Shelf Awareness for Friday, December 1, 2017


Little Brown and Company: Circe by Madeline Miller

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

Quotation of the Day

Louise Erdrich 'Working on a Mystery Set in My Bookstore'

"I am working on a mystery set in my bookstore, Birchbark Books. My greatest difficulty is that all of the characters I write about will have to be as wonderful as my colleagues who actually work in the bookstore. And that is impossible."

--Louise Erdrich, whose novel Future Home of the Living God is the #1 Indie Next List pick for December, in a q&a with Bookselling This Week

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


News

Back to Books at Barnes & Noble

Despite having another difficult quarter--which yesterday drove the company's share price down 11.5%, to $6.90--Barnes & Noble executives painted a positive picture of trends during yesterday morning's conference call with stock analysts (transcript courtesy of Seeking Alpha).

Among the major points:

CEO Demos Parneros reiterated the company's push to reemphasize books, whose sales are "fundamentally sound," and cut back on gifts, educational toys and games, whose sales have lagged. Concerning the decision to focus more on books, he said, "It's simply who we are. I mean that's our heritage. That's what customers expect from us.... We feel that we got a little bit off track."

The company is "definitely interested in smaller stores" and says the current average of 26,000 square feet is too large. "We want to have smaller stores that are more efficient that require less inventory, but actually have better in stock and better discovery for customers," Parneros commented. B&N aims to feature "a narrower product assortment with higher turnover."

There is not a new, lower ideal store size. The company's five test stores are various sizes, and B&N foresees having different-sized stores depending on the market, but all below the current superstore average. The new stores have a "consistent look and feel" that "customers love," Parneros said, adding, "We're also looking at ways to be efficient in our store designs and to be much more modular and flexible so that we can make changes in a fairly affordable way."

B&N still plans to have a net gain in stores beginning next year. In some cases, it may close a large store and then open a smaller new store nearby.

Online sales declined in the quarter, while Nook was profitable for the second quarter in a row, mainly because of continued cost cutting.

Oddly part of the conversation sounded like a treatise on rather basic bookselling, particularly when Parneros said, "Through customer research, we discovered that customers come to Barnes & Noble not only to browse and discover, but also to interact with our booksellers. This is a big takeaway for our store managers from a recent conference. We encourage our booksellers to be more proactive with customers and actively engage with them. As a result, we saw immediate improvements in [the rate of people who come in-store and make purchases, which rose 2.7% after the conference]. We also believe this has contributed to the 1.5% increase in comp book sales during the back half of the quarter."

CFO Allen Lindstrom added that that increase in people in-store making purchases came with store traffic down compared to the same period last year, although traffic had started to rise again as the quarter progressed.

B&N expects sales for the full fiscal year, which ends in late April, to "decline in the low single digits."

Parneros said the company is optimistic about the holiday season and praised the "strong lineup" of current books, including "Tom Hanks' Uncommon Type, John Grisham's The Rooster Bar, Dan Brown's Origin, Walter Isaacson's Leonardo da Vinci and a surprise drop-in title, Darker by E.L. James. To complement this lineup, we'll also feature exclusive editions of bestselling titles this holiday season, including The Art of Harry Potter, which includes rare and unpublished works of art and is only available at Barnes & Noble, Shea Serrano's Basketball and other things, David Baldacci's End Game and James Patterson's People vs. Alex Cross, among other titles. We'll also feature others in our popular signed editions program, which provides for unique one of a kind gift."


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


New Owner for Charlottesville's New Dominion Bookshop

Charlottesville, Va., native Julia Kudravetz signed papers November 15 to become the owner of New Dominion Bookshop, just under a year after "Carol Troxell's sudden death in January sent shock waves through Charlottesville's literary community--and left some wondering what would become of the downtown institution," C-Ville reported.

"This was always a place I felt most centered," Kudravetz said of the bookshop that was established in 1924 and is one of the oldest businesses on the Downtown Mall. She is the co-founder of the Charlottesville Reading Series at the Bridge, which led in early 2016 to doing social media for Troxell. "I had talked to her" about acquiring the business someday, but "not in any serious way, because it was hard to imagine the store without Carol," Kudravetz added.

Writer Jane Barnes said, "Julia seems meant to take New Dominion Bookshop to its next manifestation. She knows Charlottesville having grown up here. She has lots of youthful energy, an offbeat sense of humor, a racing brain. She's ready to try new things."


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


At Wi13, Paul, Teicher Will Talk About Book World Issues

New York Times Book Review editor Pamela Paul will appear in conversation with American Booksellers Association chief-executive Oren Teicher during an education session newly added to the Winter Institute 13 schedule, according to Bookselling This Week. During the education session, which is scheduled to run from 10:40 a.m. to 11:40 a.m. on Tuesday, January 23, in Memphis, Tenn., Paul and Teicher will discuss issues facing the book industry, the ever-changing worlds of book coverage and bookselling, the role of book reviews in bookselling, and more.

The session will be Pamela Paul's second appearance of the day at Winter Institute: Tuesday morning's keynote breakfast will feature Paul in conversation with actor Sarah Jessica Parker. The pair will discuss Parker's new imprint at Hogarth, launched in partnership with Hogarth publisher Molly Stern.


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


Italy to Offer Tax Breaks for Bookshops

To help stem the tide of bookshop closures, Italy will introduce tax breaks for booksellers, with independents eligible for up to €20,000 (about $23,720) and chains up to €10,000 (about $11,860). The Bookseller reported that the "senate budget committee has approved the scheme, in an amendment to the 2018 budget, which will cut property and local services taxes for those who own their own bookshop, or offer tax credits for those who are renting their premises." A total of €4 million (about $4.7 million) has been set aside for the scheme in 2018, increasing to €5 million (about $5.9 million) per year in 2019.

Cristina Giussani, president of the Sindicato Italiano Librai, Italy's indie booksellers association, said she hoped other measures would be introduced in the next few years for the benefit of a sector "that is one of the pillars of the traditional Italian trade."

Italian Publishers Association president Ricardo Franco Levi commented: "Bookshops today represent one of the primary places for spreading culture and reading: it is therefore crucial to ensure fiscal support to safeguard their business."


Obituary Note: Amelia Edwards

Amelia Edwards, the founding art director of Walker Books Group, died November 22. She was 77. In a statement, Candlewick Press noted that the American-born Edwards came to London in the late '60s and was the first person Sebastian Walker employed to establish his company: "Her unique vision remains central to the heart of the picture books made at the Walker Books Group and at Candlewick Press today.... Groundbreaking in terms of art, design and production, these startling, vivid, beautiful picture books are perfect examples of the best that Candlewick still strives for." Edwards also worked closely with Helen Oxenbury to design the Candlewick and Walker bear logo.

"She enthused those of us who were privileged enough to have worked alongside her with her energy, her humor (she really loved to laugh--which she did often and loudly), and her sharing, inclusive nature," said Walker picture book publisher Deirdre McDermott. "We learned everything about typography and great picture book illustration from Amelia. She used to say that she was 'in charge of the white space.' Amelia was the most generous mentor and friend. She taught us that sometimes feeling was more important in a picture than perfect draftsmanship, that the carrot was more productive than the stick, and that you should never, ever tell any artist what to do.

"The picture book world owes her so much, her influence is simply immeasurable, and we will never see her like again. Amelia's legendary reputation remains peerless, and the brilliant books she helped create for the Walker Group will remain her, and our, eternal legacy."


Notes

Happy 20th Birthday, Reader's Choice Bookstore!

Congratulations to Reader's Choice Books & Gifts, St. Petersburg, Fla., which celebrated its 20th anniversary last month. The Weekly Challenger reported that two decades ago, Tangela Murph Bailey "decided to open a mobile bookstore as a result of not being able to find African-American books in local shops. She began selling books from her car and then her home, finally opening a storefront in St. Pete. Over the years, she has been steadfast in her commitment to this community and has promoted new authors, artists, poets and musicians, young and old."


Personnel Changes at MIT Press Bookstore

Jeremy Solomons has joined MIT Press Bookstore, Cambridge, Mass., as floor supervisor. He earlier worked at Wellesley Books, Wellesley, Mass., where he was manager, and at Changing Hands Books, Tempe, Ariz.



Media and Movies

On Stage: Grief Is the Thing with Feathers

Cillian Murphy will star in a new production of Max Porter's Grief Is the Thing with Feathers in Ireland, Playbill reported, noting that Tony winner Enda Walsh (Once, Lazarus) is adapting the book and directing the play. Performances are scheduled to begin March 16, 2018, at Galway's Black Box Theatre before making an official world premiere March 20 and running through March 24. A run in Dublin at the O'Reilly Theatre is set for March 28–April 5. The play will tour in 2019.

Complicité and Wayward Productions are producing in association with Landmark Productions and Galway International Arts Festival. Co-producers are Barbican, Cork Opera House, Edinburgh International Festival, Oxford Playhouse, St. Ann's Warehouse and Warwick Arts Centre.

"Couldn't be any more excited about the prospect of making this piece of work," Murphy said. "Grief Is the Thing with Feathers truly broke my heart when I first read it and it will be a privilege to bring it to life on stage in Ireland. Complicité's work on stage has inspired me for many years, and it is always a joy to get in a room with my most trusted collaborator and friend Enda Walsh."


Movies: Love, Simon

The first trailer has been released for Love, Simon, based on Becky Albertalli's YA novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. IndieWire called it "very rare for a major Hollywood studio to produce and distribute a coming-of-age story centered around a closeted gay teenager.... 20th Century Fox will finally buck the trend next year."

Directed by Greg Berlanti (co-creator of CW series Green Arrow and The Flash), the film stars Nick Robinson, Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Logan Miller, Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel. It opens March 16.


Books & Authors

Awards: Foyles, Blackwell's Books of the Year

British bookseller Foyles announced its three Books of the Year, with The Power by Naomi Alderman taking the fiction crown, Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge earning the nonfiction prize, and Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo winning children's book award, the Bookseller reported.

Foyles booksellers and staff across London, Bristol, Birmingham and Chelmsford voted for the titles from three shortlists made up of the company's bestselling titles of 2017. All three titles will be promoted heavily in Foyles' seven bricks-and-mortar shops and online store in the run-up to Christmas.

"You can always rely on a Foyles bookseller to recommend books that will entertain, surprise, challenge and stir the reader, and our colleagues have done just that with these three excellent books," said Foyles CEO Paul Currie. "As part of our core values, we ask all our booksellers to be current, and I think this really shines through in their choices this year: it's hard to think of three books more relevant to the here and now."

Heather Baker, senior buyer at Foyles, said the titles "all center women's voices and perspectives in a powerful and unique way.... Each addresses an imbalance in power.... Each in its own way is passionate, timely and thought-provoking. I'm immensely proud of this list, and so happy that Foyles is a place where books like this flourish, and conversations begin."

---

Blackwell's has released the shortlist for its Book of the Year, the Bookseller reported. The titles across four categories have been voted on by the chain's booksellers and will now be promoted in shops and online throughout the holiday season. Booksellers will choose the overall Blackwell's Book of the Year from the four contenders on December 8. The shortlisted titles are:

Fiction: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
Nonfiction: Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
Children's: Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo
Debut: This Is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor by Adam Kay


Reading with... Samantha Silva

photo: Glenn Landberg

Samantha Silva is an author and screenwriter living in Idaho. Mr. Dickens and His Carol (Flatiron Books, October 31, 2017) is her debut novel. During her career, she's sold projects to Paramount, Universal, New Line Cinema and TNT. A film adaptation of her short story "The Big Burn" won the 1 Potato Short Screenplay Award at the 2017 Sun Valley Film Festival. Silva will direct the film, her first time at the helm.

On your nightstand now:

The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes; Virginia Woolf's Moments of Being; Harold Pinter's Betrayal (because I desperately want to write a play); Emily Ruskovich's Idaho; The Collected Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft; and Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See, just because I can't bear to take it off my nightstand.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Marjorie Flack's Walter the Lazy Mouse, about a mouse whose family moves away and leaves him behind. Being one of five kids, daughter of a peripatetic journalist and a notorious lie-about myself, the book played to my utter terror of being inadvertently forgotten, but maybe also foreshadowed my fascination with the Jungian idea of individuation. Walter takes control of his own journey in the end, and it all turns out okay.

Your top five authors:

I think more in terms of favorite experiences of authors--who I was when I found them--how those books live in my DNA: the way Milan Kundera's The Book of Laughter and Forgetting took my breath away when I read it on an Idaho lake while falling in love with my future husband; the delights of Italo Calvino's Difficult Loves discovered on a train in Italy; struggling through Robert Pinsky's bilingual translation of The Inferno of Dante when I was living in Rome, in my own dark forest (the right way obscured); reading Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird aloud to my kids (in a barely passable Southern accent); and most recently, having my partner read Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose aloud to me, night after wonderful night.

Book you've faked reading:

Well, Dickens's Martin Chuzzlewit, for starters. I haven't straight out lied about it, but it would be fair for people to assume I'd read it, given that my novel pivots on what an utter flop it was.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Robert Richardson's Emerson: A Mind on Fire--also a book that changed my life. Being raised by agnostics who were skeptical of organized religion, this page-turner of a biography felt like finding my spiritual home. If the answers to all the great mysteries of the universe--including the mystery of God--are contained in a single leaf, then all those same things exist in each of us. Story, for me, is a way of puzzling that out.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Every book. Sometimes I'll buy a book twice if I see a cover I like better than the first. Money well spent!

Book you hid from your parents:

The Joy of Sex, which I didn't so much hide, as hide that I was sneaking into my parents' room and pulling it out from under their bed to read it, with a mixture of horror and fascination. I was riveted.

Book that changed your life:

The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus, because as a kid I used to lie in the grass and stare into the night sky, trying to grasp infinity, until I had to stop or throw up. Everyone, I imagine, gets that flash that their existence might be meaningless, that we are small in the face of endless time and space. And if so (though I doubt it), the question remains: Can we still be happy?

Favorite line from a book:

"It is not down on any map; true places never are." From Moby-Dick.

Five books you'll never part with:

A signed copy of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, which will go some day to my son, Atticus; a first edition of Edna St. Vincent Millay's A Few Figs from Thistles; The Collected Poems of Rupert Brooke (1915) because it feels good in my hand, and I make someone read "The Lover" aloud most Thanksgivings; any of my Dickens books (they have to count as one); and my mother's copy of Irma Rombauer's Joy of Cooking, because it's the most lived-in, dog-eared, food-stained book I own.

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

John Irving's The World According to Garp. When I finished it years ago, I immediately devoured everything he'd ever written. I think I was trying to understand how a writer can do that magic, ineffable, profoundly affecting thing. When I finished Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, I just wanted to start again at page one. I am bereft when I finish a book I love. It's why I start many more than I finish. I hate finishing.

Piece of writing you reference more than any other, in all aspects of your life:

"Out of Kansas," a 1992 Salman Rushdie essay in the New Yorker about The Wizard of Oz being his very first literary influence. I use The Wizard of Oz a lot to talk about story structure and character arcs, but the revelation that "there's no place like home" was a Hollywood-ization, and that its real theme was a young person discovering that the adults around her are inadequate to the task of saving her--that rang true all the way down. (See above: Walter the Lazy Mouse.)


Book Review

Review: A State of Freedom

A State of Freedom by Neel Mukherjee (Norton, $25.95 hardcover, 288p., 9780393292909, January 2, 2018)

Neel Mukherjee's incredible novel A State of Freedom presents a mosaic of life in modern-day India that is chaotic and tragic, but also inspiring.

Mukherjee is a Calcutta-born British writer known for his novels A Life Apart and The Lives of Others. In his third novel, he pushes his talents to new heights. Divided into five parts, the story follows a number of poor residents struggling to work their way up in a deeply stratified society. Two of the most compelling characters are domestic servants Renu and Milly, who both migrate from rural poverty to Mumbai and find work with well-to-do families. They live in the same seaside slum, folded into the city's infrastructure, almost out of sight from the luxury apartments nearby. Milly's urban life parallels the story of her friend Soni, who still lives in their home village and has joined guerrilla Maoists, "their anger shiny and whetted." While Soni finds consolation and purpose in the violent communist movement--"Here was a kind of equality, at last"--Milly increases her workload and saves money to send her children to school. In Milly, Mukherjee has created a character of admirable tenacity and singular purpose, a woman who refuses to be broken by adversity: "Her life is not fragmented. To her, it has unity and coherence. She gives it those qualities."

In a similar way, Mukherjee reveals Renu's story. She's also saving money to support higher education for her family. In the course of her work, she forms an improbable friendship with the son of a wealthy family. The son is a London resident who has returned to his native country to write a cookbook about Indian cuisine. Mukherjee uses the evolving relationship between the two characters to examine class identity. He contrasts the attitudes of the "good, sheltered first-world liberal" with the stark realities of the developing world and industrialization. The son is shocked to find the slum in which both Renu and Milly live.

Another compelling character in the mosaic is a rural, beggared man named Lakshman, who travels the countryside with his tortured dancing bear, Raju, trying to make money. Unlike the relative success of Renu and Milly, Lakshman finds nothing but failure and poverty. His parable-like tale offers a tragic counterpoint to the novel's other parts, as if the prospect of upward mobility were nothing more than a phantom torturing the disenfranchised.

A State of Freedom is a complex, groundbreaking novel that blends mythic pathos with unflinching social realism. Mukherjee's India is a place beset by poverty, corruption, exploitation and gross inequity, but a place, nonetheless, in which the human spirit survives. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

Shelf Talker: This powerful, multilayered novel imagines the indignities and small victories of India's working poor.


Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: On the Indie Bookstore Road with Jessica Keener

Let's begin with a moment from Jessica Keener's fine new novel, Strangers in Budapest (Algonquin): "Outside, seeing the road and the cars heading toward the city center, she thought of the many thousands of people living their lives, hauling their hidden stories. Hundreds of thousands. Millions. The entire planet was full of people hauling secrets, struggling to come to terms with them...."

That passage eloquently crystalizes the interwoven lives of the handful of characters who inhabit this story, each in their own way a stranger in a strange land. A December Indie Next PickStrangers in Budapest was praised by Linda Bond of Auntie's Bookstore, Spokane, Wash., as "a tight, well-written thrill of a story you will not forget." That it is. And Linda's prediction has been true for me. I continue to be haunted by these strangers and their secrets.

In addition to saying "You've got to read this!" (the handseller's mantra), however, what I'm focusing on this week is Keener's recent journey through a landscape in which she is not a stranger--the Northeast. Recently, she and her husband, Barr, embarked from their Boston area home turf on a three-day book-signing tour of 14 bookshops scattered across the region, rolling up 855 miles through five states in a small Zipcar, "eating oranges and organic potato chips out of paper bags," as Keener recalled.

Jessica Keener with Yankee Bookshop co-owners Kari Meutsch & Kristian Preylowski

The itinerary included the Bookloft in Great Barrington, Mass.; New York indies Oblong Books & Music in Rhinebeck, the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza in Albany and Northshire Bookstore in Saratoga Springs; Vermont's Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, Bartleby's Books in Wilmington, the Yankee Bookshop in Woodstock and the Norwich Bookstore in Norwich; New Hampshire indies White Birch Books in North Conway, Water Street Bookstore in Exeter and Gibson's Bookstore in Concord. The home stretch featured stops at Maine's Bridgton Books in Bridgton and Print: A Bookstore in Portland before ending up at Jabberwocky Bookshop in Newburyport, Mass.

Northshire Bookstore Saratoga bookseller Molly Halpin & Keener

The genesis of the tour? "I was invited to attend the NEIBA conference in September and was blown away by the indie bookstore owners and staff that I met there," Keener said. "Talking to these people in person--seeing their faces, feeling their passion for books--it was inspiring. It made me want to visit their stores. So, the indie book signing tour became a chance to both celebrate the publication of my new novel and shine some light on these cultural oases that live in our neighborhoods and villages. Bookstores and the people who staff them are, in my opinion, purveyors of magic. Plus, the tour was a perfect excuse to get away from the city for a few days, breathe some country air, and go on a fun road trip with my husband."

The Bookloft (l. to r.): owner Pamela Pescosolido, Keener, Julia Hobalt (buyer), Tim Oberg (social media) & Giovanni Bovini (bookseller)

Highlights of the pilgrimage included "the unique beauty and tranquil atmosphere of these stores" as well as "meeting the staffs," Keener noted. "I met owners and part-timers. Book people have an endearing eccentricity about them. For instance, several booksellers made a point of showing me the craftsmanship of their store's custom-made bookshelves. I loved seeing this pride in the store's design as well as the books themselves."

An unexpected highlight was the "feeling of freedom of being on the road, following the trail of these beautiful treasures whose very existences enrich society," she said. "No two indies are alike--except that all are exceptional, and the people who staff them are incredible for their obvious love of books, stories, authors, and readers."

Keener & Jabberwocky Bookshop manager Paul Abruzzi

Keener credited her husband with keeping them moving: "In order to successfully visit all 14 stores in three days, we averaged about 20 minutes per indie store. It sounds short, but it was enough time to introduce myself, chat a little, sign books, take a photo and leave behind a small gift bag of candy by way of thanks. Plus, staff people need to tend to store business. I didn't want to interfere with that."

She also praised her hometown store, Brookline Booksmith, where she had her launch reading: "Brookline Booksmith is a 10-minute walk from my home. I go there several times a week. Sometimes I stop in for five minutes--it's almost like a checkpoint for my day. Maybe I'll have a specific book in mind. Maybe not. I like to browse the tables and I like to see other people browsing too. It's not a stretch to say that Brookline Booksmith is the heartbeat of our town. It's a place where you can let your mind wander or ponder, focus or drift. There's something there for everyone."

Keener & Oblong Books & Music co-owner Dick Hermans

The success of her book-fueled road trip has "inspired me to keep going," Keener noted. "I've visited several more in the Greater Boston area (Harvard Book StorePorter Square Books, Trident Booksellers & Cafe) and intend to visit more over the next few weeks." Last night, Keener read at Newtonville Books in Newton.

Book people, she observed, "shine in quiet and powerful ways. It was fun, a little unnerving the first day, but we got our bearings and were almost experts at getting in and out stores with pictures and signing by day three. It was great to see the stores busy and thriving. The trip was a wonderful chance to celebrate the unique oases of culture that we call indie bookstores. No two are alike--except that all are exceptional, and the people who staff them are incredible for their obvious love of books, stories, authors, and readers."

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

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