Shelf Awareness for Friday, December 16, 2011
Quotation of the Day
Whitman Put 'People, Culture and Books Before Money'
"I found a second home at Shakespeare and Company. George always gave special privileges to writers--he lent me his dog to keep me company. He was an affront to modern capitalism, because he ran a successful business that put people, culture and books before money. He made his own world, and that is the best that anyone can do."
Rallying 'Round the Indies: A Little '#bkstoreluv'
Farhad Manjoo's "Don't Support Your Local Bookseller" call to arms in Slate earlier this week (Shelf Awareness, December 15, 2011) seems to have inspired the opposite reaction, including a popular hashtag--#bkstoreluv--launched yesterday on Twitter by @ColleenLindsay, who tweeted: "In tribute to Shakespeare & Company's George Whitman, let's all take time today to honor booksellers we appreciate."
GalleyCat created a Best Indie Bookstores on Twitter directory, "collecting Twitter handles from bookstores around the world."
One of Manjoo's targets, Richard Russo, released a spirit-of-the-season open letter in response to criticism of his New York Times op-ed column, concluding the missive by observing: "I myself have much to be grateful for this season, and though I've never met him, I'm quite certain that Mr. Majoo does as well, starting with the fine woman he's married to, who drags him from time to time to brick and mortar bookstores. I hope that, after reading the Slate column in which he suggests that we all owe Mr. Bezos a debt of gratitude for crushing our precious indie booksellers, she doesn't have him sleeping on the sofa."
Tim Carmody explored the confrontation between "technofuturist" Manjoo and "bookservative" Russo in Wired before observing that Amazon "didn't happen to your local independent bookstore; America happened to your local bookstore, from television to Waldenbooks. However, that doesn't mean that traditional literary culture has to go extinct; it needs to evolve. We can (and do) have co-operative stores owned and operated by their patrons; we can (and do) have specialty stores where specific communities can come together, grouped by literary taste or politics or sexuality or genre; we can (and do) have new models of self-publishing, both print and digital, flourishing outside the boundaries of Amazon or any of the other emerging giants of distribution."
On her Bookavore blog, Stephanie Anderson of WORD, Brooklyn, N.Y., contended that this is, "all assertions to the contrary, an incredible time for books. There are so many good books coming out right now we could each double our reading time and still not find room for all of them, and that's not even taking into consideration the wealth of classics on which we are perched. And instead of talking about them, we are talking about Amazon and whether they are nice. Again."
In a Salon article headlined "What Slate doesn't get about bookstores," Will Doig noted that "Manjoo's argument that bookstores don't really foster a local literary culture wildly misses the point. They foster a local culture, period.... If people mythologize bookstores, that's the reason. Rather than look for reasons why they shouldn't be celebrated, you could just as easily ask why, even in the age of Amazon, they still are."
The San Francisco Bay Guardian blog featured a rebuttal to Manjoo from Tim Redmond, who wrote "there are things you can't put a price on: At Red Hill Books, the allegedly inefficient, overpriced local bookstore in Bernal Heights, the employees know me and my kids--and when my daughter, who is a voracious reader, finishes one series of books, they know what to recommend next. That's not a 'recommendations engine'--that's a live person. If Farhad Manjoo wants to live in robo-world where a machine tells you what to eat, drink and read, fine--but I still think human beings, inefficient as we are, do a better job at selling books."
Amazon Kindle Sales Figures, Sort of
Amazon's announcement yesterday about Kindle sales typically begged many questions but at least some of the numbers seemed rooted in terms non-Amazonians can understand. For three weeks in a row, Amazon has sold "well over" a million Kindle devices a week, and they are "the hottest products this holiday season," the company said.
As for the Kindle Fire, the numbers become squishier: Dave Limp, v-p, Amazon Kindle, called the tablet "the most successful product we've ever launched" and said the company has "already sold millions of units, and we're building millions more to meet the demand." That demand is increasing: "Kindle Fire sales increased week over week for each of the past three weeks."
So in English, Amazon has sold at least three million Kindles of all kinds in the past three weeks, and the Fire has sold "millions" in the 11 weeks it's been for sale. As for an increasing rate of sales, does that reflect the fact that many orders were placed well in advance of its release date a month ago?
In other Amazon news, Digitimes said that Apple will launch a smaller, 7.85" iPad next year in response to "increasing market competition, including the 7-inch Kindle Fire from Amazon and the launch of large-size smartphones from handset vendors." Digitimes cited "sources in the supply chain."
Fig Garden Closing
The Fig Garden Bookstore, Fresno, Calif., is closing early next year after 24 years of ownership by the same family, the Fresno Bee reported. Owner Jean Shore said that she and her daughter, manager Kathi Lamonski, want to spend more time with their families.
Lamonski said that younger generations in the family are in other professions and rather than sell the store, she and her mother decided to close it.
Under several different names and owners, the store has roots that go back to Thompson's Book Shop in the 1940s.
Partners Village: Slow, Steady Customer-Driven Growth
Late last month John Mutter of Shelf Awareness spent two days with New England Independent Booksellers Association executive director Steve Fischer visiting bookstores in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. It was a great little working vacation! Here's the fourth part of a multi-part series reporting on what we saw.
Among the most popular business models that booksellers have considered and implemented in recent years is the bookstore with many gift items and a café. For many stores the process has been one that involves grafting sidelines and a café onto a basic bookstore, a sometimes awkward maneuver. In the case of Partners Village Store & Kitchen, Westport, Mass., the process has been different. The store started 33 years ago as a beer- and wine-making supply wholesaler and morphed slowly and steadily into its current incarnation as a combination bookstore-gift shop-café that includes a publishing arm (and no trace of the original wholesaling business). As co-owner Jan Hall put it, "We've been able to evolve slowly, and it's all been customer-driven."
The change began when the wholesaling business started carrying wine-making and beekeeping books. (Co-owner Nancy Crosby, who started the supply business in Westport, Conn., before making a somewhat confusing move to Westport, Mass., had worked at the Remarkable Book Shop in Westport, Conn., and was partial to bookselling.)
"People kept asking for more books," including children's books, field guides and more, in part because there were few bookstores in the area, Hall said. "Every few years we added on and evolved." The store also added gifts and food, mainly in response to customer requests and suggestions.
The result is impressive. Since 2007, Partners Village Store & Kitchen has been located in a renovated house with 4,000 square feet of retail space on its first floor that comprises a bookstore, gift area and a café. The bookstore takes up about a third of the space, which is among Hall's responsibilities. (She does book and toy buying.) Partners has about 15 employees and runs the café itself. The café serves a range of delicious food, including sandwiches, salads, soups and desserts.
The store has a light, airy, homey feeling and is well decorated. There are displays in every nook and cranny that are both clever and tasteful. For example, little shelves fill up a space too small for a bookcase (see photo, right).
In the bookstore area, the local section is very popular. Audiobook rentals continue to do well, although if general trends continue and most of that business goes online, Hall will convert the audiobook space to more local books. Children's books sell well, and YA books are a popular seasonal item. (Scenic Westport is on Massachusetts's southern coast, next to Rhode Island.)
A popular event is the Thursday morning children's story hour that includes snacks and "artsy-crafty" projects and regularly draws 24-30 people. In good weather, it's held outdoors.
The store's reading club is a little unusual. Rather than read the same book and discuss it, members of the monthly group talk about what they are reading. Hall said that she often "picks up ideas" from the club. She also lets members take ARCs.
Because of its gift connection, the store buys its books nonreturnable, which means better margins. To clear inventory, once a year the store has a major summer sale and reduces prices "down to cost." The very few books remaining are given to libraries. In the past, gift reps represented books to the store, but now more book reps call on the store. Because she buys nonreturnable, Hall said she's "a tight buyer."
Hall called the mix of books, gifts and the café "a good combination that has worked well. Gifts have a great price point and carry bookstore, and the café is great." The only significant problem is that "people think we're a gift store with gift books," she said.
Partners Village also has its own publishing house, Partners Village Press. Titles include three books by Janet Gillespie--Bedlam in the Backseat, A Joyful Noise and With a Merry Heart--two of which are set in Westport. Many of the other titles are similarly of local interest, many of which, like so much at Partners Village Store & Kitchen, come from customer suggestions.
Image of the Day: Pulpwood Queens Visit 'This Realm'
The Pulpwood Queens have returned from their literary tour of England, which included visits to the homes of William Shakespeare and his wife, Anne Hathaway. Here tour leader and Pulpwood Empress Kathy Patrick poses with the group at Chatsworth Estate.
Book Trailer of the Day: Girl Hunter
Girl Hunter: Revolutionizing the Way We Eat, One Hunt at a Time by Georgia Pellegrini (Da Capo Lifelong Books).
Another Comeback for Tim Tebow
Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow has become the stuff of legend this season for leading his team to come-from-behind victories, and apparently this momentum has carried over to the publishing world. USA Today reported that Tebow's memoir Through My Eyes, written with Nathan Whitaker (Harper) was published last May and spent eight weeks on the newspapers bestseller list, rising as high as #42. This week, the book made a dramatic comeback on USA Today's top 50, returning at #46.
"So many people have tried to tell my story so many different ways, so it's kind of fun to be able to tell it how it really happened through my eyes. That's why I named it that," Tebow said in May about his book, which "touches on Tebow's Christian missionary parents, his home-schooling and his public prayers," USA Today noted.
Holiday Trailer of the Day: Chronicle Books
How many ways can you make a snowflake? Think spools of thread, sugar, seashells and chalk, bobbins and... books. Chronicle Books' holiday video encourages you to "let your imagination sparkle."
Media and Movies
Media Heat: Deck the Halls and Rock the Casbah
This morning on Imus in the Morning: Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark, authors of Deck the Halls (Pocket, $5.99, 9781451678581), which has been made into a movie that airs on TNT next Tuesday.
On Sunday on ABC's This Week with Christiane Amanpour: Robin Wright, author of Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World (Simon & Schuster, $26.99, 9781439103166).
Visuals: Hunger Games Poster; Great Gatsby Photos
Entertainment Weekly reported that "after a mad scramble on the Internet to find the 100 pieces of the new poster for The Hunger Games, the full image has finally been revealed. Where the teaser posters focused on the solemn faces of the characters, this new image captures the grand scope of the film."
Warner Bros. has released the first "official images" from Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, Film Stage reported, calling the look "quite spot-on of what I pictured and I'm sure more grandiose touches from Luhrmann will be revealed as we get closer to release." The movie, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan and Joel Edgerton, is set for release next December.
Novel-to-TV Adaptations: A 'Vast Wasteland' No Longer
Prompted by the recent announcement that HBO has optioned the works of William Faulkner for development by David Milch (Shelf Awareness, December 1, 2011), Salon's Laura Miller explored television's growing reputation as a premium landing spot for book adaptation projects, including Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections, Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad and Neil Gaiman's American Gods.
"Television and the novel, while not exactly soul mates, have a lot more in common than the novel and theatrical film," Miller wrote, noting that adapting a novel as a television series gives the filmmakers "time to spread out and explore the byways and textures of a novel's imagined world."
Miller also observed that a "definitive ending is one thing that serialized dramas don't promise. (The agonies of Deadwood fans denied such an ending are legendary.) When it comes to literary adaptations, this may be a miscalculation. America’s top-drawer television producers ought to take note of their British counterparts and apply their newly elevated standards to reviving the fine art of the miniseries. After all, even Dickens knew when to call it a day."
Books & Authors
Book Brahmin: Ayize Jama-Everett
Ayize Jama-Everett was born in 1974 and raised in Harlem, N.Y. He holds master's degrees in clinical psychology and divinity and teaches religion and psychology at Starr King School for the Ministry when he's not working as a school therapist at the College Preparatory School in Oakland, Calif. Small Beer Press is publishing his debut novel, the science fiction thriller The Liminal People, on January 10, 2012.
On your nightstand now:
What the hell is a nightstand? I've got a mattress lying on a flat of books. The ones in reaching distance: The Life and Death of Yukio Mishima by Henry Scott Stokes, Kingsley Amis's New Maps of Hell (a very interesting critique/history of science fiction as a genre from a British 1960s perspective), Rosemary Jackson's Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion, Brian Wood's graphic novel Local and Walter Benjamin's On Hashish.
Favorite book when you were a child:
Chris Claremont's God Loves, Man Kills. The first X-Men graphic novel I ever read. It drew a direct correlation between race relations and mutant powers. It also introduced me to the concept of the villain as the sole character with proper insight but improper action.
Your top five authors:
I can tell you whose books I run to the store for on new book Tuesday and don't stop reading. Are they my top five? I'm just loyal.
Andrew Vachss. The Wire and Homicide live on the sunny side of the towns Mr. Vachss gives the reader access to. I've been reading him since I was a humble book jockey at Half Price Books. When a dog dies in one of his novels, I cried and held my dog tight. When my dog died, once I got through my tears, all I could think was "Vachss got it right." When the Burke series ended, I thought, that's it. Then Haiku came out, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
Nalo Hopkinson. I love accents. Not just the verbal kind. She works the literary accent of making you read every word by varying sentence structure, length and meter to such a degree that assumptions are made, redacted, then reassumed. Plus half of her stuff is just so damn sexy. Or maybe it's just her voice I'm hearing whenever I read her. My aunt's book club read New Moon's Arms and were pleasantly scandalized.
Garth Ennis. He's mad at the world. Or maybe he's just mocking it with such vitriol it seems like hate. In any case, there are few writers I want to smoke, drink and then fight with. He's tops on that list. His run on Hellblazer showed me what comics could do if they stopped being so scared of their own shadow sides. His run on Preacher not only proselytized a new theology of naked confrontationalism for a generation of disaffected literate males, but it also introduced many of us to the comic genius that is Bill Hicks. For that alone, I'm buying the man a beer when next we meet. He was also kind enough to send me a Ren & Stimpy postcard telling me to keep at it when I sent him a comic book script I was working in college.
China Miéville. I mean come on! Politics, drugs, sex, violence, magic, myth, reconstitutions of pathos and mythos holding hands while skipping down the rust-bricked road of 21st-century London... what is not to love? I see Kraken as a love letter to two generations of magic written for London. Embassytown reads like the Twilight Zone/Star Trek crossover that should have happened when Rod Serling and Gene Rodenberry got high together that one time, you know? He assumes his audience has a brain and knows they engage in the broader world on multiple levels. Can't wait to see what he does next.
Oliver Sacks. I don't think he's a great writer, but he's an amazing storyteller. In part because his material is just so damn giving. Of course every time I read him I can't help but think everyone around me is either having a mini stroke, is autistic or has a granular-sized tumor somewhere in their brain. Not the healthiest thing I realize, but what an insight into what it means to be human.
Book you've faked reading:
A Thousand Plateaus by Deleuze and Guttari. I am proud to say that I finished it about five months after I lied.
Book you're an evangelist for:
The Mount by Carol Emshwiller. Holy Fraggin Schmidt! What the hell is that book about? Slavery? Internalized oppression? The lament of the big-eared individual? I can't... it's just....
Book you've bought for the cover:
Sodomy and the Pirate Tradition, but it was more for the title.
Book that changed your life:
The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon. I read it every year for a decade.
Favorite line from a book:
"The black man has no ontological resistance in the eyes of the white man." --Frantz Fanon, Black Skins, White Masks.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
More Brilliant Than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction by Kodwo Eshun--a poetic epic on the entangled fate of sonic imaginations across the Black Atlantic. I picked up that book by accident. When I put it down I was a changed person.
Review: Running the Rift
Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron (Algonquin, $24.95 hardcover, 9781616200428, January 17, 2012)
Naomi Benaron's debut novel won the Bellwether Prize, created and funded by author Barbara Kingsolver to promote fiction that addresses issues of social justice and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships. A more fitting novel would be hard to find.
Running the Rift follows 10 years in the life of Nkuba Jean Patrick, a Tutsi in Rwanda at the height of the Hutu-Tutsi conflict. Jean Patrick is a phenomenal runner, specializing in the 800-meter race. His dream is to go to the Olympics. He holds fast to the idea that becoming an Olympic winner for Rwanda will have a unifying effect and deliver his people from violence. He listens to Coach, glories in the strenuous workouts he devises and keeps his eye on the prize.
Jean Patrick's entire focus is on running; he's largely oblivious to the situation in his country. As a consequence, he is constantly being robbed and attacked by Hutu bullies, unwilling to believe that people who were once his friends are now enemies. Interwoven with Jean Patrick's story is a retelling of the long history of strife between the two tribes after many years of living together peacefully. Jean Patrick's ability to shut out reality comes to an abrupt halt when the Hutu genocide against the Tutsis begins.
His beloved Bea and her family tell him to run to Burundi. They are Hutu and believe that they will be safe. He runs and runs and is finally found by his geology professor, Jonathan, and given a ride to safety. It is never clear to the reader what the distances are between villages or from Jean Patrick's home to the university, but it becomes important as his usual mode of transportation is shank's mare.
What happens to Jean Patrick's family, to Bea and her family and to so many of Jean Patrick's friends is for the reader to discover. There are few happy endings in a country ravaged by genocide. Benaron is an advocate for African refugees in her community, has worked extensively with genocide survivor groups in Rwanda and is an Ironman triathlete. Her credentials are definitely in order for telling this tale. --Valerie Ryan
Shelf Talker: Runner Jean Patrick dreams of going to the Olympics, but his hopes, and those of his family and friends, are altered by Rwandan genocide.
Robert Gray: The Ghost of Book Christmas Yet to Come
Marley was virtually dead: to begin with...
On the third night, as Scrooge lay in bed, double-checking accounts on his iPad, once again the Phantom slowly, gravely, silently approached from deep within the dimly backlit touch screen. When it came, Scrooge tapped furiously, hoping to delete the specter, but to no avail, for in the very pixels through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery.
"I am in the presence of the Ghost of Book Christmas Yet to Come?" Scrooge asked. The Spirit answered not, but crooked its finger in a ghastly invitation that thrilled Scrooge with a vague uncertain horror, to know that in that dusky screen, there were ghostly eyes intently fixed upon him.
The Phantom moved away as it had come toward him. Scrooge followed in the shadow of its dress, which somehow bore him into this virtual world and carried him along.
The Spirit stopped beside one little knot of businessmen. Observing that the hand was pointed to them, Scrooge advanced to listen to their talk.
"No," said a great fat man with a monstrous chin, "I don't know much about it, either way. I only know the printed version of A Christmas Carol is dead.''
"Why, what was the matter with it?" asked one of the gentlemen. "I thought it'd never die."
"God knows,'' said the first, with a yawn. "Though it's likely to be a very cheap funeral, for upon my life I don't know of anybody to go to it."
The Phantom glided onto a crowded street and stopped before a shop's holiday window display. Scrooge looked about in that very place for his own image, but there was no likeness of himself there, nor any sign of Mr. Dickens's books. Quiet and dark, beside him stood the Phantom, with its outstretched hand, which made him shudder, and feel very cold. Was he as dead as Marley now, a mere digital specter himself?
They left the busy scene, and ventured into an obscure part of the town, where Scrooge had never penetrated before, though he recognized its situation. Far in this den of infamous resort, there was an obscure used bookshop. Scrooge and the Phantom came into the presence of the bookseller, just as a woman with a heavy bundle slunk into the shop.
"Who's the worse for the loss of a few books like these?" cried the woman as she threw her bundle on the floor. "Not a dead man, I suppose."
Scrooge listened in horror. "Spirit!'' he said, shuddering from head to foot. "I see, I see. My life tends that way, now. Merciful Heaven, what is this?'' He recoiled in terror, for the scene had suddenly changed, and now he almost touched a bare bookcase, dusty and shrouded in cobwebs. Scrooge glanced toward the Phantom. Its steady hand was pointed to the empty space.
"Spirit!" he said. "This is a fearful place. In leaving it, I shall not leave its lesson, trust me. Let us go!'' The Spirit was immovable as ever. In his agony, Scrooge caught the spectral hand. The Spirit repulsed him. But then, holding up his own hands in a reader's pose, Scrooge saw an alteration in the Phantom's hood and dress. It shrunk, collapsed and dwindled down into the iPad's screen, from which Scrooge had somehow emerged.
Opening his Twitter account, he called outward to @bobcratchit.
"WHAT'S TODAY?" Scrooge cried.
"Eh?" returned @bobcratchit, with all his might of wonder.
"What's to-day, my fine fellow?" typed Scrooge.
"To-day? Why, Christmas Day."
"OMG! It's Christmas Day! I haven't missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night."
"LOL!!!!!" replied @bobcratchit
"Do you know the Bookseller, in the next street but one, at the corner?" Scrooge inquired.
"I should hope I do," wrote @bobcratchit.
"Tomorrow go and buy every copy of A Christmas Carol they have and give them away in the streets!"
"Great idea IMHO! Merry Xmas!"
Then Scrooge went to his shelves and found his own leather-bound volume of Mr. Dickens's fine story, which had been too long neglected after the introduction of an enhanced digital edition.
"I shall love it, as long as I live!" he cried, patting the book with his hand. "I scarcely ever looked at it before. What an honest expression it has in its cover! It's a wonderful book!" --Robert Gray (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)