Shelf Awareness for Friday, August 12, 2011


Penguin Press: A Tokyo Romance: A Memoir by Ian Buruma

Scribner Book Company: The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson

St. Martin's Press: After Anna by Lisa Scottoline

Little Brown and Company: The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath by Leslie Jamison

Quotation of the Day

'Rules of the Store' at Capitol Hill Books

"I love this work, but can find it exasperating at times. In the store, people leave books wherever they feel like, so I will find Ulysses God knows where. And then, there are the people who argue about prices and don't understand inflation. I charge less than half price for a book, but if it cost $10 in 1980, it costs more now. I can't take you in a time machine back to when it was $10. Sometimes I feel like I have to teach these people basic economics.

"And then, there are the rules of the store. First, you can only get in when it is open. Second, no cell phones. This is a book store and not a phone booth. Third, there are words and phrases that you can't use in my store: like, oh my God, neat, sweet, have a good one, that's a good question, totally, whatever, perfect, Kindle or Amazon. These words give me brain damage. I'm serious. When people use them in here, I tell them to get a thesaurus and stop being so mentally lame."

--Jim Toole, owner of Capitol Hill Books, Washington, D.C., in an interview with People's District.
 

GLOW: Grove Atlantic: The Mercy Seat by Elizabeth H. Winthrop


News

Notes: Amazon's Hiring Message; Tennessee Tax Ruckus

Amazon, which is hiring hundreds of new full-time staff at fulfillment centers in Carlisle and Lewisberry, Pa., used its press release yesterday about the hirings to drive home the point that states that don't seek to have it collect sales tax will be rewarded.

"We have thousands of employees working hard in our Pennsylvania facilities every day, and we're delighted to be adding hundreds of new jobs in the state," said Dave Clark, v-p, Amazon North American operations. "The support we've received from Governor Corbett and other state officials has enabled our continued investment in the state."

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Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam created a stir earlier this week when he said he would prefer to have questions about Amazon’s tax status resolved by year's end, "preferably with the online retailer collecting sales taxes" from the state's consumers, the Tennessean reported. Thus far his administration has backed the assurances former Governor Phil Bredesen gave Amazon that its planned distribution centers would not trigger sales tax collection.

"We'd like to work out some arrangement that works for them to stay and grow in Tennessee and yet for us to collect the sales tax that we need," said Haslam.

WTVC-9 reported that Haslam's statement generated "concern and confusion." Bradley County Mayor Gary Davis said the comment was a surprise and worried him: "They've started building and spending millions of dollars in Hamilton and Bradley counties, and yet our state officials continue to talk about whether they should be taxed or not."

A spokesperson for Haslam's office explained: "In that quote he's referencing the ongoing comprehensive discussions about an expanded Amazon presence beyond the original agreement."

Representative Gerald McCormick met with the governor Wednesday. "His stance has really not changed from the beginning and neither has mine, we would both like to see at some point, all Internet re-salers collect state sales tax," he said.

McCormick also told the Tennessean he expects Amazon to reach an agreement in the near future: "They’re not in the business of legislative battles and legal battles. They’re in the business of selling things..... I think we stick to the deal that we made; we don’t break the deal. But I don’t think we’ll have to. I think they’re a good corporate citizen and want to come to a conclusion on this so that it’s no longer a distraction to them or the legislature or the governor."

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Books-A-Million has tentatively scheduled the opening of its new store at the Spotsylvania Towne Centre in Fredericksburg, Va., for August 18, MarketWatch reported. The location was formerly occupied by Joseph-Beth Booksellers.

"We've always recognized that the community we serve at Towne Centre demands a first-class bookstore," said Joe Bell, director of corporate communications, Cafaro Company, which owns the mall. Books-A-Million brings that level of quality and experience. It's a perfect fit. We're so happy to have this great bookseller join our wonderful lineup of merchants."

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E-book versions outsold print editions for four of the top 10 titles on USA Today's bestseller list this week. The digital winners were Now You See Her (#6), Catching Fire (#7), Cold Vengeance (# 8) and Mockingjay (#9).

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The butler did it. A new study by Nicholas Christenfeld and Jonathan Leavitt of the University of California, San Diego, indicates that spoilers can increase our enjoyment of literature. "Although we've long assumed that the suspense makes the story--we keep on reading because we don't know what happens next--this new research suggests that the tension actually detracts from our enjoyment," noted Wired's Jonah Lehrer, who offered three "random thoughts" on the findings:

  1. In this age of information, we've become mildly obsessed with avoiding spoilers, staying away from social media lest we learn about the series finale of Lost or the surprising twist in the latest blockbuster. But this is a new habit.
  2. Just because we know the end doesn't mean there aren't surprises.
  3. Surprises are much more fun to plan than experience.


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Flavorwire got into the spoiler spirit by showcasing "10 classic books we read despite knowing how they end."

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NPR unveiled the results of its Top 100 Science-Fiction and Fantasy survey, in which "more than 5,000 of you nominated. More than 60,000 of you voted.... Our panel of experts reviewed hundreds of the most popular nominations and tossed out those that didn't fit the survey's criteria (after--we assure you--much passionate, thoughtful, gleefully nerdy discussion). You'll notice there are no young adult or horror books on this list, but sit tight, dear reader, we're saving those genres for summers yet to come."

NPR also featured "a printable version, to take with you to the bookstore."
 
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USA Today featured a list of the 50 funniest American writers, according to Andy Borowitz, who said, "Anytime you do a best-of list, people get mad, except for the people on the list. Lists are lightning rods. That's the fun of it. And the most personal thing of all is deciding what's funny.... Someone else could do it and come up with another list: Mark Twain and 49 others. You've got to include Twain, no one stands up better over time."

Borowitz is the editor of The 50 Funniest American Writers: An Anthology of Humor from Mark Twain to the Onion, which will be published by the Library of America October 13.

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Slate asked several authors, critics and editors to confess their least favorite "must read" book. Francine Prose selected Beowulf, confessing that she "preferred seeing How to Train Your Dragon with my granddaughter; at least it was in 3-D, and the monsters come flying at you out of the screen."

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"We all know that you can't judge a book by its cover, but you can surely judge people by the covers of their books," Brian Viner wrote in a Telegraph piece chronicling his disappointing holiday in Turkey, "where around the hotel swimming-pool my wife and I were able to make only a limited series of snap judgments about our fellow Brits, owing to the number of electronic books being read behind maddeningly unrevealing black cases. It simply hadn't occurred to me, until we arrived at the pool on our first morning, that I was about to lose my inalienable right as a paperback snob to see what is causing the fellow on the next sunbed to chuckle. And of course it's only going to get worse, as more and more people take their holiday reading in digital form."

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Bookcase of the day: Decorative industrial pipe shelving from DirtyBils Interiors "can be successfully used to flawlessly extend the influence of industrial design into your own home," according to Freshome.

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Book trailer of the day: Bohemian Girl by Terese Svoboda (Bison Books), which appears September 1.

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Nicole De Jackmo has joined Quirk Books as publicity manager. She was most recently a senior publicist at Running Press and earlier was a publicist at Simon & Schuster.

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At Lonely Planet:

  • Gary Todoroff has been promoted to v-p, sales. He previously was trade sales director, Americas, and has been at the company eight years.
  • Brice Gosnell has been promoted to v-p, publishing, and publisher, Americas, from publisher, Americas. Gosnell has headed the Americas publishing team for six years.
  • Marc Visnick has been promoted to director of sales, North America. Previously he was national account manager, U.S. and Canada. He has worked for the company for 10 years.
  • Avi Martin has been promoted to national accounts manager, online and e-books. She was formerly account manager, Amazon/bibliographic data manager and has worked at Lonely Planet for five years.

 


Clarion Books: The Stone Girl's Story by Sarah Beth Durst


Cool Idea of the Day: Food Truck Caters to the Fluent

To celebrate the release of its new Platinum Edition language instruction kits, which combine books, audio CDs, mobile apps and access to online resources (including the ability to work with "e-tutors" in live video conversations), Living Language hired a food truck to provide New Yorkers with free culinary treats--one for each language from the Platinum launch roster--as long as they could pronounce the names of the menu items correctly. (A pronunciation guide was provided on the side of the truck, and volunteers were on hand in case further assistance was needed.) The truck's caterers provided their own agua fresca de sandia y menta (watermelon and mint coolers), but the other snacks—sorbet au pamplemousse (grapefruit sorbet), Brezel mit Rüben-Meerrettich Mayonnaise (pretzels with beet-horseradish mayonnaise), and sfogliatelle--all came from local restaurants. (Fun fact: German speakers pronounce mayonnaise "MY-own-NYE-suh." Also, beet-horseradish mayonnaise is a heck of a lot better than Miracle Whip.)

The Living Language truck spent Wednesday afternoon at the Union Square farmer's market, and then parked in front of Random House's Broadway offices for Thursday afternoon. Although there are no current plans to send it out on the road, we can still hope for a return visit when Living Language releases the next wave of Platinum Edition programs, which will include Chinese, Japanese and Arabic. --Ron Hogan

 


Oxford University Press: Hate: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship by Nadine Strossen


Media and Movies

Television: The Leftovers; Member-Guest; Are You There Vodka?

HBO is developing a series based on Tom Perrotta's upcoming novel The Leftovers. Variety reported that the hour-long drama "explores the Rapture and how the sudden disappearance of loved ones in a suburban town affects everyone left behind." Perrotta is writing the pilot.

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Neil LaBute is the new writer for HBO's The Member-Guest, a half-hour series starring Kevin Bacon that is based on Clint McCown's 1995 book, Deadline.com reported.

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Jake McDorman (Greek) has been cast as the the male lead opposite Laura Prepon on the NBC comedy series Are You There Vodka, It's Me Chelsea, based on Chelsea Handler's bestselling book. Deadline.com noted that if "you feel like you've already seen McDorman in the pilot for the multicamera comedy, you're not mistaken. McDorman guest starred in it playing a different role, Big Red, which will now be recast."
 


Movies: World War Z

Paramount has set December 21, 2012 as the release date for World War Z, adapted from Max Brooks's zombie novel and directed by Marc Forster. Deadline.com reported the movie--starring Brad Pitt , Mireille Enos and James Badge Dale--is currently in production.
 


Eerie Soundtracks: Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; True Blood

Snippets of Trent Reznor's score for David Fincher's adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo have been added to the film's official website, running on a loop over images of stars Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara. Entertainment Weekly called the sampling "pretty eerie and minimalist" and predicted that "we're probably in for a deeply unsettling, diabolical treat."

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EW also offered sample tracks from the forthcoming compilation True Blood--Music from the HBO Series--Volume 3, noting that the "show's music, while always excellent, has been especially tight this year, delivering great covers like Nick Cave and Neko Case's 'She's Not There,' Karen Elson's take on 'Season of the Witch,' and Nick Lowe's 'Cold Grey Light of Dawn' (which closed out the most recent episode of the show)."
 



Books & Authors

Book Brahmin: Claudia Long

Claudia H. Long grew up in Mexico City, graduated from Harvard University and practices law in Northern California. She wrote her senior thesis on The Feminism of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, and remains a lifelong fan of the poet and her work. Josefina's Sin (Atria, August 9, 2011) tells the story of a sheltered land-owner's wife in late 17th-century Mexico, who leaves everything she knows and loves to study with Sor Juana. But she doesn't only learn about poetry, she discovers the many shades and meanings of love, desire and the terrors of the Inquisition, while she navigates the treacherous waters of the Mexican vice-royal court.

On your nightstand now:

Nothing stays long on my nightstand! I read four or five books a month. I have just finished Bossypants, Tina Fey's autobiography; The Bellini Card, the third of Jason Goodwin's awesome mysteries with Yashim the eunuch; Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro's strange and disturbing novel about a society that raises clones to act as organ donors; and to make up for that, one of the installments in the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich.

Favorite book when you were a child:

I grew up in Mexico City, attended the Lycée Francais, and my parents spoke English to us, so my reading was mighty eclectic. Just the list of my most beloved books will give you an idea of what a strange kid I was! El Rey Cuervo (The Crow King) was a moralizing, nasty little story about a girl who turned down a prince because he was ugly, and was married off to a poor man as punishment. Of course, he was really the Crow King in disguise. Then I ranged from Patrick Dennis's Auntie Mame to Le club des cinq mysteries in French to terrifying Helen McInnes adult spy thrillers (who reads that at age 10?). Trixie Belden mysteries--until I read The Story of the FBI when I was 12. From then on, my only desire was to catch counterfeiters. I am still fascinated by forged checks. At last, I hit puberty and read The Diary of a Mad Housewife. It was all over. I read that book perhaps 30 times. I was obsessed with it. As I said, I was a very strange kid. It was El Rey Cuervo all over again!

Your top five authors:

Gabriel Garcia Marquez (I read One Hundred Years of Solitude every year for 10 years--I'm starting to see a very troubling pattern here!); Arturo Pérez-Reverte (especially The Seville Communion and the Alatriste novels); Julio Cortazar; David Liss (The Coffee Trader; A Conspiracy of Paper); John Barth's Tidewater Tales--and definitely add in Elizabeth Peters and all of her Egypt mysteries.

Book you've faked reading:

The last 100 pages of Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Seriously, I just couldn't follow it. But everyone was talking about it, so I had to pretend.

Book you're an evangelist for:

One Hundred Years of Solitude, of course! Everyone should read this book. It is a great work of art. It is the culmination of everything I ever wanted a book to be. Shall I stop evangelizing now?

Book you've bought for the cover:

Too many! I have been lured into buying all kinds of books that look magical, only to be pedestrian inside. But that's okay. I totally respect a good cover. I self-published a book called Weave Her Thread with Bones in 2000. It was a pretty good mystery, if I do say so myself, but because it was self-published, I was able to get my husband to design the cover. The cover is fabulous, and no doubt it sold as well as it did because of the cover!

Book that changed your life:

The Power of One by Bryce Courtney. The book taught me about the incredible power a single person has to change a tiny corner of history just by doing the right thing. Maybe I have to put that book into the "books I am an evangelist for" category, too!

Favorite line from a book:

"[T]odo la vida es sueño, y los sueños sueños son." All life is a dream, and dreams are dreams. From La vida es sueño by Pedro Calderón de la Barca.

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

Obviously I don't mind reading books over and over again--maybe I have such a bad memory that it is like reading them for the first time!

 


Book Review

Book Review: An Accident in August

An Accident in August by Laurence Cosse, trans. by Alison Anderson (Europa Editions, $15 trade paper, 9781609450496, August 30, 2011)

On August 31, 1997, in the Pont de l'Alma tunnel in Paris, a speeding Mercedes crashed into a pillar, killing two of the four passengers instantly and seriously injuring the other two. The third passenger died four hours later; the fourth was in a coma for some time. These are the bare facts of what took place the night that Dodi Fayed and the driver, Henri Paul, were killed, Princess Diana died shortly thereafter and Trevor Rees-Jones, Dodi's bodyguard, lay in a coma.

Cossé's (The Corner of the Veil) story posits the presence of a small Fiat Uno, traveling into the tunnel at 30 miles per hour. The Mercedes driver, trying to avoid the car and the paparazzi in pursuit, passes it, scraping the side of the Fiat, breaking its taillight and losing control of his car in the process. The Fiat driver, 25-year-old waitress Louise Origan, keeps going. She thinks later: "Why, oh why did I drive away? I could have stopped... one thing is for sure, I never thought of stopping, not one second. I was running away." Was she responsible for the accident? She feels enormous guilt, remorse and fear, and these emotions drive the novel.

For days immediately following the accident, Lou cannot stop buying newspapers, trying to absorb every detail surrounding the event. Her co-worker, obsessed with the death of Princess Di, has a friend whose husband works for the Crime Division, and she keeps dropping bits and pieces of information that haven't yet made the papers. Lou gets the Fiat repaired at the shop of an apathetic Indian who does the work, collects the money and pays no attention to the transaction. She is terrified of being found out, not sure that she caused the accident, but certain that she could easily be made a scapegoat for the tragedy.

Pieces of the broken taillight are identified; the news is published that they are from a Fiat Uno and that the police will seek out every Fiat in the country. Lou is already spiraling downward when she learns this news; indifferent to her boyfriend, missing work, not sleeping, reading and watching everything pertaining to the accident--and then the man who repaired the Fiat shows up again. What has been a tense recital of a woman suffering inner torment ups the ante to become a study in psychology and survival. The author maintains perfect control of her terrifying story, right through to the ambiguous ending. --Valerie Ryan

Shelf Talker: A woman driving into the tunnel just ahead of the speeding Mercedes that crashed and killed Princess Di keeps driving, forever altering her life.

 


Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Reading & 'What Work Is'

When a new poet laureate is named, readers head to their bookshelves, certain they must still have that dusty collection purchased long ago. Booksellers head to the poetry section, fearing they returned the writer's books during that last big cull. Publishers head to their computers and check inventory, knowing an order blitz is already headed their way.

I confess my reaction is usually a restrained, "Good for him (or her)." It's nice to see acknowledgment for someone's body of work, and if that poet happens to be one I like, maybe I feel just a little better and even check my own bookcases.

But this week Philip Levine was named the poet laureate of the U.S. and I'm excited. Levine's work matters to me. I've read him for a long time. When I heard the news of his appointment, my first thoughts were not about the Library of Congress or more poetry-in-the-schools initiatives. They were about work and reading, and how those two words became the essence of my life, made me, inevitably, one of Levine's readers.

"I worked for Cadillac, in their transmission factory, and for Chevrolet," he told the Paris Review in 1988. "You could recite poems aloud in there. The noise was so stupendous. Some people singing, some people talking to themselves, a lot of communication going on with nothing, no one to hear."

I never worked in a car factory, but I worked in a marble mill for a little while and I worked in a supermarket for a long time. I know what hard work is. I also know how hard not having work is. I know that words can sometimes capture this toughness and the complicated pain/pleasure of aching bones and mind--an odd combination of power and powerlessness. I know that words often saved me, as did work. A long time ago, I discovered Levine had found some damn good words of his own.

We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is--if you're
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.


He is, as they say, the right man for the job. I'm sure many people have already noted the logic of his appointment at a time when unemployment is a freight train; when the working world Levine has chronicled in his poetry is vanishing so fast his poems often read like fierce elegies.

For the past six years, I taught an English Comp. course at a community college in southern Vermont. Many of my students had lousy jobs or were unemployed; just looking for a break, another chance, a fresh start, whether they were 23 or 43. Work was one of the things I asked them to write about. We read Levine's "What Work Is" together. They already knew what work is. Levine's poem is intricate, but they worked their way through it with me. If a poem can be "gotten," some of them got it. And if they never read another poem, they really read this one.

You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it's someone else's brother,
narrower across the shoulders than
yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin
that does not hide the stubbornness,
the sad refusal to give in to
rain, to the hours wasted waiting,
to the knowledge that somewhere ahead
a man is waiting who will say, "No,
we're not hiring today," for any
reason he wants.


In the Paris Review interview, Levine described Detroit in the late '80s as a city where "nothing grandly heroic is taking place... Nothing epic. Just the small heroics of getting through the day when the day doesn’t give a shit, getting through the world with as much dignity as you can pull together from the tiny resources left to you. It’s the truly heroic. The poem ["A Walk with Tom Jefferson"] is a tribute to all these people who survived in the face of so much discouragement. They’ve survived everything America can dish out. No, nothing grandly heroic is happening in Detroit. I guess nothing grandly heroic ever took place there; it was always automobiles, automobiles, hard work, and low pay."

This is definitely the guy I want to be our poet laureate right now.--Robert Gray (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)

Photo: Craig Kohlruss /Fresno Bee


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