Shelf Awareness for Friday, December 3, 2010


Harper: Only Killers and Thieves by Paul Howarth

Mira Books: Rosie Colored Glasses by Brianna Wolfson

Little Brown and Company: The Which Way Tree by Elizabeth Crook

Bloomsbury: Reign the Earth by A.C. Gaughen

Soho Crime: The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

Shadow Mountain: Christmas Jars Collector's Edition by Jason F. Wright

Quotation of the Day

Font Matters: A Dreary E-World 'Where Every Book Is Identical'

"In fact, [Matthew] Carter doesn't own an iPad, Kindle, or other reading device, as he is waiting for them to mature. (He does own an iPhone.) He frets that, as things stand, reading devices and programs homogenize all the tangible aspects of a book, like size or shape, as well as font. They are also poor at hyphenation and justification: breaking words at lexically appropriate locations, and varying the spacing between letters and between words. This may sound recondite but it is a visual imprint of principles established over the entire written history of a language. 'Maybe people who grow up reading online, where every book is identical, don't know what they're missing.' "

--From an Economist profile of legendary type designer Matthew Carter, headlined: "The most-read man in the world."

 


Sourcebooks Jabberwocky: The Very Very Very Long Dog by Julia Patton


News

Image of the Day: World AIDS Day

On Wednesday, World AIDS Day, the Borders store on Park Avenue in New York City was the site of an event hosted by Lambda Literary that was part of a daylong program sponsored by LifeBeat and its "Music Fights HIV" initiative. Moderated by Lambda Literary editor Antonio Gonzalez, the event featured discussion and signings by three authors: (from l.) Josh Kilmer-Purcell, author of I Am Not Myself These Days: A Memoir (P.S.) (Harper Perennial); Elliot Tiber, author of Palm Trees on the Hudson: A True Story of the Mob, Judy Garland, and Interior Decorating and Taking Woodstock (both from Square One Publishers); and Frank Anthony Polito, author of Drama Queers! (Kensington).

Photo: Anthony Pomes

 


Siglio Press: The Stampographer by Vincent Sardon


Notes: World Book Night; ABA's Teicher in China

On March 5, 2011, 20,000 passionate readers will give away a million books to people across the U.K. and Ireland during the inaugural World Book Night, a celebration of reading backed by the Booksellers Association, the Publishers Association, Independent Publishers Guild, the Reading Agency, libraries, charities and others.

Patrons of World Book Night already include Damon Albarn, Dave Eggers, Colin Firth, David Gilmour, Antony Gormley, Seamus Heaney, Damien Hirst, Nigella Lawson, Mary Portas, J.K. Rowling and Tilda Swinton.

"World Book Night is a unique collaboration between publishers, booksellers, libraries, writers and individual members of the public and one that I think is going to have an enormously positive impact on books and reading," said Jamie Byng, the initiative's chairman. "There are few things more meaningful than the personal recommendation and having one million books given to one million different people on one night in this way is both unprecedented and hugely exciting."

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Oren Teicher, American Booksellers Association CEO, wrote in Bookselling This Week about his November trip to Shenzhen, China, where he participated in a conference that was part of the city's 11th annual Reading Month festivities.

Shenzhen's planners "decided that a world-class city needed--and we certainly wouldn't argue with this--bookstores," Teicher observed. "In fact, one of Shenzhen's leading public officials said that for a city to be great there never should be more than 10 miles between bookstores!

"In a striking parallel to the U.S., it was determined that successful bookstores needed to be more than just a place where books are sold--they also should become community centers where people would want to visit and spend time.... What became clear very soon after my arrival was that the invitation to participate in the Reading Month programming was part of an effort to show off these extraordinary bookstores and Shenzhen’s multifaceted efforts to promote reading, both at home and to people from around the world. Beijing hosted the summer Olympics, Shanghai the recent World Expo, but Shenzhen is determined to be recognized as a city where books and reading are paramount."

Teicher noted that his visit to Shenzhen was "full of many reminders about how important books are, and, despite the numerous differences between us, how we share a common goal of encouraging reading and promoting books. Before I knew it, filled with lasting memories--and having made many new friends--it was time to cross the border to Hong Kong for the long trip home."

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Sherry Black, who owned B&W Collector Books, Salt Lake City, Utah, was found stabbed to death in the store, the AP reported. Black was working alone when she was killed. Her brother said nothing was missing.

Black sold mostly used and rare Mormon texts, books about Utah and Western Americana and children's books, and her husband, Earl Black, sold billiard tables at Billiards Supply at the same location.

Black's son-in-law is Greg Miller, a Utah Jazz executive.

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Cool idea of the day: In Durham, N.C., more than 20 businesses have joined with the Regulator Bookshop for Shop Independent Durham Week, which runs through Sunday. Sustain A Bull! is the motto for the movement, which has the goal of promoting the pleasure and importance of shopping at locally owned, independent businesses. The Regulator is offering 20% off books from local publishers Algonquin Books and UNC Press, and raffling off a $100 gift certificate, along with other promotions.

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Bookselling This Week profiled Pudd'nhead Books, St. Louis, Mo., noting that since 2008, owner Nikki Furrer "has been living her dream" in her native state.

"I understand these people," she said. "I see their perspective and I know what's important to them so it's easier for me to buy the right books.... It's been going really well. I definitely have to load my car a lot. We sell books all over the place."

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Last summer, Animal Planet's new show Pets 101 filmed a segment at the Spirit of '76 bookstore, Marblehead, Mass., about Stanley, the African pygmy hedgehog owned by store manager Hilary Emerson Lay (Shelf Awareness, July 12, 2010). That episode will air Saturday, Dec. 11 at 8 p.m. on the Discovery Channel.

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Northern Lights Books & Gifts, Duluth, Minn., has been put up for sale and will close after the lease expires in February if no buyer is found. Owner Anita Zager, who told the News Tribune she has been quietly seeking a buyer since August, cited family concerns and competition from e-books as the primary motivations for the decision.

"My head and heart are in other places.... I just need to have fewer responsibilities," she said, adding that for the industry, "It's kind of a Gutenberg moment. If we had the ability to sell e-books to our customers, it would be different."

Although there has been some interest from potential buyers, she hasn't received any solid offers yet.

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Thomas Gladysz, former manager of the Booksmith, San Francisco, Calif., chose his "most interesting film books of 2010" for the Huffington Post, noting: "What gets a film book recommended? What makes them 'best'? Some are well done. And some are interesting. Others are groundbreaking, or perhaps the first book on the subject. Some are comprehensive, or authoritative. In the case of coffee table books, some are beautifully printed and simply a pleasure to look at."

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"Look at This Freaking Library," courtesy of Flavorwire, which noted that "architectural firm Concrete has won the 2010 Lensvelt de Architect Interieur Prize for its new library in Almere, the Netherlands."

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USA Today "scanned the shelves and struck pop-culture gold" for its 2010 Holiday Gift Guide to books.

Christmas books for children were also recommended.

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"We usually cringe when we hear about film adaptations of great, difficult literary authors' books," Flavorwire observed in showcasing "10 Authors and the Directors Who Were Born to Adapt Them" as well as reporting that "There Will Be Blood director Paul Thomas Anderson is thinking about bringing Thomas Pynchon's latest novel, Inherent Vice, to the big screen."

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Book trailer of the day: The King's Speech: How One Man Saved the British Monarchy by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi (Sterling). Logue is the grandson of Lionel Logue, the speech therapist who worked with King George VI on his stutter--which is the focus of the new movie, The King's Speech, which has opened in limited release and will open nationally next Friday, December 10. The book is based on Logue's diaries. Geoffrey Rush plays Logue in the movie.

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Effective February 1, the Experiment, the New York City nonfiction publisher founded last year, will be sold and distributed by Workman Publishing. The agreement includes print and digital editions and distribution internationally through Workman affiliates such as Thomas Allen & Son in Canada. The Experiment has been distributed in the U.S. and internationally by PGW and in Canada by Publishers Group Canada.

"Workman Publishing's industry-leading commitment to not only frontlist but also backlist titles is self-evident to everyone who publishes in their categories or reads their catalogs," Experiment president and publisher Matthew Lore said. "The Experiment's aim from our first day has been to publish nonfiction books that will sell long after initial publication."

 


PuddleDancer Press: Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, 3rd Edition: Life-Changing Tools for Healthy Relationships by Marshall B. Rosenberg


General Retail Sales in November: Good News for the Holidays

General retail sales last month were up, offering "more evidence that the lackluster U.S. economy may finally be gaining momentum, despite stubbornly high unemployment," the Wall Street Journal reported. Sales at stores open at least a year rose 6% in November, as measured by Thomson Reuters, compared to a 0.5% gain a year ago, and industry analysts suggested holiday spending may prove to be stronger than expected due to pent-up consumer demand, or "frugality fatigue."

"It's a cheerful holiday start--for most," said Alison Kenny Paul of Deloitte Consulting. "People are back in spirit, shaking off the recession and spending on themselves, as well as for gifts."

The Journal also noted that retail sales online were strong last month, with overall sales rising 24% compared to 2009, according to comScore Inc. The International Council of Shopping Centers reported that shoppers had only completed 32.6% of their shopping by the beginning of this week, less than about 42% a year earlier.

The New York Times reported that November's 6% gain "blew by analyst estimates of a 3.6% increase for the month."

John Long, a retail strategist at Kurt Salmon Associates, said, "The good news is that consumers spent throughout the month of November. But it’s difficult to say whether the promotions we saw in November, particularly early on in the month, pulled forward some of the volume we would be expecting to see in December. I think most retailers are expecting a very good holiday season, and so there’s no need to go to the deeper discounts."

 


Freeform: The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton


Media and Movies

Media Heat: Sharon Robinson on Weekend Edition

Tomorrow on the Weekend Today Show: former Days of our Lives cast member Deirdre Hall (aka Dr. Marlena Evans) and current cast member Shawn Christian (aka Dr. Daniel Jonas) join a discussion about Days of our Lives 45 Years: A Celebration in Photos (Sourcebooks, $29.99, 9781402243493/1402243499).

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Tomorrow on NPR's Weekend Edition: Sharon Robinson, daughter of Jackie Robinson and author of Jackie's Gift: A True Story of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Jackie Robinson (Viking, $16.99, 9780670011629/0670011622).

 


Television: Early Bird Redux

"Six years after originally developing Rodney Rothman's Early Bird: A Memoir of Premature Retirement as a comedy series, NBC is taking another stab at a comedy series adaptation of the book by the former Late Show with David Letterman head writer," Deadline.com reported. The network is redeveloping the project, has hired a casting director and will shoot a pilot, but plans to make a formal decision after it sees Rothman's new script.

 


Movies: I Love You Phillip Morris; The Maze Runner

I Love You Phillip Morris, starring Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor, opens today. This true story follows a man who dramatically changes his life after a car accident. He ends up in jail, becoming a con artist and falling in love with a fellow convict. Based on the book by Steve McVicker (Miramax, $30, 9780786869039/0786869038).

And, no, the movie has nothing to do with that Philip Morris.

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Catherine Hardwicke in talks to with 20th Century Fox to direct a film adaptation of James Dashner's The Maze Runner, with Ellen Goldsmith-Vein and Lindsay Williams producing. Variety reported that Hardwicke, who directed the first Twilight movie, "is next in theaters with Warner Bros.' Red Riding Hood, which unspools in March."

 



Books & Authors

Gift Books: Worth a Thousand Words

Personally, I think if you can't figure out what kind of book to get for someone, a photography book is a good bet--there is something for everyone. A good book to start with is Hands at Work: Portraits and Profiles of People Who Work with Their Hands (Heron Moon Press, $34). It was published in 2008, but has recently gotten national distribution through Baker & Taylor. Written by Iris Graville, with photography by Summer Moon Scriver, it profiles 42 people who "are passionate about laboring with their hands." A sign language interpreter, a blacksmith, a physical therapist, a vibraphonist ("I'm a carpenter by day. It's skilled labor, and I'm proud my hands know how to do that. But when I'm doing carpentry I don't feel I have a relationship with the cosmos. With music, my hands connect me to all of creation."), an automotive technician ("Sometimes things get cussed out and sworn at a bit. That doesn't help, but a cup of tea and a change of attitude do.")--hands have never looked so elegant and capable and eternal as they do in this book.

The elegant hands of Victoria Chipps, a 90-year-old Oglala Lakota Sioux elder, can be seen in her portrait on the cover of Views from the Reservation by John Willis (Center for American Places, University of Chicago Press, $50). Taken over several long visits to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, Willis's photographs are haunting, respectful and often luminous, like his landscape of a future sundance site, or "Daybreak," where bushes in the foreground give the impression of warriors walking toward a tepee in the morning mist. A young grassdancer at a community powwow, a veterans' honor guard at a graduation, Vern Sitting Bear and his niece's pet wolf--the photographs are augmented with older family pictures, with Dwayne Wilcox's ledger drawings, with poetry and with a CD, Heartbeat of the Rez, of traditional and contemporary songs. It's an important and handsome book.

Two landscape photography books are equally stunning. Christopher Brown first hiked across the Grand Canyon when he was 15, later spent 40 years as a mountain and river guide, with 20 of those years as a Grand Canyon boatman. In Path of Beauty (St. Martin's Press, $39.99), he celebrates his love of the canyon with exquisite photography complemented by his essays on topics ranging from geology to life on the river to wilderness to the photographic process, mental and physical. The canyon is rendered in malachite, peach, deep orange and lavender--rocks and water, brambles and trees, sky and infinite beauty. The other book is Arctic Sanctuary (University of Alaska Press/University of Chicago, $55). The photographs of Jeff Jones and essays by Laurie Hoyle commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Jones has spent 20 years documenting the refuge, and the images often have the same intense colors of the Grand Canyon, mixed with subtle blues and grays. "Sunlit Pinnacles" looks like a lush Alfred Bierstadt painting, and the clouds in "Late Autumn Tundra" are ocean waves breaking on a brown beach. "Upper Southside Valley" is a delicate study in grays and "Sunlit Valley, Shadowed Peaks" looks like the dawn of the world. Spectacular.

Trees. Trees are good. They are dramatic, they are soothing, they are comforting, they are, in a sense, brave--they keep on keepin' on in spite of all we do to bring them down. (I love trees.) The World of Trees by Hugh Johnson (University of California Press, $34.95) is not, strictly speaking, a photography book in the picture book sense--it's more of a reference book; however, it's beautifully illustrated – a magnificent magnolia, romantic plane trees in Languedoc, larches in the Dolomites. Informative and opinionated text by Johnson (yes, the wine guy, but he's also the garden guy), is just as enjoyable: "Familiar as the plane is, it is hard to fault it for style.... Its winter silhouette is one of the most graceful of all: a tracery in which the weeping twigs form countless little Gothic arches...." For a closer look at trees, one needs go no further than Bark: An Intimate Look at the World's Trees by Cédric Pollet (Frances Lincoln, $45). The photographs are dazzling--the red neon intensity of lipstick palm canes, the abstract in mauve, olive and peach of spotted gums, the Australian aboriginal pattern of grass trees, the geographical striations of ocotillos and coast redwoods, the orange archipelagos in a gray sea of Chinese zelkovas; this marvelous book will amaze you and change how you look at trees.--Marilyn Dahl

 

 


Awards: Guardian First Book Award; Grammy Nominations

Romantic Moderns: English Writers, Artists and the Imagination from Virginia Woolf to John Piper by Alexandra Harris won this year's £10,000 (US$15,528) Guardian First Book Award.  

"Serious works of art history rarely win populist prizes, and often have trouble finding publishers at all," said Claire Armitstead, chair of judges and the Guardian's literary editor. "Yet the response from our Waterstone's reading groups, as well as from our central panel, showed that readers of all sorts are willing to engage with demanding books, if they are well written and beautifully produced."

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Grammy Award nomination in audiobook categories include:

Best spoken word album (including poetry, audiobooks and storytelling):

American on Purpose by Craig Ferguson (HarperAudio)
The Bedwetter by Sarah Silverman (HarperAudio)
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents Earth (the Audiobook) by Jon Stewart, with Samantha Bee, Wyatt Cenac, Jason Jones, John Oliver and Sigourney Weaver (Hachette Audio)
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future by Michael J. Fox (Hyperion Audio)
This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection by Carol Burnett (Random House Audio)
The Woody Allen Collection: Mere Anarchy, Side Effects, Without Feathers, Getting Even by Woody Allen (Audible)

Best spoken word album for children

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition by Selma Blair (Random House Audio/Listening Library)
The Best Candy in the Whole World by Bill Harley (Round River Records)
Healthy Food for Thought: Good Enough to Eat by various Artists (East Coast Recording Company)
Julie Andrews' Collection of Poems, Songs, and Lullabies by Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton (Hachette Audio)
Nanny McPhee Returns by Emma Thompson (Macmillan Audio with Universal Studios)

The Grammy Awards will be held February 13.

 

 


GBO Book Pick Is Grass's The Box

The German Book Office's Book of the Month for December is The Box: Tales from the Darkroom by Günter Grass, translated by Krishna Winston (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $23, 9780547245034/0547245033), published November 10.

In this work of fiction, Grass writes in the voices of his eight children who record memories of their childhoods and of their father, who was often absent. They also remember Marie, Grass's assistant and family friend and perhaps a love whose snapshots, taken with an old box camera, help every see the past and future differently--and raise all sorts of questions.

Grass won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1999 and has written many plays, essays, poems and novels, including The Tin Drum, Cat and Mouse and Dog Years. Winston is a professor of German Language and Literature at Wesleyan University and has won the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translation Prize and, twice, the Schlegel-Tieck Translation Prize.

 


Book Brahmin: Elizabeth Currid-Halkett

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett is the author of The Warhol Economy: How Fashion, Art and Music Drive New York City (Princeton University Press) and Starstruck: The Business of Celebrity (Faber & Faber), published in November 2010. She is assistant professor at the University of Southern California's School of Policy, Planning and Development. She lives in Los Angeles.

 

On your nightstand now:

Jonathan Franzen's Freedom (like everyone else), Louis Menand's The Marketplace of Ideas (I'm a professor so I am very interested in the future of higher education, also I am a huge fan of Menand's other work).

Favorite book when you were a child:

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I used to pretend my closet had the same supernatural quality of being an escape to Narnia, as that of Professor Kirke's. Sadly, I mainly just used to sit in it in the dark with a wild imagination, though the book is the reason that to this day I love Turkish Delight. During the Christmas season, I go to Fortnum and Mason in London and pick up a big box and eat it until I am positively sick from sugar overload.

Your top five authors:

The first three: Gabriel García Márquez, Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan. When I am reading their books I genuinely want to be in the worlds they have created and their writing allows me to totally transport myself into the lives of their characters rather than being an outsider looking in. The last two: Michael Lewis and Jane Jacobs. Jacobs and Lewis are able to take such complex concepts and make them accessible and fascinating. Jacobs's The Death and Life of Great American Cities changed my life. After I read it I knew I wanted to study cities and understand their importance in civilization.

Book you've faked reading:

Joyce's Finnegan's Wake. This sham went on during the high school years. Only the joke was on me. No one with an ounce of literature awareness would think the precocious 16-year old touting a copy had actually read the book, let alone deciphered it.

Book you're an evangelist for:

How Did You Get this Number? by Sloane Crosley. I don't really need to be an evangelist for it because it is very popular and highly regarded. But she is one of my dear friends and it's a wonderful feeling to genuinely know that your friend's work is brilliant and well written.

Book you've bought for the cover:

You know, I don't think I've ever done that, which makes me feel like I should.

Book that changed your life:

Kate Chopin's The Awakening, which I read in high school. I do not consider myself a diehard feminist but it gave me such a sense of liberation and the potential the world offered, but also the implications of one's choices. Edna, the protagonist, was the first character I had come across that made me appreciate the complicated and complex nature of the human condition and the talent of authors who are able to capture it.

Favorite line from a book:

"I wish you were here dear, I wish you were here. I wish I knew no astronomy when stars appear."--Joseph Brodsky. I suppose I'm cheating because this is a line from a poem. I first discovered this poem when I was in college. I loved the rhythm and the atmosphere Brodsky created. Many years later, when I met my husband and initially he lived in London and I lived in Los Angeles it always reminded me of him. It captured exactly how I felt when I was missing him terribly.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

To Kill a Mockingbird. This answer may seem trite but there's a reason it's on everyone's favorite books of all time list. I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania and there was no shortage of intolerance and ignorance. The book instilled in me our duty to always do the right thing and to understand the basic humanity in all of us.

 


Book Review

Book Review: The Severance

The Severance by Elliott Sawyer (Bridge Works Publishing Company, $23.95 Hardcover, 9780981617534, November 2010)

Elliott Sawyer has set this fast-paced thriller as the men of Kodiak platoon, itching for action but also wishing for an end to action, spend their final days in Afghanistan before being shipped Stateside to prepare for discharge. Captain Jake Roberts is the leader of Kodiak platoon, U.S. Army, in a war that mixes on-the-ground troops with high-tech marvels like Hellfire missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles. It's a challenging assignment for Roberts, since the troops under him are troublemakers who have screwed up, for reasons ranging from DUIs, drug abuse and fighting to insubordination.

Roberts has been able to keep his men in line and effective because he has a reward for them when they arrive Stateside. On one of their patrols, they came into possession of $4.6 million in cold cash, aka The Severance. Roberts and his second-in-command, Sgt. Gregory McBride, have stashed the money and told the men that if they keep their noses clean until they leave Afghanistan, they will receive a share of the loot. Taking that promise seriously, the men have been models of good behavior because they need their shares to help get on their feet in civilian life--they face a future with a general discharge and only partial veteran's benefits due to their past misconduct.

Roberts and McBride have worked out a complex plan to ship the cash and reclaim it Stateside that plays on the way the army works (or doesn't work). But just as they are about to depart the Afghanistan war zone, odd things start to happen: someone tries to run Roberts down with a truck, blackmail notes arrive, and the foolproof plan seems about to unravel. The intrigue to safeguard The Severance and stay alive until they get the hell out of Afghanistan escalates by the minute, and there is a very real possibility that the scheme will go down in flames. As with all good thrillers, nail-biting suspense is the order of the day.

Sawyer, a veteran of the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, brings authentic gut-wrenching detail to his firefight scenes; he is equally adept at capturing the insanity of the military bureaucracy and the quirky camaraderie of the men of Kodiak. He has a way with hard-boiled dialogue; he also shows the teasing rapport that has developed among the men of Kodiak platoon, as when Sgt. McBride tells his captain, on the verge of getting too compulsive, "Sir, you saved a guy's life, shot a guy, blew up a house, and got hit in the head with a stapler. Take a nap. You can call your wife from Bagram." Yes, Sir, I'll chill, Sir!--John McFarland

Shelf Talker: A nonstop thriller, rich in detail of military action in the Afghanistan war, that carries echoes of The Dirty Dozen.

 


Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Letting Books Speak for Themselves

This happened to me a couple of years ago, not long after I'd "stopped being a bookseller," as if that were possible. I was in a bookstore I hadn't visited before, standing near the sports section and looking at golf titles. A guy wearing a New York Giants team jacket tried to shove me aside in his quest for a book about improving his short game.

A veteran book browser, I anticipated the move and braced myself in a subtle, holding-my-ground, way. He bounced off, stumbling just a bit before recovering his balance. Full contact book browsing.

He didn't say, "Excuse me." I wasn't surprised about that. I was, however, stunned when he held up a book and asked, "Is this on sale?"
"I don’t know," I replied, still irritated.
"You should know your stock. Is it or isn't it a sale book?"
"I told you I don't know. I don't work here."
He eyed me suspiciously, then conceded, "Oh.... You look like you do."    

Maybe I always will. Ah, well.

Poring over all the post-Black Friday news earlier this week reminded me of that case of mistaken retail identity. At the time, my first reaction had been a certain mischievous pleasure in the realization that I did not have to be polite anymore. After years of biting my tongue in potentially confrontational situations, here was an opportunity to, well, seek revenge.

That I didn't is perhaps testimony to the fact that I'm occasionally able to resist behaving like the 12-year-old boy that always lurks within me during such moments. More likely, however, the reason was that I'll always be a bookseller and spent a long time learning how to turn confrontation into conversation, customer irritations into handselling opportunities.

Now I regret that I didn't try to sell him a book.

There is, however, understandable pleasure in imagining what you would like to say to certain customers on bad bookselling days.

Here I invoke the ghost of George Orwell, who wrote, "When I worked in a second-hand bookshop--so easily pictured, if you don't work in one, as a kind of paradise where charming old gentlemen browse eternally among calf-bound folios--the thing that chiefly struck me was the rarity of really bookish people. Our shop had an exceptionally interesting stock, yet I doubt whether ten per cent of our customers knew a good book from a bad one.... Many of the people who came to us were of the kind who would be a nuisance anywhere but have special opportunities in a bookshop."

I'll raise the stakes with one of my recent guilty pleasures--reading the unauthorized Barnes & Noble Bookseller Breakroom blog. A recent thread responded to the prompt, "Dear Barnes & Noble customer..." with such gems as: "If you're in a book store, you should be smart enough to find the bathroom yourself.... It's this way because I work for idiots.... We don't keep moving sections to annoy you, we do it so some corporate people can justify their jobs.... It's not my job to explain the difference between fiction and nonfiction to an adult.... I would have had that book in stock if I only knew you were coming."

And yes, every bookseller faces customers this time of year who say, "Can you recommend a book for my uncle?" You ask logically what kinds of books he likes and inevitably get the reply: "Oh, he doesn't like to read." But you find just the right book for them anyway, and ask if they'd like it gift-wrapped.

It is not easy for a frontline bookseller to resist the Grinch/Scrooge Syndrome, but the best booksellers do so every day. I've seen them in action, and their reward comes when magic happens.

This week Arsen Kashkashian, head book buyer at Boulder Bookstore, shared a Black Friday story that is at once unique and absolutely familiar to gifted handsellers everywhere.

Take a moment to read his post at Kash's Book Corner. I'll wait...

Welcome back.

According to Orwell, "the real reason why I should not like to be in the book trade for life is that while I was in it I lost my love of books. A bookseller has to tell lies about books, and that gives him a distaste for them."

He was wrong. A great bookseller doesn't have to tell lies about books. A great bookseller is an interpreter who sometimes lets the books speak for themselves.--Robert Gray (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)

 


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