Shelf Awareness for Monday, November 30, 2009

Margaret K. McElderry Books: Tender Beasts by Liselle Sambury

Scholastic Press: Heroes: A Novel of Pearl Harbor by Alan Gratz

Flatiron Books: Anita de Monte Laughs Last by Xochitl Gonzalez

Peachtree Publishers: King & Kayla and the Case of the Downstairs Ghost (King & Kayla) by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Nancy Meyers

Doubleday Books: The Husbands by Holly Gramazio

Quotation of the Day

'Shopping for Books Is Like Shopping for Clothes, or a Husband'

"Contrary to popular belief--or at least to those dullards who swear by Amazon--shopping for books is like shopping for clothes, or a husband: sometimes you don't know what you want until you see it, and this is where a good store comes in. When I woke up last Friday morning I had not even heard of a book called Women Who Read Are Dangerous but later that same day I made a trip to a new shop, Lutyens & Rubinstein in west London, and there it was, sitting in the window, calling out to me at the top of its voice."--Rachel Cooke in the Guardian in a story responding to Borders U.K.'s situation (see story below).


Holiday House: The Five Impossible Tasks of Eden Smith by Tom Llewellyn; The Selkie's Daughter by Linda Crotta Brennan


Notes: Black Friday Results; Borders U.K. Shutting Down

Black Friday sales were up only slightly and shoppers stuck to shopping lists, which consisted of many heavily discounted items, according to initial sales data and anecdotal evidence. Once again electronics were likely the most popular category. In addition, more consumers bought online, accelerating the trend of the past few years. Today, Cyber Monday, is expected to be busier than last year.

Some 195 million people visited stores and websites over the long weekend, compared to 172 million last year, according to the National Retail Federation (via the New York Times). Average spending over the weekend fell to $343.31 a person, from $372.57 a year ago, while total spending was $41.2 billion, almost the same as last year.

In the ether world the news was more positive: "the average amount online shoppers spent on Black Friday rose 35% as shoppers spent roughly $170.19 an order--up from $126.04 last year," Coremetrics (via the Wall Street Journal) said. The company also indicated that shoppers bought more items with each purchase.


Although Borders U.K. administrators say they "continue to seek a purchaser for all or some of the company's stores," a closing sale for all 36 Borders and nine Books Etc. stores in the U.K. began on Saturday, according to the Bookseller. (The story is followed by a long series of sad, angry, unbelieving and poignant comments by former and current employees.)

Stores are starting with a 20% discount on all sales. The Starbucks in at least one Borders is accepting only cash. The Bookseller said that publishers "have limited their exposure" to the company, in some cases demanding COD terms. Several U.K. publishers said sales with Borders had dropped substantially already--for one, down 61% this year and for another down 50% in three years.

The British Borders operations were sold by Borders Group two years ago. Borders U.K. was bought in July by private equity firm Valco Capital Partners and some members of Borders management.


The fortunes of Borders stores in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore appear markedly different.

REDgroup, the company that runs Borders, Angus & Robertson, Whitcoulls and several related businesses, is considering an initial public offering in the first half of next year, according to the Wall Street Journal. REDgroup is owned by Pacific Equity Partners, the private equity firm that bought the Borders stores two years ago.


Out Word Bound Book Store, the only gay and lesbian bookstore in Indianapolis, Ind., is closing after Christmas, the Indianapolis Star reported.

"It has been a good run," owners Mary Byrne and Tammara Tracy, both of whom have day jobs, wrote in an e-mail to customers last week.

Founded in 1998, the store held many events. Its "Harry Potter," as Tracy put it, was the midnight party when the video of Brokeback Mountain was released in 2005. The store rented a horse, a sheep and a cowboy as props for the party.


Barnes & Noble begins shipping its Nook e-reader today but won't have any for sale or for demos in stores until next Monday, December 7, the Wall Street Journal reported. Some units originally designated to go to stores are going to people who ordered them before November 20. Demand for the Nook has been higher than the supplier's capabilities.


The Los Angeles Times tells the "long story with plenty of villains" of Elliott Bay Book Co., Seattle, Wash., which will have to close or move when its lease runs out January 31 (Shelf Awareness, October 19, 2009).

Owner Peter Aaron told the paper that the store's location is "the driving factor" behind its sales slump. ("It's been a precarious existence the last four or five years.") "Between the lack of parking, the adverse effect of sporting events... and the perception on the part of many people that this is not a desirable or safe area of the city to venture into, especially at night, it's really been a huge inhibitor of our business."


With Borough president Marty Markowitz presiding, the launch of Shop Brooklyn was held last week outside Greenlight Bookstore, newly opened by Jessica Stockton Bagnulo and Rebecca Fitting in the Fort Greene area. Watch Bagnulo's concise argument for the benefits of shopping local and catch a few glimpses of the beautiful store in the New York 1 report on Shop Brooklyn.


Speaking of Brooklyn...

Cool T's of the Day. Novel-T, Brooklyn, N.Y., has introduced a line of T-shirts that let booklovers "wear your read"--authors and characters. The first "team" consists of Whitman, Thoreau, Poe, Ahab, (Moby) Dick, Bartleby, Prynne, Sawyer and Finn. Each shirt includes the author's or character's name and a number on the back and a small related logo on the front--"A" for Hester Prynne and a "C" for Ahab. [Editor's Note: A+ for cleverness.]

Novel-T donates $1 from the sale of each shirt to Dave Eggers's 826NYC project to help kids work on their writing skills--a way, Novel-T said, "to make sure there will be new names to put on these shirts a generation from now."

The jersey-style T-shirts retail for $24.95 and are available at some bookstores in Brooklyn and at the New Museum in Manhattan and can be ordered online. Other booksellers are encouraged to contact the company for distribution information.


Apparently Fountain Bookstore, Richmond, Va., did not introduce "possibly the first-ever independent bookstore jingle" (Shelf Awareness, November 25, 2009). Edward McKay Used Books & More, which has four stores in N.C., has its own song. Sing along here.


We've always known that our friends at Unshelved have all the answers, but now it's official: they've launched Unshelved Answers, where librarians, booksellers and others can share "expertise about libraries and everything in them: reference resources, reader's advisory, customer service, cataloging, administration, or anything else."

Unshelved Answers allows for grading of questions and answers "so that you can quickly and easily solve your problem and help others solve theirs. Every time your work is voted up you gain more reputation, which unlocks more functionality of the site for you. Eventually our most prized contributors become de-facto moderators. The site is really run by you, for you."

Questions? Go to Unshelved Answers.


Since a week ago Friday when Oprah Winfrey announced that she would end her talk show in 2011, Conan O'Brien has been offering himself up as "America's new Oprah." In Oprah Book Club style, the Tonight Show host has been recommending things, so far all non-books. Last week, he plumped for Extraordinary Chickens, an Abrams calendar, which quickly hopped to No. 9 on the Amazon calendar list.


The New Zealand Book Council offers a wonderful depiction of how reading can open the mind to new worlds. See it on YouTube.


What to do with those lovely red phone booths that dot the landscape in the U.K. but have become increasingly irrelevant in this cell phone age?

BT has been selling hundreds of phone booths for token amounts. In one village, the phone box has been recycled into a popular lending library stocking some 100 books as well as DVDs and CDs, according to the BBC. Residents can leave and take books as they wish 24 hours a day.


Show your support for books on Twitter: add a "Books Are Great Gifts" twibbon to your profile pic.


Minnesota Public Radio interviewed Susie Fruncillo of Lake Country Booksellers, White Bear Lake, Minn., and Chris Livingston of the Book Shelf, Winona, Minn., about the current state of the industry and how indie booksellers are dealing with the book price wars.


Boing Boing's Gift Guide featured 2009's fiction and nonfiction picks.


Waiting for the National Book Award bump. USA Today reported that the paperback edition of Colum McCann's NBA-winning novel, Let the Great World Spin, "has been moved up from late spring 2010 to December 4, with a first printing of 100,000 copies. There are 50,000 copies in print of the hardcover, which was widely praised by critics but was not a best seller. The non-fiction winner, T.J. Stiles' bio of Cornelius Vanderbilt, The First Tycoon, also is going back to press for 30,000 more hardcover copies."



Amistad Press: The Survivors of the Clotilda: The Lost Stories of the Last Captives of the American Slave Trade by Hannah Durkin

Obituary Note: Hans Georg Heepe

Hans Georg Heepe, who was instrumental in bringing American works to German readers, died of cancer on November 18 in Germany. He was 73.

Longtime editorial director of Rowohlt Verlag in Reinbek, he began as the right-hand man to legendary publisher Heinrich Maria Ledig-Rowohlt. Over five decades, he worked personally with authors such as Paul Auster, James Baldwin, Harold Brodkey, Marilyn French, John Irving, Toni Morrison, Vladimir Nabokov and Thomas Pynchon. Heepe was a founding director of the Ledig Rowohlt Foundation and Ledig House International Writer's Colony. The German translation of Endpoint, a volume of poetry by his favorite author, the late John Updike, was the last title he edited and saw into print. He is survived by his wife, Christa Loose.

[Thanks to Chandler Crawford of the Chandler Crawford Agency, who called Heepe "a king of European editors."]


Media and Movies

Box Office Boffo: Based on Books

You saw the movie, but did you read the book?

Films based on books were box office hits over the Thanksgiving weekend, according to Six of the top 10 per-screen earners are based on books.

Two films still in limited release did impressively well: the just-released indie Me & Orson Welles, based on the novel by Robert Kaplow (playing in just four theaters), brought in an estimated $16,200 per screen, while The Road, based on Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer-winning novel, brought in $13,721 per screen.

Next was the Sandra Bullock vehicle The Blind Side (based on Michael Lewis's book), which earned $12,779 per screen, followed by Precious, based on the novel Push by Sapphire, at $10,694; The Twilight Saga: New Moon, based on Stephenie Meyer's bestseller, at $10,515; and the just-released indie The Private Lives of Pippa Lee (by Rebecca Miller), at $8,000 per screen.

Media Heat: Here's the Deal--Howie Mandel on GMA

This morning on Good Morning America: Michael F. Roizen and Mehmet C. Oz, authors of YOU: Having a Baby: The Owner's Manual to a Happy and Healthy Pregnancy (Free Press, $26.99, 9781416572367/1416572368).


This morning on MSNBC's Morning Joe: James Bradley, author of The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War (Little, Brown, $29.99, 9780316008952/0316008958).


This morning Morning Edition will dedicate an episode to audiobooks with Neil Gaiman, author of The Graveyard Book (HarperCollins, $17.99, 9780060530921/0060530928).


Today on the Diane Rehm Show: a conversation with Wendell Berry.


Today on Talk of the Nation: Charlie Murphy, author of The Making of a Stand-Up Guy (Simon Spotlight, $24.99, 9781439123140/1439123144).


Today on the View: Deepak Chopra, author of Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul: How to Create a New You (Harmony, $25, 9780307452337/0307452336).


Today on CNN's Joy Behar Show: Jeffrey Ross, author of I Only Roast the Ones I Love: Busting Balls Without Burning Bridges (Simon Spotlight, $24.99, 9781439101407/143910140X).


Tomorrow morning on Good Morning America: David Bianculli, author of Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" (Touchstone, $24.99, 9781439101162/1439101167).

Also on GMA: Howie Mandel, author of Here's the Deal: Don't Touch Me (Bantam, $25, 9780553807868/0553807862).


Tomorrow morning on the Today Show: Chesley Sullenberger, author of Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters (Morrow, $25.99, 9780061924682/0061924687).


Tomorrow on NPR's On Point: Hank Stuever, author of Tinsel: A Search for America's Christmas Present (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24, 9780547134659/0547134657).


Tomorrow on the Martha Stewart Show: Alexandra Horowitz, author of Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know (Scribner, $27, 9781416583400/1416583408).


Tomorrow night on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart: Thomas Friedman, author of Hot, Flat, and Crowded 2.0: Why We Need a Green Revolution--and How It Can Renew America (Picador, $16, 9780312428921/0312428928).


Tomorrow night on the Colbert Report: Sherman Alexie, author of War Dances (Grove Press, $23, 9780802119193/0802119190).


Tomorrow night on the Late Show with David Letterman, in a repeat: Guy Fieri, author of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives: An All-American Road Trip... with Recipes! (Morrow, $19.95, 9780061724886/0061724882).

Holiday Viewing: A Single Man

A Single Man, based on Christopher Isherwood's novel, opens in limited engagement on Friday, December 11, and rolls out nationally on December 25. Starring Colin Firth and Julianne Moore, A Single Man is Tom Ford's directorial debut. In collaboration with the Weinstein Company, the University of Minnesota Press tomorrow is publishing the tie-in edition ($15.95, 9780816638628/0816638624) and has a launched a website, all with a goal of introducing Isherwood "to a new generation of readers, as well as reintroduce his body of work to readers already familiar with the novelist."

At the Venice Film Fest, the film won two awards: best gay theme and best actor (for Colin Firth's performance).

Books & Authors

IndieBound: Other Indie Favorites

From last week's Indie bestseller lists, available at, here are the recommended titles, which are also Indie Next Great Reads:


A Friend of the Family: A Novel by Lauren Grodstein (Algonquin, $23.95, 9781565129160/1565129164). "The story of Pete Dizinoff, a successful suburban doctor, and his son, Alec, whom Pete dotes on, takes a decidedly Shakespearean turn in a story about the lengths to which a father will go to protect his child. This brilliant literary thriller will leave readers emotionally rent, as the protagonist's life collapses while he reaches out for what matters most to him."--Mary Cotton, Newtonville Books, Newton, Mass.

The Mom & Pop Store: How the Unsung Heroes of the American Economy Are Surviving and Thriving by Robert Spector (Walker, $26, 9780802716057/0802716059). "Robert Spector presents a great vision of local, independent business and its crucial role in the national economy. This is a must-read for anyone interested in the future of unique communities."--Chuck Robinson, Village Books, Bellingham, Wash.


Soulless: An Alexia Tarabotti Novel by Gail Carriger (Orbit, $7.99, 9780316056632/0316056634). "Victorian London has never been more fun than in the company of Alexia Tarabotti. This refreshing blend of manners, parasols, werewolves and vampires will appeal to fans of Sookie Stackhouse and Jane Austen--and it will have everyone laughing out loud. Alexia is a character to treasure."--Katie Glasgow, Mitchell Books, Fort Wayne, Ind.

For Ages 9 to 12

Malice by Chris Wooding (Scholastic Press, $14.99, 9780545160438/054516043X). "Disenchanted kids are reading a mysterious and elusive comic called Malice--and sending themselves to this scary, dangerous place, where their adventures take place on the pages of the comic. Malice is the last great frontier and a chance to battle a great evil."--Cinda Meister, Booksmart, Morgan Hill, Calif.

[Many thanks to IndieBound and the ABA!]

Book Review

Book Review: The Land of Green Plums

The Land of Green Plums by Herta Mueller (Northwestern University Press, $17.00 Paperback, 9780810115972, November 1998)

Spare, wildly poetic, luridly surreal, frequently unfathomable, The Land of Green Plums by Herta Müller, the 2009 Nobel Prize winner, is like nothing else out there.
The titular "land of green plums" is Romania during the terror reign of Ceausescu's Securitate from which the author escaped to Germany in 1987. The unnamed narrator assures you, "You can't eat green plums, their pits are still soft, and you'll swallow your death." Slowly a narrative emerges from the opening chaos of surreal memories. Lola, the girl from the provinces who embraces urban communism whole-heartedly, ends up hanging herself in the closet with the narrator's belt.
This propels the narrator into a group of three students, all boys, who are politically resistant. Together they begin communicating by secret code words, endure scare tactics by menacing communist goons and survive searches and arrests as they elude the sinister Captain Pjele, the interrogator on their trail.
Edgar, Kurt and Georg are only slightly individualized. Characterization is not the point here. Müller is primarily a poet. This is evident not only in her images, but in the way the book moves forward--there are no chapters, only short sections separated by spaces and asterisks, each with the independence and impact of a separate poem, often ending provocatively and demanding a pause afterward to digest it.
The novel abounds in startling images--like Russian soldiers taking turns sticking their heads in the toilet and having someone flush it to wash their hair. Blood-drinking in Romania, famous in vampire lore, here in a Romanian slaughterhouse takes on a whole new meaning.
"How do you have to live.... to be in harmony with what you honestly think?" muses the narrator, and it's the theme of the novel. Followed in the streets, fired from their jobs, tempted daily by suicide, threatened by interrogation, betrayed by friends, the characters struggle through the thousand compromises of survival in a world where everyone is a possible informant.
In the course of this short novel, half of the characters die, all but one of them by suicide, choosing to execute themselves rather than endure the paranoia and repression of the dictatorship. Where is this sad, beautifully written, cumulatively moving novel heading? Right back to where it started, beginning and ending with the same sentence, but how differently the same words sound at the end.--Nick DiMartino

Shelf Talker: Poetic and surreal, this novel by the latest Nobel Prize winner is startling and moving.


Deeper Understanding

Holiday Hum: Just the Right Book!

"I've given many gifts to my wife of 23 years: diamonds, gold, silver, but none was as big a hit as Just the Right Book!," said a satisfied customer who used the personalized gift book service started several years ago by R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, Conn.

Just the Right Book! titles are selected by R.J. Julia booksellers specifically for the recipient. For the year-long version, customers can choose to have a book delivered quarterly, bimonthly or monthly. Kids' libraries for girls, boys and babies offer five to 18 books packaged in a decorative storage box.

Earlier this year, R.J. Julia owner Roxanne Coady saw that there might be greater potential for Just the Right Book! "We've gotten good feedback, great testimonials, and so we decided to launch it in a more robust way," said Coady. "We had two choices: we could have waited until next year and really gotten everything ironed out in the most perfect way, or we could get out there and test what works and what doesn't work and then ramp it up through 2010. We decided to do the latter." A dedicated website went live in early November, and holiday marketing initiatives include a radio campaign and a 50,000-brochure mailing.

At, gift givers answer questions about recipients and select the number of books they'd like to purchase and how often they'll be delivered. Recipients, in turn, are invited to update their preferences and request specific titles. In addition, corporate clients can create an address book that is stored on the site for use in sending gifts. The website has streamlined and automated the process, but the personal touch is critical to the program's success. Once someone has signed up, an R.J. Julia bookseller is assigned to that customer and selects books based on their recipients' literary tastes.

One of the most popular Just the Right Book! offerings is the medium-sized Baby Library ($149): seven to nine books and a pair of bookends are arranged in a storage box. (Both the bookends and the box, which feature a monkey's smiling face, are custom-made for Just the Right Book!) Another top choice is the six-month series for adults and children. The main givers are grandparents to grandchildren; aunts and uncles to nieces and nephews; husband to wife and vice versa; and children to recently retired parents.

R.J. Julia Booksellers is also in the spotlight as part of the retailer's overall holiday sales strategy. For the first time in its nearly two-decade history (the store celebrates its 20th anniversary in April), the seasonal catalogue has a different spin. Rather than showcasing the top books of 2009, it features commentary by each staffer--their holiday picks and who they'll be giving them to, their favorite book ever, their dream and a revealing personal fact. "Every time we wait on a customer we have to think about how we're adding value," Coady said. "The biggest way we add value is the quality of our booksellers, and that's what we're celebrating."

General manager Kathryn Fabiani, for example, is giving the "amazing and gorgeous animal photography book" A Shadow Falls by Nick Brandt to her stepdaughters. The event host's nephew will be getting Dave Morine's Two Coots in a Canoe, "a great story of friendship, and how two old college friends 'mooch' their way down 400 miles of the Connecticut River." The revamped catalogue "is different than anything we've ever done," said Coady. "If you look around the landscape this year, I think you'll see a lot of independent booksellers trying new things."--Shannon McKenna Schmidt

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