Shelf Awareness for Thursday, May 24, 2012
PaidContent/GigaOM Conference: Amazon, Pottermore
At the paidContent/GigaOM Conference at Manhattan's TimesCenter yesterday, novelist Richard Russo elaborated on what he views as Amazon.com's predatory business practices, which he previously described in a New York Times op-ed column late last year. As he explained to paidContent staff writer Jeff John Roberts, he takes the issue personally: his daughter Emily works at an independent bookstore, and "she is directly impacted by a lot of the things Amazon is doing." One way in which Emily's expertise was particularly valuable to readers, he noted, was her ability to champion "the young authors you're not going to find as a result of Amazon algorithms."
Russo compared the online retailer with a classic bully--"they don't like to fight, they like to intimidate"--while expressing doubts that government intervention would lead to a more uniformly fair playing field for booksellers and publishers. "They seem to want to referee the match," he commented when asked about the Department of Justice, "but they only want to call fouls on one side." Instead, he called on publishers and consumers to keep up public pressure: "When enough people call them on [their tactics], they tend to back off." For all that, "I'm not anti-Amazon," Russo concluded. "What I am in favor of is Amazon playing fair."
In a later session of the conference, Pottermore CEO Charlie Redmayne discussed the Harry Potter fan site's early success, citing £1 million (about $1.57 million) in e-book sales in the first three days and a total of £3 million (about $4.7 million) in the first month--with over half of the sales, he noted, coming via direct traffic rather than through other retailers. The e-books are offered without DRM, and since they became available, the uploading of J.K. Rowling's original novels to file-sharing sites has decreased, a trend Redmayne sees not as evidence that abandoning DRM reduces piracy so much as simply making the books available in digital format.
He also talked about the site's expansion of Rowling's elaborate fictional universe, which currently focuses on Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone. "The stories are actually a very narrow corridor that runs through that world," he noted. What Pottermore offers, he said, is "exactly what it says on the tin," and the average fan's visit can currently be measured either in a span of 23 minutes or a string of more than 40 web pages. Similar content is in development for the other six novels in the series, and although it's not quite where they want it to be yet, "we will build something extraordinary," Redmayne promised.
Naturally, conference attendees wanted to know if Pottermore's success was replicable or unique to Rowling. Redmayne identified a few other publishing brands, like The Hunger Games, that he thought might conceivably approach the imaginative complexity of Rowling's worldbuilding, but made no predictions as to anyone else's ability to convince online retailers like Amazon to direct customers back to their own website, as Pottermore did. What it will take is the ability to offer the widest possible distribution in all the right formats at the lowest possible price. Because they could meet that criteria, he said, when Pottermore made its proposal to Amazon, "we didn't drag them kicking and screaming--they got it." --Ron Hogan
Apple on DoJ Suit: 'Fundamentally Flawed'
In a filing on Tuesday in federal District Court in New York, Apple called the Justice Department's suit against it over the agency model for e-books "fundamentally flawed as a matter of fact and law" and said the suit will discourage competition and harm customers, Reuters reported.
Apple argued that its entrance into the e-book market "has actually fueled demand for e-books by forcing Amazon and rivals, including Barnes & Noble, to compete more aggressively, including by upgrading e-reader technology," Reuters wrote.
In its filing, Apple called its e-book business as "classic procompetitive conduct… For Apple to be subject to hindsight legal attack for a business strategy well-recognized as perfectly proper sends the wrong message to the market."
Apple also said the comment by the late Steve Jobs in Walter Isaacson's biography had not been accurately characterized by the Justice Department in its filings. That comment was: "We'll go to [an] agency model where you set the price, and we get our 30%, and, yes, the customer pays a little more, but that's what you want anyway."
Doylestown Bookshop Has New Owner
Glenda Childs has bought the Doylestown Bookshop, Doylestown, Pa., from Patricia and Philip Gerney, who founded the store 14 years ago and recently decided to retire.
In an open letter to customers, Childs wrote: "I am pleased to tell you the entire staff has agreed to continue working at the bookstore, so we can ensure you will continue to receive their knowledge and expertise in helping you find the perfect book for your needs. In addition, all of the programs and events will continue, including the book clubs, poetry series and popular Children's Story Time with Miss Larissa. All gift cards and discount programs will also continue and be honored as in the past.
"As with any new ownership, you can expect to see some changes. For more than 20 years, I have worked in the field of education. My previous work had an emphasis on literacy, which is the perfect segue into the book business. My professional experience, combined with my love of reading may be reflected in any additions we might make.
"However, most importantly, I hope to continue to serve you, just as the Gerneys have these past 14 years! I would love to hear from you, our customers, and look forward to meeting as many of you as possible. Your needs, ideas and suggestions will help us to create a bookstore that will be a gathering place in the Doylestown community... a bookstore that is also a place to learn new things, engage in stimulating conversation, be entertained or just relax in a environment that is welcoming and comfortable."
La Casa Azul Officially Opens in East Harlem
Congratulations to la Casa Azul Bookstore, in East Harlem in New York City, which is celebrating its official opening with a ribbon cutting and reception next Friday, June 1, 6-8 p.m.
The celebration continues over the weekend as the store hosts a musical storytelling event with Acopladitos! at noon on Saturday and a reading with local author Nicholasa Mohr on Sunday.
Owner Aurora Anaya-Cerda funded the store in part with a campaign that raised $40,000 in 40 days. The store aims "to offer cultural and educational programs via Latino literature and art in East Harlem" and will be "a place where reading, writing and creative expression is encouraged, and a place where ideas, curiosity and community spirit are celebrated."
Pannell Winners: Book Beat; Monkey See, Monkey Do
Book Beat in Oak Park, Mich., and Monkey See, Monkey Do... Children's Bookstore in Clarence, N.Y., have won this year's Lucile Micheels Pannell Award, given annually since 1983 to a general bookstore and children's-only bookstore "that excel at inspiring the interest of young people in books and reading" and sponsored by Women's National Book Association.
Book Beat won in the general bookstore category; Monkey See, Monkey Do won in the children's specialty category. The awards will be presented at BEA's Children's Book and Author Breakfast on Wednesday, June 6, in the Javits Special Events Hall.
Each winner will receive a check for $1,000 and a framed piece of original art. This year's artwork will be contributed by Jenni Desmond and George Ford (the first illustrator to win the Coretta Scott King Book Award in 1974). Penguin Young Readers Group is again underwriting the award.
According to Valerie Tomaselli, the WNBA Pannell chair, the jury of five book industry professionals who selected the winners praised Book Beat for its "passion and true understanding of children's books and young readers [and its] tremendous success as an independent haven within a tough urban environment." Monkey See, Monkey Do was commended for its enthusiastic and innovative approaches to getting kids engaged with reading, and its "spirit of entrepreneurship, looking for ways to make money not just from book sales."
In Arkansas Race, Shipley Moves on to Runoff Election
Congratulations to Mary Gay Shipley! In the Tuesday primaries in Arkansas, the longtime owner of That Bookstore in Blytheville qualified for a runoff election against Monty Hodges, also of Blytheville, in her quest to join the Arkansas House, according to Arkansas News. Because there is no Republican candidate in the district, the winner of the runoff election June 12 will be the de facto winner of the seat. There were four Democratic candidates in the primary on Tuesday.
Earlier this year, Shipley put the store on the market.
BEA: Now with Livestreaming
For the first time, BookExpo America is making author appearances at the show available for viewing online live or on demand, via Livestream. The material will include the author breakfasts (with buy buttons from Indiebound, Sony, Amazon and Barnes & Noble), Downtown Stage events, the Editor Buzz panels and more.
BEA will broadcast 20 hours of live coverage from the convention and will add events to the BEA website after the show. The live events will feature Twitter and Facebook sharing and an interactive chat feature allowing viewers from around the globe to interact. A few questions will be taken from outside viewers for BEA panelists.
BEA show manager Steven Rosato commented: "The potential exposure for authors is tremendous as we extend our reach beyond the four walls of Javits to readers and book enthusiasts everywhere. Our high profile Author Breakfasts are often sold out, attracting a huge audience, and filling our auditorium to capacity. Now we can share these special events with an even wider audience, offering an unparalleled opportunity to build buzz, while offering the book consumer a rare opportunity to peek 'behind the scenes' at the annual book convention. It's a win/win for everyone."
BEA's dedicated channel on the Livestream network be available at bookexpoamerica.com and facebook.com/bookexpoamerica, trade websites, Reed shows around the world and on bloggers' sites.
Obituary Note: Henry Denker
Henry Denker, who wrote more than 30 novels as well as several works for the stage and screen, died last week. He was 99. The New York Times reported Denker once observed that "a writer should be active in several forms of his trade. Writing is a business and should be practiced as such. On days when you think you can’t possibly write a line you do it anyhow."
Image of the Day: Homage to the Titanic
Last Thursday, Oblong Books, Rhinebeck and Millerton, N.Y., hosted an event for cruise ship historian John Maxtone-Graham's newest book, Titanic Tragedy (Norton), at the restored Astor Courts in Rhinebeck. Astor Courts was constructed for John Jacob Astor IV and his wife, Ava, between 1902 and 1904 and was one of the last buildings designed by renowned architect Stanford White. In 1911, Astor divorced Ava and married the much younger Madeleine Talmadge Force. After their extended honeymoon in Europe, they booked travel on the Titanic to return home--and he died when it sank. Here at the event, back row (from l.): bookseller Noelle Marzullo; bookseller Catherine Masterson; Oblong co-owner Suzanna Hermans; bookseller Priscilla Herdman; Mary Maxtone-Graham, wife of the author; author John Maxtone-Graham; bookseller Jennifer Laughran. Front row: bookseller Monica Bastian; DeDe Leiber, owner of Upstate Films, recipient of a portion of the proceeds from the event; Oblong co-owner Dick Hermans.
Happy Fifth Birthday, BookTowne!
Congratulations to BookTowne, Manasquan, N.J., which is marking its fifth anniversary this Memorial Day weekend. The celebration starts on the weekend with daily toasts and continues through the summer, with a 5% discount on June 5, July 5 and August 5. In addition, anyone under age 18 who comes into the store and gives a "high-five" will be entered into a raffle to be drawn on the fifth of each summer month.
Booksmith Honored by City of San Francisco
Congratulations to Booksmith owners Christin Evans and Praveen Madan, who were honored by the City of San Francisco at a Small Business Week celebration at City Hall last week. The store was cited for "its commitment to the Haight-Ashbury community for almost 40 years. The Booksmith is a literary haven for artists and readers, and it is a legendary, independent bookstore that demonstrates successful business practices through a strong connection with its surrounding community."
In addition, the store received special recognition certificate from Representative Nancy Pelosi for "outstanding and invaluable service to the community."
City Supervisor Christina Olague said in part that "since taking over the store in 2007, Christin Evans and Praveen Madan have set the goal for themselves to create an independent bookstore for the 21st century. Ms. Evans and Mr. Madan want the Booksmith to be a true community space. They increased the number of events from 70 to over 200 per year. They host community forums where people gather to learn about a topic and have civil dialogue around that topic. The Booksmith recently hosted a series of forums on youth homelessness, which is a particular challenge in the Haight Ashbury."
Evans commented in part, "You don't really buy a bookstore, you inherit a community institution to cherish. One of the things I've been most proud to be involved in is the founding of the Haight Ashbury Merchants Association. We have been working constructively with Supervisor Olague on plans for the Upper Haight area, including ways to partner with local homeless youth organizations but also to make physical changes to our neighborhood."
Apps for Readers: ChapterShare; BookAnd
Hachette has launched ChapterShare, a Facebook app designed to make the reading of book excerpts a social experience. When Hachette's publishing divisions and authors post chapters from forthcoming works on their Facebook pages, the excerpts can be read and shared, and the books preordered. The app debuts with selections from the opening chapter of James Patterson's forthcoming novel NYPD Red (October 8) and Michael Connelly's The Black Box (November 26).
BookAnd is an Android app that lets users "build your dream bookstore with books you love and share them with your friends."
"Well, they call it a bookstore but since you cannot actually sell stuff I see it as more of a virtual private library," the Digital Reader noted, adding that the "organizational possibilities here are perhaps the most interesting. You can place the virtual books on the shelf in whichever order you like, and that means the order can sometimes give away details about how people think. It's always fun to see the connections others make between books; chances are I might learn something."
Conference: What Makes a Children's Book Great?
What Makes a Children's Book Great?, a half-day conference on children's publishing, hosted by Publishing Perspectives and sponsored by Scholastic and School Library Journal, will be held in New York City on Thursday, May 31. Speakers include agents, authors, booksellers, publishers and digital experts who will offer insight into the present and future of this fast-evolving area of publishing.
For program details and registration information, visit http://bit.ly/PPkidsconf.
Book Trailer of the Day: Arlo Needs Glasses
Arlo Needs Glasses by Barney Saltzberg (Workman), about a dog who needs eye care.
Media and Movies
Media Heat: It's Even Worse Than It Looks
This morning on MSNBC's Morning Joe: Thomas E. Mann, co-author of It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism (Basic Books, $26, 9780465031337).
Tomorrow on NBC's WSJ Report with Maria Bartiromo: Edward Conard, author of Unintended Consequences: Why Everything You've Been Told About the Economy Is Wrong (Portfolio, $27.95, 9781591845508).
Tomorrow night on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno: Colin Powell, author of It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership (Harper, $27.99, 9780062135124).
HBO Movie: Hemingway & Gellhorn
On Monday at 9 p.m., HBO is airing Hemingway & Gellhorn, starring Clive Owen as Ernest Hemingway and Nicole Kidman as Martha Gellhorn. (She was his third wife; he was her first husband.) The director is Philip Kaufman; scriptwriter is Jerry Stahl.
Besides the millions of words that have been written by Hemingway, there are several titles of interest about Gellhorn, who was a novelist and an intrepid war correspondent, reporting on many of the major wars of the 20th century, beginning with the Spanish Civil War:
Gellhorn: A Twentieth-Century Life by Caroline Moorehead (Picador)
Selected Letters of Martha Gellhorn by Caroline Moorehead (Picador)
Confederacy of Dunces Movie Finally in the Works?
A film adaptation of John Kennedy Toole's modern classic The Confederacy of Dunces may finally be underway. Vulture reported that James Bobin (Flight of the Conchords, The Muppets) is "in negotiations to at long last bring the picaresque paean to New Orleans to the big screen via producer Scott Rudin and Paramount Pictures. We hear the script will be fashioned by Cedar Rapids screenwriter Phil Johnston (who also co-wrote Alexander Payne's forthcoming Nebraska) and that, perhaps best of all, the seemingly perfectly matched Zach Galifianakis is attached to the project to star as Reilly."
Vulture cautioned against overexcitement, given many prior attempts to bring the book to the screen and the fact that "this year actually marks the 30th anniversary of Harold Ramis's 1982 plan to adapt the book.... As Ignatius once said best himself, 'The gods of chaos, lunacy, and bad taste gained ascendancy.' "
This Weekend on Book TV: Victor Cha
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, May 26
10 a.m. At an event hosted by the Regulator Bookshop, Durham, N.C., John Feffer talks about his book Crusade 2.0: The West's Resurgent War on Islam (City Lights, $15.95, 9780872865457). (Re-airs Sunday at 7 p.m.)
4 p.m. Marcus Luttrell, author of Service: A Navy SEAL at War (Little, Brown, $27.99, 9780316185363), chronicles his experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Re-airs Sunday at 10 p.m.)
4:30 p.m. Brad Meltzer, author of Heroes for My Daughter (Harper, $19.99, 9780061905261), suggests people throughout history his daughter could look up to. (Re-airs Sunday at 8 p.m.)
5:15 p.m. Jeff Himmelman talks about his new book, Yours in Truth: A Personal Portrait of Ben Bradlee (Random House, $27, 9781400068470).
7 p.m. Michael Long, author of I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin's Life in Letters (City Lights, $19.95, 9780872865785), presents a collection of the Civil Rights leader's correspondence. (Re-airs Sunday at 10:30 a.m.)
8:30 p.m. H.W. Brands, author of The Heartbreak of Aaron Burr (Anchor, $15, 9780307743268), profiles the former U.S. vice-president who killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel. (Re-airs Sunday at 4:30 p.m.)
10 p.m. After Words. Scott Snyder, director of the Program on U.S.-Korea Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, interviews Victor Cha, author of The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future (Ecco, $29.99, 9780061998508). (Re-airs Sunday at 9 p.m. and Monday at 12 a.m. & 3 a.m.)
11 p.m. James Wright discusses his book Those Who Have Borne the Battle: A History of America's Wars and Those Who Fought Them (PublicAffairs, $28.99, 9781610390729). (Re-airs Sunday at 3:30 p.m. and Monday at 7 a.m.)
Sunday, May 27
8 a.m. At an event hosted by the Strand Bookstore in New York City, George Packer interviews Benjamin Busch, author of Dust to Dust: A Memoir (Ecco, $26.99, 9780062014849). (Re-airs Sunday at 10:45 p.m.)
Books & Authors
Awards: Raiziss/de Palchi Book Prize Winner
Jennifer Scappettone, a University of Chicago assistant professor, has won the Academy of American Poets' 2012 Raiziss/de Palchi Book Prize for her translations of poet Amelia Rosselli in Locomotrix: Selected Poetry and Prose of Amelia Rosselli (University of Chicago Press).
The $10,000 award is given every other year for "the translation into English of a significant work of modern Italian poetry."
Review: What Happened to Sophie Wilder
What Happened to Sophie Wilder by Christopher Beha (Tin House, $15.95 paperback, 9781935639312, May 29, 2012)
Christopher Beha's short but intricately constructed first novel tells the story of two young writers struggling to discover their personal and professional identities, but it's not another excursion through the world of New York's literati. Instead, What Happened to Sophie Wilder is a somber character study focused on the problem of human suffering, the nature of religious belief and the acceptance of moral responsibility.
Sophie Wilder and Charlie Blakeman met in a college creative writing course taught by a "near-famous novelist," a period Beha revisits through flashbacks, tracing their relationship through its flowering and its sudden demise. "Those days with Sophie became a touchstone," Charlie writes, "against which I measured the passing time, my relationships, my writing, and found it all wanting." Now, a decade later, Charlie has written a first novel whose critical reception is as disappointing as its sales, while Sophie has produced a dazzling story collection that holds the promise of a bright literary career.
For both of them, the way forward has turned murky at best. Charlie is producing no new writing, and Sophie's marriage to another classmate is foundering. Her life is further upended when the father her husband has claimed is long dead enters their lives, now dying of cancer. Sophie becomes his caregiver, a position that forces her to confront troubling ethical questions as the dying man makes it clear he wants her to hasten his end--but not before she slowly discovers the truth about a long ago family tragedy.
In a way that's not all that common in contemporary fiction, Beha writes with an absence of irony about Sophie's moral crisis and her gradual conversion to Catholicism, spurred by an encounter with a compassionate priest and her discovery of a convent near the home she inherited from her parents after they were killed in a car crash when she was a teenager.
On the surface, Charlie and Sophie have it all. Speaking of the incident that causes his eviction from the Greenwich Village apartment he had been occupying when Sophie returns, Charlie says, "We had been given something beautiful, asked only to watch over it. We'd been careless, and now it was all in ruin." That rueful comment could well serve as the epitaph for the lives sketched in this challenging story. --Harvey Freedenberg
Shelf Talker: Christopher Beha's first novel sketches the personal and professional struggles of two young writers.