Shelf Awareness for Thursday, May 15, 2014


Penguin Press: Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968 by Ryan H. Walsh

Scribner Book Company: The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson

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

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

Houghton Mifflin: Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein: Based on a True Story by Jennifer Roy with Ali Fadhil

News

Bookstore Sales Down 7.6% in March

March bookstore sales fell 7.6%, to $683 million, compared to March 2013, according to preliminary estimates from the Census Bureau. For the year to date, bookstore sales fell 9.5%, to $2.9 billion. Total retail sales in March rose 3%, to $439.5 billion, compared to the same period a year ago. For the year to date, total retail sales rose 2.3%, to $1,212.7 billion.

Note: under Census Bureau definitions, the bookstore category consists of "establishments primarily engaged in retailing a general line of new books. These establishments may also sell stationery and related items, second-hand books, and magazines."


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


St. Mark's Bookshop Signs Lease on New Location

photo: Google Street View

St. Mark's Bookshop has signed a lease on a space at 136 E. Third Street in Manhattan's East Village, near Avenue A, and expects to move in this fall. The New York Times reported that the new store "will be half the size of the current one, but the rent of $6,000 is barely one-quarter of the $23,500 charged by their landlord on Third Avenue, the Cooper Union.... The new landlord is the city. The owners are exploring a transition to nonprofit status."

"So we're still going to be one of few Manhattan independent bookstores, and the oldest with the original owners," said co-owner Bob Contant, "I don't have any retirement plans. This is my life. I feel pretty good about the fact that we're still alive." The Indiegogo campaign for St. Mark's Bookshop continues through tomorrow night. More than $42,000 has been raised thus far toward the $50,000 goal.


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


Things Heat Up at the CBC Gala

Last night, just as the party was getting underway, a fire broke out at the Capitale in New York City's Chinatown, the venue for the 2014 Children's Book Week Gala and the announcement of the seventh annual Children's Choice Book Awards, co-sponsored by the Children's Book Council and Every Child a Reader. Everyone was evacuated without incident, and the building quickly cleared for the show to go on.

Rush Limbaugh with Robin Adelson, CBC executive director.

But that was not the end of temperatures rising. Later that evening, Rush Limbaugh won 2014 Author of the Year for his book Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims: Time-Travel Adventures with Exceptional Americans (Threshold Editions/S&S), setting off a fiery Twitter frenzy.

Limbaugh's name as one of the five contenders (along with such previous favorites as Jeff Kinney, Rick Riordan, Veronica Roth and Rachel Renée Russell) created controversy when it first appeared, and the Children's Book Council and Every Child a Reader responded with an open letter explaining how book titles and creators get to appear on the list. At that point, and it was too late to debate or change the rules for this year's selections, but the letter stated a willingness to "take [these concerns] into consideration going forward."

The crowd clapped politely as Rush Limbaugh moved to the stage. In his remarks while accepting his award, Limbaugh said, "I love America, I wish everybody did. Someday, I hope everybody will." He added, "I am honored and humbled to be among you." Grace Lee accepted the 2014 Illustrator of the Year Award for Sofia the First: The Floating Palace (Disney).

One of the highlights of the evening occurred when David Shannon accepted the 2014 award for the 3rd to 4th Grade Book of the Year, Bugs in My Hair! (Blue Sky Press/Scholastic). The book, a blend of funny and factual, was inspired by his daughter, who came home with lice. As Shannon discussed the situation with other parents, he discovered that "it was a huge secret. It was time to blow the lid off it." He didn't want children to feel ashamed about getting lice. He thanked teachers, librarians and "school nurses," along with the children: "Readers make better voters," Shannon said.

Kate DiCamillo

National Ambassador for Young People's Literature and emcee Kate DiCamillo said that this year 1,261,000 children cast votes in bookstores, libraries and classrooms, and at BookWeekOnline.com (up from last year's one million). As ambassador, she had a few weeks ago put out a call to action for authors and artists to read books aloud in their local bookstores this Saturday, May 17. She lightened the mood with occasional asides to inaugural ambassador Jon Scieszka, in the audience, and a reference to the last time she'd seen Jarrett Krosoczka: in a hotel parking lot late at night--due to a fire alarm that also resulted in an evacuation.

CBC executive director Robin Adelson announced that for the first time in its 95-year history, there are Children's Book Week events going on in all 50 states.

Krosoczka presented the 2014 Impact Award to Levar Burton "in recognition of his remarkable efforts to instill a lifelong love of reading in children," particularly through his work on the PBS children's series Reading Rainbow, and his reimagined incarnation of the series through his company RRKids and the Reading Rainbow app. Burton prepared a video message, as he was with his mother, who's scheduled for surgery today. She was a teacher who "not only read to me but also in front of me," said Burton, and "the one most responsible" for his love of books and reading. The La Guardia High School Show Choir, which opened the ceremony, closed with the theme from Reading Rainbow.

The event was livestreamed, and can be viewed here. --Jennifer M. Brown

The 2014 Children's Choice Book Award winners:

Kindergarten to 2nd Grade Book of the Year:
The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers (Philomel/Penguin)

3rd to 4th Grade:
Bugs in My Hair! by David Shannon (Blue Sky Press/Scholastic)

5th to 6th Grade:
National Geographic Kids Myths Busted! by Emily Krieger, illustrated by Tom Nick Cocotos (National Geographic Children's Books)

Teen Book of the Year:
Allegiant by Veronica Roth (Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins)


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


British MP Urges Shoppers to 'Find Alternatives to Amazon'

Margaret Hodge, chair of the Public Accounts Select Committee, is advising British shoppers to seek alternatives to Amazon "after it paid just £4.2 million [about $7 million] in tax last year, despite selling goods worth £4.3 billion [about $7.2 billion]--more than the U.K. sales of Argos, Dixons or the non-food arm of Marks & Spencer," the Guardian reported. She noted that similar consumer action last year persuaded Starbucks to resume U.K. tax payments.

"It is an outrage and Amazon should pay their fair share of tax," said Hodge. "They are making money out of not paying taxes. I no longer use Amazon. We should shop elsewhere. What we demonstrated with Starbucks is the power of the consumer voice."

Despite Amazon's claim that it is under the tax jurisdiction of its European headquarters in Luxembourg, Hodge argued: "If you are an Amazon user, you get endless e-mails saying Amazon.co.uk. You then order your goods and you get them delivered by the Royal Mail in parcels stamped with the Queen's head, and they then pretend it's nothing to do with business in the U.K. They are damaging British jobs. If you are a small bookshop in the high street you can never compete with their prices, because you pay taxes."

The Booksellers Association suggested that members "who do pay their Corporation Tax might like to promote this fact to their customers by downloading posters for bookshop windows which the BA has produced for the U.K. & Irish markets."


William Morrow & Company: My Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie


Jack & Allie's Children's Bookstore Opens in Conn.

Barbara Haggerty Khan, the owner of Jack & Allie's, a new children's bookstore in Vernon, Conn., has never worked in a bookstore before, but she's diving into the indie world all the same. "I've got a little bit of retail experience, a whole lot of experience related to working with children, and a lot of business management," Khan said. "Opening this store feels like I'm taking everything I've done in my life and putting it all together."

Barbara Kahn and Mayor Champagne at the opening of Jack & Allie's.

Jack & Allie's celebrated its grand opening with three days of festivities, beginning on Friday, May 2, with a ribbon cutting by Vernon Mayor Daniel A. Champagne. On Saturday, the biggest day of the celebration, there were storybook characters in costume, face painting, balloon animals, glitter tattoos, songs, storytime and several performances of Book & Boogie, a children's program featuring books and music and movement activities. On Sunday, there were more Book & Boogie performances, glitter tattoos and treats, along with a magic show.

The 2,400-square-foot store is focused on new and emerging readers, but Khan also stocks middle grade titles, some YA books and a small selection of parenting and teaching resources. Khan was quick to point out that the inventory is already evolving; she is adding new titles and new series every day better to suit the needs of her community. She's a self-described "huge fan" of the classic fairy tales; in them she sees so much room for imagination and the possibility to get lost in those fictional worlds. Also appealing is the ability to share these stories across generations.

"There's something about these stories that carries them through the ages," Khan explained. "I'm reading the same story that my mother and grandmother read, and now I'm reading it to my little girl. There's something very special about that continuity."

In addition to providing books, Khan has extensive plans for events. She already hosts story time three times per week, and is in the process of putting together book clubs for both boys and girls. The store hosts birthday parties on the weekends, brings in local authors for readings, and Khan is looking for a Girl Scout troop that could use the store as something of a home base. Every Friday this summer, Jack & Allie's will feature Book & Boogie performances, and the program behind Book & Boogie will also do teacher training.

"We have things going all the time. My dream is for this to be a kind of community center," Khan said.

Beyond selling books and putting on fun events for kids, Khan's primary goal is to get children to read. Khan has worked extensively with children and with schools, and much of it in reading advocacy and reading consulting. Currently, she's teaching 9th and 10th grade history classes part time, and she said that everything she's doing in the classroom has to do with reading comprehension.

"I think that getting children to read is one of the most important things we can do in terms of overall education," Khan said. "I adore children. I've worked with children. I'm an avid reader, my kids are avid readers, and it breaks my heart to see kids who don't like to read."

So far, Khan has been thrilled with the responses she's received, both from the Vernon community and other independent booksellers. "We have people stopping in all the time, thanking me for taking the chance," Khan recounted. But before opening the store, she'd had "people tell me that a bookstore wasn't a good idea, that I was nuts. All the talk about how you can order anything you want from home or download it to a Kindle. But I really, really believe that parents want to bring their children in to touch the books, see the books, feel the books. There's something about turning pages that pulls kids into the books like nothing else." --Alex Mutter

Jack and Allie's is located at 520 Hartford Turnpike, Suite E, Vernon, Conn., 06066; 860-375-8465.


Obituary Note: John Hartley Williams

Poet John Hartley Williams, whose collections "seemed to follow each other faster than the eye could blink," died May 3. He was 72. "His experience of foreign places, ranging from the dangerous to the outright lunatic, at least in his telling, made him impatient with what he saw as the tame conformity of much English poetry," John Lucas wrote in the Guardian.


Notes

Image of the Day: Now Pitching for the Yankees, Harlan Coben!

Author Harlan Coben added another highlight to his list of achievements: MLB pitcher. On Tuesday, May 13, Coben threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the second game of the Subway Series between the Yankees and Mets. Prior to the game, Coben greeted fans and signed copies of his new bestseller, Missing You (Dutton).


'The Brooklyn Influentials': Archipelago's Jill Schoolman

Jill Schoolman, founder of Archipelago Books, was among the New York Observer's list of the "Brooklyn Influentials: 128 People Who Matter Right Now."

"Archipelago Books had been quietly amassing a reputation as an excellent publisher of literature in translation since Jill Schoolman founded the small press in 2003, working with authors as varied as Breyten Breytenbach, Julio Cortázar and Rainer Maria Rilke," the Observer noted. "But from the moment Ms. Schoolman published the first English translation of Karl Ove Knausgård, the Norwegian author's six-volume memoir-esque novel, My Struggle (Archipelago is up to volume three) has become something like the In Search of Lost Time for a generation of oversharers. Likewise, Ms. Schoolman has taken her place alongside Barney Rosset and James Laughlin as a publisher who has found success by taking risks."

Other "Brooklyn influencers" from the world of books included Kurt Andersen ("The Original Snarkist"), Adelle Waldman ("The Big Debut"), Garth Risk Hallberg ("The $2M Bet"), Colson Whitehead ("The Literary Pillar") and Susan Golomb ("The Powerhouse Agent").


Personnel Changes at University Book Store

Matthew Schleede has joined University Book Store, Seattle, Wash., as course materials manager of the textbook department. He has 10 years experience in course materials management, most recently with Brian's Books, a private store serving Grand Valley State University, in Allendale, Mich. He takes over from interim manager Julianna Birkenkopf, who was appointed when longtime manager Rob Dodson died in January.


Media and Movies

Media Heat: Andrew D. Kaufman on Katie

Tomorrow morning on Fox & Friends: Kip Harding, co-author of Kip Harding The Brainy Bunch: The Harding Family's Method to College Ready by Age Twelve (Gallery, $21.99, 9781476759340).

Also on Fox & Friends: Joe De Sena, author of Spartan Up!: A Take-No-Prisoners Guide to Overcoming Obstacles and Achieving Peak Performance in Life (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24, 9780544286177).

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Tomorrow on Katie: Andrew D. Kaufman, author of Give War and Peace a Chance: Tolstoyan Wisdom for Troubled Times (Simon & Schuster, $25, 9781451644708).

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Tomorrow night on Jimmy Kimmel Live: Adam Carolla, author of President Me: The America That's in My Head (It Books, $26.99, 9780062320407).

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Tomorrow night on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson: Jackie Collins, author of The Lucky Santangelo Cookbook (St. Martin's Press, $27.99, 9781250014658).


TV: Arthur & George

Martin Clunes (Doc Martin, Reggie Perrin) will play Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in a new three-part series for ITV "inspired by a real-life case tackled by the author," the Telegraph reported. Arthur & George is based on the novel by Julian Barnes, and ITV director of television Peter Fincham described the adaptation as "an extraordinary mystery with racial overtones," making it "a very modern story" despite its Edwardian setting. The series goes into production this fall and will be adapted by Ed Whitmore (Silent Witness, Waking the Dead).


This Weekend on Book TV: Gaithersburg Book Festival

Book TV airs on C-Span 2 this weekend 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 17
10:30 a.m. Live coverage from the 2014 Gaithersburg Book Festival in Gaithersburg, Md. (Re-airs Sunday at 12 a.m.)

5:15 p.m. Book TV interviews authors and visits literary sites in Mobile, Ala. (Re-airs Sunday at 10:45 a.m.)

6:30 p.m. Robert Spencer, author of Arab Winter Comes to America: The Truth About the War We're In (Regnery, $27.99, 9781621572046). (Re-airs Monday at 4 a.m.)

7:30 p.m. Judith Kelley, author of Monitoring Democracy: When International Election Observation Works, and Why It Often Fails (Princeton University Press, $35, 9780691152783). (Re-airs Sunday at 1:30 p.m. and Monday at 1:30 a.m.)

8 p.m. Senator Elizabeth Warren, author of A Fighting Chance (Metropolitan Books, $28, 9781627790529). (Re-airs Sunday at 3 p.m.)

8:45 p.m. Bruce Bechtol, author of North Korea and Regional Security in the Kim Jong-un Era: A New International Security Dilemma (Palgrave Pivot, $67.50, 9781137400062). (Re-airs Sunday at 9:45 a.m.)

10 p.m. Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, author of Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution (Little, Brown, $23, 9780316373722). (Re-airs Sunday at 9 p.m. and Monday at 12 a.m. and 3 a.m.)

11 p.m. Mark Perry, author of The Most Dangerous Man in America: The Making of Douglas MacArthur (Basic, $29.99, 9780465013289).


Sunday, May 18
1 p.m. Martin Miller, author of The Foundations of Modern Terrorism: State, Society and the Dynamics of Political Violence (Cambridge University Press, $28.99, 9780748769421). (Re-airs Monday at 1 a.m.)

7:30 p.m. Kwame Anthony Appiah, author of Lines of Descent: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Emergence of Identity (Harvard University Press, $18.95, 9780674724914).

10 p.m. Steven Pressman, author of 50 Children: One Ordinary American Couple's Extraordinary Rescue Mission into the Heart of Nazi Germany (Harper, $26.99, 9780062237477), at Book Passage in Corte Madera, Calif.

10:45 p.m. Alex Beam, author of American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church (PublicAffairs, $26.99, 9781610393133), at Politics & Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C.



Books & Authors

Awards: Midwest Booksellers Choice Awards Finalists

Finalists have been selected for this year's Midwest Booksellers Choice Awards, sponsored by the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association and honoring books dealing with the Midwest or by authors in the Midwest. Midwest indie booksellers will now vote for their favorites. Winners, who will be announced July 7, will celebrate the award-winning authors at the Heartland Fall Forum in Minneapolis, Minn., on September 30.


Attainment: New Titles Out Next Week

Selected new titles appearing next Tuesday, May 20:

Wynne's War by Aaron Gwyn (Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25, 9780544230279) follows horse riding Green Berets in Afghanistan.

Sniper's Honor: A Bob Lee Swagger Novel by Stephen Hunter (Simon & Schuster, $27.99, 9781451640212) continues the Bob Lee Swagger series.

The Three: A Novel by Sarah Lotz (Little, Brown, $26, 9780316242905) takes place after a series of plane crashes, where a child survives each wreck.

One Nation: What We Can All Do to Save America's Future by Ben Carson and Candy Carson (Sentinel, $25.95, 9781595231123).

Good Talk, Dad: The Birds and the Bees...and Other Conversations We Forgot to Have by Bill Geist and Willie Geist (Grand Central, $27, 9781455547227) comes from father and son TV hosts.

Appearing Thursday, May 22:

Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28, 9780544442788) includes commentary based on Tolkien's Oxford lectures.

Now in paperback:

Borderline by Lawrence Block (Hard Case Crime, $9.95, 9781781167779).

Then and Always: A Novel by Dani Atkins (Ballantine, $15, 9780804178525).


Book Review

Review: Take This Man: A Memoir

Take This Man: A Memoir by Brando Skyhorse (Simon & Schuster, $26 hardcover, 9781439170878, June 3, 2014)

Brando Skyhorse made his literary debut with The Madonnas of Echo Park, a novel in stories in which the characters weave in and out to tell a larger tale about the immigrant pursuit of the American dream. Here he returns to the real Echo Park of his boyhood in a stunning memoir of emotional dysfunction and hard-won understanding.

When Skyhorse was three, his father left the family, driven out by his mother's manipulative narcissism. Maria was beautiful and mesmerizing and could enthrall those around her when she chose. She convinced the boy that her new lover, a convict named Paul Skyhorse Johnson, was actually his father. The relationship ended soon enough, replaced by the next and then the next. By the time Skyhorse reached his teens, there were six of them, many of whom Maria married without divorcing the previous one, and all of whom Skyhorse was expected to call "Dad." It wasn't until he was 16 that he learned he was not Indian but Mexican, with an invented name and a real father he'd never heard of.

Skyhorse shared a bedroom with Maria's mother, June, a fiercely independent lesbian whose acerbic temper was as legendary as her loyalty. June never divorced her husband, who slept in the second bedroom. Maria later operated a phone-sex business out of the third, spending all her spare time watching exercise videos in a bid for the lost figure of her youth (the success of her home-based business seemed to have an inverse relationship to her weight).

June and Maria's emotional inconsistency and the loss of one father after another left Skyhorse with chronic bouts of depression. A gifted child, he was accepted into Stanford University but barely graduated after struggling socially. He moved to New York but could not sustain a relationship with his girlfriend. He still struggles with fear about his own potential to be a loving parent and partner. Skyhorse does not shy away from the head-spinning dysfunction of his childhood, nor does he gloss over his emotional pain. But this memoir succeeds as a work of narrative art because the real story is in his effort to find a father, to understand and to forgive. And it is a story beautifully told--often funny, always moving and with his writerly gifts on full display.

Skyhorse has a keen ear for language and for story but his capacity to understand and forgive, to find the humanity in the difficult people around him, should elevate his work to a literary classic. --Jeanette Zwart

Shelf Talker: A gorgeous and moving memoir of family dysfunction and forgiveness by the talented author of the PEN/Hemingway Award-winning The Madonnas of Echo Park.


Deeper Understanding

Stand Up Comics: Just Left of Reality

Stand Up Comics is a regular column by Adan Jimenez. These titles need no introduction: just read the column, then read some good comics!

Old City Blues Volume 2 by Giannis Milonogiannis (Archaia, $12.95, 9781939867025)

After Europe was struck by severe storms of acid rain, governments collapsed and society fell. Powerful corporations saw an opportunity for new business and made secret deals to own and govern city-states across Europe in return for capital and technology. New Athens is one of those city-states, teeming with crime and corruption. It's up to the New Athens Special Police Division 10 (or SDX) to keep it as safe as they can, while attempting not to anger their corporate overlords.

Milonogiannis has created a cyberpunk world at its grittiest, where enhanced cops fight barehanded against mechs twice their size, chase down hackers across multiple cybersystems, and shoot warning shots into fleeing suspects' shoulders. Both the story and art are heavily influenced by Japanese manga, specifically Ghost in the Shell and Akira, but the visual styles of Western cyberpunk also make their presences felt, especially during wide city shots.

While this is the second volume, Milonogiannis quickly sets up his world and his characters in the first eight pages, thereby negating any need to read the first volume, but it's worth a read, too, because it's just as good as this one.

Handselling Opportunities: Cyberpunk aficionados of all stripes, especially fans of William Gibson and Masamune Shirow.

Nemo: The Roses of Berlin by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill (Top Shelf, $14.95, 9781603093200)

Imagine Philip Jose Farmer and Win Scott Eckert's Wold Newton universe, but with nearly every literary character and conceit from around the world thrown in for good measure, and you begin to scratch the surface of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen universe that Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill have created.

In the sixth volume in the ever-expanding LoEG universe, we find Broad Arrow Jack and the new Captain Nemo (daughter of the original) breaking into Berlin at the height of World War II to rescue their kidnapped daughter. Unfortunately for our protagonists, this Berlin has sprung from the mind of Carl Rotwang and is a true Metropolis. To make matters worse, the Twilight Heroes, Germany's answer to the British League, are waiting for them.

Part of the fun of reading a LoEG book is figuring out all the references and Easter eggs Moore and O'Neil have crammed into their slim volumes. My favorites in this story are the inclusion of German filmmaker Fritz Lang's creations Maria (from Metropolis) and Dr. Mabuse (from The Testament of Dr. Mabuse) as German super soldiers. We also get to see Ayesha She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed in action. And finally come face-to-face with Adenoid Hynkel, the Hitler analogue, originally from the Chaplin film The Great Dictator. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, have no fear. Critic and historian Jess Nevins has fantastic notes at his website (which come in handy when Moore decides to write a third of the book in German).

Handselling Opportunities: People who enjoyed Warren Ellis and John Cassaday's Planetary, and people who are intrigued by shared universes like the Wold Newton.

Nijigahara Holograph by Inio Asano (Fantagraphics, $29.99, 9781606995839)

Ten years ago, Kimura Arie was pushed down a well by her classmates for spreading rumors about a monster living in the Nijigahara Tunnel who would bring about the end of the world. She's been in a coma ever since. Suzuki Amahiko transferred to the same school after a failed suicide attempt in Tokyo, then moved away again at the end of the year. Kohta was a bully who loved Arie, and got more and more violent after her coma. He now works at a supermarket. Various other students, teachers, and parents both affected by and responsible for Arie's "accident" appear and intersect throughout Asano's mind-bending story.

The two time periods, present day and 10 years ago, run concurrently and switch viewpoints faster than you can say David Lynch, which makes for a somewhat confusing and frustrating read the first time around. But once you get to that ending and realize what's been happening and who all the characters are (and were), the second reading becomes a lot more satisfying.

Warning: people reading this hardcover because they loved Asano's previous book Solanin are in for a rude awakening. These two books are as different as night and day.

Handselling Opportunities: People who enjoy David Lynch's work (especially Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive) and any other fiction that at first glance seems firmly rooted in reality before veering off into crazy unreality.

BUZZ! by Ananth Panagariya and Tessa Stone (Oni Press, $19.99, 9781620100882)

"In a world where spelling bees are more dangerous than mixed martial arts and more popular than any sport ever devised, one group of ragtag spellers unite to destroy the secret society behind it all or die trying. Because losing a match surely means D-E-A-T-H!"

That (or something very much like that) had to have been the pitch the authors delivered to Oni Press when they first talked about this book. This not-quite-our-world features a society built on the English language, where every class in high school is somehow related to the language arts (except for PE, of course), back-alley spelling bees exist for those banned from official matches, and a shadowy organization called the Spelluminati run everything and remove undesirables with swift efficiency. Words and letters can be (and often are) used as weapons in the right mouths (and occasionally hands) in videogame style matches where dichotomy can be more dangerous than thaumaturgy.

While the world is interesting enough and the main characters engaging, the awesome cast of supporting characters is very enjoyable: they're other spellers who come with superhero names, great gimmicks and excellent, word-related backgrounds. My favorite is the Immortal, who is rumored to have been alive since the first spelling bee, and knows the meaning and history of every word thrown at him.

Handselling Opportunities: Fan of magical realist comics like Scott Pilgrim, Sharknife, Street Angel and Suburban Glamour, among others (it's pure synchronicity that they all start with "S").


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