Shelf Awareness for Friday, June 24, 2011

Atria Books: Ruth's Jouney by Donald McCraig

Little Brown Books for Young Readers: The Doubt Factory by Paulo Bacigalupi

Little Brown: Sweentess #9 by Stephan Eirik Clark

Tor: The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man by W. Bruce Cameron

Greenwillow Books: The Turtle of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye

Waterbrook: Thief of Glory by Sigmund Brouwer

Henry Holt: Firebug by Lish McBride

Viking Children's: The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove

Diamond: Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman

AuthorBuzz: Blood Feud by Daniel Harris

 

News

Image of the Day: Brainstormers

Last week, the Long Island Book Sisters, a group of authors and publishing professionals that meets regularly to discuss writing and books, met for a special brainstorming lunch. Here are the brainstormers: (standing, from l.) author Alix Strauss; author Ellen Meister; author Saralee Rosenberg; author Susan Henderson; book publicist Susannah Greenberg; and author and editor Carol Hoenig; (seated, from l.) author Brenda Janowtiz; author Vivian Swift; and book columnist Debbi Honorof.

Talent Smart: Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves

AAP April Sales: Ebooks & Downloadable Audio Do Well

Net sales of books in April fell 11.1%, to $563.5 million, as reported by 92 publishers to the Association of American Publishers. So far in 2011, net sales have slipped 4.4%, to $2.3 billion. Almost all categories slumped in April except for e-books, which rose 157.5%, to $72.8 million, and downloadable audiobooks, which climbed 22.3%, to $7 million. For the year to date, e-book sales have risen 162.9%, to $312.9 million. Some 22 publishers, including the big six houses, reported e-book sales, and 17 reported downloadable audiobook sales.

April net sales of digital books--e-books and downloadable audiobooks, which together rose 134%, to $79.8 million--accounted for 16.5% of all book sales. At the same time, net sales of nondigital books fell 19.3%, to $483.7 million. Last April, digital books--e-books and downloadable audiobooks had sales of $34.1 million--accounted for just 5.7% of all book sales.

Category

Sales

% Change

E-books

 $72.8 million

 157.5%

Downloadable audio

 $7 million

 22.3%

University press paper

 $2.5 million

 10.8%

Religious books

 $48.5 million

 2.5%

Children's/YA hardcover

 $41.2 million

 1.5%

 

 

 

Professional

$50.5 million

 -7%

Children's/YA paper

 $36.8 million

 -7.2%

Univ. press hardcover

 $3.2 million

 -19.1%

Audiobooks

 $8.6 million

 -21.6%

Adult hardcover

 $111.4 million

 -22.7%

Adult paperback

 $95.9 million

 -25.4%

Higher education

 $55.5 million

 -28.3%

Adult mass market

 $28.5 million

 -41.6%

 

Abrams Children's: Frank Einstein & the Antimatter Motor by Jon Scieszka

Notes: Bookseller on Texas Tax Showdown; Bookstore Movers

As Texas considers striking a deal with Amazon regarding an online sales tax exemption (Shelf Awareness, June 21, 2011), BookPeople's CEO Steve Bercu offered this response: "As I have testified in both the House and Senate, Texas would be much better served by passing the bill it has in front of it now. If the bill passes, Texas retailers will create at least 10,000 jobs without any extra incentive other than being able to compete fairly. The state does not need to pick favorite retailers and especially not out-of-state ones. Favoring out-of-state retailers over Texas retailers that already collect sales tax, pay property taxes, contribute to their communities, and live in Texas makes absolutely no sense. Talking about imaginary jobs instead of helping existing retailers create them is foolish. We should all be doing everything we can to contact our state representatives and senators and urging them to support SB1 as it is written."

Yesterday, Amazon upped the ante a bit from 5,000 jobs to 6,000. In a letter to Texas lawmakers that was obtained by the Austin American-Statesman, Paul Misener, Amazon’s v-p of global public policy, suggested the state could eventually see as many as 10,000 new jobs (6,000 "direct jobs" and up to 4,000 "indirect jobs"). But Senator Bob Deuell indicated "the odds were slim the deal with Amazon would survive in the legislative conference committee report that would have attached the language to Senate Bill 1," the American-Statesman wrote.

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How do you become a top 1,000 Amazon reviewer? A new study by Cornell professor Trevor Pinch suggests that the website's elite reviewers "do not always make independent decisions about which books and other products they write about.... the reviewers in many cases acknowledge that in order to maintain their high rankings and continue to receive free products (one of the perks of being a top reviewer), they have to make surprisingly calculated decisions about what to review and what to say about those products," paidContent.org reported.

Pinch noted that a fundamental problem is the expectation on the part of Amazon's customers that reviewers are just ordinary shoppers. "The issue of the 'customers' not really being customers needs to be addressed," said Pinch, who found that 85% percent of respondents had received free products from publishers, agents, authors and others. The "way to keep those freebies flowing is to pump out glowing book reviews," paidContent.org wrote, adding that 88% of respondents reported that most or all of the reviews they wrote were positive.

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Congratulations to American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression president Chris Finan, who will receive the 2011 Freedom to Read Foundation Roll of Honor Award this weekend at the American Library Association’s national conference in New Orleans. Bookselling This Week reported that FTRF is honoring Finan for his "distinguished career in both study and activism on behalf of the freedom to read." In addition to his work with ABFFE, he is a member of the Media Coalition, and member and chair of the Board of the National Coalition Against Censorship.

"The First Amendment and the cause of free expression could not have a more committed, articulate, and effective champion than Chris Finan," said ABA CEO Oren Teicher. "As the president of ABFFE, Chris’s hard work and insightful writing have ensured that the booksellers' voice is heard in the fight for free expression, and all of us at ABA congratulate him on this great honor."

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As if to underscore the growth of e-book sales evident in AAP statistics (see above), Bantam said yesterday that  Janet Evanovich's new Stephanie Plum mystery, Smokin' Seventeen, sold 218,000 copies on Tuesday, its release date: 100,000 hardcovers, 100,000 e-books and 18,000 audiobooks. The figures include 1,000 hardcovers sold to some 900 fans at a kickoff event at a Barnes & Noble in Princeton, N.J.

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The Washington Post profiled Matt Wixon, founder of the moving company Bookstore Movers. Wixon said he "started working at a used bookstore and fell in love with the place--it's a temple, a sanctuary. The name Bookstore Movers is because [I'm] saving up to buy Capitol Hill Books when the owner retires. But working at a bookstore isn't always as intellectually engaging as you might hope. You cannot be world-weary and having an existential crisis when you are carrying 100 boxes. I've never known someone to do a full 10-hour day of moving and be depressed. You have a very clear, tangible sense of what you've accomplished. You took one apartment full of stuff and emptied it. And then you filled a new one and helped people start a new chapter in their life...."

"I never thought I'd be the guy who got up at 4:30 a.m.--I used to read until the sun came up. I recently met up with friends from high school. I could tell they were surprised that the bookworm was a manual laborer who traipses around with a dresser on his back. But there was a certain amount of pride. There were doctors, lawyers, college professors, but I think I was the only small-business owner, the only one not working in someone else's system, the only one who had created something out of nothing."

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On his store blog, J.B. Dickey, owner of the Seattle Mystery Bookshop, shared a recent exchange of e-mails he had with an author who'd sent a sample copy of his new book and was interested in scheduling an event. Problem #1: the novel was published by Amazon's new mystery imprint, Thomas & Mercer.

"The authors are understandably eager and excited and they have a hard time understanding when they run into our brick wall of NO," Dickey wrote.

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Patrick Marks was interviewed by SF Weekly, which noted that the former buyer for Cody's Books now "owns and operates the Green Arcade bookstore, sings in the lounge act Lars Mars and His Men, publishes noir literature, and lives in the same San Francisco apartment he's had for the past 27 years."

"I didn't want my skills to go to waste," he said of his decision to open the bookshop in 2008. "I figured I might as well give it one last stand."

Marks considers the Green Arcade "a representation of the city itself: simultaneously a refuge and a crass, commercial space. His taste in books reflects it, with selections ranging from noir literature and art to urban planning and politics," SF Weekly noted.

"Reading was always my way of dealing with reality," he observed. "They say the truth will set you free--well, reading is a big aspect of that. It's an important part of citizenship."

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Song of the day: "Sit Down" by Beth Porter, part of the Bookshop Band trio, the in-house band for Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights, in Bath, England. The song was inspired by the book A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, who won the Carnegie medal yesterday (see below). It was performed when he appeared at the shop last week for an author event.

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In an article appropriately headlined "Tea for Two," Bookselling This Week spoke with a pair of booksellers who have found their niche serving tea rather than the ubiquitous coffee/books combo.   

Gary and Kathy Robson, co-owners of Red Lodge Books, Red Lodge, Mont., began selling loose tea in tins about a year ago and have since expanded by adding a serving counter. BTW noted that even though the tea "comes from all over the world (places of origin are marked on a large world map), Red Lodge has made an effort to add local elements by offering tea accessories. The bookstore sells alfalfa and clover honey from a nearby ranch, and handmade pottery tea ware from a local artisan. The Robsons are also working on developing some tea blends based on Montana-grown herbs."

Francine Lucidon's the Voracious Reader children’s bookstore, Larchmont, N.Y., also operates A Proper Cup. "It fits with the whole vision of the bookstore," she said, "which is about slowing down, relaxing, and spending time with the kids.... Tea is so much fun. It's all about learning. It ties in with so many interesting things--it's a geography lesson, a science lesson, and a lesson in heritage. It's fascinating, and drinking it has more of a slower, more ambient feel."

Lucidon added that the tea shop adds a community feel to  the location and has attracted new patrons: “Sales have skyrocketed. People come in and browse for longer, go over to the shop for some tea, and then they’re in such a good mood that they’ll come back to the bookstore and shop some more."

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Now that summer is officially in season, the Huffington Post checked its biblio-radar for what's new and hot in summer books, noting: "We've been unpacking books for summer reading and thought you'd want to know what we've found--everything from big fiction to quiet first novels, from great biographies to historical love letters."

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And on NPR's Morning Edition, America's favorite librarian Nancy Pearl presented 10 Terrific Summer Reads: "When I'm ready for my next good read, I look for a book (fiction or nonfiction) with a strong narrative voice, wonderfully drawn characters and writing that makes me stop and savor the words the author has written--all of which are present in these 10 terrific books."

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A new Mark Twain "forever" postage stamp will be issued June 25. Jacket Copy reported that the release will be marked by a ceremony in Hannibal, Mo., where the author grew up.

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Why designers like Austen: Design Observer's Alexandra Lange "had been thinking about Austen again lately because she turned up on the lists of several designers I admire on Designers & Books. Whenever I peruse the site I am always making up my own book list in my head, and [Pride & Prejudice] was definitely on it. But why do designers like Austen? Michael Sorkin calls it 'precise' and that is definitely part of it. You don't feel as if she had a messy dressing table, and probably never left a pen unwiped." Lange created a brief list of reasons why designers might like Austen:

  1. Architecture plays a part.
  2. Rooms = ritual.
  3. The precision thing.


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(Tasty) book trailer of the day: Miette: Recipes from San Francisco's Most Charming Pastry Shop by Meg Ray (Chronicle Books).

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Effective September 1, the University of Nebraska Press will distribute Caxton Press, Caldwell, Idaho, which was founded in 1925 and focuses on the people and culture of the American West. Caxton publishes six to eight books a year and has a backlist of 100. It also manages the backlist of the University of Idaho Press.

Caxton Press president and publisher Scott Gipson said the new distribution deal will introduce Caxton's list to a larger readership. "The University of Nebraska Press is well-known to readers of Western history and literature. We look forward to growing our audience through our partnership with Nebraska."

 

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Pottermore & the Multibillion-Dollar Empire

Pottermore lives! And will sell e-books! With the launch of Pottermore.com yesterday, J.K. Rowling "shocked and thrilled her fans in equal measure" with details about her latest venture, which will feature "a wealth of new and previously unpublished material about the world of Harry Potter," the Guardian reported. Although there is not another Potter novel on the horizon, "the fresh Potter material--to be unveiled later this year--already stretches to 18,000 words about the novels' characters, places and objects, with more to come."

The collaborative website will open initially to a million users who register first on July 31--Harry's birthday. The full launch is scheduled for October. Pottermore will also sell e-book and digital audiobook versions of the Harry Potter titles directly to users beginning in October. The digital editions, compatible with all devices, will only be sold from the website, "thus disintermediating other booksellers such as Amazon," the Guardian wrote.

PaidContent noted that this development "would suggest that Rowling has made a deal with Amazon, since until now it has only sold Kindle books through its own Kindle store. But if there's any author that Amazon would let dictate the terms, it's Rowling."

The Bookseller reported that some bricks-and-mortar retailers in the U.K. expressed disappointment with Rowling's decision to sell e-books directly through the site. "We always sought to add value for the fans when a new Harry Potter book was released and their launch days have become the stuff of legend at Waterstone's and other booksellers," said a spokesperson for the bookstore chain. "We're therefore disappointed that, having been a key factor in the growth of the Harry Potter phenomenon since the first book was published, the book trade is effectively banned from selling the long-awaited e-book editions of the series."

Indies weren't pleased either. Tom Hunt, who works in the orders department of the Norfolk Children's Book Centre, said, "It's another madness of the digital publishing world that doesn't support the booksellers that have sold the books and supported them. It's just another step on the path to death by 1,000 cuts."

"The Hogwarts' Express money train is riding back into town," noted the Guardian's Sam Jordison, who gave high marks to the author for her marketing savvy: "Once again, J.K. Rowling and her marketing team have left the rest of the publishing world standing while she blazes a trail into the record books. I'll eat my hardback copy of The Deathly Hallows if the Harry Potters aren't the fastest-selling e-books in history by the end of this year--and I can only tip my hat in admiration....

"The most impressive thing of all, though, is the way Rowling has managed to present the whole thing as an act of altruism. 'I wanted to give something back to the fans that have followed Harry so devotedly over the years, and to bring the stories to a new generation,' she says. This isn't necessarily hogwash: at this stage in her fantastically lucrative career, money presumably isn't the driving force for Rowling and there's every chance that she does love the fans who have made her so successful."

The Telegraph noted that while Pottermore.com may not be perfect, it "represents a significant landmark for digital publishing. J.K. Rowling has not just hauled out her manuscript and plonked it onto a website with a bit of frilly window-dressing from a digital agency. Instead, she has labored for a year in close collaboration with creative developers TH_NK to curate an experience that really takes advantages of the unique properties of the web."

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Harry Potter and the multibillion-dollar empire. On a not-unrelated note, Fast Company offered an infographic breakdown of what is at stake for the Potter brand after the July 15 release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2.

 

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Yotam Ottolenghi on NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday

Today on NPR's Fresh Air: Robert Wittman, author of Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures (Broadway, $15, 9780307461483).

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Tomorrow on the Weekend Today Show: La Toya Jackson, author of Starting Over (Gallery, $26, 9781451620580).

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On NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday: Yotam Ottolenghi, author of Plenty: Vibrant Vegetables from London's Ottolenghi (Chronicle Books, $35, 9781452101248).

 

Television: Gaiman Discusses HBO's American Gods Series

In an interview with MTV, Neil Gaiman discussed the newly released 10th anniversary edition of American Gods, as well as an adaptation he is working on for HBO. Gaiman is attached as executive producer and will co-write the series pilot with cinematographer Robert Richardson. The project is being developed by Tom Hanks's Playtone production studio.

"The overall plan right now is that the first season would essentially be the first book, with a few interesting divergences," Gaiman said. "You don't want people who've read the book to be able to go, 'I know everything that's going to be happening here.' [They will] know a lot more than anybody who's starting from here, but we will do things that will surprise [them] too."

MTV also asked Gaiman about his plans for an American Gods sequel. "I've been [planning] to do a second American Gods book since the first American Gods book," he replied. "What I basically have right now is a boxful of stuff. Things go into it. I always knew there was going to be more story. The first book was very much about the grifters and the lowlifes, and you don't really get to see much of the new gods and you don't really get a sense of those gods who are doing incredibly well in America. In the second book, I definitely want to go into both of those things."

Movie: First Pics from The Hobbit

Entertainment Weekly featured three photos from the movie version of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, noting that fans will have to wait until until Dec. 14, 2012, "for the full fruits of director Peter Jackson's labors.... But, to tide us over, Jackson has shared the first images from his Lord of the Rings prequels with EW--and talked to us about how the fantasy epic is shaping up so far."

The full interview is in this week's print edition of EW, where Jackson observed that Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins) "fits the ears, and he's got some very nice feet. I think he's got the biggest hobbit feet we've had so far. They're a little bit hard to walk in, but he's managed to figure out the perfect hobbit gait.''

 

Books & Authors

Awards: Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Medals

Patrick Ness won the U.K.'s Carnegie medal for his YA novel Monsters of Men, the third installment of his Chaos Walking series. The Guardian reported that the author "used his acceptance speech to launch a scorching attack on the coalition government's policy on libraries." Librarians nominate titles for the Carnegie shortlist.

Describing himself as a "child that libraries built," Ness said, "Librarians open up the world. Knowledge is useless if you don't even know where to begin to look. How much more can you discover when someone can point you in the right direction, when someone can maybe even give you a treasure map, to places you may not have even thought you were allowed to go? This is what librarians do."

He criticized plans to staff libraries with volunteers as "a one-sentence, Big Society idea whose ramifications and consequences they haven't even remotely considered," and described education secretary Michael Gove as "a man who races to the latest news about what a tragedy it is that three out of 10 children don't own a book, yet utterly fails to see the irony of how closing libraries will affect not only the three who don't, but the seven who do and who would like to read more and more and more."

Chair of the judging panel Ferelith Hordon said that within the pages of Monsters of Men, Ness "creates a complex other world, giving himself and the reader great scope to consider big questions about life, love and how we communicate, as well as the horrors of war, and the good and evil that mankind is capable of. It's an enthralling read that is well nigh impossible to put down."

The Kate Greenaway medal for illustration was won by Grahame Baker-Smith for FArTHER, which was praised by the judges as "a beautifully conceived picture book with a dream-like quality that captures the imagination of readers of all ages."

 

Book Brahmin: Paullina Simons

Paullina Simons is the author of nine internationally acclaimed novels, including Tully. Born and raised in St. Petersburg, Russia, she graduated from Kansas University and has lived in Rome, London and Dallas. She now lives near New York City with her husband and four children.

The Summer Garden, the conclusion to her trilogy that started with The Bronze Horseman and Tatiana and Alexander, was just released as a William Morrow trade paper original.

On your nightstand now:

Ambitiously six or seven tomes, including the astonishing The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee, but which I can only read in small doses; The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera for the existential skeptic in me; and a re-read of Tender Is the Night for the lovelorn romantic. On its way is My Father's Daughter, Gwyneth Paltrow's new cookbook, for the stories about her dad; and also Rob Lowe's bio, Stories I Only Tell My Friends, just because.

Favorite book when you were a child:

The Three Musketeers by Dumas. Everything I know about 17th century France I know from that book and the four sequels that followed. I read it so many times as a kid that I could recite pages--long passages from it by memory, in Russian!

Your top five authors:

Truman Capote, whose In Cold Blood is a perfect book. C.S. Lewis because, among other things, he is so funny. Dostoyevsky because no one is more thought-provoking about the human condition. E.M. Forster because he writes so longingly about love. And Steve Martin for his lucid and personal prose about loneliness; Shopgirl is one of my favorite contemporary novels.

Book you've faked reading:

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen, though not that many people care, frankly. I don't know why I pretend I've read it.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Lolita.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Never. No, I lie. Cookbooks and biographies I buy on sight.

Book that changed your life:

East of Eden by John Steinbeck. I was so desperately involved in it and when I finished, I cried on the London tube. I thought if only I could one day write something that would have one-tenth of the effect this book had on me, I'd consider my life well spent.

Favorite line from a book:

"Either we live by accident and we die by accident. Or we live by plan and die by plan."--From Thornton Wilder's Bridge over San Luis Rey.

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

Forster's A Room with a View. Just so I could re-live her deliciously reluctant falling in love with him.

 

Book Review

The Astounding, the Amazing, and the Unknown

The Astounding, the Amazing, and the Unknown by Paul Malmont (Simon & Schuster, $26 hardcover, 9781439168936, July 5, 2011)

We know some things to be true: Robert A. Heinlein recruited fellow science fiction writer Isaac Asimov to work in a research lab at the Philadelphia Navy Yard during the Second World War. There is a persistent rumor associated with the Navy Yard--the alleged disappearance and reappearance of the USS Eldridge in the "Philadelphia Experiment" of October 1943. Earlier that year, L. Ron Hubbard was relieved of his U.S. Navy command after a shooting incident in Mexican territorial waters, and there are conflicting stories of what he did for the rest of the war. Hubbard was also involved with Jack Parsons, who was simultaneously a pioneering member of the American space race program and one of the nation's highest-ranking occultists. And the publication of "Deadline," a short story written by Cleve Cartmill at the urging of Astounding Science Fiction editor John W. Campbell, led to a federal investigation into the possibility that science fiction writers were leaking atomic secrets to the enemy.

Paul Malmont takes all these historical tidbits--along with some of the legends about Nikola Tesla--and bundles them into a rollicking novel in which pulp fiction writers become real-life adventurers. (The Astounding, The Amazing, and the Unknown invokes the titles of three of the most prominent science fiction magazines.) There is also a bunch more real-life figures who make cameo appearances, whose identities will remain concealed to preserve the surprise for readers. Sure, the story tweaks the historical record in a few places; "Deadline," for example, wasn't actually published until the spring of 1944. It's clear readers aren't meant to take all of this too seriously, though, as the plot becomes increasingly baroque, with more than a few ingenious twists along the way.

Malmont's rich characterizations do much to obscure any questions of accuracy. In the midst of a hunt for a super weapon to defeat the Nazis, Heinlein and Asimov are distracted by the fissures in their marriages; Hubbard, frustrated by his failed efforts to be a war hero, takes some of his first steps towards the formulation of Scientology. (Malmont plays this straight down the middle: Hubbard is opportunistic and self-aggrandizing, but not a scheming mastermind--more like a guy who's tired of being a hapless victim of circumstance). And just about every writer in the story is obsessed with the business of writing, whether it's about hanging on to their status at the top of the pulp market, trying to sell more stories to better magazines, or even getting out of the pulps completely and writing "real" books. It's because this re-creation of the literary and fan communities that emerged during the science fiction boom feels so accurate that all the other stuff seems, even if only for a few moments, utterly plausible... and remains entertaining even after disbelief returns. --Ron Hogan

Shelf Talker: Malmont inserts some callbacks to his first novel, The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril (2007), which took a similar approach to pulp stars of the 1930s, but readers can enjoy this new story with or without that one under their belts.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: The Indie Bookstore Curated Poetry Section Test

Admit it. You have a test, too. Many of us who visit an independent bookstore for the first time have a checklist to consult--consciously or subconsciously--while browsing the stacks. The word "curator" is used a lot now to describe indie booksellers, and this test is a way to get a sense of curation in a particular shop. One of my favorite tests is to explore the poetry section and see if its inventory ventures beyond the usual suspects. What do these shelves (or even shelf) tell me about the poetry curator in this store?

During Poetry Month, I wrote about being a casual reader of poems year round. Last week, Shawn Wathen, owner of Chapter One Book Store, Hamilton, Mont., reminded me of a great conversation we had in May at BEA, during which we agreed it's important not to relegate poetry awareness to a single month annually. He also noted that June 30 will be the 100th anniversary of Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz's birth, which he plans to celebrate appropriately: "I have a friend who in college developed a crush on a guy due to his love of Milosz--I will be getting together with her on the 30th to drink vodka and read Milosz (might be better if we read then drink)."

In a recent Chapter One-ders blog post, Shawn wrote, "To say that he was influential in my life is to understate things to an astonishing degree. In the field of world literature, 1911 was an auspicious year. Elizabeth Bishop, Max Frisch, William Golding and Naguib Mahfouz were all born in that year, but Milosz was the brightest star. Outstanding in a variety of forms--belles lettres, essays, autobiography--it was as a poet that he defined himself, and as I first came to read his words."

Since I won't be in Montana any time soon, I asked Shawn to apply my curated poetry section test to Chapter One. He offered a guided tour: "On the store's poetry shelves (two very short ones), I have Milosz's New and Collected Poems, 1931-2001 (this is the best compilation to experience 70 years of his verse); Road-side Dog (I give this to every graduate I know; a great collection of thoughtful prose poems); Second Space (this small volume appeared after New and Collected, but is remarkable for seeing the poet at the end of his life--the poem 'Orpheus and Eurydice' is one of his best). Milosz also edited a collection of international verse--A Book of Luminous Things--which is the single best anthology of world poets of which I am aware (Milosz did not include any of his poems in this anthology)."

The poetry section has been Shawn's responsibility for 15 years, "and without question, it reflects my penchant for Polish poets. In addition to Milosz, I have Herbert, Rozewicz, Szymborska and Zagajewski. I also stock those poets popular in the U.S. such as Oliver, Bukowski, Neruda and Collins. Dante is a must, as is Whitman."

To round out the inventory, there are titles he orders "to keep the section from looking anemic." These often include poets in translation--Kabir, Modern Poetry of Pakistan, Darwish and Verlaine, Classical Chinese Poetry and The Stray Dog Cabaret. "When one sells, I replace it with another poet known, or perhaps not. I like the section to show variety, so just tend to stock one copy of each title. I do not even contemplate 'turns' on this section--it remains for me a labor of love and passion."

Shawn also features at least two works of poetry--with shelf-talkers--on the staff picks display. These "are the default titles my colleagues can handsell. My business partner Mara is the only other one in the shop who reads poetry, and she has her favorites to handsell as well. We enjoy sharing."

Handselling poetry has its rewards, but can be challenging. "Steering someone looking for a good read towards poetry is a notable rarity, but it has happened," Shawn observed. "On the few occasions when it does, it often begins at the staff picks shelf, where, if the feeling is right, and a point of discussion sparks a memory of a poem or verse, I nonchalantly pick up a volume of poetry on the shelf, turn to an appropriate poem and say 'read this.' William Stafford wrote a marvelous poem titled 'You Reading This, Be Ready,' and I look to see if the customer in question is ready. Sometimes, yes, more often no. Those looking for a special gift are more often amenable to branching out."

The rarity of such encounters makes them memorable. "Not long after I started at the bookstore, a 70-plus-year-old woman came into the store and noted a volume of poetry among the staff picks, something new and startling," Shawn said. "It sparked a conversation that blossomed into a friendship founded on poetry that lasted until her death last year. I shared my favorite Polish poets, she handed me hers. When Parkinson's disease confined her to her home the last years of her life, on good days she would call me at the shop. My colleagues would know instantly that I was talking with Lorraine. At least once every call she would recite poetry to me; her memory for verse a testament to its fundamental role in life--the Chinese, Homer, Shakespeare, Pushkin and of course Milosz. Life would be so much poorer without the wisdom of the great poets."

Want to know how to pass my curated poetry section test? Chapter One Book Store just did.--Robert Gray (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)

 

The Bestsellers

Top-Selling Titles in Florida Last Week

The following were the bestselling books at independent bookstores in Florida during the week ended Sunday, June 19:

1. One Summer by David Baldacci
2. Through My Eyes by Tim Tebow
3. The Sixth Man by David Baldacci
4. The Greater Journey by David McCullough
5. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
6. Folly Beach by Dorothea Benton Frank
7. My Name Is Memory by Ann Brashares
8. The Lost Girls by Jennifer Baggett, Holly C. Corbett and Amanda Pressner
9. The Jefferson Key by Steve Berry
10. The Beach Trees by Karen White

Reporting bookstores and their handselling favorites:

Books & Books, Coral Gables, Miami Beach, Bal Harbour
Book Mark, Neptune Beach: The Jefferson Key by Steve Berry
Inkwood Books, Tampa: Oil on Water by Helon Habila
Vero Beach Book Center: One Summer by David Baldacci

[Many thanks to the booksellers and Carl Lennertz!]

 

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