favorite treats.

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Bookselling This Week highlighted two feminist bookstores marking major milestones.

Women & Children First, Chicago, Ill., is celebrating its 30th anniversary this month and next, and Charis Books & More, Atlanta, Ga., is celebrating its 35th anniversary with a weeklong party in November.

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The New York Times offered an ode to reading on the subway, "a New York ritual . . . for teenage girls thumbing through magazines, aspiring actors memorizing lines, office workers devouring self-help inspiration, immigrants newly minted--or not--taking comfort in paragraphs in a familiar tongue. These days, among the tattered covers may be the occasional Kindle, but since most trains still remain devoid of Internet access and cellphone reception, the subway ride remains a rare low-tech interlude in a city of inveterate multitasking workaholics. And so, we read."

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Everybody's a critic. The Associated Press reported that a "three-judge panel of the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals expressed doubts about whether a lower-court judge heard enough evidence before blocking the U.S. publication this summer of 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye." (See Shelf Awareness, July 2, 2009).

Judge Guido Calabresi offered a firm opinion on the literary merits of the novel by Swedish author Fredrik Colting, referring to it as "this rather dismal piece of work if I may say so."

Marcia Beth Paul, the lawyer arguing on J. D. Salinger's behalf, "was questioned repeatedly by Calabresi and Judge Jose A. Cabranes. Calabresi asked whether the lower court judge might need to hear more evidence because the case relates to the First Amendment."

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USA Today featured an interactive calendar of upcoming titles for the fall season as well as top picks from the newspaper's reviewers because "critics are book lovers, too."

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From the Independent's Business Diary: "On a trip to Borders, Diary was surprised to be given a free bag, given that the troubled bookshop had previously been charging. Isn't that rather contravening best green practice? 'Well, the idea was dropped. Staff just got yelled at too much,' said a weary shop assistant."

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Canada's Indigo Books & Music chain is opening six new-format Indigo Books, Gifts, Kids stores this year, the Calgary Herald reported. Heather Reisman, founder and chief executive of Indigo, said the stores are "a whole new evolution of how we approach this market. . . . What we've done is created little shops within the store. I like to think of it as a book lover's cultural department store."

The stores feature "'shop-in-shop' displays and areas organized thematically to arrange more than 45,000 different book titles and lifestyle products, including home decor, gifts, stationery and gourmet products," according to the Herald.

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Fifteen American poets--including Sylvia Plath, Charles Bukowski, Anne Sexton, Charles Simic, Robert Bly, Ted Kooser and Langston Hughes--will be "translated into Arabic as part of a project to widen the Arabic world's access to foreign literature," the Guardian reported.

"There is a real shortage of American poetry translated into Arabic, which is why we decided to do this," said a spokesperson for Kalima, an independent project funded by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage that will translate more than 1,000 poems for the anthology.

 


Elevating the Conversation, Snarkily: The Snark Handbook

Larry Dorfman, v-p of sales at Globe Pequot Press and author of The Snark Handbook: A Reference Guide to Verbal Sparring (Skyhorse Publishing, $12.95, 9781602397606/1602397600), whose pub date was this past Tuesday, said that his book is in part a response to David Denby's assertion in Snark that snark is ruining conversation. Citing the wit of supreme snark masters Groucho Marx, Dorothy Parker, Ambrose Bierce and Oscar Wilde, Dorfman said, "Snark can elevate a conversation!"

The Snark Handbook, the first book Dorfman has published, has many snarky jokes, starting with Dorfman's biography: "Lawrence Dorfman has more than thirty years of experience in publishing, where he honed his snark chops. He lives in Hamden, Connecticut, like you really care."

The book includes a Snark Hall of Fame, suggested snarky comments to "everyday dumbassness" and a do-it-yourself section on learning how to be snarky ("assuming you're intelligent," Dorfman adds snarkily). "It's a book every student of the American psyche (that's all of us, Sparky) needs to have," the publisher said. "Let loose. Let your inner anger become a positive rather than a negative, but most of all, have fun. (Yeah, like that's something you know how to do.)"

"I wanted it to be fun from start to finish," Dorfman said. "If readers don't laugh a minimum of 50 times, I'll be surprised." He's also proud of the book, saying: "I put something cool out into the world and not just junk." Ever the good salesperson, he noted, too, that currently "there's tons of snark in movies, TV and print. People are reading so much snark." In other words, Snark is hot.

The only problem with the book: in a non-snarky way, Dorfman noted, "Now I've set a high bar for myself. If I say something and it's not snarky enough, people call me on it."

The Snark Handbook launches with a party at the Cigar Bar in New Haven, Conn. "Cigar, beer and book for $20!" he said happily. Dorfman will also do signings at R.J. Julia, Madison, Conn., and the UConn Co-op, Storrs, Conn. As for publicity, "I'm waiting for Jon Stewart to call," Dorfman said, noting he had mentioned him in the book. "And Colbert, Imus and Stern."

The book took a big step toward reality in January, when Dorfman was let go from Abrams. (In April, he returned to Globe Pequot, where he had worked for eight years in the 1990s.) "A friend who's an editor called up and asked what I was going to do," Dorfman said. He responded that he was going to get a job. She said, "Write me a book." With snark on his mind because of the Denby book, he put together The Snark Handbook.

Dorfman praised Skyhorse and its distributor, Norton. Skyhorse put together a "great package" that includes a kind of news ticker tape running along the bottom of the book's pages, Dorfman said. And Norton has "gotten it pretty much everywhere."

Having published a book gives Dorfman a very different perspective on the business. "I walk into bookstores, and I have a newfound understanding for what it's like for authors to find 'only' one or two copies of their books," he said. "I used to tell authors, 'They sold the others.' Now I go in and I ask, 'Where's my book? How can anyone find it?' It's been an eye-opening experience from the other side."

One odd aspect of his new life as an author is that at the upcoming New England Independent Booksellers Association show in Hartford, Conn., he has a signing for The Snark Handbook at noon on Saturday, October 3--at the same time one of his Globe Pequot authors has a signing. So he'll be signing and holding hands--his own, too.

Dorfman likes the writing life enough to continue his literary ventures. He's working now on a book about cigars, which he hopes will look a lot like The Snark Handbook. Originally that book was going to be The Snarky Cigar Lover, but it had "too much real cigar information." Sometimes a cigar book has to be just a cigar book.--John Mutter


Kathryn Kennedy, Nancy Talbot: A Tale of Two Visions

Obituaries for two women who were entrepreneurs in very different fields--stories that ran next to each other in today's New York Times--struck us because of a similarity in their clear, almost stubborn, vision of what their companies would focus on.

Kathryn Kennedy, who in her 40s founded the Kathryn Kennedy Winery in Saratoga, Calif., "adopted the lesson she was taught" at the viticulture program at UC Davis, the Times wrote: "that high-caliber wines should be a 100% varietal (that is, made from a single grape variety) and that the grapes should come from a single vineyard site."

Under her leadership, the seven-acre vineyard produced only cabernet sauvignon and never more than 600 cases a year, but "the product gained renown for its full flavor, depth of color and aging potential."

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Nancy Talbot, who with her husband founded the women's clothing store Talbots, "applied her patrician good taste and enthusiasm for bright colors to merchandising well-made, affordable, preppy fashions to postwar American women," the Times wrote. "The look was classic rather than current."

In 1980, Talbot said, "We look for clothes that are timeless because they are ladylike, simple but not contrived, gimmicky, or extreme, smart but not faddy, fashionable but not funky--chic and understated, the hallmarks of good taste."

 



Media and Movies

Movies: Shutter Island

Those movie tie-in editions of Dennis Lehane's Shutter Island on display in bookshops nationwide will have a longer shelf life than anticipated. USA Today reported that "Martin Scorsese's anticipated adaptation was just moved from October 2, 2009 to February 19, 2010. Good or bad for the book? This week the paperback arrives back on the list at No. 73; the novel previously peaked at No. 31 in paperback five years ago. Michael Morrison, president/publisher of HarperCollins, says it's all to the novel's advantage. 'We were surprised to hear the release date was moved but look at it as an opportunity to sell more books.'"

 


Books & Authors

Shelf Starter: Long Past Stopping

Long Past Stopping by Oran Canfield (Morrow, $25.99, 9780061450754/0061450758, September 15, 2009)

Opening lines of books we want to read:

Prologue: In which our speaker begins to weave his yarn in a cellar full of strangers

"Um . . . My name's Oran, and . . . " I began to say into a microphone, before cringing at the sound of my own voice and then drawing a complete blank. My whole day has been spent obsessing on what I'm going to say, and even though I've done this a few times, I'm still deathly afraid of speaking in front of people. My mind is jumping all over the place from my childhood, to my drug-using period, to the last seven years in which I've managed to stay clean, and back again.

It's a hell of a lot to think about, and I have no idea where to start, until someone in the front jars me out of it by whispering, "Start at the beginning."

--Selected by Marilyn Dahl


Shelf Sample: Tower

Busted Flush Press has just released its first original novel, Tower ($15 trade paperback, 9781935415077/1935415077, September 2009), billed as a crime tale, and what a tale it is. Ken Bruen ("a mad Celt from the West of Ireland") and Reed Farrel Coleman ("a Brooklyn rabbi/poet") teamed up to write a story of love, betrayal and fate, with competing and complementary narratives by Nick and Todd, lifelong friends from a rough Brooklyn neighborhood. They grow up to be petty wiseguys, into a few scams, working for a Bible-quoting, small-time racketeer named Boyle. When one of their jobs ends with Todd killing someone during a robbery, then telling Boyle that Nick did it, the book shifts into a higher, more jittery gear. Tower is a brutal, and sometimes tender, noir novel that careens through Brooklyn, Manhattan, Boston and Philadelphia, leaving you breathless and stunned.

After Todd's cold-blooded prologue, Nick's voice sets the tone:

10 Months Earlier.

My old man was as Irish as they come, Micksville in extremis. See that in extremis, so you know I'm not just some thug, I got me some learning. Not that I wanted it but my old man, he was a whore for books, always trotting out some shit, a book in his hand every goddamn minute. My Mom, she'd go

"Your father and books, don't get me started."

As if she needed an excuse. She was Jewish, she was born started. To say they were a poor match? Man, they were the worst marriage on the block and we had some beauties there. See the street on a Saturday night, after a ballgame and the brews had been sunk? Buckets of blood and recriminations.

Did the cops come?

Yeah, right.

Most of the participants were cops.

Mick neighborhood, what'd you expect?

--Marilyn Dahl


Ooops

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Vermont Foliage Season with Wallace Stegner

A sound like a big crowd a good way off, excited and shouting, getting closer. We stand up and scan the empty sky. Suddenly there they are, a wavering V headed directly over our hilltop, quite low, beating southward down the central flyway and talking as they pass. We stay quiet, suspending our human conversation until their garrulity fades and their wavering lines are invisible in the sky.

They have passed over us like an eraser over a blackboard, wiping away whatever was there before they came.

"Oh, don't you love them!" Charity says. "Sometimes when we stayed late in Vermont, or went up late for the color, we'd see and hear them like that, coming over Folsom Hill. Someday you've got to visit us there."


Maybe it’s just the time of year, but I recalled that passage from Crossing to Safety (not word-for-word, of course. I had to look it up for the exact quotation) when I heard about the upcoming Wallace Stegner Centennial. This "literary weekend" will be held during foliage season, September 25-27, at the Highland Lodge, Greensboro, Vt., a town where Stegner often summered and the model for scenes in his celebrated novel. Featured speakers include Philip L. Fradkin, author of Wallace Stegner and the American West, and Stegner's agent, Carl Brandt, of Brandt and Hochman.

Galaxy Bookshop, Hardwick, Vt., is one of the co-sponsors and will sell books at the event. Owner Linda Ramsdell notes: "Stegner's works, especially Crossing to Safety, do still sell well, and better because of the local reference points. An earlier novel, Second Growth, also has many local reference points. Wallace Stegner was a great supporter of the Galaxy Bookshop, and in an earlier iteration of community collaboration, we were fortunate to sell books at the Greensboro Public Library when they presented him with an award."
 
Anne T. Molleur Hanson, organizer of the celebration, explains that the genesis was "threefold." Four years ago, the inn hosted a Reading Greensboro weekend, with a focus on Crossing to Safety and the belief that "acknowledging the many writers like Wallace Stegner who have summered or spent time in Greensboro (or even live here year round, like Anne Stuart) would be a wonderful way to celebrate Greensboro's literary legacy." In addition to Stegner, John Gunther and Margaret Mead are among the noted authors who called this village of fewer than 1,000 people their Green Mountain home away from home.

"Our Crossing to Safety night was well attended, especially by folks from here," Hanson adds. "After the event, many people--several from afar--remarked on their hope that we would do another such event sometime."
 
About six months ago, Hanson and Willie Smith, one of the Highland Lodge innkeepers, discussed hosting another literary weekend focusing specifically on Stegner, "who is known as a Western writer, but who had a clear fondness for the northeast, particularly Greensboro, to which his and wife Mary's friends Peg and Phil Gray (portrayed as Charity and Sid Lang in Crossing to Safety) had introduced the Stegners in the late 1930s/early 1940s. My interest in hosting a Stegner event was in part due to my nearly 20-year long regret that although I grew up here, I never attended a Wallace Stegner reading, which he offered during many of the summers he was here."

The final piece of the puzzle fell into place when Hanson learned that Philip Fradkin, "who had stayed here while researching his biography on Stegner, was, like me, a graduate of Williams College. I e-mailed Philip and asked if he would join us for a literary weekend celebrating Wallace Stegner. Philip agreed. He suggested we find sponsors to help us with the event. At that point I contacted our friend, neighbor, and favorite independent bookseller Linda Ramsdell, to ask if the Galaxy Bookshop would like to co-sponsor. Linda was enthusiastic and immediately on-board."

Ramsdell adds that the "Hardwick area is becoming a model for ways that businesses and organizations work together to do things that no one entity can do alone. Attention has focused on the agricultural economy, but there are many examples outside of that sector too. Especially in this economy, the importance and benefits of collaborating are extremely tangible. The other aspect of the Galaxy area, which differs from many cities with local alliance organizations, is that it is a small place where people know each other and are friends. We have a vested interest in each other's viability and success. It is very easy to see how money stays in our area and benefits accrue when we work with each other."--Robert Gray (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)

 


The Bestsellers

Top-Selling Titles at AbeBooks.com during August: Julia!

The following were the bestselling books at AbeBooks.com during August:

1. Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck
2. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
3. Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
4. Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
5. The Power of Commitment by Jerry White
6. My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud'Homme
7. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
8. Montana: 1948 by Larry Watson
9. Boy by Roald Dahl
10. In Search of Norman Rockwell's America by Kevin Rivoli
 
The following were bestselling signed books at AbeBooks.com during August:

1. South of Broad by Pat Conroy
2. That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo
3. Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
4. Magicians by Lev Grossman
5. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
6. Sweeping Up Glass by Carolyn Wall
7. The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt
8. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
9. Brooklyn by Colm Tobin
10. Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

[Many thanks to AbeBooks.com!]

 


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