Shelf Awareness for Thursday, December 15, 2011


HarperCollins: On a Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Alemagna

Johns Hopkins University Ptess: Playboys and Mayfair Men by Angus McLaren / A Year of Writing Dangerously by Keith Gandal

Atlantic Monthly Press: The Prague Sonata by Bradford Morrow

Balzer & Bray/Harperteen: I Love You Like a Pig by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Greg Pizzoli

News

Obituary Note: George Whitman

George Whitman, the longtime owner of Shakespeare & Company in Paris, died yesterday in his apartment above the store. He was 98 and had suffered a stroke two months ago, according to his daughter, Sylvia.

Founded in 1951, Shakespeare & Company has been a legendary bookstore, what in a long tribute, the New York Times called "an offbeat mix of open house and literary commune." Whitman was famous for providing room and board in the store to writers and booklovers, some 40,000 over the years, he estimated. He asked his guests to help out in the store, and was known at times to be erratic and dramatic. Still, he was a patron of writers and readers. He commented: "I wanted a bookstore because the book business is the business of life."

After World War II, Whitman moved to Paris and began selling English-language books at a kiosk, then opened a store called Le Mistral. In 1964, the store took the name Shakespeare & Company, to commemorate the bard's 400th birthday and to honor Sylvia Beach, who owned the famous Shakespeare & Company in the 1920s and '30s.



AuthorBuzz: Indie Bookstore Readers


Amazon Price Check Saturday Discussion Heats Up

Amazon's Price Check Saturday has sparked plenty of discussion in the book industry this week, but the heat was turned up considerably yesterday after the publication of Farhad Manjoo's Slate column headlined "Don't Support Your Local Bookseller." While he acknowledged that Amazon "did a boneheaded thing" last weekend, Manjoo claimed "no company in recent years has done more than Amazon to ignite a national passion for buying, reading and even writing new books."

He also fired a direct shot at Richard Russo for his New York Times op-ed piece in defense of independent bookstores, criticizing "bookstore cultists like Russo" for what he called "a critical and common mistake.... Rather than focus on the ways that Amazon's promotion would harm businesses whose demise might actually be a cause for alarm (like a big-box electronics store that hires hundreds of local residents), Russo hangs his tirade on some of the least efficient, least user-friendly, and most mistakenly mythologized local establishments you can find: independent bookstores."

As might be expected, reactions in defense of indies came fast and furious on Twitter, including @SalmanRushdie ("Bookstore lovers are 'cultists'? Maybe, but this man is a moron.") and @AlgonquinBooks ("Dumbest article of 2011.").

Quick retaliation also occurred beyond social networking sites. Flavorwire's Judy Berman wrote: "If, like us, your Twitter feed is on fire today with more colorful versions of the sentiment, 'Screw you, Slate,' allow us to explain what's going on." After offering readers the background, she noted: "I find it sad, actually, that Manjoo--a generally sharp and smart technology writer--finds clicking around on Amazon to be more fun than browsing the shelves of a real-life bookstore where (gasp!) one might actually interact with other book lovers. It also seems specious to argue that Amazon customer reviews are more useful than the advice of an independent bookstore employee or owner, who presumably has more knowledge of and enthusiasm for literature than your average unknown dude typing angrily in his parents's basement."

Jarek Steele, co-owner of Left Bank Books, St. Louis, Mo., contended that "bookstores are not 'cultish, moldering' institutions, but physical representations of an industry that changes every single year. We are small, flexible and determined to change along with it. Not all of us will survive, but those of us who do will still serve an important purpose, and will still respect and support our customers and community."

In her post "Support Your Local Bookseller," PC Magazine's Chandra Steele noted that indies "serve as the test market for new writers. For writers that aren't a name brand, publishers release a small run of books and see how they do at the most influential of the independent bookstores. If the stores and their readers react favorably, the book goes on to a larger market."

Memphis Daily News blogger Andy Meek observed he "never had trouble finding what I'm looking for at the Booksellers at Laurelwood or Burke's. If they don't have it, they're happy to order it. Everything's labeled. The staff is friendly."

But the award for best headline of the day goes to the New York Observer: "Everybody in New York Hates Slate Reporter Who Complained About Indie Bookstores."
 


Zondervan: To Wager Her Heart (Belle Meade Plantation) by Tamera Alexander


'E-Book Sticker Shock?'

In a front-page article called "E-Book Readers Face Sticker Shock," the Wall Street Journal noted that the many people receiving e-readers as gifts at the end of the year will find that "the price gap between the print and e-versions of some top sellers has now narrowed to within a few dollars--and in some cases, e-books are more expensive than their printed equivalents." This may hurt sales of e-books and promote the sales of lower-priced e-titles, particularly self-published e-books, and printed books. As one consumer said, "It's hard to justify the purchase of e-books that are priced at $10 to $15 when you can buy the real book on Amazon used for $2 or $3."

Of course, the agency plan has protected pricing on many e-books. Still, Hachette said that "83% of its digital titles are priced at $9.99 or below," the Journal wrote. And the Yankee Group has found that "the average price of a consumer digital book has fallen to $8.19 this year from $9.23 in 2009."


Return of New York Bound

The New York Times remembered New York Bound, the bookstore about all things New York that was founded in 1976 and was located in several spots in Manhattan, until it wound up in Rockefeller Center and closed in 1997. Since then, New York Bound co-owner Barbara Cohen has been working on a bibliography of New York City that she recently put online on newyorkboundbooks.com, which she describes as "an extension of New York Bound Bookshop." The site will offer information about a range of material, including "links to relevant booksellers, libraries, archives, institutions and other websites that are largely obscure." Cohen noted, too, "New York Bound published four books of New York interest in the past, and this tradition will continue."


Seaburn Books to Close Bricks-&-Mortar Store

Seaburn Bookstore, "Astoria's only independent bookseller," will close at the end of the year, the New York Daily News reported. Owner Sam Chekwas had explored the possibility of relocating his Queens, N.Y., store earlier this year before deciding to remain in his current location (Shelf Awareness, March 17, 2011), but could not counter the effects of declining sales, a rent increase and competition from e-books.

"I feel quite awful about it. We gave it all we had.... The sales were just not there to justify it," said Chekwas, who plans to open a small bookstore next year in his Long Island City warehouse, which is used for his independent book publishing company and online sales business.
 


Holiday Hum: High Spirits at Quail Ridge Books & Music

The holiday season is starting off merry and bright at Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh, N.C.: sales for the first part of December are up 15% over last year. "This is the first time in three years that we have felt things are improving," said general manager Sarah Goddin. "It's a nice change."

Former customers at several now-closed Borders stores in the area are shopping at Quail Ridge, enticed in part by a special offer. Those who brought in their Borders rewards cards were given a free one-year membership in the Readers' Club ($15 per year per household). In addition, "there are a lot more people buying into the idea of shop local first and thinking about it in terms of making their buying decisions," noted Goddin.

Quail Ridge customers' local interest extends not just to where they're shopping but to what they're purchasing. The store's current #1 seller is North Carolina native Charles Frazier's Nightwoods, a novel set in the Appalachian Mountains. The tale is one of the titles featured in a "North Carolina New and Noteworthy" display, along with other popular selections like We Remember: Stories by North Carolina Veterans of World War II edited by Russ Reynolds and The Classic: How Everett Case and His Tournament Brought Big-Time Basketball to the South by Bethany Bradsher.

A surprise hit has been Duke University professor Cathy N. Davidson's Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn. Local news anchor Bill Leslie is making music for fans of novelist Jan Karon's Mitford series. The singer and songwriter's new CD is A Midnight Clear: Christmas in Mitford, a 16-song album inspired by Karon's stories, which take place in a fictional North Carolina town. The author worked with Leslie on the project, designing the album cover and recommending the title.

Jigsaw puzzles featuring images by North Carolina artists are some of the impulse items attracting shoppers' notice. This time of year, the checkout area at Quail Ridge is set up so that customers wait in a single line for the next available register. Arranged on shelves where the queue forms are "Great Last-Minute Gifts," among them the game Bananagrams, bookends, Book Darts, reading lights and the bestselling sideline: 3D bookmarks from Emotion Gallery, which are placed at the checkout counter.

Top titles sans Carolina connections are Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson and Then Again by Diane Keaton. One on One: Behind the Scenes with the Greats in the Game by John Feinstein is benefitting from its inclusion on a list of "Ten Hot New Books" selected by Goddin and store owner Nancy Olson; each one is 30% off for everyone, not just Readers' Club members.

Some of Goddin's favorite hand sells this season are Michael Sims's The Story of Charlotte's Web: E.B. White's Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic, a "fabulous" biography; the story collection Accidental Birds of the Carolinas by Marjorie Hudson, "an author who will be well known one day"; and The Call by Yannick Murphy, a "heartwarming but not sappy" novel told through the medical log entries of a veterinarian in rural New England. Two of Olson's picks are the novels Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and Chango's Beads and Two-Tone Shoes by William Kennedy.

For the second year, Quail Ridge is offering free shipping for online orders over $20 through December 31. The promotion "has been going gangbusters," said Goddin. "We're also doing better getting the word out." If customers call to inquire about a title that isn't on the shelves, staffers direct them to the website and mention the special. "Once people have gone through the registration process, they find out how easy it is to order online and are likely to come back," Goddin said.

A long-running tradition at Quail Ridge is a Hanukkah concert performed by a local band, Mishpacha, which has been performing at the store for 15 years and will be there this Saturday afternoon.  A more recent tradition began unintentionally. Champagne left over from an event was uncorked and served to those waiting in line to pay for their purchases. It was a hit with Quail Ridge clientele, and raising spirits with glasses of bubbly (regular and non-alcoholic) is now a regular part of the store's holiday festivities. --Shannon McKenna Schmidt

 


Notes

Image of the Day: Big Benefit at Half Price

Earlier this month, Half Price Books held its second annual employee ornament sale at its flagship store in Dallas, Texas. Employees from across the country submitted hundreds of creative, handcrafted ornaments, including soda-can reindeer, embroidered stockings and Santa cinnamon sticks. The sale raised more than $1,700 for the North Texas Food Bank. During the sale, Santa and his elf (l.) stopped by and posed with (r.) Sharon Anderson Wright, president and CEO of Half Price Books.

 


Bookselling & Occupy Boston

Barbara's Bookstore in Boston's South Station "has become an improbable locus for political discourse; a few feet beyond the Lee Child and James Patterson paperbacks that line its external shelves are works of radical thought," the Phoenix reported, noting that "faced out on a display shelf marked 'Staff Recommends' are a number of books not geared toward bleary-eyed commuters en route to Bridgewater."

When Occupy Boston set up in Dewey Square, bookseller Mark Rimbach and his colleagues created a shelf of titles related to the cause and the books sold well to people seeking to understand the movement.

"[Occupy] causes people to be a whole lot less ambivalent. People come in and say, 'I need to learn more about anarchy,' " he said, adding: "I don't see people at Occupy having time to read or money to buy things. It's older people out [at Occupy] for the day who come in here and want to talk to us about it. A lot of people are trying to educate themselves."
 


World Book Tour: Beautiful College Libraries

Flavorwire showcased the "25 Most Beautiful College Libraries in the World," noting that "the college library, whether ornate or modern, digital or dusty, is in many ways the epicenter of the college experience--at least for some students. It is at once a shining emblem of vast, acquirable knowledge, a place for deep discussions and meetings of the mind, and of course, a big building full of books, which, as far as we’re concerned, is exciting enough."
 

Sue Ostfield to Join Milkweed Editions

Effective February 1, Sue Ostfield is joining Milkweed Editions as sales and marketing director. She has been director of national accounts at Publishers Group West and earlier was a sales rep and then worked in national accounts. She began her career as marketing, publicity and sales director at Coffee House Press.

 



Media and Movies

Media Heat: Mindy Kaling Hangs Out with Craig Ferguson

This morning on Imus in the Morning: Mark R. Levin, author of the forthcoming Ameritopia: The Unmaking of America (Threshold, $26.99, 9781439173244).

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Tomorrow on the Talk: Donald Trump, author of Time to Get Tough: Making America #1 Again (Regnery, $27.95, 9781596987739).

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Tomorrow night on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson: Mindy Kaling, author of Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) (Crown Archetype, $25, 9780307886262).


Early Release for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Sony Pictures will release David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo nationwide December 20, one day earlier than previously scheduled, Deadline.com reported. "This is one of the busiest times of the year for moviegoing and we can't wait to share this outstanding thriller with audiences all over the world," said Jeff Blake, chairman, worldwide marketing and distribution for Sony. "We feel that by opening for night-time shows on December 20, fans of the book will be given the perfect opportunity to get a jump start on the release of an exceptional film."

It may just be coincidental, but last week the New Yorker magazine broke a December 13 review embargo with David Denby's piece, sparking a war of words between Denby and the film's producer, Scott Rudin.  
 


This Weekend on Book TV: Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Book TV airs on C-Span 2 this week from 8 a.m. Saturday to 8 a.m. Monday and focuses on political and historical books as well as the book industry. The following are highlights for this coming weekend. For more information, go to Book TV's website.

Saturday, December 17

12 p.m. At an event hosted by the Booksmith, San Francisco, Calif., Jeremy Rifkin, author of The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World (Palgrave Macmillan, $27, 9780230115217), argues that Internet technology and renewable energy could foster a new industrial revolution in the U.S. (Re-airs Sunday at 3:30 p.m.)

2:30 p.m. Book TV features coverage of the Before Columbus Foundation's American Book Awards ceremony, which was held at the University of California, Berkeley. (Re-airs Monday at 4 a.m.)

5 p.m. Tony Horwitz talks about his book Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War (Holt, $29, 9780805091533). (Re-airs Sunday at 8 p.m.)

7 p.m. Peter Schweizer presents his book Throw Them All Out: How Politicians and Their Friends Get Rich Off Insider Stock Tips, Land Deals, and Cronyism That Would Send the Rest of Us to Prison (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26, 9780547573144). (Re-airs Sunday at 11 p.m.)

8:15 p.m. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., author of Life Upon These Shores: Looking At African American History 1500-2008 (Knopf, $50, 9780307593429), presents a history of African Americans in the U.S.

10 p.m. After Words. Washington Post technology reporter Cecilia Kang interviews Robert Guest, the Economist's global business editor and the author of Borderless Economics: Chinese Sea Turtles, Indian Fridges and the New Fruits of Global Capitalism (Palgrave Macmillan, $27,9780230113824). (Re-airs Sunday at 9 p.m. and Monday at 12 a.m. & 3 a.m.)

11 p.m. At an event hosted by DIESEL, Santa Monica, Calif., Laurie Sandell, author of Truth and Consequences: Life Inside the Madoff Family (Little, Brown, $26.99, 9780316198936), recounts the effect Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme had on his family. (Re-airs Sunday at 3 p.m.)

11:30 p.m. Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs (S&S, $35, 9781451648539), discusses the personal life and professional career of the co-founder of Apple Computers. (Re-airs Sunday at 10 p.m.)
 


Book Review

Review: The Map and the Territory

The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq, trans. by Gavin Bowd (Knopf, $26.95 hardcover, 9780307701558, January 3, 2012)

Slim and pretty Jed Martin has taken the art world by storm with a sequence of photographic artworks based on Michelin maps. During the next seven years, he creates 42 paintings in his Series of Simple Professions. Then, in 18 months, Jed completes 22 masterpieces in the Series of Business Compositions, including his most famous work, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs Discussing the Future of Information Technology. Then one last definitive portrait--Michel Houellebecq, Writer--rocks the art world, only to be stolen.

You're hardly 10 pages into this Prix Goncourt-winning novel by the notorious bad boy of French letters before Jed considers hiring to write his art catalogue none other than the novelist Michel Houellebecq, "...a good author... pleasant to read..." with "an accurate view of society." No one enjoys the pyrotechnics of fiction like the French, and Houellebecq gleefully depicts himself as a depressed, solitary, tobacco-dependent, financially needy divorcee, a drunken eccentric hated and scorned by the media, a misanthropic loner who spends most of his days in bed, no longer feeling anything but "a faint sense of solidarity with the human species."

The story begins in flashback, with Jed Martin as a child first delighting in drawing flowers with colored pencils. Then, one day in a service station, Jed looks at a Michelin map, and falls in love. He buys more than 150 of them. His first solo exhibition of photographs of maps is titled "The Map Is More Interesting Than the Territory." We meet his press officer, his gallerist, his beautiful Russian lover. His story unfolds like a piece of music, each of the three parts a separate movement: Part One is the education of the artist, Part Two is the encounter between two solitary geniuses, and Part Three becomes a brutal murder mystery when one of the main characters is found viciously dismembered, decapitated along with his dog.

Just like in a novel by Sartre, these intellectual French characters love, above all else, to talk, talk, talk. They've got intense opinions on everything from sausage-making to Picasso, casually dropping bon mots like "Sexuality is a fragile thing: it is difficult to enter, and easy to leave," and discussing the benefits of asubha, where meditators focus on a decomposing corpse.

Some authors--Genet comes to mind--in spite of literary brilliance, aren't at their best telling stories, they lose patience, and just quit on you. Add Houellebecq to the list. His description of the painting of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs is a literary tour-de-force, profound in its implications and genuinely touching, right down to the fire in Jobs's eyes, which he compares to the mad inventors in Jules Verne's works. But the novel simply never recovers from the brutal dismemberment that explodes the plot at the beginning of Part Three, which is not to deny that Houellebecq has some staggering pluses. At his best, he sees clearly straight into the very heart of our capitalist corporate planet, and has the skill to weave his insights into literature. --Nick DiMartino

Shelf Talker: The Prix Goncourt-winning life of an artist bucking the trends of the French art world until a brutal murder leaves his life in pieces, and his masterpiece stolen.

 


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