Shelf Awareness for Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Flatiron Books: Oliver Loving by Stefan Merrill Block

Scholastic Press: All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

Riverhead Books: My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

Barron's Educational Series: Dear Dinosaur: With Real Letters to Read! by Chae Strathie, illustrated by Nicola O'Byrne

Timber Press: Saving Tarboo Creek: One Family's Quest to Heal the Land by Scott Freeman

Quotation of the Day

Digital or Print, Stories Endure

"Our view of the future is simple. Nobody knows to what extent printed books will survive the technological future into which we are all headed. But that's OK because at the Booksmith our focus has always been on the cultural experience and community which surrounds books. Whether people choose to read e-books or print books, people will always need help telling and selling their stories, people will always need help finding great stories to read, and literature lovers will always want to meet other literature lovers. Author Jonathan Franzen has said that fiction is the most fundamental human art because it's about storytelling and that our reality arguably consists of the stories we tell about ourselves. And the most fundamental human art isn't going away. In fact it's going through explosive growth as more and more people become writers, and more and more books are published every year."

--From a message to customers and others from Christin Evans, Praveen Madan and the staff at the Booksmith, San Francisco, Calif.

Conari Press: Swimming with Elephants: My Unexpected Pilgrimage from Physician to Healer by Sarah Bamford Seidelmann


News

Image of the Day: Going with GWTW

 

As the 75th anniversary of the publication of Gone with the Wind approaches, Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind: A Bestseller's Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood by Ellen F. Brown and John Wiley, Jr. (Taylor Trade), traces the book's quick march to literary and film fame. Last week at a launch party at the Road to Tara Museum, Jonesboro, Ga., authors Wiley and Brown sat with a group of "Windies" from around the country.

 


Avery Publishing Group: The End of Alzheimer's: The First Program to Prevent and Reverse Cognitive Decline by Dale Bredesen


Notes: More on Amazon vs. Texas; Page One Files Chapter 11



The Dallas Morning News weighed in on the Amazon vs. Texas sales tax debate with an editorial contending that it "defies logic that a book bought online can elude sales tax while the same book bought in a bookstore can’t. A sales transaction is a sales transaction, and if one is taxed, why shouldn't the other be taxed as well?... The Texas Legislature and Congress need to do something to level that playing field."

State Comptroller Susan Combs was praised for not backing down despite criticism from Governor Rick Perry (Shelf Awareness, February 14, 2011). The Morning News editorial argued that Combs "is right to try to collect sales tax from Amazon and protect brick-and-mortar stores in Texas from unfair competition. State Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, recently proposed legislation, HB 1317, to make it harder for companies to skirt the 'physical presence' standard. This newspaper hopes the measure prods the Legislature to seriously review the sales tax dilemma. While it is not the total answer, it's a reasonable starting place for the discussion. As online commerce increases, Texas mustn't come out on the short end of receiving its fair share."

---

Sadly, Borders Group was not the only bookseller filing for Chapter 11 reorganization this month. On February 11, Page One, Albuquerque, N.Mex., filed for Chapter 11, listing debts of $1.37 million and assets of $800,000, according to reports in the Albuquerque Journal and New Mexico Business Weekly.

In an e-mail to customers, owner Steven Stout said that "in this age of Internet-related doo-dads and the convenience of doorstep shipping, we realize that we need to change our (business) model in order to survive. Filing Chapter 11 reorganization has given us the leeway to do just that." He hopes to keep the store open but plans either to move or downsize its current 24,500 square feet of space.

In the filing, Stout, who founded Page One in 1981, listed himself as the largest secured creditor, owed $453,393. Bank of the West is the second largest secured creditor, owed $250,000. Some 52 unsecured creditors, including publishers, are owed $474,866. The filing stated that "after any exempt property is excluded, and administrative expenses paid, there will be no funds available for distribution to unsecured creditors."

---

Decorah Newspapers profiles Kate Rattenborg, the owner of Dragonfly Books, which opens this week in Decorah, Iowa.

Rattenborg has worked as a librarian at the University of Iowa and the University of Minnesota. Six years ago, she returned with her children to Decorah, her hometown, after her husband died suddenly. Dragonfly Books is named in honor of her late book-loving husband, she said. Dragonflies symbolize renewal and change, light and rebirth, and the power of life in general. "Life is short, and you don't know what is going to happen," she told the paper. "Instead of postponing a dream, just embrace it--and go with it."

Dragonfly Books is located at 112 W. Water St., Decorah, Iowa 52101; 563-382-4275; dragonflybooks.com.

---

In a note to customers entitled "nothing endures but change," Lisa Stefanacci, owner of BookWorks, Del Mar, Calif., said that the store is making "a few physical modifications" as it continues "to develop a rock solid bookstore model." These include opening part of a wall "to create a more synergistic space with the Pannikin," the neighboring café, as well as rearranging furniture.

The store will show off the changes and celebrate its 35th anniversary on Thursday, March 10, when Patricia Churchland appears to discuss her new book, Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us About Morality.

---

As Newtonville Books, Newton, Mass., begins the last year of its current lease, it has issued a challenge to 500 of its customers and readers to join the store's annual membership program. That amount of new members would, owner Mary Cotton wrote, "change the fortunes of your independent bookstore" and allow the store "to renew our lease and continue bringing bookclubs, writing workshops, and author events to your community." Individual memberships are $50 and family memberships are $75, and offer 20% discounts on all purchases.

She also wrote: "From the moment my husband and I rescued the bookstore from closing in 2007 (and steered it through the worst economy since the Great Depression), we've endeavored to make Newtonville Books a cultural center for the neighborhood, introducing book clubs, Grub Street workshops, and our own writing workshops, as well as continuing the First Editions Club and the award-winning reading series established by the previous owner, which brings nationally-recognized authors to the community. This is the sort of literary programming Borders, Barnes and Noble, Costco, Target and Amazon don't provide in exchange for their deeply discounted books."

---

Appropriately enough, perhaps, the Borders Bookstore in Pasadena, Calif.--one of the 200 stores slated for closure--was the most recent Bookstore of the Week featured by Jacket Copy, which noted that the location "is still an entirely good bet for book shopping. That is, for now."

---

Cool idea of the day: Clinton Bookshop, Clinton, N.J., is hosting a workshop this Thursday called "An Introduction to the College Search Process" featuring Linda Canulette, an educator, school counselor and private college advisor. The workshop will present and discuss topics such as searching for the right college, résumé writing, interview skills, student profile and more. The cost is $35 and includes a copy of Barron's Profiles of American Colleges 2011.

---

Writing on his blog as Bruce J. Quiller, publisher's rep Bruce J. Miller lamented what he calls "the devaluation of books by museums shops, a class of stores considered by publishers to be an essential part of the retail picture. The very non-profit institutions whose raison d'etre is the preservation of knowledge about art, anthropology, zoology, botany--a vast range of subjects--have decided that, while books are a necessary evil, they are an unprofitable and embarrassing holdover from a time when the economic life of museums was less complicated." Among the institutions in his region that have outsourced bookstore operations are the Chicago Botanical Garden, the Chicago History Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry.

"A bookstore run by museum employees will be better than one administered by absentee managers who buy a limited number of titles and only those they can purchase at the highest discount.... I am not criticizing anyone for trying to adapt to the marketplace. Cost-cutting measures have been introduced everywhere in brick-and-mortar retailing. I do not expect museum shops to behave like libraries. All I ask is that museum bigwigs view their bookstore operation as part of the fulfillment of the mission that gives them their non-profit status. If there is plenty of room for tote bags and calendars, then there is room for scholarly books as well."

---

Book trailer of the day: Man Up!: 367 Classic Skills for the Modern Guy by Paul O'Donnell (Artisan), which shows up April 28.

---

To emphasize its diversity and appeal to general audiences, effective next month, IPG's professional and academic distribution program is being renamed River North Editions.

"While the titles in the River North Editions catalog appeal to an intellectual reader, they are not always published for a strictly academic audience," IPG president Mark Suchomel said. "The label 'professional and academic' no longer goes far enough to describe the breadth of the audience."

The current list includes titles from such publishers as Independent Institute, Melbourne University Press, Earnshaw Books, University of New South Wales, Fons Vitae, Society for Human Resource Management, Carcanet Press, Auckland University Press, Parthian Books and Freemantle Press.

"Labeling these titles as solely academic might lead our customer to think they are published primarily for course adoption," Paul Murphy, v-p of professional and academic marketing, said. "While many of the titles in this catalog are highly specialized, they are not unlike other titles found in quality trade and university bookstores, and we think they have great appeal to the intellectual reader."

River North Editions takes its name from IPG's neighborhood in Chicago.

---

At Hachette Book Group, the following changes have been made in online marketing:

Kelly Leonard has been named v-p, executive director, web strategies, and will be responsible for strategy and ongoing development of all corporate and product websites and share online marketing knowledge with publicists throughout the company.

Brad Parsons has been named associate director, online marketing.

Brianne Beers, online marketing coordinator, is moving to Grand Central Publishing.

Anna Balasi is joining Little, Brown as online marketing associate.

 


Soho Teen: No Saints in Kansas by Amy Brashear


Borders Crossings: More Indie Reactions in U.S. & Down Under

Since the bankruptcy filings last week by Borders Group in the U.S. and REDgroup Retail--owner of Borders, Angus & Robertson and Whitcoulls in Australia and New Zealand, independent bookseller response has often been circumspect, with sympathy for fellow booksellers mixed with concern regarding the general state of the industry, as well as a little soul-searching about their own retail futures:

---

Of the eight Borders within 25 miles of Vallejo, Calif., three will close, the Contra Costa Times reported, noting that the situation with Borders is "not the beginning of the end of books or bookstores as we know them.... It may, however, be a sign of the need to adjust to the times."

"I think in this case, it's more about management within that company than about bookstores or big box bookstores in general," said Christine Mayall, owner of Bookshop Benicia, Benecia, Calif. "It's sad, even though they're a big box store and put a lot of independent booksellers out of business. We hate to see any book-selling space lost."

Mayall said her bookstore has survived since 1993 by continually "re-adjusting.... We sell some toys now, and used books. We will be selling e-books on our website and will be offering trades. I don't see books vanishing completely, and that would be terrible in many ways. There's something about the physical presence of a book and of finding a special book randomly at a bookstore. I'm in this business not just because I love reading, but because I love books."

---

Central New York State's only Borders store--in Syracuse--is slated to close, but "smaller, independently owned bookstores are fast-stepping to stay alive," the Post-Standard reported.  

"We're looking on it as kind of the wild west of the publishing era at the moment," said Bill Reilly, owner of the River's End Bookstore, Oswego. "There are a lot of unknowns and there is a lot of change taking place.... "We're embracing the change. We are investing a lot. Last year, we invested in a whole new computer inventory program and hardware. This year, it's the website, so we're not thinking we're going anywhere. It's not clear where it's all going to end up. That's what's giving me a shot in the arm about this business. Let's get on the horse and ride and see where it takes us."

Erika L. Davis, owner of Creekside Books and Coffee, Skaneateles, agreed: "It's definitely a feeling of not being sure right now. I do think there is a place for a long time, hopefully forever, for independent bookstores.... I do think diversifying is a big thing. Our coffee shop, reaching out to the electronic book-reading community, reaching out to regional schools to order books. Those kinds of things, where you reach out to your community and build that side of the business."

---

The Yakima, Wash., Herald-Republic noted that although the Borders bookstore in Union Gap is not on the closure list, "it's clear that Borders' bankruptcy is still on the minds of locally run bookstores."

Jerry Wheeler, who has owned Churchill's Booklovers Haunt for 18 years, said Borders's bankruptcy was a reminder of the effects of the Internet and digital media on businesses like his: "I think it's just going to get worse." Diversifying into antiques, which now account for 30% of his business, has been a key survival strategy. He also cited his inventory of older, hard-to-find books and specializing in local and Northwest history as niche advantages. "I think we can hang in here for a long time. (Our bookstore) is the only place you can get some of the books we sell."

Susan Richmond, owner of Inklings Bookshop, said, "Borders's struggles have been no secret for months.... We weathered the opening of Borders, no easy thing for an independent store, and we plan to stay strong while this cloud passes."

---

Indie booksellers in western Massachusetts "remain cautiously upbeat" in the wake of Borders's difficulties and other challenges, according to the Berkshire Eagle.

"I'm not discouraged," said Eric Wilska, owner of the Bookloft, Great Barrington. "Sales are slower than they used to be, but we're more victims of the recession than the Internet." Wilska is encouraged by the fact that people "like to come out of their caves for social intercourse, and bookstores continue to provide that." He added that "the little guys have to be well-managed as the chains struggle more and more. People's expectations are way too high." Overall, however, "I love the challenge. I find it very invigorating," he said.

Matt Tannenbaum, owner of the Bookstore, Lenox, echoed that opinion: "I'm upbeat because the scale of my business is still manageable. I'm able to provide nearly the same service as always--knowledge and product. I look at the success of Amazon and e-books; they're like the ringmaster holding the hoop a little higher. People are so juiced up they want to jump that high, and that's changing my customers' expectations."

---

"We have survived through having Borders here and now really regard it as part of our bookstore culture," Heidi Raak, owner of the Raven Book Store, Lawrence, Kan., told Fox-4 News. A downtown Borders store will close. "I think it's healthy competition here in Lawrence.... It's 10% of the market; it's really not good for publishing to have such a big player leave the scene."

---

San Diego area booksellers are not celebrating the troubles at Borders. KPBS radio reported that Adrian Newell of Warwick's Books, La Jolla, "was typical in her response to the news when she said the Borders bankruptcy will give her no good cheer and probably no new customers."

"It would be nice if they would migrate to all the independent stores in their various communities," she said. "But I have a feeling that a lot of them will go to online purchasing, and I think it just weakens the industry as a whole."

---

On his Fiction & History blog, Steve Yates offered an author's perspective on the impending closure of the Borders in Springfield, Mo. Noting the challenge of being a local bookstore when you "have to carry what a corporate supervisor in Michigan chooses, items that can be sold to everybody," Yates observed that, "in honoring and working with Moon City Press, a small publisher at Missouri State University, and inviting me, one of its authors, in to sign books, that is exactly what Gary [Selby] and the good people who worked at that Borders location aimed to do: Be a better local bookstore by offering something that spoke to Springfield. That is forward thinking; that is to my mind the only way bricks-and-mortar bookstores can get by. They have to offer their local markets special discoveries--items you would never seek on Amazon but now desire having seen them--and local stories. Plus they have to offer their local markets the chance to get a signed book or better yet to interact with the author, local or outworlder. Otherwise why pay the premium, the MSRP for the book? Bookstores are recognizing that challenge right now all over America. Follow my favorite local bookstore, Lemuria, and its blog, and you will see...."

"So while I am in tumult that good book people are being hurt and losing their livelihoods, I know that the act of sharing and selling an author's work and local flavor goes on. You can walk in Half-Price Books of the Ozarks right now and see exactly what I mean by defined niche and cottage industry and proper scale. For the sake of books, readers, and authors, in the wake of another sad mess, I encourage you to find yourself a local bookstore, and then love it regularly."

Gary Selby, general manager of the Springfield Borders, responded to the post with a note of thanks that also offered a peek behind the curtain at one of the Borders stores facing closure: "Thank you for the kind words. Yes, it is tough time around here and will be until we close the doors for good. We have a great store here with a great team. We got caught up in something that started years ago with poor decisions made at the top. Too bad we are the ones who pay the ultimate price. The big heads in the big house still have their jobs and livelihood while the rest of us pay for their blunders. Jobs are tough right now and with no help or assistance from Borders we are on our own. This company is a huge disappointment for myself and my team and the many other stores that are closing. We were literally kicked out. I have never heard of a company with so little passion and so much cruelty as this one. I do however cherish the fond memories of the customers, authors, and employees that I have had the pleasure of working with. That is what I take going forward. There will be better days ahead."

---

Meanwhile, Down Under, Australian indies have a 20% share of the book market and the Australian noted: "It's the human touch that matters for minnows... [The] human experience is what helps the smaller booksellers survive alongside the big chains." 

"A true booklover loves having a conversation about books," said Corrie Perkin, owner of My Bookshop, Melbourne. "That may be the conversation they have with the bookseller or with other booklovers in the bookshop. You can't have those conversations with Amazon, you can't have those conversations most of the time in a shop like Borders because they don't have the staff."

Simon Milne, general manager of Leading Edge Books, advised booksellers to ask themselves some serious questions about their own customer service and stock choices following the REDgroup failure: "There's nothing like walking into a bookshop and being surrounded by good books that you can read the back of, open and read one paragraph and know if it's for you."

---

''What has done them in is an appalling business model,'' Chris Redfern--owner of the Avenue Bookstore, Melbourne--told the Sydney Morning Herald, contending that the first Borders opened in South Yarra's Jam Factory in 1998 with little thought for local market conditions. ''Now the model it has turned to has appalling management, hopeless customer service and a poor range of books. The joke is that they're selling barbecues in Borders.''

The Herald also observed that "most independent booksellers believe that the way to ensure their future is to be responsive to market demands and to enhance relationships with their customers and the community in which they operate."

---

The Age noted that "niche bookshops remain undaunted by the pressures of modern book selling."

''Retail is difficult now, that's true," said Tim White, co-owner of Books for Cooks, Fitzroy. "'There's no doubt about it. For all sorts of products and industries it's a challenging time, but equally there's room for good retailers who are responding to what their customers want."

Arwen Crawford of Brunswick Street Bookstore, Melbourne, said, "'The industry is definitely changing. You've got to be quite on the ball in terms of adapting and knowing what people want. It's not that people no longer want to read, it's more to do with things like how you select your stock."

 


She Writes Press: Things Unsaid by Diana Y. Paul



Media and Movies

Media Heat: King Abdullah II on Good Morning America

This morning on the Today Show: Mackenzie Phillips, author of High on Arrival: A Memoir (Gallery, $15, 9781439153864).

---

This morning on Good Morning America: King Abdullah II of Jordan, author of Our Last Best Chance: The Pursuit of Peace in a Time of Peril (Viking, $27.95, 9780670021710).

---

Today on NPR's Diane Rehm Show: Jonathan Gill, author of Harlem: The Four Hundred Year History from Dutch Village to Capital of Black America (Grove Press, $29.95, 9780802119100)

---

Tonight on the Colbert Report: Bing West, author of The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan (Random House, $28, 9781400068739).

---

Tomorrow morning Good Morning America: Senator Rand Paul, author of The Tea Party Goes to Washington (Center Street, $21.99, 9781455503117).

---

Tomorrow on Live with Regis and Kelly: Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, author of A Shore Thing (Gallery, $24, 9781451623741).

---

Tomorrow on Oprah: Iyanla Vanzant, author of One Day My Soul Just Opened Up: 40 Days and 40 Nights Toward Spiritual Strength and Personal Growth (Fireside, $16, 9780684841342).

---

Tomorrow on NPR's Diane Rehm Show: readers review The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.

---

Tomorrow night on the Daily Show: Donald Rumsfeld, author of Known and Unknown: A Memoir (Sentinel, $36, 9781595230676).

---

Tomorrow night on the Colbert Report: Stephanie Coontz, author of A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s (Basic, $25.95, 9780465002009).

 


Shelf Awareness Sign-up Giveaway: Without Merit by Colleen Hoover


Movies: Hugo Cabret for Thanksgiving

Paramount Pictures plans to release the 3D film Hugo Cabret, directed by Martin Scorsese, on November 23, the day before Thanksgiving. Deadline.com reported that the movie, adapted from Brian Selzick's novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, "is produced and financed by GK Films and Graham King felt strongly that the five-day Thanksgiving holiday was the optimum time for the picture to open." It had originally been scheduled for a December 9 release by Sony. The film stars Asa Butterfield, Chloe Moretz, Sacha Baron Cohen, Ben Kingsley, Jude Law and Emily Mortimer.

 


Books & Authors

Awards: Los Angeles Times Finalists; Diagram Prize Shortlist

Finalists for the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, which will be awarded April 29 on the eve of the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, may be seen here.

The program has given the Innovator's Award, which recognizes "the people and institutions that are doing cutting edge work to bring books, publishing and storytelling into the future, whether in terms of new business models, new technologies or new applications of narrative art," to Powell's Books, Portland, Ore.

The winner of the Robert Kirsch Award is children's author Beverly Cleary.

---

Finalists have been named for the Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title of 2010. Horace Bent, "diarist and custodian of the prize" for the Bookseller, said, "Compiling a six-strong shortlist from the 66 eccentric entries proved a colossal task. The debate within the panel of judges often turned heated, especially when considering whether a nominee's title was intentionally odd or accidentally odd (which we prefer). However, I believe the final six are a formidable six and I very much look forward to discovering which book the public will crown the 31st winner of the Odd Title prize."

Bent added that last year's winner, Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes, received a considerable sales bump: "Before the prize was awarded, Dr. Taimina's book was selling just half a dozen copies per week in the U.S. A week after she picked up my prestigious gong, her book sold an incredible 95 copies in just seven days at $35 a pop. You can't buy that kind of publicity."

After a public vote at the Bookseller's website, the winner will be announced March 25. This year's Diagram Prize shortlist titles are:

8th International Friction Stir Welding Symposium Proceedings by various authors
The Generosity of the Dead by Graciela Nowenstein
The Italian's One-night Love Child by Cathy Williams
Managing a Dental Practice the Genghis Khan Way by Michael R Young
Myth of the Social Volcano by Martin King Whyte
What Color Is Your Dog? By Joel Silverman

 


Paula McLain: On the First Mrs. Hemingway

 

In her latest book, The Paris Wife (Ballantine, $25, 9780345521309, February 22, 2011), a novel based on Ernest Hemingway's first marriage to Hadley Richardson, Paula McLain vividly recounts a time, a place and a group of people. McLain received an MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan and has been awarded fellowships from Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony and the National Endowment for the Arts. She is the author of two poetry collections as well as a memoir, Like Family: Growing Up in Other People's Houses, and a novel, A Ticket to Ride. She lives with her family in Cleveland.


What drew you to this subject?

I had never written a historical novel, but nothing else I was considering at the time felt quite right. Then it occurred to me to set a book in the '20s with a writer as the main character. I considered Fitzgerald, but had recently read A Moveable Feast, which brought Hemingway to mind. I recalled that he had rendered Hadley in such a tender manner and with a definite tinge of regret for the way that relationship ended. So, in a flash I decided to tell the story of Hemingway's first marriage. I went straight to the library and brought home a pile of biographies. They all convinced me that this was the right book at the right time. Much has been written about Martha Gellhorn because of her career, but not a great deal is known about Hadley.

Did you have preconceived ideas about Hemingway or Hadley?

I knew nothing about Hadley but had all the ordinary ideas about Hemingway: his gnarly persona, egomania, alcoholism, temperamental nature--so I was predisposed against him. This would be a feminist book, one in which I could dish the dirt on Hem. The big surprise was how much sympathy I felt for him as I learned more about his background, his family life, his war injury, his troubled relationship with his mother. He was melancholic, shell-shocked, traumatized, afraid of the dark, afraid of pain, a hypochondriac--which made him a really terrible, sick person, and superstitious and puritanical about sex. He really did believe that if you slept with a woman, you should probably marry her. Nothing like the conventional wisdom about Ernest Hemingway, the swaggering picture of male indomitability.

How did Hadley manage to land him? He was drop-dead gorgeous, great fun at a party, a devil-may-care journalist ready to accept any assignment, quite comfortable in his world.

Hadley was pretty but not beautiful, 29 to his 21. I think what attracted Hemingway was her warmth and her solidity, her generous heart. She was also smart and very funny, as her letters show. He thought that she was incredibly talented at the piano, an artist in her own right. They found an easy rapport right away. Their backgrounds were similar: domineering mothers, alcoholic fathers, both of whom killed themselves. They fell for each other very quickly. When Hadley left Chicago, the letters went back and forth fast and furiously. Hemingway proposed in a letter, Hadley said "yes" and that was that.

Did Hemingway's relationship with his mother color all future relationships with women, or is that too easy?

Biographers have said that Hemingway's mother did have a mighty influence on his subsequent relationships, but I think that there was real love and tenderness between them, seen in their letters. He always needed his parents' approval and was devastated when he sent them his first book, In Our Time, and his father returned it saying that it was disgusting and profane and that he need not send any more of his writing until he regained his moral center. He was always drawn to the working class, to a raw, peasant quality found in people not of his parents' class. There was mutual trust between Hemingway and Hadley, very important to him.

Speaking of which, was it Hadley's loss of his manuscripts that pushed him into the infidelity that finally caused the marriage to founder?

He said that he forgave her, but there was a wedge driven between them because he couldn't imagine how she could have put them under a train seat and left the compartment. How could she really understand the importance of his work if she could do that? Later, he gamely said that it was probably a good thing because it forced him to start over, but neither of them really believed that. What was his work really worth in her eyes? He was meticulous about keeping everything--lists, even Hadley's monthly cycle, scraps of paper--and she lost all his work. Was she careless, disloyal, trying to sabotage him, as some have opined? I think it was an honest mistake with fearsome consequences.

Her unexpected pregnancy was another wedge. They had agreed not to have a baby yet, and here she was, pregnant. Another honest mistake? We will never know, but it did make life more difficult. The life they lived in Paris was definitely hampered by having a baby along. She was older, hearing that clock ticking, and now wanted a baby; Ernest didn't.

What is the upside and downside of writing about real people?

The great thing about it is that if you find the right story, it has its own trajectory. You just hang on, take them on their own terms and let them tell their own stories. This one had it all: exotic travel, such an interesting collection of people in Paris in the '20s, a very romantic story. On the downside, it was easy to be overwhelmed by Hemingway's life being so well documented. Get no detail wrong, check everything over and over again--or it will be noticed.

So much of the story is Paris, writ large. Did you go on a field trip to get it right?

Oh yes! I went to Paris and Pamplona and San Sebastian and Antibes. So much is the same as when they lived there. I stood in the same place they did to watch the running of the bulls, had coffee in the same cafes, saw their first apartment. We are always tearing things down to "improve" them; it was a real treat to see things preserved.

The circumstances of the marriage failing are almost too hard to believe. For a straight, loyal woman like Hadley to live in a ménage à trois boggles the mind.

Pauline Pfeiffer was very different from Hadley. She pretended to be Hadley's best friend to seduce Ernest. Their peculiar arrangement, with Pauline standing by as mistress and Hadley still Hemingway's wife, is true to historical record. Hadley was so much in love with Ernest that she would do anything to hang on to him. How could she stay in the marriage in these circumstances as long as she did? Her passivity was no doubt a combination of depression and denial. They had made it through oceans of sexual license going on all around them; Pauline remained true to her vows and her intentions, until it was simply no longer possible. The story of Hadley Richardson and Ernest Hemingway is very moving, poignant, happy and sad. The truth is that sometimes we fail each other.

You've written poetry, a memoir, a different kind of novel and now a historical novel. Do you find one genre more congenial than another?

I don't really have to choose. Another historical novel seems to fit my personality. It is challenging in really delightful ways, a good history lesson, and there is mimicry involved in getting the voice right. It is also time travel in the best sense.--Valerie Ryan

 


Book Review

Book Review: A Discovery of Witches

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (Viking Books, $28.95 Hardcover, 9780670022410, February 2011)

The opening pages of Deborah Harkness's debut novel, A Discovery of Witches, are a combination of unpromising hokiness and tempting intrigue: Diana Bishop is a historian of science who's also descended from a long line of witches; she's rejected her heritage because she's frightened by the power, even though most of the examples of magic she cites are no more intimidating than Samantha's antics on Bewitched. She's in Oxford to study an ancient alchemical manuscript, which turns out to be under a powerful spell, and the next thing you know every witch, vampire and daemon (brilliant but unstable people whose genius/madness has some supernatural component) around wants to know she saw when she read that book... but the one that really catches her attention is a vampire scientist named Matthew Clairmont.

What emerges is an elaborate but conventional supernatural romance that hits all the usual marks. Matthew isn't just brooding and mysterious because he's the romantic hero; he's also 1,500 years old with all the emotional baggage that would imply (and an illustrious pedigree in a secret society much like the Templars); Diana is too headstrong to do anything Matthew tells her to do, which complicates her life over and over again, as does her prolonged refusal to accept the fact that she's a witch and start dealing with her powers (although this turns out to be more than just willful ignorance). Her alchemical research and his background in genetics and evolutionary biology come together to form a semi-scientific explanation for why creatures such as themselves exist, and why they might be at risk of extinction, even as their blossoming relationship attracts the wrong kind of attention from their peers, because--and somehow nobody had told Diana this until just now--witches and vampires aren't supposed to get involved with each other....

Harkness propels the plot forward relentlessly enough that you're willing to overlook the sillier aspects of the story, however, and she piles detail after detail onto Matthew's family history (including major supporting roles for his vampire mother and her vampire house servant) to increase his dark allure. But then, about two-thirds of the way in, it becomes increasingly obvious this story is nowhere near coming to any sort of neat conclusion, and readers will find themselves simply wondering how Harkness is going to break things off. Ultimately, she chooses to bestow a previously undiscussed witchy power on Diana that caroms her and Matthew in an entirely new direction... and then, abruptly, without any resolution, A Discovery of Witches ends. For some readers, that's liable to be the last straw, but others may have gotten sucked in just deeply enough into the world-shattering romance to want to see what happens next.--Ron Hogan

Shelf Talker: Imagine Twilight with the literary ambitions of Elizabeth Kostova. Be sure to alert customers that, despite its ostensible presentation as a stand-alone story, this is the first of at least two, possibly more volumes.

 


Powered by: Xtenit