Shelf Awareness for Thursday, December 22, 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

Editors' Note

News

Slate's Farhad Manjoo Strikes Again

In a follow-up to last week's firestorm-inducing piece headlined "Don't Support Your Local Bookseller," Slate's Farhad Manjoo offered what at least he considered some new thoughts on how indies might fight back against Amazon's Price Check app.

"I didn't make a lot of friends in the retail and publishing industries last week when I suggested that independent bookstores were the spawn of Satan," Manjoo conceded before advising his readers that if "you want bookstores to stick around, you should root for them to improve the way they sell stuff. Booksellers won't survive the Amazon onslaught by merely wagging their fingers at the retail giant. Their only hope is to match the commercial innovations Jeff Bezos has brought to shopping.... Indeed, tablets and smartphones could be store owners' best weapons against Jeff Bezos--if only they'd embrace them." 

Manjoo's suggestion was countered on Twitter and in the comments section, where Changing Hands Bookstore, Tempe, Ariz., informed him that indies "have already developed and launched a free app. Just launched, in fact. It's called 'IndieBound Reader,' and you can download it in the Android Market, the App Store, or right here: http://www.indiebound.org/reader.... And Farhad--we'd love to see a new Slate piece in which you discuss and review the new app!"


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


Indie Innovations: E-Book Concierge; One Book Pledge

In anticipation of all those "shiny new e-readers" people will be receiving as gifts this holiday season, BookPeople bookstore, Austin, Tex., has introduced an E-Reader Concierge Service to help customers "learn how to enjoy your new e-reader and continue to support your local bookstore while reading e-books"

Beginning December 30, BookPeople is offering "a one-on-one opportunity to learn the ins and outs of reading digitally and independently. Book an appointment with one of our specially trained e-book concierges and we will show you how to find, purchase, and download your favorite e-books from bookpeople.com. We will also show you how to read those books on your new device."

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Readers who want to keep their local community strong can take the "One Book Pledge" at Village Books, Bellingham, Wash., which invited customers to register their name "and we'll add you to our growing list of people who recognize the importance of independent bookstores to the health and culture of communities by buying one more book from us, and one less from chain stores, other online sellers or other retailers."
 


'Amazon, Huh?' Google Chrome Extension

Shoppers using Google Chrome who would like a friendly reminder of their book-buying options can download the "Amazon, huh?" extension, which suggests San Francisco Bay Area bookseller Marcus Books as an alternative. The extension was developed by Josh Begley to support Jasmine Johnson, whose family has run Marcus Books since 1960 and who started a Change.org petition recently to protest Amazon's Price Check App promotion, Colorlines.com reported.

"It's basically the same thing that Amazon did, but in reverse," Begley said. "Amazon's smartphone app was one of the first times they'd stepped into local bookstores, so this is a way for supporters of those bookstores to step into Amazon.... There's nothing like being in a bookstore. So in addition to cracking on Amazon, [the tool] is a friendly reminder to shop at local businesses this holiday season--especially ones that have been around since 1960."


Booksellers Reclaiming Downtown Burlington, Vt.

Renée Reiner and Michael DeSanto, co-owners of Phoenix Books, Essex, Vt., are making progress toward the realization of their recently announced plans to open a second location in downtown Burlington (Shelf Awareness, November 17, 2011). Seven Days reported that they are currently negotiating a lease on a 6,000-square-foot space near Church Street and are pursuing a "community support" model to raise $400,000. Thus far, supporters have pledged $293,000.

At the same time, Keith Terwillegar, owner of downtown Burlington indie Crow Bookshop, is also "making moves," according to Seven Days, which noted that while the shop sold used books for much of its 16-year existence, Terwillegar has been stocking about 1,500 new titles for the past three years. He credited the demise of Borders and an increase in customer requests for the change. People began coming in and asking, " 'Do you have this? Do you have that?' It's silly to say no," he said.

Terwillegar is also negotiating a possible upstairs expansion that would double the store's footprint: "It's important for us to get bigger if we can," he said, adding that Burlington-area readers are "giving us a chance. Fallout from predatory Amazon stuff has motivated some people to shop local."

"Can downtown Burlington support two bookstores?" Seven Days asked. Reiner's answer was an optimistic affirmative: "I would love for there to be full-on competition of a number of independents, the way there was in the old days. That would be a dream revisited."

Phoenix photo: Andy Duback

China's 'Soft Power' Influence on Cambodian Readers

The opening of the Cambodia Chinese Bookstore in Phnom Penh last month "is a more than $3 million investment from China’s Xinzhi Books, making it the world's first Chinese operated and invested bookstore outside mainland China," general manager Liu Minhui told the Phnom Penh Post, which reported that the "future of some soft power Chinese investments such as language schools could help shape the political and business environment between the two countries in the future."

China "has had many years of contact with Cambodia. I think there is a real potential in the future for Chinese culture here," Liu Minhui said. "China has already become a world power. Very soon, I think we will see Chinese culture become more and more popular abroad." He added that Xinzhi Books plans to open branches in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and, eventually, New York City.
 



Notes

Image of the Day: Beginning Reader

Earlier this month the Barnes & Noble in Roanoke, Va., hosted a signing for Animals and the Kids Who Love Them: Extraordinary True Stories of Hope, Healing, and Compassion (New World Library). During the event, story contributor and occupational therapist Mona Sams shared her story, "Missy's Magical Llamas," with one magical attendee.

 


Gita Wolf: The Art of Bookmaking, One Book at a Time

We caught up with Gita Wolf, founder of the Chennai, India-based publisher Tara Books, in New York a few weeks ago, while she was en route to the Guadalajara Book Fair.

Attracted by the cover of the Tara Books catalog, a waiter in the Upper West Side coffee shop where we arranged to meet asked if he could look at it. The image that caught his eye came from the May 2012 title I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail, based on a 17th-century poem and illustrated by Ramsingh Urveti in the traditional Gond style from central India. The art and craftmaking aspects of Tara Books certainly draw people's attention.

This year, Tara Books celebrates its 15th anniversary; it published its first book, The Very Hungry Lion, written by Gita Wolf and illustrated by Indraprimit Roy, in 1996. Roy used the Warli style of painting from western India, and it was the publisher's first handmade book. It has sold more than 49,000 copies, each made by hand, one at a time. Wolf joked that she owes a debt to production manager C. Arumugam, whose mantra is, "Nothing is impossible." Also, nothing is wasted: the house recycles run-offs and misprints as "flukebooks," one-of-a-kind notebooks that retail for $11.99.

The Great Race, coming in June 2012, by Nathan Kumar Scott, is a hare-and-the-tortoise–style retelling of a popular Indonesian folktale featuring Kanchil the trickster mousedeer and Pelan the snail. Artist Jagdish Chitara makes his debut with this book, using the Mata-ni-Pachedi style of ritual textile painting from Gujarat, also in western India. Wolf explained that Chitara's "brush" is actually a sharpened twig, to get the fine outlines you see in the artwork. This is the first time this form of traditional art has been used to illustrate a story.

Tara Books titles have twice won the Bologna Ragazzi Award, in 2010 for Do! by Gita Wolf, illustrated by Ramesh Hengadi and Shantaram Dhadpe, and in 2008 for The Night Life of Trees by Bhajju Shyam, Durga Bai and R.S. Urveti. Wolf is on a mission to preserve the art of bookmaking. Together with her collective of writers, designers, artists and others, Wolf is establishing a Center for the Book Arts in Chennai. The center will house a gallery, a bookstore and work space for artists.

After the Guadalajara Book Fair, Wolf met with a team in Mexico that wants to create a collective modeled on Tara Books, and work with indigenous artists such as the Mayan community. Wolf acknowledges that the Internet is important for spreading the word about books. But it also plays a role in homogenizing the titles that come to market. Her approach, on the other hand, is all about the uniqueness of each book. "People are making publishing decisions who know nothing about bookmaking," Wolf said. "That's why independent publishers are so important." --Jennifer M. Brown
 


Westwinds Bookshop: Great Indie in a Great Community

Westwinds Bookshop, Duxbury, Mass., "is that special place where everyone knows your name," the Clipper observed in its profile of a bookstore that "has been a pillar of the Duxbury community for 65 years."

Co-owners Lydia and Doug Hart purchased Westwinds last spring when it was in danger of closing. "Neither of us knows anything about retail," said Lydia. "All we wanted to do was keep it open. It was an investment in the community." The Harts moved the shop and completely renovated the new location. "It's now an open and airy space with wide aisles, lots of natural light and a loft," the Clipper wrote.

"Every indie bookstore is so great because it reflects its community," said store manager Brooke McDonough. "And this is a great community."
 


Christmas Beach Reads: A New Zealand Bookseller's Picks

Does the barrage of holiday reading lists just add to your winter chills? The Taranaki Daily News featured warm weather recommendations of "books to cater for all summer tastes" from bookseller Julia Phillips of Benny's Books, New Plymouth, "one of the five biggest independent bookshops in New Zealand and winner of the 2011 North Island Regional Bookseller of the Year."

"I don't get sick of books," said Phillips. "It's like Christmas every day. It's like wine, you don't drink a bad glass of wine. I don't read a bad book. If I don't like it I put it down."


Meghan Quinn Is Prometheus Bound

Meghan F. Quinn has joined Prometheus Books as publicist. She has several years of experience in marketing communications and has worked at an alternative art center, a homelessness advocacy organization and in Death Valley National Park.

 


Media and Movies

Media Heat: The Toaster Project

Next Thursday on a repeat of NPR's Diane Rehm Show: Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture (Harper, $25.99, 9780061711527).

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Next Thursday on KCRW's Bookworm: Peter Gizzi, author of Threshold Songs (Wesleyan University Press, $22.95, 9780819571748). As the show put it: "This book of poetry is the product of great grief in Peter Gizzi's life: the death of his mother, his brother and his best friend. Our conversation asks the question, what is the poetry of the threshold? How is a song to be sung at the juncture of this world and the next?"

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Next Thursday on a repeat of the View: Diane Keaton, author of Then Again (Random House, $26, 9781400068784).

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Next Thursday on PRI's the World: Thomas Thwaites, author of The Toaster Project: Or a Heroic Attempt to Build a Simple Electric Appliance from Scratch (Princeton Architectural Press, $19.95, 9781568989976).

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Next Friday on a repeat of NPR's Diane Rehm Show: Miguel Nicolelis, author of Beyond Boundaries: The New Neuroscience of Connecting Brains with Machines--and How It Will Change Our Lives (Times Books, $28, 9780805090529).

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Also on Diane Rehm: Robert Massie, author of Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman (Random House, $35, 9780679456728).

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Saturday, December 31, on NPR's Weekend Edition: Andrew Marr, author of The Real Elizabeth: An Intimate Portrait of Queen Elizabeth II (Holt, $32, 9780805094169).

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Sunday, January 1, on OWN's Oprah's Next Chapter: Steven Tyler, author of Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?: A Rock 'n' Roll Memoir (Ecco, $27.99, 9780061767890).

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Monday, January 2, on Good Morning America: Kyle Richards, author of Life Is Not a Reality Show: Keeping It Real with the Housewife Who Does It All (HarperOne, $25.99, 9780062113481).

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Monday, January 2, on a repeat of Jimmy Kimmel Live: Jane Fonda, author of Prime Time (Random House, $27, 9781400066971).


Movies: The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse

The Adventures of Tintin, based on the comic by Hergé, has opened. Steven Spielberg directs this animated tale starring Daniel Craig, Andy Serkis, Simon Pegg, Cary Elwes, Nick Frost and Jamie Bell.

War Horse, based on the book by Michael Morpurgo (Scholastic, $8.99, 9780545403351), opens on Christmas Day, December 25. A busy Steven Spielberg directs this story of a boy and his horse caught up in the horrors of World War I. Stars Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch and David Thewlis. The official companion book, War Horse: The Making of the Motion Picture (Newmarket Press for It Books, hardcover, $34.99, 9780062192615), has more than 140 dramatic images, commentary from the filmmakers, script excerpts and introductions by Spielberg, producer Kathleen Kennedy, Morpurgo and co-screenwriter Richard Curtis.

 


TV: Team Coco's 'Jeff Bezos' Defends Kindle Fire

"Hi. I'm Amazon's CEO Jeff Bezos... as far as you know," said Team Coco's version of the online retailer's head man during a comedy sketch on Conan O'Brien's late night talk show earlier this week. O'Brien introduced the feature--in which "Bezos" addresses rumors of glitches in the Kindle Fire--by announcing that Amazon has "released this message to reassure their customers."
 


This Weekend on Book TV: Conor O'Clery

Book TV airs on C-Span 2 this week from 8 a.m. Saturday to 8 a.m. Tuesday 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 24

9 a.m. After Words. Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, interviews Conor O'Clery, former Irish Times Moscow correspondent and author of Moscow, December 25, 1991: The Last Day of the Soviet Union (PublicAffairs, $26.99, 9781586487966). (Re-airs Saturday at 12 p.m., 3 p.m. & 10 p.m., and Sunday at 10 a.m.)


Books & Authors

Spring Okra Picks

The Spring Okra picks, selected by Southern independent booksellers, sponsored by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance and recognizing titles that are "Southern in nature," are:

The Confession by Charles Todd (Morrow, January)
The Evening Hour by Carter Sickels (Bloomsbury, January)
A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson (Grand Central Publishing, January)
The Healing by Jonathan Odell (Random House, February)
The Rebel Wife by Taylor M. Polities (Bloomsbury, February)
The Same Sun Here by Silas House and Neela Vaswani (Candlewick, February)
The Search Committee by Tim Owens (Tyndale House, February)
What Happened to Hannah by Mary Kay McComas (Morrow, February)
Glow by Jessica Maria Tuccelli (Viking, March)
The Hills Remember by James Still (University Press of Kentucky, March)
The Iguana Tree by Michel Stone (Hub City Press, March)
The Kentucky Derby by James C. Nicholson (University Press of Kentucky, March)
Render unto the Valley by Rose Senehi (KIM Publishing/John Blair, March)


Book Review

Review: What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

What We Talk about When We Talk About Anne Frank: Stories by Nathan Englander (Knopf, $24.95 hardcover, 9780307958709, February 7, 2012)

You don't have to read Yiddish to appreciate What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, the new story collection from Nathan Englander (For the Relief of Unbearable Urges), just as you don't have to read Spanish to understand the Hemingway novels set mostly in Spain--but it helps. While Englander's stories range across time and geography, his characters nearly all live under the cloud of the Shoah and the long Jewish history of migration, argument, suffering, survival... and always stories. The sprinkling of Yiddish terms and expressions throughout give the stories flavor and context, for, as a storytelling Jerusalem father explains to his son, "There is always context in life."

Englander's stories have a broad reach. "Sister Hills" encapsulates the history of Israel while exploring the nature of loyalty, contracts and family ties. "Camp Sundown" describes a Berkshires summer camp for the elderly where a few of the more orthodox bridge players soon begin to harass a fellow camper whom they imagine to be a former guard from the "real camps"--a feud that ends, like so many do in the world, with slander and violence. In "How We Avenged the Blums," a schoolyard bully, the "Anti-Semite," beats a timid young boy on the yeshiva playground, "his clip-on tie separated from his neck," until his classmates entice a neighborhood David to punch out this Goliath. Although most of the stories center on Englander's clear interest in the role religion and history play on his characters' lives, they also transcend these narrow themes to address the universal with humor and subtle observation.

Perhaps the story most endearing to book people will be "The Reader," where an aging novelist makes a national bookstore tour promoting his long-delayed novel only to find that he no longer has an audience--except for one dedicated fan who trails behind him to each store and insists that the old writer read, even if he is the only one there to listen. The unnamed "Author," a slow writer, reflects: "A book every ten years, it's like being a cicada. You spend all those years underground, busy staying alive. And when you finally burrow your way back out, you never know what world you will find... still one must stand by one's story... how much richer could a writing life be than finding, even for one night, one true reader?" --Bruce Jacobs

Shelf Talker: In his wide-ranging new collection, Englander masters the art of the short story with all its craft, humor and compassion.

 


Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Building the Perfect Bookmas Tree

Books and trees; trees and books. You can have the oddest thoughts when you find yourself standing in the rain on a chilly December evening in Manhattan, alternately watching skaters tumble to the brilliant ice of Rockefeller Center's rink and studying a monumental Norway Spruce with its "30,000 environmentally friendly LED lights on five miles of wire."

I was in just such a position a couple of weeks ago, and for some reason I thought about the many Book Christmas Trees I'd noticed this year. They aren't a new idea (see a few incarnations here), but 2011 seems to have been unofficially designated the Year of the Bookmas Tree, with examples popping up everywhere I turn, including, naturally, bookstores (Murder By the Book, Houston, Tex.), libraries (West Virginia Library Commission) and publishers (Atria Books). GalleyCat offered a virtual "Book Christmas Tree Farm" slide show tour.

We don't usually have a tree in our house, but I did consider making a Bookmas Tree for us. The best I could come up with during some outdoor beta testing, however, was a minimalist, hybrid version I dubbed "A Book & a Nook Tree," inspired no doubt by Charlie Brown's classic underachieving nevergreen.

Then "what to my wondering eyes should appear" in my e-mail inbox but the vision of a 9.5-foot Bookmas Tree that currently occupies the four-story atrium of the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center at the University of Nevada, Reno. It was constructed using pre-1956 National Union Catalog volumes, "rarely used reference books [that] made an ideal book tree, with their evergreen covers and gold lettering on the spine," according to the library.

Conceived by librarian Erin Fisher, the project was executed by Alden Kamaunu, manager of the center's building operations, and library technician Larry Smith. They created two prototypes before coming up with a workable final design, which took three hours and 348 books to construct (You can watch a Flickr version of that process here).

The base of the tree was made of 10 books placed in a circle, and as the tree "grew," the number of books used diminished to a single volume at the top. "It had to be perfect," Kamaunu said. "It may look simple enough, but most book trees look like pyramids. We wanted ours to look like a real tree. There was a lot of trial and error." Although it has not been weighed, he estimated the book tree would hit the scales at more than 400 pounds.

That's Chase Duhon, a junior majoring in biology, standing in front of the Knowledge Center's Bookmas Tree, which is topped by an unusual, if apt, combo of the school's mascot Wolfie--in a tiny Santa Claus hat--and a Hawaiian-themed decoration. They earned this place of honor because the Nevada Wolf Pack football team will play Southern Miss in the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl game on Christmas Eve (and Kamaunu is from Hawaii).

Angela Bakker, the university's communications and marketing specialist, said there have been plenty of "Wow, that’s awesome!" comments from visitors to the Knowledge Center, and many people have posed for pictures in front of it.

"If you think of it, we're returning the books to their original state. We had trees, which we turned into books, and now we're returning them back to their original form--a tree," said Todd Borman, an information technology specialist working at the center's help desk, which is located near the tree.

Books and trees; trees and books. Standing in the rain at Rockefeller Center earlier this month, I suppose I caught just a glimpse of that centuries-old relationship, and its connection to the spirit of a lifetime's worth of holiday seasons.
 
"Being now at home again, and alone, the only person in the house awake, my thoughts are drawn back, by a fascination which I do not care to resist, to my own childhood," Charles Dickens wrote in A Christmas Tree. "I begin to consider, what do we all remember best upon the branches of the Christmas Tree of our own young Christmas days, by which we climbed to real life.

"Straight, in the middle of the room, cramped in the freedom of its growth by no encircling walls or soon-reached ceiling, a shadowy tree arises; and, looking up into the dreamy brightness of its top--for I observe in this tree the singular property that it appears to grow downward towards the earth--I look into my youngest Christmas recollections!"

Happy Bookmas to all, and to all a good read.--Robert Gray (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)

Knowledge Center photo by Claudene Wharton


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