Shelf Awareness for Friday, January 22, 2010

Penguin Books: Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey by Kathleen Rooney

Sterling Children's Books: Jonesy Flux and the Gray Legion, Volume 1 by James Pray

Andrews McMeel Publishing: Cat Ninja, Volume 1 by Matthew Cody, illustrated by Yehudi Mercado

Berkley Books: In the Garden of Spite: A Novel of the Black Widow of La Porte by Camilla Bruce

Disney-Hyperion: The Mirror Broken Wish (Mirror #1) by Julie C. Dao


Notes: ABA Adds Op-Ed Template; Making PB 'Smashes'

The American Booksellers Association has added an op-ed template to the new E-Fairness Action Kit (E-FACT) and is urging  booksellers "to adapt the op-ed and to e-mail it to their local newspapers as a way of promoting the issue of e-fairness," Bookselling this Week reported.

"Most states are faced with significant budget shortfalls, and e-fairness will be a major focus in 2010," said ABA CEO Oren Teicher. "The op-ed template provides booksellers with an effective way to educate the public about the current sales tax inequity and, we hope, to get the attention of state legislators. It's important that the real facts about e-fairness are widely publicized. We hope booksellers will use the op-ed template to help set the record straight."


Using the example of The Piano Teacher by Y.K. Lee, the Associated Press teaches a bit about how Penguin makes many of the paperback editions of its hardcovers "smashes."

One way is by promoting the paperback edition inside the company early on. "Right from the time the hardcover group started promoting [The Piano Teacher], the paperback group had its eye on it," Patrick Nolan, Penguin director and vice president of trade paperback sales, told the AP. "We made sure that our sales reps had manuscripts and galleys the same time as hardcover folks and it remained on our radar screen."

The company does something similar with booksellers. "One thing they do is resend the book as a reader's copy to remind us the paperback is coming," Sue Boucher, owner of the Lake Forest Book Store in Lake Forest, Ill., said. "I've told other publishers this is smart, because it gives the book a whole new life. That happened with Memory Keeper's Daughter. Few of us had read it in hardcover, but when we got the chance to later on, we loved it and we sold it like crazy.

"Penguin is pretty smart with marketing their paperback books," she added.

The Piano Teacher also appeals to book clubs. Barnes & Noble fiction buyer Sessalee Hensley commented: "The story raises a lot of questions about what would you do in certain kinds of situations. And that's bread and butter for a book club."


The cover of Jaclyn Dolamore's Magic Under Glass will be changed "after publisher Bloomsbury USA provoked online outrage this week for choosing to represent its dark-skinned heroine with a white model," the Guardian reported.

"Bloomsbury is ceasing to supply copies of the U.S. edition of Magic Under Glass," the publisher said. "The jacket design has caused offense and we apologize for our mistake. Copies of the book with a new jacket design will be available shortly,"


While France battles Google in the courts for its digital future, Safig "is one of the few European firms to digitize books, using automatic and human page-turners. That places them right at the center of France's plan for a massive online library, and its attempts to negotiate a digital books deal with U.S. internet giant Google," Reuters reported.

"We are in a politically sensitive period," said project leader Christophe Danna. "Whatever the outcome is, it will determine the future of the books market."


Although previously opposed to the Google Book settlement, the families of John Steinbeck and Woody Guthrie now support it. The New York Times reported that Gail Steinbeck, wife of the author’s son, said "the majority of the problems that we found to be troubling have been addressed" and the revision "meets our standards of control over the intellectual properties that would otherwise remain at risk were we to stay out of the settlement."


Concerning the late Robert B. Parker, Chuck Robinson, co-owner of Village Books, Bellingham, Wash., remembered "a time years ago when we and other booksellers had lunch with him in Seattle. Someone at the table asked, "When did you stop teaching?" He replied, "I stopped teaching about ten years ago. . . . I left the college two years ago." We, like lots of other booksellers, read Parker's early Spenser novels and even collected them.  He was quite a wit and will be missed.


Neil Gaiman answered readers' questions for the New Yorker's website feature "Ask the Author Live" with Dana Goodyear, who profiles the author in this week's issue of the magazine.

One fan observed that "authors like Michael Chabon have been crusading for a while to break down the barriers between so-called 'literary fiction' and 'genre fiction.' Do you have any idea why literature remains so compartmentalized? Is there any end in sight?"

Gaiman replied that he believes "the barriers are imaginary, the walls have already been breached and the key to literature in the early 21st century is one of confluence. There’s not much high and low culture any more: there’s just mingling streams of art and what matters is whether it’s good art or bad art. But then, I come from comics, and miss the days when it was a gutter art-form in which nobody was expected to make art; and think that SF was much more vibrant and relevant before they taught it in universities. Either way, Michael Chabon is a very wise man."


"How do you spot a rising star, that new voice in literature that will really make an impression?" asked the Telegraph, then answered the question by choosing its "top new novelists for 2010." The list includes:

  • The Privileges by Jonathan Dee
  • Chef by Jaspreet Singh
  • Rupture by Simon Lelic
  • This Bleeding City by Alex Preston
  • Day for Night by Frederick Reiken
  • Secret Son by Laila Lalami
  • Serious Men by Manu Joseph
  • Cross Country Murder Song by Philip Wilding
  • Ruby’s Spoon by Anna Lawrence Pietroni
  • Children of the Sun by Max Schaefer
  • Tiger Hills by Sarita Mandanna

In case you missed it, NPR's Weekend Edition featured an interview with Helen Mirren, who plays Countess Sofya Andreyevna Tolstoy in the film adaptation of Jay Parini's novel The Last Station.


"Opening a Bookstore: The Business Essentials," an intensive workshop retreat conducted by the Bookstore Training Group of Paz & Associates, is scheduled for March 15-19 on Amelia Island (near Jacksonville, Fla.). The workshop, which is co-sponsored by the American Booksellers Association, is facilitated by Mark and Donna Paz Kaufman and held every spring and fall. For more information go to


One (book) for the road. In what has become an annual rite, Phil Jackson, coach of the Los Angeles Lakers and an author himself, once again chose reading material for his NBA basketball team as they began an extended winter road trip this week. He also asks each player to give him a written report on their particular book, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Pau Gasol may have received the the most ambitious assignment--a copy of Roberto Bolano's 2666, but Jackson said, "Pau's a reader. He's got himself a tome right there."


In 2003, Martin Heron created 10 sandstone books on top of Penistone Hill in Yorkshire. The New Yorker's Book Bench blog showcased a photograph of five of the books that "stretch along the path that leads to Top Withens, which, it has been suggested, inspired the setting of the Earnshaw house in Wuthering Heights."

University of California Press: The United States of War, Volume 48: A Global History of America's Endless Conflicts, from Columbus to the Islamic State by David Vine

Putting the Stamp on Aussie Lit

Several of Australia's best-known authors--including Peter Carey, Thomas Keneally and Bryce Courtenay--are being honored with a series of stamps called " Australian Legends of the Written Word," the Guardian reported.

"To be on an Australian stamp is really quite moving. There's a big part of me that really wants to be part of Australian culture," Carey said.

Some of his peers reacted more humorously. Keneally said the stamp "reminds you of all the teachers who said 'you'll never go anywhere, son' " and noted that he was "glad they are self-adhesive because it prevents jokes about licking their backside." Courtenay added: "Stamps aren't what they used to be. It was the king's head on stamps when I was young. Now they just put old shitbags on them."


GLOW: Erewhon: The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Desire

Sunday on CBS's Sunday Morning: Susan Cheever, author of Desire: Where Sex Meets Addiction (Simon & Schuster, $13, 9781416537939/1416537937).


Berkley Books: Our Italian Summer by Jennifer Probst

Movies: The Electric Church; The Seven Sins

Sony Pictures acquired the film rights to a series of sci-fi novels by Jeff Somers and chose Trevor Sands to adapt the first book, The Electric Church (Orbit, $12.99, 9780316021722/0316021725).  Jimmy Miller is producing the adaptation, which has the working title The Avery Cates Project (after the book's main character), according to the Hollywood Reporter.


Christopher Kyle (Alexander) will write the film adaptation of The Seven Sins: The Tyrant Ascending (Forge, $7.99, 9780765354389/0765354381). The author has said the lead character--Michael "The Tyrant" Tiranno, adopted son of an Italian crime lord who must defend Las Vegas from terrorist attacks--is "loosely inspired" by the life of Fabrizio Boccardi, the investor, producer and CEO of King Midas World Entertainment, which licensed the film rights to producers Moritz Borman and Peter Graves through Tyrant One Imperium Pictures, the Hollywood Reporter wrote.


University of California Press:  Republican Jesus: How the Right Has Rewritten the Gospels by Tony Keddie

Music: Kerouac Novel Inspires Soundtrack

Jack Kerouac wrote Big Sur in the early '60s "during a few weeks of self-imposed exile in poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti's dim little cabin in Bixby Canyon on the Northern California coast"; and Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard wrote the song "Bixby Canyon Bridge" while staying in the same cabin in 2007 as part of One Fast Move or I'm Gone: Kerouac's Big Sur, a documentary film that "shares its title with its soundtrack, an album of folk-rock music by Gibbard and Jay Farrar, formerly of alt-country heroes Son Volt," the Seattle Times wrote.
Gibbard was a teenager when he discovered Big Sur at a used bookshop in Bellingham, Wash. "Even at that age I remember being like, this is important to keep in mind as you're kind of venturing off into, at that point, my own little version of the beat life, being in a rock band and touring around," he said. "I didn't necessarily heed that warning very well for a while. But I feel like I'm starting to get a better read on it now.... I certainly don't think Kerouac needs any help as far as cultural relevance goes. There's always going to be a new crop of high-school and college kids who are kind of stumbling into these books and falling in love with them. I think that's a given."


Books & Authors

Rebecca Stead Asks the Big Questions

Rebecca Stead has spent her whole life on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the setting for her novel When You Reach Me (Wendy Lamb/Random House). For sixth-grader Miranda, the possibilities in that neighborhood seem at first to contract--the day her best friend Sal gets punched by a stranger and stops spending time with her--and then to stretch boundlessly when she begins to make new friends, especially Marcus, and to receive mysterious notes from someone who seems to know her future. On Monday, the book won the 2010 Newbery Medal.


Oh my god. I'm still taking it in. It's pretty wonderful.

Does the neighborhood feel different to you now?

No. I always walk around thinking about all the layers of history in this neighborhood because I've really never left it for any long period of time. I think, 'If I could be standing here in 100 years, and I turned in a circle, what would I see?' That's still with me, and that's the kind of stuff that inspired the book in the first place. I think it's the same, just better because I'm so happy.

Was writing your debut novel, First Light, different from writing your second, When You Reach Me?

It was very different, for a whole bunch of reasons. When I was writing First Light, I had so much doubt about my ability to get to the end of a book. I spent at least three years revising it. There was a lot of small work, first with a critique group, and a lot of intense work with Wendy Lamb. There was a lot of fear and doubt because that's how it is with your first book. It felt like hubris to think I could be a "real" writer. The first book was a lot of getting past that. I owe a lot to the people I was working with in those years, especially to Wendy.

So with When You Reach Me, I started out in a different place. It was such a different process because I decided to use a lot from my childhood, like the setting, and I tried to channel my sixth-grade self. That was a gift of material, and material is the hardest thing to come by. It was kind of hard and sort of daring to make that decision. I thought, 'Am I really going to go back to my place of growing up?' Once I decided to do that it was easier.

Writing about time travel can't be easy.

There are a lot of challenges in trying to create this kind of puzzle. It's full of these wild ideas and technical impossibilities, but I want it to have its own internal logic. Every time we changed the story, either Wendy or I would find a new reader. We wanted to make sure we had fresh eyes on every draft, because we weren't sure what we'd taken away. People would tell us, "Here's where I got tripped up," "Here's what I found inconsistent."  I had some way too complex ideas because I didn't know everything that was happening when I started out. Happily, I was able to let them go and stick with the idea that the simplest solution would be the most elegant and satisfying solution.

Are you a re-reader?

I believe--and this is not an original idea from me--that really strong writing yields more every time you read it. That's why I return to Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies and William Maxwell's So Long See You Tomorrow--which I re-read over and over because I think it's a perfect book--and Alice Munro. That's something I strive to do, to create work that yields something else on the second reading and something else on the third.

Did you read and re-read A Wrinkle in Time?

Originally when Miranda was carrying around A Wrinkle in Time, it was a reminder to me that she was a reader who was stubborn and passionate, but she wouldn't give it up, she wouldn't let other things in. She was a bit narrow-minded. A lot of the story, for me, is about her leaving one stage of life and entering another. I wasn't at all sure that we were going to leave A Wrinkle in Time in there. It's such a meaningful book, and so many people feel a connection to it. I didn't want to throw it in as a prop. We talked about taking it out.

But another part of me wanted to leave it in there because it's such a brave and wonderful book, and it's not afraid to talk about the small insecurities we have and carry with us throughout our lives. But it also has these wild ideas about the universe and the struggle for good. So what we decided as a group--Wendy and the people who were reading for me--was to see if we could make the connections between my story and A Wrinkle in Time a little deeper. I tried to see Madeleine L'Engle's story from different perspectives, like Marcus's perspective. It yielded these new ideas about the ways that stories can color characters' perspectives about time and what's possible. I think kids talk about huge things that we stop talking about when we're older.

Your book does that. Kids start it over as soon as they've finished it.

I visited a fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade group on Friday. I said, "You can ask me questions while I'm signing, but nothing really hard, because I might misspell your name or something." One student came up and said, "I hope this isn't a hard question: How do you understand time? Is it a loop or what is it?" We had some discussion about it, and of course I couldn't sign books while we had it. He wandered off to his bus still thinking about it, and I thought, "We should all spend more time asking ourselves these big questions." One reason I love writing for this age group is that the kids are so smart and focused and able to wrap their minds around these ideas.

You are clearly comfortable with the idea of time travel.

I think time puzzles are fun and people love them. I never get tired of them--ever. On some level, it's just that humans struggle with the idea that there'll be a time when we're not here. Sometimes when I'm standing on a corner, I think what will be here in 100 years, because it feels impossible that the world will go on without you or that it existed before you. Even though intellectually we know that, it's hard to accept. --Jennifer M. Brown


Book Brahmin: Laura Kinsale

Laura Kinsale's novel Flowers from the Storm was chosen by readers of the Washington Post and Glamour magazine as one of the Top Ten Love Stories of All Time, and she has won Best Book of the Year and Best Historical Romance from the Romance Writers of America. She's back after five years with her new romantic comedy, Lessons in French, which Sourcebooks is publishing next month. She lives in Santa Fe, N.M.
On your nightstand now:
In all honesty, it's a lot of books about dressage and horse training, from The Truth About Horses by Andrew McLean to the classic Training Strategies for Dressage Riders by Charles de Kunffy. Good for inducing sleep and dreams about how I'd like to be able to ride.
Favorite book when you were a child:
Book of Greek Myths by Ingri and Edgar D'Aulaire. I can close my eyes and see the illustrations. The story of Sisyphus pushing the huge stone eternally uphill only to have it roll back down again has stayed with me vividly, particularly when on the phone with customer service.
Your top five authors:
James Joyce, Charles Dickens, John Fowles, C.J. Cherryh, Georgette Heyer. They are all artists with words and characters, each in their own way.
Book you've faked reading:
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. I kept falling asleep and it would slide off the bed. I buried it under the horse books.
Book you’re an evangelist for:
The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. An amazing and haunting book, often overlooked as genre fiction, but a masterly evocation of a soldier's alienation and the huge drifts of time and the universe. It made me feel small when I read it, like a tiny warm human mouse in the cold infinity--and what an immeasurable stroke of luck it is when we encounter someone we love in that black and vast emptiness. This book kept me from ever attempting to write SF, because I knew I could never come close to writing anything as remarkable in concept and execution.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Across the Face of the World by Russell Kirkpatrick. It's the silhouette of hooded travelers on horseback, silhouetted against a colossal moon. Evocative.
Book that changed your life:
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Joyce made me want to be a writer, and showed me what words could do. I was in high school, and I thought Stephen Dedalus was sexy in his depressive, moody, tortured way. Rather like the Edward Cullen of the day.
Favorite line from a book:
"Language is like shot silk--so much depends on the angle at which it is held."--John Fowles, The French Lieutenant's Woman.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Sylvester, or The Wicked Uncle by Georgette Heyer. Sylvester does the most exquisite grovel at the end. We romance readers like that sort of thing.


Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Bookstores & the Quirky Factor

Should independent bookstores be quirky? What does quirky mean now? What is (or was) your favorite quirky, eccentric, fun, weird, off-the-wall (off-the-shelves?) bookshop of all time? What bookstore makes (or made) you smile just thinking about it?

So many stories are written about booksellers in dire financial straits and contending with perilous, hyper-digitized futures that the fun factor can get lost in the numbers. Business is business, but most of us became booksellers for pleasure as well as--if not consciously in lieu of--profit.

What makes a great bookstore quirky? What makes a quirky bookstore great?

The catalyst for my musings on the quirk factor is Michael Walsh, sales manager at Johns Hopkins University Press and publisher of Old Earth Books. He wrote in response to last week's column, which mentioned Siegfried Weisberger, a Baltimore bookseller who closed his store in 1954 after 29 years.

This triggered some memories for Walsh, who shared a great Style magazine article he found reporting that three years later, Rose Hayes purchased and reopened the Peabody Book Shop and Beer Stube. Style described it as a place where "beer took precedence over books, which became more motif than merchandise, and the stube itself became a cluttered caricature of its humble origins with ballet slippers hanging from the wrought-iron chandelier, and the stag’s head above the brick fireplace competing for attention with mounted animal horns, ceramic busts, figurines and framed pictures of waterfowl."

There is "no counting how many Baltimoreans descended the dingy stairwell into the Peabody Book Shop and Beer Stube to share a beer at the communal wooden tables, hear poetry read aloud, participate in sing-alongs or watch as the Great Dantini performed his magic tricks. But everyone who passed through, it seems, has a story to tell, and one rarely about books," Style wrote.

"I remember going there," Walsh recalled. "It was a hoot. More beer than books. But still, one of those off the wall weird/fun places. Now gone." In 1986, the business closed once more after Hayes died.

"The Peabody was interesting, but perhaps one of the most interesting characters in Baltimore book trade was the late Abe Sherman," Walsh added. "He ran a newsstand with books for decades. He fought in WWI and WWII. He was well known for yelling, 'Are you buying or reading?! If you wanna read, go over to the library!'"

If you've lived your life in books (and who among us hasn't?), you've encountered these places and people, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse--though quirky bad can be as entertaining as quirky good.

My longtime favorite was Tuttle Antiquarian Books, which closed a couple of years ago. Tuttle's was located in two old houses on South Main Street in Rutland, Vt. One building had an extraordinary selection of used books crammed on dusty shelves. You accessed the stacks by wedging your way down narrow aisles. It was always worth the trouble. Customer service was not generally an option, however. With some effort, you could locate the room where you paid for purchases, and someone might grudgingly accept your money.

The other building housed the offices of Charles E. Tuttle Co. The history of Tuttle as a publisher is well known, and in this place there was a much more organized display of Asian-themed books, which they began publishing in the late 1940s. That particular room opened up a literary world to me long before I had access to it anywhere else. And the two houses conspired to have a kind of Dickensian impact on my sense of what a bookstore should be--a little mysterious, grudgingly open to exploration, quite possibly infinite in space and, yes, just a little wacky around the edges.

When I became a bookseller, I simply added customer service as the missing plot twist.

Bookstore quirky is, of course, an indefinable concept. Or, more accurately, it is subject to endless individual definitions.

While it is fun to watch the snarky anti-ambience of Black Books, the British comedy series, I wouldn't want to be there.

Someday I would love to visit Lenore & Lloyd Dickmans' manure tank bookstore in Princeton, Wis., if it still exists.

And if I'm ever in Jefferson, Tex., I will definitely stop by Kathy Patrick's Beauty & the Book, "the only hair salon/book store in the country." Even though I'm too bald to present much of a challenge on the coiffure front, it just sounds like a fun book place to visit.

What's on your great quirky bookstore list--past or present?--Robert Gray (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)


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