Shelf Awareness for Friday, September 8, 2017


Penguin Press: Feel Free: Essays by Zadie Smith

Graphix: Dog Man and Cat Kid (Dog Man #4) by Dav Pilkey

Ecco Press: Varina by Charles Frazier

House of Anansi Press: The Break by Katherena Vermette

Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books: Small Walt by Elizabeth Verdick and Marc Rosenthal

Quotation of the Day

Bookstores: 'A Kind of Cultural Anachronism'

Brad Johnson (left)

"As it turns out, one doesn't get a lot of sleep the night before opening a new bookstore. (Even when it's mostly new only in name!) As I paced in the early pre-dawn dark of East Bay Booksellers' first day on September 1st, I had time to reflect on my answer to a journalist's question. She'd asked me why I thought bookstores were important. I forget my entire response, and my head had been spinning such that it may not have been coherent. As I think about it now, though, I return again and again to our place as a kind of cultural anachronism. A place where time itself seems to slow. People linger. Few are ever in much of a rush or put out by a line. We've all made a decision about what we value more than a discount.

"Maybe this is what people really mean when they talk about their love of the smell of a bookstore. The anachronism of ink and pulp amidst the daily sterility of point and click."

--Brad Johnson, owner of East Bay Booksellers (formerly DIESEL) in Oakland, Calif., in an e-mail to friends and patrons

Shelf Awareness Sign-up Giveaway: The Land Beyond by Leon McCarron


News

B&N: Book Sales Improve; Future Openings

One bright spot in Barnes & Noble first-quarter results, reported yesterday morning, is that trade book sales had its "best quarterly sales performance in two years," CEO Demos Parneros said in a conference call yesterday with stock analysts. Moreover, excluding when Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was released, children's books had its best quarter in 10 quarters.

He said also that the company is "excited by a number of our new titles being released by bestselling authors throughout the fall, including Dan Brown's Origin, John Green's Turtles All the Way Down, Hillary Clinton's What Happened and Ken Follett's A Column of Fire."

Besides an array of programs to refreshen stores, improve merchandising and strengthen customer service, B&N is "reviewing our entire portfolio in identifying opportunities to open new stores in new markets as well as opportunities to relocate stores as their leases expire instead of simply vacating markets," Parneros said. "Our goal is to position the company for net store expansion," which he estimated would happen in early 2019.

He added: "We're not afraid to close an underperforming store or two. I will tell you that our portfolio is pretty healthy right now since the team's done a fantastic job of managing costs and expenses while sales have been down slightly over the last couple of years. But we've held the line pretty well. Obviously the priority is to get top line going. We've got well over 100 leases that are up for renewal over here for the next several years and we're in a good position to make the right decisions on either renewing or relocating. In the past couple of years, we have closed some stores in markets we like very much. So we've got our eyes on those markets. There are also some very attractive targets where we don't have stores."

Parneros noted, too, that B&N has been developing "a smaller and newer very exciting store prototype that is almost ready but not quite there yet."

The company has also been testing a "ship-from-store program" that offers online customers quicker delivery times and "the ability to shop our vast bookstore inventory through BN.com." The test has been expanded to 60 from four stores.

The company also provided more information about sales in parts of the company and comp-store sales. While overall sales at stores open at least a year were down 4.9%, books fell only 2.9% while nonbooks were off 8.8%. Online sales dropped $7 million and Nook sales fell 28% "on lower content volume as well as lower average device selling prices," according to CFO Allen Lindstrom.

There was one light moment in the conference call. Asked about whether the two new concept Barnes & Noble Kitchen locations, which include bar service, have led to book sales increases by customers who drank some beer or wine at lunch, Paneros said, "Well, if it was that easy, we'd roll out the six packs."


Thomas Nelson: Perennials by Julie Cantrell


Louisiana's Conundrum Bookstore Begins Publishing

The Conundrum Books & Puzzles in St. Francisville, La., has published Ronnie Virgets's essay collection Saints and Lesser Souls, the debut title of the store's new publishing imprint, Feliciana Publishing Partners. The imprint will focus on regional titles and children's books, and Conundrum co-owners Missy and Rob Couhig expect to publish between four and six titles per year. Saints and Lesser Souls is the final book in a trilogy of essay collections by Virgets, who is a New Orleans native and has won an Emmy award and the 2001 Press Club of New Orleans Lifetime Achievement Award, among other honors.

To find the imprint's first picture book, middle grade and young adult titles, Feliciana Publishing Partners is running a children's book publishing contest for stories that "in some way feature a Louisiana or Southern theme, setting, or focus." Submissions will be accepted from September 10 until November 12, with the top three finalists chosen by January 15, 2018. Winners will be announced on February 1, 2018 and will receive a publishing contract with Feliciana Publishing Partners. Editor Catherine Frank will review submissions and select the winning manuscript.

"Great authors need great editors, so one of the first things we did was to find a local editor with a national reputation," said Missy Couhig of Catherine Frank.

Couhig explained that while she will be involved with the publishing imprint, particularly during the start-up phase and in marketing new titles, the day-to-day running of the bookstore will remain her primary focus. Rob Couhig, meanwhile, is the "driving force" behind the imprint and will work closely with the Feliciana Publishing Partners editors.

"Rob has been interested in publishing for some time," said Couhig. "He actually began publishing through a friend's imprint almost three years ago and has had books in the development stages with other writers for quite a while. The time simply came to give the entity a name and kick it off under our own imprint."


Quirk Books: My Lady's Choosing: An Interactive Romance Novel by Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris


HarperCollins Forms HarperCollins Hungary

HarperCollins has former HarperCollins Hungary, renaming and expanding the 25-year-old joint venture of Harlequin Magyarország Kft. (Harlequin Hungary Ltd.) and Vinton Kft, directed by Dr. Jozsef Bayer, managing director and co-owner. The business will continue to publish romance and expand its commercial trade publishing with titles from HarperCollins and Harlequin, as well as local authors.

"HarperCollins, with its 200-year history, provides a solid framework for us to grow our publishing program and expand into new genres," said Beatrix Vaskó, editor-in-chief of HarperCollins Hungary. "We have the opportunity to represent bestselling New York Times authors like Daniel Silva, Karin Slaughter, Don Winslow and Nora Roberts in the Hungarian market. Additionally, we will continue our tradition of publishing evergreen favorite series such as Romana, Júlia, Szívhang (Heart Beat), Tiffany and Bianca, which will continue to be published under the Harlequin brand."

Since HarperCollins's purchase of Harlequin in 2014, the company has consolidated, rebranded and/or bought out partners in many European countries, Japan and Brazil, creating, among others, HarperCollins France, HarperCollins Germany and HarperCollins Spain.


Trinity University Press: Arte Kids - Bilingual Board Books


USPS Issuing The Snowy Day ​​Forever Stamps

The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation has announced that the U.S. Postal Service will issue The Snowy Day ​​Forever stamps ​this Fall. The classic children's book, published in 1962, was one of the first mainstream publications to feature an African American child. The stamps can be ordered in advance at the USPS Shop for delivery shortly after the October 4 nationwide issuance.

In a statement, the USPS said "each of the four new stamps in this 20-stamp booklet features a different illustration of main character Peter exploring and playing in his neighborhood while wearing his iconic red snowsuit. The images include Peter forming a snowball; sliding down a mountain of snow; making a snow angel; and leaving footprints in the snow." Art director Antonio Alcalá of Alexandria, Va., designed the stamps.

A First-Day-of-Issue dedication ceremony for The Snowy Day Forever Stamps will be held October 4 at the Brooklyn Public Library Central Library, featuring BPL president and CEO Linda E. Johnson; children's and YA author Andrea Davis Pinkney; Ezra Jack Keats Foundation executive director Deborah Pope; and Roderick N. Sallay, USPS government relations & public policy acting executive director.


Obituary Note: Kate Millett

Kate Millett, whose 1970 book Sexual Politics "is credited with inciting a Copernican revolution in the understanding of gender roles" by examining "how patriarchy had been developed and then defended, by law, medicine, science, schools," died September 6, the New York Times reported. She was 82. Millett was a sculptor in her mid-30s when her doctoral dissertation at Columbia University was published by Doubleday.

Although out of print for years, since "the publication of a new edition of Sexual Politics last year, there has been renewed appreciation for Ms. Millett and how her work has shaped cultural studies and criticism," the Times wrote.

"Kate was brilliant, deep, and uncompromising," said Gloria Steinem. "She wrote about the politics of male dominance, of owning women's bodies as the means of reproduction, and made readers see this as basic to hierarchies of race and class. She was not just talking about unequal pay, but about woman-hatred in the highest places and among the most admired intellectuals. As Andrea Dworkin said, 'The world was asleep, but Kate Millett woke it up.' "

Leading feminist Eleanor Pam said Millett "achieved great fame and celebrity, but she was never comfortable as a public figure. She was preternaturally shy. Still, she inspired generations of girls and women who read her words, heard her words and understood her words."

Millett's book Flying (1974) "told of the dizzying fame Sexual Politics had brought and her reaction to it," the Times noted. Other books include Sita (1977), Going to Iran (1981), The Loony-Bin Trip (1990), and Mother Millett (2001).

Cultural critic Elaine Showalter told the Guardian: "A revolution needs leaders, and with Sexual Politics Kate Millett came forward to give the Women's Liberation Movement a national voice and a strong connection to higher education. She was an intellectual and a radical feminist who could also speak effectively to a wide general audience."


Notes

Image of the Day: Celebrating Joyce Slaughter

On Tuesday, Penguin Random House held a luncheon at its Westminster distribution center in Maryland to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Joyce Slaughter, v-p, customer service. Among the celebrants: (from l.) Alison Martin, Suzette Honeycutt, Jane Brown, Barbara Harden, Joyce Slaughter, Robin Sutton, Annette Danek, Karen Keeney, and Vince Annoreno.

PRH CEO Markus Dohle called Slaughter to congratulate her personally and sent staff a message saying, in part, that Slaughter "has been the backbone of our team that provides customers with ongoing support and guidance. She has excelled in building relationships with booksellers all over the world while also offering her expertise and leadership to her team at home. She's also proven to be a hands-on employee--I know of multiple instances when she has personally delivered books to author events. What is more important than that in a business that strives to put customers first?

"When looking back on her years in our company, I'm struck by her ability to break barriers--as the first woman to ever be promoted to director in Westminster, she paved the way for other women to be part of the now predominantly female leadership team. She is truly a trailblazer, and I know everyone at Penguin Random House shares that sentiment."


Happy 50th Birthday, Green Apple Books!

Green Apple Books' 50th Anniversary Jubilee on Wednesday night at San Francisco's Great American Music Hall opened with a live burlesque act (pasties and all) and closed with Thao Nguyen, the lead singer of Get Down Stay Down, inspired by Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, performing a haunting, taunting and revelatory song about a father she has not spoken to in years. In addition, the City by the Bay was in the middle of mini-heat wave, and the venue--built in the post-1906 earthquake era and originally named for a Barbary Coast house of prostitution--has no air conditioning. Thus, Emma Donoghue's Frog Music, a literary mystery based on a real unsolved murder in the 1876 boomtown built on free love and bohemianism, where paupers and millionaires rubbed elbows amid a record-breaking heat-wave and smallpox epidemic, kept coming to mind.

Green Apple owners Kevin Ryan, Pete Mulvihill and Kevin Hunsanger

Beth Lisick and Arline Klatter, cofounders of the Porchlight Storytelling series (which is celebrating 15 years of monthly open mics where personal narratives find their own poetry) served as masters of ceremonies. Illustrator Wendy McNaughton (Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking, Simon & Schuster, April 2017) was cheered when she proclaimed being born in San Francisco, booed when she admitted her family soon moved to Marin, and won the crowd back again when she shared--with illustrations--how she and her two best teen girlfriends began a lifelong love of discovery among the stacks and even up the stairs at the bookshop on Clement Street. "Green Apple, to me, meant access," she proclaimed.

Robin Sloan recalled finding refuge from an apartment overrun with books by taking a sharp left outside to peruse the Green Apple paperback bookshelf, where he hoped someday to find his own fiction--and somehow it made sense that his debut novel would be Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore. "Green Apple doesn't distribute books, they actually call them forth," he said, "stacked up like peaches."

Michael Krasny--author, English professor and host of KQED's Forum--brought Green Apple owners Kevin Ryan, Pete Mulvihill and Kevin Hunsanger on the stage for a conversation with store founder Richard Savoy, noting the unusual arrangement Savoy made for a gradual buyout of the business by the long-time employee triad that began in 1999.

Krasny asked them to recount an unusual happening at the store. Savoy shared that Jim Jones of the People's Temple could be annoying with his bodyguard in tow. Ryan recalled the time a "downtrodden fellow" died there, but his friend explained that he was the kind who'd choose books over his own accommodations, so it seemed a fitting end. Mulvihill said he was once pulled away from "composing a tweet" by a call about a returned package that did not seem to have originated at Green Apple, which turned out to contain five pounds of marijuana. "I left early that day," retorted Hunsanger.

Green Apple now has a second, less creaky-floored and much sleeker-designed store in San Francisco, a great addition to the bookselling community. But the jubilee was mostly a celebration of the original store built on savvy paperback and front list buying and loyal reading customers. Lots of those paperbacks are priced at 25 cents, said Hunsanger, "because everybody deserves a chance to read a book."

Later in the evening Mary Roach joined the Porchlight gals on stage to read aloud a "Greatest Hits" of things stuffed into the pages of used books sold to Green Apple over its 50 years. The first was a note composed by a man named Will, whom Roach noted, surprisingly dotted his "i" with a circle, and was thanking someone for allowing him to spend the night with an apology "if the Steppenwolf in me" came out in bed. "They have multiple binders full of these notes," said Roach, which seemed a fitting record for Green Apple--a democratic institution of ideas in a city founded on free love and bohemianism where paupers and millionaires might rub elbows among the stacks, although minus the smallpox. --Bridget Kinsella Tiernan


Bookmasters to Distribute CWR

Bookmasters is now handling sales and distribution in the U.S. for CWR, the Christian book publisher in England that was founded in 1965 and has more than 400 backlist titles and publishes 50 new titles a year.

CWR's titles encompass Bibles, Bible-reading and study aids, devotionals, Christian living, pastoral care and counseling, prayer and more, for children and adults, "all with the common thread of encouraging spiritual growth, personal transformation, and life-long learning." CWR also provides counseling based on a biblical understanding of how people function, a model developed by CWR founder Selwyn Hughes.

Randy McKenzie, Christian division sales manager at Bookmasters, commented: "I believe their children's books and counseling resources will be particularly well-received, and overall, CWR's list strengthens the collective offering from our Christian publisher clients in a way that continues to position Bookmasters as a leader in Christian sales and distribution in North America."



Media and Movies

Media Heat: Marie Lu on NPR's Morning Edition

Today:
NPR's Morning Edition: Marie Lu, author of Warcross (Putnam Books for Young Readers, $18.99, 9780399547966).

Sunday:
CBS Sunday Morning: Hillary Rodham Clinton, author of What Happened (Simon & Schuster, $30, 9781501175565).



Movies: Stoner; Hotel on the Corner of Bitter & Sweet

Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea) will star in Stoner, based on the classic novel by John Williams, Variety reported. Joe Wright is directing Andrew Bovell's adaptation. Jason Blum's Blumhouse Productions is producing with Charles S. Cohen (CMG) and Daniel Battsek (Film4). Ethan Hawke will be an executive producer.

"Because the novel is so beautiful but not well-known, fans of Stoner feel like they're in a secret club. I'm so excited that Casey, Joe and Andrew have come aboard to help expand this club's membership," said Blum, who optioned the book in 2011. "This quintessentially American work is being brought to the screen by a terrific international team and we're confident their combined perspectives will add rich layers to this moving story."

---

Jamie Ford's bestselling debut novel Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is being developed into a film, with George Takei as executive producer, Deadline reported. Producer Diane Quon acquired the film rights, and Joseph Craig of StemEnt is also producing. Production is expected to begin next year.

"The book tells an intimate love story that is, at once, poignant and sweeping with historic magnitude told against the backdrop of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II," said Takei. "I was captivated by Jamie Ford's novel when I first read it and visualized a compelling film in my mind's eye. I saw the drama of enduring love despite governmental racism, the passage of time and the vicissitude of life. What a wonderful film it would make. Now we are beginning the exciting adventure of making it happen."

Ford, who is co-writing the screenplay, said, "The number one question I get from fans from all around the world is--will there be a film? I'm delighted to say yes because for years I said no to filmmakers who wanted to change too many things about the story (like the ethnicity of my main character). With this team, I'm confident that fans will get a satisfying film that remains true to the spirit of the book."


Books & Authors

Awards: Canadian Children's Book Centre

Finalists have been announced in eight categories for the 2017 Canadian Children's Book Centre Awards, which "exemplify some of the very best work by Canadian authors and illustrators from across the country." Winners of the English-language awards will be announced in Toronto November 21, while French-language award winners will be named in Montreal November 8. Overall, $135,000 in prize money will be awarded. Check out the complete list of finalists here.


Reading with... Kelly Grey Carlisle

Kelly Grey Carlisle was raised on a boat in the Los Angeles harbor by her grandfather, an ersatz Hollywood scriptwriter and a pornography dealer. Her memoir, We Are All Shipwrecks (Sourcebooks, September 5, 2017), is about her childhood and the unsolved murder of her mother. She is an associate professor of English at Trinity University in San Antonio.

On your nightstand now:

I have a stack: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (I love it so much so far), Ongoingness: The End of a Diary by Sarah Manguso, You Don't Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie, Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver and Reyna Grande's The Distance Between Us. There's also a copy of What to Expect: The First Year, which might explain why my "to read" stack is so tall.

Favorite book when you were a child:

D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths and the beautiful Illustrated Junior Classic edition of Jane Eyre were probably the ones I read the most often.

Your top five authors:

It's like the stock market, it changes all the time. Right now: Zadie Smith, Anthony Doerr, Colson Whitehead, Susan Orlean and John Jeremiah Sullivan.

Book you've faked reading:

So many. When you're a creative writing prof, everyone expects you to have read every amazing book in the world, and I haven't. It's gotten easier just to nod along and add it to my nightstand.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Every book I teach, pretty much. It's not an easy sell, but my students end up loving Oranges by John McPhee. It's such a good example of a writer taking the ordinary--orange juice--and showing how extraordinary it actually is. Students have written me years later to say that they still think of that book--and lavish balls in royal orange gardens--every time they eat an orange. In a small way, that book changed their lives.

Book you've bought for the cover:

The Telephone Book: Technology, Schizophrenia, Electric Speech by Avital Ronell from the University of Nebraska Press. I bought it for the entire design, which reflects one of the book's central ideas--how much genuine communication is interrupted by technology.

Book you hid from your parents:

My mom was murdered when I was three weeks old and her case was never solved. My grandfather told me that the Hillside Stranglers, a pair of serial killers, had been possible suspects. He owned Two of a Kind by Darcy O'Brien, a gruesome book about those killings. I would sneak bits and passages from the book at night, trying to figure out what had happened to my mom.

Book that changed your life:

As clichéd as it is to say: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I read it in ninth grade. I think I fell in love with Harper Lee and her persona as much as I did the characters in the book. It was the first time I really understood how a book could change the world for the better.

Favorite line from a book:

" 'I'm tired,' I say in italics."

Maybe not my favorite, but my most often quoted. It's a line of dialogue from Jo Ann Beard's essay "The Fourth State of Matter" in The Boys of My Youth. It's a great example of characterization. The narrator is an editor, so of course this is how she describes the sound of her voice when she whines.

Five books you'll never part with:

Chaucer's collected works, Guess How Much I Love You (sentimental reasons), OED Compact Edition (I bought it with my first real paycheck), inscribed copy of The Miseducation of Cameron Post by my friend Emily Danforth, Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton: The Revolution (my six-year-old would cry bitter tears).

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

All of the ones I loved. Maybe Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. I was 11 or so when I first read it, and I remember being absolutely engrossed by it--the romance, the mystery. I would like that feeling again, but maybe you only ever feel that way when you're 11.

Favorite reference books:

Texas Birds, the OED, The New York Public Library's Book of Chronologies and Robert Bringhurst's The Elements of Typographic Style.


Book Review

Review: An Unkindness of Magicians

An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard (Saga Press, $25.99 hardcover, 368p., 9781481451192, September 26, 2017)

Kat Howard (Roses and Rot) hides a deadly world of magical politics in plain sight for this fantasy thriller about a young woman's thirst for vengeance.

"Fortune's Wheel has begun its Turning. When it ceases rotation, all will be made new." In the Unseen World, centered in New York City, an elite class of the most powerful magicians must battle to determine which of their Houses will reign supreme over their society each time a Turning comes around. Usually this series of duels between the strongest families or their hired champions comes every 20 years. This Turning is different, sooner than expected, signaling a magical disturbance. The venerable Houses of Prospero and Merlin prepare to slug it out for dominance, but it's anyone's game. Upstarts like the disinherited Prospero son Grey and his best friend Laurent have hopes of unseating the great powers; a win for either of them means the chance to found and head a new House. Laurent contracts with a ringer of a champion, a mysterious un-Housed young woman named Sydney who has greater skill and power than anyone has seen in years. Unknown and volatile, Sydney has a dark past and her own agenda, and the Unseen World may not survive her quest to expose its secret underbelly.

To get a sense of the flavor here, imagine the Dueling Club in Harry Potter all grown up and out for blood, then mingle in lush scenes of enchantment evocative of The Night Circus. Shadows swordfight, seasons bloom in moments and automobiles perform a midair ballet high above the city. Howard keeps her worldbuilding simple, leaning on action and character rather than complex magical systems. Magical battles happen often in the form of tight, intimate duels full of elegant and savage tricks. Conflict within and between Houses propels the story, but in the end, Sydney truly calls the shots. Watching her epic long game play out is a rare pleasure.

Expect no benevolent, twinkly-eyed wizards here--the title refers to both the gathering of magicians (as a group of ravens is called an unkindness) and the viciousness of magical politics. Howard's magicians have a surfeit of ambition and great personal complexity; her heroes have grime and tatters around their edges, while her villains run the gamut from slick sociopaths to conflicted leaders sunk in corruption. An Unkindness of Magicians will please fantasy fans, but mainstream readers looking for mystery, mayhem and a strong female protagonist will fall in love with it as well. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Shelf Talker: The most powerful families of magicians compete to rule the Unseen World of magic that lurks within our own, but despite their machinations, one mysterious, powerful woman may win the game.


Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: 'Everything About Everything'

I don't think of myself as a nostalgic person, despite miraculously cobbling together a decent life through nearly seven decades on the planet. Yet recently I noticed a Guardian headline ("Final chapter for Pears' Cyclopaedia after 125 years in print") that opened a kind of reader/bookseller time portal and a just little nostalgia managed to creep through.

The piece reported that 120 years after Pears' Cyclopaedia made its first appearance in England, offering "A Mass of Curious and Useful Information about Things that everyone Ought to know in Commerce, History, Science, Religion, Literature and other Topics of Ordinary Conversation" for a shilling, Penguin had announced that the 2017-2018 edition would be the last.

The publisher attributed its decision to the retirement of longtime editor Dr. Chris Cook, as well as "the ready availability of electronic information [that] has made the printed reference book no longer commercially competitive.... Chris Cook has been editing Pears' Cyclopaedia for 40 years and we are incredibly grateful to him for the tireless work that has gone into making it a book of extraordinary longevity, durability and value. In the age of the Internet, Pears has continued to be a uniquely British almanac, reaching readers across generations. It is with great sadness that we stop publishing it as Dr. Cook retires but we celebrate his dedication and generosity over the past four decades."

The Bookseller cited Nielsen BookScan stats that revealed "volume sales of the work have sharply declined in recent years: the 2001/02 edition sold 24,229 copies whereas the 2016/17 edition sold only 2,854 copies."

I've never even seen a copy of Pears' Cyclopedia, which was first published in 1897 by Pears Soap as an advertising scheme, and contained "an English dictionary, a medical dictionary, a gazetteer and atlas, desk information and a compendium of general knowledge," the Guardian wrote.

So why did I care about this "Cyclopedia," which hasn't been connected to Pears Soap since 1960? I like to think of myself a 21st century guy. I haven't bought a print world almanac or movie guide or encyclopedia or even a dictionary for a long, long time. I regularly, if furtively, use Wikipedia. Near the end of my bookselling career more than a decade ago, I could see that print reference works had lost significant ground to online options. Remember the paperback Rand McNally Zip Code Finder?

Here's why I cared: There's a note in the final edition Pears' Cyclopaedia that says: "Many will miss the passing of a famous book that in its heyday had become not only a national institution but also the reliable pathway for successive generations of working-class families to a better education."

That Guardian article turned out to be a mnemonic, conjuring memories of the late Frank McCourt, author of the 1990s bestselling memoir Angela's Ashes. I was one of the lucky booksellers who happened to read an ARC of Angela's Ashes in the spring of 1996 and knew immediately, after a dozen pages, that we had to do whatever we could to get this writer I'd never heard of to our bookstore for a reading. I don't know if we were among the first bookshops to put in an event request, but we were lucky enough to be successful. By early fall, as word-of-mouth momentum began to build for the memoir and bestsellerdom loomed, everybody wanted Frank. We got him.

On my desk as I write this is a first edition of McCourt's book, with an inscription:

4 Dec. 96
For Bob
Frank McCourt
With thanks for your warmth.

Maybe Frank signed everybody's book with the same words. I don't care. On a cold night in a quaint Vermont tavern 20 years ago, I introduced him to a couple hundred people who were as enthusiastic as any audience I've ever seen at a reading. The pub atmosphere helped a bit, no doubt. Moments earlier, as I escorted him through the packed crowd to an improvised podium, people had applauded, shaken his hand and patted him on the back. Frank laughed and said: "I'm not even running for office." Introducing him was like introducing a rock star. I could have said, "qua, qua, qua," and they would still have applauded wildly as soon as I ended with, "Please welcome Frank McCourt." His reading was perfect. Afterward, he signed for a long line of fans and was an absolute pro, engaging each person in a brief conversation while his hands reached toward me for the next book.

Now that is pure nostalgia, though the Guardian article was also a mnemonic for something else--a particularly evocative sentence in Angela's Ashes. McCourt is recounting a singular boyhood moment that is at once ordinary and extraordinary: "There are bars of Pears soap and a thick book called Pears' Encyclopedia, which keeps me up day and night because it tells you everything about everything and that's all I want to know."

Everything about everything.

Reflecting on his retirement as Pears' Cyclopedia editor, Dr. Cook said: "I've had a very large amount of mail over time, from all over the world--I am grateful to those who have been contributors through letters informing me of things they think should be in the next edition of Pears.... I'll find it difficult to not reach for a notepad and pen to write things down to include in the next edition, every time I read a newspaper."

That's all I want to know.

--Robert Gray, contributing editor (Column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)

Powered by: Xtenit