Shelf Awareness for Friday, June 27, 2008
Notes: Bookstores Close, Move, Open; Bad Art Winner
After nearly a quarter century with a presence in lower Manhattan in New York City, the Strand Book Store is closing its 15,000-sq.-ft. Strand Book Annex at 95 Fulton Street, effective August 31. Beginning next Monday, all inventory in the store will be discounted 20%. The Strand's flagship store at 828 Broadway and Central Park kiosks remain open for business.
The lease on the space was up for renewal, and the landlord planned to raise the rent 300%, according to the Downtown Express. Co-owner Fred Bass told the paper that construction on the street for the past year hurt business and would continue into 2009. The Strand owns the building its main store is in, so lease hikes are not a problem there.
One of the few people let into the University of Iowa's flooded main bookstore, director George Herbert Jr., told the National Association of College Stores's Campus Marketplace that the damage was "pretty bad."
The store had been renovated two years ago. "I don't know how to explain how it felt. Your heart just drops down to your stomach a little bit. All the work we put into it, getting the renovation approved, and two years of work, just to have it totally wrecked."
He added, "Anybody that doesn't believe water is not powerful should have chance to see this. There were stoves knocked over, freezers pushed over--it was just amazing."
To read the full story, click here.
A 15,500-sq.-ft. Books-A-Million opens today at 2605 West Osceola Parkway in Kissimmee, Fla. The store is BAM's 37th in Florida.
Bookselling This Week profiles Azizi Books, an African-American specialty store in Matteson, Ill., 30 miles south of Chicago, that opened last November.
The 1,400-sq.-ft. store carries about 7,000 titles, and has a "clean and contemporary feel," Maia Roberts, who owns the store with her father, Kevin Roberts, told BTW. The most popular sections are children's books, fiction and biography. Sidelines include DVDs, note cards, journals, small African art sculptures and shea butter products from Nature's Shea Butter.
The Robertses founded an online store, blackbooksdirect.com, several years ago and have a separate site for the store, azizibooks.com, as well as a blog, azizibooks.blogspot.com.
"After six years of being a downtown staple to book lovers," Well Fed
Head Books, Springfield, Mo., has relocated to south Springfield at
the newly-redesigned Fremont Center, according to Ozarksfirst.com. The bookshop will open in its new location July 1.
"For us the big draw is that it's a big shopping area, and we'd like to experiment having our business there," said owner Mike Sowers. "Downtown has definitely been in a transitional period for the last several years as far as construction but really for us it's going to a place, and trying something new, just feels right."
"I love this place. I love the smell of it," Ray Bradbury said this week during his final visit to Acres of Books, Long Beach, Calif., which may close by the end of the year. LBReport.com featured excerpts, photos and a video of Bradbury's eloquent defense of the bookstore.
"If this place could be kept here, if you're going to build a mall, they should build it around here," he added. "They should be the center of the mall. They should be a shrine. They should have a crucifix up in front. I will come and bless the goddamn place. And I mean that. I want this store to remain here and they can build a mall around it . . . It should be surrounded by other fascinating stores. It shouldn't be moved. It shouldn't be changed because it's the best bookstore in Long Beach and one of the best in California."
Earlier this year (Shelf Awareness, April 5, 2008), the owners decided to sell the store's building to the Long Beach redevelopment agency.
To celebrate the publication of Museum of Bad Art: Masterworks by Michael Frank and Louise Reilly Sacco ($14.95, 9781580089111/1580089119), a photographic catalogue of 60 works in the permanent collection of the Museum of Bad Art in Dedham, Mass. (a real museum!), Ten Speed Press held a contest challenging entrants to name and interpret an anonymous work owned by MOBA. (The Museum is in the Dedham Community Theater, "conveniently located just outside the men's room," and open whenever movies are shown.)
The contest winner, judged by the Museum of Bad Art: Masterworks authors, who are curator-in-chief and the permanent acting interim executive director (bad title) of the Museum, is a combination of two entries. Check it out and see other entries right here.
John e-Steinbeck. Penguin Group has released 11 Steinbeck titles in e-book format, including The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men and East of Eden. In the near future, all his books will be available electronically.
Media and Movies
Media Heat: Dear American Airlines
On WETA's Author, Author!, an interview with Jonathan Miles, author of Dear American Airlines (Houghton Mifflin, $22, 9780547054018/0547054017).
Today on Oprah whose theme is "make the law of attraction work for you": Louise Hay, author of You Can Heal Your Life (Hay House, $14.95, 9780937611012/0937611018). While the show will discuss how the principles of The Secret have worked in the lives of viewers, author Rhonda Byrne won't be on the show live.
Wanted, starring James McAvoy, Morgan Freeman and Angelina Jolie, opens today. A slacker learns he is next in line to join a secretive order of assassins after his father dies. The movie is based on the graphic novel by Mark Millar and J. G. Jones; the tie-in edition is available from Top Cow Productions/Image Comics ($29.99, 9781582409337/1582409331).
Books & Authors
Awards: Heinrich Heine Prize
Israeli author Amos Oz has won the 2008 Heinrich Heine Prize, which has an award of 50,000 euros (about $79,000) and is sponsored by the city of Duesseldorf, Germany, the poet's birthplace. The jury lauded Oz for his literary creativity, political sensibility and humanistic engagement. Oz will accept the award on December 13, Heine's 211th birthday.
Book Brahmin: Robert Crais
Robert Crais is the author of the Elvis Cole novels, beginning with The Monkey's Raincoat, and continuing with his July 1 release from S&S, Chasing Darkness, 12th in the series. He has also written two non-series novels, Demolition Angels and Hostage, and one book featuring Cole's friend, Joe Pike. A native of Louisiana, he grew up on the banks of the Mississippi River in a blue-collar family of oil refinery workers and police officers. He purchased a secondhand paperback of Raymond Chandler's The Little Sister when he was 15, which inspired his lifelong love of writing, Los Angeles and the literature of crime fiction. After years of amateur filmmaking and writing short fiction, in 1976 he journeyed to Hollywood, where he quickly found work writing scripts for such major television series as Hill Street Blues, Cagney & Lacey and Miami Vice. He received an Emmy nomination for his work on Hill Street Blues, but is most proud of his four-hour NBC miniseries, Cross of Fire, which the New York Times called "a searing and powerful documentation of the Ku Klux Klan's rise to national prominence in the '20s." Crais lives in the Santa Monica mountains with his wife, three cats and many thousands of books. Here he answers a few questions we put to him:
On your nightstand now:
The books I'm currently reading are manuscripts for possible blurbs, so I shouldn't name them. But the books I'm looking forward to reading soon are Shadow Bridge by Gregory Frost, At the City's Edge by Marcus Sakey and Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere.
Favorite book when you were a child:
I remember the story, but not the title. Maybe a Shelf Awareness reader can help. It's an adventure story about three children marooned on a desert island, a la Robinson Crusoe, and how they survive. It held amazing, adventurous factoids like "banking the fire." These kids kept a fire going for weeks by "banking the fire" every night. I never understood what "banking the fire" was, but it seemed magical. I read that book again and again, and wish I recalled the title. We're talking the early '60s. If you have any ideas what this book might be, please write to me through my website, robertcrais.com.
Your top five authors:
Robert Heinlein, Ernest Hemingway, Raymond Chandler, Harlan Ellison, Mark Twain.
Book you've faked reading:
Pretty much everything assigned by my 10th grade English teacher. I got a "D" for the year. We were supposed to read all manner of ponderous, uninspiring tomes, but I was hiding in back of the class, reading Mailer and Ellison and Truman Capote. I was a terrible student. I chased work that inspired me.
Book you are an evangelist for:
I like helping newer writers, so if I find something special I spread the word. I felt this way about Ace Atkins' book, White Shadow, and The Crime Writer by Gregg Hurwitz, which held some of the best passages about Los Angeles I've read in years. When Joseph Wambaugh returned with Hollywood Station, I couldn't stop talking about it, though Wambaugh hardly needed my help.
Book you've bought for the cover:
That's easy. Paperback covers were once painted by fabulous painters like Frank Frazetta, James Bama and Jim Steranko. I used to collect those guys. I bought anything with a Frazetta cover. Didn't matter what the book was--I bought it for Frazetta's art.
Book that changed your life:
Harlan Ellison's book of essays, The Glass Teat, which chronicles his views about the television industry. Here I was, this totally out-of-the-loop kid in Louisiana, with no real belief or expectation that someone like me could be a writer--"writing" was something larger-than-life people did, like becoming astronauts or actors or president. But The Glass Teat demystified the working world of television, and convinced me that if "they" could be a writer, I could be a writer. So I came out to Hollywood and did it. Every good thing in my life began when I moved to Los Angeles. The Glass Teat, like any meaningful book, opened the door to possibilities.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
The Old Man and the Sea. I've read it several times, and each time it leaves me awed.
Book Review: The Man Who Ate the World
Man Who Ate the World: In Search of the Perfect Dinner by Jay Rayner (Henry Holt & Company, $25.00 Hardcover, 9780805086690, June 2008)
Is there room in our gullets for another foodie memoir? For that matter, is there room for another memoir in that new subset wherein the author picks something to do for a year (having sex every night, eschewing products made in China, etc.) and then writes about it? In the case of The Man Who Ate the World, the answer is an unequivocal yes. Devoid of the preciousness of much food writing, Jay Rayner's laugh-out-loud funny account of grazing his way through the world's high-end restaurants is unputdownable.
Rayner, a novelist and restaurant critic for the London Observer, is a self-admitted curmudgeon (think Ratatouille's Anton Ego) and glutton--both qualities that serve him (and us) well as he moves from one ostentatious dining room to another. He travels to standard food capitals such as New York and Paris, but also includes up-and-comers in the global community such as Dubai and Las Vegas and two cities where he found sublime (Tokyo) and ridiculous (Moscow) restaurant meals. All the while, he keeps a running tally of the costs he incurs on his ballooning expense account. Readers learn the precise amount of every meal, which range from $200 (a bargain!) to $700 per head. Through this constant accounting, Rayner acknowledges the outlandishness of paying, say, $1,750 for lunch, but he is unapologetic about what he sees as the unique experience of dining at this level. As he says, "nobody goes to restaurants for nutritional reasons." When the experience doesn't justify the price, however, Rayner points it out in no uncertain terms. Although he is happy to give credit where it is due, he is no worshipper of celebrity chefs he feels haven't lived up to their hype and he doesn't hesitate to toss pointed (if hilarious) barbs at some of the biggest names in the business, especially Gordon Ramsay, who seems to grate on Rayner's last nerve.
Ironically after ingesting exotic animalia from land and sea, many of which are covered with foams, jellies and gold leaf, Rayner finds "one of the greatest dishes I have ever eaten" at L'Arpège in Paris--a tomato that is "summer on a plate." While he rhapsodizes eloquently about restaurants and dishes he loves, he is at his most entertaining when he encounters food he considers not just sub par, but bad. His extended riff on a disastrous artichoke crème brûlée at Le Grand Vefour in Paris is, alone, worth the cover price. But there are way too many tasty morsels here even to summarize in such a short space. Like a perfect meal, this book is finished way too soon.--Debra Ginsberg
Robert Gray: Behaving Yourself in a Book Group
I've participated in many book group discussions over the years, and there is one unwritten rule of human interaction that I've seen play out again and again. It also seems to happen in workplaces, classrooms, business meetings and, well, any setting where people gather in large enough numbers to create problems for one another.
According to my unscientific observations, these groups often divide into three parts: a third who are fully motivated, a third who are less motivated and a middle third who tend to drift toward the stronger of the other two categories.
"Discussion" is always a tricky endeavor, and the growing number of book groups nationally increases the odds of conflict. According to BookBrowse.com editor Davina Morgan-Witts, in 2001 the site began adding bookclub specific questions to the annual visitor survey and has since "surveyed about 1,500 visitors each year, and while the demographics of the respondents have changed little, and the amount of space devoted to book club specific information at BookBrowse has stayed fairly constant, the percentage saying that they are in a book club has grown exponentially--from under 20% in 2001, to about 30% in 2003, over 40% in 2006 and 50% last year.
"What's also fascinating is the increase in 'serial bookclubers.' In our most recent survey 16% said they belonged to two or more book clubs. The record I've found to date is a woman in L.A. who attends 5 local book clubs each month--each one with its own character and reading styles."
So how do you get these people to behave themselves?
Donna Paz of Paz & Associates, the bookstore training and consulting firm, has long been involved with book groups: "While my husband, Mark, and I launched the publication Reading Group Choices in 1995 (sold to Barbara and Charlie Mead three years ago), I remain active with my own neighborhood book group and facilitate book group exchanges for our local book festival. What's common for all book groups is things can get sticky; new members don't realize when they monopolize the conversation; some people don't see that they talk over someone else's comments; it adds tension to a group and many members (and leaders) feel uncomfortable discussing these irritating mishaps."
For her neighborhood group, she created a bookmark with "friendly reminders of how we can all contribute to an engaging, enjoyable discussion." The guidelines are simple but direct:
1. Respect space
2. Allow space
3. Be open
4. Offer new thoughts
5. Stay on the topic
Of course, the group dynamic changes substantially when the author of a work is present. One of our guides during this series has been Josh Henkin, author of Matrimony, who like many writers actively seeks connections with book groups.
Henkin tries to let "the group determine how they want the discussion to proceed. I see it as their show and I'm simply the facilitator. This gets more complicated when there's an actual book group facilitator running the group. This person is generally paid, often quite handsomely--a phenomenon that's growing more and more common. I've been at some book groups where the facilitator did a wonderful job and at a few book groups where the facilitator did a less than wonderful job, in large part because the person was too intent on showing off, and so the conversation, despite my best efforts to steer it elsewhere, ended up being a conversation between me and the facilitator, with everyone else just watching. But usually the group members want me to take the lead, and they ask me to talk in general about Matrimony and the writing process, and then they ask questions."
A shared vision may be one of the best ways to transcend the "rule of thirds" and have meaningful group discussions.
I had that feeling when I heard from Susie Neubauer, head of technical services at Robbins Library, Arlington, Mass.: "It's time to write to you about the book club I love belonging to, a group which has changed my life. The Daughters of Abraham book group was born in the aftermath of 9/11. We are Jewish, Muslim and Christian women who want to learn more about each other's faiths. We read both fiction and non-fiction--the only criteria is that the book reveals something about one of the three Abrahamic faiths. We began in Cambridge, Mass. in the fall of 2002, and there are now nine groups in the Boston area and others in Washington, D.C., and other cities. Some of us have traveled to Jerusalem together."--Robert Gray (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)