Shelf Awareness for Thursday, March 6, 2008


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

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

Quotation of the Day

Laura Bush: 'In the Company of Good Books'

"A nation that does not read for itself cannot think for itself. And a nation that cannot think for itself risks losing both its identity and its freedom. Ray Bradbury was right when he said, 'You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.'

"Both reading and a love of reading are learned behaviors that should be taught at home and in schools. Like many of you in this room, I've spent my life in the company of good books, because my mother taught me to love them, and my teachers taught me to read them, and my library let me take them home free. Those early experiences had a profound impact on my life, and on my career as a public school teacher and librarian, and on my present work in the U.S. and around the world."--First Lady Laura Bush, speaking yesterday at the AAP annual meeting in New York City.

 


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


News

Notes: Drivin' Those Sales . . .; Strand TV

The offer of a free download of Beautiful Children for three days last week and USA Today's article Tuesday that we mentioned yesterday have elicited a number of comments.

Bruce Jacobs pointed out that the Grateful Dead "became the highest revenue touring band in history by providing 'free taping' space up front at the concerts."

And Kuo-Yu Liang, v-p, sales and marketing, Diamond Book Distributors, noted that nearly 10 years ago, when he was at Ballantine Books, the company tried similar limited-time free online promotions. One with measurable results was for The Skies of Pern by Anne McCaffrey in 2001. "We were looking for a way to gain new readers for this long-time bestselling series so we did a number of promos, including a limited time free to download from Palm Reader and another, where a consumer could read some 25% of the books for free on PDF then had the ability to both purchase the book and forward the e-book to friends. The end result was a 30% rise in initial hardcover sales. Other times we did things like e-download stations at sci-fi conventions and downloads on Yahoo to redeem for points to win prizes, but some of those had results that were difficult to prove."

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The Strand Book Store, New York City, is launching Strand TV, which will stream the store's many author and artist events live on the Internet. Viewers will be able to ask questions by typing in queries that will be relayed by a staff person. They can also order signed books in advice of events. The first shows already available on the site include events with Hillary Clinton's chief strategist, Mark Penn, writer Luc Sante, novelist Alexander Theroux, environmentalist and film star Ed Begley, Jr., photographer Elliott Erwitt, artist Jeff Wall and activist Tom Hayden.

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LibraryThing has launched LibraryThing Local, which aims to list as many bookstores, libraries and book festivals--as well as the author appearances, signings and other events they host. LibraryThing already has about 2,600 venues, which were contributed by some 24 members who beta tested LibraryThing Local.

Everyone, including booksellers, librarians and publishers, may add information, although LibraryThing is considering allowing willing bookstores and libraries to control the section listing information about them and their events.

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A year after announcing that it was in serious difficulty, Women & Children First Bookstore, Chicago, Ill., "has turned the page and is looking forward to a revitalized future," the bookstore stated. The store had its first profitable year in five.

"The attention allowed the store to reconnect with older customers who had strayed, as well as attracting new, young customers who had never shopped in a feminist bookstore before in their lives." One example of the benefits of the publicity: "a single blog post by bestselling author Alison Bechdel (Fun Home) generated an immediate spike in Internet sales."

"At this time last year, we were considering exit strategies," Ann Christophersen, who owns the store with Linda Bubon, said. "Now we're looking at five-year plans." In April, the store will host events featuring Jhumpa Lahiri, Isabel Allende and Judy Chicago. The store is also preparing for its 30th anniversary celebration next year--a sweeter celebration than it had ever expected.

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Good news, too, from across the pond. We have featured updates on the noble quest by former Waterstone's booksellers Simon Key and Tim West to open the Big Green Bookshop. The pair have also eloquently blogged about their travails at Open a Bookshop, what could possibly go wrong? Two blokes, one bookshop, no idea.

Well, the Hornsey & Crouch End Journal has reported that, "after seven months of hard work, setbacks and dogged determination, two entrepreneurs will finally open their own independent bookshop in Wood Green this weekend."

"It is crazy at the moment, but I hope it will go well when we open," said Key. "We have got a huge amount of support, we just hope that we can deliver what we have promised. We are terrified but really excited at the same time."

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Fallout surrounding the Love & Consequences memoir scandal (Shelf Awareness, March 4, 2008) continues. Suggesting that "dishonest memoirists are the publishing industry's equivalent of juiced athletes," Bloomberg.com reported that the recalled book's publisher, Riverhead, "will cover the cost of shipping back the returns, which could be significant. The financial impact on bookstores is likely to be minor. At Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena, California, promotional director Jennifer Ramos had ordered 37 copies of the book in anticipation of Seltzer's scheduled reading this Thursday."

"Her cancellation is no big deal," Ramos said. "Events get canceled all the time. We'll just return the books as we normally do. It won't have any financial impact on us at all."

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The Horn Book magazine has launched a free monthly e-newsletter directed at parents and teachers called Notes from the Horn Book. The initial circulation of 5,000 is composed of visitors to the Horn Book Web site, "Read Roger" (editor-in-chief Roger Sutton's blog), the Horn Book Guide and others who signed up for the newsletter, according to Horn Book publisher and marketing director Anne Quirk.

Bertha Mahony Miller founded the Horn Book in 1924 and chose the name of the magazine "to pay tribute to the object that opened the world of reading" to generations of children as well as to indicate her intention to "blow the horn for fine books for boys and girls." Quirk points out that in 1916, even before touting books in the magazine, Miller opened the Bookshop for Boys and Girls, before many books for children were even available. So Miller's legacy continues into the 21st century, with an e-newsletter that includes a (brief) tutorial on the Newbery and Caldecott awards, a Q&A with Jon Scieszka, two short pieces on new children's books and letters from readers.

 


Trinity University Press: Arte Kids - Bilingual Board Books


Face Outs Push Up Sales at Borders 'New Concept' Store

Sales at Borders's first "new concept" store, which opened last month in Ann Arbor, Mich., are higher than expected, according to Borders CEO George Jones, who spoke yesterday at the AAP annual meeting in New York City. Shelf Awareness also spoke with him at length before he was interviewed before the group by David Young of Hachette Group.

A main reason for the boost is an aspect of the store that initially didn't receive as much attention as some of its new electronic features: the store displays many more books face out than a traditional Borders. In fact, the new store has 20% less inventory than the usual Borders, but its sales are up "in double digits," Jones said, primarily because of the faceouts.

Themed displays and multimedia displays, particularly in areas like travel and cooking, are also helping boost sales. Some electronic elements of the new store, like CD burning, are proving more popular with customers than they did in beta testing without the setting of the new store.

Borders will open its second new concept store later this month in Las Vegas, Nev., and will open 14 of them altogether this year, most of them during the summer. During the next three years, Borders will roll out key elements of the new concept store to its more than 500 U.S. superstores--but not rebuild them. Jones emphasized that the stores have space for features from the new concept store--the music sections are being reduced because of slumping music sales.

As it concentrates on refiguring its existing stores, Borders will open fewer new stores than it has in the past.

The company is culling inventory at all of its stores to accommodate an increase in faceouts. Most affected titles sell perhaps one copy a month in each store. Because in April Borders is "taking back" its website, which it had outsourced to Amazon.com, the stores should be able to make up for the absence of these titles, Jones stressed. Customers will be able to find the books via Borders.com kiosks that will be in the stores and have them delivered in two days for either pickup at the store or delivery to the customer. The online operations will cater to customers with Long Tail tastes, as it were.

Jones emphasized that Borders plans to integrate its newly regained online operations with its bricks-and-mortar stores. "Online we will drive traffic into the stores, and in the stores, we'll drive people online," Jones said. "There won't be a huge gap between the two sides of the business."

Jones also noted that the company is creating an allocation department so that buyers will no longer have allocation responsibilities. "We have more buyers than our major competitor [read: Barnes & Noble], but ours are spread more thinly because they also have to allocate titles." Buying and allocating are different skills, he continued.

Borders currently has 16,000 individual coop contracts, which had led Jones to suggest that publishers work with Borders to promote fewer titles in more concentrated, major ways. Borders, he emphasized, has increasing ways of making some titles major sellers, particularly as it increases factouts and themed displays, as it takes back Borders.com and as its membership program continues to grow (it now has 25 million members).

Asked about Borders's publishing program, Jones said that the company had proven it can create national bestsellers out of the books it publishes. But, he noted, "I don't care if we publish or don't publish. What's most important is getting exclusives."

Asked about pricing on mass market books, Jones stated that the current economic environment makes this likely not the best time to raise the average mass market price from $7.99.--John Mutter

 


Thomas Nelson: Perennials by Julie Cantrell


Media and Movies

Media Heat: Bobby Flay Cooks Early

This morning on the Early Show: Bobby Flay, author of Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill Cookbook: Explosive Flavors from the Southwestern Kitchen (Clarkson Potter, $35, 9780307351418/0307351416).

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Today on Writer's Roundtable, hosted by Antoinette Kuritz: John Lescroart, who discusses writing a series vs. stand-alone novels, keeping characters fresh and his new book, Betrayal (Dutton, $26.95, 9780525950394/0525950397). Tune in via writersroundtable.com or signonradio.com.

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Starting today on WETA's Author, Author!: an interview with Russell Banks, author of The Reserve (HarperCollins, $24.95, 9780061430251/0061430250).

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Tomorrow on NPR's New Letters on the Air: Lisa See, author of Peony in Love: A Novel (Random House, $14, 9780812975222/0812975227).

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Tomorrow night on Real Time with Bill Maher: Jacob Weisberg, author of The Bush Tragedy (Random House, $26, 9781400066780/1400066786).

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Tomorrow night on 20/20: Tori Spelling, author of Stori Telling (Simon Spotlight, $24.95, 9781416950738/1416950737).

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On Saturday on NPR's Weekend Edition: Robin Wright, author of Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East (Penguin Press, $26.95, 9781594201110/1594201110).

 


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


This Weekend on Book TV: The New Cold War

Book TV airs on C-Span 2 from 8 a.m. Saturday to 8 a.m. Monday and focuses on political and historical books as well as the book industry. The following are highlights for this coming weekend. For more information, go to Book TV's website.

Saturday, March 8

6 p.m. Encore Book Notes. For a segment first aired in 2003, Michael Parenti, author of The Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People's History of Ancient Rome (New Press, $16.95 9781565849426/1565849426), talked about his critique of previous theories regarding Caesar's murder, contending that it is a story of popular resistance against entrenched power and wealth.

7 p.m. Oxford University economist Ha-Joon Chang, author of Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism (Bloomsbury, $26.95, 9781596913998/1596913991), argues that the GDP of many developing countries was higher prior to deregulation. (Re-airs Saturday, March 15, at 8 a.m. and Sunday, March 16, at 1 p.m.)

9 p.m. Mike Moore, author of Twilight War: The Folly of U.S. Space Dominance (Independent Institute, $24.95, 9781598130188/1598130188), takes a critical look at U.S. outer space policy since the signing of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. (Re-airs Sunday at 1 p.m. and Monday at 1 a.m.)
      
10 p.m. After Words. Michael Duffy, assistant managing editor of Time magazine, interviews Philip Shenon, author of The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation (Twelve, $27, 9780446580755/0446580759). Shenon recounts the research and drafting of The 9/11 Commission Report and profiles the commission's members. (Re-airs Sunday at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., Monday at 12 a.m. and Sunday, March 16, at 12 p.m.)

Sunday, March 9

10 p.m. Edward Lucas, author of The New Cold War: Putin's Russia and the Threat to the West (Palgrave Macmillan, $26.95, 9780230606128/0230606121), contends that under Vladimir Putin's rule, Russia has become more autocratic and more hostile towards the U.S. and Europe. (Re-airs Monday at 6:15 a.m., Monday, March 17, at 3 a.m. and Sunday, March 23, at 10 a.m.)

 



Books & Authors

Children's Book Review: Benny and Penny in Just Pretend

Benny and Penny in Just Pretend by Geoffrey Hayes (Toon Books, $12.95, 9780979923807/0979923808, 32 pp., ages 4-up, April)

Co-editor of RAW magazine and New Yorker art editor Françoise Mouly launches Toon Books, a line of paper-over-board comic books this spring designed to teach children to read (see "The Story of Toon Books" below). Here Hayes (illustrator of When the Wind Blew by Margaret Wise Brown) explores sibling dynamics with insight and humor. From the cover alone, readers glean a great deal of information: A caped mouse, wielding a sword, shouts, "You can't play!" (in a dialogue bubble) as a mouse sporting a princess costume, plunges a pirate cap into an inflatable swimming pool. In a sequence of four panels, Penny urges, "Play with me!" as she bumps the crate that Benny has fashioned into a pirate ship (his fantasy vessel appears in a thought balloon). Hayes has the universal sibling rapport down cold: "I can play pirate, too," says the toddler princess; "No! Pirates are brave, and you are a cry-baby." Tilted and broken panel illustrations amplify the escalating tension as the siblings' tussle sends the pirate ship flying. Hayes expertly balances the hurtful jabs with poignant moments--as when Benny tells his sister to hide in an abandoned chest and says, "I'll try to find you," then worries when she doesn't come looking for him ("Maybe she's hurt!"). Ultimately, Penny redeems herself in an act of heroism that gets Benny out of a jam. The brilliance comes in the pacing and the emotional truth of the two characters. Children will hope for more adventures from this furry duo.--Jennifer M. Brown

The other two Toon Books this season, also releasing in April: Otto's Orange Day by Jay Lynch, illustrated by Frank Cammuso ($12.95, 9780979923821/0979923824, 40 pp.); and Silly Lilly by Agnès Rosenstiehl, making her American debut with an original tale starring her popular French character, Mimi Cracra (9780979923814/0979923816, 36 pp.)

 


Deeper Understanding

The Story of Toon Books

This is the story of Toon Books.
This is the story of a 19-year-old woman who, in 1974,
Arrived in New York speaking very limited English.
This is the story of a woman who grew up on comic books in her native France
And thought that comic books in America could teach her English.
There was just one problem:
There were no comic books.
 
Françoise Mouly had to find another way to learn the language.
One friend suggested the New York Times.
The New York Times is a fine paper,
But its strength is not teaching English.
Another friend handed her Arcade comics.
A man named Art Spiegelman was publishing them out of San Francisco.
She "fell in love" with Arcade comics.
"It was exactly what I was looking for," she says.
And when Art came to New York,
She fell in love with Art, too.
He moved into her fourth-floor walk-up loft in SoHo,
And they married and had two children, Nadje and Dashiell.
But that is not the end of the story.
 
Françoise was marked to follow in the footsteps of her father, a surgeon.
But as a teenager, she rebelled,
"Wait a minute, I didn't choose this, it was chosen for me."
And so she pursued architecture:
It was intellectually challenging and she could work with her hands.
Her plastic surgeon father shaped faces and bodies,
And she could form buildings and communities
As a student at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris.
But she soon learned that an architect's vision
Is rarely executed in the way she envisioned it.
So she came to New York.
She befriended filmmakers and painters,
All of whom needed grants or galleries to show their art.
Françoise was "in deep rebellion against the elitism of the art world."
Comics, she believed, was "an art form that was also accessible.
It had all the qualities of a literary novel or a painting
But it was in a popular culture format."
 
So Françoise bought a printing press
And hauled it up the four flights of stairs
To the SoHo loft she shared with Art.
She and Art agreed: "Nobody was publishing good high-quality comics."
With the printing press, they set out to fill in the gap--and started RAW.
"I could think of something and then, a few hours later,
Tch-tch-tch-tch-tch,  tch-tch-tch-tch-tch,
I would be running it on the press,
And then folding it and stapling it, and I'd bring it to the store
And put it on a rack with a price tag on it."
There was an entire network of independent buyers, and she knew everybody.
"There were no chain stores in the 1970s.
Barnes & Noble was where you sold your used textbooks.
When I did RAW magazine, I packed the boxes myself and sent them UPS C.O.D."
The independent bookstores bought their 10 copies and sold their 10 copies.
There was no waste.
 
When Art began working on a comic-strip memoir involving the Holocaust,
No one knew what to do with it.
So Françoise and Art published it in RAW.
They serialized it and printed it exactly as Art had envisioned it.
Tch-tch-tch-tch-tch, tch-tch-tch-tch-tch.
Installment after installment came off the press.
He called it Maus: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History.
It won a "special" Pulitzer Prize in 1992
["The Pulitzer board members . . . found the cartoonist's depiction of Nazi Germany hard to classify," according to the New York Times].
 
Françoise received a call in 1993 from Tina Brown,
Who offered her the job of art editor at the New Yorker,
Based on her work at RAW.
Here, too, she worked closely with production.
Perhaps never more so than immediately following September 11, 2001.
After tracking down her children
(The family still lives in that fourth-floor walk-up in SoHo,
A stone's throw from the World Trade Center site),
The last thing Françoise wished to do was go into the office
And work on a cover.
"When I talked with the artists,
There was a shared sense from everybody, 'Let's do nothing.'
It was really hard to capture the sense of saying something and not saying it at the same time,
And being there and not being there."
What grew out of this "let's do nothing" feeling was Art Speigelman's image--
That black on black, ghosted imprint of the Twin Towers.
To produce that cover, Françoise worked directly
With the head of the New Yorker's imaging department.
He was in Chicago for a book of New Yorker covers.
He drove from Chicago back to New York, to meet with Françoise,
And then he drove the artwork to the plant.
There were no planes.
He had to be there, with the printer,
To oversee the subtle gradations of black and black.
And so, in millions of homes across the nation,
This work of art arrived:
The shadowy silhouette of Twin Towers that once stood
In what was now a vast hole at the bottom of Manhattan,
A vast hole in the country, in the heart of a nation--
An image of loss for a speechless citizenry.
 
Françoise turned to comics again
When her son had trouble learning to read.
"I had the perfect case study: two kids, both incredibly bright,
Surrounded by books, surrounded by comics, whose parents read to them."
Art read to them in English; Françoise read to them in French.
Nadje and Dash went to the same school, four years apart.
Their daughter, the oldest, started reading on schedule.
"There was a moment when the mechanics went 'boom,'
and from that point on, the progress was great."
But with their son, it wasn't clicking.
"It was the same exact environment, it's just that each kid was different."
The only thing that worked was the comics.
"The original Schtroumpfs strips are really wonderful [aka Smurfs in the U.S.].
Every other word was schtroumpf.
Most of the words they replaced were nouns and adjectives;
Very few verbs were replaced.
We read and read and read and then 'boom!'
It clicked. This was a magic bullet."
 
Françoise wanted other children to benefit from comics the way Dash had.
So she and Art created Little Lit with Joanna Cotler at HarperCollins,
Anthologies of comics, classic and new, aimed specifically at young people.
By arrangement, Françoise retained production of the project.
In 2003, when the third of the Little Lit volumes was published,
There was a day devoted to graphic novels at BEA.
Françoise thought she'd have to explain why comics are good for children.
A number of librarians were in attendance.
They had one question and one question only:
"Which comics?"
It was a giant field and they were just getting started.
God forbid they stock Rory Hayes instead of Geoffrey Hayes.
[Rory and Geoffrey are brothers: the late Rory was known for his underground comix--
Often pornographic--while many admire Geoffrey for his illustrations of children's books
by Margaret Wise Brown.]
Not to mention, "This is what teachers used to rip out of the hands of kids,
And now we're trying to put it into the hands of kids," Françoise points out.
People were becoming more receptive to comics,
But mostly graphic novels aimed at readers ages 8-12.
And mostly aimed at boys.
Françoise thought it was time to create comics
For boys and girls who were just learning to read, Toon Books.
Stand-alone books that children would cherish,
As she had done with her books as a child.
 
Françoise invited individual writers and artists to tell their stories,
Then worked on the dummies closely with teachers to figure out
What words children ages 4-6 would already know.
In French the same combination of letters always makes the same sound;
In English, the same sound may be made with six different letter combinations (eau, ough, etc.).
She took the dummies around to publishers.
"They said, 'It's marvelous and well-executed--
I wish we could do it but good luck with it.' Why?
Because it's not something that exists.
There's no way to distribute it, push it or sell it," says Françoise.
"I can't say I was exactly crushed to have the door slammed in my face at this stage in my life.
It almost felt invigorating!"
So she teamed with Diamond to distribute the books;
She chose them for their parallel vision about comics for children.
"There's a gap to fill and they're in it for the long run," Françoise says.
And so is she.
 
This is the story of Toon Books.
This is the story of a 19-year-old woman who
Arrived in New York speaking very limited English.
This is the story of a woman who grew up on comic books in her native France
And came to believe there should be high quality comic books in America,
For adults and for children.
So, with her husband, Art, she is making comic books again.
For everyone.--Jennifer M. Brown
 

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