Shelf Awareness for Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Thomas Dunne Books: Admissions: Life as a Brain Surgeon by Henry Marsh

Random House: An American Family: A Memoir of Hope and Sacrifice by Khizr Khan

Chicago Review Press: The Sunken Gold: A Story of World War I Espionage and the Greatest Treasure Salvage in History by Joseph A. Williams

Park Row Books: Hanna Who Fell from the Sky by Christopher Meades

Sourcebooks Fire: Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers: Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

Dundurn Group: Deer Life by Ron Sexsmith

Other Press: Infinite Summer by Edoardo Nesi

News

Borders on the Edge

Borders Group, which has suffered several years of sales declines, layoffs, store closings, a revolving door at the executive level, a plummeting stock price and unsuitable ownership, hit a new low this past week: the company began delaying payments to some suppliers, including at least several major publishers. Many people in the industry fear that the bookseller and its 676 stores might close--and cause a nasty ripple effect on the book business, which overall had its first solid holiday season in at least three years.

Borders confirmed the delayed payments, saying that it is trying to refinance its debt, something it apparently has been doing since at least early December. It stated there is "no assurance" that the refinancing effort will be successful and that without refinancing it may violate credit agreements and "experience a liquidity shortfall."

According to reports, several publishers and distributors, including National Book Network, have stopped shipping to Borders. Among the companies still shipping are Ingram Content Group and Sourcebooks.

Ominously, the Borders crunch occurred after the holiday season, when retailers are usually flush with cash. Wall Street reacted strongly: last Friday, Borders stock fell 22%, to 90 cents a share, nearing its 52-week low of 85 cents, hit last January. The stock rebounded slightly yesterday, rising 6.6%, to 96 cents a share, during the day, but late news about the departure of two top Borders executives knocked the stock down to 85 cents in after-hours trading.

As noted in SEC filings yesterday, on Sunday, Thomas D. Carney resigned as executive v-p, general counsel and secretary. He had worked at Borders since 1994, starting as v-p, general counsel and secretary. And yesterday D. Scott Laverty resigned as senior v-p, chief information officer. He joined the company in 2009 after 25 years of experience in information systems and retail, including stints at IBM, Deloitte Consulting, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young.

Borders told the Wall Street Journal that the departures were part of its effort to improve liquidity, saying, "We have evaluated our leadership structure and, as a result, some positions have been eliminated."

Borders executives, including president and CEO Mike Edwards, are meeting with publishers this week, Borders told the New York Times. Spokesperson Mary Davis said, "We value our relationships with [publishers], which is why we're engaging in discussions with them. We're committed to working with our vendors as part of our overall effort to refinance."

Yesterday Publishers Weekly reported that proposed new refinancing "includes new money from a new bank" and asks publishers to take "a note in exchange for the missed payment from Borders." In addition, the chain wants "a bigger financial commitment to Borders's debt service from Bennett Lebow," Borders's chairman and largest shareholder.

While Borders has not released holiday sales figures, its most recent quarterly report was disastrous and continued the company's downward trends (Shelf Awareness, December 10, 2010). In the third quarter ended October 30, sales at Borders fell 17.6%, to $470.9 million, and the net loss nearly doubled to $74.5 million. Comp-store sales were off 12.6%. At the end of the quarter, Borders's trade accounts payable amounted to $444.9 million. The company's short-term borrowings and the current portion of long-term debt totaled $298.4 million, long-term debt was $55.8 million and other long-term liabilities were $346.9 million.

According to Reuters, Standard & Poor's analyst Michael Souers downgraded Borders to "sell" from "hold," saying that even if Borders manages to restructure its debt, the new terms would be "onerous."

The general Wall Street view was summed up by the Motley Fool, which wrote: "Borders stock is merely a highly speculative play, and the notion of its eventual and outright failure isn't a stretch of the imagination. Investors should avoid this stock and put their money to work in a company with a far more secure future."

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Publishers Marketplace first reported last Thursday that Borders was holding up payment to some suppliers. A Wall Street Journal followup story on Friday stated that Hachette Group is one of the affected publishers. Hachette CEO David Young told the paper that the company has not decided whether to ship more books to Borders.

In the same story, Dominique Raccah, CEO of Sourcebooks, told the Journal that her company had not been notified by Borders of any delay in payment. Yesterday she told us that Sourcebooks is still shipping to Borders and wants "to get more information from Borders to plan a 2011 strategy." She added, "We obviously would like them to survive."

Yesterday the Wall Street Journal reported that Rowman & Littlefield has temporarily stopped shipping titles to Borders. "When a customer of that size calls you up and says you aren't getting a check, that's a piece of information you have to act on," Rowman & Littlefield CEO Jed Lyons told the paper.

Titles by publishers distributed by National Book Network, Rowman & Littlefield's sister company, are also not being shipped. Lyons said that NBN had told client publishers a year ago that if they wanted their books shipped to Borders, they would have to take the risk of nonpayment. Most clients said they wanted to continue selling to Borders.

Another major supplier told Shelf Awareness off the record that the company has been paid on time and is continuing to ship, albeit cautiously.



Geek & Sundry: The Punch Escrow by Tal M. Klein


Notes: Better News from B&N; Kirkus Reviewing Apps

 

Sales at Barnes & Noble stores open at least a year rose 9.7% in the nine weeks ended January 1 and B&N bookstores had the largest retail sales day ever on Thursday, December 23, the company announced. B&N attributed the gain in large part to the Nook line. The company will offer more holiday sales information this Thursday.

In a story about the sales boosts, the Wall Street Journal said B&N is "on track to post its first increase in comparable-store sales in more than three years, suggesting that the largest U.S. bookseller's efforts to transform itself and prove there's still a market for the traditional book industry may be working."

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Kirkus Reviews has begun reviewing interactive children's book apps. Its first group of 25 reviews includes five starred reviews. This will be an ongoing category for the publication.

The five stars went to:

Alice by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by Loud Crow Interactive, developed by Atomic Antelope (Version 2.0, October 2010)
 
Bartleby by Octopus Kite (Henrik and Denise Van Ryzin), illustrated by Henrik Van Ryzin, developed by Monster Costume (Version 1.0, September 2010)
 
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss, developed by Oceanhouse Media (Version 1.08, September 27, 2010)
 
Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter, developed by Loud Crow Interactive (Version 1.2, December 5, 2010)
 
Teddy's Day by Bruno Hachler, illustrated by Birte Muller, developed by Auryn (Version 1.0.3, November 15, 2010)
 
The apps are being reviewed by Omar Gallaga, technology culture writer for the Austin American-Statesman and a regular contributor to NPR's All Tech Considered. Gallaga commented: "The quality of story apps for children runs the gamut from terrible to brilliant and we're hoping to help parents navigate the crowded jungle of the App Store to find the best apps worth buying."

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The iPad and Kindle may be coexisting peacefully and profitably, according to a recent survey of approximately 1,000 consumers by JP Morgan's Internet team, which revealed that 40% of iPad owners also own a Kindle. TechCrunch's Erick Schonfeld observed that the number "sounds a little high to me, although it does describe everyone I know who owns an iPad. According to the same survey, another 23% of iPad owners plan on buying a Kindle in the next 12 months."

He also noted that "bookworms are a niche audience, but a lucrative one. About half of the people surveyed read between zero and ten books a year. But 16% read more than 25 books a year. The big takeaway here is that the iPad and the Kindle are perceived as different types of products, and rightly so."

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The Gutenberg Girls offered helpful advice for those puzzled readers who received a retro-technology gift during this holiday season--"How To Operate the New Paper Book You Received for Christmas":
  1. Pick up book. Place in lap.
  2. Open book.
  3. Read the words.

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(Very funny) book trailer of the day: Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer by Wesley Stace (Picador), which features comedian Eugene Mirman interviewing Stace.

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In honor of that great literary event--the publication today of A Shore Thing by Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi (Gallery, $24, 9781451623741)--PopEater.com compares Snooki's prose with that of Hemingway, Faulkner, Steinbeck and Joan Didion. Our favorite example concerns love.

Steinbeck: "Try to understand men. If you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and almost always leads to love."

Polizzi: "Yum. Johnny Hulk tasted like fresh gorilla."

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Can a Book Save Your Life?
Electric Literature tested a few works at the Westside Pistol & Rifle Range in New York City and discovered that Joshua Cohen's Witz may be the closest thing to a bullet-proof bestseller.

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In choosing his top 10 books about books for the Guardian, John Sutherland "gives his analysis of the critics who find the hard answers to simple questions, and offers some improving ideas for new year's reading."

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In an open letter December 31, Susan E. Walker marked the end of her tenure as executive director of the Midwest Booksellers Association, which began in 1987. "While it's hard to depart from my position, from all of you in the MBA region, and from the Midwest as well, I'm not retiring and not saying goodbye completely," she wrote. "I'll still be working in the book industry, and I look forward to new opportunities to connect with many of you to sell more books!"

Her last day in the MBA office is this Friday, January 7. She'll be at the Winter Institute, then moves to North Carolina around February 1. "Once settled in N.C., I'll be pursuing various new book-related projects--and I think I'll even have time to read the many books I've been wanting to get to for ages!"

Walker may be reached at 1022 South Street, Cornelius, N.C. 28031; on Facebook, at 612-382-5868 and at susan.walker.books@gmail.com.

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Skyhorse Publishing, which in 2010 bought the assets of Arcade Publishing and bought Allworth Press, ended the year with another acquisition: the assets of Sports Publishing, which the company is re-launching this fall as a new imprint with 40 updated and revised titles. Sports Publishing had declared bankruptcy in 2008; the purchase does not include the company's liabilities. Skyhorse bought more than 700 titles, among them books by swimmer Michael Phelps, basketball broadcaster Dick Vitale and football coach Marv Levy.

Also this fall Skyhorse is launching Sky Pony Press, which will publish 15-20 children's titles in its first season. Jean Reynolds, former publisher and founder of Millbrook Press, will act as consulting editor.

Skyhorse grew 60% last year and predicts net sales of more than $11 million this year.

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Between today and January 10, Kaplan Publishing is staging its second free e-book promotion, this time allowing consumers to download more than 130 e-books, including legal, medical, nursing, general educational and test prep books. The titles can be found on FreeKaplaneBooks.com. The aim "to help the multitude of new owners with e-book reading devices."

Kaplan president and publisher Maureen McMahon noted that the earlier promotion--held for two weeks in August--led to more than 500,000 downloads of free Kaplan e-books.

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Some people in the business took pity on ailing Borders (see story above), if with tongue in cheek. Evil Wylie, aka Andrew Shaffer, an author and founder of greeting card maker Order of St. Nick, suggested that authors band together to write a charity anthology to benefit Borders. The working title: Writers Without Borders: Requiem for a Bookstore. Contributed pieces should mention a Borders bookstore.

Shaffer commented: "Although chain bookstores get a lot of bad press, Borders is an important part of many communities. Borders and Barnes & Noble are the only bookstores selling new books where I live [along the Iowa and Illinois border]. The closest independent bookstore is fifty miles away."

 

 


Counterpoint: Gangster Nation by Tod Goldberg


Cool Idea of the Day: Blizzard Discount

A week ago Monday, as much of the Northeast was digging out of a blizzard, R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, Conn., opened for five hours--"our hardy booksellers are strapping on their snowshoes," owner Roxanne Coady said in an e-mail--and offered other ways to browse: "If you would rather shop from the comfort of your fireside, we are offering a 15% Blizzard Discount on all online book purchases today only. Miss talking to our booksellers and getting personal book recommendations? Fear not, our intrepid twitterer, @rjjulia, can't wait to help you out!"

 


Portable Press: Enter to win a copy of Strange Science


Media and Movies

Celebrating Adaptations: 'The Year in Books on Film'

In 2010, there were 38 book-to-film adaptations, up from 22 in 2009. Word & Film featured "The Year in Books on Film," noting that instead of ranking the best overall adaptations, "we've highlighted specific feats of virtuoso performance, cinematography, score, voice-over narration, limb severing, etc. This way, we hope to provide an alternate perspective to view some of the year's most celebrated and overlooked releases.... But as far as we're concerned, the year's real creative breakthroughs and most enduring acts of cinematic artistry came from source material that originated on somebody's bookshelf."

 


Shelf Awareness Sign-up Giveaway: The Lake House by Kate Morton


Media Heat: Father Cutie's Dilemma

This morning on Good Morning America: Father Albert Cutie, author of Dilemma: A Priest's Struggle with Faith and Love (Celebra, $25.95, 9780451232014).

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Today on Talk of the Nation: Evgeny Morozov, author of The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom (PublicAffairs, $27.95, 9781586488741).

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Today in a repeat on Oprah: Portia de Rossi, author of Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain (Atria, $25.99, 9781439177785).

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Tonight on the Colbert Report: Geoffrey Canada, author of Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence (Beacon Press, $14, 9780807044612).

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Tomorrow morning on Good Morning America: Roseanne Barr, author of Roseannearchy: Dispatches from the Nut Farm (Gallery, $26, 9781439154823).

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Tomorrow night on the Colbert Report: Atul Gawande, author of The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right (Picador, $15, 9780312430009).

 


Movies: The Other Woman Trailer

IFC Films released a trailer for The Other Woman, adapted from the book Love and Other Impossible Pursuits by Ayelet Waldman. The film, starring Natalie Portman and Lisa Kudrow, is scheduled for a February 4 release, Word & Film reported.

 



Books & Authors

The Crabby Cook Tests a New Year's Resolution


Like so many of us, actress and author Jessica Harper made a big New Year's resolution--in her case, to be a less crabby cook--which is especially challenging for her, considering that she is the author of the new book The Crabby Cook: Recipes and Rants (Workman, $15.95, 9780761155263). Here she recounts how it's going so far. May we all improvise as well in 2011.

When my friend Lynn called to ask what I wanted to bring to her New Year's ladies' potluck luncheon, I made my usual generous offer, but she said someone was already bringing the Diet Coke and would I please cook something for a big fat change.

The trouble with a potluck party is that you have to cook a dish for eight people, and then something else for your uninvited family, so that's two cooking tasks, which, in my opinion, is one too many. (Well, it's two too many, but who's counting?) But I had made a New Year's resolution to be a less crabby cook, to accept cooking assignments gracefully. My voice dripping with good will, I told Lynn I'd make butternut squash soup.

The recipe seemed simple enough, and I figured a big pot would cover both the party and the family. But it turns out that peeling butternut squash is like wrestling with a rock: it requires way too much upper body exercise. I admit, I struggled to stay mellow. Midway through the second squash, I stopped to rub my temples and speed-dial my masseuse.

Then Lynn called. Her guest count had risen, she said. As she got into detail, I couldn't help but go slightly falsetto when I asked, "What do really mean when you say two dozen?" When she said 32, I hung up quickly, as I needed all my energy to keep those curse words internal.

In the interest of keeping my New Year's resolution, I raced out and bought a bunch of smoked salmon and threw it on a platter to take to Lynn's. Eventually I finished the soup, which my family loved. The recipe is below, with an adjustment that will save you from sustaining injury due to grappling with a squash: Roast it first!

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

1 butternut squash, 2-3 pounds
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, rinsed and finely chopped
1-2 teaspoons curry powder
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger root
3-4 cups low sodium chicken stock
2 cups roasted, pureed butternut squash
¼ cup coconut milk

Serves 4.

1. Preheat the oven to 400º F.

2. Cut the squash in half, crosswise. Cut the seedless side lengthwise into four wedges. Cut the other side in half and remove the seeds and pulp. Rub all the squash pieces with a tablespoon of the olive oil, sprinkle the pieces lightly with salt and pepper and place them on a baking sheet lined with foil. Roast the squash until it's tender, about 35-40 minutes. Allow it to cool, then peel it and puree it in a food processor. Set the squash aside.

3. Heat the butter and remaining tablespoon of oil in a heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium-low heat. When the butter is melted, add the leeks, curry powder, ½ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of pepper and cook until the leeks are tender, about 10 minutes. Add the ginger and cook for another minute.

4. Add 3 cups of broth (or more, if you like a thinner soup) and squash to the pot and stir to combine. Raise the heat slightly and bring the soup to a simmer. Cook for about 20 minutes, until the flavors are well blended. Stir in the coconut milk.

5. Puree the soup in batches in your food processor. Taste the soup and correct the seasoning if necessary. Reheat the soup and serve hot.

 

 


IndieBound: Other Indie Favorites

From last week's Indie bestseller lists, available at IndieBound.org, here are the recommended titles, which are also Indie Next Great Reads:

Hardcover

Sea Change: A Novel by Jeremy Page (Viking, $25.95, 9780670021901). "Guy lives on an old barge, trolling around the North Sea's coast, lost in more ways than one. Five years earlier, his young daughter was killed in an accident and his marriage did not survive long after her death. Every night Guy sits in his boat and writes a diary of what might have been, each entry far more real to him than the physical world. A chance encounter with another woman and her daughter gives him a glimpse of a possible future. The question is, has that glimpse come in time?"--Jackie Blem, Tattered Cover Bookstore, Denver, Colo.

Born to Bark: My Adventures with an Irrepressible and Unforgettable Dog by Stanley Coren (Free Press, $24, 9781439189207). "From the author of a number of well-regarded books on the way dogs think, this is the story of Flint, a Cairn Terrier, a breed full of zest and mischief. Flint was Stanley Coren's companion and friend for many years. The story of their life together is funny, challenging, inspiring, and a great read for those gifted with a love of dogs."--Deon Stonehouse, Sunriver Books, Sunriver, Ore.

Paperback

Love in a Headscarf by Shelina Zahra Janmohamed (Beacon Press, $15, 9780807000809). "Here is an honest and enlightening look at the practice of modern-day arranged marriage, told by a devout British Muslim woman. With warmth and humor, Shelina takes the reader on her journey to find Mr. Right, through a minefield of Mr. Wrongs. A fascinating glimpse into a culture and tradition misunderstood and prejudged by many of us."--Tova Beiser, Brown University Bookstore, Providence, R.I.

For Ages 9 to 12

The Steps Across the Water by Adam Gopnik (Hyperion Books for Children, $17.99, 9781423112136). "Do you want to know why you never see the same taxi driver twice in New York City? Read The Steps Across the Water and discover a city similar to New York, called U Nork, with taller skyscrapers, dirigibles and zeppelins, and in danger of being destroyed. Only Rose can save the citizens of U Nork. But how does a young girl save a huge city--or is it really as big as it seems? This is a fantasy adventure told with humor, insight, love, with messages for both young and old."--Karen Briggs, Great Northern Books and Hobbies, Oscoda, Mich.

[Many thanks to IndieBound and the ABA!]

 


Book Review

Book Review: Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life

Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong (Knopf Publishing Group, $22.95 Hardcover, 9780307595591, December 2010)

 

January, the month of New Year's resolutions, has arrived. But this year, instead of heading to the gym or Weight Watchers, consider reading a book that may change fundamentally the way you regard the world and act in it. Former nun and distinguished historian of religion Karen Armstrong (A History of God) has written one that blends a sophisticated discussion of the concept of compassion in various faith traditions with elements of a conventional self-help manual.

In 2007, Armstrong was informed she had won a prize that, in addition to cash, granted her a wish for a better world. She opted to ask for assistance in creating a Charter for Compassion that "would restore compassion to the heart of religious and moral life." Dating the first formulation of the Golden Rule to Confucius, nearly half a millennium before the birth of Jesus, Armstrong answers, if only obliquely, the charges of critics who see religion as a force for intolerance. To her, "At their best, all religious, philosophical, and ethical traditions are based on principles of compassion."

Although the 12-step approach is well known in the treatment of various addictions, Armstrong doesn't draw explicitly on that formulation. Despite its religious foundation, for example, she is clear that her program doesn't depend upon belief in a "higher power." Instead, she offers a series of intensely practical but increasingly challenging steps to achieve a transformation she admits is "slow, undramatic and incremental," as we battle against our inherent egotism expressed in the "Four Fs" of instinctive behavior--feeding, fighting, fleeing and what she decorously calls reproduction.

Armstrong starts simply with the admonition to "learn about compassion," a step she makes easier by exploring its roots in the world's major faiths (including an especially thoughtful and important discussion of its place in Islam). From there she proceeds through practices like compassion for oneself, mindfulness and compassionate speech. Each step builds upon all that have gone before, ascending to what she calls the "supreme test of compassion," the ability to love one's enemies. Although she makes occasional references to a meditation practice, its description is somewhat vague and that may be disappointing to those who come to the book expecting an emphasis on self-help.

While Armstrong is not so naïve as to think her program possesses some magical transformative power, she is committed to the notion that even tentative steps in the direction of living more compassionately, if taken seriously and practiced widely, have the power to make the world a more hospitable place. A new year lies before you like an empty page. What better time is there to take her up on that challenge, and what do you have to lose if you do?--Harvey Freedenberg

Shelf Talker: Religious historian Karen Armstrong offers a guide to living more compassionately.

 

 


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