Shelf Awareness for Friday, April 6, 2018


St. Martin's Press: Feared (Rosato & Dinunzio #6 ) by Lisa Scottoline

Ballantine Books: Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman

Atheneum Books: What I Leave Behind by Alison McGhee

Shadow Mountain: The Lemonade Year by Amy Willoughby-Burle

Beach Lane Books: Rosetown by Cynthia Rylant

Little Brown and Company: How Are You Going to Save Yourself by J.M. Holmes

News

Madeline McIntosh Is New CEO of PRH U.S.

Madeline McIntosh
(photo: Paul Brissman)

Madeline McIntosh has been appointed CEO of Penguin Random House U.S. The announcement was made by Markus Dohle, CEO of Penguin Random House worldwide, who had been overseeing the U.S. company, in addition to his global role, since 2013. McIntosh will be succeeded as president, Penguin Publishing Group, by Allison Dobson, who has been serving as senior v-p, strategy and finance at Penguin, effective immediately.

In a letter to staff, Dohle wrote: "Ten years ago, in the spring of 2008, my first week at Random House was Madeline McIntosh's last week with the company. She was relocating to Luxembourg to join Amazon's Kindle team in Europe. In our meetings during that shared week, her sharp intellect and contagious passion for publishing greatly impressed me, and I knew immediately that I wanted to bring her back to our company.

"Many conversations between us ensued, and in December 2009 Madeline rejoined as Random House's president of sales, operations, and digital. In the months and years that followed, Madeline became a highly trusted and valued partner to me and to the entire Random House leadership team as we navigated through the most disruptive period in the digital transformation of the publishing industry."

When Random House merged with Penguin in 2013, McIntosh became COO of PRH U.S. and "was responsible for key aspects of the business and post-merger integration, including the unification of our sales and operations departments. She led these efforts with her signature blend of clarity and foresight, and commitment and care," Dohle observed.

She was named president of the Penguin Publishing Group in 2014. "Over the past three and a half years, Madeline's decisive leadership and creative instincts for compelling stories and ideas have ensured a smooth and successful transformation of the Penguin business," Dohle said. "She is now one of the most well-rounded and experienced executives in publishing."

In a letter to her PRH U.S. colleagues, McIntosh wrote that Dobson "has served as my right hand at Penguin.... Allison's finely balanced strategic and emotional intelligence, coupled with her passionate enthusiasm for our publishing mission, has made her an invaluable partner not just for me, but also for the Penguin publishers as we've worked together to refine and strengthen our lists and business performance over these past few years. Her quick, analytical mind enables her to take the lead in simplifying and resolving complex situations. At the same time, her wit and wits make her an ideal colleague and leader for the very broad range of internal and external stakeholders we house and partner with. I've watched her move fluidly among roles of cheerleader, optimist, negotiator, and analyst--sometimes all within a single discussion. I'm grateful now to be able to entrust this business to her care and further development going forward."


NYU School of Professional Studies: Center for Publishing: MS in Publishing: Digital and Print Media - Apply Now!


Amazon: New Facility in Nevada; Bezos vs. Trump Update

Amazon plans to open its fourth Nevada fulfillment center, an 800,000+-square-foot facility in North Las Vegas, which will handle small items such as books, household items and toys.

"This is good news for our state and for North Las Vegas," said Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval. "Amazon has been a partner with Nevada in helping to grow our economy, and I am pleased that they will continue to be a partner with us into the future."

North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee commented: "The rapidly expanding presence of Amazon in North Las Vegas speaks to the relationship the city has cultivated with the company and the ease and speed of doing business in North Las Vegas, efforts that are paying off in dividends by creating thousands of jobs for our hardworking residents and growing our city's tax base."

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In other Amazon news, President Trump has continued his blistering attacks on the company, founder Jeff Bezos and the Bezos-owned Washington Post with a series of unsubstantiated accusations claiming Amazon is taking advantage of the U.S. Postal Service by shipping its packages at reduced rates, not paying sufficient taxes and slanting the Post's coverage of the presidency in a "fake news" direction.

One example was cited by the New York Times Tuesday: "If the P.O. 'increased its parcel rates, Amazon's shipping costs would rise by $2.6 Billion,' " Trump tweeted, although it was not clear what report he was citing. "This Post Office scam must stop. Amazon must pay real costs (and taxes) now!"

The president told reporters this week that the USPS "delivers packages for Amazon at a very low rate," adding: "If you look at the cost that we're subsidizing, we're giving a subsidy to Amazon." He declined to be specific.

In a recent tweet, Trump called the Post the "chief lobbyist" for Amazon, "repeating his unsubstantiated attack on the newspaper," the Times reported.

"There isn't anybody here who is paid by Amazon," Martin Baron, the Post's executive editor, had responded to an earlier attack. "Not one penny."

Although Amazon shares have recovered somewhat, the Times wrote that "before the open, the stock had dropped 4% since news website Axios reported last week that Trump was obsessed with Amazon and wanted to curb its power, possibly with antitrust action."

Bookselling This Week noted this week that "while President Trump's ongoing personal conflict with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is well-documented, critics of Amazon's practices have underscored the legitimacy of critiques of Amazon as a monopoly. On Thursday, March 29, Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison said in a statement: 'The Trump administration should rein in giants like Amazon because they have an unfair stranglehold on the competition, not because the president has a personal feud with a company's CEO.' "

Today's Wall Street Journal reported that Trump's "most recent statements prompted White House aides to go back to him this week to tell him his Amazon critique might be 'missing the point,' a White House official said. In response, Mr. Trump has been 'digging in,' this person said. In past briefings, Mr. Trump’s advisers have told him how Amazon pays taxes, the person familiar with the matter said."

Thus far, there has been no formal response from Bezos to Trump's ongoing attacks other than the one familiar to the book trade: "Amazon declined to comment."


GLOW: Wendy Lamb Books: The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon


Foyles Sales Climb; Shop Has Movie Role

In the year ended June 30, 2017, sales at Foyles, which has seven bookshops in England, rose 6.4%, to £26.6 million (about $37.2 million), and the company had an operating loss of £68,000 ($95,200) compared to a pre-tax profit of £131,447 ($184,000) the year before, the Bookseller reported. Sales at its shops open at least a year rose 4.3% in December.

The gains in sales came despite Foyles' flagship store in London being flooded (closing the shop for five days), a decrease in traffic following terrorist attacks in the U.K. and an increase in business tax rates. Overall sales also rose in part because of the opening of a shop in Chelmsford and "organic growth" at the flagship store, CEO Paul Currie said. The operating loss was attributable in part to major investments in overhauling the company's supply chain and logistics systems.

Foyles is continuing to emphasize service by investing heavily in customer service, training and staff professional development programs and is expanding its reach online, Currie said.

He added: "We continue on the positive journey of sales growth, embracing change and operational improvement, in a retail scene, which is changing fast. It is our staff and their commitment to the business that allow Foyles to retain its position as an independent bookseller cherished by our loyal and growing customer base. Our mantra 'welcome book lover, you are among friends' remains true to our values and purpose for existence.

"However, the fusion of physical stores and the embracement of technology will allow the business to expand its reach and operate on a tighter cost model. This is something that all progressive retailers need to embrace. Further investment in our e-commerce platform and marketing reach will help us maintain our credentials of remaining independent and customer-focused."

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In other company news, Foyles also has a role in the film version of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, the Bookseller reported.

The film stars Lily James, Michiel Huisman, Penelope Wilton and Matthew Goode, is being directed by Mike Newell and is being produced by Paula Mazur and Mitchell Kaplan from the Mazur/Kaplan Company (he is the owner of Books & Books in southern Florida and the Cayman Islands), along with Graham Broadbent and Pete Czernin from Blueprint Pictures.

The original Foyles flagship shop on Charing Cross Road in London is "a main location in the film, as writer Juliet Ashton--played by James--promotes her first novel in post-war London," the Bookseller wrote.

The film will be released April 20 in the U.K.


Mandevilla Press: Assassins by Mike Bond


Bookstores Gearing Up for IBD 2018

The fourth annual Independent Bookstore Day, scheduled for April 28, is a little over three weeks away. Here is another look at what indies around the country have planned:

In addition to a full schedule of in-store festivities, including huge "book cover cut-outs" for customers to pose with, Changing Hands Bookstore in Phoenix and Tempe, Ariz., will use Independent Bookstore Day as an opportunity to celebrate the "historical role of indie bookstores as centers of activism and social change." From noon until 3 p.m., representatives from groups including the ACLU of Arizona, Moms Demand Action, International Rescue Committee Phoenix and the Council on American-Islamic Relations Arizona will be at both Changing Hands branches to talk about their missions.

IBD exclusive merchandise

At The Book House in Maplewood, Mo., plans for April 28 include giveaways, storytime sessions, activities and author events. Debbie Manber Kupfer, author of Adana the Earth Dragon, will discuss and read from her newest children's book, while Ed Wheatley, co-author of St. Louis Browns: The Story of a Beloved Team, will talk about his book and a recent PBS documentary version narrated by Jon Hamm.

The Toadstool Bookshop in Keene, N.H., has a packed schedule for Independent Bookstore Day. The celebration will begin at noon with a craft and storytime session, and at 1 p.m., an a cappella group from Keene State College called Chock Full O' Notes will perform. For the rest of the afternoon, authors will be stopping by for book events each hour on the hour. They include former ESPN anchor Sandra Neil Wallace, who will sign copies of her children's book Between the Lines; teacher and "circus education pioneer" Jackie Leigh Davis, who will demonstrate activities from her book DIY Circus Lab for Kids; and David Random, on hand to discuss his crime novel Connected.

In La Cañada Flintridge, Calif., Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse is incorporating National Poetry Month and Earth Day into its plans for April 28. From noon until 2 p.m., authors and environmentalists Michael Peevey and Diane Wittenberg will sign copies of their book, California Goes Green: A Roadmap to Climate Leadership, and from 3 to 5 p.m., poet Kim Dower, poet laureate of West Hollywood, will read from her collection Last Train to the Missing Planet and host a poetry open mic event. Other plans for the day include visits from therapy and rescue dogs, prize drawings to win a tote bag full of books, a Where's Waldo contest and more author events for both children and adults.

The fun will begin early at Wellington Square Bookshop in Exton, Pa., with a 10 a.m. children's story time. From there, customers can get their faces painted between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., and weather permitting , Wellington Square will host a yoga class outside in the town square. Throughout the day there will be free coffee and tea, as well as a raffle with proceeds going to the Chester County Food Bank, and the festivities will conclude with a happy hour featuring wine, hors d'oeuvres and special sales.

And last but not least, Cellar Door Books in Riverside, Calif., will mark Independent Bookstore Day with all-day voting for two awards: the Children's & Teen Choice Book Awards and Cellar Door's own Indie Next Choice Awards. The Children's & Teen Choice Awards is a national book award chosen entirely by kids, and Cellar Door will have shelf-talkers of the nominees located around the store. For the latter award, customers will be able to vote for their favorite books from the January-April 2018 Indie Next Lists, and the top three winners will be featured in a special display and be discounted the week after IBD. Customers will also have the opportunity to pick up IBD-exclusive merchandise throughout the day.


Akashic Books: The Perfume Burned His Eyes by Michael Imperioli


Book Table Launches Crowdfunding Campaign Ahead of July Expansion

The Book Table in Oak Park., Ill., is celebrating its 15th anniversary this summer by expanding into an adjacent storefront, and owners Jason Smith and Rachel Weaver have launched an Indiegogo campaign to help raise capital for the expansion. Smith and Weaver, who are husband and wife, signed the lease for the new space last month and are looking to raise $50,000. With about a month to go, they've raised just over $8,200.

The expansion will give Weaver and Smith an additional 2,800 square feet, bringing the store's total to 8,400. The additional space will allow them to give art, photography and architecture books their own storefront, and enable them to expand the science fiction, fantasy, YA and cookbook sections.

Smith and Weaver added that since Borders Books & Music closed in 2011, they've been devoting more and more store space to new books. The expansion will enable them to return to their "roots in selling deeply discounted and used books" without sacrificing their new book inventory.

The space into which Weaver and Smith will expand is the same storefront in which the Book Table opened in in 2003. They moved next door, into the store's current 5,600-square-foot location, in 2008, right before the financial crisis, and have decided to start a crowdfunding campaign this time in order to head into the transition on a more solid financial footing. They also noted that their street is scheduled to be repaved next year.

"Stores typically face a 20%-40% drop in business during construction projects, and ideally we would have a fresh line of credit available to us during that time rather than already having substantial debt to shoulder," they wrote. "So, while this may not be the ideal time to expand the store, we are also keenly aware that we may not have this opportunity again."

Smith and Weaver hope to open the expanded space in July and will keep the Book Table open during renovations.


Conari Press: Your Guide to Forest Bathing: Experience the Healing Power of Nature by M. Amos Clifford


Emily Nemens Is New Editor of the Paris Review

Emily Nemens

The board of the Paris Review Foundation has appointed Emily Nemens as the new editor of the Paris Review. She will be the seventh editor in the 65-year history of the prestigious journal. An editor, writer and illustrator, Nemens has been co-editor of the Southern Review since 2013. Prior to that, she worked in editorial capacities at the Center for Architecture and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

"Emily has a proven track record of finding diverse new voices outside the established networks," said Susannah Hunnewell, Paris Review's publisher. "She follows what she calls 'a meritocratic editorial agenda' and, for example, found both O. Henry Prize winners in the pile of unsolicited submissions. Emily prides herself on working closely with writers, grooming and mentoring them in an open and collaborative process with her staff."

"I am honored to be given this opportunity and I look forward to working with such a talented group of colleagues," Nemens said. "I think I have an ability to understand and appreciate a publication's history and prioritize incremental, thoughtful growth. This means striking a balance between stewardship and innovation."

The New York Times reported that Nemens "takes the helm at a challenging moment in the journal's history, several months after its previous editor, Lorin Stein, resigned under a cloud of sexual harassment allegations.... Nemens's eclectic taste and creative ambitions proved to be a draw for the Paris Review board, which chose Ms. Nemens over a pool of candidates better known in New York’s literary circles." 


Notes

Image of the Day: Oceanic Launch at Square Books

Author Aimee Nezhukumatathil (l.) celebrates the launch of her poetry collection Oceanic (Copper Canyon Press) with bookseller Lyn Roberts at Square Books in Oxford, Miss.

Cool Idea of the Day: Creating an Arts Bestseller List

DIESEL, a bookstore in Brentwood and Larchmont, Calif., has created a separate, monthly Arts Bestseller List that includes domestic arts, architecture, fashion, art, music, film, interior design, gardening and more. Co-owner John Evans explained that while having fiction as its own category makes sense, lumping science, the arts, history, business and more into the same broad category of nonfiction does not. He noted too that when it comes to awards for nonfiction, books pertaining to the arts are often given short shrift.

"So, finally, we've addressed that in our own humble way by creating an Arts Bestseller List, which we post every month now, as we do with fiction and, yes, nonfiction," said Evans. "Maybe some of the annual awards that only go to fiction or nonfiction could start adding an Arts Award to their list."


Media and Movies

Media Heat: David Grann on Fresh Air

Today:
PRI's Science Friday: Michael Benson, author of Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece (Simon & Schuster, $30, 9781501163937). He will also be on CNBC's Squawk Box today and CBS This Morning Saturday.

Fresh Air: David Grann, author of Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI (Vintage, $16.95, 9780307742483).


TV: Gormenghast

Neil Gaiman and Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind) will adapt the "sprawling novel series" Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake as a TV series, Deadline reported, adding that FremantleMedia North America "won a hotly contested battle to option the five books in the series.... It is the latest FremantleMedia project for Gaiman, who already exec produces Starz fantasy drama American Gods and signed an exclusive multi-year deal with the producer last year." Gaiman will be a non-writing executive producer on the project alongside Oscar-winning writer Goldsman.

"There is nothing in literature like Mervyn Peake's remarkable Gormenghast novels," said Gaiman. "They were crafted by a master, who was also an artist, and they take us to an ancient castle as big as a city, with heroes and villains and people larger than life that are impossible to forget. There is a reason why there were two trilogies that lovers of the fantasy genre embraced in the Sixties: Lord of the Rings, and the Gormenghast books. It's an honor to have been given the opportunity to help shepherd Peake's brilliant and singular vision to the screen."

Dante Di Loreto, president of scripted entertainment, FremantleMedia North America, commented: "Nothing combines a dark atmosphere with humor and intrigue the way that Gormenghast does. It's one of the most eccentric and vividly imagined universes ever created. We're excited to continue our relationship with Neil and the producing team assembled for this project is ideal to explore the series' perfect mix of humor, pathos and tragedy."

Fabian Peake, son of Mervyn and executor of the Peake estate, added: "We are tremendously excited by the prospect of seeing the Gormenghast books realized for television. This venture presents a unique opportunity to explore the imagination of a multi-faceted artist."



Books & Authors

Awards: Graywolf Press Africa; International Dublin Literary

Khadija Abdalla Bajaber won the inaugural Graywolf Press Africa Prize, which is awarded for a first novel manuscript by an African author primarily residing in Africa. Her book, The House of Rust, was chosen from nearly 200 submissions by judge author A. Igoni Barrett in conjunction with the Graywolf editors. Bajaber, who lives in Mombasa, Kenya, will receive a $12,000 advance. In addition, 66th&2nd will publish The House of Rust in Italy, a partnership that will continue with the Graywolf Press Africa Prize. Publication is scheduled for 2020.

In his judge's statement, Barrett praised The House of Rust as "an exhilarating journey into the imagination of an author for whom the fantastic is not only written about, it is performed on the page. Khadija Abdalla Bajaber has infused new life into the age-old story of adventure on the high seas--with this heroic first novel she has struck deep into that mythic realm explored by everyone from Homer to Hemingway.... Everything in this story sparkles: the fierceness of the narrative voice, the unimpeachable dramatic timing, the sumptuous imagery, the insightful characterization, the spirited wordplay, the honed wisdom of the dialogue, the bold imagination. Everywhere in this story is evidence of a mind that understands that we read not only to see other worlds or lives, but to feel them."

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Finalists have been unveiled for this year's €100,000 (about $122,415) International Dublin Literary Award, which "aims to promote excellence in world literature" by honoring a novel written in English or translated into English. The prize is sponsored by Dublin City Council and managed by Dublin City Libraries. The winner will be named June 13. The shortlisted titles are:

Baba Dunja's Last Love by Alina Bronsky (Ukrainian/German), translated from the German by Tim Mohr
The Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrera (Mexican), translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman
The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen (Norwegian), translated from Norwegian by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw
Human Acts by Han Kang (South Korean), translated from Korean by Deborah Smith
The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride (Irish)
Solar Bones by Mike McCormack (Irish)
Distant Light by Antonio Moresco (Italian), translated from Italian by Richard Dixon
Ladivine by Marie Ndiaye (French), translated from French by Jordan Stump
The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso (South African/Nigerian/Barbadian)
My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout (American)


Reading with... Lauren Moseley

photo: Tasha Thomas

Lauren Moseley's poems have appeared in the anthologies Best New Poets and Women Write Resistance and in such magazines as FIELD, Narrative, Copper Nickel, West Branch Wired and Pleiades. She holds an MFA in Poetry from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Moseley has been a fellow at Yaddo and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and a recipient of an artist's grant from the Money for Women/Barbara Deming Memorial Fund. She lives in Durham, N.C., and works at Algonquin Books. Big Windows (Carnegie Mellon University Press, February 13, 2018) is her debut poetry collection.

On your nightstand now:

Blessing the Boats by Lucille Clifton, River Hymns by Tyree Daye, Between My Father and the King by Janet Frame, Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay, In Which I Play the Runaway by Rochelle Hurt, Bestiary by Donika Kelly, The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson, Darwin's Mother by Sarah Rose Nordgren, The End of Pink by Kathryn Nuernberger, Artful by Ali Smith, Incendiary Art by Patricia Smith, We Are Only Taking What We Need by Stephanie Powell Watts and several Algonquin manuscripts. (I have a big nightstand. It's a problem.) Some of these I've read, some I'm in the middle of and some I've just started. I love rereading poetry collections especially, so those are particularly difficult to move from the land of The Nightstand to The Bookshelf.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Professor Possum's Great Adventure by Michael Pellowski. I grew up in a house in the woods in North Carolina, and my sister and I played at the creek nearly every day. Our mother is a biologist, specializing in ornithology, and our father also has a great love for nature and exploration. They raised us to be adventurers, and my sister has followed in my mother's footsteps. Now I'm the only woman in my nuclear family who isn't an ornithologist! When I was little, I loved Professor Possum, because he goes on a hair-raising journey to a jungle island in search of a rare species of butterfly. I now somewhat disapprove of the book's ending, because the professor takes butterflies and their preferred trees out of their natural habitat and reestablishes them in his own backyard (one could be arrested for doing such things with wildlife from a national park, for example), but when I was a child, that sounded like paradise. I wanted the natural world in my bedroom.

Your top five authors:

Jean Valentine
Alice Munro
Patti Smith
Shane McCrae
Tracy K. Smith

Book you've faked reading:

One day I sat down to read my two-year-old godson a book. He had selected Kay Thompson's Eloise, about the mischievous six-year-old girl who lives in the Plaza Hotel. Have you ever tried to read that book to a toddler in one sitting? He might as well have picked out Infinite Jest. Eloise is just 68 pages, but it has quite a lot of text for an illustrated book, thanks to the large trim size. We were late for lunch, so I eventually had to flip through dozens of pages, read the final lines, and say, "The end!" (which is, incidentally, exactly how I read Infinite Jest). I still feel bad about this.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Marisa Silver's Little Nothing, a philosophical fairy tale in the form of an unputdownable novel. Read it, and then let's talk.

Book you've bought for the cover:

American Housewife by Helen Ellis, and I'm glad I did, because these stories are delightful, wickedly funny and so smart. I love this book.

Book you hid from your parents:

Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft. The movie The Craft came out when I was 13. It was a perfect storm.

Book that changed your life:

The Lice by W.S. Merwin forever changed me as a poet. Merwin's deliberate lack of punctuation requires so much more of every phrase and line. And somehow, without punctuation, the images shine through more brightly. It's magic.

Favorite line from a book:

I keep a notebook of quotes, and I love them all. Here's one, from Peter Wohlleben's The Hidden Life of Trees: "When I began my professional career as a forester, I knew about as much about the hidden life of trees as a butcher knows about the emotional life of animals." What a sharp simile.

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

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan. This is one of my favorite Algonquin books of all time, and the film version of the novel was nominated for four Oscars this year. The film is wonderful, but nothing can match this reading experience.

Five books you'll never part with:

Door in the Mountain by Jean Valentine--Jean is my favorite living poet, and she read from my copy of this book during a residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

Going to Meet the Man by James Baldwin--If you can find prose more worthy of exaltation than passages from "Sonny's Blues" or "This Morning, This Evening, So Soon," please let me know!

The Soul Is Here for Its Own Joy: Sacred Poems from Many Cultures edited by Robert Bly--Highly recommended for both lovers of verse and those who rarely read poetry.

The Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges--My second book of poems, which I'm working on now, is somewhat like a bestiary, and this is THE ULTIMATE bestiary.

Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro--In 2010, my husband and I were on a short vacation with his family, in Shepherdstown, W.Va. We stopped in Four Seasons Books, and I picked up a hardcover of Too Much Happiness, which had just come out. Shamefully, I hadn't read much Alice Munro before, but I read the first page of this collection and was instantly hooked. I went on to read every story she's ever published. It was a classic moment of indie bookstore browsing bliss.


Book Review

Review: Blackfish City

Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller (Ecco, $22.99 hardcover, 336p., 9780062684820, April 17, 2018)

Blackfish City is Sam J. Miller's adult science fiction follow-up to his debut young adult novel, The Art of Starving, and establishes a dystopian world that stands apart in a crowded field. Miller's take on climate change-fueled dystopia has some superficial similarities to the work of Kim Stanley Robinson and Paolo Bacigalupi; rising sea levels are just one of a number of threats unleashed by global warming, and humanity hastens its own collapse through wars, religious fundamentalism and genocide. Blackfish City distinguishes itself by a number of idiosyncratic touches. An "orcamancer" arrives in Qaanaaq--a floating city under the laissez-faire rule of a collection of AI and mysterious "shareholders"--and sets off ripple effects in the lives of each of the novel's many characters.

These include a wealthy dilettante, a political functionary, Qaanaaq's version of a bike messenger, a fighter and the mysterious broadcaster of City Without a Map, a kind of radio program that provides insights into the history and present-day realities of Qaanaaq. Then there's "the breaks," a bizarre illness ravaging the population and providing its sufferers with unexplained visions. It might seem like a lot to juggle in a slim, 300-page novel, but Miller manages by moving at a rapid pace--chapters are short and events occur quickly. While Miller is not shy about getting into the nitty-gritty of world-building and futuristic speculation, he can be refreshingly economical when it comes to moving the plot forward.

Blackfish City has many layers, but frequently revolves around the orcamancer, one of the last of a persecuted race of people who bonded with animals through nanotechnology. She makes quite an entrance, accompanied by a killer whale and a polar bear. Her purposes intersect with those of the other characters, some of whom are investigating "the breaks" or uncovering the person behind the City Without a Map. Eventually, the characters become embroiled in a larger skirmish between an ambitious gang leader and one of the shareholders. The ensuing violence is often accompanied by Miller's meditations on how to form a stable, ethical relationship with nature. The orcamancer unsettles so many in the city because she offers an alternative to a relationship with nature founded on opposition and resource extraction.

In Blackfish City, the climate and the environment are not the most pressing threats to humanity's survival. Base human impulses such as fear and greed are far more destructive, and the novel is committed to exploring the distortions caused by inequality. As one characters says: "It's not my fault I live a good life and other people are living god-awful ones because of things my grandfather might have done... but... the real problem is, once you do know what they did, doesn't it make you obligated to do something about it?" Questions of fairness and justice are ever-present in Blackfish City, where the characters must reckon with the sins of the past in order to forge a hopeful future. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Shelf Talker: For the inhabitants of the floating city of Qaanaaq, in a dystopic future where climate change threatens human survival, a strange "orcamancer" might offer the only glimmer of hope.


Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Canadian National Poetry Month... by the Numbers

Can poetry be a numbers game? Sure. Why not? Let's start with the number 20. This year marks two decades since the League of Canadian Poets held its inaugural National Poetry Month "to celebrate poetry and its vital place in Canada's culture." The Academy of American Poets launched the first NPM in the U.S. in 1996.

For 2018, the LCP is "letting you take center stage this year to celebrate National Poetry Month in ways that are meaningful to you! We will be sharing some contents, lists, and recommendations, but more than anything we can't wait to see what Canada's biggest poetry fans will celebrate this April. What will you read? What events will you organize, attend? Will you start your own poetry writing project? Will you write your first poem? Will you share your poetry on stage for the first time?"

By my calculation, poetry readers matter as much as poets do, though the theory may be tempered slightly by my personal history as a bad poet, if good reader, of poems. Nonetheless, I value the chance to discover poets I haven't read before, and Poetry Month increases those odds and opportunities.

The Star, for example, recommended "new books to kick of National Poetry Month"; and 49th Shelf "decided to go back in time 20 years to 1998 and remember some of the outstanding poetry releases of that year. We've highlighted the winners of some of Canada’s most notable poetry prizes from 1998 and we are so excited to fall in love with these works--again--with you."

There is also poetry in statistics, as Mary Cornish (who wasn't Canadian, unfortunately) explored in her poem "Numbers." It begins:

I like the generosity of numbers.
The way, for example,
they are willing to count
anything or anyone:
two pickles, one door to the room,
eight dancers dressed as swans.

In Canada, the writing and reading of poetry appears to be good business for some. BookNet Canada's The Canadian Book Market 2017 reported that for the second year in a row, unit sales in the poetry category increased significantly, led by Canadian poet Rupi Kaur. Her book The Sun and Her Flowers sold the second-most in Canada in terms of volume in 2017, while her debut collection, Milk and Honey, continued to perform well.

Poetry sales increased 79% in 2016 compared to 2015, and between 2016 and 2017 units sold increased by another 154%. During poetry's slowest week in 2017, 3,907 books were sold, while the slowest week in 2016 generated only 1,715 book sales. The category represented more than 1% of all print unit sales in Canada last year, compared to 0.4% of the market in 2016.

On BookNet Canada's blog, Kira Harkonen offered perspective in a post headlined "#NationalPoetryMonth: Rupi is the new Rumi":

"We are in the midst of a poetry renaissance, and it's all thanks to the Internet," she wrote. In 2015, at the age of 22, Kaur published Milk and Honey. "Her poetry debut took the Internet and the publishing world by storm. She and other so-called Instapoets, such as Lang Leav, Nayyirah Waheed, Warsan Shire, Tyler Knott Gregson, and r.h. Sin took over bookstores everywhere, largely thanks to social media. In a world of 140 characters or less, these poets are finding a way to be heard."

According to The Canadian Book Market 2017, 93.45% of poetry books sold in 2017 were paperbacks. Of poetry books sold in this format, the top 10 were all by millennial poets. Comparing top 10 poetry book rankings since BookNet started collecting sales data in 2005 until the year before the publication of Milk and Honey (2005-2014), Harkonen observed that the "so-called Instapoets have completely knocked all literary classics from the list," adding that more traditional poets "have been bested by the powers of Instagram (for now, at least)." She also noted with pride that "Canadians love reading Canadian poetry! Hooray! Both lists are topped by notable Canadian poets: Leonard Cohen, Rupi Kaur, and Atticus."

Cohen, I suspect, would have been amused, and not displeased, to still be counted among these poets ("Thousands").

Here's a final number. On Tuesday, House of Anansi Press tweeted about the Anansi Poetry Project, "an ideas series that takes you inside the mind of a poet." This led me to another number--one. As a reader, I discover one poet at a time. What really counts during National Poetry Month, and beyond, is a simple, kind of sacred process. I didn't know Emma Healy's poetry before this week. Soon, however, I'll be reading her recently published book, stereoblind. Here's a taste:

Still, we understand the greater meaning: shards refusing to make a pattern, tiny mirror that fails to focus in small the whole of the great room. We know, too, without needing to be told that while some people might be born to be with others, others still are built to spend their nights like this, tracking a past that isn't theirs with antique, glitching equipment. Which kind are you? Stop, enhance.

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

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