Shelf Awareness for Monday, February 13, 2017


Mira Books: The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff

Workman Publishing: Flow

Center Street: Death Need Not Be Fatal by Malachy McCourt and Brian McDonald

RosettaBooks: Gratitude in Low Voices: A Memoir by Dawit Gebremichael Habte

Doubleday Books: Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan

Walden Pond Press: York: The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby

News

Zenith Bookstore to Open This Summer in Duluth, Minn.

Zenith Bookstore, which will sell mostly used and some new books, will open in the West Duluth neighborhood of Duluth, Minn., this summer. The 1,600-square-foot shop is next to a coffee shop and will emphasize local and regional titles, literature, poetry, mysteries and gardening, among other categories.

Owner Bob Dobrow, who is retiring at the end of this academic year from his position teaching math at Carleton College, last summer bought the 1890s brick building where the store will be located. Renovations are underway.

Noting a "renaissance" in bricks-and-mortar bookstores, Dobrow said, "There's a hunger for the physical object and having a local store."


ECW Press: The Dhow House by Jean McNeil


Changes at D.C.'s Kramerbooks & Afterwords

Following the sale late last year of Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe, Washington, D.C., by founders Bill Kramer and David Tenney (who retains an interest) to Steve Salis, co-founder of the local chain &pizza, the store has undergone major management changes.

Kramerbooks announced last week that Perry Hooks, president and co-founder of Hooks Book Events, which creates specialized book events for large organizations, has been named senior adviser for the bookstore and will "provide counsel on the operations, growth and revenue opportunities for the brand."

At the same time, "the longtime management team" at the store has quit, the Washington Post reported. The move was "a coordinated effort" that came after "clashes" with Salis. The bookstore's events director resigned in January, and five others, including the general manager and head buyer, quit early last week. Among the causes, according to the Post, were "concerns about the work environment." Salis told the newspaper in an e-mail, "We don't know why they left--no notice and no explanation. Just did not show up one day."

Commenting on the appointment of Hooks, Salis said, "My priority in cultivating a strong sense of identity around the Kramerbooks brand for the next generation has always required the best minds to elevate our relationships with our team, guests and community for whom all are a part of this beloved institution. We are thrilled to welcome Perry to our team as we develop a new paradigm for the independent bookstore."

Concerning her appointment, Hooks said, "I got my start in the book business more than 20 years ago working with a wonderful indie store in Tennessee. We have entered a period where independent bookstores are thriving once again and this moment in working with the Kramerbooks brand and helping to fulfill Steve's vision for creating an experiential bookstore is an exciting one. I look forward to providing my counsel and expertise to Steve and his team."


DK Publishing: Out of the Box by Jemma Westing


Sacramento's Avid Reader to Move

The Avid Reader at Tower, Sacramento, Calif., will move by the end of the month after the store's landlord decided not to renew its lease, the Sacramento Bee reported.

In a letter to customers, owner Stan Forbes called the decision a surprise and wrote, "Because I am committed to ensuring that Sacramento and Land Park/Curtis Park/Midtown has an independent bookstore, I will be moving the store's location within the same neighborhood."

He said he is in negotiations on a new space that, with remodeling, will have "the same feel as our existing store."


G.P. Putnam's Sons: Touch by Courtney Maum


PubWest, Still Crazy Independent After 40 Years

This weekend in Portland, Ore., PubWest celebrated its 40th birthday at its annual conference of independent book publishers with programming that was both educational and entertaining, and included a big tip of the hat to independent bookseller partners in cultivating the community of the book in the West.

Presenting the group's Jack D. Rittenhouse Award to almost-fully-retired Chuck and Dee Robinson, co-founders of Village Books in Bellingham, Wash., PubWest committee member Kalen Landow called the couple the "classic example" of why the Rittenhouse award was created to honor the region's consummate book people. In addition to creating a true community center, Chuck, as president of the American Booksellers Association in the 1990s, "reminded New York that there's life west of the Hudson," Landow added.

PubWest executive director Kent Watson, Chuck Robinson, Miriam Sontz and Dee Robinson

Dee Robinson said she now disagreed with the advice they got as prospective booksellers in 1979 that owning a bookstore was "not a great way to get rich, but was a great way to make a living--if you could make it work." Looking back, she said, "the riches have been amazing," especially in terms of relationships with customers, booksellers, publishers and authors. It's not every store that can boast, as Landow mentioned, that it's "a bookstore I wish I could ask to dance," as Sherman Alexie put it.

Chuck Robinson shared some bookselling history, describing how the business morphed from a retailing landscape the included indies in competition with department stores and stationers, to mall stores, then superstores, big-box stores, e-tailing and, now, Amazon with its own bricks-and-mortar stores. Despite the waves of competition, he reminded attendees that for the eighth year in a row, there has been a net gain in the number of independent bookstores--many opened by or purchased by young professionals. The key word in the phrase "independent bookseller," Chuck added, is not bookseller, and he encouraged the independent publishers in the room, whom he sees as the key to finding needed changes in a broken business model, to focus on the shared pride of independence to build relationships with their indie retail partners.

The Washington Post's Ron Charles (right) cracking up author/interviewer Kevin Smokler.

Earlier in the day, the Washington Post's Book World editor Ron Charles alternated between cracking everyone up with clips from his "Totally Hip Book Review" videos and discussing with author/interviewer Kevin Smokler (Brat Pack America: A Love Letter to '80s Teen Movies, Rare Bird Books, Oct. 2016) the serious ways the book reviewing landscape has changed. Of course, much of that discussion also led to plenty of laughter, as when Charles assured attendees that after the newspaper was acquired by Jeff Bezos, he has never heard of anyone on the editorial side hearing from Amazon about anything, to which one publisher interjected, "Neither have we!"

The final keynote was delivered by Powell's Books CEO Miriam Sontz, who was introduced by Chuck Robinson, who called her "the E.F. Hutton of bookselling," because, even though she is selective in sharing her views on the trade, "when Miriam Sontz talks, people listen."

True to form, Sontz said she most wanted to get to the q&a to hear the attendees' stories, but she shared a few of her own. In essence, she said, the experience of those who come into Powell's--just two blocks away from the PubWest conference hotel--comes down to the 30- to 45-second interaction they have most likely with a cashier, who are usually the newest members of the bookstore team. Because of that, she said, she makes sure to meet with every employee during their three-day training so that she can share the store's mission as both book lovers and a business. "We want to make books objects of desire," she said. Powell's also is proud to have been the first indie bookseller to offer its employees health benefits, and provides childcare subsidies and other things that help establish bookselling as a viable career option for its staff.

Sontz shared two recent stories from customers about why they love Powell's. The first was from an Iraq War veteran who said that after coming back from his second deployment, Powell's was the only place he felt safe. The second was from a recently divorced woman who knew she needed to "be in the world, but was not feeling of the world," who said a copy of The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama fell at her feet while in the store, so she sat down and read for two hours without anyone bothering her. "I never asked if she bought the book," said Sontz, but she said the woman told her she went to a Buddhist center the next day and it transformed her life.

Sontz described Walter Powell as a curmudgeon and a schmoozer who founded the store in his mid-60s, and would sit outside and cajole passersby into coming in. "His second love was buying a book for a buck and selling it for three," she said. Those two traits make up Powell's Books' DNA, she said. "You can't fake passion," she added--passion being another trait that indie booksellers and the indie publishers of PubWest have had in common for its 40 years. --Bridget Kinsella


Soho Crime: The Second Day of the Renaissance (Inspector Trotti #6) by Timothy Williams


Obituary Note: William Melvin Kelley

William Melvin Kelley, "who brought a fresh, experimental voice to black fiction in novels and stories that used recurring characters to explore race relations and racial identity in the United States," died February 1, the New York Times reported. He was 79. Kelley's first novel, A Different Drummer, was published in 1962, but the "author's hope for a peaceful resolution of America's racial problems, reflected in his early writing, waned over time. After the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965, he took a more radical stance and a more experimental approach to fiction that culminated in his last novel, the dystopian fantasy Dunfords Travels Everywheres (1970)," the Times wrote. His other books include A Drop of Patience and Dem.

An avid photographer and filmmaker, Kelly "amassed a number of awards, including the Rosenthal Foundation Award and John Hay Whitney Foundation Award. He was saluted and received honors from the Black Academy of Arts and Letters, and was the recipient of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2008," Amsterdam News wrote.


Spiegel & Grau: Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown


Wi12: Raising Capital

At the Winter Institute 2017 panel "Finance: Securing Capital," moderator Bradley Graham of Politics & Prose, Washington, D.C., noted that a major challenge for small businesspeople and booksellers--a source of "perpetual frustration"--is obtaining loans and finding a potential lender to speak with. "Many financial institutions don't seem to understand" bookstores and are averse to working with them. He noted that he had difficulty "even finding a banker to come here." (Although in the end, he was able to find one: Kalen Schwartz, assistant v-p for business banking at Anchor Banking, St. Paul, Minn.)

Sara Hines, who was part of a group that in early 2015 bought Eight Cousins in Falmouth, Mass., on Cape Cod, focused on the invaluable help she continues to receive from SCORE Association, a partner with the Small Business Administration that connects retired business professionals with small businesspeople. She has met regularly with two "fantastic" counselors, whose expertise complemented each other. The SCORE emphasis is on "mentoring and education," she said. "They're there to be on your team" and help you "take the thing you love and make it into a thriving business."

When she signed up for the program, Hines met with several advisers to find the right fit, and she recommended that booksellers be as specific as possible about their ideas and plans. SCORE counselors can help in a range of areas, including finance, expansion, marketing and corporate structure.

Noting that the SBA doesn't grant loans but guarantees them, Hines said that her counselors were invaluable in assisting with loan applications, making recommendations and helping her avoid useless effort. One counselor told her which bank was likely to consider the proposal, "so I tailored my proposal to her, which saved a lot of work for me." Hines wound up working with two community partners, but "that wouldn't have happened without the process." Hines continues to meet with SCORE counselors regularly, adding enthusiastically, "I feel it's business therapy!"

Patrick Thomas, managing director of Milkweed Editions, Minneapolis, Minn., focused on how helpful Kickstarter was last year in raising money for the press to open Milkweed Books, its bookstore in the Open Book literary arts center (where the Winter Institute's opening reception party was held). Once the idea was approved, with "a grossly low architectural budget," Kickstarter, "like an angel, swooped in," and helped Milkweed "do fundraising in the right way," Thomas continued. "They wanted us to succeed as much as we did."

He noted that Kickstarter's advice was crucial, and that the company has "a publishing desk--a person committed to working with publishers and booksellers." Among its other book world customers: McSweeney's and Copper Canyon. Kickstarter takes 5% of monies raised.

The Milkweed Kickstarter campaign launched on August 19 last year and featured "a defined whole narrative" about the store as well as videos and 27 possible rewards/gifts. During the campaign, donors were frequently updated about what was happening. Altogether there were 14 updates and seven mass e-mails.

In the end, Milkweed raised $41,000 through Kickstarter--$15,000 from new donors and donations from 25 different countries. Thomas estimated that Milkweed invested 700 personnel hours in the fundraising campaign, or about $20,000 in staff time. While the $20,000 net amount raised was only about a quarter of the construction budget, "for marketing and community building, it was profoundly impactful," Thomas said.

Thomas advised booksellers interested in doing a Kickstarter or other kind of crowdsourcing campaign to assess their strengths and weaknesses beforehand, particularly concerning the size of the community that might be engaged with the project, as well as the store's infrastructure for fundraising. "The worst thing is to do fundraising and not be able to receive it," he said. In addition, the bookstore should be sure that there is enough passion on the staff's part for such a campaign, because "it will take a ton of time and energy." And the store needs to have a vision for itself that will make it appealing to potential financial supporters.

Kalen Schwartz, of Anchor Banking, St. Paul, Minn., the local banker who came to the panel, emphasized that SBA loan guarantees are important because "they allow us to do loans we don't usually do." For startup operations, banks look for "a sound business plan," something that SCORE can help with. "A sound business plan makes us sure that you're doing your own due diligence," he said. He added that prospective booksellers need to bring some money to the table, because banks won't fully finance such projects. Other standard requirements are a "clean criminal background" and a credit score over 680, although that can vary depending on the applicant's personal history.

Schwartz advised new entrepreneurs "to be realistic about expenses, and be sure to pay yourself." He noted that many new business owners often say that they won't pay themselves or will take only a little money, which doesn't make a good impression. "I'm thinking, what's point of doing it if you're not paying yourself?" he said. "You have expenses and can go only so long without income." --John Mutter


Shelf Awareness Sign-up Giveaway: The Greatest Story Ever Told--So Far: Why Are We Here? by Lawrence M. Krauss


Notes

Cool Idea of the Day: A 1984 Reading

Bookshop Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, Calif., and the Wellstone Center in the Redwoods are hosting "a live, cover-to-cover reading" at the store of 1984 by George Orwell. The event will begin at 10 a.m. on Thursday, March 2, and run as long as needed to finish the book. A lineup of local authors, educators, activists, youth and others will each read a 20-minute portion of 1984 aloud.

Casey Coonerty Protti, owner of Bookshop Santa Cruz, explained: "It's both amazing and scary that the words of 1984 are so relevant and important to hear today. We wanted to create a safe gathering space where words might provide context and understanding to the dangers associated with the Trump administration's rush to undercut and limit our democratic institutions. It is more important than ever to rediscover this book."

People can stay for the entire reading or drop in and out. The store will also have a table in its reading room for people "to write postcards, printed with Orwellian quotes, to send to elected officials."



Media and Movies

Media Heat: Joseph Turow on Fresh Air

Today:
Fresh Air: Joseph Turow, author of The Aisles Have Eyes: How Retailers Track Your Shopping, Strip Your Privacy, and Define Your Power (Yale University Press, $30, 9780300212198).

Wendy Williams: Nicole Lapin, author of Boss Bitch: A Simple 12-Step Plan to Take Charge of Your Career (Crown Business, $27, 9780451495860).

CBS's Doctors: Claudia Rowe, author of The Spider and the Fly: A Reporter, a Serial Killer, and the Meaning of Murder (Dey Street, $26.99, 9780062416124).

Tomorrow:
Today: Rory Feek, author of This Life I Live: One Man's Extraordinary, Ordinary Life and the Woman Who Changed It Forever (Thomas Nelson, $24.99, 9780718090197).

The Takeaway: Erica Armstrong Dunbar, author of Never Caught: The Washingtons' Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge (Atria/37 INK, $26, 9781501126390).


Movies: Mortal Engines; The Case for Christ

Hera Hilmar (The Ottoman Lieutenant, The Oath) will play the lead female role in Mortal Engines, based on the book series by Philip Reeve and directed by Christian Rivers. Deadline reported that producers Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh (the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit trilogies) "have been involved with the project for several years, having optioned the rights from Scholastic. They co-wrote the screenplay with their LOTR and Hobbit collaborator Philippa Boyens." Production begins in New Zealand this spring, and the film is set to be released December 14, 2018.

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A trailer has been released for The Case for Christ, adapted from Lee Strobel's 1998 book, The Case for Christ: A Journalist's Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus, USA Today reported. Directed by Jon Gunn, the movie stars Mike Vogel, Erika Christensen, Faye Dunaway and Robert Forster. It opens April 7.


Books & Authors

Awards: Grammy Spoken Word; Bollingen for Poetry; Kingsley Tufts Poetry

Carol Burnett won a Grammy in the Best Spoken Word Album category yesterday for her narration of the audiobook edition of In Such Good Company: Eleven Years of Laughter, Mayhem, and Fun in the Sandbox (Random House Audio). The work consists of behind-the-scenes stories of the Carol Burnett Show, and was also published as a Crown Archetype hardcover.

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Jean Valentine became the 50th winner of the $165,000 Bollingen Prize for Poetry, which is awarded by the Yale University Library through the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library to an American poet for the best book published during the previous two years or for lifetime achievement in poetry. The prize honors her most recent book, Shirt in Heaven (Copper Canyon Press).

The judges (Rigoberto González, Alice Quinn and Arthur Sze) said Valentine "is fearless when moving into charged territory and in her work we find mystery and surprise in abundance. Without compromising substance or sacrificing a reckoning with painful reality, inequity, and loss, there is solace and spirituality, and she radiates responsibility as a voice of clarity and compassion."

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Vievee Francis won Claremont Graduate University's $100,000 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, given annually "to a single book of poetry by a mid-career poet," for Forest Primeval (Triquarterly Books/Northwestern University Press). POETRY magazine editor Don Share, who chaired this year's finalist judges committee, described the collection as "an intense work, dark... Dantean... dreamlike in its visions."

In addition, Phillip B. Williams won the $10,000 Kate Tufts Discovery Award, given for a first book by a "promising poetic talent," for Thief in the Interior (Alice James Books). Both writers will be honored at an awards ceremony April 20 in Los Angeles.


Book Review

Review: White Tears

White Tears by Hari Kunzru (Knopf, $26.95 hardcover, 288p., 9780451493699, March 14, 2017)

The fabric of reality is by no means fixed when Hari Kunzru is in charge. His previous novel, Gods Without Men, unravels the thread of time after an autistic boy goes missing in the Mojave Desert--and out fall a cult leader, alien abductees, a washed-up rock star and Coyote, the trickster. With White Tears, Kunzru bends time again when two audiophiles happen upon a storied old blues track.

Seth is a socially inept weirdo. He builds his own sound equipment and wanders Manhattan, recording the ambient noises of the city. His only friend is Carter, a brooding record collector obsessed with black music. They are rising stars in the production game, having gained the interest of several high-profile musicians. On one of his voyeuristic outings to Washington Square Park, Seth unwittingly picks up a man's voice singing an entrancing blues song. In playback, Carter fixates on it, but Seth can't remember who was singing. In fact, "I couldn't understand how I hadn't heard it the first time, when the singer was in front of me."

With a little studio magic, they isolate the song, add a bit of old-timey patina and compress it into an MP3. Carter arbitrarily names it "Graveyard Blues" by Charlie Shaw, and posts it to collector forums as proof that they're the best in the industry. If they can pass off a recording from last week as a rare 1928 single from the type of niche label that LP aficionados covet, what can't these white boys do?

That act of hubris launches the duo into a dangerous slipstream, however, when a mysterious collector demands to know where they found the record--and what the B-side is. After exposing their ruse, Carter is seriously injured and hospitalized, and Seth must confront the possibility that Charlie Shaw isn't just a fabrication after all. "Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of radio, believed that sound waves never completely die away, that they persist, fainter and fainter."

A gifted surrealist, Kunzru twists together a gripping story about obsession, musicology, race and the pathology of white guilt. Seth soon finds that the only possibility of escaping the growing menace of Charlie Shaw and the sinister power that "Graveyard Blues" has over him may lie in exhuming the record's sordid past--one that becomes impossible to disentangle from Seth's own haunted memories. Kunzru blurs distinctions between several first-person narrators as Seth, trapped in an alarming fugue state, journeys deep into the South in hopes of finding absolution.

White Tears is a slippery, daring novel that raises timely and provocative questions about appropriation and reparations. Kunzru conjures a Faustian bargain for the boys who "really did feel that our love of the music bought us something, some right to blackness." But they hadn't heard the B-side. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Shelf Talker: Amid an increasingly distorted sense of reality, an old blues track haunts the two music nerds who thought they had created it.


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